Chapter 5: “A Sort of Homecoming”

“Bobby probably told you that his father and I have been going through some difficult times,” Madeline announced leaning forward confidentially, though not lowering her voice at all.

Professor Xavier looked startled for a moment before replying, “No, Mrs. Drake, he hadn’t mentioned anything …”

“Madeline, please,” William Drake muttered from his remote corner of the living room couch. “I’m sure the Professor doesn’t want to hear about our marital issues.”

“William, there’s nothing to be ashamed of!” she proclaimed. She looked back at Xavier. “We’re in couples counseling now and our therapist is very hopeful our marriage can be saved. More tea, Professor?”

Bobby, sitting by himself on the loveseat, wanted to lift up the cushion, stick his head under it and hide like he had done as a three year old. It had only been a week since he had met Charles Xavier and Scott Summers and now they were here in his family's living room. The whole scene could definitely be classified as “surreal”.

Part of him felt like there had been a clean break from his old life the day he had left home to stay at Mike Haddad’s house. Bobby had, in those few weeks, accepted that he was a mutant, shared that information with his best friend, met Andi Murakami and a roomful of young mutants in New York and been offered a chance for a new future at the nascent School for Gifted Youngsters.

But now, back in the suburbs of Boston, he had the sickening feeling that it was all an illusion. He was back in his claustrophobic life as Bobby Drake, fucked up son of a fucked up family, going nowhere quickly. His dad now seemed to be going on some rant about how hard it was to communicate with teenagers and the Professor just kept nodding sympathetically. Bobby felt like he had trapped his would-be teacher in his parents’ crazy clutches.

Looking away from the carnage, he saw Scott, standing in the doorway of the living room out of his parents’ line of vision, waiting patiently. The man always seemed to be on alert, scanning the room and glancing out the window. What kind of threat was he so concerned about? How dangerous could the life of an old psychology professor be?

Watching Scott and the Professor, Bobby thought back to the previous Tuesday night. He wished he was back in New York now with Andi, helping her at the mutant youth meeting that was going on there without him. He wondered who had come back tonight. Lynn? Derek? Not Pyro, certainly. His stomach did something acrobatic when he thought about the skinny boy with the long hair. Pyro had said he wouldn’t return… but what if he did and Bobby wasn’t there?

For the past week, Bobby had stayed on IM as much as possible, hoping for a message. He had read Pyro’s poem again and again, trying to find the smart, quarrelsome boy in its lines. Despite the guy’s reassurances, Bobby kept him imagining lost in the gutters of New York, hungry and vulnerable. He wanted to find him and help him. Maybe bring him to Mike’s—or better yet, to Xavier’s.

The poem had been signed, “St. John”. He had to be the same one who had shown up with that “green girl” poem in the 2Gether chatroom. The coincidence was too much to believe. Ockham’s razor, Mike would have said. Bobby even logged into the 2Gether chatroom a couple of times to see if Pyro had returned there. Feeling like a traitor, Bobby had assumed a new alias for those sessions since he didn’t feel ready to face Gina and the others as “Mutant Bobby”. But he had been right to think Pyro wasn’t going back there again either. The guy seemed to be an expert at burning bridges.

Bobby wondered if he could discuss the whole situation with Scott. And as if he could hear Bobby’s thoughts (he wasn’t a telepath, though; Bobby had asked!), Scott’s attention suddenly turned to him. Bobby kind of flinched, but then the man in the red shades lit up his million-watt smile. Bobby smiled back shyly and rolled his eyes, apologizing for his parents. Somehow, this small exchange made him feel he was part of Xavier and Scott’s team, not the Drakes’. He sat up a little straighter as the Professor took back control of the conversation.

“As I was saying, it is my hope that Robert will join us in Westchester this September.”

William flipped open the glossy booklet again. “Your brochure is very impressive, Professor Xavier. I’m sure you will be running an excellent program. Forgive me if it’s a little hard to imagine Bobby there. He’s a good kid and all, but he’s been struggling quite a bit at school this year and I worry that he’ll feel overwhelmed, surrounded by, um, all those ‘gifted’ kids.”

