Chapter 20

                Nick strode up to Melbrook Hall with his backpack slung neatly over a single shoulder. Inside was a selection of some of the most schlocky cinema ever recorded on DVD. By now, they’d all be out of class, no doubt planning to piss their few free days away on something like training or studying. It was his solemn duty as their friend to make sure they didn’t waste this opportunity to rot their minds and rest their bodies. Plus, it did give him a bit of a thrill hearing them all groan at the pathetic attempts at special effects that permeated his movies.

                Pressing the doorbell, Nick heard the expected footsteps hurrying forward to let him in. Most likely Vince, whose own sense of decency demanded he not leave guests waiting outside. Coming by Melbrook wasn’t the sort of thing he liked to make a habit of, even if he’d inadvertently spent the first part of last year laying the cover story for why he was friends with the others again. They were watched too closely, and it put him on edge to be in the heart of their surveillance. Still, that was exactly why he’d made a point of swinging by on occasion. If he showed fear, he showed knowledge, and that really would perk the wrong people’s attention.

                To his surprise, the first of the night but certainly not the last, it wasn’t Vince who opened the door. Instead, Alice appeared before him, dressed in a sparkling green blouse and black pants. She smirked mischievously as she caught him taking her in, both analyzing the outfit she’d donned and pausing to appreciate it. Something was amiss, that much was evident. By now she and all the others should be dressed down in sweatpants, or at least still wearing their normal clothes from the day’s activities.

                “Oh, my, what a surprise. Nick has dropped by. And by the bulging bag over his shoulders, I bet he’s come with a bunch of terrible horror movies that none of us will want to watch.” Alice opened the door wider to allow him in, all the while spitting out words drenched in sarcasm.

                While he’d been momentarily taken aback, Nick quickly pieced things together as he stepped through the door. So, they’d finally mounted a counter-attack. It had only taken them three years, although he had gone out of his way to try and keep things a bit unpredictable. Alice slid the door closed, turning to face him with her smile now widened into a full-blown grin.

                “Unfortunately, we’ve already got plans for this evening,” she said, crooking a finger and leading him into the living room. “By sheer chance, we discovered that there’s going to be a mixer and movie event at the local multiplex. Reasonably priced booze, and classic films of all genres for people to enjoy on the big screen. Funny though, pretty sure none of the movies you’ve ever shown us made the cut.”

                “My, what are the odds you’d uncover something like that,” Nick said, playing along as he set his backpack down on the couch. The others weren’t around, which was understandable. Only Alice knew how to clean up quickly, and from the way she was dressed she’d likely ordered everyone else to step up their sneaker and jean ensembles. “It’s so niche and out of the way, why you’d practically have needed to be scouring the internet for any event happening this evening. Probably at the last minute.”

                “I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Alice replied.

                Nick put up his hands, signaling defeat. “Okay, you win, no bad movies tonight. As long as everyone is relaxing and enjoying themselves, I’m happy. Not as happy as if I was tormenting them with choppy video cuts of cheaply made fake blood, but still happy. What were they going to do before you convinced them to go to the movies, anyway?”

                “Probably spend the whole night worrying about what our Hero names will be.” Alice set herself down on the couch’s armrest, barely changing her height as she rested. “We were told the deadline is the end of the year today, so naturally everyone started panicking. Well, mostly Vince, but we all jumped on board pretty quick.”

                “Vince is good with anything that involves morality or punching,” Nick said. “The heavy thinking stuff, not as much. I’ve actually got a couple of ideas for what he could call himself, but I think I’ll wait a few months before making any suggestions. If he finds something on his own, it will be a lot more powerful.”

                “Oh yeah? What about me, got any good suggestions?”

                “Was Princess already taken?” Nick’s quip earned him a quick jab to the ribs, which he laughed off despite the power it packed. Alice was getting stronger, both with her ability and attacks. While there hadn’t been much direct combat during their summer training, he imagined she could probably take out a good chunk of their class. He’d have paid good money to sneak down and watch whatever trial the HCP was throwing them through next.

                “Not funny. I would listen to any input you’ve got, though. I looked through a bunch of terms relating to gravity, but none of them felt right,” Alice admitted. “Unless my goal was to confuse and frustrate everyone who tried to say my name, which might be a good technique for pissing off criminals.”

                “Trust me, don’t go down that road.” Nick took a seat as well, thinking back to all the times they’d talked about Heroes in Vegas. “If your real name is remotely tough, the bad guys just give you a nickname. Not usually a good-spirited one either. Granted, they do that no matter what, but the mean ones tend to stick well with the Heroes whose real names are hard to say.”

                “I’ll take that under advisement,” Alice replied. “Which leaves me at square one, in the same place as Vince.”

                “Let’s be fair, I think you’ve got a leg up on him with figuring this stuff out,” Nick told her. “And clearly at speed-dressing as well. Where the hell is everybody, anyway?”

                “Don’t remind me.” Alice rubbed the sides of her temples slowly, battling back the beginnings of a headache trying to settle in. “Between those three boys and Mary, it took longer to help them choose outfits than to actually find where we were going. Speaking of which, this thing is supposed to be a bit nice. I can’t very well be seen out with someone wearing that, now can I?”

                Nick glanced down at the flip-flops, shorts, and t-shirt he’d walked over in. For a night of horror movies, it was a good fit, but it fell short of anything he’d ever wear when trying to impress. Especially if Alice expected him to be on her arm through the evening.

                With a quick motion, Nick dug his cell phone out of his pocket and hit the third number on the speed dial. “Eliza, I need you to bring me a change of clothes. My evening has taken an interesting turn, and I’d like to dress for the occasion.”


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