AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION
Of Fate: Tumbling Down
Warning: Some adult material, but more notably, the recounting of an
event that may well bring up difficult memories for some. Proceed
Jean Grey always wore her designer clothing without either
self-consciousness or affectation, and she knew what to do with every
piece in a full place setting. She could curtsy properly and had
taken a little ballet, a little piano, and a little ballroom dancing,
and if she hadn't lost her senses at ten, she'd no doubt have come
out as a proper debutante at sixteen. She belonged to that strata of
society defined as the Middle Rich. Her family wasn't one of the
Fortune 500, but her ancestors had come to America in the 1600 and
1700s, sporting a title, and in some circles, that meant more. Scott
knew all this, and when he'd been younger, it'd intimidated him as
much as her age. Yet at some point in the past five years, the
significance had faded and his awareness of her social status had
become compartmentalized, so when she'd described the circumstances
of Annie's death, he'd assumed it had happened in a normal suburban
neighborhood like those he knew.
Thus, when he pulled up the Mercedes before a massive iron gate in a
long brick wall and spotted the white, three-story colonial manor
behind it, he was stunned. "That's your *house*?" he asked, before
he could think to bite it back.
Feeling his astonishment, she glanced at him. "Well, it's my
parents' house, yes."
"Where did Annie live?" he asked, still trying to reconcile his
mental image with the reality.
"Down there," Jean said, pointing behind them to a quiet street lined
by ash trees and old New England homes, quaint and lovely, but
mundane enough. "That Tudor right there with all the plants out
front." It was, Scott thought, perfectly bohemian and exactly what
he'd expected -- if two or three hundred thousand dollars nicer.
(Clearly 'faculty ghetto' was figurative, not literal.) He just
hadn't expected that Jean had come from the House on the Hill, and
knew that he could never, from his own ambitions, provide her with
anything like this. Even if he lived now at a mansion that was twice
as large, it wasn't *his*, that world wasn't his, and he felt it
acutely. His mother had been right. He was an East End boy dating a
West End girl, and he'd been an idiot to think this relationship had
"What's the code for the callbox?" he asked, trying to keep his voice
level as he rolled down the window.
"Actually, I'm not sure these days. They rotate it. Just hit the
buzzer; they're expecting us. Scott, are you all right?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."
Jean knew he was lying, but returning here, it was so easy to slip
back into the world of pretenses and cropped conversations that she
let it go. When they reached the house proper, she had him park
behind her sister's car on the circle drive. Sarah and her brood had
been invited, of course. It was Jean's Golden Birthday -- the
thirty-first of July on which she turned thirty-one -- but the real
draw was the fact that Jean was bringing home a man for the first
time ever. Even Ted Roberts hadn't been granted this privilege.
Sweating a little (which he chose to attribute to the heat), Scott
opened the door of the Mercedes and got out, adjusting his tie and
picking up the sports jacket from the back seat to don it. He was so
nervous, his hands were shaking.
*You look wonderful.*
Her telepathic voice slid unexpectedly into his mind like fingers
into his hand (even if she stood on the car's other side), and he
glanced at her. She smiled, and looked so elegant standing there in
her coral linen (Helmut Lang) pantsuit -- so suited to this place --
that it took his breath away.
*Just Jean,* she sent. *Just Scott. Remember?*
It made him smile back. *I'll try.*
Walking around to her side of the car, he took her hand and set it in
the crook of his arm -- a little trick his father had taught him
once. ('Don't stick out your elbow like an oaf and expect the girl
to grab it. You take her hand with your free one and wrap it over
your arm.') Jean had always liked such small courtesies, perhaps
because he respected her enough that they couldn't be misconstrued as
When they approached the door, it opened to reveal John Grey in
slacks and a golf shirt, and Scott felt overdressed. "Come in, come
in," he said, kissing his daughter --"Happy Birthday" -- then
shaking Scott's hand. "Why don't you get out of the noose," he said,
tapping the base of his throat to indicate Scott's tie. "It's just a
family dinner, and it's summer -- too hot for that." But it was said
in a friendly way, and he opened the door wider to let them enter.
Another man had come into the foyer beyond and he gave Jean a polite
kiss on the cheek as John said, "Paul, this is Jean's friend, Scott
Summers. Scott, this is my son-in-law, Paul Bailey."
Scott shook the hand of the other man, as tall as Jean's father, but
wider both in chest and girth. He, too, wore casual clothes.
