Ben Reilly watched them from the counter and he found his eyes drawn more and more frequently to Kitty Pryde. He had only known her a few weeks, but there was something about her that he couldn’t quite get a handle on, some special little secret that she held close to herself. Ben had his fair share of secrets, for one, he wasn’t technically human, he was a clone, a genetic copy of Peter Parker, the costumed adventurer Spider-man, which led to the second little secret, a tendency to climb up walls and jump around like a jackrabbit.
Ben continued to stand silently behind the counter, watching the girls as they talked. He didn’t even notice Jenny until she was standing right behind him. He turned around, a distracted look on his face.
“Ben, there’s no one else here at the moment, why don’t you take a break and join in that lively debate over there?” She whispered.
“Um…I would love to but I have to buff some tables, ma’am.” He replied with a mock grin.
Jenny punched his arm. “You’re a young man, and new to the city, go and make some friends.”
Ben reluctantly left the counter and drifted slowly towards the booth. He caught little snatches of their conversation, and heard the word “mutant”. As he approached the table, Kitty looked up at him.
“Hi Ben,” she said. “We’re okay for coffee at the moment thanks.”
Ben ignored Kitty’s comment, “I was wondering if I could join you for a few minutes, things are quiet so Jen gave me a break.”
Kitty was immediately apologetic, “I’m sorry, I thought…I didn’t mean…” she stammered, embarrassed that she had offended Ben with such an off-hand comment, way to go girl, make the man feel really welcome.
It was Lisa who spoke next, “Certainly, maybe you can give us an insight.” She looked over at Kitty, a stern look on her face. Kitty had the decency to look sorry.
Ben slid into the booth next to Kitty, “Sure, I’d love to help. I heard you saying about mutants, so what’s the deal?”
Lisa replied, “Our assignment is to debate the proposed bill for mutant rights, basically, we choose our stance and offer up our arguments.” She motioned to Joanne beside her, “Jo and I are debating the neutral stance, taking the best arguments of both sides. Kate there is going for the pro mutant stance.”
“So, what’s your views?” Lisa asked.
“Well, the thing that always got me,” Ben began, “was the fact that mutants are seen as this major threat to humanity yet at the same time, if you consider enhanced humans, such as the Fantastic Four or Captain America, people revere them.”
“Mutants are born with their abilities, and they manifest at puberty, so where is the great difference between that and someone who gains his or her “powers” through artificial means? At best, mutants are demonised because humans need someone to blame.” Ben paused for a moment. “It’s human nature to fear change, and mutants are seen as the next step up the ladder from Homo Sapiens, and that alone generates a certain amount of animosity.”
Kitty was speechless, she did admit that she had preconceptions of Ben, she had assumed that he wasn’t particularly intelligent yet his argument was coherent, and what’s more, similar to her own feelings on the matter.
Ben must have noticed her puzzled expression. He leaned over and whispered in her ear, “I may work in a coffee shop but that doesn’t mean I can’t hold a conversation.” Kitty blushed, even more embarrassed by her behaviour, “Sorry,” she whispered back.
Ben smiled; the tense moment had passed. Lisa took her cue and began to speak, “Nice ideas you have there, but what about you personally? Do you think mutants should be controlled?”
“Good question.” He replied. “There’s just one thing; part of the problem I have noticed with human/mutant relations is the fact that there are human/mutant relations.”
Joanne and Lisa looked puzzled. “What do you mean?” Joanne asked.
“Simple, mutants are human, they may be gifted but they still have feelings, desires, still have a soul. The main problem is that mutants themselves tend to sequester themselves away from the world. Look at that guy Xavier, he has a school in Westchester, exclusively for mutants. Genosha was a country considered a safe haven for mutants. My point is, there shouldn’t be a divide, mutants are human so why call themselves by a different name?” Ben took a breath.
“Mutants are persecuted, it isn’t right, but at the same time, they continue to propagate the idea that they are different from humans, sometimes better than humans. A bill for mutant rights won’t solve the problem, it’ll widen the divide, mutants should be accepted as normal people, not as a separate race.”
The three girls digested what Ben had said. Kitty had to grudgingly admit he was right, she had spent so many years in the X-Men that she automatically considered herself a mutant, like it was a title. It was only when she came to Chicago that she realised what it meant to be human. She had her own fears and the pain she felt after Moira and Piotr died was very real. She wasn’t inhuman; she was just a young woman, like Lisa or Joanne, just with a different upbringing.
Ben was a little dubious of the silence so he spoke, “Well, that’s just the way I see it, and I tend to ramble on sometimes, just don’t know when to shut up.”
“No,” Lisa said, “I’ve just never heard that point of view before. She looked thoughtful for a minute, “So you think that there should be no distinction between human and mutant, that the term mutant shouldn’t even be used?”
“Pretty much.” He answered.
“Can I maybe use a bit of that argument?” Lisa asked.
