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"The Inexplicable Quality of Life In The Age of Dairy Queens", by trismegisus

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  • katetshoni
    Argh. Stupid subject line cut me off mid-sentence. Anyway. Title: The Inexplicable Quality of Life In The Age of Dairy Queens Author: trismegistus Rating:
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 21, 2003
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      Argh. Stupid subject line cut me off mid-sentence. Anyway.

      Title: The Inexplicable Quality of Life In The Age of Dairy Queens
      Author: trismegistus
      Rating: PG-13 for a little swearing, sexual innuendo, and Marie
      playing with pancake syrup.
      Characters: John, Bobby, Marie
      Summary: John and Marie and Dairy Queens in the middle of the desert.
      Sequel to <a href="http://homepages.nyu.edu/~jmt269/cdts.htm">Chase
      Down The Sun</a>, but it'll probably still make sense even if you
      haven't read it before.
      Miscellany: Jack Kerouac, Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty and On The Road
      don't belong to me.

      ***

      a new world shattering the silence
      there's a new world I'm afraid to see
      a new world louder every moment
      come to me, come to me

      ("Opening The New World," Songs for a New World, Jason Robert Brown)

      Alamogordo was a fistful of coins tossed upon the desert sand, a few
      perfect, glittering circles that punctuated the endless New Mexico
      plains.

      Marie thought it looked quaint, homey, like a place that couldn't
      have been the site of an atomic detonation half a century ago. Logan
      laughed and asked her what she knew about what should have and could
      have been witness to atomic fire, and when Marie grinned and reached
      out a hand to touch his cheek he waggled his eyebrows at her and told
      her to be done with her business by noon.

      He dropped her off on the outskirts of the city, right where the 54
      and the 70 gave up and yielded to surface roads and blacktop. Marie
      flipped Logan off with both hands as he spun away in a riot of smoke
      and thunder; after he had diminished in size into a mote on the
      horizon, she smiled and turned on her heel. She listened to The
      Polyphonic Spree's Beginning Stages Of as she walked--track
      nine, "Light & Day/Reach for the Sun."

      She peeled off her jumper and tucked it into the knapsack slung over
      her shoulder; then, taking a few furtive glances about herself to
      make sure she was alone, she shimmied out of her jeans and slipped on
      a pair of cut-offs that slung low off her hips. If she couldn't reach
      for the sun like Tim DeLaughter exhorted her to do, then at the very
      least she would allow that brilliantly burnished orb as much purchase
      upon her body as she could afford.

      The city was slow around Marie, languid, and caught around her like
      spiderwebs. Alamogordo was fairly large, larger than most of the
      squatters' towns that she and Logan had been to in the past two
      weeks, but it had enough of the township feel about it that some
      things awakened familiar sentiments in her. Memories propagated
      themselves along the length of phantom synapses in her mind. Store
      signs looked hand-painted, and the gravel road seemed to lead as far
      into the city as its main byways. She half expected to see boys
      playing stickball in the streets.

      She bought an M&M Blizzard at a Dairy Queen with an Alamogordo
      Chamber of Commerce Member sticker affixed to its sliding door. The
      air conditioning stiffened the hackles on the back of her neck. Cold
      air pressed against the dapples of sweat on her arms, her legs, the
      lean and glossy muscles under her abbreviated shirt.

      The cashier, a gangly teen with acne that more resembled a latent
      mutation than the outward manifestation of an active adolescence,
      gawked at her when she paid for her Blizzard with a hundred dollar
      bill, and had to call in his manager to break the note.

      Marie looked around. The Queen was deserted, aside from a few early
      morning sugar addicts whetting their palates. "Don't suppose any of
      y'all could tell me where the Super 8 is 'round these here parts,
      could you?" she asked.

      ***

      John had already been up for half an hour when the phone rang.

