Continued directly from part 5b....
"Relax, man. I've been inside a church before. Not even that long
ago. I know how to act."
"Well, yeah, that wasn't what worried me, but . . . You're not
exactly into it, and . . . ."
"Look, EeeJ. Your dad's the preacher. It'd be pretty rude of me to
visit over break and not go to church with you. It's no big deal."
And Scott turned back to the dresser mirror to straighten his collar.
"Do I look okay?"
Before EJ could reply, Clarice -� the eldest (and shortest) of EJ's
three sisters -� stuck her head around the doorway. "You're gonna be
late, guys." Both boys jerked about. "Put it in gear, okay?"
Seeing Scott in his suit, she pulled in her chin and raised both
brows. "Wow. You look very handsome, Mister Summers." And then she
was gone. They could hear the click of her heels as she climbed the
three wooden stairs back into the den from the remodeled garage where
EJ had his bedroom.
"The Clarie Seal of Approval," EJ told him. "I guess you pass
muster. She'd sure as hell tell you if you didn't."
Scott laughed. "I kind of got that impression."
In truth, he found all three Haight girls rather charming. Clarice
was the most like her brother, albeit more serious. Only fourteen
months younger than EJ, she was the intelligent one, set to graduate
as class valedictorian. "She wants to be an astrophysicist," EJ had
told him on the way down from Berkeley, making Scott spit coke out
his nose all over the dashboard of EJ's car. "Christ!" was all he'd
replied. It had seemed to Scott a prospect as daunting as Jean and
her double doctorate.
But if Clarice was the family brain, then JaLisa was the family
clown. The youngest at not quite fourteen, she seemed to assume that
her designated role in inner-family dynamics was comic relief. She
was also, along with EJ (and their mother) the most musical.
Me'Shell, the middle daughter, was -� like many middle children -�
quiet, reserved, and inclined to act as the peacekeeper. JaLisa was
probably the prettiest, but Scott preferred Clarice's smooth braids,
luminescent smile and witty repartee. He also found himself spending
almost as much time in her company over that week as he did with her
brother. They sat on the hood of EJ's car in the drive, watching
traffic go by and debating old, classic movies and partial
differential equations, Bill Clinton's scheduled trip to visit Nelson
Mandela and the Clinton/Paula Jones scandal. On Friday before
supper, EJ cornered him about the matter in the converted garage that
was EJ's bedroom. "You got a thing for brainy girls, slim-boy?"
"Huh?" Scott turned from the mirror. It had begun to startle him,
to walk by and see white skin.
EJ shut the door that led upstairs, then confronted his roommate.
"Are you hitting on my sister?"
Taken completely by surprise, Scott's mouth dropped open. "Uh. Not
intentionally." But then a surge of anger replaced the shock. "Why?
Would it be a problem if I were?"
Shaking his head and crossing his arms, EJ eyed him sidewise.
"You're nuts over that Jean chick back in New York. I don't want to
see you leading Clarie on, and hurting her. She's smart about a lot
of things, but sometimes she's so smart she's not smart. Y'know what
Picking up his watch from the dresser, Scott slipped it on so he
wouldn't have to meet EJ's eyes. "Yeah, I know. And I'm not hitting
on her. I just enjoy her company. *You* were the one who said I
ought to look for someone closer to my age than Jean �- "
"Yeah. But �- "
"But it's different if it's your sister."
Feeling slightly hypocritical but driven to make his point anyway, EJ
shrugged and picked up dirty clothes, tossing them in the hamper. "I
just don't want to see her get hurt. You're smooth, slim-boy. You
know how to talk to girls." He eyed Scott again. "How many chicks
did you date in high school, man?"
"I don't know. I wasn't making notches on my bedpost."
"Yeah, but you dated enough that you'd actually have to stop and
count, wouldn't you? Clarie's gone out with two, maybe three guys."
He paused, then just said it, "She's already half fallen for you,
man. Back off, okay?"
