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AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE (14c) "Turn, Turn and Turn Again" (S/J + ensemble)

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  • Minisinoo
    Continued directly from 14b.... ... The next day, Wednesday, was Valentines . When scheduling her visit, it hadn t been Jean s intention to overlap her stay
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 6, 2003
      Continued directly from 14b....

      The next day, Wednesday, was Valentines'. When scheduling her visit,
      it hadn't been Jean's intention to overlap her stay with that
      holiday, but she had to take vacations when opportunity presented
      itself and fate had played a joke. Before leaving, she'd pondered
      how to handle any potential awkwardness, given their personal
      history, and the gift she'd chosen had been generic, a CD by one of
      the bass players he idolized. In contrast, she'd spent an hour
      canvassing card shops, seeking just the right sentiment, yet
      everything had been either too trite, sagging with commonness like a
      washer woman, or too brash, like a girl who wore her lipstick too
      bright. She'd finally given up and bought a blank card sporting an
      antique photo of a young boy and a girl in a white Easter hat. The
      picture hadn't mattered much; she'd grabbed the first likely thing to
      make her own Valentine. Inside, she'd scribbled the words of Jane

      We lie back to back. Curtains
      lift and fall,
      like the chest of someone sleeping.
      Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
      they show their light undersides,
      turning all at once
      like a school of fish.
      Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
      For months this feeling
      has been coming closer, stopping
      for short visits, like a timid suitor.

      What she'd meant by that choice, even she wasn't entirely sure, but
      the image of lying back to back while watching curtains had struck
      her, reminding her of that evening after Bruce's death when she'd
      slept in Scott's bed and confessed her past in the secret of a blue
      twilight. For a moment, she'd been happy. Or at least, she hadn't
      been so devastated. And over the following weeks and months, Scott
      had been there, someone at her back. And that, she thought, was the
      essence of friendship, like rare ambergris.

      "Thank you," she'd written beneath the poem, then had paused to
      ponder what else to say. 'Thank you' had become such a devalued
      phrase, like love between friends, stepchild to relationships either
      familial or romantic. And why? She did love him -- strong and real
      and rich like loam, dark on the fingers and moist with spring.
      Passion was watercolor, brilliant and lovely, but it ran and faded,
      then washed away into the earth. Earth itself always remained.

      But how did she say that? She didn't know, and so, in the end, she'd
      settled on only "Thank you," and signed her name.

      As he had early classes on Wednesday, she doubted she'd see him
      before he left, so she woke in the night and slipped out of his
      bedroom where she was staying, tiptoeing over to where he was
      sprawled on the cushions of the couch. With only a faint light let
      in by the windows, the room had turned dim and treacherous; she had
      to move slowly. Wedging the card against the couch back under his
      shoulder, she felt her way back to his bedroom, and shut the door.

      The next morning, he woke stiff from too many nights on lumpy
      cushions, and knocked the card on the floor before he realized what
      it was. Then he picked it up and opened it, confused until he saw
      the writing inside. He sat for a long time and read it over and over
      until he realized he'd be late if he didn't move. Slipping the card
      into his satchel, he made for the bathroom.

      Nine times that day, he fetched out the card to read it through
      again, smiling like a fool. He made her happy, and at noon, he came
      home with roses, one for each year they'd been friends. He, no more
      than she, had known what to do about the coincidental collision of
      visit and holiday, so he'd done nothing, and now found himself in a
      busy florist shop along with seven other procrastinating gentlemen at
      lunchtime. "Five yellow roses?" the shop girl had asked. "Not a

      "Just five."

      "Okay." Either overworked or numbed to peculiar requests, she'd
      fetched his five roses, he'd paid and then he'd hurried back to his

      Dressed in a robe, her short hair mussed, Jean had been drinking
      coffee in the kitchen when he entered, flower-laden. Embarrassed to
      be caught so, she blushed, but to him, she looked unspeakably dear.
      He laid the flowers in front of her on the dinette and she lifted
      them to her nose, but commercial roses didn't have much fragrance,
      especially yellow ones -- a bit too domesticated, perfect and inbred.
      It was the small wild rose that choked one with scent.

      "Are you done for the day?" she asked, maybe a bit wistfully.

      "No, another class at two, but I wanted to bring these." So they
      shared lunch, and he left. She found water for her roses and stroked
      their satin petals. Yellow, for friendship.

