BOOK 3: The Ballad of Bobby and John
Chapter 17: “All Saints Day”
Eons passed and continents drifted into new configurations before Bobby awoke on the floor with the late morning sun in his eyes. His arm was asleep beneath him, his back stiff, dried cum on his exposed stomach, his mouth tasting like the last stages of putrefaction. He rolled over with a groan and there was John. The boy was curled up asleep on the floor next to the empty bed, still in his jeans and the ridiculous pink doggy shirt, snoring quietly. Bobby got to his feet as silently as he could, did up his pants, straightened his t-shirt and slipped out of the door.
He had a working plan for getting through the next minutes of uncertainty: don’t think about anything and keep moving. The plan worked well enough until Sam Guthrie and Doug Ramsey came into the boys’ bathroom while he was peeing.
“Bobby!” Sam shouted and they crowded around. “Holy shit, you have to tell us everything!”
Doug chimed in. “Kitty won’t talk. She just said something about you going to rescue Lance.”
“And Ororo said something about another rescue. Another mutant you brought home ”
“Are you and Kitty going to be expelled?”
“Doug, shut up!”
“Sorry… Oh! And we heard there was a firefight and a whole block in Brooklyn got burned down!”
“Guys!” Bobby yelled, pressing himself closer to the urinal. “Back off, I can’t pee.” The boys retreated a few steps and Bobby concentrated on his task. “It was just one house on fire, not a whole block.”
“Did the teachers start the fire?” Doug asked in awe.
“No, this wasn’t an X-Men mission like at the clinic,” Bobby explained cautiously as he zipped up, his brain racing to pre-edit his story. All of the events of last night seemed to be loaded with booby traps. One wrong word and they’d blow up in his face.
“X-Men?!” Sam exclaimed. “Is this about, like, the costumes and shit?”
“Yeah,” Bobby nodded. This, at least, was a safe and distracting topic. “The teachers are, like, a whole action strike force!”
Sam’s right hand punched his left. “Damn! That is so fucking cool! This is the best school ever!”
They moved closer and Doug asked, “So you and Kitty tried to get Lance back?”
Uh-oh, Bobby’s stomach lurched. Dangerous topic #1. “Uh, Kitty had a plan but it didn’t work. We, uh, went there and ”
Sam was all but bouncing with excitement. “And then the teachers… what’d you call them? X-Men? They showed up to help?”
They stepped from the bathroom into the hall. Bobby was planning an escape back to his room but the other two were practically stepping on his heels. “No, they didn’t know we were even there. They came because of this powerful old mutant!”
“Right! Magneto!” Sam enthused.
Bobby was bewildered. “You… You know about Magneto?”
“Sure,” Sam told him. “From Fred. He was kind of shy at first but he told us the whole story.”
Bobby had forgotten about the previous night’s other rescue: Blob, a.k.a. Fred Dukes. He wondered if the kid had said anything incriminating about him. For instance the way he had been captured by Mystique like a total pussy.
Doug jumped in: “I already knew about Magneto! They talk about him a lot on the GenePool. Someone even posted his ‘Manifesto on the Future of homo superior’. He’s like this really powerful old guy ”
Bobby nodded. “Yeah, but until you see him, you don’t really know! He’s got this kind of scary cool thing going. And he used magnetic force to bend the walls apart and ”
“Bobby?” The three boys turned and there was St. John Allerdyce standing in the door of the dorm room, wearing just his jeans. Dangerous Topic #2 in the flesh. “You, uh, coming back soon?”
Bobby felt his heart pound. He was again slain by the beauty of the face the cherub’s lips, the wolf’s eyes, the poet’s long, romantic hair. But he also saw how the ribs stuck out, how pale and shaky John looked. How had this happened? What kind of nightmares had the boy been through?
Bobby suddenly realized that everyone was looking at him, waiting for him to speak. “Oh, yeah. Be right there. Uh, guys. This is John. John, Sam and Doug.”
“Hey,” said Sam.
“Hey, John,” echoed Doug.
John didn’t answer except with a short nod. His eyes said ‘don’t mess with me’ as he pulled himself behind the safety of the door and it slid closed with a click. The three boys stared at the closed door in awkward silence, which Bobby finally broke.
“Um, what time is it?”
“11:43:52,” Doug answered without checking a watch.
Bobby forced a smile. “Okay, I’m just gonna talk to John a minute and then we’ll come downstairs. See you at lunch.”
Sam and Doug were slow to depart, trying to peek into the room for another glimpse of the new boy as Bobby ducked back inside. He closed the door decisively in their faces. John was sitting rigidly on the empty bed, staring into his portfolio which was open on his lap.
“Hi,” Bobby said with too much intensity, his back pressed against the door. “Did you, uh, sleep okay?” John smirked, still not looking up. He forced himself to continue. “Do you feel better? I mean, not, you know, still ‘tripping’?”
John looked up at him and when their eyes connected, Bobby accidentally inhaled some spit and started coughing. The half-naked boy waited for him to recover and then said, “Yeah, I feel better.” They held the look for a minute before turning away simultaneously in mutual embarrassment.
Bobby moved to his desk and absently shuffled papers around while John dropped his eyes back to his lap and began sorting through the scraps of writing.
“You still have that,” Bobby said after a minute. “The folder, I mean.”
“Yeah. I think… Did you grab it last night? I sort of remember ”
Bobby felt a thrill that John realized he had saved his precious book. Nonchalantly, he replied, “Yeah, no big deal. You still writing? Poems and stuff?”
“Uh-huh, a lot. You still have the one I gave you?”
“Yeah, yeah. For sure. Look, there it is.” He pointed proudly at the sheet on his bulletin board, the one had that had so embarrassed him when Kitty had spotted it.
John nodded with unconvincing lack of interest. “Yeah, I rewrote that a few times since then.”
“Oh.” Bobby could come up with no more conversational gambits and both were left to flip pages for another minute. He glanced worriedly at the clock. He left his safe spot by the desk and went to his dresser, pulling out a clean towel.
“We have to go down for lunch soon. I thought maybe you’d want a shower.”
John looked relieved that there was a plan of action. “Yeah, that sounds good.”
“Um, do you want some fresh socks? A t-shirt? Underwear?” Bobby blushed as he rummaged in the dresser for the items.
St. John stood up and came to collect the towel and clothes. “Thanks, I’ll take the socks and shirt. I don’t usually use underwear.”
