Continued direction from part 8a....
Rain arrived with the fall in Berkeley, and riding to and from
school, Scott discovered the drawbacks of a distant apartment. But
rain numbered among his worst problems, and for that, he was
grateful. He knew his way around the school, his class load was
manageable, he had friends who were aware of what he could do with
his eyes -- and liked him anyway -- and he had a girl. For a few
months, he enjoyed an Indian summer of youthful freedom. His great
discovery, thanks to Clarice, was Redwood National Park. It became
their retreat. Other couples had songs or restaurants. He and
Clarie had a park. Even much later, after they broke up, Scott never
lost his fondness for the place, and that fall, they frequently
borrowed EJ's car to drive up for a day to wander among trees a
thousand years old and higher than either could see. Once, they
rented a tent to spend a weekend at Nickle Creek grounds. Clarice
lost her virginity and Scott, amazingly, got within spitting distance
of a black bear and her two cubs. They never forgot that weekend.
And Scott decided that he just might be in love -- real, true love --
for the first time in his life.
Previously, love, lust and infatuation had all run together in his
experience until he hadn't believed there was any difference, yet
now, it seemed clear to him. That he was obsessed with Clarice was
certainly true; the picture of Jean that had sat on his desk for a
year had been replaced by one of Clarie -- replaced by several, in
fact, tacked up here and there about his bedroom -- and sometimes he
would lean on his desk, chin resting on the backs of his hands, and
stare at the photo until twenty minutes were lost, or half an hour.
Fixated, obsessed, lovesick. In class, he eyed his watch, marking
time until they'd be done for the day so he could see her again.
Holding hands, they would talk for hours until they ran out of things
to say, then found privacy for more physical pursuits. Yet even with
the blood singing in his ears and lower body, mesmerized by the scent
of her, what he most wanted was to make her happy. And that, he
thought, was the difference. It wasn't about him. On the night when
they passed that final boundary and he came inside her body for the
first time, instead of in her hand or between her thighs, on that
night, he understood what it meant to be vulnerable. Incapacitated
by nerves and worried that he'd hurt her more than was inevitable, or
that it wouldn't be perfect, he'd been unable to stay hard. True to
his nature, he'd taken on more responsibility than was his share, but
his performance anxiety had stemmed from awe (and terror) at the
privilege of being first. So she'd kissed and rubbed him until he'd
relaxed enough. And she hadn't laughed. After, they'd tucked their
bodies together like spoons in a drawer, and he'd kissed her shoulder
and the back of her neck. "I love you," he'd said into her ear, as
soft as the wind in the sequoias above.
"Why?" she'd replied.
"Because I do. Because there's no one else like you. Because I can
talk to you, and you listen. Because you're not scared of me."
Because you didn't laugh at me -- but he didn't say that.
She hadn't replied, just wiggled back closer against him and pulled
his hand around to lace her fingers through his, making a patch-skin
quilt. Finally, she said, "Do you care that I'm black and you're
white?" They'd never talked about it before. It hadn't seemed
important. There had been second glances at them, even at Berkeley,
but she thought it had more to do with interest in the uncommon than
any degree of disapproval. Even Mrs. Gale had come to accept her
���colored' renter as none too different from her white one. But
here, now, Clarice had needed to ask the question and hear -- just
once -- the answer she already knew.
"I like it," he'd said. And that, she hadn't expected. She'd
expected him to say it didn't matter, so she'd twisted a bit until
she could see his face.
"What do you mean?"
"I like dark skin. I always have."
Pushing herself up on an elbow, she'd looked down at him in the close
dark of the tent, though she could barely see. The air had smelled
heavy, still full of sex musk and sweat, and he'd been wearing his
visor, as he often did when they lay together. "Really?" she'd asked.
"You're not lying?"
"No -- really. My first girlfriend was Mexican, then I dated an
Indian-American named Anula Shah, another Mexican, and my last prom
date was Chinese." He didn't mention Phoebe. "I've dated other
people, of course, but if we're talking just plain *looks*, I kinda
go for darker skin."
"What about red hair?" Clarice knew about Jean. Scott had told her.
The telling had been part of his exorcism before moving on. "I
thought you liked red hair."
