I'm not saying we were, like, perfect or anything. There were a lot of people at school who didn't like muties. Sorry, mutants. I'm just so used to saying muties, it isn't like any of them ever came up to me and said "Hey, that offends me," so I just don't think of it as that bad to say. But I'm trying to stop.
Anyway, we had more than our share of bigots and stuff. The truth is, even if you had nothing against mutants you had to talk like you did, or everyone would call you "mutie-lover" and make fun of you. So yeah, we sucked. But I just don't get it, when I hear on the news that some human bunch of kids beat on some mutie kid- sorry, mutant kid. Weren't they scared? Weren't they afraid of the mutant's powers?
I know we were.
It wasn't like Eve Francis was funny-looking. She looked as human as you or me. More human than some of the goths, actually. That's a joke, some of my best friends are goths. But she was this blonde prep, neat blond hair combed back and pulled into barrettes or bows, fuzzy sweaters, nice slacks or knee-length skirts. She looked totally Gap and Old Navy, you know? And she looked like this normal human whitebread preppie suburban kid. Until you looked at her eyes.
No, not like they glowed or they were red or something. They were just normal blue eyes. But they looked right through you. Like you were a bug. That was a little freakish.
That wasn't why Eve Francis scared people, though. And it wasn't because she was ranked second in class (we all figured the only reason she wasn't ranked first was that she was doing it on purpose, like, "I don't give enough of a shit about you and your school to rank first. I'll let someone who wants to work hard do that. But I'm so smart I can be second without busting a sweat.") It was because Eve knew things. Things no one should know.
Like the time Joe Mazzucci was busting on some little freshman, and Eve walked up to him with those eyes that just saw through him, and said "Leave him alone, Joe. Just because your dad passes out drunk every night after beating you with the belt is no good reason to take it out on other kids."
And Joe went dead white and turned around and yelled at her, "You don't know shit about my family, bitch! You don't know shit!"
And Eve just smiled. It wasn't like a nice happy smile. It was like "Don't push your luck."
And then Joe bolted and ran. Because when Eve smiled at you like that, you just got scared. You knew what she could do. We'd all heard the rumors-
-Like Mr. McDonoghue, who none of the girls liked because he was always, like, standing too close to them and putting his arm around them and asking them to stay after class and stuff. When he was arrested because the newspaper said he confessed to molesting three girl students, we all knew Eve had made him confess. We just knew.
So what were we supposed to do? Beat her up? Call her mutie? Trash her locker? Allison Campo tried that- scrawled "MUTIE" in big crayon on Eve's locker. No one saw her do it, but Eve knew. She walked up to Allison just before homeroom and said "Clean it off."
"Clean off what, Eeeeevie?"
"My locker. You've defaced it. Clean it off."
Allison snorted. "You must be stupid, to think I care enough about you to write on your locker. And anyway, what would you do if I did?"
Eve just gave her that look. "I could tell your parents that you're fucking Greg O'Donnell," she said. "I could tell Greg that you dated Tim Campanelli two nights ago when you said you had to go to your sister's ball game. I could tell Lori Anderson that you were the one spreading the rumors that she's a slut. So go. Clean. It. Off."
Allison was purple. "I didn't do any of those things! No one's going to believe you, mutie!"
And then Eve looked at Allison. And Allison burst out sobbing and dropped to her knees. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, I'll never say that again, I'll clean it off- please- please, don't-"
No one ever knew what, exactly, Eve had done to Allison. Allison wouldn't say. She wouldn't even talk about Eve after that. You mention Eve, she'd change the subject.
Eve didn't have any friends. But no one ever, ever hurt her or messed with her. We didn't know exactly what she could do, not in so many words, not at first. Later on I figured out what she was doing was telepathy, and maybe some mind control too. But at first we didn't know. We just knew we were scared of her. That you couldn't keep secrets from her, that she knew everything and she could fuck up your life so bad. Everyone has secrets they don't want the world to know. And even if you didn't, if Eve decided to make something up everyone would believe her. Everyone believed what she said about Allison, and Greg broke up with her when it got back to him and Lori stopped being her friend and she ended up on the outs with the popular clique because of what Eve said, because everyone believed Eve. It was like she was God. She knew everything and she didn't lie. And if you were good, maybe she wouldn't tell anyone else.
