saga/title/fandom: Two of Us chapter 19 (X-Men)
author: Alex L
rating/genre: (R) - Romance/Drama
warnings: het, language, adult situtations
summary: Set after the kiss in Homecomings, Bobby finds happiness with Jubilee. In progress. Please read and review!
comments/disclaimers: I forgot the disclaimer for this one---my apologies. All characters belong to Marvel. The story is mine.Feedback is always appreciated.
Chapter Nineteen: Mother, Mother
Mother Nature had offered the state a brief reprieve from snow and icy temperatures. The late afternoon sun was a fiery orange against the clear, crisp sky. It was almost reminiscent of a lone flame burning brightly in the winter air. As it dipped behind the trees with their rough bark and barren branches, the warmth in the air slowly began to dissipate. Yet, it was still temperate enough for one to take a leisurely stroll without a bulky, down coat. Evening soon arrived; bringing with it a violet-blue sky that sparkled with millions of shining stars.
The Thanksgiving holiday was edging near. In fact, it was set to descend the very next day. Thanksgiving, as it often did, brought with a sense of hurried activity in preparation for the celebration. Turkeys and other associated goods swiftly disappeared from market shelves. Swirling in the seasonal air were the promises of warm pumpkin pies and comforting fires roused by the family hearth. Soon, homes across the country would embrace relatives and friends from near and far for this time of togetherness.
A little over fifteen miles from Westchester, deep within a middle-class suburb, and tucked in an innocuous development was the Long Island home of the Drakes. The stately Greek revival home had been built in 1908, but it had been extensively restored to retain the historic integrity. The home exuded a quaint charm often found in the northern part of the state. Painted ecru with white trim and a matching white picket fence, the beautifully renovated abode conveyed a welcoming air. The azalea bushes that flanked the steps that led to the wraparound porch were shining from the moisture of melted snow. Surrounding this picturesque home was a meticulously maintained lawn. Like many houses on that block, the Drakes' front door displayed a seasonal wreath, which was made from crab apples, aromatic myrtle leaves, and white tallow berries. Beneath the wreath, lay a coir welcome mat framed with olive branches. In the middle of the mat the name of the family was printed in hunter green letters.
Inside, the house glowed with a honey-hued light from a combination of the fixtures and candles. As one ventured further inside, the scent of Canadian pine needles, cedar, cinnamon, and thyme filled the air. The hardwood floors shone brightly, as if recently polished. There was a distinct flavor of vintage, mid-twentieth American décor, which was reflected in the furnishings and accessories contained within the home. Yet, there was an easy comfort that was exuded nonetheless. This was quite evident in the living room with its tan walls and wainscoting, accented by the woven rugs inspired by British imports from the East and dark furniture.
This night found a poised and lithe woman in the living room, sitting on a chino-upholstered, firmly cushioned sofa. The crisp light from the nearby brass floor lamp with accompanying white, pleated fabric shade brought out the complementary tones of silver and gold in her wavy, shoulder-length hair. In her mid-fifties, one could easily see she was still a beautiful woman. Thanks to a mixed heritage of French, German, and Irish descent, she was blessed with a pleasant face set with wide, blue eyes and what appeared to be a perpetually smiling mouth. The lines associated with advanced age and life experiences took nothing away from that. She appeared settled in for the evening, wearing a purple, floral print shirt over a pink, long-sleeved T-shirt and a pair of wide-leg chinos with a flannel socks and black clogs.
Maddy Drake idly flipped through the circulars that arrived with the day's paper. After several minutes of this, she quickly placed them on the maple, spiral-legged coffee table with an ebony finish and antique, zinc knobs. Briefly glancing at her wristwatch, she glumly noticed that only five minutes had passed since the last time she checked it. Then she leaned back against the sofa, clasping her soft hands together. It was as if by doing so she could will herself not to push back the mustard-colored, twill curtain that draped over the window on the other side of the room and peer outside at the street. While it was an activity she engaged in for other visits, she had promised herself not to do so. There was something about this particular occasion that made things quite different.
Her Bobby was bringing someone with him.
Maddy crossed her slim ankles together, mulling over the thought carefully. Granted, she was still somewhat hurt about being the last to know about her son's girlfriend. After all, she was his mother, the first woman in his life. She was supposed to know about these things as soon as they came up. As to the reasons why Bobby withheld the information, Maddy had her own theories. Part of her suspected that the girl might be someone who was not right for her son, while the other part of inferred that he was wary about having the girl meet the family. Both possibilities stirred feelings of anxiety inside of her. Either scenario being validated would pose some risk of familial discord during this holiday, something that was quite unnecessary for the Drake household. For fear of aggravating her already reluctant son, she decided to keep her opinions to herself.
Like all mothers, Maddy wanted the best for her child. Bobby was her only child, her pride and joy. After all, she and Bill had tried for years to conceive a child. When they found out about Bobby, she looked upon the news as a blessing. While some viewed her parenting style as overbearing coddling, she was of the mindset that parenthood was not a responsibility to be taken lightly. This outlook framed her decision to be more involved, foregoing a career outside of the home. As a result, she invested years of care, nurturing, and support into seeing him into healthy adulthood.
That was not to say that it was smooth sailing through calm seas. There were things that she found herself, at times, ill equipped to handle. Between the blissful years of his innocent childhood and the man he was today, she realized there were instances where she doubted her own maternal instincts. The onset of his abilities posed a challenge, not only to Bobby, but to his parents as well. In particular, Maddy remembered feeling very responsible. During the first few days after the discovery, she questioned everything she had done when she was carrying her son and decisions she had made when he was quite young. It was consistent with the developmental literature available at the time, where many therapists and researchers solely placed the blame for various disorders squarely on the mother's shoulders. Most of these ruminations involved self-doubting inquiries such as, "Should I have taken him to that park?" or "Should I have read the labels to the food I fed him more carefully?" The fact that Bill was exhibiting great fear regarding the issue was not helping at the time, either.
