Chapter 89

                Nicholas gave the approaching group a lopsided grin as they drew near, lifting his glass to them.

                “Old friends, I take it?”

                “Some are, some were just standing around and decided to tag along. Everyone likes making new friends, after all,” Mary told him. The group gathered around Nicholas, who was camped at a large table. Eliza and Jerome were a few seats over, both pretending to talk with one another.

                “I certainly consider myself in that margin as well. For any who don't know, my name is Nicholas Campbell, and it is a pleasure to meet you.”

                A tall man, rippling with muscle that was displayed thanks to his boxer costume, stepped forward and shook Nicholas’s hand. “I’m Roy. Good to see you again. You and I were never that close, but my brother Hershel considers you a good friend.”

                “Is your brother here?” Nicholas feigned looking around, waiting for someone in the crowd to speak up.

                “He’ll be around in a bit,” Roy replied, releasing Nicholas’s hand.

                Angela surprised everyone, especially Chad, by walking up and enveloping Nicholas in a giant hug. She held it there for a few seconds, then released. When she spoke, her voice quavered ever so softly. “Baby, oh my sweet man, do you remember me?”

                “I… no, I don’t.” The expression of shock on Nicholas’s face was quite possibly the first honest expression he’d worn all night.

                “You don’t? Even after everything we shared, everything we did, everything I let you do… you’ve really forgotten me that quickly? You promised you’d always remember.”

                Most of the crowd stared in dumbstruck confusion, though Alice’s emotional state was tinged with a bit of bubbling anger; however, Angela’s boyfriend was unaffected by her spectacle. Chad stepped over and set a hand on Nicholas’s shoulder.

                “This is Angela, and I am Chad. I feel I should tell you that she is, I think the term is ‘messing with,’ you.”

                “Way to kill the bit,” Angela said, voice back to normal as she released Nicholas from her arms. “Yeah, we never really met or talked aside from occasional chit-chat. Too bad though, you seemed like a nice kid.” With that, she tucked her arm around Chad and stepped out of the way.

                “I’m Alex,” the young man in the Captain Mal costume informed Nicholas. “We were pretty good friends.” He wandered off without saying any more than that. To do so would have been pointless; now that he was listening to Nicholas’s mind he knew the lack of knowledge was a sham. Alex wasn’t going to blow it open, at least not yet, but he didn’t feel particularly obliged to play along.

                “And you know me,” Mary said. She and Alice both stepped forward. “This is Alice, my dorm mate and best friend.”

                “Your name is Alice, and you came dressed as Alice,” Nicholas noted.

                “Your name is Nicholas and you came dressed as a gay cowboy prostitute,” Alice shot back. “Oh right, you don’t remember, but making fun of each other was kind of our thing.”

                “I cannot imagine I ever brought myself to insult such a lovely woman,” Nicholas replied.

                Behind his back Eliza stuck her finger in her mouth to mime vomiting. Alice noticed and let out a short, sparkling laugh. “I’m guessing these are your friends, and I have to say I already like the girl.”

                “Right, these are some old acquaintances: Jerome and Eliza. They are also pursuing a higher education at Lander.” If Nicholas felt any annoyance at being mocked from two sides (he did), he kept it off his face like the professional that he was.

                Jerome stepped out of his chair first, giving a nod to all of others gathered in the area. “Nice to meet you all. Any friend of Nicholas is a friend of ours.”

                “What’s the ‘ours’ there? Some of us have more discerning tastes when it comes to picking friends than Nicholas, so I’m not sure I’d give a blanket statement like that.” Eliza paused to regard the HCP students that had come to greet them. “But I guess this lot does seem pretty decent. Way better than your usual crowd. I’m Eliza, by the by.”

                “She’s spunky,” Angela noted. “Can we keep her?”

                “If it were in my power, I would happily hand her off to you,” Nicholas replied. This earned him a light elbow in the ribs from Eliza, which he chose not to acknowledge. “Now then, how about we all sit down and catch up a bit. I understand there are topics which cannot be covered, but I’d still love to know more about your lives.”

                “You guys have fun, I’m going to go take my boy on a ride around the dance floor,” Angela announced, grabbing Chad’s hand and heading off. He gave a weak wave as the duo exited, but no one blamed him for the departure. Trying to stand in the way of Angela DeSoto was like trying to argue with a tsunami: you could use all the words you liked, but in the end you were still going to get bowled over.

                “They seem to be a very… interesting couple,” Nicholas observed.

                “It’s a weird match,” Roy agreed, pulling out a chair and sitting down. “But they seem to get along well, so who knows. My mother taught me that you can never really tell from looking outside-in how a relationship works.” Roy neglected to mention that this lesson had been necessary after his father’s departure, both because he didn’t want to dwell on it and because it seemed impolite to bring up at a festive time.

                “A keen insight,” Nicholas agreed. “So, Roy you said your name was, you mentioned your brother and I were close friends. I don’t suppose you’d care to elaborate on that. Within bounds, of course.”

                “Not much I’d care to discuss in a place like this, or at a time like now,” Roy said carefully. “When Hershel shows up, he can decide how much to chat with you about. But I’ll say this, whenever you would make the group watch a cheap horror movie, he would groan with the rest of them for show, but deep down he loved the hell out of those flicks. My brother is all kinds of nerd, and he found it interesting that a guy like you, so different from him in so many ways, shared that same love for bad gore flicks.”

                “The love of fine cinema is a siren that calls men from all walks of life,” Nicholas replied. “It sounds like your brother and I both had the keen sense of appreciation to enjoy such films.”

                “Appreciation ain’t exactly what I’d call it, but seeing as we’re in polite company that will have to do for now.”