Chapter 24: “The Rain in Hadrian’s Soul”

“Scoot over, let me in.”

“Bobby! What time is…? Fuck, Drake, it’s two in the morning! Where you been?”

“Just for a minute, let me… Why are you wearing underwear, John?”

“Protection against psycho iceboys. You been out not-kissing your little Marie…? Ohhhhhhhhh, fuck, yeah. Touch that…”

“You like it, don’t you? Kiss me.”

“Wait a minute, Bobby, you think you can treat me like dirt and then just…. Ah, shit… yeah, touch it again. Put your finger in.”

“Mmmmm.”

“nnnhhHHH.”

“Yeah.”

“Look at you, Drake. You’re a slutburger with a side of fries. You need this. Admit it.”

“Shut up, shut up, John just… ahh, fffffuckk!”

“Every night, Bobby. What does that tell you?”

“Shut up, shut up.”

***

“We got the Dazzler! The Dazzler’s going to be part of the tour!!”

Mike shouted out his news as he ran into the cafeteria, turning the heads of every student chowing down on breakfast. For once he didn’t mind the spotlight. The announcement set off a round of excited chatter in the room as Mike headed to the table where Jubilee was holding a place for him.

Terry sighed at the next table. “Oh God, do you know her song ‘Secret’? It was totally my theme song this winter.”

“Who’s the Dazzler?” Fred asked. “Are they, like, a band?”

Sam was outraged. “Gawd, do you only listen to your Dad’s Led Zeppelin albums, Dukes? The Dazzler is this amazing trip hop chick. Her last album was on every cool critic’s top 10 last year.”

Fred scowled and stuffed French toast into his mouth. “Not mine.”

Mike said, “She’s more than that. Her name is Alison Blair and she’s a mutant.”

“Are you serious?!” Jubilee screamed. “Oh, shit, I get it now. All that stuff in ‘Blue Tomorrow’ about ‘trusting you enough to tell you.’ That song makes me cry every time.”

Mike’s smile could have lit up Manhattan during a blackout. “Yup, I’m serious. And Professor Xavier knows her.”

“X knows everyone,” Dani told Mike with an insider’s confidence. The crowd around the table was growing.

Mike spotted Bobby and Rogue entering the cafeteria and waved them over. “We got her, Bobby! The Dazzler’s coming on the tour!”

“Amazing!” Bobby shouted and held up a hand for Mike to high-five.

“Who?” Rogue asked, her arm slipping around Bobby’s waist. Mike did a bit of a double-take at that and looked at Jubilee. Naturally, his girlfriend hadn’t missed the moment. Mike could see her carefully filing away the information for later use.

Bobby turned to Rogue and said, “She this amazing musician named Alison Blair. The Professor said he’d ask her to join the mutant youth tour.”

Mike nodded enthusiastically. “Well, he did and get this: she was planning to come out publicly as a mutant when her new CD was released. X told her about the tour and she signed on immediately.” He put his elbows on the table and gazed into space, imagining the big, beautiful amendment to the tour poster: Featuring… The Dazzler! “So many more kids will come out to see us now,” he said.

Dani added, “And she’ll be an inspiration to everyone. She’ll show them you don’t have to hide who you are.”

“I can’t wait to tell Andi,” Mike said.

Terry sighed. “You are so lucky, Jubilee! You’re going to spend the whole summer touring around with Alison Blair. You’ll be like best friends!” Her eyes widened. “Wait! Does that mean she’ll be coming to the mansion? Are we going to actually meet the Dazzler?!”

Mike had to admit it — being the bearer of good news was sweet. “Of course. She’ll be here for the kick-off party in two weeks!”

Everybody covered their ears and ducked in anticipation; Terry’s squeals of delight tended to bring down plaster. But she just gave a disgusted look and said, “Oh come on! I can control myself.”

“Hey, where’s John?” Rogue asked. Mike turned to look at Bobby at the exact moment Jubilee did. Bobby was startled by the coordinated attention and hastily disengaged himself from Rogue’s arm.

“Uh, he’s over in the corner there, working on rhymes for Derek and Tonio.”

Rogue looked across the room to where John sat alone, bent low over a notebook, his head bobbing to the beats in his headphones, his mouth auditioning sounds. “Well, shoot, Bobby honey! He doesn’t even have a tray!” She gave Bobby a slap on the chest. “You shouldn’t let your roommate miss breakfast. He’s skinny enough as it is! Bring him a bagel or some oatmeal!”

