BOOK 2: From What I've Tasted of Desire

Chapter 7: “In Hiding”

In the days following Jean’s arrival, Bobby sank back into the kind of flattened anxiety that had characterized his life in the months before his powers manifested. He mourned the sunny exhilaration of his first weeks in Westchester, which now felt like an anomaly in what would ultimately be a life of joyless solitude.

July turned to August and Bobby pushed his way through the days, working, studying, training with Scott, going into the City Tuesday nights to co-convene mutant youth meetings with Andi Murakami; but the promise of a new life that had made him spring from bed in the first weeks at the mansion was gone.

Being around Scott was especially painful and humiliating; but, ironically, it was Scott’s role modeling that got Bobby through the bad days. When it was all Bobby could do to get out of bed for his misery, he could hear Scott’s voice in his head saying, “Your job is to do your duty. Sometimes it’s tough, sometimes it’s the last thing you want to do. But you just do it.”

There were certainly lots of duties, that much was certain. There were interminable mornings spent putting together an endless series of IKEA desks, beds and dressers in the dorms. These mornings gave Bobby lots of time to muse on where his life was going and all the things he was learning from his teachers. As the days passed, the routine itself became a comfort. It wasn’t long before he couldn’t really say what he had been so depressed about. He didn’t think of Scott that way anymore and was embarrassed that he ever had.

Only at night—as Bobby lay down to sleep would images of his naked teacher return to him. Like a brushfire that had never really died, the flames would rise up again to burn him with their erotic heat and he would writhe on the fire, loving Scott all over again and hating the interloper Jean Grey. Morning would again bring forgetfulness.

Perhaps the hardest part of his routine was taking biology lessons from Jean. Despite the patience and kindness she showed him, he seemed unable to treat her with any warmth and he could see that his attitude frustrated her. Bobby was embarrassed at his own behavior but he also knew that it was only powerful self-restraint that prevented him from yelling at her (against all reason): I hate you, bitch! These feelings he would push down like snakes into a rough canvas sack. And then they would review the structure of DNA.

Bobby’s sixteenth birthday was fast approaching and he found himself dreading this milestone. He prayed that somehow his family would forget the day (which, frankly, didn’t seem like such a stretch) and that his teachers at the mansion would miss the date amid the mountain of administrative trivia.

The Iceman felt a cold satisfaction when no one mentioned it the day before. He determined to make his birthday a solitary Saturday, hiding in his room and walking the grounds. I don’t need anybody’s attention. I don’t need Scott to care. However, when he awoke on the actual day, a bitter taste of misery filled his mouth as he imagined interacting with the mansion’s residents and never mentioning what he was sacrificing before their uncomprehending eyes.

His musings were interrupted by a knock on the door, something unheard of on a weekend morning. He sat up in bed, still heavy with sleep and called out, “Uh, come in?”

The door opened and there was Scott wearing a tuxedo jacket and a red ascot over his usual Saturday morning t-shirt and sweats. He was carrying a dime-store plastic trumpet kazoo which he brought to his lips and blew inexpertly. Bobby’s mouth opened but he could find no words for this surreal image.

“Master Robert Drake,” Scott declaimed. “Your presence is required in the dining room. I have been instructed to escort you to said rendezvous.”

“Huh?” Bobby finally managed.

The courtier shot him an exasperated look. “Get out of bed, pull on some clothes and follow me, dummy.”

Five minutes later, Bobby was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, his hair still rumpled because Scott, in his impatience,  wouldn’t let him brush it. They entered the dining room where Ororo, Jean, Margit and the Professor were waiting. In ragged unison, they cried “Happy Birthday, Bobby!” He realized he shouldn’t feel so surprised, and yet he was—as if the whole universe might have shared his sense of alienation.

“We wanted to have the cake right away,” The Professor explained, “But Margit wouldn’t let us start the day in such an unhealthy fashion.”

“No,” she said primly, coming forward with a tray of exotic fruit smoothies. “But I think you’ll like these.”

Then the presents were brought out. First came a pair of cargo pants from Jean and Ororo and then, from the Professor, a first edition of three sea stories by Joseph Conrad.

“That book inspired me a great deal when I was your age, Robert.”

Bobby smiled and thanked him but privately wondered when he would get around to reading the book. Reading fiction was something you did when you had a book report. He was more excited about Scott’s gift: the latest Tony Hawk game for the PS2 they had just installed in the recreation room. He looked up from the enticing screenshots on the cover to thank Scott and saw him and Jean arm in arm beaming back at him collectively. Bobby’s smile missed a gear for a second and he looked back down at the box, a humiliating blush coloring his ears.

“Hey,” Scott scolded, “You should read the card, too, not just tear open the present.”

Bobby responded with apologies (that was also his mother’s favorite birthday reprimand) and pulled open the envelope. Inside was a printout from a cheesy greeting card program with the words: “Redeemable for driving lessons with Scott Summers.” His eyes widened and he looked up speechless at his young teacher who was grinning in satisfaction. Bobby felt his chest expand like a billowing sail on the favorable winds of that smile.

