(*Prelim note: Rendering even transliterated Greek in ascii is tough; W = omega, H = eta (but not in KH)* )
"There she is -- Mount Olympus."
The words were Hank's and he was leaning past Jean and me to point out the tiny airplane window to a peak arching slightly above the cloud line like a white-crowned isle in a gray-white sea. "She's not that high, compared to the Alps," he went on, "but she rises almost 10,000 feet only eight miles from the shore, so it looks impressive. No wonder the ancients thought gods lived on top. You can almost make out Zeus' Throne from here."
"Hank," Jean scolded, swatting at him. "There are no gods on the mountain, and no throne."
"Actually, there is -- not gods, but the large rock formation on the northern peak is called 'Zeus' Throne.' Or at least, that was its original name, but today, it's called Stefani; the southern peak is Mytikas."
She laughed at him. "Well, maybe you can take a picture of me sitting on Zeus' Throne."
"Maybe I will."
We were going to climb the mountain. (We and a lot of other tourists, no doubt.) It was only one of several plans for our four-week tour of Greece, but it was the excursion whose prospect excited Jean the most. "My parents would never have let me do this." As a teen, she'd been wrapped in felt and protected like a Nineteenth Century lady, deemed too emotionally fragile for high school and too physically fragile for hard exercise. So Warren was looking forward to sailing the Aegean, Hank to the history of Athens, me to walking battlefields, and Jean to climbing a mountain. I just hoped she did have the stamina for it, and me, too.
This was my personal odyssey. I'd gone from the mean streets of New York to a first-class seat on a flight to Greece, and wasn't that some kind of psychedelic trip?
The plane set down to cheers, and Jean asked, "Are you excited?" gripping my left arm with both of hers. The Athenian airport lacked the tunnel gates ubiquitous in the States, so we had to deplane down a ramp onto the tarmac. All around us rose the Attic hills, dotted by small clumps of shrubbery like freckles on sere brown skin, and the light was bright after the dimness of the American northeast. A dry wind blew Jean's short hair all about her face and I grinned at her, my Athena -- Paris had been a fool to choose empty beauty over intelligence. Hank and then Warren were following us down the ramp onto the asphalt, each shouldering backpacks. We'd decided to travel light, and anonymously, even Warren. Just four more American tourists coming for the Greek spring.
Making our way through customs, we exited the airport to locate a cab, Hank attempting to use rusty ancient Greek on the driver, who mostly seemed confused. "You know," Warren said, "the language has changed in two thousand years." Reaching past Hank, he handed the man an address on the back of a business card and the poor fellow appeared greatly relieved, gesturing for us all to pile in. Warren took the front seat and leaned forward to tap the meter -- which was already running. He gave the driver a knowing smile, and the man reset it, his expression a mixture of annoyance and respect. Turning to look over his seat, Warren remarked in English, "Finding an honest taxi driver in Athens is rarer than meeting Pan in the woods."
Half the population of modern Greece lives in the city of Athens -- and I couldn't get out of that town fast enough. Even so, it was my first foreign city and like a first kiss, it left an impression on me. We visited all the requisite historical sites -- the Acropolis, the Agora, and the National Museum. Yet it's the small things I recall best -- the sharp fall of light that cut geometric shapes of sun and shadow, the blat of bus horns and cars, the bills plastered to poles and columns advertising everything from politicians to music groups all in a foreign alphabet, the insistent harassment of tourist shop owners in the Plaka. No one seemed to waste time in front of televisions, but visited with each other -- in restaurants, ouzeris and tavernas, on verandas and porches, in kafenia and plazas. I remember how old men played backgammon on street corners, smoking unfiltered cigarettes that drifted blue haze. I remember the ever-present stray dogs sleeping in the streets. I remember how Greeks always seemed to be yelling, even when they were just talking, and how personal space was measured in centimeters instead of feet. I remember old women in black headscarves who followed the progress of scantilyclad girls in tight pants (Greek or tourist) with disapproving eyes. I remember the olive trees that blew in the spring breeze, long leaves showing silver undersides like a flash of thigh through a slit in a skirt. I remember the smell of the sea mixed with the smell of automobile exhaust, and fresh pastries and cheese from the markets, strong black coffee served in a demitasse, or a whipped Nescaf, frappe with ice in the afternoon. I remember a sign in a little shop written in English and French -- but not Greek, because the Greeks already knew -- "If you didn't eat it, don't flush it." I remember laughing for a long time at the circumspect bluntness."Ancient of days! August Athena! Where, where are thy men of might? Thy grand in soul? Gone -- glimmering through the dream of things that were; First in the race that led to glory's goal, They won, and pass'd away -- Is this the whole?"
"Come on, Scott. I thought you wanted to visit the Museum of Greek Popular Music?"
"It's this way." Jean had her nose in a map and the Greek sun on her hair as she pointed down an alley of the Plaka, the old town where cars were mostly banned and whose signs were written in both Greek and English. Even here in Greece, English seemed to be the language of tourism. I turned away from the wrought-iron fence that enclosed the remnants of the old Roman agora (which was different from the original Greek agora, apparently).
"You're hopeless," I told her with a small smile as I strolled over, taking the map from her and turning it right-side up, then pointing to the alley on the opposite side. "Thataway."