So, Maddy found herself trying that much harder to atone for whatever she had done to cause Bobby's mutation. She kept him close to her when it was possible. This was evident in her increasingly doting, almost smothering behavior. Extra cookies were baked, raises in allowance became regular, and chores around the house were decreased. Driving much of this was her own fear. Now that her son was different, he was a target much like he was after his date with that Judy. Every time he stepped out of the house, she quizzed him as to where he was going, who with, what he was doing, when he would get back, and whether or not there was a way to reach him. Granted, this kind of inquisition was typical for parents with young adolescents. However, for some reason, she felt compelled to continue to engage in this kind of questioning to this day.
Yet, none of this truly eased her mind. Even when the Professor informed her that she was not responsible for Bobby's mutation, she was hard pressed to accept this alleviation of self-imposed burden. Nothing inside of her changed. The way she perceived the situation, her son was an outsider of some sorts who would not be able to find the happiness she felt he deserved. Reports from the newspapers and television broadcasts about mutants being persecuted were pieces of evidence she compiled in defense of this argument.
Simply put, it was up to her as his mother, as someone who would always love and care for him, to compensate for that as best she could.
Which was what she did. When he was away at the school, she often sent him care packages with his favorite cookies, comic books, and other sundry items on a regular basis. There were weekly phone calls, lasting about an hour in order to check up on him. She often visited him when she was able to, but often did so alone. Bill, afraid that someone he might know would see him at the school, declined by making up transparent excuses.
Over the years, Maddy watched as her son exerted his independence from her with a wary heart. She wanted to be proud over the fact that he was making his own decisions, determining the course of his life. That was the ultimate goal for all children growing up in Western culture. However, she did not experience any of this. Instead, she felt as if she were in a constant of worry, where she was afraid to lose sight of him. This was exacerbated once he graduated college and decided to rejoin Professor Xavier's outfit. Before, he was restricted to staying at the mansion and honing his newfound skills, but upon becoming an adult, Bobby was treated accordingly. His list of responsibilities grew beyond teaching. Much to her chagrin, this meant that he was often enlisted to participated in various field missions away from the mansion. At first, he would attempt to regale her with tales of adventures and of new people he had met along the day. Hearing these accounts of his exploits was simply too much for her and she soon asked him to stop.
Watching her friends' children finding normalcy through less hazardous jobs and marriage made her envious. It was the second matter that left Maddy particularly concerned. She yearned for her Bobby to have the same safety and contentment that they had. Running around the world and constantly placing his life at risk was not conducive to any kind of relationship. Many times she had tried to ingrain this into his head. How was he going to meet a nice girl while fighting other people? In turn, she had attempted to cajole him into considering another future away from Xavier and those at the mansion. Unfortunately, Bobby refused to hear about any of it. Instead, he told her on more than one occasion that he was pleased with his lot in life and that was that.
Not completely thwarted, Maddy conceived of another way to prevent her son from remaining alone. She would approach her friends who still had single daughters, informing them that she had a handsome, sensitive, and intelligent son who happened to be available. Her reasoning behind this course of action was that as his mother, it was up to her to ensure his happiness. Through this informal network, she attempted to gather a pool of possible romantic candidates for Bobby. Initially, she approached him about these nice girls whom he should meet. She even offered her services as an intermediary. These efforts were quickly rebuffed, to her dismay.
Unwavering in her steadfast commitment to her son, Maddy then orchestrated schemes for Bobby to meet these young women. Many of the situations painfully highlighted her lack of military insight into the execution of these plans. She was not above concocting various stories in order to lure her son back home. They often ranged from feigned illness to false requests for assistance around the house. Upon Bobby's return to Long Island, she conveniently had one of the young women present to him. Being the sharp young man that he was, Bobby quickly saw through these thinly veiled pretenses to decipher true intentions. Her mind quickly flashed to an indignant confrontation she had with him, where he demanded that she cease and desist future endeavors. As hesitant as she was to agree, Maddy promised to back down.
It was not soon following that encounter, Bobby began to introduce various girlfriends to the family. Some were rather harmless and did not strike much of an impression. These were individuals he was not all that serious about. Gradually, this pattern changed where he proceeded to bring women with whom he was somewhat serious about. The definition of serious being involved in relationship that lasted more than one week. Unlike their predecessors, these women, for various reasons that Maddy would rather not think about, sometimes evoked rather strong reactions, particularly from Bill.
However, like the individuals that came before, Maddy could always tell there was something missing. It was not that Bobby was cold or distant with these women. On the contrary, he was his usual attentive and thoughtful self. Yet, there was nothing in their interactions that indicated any kind of real attachment or devotion. To her, these relationships seemed to represent a passing interest rather than a foundation for a true relationship.
As for the other party, some of them reciprocated, while others did not. One incident that instantly came to Maddy's consciousness was the dinner, where she and Bill were introduced to an Opal Tanaka. A sour-faced, Japanese-American woman who had a penchant for baggy pants and hairspray, she had been dating Bobby for several weeks. From what Maddy could remember, Opal was polite and good-natured around Bobby. Even when faced with Bill's overt hostility, the young woman maintained a mature front by refusing to revert to similar tactics.
