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Winter Light

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David wakes up to a bright, even light from his window, and pushes aside the curtains to see snow. Lots of it, the whole yard and the forest beyond covered in deep drifts, white clinging to every branch and twig, soft flakes still falling in the wake of the night's storm. The sky is a haze of white.

"Laika, snow!" David says, delighted. "Look!"

Laika raises her head sleepily and gives a soft, huffing bark, unhappy from being woken up so early. When David climbs out of bed she gets up-- But only so she can take the warmth he left behind.

"Laika," David pleads, but it's no use. She might be his dog but Laika does what she wants. But then he figures she earned it, being an astronaut and all.

David looks out the window again. He's so eager to get out there that he's tempted to just be outside right away, but he's not supposed to teleport on his own. And anyway he can't play in the snow in his pajamas.

He runs into his parents' bedroom. They're still asleep, like Laika, like everyone else he can hear, their thoughts soft and dreamy. He pauses for a moment, deciding, and then-- Goes over to Mommy's side.

"Mommy?" he calls, softly. He calls again, then reaches out and touches her arm, gives it a light shake. "Mommy, wake up. There's snow!"

Mommy finally starts to stir, but even as she's waking up-- Daddy wakes up, too. David stills, just for a moment, then feels the familiar, gentle brush of Daddy's mind against his. Everything's okay.

"Snow?" Daddy says, squinting at the windows. Then he smiles, soft and warm. "Go downstairs and get dressed."

"Can Amy come?" David asks. "And Kerry?"

"Give them a call," Daddy says. "With the telephone. And make sure they get permission."

"Okay, okay," David sighs, but then runs out of the room. He glances at Laika again, curled up on the bed, then rushes down the stairs to the telephone. It would be easier to just reach out to Amy and Kerry's minds and talk to them without this clunky thing, but David's always being told to do things the same way everyone else does.

He calls Amy and the phone rings and rings. Finally it picks up.

"Hello?" Amy's daddy says, sounding barely awake. David can hear his thoughts easy, he's only down the street. 'Who's calling at this hour?'

"Uncle Simon?" David says. "It's David. Can Amy come play?"

There's a pause. 'Oh! It really came down last night. Ugh, gotta clear the driveway.' "She's still asleep. But I'm sure she'll want to when she wakes up."

David could wake Amy up himself, he could do it easy. But if he does, then Daddy will know, and he doesn't want to get in trouble when he could be out playing in the snow. "Okay," he says instead. "Tell her to bring her sled. And Kerry's coming too."

"I will," Uncle Simon says, with a tolerant fondness.

"Bye," David says, and hangs up the phone and picks it up again. He calls Kerry.

"Hello?" Cary says, as groggy as Uncle Simon.

"Cary?" David says. He doesn't call him Uncle Cary even though he's old, because he's Kerry's twin. Which means Kerry is old, but she's not. "It's David. Can Kerry come play?"

There's a muffled sound David can't quite make out over the tinny telephone, but he hears Kerry in his head. Waking Cary up means waking Kerry up, which is fine by David.

"Hey David," Kerry says, taking over the phone. "Wow, the snow's so deep. Wanna sled?"

"Of course!" David says, grinning. "Amy's coming too."

"I'll be right over," Kerry says, and hangs up before David can reply.

David hears the creak of floorboards upstairs, and Daddy comes down the stairs, a robe over his pajamas. "How about some breakfast while we wait?"

Soon there's the warm smell of bread in the toaster, and butter sizzling in the pan as Daddy cracks some eggs. David feels a little less restless and a lot more hungry. Soon he hears Kerry's thoughts approaching, and Daddy pulls two more eggs from the carton. By the time there's a knock on the door, Kerry's eggs are almost done.

"Why aren't you ready?" Kerry asks, when he lets her in. She shakes off, sending bits of snow all over the entryway. She drops her sled on the floor.

"We have to wait for Amy," David explains. "But there's breakfast?"

"Ugh, she's so slow," Kerry whines, and heads for the kitchen. "Hey Charles."

"Good morning, Kerry," Daddy says, and slides her plate onto the table. "Would you like milk or orange juice?"

"Cream soda," Kerry says.

"It's a bit early for that," Daddy says.

"Cream soda!" Kerry insists.

Daddy raises his eyebrows. He pauses, and David can hear him asking Cary if it's all right to give Kerry cream soda with breakfast.

'It's fine,' Cary thinks back. 'I'm just glad she's eating.'

Daddy opens a cabinet and pulls out a bottle of cream soda. He twists the cap open and puts the bottle in front of Kerry. Kerry takes it and greedily gulps it down.

David doesn't understand why it's okay for Daddy to not use the telephone when David has to. There's a lot of things he has to do the slow, boring way even though Daddy doesn't. But every time David complains, Daddy points out that Mommy does things the slow, boring way, and so do most people, and reminds David for the billionth time that it's important for him to do things the way everyone else does.