The museum wasn't large or grand, like the National Archaeological Museum downtown. It occupied an old house off Diogenes Street on the north side of the Acropolis, the entrance tucked away inside a courtyard that cut off the noise of tourists and the shop-owners calling out to them. Neither Hank nor Warren had been interested in visiting a specialty museum, but Jean had tagged along to come keep me company, so we made our way through three stories of displays that involved tape recordings, reproductions and instrument antiques, including a Cretan lyre from 1743. There were photographs and lithographs and prints that traced back to the fourth century B.C. showing centaurs playing a pandoura, and its medieval Byzantine counterpart, the thamboura -- both the precursors of the modern bouzouki. "Maybe I could buy one before we go home," I told Jean.
"You want to buy an antique?"
"No, dingbat, a bouzouki."
"You can't play it!"
"So? I could learn maybe."
She grinned at me and looped her arm through mine, dragging me off into another room. "Noisemakers!" she said in delight. And indeed they were -- a whole room chock full of various percussive instruments ranging from bells to shot-glasses to be worn on the fingers like castanets.
It took us all afternoon, and she was patient with my interest in hearing the various recordings. When we left, we had a bag with ten CDs from the gift shop (but no bouzouki). The sun was starting its descent behind the Acropolis, which rose sharply on its rock out of the maze of ancient streets (old goat tracks, now paved with cobblestones). She turned her face up to it, and the sun framed her head like a nimbus in one of those solemn, painted icons that occupied the corners of tourist shops. I felt my breath draw in unconsciously.SEBAS M'EKHEI EISOROWSA. A holy dread grips me as I gaze on you.
Perhaps alerted by the small sound, she turned and tilted her head, a smile playing about her mouth. "What?"
"Nothing," I lied. "Lets go find War and Hank and get dinner." By the time we did find them, however, it looked as if they'd bought half the Plaka, and over dinner, they showed us the mind-numbing array of trinkets and souvenirs, ranging from Greek-style fishermen's hats to worry beads to glass evil-eye amulets. "You're going to have to carry those around for the next three weeks," I warned them.
"Nah," Warren replied. "We bought a couple boxes and we'll mail them to ourselves, back in the States. Easier than carrying them -- especially Hank's books." Of which he seemed to have acquired a good dozen.
"Scott wants a bouzouki," Jean piped up.
Both Hank and Warren turned to me. "A bouzouki?" Hank asked. "Wonderful! I think I know just the shop --"
Warren was shaking his head. "No way. He'll pay an arm and a leg in there." Which seemed an amusing comment, coming from the multi-billionaire, and they set to debating where I should go to find a bouzouki, but nothing ever came of it -- though Warren and Hank did rise early to reach the postoffice before it closed at noon, and mail their packages. The day after, we were scheduled to depart on the high-speed ferry (pretentiously dubbed Knossos Palace) out of Athens' port south to the provincial capital of Iraklion on the island of Crete.
The isle had been occupied by the eighth millennium B.C., though the Minoan palaces so closely associated with it weren't built for another six thousand years. Our second day there, we woke early to ride rented bikes a little over three miles out to the ancient site of Knossos. It had first been excavated in the early 1900s by Sir Arthur Evans -- a massive foundation with a maze of small square rooms, paved courtyards, recessed baths, and ceremonial chambers sporting low ceilings and wide, squat columns that looked more Egyptian than Greek. The Minoan king had even had his own flush-toilet -- in 1600 B.C. I don't know why that struck me as funny, but it did. It's simple engineering; you stick a tank of water above a bowl with a release valve and a pipe down, and when you pull the cord, gravity does the work. I suppose it simply made me rethink my previous perceptions of people living before electricity and telephones. Maybe they hadn't been so different from me, and when I saw the wall frescos of naked, brown slave boys with long, oiled hair and cat-like eyes, I wondered if any of them had performed the same services to Minoan royalty that I'd given men on the streets of New York? A slave by any other name is still a slave, and I stopped in front of a fresco called Prince of the Lilies. But he hadn't been a prince. He was painted white, like a woman, and my guidebook said he'd likely been a slave and a bull-dancer, forced to perform for crowds in a deadly game where the stakes had been his own life, much like Roman gladiators later. Those who danced well -- like the boy in the image -- had become personnes celebre, decorated with flowers and feted like rock stars. Those who didn't had died in agony on the arena sand. But even the winners were permanently scarred, and not by the bulls. The boy in that fresco was me, in a way.
How strange, to go to the so-called cradle of Western Civilization and see yourself not in the 'civilizers,' but in their slaves. It bothered me, and not for shame at identifying with the lily prince. It bothered me that I'd gotten here on a high-speed ferry and a first-class plane seat. I wasn't a prince, either; I was a freedman, and if I had advantages now, it was my duty to use them to help others who didn't, not wallow in them selfishly. I wondered if the lily prince had saved food from his victory feasts to take back to others in their cages awaiting the bull and the sand. I'd like to think so, sentimental as that sounded.
I bought a reproduction of that fresco and it hangs in my office today, to remind me. I'm a bull dancer in black leather.
Halfway through our inspection of the site, we noticed that Warren had disappeared. "Where'd he go?" I asked, pulling Jean and Hank out of the way of a middle-aged German tourist snapping pictures of her husband or boyfriend, but Jean laid a hand on my arm and closed her eyes, focusing inward. Then she turned, pointing across the paved area below the Grand Entrance.
