Chapter Four: Pink Lilacs
"Paul, can I ask you a question?"
"What," Scott lowered his voice to a whisper. There were just too many people in the locker area. "Do you get a girl for her birthday?"
Paul let out a small gasp, then squeaked, "A girl? Why would you want to...unless..."
Scott abruptly slammed his locker shut, startling Paul and a few others around him. Silencing Paul, Scott dragged him by the arm over to a quiet corner.
"We're just friends. Besides, I've only known her for a couple of weeks. So?"
"Her present!" Exasperated, Scott threw his arms into the air, drawing the attention of a few passers-by. He tossed a sheepish grin in their direction as they headed off. "You've gotta help me man, I'm getting quite desperate."
"When is it?"
Paul's eyes widened for a second, then shook his head. "You need serious help."
"You're my only hope."
"No, you need help." Paul tapped Scott's left temple.
"What's wrong with a gift from a guy to a girl?"
"Nothing. It's just, you're a guy, she's a girl...word gets around fast y'know."
"Then, what about brothers giving sisters gifts?"
"That's different Scott, they're siblings. Brotherly love is different from, y'know, l-o-v-e."
Scott groaned inwardly. This conversation was not getting him anywhere.
"The present, Paul."
"Right. Who's the lucky gal?"
"Jean. Happy now?"
"Whoa, the redheaded spitfire? You've got guts." Paul had gotten to know a little about Jean through his conversations with Scott. Lately over the past week, it was almost all he talked about. Something was definitely on, the first hint -- denial.
"Look, I like her as a sister. Just answer my question will ya?"
"Okay, okay, geez. Erm...girl stuff."
"Like?" Scott prompted.
"You know, stuff girls like."
"You aren't exactly helping."
"Figures. Go talk to the girls. They can bring you shopping." Paul tried to stifle a chuckle. A frustrated Scott was definitely amusing to watch. All this for a girl.
"Do you have any sisters?"
"Nope, only an older brother. Though...do female cousins count?"
"Whatever. So, what do they normally get for birthday presents?"
"How should I know? Presents come wrapped in something called wrapping paper. You might want to note that they come in frighteningly fanciful floral patterns."
Scott just wanted to strangle Paul. But before he processed another thought, Paul continued.
"She's turning fourteen for Christ's sake!"
"It's a birthday, not a birthday date!"
"But that's what my brother got for his girlfriend on her birthday."
"Augh, you're impossible." Scott threw his hands up in the air again. This time, he hit someone in the arm as she passed by. And apparently, she dropped something rather bulky and heavy. Scott looked down at his feet at the outrageously pink and frilly book. Some of its contents, loose slips of brightly coloured paper, had fallen out. Scott reached out to pick it up, but the girl got to the book first.
"It's okay, I've got it." She spoke quickly, her mumbles fairly audible. She clutched her book possessively, then hurried off.
Scott eyed her retreating figure curiously, eyes locked on the pink book. For one, pink is a hue of red.
Scott was still staring blankly in the direction the girl scurried off in. "Paul, what was that?"
"What was what?"
"That yucky pink thing. It looked like she was ready to defend it with her life."
"It's called a diary, Scott. Girls write and doodle all their girly stuff in it." Paul shuddered at that thought. He remembered reading one of his cousin's diary which he found laying around his aunt's house, and received a good spanking from his horde of female cousins (all sisters), for a deed deemed sacrilegious.
Suddenly, an idea dawned upon Scott. "C'mon Paul, we're going shopping."
This time, Paul retaliated. "No way, you're on your own on this pal." With that, he scampered off.
Scott stepped into a gift store, wary of the stares thrown in his direction. At least ninety-five percent of the shoppers were female, he noted. He took a deep breath and searched hastily for his intended objective. At last he found them, thankfully chucked in one discrete corner. But, to his horror, a whole shelf of those pink frilly stuff.
Scott shrank back in fear. And he could not help it if his eyes were attuned to anything coloured red.
"Lord help me." Scott prayed.
After five minutes of analysing the products on sale, Scott came to a conclusion that there were only a few minor variations. Apart from being all sorts of pinks, some had lace and frills on the edges, some had patterns printed or stitched on the cover, most had locks and about two-thirds were scented. Scott quickly decided on one that was mildly pink. It had 'Diary' printed across the cover in some fancy block and glossy print, some delicately embroidered flowers on the bottom right hand corner, and a lock, which he decided was quite important. And, at least it was not heavily scented with that of rose which was overpowering. It was mild, but Scott did not recognize the floral fragrance. Must be some exotic type, he hoped.
The cashier looked at him funny, but did not say anything. Scott had his purchase paid for and gift wrapped (he heeded Paul's recommendations). Then he was off lest he be questioned.
"So, when are you guys coming down?" Jean asked into the phone. "Aww...come on Mom. I can't come home as of yet. The professor says I'm not ready to be around a whole lot of people. The shields are holding, but their barely strong enough. I've had help because my room is psi-shielded." Jean was thankful for that, that she was able to finally have quiet, peaceful slumbers.
"Jean, your dad and I are kinda busy. Sarah has school. And it doesn't help that your birthday happens to fall on a Tuesday. And we have this social gathering thing on Wednesday night..."
"But, don't you wanna come see the institute? You'll like it."
"Yes dear, it's quite splendid. Your dad described it vividly to me." Elaine's tone spelled disinterest in the subject.