“Okay uh, honey, I will!” Bobby promised and scooted off to the serving station. It was Mike’s turn to get slapped in the chest — Jubilee, making sure he hadn’t missed the exchange of endearments.

Despite the deepening mystery of Bobby, John and Rogue, Mike still felt elated. Andi was coming to Westchester to meet with him and the Professor later that day, but he had been in touch with her almost hourly for the last few weeks. They already had five cities confirmed for the tour which would begin in June. The first dates would take place on weekends, but once the school term ended, they were hoping to do a city every few days through July and the first half of August. He was nervously confident of their success.

Actually, if anyone was nervous it was Xeno Evil, his sensei in all things punk back home in Boston. Although Xeno had played a few local gigs with various bands, playing as a solo artist on the tour was a big step for him. Xeno had said ‘no way’ then ‘yes’ then ‘maybe’ then ‘definitely.’ Within a couple of days of accepting the gig, he had called to say he had a new drummer and they were going to “rock some shit.”

Reluctantly, Xeno had even agreed to coach Derek and Tonio who, despite their terrifying lack of experience, were entirely sure they were going to knock the world on its ass with their mutant hip-hop. And now the Dazzler would headline! Mike pictured the excitement of the summer, the adventure, and the romance, too, since Jubilee would be with him everyday. His life suddenly seemed like a fairy tale.

His mind was ringing with a thousand details as he walked to the rec room after breakfast to watch the morning news with the current affairs gang. In fact, he had been too busy to join them much in the last month, and felt relieved to be returning to the fold this morning. As soon as he arrived, he sensed a certain tension in the group. Clarice, David and Doug were leaning towards the set, very focused, and Kitty had actually left her seat to kneel on the floor closer to the screen.

“The tremor caused a landslide that closed part of the highway,” said a reporter with windblown hair, squinting against flying dust. “Military personnel from nearby Fort  Eugene are, apparently, working on the clean up and soldiers are turning back traffic some 10 miles down the road.”

“That’s the third one,” Kitty said. “Third one in a month.”

Doug added, “And they aren’t reporting it, but the other two were also near military bases.”

Mike felt like he was missing something. “What do the tremors mean? Is it a mutant?”

Doug gave him a sort of warning look but Kitty spoke up in a strong voice, without emotion. “It’s Lance. This has something to do with Magneto’s people.”

Lance Alvers! Mike thought. The student who joined Magneto. He tried to remember Jubilee’s primer on mansion dramas. Kitty was in love with Lance. Jubilee also theorized that Bobby was not neutral about the guy either. Mike had never even heard Bobby admit to being gay, and he felt really creepy knowing this much gossip about his love life. He asked out loud, “Is Magneto giving orders from jail? How could he?”

Clarice brought her legs up into lotus position on the couch. “Maybe he’s not. Maybe someone should check with Senator Kelly’s office... see if he’s booked the day off.” It was a frequent game of speculation in the group: how much was Mystique doing behind the scenes in Washington to further her cause? Or was it their cause, too? It was frankly hard not to cheer for the Brotherhood sometimes. But how big was Magneto’s Brotherhood and how well could it function without its leader?

David muted the sound as a farming feature came on. “If they are targeting military installations, what exactly are they looking for?”

Mike shook his head. “Do you think the X-Men know anything, Kitty?”

He looked over at her and was dumbfounded to find her crying. Hadn’t she been fine a minute earlier?

“Hey, are okay?” he asked uselessly.

Kitty stood up and grabbed her books from the couch. “Excuse me,” she said and hurried from the room. The boys all looked towards Clarice because when a girl ran out crying, protocol was for another girl to chase after her.

But Clarice didn’t ever do anything expected. She just sat there, rubbing the upholstery of the couch like it was a cat, eyes glued to the TV as silent torrents of grain poured from a silo. She noticed them looking at her, and neatly unfolded her legs, picked up her schoolbag and stood up. “Time for class.”

“Alleyne, turn up the sound,” came a voice from behind them and Mike turned to find John standing behind the couch like a ghost. When had he come in? Mike turned back to the TV to see what had caught his attention. Footage of a car wreck, an inset of a man and woman in their 20s, smiling, caught in a moment of unguarded happiness. A family barbecue? A night out with friends?

