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Running On Empty

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It’s a stroke of luck, really, that Laura happens to be storming out at the same time Jubilee is calmly departing. Hurling herself into the passenger’s seat of the Chrysler Sebring convertible Jubilee is “borrowing” from Monet, Laura slams the door and says nothing.

“Um,” Jubilee says, startled, her floppy sunhat wobbling on top of her head. “Hi?”

“Hi,” she barks out. Then, less harshly, “Where are you going?”

Jubes snorts. “Way farther than you’d like.”

“Sounds perfect. Just drive.”

Jubilee opens her mouth to tell her that she might want to go inside and pack if she’s so intent on coming with, but the expression on her friend’s face stops her cold. Jubilee doesn’t argue. “Okay,” she says instead, and hits the gas.

They stop at a 7/11 about two miles away from the school because Jubilee wants to gas up before they hit the highway. Laura sits in the car with her arms crossed while Jubilee fills the tank. “Do you want anything?” she asks Laura, who holds up her stoic and irritating silence. Shrugging, Jubes heads in and returns with one large blue raspberry Icee and an assortment of fruit snacks, chips, granola bars, and candy.

“I thought you were a vampire,” Laura reminds her bluntly.

“These are for you,” she grins, dumping the food in Laura’s lap.

Laura squints. “Is the Icee also for me?”

“Oh, hell, no,” Jubilee says, sliding into the driver’s seat. “I may be a vampire, but I’m still a person. I have needs.” Turning the ignition, she books it away from the gas station and down the road. “So,” she says over the sound of the wind and the radio, “what’s got you running away?”

“Where are we going?” Laura deflects.


Laura blinks. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Jubilee acknowledges. “So where d’you want me to drop you off?”

“No,” Laura says. “I want to go to California.”

Leaves blur past them as the speed limit hops up. Westchester and all their problems fade away in the rearview mirror. “You didn’t answer my first question,” Jubilee reminds her, studiously avoiding her and staring straight ahead at the road. “And, also, why were you running away from the school? What were you even doing at the school?”

“I just,” Laura says, hesitating. She turns to look outside of the car at the asphalt passing under the tires, distracting herself. “I needed a familiar place to cool off. The New Xavier School doesn’t feel like home.” She doesn’t say You do. “Warren and I have broken up,” she admits, finally.

Jubilee nods. “Must be rough.”

“Well,” Laura says, slouching in her seat, “it was ‘rough.’ But I can handle ‘rough.’ And then I was sitting in the kitchen and he walked in except older and… that was… more difficult to handle.”

“I gotcha,” Jubilee says. “If it helps, our Angel kind of upsets people that way on a daily basis. You should see Betsy try to talk to him…” She trails off, shaking her head. The interstate approaches. “Shit, you know what?” Jubilee says, patting at the pockets of her jacket. “I forgot to bring change. How’re we gonna pay the tolls?”

Without a word, Laura reaches into her jeans pocket and pulls out a heaping pile of quarters, dumping them in the one empty cup holder. Jubilee stares at her. “Bobby and I go to the arcade a lot,” she says.

“Ooh, what’s your favorite game?” says Jubilee, arcade-enthusiast.

“Bobby likes Ms. Pac-Man,” says Laura. “I don’t really play the games, which… is why I still have all the quarters. I just watch. Sometimes people get a lot of tickets and then they get really excited. One time Bobby won around five-hundred tickets and he traded them in for the Tootsie Rolls, which are one ticket each. He got five-hundred Tootsie Rolls.”

Laura smiles distantly, remembering, and Jubilee doesn’t miss the fact that it’s the most talkative she’s been since she jumped into the car. “Remind me to take you to an arcade at one of the stops on our road trip,” she says. “You should try some of the games. Ya know, the X-Men may not have basic human rights but we do have our own pinball machine themed after us.”

“We’re on a road trip?”

“Well,” Jubilee says, gesturing to the open road in front of them, “yeah. I wanted to visit my Aunt Hope out in Cali, Rache offered to watch Shogo… didn’t expect you to invite yourself along, but I can’t say I’m disappointed.” She’s as upbeat and glib as ever, but there’s something catching in her voice, something she’s not saying.

Laura just nods.

A couple hours away from Westchester, Jubilee points out that Laura, having packed nothing for what will definitely be a multi-day trip, needs clothes. Badly. In Pennsylvania, they stop at the most dilapidated-looking shopping center Jubilee has ever seen. “Should have some going-out-of-business sales,” she says brightly, putting the top up on the car and hopping out.

Once they’re inside, Jubilee prances around the mall like the mall rat she is while Laura shuffles behind like the bored child dragged along by a shopaholic mother. “We don’t need to do this,” Laura mumbles as they pass the saddest looking Starbucks in New England.

“Yes we do,” Jubilee insists. “You need new clothes because you didn’t pack any. And, hon, even if that weren’t the case… you need new clothes.”

Laura looks down at her battered jeans and black tank top, then grumbles something along the lines of “Says the girl who wore the same outfit for the entirety of the nineties,” but goes along without further argument.

Jubilee guides her into an almost-bare women’s clothing store, the shelves nearly empty of what must have once been stylish crop tops, the racks skeletal, hung only with a couple pairs of boot cut jeans, some maxi dresses far too long for Laura, and a selection of Obama ’08 tank tops.

“Alright,” Jubes shrugs, “so you’ll be political.”

Jubilee picks out all of the clothes and shoves Laura into a changing room. “What if it’s not my style?” Laura calls through the curtain.

“Well,” Jubilee calls back, “unless your style is nudity, this is your only option.”

