"The Approach of Splendor" (3/3) Scott, adult [SPECIAL]
- Continued directly from Part 2/3
My birthday fell on October 31st, Halloween. I can't recall whether
I'd liked that as a child, but as an adult -- and a mutant -- I found
it ironic at best. Fortunately (to my mind) the mansion was far
enough off the beaten track of trick-or-treaters that the professor
didn't make much of the holiday. But he did make much of my
birthday. I had a cake, balloons, even an unexpected guest -- Warren
drove over from New Haven. Technically, my birthday fell on a
Monday, but they chose to celebrate it the weekend before so Warren
could be there. I hadn't had a birthday like it since the foster
home in Kearney, and found myself smiling all through the meal.
Hank had (predictably) bought me books, including the RIVERSIDE
SHAKESPEARE. Warren, who'd embarked on a crusade to lure me to Yale
the next fall, had come armed with Bulldog paraphernalia. I just
laughed at him. I'd kept my promise to visit, but still found absurd
the idea of squandering a five-digit yearly tuition on a kid with a
viral death sentence -- even if I had a prayer of getting into Yale
in the first place, with my record.
Jean's gift, however, took me by surprise, though it probably
shouldn't have. She'd bought me that blue silk shirt from the mall,
and a few others besides, none the sort of clothes I wore now -- but
not the kind I'd worn before, either. I tried to hide my
ambivalence, going into the kitchen to doff my button-down and try it
on for her. It was too large, as I'd known it would be, but felt
wonderful against my skin, soft and cool -- maybe a little too cool
for that time of year with short sleeves, but I ran a hand down the
front anyway, indulgently. It had been the feel of it that had drawn
me in the first place. When I came back out into the dining hall,
she smiled, saying, "I told you it'd look good on you." And all I
had to do was glance at Warren's face to know she was right. That
upset me, and I just wanted to get it *off*, but if I took it off,
I'd hurt her feelings. Torn, I stood halfway between the kitchen and
the table, unable to move in either direction.
*She thought you didn't buy it because of the price, Scott.*
The professor's voice, inside my head. And I understood then, but
the price had nothing to do with it. *It was on sale,* I sent back.
I didn't know what else to say, how to explain.
He must have understood anyway. *It is a chilly day,* he offered. A
Aloud to Jean, I said, "Thanks. But I'm, uh, a little cold." I
turned around in place once, obediently modeling, then escaped back
into the kitchen to redress in simple cotton. It would be two years
before Jean's shirt fit me, either in size or display.
My most significant birthday present, though, came on the day after I
turned seventeen, in Yonkers Family Court.
Normally, the assignment of my wardship would have been completed
within six months, but the fact I'd come from Nebraska complicated
matters, turning my case into a battle between states, though I
wasn't sure if both were trying to exert their control by claiming
me, or by forcing the other to take me to get out of dealing with a
brain-damaged, HIV positive, mutant juvenile delinquent. I was a
caseworker's placement nightmare. But the fact that I was the ward
of one state while the petition for my guardianship was being made in
another meant two court systems and two state child protection
services with different criteria had to talk to one another and come
to an agreement. Twice, the professor himself had gone to Nebraska
to expedite matters. He hadn't taken me with him. Until these last
few months, I really hadn't been up to dealing with the legal snarls
and frustrations, but now I'd taken an interest. It was my life,
Our court appearance today marked the final step in the process. The
professor and I were to appear before the Honorable Janice DiFore
sometime around 11am for her ruling as to whether or not he'd become
my legal guardian permanently, instead of just temporarily. The
professor wasn't nervous but I was a basket case. Everything rode on
this decision. If she ruled against us, I didn't care what anyone
said, I'd be gone before they could catch me. There was no way in
hell I'd go back to Nebraska, even for a year. Xavier kept telling
me that the odds were all on our side, and even if she said 'no,'
it'd only be a year. I could make it for one year, then I'd be an
adult and could return to New York with no opposition. But he'd
never been a ward of the state. A year was a hell of a long time,
and I didn't have so many of them left to waste one in purgatory.
