"Remy, this soup is delicious. How did a young man like yourself learn to cook so well?" Vada asked pleasantly.
"De man who took Remy in off de street. He teach Remy 'bout a lot of tings, cookin be one of dem." Remy said vaguely.
"He did a fine job of it. This is excellent." Ken said with appreciation.
"We ready to bring out de main course?" Remy asked hopefully.
Xander just smiled and nodded.
Alex, Scott and Andrew automatically got up and followed Xander and Remy into the kitchen.
"And all this time I thought Guilliome's had the best gumbo ever." Ken said as he savored the soup.
"I've never tasted anything like this. It's great." Lee said in astonishment.
"Yeah, the stuff in the can don't taste nothing like this." Faith said as she also enjoyed her soup.
"Robert, William, do you want to clear the bowls?" Alan asked and looked across the room.
"We're still eating." William said happily, enjoying his soup.
Robert didn't appear to have heard Alan's question at all.
"If you're finished, just pass them down here. I'll make a stack." Vada said in a commanding tone.
More than one person could be seen scraping the last taste of soup from their bowl before passing it down the line.
Remy walked into the room holding two plates and said, "For Aunt Vada and Ken."
He sat their plates down to reveal sautéed shrimp on a bed of dirty rice, black beans with sausage, boiled potatoes and steamed green beans.
As Remy walked away from the table, Andrew approached with a tray of assorted toppings to put over the potatoes. Butter, Cheese sauce, sour cream and chives, steamed broccoli, and even some chili.
"That's how you cook for a group alright. Make food that can be customized to each person's taste." Ken said with a smile.
"That's right. Pass me some of the broccoli and cheese, that looks lovely." Vada said and accepted the toppings from Ken.
"Here you go guys. This tray is for Summers kids only, and the one Scott is bringing is for everyone else." Alex said as he put down the low taste toppings.
"What's the difference?" Ronny asked carefully.
"You know that soup you tasted? This tastes about the same." Andrew said as he sat plates on the table.
Trey looked at his plate, then at John's. "Father, we have some of the same food." Trey said in wonder.
"Yes, that was your Uncle Remy's idea. This is potatoes. You can put different toppings on them to give them different flavors. Go ahead and try a little of each and decide which one or two you enjoy most." Andrew said, then retreated to the kitchen.
Trey looked back and forth from his plate to John's, then got a big smile as he began to put a small dab of each topping on different parts of his potatoes.
* * * * *
"Jimmy, do you like your food?" Chris asked quietly.
"Yes, very much. I find the potatoes most pleasing without any toppings." Jimmy said happily.
"I like the white topping. The flavor is most curious." William said as he spooned more of the diluted sour cream onto his potatoes.
"I like the yellow one." Janine said happily.
"Because it is yellow?" Jimmy asked with a teasing smile.
"No silly, because it tastes good... but the color is pretty." Janine said, admiring the color of the thin cheese sauce.
* * * * *
"Can you fill me in here? I've never met most of these people before." John asked as he looked around the room.
"Sure, I don't know everyone, but I was introduced around... The guy with one eye is Xander. He's pretty cool. The red haired guy is his husband. The kid who does most of the talking is Andrew, the really fat guy is his husband. Um... the hot girl, that's Faith and the kid she's sitting by, that's Andrew's father." Ronny said, trying to remember.
"Okay, so the one kid is the husband to the fat guy and the son of the other kid?" John asked in confirmation.
"Yeah, and he's, like, the father to all the alien kids too." Ronny said hesitantly.
"Wow, that's a big job. Think about it, he's our age and he's got a husband and... six kids?" John asked, looking around.
"Yeah. You wanna know what the freakiest thing is?" Ronny asked quietly.
"What?" John asked, turning his full attention to Ronny.
"As sappy and mushy as they all get... I think it's for real. Watch them. None of the kids are trying to get away. The parents aren't yelling. No one is putting on an act. Ain't that something?" Ronny said in wonder.
"Yeah. If me and my dad got in the same room, I'd best be ready to duck or throw. I can't imagine living like this." John said in disbelief.
