Chapter 142

                As far as college parties went, this one was rather subdued. Part of it was because nearly everyone in attendance was exhausted; even if their bodies had been mended the injuries had still taken a substantial toll. Not to mention, the trial itself had been emotionally draining as well, and once one added in the efforts to keep their normal class grades high it was enough to leave anyone lethargic. But, truth be told, those were only smaller pieces of why everyone in Nick’s apartment was a little sluggish that evening, nursing their drinks and making light conversation. The real cause was rooted more deeply; in the fact that all of them knew this was their final Winter Break. The real world was looming on the horizon, casting its shadow on even these festive occasions. And the closer its arrival drew, the harder it was to put the inevitable change out of mind.

                For her part, Alice wasn’t entirely sure what to do. She knew Mary planned to leave the program, and part of her felt like she should share that fact with the others. Then again, Mary acted as the keeper to all of their secrets and private thoughts, a responsibility she’d never once treated lightly. Was it really so wrong for her to have one secret of her own, even fleetingly? Alice didn’t know, it fell into the gray area that she’d become more and more comfortable with as her Subtlety education went on. All she did know for certain was that once a secret was out, it couldn’t be unspoken, so she wanted to be sure of whatever move she made. And with the day they’d had, she definitely wasn’t making the choice tonight.

                “…so the theater in downtown is doing a Star Puncher marathon, which should be a fun way to kill a day,” Alex said. Although they’d invited several friends, Alex was the only non-Melbrook resident aside from Camille who’d taken them up on the offer. Even Chad had declined, as he was heading home that evening like so many of the others. It was hard to blame any of them; if Alice had grown up in a loving home she’d have jumped on the opportunity to visit it as well.

                “Anyway, that’s my plan, aside from training. What about you all?” Alex asked. He played a card on the table, something with a monster illustration and numbers in the corner, which elicited a curse from Hershel.

                “Damn you and damn your greens with their damn trample,” Hershel muttered, flicking through his own hand. No one else entirely understood the game they were playing, not that Alex and Hershel hadn’t tried to rope the others in. “Roy and I are going home as usual. Well, mostly going home. With the way our powers have been… developing, we’re going to take a day out sometime during the month to visit an old family friend. Just to make sure everything is going well.”

                With a flourish, Hershel laid down a card that had a red border on top of Alex’s weird monster. He looked mighty smug about the move, right up until Alex pulled a blue card from his hand and pushed Hershel’s red card away. Alice didn’t grasp the intricacies of what had just gone down, but from the darkly muttered swears escaping Hershel’s mouth while he took the red card back, it wasn’t hard to figure out things had not gone his way.

                “I’ve just got the training,” Vince said. “No idea what it entails, but hopefully it will be productive.”

                “You spent your whole summer training, and now you’re giving up winter too. You know, there’s a difference between being dedicated and just hating downtime.” Nick appeared with a pair of drinks, slipping one to Alice as he took a seat next to her. “Some of us are going to spend our time off as the gods intended: drinking champagne by the pool.”

                “In December?” Camille asked.

                “People come to Vegas all through the year. It’s just good business to have a few indoor, heated aquatic lounging options,” Nick explained. “There’s never a bad time to visit Las Vegas.”

                Mary made her way in from the kitchen, holding a slice of pizza. They’d attacked dinner hard earlier in the evening, and were now picking through the scraps as hunger occasionally reared its head. “Lovely as I’m sure it is, I think I’m more than happy to have a nice winter back in my woods. The peace and quiet will be a welcome change of pace from this town.”

                “Aw, you know you’ll miss us,” Nick said. “I give it five days in the woods before you’re calling everyone up, trying to get us to visit.”

                Alice didn’t look at Mary during the discourse, because she was better trained than that. Any sort of conspiratorial nod or sideways glance was risky, especially around someone as perceptive as Nick. A question appeared on the tail end of Alice’s thoughts of caution: what if Nick already knew? Playing it close to the vest was certainly his style, but since there wasn’t a way to ask about it without tipping her own hand there was no way to be sure. And besides, it didn’t really matter if he knew or not. It wouldn’t change the outcome. Only Mary could do that.

                “I’m just going to be home with my family,” Camille said. “We go caroling for Christmas, which is fun, and then my mom makes a big ham for me and all my cousins.”

                “Sounds idyllic.” Hershel was half-distracted, rapidly shuffling the cards in his hand, clearly searching for a solution that failed to appear.

                “It’s nice enough. I’m the only Super in my family, so things were more awkward when I was a kid. Nowadays it isn’t as bad though.” Camille rested her head on Vince’s shoulder, and for a moment Alice felt like she’d stolen Mary’s power. It was too easy to see into that woman’s mind, imagining a Christmas where she got to bring Vince home to meet the family. Maybe she’d even been working up the courage to ask, before Vince had arrived and casually announced he was heading off to some east campus for more training. The guy was an open book, a trait that Alice strangely found herself envying from time to time.

                “What about you, Alice?” Vince asked. “Are you going home for Christmas too?”

                It was a fair question, one she’d been asking herself for some time. Knowing what she did about her father, it had been extremely tempting to skip the whole thing. Buy herself a ticket to a tropical island and spend the break in luxury. But the more she’d dwelt on it, the more she’d come to the realization that this wasn’t a burden, it was an opportunity. Alice had information about her father that he wasn’t aware of. If she was smart, if she was careful, and if she was daring, she might just be able to twist that advantage into getting more information out of him. Besides, with all that she’d seen now, she needed to talk with him. This might be their last chance to have any sort of honest dialogue, and she owed her father at least that possibility. It was a gamble, through and through, however this was what she’d been training for. This was the perfect opportunity for someone who wanted to be a Subtlety Hero.

                “You know I can’t miss it, even if I wanted to.” Alice put on her best exasperated yet stalwart smile. They needed to think she was stuck going, not that she had anything planned. After all, if they knew, then they might try to talk her out of it, and this was too good of a chance to miss due to anything as paltry as logic or reason. “There’s nothing like an Adair family Christmas.”