Chapter 147

               “We’ve got The Pulp Flesh 7, Die in the Daylight 4: Daylight’s Revenge, and Squish Squish Thwomp: The Wet Noodle Killer.” Nick set the three DVDs on the ground, then reached back into his small duffel bag to root around for more.

                “If you’d told me that the night after junior year exams, we’d be spending it watching yet another series of schlocky horror movies, I never would have believed it,” Hershel said. He’d finally returned a few hours prior, and after hearing what the night plans were Roy had no desire to keep control of the body.

                “Me neither. Isn’t it awesome?” Only Vince could say such things with both honesty and sincerity, and even then only in this very rare set of circumstances.

                By the time their various discussions with the professors ended, the few remaining classes of the day had been finished. Lacking anything else to do, they elected to keep the plans Vince and Nicholas had made, meeting at the apartment that now belonged to Nick for movies and a night of shared company. It was surreal to go from battle, to life or death struggles, to sitting around and watching Nick dig for terrible films, but not one of the HCP students found themselves troubled by the transition. Their time training at Lander was conditioning more than just their bodies, and that was not by accident.

                A light, flippant ring echoed through the halls as Nick’s cellphone glowed on the coffee table.

                “Leave it,” he said, not even bothering to look up. “It’s Jerome or Eliza and I don’t want to talk to either of them tonight.”

                “They’re worried about you,” Mary said. “You went into a coma, then we barged in and appeared to pass out, then we all vanished from the room when they weren’t looking. You can hardly blame them for being concerned.”

                “I don’t blame them at all, but that’s not the same as wanting to deal with them.” Nick finally stood from the ground, DVDs in hand, and took a stretch so long that his back popped in several places. “I’ve got a long winter break ahead of me. Between Ms. Pips, those two, and my Nathaniel problem; it’s going to be day after day of cat and mouse games.”

                “You say that like you don’t like those,” Mary pointed out.

                “I love them like Alice loves make-up. But there will always be time for such games. Tonight, for the first time in over half a year, I’m finally in the driver’s seat of my own head and back with the only people in this world I consider friends. I mean to enjoy it, uninterrupted by my Vegas problems.” Once upon a time, Nick would have been ashamed to voice such sentiment, or at least masked it with sarcasm. After the events of the afternoon, he no longer saw any point in such a facade. These people had been willing to throw away their very minds and memories for him, and Nick was finally realizing that such bonds weren’t always a weakness. In fact, they could very well be the epitome of strength.

                A soft ding came from the kitchen, this sound far more pleasant than the sharp trilling of Nick’s cell phone.

                “Finally, if those pizzas took any longer I was going to eat a pillow,” Alice declared, rising up from the couch. “Nick, want to be a gentleman for a change and give me a hand?”

                “Back for less than six hours and already you’re trying to boss me around. Glad to see nothing’s changed in my absence.” Nick grumbled this out as he crossed the living room and stepped into the kitchen. He might be daring enough to complain about an order from a hungry Alice, but he was far too smart to contemplate ignoring it altogether.

                When he arrived, the blonde girl was already in the kitchen with the oven door open. Before her were three pizzas floating in the air, with fourth just beginning to rise from the rack. It sizzled slightly as it lost contact with the heated metal, then began a slow ascension toward its sauce-covered brethren. Alice kicked the oven door shut as soon as it was clear, then glanced to Nick.

                “You going to stand there like an idiot or you going to get me some plates to put these on?”

                “I figured you’d just gravity them out of the cupboards.”

                “I’m good, but for that kind of delicacy you need a real telekinetic. Now get me some damn plates already.”

                Nick obliged, grabbing four of his largest plates and setting them on the counter. Alice floated each pizza to a plate and lowered it down carefully, centering them so that no pizza had enough crust hanging off the edge to fall entirely.

                “You’ve gotten a lot better at that,” Nick said. “Just, in general, it’s impressive how much your power has grown.”

                “If you were still on our team, what kind of card you give me now?” Alice pulled out a pizza cutter and began sectioning each pie into slices.

                “Not a four, that’s for damn sure. I’d have to gauge the rest of the class’s abilities to get an accurate sense of where yours lay, but after what I saw you do to Nathaniel if you aren’t at least a Queen then your part of one of the strongest classes in history.”

                Alice blushed, just a touch, at the mention of her encounter with Nathaniel. That whole night had been so strange, spending an evening with Nicholas because she thought Nick was forever beyond her grasp. It was almost embarrassing now; she never would have spoken with Nick the way she did Nicholas. Embarrassing or not, Alice had learned a lesson about missed opportunities in this last semester and she wasn’t going to be making the same mistakes. Of course, that wasn’t the only thing she’d learned.

                “Speaking of our date,” Alice said, owning the word and the implication that came with it, “I seem to recall Nicholas acting shocked at the idea of going to a horror movie, as though he couldn’t stand the things. But tonight you just dug three DVDs out of a bag you brought from Vegas, which means either he was bluffing and you really do love horror movies, or he thought he’d have to pretend to be you and stowed some just in case.”

                “Quite the conundrum.” Nick lifted two of pizza-laden plates off the counter, waiting for Alice to do the same.

                “Isn’t it just? So many little mysteries about you still remain. But I plan to get you to spill all of them, eventually.” Alice’s eyes hardened as the smile abruptly left her face. “All of them. Even the one you’ve clearly been avoiding talking about with me.”

                “That is a discussion that would need to take place in a far, far more secure area, and preferably on a less festive night.”

                As quickly as she’d come, Serious Alice vanished and Cheerful Alice retook her place, carefully lifting the remaining two plates. “I understand completely. Just wanted you to know where we stood, for now.”

                “I appreciate the upfront honesty,” Nick said. “Tell me something though: if you ever do unlock all of my secrets and mysteries, do you think you’ll still find me quite so enrapturing?”

                “Sounds to me like that’s a mystery you’ll have to solve,” Alice said. “Now come on, we’ve got hungry friends waiting in the other room.”

                Nick’s face seemed to softly glow in the florescent kitchen lights, as a slow smile crept across his face. “I never thought I would hear myself agree with such words again, but yes, we do.”