"I can." Ronny said in a whisper.
* * * * *
"So John, how are you doing?" Scott asked as he took his seat again at the table.
"Um, fine." John said hesitantly.
"What's wrong?" Scott asked with concern.
"Aren't you mad at me for leaving?" John asked, bracing himself for a blowup.
Scott thought carefully about his next words and finally said, "I was disappointed. Not in you, in myself. If you felt that you needed to leave, I obviously missed a sign or something that you weren't having your needs met. John, you're still welcomed here. You chose to leave, if you wanted to, you could choose to come back... and I don't want to sound like I'm trying to talk you into anything, I just want to let you know where you stand with us."
John sat silently for a long minute before saying, "I don't know if I could. I mean, I can't go back to the way it was before... I was so alone."
Scott thought about that, then looked to Ronny and considered.
"Ronny, what do you think about this?" Scott asked seriously.
"Me? I'm just visiting." Ronny said cautiously.
"Yeah, that gives you a unique perspective. I'm the recruiter, you're the visitor. I think your opinion is going to mean a lot more to John than mine." Scott said honestly.
"Yeah, give, what do you think about it? If I was to come back here, how could I make it better?" John asked with a playful smile.
Ronny almost missed the desperation that was hiding in the back of John's eyes.
"I don't know what you should do. Maybe find someone... one person who you can trust. Like an anchor, then while you've got that one person who's got your back, you can check out other people and maybe find some more you can relate to." Ronny said in thought.
"Like who?" John asked hopefully.
"Like me." Ronny said timidly.
"Yeah, well it's a nice dream. But the most that dreams will get you are sticky sheets." John said sourly and looked away.
* * * * *
Andrew stood and said loudly, "May I have everyone's attention?"
All the conversations quieted as Andrew continued, "My father Lee is visiting with us today and I've invited him to stay here with us. He didn't give me an answer yet, and I think he needs to know how you all feel about it."
"I think it would be great if you could stay. I know Andy loves having you here." Alan said with a warm smile.
"Remy tink Lee be good for de children." Remy said seriously.
"Yeah, and it'll be good to have someone older living here... even if he does look younger than me." Xander said with a chuckle.
"We could use the extra hands with all the kids." Scott said with a smile.
"How are you at changing diapers?" Alex asked with a chuckle.
"It's been a few years, but I think I still remember what goes where." Lee said with a teasing twinkle in his eye.
"Kids? You know how it is, if you have any problem, you need to let us know now." Andrew said across the room.
"I would like for grandfather to stay with us." Robert said happily.
"I too would like for grandfather to stay." Trey said calmly.
After a moment of silence, Andrew asked, "Anyone else?"
Janine walked across the room to Lee's side and asked, "Are you really my grandfather?"
"Yes. I really am. I'm your father's father." Lee said gently.
"If you stay with us will you tell me stories?" Janine asked hopefully.
"Sure, I know a lot of stories." Lee said with love.
"Then I want grandfather to stay too." Janine said to Andrew.
"Okay dad, the votes are in. Now all we're waiting for is for you to decide." Andrew said with hope in his voice.
"Yeah. I'll stay."
* * * * *
The sound of a cell phone ringing interrupted the meal.
"Excuse me." Warren said shyly and got up from his seat, careful not to smack anyone with his wings as he moved away from the table.
"Yes, that's right."
"Excellent... Set up a meeting, as soon as possible."
"That won't be a problem... And have the paperwork written up to form a partnership on the project... Fifty fifty... Alexander Wainwright... Yes, I found him. In fact I'm having lunch with him and his husband right this minute."
"Just a second." Warren said then walked back to the table and asked Ken quietly, "Ken, can I have the partnership paperwork forwarded to you?"
Ken nodded and pulled a small case from his chest pocket. He withdrew a card and handed it to Warren.
Warren took the card and walked away from the table again.
"Mr. Wainwright's attorney is named Kenneth Howlett. When the paperwork is complete, send it to him."