Bobby’s mouth dropped open a bit. So, Dad thinks I’m a loser! But what if he has a point? he wondered. What if I make a total fool of myself?

Xavier was unruffled by the statement. “Frankly, I’ve been very impressed by Bobby from the first time we came in contact. He showed great initiative in finding our school online and he showed poise and self-confidence in arranging our meeting in New York.” Bobby felt himself glowing as Xavier sang his praises to his parents, even if most of what he said was a cover story.

Before this meeting, Xavier had asked Bobby if it was the right time to tell his parents about himself and the true nature of the school. But the prospect had made Bobby’s heart race like a rabbit. If such a time could ever come, it certainly wasn’t now.

“Since then,” Xavier continued. “I have seen qualities of leadership in the young man that I value most highly.”

Madeline moved closer to her husband and squeezed his arm. “I told you that you underestimate the boys, William. Bobby’s always been a leader! Remember how he used to get all the children in the playground into these big parades? Banging their cooking pots as they marched in circles.”

Bobby dropped his head in his hands, whimpering, “Mom, please! Can we leave kindergarten out of this?”

*Don’t worry, Robert,* Xavier reassured him in his head while never looking away from the Drakes. *The meeting is actually going very well.*

Bobby squinted his eyes and concentrated, sending to the Professor, *That’s terrific. If I survive the next hour, I’m sure I’ll have a great time at your school.*

John had been sitting on a low brick wall across from the Midtown Youth Center in Manhattan for almost 90 minutes. His butt was flat, he was hungry and the same homeless guy had asked him for change three times in half an hour. Once more and John was going to scare him off with a flame hawk. Not that he could really make the flames look like a hawk yet; he rarely had enough privacy to practice his new skills and when he did, he used up precious lighter fluid that he couldn’t afford to replace.

Goddamn Keever never trusted him enough to give him pocket change. He realized that it wasn’t so much stinginess on the boss’s part as it was a way to control him. But without Keever, John knew he’d be fucked. He’d be peddling his ass in the bowery and probably already be a junkie. The thought frightened him even more now than it had when he had first run away from home because now he had seen boys like that. He lived with some of them.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” he asked a passing woman. “Do you know the time?” She was the type John went to when he needed something—plump, comfortably and colorfully dressed, with cropped hair and John Lennon glasses that suggested a radical youth which had mellowed into liberal middle age. She was the kind of person who wanted to do something for a lost boy like him. Young chicks and old women alike assumed he was out to hustle them. Men didn’t trust him regardless of age.

She looked at John and then at her watch. “It’s a quarter to eight.” She then furrowed her brow and looked him up and down, as if figuring what else she could do for the lost young angel.

“Oh, wow,” he responded with sitcom charm. “Mom’ll have dinner on the table already; I better go.”

The woman seemed relieved and hurried off. John sank a bit in despair. He had been there since 5:30. He had seen definite mutants and possible mutants coming to the Japanese chick’s tea party. That little kid Ben and the girl Lynn with the scary, dark twin had come back and, surprisingly, the red asshole Derek with his silent, emo girlfriend. But no Bobby. What the fuck? John wondered. Isn’t this his little group, too?

John wanted to kick himself. Why did he even care about some rich suburban brat in a Gap shirt? But there was something about Bobby. Some potential for passion hiding under the scrubbed freckles. And something so fucking touchable about that long, fit body that moved with such jerky determination.

But now the fucking, stupid, useless asshole hadn’t even shown up. Keever had been suspicious last week and now it was the second Tuesday in a row John was coming in late. His mind raced for reasonable excuses that didn’t include mutant powers and youth groups. He felt his stomach clench and not just from hunger. John was proud of his ability to charm Keever with his words and his body, but he had no illusions about the man’s potential for violence. He had seen if often enough even if he had rarely experienced it personally.

