Continued directly from 3a....
"E-mail is a wonderful thing."
"What?" Jean Grey looked up from where she sat on a couch in the
lab, marking up an article for later reference. It wasn't a
particularly engaging article, but scientists weren't paid for their
witty narrative and compelling imagery. In her more catty moments,
she penned numbers in the lower left-hand corners, one to ten on a
'dull' scale. This particular article rated a seven. Now, though,
she set aside stress-related inhibitors on the immune system to
regard Hank McCoy where he stood in front of her, big arms crossed,
seeming two parts amused to one part annoyed.
"E-mail," he reiterated. "To California. It's easy, it's fast, and
She frowned, wanting to say that she didn't know what he was talking
about but of course she did. "Henry," she began, aiming for patience
and winding up with a testy, "I know all about e-mail. I even know
Scott's e-mail address. But college is a new experience for him. He
should make new friends." She turned back to her article. "I
wouldn't be doing him any favors by writing to him. Besides, he's
got so many things to see and do, I doubt he thinks of me much."
Pulling over a low coffee table, Hank sat down on it and clasped
oversized hands between his knees. "I wasn't worried about Scott,
actually. I was worried about you."
"Yes. Don't pretend to be surprised. You're never going to contend
for an Oscar, Red." Reaching out, he tugged at a lock of her hair.
"You miss him."
"Well, yeah. I guess." She frowned, uncertain how to reply. She'd
not expected to miss so badly an eighteen-year-old bundle of
testosterone-driven energy. "But he needs . . . . He needs to do
this on his own, Hank. He doesn't need a big sister looking over his
"Maybe he does."
Pulling off her glasses, she lowered her chin to regard him with
evident annoyance, her question apparent from her expression. He
kept his eyes on his hands for a moment, then gave her a sly grin.
"I seem to recall a lot of pep talks delivered to you, your first
year of med school at Columbia."
And she smiled back, remembering too. Hank was the only reason she'd
survived that year.
"Yes, he may indeed have much to see and do," Hank continued. "But
that can be overwhelming, not just exciting. And you know Scott -�
he'll die and go to hell before he admits to the rest of us that he
has uncertainties. He won't tell even Warren. Maybe especially not
Warren. Warren made it through Harvard. Scott doesn't want to worry
the professor -� or me. And he thinks he has to be a model for Frank
and Ro. But you . . . . For whatever reason, he talks to you."
Henry watched her perk up at that. Jean needed to be needed. "Ya
think?" she asked.
"Yeah, I think." And he grinned. What he didn't tell her was that
he had a couple of letters in his inbox from Scott, asking rather
wistfully if Henry knew why Jean hadn't written to or called him, and
was she angry with him for some reason? Now, Henry McCoy pushed
himself up and fingered a pen in his pocket. "Drop him a note. He
could probably use a pep talk or two."
Her smile was brilliant. "Thanks, Hank."
Having finalized his fall schedule, Scott had decided to pick up his
textbooks early, and also to splurge ten bucks on a shiny dark U Cal
coffee mug with a gold bear on the side. It was, perhaps, a very
freshman thing to do, but seeing the glasses and cups and mugs as
he'd passed the display on the way to the textbook center, he'd
paused to look.
He'd wanted to go to Berkeley since he'd been fifteen and captivated
in American history class by the stories of the 1960s. The name of
Berkeley had come up again and again, and the mythos of it all had
attracted him, even as it had repelled his father. Not everything
about Berkeley in the 60s and 70s had been admirable, certainly, but
at the core of it? There was a tradition of civil liberties and
freedom and expansion of the mind that, to the young Scott Summers,
had embodied the best that was American, and there was no-where else
he'd wanted to go so very much. Now, he was here, and however
overwhelming it might feel, there was a magic of possibility at the
base of it that all his uncertainties and doubts couldn't dislodge.
He'd been accepted to *Berkeley*.
So when he'd seen the mugs and cups and glasses, he'd stopped to
consider, his eye drawn to one of the dark ones with a gold foil bear
on the side. (He couldn't see the gold, but he could tell it was
foil and knew the school colors were blue and yellow.) Doubting the
professor would object to a little school pride, he'd picked it up.
Now, he stood in line with a stack of eleven textbooks and the mug,
and the lines, even the Saturday before classes began, were horrid.
He'd already been waiting fifteen minutes and was barely halfway to
the checkout. All around him, equally bored students flipped through
their books, chatted with each other, chatted on ubiquitous cell
phones, or stared at the ceiling. When his own cell phone went off,
he assumed for a moment that it was someone else's, then, when it
dawned on him it was his, he almost dropped everything he was
carrying, fishing it out of his back pocket. Getting it open by the
fifth ring, he barked, "Hello?" into the little mic, hoping the
caller hadn't given up.
