Chapter 11: On the Prowl
The two girls rode the elevator down to the underground garage in silence, Minx occasionally swiping at her nose and eyes. When the doors opened, Jubilee watched as her classmate strode off the lift and headed directly for Logan’s big black Harley motorcycle. The Asian girl’s eyebrows knit in puzzlement as Minx slowly ran a hand along the polished chrome handlebars and down the head pan of the bike as if she were caressing an oversized sleeping cat. It made Jubilee nervous. Minx wasn’t exactly in the right state of mind these days.
“Ah, Minx? Minxster? Wolveroonie really loves that scoot, ya know? He doesn’t really like anyone to touch – oh, poop.”
The girl’s voice fell off as she watched Minx’s hand begin to glow. Minx’s smile was cold and harsh as she grabbed the handlebars of the bike and super-heated the metal to almost melting point. The chrome turned red-hot, glowing an impossible angry white, as small drops of the silver metal dripped from between the girl’s clenched hands to fall sizzling onto the cold garage floor. Minx pulled down and then inward on the bars, the metal easily bending as if it were nothing more than soft taffy. When she was finished, she paused to enjoy her handiwork. The handlebars now resembled tiny rams horns curled in upon themselves.
Jubilee was too stunned to speak. It was like a horror movie – frightening and gory but you couldn’t look away even if you wanted to. She just stood and gaped as Minx knelt down to grab both tires in her still glowing hands. As Minx’s power did its job, the tires on the motorcycle bubbled and quickly melted, air escaping from them in a noisy groan. When she finally stood up, the tires on the bike were nothing more than dark gooey puddles on the concrete. The Harley now rested precariously on it metal rims. All in all, it had taken only a few minutes for Minx to turn the waxed perfection of chrome and steel that had been Logan’s pride into a useless glob of scrap metal.
“This is so not good,” Jubilee muttered as she slowly trailed behind Minx who now made her way over to the far end of the garage.
She kept stealing glances over her shoulder back at the ruined bike. Definitely don’t want to be around when Wolvie finds that, Jubilee thought to herself. She called out to Minx.
“So now what? You’re just gonna leave?”
Minx didn’t pay her any heed, so she tried again.
“Where are you gonna go? C’mon, Minx, things aren’t that bad, are they?”
Minx froze in the middle of the garage and swung about on Jubilee, her face registering shock.
“Aren’t that bad, Jubes?” she said, “How the hell would you feel if you found out that your parents weren’t really your parents…if the man you grew up knowing as your dad wasn’t really anybody? And if your mother, who you thought was this incredible perfect woman, was actually a self-centered loser?”
“It’s gonna be okay,” Jubilee whispered not knowing what else to say.
“No, it’s not! How is it gonna be okay, Jubilee? Huh, how? Everybody I ever loved…ever trusted…lied to me.”
The backpack slipped off Minx’s shoulder as she slumped in defeat.
“My entire life has been one big stinking lie.”
The girl grabbed up the backpack, spun around and headed for the row of shiny sports cars near the far wall as Jubilee sighed and started after her once again.
“What am I supposed to tell everyone?” Jubilee questioned her friend.
Minx shrugged in apathy as she carefully inspected the high performance vehicles that were lined up side by side.
“I don’t know,” she said, “Tell ‘em to go to hell – whatever. I really don’t care.”
“I care,” Jubilee stated flatly.
“I don’t belong here, Jubes,” Minx said, “I never should have stayed.”
Jubilee rolled her deep brown eyes in disgust.
“Aw baloney. You were totally happy here until that stupid trip to the mall.”
She gulped as Minx grabbed the door handle to one of the sports cars.
“Whoa there, Minxster, that’s the professor’s Jag!”
“Yeah, I know that, Jubes.”
“So, like why are you getting into it?” Jubilee asked as she watched the other girl settle behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel of the sleek black Jaguar.
“Because it’s too far to walk to the mall,” Minx retorted mildly.
She reached underneath the dashboard and began to fiddle with some of the wires.
“If you don’t mind, I’m busy.”
Jubilee jumped back, momentarily startled, as the Jag rumbled to life, the little door and seatbelt chimes going off. Minx popped back up in the seat and reached to shut the door. Jubilee was in a dangerous position. She couldn’t just let her buddy take off for parts unknown, especially not in such a self-destructive mood. Should she run tell the professor or should she stay with Minx and attempt to talk the girl out of her craziness? No contest. Jubilee ran around to the other side of the car, slung open the door before Minx began to back out and hopped into the passenger seat. Minx hit the brakes, turning to stare at Jubilee in obvious annoyance.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Jubes shot her a quizzical look.
“Have you ever known me to pass up a trip to the mall?”
