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4381AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE 7b: Slippery, Bright and Stupid (S/J, prefilm)

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  • Minisinoo
    Jul 3, 2002
    • 0 Attachment
      Continued direction from 7a....
      -----

      Scott remained in Berkeley for the summer in a subleased studio
      apartment while EJ went home to direct his church's summer youth
      camp. No longer living in the dorm, and with most of the other
      students he knew scattered, Scott lacked ready social distraction and
      might have holed up in his attic room when he wasn't in class,
      noodling on his bass, ordering delivery pizza, and drinking lots of
      coke as he struggled with Complex Variables. But the suggestions
      he'd made to his fellows back in Westchester hadn't excluded himself,
      so he made time for the gym and resumed the study of Shotokan Karate
      that he'd begun in high school on a lark. He'd also signed up for
      piloting lessons.

      Phoebe was the only one of his personal circle who had remained in
      town, but she'd chosen to stay in the dorms, so he saw less of her
      than he might have expected. He could have stayed in the dorms as
      well, but it would have meant accepting another roommate for the
      duration, and to his mind, it was baiting Fortune to grant him a
      second EJ. He had neither the energy nor the inclination to begin
      anew with anyone less. That he and EJ would room together again in
      the fall hadn't been something either had discussed. They'd simply
      assumed it, and spent the end of spring looking for an apartment that
      was within cycling distance; EJ might have had a car but Scott
      didn't, and a parking permit amounted to a hunting license, in any
      case. Unfortunately, cost and rooms complicated things. Housing
      wasn't cheap; this was California, and worse, a college town.
      Apartment complexes banked on the demand, and rent for even a single
      bedroom anywhere within a half-hour walk was exorbitant. Yet being
      young men, and attractive young men who might hope for a date now and
      then, they had a desire for privacy, especially after living in
      cramped conditions for a year, and wanted two bedrooms. But two
      bedrooms went for over a grand, and EJ simply couldn't afford it.
      "No fucking way!" he'd announced after the seventh or eighth inquiry.

      So Scott had offered to pay two-thirds. He had the means, and as the
      year had progressed, he'd grown less shy about occasionally using it,
      but EJ had refused. Pride. Scott understood pride. And thus the
      matter had remained unsettled when the semester had ended and EJ had
      returned to LA, leaving Scott to solve the dilemma.

      In late June, when he had nearly despaired of finding anything and
      time was running out to secure even a one-bedroom for the fall, he
      spotted an ad in the local paper for a two-bedroom garage apartment
      on the south side. It was a bit far to walk, but decent for riding.
      And it was cheap, so he went to investigate, figuring at only $850 a
      month, there had to be a catch.

      The owner was a widow in her early seventies who had moved west with
      her husband even before the boom of the fifties and sixties. Mrs.
      Eloise Gale. She still set her hair in old-fashioned curlers and
      bobby pins every night, and wore lipstick to the grocery, to which
      she drove in an antiquated Dodge Dart that had less than 70,000 miles
      on it.

      "She must never drive the thing anywhere *but* to the grocery," Scott
      told EJ later. "For the past thirty-five years!"

      The apartment itself had turned out to be old but clean, with high
      ceilings, wooden floors, and double-hung windows set to maximize air
      circulation. They'd have to live without a garbage disposal or
      central AC, but the dorms hadn't had AC either, and the place did
      have a washer and dryer for their use. Mrs. Gale had explained the
      low rent thus, "I want some nice young men to live on the property.
      It's not safe these days, you know, for a woman alone. The rent is
      low, but it includes all the yard work, fixing things in the house,
      and keeping up my car. I'm mostly blind, you see, and can't get
      around so well."

      Mrs. Gale had been a WAVE in World War II -- Women Accepted for
      Volunteer Emergency Service -- and when she had learned that Scott
      was the son of an US Air Force pilot, and that his projected roommate
      was the son of a minister, that more or less had sealed the deal . .
      . which had been concluded with nothing more than a polite pat on his
      shoulder. Scott hadn't been too sure what to make of the
      informality, but he'd phoned EJ to let him know that they had a place
      for the fall, and could he come up the next weekend to meet their
      landlady?