“I noticed,” Bobby murmured. A brief pause and they both cracked up. Bobby felt breath returning to his body for the first time that morning. John was standing in front of him, two inches shorter, close enough to smell. Was it Bobby’s imagination or could he feel the heat rising off the boy?
“The bathroom is just down the hall, third door on the left.”
John suddenly looked unsure. “Um, are you gonna shower, too? Why don’t you show me…? I mean, where the bathroom is.”
“Oh yeah, sure, of course.” He laughed nervously. “I must smell like a goat.” He froze for a second and then, with sudden haste, pulled out clean clothes for himself, grabbed his towel off the back of the desk chair and led them from the room.
In the bathroom, John started undressing and Bobby quickly ducked into a shower stall at the far end of the row, his blood racing. He undressed in the cubicle and turned on the water, hot and loud. It took him only about 30 seconds to cum explosively and another minute to steady himself.
He emerged dressed and calm five minutes later to find John putting on the snowboarding t-shirt he had given him. He gave the skinny boy a full-on Drake Special smile and said, “Ready?”
They headed out into the hall and John suddenly looked back towards Bobby’s room. “Hey, you forgot to lock your door!”
“What? We don’t lock doors here,” Bobby said, surprised. “We trust each other.” He looked back at John who was surveying the hall nervously, like he was expecting some threat to come around the corner and waylay them. “You’re safe, John. You’re one of us now.”
It was almost 12:30 when they got down to the dining hall and they were the last to arrive for lunch. The sound of voices seemed to rise and fall like restless waves. Heads were peeking around in suspicion and then pressing together in low conference. Overnight, the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters had become a world of secrets and rumors.
Kitty and Rahne were seated alone at a table near the door and Bobby overheard a snatch of conversation before he was noticed.
“Never again, Rahne, I swear.”
“That’s what I’m saying, too, Kitty. I can’t! Not ever!”
“Oh Rahne, that’s not the same at all. You can’t seriously mean that you ”
Kitty then caught sight of Bobby and John and stared at them suspiciously. Bobby gave a nervous smile in greeting but she turned away abruptly. He felt like he’d been slapped. He knew this game of Kitty’s from the time after Lance’s departure and he didn’t like it one bit. He was good enough at blaming himself for everything without her unsolicited help.
They carried on further into the room and the noise notched down. Everyone stared, some murmuring ‘Hi, Bobby’ as they passed including Fred Dukes who gave him a shy wave. John was glued so tightly to his side, Bobby almost tripped on his feet a couple of times. ‘Tense as a rabbit at a greyhound convention,’ Sam would have said.
Bobby dared himself to look up at the teachers’ table and there, too, all eyes were on him; all except Scott who seemed to be concentrating very hard on dissecting his cutlet. One set of eyes belonged to a stranger who was leaning close to Ororo, apparently asking her about them. He was a tall, muscular man with long black hair pulled back in a ponytail and a carefully trimmed goatee. From his eyes and coloring, Bobby thought he might be Native American. His right hand seemed to be made of metal.
John continued to be Bobby’s shadow as they picked up their trays of food and moved to join the table where Doug and Sam were sitting along with Terry, Dani and Neal.
Before lunch was through, everyone had stopped by their table to meet John who seemed to slowly unwind from his tight-coiled unease into mere wariness, offering a smirk for a smile and a grunt for a greeting. Reactions to the strange boy ranged from friendly to shy. Dani and Terry both seemed more than a little attracted which pissed Bobby off, especially when Terry who got all breathless and giggly.
Neal, in contrast was only coldly polite. Bobby had always smelled the ugly scent of rich boy superiority on him and now he seemed to be taking the measure of John and finding him wanting. This pissed Bobby off worse than the giggling, especially since it caused John to retreat again into silence.
Given John’s minimalist approach to talking, it fell to Bobby to describe his power to anyone who asked. He also offered a short version of the rescue, leaving out incriminating details about what the pyrokinetic had been doing at the house in Brooklyn in the first place. In return, Bobby learned with horror about the anti-mutant bias of ‘The Betrayers’ and the shock the broadcast had sent through the Mansion.
“Students!” came Xavier’s voice from the front of the hall and everyone’s head turned.
As if they hadn’t already shut up, Scott added, “Could we have complete quiet and all eyes up here.”
“Thank you, Scott,” Xavier said graciously. “It is time for some serious discussion. The past few days have brought about a great deal of change and we at this school must respond quickly and decisively. I will be honest; the staff and I are improvising and I can only hope that our decisions are all for the best. In any case, it has become apparent to me that honesty and openness with you, our students, is the best course.”
The room was so quiet that Bobby could hear the creaking of the old oak tree outside the window as it shifted in the wind. Xavier, having gotten their attention with this dramatic introduction, now took the time to wheel out from behind the teacher’s table and move into the center of the room among them. Kitty and Rahne rose from their remote spot and took seats among the rest of the student body.
“Last night saw several important events take place, events you are now aware of either through your participation in them or through the very active rumor mill that has been in operation for the last 12 hours. I will attempt to clarify the facts and to correct any misapprehensions you may have.
“Most of you were present for the broadcast of an inflammatory motion picture last evening. I feel great sadness though not a great deal of surprise that the mood in America is conducive to the dissemination of such gross lies in the name of entertainment. I am currently working with civil rights organizers and mutant activists to mount a protest in New York the day after tomorrow. We need to send a clear message to the Network and the public that such a program is nothing more than an incitement to violence across the country.
“It has already come to our attention that following the program, there was a rash of anti-mutant violence across the country, both in the form of Internet bullying and physical attacks. A fringe group calling itself ‘The Friends of Humanity’ has all but declared war on mutantkind. This situation cannot be allowed to escalate.”
Bobby was listening carefully but with a strange sense of detachment. He knew that if this had been yesterday, he would have been completely focused and riding the emotional waves of the Professor’s words. Today, however, he seemed to see everything through a filter that was John Allerdyce. He kept covertly checking out John’s reaction to Xavier’s speech and wondering what he made of the charismatic old man.
“Sadly, the clear moral ground of our cause was muddied by last night’s attack on the clinic of Christian Turcott and by the death of the doctor and a young mutant patient.”
Eyes turned towards him and Kitty and short bursts of hushed comments filled the air. Bobby felt himself blushing. He turned to Sam and whispered, “Is it in the news today?”
