Chapter 77

                Eliza took comfort in staying busy, and as the morning of Halloween arrived she had no shortage of tasks to keep her occupied. While Nicholas Campbell might be more than happy to offer up use of his apartment building to throw a party for his friends, that didn’t mean he actually planned to get his hands dirty with the details. No, he was a delegator, and with no other assets on hand that meant she and Jerome were the ones to take on all the tasks he didn’t feel like dealing with. Jerome was highly-valued muscle and she was one of the best forgers in the world, yet their day started with him running off to pick up the keg while she was tasked with getting the food Nick had ordered. Normally, she would have been peeved at the inconvenience, even if it was the way things were done, but this time she was grateful.

                Any excuse that got her out of the apartment, away from Nick, was a good one. Years working for Ms. Pips had taught Eliza the value of discretion, secrets, and being able to lie with a straight face. But Nick had gotten a lifetime of the same tutelage, and consequently he was much better at seeing through falsehoods than she was at creating them. By now, he certainly knew something was up, even if he hadn’t put all the details together yet. Every time she was around him, it was a constant struggle not to let anything slip, both because keeping the secret was taxing, and because deep down she truly wanted to tell him. He should know, as far as she was concerned, but the orders from up top were uncompromising. Guilt-wracked as she was, Eliza knew better than to cross Ms. Pips. Defying an order directly from the head of their organization’s mouth was an express route to a short career, and not the sort that came with a good retirement package.

                So, instead of dwelling on what was waiting for her back home, she focused on getting her work done. Picking up sandwiches, cupcakes, and decorations; along with a few varieties of craft beer that she’d replicate and keep on hand. Normally, she’d also be tipping them back, but the way things were she didn’t trust herself to drink, at least not until Nick was distracted with his secret task. That part, thankfully, Jerome was stuck with. He’d have to secure the location and help them slip away from the party, though given how much alcohol she was planning to fill the place with she’d be shocked if any of the guests remembered their own names after a few hours.

                Once the supplies were picked up, she headed into the apartment conference room where Jerome had already started decorating, hanging fake spider-webs and paper-handprints the color of blood along the walls. She started on the duplicating, making sure there would be enough food and drink to feed half the campus. Even as she worked, she knew she was making too much, but having a task felt good. After this she’d help Jerome with the décor, and then… there would be nothing for several hours, until Nick wanted them to start getting ready for when guests arrived. Eliza needed to keep busy, she had to keep moving.

                Eliza had pulled through far worse than this. She’d been through losing her parents to a rogue Super attack, she’d survived the streets even before discovering her powers, she’d fought her way up the ranks of an organization with no tolerance for failure, and she’d even walked away from the only person in her life she’d loved in order to protect him. Eliza was a survivor, and she would get through this too.

                She just had to keep moving.

*             *             *

                With a good night’s sleep and time away from the HCP underground, the senior students were finally beginning to shake off some of the lingering stress from Friday’s trial. It certainly helped that the campus was in a festive mood, every dining hall decorated in faux-gore and serving food that tasted the same as usual but had “spooky” names, such as the eyeballs and entrails that was actually just spaghetti and meatballs.

                In the early afternoon, well before it was time to change into costume and head out, Jill heard a sharp knock on her bedroom door. She turned to find it was technically already open, with Violet peeking through.

                “Hey,” Violet greeted. They hadn’t said much since Jill announced to the house that she was leaving the program. Neither entirely knew how to approach the other with such a divide between Jill and the rest of them. What had once been their greatest uniting force now drove them apart from her. “You still going to the party tonight?”

                “I was thinking about it,” Jill said. “We did have to go shopping with Alice, so I may as well put the costume to use. Is that okay with you all?”

                Violet shrugged and took a step past the doorway. Some part of her wondered if this space was cursed. First Stella had been kicked out of the program, and now it’s next occupant was leaving freely. Of course, deep down she understood that this was the normal room; it was the other three that were odd. Given how many people they’d started with freshman year, it was amazing that only one room in the house had lost so many tenants.

                “It’s open to normal folks too, masks encouraged,” Violet reminded her. “I don’t think anyone will mind if you show up. I mean, worse comes to worse, the night will just…”

                “Yeah. Be fogged over, I guess.” Jill sat down on her bed, harder than she’d meant to. She still knew the choice she’d made was the right one, but it didn’t change how scary it felt to be facing down losing parts of her memory. Especially since so much of it revolved around her friends.

                “How are they dealing with Will?” Violet asked. “I mean, you’ve known he has powers since you were kids, seems like it would be hard to pull memories of him.”

                “Will already gave permission for me to keep everything with him in it,” Jill replied. “Since I’m just leaving the program, not getting expelled, they only fog over names and faces. Apparently, people who want me to remember them can opt to let me keep those aspects.”

                “Really? I don’t think they offered Stella that,” Violet said.

                It was Jill’s turn to shrug. “Maybe they did and she never tried to have anyone take her up on it. Maybe it’s because she was a sophomore and I’m a senior. I don’t know how this works for other people, just the way they explained it to me.”

                Slowly, Violet walked over and took a seat next to Jill. “Is it scary? Not knowing how much of anything you’ll be able to hang on to?”

                “Fucking terrifying.”

                “Kind of figured.” With a heavy thwump Violet’s head dropped onto Jill’s shoulder. “If it helps, you don’t have to move.”

                “I don’t?” Jill asked.

                “Nope. Talked it over with the others, and we all trust you. Besides, with a brother still in the program it’s not like you’ll be tempted to the dark side that easily. So we’re okay with you still living here, even after the wipe.” Violet paused, thinking her next words carefully through before speaking them. “And, maybe, I might be okay with you keeping all your memories of me. I need to mull it over for a bit first, but I’ll let you know by Monday.”

                “Violet, you don’t have to-”

                “I know I don’t,” Violet said. “But I’m getting tired of saying goodbye to my friends. If there’s a way to avoid this one, I might just take it.”

                After that, they fell into old habits of simple, happy chatter for some while, until Thomas began walking through the halls, reminding the house that there was a party to get ready for. Even then, they still lingered for a bit, enjoying the last moments of a friendship that, memory wipe or not, would never quite be the same again.