"I need for you to leak information about this to a few key people... No, more like educators, liberal media and maybe one of the human rights organizations. Hopefully that will get some of those who are most in need queued up at the front door the day we open, and if anyone inquires who is in desperate need, get in touch with me immediately and I'll see that they're taken care of until we're ready." Warren said seriously.
"Yeah, full speed on this one. As it stands, we're first in line on this. If we do this right, the public will end up associating the concept of mutant education automatically with the name Wagner... Yeah, get PR all over it, full blast."
"Thanks Rome, you've really earned the outrageous amount of money I pay you today. I'll wait for your call about the meeting. Bye."
Warren shut off the cell phone and went back to the table where everyone was staring with question.
"I made a few calls this morning. My assistant found a little college a few miles from here that's on the brink of closing it's doors. It is privately owned, has a minimal staff and a full campus. The dean, Dr. Hoffman, was enthusiastic at the prospect of us keeping the college open." Warren said as he carefully took his seat again.
Everyone looked at Warren with shock.
"You *were* serious weren't you?" Warren asked hesitantly.
Xander snapped out of his shock first and said, "Yeah, but we talked about this at three this morning and you've already got paperwork being drawn up... I don't know, do you always move this fast?"
"Not always, but we're going to be the first to open a public 'Mutant Friendly' school. If we move quickly, we'll be established before anyone can rally support against us. And, the best case scenario involves us opening satellite campuses to accommodate the overwhelming need." Warren said, then took a bite of his food.
"What are we going to do about the staff that's already there?" Xander asked carefully.
"We're going to talk to them, one by one, and find out how they feel about mutants. If they are mutant friendly, we'll keep them on... I need to talk to the Professor about hiring away some of his teachers. We're going to need mutant teachers too..." Warren trailed off, obviously thinking outloud.
"I don't think that will be a problem. We have a few to spare." Scott said from the other table.
"Good... I'm sorry that I interrupted the meal. No more business till after dessert. I promise." Warren said shyly.
"That's fine Warren, the way you're going you'll probably have the doors open and the first students sitting in the classrooms waiting for us by the end of the meal." Alex said with a teasing smile.
"I could." Warren said arrogantly, then broke into a smile.
* * * * *
"What's he talking about?" Ronny asked Scott quietly.
"Warren, Kurt and Xander are going to open a new school. It's a place where mutants don't have to hide, but it's open to non-mutants too." Scott said seriously.
"Will it be like this place? I mean, will there be... dorms or something?" Ronny asked carefully.
"I don't know... Warren, do you know if the new school is set up with dorms?" Scott asked more loudly.
"Yes, there are four dorm buildings." Warren said as he looked over from the other table.
"Do you think I could go there?" Ronny asked in thought.
"Kurt, I think we have your first student here." Scott said with a smile.
"Zat is good. As soon as ze paperwork is signed, you vill be enrolled." Kurt said immediately.
Ronny nodded, then slumped.
"I can't pay for it." Ronny said quietly.
"I'm sure Mom will pay, like she does for me." Bobby said with assurance.
"Mom and Dad cut you off the minute they found out you were a mutant. They talked about what they would do when you showed up on their doorstep." Ronny said to his brother.
"What were they going to do?" Bobby asked darkly.
"I don't know it all, but some of it involved jumper cables." Ronny said, trying to hide his emotion.
"So they haven't been paying my way here?" Bobby asked and turned to Scott for explanation.
"No Bobby. They haven't sent any money since the incident. The professor and I decided that you could stay." Scott said quietly.
"So I'm a charity case." Bobby said with shame.
"No. You're family." Scott said with assurance.
* * * * *
Wesley walked into the common room to find Marie and Ethan watching a movie.
"Excuse me, where might I find Andrew? I need to make a request of him." Wesley asked distractedly.
"He's at the boathouse. It's at the other side of the property." Marie said as she turned her attention to Wesley.
"Could you possibly show me the way? I cannot continue my research without his assistance." Wesley said seriously.
"I'll show you the path Wesley." Ethan said eagerly.
"Thank you young man." Wesley said with a genuine smile.