      Or yellow for cowardice? And whose -- his or hers? She went over to
      the couch and flung herself down, surrounded by the scent of him like
      that first night in his bed. He'd forgotten to wash the sheets and
      she'd been glad. They'd smelled heavy and male, not sanitized for
      guests and public consumption. She'd rolled in it, reveled in it --
      such a small thing, but visceral, and wild.

      *You're a bad girl, Jean Grey,* she thought.

      He was eight and a half years her junior. Loving him as a friend was
      one thing -- charming, even indulgent. Desiring him was something
      else -- staring at his full mouth and wondering how it tasted, if he
      were sweet, like a peach. Or imagining the smooth skin of his cheeks
      under the pads of her fingers, and how it might roughen where his
      beard began. Would he tremble, if she touched him? Would his
      heartbeat race in the jugular under her thumb? *Your pulse is
      slightly elevated, Mr. Summers. And what about yours, Dr. Grey?*

      *You're a bad girl, Jean,* she thought. *You want to bed a boy.*

      'It's the rest of the world that sees these labels and categories --
      white, black, yellow; Jew, Catholic, protestant; rich, poor; Yankee,
      Rebel; old . . . young. You can let those things get in the way --
      or not.' Barb's words in the cafeteria a week or two back. Jean had
      been thinking about Warren. Or had she?

      'Equality. It's all about equality, and I don't mean ERA,' Barb had
      said. Age didn't necessarily reflect maturity. In some things, Jean
      knew more than Scott, but in others, she was a babe in the woods.
      He'd had a normal life, and when it came to the social, he was more
      experienced. He didn't need her to make a man of him; he�d become
      one all on his own. They balanced each other like yin and yang, but
      what would the rest of the world say?


      Standing, she headed for the bathroom. They were going out tonight.
      It was a not-date date to a local bar, Wicked Jig's, where his band
      was playing. Soapbox had a new guitarist. "He's not Rick," Scott
      had said earlier. "But he's good enough. I guess we're spoiled."
      But even without the legendary Rick and his Lake Placid Blue
      Stratocaster, she was looking forward to hearing them, to hearing
      Scott, and she dressed carefully in black jeans and a skin-tight
      black tank with lace trim along the bottom edge, eyeliner that was
      too dark and red lipstick to match her hair. Tonight, she'd forget
      about being a double doctor, about being sanitized and domesticated
      and scentless. Tonight, she'd be a little wild. She giggled at the
      novelty. Thirty years old and she was prepared to squeal like a
      teenaged band groupie.

      She was finishing up when Scott and his friends descended like
      locusts to load Lee�s van. The little space that had been quiet and
      empty and golden with the light of late afternoon turned hectic with
      seven people, at least half of whom were talking at once at any given
      time. Jean stood off to the side, out of the way, and watched with
      bemusement. After a bit, the three boys (Scott, EJ, and the new
      guitar player whose name was Andy) went down below to haul PA
      equipment out of garage storage, leaving Jean in the apartment with
      the three women, two of whom she�d met at dinner the previous Monday
      -- EJ�s girl Diane, and EJ�s sister Clarice. The third was Lee
      Forrester herself, the owner of the van in question. Jean was a
      little surprised that Lee hadn�t followed her bandmates out, but
      before she could ask, Clarice had turned to face her, saying, "You do
      realize how he feels about you?"

      And looking at the three of them -- all looking at her -- Jean
      understood that she was the antelope ambushed by lionesses. Turning
      away, she busied herself putting on her shoes. "If you mean Scott,
      yes, I know he had a crush on me once. And yes, I realize there's a
      little of that crush left, but we're only friends, Clarice. He's
      knows that."

      The other woman sat down on the arm of the couch and folded her hands
      together. She appeared uncomfortable, but determined. "Yes, he's
      your friend. But he's also in love with you, and it's not a little
      crush, or even the remnants of a little crush. I don't want to see
      you break his heart, but that's what you're going to do if you're not

      And Jean's Scottish temper, which she usually kept bound in the fine
      chains of social civility, burst free. "*You're* lecturing *me*? I
      find that hypocritical in the extreme. You *did* break his heart,
      Clarice, and I've never pretended to be anything more than his

      "There was never any *pretense* involved!" Clarice snapped before
      either of her shocked friends could come to her defense. "We loved
      each other. He broke my heart, too, y'know -- but we got past it,
      and I don't want to see him turned inside out by someone who refuses
      to recognize how he feels because it might inconvenience her!"

