“Yo, Shades. Wait up!” Nick paused his solitary saunter toward Melbrook as a sprinting figure with tightly-braided hair caught up to him.
“Stella,” Nick greeted. “To what do I owe the pleasure of such demure company?”
“I’m supposed to spread the word about the annual freshman welcoming party,” Stella replied briskly. A normal girl would have been at least panting after such a furious dash. The time in the HCP gym had left her far from a normal girl.
“Ah yes, I remember our beer pong adventure from last year. Who is hosting?”
“We are. Well, Thomas is organizing it, but the shindig is at our place. It’s next Saturday. We’ll have kegs; but, we wanted ask you to bring liquor if possible. That shit can get expensive to provide.”
“Very true. How are you guys even getting kegs? None of you are twenty-one yet.”
Stella gave him a cunning smile. “Oh, Violet and I have our sources.”
“Slipped the guy at the beer barn an extra fifty bucks?”
“Plus some gratuitous flirting,” Stella admitted.
“Liquor shouldn’t be a problem. Hershel must have some sort of hook-up.”
Nick nodded. “He uses whiskey to turn into Roy, remember? He made that clear during last year’s fiasco. Given how much time he spends as Roy, it seems only logical he has some sort of source.”
“Oh yeah. I guess I never thought to wonder where he got his supply.”
“I’ve never asked him, but however he does it, I’m sure we can use it to get a bottle or two for the party.”
“We appreciate it,” Stella said. “So I can count you guys as coming?”
“Of course, we wouldn’t miss it,” Nick confirmed. He wasn’t actually sure if the others would want to come, but it was an opportunity to pick competitors’ minds as well as solidify relations with the few allies they still had. Tactically it was a no-brainer, plus it might alleviate some of the stress he’d noticed in the group. Vince was freaking out about class, Roy had been training relentlessly, Hershel seemed to be worried about Roy, Alice was occupied with trying to understand the new aspect of her powers as well as forgetting the incident on Halloween, and Mary was, well, she was actually doing quite fine. Aside from the awkwardness they’d been grappling with since her foray into his brain, they were actually the least tightly-wound of everyone.
“Bitchin’. I’ll tell Thomas. Spread the word around, would you?”
“Sure you want me to do that?”
“What do you mean?”
Nick slowed his walking and looked at Stella more pointedly. “I appreciate you inviting us; I even like the fact that you pretended it was no big deal. Let’s be honest, my group isn’t exactly the most beloved set of people in our class. Us being there is one thing, but do you really want us advertising the fact that we’re going to show up? I fear it might significantly drive down your attendance.”
“Spread the word around,” Stella said forcefully, her own expression not showing one bit of consternation at Nick’s words. If Nick had been one to show his feelings, he might have smiled. He liked the metaphorical balls on this girl. It made her more interesting than many of the others.
“Consider it done.”
Stella gave him a curt nod then began heading her own direction. She stopped after a few steps and called back to him.
“No bottom barrel shit! I don’t want to lose my eyesight over a mixed drink.”
Nick laughed quietly as he continued on his way. He might actually break out a decent bottle of something for the festivities. It seemed the least he could do to repay such stalwart support.
* * *
“Hey there, pretty boy, how’s life treating you?” Angela slid next to Chad as he mechanically lifted the weights with his biceps. His gaze was distant as he focused on the exercise, but he took in her presence just as he noticed everything else.
“Good,” Chad grunted. He did a few more reps before setting the weights down. “You?”
“Supercalifragiawesome, per usual,” she replied. Her smaller hands wrapped around a pair of regular weights, the kind for people without puffed-up strength, and she began to do some shoulder lifts. “So I heard the yearly party is coming together. You going to attend?”
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
“Aw, why not?”
“Not big on parties,” Chad replied honestly. He scooped up a heavier pair of weights and began a round of triceps work. “Besides, my last outing didn’t go so well.” He’d eventually gotten control of his emotions and heard Rich’s side of the story; however, the night had still turned out to be one heck of an emotional roller coaster.
“A little birdy told me about that. I can assure you this one will be more fun. I happen to know for a fact the person hosting it is a responsible and conscientious young fellow.”
“Who is putting it on?”
“Thomas Castillo and his roommates.” Angela resisted the urge to arch her back. It would have accentuated her breasts, which she was quite proud of, but it also would have been a rookie mistake. Chad wasn’t the type to have his mind distracted by some lumps of flesh; he required a more subtle touch. Besides, it would have messed with her shoulder lifts and she was here (at least partially) to get a good workout.
“Thomas is a good man,” Chad commented.
“And I’m sure he throws a good party. Which you should go to. Next Saturday.”
Chad paused his workout and turned his attention to the female currently whittling down his resolve. “Why does it matter if I go?”
Angela stopped her own exercise as well. “Look, I didn’t want to come out and say it, but I guess I have to put my cards on the table. Thomas and his friends are nice, friendly people. They’re simply not all that powerful. Not compared to Supers like us.”
Chad nodded his agreement. Most would have taken the attitude for arrogance, but in Chad’s eyes there was nothing wrong with making valid assessments of one’s abilities. He was stronger than they, and Angela was stronger than he was when last they fought. He suspected that had changed; however, it wasn’t relevant to the discussion at hand.
“These parties are important for the freshman, but with all that alcohol and all those egos, it can get out of control. I think it would be best for everyone if someone strong enough to enforce order was in attendance.”
“I see,” Chad replied. “I still am not big on parties.”
“I know, I know. I tell you what: I’ll even give you a hand. Juniors don’t usually go, but you can bring me as your date.”
Chad raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just a pretense, moron. With both of us there, no one will dare start any stupid shit. Everybody has a good time and we can cut out early if things go smoothly.”
Chad resumed his workout and considered the proposal. He had no desire to attend such a function, and it would eat into his time for training. That being said, he did respect Thomas for his morality and his dedication. If anything happened to his home, Chad would feel guilty knowing he might have prevented it. More than that, Chad suspected Thomas was only throwing it in the first place out of a sense of duty. If he could do his part, then Chad felt he should chip in as well.
“Okay, I’ll go.”
“Great! Pick me up at six that night. We’ll grab a quick dinner then head on over.”
Chad didn’t recall agreeing to that part; however, he was slowly learning that it wasn’t worth the effort to try and argue with Shane’s sister.