And Scott didn't know how to reply to that. Instead, he'd busied
himself fastening his watch while EJ observed a moment, then ducked
out again. Dinner was tense, sitting between EJ and Violet Haight
with Clarice across the table, smiling at him every time he spoke to
her. EJ was right. The girl was half-way into a crush and he hadn't
even noticed, just as with Phoebe -� and he wasn't sure if his
blindness owed more to the glasses or to his fixation on Jean Grey.
But it made him ponder the whole situation. And watch Clarice. The
light above the long dining table fell soft on the curve of her cheek
and shone in her dark eyes. Maybe EJ had a point about finding a
girl his own age. Jean might be fond of him, but only as a little
brother. It had been almost a year since he'd met her; he needed to
get past his obsession. Clarice was smart, and honest, and
good-hearted, and she had ambitions for her life . . .
. . . and she was also EJ's little sister, and EJ was watching him.
Sighing, he turned his attention back to the generic
broccoli-chicken-rice casserole that Violet had made for supper. She
was watching him, too, he noticed �- rather belatedly -� and when
supper was over and conversation had wound down, she abruptly handed
him her plate. "Scott, you're almost a part of the family, so you
may as well get your share of chores." Her smile was both wicked and
wise. "Clarice, why don't you show him how to run the dishwasher?"
"Oh, yes!" JaLisa shouted in glee, making victory fists and hopping
up to say, "I'm going to call Val -� bye," before her mother could
change her mind. It had been her night on kitchen clean-up.
In shock, Scott watched JaLisa disappear, Violet Haight's dinner
plate still in his hands. EJ seemed ready to say something, but
Jeremiah interrupted him. "I need you out back in the shed, Elijah."
So Scott wound up with Clarice in the little kitchen, loading a
nearly archaic dishwasher and trying to decide if EJ's mother had
really just set him up with her eldest daughter? After a while, he
quit worrying about it and just enjoyed Clarice's company, until she
left to finish her homework; her school wasn't on spring break. EJ
came in as Scott was filling the soap tray. Snapping the tray lid
shut, he held up both hands -� box of Cascade still in one -� and
spoke softly. "I'm not after your sister, man. Your mom did that."
Arms crossed, EJ leaned up against a counter and sighed, replying, "I
know. And . . . okay. Fine. Dad reminded me that she's a big girl
now." For a full minute he didn't speak; he and Scott merely studied
one another. "Are you interested in her?"
Closing the dishwasher door, Scott stood and glanced out the kitchen
door into the dining room. No one was there. He could hear JaLisa
on the phone in the hall, laughing loudly, and out in the living
room, the television blared the local news with the requisite
burglaries and murders. This was LA. "I honestly hadn't thought
about it. Not until tonight."
"You go after her, you'd better be good to her."
Grinning, he asked, "Is that permission or a warning?"
"Both. You know I'm better than you on the sparring mat, slim-boy.
You hurt my sister, I'll drop-kick your ass all the way back to New
Scott frowned down at the linoleum flooring. Faced with the
possibility of dating someone again, several matters loomed in stark
relief. Clarice wasn't a mutant. Would she still be interested in
him if she knew the real reason he had to wear the glasses? "Well
she's down here and I'm up north, and even if I were interested -�
and maybe I am, I'm not sure -� it's a long drive for a Friday night
"This year. She's going to be at Berkeley next fall."
Scott jerked his head up. "She is?" He hadn't heard that yet.
"Yeah, she is. Schools are fightin' over her, man. But Dad didn't
want her going out of state, and he'd rather send her someplace where
I can keep an eye on her."
"So she'll be at Berkeley." Scott couldn't keep the grin off his
face; EJ's expression was more doubtful.
"Yeah. She'll be at Berkeley. But you remember what I said."
Scott held up his hands in surrender once more. "I hear you, I hear
you!" And he shrugged. "Like I said earlier, I hadn't even thought
about doing anything until *you* brought it up." Tilting his head,
he held his friends' eyes. "But I like her, and I respect her. And
if she's coming to Berkeley next year, well . . . we'll see what
happens. No reason to rush."