"He's that way."
We marched off, following our telepathic bloodhound, to find him in a paved recess that looked like yet another courtyard, cobblestone walls in a half-tumbled state all around. An ancient pine cast shade over half of it, and it was far enough out of the way to be empty of tourists besides Warren, sitting there beneath the tree in his pale suit jacket. For relief, he'd pulled it half down until the wing-rack showed, but was ready to yank it back up again if he heard anyone coming -- as he did at our approach until he saw who it was.
"Don't take off like that," I scolded, because I'd been worried.
"I had to find some shade," he replied, standing as we approached across the flat flooring. "I feel like Daedalus stuck in Minos' labyrinth, except this one's made of leather and linen."
Jean had moved away a little towards a crumbling staircase, which she climbed gingerly to look around, then waved us to join her. We did so, mounting stones made treacherous by time and the passage of thousands of feet, even if it hadn't been half-collapsed already, to emerge on a low, bare hill. Jean was already making her way down into a shallow valley below, past a fence. "I don't believe we're allowed to go that way," Hank called to her, but she ignored him and perforce, we had to follow down a winding dirt road probably used by locals. We stopped some ways off in a small strand of trees that separated the archaeological site from a nearby farmer's field.
"Now," Jean said, tugging on Warren's jacket, "take it off." And we got him out of suit and rack and helped him to stretch the wings here in the open air and leaf-filtered sunshine. We had yet to find a hotel room where he could open them all the way, and the look on his face as they arched up over his head was close to ecstasy. Jean, with his jacket and shirt folded over her arm, just grinned. "Now be Daedalus and go flying," she said.
"Here? People might see."
And it was true, but she shrugged it off. "So they'll think their myth has come to life."
"Poetic, but they're more likely to think there's a mutant on the island."
"Party-pooper. Go on" -- she shoved at him good-naturedly. "Take some chances, War. How many people can say they've flown over the Mediterranean without a plane?" Her smile turned impish. "Just stay away from the sun."
He looked to Hank and me. Hank had pulled off his straw sunhat to scratch his flattened curls, but then slapped the hat back on and shrugged. "Why not? This area is rural enough that if you take altitude quickly, you shouldn't be thought any more than a large eagle. And as it's past noon anyway, most of the locals will be inside taking a nap."
I was more dubious, but didn't offer any objection, so Warren said, "Give me half an hour," and moved out from beneath the trees towards the field. No one was anywhere within sight and he launched himself straight up, great wings beating hard so that our hair gusted in the wind of it. We watch him spiral sharply, then sat down to a late lunch.
It was closer to forty-five minutes before he was back, looking wild and happy, and not at all the pressed-pants-and-Gucci-shoes son of American empire. Landing hard he grabbed Jean and hugged her. "It's beautiful," he breathed. Then, impulsively, looked her in the face and blurted, "Wanna go flying?"
She hesitated, and I thought for a moment she seemed like a wild creature offered the open door but unsure if its leash were really off. And that was Jean -- she wanted freedom as much as she feared it. "Go," I said out of some instinctive knowledge that she needed this the way she needed to climb a mountain.
Glancing past me to Hank, who must have nodded, she turned again to Warren. "All right."
"Turn around" -- and he positioned her in the circle of his arms, gripping her tightly beneath her breasts -- "and trust me. I won't let you fall." Her face was white beneath its sunburn, but her dark eyes had gone wide with excitement. She'd obviously never been flying with him before, and that revelation surprised me, even while it didn't, simply confirming the fiasco of the previous fall. He'd offered to take me up over two years ago -- but never Jean.
Launching himself with the extra weight took more effort, but Warren's strength is deceptive, and up they went, Jean squealing in joyful terror, like a schoolgirl on a roller coaster. He couldn't go as high or as far with her, as her body hadn't been made for flying, and holding her was frankly awkward -- all of which increased the risk of being seen. But I thought it worth it, to see the grin on her face when she went up, and again when they came down ten minutes later. "Who's next?" Warren asked, still feeling spontaneous.
And suddenly, it wasn't about Jean's freedom. It was about mine. I'd compared myself, earlier, to a freedman, but was I free enough to stop being a slave to my fears? It had been some time since Warren had offered to take me flying, and this wasn't private, just the two of us -- which (ironically) made it easier. Maybe I was ready, but even as I opened my mouth to say so, Hank -- sensing my hesitation (if not aware of the history behind it) -- stepped forward. "I'm game, if you can pick me up, flyboy."
"I think I can manage."
So Hank let Warren get a grip on him, which was even more awkward than with Jean, but as promised, Warren managed, and they were gone. I followed their ascent with a hand shading my glasses, until I felt Jean's touch on my arm. "You know you don't have to go if you don't want to."
"I know. But I think I want to."
Turning my head, I found her face much closer than I'd expected. We were almost nose to nose, the proximity startling us, freezing us like deer, and we were caught in one of those awkward moments when the balance of everything shifts. I wondered what she saw when she looked at me. Just the reflection of herself in mirrored red? My best feature was jailed forever behind ruby quartz. Except she'd said it wasn't my best feature. My best feature was my smile, so I gave it to her now, and she smiled in return, her dark eyes scanning my face as if seeking something.KAI POTHHW KAI SOU MAOMAI. I desire and search you out.
