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  • Minisinoo
    Continued DIRECTLY from 19a.... ... Scott and Jean occupied two chairs in front of Xavier s desk as yellow morning sunlight danced dust motes through the air
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 10, 2003
      Continued DIRECTLY from 19a....

      Scott and Jean occupied two chairs in front of Xavier's desk as
      yellow morning sunlight danced dust motes through the air near one
      curtained window. A globe of the world in a wooden frame rested
      nearby, and Scott and Jean had come early, before she had to leave
      for her shift at the hospital. "We're going to move in together,"
      Scott had said when they were seated and the door was shut. Then
      they'd traded speaking back and forth, like a pair of trained
      parrots. Xavier had listened from his wheelchair, hands folded in
      his lap. Finally, Jean had ended their announcement-cum-apology
      with, "We'll take an apartment nearby, if you'd rather. If you don't
      want the students to, um -- "

      "Don't be ridiculous," Xavier said finally, losing his patience.
      "Sharing a room is rather more dignified than one or the other of you
      skulking up and down the hall after midnight." And they both
      instantly went three shades pinker than Scott's glasses. "The
      students are not fools. Neither am I. And Frank and Ororo have been
      sharing a room under my roof for five years." Which was true, Scott
      thought, glancing at Jean, who had her eyes lowered. Her lashes were
      straight rather than curved, and fragile like dragonfly wings.

      "You are not children," Xavier said, reminding them of his
      admonishment on the first night he'd caught them sneaking back into
      the mansion. "As long as you comport yourselves with dignity and
      restraint in public, what sleeping arrangements you make are not my
      concern. Although with the way things have been going, having
      another empty room might be advantageous." He let an edge of humor
      slip into the comment. He really wasn't angry, and if it might take
      him longer to get over his reservations, that was his business, just
      as what they did behind closed doors was theirs. "I assume you'll be
      taking Jean's room, since it's larger?"

      "Yes, sir," Scott said.

      "Then please let me know when the empty room is available for
      occupation again."

      "Thank you, professor," Jean said as they stood and Scott ushered her
      out with shaking hands that he'd been trying to hide through the
      entire interview.

      In the hallway beyond, they just looked at each other. His eyebrows
      hopped. "That went easier than I thought."

      She nodded. "I need to go or I'll be late." She hesitated, then
      added, "Why don't you start moving things? Into my room, I mean. I
      have to work till seven again, but you can start even if I'm not


      They parted company with a chaste kiss, cheek to cheek.

      "So can you two come?"

      Jean spun around from where she'd been writing med orders in charts.
      She was in her first week of neurology, which was only one floor up
      from OB/GYN, so she saw Barb more than usual. "I kinda doubt it.
      Scott said something last night about taking the kids up to one of
      the big parks for the weekend, he and a couple of the other teachers,
      as a summer field trip, so I'm not sure -- "

      "Jean," Barb interrupted, "Why don't you want me to meet him?"

      Muscles knotted in Jean's neck and her stomach twisted. "What makes
      you think that?"

      "'Cause you've been dating this guy for eight weeks and I have yet to
      meet him, and any time I invite you over, or propose we all go out
      somewhere, there's an excuse. It's not brain surgery, darlin',
      whatever floor you're working on." She drew Jean away, off against a
      far wall where the nurses couldn't overhear. "What is it? Does he
      hate cats or something?" She grinned.

      That made Jean smile. "Actually, I have no idea if he hates cats."
      She looked away and wrung her fingers against each other. "It's just
      that he's, well, *shy* and -- "

      "A guy sportin' a grin like the one in that photo you showed me ain't
      shy. And you told me he used to sing lead for a band. Try again."

      Jean's eyes flicked over Barb, away, back, and away again.
      Disjointed snippets of conversations around them seemed loud, and
      someone, somewhere, was listening to the radio. "He's a mutant,"
      Jean said softly, three stone words thrown into the pool of their
      friendship, sending ripples.

      Barb didn't answer for a minute, though her expression didn't change.
      "That's how you met him, isn't it? Through your research?"

      "Partly. He really did hit my car."