Yeah, I don't get all those stories on the news about people beating up on mutants or blowing up their house. My God, wouldn't you be scared they'd know? Wouldn't you be afraid of their powers?
I watched Eve play basketball in freshman year, over in the girls' side of the gym. That was before we all knew how damn scary she was. We just knew she was a little weird, then. When I got benched because of the broken leg I got falling off the roof of my garage, and I had to sit out gym period, I'd watch the girls because, hell, who wouldn't? I was only a freshman, but I liked girls. And I'd watch them play basketball, and I'd see how Eve always, always knew where the ball was. Like, it's really hard to describe but it was like you could not surprise her. If you made a move, she'd counter you as you were making it. She was like this one-girl basketball army.
And then the gym teacher started talking to her about going out for the girls' basketball team, and Eve started to suck. She'd just be so listless in gym, barely moving, obviously not trying at all. The teacher yelled at her all the time about it. Then they fired him because it turned out he was drinking on school property. Three guesses how they found out.
After the new teacher came in, Eve just kinda did the minimum to get a decent grade, like most girls in gym, and the teacher didn't know she could be any better than that. But I knew. I knew she was faking it, so people wouldn't notice how good she was.
I ask you, if she was that good at a stupid game of basketball, how do you think you'd sneak up on her to beat her up or anything?
I'm not saying she was some kind of superhero or anything. Sometimes she'd interfere with bullying. There was this other mutant kid, a freshman when Eve was a soph, this scrawny little orange guy with no powers, and when some guys started shoving him around, Eve showed up. They were freshmen. They didn't know. No one knows what she did to them, but one dropped out and everyone else left the mutie- sorry, mutant- alone after that. But it wasn't like Eve was good pals with the mutant kid either. And most of the time she ignored the bullying, the teachers who got drunk, the Trenchcoat Mafia wannabes who acted like they were so bad, all that. Eve knew everything that went on, we all knew that. But at least some of us guessed that she kind of didn't care. Maybe, I thought, she thought of us as bugs. Insects. Beneath her. And she was gonna grow up and try to take over the world just like that guy Magneto you read about in history class. But if that was true, I didn't see how anyone was going to stop her.
Nope. Eve scared me shitless. I was afraid to even think anything bad around her. Because what if she got offended? You ever see that Twilight Zone episode with the little mutant boy who sends people to the cornfield when he gets them mad? Well, that's what we were all like with Eve, by sophomore year. We were all afraid of the cornfield.
And then a junior shot up the cafeteria.
I was there, okay? I was there when Steve Marchese marched in and pulled a gun out of his bookbag. "Everyone get down!" Mr. Sandoval, the science teacher who was doing lunch duty that day, yelled, and he tried to tackle Steve, and Steve shot him.
"Don't make me shoot anyone else!" Steve yelled. "Nobody better come near me!"
He got up on one of the lunch tables and started ranting about how we all sucked. How the whole three years he'd been there, it'd been nothing but hell for him, with jocks shoving him around, and girls playing jokes on him like saying they'd date him and then telling their brothers he'd made lewd remarks, so the brothers would beat him up when he came to the house. Teachers who gave him shit because he didn't dress like a prep. He confronted one guy, Don Lyle, one of the basketball players. "You liked shoving me, didn't you? Liked feeling power over me! Liked tripping me, and pushing my face into the locker, and insulting me, knowing I couldn't do jack about it. Well, I can do something about it now! How do you like it?"
Don was obviously scared out of his mind. "Hey, man, I didn't mean anything by it! It's cool, okay? I'm sorry! I'll make it up to you-"
"Make it up to me? How're you gonna fucking do that, huh? How you gonna make up for three years of hell you and your kind put me through?" He aimed the gun at Don's face, and we all figured Don was dead meat.
And then Eve came into the cafeteria.
She was running, out of breath. She yelled, "Don't do it!"
He turned, pointed the gun at her. "Who're you?" he asked. See, the juniors don't pay any attention to us lowly sophs. They didn't know about Eve. "And why the fuck should I care what you want?"
