Continued directly from Part 17b .....
"Man, I am going out of my fucking *mind*!"
"Whoa, Slim-boy. Crank down the decibel level -- what's the
"I love her. She loves me -- "
"Sure of ourselves, aren't we?"
"It's the telepathy, okay? I'm not guessing -- I *know*, dammit."
"Okay -- sorry. So what's the problem?"
"She refuses to go out with me!"
"Because I'm twenty-fucking-two!"
There was a pause on EJ's end and Scott adjusted the phone on his
shoulder as he flipped over another stack of math homework. "The age
gap won't go away just for you wishing it, man," EJ said finally.
Scott turned his red pen end over end and stared out the window of
the little office the professor had given him on the mansion's second
floor. There were storm clouds on the horizon. "You've never really
thought Jean and I were a good idea."
"I ain't gonna dictate your life. I ain't there; I don't know. I
saw you guys together maybe a week."
"The professor doesn't approve, either."
"I'm sure he just wants what's best for you." And EJ was talking
about himself as much as about Xavier, Scott knew. "I just don't
want to see you hurt."
"I know," Scott said. "But . . . I can't explain it, Eeej. I need
her; she needs me. Waiting a few more months, or even a few more
*years* -- it's not going to change a damn thing. This feels . . .
fated, or something."
"I don't believe in fate, Slim. But I believe in love. Maybe you
just need to get her out of the mansion -- go somewhere it's just the
two of you, and talk."
"I tried that! She keeps saying 'no'!"
"Not on a date, dope. Just . . . meet her somewhere. Go out as
Scott thought about that, rocking his head back and forth to crack
his neck. "Okay." It wasn't a bad idea.
"Just remember it's not a war, man. Love's about partnership. If
it's real, then it'll happen. Let it go -- trust it."
"Always the freakin' cynic. And hey, you could always try singing to
her under her window at midnight."
Scott burst out laughing. "I'll keep that in mind."
May was past its midpoint. Trees had flowered, leaves were out in
full, bulbs had bloomed and were dying away, and the heat had crept
up towards summer temperatures on more than one afternoon. Jean wore
a tan, calico-print dress under her white lab coat, and it was humid
enough to make her damp beneath the arms and down her back. Her
stethoscope hung at rest over the back of her neck as she headed out
to the staff parking lot, another day over and she'd held herself
together again. 'One day at a time,' clich�d or not, had been her
motto since she'd returned to her residency two weeks before.
Fortunately for her, she was doing internal med this rotation.
Approaching her car, she thumbed off the alarm. It made a happy
chirp and she opened the door, slipping inside. Her faithful Toyota
Camry. She could have taken one of the mansion cars, but this was
hers, even if it did have 76,000 miles on it, and the imprint of
Scott (repaired) on the hood. Could one be accused of nostalgia
about a car because of an accident?
She looked forward to dinner, and was thinking more on food than the
even-slower-than-usual traffic -- the drive to and from Columbia
Presbyterian was made on autopilot by now -- when the whole car
suddenly *lurched* forward. If not enough to give her whiplash, it
was enough to make her whole body weak from the adrenaline of shock.
Glancing in her rearview mirror, she caught sight of a guy on a
motorbike. "Dammit!" He'd rear-ended her, and now they were
stopping traffic on the West Side Highway at rush hour. Furious, she
snapped on hazard lights, opened the door (carefully) and got out as
cars zipped past in the other lane. More than one honked. Stalking
back along the length of her car, she opened her mouth to give the
offender a piece of her mind, then stopped cold.
Scott was straddling the old Harley, grinning at her as he removed
his bike helmet.
"You son of a bitch!" she screamed.
"Whoa! I didn't even dent it!" he called, pointing to her rear
She got right in his face and yelled, "What the hell do you think
you're doing? You hit my car!"
"I had to get your attention somehow."
"You hit my car to get my attention?"
"It worked once before."
Jean gestured at the heavy traffic and the line of cars backed up
behind Scott. A middle-aged man in a red Accord was making rude
gestures at both them and the cabbie who'd just cut him off from
pulling out around them. "Did it never occur to you that a *phone
call* might be better than hitting my car during rush hour?"
He shrugged, managing to look both sheepish and cocksure at once. "I
wanted to surprise you at work, but I didn't get done with class
until after four, and by the time I got here, you were already gone.
So I chased you out to the parking lot, but you were already leaving,
so I grabbed the bike . . . "
"And hit my car?"
He shrugged again. "You want to go get something to eat?"
She made fists at her sides and stamped her foot, frustrated beyond
bearing. "You're impossible! I told you I wasn't going to go out
"It's not a date!" he shot back, holding up two fingers. "Just two
friends. You were the one who kept telling me you weren't dating
Warren -- it was just two friends hanging out together. Okay, fine.
Just two friends -- you and me. Now can we please go get something
to eat? I'm starving."
She wanted to tell him to take a flying leap off the George
Washington Bridge, but couldn't, quite, and if they didn't move and
quit blocking the lane, they were likely to become the victims of
someone's road rage. So throwing up hands she said, "Fine! 93rd and
Amsterdam. East side, Purple awning. I'll meet you there." And she
got back in her car, starting the engine just in time to see Scott
zoom past on the bike. "Crazy bastard," she muttered, following.
And smiling. Just a little.
They met at the entrance to Coffee-a-Go-Go. "Is that name for real?"
he asked, thumbing up at the sign above the purple fabric over the
door. "It sounds like something out of the '60s."