“Seriously. Old Navy is having a major post-holiday, pre-millenium blowout sale.” Jubilee continued as Minx maneuvered the Jag out of its parking spot. “I kid you not, Minx. There’s a pair of way cool bootleg hip-huggers that I want –“
Minx cut her off, her attention half on steering and half on Jubilee.
“Fine. Fine. Just shut up or I swear I’ll throw you out of the car as soon as I get it up to eighty.”
With Minx’s attention on Jubilee, the car began to drift off course. Both girls rocked forward suddenly as the Jaguar brushed up against the wall of the garage. Metal squealed against the concrete, and the girls cringed from the sound. Minx compensated by turning the wheel to the left as the car shuddered and straightened out. She tried to remain poised despite her jangled nerves. Jubilee glanced out the side mirror to see a newly made foot-long gash in the paint on the door.
“Um, barely a scratch,” she lied. “Professor X will never notice.”
Minx ignored her to concentrate instead on getting the car out of the underground garage and onto the side drive without bumping into anything else. The girls rode in heavy silence until the Jaguar was safely at the end of the paved driveway and away from the menacing posts, gates and walls of the school. Minx spun the wheel humping over the curb and turning out onto Graymalkin Lane. Fortunately the street was deserted. She flattened her foot to the floor, feeling the engine roar a second before the Jag leapt forward, throwing both girls back into their seats. The school shrank in the rear view mirror.
“Not that it matters at this point, I guess,” Jubilee managed as she quickly fastened her seatbelt, “but like do you realize we just boosted a really, really expensive set of wheels…and we don’t even have learners permits yet?”
“Yup,” Minx replied.
Jubilation Lee grinned and popped the radio on, twirling the dial until a guitar-riffing rock song blared out of the speakers. She cranked the sound and shot her friend a look of utter exhilaration.
“How cool is this?” Jubilee crowed.
“Way cool,” Minx purred and pushed the Jag to eighty.
It had actually been sort of nice having someone to talk to on the forty-minute drive to the mall. Jubilee’s upbeat patter about fashion, boys, and the latest music videos took Minx’s mind off her current woes long enough to actually be able to laugh at a few of her friend’s sarcastic observations about life as a mutant teenager. Not that Jubilee hadn’t attempted a few sly probings into Minx’s new familial situation and her current plans, but Minx quickly smothered that topic of conversation with a few dark scowls.
Now, as Minx pulled the Jaguar into an empty parking space in the vast mall lot, she was beginning to regret bringing Jubilee along after all. This was supposed to be a clean break from the school, the girl mentally scolded herself. No one was supposed to know where she was going and especially whom she was meeting. How was that supposed to happen when “Ms. Motor Mouth” was sitting right next to her? She glanced over at her friend as they got out of the car. No, she definitely should not have brought Jubilee with her.
“OK, we’re at the mall. Now what?” Jubilee asked.
She shot Minx a skeptical look as the two headed toward the sprawling mega-plex of shops, eateries and entertainment known as the Towne Center Mall. The lot was half-full of vehicles this being midday in the middle of the work week, but the place would soon be filling up with mobs of teenagers in another hour or so once the local high schools let out for the day. Minx didn’t hear Jubilee’s question. She was busy coming up with a plan for ditching her friend once they got inside the complex. Jubilee wasn’t stupid, so it had to be slick and it had to be fast. That shouldn’t be a problem, she figured as she could easily lose her in one of the mazes of stores. It was afterwards that would prove to be difficult. There would only be so much time between disappearing and hooking up with Cynthia before the chance of Jubes spotting her became certain. And if anyone knew this mall inside and out, it was Jubilation Lee, the original irrepressible mall rat.
Minx had never been much of a mall loiterer. She’d never had money enough for the sort of sprees these places usually required. Furthermore, her street instincts frowned on such places in general. Malls were enclosed areas with guarded exits and no windows to the outside. They were solid fortresses of consumerism that encouraged folks to enter but did not encourage them to leave. While the crowds inside provided excellent cover, they did not leave a pickpocket or thief much open getaway space - too many people, too many chances to be fingered.
She’d always preferred the stand-alone buildings like junk shops, delis, K-Marts and such instead. It was easy enough to just wait inside a dressing room stall or bathroom until the store closed and then “shop” at her leisure making an easy invisible getaway afterwards into nearby alleys and back streets. But, the mall was where she’d met Cynthia in the first place, and was the only place she’d been to since she’d been at Xavier’s school. She had known how to get there and so, it was as easy a choice for her as that.
“So, what’s the plan, stan?” Jubilee asked again.
They were standing in the large sunny atrium area just inside the main entrance, and Jubilee had to almost shout to be heard over the echoing din of people, piped music and splashing water fountains.
