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AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE: "All the King's Horses" 15a (S/J + ensemble)

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  • Minisinoo
    AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE: All the King s Horses Minisinoo http://www.themedicinewheel.net/accidental/aiof15.html Notes& Warning: This chapter
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 15, 2003
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      AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE:
      All the King's Horses
      Minisinoo
      http://www.themedicinewheel.net/accidental/aiof15.html


      Notes& Warning: This chapter contains imagery that may be disturbing
      to some readers. The albatross is for Lelia.

      -------------------------------------------------
      "You'll be sure to get sleep?"

      "As much as I can."

      "Don't let them overwork you."

      "I don't have much say in the matter, Scott."

      "Yeah, well, it makes me mad."

      Reaching up with a smile, Jean cupped his cheek, then dropped her
      hand. "You're sweet." He blushed. Yet what they said mattered not
      a whit. What mattered was her fingers intertwined with his as they
      stood at the airport boarding gate, putting off the moment when she
      had to walk down the tunnel onto the plane, and it had never before
      been this hard to leave him. Pride kept Jean from making a fool of
      herself, and she wasn't prepared to admit anything in words, but they
      held hands and leaned shoulders against a wall with barely six inches
      separating their faces. There was a softness to his expression, a
      besotted fixation, and in that moment, she truly regretted his hidden
      eyes. Palpable electricity arced between them both and she swayed
      closer, her gaze fixing on his mouth. Elated and terrified, his
      fingers tightened around hers, but the voice of a flight attendant
      broke in with a final boarding call, and she wasn't ready to rush
      this. When she kissed him finally, she wanted him to know that he'd
      been kissed. A thorough job.

      So she released his hand and stepped back, glancing around. She
      worried, too, about the casual interest of strangers; there were too
      many people watching. Such things mattered to her more than to him.
      She imagined that she read disapproval on faces, so she settled for a
      last hug, her cheek pressed to his, then grabbed her bags and hurried
      up the tunnel before the attendants could shut the gates.

      The last person on the plane, she had to eel her way almost sideways
      through the cabin back to row eighteen. It was just her luck that
      there was no space in the overhead bin so she had to store her
      carry-on three bins up, and the couple occupying seats B and C were
      big enough that they really needed the whole row. They had to get
      out to let Jean in and she apologized profusely, then sat down and
      pulled out a book to read, embarrassed by the complications of her
      tardiness. At least she didn't have to wait long for the plane to
      leave the gate. She read right up until take-off, then closed the
      pages on her finger to stare out the window as the California
      landscape fell away below. Banking, the plane turned into the
      morning sun to head east, and Jean, bored of her book already, fished
      out a picture from those she'd had developed at a one-hour shop only
      the day before. It showed Scott at the beach, standing in a silly
      pose, his face plastered with a big grin. So often he was serious,
      but when he smiled, it was delightful, wide and easy and impudent.
      She pressed the picture up against the little, double-paned oval
      window so that the back lighting made stained glass of him, illumined
      for her heart.

      "Is that your boyfriend, sweetie?"

      Startled, Jean nearly dropped the photo and turned to look at the
      woman in the seat beside hers. The other had startlingly green eyes
      in a face beginning to show the lines of middle age, and her permed
      and dyed hair also had an hint of green to it, as if she'd gone
      swimming once too often in chlorine water. Most notably, though, she
      was huge (in both girth and height), and the doctor in Jean wanted to
      make a mental assessment of heart stress, but despite the weight she
      carried, she seemed healthy. Her breathing was quiet, and the flesh
      of her arms looked solid, not fatty. Jean suspected that if they
      were standing, she'd be facing a woman who towered over even *her*.

      In any case, her seatmate had asked a question, and she wondered how
      she ought to answer? "Sort of," she said. "I mean, yes, he is, I
      think. Or I mean, I suppose he is." Then she sighed in frustration.
      That had sounded foolish even to her own ears.