      *How dare you!*, Jean wanted to shout, but that was her anger
      talking. Clarice was adamant, and angry, but not vicious. She loved
      Scott still, Jean thought, but didn't want him back. She only wanted
      to be sure the woman who got him would care for him, and her
      cross-examination sprang from a rare generosity of spirit, not sour
      spitefulness. Understanding that cooled Jean's anger, though it
      still ran hot enough that she didn't stop to ask herself how she knew
      what Clarice's motivations might be in the first place. "I've never
      made any secret of the fact that I consider Scott to be a friend and
      only a friend," Jean said. "Or no -- not 'only.' That degrades it.
      Scott's my best friend. I love him, but it's not romantic and never
      was for me."

      *Liar, liar, pants on fire,* a voice whispered in the back of her

      *Shut up, conscience,* she told it.

      "He's your *best* friend?" That came from Lee Forrester whose arms
      were still crossed, and whose mouth had turned down at the corners
      with disapproval. "Where the hell were you all last year, then? And
      the year before that? You come and go when you fucking well feel
      like it and expect him to wait on you. *We* stick around; we're his
      friends. You don't treat him like a friend, you treat him like your

      "And you're a *bitch*," Jean snapped back, rounding on her. Lee was
      tall and solidly built, and pretty in a girl-next-door kind of way
      with freckles and curly hair. Looking into angry gray eyes, Jean had
      a second insight that evening -- Jean intimidated Lee, who considered
      herself a second fiddle, and not a fine one, the nicked student model
      to Jean's Stradivarius. But her envy had nothing to do with Jean's
      intelligence or education. Lee envied Jean her *looks*, and that was
      an epiphany for the girl who'd always glowered at others for being
      pretty and desired. When had she become the homecoming queen?

      "I'm sorry," Jean said to Lee, flushing. "That was uncalled for.
      But I don't know what you ladies expect me to do. Should I tell
      Scott to shove off because I don't *happen* to return his romantic
      interest?" *Liar, liar,* whispered through her head again. "Since
      when did *friendship* stop being good enough? He knows what's
      possible and what isn't. And why should I give him up just because
      he's still got a crush on me, as if I don't think he can handle it?
      That's patronizing to him. And it's not fair to me, either."

      "So it's all about you?"

      All three of them whipped heads around to the heretofore-silent
      Diane. She'd barely spoken at the meal on Monday, too, and Jean had
      gotten the impression that she was painfully shy -- such a strange
      match for the vivacious EJ Haight. But her voice now neither wavered
      nor shrank.

      "What do you mean by that?" Jean asked -- or snapped, really.

      "Just what I said. It's all about you -- what's fair to *you*, what
      *you* need, what *you* want. Not what he needs, or what he might
      hope for -- or how it feels from his side."

      And that observation pierced her, held up a mirror to let her see
      herself, and she didn't care for the reflection. Maybe the three of
      them were patronizing Scott by coming to his defense behind his back,
      but at least that defense was about him; hers had been about her.
      Insulating, isolating. The fort of Jean Grey, and hadn't she pulled
      down the portcullis since she'd been ten years old? Never let anyone
      get close again, measure out her sentiment like a parsimonious
      fishwife keeping close watch on the till. She'd give a little, a
      coin here or there to keep someone interested, but hoarded the rest
      in the well of her heart. Afraid, afraid, *afraid* of being bereft.

      Her vaunted coolness hadn't grown from childhood madness. It had
      sprung from loss, and the wall around her soul that kept her safe
      also kept her facing inward. One had to go outside the wall to see
      the world as others did.

      All these things crossed her mind in rapid flashes while the other
      three watched her. Then she burst into motion, grabbing her purse
      and dashing out the door, stamping down the exterior stairs even as
      the boys were about to climb up from below. "Are you ladies ready?"
      EJ called, grinning at her. And did he know? Had he been party to
      the ambush? Probably not. Men were more straightforward about such
      things -- for good or ill.

      "I'm ready," she replied and pushed past him towards his car parked
      on the other side of the van. Opening a back door, she stashed
      herself inside, hoping the three girls would take the other vehicle
      -- which they, in fact, did. Scott rode up front with EJ, and Jean
      in the rear. The guitar player had his own transportation. In the
      car, Scott kept glancing around at her, smiling a little. Had he
      sensed her mood and was attempting to cheer her, or was he just happy
      to have her there? It made her think again about Diane's question.
      How *did* he feel, really? Did he secretly think this might go
      somewhere? Or did he know it wouldn't, and was content with
      friendship? Would he be honest with her, if she asked?

