Chapter 1: Contents & ClawfootTub's Art
- Chapter 1 - - - - - Contents, ClawfootTub's Art
- Chapter 2 - - - - - "Class of 1999", Part I - Autumn
- Chapter 3 - - - - - "Class of 1999", Part II - Winter
- Chapter 4 - - - - - "Class of 1999", Part III - Spring
- Chapter 5 - - - - - "Class of 1999", Part IV - Summer (Epilogue)
Chapter 2: "Class of 1999", Part I - Autumn
The First Day
This is how it all starts, with Charles Francis Xavier moving from an apartment in Cambridgeshire, East of England to the family mansion in Westchester, New York. He arrives in a private jet with his parents: a successful inventor and scientist looking to expand the family business dealing in pharmaceuticals named Cain Marko, and his new wife, Sharon Xavier, dressed in a tight emerald dress wholly unsuited to climbing down the airstairs. If you asked Charles, at least, that would be his answer, more or less. Erik would be more inclined to tell you about the incident at the swimming pool and the strange Monday that followed. He might call it Sean’s birthday party if he remembers, but then again, this is Erik we’re talking about, so he probably won’t. He’s a smart kid, Erik, but he remembers only the things that matter to him, as Charles would tell you.
It was a bright day in mid-August. The hottest days of the summer were over in Westchester, but it was still hot enough to warrant wearing a sleeveless top to school; or rather, Sean hoped that that was what he was wearing. He wasn’t entirely sure if he was still in his pyjamas or if he had actually changed. He hoped that his mother had enough sense not to allow her oldest son to leave the home without getting dressed properly.
The air conditioners whirred in anticipation of the new semester, but as usual, it was still much too warm as the body heat of a thousand students made the place feel like a sauna. Sean pulled the inverted cap off his head and fanned himself with it, mumbling at a brown-haired junior whose face he had apparently elbowed, by the looks of it.
He winced as the bell rang shrilly in everyone’s ears, causing a flurry of activity and many a clash and a bang to break out as textbooks were coaxed out from their metal nests. Reaching his own locker, he pressed his forehead to the cool metal, moaning at his golden-haired friend.
Alex seemed to be making as much noise as he possibly could as he sifted through the debris that had collected in his locker over the past two years. Bits of string and plastic fell to the floor with a clutter as he searched in vain for his Standard Mathematics textbook.
“What?” Alex grumbled, as he inspected a packet of crisps that Sean made a note to steal later. The textbook seemed to have made a mysterious disappearance over the holidays, which was bad news. Alex loathed sharing textbooks with Sean, whose pages were usually stuck together with a mysterious sticky substance, and that was if he even brought his textbooks at all. There was always the option of sharing with Armando, but Alex would have to do some actual work, given the alarming speed at which his friend breezed through the exercises.
The energy regulator fitted in his chest blinked ominously as he squeezed his fists. Sean grumbled, oblivious. His face had slid down a few inches on the locker, leaving a smear that reminded Alex of slugs. He thought he also heard a snore.
“What’s my locker code, man?”
“How should I know?” he muttered, as he tore open the expired bag of crisps, shovelling a handful into his mouth.
Sean grabbed in Alex’s general direction. Taking one look at his grubby hands, Alex pushed a fistful of crisps into Sean’s hand as a pre-emptive measure to prevent foreseeable contamination. He looked up at Armando, who was shaking the dust off his alphabetically catalogued textbooks.
“Darwin, you remember Sean’s code?”
Armando shook his head. “Nuh-uh. Unless it’s still 1-2-3-4?”
“Nah, Dr. Robertson made him change that one since that thing in August.”
Alex slammed his locker shut, giving up on his textbook. If the fates dictated that he was going to do some actual work in Standard Mathematics this year, then so be it. He turned towards their home room, and noticed a brown-haired boy whom he had never seen before. The boy was frowning at the classroom door, looking from it to his diary and back again.
“New kid, you suppose?” piped Armando.
“I’ve never seen him before.”
“I reckon he’s having trouble reading the classroom signs.”
“From his vantage point, the corridor lights would be reflected off the sign plates into his face, which is why he’s squinting. He’s moving his head to try and see it from a different angle, but since the plates are set on the doors at an angle, it doesn’t work.”
Alex raised his eyebrows. “Right, Sherlock.”
Armando walked up to the new boy, stopping a few metres away from him. Alex followed half a step behind.
“Hey, can I help you? Which classroom are you looking for?”
The brown-haired boy turned sharply towards Armando, all smiles and blue eyes. “I’m looking for Classroom E105.”
Armando pointed to the door nearest to where they were standing. “This here is E105. You’re in our homeroom class,” he said, gesturing at Alex and himself, with a casual glance at Sean, who had fallen asleep with his face pushed against his locker.
The boy beamed, straightening his already straight back, and extending a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. The name’s Xavier - Charles Francis Xavier. And you are?”
“Armando Muñoz, but everyone calls me Darwin. This is Alex Summers, and uh... that redhead over there is Sean Cassidy. He’s a bit out of it at the moment.”
Charles grinned. “I can see that. Well, I’ll hop inside first and get myself sorted.”
Darwin nodded. “Yeah, we’ll see you inside.” He gestured towards Sean. “He’s forgotten his locker code. We’ll have to get the janitor and get it jacked.”
“Oh,” Charles exclaimed, glancing in Sean’s direction. “There’s no need for that, really. It’s 1-9-6-7.”
“How in the hell did he know that?” Sean whispered at Alex, as the latter pulled out his pencil case and hung his backpack on the hook next to his desk.
He shrugged. “Kid’s probably a telepath.”
Sean stared. “A telepath? Like... he can read our minds? What the... seriously?”
“One of my brother’s girlfriends was one.”
“The one he broke up with last month?” Darwin asked.
“Uh, yes. Correction, she dumped him. That did not end well. Moral of the story, never cheat on a telepath.”
“He’s a telepath?”
Alex rolled his eyes and gripped the back of Sean’s chair. “And you can scream sonic waves. You’re also a ginger. So shut it.”
“Hey!” he cried, looking for support to Darwin, who simply shrugged.
“Alex is right.. Chances are, if he can dig something like your locker number out of your subconscious, he knows exactly what you’re thinking right now.”
Charles, who was sitting at a desk in front of Dr. Robertson, turned around in his seat and winked. Sean ducked, pulling his hoodie over his head.
“Jesus,” Alex muttered, as Dr. Robertson stood and cleared his throat for silence, dissolving the low drone of voices in the classroom. Dr. Robertson was a cheerful sort of man, with dark, untidy hair, thick square glasses, and an ever-present stubble. Middle-aged, his shirt was beginning to tighten somewhat around his middle. Since his divorce in February, he wore a slightly crumpled shirt that quite obviously had not been subjected to the heat of the iron for some time. Darwin noted this with a slight frown.
“Welcome back, class. As many of you have no doubt noticed, we are welcoming a new classmate this semester, by the name of Charles Xavier. Charles here comes from England, and he will be joining us for the rest of our senior year. So er, yes. Please do make him–”
Charles spun around in his seat to face the class, backing accidentally-on-purpose onto Dr. Robertson’s toes.
He beamed as the rest of 12BRo stared up at him, stunned.
“Good morning! My name is Charles Francis Xavier. You can call me Charles. I’d just like to say that I’m delighted to be here, joining you for the next year. I look forward to getting to know each and every one of you. My favourite subjects–”
Dr. Robertson cleared his throat. Charles turned his head, beaming up at the teacher.
“Er, Charles… perhaps you’d like to introduce yourself to your classmates at break, if that’s all right with you. We’ve got the first act of Othello to cover today.”
“Oh,” Charles exclaimed, blinking innocently. “Of course, Dr. Robertson.” He navigated the space between his desk and Dr. Robertson’s with little difficulty, shifting his chair to face the board. Dr. Robertson opened his book and began the morning’s lecture, which immediately prompted the rest of the class to lapse into various degrees of inattention.
“Who is he?” Angel whispered to Raven, two rows to the right from Alex and his friends.
“I don’t know, but his accent is adorable.”
Angel rolled her eyes. “You always have a thing for accents. First it’s Lehnsherr, now Mr. Wheels.”
“Yep, thank me for smacking the elephant in the room.”
“Aw, come on. He’s dreamy. Look at those eyes!”
“Mine not good enough for the Blue Lady, then?” asked Sebastian from behind, leaning over his desk. Raven pulled a face.
“Go away, Shaw,” said a quavering voice from the side. Raven turned. It was Hank McCoy, with his fists shaking in front of his chest. “I’ll fight you.”
Sebastian grinned at Raven, showing neat rows of glimmering white teeth.
“Freak,” she spat.
He clucked his tongue. “Not a convincing argument, I’m afraid. We’re all freaks here. At least in this class. And none so much as you, Blue Lady.”
Raven snorted. “Cheap stab. You do realise you’re insulting your very own Red Boy when you say that, do you? And I can shape shift, thank you very much. I’m sure you wish you could do the same, what with that mug of yours.”
“Ooh, we’ve got a sharp tongue now, have we? How fun!” he exclaimed, rubbing his hands together. At the front of the classroom, Charles turned around and shot a dirty look at Sebastian, putting one finger to his lips. “How about we’ll see just how sharp it is later? Break time, staircase behind Block 6?”
Emma gave a small cough at that. Sebastian thought he heard a similar noise from Erik at the same moment, but when he turned around, the boy was sitting stony-faced as usual, drawing stick figures in the margin of his notebook.
Erik came home to a house bursting with the smell of chicken pie. His mother had finished work early. Her pies were the best, and the long wait between each pie only made them tastier. He took off his shirt and trousers, threw his rucksack down on the sofa, and set at work fixing the table.
“Be careful dear, it’s very hot,” said Mrs. Lehnsherr, as she laid the pies down onto the counter connecting the kitchen and the main room. Erik rolled his eyes.
“I know, mum,” he replied, carrying the heavy dishes to the table with practised ease. He sniffed at the air and licked his lips. The two of them sat down together and stared at each other for a few moments, grinning.
Then, of course, Erik’s mother had to spoil the mood.
“Why don’t you go and put some clothes on, dear? You’re going to catch something.”
He rolled his eyes.
“It’s the middle of summer, Mama. Everyone goes around like this.”
“Well, clearly you haven’t read the news – it’s September now, which is not the middle of summer any more. Put some clothes on, or you don’t get your pie.”
She pulled Erik’s casserole dish towards her and cried out as her finger touched the edge of the dish.
“Are you all right?”
“It’s fine, I just burnt my finger, that’s all–”
Erik ran to the kitchen and promptly returned with a bag of frozen sweet potato pancakes, shoving it into his mother’s hands. She stared.
He shrugged. “They’re kosher.”
Mrs. Lehnsherr began to giggle as Erik gestured up the stairs. “I’ll go grab a shirt.”
He came thundering back down the stairs in a faded Black Sabbath shirt, and promptly began to shovel chicken pie into his mouth. Mrs. Lehnsherr squinted.
“It’s Black Sabbath,” Erik explained through a mouthful of pie. He chuckled when his mother gave a disturbed look. “They’re a band. They play music.”
Erik balanced his fork between his front teeth and mimed playing a guitar. Mrs. Lehnsherr nodded slowly.
“Oh, you must have heard them before. I’ve listened to it loads of times.” He cleared his throat. “Hea-vy boots of lead, fills his vic-tims full of dread,” he sang. “Sound familiar, no?”
Mrs. Lehnsherr shook her head.
Erik sighed through his teeth. “Fine.” He gestured towards his dish with his fork. “This is really good. Did you use the cubes, or the liquid stock?”
“I made the stock myself.”