"That's for damn sure," EJ said, thinking that Summers dating his
sister could wind up being even more awkward than Summers dating Lee
Forrester. Then again, what if it worked out? Scott had become, in
just six months, the closest friend EJ had known in years. He could
think of worse people to call brother-in-law -� although thinking
that far in advance was rather putting the cart before the horse.
A very loud roar from the living room television caught their
attention and they exited to see what was on the news. "Look at
that!" Violet was saying from her perch on the sofa. A forgotten bit
of cross-stitch lay in her lap. Jeremiah lounged in a recliner, book
in his lap and glasses on his nose, half-reading and half-watching at
the same time.
On the small television screen, a large man with shoulder-length
blond hair was -� quite literally -� flipping cars over on a freeway
somewhere . . . obviously not in California, as there was still snow
on the ground. "And in Winnipeg today," the announcer was saying,
"Evening rush-hour traffic was completely halted when an unknown male
walked onto the Pembina Highway near the University of Manitoba
campus and began overturning vehicles."
"What the fuck?" EJ muttered beside Scott.
"Language, Elijah," his mother said.
On the news video, Canadian police had arrived, attempting to drive
the tall blond man away from the halted traffic so that ambulances
could get to the injured in pop-can-crumpled vehicles. "The
assailant was finally forced into the surrounding forest, but
disappeared near the Red River before police could apprehend him.
Twenty-six people were injured and ten are in critical condition at
Victoria General Hospital. Authorities are seeking any information
leading to the identification and apprehension of the man being
called The Winnipeg Marauder."
Both Clarice and Me'Shell had wandered in now as well, to see the
strange news on the TV. JaLisa remained on the phone, apparently
oblivious. "Did Bigfoot suddenly decide to reveal himself?" Clarice
asked, amused. "Or is this just a really weird pro-wrestling
And Scott Summers couldn't form words to answer her, though he feared
that he did, indeed, know the answer. Instead, he sank down on the
sofa beside Violet Haight and stared at the screen, his hands clasped
tightly between his knees. His skin was cold, and he became aware of
the ticking of the wall clock behind and above the sofa, an annoying
tat-tat-tat beneath the drone of the reporter's voice.
Was that man in Winnipeg a mutant like himself? But no �- not like
himself, or like anyone else at Xavier's school. They didn't wander
through cities, wreaking casual havoc. And he needed to talk to the
professor, but couldn't think of where he'd find the privacy to do so
without raising suspicion. So he sat frozen in a Los Angeles living
room, watching a piped-in broadcast of a crisis that had occurred
several hours earlier and a couple thousand miles further north.
". . . . like Bigfoot on speed, eh?" someone was saying into the
camera while the reporter interviewed eyewitnesses.
"Whatever it is," said another man, "it needs to be caught and thrown
in a cage!"
"Some kind of escaped circus freak," offered a third.
The broadcast shifted to the book-lined walls of an office. 'Dr.
Rosaline Tey of the UCLA School of Medicine' said the caption under a
Dr.-Ruth-clone in front of the camera. "While it's impossible to
draw a definitive conclusion based on a five-minute video, this
individual *may* �- I stress the *may* -� belong to a small, recent
phenomenon being called 'X-Gene Manifestation.' It's a mutation at
the DNA level that results in exceptional physical or mental
abilities . . . ."
It was clear she was still talking, but the over-dubbed voice of a
reporter cut off any elaboration. "The medical community is divided
on the exact cause of these 'x-gene mutations' or how widespread the
phenomenon may be in the general population, though most consider it
rare. Opinion is also divided as to what kind of danger such mutated
individuals might pose to normal human beings. But if he is a
mutant, the Winnipeg Marauder would demonstrate that these 'mutants'
can indeed be dangerous, causing injury, even death, to others."
"Good heavens," Violet was saying. "What next?" Her expression was
shell-shocked. The rest of the Haights were still staring at the TV
Scott opened his mouth, closed it, opened it, then closed it again.