      Unfortunately, the small detail that EJ was the son of a *black*
      minister had never been specified. It simply hadn't occurred to
      Scott that he should -- he'd become accustomed to Berkeley being
      Berkeley -- and it equally hadn't occurred to Mrs. Gale that a nice
      white boy might voluntarily choose to room with a black boy, however
      nice. So when EJ had arrived with Scott on the quaint, white
      spindle-rail porch of their landlady's house and Scott introduced him
      with, "Mrs. Gail, this is Elijah Haight," everyone was surprised.

      She'd stared through the screen, her age-puckered mouth with its
      crooked, too-pink lipstick dropped in shock. "But I've never rented
      to a colored before," she'd said.

      And Scott hadn't been sure what he'd been was more embarrassed about:
      that he'd brought his friend there to be insulted, that it hadn't
      occurred to him to verify that it wouldn't be an issue in the first
      place, or that he'd called her 'a sweet old lady' to EJ on the phone.
      Beside him, he'd felt EJ stiffen. "You're the son of a minister?"
      she'd asked. The screen door had remained closed.

      "Yes. My father's head minister at Bethany Baptist in LA."

      "Oh, a Baptist! I'm a Baptist, too. Northern Baptist, though."

      "Same here," EJ had said. "American Baptist," using the more recent,
      less colloquial title for the branch.

      And the screen door had opened. EJ had glanced at Scott, who'd
      shrugged, and they'd gone in. Odd, the small details that could open
      a door, or leave it shut, and Scott had wondered what Mrs. Gale would
      think if she'd known the 'nice white boy' was a mutant. Then again,
      it might matter to her more that he was an agnostic, lapsed Catholic.

      The only other event of any significance occurred in early August as
      the summer semester drew to a close. Scott, having just booked his
      first hours of solo flight, asked Phoebe if she'd like to go out for
      a bite after, to celebrate. If he talked more often to EJ by email,
      or to Frank by phone, neither was present and that evening, he wanted
      company with skin on. So they met in Asian Square and had Japanese
      at Yokohama Station -- Phoebe ordered -- while Scott regaled her with
      an account of his first solo, a story well-honed now by its fifth
      retelling (EJ, Warren, the professor, and Ororo had all heard it
      already). After dinner, they got a little drunk on cheap beer that
      they were too young to buy, but Phoebe had a friend who was willing
      to pick up two six packs if they footed the bill, and they got to
      take one back to Scott's studio apartment. They began the night
      sitting on his sofa, talking about anything from the California water
      crisis to reincarnation.

      They ended the night in Scott's bed.

      It wasn't an easy morning. He hadn't slept with a girl in over two
      years, and was rusty on morning-after etiquette. In fact, he'd never
      slept with a girl at all, as in "go to sleep in the same bed after
      sex." Not being the morning type, he woke after she did, to the
      sounds of her rummaging about in his bathroom, looking for God knew
      what. Blinking in the brightness of a California noon, he lay flat
      on his back for a few minutes, staring at blurred, geometric shadows
      on the white ceiling and listening to the sound of construction work
      somewhere in the distance, pondering how best to proceed.

      He wasn't in love with her and she wasn't in love with him, but she'd
      felt more than friendship and inebriated lust. Mutant or not, he
      occupied a special place in Phoebe's world. She didn't occupy the
      same one in his, and hurting her had never been his intention. So he
      hauled himself out of bed to make his way into the bathroom, where he
      found her bent over the sink, finger in her mouth, scrubbing her
      teeth with a makeshift digit toothbrush. "You can use mine," he
      said. "I don't think you'll give me any germs that I haven't already
      caught."