"It is something out of the '60s," she replied. "It used to be a
local hangout for the Kerouac and Ferlinghetti wannabes. Now, it's
just a diner with good coffee and cool decor." She opened the door
and gestured him through. With scratched formica tables under chrome
lights, (old original) lava lamps, and Dali art on the walls, the
place was decidedly prosaic compared to its slickly urbane and
upwardly mobile commercial neighbors, here south of 110th -- a
stubborn hold-out of an earlier era. Scott liked it instantly, and
liked it even better when the hamburger he ordered was suitably
greasy and the fries over-salted. Jean rolled her eyes. "Eating
like that, you're going to die of a heart-attack before you're
sixty," she warned. He grinned at her in wordless reply.
They talked of inconsequentials and Beat poetry; he confessed that
he'd owned a copy of ON THE ROAD since his sophomore year of college
but had never actually read it. She called it "overrated." He said
he wouldn't know; literary analysis wasn't his thing. She teased him
about his fondness for science fiction, and he replied that he liked
what he liked. They played three games of checkers while they drank
a pot of coffee. He won all three. She stuck her tongue out at him.
It was eight o'clock by the time they left, exiting into the swirl of
evening pedestrian traffic. They made their way north, up Amsterdam,
by common, unspoken agreement. There were more shops on Broadway,
but if window-shopping were their excuse, it wasn't their real
interest. He slung one arm around her shoulders and she put hers
about his waist in chummy fashion. The May evening air felt cool on
her legs and blew his hair back from his face. He had a cowlick on
one side, near the part, and she wondered why she'd never really
No one looked at them twice. No one offered a disapproving stare.
They were utterly unremarkable, one more young pair amid the human
sea, and there were far more colorful fish than they.
So they walked. At 112th across from the massive, sprawling, gothic
Cathedral of St. John the Divine (impressive despite the construction
scaffolding), she dragged him off west in the direction of Broadway.
"I want to visit Labyrinth Books. Come on; you'll love it."
Obediently, he followed.
The store was cramped and plain, and most of the stock was upstairs
on bookshelves of metal, not wood; there were no seats for lounging,
and books had been crammed everywhere one turned -- serious books,
academic books. He lost himself in front of the archaeology section,
thumbing through texts by Dean Snow on the Iroquois. She gravitated
to the medical section, but after a while, edged back as if pulled by
a magnet. He didn't look up at her, but he was aware of her; she
could feel the slight shift of his mind even while he flipped through
a massive coffee-table book on the Aztecs. "Utter crap," he muttered
and put the book back. Pretending to study the shelves, she moved up
closer until the light calico cotton dress skirt brushed the back of
An electric thrill ran all through him and he held his breath. She
moved even closer, turning slightly, just so. Their fingers brushed.
He moved his hand, caught her pinky with his. She didn't jerk away;
instead, she slid her palm into his. He was staring at the spines of
books but not seeing a one, even while he was hyperaware of
everything else around them -- the musty stink common to bookstores,
the argument of a pair of friends a little further down the aisle,
the tinkle of someone's keys and the scrape of feet as another
shuffled along. For the longest time, he and Jean held as still as
statues, then he moved his hand again, just a little, just enough to
lace their fingers. She let him.
It was magic, scintillating and extraordinary.
He knew he was grinning like a fool but couldn't stop, and felt
excited heat flush in his face. Such a small thing, such a silly
thing, on the face of it; he felt as if he were back in high school
where walking arm in arm might be explained away, attributed to
friendship -- but not this, not the lacing of fingers. This was
intimate. This was for going steady. They said nothing but
continued to stand there, hands entwined, until finally she spoke
softly. "You want to head back?"
"I guess we should."
So they went out, still holding hands, and he didn't want to break
that contact, was afraid to, was afraid that if he did, even to get
the door, she might not let him have her hand back -- or he might not
find the courage to take it. He was very glad of the long return
walk, at least a mile of heaven, and passing by the front of the
stone cathedral under the rose window, if he'd heard angels sing,
he'd probably have believed it.
Jean was just as giddy, her world in freefall, terrifying and
wonderful at once. She didn't want it to end, and kept smiling over
at him. He smiled back. Somewhere around 100th street, they shifted
back to strolling arm in arm, but this wasn't the same as the walk up
had been, with space between their bodies and a perfunctory hold.
Now his arm curled around her snugly and her fingers slid just inside
the waistband of his slacks, gripping his side. He was solid against
her, and it made walking difficult, but she didn't care. They simply
ambled more slowly.
He took her as far as her car in the parking garage. His bike was up
one floor and over. At the driver's side door, they paused and he,
reluctantly, let her go, stepping back. It was all different, all
changed. Just as in Oakland, or in the mansion garage a few weeks
back, they stood inches apart, staring at mouths. She wondered if
he'd kiss her; she wanted him to, and swayed a little nearer to brush
his lips with hers in invitation.
He turned his face away. It was the last thing she'd expected, and
surprised her so much, she rocked back on her heels, mouth open.
But his expression was more puckish than piqued. "I thought it was
customary to get a kiss after the first *date*," he said, one corner
of his mouth quirking up. "This wasn't a *date*. You made that
pretty clear back on West Side Highway."
Her mouth opened wider but nothing came out. She must have looked
like a beached fish.
"I'll see you back at the mansion." And turning on his heel, he
strode away -- or *sauntered*, really, hands in pockets. He held all
the aces this time and knew it, and if she were miffed, she was also
suitably chastised. She'd wanted to have her cake and eat it, too --
and not deal with the calories. But that wasn't fair.
"Well, why don't you try asking me for a date!" she called after him.
Pausing, he turned to glance at her, and positively smirked. Ooo,
she thought -- the *arrogance* of the man! "Maybe I will," he
replied, then walked on, whistling.
It wasn't until she was halfway back to the mansion that it dawned on
her that he'd been whistling the bugle charge.
Special thanks to David for giving me the idea to use Coffee-a-Go-Go,
and to Domenika and Naomi for NYC tutoring. ;>
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