The three of them eat, and David wishes Mommy would come down but her thoughts feel so sleepy. Winter always makes her slow and tired, but when the spring comes she's happy again. Still, it's scary when Mommy's sick, he doesn't like it.

"You're going sledding?" Daddy asks.

David looks up and realizes he was just poking at his eggs instead of eating them. "Yeah, and we should build snowmen." He takes a bite. The toast is crispy and buttery, the scrambled eggs soft.

"We're gonna have a snowball fight and I'm gonna win," Kerry declares. She takes a nibble of her toast, makes a face, then pushes the toast off her plate. "When's Amy getting here?"

Daddy listens. "Ah, she's just waking up."

"Finally," Kerry sighs. She finishes her eggs and every last drop of the cream soda. "Laika!" she calls, loudly. "Hey, dog!"

There's a loud bark from upstairs, and then Laika comes trotting down to meet them. She's always happy to see Kerry, probably because she always gives Laika all her leftovers. This time she gets buttered toast and happily wolfs it down.

David hears Amy thinking about getting dressed, and excuses himself to do the same. He peeks in on Mommy, but she's curled up, mostly asleep, facing away from the light. David quickly pulls on warm clothes and heads back down. Amy's having breakfast, so David and Kerry grab their sleds and walk to her house.

Laika trots behind them, mostly because she wants more of Kerry's leftovers. But she likes the snow, and shoves her nose down under it looking for smells.

David doesn't really remember how he saved Laika, he just knew she was scared and wanted to go home, so he brought her home. That was two years ago. Everyone thinks she died in space, but she's alive and wants more buttery toast.

"Laika!" Amy greets, as Laika barks and jumps up to give her dog-kisses. Amy might be Laika's favorite person, but that's all right because Amy might be David's favorite person, too. She's definitely his favorite cousin.

When Laika's done, Amy wipes her face with her coat sleeve. David takes his turn, coming up to Amy for one of her hugs. They always make him feel better.

"C'mooon," Kerry whines, impatient. "I wanna get to the park first!"

David listens. "There's already someone there." A few kids, one trudging up the sledding hill, two sledding down it together.

"Ugh!" Kerry moans.

"We'll sled faster once the snow's compacted," Amy says, reasonably.

They reach the park and there's a few more kids already there. Kerry marches off to the fresh snow at first, but then comes back. They all scream with delight as they sled down the compacted snow, then trudge back up the hill even though David could just teleport them to the top.

The rest of the neighborhood kids wake up, and soon the sledding hill is crowded. Kerry hates having to wait, and all the noisy minds close together make David restless, even though he can concentrate to block most of them out.

"Let's go get some hot chocolate," Amy says, and they trudge back down the hill and over to the park's concession stand.

They brush the snow off a park bench and sit together, and David breathes in the hot, sweet steam, and eats the little marshmallows before they dissolve. He sips his hot chocolate and takes slow breaths, focusing on what's around them. There's a duck pond nearby; it's all frozen over except for where it's fed by a stream, and the ducks cluster around the small patch of open water, quacking and splashing. Laika watches them intently. Flocks of geese fly overhead, even noisier than the ducks.

With everyone sledding, it's easy to find a stretch of deep, fresh snow. They use their sleds to carry heaps of snow, and start building. First snowmen (and a snow dog), and then Kerry demands a sturdy snow fort filled with ammunition. Other kids follow the same path from the sledding hill to the hot chocolate to the field they've been playing in. 'Snowball fight,' starts running through everyone's thoughts, and tension builds. And then the snowballs start to fly.

The three of them duck behind their fort, but Laika runs out and leaps for the snowballs, barking with delight. Kerry's aim is deadly, even making a few kids cry. Amy only aims for the older kids. David throws his snowballs wildly, not really wanting to hit anyone when he'll have to feel them being upset. But mostly everyone's happy, especially Laika.

After the fight, the four of them trudge home. They're tired and wet and chilled and Laika's fur is covered in clumps of snow. Amy and Kerry split off to go change and have lunch, and promise to come over later. David brushes Laika off before they go inside, and Daddy greets them with towels and helps David out of his wet clothes. Daddy starts drying Laika off. David goes to his bedroom and puts on dry clothes and a warm, fluffy sweater, and finally notices that Mommy's awake.

He goes back downstairs and finds her in her favorite spot, on the couch near the big window. She smiles when she sees him. David snuggles up with her and she drapes one end of her blanket around him.

"Did you have a good time in the park?" Mommy asks.

"Yeah," David sighs. He closes his eyes and rests his head against her.

"Tired?" she asks. "Here, lie down."