      The woman, though, was smiling. "Are you headed to Chicago to see
      him?"

      "No." Jean couldn't keep the sadness out of her voice. "He lives
      out here, in Berkeley. He's a grad student in anthropology --
      studies Mayan warfare and technology." Then she blushed. That was
      far more than the other had asked, or likely wanted to know, but Jean
      found herself wanting to talk about him, as if she could cling to him
      just a little longer through the verbal.

      The stranger didn't seem to mind. "Where is home for you, sweetie?"

      "New York."

      "That's a lot of miles in between."

      "Yeah."

      "Can I see your picture?"

      Jean handed it over and the woman raised the reading glasses that
      hung about her ample neck, perching them on her nose to study the
      photo. "Nice looking fella." She turned to peer over the top of the
      glasses at Jean, and the smile returned. "I take it you haven't been
      dating long?"

      "I -- No. No, we haven't." Unhappily, Jean hugged herself, and
      the stranger noticed even if Jean didn't.

      "It's hard to be apart when it's all new. So, how did a New Yorker
      meet a California boy?"

      "Oh, I've known him a while. We're old friends." Jean grinned a
      little mischievously. "He ran into my car."

      That got a laugh from the other woman -- "Sounds like a story I have
      to hear" -- and so they settled in to chat for the three and a half
      hours to Chicago. Jean Grey heard all about Jennifer Walters' three
      daughters and five grandchildren, and her law practice in Los
      Angeles. And Jennifer heard all about Jean's residency and her
      relationship with Scott.

      "Do you believe in fate?" Jean asked at one point.

      "Fate?"

      "Yeah. I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes I feel as if . . . this
      was all *fated* somehow -- Scott and I. How else can I explain it?
      But I have this friend who's always telling me there's no such thing
      as fate and the future isn't set in stone."

      Jennifer studied Jean thoughtfully a minute before replying.
      Finally, she said. "I don't believe in fate, no. But I do believe
      in luck. Fate always sounds so *negative*. We're *fated* to do this
      or that, as if it were the pronouncement of some cosmic judge. Luck
      is more optimistic, don't you think?"

      And Jean tilted her head, turning that over in her mind, turning it
      over like a leaf. Luck, not fate. Scott wasn't her albatross; he
      was her dolphin. Or her silly sea otter.





      Jean had been told that someone would be there to pick her up at JFK
      when she returned, and someone was.

      Warren.

      Seeing him standing there, dressed in a casual sports jacket and
      pressed slacks, she felt ambushed. Her stride faltered as he called,
      "Jeannie!" and came over to embrace her.

      "Hi, War." She pinned on an expression of false cheer and let him
      take her arm to escort her out to collect her bags. Then he called
      for his car -- chauffeured, of course -- and this was so different
      from Scott picking her up in Oakland only a week before. When they
      stopped at a nice French restaurant on the way back to the mansion,
      Jean was surprised. "Why are we here?"

      "Because I know you and you probably didn't eat anything on the
      plane. My treat. Consider it a 'welcome back and good luck in ER'
      dinner."

      She didn't feel able to protest, though she wasn't comfortable. She
      knew Warren was interested in her, but she wasn't sure *how*
      interested. Warren Worthington III was a consummate playboy, and if
      she didn't fear that he'd take advantage of her only to cast her off
      like an old toy, there was a frivolity to his flirting that
      disinclined her to take him too seriously. So she donned her polite
      face, smiling and making small talk, and cast wary glances at her
      watch. Finally, she said, "I do need to get back, War. I need a
      good night's sleep before tomorrow."

      So he took her back to the mansion and kissed her hand as he left her
      on the front step; it made her blush. Ducking inside, she leaned up
      against the solid wood door and wondered what she was going to do
      about Warren? Confounded, she went quietly up to her room, opened
      her laptop, and checked her email. A letter was waiting for her.

      Subject: Home?
      From: scottsummers@...
      Date: 2/18/2001 2:21pm
      To: jegrey@...