He'd grinned; she could sense it more than see it. "I do. And I
like dark skin. I didn't say it had to make *sense*."
And she'd relaxed back against him. "Think I should dye mine?"
"Christ, no! That would look just . . . weird." And he ran one of
her braids through his fingers. "You don't care that I'm white? Or
She'd smiled and kissed him. "No. Not at all. I don't mind a
little white bread."
And that was all they'd said about it, or had needed to say. There
was, however, further discussion of the matter between Clarice and
her brother. Scott remained blissfully unaware of some conversations
that occurred when he was absent, including a tremendous row when
Clarie had announced that she planned to spend the night with Scott
in a tent among the redwoods. EJ and Scott themselves had never
discussed that excursion, or discussed Scott's affair with her at all
beyond one awkward exchange. Approximately one week after the
cookout that had begun their formal liaison, while Scott was still
feeling broadsided by the intensity of his emotions and also feeling
the remnants of guilt over Phoebe, he'd walked into EJ's small room,
standing just inside the doorway until EJ had looked up. Then
staring fixedly at a point over EJ's shoulder (though with the
glasses, the direction of his gaze was difficult to assess), he'd
announced. "I'd rather die than hurt her, Eeej. I'd rather die. I
just thought you should know." And he'd walked out again.
Whatever Scott had said -- and EJ didn't doubt his sincerity -- EJ
still retained his concerns, and had brought them up to Clarice on
more than one occasion. First, he thought Clarice (and Scott) too
cavalier in their dismissal of the potential racial conflict. "He
doesn't care if I'm black, and I don't care if he's white!" Clarice
had yelled when he'd come to see her in her dorm room. Diane had
been out, so it had been just to two of them. "I'd never have
expected *you* to doubt him!"
"I don't doubt him. The man is colorblind -- figuratively, not just
literally. But that don't mean it won't matter." In fact, EJ
worried a great deal about his sister's attraction to Scott. The
matter was more complex than mere pigmentation, and however
biologically bogus race might be, it still existed at the cultural
level, and the historical, and he thought a part of Clarice was
ashamed at the darkness of her skin. From the time they'd been
children, she'd held herself apart, refusing to adopt either the
ebonics of her school-mates, or their epistemologies. By nature a
serious girl, and introverted, her interest in hard science hadn't
been acknowledged kindly in Black Town, where girls didn't save
pennies for telescopes to seek the stars. That was a ���white'
occupation, and EJ had heard kids at school sneer the word "oreo" in
her hearing. Yet rather than fight against it, show them that
interests weren't genetic, she'd embraced her rejection. Scott was,
as EJ had said, colorblind. But he wasn't culturally blind, and EJ
thought he'd fallen so hard for Clarie because she was a black white
girl. And her attraction to him? EJ feared that, deep down, she was
trying to shed her skin.
"We think alike," she said now. "We have the same values. The
*church* issue is going to be a bigger deal, Elijah."
"I know." He seated himself on her bed. "But out in the real world
. . you saw he was a little stiff sometimes, on our visit home last
break. Not with us, but outside the house. I'm not saying it won't
work. I'm just saying it worries me to see you two dismiss it like
it don't matter none."
"Well, you two live together!"
"Yeah, but we ain't marrying each other. And we talk about the
differences. It's not a taboo subject." He eyed his sister. "You
two are getting serious, and getting serious fast."
Her chin went up. "Yes, we are."
"He ain't said the m-word, has he?"
"Quit being so cryptic. If you mean marriage, no, he hasn't. It's a
little early for that."
He stood again. "There are still places in this country that
wouldn't serve you two in a restaurant without you making a scene
first -- and not all of 'em are white-owned restaurants. He might be
my brother but he's not *a* brother, y'know? You shouldn't go into
this with rose-colored glasses. People'll stare -- "
"They stare now. But there's a difference between just looking and
EJ ignored her. "It'll be harder for you to find a place to live,
and anytime you take him to an all-black function, he won't be
completely comfortable. He might not even be welcome, like I said.
It'll always be easier for you to adapt to his world than for him to
adapt to yours."