"Pleased to meet you," Paul said. He seemed more reserved, if not
specifically unfriendly. "Sara's in the kitchen with Mom."
"Mom's cooking?" Jean asked.
"Oh, yeah. Any excuse," but it wasn't meant viciously -- Scott
didn't think -- and the other man ambled away back down the hall into
the bowels of the house. Scott glanced at Jean.
*One of my mother's hobbies,* she explained. *Gourmet cooking. She
and my sister took some classes; it's the current rage, I think.
Another thing I'm afraid I'm not up on. Mom says the only way I can
cook is over a Bunsen burner.*
Scott smiled at that because it was true, even while -- now -- it
John watched them, hands on hips, perhaps sensing, instinctually,
that he was missing something. "Sorry, Daddy," Jean said, looping
her arm through his and drawing him off into a formal living room;
Scott trailed, tugging off his tie as he went (and glad to be rid of
it). "I was explaining to Scott about Mom's cooking."
"Ah," he replied. "Isn't there some telepathic etiquette about
talking behind backs?" he asked -- a teasing admonishment, yet it
surprised Scott to hear him speak with such blas� acceptance. Then
again, from what Jean had said, her parents had recognized her
abilities with remarkably little difficulty, perhaps because her
outward appearance hadn't changed, or perhaps because it was just one
more thing to make their second daughter special and they'd already
come to think of her so. Scott's parents may not have rejected him
for being a mutant, but it had been clear, on his Thanksgiving visit,
that they hadn't been sure what to make of his mutation -- whether
they should talk about it openly or politely pretend that nothing had
Now, Jean slapped at her father playfully. "It wasn't anything
secret. I was just telling him what the rest of us know."
They didn't stop in the living room, but continued on to a den
beyond, or maybe a sunroom. It was full of long windows along one
wall that overlooked the rear lawn with its sculpted flower beds and
pool. Jean's brother-in-law was already there, along with two young
children who were playing with little plastic dinosaurs on the carpet
before the fireplace. When they saw Jean, both hopped up to give her
a more enthusiastic hug than their father had. "Auntie Jean! Come
play, come play!" They handed her two of the dinosaurs as if
expecting her to join in.
And she did, with an enthusiasm that startled Scott, though neither
her father nor Paul seemed to find it surprising that Jean had doffed
all her reserve to get down on her belly with the kids on the rug
(despite her nice pantsuit), making her dinosaurs talk in
high-pitched voices as she pretended her 'meat eaters' were chasing
Joey's 'plant eaters.' It was a side of Jean that Scott had neither
seen nor expected, yet the kids so obviously adored her -- no
judgments -- that she came alive for them the same way she'd come
alive for him, once he'd gotten to know her. Love her and she
bloomed. *You should've gone into pediatrics,* he sent.
*Second choice,* Jean replied. *Or really, third. I'd probably have
done internal med if not genetics. Kids are okay but their parents
can be hell.*
"So, what are you doing this summer?" dragged Scott's attention back
from Jean. The brother-in-law had asked him a question.
"The school has kids all year, so we run a summer camp for them. It
keeps me busy."
"They're all mutants?"
It wasn't rude or condemnatory, but rather the kind of question one
poses when fishing for something to say, only half-interested and a
little awkward. When Scott answered in the affirmative, he went on,
"How many students do you have?"
"Thirteen enrolled now, and three -- no four -- scheduled to arrive
new in the fall."
"And you teach math?" There was just an edge to it, but more of
disbelief than disapproval, as if Paul Bailey couldn't imagine why
anyone would want such a job. Then again, it wouldn't have been
Scott's first choice, either.
"Math and physics," he said. "Hank -- Henry McCoy -- will be
teaching chemistry and biology, and computers, and the professor will
teach English, history and general humanities."
"Charles and I collaborated on the history a bit," John said, then,
"Can I get you a drink, Scott?" He pointed to the sidebar. "Or
there's beer in the fridge."
"I'll take a little vodka, Dad," Paul said as John rose to fix
drinks, and Scott, unsure, glanced at Jean. She sent, *It's
perfectly fine to opt for a beer, hon.* So Scott opted for a beer --
he didn't much care for hard drinks -- and the conversation passed
into a discussion of the Bailey law firm while Scott listened (all he
knew about lawyers were bad jokes), and Jean played with the children
on the floor. The voices of women floated in from the kitchen and
late afternoon sun fell golden through the wide windows, making the
velvet curtains glow. Scott wished he knew what color they were. At
one point, as if a polite afterthought, Paul turned to ask Scott if
there were any lawyers in his family.
