Chapter 205

               Super powers, at least the super powers that most of the group that had sunned and swum on the beach possessed, did nothing to prevent burning. That required either a damage resistance or similar power to circumvent. The majority of the students were fine as they packed up their bags and headed toward the Asprin Beach Boardwalk, but Alice, who had wanted to get a little color into her naturally pale skin, could already feel a familiar hot glow in her shoulders and on her nose. By the time they actually arrived at the park, her skin was turning pink on its way to what would certainly be a light red and eventual painful peeling.

                “Someone looks extra hot today,” Nick remarked, noting how Alice was already wincing whenever the straps of her tank top rubbed on her soon to be raw shoulders. The sun beat down overhead as they stood on the wooden planks that ran along the mid-way. Nearby some simple carnival rides spun about, nothing exceptional by Nick’s reckoning but enough that Vince and Hershel already seemed visibly excited.

                “Ha. Ha. Unless you have aloe on you then please refrain from mocking my pain.” Alice also looked at the rides, though with a wistful expression instead of an analytical one. This was the part of the day she’d been most looking forward to, something she was never able to do when she was a Powered.

                Nick patted the pockets of his cargo short, then ran his hands along the sides of his shirt for good measure. “Nope, no aloe whatsoever. Ah, but what’s this back here?” He reached over and put his hand behind Alice’s ear. Before she could react, he snapped his fingers and pulled his hand back around, holding a shiny quarter before her. “No aloe, but I did find a solution.”

                “You’re going to help my sunburn with a quarter?”

                “Huh? No, that’s dumb.” Nick turned toward the bulk of the group, who were cobbling together a half-baked plan of attack for all the attractions they wanted to squeeze in. “Hey Camille, can you come here for a second?”

                Camille jogged over, a slightly confused expression on her face as she approached.

                “I think you two should go take some candids in that photo booth over there, on me,” he said. Nick pressed the quarter into Camille’s hand, then held it in his own for a few seconds. “She’s a bit shy about her sunburn though, anything you can do to help cover that up will be greatly appreciated.”

                It only took a moment for understanding to twinkle in Camille’s eyes, and as she nodded Nick released her hand. As she dragged Alice off toward the photo booth, which was nice and private, Nick found himself thankful that there were at least a few people in the group who grasped the concept of innuendo. If everyone was as straightforward as Vince or unpredictable as Alice he’d never be able to do any work on the sly.

                A gust of sea wind blew over from the ocean, and Nick wiped some sand from the sunglasses that the day’s activities had actually called for. Out of place as he sometimes felt around his friends, on days like this one he could almost forget about the hidden agendas, secrets, and danger that plagued them. Almost, but of course never entirely. As Nick’s eyes roamed the boardwalk, he kept a special eye out for any signs of Nathaniel or his people preparing another attack. Going in for another blow so soon after the last wasn’t usually Nathaniel’s style, but the orange-eyed bastard had clearly been taking pages out of another playbook. Nick would be damned if he let his friends get caught that off-guard again.

                “All things considered, I think they came out pretty nicely.” Alice’s voice reached him, and Nick realized he’d let himself get lost in scanning the crowd. He quickly turned around to find her and Camille heading back over to him, a large rectangle of low-quality photos clutched in her hand. The pink from her nose and shoulders had vanished, and if Camille ever needed to give someone the light burn of skin damage then she now had a bit more in her arsenal.

                Alice could scarcely hide her joy at being suddenly pain free, and Nick had to work to keep from appreciating how beautiful she was when she let herself be unabashedly cheerful. Alice had always been good looking, but as she grew into adulthood and gained a solid amount of confidence she had become absolutely stunning. He was grateful for the sunglasses, because it meant he could look at her a little more without tipping his hand.

                “Come on, Camille and I talked while we were in there and we decided to do the roller coaster first.” Alice grabbed Nick by the arm and began pulling him down the boardwalk.

                “You mean that wooden, rickety thing that looks like it’s two days away from being condemned?”

                “Exactly. We want to hit it before anyone actually has a chance to tear it down.” Alice tugged him along, keeping her grip on his arm firm and forceful. “Besides, you and I need to have a chat anyway.”

                “Is it about the proper way to treat another person’s arm? Because I can feel mine coming out of socket.”

                “No, it’s about how we settle our bet.” Alice kept moving forward, purposely facing away from Nick as she talked. Not the most courageous way to breach the subject neither of them had mentioned since the night of the Cowgirl Rodeo, but she was still getting it done. Nick had to give her credit for that.

                “Since it was interrupted, I think we have to call it a draw,” Nick said. “There’s no way to know how it would have gone down.”

                “Maybe I’m not okay with that.” Alice slowed her pace, and loosened her grip on Nick’s arm. “No, I’m not okay with that.” She turned around to face him, meeting his sunglasses shielded eyes with her bright green ones. “I’m tired of the dancing and the excuses and the cute reasoning. Even Vince and Camille can admit they like each other, and I refuse to be more emotionally stunted than those two. I like you, Nick. God only knows why, but I do. If you like me, then take me out on a damn date already. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it can’t be bullshit either. Are you in or not?”

                “God only knows why you like me?” Nick said, studying her face carefully.

                “I don’t know, I’d just assume omnipotence means figuring out the impossible stuff too, but maybe I’m giving him too much credit.” The pink in her nose had been replaced by a bit of red in her cheeks, yet Alice refused to yield even as Nick attempted to turn things into humor. Faced with a situation where he couldn’t use charm of obfuscation, Nick was only left with the most desperate of tactics in his arsenal: the truth.

                “Alice… I do have feelings for you, but you understand that my world is complicated, right? Nathaniel is only a small piece of what I come from.”

                “Well I kicked the shit out of him pretty easily; I imagine I can handle the rest too.”

                “I mean-”

                “I know what you mean, but we’re not getting married here, just seeing if things can actually work when we stop being such chickenshits and put in a little effort,” Alice said. “Besides, you may have the most colorful past, but at this point all of our worlds are pretty fucked up. A few more issues on the pile aren’t going to make or break me.”

                “If that’s really how you feel…” Nick paused, an inner debate raging within. He should keep her at a distance, he should minimize how deeply he was connected with her, he should be separate and safe. All of that was what Ms. Pips had taught him, had trained into him. But somewhere in the recesses of his mind he could hear Gerry’s voice, and that one was telling him to quit being such a coward and go for it. Nick didn’t know which voice was actually right, but he certainly knew which one he wanted to listen to.

                “…then I guess we need to start bickering about where I’ll be taking you. Heaven forbid I should choose an establishment not up to the princess’s standards, after all.”