Chapter 148

              “Got everything packed?” Hershel asked. His own body was laden down with various bundles and bags, some hanging at peculiar angles on his increasingly shrinking body. As much weight as Hershel had lost over summer, he was even leaner after a semester of constant training. Finally becoming a part of his own ability had lit a fire in Hershel that drove him daily. He still wasn’t as fit as an HCP student or devoted athlete, no amount of effort could close the two-year handicap he was working with, but he could easily pass for in shape among regular people.

                “Pretty sure I’ve got everything,” Vince said. He pulled his usual backpack onto his shoulder, and for the first time had a second bag clutched in his hand. Despite the nagging urge in the back of mind to travel as lightly as possible in case he had to flee, Vince had quelled his instincts. When he went to Chicago with Hershel, Sally Daniels treated him like family, and he didn’t need to be ready to run from that home.

                The two exited the boy’s lounge to find Alice, Mary, and Chad already waiting in the common room. Next to them were Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport, the latter of the two holding a small pad of paper.

                “There you are,” Mr. Transport said. He glanced down at his pad of paper. “So then, Alice is driving her own car home, but Mary, Hershel, and Vince all need teleporting. Chad, what about you?”

                “I thought such niceties were only for your actual charges,” Chad said.

                “Mr. Numbers double checked the exact wording of our assignments, and technically we can do it for any of the Melbrook residents.”

                “Your offer is generous and appreciated, but I must decline. I already have secured transportation home.” Chad was as polite and detached as always. When Mary had gotten home after the night of terrible films and rescuing Nick, she’d expected Chad to pepper her with questions about what had gone down. Instead, he’d told her that he was happier not knowing at the moment, even going so far as to turn down her offers of explanation. She didn’t know what had changed since they parted that day, and his immunity to telepathy meant she had no way to find out.

                “Very well then, first is Mary,” Mr. Transport announced.

                The small girl picked up her bags and turned to Alice. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with me?”

                “No, thank you. Even my father will get suspicious if I miss Christmas, not that I’m even sure he’ll come home. I’m going to have to be around him sooner or later, better to get it out of the way now.” Alice was, in truth, still nervous about seeing the man who’d apparently been lying to her about her mother’s death all her life, but she refused to run away from it any longer. If she wasn’t willing to start facing these questions head on, as well as the people who had answers, then she might never find out the truth.

                “I understand.” Mary walked over to Mr. Transport, pausing long enough to give Hershel a quick peck on the cheek. They’d already said a more tender goodbye that morning, but neither was big on personal displays of affection. She made it to her tall, well-dressed teleporter, and turned to face her friends.

                “Vince, it’s for you.”

                Then they were gone, and just as Mr. Transport and Mary vanished, a bell rang through the dormitory, signaling someone was at the front.

                “I, um… I guess I’ll go get it,” Vince said. Even as long as he’d lived around Mary, there were some aspects of being around a telepath that still took him by surprise.

                He headed out of the common room and down the front hall, pulling open the door to find Camille standing in the cold. She wore an oversized puffy white jacket and a knitted cap that covered her ears. Just looking at her, if anyone had told him this girl managed to bring down the robotic equivalent of nine Supers he’d have surely thought them a liar or a madman. But then, that was what made Supers so dangerous; one never quite knew what dwelled below the surface.

                “Glad I caught you,” Camille said. “Do you have a minute to talk?”

                “Sure. Even if they leave without me, I’m pretty sure Mr. Transport won’t mind coming back to get me. He always seems cheerful when he teleports to or from Hershel’s house. I think he likes Chicago.”

                “I’ve heard it’s nice.” Knowing Vince’s ability to read situations, Camille would have put money down that Mr. Transport had a lady in that town that he managed to duck over and see whenever he passed through. Then again, perhaps that’s where her mind went simply because of why she’d come to see Vince in the first place.

                The two stepped out of the dorm, into the cold December air. They hadn’t gotten any snow so far, but the biting copper tang in the air seemed to always be hinting at the possibility. Luckily, Vince was already dressed for the Chicago cold, so the environment didn’t bother him at all.

                “I wanted to talk to you about… us.” Camille said. She was thankful the chilly air had already burned her cheeks a slight tinge of red, it made the inevitable blushing harder to discern. “I mean, I know you and I aren’t an us, we’re just a pair of friends, but I think maybe we’re more and…”

                Camille stopped herself, took a deep breath, and forced herself to be calm. She’d let her torso get crushed by giant robot hands just for the chance to counter-attack. She could damn well manage to talk to the man she had feelings for.

                “I like you. I’ve liked you since you saved me from those bullies and then kissed me in front of my house. When I met you at Lander, part of me expected that you’d have changed and I’d lose the memory of my first… kiss, but you hadn’t. You’ve just gotten more, well, you. I think you know I have feelings for you, but I also know you’re the kind of man who doesn’t count something until the person voices it. Until they make the choice to act. This is me making that choice. I really like you, Vince, and if you feel the same way then I want to be more. If not, then we can go back to just being friends, but I refuse to lose you to some other girl only because I was too scared to speak up.”

                Camille’s voice finally died away, the sheer number of words she’d spoken seeming to drain her tremendously. She wanted to stop there, to let it be, but she knew she had to push through and finish. Vince opened his mouth to reply, but she continued before he could.

                “I don’t want an answer right now. That’s why I’m telling you before we go on break. We don’t have to act immediately, this isn’t a now or never situation. I know how you are, and I know you need time to process. Any answer you give me today, good or bad, is going to be coming from the spur of the moment. I don’t want that, I want you to be sure of whatever you tell me. Take the break, take longer if you need. I don’t need an immediate answer; I just needed you to know the score. Officially.”

                “Thank you.” Vince crossed the divide between them and pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her much shorter body. For a moment, despite the cold, all she could feel was his warmth. Then, all too soon, the embrace ended, and she was once again standing alone in the cold.

                “Thank you,” Vince repeated. “I admit I had my suspicions, but hearing it from you makes a world of difference.”

                “Save it for after the break,” Camille said. “I’m going to head back to my dorm and start the drive home. I’ll talk to you when I get back.”

                “Be safe.” Vince’s words were closer to an order than a pleasant goodbye.

                “Me be safe? You’re the one who’s always getting into some sort of trouble. Try not to get banged up too bad without me around.”

                “I’ll do my best,” Vince promised.