Challenge: This is a response to a challenge issued by RM, albeit a little twisted on what she asked for: "[A] class reunion. I think this would be particularly fun to do with Scott, what with the whole mutant-ability-at-the-prom ordeal." This story is actually an idea I've had at the back of my mind for a while, but the challenge seemed a good time to write it finally.
Notes: While I've been through LaGuardia several times, the last was some years back and I can't vouch for any updates. Thanks to Naomi, as always, for corrections, and also info on driving to LaGuardia. Mention of the Teletubbies references the first story in this series. Mo, Selena is for you. And for the record, 'Selene' was the name of the Greek goddess of the moon, later conflated with Artemis.
A bustle of activity near the gate forewarned of immanent departure. The door was swung open and the little velvet cord unclipped by a perky blonde in dark slacks and a white shirt. She switched on her mic and her breath came rough across it. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We're ready to begin boarding for US Air flight number 1624 with service to Chicago O'Hare. We'll take all first class passengers at this time. Boarding all first class passengers for US Air flight 1624."
"That's you, hon," I told Jean, who'd stood already to collect her suit bag. I handed over her laptop, which I'd been carrying because it was heavy. She shouldered it, and it dragged her suit jacket askew.
Leaning in, she kissed me quick. "See you Sunday. Try to stay out of trouble and don't poke the Wolverine through the cage bars. He might bite."
I laughed. "I'll keep that in mind."
She started to turn, then twisted back again to grab me by the nape of the neck and pull my face close, kissed me a second time more soundly. Our teeth knocked together but I didn't mind. "That's better," she said, lips tipping up. "I'll miss you, lover."
"Ditto, pretty woman. Wow 'em in the Windy City."
And I watched her walk away, hips swaying in her red suit mini-skirt. Half her wardrobe is red, so I can see the color. She paused to hand the attendant her ticket, had it checked through the little machine, then glanced back at me once before disappearing down the gate tunnel. We've been together three years and I still miss her when she's gone even overnight. But I think it's good for us to be parted occasionally. It reminds me that I do miss her, and I'd hate to reach a point where I don't.
I was turning away from the gate when I came face to face with a piece of my past.
I'd know those eyes anywhere, beautiful black almond eyes that had left half the boys in our graduating class at her mercy. But my next thought was less kind: She'd plumped out. Then I realized that at least half the extra weight owed to pregnancy. I'm hardly an expert, but I'd have guessed her at about six months - enough to merit maternity clothing, not enough to interfere with tying her shoes.
She was staring right at me, her jaw agape, and there was no way I could do the politic thing and pretend we hadn't seen each other.
"Scott Summers?" she asked.
"Hello, Selena." I spoke her name carefully, in a tone one might reserve for a rabid dog. I half expected the next words out of her mouth to be some variation on, Mutant, ahoy!
Her "Oh, my god!" wasn't far off, but the wide grin didn't correspond. And then she was hugging me.
"Hey!" I said, startled.
She let me go, though her grip on my arms remained. "I can't believe it! It's been ten years! How are you? You look fantastic! Was that your wife you were saying good-bye to? She's a beautiful woman." She was babbling in her excitement, and this definitely wasn't the reception I'd have expected from the girl whose senior prom I'd trashed with the manifestation of my power. My last high school girlfriend. My fantastically popular, fantastically jealous, cheerleader prom date.
But people can change a lot, in ten years. Especially the ten between seventeen and twenty-seven.
"I'm fine," I told her now and finally let myself smile. "I can't believe this, either." There were several levels to that statement. "What are you doing in New York? And no, that wasn't my wife" - involuntarily, I glanced back to where the docking gate was still open and the line of boarding passengers had snaked all the way past the second row of seats - "at least not for a few more months."
"A few more months!" She hit at my arm, playfully. "Congratulations! God, Scott, it is so good to see you!" She hugged me again.
"What are you doing here?" I asked a second time.
"Waiting on a plane. What else do people do in an airport? I've got a layover of almost a three hours."
"Between where and where? And do you want to go get something to eat?"