“There were leftover chicken parts from the dinner with Mrs. Bloch, so I made stock and put it in the freezer.”
“It’s really good. Is it the same recipe you used last Passover?”
“Yes, the one Aunt Gilda gave us.”
“Mmh,” Erik murmured, as he scraped the last of the chicken off his dish. He wiped his mouth with some tissue and took a swig of water.
“So how was school?”
Erik shrugged. “Same as usual.”
“And how are your friends?”
“What were their names– Sebastian?”
Erik sighed. “Sebastian, Emma, Janos, and Azazel.”
Mrs. Lehnsherr frowned. “Strange name, that last one. Isn’t–”
“He’s Russian,” Erik said, with a shrug. “Is there any more food?”
“No. Are you still hungry?”
Erik grunted, and walked over to the fridge, taking out a carton of milk. He stood next to his mother and gulped it down.
“Erik! Use a glass!”
Erik continued to drink, making as much noise as he possibly could as he gulped down mouthful after mouthful. Mrs. Lehnsherr sighed.
“How about your classmates, then? Any new ones?”
A dash of milk spilt onto his shirt.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
He licked his milk moustache off his lips, and put the carton back, moving towards the stairs.
“Sit back down, young man!”
“I’ve finished my dinner!”
“I haven’t finished talking to you!”
“I need to do my homework!”
Mrs. Lehnsherr rolled her eyes. “Then why is your bag still on the sofa? And since when have you been so good about homework?”
Erik grabbed his bag from the sofa and scowled at his mother. She scowled back. Suddenly, Mrs. Lehnsherr burst into a fit of giggles. Erik cocked an eyebrow and stared.
“Oh, honey, you’re in love. I can tell. It’s your new classmate, isn’t it?”
Erik flushed, bright red. “Mum!”
“Oho, it is! Is she pretty?”
“He’s a guy, and I’m not in love with him!”
At that, he stormed up the stairs, leaving his mother gasping with laughter.
And yet, it was some time before Erik really had a chance to talk to Charles, who always sat at the front of the classroom and seemingly hung on to every word any teacher uttered. Charles seemed to have struck up a friendship with the similarly-minded McCoy, and was apparently oblivious to the sultry looks that Raven continued to throw at him. In fact, Erik doubted that Charles knew of his existence at all.
How wrong he was.
The Swimming Pool Incident
Charles Xavier loved school. A death and a re-marriage made his home life something of a challenge, and school presented itself with a place where Charles could blend himself into blissfully ordinary concerns, such as grades and dating. Granted, he was not always a success in the latter, but he didn’t mind. He had friends, or at least, people who would begrudgingly put up with his chatty presence at their lunch table in exchange for homework help.
He recognised the voice as belonging to Hank McCoy, a fellow senior who seemed to have little else in his wardrobe but checkered shirts and beige slacks that were indistinguishable from those worn by their 40-something-year-old physics teacher, Mr. Stark, save their size; Mr. Stark’s were broader, but Hank’s were longer. Charles stopped, and turned his head. A flustered-looking Hank came jogging down the corridor.
“Hi. I was wondering… are you going to Sean’s party later?”
Sean, Charles had learnt, was a loud, obnoxious JNCO jeans-wearing redhead who had a perpetual smell of burnt cabbage about him. It was his birthday, and to celebrate, he was throwing a party in his backyard, to which all members of their group of friends were invited.
Charles nodded, glancing down at the paper bag tucked between his leg and his chair. At Alex’s recommendation, Charles had bought Sean something called a “Game Boy Colour” and a “Tetris” to go with it – Charles’ wasn’t entirely sure what it was, but it seemed to be some kind of gaming device imported from Japan. Alex had convinced him that this was indeed “da bomb” and that the book voucher Charles had initially considered was “like, the worst idea ever”. In any case, the gadget seemed better than the life-sized poster of a very scantily clad Carmen Electra that Alex had suggested earlier. Charles wasn’t sure that he wanted to be seen purchasing that.
“Er… I was wondering if I could… uhh…”
It only took Charles a brief poke into Hank’s mind to dig up the information he was looking for. Sean’s mother was picking up the party, but there was space in her Volvo only for three people, given the boxes of fabric in the backseat, and Hank had been voted off.
“Would you like to hitch a ride in my car?”
Hank brightened up, seemingly growing taller in his excitement. Charles shifted his chair back a little in order to prevent his neck from breaking off.
Hank fiddled with his seat-belt and threw badly concealed glances in Charles’ direction as the latter drove out of the school car-park and turned into the main street, heading North in the direction of Maeve Avenue where the Cassidys lived.
“So… you have buttons, instead of pedals.”
Charles nodded as he made a sharp right turn. “Yep, that’s basically how it works.” He glanced at Hank. “You can take a closer look, if you like. See, this is the accelerator, and that’s the brake. This makes the car honk. That’s about it, really. Everything else is pretty much the same.”
Hank leaned over in his seat to examine the buttons. “Isn’t this kind of scary?”
Charles smiled. “Well, I learnt how to drive on a car very similar to this one, and... really, a normal car would be much scarier for me, you know?”
“Right,” Hank nodded.
“Besides, what’s scarier for me, at least when I first started driving here, was the fact that you drive on the right side of the road. I kept thinking I was going in the wrong direction.”
Exercising tact for once, Hank decided to Charles’ relief that the least awkward way to spend the next ten minutes of their drive would be to talk about schoolwork. Hank launched into a commentary about today’s chemistry practical, which quickly grew into a debate about the biodegradability of the different hand sanitisers that Mr. Banner had prepared.
Maeve Avenue mercifully appeared after a fifteen-minute ride. Charles pulled into the driveway and unlocked the door, while Hank stumbled out of the car, gathering up all of his bags and folders in his lanky arms.
“Uhh... do you need help?”
Charles smiled. “Oh, no, that’s all right. Thank you for the offer, though.”
Hank nodded and pretended to be mesmerised by the periodic table plastered to the front of his folder while Charles spun the driver’s seat around, unloading his wheelchair from the back and hauling himself into it.
Hank nodded. “Y-yes.”
The two of them walked up to the front porch when Charles noticed that there were steps leading up to the front door. Hank trotted in front, ringing the doorbell, and turned around.
Charles shrugged. “We’ll ask if there’s a plank somewhere.”
The door opened as Hank turned around, revealing Alex, Sean, and Armando dressed in nothing but swimming shorts and towels.
“Change of plan, dude. We’re going to the community centre swimming pool, because there’s something wrong with Sean’s. The pump’s clogged, or something. It’s all green.”
The three boys filed into the Volvo. Mrs. Cassidy came rushing out of the house, carrying two bags full of what appeared to be snacks. Mrs. Cassidy was a rather round sort of woman, covered in freckles like her son. Strands of violently red hair stuck out of the tight bun at the back of her head, giving the impression that her head was on fire.
She fumbled for the keys in the many pockets of her apron.
“They’re in your front left pocket,” said Charles. He beamed as Mrs. Cassidy slipped her hand into the said pocket and turned around. She gave a small smile.
“You must be Charles.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Cassidy.”
“And you too.”
She hurried to her car, where the boys were making a racket inside, honking.
“You know, they could have told me you were all swimming,” Charles said, gripping the steering wheel a little more tightly than usual. He stole a glance at Hank, who was itching at a spot on his chest, and noticed that he seemed to be wearing some kind of wetsuit underneath his checkered shirt.
“Mmh,” Hank mumbled, unsure of what to say.
“I like swimming,” Charles proclaimed, indignant.
“My mum makes me wear this thing,” he explained, unbuttoning his shirt at the top to reveal a navy rash guard. “I burn easily, so she thinks I’m going to get skin cancer.”
Charles blinked, taking his eyes off the road for long enough to make Hank gulp. “Why don’t you just use sunscreen? Besides, it’s October. I’m surprised Sean wants to swim.”
“It’s an indoor swimming pool.”
“Oh. Well, the whole sunscreen thing is just ridiculous, then.”
“That’s what I tell her, but–”
“Just don’t wear it. She doesn’t need to know.”
“You’ve got to be your own person, Hank. Do me a favour, and don’t wear that to the pool.”
Charles sat next to a flustered Mrs. Cassidy at the benches, and sighed. He didn’t exactly fancy indoor swimming pools, especially public ones – it was fine when he swum in his own pool by himself, but the sounds here were magnified, from the voices to the footsteps to the sound of balls being thrown into the water. Added to the thoughts he heard anyway, he could almost feel a headache coming on. What he saw emerging from the doors to the changing rooms did not make things better.
“Hank, we’re not going diving!” Sean cried, looking up and down at Hank as the bespectacled boy did his best to try to cover up his full-body, skin-tight rash guard, long trousers and all.
“Well, it’s certainly figure-hugging, Henry, my man,” chuckled Armando.
Alex sneered. “You know what they say, Hank? If you wear black stuff all over when you go to the beach, you’re going to look like a dolphin, and get eaten by sharks.”
Hank shuddered, pulling his towel tighter around his shoulders. He promptly bumped into Armando’s back.
“Of all the days they’ve gotta be here–”
“This is just great.”
Charles squinted into the water, and saw what his friends had seen. Erik Lehnsherr from their homeroom class was treading water in the deep end, his long hair floating around him in waves like a great brown jellyfish. The rest of his group were sitting on the edge of the pool except for Emma, who was sipping juice on a lounger.
Erik stared at Charles from behind his curtain of hair, half-submerged in the water for what he hoped was stealth. His ears, at least, were underwater, and he could hear the thump-thump of his heart grow louder and faster. He was beginning to feel rather breathless, although he wasn’t entirely sure about the cause of this phenomenon. He didn’t like to think about it.
He heard Sebastian slip back into the water and swim below him toward the shallow end, where Sean, Alex, Armando, and Hank stood.
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” Sebastian piped, walking out of the water and whipping his hair like a dog. “Thought you’d come down for a little splash, did you?”
“It’s Sean’s birthday,” Alex growled.
Sebastian raised his hands and waved his fingers in mock delight. “Ooh, how nice.”
Armando shook his head. “Stow it, Sebastian. This is a public pool. Anyone’s allowed to use it.”
“Is that so?” Sebastian grinned. “And you suppose we’re just going to share the pool, are we?”
Hank nodded. “Yes?”
“Oh, you really are a precious one.” He turned around. “McCoy thinks we’re going to just... share the pool, just like that!”
Azazel and Emma cackled, while Janos gave a smirk. Erik remained, as usual, expressionless. Hank gulped, as Alex retrieved a ball from one of the plastic bags next to Charles’ feet.
“I assume all of you dickheads know the rules of water polo. Best of three ten-minute matches. The winning team stays. Deal?”
Sebastian smirked. “You’ve got yourself into a fine mess, my friend.”
Hank whimpered as Alex pulled him into the water by the scruff of his neck. “You are playing, goddammit, and if you complain again, I’m going to personally make sure your mum finds out about the time you faked your PE note.”
“Well, get to it, then. You’re the tallest, so you’re the goalie. You know what goalies are supposed to do, right?”
Alex released Hank and sped off in the direction of his other teammates, leaving Hank staring in horror at the goal net.
“So they’re your classmates from school?”
Charles nodded, gulping as Erik punched the ball into the air, starting the game. Erik stood scowling as the two teams scrambled for the ball, and turned around to look Charles directly in the eyes. Charles swallowed.
“Well, that’s lovely. A nice old game of water polo,” Mrs. Cassidy exclaimed, sipping some tea from a polystyrene cup.
The ball landed in the middle of Sebastian’s face with a loud smack.
“Ooh, that must have hurt. Do you think he’s all right?” she asked, half-standing in her seat. Charles grabbed at her arm and pulled her back down.
