Chapter 62

“A pleasure,” Nicholas replied, accepting her hand. Again his pulse increased slightly, but this time the effect lingered longer than before. “Unfortunately, I’m certain you must be mistaken. There is no possible way I could have forgotten meeting such a beautiful woman.”

The blonde’s placid expression held for a moment longer, then dissolved as she let out a snort of laughter.

“Holy shit, that’s your new guy?” Alice asked, giggling to herself as she drew back her hand. “I mean, I wasn’t expecting the same thing, but woooow. Do I get some butter with all that corn?”

A small crease appeared in Nicholas’s forehead as his brow furrowed. This was not the reaction he’d anticipated from Alice Adair, given the files his previous self had left him. Despite her capacity for occasional bouts of insight, Alice was supposed to be docile, at least usually. While she had challenged him from time to time, it was never so overt or immediate as this. After all, she had no cause to believe he knew anything about her. Either something had changed, or Nick had left poor notes for Nicholas. The former seemed far more likely.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Nicholas said. “I merely meant to politely excuse my absence of memory.”

“Okay, play it however you want,” Alice advised him. “I guess it’s your character, after all.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a pair of tickets. With care, she extracted one and thrust it toward him. “Here. We’re going to see a movie on Friday night.”

“I’m afraid I already have plans,” Nicholas protested.

“Sitting on a bench and pretending to read like a creeper?” Alice asked. “I bet you can shuffle those around. As I remember it, you’re great with shuffling.”

Nicholas battled to keep the annoyance from his face. “If there is something you wish to say-”

“Your last words to me were ‘never forget who I am.’ I’ve been thinking about that for months, and what ultimately struck me is that there is no way you’d ever give up two years of information,” Alice said, interrupting him. “I know you too well to buy into that bullshit. And even if you don’t know everything about me, don’t pretend like you don’t know who I am. You’re better than that. Or, at least, you used to be.”

Nicholas narrowed his eyes at the implication. “Very well, Alice, perhaps you are not entirely foreign to me.”

“There we go, progress. Now take the ticket,” she instructed. Her hand was still extended, holding the white piece of paper. “I even picked something right up your alley.”

Nicholas took the ticket and read the name printed on it aloud. “Ghost-Kicker Seven: The Kickstorm.” He raised an eyebrow and turned his attention back to the beautiful woman staring at him. “What on earth would make you think I’d have any interest in seeing such schlock?”

Alice was good at hiding her feelings, better than his previous incarnation had indicated, and she’d shown up to this encounter prepared to play aloof. However, for a brief instant when Nicholas rebuffed her, he saw the pain his words caused. Genuine, unmasked sorrow filled her for the barest of seconds. Then it was gone, and she was presenting her armored front once more.

“Because the lady chooses, especially when the lady pays,” Alice shot back. “And I’m driving. No offense, but I don’t want to cram into your tiny Bug unless I have to.”

“I don’t… fine. You can drive.” Nicholas wasn’t certain why he was jumping on board with this, only that he wanted to get away from this girl and compose himself. Something told him that if he kept fighting her then she would dig in, and refuse to let him leave until he consented.

“Great, pick you up at six,” Alice informed him.

“You don’t know where I live,” Nick pointed out.

Alice laughed, this time with a tinkling melody that again quickened the blood in Nick’s veins. “Trust me, I can find you. After all, I found you here, didn’t I?”

With that, she turned and began walking away, her hips sashaying with a method that clearly indicated she was aware that Nicholas was watching her go. As she reached the sidewalk’s corner, a turn that would take her out of his view, Alice threw back one glance to take in the somewhat befuddled form of her once-friend. It was so strange to see him that way. Even before everything they’d gone through, Nick had been an affable and fun guy, if somewhat annoying. His first character had been the sort of person people didn’t mind having around. This new one seemed withdrawn, walled-off. If she assumed his first persona had been crafted to cultivate relationships and gain friends, then it stood to reason this one was here for substantially different reasons. He wouldn’t create a character without a purpose; that simply wasn’t in his conniving nature.

Alice kept walking, back toward Melbrook where she would undoubtedly tell everything to Mary. Even she wasn’t certain what her movie date strategy was meant to accomplish. She merely knew that it was intolerable to be aware of Nick’s presence and not try and reconnect with him. Maybe it would turn out to be a bad decision. That was okay; Alice had spent her life being a dutiful, proper daughter. She had more than a few bad decisions saved up.

Back by the dorms, standing under the shade of a nearby tree, Nicholas looked again at the ticket in his hand. His pulse was slowing, and he was returning to a normal state. This was of little comfort, since it didn’t explain his strange reaction in the first place. Nicholas was not an emotionally predisposed person, however that was not to say he was ill-versed in common emotions or their effects. In fact, he had a quite in-depth knowledge of such things, years of training and practice making the information readily accessible. Therefore, Nicholas knew that every symptom he’d just exhibited all hinted to having serious feelings for the person he’d come into contact with.

It just didn’t make any sense why he had them upon meeting Alice Adair. Nick’s notes never mentioned anything of the sort, aside from her crush on him. Never had it been hinted that he might return such sentiments.

“What have you done,” Nicholas muttered, words directed at a version of himself that no longer existed. He stuffed the ticket in his pocket and headed off toward his apartment. He clearly needed to reread the files.