"Between Atlanta and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And I'd love to get something to eat. I'm starving. But then, I'm pregnant. Of course I'm starving." And she slipped her arm through mine, hauling me off. Selena always was the aggressive one, a suitable balance to my laid-back high school reputation.
Like I said, people can change a lot in ten years.
LaGuardia International is an old airport, a bit frayed about the edges and without the plethora of shops and food courts that you find in remodeled Philadelphia or Pittsburg, Dallas or Atlanta. Getting there means navigating the parking lot of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. But I still prefer it over the lunacy of JFK. (Call me crazy.) We were at the US Airways Terminal, and decided to go to Central by shuttle since she had time. There's a better selection of restaurants there. She was lugging one of those ubiquitous rolling carry-on bags, in forest green, I think. But my grasp of colors is about as on target as newspaper horoscopes. I insisted on handling it for her as she paced beside me down the terminal corridor decorated in airport-dun carpet, fake silk greenery, and backlit ads for cell phone services, stock companies, and The Wall Street Journal. She already had that pregnant-woman waddle. I hoped one day I'd see Jean walk like that, and thinking of Jean reminded me. "Selena, wait. I need to call the place I work, let them know I'm running late."
"This won't endanger your job will it?"
"What? Oh, Christ, no. Don't worry about it." I tugged my cell phone out of its belt holster and hit one on the speed dial. The professor's office. I could probably have done this telepathically - he was strong enough - but it would look a bit odd for me to stand stock still in the middle of the terminal walkway and talk to the air. When he answered, I said, "Professor, I won't be back until after supper."
Traffic jam?, his voice asked calmly.
"No. I ran into an old friend. We're going to have dinner together."
A friend from college?
"No, sir. From high school." I smiled at Selena as I said it.
I could pick up his astonishment from his silence, then the briefest of distant brushes on my mind - to confirm that I was okay, I'm sure. Have a good time, son, was all he said before hanging up.
"Let's go," I told her and we headed off again.
"So where do you work?" she asked. "You're not someone I'd have expected to find in the Big Apple."
"I teach high school. Math. It's a private school for gifted kids. Up in Westchester." At her blank look, I elaborated, "Westchester is just north of the Bronx. You remember The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow?" She nodded. "That's Westchester County."
"Ah." A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "And gifted kids, huh?" But she didn't elaborate, paused instead in front of banks of closed-circuit televisions announcing departure times. "Just want to be sure nothing's changed." It was mid-December, approaching the Christmas crush. "Still on time," she announced, "Two hours and forty-three minutes," and we continued on. "But math?" she said after a minute. "I guess I can see it - you always got As in calc - though I thought you were going to Berkeley for engineering."
"Change of plans before I got there."
"So you did go to Berkeley?"
"Yeah, I went to Berkeley."
And the conversation hovered for a moment at the edge of uncomfortable questions, wobbled, then stepped back onto safer ground. "Why a math teacher?" she asked.
I shrugged. "I like math." It wasn't a good answer, but she let it go. We'd reached the shuttle doors and waited with thirty other people for the next bus to arrive. "So what are you planning to do in Harrisburg? Or is Harrisburg home, and I should ask what you were doing in Atlanta?"
"Harrisburg is home. I was in Atlanta to interview for a job. Public television."
"Really?" I found amusing the idea of Selena-the-ex-cheerleader involved in PBS.
"I did a broadcasting major at UCLA, fell in love with public television. The whole idea of it. We're the alternative to Big Business TV - the community voice." She sounded like a pledge campaign. "And don't even get me going on Congress cutting funds to the NEH."
I laughed at that. Selena was still as forceful and firey as I remembered her. I've always been drawn to firey women. "So what do you do there? You have a show?"
"Me? God, no. I'm one of the program directors. I decide if we buy new episodes of Barney or of This Old House."
"How about buying some new episodes of Teletubbies. I'm getting tired of the old ones."
She burst out laughing as the doors in front of us opened to let us exit along with the other human lemmings and file onto the shuttle. I helped her make the step up. The seats were all taken but no one rose to let her sit down; this is New York where everyone pretends not to see you and pregnant women merit no special treatment. It annoyed me but I've learned to keep my mouth shut in public, not draw any more attention to myself than my glasses already get me.
