The Cast of Shadows
Hank McCoy sighed and pulled off his latex gloves. As he turned away from the examination table to toss the soiled gloves into the waste bin, he caught sight of Professor Xavier who sat just outside the door.
“Hank,” the professor began. “May we come in?”
Hank tilted his head to see Storm beyond the doorway, lingering reluctantly in the corridor. “Certainly, Charles,” Hank said.
The professor steered his wheelchair inside the lab and was followed shortly by Ororo. “What have you discovered?” the professor asked.
Hank glanced over at the girl on the table and swallowed. The room reeked of her emaciated body, and despite having spent several hours inside the lab, Hank had not grown accustomed to the scent of death.
“Polaris need not have worried about being partly the cause of this girl’s death,” Hank explained. “She could never have survived.”
“Has the mutant virus killed her?” asked the professor.
“No,” replied Hank, “though she is a carrier. Thanks to the data Kitty was able to recover from Sinister’s computer, we now have a full understanding of the virus, though not a cure. Thanks to a blood sample from Jane Doe here, I can now easily diagnose the virus.”
“Have you had time to examine Kitty and Rogue?” Ororo asked.
“Yes,” Hank said. “They both show no signs of infection. They can be released from quarantine.”
Professor Xavier breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness,” he said quietly.
“And the girl,” Ororo said, indicating the young woman on the examination table. “What of her?”
Beast took his spectacles from the bridge of his nose and polished them on his shirttail. “Sinister’s files give her no name, save for the label ‘Specimen 2-D.’ Her deformities, as you can see, include a club-foot as well as spina bifida, which is an excruciatingly painful condition. Due to this, and the resulting hydrocephalus, her skull is abnormally large. The amount of fluid in her brain caused major deterioration. Her lungs, I discovered, were never fully formed.”
The professor raised a hand before Hank could continue. “But Henry, the conditions you describe are congenital deformities, and fatal. This girl is clearly not an infant,” Xavier gestured towards the body beneath the sheet. “She appears to be at least eighteen years of age. How could she have lived so long without a brain, or lungs?”
“It is my understanding, Professor, that the girl is not as old as she appears,” Hank replied. “According to her computer files, she is perhaps only a few months old. Six months, at the most.”
“What are you saying, Hank?” Ororo said, her voice made quiet by her growing horror.
“This girl, Specimen 2-D,” Hank said bitterly, “was a clone; a clone that was forced into adulthood within a lab. The only world she knew was the incubator in which she was conceived. I believe Sinister was manufacturing mutants.”
“Creating mutants?” Xavier said. “To what purpose?”
Ororo had put her hand over her mouth. The lab, so permeated with the stench of the deceased, was overwhelming her senses. Combined with Hank’s revelation, the walls now seemed to close in on her. She trembled. “I could never, in my worst nightmares, imagine anything so horrible!” she cried. Were the lab not so deep underground, the trio might have been able to hear the sharp crack of thunder that sent a tremor through the mansion above. “To do such a thing is inhuman! Disgusting!”
Professor Xavier reached out and took Ororo by the wrist. The firmness of his grip steadied her. “A clone, you say?” Xavier asked as he turned to Beast. “Of whom?”
Beast shook his head. “The tests show a remarkable resemblance to Jean Grey’s DNA.”
The professor did not seem startled by the admission. Instead, he looked contemplative. His eyes grew sad and distant. Slowly, he nodded his head. “Hank, are you finished with the examination?”
“Then if there is nothing further to be learned, we shall hold a funeral for the girl. Ororo, would you suggest a proper name for her?”
Ororo took a wavering breath. “Kagiso,” she said finally. “It means ‘peace,’ which is what I hope her spirit has found beyond this world. It is no less than what the poor girl deserves.”
Professor Xavier nodded his head in approval. “Very well,” he said. “We will share what we have learned with the other students. Though, in Jean’s best interest, I think it would be wise to omit the knowledge of...Kagiso...being her clone.”
With that, the three parted company with the knowledge of what had just transpired weighing heavily on their minds and hearts.
“Scott, what happened to you? You look like crap!” exclaimed Alex Summers. Scott sighed and leaned back in his chair. On the desk before him was his laptop, with an open window showing him his brother’s face. Though his comment was laced with concern, Alex bore a smarmy grin on his lips and humor in his eyes.
“It’s been a rough couple of weeks,” Scott said, his seriousness a sharp contrast to his brother’s light-heartedness.
“Maybe you could use a vacation?” suggested Alex. “It is summer break, after all.”
“It hasn’t much felt like it. You’re right, though. I need a break.”
“So what’s been going on? College stressing you out...or is it X-Men stuff?”