“You better believe it,” Sam replied dourly.
“Already, those worried about the very existence of mutants are using the incident to call for limitations to our personal freedom. Given the violence of last night’s attack, it is hard not to feel some sympathy for this view. Our task must be to appeal to those willing to listen to reason. We must show them that there are mutants ready to contribute their abilities to the betterment of our world. We must be given a chance to fully and openly integrate into mainstream society.”
“But sir…” The treble voice belonged to Doug Ramsey. “Magneto says in his manifesto that there can be no positive outcome from a policy of integration that mutants will either be eliminated or forced into slavery if we, um, neuter ourselves to please flatliners.”
“That’s an ugly word, Doug,” Ororo chastised. “I don’t like to hear it anymore than I do ‘mutie’.”
“Where did you read Magneto’s manifesto, Douglas?” Xavier asked quietly but there was a sense of grave concern underlying the question.
The boy grew timid at the uncomfortable attention that had turned his way. “On the GenePool forum, sir. Someone posted it and I… um, I translated it into a few other languages for the mutants who couldn’t read it.”
“You did what?!” Scott demanded. “Do you realize the harm his propaganda can do?!”
“Scott, please,” Xavier cut in and sighed. “If the stopper is already out of the bottle, there is little sense in trying to corral the vapor. No, the time has come for openness and transparency. We are caught up in an ideological battle and you children must learn all you can so you can make your own moral judgments. Starting next week, we will study and debate all sides of this issue including Magneto’s writings. Needless to say, I do not agree with his methods or believe all his conjectures. I fear that his true goal, like that of the so-called Friends of Humanity is to start a war; though, of course, they have different views on who would win such a conflict.”
The word ‘war’ flowed over the group like a chill wave. Bobby found himself thinking of the mayhem of the previous night’s battle. Was that kind of violence his future? Did he want it to be? He saw John lean across the table to Doug.
“Hey, can you get me a copy of the manifesto?”
“Sure, give me your email after.”
Xavier continued, his voice growing passionate. “We must strive to prevent this conflict! Violence begets violence until no one remembers who struck first; they know only revenge… which leads me to the most difficult part of my talk today.
“Children, you have come to the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters without full knowledge of what we do here. From the time when Mister Summers, Doctor Grey and Hank McCoy first came to Westchester as my students, I had two goals in mind. The first was to educate the finest of mutant minds to become leaders of society and exemplars of the contributions mutants could make in the fields of science, philosophy and culture. However, I also had a second, more ethically difficult goal: to create a covert team of powerful mutants to respond to physical threats against our community and, eventually, to threats against world peace.
“Well, that particular cat has escaped the bag, hasn’t it? By now, you are all aware that your teachers left last night in an unsuccessful attempt to avert the tragedy that happened in Poughkeepsie. I apologize for having misled you and your families. At the time, it seemed the best course of action. In retrospect, I see that it was foolish to think that I could hide this aspect of our work and I will be approaching most of your parents in the coming days to apprise them of our full mission.
“I fear that some of them will choose to withdraw you from school. I can only tell them and you that in the coming months of uncertainty, this institution might well be the safest place for a young mutant to be living.”
No one spoke though the students seemed to lean closer to each other and friends shot glances at friends. Bobby watched John staring in fascination at Xavier, his nervousness apparently forgotten.
“What does this mean for you? In the short term, nothing. I hope that you will continue to dedicate yourself to your studies and to impress me as you have thus far. Your primary concern should be academic, though you will inevitably be drawn deeper into the fight for our rights as it unfolds around you.”
Sam Guthrie stood suddenly. “Professor, if there’s trouble if we’re threatened here at the school, or if any mutants are threatened anywhere, I want to fight! I want to be an X-Man!” This announcement sent a torrent of murmurs through the group and some heads nodded in agreement.
Jean called out a bit embarrassed, “Sam, we’re not really called the X-Men.”
“Whatever,” Sam replied earnestly. “Just get me a uniform and I’m in.”
Scott rose from his place. “Thank you, Sam. That’s really brave of you. As you know, your physical education training includes self-defense. I believe that this is a good thing for every young mutant to learn but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking out for future members of our team. However, no student will ever be part of the missions we undertake. After you turn 18 and graduate, you can choose that course. I will be happy to talk with any of you about this path any time you want.”
Xavier picked up the ball. “But let me remind you that you can serve mutantkind with your minds as well as with your powers. There is no shame in a future that does not include paramilitary fighting.
“Events are accelerating. We have with us today the first of what I’m sure will be many young mutant refugees. Please treat Mr. Dukes and Mr. Allerdyce as esteemed guests and help make their stay with us a pleasant one.” He smiled graciously at each of the boys. John nodded back at Xavier seriously.
Bobby, for his part, felt a wave of panic run through him and he had to quell the urge to throw his arms protectively around John. Xavier didn’t plan on enrolling him at the school! He just thought of this as a temporary rescue operation! Why had Bobby assumed otherwise? He wanted to kick himself. John wasn’t a hand-picked prize student! He was just a runaway… a hustler, for fuck’s sake! Bobby’s brain spun like a top. There had to be a way to secure John a place at the school… there had to be!
Xavier continued. “I would also like you to welcome an old friend, Mr. Forge, who will be working at the school for a few weeks, helping us improve our security arrangements.” The stranger at the teacher’s table cracked a bright smile and raised the metal hand in the air. He gave a friendly wave and then the joints of the hand extended in various complex, mechanical maneuvers and the whole assemblage rotated several times on his wrist. Gasps and murmurs of “cool” circulated in the room.
Xavier smiled at the effect of Forge’s party trick. He turned back to the room and said, “I am sorry to have dropped all this on you so suddenly. Perhaps I knew this day would come, but I didn’t think it would be this soon. As Ms. Monroe will tell you in class, history does not always give us as much warning as we would like.
“The teachers and I must meet for the remainder of the day. Right now, I would like to ask a favor of you, Mr. Drake.”
Bobby’s head snapped up in surprise. “Yes, sir?”
“I want the students to accompany you to the arboretum and for you to facilitate one of your peer discussion groups. I am sure everyone has a lot to say about the events of last night and about today’s announcements. It is important, students, that you support each other, especially in trying times. The friends you make here could well save your lives.”
Kitty spoke then and there was no mistaking the bitterness in her voice. “Do we have to attend the group session, Professor?” Bobby felt a stab of betrayal in her words.
