Chapter 82

The bar was full for a late-October weekday, but not so packed that empty seats were unobtainable. Some were unoccupied only for a moment, while others seemed to have a cloud of danger wafting over them, driving away all but the most determined of souls. One such table held the strongest of these auras. Though it was, ostensibly, designed to accommodate four people, only one woman was currently seated there. She sipped slowly on a glass of white wine as she flipped idly through the pages in her book. Whether she had come here alone and intended to stay that way, or was merely waiting for her chosen company to arrive, every aspect of her demeanor sent the message that strangers should save the offers of free drinks for more accommodating women. It was a shame, too, because she was easily one of the most beautiful beings in the bar. With her delicate yet sharp features, short blonde hair, and toned body, she would have been approached countless times if not for her mastery in signaling people to stay away.

One man, after walking into the bar with another, better dressed, man at his side, disregarded those signals. Instead, he bounded over to her table, tall legs carrying him quickly through the bar, and grabbed her from behind, lifting her up in an enthusiastic hug.

“Gah!” She yelped, dropping her book and forming a fist, clearly ready to inflict some damage. She jerked around in the arms holding her and got a good look at her assailant. Then, for the first time all night, her face softened and a genuine smile rested on her lips.

“Miss me?” Sean Pendleton asked, looking into the eyes of his former classmate and long-ago crush.

“Sean?” Her voice was incredulous, stained with uncertainty and disbelief. “You’re… you’re really out? You didn’t…”

“No, he didn’t,” Blaine said, finally making his way over from the door. “He’s working with me these days.”

At Blaine’s appearance, Sean set the woman down, allowing her to walk over to the dean of Lander’s HCP and embrace him in a hug of her own.

“It’s been too long, Clarissa,” Blaine said, giving the woman a firm embrace. She was quite tall, only a few inches below his considerable height, which had never helped diminish her slightly intimidating nature.

“That it has,” she agreed, finally letting go. “I have to say, I was surprised when you contacted me. Our class isn’t great about keeping in touch.” She made no mention of how hard she'd worked to stay off the grid. There was no need to tell Blaine what he already knew.

“At least in my case, I’ve got an excuse for not calling,” Sean pointed out.

Clarissa let out a short, uncomfortable laugh. “I guess so. Speaking of, what’s the deal with this? You couldn’t tell me Sean was out, or that he was coming along?”

“I could have,” Blaine said. “But Sean thought it would be more fun to surprise you in person.”

“And how right I was,” Sean added.

“Okay, I’ll give you that. But, I mean, how are you out? It’s still years too early.”

“Work-release,” Sean replied. “Did you hear about what happened in Blaine’s staff two years ago?”

“Only a few rumors here and there,” Clarissa said. “I’m not very connected ever since I retired.”

“Let’s leave the whole story for more private places of discussion,” Blaine said. “Suffice it to say, I needed to do some rapid re-staffing, and, despite his late-career choices, Sean definitely has a considerable resume.”

Clarissa nodded her understanding. Being from The Class of Legends was pretty much an open door to any Super or Hero related job one could want, and she should know. It was one of the reasons she'd originally made herself as absent as possible from the Hero world.

“So was this why you wanted to meet? Because I have to tell you, this is a surprise worth braving the bar scene for,” Clarissa declared, giving her old friends another smile. It truly had been too long since she saw them. At least with Sean, there was an excuse. With Blaine, and the rest of her class, it had mostly been too painful. Seeing them just reminded her of… what she’d lost.

“Partially, yes,” Blaine said. “A night out with an old friend was definitely worth the trip. However, I have to admit something up front; I also came here for selfish reasons.”

“You’re a dean now, I’d be a fool if I showed up expecting anything less,” Clarissa said, laughing a bit.

“Glad you understand the situation,” Blaine replied. “You see, I’m setting up the Junior Year guest speakers, and one of the ones I had lined up dropped out due to a conflict. With short notice, it would be hard to get someone as good, so I was thinking that perhaps an old friend could fill in.”

“Blaine, I don’t know. I left that world a long time ago. I’m not sure what I’d have to talk to them about.”

“That’s why he wants you,” Sean interjected. “This is the speaker who talks about what life is like after. To show them that you do go on living once the career is done. You seem to be doing great, and with your pedigree it would mean a lot to some of the kids to hear from you.”

“I suppose so,” Clarissa sighed in defeat. She knew she’d have to cave eventually; this was part of the Hero life, even once one was out of it. Better to get it out of the way and enjoy the rest of her night with old friends. “Fine, I’ll go help out, but only if you get the first three rounds.”

“A more than fair bargain,” Dean Blaine agreed. “There is also one thing I should give you a warning about. I seriously doubt it will come up in any way, but I would be remiss as a friend and colleague if I didn’t let you know.”

“With a preamble that long, this must be a bad one,” Clarissa said. “Maybe I should have negotiated my price harder.”

“We can re-open it, if needed, but I don’t think this is particularly bad. Just… something you should know,” Blaine continued. “Retired or not, I have no doubt you saw the news last year about Phil.”

“Yeah, it was pretty hard to miss,” Clarissa said, tone neutral and voice careful.

“I won’t linger on the subject; I know how close you and he were. I just feel that you should know that in his time… away… Phil adopted and raised a young boy off the streets. That boy is currently in the class you’ll be speaking to. Again, I see almost no way this could come up, however it seemed wrong to let you come without telling you.”

“How could Phil have… never mind, if it was him he’d have found a way,” Clarissa said. She took a long, steady drink from the glass of wine that had previously only been sipped. “Well, that is a hell of a curveball to throw someone. Phil had a son, sort of.”

“Indeed,” Blaine confirmed.

“What’s he like?”

“He’s a good kid,” Sean said. “Tough, strong, kind of dopey, and ridiculously loyal.”

“In other words, a lot like Phil,” Clarissa surmised. “Okay then. I’ll still do it. I’m not sure if I’ll want to talk to him, or even know which one he is, but I’ll come speak to the class. However, I’m amending our agreement to where your rounds have to be top-shelf. Agreed?”

“For you, Clarissa, I will happily strike that bargain,” Blaine said.