David un-muted the broadcast and handed John the remote as he left the room with Doug and Clarice.

“Just a week before their wedding, a week before beginning a lifetime at each other’s sides, the popular Sacramento couple now find themselves side-by-side in twin hospital beds, both comatose. Doctors say they could wake at any moment, or spend months — even years — unconscious to the world around them.”

John snapped off the TV. “Now that’s a relationship without complications.”

Mike laughed. “I guess no one ever says anything stupid.”

“Even the relatives are happy.”

Mike grabbed his books and stood up. “How do you figure that?”

“They have something to cling to. Bloody, wheezing life. Their kids are lying there together, married by tragedy. They’re the perfect image of eternal romantic perfection. Romeo and Juliet. Nothing but a symbol of tragic youth and the possibility of blissful resurrection. So much easier than cranky, conscious kids.”

They were alone now in the room, which meant they were late for class, but Mike sensed that it was important for him to stay and talk. “Unlike, say, you and Bobby,” he said. No sense bullshitting.

John scowled at him. “So, what? It’s finally not a forbidden subject for you? Drake’s little childhood buddy is ready to talk about reality?”

Mike was taken aback by John’s bitter tone. “It was never a forbidden topic. I just... I didn’t know what I could say —”

“Nothing to say. Bobby’s just being a jerk. It’s Rogue I feel sorry for. In a couple of weeks he’ll wake up and stop this charade. Mademoiselle Marie won’t know what hit her.”

Mike was startled. He started to say something but bit his lip.

“What?” John demanded.

“Well, if you’re sure... But it doesn’t look that way from where I stand, man. Sorry.”

“You don’t know, man.”

“They hang off each other all over the school, John. They call each other ‘honey’!

John was angry now. “You don’t know, okay? Just because your girlfriend has proclaimed herself news source supreme doesn’t mean you know everything that goes on.” He turned to leave and Mike reached out and grabbed his arm.

“All right, I don’t know, don’t fucking walk out on me, John.”

John spun around, shaking off Mike’s hand and almost spat the words into his face. “You don’t know who’s still sucking down my jizz every single fucking night, asshole!”

Mike’s ability to hear about this topic hit its limit. “And I don’t want to know, okay?!” he shouted back.

They turned away from each other in mutual embarrassment, but after a few seconds Mike found himself laughing. “Shit, dude. I thought you poets said everything metaphorically.”

“Yeah, well...”

“Like you could have said ‘the bee still supping summer’s nectar’ or something.”

That earned him a smile. “Poetry’s overrated,” John muttered. He opened his notebook and tore a page loose. “Speaking of which, here.” He handed Mike the paper before turning again to leave.

“Aren’t you coming to History?”

“Taking the day off. Give Ororo my regards.” He vanished down the corridor and Mike felt a stab of worry for him.It wouldn’t help him to give up on school now. What would it feel like if Jubilee was slipping away from me? he wondered. Like the world was broken. Like gravity was up for grabs.

He looked down at the paper in his hands, at the neat, urgent writing, scribed in separate colors for each rapper: Tonio in purple, Derek in scarlet.

Born red as fire
In desire’s kitchen
Bitchin’ ‘bout a world where justice is a liar…

Mike looked up from the page but John was gone.

 

***

 

“John’s too cool for school,” sang a little theme song in his head as he moved down the hall, but it was as lame a bit of logic as it was a verse. He wasn’t self-deluding enough to believe for a second that he was doing anything but hiding. He checked his gait: more scuttle than strut. More cockroach than panther. No, the truth was he didn’t want to see or be seen. Since Rogue’s arrival, everything had been making him paranoid. He felt like an outsider again, like the weird little street kid that everyone was suspicious of.

Bobby and Rogue. They were everywhere, like an awful summer hit song you can’t get out of your head, like a tooth-achingly cute poster that’s taken over every bus shelter in town. Bobby and Rogue, in all his classes, at every meal — always together and looking so damned pleased about it.

Still, he clung to the version of events he had presented to Mike: Bobby was in a temporary freak out after Scott caught them doing it, using Rogue to show the world that he wasn’t a big ol’ fag. Maybe John was being too hard on him. Maybe he needed to show Bobby support so he’d feel safe enough to be himself.

