Roy was rarely impressed by anything that didn’t involve D-cups and a size zero waist, but as he watched the freshman pour yet another cup of beer down his throat, he had to admit it was something worth watching. The kid had introduced himself as Cameron then put a hurting on the kegs that would have left a rock star envious. The boy was basically filling his lean frame with hops-brewed alcohol as fast as he could work his way through the line. Most of the freshmen in this situation were more timid or bashful about their activities. Not this kid. Roy admired that sort of bravado.
“What’s that make, fifteen?”
“Probably,” Cameron said with a shrug. “I’m not great at counting.”
“Most people at that point wouldn’t be great at standing.”
“I’ve got a high tolerance.”
“So I can see. I heard you say you’re Cameron, right? I’m Roy Daniels.” He held out his hand, which the younger boy accepted and immediately shook. His grip was strong, beyond what a human would have been able to casually manage, but not overly impressive by Super standards.
“I know who you are, but it’s nice to meet you officially.”
“My legendary drinking and fighting prowess precedes me, huh?”
“Nah, everyone in my class just knows about the Powereds who got into the HCP.” If Cameron was at all aware of the subtle tension that bloomed from the people standing around him, he didn’t show it. In fact, he did nothing more than down another half of a beer in a single swift sip.
Roy stared at the smaller boy with forced calm. Given his size and seeming strength, there were limited options for why he’d make a comment like that. Either he was an idiot, he was much more powerful than he seemed, or he simply was too thick to realize it might be an offensive thing to say. Before Lander, Roy would have dismissed the last one immediately, but time with Vince and Chad had shown him that some perfectly competent people could have social blind spots the size of elephants. He decided to test the waters before selecting a reaction.
“We were Powereds. We’re Supers now.”
“Oh, my bad. The grapevine sucks at details.” He took another swig of beer and stared at Roy quizzically. It looked like it was the socially ignorant option after all. Roy was glad he’d resisted the urge to hurl the kid through the wall. Thomas probably would have never forgiven him for the repair bills.
“I think one of the beer pong tables is open. Let’s fill a pitcher and see what you’ve got,” Roy said with a charming smile.
“Cool.” Cameron didn’t worry about much as long as there was beer. For his part, Roy was confident he could keep the tone of the match more fun than the one Hershel and Nick had started last year. Not to mention this kid had obviously come here with friends, some of whom were female. Freshman girls were easy-pickings, and establishing a bond with their buddy would be a faster way in than doing a cold approach. Despite his thick muscles and fist-first attitude, Roy Daniels could employ a bit of tact and strategy when it came to the fairer sex.
* * *
Candi stood out in the yard and tried to will away her tension. She wasn’t like Cameron with his unflappable nature, or Gail with her power to see through people, or even Walter and his clumsy schemes to ingratiate himself to others. Candi was a girl who was comfortable in solitude, who liked her own company in a way that most people would spend lifetimes trying to emulate. However, enjoying alone time and being immune to needing companionship were different things.
College, and the HCP especially, had shown her the importance of having friends. That was why she was here tonight. Her discomfort in unfamiliar situations was why she currently stood on the dilapidated grass that passed for a backyard.
The new owners were working to undo the neglect of countless tenants before them, Candi could have seen that even without her abilities. There were fresh sprouts popping out of the ground, eagerly bursting forth from soil that was finally being watered with regularity. She could feel their joy, their drive to grow big and strong. Plants were so positive most of the time; it was why humans found nature so soothing. Candi liked to believe that even though everyone couldn’t hear the flora the way she could, they could still sense its goodness in some way.
Candi nearly leapt out of her sandals. She’d been so focused on the sounds of the plants around her that she’d missed the more obvious noise of a door opening behind her. Once her heartbeat slowed to a dull hammering, she turned around to see the person who’d accidently snuck up on her. He was a sophomore, short in stature with a pair of glasses resting beneath light curly hair.
“I am, I just needed some air,” Candi said lamely.
“I completely understand. These things can be a bit over-whelming.” He sat down on a stone bench that rested near the door. Despite the fact that he carried a plastic cup, he didn’t seem to be drawing from it with the same enthusiasm as the other party-goers.
“Tell me about it. I like meeting new people and all, I guess I just wish it wasn’t all so...”
“Exactly. Loud.” Candi wandered over and sat down in a lawn chair a few feet away from the bench. “I like quiet conversation better. When does that become the default way to make new friends?”
“Based on my observations, long after you’ve already made the important ones.”
“I was afraid of that.” Candi chuckled lightly. “I’m Candi.”
“Will. I’m one of the actual tenants here.”
“That explains why you’re in attendance.”
“Sadly I suspect I’d be here even if it weren’t the case. I’ve grown some friendships that encourage me to step outside my comfort zone with more frequency than I would generally prefer.” Will’s eyes were skyward, picking out the few constellations visible despite the cloudy night. “Such is the trade-off of friendship: you are forced into situations you’re not secure in, but in return you have people who assure you security in any situation. Quite a fascinating system when you think it over.”
“Yeah, it is.”
Will rose quietly from his seat. “On that note, I should go check on my guests. Perhaps you should see what your friends are up to as well.”
“Good idea.” Candi got up and followed the shorter boy back into the ruckus-filled fray that was colloquially known as a party.