Chapter 34

The Rencroft building was named after Albert Louis Rencroft, a particularly bold (underhanded) investor who had helped finance several institutions of money management. This building had been one of his final projects in life, a glorious skyscraper that looked as though it had been forged of metal and glass rather than merely constructed from them. It practically glowed as the setting sun’s rays reflected in its gleaming surface, serving as a mecca for both students in architecture and art alike to come marvel at its beauty and draw inspiration. Tonight, however, it drew a somewhat different crowd.

“Vince, stop messing with your collar,” Nick scolded.

“Sorry,” Vince said, letting his hand drop. He wasn’t used to wearing things with collars, let alone the stiff, starchy collar of a freshly laundered button-down. Nick had helped him choose and prepare his outfit, the blue shirt that was bothering him and a pair of black slacks, citing the fact that since this was a fancy event he needed to break his usual fashion monopoly of t-shirts and jeans. Nick had chosen grey slacks and a black shirt with soft purple pin-striping for himself. It danced closer to his actual tastes than was likely safe, but Nick figured that, given the unusual circumstances, he could slide by without issues.

The girls all wore dresses, though Alice and Selena’s were a bit more risqué than Camille and Mary’s: Selena’s was silver with a tightness near the bottom that highlighted her assets, while Alice’s was a red piece that crossed in the front and drew attention to her chest. If Alex was at all bothered by the eye-grabbing nature of his girlfriend’s garb, it didn’t show. He grinned broadly as he held the mocha-skinned girl’s hand during their saunter through the parking lot.

Hershel held Mary’s hand as well, the two more demure in their affection than Alex and Selena, yet no less heartfelt. It occurred to Vince that if things had gone differently, he’d be embracing Sasha right now. He felt a pang in his gut and tried to turn his attention elsewhere. This was a night of fun, after all. Thomas, Violet, and Stella would be meeting them at the top floor and the group could proceed to dance the night away just like regular students.

After a long wait in line and exchange of money at the entrance, the crew was treated to quite a sight through the large oak doors separating the central room from the lobby. The area was huge, an entire floor devoted solely to serving as a party venue. There were bar stations set up at each corner of the room, along with kegs positioned at seemingly random junctions to keep the alcohol flowing freely. There was already a crush of bodies in the central part of the room despite the early hour, their shoes nearly obscuring the hardwood floor that indicated its function as a dancing area. Music was pumping from the walls, but more subtly than at most of the clubs the group had frequented. This was a place that encouraged conversation as well as alcohol consumption.

“Wow,” Alex said as he took in all the sights. “Is this what normal college people get to do all the time?”

“Pretty sure even outside our curriculum this isn’t an everyday event,” Hershel clarified.

“Point of fact, it’s one of the biggest parties of the year,” Selena told them. “All the frats have one. There’s the Halloween party, this one, the St. Patrick’s day bar crawl, the Cinco De Mayo rager, the Easter keg blitz, the-”

“Hang on,” Vince interrupted. “I admit I’m not really used to this kind of thing, but how is Easter a drinking holiday?”

“You spend a long weekend with your family on your best behavior while being dragged around in your Sunday finest and often stuck entertaining small children,” Nick said. “From my point of view, it provides a multitude of reasons to drink.”

“Amen,” Selena mumbled under her breath.

“And speaking of, all this talk is making me thirsty. Anyone else want a drink?” Nick asked.

Selena, Alice, and Alex all raised their hands.

“I’ll come with you,” Vince said. “I could use some water.”

“Pretty sure water is that line over there,” Mary said, pointing to a small stand with only a few people milling about it.

“Thanks,” Vince said, heading over without batting an eye. If it bothered him to be one of the few non-drinkers at a party devoted solely to that act then his face certainly didn’t let it show. Nick headed toward one of the longer lines and the rest of the group went looking for their friends or a table, whichever they stumbled across first.

Vince stood patiently in line, receiving a clear cup with an equally clear liquid inside of it. He grabbed a few more in case anyone at the table wanted some as well then turned around to look for his friends. What he found staring back at him was a set of familiar facial features, a configuration he never would have expected to encounter in this setting.

“Oh, hey, Chad,” Vince greeted.

“Good evening,” Chad said politely. “I see you’re not joining in the alcoholic revelry either.”

“Yeah, not really my thing,” Vince said.

“Nor mine. A body should be looked after and kept fit, in my opinion, and that means avoiding things precisely like alcohol.”

“That makes sense, I’m just not really a fan,” Vince agreed. “Truth be told, this whole scene is a bit foreign to me. It’s where the team wanted to go.”

Chad raised an eyebrow. “Your whole team is out here this close to Monday’s... test?”

“Sure, we decided we needed to relax a little after all the hard work. Isn’t that why you’re here?”

Chad shook his head. “This is merely part of an arrangement I made. I agreed to chaperone someone in exchange for her assistance training my team.”

The word “Who” was literally halfway out of Vince’s mouth when a blonde in a shimmering gold dress practically materialized at Chad’s side. She sported a glass of wine in one hand and a frosty mug of beer in the other.

“There you are,” Angela DeSoto said, bumping Chad’s shoulder with her own to draw attention. “I swear, it takes you longer to get water than it takes me to make water, and I have to deal with the ever-present line at the girl’s room. Hey, silver-haired kid, how’s it shaking?”

“Pretty good,” Vince said uncertainly. “You’re the chaperone from last year’s river trip, right?”

“Yup, and the hostess with the mostess, not to mention widdle Shane’s big sis,” she confirmed. “Sorry to break up your conversation, but I didn’t bribe big, blonde, and muscly here to come along and not move me around the dance floor.”

“I believe your exact words were that you ‘wanted to dance but didn’t want a dude who was going to get all gropey after two beers’,” Chad informed her.

“Well, are we dancing? No, so let’s get you some freaking water, set it down at the table, and light that floor on fire. That’s a metaphor, silver-kid, don’t go pyro wrecking everyone’s night.”

“What? But I-I would never,” Vince began sputtering.

“Ease up, kid, I’m just messing around,” Angela assured him. “Freaking A, you’re as easy as this one.”

“Perhaps it would be better to direct your energies toward dancing,” Chad said, easing her away. “Nice seeing you, Vince.”

“That’s what momma is talking about. Later, Vince, try ditching the water and having a little fun at some point,” Angela called over her shoulder.

Vince merely chuckled to himself and went to find his friends. It was good to see someone as serious as Chad being forced to take part in some light-hearted activities.