Chapter 52

“I don’t understand why I can’t just be a knight again,” Vince protested as he stared at the racks of colorful ensembles arranged along the walls.

“Because Halloween is a chance to have a little image experimentation, and doing the same costume over and over is not an acceptable social practice,” Nick explained. “Plus, shopping for them is half the fun.”

“You have an odd idea of fun,” Vince said with little conviction. He’d already given up and resolved himself to this fate; he was merely making sure to officially log his protests on the way down.

“Look at it this way: if you don’t dress up then you’ll stand out at Screamtopia. We’re supposed to blend in,” Hershel pointed out.

“Which I could do in the knight outfit I already own.”

“You just don’t get it, Vince,” Nick said, turning his own attention back to costume selection. The three boys were at a party supply store that was decked out in appropriate Halloween decor. After some discussion, Hershel’s haunted house suggestion had won out for their October 31 plans. Team One would all be going in a few days along with Thomas, Stella, Violet, Will, and anyone else they opted to bring along. The girls had gone on a shopping trip, leaving the three boys to their own devices. This had culminated in procrastination, leading them to search the already-scoured store with mere days to the deadline.

“What about condiments?” Hershel suggested. “They have ketchup, mayo, and mustard costumes.”

“There are two problems with that. First, we’d look ridiculous. Second, we aren’t a trio of gay polygamists, so we don’t need to be dressing in theme,” Nick said.

“A ‘no’ probably would have conveyed that just as well,” Vince scolded.

“Sorry, my bad,” Nick said offhandedly. “Let’s think in terms of things that work well for us personally rather than as a team. Hershel, how do you feel about mummies?”


“Good enough.” Nick snatched up a mummy costume and held it out to the huskier member of the party. “Go grab a dressing room.”

“Why a mummy?”

“Because Jekyll and Hyde would be too obvious. Just go see if you like it.”

Hershel began to protest more, then realized he didn’t have any ideas for costumes better than the one in his hand and decided to at least see how it looked.

“Okay, that’s one down; now what to do you about you, Silver? If we play to your hair color we could do a rave druggie or an old man. Any preference?”

“Neither,” Vince replied quickly. He’d just seen how being noncommittal had played out for Hershel so he was making his opinions known.

“Fine, fine. So picky for someone who says he doesn’t care.” Nick kept scanning the racks, looking for anything that would provide a ready-made explanation for Vince’s hair. On campus it didn’t stand out too much: there were plenty of people with unnatural hair colorings walking the Lander campus. Screamtopia was different, it wasn’t associated with the school, so they needed to try and look as normal as possible under the circumstances.

“How about a ghost? We get you some white clothing, dust you up with baby powder, and you make some moaning noises on cue.”

“Maybe,” Vince said cautiously. “Hey, what about this one? It seems kind of appropriate when you think about it.”

Nick glanced at the costume clutched in his friend’s hand. It was appropriate - a little too appropriate, actually - but it could account for the silver hair under the right circumstances.

“Try it on. If it fits we’ll grab some accessories and call you done.”

“Cool.” Vince headed off toward the line at the dressing room, leaving Nick to dig through the racks for his own holiday-appropriate attire. Last year’s gunslinger had been fun, but this year Nick was feeling a bit more mischievous, like he wanted one that showed a touch of his own personality. He ran his hands through the patterns of cheap fabric one by one, dismissing each as he passed it by.

Nick found the right costume near the end of the store, just when he was resolving himself to pick something that fit rather than something he liked. He’d seen variations of this idea already, but something about this particular one called to him. He snatched it up and made a beeline for the dressing room. There was no question he was buying it; all that remained to be seen was if it would require alteration.

*    *    *

Chad was already in the gym when Shane walked in. He ignored the blonde’s presence and went over to the free weights, trying to seem indifferent. Of course Chad was already here; Chad was always here, always working on getting better. Not that he needed it.

The two boys were the only sophomores here today; most of the others had been taking a break since the test. Some were feeling smug, some were licking their wounds, and some were just too tired to put in the extra hours. Shane finished a round of curls and moved to the bench press. He was halfway through his first set when a familiar shadow fell across his face.

“Need a spotter?”

Shane checked the venomous retort that wanted to fly out of his mouth. He had to get himself under control. He’d always known Chad was stronger than him; that wasn’t new. His team being so thoroughly trashed had still left a sour flavor in his mouth, and he hadn’t quite been able to curb the bubbling anger directed toward his friend. In truth, that was the reason he’d been avoiding him; he didn’t want to say anything that would leave a lasting tarnish between them over something as ultimately trivial as a Capture the Flag match.

“Sure.” Shane kept the bar moving, pushing himself beyond where he would have stopped had a safety net not been present. In the end, he didn’t end up needing Chad’s help. His friend stayed silently present the whole time, waiting just in case. Shane set the bar down and grabbed his water bottle to take a drink.

“Haven’t seen you around much,” Chad said. Something seemed different about him today. It took a few seconds for Shane to realize it, but Chad was awkward. It was something Shane had never seen before. Usually the boy was so self-possessed and determined that everything he did exuded confidence. Not right now. No, at the moment he looked like a trout trying to blend in at a hammerhead convention.

“Been sort of busy studying for midterms,” Shane lied.

“Oh yeah, that makes sense.” Chad didn’t have to study for finals. His power allowed him to keep his brain in peak efficiency, resulting in perfect recall of anything he’d read or seen when he needed it. Cramming for tests was just one of those million little inconveniences he didn’t understand. “Doing anything for Halloween?”

“I think my team wanted to hit up the frat party they throw every year,” Shane said.

“Sounds fun. Mine is going to that haunted house downtown.”

“You going to join them?”

“Not sure yet,” Chad said.

“You should. Party nights are a good chance to build team spirit.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Um, so I was kind of wanting to check something with you. It might sound stupid but we’re okay, right?” Chad asked, his eyes staring intently at the weight bar.

“You don’t have a lot of practice with friends, do you?”

“Not really.”

Shane took another sip of water. It was almost unnerving to see Chad like this. Still, it was helping to diffuse the remaining anger from Shane’s defeat. Staying mad at him in this state felt like being mad at a puppy three days after it peed on the floor.

“We’re fine,” Shane said. “I just needed a little time to let my pride heal. You trounced us pretty well.”

“Maybe,” Chad said. “You should be aware, if we’d faced any other team we would have won in half the time. You guys put up a hell of a fight.”

“We did our best. You want to go grab some dinner after we finish down here?” Shane asked, extending an olive branch of his own.

Chad nodded. “Let’s run a few laps and get some grub.”