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AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE: Pomp and Circumstance (13b) ensemble, prefilm

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  • Minisinoo
    Continued direction from 13a..... ... The body of Bruce Banner was never found. Neither his mutated body that had fallen into the Hudson, nor the one the
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 9 6:05 PM
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      Continued direction from 13a.....
      -----

      The body of Bruce Banner was never found. Neither his mutated body
      that had fallen into the Hudson, nor the one the police thought they
      were looking for. His official status remained 'missing,' and he was
      wanted for questioning in connection with the explosion of his
      gravimagnetic field generator. If the initial feeling had been that
      he was the victim of an accident, as days passed without evidence of
      his whereabouts, the mood of the department, the university, and his
      colleagues shifted. If he bore no fault, then where was he? And if
      he were dead, why couldn't anyone produce a body? Dead men didn't
      walk away.

      As the only available survivor of the blast (officially), Jean bore
      the brunt of the investigative hurricane conducted by both the fire
      department's arson unit and OSH -- Occupational Safety and Health.
      Though everyone in the building was interviewed, Jean was called in
      for questioning three times, and with each call, OSH grew more and
      more impatient and accusatory until Xavier sent a lawyer with her the
      third time. Matt Murdock had a gift for appearing unthreatening
      (aided no doubt by his obvious blindness), but he knew his business.
      Whenever questions turned hostile, he'd break in quietly to ask,
      "Excuse me -- but is my client under suspicion of something here?"

      And of course, she both was and wasn't. With at least one dead and
      millions in property damage, the pressure was on to find a cause.
      But the GFG had disintegrated in the blast, and it made arson�s job
      that much more difficult. They had to determine whether the
      explosion had resulted from operator error, from a defect in the
      machine�s construction, or was the result of deliberate sabotage.

      Hank was interviewed exactly once, at the mansion. And the
      detectives went away without ever realizing that the man they'd just
      spoken to for almost an hour had been blue and furry. He hadn't had
      any additional information to give in relation to the accident, but
      like Jean, he'd insisted that Bruce Banner would have had no reason
      to sabotage his own project.

      OSH wasn't entirely convinced, but as no evidence of tampering or
      sabotage was discovered by arson, the case was labeled an accident
      and officially closed by the end of July ... just before Jean's
      residency began on the first of August. Hank had gone into seclusion
      after the accident, and was eventually sent overseas while a plan was
      hatched on how to handle his re-introduction into the academic world
      as an obvious mutant, without assassinating his career in the
      process.

      Scott's own absence from class had been the easiest to rectify with a
      simple phone call from the professor. When he returned to
      California, he told the whole story to EJ, DeeDee, and Lee, who were
      equal parts amazed and appalled by what had occurred. "You mean
      there's a machine out there that could make you a mutant?" Diane
      asked.

      "Only if you've got an inactive X-gene in the first place," Scott
      explained. "And if Bruce Banner's mutation is any example, maybe
      some x-genes should stay inactive." He couldn't imagine what it
      would be like for someone of Banner's intellect to be reduced to the
      mind of a four-year-old. Then again, having the mind of a
      four-year-old would have spared him knowledge of what he'd lost.

      Just now, though, Scott was concerned for Jean, who had to deal with
      the loss her academic father and also the hassles of an investigation
      during what should have been her long-overdue vacation before
      beginning residency. So he called her just to talk the very night he
      returned to Berkeley, and the night after that, and the night after
      that . . . and thus began a new pattern in the quilt of their
      history, a contact even closer than what they'd shared their first
      year.

      EJ observed it with a surprise that really wasn't. Summers was like
      a comet where Jean Grey was concerned, circling back from apogee into
      perigee, the difference this time being that Scott evinced no need to
      explain away his interest, and no embarrassment for it, either.

      But Scott did begin to experience a certain stress, a pulling between
      west coast and east. Talking to Jean regularly kept him apprized of
      events at the mansion in a way he really hadn't been since his first
      semester in California, and he felt reunited with his chosen family.
      But he wasn't there with them. Instead, he lived a continent away,
      in a state of personal flux evoked by his impending graduation and
      his entry into grad school. Even Soapbox had gone into hibernation
      since Rick's departure. EJ, Scott and Lee still got together to
      play, but they hadn't yet had the heart to replace Rick. So Scott
      moved towards his graduation at summer's end like a man moving
      through fog. He could hear voices on either side, but wasn't sure in
      which direction he should walk.