He suddenly staggered and grabbed at the wall for support as a bolt of pain skewered his forehead. “The fuck!?” he cried out loud, but then the pain was gone. What was that? he wondered, annoyed. My realist kicking my romantic in the ass?

Who was he kidding? Mike was obviously right: Bobby was done with him. And everyone who knew was laughing. John, the street punk breaking his heart over an Abercrombie joke like Bobby Drake, the poster boy for mutant normalcy; the ‘drink milk’ ad of homo superior.

Love is heroin, he taunted himself. Even when it doesn’t get you high anymore, you crawl around on all fours, looking for the dregs between the floorboards, licking the empty spoon till you’re gagging on the taste of metal.

John Allerdyce doesn’t need love.

“Love is a little bird in a tree,” came a familiar voice, very close, very wrong. “In a tree full of hungry predators.”

John spun around, unnerved, and there, in her darkened office was Jean Grey. “Oh, hey,” John greeted her, trying to sound calmer than he felt. “Why are you sitting in the dark, Dr. Grey?”

“Headache,” she answered and her voice was odd. Rough, reverberant. John’s hand flew to his temples as his own headache twinged again. Telepathic whispers filled the air around him: ...in a place without limits... ...a cage of thorns... ...life incarnate...

Then the whispers were gone along with the pain. In their place, a terrible anxiety in the pit of his stomach as he approached her open door and peered into the darkness. He could see her hair, red even in the dim light. She was behind her desk, her head lowered on her crossed arms. Was it his imagination, or was there a faint glow in the cradle of those arms?

“Are you okay, Dr. Grey?” he asked and his voice came out shaky.

She raised her head and he jumped back a step. Her eyes were clearly visible in the darkness, as if they were their own source of light. “I’m wonderful, John,” she said and laughed. The laugh sounded almost normal and John began to respond to it, to breathe again, when he noticed that the air was full of shadowy objects, floating tranquilly. Family planning pamphlets, boxes of bandages... A stethoscope drifted near him and suddenly raised its head and hissed like a snake. He cried out in surprise and Jean laughed again. “Sorry, John,” she said, reassuring. “Just having some fun.”

The whispers in his head again. ...blaze... ...hunger...

“Can I, uh, turn on the light maybe?” John asked.

Her answer was curt and hard: “It hurts my head. Don’t.” So he stood there in the doorway, at a loss until she spoke again. “Bobby’s gone to ground, John. He’s afraid of what’s inside him.”

John was shocked that she was speaking so candidly. Deep in the shadows, something glass tinked against something metal as they floated through air on their little holiday from gravity. Everything was really wrong.

“And you’re wondering if he’ll let himself see it... the truth inside. The power. You’re wondering if you’ll get him back.”

“Yeah...” John breathed hoarsely.

“That depends, little fire, that depends. Does he have the strength? Some people like their cages. Jean does.”

Oh shit. I want to get out of here.

“Do you feel it inside you, John? Do you feel the fire?”

He did. It was there in his belly. Something new: a source, a pool. Oh, God...

“You could grab it, you know... release it as you’ve always dreamed.”

He knew she was telling the truth. The source of fire he’d always longed for... rising from inside him, from himself instead of some damn lighter. No more a half-mutant, no more a cripple with a crutch. The primordial fire, his to command.

“You can grab it, little fire, and you can burn it all. Scorch the earth and everyone who caged your soul!”

“St. John, please stand back and let me through.” The voice shocked him back to reality. It was Professor Xavier, whose wheeled approach he hadn’t even heard.

“What...? Yeah, sure.” He jumped aside. “We were just talking, sir. Dr. Grey was... talking—”

Xavier ignored him. “Jean, listen to me,” he said, his voice somber. The air seemed to grow thick and the psychic whispers multiplied — a million voices whose collective cacophony was the scream of the twister before it takes your home. The old man said no more, wheeling into her office, the door slamming closed behind him.

A final bolt of pain shot through John’s head and he staggered against the wall again, feeling like he was going to puke. Then it was gone. The pain, the whispers, the fire in his belly.

“What the fuck?” he moaned and then found himself running down the corridor, and out through the side door of the mansion. And he wanted to keep running, because he’d seen the void. He’d seen the fire that could consume everything in its unrelenting anger. He’d seen the part of himself he feared above all things.

***

“Oh, fuck, Johnny, that was... whoa.”

“Wait till you get my bill.”