      *And what do you feel, Jean Grey?* she asked herself. Could she be
      honest with herself? Did *she* secretly think this might go
      somewhere, or was she content with friendship?

      *Beautiful boy,* she thought, staring at his profile in the twilight.
      But the smoothness of left over adolescence had faded, chiseled down
      into the angles and lines of adulthood. Beautiful boy no more --
      beautiful *man*.

      He turned back and caught her staring. She flushed and dropped her
      eyes, but he didn't. She could feel them even behind those glasses,
      curious. She looked up again and held his gaze until it passed from
      curious into uncomfortable. This time, he looked away first, not
      glancing back again until they'd arrived, then he seemed uncertain,
      embarrassed, hurried. Stumbling out of the car, he walked over to
      where the van had parked and helped unlock the back doors. She
      watched, her stomach squeezed and every muscle in her body weak.
      *This is love,* she thought with wonder. Thirty years old and she
      was in *love* for the first time in her life, really, truly in love.
      Not just friendship and not only desire, but the whole of it --
      passion, adoration, affection, and painful tenderness. And it
      couldn't be.

      Could it?

      Getting out of EJ's car, she snatched her purse to check and see if
      she'd brought her phone. She had. Then passing by the unloading
      band members, she told Scott, "I need to go to the little girl's
      room. I need to make a phone call." He just nodded as he lifted a
      case free and she disappeared inside the package shop to head down to
      the bar below. Wicked Jigs. Jean had been in relatively few bars,
      and the atmosphere here -- rough and brash with pool tables under
      Tiffany lamps and a busy dart-board -- made her uncomfortable.
      People glanced her way as she entered, assessing the fresh meat, and
      she made a beeline for the women's rest room. It was early still, so
      there was no line; diuretic beer had yet to begin passing through
      systems. The emptiness inside gave her some privacy and she opened
      her phone, dialing back to New York. It would be late there but she
      badly needed to talk to one person. "Professor," she said when he
      answered. "I'm sorry to call you at this hour."

      "It's all right, Jean." She could hear his body shift. Had he been
      lying down? Or reading in his chair by a cheerful fire in his
      suite's sitting room? "Is there a problem?"

      "I don't know," she blurted, then hesitated. Admit it? Could she
      admit it? Wasn't that what she'd called to do? Admit the truth out
      loud finally?

      *Just do it, do it, do it, do it.*

      "I'm in love with Scott," she said, speaking rapid fire.

      A pause on the other end. "Excuse me?"

      "I'm in love with Scott," she said more slowly, her heart pounding.
      "I'm in love with him, professor. Completely, totally, insanely in
      love with him." And she giggled like an excited child.

      Another pause, even longer, then a cautious question, "Jean -- has
      something . . . happened?" And what had he meant by that, she
      wondered? But before she could ask, he went on, "Have you confessed
      this to Scott? Or has he said anything to you?"

      "No, no," she said. "Not yet."

      *And that was it, wasn't it?* she thought. Not *yet*.

      "I want to. I should. I was thinking about telling him tonight."

      And over two thousand miles away, in New York, Charles Xavier let out
      the breath he'd been holding, relieved that nothing had happened yet,
      alarmed that something might . . . but not surprised at all. This
      had been coming, inexorable, for months -- like a great train wreck.
      He rubbed his forehead. How to explain, how to phrase this, how to
      turn her back gently from disaster when the fire of ardor was hot in
      the blood? But he knew, he *knew* how terrible it was to fall in
      love with the wrong person, how it could savage the heart and the
      soul when -- inevitably -- it didn't work out.

      "Jean, my dear," he said softly, "I want you to think about this very
      carefully. Scott is twenty-two years old -- "

      "I know," she interrupted. "I've thought about it. I've thought and
      thought and thought, but I love him."

      "I know you do." He neither denied nor qualifying her statement with
      'you think you do.' He was certain she loved Scott, and that Scott
      loved her; he was also quite certain it was fundamentally unhealthy.
      Jean was Scott's dream girl -- dream *woman*, rather -- and that was
      the point. She was a woman and a fantasy, and Xavier knew that at
      some subconscious level, Scott believed winning her would make him a
      man. He didn't see her as she was -- fragile and uncertain and
      insecure, and in desperate need of acceptance. And Jean? Scott was
      what she'd never had in high school. The popular boy, attractive and
      urbane, who was utterly fixated on *her*.

