He'd only been home for a few weeks when his mother approached him, saying she had done him a little favor. He stared at her blankly as she came into his room with a pleased look on her face. The only thing he wanted was to go back to the institute and there was no way his mother was going to allow that, even if there had been an institute for him to go back to.
When Bobby didn't seem particularly eager to hear more information, Mrs. Drake sat down on the edge of her son's bed, patting his shoulder. "Your father and I think it would be good for you to go out with someone your own age. I asked around at work, and my friend Angela and I arranged for you to take her daughter, Lacey, out on a date."
The blond mutant still didn't look particularly thrilled. Mrs. Drake's eyes narrowed slightly behind her glasses. "Bobby, I know you must miss your, er…friends. But sitting around the house all day isn't healthy. Remember how popular you used to be at school before you went away? I miss that Bobby."
It was a pretty rare thing for Bobby Drake to get angry. He was laid back, preferring to make a joke rather than confront someone. But his mom was making him lose the relaxed persona he usually maintained. "I'm not who I used to be, Mom," he told her quietly. "I've changed."
"You're home now. You don't have to pretend to be something you're not." Her tone was clearly trying to be reassuring, but it sounded patronizing. "And you will be going to pick up Lacey at 7:30. You'll see. I'm only trying to help, sweetie."
She gave him a sad smile as she got up and crossed the room. Mrs. Drake turned to look at her son once more as she reached the door. "It won't be a bad thing for you to see a nice, normal girl like Lacey. It's not like you had a girlfriend at that school of yours."
Bobby waited until she had gone to roll her eyes. His mom was right; he didn't have a girlfriend at school, but it wasn't for lack of trying. He had been her friend, her best friend. She'd told him so many times, her face always lit up with that smile he loved to see.
He looked over at his desk, spotting a picture of the girl he'd been thinking about. He had been staring at it an awful lot lately, especially in the middle of the night when he couldn't sleep. Bobby grinned slightly as he reached for the photograph.
It had been taken on a particularly warm day last spring. He'd spotted Kitty and Jean lying on the grass under an old oak tree, talking about some girl thing. Jean was fiddling with her digital camera, snapping a picture now and then as Kitty spoke. It was nice, he remembered thinking, that Jean was taking on a big sister role.
Anyway, Bobby had seen his opportunity and he had taken it. He crept up to the girls and pressed his icy palm on that little patch of Kitty's bare skin that always peeked out from under her shirt. Kitty had shrieked, not expecting it, but then she smiled that smile. Sometimes, he swore that seeing her smile was all he lived for.
Even though it seemed like Jean had taken hundreds of pictures over the past few weeks, this time when she aimed the camera at them, neither shied away. This time, Bobby didn't mind when the flash went off in his eyes as the camera forever captured he and Kitty's grinning faces.
A few days later, Jean gave him a copy of that picture. She didn't say anything, merely giving him a knowing smile.
Bobby shook his head, ending the memory. He was trying to stop remembering all the things he loved about the institute, but thinking about Kitty definitely wasn't helping. He was going to try to look at this date with his usual optimism. Maybe this was what he needed.
Madeline Bass–Drake had been very wrong. It was a very bad thing for Bobby to see a "nice girl" like Lacey. The whole evening had been a complete disaster.
When Bobby had gone to pick her up, he had initially liked what he'd seen, if only on a purely superficial level. Lacey was pretty in a classic way, with blond curls and baby blue eyes. She was dressed in a bubblegum pink tank top with spaghetti straps and a little denim skirt.
But the first thing she'd done upon answering the door was throw her arms around him like they were long lost friends. Bobby tried not to remember the last time he'd hugged a girl.
The whole car ride she had yapped on and on about silly, trivial things. Lacey, it seemed, was the classic dumb blond type of girl. And maybe he would have liked her before he had gone off to train for the X-Men and met the girl of his dreams.
He couldn't wait until it was late enough to take her home. It seemed to take several eternities before Lacey had picked at her salad enough to deem herself full.
Bobby walked her to the door, where she threw her arms around him once more and thanked him for dinner. He was immensely relieved when he was alone at last and didn't have to listen to her too–cheerful chattering.
When he got home, his mother pressed for details, but thankfully, his father distracted her. The blond mutant gave his dad a grateful look before climbing the stairs up to his room. Bobby flopped onto his bed, reaching for the photograph he'd been looking at earlier. That disastrous blind date tonight had only made him miss her more.
And then he remembered that little piece of paper she'd pressed into his hand at the airport the day she'd gone back home to Illinois. Of course, he realized with a genuine smile, he would call her.
Feeling excited for the first time in weeks, Bobby rooted around his room until he found the paper with Kitty's phone number on it. He read it through twice, not wanting to make any mistakes.
She answered on the first ring, as if she had been waiting for his call. "Hello?" Kitty's voice asked, her enthusiasm ever–present.
"Hey, it's me," Bobby greeted his friend, and even though Kitty couldn't see him, he smiled. "I just, you know, wanted to hear how things are going with you."
"I was wondering if I was ever going to hear from you," Kitty replied, her tone teasing. "I'm alright, I guess. It's really quiet around here. I've been by myself a lot. None of my friends from before really want to talk to me." Kitty tried to make this sound as if it were unimportant and did not bother her in the slightest, but Bobby knew her better than that. He had a sudden desire to pull her into his arms like he had that day at the airport.
Of course, he couldn't do that. "It's kind of the opposite with me," Bobby told her, "My mom's been so happy that I'm home. She's trying to put me out among 'normal' kids again. Like today she came home and told me she set me up on a blind date. Crazy, huh?"
Kitty laughed, and he felt that little surge of pride he always got when he was the cause of her happiness. "So how did it go?" she asked, and she sounded cheerful, like she already knew the story was going to amuse her.
"It was awful. She was self–centered and she wouldn't shut up. It was so weird to be sitting there with her. I couldn't wait to take her home."
And it was almost the way it used to be, Bobby thought as he listened to Kitty laugh again. It was almost like it had been at school, talking and laughing and hanging out together. The only difference was that they were on the phone instead of face to face.
"Is she pretty?" Kitty wanted to know, and for a split second Bobby could have sworn he heard a faint hint of jealousy in her voice. He smiled to himself.
"Honestly, yeah, she's pretty. But not as pretty as you." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Bobby felt like an idiot, but there wasn't much he could do.
She seemed to be pleased, though. "You really think that?" Kitty asked. He could picture exactly the way she would look: a lock of hair twirled around her finger, a small, shy smile playing on her lips, and a hint of pink on her cheeks. The smile he'd had reappeared at the mental image of a flattered Kitty.
"'Course I do," Bobby told her, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "And you're way better than Lacey, anyway. Forget 'normal' girls; I'd rather have someone special." He shrugged, knowing she couldn't see him. He might as well be honest.
At first, Kitty didn't say anything. But then she spoke quietly. "Oh, Bobby," Kitty murmured. "I miss you."
Bobby knew that wasn't something she'd admit to just anyone. "Yeah," he agreed. "I miss you, too."