“X-Men stuff,” Scott replied. “Definitely X-Men stuff.”
“Bummer,” Alex concluded. “Hey, I have some great news that might cheer you up!”
“I came in second in one of the big surfing contests over here."
“Hurrah,” Scott said dully, clapping his hands with fake enthusiasm.
Alex rolled his eyes. “Would you let me finish? Anyway, I won some money, and I was thinking, since you flew over here last time, maybe I could book a flight to come visit you?”
Scott leaned forward in his chair. “Really?” he asked, this time, he did not have to fake his excitement.
“Yeah!” Alex replied. “I mean, it is summer over there, right? I think I might be able to survive New England’s weather for few weeks.”
“That would be great!” Scott said.
“If it’s okay with the professor that I stay...”
Scott waved his hand in dismissal and shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. Professor Xavier has left the door open for you, so come any time you want.”
“I’d feel better if you’d ask him first,” Alex said.
Scott was about to respond when his laptop made a beep and a closed window on the taskbar began to flash. “Hold on a sec,” Scott told Alex. “I’ve got another call.”
Alex nodded as Scott minimized the window and opened the new one.
“Hiya!” said a bright cheery voice.
“Hi Madelyne,” Scott replied. “How are you doing?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” the girl replied. “What’s up?”
“I’m just talking to my brother, Alex,” Scott said.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Madelyne said hurriedly. “Hey, I’d love to meet him. Can you put us in a tele-conference thing?”
Scott smiled at her. “Sure, that sounds like fun.” He reopened Alex’s window and conferred with his brother. “Alex, I’d like you to meet Madelyne.”
“Hi-ee!” Madelyne said, then her gray-green eyes widened. “Look at you two!” she said. “It’s like night and day! Are you sure you’re related?” Her observation was a common one. While both boys were lean and narrow, Scott stood almost a full head taller than his younger brother did. Scott’s hair was a coppery brown trimmed stylishly short and his skin was only lightly tanned. Alex on the other hand, had longish locks of bright blond hair, his skin evenly browned from the Hawaiian sun.
Scott laughed. “Alex takes after our mother. That’s why he’s so gosh-darn pretty."
“Hey!” Alex interjected.
Madelyne giggled. “Nice to meet you, Alex.”
“Uhm, uh. Nice to...oh you said that all ready. Uh, hello there,” Alex stammered as a blush crept over his tanned cheeks.
“He’s a great conversationalist,” Madelyne said to Scott. “Did you get the e-mail I sent?”
This time, it was Scott’s turn to blush. “Yeah, Maddie, you’re a sick puppy. You’re the only girl I know who forwards porn to all her friends.”
Madelyne laughed and Alex’s eyes widened. “It wasn’t porn!” she squealed. “It was a comical rendition of ‘If I Only Had a Brain.’”
“And the one with the donkey?” Scott prompted, which only led to Madelyne breaking into more giggles.
“Oh, c’mon, you thought it was funny!”
“How come I’ve never seen any of these e-mails?” Alex complained.
Scott gave him a mock-serious frown. “I’m not about to corrupt my little brother,” he said, voice laced with deadpan humor.
“Aw!” Alex whined.
“Seriously, Scott, I was just calling to tell you my news,” Madelyne said. “Then I’ll let you two get back to your family reunion.”
“You don’t have to go,” Alex said quickly. “Really, we don’t mind.”
Madelyne gave him a wink and a grin.
“What’s your news, Maddie?” Scott asked.
“I’m going to be flying up to New York next week,” she said. “I have a meeting with my college advisor and I want to look at the student apartments. I thought that while I’m there, we might get together.”
“What a coincidence!” Alex exclaimed. “I’m flying to New York next week too.”
Scott laughed. “You are? What a surprise!”
“I’d hate to bother you on your vacation.” Madelyne’s eyes glittered happily. “If you’re going to be busy...”
“No, not busy at all!” Scott and Alex said in unison before they shared a brief glare.
“Maybe you two aren’t so different after all. Hm, young and innocent or older and more experienced? Decisions, decisions,” Madelyne said playfully. “Well, I had best get going. I’ve got some errands to run today. Nice meeting you Alex. I’ll see you later, Scott.”
The threesome shared good-byes and then Madelyne logged off.
Alex whistled and ran his hand through his hair. “Wow! Scott, what is with you? Have you got the market cornered on redheads or something?”
“To me, Alex, they’re all redheads,” Scott replied, fingering his visor. “Plus, she’s all ready got a boyfriend.”
“She sent you porn! She’s coming to New York to visit you! C’mon, Scott. It’s obvious she likes you.”
“Could it be she’s just a nice girl who wants to be my friend?”