"Because I know what it's like," she said. "And if you shoot them, all you do is let them win."
"They're dead! They aren't gonna win a fucking thing!"
"Yeah, and you'll end up dead too, or in jail for life. They'll get to be martyrs and get heartwarming television specials made about how they lived their lives as great Christians. You'll be demonized by everyone. Is that what you want?"
"It's what they've made me! It's all that they've left for me!"
"That's not true." Eve was walking closer to him. She didn't show any fear at all. Even knowing she was a mutie, even knowing what a scary bitch she was, I felt scared for her. What good was her mind-reading power gonna do her against a gun? "You could still have a life. Go to college, get out of this hellhole, get a real life far away from these losers. You know, they make your life hell now, but when you're 25, they'll be pumping gas and you'll have a real job. If you put the gun down and walk away now. Otherwise you'll be measured for a casket, or be a bunch of gangsters' new girlfriend."
He shook his head wildly. "It's too late! I already shot somebody!"
"Mr. Sandoval's going to live. You got him in the arm. Right now you're looking at maybe a few years in juve before your record's cleared, or maybe even just hospitalization. No one's dead. You keep going, someone will be, and then your future is over. Yeah, you can take out some of these losers with you, but why? They aren't worth it. They've made your life hell. Why let them take it away from you?"
"I don't-" He was still shaking his head, but now he was crying. "I can't- I've gone too far-"
"It's all right," Eve said, and her voice was more gentle, more human, than I've ever heard. "Just give me the gun, Steve. It's going to be all right."
And damned if he didn't step down and give her the gun.
By now, of course, there were cops at the door of the cafeteria. But oddly, none of them had done anything. Either they'd known to let Eve talk Steve down, or she'd used some kind of mind-whammy on them to keep them out of her way. I don't know. But by now they were swarming all over Steve, cuffing him, searching him, and people were calling Eve a hero, congratulating her, hugging her, thanking her.
Don Lyle was one of the people who thanked her. "I knew the little shit didn't have the guts anyway, but thanks for getting the gun away from him. I didn't want it to go off accidentally if I rushed him."
She looked at Don, like he was less than an insect, like he was dog shit she found on her shoe. She looked at him, and he turned white. "Never lie to me," she whispered to him. "I should have let him shoot you."
He shook his head. "He wans't gonna shoot!" he said, sounding wild, crazed, rather like Steve had.
"Learn what it's like," she said softly, and then Don's eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out. The cops said it was delayed shock. I knew different. I saw Don in the days after that, haunted, jumping at shadows, all his confidence gone. He got benched for flinching too much in his game, and then he quit the team. They called it post-traumatic stress, but we all knew better. I think Eve made him live what it was like for the victims he pushed around. I think he couldn't stop thinking that people were going to beat him up or push him around, even though it wasn't happening, was never gonna happen.
So for a few days Eve Francis was the hero of the day, and no one told the papers what we all knew, which was that she was a mutie. What if she didn't want it in the papers? Enough of us saw what she did to Don, saw what he was going through, that no one wanted to cross her. She didn't seem to be happy with the attention from the teachers and the media, and before long it died down.
I never expected what happened next.
It was kind of an open secret that the door to the roof wasn't locked properly. People would sneak up to the roof to smoke or have sex sometimes. I was headed up after school to get a smoke, about three weeks after Steve Marchese's gun-toting nervous breakdown. And when I got up there, I saw Eve Francis, standing by the edge of the rooftop, dangerously close.
I thought, I should go back downstairs. I was scared of her, after all. What if she got mad at me disturbing her? But it was just me and her, and no one to see if she humiliated me, and the only secret I really had was that I'd found my dad's Playboy collection and was jacking off to it every night, which would have been real embarrassing if she told people (especially my dad!), but wouldn't actually have surprised anyone who knew me. So I said the first dumbass thing that came into my head, which was, "Hey, you can fly, too?"
She turned around, and I saw her cheeks were all shiny. Wet. And her eyes were puffy. She was crying. But man, I thought it was allergies! Eve Francis could not be crying. Too unreal.
