"What do you mean you're not sure you want to go?" Hank's (astonished) voice on the phone. He'd gotten that post-doc at Chicago, but I still called him occasionally to talk in person instead of by email. "Scott, it's Yale."
"I know. But it's not the only place that accepted me."
"Let me see if I recall your list correctly -- CUNY, Fordham, Bard, Marymount . . . and Yale. With all due respect to those other fine schools, including Dr. Grey's Bard -- it's Yale, Scott. Now, if this were a question of Yale, Columbia or Princeton, I might understand. Or if there were a particular professor with whom you wanted to study somewhere. But Scott -- Yale or CUNY? Come on."
I'd been picking at a hangnail on my left hand while I let him prattle. He didn't understand. So I said, "Yeah, I guess it's not really much of a contest."
"Of course it's not. Besides, Warren must be ecstatic."
I smiled tightly. "He's pretty excited, though he keeps telling me he knew I'd make it. I just hope he didn't buy my way in."
"Scott--" It was reproving. "Don't you believe Warren thinks better of you than that? And don't you think better of him? We all believed you had a good chance of being accepted -- all but you."
"I guess I fill some quota for high-risk admits."
"You know, Scott, sometimes you make my brain tired. You fight everything good that happens to you, even if you earned it." And he hung up on me.
He was right, and I wasn't sure why I insisted on being cynical. "Conditioning," Xavier told me when I dragged myself down to the solar, feeling depressed and angry. "If everything that had happened to you had been bad, then you'd accept anything good at face value. If everything, or most everything, that had happened to you had been good, then you wouldn't doubt another good event, either. Instead, your life has been characterized by periods of safety upset by periods of extreme danger in a repeated pattern. If bad things happen to you sometimes, regardless of what you've done to avoid them, then there's no consistency for prediction -- no reason for you to believe something bad won't happen again."
I listened to this with interest. "You mean I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop?"
"Exactly. Furthermore, because there was often little or nothing you could do to escape tragedy and difficulty, the only conclusion you could draw was that there was something 'bad' in you that deserved these bad things . . . or that the world was insane and unreliable."
"The world is," I replied.
He smiled. "Yes, of course. But that's not something children are ready to process. It's not something most of us are ready to process. We all know, intellectually, that 'anything' can happen . . . but we can't live that way. We can't exist long with such high levels of uncertainty -- so we attempt to impose order on our worlds. We're meaning-seeking, meaning-making creatures. We want answers, and we'll find them."
"Even if we make them up?"
"It's not invention, Scott." He shook his head. "We look for patterns in the random mass of facts that make up our daily lives. That's interpretation. Yet we can interpret new experiences based only on what's happened to us in the past. And sometimes we miss facts or overlook details because our emotions run away with us. I don't find your interpretation of events surprising, given your history. You're not reacting illogically. But one of the goals of therapy is learning new, more helpful and more accurate ways of interpreting."
"What you mean," I said, "is that something can be logical and still be wrong."
"Yes." The faint smile again. "Though I might say 'incomplete' rather than 'wrong.' You tend to take a negative interpretive approach. Why? Because your previous experience has taught you to remain on guard. That was a coping mechanism that worked for you in those circumstances. But your circumstances have changed."
"And my coping mechanisms don't work any more."
"What do you think?"
I threw up my hands. We always wound up at that question -- what did I think? -- whether it was Xavier talking, or Jonathan Bennett. Intellectually, I understood why, but it still frustrated me. Sometimes I just wanted someone to tell me what to think because I was tired -- even though I would have resisted any such attempt tooth, nail and claw, and I knew as much. I didn't always make sense even to myself, but both Xavier and Bennett had realized that I responded best when I was asked to think. I needed to be reasoned with, not just reassured.
"Okay," I said. "Yeah, I see your point. I tend to assume things aren't going to work out -- even if lately they have most of the time. I guess I'm afraid that the bigger the build-up, the bigger the fall, you know?"
"Which isn't an unreasonable fear. The question, I suppose, is whether you want to let it paralyze you and keep you from taking chances? I personally believe that human beings are inclined by nature to hope, not despair. Despair is a learned response, not a natural one, so you have two inclinations at war within yourself. You want to hope, but have learned to fear to do so."
I nodded, almost vigorously. That was it exactly.
"Therefore," he went on, "rather than dismiss your fears as unreasonable -- because they aren't -- why not look at them reasonably instead of just submitting?" That was a novel thought, and I was curious to see what he'd say, so I nodded again. "Very well then -- if you go to Yale, what's the worst that you can imagine happening?"
"That I'll flunk out."
"Fair enough. Yale isn't an easy school. Anything else?"
I thought about it. "That someone might find out what I was. That I might get Warren in trouble. That I might make him look stupid for having me as a friend."
Xavier nodded faintly, as if I'd confirmed something. "Now, let's address each of those. What would happen if you did 'flunk out?'"
"I'd have to come home."
"And what would you do then?"
"What about trying one of the other schools that accepted you?"
"Well, yeah, maybe. But what if I flunked out of them? I'm not sure I'm really up to college. And even if I am, why tempt fate? Why not go somewhere I'm less likely to flunk out of in the first place?"
"Because you don't know that you will do badly at Yale -- you only fear it. Don't lose track of your own reasoning, Scott. That's what despair does -- it turns a fear into a presumed certainty in our minds. Right now, we're dealing with your fears of what might happen. It's a possibility only; not even a probability, much less a certainty."
I blinked. "Okay."
"Now, are there any other fears related to having to come home?"
I thought about it. One thing seemed obvious, but I was reluctant to say it. Finally the silence weighed heavily enough on me to force it out. "That I'll disappoint you."
"You won't," he said quietly, but as a reassurance rather than a negation. "I'm proud of you for having been accepted, Scott. But do you know what makes me the most proud?" I shook my head and he went on, "The fact that you applied at all -- that you tried."
That surprised me -- even while it didn't. It also had a corollary. "So you'd be more disappointed if I didn't try Yale than if I flunked out?"
He tilted his head sideways and I got the impression that I'd caught him from behind. "That wasn't how I intended it. And the answer is no. I would be proud of you for trying Yale. But if you decided not to, I'd understand why."
"But understanding doesn't mean you wouldn't be disappointed." I was a terrier with a rag.
"Scott, your job is not to avoid disappointing me. Your job is to avoid disappointing you."
I had him; he was deflecting my statement rather than answering it. I'm not sure why that pleased me, but it did. Maybe I just needed to know he was human enough to be disappointed by things. Even if I appreciated his wisdom, sometimes I needed him to be my father rather than my therapist. I needed to know he responded to me emotionally, not just intellectually, and I was learning to be proud of myself by making others proud of me.
"Now, Warren," he said, to angle me back around to the original thread of conversation, and I let him. "You're afraid that people may discover that you were a hustler, and that would embarrass Warren and make him desert you?"
It sounded colder, rephrased that way, but I had to nod agreement with the summary.
"How do you think people might discover what you once did?"
