Chapter 178

               As the horde of costumed movie-goers streamed out of the theatre, the street became thick with excited chatter. Countless conversations dissecting and celebrating the same cinematic moments floated through the air as the joy of what they’d watched burst forth from their lips, unwilling to be contained. The group composed primarily of those from Lander’s HCP junior year was no exception, as Hershel, Alex, and Sasha went back and forth over the choices that had been made, as well as the nods to the previous series. Mary walked ahead with Alice, determined not to be drawn into the conversation against her will, while the others walked behind, trying to make sense of the discussion.

                “So, what did you think of your first costumed movie premiere?” Hershel asked at last, his eyes darting between Chad and Vince.

                “The movie was good,” Vince said. “I mean, bad, but good bad, right? Anyway, I had fun with you all, and that’s what matters.”

                “My assessment concurs,” Chad agreed. “I feel that, in truth, the act of actually seeing the movie was ancillary to the experience. It simply served as an impetus for us to do something unusual, and spend time together creating the outfits. The comradery seems to be the core of the enjoyment, more so than the film.”

                “Most people just refer to that as hanging out,” Angela told him, patting her boyfriend on the shoulder. “And they don’t have to talk like a physics professor to say that its fun.”

                “And what concern is it of mine how most people act?” Chad gave her an exaggerated wink, and Angela nearly lost a step. If Chad was trying to be sassy, he must really have been having a grand ole time.

                They continued walking down the street to the cars, happy and relaxed, but still staying aware of their surroundings. Years of training, for some a lifetime of it, had conditioned them to always be ready for a situation to turn dangerous. It was a shame, in a way, that even on a night as innocent as this one; each was prepared to go to battle in a heartbeat. Fortunately, both for them and for any ambitious muggers that might be prowling the night, no such trouble occurred before they reached the parking lot.

                As the group reached the cars and began to pile in, Chad spoke up once more. “May I have a moment? There is something I would like to say.”

                The others nodded, some putting keys away and turning to their blond friend currently dressed like a space cyborg.

                “I must confess, I came to this event viewing it more as a trial run than anything else. I generally do not engage in frivolity when such time could be spent training, and this event has demanded many hours from me. From the outside, it seemed silly, but I pressed on because I wanted to understand what makes people do these things. Since I was a child, I’ve kept a distance from those unlike me, who I thought would slow me down. The only two friends I’ve had were Shane and Angela, both of whom I didn’t meet until college. Now, having actually gone through such an experience, I can say that, while joyful, there was no significant net gain from doing so.”

                His friends, for that is who they were whether Chad realized it or not, remained silent, allowing him to continue. The young man wore an open expression as he struggled to find the words he was searching for. Chad might have been one of the strongest Supers at the HCP, but when it came to basic socialization he was the weakest of the lot. That said, he was trying to improve, and anyone who had fought Chad Taylor knew what he was like when he decided to train.

                “There was no net gain… yet I find myself compelled by the idea of doing it again. Even though it represents a less efficient way of managing my time, I still find the idea preferable to going back to my old system. It seems, as such, that perhaps I am not quite as suited to solitary living in as I suspected. I say all this for two reasons; the first of which is to thank you for opening your doors and letting me in. You were under no obligation to treat me like one of your own just because I moved in, yet you did so without hesitation, and I am exceptionally thankful for it. The second reason I say all this, is because I have decided how I would like to use the ‘king for a day’ ability I won in our wager.”

                “Hang on, you guys made a bet with Chad?” Nick interrupted.

                “At the semester finals,” Vince told him. “Whoever came out on top got to plan activities for a whole day and the others have to go along with it.”

                “Yeah, I figured that out from context,” Nick said. “What I meant is that you all made a bet against Chad?”

                “And they nearly won it, too,” Chad told him. “But in the end, I pulled out slightly ahead, and as such I have decided what to do with our day. I’m thinking of using it during spring break, assuming we can all get off work.”

                “Brenda told us that we’re free to take the whole week, since business drops off significantly,” Mary said.

                “And there’s no way in hell you’re getting hours,” Angela said. “Half the reason for the Cowgirl Rodeo is that no one comes out around here during break, too much other cool shit, so they’ve got to make the money while they can.”

                “What about you?” Chad asked.

                “I wasn’t a part of your little bet, so I get to wait and hear what the plan is before I sign on board. You’re a doll, but if you think I’m spending my last spring break doing some sort of ultra-training, then you severely underestimate my love of sunbathing and margaritas.” Angela waggled her eyebrows and stuck a hand on her hip. “But, if it’s fun, then I can get off as much time as I need.”

                “I’m not sure how much fun it will be, though I hope a lot,” Chad said. “I actually want to spend a day doing normal activities. Perhaps going to a beach or an amusement park or on a hike… forgive me, the idea just struck so I don’t have much of an itinerary yet. The point is I think I’d like to see more of what I’ve been missing. What normal people have grown up with.”

                “We can deliver on most of that,” Shane said. “Though with this group, I think true normality has been off the table since we stepped on campus.”

                “Perhaps so,” Chad agreed, turning to look at his costumed friends, who could just an easily be his adversaries the next time he stepped into class. “But perhaps our normal is not so bad either.”

               They filed into their respective cars and began heading back toward campus. For most, this would mark the end of a night they would look back on as a rare glimpse of what normal life could be. For one of them, however, there was still work to be done before the night was through.