Chapter – XXV
“Guys, you really didn’t have to do this. I’m fine, I swear!” Cat said as the group made their way to the Mike’s friends’ house. Fortunately, it turned out that the house was just off of campus, and since the weather was still relatively plesant, they could save some money and walk.
“Fine? We had to physically restrain you from leaving a burning bag of chupacabra poop outside Christina’s door.” Tom said
“Well, she’s a bitch and she needs to be taught a lesson.” Cat pouted.
“You’re not wrong,” Robin said “but making us all stand outside while the campus fire department takes forever to get here and then search the entire tower is is not the way to do it.” Predictably, the fire alarms had already blared several times that semester, usually at night. The humor of seeing girls naked except for flipflops and hastily wrapped sheets and guys wearing unzipped jeans running down the stairs was quickly tempered by the realization that they would have to go through Gym workouts on only a couple hours sleep.
Rather than respond, Cat simply blew a raspberry.
“We’re taking you out to a nice, safe, party so you can relax and have some fun.” Peter said.
“Fiiiine” Cat said, drawing out the word.
As they got to the house they heard music thumping softly inside. It may have been a party in a neighborhood populated with Sizemore students, but everyone inside was enrolled in the HCP, and had to maintain their secret identity. Nobody wanted to risk being expelled from the Program because the cops got called because the music was too loud and found someone using a power inside.
The group got to the front door and Max was uncerimoniously pushed to the front.
“Hey, what did you do that for?” Mad said, as he regained his balance.
“Four reasons, Slick” Robin said, counting off on her fingers “One; Mike is your RA. Two; you’re less intimidating than Erik” The giant blond simply smiled goofily at that. “Three; you’re less likely to get our asses kicked than Tom.”
“Tough, but fair.” Tom said
“And Four, Peter and I have our hands full trying to keep Cat from running off”
“Fine, fine. Just asking” Max said, and rapped his knuckles against the door. After a minute or so the door opened to reveal a tall dark skinned young woman.
“Can I help you?” She said
“Oh, uh, Hi.” Max said, looking up at her. “Michael White told us to come over about now? He’s our RA.”
Her eyes narrowed and if anything she seemed to get even taller.“I have no fucking idea who you are, or who you are talking about. What? A bunch of roaming freshmen hear some music and try to con their way in? Fuck. That. Now get out of here before I kick your asses back to whatever dorm you crawled out of!”
The freshmen were wide-eyed and even the massive Erik seemed to cower a bit. From the side Tom spoke up.
“How did you know we are freshmen?”
Her furious expression was suddenly split by a wide grin and a bark of laughter. “You’re pretty good. Your friends were about to pee their pants.” She said. “Come on in, Mike’s in on the couch. Drinks are in the kitchen, snacks are in the living room. Use a coaster and if you make a mess I will kick your asses all the way back to campus. My name’s Grace, by the way.” With that she turned and walked back into the house.
“Yo, Mike, your rugrats are here!” she shouted to the broad shouldered young man laughing on the couch. Mike looked up from his conversation to welcome the freshmen.
“Hey guys! Right on time.” Mike said “I guess you didn’t have any problems finding the place.”
“Nope. In fact Tom was eerily on the ball with all this.” Robin said “He made sure we left on time and came right here.”
“Yeah, about that…” Tom said, checking his watch “We’re not all here yet. I hope you don’t mind but I told one more she could tag along.”
“Don’t worry about it” Grace said “When Mike asked if you guys were looking for a place you could get out and not worry about gangs or anything, my housemates and I decided to make let the other RAs know their freshmen were welcome if they were looking for something to do and promised to behave.”
“As if Grace ever turned down a party.” Mike added, to the general laughter of the other sophomores in the room.
“Oh, cool then. Can somebody get the curtains?” Tom said. When the door was closed and the curtains were drawn, Tom formed one of his familiar black orbs in one hand. “Don’t worry Grace, this won’t mess up your paint”
With that he tossed the orb against the wall, where it flattened into a six inch disc. With a snap of his fingers, the black disc grew to six feet in diameter and revealed a different room where Grace’s front door used to be. This was the first time anyone from the Sizemore HCP, save Max, had seen Tom’s portals in action, and there were wide eyes all around the room. Even among the sophomores, who had taken their first steps into the greater world of heroes, teleporters who operated like Tom were few and far between.
“Come on in, the water’s fine!” Tom called through the open portal and Danielle Malone tentatively stepped through.
“Uh, hi guys.” She said with a sheepish wave.
“Oh, hey Dani!” Robin said. “Cat, Danielle. Danielle, Cat.”
“Oh, right. Dean Smith introduced you to us on the first day of class.”
“Right. But we got to know her during your fight.” Robin said “I’m guessing Tom asked if you wanted to come along?” She asked Danielle.
“Actually, I asked Tom if I could tag along. Dean Smith is being kinda paranoid with the whole security thing.”
“What now?” Grace asked. Throwing a party was one thing. Possibly running afoul of Dean Smith was something else entirely. Something about him always seemed to creep Grace out.
“It’s nothing, really. My grandfather is Senator Malone. We’re all each other has, my parents died in an accident. So when I decided to go into the HCP he was worried that people would try to threaten one of us. So he used his pull with the DVA to get Dean Smith to take some extra security measures. That’s why I have to live below ground and take on-line classes.”
It was a lie that Dean Smith had carefully crafted to be both plausible and easily remembered. And, viewed from a certain perspective, it was very close to the truth, more a lie of omission than anything else. Between that and a summer of relentless drilling, it was a story that Danielle could tell and not appear to be lying.
“Well… I’m not sure how I feel about this.” Grace said.
“Nobody knows I’m going to Sizemore, and nobody knows I’m here. Poppa kept me out of the media, so most people don’t really know what I look like.” Danielle said, desperate to have some semblance of normalcy return to her life. “But if you’re not comfortable with me here, I’ll go back to my room.” The last was almost a whisper as her eyes drifted down to examine the tops of her shoes.
“Oh come on Grace, let her stay.” Mike said.
“Alright” Grace said, heaving a sigh “But I thought you were supposed to be one of the responsible ones here?”
“Yeah, me too.” Mike said with a lopsided grin.
Just then, the doorbell sounded and Tom collapsed the portal so the door could be opened.
“Come on, let’s get some drinks and snackies.” Robin said and ushered the group into the kitchen. “I don’t know what you guys are having, but if they have beer, Cat is having one, and Peter is not complaining.”
“Just this once, I’ll make an exception.” Peter said “For the greater good, we need to get Cat to relax.”
“Oh, I guess you can twist my arm.” Cat said.
“I’ll just have water” Danielle said. So far she had sold her half-truth to everyone, but nobody knew yet how her body would respond to a lot of things, alcohol being one of them. She really did not want to go back to campus drunk and accidentally run into a professor. Or worse, drink enough to down a water buffalo and still be sober. That would raise some awkward questions.
“Me too.” Max said. He was starting to make a bit of progress in his supplemental workouts, and he didn’t want to risk taking a step backward.
“Nope, that’s not going to happen.” Tom said. “Danielle’s a unique case, but the rest of us are going to be good friends, and siblings, and support Cat by doing something we totally shouldn’t and drinking adult beverages.”
“Hey Jay! Glad you could make it.” Grace’s voice rang from the living room “So these are your pet freshmen?”
“Yo, the party can start! Johnson’s in the hizz-ouse, and I brought some brews!” John Johnson shouted as he entered the house, a case of cheap beer in each hand.
“Oh no, not that guy.” Erik said “Now I definitely need a drink.”