So, against all odds, the day started well. However, it grew bittersweet after breakfast when Jean and Scott announced that they were going away to visit her parents for the rest of the weekend and Ororo and the Professor both returned to their offices to work. Bobby used the phone in the rec room to call his parents. Their enthusiasm seemed, at best, polite and Ronny’s refusal to come to the phone stung badly. He hung up and realized that the sadness had found its way back into his heart. He ended up spending the day just as he had planned and feared: alone with his thoughts, wondering if he would ever know the kind of love Scott and Jean shared.

***

The summer seemed to accelerate as it passed. The efforts of the team came together and suddenly the concept of a school was turning into the reality of one. But as they made their final assaults on the macro issues, the micro ones seemed to rise up out of nowhere to cut into their time and sap their energy. Now it was one week before the first day of classes and everyone had woken up weary of the battle.

At breakfast, the Professor was going over budget statements, Ororo was jotting down notes for history classes that would have to serve students at many different grade levels, and Jean and Scott were going through thick envelopes of counseling materials sent out by the State.

“God, Jean, I can’t believe this mumbo-jumbo,” Scott grumbled. “Do we really need all this politically correct crap?”

“Not everyone’s a stoic little soldier like you, Scott,” she answered with an edge, as if it weren’t the first time she’d answered this question. “I think our students should know right from the beginning that we are here to help them with whatever they’re going through. We have to encourage them to speak up and not wait until they’re in a crisis to come forward with problems or questions.”

“But look at this stuff!” he waved at the pages in exasperation. “‘Rekindling Self-Esteem’, ‘Race and Oppression’!” He pulled another folder from the envelope. “Oh yeah, here it comes: ‘Combating Homophobia in Our Schools: Diversity and Acceptance.’”

Bobby, who had been engrossed in the sports section of the Times snapped his head up and took in Scott’s sneer. His body temperature started dropping.

“That’s what we need, isn’t it?” Scott went on loudly. “Like we won’t have enough trouble getting the world to accept mutants. Now we have to sell them gay mutants!”

Bobby felt himself go pale. Unbidden, his fantasy images of Scott, naked and hungry, appeared before his eyes and he became aware of his crushing shame. He felt like the awful truth could be seen all over his face and he wanted to bolt from the room. But before he could even look away, Jean caught his eye, and he knew she saw his distress. He pulled the newspaper up around himself like a shield.

“Scott!” The Professor turned towards him looking annoyed. “Perhaps if you were telepathic, you would come to realize that human sexuality is far more complex and multifaceted than the usual discourse of this society would have us believe.”

“But, Professor—” Scott began.

Xavier interrupted him. “Being a teacher means accepting that your students are going to be a diverse group and they will often show you aspects of their lives that are hard for you to understand. I suggest you look on it as a learning opportunity.”

Xavier put his budget folder beside him in his chair and balanced his breakfast tray on his lap. He wheeled away from the table and back towards the serving area.

Frustrated, Scott called after him, “I’m just saying that if a kid is already dealing with being a mutant, do we have to throw this at him, too?”

“Scott!” Jean shouted in exasperation, “You can’t be serious!”

 “I think you have a point,” Ororo said calmly as she passed Scott’s chair with her tray in her hand. “Perhaps we shouldn’t enroll gay students. Or black ones, either. I hear they also have some trouble integrating into ‘normal’ society.” She joined Xavier at the serving station.

“Fine,” Scott muttered, stubborn pride stiffening his spine. “Beat up the straight white guy. That’s an easy solution!”

“And no disabled students, Ororo,” the Professor added, only just holding back his laughter. “I hear they need ramps!

Scott dismissed their taunts with a wave. “Come on, Bobby. Let’s go install the whiteboards.”

From behind his newsprint fortress Bobby mumbled, “In a minute.”

“Not in a minute. Now!” He snapped the newspaper out of Bobby’s hands.

Bobby looked stunned and his face seemed to morph through several emotions before crystallizing in anger. “Maybe I don’t want to work today! Maybe I don’t care about the stupid whiteboards!”

Ororo and the Professor turned in surprise and stared. Bobby saw Scott’s face redden and he winced in anticipation.

But before Scott could lash out, Jean was standing beside him.

“I think Bobby deserves a day off, Scott,” she said gently, putting a hand on her boyfriend’s shoulder. “We’ve been working him pretty hard.”

Scott bristled. “Working hard is how things gets done, Jean.”

“I know,” she continued calmly but firmly. “And it’s partly because of Bobby’s hard work that we’re going to be ready for the other students next week.”

Scott threw his hands up in the air. “Fine! I guess everybody’s on their own today!” He turned and stormed out of the room. “What a great way to build a team!”

Bobby was staring down at the table, trying to control his breathing. He was aware of Jean sitting down opposite him.

Go away, he thought angrily, but was totally flabbergasted when he heard a response in his head.

*Bobby, I’d like to talk for a minute if that’s okay.*

He grabbed the edge of the table as if it were the only thing keeping him from shooting into orbit. He stammered half sentences at Jean: “Are you…? What did you…? Did you hear…?”

She looked embarrassed and said quietly, “Bobby, I’m sorry! Didn’t you know I was telepathic?”