      Thus, he found himself lying on his bed one lazy afternoon in early
      August watching the wind tease his room curtains, and listening to
      Jean complain about the hours she kept now that her residency had
      started. He also heard the news of two additions to the mansion
      fold, both of whom had arrived within days of each other.

      "First, the professor took Ro and Warren down to Norfolk, Virginia to
      pick up this boy, Rusty Collins, who burned down his own house. It
      appears" -- her voice dripped with sour wryness -- "that his father,
      who's a ship engineer at the naval base, decided to engage in that
      age-old tradition of getting his son a *prostitute* for his coming of
      age."

      "You're *kidding*?"

      "Nope. Sixteenth birthday gets you a driver's license and a girl."

      Scott almost rolled off the bed, laughing. What would he have done
      himself, if his own father had pulled such a stunt on him? Then
      again, Chris Summers had probably been well aware that Scott hadn't
      needed any introduction to sex. "So what happened?"

      "He got a little *overexcited* and his power manifested." Then her
      voice sobered. "I shouldn't make a joke of it. His gift seems to be
      pyrotechnics and he burned the poor girl along with his bedroom.
      She's got third-degree burns over sixty percent of her body. I
      really doubt she's going to make it, long-term. Burn recovery from
      that amount of damage is dicey."

      "God, that's awful. How is *he*?"

      "Traumatized, as you can imagine. But despite the age difference, he
      and Bobby've hit it off. Bobby's come a long way, and he was the one
      who spent an afternoon with Rusty, talking to him about bad
      manifestation experiences.

      "Anyway, two days after Rusty got here, Frank got mugged by this kid.
      She's fifteen, been on the streets since she was twelve, and as
      skinny as a rail because she can barely *eat*. It seems that her
      mutation is an intermittent whole-body force-field. It's on more
      often than it's off, and when it's on, nothing can touch her --
      including food. She almost starved to death before she learned to
      turn it off at all. She's like a wild cat, won't even give us a name
      -- calls herself 'Skids.'"

      "And she's at the mansion?"

      "Yeah. Mugging Frank apparently comes with an invitation to dinner."
      She was laughing, and Scott had to smile, too. It was just like
      Francesco to befriend his attacker. "He probably let her do it, come
      to think of it," Jean said. "Now, she's decided he's the best thing
      since sliced bread and follows him all over the house, and whoo-boy,
      Ro is *jealous*."

      Scott grinned wider and moved the cell phone to his other ear. "Ro's
      a little proprietary about Frank." He paused, then added, "So the
      professor really is starting a school, then?"

      "Looks that way. Ro's headed to college this year, but he's got
      three new students for fall now, counting Bobby."

      In fact, the mansion would see five new students that fall, but the
      additional two arrived by way of Jeremiah Haight. A week after
      Scott's conversation with Jean about Rusty and Skids, he received a
      call from EJ's father. "Eeej isn't here," he said when he answered
      the house phone.

      "It's you I need to talk to. I got me a pair of kids down here who I
      was thinking your professor might be interested in meeting."

      Scott's eyebrows went up at that. "Who are they? *Where* are they?
      At your house?"

      "One's sleeping in EJ's old room at the moment, name of Julio Rictor.
      His mom's from the neighborhood, but his dad's from Mexico. Kid
      makes the ground shake. Literally. Kind of ironic mutation for LA,
      but there you go. It seems his dad chased him out of the house with
      a shotgun, called him a devil, and Jalisa brought him home to me.
      He's in her grade at school -- a junior."

      Jalisa was a *junior* already? Scott remembered her as a hyperactive
      fourteen-year-old.

      "Who's the other?"

      "A Chinese kid down at one of the malls who makes light shows for
      spare change. I ain't seen her myself, but Jalisa and Violet been
      down to check her out a few times, and talked to her a bit once. She
      always wears yellow, and calls herself Jubilee. Only a little thing,
      about thirteen."