      He cursed and dropped his razor into the basin--straight-edge,
      naturally, because John's jawline deserved the best, and never mind
      that Bobby snickered and called him a fancy boy whenever he shaved
      (and John still wasn't quite sure how that was an insult, but there
      you had it), the razor did its job and did it admirably. John's
      cheeks were, on a regular basis, soft and smooth like the proverbial
      infantile backside.

      The downside to shaving with a straight-edge, of course, was that it
      was damnably easy to cut yourself along precariously vital arteries
      when startled, like John had very nearly done just now. Blood began
      welling along the thin, shallow cut almost instantly, and John
      scrambled to apply a few sheets of toilet paper to his throat.

      He panicked. A few wisps of visceral fear rose from his stomach and
      into the back of his throat.

      Logically, John knew several things: they had specifically requested
      not to be bothered by inquiring motel staff. It couldn't be a wake-up
      call, he hadn't arranged for one since the unpleasantness in Oklahoma
      City with Bobby and the pillows.

      Chances were it wasn't Magneto, either; the threat of Magneto hunting
      them down and dismantling them like toy soldiers had faded once
      they'd made it past the effective boundaries of the man's networks
      (and never mind that John still went to bed with his lighter left
      within arm's reach, because logically they were safe, logically), and
      besides, in his years of running with the Brotherhood, John had never
      known Magneto to do something so foolhardy as to announce his
      presence and his intentions beforehand with a telephone call.

      Conversely, Xavier would never violate their privacy by tracking them
      down and contacting them; if he hadn't done so when John had first
      left for the Brotherhood, him a minor under Xavier's legal custody
      and fighting on the opposite side of The Great Struggle, then surely
      the man's vaunted ethics were even now preventing him now from
      enacting Big Brother: the Mutant Years.

      After several long moments of ringing, during which John thought two
      things simultaneously (one: that if it was Magneto, then why wasn't
      John already bent, broken and twisted in on himself like Plastic Man
      during an orgasm?, and two: how the hell could Bobby sleep through
      all those rings?), he picked up the receiver.

      Maybe it was just the hotel, reminding them about check-out time.
      Or...something, even if he couldn't quite place what that something
      was just right now. Yeah, John thought, it was all about the
      something; it could have been any of a dozen other somethings, none
      of which necessarily were homicidal mutant overlords or meddling
      telepathic schoolmasters. "Hello?" He struggled to keep his voice
      steady and even.

      The voice on the other end of the line didn't help much. "Hey, John.
      Miss me much?"

      ***

      Marie was pleased; she counted to twelve before she heard John speak
      again, and even then his voice sounded like it was held in check by
      some supreme act of willpower.

      "Marie," he said slowly, "is that you?"

      She laughed. "No, it's Mystique. I'm working for Con Edison now,
      we're doin' person-to-person surveys. How's your electricity service
      been lately?"

      That got him. The hesitancy in his voice vanished, flushed out in an
      audible exhalation of breath. "Shit, Marie, what are--"

      She cut him off before the flood of expository questions could drown
      her. "I'm at the DQ down on White Sands; meet me here in half an
      hour?"

      "Wait, when? The Dairy Queen is down the block from me, I can be
      there in five."

      "It is? Hold on a sec, lemme ask--yeah, no, Stan says that there's
      another one right next to you. I'm at a different one, a couple miles
      down th'road from you."

      "Stan? Who's Stan?"

      She smiled prettily over her shoulder at the pimply-faced boy who,
      even now, slyly attempted to make eye contact with her. "Stan," she
      said, "is a peach and a dear who was ever so kind enough to let me
      use the DQ's phone to call an old friend. Ain't that right, Stanley
      sugar?"

      The boy, who had been busy mopping the floor behind the counter,
      dropped his instrument with a clang. A sharp, managerial voice sniped
      at Stan, who attempted to stammer an apology, clean up the spilled
      bucket of water, and bat his eyelashes at Marie simultaneously.

      Over the phone, John snickered. "Right. Stan."

