Fall went by swiftly as the winter winds which were brought into New York. The first snowfall heralded the impending holidays for which the students were thankful, but it seemingly brought little cheer to Jean, who was once so fond of winter snow. In fact, the cold, dreadful weather brought even more misery to her. Misty had noticed Jean's apparent change in behaviour, but she had expressed no desire to discuss her troubles, and Misty did not find it in her to probe further either. Maybe some things were better left unsaid. Her brilliant smile and radiance had deserted her, and Jean was reduced to a mere shadow of herself. She had devoted herself entirely to her studies, refusing to step out of their room for reasons other than class or food, but most of the time, she even had Misty bring her dinner. Jean would awaken from nightmares, more frequent than usual, and would cry herself to sleep. Misty had gotten up a few times in the middle of the night, and offered Jean comfort and a listening ear. At times, Jean would be temperamental and slash out at her; on other occasions, she would just weep like a frightened child. Misty was at a loss how to deal with Jean's erratic behaviour. She had never witnessed such a drastic change in anyone before.
For the first time, Jean would not return to the institute. She preferred to remain with her parents, and maybe the tranquillity and familiarity of her neighbourhood would do her some good. She had always been Daddy's baby girl, and the frightened child in her just wanted to be held in his arms again. She had come home red-eyed, half sobbing and half choking on her tears and spent most of her Christmas huddled in her father's armchair as she had done when she was younger. Her nephew and niece, barely able to walk, brought her candy canes and her favourite chocolate-covered cherries, which she accepted graciously, but ate none.
The first night, she dreamt of the girl in flames again.
"You brought everything upon yourself. You should have finished her when you had the chance."
"Stop it! Stop haunting me! Just go away!"
Then she heard evil laughter. "Don't come crying to me when you need help."
"JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!" Jean screamed as she shot up in bed, pale and shaken, and extremely hot. No, not again...
She heard the flick of light switches, and the sound of running footsteps. The twins next door stirred and started wailing as she burst into sobs herself. She heard her father's soothing voice and felt his arms around her. She repositioned herself and cried into his shoulder.
"Elaine, get me an ice pack, Jean's running a fever."
"Jean?" John laid her down and caressed her forehead.
"Daddy, just make her go away..." Jean's mumble was almost incoherent.
"Make who go away sweetie?"
"The girl from my dreams..." Jean fell back into slumber.
The nights that followed allowed Jean peaceful slumber. The girl in her dreams had simply vanished. She could not comprehend it, but was nonetheless thankful for ample rest. She recovered on Christmas day and some of the glow returned to her cheeks. Jean adored the attention lavished on her by her family and was most delighted when Joey and Gailyn offered to share their Christmas toys with her. She received a call from the institute that afternoon.
"Jean, Kitty from Xavier's is on the phone," Sarah passed the phone to Jean, who was lazing in bed.
"How are you? The prof said you were like sick a few days ago."
"Getting better," Jean smiled at Kitty's concern.
"You aren't coming back? I especially came from Illinois to see you guys." Kitty had started her university term this fall back in Illinois. Jean heard the vague hint of a 'bamf' in the background on the other side of the line. "Oh, and Kurt says hi."
"Tell him I said hi too." Jean was glad to know she still had friends who cared. Then, she heard another faint mumble in the background. There was a considerable pause at the end of the other line.
"Scott like wants to talk to you. I'll call you back later." Kitty handed the phone over to Scott.
Jean's expression hardened and her free hands gripped at her sheets. "Why do you even bother?" She was already half-screaming into the phone.
"Wait don't. Don't hang up Jean."
"What more have you got to say for yourself?"
"What's wrong Jean? What are you talking about?"
"You know very well what I'm talking about."
"Stop lying Summers!"
"Don't Jean me okay? Look, I think it's just best that we take some time away from each other."
"I just want to. Is that reason enough?"
"It's him is it?"
"You've been acting strangely the past term. You've ignored my calls and emails."
"So now you're blaming me like it's my problem?!"
"I never said it was your problem!"
"Fine. Don't ever call me again. It's over between us."
"Jean? Listen to me Jean..."
Jean threw the phone across the room. It skidded across the floor and missed the wall. She brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs and cried into them. When Kitty called that night again, Jean cried once more into the phone.
It was a weird feeling, but getting that off her chest surprisingly made Jean feel much better. And she did not have bad dreams anymore. Maybe things were beginning to look up for her. The next school term rolled by and Jean was ever glad to see Misty again. Misty was also delighted that Jean looked happier and healthier and back to her sociable self once more. Though Scott's calls had initially been persistent for the first few months, Jean continually ignored them, and eventually, he seemingly gave up trying.