"Well, it's in my records. I mean, Carol knew." My old caseworker.
"In fact, it isn't in your records, Scott. And those records are sealed, in any case."
"It's not in my records?"
"No. You were never arrested for solicitation; it's not formally in your records. Your records contain your arrest for assault when you were thirteen, as well as the judge's decision not to remand you to a holding facility. It also includes your flight from Boy's Town, as well as your two arrests for petty theft" -- shoplifting -- "which are misdemeanors. And the assault charge is fully explained. The judge makes it clear that she saw you as a child trapped, not a violent delinquent. And now that you're eighteen, those records are sealed. You're starting over."
"No record is really sealed," I pointed out, "not with enough money."
"That presumes that someone would have an interest in going to great trouble to unseal it. Which in turn assumes enemies that you haven't even met yet." He folded his hands in front of his face. "Again, it's one thing to explore possibilities -- it's another to assume they will occur simply because they're possible. While these things are possible, I don't find them very probable, much less likely. Now as for Warren, what was his reaction to learning about your former situation?"
He'd been upset -- but upset for me, not at me. Defensive, not accusatory. I looked away. "It's one thing to hear it privately. It's another for all his friends to find out what I was."
"How much credit do you think Warren places on those kinds of social judgments?"
None. I knew that. He'd defied social convention for me from day one. Looked at positively, I could chalk that up to genuine friendship. But I also realized that he liked defiance, and might even enjoy it if my secret did become known.
"He'd never tell, Scott." Xavier's voice, interrupting my spiraling thoughts.
"You're reading my mind."
"You're projecting. And once again letting your fears run away with you. Has anything Warren ever done given you reason to believe he'd betray your confidences?"
I had to shake my head.
"So you're saying I have nothing to be afraid of."
"Oh, I think your fears are real enough -- that's the point. They are real fears. But I wanted you to consider rationally what would happen if they came true." He leaned forward in his seat. "The only failure, Scott, is never to try. If you do that, then fear has won. And if I've learned nothing else about you, I've learned how little you like to lose."
So I filled out and returned the bevy of forms that I'd received with my acceptance letter. It seemed I was going to Yale.
I made plans to take flying lessons that summer. Ever since Warren's suggestion that maybe I'd feel differently about flying if I was the one at the controls, and my discovery that flying apparently ran in the family, I'd been thinking about it. I also made plans to go back to Alaska to visit. Bad weather and my own issues had kept me away, but I couldn't get out of my head the fact my grandmother was in poor condition. I'd just found her but didn't know how long I'd have her, so I wanted to see as much of her as I could, even if she lived a continent away.
To my surprise, however, Warren, Jean and Xavier all wanted to come with me. "I've never been to Alaska," Warren said, which was true for Jean and Xavier as well. "Unless you'd rather we didn't come," Xavier said to me privately later. "If you'd rather have this time for yourself and your grandmother, that's perfectly understandable."
"No," I said, "I don't mind if you come," and surprised myself to find it was true. I wanted the two parts of my life -- before and after -- to meet; it might help me put them together more easily.
So we made arrangements to fly to Alaska in Warren's plane after the semester ended, but before that, both Warren and Jean showed up at the mansion for a weekend in early-May just after their respective finals. If I'd seen both of them several times independently, this was the first opportunity we'd had to be all together since New Years, and I was both nervous and excited. They both seemed to be anxious, as well, and the three of us went riding down the newly cleared trails. It was a perfect day -- sunny, warm but not hot, everything in bloom. I still wasn't sleeping terribly well, but things had been looking up of late and my meetings with John had dropped back to once weekly. I was surprised at how much being in group therapy was helping, just hearing others talk about their own experiences. I'd even begun to tell Jon about the hustling, albeit less in specifics, more in generalities.
When we'd reached the other side of the lake from the mansion and boathouse dock, we stopped for a picnic lunch. There was no dock on this side, but a nice grassy area cleared of trees. We spread a blanket and got out food. "So how many stables have signed trail-rental agreements for the summer?" Warren wanted to know. He'd been the main person I'd turned to for assistance in my project planning, as I'd wanted to surprise Xavier.
"Not many this year -- so far. Just three. It won't even cover the cost of clearing," I replied. I'd been disappointed but Warren shook his head.
"Patience. Costs of maintenance will go down significantly now, and it may take a couple years for word to spread. If you're still not making anything in five years, then it's time to throw in the towel, but this isn't the kind of investment that'll bring instant returns." He'd warned me of the same thing last fall when I'd been planning it.
"He's right," Jean said, digging in our picnic pack for sandwiches, which she distributed, along with Doritos and drinks from a little backpack cooler. Then she lay down with her head in Warren's lap and listened to us discuss advertising strategies for the trails.
When we were done eating, we carefully packed away our trash. Warren and Jean seemed inexplicably nervous again. In fact, they'd been acting oddly all day. Now, trash stowed, they both sat down on the blanket in almost identical poses -- knees drawn up and arms wrapped around them. I plopped down across from them, leaning back on my arms, legs out. "Okay, spill. You're both angsting about something. Is it the therapy stuff again?"
They exchanged a glance and Warren shook his head. "No, not exactly. We just -- we need to tell you something. We debated whether maybe one of us should do it alone, one-on-one, so it didn't seem like we were ganging up on you or something, because we're not, but, well, that would make it like it was going to change the three of us -- like you were closer to one of us than the other, but that's not how we are, the three of us." He finally paused, having said all of that in one breath.
Utterly baffled, I looked from him to Jean. "What?" If it wasn't therapy, I had absolutely no idea what they were blabbering about.
Jean reached over to grip Warren's upper arm. "Scott, we, um, Warren and I, we um . . . we want to start seeing each other."
My immediate reaction was to burst out laughing -- half in embarrassment, half because I hadn't seen this coming until right this minute. I'd been too wrapped up in my own concerns all spring. But now that I thought about it, even at New Years, there hadn't been a time when I'd been alone with one of them without the other present, though there had been a few times they'd been alone with each other. They seemed taken aback at my reaction, so I swallowed my amusement and said, "Since you see each other all the time, I assume you mean you want to start dating?"
They nodded. "This doesn't change us," Warren added quickly, gesturing between me and the two of them. "Everything we said at New Years -- about the three of us -- it won't change that. And we didn't want you to be afraid this would mean you were a third wheel."
"You'll never be a third wheel to us, Scott. Never."
"So we wanted to tell you together, so you'd know it was still the three of us. It's just, uh, kinda changed between Jean and I. I mean, what we feel changed direction a little."
"It's even you who brought us together," Jean said. "I mean, we were so worried about you this spring, we were checking in with each other every day, and pretty soon, we were talking about other things . . . and it kinda snowballed." She looked down at the blanket and smoothed wrinkles while I leaned back, hands behind my head, and let them talk themselves in circles.
"When we realized our feelings were changing, we decided to see if it might go somewhere," Warren added, when I didn't reply.