      Nodding, the other woman pursed her lips and looked away.
      Fluorescent lights gleamed off her short blonde curls. Jean had
      half-expected reassurances that it didn't matter, but they weren't
      forthcoming. The silence stretched. "What's his mutation?" Barb
      asked finally.

      "He's an energy converter. His body absorbs solar energy and
      converts it into force blasts."

      "Sounds dangerous."

      "He's one of the gentlest men I know," Jean retorted. She'd begun to
      tremble a little with fear, a little with anger, and a veil of
      uncertainty had dropped over her vision, tucking it in at the corners
      so that she could focus on only one object at a time. "He's not
      dangerous," she added.

      "Okay," Barb said and, turning abruptly, she walked away. Jean
      stared after a minute, wondering what had just happened.

      "Dr. Grey," one of the nurses called, holding up the chart she'd been
      writing in. Breathing out softly, Jean pushed away from the wall and
      went back to work.

      Three hours later, Barb was back. "I'd like to meet him," she said
      without preamble as she caught Jean emerging from a patient's room.
      "I've never met a mutant," she added.

      Jean pursed her lips. Three hours had been time enough for
      irritation to build. "He doesn't live in a petting zoo," she
      snapped, then breathed out and looked down at the white tile floor.

      "S'okay. I probably deserved it." Once again, uncomfortable silence
      stretched. "Let's go down to the family room," Barb said and Jean
      nodded, then led them to a little room set aside for doctors to
      deliver bad news to family members. It was decorated in shades of
      gunmetal blue, maroon and pink -- calm colors -- with low lighting.
      Generic sea prints hung on the wall, as if offering infinite symbolic
      horizons. "They make me nervous," Barb began without preamble, or
      sitting down. "Mutants."

      The confession burned like a bullet to Jean's gut.

      "It's just the idea of it -- of people having special powers like
      that." Barb hugged herself and couldn't look at Jean. "From a
      scientific point of view, it's interesting and all. I can understand
      why you'd want to study it. But at the practical level? There are
      people running around out there who can do things nobody can stop."

      Frozen by a mixture of disillusionment, anger, and unexpected
      sympathy, Jean tried to swallow and couldn't.

      "I never thought I'd be prejudiced," Barb said quietly. "I try not
      to be. I don't like it. I was raised in a town where people still
      use the word 'colored' without blinking and I always hated that.
      Peel back the skin and what's the difference? Maybe that's why I
      went into medicine. But peel back a mutant's skin and they're *not*
      the same. And I feel horrible for saying it." She stopped there.
      No 'but' followed it, just the bald statement of personal

      Thawing enough to think, Jean remembered what the professor always
      said: They're scared, and it's fear that breeds hate. Jean could
      understand that in the abstract, could accept fear in the faces of
      strangers on the street, but this wasn't an unknown face. This was
      the woman she ate dinner with, traded jokes with, the one who'd
      called to ask about her when she'd been ill, the one who'd taught her
      not to be ashamed of what she felt for Scott. Squeezing her eyes
      shut, she struggled not to cry and kept her telepathy tightly
      reigned. Even so, she could sense that Barb was just as miserable,
      and it was that shared anguish that birthed Jean's courage to speak.

      "Mutants may have different physiologies, it's true. Scott sees
      differently than you or I, literally. But look into his heart? He's
      the same -- what he *feels* is just the same. He laughs, he gets
      mad, he loves, he cries. No different."

      Barb sat down finally on one of the couches. Jean sat down opposite
      her. "It's not really about him," Barb said. "From everything
      you've told me, he sounds like a good man. But he's just one

      "You can't condemn everyone, Barb --"

      "I'm not condemning *anyone*!" Barb snapped. "I said they scare me.
      That's not the same thing. I'm not stupid enough to believe it's
      their fault, or that they chose it, or that it's some kind of divine

      Jean pursed her lips, keeping to herself how condescending that

      "I don't condemn them," Barb went on. "But they scare me all the

      "Maybe you scare them."

      The other woman stopped and stared, mouth dropping open until she
      looked mildly foolish. "Why would they be scared of *me*?"

      "Because they're a minority, and minorities always depend on a
      society's goodwill." Jean paused to stare into one of the generic
      pictures; it showed a small fishing vessel on a stormy sea. How apt.
      "But if the atmosphere is distrustful, they respond defensively --
      or offensively." She risked a glance at Barb, who listened as if
      she'd never thought of it that way, and maybe she hadn't.

