DISCLAIMER: Cecilia Reyes, Bobby Drake and the X-Men don't belong to
me, they belong to Marvel Comics. I'm not making any money from them, so don't
sue. Enrique and Esteban, however are mine.
It normally starts with a simple question, with a "Why? Why are you like this Cece?" or sometimes it's an image or a frequent nightmare, a little something that reminds me, makes me relive it all again. No matter what starts it, when it all comes tumbling back layer by ugly layer, it seems to hurt just as bad as the first time. That's why I can't let anyone close enough to ask, close enough to hear the real answer, the whole story. Normally I hide it all under smart-ass remarks or by putting my work-ethic into overdrive.
But now? Now I'm in a place with mind-readers, living snowmen, and general circus-freaks. People who see right past all the bull because they've all been there... or so they'd like me to think. But frankly, I don't trust them and don't know if I ever will. And I sure as Hell know I'm never going to fit in with what they want me to be, need me to be, or think I am. I just want to get out of here. I want to go someplace that's real, someplace where I can pretend that I am too.
So I'm outside in the rain feeling sorry for myself and trying my damnedest not to think about what's going to happen tomorrow, when the human icicle makes all those memories come rising to the surface, the ones that chase me when I'm sleeping and motivate me when I'm awake. Those kinds of memories. The ones that make you who you are, but you still try to hide from, because they're too alive. Sometimes they're more alive than you.
"What's up, Doc?"
"What do you want, Drake?"
"Just wanted to see how you are."
"I'm fine. It's your friend in there that just got out of the freakiest surgery I've ever performed. Why don't you ask him how he is?"
"Because he's not the one standing out in the rain all alone."
"Don't worry about me. If you haven't noticed, I've always got an umbrella."
"Does it do that when you're in the..."
"Shower? No. And I can't explain it, so don't ask."
Bobby constructs a simple ice umbrella and stands beside me in the rain. Even after the last few days, it freaks me out to see him do something like that. "You were really great in there. Scott was really lucky you were here."
"No, he was really lucky that the blue, furry guy..."
"Hank...came along. Nano-technology is hardly my thing."
"But you did great with what you had. With what you didn't have. I don't care what you say, it sure impressed the heck out of me. You should give yourself a pat on the back. I say we head up the road to Harry's and celebrate a job well done."
"I don't feel like celebrating. Plus, your friend could go into shock at anytime. I'm amazed he's even conscious. Hell, I can't believe he's breathing."
Bobby pauses and then finally asks awkwardly, "How did you get to be this way, Cecilia?"
"What way, Drake?"
"So hard on yourself all the time. So driven. Was it your father?"
Like I said, it normally starts with a simple question and grows into something bigger, something too huge. But I can't let him know how large this is, how his too blunt question was just the tip of it. I wish I hadn't told him about my father. Now he wants to psychoanalyze me, find out exactly what makes me tick.
Maybe I should just tell him. Tell him how much I hate him for making me think about all the hurt, all the pain. Tell him about the first time my powers kicked in, how being a "mutie" ruined lives other than mine. How what that Bastion creep and his Sentinels did to me isn't anything compared to what I've done to people I love. How no matter how much I study, how much I try to get ahead, I can never bring them back...
Multiple gun shot wounds to the chest. That's how my father died when I was six: a supposed case of mistaken identity. The detectives told us the man who murdered him was looking for someone else. Sometimes I wonder if that's the truth, if Papa wasn't really mixed up in something rotten. But I have to believe that he was a good man, that he loved me and my brothers and wouldn't do anything to hurt our family. My mother believed he was a moral person and my memories of him tell me the same. I guess that's good enough proof for me.
Things got really tough financially and emotionally for us after his death. Mama couldn't support us without help, plus she was an emotional wreck. She would just look at us and cry, whispering softly under her breath in Spanish. I sometimes thought her words were for Papa's spirit, letting him know what he was missing. My brother Enrique saw the most of it: she sometimes even called him by my father's name. But she had her faith, plus my Aunt Marta to look after her. We moved into Marta's apartment and even though it was cramped, we were happy there. Things started to get better and pretty much stayed that way until the accident.
