Chapter 44: “Oh! You Pretty Things”
Oh! You pretty things
Don’t you know that you’re driving your mamas and papas insane?
Let me make it plain:
You gotta make way for the homo superior.
Bobby felt kind of dumb to have expected Los Angeles to be the same as San Francisco. Where the city by the bay was contained, charming, hilly and kissed by the Pacific’s moist lips, Los Angeles was a sun-roasted, patchwork scrawl. He had felt overwhelmed his first few days there, as he and the other Champions were carted around by the staff of Warren’s company, Lofty Conceptuals, from one end of town to the other. In one location they’d had medical tests, in another they had gone through a grueling fitness assessment. Elsewhere there had been R&D sessions with uniform designers who were working with burn-proof, freeze-proof, and bullet-proof materials. And there were team meetings at a well-staffed headquarters. Bobby liked going there, where he had his own smart card that let him into the different areas, and the staff that called him “Mr. Drake.”
Finally, there were appointments with a real estate specialist who took him and John all over town to see possible apartments. John was basically indifferent about where they lived, as long as he had a quiet room in which to write. But Bobby had immediately been smitten with North Hollywood and that’s where they had set up house, in a newly-built two-bedroom condo. John got more involved as they set up their space, and he was infinitely more passionate about the right furniture and the right colors than Bobby was. All in all, their different personalities complemented each other, and they soon had a real home that they could call their own. Between his position in the Champions and his new home with his boyfriend, Bobby felt amazingly mature.
It was now early May, and the hot spring seemed to be turning into hot summer. The change was subtle for someone used to real weather, but Bobby found that living in more or less constant sunshine buoyed his mood. Four half-days a week, they joined their teammates to train, and if Jubilee had been tough before, she was positively fanatical now. Warren said that there would be no missions before the summer, so Bobby chose not to think about the future at all and just enjoy life. What a welcome change!
He and John had time to learn the joys and challenges of a love that unfolded day by day, instead of in the dizzying rhythm of mad infatuation and sudden heartbreak. John was working on his new book, which meant Bobby had a lot of time on his own. He spent hours each day checking out his new city. Sometimes he joined Kitty or Jubilee for these excursions, but often he was his own company. Bobby began a renewed acquaintance with himself, learning who Bobby Drake was in the absence of school mates, endless responsibilities, and the wearying game of pleasing and impressing everyone around him.
Tuesday was a typical day. They awoke at 7:30, cuddled in bed, which led to jerking each other off, showered, did a short round of calisthenics, and dressed. John made them eggs and toasted English muffins, Bobby cleaned the kitchen after, (he was never neat enough to suit John’s standards). By then, 9 a.m. was rolling around and John was already looking at him impatiently. Bobby raced around the apartment, finding the things he wanted for the day his tunes, his book, his water bottle, his shades and stuffing them in his backpack while John booted up his laptop.
Bobby was still rinsing toothpaste out of his mouth as John called from his office with a familiar edge to his voice, “9:05, Drake!” 9:00 to 12:00 was writing time, and Bobby was officially banished from the apartment.
“I’m going. You know where we’re meeting for dinner?”
John grunted his response.
“John, it’s Kalimba’s on Wilshire. 6:30. If you need me to change that, call me before five. We’ll kill time somewhere until you can meet us.”
Bobby ran into the office, kissed his boyfriend and then turned and raced out the door.
He put on his headphones and sunglasses in the elevator. As the dance music pulsed through him, he bopped his way down the street. More than a few people checked him out. Many smiled. He seemed to have the knack of making people smile, and he was pretty sure it wasn’t because he looked like a dork. He liked their neighborhood because, unlike most of the city, you could actually get places on foot. Furthermore, they were close to the subway.
He found himself window-shopping as he walked, trying to find ways of justifying another new hat which called to him from a sportswear store. Snugger for outdoor training? Making sure the Champions always looked cool? Having a salary, he realized, was going to open up a dangerous new world of temptation.