Mommy guides him to lie with his head on her lap. She strokes her fingers through his damp hair. Outside there's still a light snow falling, and everything is calm. Laika, freshly dried, hops up on the couch and rests her head on David's legs.

When David wakes, Daddy's made chicken soup and hot apple tea with cinnamon. They sit together at the table, and David tells his parents about the sledding hill, and the snowball fight, and Laika and the ducks. And then he tells Daddy about how noisy everyone's minds were.

"Your powers keep getting stronger," Daddy says. "I think we should do some extra shielding practice."

"But Kerry and Amy are coming over," David protests.

"They can come over a little later," Daddy says. "In fact, how about we invite everyone over for dinner?" He turns to Mommy. "How does that sound? Some warm company? Fire in the fireplace?"

Mommy hesitates, then nods. "It would be nice," she admits. "I'll have to make myself presentable."

"A hot bath?" Daddy offers. "I'll take care of everything."

Mommy smiles and kisses Daddy. David can feel her feeling better, feeling cared for, and it makes him feel better. Love makes everyone feel better.

While Mommy's bathing upstairs, Daddy and David sit together on the couch, eyes closed. Laika's curled up on the floor, half-dozing.

"Picture a dome around your mind," Daddy says, voice calm and even. "It's strong and sturdy. Nothing can get inside unless you want it to."

David pictures the dome. Usually he thinks about concrete or brick, but today it's made of thick, strong ice. He looks up through it, and the light is bright and soft.

"There are things outside the dome," Daddy continues. "People's thoughts, their feelings. But they can't get through the dome, no matter how hard they try."

David pictures the thoughts he hears sliding off the dome and falling away. The noisy thoughts grow softer, muffled, and it's a relief.

When David's ready, Daddy says, "I'm going to try to push through the dome now. Don't let me in."

"Okay," David breathes. The dome is strong and sturdy. Nothing can get inside it unless he wants it to.

He feels the press of Daddy's mind, testing. The pressure grows and grows, but David's dome holds strong.

"Very good," Daddy praises. "Your shielding's getting stronger, too. But you have to remember to use it, to protect yourself. Think about the park, all those minds around you."

"I can hear it," David says. Not just the memory, but the park now, and the kids playing there, thinking about how the hill is all slushy and muddy now, and how they should have gone sledding earlier.

"Good," Daddy says. "Now block them out. Keep them completely out of the dome."

David pictures the dome again, pictures himself on the hill but protected, the noise gowing softer and softer, the ice growing stronger and stronger. And then-- Silence. Just his own breathing, in and out.

David never likes it when things are this quiet. But for the practice, he holds it until Daddy says he can let go.

Afterwards, Daddy gives him a big hug. "You're doing so well, David," he says, proud. "I love you very much."

David can feel how much Daddy means it, and he hugs back, cheek pressed against Daddy's shirt.

After practice, David plays with Laika for a while. Mommy comes back down, and then she calls for him to help them in the kitchen. Laika bounds up ahead of him, because cooking means food dropped on the floor, and the promise of more food later.

The Hallers arrive first, then Kerry and Cary, and then Uncle Oliver and Aunt Melanie teleport right into the kitchen, dressed in colorful, drapey clothes and smelling of spices.

"We brought samosas," Uncle Oliver declares, cheerful as always. "Hello everyone!"

"Sorry we're late," Aunt Melanie says. "You know how Oliver is when he's cooking."

"Melanie, it's so good to see you," Mommy says, and they hug.

"How have you been?" Aunt Melanie asks.

"All right, I suppose," Mommy says. "Winter's always so difficult."

Laika jumps all over Uncle Oliver and he laughs. Then Laika sees some speck of dropped food and rushes off to eat it.

"David," Uncle Oliver says, turning to him. "I have a Chanukah present for you. A little late, but--"

David glances at Daddy to make sure it's okay, and Daddy nods. David takes the wrapped box from Uncle Oliver, and Kerry and Amy watch over his shoulders, curious. David tears open the paper and reveals a pretty wooden box. He opens the latch and inside is-- He's not sure what it is. A tangled knot of metal inside a large glass orb.

"It's a puzzle," Uncle Oliver explains. "Designed to be solved using telekinesis."

"Oh, that's a wonderful gift," Aunt Ruth says, impressed. "How does it work?"

Uncle Oliver stares at the orb and it lifts up into the air. "You take it," he tells David.

"Go ahead," Daddy says.

David feels a rush of excitement. Finally! Holding back all the time is so boring. He easily takes control of the orb and turns the knot inside it, and tugs randomly at the metal loops.

"This one's quite a challenge," Uncle Oliver advises. "But when you solve it, I'll give you a new one that's even harder."

"Thanks, Uncle Oliver," David says, grinning.

"I wanna puzzle too!" Kerry says, pouting.

