Chapter 63

Alice walked into Melbrook’s common room to discover the rest of the residents were already gathered there, as was Dean Blaine and, surprisingly, Chad.

“Excellent timing,” Dean Blaine greeted her. “We were just about to call you.”

“What’s up?” Alice asked.

“Not sure yet,” Vince told her. “Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport came and got us from our rooms, and when we came out Dean Blaine and Chad were here. Maybe we’re throwing a party?”

“I won’t say this couldn’t result in cause for celebration, however that is not the primary reason Chad and I are here,” Dean Blaine informed him. “As your guardians informed you, it was decided earlier in the year that, should a suitable and willing candidate appear, Mr. Campbell’s former room would be reoccupied.”

“Well yeah,” Hershel said. He looked between the two men and comprehension dawned across his continuously less-pudgy face. “Wait… are you saying Chad wants to move in?”

“I do,” Chad replied. “If you all have no objections, that is. I feel like my current life is a bit too ordered. The solution to that is a bit of chaos here and there. You are, with all due respect, easily the most chaotic bunch currently in the Hero Certification Program.”

“I don’t know that I’d go that far,” Alice muttered.

“Kidnappings, beach weekends, mind-jackings, and former-Powered-status-revealing ambushes, just to name a few examples off the top of my head,” Chad countered. “I’m not insinuating these things were all your faults, I’m merely stating the simple truth that your lives are somewhat more unexpected than an average person’s.”

“That’s probably the nicest way anyone has ever called me a weirdo,” Hershel sighed. “I’ve got no qualms, and I doubt Roy does either. Just don’t be shocked if he’s all over you about gym-time and sparring.”

Chad allowed a small smile to run across his face. “I would expect nothing less.”

Mary sighed visibly. “Great, so I trade the guy who was constantly masking his thoughts for the guy whose thoughts I can’t read in the first place.” Then she grinned, because she and Chad had been on excellent terms ever since co-chaperoning last year’s river trip and they both knew it. “I look forward to living with you.”

“All I’m going to say is this,” Alice chimed in. “Don’t leave a mess in the kitchen or the common lounge. Seriously, I’ve almost got Vince and Roy trained and I don’t want to start over from square one.”

“What about Hershel?” Chad asked.

“Hershel is the gold standard in cleaning up after one’s self,” Alice told him. “Follow his lead on all things and you’ll be fine. Welcome to Melbrook,” she added at the end, just so he knew she actually had no real objection to his moving in. It was still slightly hard for her to imagine another person living in Nick’s room, especially so soon after seeing what amounted to another person living in his body.

All eyes turned to Vince, who was the final resident to give his opinion.

“Are you sure about this?” Vince asked. “Chaos aside, we live with more observation and scrutiny than anyone else on this campus. Some of that is bound to spill over onto you.”

“I’ve got nothing to hide,” Chad replied immediately.

“And then there’s the part about us being prototypes. We’re holding together well, but there’s always the possibility something could go wrong and we could lose control.”

“Vince, you have my solemn word that if that should happen, not only am I unafraid to be here, but I will personally be part of the effort to stop you.” From almost anyone else, in nearly any other situation, Chad’s words would have been a threat. To Vince, however, they represented a promise that Chad would use his tremendous power to stop Vince from hurting anyone else. Aside from keeping the bathroom clean, that was the most desirable trait he could have asked for in a dorm mate.

“I appreciate it,” Vince said sincerely. “And I welcome you to our - sorry, your – Lander home. Do you need any help moving?”

“It’s been handled,” Dean Blaine interjected. “Chad’s things will be moved in Friday while you are all in class. By the time your day is done, he will be set up as a Melbrook resident.”

“That’s awesome,” Hershel said. “We should do a dinner or something.”

“Definitely,” Vince agreed.

“I’m on board with that, but could we maybe do it Saturday instead?” Alice asked hesitantly. For the first time some of the others noticed how nicely she was dressed, and curiosity bubbled up in the corners of their minds.

“That’s right, Alice and I already made plans,” Mary jumped in. “We’re off to do some spa treatment she insisted on. It’s already booked and paid for, otherwise we’d move it.” She resisted the urge to lock eyes with Alice, by this point they’d been friends long enough that her blonde dorm mate knew to roll with the lie. It wouldn’t fool Mr. Numbers, and it likely wasn’t enough to trick Dean Blaine, but that was fine. They weren’t the people she was trying to keep in the dark. Nick’s return to Lander was a delicate situation; it needed to be handled with care.

“Saturday would be fine with me,” Chad said. “If we do anything at all. I don’t require any fuss.”

“Chad, didn’t you say you were moving in specifically because your life needed more fuss?” Hershel asked.

“Not in those exact words…”

“It was still the gist,” Vince agreed. “Okay, so everybody make sure to get Saturday off and we’ll do a dinner or something like that to welcome Chad properly.”

“We’re good,” Mary told him. “Until we’re more experienced they won’t let us work weekend evenings, since those are the biggest business times.”

“Same here,” Hershel said. “Well, for Roy and Chad.”

“I’m not scheduled, although we’re allowed to come in whenever we want to work even if we’re off,” Alice said. “Isn’t it that way for you guys?”

“There are only so many positions at a bar to be worked,” Chad told her. “No such limitation exists on aesthetically pleasing women who walk the area and sell alcohol.”

“He hit the nail on the head,” Hershel agreed. “No bar has ever suffered from too many hot girls in attendance.”

“I’ll try to remember that,” Alice said. She might go pick up a shift or two before the weekend. It certainly wasn’t like she needed the money, but it would keep her occupied. The more she thought about her upcoming event with Nick or Nicholas or whatever, the less she wanted to dwell on it.