Then Warren and Hank were back, and I wasn't sure if I were relieved or frustrated. Their trip had been shorter than the one with Jean, and Warren was breathing more heavily, if not quite panting. I wondered if he were too tired to take me up, but as if sensing my doubt, he said, "I can manage one more time, unless you'd rather take a rain-check." In typical Warren fashion, it offered me a graceful escape if I wanted to take it.
But I stepped forward, deliberately turning my back. "Maybe a short trip," I said. "Don't want to wear you out." There was a pause, a hesitation like an indrawn breath, or the momentary suspension of a rain droplet on the surface on a pond, held separate by water tension before it merges. Then I felt him move up behind me to encircle my chest with his arms. I waited for the panic or revulsion that I'd felt the last time. But it didn't come. Instead, Warren began beating his wings, and we were lifting off the ground. Automatically, I shut my eyes, then was reminded of the first time he'd carried me, before I'd even known his name, sweeping me off that roof of his private prep school in New Hampshire and away from the fists of the very bullies Hank and I had just tackled for his sake -- the rescued turned rescuer. But that was then, this was now, and I forced my eyes open, only to be captivated by the simple farmland patchwork of the Cretan countryside. The sunlight was bright and pure and the wind ran fingers through my hair. Without thinking, I straightened out my arms, as if they were wings, too.
I was flying.
It was over relatively quickly. Warren was tiring, and we set down only a few minutes after taking off, but I understood finally why he loved so to fly -- and I remembered the love I'd had for it myself as a boy, before the accident that had taken my family and my innocence. I'd wanted nothing more than to sit at a window on my father's plane and watch the earth drop away beneath me, hoping that one day, I'd watch the same from a pilot's seat. That was Warren's gift to me that afternoon, a memory of enthusiasm to replace fear, and the recall of my desire to fly.
It was near sunset by the time we came peddling back into the big city of Iraklion on our rented bikes, and we spent the next two days cavorting on the beach near our hotel before it was time to head back to the Greek mainland. Those two days were a private hell for me after that stop-breath moment when Jean and I had faced each other in the tree line above the Minoan palace. If I'd been attracted to her for some time, I'd been able to suppress it or compartmentalize it. Now, her proximity and her itty-bitty bikini kept me painfully aware of my inconvenient crush. The fact we had to share a bed didn't help.
Traveling with three men and one woman, none of whom were paired up, didn't make for any natural division for the sake of accommodations. In Athens, the issue had been moot. We'd spent our week there living in the high-rise apartment of a friend of the professor's. Warren and Hank had taken the double bed in the bedroom and Jean had taken a foldout cot in the office, while I'd slept on the couch. If not four-star accommodations, I'd relished the chance to live as the locals did rather than in an isolated, antiseptic tourist enclave. In Iraklion, though, we had rooms at a luxury resort. It might have been easier at the youth hostel, but that one had a bad reputation, and after Athens, Warren was tired of 'slumming it.' So we booked two rooms in a great whale of a place near the beach, then had to decide who would sleep where. I would be living with Warren in the fall, but we'd have separate rooms, and I wasn't comfortable sharing a bed with him even if I knew he'd behave with absolute decorum. Likewise, Warren and Jean weren't comfortable sleeping together, as it brought back too many awkward memories. That left only Hank to room with Warren, and Jean to room with me. On the face of it, that shouldn't have been a problem. I'd slept at Jean's apartment near Columbia on several occasions, and we'd even shared a bed (if a much bigger one) in Anchorage.
Now, though, all I could do was pray she didn't notice how my words faltered in her presence and that my heart beat too fast when she turned doe eyes my way.POIKILOPHRON ATHANAT' APHRODITA PAI DIOS DOLOPLOKE, LISSOMAI SE, MH M' ASAIAI MHD' ONIAISI DAMNA, POTNIA, THUMON KWTTI MOI MALISTA THELW GENESTHAI MAINOLAI THUMWi, 'TINA DHUTE PEITHW APS S'AGHN ES SAN PHILOTATA?' Cunning, immortal Aphrodite, child of Zeus, snare-weaver, I pray you won't break my spirit with anguish ... What did I, in my frenzied heart, most desire to bloom? 'Who am I now to persuade to your affections?'
I was relieved when we took a different ferry back to Athens by way of Santorini, or Thira. Thira had blown its top (literally) in 1628 B.C., burying the ancient city of Akrotiri and leaving behind a semicircular isle like a noose, surrounding an interior bay where the volcano's mouth had been. Its sharp cliffs of volcanic ash were stacked with white-washed rural villages in sharp contrast to the water that Jean told me was as blue as the Greek flag. Postcard pretty, especially at sunset on the veranda of a little taverna in quaint Oia, where we ate octopus in garlic butter and fried tomato balls, roasted red peppers and grilled eggplant, then toasted youth and friendship with fresh, sharp retsina, a resinated white wine made in little local wineries all over Greece, but a specialty of Santorini.