"I know," she replied, frowning out a window. "Don't think I don't
But he still wondered, in a corner of his mind, if adapting to
Scott's world wasn't the point? In truth, though, the racial issue
had been the easiest for him to broach because it was the least
significant. Scott and Clarice had more in common than different,
just as was true for Scott and EJ. EJ's primary concerns remained
the same ones he'd raised the previous spring: Scott's greater
romantic experience, and his fascination with Jean Grey. EJ could
now add concern over what had transpired between Scott and Phoebe
that summer. Neither had been forthcoming, and as Scott had
previously related almost everything to EJ, his sudden recalcitrance
was troubling, especially when combined with Phoebe's equal
reluctance to discuss it when he'd invited her to the cookout.
"Something went sour between you two?" he'd asked, fishing. She'd
replied, "You might say that. I'm coming to this for your sake,
Eeej. Not for his."
Even now and despite the glasses, Summers was too adept with women;
and because EJ knew how easily he could fall into the same slightly
narcissistic trap himself, he fretted no end. Clarice adored Scott,
and EJ feared what she might do to keep him. It wasn't just the
near-certainty of sex, though his antiquated resistance to that idea
surprised him. Yet were EJ honest with himself, he had to admit that
if he could have picked a man to be his sister's first, Summers
would've been his choice -- Scott respected her -- and he dismissed
any intellectual dissonance this caused by the simple expedience of
refusing to think about it. His real dread ran in a different
EJ remembered too well Scott's devotion, all that previous year, to
Jean Grey, yet now it was stone cold. All pictures of Jean had
disappeared and the two never talked on the phone. Scott studiously
avoided her name in conversation. Instead, he'd thrown himself into
this affair with Clarice, and EJ was far from convinced that Scott
was over Jean, feared that he was using Clarie to soothe his head-on
collision with reality, even while Clarice was using him to escape
her race. The fact that EJ kept his mouth shut owed to the fact that
Scott and Clarice were -- differences aside -- a good match. What
had started as one thing might transform into another. More, EJ
loved Scott as much as his sister did, and had no wish to endanger
that friendship -- though if Scott did hurt Clarice, EJ would grant
him no quarter. So he kept his doubts to himself, and if Scott
sometimes suspected that his friend was less sanguine than he
appeared, he bought into the ���don't ask, don't tell' policy.
It was early November when, prompted by Ororo, Scott finally resumed
limited email contact with Jean, and they obliquely renegotiated the
boundaries of what would and wouldn't be discussed. She talked about
med school and her research; he complained about his classes. She
didn't say much about Ted Roberts. He said almost nothing about
Clarice Haight. Their notes became easier after the first few, but
he no longer checked his email six times a day.
In mid-November, the weekend before Thanksgiving, Soapbox was hired
to play yet another frat party. They performed at least every other
weekend now, and their reputation was growing, having scored a few
shows at prestigious bars and clubs, and a few more at mediocre ones,
as well as these ubiquitous frat parties. This particular gig had
begun like any other. They set up on the house's back deck under
tiki torches and leftover orange Halloween pumpkin lights. It wasn't
cold enough at night yet to prevent an outdoor party, and it wasn't
raining. The house itself was old and large, white clapboard in need
of fresh paint and slightly messy from a combination of party debris
and the ill attention of its occupants. By eleven o'clock, as
Soapbox closed their second set, most of the guests had arrived and
had consumed enough beer to be rowdy, but not enough to descend into
an alcoholic stupor.