Now, she turned to me and smiled. "I'll keep more episodes of the Teletubbies in mind, though I doubt you're watching the Harrisburg station. But I'm not going to ask what a bunch of gifted kids are doing watching Teletubbies. Or do you have kids of your own that are toddler age?"
"No kids yet. Jean and I aren't in a hurry. And I'm not sure what the older ones are doing watching Teletubbies, either. But it's a boarding school, so they stay all weekend and they have this tradition of getting up to watch Teletubbies on Saturday morning." I decided not to go into the whole story behind it, or explain that I had a purple Tinky Winky with red shades on my desk.
She smiled, then asked, "Is your fiancée another teacher there?"
"Sort of. She teaches a course in biology, but mostly acts as our part-time school physician. The rest of the time she does independent research in genetics."
"Genetics? Wow! What's her name? You called her Jean?"
Her mouth dropped open. "Dr. Jean Grey? As in the Senate Hearings Jean Grey?"
I was a bit surprised, but probably shouldn't have been. Selena was in broadcasting. "Yeah. The Senate Hearings Jean Grey."
A slow, wide smile cut her face, but I couldn't help noticing others in the shuttle had overheard and turned to stare. Some expressions were curious, more were hostile. "Mutie pig," one man in his thirties muttered, beneath his breath but loud enough for me to catch. He was staring at me. My glasses were no longer simply a curiosity. They branded me.
Selena had heard him, too, and turned to glare with level black eyes. "Bigotry is ugly anywhere, mister, but it's even uglier in a country founded on freedom. I find it sad when Great Britain and France - Nineteenth Century Colonial giants - both have better track records on mutant rights than the United States."
"Figures a Jap bitch would take up for a mutie. Why don't you go back where you came from and breed there?"
People around us looked shocked, embarrassed, or fidgeted at such public bluntness, and I started to snap at him but Selena raised a hand to forestall me. "How long have your ancestors been in this country?"
"None of your business."
"Which no doubt means not very long. And while it's true that some of my ancestors came from China" - she stressed China, not Japan - "the others are Laguna Pueblo. You're an immigrant on my land, mister, and maybe you're the one who should go back where you came from. As for my friend being a mutant, frankly I'd feel a lot safer with him in a dark alley than with you."
And she turned away, dismissing him abruptly. I met her eyes and smiled, but watched her opponent sidewise. I doubted he'd do anything on a crowed shuttle but wasn't going to take that chance. "You never told me your were part Indian."
"You never asked."
"You've got guts."
"Pregnancy is a great excuse. I slammed my purse into the back of a taxi in Atlanta, too. I was walking down a sidewalk when the driver cut me off to make a right-hand turn. Whatever happened to pedestrian right-of-way?"
I chuckled a that - I could see her do it - but the rest of the shuttle ride was tense and most of the other riders had edged away from us. A few made a point of not doing so. I felt like a black man sitting at the front of the bus, circa 1967.
After we exited, an awkward silence fell between Selena and I. We wandered the concourse, trying to decide where to eat, settled finally on the Brooklyn National Deli. I insisted on buying for us both: overpriced sandwiches, dill pickles, and suitably greasy potato chips. By unspoken agreement, we took it off to a table in a corner near the windows, away from prying ears.
"Thanks," I said finally. She knew to what I referred.
"No need. I hate mindless bigotry."
That made me smile and I remembered why I'd asked her out, all those years ago. "I'm sorry, too," I said then, "for ruining your senior prom." I could still remember, as vivid as a photograph, her look of utter shock beyond the ruined wall that had once divided the boys' bathroom from the girls' at our high school - a wall shattered by the force of my own eye blasts. It was the last expression I'd seen on her face until twenty minutes ago.
Now, she studied me a minute and I could feel the weight of her eyes, though I didn't look up at her. Instead, I busied myself putting dressing on my sandwich. "It ruined your senior prom, too," she said.
True. "You've changed," I told her.
"Is that a good thing or bad thing?"
"It's a good thing. I like this Selena. I wish I'd known her ten years ago."