Scott shook his head. He wasn’t the type to steal other guys’ girlfriends. It didn’t matter if the girl in question was adorable, and funny, and sweet...and kind. Besides, shouldn’t he be pining away for Jean? Though lately, she hadn’t given him the attention she would a fly on the wall, whereas Madelyne wrote to him regularly and they had spoken on the phone a few times.
Alex blew a raspberry at Scott. “Well, if you don’t go after her, I will,” he declared.
“Only if you want to have your head shoved up your own butt,” Scott replied.
Just then, there came a flash of lightning and a sharp crack of thunder, which caused the house lights to dim and the computer screen to flicker.
Scott and Alex stared at one another for a moment before Alex said: “What was I saying again about New England weather?”
“I’d better go,” Scott said. “I don’t want my computer to fry.”
“All right, I’ll let you go,” Alex said. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
“See ya,” Alex said before the program window closed. Scott turned off his laptop and closed it. He walked over to the window to look at the raging storm outside. It had seemingly come without warning; the weatherman had predicted sun, but hadn’t taken into account the storm goddess that lived so nearby. Rain beat against the window, distorting the view. Another flash of lightning struck and was followed by a rumble of thunder. Something’s happened, Scott thought to himself. Turning from the window, he gathered up his X-Men uniform from the bottom of his closet and proceeded to the lower floors of the mansion. Doubtless Professor Xavier would be contacting them soon, and he wanted to be ready. As always, Scott needed to set an example.
Rogue lay in her own bed, surrounded by her familiar sheets, her pillow. Though the room was stuffy and warm, she could not have slept uncovered. The enveloping blankets offered her more comfort in spite of the heat. Bedclothes tucked under her chin, she waited for sleep that wouldn’t come. It had only been a few hours since she had been released from her quarantine away from the other students. Yet here she was, back in bed, hiding away from the world.
It was just too darn hot, she thought angrily. With a sigh, she threw off the sheets and walked over to the bedroom window. Beneath it was the vent that served to circulate cool air. With her bare foot, she touched the vent and found it a neutral temperature, not cool as she had expected. For some reason, the air conditioning was not on. Rogue unlatched the window and pulled it open. She was greeted with a soft breeze that blew in off of the rain-soaked lawn. The earlier storm had brought blessed relief from the oppressive August heat.
Dressed only in an overlarge gray gym shirt, the cooling gust whispered against her bare arms and legs. The breeze brought with it the scent of wet earth and damp pavement. Moonlight created white ghosts out of the cloying mist that swirled across the lawn. Here and there, fireflies danced, glowing greenish-yellow in the dark. The wind-tossed treetops sent fat rain droplets down to patter against the leaves. In the darkness of the night, Rogue could hear the faint sound of music growing closer. The heady beat of a dance song floated on the wind. As the music grew closer, Rogue could pick up the familiar strands of a song by Jennifer Lopez. The singer was one of Kitty’s favorites. A Jeep hove into view, breaking through the mist to park before the mansion’s doors. From her window, which overlooked the front doorstep of the mansion, she had a good view of the car’s interior.
Rogue smiled wanly. Lance must be in deep, she thought, if he’s letting Kitty take control of his radio. The two figures in the parked vehicle below were lost in shadow. They sat together for several long moments. Perhaps they paused to look at one another or perhaps they conversed quietly. The light from the front porch was flicked on, casting its golden glow down onto the couple. Shining like a beacon of suspicion, the cast light betrayed the possibility of an innocent moment to be one of passion. Kitty looked up suddenly toward the source of the light, breaking away from Lance’s embrace. Her head had been leaning against his shoulder, her face tilted just so to receive his kiss. A long shadow fell down the steps leading up to the front landing of the mansion. Kitty bid Lance a hasty farewell and slipped out of the car. Wolverine was stepping down onto the pavement just as Kitty trotted past him and through the mansion’s front doors. Logan must have spoken to Lance, but the thrumming pulse of the music drowned out his words. His finger jutted out at Lance accusingly and the younger boy bobbed his head quickly as he nodded understanding. A look of fear passed across his features. The Jeep’s engine revved and Lance drove off quickly. Wolverine, with his arms folded defiantly across his chest, watched with satisfaction as the boy sped away.
The moment might have been comical, but Rogue was lost in thought as the image of Lance and Kitty’s embrace played through her mind. Her fingertips brushed against her lips, savoring the feel of flesh against flesh. She should return to bed, she knew, before Kitty suspected that Rogue had been spying. At the moment, Rogue could hear Kitty singing happily down in the foyer. The younger girl had taken to her freedom from quarantine like a thirsty desert-lost man to water, drinking it down in greedy, insatiable gulps. Despite being out past curfew and having been found out by Wolverine, Kitty had not lost her exuberance. How Rogue envied her.