"Go get your smoke," she said. "You don't care what happens here."
What happens here? That sounded sort of sinister. "What do you mean? What's gonna happen?"
She laughed bitterly. "I'm going to see if I can fly. I think the answer's probably 'no'. What do you think?"
"If you think you can't do it, why are you going to try?" Yeah, I was being dense. Eve wasn't a person to me. She couldn't have problems of her own.
"Because I'm so sick of listening to it!" she shouted. "I'm sick of hearing you all, day in, day out, and you're all so petty, so mean. All you care about is keeping your status and keeping other people down. And getting laid, the boys at least. I'm so tired of hearing it, and you're all ripping each other to bits, you won't ever stop, and it doesn't matter what I do, I can pop a few zits but this whole student body is just one bloated pustule and I can't stop you. I can't make you stop hurting, I can't make you stop hurting each other, and I can't stop listening to it. And I just want it to stop."
"Whoa." I blinked, and the world shifted around me. I realized suddenly what was going on. Being the supergenius I am, I said, "You're going to try to kill yourself?"
"I should have let him shoot you all," she snarled. "You weren't worth keeping alive. None of you. You just kept hurting him and hurting him until he snapped. And you'll do it to anyone else you get your hands on, and if you're lucky, they won't snap. And he was just as bad as you, he couldn't help abusing the power once he got it. Everyone abuses everyone else, and it never stops. You should all die. I should die."
"Don't!" I yelled, as she turned toward the edge of the roof.
She turned back to face me. "Why not? You don't care. 'There's Eve the scary mutie. Man I hope she doesn't look at me.' That's all you think about me. Why do you care if I die?"
"I- you just shouldn't kill yourself. You said it yourself, to that guy. Things get better when you're out of high school, right? Maybe everyone will stop hurting each other so much. You won't have to deal with this forever."
"Are you out of your mind?" She laughed. "Have you read the paper lately? People do nothing but hate and hurt each other. Nobody cares about anyone else. I try to reach out, to find the bright spots, and there's hardly anything there but a sea of pain. Life is nothing but shit. So I'm going to opt out while I'm still sane enough that it's just myself I kill, and not the rest of you. Because I'm not a monster. I've never hurt anyone who didn't deserve it, I never hurt anyone or controlled anyone for my own status or getting my kicks, and I'd rather be dead before I turn into someone like that. And I hate you all, and it's only a matter of time before I snap."
"What about your parents? What about one of those schools for mutants? You should go, see if they can help you!"
"Yeah, like they could. They're just fronts for the government to make mutie soldiers. I'm not killing people for Uncle Sam, no thank you. And my parents? I'd be better off with a wire monkey." She shook her head. "No."
And before I could say anything else, she turned and jumped.
She didn't scream. I did, though. I screamed a lot, and then I ran down the stairs like a lunatic, looking for a teacher, an open classroom, a phone, any way to call the authorities. The debate team was meeting in a classroom on the fourth floor, last floor before the roof; I ran in and screamed at the teacher to call 911. "Someone jumped!" I remember crying. "Off the roof!" I didn't say who it was. The teachers didn't necessarily like Eve any more than the rest of us did.
The teacher didn't have ready access to a phone, but one of the debate team had a cell phone, and she called 911. I didn't stick around. I ran downstairs, out to the outside of the building. No one was there yet. School was officially closed, and she hadn't jumped off the front where people waiting for parents to pick them up might see her, or off the back where the athletes practicing on the field would have seen her. She had landed in the parking lot, broken and bloody on the ground.
I didn't know how to take a pulse. In the movies people just grabbed other people's wrists, but I knew from our attempt to measure our pulses in biology class that this was a lot harder than it looked, and I could barely find my own pulse, which I knew existed. I ran over to her and sat down on the asphalt and didn't know what else I could do. I'd never been that close to anyone injured before. After a while I could start to hear her breathing, a raspy kind of bubbling noise, very quiet.
The ambulance arrived. I heard its siren out in the loop in front of the building, and I got up and ran out there, waving my arms. "Over here, she's over here!" They heard me. They drove into the parking lot and bundled her up and took her away.
