Continued directly from Part 1....
Outside, I paused to light a cigarette. I hadn't wanted to smoke in
someone's nice house, but I needed the nicotine to calm me and was
finishing it as I reached Warren's gold Boxster. I noted Jean's
wrinkled nose, and dropped the butt on asphalt, crushing it out
before getting into the back seat. "So where are we going?" I asked.
"Anywhere but here," Jean said from her place at shotgun as Warren
slipped behind the wheel. I eyed him, to judge his sobriety, but he
seemed all right.
"Actually," he said, starting the engine, "I want to go somewhere
I've never been, do something I've never done."
"What? Visit Wal-Mart?"
Warren laughed at that. "Believe it or not, I've been to Wal-Mart.
And an A&P, too." He turned in the seat to look at me. "You know
how to bowl?"
"Well . . . yeah," I replied cautiously. "You don't?"
I shook my head. The mental image of Warren in rented bowling shoes
and a hand-made British suit was ludicrous. But I liked it. "Jean
-- you know any bowling alleys in Westchester?"
She scrunched up her nose in thought, like a pensive rabbit. "New
Roc City in New Rochelle? It's not just a bowling alley, it's sort
of an indoor boardwalk. They even have ice-skating."
"Perfect," Warren said, and threw the car in gear.
And it was perfect. Plebian entertainment with upper class
pretensions and strung white lights above a brick street,
cotton-candy-colored neon billboards, and wall-to-wall people. We
stood out in our nice evening clothes, but not too much. There were
Goths and Geeks, Grunge and Preps, and everything in between. Jean
hooked her arms through Warren's and mine, and dragged us past
arcades and restaurants and shops, directly to the neon-blacklit
bowling alley. "Here it is."
Warren was still looking back up the sidewalk. "Was that laser tag?
I want to go play laser tag."
"We can visit the fun house later," Jean said, and pushed the door
open, hauling him inside.
So under purple neon, I taught Warren to bowl, as he'd once taught me
to golf -- taught them both to bowl, really. It took us a while to
find a ball with holes small enough for Jean's slender fingers. She
had to doff her heels to put on the shoes, and that made her sequined
dress drag the floor, and Warren looked very silly in a dark suit and
two-toned bowling shoes. So did I, for that matter.
It didn't matter. We had fun. Most of Warren's balls went down the
gutter, and too many of Jean's went backwards, flung off her fingers
in the wrong direction by the weight. After a while, we started
calling "Fore!" when she'd step up to take her turn. She made faces
at us. I beat them both -- twice -- even though they played as a
team against me. We ate generic, greasy pizza and toasted the new
year with coke. Jean gave us both a kiss -- on the cheek only, but I
was charmed. Later, we went down to the arcade to play laser tag,
which was laughable in suits and Jean's evening dress. We wound up
tangled on the floor at one point like puppies, laughing so hard we
couldn't even sit up.
It was the first time in a very long time that I could remember
enjoying myself so purely, and all without chemical assistance. By
the time we left, it was three in the morning, and Jean had an arm
around both of our waists . . . and it was okay. I didn't mind.
That was the birth of the Three Mutant Musketeers, as Jean dubbed us.
I protested that I wasn't a mutant, but she just looked at me with
half-lidded amusement. "You knock Cerebro off the scale, Scott, and
I've seen the DNA tests Henry ran on you. You're a mutant."
"So why haven't I manifested any �talent' then?"
"I don't know; maybe you have and we just haven't figured out what it
"Maybe he's going to be latent," Warren said.
"Maybe," Jean agreed. "But I doubt it. We don't blow Cerebro's
gasket, War. I've never seen anyone except Charles himself affect
Cerebro's readouts like Scott does."
I didn't reply, but her words troubled me deeply, in part because the
professor had never told me this. Once, I would've attributed
sinister motives to that concealment, but I'd learned since to trust
-- at least to a point -- and was willing to grant Xavier the benefit
of the doubt. Maybe he'd just been afraid to alarm me.
And what did it mean, what she'd said? That I sent Cerebro off the
scale? What did that make me?
