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« a faint and faraway sound » ([personal profile] thelittleone) wrote in [community profile] otherearth6262006-09-24 10:13 am
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“But y’could’ve remembered that ah’d be th’ one watching you half-dead on the cot!”

Written by: Noelle Pico
Beta readers: Nathan Pico & Kam Martinez

The Vespucci Diner, Manhattan, New York. 8:17 pm.

The Vespucci’s had set up their diner some twenty-some-some years before. It had been a gamble, really, as at the time the Manhattan Institute for High Learning (*) hadn’t existed, and the area was mostly up-coming buildings and construction areas breaking ground. But luck had apparently been on the Italian couple’s side and their business had persevered throughout the years. As Giovanni often liked to boast to his regulars, be they teens or adults alike: “it is all in good cooking and the way you treat customers like your own”.

He was just coming out of the kitchen when three of those familiar faces walked in from the cold. “I don’t understand why you kids like standing out there.” He mock scolded them, his fisted hand resting on his hip, his face much like the no-nonsense grandfather he’d come to be just recently.

“Well, Mr. Vespucci, you said no smoking in the establishment, and Sam here needed to blow off some steam.” Tabitha grinned at the older man who’d often treated her to an on-the-house cup of coffee when she’d be furiously editing her papers between classes.

The older man grumbled but smiled slyly at them. “Carla,” he called to his eldest, a hotel and restaurant management major who spent her Thursday nights coming back to bother her mother’s kitchen. “The kids are here. You know what to tell your mother.” As he headed back to the kitchen, Sam, Doug and Tabitha smiled among themselves and made their way to the table that their younger companions had reserved for them.

“Let it go, Paige. Jay’s a hot-head.” M squeezed her friend’s shoulder, feeling rather sympathetic for the girl. “Let him get over himself. You just focus on dinner and the wonderful company surrounding you.”

“Wha’ happened?” Sam asked softly, his eyes focused on the second eldest of his siblings. There was never a dull moment with his family, he all but mused as he slid in beside Paige, his hand reaching up to squeeze her shoulder gently. While they’d had the biggest age gap among their many siblings, he liked to believe that they were no less close than those with just a year in-between.

The younger Guthrie shrugged, offering her older brother a weak smile. Jay hadn’t been very verbose in their conversation, but she didn’t have to tell Sam that. Her big brother looked haggard over other things enough as it is. She didn’t want Josh’s tantrum added to the list. “Nothing,” she replied, “He was just being himself.”

He watched her take a deep breath and felt guilty that she’d taken the brunt of their particularly angst-ridden sibling’s spiel. Josh was obviously pissed with him, and he’d have a talk with the boy soon enough—they’d be all heading up to Westchester the following night anyway. Fridays were sacred to Charles Xavier.

“Well now,” Paige grinned, quick and bright, changing the topic as naturally as if it had never been. She wasn’t one for dwelling on depressing thoughts when in the company of friends. They’d discuss their brother later, when the others weren’t focused too much on the idea. “Are we gonna eat or what?” For now, it was just Thursday night, and they were all together to play catch-up with each other’s lives. They would deal with family issues later.

Doug chose that moment to lean one arm onto the table. “Easy for you to say, Paige.” The older boy reached over and tweaked the younger’s nose teasingly, “You guys ordered while we have to wait. You could’ve put in ours, y’know.” In response, Paige made a face while conversation broke out as naturally as it often did around them.

They had all known each other for years, and even if Jubilee, Paige and M were Sam, Doug and Tabby’s juniors in age, in their respective Gen-X batches, as well as in the regular school setting, they got along as if the years between them were merely months or nonexistent. Of course, the fact that Tabitha and Doug had been scuttled with the younger batch might have had something to do with it.

Sam settled back against his seat, content to just listen rather than talk. The day had been eventful enough with his trip to the Mansion and the classes that he’d had after lunch, and with the thought of another all-nighter on his thesis, not to mention the conference call he had to make to his off-shore mentor, Ms. Moira MacTaggert, he wasn’t in the mood for anything other than mere observation.