It was Scott who answered. “Attendance is mandatory. It’s two o’clock now. The peer support group will meet until 4 p.m. At that point, Kitty, I would like to see you in Professor Xavier’s office. Bobby, the Professor and I will talk to you at 4:30.”
Bobby’s back stiffened. “Yessir,” he answered, more loudly than he needed to.
People rose from their seats, already discussing the news animatedly and Ororo had to yell over the rising hubbub: “Just because classes are cancelled today does not mean that history papers are not due tomorrow!”
As they walked from the hall, John said to Bobby, “I take it this isn’t your typical day at the School for Young Grifters?”
Bobby didn’t respond. He was working to get his facilitator head on, but his mind was abuzz with all of Xavier’s news, with worries about what would happen later with X and Scott and, most of all with John’s tenure at the school. Suddenly, Terry was on John’s other side and several other students were also forming a loose clump around them.
“Hey, John,” she asked. “Could you maybe show us your power?”
John seemed to have relaxed. He immediately became a character, coming to a halt with his hands on his hips and rolling his eyes. “Bobby, does everyone have to do the performing monkey thing?” He had a smirk on his face that charmed Bobby and made him forget his worries for a minute.
“Well, they do if they want to copy Terry’s physics homework which is usually worth it.”
“Come on, John,” the girl pleaded.
He pulled out his shiny Zippo lighter and started making the top clink with flicks of his wrist. “Well… I suppose a guest has to sing for his supper around here, so…” With a smooth, showman’s gesture, he struck a flame off the Zippo. The hand with the lighter descended just as his other hand rose up, grabbing the fire and spinning it into a little ball. He lifted the fireball high over their heads and placed in the air, inches from his hand, where it glowed like a little sun.
Terry ‘oohed’ and John let them be impressed for a few seconds before he squeezed his fist shut. The flame split into three golf ball size spheres which began to tumble towards his face. With one, two, three puffs of air, like he was blowing out birthday candles, he extinguished the flames and bowed. The group burst into applause and he smirked again, tossing his long hair with delight. Bobby felt a thrill go through him, from his smile down to his loins.
Neal and Peter were passing by and Neal turned and said, “No energy-releasing powers may be used in the mansion, John.” He looked away and the pair walked on. John’s smile dropped and his eyes grew hard, staring at Neal’s retreating back.
“Prick,” he muttered and those around him pretended they hadn’t heard.
“Well,” Bobby responded quietly, “that is the rule, I guess. Safety first, right?” He looked sheepishly into John’s accusing eyes and spoke up hurriedly to the group. “Hey, everyone, let’s get to the arboretum.”
Under the sheltering boughs of Ororo’s trees and shrubs, the group arrayed itself on chairs, cushions and a couch they had carried in. Bodies sat alone or bodies leaned on bodies, configurations that amounted to wordless gestures of support.
Peter entered last, escorting a zombie-like Jones who seemed not to know where he was. Peter led the boy to a seat on the floor and then moved to sit to Bobby’s left.
Bobby leaned over and asked him quietly, “What’s with Jones? He’s more out of it than usual.”
“Scott got fed up with him sneaking downstairs at night and cut him off all television,” Peter answered. “He’s not even allowed in the rec room. Since then he’s been totally withdrawn.”
Doug joined them and added, “I don’t think he’s sleeping at all. Every time I wake up; he’s just sitting there in bed, staring. Maybe he’s depressed.”
“And I don’t think he’s the only one,” Peter observed soberly and they followed his gaze to where Kitty and Rahne sat together like twin portents of doom.
Bobby took a centering breath to stave off the panic that was moving in like the tide. He was supposed to run this meeting but he didn’t know how to deal with everyone’s traumas. In fact, all he really cared about was getting John into the school!
He found an encouraging smile somewhere inside himself and addressed the group. “Okay, who wants to begin?”
Sam, lounging on the floor, his back against Terry’s legs, drawled, “My summary: everything in the last 24 hours totally sucked and was, coincidentally, totally cool. That is all.”
Terry bashed him on the head with a magazine. “That is not all, you big jerk. And you were just as messed up as the rest of us last night after the show.”
“How did it make you feel, seeing it?” Bobby asked her, his usual lame question, he realized. He thought how he should have asked John what subjects he had been good at in school. For that matter, when was the last time John was in school?
“Dirty,” Terry answered. “Like I was some kind of freak. Like I was what they said there.”
“But that’s bullshit!” Sam responded. “You’re not one of the Betrayers! You would never hurt someone you loved just because you’re a mutant.”
“Let’s try to be supportive instead of confrontational, Sam,” Bobby cautioned.
Terry ignored this advice herself and kicked Sam away from her legs. He sprawled on the ground and glared up at her. She shouted, “You don’t know anything! I did hurt people. When my powers were just coming in, I once screamed at my parents. I don’t even remember what it was about; wanting to stay up late or something stupid. I brought the ceiling down on their heads! My mother broke her arm and my dad was all cut up.”
Sam retorted, “But you didn’t mean it! It wasn’t like a plan, Terry!”
“No, genius, but I still felt like a dangerous freak and the movie made me remember that, okay?!!”
Doug leaned over to Fred and whispered, “Don’t worry, they’re secretly in love with each other; they always fight like that.”
Bobby waved his arms in the air. “Okay, turn it down a notch, guys. You’re both making valid points. The show was a bunch of lies but it still made us think of the ways we could hurt people with our powers.” Maybe, he thought, I could promise the Professor I’d tutor him and push him to really excel! Why is the Professor so stuck up about his stupid school, anyway? He’s as bad as Neal!
Peter spoke up in a quiet voice which, nonetheless, seemed to carry as much weight as his physical presence. “For me it was something different; or maybe something more.” He paused to collect his thoughts. “It made me think that no matter how supportive my family is, deep down they must still feel I’m not one of them. That I’m this… other thing that came into their lives. Like a curse.”
Dani put a hand on his arm. “Peter, your family doesn’t think that. I met them; they love you.”
Peter looked down, “Then maybe it’s just in my head but that’s how I feel. Like they look at me and wish I was normal.”
“Stop hoping for normal. Just give it up.” It was John who had spoken. Everyone looked around, surprised at the forceful, bitter tone of the newcomer. “No one who knows we’re mutants is ever going to think we’re normal. No matter how nice they are or we are to them, they’re still going to be scared of us.”
