Chapter 21

                Alex was the last to arrive, meeting his friends at the multiplex only after squeezing in an extra hour of practice. While everyone had been changed in some sense or another by the attack on Lander, Alex was impacted in a very measureable way. In all the previous training he’d done, all the tests he’d taken, Alex had always imagined himself as a member of a Hero team. His powers might not be enough to take on every Super directly, but as a support member he could knock out the easy ones and help his teammates win victories of their own. It wasn’t an easy path, he’d known reaching graduation with his level of strength would be a long shot, but it was what he believed he could do.

                That all changed the night Sasha was killed in front of him. For the first time, Alex saw what it was like to be too weak on the battlefield, to come up lacking when the stakes were high. He wasn’t strong enough, and it had cost his friend her life. Alex still wasn’t certain he’d reach graduation; there were too many powerful people in his class to be sure of making the cut. All he knew was that no matter what, he never wanted to feel that way, to fail someone he cared about, again.

                However, with his extra training done, Alex tried to push the more serious thoughts out of his mind for the evening. There were classic movies, friends, and reasonably priced cocktails he could buy using his actual driver’s license, as he’d finally cleared the legal drinking age. Determination was important, but Star Wars had already demonstrated the danger of losing sight of what mattered. Even if some of the story did take place in The Movies Which Shall Not Be Named.

                Alex breezed through the door, pausing to make sure the collar on his polo was actually laying down flat, then did a quick scan of the room. Most of the people were young, no surprise in a college town, and if he were guessing Alex would wager the vast majority attended Lander. The digital display which normally showed movies, theatres, and start times, was now only displaying five films, all of which were due to begin in the next half hour. The concession stand was still selling popcorn, though a portable cooler and keg betrayed the fact that tonight there were more adult options than just soda. Tempted as he was to grab a drink, Alex prioritized finding his friends first. A quick scan of the attendees’ minds led him to their location, clustered together near one of the makeshift tables scattered about the room.

                Everyone from Melbrook was present, along with Nick, Shane, and Camille. Mary was the first to notice him, of course, giving a brief wave as he approached the table. She slid to the side, jostling Roy slightly out of the way, and making room for Alex at the table. After the customary round of welcoming was exchanged, Alex turned to the larger Daniels brother, a touch confused.

                “Didn’t Hershel want to come tonight? It’s nice to see you and all, but old movies are usually his scene.”

                “Yeah, I thought the same thing,” Roy agreed. He gave his wide shoulders a heavy shrug, rustling the button-down draped across his toned torso. “But he said he’s got a lot to do this weekend, so I should come out and have fun.”

                That was about as settled as the matter could get in such a public place, so Alex allowed it to drop, turning the discussion to the more pressing task at hand. “Okay then, I know I’m way late, so did you already pick what movie we’re going to see?”

                “It’s a hotly contested issue,” Alice replied. “They’ve got the original Star Puncher, but we’ve all seen that thanks to last year’s release, so we’d like to do something new. Not sure if you recognize all the movies up there, but there’s a black-and-white romance, an old college comedy, some Oscar bait piece of shit no one wants to see, an old school horror flick, and obviously Star Puncher.”

                “They do put out a good selection,” Nick noted. “Something for people of any taste.”

                “But not one that appeals to everyone,” Shane added. “Alice and Chad are angling for the romance, while Nick, Roy, and I all want to see the original zombie movie, which Alice so callously referred to as an ‘old school horror flick’. Vince, Camille, and Mary all prefer comedy, on the other hand.”

                Alex turned a surprised gaze to Chad. “Really? You want to watch the romance?”

                Chad sipped lightly from his soda, a drink Alex knew without asking didn’t contain any extra additions. “It is an artful and well-crafted genre. My mother used to rent them frequently when I was a child, so I acquired a bit of a taste.”

                “To each his own,” Alex replied. “Well, why not just split up and let everyone go see what they want? It’s a movie, you’re not going to be talking during it anyway.”

                “We considered that,” Vince said. “But it seemed sort of anti-social. We did come here together, after all.”

                “Fine then, let’s do it this way. Everyone, raise your hand if you’ve already seen the romance movie,” Alex demanded.

                Chad, Camille, Alice, and, after a long moment of hesitation, Nick raised their hands.

                “Something you’d like to tell us?” Alice asked, the wicked glint in her eye making it clear she was not letting this die anytime soon.

                “I was a child too; I didn’t always get to pick what was watched on movie night.” Nick didn’t bother mentioning that Gerry, softy that he was, tended to pick those movies both to entertain and educate a young Nicholas on the basics of charm and courtship.

                “That’s four. What about the comedy,” Alex said, skipping right over Alice and Nick’s discussion. With those two, one had to bear past or the conversation could be knocked permanently off course. Mary, Nick, Camille, and Shane all raised their hands this time. “And lastly, the zombie movie?”

                This time it was only Shane, Nick, and Roy with their hands in the air. “Second-hand,” Roy said, offering up a half-hearted explanation.

                “Okay then, so it looks like the zombie wins,” Alex declared. “The least people have seen it, which means if we all have to go into the same film, that one will be a new experience for the most people. Good enough, or do you want to re-visit splitting up?”

                “Just tell me it isn’t a low-budget gore-fest,” Alice said.

                “The effects haven’t aged super well, but the story is a classic that launched a genre,” Shane told her.

                “A.k.a., it’s nothing like the schlock I subject you all to,” Nick added.

                “Guess that’ll have to be good enough.” Alice tipped her red cocktail back, draining the rest of her glass in a single gulp, and set the empty container carefully down on the table. “Just let me get another drink first. If I’m doing old horror, I at least deserve a buzz.”