When the band took a break, Lee ducked inside to find a restroom. As
always, the guys kidded her that her bladder was the size of a pea,
and accustomed to ignoring them, she entered through a rear door near
the kitchen, found the trash bin overflowing and margarita mix
spilled on a kitchen counter, now overrun by black ants. The first
floor bathroom was occupied already, and there was a line -- three
girls waiting and smoking outside -- so she headed upstairs,
disinclined to exchange meaningless banter with drunk Barbie
look-alikes. At the foot of the stairs, a boy and girl were hanging
all over each other, and annoyed, she pushed past them. Two stairs
squeaked, and one was cracked. Upstairs, there was giggling behind
closed doors and the distinct, sweet odor of marijuana. The bathroom
was occupied here, too, but there wasn't a line, so she folded her
arms over her chest, leaned into a wall, and studied generic seaside
prints while she waited, trying not to listen in on the sexual tryst
in the bedroom behind her. It sounded as if there were at least
three people in there, which amused her in a condescending way. Lee
had always prided herself on her detachment from such things. If she
harbored no objection to sex, she wanted it on her terms, and could
usually take it or leave it, subconsciously resenting the loss of
control required to enjoy it. She was slightly prudish in her sexual
What followed next occurred in cinematic slow motion for Lee, even if
later, she had difficulty sorting it out. The door to the restroom
opened at the same time as the door to the bedroom with the (at
least) three-person orgy. One boy stepped out of the bathroom, and
another from the bedroom with his pants still unzipped and halfway
down. Lee moved for the bathroom, but the second boy pushed past as
if he hadn't seen her. "Hey," she snarled, "I was waiting, you
He was too drunk, or too high, or both, to think of consequences, and
grabbed her by the hair, shoving her up against the doorframe to
snarl back, "Shut up, bitch."
Spittle flew and she flinched. "God! Get out of my face! You're
"Fuck you!" And then his mouth was on hers and he'd yanked her
inside the doorway, one hand squeezing her breast right through her
shirt. Her first reaction was mental shock, followed by violent
loathing, and she shoved him backwards. Off balance, and with his
pants half-down and tangling his legs, he tripped over the toilet and
fell into the tub. He looked ridiculous, with legs sticking straight
up in the air and his butt bared. She laughed. It wasn't wise.
Scrambling up, he got hold of her arm and yanked her sideways into a
bathroom wall so that her head connected with a towel rack, almost
knocking her out. Gasping, she dropped to her knees, pain white
behind her eyelids. She'd bitten her tongue as well, and tasted
blood, salty sharp. Still furious, her assailant slugged her in the
jaw, calling her every nasty name that crossed his besotted mind.
Despite her pain, or because of it, she reacted with all the anger
against the male of the species that she usually kept bottled.
Grabbing the plunger, she laid about with it like an armed Valkyrie
and screamed in rage. The ruckus brought more frat brothers and
their dates out of bedrooms to witness the spectacle, and also
brought her bandmates up from the yard below.
EJ heard her yelling first -- Scott was off with Rick, getting extra
duct tape out of Lee's van to replace what had torn off cables -- and
her howled obscenities sent EJ crashing through the back door, into
the house, and up the stairs. He found her fighting with all her
might against five boys. There was blood on her face and her top was
torn, bearing half her beige bra. Unsure what had happened but
fearing the worst, EJ leapt into the fray with nine years of training
in Isshin-Ryu karate. He became a whirling mass of hands and feet in
the close hall space as he tried to avoid friendly fire from a
furious Lee with her plunger. But he hadn't counted on facing a frat
brother far above his own fighting skill. If Asian ancestry didn't
automatically grant expertise in martial arts, this time it did, and
though EJ had been training since ten, this boy was the son of a dojo
master in San Francisco and had begun Shaolin Kung-Fu at his father's
knee as soon as he could toddle. He may have drunk too much, but
almost before EJ could register it, the boy had flung EJ into a wall,
cracking the plaster. "Don't mess with us, nigger boy!" the other
howled. "Don't mess with us or I'll kick that ugly black ass back
into the shit hole it crawled out of."
At that moment, Rick tore up the steps with Scott behind, and Clarice
behind Scott, despite being told to stay outside. Seeing her brother
sent flying, she tried to push past, but Scott hauled her back,
almost knocking her down the stairs in the process. "Stay out of
this!" Meanwhile Rick, infuriated by the racial slurs, had unwisely
jumped on the kung-fu expert's back. The other boy just slammed
himself into a wall, crushing Rick in the process and dropping him to
the floor with a pained grunt. Immediately, one of the watching
girls kicked him in the ribs. "Ugly nigger!" she hissed. "Ugly,
fat-lipped nigger!" Rolling and grabbing her foot, Rick yanked her
off balance but that only brought down the wrath of her friends.