“Hey guys, I’m dropping by the Mansion tomorrow earlier than I thought,” he heard Jubilee say as she twirled her spaghetti on her fork. “Any of you want me to bring anything with me? I know its Friday, and it’ll be Jean cooking, but...” Utensils clinked cheerily against china. “I’ve got a couple of things,” M commented idly, reaching for the salt. “It’s books and not food though, but since you generously offered Jubes.” The laughter was spontaneous and easy, in that charming familiarity.

To anyone else, they looked just like a bunch of college kids enjoying a group dinner out from the dorms and responsibilities. No one would ever suspect that among them were X-Men Cannonball, Meltdown and the ‘fireworks kid’ of Sentinel-mall-crashing fame. “Real smooth, princess.” Jubilee stuck her tongue out, making a face while M just beamed at her. “But sure. Just put them on the table by my bag later, k?”

Oblivious to the two, Tabitha and Paige carried on their own conversation. “So Paige, how’s that paper coming?” Tabitha asked just as their food was brought to their table by Giovanni himself. “Thanks Mr. G.” She grinned up at the older man who set the plates down and nodded with a smile.

“I’m doing okay,” Paige replied as she took a bite out of the bread slice that had been ignored up until then. “Professor Richards said she’d extend the deadline anyway, so I can look for more sources.”

“No fair. She extended the deadline? She never used to do that.” Yes. Definitely just a group of kids hanging out.

“Yo.” Sam looked up to see Doug watching him bemusedly, the other blonde teen leaned back against his seat, his food untouched in front of him. “You look out of it.” They’d been friends for as long as each could remember. “Worried about your conference call with Ms. MacTaggert?”

Sam sighed and shook his head. “Leave it t’me to have mah thesis mentor all the way in Scotland, eh?” He checked the clock that hung on the wall on the far end of the diner. “Th’ place is a good five hours ahead o’ our time. It oughta be late 'nuff by now.” Good thing for him though, Moira MacTaggert was a workaholic and an early riser. By the time he logged online at midnight, she’d be up and awake at five in the morning in her lab.

“Worried?” Doug inquired. Overachieving seemed to run in the Guthrie family, Paige and Sam being no different from each other when it came to their studies and responsibilities.

“Naw,” Sam shrugged, looking down at his hands. He paused, sighed and then grimaced. “Well, maybe a little.” He made a face. “Ah’m no genius like Dr. McCoy or Ms. Moira.” He sank a little more into the backrest of his seat. “Ah guess ah’m just worried that ah might disappoint them. Molecular biology ain’t no walk in the park. ‘specially when ah picked a topic as lackin’ in resources as human mutation.”

Doug chuckled and shook his head. “Relax, Sam. You’ll do well. I mean…” but he trailed off, the smile fading from his face as his eyes focused on something beyond his friend’s face and well over his friend’s shoulder. Under the table he kicked, with the full intent to collide the toes of his toe with Sam’s leg, but having miscalculated in his zeal, M threw a glare at him instead.


Doug cringed as Monet scolded him, slapping his soundly on the arm. “I-I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” The boy replied, defending himself by lifting both hands. “I didn’t mean it! I meant it for Sam.”

“Now why would…” Sam frowned and looked over his shoulder, only to fall back into his seat, an excited look in his eye. “Oh man.” He grinned and reached for his bag which was tucked underneath his seat.

“What’s going on?” Paige asked then as she watched her brother dig for something in the depths of his backpack. “Sam—” She was cut off as Tabitha chuckled and rolled her eyes. “Oh geez, let your fan tendencies out why don’t you, Sam.” Paige threw a questioning look at the older girl who just nibbled on the pasta she’d twirled on her fork, “The guy who just walked in? The one in the brown coat? That’d be Dr. Delgado (*).” Tabitha explained.

Paige’s attention snapped back to her brother and just as he was getting up, she reached out, lightning fast, and grabbed him by the sleeve of his shirt, jolting him back to sit down. “Sam!” She hissed. “Enough of that already! You look more like a hick the more you run around asking for autographs!”

He threw her a grin, “Well now y’see little sister, tha’s your problem, not mine.” He stood up again and straightened himself, in an attempt to look dignified as he walked up to where the esteemed professor was sitting, accompanied by two young girls—one of whom he had already met.