“That’s not funny. Hey, Rogue and me are going into New York on Saturday. She wants you to come with us.”

“Oh she does, does she? But you don’t. You’re not so sure.”

“No, of course I want you. We! We want you to come with us.”

“Oh, so you two are a ‘we’ now. Great.”

“Stop twisting my words, Allerdyce!”

“Words are all I got, Drake.”

***

They entered the cafeteria during breakfast, sizing up the terrain like two lions. Bobby laughed at first, but then they gave him a look that would freeze an antelope, and his laughter stopped. Derek was dressed in a white muscle shirt and white pants that made his bright red skin practically glow. Layers of faux-gold hip-hop jewelry and black high-tops completed the ensemble. Tonio was dressed even more extravagantly in black with a long purple fake-fur coat over it. His oversized, mutant eyes were hidden behind enormous black on black sunglasses with wide silver arms.

Bobby got up and moved to the pair, deciding it was ridiculous to be intimidated by two people he’d known for a year, with whom he’d shared secrets at countless mutant youth meetings. “Hey guys, welcome to Westchester. Come and have some breakfast and I’ll show you your room after...” They stared at him coldly and he found himself stammering, “Uh, it’s Bobby. Bobby Drake…”

Rogue appeared at his side smiling broadly. “Hey, Bobby honey, introduce me to the mean mutant crew.”

“Hey, pretty girl,” Tonio said with a leer. “You know where we can find Haddad? We have some important issues to settle.”

Derek crossed his arms over his chest. “Important performer issues.”

Bobby scowled. Who did these guys think they were? Rogue was looking around for Mike when he suddenly entered the cafeteria, reading from a thick pile of pages on a clipboard.

“Yo! Haddad!” Tonio shouted and Mike looked up and did a double take at their outfits.

“Hey, guys,” he said with a smile. “That what you’re wearing on stage? Killer! You’re really getting into the spirit.”

Derek shook his head. “This is not about spirit, my man! We have some serious contract demands to lay down.”

“Damn straight,” Tonio concurred.

Mike looked not the least bit intimidated, which made Bobby feel extra stupid. Mike tilted his head (did he realize that his Mohawk made that move look really impressive?), gave the pair a subtly pained looked and said, “Go ahead.”

The cafeteria had quieted as if the show had already begun. Tonio cleared his throat. “First, on all dates of the tour, we get our own dressing room with a catered menu of our own choosing.”

“No,” Mike said. “Next.”

Derek took a step towards him and placed a red finger on his chest. “We get top billing on all flyers, posters, as well as any digital promotional material.”

“Right,” Mike replied. “Ahead of internationally acclaimed, signed recording artist, the Dazzler. I don’t think so.”

Derek backed off a step and shot Tonio a furious look. They seemed to exchange bad vibes for a few seconds before Tonio spat out. “I want a pair of reflective, light-diffusing contact lenses.”

Bobby, who was enjoying his front row seat at their humiliation, actually laughed which earned him waves of hating from the would-be stars.

Mike paused. “So you mean, like, you’d be able to take your glasses off and the audience could see your eyes?”

“Yeah!” Tonio barked. “It’s bullshit that I should have to hide my own mutation on a mutant music tour! It’s a sign of oppression and —”

“Yes, I totally agree,” Mike nodded. “I’m going to see if we can budget for that. You’ll be way more effective on stage if your eyes are visible.”

Tonio looked at Derek a bit confused, and then turned back to Mike. “Exactly!”

Derek slapped Mike on the shoulder. “There you go, Haddad, not so hard to be cooperative if you just try.”

“I’m going to ask the Professor about the contacts. I need you guys ready for rehearsal at one o’clock. Xeno will be here with the sound system and we all need to get familiar with it.”

“Riiiiight,” Tonio said in a long exhalation.

Mike shot them a look. “One sharp.” And having established his status as king lion of the pride, he turned on his heel and walked off, eyes again buried in his clipboard.

Derek scowled after him but then suddenly registered Bobby’s existence. With a warm smile he said, “My man, Drake! Good to see you again.”

Bobby grinned at Rogue, enjoying his moment of reflected stardom. “Yeah, Derek, I’m really excited to see you guys perform tomorrow.”

“I’m sure! Hey, we’re gonna sit down here with the pretty lady. Why don’t you bring us some breakfast like you said?”