"But not without talking to you first," Jean said. "Otherwise, it'd feel as if we were . . . going behind your back or something. So we decided we needed to talk to you together first. You're not mad are you?"
"No, I'm not mad."
"Are you sure? First you laughed, now you look kind of . . . too calm."
I raised just my head to look at them both. "Do you guys realize how long I've been waiting for you to get it together?"
They both blushed furiously, smiling at each other, then me. "So you're really not mad?" Jean asked. "And you don't mind if we start dating?"
"I'm really not mad. And you don't need my permission to go out with each other."
"We're not exactly asking permission," Warren clarified. "But I don't know . . . it would've been weird not to talk to you about it first."
"Fine," I told them. "You talked to me." And we lounged on the blanket together for a while, Jean's head on Warren's stomach, mine on hers, and Warren's on mine.
"I don't know why this is bugging me so freakin' much!" I declared as I entered Jon Bennett's office on Wednesday after that weekend. "It's stupid! I told them it didn't bug me!"
"Want to hang some qualifiers on those pronouns? Maybe answer 'who' and 'what'?" Jon asked as he watched me fling myself down in the chair and open a new pack of Camels, tapping one out. In the past few months, I'd gone back to cigarettes. The pipe seemed hokey all of a sudden, just as I'd taken to wearing t-shirts and cargo pants instead of button-downs and chinos. The preppy look just wasn't me; I felt dirtier than that.
It took three tries to get the cigarette burning, then I blew smoke impatiently. "My two best friends have started dating each other. And I want them to. I've been waiting two-and-a-half fucking years for them to wake up and notice each other, or at least for Warren to notice Jean."
Abruptly I froze, realizing that I'd accidentally used their real names. Bennett just shook his head and motioned for me to continue. "What's said here, stays here."
And by this point, I believed him, so after a pause, I went on, "Jean's liked War forever, but he liked me. Now, he's finally noticing her, and I'm happy for them! I am! They said nothing's going to change between the three of us and I know they mean it. So I don't know what the hell's wrong with me!"
And I recounted the whole conversation for him, explaining in a bit more detail about the week after New Years, and our relationship up to that point. When I was done, Jon said, "It sounds to me like you're feeling betrayed."
"No!" I insisted -- because he was right. "I wanted this. I wanted them to get together. They deserve each other, and I mean that in the best way. Jean really knows Warren, and I know she loves him, not his money. And War will treat Jean well. I don't feel betrayed.
"Of course not." Bennett watched while I lit my fourth cigarette. "Your two best friends have started dating after you've been playing matchmaker for over two years -- and it happened without your help and when you weren't even paying attention because you had your own emotional things to work through."
"You make it sound selfish," I accused, glaring at him from behind the glasses and smoke.
"No, you're trying very hard to be generous and reasonable and gracious and avoid looking at what you do feel."
"But I don't want to feel spiteful and petty!"
"We all feel that way sometimes, and if you don't recognize it and let yourself be aware of it -- and of why you feel that way -- it's going to sneak up and bite you on the ass." He let me sit there and chew on that for a few minutes, before he said, "Now, let's start over. There's some really intense stuff between the three of you -- really intense feelings." I nodded. "That was balanced for a while in an equilateral triangle. There may have been some suppressed sexual attraction between certain legs, Jean to Warren, Warren to you, but it wasn't overt and wasn't reciprocated, so the whole thing stayed balanced. You had a rare thing. But three-way friendships are very, very hard to maintain, and now there's this new reciprocal sexual attraction between two corners that shifts the whole balance, leaving you high and dry. The odd man out."
"But they said they don't want me to feel that way. It's not going to change the three of us."
"But you don't believe that, and neither do they, or they wouldn't be insisting so strongly."
I didn't reply. My eyes burned instead, and I leaned forward in the chair, almost hanging my head between my knees, trying to swallow the sudden sobs tearing up out of my gut. I'd cried in front of Bennett before, but it was never easy, and this came on me unexpectedly. He rolled his chair a little nearer but didn't enter my personal space. He never entered my personal space. Instead, he just sat there with me, leaning forward in the same way, and let me shut my eyes so the tears could come. Everything was ripping up out of me -- old fears of being abandoned, rejected, left alone. "I don't want to be selfish," I gasped out at one point. "I want them to be happy."
"But you want to be happy, too. There's nothing wrong with that, Scott. Nothing at all. And the three of you are more likely to hurt each other -- whether or not you want to -- unless you all get real about what's going on here and forget the Shiny Happy Faces. You can all say you don't want things to change until the cows come home . . . but they're gonna change. The three of you need to figure out the new balance."
I sat up finally and stubbed out what was left of my cigarette. It had mostly burned away. Then I wiped at my face under the glasses, ignoring the box of Kleenex on the end table. My nose was running badly, though, so I finally had to blow it before I could talk. "I'm afraid . . . I'm afraid I'm going to get left behind." Bennett just nodded. "They know that," I added.
"Of course they know it. And they're probably very sincere about wanting to stay close to you."
"But they don't --" I stopped, unable to quite bring myself to say it.
He'd leaned forward. "Go ahead."
"They don't love me like they love each other." And that was the crux of it. "I'm the foster kid again."
"Exactly. I'm glad you can see that connection. In any three-way friendship like this where two of the friends become lovers during the course of the friendship, the one not chosen is going to feel 'not chosen,' even if he or she didn't feel romantic attraction in the first place. It's a normal response. But in your case, it's intensified because of your past -- and it's important for you to understand that. Your fears and anger and sense of betrayal are all perfectly normal. You're not a bad person for feeling that way -- just like the two of them, from what you described, almost certainly feel guilt and worry. And all of you need to let yourselves feel those things -- even talk about them -- so the positive feelings can be equally real."
"Whoa!" I said, jerking up my head. "I don't want to tell them this stuff! They'll feel worse!"
"But if you don't tell them, they'll wonder and it'll become the big pink elephant shoved under the table. If you can't be honest with them about feeling lost and resentful, they won't be able to believe you if you say you're happy for them."
I hadn't thought about that, and sank back in the chair to ponder it. "But it's going to make things rocky. We'll all be at the mansion all summer."
"Then it's all the more important to talk about it, and for you to think about your own boundaries. If you don't talk about it, it could take a hell of a lot longer to resolve. If you do talk about it, you're right. It'll be rocky for a while. But you'll also be able to work together to save the friendship. If you don't . . ."
"It's not ever going to be the same, is it?" Abruptly, I jerked to my feet and stomped around. "I didn't want it to change!"
"Change is a scary thing for anybody, and for survivors, it can be even tougher."
"Why can't anything be, you know, simple? Why does everything have to wind up so goddamn complicated?" I was yelling.
"Because we're human," he said much more quietly.
I stomped around a while more, but my anger was mostly gone. It had been sharp and brief; I was back to my unpredictable, sometimes violent mood swings "The thing is," I told him, "I really am happy for them. I know it doesn't sound like it, but I am."
"I believe you. I also believe you're scared and angry. And you'll be able to deal with all those feelings a lot better if you acknowledge them all."