His skin was still cold and his stomach heaved and the weight of the
glasses on his face was as heavy as a condemnation. Abruptly, EJ
turned to look at him, and for a moment, his heart spasmed in his
chest, but EJ said only, "Ain't your friend back in New York into
genetics? Jean, I mean?"
"Um . . . yeah." Scott's throat was dry. They were all looking at
"She know anything �bout these mutants?"
It was an innocently tendered question, but guilt and fear and panic
made Scott Summers laugh out loud. Swallowing it, he managed to say
in a normal voice, "She knows a little."
"So what's the deal? She said anything to you?"
"Ah . . . um, well -� I'm not exactly an expert �- but it's, ah, it's
just part of evolution." He paused to glance around at faces,
recalling that he was in the house of a pastor. "Ah, I don't know if
"It's all right, Scott," An amused Jeremiah Haight cut him off before
he tripped further over his own tongue. "Not everyone who believes
the Bible takes it literally." He winked at his son's friend.
"Science might tell us how we got here, but religion tells us why we
are here. Two different questions."
Scott relaxed. "Okay. Then, like I said, I'm not an expert, and I
can't explain it like Jean could, but it's really pretty simple.
Some people -� at this point, a really small number �- are born with
this extra pair of genes called X-genes. They're dormant until
puberty. Then they kind of . . . wake up, and you get these changes.
It can be pretty sudden, and it's usually stress triggered, but, um,
some researchers" �- he deliberately did not say Hank or Jean -�
"think it starts a while before it actually manifests, as some kind
of stress build-up over a long period, getting the body ready. Then
something happens -� it doesn't even have to be big -� and wham! The
"The straw the broke the camel's back?" Jeremiah asked.
"Yeah, pretty much."
"How do people know if it will happen to them?" Clarice asked, eyes
"They don't," Scott said. "Not right now anyway." Seeing Clarice's
dark skin go gray, Scott waved a hand in denial. "No, no! It won't
happen to you, Clarie, or it would've already." Then he thought
about his own mutant manifestation at his senior prom and amended,
"Well, probably not. For most mutants, it happens in the mid or
early teens. Researchers are trying to map it, but there aren't
enough examples to even start guessing. The most anyone can say now
is that there are two basic mutation types -- psi mutations and
physical mutations. That is, changes to the brain or changes to the
body. Some mutants don't look any different, and some, well �- " He
gestured towards the television, which had now moved on to relate the
weather forecast. "Some physical changes can be kinda dramatic."
"Are they all dangerous like that man?" Me'Shell asked.
"No!" Scott shook his head again emphatically. "Most aren't like
that at all. They don't want to hurt people. They want to learn to
control it so they *don't* hurt people!"
And though Scott Summers didn't realize it, his 'inexpert'
explanation had -� some exchanges back -� shifted into a convincing,
if colloquial, voice of authority. That change wasn't lost on either
of the elder Haights.
"Does your friend work with mutants?" Jeremiah asked, keeping his
voice curious, not accusing, but Scott momentarily froze in any case.
Violet and Jeremiah both noted that as well, but refrained from
exchanging a glance.
"Uh, only in general," Scott said. "I mean, it's kind of a hot
topic. You know -� in her classes and stuff. Plus she's doing some
research into evolutionary changes. So yeah, it comes up. She told
me some things." Two spots of color had stained his high cheekbones,
and his ears were bright pink. Seeing that, Jeremiah deftly turned
the conversation to a different matter and the girls drifted back out
again, to pursue whatever they'd been doing before. After a while,
Scott's muscles relaxed.
The evening passed slowly, and Scott fretted until he thought enough
time had passed that he could escape to use the bathroom without
raising suspicions. Hurrying downstairs, he fetched his cell phone
and then holed up in one of the two bathrooms to dial the mansion in
Westchester. It was Frank who answered, and Scott thought belatedly
to check his watch. Eight-fifteen in LA meant it was after eleven in
New York. "It's me -- Scott," he said into the mouthpiece. "What
the hell is going on up in Winnipeg?"
"No one knows," Francesco replied. "Henry and the professor have
gone north with Warren to see if there is anything more to know."
"Jean didn't go?"