Bobby felt his face grow hot, but then Rogue put a gloved hand on his arm and told the boys, “I’ll help Bobby with the trays. So nice to meet y’all.” She shepherded Bobby gracefully away, and he turned to smirk at the arrogant pricks. Who’s got the pretty lady now?

 

Without a doubt, it was the most excitement the mansion had known in months. The level of foment and expectation was building and building towards the next day’s concert, which was why John was hiding out in his dorm, trying to concentrate. He had been late or absent from too many classes lately, but this was important. If he could just get the last of the problem lines unkinked, he would feel confident enough to call the poem finished and ready for submission.

The telepathic call made him jump. *John, why are you not in class?*

“Shit,” he muttered, suddenly losing the exact combination of words he’d finally arrived at. He could feel the pressure of Professor Xavier’s presence in his head like a storm front.

*‘Descent into ridicule’ is the line you are searching for, I believe. In any case, you are supposed to be in Dr. Grey’s biology class.*

John tossed his pen across the room in annoyance. He centered himself as best he could and projected his thoughts the way he’d been taught. *She said I could stay in my room and write, Professor.*

*You’re not skilled enough in telepathic contact to lie convincingly. Please go now.*

*But Professor, I’m almost done with this revision. The submission deadline for The Harvest is this week and I still need to get your feedback!*

John might have been new to the subtleties of telepathic communication, but there was still something strange about the pause that followed.

*Yes, well, we will discuss the matter after my English seminar. I am informing Dr. Grey that you will be there in five minutes. Please don’t make a liar out of me.*

The storm front receded and John dropped back on his bed. “Shit, shit, shit.” He read through the poem one more time and then jumped up to grab his books. Life in Bobby-and-Rogue-land hadn’t grown any easier and he had to brace himself just to leave his room. He was amazed and appalled at how... tentative he’d become lately. He second-guessed every line of poetry he wrote, doubted the sincerity of his friends, wondered why he even deserved a place at the school.

Furthermore, he was unnerved every time he crossed paths with Dr. Grey. The Professor had taken him aside after the horrific encounter with her and explained that the emotional lives of telepaths often hit bumpy patches, and that he should say nothing about the incident... to spare Dr. Grey any embarrassment. Why did it seem like the old man was hiding something darker? Or was that just more of John’s paranoia? Truth be told, skipping her class now would be less traumatic than sitting there, remembering the waves of pain and panic, feeling the fire within him, the unspeakable possibility of it!

He opened the door of the lab and there they were, the happy couple, heads together, bent over a half-dissected octopus. He cringed when everybody turned to watch him skulk in. Unreliable street kid. Truant. Without meeting her eyes, he muttered an apology to Dr. Grey and found a place with Terry and Jubilee, his stomach turning when the formaldehyde stench of their test subject reached his nose.

As usual, he felt a better in English class where he was widely accepted as the best student. Everybody knew he was the Professor’s pet, and while that felt a bit creepy sometimes, today he treasured the security. The only hard thing about English was putting up with the cretinous stupidity of some of his fellow students.

“And so, when Frost says ‘Good fences make good neighbors’ we have to, uh, remember…” Sam struggled to find his conclusion. “…that, y’know, it’s better to come together, not be separated. Although, I’ll tell you, sometimes without those fences, your neighbors can forget who owns what, if you know what I mean. In my experience.”

“Thank you, Sam,” the Professor said with a smile as if Sam’s talk had actually been the least bit coherent. He was seated in his wheelchair at the back of the class for the presentations. “And now, John, would you please introduce us to the poem you’ve brought in.”

From his bag, John pulled the hardcover book he’d found in Xavier’s library and made his way to the front. All eyes were on him. He realized with a shock that his hastily inserted bookmark was a discarded condom wrapper that had ended up under his bed. He quickly tucked it away in his pocket. “Okay, um, this is a bit long but it’s worth listening to. It was written by a Portuguese poet named Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa in 1918. It’s called ‘Antinous.’ Antinous was this young guy in ancient Greece who was the lover of the great general, Hadrian.”

He turned to look at Bobby who had grown very still. Rogue, beside him, smiled at John encouragingly. John suddenly realized what he’d done in choosing to present this poem. It would be a series of bombs dropped on Bobby from a great height. Pow! Pow! He panicked for a second, but then he looked at the others and at Xavier and thought, fuck it.

