Chapter 27

Vince was on his way back from the bathroom when his lack of clubbing experience took him off course. Most people at his age had maneuvered enough dens of liquor and noise to learn the tricks of finding one’s way about. Such tactics include: using the large decorations as points of references, making sure to always know where the entrance is for orientation purposes, and checking the ceiling for identifying features, such as spotlights, that can be used as additional position markers. Vince, knowing exactly none of these techniques, promptly took a wrong turn and got lost. Since Six-Shooter was set up in a giant circle of bars and tables woven around the dance floor, he would have eventually found his table if he’d kept going. Before he could reach it, however, he was distracted by the sight of two familiar faces.

“Hey guys!” Vince called, sidling up to an open spot at Roy and Chad’s bar. There were less of those than there had been moments before; thankfully the surge had come at the end of their discussion on Chad’s current level of control. Still, with their combined skill they were able to keep everyone sated and still have time for occasional conversation.

“Well, this is a surprise,” Roy said, sliding a beer into Vince’s hand without prompting. “I’d have thought it would take an act of God to get you into a club, and by yourself no less.”

“Mary and Camille are here too,” Vince corrected him. “We came to support you guys. All three of us were going to walk over together, but I got lost on my way back from the bathroom.”

“This place can be disorienting, sometimes to the point where I wonder if it is intentional,” Chad commented. “Nice to see you, Vince.”

“You too,” Vince replied. Though one might have expected animosity between them after last semester’s final match, two years of constant fighting had inured them to the idea of holding a grudge over punches thrown. No, their relationship was the same as it had been since Camille’s birthday: respectful, if uncertain. The only new development was that Chad no longer felt he had an accurate assessment of Vince’s potential, a fact which he intended to remedy by observing him in the first group test.

“So, how’s Alice holding up?” Roy asked. “I haven’t seen much of her since the shift started.”

“Good so far,” Vince told him. “Angela seems to be helping her get used to the job. How are you two doing on your first night?”

“Rocking along,” Roy said, mostly to curtail the conversation from probing too close to the topic of Angela. Chad could make assurances all night, but Roy wouldn’t really feel at ease until the shift was over and his blond friend had a chance to figure out how he wanted to handle the new feelings. “You know, maybe you should get back over to the girls. Leave two pretty women alone in a club like this and you might find out that some other guy has charmed them away.”

Vince laughed. “Seeing as Mary is dating Hershel, I don’t think there’s too much to worry about.”

“What about Camille?”

“Maybe someone should ask her to dance,” Vince said, his smile unwavering but something in his eyes shifting slightly. “She’s a wonderful girl, and she deserves to have some fun and be happy.”

Roy stared at his dormmate for a minute, then poured himself a stiff shot and tossed it back wordlessly. One of these emotional idiots he could have handled sober; two was going to require eighty proof fortification.

 *              *              *

Camille had been drunk before. Despite her delicate image and tentative nature, she’d had a small rebellious streak in high school and gotten snockered with friends on a fifth of peppermint schnapps. The hangover from that had cooled her desire to rebel with booze; however, since being at Lander she’d allowed herself the occasional indulgence. So Camille knew enough to recognize the stages of escalating intoxication. She could tell the difference between buzzed, tipsy, and drunk with relative accuracy.

So, when she surmised that she was already tipsy and might be on the downhill slide toward drunk, it was not an uninformed opinion. Since Vince left, Alice had returned periodically, checking on her friends and making chit-chat. Each time she had, Camille bought a few more of Alice’s shots, quietly exchanging money for test tubes of tasty hooch while the other two girls made conversation. After a few minutes she wondered where Vince had gone and swung her head about, searching the club for him. The sudden rotation had caused a strange effect in her vision, making it seem like the entire world was moving at a two-second delay. That was her first clue she might have underestimated the potency of what was in those tubes.

“Uh-oh,” Camille muttered, setting her eyes back on the table.

“You okay?” Alice asked, breaking off her conversation with Mary.

“I’m good,” Camille said immediately, her innate desire not to cause trouble overtaking her actual concern.

“No she’s not, she thinks she might have had too much too fast,” Mary informed Alice. “Could you go get her some water?”

“Not a problem,” Alice replied, immediately darting through the crowd toward the bar.

Mary patted Camille carefully on the hand and gave her a reassuring smile. “I’m glad you noticed it on your own. I was about to say something if you took another shot.”

“They didn’t seem very strong,” Camille said, illustrating her own lack of bar knowledge.

“It’s my understanding that they never do,” Mary told her. “I’m sorry, this is my fault. I know how much you dislike giant crowds and I still let you come along.”

“It’s not your fault,” Camille replied, shaking her head once before realizing that only reminded her of the growing drunk sensation. “I made the choice to come here.”

“I know, but if we hadn’t pressured you-”

“Mary, I know you mean well, but please stop. I don’t need another person in my life doing this,” Camille interrupted. Mary, for her part, blinked in surprise, she couldn’t have imagined Camille interrupting someone before actually seeing it happen. “I know I’m anxious in social settings, I know I’m not the bravest person in our class, and I know I seem like I need people to look after me. And because I know all that, I purposely do things like come to the bars, enroll in the program, and make myself uncomfortable. I push myself because I want to be stronger. We’re all doing it; this is just the area I’m battling in. So don’t ever feel like you’ve made me do anything. I’m the one shoving myself out into these awkward situations, and there’s no one else to blame.”

“I… that honestly hadn’t occurred to me,” Mary replied after a moment of consideration. “My apologies.”

“It’s okay. Most people don’t think of being around lots of other people as something that requires effort and training. I am getting better, though. I mean, look at Vince. Freshman year I was barely able to talk to him, now I can actually spend time with him as a friend without constantly blushing.”

“You have made some impressive strides in that regard.”

“I have, haven’t I?” Camille moved herself down slowly from the chair, happy to see that her sense of movement had somewhat stabilized. “Hey Mary, I want you to know that this is my decision too, and it’s not the alcohol making me do it.”

“What are you doing?”

“Taking your advice,” Camille replied, turning toward the table where a young man who’d been staring at her suddenly glanced away in embarrassment. “And pushing myself.”