She rolled her eyes and took a bite of sandwich, chewed and swallowed, then said, "This Selena needed a few years to grow up. There was a reason, y'know, that I didn't tell you I was part Pueblo - and not because you didn't ask. Back then, I wanted to be just like everyone else. The American Dream Cheerleader: blonde and blue-eyed and white."
My words won a smile from her. "It took me a while to be proud of being just another American mutt, even if I wasn't a white American mutt. And it also took me a while to realize that my life didn't revolve around having a boy at my beck and call."
That made me laugh. "You did have the boys at your beck and call, too. Snap of your fingers and ten of us were waiting in line. I felt ridiculously lucky you agreed to go out with me."
She pushed at my arm, good-naturedly. "Dummy. You had your own little harem, girls all sighing after those eyes and that grin. I was the envy of Southside for a month."
"Until I turned into the Mutant From the Black Lagoon."
She almost spit half-chewed sandwich all over the table, had to clap a hand over her mouth until she could swallow. By that point, her face was red with the effort. "God! That's why I went out with you, y'know. You were funny as hell. Still are." Then she sighed, and sobered, looked out the big bank of windows that fronted the food court dining tables. On the concrete apron beyond, planes taxied to and fro, what I knew were the blue and orange of Southwest, the grey and blue of US Air, and white (pink to me) planes with double red and blue As on their tail for American Airlines.
"We didn't know you were a mutant, Scott," she said after a while. "It happened before the whole mutant scare started up. It wasn't the first thing on people's minds, back then."
"So what did people say? After?" I'd never been told.
"There were a few jokes about you belonging on Star Trek, but that's about it. People asked me what I knew, which was, of course, nothing. Truth be told, I think most people thought it an elaborate prank - unexpected coming from you - but senoritis had struck us all. We were thinking about graduation, and summer vacation, and college. We weren't thinking about you." She glanced down at the half of her sandwich still left. "That sounds cold, doesn't it?."
"I prefer it to being a source of endless speculation."
She nodded. We ate in silence a while. It wasn't comfortable. Finally she asked, "What happened to you? After, I mean? I tried calling your house once, but your mother said you weren't living there any more."
She'd tried to call me? I was strangely touched. "The . . . event . . . made a blip on the national news. A man who worked with mutant kids heard about it, and contacted my parents the next day. I was in New York by the end of that week, at a special school. I stayed for a year, then went to college, majored in math and education, and got a job teaching."
"You teach at that same school which took you in, don't you?"
"How'd you guess?"
She tapped her temple. "I might not be an acting reporter, but I know how to listen to what isn't said, and remember what was - and then put two and two together. A school for gifted students, huh? Any others who can knock down a wall to spy on girls in the bathroom next door?"
That made me sputter in indignation. "I wasn't trying to spy!"
"Sure, you weren't. What seventeen year old guy doesn't want to spy on the girls' bathroom?"
"I wasn't, dammit!" But I was laughing. For the first time in ten years, I was laughing about what had happened that night.
Smug, she smiled back, a Cheshire cat grin, then tilted her head. "The glasses are part of it, aren't they?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Can you take them off?"
"Not without punching through the window."
"What, exactly, do your eyes do? Are they lasers?"
"No, there's no heat involved. It's a concussive force beam - sort of like a bullet, but without the gun-powder burn. The beams cut through things. The glasses" - I touched them - "diffuse the force, make me as harmless as a mouse."
"I doubt that." She ran a hand through her short hair and studied me with narrowed eyes. "What can you do with them?"
"Try my damndest not to hurt anything."
A flutter of expressions crossed her face, from shock through pain to annoyance. "Practically speaking, what can you do with them?"
"Well, I don't ever need a drill, and I can chop firewood without an ax, and dig holes without a shovel. I can even open your car door if you locked your keys inside - assuming you don't mind never being able to lock the door again after." She smiled at that. "I carve wood sometimes."
"Yeah. It reminds me that I'm more than a living weapon."
"And are they weapons? Your eyes?"
"They can be," I told her levelly. "But so's a butcher knife in the wrong hands."
She shook her head. "It wasn't an attack, Scott. I was just curious."
