RED HAIR AND QUESADILLAS
See previous email for full notes. If this is all run
together, the story is also available here:
"What?" I glance around, trying to play dumb.
Jean half-laughs at me as she glances out the door
after the red-head who just exited. The one who I'd
been following with my eyes as she browsed the little
Caught again. These damn shades are just useless with
We exit, too, leave the rustic jumble of overpriced
soap and maple syrup, calico dolls and Amish quilts
and wooden tourist nicknacks couched in pretty
displays on sanitized hay. Smiling, her fingers lace
through mine as we amble down a sidewalk outside art
shops in the renovated Salem Center Marketplace.
"What is it about you and red-heads?" She's still
struggling not to laugh.
"I may be on a diet, but I can still read the menu," I
"You've used that line before. It's a day old and a
week stale. At least you're not looking at blondes."
"Not into Kansas Corn Queens, thank you. Strictly
classy women with red hair and great legs who look
really sexy in tight sweaters." Absently, I tuck the
tag down in the back of hers.
She does laugh then as we pause to survey the display
window for a . . . what? . . . *Knitting* store? Good
god. How can there be an entire store devoted to
*yarn*? The store beyond sells glass art: cast,
blown, and bevel-cut windows. I drag her over to look
at that. If we ever do get a house and can quit
playing residence hall parents at the mansion, I want
to put a bevel-glass window in our front door. She
leaves me standing there, slips into the Christmas
shop on the other side with a "I'll just be a minute."
I hate Christmas shops, so I enter the glass shop
instead. The owner watches me cautiously. I learned
a long time ago that when a man alone walks into a
store and doesn't remove his sunglasses, the counter
help gets antsy. That's one reason I dress the way I
do. I appear less threatening in button-downs and
cardigans. The shades and my leather jacket really
make people nervous. "Can I help you?" the woman
I smile at her � the �charming smile' I use sometimes.
I'm not oblivious to what it gets me. "No, thanks.
I was just admiring."
She smiles back, and Jean has appeared in the open
door, backlit by autumn sun. "Scott, hon? You
ready?" I follow her out to continue our afternoon of
This four-block-square strip called the Marketplace is
the heart of the town's recent attempt �to revitalize
for the new millennium,' which amounts to giving tax
cuts and rental assistance to the small independent
art shops that appeal to the tourons (tourist + moron)
who are the life blood of this area. There are leaf
peepers who haunt the whole region in October and
November � that is, right now � chasing the fall
foliage south. In summer come the city vacationers,
and in winter the ski freaks who descend like a plague
of bipedal locusts in their obnoxious neon snow-suits.
I think I hate them the most.
I've lived in New York, off and on, for eight years
now and still can't ski. I consider it a point of
honor not to learn. Jean, who grew up in New York and
skis very well, tells me that I'm being reactionary.
I probably am. That doesn't mean I'm going to learn.
I don't care if James Bond skis. Cyclops doesn't.
Now, coming out of a shop right in front of us is the
red-head I saw earlier. She almost collides with us,
apologizes and hurries on. She's a pretty woman, but
this close, I can tell the hair owes more to Miss
Clairol than to nature.
Jean glances at me. Her eyes are dancing. As soon as
the woman is out of earshot, she says, "*Mine* is
real. More or less."
"Believe it or not, I have noticed that," I say. "Up
close and personal. Some things women don't dye.
She lets out a small shocked sound and hits at me,
chases me across the street. I try to defend myself,
but mostly, I'm laughing too hard at her indignation.
It's a good thing the kids aren't around. They really
have no idea how hot-tempered Jean is, think her the
poster girl for Miss Calm and Collected. They should
see some of the bruises this woman gives me.
An elderly couple watches us with indulgent amusement.
I've caught Jean from behind, my arms crossed in
front of her, hands holding her wrists immobile while
she tries to kick my kneecap. We're laughing. But
suddenly aware of � and embarrassed by � an audience,
we stop wrestling in public like teenagers on a first
date. As we pass the couple, the woman smiles at
Jean. "You keep him in line, honey."
Jean smiles. "I try."
Sometimes it's nice to be taken for normal.
World-saving mutant X-Men out for a Sunday stroll, all
by ourselves and not a crisis in sight. "We should
get ice cream," I say.
"Scott, it's fifty degrees."
She rolls her eyes. "Okay. Come on, but if I'm cold
after, you have to keep me warm." And she heads off
towards the ice cream shop.
In the distance, I see the other red-haired woman
disappear into yet another store. I catch up to Jean,
slip my arm around my own red-haired woman. Very
quick, I lean in to brush my lips over that hair.