I almost let that be the end of the story. I mean, we all heard about it in class the next day, and people asked me what had happened. Some people were nasty about it, mocking Eve, which they'd never have dared to do while she was at school. Some people were genuinely really upset over it. I guess it's a weird thing to have a classmate try to kill herself even if you didn't like her much.
But I couldn't let it go. I just kept seeing her fall, seeing her lying on the asphalt in a pool of blood. I kept hearing her saying that she couldn't make it stop. And it was the first time I really thought about it. What kind of hell would it be to read minds in a place where almost everyone was miserable? No wonder she was such a bitch. Wouldn't anyone be? "I've never hurt anyone for personal gain," she said, "never hurt anyone who didn't deserve it." And that was pretty much true. I mean, screwing with Allison Campo because she wrote MUTIE on her locker was kind of about personal gain, but I think it was also about teaching people that screwing with mutants is bad. At least if we were scared of mutants we wouldn't go beating them up. We'd remember Eve, and we'd protect ourselves, and not mess with the mutant kids, even if it didn't look like they had any powers. And Allison definitely deserved it, anyway. "I'm not a monster," Eve had said, and she'd tried to kill herself so she wouldn't turn into one. "I should have let you all die," but instead of trying to kill us- something she probably had the power to do- she tried to kill herself so she wouldn't hurt us. We hated her, and she saved a bunch of our lives and then tried to kill herself so she wouldn't turn into a monster and hurt us.
I couldn't let it go, you know? I was seeing Eve in a new light. Not like I wanted to date her or anything, but I had to know what happened.
So I found out from the office what hospital they'd taken her to, and after school, two days after she jumped, I went.
They said she was out of intensive care, so I could see her, even though I wasn't family. They told me that her family was with her, and I got worried about that- I remembered her saying that her parents were about as helpful to her as a wire monkey, and since I took the same bio class as Eve did I knew what she meant by that. We learned in bio that if you give baby monkeys a mother doll made of wire, who feeds them with a bottle, and a mother doll made of cloth, who doesn't feed them, they go to the wire mother only when they want to eat and otherwise spend all their time hanging on the cloth mother. And if they don't have a cloth mother they die. They lose interest in eating, and they die. If Eve's parents were wire monkey parents, then the only surprising thing was that it took her till she was 15 to try suicide.
When I went up, the people I figured to be her folks were leaving the room. There was this middle-aged guy with red glasses, and a middle-aged woman with red hair, and a really hot babe like college age or something with red hair who looked so much like the middle-aged woman, I'd have said they were twins and not a mom and daughter if it wasn't that they were different ages. None of them looked a damn thing like Eve, but according to my bio class you could have a red-haired mom and a brown-haired dad and still have a blonde kid, so I guessed they could be her parents. They didn't look like they didn't care- they were all dressed up and they looked nice. But then, I guessed, what did I really know?
I knocked on her door. "Hey, Eve?"
"Come in," she said. She was laying in the bed with an IV tube and stuff like that, but she didn't have any bandages, which I thought was seriously weird considering how bad she was bleeding after she jumped. "What are you doing here?"
"Um… I just wanted to see if you were okay. You know. They told us you were alive and in the hospital, and I just wanted to check up."
"Feeling guilty? Or did you just want to see if the mutie was going to come back and make your life hell?"
This was the part where I got mad. "You know, it's not like you were ever nice to anyone. You say you hate the way high schoolers treat each other, and you're right, that does suck. But you weren't any better. You could have made friends with people instead of doing the whole 'ooh, leave me alone, I'm a scary mutie' thing."
"No, I couldn't have."
"Yes you could."
