“Sloan Kettering. Levitan.”
“Clearly not good news.”
She shook her head. “I wasn’t expecting good news, but it’s worse than I thought.”
Sasha put his arms around her. “I’m so sorry, darling.” He kissed her on the forehead. “I’m glad you talked to Scott, and that it is all out in the open now.”
“Yes, me too. I was worried about how Charles would react, but I think it turned out to be good for him. Having to talk to Scott has helped move him along or something in his acceptance of the illness. It’s so sad to see him thinking about succession, but it’s necessary. I do think he was kind of in denial for a while there, feeling like if Scott didn’t know it wasn’t really happening.”
“Do you think that’s why it wasn’t caught earlier? He was in denial and didn’t see a doctor when he ought to have?”
She shook her head. “No, it’s the nature of the disease. It’s a really bad one. Fast growing, rarely responds to treatment.”
“But so quickly as this? It seems like just yesterday he was healthy. Well, healthy considering his disability.”
She nodded. “That’s what pancreatic cancer is like. People can go from not knowing they are sick to... dying in just a couple of months. Often there are no symptoms until it’s quite advanced. Even more likely with Charles. His disability is not just paralysis, you know. He has so little feeling in that part of his body – I wouldn’t have expected that he would know anything was wrong for a long time.” She shook her head sadly. “I hate to see him like this. He looks awful.” She shrugged and smiled a little. “At least his eyebrows are coming back. Makes him look more like himself.”
“And lucky he had no head hair to lose.” Sasha’s wry smile was as sad as Jean’s. “What did the oncologist say?”
“He said he doesn’t think we should count on Charles being at the wedding.” She choked away the sobs as he held her.
“Show me once more. I can do it.”
“Give it up, Worthington. No way you can manage this maneuver.”
The words taken by themselves were adversarial. The broad smiles on the faces of the winged man and boy suggested it was all in good fun.
“You little pipsqueak,” Warren continued. “Don’t tell me what I can and cannot manage. I was flying before you were born.”
The grin on Jamie’s freckled face spread wider. “Yeah, that’s what I was saying. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Warren laughed and Jamie added, relenting. “Okay, old man. I’ll do it one more time.”
He rose about fifty feet into the air and hovered for a minute. Then gracefully, smoothly, he flew in a perfect figure eight, flying upside down on the down strokes, finishing squarely in the middle, right where he’d started. In one smooth movement Jamie flipped his body from vertical to horizontal and continued without stopping. He moved first to the east, then to the west, forming an infinity sign intersecting with the eight. Finishing at the middle again, he took a bow in the air and landed.
“Okay, so how do you do that without feeling like you’re going to throw up? I get as far as finishing the eight and I’m too nauseous – and too disoriented – to know if I’m right side up or upside down. I can’t do the infinity one until I land and catch my bearings.”
“Trade secret. I close my eyes. It’s all in the eyes, the vertigo. Just feel where you’re going. Don’t look.”
The X-Man known as Angel tried the eight-infinity maneuver once more. Rising into the air, he muttered, “I’ll do it if it kills me.” When he landed, he was all smiles.
“So? Admit it,” he said.
“Yeah, you did it,” Jamie replied. “I guess you haven’t totally lost it yet.”
“Thanks for teaching me.” Warren’s voice was serious this time. “It’s good to push myself, try something new. It’s not exactly the kind of thing I can do on missions,” he added. “If you close your eyes in combat, you might never open them. But, it’s good to know that stops the vertigo. I never picked up on that in all these years. How did you know?”
“Trial and error. You taught me that trick about looking at the horizon, and that helps avoid vertigo with normal flying. But there’s no horizon when you’re doing the complicated flips, or not one you can focus on. So, I wondered if it’s looking that’s the problem and figured I’d try without vision.” Jamie thought some more. “I’m glad I’ve got you,” he said, his tone serious now, too. “I’m learning more than I would on my own. How’d you even learn how to fly with nobody in your life with wings?”
Warren shrugged shoulders and wings. “Trial and error.” He spread his wings out as far as they could go and sat down on the grass next to Jamie. “I’m glad I have you, too. It’s good to do new stuff with them. Good to find out I’m not totally washed up,” he added, punching Jamie on the upper arm. “Nice to know these things are still good for something besides picking up chicks.”
“Well, I’m glad mine work for flying,” the red-headed boy said, his smile looking more ironic now. “They don’t work with girls. If anything, they repel them.”
“I doubt that. Jamie, you’re young. Plenty of time ahead of you.”
“Were you a virgin at fifteen?”
“Well, no,” Warren conceded. “But I think most boys are. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“I’ve never even kissed a girl. Never been on a date. Most of the girls here won’t even talk to me.”
“You’re fifteen years old and taking exclusively AP classes. And you’re the top student in all of them.”
“You’re both too young and too smart for the girls in your classes. They’re intimidated by you. It will be different when you’re older. You just have to wait it out.” He thought some more. “I wish Hank were here. He could tell you. He went through the same thing. It’s hard being smarter than everybody else.”
“Don’t you think being blue and furry had more to do with him not dating than being smart?”