"Scott? Is this Scott Summers?"
Zero gravity drop-shock spun his stomach around and this time, he did
fumble his textbooks -� but not the mug. The crash of cardboard and
paper drew the eyes of other students, and the pretty Asian girl in
line behind him huffed in disgust as he bent over, trying to gather
the books and balance the phone on his shoulder. "Ah �- *Jean*?"
"Yeah, it's Jean. How are you?"
"Um, in line, at the moment. I'm in the bookstore." He was still
trying to gather books.
"I called at a bad time?"
"Maybe a little. But that's okay." Now that he'd heard from her
finally, he wasn't about to chase her off. He'd have been willing to
talk to Jean Grey while balancing buck naked on one foot in a pond
full of alligators.
But she said, "How about if I call you back in half an hour?"
"No, really -� it's okay." He tried picking up the books again,
one-handed, without letting go of the phone or the mug . . . and
promptly dropped them all again. She could hear that on the other
end, of course.
"Scott, don't be silly." She was laughing a little. "I'll call you
back, boy-o. Pick up whatever you just dropped." And the line went
dead. Sighing, he shut the phone and picked up his books, awaiting
his turn at the register and forcing himself not to check his watch
every few minutes.
Two-and-a-half hours later, he was no longer checking. Sitting
outside on the steps of lower Sproul plaza, he ate a cold bagel and
fended off the advances of an importunate squirrel, glancing now and
then at the phone on top of the bag beside him. Depression tugged
down his shoulders, and made him sigh without even realizing it. He
glowered behind his glasses at every couple who passed him on the
wide expanse of red brick, but he wasn't sure who he was madder at �
Jean, for failing to keep her promise, or himself, for the fact that
it mattered so much. If only he hadn't been too graceless to juggle
textbooks, coffee mug, and a phone in the first place.
He wasn't sure how long he sat there on the steps, slumped down,
elbows on his knees, lost in the labyrinth deconstruction of his own
'if onlys,' when a stray flit of conversation behind him caught his
ear. ". . . . a UFO up on the Big C."
He glanced around as two girls came down the steps. One wore a
t-shirt advertising the Quetzal Caf� in San Francisco, and the other
sported a frighteningly brief hot-pink tank top . . . and he really
didn't think it a good idea to examine that top too closely. "A
UFO?" said Hot Pink.
"Yeah. They say there're flashing red lights in the evening, up on
"Oh, come on! Who says that's a *UFO*? It's probably just a bunch
of Stanford guys playing a goddamn joke!"
"But it's not near the C itself. It's off in the forest-y part.
Jeremy said he's seen it with his own eyes. Red beams shooting off
up at the sky . . . "
And they passed out of range.
Scott blinked. Red beams shot at the sky? Up at the Big C?
Surely not, he thought.
But what else could it be? Oh, shit, he muttered sotto-voce.
Grabbing his bag of books and his phone, he hopped up to chase across
the plaza, hoping he might hear more. But by the time he caught up
to the girls -� not too close to alert them -� they were discussing
what to wear to a semester kick-off frat party. Giving up, he headed
off down a different sidewalk, angling back in the general direction
of his dorm.
A UFO? He'd been classified with little green men from Mars?
Maybe it had nothing at all to do with him. Maybe this Jeremy simply
had an overactive imagination. Or it really was some guys from
Stanford with a new twist on defacing the school monument. Red
lights instead of red paint.
But he couldn't convince himself of that. 'Red beams' sounded
entirely too familiar -� and what was he going to do about that? He
hadn't intended to start the rumor mill spinning and the last thing
he needed was to have curious students sneaking around trying to
catch sight of the 'UFO.' Alarm fluttered in his belly.
The *breeep*! of his cell phone interrupted and -� once again -� he
almost dropped his bag of books fishing out the phone to answer it.
"Scott! Finally! I'm *so* sorry. I'm on rotations today, and by
the time I got free again . . . well, anyway �- how *are* you?"
And just like that, the sound of her voice banished all his
depression and irritation. "You called back!"
"Of course I did. I said I would." A pause, then she added, "You
were afraid I'd forgotten, weren't you?"
"Maybe a little." Well, in truth, he'd been quite sure she'd
forgotten, but wasn't about to tell her that.
"I didn't forget about you, Scott. I just got busy. Now, I want to
hear all about Berkeley. Tell me *everything*! I'm so jealous that
you get all the sun and the bay."
And standing there in the middle of a sidewalk under an oak tree, he
started laughing . . . just because she'd called him back. She
hadn't forgotten him.
"What's so funny?" she asked.
"Nothing. It's just . . . 'everything's a pretty tall order!"