      Bobby's age then. "And they both want to go to New York?"

      "Well, we kinda twisted Julio's arm. It's not like the poor kid has
      many options. He's a good boy, too, not like some around here. I'm
      going to bring him with me when we come up next week, so he can meet
      you." EJ had a party planned for Scott's graduation. As Berkeley
      held convocation ceremonies only once a year in the spring, anyone
      graduating at another time had to wait, or walk early. It hadn't
      bothered Scott as he was going on to grad school anyway. He'd just
      pick up his diploma from Sproul Hall later. As far as he was
      concerned, this wasn't the graduation that counted. He'd walk when
      he had three stripes on his sleeve and a fancy hood. EJ, however,
      felt the event needed more to mark it than "Good morning,
      congratulations, you want some coffee?" So he'd planned a party to
      celebrate.

      Now, Scott said to Jeremiah, "That sounds like a plan, if it's not an
      emergency. Does he have his power under control? And what about the
      girl?"

      "Julio seems okay, as long as he ain't upset. The power came when he
      saw his dad knock his mom around one time too many." Jeremiah's
      voice was hard. "We haven't had any tremors since he got here,
      though. As for the girl, well, she put off Violet, and didn't seem
      too interested in school talk. I'm going to go have a chat with her
      myself this weekend, but I doubt I'll have any more luck, so I was
      thinking that if Charles has time, he might come out to LA and meet
      her."

      "I'll call him and let him know," Scott said.

      "You do that. Or better, tell him to give me a buzz. I have a
      feeling there's more than two runaway mutant kids in LA; maybe we can
      set up something."

      So Scott called the professor with the news, passing on Jeremiah's
      phone number and observation both. Then he returned to studying for
      his final exams.





      Sunlight winked off the gold-foil bear on the side of his blue coffee
      mug. Gold and blue -- the colors of Berkeley -- but neither a color
      he could actually see. They were locked yet in his memory, yet even
      that was fading with time. How many years since he'd been able to
      distinguish anything but red and black? Four? What would happen
      when it was fourteen? Twenty-four? Would he still dream in color
      when he was forty-five instead of twenty-one? It seemed like a small
      question, trivial, but it haunted him. What was life without color?

      Hearing a car drive up outside, he set down the mug on the end table
      -- a mug he'd bought on his very first trip to the bookstore in his
      very first semester here. EJ pushed aside muslin curtains,
      announcing, "Dad's here," and Scott glanced over at the pile of
      things -- napkins, plasticware, paper plates and cups -- to be taken
      below for the lawn party, this time thrown with the full knowledge of
      their landlady. She'd likely still peek out the window, but they'd
      lived here two years, and she knew 'her boys' wouldn't tear the place
      apart. "Let's do it, dude," EJ said, already out the door, and Scott
      pushed himself to his feet with a little sigh, following more slowly,
      his steps weighed down by a melancholy he found ironic for the guest
      of honor.

      Outside, a light wind stirred the leaves so that they whispered
      against one another in dry voices, and mid-morning sun splintered
      through them to strike the earth in golden shards. Two cars had
      drawn up on the gravel drive, the van with Jeremiah and Violet, and a
      little Honda Civic with the younger Haight girls and a boy sporting
      cocoa skin, glossy curls, and a shy smile that earned him solicitous
      attention from JaLisa. Normally, five could have ridden in the van,
      but Jeremiah had to leave by mid-afternoon -- he was preaching the
      next day -- and the girls planned to stay. All had come early to
      help set up. Scott got hugs from the family, then was introduced to
      the young boy who caused earthquakes. Julio Rictor seemed
      soft-spoken and polite, and as melancholy in his own way as Scott.
      "You boys go upstairs and talk, and we'll take care of this," Violet
      told the two of them as she passed by, carrying a sheet cake in
      shades of red and black and what Scott supposed was white. Violet
      was thoughtful that way. There was a pick, shovel and brush on it,
      and a half-excavated pot.

      "Did you do that?" Scott asked, surprised.