      Bling me when you get in, so I know you got there safe. --S2

      . . . .

      jeangrey: Hi.
      bonedigger: Hi! I was starting to worry. I thought your plane
      was due in hours ago. Did you get delayed in Chicago?
      jeangrey: No, Warren picked me up and took me to dinner on the
      way back. I hate plane food, you know.
      bonedigger: Warren took you to dinner?
      jeangrey: It was just a bite. Nothing big.
      bonedigger. Oh. Was the flight okay?
      jeangrey: Fine. Long. I have a long day tomorrow, too. :-(
      bonedigger: I guess I should let you go to bed then.
      jeangrey: You don't want to talk?
      bonedigger: You should get some sleep.
      jeangrey: You sure?
      bonedigger: I'm sure. Don't let them work you too hard in ER.
      jeangrey: Okay, I won't. Night, then.
      bonedigger: Night.

      And signing off, Jean sat staring at the screen a while. How strange
      and *awkward*, she thought, and so very different from their chats up
      until her visit. Scott had seemed almost eager to get offline,
      whereas before, she'd sometimes spent fifteen minutes getting rid of
      him. And what did *that* mean, she wondered? Had he grown tired of
      her already, bored now that he had her wrapped around his finger?
      But wasn't that always the way of it with the popular boys?
      Distrustful on principle, she feared becoming just another notch in
      his bedpost, forgetting that even popular boys could have a heart and
      insecurities of their own.

      Almost three thousand miles away, Scott Summers signed off his
      computer just as confused as Jean. Though to be fair, 'confused' had
      defined his emotional state for most of the week prior. Confused,
      ecstatic, terrified, cynical . . . turn and turn and turn again, so
      that by the time her visit had ended, he hadn't known if he were
      coming or going. She'd almost kissed him in the Oakland airport --
      he could have sworn she'd been about to kiss him -- yet as soon as
      she'd gotten back to New York, she'd let Warren take her to dinner?
      Perhaps he *had* misread things, exaggerating simple gestures of
      friendship into fantasies of suppressed longing. Certainly she'd
      never shown any romantic interest in him before.

      When it came to Jean, all his usual self-assurance evaporated. Like
      many attractive men, Scott was a bit vain -- a fault that his friends
      chose to overlook because his vanity was unconscious and honest. How
      *did* one handle a face like his? Too much modesty was false, but he
      didn't dwell on it either, having found better ways to measure his
      self-worth. Nonetheless, it granted him an inadvertent arrogance
      that, combined with his natural charm, tended either to annoy women
      or to attract them. With Jean, however, that didn't apply. Her
      beauty, her intelligence, and her greater age leveled the playing
      field; she alone could make him feel common (and at some subconscious
      level, he liked that challenge).

      Yet now, wretched, angry and ego-shaken, he slammed his laptop shut,
      then flung himself down on his bed. It still smelled of her -- her
      shampoo, or perfume, or just the scent of her body -- and he rolled
      himself up in the top sheet, drunk on her scent as she'd been drunk
      on his earlier that same week. But Scott's intoxication expressed
      itself in the painfully physical, and the intense pressure of arousal
      finally led him to reach down, undo his fly, pull out his cock and
      masturbate, keeping the sheet between his hand and penis just for
      variation, or maybe so he could better pretend it was her hand.
      Already tense, the slide of cool cotton over warm flesh drove him to
      a peak quickly and he was both too intent and too lazy to stop before
      making a sticky mess of things. Then he just lay there and breathed
      before rising to root through his laundry for a dirty sock to clean
      it up.

      Much later, EJ returned to find Scott lying on his back on the living
      room floor in the dark. Flipping on an end-table lamp, he asked,
      "What�s up with you, man?"

      "My life is shit," Scott said, and turned his head away.

