Chapter 177

               When Alice had learned about Hershel and Alex’s obsession with a sci-fi movie, she’s assumed that is was another one of those niche things that they, and doubtlessly a few devoted nerds across the nation, cared a great deal about but didn’t matter to the public at large. Even as she’d gotten sucked in, allowing herself to be talked into the movies, then the premiere, then even wearing a costume, she had been under the impression that this was a small thing that she was doing because her friends enjoyed it. She was fully anticipating being looked at as a weirdo when they showed up to the theater, and as such had brought a long tan trench coat along to minimize her time being humiliated.

                As the group stepped around a corner and the cineplex came into view, Alice realized for the first time that perhaps Hershel and Alex might just not be as alone in their love of the movies as she’d expected. The line for tickets already stretched to near the end of the block, and they had arrived four hours early. Online purchasing had been disabled for the premiere, at this event the only way to get in was to hold a spot in line. She’d been confused about the policy at first, now it made ample sense. Even more than just the people, though, she was amazed by the number of attendees in costume. Standing there, with her trench coat making her look moderately normal, Alice was the one who seemed out of place.

                “Holy crap,” she whispered, amazed at the dense crush of people waiting to see the next in a series that was inarguably awful.

                “I know, right?” Hershel agreed. “We’re lucky more people haven’t shown up yet. We should actually get a decent spot in one of the theaters.”

                With that, the group was moving again, each in some manner of strange outfit that Alice dimly recognized from her viewings of the film. Vince had been painted blue and given prosthetic ears. Chad was dressed like some sort of cyborg. Mary and Camille wore a matching set of hooded costumes with different color schemes. Nick looked like a pirate in space pants. Shane was wearing a black uniform with silver trim. Sasha rocked what seemed like parachute pants paired with a silver top that exposed her toned stomach. Hershel was wearing a multi-colored robe along with a single horn in his forehead. Alex was sporting insect wings and a purple vest. Angela may have been the most garish of them all: wearing a corset made of golden metal that Alice suspected had been formed by her powers rather than a crafter. As for Alice, she was wearing a nearly skintight gown that actually seemed quite regal, if one ignored the open spot on the stomach and the high slit up the side. Whatever universe Star Puncher took place in, it seemed sex appeal was still all the rage. Alice would have complained, but some of the guys were wearing less than her, so at least it was equal humiliation.

                She slipped the trench coat off and stuffed it into the small bag that Hershel had insisted everyone bring. At the time she’d thought he was being ridiculous, but now having portable chairs along with water and snacks didn’t seem like such a bad plan. Yanking out the small seat, she set it up on the sidewalk as her group settled into their spot in line.

                “You did a great job on these costumes,” Sasha told Alex. “The others don’t seem half as authentic.”

                “It was a team effort,” Alex replied. “And I saw a few near the front that looked pretty damn good. We definitely didn’t embarrass ourselves, and that’s what matters.”

                “You’re wearing a vest and wings, and you don’t feel embarrassed? I’m impressed,” Angela said.

                “Should I even point you that you’re in a metal corset and short shorts?” Alex shot back.

                “You can if you want, but why would I be embarrassed about that? Shit, I’ve worn less than this to go the grocery store.” It was hard to tell when Angela was joking; the woman seemed to be so without shame or limits that anything was possible for her. Deep down, Alice sort of admired that. While she didn’t ever want to be quite as free as Angela, it was impressive to see the way she handled every situation with confidence and surety.

                Behind them, more people were getting in line. It appeared Hershel was right; this thing was far from being done growing. Alice noted that these new people were also in costume, though theirs didn’t seem as well-crafted as what the boys had been able to churn out. Alex, Hershel, Chad, and even the novice Vince had done a shockingly good in creating outfits for everyone who wanted to come. Some had been a bit more enthusiastic about attending than others though; Alice was fairly certain that Mary had negotiated no less than three date nights in exchange for her participation that evening.

                Alice glanced over at her friends, noticing that Mary was holding Hershel’s hand and smiling as he talked about what he hoped to see in the upcoming film. The small girl couldn’t have possibly cared less about the movie, but she was making sure he enjoyed himself fully, just as Hershel had done for her countless times. Since freshman year, those two had been united. They had the kind of love that was quiet, and easy to mistake for familiarity, yet seemed unshakable. Much as she adored them both, it was hard not to feel jealous of them, at least occasionally.

                “Coffee?” Nick had plopped down next to her and produced a cold bottle of a premade mocha drink from his own bag. “Figured you might need the caffeine to stay awake, since you passed out during the originals.”

                “Shhh.” Alice elbowed him in the ribs, then accepted the drink. “I don’t want Hershel or Alex to know I couldn’t stay awake through the last movie.”

                “Dear girl, your snores told the room more efficiently than any words I could ever hope to conjure,” he replied.

                Alice stared at Nick for a long few seconds. “I do not snore.”

                “My mistake. In that case I have the number for a good doctor who you should let check you out, because no one should be making those sorts of noises from just breathing.”

                Nick’s smart mouth earned him another shot to the ribs, which he managed to partially avoid. True, it wasn’t holding her hand or taking her out to dinner, but Nick was showing his affection in the way he always had, and she returning it in her own way. It was, unquestionably, an unhealthy way to deal with the feelings between them, and it wouldn’t be able to suffice for much longer.

                But, for the moment, it was enough.