      Marie smiled a wicked sickle smile. "Y'hear that, John? Look what
      you've gone and done to poor ol'Stan just now." She hopped up onto
      the counter, and crossed her legs. Behind her, she thought she heard
      a slight, strangled moan escape Stan's lips. "So you'll meet me here
      in half an hour?"

      ***

      "All right, half an hour."

      John set the receiver back down in its cradle without waiting for
      Marie to hang up, and stifled the urge to pull his hair out in large
      clumps. He took in a breath, resigned, like he had believed up until
      that moment that it had been possible, just possible, for him and
      Bobby to wheel together, undiscovered, across the painted sky. He
      cupped his palms around his face and moaned into his hands; fuck, he
      should have imagined that somebody would have found them by now.

      Even if it hadn't been Xavier or Magneto, police organizations across
      the nation were looking for him. They'd been careful not to break any
      laws on their trek cross-country, aside from the regrettable incident
      with the traffic officer and the truckload of corn ears in Wichita,
      but John was still wanted for arson, assault, several million
      dollars' worth of property damage on the eastern seaboard and one
      instance of grand theft auto that had nothing to do with Playstations.

      Probably crimes against humanity on top of that, knowing his luck.

      He had been a rising star on the FBI's most wanted list (granted, as
      part of a package deal with the Brotherhood, but still, he had a
      poster; it had his name on it and everything, with a small four
      sentence blurb detailing his physical attributes, which was more than
      most men thrice his age could claim), and actively pursued by the
      CIA, the NSA, the Department of Justice and NASA, after Magneto's
      harebrained jaunt to Cape Citadel went awry. The Brotherhood had
      fought with that new propaganda outfit headed by Captain America, and
      last he'd heard Nick Fury was very interested in breakfasting with
      any and, preferably, all members of Magneto's little cabal. So far,
      through some confluence of caution, skill and dumb luck, they'd
      evaded them all, but now, John realized, he should have been a little
      more aware of the possibility of somebody interrupting their little
      race with the sun.

      Marie calling them from a Dairy Queen at 8:30 in the morning, though--
      all right, John thought generously, maybe he couldn't have foreseen
      that after all.

      Across the room from him, Bobby snored. One of his arms swung like a
      lazy pendulum over the edge of his bed. A puddle of his drool had
      collected next to his cheek, and tufts of his duck-fluff hair glowed
      in the early morning light.

      Shaking his head, John slipped on a pair of jeans. No sense in
      keeping Marie waiting.

      ***

      New Mexico brought out the worst in him on every level, John decided.
      Walking two and a half miles in triple-digit weather wasn't just bad
      for his temperament, it was playing merry havoc with his wardrobe;
      after fifteen minutes of dragging his feet in the swirl of dust and
      disorder that the residents of Alamogordo called their city, sweat
      stains blemished the back of his shirt and his pant legs stuck to the
      insides of his thighs like greasy wax paper. His breaths grew heavy
      and taxed. Silently, John pronounced a host of curses upon Bobby for
      driving them into Alamogordo with the emergency gas light flickering
      a mad series of Morse code distress calls the entire way through
      ("How was I supposed to know it would give up the ghost before we got
      to the motel?").

      Marie was perched upon the Dairy Queen's handicap railing when John
      showed up, her long limbs glistening with a pearly sheen all along
      their length. She scooped a few final spoonfuls of Blizzard into her
      mouth before hopping down and tossing the cup into a waste bin.

      John raised a hand in salutation towards Marie; he tried to gasp for
      breath while retaining his veneer of cool, but suspected that the
      effort instead made him look like an asphyxiated fish.

      She opened her arms, showgirl-wide. "You gonna hug me, or do I have
      to do it myself?"

      He panted. "Depends--you gonna let me catch my breath first?"

      They embraced gingerly, unsure and from the shoulders, like brittle-
      boned old women. John kept his face away from the fall of her hair;
      his hands pressed against the back of her tanktop.