Dangerous, maybe. It put a damper on my frivolous mood. To make
matters worse, we were caught in traffic on the way home, even at
that early-morning hour, due to a pile-up on the highway involving a
semi and at least three cars. Both lanes were blocked for almost
half an hour as they brought in helicopters and emergency vehicles.
Eventually, we were able to move forward and get past the site of the
accident, marked off by pink flares in the dark. A morbid curiosity
made us stare as we crawled solemnly by. One car lay upside down and
another had the roof peeled back like the top of a sardine tin. I
wondered what the people in those cars had been doing just before the
impact. Had they been laughing like we had earlier? Had they been
happy? Had they made New Year's resolutions that would go
Death and life were a mystery. One year dies and a new one is born.
An old life crumbles and a new one rises. I leaned back against the
rear seat and thought about my own promises to myself, my
resolutions, and the games I'd been playing about the state of my own
health. 'Don't ask, don't tell.' Was it futile to remake yourself
when you carried the seeds of your own destruction in your blood?
I'd never escape my old life, not entirely, and I probably wouldn't
But I wanted to live. *"I want more life. I can't help myself, I
do."* The words from that play, ANGELS IN AMERICA, spun around
inside my skull. Could I make whatever time I had left be enough?
Could I have enough life? And I was suddenly fed up with my own
attempts to avoid what I already knew. Wasn't part of living facing
When we returned, the professor was up waiting, worried, but he could
see that we were all as sober as priests. "There was a big
accident," Warren said, face tired as he jiggled his keys. "The cops
shut down the highway for a while, to bring in the medical choppers.
I know -- we should have called. Sorry. We just didn't think about
Xavier nodded, accepting that, though he clearly wasn't happy with
us. "You're safe. That's what matters. Go to bed, children." So
we did, but the sun was rising on a new year by the time I laid my
head on my pillow.
When I rose, it was already after noon. I showered, dressed, then
hung up the suit I'd left spread across a chair the night before.
The jacket smelled faintly still of body odor, cigarettes and cotton
candy, greasy pizza and Jean's perfume. Dry cleaning was in order,
but part of me regretted the need. These were the scents of my own
awakening. I wasn't numb anymore.
Shutting the closet door, I went down to find the professor, or
better yet, Hank. I figured that he'd be back from the hospital by
now, and he was. I located him in the kitchen, eating a bowl of
cereal and looking exhausted. No one else was in the room. Getting
coffee, I seated myself across from him at the eat-in table. "Good
morning," he said, but his heart wasn't in it.
"You look dead beat."
"I am. We had four trauma calls last night, one right after the
other, the worst at the end. Decapitation. Seven teenagers in one
car. Apparently, it spun out of control, crossed the median, and
went under a semi trailer -- peeling the top right off, and six heads
with it. The only one to survive was a girl who'd been lying down
across laps in the backseat."
"We saw it."
His head jerked up. "What?"
"Not the accident, but the cars -- yeah. On the way back from New
Rochelle last night. The accident had traffic backed up for miles.
By the time we got up there, the ambulances were all gone, but the
cars weren't. There were at least two others, plus the truck."
He nodded. "The chief car struck another, and yet a third car
slammed into the back of the semi when the driver put on the brakes
suddenly. There were two other fatalities, and several serious
injuries. The truck driver walked away." He shook his head. "I was
never made to deal with this sort of thing, Scott. Give me a problem
to solve, but don't give me a body to patch up that is past repair."
His big hands were shaking, and seeing the normally irrepressible
Hank so distraught moved me. Reaching out spontaneously, I offered
him my own hand to grip. He did so, studying my face in surprise.
"You're welcome." And given his evening, I was reluctant to ask him
my next question, although it was why I'd come looking for him in the
first place. It was time to stop avoiding the issue. "Hank, I need
to know -- am I HIV positive?"
Sitting back, he released my hand and his face went still. "What
brought this up?"
"I'm tired of playing ostrich."
His eyes held mine for a full minute, then he nodded. "Yes, you
It was a dull blow, one I'd been prepared for, but a blow
nonetheless. Until a fact is confirmed, there's always a fraction of
doubt. Of hope.