      As friends, they were splendid for each other. But as lovers . . . ?
      Scott would never feel wholly adequate, and Jean would always fear
      being usurped, because those deep down fears would be exacerbated by
      such a pairing, not alleviated by it. She was interested in him now
      only because she was socially immature herself. Had she been able to
      pursue a normal life, he'd strike her as exactly what he was -- a boy
      on the edge of manhood. But emotionally, Jean was about twenty-two
      herself . . . even while in other ways, she certainly was not. And
      that could cause serious problems. Charles had to look no further
      than his own parents for an example of a match with a substantial age
      gap that had turned out disastrous.

      He wished this might have come up safely in Westchester where he'd
      have had more leisure to deal with it instead of speaking across the
      miles on a cell phone. Yet he wasn't surprised that Jean's epiphany
      had happened there in a college town; it only reaffirmed what he
      already knew: Jean sought in Scott the normalcy she'd never had.

      "Jean," he said, "I must be frank with you. A relationship with
      Scott would be *inappropriate*." Blunt, painful -- but necessary
      like surgery. "While I have no doubt that the affection you and
      Scott both feel for one another is quite real, and quite intense, it
      springs from needs that *are not* healthy." He could hear soft
      noises on the other end, and knew she was crying. It broke his
      heart, but he pressed on. "He's a boy, Jean. He needs to grow up,
      and with you, he'd never be able to do that. He would always be your
      *boy*friend. And you would always fear that his eyes would wander to
      younger women. Perhaps if you both were some years older . . . but
      you aren't."

      The sound of her crying was louder, mostly because she was trying to
      hide it. "Jean, I'm glad that you are finding these emotions in
      yourself. You've been repressing intense feeling for years, and
      Scott's friendship has been excellent for you -- but his *friendship*
      only. I cannot, of course, make your choices for you. These are
      your choices. But I'd be a terrible mentor if I told you that a
      romantic relationship with him was a good idea.

      "I'm sorry," he ended.

      "I know," she sobbed, then a nearly incomprehensible, "Thank you."
      And the connection closed before he could protest. Almost, he called
      her back, but suspected that she'd only hang up again. Sighing, and
      more deeply troubled than he cared to admit, Charles laid the
      ear-piece back in its cradle. In the long run, it would be better.

      On the other end of the line, Jean leaned her head back against cold
      metal. Halfway through the brief conversation, she'd fled into a
      stall in case she were walked in on. Now, she let herself sob
      quietly. The professor was right. What she felt for Scott was
      wrong, inappropriate, unhealthy (sick). *You're a bad girl, Jean
      Grey,* echoed in her head again. Then the inevitable happened. The
      door opened and in came two people, Clarice and Diane by their
      voices, discussing something mundane. Jean sucked in breath and
      tried to keep her crying quiet -- unsuccessfully. The other two fell
      abruptly silent. Half a minute passed. Jean struggled to stay mute.
      Finally, Clarice said, "Jean? Is that you?"

      And now what did she say? Her sorrow turned to frustration turned to
      anger. "Go away," she snarled.

      A pause, then, "Jean, I'm sorry." It was the same thing the
      professor had said, but they weren't really sorry. None of them was
      sorry. "We didn't want to hurt you -- but we didn't want Scott to be
      hurt, either. We felt like we had to say something."

      Simmering anger boiled again into out-and-out fury and Jean fumbled
      with the stall-door lock, yanking it open to hiss. "Sorry? I don't
      think so. You just wanted to meddle in my business. You have no
      idea what I feel for Scott. No idea!" Grabbing her purse, Jean
      pushed past both of them and ran out the door, then glanced about
      almost wildly for the exit. The band was up on the stage, busy for
      the moment (for which she was grateful) and Clarice and Diane had
      just come out of the bathroom, faces concerned, Clarice's mouth open,
      ready to say something further.

      Jean couldn't stand it. She fled back up the stairs, through the
      package shop and out into the early evening dark on Telegraph Avenue.
      There, she walked down to Bancroft and from there to Shattuck,
      wiping at her face as she went. Between the heavy makeup she'd put
      on earlier, and the heavy crying in the bathroom a few minutes
      before, she knew she looked rather pathetic, black-eyed and wrung
      out. Her hair, never her best feature even on a good day, lay flat
      and limp. The wind of her own passing blew it back a little from her
      face. She ignored the others she passed on the sidewalk. They were
      mostly young -- younger than her.