Ethan got up and led Wesley out the door.
* * * * *
Andrew got up from his empty plate and walked to the other table.
"What did everyone think of the food?" Andrew asked hopefully.
"I enjoyed the potatoes. All the toppings were appealing." Icheb said happily.
"The soup was my favorite." Trey said peacefully.
Andrew turned his gaze to Robert, waiting for his response, and noticed his lovestruck gaze fixed on Bobby.
"Robert, could I talk to you for a minute?" Andrew asked forcefully.
Robert snapped out of his trance state and followed Andrew to the bedroom.
* * * * *
As Robert walked away, Scott looked at Ronny and came to a decision.
"Ronny, if you want to go to the new school or this one, I'll see to it that you can... but there are going to be some conditions." Scott said firmly.
"Okay, like what?" Ronny asked with a tone of challenge.
"As long as you're a full time student and maintain a 2.0 or better grade point average, your tuition, books and housing will be paid. You will also receive a monthly stipend for additional expenses, like clothes or whatever you decide to use it for. When you turn sixteen, the stipend will stop and you will be expected to get a part time job to pay for your own extras. When you turn eighteen, you will be expected to pay for your housing. But the remainder of the offer stays in effect. As long as you remain a full time student and maintain your grades, your tuition and books will continue to be paid, even if you decide to go on to law school or medical school." Scott said seriously.
"What if I screw up?" Ronny asked hesitantly.
"Then it's over. If you drop classes and become less than a full-time student, or if your grades drop below 2.0, then you're done. You can either leave or find a way to pay for it yourself. You won't get a second chance. This *is* your second chance. Take the time to think about what you really want and let me know when you've decided." Scott said then turned his attention back to his meal.
"Dude, you gotta take this, it's gold." John said quickly.
"What?" Ronny asked in confusion.
"What he's offering, I'd give my left nut for a chance like that. Dude, I've been living in the real world for a couple months and I'm here to tell you, it sucks ass. Don't nobody care about what you're going through, the only things you get is what you get for yourself... God, there's been a few days when I couldn't scrape enough money together to eat. Food man, I didn't have food. Your life is getting pretty shitty when you're looking at dumpsters and thinking that maybe it wouldn't be so bad to dig in there and find something to eat. What he's offering you is a place where you can live, have food, have some pocket money, and get enough education so you don't end up a waste... like me." John finished in a whisper.
Scott continued to eat and tried to hide the fact that he was listening to every word.
"But what if I screw it up? I'm not that good in school." Ronny said quietly.
"Get help. There's people here that will help you, all you got to do is ask. They won't charge you money or even look at you funny. If you're having trouble with math, then someone good with math will sit down with you an hour each day and help you. All you gotta do is your part, which is go to class and really try." John said with desperation in his voice.
"Why are you so freaked by this?" Ronny asked in nearly a whisper.
"Cause I fucked up my free ride. Now I gotta pay full price. When I left, I screwed up my financial junk. None of the welfare programs or grants or nothin will pay for me to come here no more. Take this offer and you can come and visit me in a couple years and see who got the best deal. You'll be working toward your college degree while I'm wearing a paper hat and asking some yahoo if he wants to super-size his meal." John said with pain in his voice.
Ronny thought about what John was saying and about his current situation.
"Okay, I'll go for it. And I'll make sure to really try. Most of the reason I wasn't good in school before is because I was screwing around instead of trying to do good." Ronny said honestly.
"If you feel like screwing around, just let me know. I'll take you to the house where me and some of the guys crash. After you've seen how I live every day, you'll want to try harder than ever. Dude, I'm living the future that's waiting for you if you pass this up." John said honestly.
"I think I'd like to see where you live... I think I need to see it." Ronny said quietly.
"Just say the word and I'll show it to you. Dude, this is important. This is your life you're deciding." John said imploringly.
Ronny nodded and stared out into space.
* * * * *
After pointing Wesley down the right path, Ethan went back into the mansion.
Wesley looked around the grounds of the Institute and admired the scenery. A peaceful feeling washed over him as he casually made his way down the path toward the boathouse.