John jumped off the wall and grabbed his leather folder. In all the time he’d spent there, he’d written nothing useful. All the scraps of poetry coming out of him were lame and sentimental lately. He had even wasted a whole page practicing his signature for book signings: Thanks for coming! St. John Allerdyce. What a loser. He tucked the folder under his arm and ran for the bus that was pulling in to the stop half a block away.

He climbed on board the crowded vehicle, trying to slip in unseen behind a group of Hasids digging into their black coats for their Metrocards. He was almost halfway down the bus when he heard the driver call back, “Hey, speedy, get back up here and pay your fare!”

John tried to act nonchalant as if the words were meant for someone else, but as he looked around, he saw passengers glaring at him.

“I’m not moving this bus until you pay,” the driver continued, which turned the glaring commuters into a mob ready to lynch him. John cursed under his breath and made his way up, pushing past hot, unyielding passengers. For show he dug into his pockets and came up empty.

“Sorry man, I can’t do the fare,” he said and winked with casual familiarity. “I’ll put in double next time. Promise.”

The driver appeared to be immune to his charms. “If you can’t pay, get off my bus.”

“Look, buddy,” John continued, growing more assertive. “This is a public vehicle and society hasn’t seen fit to employ me. So I guess it owes me this ride!”

A chorus of voices from the bus began shouting, “Get off!” and “Don’t hold us up here, punk!”

Outraged, John turned towards the mob. “You idiots! I have all the makings of a serious juvenile delinquent! You want me loose on the streets? It is in all your best interests to get me home as quickly as possible!” A large man with smoldering eyes rose from his seat and came lumbering at him. John figured the guy had at least 100 pounds on him and he backed toward the front doors of the bus slowly, reaching into his pocket to finger his lighter.

The driver clapped a meaty paw on John’s shoulders and turned him towards the door. A shove in his back and he was stumbling down the steps. The doors closed behind him and the bus pulled away. Furious, John turned and screamed at the retreating vehicle.

“Fuck you, motherfuckers! You don’t do this to Pyro!” He flicked a flame into life and whipped it up into a baseball of fire. He was itching to throw a fiery fastball, and he imagined the bus igniting, the passengers screaming and tumbling from the doors like staggering torches. But already his control was slipping and the fire form lost its coherence.

“Shit,” he mumbled as the flame ball vanished on the breeze. Shuddering, he bent over, breathing out the anger, releasing the heat, a feeling of hopeless despair rising with the steam from his palm to fill the evening void. Now he was going to be totally fucking late. He began to run, his worn sneakers slapping the sidewalk, his folder clasped tight to his chest.

William Drake was frowning at the printout Xavier had pulled from the handsome, leather briefcase.

“That’s a lot of money, Professor,” Bobby’s father said with a dark air of finality.

Xavier seemed unruffled and continued to smile with warm confidence. “I think you’ll find our tuition is not out of line with that of other schools offering the kind of rigorous program we do. We have excellent facilities and an extremely favorable teacher-to-student ratio.”

Madeline was looking worriedly at her husband. “William, I know it’s not small figure, but don’t you think the opportunity—”

“Madeline, Professor,” he said wearily, “It’s not a matter of whether it’s a fair price or not; it’s a matter of what this family can afford.”

Her voice took on a hard edge. “What this family cannot afford is to go on the way we have! We need a chance for a future and if Bobby has made such an impression on such an illustrious…”

A fuse seemed to have been lit, and it suddenly seemed that the battling Drakes were going to explode into one of their cataclysmic exchanges right there and then. Professor Xavier looked ready to wheel back from Ground Zero and Bobby felt shame course painfully through his body. Somewhere inside, he could feel his powers stirring and he gritted his teeth, thinking, Not now! Not now!

But suddenly Scott Summers’ clear, sure voice cut through the air.

“I have a proposal, Mr. and Mrs. Drake.”