“It’s a bit dense, but I’ll try to make it clear,” John told the class. He began to read the poem in a strong voice, letting the words carry themselves without embellishment, like Xavier had taught him in their private lessons. “It rained outside right into Hadrian’s soul. / The boy lay dead…”

John fell quickly into the rhythm of the text and let himself be carried away by its power; still, he couldn’t help hearing the words as Bobby must have been, each phrase the bright light of an explosion, exposing his secrets:

“O bare female male-body like
A god that dawns into humanity!”

Pow!

“O lips whose opening redness erst could strike
Lust’s seats with a soiled art’s variety!
O fingers skilled in things not to be named!
O tongue which, counter-tongued, the throbbed brows flamed!”

Pow! Pow!

“O glory of a wrong lust pillowed on
Raged consciousness’s spilled suspension!”

The poem took almost ten minutes to finish and by the end, John felt calm and acutely aware of the people in the room. Some, like Terry and Jubilee — Mike even — were caught up in the poem’s world of pain and loss. Others were oblivious. John could almost forgive them their blunt stupidity; they were only kids who had yet to fall in love, much less lose it. But could their lives have truly been so untouched by tragedy, so free of torture? He found this ignorance almost unforgivable.

The one person he couldn’t look at for most of his reading was Bobby, and not only for the unwitting effect his reading was having on him, but because the parallels were almost tritely obvious. He finished his reading and found he couldn’t speak. The Professor broke the silence, asking if anyone had questions.

Sam raised a hand. “Is this, like, a gay poem?”

“Excuse me, sir!” Bobby’s voice from the back of the class. John still couldn’t look at him.

“Yes, Robert?”

“I don’t feel well. Can I be excused?”

“Dr. Grey is in her office if you wish to see her.”

“No, thank you, sir. I-I just need to lie down a bit, I think.”

John studied the page in front of him intently, seeing nothing. Rogue’s quiet voice: “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing, I’m fine. I mean, I just need to…”

The scrape of his chair, the footsteps, the door opening, closing. Only then did John look up at the confused girl. He hadn’t planned it, but he couldn’t help feeling like he’d scored some sad little victory.

“Yeah, Sam,” he said. “It’s pretty gay.”

“Of course, the modern concept of ‘gay’ had no equivalent in the ancient world,” the Professor said as he wheeled up the wide path in the center of the room. “Or, in fact, until the middle of the 20th Century.”

The discussion continued until the class ended and everyone filed out, leaving John watching the Professor as he read through notes at his desk. Without looking up, Xavier said, “Yes, John? Is there something I can do for you?”

John bit his lower lip. “I know you’re really busy and everything, but did you get the revisions of the poems? I sent them to you Monday and I have a few more with me. The submission deadline for ‘The Harvest’ is this week.”

He saw Xavier stiffen just a bit before he looked up to meet John’s eyes. “St. John, I have something to tell you.”

John’s stomach clenched. “You don’t think the writing is good enough for submission.”

“No, no. I believe the poems are ready — though of course I have no way of knowing if they would be accepted. However, after much consideration, I have decided it is not safe for you to make another public gesture of this kind now.”

John felt a chill go through his body. He stuttered, “B-but we talked about it, how you thought my writing was good and-and —”

“John, you are an underage runaway, named in a serious security breach last year.”

He thought about the incident in Times Square, his poetry and his name taking over the news crawler in front of thousands. “That wasn’t my idea! Not my fault!”

“No, but it was your name. Furthermore, I am most concerned that you will be connected with the death by fire of a gang leader named Samuel Nikkatyne last summer.” John’s mouth dropped open. Xavier nodded. “Yes, I have been doing some investigation on my own; but we need not discuss that matter now. Please understand, for your sake and the school’s, I cannot let you raise your profile in any way now.”

John couldn’t help it, he was on the verge of tears. “But that’s not fair. I-I worked so hard...”

“And that work is not wasted; not at all. Please think, John. You are very young. There is time for the legal issues to be resolved. There will be a time when you are not directly connected to public concern about mutants. Then, son, then —”

John jumped to his feet. “Then I’ll be 100 years old! Then I’ll have suffocated, buried under your stupid mansion!”

“John —”

“No! I-I’m late. For lunch. I have to go. Thanks, whatever.” He ran from the room. He wandered without direction, clutching his notebook tightly to his chest as if it would ward off further blows. It’s over, it’s over, his brain intoned monotonously.