      She laughed. "Not hardly. There's this woman in our church who
      works for the bakery department. I don't think there's anything she
      can't put on a cake."

      She tilted it a faction so that he could see the top better.
      "Congratulations" had been scrawled amid the excavation tools, a
      miniature mortarboard dotting the "i," and his heart lifted. "Wow."
      Why he should be cheered by a cake's decoration he couldn't have
      explained. Perhaps it was simply that someone had gone to the
      trouble.

      Scott took Julio upstairs to the apartment while the Haights set
      about preparing the yard. "They're some kinda people, aren't they?"
      Julio asked while Scott fetched them two Cokes.

      "Yeah, they are."

      "Not too many people in the world like Reverend Haight."

      "No."

      "He told me 'bout this Charles Xavier, say he takes in mutant kids
      and sends 'em to school."

      "Yes."

      "Why? He a minister, too?"

      The six-hundred dollar question, 'why.' "No, he's not a minister."
      Scott pulled out a stool from the bar and sat down. Julio remained
      standing by the window. He was a tall boy, thin, and had his arms
      wrapped around his chest in a barrier. "I've met religious people
      who weren't kind, and people who weren't religious who had the souls
      of saints. I don't think it's a matter of religion. Charles is a
      Quaker -- sorta -- but he's also a professor. He likes teaching, and
      he's a mutant like us. He told me once that he can't help everyone
      in the world, but he can help some, so he does what he can. You have
      to focus in order to keep from being . . . I don't know . . .
      incapacitated by the enormity of it all -- everything you can't fix.
      Does that make sense?"

      Julio looked over at him with speculation in his eyes, and nodded.
      "Jeremiah say he's rich, too."

      "Yeah, he is. Old money."

      "So what's he want with somebody like me? I ain't got no money to
      pay for school."

      "I didn't, either. He doesn't see the world that way."

      Julio seemed skeptical. "Everybody see the world that way."

      "Jeremiah doesn't."

      That shut up Julio. Finally, he said, "So you think I oughta go out
      there?"

      "I think it might be a good idea. But it's up to you. I think you
      should at least talk to the professor, then make up your mind."

      "It helped you, being out there?"

      "Yeah. A lot."

      "How old were you, when you . . . manifested?" The terminology was
      clearly awkward yet on his tongue.

      "Seventeen."

      "Older'n me. Did it scare you?"

      "It scared the shit out of me. I hurt seven people, one of them
      badly."

      The seemed to surprise the other boy. "Wow. So, like, what d'you
      do?"

      "My eyes emit 'optic blasts.' They're force beams. Essentially, I
      drill holes in things. I drilled a hole in the wall of my high
      school bathroom by accident, and some people got hit by flying chunks
      of concrete."

      "Shit."

      "Yeah, pretty much."

      Julio fell silent and Scott sipped Coke, watching him watch the yard
      below. It was dim in the house, and warm and stuffy. They should
      have opened the windows. "Your parents toss you out, too, when you
      turned into a freak?" the younger boy asked finally.

      His question made Scott wince. "We're not freaks, Julio. And no,
      they didn't kick me out for that."

      "So what you need with some rich guy in New York?"

      "I needed help learning how to manage what I could do." Scott tipped
      the can back and finished it off, then set it down on the counter.
      "Besides, you see any of my family hanging around today, or just
      EJ's?" The question tasted sharp and slightly vinegary, like
      sourdough.

      But acid could be shared, and it relaxed the other boy. "Okay,
      s'cool. Sorry."

      They talked a while longer about Xavier, the school, and living in
      New York while the family that had befriended them both set up a
      party down below. After a while, Scott could hear the sound of other
      cars arriving and the voices of people -- Lee, Clarice and DeeDee,
      Scott's professor Fred Hand, who wasn't much older than his students,
      some other friends from school, and then an unexpected voice among
      them all.

      "No way!" he said, surprised. "Hang on, Julio. Sorry!" He hurried
      over to the door, flinging it open to shout, "Rick!" Bounding down
      to the yard below, he slapped his old bandmate on the arm, rocking
      the smaller man. "What the fuck are you doing out here from
      Cincinnati, man?"