There were too many of them, Scott noted with cool detachment --
thirteen to four, not counting Clarice. An astonished EJ had climbed
to his feet again, but was ringed about and cautious in his
re-engagement. Lee had been pinned by the boy with his pants down
and one other, her plunger taken away, and the slightly built Rick
was simply overwhelmed.
Scott's options clicked through his mind as if it were a math problem
to be solved, and the world fractured into a mosaic of individual
movements, like so many stones building a picture. Blood beat in his
temples, and his vision ran until it coagulated into eagle clarity.
The touch of Mars, or maybe Minerva. One arm still holding back
Clarice, he calculated distances and triggered his visor. He'd
grabbed it from the van when he and Rick had run for the house, and
now, narrowing his eyes, he opened the lens and blinked rapidly,
shooting bolts rather than a single beam. They knocked chunks from
the wooden floor between EJ and his nemesis, then did the same
alongside the boys holding Lee, and finally, near the small huddle
It had taken six seconds from analysis to action.
Screaming, people leapt out of the away or fled into rooms and
slammed doors shut. Even his friends were startled, though they'd
seen him use the beams before.
But not like this. Never offensively.
"Get back," he said in a voice just slightly above normal, flat with
casual authority. Except for a little sobbing, the entire upstairs
had gone dead quiet. Outside, the radio could be heard, and the
voices of others, asking what was going on. "Back away from my
friends." He felt no fear. He felt nothing at all, in fact, as if
the emotional side of his nature had been shut tight behind the door
EJ recovered the quickest and moved to assist Lee, where she'd been
dropped to the floor by the boys who'd been holding her, when they'd
fled. Rick pulled himself up the wall, one arm gripping his ribcage,
his dark skin gray from pain. Four boys remained facing them, among
them EJ's nemesis. "What in hell was that?" he demanded, though the
other three kept their distance. Competence in self-defense made him
cocky, and he stepped forward -- an open challenge. Scott triggered
his visor once more, the beam blade-thin and set at low impact. It
still cut a line in the floor at the other boy's feet. "Shit!" the
boy screamed, blundering backwards and knocking over a telephone
table that had heretofore miraculously escaped destruction. It went
over with a crash, the phone ringer clanging as it fell and the
receiver bouncing free so that the dial tone hummed loudly. "What
*are* you, you nigger-loving motherfucker?" he asked.
"Kill the n-word," Scott snapped, "or I'll drive a beam right through
your bigoted balls."
"Try it," the boy retorted, but he didn't come any closer.
Jaw tensing, all the emotions he'd smothered came flooding back and
Scott might have made good on his threat, but in the instant before
he could fire, Clarice's hand clamped down on his wrist. "He's not
worth it," she whispered in his ear, speaking fast, terrified of what
he might do. "Please, Scott. Please don't, please don't. He's not
She was right. "Guys," he said, "go pack up. We're done here."
"The hell you're done! You're not going to just walk away from
this!" the aggressive one yelled, but he came no closer as EJ
assisted Lee and Rick to the stairs, moving past Scott. "Look what
you did to our house!"
"Look what you did to my friends," Scott replied, voice still deadly
even. "If we press this, you could get your charter revoked. I
remember reading in the DAILY CAL last year accusations of date rape
made against this same frat. I think you're already walking a thin
line, aren't you?" And Scott began to back down the stairs. He
could feel Clarice's hand at his elbow, guiding him. He didn't turn
his back on the boys and didn't remove his hand from his visor.
Downstairs, people gave the five of them a wide berth. If they
hadn't witnessed Scott's display, they'd certainly heard the shouting
and could see the blood on Lee, and EJ. Some disappeared out the
front door, beating a retreat before cops could arrive. That suited
Scott just fine.
They made it out the back door, and he stood guard while EJ and
Clarice packed equipment. Lee leaned against the deck rail, arms
wrapped around herself, cursing under her breath. Despite the blood
on her face and her torn shirt, Scott didn't think her badly injured.
Rick, however, breathed heavily through his mouth and was growing
more pallid as time passed. "Broken ribs?" Scott asked him softly,
and he nodded.
"I think so. God, it hurts."
"We need to get you to a hospital."