      "In my experience," Jean said now, "most mutants simply want to be
      left alone, and some are frightened by their own powers. Think -- if
      they scare you, how must it feel to *be* a mutant? Take Scott for
      instance; he has these force blasts. They're generated by his eyes
      -- "

      "His *eyes*?"

      Jean shrugged. "It makes sense, when you think about it, even if it
      seems odd at first. It's all of a piece. Whatever he sees --
      literally -- he can target. And no, he's not a living weapon. He
      hates to think of himself that way." Jean reached into the pocket of
      her white lab coat and pulled out her key ring, tossing it to Barb.
      Hanging off the ring amid the jingle of keys was a bit of olive wood
      fashioned into her name: JEAN. "That was my Christmas present a
      couple of years ago. He carves wood for fun. The force blasts are
      better than a knife. He's started doing bigger things now that he's
      got the hang of it."

      Barb looked at the key tag, then handed it back. "It's nice."

      "It is. But he worries all the time that he might accidentally hurt
      somebody, too. He can't change who he is. All he can do is learn to
      be responsible . . . and learn to carve wood. Mutation is like any
      special gift. A genius in physics can solve the energy crisis, or
      create the H-Bomb. I know it's a clich��, but it's true. A
      pissed-off postal worker with a gun is more dangerous than Scott is."

      "What about a pissed-off postal worker without a gun but who had
      Scott's mutation?" Barb asked, quietly. "We license people to own

      Jean looked away, because it was something they worried about
      themselves. "So do we blame mutants -- or postal workers?" Her lips
      twisted into a wry smile. "A license won't stop a guy from shooting
      his wife in a 'domestic dispute,' and it doesn't stop someone from
      stealing a gun, or buying one illegally. It's the person, not the
      weapon. There's no easy answer, but you're not the only one who's
      scared, and some of the ones who are most scared are mutants. All it
      takes is one bad apple. But you can say that of any minority, Barb."

      "I know." Once again, she seemed embarrassed, and as upset and
      disappointed and confused as Jean. She was offering something more
      rare than platitudes and tolerance; she was offering her honest
      uncertainties, her fears. These were *real* feelings, real

      Abruptly, Jean reached out to grip Barb's hand. "Would you like to
      meet a mutant?"

      Barb looked at her, smiling a little. "I thought you said he didn't
      belong in a petting zoo?"

      "Would you like to, though? Would it make you feel better -- less

      Barb wrestled with that. "I don't know," she said truthfully.
      "Maybe it would."

      Jean smiled. "Then you're sitting across from one."

      Barb jumped, and Jean watched first surprise, then understanding wash
      over her face, and she wondered if she'd just made the bravest choice
      of her life, or the most stupid. "That's why . . ." Barb trailed

      "Why I went into mutant genetics? Yes, that's why."

      "What do you . . . do?"

      Jean glanced at the table beside them. A phone, a lamp, and a box of
      generic ivory tissues. Reaching out with her hand, she lifted the
      tissue box and drifted it across to where she could catch it out of
      the air. For now, she'd keep the telepathy to herself. Start small.

      "My God," Barb squeaked, and Jean could sense that she was torn
      between amazement and white terror. "How much can you lift?"

      Jean's expression was wry. "Not a whole lot more than this. I've
      spent most of my time on grad and medical school, not training the
      TK. I'm not very powerful. I can lift books, chairs, clothes,
      tissue boxes" -- Jean held it up, then sent it to drift back to the
      end table -- "dinner dishes . . . that kind of thing. The more
      delicate it is, the harder, actually. I don't want to break it.
      Mom's a little iffy on me and the china." She glanced at Barb. "I'm
      like Scott -- I don't want to hurt anything. 'I swear to fulfill, to
      the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant: I will respect
      the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I
      walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are
      to follow . . .'"

      "... to follow.'" Barb's voice picked up hers, "'I will apply, for
      the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required . . . '"

      Jean's voice broke and she could feel the hot wet in her eyes. "I'm
      a doctor. I'm a doctor first and last. I took the same oath you did
      and my DNA doesn't change that. I just want to help people."