      Rick Chabon grinned and pushed his glasses up his nose. "I had to
      come back to pick up some of my shit from the House, so when EJ said
      you were having a party, I figured I'd plan to do it this weekend."

      "I'm glad." The words were brief, but fervent, and Scott glanced
      behind him, up at the apartment where the boy Julio stood yet at the
      window above. He waved the kid down. Having all of Soapbox together
      again, even for an afternoon, made his day. Now he understood why EJ
      had insisted that they pick up the band platform from Lee's. "You
      bring your ax?"

      "What d'you think?" Rick fished in his pocket for a pick and held it
      up. "But I'll need to borrow an amplifier."

      Scott slung an arm around Rick's shoulders. "Not a problem. I have
      so missed playing." He grinned and added, "Thanks."

      "Not a problem," Rick echoed. "Some things, you just do."

      Rick's arrival wasn't the last surprise of the day. The grill had
      just been fired up and steak brought out -- "It's a graduation party;
      we gotta do better than hamburgers," EJ had said -- when a nice
      rental drove up, parking behind the line of vehicles on the drive.
      Scott glanced at it briefly but wasn't paying attention until Lee
      pointed with her can of 7-Up. "Hey, isn't that your friend with the
      wings? I still don't get how he hides those things. Who's the guy
      in the chair?"

      Startled, Scott glanced around to find Warren manhandling the
      professor's chair through the gravel towards the back lawn, followed
      by Ororo and Frank. He was reminded of their first party here almost
      two years ago. Stunned, he said, "That's my professor," and went to
      greet his second set of long-distance guests. They'd paused on the
      sidewalk at the yard's edge and Scott bent to embrace Xavier. "You
      didn't have to come out here!" he said.

      "Well, no, I didn't *have* to." Xavier replied, releasing him. "But
      I wasn't aware a question of obligation was involved." It was spoken
      lightly, but with a touch of reproof. "Of course we came, Scott."

      "We're proud of you," Warren said, hugging Scott in turn. His wings
      were still racked beneath his sport coat.

      "You going to take that off?" Scott asked, tugging the coat lapel.

      "Maybe." Uncertain, Warren glanced towards the house.

      "It's okay," Scott said. "She knows about me." Warren still seemed
      dubious, but he let Scott and Frank help him out of the jacket and
      start unstrapping the rack.

      Jeremiah had approached the small group to greet Xavier. "Charles!"
      he said. "Glad you could make it."

      "You guys plotted this," Scott said while tugging at the leather
      straps on Warren's harness.

      "Of course they did," Ororo told him, kissing his cheek. She held a
      big box in her hands. "This is from Jean. She could not come, you
      know."

      "Yeah, I know. Residency." It disappointed him a little, but he had
      enough other unexpected company, he didn't mind too much. One rack
      strap undone, he set to unbuckling another.

      "Open the box!" Frank said from Warren's other side, pushing Scott's
      hands away, and Scott did as urged. Inside the box lay a bush-style,
      oiled leather hat with a braided band, similar to the one he'd
      accidentally left on a plane the previous year. A note was attached
      to it.

      Thought you might need a new one. You can roll this up and
      put it in a suitcase. It's 'squashable.' --Love, Jean.

      Grinning, he popped the hat on his head and Warren snorted. "Indiana
      Summers." The rack had finally come off and the wings slid free;
      Warren snapped them out to their full expanse, and to predictable
      gasps of appreciation.

      "Exhibitionist," Scott teased; Warren flipped him off as he headed
      out into the yard.

      Despite the number of people, the party remained quiet throughout the
      early afternoon. Xavier spoke at length with Julio Rictor, then
      coaxed Mrs. Gale out to sit with him in the shade of a lavender
      trumpet tree. Scott hated that tree. Every spring, it dropped fat,
      oily blooms on the lawn, but it made good shade in August. A short
      while later, Jeremiah and Violet joined them.