I sat back down and just stared at one of his rice-paper Tao paintings on the wall and listened to his fountain, like I listened to my own at night. He leaned his head back on the top of his leather seat and waited. We sometimes had these long silences in sessions. Finally, I asked, "What did you mean, about my 'boundaries'?"
Dropping his chin, he said, "You said you're all going to be staying there this summer, and you'll presumably be spending a lot of time together. You need to think about what you're comfortable with them doing in front of you."
My face blanched. "It's not like I plan to watch them make out!"
He ignored that. "One of the ways this triangle is most likely to change is in physical expression. Does Jean still get to hug you, or will Warren feel jealous? What about exchanges of affection between you and Warren? He used to have a crush on you. Does Jean know that? Would she be jealous of you?"
"Jean knows Warren's bi," I said.
"But does she know Warren had a crush on you?"
I looked off. "No," I admitted. "Well, I don't know. Maybe he told her."
"It's something to talk to him about. Also, you need to think about what may make you jealous. If they hold hands or put their arms around each other -- where does that leave you? Would you feel comfortable watching them kiss?"
I really hadn't considered the possibility. "They haven't done anything like that."
"But they likely will. Those are normal expressions between dating couples."
"I don't know how I'll feel," I admitted. "But I don't think they're going to rub my face in it, you know? Besides, watching would be kinda voyeurish and kinky, wouldn't it?" I tried to laugh -- make a joke of it.
He didn't. "What's 'kinky,' Scott?"
"Come on, Jon. A three-way? That's kinky. We got extra for that, on the street."
He shook his head. "'Kinky' is a value judgment. It has more to do with our own hang-ups and social conventions than it has to do with some absolute. What's 'kinky' for one couple is normal sexual expression for another. And in rare situations, genuine love might develop between three people. Is that 'kinky' or is that simply atypical? Define 'kinky."
How had we gotten off a discussion of Jean and Warren onto a discussion of sex? I wasn't ready to go there, so I replied, "Kinky uses the whole chicken." His expression was startled, and I repeated the joke in full, "Erotic uses a feather. Kinky uses the whole chicken."
Frustrated, he blew out. "You're avoiding."
"I don't want to talk about kinky sex."
"You don't want to talk about sex period."
"What's the difference?" It was out before I thought about it.
"Mmm." After a long, long moment, Bennett added, "This next week, you might consider if you don't want to know what Jean and Warren do behind closed doors because it would violate their privacy, or because you don't want to think about your two best friends doing 'the nasty.'"
Jaw clenched, I glared behind the lenses. "You're the one who called it that."
"So what would you call it?"
I knew he was baiting me, but I wasn't going to get caught twice. "Making love," I said defiantly.
"Really?" He glanced back at the clock. "Well, look at that. We ran over." He stood up to open the door for me. "Think about what you'd call it this week, okay?"
I wanted to respond with "Fuck you," but there was someone in the waiting room, so I settled on shooting him a bird where it couldn't be seen before I walked out the door.
I did give some thought to what he'd said, and later that week, on Friday after supper, I cornered Jean and Warren upstairs. "We need to talk," I told them. They both nodded, aware, I think, that my equilibrium had been deteriorating, and now we all climbed into the attic and out on the roof to watch the sunset. Like the time at the lake, they adopted identical poses while I sat opposite, and I knew Bennett had been right about the inevitable changes. We weren't the Three Mutant Musketeers anymore. They were a pair and I was 'the friend.' "I thought I was okay with this," I began. They waited, tense. "And I am happy for you -- I want you to know that. That's real. But yeah -- I'm kind of . . . nervous, okay? I'm not really sure where things are going to wind up --"
"Nothing's going to change between the three of us," Jean interrupted.
"Yes, it is!" I snapped back because I hadn't finished my pre-prepared speech. "It's going to change. It already has."
"Only if you let it."
"No. It has changed."
"If you don't want us to see each other --" Warren began, but I shook my head vigorously. I'd worried that I might make them feel guilty, but Warren's offer just made me feel guilty, and that pissed me off.
"It's not my choice."
"You're our friend, we don't want this to change that --"
"Then let's be honest!" I yelled at them both. "Maybe if we -- I don't know -- if we can talk honestly, it'll be real. We can stay real. We can stay . . . us. It just won't be the same us. It's not going to be the same us anyway, and pretending it will be is stupid." The anger came boiling back out again with the fear and the pain. It made me harsh. "You're going to be fucking each other and I'm not going to be a part of that. It's going to change things, and I don't want -- I don't want left out."
They exchanged a 'concerned' glance. Warren leaned forward. "Scott, we haven't . . . I mean, it's not what you think. We're not . . . I've barely even kissed her yet!"
I waved my hands in front of my face. "I don't want to hear about that stuff. That's between you two."
Now their expressions were really confused and they exchanged another glance, and it was all weirdly reminiscent of the lake on Saturday. It suddenly occurred to me to wonder if they were carrying on a private mental conversation, then as well as now -- 'discussing' me -- and I felt doubly excluded. "You're talking about me, aren't you? Up here?" I tapped my head.
"Scott, no --"
"We're not lying. And no, we're not really talking about you. We're not really talking."
"But you're talking a little."
Their sheepish expressions confirmed it. I got to my feet and scuttled off across the tile. "Don't do that!" Warren called, his wings had gone out, preparing to launch and grab me if necessary. "Shit, Scott! You're going to fall. Come back over here."
"This is what I was afraid of!" I screamed. "You picked each other! I'm not part of that anymore. I'm never part of anything!"
"Bullshit!" Warren yelled back. "Xavier picked you to inherit! He didn't pick us!"
Surprised and still half-crouched, I rotated on the balls of my feet. "I never told you that! And I told him not to tell you that!"
"He didn't. But I can figure it out."
"How? Are you sneaking around --"
"No. But I figured it out. Why didn't you tell us?"
Jean appeared astonished. "Tell us what?" she asked him.
"Scott's inheriting. Xavier's giving him the estate."
"Really?" She was gaping at me.
"You're jealous!" I said to Warren, more wounded than I knew how to express. "What the fuck have you got to be jealous of? You're worth more now than I'll ever be. I didn't think you were greedy like that!"
"I don't fucking care about the goddamn money!" Warren shouted. He was standing, wings lifted slightly to balance while I had to lean over, fingers touching the roof tiles, hunchbacked like Quasimodo. "My point is that Xavier picked you. Not me. Not Jean. Not Hank. You. You're his favorite. You always have been. Don't talk to us about not being part of anything. You're the Golden Boy in this house."
"And you resent it, you son of a bitch!"
"I don't want to! But maybe I want to feel special to somebody, too!"
Jean had risen as well, scrabbling to put herself between us. "Stop it! You're tearing each other up!" She looked ready to cry. "We're not like this! This isn't us!"
"Yes, it is," Warren said, calmly. "This is us, too. The Dark Side of the Force."
I squatted down, agreeing, "People can feel a lot of things at once."