      Barb stared, and then -- quite abruptly -- leaned forward to hug Jean
      hard. "Thank you. For trusting me."

      Jean hugged back, glad she hadn't erred in her choice of friends, and
      she remembered something else Xavier had told her, at the same time
      he'd spoken of hatred and fear -- neither reason nor logic would
      change hearts, and theoretical mutants remained theoretical.
      Bloodless. It took a friend with skin on.

      "So she's okay with it?"

      "Well, she's not spazzing completely," Jean told Scott as they lay in
      bed together. "You sure you don't mind going over to dinner
      Saturday? It could be a little . . . strained."

      "Then we'll drink a lot of beer. I'd like to meet her finally, and
      her husband and kid."

      "And cats?"

      "Well . . . they're cats."

      "You don't like cats?"

      "I don't dislike cats."

      She laughed. "There are five of them. All Siamese."

      "Oh, Christ. Yeowl!"

      He was swatted for that. "They're very nice cats!"

      "I'm sure."

      "She could probably get us a cat."

      Instead of replying, he rolled her onto her back with himself above
      -- and kicked Ralph the snow leopard off the bed. "The real question
      is if you're okay with this?"

      "With what?"

      "With her knowing." He hadn't missed her worry, and now she looked
      away in the dark of the room. Their room.

      "I guess." Despite Barb's tentative acceptance, Jean couldn't help
      but fear it might change when the woman had time to reconsider.
      "It's a risk."

      "I know," he said softly, and enclosed her with his body. She smiled
      against his neck in the dark.

      The day had opened with the pregnant heat of late July, the kind that
      left animals and children sprawled in torpid exhaustion. But by one
      in the afternoon, purple-angry clouds had gathered and it was
      storming hard enough to take out power lines, crash branches, and
      cause flash flooding in low areas. Yet not one of the weathermen had
      predicted any such break in the temperatures.

      Scott peered out the window at a lone figure standing in the midst of
      it, barely visible behind the sheets of rain, but he could still make
      out the white hair and outstretched arms. Lips pursing, he went in
      search of her other half.

      Frank sat beneath the porch overhang, smoking. He, too, was watching
      the figure in the storm. "What the hell is going on?" Scott said
      from behind him, standing in the open door. Even from here, he could
      feel the mist of heavy rain, and it wasn't like Ororo to mess with
      weather patterns this drastically, except in an emergency. She
      *felt* the weather, how it created a web of interrelatedness, and
      didn't abuse it. Or not most of the time.

      Now, though, Frank simply reached up to hand Scott a letter whose
      return was stamped "Universit�� degli Studi di Firenze, DISPO,
      Dipartimento di Scienza della Politica e Sociologia." The Department
      of Political Science and Sociology at the University of Florence.
      "What the fuck?" Scott asked, baffled.

      "I am going home."

      Scott sat down on the step before he fell down. "Why? *This* is

      "No, Scott. This has been a sanctuary, but it is not home."

      "I never meant you had to leave! When I said that, about the team, I
      didn't --"

      "Of course you did not. Nonetheless. It is time for me to go home.
      I have things to do."

      "Couldn't you do it here? You could finish college here, and --"

      "Do you think America is the only country that has mutants?"

      "Well, no, of course not, but --"

      "What can I do from here? This is not my country. I am going home
      where I can do some good with the gifts I do have."

      Scott didn't reply immediately, simply frowned out at the storm and
      the rocking branches in the pines. "So what are you going to do?
      Start Westchester Italia?"

      "Perhaps." Frank smiled faintly. "I am not a fighter, Scott, not as
      you are. So I will fight with words and the law, and guard, as best
      I can, the rights of mutants in Europe."

      "The professor approved of this?"

      "Oh, yes. It is he who will pay for university."

      Sometimes, Scott reflected, it felt as if Frank and the professor
      were directors in some grand play for which the rest of them simply
      read parts. "I take it Ro isn't going with you?" he asked finally.

      "She is not. She is needed here." At least for the time being,
      Frank added to himself. What the future held remained to be seen,
      but for now, Ororo couldn't be spared from this place, whereas his
      own path had diverged on the night Scott had told him he couldn't
      remain on the team.