The room grew suddenly quiet. All eyes turned to Scott. The Drakes blinked as if they had forgotten he was there. Bobby had the sudden image of him as a mountain lion, waiting patiently in the corner for his prey to wander innocently past. He felt the tide of his powers subside.

Scott moved towards the group and sat down on the loveseat beside Bobby who scooted aside to give the man space. The Drakes were watching him warily, trying to find somewhere to look in the face without eyes.

“We have a busy summer ahead of us preparing the school for its first students,” Scott began. “And from what I can see of his transcripts, Bobby needs some remedial help if he wants to be on par with them.” This seemed to embarrass his father and Bobby felt another twinge of shame.

“If Bobby can move to Westchester for the summer, he can work with us to prepare the school. He will receive a salary in the form of a tuition reduction. Furthermore, I will supervise extra-curricular tutoring, at no cost to you, so that he can catch up with the studies he missed during your family’s…” he paused ever so slightly, “…difficulties this past year.”

Bobby watched with satisfaction as his parents looked at the floor guiltily.

Xavier tapped the arm of his wheelchair as if considering whether to accept his protégé’s suggestion. He nodded slowly and said to Scott, “It sounds like a solution that would benefit all parties, Scott.” He then turned to Bobby. “What do you think, Robert? It would be a challenging summer! You’d wake up early with us and do physical labor or clerical work in the morning. Then, after lunch, you’d have to hit the books. Seriously. With regular testing.”

Scott nodded. “Are you up for it, Bobby?”

Bobby was kind of stunned. He didn’t think of the work; he didn’t think of the study. All he could think was Leave here? Live in Westchester for the summer? In a mansion full of mutants?

“Yes, sir! I’m ready!”

His father seemed to wake up suddenly. “Now, wait a minute, that still doesn’t answer all of our—”

“Oh, William!” Madeline snapped at him. “How many generous offers are you going to turn down? How many more doors are you going to close on your son’s future?”

There was a tense moment of silence during which another argument—a final and decisive one— could have erupted. But his father didn’t seem to be able to muster the strength again. Just like that, Bobby knew the battle was won. Scott Summers had saved the day. Bobby Drake, the Iceman was going to be a student at the School for Gifted Youngsters.

The late May sky still showed streaks of orange and lilac above him, but the alleyway John was picking his way through was already dark and filled with unnamable shadows that made him twitch and sweat. He pulled his lighter out of his pocket, ready to use it if he was attacked. Not that it made him feel all that safe.

His ‘frightening mutant abilities’ as the Times might call them were unreliable at best and laughable at worst. He had the stubborn conviction that if he could just practice he would be able to conjure 30 foot dragons of flame to fly through the sky and descend on his enemies, consuming them utterly for the foolish crime of challenging Pyro. But now he might just as easily get stabbed while desperately trying to whip up a flaming pigeon.

At the end of the alley was a loose section of chain link that he pulled aside to gain access to the airshaft of the abandoned building he called home. The grimy square was filled with junk and alive with the shiftings of rats and roaches. It was not a place he liked to be alone after dark. Really, he wasn’t very experienced with the urban jungle he had found himself stranded in and, more than anything, he feared losing his place in the gang. He feared being at the mercy of the streets. In other words, he needed Keever and the protection he offered.

Maybe Keever wouldn’t care or even notice he was late. After all, it was a tense time for the business. A group of scary kids from the nearby projects was making viable threats on their territory. They were already snatching customers and if Keever didn’t show some force soon and decisively, there was going to be war.

Of course, that wouldn’t directly involve John. He was no foot soldier—neither a dealer nor an enforcer. His role was more personal. But if Keever was gone, John would be lost too.

He climbed through a window without glass and moved down the dank corridor that echoed with remnants of past lives. Ahead, he saw the glow of the gang’s common room where makeshift lighting from a tapped power line gave the group of runaways and young thugs some sense of home and shelter.