“He’ll– he’ll be fine, Mrs. Cassidy, nothing to worry about. It didn’t hit very hard, I’m sure.”
Mrs. Cassidy didn’t look particularly convinced, and Charles could see why; Sebastian was floating in the middle of the swimming pool with an uncharacteristically vague look on his face. His mouth was half-open in shock, and he appeared to be drooling, although Charles couldn’t be sure if that was just water. Emma was swimming towards him, shouting something.
Sebastian seemed to recover after a while, if the sudden resemblance of his normally pale face to a tomato was anything to go by. Charles squeezed at the rims of his wheels with a frown. He wasn’t very familiar with the rules of water polo, but he was sure that quite a few of the rules were being broken. And that wasn’t even counting what he couldn’t see, underwater. Azazel was spending an awfully long time under the water, swimming under Alex and Armando, who were leading the attack.
“Well, I’m going to hop by the hardware store next door, if that’s all right with you,” said Mrs. Cassidy, slinging a large handbag over one shoulder. “I’ll be back in half an hour or so.”
“Of course, Mrs. Cassidy.”
Charles watched in dismay as Mrs. Cassidy’s round figure waddled through the pool entrance and off into the distance. It was probably for the better that Mrs. Cassidy didn’t witness the majority of this “match”, but it definitely felt better to have an adult around.
Erik saw that this was his opportunity. He stood up from the diving boards where he had been sitting, pulled on a shirt, and sauntered over to Charles, sitting down as casually as he could at the lounger nearest to him.
Charles looked up and smiled politely. “Hello, Erik,” he yelled, over the echo of the Backstreet Boys belting out a Top 40 number in the background. Erik’s insides did a back flip as he realised Charles actually knew his name. How had he known that? Dr. Robertson never bothered to call his name in class, and he certainly never raised his hand.
“A bit noisy in here, isn’t it?”
Charles nodded, and pointed towards the exit. “Shall we talk outside? There’s a decent-looking café, maybe we can grab a drink.”
“Yes,” Erik called back. He took a backward glance at the swimming pool as he followed Charles towards the plastic doors separating the poolside area from the rest of the community centre. The water polo game seemed to have dissolved into an underwater wrestling match, and nobody seemed to have noticed that Erik and Charles were talking.
He fidgeted as Charles came back from the counter with two chai lattes in his hand.
“I hope you like these things,” Charles said, setting them down onto the table. “I certainly do, but the spicy taste is a deal-breaker for some.”
“How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t be silly, it’s on me.”
“You can’t do that.”
Charles smirked. “Of course I can.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Remember how I said I look forward to getting to know each and every member of the class, back at the beginning of the year?”
Erik nodded slowly.
“I meant every word.”
Erik raised his eyebrows. “So you’re not creeped out by me and buying me a latte. Are you going to do the same to Sebastian back there when he’s done bashing McCoy’s brains out?”
Charles laughed. “No.”
“Then how am I different?”
“You’re not really a part of Sebastian’s group, are you? They don’t really include you. You’re sort of just sulking around the edges.”
Erik didn’t know whether to be offended or to be surprised by Charles’ accurate observation.
“I could say that same for you.”
Charles laughed again, a bright tinkling sound. Coming from any other mouth, it should have grated on Erik’s nerves, but he felt a pleasant warmth radiate from his chest. Or maybe that was just the chai.
“And anyway, you’re interesting,” Charles said, sipping at his latte with his pinkie finger flying in the air like a little flag. Erik scoffed.
“I’m going to grab a sandwich. Would you like anything?”
“No,” Erik said, as his stomach grumbled loudly. Charles raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been betrayed by your biology, it seems.”
Erik shrugged, and gazed pointedly at his chai. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Charles squinting at him. He felt like a laboratory specimen.
“Have you had lunch?”
“You haven’t had lunch!”
Erik quickly stuffed his mouth with chai, and winced as it scorched his tongue. Charles did that squinting thing again, only this time, he had a finger pressed against his left temple, as if he was adjusting an invisible pair of glasses.
“Why did you give your lunch money to Sebastian?”
Erik gaped. “What!?”
“You did it. Why?”
“He asked for it. How the fuck did you know–”
“I saw,” Charles lied. “Seriously, though, why did you? You should have fought back.”
Erik shrugged, and fiddled with the coins in his pocket. Charles turned around without a word and left. He stared down at the Wrestlemania advertisement plastered on the plastic table and bit his lip until he tasted something salty.
Without warning, somebody with the thickest, hairiest arms he had ever seen banged down a tray of steaming hot pasta under his nose. Erik looked up in surprise.
The hairy man jerked a thumb at Charles, who was moving towards the table with a smug look on his face. The man banged down a container of parmesan cheese next to the tray.
“Nice shirt, kid,” he grunted. Erik looked down at his clothes, and realised that he was wearing his Slayer shirt today.
“Th-thanks,” he mumbled, as the man stomped back into the kitchen. He looked up at Charles.
“It’s your lunch. I hope you like seafood and tomato sauce.”
Erik stared at the pasta in disbelief.
“You should eat it before it gets cold. And perhaps, before that game of ‘water polo’ finishes. I don’t think Sebastian is below stealing someone else’s half-eaten food, if he thinks he can get away with it. Or at least, that red guy wouldn’t be.”
Charles sipped at his chai and smiled.
“You know, your hair looks more blonde when it’s wet like that. Rather becoming of a damsel in distress.”
Erik huffed and picked up his fork at that. He set about separating the prawn from the rest of the spaghetti. Charles raised an eyebrow.
“You’re not... allergic, are you?”
“No. Prawns aren’t kosher.”
Charles’ jaw dropped, revealing a set of gleaming white teeth, straight as a ruler. His tongue waggled inside his mouth as if it didn’t know what to do with this sudden exposition to the outside world. Erik stared, unsure if Charles was being obscene on purpose or if he was just completely oblivious. If he had to bet, he would probably go for the latter.
“Oh my gosh... I’m so sorry Erik, I didn’t check with you–”
“It’s fine. You want them?”
Charles nodded. Erik looked around towards the counter. “Do you think they have any extra-"
“No, no, here, just pop them into my mouth,” Charles said, opening his mouth at Erik, who stared.
“You’re kidding, right?”
Erik sighed, and admitted defeat.
Charles smiled sunnily as he swallowed the last prawn and smacked his lips. Erik prudently looked away.
“So... what else are you not allowed to eat?”
Erik sighed, running a hand through his hair. “There’s a bunch of things we’re not supposed to eat, like shellfish, clams, and stuff like that. Basically, any seafood that doesn’t have fins and scales. Also pork. Then things have to be killed and cooked a certain way – there’s a special way to kill the animal, and the blood has to be drained before cooking. With outside food I don’t really bother with this second part, since it’s too much of a hassle. Oh, and you can’t combine milk and meat. It’s almost like a habit, really. I don’t believe in God.”
He tugged at the neckline of his Slayer shirt as if to make a point, and then noticed that Charles was not looking at him. He stared in a mixture of horror and disbelief as Charles took all of this down in his planner, on a fresh page with the title “E R I K” in big bold letters, underlined. He swiped his hair out of his face to take a closer look.
“Charles, what the fuck!”
Charles looked up. “Hmm?”
“Why are you taking notes on me? I’m not a class!”
Charles shrugged, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. “I like getting to know people.”
“You’re not getting to know me, you’re studying me!”
Charles tapped at his chin with the end of his pencil, oblivious to the ink marks he was drawing on his face. Erik suppressed a snigger, and nearly choked on his food.
“I can take notes on you under the table if it makes you uncomfortable. I know some people prefer it that way.”
Erik ignored him and shoved pasta into his mouth.
Chapter 3: "Class of 1999", Part II - Winter
A Helping Hand
“Eaahhhh,” Charles muttered under his breath, as the tip of his pen popped under the pressure of his hand. Black ink spilled all over the page and his hands. Charles took a blank piece of foolscap and tore it into two pieces, holding them between his hand and the handles of his wheels.
He wheeled himself to the end of the corridor, and slid open the door of the wheelchair-accessible toilet. Once inside, he turned to lock the latch on the door. Turning to the sink, he washed his hands with soap; the ink came off easily enough, which was a relief considering how sticky and thick it had felt on his fingers. He rolled the ink-stained foolscap into a tight ball, and eyed the trash can in the corner of the toilet near the sink. As he moved closer, the ball of paper rolled off his lap onto the floor underneath the sink.
Leaving the paper there crossed his mind. After all, it wouldn’t be much of a hassle for the cleaner – Mrs. Hobart, who only had to use a duster and a pan to swipe it from the floor and put it into the trash bag. He even turned his wheelchair towards the door to leave – but he couldn’t leave. Ms. Hobart knew that Charles was the only person in the entire school who used this toilet, or was allowed to use it. She would know.
He parked his wheelchair so that the sink was to his left, and locked the wheels, reaching down sideways in an attempt to grab the ball of paper that way – but his arm was not long enough. He disengaged the lock and turned to face the sink. Locking the wheels again, he undid his safety belt, put his left hand on the sink, and reached under it with his right.
His fingertips grazed the ball of paper, and he leaned forward a little more when he felt his balance break. He tightened his hold on the sink, but his arm was at an awkward angle and it was too late – he lurched forward and fell to the floor, face-down.
Charles bit down on his lower lip as a tear rolled down his face. This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened – not by any margin – but it hurt every time. Blood trickled out of his nose onto the tiles, making its way through the grid-like network of lines to the drain where the floor was lowest.
He didn’t want to get up.
He looked down at his left hand. It had been twisted against the sink when he fell, and was growing purple. It was also beginning to swell – his watch felt tight. He slid the watch off his wrist and squeezed it in his right hand.
Four minutes had already passed since he had left the classroom. He was going to have to go back soon. The last thing he wanted was for Dr. Robertson, or any of the other students, to see him like this.
He held his left wrist to his chest and pushed himself up on his right hand. Facing the wheelchair, he grabbed onto an armrest and attempted to pull himself upwards onto the chair. I’ve done this before, he told himself. His physiotherapist, Clara, was ruthless; she had pushed him out of his chair countless times in all sorts of positions and had made him get back into his chair by himself, refusing to help even when he began to cry. Looking back on it, Charles imagined that it was probably a questionable thing to do to a newly paralysed 9-year-old boy – but he was glad for it. He had come out of it stronger, and he was going to prove it to himself again.
But he had only ever done this with two hands. Now, he could use only one. It didn’t hurt enough for it to be a fracture – a sprain, then – but he knew that putting his weight on it would be a bad idea. He had strained his wrists enough from Cross Country training to know that he couldn’t afford to be lax about taking care of them.
He focused on pulling at his armrest with his right hand in order to pull himself up into the chair. If he could manage to pull his hip to the seat, then he could probably rest his good hand and his left elbow on the sink to manoeuvre himself into a seating position. After five tries, he gave up and sank into the footrest. He blinked away the tears and pushed the ball of paper to his face in order to contain the nosebleed. Blood stained his starched white collar.
The door was locked. If he were to contact Dr. Robertson for help, he would probably have to call the janitor, or worse, some special person from outside of the school to come and detach the door. Charles couldn’t live with that, which left him only one option.
He closed his eyes and put two fingers of his good hand to his temple.
Back in the classroom, Erik was beginning to wonder where Charles had gone off to. He hadn’t meant to notice, but Charles exiting the room in the middle of the class was hard to miss. It had been 8 minutes since Charles had left. Nobody else seemed to be paying much attention to the empty seat next to him. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, unable to concentrate on his work anymore.
Then suddenly, he heard Charles’ voice.