Laura’s quiet as she changes. Jubilee’s regretting mentioning the idea of Laura naked—it’s doing things to her.

“Okay,” Laura huffs a few minutes later, emerging with the selected items hanging over one arm. “They all fit.”

Jubes gapes. “I don’t get to see what they look like?”

“They all fit. Why does it matter?”

“Have you ever seen any movie ever?” Jubilee says, aghast. “You skipped right over the opportunity for a musical montage.” Nevertheless, she snatches the clothes out of Laura’s arms and marches up to the tired saleswoman at the counter, who squints at her as if she hasn’t had a live customer in years.

Well, Jubilee thinks as she passes a wad of cash over the counter, she still hasn’t.

 “Why did you take this car?” Laura asks later as their traveling westward at ninety miles per hour.

Jubes side-eyes her from the driver’s seat. “Thought it was a better idea than walking to California.”

“Right, but why this car?” she says, looking up at the darkening sky. “You’re allergic to the sun.”

“Hence the hat,” Jubilee says. “Which is also very stylish and cool. Which is also why I took this car.”

Laura glances around. “It isn’t really that stylish.”

“You shut your mouth.”

They drive on. The sun goes down and the stars come out and the radio plays fewer and fewer commercials. The cars thin out. Jubilee grabs something red in a bottle out of a cooler in the backseat and starts chugging it like it’s a Frappuccino. Laura doesn’t realize she’s drifted off until Jubilee is gently moving her head, repositioning her so she won’t wake up with a bad neck ache. The road passes by beneath them.

When Laura wakes up again, they’re parked outside a motel and the sun is coming up. “Rise and shine, X,” Jubes says, leaning over her. “They have free coffee and muffins. It’s like staying at the Hilton.”

After feasting on the complementary delicacies from the front desk—a store-bought clamshell of stale muffins and coffee that tastes like dirty water—Laura follows Jubilee back to their room and watches her fall onto the single bed. “They’ve got pay-per-view, go ahead and watch a couple movies,” Jubes suggests. “I’m gonna sleep for, like, a year. Wake me when it starts getting shady.”

“I could drive,” Laura suggests. “We could put the top up and you could sleep.”

Jubilation stares at her. “We can’t drive that thing with the top up. It would ruin the aesthetic.” Without another word, she falls asleep.

Laura takes her advice and flicks through the movies in the catalogue, eventually choosing Pitch Perfect because it seems uncomplicated.

Not long after Anna Kendrick joins the acapella group, Jubilee starts twitching. Remote precariously balanced on her knee, Laura cranes her neck around to get a better look at Jubes, whose limbs keep moving like she’s dreaming.

Laura would have just let it alone if she hadn’t started talking.

“No,” Jubilee mumbles, muffled in her sleep. “No, no, not—DON’T.

“Jubilee,” Laura says quietly, placing a cautious hand on her friend’s shoulder. Jubilee jerks away, still fast asleep and caught in a nightmare. “Jubilee, wake up.”

Don’t take him.”

“Hey!” Laura finally grabs her more forcefully and shakes her until her eyes snap open. For an instant, she actually looks feral, eyes predatory, fangs showing. Before getting a handle on herself, Jubilee actually hisses.

“Laura?” she says, barely audible.

Laura immediately feels like she’s crossed a line. “You- you were having a bad dream,” she says, feeling like she’s overreacted.

Jubilee watches her carefully. “I know,” she says after a long moment.

The movie goes on. The two of them sit there in silence for a long time. Jubilee’s breathing is still irregular, and Laura wonders randomly if she even needs to breathe.

“Was it…” Laura says, somewhere in the back of mind telling her that you’re supposed to talk about nightmares, that it makes them seem faraway and unreal and ridiculous. “Was it about Shogo?”

Jubilee glances at her out of the corner of her eye. “Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, it was about Shogo.”

“But he’s safe with Rachel.”

Jubilee gives her that same side-eyed look. “Yeah,” she says.

Again, they’re quiet. The people on TV are singing. “This isn’t just a vacation, is it?” Laura asks, feeling suddenly that their roles have reversed. She’s so accustomed to Jubilee the Chatterbox, Jubilee the Bubbly Personality and her grouchy seldom-speaking sidekick with the adamantium claws.

“No,” says Jubilee. “But, uh… it has to look like one. If people… if the students think anyone’s evacuating, there’ll be panic, more problems. I’m getting to California, I’m gonna make sure it’s safe, and then Rachel’s getting Illyana’s help to bring me Shogo.”

“Since when are they…” Laura starts, not sure how to finish the sentence. Since when are they not fighting against each other? Hell, she’s supposed to be against Jubilee, technically. It’s all mixed up.

“Haven’t you noticed?” Jubilee says with a cold half-laugh. “It’s the end of the world, Laur. Everyone’s friends again.”

“So you’re running away?” There’s no hint of judgment in Laura’s voice; she just wants to know. She wants to know what kind of road-trip-not-a-road-trip she unwittingly crashed.

“I wouldn’t,” Jubilee says, still facing the television. “I’d fight… whatever the hell is coming. Because something is coming, I know it. Ask Hank. Ask any of the precogs. Something’s coming, and I’d fight the hell out of it. But I’m not putting my son through it.” The night dwindles on. Anna Kendrick’s character makes some kind of mistake and then everyone’s mad at her. “It’s not too late to turn back,” Jubilee says finally. “I could drop you off at the school and go to California alone.”

Carefully, like she’s defusing a bomb, Laura reaches across the bedspread and twines their fingers together.

Jubilee doesn’t argue.