      Sighing, EJ walked over and plopped down on the rug by his friend,
      offering Scott a hand. Scott clasped it and let EJ pull him to a
      sitting position. EJ had been expecting this conversation for months
      and knew, at the root of it, that it had little to do with Jean Grey.
      They just looked at one another for a while. After three and a half
      years, EJ had learned to find Scott�s eyes behind the quartz, and
      appreciated how much it meant to his friend. He�d long ago stopped
      wondering what Scott�s eyes actually looked like, and couldn�t
      explain his lack of curiosity, as he knew that most of their friends
      speculated (usually behind Scott�s back). He didn�t. The glasses or
      goggles or visor were simply a part of Scott, and EJ had learned to
      read his mood in the tick of a cheek or a firming of the jaw, a
      twitch of mouth or hands, the eyebrows that rose or fell, even the
      tilt of his head. These were the windows to Scott�s soul and EJ had
      no need to see his eyes. Right now, Scott sat slumped and loose with
      depression. "Spill," EJ ordered.

      "I'm not sure I belong here anymore," Scott began. "This past week,
      it's been . . . I've remembered how to have fun. Having Jean around
      was like waking up. Since November, when the rumors started about
      Fred, it's been this . . . knot . . . in my stomach." He made a
      vague gesture towards his center; EJ listened but didn't interrupt.
      "And this semester, I've tried hard to figure out what to do, but
      I've been so angry about everything -- kind of deep down. I didn't
      let myself think about it since I'm working with King -- but Eeej, I
      *know* he did this. I know it. It's his fault, what happened to
      Fred. I can't make myself like him, and he doesn't like me, either.
      I could deal with him for a few classes, maybe even on my committee.
      But directing it? I try not to think about that, either. But I've
      got to. Hiding my head in the sand isn't going to make this go
      away."

      Scott leaned over until his forehead touched his knees, longish brown
      hair falling forward. "I don't think I can stay here."

      EJ had known the day would come when they'd each go their own way but
      he'd hoped it might be for happier reasons -- graduation, marriage.
      Yet it was upon them now. "Yeah," was all he said.

      Scott raised his head and looked up. "You agree? You're not mad?"

      "Why would I be mad, man? It's your life, and this is a crappy
      situation. Maybe you need to take three steps back out of the flying
      shit. It's only paranoia if they're not out to get you, y'know.
      Sticking it out here just because you're fucking stubborn doesn't
      prove anything except that you're fucking stubborn, y'know?"

      Scott grinned at that. "So what do I do now?"

      "Look into other universities, dimwit. Call professors in your field
      and talk to 'em, see about transferring after this semester. How
      about this David Webster guy who's doing digs at Tikal? Weren't you
      considering going down there this summer, if he'd have you on his
      project?"

      "Yeah, he's got NSF funding to excavate the city walls. Ken Hirth is
      out east, too. I love his work, but he's doing digs a little too far
      north of my interests. Still, he could direct my thesis." And they
      moved on to a discussion of potential alternative schools. Neither
      said anything about the fact that most were either in New York State
      or a day's drive away.





      "You did not have the authority to override my orders and release my
      patient!"

      Jean jumped and spun around. She'd been making notes on a chart when
      Jack Lippman stormed up to confront her. Lippman was a senior
      resident on the floor but acted as if he were the chief, and after a
      week in emergency medicine, she'd come to the conclusion that ER
      doctors were second only to surgeons in their arrogance. Now, tired
      from her first overnight with three trauma calls after eleven, she
      just stared at him. His face was shiny and red and he had protruding
      eyes under curly blond hair. "What are you talking about?" she
      asked.

      "My patient. The indigent in Room C. Russell Curtis."

      "That man was *your* patient?" A surge of rage washed away all
      Jean's exhaustion and she slammed down the chart on the counter.
      "What the *hell* did you think you were doing, calling in a psych
      consult to declare him incompetent? He was perfectly competent!
      Just because he's indigent and refuses treatment doesn't make him
      incompetent!"