“You’re telekinetic, I thought!” he whispered back anxiously, turning to see where the Professor and Ororo were. Heads carefully averted, they were discreetly exiting through the side doors of the dining room.

“Telekinetic, yes; but also a telepath.” She spoke in soothing tones, as to a spooked horse. “But not a very powerful one. Nothing like Professor Xavier. Bobby, come with me,” she said, standing. He rose and followed her out the main doors of the dining room, head hanging like he was in deep trouble.

They went into the small infirmary down the hall. Scott had told him that Jean was setting up a more extensive med-lab downstairs (in the mysterious sub-basement! The science fiction realm!) but this small wood-paneled room—a basic school nurse’s office—would serve for dispensing bandages, flu-shots and medical advice.

She invited him to sit in one of the chairs and then sat down beside him. He looked at his feet.

“Bobby,” she began. “First of all I want to say that I don’t use my powers to eavesdrop on anyone.” He didn’t respond. “Do you understand?”

“Yes,” he murmured, all but inaudibly.

“And even if I were to pick up a stray thought, I would treat anything I learned as strictly confidential.”

He couldn’t help but look up at her, testing her face for signs of what she knew. But her expression was kind and serious. He felt tears in his eyes and looked away, blinking.

“I’m your physician here at the school and that means that anything I learn from you stays between us.” She reached over and gently put a hand on his. “Yikes! That’s cold,” she said in surprise. “I’ll bet your body temperature is at least ten degrees Celsius below homo-sapiens normal now.”

“Sorry,” Bobby murmured sheepishly.

“Don’t be sorry. It just reminds me that I haven’t got around to giving you a physical yet. Understanding your mutation will help me be a better doctor for you. We’ll make an appointment.”

They sat in silence for a moment before she began again. “Bobby, I know Scott’s your teacher, but sometimes it’s best not to pay too much attention to everything he says. Before he came here, he had a lot of bad years. He experienced things kids your age shouldn’t have to. He learned to be a tough guy and say things that tough guys say.”

“I don’t care,” Bobby whispered, his voice choked.

“But what he says and who he is aren’t always the same things. He would never let down any of his students. Not if they had addiction issues, not if they were another color. Not if they were questioning their sexuality.”

Bobby looked away and muttered, “Whatever.”

“Trust me. I know from personal experience that he’s a difficult man to love. Talking about feelings makes him antsy. But Bobby, he cares a lot about you.” He looked back at her, frowning, trying not to tear up again. “You are his student and his friend and it means a lot to Scott that you like him.”

“I do like him.”

“I know.”

They looked each other in the eye, saying things silently that could not be spoken aloud.

“It’s not your fault,” she told him, “if you’re more mature than he is sometimes.”

That made Bobby smile.

Jean smirked back in a ‘I’m a bad girl’ way but then suddenly her smile dropped and she got a distant look on her face.

Bobby didn’t understand what was happening, but a few seconds later he heard her voice in his head saying, *Bobby’s with me, Professor. Can I send him to meet her?*

Now that Jean’s telepathy wasn’t catching him by surprise, he noted that her mental voice was different than Professor Xavier’s. It was like a single bird calling in the forest rather than the entire dawn chorus the old man evoked.

“Bobby,” she turned to him, the telepathic conversation clearly finished. “A new student has just arrived with her parents. They’re in the front driveway.”

Bobby’s eyes snapped open almost audibly. “A new student? But we’re not starting for a week!”

“She’s here to help us set up, same as you. She’s something of a computer whiz. And judging from what Scott told us in the staff meeting, the two of you could use some help.”

Bobby was embarrassed. Scott had said that if they just read the manuals, they could figure anything out. But with the school’s complex new computer network, that hadn’t quite proven to be the case...

Jean continued, “Could you go greet them and bring them to the Professor’s office?”

Bobby liked being trusted for such an ambassadorial role. He rose and headed for the door excitedly, calling over his shoulder, “Sure, no problem.” He stopped and lingered a minute in the open door, really looking at Jean Grey for the first time. He realized he had never given her a chance. She wasn’t the gawky Amazon he had seen through jealous eyes. She had beautiful large eyes, and the feathery wings of her hair outlined and softened her serious face. Most importantly, she seemed to care about what happened to him.

Jean looked up and cocked her head. “What is it?”

“Thanks for talking to me,” he said seriously.

She nodded and responded with equal conviction. “No problem. That’s what I’m here for. Now, go! Don’t keep them waiting.”

Bobby made his way down the hall thinking about what it meant to be there for someone in need. He thought about the mutant kids at the Tuesday night meetings. He thought about the students who would be arriving in a week. What kind of emotional support were they going to need? Bobby wondered if there might not be something he could do to help.

He reached the lobby and moved to open the big front door. But before he did, he heard the sound of high-pitched shouting outside. He peeked through one of the glass panels that flanked the door and saw a dark blue Lexus parked in the drive. The back door was open but he couldn’t see in. What he could see was a teenage girl in a neat blouse and skirt. She had long brown hair which was pulled back tight and held with clip. She was short but looked around the same age as Bobby. She had a nice curvy body.

