Chapter 82

The second round started in much the same way as the first, with Cameron doing a furious charge. Roy was ready for this; he hadn’t really expected the kid to learn his lesson from one loss. What he wasn’t ready for was the way his blows glanced off the freshman’s back, not to mention the tremendous power that Cameron struck him with. Roy hunched over and damned near lost his footing; it was only that last year of being brutally assaulted by Chad that gave him the skill to stay on his feet. Rather than going for any fancy holds, Roy merely reached over and grabbed Cameron’s legs, jerking him in an arc through the air and slamming him to the ground. He should have capitalized and he knew it, but instead he took a step back to recover his bearings and his breath.

“What the fuck, kid? Where did that come from?”

Cameron came to his feet quickly, like the blow that had left a crater in Thomas’s lawn hadn’t even registered to his skull. There was a gentle sway to the way he stood now, the effect of speed-guzzling vodka already showing itself. He smiled at Roy, eyes a bit foggy but the intent therein still sharp as volcanic glass.

“I do love me some booze.” The words slipped out just as he lurched forward, his fists flying faster than Roy would have thought possible. He got three strikes in before Roy was able the dodge and hip-toss him back to the ground.

“You’re kidding me. Alcohol makes you stronger, doesn’t it?” Roy glanced at the blonde who had produced the purse-vodka and saw her give a slight nod. He turned his gaze back to Cameron, who was scrambling back to his feet once more. Before the younger boy could mount another assault, Roy threw back his head and let out a tremendous bark of a laugh.

“That is fantastic!” He hunkered down into a defensive stance and met his opponent’s slowly drooping eyes. “Any time you’re ready.”

There was a series of sounds of smacking flesh, but Chad didn’t linger around to watch. He turned and walked back into the house, intent on getting some pretzels. Angela materialized at his side almost instantly; he still hadn’t figured out how she moved through throngs of people with such ease.

“Don’t you want to see the show?”

“No need. Roy’s going to win and I don’t think either will let things get out of hand,” Chad said.

“How can you be so sure?”

“Cameron seems to get stronger and faster with the more alcohol he consumes. However, he hasn’t gotten as strong as Roy yet, although he is a bit faster,” Chad explained.

“Fast can make the difference,” Angela tossed back. She’d seen many a match that was determined by factors other than brute force.

“It can, but there are two problems with it being a powerful enough advantage to turn the tides. For one, Roy is accustomed to fighting people who are faster than he is. During our sparring matches he grew quite adept at compensating for my faster movements. The other issue-”

“Yeah, I saw that already. Cameron is getting drunker the longer they fight.”

Chad stopped at a table in the now nearly-empty kitchen and scooped up a hand full of chips, the pretzels having been emptied out sometime earlier. “Precisely. Assuming there are no limits on how much power he can gain from alcohol, it seems he still has to contend with the side effects of intoxication.”

“You have to admit, if there’s no cap on that power it could be pretty useful.” Angela helped herself to the liquor section by mixing up a quick Mai Tai. She’d have preferred to drop some fresh fruit in it, but free booze was free booze.

“He is in the HCP at Lander. Despite what recent rumors might indicate, the standards for admission here are exceptionally high.”

“Getting into the HCP at any college is pretty difficult,” Angela pointed out. “Although I suppose we’re the only ones suffering under the stigma of doubt thanks to our recent admissions.”

“Unfounded speculation,” Chad snapped. Angela was slightly taken aback. She’d seem him shrug off all manner of trouble and insult, but this was getting under his skin. A more demure girl would have abandoned the topic immediately. A more demure girl wouldn’t have had Angela’s warrior instincts.

“It doesn’t bother you? The Powereds, or former Powereds, coming into our school and putting us in the cross-hairs of every other member of the Hero Certification Program?”

“Not in the slightest. I have no qualms with them being here. How a person acquires their abilities doesn’t matter in the slightest. It only matters how they use them.”

“That’s quite accepting of you. And if everyone else shared that opinion, we wouldn’t have to worry about Lander looking bad.”

There was a crunching sound as Chad inadvertently disintegrated the chips he’d been holding when his hand clenched into a fist. He opened his fingers and watched a fine powder drift toward the plastic covered floor.

“Lander will come out on top. I trust Dean Blaine implicitly, and I will personally keep the reputation of this school pristine if I have to personally carry it to unseen heights. I won’t let anyone tarnish it.”

“You really love this school.” Angela handed him a paper towel to wipe off the orange chip residue. Her initial urge was to put a comforting hand on his arm; however, she immediately recognized that as a mistake. Chad would loathe pity or comfort. The most he could accept was the respect and confidence of a peer, someone truly on his level. That was why she gave him something functional instead of emotional. That was kindness he could tolerate.

“I do. I didn’t even apply to any others.”

“With your skill I guess you knew you’d get into your first pick.”

Chad shook his head. “If I’d been turned down, I would have just tried again the next year. I had to come here.”

“Look, I like Lander a lot, but I’m guessing there’s a reason for that kind of determination aside from the mild summers and beach proximity.”

“This was where my parents met. It was where all my father’s friends knew him best. When they visit and tell stories, almost all of them take place here. Every time I picture my dad, I always see him at Lander. I walk by places on campus and I remember the tales I’ve heard about his time here; I can almost picture him amongst the scenery.” Chad handed her back the now orange-stained paper towel. A lesser woman would have caved to her urges and embraced him in an enthusiastic hug. Angela accepted the towel and threw it in the trash.

“That makes sense to me. For what it’s worth, I’m glad we got you here. Nice to finally have someone who is a decent sparring partner.”

Chad gave her a rare smile, his teeth perfectly aligned and just the right shade of white. “Same to you.”

“Just one word of advice: don’t get so caught up in chasing someone else’s memories that you forget to craft your own. Someday you might have a child to pass them on to, and wouldn’t it be a shame if the only ones you could give were third-hand?”

“There is some logic to that,” Chad admitted, still facing away from her when he said it.

“Sounds like they’re finally done with the wrestling outside; let’s go make sure no one got killed,” Angela suggested. Part of a long-term offense was knowing when to retreat after a successful strike.

“That would be a bit of a mood killer,” Chad conceded. The two walked back out into the crowd, and despite its size, Angela made damn sure the tide of people wasn’t able to separate her from her date.