      Eyeing him sidewise and grinning, she spit foamy toothpaste into the
      sink, then said, �Thanks. But that'll do." Her unwashed hair was
      lanky, but she was prettier than he might have expected, the morning
      after. He still wasn't in love with her, and almost wished that he
      could be. How to explain without either lying or seeming like a
      heartless bastard? He'd suddenly become the kind of boy that mothers
      warned their daughters about.

      Christ. Was there an automatic reset button for the last twenty-four
      hours?

      Splashing water on her face, she wiped it off with his striped towel,
      then came over to slip an arm around his neck and leaned in to kiss
      him --

      -- and he pulled his head back. It was automatic, not planned. She
      stared while his mind chased its own tail, trying to figure out what
      to say. Nothing came. He opened his mouth and nothing came out
      while he watched pain and humiliation crumple her face. Letting him
      go, she pushed past him out into the little bedroom area, snatching
      up her discarded jeans and yanking them on while she collected her
      socks and bra. She'd put her tank top back on the night before, to
      sleep in. Now, turning her back on him, she pulled the top up over
      her head and snapped on the bra.

      And he just stood there. His mind was blank and white, and he was
      making a terrible botch of this. He could hear her breath hitch in a
      way that told him she was swallowing sobs, and he'd never felt so
      wretched. "Just your average jerk with a penis." The words floated
      back to him, words Jean had said about boys at Vandy. Drunk boys at
      parties.

      And that was *him*, he thought. He'd been the drunk boy, and he ran
      a hand over his face. He hadn't taken off his sleeping goggles yet
      and had to look ridiculous, but it felt fitting that he look
      ridiculous. "Phoeb. Stop it. Please."

      She was putting on her socks and shoes now, and she didn't stop at
      all. Light slid in through the blind slats and made lines across her
      form. She said nothing.

      "Phoebe. It's not what you think."

      Finished, she jerked to her feet and screamed at him, "What the hell
      am I supposed to think then?"

      He couldn't answer because it wasn't pretty. "I care about you," he
      said finally, helplessly.

      She continued to glare for perhaps five breaths, then snagged her
      purse where it had been abandoned on his little eat-in table and
      stalked to the door. "Blow it out your ass, Summers, along with the
      rest of your shit." And she slammed the door behind her.

      He slid down the edge of the doorjamb until he was sitting on cold
      tile.





      "Not yet, not yet," Jean whispered, pulling Ted's hand up from the
      zipper on her slacks. The other hand was busy with her left breast
      and his mouth busy at the right through the fabric of her bra, and
      oh, if she could rub her thighs together just right, there would be
      enough pressure for her to reach her climax, but she wasn't ready yet
      for his hand to help with that.

      "Okay," he whispered now around cloth and nipple, and had the good
      manners not to demand 'when?' Jean couldn't have given him an answer
      if he had.

      It wasn't their first time at this. Usually once a day, in his
      apartment, or her room at the mansion, or even the lab closet when
      Hank and Banner were gone, they were at each other with hands and
      mouths and everything was heated, plunging headlong and half-blind
      towards a consummation that Jean became increasingly aware she wasn't
      sure she wanted.

      She didn't love him. She liked him -- liked him a lot, in fact, and
      he had a clever tongue, gentle fingers and a good heart. But love
      him? Jean wasn't sure she knew what love was, and sometimes she
      asked herself if she had to love him to have sex with him -- it had
      never been her requirement before -- but if not, then why did she
      hesitate?

      Guilt, maybe. She wasn't in love with him. But she wondered
      sometimes if he were in love with her? That, she didn't know, and
      was afraid to ask because if one asked, shouldn't one want the
      answer? And she didn't.

      So they didn't talk. They made out in bedrooms and backrooms and lab
      closets and they didn't talk about it except in sentences of less
      than six words.





