Chapter Three: A New Beginning
It was nearly five when Scott and Jean were done playing with the remnants of their melted ice cream. The now warm puddle sat in its crystal bowl, exhibiting a pinkish-brown hue, reminiscent of that of raw, unprocessed copper, (you couldn't tell the vanilla apart from the chocolate portions) taking on a new, soft and subtle appearance. Spoons left on the table beside the glass bowl, the couple left quietly.
A coppery tone. Such a strange description for food. Yet copper metal itself exhibits unique characteristics, standing out from the rest. Man has come to realise that, as a conductor of electricity in fine, delicate copper wires, and in constructing solid, anti-rusting water pipes.
Right now, they weave in and out of the growing evening crowd, oblivious to their surroundings. They were just like any other ordinary couple out of the hundreds in the sea of people, yet, her fiery red hair and his ruby shades made them stand out from the throng. Laden with shopping bags, they let the fingers of their free hand intertwine, intricately like that of a twist of copper strands, forming a physical connection of two individual bodies. Their grip gentle, yet firm. They toured the mall up, down and around. With no particular destination in mind, they walked on, taking small steps. It just seemed like the right thing to do.
They wandered in circles, past the fountain and back up the escalator. For two hours, they just wandered.
Jean was perfectly contented living this fantasy, until a faint rumbling emerged from the depths of her stomach.
"You want to head home now? We're probably late for dinner even."
Jean shook her head lightly, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear. "Just a little longer," she sighed as she settled back into the mood, leaning in closer to Scott.
He shrugged. He did not want to foil this perfect moment either, but the hunger pangs needed to be addressed. They had not had lunch today.
Unfortunately for them, it was peak dining period, and most restaurants were overflowing with reservations. But they did not care nonetheless. They finally settled for a cosy deli round a hidden corner, with a relatively short queue. Tucking into their sandwiches, they sat shoulder to shoulder, Jean with her legs crossed and foot lightly brushing Scott's ankle, as they observed the couples, families and professionals, armed with their laptops, enter and exit the deli. Each party minded their own business, occasionally stepping aside to let them pass. Empty tables were filled moments later, accompanied with the chatter of excited children, huddled whispers of lovebirds, or the hum of a lone computer. A clatter of dishes was heard from the counter where a clumsy server had dropped them. The whine of an annoyed customer who discovered mayonnaise in her lettuce sat to the left of them. To their right, the cry of an infant in the arms of his mother. The two of them just happened to be part of this seemingly well choreographed act.
All the world's a stage, Jean mused.
Scott picked up Jean's thought via their link. And the men and women merely players.
No words were exchanged between them, not even glances, but warmth poured into and filled them both, inexorable like the force of gushing water. A familiar, monotonous hum filled Scott's mind, which he gradually had become accustomed to, and identified it as Jean's mental signature. It made him grin like a fool. And he knew Jean was highly aware of his emotional state, to which she flashed a radiant smile and a twinkle in her emerald eyes.
When they took their leave, an elderly couple filled their seats.
"Hey son, you forgot your bags." The elderly gentleman gestured at the floor.
"Oh, sorry about that." Scott left Jean's side to retrieve their shopping bags.
"No worries." The elderly gentleman smiled back.
"Nice lady friend you got there." The gentleman's wife spoke, looking up from her cup of tea.
Scott flashed a wide grin and she smiled back.
Scott returned to Jean's side. "We forgot these."
"Oh." Jean was lost in thought momentarily. She reached out for hers.
"It's okay. They're not that heavy anyway." Scott held them up in one hand.
Jean shrugged. Grabbing his free arm, she led him out the deli.
"They're so sweet together." Jean picked up the elderly couple's whispered exchange and sighed dreamily. She turned and gave them a little wave. They waved back.
On the way out, they passed a (rental) bookstore.
"C'mon, I don't want to head home just yet." Jean walked in, Scott trailing behind her.
Shelves lined all the walls, and sagged under the weight of piles of books. The heavy scent of old books filled the still air. Jean's slender fingers traced the tattered spines of a stack of old novels, pages yellowed with age. She picked one, and headed off to find a quiet corner to indulge in a little light reading.
Scott stood, admiring Jean all the while before his brain registered she had made a move. He grabbed a book off the shelf, and joined her on the loveseat.
Jean was absorbed in her novel, with her legs folded beneath her. She snuggled up against Scott when he came to join her, her red mane brushing against his neck and the tip of his nose, like the times they used to in the institute's library. He inhaled the sweet strawberry scent of her hair, before settling down to take a good look at his book. And so, Scott sat there, reading up on the legend of the phoenix.
It was ten-thirty when the shop owner came to make his rounds. Reluctantly, Scott and Jean rose from their present positions. Most shops were closed by then, leaving them with little option but to head home.
They drove back to the mansion silently, just like they did in the morning, except, this silence was a comforting one.
When Scott brought the car to a halt in front of the mansion, Jean got out, and started heading down a familiar, well-worn dirt path.
"Where're you heading?"
"It's such a starry summer night. I want to go sit by the lake for awhile."
And thus, Scott escorted Jean down the path which brought them to the boat dock, overlooking the lake.
Jean sat at the edge of the pier, took off her shoes, and dipped her toes into the cool water beneath. She leaned back, hands supporting her weight as she gazed at the twinkling stars above. Scott plopped down beside her, propped up one knee on which he rested one arm. He put the other one around Jean's shoulders.
"I remember the night you found me crying down by the pier."
"And you totally freaked me out."
She whacked him. "Don't spoil the moment. You're supposed to say something comforting in response to that."