Roberto clucked his tongue. “That is not very, what is the word? Supporting to Peter.”
“So what? It’s true,” John answered. “If you don’t know where the snakes are hiding, how are you going to survive in the woods?”
Neal responded instantly. “You fight to survive. That is the most important thing we saw today. Mr. Summers and the other teachers, they are not just academics; they are warriors for the mutant cause. That is what we must all be!”
Doug shook his head and pulled his knees up to his chest. “Uh, no thanks. I’m not about to go up against some goon in the Friends of Humanity one-on-one. I’m just a computer geek.”
“And that’s nothing to be ashamed of, Doug,” Kitty put in. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Neal! What if the whole country turns against us? Are you going to fight everyone? And is that how you want to spend the rest of your life?” Her voice was rising higher. “Hiding in shelters, waiting for them come?”
Neal answered her, his voice tightening. “Well, I won’t stand idly by while they come and kill my friends, if that’s what you’re suggesting. I want to be an X-Man! I want to fight!”
“I just want this not to be happening,” Kitty shouted back and there were tears in her eyes.
“Please, guys,” Bobby pleaded. “This process is useless if we don’t try and support each other! Okay, Dani, you had something to say?”
The meeting returned to an even keel but Bobby had more and more trouble focusing. He kept hearing himself repeating, ‘…and how did that make you feel?’ but eventually he wasn’t even sure what he was responding to. His eyes kept going to John, his brains spinning in neutral as he struggled for a strategy that would keep him in Westchester.
He completely missed the build up to Rahne’s meltdown. She had been talking quietly, head lowered so that she was all but inaudible when she suddenly raised her head and shouted, “The wolf is a demon!” She was shaking like a leaf, her hand working spasmodically through the beads of her rosary. “I-I have a demon inside me and it-it looks like the Beast! It turns me into the Beast! When I give in and transform, I feel it take over. It destroys my humanity, my mind. It makes me want things… want to do things…” She didn’t elaborate. Everyone sat stunned. She looked up at them, pleading, as if they could save her. “What if my power is a test? A temptation placed inside me by the Devil that I must resist?!”
Kitty’s tears were flowing freely now. “Rahne, it’s not a test! It’s just a genetic difference. It has nothing to do with God or the Devil or whatever. It’s that stupid TV show that made you feel like ”
“No! It is the form of the Beast and it is inside me! You don’t know! You can’t understand me! From now on, I swear before God, I will never use my powers again. St. Bridget, help me in my battle against this evil.”
Bobby didn’t know what to say. He looked around at the group. Some were in shock, some turning away embarrassed. Neal was furious, looking like he was only just holding back the words. On the floor at his feet, John… fucking John who he was trying to save was leaning back on his hands, eyes wide, barely suppressing a grin. He was enjoying the show.
Bobby knew he had to take control of the meeting, to somehow find a way past this horrible part; but before he could speak, Jones broke out of his catatonic state and shot to his feet like a jack-in-the-box.
“There’s a sound in the…” he paused and twisted his head to look up at the overhead lights. He giggled and a trickle of drool made its way down his chin as he brought his gaze back down. “What did the fridge say to the alarm system?” he quizzed the group. The eyes behind his glasses seemed unfocussed, crazy. The students looked at each other in total confusion and then back at the boy who smiled manically and opened his mouth to deliver the punch-line: “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” The sound was purely electronic, like a fax machine in extremis.
The lights flickered and the classroom’s audio-visual system switched on, projecting horrific images from World War I on the screen at the front of the room. A scratchy military march played over the speakers in a broken digital stutter, rising in pitch and volume until the system shorted out in a torrent of sparks. Simultaneously, Jones’s legs gave out and he crashed to the floor, taking down a pair of chairs with him.
Bobby was at his side in a flash, clearing the fallen chairs off the boy’s body. Jones was convulsing and Bobby looked up desperately. Dani came forward, getting her hands under his head, cradling it.
“Don’t panic, everyone. He’s having a seizure. It should end in a minute. Bobby, send to Jean, okay?”
Bobby stood quickly, working to calm his brain enough to make the telepathic call. As he turned away from Dani and Jones, he let out a yelp. The projector was on fire, five tongues of flame climbing higher.
“Got it,” said John, who put a reassuring hand on Bobby’s shoulder while he raised his other hand towards the fire. The streaming flames twisted together into one bright blaze and then were snuffed out of existence.
“Thanks,” Bobby managed and wandered a few feet towards the door. He closed his eyes and concentrated.*Jean? It’s Jones, he’s collapsed. He’s having, like, a fit. Dani is with him.*
The answer came back with the startling speed of telepathy. *Thank you, Bobby. I’ll be there in a minute. Dani is trained in first aid; please have everyone follow her instructions.*
Bobby turned back to survey the room. Jones was on the floor shaking, surrounded by Dani and a small group. Sam was looking over in some kind of lovelorn misery at Terry who, oblivious to Sam, was staring at the twitching boy. Kitty was holding Rahne, both weeping. Neal was shaking his head, apparently disgusted by the whole scene. Smoke hung in the air and Bobby’s nostrils burned with the stench of fried plastic. He felt a presence at his side. It was John.
“What do you think?” Bobby asked him and laughed coldly. “That meeting went well, huh?”
“Stick a turnip up your twat, you lowlife squid,” John told Doug.
The 14 year old nodded in pleasure. “Okay! What language do you want to hear it in?”
“That’s too easy! How about Tagalog?”
Bobby was sitting on one of the chairs outside Xavier’s office, waiting with trepidation for his meeting his sentencing hearing to begin. Sam, Doug and John were with him, maybe trying to help him keep his mind off what was to come.
He was so preoccupied with worry about John, Rahne and Jones that he barely had energy to wonder what his punishment would be. Peter had carried Jones down to the med lab while Dani had acted as Jean’s assistant, leaving Bobby feeling completely left out. When Lance had collapsed a month earlier, he had been granted access to the high-tech underground world and he had kind of assumed that the permission was permanent. Not so. His sense of privilege at the school was eroding rapidly.
“What time is it, Doug?” he asked.
“16:24:18,” he replied and gave Bobby a worried, sympathetic look.
“Thanks. Maybe you guys should go now. I’ll see you after, okay?”
“There’s no way they’d expel you, Bobby,” Sam insisted as he and Doug retreated.
John didn’t go. He stood staring down at Bobby.