“He wasn’t then. Blue and furry. It happened later. And blue and furry didn’t stop him, did it? There’s little Hank to prove that.” He looked at Jamie. “Do you really think the girls at school are repelled by your wings?” His voice was openly scoffing.
“No, not all of them, anyway. You’re probably right. They think I’m too young. Most of the girls in my classes are 17, or even older.” Warren suppressed a smile at the reverential way Jamie said that. “But there’s this one girl... I really like her, and she’s around my age.”
“Yeah? Do tell.”
“Nothing to tell. She won’t even look at me.”
“Well, tell me about her. Maybe I can give you a few tips. Who is she?”
“The new girl? RoseAnn?” Jamie nodded. “Well, give her time. You don’t want to rush her.”
“Do you know her?”
“Not really. I pretty much stay away from the school side of things, but I’ve seen her around. She just came into her powers.”
“Well, it’s different for most of them than it is for you and me. We had a different experience – for good and for bad – since we always knew we were mutants. Most mutants – well, all they know about being a mutant is that it’s freakish and disgusting. Something that happens to other people, you know? And then somewhere around fourteen or fifteen or sixteen – when kids are usually focused on fitting in – that’s when they find out they’re part of that freakish group. So, they don’t always react well. If they’ve got a mutation that doesn’t show, yeah sometimes they avoid being with more obvious mutants. They just want to be normal.”
“I’m getting to hate that word.”
Warren laughed. “Yeah, me too. But it’s – dare I say it? – pretty normal to react that way. It’s directed outwards, towards the more visible mutants, but what it really is is self-hatred. And,” he added, starting to sing now, “There’s no hatred like self-hatred like no hatred I know.” Jamie laughed at that. “Give her time, Jamie. Maybe she doesn’t want to look at your wings now. Maybe she doesn’t want to interact with obvious mutants. She’ll get over it. Before you know it, she’ll be asking you if she can touch them. Women always do.”
“Hi, Logan. How’d it go? What did Anjuli say?”
“A whole lot of stuff I can’t begin to understand and I’m not even going to try to repeat. But the main message is – haul your ass on down here. Anjuli can’t wait to get her hands on you. Not quite like me. She wants to do tests on you.”
“So she thinks there’s something to my idea?”
“She thinks you’re fucking brilliant. The healing factor is in jizm and it’s not like it is in blood. All her preliminary tests are coming out showing you’re right. It’s there; it’s strong; it doesn’t need some complicated process to isolate and concentrate it. Healing semen. You called it.”
“I’ll tell you, I’m way pissed off to find out I’ve been putting up with her jabbing me with needles all this time when I could’ve been jerking off instead. Anyway, she’s more excited than I’ve ever seen.”
“And she wants me to come down there?”
“Yeah, she’s dying to take you apart and see what makes you tick. She wants you to bring your complete medical records, too. Everything Hank kept on you.”
“Did you ask her about cancer?”
“Yeah, she doesn’t know. Either with the HFC or the new stuff. She said it really could go either way. It might cure him, it might make it worse. She said it’s up to the Professor if he wants to risk it. She’s going to talk to him about it. They have a meeting set up. They’re talking about something about the Foundation, but she said they’ll talk about alternative treatments, too.”
“I’m glad I talked to him. Thanks for talking me into telling him what I know. He’s not hiding it anymore. He’s talking to Anjuli, to other people. It’s out in the open.”
“Stupid to keep a secret of being sick.”
“Yeah, I agree.”
“Do you think he’ll try the HFC? Or whatever she’s going to call the healing semen stuff?”
“I don’t know, but conventional chemo isn’t working for him. This may be his only chance.”
“Then I hope he does it.”
“Me, too. I’ll tell you - I’m having a hard time even thinking of life without him.”
“Whatever happens with him... Well, I’m here. Not going anywhere. For the team. For you, too. Whatever helps – talking, sex...”
“Thanks, Logan. I really appreciate that.”
“Adam Greenfield.” Adam wasn’t sure anyone was on the line at first. He waited. It wasn’t unusual for this to happen when he got a call at work. Particularly one in the evening like this, when a caller might expect to get his voice mail and not really be prepared to speak to him. Sources sometimes didn’t talk right away. “I’m listening,” he said. “This is Adam Greenfield, at the Miami Herald DC bureau.” When the person on the other line finally did speak, it was clear he wasn’t a source.
“You bastard. What the fuck are you trying to do to me?”
“Who is this?”
“Jake Patterson. Remember me?”
Adam took a deep breath. “I don’t have anything to say to you.”
Jake’s voice was shaking with anger. “Then don’t say anything. Just fucking listen. I don’t know what sick game you two are up to, but you don’t get to use me for it anymore. What did I ever do to you to deserve this?”
“Jake, look. I really don’t think we should be talking.”
“I liked you,” Jake said, his voice on the phone bristling with anger. “Do you know that? I admired you, respected you. When I saw you speak I wanted to talk to you. I didn’t know where it would lead. Sex, friendship – I had no idea. I just thought you were someone I wanted to get to know. You know what’s really ironic? It was you talking about ethics on that panel that got me interested. How about some personal ethics? Using other people to spice up your boring married sex life? Ever think about what it feels like to be the one who gets used?”