* * * * *
"Are you going to call mom and let her know you're okay?" Bobby asked Ronny quietly, which jolted him out of his thoughts.
Ronny thought about it and turned to Scott to ask, "Does she think I'm dead?"
"Yeah." Scott said quietly.
Ronny nodded and thought for a moment before saying, "Good. I want to leave it that way."
At Bobby's look of question, Ronny continued, "Bobby, when they found out you were a mutant, they said you were dead to them. Now I'm a mutant, so I'm dead too. At least this way I don't give her the satisfaction of disowning me."
"Do you really think she'd do that?" Bobby asked with a furrow of worry in his brow.
"The house was burned down last night, right?" Ronny asked Bobby and Scott collectively.
"And as far as she knows Dad and I died in the fire. Right?" Ronny asked the pair.
Scott nodded again.
"She hasn't called. Your father and brother died in a fire and she hasn't called you. What does that tell you?" Ronny said with pain.
"That I'm dead to her." Bobby said in realization.
"So I guess we're the corpse brothers." Ronny said with forced humor.
"I'm surprised that when they decided I was dead to them that they didn't call me so they could get the pleasure of hurting me." Bobby said as he looked into a distant place only he could see.
"They wanted to, but thought it would hurt you more if you found out by yourself." Ronny said and pushed his plate away, suddenly not hungry.
"It would have been if I didn't have another family, a better family." Bobby said and smiled at Scott.
"Good for you bro." Ronny said with a weak smile.
"Good for us. Just because I'm part of their family doesn't make you any less my brother." Bobby said seriously.
"But after all the stuff I said... They don't want me here." Ronny said in quiet shame.
"That's something you'll have to get used to with this family. They're not like our family was. These people will forgive you. They'll love you no matter who or what you are. I know it's hard to understand, I'm just coming to terms with it myself." Bobby said seriously.
Scott looked at Bobby with question.
"Mom and Dad did this thing, it was like a mind game, 'You be what we want you to be or we won't love you anymore'. If they were pissed, they would act like they didn't love us. We just didn't notice they were manipulating us because it's all we ever knew." Bobby said to Scott, then turned his attention to Ronny, "These people practice unconditional love. Once they love you, they won't stop. If you piss them off, they'll be angry, but they'll still love you. It'll take some time to get used to it, but just look around you and you'll see it in the way they deal with each other."
Ronny and John both looked around the room and saw everyone talking pleasantly, enjoying each others company.
"It's freaky. I thought stuff like this only happened on TV. I didn't think any family actually got along like this." Ronny said seriously.
John nodded in confirmation of the statement.
"I know. It took me a while to understand what it was that fascinated me about this family. Then I realized what it was. The love..." Bobby said, then turned to Trey with an inquisitive expression.
"Trey, what would happen if you told one of your fathers that you felt like a woman trapped in a mans body and wanted to dress as a woman and be called Loretta?" Bobby asked seriously.
Trey thought only for a second, then said, "They would discuss the consequences of such a choice, then allow me the freedom to choose and support my decision."
"See? He's right, that's what they would do." Bobby said simply.
Ronny nodded silently.
"What would Mom and Dad do if you told them the same thing?" Bobby asked Ronny.
Ronny smiled and said, "After the screaming fit, maybe getting beat up a little, they would tell me to get out of their house and never come back."'
"Yeah, that's about right." Bobby said seriously.
"What about you John?" Ronny asked curiously.
"I'm pretty sure dad would try to beat the gay out of me." John said seriously.
* * * * *
"Robert, I need you to tell me what's going on." Andrew said with worry.
"I'm in love with Bobby." Robert said in a dreamy, happy tone.
"I know. But why are you floating on air?" Andrew asked with a furrow of worry.
"Bobby loves me." Robert said with delight.
Andrew's serious look broke and he pulled Robert into a hug.
"That's great little man. But can you try to tone down the cow eyes expression a little?" Andrew asked quietly.
"I don't think I can." Robert said as he enjoyed the hug.