"This isn't us," she hissed again, head bent and hair hiding her face. Her shoulders shook.
I looked down at the tile and rubbed my thumb over red clay. "I love you both. But yeah, I'm angry, and upset, and feel a little left out, and I didn't want things to change but they're changing anyway. And I still love you. And I didn't tell you about Xavier's will because -- I didn't want you to feel . . . what you feel. I didn't want you to feel left out. I wasn't trying to hide it."
Warren still stood with wings outstretched, his head turned into the wind so it blew back his hair. "I know," he said after a minute. "I love you, too -- both of you -- and I really don't care about the money. But Scott's the professor's favorite and I don't want to resent that. After everything shitty that's happened to him . . ." He turned to me finally. "It's time something worked out for you. I'm happy for that. I just . . . I want something good for me, too. And I don't want to resent you because Xavier loves you."
It echoed so well what I felt myself, if in a different direction, that all the anger flowed out of me. I plopped down to sit on the tiles. "Same here," I said. This discussion hurt, but I felt giddy with relief nonetheless. Everything wasn't all better, but there weren't any more secrets.
Things were still a bit tense when, two weeks later, we headed to Alaska.
The fall before, I'd stayed at a cheap hotel, but with the professor and Warren, 'cheap' wasn't on the agenda. We reserved the Neo-Classical suite at the Sheraton Anchorage. Decorated in Romanesque statuary and heavy Renaissance velvet, it had a sitting room, a fully-appointed kitchen, a dining nook, a hot-tub with wet bar, two baths, two bedrooms, plus a fold-out couch. Even with all that space, it still presented a problem of who was sleeping where. I'd assumed that I'd share a room with the professor like I had at Christmas, Jean would get the other, and Warren would get the couch, but the professor put me on the couch and Warren in his room. I was a bit baffled (and maybe a tad offended) until Jean grumbled to me later, "He doesn't trust Warren to stay on the couch. He's playing chaperone, though it's not like we couldn't get a room ourselves back in New York if we wanted to."
We were in the master bedroom with king-sized bed and private bath; it offered her a measure of privacy in a suite full of men. Warren was still with the professor and I'd simply dumped my suitcase by the couch to follow her in and marvel at the ridiculously extravagant decorations. Now, setting down an imported pseudo-Greek vase, I turned to ask, "Do you want to get a room with him?"
She shot me a glance, but tried for nonchalance. "We haven't yet. It just . . . annoys me that the professor assumes he has to keep us apart under his 'roof.' We're not teenagers."
I shrugged. I wasn't sure it was that simple, but didn't feel able to articulate why, or what Xavier might really be up to. So Warren slept in Xavier's room, Jean had the king-sized bed, and I slept on the couch for two nights until Jean pointed out the absurdity of one woman in such a big bed, and I was welcome to the other half -- providing Xavier would agree to it. Rather to our surprise, he had no objections at all, nor did Warren, so I spent the rest of the time sleeping with Jean.
The days we spent tooling around Anchorage and environs with my grandmother. One evening, we brought her back to the hotel for dinner in the suite, and I thought her eyes would pop out of her head when we wheeled her in behind Xavier, but she seemed as amused as she was astonished, and interested in seeing everything, so I wheeled her all around. But when she assumed the extra suitcase in Jean's room belonged to Warren, I casually corrected her and she eyed me. We were alone for the moment; I could hear the others in the room beyond, ordering food and talking about the float planes we'd seen on the lake that afternoon. It struck me how well Warren's deep voice carried. My grandmother leaned forward to crook a finger at me. "Just whose girlfriend is she?" she asked.
"Warren's," I said.
She studied my face. "You lie as badly as your father."
"I'm not lying," I hissed, mildly insulted.
"Some lies we tell on purpose," she said. "Some we tell to ourselves."
"Gramma!" I dropped my voice and leaned in, too. "I'm sleeping in the bed only because it's big. She likes Warren. She's liked Warren for a long, long time. She doesn't like me -- not that way."
"You didn't say who you like."
"Not her. Not that way."
She just laughed at me and let me take her back out to dinner.
In fact, Jean and my grandmother hit it off remarkably well despite the difference in age, in upbringing -- in nearly everything. I'd move her about sedately in her chair, the same as I did for the professor, while Jean would take off running across a parking lot, popping wheelies. It was what one did with a kid, not a woman in her seventies, but my grandmother would squeal and laugh, and I recalled how she'd loved it when I'd taken her racing in my Corvette, the fall before. "She's fierce," Jean told me one evening while we were getting ready for bed. "Like a hawk." And I was surprised because it was very close to what I'd thought.
"She's a little flaky," I replied. She'd insisted on smudging Warren's plane that afternoon, before we'd taken her up in it, some native purifying ritual with burning leaves and an eagle's wing. It stank, and I'd coughed in embarrassment at the hoodoo, though Warren, Jean and Xavier had all waited politely. Then she'd given Warren a St. Joseph of Cupertino medal with the floating friar on the front and an airplane on the reverse, to hang in the cockpit -- equal opportunity superstition, I supposed. She gave me one, as well, but it wasn't new like Warren's; it was old silver, and had belonged to my grandfather. "If you learn to fly, you wear this," she'd insisted. "He wore it over Germany in World War II." I'd resisted asking where Joseph of Cupertino had been on the day my parents' plane had gone down.
Now, Jean shot me a disapproving look. "That's not very respectful. She's your grandmother."
"And I love her," I replied, "but she's still a little flaky."
"I think she's interesting -- all the things she's seen and done. Why won't she let you bring her back to New York?"
"She says it's not her home. She wants to die where she was born." I shrugged, though inside, it made me angry. I sat down on the bed. "You're the med student. How long does she have?"
She shook her head. "Impossible to say. She's not in good shape physically, but she's also not sick with anything terminal. Even the diabetes isn't as bad as it could be, and under control. She's lost a lot of circulation in the extremities, but she's not suffering from other things like macular degeneration. She's got remarkably good eyesight for a diabetic of her age." She looked up at me. "I wouldn't be surprised if she lived into her eighties, but her liver could start failing tomorrow. I just can't give you an answer."
I nodded, used to uncertainty, however much I disliked it.
Before we left Alaska, my grandmother and I had a final visit, just the two of us, in her room at the new nursing home. "I like your little redhead," she said at one point, turned sideways in her bed so she could face me in the chair beside it.
"Gramma, we've been over this. She's not my redhead."
She patted my hand. "Oh, yes, she is. She just hasn't figured it out yet. And neither have you."
"No, you listen to me. I see who looks at who. You look at her. He looks at you." She raised her eyebrows for emphasis. "And she looks at you, too. They don't belong to each other; they both belong to you. Be careful -- hearts break easy."
It wasn't reassuring, but I thought about it a lot on the long flight back to Westchester the next day, and when I showed up for my weekly meeting with Bennett, I told him what she'd said. He listened with interest, then asked me, "Is she right?"
