Chapter 20

Julia was halfway to her dorm when the tall, muscular figure fell into step beside her. She could smell him almost immediately, no frilly body wash or sickly sweet cologne; his was the smell of freshly scrubbed hard work. It set her teeth on edge before she ever turned to face him. Julia had managed a fling or two over the summer, but nothing that put her through the metaphorical (and one time literal) wall like he could.

“Afternoon, pretty lady,” Roy greeted, an easygoing smile stretched out amidst the afternoon stubble on his face.

Julia’s tongue nearly betrayed her, smashing against her teeth to usher a familiar greeting, a bubbly laugh, or just an immediate invitation to the nearest secluded place she could find. Her brain prevailed, clamping down on the friendly muscle and issuing new orders, ones that were not optional to comply with.

“Get lost, freak,” Julia spat, her libido raging internally.

“Now, that doesn’t seem like a neighborly greeting,” Roy replied, his grin unfaltered. “Sure you wouldn’t like to try again?”

“Fuck off.” Julia quickened her step, determined to make the travel run out before her self control did. She hated herself for even feeling the temptation. Yes, she’d enjoyed her time with Roy, and yes, they’d had tons of fun together, and sure, she might have developed some feelings for him over the past year. But none of that mattered. She couldn’t be the girl rolling around with a Powered. What would the other students say? Or, heaven forbid, what if her parents ever found out? No, she had to be done with Roy Daniels. Done with his stupid muscles, done with his handsome face, done with the way he bit her gently at the crux of her collarbone while his strong hand wrapped around the small of back and he... Julia refocused herself and increased her gait even more.

“You sure about this?” Roy asked as Julia’s walk began to verge on sprinting. No, she wasn’t, and she desperately wanted to turn around and pretend it had all been a joke. She plowed forward instead. Soon she’d be away from him and the frustration she was feeling would be nothing more than a barbed memory that time and forgetfulness would smooth until it was bearable. Somewhere deep down, a part of Julia recognized that it wasn’t just her sexual desires railing at her for this choice, but a part buried under so much fear that its voice had no hope of rising to audibility.

Roy watched the blonde hustle toward her dorm and ceased his own walk. He’d suspected such a greeting when she refused to make eye contact with him in their classes, but he’d been hopeful a little personal attention would change her mind. It looked like he was wrong. Such a shame; Julia really had been one of Roy’s favorites, holding his attention for over a year. A normal man might have taken such a dismissal by a girl so formerly enraptured with him as a blow to the ego.

With a swift turn, Roy headed back toward his own dorm, jogging ahead slightly to chat with a pair of coeds who weren’t a part of the HCP. Roy Daniels was not a normal man, and he had no intention of letting one chick get him down. Roy might be a freak underground, but up on the surface he still considered himself the big dog on campus.

*    *    *

“You’re still stressed,” Alex accused. He and Selena were sitting in her room, dining on a pizza. Selena sighed and set her third slice back in the box. If she was going to take the calories from it she was sure as hell going to enjoy it, and it seemed that meant talking things out first.

“Yeah, Alex, I am. My boyfriend sided with the school’s collection of weirdoes in front of everyone. Can you see how that might be a little awkward for me?”

“We talked about this,” Alex defended. “They’re my friends and they’re good people. Who they used to be shouldn’t matter.”

“Shouldn’t is the keyword there,” Selena replied. “A lot of things shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter that my dad’s skin is caramel-colored instead of ivory, yet he still gets passed over for a promotion every year. Just because something shouldn’t matter doesn’t mean it won’t.”

“So that makes it all right? To treat them differently because of how they were born?”

“No, of course it doesn’t, but... Alex, I told you at the beginning of the year that I supported you sticking with them. I still do. But let’s not pretend that it’s some effortless choice without consequences. There is going to be blowback from taking their side, on you for doing it and on me for staying with you.”

“So you think it was a mistake,” Alex said, half question and half accusation.

“No, not at all. I’m not saying the repercussions should change your mind; I’m just saying we shouldn’t pretend they aren’t there. So, yes, I’m stressed, because some people I counted as friends were assholes to me today. It’s going to happen, and probably more often than less. I’m okay with it.” Selene leaned across the cardboard container and kissed Alex gently, ending with a second light smooch on the corner of his mouth.

“You made your choice and I made mine. Just don’t call me out on the stuff I’m trying to downplay. Pretend you’re not telepathic every once and a while,” Selena said softly.

“That should be easy enough,” Alex agreed. “After all, I’m not a telepath.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Selena said, kissing him once more for good measure. That accomplished, she turned her attention back to the greasy, cheese-covered, fat-laden pizza slice calling up at her from the box below. She was going to have to run an extra half-hour tomorrow not to feel guilty about this. Her teeth tore through the first melty bite and flavor flooded her mouth.

Totally worth it.