      "When are you leaving?"

      "At the end of the month."

      "Is your mother going?"

      "No. Only me."

      Scott shook his head, then boxed Frank fondly on the ear. "I'm going
      to miss you."

      "There are planes, you know. Italy is a lovely country for visiting
      when there is snow in New York."

      Grinning, Scott crossed his arms over his knees and they both watched
      Ororo out in the rain. "You will keep an eye on her?" Frank asked.
      "See that she is safe?"

      "You bet."

      And thus, it was settled. At the end of July, Frank boarded a plane
      back to Italy, chasing his visions across an ocean, going home.

      "Hey, Daddy."

      John Grey glanced up as the familiar voice drifted from behind the
      stacks of books that made a maze of his office. She wound through
      it, his Ariadne, finding his desk at the center, and rising, he gave
      her a kiss. "What are you doing here, baby girl?"

      She looked about for a non-existent chair, then settled on a stack of
      books instead. Dust puffed up and she waved a useless hand in the
      hair. "You've been in the Olin Building how many years now, and you
      still have stacks of unshelved books?"

      Hands on hips, John Grey eyed his daughter. "You didn't drive three
      hours to talk about my sloppy office habits." Jean had always come
      to him first when she had news she didn't think her mother would want
      to hear, and truth be told, he'd never dissuaded her. Sara took
      after Elaine, but Jean took after him, right down to her height and
      the red in her hair.

      Now, she looked off and twisted her hands on her knees, and he
      suspected that, whatever the news was, she had her doubts as to how
      he'd receive it. "I have a boyfriend."

      His eyebrow went up. "And?"

      "It's Scott. Scott Summers. You know, Scott -- "

      "I know who Scott is." John sat back down in his chair. It creaked,
      and he stared at the papers covering his desk, slick fliers from
      academic publishing companies, a draft of the seven-year review the
      department had undergone the previous semester, a prioritizing report
      for the college, and minutes from the last meeting of the faculty
      senate. Pushing them aside, he stood again, like a jack-in-the-box.
      "Come on, let's walk."

      Bard had all the quaint beauty of any New England college --
      landscaped flower beds, neo-Roman architecture, ivy-covered
      buildings. In summer session now, there were fewer students about as
      father and daughter ambled along a sidewalk. "Are you disappointed?"
      Jean asked finally.

      "I don't know. You tell me. Should I be?"

      "No." A twitter of three white-striped, male Carolina Wrens competed
      in the grass for the attentions of a dun-dull female. Jean watched
      them. "I love him."

      John thought back to the protective caution he'd seen in the face of
      the boy when he'd met him at Xavier's. He'd seemed ready to plant
      himself between Jean and any harm, like a bulwark. John Grey had
      liked that protectiveness, but -- "You said he left Berkeley. What's
      he doing with himself now?" The department head in him was dubious
      of defecting graduate students.

      "Teaching math for the professor. He left Berkeley because his
      advisor was sacked, Daddy, not because he quit. You know how
      department politics can be."

      Indeed, John did. But he also knew he was hearing only one side of
      the story, and John Grey was inclined to reserve judgment, both of
      Berkeley and of Scott Summers. "Is he going back to school?"

      "He'll have to, at least for a master's, or he won't be able to teach
      more than five years in New York."

      "That's all he's going to do? Teach high school?"

      "Isn't that good enough?" Her chin had gone up. "I thought you told
      me once that teaching of *any* kind was a noble profession, right
      down to preschool."

      John frowned. "It is." And he believed that -- until it came to the
      prospects of the man dating his daughter. He didn't want Jean
      saddled with ballast. This was his baby girl, no matter how old she

      Jean knew as much, even without her telepathy. Reaching out, she
      laid a hand on his arm. "He respects me."

      "If he respects you, then why'd he let you come up here to run

      She smiled. "He doesn't know I'm here."

      John sighed. "And you're counting on me to run interference with
      your mother now?"

      Her smile deepened; she didn't even pretend to deny it. "I love
      him," she said again instead.

      They eyed one another. "All right," John said finally. "Bring him
      to dinner for your birthday."

      She threw her arms around him. "Thank you, Daddy."

      "Hey, Mom, it's Scott -- Mike. I have some news."