"What?" The question surprised me. "No! That's what I told her. But she seemed so sure of herself. She does that sometimes; the professor does it, too. It must be an old person thing."
Bennett chuckled. "Scott, let me tell you a secret -- being old doesn't necessarily make someone an oracle. Yeah, the older we get, the more we've seen and the more experience we have, but the elderly can get things wrong just like the rest of us. All she can do is tell you what she sees from the outside -- which can be useful -- but you have to decide if it's accurate. So -- what do you think?"
"Jean's liked Warren forever, and now he likes her, and I don't figure into that equation." I trailed off more than cut off.
"But?" he prompted.
I squirmed in my seat. "War used to like me. That's one of the things my grandmother said -- he watches me. I'd hoped . . ." I trailed off again and Jon waited. "What if -- I don't know -- what if he's just settling because she likes him so much? When we had that fight on the roof, he said he wanted to be special to someone, and that won't be me -- not like he wants. Or wanted."
"But he could be special to Jean," Bennett concluded. "You afraid he might be using her?"
I shook my head. "Not in the usual way. He loves her."
"But you're afraid it may be in the same way you care for him." It wasn't a question, but I nodded in agreement.
"I guess I'm not sure anything's really changed," I said. "I'm afraid he still likes me, and he's just trying to make her happy. I don't want them to get hurt."
"What about your grandmother's observation that Jean was watching you, not Warren?"
"Nah -- Jean's always liked Warren, from the very beginning. She's not interested in me."
"People's feelings can change, Scott."
I turned to look at him. "So why would she go out with War, then?"
"I don't know. It could be that if she has liked him, as you say, from the beginning, she may feel obligated to respond positively now that he's showing an interest in her. What interests me, though, is why you assume she couldn't be attracted to you? You dismissed the possibility very quickly."
"Why would she? I mean, I'm . . . you know. I was that."
"Warren was interested in you."
"Warren got interested before he found out what I'd been."
"But finding out doesn't seem to have changed his feelings."
"If he'd known before, he wouldn't have felt that way."
"Can you be sure of that?" He shook his head. "Scott, you act as if the fact you used to be a hustler is a big wall isolating you from your friends. That's not unusual for survivors. But other people don't necessarily see it as a hurdle to feeling genuine affection for you. You've already accepted that both Jean and Warren feel very intense platonic love for you. It's not a big step to romantic love, and Warren, at least, has felt that before, may still feel it."
I laughed once, harsh. "You think she likes me, too, just like my grandmother does."
"I have no idea if Jean's romantically interested in you. But what I hear from you is a rejection of even the possibility. If you honestly don't think she's interested, fine. You're in a better position to judge. But don't simply assume she doesn't and resist the alternative."
I jumped to my feet, pacing like I often did when upset. "I was a prostitute. I'm younger. I smoke and she hates that. I drive her crazy being cynical."
"I've never gotten the impression the age difference was a factor in your friendship. As for the smoking -- she do anything you don't like?"
"Yeah, she takes stupid chances. She'll hop the subway tracks, or jaywalk when there's a big truck coming. And she drives too fast. I drive fast, too, but I'm not hard on my vehicle. She burns my break pads and balds my tires, and she drives fast even around corners in the rain."
He smiled at all that. "So you both take chances with your health, they're just different kinds of chances. It's your time on the street that's the big issue, isn't it?"
I stopped, my eyes on the carpet. "She can't like me," I said.
"Because she can't."
"What if she did? Why does that scare you?"
I couldn't answer. I'd wrapped my arms around my chest and frowned at the carpet.
"Why does that scare you, Scott?"
I hugged myself tighter and bent over just a little at the waist. "She can't like me," I whispered. I didn't want to talk about this. "She can't like me because if she did . . ." I stopped. Jon just waited. Finally, I squeezed my eyes shut and whispered, "I can't like her."
"She belongs to Warren. She deserves somebody like that."
"That sounds mighty patronizing, don't you think?" Startled, I opened my eyes and looked over at him. "Doesn't Jean belong to herself? And who are you to decide who she deserves? Isn't that Jean's choice?"
"But I'm sick," I said, swallowing. "I'm all . . . sick inside, all screwed up. I have these nasty thoughts." Now that he'd pulled the essential truth out of me, the rest came after like the roots of the weed. "She didn't ask to star in any of them. These thoughts go on in my head. I remember looking at her, at the mall this one time, I looked at her and I realized I'd been fantasizing about her. Her body. That's disgusting. She's my friend. She trusts me to be her friend, but I have these thoughts, and when I jerk off, I'm thinking about her and isn't that like I'm raping her? In my head? She didn't ask for it, she doesn't know I'm doing it, and it's so sick, the things I think about doing with her."
Jon had leaned forward in the chair, watching my face carefully. "What 'things,' Scott?"
"Things. You know -- those things."
"No, I don't know. What things? There are a lot of different things."
"I jerk off and think about her touching me. That it's her hand. I imagine it's her hand on me, and that I'm touching her, that I'm inside her, and then I come. And she didn't ask for any of that. How sick is it, to think about my best friend that way when she didn't ask for it? That's rape."
Bennett frowned, and I could imagine what he was thinking -- that I was going to turn into a monster like the men who'd used me. "Scott, when you fantasize about her, you say that's rape. Is that what you're imagining? That you're raping her?"
"Aren't I?" I practically screamed it.
"In your fantasies, how does she respond to you?"
"That doesn't matter! She didn't agree to be in my fantasies! That's rape!" I was shaking and felt light-headed.
He raised both hands. "Scott, slow down the breathing. You're hyperventilating. Just focus on the question; it's a simple yes or no. In your fantasies, how does Jean respond to you? Does she want to do those things for you?"
My heart was pounding and I'd started to gasp, and I just didn't want to talk about this. I couldn't think, and all of a sudden, my mind went white. I was aware of Jon moving towards me, or I was moving towards him, but everything went dark and I felt myself falling.
When I woke again, I was lying on the couch; I didn't open my eyes from habit. "Scott?" Jon's voice. Automatically, my hand went to my face to check the visor. "It's on," he said.
I cracked one eye, just in case the lense was broken, but nothing happened, so I opened both eyes and sat up a little. I could breathe now and didn't feel ready to pass out. "What happened?"
"Something got triggered there and your whole body reacted; you blacked out for a minute. It's called syncope -- more a psychosomatic stress reaction than anything else in a case like yours. Subconscious avoidance. You didn't want to answer, so you checked out upstairs."
I lay back down on the couch. My head was flat, a pillow under my feet. He waited. After a minute, I said, "You were pushing me about what I did in my head with Jean."
"Yeah, I was. And I'm going to push again. I think we're getting somewhere. Let's dig a little." He glanced at his watch. "We got time. Tell me about Jean in these fantasies."
"What, you want a blow-by-blow?"
"No, I just want to know if, in the fantasy, it's something she wants. Simple yes or no question."
It still took me a full minute to reply. "Yes." I nodded faintly. "Yes, it's something she wants. That's what makes it so sick."