      The band had just begun to mosey stageward so they could play once
      before Jeremiah and Violet had to head back to LA. EJ's parents had
      never heard Soapbox perform live, and Scott and Rick were wrestling
      amplifiers downstairs when a new car drove slowly past the house,
      went down the street and turned around to come back, parking at the
      curb. Scott was busy setting up, and didn't notice, but the four
      adults sitting under the tree did. A man and woman in late middle
      age got out and proceeded with cautious steps across the gravel
      towards the party in the side yard. The woman had been blonde once,
      and still was, but with artificial help. Her makeup drew attention
      to long cat-eyes and she wore a fashionable skirt slightly out of
      place at a cook-out. The man who followed had dark hair graying at
      the temples, a fleshy nose, and bushy mustache.

      "Oh, my," Charles Xavier breathed out from beside Jeremiah, who
      glanced over curiously. "Were they a surprise, too?"

      Puzzled, both the Haights glanced at the newcomers, then at each
      other. "I'm not even sure who 'they' are," Jeremiah confessed.

      Xavier's eyebrows went up and then he smiled faintly, even as a voice
      from the lawn shouted, "Dad! Mom!" The order of their naming was,
      Charles thought, telling.

      At that, Jeremiah sat back in his chair, knees splayed, big hands
      clasped over his abdomen as he watched Scott leap down from the low
      band platform to slip between people and meet his mother on the
      sidewalk bordering the lawn. They embraced briefly while the elder
      Summers watched with an expression set in neutral. When Scott
      released Katherine Summers, Chris offered a hand to his wayward son,
      and Scott rocked back slightly on his heels, as if receiving the
      impact of a heavy object. Then he took the outstretched offer. They
      didn't touch further than that, and their expressions were cautious,
      but not hostile.

      "Well, well," Jeremiah rumbled, and Xavier could hear the man's
      thought as clearly as if he'd spoken aloud. *It's about damn time he
      showed up to something for Scott.* And while Xavier was inclined to
      agree, he knew that Scott wasn't blameless in the familial spat, and
      he also knew how much of a concession it was for Scott's father to
      set foot in the town of Berkeley. Xavier thought Scott recognized as
      much, too. The expression that Jeremiah had interpreted as caution,
      Xavier named surprise, at least on Scott's part. It might go some
      way towards mending fences between father and son.

      But did Charles Xavier want them mended? He wasn't sure. He was old
      enough, and honest enough, to name what he felt jealousy. He'd never
      been a demonstrative man, perhaps in reaction to the circumstances of
      his youth, or perhaps to the flood of others' emotions through his
      mind, but whatever the cause, he played his cards close to his chest.
      Nonetheless, a proud, blind boy had stirred his atrophied paternal
      instincts until he'd come to think of Scott as the son he'd never
      have.

      But Scott wasn't a Xavier. He was a Summers, and his real father had
      appeared finally to renew that claim of blood -- and Charles resented
      it. Jeremiah might be more straightforward in his disapproval, but
      it sprang from purer motives. A dark part of Xavier wanted the rift
      between Scott and Chris to continue so he would have no competition
      for Scott's filial devotion. That there would be a competition was
      his natural assumption from a childhood in which he'd been forced to
      contend for his mother's affection with her second husband, a cruel
      man who'd brought a child of his own into the marriage, and had
      wanted the estate for Cain. Charles had been Abel, and had suffered
      for it. If he'd escaped literal death, some days he wondered if the
      figurative death of a childless old age wasn't just as final? In any
      case, his mind turned naturally to internecine expectations.

      Violet must have noticed something. She was no telepath, but Charles
      had learned long ago that body language could speak just as loudly to
      those gifted in reading it. Jeremiah had already risen to approach
      Scott and his parents, as had EJ, and even Mrs. Gale. In their
      absence, Violet leaned over. "You don't look none too happy to see
      them."

      Xavier gave her a tight smile. "Not unhappy, merely surprised. If
      you didn't invite them, and I didn't invite them -- and I sincerely
      doubt that Scott invited them -- how did they know to come?"

      *And why?* went unspoken.