Bill's remarks aside, there was something that told Maddy that Opal was more than capable of conducting herself at that level. There was a deceitfulness and treachery that seemed to lie beneath the mask of gentility she wore. Bobby's behavior also provided clues into the relationship. At times during the meal, he was quite nervous even prior to his father's reaction. It was as if he were used to constantly walking over eggshells when it concerned Opal. This did not sit well with Maddy, who had grown increasingly cautious about her son's girlfriend as the night wore on. Unfortunately, in the end, her mother's intuition proved to be right. Due to conflicts with his lifestyle among many other issues, the two of them broke up, leaving Bobby alone and in her mind, quite distressed.
Maddy sighed wearily, trying to clear the memories of that night from her head. As she continued to anticipate her son's arrival, she processed what she knew of her. Courtesy of the brief exchange she had with Bobby regarding the invitation, this Jubilee sounded like a nice girl---smart, funny, kind, and quite attractive. He had been quite frank about the relationship, even offering the fact that Jubilee was indeed a mutant. In a way, Maddy was relieved. Given that the two of them were at the school together, she thought Jubilee would be more understanding of the issues related to being a mutant. After all, she reasoned being a former student and would have first-hand experience with the kind of life Bobby led.
While most of the information he had relayed to her was still fresh in her mind, it was the way he conveyed it that remained with Maddy. In contrast to previous conversations about past girlfriends, Bobby sounded quite different as he talked about Jubilee. His voice contained a type of elation and joy she had never heard before. It was refreshing for her to hear.
Immediately, she was intrigued, leading her to extend an invitation for them to spend Thanksgiving in Long Island. She simply had to meet the young woman responsible for this wonderful change. When she had done so, she detected the reluctance in Bobby's answer. He sounded forced as he took her up on this opportunity. Almost instantly, Maddy knew what was vexing her son. It was then that she began to share his ambivalence over the proposal.
Over the years, she was a silent but uncomfortable witness to her husband's bigotry. Deep down, she did not agree with his point of view. Yet, it was difficult for her to voice her arguments against him. Not that she was frightened of Bill, but she came from the generation where familial harmony was key above all else. To openly disagree with him would threaten the stability she had worked so hard to achieve.
The nature of his discrimination, she had come to learn, applied to specific situations rather than being generalized. That is, those situations in which a member of the family was involved. As far as Bobby was concerned, Bill made his opinions known when it came to his son's choice of company. His harsh, almost vicious disapproval of Bobby's girlfriends based on their racial/ethnic membership reflected this. They were regarded as different and therefore, not good enough for Bobby. It did not matter if they were kind, intelligent, refined, or devastatingly attractive.
In spite of her own ineffectuality to stand up to her husband, it pained her to observe Bobby's reaction. Many times, he appeared helpless and dejected. It was as if he did not know whose side to defend, to whom he should be loyal to. He loathed his father's beliefs, which were in direct contradiction to everything he stood for. At the same time, it was difficult for him to stand up to Bill. Bobby had been raised to respect and revere his father. Contradicting him would like eschewing these values.
Yet, he managed to summon the strength to challenge his father. After years of swallowing his own feelings, Bobby finally confronted Bill and those despicable perceptions he held. This ultimately drove him away from home, away from the family, away from Maddy. For her, the rift caused a piece of her heart to break.
It wasn't until she spoke to Bobby on the phone about the impending visit that she suddenly felt just as culpable. Reading between the lines, it was the fact that she did not intervene that was perceived as some sort of assent. She was suddenly overcome with a sense of shame at that realization. As she continued to wait for her son and his companion, she willed herself to handle things differently. She was no longer concerned about the image of family unity. There was a more important priority to consider.
Maddy was startled when she heard a car pull onto the street. Rising to her feet, she briskly walked toward the window and drew the curtain back. In the blanket of darkness, her eyes made out a black Volkswagen Jetta. Unconsciously, her grim mouth suddenly formed a loving smile.
Meanwhile, inside the Volkswagen Jetta a sandy-haired, young man with a boyish face sat behind the steering wheel. He placed the vehicle in park, but did not remove the key from the ignition. Instead, he simply sat in his seat quietly. He allowed his gray eyes to fall upon the sleeping young girl next to him on the passenger's side. While he hated to wake her, he knew that leaving her in the car to allow her to sleep was not an option. Affectionately, he brushed the back of his hand against her soft cheek.
"We're here," Bobby announced softly, noticing how angelic she appeared under the emerging moonlight. "The Drake family estate. You're about the witness the family that begot yours truly." As she began to awaken, he pressed his lips against hers. He smiled when she stirred underneath him.
Jubilee's sapphire eyes widened with surprise. It was a short trip between Westchester and Long Island even with the holiday traffic. She hadn't realized she dozed off during the car ride. Perhaps all the rushing around to pack at the last minute took more of a toll than she initially anticipated. She made a mental note to be more prepared for their next road trip. "Already?" she yawned, stretching her slender legs.
He let out a low chuckle and unbuckled his seatbelt. She was terribly adorable with her sleepy but peaceful expression and rumpled hair. It took all his mental fortitude not to kiss her deeply then. Instead, he decided to take another approach.
"Time flies when you're snoring soundly," he observed wryly, tangling his fingers in her long, silky tresses.
That comment earned him a playful swat on the shoulder. Now, she was alert and fully cognizant of any teasing. "Very funny," she pretended grumble. "It's not my fault your terrible taste in music puts me into a deep sleep." Her eyes twinkled mischievously in the dark.
He pulled back with mock pain in his gray eyes. "How dare you insult the genius that is Hootie and the Blowfish?" he asked. Part of him was a little slighted that she did not develop a similar taste for the band. Listening to them always brought him back to younger years when life was so much simpler.