Back at the table, Paige sank in her seat and promptly returned to her food, the pout on her lips deepening as Jubilee snickered, “Oh knock it off, hayseed.” With a huff, the younger Guthrie focused on dinner muttering softly to herself.

Xavier School for Gifted Children, Graymalkin Lane, Westchester, New York. 8:22 pm.

She sat on the bench in the hall, her palms folded neatly on her lap as her eyes flicked up to look at the fifth door from the staircase. Would he still be awake? Maybe. A full day asleep was bound to keep a body up until well past the reasonable hours, and eight-or-so in the evening was still reasonable.

At least, that’s what she felt.

Standing up, thirteen-year-old Melody Guthrie walked over to the archway, one hand lifting to tuck a stray lock of her brown hair behind her ear, while the other rapped gently against the door of her older brother’s dorm room. “Josh?” She asked softly against the wood, her voice wavering a bit as she heard the syllable of his name echo in the empty hall. She knew and respected his preference for ‘Jay’ and didn’t blame him for it. But it was just so awkward to call him by a nickname that he’d donned ever since the incident with Julia Cabot when all her life he’d just been Josh to her.

Still. She didn’t want to upset him. He was so moody as of late, hardly given to the smiles she remembered he used to give so freely when they were young. She cleared her throat and tried again, leaning closer to the wood this time. “Jay,” she started, the name unfamiliar on her tongue. She tapped the pads of her fingers against the barrier, unsure of whether to knock louder. “Jay, its Melody. You ‘wake?”

She pressed her ear against the wood, hoping to make out the sounds inside. It was fairly quiet, though she readily credited that to the fact that the doors in this giant house were of the thickest quality she’d ever known.

What to her felt like minutes passed and she gently rubbed her fingers against the door, feeling a little silly for standing alone in the hall like a puppy out in the rain. Stepping back she turned around, her arms coming around to hug herself. She’d talk to him in the morning. That is, if he was up to talking. Lord only knew if her second eldest brother was in the mood for conversing with his kin, given that he was probably already fending off the sermons from either Paige or Sam.

Not that she blamed the two oldest Guthries. Josh had, admittedly, been terribly reckless as of late, as if he wanted nothing more than to dive headlong into trouble. It didn’t help that his temper had always been easy to spark, but at least in a small town surrounded by family, it was easier to remind him to just keep his head in check. It had grown more difficult since they moved to the big city. He hung out more with kids his age, and trained extra hard under Ms. Munroe and her squad. While they used to have an hour or two before bedding down for the night, her being scuttled off to room with someone closer to her age had taken away even that luxury.

The sound of a door opening made her stop in her tracks, and when she glanced over her shoulder she managed a small smile as that familiar head of red hair peeked out to see who’d been knocking.

“Josh,” she spoke aloud before she could amend the name, but her shoulders relaxed when he smiled at her and stepped out, his wings folded, relaxed against his back. His eyes soft under the dim light, and he looked well. Her blood had run cold that morning when she’d heard that he was in sickbay. She hadn’t gone down herself, her classes had kept her. “Ah wanted t’check up on how y’ were feelin’.” She walked up to him, her arms still crossed over her chest. “So uh…” she trailed off, uncertain as what to say or do.

He made it easy for her. “C’mere you,” He opened his arms in the same manner that he’d done years before when some kids back at home had picked on her for simply being a Guthrie. She hadn’t even had powers then, but that hadn’t mattered to them. “I got your card.” He was so like Paige sometimes. She could hardly hear the twang in his voice anymore, but at least the tone of it managed to linger still. “Was mighty thoughtful of you, Melody.” He pulled back and tweaked her nose, the look in his eyes kind.

It was her undoing.

Her fingers fisted and she beat them soundly against his chest, knocking air smartly out of his system. She watched him blink at her, the surprise and the quick flash of irritation familiar. “Don’t you yell at me!” She cried out, the accusation in her eyes softened by the moisture that had managed to gather. “If Paige or Sam haven’t screamed in your ear, Lord help me ah’ll do good enough for both.”

She hugged him tight, her face buried against the fabric of his shirt. “It was stupid Josh.” She didn’t bother to consider his feelings on the name. She had every right to resent him. “Ah’ve half a mind to beat y’senseless,” she looked up at him again, her fingers tightening over the handful of cloth that she’d gathered along his back. “But we both know you’d beat me to it.”