"I'll keep you warm now."
It makes her smile.
I confess, I do have a thing for red-heads. Everyone
who knows me well, knows that. You wouldn't think red
hair would appeal particularly since everything I see
is some shade of red (or black). And even if red hair
did stand out for me (which yes, it does � a purer
color), wouldn't I be damn tired of the shade?
But the truth is, I had a thing for red hair long
before I wound up with red shades.
It started in kindergarten. Her name was Leah. She
had Shirley Temple curls in bright flame instead of
gold. She also had faded-copper confetti freckles all
over pale-ivory skin. No one had explained to me that
I wasn't *supposed* to like freckles, that they
weren't the all-American ideal. Between the bright
hair and those freckles, I thought her the most
interesting thing in my class. And although at five,
most of my male age-mates were chasing Hotwheels, not
girls, I used to wait at the front window for her
mother to drive up in a slick blue 1971 Dodge Coronet,
let her out. I'd meet her at the door to carry
whatever she was bringing to kindergarten that day.
She would permit me to kiss her, sloppy child-kisses
that made my belly drop for reasons I was really too
young to fathom yet. Our parents thought it �cute.'
But I was heart-broken when my father got a transfer
off Eglin out to White Sands that summer, and our
family moved. A psychologist would probably have a
field day with Leah and me and theories of fixations
Anyway, Jean has freckles. Light ones. She keeps
them covered with makeup. I'm *still* not sure she
believes me when I say that I like them, thinks I'm
flattering her. But I *do* like freckles, dammit.
My passion for ice cream, or Sweet Tarts, is almost as
legendary as the one I harbor for red hair. I'll eat
any flavor but that awful White House cherry or stuff
that's green (that is, pistachio). But invariably,
whatever Jean has looks better. In this case, pumpkin
pie. Maybe it's just an excuse to get her to hold the
cone for me. "You're a pig," she says, laughing as
she watches me eat half her ice cream along with my
own (chocolate espresso).
"Yeah?" I say. "So what else is new?"
"God. Why am I dating you?"
"I don't know. After three years, I'm still trying to
figure that out. I've got a cute smile and great
Looking off, she grins faintly. "The lethally sexy
back muscles are better. But that's not why. I love
you because you let me trust you."
"Aren't you going to wash your face?"
Startled, Jean jumped and turned to look at me. She
was dressed in one of my shirts, old flannel borrowed
for the night. Remembering the way fabric pressed
light against the outline of her nipples would turn me
on now every time I wore that shirt. I'd leaned into
the doorjamb to watch her borrow my toothbrush, too,
and get ready for bed. This was the fifth time we'd
had sex, but the first she'd agreed not to go back to
her room until morning. For some weird reason, we
always wound up in my room.
We'd decided to hell with the student gossip mill. I
knew there was a bet on. After I'd serenaded Jean in
the dining hall on my knees in front of God and
everybody, the kids had started a pool on how long it
would take me to get her into bed. I didn't really
like being the subject of speculation but I was going
to have my revenge, of a sort. No doubt tomorrow some
money (or CDs) would change hands, and they'd all be
dead wrong by over a week. The *first* time hadn't
been in my room or hers. It had been in the rear of
the Mercedes. I was twenty-two but had never had sex
in the backseat of a car until I did it with a thirty
year old woman after we'd been to dinner and a movie.
THE LION IN WINTER on the big screen, with Peter
O'Toole as Henry II, Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of
Acquitaine, and the film debut of Anthony Hopkins as
Prince Richard. A pretty safe first-date flick. The
sex after had been completely unexpected, and it had
been pure chance I'd even had a condom in my wallet.
But I can move fast when I'm inspired. Nonetheless,
sex-in-a-car wasn't something we were in a hurry to
repeat. Cramped conditions aside, I'd fallen off the
seat and bruised my tailbone and ego both. She'd
laughed herself silly (once she was sure I wasn't
Now, she said, "I, um, already cleaned my face."
I just blinked at her. Jean had never lied to me
before, not so baldly anyway. And why on earth she'd
lie about washing her face I couldn't figure. It made
absolutely no sense. So, annoyed, I picked up the
washcloth and wet it. "You took your mascara off.
But I can tell makeup from bare skin, Jean, whatever
Revlon advertizes. I'm not stupid. Or blind."
She shook her head and tried to duck out of the
bathroom door around me, but I caught her by the waist
and pushed her up against the jamb. "What is it?
"Nothing. I just � Don't, Scott."