"Not that I'm aware of."
"Your father's in business, then?"
Jean had rolled onto her side to look up even as Scott said, "No.
He's retired air force, actually. Lieutenant colonel."
"Oh, really? I got to see Harvard play them last year."
It took Scott three breaths to make the connection from the service
itself to the Air Force Academy and football, then he said, "He
didn't go to Colorado. He got a field commission in Vietnam and they
put him through school so he could fly the Blackbird -- SR-71."
The room came to a full stop until John Grey deftly changed the
subject even as Jean's sister stepped in to call them to dinner. The
shuffle of movement gave Jean an opportunity to take Scott's hand,
her fore- and middle fingers hooking through his last two. Tension
buzzed in him. *Just be yourself,* she sent as they passed through
the kitchen door into the domain of Elaine Grey.
As irritated and insecure as Elaine could make her feel, Jean also
knew that -- deep down -- her mother loved her. It had been Elaine
who'd fought to see that her comatose daughter had been given the
best of care, and it had been Elaine who'd pushed John until he'd
exhausted all avenues, and thus had stumbled over one Dr. Charles F.
Xavier. She was a mother tigress, and if Jean hated her, she also
adored her, envied her, and wished she had the same fortitude. And
it was in small things -- such as a whole day spent cooking -- that
Jean was reminded how Elaine cared. Like Scott, the measure of
Elaine's affection showed better in what she did than in what she
said. Now, Jean hugged her, conflicts momentarily forgotten in the
cotton coziness of a child's love for her mother, then she pulled
away, turning to Scott. Caution and wariness had stitched his mouth
tight. If Elaine was a tigress, Scott was a lion. "You remember
Scott," Jean said.
"Yes," Elaine said non-committally.
Scott inclined his head, polite but still watchful. "Thanks for
Jean rolled her eyes. It wasn't a slap, not really, but the words
made it clear that he was there on sufferance and Jean's nostalgic
affection twisted instantly into irritation. "Come on," she said,
dragging Scott off to the great walnut dining table before worse
Dinner extravagance showed in the cuisine, not the cutlery, for which
Scott was grateful. Elaine served watercress salad first, then
perfectly braised lamb, new potatoes, and asparagus in a peanut
sauce, all followed by baked Brie and a British pudding of cream and
sugared violets. Conversation meandered, turning first to Jean's
upcoming ER rotation. "Isn't there a way to substitute something
else? It's not as if you'll actually be *doing* emergency medicine,"
"Every doctor could, at some point, wind up doing some emergency
medicine," Jean told her sister, "even if not formally. It's a bad
rotation to skip."
"That's true," John agreed, "but we don't want you to push yourself."
No one brought up the events of March specifically; implication was
"I'll be *fine*, Daddy," Jean said in reply.
The twins had finished eating and now fled the table (and the adults)
as conversation veered towards Bard's search for a new dean in the
Division of Social Studies. John Grey was the leading candidate, but
as always when an internal nomination had been put forth, issues of
fairness had to be addressed, and the final appointment was still
hanging. The Greys, Scott learned, were an old academic family and
could boast one college president, one head of surgery at a teaching
hospital, and now John, department head and probable new dean. This
both intrigued and intimidated him, as he was the first in his family
to earn a graduate degree. Yet academia had permeable boundaries,
and quickness of wit meant much. From Jean's perspective, Scott had
little to worry about.
It was, in fact, John Grey who first brought up the issue of Scott's
continuing education. Perhaps Jean should have expected that, but it
caught her by surprise nonetheless. Beyond Paul's awkward attempts
to be polite in the den, her family had mostly ignored Scott, Elaine
by design and the others because he kept quiet. Now, her father
turned directly to him and asked what plans he had to finish graduate
Startled, Scott pulled in his chin. "Well, I need at least a year
for the application process," he said. John merely nodded and
speared potatoes, waiting for Scott to continue, and encouraged, he
launched into details, growing increasing animated. "My research
field is Mayan technology and warfare. Fred -- the guy I was
studying under at Berkeley -- was a student of Ken Hirth, who
organized the Xochicalco Mapping Project. He got a National
Geographic award for it last year, but it's in central Mexico --
which isn't Mayan. Ken would take me for Fred's sake if I could get
accepted, but Ken's got bad cancer. It's in remission, but still.
David Webster is in the same department, though, and he's doing digs
at Tikal -- which *is* Mayan -- so it still might be a good choice,
plus I'd have an in."
