Bobby Drake felt his heart in his throat as he jogged across the battlefield that had been his front yard. Acrid smoke billowed up from the charred remains of police cars, and the once-pristine lawn was pocked by smouldering craters. A few blue-uniformed officers watched him from behind the cover of the hedge, dazed and wary, but no one dared to step between him and the massive black jet that had alighted in the street.
It was not their gazes that Bobby felt so keenly, that slowed his steps as though he were caught by some magnetic pull. He paused and turned, looking up toward the second floor of his home. His eyes were drawn to the window of his brother’s room. There he saw his parents and Ronnie, looking down upon him with confusion and fear in their eyes.
The image brought back far too many memories.
The shades go up, Mother’s staring down
She don’t know where he’s been or how long he’s been out
She said boy, I’m tired of waiting up while you’re out with your friends
He said Mom, I’m trying and I’m living my life the best way that I can
A near-deafening chorus of crickets serenaded Bobby as he trudged along the sidewalk, tightly clenched fists buried in his pockets. The closer he came to his house, the heavier his feet felt, and the lower his heart sank. It was after eleven o’clock at night; he was due to get a stern rebuke for being out so late.
If only that were the extent of his problems.
It might almost have been funny, if it had happened to somebody else. A tape of it might even have won a nice chunk of change on one of those home-video shows on TV. His expression must have been priceless. After all, it wasn’t every day that a guy watched his CD player turn into one big ice cube in his own bare hands—and with a borrowed CD inside it, too.
Of course, as his panic set in, the temperature in his immediate vicinity plunged, and the corner of the park where he was whiling away that summer afternoon suddenly took on all the characteristics of an ice rink, it stopped being so amusing.
Naturally, his first reaction was to bolt. It seemed sensible to flee from whatever unearthly phenomenon had been visited upon the spot where he just happened to be sitting.
The trail of ice that followed him down the street was his first indication that he was the phenomenon.
He figured it all out pretty fast, in fact. He was a bright boy; he watched TV. Besides, there were those ugly rumors about the girl two grades below him who had suddenly transferred out of their school, after a certain alleged "incident" brought on by a particularly gross biology class.
Yes sir, Bobby Drake realized exactly what it was that had his number.
The question was what to do about it.
He was afraid to go home; afraid to go to any of his teachers. Afraid to do anything, really, besides hide out in the alleyway behind an apartment building, where the ice found nothing more to cling to than brick walls and pavement. He had horrible visions of turning anything he touched into an ice sculpture, like some kind of Arctic Midas.
So he just sat there, for hours. His refuge began to resemble an igloo, but he quickly discovered that he did not feel the cold.
No; that was wrong. He did feel it, but not in a way he could have described in words. He felt a sense of the ice and frost—something invisible, but tangible and ever-present. Somehow he felt it could be steadied and mastered, not unlike his own heartbeat, if he could just calm down and concentrate.
Well, his heart was racing, and that pretty much said it all about the rest of the proposition.
Yet one can only panic for so long. The candle of his anxiety eventually burned down to a smouldering pit of doubts and fears, and at last to a kind of numb, fatalistic acceptance. This was The Way Things Were, and sitting there staring in horror at his hands was not going to change it.
This mutation thing was supposed to be all about adapting, right?
Okay, then. Time to adapt.
Thus resolved, Bobby set his jaw, breathed slowly and deeply, and forced himself to relax.
And the ice began to thaw.
As the air warmed, the ice softened into slush. In a few minutes, rivulets of meltwater were streaming across the uneven pavement, swirling fallen leaves and discarded candy wrappers into the gutter. Bobby observed with a deep sigh of relief. He really could control this freeze-ray thing, if he tried.
He spent the next several hours in practice at his freakish new skill. There were failures—a lot of failures—but there were successes as well, as he began to get a basic grip on how it worked. It was easier than it had first seemed. In fact, the problem was not that it took an effort to do it, but that it took an effort to keep from doing too much.
It was the thought of that too much, of accidental disaster, that kept a dull fear squirming in his gut—and kept him out so late into the evening.
But now it was past eleven o’clock at night, and he had reached his own driveway, where he stood groping for the courage to go inside.
The butterflies in Bobby’s stomach flared up, and the temperature dropped. He winced and clamped down on those newly developed reflexes before the dew from the sprinklers could freeze. How could he face his family like this?
Dad was pretty cool; he worked with a man whom office rumors claimed was a mutant, and had said he was a nice enough guy. Mom, on the other hand, was a little too… emotional about her baby boys to take this sort of thing without a fit of hysteria. And Ronnie? Forget it. He watched too much TV to think mutants were anything but the spawn of hell.
A wicked grin crossed Bobby’s face unbidden. Just wait ’til he finds a frozen toilet seat in the bathroom.