“Jake, I think we both probably did things we shouldn’t have. I don’t see any point in talking about it now. I’m not comfortable talking to you. I’m sorry. I don’t want to rehash who did what or how things should have gone differently. I don’t see any point in that. We spent very little time together and it was a long time ago. I think we’re both better off if we just drop it now and go on with our own lives. This all happened a year ago.”
“I was going on with my life, until you two decided to use me as some sort of sick diversion from your domestic monotony. I’m not talking about a year ago. I’m talking about today.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yeah, right. Like you weren’t in on it.”
“I really can’t talk to you. I’m sorry. That’s just how it is. Please don’t call me again.”
“Don’t worry about that. I wish I never met you – or him. Call you? I never want to talk to someone who fucks with people like you do. Don’t think for a minute I’m falling for that innocent act. You know what I’m talking about. And if you don’t, well ask your boyfriend. Ask Jean-Paul.”
Adam listened to the dial tone for a while before he hung up the phone.
“I finished it, at least. It’s not very good, but I wrote the essay. I left it in your box last night.” RoseAnn looked down. “Did you read it yet?”
“At least five times,” Scott replied. “I think it’s wonderful. The best thing I’ve read in a long time.”
“Not at all. I even called Professor Xavier in Washington to read it to him, I was so excited about it.”
“It’s not even an essay, really. Not all of it, anyway.”
“That rewritten scene? It was amazing, RoseAnn. Truly, I want you to try rewriting the whole play with Desdemona as the central character. I bet you could do it. But even with just the final scene rewritten to focus on her, you made me see things in her character – see things in the play – I never saw before. I often learn from my students, but almost never like this. I am excited about Othello, about the potential of the play, in a way I haven’t been for years. Because of your essay.”
“You’re just saying that because you want me to get into this academic shit. You’re giving me ‘positive reinforcement’.” She drew out the last two words in an exaggerated fashion.
Scott laughed. “Well, I do want you to be interested in academics, and I do try to reinforce positive behavior. But I do it by telling the truth. RoseAnn, this class is really a senior seminar, you know. Occasionally I’ve got slightly younger kids in it. Only twice has anyone taken my Shakespeare seminar who wasn’t at least 16 – you and Jamie Moore. Do you know Jamie?”
“I don’t think so... Wait, is he the one with the wings?”
“Yes, that’s right. Red hair. White wings.” She laughed. “He took my Shakespeare seminar three years ago. I made an exception. And you know what? I ended that class with a new and deeper understanding of Hamlet. Because of Jamie, because of his essay. And now I’m getting new insights into Desdemona from you. I only take younger kids in this class if they’re really ready for it. I only take them if I’m sure I’m going to get something out of it,” he added with a smile and she laughed again.
After a minute, she said, “Do you really think I could do the whole play like that, turn it from ‘Othello’ into ‘Desdemona’?”
“You won’t know unless you try. You did such a splendid job with the dying scene, but maybe not every scene lends itself to that.”
“Maybe not every scene needs to be in the play. Maybe some new ones do.” She was clearly getting excited.
“Well, give it a try,” he said. “I need to talk to you about something else,” Scott added.
“What? Did I do something wrong?”
“No, not at all. I want to talk to you about my plans. I’m going to be away from the school for a while. I’m not sure how long. I need to join the Professor and Logan in Washington.”
“X-Men business. Ms. Monroe will sub in my classes while I’m gone. I’m trying to catch up on all my advisement sessions before I go. That’s why I asked you to move your appointment up from next week.”
“You don’t know when you’ll be back?”
“No, I’m sorry. It’s kind of open-ended. But RoseAnn, you can call me at any time. And if you need anything, if you’re worried about anything, if you have any problems – you can always talk to Dr. Grey. She’s rock solid reliable. You can tell her anything. I’d trust her with my life – I have on many occasions. You can trust her to help you with any problem you’ve got.”
“You were going to marry her.” RoseAnn’s cheeks reddened. “I don’t know why I said that.”
Scott laughed. “I don’t, either, but it’s true. Jean’s one of my closest friends. For a while we thought we could make a life together. I’m happier than I can say that even though we realized that would be a mistake it didn’t mean losing her friendship.”
“And now she’s marrying Mr. Cherevko?”
Scott nodded. “Someone much more suitable. They’re great together. They really bring out the best in each other. Love can do that to you.”
“And that’s okay with you?”
“More than okay. I’m very happy for them. I’m going to be best man at their wedding.” There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Scott called.
Jamie walked in, then hesitated when he saw Scott wasn’t alone. “Oh, I’m sorry... I didn’t know... Am I...?”
“You’re right on time. Jamie, you know RoseAnn? We were just finishing. We’d been talking about you, in fact,” Scott added. “I was telling RoseAnn how you had given me new insights into Hamlet.” Jamie’s face shown bright red under the freckles. Scott was surprised. Jamie was usually so self-confident about his academic prowess, not one to be embarrassed when his work was praised.