      *You're a sick girl, Jean Grey. Sick, sick, sick.* It made a mantra
      in her head as she walked.

      Passing a Taco Bell, she decided to go inside and get cleaned up in a
      bathroom where she wasn't likely to be barged in on by well-meaning
      busybodies who were Scott's friends, not hers. Inhabited mostly by
      college students, the restaurant was comfortingly generic, and she
      wove between people dressed in upscale winter grunge from
      Ambercrombie and Fitch or The Gap, and one bright splash of
      commercial tie-die so very different from the handmade originals that
      might have been seen in Berkeley thirty years before.

      Thirty years. She was thirty years old, not a college student, not
      Scott's contemporary, she was a woman and she looked ridiculous
      dressed in her little black-lace groupie outfit like a beldame caught
      in a midlife crisis. Stalking into the restroom, she stopped in
      front of a mirror.

      She could see that she was indeed a mess and turning on the tap, she
      set her purse on the counter to wash her skin free of all makeup.
      Then grabbing brown paper towels, she scrubbed herself dry and stared
      at her face again. Her complexion was no longer taut and smooth, and
      the barest hint of permanent lines bracketed her mouth. Eyelashes
      that had once been thick and dark in defiance of eyeliner now needed
      artificial assistance. There were bags under her eyes and creases in
      her cheeks when she smiled, and her face had lost all that soft
      smoothness of a girl's. If the ravages weren't so terrible yet, she
      couldn't pass for twenty ever again, nor even for twenty-five. The
      strain of her schooling had put gray under the red dye, too. She
      wondered if Scott had a single gray hair on his head?

      The counter was wet, and Jean used towels to wipe it clean, then
      pulled herself up to sit in her black designer jeans. Scott would
      surely have noticed by now that she was gone and he'd be worried --
      but what could she possibly say? She couldn't have stayed there a
      minute more. She wasn't even sure she could go back; the thought
      made her stomach queasy. At the base of it, Jean was an emotional
      coward. If her temper were ignited, then she could stand her ground
      to yell at Clarice, tell off the police who'd been interviewing her
      about Bruce, or -- two years ago now -- break up with Ted in a Fifth
      Avenue garage. But her choleric courage struck her at inopportune
      times when she'd been pushed to her limits. It was out of control,
      bright and sharp and red, like her hair. Except her real hair wasn't
      red. It was auburn, and so was her resolution. More often, she
      shrank from brutal honesty. It wasn't, as far as she was concerned,
      necessary very often, causing more problems than it solved. When did
      honesty become simply self-centered rudeness?

      *If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.*

      She'd heard that all her life, yet is wasn't entirely compassion or
      sensitivity that motivated her reticence. Deep down, Jean needed to
      be loved -- or at least not to be hated. Disagreements made her
      stomach ill, as did disapproval. She would continue miserable in
      heart if it let her avoid an ugly confrontation. In that, and looked
      at with detachment, Jean had to admire feisty little Clarice.
      Despite her titanic height and her brontosaurus intellect, Jean was
      no natural crusader. Criticism curled her in on herself, reducing
      her to a child once again, scolded for unladylike behavior and crying
      in a corner of her bedroom. She was never enough. In herself, she
      was never enough, and perhaps that was why she drove herself so hard
      to prove to someone, somewhere that she deserved to be taken
      seriously. The Amazon wallflower from the mental ward could do
      something with herself. She was *Dr.* Jean Grey, M.D., Ph.D. and no
      one was ever going to snicker at her again behind hands. Was it such
      a terrible thing to want, just once, to be happy and loved? But some
      taint in her always chose the impossible, or the *inappropriate*.

      Grabbing her purse, she dug for her phone again and slammed it open,
      dialed another number, waiting for an answer. The phone rang several
      times before a voice said, "*Pronto?*" There was a terrible racket
      of music in the background and she guessed he must be clubbing with


      "*Bella Jeannie! Come va?*"

      "Terrible, Frank."

      A brief pause, then, "You wait a minute, okay? You're on your cell?"


      "I'll call you back." And the phone disconnected.