The sun was rising higher in the sky. He knew the temperature on his skin was already 78F. He cooled it down a few degrees as he walked the three blocks to his favorite coffee shop, where the décor was all New York City kitsch. Bobby thought of himself enough of a New Yorker to be snobbily amused by it. The café was still hopping with the pre-work crowd, but he managed to grab the last of the little tables, where he sat down with his coffee and pulled out his book. As the hour passed, the place quieted down, and he became lost in the narrative. He happened to look up at one point when the door opened, and saw a man enter.
He had reddish curly hair and wore heavy-rimmed sunglasses whose lenses were almost black. Something about the way he sized up the room was very distinct, and to Bobby’s mind, weirdly familiar. The man saw Bobby and paused. Bobby closed his book and returned the stare for a few seconds before turning away, not wanting to be rude or provocative or whatever. Sure enough, after the man picked up a coffee from the counter, he came over and said, “Mind if I sit here?”
Bobby looked around. There were a couple of free tables in the back, but the man had chosen to join him.
“Uh, sure,” he said. The guy was clearly trying to pick him up. It felt awkward, but definitely exciting. There was a large gay community in North Hollywood, and though Bobby hadn’t gotten to know anyone, he felt comforted and kind of thrilled that they were there.
The man pulled off his glasses to reveal warm, caramel-colored eyes with long lashes. They had another moment of intense eye contact, and this time it was the man who turned away first. “How are the pastries here?” he asked.
Bobby nodded like a bobble-head doll. “Good, good. I like the lemon tarts.”
“I’ll have to try one.”
They went silent again. It was the weirdest conversation, as if there were some big thing sitting on the table between them.
Bobby thought the guy was pretty cute, but… “Listen,” he said, lowering his voice a bit. “I don’t think I can… I mean, I’d like to, but I have a boyfriend.” He was making himself more and more nervous, and the man’s eyes had gone wide. “I mean, we never officially agreed that we wouldn’t… with other people… but for now I just don’t think ”
The man pulled away, his chair scraping a bit. “Huh? No! No, I’m not… I’m straight! I mean, sorry, I didn’t mean to give you the impression that ”
“Oh! I just thought… Like when you came over… Oh fuck, I’m so dumb!” Bobby put his hands over his eyes. He looked up red-faced at the man who was blushing, too. They both laughed, and it took the edge off the awkwardness.
The man said, “No, I just saw you here. And you looked… Well, like someone I used to know. I just thought I’d come by and talk until my wife got here.”
Bobby shook his head at the absurdity of the situation. He thrust out a hand. “Bobby Drake.”
The guy took his hand and gave it a hearty shake. “Dennis. Dennis Mabee. Damn, I have to be careful how I approach people, now that I’m living in the big city. I’m not really up on, uh, gay mating signals.”
“Um, me neither, really. I’m kind of new to, you know, being gay. Or ‘out’ or whatever.”
Dennis looked at him with a real fondness, and Bobby wondered what was going through his head. He was in his late 20s, dressed a bit conservatively, but he didn’t seem to be peddling Jesus or anything. Dennis said, “Can I tell you something? I used to have a problem with homosexuals. I had a… a friend who confided in me. I wasn’t very nice to him.”
“Okay,” Bobby said, suddenly feeling like he was hearing a confession.
“I wish… I wish I could go back and tell him I’m sorry. It wasn’t about him, it was my own fear. Baggage from my youth.”
Bobby nodded. “Maybe he understood. If he was really your friend, he might have known that you were afraid. Is it too late to tell him?”
“Unfortunately, yeah.” Dennis looked sad, and Bobby wondered if his friend was dead.
“Well, sometimes all we can do is be better in the future.”
“Thanks, Bobby. You’re pretty wise for someone your age. Maybe you’re going to be a psychologist.”
Bobby laughed. “Actually, I’m thinking of going to school to become a social worker.”