I was fourteen and my brother Enrique was twenty-two. Still supporting us and living at home, he worked odd jobs around the city, finding what he could for a young Puerto Rican man with only a high school degree. He had just gotten a temporary job as a construction site's night watchman, which he hoped might eventually turn into something else. He talked about maybe joining the N.Y.P.D. someday and this seemed like a good step in that direction.
My clearest memories of that time were when I would bring him dinner while he was working. I'd sit with him in his little office while he ate and we would talk for hours. He was always so interested in what was happening with me in school, what boys I was interested in, what was going on in the neighborhood.
One night I was telling Enrique about all the things I was learning in biology class and how we were going to dissect a frog next week. I was so excited. I couldn't wait to see for myself how all its insides held together, worked together. He kept laughing, calling me his 'gatita' and reminding me of the old adage about curiosity killing the cat. I will always remember how proud he was of me, how important it was to him that I ask "why" about everything, find out how everything worked.
Then, and this is the part that never fades from my memory, always moving in slow-motion, he stopped laughing and his expression grew very serious. He wiped his mouth with his napkin and placed it on the desk in front of him, setting his plastic fork on top of that. It's images like the fork sitting on the napkin, or Esteban's gold chain glinting from the light of Enrique's flashlight that come back again and again. It's those kind of things that set me off. It's funny how all the big things, the important things, slip past my memory. I guess its some sort of defense mechanism.
I remember asking him if he heard something and he tried his best not to worry me as he picked up his flashlight and walked to the door of the tiny trailer. As he left, he told me to stay put. I decided I should call the police, but then wondered why Enrique hadn't told me to do that right away. Being the stupid teenager I was I thought the best thing to do was investigate. I wasn't planning on going far from the trailer. I just wanted to find out if I needed to call the police or not.
As I walked away from the office, I heard Enrique's voice: 'What are you chicos doing here? Isn't it a school night?'
Then, I heard another voice answer, 'What do you care, hombre?' and it sounded familiar.
'You're on my beat, that's why I care.'
'You're not a cop, so lay off.'
'No, I'm not. But I can get them here real quick and I've seen what you chicos have been doing. They'll want to hear all about this stuff you're shooting up.'
'Well, I don't think that's gonna happen, amigo... because I count uno, dos, tres of us and only one of you.'
I wandered farther than I originally planned. Over the years I would place that moment as the first of many mistakes I made that night. It was only a few unintended steps and each one was unimportant by itself; but when I add them together in my mind, each inch becomes enormous. That's also when I recognized the face belonging to the voice. It was one of the bullies from school, Esteban something or another. I couldn't remember his last name.
Enrique was taking their threats pretty cool and seemed to be talking them down from wanting to fight, telling them that he wouldn't turn them in if they'd just leave. I was beginning to think everything was okay, that my always diplomatic brother would get them out of there without incident. I probably would have headed back to the office if one of Esteban's friends hadn't chimed in: 'Don't want to go anywhere, yet. Not finished, hombre.'
Then the other said, 'Me either.'
I could tell that Enrique was worried about me, back in the trailer where he thought I was. He was probably guessing that if he didn't get these guys out of here soon, they might start nosing around and give me trouble. At that time, as far as he or I knew, I was a defenseless fourteen-year-old that these guys would love to take advantage of.
'Then we have una problema, amigos. You can't stay here, it's private property. No trespassing.'
Esteban got even closer to my brother and put his hand on his shoulder. 'I don't think you heard mis amigos. They say they're not going anywhere.'
Shoving the boy away from him, Enrique said 'Comprendo. But you can't stay.'
'Oh. So we're gonna be like that, huh?' Esteban grinned this really evil grin, and even through the heroin glaze, I could see in his eyes that he was really enjoying it. 'I don't think you're being very nice. Muchachos?'
One of his friends said, 'No me gusta.'
Esteban answered, 'I don't like it, either,' while he pulled a gun from underneath his shirt and pointed it at my brother's head. If I had stayed calm, I would have gone quietly back to the office. But instead I made a big mistake. No matter how unintentional my reaction was, it changed the course of my life and my family's forever. I did the stupidest thing I could have done... I screamed.
What happens to other people in nightmares, happened to me when I was wide awake, more awake than I ever want to be again. My whole body stiffened and I was frozen to the spot. I wanted to run, though I can't remember if it was away from everything or towards it, whether I hoped to save myself or Enrique. But my fear got the best of me, relieving me of any choice between heroics or self-preservation.