      "Well, your *competent* patient was refusing an absolutely necessary
      triple bypass because his *horoscope* told him it wasn't a good *day*
      for it!" Lippman poked his finger at her, almost hitting her in the
      chest. "Let me inform you of a thing or two, Dr. Grey, since you're
      new here. Curtis comes in and out on a regular basis. He's been
      having chest pains for the past six months and suffered his second
      cardiac arrest this morning. Both have been mild, but the next one
      won't be. He's been putting off this procedure since we first told
      him he needed it, and if he'd had the operation three months ago, he
      wouldn't have made the last five trips to ER. And who pays for these
      visits? Our taxes. You just turned him out again, a man with no
      common sense or willingness to face reality. He's an alcoholic, he
      smokes, and his diet stinks. He needs that damn bypass or he'll be
      back in here -- again -- and we'll face exactly the same issue --
      again. So next time you blithely decide that a patient with a
      potentially fatal cardiac condition can check himself out against
      doctor's orders, why don't you try *asking* the attending for his
      history? Or at least try reading his *goddamn chart*." He leaned in
      to add, "Be sure I'll tell Bram" -- the chief resident -- and then he
      stalked off.

      Face flaming from fury as much as humiliation, Jean leaned against
      the nurses' station. "Bastard." The nurses behind her went on about
      their business with a click of pens and distracted voices, trying to
      pretend they hadn't overheard, but she was sure her dressing down
      would be all over the department within the hour. Turning back to
      the chart, she struggled to re-gather her thoughts and continue
      writing, then went to assess her next patient. An hour later, chief
      resident Walter Bram asked her to step into the staff niche.

      His manner was less angry than Lippman's, but still brusque. "Do you
      want to explain yourself?"

      "You can't have a patient declared incompetent just because he
      doesn't want to undergo a procedure. That's not *right*. It's a
      person's freedom we're talking about, to decide what's best for him."
      Her voice had risen a little, almost against her will.

      Bram didn't appear to notice, merely shook his head. "Why don't you
      leave the diagnosis of competency to the psych department?" He eyed
      her. "You're a geneticist doing a general med rotation, Grey, not a
      psychiatrist."

      "Neither is Lippman! He made a snap judgment! That's bad science --
      bad medicine!"

      "That's ER medicine. Get used to it. And it wasn't a snap judgment.
      Lippman has been dealing with this guy for months. You haven't.
      Don't jump over the head of a senior resident again unless you have a
      better reason than that you *think* he acted rashly. We have a
      process in this hospital. Nobody is getting admitted to Creedmore
      who doesn't need to be there. Let me tell you something. Lippman
      calls a psych consult at least once a month. They're used to him.
      They'll send someone over here, she'll smile, talk to his patient,
      then come out and tell him he's full of shit. I know you're new, and
      you don't know the routine, but that means you can't go making *snap
      judgments* yourself. Got it?"

      She stared at her feet and nodded, but felt compelled to add, "It's a
      decision about a man's sanity and his freedom of choice."

      "We're doctors, not philosophers. It�s our job to make people well."

      "Even if they don't want to be? It's his right to choose."

      Bram shook his head. "God, I'm glad you're just rotating through
      here," and he left her standing by the coffee machine.

      Leaning up against the rear wall, arms folded, she glared out at
      people passing in the hall. None of them understood what it was like
      to be locked up with the key thrown away. Jack Lippman should spend
      a week on a psych ward before he decided patients needed to go there
      just because they were stubborn and foolish. "Insolent prick," she
      muttered, then returned to her duties.

      Later that day after her shift was over, Jean described the incident
      to Warren, who said, "Wow. It sounds pretty bad." He'd come to pick
      her up at five o'clock -- as he'd taken to doing lately when she
      wasn't on call. It both flattered and frustrated her. If she and
      Scott had been communicating less since her trip to California,
      Warren had begun pursuing her in greater earnest. Now, he was taking
      her out for ice cream in his silver Rolls and she felt ridiculously
      ostentatious stopping at a Dairy Queen in a car that cost more than
      the combined yearly incomes of all the shop's employees. Still, she
      had a thing for vanilla custard soft-serve, and Warren knew it.