"No, I couldn't!" Her face was getting red. She took a deep breath. "You don't know what it was like. In seventh grade I had friends. I was even popular. When it first started I thought I was just nuts, you know, hearing voices. And then it got louder and louder, and I was drowning in it, and I started to forget who I was. If it wasn't for my uncle Nathaniel telling me I was a telepath I wouldn't have known what was going on. But when I found out, it didn't make me feel any better, because then I knew I was a mutant, and most people don't like mutants even if they don't hate them. I told some of my friends and they freaked, and I couldn't get away from it, I couldn't not know what they were thinking about me, I couldn't not know they were scared of me, and it was like I was them and I was scared of myself. And the only way I could make it stop was to stop caring. And I can't be friendly and nice and deep down inside totally not care. That really would be psycho. The only way to stop caring was to stop trying, not try to make friends, not worry about whether anyone liked me, just accept that no, they don't and they never will and I have to be okay with that. Because I can feel it. And it's like a punch in the stomach, over and over again, if you want to be friends with people and you like them and you want them to like you, and they don't, and there's nothing you can do about it."
"But how do you know no one would want to be friends with you? You didn't even try after you came to this school. Maybe you had friends in seventh grade but no one here knows you from there."
"Oh yeah they do. They just aren't telling you so."
"Okay, so there are people here who knew you when. But my point is, you could have maybe made friends with some people, and maybe it wouldn't have been like getting punched in the gut. You just didn't try."
"Oh, yeah, like you tried to ask Becky Ryland out. You tried real hard there, didn't you?"
I had had a crush on Becky for a year now. She was a cheerleader. I had no chance, and I knew it. I'd never so much as said "hi" to her. "That's one person. And that's liking like girl-boy like, not liking like friend like. I've got plenty of friends I didn't know would be my friend until I said hi to them."
"You don't get it. If I let myself care about anyone they suck me in. The only way I can keep all your minds out, the only way I can remember who I am and that I'm not any of you, is to make walls. And I don't know how to do that except by making ice… I can't describe it better than that. Like I'm making walls of ice around my head, to keep me cool. And I'm not going to be very friendly to anyone if I'm walking around with walls of ice around me, am I?"
"But it didn't help, did it? If you really didn't care, would you have jumped off the roof because you couldn't make people stop hurting each other?"
She sighed. "I managed for two years," she said quietly. "That's longer than I thought I'd last, back in eighth grade when it got really bad."
"The point I'm making is that if you really were this ice queen you were trying to turn into, then it would've worked forever. But you're not. You don't really hate everyone, and you don't really even not care. Or you'd have let Steve Marchese shoot up the cafeteria, and you wouldn't have jumped off a roof because we're all mean to each other. So what you tried, it just doesn't work. You need to have friends, or you'll go nuts and jump off a roof again. You can't just be Eve Francis, Mutant of Mystery, lurking in the dark shadows, woooh."
Eve laughed, that kind of short little giggle-snort people do when they don't want to laugh but they have to. But then she got her mad expression back again. "Yeah, and who was going to be my friend? You, Jack? I heard you make fun of the orange kid behind his back—yeah, not to his face, but that's because he's a freshman and you don't have any classes with him. I heard you talking about how gay poor Steve was, before he flipped." I opened my mouth. "Don't—just don't. It's not because guys just bust on guys. Don't tell me that. I heard you talking about me, too. The comment about how I'd be a lesbo except there aren't any other mutant lesbos at school?"
I went bright red. I'd said that about four weeks into freshman year. "You heard that?"
She tapped her temple. "I hear everything, remember?"
"Okay." I took a deep breath. "I'm not trying to say I haven't been a major league dickwad sometimes. I'm not trying to say I'd have been your best buddy, or your boyfriend, or even that anyone else would be either of those things. But I think what you're not getting is that yes, we're all dickwads, we're all jerks. We do all hurt each other. But most of us get over it and we make friends anyway, and we might even be making friends with the people who used to make fun of us. If you'd been one of us, if you'd let anyone know you had real feelings like a person and you weren't just the Phantom of the Classroom, you'd have gone through the same shit we do." I usually tried to avoid swearing, but by now I was really into my argument, heated up by it—not like I wanted to get in a fistfight or anything but I wanted her to understand. Because for all Eve Francis knew about what eeevil lurked in the minds of high school students, she didn't seem to understand some of the fundamental things I'd kind of figured out by the end of freshman year.