After two days there, we got back to Athens and caught a bus north, up the two-lane coastal highway. I stared out at empty rural fields as the bare hills of Attika slurred into the slightly more forested plains and mountains of Boeotia. Turning off the highway, the bus traveled up an incline into the district of Phokis and the stark limestone spurs of the Pindus Range running down the spine of the Greek mainland. All around us, mountains humped away on the horizon, clouds breaking on them like waves on the backs of great, breaching whales. We'd reached the navel of the world -- Delphi -- curled in the shadow of Mount Parnassos. This was the ancient seat of the Pythia, the prophetess who spoke Apollo's warnings in syllables of inspired giberish. The God of light and reason, music and prophecy, he urged all who entered his temple: gnwthi seaton.
But did I? It had been more than three and a half years since I'd left the streets for a mansion in Westchester and if I wasn't the same person I'd been then, I wasn't sure I knew myself yet, but at Delphi, I had quiet to ponder the question. Athens and Iraklion had been big cities, full of the bustle of alien rhythms and things to see. Delphi lent itself to solitude and reflection, and I found myself content to sit on the balcony of the room I shared with Jean -- and think. We spent three days and two nights there, but I saw all of the ruins that I wanted to in our first afternoon. The god wasn't in his temple anymore, if he'd ever been there.
Yet he still resided on the mountain. Call me superstitious, but as I sat looking out over the olivechoked Phaidriades Valley pouring west towards Itea Bay, I could feel it -- why the ancients had called Parnassos holy. Some land is sacral, whether from something intrinsic or because millennia of human beings have made it so by worship, I don't know. But Delphi had it.ENTHADE DH PHRONEW TEUXAI PERIKALLEA NHON EMMENAI ANTHRWPOIS KHRHSTHRION HMEN HOSOI PELOPONNHSON PIEIRAN EKHOUSIN HD' HOSOI EURWPHN TE KAI AMPHIRUTAS KATA NHSOUS KHRHSOMENOI: TOISIN D' AR' EGW NHMERTEA BOULHN PASI THEMISEUOIMI KHREWN ENI PIONI NHWI. Here I am of a mind to build an exquisite temple to be an oracle for mankind ... and they who dwell in the rich Peloponnesos, as well as the men of Europe and from all the wave-washed isles, will come to query me. And I shall give to all unfailing revelation, answering them from my rich temple.
"Hey, are you going to sit in here brooding all day?"
I turned. It was Jean, come back from who knew where. Her cheeks were flushed from some exertion and strands of short hair fell in her face, making her look young. "I'm not brooding," I said, "just thinking." Turning back to look out at the landscape again, I added, "It's quiet here, and the view - -" I gestured in place of explanation. I wasn't feeling investigative, or not of physical space. "You guys go on."
There was a brief silence behind me, then I heard the door shut. Less than ten minutes later, the door opened again and I turned once more. Jean was back and I regarded her with suspicion, expecting her to try wheedling me into vacating the hotel room.
But she didn't. Instead, she came over to take the other balcony chair, pulling her feet up and wrapping thin arms about her knees. She was wearing a voluminous knit skirt pattered with sunflowers and a sweater set that I thought might be pale green. This high up in the mountains, it was still cool in May, but her feet were bare. "Have I upset you somehow?"
It was the last thing I'd been expecting, so my open-mouthed surprise was as much an answer as my words. "No -- what makes you think that?"
"You've been avoiding me since Crete -- which takes some doing, since we're sharing rooms."
"I'm not avoiding you."
"Scott, you hang out with Warren and Hank until I go to bed, then you sneak in after the lights are out, and if they're not, you hide in the bathroom until I turn them out. And when we have one bed, you practically fall off, you sleep so close to the edge." Here, in Delphi at least, our room had two beds. "Now you're hiding in here, smoking that pipe, instead of coming out with Hank, War and I. What gives?"
It was a damning litany because she was right, and I had no answer except one I couldn't give her. So I focused on the last part to redirect the conversation. "I'm not hiding in here. I told you, I'm thinking. I saw everything I wanted to see yesterday." I gestured out over the rail of the balcony. "The view's spectacular, and it -- I don't know -- it makes me think."
"About what?" The accusatory tone had left her voice; now, she sounded simply curious.
"About what I'm going to do next. I don't mean just next year, but in the future." I shifted in my seat to gather my thoughts before continuing. I could engage in only so much solo pondering before I began chasing my mental tail, and whatever my body felt for Jean Grey, she was still the one person with whom I found it easiest to discuss my insecurities. "I went in to pick my fall schedule before I left, and my advisor . . . well, she didn't insist that I name a major or anything, but she told me that I needed to be thinking about it more seriously, since I didn't have any ideas. All I know is I'm not majoring in biology."
Which made her laugh. "Scott, I think you slept through that class." Biology was the only course in which I'd made a grade lower than a B either semester -- a C-, in fact, and I'd barely scraped by with that. Jean the medical student found it both amusing and horrifying. "But it's not unusual to be undecided going into your sophomore year. In some ways, I wish I'd been less decided, in college." Trailing off and still gripping her knees, she turned her head to look out over the railing. I could have stared at her profile forever. "I've wanted to be a doctor since Annie died and I couldn't save her, or at least since I woke up from my fugue. But sometimes, I wonder . . ." And she trailed off again; I didn't disturb her. We sat in silence for perhaps five minutes.
