Chapter 98

It was a good thing Karaoke Barn offered private rooms, because the turnout for Camille’s party couldn’t have easily fit in some obscure corner booth. Her team, along with Thomas and the girls, were there, but also in attendance were some unexpected additions such as Chad, Shane, Britney, Julia, Jill, and Sasha. All of them were trimmed in appropriate apparel, though Julia and Sasha’s necklines were treading dangerously close toward defying that definition, and they piled into the large room stocked with several tables and one moderately-sized stage at the center.

People began taking seats where they were available with little consideration of who they were next to. Everyone here was, if not friends, cordial enough to tolerate for the night. Vince noticed he seemed to be herded into the seat next to Camille, one he would have thought her closer friends might have prized. He accepted it with his usual blissfully-ignorant demeanor, turning his attention to the groups of people ambling in as they arrived.

“I thought Will would have come with Thomas,” Vince said as he noticed his hyper-intelligent friend was nowhere to be seen.

“Oh, he told us he was going to be late. He had an early evening lab,” Camille supplied as she pretended to browse through one of the monolithic song catalogues littering the tables. She would sooner square off against one of the professors in combat to the death than get on the stage to sing; however, the book did make a useful prop for avoiding looking at Vince. The small tolerance she’d grown thanks to working with him all year seemed to have dissipated when she saw him in his suit. The boy cleaned up well.

“Yeesh, I’m glad I don’t have to take any science classes.”

“You, me, and the entire chemistry department,” Nick agreed, pulling out a chair and plopping down at the table. He was dressed closer to Nicholas than Nick, what with his dapper button-down and midnight-black suit. He’d purposely avoided combing his hair too expertly or getting this particular jacket tailored, at least. They were meaningless details unless you were looking for them, and Nick assumed someone was always looking for them.

“I don’t think I’d cause too much damage,” Vince protested.

“Vince, you’re a dear friend, but you screwed up making iced tea,” Nick countered.

“He did?” Camille looked up from the songbook.

“He just didn’t know that the machine needed a filter,” Alice defended, making her way over and settling in next to Nick. Her red eye glitter matched the sparkling of her form-fitting red dress that showed just a touch of cleavage. It was beginning to look like this table would be filled only by Team One members, but the last two seats were quickly scooped up by Violet and Stella. Neither of them saw the unhappy look on Sasha’s face, but she had no one but herself to blame for being too slow.

“I’d never used one of those things before; I thought it was built in.”

“Needless to say, the tea was thrown out and we haven’t really let Vince mess around with advanced appliances since,” Nick concluded.

“Too bad. Most girls dig a man who can cook,” Violet pointed out.

“Lord knows I do,” Stella agreed. “I hate that domestic shit, I want to come home and have my meal hot and waiting for me. Maybe with a nice martini on the side.”

“So you want to be a man, in the fifties, in a sitcom?” Nick asked.

“Pretty much.”

Nick turned the idea over in his head a few times. “You know what, I can actually see the appeal there.”  

“I am able to cook,” Vince protested, getting his words in at last. “I’m just not good with fancy technological stuff.”

“Items you would find an abundance of in any science lab setting, circling back and proving my original point,” Nick replied.

“So who’s going to sing first?” Violet tossed out, trampling over their repartee.

“My money says it will be whoever is drinking the heaviest,” Alice wagered.

“I don’t know, some people actually enjoy the spotlight and the attention.”

“Oh, if it’s about being an attention whore then Nick will probably be up there before we even order our food,” Alice predicted.

“Funny. Sorry to disappoint, Princess, but not even a river of booze could get me up there. Being genetically tone-deaf means I can’t carry a tune any more than Vince could use the popcorn setting on the microwave.”

“I feel like this is getting mean,” Vince objected.

“Wait, so the diva of Melbrook has one outlandish activity he won’t engage in? No, no, now I’ve got to hear you sing.” Alice plucked one of the books from the table and began rifling through it.

“Flip the pages as fast as you like, there’s no way I’m getting up on stage,” Nick reaffirmed, turning his attention to a menu rather than a book.

“Oh, come on, do it for Camille. It’s her birthday.”

“I’m actually okay with people not singing if they don’t want to.” Camille felt it important to establish this precedent early in case attention was later shifted to her own lack of performance.

“Look, you want me to make an ass of myself, it’s going to have to be tit for tat,” Nick said.

“I’ll go sing,” Alice agreed immediately.

“I know you will; we’ve all heard you belting out top forty hits in the kitchen when you forget you live with other people. That’s not a fair exchange, because you wouldn’t be embarrassed by singing. You should be, but you wouldn’t be.”

“No need to be snippy,” Alice said with a glare. “Fine, if me singing wouldn’t get you up there then how about something equally degrading?”

“I’m listening.”

“I’ll clean the boys’ side bathroom and lounge tomorrow.”

Nick raised an eyebrow. “Why exactly would that be a fair trade?”

“Because you always call me Princess, and nothing would cheer your vile little heart more than seeing someone you consider high society doing menial labor.” Alice shot him a pointed look with a light smirk underneath. She might not be as good as he was, but she still knew a thing or two about what a man’s temptations were.

“I expect a professional-level job. Plus I get to pick the song.”

Alice contemplated the addendum to the bargain then shook her head in a motion that sent her blonde hair bobbing about. “It’s a deal.”

“Good. Mind if I at least order my food first?”

“Don’t you need to look for a song?” Violet pointed out.

“I’ve got a good inclination of what I want to do already,” Nick replied. “I'm quite confident they'll have my choice. That can be confirmed in a moment; the first priority here is selecting something to fill my cavernous stomach.”

The rest of the table took a lead from his good idea and began pondering their dinner options.