She laughed, watching him furiously repress the urge to grin at her. "If you say so," she told him. The wonderful tingling in her limbs returned as it always did when he was this close to her. "But I have to say that the company for the ride more than compensated."
"You fell asleep though," he chided, not bothering to hide his smile any longer. "That kind of evidence goes against the argument you just posed."
Jubilee lowered her thick and dark lashes coyly. "Take it as me feeling comfortable enough around you to relax and sleep," she said softly. "You're my something to sleep to."
While she initially meant for her words to be flirtatious, there was a sincerity that undercut them as well. She could tell in the days leading up to the drive here that he was growing quite anxious. Upon observing this, she knew she had to say something---something to assuage all the doubts that ate away at him. However, she did not want to directly address them for fear of another trademark Drake brush-off. As much as he attempted to deny any problems, Bobby was clearly preoccupied. The constant worry in his gray eyes spoke volumes. They communicated his trepidation, his concern over her mental well being in anticipation for what awaited them inside.
Sensing the intention behind her statement, Bobby leaned over again with a grateful smile. It never ceased to amaze him how empathic she could be. He was still getting used to someone else taking into account his feelings. During previous relationships, he had grown accustomed to swallowing things down and placing the other person's wants and needs first. Now, he was blissfully learning that he was also entitled to such considerations as well.
Although a small amount of relief washed over him, he could not help but to suspect that she was experiencing similar feelings as well. A pang of guilt stabbed inside his chest. It was hard for him not to feel responsible. After all, he was the one who was bringing here, causing her anxieties. Bobby was aware of her internal struggles to want to make this visit a good one. Following his lead, she denied anything was troubling her. Yet, he knew. There were subtle nuances that he picked up on in preparation for the trip. He remembered her deliberate and painstakingly contemplation of a gift to bring with them. It was as if the present was going to determine the course of the weekend.
Taking a deep breath, he peered over at her with what could only be construed as deep affection. "If I haven't said this already... I want to thank you."
Surprised, she gave him a perplexed look. He appeared and sounded so grave it was almost unnerving. "For what?" she asked.
"For coming here, for not screaming in terror when faced with the impending prospect of meeting the family."
"You think I would turn down the chance for free food and the chance to see embarrassing baby pictures of you? Really, you don't know me at all. I would totally die if your mom whips out a photo of you in some ridiculous bunny outfit or something. "
"Very funny. Seriously, though... I understand if you're feeling kind of nervous."
"No, really. This can't be easy for you, wanting to make a good impression on my folks for my peace of mind, but knowing that one of them might not be very receptive. I know that's going on in your head right now, and I can't tell you enough how great you are for that. I don't think anyone's ever tried to do anything like this for me."
"You don't have to say this... I mean coming here and being with you and your family for the weekend, it's no stupendous feat or anything. Yeah, I'm not feeling all that great about it, but the way I see it; this is a part of being with someone. So, please stop trying to put me up on this pedestal. You can save it for another time when I'm even more amazing."
"Then what's the problem? You sound like you're not really convinced."
"It's just that you don't have to feel like you have to please me by going out of your way. Worrying about whether or not this visit is going to be good for me should be the last thing on your mind. Because in the end, things will be fine."
"I know. You're right, Bobby... I still feel kind of pressured though."
"You shouldn't, though. By just coming here, you've already made my weekend."
"Oh yeah? Why's that?"
"Other than the fact that I'm finally bringing home someone I really care about, I have an ally. My mom can humiliate me in her special way and my dad can be...well, my dad. As long as we're together, I have to believe that nothing could be ever as bad as we've both imagined."
Jubilee was rather dubious when she heard this. This was nothing like the anxious Bobby she observed in the days leading up to their trek to Long Island. She hated to think that he was trying to deceive her in order to ease her mind. As she stared at him, she realized that he was swayed by his own words. Yet, the wariness that bubbled inside her stomach pushed her to prod further. "You think so?"
Bobby nodded. "I do."
She was quiet for a moment, mulling over their conversation carefully. Her sapphire eyes were thoughtful. Basically, the pressure she imposed upon herself was gone. That was his gift to her. "Two of us," she sighed with a small smile. "I like that."
He grinned at her. "You know," he drawled as he rested his forehead against hers. "On second thought, we can turn this car around, find a hotel, and get a room for ourselves. Leave all the potential family dysfunction behind. What do you say, Jubes?"
Laughing, she cupped his face in her small hands. "As enticing as that sounds, I don't think your mom would be all that pleased," she told him lightly.
Bobby raised a brow at her skeptically. "Miss Lee, you sound awfully confident about that," he commented with a wry smile.
"I am," Jubilee asserted, looking quite amused. She gently tugged at the collar of his chino jacket he wore over his black V-neck sweater and dark jeans. "Because she's standing at the door, waiting for us to come in."
He followed the path of her gaze and groaned. Reluctantly, he opened the driver's side door.
I will wait right here. I will keep my distance.
Maddy repeated the intonation to herself as she leaned against the doorframe. Her mantra, consciously or subconsciously, seemed to be inspired by subliminal criticism she had received from Bobby. Instead of being hurt or offended, she viewed it as a new opportunity for both her and Bobby. For Bobby, it was the prospect of introducing a new person in his life. As for Maddy, it was a chance to demonstrate that she could be a caring mother without appearing to be smothering at the same time.
She had been watching the Jetta carefully from her vantage point outside of the front door. Gradually, she had moved from behind the living room window to the wraparound porch. The broad, wide nyatoh glider and rocking chair, often used during the warmer months were now draped in green tarp to protect against the less temperate conditions. Pulling her khaki, canvas barn coat with corduroy collar closer to her body, she shivered in anticipation rather from the cooling air. Her fingers tapped against her mouth, a gesture she often engaged in when she was restless.