The next time their lives crossed paths was a fine May day. That Saturday, Scott found himself wondering about downtown. As he passed a café, he heard laughter fill the air, and one was unmistakably Jean's. There were three others at the table, all of whom which he did not recognize -- a blonde, a Chinese girl and a guy. But wait, did the guy not fit Jean's previous description bill for Ted? He observed as the four sipped coffee and laughed at the guy's jokes as he engaged Jean in a game of footsie. Scott satisfied his curiosity. He had been right that Christmas, and he was not in a forgiving mood right now. He crossed the street and walked far away from that café.
Scott turned twenty-one on his next birthday, and there was cause for much celebration, and predictably, they dragged him out drinking, but Lee was shy of being twenty-one so regretfully, she could not join them yet. So it was just him, Paul and Colleen. They started with a couple of rounds of beer, then Paul left their table to join some girls on the dance floor. The girls he had been dancing with insisted that he go along with them to another bar down the street, and he obliged, leaving Scott and Colleen behind.
"Perhaps you want something stronger?" Colleen watched as Scott downed another beer.
"I can't believe she did that to me..." he was feeling slightly woozy, but he did not care, "...and yeah..."
Colleen called for some tequila and she fed him from her fingers. He appreciated the gesture and sucked on her fingertips. He was getting drunk, but she insisted that he had more to drink. His vision was blurring, and for a moment, the red lights overhead brought out the reddish hue in Colleen's hair, and it only appeared redder through his shades. Jean...
Colleen tried to coax him onto the dance floor, but he could barely stand for long and fell forward onto her. "Jean..." he whispered, intoxicated and peppered Colleen's neck and shoulder with butterfly kisses. A devious smile played across her features. She had him exactly where she wanted, curled around her finger. She led him out of the bar by her fingers.
"Wheeerree'sss Paaauuul..." he slurred as she managed, with slight difficulty to get him into the passenger front seat of his car.
"He left with the girls. Don't worry, I'm here," she got into the driver's seat and drove off.
"I'mm juuusst glaaaadd you'rrree baaackk Jeeeeaan..."
The both of them made their way up the stairs, half kissing and half stumbling (well, he did most of the stumbling). They made rather incoherent noises along the corridor and he fumbled with his keys, dropping them twice before managing to get the door open. The door was closed with a bit too much force, not loud, but enough to wake the neighbours. It was with this that Lee was startled awake. She heard noises from the room next door. The boys must be back, and had obviously drunk themselves drunk. Colleen would probably be back soon as well, unless she ran off with some other guy again. She tried to ignore her neighbours and turned on her side and forced herself back to sleep.
Colleen's back was against the door and Scott's breath was heavy on her lips. She weaved her fingers into his hair while he trailed kisses down her neck. Soft moans escaped her lips. Scott pressed his body closer against Colleen's as she held onto his neck and shoulders for leverage and leapt onto him, wrapping her legs around his waist while her lips worked feverishly on his mouth and her hands on his belt buckle. His hands went to work on the zipper of her dress carrying her to his bed. When he sat her down he tugged at her black dress and pulled it over her head. She grinned slyly at him and worked at his shirt buttons while he shrugged his pants off. Rid of his articles of clothing, he eased down onto the bed, but accidentally bumped his head on the headboard. He cursed and Colleen laughed, before capturing his lower lip and pulling him down onto the bed with her.
Lee awoke again to the sound of something making contact with the wall by her head. What on earth were the guys doing up at this hour? She forced her eyelids open, and yawned. Seeing that Colleen's bed was vacant and unmade, she was probably in someone else's. She was about to fall back into bed when she heard vague (and heated?) moans and groans coming from next door. There was a gasp followed by a scream which lasted two seconds before it was abruptly swallowed. It sounded like a girl, and Lee considered getting up to check it out, but exhaustion had claimed her and she fell asleep once more.
But her sleep was interrupted once more later into the night. Someone was standing outside her door, swearing and jamming keys into the lock, trying to open her door.
"Colleen?" Lee crawled from under her covers and shuffled her feet to the door, stifling yet another yawn. She looked into the peeping hole. "Paul?"
Lee opened the door and Paul fell onto her. She was grateful that she was strong enough to withstand his weight.
"Whaaat arrre yoouu doooing heeerre?"
"I should be asking you what are you doing at my door. Come, let's get you back to your room." She slung his arm over her shoulder and dragged him five feet down the hall.
Lee knocked lightly on the door. "Scott? You in there? Open up. It's Lee, I've got Paul. Scott?" She knocked again. She had clearly heard him enter the room earlier in the night. But this did not add up. She heard two people enter, and that other person was not Paul.
"Scott? Open up." Lee knocked again. Still, there was no answer and Paul was becoming deadweight. She released him and sat him down on the floor while she retrieved Paul's keys on her doorstep. If you wanted to do something right, you had to do it yourself.
Lee opened the door to Scott and Paul's room. It was in total darkness. She flicked the hall switch, and the room lit up slightly. She saw a trail of clothes that led to the foot of Scott's bed. His covers were lumpy and he appeared to be fast asleep. The room was in quite a mess. What had happened in here?