John straightened his shoulders and swaggered into the room with a sneer already in place. He was small and too pretty, he knew. Without Keever at his side, his arrogance was his only defense. This confident mask was a skill he had learned after his mother had married the man he thought of as The-Calamitous-Asshole-I’m-Going-to-Fry-One-Day.

Inside he found maybe eight gang members, some sleeping, some busy at tables weighing and packaging merchandise. Various eyes turned to look at him and most returned to their tasks without a word.


“Look, it’s Princess Joanna,” shouted a mean 17 year old who called himself Chisel. John suspected the nickname was a reminder of the tool he had been lobotomized with.

John kept moving, hoping to avoid a fight. He wanted to get across the common room to the bedroom that was Keever’s inner sanctum, a room John alone had the right to enter in the boss’s absence. Still, John couldn’t stop himself from saying as he passed, “That’s clever, Chisel. Why don’t you go back to practicing the alphabet song?”

Chisel was behind him now, but John could actually hear him smile. “You’re going the wrong way, Princess. I think you should hit the road and quick, because Keever’s not going to be nice when he sees you.”

John’s brain told him Keep moving! Don’t turn around! but John had a bad habit of not listening to his brain. He stopped and turned and, yes, the miserable punk was smiling. John couldn’t keep the damn tremor out of his voice: “What are you t-trying to say, you fucking caveman?”

He felt the figure loom up suddenly behind him but before he could turn, duck or run, a large, strong hand grabbed him painfully by the neck. He was spun around and pushed up hard against the wall, the pressure on his throat steady. His portfolio fell from his hands and loose sheets flew from it like chaos.

“Where the fuck have you been, Johnny?” Keever growled at him, bringing his face in close. It was a face John liked to stare at, though usually under better conditions. It was long and bony with a prominent jaw. The nose of the 24 year-old boss was aquiline and he wore a long mane of ginger hair. But it was his eyes John liked best. They were intelligent and large and they could penetrate you, expose your layers. John enjoyed the strip tease Keever’s eyes made him do—layer by layer slowly falling away—feeling the thrill of keeping back his essence while flirting with the temptation to give himself away completely.

But that was not now. Now those eyes were wild and dark with fury. The hand on his throat pressed tighter.

“Where, Johnny?”

John was trying to answer, but he could only choke and struggle. Maybe Keever realized this, realized he had lost control—a sign of weakness he tried to avoid in front of his troops—and he suddenly let go of him. John fell to the floor and rolled away from Keever, gasping for breath on his hands and knees. As he regained control, he watched Keever’s dirty boots to see if they were going to kick him or stalk away.

John willed himself to roll over. He had to get back control of this situation before something worse happened. As quickly as he could, he gathered the scraps of paper and pulled them back into his portfolio before pulling himself up the wall, shaking with fear. The eyes of all the gang members were on him now. Some, apparently, found the scene funny, but the smarter ones were watching to see how the conflict would play out. In any pack, the dogs always have to watch the challenges carefully.

Finally finding his voice, trying to get the right balance of submission and annoyance, John sputtered, “Jeezus, Keev! What are you doing? I was just out walking. You got it all wrong.”

Keever’s jaw was working. He suddenly snapped his head around and called out to the others, “Mind your goddamn business and get back to work. I need the shipment packed and ready in two hours.”

He grabbed John by the upper arm and yanked him forcefully towards the door of his private room. “Get in here,” he snarled.

In the small, airless room that smelled of sweat and rotting plaster, Keever threw John down on the dirty mattress and slammed the door. The tall man stayed by door, tight with anger, staring down at John who pushed himself against the wall, trying not to look too scared.

Keever was visibly trying to control his anger. He liked to throw the word “zen” around a lot, but John doubted he had ever formerly studied anything about the discipline. John watched him carefully as he finally managed to speak. “Out for a fucking walk for four hours. Last Tuesday, this Tuesday, same time. Do I look like an idiot, Johnny?”