She pulled back, feeling rightfully indignant. “Ah know y’can take care o’ y’self,” she hiccupped, furiously wiping away the tears that had begun to stream down her face. Jeb had always called her a crybaby, but Josh had never seemed to mind. She always figured it was because he understood what it felt like to cry better than their younger brother, and hadn’t said a word when she’d sobbed herself softly to sleep on their first night in the Mansion. “But y’could’ve remembered that ah’d be th’ one watching you half-dead on the cot!”

She didn’t want to look at him, so she didn’t. She knew he might be mad, but she was convincing herself that she didn’t care right now. That wasn’t working out so well though.

He watched her struggle not to cry anymore and felt guilt smooth over whatever annoyance been the more immediate reaction on his part. While he could simmer over his elder siblings (something he’d had enough practice with over the last two years) for long periods of time, he could never hold his temper against Melody; especially not when every two breaths of yelling meant about a minute-and-a half of tears.

“Aw, stop that, Mel.” He came up beside her and gathered his baby sister in his arms. Of all his siblings—not counting the babies, Hannah Mae, Lewis and Sarah, their youngest at seven—Melody had been the only one who hadn’t scolded him one time or another for turning out the way he did. When he’d tried to kill himself that time after Julia had died when he was fifteen, she hadn’t told him off for trying to take his life, and instead had just sat by him, her tears coming on cue when he’d let loose a rant on why he wasn’t talking to their oldest. She didn’t try to make it go away the way Paige, Lizzie and Jo did; she’d just checked up on him once in awhile.

As silly as it might sound to anyone else, Melody had done more for him than even Sam. His big brother had lost the “glow” that often came with hero-worship, the result of playing father-figure after being gone so long. Mel had cried for him when he’d refused to, had listened to him even if she had no idea what he’d been talking about, and had done whatever she could to make him an inch closer to the happiness he’d decided he’d left twenty thousand miles behind him.

She’d been eleven then, and had no idea of what it was like to love like the sun and moon rose and fell, or what it was like to lose so much that even the whole, wide world could not fill the hole left behind in him at Julia’s death.

One day, he promised himself he’d tell her how much he appreciated her concern. But for now, he’d just hold her. For now, that was enough for them both.

“Y’know, ah could never stay angry very long with you.” He kissed her forehead and gently squeezed her shoulder. When she looked up at him finally, he felt embarrassed and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “Aw, knock it off, Melody. Alrigh’, alrigh’, ah’m sorry.” The old cadence of Kentucky came back naturally to his tongue, and he pulled back, stuffing both of his hands into the pocket of the jogging pants he’d pulled on after his bath. “Stop cryin’ now, okay?” He looked at her, his brow furrowed. “Ah can’t leave my paper unfinished.” Not that he’d admit to her that all he’d managed to write down were his name and the date. “Look, ah’m in enough trouble as it is with Miss Munroe without her telling me that ah missed a deadline for a paper.” He watched her wipe the edge of her eyes with the back of her fingers. Damn his little sister for having the womanly wiles to play his heart like a guitar string. “Y’wanna help?” He offered flimsily—not that he expected her to come up with an insightful comparative paper of the earlier forms of record-keeping for history class befitting a boy of his age—grasping for anything to get her just to stop crying.

She didn’t respond, and the frown was still there on her lips.

Aw man, he huffed, letting out a breath of air before he took her hand in his own. “C’mon.” He tugged her all the way back to the door. The curse of being soft, at least on his kid sisters. Sometimes he wondered why his mom had wanted such a big family. “Keep me company at least an’ remind me t’focus.” He told her as he opened the door. When he looked at her, the tears had stopped. He was relieved. Paige yelling, he could deal with. He’d grown adept at tuning her out by staying justifiably resentful for extended periods of time. Melody turning on the waterworks? He’d rather starve himself for a week. “If y’plan t’ cry, at least don’t do it in th’ corridor.”

“Okay,” she replied softly and walked past him into the room they’d once shared. The other twin bed was still empty, still waiting for that new roommate to eventually move in; and while Jay looked forward to that day and to the company it would bring, he was happy enough that for now, the smooth mattress meant that Melody would have a place to laze around in while he worked.

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