"Scott?" Lee squinted. She took a few steps into the room, careful not to trip over the mess on the floor. "Are you alright?"
Scott mumbled in his sleep, and shifted his position a bit, to reveal part of another person's body underneath him. No wait, she recognized the bracelet on that wrist.
"Ohmygod!" Lee squealed, and immediately put her hands over her mouth, realising this had caused the sleeping figures to stir.
"Lee?" Scott mouthed as his hands felt for his glasses before he opened his eyes and took a good look at a flabbergasted Lee standing before him. Colleen let out a shriek and hugged the covers close to her chest. It took Scott awhile to register the situation he was currently in at that point in time. He had a shocked Lee staring down at him and an undressed Colleen in his bed. He put two and two together. Oh lord, what had he done?
"Get out!" Colleen shrieked again and Scott put his hand over her mouth to shut her up. They'd caused enough commotion.
"Scott, I thought I'd known you better..." Lee was shaken. She retraced her steps carefully backwards.
"Lee? Lee, please don't tell anyone..." Not Jean...
Lee stepped out, hugging herself. Paul was still sprawled against the wall along the corridor.
"Just don't ask!" She did not mean to scream at Paul, but she did not know what else to do.
Lee heard more shouting from Scott's room. He was shouting, and Colleen was screaming. At the rate they were going, they would wake the entire dorm in a matter of minutes. But that was their problem. Lee then heard a loud slap, and in a minute, out stepped a half-dressed, piqued Colleen. Lee glared at her with disgust.
"What?!" Colleen hissed.
"I think I've had had enough. I'll go crash with Phoebe and Yvonne."
"Fine!" Colleen slammed the door shut to her own room while Lee walked three doors down the hall and disappeared into another room.
Scott sat up in his bed, a sharp pain pierced through his skull. Reality and guilt, plus a hangover, started to sink in. What had he done?
For the next few days, Lee was still visibly shaken from her encounter. And keeping it to herself was becoming twice as hard, and unbearable. She was not one who would go about gossiping, but if she did not tell someone, she felt her head was going to burst. But people were going to know sooner or later right? And Colleen was not exactly secretive with her messy love life either. It just did not occur to Lee that she would play Scott as well. And how was Jean going to take it? Lee knew that they had sort of broken up, and Scott was quite distraught at that fact, but it did not mean Jean would not react to it any differently than she would have if they were still attached, would she?
She was wondering through the park, thinking that the fresh air would clear her mind a little. She was careful to steer clear of the way of others, lowering her head so she could avoid recognising people. She did not want to be one to start the rumour mill. But fate would intervene once more and she should meet Misty that fateful day in the park.
Misty was heading back to Columbia with some groceries in hand. From among the stream of people, her sharp eyes picked out Lee (who was quite tall and blonde), eyes on her feet as she walked aimlessly.
Lee heard someone call her name. "Misty?" She looked up.
"Hey, fancy meeting you here!"
"Are you okay? You don't look too good."
"I'm fine...how's Jean?"
"Funny you should ask that, but she's doing quite fine."
"He'll be glad to know."
"Well then, what about Scott?"
"Scott? Well...er..." Lee stammered a bit. She was not really good at this lying thing, and furthermore, how was she going to pull it off in front of a to-be psychologist?
"Well what? Is something wrong Lee? Did something happen?"
Misty looked into Lee's eyes. "Lee. What's wrong?"
"Nothing Jean should know about." Now Lee wished she had swallowed her words.
"Know what? Did something bad happen to Scott?"
"You could say that...but, could we find somewhere quieter? It's too open here to talk about it." Way to go Lee, you've blown it.
"That son of a bitch! Wait till I get my hands on him..."
"Misty please, don't tell Jean okay?"
"Why shouldn't I?" Misty looked as if she was ready to pulverise someone.
"Scott'll kill me."
"I'll kill him."
"Please, I don't want Jean to get hurt. And he means well. Maybe it's just better that she shouldn't find out." Lee was looking a little remorseful. Her and her big mouth.
"Then why did you tell me? How would I know if she did not try to weasel anything out of me?"
"I...just needed to tell someone. Y'know how hard it's been for me to keep something like this to myself? I know he doesn't deserve a defence, but the whole world doesn't need to know about it either. But I can't let Jean know and not know. I...don't know anymore."
"Why are you acting as if you are taking the blame for something you did not do?"
"I found them out."
"Lee, you had nothing to do with it." Misty stole a glance at her watch. "Look, I'd loved to stay longer, but I've gotta go."
"Just don't let her know." Lee managed to squeak out.
"Got it. But I won't guarantee she would not find out." Misty waved to Lee and walked off.
Lee sat there still, watching Misty's silhouette disappear. She hoped she had not messed up greatly.