“You’re not an idiot, Keev,” John said carefully, trying not to whine. “I never said you were an—”

“So don’t lie to me, you piece of shit,” Keever growled. “You’re supposed to be smarter than those fuckwits out there.” The boss had achieved his state of control but John knew he wasn’t safe yet. “Now tell me and don’t bullshit.”

But John knew he had to lie his ass off. The mutant card was a wild one and Keever was under enough pressure. He might fear a mutant would be a threat to his leadership. He might just fear a mutant in general and feel the need to squash him like a bug. John’s brain whirled and then he spoke carefully and, he hoped, convincingly.

“He’s just this med student, Keever. Or resident or whatever.”

The man’s face darkened and John knew he was up on the tightrope now, balanced precariously over a pit of flaming alligators.

“He fucking you?” Keever asked, his voice hoarse.

“No! I just… He just likes to watch me jack off. It’s nothing.” He looked up at Keever, his face a picture of guilelessness. “Honest.”

Keever looked away at the corner of the room, tense, unreadable. “What’s he paying you for the show, Johnny?”

“Nothing! It’s bullshit. Just like ten bucks. I told him I’m not going back again. And then I went out and got some dinner,” John paused, but Keever didn’t look his way. “I swear it, Keev.”

“Ten bucks,” Keever said, with a sad kind of laugh. “You little asshole. If I wasn’t watching over you, you’d be the cheapest whore in the meat-packing district.” He let himself fall back against the wall and slowly lowered himself to the floor. John breathed a sigh of relief, thinking, Damn, I’m good. Keever believed him. He could see it. Hell, he had started to believe his own story.

“Don’t see him again, Johnny,” Keever said with quiet menace. “You hear me?”

“Yes, Keev,” Johnny breathed submissively. “I promise.”

“I need to know I can trust you,” he said, watching now with that intensity that made John kind of tingle inside, that made his dick hard. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen with the business. Half the time I think I’m going to take over the whole area and the other half I can practically feel the knife in my ribs.

“It’s that damn guy Nikkatyne! That old motherfucker is behind this action from the projects; I know he is.” Keever looked over at him now, confiding, trusting him again. “I’m not going to let him beat us, Johnny. I’ll do whatever it fucking takes!”

John started to stand up, intending to cross to Keever and tuck himself under his arm. But Keever suddenly commanded, “Stay where you are.”

He sank back down, nervous, excited. The familiar game was beginning.

Keever shook out his ginger hair and then brushed it back on his head. He closed his eyes and sighed. His eyes opened again and there was something new there. The hunger. Looking across the room at John, Keever slipped a hand into his shirt and began playing with a nipple.

“Take off your shirt, Johnny. Yeah, that’s nice. Go slow. Put your hands on your head a minute. Yeah, like that. Just like that. Your hands… run your hands all over, yeah, nice, really feel yourself. Fuck, you like that, don’t you? You got fucking goose bumps. You’re mine, right Johnny? No one else gonna take care of you like I do, right?

“Show me now, Johnny. Open your pants and show me. Oh man, you are hot. So hard, so hot. My fucking little volcano.”

Keever’s voice grew more fervent, hoarse. “Fuck. Turn around. Get on your hands and knees. Yeah, just like that…”

Two weeks into June and the summer heat had already arrived. Bobby sat with Mike Haddad in the richly manicured lawn of the Haddad backyard sipping coffee, feeling very adult. It was a moment of simple peace in a roller coaster of a week. At times, it felt to Bobby like a ride he maybe shouldn’t have boarded. In just a few short days, he would be on his way to Westchester and he was plagued by doubts and by the sense that he was becoming involved in events that were way more significant than he was ready for.

On top of everything, he was still recovering from the existential horror of last night’s family farewell dinner. Legal Seafoods was the place his parents always went on their anniversary and it was supposed to be a special honor that the kids were being taken there. But Ronny had spent the night sulking and his dad had mostly done the same except when he would make sudden, out-of-context pronouncements about how Bobby mustn’t waste this opportunity with his moodiness and his laziness.