Her face might also have been pretty if it wasn’t screwed up in paroxysms of frustration. She was flinging her hands in the air and throwing herself against the side of the car as if acting in a silent movie. Bobby leaned close to the glass and heard:

“Mother! Leave me alone! If I had wanted those clothes, I would have packed them, wouldn’t I?!! Yes, I know you put them in the other bag. I do not want that bag! That bag is grotesque!!”

She punctuated the last word by slamming the car door and running at full speed up the steps of the mansion. Bobby watched her approach and was gripped by helpless horror as he realized she wasn’t slowing down. She was going to slam straight into the heavy wooden door! He didn’t know whether he was relieved or even more horrified when, instead of concussing herself, she simply passed through the door as if it weren’t there and came to a skidding halt on the dark hardwood floor.

Panting a bit, she looked around the lobby with interest (her anger having apparently evaporated in an instant). She spotted Bobby and put on a big smile.

“Hi, I’m Kitty Pryde. You’re Bobby, right? You make ice! ‘Endothermic transfiguration’ or something.”

Bobby realized he was kind of crushed up into the corner like an umbrella stand. He stepped forward attempting to get the ambassador thing right, smiling and sticking out a hand for her to shake. But just as she reached formally for his hand (with no little amusement), he retracted it and she almost stumbled.

“Wait, how’d you know I was Bobby? What do you know about me?”

“Relax, I’m not a spy,” she laughed. “Or a telepath! Do they freak you out a bit? They do me! Anyway, when Professor X and Jean visited my house, they told me there was already one student here.”

“Oh!” said Bobby, attempting to climb back on the horse, “That would be me!” And failing.

“That’s what I meant.” Kitty covered her face. “Okay, maybe I should phase back outside and come in again.”

The door opened and a handsome man in his forties entered. Bobby realized it had to be Kitty’s father. The woman who followed, staring daggers at Kitty, was clearly her mother. Except for their different ages, they could have been the same person.

Talking to parents was much easier for Bobby than talking to a girl his age and he stepped forward with his charm securely back in place. “Mr. and Mrs. Pryde? I’m Bobby Drake. Welcome to the School for Gifted Youngsters.”

He shook hands and made small talk before showing the three of them to Xavier’s office. Bobby knocked on the door and waited, sort of hoping the response would be telepathic so he could show off his special rapport with the Headmaster. But instead, the Professor merely called out, “Come in.”

Kitty pushed passed him and opened the door enthusiastically. Her parents followed her inside leaving Bobby standing there like a lost tourist.

The Professor seemed delighted to see them. “Carmen, Theresa, please come in. Excuse the mess—last minute details before the school year begins. And how are you, Kitty? It’s wonderful to finally have you here in Westchester.”

Bobby watched as Kitty put on yet another persona, stepping forward to shake Xavier’s hand like a politician. “Nice to see you again, Professor. The campus is even more beautiful than in the pictures. I’m very excited to be here.”

Bobby’s jaw kind of dropped at her confident manner. He had known Xavier for two months but still felt a bit nervous around him. He lingered at the door watching the smiling Pryde parents sit down with the Professor and their mutant daughter.

Xavier looked up at him and said, “Thank you, Robert. That will be all.”

Bobby closed the door quietly and withdrew. He was going to head up the stairs to his room but instead sat down on the steps and stared back at the closed office door. He was trying to imagine what it would have been like to arrive at the school like that—the Drake family pulling up to the gates, impressed that Bobby had been chosen for such a special destiny. Then they would all have stepped proudly into Xavier’s office to hear the old man wax enthusiastic about their son’s mutant potential. Even Ronny would have been impressed. He’d forgive Bobby for leaving him behind.

His reverie was interrupted when Kitty suddenly slid through Xavier’s closed door into the front hall. She looked deeply aggravated, her face red and her mouth in a grimace, but then she noticed him sitting there and her expression changed in an instant.

“Hi, Bobby!” she bubbled. With a happy smile, she straightened her sweater and marched over to sit beside him.

“Hey. Um, everything okay?” he ventured cautiously. “You looked kind of, well, pissed off.”

“You do have a mother, don’t you?” She inquired with a bewildering kind of animated seriousness.

“Well, yeah,” he replied dorkily.

“Then you know that the normal laws of logic, propriety and even physics do not operate in her immediate vicinity.”

Bobby laughed. “Oh yeah, I do. But are fathers really any better?”

She answered like an expert on CNN. “Oh, of course. There is no comparison. Mothers are put on this planet to make us mad.” She sighed theatrically and suddenly seemed glum again. Her mood swings kind of unnerved him. He had noticed the same with the girls at school in the last year. They weren’t like guys who just kind of grunted and got on with it.

“It’s nice that your parents brought you down,” he ventured. “I saw the Illinois plates.”

“Yeah, I guess it was supposed to be a nice thing, but two days together, locked in a small car… I would scream, but I might set off the sprinklers.”

Bobby smiled. “You’re from Chicago?”

“Deerfield. Suburbia, you know?”

“Yeah, me too. Boston suburbs.”

“So I hear. ‘Let’s PAAAK the CAAAHH!’”

Bobby blushed. He wished he could find a sharp comeback, but the girl’s quick wit had him intimidated. “Listen,” he began. “Are your parents going to be talking with Professor Xavier for a while?”