      She waited, turning the little silver phone nervously in her hands.
      She was still alone in a Taco Bell bathroom and the absurdity of that
      amused her. But a few minutes later, the phone rang again and she
      answered quickly. "Hello? Frank?"

      "What is wrong?"

      So she told him, and she wept again a little, and shook though the
      bathroom wasn't cold. He listened quietly like he always did. Scott
      was an active listener, nodding, slipping in a 'yeah' or 'mmm' or
      asking questions. Frank simply listened, the sound of his breathing
      the only evidence of his attention. When she'd finished, she ended
      it with, "I need to know, Frank. Would it be such an awful mistake
      if we got together? Is the professor right?"

      His breath went out. "Jean -- you *know* . . ." He sighed. "I
      cannot tell you the future. There is no 'future.' We make our own
      futures. People have *many* reasons for doing the things they do.
      Some are good; some are not so good. It is rarely so simple as
      'good' or 'bad.' S�, s�, in some futures, you and Scott might become
      a couple and it would be a terrible thing. In others, it would not
      be so terrible but not happy. In others, you would live like a fairy
      tale, and in still others you never become a couple at all. Which of
      them is *the* future? All of them."

      There was a long pause. She didn't interrupt his thinking. "I do
      not need to tell you what you feel. You know what you feel. And I
      cannot tell you what to choose. It is your life. All I can tell you
      is that, whatever you choose, whether you are happy or sad will
      depend on why you make the choice. If you love Scott for himself,
      then you will be happy. If you love Scott for *yourself*, then you
      will be disappointed -- and that would be true no matter who it was,

      She laughed a little and wiped her eyes. Here she was, being
      lectured about love and reality by a boy even younger than Scott, but
      as ageless as a god.

      "The professor, he means well, you know? But to have a power like
      his, to see into the minds of people -- it is dangerous. Easy to
      think you see everything. He knows he does not, just as I know I do
      not. Sometimes, though, you make choices in your arrogance . . . ."
      His voice trailed off and Jean wondered what choices he was thinking
      of. "Things do not always turn out as you think. The professor --
      he does not want that you and Scott should hurt each other. But you
      and Scott will hurt each other anyway, whether or not you mean it.
      The more we love, the more we can wound.

      "Jean," he said gently, "the only way that you can avoid to be hurt
      is not to feel at all, not to do, not to *live*. Love is risk,
      *bella*. Life is risk, you know? But sweeter for it. *La dolce

      "Yeah," she whispered.

      "Take your time. You are not the hare, no? There is no rush. The
      hare, he didn't win the race. Patience, *bella*. I will not tell
      you it will all work out -- you would know I was lying. I will only
      tell you to follow your heart, not your fears, eh?"

      She nodded, though he couldn't see it. "Okay. Thank you, Frank."

      "*Prego, s'immagini.* You go enjoy your evening."

      "You enjoy yours."

      "*Sempre. Ciao, bella.*" And he hung up.

      Sighing, Jean closed the phone and stared at her hands, and that's
      where her age showed most, wasn't it? Lined, with rough skin and
      blunt nails, they were working hands. But she minded less now. Age
      brought patience, and Frank was right. She wasn't the hare, and
      never had been. Cautious Jean, she trudged along, but she reached
      her goals. Hopping off the counter, she surveyed her bare face in
      the mirror. Maybe it wasn't so bad. Digging in her purse, she
      reapplied her make-up, but lighter, like she usually wore it, an
      accent, not a concealment. Finished finally, she left the
      restaurant, less crowded now than it had been even thirty minutes
      before, and then headed back to the bar. Scott was pacing around
      outside in the parking lot by the time she got there. He yelled her
      name when he saw her and ran up, a little breathless, questions
      tumbling over themselves getting out, "Where have you been? They
      said you ran out so I went after you and I've been up and down
      Telegraph ten times and -- !"

      She put two fingers over his lips to shut him up. "I'm sorry. I
      needed to think, that's all."

      And though she couldn't see his eyes, she could sense his anxiety.
      "Think about what?"

      "My business, nosey." She smiled at him and, rather to his surprise,
      pushed her way into his arms. They closed around her, hesitant. Her
      grip was stronger, but with affection only, and she laid her head on
      his shoulder. She wasn't the hare, she was the tortoise; and if it
      took a little while for them to get anywhere, well, that was okay.
      She let him go after a second, then clasped his hand to pull him
      towards the door. "Come on. If you have time before you have to
      perform, you want to teach me to play darts?"

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