One of the boys grabbed me by my hair and pulled me over to where Esteban was standing. Enrique's flashlight had fallen on the ground and it was very dark. I was beginning to drown in my own panic and I felt like I was suffocating. I couldn't remember to breathe.
Finally Esteban picked up the light and shined it in my face. 'Looks like we have a present. Hey... I know you. That nerdy chica from school. Cecilia...' Esteban aimed the light at my brother's name tag and then back at me, '...Reyes. And this is tu hermano, Enrique. How sweet.'
Enrique swallowed any anger he had toward me for disobeying him and directed it at Esteban. 'You touch her. You die.'
'Whatever you say, hombre.' Esteban laughed loudly at his threat and pointed his gun at him again. 'What do we do, amigos? Kill him first or let him watch?'
'Whatever you say, jefe.'
I couldn't tell if they were serious or not and was beginning to realize how little I really knew about the world and the people in it, even with all I had been through with my father's death. But apparently Enrique thought they were serious, dead serious, and lunged for one of the boys, shoving him into Esteban. The other one grabbed the flashlight from where it had fallen on the ground and rushed for Enrique, hitting him over the head with it.
Something in me snapped and all my fear somehow channelled itself into anger. All I could think of was not again. I couldn't see him die like my father did, I wouldn't let that happen. Adrenaline pumping, I started punching and scratching the boy who was attacking Enrique. Even though I used every ounce of strength I had against him, I was only a distraction, a slight annoyance. He easily pushed me to the ground while Esteban and the other boy got back to their feet.
Esteban walked toward Enrique, who was prone on the ground, hands gripping his bloody scalp, and shouted 'And I thought we were amigos!', while kicking him repeatedly in the ribs. I remember hearing Enrique groan as Esteban pulled him to a sitting position, taunting, 'You better be a good chico and play nice, now.'
Then he walked over to where I was sitting on the ground. 'You play nice too, chica.'
They say that people do crazy things in crazy situations and I guess what I did definitely falls under that rule. All I could think of was to distract them from Enrique, that maybe he could get away while they were busy with me. His eyes were open now and he looked like he was well enough to slip away from them. I took a gamble that he could and hoped that he might get help before things got too ugly on my end. I should have known better. Maybe they would have just taunted us some more and left us alone. Maybe they were just throwing out empty threats and nobody would have gotten hurt. Maybe.
My mouth must have been dry because of my nervousness but I somehow found enough saliva to spit in Esteban's face. As he wiped my well-aimed shot off his cheek, I swore the strongest curses I could think of in both Spanish and English. I insulted his mother, his genitalia size, anything to focus all of his attention on me. It was working beautifully. The only problem was I couldn't tell if Enrique was taking my cue.
So I kept at it and I most likely invented a few curses that night. Soon enough, Esteban couldn't take anymore and he slapped me hard across the face. His friends were cheering him on, encouraging him to do more than hit me and he started to grab at my clothes. Frightfully aware of what was about to happen, I tried my best to fight back, jabbing Esteban's groin hard with my knee and elbowing him in the nose.
I heard the bones in his face grind against one another sickeningly, and I later realized when I was in medical school that if I had used anymore force they might have pressed against his brain, killing him. If only I had.
He rolled off of me in agony as his friends held me to keep me from running. I looked around frantically for Enrique, but I couldn't see him anywhere. I hoped he had called the police and all of it would be over soon. I tried to plan my next move as Esteban slowly rose to his feet, cursing loudly, but then I realized that it was all up to Enrique. All I could do was try my best to defend myself until help arrived.
After Esteban recovered himself, I expected I would be beaten senseless by the three boys, hurt to the point where I couldn't fight back. But I was wrong. Esteban had other plans. He didn't have much patience and I had broken his temper beyond repair. He found his gun, pulled back the hammer and aimed it at my face.
'Turn that light on her, chicos. I want to see this bitch die up close and personal. I'm gonna enjoy this.'
Even though the glaring light almost blinded me, I could see Esteban's blood and mud streaked face. His eyes told me that he wasn't joking.
I was going to die.