      Violet pondered that. A handsome woman even in her early fifties, she
      had the smooth, high forehead and wide cheekbones of her East African
      ancestors, though she'd gone stocky with age. Her face would never
      have been labeled 'delicate.' She was strong, in spirit and in
      features. When younger, she'd been a woman to turn heads, and her
      daughters -- and son -- had inherited her looks. Tempered now by
      years as a minister's wife, she reminded Xavier of the upper crust
      matrons of New York society, but with none of their restrictive
      affectations. Aloud, she said, "I know Scott still calls his mother
      pretty regular. He might not go home, but they talk, and this party
      wasn't a secret, even if a few on the guest list were. If it were my
      boy graduating, especially graduating magna cum laude, I'd be there.
      Wouldn't matter if we'd parted ways. Some things a parent just
      doesn't miss, no matter what. Well, not most parents."

      Yet her words didn't ease Charles's mind, merely confirmed what he'd
      feared. When all was said and done, Scott's parents had returned to
      claim him.

      And Violet seemed to follow that, though Charles was quite sure he
      hadn't projected. More evidence of her ability to read his face
      instead of his mind. "You know," she said, almost conversationally,
      "I got four kids -- four. Each is different. Each is special.
      Asking me to choose . . . I couldn't do it. Most kids, they got two
      parents if they're lucky, and they love 'em both. Asking them to
      choose'd be cruel. But some kids -- they got more than two. They
      don't want to choose, neither." Picked up her red plastic cup, she
      rose. "I need more tea."

      More amused than offended, Charles found himself smiling. It had
      been more years than he cared to count since he'd been on the
      receiving end of a lecture. Turning his chair, he wheeled himself
      towards the small crowd at the edge of the lawn.





      The sudden evening song of crickets broke loud over the yard,
      interrupting conversation with its force. Words stumbled, then
      picked up again, and as the day slipped toward evening, the air had
      cooled slightly. The grill had been shut and moved aside; guests
      munched on left-overs and sat in lawn chairs.

      Scott and his father occupied the platform where the band had played
      earlier and would play again shortly. Mrs. Gale had retreated back
      inside, and Jeremiah and Violet Haight had departed not long ago.
      Scott was faintly relieved by that.

      There were, Scott reflected, two types of ministers -- the pastoral
      variety and the prophetic variety. Jeremiah belonged to the latter
      group. At one point shortly before he�d left, had drawn Christopher
      Summers off beyond the garage, hidden from the lawn and the
      gathering. And if neither Scott nor EJ (nor anyone else) had heard
      what had been said there, the expressions of both men when they�d
      emerged had been hard like granite, unyielding, and they hadn�t
      spoken again, even when Jeremiah had left. Violet and Kate had made
      more of an effort to be civil, but it was strained, a veneer of
      feminine politeness skimming the top off curdled relations. EJ was
      inclined (naturally) to side with his parents, leaving Scott caught
      in the middle, so he�d retreated into the professor�s shadow until
      the Haights had departed and EJ had gone upstairs, chased by Clarice
      who, bless her heart, had noticed Scott�s discomfort. Freed at last,
      Scott had sat down beside his father on the band platform. Chris had
      been nursing a bottle of root beer; he never drank alcohol, not any
      more. They hadn't said anything, the silence not quite awkward, not
      quite companionable. Time had passed.

      Now, Scott realized that they shared the exact same posture:
      half-bent forward, chins up, elbows on knees, hands loose between.
      He considered moving, then changed his mind.

      It was honest, this echo of his father. He echoed Chris Summers in
      many ways, deep-down ways, but the surface of things always
      interfered. It was, after all, the surface of things that tended to
      collide, rubbing up against each other and causing friction.
      Sometimes he wondered how they could be too much alike to be so
      different. Pick any critical political issue and they'd be on
      opposite sides, often -- and ironically -- for the same basic set of
      reasons. They shared values, not opinions, and for that, he'd always
      had to respect his father, even when infuriated by him. Yet he
      wondered if Chris respected him, or merely found him a
      disappointment? He didn't know how to ask, and doubted his father
      knew how to say. Perhaps Chris's presence here, in Berkeley, said
      enough.

      So father and son sat in identical postures and watched the yard
      without speaking, because healing didn't always require explanations,
      and presence mattered more than pomp and circumstance.
      ----





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