“Restrooms,” Minx said and headed off in that direction.
Jubes shot her a disgusted look but followed.
“You drove all the way out here to pee? Whatsa matter with the bathrooms back at the school?”
“They were out of two-ply,” she joked as they hopped onto the empty escalator going up to the next level. “Actually, Jubes, I really do have to pee. And since the restrooms are near the food court, how about grabbing us a couple Slushees while I do my business?”
Minx reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. She stripped off a five and handed it to Jubilee.
“My treat,” Minx said. “I’ll fill ya in on the plan when I get back from the bathroom.”
“Where’d ya get the green stuff?” Jubilee asked suspiciously as Minx stuffed the money back into her pocket.
“I didn’t steal it, if that’s what you mean,” Minx answered back in haughty tone. “’Daddy’ left his wallet unattended,” she added and walked off determinedly toward the short hallway to the right of the Chick-Fil-A stand that led to the public restrooms.
Minx heaved a sigh of relief when Jubilee didn’t follow - so far, so good. The women’s room was empty save for a harried looking mother lifting her young daughter up to reach the faucet at one of the sinks lining the one wall of the drab bathroom. Minx ignored them and wandered down to the last stall opposite the sinks. She closed and locked the little door behind her and sat down carefully, making sure to pull her short skirt down far enough that her bare thighs wouldn’t touch the beat up toilet seat and waited. It wasn’t long. The mother, after snapping at her child to stop playing with the soap dispenser, gathered up her shopping bags and offspring and left the bathroom. Minx waited a moment until she heard the restroom door click shut.
“Hello?” she called out just to be sure, but there was no answer save a hollow echo of her own voice.
Minx unlocked the stall door and opened it, eyeing the place. It was empty. She quickly walked over to the door of the restroom and took a deep breath to steady herself before grabbing the dull metal handle of the door. No one in the noisy food court even noticed the Women’s room door opening and closing.
Minx edged around the pockets of people, careful to keep her eyes down so as not to make eye contact with anyone. It would be harder for someone to remember her if she was just another warm body passing by in the crowd. She spotted Jubilee near the Slushee stand out of the corner of her eye. Jubes had just paid for the drinks and was turning away from the counter, her hands holding two super-size insulated cups of the popular beverage. Minx did an about face and headed off away from the food court and her friend. Her eye caught on the railing to the lower level of the mall near the broad empty stairway, and she made her way toward it quickly. The railing was a four foot metal and chrome deal that looked down onto a small raised bed of bushes and flowers directly below. Factoring in the height of the raised flower bed, Minx gauged the distance down to be about fifteen feet or so. An easy drop for her.
Scanning to the right and left, Minx made sure no one was near and without further ado, she grabbed the metal railing in both hands while pushing off and flipped herself over it to fall and land smoothly in a cat’s crouch in the middle of the decorative flower bed on the lower level. The young mutant took a moment to once again make sure no one was paying attention before she hopped out of the brick flower box and casually walked away.
Her mind twinged a little. This was it. She was on her own again from here on. There would be no more late night Xbox battles with Jubes, Alex and the gang. No more quiet talks with Storm or Gambit, sharing similar childhood experiences as orphans. No more dinners with the X-men gathered about the huge dining room table, laughing, joking and being a family… and no more Logan.
The last one clinched it for her. Minx clenched her teeth in anger at the man who had not only recklessly brought her into this world, but who had also ripped away the very essence of all she understood as truth about her life. The truth, that very foundation of reality, had been raped by Logan’s careless nature and her parents’ lies. All that she had known and used to build her life, to develop a sense of being was now nothing more than a flimsy charade others had given her to salve their own conscience. Without looking back, Minx glided into the mix of people and away from her last link to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
“Ow! Brain freeze!” Jubilation Lee winced slightly and set her half-finished Slushee down on one of the vacant plastic tables in the food court. She palmed her face over her eye area until the sharp pain dwindled, then sighed deeply as she gave the food court occupants the once over. It had been only ten minutes since Minx had escaped to the bathroom, but something just didn’t feel right to Jubilee. This whole venture was starting to stink pretty bad in fact. Jubilee understood her friend’s need to get away from the school and Logan, but it didn’t make much sense to high tail it to the local mall for a moment of inner peace and contemplation. There had to be a reason they had stopped here rather than putting pedal to the metal and cruising straight out of town.
The young mutant thought a moment, chewing absently on the clear plastic straw of her drink, as she pondered what Minx could possibly need here. Minx had only been to this place once, a few days ago. A light clicked on in the girl’s brain and Jubilee suddenly knew. Minx must be here to find that mystery lady from the other day! And, of course, Minx wouldn’t want good old Jubilation Lee around taking notes during the meeting, would she? A faint blush of embarrassed anger tinged the girl’s tan cheeks. Slushee in hand, Jubilee headed for the Women’s restroom at a fast walk. She left Minx’s untouched drink behind, now doubting very much that her friend had even wanted it in the first place.