He looked up and scanned the classroom, earning curious stares. Nobody else seemed to have heard Charles.
Erik. Please calm down. It’s me, Charles. I’m sorry for not telling you earlier – I’m a telepath.
Erik gripped his pen. “Charles?” he murmured out of the corner of his mouth. Sebastian turned around and scowled. Erik ignored him.
You don’t have to talk. Just... think back at me.
Yes, that’s the way. I’m sorry for having to tell you like this. I’m in the toilet down the corridor – the wheelchair-accessible one, the one with the sliding door. I’ve fallen out of my chair, and I need your help. The door is locked. You... you can open it.
Erik had a vision of himself sliding the metal latch on the sliding door of the toilet.
Wait... how did you...
I’m a telepath.
You’ve been in my mind?
Only that one time at the swimming pool. I don’t read friends’ minds. Or at least, I try not to.
Please, Erik. I need your help.
All right, all right, I’m coming.
Erik walked out of E105, and strode over to the end of the corridor. He swiped the lock out of its latch with a swift movement of his hand, and feeling rather bold, opened the door with the same motion.
Charles was half-sitting, half-lying against the footrest of his wheelchair, blood smeared over the lower half of his face. The foolscap he had taken with him was lying next to him on the floor, covered in both ink and blood. There was blood on the floor as well. Erik bent down to kneel next to him.
Oh god Charles what happened– “Charles? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. I just... I dropped the paper, and I fell out of my seat trying to pick it up. I hit my nose, that’s why there’s blood. I hurt my left wrist, as well. That’s why I can’t get back into my seat. Normally, I would be able to.”
“What happened to the safety belt?” Erik asked, his eyes on the disconnected straps hanging from the sides of the chair. Why did you take it off? Stupid, stupid–
“I took it off to bend down.”
Erik opened his mouth to speak.
“And you don’t need to tell me I’m an idiot for it.”
“I wasn’t going to–”
“I’m a telepath, I know what you’re thinking!”
“Get out of my head!”
Charles covered his face in his hands and rubbed at it, inadvertently spreading blood all over his face. Erik bit down on his lower lip and told himself that this was a very inappropriate time to burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry. I just... I don’t like losing control like this, falling out of my seat. It’s upsetting. Will you please help me back into my chair?”
Erik swallowed. “It’s all right. What do I do?”
“If you could lift me into it, that would be great. Your left arm around my back, and your right arm under my knees. And let me put my arms around your shoulders.”
“I said, get out of my head!”
“I’m not in your head, you’re thinking so bloody loudly I bet Emma can hear from the classroom!”
Erik muttered something that sounded like “telepaths”, but obliged. Charles was far lighter than Erik thought, and he was a little unsettled to find that the legs he was supporting with his right arm were hardly thicker than Charles’ arms, which were more muscular than Erik’s. He noted with some embarrassment that Charles smelt good. It was the kind of smell that made Erik want to rub his face in Charles’ hair and snuggle against his clothes. Some kind of laundry detergent, perhaps.
He took a deep breath and reminded himself that he was thinking about a telepath, for g-d’s sake.
Erik nodded as Charles strapped himself into his seat.
“That’s fine. Erm. Charles, your face...”
Erik bit his lower lip to suppress a giggle. With a look of confusion, Charles looked into the mirror above the sink, and promptly burst into peals of laughter.
“Oh... my gosh. I look like... something out of a... horror film,” he gasped, between fits of giggling.
“Your face would make a good album cover right now.”
Charles raised an eyebrow. “I suppose that says something about your taste in music.”
“Which happens to be good.”
Charles scoffed, and proceeded to scrub at his face with water and soap. Erik walked over to the commode and unzipped his fly with a flick of his finger. The sound of a jet of urine hitting the toilet water echoed loudly throughout the small space. Charles gasped.
“Erik! My goodness!”
“What? This is a toilet, isn’t it?”
“If you’re so embarrassed about something as simple as pissing, then turn around and keep your eyes to yourself!”
Charles turned a brilliant shade of crimson and turned back to his paper towels, dabbing them at his ear in his confusion. Erik walked up to the sink. They glared at each other. Charles squeezed at some soggy paper towels with his good hand, while Erik zipped himself up and swung his hair out of his face, their line of sight fixed in place.
A few moments passed before Erik suddenly wiggled his fingers in Charles’ face.
Charles backed up into the wall.
“Jesus Christ. It’s just hands.”
“Erik, that’s unsanitary! Wash your hands. Now.”
Erik scoffed and ran his hands under some water.
Charles crossed his arms. “With soap.”
Erik rolled his eyes and obliged, but not without flicking some soap water into Charles’ face.
There was a knock on the door.
“Fuck,” Erik mumbled, and turned off the tap.
Dr. Robertson knocked on the door. “Charles? Are you in there?” And what on earth are you doing?
“Yes?” Charles called, his voice an octave higher than normal.
“Everything all right?”
“Yes, just fine, thank you.”
“Well, I just set the class a pair activity, so why don’t you work on that with Erik when both of you get back? He just went off to the loo as well.”
“Yes, I will.”
“All rightey, then. I’m just off to the photocopier room, will be back in a jiffy.”
They listened as his footsteps disappeared down the staircase next to the toilet.
“That was close,” Charles whispered.
“Tell me about it. Let’s go back before he comes back.”
“Not together. It’ll look... weird... if we go back together. I’ll go first. Wait here for 2 minutes.”
“How about your hand? Can you push?”
Charles tried, and winced. “I’ll manage.”
“All right, then. I’ll wait, but I’m waiting in the regular toilet."
Walk With Me
Erik pushed the buds of his yellow Sony Walkman into his ears as he passed the school gates. The official school rule was that listening to music within the school grounds was prohibited. Which, Erik noted, meant that it was allowed outside of the school grounds. He squeezed the play button on the side of the Walkman and revelled as the thunder of Slayer’s War Ensemble roared in his ears.
He felt a huge hunk of metal slide towards him and automatically gauged the distance between him and it. The car was on the road, moving slowly. He turned around. A familiar pinkish face grinned up at him.
Erik pulled out his ear plugs, stopped the tape with a flick of his finger, and stared at the car.
Charles shrugged, pulling gingerly on the hand brake with his left hand, which was now in a brace. “Well, it’s a bit hard for me to get around otherwise. That is, unless I want to spend all day riding around in my racing chair, which would be a spectacularly bad idea."
Erik nodded, glancing at the wheelchair tucked into the back seat. “Why?”
“Well, it’s about uh... eight feet long.”
Erik wrapped his scarf tighter around his neck and raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, you’re metric too, aren’t you? Two and a half metres. Not particularly helpful for trying to navigate the classrooms, nor for sitting at a desk.”
They stared at each other for a few moments. Charles fiddled with his thumbs, and honked by accident. A group of juniors turned and stared.
Erik snorted, and pretending not to notice while Charles turned a brilliant shade of crimson.
“You’re cold,” Charles said, waving vaguely at the way Erik’s breath turned white in the air. Erik smirked.
“Why don’t you come in?” Charles asked, leaning over to open the door on the passenger’s side. Erik raised his eyebrows.
“And where would I go with you?”
“Oh, you know.”
“I don’t know.”
“There’s a park.”
“I thought you said I was cold.”
“Well–” Charles scratched his ear, waving vaguely at the road ahead. “Right.”
“You know, you’re really terrible at this, for a telepath.”
“Terrible at what?”
“Asking me out?”
Erik went hot and cold at that. He squeezed the edge of his Iron Maiden shirt and felt for the coins in his pocket.
“Isn’t that what you’re doing?”
Charles looked shocked, scandalised, or both. Erik couldn’t really tell, and he didn’t feel like meeting Charles’ eyes. He ran a hand through his hair.
“Well, sort of.”
“Is that a yes or a no?” Erik asked, grinning despite himself.
“Oh, just get in the bloody car.”
Erik gaped at the mansion towering behind the trees in front of them as Charles waved at the uniformed man who pulled open the gate, Erik saw, and bowed.
“I thought we were going to a park?”
“Change of plans. It’s definitely too cold out, and don’t pretend I haven’t noticed your sniffling.”
“I’m not sniffling.”
“Yes, you are.”
Erik sniffed. “Am not. Where is this, anyway?”
Charles gestured vaguely as he sped through the driveway, which seemed to wind through a small forest. The trees cleared to unveil a three-storied monstrosity that loomed over their heads, complete with turrets. Turrets.
“Well, this is my house.”
“You live here?”
“Yes,” Charles mumbled, frowning as he sped around a massive fountain twice the size of the school swimming pool. He stopped the car in front of a pair of double doors that went up to the ceiling.
“Holy shit,” Erik muttered, as a butler came striding out of the house to open the car doors.
“You should probably button up. Mother won’t like your shirt.”
Erik hurriedly complied, and for good measure, tied his hair up in a bun.
“Would that do?"
“It would have to – unless you want one of Phil’s speed haircuts.”
“No thanks. Who’s Phil?”
“This is Phil,” said Charles, as a short, balding man in a tailored suit opened Erik’s door. Erik stared.
“Technically he’s hired as our head butler, but he’s also a security guard, a sommelier, a party planner, a personal trainer... he does everything, really.”
Phil pressed his lips together in a professional smile. “Welcome to Xavier Mansion, Mr.–?”
“Lehnsherr,” corrected Charles.
“Mr. Erik Lehnsherr. Charles, your mother is in the first floor sitting room in the East Wing with her kadō friends. It’s probably best if you didn’t disturb her.”
Half an hour later, Erik was sitting in a cushy seat covered in floral upholstery, sipping tea from a gold-gilded teacup complete with matching saucer. He had been saved from the embarrassment of having to present himself to Mrs. Xavier, and Phil had disappeared off somewhere – presumably to single-handedly take out any intruders to the Xavier household – but he didn’t quite feel like unbuttoning his shirt, or letting down his hair.
He supposed this was Charles’ room. That would explain why all of the bookshelves were only up to eye-level sitting down, and why the light switches were placed significantly lower than in the corridor he had just passed through.
“You don’t look too comfortable,” Charles remarked, unwinding a rainbow-coloured scarf from around his neck. Erik shrugged, and glanced at the wall.
He pointed to the assortment of metal sticks hanging from a ledge on the wall. Though they were of a similar make – sleek, cold, and light with black silicone grips – the ends were all different. One of them had a hook on the end, while another looked like some kind of metal claw, the grip on the latter resembling the handle of a pair of scissors. One of them he recognised to be a shoe horn, but the others were mysteries.
“What are those?” Please don’t let them be sex toys oh g-d a metal claw...
Charles let out a loud snort and dissolved into fits of laughter, while Erik quickly turned the colour of a ripe tomato. “Oh, Erik, you really are precious.”
Erik prudently kept his mouth shut.
“Here, let me show you,” Charles said, reaching for the stick on the far left. “This one’s to help me pick things up. Say I drop this scarf on the floor...” He took the scarf from his lap, and threw it onto the floor near his bed. “You know what happens when I try to reach for things that are on the floor with hands... and it would be just as unsafe to do something like that with the safety, really... so I do this.”
He crossed the room and used the reacher to retrieve the towel, circling around his room in a U-turn and coming back to Erik to wave the scarf in his still-red face. He hung the reacher back on the ledge, and pointed to the others. “The hooked ones are mostly to help me put on my clothes, mainly my socks and pants. They’re called dressing sticks. That one’s obviously for putting on my shoes, and then that one on the far right is another reacher – it extends further than I really need, so I tend to just use it to poke fun at Phil, sometimes.”
Erik nodded, the red finally beginning to subside from his cheeks. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would dare to poke fun at Phil, but then again, Charles was his employer’s son. “I see.”