Finally, I said, "It's not just being unable to pick a major. Redhot was taking pictures for next year's brochures and we had to write a mini-bio. One of the questions was 'Where do you see yourself in ten years?' I couldn't answer that. Everybody else had something to say, even if it was silly, but all I could write was, 'I don't know.' I told Jon" -- at our last meeting before I'd left for Greece -- "and he said it's because I've lived for so long where I couldn't plan for the future because I didn't know what was going to happen next week, never mind next year, so I stopped trying." She was nodding. "Now, I have to figure out again how to do that. But I don't have a clue, Jean. I don't know where I'll be in ten years." I shook my head. "I don't know what I want to do with my life, and when I look at you, or Hank, or Warren -- and you know already -- I feel . . . like a loser, I guess."
"Scott! You are not a loser!" But it was more shocked denial than confident assertion.
"Losers are the ones without any plans, Jean. I don't have any plans."
"So? Dr. Bennett's right. You haven't been able to think about a future, so it's hardly a surprise if it takes you a while to figure out what it's going to be." She reached across the space between us to squeeze my forearm. "Give yourself time. I don't think you're that different from a lot of other college sophomores who don't know what they want to be when they grow up, either. If anything, you're more together than most of them. As I told you once before, you amaze me. I look at everything you've become in the past three years and you just . . . you amaze me."
I stared at her from behind my glasses, and there was such sincerity in her face that it pierced me, my lips parting in quiet wonder.
She let go of my arm, breaking the momentary connection. "Thinking ten years ahead can be daunting when you're not even twenty -- and picking a major is, too, since it means trying to decide what to do with the rest of your life. How about smaller goals? What did you sign up for next fall?"
"Introduction to Environmental History, Calc 2" -- I'd taken Calculus 1 the previous spring -- "German, because the professor insists I need another language, an astronomy lab, and -- don't laugh -- a women's studies class called The Making of Modern Sexual and Gender Difference."
She smiled. "Why would I laugh? It sounds like a wonderful class. You'll have to share your notes with me. I take it you'll still be singing, too?"
"Have you thought about joining any other clubs?"
"I've got my hands full. I didn't realize the a capella stuff would be so time consuming."
Her posture changed subtly then. Releasing her knees, she tucked one foot under the other leg and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, not quite looking at me. "So what about Colleen Wing?" The two had met when Jean had come to visit in March, and had developed an immediate almost-antipathy -- the kind of suppressed dislike that took a turn into excruciating civility like aspartame-sweetened yogurt.
"What about her?" I asked -- suspicious.
She eyed me from beneath lashes. "She likes you, you know. And as we were talking about the shortterm future, I wondered how she might figure into it?"
My reaction to that was such a mixture of irritation, perplexity, and evasion that my expression must have been a puzzle. "She'll figure into it exactly like she has up till now -- as a really good friend."
"No interest in more?"
Face frozen hard -- and exceedingly glad of the glasses -- I kept my gaze steady. "I don't need a girlfriend, Jean. When talking about the future, that's so far from my mind, it may as well be on Pluto. I'm an eternal singular, thanks." I didn't want to discuss this. For all that Jean had been my confident in so many ways, my sexuality (or lack of it) wasn't a topic I felt comfortable pursuing with her. I'd talked to Hank by choice, Jon Bennett by default, and even Warren of necessity . . . but not to Jean. The closest we'd come had been that angry confrontation in the garage over a dismantled motorbike, but that had been about my past as a hustler, not the future.
Jean, however, wasn't willing to let it go. "Why?" she asked now.
She threw up her hands. "That 'eternal singular' bit! I'm not talking marriage here, Scott. Just dating."
Was she really that dense? "Jean, it's not reasonable."
"Godfuckingdamn!" I jerked to my feet and stalked back into the room. She followed.
"I don't want to talk about it!" I bellowed.
"LEAVE ME ALONE!" I was so angry (and so frightened, if I were honest), I was shaking.
Her reply was soft and simple. "No."
Now it was my turn to ask a 'why' question: "Why are you pushing this?"
The smile that crossed her face was feeble and melancholy. "Because I love you."
For three heartbeats, my fevered mind leapt to impossible conclusions, but then I reigned it in and realized she meant it no differently than she ever had -- she loved me; she wasn't in love with me. I turned my face away to hide my silly disappointment.
"I want you to be happy," she continued, "but you never seem to believe it's possible for you."
"That's not true --!"
"Oh, yes it is. You said it's not reasonable for you to think about dating. I asked why -- a simple question. You refused to answer -- because you don't have an answer? I can't imagine why it's unreasonable for you to consider dating --"
"Because you're not me!" I practically screamed at her. "You have no idea, no goddamn idea, how completely fucked up I am! I can't be someone's boyfriend. I can't . . . I can't feel like that? Don't you get it? It's not in me to feel that." Her face was a study in mortified shock, as if these things had only now occurred to her. "And even if I could," I went on, "I could infect somebody with AIDS just by kissing her. I won't risk somebody's life that way, not somebody I care about."