Rick just nodded in agreement, and Scott returned his attention to
watching. The uncanny cool had descended on him again and he felt
nothing -- not fear, not rage, not anxiety, nothing. The lawn was
now empty, a few tiki torches burned out and fallen onto the grass,
plastic cups dropped haphazardly as guests had fled. Apparently,
curiosity had warred with discretion and discretion had won. Only
the frat brothers and a few girlfriends remained on the premises, but
they were staying in the house, observing from windows and calling
Experience made their set breakdown fast, and the band was nearly
done when the frat house president emerged from a rear door, backed
up by the martial arts expert. The president's expression was
belligerent and haughty, not conciliatory, and Scott placed himself
between the two of them and his friends. "What do you want?"
"You don't press charges and we won't," the president said without
"I think we have a pretty clear case of self-defense," Scott replied,
unwilling simply to back down.
But the president's eyes had gone sly, and he tilted his head.
"Yeah, maybe. But do you want to explain to the cops how you cut
holes in our hallway floor?"
Coming up behind Scott, EJ set a hand on his shoulder. "We're done,
man. Let's get the fuck out of here."
"They *owe* us, EJ -- "
"Drop it. Come on." And he got a fistful of Scott's sweater,
tugging. Perforce, Scott had to follow, but refused to turn his back
until they'd reached the van. Clarice already had the engine
running, and EJ pulled Scott inside, sliding the big door shut. The
van lurched away.
It all hit him in a delayed reaction then, and he began to shake,
dropping down in the van's rear to lean against Lee's big bass drum
case. "Shit, shit, shit," he muttered. Rick was lying across the
van's one remaining rear seat with Lee in the front, beside Clarice.
EJ had crashed next to Scott.
No one spoke for several blocks, then EJ said, "Rick needs a
"I'm already headed there," Clarice replied.
When they reached the emergency room parking lot, EJ helped Rick out
of the van without too much jostling. Glasses back on, Scott
assisted, feeling guilty the whole time. If he hadn't used the
beams, they could've called in the cops and forced the fraternity to
pay Rick's medical bill. As things stood, it had to go on Rick's
insurance. "I'll pay for this," Scott blurted as they reached the
red-striped doors that whooshed open for them.
EJ and Rick both gave him a baffled look. "Why, man?" Rick asked.
"I got insurance!"
"I know. But it's my fault. The frat should've paid, and it's my
fault we can't make them." Scott touched his damning glasses.
Inside the doors, Rick halted to lean up against a wall. His own
glasses had somehow escaped damage, and now he peered at Scott from
behind them. "This ain't your fault, man. I jumped a guy I
"But if not for me, we could've called the cops -- "
"Yo, right!" EJ and Rick both said together.
"They attacked Lee!" Scott protested. "And they already have a
"Yeah, they do. But you gotta remember the score here," EJ pointed
out. "They're the clean-cut sons of CPAs, CEOs, and VPs. We're a
freakin' band with two brothers, a chick for a drummer, and you. The
cops'd make certain assumptions."
Scott blinked. "But Rick's dad manages a bank! And you're a PK!"
"So? We're *black*."
"What the fuck does that matter?" Scott shouted, drawing attention
from others in ER.
"Don't be dense," Rick said, voice tight and low. "If you hadn't had
the beams, they'd have handed us our asses even *with* EJ on our
side, then dumped us in the van with threats to do it again if we
squealed. Now, they're not sure what to make of you, and they've
calmed down enough to remember that I'm a Nupe. They touch me again,
and I got brothers who'll kick their straight white teeth down their
prissy white throats. We were damn lucky. Now shut up and get me
into ER. It's thanks to you that I wasn't brought in by ambulance."
So Scott and EJ obliged, and if Scott doubted that the police
would've been as automatically biased as EJ claimed, he nonetheless
had to acknowledge the basic logic behind what Rick had said. If not
for him, things could have gone much worse, and they wouldn't have
been in any shape to call the police or lodge charges.
It struck him finally that he'd *saved* them all tonight, saved even
EJ, whom he usually considered better able to protect himself than
Scott was. He, Scott Summers, mutant, had saved his friends by the
power of his own mutancy.
Christ, what a *gas*.
Concluded in part 8c
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