"Look, I see an angel!" She traced the stars, forming a simple outline, like a child would.
More like a Christmas ornament to me. Jean picked up Scott's mental snicker and stuck her tongue out at him.
The hours passed. Jean studied the stars, while Scott studied Jean. The night grew progressively colder.
"I'll go get us some blankets." Scott stood up and disappeared into the boat house. They kept old blankets down at the boat house. When they were younger, they used to sneak out on summer nights to the boat dock and sleep under the stars. Tonight was going to be no exception. They have not done so in a long time.
Jean watched Scott go, shivering as the night wind came into contact with her bare arms. Then, she noticed a tiny brown paper package, which fell out of Scott's pocket as he stood up. Curious, she picked it up. It was light and made a gentle, jingling noise when she shook it.
Scott returned with two blankets, and handed one to Jean.
"Hey, you found my old blankie!" It was a hand-stitched patchwork quilt by Jean's grandmother. She took the quilt and wrapped it around her. Scott did so as he sat down beside her.
"I think you dropped this."
"Oh, I did?" Scott sounded nervous, as if he was hiding something. He absently reached into his right pocket. As he made a move to snatch the tiny package from Jean, she placed it out of his reach, from where he was sitting.
"What's in it?"
"Give it back Jean."
"Not until you tell me."
"Curiosity killed the cat, Jean. Now give it back."
"Just a teeny-weeny peek?" She undid the wrapping before Scott could stop her. The mystery item fell into her lap. She picked it up. It sparkled under the moonlight.
"It's beautiful Scott. Where did you get it?"
"It was supposed to be your surprise gift. For the prom." He admitted sheepishly. "I saw it that day Kurt went gift shopping for Amanda's birthday present." He looked down at his tangled fingers, blushing slightly.
It was an intricately patterned chain, on which hung a single gold pendent.
"It's supposed to be a phoenix."
"Y'know, the firebird which rises from the ashes. The Arabs believed that at the end of an epoch, the phoenix feels death drawing near. It builds a funeral pyre of sweet spices. Sitting upon its pyre it sings the sweetest five-note song. Then the rays of sun ignite the pyre and the bird is reduced to ashes. From the ashes crawls a worm, which matures into an adult phoenix. Its first task is to gather the ashes of its parent from which it emerged and buries its parent in a temple in Heliopolis, the City of the Sun, to return to Arabia." As an afterthought, he added, "I read about it at the bookstore."
"That's...morbid. But I know the Chinese believed the phoenix to be a messenger from the heavens. It's a good omen."
"Well, consider this your lucky charm then."
"Help me put it on Scott." He undid the clasp, and placed it around Jean's neck.
"Look! I can see our initials up in the sky." Jean lifted her index finger, and began to trace 'SS & JG' in graceful sweeps. Scott caught her hand, and began to connect the stars with it, forming a huge heart around their initials. He leaned forward to rest his chin on her shoulder, just as she turned her head to face him. At that magical instant, their lips met, brushing lightly.
It was a tender caress, lips parted slightly. Scott brought one hand up to cup her cheek. It seemed like all eternity, until they reluctantly broke the kiss. It left them breathless.
"Wow." A single word which encompassed a thousand indescribable feelings. It was just at the spur of the moment. The butterflies had fled, freeing them from embarrassment, the stars being their only witness. Jean sank into Scott's embrace.
It is said that the phoenix returns to its birthplace to die, and in its wake, a new phoenix arises. It was on this boat dock when their friendship was forged. In its wake, a new relationship was built. Two separate individuals traversing parallel lanes who decided to leave their trails behind them. Their lanes merged, and the journey continues.
At the crack of dawn, Logan found Scott and Jean on the dock by the lake. Feeling no desire to wake the happy couple up, he stayed in the shadows, enjoying the fresh morning breeze as he lit his cigar.
Scott began to stir, and caught sight of Logan. This slight movement woke Jean as well.
"So this is where ya two have been all night. 'Ro was gettin' worried. But Chuck didn't wanna disturb the peace."
"Look Logan, we're really sorry about last night. We should have let you guys know where we were." Jean was the first to speak.
"Your luck Charles' psychic. I would've skewered ya both fer breaking curfew and running off like that."
"It won't happen again. As for the DR yesterday..."
"Scott..." Jean nudged him, urging him to shut up about missing DR.
"Now that ya mention it..." Logan had that devious smile on his face. "Ya should hurry back. Practice starts in ten minutes."
"Aw...Logan, please..." Jean pouted and made puppy dog eyes at him.
"It works fer Cyke but it ain't working fer me Red." Logan took the cigar out of his mouth and pointed it at Jean.
"Fine." Jean stood up and straightened the creases of her skirt, and stormed off in a mock-angry fashion.
"Hey Jean, wait up!" Scott collected the blankets and rushed to her side, putting his arm around her shoulders. He whispered something in her ear, which made Jean laugh.
"I heard that!" Logan tried to sound intimidating, but ended up laughing instead. "Ya better run along, it's a long walk from 'ere!" He shouted back.
But Scott and Jean ignored him, and continued their stroll back to the mansion, following the little winding dirt track.
Behind them, the sun rises, bathing the world in its glow. Their shadows stretched, and merged into one. The lake shimmers, a mixture of red and gold. Like the sunrise which heralds the birth of a new phoenix, rising from the ashes, today marks a new beginning.
1) The mention of the phoenix is in no way related to the character Phoenix (i.e. Jean Grey) in the comics. I merely incorporated its symbolism into this story.
2) The legend of the phoenix has at least five well known origins from ancient literature: Arabian, Chinese, European, Egyptian and Greek.