“That’s great… Hey, there’s my wife!” He pointed out the window at a woman on the sidewalk who was looking around, as if lost. Dennis jumped to his feet and vanished out the door. He returned in a few seconds leading the short blonde by the arm. She was pregnant. Dennis was pointing him out to her, but she couldn’t see him until her eyes grew accustomed to the dimmer light inside the coffee shop. Bobby smiled, but the woman looked like she had seen a ghost.
Dennis and the woman walked over to the table, and maybe it had been Bobby’s imagination, because now she seemed totally normal.
“Bobby, this is my wife, Kathleen.”
Bobby stood up and pulled out a chair for her which she lowered herself into. “Thanks, Bobby,” she said with a little grunt. “Nice to meet you. Wow it’s hot! I need some water.” Dennis went to get it for her.
“When’s your baby due?” Bobby asked.
“Beginning of August. I already feel big as a house.”
“Maybe it’s twins!”
Dennis returned, putting the water down in front Kathleen who drank thirstily. “Nope,” he said. “Just one. A girl.”
Kathleen said, “We’re going to name her Rachel.”
Bobby nodded, feeling suffused with a kind of awed sweetness. “That’s a pretty name.” He looked at the couple who seemed so happy. Then something clicked. “Oh my God, I know who you are!”
Dennis and Kathleen looked at each other, as if this was unwelcome news.
Bobby said, “Sorry, I know it must be hard to be kind of semi-famous. You’re the coma couple, right?”
Dennis smiled as if this was funny. “That’s such an awful name. But yeah, guilty as charged. I just wish we could put that whole thing behind us and be different people.”
Bobby leaned towards them. “Don’t worry, this is Hollywood. You barely register on the celebrity meter. But, wow! I can’t believe it. John will be so mad he wasn’t here. He’s my boyfriend. He was kind of obsessed with you two!”
Kathleen clucked her tongue. “Not the healthiest obsession for a young man to have.”
“Yeah, well he’s a writer. He thought you guys were, you know, a metaphor.”
She looked down at his book on the table. “The Grapes of Wrath. Did he give you that to read?”
Bobby picked it up. “Yeah. He says I need to read more. If I want to help make the world a better place, I have to know more about it.”
Kathleen’s hand was slowly rubbing her round belly. “He sounds like a smart one.”
“Are you happy?” Dennis suddenly asked, and with such seriousness that Bobby was kind of taken aback.
“Yeah, I am,” he answered picking up the serious tone. “I haven’t been this happy since I was a kid.”
Dennis nodded. “That’s what we found out after we woke up in November. It’s never too late to start again.”
Kathleen said, “Honey, we better go; interview’s in an hour. He’s applying for a teaching position at a private school near here.”
Bobby and Dennis stood up, and Dennis helped Kathleen to her feet. “It was really great meeting you, Bobby,” she said and led her husband to the door. Dennis gave him one last indecipherable look before putting on his dark shades and disappearing into the sunshine.
Bobby tried to read some more, but his thoughts were too jumbled; thoughts of the future, of two careers: social worker and Champion. His phone buzzed. He checked the text that had just come in, smiled and got up to go. He took the subway to Westwood and climbed back into the sun. He sat down on a bench under a palm tree to wait. Soon, he heard his name being called, and looked up to see Mike Haddad striding his way, incongruous in his black leather against the whites and pastels all around them.
“Hey, dude!” Bobby yelled and jumped to his feet. They hugged and it felt like holding a bit of home in his arms.
“Nice hug,” Mike laughed. “We’re such Californians. Did you feel my aura?”
“Our chakras touched. Come on, we just have to walk a couple of blocks.”
“Is that legal in L.A.?”
They began to hike down the sidewalk, and Bobby found himself almost bouncing with excitement. “Yeah, if you don’t make a habit of it. I mean, I know up in Berkeley you’re only allowed to drive if the car runs on canola oil. When does your conference start?”
“Tomorrow morning, but we already had some strategy meetings this morning with local mutant activists. You guys should really get involved; they’re a great crew. We’re making plans with them to set up a network of hospices for cure-sickness victims.”
Bobby felt ashamed. “We don’t really have anything to do with the, uh, community.”