      That was the problem. Warren knew what she liked, and offered it
      without strings or claims that his indulgences were more than
      friendship, while Scott . . . fear and uncertainty made her suddenly
      skeptical of his intent. Handsome, popular, and confident Scott
      Summers with his personal harem of Valkyries -- what did he want with
      an overworked, inexperienced, nose-in-her-microscope, science geek?
      In retrospect, it seemed silly. When he'd been impressionable and
      young, she could understand his crush. But he knew her better now;
      he'd begun to see the real Jean, and it didn't surprise her if he
      were back peddling.

      Warren was different. He might be as handsome as Scott, and far more
      famous, but fame was a thorned rose, and his urbane attitude hid
      insecurities as deep and wide as her own. Jean understood Warren.
      He was like her, both in social class and in the disenchantments bred
      there. But unfortunately, he didn't make her belly shake, and it
      wasn't Warren she dreamed of at night. So she mediated her time with
      him, doing her best not to give him a wrong impression. Maybe with
      time she could learn to love him, or maybe not. But with Scott, the
      fire had always been there, banked beneath propriety. Scott excited
      her. Warren didn't. It boiled down to something as simple as
      chemistry.

      "The problem," she said now as she nibbled at her soft-serve, "is
      that I don't know if my call was right or wrong. The man is going to
      have a massive coronary at some point. I should probably have called
      social services or the chaplain's office since it's their *job* to
      assist patients in adjusting to illness, but I just saw that call for
      a psych competency consult and freaked. The guy was not incompetent.
      Superstitious and resisting how serious his condition is -- yeah.
      But that's not *crazy*, War. You can't label someone *crazy* for
      being afraid."

      "I don't think that's what -- "

      "It is," she snapped. "If they declare him incompetent, that's what
      they're saying."

      She could tell from Warren's expression that he didn't quite agree,
      but he didn't protest further.

      Despite her exhaustion, Jean didn't fall asleep immediately that
      night. In fact, she was still tossing restlessly at one in the
      morning and finally got up, throwing on a robe to pad down to the
      kitchen for tea. No one was around. Sitting at the table, she
      waited for the teapot to whistle and rubbed at her aching temples.
      When the pot went off, she rose to pour boiling water into a mug,
      swirling the tea bag about and letting her eyes go out of focus as
      she watched. Finally, too wound up to stand it anymore, she walked
      over to the wall phone and picked up the receiver, tapping in a
      number she knew by heart. She hadn't talked to him, voice-to-voice,
      since she'd left Berkeley, and maybe that was the problem. Scott
      revealed as much by his tone as by his words, and she needed to hear
      him, not just read his remarks on a screen.

      The phone rang four times and she wondered if anyone were there. It
      wasn't that late in California. Finally, EJ answered. "Is Scott
      around?" she asked. "It's Jean."

      "Oh, yeah, hang on." Then a bellow away from the mouthpiece: "YO
      SLIM! PHONE!" Jean had to smile. She found EJ's nickname for Scott
      rather funny. Only a man with EJ's physique would call one with
      Scott's 'slim.'

      *Who is it?*, Jean heard Scott say in the background. *Jean*, EJ
      replied. *JEAN?* *Yup.* Then, into the phone, Scott's voice:
      "Jean?"

      "Hi. You have a minute?"

      "You bet. Whatcha need?" And the utter sincerity of his tone undid
      her. It sounded like her Scott, and all the fears and suspicions of
      the past week evaporated. She leaned into the counter and sobbed a
      little. "Jean?" he asked. "What�s happened? You okay?"

      "Oh, yes." Smiling and still crying at once, she twisted a strand of
      short hair around her index finger, then told him everything that had
      happened that day, up to and including the ice cream with Warren.