"But," Hank went on, "you're showing no signs of developing AIDS, or
even ARC. You may never develop it. We still don't entirely
understand the virus, Scott."
I nodded. I knew all that. "Can you give me anything preventive for
"I already have been. What do you think those drug cocktails are
that I feed you periodically?"
And I nodded again. I suppose I'd suspected that as well, but I
simply hadn't asked questions. "I need to know something else. Jean
told me you've done a DNA scan on me." He eyed me, then nodded.
"And she says I have the X-gene."
"So why hasn't it manifested? Don't most mutants manifest by my
"Many do, yes. But it's all very new. There's a lot that we don't
fully understand yet."
"But I am a mutant."
"Genetically speaking, you are a mutant."
Standing, I pushed in my chair. "Thank you." And after pouring
fresh coffee, I headed out.
"Scott -- " Hank called behind me. I glanced back. "That is all you
wanted to know?"
"Yeah, that's all. Go get some sleep, Monkey Toes. And thanks."
My next objective was Xavier himself, but before I found him, I
stumbled over Jean and Warren in the den, watching football. "Hey --
the dead walk," Warren said without turning to look at me, but he was
I didn't reply, but did decide that Xavier could wait, and entered to
join them. Jean scooted over, making room for me on the couch even
though there were empty chairs for me to take. Even a week before,
I'd have taken a chair. Now, I sat down beside her, Warren on her
other side. "What are we watching?"
"Rose Bowl," Warren answered. "Northwestern versus Southern Cal.
Second quarter; Southern Cal is winning." Despite his thoroughly
blue-blood background, Warren took college football seriously. I
could've cared less myself, but I liked sitting here with them, doing
what other Americans did on New Year's Day. The easiness we'd
learned together the night before was still evident the morning
after, and the restless jealousy that I'd felt for Jean ever since
her arrival seemed to have vanished like a morning fog burned off by
the heat of the rising sun. I'd learned to like her last night -- to
like her a lot, in fact. Everyone else at the mansion but Jean was
aware of what I'd been before, and I needed to know that she couldn't
guess, that it wasn't obvious, that I wasn't branded. I could start
over with primary colors.
Oddly, my cell phone rang at that very moment. I'd forgotten that I
was even carrying it, much less that I'd turned it on. Warren and
Jean both glanced at me in curiosity and I shrugged, pulling it out
and opening it to say, "Hello?"
But the line hummed silent. "Fine," I said after ten breaths. "I
didn't want to talk to you either." And shutting the phone, I turned
it off, leaving it on the end table.
So we all sat together to watch the Rose Bowl, and ordered pizza
delivery from a local Domino's. Hank had no doubt gone to bed, but
the professor joined us at halftime. I glanced at him when he
entered -- a measuring look. He didn't respond to that immediately,
but after the topping choices for the pizza had been settled on, he
sent into my head, *You wished to speak with me?*
*Yeah, I do,* I sent back. *But not now. Right now, I want . . .
this. I want to watch football with my friends and eat pizza.*
And I could feel his pleasure at that. *By all means, Scott. Happy
After the game was over, however, Xavier and I left while Warren and
Jean watched endgame commentary, and Xavier took me up to his own
bedroom suite. Once, I might have made certain assumptions, and
panicked, but not now. It was early evening, and inside, he offered
me a seat by the burning fireplace, in a big pine-green wing chair,
and set about making tea on the lowboy under a window. Outside, I
could see the reflected glow from the Christmas lights that Hank and
I had strung early in December. Not elegant white, but bright and
multi-hued. "White is so dull and predictable," Xavier had said,
"and Christmas is all about brilliance."
So we'd strung the whole mansion with old-style, large-bulb light
sets in shades of red and blue, green and orange. "It looks like a
Chinese whore-house," I'd told Hank later. But I liked the colors.
Brilliance, indeed. And there was nothing about this place even
remotely like a whore-house. I ought to know.