“What?” Bobby demanded.
“I hate this creepy, old-world boarding school vibe! What are they gonna do in there? Cane you?”
Bobby’s stomach lurched. “No! Shut up!”
“If they throw you out, what’s going to happen to me?”
The queasiness turned to annoyance. “Thanks for you concern, John. I’m touched. Believe it or not, I’m thinking more about how to save your ass than mine right now.”
“Really?” John seemed to consider this. “Why? What’s going to happen to me?”
“I don’t know; maybe they want to find you a foster home or some social services place ”
John blanched and shook his head. “No way! I’ll disappear. If they think they can ship me off into ”
“Shut up a minute, will you?” Bobby snapped. “I want to get you into the school and I think I know how.”
John was silent. He crossed his arms on his chest and stared. “Why do you even care what happens to me?”
Bobby stared back. He had no words. “Just ‘cause, okay? Because you belong here. Listen, go up to our room and get your portfolio.”
John looked suspicious. “Why? And why did you call it ‘our room’?”
“Because it is.” He let the statement hang in the air a minute before he dropped his head into his hands. “Stop asking ‘why’ and just do it! Get your portfolio everything you’ve written. Bring it down and wait out here for me.”
John’s mouth was a tight line. Bobby knew he wanted to throw out another belligerent question but instead amazingly he obeyed, turning on his heel and running down the corridor towards the stairs. Bobby’s mouth tasted of metal and acid. This was all too much, everything was too fucking much. He almost bit his tongue in surprise when the office door opened. Kitty emerged, looking furious, shaken.
“Kit…?” he ventured nervously. She glared at him, and then turned and walked away down the corridor, the same way John had gone. Bobby felt like his whole life was tilting towards a sinkhole somewhere down that corridor.
Scott stuck his head out. “We’ll call you in a minute, Bobby.” He closed the door again and Bobby wished he were back home in Boston, that he wasn’t a mutant, that he’d never met Xavier or Scott or Magneto or St. John Allerdyce.
No. He didn’t wish he’d never met John.
“Do you ever feel like a day has gone on for a week?” Xavier asked Scott and rubbed his temples with two hands. He felt that no matter what decision he made today, he was bound to disappoint everyone. Scott in particular had the ability to broadcast silent disapproval in a way even a non-telepath couldn’t miss.
Not that he was afraid to express his feelings verbally: “If my opinion means anything anymore, I think you let her off too lightly.”
“Don’t be peevish, Scott. You know I value your opinion highly. What were we supposed to do? The girl’s crime was caring what happened to a fellow mutant.”
“It’s bad enough that she put herself at risk, but when I think that Bobby could have been arrested or even killed… That boy is special; he’s my star, Charles; but he needs a firm hand! It’s in his nature to be a follower. He’s not tough enough for this world.”
“Don’t underestimate your students, Scott. They always surprise you in the end.”
“Please don’t lecture me. I worry about what kind of message we’ll send the students if we let Bobby and Kitty off the hook.”
“Which we are not doing, may I remind you.” Xavier sighed. “Scott, I am sick of hypocrisy; mine especially. It’s true that Kitty and Robert behaved precipitously; but in essence, we did the same as they last evening. We are supposedly the teachers, the responsible ones, but we committed exactly the same crimes as the children. Their intentions were every bit as honorable as ours and their methods every bit as questionable.”
Scott threw himself into a chair and banged the padded arm with the palm of his hand. “So let’s throw out everything we’ve agreed to! Let them join us on missions and put their lives on the line for mutant kind! How old were we when you sent us out the first time?”
Xavier looked away, stung by the mistakes of the past. “No, you’re right. This school represents a step forward in our thinking. We must protect the children and to do that, we must have rules. It is not our responsibility to save them from their own enthusiasm.” He fell silent and waited until he felt the dark cloud of Scott’s anger ease. “I am sorry if I undermine your authority on occasion. Perhaps I err on the side of sentiment.”
Scott snorted and a smile touched his lips. He stood again, arching backwards to crack his spine. He yawned loudly. “No word from Mr. and Mrs. Jones?”
“I left a message at their home. I’m sure they’ll call as soon as they get it. Jean is worried. She has no idea what brought on Hayward’s attack nor when he will regain consciousness. Perhaps we should call Moira for her opinion.”
“And she can tell us all the ways we screwed up.” Scott replied ruefully and Xavier smiled. “If you’re ready, I’ll go get Bobby. Try to at least look stern, would you, Charles?”
Xavier did exactly that. Poker-faced, he sat in censorious silence as Scott lectured and harangued. However, he sensed that a change had come over Bobby. Even through his own fatigue and guilt the night before he had felt the depth of the boy’s misery. That was gone. Something new was driving the lad, giving him the strength to withstand his mentor’s disappointment.
When Scott pronounced his sentence grounded and barred from all school outings until Christmas with additional work details imposed the boy was jolted but responded only with a nod.
“What about the protest in the City?” he asked, though without much grief or expectation. “Isn’t it important for all of us to be there?”
“They’ll have to survive without you, Bobby. You’ll be working up on the roof with Forge on the new communications array.”
Scott laid on a final speech about responsibility, about how the best of intentions can still lead to disaster when you do not think of the team. However, Xavier could feel Bobby’s mind shifting, preparing his next words, only listening to Scott with half an ear.
Scott, finished with his lecture, told Bobby he could go. Instead of leaving, Bobby turned to Xavier for the first time. “Professor, may I say something. Not about me; about St. John Allerdyce.”
“What is it, Robert?”
“I think it would be a big mistake not to keep him as a student at the school.”
It was Scott who responded. “I’m sure you’re worried about him, Bobby, but we’re in the best position to make choices about enrollment.”
Bobby blinked at Scott, paused and then looked back at Xavier, clearly deciding to plead his case to one judge only. “He’s a writer, sir. He’s really good I think. Wouldn’t that be a good thing for us?”
The Professor smiled kindly. “Robert, I’m sure he has much to offer, but we have many criteria for choosing ”
Bobby jumped to his feet. “Just… Could you hold on one second? Please?!” He turned and ran from the room. Xavier could hear him squabbling with St. John outside the door.
“No!” John was shouting. “You didn’t tell me what you wanted with it.”
“John, don’t be an asshole,” Bobby hissed sotto voce. “Just give it to me!”
“Let me at least go through it and… OW!”