John was nodding as Scott spoke and Jean knew Scott had made points
for his enthusiasm and his knowledge of the field. "Where are Hirth
and Webster, Scott?"
"Oh, sorry -- Penn State."
John coughed, pretending that a bite of potato had gone down the
wrong way. Paul was less polite, rolling his eyes openly, but Scott
didn't seem to notice, caught up in his subject and hoping to impress
John by judicious academic name-dropping. Alas, the names that
registered around the table were all the wrong ones.
"I don't want to go far from New York if I can avoid it," Scott was
saying, "but if Linda Schele were still alive, it'd be worth heading
to Austin --"
"Austin, *Texas*?" Sara interrupted and Jean winced even as Scott
nodded, cheerfully oblivious.
"That's right -- UT, Austin. Schele was, like, the *mother* of Mayan
archaeology. She did more for the field than anybody else this
century. She wrote BLOOD OF KINGS and a half dozen other things.
Now David Freidel is at SMU, down in Dallas, and he worked with her
some. I seriously considered going there, but people closer to the
northeast could direct my thesis just as easily."
"I should think so. *Texas*!" Sara blurted.
Scott frowned, both puzzled and annoyed by the derision in Sara's
voice, and Jean glanced frantically at her father. John understood.
As a scholar, he was well aware that leading research in a field
wasn't always to be found at ivy league schools, yet John also knew
the value of the name on the pigskin and wasn't inclined to encourage
Scott towards either Texas or the wilds of central Pennsylvania. "So
what other schools are you considering up here -- besides Penn
"Well, Jeremy Sabloff and Robert Sharer are at U-Penn," Scott said.
John nodded in approval but Scott dismissed them both with,
"Unfortunately, they're more interested in settlement patterns, so
U-Penn isn't high on my list. Then there's Geoffrey Braswell at
Buffalo and that's a possibility, but he's only an assistant prof --
no tenure, and I'm not getting into *that* boat again."
John Grey had turned slightly pale at the mention of Buffalo, even as
Scott barreled on, "Albany'd be better," which only deepened John's
expression of alarm. "There's a whole little cadre of
Mesoamericanists up there, including a student of Schele's --"
"What about *other* schools?" Elaine interrupted, having taken in the
clash of academic priorities with predatory, lynx-like amusement.
"Say -- Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell,
Brown?" The seven crown jewels of the northeast. "Surely any of
*those* would be better choices."
"Not necessarily," Scott said, a bit testily. "Mary Miller's at
Yale, but she's in art history, and for Mesoamerica, Brown, Dartmouth
and Princeton aren't even on the radar" -- which brought startled
glances from the rest, to hear schools founded in the 1700s rejected
so cavalierly. "Now, Bill Fash's at Harvard and he's got a dig in
Cop�n" -- Elaine's eyes hooded as if to say, *That's better*, until
Scott added -- "but it's not like *I'll* ever get into Harvard."
"Why not?" Paul asked with a banal presumption. "I went there. It's
sure as hell better than Penn State, or *Albany*. Good Lord. Your
poor parents would never live it down if you got a graduate degree
from a state university."
Scott's mouth dropped open a little, foolish with surprise and sudden
comprehension. Then both shame and anger scalded his ears, and Jean
could read all too well what he was thinking -- that his parents had
never gone to a private school, and the only way he'd afforded
Berkeley had been through a scholarship and Xavier's generosity. The
class divide yawned, creating a chasm between her family's
expectations and Scott's own prospects, and beneath the table, Jean
slipped her hand onto his thigh squeezing. "Scott could get into
Harvard if he wanted to," she said with quiet certainty, garnering a
startled look from him. Undaunted, she played her Ace of Academic
Spades: "He got a 760 in the quantitative and a 780 in the logic on
That shut up the rest of the dinner table. Scott was blushing; he
knew his scores were good but was unaware -- having little for
comparison -- just how good. John Grey had almost dropped his fork.
"A 760 and a 780? Good God, what were your verbals?"
"620," Scott replied.
It was a solid if unremarkable score, and John nodded. "Not bad, and
math majors usually ace the quantitative part of GREs -- but your
logic score . . ." He trailed off and shook his head. "That's a
"Thanks," Scott said, softly.