“I think so,” she nodded, “You know, money and emergency phone numbers and stuff.”

“Why don’t we go sit outside?”

She looked back towards the closed office, a little worried.

“Don’t worry. Xavier can always find us,” he said, tapping his forehead. Maybe he couldn’t keep up with her wit, but he was still the experienced one at the school. He reached out a hand and she took it with surprising shyness.

They headed out from the front door under cloudy skies and Bobby thought it might rain soon. Lately, he could sense the moisture in the air much more keenly and he felt the desire to draw it close to him and freeze it. Getting more in touch with his powers was the most exciting thing in the world, but on another level he felt like he was turning into something alien—something people in his old life wouldn’t recognize when he returned some day.

As they walked, Bobby began pointing out features of the campus to her with special emphasis on the work he and Scott had done. A sardonic smile was growing on her face as he began to strut more and more, pointing with broad sweeps of his long arms, walking backwards and talking faster and faster.

“Wow, Bobby,” she said. “You are definitely the Big Man on Campus.”

“Huh?” He reined himself in and replied shyly, “Um, more like ‘only man on campus’.”

Her sardonic expression melted into a frown. “I’m sorry. I’m enjoying the tour. Just ignore me if I get sarcastic. It’s a defense mechanism. Especially when I’m in a new situation I become a total smartass.”

Bobby was touched by her apology. “Is that your other mutant ability?”

“Yes,” she replied with a grin. “Devastating sarcasm rays and soul-crushing irony beams.”

They sat on the stone benches by the fountain, silent for a few minutes before Bobby asked, “Did you know any other mutants back home?”

“No! No way.” She poked at pebbles with her toe. “Well, there was this one boy I suspected. Twice when he was called on by our asshole physics teacher, the lights in the school shorted out. But I never dared ask him. If I asked, someone might wonder about me, right?”

“I understand,” Bobby nodded. He was kind of scared to ask the next question. “How did your parents find out about your powers?”

He had expected it to be difficult for her to answer but she actually smiled. “It was never much of a secret. One night when I was 13, I went to bed early with a headache. My mom thought it had to do with, you know, my period.” Bobby blushed again but nodded and she went on. “I was having this nightmare about these killers and they had gotten into my room and they had me backed up against a wall.”

“I have dreams like that,” he told her encouragingly.

“But just before they killed me or whatever, I suddenly had this clear idea that if I really tried, I could squeeze myself through the wall. And I did it. I could feel the wall slipping through me like I was swimming in pudding. So the killers were gone and I was safe, but then it happened.”

“What?”

“I fell through my bed, through the floor and down into the living room where my parents were watching Leno.”

“Holy shit!” Bobby was agog. “Were they… Did they totally lose it?”

“Um, yeah but it was okay. I mean, I was the one who was screaming and they… I guess they had to focus on me and not on their own worries.” She took a deep breath and looked a little shaken. She gave him a small smile. “That’s the first time I ever told anyone that story.”

Bobby was speechless. He was trying to imagine his own parents seeing him make ice and fear clutched at his stomach. He remembered the night his powers had first manifested. He had been alone, terrified—and yet his first and only impulse had been to get out of the house before they saw him. Even here on the front lawn of Xavier’s school with another mutant teen, he felt shame course through him. What would it be like to have parents like Kitty’s? Parents who cared about what happened to their kids?

Kitty saw that something was wrong and asked quietly, “Did your parents have a hard time accepting your powers?”

Bobby couldn’t bring himself to answer. The clouds overhead were growing darker and he could feel the oncoming storm.

“What?” Kitty prompted. “Was it really bad? They didn’t send you to a doctor or something did they? I heard about one kid—”

“They don’t know I’m a mutant. They think this place is just a prep school.”

Kitty’s eyes widened.

“And that’s fine with me,” Bobby said quickly to cut off whatever she was going to say. “I don’t want them to know! Just another reason to hate me.”

“Come on, I’m sure your parents don’t…” But she trailed off as if it had just occurred to her that some parents might, in fact, hate their offspring.

Bobby sat up, mad at himself for turning the mood sour. “Hey, Kitty, let’s get your bags inside before it rains.”

They stood and began walking back to the driveway in silence. Bobby felt horrible, like a bad host but then he got a wicked idea and said innocently, “We can sort of forget to bring in the grotesque bag if you want.”

Kitty's mouth fell open and she slapped him hard in the arm. “You heard that? It’s not my fault! My mother is such a loser sometimes; I can’t stand it! If you saw the things she wanted me to wear. Arghhhhhh, you would die, I swear it.”

She squeezed his arm painfully.

“Ow! Mercy!” he cried. They had arrived at the Pryde’s Lexus. She stood behind the car as he opened the driver's door. “You have a lot of stuff?”

He popped the trunk and, as it swung open she looked in guiltily.

“Uh, you might say that. Feeling strong, BMOC?”

They met Scott as they were on their way up the stairs with the second load of matching luggage. Kitty right away put on her professional face and told Scott she was sure they’d be able to solve the network problems together. He responded to her manners like a courtier delighted to see that protocol was still alive at the palace. He and Bobby had a quick huddle about which room to put her in before he left the mansion on errands, swinging his car keys on his finger as he headed out the door.

