Left Of Center
He bought her a music box.
It's short and dark and glossy -- he says it reminded
him of her hair in the sunlight when he first saw it,
and she wonders if that's why he decided to buy it,
but can never quite muster up the courage to ask --
the wood is too inexpensive for her to know it by
sight or feel, and the grain is rough against her
fingertips and embeds splinters beneath the skin when
she tries, and that makes her curse and vow to put it
in some dark corner of her closet and forget all about
it, and yet...
She always ends up with it on her bedside table,
gleaming like some dark sin -- chocolate or leather or
the mud-facials Jubilee is always trying to persuade
her to try; something wicked or luxuriant, something
tempting that certainly shouldn't be in such close
proximity to her at night -- and whispering to her to
touch it, to open it, to simply indulge in the sheer
delight of it.
Her hand hovers over it every evening before she moves
to switch off the light and the tip of her nail
brushes over the lid for a moment, sending vibrations,
silky and pleasant, down her fingers to her palms.
Then she presses her hands together and closes her
eyes; she's imagining his hands on her body, his lips
soothing the abrasions his gift has left on her skin.
She falls asleep thinking about his touch, cool and
lovely, and the music box, gleaming with heat and
desire. The two entwine together in her mind until
her dreams are filled with images of making love in
the chill of the Arctic, thrusting and plunging and
rolling into fire and sweat and overwhelming passion.
She wakes up after those dreams with her palms and her
belly and her thighs moist with sweat and something
more. She wants something more, and on those days
it's easy to forget that she isn't beautiful or sexy
or intriguing, it's easy to forget that she's not the
sort of woman to inspire men to heights of
overwhelming ardour or to be overwhelming, period.
Her reminder comes in the form of Jean and Ororo and
Rogue, the truly lovely, the everything, and she
glances into the mirror after brushing her teeth,
knowing that she won't see what they're seeing, she
won't see beauty; instead her reflection gazes back at
her with tired brown eyes, with acceptance, of all
that she isn't, and all that she'll never be.
Still, she sits on her bed in the warmth of the
afternoon sun, placing her gift just out of the sun's
reach, and it catches a stray shaft of light and
glistens to her like a promise, a fantasy, a decadent
dream. She smiles and shakes her head at her fanciful
thoughts and gently leans the lid against the wall as
the music begins to play.
And she doesn't recognize the tune, but it's slow and
sweet and something she can hum along to as she paints
her toenails Princess Pink and reads the next chapter
of her molecular biology textbook. She's a few
chapters ahead of the class, but it can't hurt to be
prepared and besides, knowledge is the one thing she
has, intelligence is her defining characteristic.
Who would she be if she wasn't the Brain? Who would
need her then, who would want her? The knock on the
door is an only too-welcome interruption of her
thoughts, and when his baritone ripples through the
air to her, she flushes and quickly sets the
nailpolish down on her bedside table, too excited at
the thought of his presence in her room, with her,
to remember to place the wand back in the bottle and
screw it shut.
"Hey," he greets, calmly, surveying her form
half-reclining on the bed, toes spread apart by cotton
balls and carefully lifted away from the bedspread.
He asks, with that endearing quirk of his lips, "You
She can feel her cheeks heating and closes the
textbook, then motions him forward with a flip of her
hand that, naturally, slaps into the table with an
embarrassing knock of knuckles and scrape of skin
before her hand phases through the wood, too late.
She hears the sound of a slick roll and a thump and
realizes, too late, what it is that created that
precise orchestra of noise.
She doesn't want to look, doesn't want to see what her
carelessness has cost her, yet finds she's unable to
cast her eyes in any other direction.
The music box twinkles on, lovely as ever, and she
discovers that the nailpolish bottle has spilled a
drop of color onto the table, but the horror, the true
destruction, is that the wand has brushed the side of
the box with a line of pink. It's faint, barely a
smudge, but she can see it, and she'll forever know
that she could have prevented it if she'd only, only
She closes the nailpolish bottle, then, not wanting to
see it again, drops it into the wastebasket beside her
bed. She vows to remove the color from her toes, but
she doesn't know how to fix the box. She doesn't know
how to undo what she's done.
"I'm such a klutz," she says miserably, and thinks
that this is a fitting ending to her not-even-begun
relationship with Bobby; her clumsiness destroying her
one true thing of beauty. Typical. She manages to
ruin everything of worth that she has ever had, why
does she keep expecting that to change?
"Kit," he sits down on the bed and places his hand on
hers, and she's ashamed that while she should be
castigating herself, instead she's remembering her
dreams of flames and lust and wanting.
He reaches over and closes the lid of the music box,
picks it up, rests it between them. "It hasn't been
sanded down," he says, running his forefinger over the
top and wincing at the rough texture. "I should have
done it before I gave it to you, but... I was too
eager, I guess. Thank God I have an excuse to do it
"I'm sorry." She whispers it and knows that the words
are inadequate even as she's speaking them, but she
doesn't know what else to say, she doesn't know how to
make it right again.
"For what?" He asks, sounding surprised. She keeps
her gaze locked onto the pink smear on the dark wood
and tries to ignore the faint dread swirling around
her breastbone. "For this?" he taps the nailpolish
mark and lifts his hands to her face, forces her to
look at him. "Kit, I know I haven't exactly been Mr.
Clarity, but you know why I gave you the music box,
"It- it was a gesture of friendship," she says, though
she's always hoped it was more than that, because it's
always meant more than that to her.
He shakes his head and says, "You're smarter than
that. It's not just friendship, not just me telling a
girl that I like her, that I want to be with her. I
have... well, I have feelings for you, Kitty. God,
how could I not? You're so... you're so special; you
just pour your warmth, your light, into the world
Even this, this nailpolish mark, it's proof of how
unique you are, how everything you do improves the
quality of your surroundings, makes life remarkable.
He leans forward and kisses her, a soft brush of lips,
smooth and cool against her own, and she knows she's
going to cry soon, because his words are so lovely, so
perfect, and the very thought that he might like her
even half as much as she likes him fills her with
something she doesn't recognize at first, because she
hasn't felt it very often.
Contentment. Not a feeling she has when she's alone,
but a feeling he evokes in her, along with the fire
and the emotion she's now willing to admit to herself
is love; it's as though he fills her empty spaces with
himself and joins the pieces of the jigsaw that have
never quite fitted together.
She smiles, because she might not be beautiful or sexy
or intriguing, but Bobby cares about her, he wants her
as she is. And for the first time, she thinks that
perhaps simply being Kitty Pryde is enough.
Kitty Pryde. Nail Polish. Content.