And Scott breathed out in relief. The idea of Jean anywhere near
that big blond guy had scared him at an instinctive level. "Is he a
mutant?" Scott asked.
Frank hesitated. "It is not for sure, but I think . . . yes."
Scott had caught the hesitation. "What do you know about him,
Silence cracked out of the phone's receiver. "He is not yet a
threat," Frank said finally.
"But he will be?"
"He *could* be. You know there is nothing of certainty, *mi amico*."
Sighing, frustrated, Scott ran a hand into his hair and tugged at it.
"Okay, okay. Look, I'm at EJ's, but I'll call again on Sunday when
I get back to Berkeley. If there's an emergency, though, buzz me on
Scott decided to stay up, hoping others would retire to bed and leave
him to the TV. He wanted to catch any further reports about the
incident in Winnipeg. Unfortunately, he hadn't counted on the fact
that Violet Haight was as much a night owl as he. She showed no
signs of heading to bed, even when the wall clock chimed one in the
morning and EJ finally gave up and went downstairs. Scott sat next
to her on the sofa, an afghan over his legs, channel-surfing with the
remote and striving for unobtrusive interest. When he did finally
stumble over a repeated report, Violet said, "Stop there. I'd like
to hear more." So he stopped. It was just coincidence, he told
himself. Why shouldn't EJ's mother be curious, too?
"He must be either very angry or very frightened," Violet said as
they both watched repeating video loops of the blond man tearing
through cars. Her comment startled Scott, and he glanced over.
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, in my experience, that's usually the root of violence -� fear,
or anger." She had dropped her eyes back to her cross-stitch, not
the TV, or him. "It gets covered up with other motives, but if you
peel it back, it's fear or anger. And maybe anger is just fear by
Scott pondered that. It wasn't much different from what the
professor believed. "So you think people can be educated out of
"Maybe. But they're more likely to be loved out of it." She glanced
up at him. "Imagine looking like that poor man. Does he have a
home, you think? Or anyone who might care about him? Or do people
just run when they see him coming, before they know a thing about
Like darts, her words struck Scott hard in the chest, making his
"My husband," she went on. "You know what a good man he is. But
he's a big man. And he's a black man. And sometimes when he walks
into a 7-11 after dark outside black town, the help -� they get real
close to the counter, in case they need to push that emergency button
hidden there. They don't know a thing about him but what he looks
like." She was silent a moment. "It hurts, y'know? Distrust like
that �- it eats away at the soul. So I wonder what that poor man up
in Canada feels? What does the counter help do when he walks into a
7-11 after dark?"
"'He came to feel,'" Scott quoted, "�that the important thing about a
man is not the color of his skin, or the texture of his hair, but the
texture and quality of his soul.'"
Violet smiled as her needle flashed in and out of white cloth,
drawing black thread. "My son's been at you to read Dr. King?"
"No -� Jean gave me a book of his writings. Jean . . . the woman I
was talking about earlier."
"Ah. The one who's studying mutant genetics."
Scott opened his mouth to correct her -� but he'd be lying if he did.
And he wondered, suddenly, how much good any of his subterfuge had
really done. As before, he became aware of the tat-tat of the wall
clock, and after a minute, said, "So you don't think that guy's
dangerous and should be locked up?"
"Oh, I think he's dangerous. But anyone can be dangerous, Scott.
Give me a gun and I could be dangerous, too. The question is, would
I be? And I guess the real question is -� does that man have to be?"
She shrugged and cut the thread she'd been stitching, pausing to tie
it off and slip her needle through fabric holes to hold it in place
until she was ready to work again. "I suppose it depends on how
angry he is. Or how afraid. And a lot of that might depend on us,
don't you think? Do we only see what he looks like? Or what he is
like?" And she stood, one palm at the small of her back as she
stretched. "My, it's late. I think I'll head to bed."
Scott Summers stayed up a long time after, still channel-surfing,
hoping to stumble over more information, but there was none, and
finally, he went to bed himself, still thinking about what EJ's
mother had said.
Continued directly in part 5c....
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