Mostly, the evening had been a showcase for his mother and her endless, cheery stream of news about couples therapy.

“Boys, there’s so much you could learn from this process, too. I’m just beginning to understand how many years your father and I have wasted in passive-aggressive feedback loops! I now understand that the most important thing a person can do is to make her life shopping list and then see how she can make that trip to market with her life partner and with respect for his own list! Metaphorically, of course.”

Bobby had kept sneaking glances at his father during these monologues but he seemed to have nothing to add, instead spending his time chasing scallops around his plate with his fork. Ronny had been told three times to put away his PSP but, in the end, their parents had just let him play.

What were they celebrating at this celebratory dinner, Bobby had wondered. Perhaps his departure just represented one less distraction in the quest for familial peace.

Now, in the morning light with his best friend, he supposed he should be laughing at his family’s pathetic grappling and congratulating himself on his escape. But a significant part of him just wanted to turn everything around and stay in Boston where the misery was at least familiar.

“What if my dad’s right, Mike?” he whined. “What if all the other students are, like, brilliant and I’m just barely keeping up? What if they all have amazing powers like flight and teleportation and seeing the future and I’m just this… this ice-cube tray?!”

Mike didn’t laugh. He didn’t say anything, in fact. He sipped his coffee and watched a robin move slowly across the lawn, poking the ground for breakfast. Bobby furrowed his brow, waiting for some sign that the last friend he had in this old life understood his troubles and commiserated.

Without even turning, Mike quietly asked, “Do you know what Proposition 18 is?”

“No,” he replied somewhat resentfully, wondering why his friend was talking politics again.

“It’s a bill being drafted by Senator Robert Kelly of Illinois.” Mike turned to look at Bobby with great seriousness and Bobby felt suddenly worried. “Kelly thinks it’s time mutants were brought out of hiding—counted, documented and registered with the government. He wants to know who does what and how much of a threat they pose to the American people.

“He's been evasive about what he would do with mutants the government considered dangerous, but he didn’t flinch when asked about detention, medical intervention and sterilization. He said, and I quote, ‘It’s too early to reject any reasonable means we might employ to preserve our safety from these new invaders.’”

Bobby sat up in shock. “Invaders? We didn’t come here from Mars! We’re Americans the same as he is! God, Mike, don’t even tell me this shit!”

Mike put down his mug in the grass and suddenly leaped up and jumped on Bobby, pinning his hands over his head. “Yes, Bobby, that’s the point. Mutants are Americans, too. It’s time you stopped worrying about whether you’re going to be a straight-A student at Xavier’s school. It’s time you stopped worrying whether you’re going to fit in with the kids. Whether you’re going to be popular.”

Bobby struggled to get free but Mike put all his weight on him, pinning him to the ground.

With Bobby grunting in frustration, Mike continued in the same calm tone as before. “You and the other mutants are going to come under attack. Some are going to be forced out of hiding by new laws and some are going to stand up out of principle to fight for their rights. I’m going to be fighting, too, Bobby. I make that promise to you. I’m going to stand up in public and remind the people at the school, in this city, that mutants are their neighbors and their loved ones and that human rights are human rights.

“But, Bobby, you’ll be in the thick of it. You’re going to have to face the hatred head on and you’ll have to be strong. That’s what you’re going to be doing in Westchester. Do you understand that?”

Bobby nodded mutely and Mike suddenly let go of his arms and rolled him to lie in the grass by his side, their arms touching.

Bobby saw that Mike’s brow was beaded with sweat under his dark curls. The heat didn’t bother Bobby. He had discovered that he could simply lower his body temperature a few degrees and remain comfortable. He loved Mike—like a brother or maybe something more—but Bobby suddenly felt the gulf between himself and the ordinary human being beside him. And close as they were, it made him feel even more alone.

He looked up at the clear blue sky and imagined super beings flying through it. Human and mutant—they were all living in a world now where the impossible would become ordinary. How could there be people who wanted to stop that? He couldn’t believe it!