"So," John continued, "Tell me a little more about your research
interests." And Jean knew that Scott had leapt whatever bar her
father had set in his own mind, at least for now. Elaine appeared
displeased, Sara appeared nonplussed, but at least Paul refrained
from further digs. Scott promptly lumbered off into a detailed
explanation of Teotihuacan warfare and it's probable influence on the
Maya, which bored everyone but John. Even Jean had heard it all
before (about twenty times). After the dessert, the two men departed
the dining room, still discussing Mesoamerican technology, and Jean
was left to field the disapproval of the rest.
Her mother wasted no time. "I hope you get over this tawdry little
fascination with slumming quickly. Warren Worthington won't wait
forever while you wise up." And she rose from the table, taking a
couple of dishes back into the kitchen.
Sara and Paul had turned to gape at Jean. "Warren Worthington!" Sara
said even as Paul asked, "He's interested? My God, what a catch,
Jean rolled her eyes, both for Scott's sake and Warren's. "Warren's
not a fish, Paul. He's a person. And a friend -- but that's all. I
was never dating him."
"So Mom's exaggerating again?" Sara asked as she picked up her own
plate and the twins' as well.
It would no doubt have been easier had Jean simply agreed, yet pride
interfered. Sara could never resist underscoring any failing in Jean
because she'd been unfavorably compared once too often, and Jean, in
turn, resented the constant attempts to humiliate her. So now, she
said, "No, Warren was interested. But I wasn't. I made my choice;
he's talking to Daddy in the library."
Sara glared back a moment, then shook her head as Paul rose (but
without picking up any dishes) and headed out to keep an eye on the
twins. "He seems like a nice enough chap," Paul said, pausing in the
doorway, "but, well, I don't think he'll really fit in, Jean."
"Fit in with what?" Jean snapped back.
Paul didn't bother to reply but Sara pursed her lips as she circled
the table, picking up plates and stacking them. "Don't be dense,"
she said when her husband had left them. "Can you imagine him at a
Patrons' Society party? Or New Years up at Montgomery Place? You
don't want to embarrass Mom and Dad, do you?"
"It's myself I don't want to embarrass," Jean replied, watching Sara.
"It's myself I have to look in the eye in the mirror. I'm tired of
lying just to make Mom happy."
Her sister breathed out, exasperated. "You always were the selfish
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Everything in this house has to revolve around you -- the drama of
Jean Elizabeth! Me, me, me -- that's all you think about."
"It is not!"
"Yes, it is! 'It's me I have to look in the eye in the mirror . . .'
Oh, please! You just want an excuse, and you don't give a damn if
your antics with that ditzy pretty boy make Mom and Dad a laughing
stock. Why don't you try thinking of someone else for a change?"
She stalked out, leaving her sister in the empty, echoing dining room
as shadows lengthened on a summer evening. Jean stared at the
hardening remains of her birthday pudding and let the tears slide
unchecked down either side of her nose, stinging her conscience.
"It's not true."
She jerked her head around to peer into the hallway leading back
towards the front of the house. Scott emerged from the shadows. His
hands were in his pockets and he was trying to look casual, as if he
hadn't been spying, but there was a muscle jumping in his jaw. He
grew quiet when deeply angry, and his soft rage spilled now into the
corners of the room, stiff like the cream. "You're no more selfish
than anybody else," he said as he strolled over to where she still
sat. His voice was low. "Don't buy into the shit she's handing you,
But she's right, Jean sent, I wasn't thinking about them.
"So?" Scott asked, "They aren't thinking about you, either. Don't
let them dictate your life." And that, Jean thought, was the voice
of the boy who'd gone to Berkeley in the face of his father's
disapproval. He'd always been stronger than her that way. Reaching
down, he tilted her face up and used his thumb to wipe away the
tears, then sucked at the dampness as if he could ingest her sorrow
and transform it. "You're the one who told me, 'We'll show them all
we're not a mistake,' remember?" She nodded, but thought back to his
uncertainty when they'd first arrived; this was quite the change.
Yet Scott responded to open opposition by pushing back, and her
family would have intimidated him better if they'd kept quiet and let
his own insecurities undermine him.
He'd bent to rest his hands on the back of her chair, pinning her
between. Drawing breath, he hesitated, then spoke as if telling a
tremendous secret: "I love you."
Startled, she laughed and it drew an answering smile from him,
mischievous and dimpled. Just Jean. Just Scott. Just this thing
they had where he could make her smile, make her believe, and she
could make him dare, make him persevere. In the end, everything else
fell away as rather irrelevant, really, lost in the shadows outside
the magnesium spotlight on the stage of their affection. This was
their play and they'd finish it.
Continued directly in part
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