Chapter 206

               Though their afternoon at the boardwalk amusement park was filled with screams, for once none of them were of genuine terror or rage. The screams that rose up from Asprin Beach that day were of excitement, cheer, and the momentary adrenaline rush that a steep dive on a roller coaster can miraculously conjure. By the time they had ridden their fill Vince was on the verge of being sick and Alice’s thick hair had been so swept and tangled by the wind that she conceded defeat and bound it all in a ponytail.

                After a drive that was thankfully long enough for Vince to settle his stomach, the group arrived at a small restaurant that specialized in heartily portioned Italian meals. The students were seated around a large wooden table topped with a massive plastic tablecloth, and before the waiter even asked for their drink orders he dropped off three baskets of steaming bread, which many of the hungry young people fell upon like locusts.

                “Bread before the order, now that shit is classy.” Angela held up a hand to stop the spray of crumbs that were unstoppably escaping her mouth as she spoke. “Find this place online?”

                “No.” Chad hesitated for a moment, a rare event that Angela mentally filed away. “My mother and I have been up to visit Lander in the past. This was one of the restaurants we enjoyed stopping at.”

                “Well if the food is as good as the bread, I’m going to text your mom and tell her she picks good spots.” Angela grinned as she watched Chad’s eyes widen in a moment of uncontrolled panic, only to shift back to normal as he realized she was screwing with him. It had taken a long while to get used to reading the carefully controlled blond Super, but after years of practice she’d finally gotten something of a feel for it. Unless she caught him by surprise, the biggest tell that Chad had was in what he didn’t say. The looks he didn’t give, words he never let pas his lips. Those were the things he was afraid of, that would allow emotion to override his careful system of mental control.

                “Your jests are not as funny as you seem to believe.” Chad met her eyes, but she was pretty sure she saw a twinkle of humor in his stoic expression.

                “Guess I’m just pretty enough to get away with them all then.” Angela reached over and grabbed another roll, noting that a different waiter was already in route with more baskets. She liked this place. “So how was your Pinocchio day? Live up to all your expectations?”

                “I don’t… ah, Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy. That one was actually a bit clever,” Chad said. He gave Angela a genuine smile, one of the rare few that were a result of sentiment rather than commanding his muscles. Those, for some reason, she’d always been able to tell apart. “It was quite fun. I can’t say I completely understand the appeal of all of these activities; however, it was interesting to experience them. I don’t regret the choices I made on how I spent my youth, but it is fascinating to see things from the other side.”

                “I used to have to sneak out to do this kind of stuff,” Angela said. She put her roll down, and cast her eyes around the table. Most of the others were absorbed in their small discussions; Shane and Hershel were debating between two action stars from the eighties as to which would win in a real fight. It was nice to see her little brother pissing his time away for once.

                “Shane did mention you both had a rather strict upbringing,” Chad said, shaking Angela from her thoughts.

                “Oh that’s putting it mildly. Training, drills, tests, conditioning, and sweet Jesus only knows how many rounds of sparring. As a kid, it was sort of fun, like this long game we were playing with our grandfather. Then I got old enough to realize how screwed up it all was, and I resented him for stealing my time. Of course I then got even older and realized what he was actually trying to do, and I loved the old bastard for it. Still played hooky on occasion mind you, but I respected him while I did it.”

                Chad nodded his head somberly. “He wanted to help you both excel.”

                “No, Chad, he wanted to help us not die. Graham DeSoto has lived a very long life, and in his career that makes him quite the rarity. He’s buried too many people not to let it drive him a little insane, and that crazy manifested in trying make sure that at least his grandchildren would see him in the ground rather than vice versa. We didn’t get much of a childhood, but that’s because he wanted us to have more time as adults.”

                “Shane seems to feel that the effort your grandfather demanded from you had more to do with the family legacy than with concerns for your safety,” Chad replied. He was unfazed by her declaration, and she hadn’t expected anything different. That was one of the things she liked most about Chad: he was going into this with his eyes open. So many of the HCP students she’d known had aggrandized ideals of what lay ahead of them. Chad had a grave instead of a father; he understood the danger standing in the path of their future.

                “There’s no denying that the legacy is a big factor too. Ultimately we both took what we took from the training. Skill, techniques, and impressions of our grandfather; it’s all set in there now and there’s no changing it. Sometimes I wish that stubborn kid would have come with me to do things like this when we were kids, though. He might not be quite so tightly wound if he’d let himself cut loose on occasion.”

                “For what it’s worth, I think Shane turned out perfectly fine. He’s the first person I’ve ever managed to become friends with, and I suspect that speaks deeply to his patience and understanding rather than any budding social acumen on my part.”

                “Maybe your right,” Angela said. She turned to her menu and began perusing the options, purposely avoiding continuing the line of discussion. It was a nice day, and she didn’t have the heart to tell Chad that the reason he and Shane had become friends was simply that they were both similar shades of fucked up. That was inevitable in the HCP. Normal, emotionally healthy people didn’t go in for this sort of work. The Heroes of the world were a rainbow of dysfunction, and the closest of relationships were formed from those of a similar hue.

                All of that was much too depressing to bring up, so Angela didn’t. She didn’t have many days left at Lander, and certainly not many carefree ones like this. She saw no reason to spoil one of them with something as pointless as the truth.