I'd asked -- once -- if he'd mess with the judge's head for me, and
he'd just looked at me in that way he has, saying, 'I'm disappointed
in you,' without a word being spoken. I never asked again, though
(many years later) he did admit that he'd have done whatever it took
because he'd also been well aware that I'd planned to run again, if
forced to return. 'But it's better *not* to circumvent the law,
unless given no choice. I didn't want you to view mutant gifts as an
excuse to become a law unto one's self, Scott.' Later, I understood
that it would also have robbed me of my victory, made it cheap. I
had my day in court, and it meant something.
Carol Morrison, my caseworker, met the two of us outside the
courthouse. Xavier wore one of his ubiquitous suits and I'd dressed
well, but not formally. Hank had helped me choose: a sport jacket
over an oxford, no tie. He'd offered to come, too, as had Jean, but
I'd wanted to do this without an audience, in case it went against
us. Now, Carol gave me an encouraging smile when she took my hand in
greeting, but I didn't react (from nerves), and she asked to speak to
*Oh, joy. Here we go again,* I thought.
She took me to an anonymous private room inside the courthouse and
sat me down in a hard wood chair at a battered, institutional table,
got me weak coffee in Styrofoam but didn't offer an ashtray until I
asked for one. She doesn't approve of my bad habits but knows better
than to bother fighting them. I lit a cigarette and politely blew
the smoke away from her. I still turned to Camels at times for
convenience, though preparing a pipe would probably have been more
calming for me right then. But I didn't want people to think Xavier
had influenced me that much.
She sat across from me and watched a moment. "You're absolutely sure
you want to go through with this? After today, it'll be a lot harder
"Goddammit." But it came out more tired than angry. "How many times
do I have to fucking say this? I know what I'm doing. You think
there's some weird voodoo shit going on, but there's not."
"Scott, this is the strangest case I've ever seen. Fifty-something
multi-millionaires don't offer to become foster fathers for --"
"I didn't say that. I've never used that term."
"Yeah, I know. But you can cut the PC crap. It's what I am."
"That and a good dozen other things." She sighed. "You're almost as
unique as your situation, and I thought we were past your attempts to
shock me for effect. But the fact remains that you're a very pretty
young man, and he's old, unmarried . . . red flags go up all over the
I took a drag and this time, blew smoke right at her along with my
words. "You think I'm his house boy. You still think that, no
matter what I say. Fuck. Why in hell are we even having this
conversation? I know you're going to tell the judge to turn me
down." My belly had shriveled and it was all I could do not to bolt
from the room and leave the courthouse altogether.
"The judge makes her own decision. Background and medical checks
have been run, your own statements are on record, along with others .
. . everything turns up roses. But Scott -- I *worry*."
"Yeah? Save it for somebody who needs it." I held the cigarette up
and watched the smoke curl, lazy and aimless, in the room's still
air. It kept me from looking at her. I wasn't sure why I was so
mean to her. I'd had bad caseworkers before and Carol didn't
qualify, but ever since she'd been assigned to my case, she'd been
pushing and prodding about Xavier's interest in me. Naturally, given
my history, she'd feared it involved sexual favors, and if she
*hadn't* been concerned, she'd have been irresponsible. I knew that.
She was just doing her job. But it had become a thorn in my side.
"Look, like you said, everything's been cleared. You have my medical
reports and you have *his* medical reports. He's a *paraplegic*,
dammit." I was being disingenuous and we both knew it. "You've had
the Department of Probation, ACS," (Administration for Children's
Services), "and the State Registry," (the State Central Registry of
Child Abuse and Maltreatment), "all over this case, and they haven't
found a single goddamn thing against him. Plus I've told you . . .
how many times now? . . . that he doesn't want sex from me. I think
I'd know, okay? I'm not being coerced, forced, or fucking
blackmailed. He's an advocate of mutant rights. I'm a mutant. You
don't have to look any further than that."
She was smiling ever so faintly. "You weren't a mutant last year,
Scott. How did he know?"
She's not a dumb woman. and she smelled a rat. It was just the wrong
rat. "Chance," I lied.
"You're hiding something."
"No, I'm not!" It was a little too vehement, a little too
self-righteous, but even former con artists and ex-hustlers have
off-days. Her face told me that she wasn't buying it and I sighed.
"Look, you think there's something more here. There's not -- not
like you mean." I fell back on honesty when all else failed. "So
this is the weirdest case you've ever seen. Big deal. Is it really
so hard to believe there are good people out there?" The question
tasted strange on my own cynical tongue. "If so, why are *you* doing
this shit yourself? It's not like you get any decent pay for it."