Rogue was turning back to her bed to feign sleep, when she was brought up short by the sound of tapping against her window. She turned and saw nothing. She was about to dismiss the sound as being imagined when it came again. This time when she looked, Rogue saw the silhouette of a head and shoulders hung upside-down from the roof. She hastened to the window and peered out.
“What are y’doin, y’crazy Cajun?” she asked, as she leaned out of the open window to see him better. Remy had backed away from the window to peer at her over the edge of the roof.
“Come up,” he told her.
“No way!” she hissed back. Just then, she could hear Kitty’s tread upon the stair. “Oh!” she said huffily as she turned and sat down on the windowsill. “Fine,” Rogue called up to Gambit. “But if I fall, it will be your fault.” Rogue gripped the roof ledge and pulled herself up. Gambit startled her by grabbing her under her arms and hoisting her onto the roof. The light in the bedroom turned on just as Rogue’s toes cleared the window.
Rogue scrambled up the roof and caught her breath. The rooftop was damp, and the bottom of her shirt was immediately soaked through. After the moment of fright had passed, she gave Remy a shove.
“Hey!” he objected.
“Hush up,” Rogue said, as the sound of Kitty’s voice drifted up to them through the open window.
“Roh-ogue! Are you in the bathroom?” the girl was calling. “I’m not walking in on you this time!” When she received no answer, she went on her happy way, singing the whole time: “Song, c’mon baby play my song, play it all night long...”
“What are you doin’ up here?” Rogue asked Gambit when she was sure Kitty couldn’t hear.
“Heard you got out of quarantine. I wanted to see how you were doing,” he replied.
“Ah’m okay,” Rogue replied, fingering the tightly bound bandage around her thigh. The clamber up onto the roof had irritated the injury, causing it to ache.
“Your leg hurt?” Gambit asked.
Rogue shrugged a shoulder. “It’s not so bad. It was worse when Hank was stapling it back up.”
Rogue nodded and grinned. “Yeah, Ah thought he was joking at the time. But Ah told him, if he couldn’t stitch it up like a real doctor and was goin’ to practice his carpentry skills on me, he’d better call in a professional...like Bob Vila.”
Remy laughed softly. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“What about you?” she asked.
Remy frowned in response.
“Hank said you were in shock.”
“I woke up.”
“Y’stopped breathin’ when we were flying back home.”
“I got better.”
Rogue sighed. “You scared me half to death, you know. Y’put on quite a display down there. Near brung down the roof on us.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Remy replied.
“Ah know that. You were scared, it happens,” Rogue said as comfortingly as she could. When he didn’t reply she added: “We all were scared. Bein’ telepathically linked didn’t help none. Ah know what it’s like not to be in control of your powers--”
“I’m in perfect control of my powers!” he snapped. “I’ve never lost control before. Sure, a few accidents: broken dishes, a shattered window...”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Remy shifted and brought out a flattened pack of cigarettes. Rogue watched as he shook a cigarette from the pack and brought it to his lips.
She decided not to push the issue any further. Rogue pulled her shirt over her drawn-up knees and rested her chin on them. She turned her attention to the full moon. The sky was clear and full of twinkling stars. She watched as a wayward firefly drifted past, silhouetted against the deep blue-black sky. It flew before the silver orb of the moon, momentarily blotting it out before dropping low and lighting onto Rogue’s forearm. It crawled up her arm and over her wrist.
“Why is it dat a bug can walk across your skin easy as you please, and no one else can touch you?” Remy asked suddenly. Rogue realized with a start that while she had been watching the night sky, Remy had been watching her.
“Ah can’t say Ah know,” she answered.
He leaned forward and gently took the insect from the back of her hand, his fingers the barest whisper from her skin. They both watched as the firefly hesitated at the tip of Remy’s finger. Then with a whir of fast beating wings, it took to the air, blinking as it passed by.
“I shouldn’t be able to charge things from a distance,” Remy said suddenly. “I always have to touch objects before they explode.”
Rogue studied him carefully, keeping silent in hopes he would speak again. When he offered nothing, she told him: “Do you think your powers are changing?”
“Y’can ask the prof and Beast...if something’s different. See if they can help you.”
“No. You were right before. I was just...scared, startled. Though I don’t recollect much of what happened,” he admitted finally.
“Consider yourself lucky, then,” Rogue replied.
He gave a snort of contempt. “Lucky, right,” he said. “I shouldn’t have gone down dere. They never shoulda asked me t’go. With that devil in there and all.”
“We could’ve never guessed Essex was still alive,” Rogue replied. “How could he have survived?”