“I’m not surprised,” Mike said, shaking his head.
“What does that mean?” Bobby demanded.
“Sorry, it’s just something the activists say. They think the superheroes are all snobs.”
“We are not! Wait a minute, I’m not a superhero!”
Mike gave him a smug smile. “Oh no, of course not. So, how do you define your role in the mutant rights struggle? Direct action? Extreme civil disobedience?”
Bobby didn’t know how to react. Maybe he should be going to community meetings and protests. But he kind of thought Warren wouldn’t allow it. They were supposed to keep a low profile and focus their energies. “We’re here,” he told Mike as they stood in front of a small office building. “This is kind of our logistics center. It’s pretty cool.”
“Worthington Industries paying for this?” Mike asked, looking up at the façade of steel and glass.
“Well, yes and no.”
“We’re helping launch a class-action suit against them on behalf of cure victims.”
“Yeah, maybe you’ll keep that to yourself inside.”
Lofty Conceptuals took up the top four floors of the building; reception was on the lowest of these. Bobby signed Mike in as his guest, but before he could take him anywhere, the receptionist told him to wait for Mr. Leung. Bobby realized the tour was about to get a lot less carefree.
“Good morning, Mr. Drake,” said Leung, appearing from the inner offices in his crisp grey suit.
“Hi, Desmond,” Bobby said, trying to muster up as much charm as possible. “This is my friend, Mike. Mike, Desmond Leung, the, um, Operations Manager. I was just going to show Mike around, if that’s okay.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Drake. I would need authorization for that from Mr. Worthington.”
“Oh. We won’t be long… I just thought he’d be interested in the R&D labs and ”
Leung cut him off. “If you would like to show him the view from the boardroom, that would be fine. I could have Simone bring you refreshments.”
Bobby sagged. He felt like a total jerk busted trying to show off. He turned to Mike, embarrassed. “Uh, it’s a nice view. You want to?”
Mike smiled and shook his head, and Bobby was sure he was totally disgusted with him. “Sure, let’s see what L.A. looks like from the 12th floor.”
They sat down in the big leather board chairs and Mike spun his 360 degrees. Bobby said. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking the snobby superhero just got what was coming to him.”
Mike stopped spinning. “What? No! I was thinking that no matter where you go, who you are, you look down and find your feet snared in red tape. Jesus, Bobby, I don’t think you’re a snob! Hey, I’m a punk and a grass-roots activist from an upper middle-class family. I’m the one with the bogus sense of self-righteous entitlement.”
“I just wish I could have shown you the R&D room. They’re developing these cool weapons systems for us. And state-of-the-art tracking devices that ”
“Hey, I don’t care. No, really, I don’t even want to know about it.”
Bobby didn’t get it. “Why not?”
Mike stood and looked out the tinted windows at the sun-bleached city. “Your world isn’t mine, okay? I mean, I get that you think you’re doing good with all these battles and stuff, but while the good guys were duking it out with the bad guys on Alcatraz, the Berkeley Mutant Center was picketing a fast-food chain for firing all their mutant employees. They were escorting young mutants past lines of bullies with baseball bats so they could go to their local high schools.”
“But that’s great! Do you think I don’t support work like that? I would totally be there. I’d ice the bastards to the ground if they attacked the kids!”
“But why does it always come down to violence with you guys? That just escalates the situation! When the news is full of footage of Magneto fighting Ms. Monroe with lighting bolts and power beams, it’s that high school kid who gets beaten up the next day. Because he’s one of those ‘dangerous muties’ who has to be stopped for the sake of the human race!”
Bobby was astonished, filled with incoherent outrage. “But… but what are we supposed to do? Just let them kill us? Not fight the Friends of Humanity when they want to firebomb a mutant club, or the government when they’re building weapons to…” He stopped, knowing he wasn’t supposed to talk about that. He wished he could drag Mike into the strategy room, call up the Sentinel plans. Then, he’d see!