      There was a moment of startled silence over the line. "I wondered
      when you were going to call," his mother said. "We got your letter
      about withdrawing from Berkeley." A hesitation. "Your father isn't
      Sitting down on the edge of the bed he now shared with Jean, Scott
      twisted the phone cord into loops around his fingers. "I didn't
      think he wanted me to go to Berkeley in the first place."

      "He didn't. But we didn't raise you to be a quitter, either."

      "I didn't *quit*, Mom. They denied tenure to my advisor and that
      didn't give me a lot of options but to go somewhere else."

      "I thought you said you withdrew -- ?"

      "I did. But it was because I couldn't stay there, not because I gave
      up." He made no mention of Jean.

      "So you *are* planning to go back to school in the fall?"

      Sighing, he rubbed his forehead. "No, Mom." In his mind's eye, he
      could see her tense up. "I've got to apply to a different school, be
      accepted, hopefully get another assistantship -- I can't just leap
      frog. So I'm going to teach math next year for the professor, here
      at the academy. I figure I owe him a thing or two."

      "Teaching math?"

      "What's wrong with that?"

      She didn't reply, and Scott supposed that she wouldn't think she
      needed to. His father was a lieutenant colonel in the air force, a
      decorated vet, and what was he? He frowned as his fingers made a
      complicated knot of the curled cord. "The longer you stay out," she
      warned, "the harder it'll be to go back. Life has a way of tying you

      "I know." A pause. "Anyway, I didn't call to talk about the mess
      with school. I wanted to tell you I have a girlfriend, and it's kind
      of serious."

      "Serious? As in marriage serious?"

      "Well, I don't know about *that* yet, but yeah, serious as in, um,
      we're sharing the same bedroom serious." And as soon as the words
      were out of his mouth, he squeezed his eyes shut, wishing them back.
      He hadn't *intended* to say that, but her question about marriage had
      thrown him and he'd spoken without thinking.

      And three thousand miles away, in San Diego, Kate Summers was
      suddenly unsure how to respond. Scott usually talked about his
      dating only in passing, and his parents hadn't pried. Chris and Kate
      had recognized long ago that a boy with Scott's face would have
      girlfriends, and Chris had warned him about responsibility a time or
      three, but they'd left it at that. To Kate, sex was something that
      normal boys did, if they had an opportunity, and normal girls, too
      (honestly), but the good girls didn't flaunt it.

      Publicly sharing a bed outside wedlock was flaunting it. "Your
      professor has sanctioned this?"

      "We're adults, Mom. It's our private life."

      "But you're living there at the mansion with this girl, where the
      students can see? And Charles Xavier thinks that's acceptable?"

      "It's not Catholic school, Mom." It came out harsher than he'd meant

      "Catholic or not, there are morals, Mike. Scott." He could hear the
      fluster in her voice, and not over what name to use. "If you're
      teaching teenagers, you ought to make an effort to hold yourself to a
      higher standard!"

      Scott's jaw dropped. "What? You think I'm doing her on a table in
      the dining hall?"

      "Mike, don't be crude!"

      "You implied it!"

      "I did not! But I think there's a certain code of behavior -- "

      "I won't be a hypocrite! I don't think there's a damn thing wrong
      with sex before marriage and I'm not going to hide my actions like
      I'm ashamed when I'm not. It's my private life."

      "You're a teacher!"

      "We're not parading around in front of the kids! But I'm not going
      to lie about it. The fact we *did* move in together ought to damn
      well say something. That's what I called to tell you. I'm in love,
      and it's serious. You asked if it was marriage serious -- well, I
      don't know, it's a little early for that -- but maybe so. I'd
      thought you'd be happy. You didn't even ask *who* it was before you
      launched into a lecture. Don't you want to know?"

      "Well, yes, of course I do."

      "It's Jean -- Jean Grey."

      "Your friend the doctor?"

      "Yeah. Not exactly trailer-park trash, y'know?"

      And thrown for a second time that night, Kate Summers fell silent.
      She knew her eldest, knew the tone of his voice, and heard the pride
      in it. He'd called because he wanted to strut, like a hunting dog
      who'd brought back an especially fine catch. But the mother in Kate
      felt only alarm, and now aimed her questions with a mother's
      instinctive intuition. "Did you go back to New York for her, honey?
      Did she ask you to come back?"