      Scott Summers had always thought of himself as a good and responsible
      person. He didn't steal, he didn't say bad things about people
      behind their backs (usually), and he held the door open for others if
      he got there first. He'd done things that embarrassed him, or of
      which he wasn't proud, and he'd done things that had turned out badly
      despite good intentions. Yet even when he'd blown out the wall at
      his high school and given bruises and broken bones in the process, it
      had been an accident. After, he'd gone to great lengths to ensure
      that no more accidents happened. He wasn't cruel and he wasn't
      selfish.

      Yet now he'd done something that was both, and he had no idea how to
      fit that act into his previous views of himself. Could a good person
      do a bad thing and still be a good person? Some actions rotted the
      soul, like moral gangrene. He was sick with it, and spent most of
      that Sunday either sitting on his couch and brooding or taking out
      his frustrations practicing the Big Four *kata* of Shotokan. He'd
      been sunk in self-pity before, but this ran much deeper. This was
      *shame*, dark and awful and sharp.

      He turned over in his head a few times who he might call to talk it
      out -- see if there was some way to fix it. Summers was inclined to
      regard life in the active rather than the passive tense. Yet talking
      about it would mean admitting his guilt, and how could he face EJ
      with this? Phoebe was EJ's friend, too. And Jean? How could he
      phone Jean and tell her what he'd done after she'd called him a
      gentleman? He hadn't been a gentleman last night. He couldn't tell
      the professor either, couldn't face disappointing the man. There was
      Warren, and Frank, but he wasn't sure either would be terribly
      helpful, and Ro would show no pity. He tried calling Phoebe herself
      once, but she hung up on him as soon as she heard his voice.

      Sometime towards evening, his phone rang. He let the answering
      machine pick up. "Summers, it's Lee. I've got the day off next
      Saturday and wondered if you'd like to go out on the water. Buzz me
      back, and do it before Tuesday. If you're not free, I'll find
      somebody else." That wasn't a threat, just Lee's customary
      bluntness.

      He sat up on the couch. Once before, Lee had given him good advice
      with regard to Phoebe; maybe she could help him again. Jumping for
      the phone, he tried to catch her before she hung up but snagged the
      receiver only in time to hear the phone click. And that was probably
      just as well. This wasn't a conversation to tackle across a barrier
      of plastic and fiber optics. Putting on his sandals, he fetched his
      bike.

      Getting to Lee's took a good ride, and he sweated heavily in the
      August swelter though it was almost dusk. On some level, he found
      that purifying, the salt-scent of his own body and the salt-scent of
      the bay. The sun was already below the horizon and the sky was a
      hot-wax blend of oranges and blues and a vivid violet (colors he knew
      rather than colors he saw), streaked here and there by the dark
      shadows of cirrus clouds. There was no breeze and the heat lay thick
      on the black concrete of Forrester's Boat Rental parking lot,
      radiating up through the soles of his sandals. The place was closed
      for the night, only the lights in the living quarters behind
      indicating that anyone was there. Scott hoped that Lee hadn't gone
      out for the evening as he leaned his bike against one of the wooden
      columns on the porch. Sea air had aged the wood, cracking it in
      places. He rang the bell, then waited. It was a long wait before a
      man in late middle age opened the door. A white under-tank revealed
      thick, tanned arms corded with muscle from long years of physical
      labor and marked by almost stereotypical tattoos. He grunted when he
      saw Scott. "Can't you read the No Solicitation sign, kid?" He
      pointed to a white sign in the window beside the door.

      "I'm not selling anything. I'm Scott Summers, a friend of your
      daughter's -- "

      "Yeah, I recognize the name. Come on in." Turning, he yelled back
      into the depths of the house. "Lee! It's one of your band guys."

      Exiting the kitchen, a diet coke in one hand and a plastic tub of
      cottage cheese in the other -- spoon in her mouth -- Lee raised both
      her eyebrows at him, amused. Taking out the spoon, she said, "A
      phone call back would've been just fine, y'know."