"Oliver, could you?" Cary asks.

Uncle Oliver puts his hand on his beard, considering. And then he reaches behind his back and pulls out two more wrapped boxes. He gives one to Kerry and one to Amy, and they each unwrap eagerly.

"You're such a tease, Oliver," Mommy says, shaking her head.

The puzzles Amy and Kerry get are different, and aren't inside of orbs. Kerry's puzzle is made of loops of glass, and Amy's is a wooden box.

"You'll have to be very clever to open that," Uncle Oliver tells Amy. "But of course you're very clever."

Amy blushes. "Thanks, Uncle Oliver."

"How do I get this open?" Kerry asks, frowning at hers. "If I pull too hard it'll break."

"That's why it's glass," Uncle Oliver says. "You have to be delicate."

"Boring," Kerry pouts.

"Wonderful," Cary says, approving. "Of course, if you don't want it, I'd be happy to--"

"No!" Kerry says, right away. "I'm gonna solve mine first!"

"Let's eat," Daddy says. "These samosas smell amazing."

Everyone squeezes together at the table. Even with the extra leaf in it's a tight fit, but David likes having everyone together like this, happy and warm. It makes him feel a little floaty.

"David, are you getting taller?" Uncle Simon asks.

David looks down and realizes he's actually floating an inch above his chair. "Oops," he says, and floats back down. All the adults laugh fondly.

After dinner, Daddy lights the fireplace and everyone gathers around it. David, Amy, and Kerry sit on the floor with their puzzles, but Uncle Oliver was right, they are very tricky. David starts yawning and sets his aside, and leans against Mommy's leg. Laika curls up with him and he dozes.

"--come with us," Aunt Melanie says, as David drifts awake. Even with his eyes closed, he can feel that the Hallers and Kerry and Cary have gone home. Uncle Oliver and Aunt Melanie are still here, though. Uncle Oliver's with Daddy, talking about-- India. Mutants. Summerland.

"I don't know," Mommy says. "Charles is afraid it will be too much for me. And for David."

"He's growing up so fast," Aunt Melanie says. "It will be good for him, to grow up with other mutants."

"He has Charles," Mommy says. "And Cary and Kerry. And his family."

"And he can still have all of that," Aunt Melanie says. "But it's time. And I think Summerland would be good for you. All this cold and dark--"

"I know," Mommy sighs. "I just feel so-- And we're safe here."

"We're doing amazing work there," Aunt Melanie says. "Telepathy and mental health-- I think we could help you."

"Charles tried," Mommy says, and David can feel her unhappiness. "And after the pregnancy--"

"You've worked so hard to heal," Aunt Melanie says, gently. "I know. But you two shouldn't have to deal with this alone. Let us help you."

Mommy considers it. "I take it Oliver is giving Charles the same speech?"

"Yes," Aunt Melanie admits, with a flush of embarrassment.

"Divide and conquer," Mommy says, wryly. "Charles and I will talk about it. We need to make the best choice for David. That's what's most important."

David hears flashes of Mommy's thoughts about the David that never was. Mommy and Daddy don't like to talk about that David, and Daddy hides his thoughts if he doesn't want David to hear them, but Mommy can't. So David knows there was another David who was-- Who was hurt and came to Mommy and Daddy with his friends to stop himself from being hurt. And that David became-- Himself.

David doesn't know what to think about that. It's all pretty weird. But maybe weird stuff just comes with being a mutant. Like having an astronaut dog and floating at dinner. Those things are okay, so maybe the other stuff is okay, too.

And it worked, what the other David did. It must have, because David's happy.

He opens his eyes and rubs his cheek against Mommy's leg. "Mommy?"

Mommy reaches down and pulls him up, and David climbs onto her lap. He rests against her, feeling the warmth of her body, her love for him. Mommy.

"My darling boy," Mommy murmurs, and kisses his head.

David dozes again, and then the next thing he knows, Daddy's carrying him up the stairs.

"Are we gonna move?" David asks, sleepily, as Daddy helps him into his pajamas.

'Can't keep a secret from you,' Daddy thinks, wryly. "Maybe. To a place where there's a lot more people like us. Would that be all right?"

"I dunno," David says. He's happy here, with his family and Laika and his friends. But-- He's tired of pretending to be normal when he knows he's different.

"We'll talk about it in the morning," Daddy soothes, and tucks David into bed.

Before he leaves, Daddy turns on the rocket lamp that David got for his birthday last year, from Amy. It's a silver rocket with red fins and a blue cone, and a blue shade that casts little stars all over his room. David loves it.

"Sweet dreams, my dear boy." Daddy kisses David's head and walks out, closing the door softly behind him. David falls asleep to the soft creaking of the turning lampshade, and the deep, gentle love of his parents.