“You better have fallen in, chicklet,” she mumbled as she slammed open the door to the restroom with her booted foot, “or you and me are gonna have words. Nobody plays Jubilation Lee for a fool.”
Minx waited impatiently as the phone rang for what seemed forever before a low throaty voice answered.
“Cynthia?” Minx whispered into the receiver, her voice trembling against her will. “Is this Cynthia McDaniels?”
“Ye-es.” There was an imperceptible hesitation there that Minx picked up on. “Who is this?”
“It’s Min - I mean Nicole. It’s Nicole Anderson…from the mall the other day? Remember?”
“Nicole,” Cynthia’s tone instantly changed to one of warm familiarity. “It’s so good to hear from you, dear. Is something the matter?”
Minx snorted at the understatement.
“Uh, yeah, you could say that. Look, I need you to come pick me up. I’m at the Towne Centre Mall.”
“Are you all right? You sound upset.” Cynthia probed.
Minx shook her head. How much should she tell this lady? Yeah right. How much time did she have to hear the whole ugly tale? Minx looked up from the phone and scanned the faces of the shoppers coming and going. No sign of Jubilee…yet.
“Nicole? Are you still there?”
“Sorry,” Minx answered, her attention turning back to the phone in her hand, “Look, I don’t really have time to explain it all, but you were right. About everything. And…I just need to get away from here, okay?”
“I’ll be right there. Just stay put. You’ve made the right decision dear, really. “
“I’ll wait for you at the south side entrance to the mall.”
Click. The line went dead in the girl’s hands. Minx stared at the receiver a moment before hanging it up. Was this really the right decision? Was running away really going to solve anything? Minx turned from the bay of phones in the atrium trying to push the doubts out of her mind as she hurried toward the glass doors of the mall entrance to wait.
Jubilee bit her lip, hesitating to dial the number she knew she had to dial. Somewhere deep inside her was a little nodule of pride that kept telling her that she, Jubilation Lee, was a bona-fide X-man - a savvy young woman with the brains and abilities to handle anything that came her way. Hell, she’d kicked some major serious mutant butt before! So, she should be able to handle this little bit of mess on her own, right? Then, on the other side, there was the self-preservation factor screaming out in her mind that she was just a kid, really, and that the real X-men needed to know what was going down A.S.A.P. Because if this did blow up in her face, there would be some very pissed off folks back at the school looking to pin the blame on someone. She snatched the receiver off the hook and dialed the school’s toll free line, praying that either Wolverine or Rogue would answer.
“Xavier’s School for the Gifted. May I help you?”
Jubilee screwed up her face at her bad luck. It was Jean. She bit her lip a moment and then plastered a sickeningly sweet smile on her face and tried her best to sound upbeat and casual.
“Oh, hey Jean! Whassup? Look, is uh, Wolvie there?”
“Jubilee?!” Jean’s voice broadcast her surprise, “Where are you?”
“Funny you should ask,” Jubilee replied not feeling humorous in the least, “um, could ya maybe put Wolveroonie on the line for me?”
Jean’s no-nonsense tone came across the phone making the girl cringe.
“Jubilation Lee, where are you calling from, young lady?”
Other voices could be heard in the background behind Jean, and Jubilee sighed. So much for pride.
“Ya don’t hafta get all medieval on me, Jeannie. Cheez! I’m at the mall – “
“The mall?! How did you –“
Jubilee cut her off, “Look, Minx decided to take a powder and I figured I better go with, ya know? Just to keep an eye out –“ She heard Professor Xavier’s voice in the background telling someone that Logan was indeed gone and must have followed the girls. “Great!” Jubilee chirped, “I’ll just wait for the Canucklehead and we’ll –“
“Jubilee, you’ll do no such thing,” Jean warned her student. “Scott, Gambit and Storm are on the way. You are to wait for them. Where’s Minx?”
“Ha, ha...well…that’s a good question actually. I sort of lost track of her at the moment. But I think she’s trying to meet up with that lady she saw here the other day.”
“Just stay there and wait for the others.” Jean cautioned. “And, under no circumstances are you to go off with Logan if he arrives first. Understand?”
Jubilee rolled her eyes, wondering if Jean could telepathically read her thoughts right this very minute.
“Jubilation, do you understand?”
“Yeah, yeah, Jean. I got it, OKAY?” She hated when they called her by her whole first name.
The conversation over, Jubilee headed for the atrium and the front entrance of the mall to wait for Wolverine and the others.