Chapter 32

“Do you have a moment to talk?”

Shane stopped walking out of class and turned to his friend, who was standing off to the side, out of the way of the exiting students. This was unusual. Normally Chad went right to the gym after Close Combat was concluded, getting in some extra training time before his afternoon class. Today, however, he remained unmoving as the other gray-uniformed students made their way out the door.

“Sure,” Shane said, walking over to his friend. “What’s going on?”

The upside to the diminishing size of their class meant it didn’t take long for the room to empty out, but Chad did wait until the last person had crossed out the door and could be heard walking down the hall before speaking again.

“I must confess, I am somewhat unsure about how to proceed with this conversation.”

“Knowing you, I’d say just blurt it out. That’s what you’ll probably do anyway,” Shane advised.

Chad had to admit, that made good sense. “I was recently made to realize that I have romantic feelings for your sister, Angela.”

Shane resisted the urge to point out that he only had one sister, so he didn’t need the extra bit of clarification. Getting annoyed with Chad for being overly precise was akin to getting mad at a dog for chasing a ball. Some things were just bred into one’s nature. Instead, Shane motioned for him to continue.

“I would like to ask her on a date, pending the results of our upcoming match, of course. Though I do realize this is not a socially ideal situation, I also realize that I’m unlikely to meet many other women who compare to her, and this seems like a worthwhile effort,” Chad said.

“So, what do you want from me? Advice on what flowers to get her? Because the answer is none, that’s not her thing,” Shane replied.

Chad did not shuffle or look away, but he managed to convey a look of discomfort all the same. Maybe it was the eyes. Shane suspected after two years of friendship with a person whose facial expression were totally controlled, he’d become an expert at reading the minor emotions discernible from Chad’s eyes.

“I’m sorry; I think I failed to make my point clear. I did say I wasn’t sure how to do this,” Chad reminded him. “What I’m asking for is your permission to ask her out.”

“Angela’s a grown woman, Chad, you don’t need my permission to date her,” Shane said.

“Maybe I’m still asking it wrong,” Chad sighed, a bare flutter of frustration flickering over his face. “Years of ignoring all this stuff have left me woefully underprepared for it. I want your assurance, I think, that this doesn’t bother you, and that it won’t damage our friendship.”

“What if I said it would?”

“Then I wouldn’t ask her out, obviously,” Chad replied. “I like Angela very much, but you’re my friend. Honestly, you’re the first real friend I’ve ever had. I know I’m not easy to deal with sometimes, and I get that my relentless dedication to training leaves other parts of my personality lacking. But for two years we’ve managed to maintain a good friendship in an environment constantly pitting us against one another. I will not be the one who decides to end that.”

Shane, unlike Chad, was still a slave to his unconscious reactions, so the surprise he felt was evident on his face. That had been quite a statement, especially from someone like Chad. He’d been clumsy about getting to the point of all this, but now that they’d arrived Shane found it hard to find much reason for objection. Hell, if anything else Shane should probably take this as inspiration to put some effort into his own social life. It would be somewhat embarrassing to be the guy dating less than Chad Taylor.

“I’m fine with it,” Shane said after a moment’s consideration. “I’d say don’t hurt her, but truthfully I think it’s way more likely that she’ll be the one to damage you. Be careful, at least. And don’t give me damn details. That would be creepy.”

“Those are things I can do.”

“Good.” A rogue, unbidden thought popped into Shane’s head, one that he seized on immediately. “You said you have a match coming up, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I planned to fight her before asking her out.”

“I figured as much, which weirds me out because it means I actually understand your way of thinking,” Shane said, resisting the urge to laugh at this somewhat serious moment. “Have you requested the room yet?”

“Not yet, speaking with you was my first concern.”

“Sentiment appreciated,” Shane said. “This is my last condition: I want you to request a cell that allowed for outsiders to watch the fight.”

“Ah, I understand, you wish to observe our match out of concern,” Chad surmised. “Perfectly understandable, and I have no objection.”

“Good, but you’re wrong on the reason. I’m telling you to do that because I want the rest of our class to watch the fight,” Shane corrected.

Chad’s head tilted slightly to the side. “I must confess, I don’t understand the reasoning for that.”

“Didn’t expect you would. I know you don’t pay attention to rumor and gossip, but ever since last year’s final match, there’s been a bit of an undercurrent of curiosity in our class. They watched Vince send you flying across the arena, not knowing that you landed perfectly intact. Some folks are wondering if it’s possible that his growing powers mean he could now be stronger than you. I don’t begrudge him a little glory from that punch; however, I feel it’s gotten a bit out of hand.”

“I admit, I was tempted to test Vince’s new limits myself; however, I felt it would look bad if the son of Intra tried to fight the son of Globe,” Chad said. “But I’m confident I would win, if we did. Still, that doesn’t explain how people watching me fight Angela will tell them how I would do against Vince.”

“Because my sister is currently the strongest Super in Lander’s HCP,” Shane pointed out. “You and I both know you’ll have to go all-out against her. You’ve never done that against someone in our class, and I think it’s time the rest of the junior year got to see what their number one rank can do.”

“I see. If that is your condition, then I’ll honor it,” Chad replied. “Shouldn’t I make sure Angela is alright with it as well?”

“Angela is always up for putting on a show,” Shane assured him. “Besides, it wouldn’t hurt for them to see what someone from the DeSoto family can do as well. We’ve got a reputation to uphold, after all.”