Charles grinned. “Hey, don’t be embarrassed. Whatever you want to know, you can ask. I’m not shy.”
Erik huffed. “Except when it’s me peeing while you’re in the same toilet.”
Charles crossed his arms. “You should have seen the way you whipped out your penis, it was like you thought you were some kind of Norse god... unsheathing his... weapon...”
It was Erik’s turn to crack up, and Charles’ turn to go red.
“Well, if you think that’s so normal, I can show you how I pee!” he cried, reaching down to undo the velcro of his jeans. Erik felt something flutter dangerously at the base of his hips, and raised his hands.
“Uh, Charles. Maybe that’s going a bit too far,” he said, tearing his eyes off the pale patch of flesh that was now exposed between Charles’ shirt and jeans.
Charles looked up to see Erik’s bothered expression, and bit his lip. “Yeah.... okay. Sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Erik said quickly, not wanting Charles to misunderstand his intentions. “Maybe you can show me when we’re like, older.” He tried his best to suppress his mental images of going to university with Charles, sharing a home with Charles, sleeping on the same bed as Charles... but he suspected Charles saw through his poor attempts at telepathic concealment all the same.
Charles brightened up. “Erik Lehnsherr, are you proposing to me?”
“What... Charles, how did you jump from what I said to...”
“Admit it, you totally just proposed to me.”
Thankfully, Charles suggested going down to the Games Room, which was far more restful and appropriate than listening to what Erik supposed were Charles’ completely misguided attempts at being flirtatious. As they made their way down a maze of carpeted corridors, Erik imagined a musty sort of room with a pool table, board games, and cupboards full of whisky and gin. As it turned out, it was nothing like he imagined.
“You have a Nintendo 65 and a Sega Dreamcast?”
Charles blinked. “Oh, is that what they’re called?”
Erik stared, scandalised. “What do you mean, is that what they’re called? They’re yours!”
“I don’t really play on them. My stepfather brings them home from his overseas trips, but they’re not really my thing.”
“Sebastian would give his left leg to have these.”
Charles pulled a face, and handed Erik the remote control. “If you know how to switch the thing on, then you’re more than welcome to play.”
“Aren’t you playing?”
“I prefer to watch, really. Do you need two people to play these things?”
Erik sifted through the box full of cartridges, most of which were still in their plastic wrapping.
“Holy shit, you have Ocarina of Time?”
Charles smiled politely, while Erik bounced in his excitement.
Eventually, Erik had grown tired of Ocarina and moved on to play four rounds of Super Smash Bros. with Phil, who proved to be a formidable opponent. By the time they had finished, it was six thirty. Erik turned to face Charles, who was lounging in his seat with a tall glass of juice in his hand.
“Wow, that was fun."
“It was, wasn’t it?”
Erik cocked an eyebrow. “You’re just saying that. Sorry I got carried away.”
“No, really. I’m rubbish at these things, so I like watching them instead. The Japanese make the cleverest things.”
“I have a headache.”
Charles laughed. “Not a very surprising outcome of spending almost four hours staring at a television screen, then.”
“And I need to go home.”
“I’ll give you a lift.”
Erik smirked. “You’ll have to. I have no idea where we are.”
Charles rolled himself over to the intercom, where he pressed a couple of buttons in quick succession. He turned around and winked at Erik, who felt his ears go hot.
It was Phil’s voice. Erik looked around and realised that Phil seemed to have disappeared after their last game of Super Smash Bros. without so much as a peep. It was very disconcerting.
“Would you please take my car out of the garage? I’m just going to drive Erik home. I’ll be back before dinner.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like me to send him instead? Mrs. Xavier won’t be pleased if you’re late for dinner again.”
“Ah, no, that won’t be necessary.”
“Of course, sir. I’ll be waiting at the entrance.”
Erik grabbed his school bag and scarf, making sure that he hadn’t forgotten anything, and stood up. The room seemed to spin around his head, and the grin on Charles’ face slowly turned into a frown.
“Mmmh,” was all he could manage before he felt his knees give away. Charles dialled the intercom again.
“Sorry Phil, would you come down to the Games Room again? My friend’s passed out.”
“On the way, sir.”
Erik opened his eyes. The ceiling was made of wood. It was a dark-coloured wood, perhaps some kind of African rosewood – it reminded Erik of some of the more high-end bass guitars that he had fixed at his part-time job. He realised that he was sleeping on a very comfortable bed. He sank his face into the fluffy pillow – it didn’t have the familiar, slightly damp smell of his own pillow, but felt fresh, as if it had been very recently washed and dried under the summer sun. That didn’t quite make sense – he was quite sure that it wasn’t summer. There was a dull pain in his left arm, and he lifted it up lazily to realise that there was a bandage slapped on his upper arm.
He pulled himself up on his right hand as Charles wheeled himself next to him.
“Erik, calm down.”
“Where the fuck am I?”
“You’re at my–”
“Am I dead?”
Charles barely suppressed a snigger. “No, you’re not, Erik. Although you weren’t well last night.”
“Mama, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry...”
Charles snorted. “Maybe you should just go back to sleep.”
Erik groaned, and turned to face Charles.
“Yes, it’s me, and I’ve been talking to you for the past half-minute or so. Are you there?”
“How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Okay, good. What’s your name and age?”
“The fuck, Charles?”
“Erik Lehnsherr, 17 years old.”
Charles sniggered. “Okay. According to your best inference, where do you think you are right now?”
Erik looked around. He was lying in a four-poster bed in a large room. The tall windows jutted out, but all he could see was the blue of the sky and what appeared to be a branch sticking into view. There was a fireplace in one wall of the room, but he saw that there seemed to be some kind of electric heating system in it in lieu of actual fire. All in all, the room looked old – the fireplace was probably used with real fire at some point, and the mantelpiece carried portraits of people who were most likely dead. There was a desk in one corner at which Charles had probably been sitting while Erik was unconscious, and there were four doors that Erik could see that lead to G-d knew where. Then, it all came back to him; hopping into Charles’ car, Phil the butler, the Games Room...
“Correct, and I now declare you legally sane.”
“You kidnapped me!”
“I assure you, I did no such thing.”
Erik pointed to the bandage on his arm, which had a small spot of red in the middle. “Then how do you explain this? You coaxed me into your car, drugged me, and... what do you want? God, I– I bet your ninja butler’s in on this too!”
Phil chose that moment to stride into the scene, and beamed down at Erik with an expression on his face that clearly said, “Who, me?”
Charles chuckled and placed a hand on Erik’s forehead. “Yes, he’s still running a bit of a fever. What’s the weather forecast like for today?”
“Showers in the morning, with an 80% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, sir.”
“Mmh. I trust you called Mrs. Lehnsherr?”
“Yes, sir. She sends her regards and thanks for housing her son for the night, and went on for twenty-six minutes about how her son never seemed to make any good friends until now. I would estimate that she’s happy enough to let Mr. Lehnsherr stay at least another day, sir.”
“That’s good,” Charles remarked, rubbing his hands together. “How long do you think it will be before he gets better?”
Phil pulled out a stethoscope from the inside of his coat and fussed over Erik, who appeared to have gone catatonic.
“He’ll probably be better before dinner, sir. I think he just got a little excited.”
When Erik woke up again, he found Charles nibbling on a piece of lettuce and reading their Shakespearean Tragedy textbook next to his bed.
“Good morning,” he chirped, through a mouthful of salad. “Or rather, good evening.”
“What time is it?”
“Four minutes past six. Saturday, if you want to know.”
Charles raised an eyebrow.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit shit. My mother must have called the police by now.”
“Oh, not to worry,” Charles grinned. “I’ve called her, and she said she’s delighted that you’re so close to your friends now that you’re staying overnight. I think she thinks you’re lonely.”
Erik groaned and pressed his face into the pillow. “Do I get to go home now, or are you going to keep shooting me up with drugs and chop off my leg?”
“I was under the impression that you were quite enjoying locking me up and playing doctor. Doesn’t this remind you of that novel by Stephen King... Misery? Are you going to bring me an antique guitar with missing strings and make me write you a song next?”
“Erik, what the...” Charles moved over and put a hand on Erik’s forehead. “Hm, no fever, but you seem to be delusional,” he said, with all the air of someone taking notes over a specimen.
Erik grinned, and helped himself to the rest of Charles’ salad. “You’re my number one fan, aren’tcha?”
“Ugh, forget it,” he said, sitting up and stretching. He yawned loudly, and looked around the room. “So what are you going to do?” Erik asked, a grin suddenly spreading over his face.
“What are you going to do with me, now that you’ve kidnapped me?”
Charles rolled his eyes. “I didn’t kidnap you, Erik, I...”
“Uh-uh.” Erik waved a finger at Charles. “A rose by another name is still a rose.”
Charles sighed. If Erik was going to be like this, then he’d make the best of the situation.
“Well, if you’re so convinced, I might as well play the part.”
Charles moved his chair next to the bed, locked his wheels, and transferred swiftly onto the bed, sitting on Erik’s legs over the blanket. He leaned over and spread out his hands.
Erik stared in disbelief as Charles snarled at him, his eyes bulging. Everything seemed to slow down as Charles’ flushed face sped towards his own, and Erik seemed to freeze, his eyes locked on Charles’ lips.
Mrs. Xavier chose that moment to open the door. Both boys froze and stared at the blonde woman standing in the doorway. Charles was lying on top of Erik, wheelchair forgotten, his arms in mid-air with his fingers frozen in a clawing position. Erik was flat on his back with his arm dangling from the side of the bed.
Mrs. Xavier slammed the door shut.
Erik swallowed as Charles slowly got off from Erik’s legs to a sitting position on the side of the bed. He scratched his head.
“That was kind of weird.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Shall I ask Phil to bring us some dinner?”
Charles’ bright blue Mazda always earned a couple of stares at the beginning and the end of the day from both students and parents, but the number of eyes was multiplied today. Erik Lehnsherr walked out of the backseat and pulled out Charles’ wheelchair from the back, placing it next to the car, and locking it. Erik felt immensely proud as he held the chair in place and watched as Charles shift himself into the chair and closed the door.
“I don’t know if there is a word for it, but right now, you’re acting like a... a hunter. A hunter showing off his trophy.”
“I’m not your trophy husband, Erik.”
“Jesus. Charles, keep it down.” Charles giggled as he pushed himself towards the entrance of the school building.
“Besides, you’d be the wife.”
They made their way down the crowded hallway together while the morning bell buzzed over their heads.
“So you can control metal.”
“Does it always have to be about shaping things, or can you move things as they are, as-is?”
“Then you can push my chair for me, if you like.”
“You heard me.”
“Charles, I’m not sure if this is such a good–”
“Oh, come on, I believe in you. Besides, my hand hurts,” he said, stopping and waving his left wrist, which was still in a brace.
The rest of 12BRo stared as Charles floated into the classroom in his chair, hovering at least ten centimetres above the floor as he did so. Erik followed close behind him with his hands raised. Erik realised as soon as they entered that this was something of a publicity stunt on Charles’ part.
You’re a possessive one, aren’t you? First you kidnap me, now this.
Just trying to make a point. Besides, do you even like Sebastian?
Ha, no. Who does? Apart from Emma, I mean.
Exactly my point.
Chapter 4: "Class of 1999", Part III - Spring
The Flying Mazda
The first week of the winter holiday passed without much incident, as the two of them both took a break from their regular school days. The second week, Charles was forbidden to leave his house, fulfilling his duties in the sitting room and the dining hall as the Xavier Heir as his parents entertained a delegation of distant Xavier and Marko relatives. Christmas Day itself was something of a disappointment, given that his parents had decided, without telling him beforehand, to leave for a second honeymoon to the Bahamas.