"I've spent the last ten years trying to keep from accidentally destroying things. I'm a little touchy." My voice was sharp. She reached out to cover my hand with hers. "Sorry," I said.
"No need to apologize. If I were you, I'd be jumpy, too, these days. I'm not your enemy."
"I know." She'd made that clear on the shuttle. Another pause, and finally I pointed towards her swollen abdomen. "I don't want to pry, but when are you due?" Between our first meeting and now, I'd noticed that she wasn't wearing a ring. But most twenty-seven-year-old women didn't get pregnant by accident, especially not educated, professional women. And she'd certainly spoken openly enough about being pregnant.
"It's not prying at all. And I'm due in late April. Which probably means early May."
"Second, actually. But I didn't carry my first."
I paused in taking a bite, tried to piece that together. "You had a surrogate mother?"
"No." She was smiling, clearly amused by my confusion. "My partner carried our first."
"Your - Oh."
I got it then, and started laughing. And she did have a ring. I'd just been looking on the wrong hand. She grinned back. "It doesn't bug you? To find out I'm a lesbian?"
I shook my head. "Not hardly. Would it bug you to find out your old boyfriend was not just a mutant, but" - I leaned over the tabletop to whisper, conspiratorially - "bi, too?"
We both lost it at that point, laughed so hard several people who were sitting nearby glared over at us. We tried to pipe down, but kept erupting in fits of giggles like the pair of teenagers we weren't any more. Finally, we had to give up and leave, abandon our dinner unfinished.
Outside the food court, we finally calmed down and walked back towards the shuttle gate to the US Air Terminal, her hand tucked in my elbow and me trailing her bag. "Y'know," she said after a bit, "I'm not on the side of mutant rights because I'm gay, or because I'm a minority woman of color, either. I'm on that side because I think it's the right and decent thing."
"But being gay and a minority probably did make you see the world differently."
"No doubt. Does your fiancée know?"
"That I'm bi, or that I'm a mutant?"
She elbowed me with the arm slipped through mine. "I assume she'd know you're a mutant, dim wit!"
Grinning, I said, "Yes, she knows I'm bi."
"And she's okay with that?"
"She's okay with that."
"I don't suppose she's bi?"
"Don't even think about it, Selena. I've got enough competition from other quarters."
"Party pooper." Her smile was wicked.
The shuttle ride back was thankfully uneventful and we made it to Selena's gate with time and to spare. She made a bathroom run while I babysat her bag. "Being pregnant amounts to navigating a course between restrooms," she told me when she came back.
Finally they started the gate call and for the second time that day, I bid farewell to a pretty woman, even got another kiss, though not on the mouth. She gave me her card, too. "My email address is at the bottom. You'd better write, or I'll come haunt you like the headless horseman."
"God forbid. And I will write." I meant it. I hugged her. "I'd invite you to my wedding, but I think you'll be having a baby."
"Maybe. Invite me anyway. Good bye, Scott Summers."
"Good bye, Selena Ki."
She headed off down her docking tunnel. And outside the terminal windows, beyond the tail of her plane, I could see the moon peeking over the noose of the horizon spilling cool quicksilver on the runway.
It's common practice in moviefic to demonize Scott's prom date, but I wanted to do something different. People do change, and grow up. Even so, some personality traits remain. Selena in the novel appeared to have had a temper, so I kept that. No one answered my plea for help on the ethnicity of the surname "Ki" so I've made a wild guess that it's Chinese. If that's wrong, please let me know. And, incidently, Asian-(Amiercan) Indian part-bloods are often so pretty you want to follow them home to see if they're real.
A final comment:
I've always had trouble with the view, particularly in later comics,
that nearly anyone (especially in the States) who wasn't a mutant would
be out to get mutants. I don't find that realistic. In fact, I think the
lines would be far more muddled. There would be a rabid anti-mutant
crowd, some of whom might even be closeted mutants. There would also be
the pro-mutant crowd, not all of whom would be mutants. Then there would
be a large slice of the indifferent, those who didn't pay attention as
long as it didn't concern them. And last, there'd be those in favor of
civil rights for all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, orientation or
DNA. I see Selena as falling into the latter category.