“Maybe not survived,” Remy said. “Maybe he’s a clone, like the tube-girl.”
“Don’t call her that,” Rogue said quietly. A moment of silence passed before Rogue spoke again. “Do you think Sinister would have cloned himself?”
“He’s done worse,” Remy answered, but gave no further explanation. He shook his head and waved his hand, as if to wave away the thoughts that hung in the air like smoke. “I didn’t come up here t’talk about this.”
“Well, what do you want to talk about?” Rogue asked.
“I had something I wanted to give you,” he said, as he leaned toward her. Rogue immediately jerked away. She then blushed in embarrassment at her over-reaction when she realized he was pulling something from his back pocket. “Here,” he said, offering her a folded up sheet of paper.
“What’s this?” she said as she unfolded it. She squinted at the flyer in the moonlight. “Open mike night at Harry’s,” she read out loud.
“I saw it in de window and thought you might try it.”
“No really,” Remy continued. “I think you’re pretty good on your guitar. There’s a prize here,” he said as he pointed at the bottom of the flyer. “What do you got to lose?”
“Dignity,” Rogue offered. “Respect. Or Ah might just die of embarrassment.”
Remy gave her an even look, his burning red eyes carefully appraising her face. “You should drop that act,” he said. “Self degradation doesn’t suit you. Or is it dat you’re afraid t’give something of yourself t’de world other than a sassy remark and a dark look?”
“You should talk!” Rogue snapped.
He smiled at her and nodded his head. “A lot alike, me and you,” he said. “Both of us from the south, both of us orphans. An’ the pair of us bein’ thieves. Is it coincidence or fate that brought us together?” he added loftily.
“You’re definition of ‘thief’ is a bit broad,” Rogue said dryly. “Cause Ah consider mahself nothin’ of the sort.”
“Is dat so? Well, suit yourself, cherie. But neither of us is in de givin’ business."
“You’ve stolen by choice,” Rogue said as she examined her bare hands. “It wasn’t my choice to get these mutant powers.”
“But it’s how y’use them what counts,” Remy said. “And to control them, if you please.”
Rogue lunged at Remy and grabbed him by the front of his shirt. She yanked him forward, until his face was just inches from her own. They stared at one another for a few moments. He held his breath. She examined the fear in his eyes. “You make it sound as if it were easy,” she said. “Well things don’t come easy to me, get it? Not luck, not charm, not anything! Nothin’ ever dropped into my lap. Ah’ve trained long and hard to get where Ah’m at right now.”
“And where are you at really?” Remy asked quietly. “Y’still a girl no one can touch. Maybe that’s the way you like it.”
“Do you want to end up a splatter on the driveway?” Rogue asked, her voice rising.
He relaxed, his surprised expression faded into a soft grin. “Okay, I’m sorry. You can’t control your powers. It’s none of your fault.”
“Don’t try that smooth talk with me,” Rogue said, pushing him back.
“You just told me t’ask for help with my mutant powers. Don’t you want the same for yourself? Why don’t you ask for help?”
Rogue returned to her previous sitting position, wrapping her arms around her knees. “The X-Men have been so kind t’me all ready. They took me in even after some of the crummy things Ah did with the Brotherhood. They’ve given me a home, a family. How can Ah ask them for more?"
“Ain’t a matter of askin’ for more. If this is a family, as you say, and you need help...it should be a given. Do it, chere. It pains me t’see such a pretty girl so sad.” He stood up then and began to walk away, stepping lightly across the sloped roof as if he weren’t three stories above the ground.
“Ah’m mad at you,” Rogue called after him. “You’d best remember that.”
“I hope t’see you at Harry’s then, on Saturday night.”
“Are you listenin’ to me?”
Rogue gave a frustrated sigh as she watched as he disappeared over the peak of the roof. She suddenly felt exhausted, her emotions shattered and jangling against each other like shards of broken glass. Her bed seemed to be very inviting now, but when she leaned down from the roof, she found that the window had been shut. Kitty must have closed it before going to bed, because the room was now dark. Stifling a curse, Rogue climbed up the roof using her hands stretched out before her for balance. There was no way she was going to follow Gambit into his room. She didn’t think she could stand to see that smart-ass grin on his face.
Instead, she hoped that Storm wouldn’t mind too terribly if she dropped from the roof and through her open skylight. Maybe, if she apologized quickly, she wouldn’t have to risk the mansion to another downpour.
“Whew! It is so hot!” exclaimed Lorna as she threw open the door to the bedroom she shared with Jean. Lorna was all ready in a state of undress, peeling off her shirt as she bounded into the room. Jean was sitting at her desk, a blank expression on her face and her hands lying limp in her lap. She barely took notice of Lorna’s outburst, but tapped the door shut with her telepathic powers as her roommate continued to disrobe.