Phil prudently handed him a cup of tea as he finished reading the hastily scrawled note his stepfather had left behind. He gulped some down and pretended that the tears in his eyes was from the scorching liquid. He sniffed, handing the letter back.
“What did your family do for Christmas when your parents were alive?”
Phil shrugged. “Not a whole lot, sir. My parents usually saw Christmas as excuse to sleep until noon while I distributed the presents to my younger siblings.”
That was rather unhelpful. Charles drank the rest of his tea and set his cup down. Then, Charles had an idea.
“Are the kitchens still stocked?”
“Yes, sir. The majority of the kitchens hands have been released for a week-long holiday, but Mary is around, and would be happy to cook anything you wish.”
Charles rolled over to his desk and picked up the phone.
“Hello, Mrs. Lehnsherr? This is Charles Xavier, I was wondering if I could talk to–”
“Oh, you must be Erik’s friend! Your father called me three weeks ago.”
Charles winced. Phil and his terrible thoughtfulness. “Yes, yes he did.”
“Erik has never gone to his friends’ houses, let alone stay overnight, you know. I’d never seen him look so happy, and I just wanted to say thank you.”
“I could say the same, really.”
“Oh, you’re such a sweetheart! I–”
There was the distinct sound of the receiver being pulled, dropped, and then hastily picked up again on the other end.
“Charles! Oh god. Sorry about my mother, she’s crazy.”
“Don’t say that.”
Charles could almost hear Erik rolling his eyes over the phone. Or was that telepathy? He was quite sure that telepathy didn’t travel through phone lines.
“Merry Christmas, Erik.”
“Oh, is it Christmas today?”
“What do you mean, is it Christmas today?”
“Oh.” Charles bit his lip, and glanced up at Phil, who was pulling a face that screamed “I told you so!”.
“Sorry, I forgot.”
“Clearly. Merry Christmas to you too, Charles.”
“I was wondering if you and your mother would like to come over–”
“What, my mother as well? Are we going to discuss our wedding plans?”
“Jesus, Erik, I–”
“Of course I’d love to. My mother will have to pass though, she has to go to work.”
“Work? On Christmas Day?”
“She works at a Jewish bakery.”
“And you’ll have to pick me up. Have you seen the weather outside?”
“Look out of your window.”
Charles rolled his chair as far back as he could go without pulling the phone out of its socket, and craned his head. Phil opened the curtains. The whole garden was white.
“Yep. Still want to drive all the way down here?”
“Sure. I’ll see you in half an hour?”
“All right, then.”
“Oh, bugger,” Charles muttered, as he pressed on the accelerator once again. The engine whirred for a few moments, and then died completely. “I think we might be stuck.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
Erik sighed and leant back in his seat, fiddling with a coin in his hand. He glanced at Charles, who looked as if he was about to cry.
“Can you move cars?”
“I’ve never experimented with something so big.”
“If you can just lift us out of this mound of snow, that would be great. I reckon we can probably cruise through the rest of the way. Look – it doesn’t look like there’s that much snow up ahead.”
“You know that’s wishful thinking."
Charles turned to face Erik, all blue eyes and cherry red lips. Erik rolled his eyes.
“Fine, I’ll try. But if I mess up your car–”
“I’ll take full responsibility.”
Erik took a deep breath and held out his hands, focusing on the car’s metal frame. Once he had a sense of the whole structure, he wiggled his fingers experimentally. The car shook. Emboldened by this success, he willed the car to rise.
Something came loose with a vengeance.
Charles yelped and grabbed hold of the steering wheel. “Erik, I think that’s high enough!” he yelled, over the whoosh of the car flying upwards.
Erik held his hands in front of his face and found, to his relief, that he was able to slow the car down and keep it in place. He looked at Charles, who was peering over the bonnet at the streets below. Their eyes met, and they burst out laughing.
“I’m flying a Mazda!”
“I think my ears just popped!”
Charles wheezed and gasped for breath as he roared with laughter, pressed against the steering wheel. Erik pushed with his hands and found that he could move the car in all six directions.
“Oh, Erik. This is just like Harry Potter!”
“Never mind,” said Charles, as he wiped a tear from his face. “Speaking of which, I think maybe we should touch down before anyone sees. We might end up on the front page of the Westchester Daily.”
“I don’t care.”
“My parents will kill me.”
Erik winced. “Eagh. Didn’t think of that, sorry. How many bright blue Mazdas are there in town?”
“As far as I know? Only one.”
Unfortunately, Erik was not as good at decreasing latitude as he was at increasing it. The car bumped and rolled and changed direction, causing Charles to alternate between giggling, shrieking, and yelling. Luckily, by the time they thumped down onto snowy ground, they were in the middle of a meadow which Charles recognised to be part of the Xavier Estate. Unluckily, there were no roads here; only a narrow footpath that snaked its way up to the Mansion in the distance.
Erik grimaced. “Sorry about that.”
“Oh, don’t worry, it could be worse,” Charles replied, and pulled out what appeared to be a small walkie-talkie from the back pocket of his seat.
“Is that a cell phone?”
“Cool,” Erik remarked, as Charles punched at the clear buttons, and held it to his ear.
“Hey Phil. Yes. Oh, did you see that? Ah. Yes. Will you? No, that’s all right, we’ll just walk back. Thank you. Sorry. Bye.”
Charles turned the phone off with a beep, and handed it to Erik. “Will you hang on to that for me? I’m afraid we’re going to have to walk back. Phil has arranged for the Mazda to be picked up – he saw us coming in, apparently. He thinks we shouldn’t try and drive the car back to the mansion, because it will make some fairly obvious track marks that would be plainly visible from my stepfather’s room.”
“I could just lift it back–”
“Phil doesn’t think that’s a good idea either.”
“He seriously saw us coming in?”
“Yes, but not to worry. Phil sees everything,” Charles said by way of explanation, opening his door and setting out his wheelchair. “Gosh, it’s cold out.”
Erik picked up his rucksack and folder, and stepped out of the car as well. He walked around the car and helped Charles close up the doors.
“So how is Phil going to bring the car back in?”
Charles shrugged. “We have a bunch of planes in a private airport out of town. They’re mostly business jets, but there’s also a couple of helicopters.”
“Jesus. Won’t that get you into more trouble than making a couple of tire marks on your lawn?”
Charles winced. “Phil thinks my parents might be bringing back some guests from the Bahamas, so it’s best to keep the lawn intact. Trust me, Phil knows what he’s doing.”
“All right, then.”
“This is really quite something, isn’t it?” Erik remarked, gazing at the gleaming white around them. All of the trees that had burned red a few months ago had lost their leaves, and stood on the grounds as bare branches like claws reaching out towards the sky. “It reminds me of a song.”
“Yep,” said Erik, pulling out his yellow Walkman from the front pocket of his rucksack. The earbuds flew neatly into Charles’ ears, making him laugh.
“It tickles,” he explained. “And how did you do that? Aren’t these things made of plastic?”
“There’s copper wires running through them, and I can just about move the buds.”
“So you’re better with smaller things, I see.”
Erik nodded seriously. “I work at a music store fixing guitars.”
“We should probably work on your control of bigger things,” Charles mused.
Erik laughed. “We?”
“All right, well, we can do that later. For now, listen to this.”
Erik set the cassette player in motion with a flick of his hand, and stood back. He watched with an immense sense of pride bubbling in his chest as Charles began to bob his head up and down. Then suddenly, at around the time Erik knew the vocals would come in, Charles’ expression quickly transformed from curious to puzzled to downright horrified. Charles pulled the earbuds out of his ears and stared.
“Uh, Erik? Are you sure you have the correct... tape?”
Erik listened. The familiar sound of Abbath growling filled one ear.
“Yeah, it’s the right tape."
“Erik, he’s growling.”
Charles shrugged. “It’s highly unorthodox.”
“Of course it’s highly unorthodox, it’s Blashyrkh, Mighty Ravendark, by Immortal!”
Erik struck a pose, his legs extended in a power stance and his palms raised skyward, clawing at the air. For good measure, he began to headbang, sending his hair flailing in all directions.
He stopped when Charles began to giggle.
Erik frowned and followed as Charles began to push his chair down the path again.
“It’s good music.”
“If you say so, Erik.”
“What do you listen to?”
Friends and Lovers
Charles twirled his pencil as the rest of the class settled around them. Since the beginning of this last semester, Erik had taken up the seat next to Charles, right at the front of the classroom. Charles knew that their classmates talked behind their back, but didn’t really mind; he felt happier at school than he had since moving to Westchester, and if the way Erik kept grinning at him was anything to go by, Erik felt the same.
Still, Charles wasn’t entirely sure what to make of their relationship, and neither was Erik. Or at least, that was the case, until the second week of April, two weeks before their exams were due to begin.
Dr. Robertson stood up and cleared his throat. “Good morning. Before we begin our last revision session for English Literature, we do need to get one thing dealt with – since all of you will be graduating at the end of this academic year, there will, of course, be a graduation ceremony, and a prom evening to follow–”
Raven and Angel gave a whoop from behind, while Alex and Sean groaned.
“Both occasions will be taking place in the school gymnasium. Although a junior will be DJing for the event, the school administration has asked that each twelvth-year student submit one song they would like played during the dance.”
Everybody groaned. Angel raised her hand.
“Will Erik be exempt from this?”
The rest of the class perked up in anticipation. Dr. Robertson scratched his head, clearly uncomfortable that this discussion was more interesting to the class than his usual lessons.
“Please, Dr. Robertson.”
“Every student will have the opportunity to choose a song to be played at the disco, Ms. Salvadore.”
“But Dr. Robertson–”
“No exceptions. Now, as most of you will know, it is traditional that students bring a dancing partner with them, both for the purposes of the dance and for the dinner itself. Most students simply choose one of their classmates, but if you would like to bring someone from outside of school, then please report to the High School Office to seek permission. Right. Now, turning to page one-hundred and sixty-nine, Lecture seven of your textbooks, we will be going over Bradley’s analysis of Iago in Othello–”
Charles beamed at Erik as they sat down together at the black benches near the field. The rest of the school had put two and two together after the holidays, and neither felt particularly welcome at their old tables. Charles was tired of Sean asking him if he was “seriously going out with Lehnsherr”, and of Hank shooting him worried looks. Erik couldn’t see a reason why he should sit and watch Emma fawn over Sebastian with Janos and Azazel when he could talk to Charles. And so, they had drifted together, adopting the abandoned black benches furthest from the canteen.
Erik set Charles’ lunch tray down in front of him.
“You didn’t have to do that, you know. But thank you. It was very kind.”
Erik rolled his eyes. Charles had taken Erik’s measly lunch of a packet of crackers as a personal insult and had bullied him into accepting a plate of vegetarian lasagne. Thankfully, Charles stopped questioning him about Sebastian. Erik stabbed at a piece of lasagne with more force than necessary, and shoved it into his mouth.
“I’m worried about you, Erik,” Charles announced, furrowing his eyebrows over his lunch, which Erik had to admit was rather decent.
“Why?” Erik asked lazily through a mouthful of pasta.
“You don’t seem to have any real friends.”
Erik grinned, and wiggled his finger between the two of them. “So this doesn’t count, huh?”
“Of course it does! But you can’t just get through high school with only one friend.”
“I had zero friends in secondary and primary school. Got along fine. Why should I start making friends now?” Erik muttered.
Charles put his cutlery down. “You had no friends?”
Erik shrugged. “That a problem?”
“No, but... oh, Erik.”
