Chapter 3: Andy

I looked at the clock on the dashboard and silently swore. It was five o'clock and getting dark out. "Dean is going to kill me. And Ness might too. I don't know who I should be more scared of at this point." I muttered as I looked to my right at the road sign, which said "Exit 35, 6 miles". At the rate I was going, it'd be another fifteen minutes before I got to the diner. The roads were a mess, and visibility was down to a quarter of a mile, making it much more difficult to see in the fading light. I sat there, hands idly tapping to the music on my steering wheel as I crawled forward through the holiday traffic. Even Trans-Siberian Orchestra couldn't keep my anxiety down. Finally, I was able to edge my way onto the exit ramp and turn right, towards the diner, and towards what was sure to be my doom. I pulled into the parking lot at 5:23, almost two and a half hours past rendezvous. As I opened the door to the diner, a sudden flurry of purple, pink, and black barreled into me. "Oh my god, you're okay. Do you know how worried we all were, how worried I was?" asked a small, but incredibly powerful woman currently trying to squeeze the life out of me.

"And here I thought you were gonna kill me. Of course, I'm okay, Ness. It's just this fucking weather. So much goddamn snow."

"I messaged you like three days ago, why didn't you reply? Mr. C even tried calling you."

"My phone decided to fall off my bookshelf, and on the way down decided it also wanted to fight my desk. It obviously lost the fight."

"Well, at least you're okay. Hey Josh, wanna go let Mrs. C that Andy's here?"

"Sure thing," a guy in a red hoodie answered from the booth where the others were sitting.

"Wait, who's Josh?"

"He's a new recruit. Found me on the side of the road as I was walking here," Ness replied as if everything was normal.

"Woah, back up. You were walking alongside a highway in the middle of the worst snowstorm in like twenty years?"

"Yeah, see, dad and me got into a fight and he started throwing plates at me. I left ten minutes later and walked to the nearest gas station to get some wifi so I could ask you for a ride. I waited at least forty-five minutes for you to reply and then started walking along Highway 163. I was out there for three days before Josh just happened to notice me sleeping near some trees by the edge of the fence. After I fought off one of those reptile demons, I convinced him to drive me here. I had a hunch that he had an adg, it just wasn't all the way activated. So I did what anyone would do, told him about us and what we do, then proceeded to unlock his adg and take a nap."

"I get the feeling there's more to this story, but I'm not going to push it," I replied, slightly rolling my eyes.

"Oh, there you are, dear. We were all so worried! Here, come eat, you must be starving!" Mrs. C exclaimed from behind the bar.

"Thanks, Mrs. C. I'll come eat once this fluffy monster lets go of me."

Ness let go of me and walked with me towards the bar. I saw Josh try to follow out of the corner of my eye, but he changed his mind and went to sit with the others in the corner booth.

"Are, you okay?" I whispered to Ness, noticing her cheeks were red, and her eyes had a slightly glazed look.

"Yes, Andy. I healed myself after the plate incident and I didn't even get a scratch on me from the reptile demon. I am fine."

"You don't look fine to me. Unless you've been out jogging in the last ten minutes."

"I'm just tired is all. I've been tired the last few days. But what do you expect, I was walking through a snowstorm!"

"Just promise you'll tell me if you don't feel well."

"I will, Andy. Hurry up and finish eating so we can finish the decorations!"

I quickly finished my cheeseburger and fries, and we all started walking towards the hotel. Yet again, I notice that Josh was sticking close to Ness like he was afraid to leave her. I just shook my head and continued to walk towards the hotel. We got to the main doors and as Dean put his hand on the scanner, I heard Ness start to explain the layout of the compound. "This is the main door. The scanner is there to prevent unwanted guests into the compound, we can get you keyed in soon. To the right, is our little medical wing. With the government funding, we have all the supplies we need, including an MRI machine, x-ray machine, and almost everything else you can find in a general hospital. To the right, there's the private rooms and our center commune. It used to be the ballroom, but we've turned it into a training space. At the end of the hallway, there's a pool. It is still in good working order, and it's an indoor pool, so we can use it during the winter. All the floors above us are vacant, so we mostly use them for storage. The elevators also work, so if you want to go to the roof you can. And then we have the kitchen area behind the front desk. There is always fresh coffee and donuts until 10:30 in the morning."

"Wow, this place is incredible! So, where am I staying?" Josh asked.

"Well, I suppose you can stay in the room across from me," Ness replied.

"Sounds good."

I walked with Ness and Josh towards the end of the hallway that we occupied and opened the door for Josh. I handed him a hotel key as the door swung open to reveal a plain hotel room, with a single bed and fresh towels. "You can have this customized anyway you want, just tell Ness what needs changing. Tomorrow, Dean will probably want to meet with you and talk about your abilities. When he calls for you, don't be late. I don't want to have to dig another grave in the courtyard," I told him as I turned around and shut his door.

"Was that really necessary?" Ness asked me.

"Yes, it was. He needs to learn the system here. He's on the bottom of the ladder now."

"As long as you don't scare him off, I'll let you teach him then."

"Hey, wanna go swimming? We'll get the others too!"

"Oh my gosh, yes! What I really want though, is to sit in the hot tub and watch the snow fall. Oh, and Dean and Alex put tons of Christmas lights in there, so we don't even need the lights!"

"That sound awesome. Get your suit on, and I'll tell the others."

"Hurry up!"

I quickly made my way to Alex and Randi's room and as soon as Alex opened the door, I told him that they should join us in the pool. Next was Dean. Dean wasn't one to swim very often, but when he did, it was fun. Once I got a confirmation from all three, I quickly went back to my room and changed.

As I walked towards the pool, I could hear squealing and splashing. I rounded the corner and laughed at the sight. Dean had a soaking Ness in his arms and was dragging her away from the hot tub and towards the pool. "No, Dean! The water is too cold!" she tried to yell, but she was giggling too much, "Andy, help!" she barely got out.

"Okay," I said as I walked towards her and Dean. Then, I grabbed her feet and helped Dean throw her into the pool. Everyone started laughing, and when she finally came out of the water, she threw me a glare, which only made me laugh more. After hours of playing chicken, and wacky version of water polo, and relaxing in the hot tub, we all finally made our way back to our rooms to change into dry clothes with the promise to meet up again in the commune for s'mores and spiked hot chocolate.

Ness and I were the last to arrive, and as soon as we sat down, Dean handed us each a decently sized thermos with hot chocolate inside. Over the intercom, someone had turned on the radio, and the joyful sound of Christmas music filled the building. A few hours after the s'more had been eaten, and the last drop of hot chocolate had been drunk, we all fell asleep, think all was right with the world.