      Ignoring her attempt at humor, and uncomfortable standing just inside
      the doorway with her father watching, he shuffled his feet and said,
      "You want to go for a walk on the dock? Just to talk, I mean."

      Still amused, she said, "Actually, I'd rather sit on the dock so I
      can eat my dinner. Come on." And she led him around to the dockside
      of the building. The hot-wax sky was dimming to royal purple and
      security lights glittered on bay water. Waves made slapping and
      sucking sounds at the wooden struts and the hulls of boats.
      Somewhere nearby a fish leapt. The scent of brine and the bite of
      gasoline from engines was strong. She took him some distance from
      the house where they seated themselves on sun-warmed wood. The
      rising and falling whine of passing cars marked the access road,
      invisible behind a sandy ridge. "So what's up?" she asked.

      "I screwed up," he replied. "I screwed up pretty damn bad." Angry
      at himself again, he plucked a stray pebble from the dock and flung
      it hard at the water. "Just another jerk with a penis."

      She shook salt from a little pewter shaker into the tub of cottage
      cheese and ate in silence, let the weight of that draw him out.
      After a while, he began to talk, haltingly and in a disjointed
      fashion, telling her what had transpired the night before, and that
      morning. When he was done, she said, "And you want me to fix it?"

      "I don't want *you* to fix it. But yeah, it needs fixed. Or
      something. You gave me pretty good advice once before."

      Finished now with her cottage cheese, she set the tub between her
      knees and tapped the spoon against the white plastic side. "You need
      to talk to her."

      "I tried that!"

      "No, you didn't. You called her and let her hang up on you. Why
      don't you go over to the dorm and sit outside her door? She'll have
      to come out eventually, if just to go to the bathroom." She studied
      his face in the near dark. "Are you sorry?"

      "Yes."

      "I mean are you truly sorry?"

      "*Yes.* I wasn't trying to hurt her."

      "You asked her out."

      "No, I didn't. I just asked if she wanted to go eat dinner with me.
      I didn't ask her *out*."

      "Did *she* know the difference?"

      "We've done it before -- just go eat together, I mean. Without the
      beer. But I don't . . . I never wanted to be the kind of guy who
      uses people. A girl, I mean. Well, not anyone, but . . . . Jesus
      Fucking Christ!" He pressed his face against his drawn up knees. "I
      can't even make any goddamn sense talking!"

      He felt the back of her hand slide against the side of his face. It
      was soft and cool like forgiveness. "Scott, you need to talk to her,
      not to me. You're not a bad guy, y'know. You just made a mistake.
      It happens. You care enough to want to fix it -- that says a lot
      about you."

      He raised his face. "I don't want to be a jerk with a penis."

      That got a grin out of her. "You said that already. More or less.
      Did she call you that?"

      "No. But Jean -- you know, my friend Jean, back in New York -- "

      "Scott, everyone who knows you knows who Jean is."

      He blushed. "Anyway, she was talking about guys at Vandy that way.
      They did the same thing to her and I just . . . I'd like to hurt
      them, because they hurt her. I don't want to *be* like that. Maybe
      I should, you know, go out with Phoebe for a while, so she doesn't
      think I just used her."

      "Shit, no! Look -- you can't make it not hurt that you don't feel
      about her like she feels about you, not anymore than Jean can make it
      not hurt for you." He winced internally; that wasn't a comparison
      he'd previously considered. "But dating her for a while and then
      breaking up is really condescending."

      She pushed herself to her feet, empty plastic tub in one hand and
      offering him leverage up with the other. "You're still a jerk with a
      penis, Summers, but you're basically a decent jerk. Try starting
      with an honest apology and go from there."

      He took her advice, but cornering Phoebe required two days and
      careful strategy since he didn't want to embarrass them both by
      conducting this particular conversation in a dorm hallway. He
      finally caught her outside the library computer lab and followed her
      from the building. Either her anger had filtered away or she was
      tired of avoiding him, but she left the sidewalk and headed out
      across the grass into the shade of an old Valley Oak, where she
      waited for him to catch her up. "Would you quit stalking me!" she
      snapped, when he did.