      He smirked. "You know that made no sense, right? 'You gonna hug me,
      or do I have to do it myself?' That has got to be the lamest reunited-
      and-it-feels-so-good quip I've ever heard."

      "Shut up," she said, lightly. She shoved him away and smoothed down
      an errant lick of her hair. Her smile, genuine and crooked and full
      of warmth, swam across her face, and for the first time the thought
      bloomed in John's mind that perhaps this wasn't such a bad thing,
      Marie finding them in the middle of the desert like this.

      "I'm serious. That was pretty fucking retarded."

      "Shut up."

      "You couldn't even say something like, oh John love of my life, my
      light, my inspiration, it's great to be back in your arms once more?"

      "I'm not a big fan of lyin' through my teeth like that, John."

      "Ouch."

      "So what're y'all doin' in the middle of Podunk, New Mexico?"

      "Thought a change of scenery might be nice. Besides, Bobby's never
      been out west; can you believe that, he's never been past Chicago
      before? And him with his dog-eared copy of On The Road and
      everything."

      "Huh. Should've figured that's what all this was. Which one of y'all
      is Sal and which one is Dean?"

      "Hey, it was Bobby's idea to come down Route 66. I just wanted to get
      out west as soon as possible."

      Marie nodded. "So you're Paradise, then. Funny, I never would've
      pegged Bobby as a beatnik."

      "I guess." John shoved his hands in his pockets, thumbs out. On
      anybody who didn't walk with John's swagger, the affectation would
      have looked absurd, theatrical; on him, he figured that it looked
      about right.

      They entered an IHOP that, mercifully, was all of two blocks away
      from the Dairy Queen; he didn't know if it was some compassionate
      streak in Marie that had directed her to steer them to an eatery that
      was within staggering distance, but frankly, he didn't care; he
      collapsed in their booth with the faintest shreds of his dignity
      flapping forlornly in the IHOP's climate-controlled breeze.

      Their waiter was a slim, svelte man who looked out of place in a blue
      pancake server's shirt; he wore black horn-rimmed glass and sensible
      yet stylish black loafers. John ordered country biscuits, with extra
      gravy. Marie had a Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity, with cinnamon apples
      and Vermont maple syrup.

      "What?" she said defensively, when John raised an eyebrow at
      her. "It's the best thing on the menu here, all right? They give ya
      two of everythin', plus fruit. I love fruit."

      "Okay, but--Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity? Shouldn't you be wearing a
      cowboy hat when you say that out loud?"

      Marie snorted, and raised a hand to cover her face. "I missed you,
      John," she said, apro of nothing. Their waiter brought them two
      steaming mugs--his coffee, hers some sort of tea that the
      International House of Pancakes tried to pass off as an English
      Breakfast.

      He tore open a few packets of sugar and stirred them into his
      mug. "I've missed you too, Marie." He coughed once, loudly, and waved
      a hand at their waiter. "'Scuse me, could we get some creamer over
      here? Thanks."

      ***

      They ate their breakfast in silence; after the initial flush of
      giddiness that had washed over them at their reunion, an awkward
      quiet draped itself over the two of them and left them glumly staring
      at their breakfasts. John was unsure of the level of this
      conversation. What sort of conversational gambit could he employ, to
      inspire Marie towards whatever goal she'd had in mind when she
      called?

      It was Marie who finally broke the silence. "Y'all have been moving
      around a lot lately." She dug a list out of one pocket, and laid it
      down on the table; on it, John saw the names of several cities and
      towns that he and Bobby had stopped at over the past few
      days. "Carlsbad, eh?"

      He grimaced. "Bobby wanted to see the caverns."

      "You gave him shit over that, didn't you?" She leaned forward and set
      her chin down on one fist.

      "Called him a doe-eyed tourist and bought him a t-shirt that
      said 'I'm Crazy for Carlsbad!' on it."

      "You didn't." She laughed. "Wait, no, of course you did."

