Chapter 150

                “So I didn’t know about the whole… illness… thing when I bought this. Sorry if it’s a little inappropriate.” Nick produced the cylindrical brown package from behind his back and set it in Gerry’s waiting hands. “Merry Christmas.”

                Moving carefully, taking longer than he’d have normally needed, Gerry pulled away the brown paper to reveal a bottle of liquid the color of slightly burned honey. Twisting it around he found the label, which was aged and simple. “Campbell, this is some high-end bourbon. I mean, even by our luxurious standards, it’s a fancy gift. You shouldn’t have spent so much on me.”

                “Who else am I going to spend it on? Most of my friends lack the palates to appreciate such a fine product, and none of them care much for other worldly goods. Well, except Alice, but she’s got tons of cash of her own.”

                “Wealthy, beautiful, and charming enough to keep even you in line. This gal of yours must be something else,” Gerry said.

                “Hang on, who said she was keeping me in any kind of line?” Nick protested.

                Gerry clucked his tongue and set the bottle gently down on his bedside table. “I’m bedridden, not blind. You’ve spent every day home in here with me instead of wooing our new waitresses. And don’t you dare try and say it’s because you wanted to spend all your time with me, we both know I take enough naps for you to squeeze in some downtime.”

                “Maybe I’ve just gotten bigger things on my mind,” Nick said.

                “Uh huh. Sure. I think we both know I taught you to lie better than that. But it’s okay, I won’t tell anyone you’re soft on this girl. I’m glad you are, honestly. Ms. Pips and I spent a good few years there terrified we’d end up raising a baby if you got careless.”

                “When have I ever been careless about anything I did?” Nick kept a dark expression off his face at the mention of Ms. Pips. He hadn’t seen her since his arrival, which would have been neither surprising nor bothersome if he wasn’t spending almost every waking hour with Gerry. The man had been her right hand man for decades, and she hadn’t so much as popped in to see how he was doing.

                “Oh you want to go down that road? Fine, pour us both a glass from that bottle and I’ll tell you some stories from when you were a kid where you damn near got us both in deep trouble.”

                “Are you sure you should? Drink? With the whole-”

                “I’m dying, Campbell, not sick. Sick is where you have to follow the rules, dying means you get to enjoy the last bits of your life while you have them.” Gerry tapped the top of the bottle gently with his index finger. “Besides, booze like this is meant to be shared with loved ones. So get the glasses already, I don’t have time to waste.”

                Nick did as he was told. It certainly wouldn’t be good for Gerry, but that didn’t appear to be a top priority. He’d been stopped from trying to save Gerry’s life, so at the very least he could make sure his mentor and teacher got to spend the last of it living how he wanted.

                No matter how much it tore Nick up inside.

*              *              *

                “Victor, grab the damn potatoes!” Blaine leaned around the side of the vast kitchen, his arms moving tirelessly to keep the roux from settling, and hollered at the broad-shouldered man in the living room. “Can you not hear the timer?”

                “Sorry!” Victor leapt up, nearly tripping over Sean in his hurry to avoid more of Blaine’s wrath. Behind him was a sizable indent in the couch, right next to Clarissa who was sipping on a glass of chardonnay. She and Miriam giggled as Victor barreled around the corner, nearly banging into Blaine in the process.

                When Blaine had first floated the idea of celebrating the holiday with as much of the old class as they could get together, Miriam Taylor had found the idea strange. For so long, it had just been she, Chad, and Blaine. And in truth, she wasn’t sure how she would fit in with the group when her original connection to them was gone. As more of the others signed on though, she found herself not quite able to resist the idea. Then Victor had volunteered his spacious abode, and curiosity had gotten the better of her.

                While he’d never been quite as renowned as some of his peers from the Class of Legends, there was no question that Victor had ended up among the more successful of the lot in his post-Hero career. The man lived on what could earnestly be called an estate, with a massive pool, tons of rooms, and a gym on par with everything but an HCP’s facilities. Chad was still exploring it, taking in the sights with awe and perhaps for the first time, at least Miriam hoped, thinking about what he’d do with his life when he was too old for Hero work. The Super Athletic Association was a good place to turn to; it made plenty of money and offered safe, reliable income.

                “Guess some things never change,” Sean remarked from the other side of the couch, nodding to the slowly fading impression Victor’s muscular bulk had left behind. “He’s still got it bad for you, Clarissa.”

                “Oh come now, Victor is a successful man with a moderately handsome face and ample resources. I’m sure he’s got far too many women chasing after him to hold onto a college crush,” Clarissa replied. “It’s just old habits. Sometimes we fall into pre-existing dynamics without even meaning to.”

                Personally, Miriam thought Sean had the better grasp of it, but she took a sip of her martini rather than actually say so. Victor was gracious enough to play host, the least they could do was give him the benefit of the doubt. Besides which, she could hardly blame him if he did still carry a torch for Clarissa. The woman was as lovely as ever, she and age seemed to be getting on better than anyone really had a right to. Yet she was also a little more distant than she’d been when they were younger, a condition that was understandable, given all that she’d seen and been through. Still, occasionally Miriam caught sight of a genuine smile on her face, and she knew the real Clarissa was in there, even if she did hide behind a more detached demeanor.

                All in all, it was a nice way to spend a day, as long as she didn’t allow herself to look around the large living room at all the empty seats. Chairs and couches that, had life gone the way they’d wanted it to, would have been filled to the brim with fellow college friends, and probably their own families as well. But Miriam had spent a long time thinking about the empty spaces, letting them fill up too much of her life. It was a pleasant change to focus on the ones that were filled instead.