That last gave her something on which to focus, and she shook her head, sinking down on the bed she was sleeping in. "First, HIV isn't transmitted through saliva, Scott, only blood, semen, breast milk, or vaginal secretions. Blood in saliva from mouth sores or other cuts in the mouth are a minor risk, but less of one for you than for someone who's HIV positive. You're not HIV positive. And while, yes, you continue to be a carrier, it's a much lower degree of danger, and the chance of you infecting anybody is virtually non-existent if you pursue a few simple precautions. Wear a condom in any sexual situation that might involve semen or pre-ejaculate entering a partner's body, including through cuts on the hands, but otherwise, don't angst about it. And I'm speaking as a med student, here, not just a friend. Unless you do something really thoughtless, you can't infect a girlfriend. And you're not thoughtless that way."
If the semi-clinical tone put me off a bit, my real problem wasn't with what she said or how she said it, but with the fact she was no doubt right, and I didn't want her to be right. Like Warren's feelings, HIV made too convenient an excuse. "Even if all that's true, being with me would still mean a woman couldn't get pregnant without getting infected, and we'd always have to worry about some slip up. Like the glasses aren't bad enough, I'm deadly in two ways."
She managed, barely, to avoid rolling her eyes. "To your first objection, three words: in vitro fertilization. To your second, if the partners of HIV positive people are willing to put up with danger for love, you present far less of a risk. And you're reaching anyway. I suggested dating; I said nothing about marriage and kids."
"But dating could lead to those things, and I can't go into a relationship dragging all this . . . stuff . . . behind me. That's not fair to a girl if she doesn't know what she's potentially getting."
"Scott! Would you listen to yourself? The whole point of dating is to find out if there's anything worth pursuing. It's about the process of discovery. You learn as you go, and if things seem to be working out, then you can worry about details. It's not . . . dishonest . . . to keep some things to yourself at first. In fact, a massive information dump on a first date is kinda a turn-off." She was grinning. I wasn't, and after a moment, she sobered. "Look, I do realize you've got more at stake than most men, but you're making mountains out of molehills, and I think the real issue is what you said before you brought up HIV, or the glasses -- that you were too messed up to feel." She patted the bedspread beside her. "Can you tell me what you meant?"
I didn't take the invitation; I needed the three feet between us. "It's pretty simple. I'm a fucking screwed-up mess. I can't fall in love, Jean. It's not in me anymore."
She didn't reply for a full minute; instead, she'd dropped her eyes to her lap, fisting and unfisting one of her hands. Finally, she looked up and I could see her eyes were wet. "You love your friends, or that's what you say. What's so different?"
"Oh, come on! Don't be dense!" Uncrossing my arms, I stalked back out onto the balcony and considered shutting the sliding glass door, except I couldn't lock it from outside. So naturally, she followed me out there.
"I'm not being dense," she said behind me. I didn't turn, kept standing at the white rail, glaring out over the slopes of Parnassus to the valley below. The hillside was rocky and worn by years, and some of the olives in the groves looked so old and gnarled, they might have been around when Jesus died. Except Jesus wouldn't have come to Delphi, even if the Orthodox monks claimed his mother had visited Mount Athos.
"Scott," she pleaded, "I just want to understand. That's all. You keep so many things to yourself, I'm afraid you're going to swallow one secret feeling too many and explode." I felt both her hands touch my shoulders. "You can tell me anything; I won't judge you."
"I know." But I wasn't sure I believed that. What would she think if she were ever privy to my fantasies about her, either back in my dorm at Yale, or here, in the shower each morning? Jon had said it wasn't a violation -- I wasn't imposing them on her -- but it set limits on what I could say, or she would judge me. "It's just . . . hard . . . to talk about. I don't always know what to say."
She didn't try to turn me, but she also didn't let go of my shoulders. "Can you try?" she asked.
Frustrated with her persistence, I said, "I have more issues with sex than you can shake a stick at, Jean, and getting involved with a woman in a way that goes beyond friendship means facing sexual feelings that I'm not comfortable with. There. Satisfied?"
There was a pause and then she began to massage my back, probably in an effort to soothe me much as I did with Warren by rubbing his wings. "Are you uncomfortable with the idea of someone else having sexual feelings for you, or with the idea of you having sexual feelings for someone else?"
Another pause, then she said, "Okay." Her hands on my back were working magic through my shirt, but not the kind she intended, and I stepped away from her to sit down in a plastic chair on the little balcony. I still needed space between us, which she seemed to realize belatedly and returned to the chair she'd occupied before, legs up and arms wrapped about her knees. "But what of love, Scott? If someone loved you, and you loved her, wouldn't that make a difference?"
"No." I rubbed my forehead. "What I mean is, it's not that simple. Maybe for other people, but not for me. For me, sex just . . . it dirties everything up."
"Sex isn't dirty, Scott. What happened to you shouldn't --"
"But it does! What happened to me, what I did, it was dirty. And it was sex. I can't just wave a wand to make it stop seeming that way because somebody tells me sex ought to be about love. It's not for me. It's not for a lot of people. That's the problem. I'm not even sure if I want it to be. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Those feelings freak me out."
All that was more than I'd meant to say, and I could see the wetness in the corners of her eyes again. They glistened in the afternoon light and she wiped at them. "If you did fall in love," she asked, "do you think you could learn to put love and sex together?"
"I don't know," I replied honestly. "It's easier just to stay friends and not have to think about the sex part. Plus, even if I tried -- who'd want to deal with my shit? It's not fair for me to put all that on somebody who's normal. Who wants a fucked-up boyfriend?"