      "Course I did. The lettering's in neon, too." John palmed his Zippo,
      moved his hands around in circles like a magician forcing a French
      cut, then produced it again with a flourish a moment later. "You
      should've seen him in there, though. Did you know he loves geology? I
      didn't. He kept on going on and on about salt water rock formations
      and the difference between stalactites and stalagmites."

      "A what and a say that again?"

      "Dude, my point exactly. But Bobby, he wouldn't shut up. He loves
      that geology of his. Who loves geology?"

      Marie said, "Kind of hard to fall in love with fault lines," and John
      gave her a wide and open grin in exchange.

      "Again, my point exactly." He up-ended the creamer into his coffee
      and swirled his spoon in it till it turned a soft, caramel
      color. "We've got an every other week sort of process in place; he
      got Carlsbad last week, I get Tularosa tomorrow."

      "Tularosa?"

      He described it for her, a great ringed valley with chalk-colored
      lizards scuttling all across its scuffed and beaten-down crags, and
      spilling out of its center and consuming the land around them the
      sloping hills and ever-shifting dunes of a gypsum desert. White sand,
      true white sand, an endless inland sea of granulated sugar and
      cocaine.

      "You want to come with?" he offered, casual-like, off-hand.

      She shook her head, pursed her lips. "Nah, Logan'll be looking for
      me. He's gonna be expectin' me tonight."

      "Ahh." John turned, and fixed her with a look of uncommon
      intensity. "The art teacher around here right now?"

      Her eyes were solemn as she nodded. "Yeah, he'll be swingin' by
      in 'bout an hour to bring us all back to the mansion."

      He started, and dropped his lighter into a puddle of gravy. He opened
      his mouth preparatory to some sort of indignant yelp, when Marie lost
      her composure and started laughing in delight.

      John fumed, and spent a moment considering the appropriate response.
      He lifted his coffee to his lips and took a long swig.

      He said, "So you and Logan figured out how you guys can fuck yet?"

      He had expected Marie to blush, or stammer, or, really, anything
      besides what she did, which was to laugh, a deep and throaty chuckle,
      and lower her eyelashes at John. "Really, John, ain't nothin' an
      enterprising mind can't work its way around if you've got a will."
      She grinned, dirty and wild, and John took a moment to say a brief
      prayer of mercy for Logan; Lord save him from a woman with a
      will. "'Sides, skin ain't all that there is to sex. There're other
      things, bigger things, brighter things."

      John decided, prudently, that it would be in his best interest to
      shut up and refrain from asking the obvious.

      Marie leaned back and drew circles in her syrup with one finger. "You
      and Bobby started knockin' boots yet?"

      He choked, and what felt like a few dozen fluid ounces of coffee
      decided all at once that, instead of going down his throat,
      backpedaling past his esophagus and emerging from his nose was a
      better idea. "I'm sorry, what did you just say?"

      Her smile was perfectly innocent, and if John hadn't heard what he
      just did he might have mistaken her for a choir girl waiting for
      Sunday services to end. "Well, I just figured naturally that, you and
      Bobby runnin' all alone together for the past couple weeks, ain't but
      the natural thing to conclude that there's gotta be more to this than
      a little Kerouac-style male bondin', right?"

      John shook his head emphatically. "No, I--you can't be serious,
      right? I mean, we're not--he's not--I mean, Jesus Christ, woman, he
      was your boyfriend."

      She winked in an entirely inappropriate fashion. "Don't ya think
      that's all the more reason why I should know?"

      He grumbled, and dipped a chunk of biscuit into his gravy.

      ***

      "So how long d'y'all think you'll be running like this?"

      They were walking through Alamogordo aimlessly, in slow, lazy loops
      that would eventually lead them out of the city; they'd passed signs
      exhorting them to go to the International Space Hall of Fame, and the
      Alamogordo Toy Train Depot, and now they were on the fringes of the
      city, where the few scatterings of suburbia barely beat back the
      sweep of the desert's sands.

      He kicked at a pebble; it skittered and danced away from them in
      wild, hitching hops. "I don't know. Till we're done? Till we're out
      of ground?"