"Please try. Having you look all lovestruck is a distraction. Please try and be your normal self, I promise that when the guests leave, you can get as soppy and dreamy as you want... you might even think about getting with Jimmy and writing some poetry." Andrew said with a smile.
"Poetry? I had not thought of that. Thank you Father." Robert said happily.
"Can you behave normally now?" Andrew asked as he pulled Robert out of the hug.
"Yes, I believe I can behave normally. I am just so happy that it is difficult to contain." Robert said softly.
"Do you want to know a little secret?" Andrew asked and squatted to look into Robert's eyes.
Robert nodded with a smile.
"The way that you're feeling right now, that's what I feel for your dad every day. And every now and then, I can't contain my happiness either." Andrew said with a look of peace.
Robert's eyes went wide as he thought back on some of the past actions and expressions of his father.
"You feel this every day?" Robert asked in wonder.
"Every day." Andrew confirmed with his own dreamy, cow eyed expression.
"Father, please help me to have what you have." Robert begged.
"That's why I'm asking you to go slow and be sure. As good as this feels now, if it isn't real love, it will hurt so bad... Take the time to do this right, then you have the rest of your life to enjoy it." Andrew said with love.
"I will Father. Thank you... I love you." Robert finished in a whisper.
"I love you too, little man. Now let's get back to the dinner. We've still got dessert." Andrew said as he pulled Robert to his side and guided him to the door.
As Andrew opened the door, Robert asked again, "Every day?"
* * * * *
As Andrew and Robert walked out of the bedroom, there was a knock on the front door.
"We've got it." Andrew said and guided Robert to walk with him to the front door.
"Wesley! Come in. We're just having lunch, would you like to join us?" Andrew asked pleasantly as he ushered Wesley into the room.
"No thank you. I just had a sandwich." Wesley said as he looked at the groups around all the tables.
"Then will you join us for dessert?" Andrew asked as they walked to the tables.
"Yes. Thank you." Wesley said as he looked for a place to sit.
"Robert, would you get the chair from the desk in my room for Wesley?" Andrew asked as he released his hold on Robert's shoulder.
Robert responded by running to Andrew's bedroom.
"You can sit here." Alex said and scooted his chair to make space at the end of the table.
"Thank you." Wesley said, a little overwhelmed by the acceptance.
Robert carried the chair into the room and at Alex's motion, he brought it to the end of the table.
"We be ready for dessert." Remy said and stood.
Alex, Scott, Xander and Andrew automatically followed Remy into the kitchen.
Alan noticed Vada's curious look and said, "Aunt Vada, I would like you to meet Wesley Wyndom-Price, Wesley, this is Vada Jeffers."
"A pleasure." Wesley said as he half turned in his chair.
"Are you a member of this family too?" Vada asked curiously.
"No, just a visitor." Wesley said shyly.
"But if he ever needs a family, he's got one waiting for him here." Alan added with a smile.
Wesley looked at Alan in stunned amazement.
"When you're ready." Alan said with a shrug.
Wesley nodded, then turned back to the table when Alex sat a plate before him then placed one before Aunt Vada.
"Oh my goodness, I haven't had a cherry cobbler in ages. This looks wonderful." Vada said in delight as she looked at the cobbler and ice cream.
"Yes, and fresh from the oven, unless I miss my guess." Ken said happily.
Alex sat a plate of green Jell-O before Icheb, Trey and Robert.
Ronny crinkled his nose at the sight.
"Would you like to try some?" Trey asked with a teasing smile.
"I fell for that one once already." Ronny said with a chuckle.
Trey and Icheb both took a bite and stopped in wonder at the flavor of the Jell-O.
Alex took his seat again after delivering the last of the food.
"Uncle Alex? Did you prepare this?" Icheb asked curiously.
"Yes, why?" Alex asked as he took a bite of his cobbler.
"Would you show me how to prepare this? I find it to be pleasing." Icheb said happily.
"Sure, remind me tomorrow and I'll show anyone who wants to learn how to make it." Alex said with a smile.