      "I'm not stalking you. I'm trying to apologize, dammit."

      "I don't want your goddamn excuses -- "

      "I'm not offering any! I said I was trying to apologize. It's not
      the same thing. Now would you please shut up and listen to me?"

      She did. They were both breathing heavily. When it was clear that
      she was giving him a chance, he said, "I'm sorry, Phoeb. What
      happened shouldn't have happened. I wasn't trying to take advantage
      of you. I just got drunk. That's not an excuse. It's a reason;
      that's all. What happened was a mistake."

      Leaf-filtered sunlight glinted off moisture in her dark eyes and she
      looked down. "Gee, thanks. I was your big mistake."

      "Fuck," he muttered and rubbed the bridge of his nose, pushed up his
      glasses absently. "Not like that. What happened was a mistake
      because what you wanted and what I wanted . . . ." He trailed off.
      He was just digging himself deeper and he had no clue how to get out
      of the pit, until he thought about what Lee had said on Sunday night,
      comparing his situation with Phoebe to Jean's with him. If the shoe
      were on the other foot, he wondered, what he would want to hear?

      "Listen," he said softly. "I like you. I don't love you, but I like
      you a lot. That's not feeding you a line. I'm not in the habit of
      going to bed with people I don't give a rat's ass about. I've just
      been lonely. I needed somebody to touch. It wasn't only about the
      sex. But I should have . . . I should have been clearer, at the
      outset. I wasn't. I let things happen because it seemed like a good
      idea at the time. You are *not* someone I want to hurt, Phoeb." He
      said it as softly as he could. "It hurt me, too. It hurts me, to
      see you hurting."

      "You like me," she whispered, "but you don't like me *that* way."

      The smallness of her voice made his heart ache. "No," he whispered
      back. "I'm sorry."

      "Why?"

      And how, he puzzled, should he answer that? "I don't know. It's
      just . . ." He shrugged helplessly. "It's not something you can
      make happen."

      "Is it something about me -- ?"

      "No." He cut her off before she could finish. "No. I told you, I
      like you. I like talking to you, I like spending time with you.
      You're fun. But the . . . that click . . . it just didn't happen for
      me."

      "Then why . . . I mean, if the . . . if you're not attracted to me
      *that* way, then why did you go to bed with me?"

      "Christ, Phoeb, you're not exactly ugly! And I told you -- it seemed
      like a good idea at the time. Don't you ever, just . . . you know,
      need to touch someone? Get a hug from a friend?"

      "Sex is pretty far from a hug, Scott!"

      "Yeah. But it wasn't just about the sex." He stopped, so he could
      figure out what he was trying to say. And why *had* he gone to bed
      with her? Drunk and horny hadn't been all of it. "Guys . . . we can
      separate sex and love pretty easily. But this wasn't that. I told
      you, I'm not in the habit of sleeping with just anyone who's willing.
      Some guys can, but I'm not made that way. I have to trust the
      person."

      "Because of the glasses?"

      "No. It's just . . . the kind of guy I am. It's true I haven't been
      to bed with anybody since -- " He tapped the glasses in question.
      "But not like you mean. I needed a lot of things on Saturday. I
      needed to touch somebody, I needed to know that someone wasn't scared
      to death of me, and I needed to know that I was still attractive.
      Maybe it sounds dumb, but guys worry about that kind of thing, too."

      She was actually listening to him now, and he recalled the
      professor's advice when he had first told EJ about his power -- that
      if he wanted forgiveness, he had to bare his own fears.

      "Where things went wrong," he continued, "is that I didn't make it
      clear. I just let it happen because I needed it. You needed
      something else, and thought it was something else, and I didn't tell
      you otherwise -- "

      "You knew how I felt."