With that thought, some of the tension went out of him, and he gazed down at his hands again with a rueful smile. He was still the boy he had been when he woke up that morning, after all. There were far worse things that might have happened to him. He could have turned blue or sprouted fur or something. But instead he was still just Bobby Drake: son, brother, student.
He just happened to be able to make snowmen in July.
Light suddenly spilled from the window of his parents’ bedroom, and the curtains parted. Madeline Drake stood silhouetted there, and Bobby froze—quite nearly in the literal sense—as he realized he’d been seen.
Then his mother disappeared from the window, and Bobby knew he could not put off the reckoning any longer. He sucked in a deep breath, struggling for as firm a grip as he could manage on his new talent, and trudged apprehensively up to the front door.
Madeline reached it from the inside just as he did, and the door was flung open before him. She stared hard at him as he sheepishly crept past her into the living room, only then turning to meet her gaze. As he did, the temperature dropped a few degrees… and he wasn’t entirely sure it was his doing, at that.
"Robert Drake, where on earth have you been?"
Uh-oh. Robert was not good. In fact, Robert was bad. Very bad.
"I’m… really sorry," he stammered. "I went over to Ethan’s house with some of the guys, and he’d rented a bunch of movies, and… I guess I just… kinda lost track of the time."
"Do you have any idea how worried we’ve been? Why didn’t you call?"
Wincing, Bobby blurted another white lie. "I forgot my cellphone, and I couldn’t call from Ethan’s house. His dad was on the computer all night." He conveniently neglected to mention that Ethan’s parents had a cable modem. "I came home as soon as I realized what time it was. I’m sorry, Mom. It won’t happen again. I promise."
Madeline’s hard eyes softened, just a little. Her hands dropped from her hips.
"Well, you’re grounded this weekend," she declared firmly. Then the stern expression collapsed altogether, and she peered into his face. "You look pale. Are you feeling alright?" She reached out to feel his forehead, managing to make brief contact with his skin, then frowned at him in mild alarm as he discreetly but hastily ducked away from her hands.
"Sweetie, why are you so frozen? It must still be nearly eighty degrees outside!"
"I, uh… There’s a cool breeze, I guess." Bobby squirmed. "I’m fine, Mom. Really. Just… kinda tired." That was no lie. The emotional trauma of the afternoon had taken a lot out of him.
"You look like it." Madeline put her hands on his shoulders, pulling him into a hug which he had no will to refuse. "Just don’t ever scare us like that again, Bobby. You know we love you."
"I know," Bobby murmured. "I… Thanks, Mom," he concluded at last, with a weak shrug.
His mother finally let him go, turning from saccharine to perfunctory with an ease he had never observed in any other person. "Your dinner’s in the microwave if you want it. Just heat it for about two minutes."
Bobby couldn’t help but grin at the abrupt change of subject. "Thanks," he replied, and shuffled off toward the kitchen, suddenly aware of the rumbling in his stomach.
Something quite different fluttered there as, from the corner of his eye, he saw his mother frown, step over to the thermostat, and turn it up. Before he could make things any colder, he quickened his retreat into the kitchen. Alphabet magnets rattled as he thumped his head against the freezer door in silent despair; then he paused and leaned back, staring at the appliance with an uneasy frown.
And this thing is like my first cousin now, too. Just great.
Bobby sighed and shook his head, suddenly fed up with his own anxiety over the whole situation. Okay, so he was an official freak—but that didn’t mean his life as he knew it was over. He could figure this thing out. He’d made a good start already. When the time was right, he would prove to his family that mutants weren’t something to be scared of, after all.
And if there was any chance for a human refrigerator to do something great in the world, then Bobby Drake would be the one to do it.
The day has come, the son is moving on
She don’t know where he’ll go or when he’s coming home
She said son, take care, don’t let your dreams get too far out of sight
He said I love you, now don’t worry ’bout me, you know I’ll be fine
"Have you got your toothbrush, Bobby?"
"Yes, Mom…" A suitcase tucked under one arm, Bobby fumbled the strap of a duffel bag over the other, and staggered out of his room. His mother followed him, twisting her hands together in barely suppressed maternal anxiety.
"Are you sure you packed enough underwear?"
Bobby grimaced. "Yes, Mom. It’s fine. I’ve got everything." He proceeded to crab-walk sideways down the stairs with his heavy load.
His father William and brother Ronnie were sitting in the living room, glued to a Saturday ball game on TV. The former pried himself away as Bobby reached the foot of the stairs, but Ronnie remained transfixed until Madeline barked, "Come say goodbye to your brother!"—at which point he sulkingly rolled off the couch and trudged out the front door with his family.
A sleek silver sedan was parked in the driveway, and a young man in red-tinted sunglasses leaned against the passenger-side door. This was Scott Summers, one of Bobby’s new teachers-to-be.