      "Y'ever think that you'll run out of ground?"

      "Will you?"

      She arched her back, hands on hips; the curves of her chest swelled
      the cotton of her tee. "Not likely."

      They paused in a supermarket parking lot, abandoned save for a lone
      hatchback and its shaggy-haired, Bohemian owner loading it full of
      brown sack after brown sack of what appeared to be nothing but Kraft
      macaroni and cheese.

      John stared at the bare expanse of Marie's neck, and the little dip
      where it met her collarbone. "You and Logan figured out how much
      contact it takes before your powers kick in?"

      "Nope," she said. She leaned in, trailing the edge of one fingernail
      on down the back of his hand. The scent of her carried over to him on
      Santa Ana winds, citrus-sharp and sweet. "Wanna help me find out?"

      For a moment, the space between them was measurable in both inches
      and in miles, comprehensible only in light years and when placed,
      silhouette-like, against the vault of the sky. Marie traced the lines
      of John's jaw, with just enough pressure that the nearness of her
      raised goosebumps in her wake.

      When she'd grabbed a hold of him back in Boston, John hadn't been
      preoccupied with cataloguing the particular sensations elicited by
      her touch, but now, with his attention keenly focused upon the
      experience, he found it heady and intoxicating; her fingers left a
      phosphorescent glow where they lingered, and his flesh under her
      thrummed with vitality. It couldn't properly be called contact, this
      application of skin, these feathers alighting upon him, but something
      both less and more, some strange and fey communion between selves.

      His breathing quickened, and his head grew muzzy and lopsided. He
      wanted to open his mouth and press himself against her, reverse the
      process of osmosis that even now, even in a diluted and restrained
      fashion, was taking hold. She would consume him, but he could eat his
      way out from the inside of her and emerge, and look out at the world
      from behind her eyes. He would be both everywhere and nowhere at
      once, his synaptic patterns embedded in her mind, the first person to
      ever experience life from the outside in.

      He felt her tighten, and saw the fluttering of her eyes and the curl
      of her lips and she bent down, deeper, towards him, and--

      John pulled away breathlessly.

      He raised his arms and grabbed fistfuls of hair at the back of his
      head. "Whoa."

      Marie held her palm to her temples. "Whoa indeed."

      He didn't know how much she'd taken from him, but he was certain that
      there was some theft--no, not theft, not this, so freely offered up
      to her--some exchange, of the past few vagabond months with Bobby.
      There was a hollow, somewhere at the base of his skull, and he found
      that some things were sharper, like highlighted portions of faded
      text--anything to do with Bobby, anything to do with Marie, any
      memories at all of John as a component in a conglomeration that
      consisted of more than him and his self-interest.

      "I'm surprised. Bobby I--Bobby I knew wouldn't have done such a damn-
      fool thing like this." She spread her hand out behind her, and the
      gesture seemed to encompass the limitless plains on either side of
      them, the highways zigzagging like chain lightning all across the
      desert, the horizons and the distant unreachable seas.

      John tapped a finger to his head, calling Marie's attention to the
      time she'd just spent with him by proxy. "He's not the Bobby you left
      behind."

      "Ouch." She winced, and closed her eyes. "Not sure I deserved that."

      John kept his voice flat, the keel of him neutral. His breathing, he
      found, had evened out. "Not up to me to say what you do and don't
      deserve, love."

      She turned angry, then, the cloud of her face darkening like a swift
      desert storm had stolen across it; the expression was eerily
      familiar, now. "Oh, don't give me shit, John, you left us first."

      "Yeah, but at least I didn't leave anybody behind when I did."

      "The fuck are you talkin' 'bout?"

      He met her eyes, all fire and grief, and at the sight of him blazing
      brilliantly Marie took in a quick breath. "Three minus one is still
      two, Marie. Three minus two is Bobby."