Charles gazed up at Erik with a look that suggested someone had died, his thick eyebrows drooping downwards. Erik suppressed a snigger with the back of his hand.
“Besides, look who’s talking.”
“Everyone is my friend!” Charles retorted, his cheeks turning pink.
“Which is another way of saying that you have no real friends.”
Charles looked up at Erik as if he was about to cry, his blue eyes sparkling in the afternoon sun. Erik rolled his eyes and shoved some more lasagne into his mouth, swinging his head backwards to get his hair out of his face. Charles tried for a pout.
“Your face is embarrassing to watch."
Charles glared at Erik and put his lunch tray in his lap. “I’m leaving!”
“Be my guest.”
He made it no further than the boys’ toilet near the pitch before making a clean U-turn back to their bench table. He set his tray down in front of Erik’s and began to eat in silence again.
“Back so soon?” Erik teased.
Charles shrugged. “You’re right. I have no friends.” He looked down at his plate, his usually straight back slumped. Erik began to feel decidedly guilty.
Charles looked up at him expectantly, a smirk playing around the corners of his mouth.
“I suppose we could be friends.”
“Maybe more than just friends."
Erik set down his cutlery and rubbed his hands together. There was no going back now.
“You look like you’re about to make an important announcement,” Charles remarked, swallowing his mouthful of pasta and setting down his own cutlery as well. “Are we getting married soon?”
Erik nodded seriously.
Erik bit down a smile and shook his head. “I was nodding to the important announcement part, not the marriage part.” He cleared his throat. “Er, I was wondering if you– you know, the prom. If you’ve got a dance partner already.”
Charles shook his head. “No, I don’t think people realise I can dance.”
Charles crossed his arms and pouted.
“Okay, okay. I’m just kidding. Er– uh. Would you... let me take you to the prom, Charles?”
Charles bounced in his seat and wiggled his hands, reminding Erik rather violently of Angel. He shook off the thought and fixed his face into what he hoped was a gentlemanly smile.
“Erik Lehnsherr, are you formally asking me out?”
“I... suppose you could put it that way, yes.”
Charles crossed his arms again. “Yes or no?”
Erik gritted his teeth. Why did the little rascal have to be so difficult? “Yes.”
Charles emitted a noise that Erik wouldn’t have believed it was possible for human male vocal cords to emit. Then again, this was Charles, so he supposed that the noise might have been telepathic. A quick glance around the area, however, confirmed that it was not. Armando came jogging up to the table and, after a quick glance at Erik, bent over to look at Charles, who appeared to be sobbing into his hands.
“Man, are you all right?”
Charles let his hands down to reveal a massive grin. “Erik asked me out!”
“Erik. Asked. Me. Out.”
Erik glared up at Armando, daring him to mock Charles. However, Armando simply stood and scratched his head.
“We thought he’d asked you out a long time ago.”
Both Erik and Charles gaped. Armando shrugged, and walked away.
Their study break came and went rather too quickly for Erik’s taste. Erik spent most of his time at the Xavier Mansion revising with Charles, while Charles spent most of his time reciting whole chunks from his textbook at Erik and steadily pushing him towards the edge of an emotional breakdown.
Erik wasn’t sure what he found more disconcerting; the fact that he woke up screaming one night in the joint bedroom next to Charles’, or the fact that Phil came running into the room with a handgun in one hand and a taser in the other. Apparently, the man never slept. He checked the windows, closets, and even the space under the bed while Charles rubbed his back and pushed a teacup into his hands.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, still shaking from his nightmare. Charles’ hand felt warm against his back.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, not really. I’d rather we talked about something else.”
“Okay,” Charles nodded. “What are you going to do when you graduate?”
“You tell me first.”
“I put in an application to Oxford last year,” Charles said, “I got a reply a week ago. I’m going to be reading Biology, with a minor in Philosophy.”
“Congratulations,” Erik whispered.
“I don’t know if I really want to go.”
Erik stared. “Why not?”
Charles shrugged. “How about you?”
“I don’t know. I want to study, but I don’t want to take a loan. I want to work first.”
“My stepfather could–”
“What sort of work would you do?”
“I’d like to continue fixing things. Hopefully guitars. Things that have to do with mechanics and engineering. Small things.”
Charles smiled. “Would you stay in Westchester?”
“I want to go somewhere different, but I’m worried about leaving my mother behind. She’ll be all alone. Well, there’s Mrs. Bloch and her family at the bakery, but... yeah.”
Charles nodded. “I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too.” Erik stood the teacup on his face to drain the last of the tea. Phil swiftly took the empty cup away. “You know, it’s really bad.”
Erik squeezed Charles’ hand. “I’ve only really known you for less than half a year, and now, after the exams, we’ll be going our own separate ways.”
“Oh, don’t say things like that.”
“Will you come back to Westchester during the summer holidays?”
“Of course I will. Are you really going to stay in Westchester?”
Erik shrugged. “I can’t leave Mama behind.”
Phil cleared his throat. Charles and Erik looked up – Phil never made a sound, especially when the two of them were talking.
“Begging your pardon, Mr. Lehnsherr. Have you talked to your mother about that?”
Erik shook his head, and fixed his gaze on the floor. “Not really. We don’t really like to talk about what happens when I graduate. Money is kind of a sensitive topic in my family. We don’t have much of it.”
Charles stared pointedly at a spot on the floor, and blushed when he realised that it was his mother’s Persian rug.
“You might want to discuss it with your mother. Nothing good happens when we assume that another person feels a certain way. We’re not all telepaths, after all,” Phil said, and strode out of the room, giving a small nod to both Erik and Charles.
Dance With Me
The examinations came and went even faster than the study break, so much that neither Erik nor Charles had the peace of mind to realise just how much energy they were spending until the last examination had finished. Charles came down with a fever, and forbade Erik to come anywhere near his mansion for fear that he would catch it too before the prom. Erik ended up spending the week that they had planned to go boating together alone, and it was with no inconsiderable amount of nerves that he waited for Charles’ blue Mazda to pick him up on The Night.
He had fixed his tie so many times in the bathroom mirror that it looked more crooked than it was to begin with. Giving up on it, he paced around the tiny living room. The grey suit, borrowed from Mrs. Bloch’s son, did not fit Erik very well. The sleeves were a little too long to be practical, yet the slacks were too short, and revealed too much ankle. After a heated argument with his mother, Erik had consented to having his hair slicked back neatly with a handful of gel. His mother thought he looked like a 60s film star. Erik thought he looked like an idiot.
Mama sat at the kitchen table in the navy dress that she had worn at Papa’s funeral, and laughed.
“Erik, you’re being silly.”
“I’m not. Oh, what am I going to do if Charles doesn’t turn up? What if he’s still sick? I’m going to graduate. I’m actually graduating! They’re going to give me a certificate with my name on it, and they’re going to give it to me on a stage. And Papa won’t be there.”
Erik felt his mother’s arms wrap around his waist. It didn’t seem so long ago when it was the other way round; a younger Erik, wrapping his arms around Mama and burying his face into her apron after a day at school. He remembered the smell of chocolate matzoh that seemed to surround him.
“Papa is always with you, yakiri. He’s always watching you.”
Erik looked at his mother, and felt the uncontrollable urge to laugh. He did.
“Always watching? Mama, that’s scary.”
She rolled her eyes, but there was no missing her smile. “And here I thought we were having a lovely mother-to-son moment.”
“We’ll have plenty of those, Mama. I’m not going anywhere.”
“There isn’t a lot to do for a young man like you here. You must hit the iron while it’s still hot.”
Erik heard the unmistakable roar of an engine and the distinct feeling of metal approaching his street. It was followed by two long honks – Charles, then.
Charles was dressed in a charcoal grey suit that was quite obviously tailored. Erik blinked and felt his cheeks go warm – it was a far cry from his usual getup, which consisted of one of about half a dozen different sweaters, each as ugly as the next. Something had been done to his hair to get rid of his usual middle parting, and his fringe was combed back in a curve in a neat little puff.
The car ride to the school gymnasium was brief, but by the end of the 15 minutes, Charles and Mrs. Lehnsherr were firm friends, and Erik was left wondering if it had been a mistake to introduce his date to his mother. Sensing Erik’s growing boredom, Charles allowed him to help him into his chair and push him down the school driveway to the gymnasium, despite the fact that he had brought his electric today.
Any doubt Charles had had about having the graduation inside the school gymnasium disappeared as they looked around at the transformed space they had found themselves in. Drapes were hung over the walls in the blue and yellow of the school crest, and tables had been set up, lighted by dozens of little candles. A junior in a suit glanced at their invitation and led them towards a smaller table towards the back.
Once they were seated, Mrs. Lehnsherr looked around the table and frowned.
“When will your parents be coming, Charles?”
Charles shook his head. “They’re not.”
“What?” cried Erik, staring. Charles shrugged.
“My stepfather’s at a conference in Cologne, and my mother’s on holiday in Paris.”
“Didn’t they know it was your graduation?”
“They did, but... well, even if they were in the country, they wouldn’t have come away. They don’t really come to these things. It’s quite normal for them, really.”
Mrs. Lehnsherr stared, looking completely scandalised. She reached over to Charles and wrapped him in a tight embrace.
“You poor, poor dear.”
“It’s really quite all right,” said Charles, hugging Mrs. Lehnsherr back.
The five-course dinner itself was a fairly uneventful occasion. Erik spent most of the time with his mouth full of his food and even some of Charles’, while Charles and Mrs. Lehnsherr chatted animatedly about another interest that they apparently had in common; the work of an Israeli philosopher entitled Ich und Du. Erik never quite imagined that there would be German that Charles understood better than him. In any case, he was happy to give all of his attention to the food – it was delicious, and the real fun would come soon enough when they started to play the songs. He was going to dance with Charles, and it was going to be the night of his life.
The graduation ceremony itself was predictably boring, though mercifully quick. The school administration being what it was, they had forgotten that Charles could not possibly hop up the rickety stairs leading up to the platform. While Charles fought off a number of over-eager volunteers, Erik strode to the front of the hall and levitated Charles onto the platform, feeling rather like a maestro conducting an orchestra.
You’re enjoying this a little too much, you know.
Erik didn’t really mind. Sebastian was scowling, everyone else was staring, and all was good in the world.
When at last the programme came to the disco, Erik was disappointed to find that they had decided to play the songs on the song sheet that had gone around the class two months ago, which meant that his song was to be played last. Leaving Mrs. Lehnsherr to clap along to N*SYNC and Westlife, Erik and Charles sneaked out of the gymnasium down to their usual bench.
It was odd, seeing the schoolyard in the darkness. Everything looked smaller, for one, and the lack of the usual lunch crowd was disconcerting. There was an odd sense that something had
“I guess this is the last time we’ll be sitting at these tables together, then,” Charles remarked, adjusting his bow tie.
“Have you decided what you’re going to do?”
“How do you mean?”
“About Oxford. You said you weren’t sure if you wanted to go.”
“I don’t have a choice anymore. My mother found out about it, and my stepfather already sent back the acceptance form. He thinks it would be crazy not to accept an offer from Oxford.”
“I reckon any normal person would think that.”
Charles shrugged, and patted the seat next to him. “Come and sit next to me.”
Erik obliged. Charles leaned over and rested his head on Erik’s shoulder. Erik put an arm around Charles’ middle, and leant into his hair. He scrunched up his nose – it reeked of gel.
I heard that.
Erik didn’t know how to respond to that. He hoped the wave of embarrassment he felt was enough.
It will suffice.
He laughed, and squeezed Charles’ hand.
Don’t be so depressing. I’ll write you letters. Will you write back?
Of course. Would you live at the same address?
I actually meant e-mail.
