Chapter 195

The day of departure for the sophomores of Melbrook arrived to find a strained, gloomy atmosphere had settled over the dorm. Nick’s last message had left Alice and Vince with a lot to think about; both had retired that night without saying much to their fellow dorm mates. Come morning they’d all had breakfast together, although the affair had been a largely silent one. Once eating was accomplished they’d all turned their attention to finishing the last bit of packing.

Mary was nearly done when Alice knocked on her door. She opened it quickly and allowed her blonde friend to enter.

“So, I was thinking we should talk about what the plan for summer is,” Alice said, walking in without any sort of formal greeting.

“I had a feeling that would come up,” Mary said. She shut the door firmly and headed toward the small pile of bags sitting atop her bed. “Assuming Globe was telling the truth then there isn’t any reason for me to hole up in the Adair fortress this year.”

“You’d know better than anyone else if we can trust his promise. You’re the only one who had a conversation with him and knew it,” Alice pointed out.

“I know, and believe me when I say that is pressure I really wish I didn’t have,” Mary admitted. “But if I’m being honest, I don’t think Globe was lying. I know he’s supposed to be this master of deception and all, so it’s quite possible I’m wrong-”

“But you don’t think you are,” Alice interrupted.

“Yeah. I can’t even explain it, not rationally. I just don’t think he’d go to all that trouble to deceive us.”

“I trust your judgment,” Alice assured her. “I guess this means you’re going back to the woods then.”

“That was pretty much my plan.”

“Good. Do you mind if I tag along?”

Mary jerked her head back in surprise. “Beg pardon?”

Alice sat on Mary’s bed and composed her thoughts for a moment before speaking. “If we assume Globe was telling the truth, then that means my mom is really alive out there somewhere. I need to process that. I need to figure out what my next step from here is. Most of all, I need to not be around my father while I do it, because if she really is out there, then he’s been lying to me for my entire life.”

“Alice, I’d love to have you around, but you know my outdoors life is rougher than you’re accustomed to, right? I hunt my own food, gather my own firewood, walk just about everywhere. The nearest place to get any supplies is ten miles from my trailer.”

“I think that sounds like exactly what I need for right now,” Alice said. “Keeping busy, staying active, not letting all these thoughts overtake my ability to function. Besides, I could use a tougher environment to train in.”

Mary nodded. She would have preferred a bit more solitude over summer - in fact she’d been looking forward to it - but Alice was her closest friend here. If she needed help that only Mary could provide, then Mary was going to take care of her. She would, and had, done the same when the positions were reversed.

“You should let me look over what you packed,” Mary suggested. “I’ll make sure you put in the sort of clothes you’ll need.”

*    *    *

Ms. Daniels pulled into the parking lot near Melbrook to find one of her expected passengers already waiting for her. She took her time turning off the car and extricating herself from the driver’s seat. From the look on his face and backpack slung over his shoulder, she had a hunch about what this meeting would be about, and she was not looking forward to it.

“Hey there,” she greeted, pulling the taller young man in for a hug. He’d gotten thicker in the shoulders since Christmas - not much of a surprise given his age and the HCP training program. As they pulled apart she realized Vince’s face had changed slightly, too. His jaw was thicker and cheekbones had shifted. He was still handsome, but he was beginning to shed the telltale signs of youth.

“Good morning, Ms. Daniels,” Vince said, polite as ever. “I’m sorry to greet you so suddenly, but I needed to talk with you before you saw the others.”

“You’re going to tell me that you’re not coming home with us this summer, right?”

Vince cocked his head slightly. “How did you know?”

“I got a briefing yesterday about everything that happened. They told me about your... about what happened in the match, even showed me some of the footage, and informed me that Nick was no longer in the program. I’d hoped it wouldn’t weigh on you too much, but when I saw you out here I had a pretty good idea of what was going through your head.”

“I don’t mean to be ungrateful,” Vince said. “You’ve been wonderful to me, welcoming me into your home and treating me like a part of your family. I just need to be by myself for right now. I need to deal with what I saw myself doing.”

“Vince, that wasn’t you.”

“Except that it was. I was in a hallucination, and my emotions were manipulated, but everything I did was my own reaction to it. I was, I am, capable of that kind of destruction. I didn’t even realize my ability allowed me to do some of those things. I’ve been at this for two years with ploddingly slow results, and then in five minutes Nick helped me see more of my potential than in all my classes combined. I can’t waste that. I need to start getting a grip on what my power really is, and how far I can take it. I need to train.”

“You could train in Chicago,” Ms. Daniels pointed out, even though she knew this debate was already lost. She’d married a Hero, after all. She’d seen the look of resolute determination glowing in Vince’s eyes before, and she understood that it meant his mind was set, no matter what.

“Not without endangering a lot of innocent people,” Vince pointed out. “I’m sorry, but I have to do this.”

Ms. Daniels pulled him in for another hug, this time squeezing his muscular frame. “You’re a good boy, Vince. No matter what anyone says about you, or the man who raised you, don’t you ever forget that. And once you’re done with this training of yours, I expect to see you at our house. No excuses.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Vince agreed, squeezing her back.