He leaned back in his leather chair, which he'd rolled over by the couch. "Why?"
But instead of answering, I found myself laughing a little. "You've got me right where you want me, don't you? Lying on the shrink couch."
"Now you're trying to piss me off to avoid answering. Won't work. Come on, Scott, talk to me. Why is it sick if she wants to have sex with you in your fantasy?"
"Because she didn't ask for that!" I snapped and rolled away so I was facing the couch back. "When people do it to your body, it's not to you. It's just a body. But I --" I stopped, shaking violently again where I was lying. He waited me out. Finally, I got myself under control enough to explain, "I made her do it -- in my head. I made her want it. I twisted her, see? If I was just doing her body, then it wouldn't matter. Or it would, but I wouldn't be twisting her. What I did is sicker; I made her want it." I could feel my whole face twisting, too, half in disgust, half in anger. "In my fantasy, I made her want it, like a whore, like when you have to pretend it's fun and you're turned on or you don't get paid and what you want to do is throw up but you can't, you have to fucking smile and jerk off and you can't just goddamn check out of your body because you have to come or you don't get paid."
I was gagging and he leaned over to grip my upper arms and haul me upright. "Sit up and center yourself. That was then, this is now. Stay with me, Scott. Stay in the now." I slumped over, but I was able to focus on his voice and stay in the present. After a moment, I nodded, then he let me go. "Good. Keep your eyes on my face, okay?" I did as he said and he nodded again. "Good. Now listen -- I understand what you're saying, I understand what you mean, but there's a huge difference between what's a fantasy in your head and what was forced on you in reality.
"Your fantasy isn't real. It's not Jean, Scott. You're not making Jean do anything. You're not even imposing the knowledge of it on her. It's a fantasy. Everyone has fantasies. Everyone. It might be a fantasy of winning the lottery, or the Nobel Prize, or being Superman and flying through the air." He grinned, but I couldn't. My face felt frozen.
"That's not the same," I said.
"Yes, it is. In all those fantasies, we still 'make' other people react in certain ways -- we turn them into actors in our own private drama. That's okay. Because it's not real. It's imagination."
I shook my head. "Yeah, and the stuff I did sometimes was just some guy's fantasy, too."
"But it wasn't. Someone took the private thoughts in his head and hired an underage kid to act it out for him. That crosses the line because it involves someone else against their will."
"But I got paid for it," I protested, feeling disgusted with myself again. "What's the difference between me and an actor?"
"Protection of law and contract. A job they sought out and auditioned for versus one you didn't. There are so many actor wannabes in this town, it's a joke. They line up for cattle calls. Don't know many girls whose life ambition is to become a hooker." I was just shaking my head, about to protest but he overran me, "Yeah, sure, some actresses and actors hand out sexual favors to get jobs or keep them, but it's illegal, just like it's illegal for the boss to cop a feel from his secretary. I'm well aware of the grays, but don't let that confuse you about the black and whites, okay?"
I could only stare. I didn't know what I was feeling, or even what I was thinking. I was trying to listen to him and trust what he was telling me but it was so hard. I'd wrapped my arms around myself and had pulled up my feet onto the couch. It was almost a fetal position, and part of me recognized that, but I couldn't make myself unbend or relax.
After a moment, he went on, "It's how we act on fantasies -- or don't act on them -- that matters. So Jean gets to star in the private movie in your head. That's only a problem if you take it out of your head and impose it on her unwanted. If you took a piece of paper and wrote your fantasy out in graphic detail and stuck it in her notebook -- that'd be sexual harassment. Or if you physically forced her to enact the fantasy on threat of her life -- that would be rape. But when the fantasies in your head stay in your head? Pfff. That's not rape. It's imagination."
I curled a little tighter and stared at the couch arm while he talked. The fabric was ribbed like corduroy and I thought the natural color might be some shade of wine. I still didn't seem able to speak, or even to concentrate fully on what he was saying. The words blew past me like maple seeds.
"It doesn't sound to me like you were having a rape fantasy about Jean, right?" he asked. "You weren't fantasizing about raping her?"
As if I could even think of doing that to Jean. I shook my head once almost violently without looking at him.
"She was a willing partner?"
I nodded, still focused on the couch arm.
"Then Scott, you just had a run-of-the-mill, perfectly normal, every-guy-has-them sex fantasy. It's not sick. And you're not sick, either."
"But it is, and I am. She's my friend."
"So? Do you love her?"
I thought about that for a long while before turning my head to look at him. "Yes." Completely, totally, absolutely, with everything in me, but I could barely get out that one three-letter word.
"Then why is it sick?" he asked as gently as he could.
"Because it is. Because sex would foul it up. I want it to be pure." I spoke very softly. "Like Plato said -- if it's pure, if there's no desire to drag down the soul, then the soul's wings can grow. War's got wings, you know? That's his mutation. He's got these great big beautiful white wings. Like an angel." It was, and wasn't, a non-sequitur.
"You'd like to have wings, wouldn't you?"
"Yeah, but I got the consolation prize -- I got these stupid eyebeams. I just kill everything. If I didn't have the visor, I'd kill everything. I hate them! What the hell are they good for?" I unfolded a little, turning to face him more directly.
"So Warren has wings, and it makes you think of Plato. But he feels desire as well as love -- for you, maybe for Jean -- and that bothers you, that he can feel desire?"
I didn't reply, just looked away and curled up again. I'd told him my secrets, secrets I hadn't even wanted to look at myself, and now I didn't know what to do. How are you supposed to react when you've just admitted to being secretly in love with one best friend, and resenting the other for something he never asked for and feels ambivalent about himself? "I'm not a very good friend, am I?" I asked aloud now.
"You're a very human friend, Scott. You're not sick, or bad. You're just human." We were silent a while but I didn't respond. Finally he rolled his chair back towards his desk and took out his calendar. "I'm going to make an appointment to see you on Friday. We hit some deep stuff today, some tender stuff, and I want to check in with you in two days and see how things are going. If you need to talk before then, I want you to call me, okay? You have my cell phone number -- don't be afraid to use it. Especially if you start having flashbacks to some of those hustler jobs you were talking about, I want you to find someplace you feel safe in the mansion, someplace that reminds you where and when you are, then call me. Don't try to be macho and tough it out. Flashbacks can be scary."
"I know," I said, sitting up again as I tried to pull myself together enough to get home. Bennett was looking at his calendar.
"How about 3pm on Friday?"
"Yeah, sure." He looked over, eyebrows up. "No, that's fine," I said to reassure him.
He wrote it in, then looked back at me. "Scott, did you drive here or take the subway?"
"Took the subway."
"Why don't you give somebody a call at the mansion to come get you? I'm not sure being crushed by a bunch of strangers on the subway would be a good idea for you right now."
I hadn't considered that, but he was right. Even the thought of all those people around me made me anxious. I nodded. "I'll call."
"You can sit right out there in my waiting room." I nodded again, then he rose and walked me to the door. "I'll see you Friday." And he went back into his office.
