For a few moments, Claire thought maybe she'd ended up back on her world after all. She'd never been to New York, and she never realized how huge the city actually was.
Luckily, she arrived a couple of blocks south of the train station, and the few dollars she had in her pocket from her last paycheck was just enough for a ticket to Long Island. As she collected the thirty-five cents change, she said a silent prayer of thanks that Mister Seguchi gave her a job at the studio. She couldn't understand why some people were afraid of the man; he was always so nice to her.
It was late enough in the evening that she had the car pretty much to herself. The only other occupants were busy trying to take out each others' tonsils, and Claire spent the entire time reading the graffiti in the car and trying not to think about the last time she'd kissed Kurt.
When she finally arrived at the sprawling estate that was Bayville, it was well past midnight. Claire stood outside the grand building almost an hour, telling herself that yes, she did belong.
"Isn't it a little late to be selling Girl Scout cookies?"
Claire squeaked and turned toward the sound of the deep voice, squinting to try to make out who was lurking in the shadows.
"No, I... I was told to come here. D'you always hide in the dark like that?"
The man moved into the light, and Claire took a step back. He was tall and burly, and a worn hat was pulled low over his eyes.
"I smelled something and came to investigate. It stinks like swamp water."
Claire ducked her head so the man wouldn't see her grin.
"Are you the Professor? Kurt said I should talk to him."
"Yes, sir. Kurt Wagner. He told me about this place."
"How do you know the elf?"
"Elf?" Claire did her best to mask her giggle behind a cough, but she suspected the man caught her slip. She noted a sparkle in his eyes when he lifted his hat slightly to get a better look at her. But...
Did he just sniff?
"It's late," the man grumbled. "Professor’s asleep. Why don't you come back in the morning... After you've cleaned up."
Her throat constricted as she coked on her reply. "I-I don't. Have anywhere else to go..."
"Logan, bring the girl inside."
Claire peeked around the stranger and looked toward the source of the new – kind – voice. The front door of the Institute was open and a man in a wheelchair was perched at the top of the steps. The light from inside the building cast heavy shadows across his face, but Claire... knew he was smiling.
"Come along, Claire," he beckoned. "You can clean up and rest first, and we'll talk in the morning."
"Can't we hose her down outside first?" the man - Logan - grumbled as she walked past him. "She smells like the Swamp Thing!"
She gave him a wide berth, and climbed the stairs toward the front door. If the gentleman in the wheelchair was offended by her smell, he didn't let on.
"How d'you know my name? Are you the Professor?"
"I’m Professor George Xavier, yes," he smiled and ushered her into the large entryway - ignoring her first question. "Welcome to Bayville. So, you know our Kurt?"
"Yes, sir. I’ve known him about seven months. Um, we met at camp-"
"Seven months?" Logan shouted. "What're you talking about, kid? He's only been gone a few days!"
"It's true!" Claire snapped. "But. ...it's kinda hard to explain. We were in Louisiana, and..."
"Louisiana? Charles, this kid's obviously on something, if she thinks we're gonna buy that load of-"
"Logan, she’s telling the truth," The professor interrupted. "And it sounds like they've had quite the adventure." He gestured toward the staircase and smiled at Claire. "Logan will show you to a guest room, Claire. You can tell us all about the camp after breakfast."
Claire bit her lip and blinked to keep the tears at bay.
"Thank you," she whispered. "Kurt said this would be a better place for me."
The professor took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "You'll be safe here, Claire. We'll see you in the morning." He nodded at Logan, then turned his wheelchair away, heading farther down the hallway.
"Come on, Stinky," Logan grumbled, taking the stairs three at a time.
"I don’t stink!" she sulked as she ran to keep up with him.