"Well, how about half of everything?"
Still laughing a little, he set his bag down at his feet and wiped
his lower face with a hand. "I'll do my best. But I just heard the
weirdest thing -� it seems I'm a UFO!"
"I'm a UFO!" He glanced around, but no one was nearby to overhear.
Nonetheless, to be safe, he left the sidewalk to sit under the tree,
book bag between his knees, and related to Jean the rumor he'd
Jean was not amused, however. "Scott, you've got to be careful!"
"I'm trying to be! But man -� what am I supposed to do?" Then, more
softly, "There's not a Danger Room around here, y'know?"
Silence reigned on the other end while Jean pondered that. "You've
got your visor, right?"
"Then instead of shooting at the sky or ground, try some precision
blasting. It'll take longer to release the excess energy, but it's
less likely to start any rumors."
"Precision blasting at *what*, Jean? Stray raccoons?"
"I don't know! Carve up fallen branches or something!"
He sighed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to snap. And I really wasn't
trying to start a rumor."
"It's okay. And I know. You won't have to worry about this forever.
Your body will adjust in another week or two. In the meantime, do a
little forest ranger work instead of the unsolicited laser show.
Now, tell me about the rest of your week."
So he did, lying on the grass and looking up at the sky through the
leafy branches. She listened with interest, asked him questions, and
scolded him a little, the same as the others had, for keeping to
himself. "I know it's not easy to start over, but you've got to make
an effort. Try eating dinner with*out* a book in your hands. If
you're always in your room, or gone, or reading at supper, people
will assume you don't want to be bothered and you'll never meet
anyone. Which of course, begs the question. Do you *want* to meet
That caught him by surprise and he frowned. "I guess."
"You *guess*? Doesn't sound any too convincing, Scott."
"I do want to meet people. But -� I don't know. How close can I get
to anyone here? I mean really? I can't tell them the truth!"
"You were the one who was so worried, earlier, about rumors!"
"I was worried about *rumors*. Not about the truth. You don't want
to alarm people, but you might find that you can trust a few with the
truth. If you give them a chance."
"What if they, you know, run me out or something?"
"Scott, you're at *Berkeley*. Home of liberalism. I thought that
was why you wanted to go there in the first place?"
"Yeah, but not because I'm a mutant. I've wanted to come here for a
"I know. But now it works in your favor. Don't overlook that, or
underestimate it." She paused, then added, "Look, I have to go.
I've got an M&M -� mortality and morbidity -� session in half an
hour. I'll call you Monday night to see how your first day of
classes went, okay?"
"Send me e-mail."
"I will." And feeling buoyed, he closed the phone to head back to
his dorm, step light and barely noticing how fast he covered the
distance. Arriving at his building, he took the stairs up to his
floor for exercise, only to find six people marching in and out of
his dorm room like a line of ants, carrying burdens that seemed
outsized for their body mass.
His roommate had finally arrived. And seeing the amount of stuff
flung about the dorm room's floor, Scott wondered if he planned to
move in his entire family with him, too.
A big man in his mid-fifties paused to stick out a beefy hand while
balancing a box of books with the other. "Hi! You must be Scott
Summers. Good to meet you. I'm EJ's dad, Jeremiah Haight."
Bemused, Scott shook the hand, which was almost as big as Hank's, and
without any mutant cause. "EJ!" the man roared. "Your roommate's
back!" And then in a more normal voice that still somehow seemed to
fill the entire space of the hall, "That there is my wife, Violet.
And that's JaLisa with her, and Clarice is coming up from the
elevator, and I think Me'Shell's still back down at the U-Haul."
Then -� bellowing again -� "EJ!"
"I'm right here, Dad!" said a voice behind Scott. "You don't need to
And turning, Scott Summers got his first good look at EJ Haight.
Years later, drunk on three pitchers of green St. Patrick's Day beer,
he and EJ would share with one another exactly what their initial
impressions had been, that day. To EJ, Scott had seemed all
fresh-faced Americana with high patrician cheekbones, hair an
artfully-stylish mess, and sunglasses worn inside like a Hollywood
escapee with pretensions to fame. To Scott, EJ had looked like an
extra from a Spike Lee film, complete with shaved head, baggy pants
two sizes too big, and a baseball cap worn backwards. All he'd
needed was a hooded sweatshirt and ten gold chains (he'd had wooden
Perhaps not the most auspicious initial impressions..
Scott recovered first to offer the other boy a hand in his own turn.
"Hey, I'm Scott. Welcome to Berkeley. And it's EJ -� not Elijah? I
was kinda wondering where you were this past week. You need any more
help carrying stuff up?" As if their poor room could hold anything
EJ took the hand. "I think we're �bout done, but thanks. And nobody
calls me Elijah but my mom when I'm in trouble." He grinned. "Good
to meet you finally. Looks like a killer laptop you got on the desk
in there, man. It fast enough to play any good video games?"