"You'd have gotten picked on and the boy you liked would've laughed at you and people would have made fun of the mutie and you'd make fun of them back and then someone would ask you for the social studies notes and you'd sit together at lunch and make fun of all the other weirdoes and you'd talk about music and movies and class, and whatever girly crap girls talk about, and then you'd have a friend. And she'd have a friend. So now you'd have two. And it goes like that. If Steve Marchese had stood up to any of the guys who ragged on him instead of letting himself be the laughingstock of the school until he snapped, he wouldn't have had to snap. If you hadn't acted like a total freakazoid, you might have gotten friends too. You know the orange guy? He's got friends now. I see him sometimes in the lunchroom with them, laughing and joking and pointing at other people. You could have gotten there, eventually. But you were scared of getting hurt, so you decided to freak everyone out and scare them with your powers so they wouldn't hurt you, and then you wonder why people don't like you?"
"I never wondered. I always knew."
"You just thought you knew. It was never as simple as you thought." I sat down on the bed. "Look, everyone's scared what people think of them. Everyone acts like a jerk so that other people won't pick on them. I'm ashamed of some of the crap I've done and said, and mostly I just did it so everyone wouldn't know how scared I was. Like that lesbo comment. I was scared out of my shorts by you, so I was trying to prove to all my friends that I wasn't really scared at all. And the thing is you aren't any different from us. You just had a bigger gun. We all try to pretend we don't have any weaknesses and that other people can't hurt us and we all try to make people scared of messing with us. But most of us try to make friends, too, because we know we need to. You think you don't need to, but really you're just even more scared than most of us are, because you're a mutant so you think no one will ever want to be your friend. So you try to pretend you don't need friends and you're so scary and no one had better mess with Eve Francis. But it's all a big act. Just like we do. You're not better than us, you're not worse. You're just like every other kid at this school. Except you read minds."
She laughed that giggle-snort again. "Pretty big 'except', don't you think?"
"Well, yeah, but I'm just trying to say deep down you're not as different from us as you think you are. You don't have to shut everyone out, you don't have to be the total ice queen badass bitch. You could have friends if you wanted to."
Eve looked out the window. "Maybe at the new school."
"You're going to a new school?"
"Yeah. Some people from Xavier's came by to recruit me. Since one of them is why I'm not in traction with my neck broken, I figure I at least owe it to them to give them a chance."
"I thought you didn't want to go to a mutant school because you thought it was a front for the government to turn mutants into soldiers."
"Well, there's some stuff I didn't know." She looked at me. "Did you know I was adopted?"
"I didn't know bug-all about you except that you're a mutant."
"Yeah." She looked down at the thin cover on the bed. "I used to think my parents just weren't all that affectionate because that's just the way they were. But they couldn't hide from me. My uncle Nathaniel paid them to take care of me. And they don't think he was doing it out of avuncular love, either. I can't read him- never could- but he's colder than I am. He's where I got the idea, actually, of saving myself with the ice walls. He's not actually related to me, either." Eve looked back up at me. "When you're a mutant, everyone wants to use you. It wasn't just about the school, why I wanted to kill myself. It was because all I could see in my future was being someone else's tool, and I didn't trust anyone, and I don't want to be a tool in someone else's hands. If I can't use my powers for what I believe in, I don't want to use them at all. But these people, they're from the school Charles Xavier founded."
"Charles Xavier. Oh, come on! We learned about him in American history, recent events! Don't tell me you don't remember!"
"American history wasn't really my best subject."
"I bet you remember Magneto," she snarked.
"Well, yeah, but he's easy to remember. Guy with magnetism powers, named Magneto? How do you forget that?"
She sighed. "Charles Xavier was a pro-mutant rights activist, and a proponent of the belief that mutants and humans are capable of mutual cooperation and co-existence. He was also, which I did not know, a mutant- a telepath, like me. And despite being a telepath, despite seeing all the same utter shit I see, he came up with this belief that people are essentially good, or that you can teach people to be good anyway. He believed that people with more power than others, and that means any kind of power, owe a responsibility to use it for others' benefit- so rich people should be philanthropists, and scientists should use their research for the benefit of everyone, and mutants should use their powers to benefit or protect humanity. He founded the X-Men, the first mutant superhero team, on that principle, and he founded his school with the philosophy that mutants learn to control their powers, and then learn to use them to benefit others."