Just then, there was a knock on the door, and a woman came in with a tray of lemonade and a plate of fresh donuts. “Here you are, Mr. Drake. You and your friend take as much time as you like. Please remember to sign out at the front desk when you’re leaving.”
She stepped out and the two young men stood there in silence, not knowing how to return to civility.
Bobby finally put a hand on Mike’s shoulder and said, “Hey, I think my smart card will get us onto the roof. Grab your drink and I’ll bring the donuts.”
They stepped out into the hot, dry air and sat down in a shady corner.
“Look,” Bobby said, pointing. “From up here, you can just see the ocean.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a joint. He lit up and gratefully took a hit. He offered the joint to Mike, who shook his head.
“Straight edge,” he said. The sun was strong and he was already sweating. “Man, it’s hot!”
“Hold on,” Bobby said. “I have a new trick. I picked it up from Storm.” He concentrated on the air around them and created a bubble of cool, lowering the temperature 10 degrees.
Mike smiled. “I love having mutant friends. Listen, I’m sorry about what I said. I know you’re trying to do the right thing. Maybe I’m just bitter because Jubilee chose that life over our life together.”
“Do you think she’s going to come to dinner with us?”
“I still don’t know. She said she’d text me this afternoon. I kind of doubt it.”
Bobby took another toke, and felt the buzz settling in nicely. “How are things with… what’s her name? Twitch?”
“Long distance sucks, man. Anyway, she’s going to Smith in the fall and I’ll be at UC Berkeley. Maybe we should just give it up.”
“Hey, don’t give up on true love when you find it!”
“But I don’t know if it is ‘true love.’ Besides, man, there are a lot of seriously cute girls in the movement!”
Bobby smiled. “You get offers?”
“I get offers. What about you and John? Are things good?”
“Oh yeah, amazing.” The words came out sounding false. He made a little ice ball and began tossing it back and forth between his hands.
“Amazing, but…” Mike prompted.
He took another hit and held the pungent smoke as long as he could. Finally, he exhaled and said, “Last week, he found himself a therapist. Someone to talk to about stuff. He’s seeing her a couple of times a week.”
“Okay, that sounds like it would be good for him.”
“Do you think it’s about me? Do you think he’s seeing her because he’s not sure about me? About us?”
“Bobby, no! You know John. If he didn’t want to be with you, he’d be out the door. Look, I don’t want to tell you about your boyfriend, but I know you. Sometimes you see the happy parts in people, and you kind of skip over the sad parts.”
Bobby thought about this. It sounded true. But did that make him naïve or just optimistic? “So, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that John has, like, an ocean of sadness inside him. He doesn’t want us to see it and he doesn’t want our sympathy, but it’s there. Maybe he’s finally realizing that you can drown in that kind of ocean if you don’t do something about it.”
An ocean of sadness. It hurt just to think about it. Bobby pinched out the remaining stub of his joint and put it away. “But I should be the one to help him. I’m the one who loves him.”
“You do help him. Just by loving him you help.”
“How do you know, Mike? Maybe I suck at relationships. I mean, look what I did to Rogue!”
“You don’t suck, dude. And that wasn’t a real relationship. That was just… a decoy. And hey, I know all about you and relationships. You’ve always been a good friend to me.”
Bobby looked away. The temperature had crept back up, and he lowered it again for them. “Let’s eat our snack,” he said, reaching for the plate.
The donuts were soft, sweet and good.
Mike grinned, his mouth dusted in icing sugar. “We sure are a long way from Boston, dude.”
Bobby looked across the city and felt his heart lighten again. “Yeah, maybe the Pacific was supposed to be our ocean the whole time. Maybe this is home.”
“Yeah, maybe it is,” Mike said. “For now, anyway.”
Below them, the cars and pedestrians hurried from one urgent appointment to the next. Soon the two young men would have to hurry, too, catching hold of the reins of their swiftly surging lives, riding them into the unknown future. But for a brief, suspended moment, they could just stop and appreciate the view.
February 20, 2010.
Toronto, New York, Burlington, Northern India, Southern Portugal
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