For a while, she was concerned that something was wrong, which might have explained why the couple did not immediately exit the car. Possible catastrophic scenarios immediately began to flood her head. Perhaps they were reconsidering spending time with the family for the holiday. Maybe they were being called away to go on some horrid mission. However, there were signs that indicated that none of her fears would come to fruition. The wrinkles formed by her worried frown soon faded as she observed her son finally climbing out of his car and sauntering around it to open the passenger's side door.
The first thing she noticed about Jubilee as the young girl stepped out of the car was how striking she was. Not quite the china doll she initially pictured in her mind, but even more exquisite. Moving with a former gymnast's grace, she was slender without appearing too frail. Her long, dark hair was lifted by a cool breeze, which revealed fine, delicate features. Even under the dim streetlights, Maddy could make out the detail of the girl's Asian features, including the almond-shaped eyes, straight nose, and near alabaster skin.
What truly captivated Maddy's attention was the way this girl interacted with Bobby. She found herself marveling at the girl's ability to place Bobby so quickly at ease. The coils of apprehension that had formed inside of her were quickly gone as she continued to observe the two of them. Unlike Opal, there was nothing forced about the kindness and respect the young girl was displaying towards him. The smiles Jubilee flashed at her son while they gathered their things from the car were genuine. In spite of the brief moments of watching the couple, it was apparent that this girl truly cared for him.
Bobby's response to Jubilee was refreshing to Maddy's eyes. It was as if she had never seen him so comfortable in his own skin before. He wore a broad grin that seemed to be etched into his boyish features, hiding the pain and disappointment he had come to know during previous experiences. His gray eyes danced with an excitement she had not witnessed since he was a small boy. As they began to walk away from the parked car, Bobby gallantly took the heavier-looking bags from his girlfriend. He extended an arm, draping around her waist and guiding her towards the house with great care and warmth. This dashing figure was a far call from the child Maddy had wanted to keep by her side for so many years. Now, he was finally the man she knew he would always grow up to be.
She tried to appear as nonchalant as she could when they reached her on the porch. After all, she did want to prove to her son that he had not made a mistake by accepting her invitation. She was determined not to embarrass him by coddling him in front of this new person. Her resolve quickly diminished when Bobby stepped forward with that irresistibly wonderful grin of his. Instinctively, her slender arms wound themselves around his neck and pulled him close into her maternal embrace.
"Oh, Bobby," she murmured against the collar of his jacket, "you're home, you're home." Her voice was even throatier than usual from the elation she was experiencing as she held him in her arms. It had been so long since she last saw him, at least in her mind. She drew back slightly to allow her eyes to soak him in. A loving smile touched her lips, pleased with the picture that met her gaze.
His grin broadened. "Good to be home," he replied and planted a kiss on her cheek. "Sorry we're late. There were some last minute things to take care of before we left."
She waved her hand dismissively in an attempt to eschew his atonement. "It's all right, honey," she told him, blue eyes masking the worry she had experienced earlier that evening. "The most important thing is that you're here, safe and sound."
If Bobby was unconvinced by her performance, he certainly was not showing it. Instead, he continued to keep up his own cheerful façade. "You look great as usual," he said, adjusting his grip on Jubilee's travel bag.
She tittered lightly, allowing him to pull away. "Always the charmer," she sighed, patting his cheek tenderly.
A perplexed expression crossed his features as he stared past her shoulder, gray eyes searching. "Where's Dad?" he inquired, unable to hide the ambivalent tone in his voice. The merriment in his boyish face began to fade, which was replaced by a wearier one.
Maddy inhaled sharply, sensing her son's wariness regarding his father. The strained relationship between the two men in her life was not something that was discussed openly. There was hurt on both sides, and she was trapped in the middle as an unwilling observer. Tried as she did to placate either party, there was still a sense of tension---even after Bill's recuperation. She only hoped that things would be different; that either man was willing to bend a little bit. However, the nagging voice in the back of her head was telling that the likelihood of that happening was slim to none. Besides his father's gray eyes, Bobby also inherited Bill's stubborn will.
Nervously, she raked a hand through her golden hair with threads of silver in it. "He's asleep upstairs," she informed Bobby smoothly. "He had one of his headaches and he decided to turn in for the night. He was very sorry that he wasn't going to be able to be up to see you. Hopefully, he'll be feeling much better tomorrow."
"Oh." Bobby's face reflected a mixture of relief, disappointment, and irritation. It was as if he were struggling to decide how to feel about his father's absence. For all the emotions he was experiencing at that moment, he seemed not to be shocked whatsoever that Bill failed to greet them at the door.
He then turned to Jubilee, who had been standing quietly behind him. He took her hand and placed an arm around her slim waist, steering her forward. With a radiant beam that lit up his entire face in the night's darkness, he drawled, "Mom, I'd like for you to meet my girlfriend, Jubilation Lee or Jubilee. Jubes, this is my mother, Maddy Drake."
Maddy extended her hand to the young girl. She was surprised when she felt her hand clasped in a firm, but pleasant shake. It was unexpected given the delicate appearance of the person initiating the handshake. The gesture indicated a sense of strength and grit not easily discerned by Jubilee's exterior.
Her level of amazement increased as she peered into the young girl's eyes. She had expected them to be brown or near onyx as were most of people from Asian descent. Instead, Jubilee's eyes were a rich, hypnotic sapphire blue, putting to shame some of the most dazzling of gems out there. Part of her wondered whether or not the girl was wearing tinted contacts or if this was part of her mutation.