Bobby slipped back into the office a little breathless clutching John’s leather portfolio to his chest. He crossed to the desk, dropping a few scraps from the bursting interior as he went. “Please, sir, just look at it!” he put it in front of the Headmaster as carefully as you would lay a raw steak in front of a growling lion, gazing worriedly into his eyes and then retreating to a safe distance.
Scott said, “This is not the day for such theatrics, Bobby ”
Xavier put up a silencing hand. “Scott, go see if Hank is available for a 5:30 conference call. I’ll take a few minutes to glance at Mr. Allerdyce’s work.”
“Yes, sir.” Scott replied and shot Bobby an annoyed look as he left the room.
Xavier opened the portfolio. Most of what he saw was poetry, some written in a careful hand in colored inks, some computer printouts. He read a few stanzas of one poem and then a few from the next. He dug deeper into the stack, finding both notes and finished pieces, some dated, some not. There was a surprising amount of work in the pile and judging by the lack of red-pen comments, none completed as school assignments.
Soon, he had two or three poems chosen by instinct laid before him. He closed off his psychic senses to block out Bobby’s anxiety, which filled the air like a thick perfume. He read the three poems carefully. When he was done, he turned to stare out the window for a long minute. Night was falling rapidly as it did at this time of year. He could see his reflection overlaid on the chiaroscuro landscape. A couplet from one of the poems echoed in his brain: Time was I didn’t know what time was / Now it hangs on my leg like a desperate junkie.
“Bobby, please ask Mr. Allerdyce to join me for a few minutes.”
Bobby’s face exploded in a hopeful grin. “It’s good isn’t it, Professor? I don’t even understand most of it!” The latter clearly meant as an endorsement.
Soon, Bobby was gone and St. John Allerdyce sat in front of him. The skinny boy had sunk into the wingback chair with a challenging look that seemed to say, ‘You think I’m impressed? Guess again.’ Xavier looked back, calm, not in a hurry to speak. He felt the boy’s fear and the contempt that masked it. He mused that the artist grows a wall to protect his fragile vision in much the same way a street youth like St. John builds a wall to protect his soul from the indignities he faces every day.
“How long have you been writing, Sinjin?” Xavier asked with a friendly smile.
“Since I was 11. What did you call me?”
“‘Sinjin’. That’s how I’ve always heard your name pronounced before. What do you say?”
“‘Saint John.’ But don’t call me that around here. It sounds… kind of dorky. Just call me John.”
“All right, John. Though it is All Saints Day today. A good day to celebrate your birthright.”
“There’s too damn many saints as it is. They don’t need me in the club.”
Charles smiled at this which seemed to satisfy the boy whose body relaxed a little. “Has your writing always taken the form of poetry?”
“No. I used to write these lame science fiction stories about crashing on planets and stuff. They were all in the first person and the character had to survive all alone in these lifeless landscapes. Yeah, I know; the metaphor is pretty obvious. What do you want? I was 12.”
“So you switched to poetry when your understanding of metaphor improved.”
“I want to write novels, too, some day. Maybe. I’m not sure.”
“I detect different influences in your work. Do you read a lot of poetry?”
“Yeah. Right now I’m really into Hart Crane.”
“Those are challenging poems.”
“I know, but I like how he makes New York seem so mythical. The Brooklyn Bridge and stuff.”
“Walt Whitman also celebrated the city in his work.”
“Yeah, but he’s so utopian, you know? Crane’s poems… there’s this feeling in them, like it’s all going to end.”
“And indeed, it did for him. Far too young.”
“I like Jim Carroll a lot, too. Not so much his prosier stuff, though.”
“I met Jim quite often in the Seventies. Alan Ginsberg introduced us.”
“You knew Ginsberg?! Holy shit! Oh, sorry. I got a mouth on me.”
“Apology accepted. Yes, for a time I was part of that literary circle. Do you see the book with the red spine up on the third shelf? Over to the left. Please take it down, if you would.”
“‘His Nature in the City.’ That title is so Whitman. But it doesn’t really work, does it? Oh, shit. You wrote this. I-I’m sorry. It’s great.”
“No, you’re quite right; the title isn’t good. I had to get the book to press quickly and I made a hasty decision. It was my first volume of poetry and, I’m afraid, my last.”
“You ran dry or something?”
“No; I could have continued; though I’m not sure I had as much talent as I thought at the time. In any case, it became clear that my future lay elsewhere. I was finishing my psychology degree and grappling with how I would help the very secret underground that was the mutant community at the time.”
The room had grown dim, their faces lit only by the single bulb of the desk light between them. Charles felt a sad tug from these memories of a life that might have been.
The boy was turning the thin volume over in his hand, flipping quickly through the pages. Xavier knew that he was not reading the words but rather imagining a book of his own.
“John, I need to ask you a serious question.”
John looked up from the book. He pushed his long, soft hair away from his face and eyed Xavier warily. So much caution. So much hurt in one so young. But if he has the bravery… If I can help him tap into that vein…
“If we were to make a place for you at the School for Gifted Youngsters, would you be willing to apply yourself? Would you be ready to follow our rules and be guided by our experience?”
Xavier could hear the mental broadcast clearly: *I don’t follow anybody’s fucking rules, old man!*
Out loud, the boy said with a convincing show of sincerity, “Yes, sir. If you let me stay, I’ll work really hard. I won’t be any trouble.”
Xavier nodded as if satisfied. “Good. St. John, you have an exceptional talent for writing. However, talent without discipline is as useless as a ship with no wind in its sails. If you agree, I would like to work with you one-on-one. Properly nurtured, you could be a fine writer. How would you like that?”
The voices that came into his head were contradictory. *I don’t need anybody’s help* wrestled with *You think I’m special, you see it! Tell me again I’m special.*
“Okay. Let’s do it,” John replied and stuck out a serious hand that Charles shook seriously.
Bobby returned to their room at 9:30 and fell heavily into his bed without even looking at John. He pulled a pillow over his face to block out any fresh assaults the universe might have for him.
“Is it over?” he asked John in a pillow-muffled voice. “Is this day really over?”
“Where the hell have you been?” his new roommate asked, sounding pissed off.
Bobby pushed the pillow up so it just covered his eyes. “Everyone was so wrapped up in Jones’s problems that no one told the teachers about Rahne.”
“Oops. So you tracked down X? Or your good buddy Scott?”
“No, I had enough of them today. I went to Jean.”