      She seemed to deflate at that, but only a little; the fire in her
      eyes had yet to fully die down. "Suppose you've got a point, sort of.
      I did leave him, when he had grown to count on me and depend on me in
      a fashion I didn't find but irritating after a while. But don't try
      to make yourself out t'be the one who's misunderstood here, John; I
      just drank down a mouthful of you, an' the taste of you is still on
      my lips. Ain't now way you can pretend t'be actin' out of, of--well,
      out of anythin' but you wantin' the best for you. This ain't about me
      bein' selfish or bein' noble, it's about me doin' right by everybody
      concerned. Bobby's--Bobby's sweet, but--"

      "Yeah, but."

      "Look, don't change the subject, all right? Don't ya think ya owe us--
      well, something? Anything?"

      "No."

      "Fuck, John, you left us!" She slapped three fingers against her
      forehead. "You didn't even feel sorry when you did!"

      He shook his head. "I owe him something. I maybe owe you an apology.
      But there's no plural to talk to here, not anymore, except maybe me
      and Bobby, and I don't think that I'll be begging myself for
      forgiveness any time soon."

      "Jesus Christ, John, how selfish can you be?"

      John nodded. He was thinking clearly, for the first time this
      morning. He was like water, moving around and over Marie and the
      flickering flames of her anger; he had a shade now, a chance, of
      understanding why Bobby was the way he was, composed and mutable and
      perpetually, ultimately, steadfast. "You're right. I am selfish, and
      damned selfish at that. I came back to get Bobby because it was best
      for me, not for him; if you'd still been around, I'd have left
      without him and I wouldn't have spared him more than a few fond,
      wistful thoughts while on the road, and he and I both know that. But
      you know," he stepped in close, one hand poised to grip her upper
      arm, and she backed away hurriedly, "in the here and now, me being
      selfish--me being selfish is forcing him to drive an extra two
      hundred miles when it's my turn instead. You tell me, Marie, where
      does your being selfish leave Bobby?"

      She turned on him, and fixed upon him a look of such ferocity and
      temerity as John had only ever seen in one person before; somewhere,
      in the backstage part of his brain that processed thought and speech
      and hope and lust, he wondered how much of Magneto still lingered in
      the fierce and willful corridors of Marie's mind.

      He held his ground.

      The space between them cooled, restored to the consistency of arid
      desert air. "You'd best not make Bobby drive when he's tired too
      often, all right?"

      John nodded emphatically.

      "An' if you leave him again--"

      "--I won't," he said, already recognizing the timbre of Marie's segue.

      "--You'll wish for Logan's kind and tender ministry when I'm through
      with you, St. John Allerdyce."

      He tilted his head. "Kind and tender ministry? How do you guys have
      sex, anyway?"

      "Shut up, John." She sighed, exasperated, and about her, in the roll
      of her eyes and rueful shake of her head and little creases around
      the corners of her mouth, was a look over three years past--gone, but
      not forgotten.

      Marie stuck a hand into her knapsack and fished around. A moment
      later, she withdrew it, a cell phone in hand. Her voice, when she
      spoke, was slow and cool. "Well, I was planning on meetin' up with
      Bobby, but I think all things considered, I'd rather jus' get on with
      my business elsewhere. You'll tell'im I asked after him, yeah?" She
      hit a button and put the phone to the side of her face.

      "Sure," John lied.

      They stood there for a while, watching the highway stretch out into
      vast and incomprehensible distances on either side of them. He didn't
      know how long they waited, surely less than an hour, judging from the
      way the sun moved incrementally across the sky, but eventually a car
      pulled up--utilitarian, yet sleekly attractive. A black-tinted window
      rolled down.

      "That was quick," Logan said.

      Marie shrugged. "City's deader than I thought." She opened the door
      and slid into the car.

      John fingered his lighter, worried suddenly that Logan might call the
      mansion and tell them where he was, but the panic subsided just as
      quickly as it had come; if anybody understood the beneficial effects
      of a protracted road trip, it was Logan.