When the tea was done, he brought me a cup -- ever gracious. It was
fixed with milk and sugar the way I liked it, and one reason that I'd
come to trust Charles Xavier was because he served me, like Jesus
washing the feet of his disciples. I was a human being to him,
worthy of respect, and there were days I wanted to cry for that.
"Thank you," I said now.
"You're quite welcome," he told me. "And feel free to smoke, Scott.
Not in the rest of the mansion, but these are my rooms, and I don't
always feel like going outside for a pipe."
I smiled at that. "Maybe I should take up the pipe instead of
"Maybe you should."
I laughed. I'd been joking, but somehow, the idea lodged in my head.
Shaking out a cigarette, I lit it, then held it straight up to stare
at the burning tip. An ugly habit. Jean had never said as much last
night, but I'd been able to read the thought clearly in her face, and
it suddenly mattered to me. Even Warren didn't smoke much. It was
just me. Nicotine, coffee and chocolate. My addictions.
"There are worse things," Xavier said, obviously having followed
that. "It's the same molecule, you know, rotated -- caffeine and
Raising the cigarette to my lips, I took a drag, then crushed it out
in the ashtray on the end table. It left a dark streak on clear
glass. Xavier watched me.
"What is troubling you, Scott?"
"Jean said I send Cerebro off the scale. And Hank says I'm a mutant.
Genetically, anyway. Why didn't you tell me all this shit?"
I glanced up. "When?"
"I've told you this since you first arrived. I never concealed the
fact that you were a mutant. It was you who were unready to hear."
I pondered that. He was right. From my very first day in
Westchester, he'd said I was like them, but I hadn't believed him.
"You didn't tell me I sent Cerebro off the scale, though."
"Scott, consider this logically -- if you were resisting the
knowledge that you were a mutant of any type, do you think you would
have believed me if I'd told you that you were one of the most
powerful mutants I've ever encountered?"
He had a point, and I snorted, still staring at the streak of ash in
the ashtray. "So what does that mean? Sending Cerebro off the
"Not quite off the scale," he corrected lightly. "But you are a very
high-level alpha mutant. More than that, I can't say, since we're
not entirely sure what your mutation is. All that Hank and I can
determine, at this point, is that it will be of the physical variety,
instead of the psychic."
"You mean I'm going to change. Like Hank, or Warren."
"Perhaps; perhaps not. And how, we aren't sure. We think your
mutation involves your ocular nerves -- your eyes. But frankly, even
now, Henry is unable to get a clear reading of anything above your
jaw in X-Rays, or even in CAT scans." His grin was faint. "Whatever
your body does, Scott, our equipment doesn't seem to like it."
"But I am a mutant."
"You most certainly are."
And this time, I believed. I think I wanted to believe, in fact. I
*wanted* to be like them, these people who'd adopted me as their own.
But I still wasn't. "What if my power *never* manifests?" I asked.
"I mean, Warren said something about me being 'latent.' What if
that's all it is? What if I never get any powers?"
Would they make me leave?
Bending forward in his chair, Xavier clasped his hands between his
knees, and caught and held my eyes. "It doesn't matter, Scott. This
is your home. Even if you didn't carry the genetic code, this would
still be your home. You will always have a place here. Always."
And that broke me. After all these years, after living tenuously in
foster homes and surviving on the street, the word 'home' had an
almost mythic power that was difficult to convey. *Home.* I was
home. This was my family. I *belonged*.
Hiding my face in my hands, I wept, and I could hear the squeak-grind
of Xavier's chair as he moved it up next to my seat, then his hand
fell on my head, stroking my hair. "Be my father," I choked out.
"Please be my father." It sounded pathetic and small, but it rose
from a grand canyon of loneliness. All I wanted was to be loved.
"Be my father."
I felt his arm go around my shoulders to pull me in. Eyes still
squeezed shut, I slid off the seat to lay my head in his lap. *Not
flesh of my flesh, not bone of my bone, but still miraculously my
own*, he said into my mind. "I'll never have a son," he whispered
aloud, hand still stroking my hair. "But if I could, I'd want him to
be just like you."
Feedback is always appreciated.
#7 in "Special" will be "Diamonds in the Rough."
(When will it be out? I have no idea.)
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