When I had envisioned my death before in sick day-dreams or twisted what-if games I would play with myself, there was always a prayer muttered before my final breath. Instead, in my real death scene, I gritted my teeth and defiantly cursed in the most foul words I could think of, accepting my death with a cruel tongue. I didn't think of God that night, or any night for a while after that one. God had nothing to do with what was happening to me, and if he allowed something like this to happen, I didn't want anything to do with him.
I heard the gun fire and instantly the world in front of me went grey as my head pounded in agony. For a brief moment I thought I was dead, then my surroundings came back into focus and I realized I was alive, amazingly alive. I remember pressing my hands to my forehead, where I felt the impact of the bullet, expecting to feel a warm rush of blood pouring from a wound that would soon leave me dead. Instead, all I felt was the cold sweat that was covering my face. I stared at my hands a long time in shaky disbelief. It was at that moment that my mutant force-field first kicked in: a sensation I would grow accustomed to over the years... a sensation I would try my best to avoid.
Then, I looked up at Esteban and he seemed just as surprised as I was. He was staring at his gun in confusion, muttering 'What the...?'
Angrily, he aimed it at me again and I remember hearing someone rush toward us. As Esteban pulled the trigger again, I recognized Enrique as he ran for me, trying his best to deflect the shot. Little did he know I had that covered on my own.
This time I felt a sharp pressure on my ribs and my guts seemed as if they were on fire as the bullets bounced off my force-field. They didn't touch me, but it still hurt like Hell.
Even after all these years, all the times I've played it over in my head, the next part is a blur.
I remember Esteban and his friends running away and screaming 'El Diablo' over and over. And then I saw Enrique laying in a pool of blood. His eyes were wide open and he had a bullet wound through his cheek. After that, I remember the police prying his body out of my arms, telling me that they needed to get him to the hospital, that he was still alive.
I don't know how much time had passed and I don't remember how long I held him like that, all I know is that I didn't do a damned thing to help him. I didn't even try CPR, which I had learned by that age. I just spaced completely, lost my cool: something I vowed I'd never do again. If I had stayed calm maybe I could have performed mouth-to-mouth, gotten some oxygen to his brain and then it wouldn't have been so bad.
Enrique didn't die that night, or the next. It happened two years later, when I was sixteen. He'd been in a coma ever since the accident. Mama finally gave up hope, the one thing that hadn't happened even after our father's death. I never saw my mother smile again after that and she died a few years after Enrique. Massive cardiac and pulmonary failure or a broken heart, take your pick.
Backed by medical evidence, the verdict on Enrique's assault was that Esteban merely had bad aim or wasn't actually trying to hit him. The forensics lab theorized that the bullet ricocheted off of some steel girders from the construction site. However, no physical evidence was recovered to prove this theory. To the courts it looked like typical juvenile-delinquent behavior and the whole thing was ruled an accident, and that it was.
An accident that was entirely my fault.
But I was never called as a witness. Esteban's pubic defender probably thought his client was just a superstitious Latino punk and didn't want him to look any worse than he already did by letting him tell some psycho story about my 'demonic' powers.
The bullet that ricocheted off me that night did more than pierce Enrique's brain. It was like everything bad in the world bounced off of me and screwed up everyone close to me. But like the bullets it still hurt, though I had no visible wound.
I think about answering Bobby's nosy question with that story. I wonder how he'd take it. It'd probably give all those yahoos inside plenty to talk about for a while. Most likely it's in one database or another. But from what I see of this mansion, it's gone with everything else.
I look at Bobby who's looking at me, obviously wondering why I've been quiet for so long, but being nice enough not to say anything to interrupt my train of thought. The words once again ring in my mind, 'How did you get to be this way, Cecilia? ...Was it your father?'
"Part of it."
"Hey, I'm sorry to pry. Forget what I said. I can tell you don't want to talk about it."
"For not pushing it... And for all the other stuff."
"For saving your life? Forget it. That's what us heroes do."
He really is a cocky son-of-a-gun. "You truly are inspiring."
He grins broadly and puffs out his chest comically while he says "Really? And why is that?"
"Because if a screw-up like you can be a hero... anybody can."
"Don't be ridiculous, Drake."
I walk out of the rain and into the mansion, laughing one of those laughs: the kind that you can't control, that you can't even remember what the joke is or what it is you find so horribly funny. It's probably my first laugh since what was left of my life came crashing down around me.
Cecilia Reyes, super hero? Maybe that's what I find so absurd.