“Go ahead.” Ben said.
Kitty cleared her throat. “You do make some good points, Ben, but some might see that as an attempt to block a mutant rights bill.”
“Actually, it’s more to ensure that people who consider themselves mutants are protected by basic human rights, rather than a separate set of rules.”
“Yes, I know,” Kitty replied, “But the distinction exists, that something that’s difficult to deal with.”
“Well, the mutant race needs better PR.” Ben met Kitty’s eyes for a moment. “Charles Xavier had the right idea, he revealed his…heritage, and I even saw the news report that was held in Westchester, yes, there were journalists who were very biased against mutants, but for the most part, people were impressed. Jean Grey seems to know what she’s doing, they are educating those youngsters how to control their abilities.”
“An when you think about it, what defines a mutant, their appearance? Mutation exists, more so in this day and age after all the nuclear testing, so what defines a mutant?”
“Their abilities, I suppose, being able to do something beyond the capabilities of normal human achievement.” Replied Kitty.
“What about twins?” Ben asked. “That can be considered a mutation. Or someone who has one blue eye and one green eye, again, that could be a mutation, and what about someone who is double-jointed? The list can go on.”
Lisa and Joanne jotted down some notes, about what Ben was saying. Then Joanne looked at her watch, and nudged Lisa. Joanne spoke, “Sorry Kitty, Ben, we kind of have to be somewhere.”
“I’ll see you two tomorrow in class then.” Kitty said.
Lisa and Joanne said their goodbyes and paid their bill. Then it was just Kitty and Ben. He slid around to the other side of the table, so he was now facing Kitty.
“I’d better get back to work.” He said.
“Ben,” Kitty began, “about earlier…I really am sorry, I didn’t mean to judge you.”
Ben regarded her face, saw the sincerity of her apology. He offered her a smile, “Don’t worry, I get that all the time, the thing is, I like working here, reminds me of a part of my life that’s lost to me now. Funny, I’m a guy who hot with biochemistry and micro-electronics and I work in a coffee shop.”
He stood up; “Do you need anything else?”
“I’m fine, I’ll just get some more writing done.” Kitty looked back to her notes.
Ben worked diligently for the next few hours, polishing tables, taking orders, and cooking. It was dinnertime and the shop was starting to get busy, people dropping in to grab a bite to eat or just meeting friends after work. Kitty left at five while Ben and Jenny handled the rush of customers with ease.
It was getting near closing time when Kitty returned. She sat down on one of the stools at the counter. Jenny and her had a brief conversation before Jenny, deciding to leave the two alone, ensured Ben would lock up for the night.
Ben cleaned up the kitchen and then sat down on the stool next to Kitty. Without a word, she leaned over and kissed him gently on the lips. Ben was surprised at first but he started to return the kiss, until Kitty pushed him away, she quickly turned her head but Ben could see tears in her eyes. Concerned, he reached out to her, but she drew away from his touch, “Kate, what’s wrong?”
She faced him then, her lower lip trembling, her voice quiet, “I’m sorry…I shouldn’t have done that, I just can’t…”
Ben held out his hand, “Hey, it’s okay, come on, tell me what’s bothering you.”
So she did. Kitty told him about the past year, although she omitted any references to the X-Men or being a mutant herself. She told him how she had left a private school to come to university, how her close friend Moira had died, how she then had to deal with the deaths of her two ex-boyfriends. She told Ben how she felt, how she had been attracted to him, had thought she was ready to move on. After she finished her tale, Ben held her silently, not saying anything, just letting her know that she wasn’t alone.
The door to the coffee shop opened again. Kitty and Ben both turned around, startled by the noise, still holding each other. The young woman who entered the building was dressed in jeans and a dark red shirt, with a Chinese dragon design down the left side. She was petite, with shining blue-black hair, and oriental features.
“You two aren’t sucking face, are you?” she asked.
Kitty looked shocked, “Jubilee!” she cried. “No, we aren’t.”
“What?” Jubilee asked impatiently, then she noticed that Kitty had been crying, so she softened. “You okay, ghosty?”
Kitty nodded and wiped her eyes. Ben walked over, “So you’re Jubilee.” He offered her his hand. “Ben Reilly, nice to meet you.”
Jubilee took the hand and shook it, then she looked over at Kitty again, “You’re right, he does look like a surfer.”
Kitty blushed crimson. Ben just laughed again. “She’s funny, I like her,” he said to Kitty.
“Wait ’til I get started,” she warned, “this is me tired and sleepy.”
“Well, I have to lock up but I can walk you both home.” Ben said.
Jubilee looked at Ben curiously, “Yeah, okay, I guess so.”
Ben locked the till and then grabbed three muffins from the counter; he tossed one to Kitty and one to Jubilee, then bit into one himself. Turning the lights off, he locked the front door and pulled the outdoor shutters down.