Smiling back, Scott said, "Graduation present. And yeah, it is."
EJ's father had backed away a little to give the boys space, and his
wife had come over to join him, slipping an arm around his ample
middle. Violet Haight was almost as tall as Jeremiah. "We were
planning to take EJ out to dinner tonight. Would you like to come
Blushing, Scott shook his head. "No, I couldn't, it's a family �- "
"Nonsense," Violet told him. "A �family' dinner usually involves at
least three sibling quarrels between EJ and the girls, and I figure
if you come along, maybe they'll be on their best behavior."
"I doubt it," EJ said, half-laughing and grabbing one of the girls -�
Scott had already forgotten who was who -� to knuckle her on the
head. Squeaking in protest, she slapped at him.
Still blushing, Scott tried again, "I really don't think �- "
"I'd give it up, man," EJ advised, letting his sister go. "Mama
don't take 'no' for an answer."
"He's right," the sister said, to be backed up by nods from the
second and third girls, who, having dropped off their burdens, had
come over to see who their brother would be living with for the next
year. They were all, Scott noted, rather exceptionally pretty,
especially the one EJ had been harassing, and they were rather
exceptionally tall, as well. Thus ringed about by a noose of
Haights, he shrugged agreement.
And that easily, his adoption into the family was settled, one white
pigeon amid a flock of laughing crows. Jeremiah herded them back
down to the parking lot where the four siblings squabbled over who
had to ride in the back of the van, and Scott found himself in the
front with EJ's father. "You know the town by now, I guess?" the man
asked. "You get to navigate."
So Scott directed Jeremiah Haight to a local Denny's, and they all
tumbled out of the van like puppies from a spilled basket. Passing
the van's rear, Scott noticed a "Clergy" sticker with a white cross
on the back glass. He'd somehow missed that, getting in. "Are you a
*priest*?" he asked, stopping dead in his tracks.
"Pastor," the man replied. "Baptists don't call their ministers
priests. They let us marry, too." And he winked.
But the attempt at humor barely registered on Scott, who -� dismayed
�- continued to blink at the sticker. His new roommate was a
preacher's kid? Would Scott have to suffer a semester's worth of
crusading to save his immortal soul? How fast could he get a new
"Dad's the senior pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in L.A.," EJ said,
dropping back to stand by Scott. "That's why I was late getting up
here, to college. We've been doing a summer youth camp for city
kids. I played the piano and coached ball. It just finished
Turning, Scott glanced at him, finding some measure of hope in that.
"You play piano? Are you a musician?" Maybe that housing survey had
been worth something after all.
"I play bass."
"Awesome!" EJ swatted Scott's shoulder in friendly fashion. "You
brought it with you, man?"
"No, but I brought a guitar. I left the bass back in New York. I
wasn't sure how it'd go over, y'know �- amplification in the dorm."
"Hmm. Yeah. I can dig that. So what kind of music you play? What
kind of guitar you got?"
"With me? Just a Takemine. But back in New York, I have a
Steinberger and an Eden amp. Mostly, I play rock. I like Rush, the
Police -� that kind of thing."
"Oh, man -� Neil Pert is awesome! He writes the best lyrics. You
like Live, too? Everclear? How about Toad the Wet Sprocket?"
"Yeah," Scott said, a bit surprised, and a smile stole slowly over
his mouth. Maybe things would be all right, in the end. EJ was
grinning, too, in the same kind of relief. Scott hadn't been the
only one concerned.
"By a Steinberger," EJ asked, "you mean one of them little black
basses without the headstock? No body, either?" He made quick
gestures trying to illustrate, and Scott was beginning to think that
if someone tied his hands together behind his back, he'd be as mute
as a fish.
"Yeah, that's the one. It's made all of graphite."
"I heard about those! You're supposed to be able to run over them
with a freakin' Mack *truck* and it won't hurt them!"
"It's true. I don't suppose you could bring your piano with you,
"Nah, but I got three different keyboards. I'll show you when we get
back -� "
"Hey, boys!" the Reverend Haight called from the door to Denny's.
"You coming in to eat, or you going to talk instruments in the
parking lot all night?"
So EJ and Scott went in, but spent most of the meal with heads
together, bonding over bands and gear. EJ's three sisters cheerfully
ignored them, but Jeremiah shared a private smile with his wife. It
seemed that music was a universal language after all.
Working on Chapter 4: Salt & Pepper
Feedback is cherished. :-)
Do You Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Games - play chess, backgammon, pool and more