"It's not a question of wanting a fucked-up boyfriend, it's a question of wanting you. If you love someone, really love them, then you take them like they are --"
"That's a romance novel pipe-dream, Jean. It's not fair for me even to consider some kind of relationship when I know I've got all these problems --"
"No!" Her interruption was sharp. "It's not fair for you to make that decision for someone else!" The hardness in her voice knocked me out of my spiraling self-pity. "Don't patronize people that way. You got pissed off at me once because I wouldn't share my worries to avoid imposing them on you. And you were right to be angry, so think now about how you felt then."
I hadn't expected that comparison, and it succeeded in shaming me into listening to what else she had to say. "If someone loves you, it's a whole-package deal. There are things about you that regularly piss me off, Scott Summers, but so many more that I like -- greater, more important things -- they outweigh what I don't. You fall in love with a person, not a list of required traits."
And I was so focused on how trite that sounded that I completely missed the fact her generic 'someone' had become the very particular 'me.' "Love conquers all?" I said, tone snarky.
"Yes." She was serious. "Sometimes it can, and does."
She was looking at me again in that same way she had in Crete, as if she sought some purchase on the smooth cliff of my expression. It made my heart pound and my mind back-peddle. "What were you telling me about dating being a long way from marriage? Or love, for that matter."
"A flood can start with a pinprick."
I just snorted, and the conversation seemed suddenly to sputter and die. Silence stretched. Dropping her bare feet from the chair edge finally, she stood. "I'm hungry, and I'm sure Warren and Hank have already stuffed themselves. You want to go get a late lunch?"
I glanced at my watch, shrugged, and stood, guilted into it because talking to me had made her miss eating with the other two. "All right."
So we left together, finding a corner ouzeri that offered souvlaki and Greek potatoes, and soccer on a TV high in one corner. Jean ordered a bottle of local red wine for us both, which we drank while we watched Greeks watch the game on the tube. Late lunch stretched into an early dinner. We talked and talked, covering everything and nothing, the alcohol loosening our tongues and stealing all my lingering disquiet. Her face was flushed pink from the heat of the place and the wine. I thought her beautiful.
After almost three hours, we ordered mezedes because we were hungry again, and another bottle of wine (no one had ever asked to check my ID anywhere in the country), and when we finally stumbled out into the little street, tipsy and laughing, the sun had gone down behind the mountains. She took my hand as we climbed the steep roadway back to our hotel, and I let her. It was pleasant, and a part of me knew even then that her impassioned assertion that someone could love me despite my issues hadn't been theoretical -- and all her fishing about girlfriends hadn't been a big sister's attempt to play matchmaker, even if the resulting conversation had taken a U-turn into didactic advice on dating. The fiction of our platonic attachment was belied by the simple truth of our interlaced fingers.
Gnwthi seaton. Yet love isn't a rational thing, and it wasn't Apollo, God of Reason, who'd answered my search for self-knowledge. It was Dionysos, Apollo's dark brother, God of wine and divine madness. After all, Dionysos had occupied Delphi for three months every year when Apollo had vacated the premises -- and his revelations didn't come in the form of babbled oracles from the lips of a virginal priestess.
When we reached our room, Jean hugged me once, then let go, and we tacitly agreed not to examine what had just happened, or to touch again as we joined Hank and Warren at planning the next day's trip -- north once more by bus to the little village of Litochoro in the shadow of Mount Olympus. After that, we went chastely to bed early, and I slept without dreams.
NOTES: Please remember, "Climbing" reflects the state of things in 1997, not today. I tend to use Greek names for places, hence Iraklion and Thira, not Heraklion and Thera. The Greek quotes scattered throughout come from The Odyssey, the poetry of Sappho, and The Homeric Hymn to Apollo. Translations are my own. The first quote, however, is Lord Byron -- who, incidentally, was instrumental to the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Turks, during the course of which, he fell ill and died. You don't speak ill of Byron in modern Greece. ;>
ON THE 'PRINCE OF THE LILIES' FRESCO: Scott's 'reconstruction' is, in its own way, as fanciful as Sir Arthur Evans' original, and is used here as deliberate fictional symbolism. The fresco itself is an 'authentic fake.' Evans made it from four different frescoes, and while those were genuine pieces, it's not a representation of anything the Minoans painted. While Evans did much to popularize Minoan culture and introduce to Greece something that at least approximated scientific archaeology (unlike that bandit Schliemann), nonetheless, his work on the Knossos palace did irrecoverable damage to the original, some of which is 90% Evans and only 10% Minoan. Because of his reconstructions, we cannot now recover what it really may have looked like. And yes, the Minoans did beat the Romans to the flush toilet, though its use was restricted to the royal chambers.
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Title: Climbing Mount Olympus 1: Prince of the Lilies (Special 16)
Series Name: SPECIAL: The Genesis of Cyclops
Author: Minisinoo [email] [website]
Details: Series | 47k | 11/21/04
Characters: Scott, Jean, (Warren)
Pairings: Scott/Jean (eventually)
Summary: Henry, Warren, Jean and Scott go overseas on an educational tour.
Notes: This entire series is ADULT
Disclaimer/Other: This is the first of two parts; the story got so long I subdivided it, but both parts DO still constitute a single story.
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