“You’re pretty good at that, Ms. Pryde.” Bobby said with a quirked smile.

“What do you mean, Mister Drake?” She asked innocently, following him down the hall to her new room.

“Making good first impressions on the adults.”

“I was Student Council President last year. I learned how to get what I wanted from the administration.”

“I’ll have to remember to stay on your good side then, Madame President.” He opened the door with a flourish and a bow, saying, “Voilà! Your home away from home.”

After depositing her bags in her room, Bobby and Kitty returned downstairs just as her parents were leaving Xavier’s office. The Prydes declined a tour of the campus, explaining that they had to meet cousins on Long Island for lunch. Kitty was all but exploding trying to shepherd them out of the mansion without appearing rude in front of Xavier.

The threatening clouds had still not produced any rain and Bobby spied on the Pryde family from the front door as they said their farewells. Kitty first fell into her father’s arms and they whispered in each other’s ears. As they pulled apart, he kissed the top of her head. When her mother tried to hug her, she stiffened at first but then melted into the embrace, perhaps realizing that she really was being left there and she’d even miss the mother-daughter bickering.

A somewhat subdued Kitty then joined Bobby on a tour through the mansion where he tried to suppress the worst of his bouncing dumb-puppy enthusiasm. Kitty was amused by how many things were emblazoned with an ‘X’ logo. Bobby had never really noticed this little eccentricity of the Professor’s and he found it kind of disturbing. Was Xavier really so into himself? As they kept touring the school, he picked up Kitty’s habit of referring to the Headmaster himself as ‘X’. It made him feel pleasantly rebellious.

They visited all the classrooms and facilities and Kitty started asking a million sensible questions that no one had thought about yet, from basic logistics to school spirit events. He realized that she was going to be a really big asset and it made him a little jealous.

The sky looked like it had changed its mind and chosen just to glower rather than storm. Bobby suggested that, since they had a rare day off, they should go for a hike through the estate. They made sandwiches in the kitchen and then packed them in Bobby’s backpack. Kitty ran upstairs to change and returned ten minutes later in jeans, a light purple top and hiking boots with her thick, wavy hair free from its clips

For the next hours, as they explored the woods and meadows of Xavier’s domain, they talked about their lives, their futures and what it meant to be a mutant. She asked for the low-down on everyone at the mansion and, feeling a bit wicked, Bobby told her all the dirt he had gathered and all the personality quirks he had witnessed.

He also told her about the youth group meetings in New York and Kitty asked if she could come along the next day. Bobby found himself hesitating a bit at the thought—as if this girl wanted a piece of everything in his life. But he really had no good excuse for saying no, so he agreed. The fact was, after weeks of being the only teen in a house full of adults, he realized how relaxing it was to be with someone his own age.

It was just after five o’clock when the rain finally arrived and they came in through the garden door in the back of the mansion that led into the arboretum. There they found Ororo tending to her orchids. She was lost in her work and they found themselves watching silently, hypnotized by the way she flowed between the rows of flowers, manipulating a small, almost invisible cloud of vapor around the flowers, humming quietly to herself as she tended delicately to their needs.

Bobby put a finger to his lips to indicate that they shouldn’t disturb her and they slipped discreetly from the room.

Everyone was at dinner that night and spirits were high. Somehow Kitty’s arrival had rekindled the excitement about the start of school. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by everything that might go wrong the following week, that night they all felt like teammates on a great adventure.

Over dessert, Kitty began listing her observations about the school and making suggestions. She had the knack of speaking her mind without sounding arrogant and everyone got into the spirit of the huddle, coming up with more new ideas than they had in weeks. Even Bobby, who usually hung back and let the adults lead in matters of school planning had the nerve to bring up his idea that they start a peer counseling group for the students. Jean immediately told him it was a great idea and the Professor agreed, asking him to write up a plan and submit it by Friday.

Bobby snuck a look at Scott whose face was blank and he felt a pang. Didn’t Scott get it? Did he think it was a dumb idea? Bobby pulled back into his shell while the group discussed Kitty’s idea for a Halloween dance.

After dinner, Kitty asked Scott and Bobby to show her the computer network and Bobby was relieved to see that she couldn’t make it magically work with three keystrokes. She figured they would need at least a couple of days of fooling around before everything was the way they wanted it. By the time they finished, it was close to 11 and they headed for the rec room to watch the news.

Ororo and Jean were already there, Jean half watching the TV and half reading a medical journal. Scott sat on the couch and picked up the TV remote as usual. He was always fiddling with the volume and occasionally switching channels when a certain newscast didn’t suit him. It drove Jean crazy which kind was kind of amusing to see. Bobby took one of the big armchairs while Kitty went over to the bookshelf to check the selection.

Bobby sat and watched Scott’s profile. He realized he was waiting for a sign that he had been forgiven for his disrespect this morning, but so far Scott had shown him no special regard. Bobby sighed and turned to watch the TV. He wasn’t really interested in the top stories about a change in interest rates and an oil spill in Alaska. Outside, the rain was falling steadily and the sound slowly lulled him half into sleep.