Oh, come on. You’ve got a PC at home. Use it.
The last time I tried, my stepfather yelled at me.
That’s probably because you don’t know how to use it properly. Were you trying to move the cursor by touching the screen?
Never mind. Get Phil to teach you how to use a computer.
What if Phil doesn’t know?
He will. He knows everything.
Erik gestured towards the gymnasium. If the faint sound of bongoes coming from the general direction was anything to go by, his song should be playing quite soon.
Will you dance with me?
The sight of the rest of their classmates shaking their hips to Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca did wonders to brighten Charles’ mood. For once, Erik was mildly jealous of a man who thought it was a good idea to use a photograph of himself sprawled on a massive strawberry as a cover for his single – or at least, a massive strawberry was what he thought it was. He wasn’t entirely sure.
He gulped as Charles dove right in the middle of the dancing floor and began to spin his chair round and round. As he waved his arms in excitement, he spun wider and wider, clearing a bigger and bigger gap in the middle of the floor.
I really don’t think that’s a good idea. You’re going to kill someone.
Livin’ La Vida Loca ended, mercifully prompting Charles to slow down. Erik stepped forward and waited for the opening chords of You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.
It never came. The DJ began to play some piano music, and the dance floor turned from a clash of waved arms and stomping feet to a flurry of dress hems and tapping feet. Charles sat and stared as Erik looked wildly around.
“They didn’t play my song!”
“The one I wrote down on the song list! Dr. Robertson said, all the songs... I bet it’s Angel, that sneaky bitch!”
“Oh, come on. Let’s just dance to this.”
“But the song!”
“If it’s that important to you, you can bring your cassette with you the next time you come over to my house. We’ve still got a whole month together. Now come on.”
Erik gritted his teeth and stood in front of Charles. “How are we supposed to dance to this?”
Charles ignored Erik and began to undo his safety belt.
“What are you–”
He grabbed Erik by the elbows of his ill-fitting suit. “Pull me up.”
Erik stared. Charles grinned with the air of someone who was about to be thoroughly naughty. The music hit a sweet, rippling chord. Everyone around them was dancing, even the parents. Erik wondered where his mother had gone.
“I don’t think this is a very good idea.”
“Just do it.”
Erik placed his arms around Charles’ middle. “Are you sure about this?”
Charles flashed a toothy smile. “Let’s find out.” Erik pulled Charles up to his level, while Charles clung onto Erik for dear life.
“Hmm,” Charles mumbled into Erik’s neck. “Am I sort of balancing on my legs?”
“I have no idea, I can’t see, and this is more than just a little bit scary.”
“You’ve never done this before,” said Erik, as he attempted to rock back and forth to the music.
“No, no I haven’t.”
“You bloody idiot.”
Charles giggled in Erik’s ear.
“Stop that. It tickles.”
That only made Charles giggle more. Erik decided to focus on something else to prevent them from crumbling into one messy heap. He squinted. “Is that who I think it is?”
He slowly turned Charles around, minding the metal of his belt as he did so. “Just behind Hank and Raven.”
Charles gaped. Mrs. Lehnsherr was dancing a slow waltz with a stocky man not a whole lot taller than herself – none other than Charles’ butler, Phil. Charles watched in disbelief as Phil whispered something into Mrs. Lehnsherr’s ear, causing her to giggle and snuggle into his neck.
“They’re... er, being all touchy-feely.”
“Ugh, Charles. Oh god, Mama and Phil? Seriously, I don’t even know what’s happening.”
“Does this mean my butler is going to be your stepfather?”
Erik shuddered. “Oh god please don’t go there. And since when is Phil here?”
“Come to think of it, he was probably hiding in the back of my car,” Charles joked.
“Oh god. Let’s talk about something else.”
Erik continued to lead the dance, shifting the two of them from left to right in time with the music. Just when he was starting to get the hang of things, Charles gasped. Erik squeezed him tighter in alarm.
“Your mum and Phil!”
Erik groaned. “This is supposed to be our graduation!” he whispered angrily into Charles’ ear. He then had a bright idea. He pushed Charles back so that they were face to face, and planted his mouth over Charles’. Unfortunately, he was a little over-enthusiastic.
“Hmrphow!” Charles mumbled, digging his nails into Erik’s shoulders.
Erik, what are you doing!?
Kissing you, idiot.
It feels like you’re trying to eat my face.
Shut up, you’re ruining the moment.
Charles decided he may as well just go with it. He flung his arms around Erik’s neck and pushed into the kiss.
And now you’re trying to eat my face.
Oh, shut it.
Erik tasted of bread pudding and cranberry juice. He felt a surge of something warm travel down his back.
Come to England with me.
My uncle has an apartment in Oxford. There’s a nice artsy street nearby where you can set up a store.
Are you serious?
Of course. We can afford to be young and foolish.
Charles Francis Xavier, are you proposing to me?
What... Erik, how did you jump from what I said to...
Admit it, you totally just proposed to me.
I most humbly accept your generous proposal.
Erik pulled away from the kiss, looked Charles in the eyes, and winked. It suddenly hit both Charles and Erik that the whole gymnasium had gone quiet, and that all two hundred and fifty six minus two pairs of eyes were on them.
“I think you had better put me back in my chair, now.”
Chapter 5: "Class of 1999", Part IV - Summer (Epilogue)
And that was how our two heroes ended up living together in the present day, 20th of August, 1999, on 77A Whiteford Street, Oxford. Many discussions between the two – not without exasperation on Erik’s part – led to the two finally agreeing to live together in the flat left to Charles by his grandfather. The move itself went smoothly; all of Erik’s things fit into two large suitcases, and Charles happily dumped most of the things in his room and more into a grand total of 256 packing boxes. Erik later helped Phil cut down the number to a slim 97, much to Charles’ surprise and annoyance when they finally arrived in Oxford after a cosy 8-hour flight on his private jet. Naturally, Charles would deny it later when Erik proudly remembered how that shouting match led to one of their most violent kissing sessions, the wheelchair being used and abused in a number of creative positions that Erik was sure he had invented.
Erik took the new living arrangement in his stride, at least for the most part. Perhaps the most embarrassing incident was on the morning after their arrival at Whiteford Street, when Erik had gone into his bathroom to find that there were apparently two toilets.
“Charles!” he cried, hoping that his voice would carry through the double-doors connecting their rooms. It became apparent after a few moments that it did not. He stepped out of the bathroom and opened the door to find Charles snoring into his pillow.
“Which toilet do I use?”
Charles pushed his face off the pillow and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “How do you mean?”
“There’s two toilets!”
Erik hopped on the spot, clutching at his boxers.
“Charles, I need to pee!”
“Be my guest!”
“But there are two... toilet bowls! Which one is used for peeing? Oh, God!”
Charles rubbed at his eyes, thought for a moment, and promptly burst out laughing.
“Oh lord, you mean the bidet, don’t you?”
“What’s a– thingy–”
“The bidet. It’s the one with the funny taps. You pee in the other one.”
Erik ran back into the bathroom, leaving Charles cackling and gasping for breath. By the time he had relieved himself and regained his composure, Charles was already in his chair with a towel around his neck, having washed his face at the tap next to his closet. Erik still couldn’t get his head around the idea that there was a tap in the bedroom.
“Good morning,” Charles called, sing-song, as he turned and grinned.
“Oh, shut up.”
“What, I was just wishing you a good morning.”
“What is that fancy tap thingy?”
“It’s a bidet – basically, a sink for your butt, used as necessary, usually after going number two, but some folks like to use it after number one as well.”
“Jesus. You and your fancy things.”
“I’m quite sure it’s not a strictly British thing.”
“Right. It’s a strictly fancy person thing.”
Charles blushed. “Oatmeal porridge for breakfast, then?”
“Bring it on.”
Thankfully, it took quite a bit of skill to mess up the simple task of preparing hot water and a bowl for oatmeal in the morning, which meant that Charles was quite able to serve as the breakfast chef, apart from the time when he spilt the boiling water over Erik’s feet. In the absence of Phil and his competent team, Erik designated himself the kitchen master, while Charles took on the minimally dangerous task of cleaning the floor. The washing they decided to tackle together on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the laundry down the street, and the rest of the cleaning, the toilets in particular, was dished out as punishments for “un-neighbourly behaviour”, such as leaving dirty plates in the sink, or dirty laundry hung over the living room sofas. Naturally, Charles ended up washing the toilets most of the time, even after he caved in and invested in a dishwasher for the kitchen.
It wasn’t long before classes began for Charles who, despite being a first-year, was granted special permission to commute to University from the flat, given the decidedly wheelchair-unfriendly nature of the Colleges. Around the same time, Erik found a nice place two streets away to set up his practice.
Charles glanced up at the front door as he heard the lock unlatch, and quickly looked back down at his papers, leaning back and pretending to look absorbed in his reading on St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of god. The door squeaked open, and he watched out of the corner of his eye as Erik levitated two heavy-looking guitar cases into the house, laying them down on the floor next to the shoe cabinet.
“Quit pretending, Charles. I know you were itching for me to get home.”
Charles pouted, his cover blown. “Only because I was hungry.” He looked up at Erik. He was dressed in his usual clothes – a pair of faded blue jeans with one of his many band shirts that Charles couldn’t tell apart, his combat boots, and a brown leather jacket, which had been a surprisingly well-selected graduation gift from Charles. His hair was tied at the back of his neck with a piece of black elastic. He looked tired but content, as he usually did after a long day’s work.
“Your mother called about an hour ago.”
“She says she’d love to have her wedding at Xavier Hall.”
Erik cocked an eyebrow, sitting down and unlacing his boots. “Hall, not Mansion?”
“The one we’ve got down in Kent.”
“Ah,” he said, pretending to know what Charles was talking about.
“Phil sends his love, too.”
“I can’t believe your ninja butler is sending me love.”
Charles laughed, a lovely golden sound that warmed Erik’s ears. “He’s your stepfather now.”
Erik grinned and walked over to the dining table, looking over Charles’ shoulder. He squinted at the paper for a few moments before sighing.
“St. Anselm for philosophy of religion?” He clucked his tongue. “Buber and Levinas are the guys you want to be reading if you wanna get closer to god, Liebling.” He sneaked a kiss on Charles’ cheek.
“Try explaining that to my professor.”
“Those Oxford dons, eh?”
“I miss Dr. Robertson.”
Erik sniffed at the air.
“And I see why you’re hungry.”
Charles rolled his eyes. “It was supposed to be a tuna casserole.”
“But now it looks more like a charcoal casserole, am I right?”
“You don’t have to rub it in!” Charles retorted, but there was no bite in his voice as he saw the bag of take-away dangling from Erik’s hand. “Ooh, what’s that?” He leant over and sniffed. “Fish and chips? Oh, Erik, I love you so much. Marry me.”
Erik snickered and kissed Charles on the ear as he cleared the table and unwrapped the take-away. Cutlery came swishing out of the kitchen into his hands.
“Would you grab the rest as well?” asked Charles, closing his notebook and pushing it away.
“What is it?”
“I put everything on a tray. It’s just next to the stove, but be careful, it might spill.”
“Here, let me help.”
Erik concentrated on the mental image projected to him by Charles, and scanned for it in the kitchen. He found it easily, and brought it floating down onto the dining table with a careful movement of his finger. He looked down at it and scowled.
“Brussels sprout salad?”
“They’re high in vitamins and fibre, Erik. These things are like Mother Nature’s perfect supplements.”
Erik rolled his eyes, sticking out his tongue. “You could at least boil them.”
“They’re more nutritious when they’re r-–”
“Gaaaaaah, shut up and stop being such a wife.”
“I hate you.”
“Hate you more.”