"It's nice to finally meet you," she finally managed with a warm and sincere smile, which crinkled the corners of her eyes. "I've heard so many wonderful things about you from Bobby. I'm looking forward to getting to know you over these next few days."
Jubilee returned the smile, although hers reflected a hint of self- consciousness from Maddy's comments. "Likewise, Mrs. Drake. Thank you again for inviting me into your home to spend the holidays with you. I really do appreciate your hospitality."
Maddy's ears instantly detected a suggestion of sadness in the soft, polite voice. She remembered an earlier conversation she had with Bobby about Jubilee's orphaned adolescence. Given the emphasis of family during these times, she supposed the young girl longed for the family she no longer had, feeling like an outsider and alone. While Bobby explained that Jubilee had accumulated new friends around the mansion who came to be like family to her, Maddy could sense that deep down it was not the same. At that moment, she perceived an old soul in the young girl's body, starved and hungry for a place to belong.
She squeezed the small hand in hers slightly before releasing it. "Don't worry about it," she told Jubilee with a husky laugh, thanks to years of smoking before Bobby was born. "If you weren't coming, I'd have leftovers until Christmas to worry about. I certainly can't have that since I'll be hosting dinner then as well. And please, call me Maddy. Mrs. Drake makes me feel so...old. I'm not quite ready to accept that adjective at this stage of my life."
"All right...Maddy," Jubilee agreed with a girlish laugh of her own. Her shoulders suddenly relaxed, indicating her slowly fading jitters. Sapphire eyes widened as she quickly peered at the paper bag in her arms. "Oh, this is for you... Maybe we can have it with dinner tomorrow night?"
Maddy's face was gracious as she accepted the proffered gift from her guest. She tilted her head to the side, lifting a bottle of her favorite Chardonnay from the bag. "I think this will do very nicely," she told the couple. "Thank you both."
Then she wrapped her arms tightly around herself, stepping towards the front door. "Well, let's get inside and out of this chilly air," she announced as a breeze rumpled her wavy hair. "I'm sure the two of you are starving and I'm not going to allow that to happen any longer---at least, not on my watch."
The three of them wandered inside, the warm glow of the Drake home acting as a welcoming embrace. Maddy led them through the airy foyer, pausing to allow Bobby to hang up their coats in the hall closet. Then the trio traipsed up the hardwood stairs, which creaked softly under their collective weight. Her voice was light as she continued talking to Jubilee about the house and how they had lived in it since Bobby was born. It was nice to give a little tour like this. Moreover, she wasn't all that concerned about waking Bill up. In addition to be a notoriously sound sleeper, he had taken two Tylenol PM caplets. That alone was guaranteed to knock him out until the following morning.
She then showed Jubilee the lemon-colored walls of the guest room with Bobby following close behind. Having spent a good day organizing and cleaning the room, Maddy had been meticulous in her preparations. The neoclassical wardrobe's ebony stain gleamed, focusing one's attention on the handcrafted detailing---the mortoise-and-tenon joinery, and the dovetailed, aromatic cedar drawers. The queen-sized bed with its Victorian- inspired, steel bed frame with knob feet and ornamental joints was an inviting sight. The cotton floral bedding with sage-colored florals and accompanying duvets and shams were accompanied by a warm, white quilt with bold, geometric patterns that were tempered by soft colors.
As Bobby placed Jubilee's bags down, Maddy informed him that his room, which was down the hall from the guest room, had been prepared for him as well. He appeared somewhat perplexed, as if he did not hear her correctly. She repeated herself and noticed that Jubilee beginning to appear very amused. After several seconds, he simply nodded and turned on his heel to take his own travel bag to his old room. Apparently, he had been expecting different sleeping accommodations. Maddy's pleasant face was guileless as she watched Jubilee shuffle towards the door. While she was eager to show her son that she could be a different mother than the manipulative coddler he thought of her as, there were still things she was not necessarily willing to consider. The thought of her son sharing a bed with his girlfriend under her roof was not one of them. She was still old-fashioned in that regard.
After Bobby settled into his room, they soon wandered down the staircase and made their way into the Drake kitchen. It was a bright area of the home and smelled of lavender from the handmade wreath she had made and hung over the stainless steel range. The pine floor complimented the wainscoting walls and the nickel-plated brass lighting fixtures overhead. A solid, maple kitchen island complete with a butcher's block and bead- board paneled cabinet doors in white enamel stood several feet away from the stove.
Maddy motioned for Jubilee and Bobby to seat themselves on the white-washed stools in front of the island as she warmed two bowls of the roasted squash soup she made earlier that evening and some boulangerie bread. She was casual in her approach when it came to querying Bobby's new girlfriend about herself. She asked her about what she was studying in school, what her hobbies were, what her friends were like, how she and Bobby first met, and so on. Jubilee, in between bites of toasted bread, answered her candidly without falter. All the while, Maddy could see out of the corner of her eye her son fidgeting slightly. Part of her wanted to inform him that as his mother, she had a right to know more about the woman he was currently seeing. However, she refrained herself from doing so.
As the meal winded down, Maddy listened with amusement as Jubilee shared a Halloween story about Bobby. The corners of her eyes crinkled with her smile when the young girl talked about how he attended the school party dressed a bunch of grapes, using purple balloons. Her husky laughter floated throughout the kitchen as her son's girlfriend described the scene where a group of Bobby's friends pelted him with various objects in order to pop the balloons. She glanced at her son, who appeared increasingly embarrassed as each detail was relayed from Jubilee. His playful eyes were sheepish and he began to shake his head in disbelief.