It had been several long months since that hot summer day when Bobby’s mutation manifested. Somehow he had managed to hide it, but not without countless near-disasters. The pressure of keeping the secret had taken its toll on his grades, his social life, and even his relationship with his family. Thankfully, his parents had written off his sudden spurt of awkwardness and seclusion as some adolescent phase, but the silence nearly tore him apart. For solace he turned to a handful of internet chat rooms for mutants; there he could share his fears and frustrations in anonymity, and be reassured that he was not alone in his ordeal.
That, ultimately, was how he came into contact with Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. He met a nice girl who went by the screen name of ShadowCat, and after several weeks of chatting, she had asked for and received permission to tell Bobby about the school. He was more than interested, and soon he was placed in contact with the teachers themselves. They arranged it all for him—even the explanation to his parents. The story was that he had met their representatives at school, and in spite of his currently troubled grades, he had qualified as "gifted" on their special tests and applied to Xavier’s on his own initiative.
So his parents were thrilled about their son’s surprise scholarship, and Bobby was relieved… at least, until this moment, when he came face to face with the reality of getting into that car and driving away.
Mister Summers came up to the porch in a few lanky strides, reaching out for Bobby’s suitcase and bag. "I’ll take these for you," he said with an understanding smile, then retreated again with the luggage in tow, to await Bobby in the car.
Bobby shifted his weight from one foot to the other and looked at his family.
"So… yeah. See ya," Ronnie mumbled. The demanded formality dispensed with, he skulked into the house again almost before Bobby could say goodbye in turn, and a few seconds later the tinny noise of the TV in the living room got louder. Hey, at least the Red Sox had pulled ahead.
William Drake scowled disapprovingly after his younger son, then reached out and pulled his elder son into a back-thumping, man-to-man hug. "You take care, now."
"I will," Bobby answered.
Madeline waited for the last turn, for the obvious reason that her embrace would take the longest for him to extricate himself from. Her lip was quivering as she threw her arms around Bobby’s shoulders and squished him against her. "I love you so much."
"I love you too, Mom." Bobby’s voice was muffled against his mother’s shoulder. He squeezed her tightly, feeling a lump in his own throat.
At last Madeline reluctantly drew back, but her hands remained on his shoulders as she appraised him with shining eyes and a teary smile. "Be careful. Be good."
"Don’t worry." Bobby placed his hand over hers, patting her fingers. "Someday you’ll be proud of me. I promise."
"We already are," his father replied.
Sniffling, Madeline let her hands drop from Bobby’s shoulders. "You’d better go now. Mister Summers is waiting."
Swallowing hard, Bobby nodded. He made his way down the porch steps and across the well-trimmed grass to the driveway without looking back. If he had, he wasn’t sure he could have gone forward without taking some more time to think about it… like, say, a couple of years.
He opened the car door and slid into the passenger seat beside Mister Summers. The teacher was looking at him, and although the red shades masked his eyes, his expression was full of sympathetic warmth. It was an understanding that could only come from someone who had walked the same lonely mile.
This guy was a mutant, just like Bobby.
Maybe he was going to be in pretty good hands, after all.
Bobby breathed deeply and nodded to Mister Summers. "I’m okay. I’m ready to go."
Nodding, Mister Summers turned the key in the ignition, starting the car’s engine. Bobby turned to look out the window at his parents; his father had put an arm around his mother, who was wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. As the car eased down the driveway, they waved to him, and he felt a dampness in his eyes as he waved back.
Mister Summers’ breath became visible as a sudden chill set in, but he did not complain.
I’m tryin’ to be somebody, I’m not trying to be somebody else
This life is mine I lead, don’t you know me, I won’t ever let you down
Now, two years later, Bobby stood in the middle of a suburban battlefield and gazed up at his family, feeling more deeply separated from them than he ever had when he left for Xavier’s School.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. When it was time for the truth to come out, they were supposed to have seen that he could do amazing things; that he was still as good a person as anyone, and that the same was true of most any other mutant. They were supposed to understand, and tell him it was okay.
Instead they had seen their most nightmarish fears brought to life, confirming all the tabloid horror stories they had ever heard about mutants. Instead they were afraid… of him.
From the corner of his eye, Bobby saw Logan stalking across the lawn toward the Blackbird, and it recalled him to the larger reality of their situation. The disaster behind them, and danger ahead of them, were part of something far more perilous than the mere rift between one young man and his family. Before he could think about salvaging that relationship, they all had to think about salvaging their very lives.
He permitted himself one last moment to gaze up at his parents and brother, and some part of him was glad that the secrets were finally over.
Maybe you never will be proud of me… but I can still try to be proud of myself.
Then Bobby turned and ran to the jet.
© 2005 Jordanna Morgan -send feedback