“You’d think Forge, being a mechanical super-genius, could fix the air-conditioning a little faster!” Lorna proclaimed as she kicked off her boots and wiggled out of her pants. “I’m going to the pool. Are you coming?” She found her swimsuit in her dresser and pulled on the bikini top.
“I was thinking about doing some work---.” Jean began.
“Oh well, too bad,” Lorna said flippantly as she walked over to the window and flung open the curtains. “More boys for me then!”
Curious, Jean got up from her chair and looked out the window. Sitting on the edge of the pool below were Scott and his brother Alex. Judging by their exaggerated gesticulations, they were having a discussion about cars, surfing, or exploding things. Remy was nearby, stretched out in a lounge chair soaking up the sun.
“Kitty’s all ready down there,” Lorna said, pointing to where the girl sat in the shade with her book. “Oh, and damn! Here comes Rogue. Making a beeline for Remy. Sorry, Red. Looks like pickin’s is slim.”
Jean gave Lorna a calculating look. Lorna was wearing a lime green bikini top and a pair of hot pants with a palm leaf motif printed on them. The bright green swimsuit served to draw attention to her sparkling eyes and curly green hair. A slow smile spread over Jean’s face. “You seem to think I don’t stand a chance.”
“Not against me and the girls you don’t,” Lorna said, pointing to her breasts.
Jean turned on her heel and pulled open the top drawer of her dresser. “We’ll see what we’ll see,” Jean said gravely as she turned to show Lorna her swimsuit, which she held up by the straps.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Lorna gasped, her eyes widening in mock horror. “Jeannie, you call that a bathing suit? You’d cover more skin with two band-aids and some dental floss!”
Jean grinned maliciously. Lorna huffed and turned away to find her flip-flops under her bed. “You won’t get past Old Man in that!” Lorna declared, using her nickname for Wolverine. She hopped on one foot while pulling on her sandal.
“Who says Logan will even notice?” Jean said slyly, as she slipped into the bathroom. “If I’m making him look in the opposite direction...?”
“Jeannie has an evil side?” Lorna speculated. “I’m still going to get to the pool before you,” Lorna grabbed a forgotten towel from the back of her desk chair and took up her portable stereo in her other hand.
“That’s fine, Lorna. It’s best if everyone is present when I make my grand entrance!” Jean reappeared from the bathroom as she tied a gauzy sarong around her waist. It did nothing to conceal the fact she was wearing an extraordinarily small thong. The soft lavender fabric (what there was of it) nicely complimented her flawless pale skin and red hair.
Lorna waggled a finger at her as if to say ‘shame-shame’ before walking out the door, her sandals slapping the soles of her feet as she walked quickly down the hallway. Lorna trotted down the steps and through the kitchen, launching herself out of the pair of French doors that led to the patio. To her delight, the two boys in the pool paused in their conversation to give her an appraising look. Kitty gave her a cheerful wave. The girl was wearing a pink tankini with a Hello Kitty logo stamped on the chest. A pair of cats’-eye sunglasses sat on the bridge of her nose.
“Hi, Kit,” Lorna said as she approached. “I brought some tunes.” Lorna showed Kitty her stereo.
Kitty set aside her book. “Good luck with that. With those two,” Kitty nodded her head towards Gambit and Rogue, “you’ll never get them to agree to listen to anything.”
“Poo,” Lorna said. “It’s my radio, we’ll listen to what I want!” Rogue gave Lorna a sour look. “And since I’m in such a good mood,” Lorna continued, “Eighties retro pop it is!”
Kitty giggled. “Looks like you’re feeling better.”
Lorna shared a soft smile with Kitty before tuning her radio.
“You’re showin’ your age, chere,” Remy told her. “Kitty ain’t even old enough to remember the eighties.”
Lorna plopped herself down beside Remy, taking the empty chair to his right. Rogue sat to his left. The other girl was dressed in a black one-piece suit, with a matching lacy knit cover-up with long sleeves and a hood. The hood was pulled up over her head, and she kept the loose ends of the cover-up tucked around her neatly. As always, she was wearing gloves. Judging from the way she was sitting, it was easy to see she was uncomfortable exposing so much skin. Remy, on the other hand, was the picture of relaxation. He was wearing a pair of faded cut-offs, his lean legs stretched out before him. On his head was a bent and discolored straw cowboy hat, which he wore tilted forward to conceal his eyes. Without his shirt, she could see the Gothic icon of the Virgin Mary he had tattooed on his shoulder, and the newer tat, a black cross, on his right forearm.