I called the mansion and Jean arrived forty minutes later, looking worried. Warren wasn't with her, and I was (selfishly) glad as she put her arm around my waist and led me back to the car. "You look awful," she said. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No, not right now."
"Okay." She drove me home, and when we arrived, she walked me upstairs to my room, asking, "Do you want me to sit with you or anything?"
"No, I just want to be alone for a while." She tried to hold my eyes behind the visor, but our faces were a little too close. "I'll be okay," I said, stepping back into the room and shutting the door. Then I leaned up against it and sighed. How was I supposed to face her, now that I'd had my own illusions stripped away?
And thus began my hell summer, as I thought of it later. I'd been through enormous change since arriving in Westchester -- since leaving Nebraska, for that matter -- but nothing matched those three months for intensity, especially June and early July. There were days I wasn't sure I'd be going to New Haven in the fall, wasn't sure I could manage it. For that matter, there were days I couldn't leave the mansion -- could barely leave my room. Flying lessons were out, and I broke down regularly, which humiliated me, or I lost my temper over the simplest things. The veneer of stability that I'd achieved in the past year and a half was completely stripped away.
I changed my image yet again, dressing all in black and no longer driving the Corvette in favor of a Harley I'd bought and souped up. I let my hair grow shaggy and two or three days might go by before I bothered to wash it. I developed a fetish for ballcaps, to hide my face, in addition to the glasses, and wore bulky long sleeves even in ninety-degree weather. I ate little and smoked two packs a day. The one thing I didn't do was touch alcohol or drugs -- not even the sleep aids Jon had offered to have prescribed for me. I think I knew that if I did, it'd be too easy to develop a habit. I let nicotine (and caffeine) be my drugs of choice, though there were three nights in late June when I let Jean give me Valium because I felt ready to fly apart without it.
Jean and Warren spent as much time with me as I'd allow -- which wasn't as much as they'd have liked. And Jean admitted once that even when they were out alone together, they talked about me, which distressed me because it put me in mind of what my grandmother had said -- that they both belonged to me, not to each other. I didn't want them to belong to me, not even Jean. Once again, only Xavier didn't seem concerned, though he did remark once that the clothes weren't particularly flattering -- which was okay. I didn't want them to be. Another time, he asked if I planned to get a haircut before leaving for New Haven. I replied that I didn't know, maybe -- though perversely, I appreciated his very parental remark, and I think he might have known as much. Sometimes we had conversations that were about very different things than what they seemed to be on the surface.
"You don't like being pretty, do you?" Jon asked one day when I showed up in his office looking particularly scruffy.
"You wouldn't either," I replied, "if that's the first thing you heard every time you showed up for a job. 'Oh, you're such a doll!" I lit a cigarette and collapsed in the chair. "You know what Marianna used to call me, as a joke? 'Killer Eyes.' Is that ironic, or what?"
"You had nice eyes?"
"Yeah. They were really blue. Everybody said they were my best feature."
"Not the cheekbones?"
I had to laugh. "No, not the cheekbones. That's what I've got left."
"You know what I think's your best feature?" he asked, and I shook my head, not sure if I wanted to hear, even while being very curious. I was like a cat -- curiosity got me every time.
"Your smile," he told me now. "Your smile's your best feature. Don't see enough of it."
I gave him the tight version of it. "Cute, Jon."
"I'm not kidding. Your smile changes your whole face. It's very warm -- pulls people right in."
I'd never thought of it like that, but when I got home that night, I found myself in front of the hallway mirror, smiling and trying to see in it what he saw. Jean came out of the den and caught me at it, making me jump in embarrassment. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"Uh, nothing." Then I blurted, "Do I have a nice smile?"
The question might have thrown her, but she didn't let it. Instead she smiled herself. "You have a beautiful smile, Scott. I think it's your best feature."
Startled by this echo, I asked, "Really?"
"Yeah, really. I love to see you smile; I've told you that before."
"But a smile's not really a feature. It's not a body part. Eyebrows are a feature. A nose is a feature. A smile is an expression."
She laughed at me. "God, you are so anal sometimes. I like to see you smile. Call it what you want."
So I smiled more for her after that. I didn't smile more generally, but I smiled more for her, and occasionally, I wore something that wasn't black. I liked it that her favorite thing about my appearance was an expression, not a body part.
The door to my past was now wide open, and if Bennett might have used Jean (and Warren) as a pry bar to get me to talk about hustling, our subsequent sessions had little to do with the now. Instead, he took me further and further into my past, showing how it had warped me so that the normal became abnormal and the perverse was my perception of reality. I'd always known I was wounded, but only now did I see just how deep the putrefaction ran. Almost nothing in my life was untainted, and I feared I'd never get better.
"It will always affect you," Bennett admitted. "But you'll heal, Scott. It just won't happen overnight."
"It's been almost three years already!"
"No, it's been only a month since you started taking out the past and really looking at it. Only a month."
"And I don't see the point of it! I was doing fine."
"You were coping. Now you're healing. There's a difference."
"How is this healing?" I begged. "I can barely function! I'm falling down this goddamn well and I can't even see the sky anymore! I cry all the godfuckingdamn time!" I was crying now. That had become a regular occurrence in sessions with Jon, but big boys weren't supposed to cry, and I felt unmanned.
"You've got years and years of neglect and abuse to cry about," he replied. "You had to cut those feelings off before to survive. But they didn't go anywhere. And if you don't let them out in tears, they'll come out in other ways that are a hell of a lot less healthy. Antidepressants might help stabilize you a little --"
"I don't want any goddamn drugs!" We'd been over that before.
"That's fine; that's perfectly fine. But it means you're going to go through the mood swings more profoundly. The good news is that you'll get through them faster. Probably. The bad news is that you'll feel everything more intensely -- like the difference between quitting cold turkey or using a nicotine patch." He pointed to the cigarette in my hand.
I took a drag, almost in defiance. "If I ever quit, I'd quit cold turkey."
He snorted, more amused than annoyed. "Why does that not surprise me? Anybody ever tell you you're a control-freak, Summers?"
"Frequently."Now he did laugh. "And that's how I know you're going to make it. It may not feel like it to you right now, but you're going to make it. I think if you put your mind to it, you could do whatever you wanted to do."
"Wait, don't say it! I'm 'special.'"
"You are." He was completely serious.
Notes: Lux et veritas is the motto of Yale, but it also means 'light and truth.' Once again, Heatherly read over this and has offered her advice. Btw, by this point in the series, unless there's something really shocking, I've dispensed with warnings. Anyone who's made it this far isn't likely to be surprised by much.
Story XV is "Consonance"
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Title: Lux et veritas (Special 14)
Series Name: SPECIAL: The Genesis of Cyclops
Author: Minisinoo [email] [website]
Details: Series | 65k | 10/18/04
Characters: Scott, Xavier, Jon Bennet, Jean/Warren
Pairings: Jean/Warren (temp.)
Summary: A summer of light and truth.
Notes: This entire series is ADULT.
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