Finally, I'd struck true. She blinked. I barreled on before she
could say anything. "He's a good person, okay? So he happens to be
filthy rich, so the fuck what? It's a crying shame how others assume
rich people are just out for themselves. Envy." I thought of Warren
as well as Xavier. "The professor treats me like I'm a *person*, not
a side of beef, or a pity project, or a fucking *problem*. He talks
to me and he listens to me. He thinks I might have something to say
and a brain in my head. Isn't that *good enough*?"
I wasn't sure where this was coming from, but my irritation had
unleashed my tongue and I couldn't shut up, even if I were digging my
own grave. Xavier had believed in me when I'd needed it. I'd defend
"Okay, fine. You want an ulterior motive? Well, try this one. He
doesn't have any kids. He'll never have any kids. I don't have a
dad any more. Did it ever occur to you that it might be as simple as
that?" It was as close as my pride would let me get to, *He's become
my father. Don't orphan me twice.*
Carol had actually teared up, and now wiped at her eyes. She freely
expressed all the feelings I couldn't anymore, and maybe I'd finally
found the right alchemy of words to convince her because she said,
"All right. But I had to be *sure*, Scott. This is a
"Too good to be true. Yeah, I know." And whatever I'd just said
about Xavier, a part of me was *still* waiting for the other shoe to
drop, so I could hardly blame Carol for it. I leaned back in my
seat. "Will the judge rule for us?" I'm sure she could read a lot
of things in my face, including my fear, hope, and suspicion.
"I think she probably will. But I'll be honest with you, the best
argument in your favor *isn't* your hard-to-place status, or the fact
you're a mutant. It's how you speak, Scott -- at least when you're
being yourself. You're an exceptionally intelligent, articulate
young man. Special. It makes the fact that you wound up in a
special situation a little easier to believe."
I blinked behind my glasses. How strange to hear her call me the
same thing the man in the silver jag had, over a year ago. Erik
Lehnsherr. I knew his name, now.
"Go in there," Carol said, "and when the judge asks you questions,
speak like yourself. Don't play games or try to hide your brains.
Maybe you're the son Dr. Xavier never had, but he didn't pick you
randomly. Like calls to like. However you came to his attention" --
her smile was wry and I knew she didn't believe the story Xavier had
spun a year ago -- "you *kept* his attention because you're you. And
that's the best argument you've got for convincing the judge that
he's the right guardian to assign. We do *want* to do what's best
for each child, Scott."
I chewed on that a moment. Xavier had fought this battle, jumped
through legal hoops, because it was me, and he was laying claim to me
in some symbolic way that maybe even he didn't fully recognize.
"Okay," I said finally.
Carol escorted me back to where Xavier waited patiently in the
hallway near the courtroom. The place smelled of varnish and
recycled air, and he gave me a faint smile when we returned. He
didn't have to ask what the eleventh-hour consultation had been
about. *I take it you've soothed her concerns yet again?*
*Yeah. She's like a damn terrier.*
*She has every reason to be suspicious, Scott. In fact, I admire her
for her tenacity.*
Carol had seated herself and was thumbing through my folder. I stood
near Xavier's chair. We were, of course, late getting in, and called
forward even later. Far from my first time in family court, I'd
wisely brought a book to keep myself occupied -- tried not to think.
Xavier just sat quietly, eyes shut, meditating. Finally our turn
came and Carol led us forward, presenting the petition. The judge, a
woman in her mid-fifties, thin and neat with beauty-parlor permed
hair, listened, and when Carol was finished, crooked a finger at me
to approach the bench. Surprised, I hesitated, but Carol pushed me
forward. I went. The judge studied me a moment, then asked, "This
is what you want?" Yet the simplicity was deceptive. There was
nothing perfunctory here, and for the first time since I'd woken in
Omaha's Children's Hospital after the plane crash, I felt as if what
*I* thought actually mattered. She'd read the reports, heard the
petition, but she wanted my opinion.
"Yes, ma'am, this is what I want."
She couldn't see my eyes behind the glasses, but I felt as if she
knew right where they were. She held them a full minute, and I
didn't look away. "You can change your mind, even now."
"I know. I don't want to."