Just as Maddy was about to reach over and pat her son's hand comfortingly, Jubilee took Bobby's hand in hers. Then she pressed her small mouth against the back of it and smiled up at him. Maddy listened with a bemused expression as the young girl murmured to him about how he was brave to attempt such a costume in the first place. She leaned back in her seat, a wave of calm washing over her as she watched the two of them. She was not quite sure where this sensation came from or even why she was experiencing it in the first place. But she welcomed it just the same.
Peering over at the clock by the doorway that led into the dining room, Maddy hopped out of the stool and announced that the hour was getting late. She pointed out there was much to do the following day, making her intentions clear that she was going to rely on both of them for help. Therefore, the two would need to get plenty of rest in order to keep up with her. Bobby chimed in wryly and turned to Jubilee, informing her that his mother kept a very tight ship around the holidays. He cited previous holidays, where he and cousins had been worked to the bone as they put together gingerbread houses.
After dismissing Jubilee and Bobby's offers to help clear the kitchen, she hurriedly ushered them out of the kitchen. She needed time to think now and to process. The only way she could only do so in the quiet stillness of the kitchen. However, she decided to walk with them to the stairs, asking Bobby to show Jubilee where the towels were.
Then she turned to the young girl with the stunning eyes and delicate features. She was uncertain as to what placed her frayed nerves at ease when she gazed upon Jubilee. They had just met for the first time, spending only brief moments talking and getting to know one another. Yet, it was clear to her that this was a good girl. While Maddy had known many good girls, whether they were relatives or daughters of friends, Jubilee was different from any of them.
She was with her Bobby.
Her reverie was shattered when Jubilee's clear voice inquired if she was all right. Maddy, surprised, smiled nervously and brushed a hand through her golden hair with thread of silver. She blurted an excuse that seemed foreign to her ears, something about thinking about tomorrow's menu. Her hand patted Jubilee's slim shoulder as she welcomed her again, reiterating that she was looking forward to getting to know her. Then she leaned forward to hug Bobby goodnight. Her cheek brushed against his neck as she murmured how glad she was to see him.
When the two of them were finally upstairs, Maddy sauntered back to the kitchen. She began to gather the used dishes and carried them to the sink. Her mouth formed a pensive line as she rinsed the bowls, plates, and silverware and placed them in the dishwasher. Never had she seen Bobby so happy, especially while he was here at the house. At least, not since he was a small child. Granted, he wasn't depressed or despondent during his previous visits, but he had seemed to be putting on some brave face. It was refreshing to see him like this. She only hoped that his cheerful and upbeat mood would continue on into the next day.
But deep down, she feared that might not be the case for long.
Maddy turned off the sink and dried her hands on blue-and-white, striped dishtowel. She leaned against the counter, contemplating a cup of peppermint cocoa, a favorite staple for Bobby when he was growing up. For her, it represented a time when things were simpler---before anyone heard of mutants, before Bobby grew up and grew away from her and Bill. These times were not necessarily good or worth any kind of excess nostalgia, but they were times she was familiar with nonetheless.
She quickly put a kettle on the stove and pulled out the box of peppermint hot chocolate along with a white, ceramic mug with a hand-painted, jolly snowman on the front. As she waited for the water to boil, Maddy decided to take out a bag of marshmallows from the pantry. They were the extra large kind, sugary and airy enough to melt in your mouth. She decided one would not hurt. After all, she had started a membership at the local gym and swore to herself that she would begin working out there regularly.... after the holidays, of course.
"Can I join you?"
Maddy turned around to see her son, leaning against the doorway. His sandy hair was slightly rumpled and he wore a New York Mets T-shirt over a pair of gray, drawstring pants. She smiled at him gently and said, "You can if you don't mind marshmallows."
He shrugged and walked further inside. "I can deal," he deadpanned as he ambled over to the solid ash kitchen table with its cherry finish. He pulled out one of the wooden ladder-back, beech chairs and seated himself. Folding his hands together, he suddenly looked younger than his twenty- something years.
"That's my boy," Maddy drawled before being cut off by the whistle of the teakettle. She turned down the heat and proceeded to prepare two cups of cocoa. "So, what brings you down here? I thought that perhaps you welcome the idea of sleeping."
Bobby watched his mother stir the cocoa briskly, the crisp smell of peppermint filling his nostrils. "I can't," he admitted and raked a hand through his sandy hair.
She raised her brows, carrying the two piping hot mugs to the table where her son sat. There were lines of worry etched into his usually smooth forehead, brought on by his solemn and grave expression. She wanted to tell herself that she did not know why he was concerned. She wanted to tell herself there were grounds to warrant such a reaction. Yet, to do either one would be lying and to an extent, facilitating the tension.
He took one of the mugs from her and studied the snowman painted outside. "I'm not going to pretend not to know why or that it doesn't bother me," he said quietly. He raised his boyish face to peer up at his mother as she settled into a chair across from him. "It's there in the forefront of this visit. I know because that's why you're up, too."
She was about to raise the mug to her lips when he uttered his last sentence. Slowly, she set the cup down in front of her. Her blue eyes widened in astonishment, shocked to discover how perceptive he was at that moment. She thought she had done a reasonable job in hiding her preoccupation and apprehension. In her mind, there was no reason for Bobby to know. He would only share the burden of her worries, possibly ruining his time here.
Bobby looked grim as he continued speaking, his gaze never wavering. "You're nervous for the same reason I am," he told her. He picked up the bag of marshmallows sitting next to him and reached in for one, popping it into his mouth.