“Geez, Remy,” Lorna said, pointing at his tattoo. “You take that whole ‘Body is a Temple’ thing pretty seriously, huh?"
Remy glanced up, his eyes just visible beneath the brim of the hat, and a slow grin spread across his face. “De temple is open for worship,” he said, spreading his arms. “Would you like to make an offering?”
Lorna snickered while Rogue glowered at him. “Aw, c’mon, chere,” Remy told Rogue. “It’s only going to get worse from here.”
“I can’t imagine,” Rogue said.
Remy took that as a challenge. “Care to kneel before the altar?”
Rogue upended her glass over Remy’s midsection, smiling sweetly as she did so. Remy yelped as he was splattered with water and melting ice. Lorna laughed, trying to hide her mirth behind her hands. The laughter faded when she realized that Scott and Alex had completely frozen in place, their mouths slightly agape. Lorna turned to see what they were staring at.
Jean was stepping lightly down from the patio, her sarong billowing out and exposing her long legs. Her dark black sunglasses gave her a look of detachment, making any expression impossible to read. She was wearing a broad brimmed sun-hat. Long ribbons trailed down from the back, mingling with her long red hair. In her hand was a tall glass of iced tea, in the other, a canvas bag.
“And lead us not into temptation...” Remy said quietly as he leaned back in his lounge chair and pulled his hat over his face. Rogue muttered under her breath.
Jean daintily seated herself next to Kitty. A ghost of a smile on her lips as her gaze passed over Lorna, who had crossed her arms over her chest. Jean turned to Kitty and smiled an angelic smile. “Kitty,” she said as she handed Kitty a bottle of sun-block from her tote bag. “Would you mind helping me with my sunscreen? I’d hate to burn.”
“Sure,” Kitty said, taking the bottle from Jean and applying a generous dollop of lotion to her palm. “I like your swimsuit. Is it new?”
“I just got it,” Jean said as she pulled her hair up to expose her back and long neck. Kitty started to rub the sun-block into Jean’s shoulders. “Thanks so much, Kitty. That’s nice.”
From the pool came a strangled sound, then coughing as someone began to choke. Lorna turned her attention to Scott and Alex. Alex was pounding Scott on the back, while his older brother coughed and gasped, his face turning redder by the moment. Part of her envied Jean, since she had so easily stolen the spotlight. The other half was highly amused. Jean Grey: hedonistic temptress. Who would have thought?
“Ah think Ah need another glass of water,” Rogue said as she stood from her chair.
“More ammunition, you mean?” Remy asked, brushing a stray ice cube from his lounge chair. “Please, no. I promise I’ll behave myself.
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Rogue said over her shoulder. She offered him a smile before she walked away.
“I think she likes you,” Lorna said in a loud whisper.
“Do you?” Remy asked. “Cause she almost threw me off de roof last night.”
Lorna raised her eyebrows in interest. The two of them continued to chat while Kitty returned to her book. Jean stretched out on her chair and pulled a magazine from her canvas bag. Scott tried his hardest not to stare at Jean as he started up another conversation with his brother. After several minutes passed, Remy left in pursuit of Rogue, who had not yet returned. Lorna joined Scott and Alex in the pool, offering Scott’s younger brother a playful grin.
“Don’t you think he’s a bit young, Lorna?” called Jean’s voice from the side of the pool.
Lorna turned to see Jean, standing on the bottom step of the pool and splashing water on herself to cool off. Lorna gave Jean a sly look and replied: “Young and impressionable, just the way I like them.” Alex’s face turned red when she gave him a wink.
“I prefer older and experienced, myself,” Jean said as she stepped out of the pool. She paused at the top of the steps, turning slightly towards the mansion. Jean grinned suddenly, an almost feral smile, and exited the pool. She sauntered over to her pool chair and picked up her glass of iced tea and drained it, leaning her head back and arching her neck. “Need more tea,” she said, her voice coming in one breathless gasp, as she examined the empty glass.
Lorna turned in the direction Jean had glanced to see Logan standing on the back porch. He was standing as he normally did, with his arms crossed over his chest, and looking mildly angry. He pointed his finger at Jean and beckoned her, but she was all ready approaching him with empty glass in hand.
“I don’t think Old Man approves of Jeannie’s choice in swimwear,” Lorna said to Scott.
“I think Scott likes it just fine,” Alex said. “Why else would he be standing waist deep in cold water ever since she came out here?”
Scott grabbed Alex and dunked him in the pool. He re-emerged, spluttering, with his blond hair streaming over his eyes.