“She’s kind of a cold one,” John remarked.
“No, not once you get to know her. Although I don’t think she understands what Rahne’s feeling. Jean’s pretty hardcore about the science stuff.”
“Do you think wolf-girl means it? She’ll never use her powers again?”
“I have no clue. Shit, when she said it, I totally froze. I was supposed to be facilitating the meeting and I fell apart.”
“Yeah, you should have stopped Jones from having a fucking seizure at that point. What’s wrong with you, Bobby?” he quipped.
“Okay, you’re right; but it kind of sucks that a kid had to go into a coma to save my ass. I’m serious though; what could I have said to her? That stuff about the Devil sounds completely crazy. I mean, my family does the whole church on Sunday thing, but no one takes it too seriously.”
“The Drakes are nice, middle-of-the-road Protestants, right? Sing a few hymns and put enough in the collection plate to get on God’s good side in case he’s actually up there.”
Bobby laughed. He was finding a great deal of comfort in John’s voice. His presence in the room seemed like the most natural thing in the world. “Yeah, that about describes it, I guess. What are you?”
“Me? I fuck goats and sacrifice them to Beelzebub. But my mom is all batshit Catholic like Rahne. Holy water and Hail Marys. I guess praying to the BVM gave her comfort while my step-dad was beating me up in the next room.”
Bobby pulled the pillow off his face and looked up at the ceiling. He didn’t know how to respond. For the most part, talking to John was the easiest thing in the world right from the minute they met, there had been this amazing rapport but then he’d say things that would slap Bobby in the face, make him feel guilty and useless. Bobby sat up and looked over at John for the first time since he’d come into the room.
“Holy shit!” Bobby shouted. “What did you do to your hair?!”
John’s head was a patchy mess. In some places short tufts of brown were left, in others, he was almost down to the scalp.
John’s was abruptly sulky and embarrassed. “I cut it, okay? No big deal.”
“With what? A machete?!”
“There were scissors on your desk. Don’t worry, I cleaned them.”
Bobby stood up and came to sit beside John on his bed examining the damage. “Oh my God, you even cut yourself! Why, John? Why did you do it?”
“It was that stupid Terry, okay? She was just mooning at me all evening and then I heard her fucking tell Dani that I was ‘pretty’!”
“Oh, John ” Bobby raised a careful hand to touch the dried line of blood and John flinched away.
“Well, I’m not pretty now. I’m sick of being pretty. I’m sick of people wanting me for bullshit reasons. I’m going to be a writer and they can all go to hell.”
Bobby dropped the hand back into his lap and turned away.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured, suddenly miserable.
“Sorry?!” John said, surprised. “What have you got to be sorry about?”
Bobby swallowed and began in a shaky voice. “About what happened last night…”
“What? What happened?” John asked, anger edging into his voice.
Bobby turned towards him; devastated, desperate. “I mean when we got back here and we… Don’t you remember?” He was confused. Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything. Maybe John didn’t even know! Shit!
“Oh, you mean when we got off?”
Bobby cringed. “Yes. Look, I’m sorry… You were, like, wasted and I was supposed to be helping but instead, I… took advantage… and it wasn’t right!”
John stared at him for two fraught seconds and then fell back on the bed laughing.
“What?!” Bobby demanded nervously.
“Are you always such a freak case, Drake?” He propped himself up on his elbows. “Relax, we were both out of it. We got horny. It happens.”
“But you were… I mean, what those guys did to you. They, uh, exploited you and paid you for ”
John sat up and grabbed him by both arms. “Enough. Don’t fucking treat me like a victim, okay? You know why I was at the goddamn house? I chose to be there, so fucking shut it.”
Bobby wasn’t consoled. “I-I know it’s wrong to want you like this… I’m just so happy you’re here and I thought about you all these months and then… and when…” he was kind of hiccupping the words out, overwhelmed to be speaking them at all. “When I thought they weren’t going to let you stay, I just… just didn’t know what I would do ”
“Enough!” John snapped but then his eyes softened. He let go of one arm and ran a hand through Bobby’s hair. “Hey, you did it though. You got them to keep me. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”
Bobby looked up and John’s face was just a warm blur through the tears that filled his eyes. “Are you glad?” he asked him. “Do you want to be here?”
“Sort of ‘no’ and sort of ‘yeah’. I don’t know about this school thing and your buddy Summers is a rule-loving dick. But I think I can trust Xavier. And he thinks I’m talented. And I like Sam and that dumb-ass Doug. Dani is cool and tough and maybe even Terry’ll be normal now that I look like I escaped from the psych ward.”
“Maybe.” Bobby smiled even as one of the tears escaped and rolled down his cheek.
“And I like you, Drake. I want to be here in this stupid room where I feel safe. And I’m not mad about last night. I wanted it.” He paused and any trace of sarcasm left his voice. “I wanted you ever since I met you.”
Bobby’s chin trembled. He put a hand on John’s chest. “Me too,” he breathed. “I thought about you.”
“No, I mean, I thought about you at night when I…”
“Yeah, I know. So did I.” John’s smile returned and quickly ramped up to its dirtiest. “I jerked off over you all the time. I shot so many loads with you in my head; thinking of you hard, entering me, sucking me.” John milked the words for their full effect, pleased to be corrupting the good boy.
Bobby wasn’t smiling. His mouth was hanging open and his heart was racing. “I thought about your skin and your lips.”
“Did you think about my ass?”
“…Yeah…and your eyes and your hands and… your dick.” Bobby blushed to say the word out loud.
John breathed right into his ear, “Are you hard?”
Bobby heard himself respond, “Feel it.” And John did, gripping the length of Bobby through his jeans.
Bobby’s groan was pure and animal. He didn’t hesitate at all as he reached up and took John’s head in his hands and pulled them together. But as their lips were about to connect, John pulled away.
Bobby opened his eyes and was shocked to see that it was John who had now turned shy. “What’s the matter?”
“I don’t… I never kiss.”
Bobby didn’t let him go, though. He stroked the scourged scalp and kissed him softly on his forehead, on his temples until the boy let out a ragged moan. “Kiss me, John. Please,” he whispered, gentle and insistent.
“I… don’t know how, okay?”
“Like this, John, like this…”
And Bobby, to his own amazement, taught the hustler how to be a lover.
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This chapter dedicated to loyal reader, Nat_Dimension. Congrats on getting into med school!