      "So you're dating Warren now?" he asked.

      She sighed out in frustration. "*No.* I'm not. Would you let up
      with that?"

      A pause. "Okay." Then, "You're really not?"

      "I'm really not! God!"

      He laughed. "Okay, okay. So tell me exactly what happened in ER
      again?"

      And suddenly, everything was better, like the click and shift of a
      railroad router onto a new track. She told him about the incident a
      second time and when she was done, he asked, "How much of this has to
      do with that guy, and how much with you?"

      "What?"

      "You heard me."

      Snorting softly, Jean stared at her cooling tea. "You think I made a
      mistake."

      There was a long pause. "Yes and no. The guy wasn't incompetent,
      but -- you want the truth?"

      She pondered that, yet wasn't it why she'd called him? He'd *give*
      her the truth. "Yes."

      "I think you jumped the gun. You can't make people not be stupid --
      I mean, it *was* the guy's choice -- but you saw 'psych consult' and
      went ballistic. That's about you, not about him."

      "If he dies before he has the bypass, it's my fault, isn't it?"

      "No, it's his fault. He walked out the door. Still, you can't let
      what happened to you when you were a kid rule you, okay? Just
      because they misdiagnosed you doesn't mean they'll misdiagnose
      everyone. You were kinda a special case. It sounds like this guy
      might need serious help, even if he's not necessarily incompetent."
      Then Scott listened to her breathe, trying to control his own
      anxiety. He hadn't wanted to make her angry, but thought she needed
      to release the past.

      Finally, she said, "Okay. You have a point. So what do I do now?"

      "Nothing. It *was* his choice. But next time, think first, okay?"

      She laughed a little at that, and it cut the Gordian knot of tension
      in his gut. "It's bad when you have to tell a researcher to think
      first."

      "Hey, we all have our buttons."

      "I guess."

      "We do, Jean. Now -- tell me more about ER. I wanna hear
      everything." So they talked for almost an hour and when she hung up,
      she was smiling despite the hour, and returned to bed with cold tea
      but a lighter heart.





      "So what do you think?"

      Barb took the proffered pair of pictures to study them, and Jean
      tried not to fidget too much. After a moment, Barb shot her a little
      grin. "This isn't the blond I saw you with."

      "Ah . . . no."

      The other woman's smile widened and she held up one of the pair:
      Scott in his new hat, sitting in a tree, looking entirely too full of
      himself. "Okay, spill. Who is he, how did you meet him, and are
      there any more like this where he came from that I can introduce to
      my little sister?"

      Jean burst out laughing, relieved and flattered at once. Somehow,
      Barb always knew the right thing to say. Jean took back the pictures
      and gazed at them a moment before slipping them into one of her
      folders. "His name's Scott, we met when he ran into my car, and yes,
      he has a little brother, but I don't think they get along any too
      well."

      "So what does he do?"

      "He's a grad student working on Mayan technology and warfare."

      "So why haven�t I seen him around here?"

      "Because he�s in Berkeley, California."

      Barb made a silent, *Ah*, and Jean was sure she'd put two and two
      together about Jean's recent vacation to the west coast. "He's cute.
      But you knew that." Eyes crinkling at the corners, she regarded
      Jean a moment while sipping a 7-Up. "So how old *is* he?"

      "That'd be twenty-two." Then Jean almost winced as both Barb's
      eyebrows shot up, and she hunched her shoulders, leaning over the
      table. "You think he's too young, don't you?"

      "Hey -- women who live in glass houses can't throw stones, darlin'.
      It doesn't matter what I think. What do *you* think?"

      And Jean shoved a french fry in her mouth. "Some days I think no,
      some days I think yes."

      "What do you think when you're not worried about what people think?"

      *Shrewd, shrewd*, Jean thought. "Mostly it doesn't cross mind."

      "Ah. And there's your answer, darlin'."

      Jean nodded.

      ----
      Continued directly in 15b......


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