The three watched as Jean approached Logan. The gruff tone of Logan’s voice floated over to them from across the pool. Though they could not hear his words, the meaning behind them was clear. He gestured towards the house, commanding her to go inside. Jean threw back her head and laughed, then playfully pushed at Logan’s shoulder. Her hand brushed over his bicep as she turned and gave him one last grin. Jean sauntered past Logan and into the house, leaving him standing on the back porch with a bewildered look on his face.
“Well, that was weird,” Lorna said.
“You said it,” Scott concurred, but he lacked Lorna’s lightheartedness. He suddenly wondered why Jean seemed so different, but so familiar at the same time.
That was fun, Jean thought to herself as she walked down the hall towards the kitchen. She paused before the hall mirror to admire herself, turning to a three-quarter pose to better see the exposed flesh of her thighs and buttocks in the reflection. What a wonderful thing a thong was. Jean smiled at her reflection. The look on Scott’s face had been priceless. Even better were the mingling thoughts of sexual attraction and jealousy that she had sensed from the other students. The thoughts thrilled her, invigorated her.
Jean made her way to the kitchen and set her empty glass down on the counter. She pulled open the door to the refrigerator. The burst of cold air gave her goose bumps and raised the hair on her arms. She took the pitcher of iced tea from the shelf and brought it over to her glass. After filling it halfway, she picked up the glass and sipped. It wasn’t nearly as sweet as she preferred. Setting the pitcher down, Jean found the sugar bowl amidst the matching canister set on the counter. Jean dipped the spoon into the sugar and sprinkled a half spoonful into her glass. She took another sip. Still not sweet enough, she thought as she poured a second spoonful into the tea. After another drink, the glass was empty save for a few ice cubes and sugary syrup stuck to the bottom of the glass. Jean poured some more tea from the pitcher, accidentally spilling some onto the counter. The sugar spoon was back in her hand with a heaping mound of sugar in the bowl.
The word rang in her mind like the clear tone of a church bell. Startled, Jean looked up and turned. She found she was alone in the kitchen. She shook her head, as if to clear it. The spoon full of sugar trembled slightly in her hand, causing the crystals to dust across the countertop. Slowly, the shaking spoon made its way to her lips. Jean’s lips parted as she took the spoon into her mouth. The sugar coated her tongue, filling her mouth with heavy sweetness. She swallowed and licked the sprinkling of sugar from her lips. Jean sighed with contentment and sipped her tea. Her nose wrinkled slightly as frowned at the glass and set it back down. The open sugar bowl tempted her. She plunged her finger into the sugar and then brought it to her mouth. Sweet, she thought.
There was the voice again. Jean seemed oblivious to it and walked back to the refrigerator. Yanking open the freezer door, she found a half-gallon of ice cream on the top shelf. She took it down and set the container onto the kitchen table. Jean pulled the sugar spoon from its dish and ripped the lid from the carton of ice cream. She half-leaned over the table, not bothering to sit as she ate. Several large spoonfuls later, Jean realized she was cold, but not from the ice cream. Looking up from the table, she found she had left the freezer door open. She moved to close it, but then decided to open the refrigerator door as well. On the shelf in the door she found a jar of maraschino cherries. They would go perfect with ice cream, she thought. She ladled several of the bright red cherries into the open ice cream container. Jean stared, as if transfixed, at the cherries sitting in the fast-melting ice cream. As she watched the red juice from the cherries mingle with the chocolate ice cream, her hand stole to the open cherry jar. With her fingers she pulled a cherry out and popped it into her mouth. She sucked the red syrup from her sticky fingers. A second cherry followed the first, then a third. She happily chewed the sweet fruits, even gnawing the stems for their sweetness. Her fingers searched the syrup filled jar, and found all the cherries had been eaten. With a sigh of dismay, she made to dispose of the jar. At the sink she paused, staring at the remainder of the maraschino syrup. Her fingers were stained red; a small stream of juice had run down her forearm to her elbow. Jean brought the rim of the jar to her lips and looked down at the syrup. Bits of cherries and stems still floated in the juice. Then the jar was upended and the juice was in her mouth. She tried to swallow, but then gagged and coughed. Cherry juice splattered the sink and dribbled down her chin and onto her chest.
For several long moments, Jean looked blankly at the empty jar in her hand. The kitchen door squeaked open, and she looked up, as if just waking from deep sleep.
“Jean?” came an incredulous voice from the doorway. Jean turned slowly to see Rogue, fully dressed again and holding an empty glass in her hand. “Wha--?”
“Hi, Rogue,” Jean greeted the other girl, her voice perfectly level and serene. Jean then suddenly doubled over, clutching her midsection, and vomited onto the kitchen floor. Jean wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and stood.
“We’re out of cherries,” she said.
Continued in Chapter 6
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