I handed her the washcloth. "I don't get it. Do you
think it matters to me if you have a rose birthmark on
the end of your nose? Which I can tell you don't. I
love you, not your face. You know that. Trust me.
Take your makeup off and let's get some sleep. We've
got to get up at six."
I left her in there, crawled into bed, put on my
sleeping goggles. And waited.
She came out after a minute. I'd been half afraid
that maybe she did have a blemish somewhere I hadn't
noticed. Not that I'd have cared, but it hurt me �
more than a little � that she was so afraid I *would*
care. There was no birthmark, no scars. Instead, she
had a little splash of freckles faint across her nose
and cheeks. They made her look younger and unbearably
cute. I grinned. "You were afraid of *freckles*?"
"I'm not! I like freckles."
She rolled her eyes and slid into bed beside me.
"Flattery will get you everywhere."
Scooting down, I turned on my side to smile at her.
"It's not flattery. I really do like freckles."
"You are the strangest man."
"Is that why you agreed to go out with me?"
"So why did you?"
"Maybe I have a thing for guys with shades who sing me
Sting." She studied me a minute. "Do you have to
sleep in them?"
"The goggles? Yeah. Sorry."
"Don't *apologize*, you nit-wit. I was simply
thinking they must be uncomfortable."
"Not too much. I just don't sleep on my stomach any
She sighed. "God, I love him, but Hank can be slow on
the uptake about some things. I think we can find
something better for you to sleep in."
I shrugged and rolled onto my back. I really hated
the damn goggles but didn't want her to know that for
some reason. There were aspects of my gift I despised
but had learned to live with. No sense in making
others miserable, or having them feel sorry for me.
Rose quartz was better than being blind. Or being
dead � the only other options I'd seen once, to avoid
killing someone by accident. I'd rather sleep
uncomfortable than risk destroying the roof, or my bed
"Close your eyes," she said now, softly, reaching for
I sat up and scooted away, almost off the bed. "Jean,
don't. It's not a game. I could hurt you. I don't
wear these things for my fashion sense."
"You won't hurt me. I've seen you without glasses or
visor before, in the lab. I trusted you a minute ago.
I took the makeup off. Now, you trust me. Take the
There was a good deal of difference between her makeup
and my glasses. Still, she had a point about trust.
I'd asked for hers. So turning my head away, I shut
my eyes tightly and removed the goggles, felt her
fingers as she took them out of my hands. "Jean � "
"Shhh." Then she kissed my bare face. I jerked back.
"Don't do that! Don't put yourself in front of me
without some protection!"
Her hands were on either of my cheeks, holding me
still. "Don't you pull away from me. With your eyes
shut, you're harmless. You know that."
"If I cracked my eyelids by accident even for a second
"Have you ever?"
I didn't answer. Because, in fact, I never had. Not
once. But I wasn't going to play Russian Roulette
with Jean and my control. If I killed her, I wouldn't
be able to live.
"I trust you," she said.
"I can't stay with a man if he won't let me trust
She moved to get out of my bed and desperate, I
grabbed for her. "Jean, don't leave me! Please!" My
hand didn't connect with her body, but I didn't open
my eyes to find out where she was. "Jean!"
"See?" she said.
"I can't *see* anything!"
She laughed and her hands were back on my face. I
could feel her mind pressing into my own. It was
almost as frightening as having her face in front of
me, but I loved this particular adrenaline rush. Her
telepathic touch was as addictive as a drug. She was
full of pleased certainty and wanted me to know it.
"I scared you, and you still didn't open your eyes."
"That was one hell of a test, Jean."
"You had to see for yourself. I knew."
"What if you'd been wrong?"
"Then you'd have taken out your dresser and a wall.
That's all. Now, do you trust me to trust you?" She
was getting my t-shirt off. Then I felt her body
press against mine; she had the borrowed shirt open in
front and I sucked in breath at the soft crush of
breast. "Make love to me without the glasses or the
goggles or the visor."
"I don't trust myself that much. Besides, maybe I
want to see your face when you come."
She sighed. "Okay. But let me kiss you a while
without the goggles. Will you trust that far?"
It was a long time before I agreed to enter her body
with nothing between my eyes and her but my eyelids.
Nonetheless, it started that night. I was
half-dressed and completely naked.
Jean and I have dinner at a little Mexican restaurant
we love, one street off the Marketplace. It's dim
inside and the plaster is cracked but the tables are
clean with checkered tablecloths and those
restaurant-ubiquitous big teardrop votive candles.