He didn’t even know what his problem was! Who cared if his stupid poems that no one understood got into a journal no one had ever heard of! All his efforts suddenly seemed so banal, so pointless. Hours spent worrying a couplet like a cat worries a baby bird. Obsessing over minutiae: over “constancy” versus “certitude;” “bloodless clues” or “clubless blues.” Games! Scrabble masturbation! I mean, take Bobby, he thought. What does Bobby understand or care about The Harvest? About Rimbaud and Ginsberg? About St. John Fucking Allerdyce?

The noise of the cafeteria and the smell of tuna melts were upon him before he even realized he had gone in that direction. He looked at the smiling, laughing students. What did poetry mean to them? How would it make their lives any better?

“John!” Terry called, in an act of irony as cruel as it was unwitting. “That poem you read was so sad. I loved it! It reminded me of this really tragic manga I read.” She turned to Clarice, her hands dancing with excitement. “You know the one — the son of a famous astronaut is in love with this famous sumo wrestler...”

Case in point, John thought. The anger was building behind his eyes as he marched towards the food station. By the time he smashed his tray down on the table, he was ready to roast anyone who said anything stupid to him.

Terry, still bla-blabbing on: “That’s why poetry is so important. It brings your feelings to life.”

“Poetry is lies!” he said, much louder than he meant to, and people turned around. “Poets think if they twist the words, the universe will twist with them!” He was aware that he had an audience now. He liked it. “They invent a world as lame as any fantasy with unicorns and magic swords. They invent a world where ideals mean something, where devotion, philosophy, love actually carry the weight of… of natural disasters or physics or... fucking!”

Students giggled and guffawed. Up at the teachers table, Scott and Ororo looked up to see what was happening. John didn’t care. He loved it.

“Ideals do mean something,” Peter said and John glared at him, resenting the intrusion of the big guy’s calm certainty on his well-earned rant.

“No! They’re just words! They’re meaningless as... as marriage contracts, as stocks and bonds. Representation without foundation!”

“Words are power!” Tonio said from the next table. Tonio began rapping: “‘Today the world changes / The agents of change / Are strange and wide-ranging / Are angels made flesh!’ Yo! Represent!”

John jumped to his feet, eyes blazing. “I wrote those words, asswipe! They’re all lies!”

“The show is tomorrow, John,” Scott called out. “You can add yourself to the bill if you like. Now just sit down and have your lunch.”

John didn’t look Summers’s way. He imagined himself pulling out his lighter and sending a fireball blazing at the teacher’s head. Fwoosh! Instead he just smirked as if he’d said all there was to say. He picked up the tray of uneaten lunch and walked to the far end of the room where he sat himself down with Jones and Doug. At least they wouldn’t say anything terminally stupid — immature maybe, but nothing that would make him want to kill them.

He needed to calm down. Things were temporarily shitty, but he if he just held it together, he’d land on his feet again. He always did. He filled himself with warm lunch, and listened with an uncomprehending ear as Doug tried to explain his new idea for cybernetic networks based in ever-spreading bacterial cultures. It was weirdly soothing.

And then Rogue burst into the hall, scraping a chair into place beside Kitty and Rahne. “He just asked me! In the rose garden! I said yes!” Her words were meant for the two girls alone, but she was too excited to control her volume.

“Oh wow!” Rahne squealed and they hugged each other.

In fact, her voice was the loudest sotto voce in history and it penetrated John’s skull like a rusty coffin nail. “I’m Bobby’s boyfriend,” she told them. “I mean, he’s my boyfriend. I’m his girlfriend now! Officially!”

John grew very still. The whole world seemed to contract around him. Doug and Jones were debating the challenges of feeding the computer bacteria. The girls were asking for every little detail of the scene in the rose garden. Chairs bumped on hardwood, silverware rattled on plates and John’s heart beat louder than all of them. He didn’t know if anyone said anything to him or even saw him as he rose and walked stiffly from the room like a ghost haunting his own life.

As he walked alone through the empty corridors, he found himself trying to put the odd, contracted feeling into words; but all he could produce were empty prepositions, blank conjunctions devoid of context: ‘if...,’ ‘...or...,’ ‘...but…”

Poetry had failed him absolutely.

Chapter 25

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