Maddy swallowed hard. She placed a hand over her mouth, unsure as to what could be said. Her gaze dropped to the detailed grain of the tabletop. Was she really that transparent? Perhaps she had become less subtle in her advanced years. Either way, her son was fully cognizant of what was going on, much to her dismay.
"Does Jubilee know about your father?" she finally asked, tracing the rim of the mug with her finger.
"That he's a bigot? Then, yes, she knows." Bobby sounded uncharacteristically bitter as he spat the words out. His gray eyes belied the fact that he wished the situation were different than what he assessed it to be.
His mother made a disapproving face, shrinking back in her chair. "Oh, Bobby, I hate that word. It sounds so...horrible."
"Why?" he demanded, grimacing. "I mean that's what he is, right? He's a bigot. The man has a beef with people who aren't white or Christian..."
She sighed wearily, acknowledging his point with a nod. Yet, she needed for him to consider other possibilities. "Your father has had some faulty beliefs in the past," she conceded, "but he's tried to make an effort. For God's sake, Bobby, he almost lost his life in doing so."
"I know that, Mom. And yeah, he's changed a little. But speaking out at that rally doesn't account for other things..."
"Well, have you given him a chance to prove you wrong? From what I remember, the last time you were here, you did your best not to spend a lot of time with him."
"That's not true. Besides, you seem to forget that I was here, taking care of him."
"Bobby, sweetheart, I'm not discounting the time you spent here with him when he was recovering."
"Well, he could have proved me wrong then. When he was at the hospital, I stupidly thought that he was on the verge of a breakthrough. You know, like an extreme epiphany or something. Instead, he was just...Dad. You know, quiet and not saying anything about what happened. It's like he was never beat up or anything."
"Did you try to talk to him about it?"
"How would I have gone about doing that? I'd be like, 'So, Dad, have your views changed on people who are different now that you've had the crap beaten out of you?'"
"You don't have to be sarcastic, Bobby."
"I'm sorry, Mom. It's just that I don't know how would talk to him about it. I guess I'm afraid Dad is going to be himself and he'll be too goddamned blind to see that. It's a hell of a shame, you know. If she weren't who she was, he'd be crazy about her."
"So, let me get this straight," Maddy said, sipping her cocoa with a thoughtful gleam in her blue eyes. "You're anxious about your father's reaction to Jubilee. At the same time, you sound kind of unsure about this since you haven't been around to gauge his perspective."
Bobby looked hurt as she summed up the conversation. "That's not how it is," he huffed slightly, evoking memories of when he was a frustrated toddler learning how to walk and run. "You make it sound so simple. People can't change views they've held for most of their lives overnight."
"Don't say that," she admonished him, straightening in her chair. "You don't know that about your father. How could you easily lose faith in him? He's a good, decent man. It's not his fault that he has been somewhat behind the times."
Her son pressed his lips together before responding. "In this world, people have a choice," he began evenly. "They can choose to believe certain things, act in a certain way. Dad chooses to be afraid of people he considers abnormal, whatever that is."
Bobby exhaled deeply before he continued. "Do you know what he'll see when he meets Jubilee? He's going to take one look at her and decided that she's no good for me and I'm that embarrassing yet again. You know why? Because I'm with a Chinese girl who also happens to be a mutant."
Maddy winced involuntarily as she watched her son's level of aggravation steadily increase. No matter how much time had passed since the assault or the possible lessons learned from it, there was a chance that Bobby was right. As she listened to him speak, she could not help but detect a sense of helplessness; that he and Jubilee would be forced to accept this scenario. At that moment, there was nothing more she wanted than to calm his worries.
She was suddenly inspired. "Tell me what you want your father to see," she said, her voice raspier than usual. Her eyes peered into his gray ones intensely.
Bobby stared at her quizzically. He thought about taking the cocoa away from her, fearing that the heat had somehow seared her brain. "What? What are you talking about, Mom?"
"You've told me about what you think your father will think," she said, dropping a large, fluffy marshmallow into her cocoa. "That's part of the unknown, whether or not you're willing to admit it. The truth is, you just don't know how he's going to respond."
The younger Drake looked at her warily. "Mom..." he began, indicating his ambivalence to hear her out.
She cut him off, but in that pleasant way she was known for. It was hard for anyone to be upset with the genteel side of her. "What you know is how you'd like your father to see that lovely girl upstairs. So, go on, dear."
He frowned at her thoughtfully. Just as he was about to ask her what the point of the exercise was going to be, he promptly closed his mouth. She had that determined expression on her face that communicated the fact that she was not playing around. From past experience, he knew that he would not be able to argue, charm, or sulk his way out of it.
Realizing that he would have to relent to her wishes instead, he took a deep breath. "She's beautiful, funny, honest, intelligent... Loyal to a fault." He grinned sheepishly as if there were a handful of incidents that immediately came to mind. However, he did not share them. Instead, he continued. "She's not afraid to challenge me. I mean not in a hostile way. It's like when she does, it's so I can be a better person. I want to do that for her. Always." The smile faded slightly as he became more introspective, but did not disappear.
Maddy peered over at him, noticing the placid tone in his voice as he talked about Jubilee. Evidently, her task was beginning to have its desired effect. "You make her sound even more incredible than you did the first time," she told him as she took another sip of peppermint cocoa. "Not that I don't believe it. She seems like a wonderful girl."
"Well, she is," her son agreed, his gray eyes wistful at the thought of her. "I only hope that Dad can see beyond the other stuff to realize that."
Outside of the bright kitchen where mother and son talked into the late hours of the night, a pair of gray eyes narrowed in the evening shadows and darkness that enveloped the rest of the house.
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