Colored Christmas lights adorn the walls, and cheap
pinatas, and pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Ramon serves the best quesadillas I've ever had and
Corona with lime, and he knows but doesn't care that
we're mutants. The attitude, not the exceptional
food, is why we come back.
I don't drink much at the mansion, not because I have
anything against alcohol (I was raised Catholic, not
protestant), but because I don't want to tempt the
kids by keeping it around. I've turned a blind eye
when the elder boys stole some of Logan's Budweiser.
(How does he drink that cat piss?) It was better if
they experimented where they wouldn't be driving a
car, and I could keep an eye on them � whether or not
they realized it. Still, I wasn't about to let them
make a habit of it. Logan had agreed with me on the
matter; he has more common sense about teenagers than
I sometimes gave him credit. He now keeps his beer in
a little fridge in his own room, and knows exactly how
much is there. He's kept beer for me, too, but I just
don't care enough about it to go through the hassle on
a regular basis.
Yet I like a beer now and then, and I like even better
some time away from the school, with Jean. We all get
it. Professor's rule. Each of the adult staff must
take four hours off-grounds each week. It can be as
simple as shopping for supplies, but he makes us get
out. And once a month, we have to take four to six
consecutive hours. Meaning we have to get lost for at
least half a day. Usually, Jean and I take our time
together and the Marketplace is a favorite haunt for
us, but some of the best times I've had has been spent
with Charles. Fishing.
He doesn't exempt himself. He's got more sense than
that. So we go fishing together because we both love
it and it gives us a chance to be more than mentor and
student over good German beer, bad soggy sandwiches,
and barbless fly-fishing. But I won't take him out on
a boat. He swims very well; a lot of paraplegics do.
Swimming is his favorite form of physical therapy.
But I'm not about to take him out on a boat and risk
an accident which could leave me blind in the water
unable to help him if he needed it. Water just
compounds how dangerous I am. Open my eyes underwater
and I'd kill everything within my vicinity � including
me. I'm immune to my own blasts, but not immune to
boiling water. I'd serve myself up well-done, along
with the fish and anything else near me.
So no boats. But sun and water and a pier, an
occasional bite on our lines.
In any case, and just now, Jean and I are ending our
evening over a dinner we don't have to share with
howling masses under twenty, and getting a little
drunk and silly on Corona. Not too much; I have to
drive back. But enough to really relax. The
red-haired woman we saw earlier enters with her own
party and involuntarily, I glance over, then jerk
attention back to my dining partner.
She has that smirk again. "What would you say if I
dyed my hair? I'm getting a bit tired of red."
She's yanking my chain and I let her � "Don't you
dare" � but I yank back, too. "And anyway, you do dye
"I do not!"
I raise my eyebrows. She amends, "Well, it's only to
keep the grey out. I don't *dye* it."
I smile and take a drink of beer. Jean's touchy about
the dye thing. It's more than covering grey. I
pretend that I don't notice she keeps what's on her
head a little brighter than what I've found between
her legs. It doesn't matter to me. I love her red
hair. But I don't love Jean because she's a red-head.
Not, mind, that I'm complaining about it.
Now, she adds, "I'm just not ready to be Jean
"I'd settle for Jean Summers."
She reaches across the table to squeeze my hand.
A little over six months, in fact. May first.
Assuming the world leaves us alone long enough to have
a wedding. This is the third time we've set a date.
She told me she always wanted to be married on May
Day. It's not a Saturday, but if she wants to be my
May Queen, I'm not going to argue. I don't care,
myself. I just want to get married already. If it
doesn't work this time, I'm going to suggest we elope,
take off for LA in the Blackbird. I know a certain
Baptist preacher there whose son I roomed with for
four years at Berkeley. The Right Reverend Jeremiah
Haight owes me a favor or three.
Now she's looking at me from under lashes, but not to
tease. She's nervous about something. "Scott, um �
We've not talked about this yet, and I don't want to
hurt you, but � " She pauses, swallows.
It kills me when she acts nervous of telling me
things. I bend down a little to catch her eyes and
put my hand over hers. "Just spit it out."
"I'm not going to be Jean Summers. I love you and I
can hardly wait to be your wife � legally, not just in
virtual fact because I sort your socks and sleep in
your bed. But my name is Jean Grey. I'm not changing
I sit back in my chair. I don't know why, exactly,
I'm startled. Jean has publications and a career, a
fairly prominent one given her youth (and she is young
for her field). Her decision makes perfect sense.
"Are you upset?" she asks me.
I can't lie to her. I don't. I may not always
volunteer the truth, but I don't lie if she asks me
something point-blank. She'd know. "A little," I say
now. "I'll get over it. Stupid male pride."