      Logan waved two fingers in a sort of salute, and before John had
      realized what it meant the car had executed a neat u-turn and was
      headed in the opposite direction.

      "Shit! Logan, wait!"

      He waved at the retreating car. It slowed, then halted.

      His face, when the window rolled down, was gruff and impossible to
      read. "Yeah, kid?"

      "How'd you find us?"

      Logan took a drag off his cigarette. "Please; did you really think I
      wouldn't be able to track you guys down? Sloppy, kid, just plain
      sloppy."

      Marie frowned at him. "I toldja to stop smokin' already," she
      murmured, giving him a light swat on the arm. "Look," she said,
      turning away from Logan's amused smile and towards John, "seems t'me
      that if me an' Cancer-Lips here hunted you down all easy-like, then
      you'd best be on the look-out for others who ain't so forgivin' as
      me." She stuck her head out and brushed her lips, delicately, over
      John's cheek. It stung, but only just so, like a little spark of
      static electricity, like the closing of a conduit consisting of her
      mouth and his face. Atoms spun and gyrated madly in the space between
      them.

      Her lips were chapped, and felt like dry autumn leaves scraping
      against his skin.

      "Marie," Logan said. "Stop fooling around and get in the car."

      She turned around and made a face at Logan that John couldn't see.
      She struck him, suddenly, in that moment, as young, younger than the
      spirit housed within her, than all the selves that sloshed around
      inside her head. "See ya round, John," she said, turning back and
      waving at him impishly. Logan gunned the motor. "Y'take care of
      Bobby, now, and don't do anythin' I wouldn't do, y'hear?"

      John nodded, and was back on the road to the motel before the car had
      crested the horizon.

      ***

      "Where were you all day?" Bobby was still in boxers and his 'I'm
      Crazy for Carlsbad!' shirt when John came back to their room; he sat
      at the corner table, munching on a few criss-cut fries.

      "Had to walk to the gas station and see if they had any spare fuel
      tankards lying around," John said. "They don't."

      "Oops," Bobby said, and John knew he didn't mean it.

      John collapsed on his unmade bed and let the air conditioning ply his
      flesh with cool fingers. He sprawled there, legs dangling
      precipitously over the edge of his bed, the fine female scent of
      Marie still clinging to the fabric of his clothes, and considered the
      tortuous and roundabout way that he had gotten from point A to point
      B, by way of points X, Y and Z. He rubbed two fingers over the spot
      where Marie's lips had touched his cheek; it felt raw, freshly-
      scrubbed, and more than a little sore.

      "Get your clothes on," John said abruptly. "We're leaving for
      Tularosa."

      Bobby blinked. "Already? But we just got here, and I'm still in my
      PJs, and dude, breakfast." He gestured at a soccer ball-sized burger,
      still sitting in its wrapping paper and cooling slowly. It dripped
      bacon grease and cholesterol in equal measure. "You don't interrupt a
      man and his Double Western."

      "You can eat on the way." John wrinkled his nose in distaste as the
      smell of cheese melting over processed onions drifted over to
      him. "Though perhaps I should institute a moratorium on eating while
      we're in the car."

      "Hey, I thought you said I could drive while we were in New Mexico."

      "One of the general prerequisites of being able to drive is a tank
      full of gas."

      "Aww, fuckin'a, man, how long are you going to hold that over my
      head?"

      "Probably until we're out of New Mexico."

      "Shit." Bobby wadded a napkin into a ball and tossed it, overhand,
      into the waste bin across the room; it arced clean and pretty,
      straight into the basket. "He shoots, swish, he scores. So how long
      you wanna stay in New Mexico, Johnny?"

      "Till you learn how to leave gas in the tank, Bobby."

      "Fuck you."

      They bantered like that, lightly, for a minute or two more, and while
      John knew that they might not leave at that precise instant in time,
      he suspected that they would be on their way soon enough.

      The road, the wending, fine calligraphic line of it, was waiting to
      be read.
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