      Scott was startled. "No." It wasn't, technically, a lie, he
      thought. Jean hadn't asked him to come back, and if he had returned
      for her, that had been his choice. "We only started dating a couple
      months ago -- *after* I was back." That wasn't a lie, either.

      "Honey, the both of you . . . from everything you've told me, you
      come from two very different worlds -- "

      "What *is* this?" he yelled into the phone. "Can't you approve of
      anything I do?"

      "This isn't about 'approval'! I'm simply trying to tell you
      something sensible, Michael. Whatever you may feel, and if this is
      as serious as you say -- you still have to be compatible, share the
      same values, the same ideals, the same beliefs . . . ."

      "You didn't say this about Clarice! And she was *black*!"

      "And she came from a background more like yours, and was much closer
      to your age!"

      Scott ground his teeth and got up to pace around. "So you care about
      the age thing, too."

      Kate didn't miss the 'too.' "I *worry*" -- she stressed it -- "about
      a lot of things. The age difference is part of it, yes, but not all
      of it." Not even most of it, she thought to herself and sighing, ran
      a hand through her hair. "This woman is from a completely different
      class than us, and I don't want you to feel . . . intimidated, or put
      down for that."

      Scott opened his mouth to reply, then swallowed it. His fingers kept
      twining and untwining the phone cord while he stared at nothing. He
      was angry, upset, disenchanted, but mostly resentful. At the root of
      it, they all worried about the same thing -- the professor, EJ, his
      mother . . . "Thanks, Mom," he said now. "Thanks for the vote of
      confidence. You *don't* think I'm good enough for her, do you? You
      think I'm getting *above* myself with an upper class girl and her
      fancy degree!"

      He heard her shocked, "Honey! That is *not* --" as he pulled the
      phone away from his ear and slammed it down into its cradle on the
      nightstand by the bed. Then he stared at it for the rest of the
      evening, missing supper. It rang three different times, but he
      didn't answer.

      Jean found him still sitting there when she got home after eight, and
      picking up on his black mood (and that sometimes he was better coaxed
      out of brooding than talked out of it), she doffed her shoes and,
      still in her dress pants, climbed onto the bed to wrap him up from
      behind. He didn't respond immediately, but gripped her wrist with
      one hand, and gradually her patience succeeded. He let her into his
      head to see what had hurt his heart. After a few moments, she leaned
      around to press her lips to his temple. *Those were your words, Hon,
      that you're not good enough. That's what you're afraid of.*

      *It's what they're afraid of, too.*

      *I don't know -- maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But it's not their
      heads I'm in. It's yours, and it's you I'm worried about. You have
      nothing to prove to me.*

      *I did once. It took me four years, almost five, to prove it.*

      *And you succeeded. Now be a good little mathematician and put the
      pencil down. The problem is solved, the proof is done. Let it go,
      Scott. You're always telling me to quit living in the past. Take
      your own advice. Having you in my bed is not a pity fuck.* He
      coughed at that, a little burst of breath at the bluntness of it,
      though he knew her brain was rarely so prim as her mouth.

      "I belong to you," she whispered, giving it reality by giving it
      voice. "All yours. And you belong to me. So quit worrying and
      we'll show the rest of them that they don't have any reason to worry
      either. Deal?" Reaching around, she extending her pinky in front of

      Scott just blinked at it. "What are you doing?"

      "Just hook your pinky into mine. I'll show you." A bit dubious, he
      complied, and she said, "We're going to prove to them all that we're
      not a mistake, right?"

      "Damn right."

      She yanked her pinky free of his. "There. It's done, and we have to
      keep it because it's a pinky promise."

      "It's a what?"

      "A pinky promise."

      Turning to look at her, he caught her impish smile and fell back on
      the bed, putting a pillow over his face to muffle his laughter. "My
      girlfriend is a loon!"

      Notes: 'La dolce vita' means "the sweet life" in Italian, and is the
      title of a famous Fellini film.

      FEEDBACK is adored, but I'm about to leave town for 5-6 days, so I
      may be a tad slow in responding. :-)

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