That makes her smile. "It's not stupid. It's social
conditioning. But you do understand why I'm keeping
"Yes � your job. �Dr. Jean Grey' is fairly well
known. �Dr. Jean Summers' isn't."
She shakes her head, once, sharp. "That's not why.
The reason I'm keeping my name is because I'm marrying
you, not becoming your property."
Not *that*. "Jean, don't be stupid. You're *not* my
property; I've never thought that way and you know it.
More like I'm yours. I should have it tattooed on
the back of my neck like those labels in kids clothes
for preschool: �property of Jean Grey.'"
She doesn't laugh. Instead, her chin has raised high
into pure Stubborn-Jean. She enunciates clearly, like
Hank at his worst. "It is not *stupid*. Would you
change your name to Grey?"
"Christ! It's just a social convention! You're not
selling your soul." I'm sidestepping and we both know
"Easy for you to say," and she slams down her napkin
on the table, starts to rise.
I grab her hand before she can storm out. She will.
She's done it to me before. Like I said, the kids
have no idea what a temper she really has. "Okay, I'm
sorry. Sit down. I'm just � "
"*Conditioned*." She settles back into her seat.
"Your father was an air force pilot and your mother a
good little military wife. But I'm not your mother.
And I'm not property to be handed over from my father
to you. There will be no �giving away of the bride'
at this wedding, Scott. I enter into it by my choice.
I'll be your life companion �till death us do part.'
But I was born a Grey and I'll die one. To ask me to
take your name is to take away my selfhood."
"Jean � " I sigh and drink my beer because I really
haven't got a clue what to say. I don't understand
why this is bothering me so much, but I'm honest
enough to admit that it is, and I'm suddenly unsure of
things I'd believed as certain as death and taxes. If
she didn't want to take my name, was she ashamed of
me? How could she love me if she was ashamed of me?
"The name thing is just a symbol. Besides, it keeps
things less confusing at the post office."
"The post office can take care of itself. Symbols
have power, or they wouldn't be symbols in the first
place. They're not just here," she taps her forehead.
"They're here, too." She touches her abdomen. Then
she looks me in the eye. She has that �I'm not going
to budge on this' expression. "Will you marry Jean
Grey? Or insist that I become your trophy wife?"
"It's more like I'm the trophy husband. Which of us
is younger and who has �Dr' in front of her name?"
I hadn't meant that to sound bitter. I really hadn't.
I'd meant it to be funny. But it came out bitter
Her eyes have softened. "You'll get the �Dr,' too,
someday. You're almost done with the master's
"And that's as far as Hank can go with it. You know
"You'll get it."
"*When*?" I lower my voice and lean over the table.
"When mutants and norms can all sing �I'd like to
teach the world to sing in perfect harmony' and drink
I've finally made her smile. It's nice to know my
sense of humor never deserts me, no matter how much it
"We can't afford for me to go back to school right
now," I continue, "and not any time in the near
future, either. I gave up the degree when I left
Berkeley. I knew that; I made that choice."
She takes my hand, lifts it to kiss the backs of my
fingers. "You'll get your degree if I have to kick
your stubborn ass back into grad school
single-handedly. And you're definitely not my trophy
husband, leader of the X-Men. But now you understand
why I need to stay Jean Grey? I refuse to belittle
you, or let you belittle yourself. Don't belittle me.
Don't take my name away."
"Fine. I understand." And I did.
But she knows that's not all of it. She touched me.
She knows there's more but she won't steal it out of
my head. "What is it?" she asks.
"Are you ashamed of me? Embarrassed to be my wife?
I'm a lot younger � "
"Oh, *shut up* about that already!" I'm grateful for
the table between us or I think she might hit me.
Instead, she takes my hand again, says into my mind
where I know she can't lie. *I'm not ashamed of you
and I'm not refusing the name Summers. I'm just
keeping the name Grey. You see the difference? I
will be very proud to be your wife.*
I'm grinning like an idiot, but can't help it. Beer
and love. "And I'll be proud to be your husband. How
many guys have a lady who gets invited to lecture at
international bio-genetics conferences in Stockholm?
But you'd damn well better take me with you or I'll
She's laughing as she lets my hand go. "I'll take you
with me to Stockholm as long as you don't develop a
thing for blondes in the meantime."
"Never. Just redheads."
The smile still plays with her lips. "Fair enough.
You like red hair. I like red shades. We make a good
Get personalized email addresses from Yahoo! Mail - only $35
a year! http://personal.mail.yahoo.com/