Vaughn walked over to us as soon as he saw us. He said something to Sean and the others, and met us just as I’d started to look over Vaughn’s pictures. Fortunately, only the senior pictures had been blown up. Some of them, specifically one where a five year old Vaughn had smeared red jelly over half his face, were mortifying enough at three by five inches.
I made a mental note to ask for veto power over any pictures my parents felt a need to share.
“Nick, Haley, you want to step outside? Grab some food first, but you want to go over there?”
He pointed at a spot outside the tent that didn’t have anybody very close.
We put some food on our plates, and followed him out.
“Man, this is weird.” Vaughn turned toward the tent, possibly to check if anyone was coming out of it after him.
“Yeah,” I said. “I thought Sean was angry with you.”
“Oh. Well, I paid him back with the bounty from fighting the Maniacs–“
“Vaughn,” Haley whispered.
“Sorry. Anyway, I paid him back. So he likes me now.”
“Didn’t you crash his car?” I asked.
Vaughn’s head flicked back toward the tent. “His dad bought him a new one, and he’s over it.”
I looked past Vaughn to the tent. More than half of Justice Fist were there, plus their parents. “I guess I’m still surprised you invited him, and well, almost all of them.”
“Like I had much of anything to do with the invitation list. I invited people I liked, but my mom and dad invited a whole bunch of people they felt should be on the list — like relatives and people from work. We spent a lot time with Sean’s family when I was a kid, so they had to invite his parents, and the others too. I invited, you know, all of us –“
And then he stopped. Someone had walked out of the tent, saying, “There’s Vaughn.”
He wore a button down shirt, shorts, and sandals. In some ways that was even weirder than Sean being there. He looked surprisingly young outside school. I could believe that he was only ten years older than we were.
“Congratulations.” He shook Vaughn’s hand, and turned to me, “Congratulations to you too. I didn’t realize you knew each other.”
“Sure,” I said. “We’ve known each other since we were little kids.”
Haley nudged me with her elbow.
“Oh, and this is Haley. She goes to South High. Haley, this is Mr. Beacham, our history teacher.”
“Nice to meet you, Haley. You’re on South’s gymnastics team, right? Aren’t you Travis McAllister’s sister?”
Haley frowned briefly and said, “I am, but I wasn’t on the gymnastics team this year. I was… too busy.”
“Too bad. I’d heard you were one of the best. Well, maybe next year.”
“Maybe,” she said.
He must have caught something in her tone, or maybe a new thought struck him. Either way he changed the subject. “I’ve been doing a little research lately, and you might find it interesting. With so many superheroes around here, I did some research into the history of supers in our city. You know who was the first recorded supervillain in Grand Lake?”
“No idea,” I said.
He paused for a second, just like he did when he wanted the class’s attention. “Someone calling himself ‘The Master Martian,’ if you can believe it. According to the newspapers, he could ‘cloud men’s minds’.”
Haley cocked her head to one side, “He wasn’t really a Martian, was he?”
“I doubt it. The Sentinel’s article did say he had green skin — but that’s not the interesting part. You know who caught him? Two twelve year old kids. Giles Hardwick, and another boy named Joe. They shocked the Master Martian into unconsciousness with a device they’d invented, and brought him to the police.”
“Shocked him?” Vaughn asked.
“Right. Isn’t that unreal? With the kid geniuses, it sounds like a Tom Swift story. Well, I should go. I’ve got another open house to get to, and it’s the fourth today. Congratulations again, to both of you, and nice to meet you, Haley.”
He walked toward the rows of cars parked on the lawn.
When he got out of earshot, Haley said, “Your grandfather was named Joe. Could he have invented something? Or…”
Vaughn interrupted. “Do you think they were already experimenting with power juice?”
I watched Mr. Beacham go. “I could believe anything at this point. Wow. They did that at twelve? No wonder Grandpa started me with Lee when I was a kid.”
“Yeah,” Vaughn said. Then he asked Haley, “What did you think of Mr. Beacham?”
“He seems nice.” She gave a half smile, “But I hope he’s not spreading that story around.”
“Yeah,” Vaughn said, “but most people won’t think about it like we do. I’m glad he came though. It was nice to have someone here who didn’t hint that he was surprised that I even made it to graduation, and try to give me advice. Get this… One of my uncles, Uncle Rory, came up to me holding a cigarette in one hand, and a beer in the other, and told me that if I stayed away from drugs, I could do something great with my life. All I could think was, ‘are you looking at yourself?’ He’s spent his whole life working on family stuff.”
“I’m sure he meant well,” Haley said.
“Yeah. I bet.”
Ignoring the two of them for the moment, I checked over the crowd. “Didn’t you say that you invited everyone?”
Sure. I’ve seen Travis, Rachel, Daniel, Marcus, Cassie… I think Jaclyn’s coming.”
I pulled out my League phone. With Jaclyn’s help, I’d managed to get everyone their new phone and their suit communicators last night.
I tapped at the screen, and sent everyone a text message. “Who’s at Vaughn’s party?”
Daniel replied, skipping the phone, and delivering his message directly into my brain.
Daniel: Everyone. I’m on the opposite side of the tent from you. You know how Lee said we should be collecting intelligence?
Daniel: I’ve been trying to read Russell Hardwick.
Me: Get anything?
Daniel: Reading him is like listening to static, but I know one thing. Ray and the rest of his team arrived last night. They’re in Grand Lake.