Chapter 81

Angela was impressed: the celebration had lasted most of the evening before any semblance of a fight had broken out. She’d had to put down two half-hearted scraps before the freshmen had even arrived at her party. It was a little surprising that Thomas had managed to keep the peace for so long, though who had broken it was somewhat less shocking.

“Should we intervene?” Chad was standing next to her, looking delicious as always. For a guy who didn’t seem to care much about his looks, Angela couldn’t help noticing that his hair was always nicely styled and his complexion impeccable. Given his power, these things probably took almost negligible effort to maintain, but it was still effort he exerted. Chad could put on the dedicated tough act all day long; Angela knew there was a bit of vanity and ego under the calm warrior’s surface.

“I don’t see any reason to; so far it seems to be a friendly match. Better they release their aggression harmlessly than let it loose in more destructive ways.”

Across the yard stood Roy and the freshman boy, Cameron or some such, both doing a preliminary stretch or two as the crowd of intoxicated students mingled about. A few other freshmen were speckled through the growing audience, three of them with looks of evident concern. Cameron himself seemed quite nonchalant, perhaps the gallons of beer he’d put away were the cause of such chillness.

The cluster parted as Thomas made his way outside. He looked at the two men preparing to do battle and let out a long, exasperated sigh before speaking.

“Who insulted whom?”

“Neither,” Roy said with an oversized grin. He looked like a kid waiting in line for a new roller coaster than he’d yet to scream his way through. “We were just drinking and talking, and Cameron mentioned his abilities were physically-based as well. Couple of beers later we decided to have ourselves a match.”

“‘A couple of beers’ is something of an understatement,” Alice chipped in from the sidelines. Even half-buzzed and in the cool wind of the California air, she still looked dazzling. Angela was very thankful the girl was inept in choosing men and procuring them, otherwise she might have had some real competition for her current conquest.

“We had enough,” Roy replied. “Now hold my hat.” He tossed the ever-present grey cowboy hat to Angela, which she caught with some distaste.

“What on earth makes you think a fight in my backyard is a good idea?” Thomas inquired.

“You’ve got high fences. Besides, we’re just horsing around. No mega-strength punches or tossing each other half a mile away. Just the first to three pins wins.”

“I’ll be quick,” Cameron promised from a few feet away. He’d finished his own stretches and was hopping impatiently in place.

“This seems like an awful idea,” Thomas reiterated.

Angela waltzed forward slowly, letting the crowd register her presence and slide away appropriately. She’d learned long ago how to project an aura of power and intimidation. It didn’t come from being aggressive or showing your strength; if anything it was the opposite. People saw true power when they witnessed someone who could move with a blissful peace, no matter what was happening around them. That confidence only came from being so strong that you had nothing that required your worry. Anyone could learn to project that image, but if you actually had the power to back it, then it was dozens of times more effective. And Angela definitely had the power.

“Let them be,” she said as she slid up to Thomas’s side. “You can’t control morons, you can only point them in a useful direction. If things get out of hand, Chad and I will put a swift stop to it.” Her words were for Thomas, but both of the would-be fighters got a dose of her eyes. She made sure each understood that the consequences of her stepping in would be exceptionally unpleasant. They seemed to absorb as much of her message as their booze-addled brains were capable of. With that settled, Angela put her hand on Thomas’s shoulder and led the party host back a few steps. There was immediate bickering directly behind her; a cursory glance revealed it to be the freshmen she assumed were Cameron’s friends. She started to listen to their conversation, but her attention was drawn to the action as it started.

Cameron kicked things off with a headlong charge right at Roy’s torso. If the older boy was surprised, it was only because he wasn’t accustomed to someone pulling his own signature move on him. Unluckily for Cameron, all of Roy’s experience with this technique had given him first-hand experience on how it could be countered. Roy struck with a quick elbow to the shoulder blade, obliterating Cameron’s balance and leaving him wide open for the knee that was driven into his hip. If it had been against a regular opponent, such a strike would only have further skewed his balance, but from someone like Roy, the blow flipped him several feet into the air. He landed chest-first in the grass with a soft thud. Roy moved to capitalize, but the freshman was surprisingly quick to recover. A single punch against the ground launched him back to his feet.

The two combatants looked at each other for only a moment before they rushed back into the fray. Cameron was good: he had speed and experience to go with his strength. But as the two cycled through holds and escapes, two things became clear: Roy was more practiced at hand-to-hand combat, and Cameron was the much weaker of the two. His speed and tactics kept him aloft for nearly a full minute before Roy landed a pivotal leg sweep that sent Cameron crashing down. Recovery might still have been possible if Roy hadn’t learned his lesson from the first attack. Such was not the case, and Roy kept after his opponent relentlessly, offering no chance for rest. A few seconds and three taps on the ground later the first round was over.

Roy stood up and brushed himself off, extending a hand to help his younger opponent off the ground. Cameron accepted graciously, leaping up with energy to spare.

“Ready for round two?” Cameron asked with an excited smile.

“Sure, why not?” Roy now knew that there was no way Cameron could defeat him, but if the kid wanted to go again, that was fine. Chad had wasted lord only knew how much time last year fighting an inferior opponent so he could learn. The least Roy could do was follow Chad’s example.

“Wait a second!” A cute girl with short blonde hair came tumbling out of the crowd. Just behind her were two more freshman, each exchanging looks of concern with the others. “Just wait a minute, please.” The girl turned to Cameron, who looked as if he’d just discovered someone ate all of the cereal and put the empty box back in cupboard.

“Tell me something honestly, how much have you had to drink?” Her tone made it clear she wouldn’t buck any lies or half-truths. She wanted his alcohol consumption down to the glass.

“A lot of beer,” Cameron answered as honestly as he could.

“That it? Just beer? No hard liquor of any kind?”

“None at all.”

“Ugh, you’re such a moron.” The blonde began rooting around in her oversized purse, eventually producing a full bottle of what had to be the cheapest vodka sold in stores. She handed it to him without a word, and stared at him until he unscrewed the cap and began to guzzle it down.

“I’m really sorry about this,” the girl said, turning to Roy. “It’s just that with only beer he’s not going to be all that strong and I don’t want him to get hurt.”

Roy wasn’t sure what to make of that explanation or of Cameron’s chugging abilities, but he supposed at this point it made as much sense as anything else in his world. He gave her a shrug and motioned for Cameron to finish, which he did in short order.

“Thanks,” Cameron said, handing her back a now-empty bottle. He looked back at Roy with renewed vigor. “So, round two?”