Kitty was saying something to Ororo about rescuing ducks from oil spills when suddenly Scott shouted out, “Quiet!” and he turned up the volume on the TV. Bobby’s eyes opened in time to catch the title “Mutant Incident” below the anchor’s head before the show cut to a remote feed. The report was coming from a mall in Pasadena, California and he heard Jean say, “Oh no” when the reporter announced that a mutant teen was dead after a confrontation with police.

“Professor,” Scott said out loud, though Bobby realized he was calling mentally. “Are you watching this?”

*I am, Scott, thank you,* came the response, broadcast for all.  *I have the TV on in my room.*

Kitty looked startled by the mental intrusion. Bobby caught her eye and gestured to her to join him. She moved over and sat on the padded arm of his chair.

The reporter was explaining that the young man had begun acting in a “suspicious and threatening manner” in the food court of the mall. Police had been called.

A police spokesman appeared on camera and said with self-important professionalism: “The youth may have been under the influence of a street drug and we had hoped to apprehend him without incident. However, when it became apparent that he was a mutant and he began to use his powers in a threatening manner, the situation became much more serious.”

Suddenly, they were watching security camera footage—a high angle and blurry images. Sounds of policemen shouting at the youth to lie down on the floor. He was tall, maybe 17 or 18, in a sleeveless t-shirt, baggy jeans and a baseball cap. He made little lunges at the police and then backed off again as if trying to scare them away. His movements were erratic and out of control. Bobby thought the cop was right: he looked stoned. And then the kid raised his arms and what appeared to be rows of tiny tentacles, each maybe 3 inches long, rose from his arms, their tips glowing, little arcs of electricity flowing between them.

They could clearly hear him shouting, “Get away from me! Get the ____ away from me!” The expletive silenced to protect the viewers.

Then the police were yelling something. Then the sound of shooting. It was all terribly quick; tragic and irrevocable. Kitty’s hand moved towards Bobby’s and he took it and held on tightly.

The police spokesman was back on the screen explaining that the officer could not take a chance that the dead youth’s powers would not have harmed someone in the mall or the policeman himself. There was no investigation planned.

“No investigation?” Ororo asked incredulously, her voice distant, breathy. Then she was screaming at the TV: “Your policeman shot a child, you monster!” Outside, the wind suddenly howled and rain lashed savagely at the window. Bobby caught his breath. He had never seen that kind of anger before from his teacher. Lightning flashed and he realized with alarm that it was probably she who was ramping up the storm.

*Ororo, please.* came Xavier’s psychic voice. *We must remain calm. We shall see what we can find out and then formulate a plan of action.*

Her only response was to wipe a tear from her eye with the edge of her clenched fist and look away. The weather slowly calmed again.

*Scott, we need a recording of that security footage. The child was some kind of energy manipulator. Let’s see if we can find out more.*

“Kitty,” Scott said crisply in the commanding voice he used when they were training. “We need you to find us that footage online.”

She didn’t answer right away, just stared at the screen with tears in her eyes. Bobby could feel her hand shaking.

He spoke quietly to her, “Kitty? You can do that, can’t you?”

She snapped out of her daze, turned to Scott and nodded. “Yes, sure. I’ll log onto a workstation in the library.” She stood a little shakily. “Bobby could you help?”

“Sure,” he responded gently, getting up beside her. “Glad to.”

When they got to the library, Kitty got right to work, searching through various sources until she found the longest, highest-resolution clip available. She bypassed the news website’s attempts to prevent direct download of its material and then uploaded the clip to the teachers’ partition of the Institute’s server. She emailed the faculty the location of the stored clip and then logged off. She was fast and professional and Bobby did nothing but sit there and be impressed. Still, somehow he felt that she needed him beside her in order to get the job done—that he was her anchor.

By the time they were finished, they had seen the footage five times. Short and blurry as it was, Bobby thought he’d never forget it as long he lived.

As they approached the stairs, they saw Scott and Jean climbing into the sub-basement elevator.

“Scott,” Bobby called. “Kitty found the footage. Is there anything else we can—”

“No, Bobby,” he responded curtly. “That’s all. You two go to bed.”

The elevator door closed with a hiss and they were left alone, feeling unsatisfied and shut out.

Kitty was silent as she and Bobby climbed the stairs and he didn’t know if he should say something more or let her be. She murmured a quiet goodnight and turned away from him, heading for the girls’ corridor while he turned towards his room in the boys’. He wondered what the teachers were up to. Meeting in the sub-basement and discussing the safety of their students? He wished he had been included.

As he brushed his teeth and put acne cream on some new eruptions, he kept seeing the California mutant in his mind’s eye. He stared at his own reflection and saw himself in that mall, helpless to stop the ice he was producing, surrounded by shouting, armed police. A shudder ran through his body. He knew what he had to do.

Two minutes later, he stood at Kitty’s door. He could hear her crying on the other side. He hesitated a minute and then knocked. There was a pause and he could hear the sound of her loudly blowing her nose. She opened the door in pink pajamas with some girly manga pattern which seemed a bit young for her 16 years.