Nodding once, she picked up her gavel. "I hereby approve the
petition of Charles Francis Xavier, residing at 1407 Greymalkin Lane,
Westchester, New York, to become the guardian of the person and
property of Michael Scott Summers." And she brought her gavel down.
That echo is lodged forever in my mind. Freedom for me sounds like
the crack of wood-on-wood.
There was a little party at the mansion afterwards and I got tipsy on
champagne. The fact that my newly appointed guardian would give his
underage ward two glasses of bubbly might have raised the judge's
eyebrows -- but I doubt it. I fell asleep by ten (early for me) and
slept the clock round; I'd needed it. When I woke in the morning,
the professor was already in his office and had been for a while. He
called for me after my shower. There was another man there, too, who
I'd never seen before. "Scott, this is one of my attorneys, James
Davidson. Jim, Scott Summers." The man rose to shake my hand.
"Have a seat, Scott."
I got all tense. What was happening now? Was this the other shoe
dropping? Had I been a fool, after all? Sensing my alarm, Xavier
actually motored his chair out from behind his desk and up beside the
one I occupied, laying a hand on mine. *Relax. Just a few more
Bemused -- hadn't the court clerk taken care of everything yesterday?
-- I accepted the documents that Davidson offered me and looked down.
It was a will . . . the professor's will. Davidson droned on,
explaining the complicated legalese that converted Xavier's family
estate into a trust fund. I'd been named as a signatory -- my
presence had been required so Davidson could get my signature -- but
I'd also been listed first and foremost as inheritor. The estate
would retain Xavier's name, but would pass to me upon the professor's
Put simply, I'd just been designated Xavier's heir.
I was very glad of the glasses, and of the fact I couldn't cry with
my eyes open. I signed all Davidson's papers so he'd go away and
leave us alone. "How long have you been planning this?" I asked when
the man departed.
"Well, I've intended for some time to convert the estate into a
trust. At my age, I have to start thinking of such things, and it
will simplify matters considerably when I die."
"Professor," I interrupted, hating to state the obvious, hating to be
that cold, but I felt the point needed to be made, "you know you'll
probably outlive me."
His glance was sharp. "No, we *don't* know that."
"But it's likely --"
"-- we don't *know* that, Scott. You're young and perfectly healthy
*Yeah, but for how long?* I asked in my own mind, quite sure he could
overhear. But he didn't say anything -- more upset by the thought
than I was -- and it suddenly struck me that, somewhere in the last
ten months, I'd come to some kind of terms with my impending death.
It no longer scared me. We all live with mortality but don't let
ourselves think about it. I hadn't had a choice, and now, I spoke of
dying with an ease that disconcerted the rest of them, even Xavier.
It left me unsure what to say, and my own need to drag in reality
seemed . . . ungracious. "Thank you," I told him finally. "You
didn't have to do this."
"Of course I did. I hardly like to think of this place dismembered
by distant relatives and sold to developers . . . and that's
precisely what would occur." He looked up. "I am not, I fear, doing
you a favor. This will almost certainly be contested, by my
stepfather and stepbrother if by no one else. Mr. Davidson is well
aware of that, and we've armed you as best we can to withstand the
siege. But you can expect an argument."
"Yes, sir." Somehow, I felt better knowing that. He had personal
reasons of his own for making this choice. "I'll keep the estate in
one piece for you."
He smiled. "I'm quite sure you will. Now, go get yourself some
Nodding, I stood, then said, "I'd rather nobody knew about this just
"As you wish, Scott."
Maybe it was guilt that sealed my lips, or a fear that too much good
fortune would make even the gods jealous, but I kept my mouth shut
for some time -- years, actually.
Yet I did go out that morning to sit on the front step with a
breakfast of cold bagel and hot coffee, looking across the land that
would one day be mine. The November wind was biting and fresh,
whipping up fallen leaves into little zephyrs and scattering them
again into new patterns.
Notes: Lovingly dedicated to my grease-monkey brother, who learned to
fix cars by reading library books. The Scriptural quote is from the
Gospel of Matthew, RSV. The name of Scott's caseworker is a nod to
Lelia (though it's not the same person). Part X: "Vita dalla Morte"
is complete and being edited. It'll be a week or so before it's
FEEDBACK is adored. :-)
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