Then Mike was standing above him offering a hand.

“Get up, Bobby; my mom’s going to take us out for breakfast. She wants to thank you for keeping me out of trouble while they were away.” There was a moment of incredulous silence before they burst out laughing.

He took the proffered hand and got to his feet. He turned away from Mike and tucked in his shirt, surreptitiously adjusting his dick, which had stiffened during Mike’s assault. Turning back, he noticed the sweat starting to stain Mike’s t-shirt and quipped, “Here you go, hot stuff!” He raised his arm and began pelting Mike with a fine shower of ice pellets that made him shout and squirm.

* * *

Two days later, the roller coaster turned its lowest and sharpest corners and it was time to leave Boston. Down at the base of the driveway, Scott waited beside a shining blue Mazda with delicious detailing that had taken Bobby’s breath away when he had pulled up in it. Bobby’s bags were packed in the trunk, minus his beloved snowboard which he had decided to leave at the last minute. On one level, he was trying to be practical and not overburden himself with junk. On another, he was leaving an anchor here at his family home so he couldn’t drift too far.

Bobby and his parents stood at the front door like clots of curdled milk. They were trying to find words neutral enough to avoid setting off the booby-traps they had planted in each other’s hearts over the years.

Bobby looked past his mother’s shoulder through the open front door to Ronny who stood awkwardly across the foyer. He threw his little brother a small smile but Ronny turned away, breaking his heart all over again.

“Make us proud, son,” his father finally said, perhaps trying to bring the awkward meeting to a close.

But before Bobby could answer, Ronny shouted from inside, “Oh my God, it’s Tabitha!”

Sure enough, there was the missing cat, looking well-fed and sleek despite her six week absence. She meowed brightly and proceeded to run up the stairs to the second floor followed by Ronny. The Drake parents hesitated a moment and then ran after their younger son, forming the tail end of an absurd parade.

Bobby wanted to follow, but he couldn’t seem to find impetus to move. He felt like he didn’t belong anymore in that particular parade—that he had no place in the joyous reunion.

Then Scott was there beside him, putting an arm companionably over his shoulder. As he climbed into the passenger seat, Bobby took a last look up at the window of Ronny’s room and watched his brother and his parents fussing over and stroking the prodigal.

The sunlight was sneaking around the blue curtains that were tacked over the windows. John had pulled them from the garbage last week and he felt they gave the miserable room some sense of peace and hope.

I’m a fucking housewife, he laughed to himself. The Drug-Lord’s Decorator: a memoir by St. John Allerdyce.

The heat of the day was already sneaking into the room. He knew the city would be an oven today and the old building would offer damn little in the way of protection. John wondered how cold it would get in the winter. He kicked off the dirty top sheet and curled in against Keever’s body, feeling the delicious slide of skin on skin that always made him feel better. Keever stirred and he hoped he wouldn’t wake up. Not yet. Because once Keever was up, the stress would start and John would find himself wondering if he should really be here at all. But he didn’t know where the hell else to go.


Stupid Bobby’s lame IM name flashed into his head and he quickly dismissed it. Fantasy is fine, he reminded himself, but prep boys don’t take street kids home to mom and dad. Time to pull the plug on that particular daydream and get real.

Besides, he had Keever, whose strength was his protection. And he knew he made Keever’s life better. He was the boss’s solace when it was all coming apart. And it was all coming apart. Nikkatyne and his gang were sure to notch up the turf war and when that happened, people were going to start dying. John made a mental note to stay on the sidelines as much as possible.

He watched Keever breathing and emitting little snorts from time to time. You would never hurt me, he thought at him. You love me. The bruises on John’s throat and the one on his hip were nothing. Nothing he couldn’t handle. If only Keever and him could get out of this bullshit situation… Maybe they could escape if things got bad and make a life for themselves somewhere. In California, maybe.

The light was getting stronger now and the sleeping man more restless. John felt his heart beat faster.

Chapter 6


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