"And some people just gave you a recruitment pitch, so you believe all this?"
She grinned. "No one lies to me, Jack, remember? This young woman named Maddy Summers healed me so I won't have to spend my life in a wheelchair, and I talked to her parents, who're the heads of the school, and they let me read their minds so I knew they were telling the truth. They used to be X-Men- Scott and Jean Summers. And I can tell that they believe this, without question. So if they're the heads of the school and they believe that's what the school's about, I can at least give it a try. If I have something to believe in- if they can teach me how I can use my powers to make things better- I guess it could still end up all going south, but I want to get away from my uncle, and it's not like I have anything better to do."
"So you're going to become a superhero?"
"Well, they are a licensed superhero academy, but no, I don't know if that's what I'm going to do yet. They said that all their graduates are licensed for powers use, but not everyone is actually a registered superhero. You know Cypher Microsystems? Doug Ramsey is actually a graduate of their school. And I don't care how much of a media darling he is for all the money he gives to the school system, he's not a superhero."
I whistled. Doug Ramsey had beaten out Bill Gates as the richest man in the world just two years ago, and the news hadn't given up its love affair with him yet. Apparently it wasn't every day that a college student founded a software company which, less than ten years later, ended up dominating the computer market, and the last time it happened, everyone had blamed it on Gates' nefarious business practices. People seemed to think Cypher's products had total market dominance because they were just that good. If Eve was going to a school that had graduated Ramsey, she was definitely not going to some no-name mutant academy that just trained mutants to be cops and soldiers.
"Well, if you're happy with it, that's good, I guess."
"I don't know if I'm happy. I've kind of forgotten what that felt like, actually. But... they're going to teach me how to make shields without having to cut myself off from everyone." She looked at me. "I never wanted to be ooh, the scary mutie, you know. It was just... better than being everyone's favorite kickball."
"I just don't want you to forget." I stood up. "I know it must've sucked to be you these past two years, but it's not really like all humans all hate mutants and want to make fun of them and stuff unless they're scared out of their mind. If it isn't mutants, it's gays, or Muslims, or pagans, or poor people, or people from Kansas or something. But that's just all high school. I can see that it's getting better already, and maybe by the time we're all seniors all this suckage will be behind us. It's not like mutants and humans have this special hate going on. So when you go to your mutant school and you make friends with all the mutants and stuff, don't forget, when you get out of school, you're just people like the rest of us. Don't go around pretending you're not."
Eve smiled a little. "I'll see if I can do that."
"Yeah, okay." I felt really awkward now. Because she was going to another school, where she'd be just like the others, so all the advice I'd wanted to give her turned out to be stuff she didn't need anymore. I didn't know how to end the conversation.
"Thanks, Jack," she said. "Thanks for... everything. But you'd better go before visiting hours are over and they kick you out."
Trust a mind-reader to know how to give you an excuse to duck out. "Yeah, I probably should."
"Oh- and I mean it. Thank you. No one else bothered to even try to see me as a person, and I don't think they would have even if I'd waved it in their faces."
"You don't know. Maybe you should try them someday. I'm nobody special."
"Maybe, maybe not," she said. "Go on. I need to get some rest."
So I left. And I never saw Eve again.
Is she doing well at her new school? I don't know. I could find out- Xavier's is a listed number, I looked it up online. I could call and find out how she's doing, but even though I kind of meant to, I sort of never got around to it.
I'm trying to do things differently now. Because Eve's not around to scare people out of picking on each other, I'm trying to do it a different way. I'm friends with a lot of different groups of people- I got jock friends, goth friends, geek friends, all kinds. And now, when one of them mouths off about a different kind of person, I tell them to lay off. Everyone says I'm a nice guy, and they seem to get kind of uncomfortable insulting people in front of me, when they know I'll say something about it being a cheap shot and we shouldn't have to get our kicks making fun of people who're different than us.
I see the orange freshman sometimes, and say hi. He doesn't seem to need my help, though. He's got his own little clique to hang with and they don't care he's a mutie, sorry, mutant. I'm really trying to stop saying that.
I haven't asked Becky Ryland out, though. Some things you can change, and some things you just can't.
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