      "Yeah, I did. Sort of." And that *hurt*. Saying that *hurt*. It
      punched him hard in the belly because it was true, that he'd wounded
      someone else because he'd let it be all about him. "I had a pretty
      good idea, anyway. But I was too drunk to think about it. And that
      was . . . " He looked away, then finished, very softly. "That was
      wrong, and I feel awful because I do like you, and I didn't . . . I
      never wanted to be that kind of person. I never wanted to hurt
      someone that way."

      He felt the sharp sting on his cheek before he quite registered that
      she'd slapped him, and not with a little tap. She'd slapped him hard
      enough to knock his glasses askew. Putting a hand up to the burn,
      and straightening his glasses, he stared at her. She was genuinely
      crying now, and trying to talk in spite of it. "You are a piece of
      work, Scott Summers. I don't know whether to believe you or not --
      that you're sorry. You knew. You *knew*. It's not okay, y'know?
      An apology doesn't make it suddenly okay." She swallowed. "I guess
      I should thank you for bothering to make one, but I don't feel
      thankful right now. I just . . . . Go away. Quit following me. I
      don't want to see you. Not for a while. Maybe in a few weeks, when
      the semester starts. Maybe then I can see you and not want to gut
      you. But not right now." And she left him standing there, a hand
      still on his face.

      Feeling shaky, he went into the library to the men's room and stared
      in the mirror at the red mark on his cheek, and he understood several
      things all at once: Good people could do bad things, and words
      weren't always a magic fix. Illusions about the self were fragile
      and shattered easily. He wasn't the person that he'd thought he was,
      and trust, once broken, was slow to mend. But most of all, he
      realized that feelings were like fish, slippery and bright and
      stupid. They didn't respond to reason.

      Phoebe was mad at him. Furious. And rightfully so. And *he* was
      mad at Jean. Still. He just hadn't let himself admit it since he'd
      left Westchester. But he *was* angry, deeply, deeply angry, and
      bruised in all his tender places. And those bruises had finally
      shown up in all their dark glory.

      Jean didn't love him. Not like he wanted her to. And he couldn't
      make her, not anymore than Phoebe could make him feel something he
      didn't feel. But understanding that didn't make him hurt any less,
      either. It didn't make him feel less small and unimportant. It
      didn't make him wonder why Jean couldn't love him back. "What's
      wrong with me, that she doesn't love me?" he asked the mirror, then
      felt immediately stupid for the question. It sounded so pathetic.

      Bending over the sink basin in the empty bathroom, he took off his
      glasses, squeezed his eyes shut and let himself cry.





      "Hey, boy-o."

      "Hey."

      "I haven't heard from you in a while, not even email. I got a little
      worried. You okay out there?"

      There was a short silence on the other end of the phone line and Jean
      waited uneasily. Then he said, "I don't really feel like talking to
      you right now, Jean."

      Belly-drop alarm. "Why? What's wrong?"

      Another silence, then, in a tight voice, he said, "You just . . .
      Jean, I'm not a gentleman. Not really. I'm just a guy, okay? I
      can't always be reasonable and grown-up. I know you can't control
      how you feel -- or how you *don't* feel -- about me. But I can't
      stop what I feel, either, and I'm kind of angry right now. I need
      some space, so I can learn how not to be so angry. It's not . . . I
      don't blame you. I don't blame you. But I'm still angry. So don't
      call me again. And don't send me email for a while." And he hung
      up.

      Sighing, at once irritated and guilty, Jean leaned back against the
      headboard of her bed and stared at the ceiling. �Feelings,' she
      remembered the professor telling her once, �are neither right nor
      wrong. They just are. And sometimes, we must forgive ourselves for
      them.'

      Or forgive others, she added.

      Scott was right, she thought. He wasn't a gentleman, or a character
      in a medieval romance, and she'd been unfair to cast him in that
      role. He was just human, and human feelings were sometimes messy.

      -----

      Feedback is always appreciated. I love to know if people are still
      reading. :-)

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