She motioned him inside with a shake of her head. It was a room for two girls. Her side of the room had already been adorned with a picture of her family and a larger picture of a golden retriever. She sat on her bed and he took the desk chair. He looked at the book open in front of him; an introduction to particle physics. On the bedside table was “Confessions of a Shopaholic”.

“So,” he ventured with dark humor. “How’d you like your first day at the School for Gifted Youngsters.”

She laughed but a little sob piggybacked on the laughter. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be such a mess. It’s just…” At a loss for words, she shrugged.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “It sure is.”

She took a minute to continue. “I don’t know what I expected. I guess I thought that once I got here—to the mutant sanctuary—that everything would be better. Safer.”

“You are safe here, Kitty.”

“I know. But this country isn’t safe for us. Maybe this whole world isn’t.”

“That kid… He didn’t do anything wrong.” Bobby said quietly. He realized how hurt and angry he felt. “So he got high and made an idiot of himself at the mall—lots of kids do that! He shouldn’t be dead.”

They sat in silence another minute before Kitty spoke. “Have you read about Anne Frank?”

“Yeah, the Dutch girl the Nazis killed.”

“Actually, the Franks were German Jews who were hidden in a small apartment in Amsterdam for more than two years before the Nazis captured them.” She paused again as if saying the words cost her a lot. “In the first months after my powers manifested, I couldn't really leave the house. If I wasn't paying attention, I would phase through things without any control. I would go to sit down on the couch and I'd end up in the basement. It would take me 10 minutes to open the fridge because my hand kept phasing through the handle.

“My parents told everyone they had decided to home-school me. I basically dropped all my friends because we couldn't risk word getting out. And my parents had to do the same with their friends and our relatives. We became this family of hermits. Then my mom quit her job so I wouldn’t have to be alone all the time.

“Now, if you think about it, that sounds pretty nice, but we weren’t that good for each other. She really loved her job and she couldn’t help resenting what was happening to her. And me—I resented my powers and basically everything about my life. I had no one to take it out on but her. We're still kind of messed up with each other, as you noticed.”

Bobby asked, “What about Anne Frank? What does she have to do with you?”

Kitty tucked her legs up to her chest and hugged them. “Her diary was one of the books I read that year. I read a lot of books that year. Anyway, after I finished it, I couldn’t stop seeing myself as Anne. There I was, shut up in the house, keeping my secret away from everyone. My parents would have these hushed conversations in the living room at night and I would secretly listen in.”

The rain had not stopped and it made an insistent staccato accompaniment to her story.

“They were planning what they would do if the government went after mutants—wanted to lock us up. Or worse. They were listing which relatives and friends they thought they could trust and gathering information on how people relocate and assume new identities. I was terrified, imagining that any day we’d be running for our lives.”

This idea shook Bobby up. Could things like that really happen? Surely not in America. All of Mike’s dire political forebodings flooded back into his brain, a commentary track over the looping image of the mutant boy being shot in Pasadena. He stood up and moved to sit beside her on the bed.

“Do you really think it could get like that?” he asked. “Your parents were so serious about it.”

“You know how it is; we’re Jews. We're always waiting for the next holocaust to happen. And my dad's father is a Survivor so it's even more red alert for him.”

“Survivor?” Bobby asked.

“Yeah, my granddad was in the Treblinka concentration camp when he was just a little boy,” she explained with gravity.

His eyes widened. It was the first time he was aware of a piece of history stepping out of a book to shake his hand. He nodded slowly to Kitty and they took a moment to savor the thrilling weight of a shared secret.

“Anyway, last year I had enough of a handle on my phasing that I was able to go back to school. Things were pretty normal again; I got most of my friends back and then I ran for student council. It was actually all really great… as long as I didn’t think about my powers and all the mutant stuff until I got home at night.

“But at home, the fear never really left. Me and my parents were always on guard; worried that I'd slip and be discovered, worried what the future would bring.

“When X contacted us last March, it was the first time we felt like we weren’t the Frank family hiding in that apartment with the Nazis passing by in the streets just outside.

“And today, sitting in his office with him so pleased to see us, talking about my future, about where I might go to college after I graduate, I felt like I was safe. For the first time since I was 13, I felt like I was free.”

“And then this fucking shooting,” Bobby said quietly.

“As you say: ‘this fucking shooting’.”

Bobby was overwhelmed. He wanted to reach out and touch her and he wanted to say something, but he had no words of comfort. Then suddenly she looked up at him with a nakedness that made him catch his breath. She shifted over quickly and kissed him on the cheek before pulling back again to her end of the bed. He stared at her with his mouth open until she laughed at his discombobulation.

 “You have interesting eyes, Bobby," she told him. “Like a husky. No! That’s good! I love dogs.”

“Woof!” he responded and she laughed again.

“Thanks for coming here tonight. You’re a pretty awesome guy. And your peer counseling group will be really good. I can tell.”

The praise, welcome as it was, embarrassed him, especially after the kiss, so he just answered “Woof, woof!” and stood up.

She stood, too and opened her door. “Go, boy! Leave my room now. Your mistress orders you back to the kennels!”

He exited backwards, whining in canine misery, calling out as she closed the door, “Breakfast is at 7:30!” And then he was standing in the hall touching his cheek where she had kissed him.

Chapter 8

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