"Mom..." Jean was bordering on a whine.
"This year isn't any different Jean, besides, you've got all your friends at the institute. I hear they've been treating you well." Elaine secretly hoped it was the case. "Your presents will arrive on time at the institute, so no worries there."
"But, it's not the same without you guys. Can't you just take a day off or two? Please?" Jean was literally pleading, and Elaine hated it when people started begging for favours.
"Jean Elizabeth Grey! Don't you use that on me. Everyone's busy right now, we just have to compromise."
"You don't want me home because I'm a mutant. You don't want to be around mutants." Jean held back a sniffle. She had not expected rejection from her family to be that strong.
"I thought we were over that topic already. Don't be selfish Jean."
"I'm being selfish?! I'm your daughter, this is my birthday!"
"You watch your tone of voice young lady!"
Jean could not take it anymore. She flung the telephone right across the room. With her telekinesis. Why did her conversations with her family, or rather her mother, always ended up in heated disputes? Could a parent love her daughter less because she was different? She finally collapsed on the steps in tears.
"Jean?" Ororo approached the stairs. "I heard raised voices. Are you alright child?"
Jean looked up, tears welling in her eyes. She immersed herself into Ororo's embrace, and permitted herself to sob a little louder.
"They're not coming." Jean managed in between sharp intakes of breath. Hiccups accompanied.
"Do you really want them to be here?"
"Yes, I mean they're family right? I mean...I don't know..." Another sniffle as she looked up into Ororo's eyes.
"Sometimes, child, family is who you make them to be."
At that moment, the front door opened.
"You're late Scott." Ororo pointed out.
"Sorry, I had to pick something up."
"I think I'll go to my room." Jean stood up, wiped at her eyes with her sleeve, and took to the stairs.
"What happened?" Ororo noted the look of concern on Scott.
"She's just upset that her family couldn't make it for her birthday celebration tomorrow."
What could possibly be more important than the happiest day of the year of her life? Scott wondered.
Scott could hear distinct cries coming from Jean's room. He knocked on the door softly. "It's me. Can I come in?"
"Just go away."
"Well, at least tell me who it is that had you so upset, so I can go beat the crap out of them, if it makes you feel better?"
The door opened, revealing a dishevelled Jean with reddened eyes. "I bet you couldn't outlast a verbal sparring with my Mom."
"You'll never know if I never tried." He smiled. Her sniffle turned into a slight giggle.
"Atta girl. You ain't gonna look pretty with swollen, puffy eyes tomorrow if you keep up with the crying."
"Flattery will get you everywhere Scott." At least she was smiling now, and that was a good sign.
"So, you wanna talk about it?"
"My parents and Sarah are being jerks! They won't come because I'm a mutant, you're a mutant, Ororo's a mutant. Everyone here's a mutant." Jean fell onto her back on her bed, and stared pointedly at the ceiling. "Sometimes, I wish I didn't have to be different."
"They're afraid of you Jean. Afraid of mutants. Fear drives people to do crazy, unbelievable things. Fear shuns people like us who are different." Scott bit his lip. He knew all too well the feeling of being rejected. "At least they still talk to you."
"But, it feels like I don't know them anymore. They sound oddly different, yet familiar." Jean rolled over and propped herself up on her elbows. She picked at the fabric of her pillow. Scott sat down on the bed beside her.
"You've gotta to give them time to adjust to the changes Jean. Hell, I'd be as traumatized as them if I were in their shoes."
"I wouldn't think so Scott."
"How would you know?"
"You're not like the others."
"That's because I'm different, like you. I'm just one of the minority dwelling in the acceptance of others just like you and me."
Jean sighed. "What's there to be afraid of me? I think I'm more afraid of myself."
"I think," Scott leaned in closer, "that humans are afraid we mutants are going to take over the world." Scott added a pinch of evil laughter, just for the effect.
With that, Jean burst out laughing at Scott's impersonation of a supreme evil being bent on world domination. "No way! There're like, so little of us! It would take an army of us to take 'em down."
"Not in a few generations. Mutants are increasing at an exponential rate."
Jean looked at him as if he grew another head. "Speak English Scott."
"Look at it this way. If humans gave birth to mutants, and existing mutants in turn also gave birth to mutants, wouldn't the world be populated with more and more mutants, and less and less humans?"
"So you're saying, humans are an endangered specie in time to come?"
"I'm postulating in another twenty to thirty generations."
"How do you do those nifty mental calculations in your head?" Jean rapped at his skull.
"Dunno? Maybe it's part of my mutation?"
"A mutation that's useful for exams, that's not too bad."
"That coming from a telepath."
"Telepathy would constitute as cheating y'know Scott."
"Not unless you can alter their minds to make them think you didn't cheat at all."
"The professor will know."
"But isn't those shield thingies supposed to mask your presence from other telepaths as well? Y'know, when you're strong enough."
Jean opened her mouth, then closed it. She stared at Scott for a while. "I should introduce you to Mom."
"Hmm...we might be at it the whole night."
"I would love to see it. The showdown between Scott Summers and Elaine Grey. But don't worry, I'll be rooting for you. Payback for Mom." Laughter filled the room for a few whole minutes.
Then, Jean crawled up from her present position to give him a huge, squishy hug.
"What's this for?" Scott stiffened a little at the contact.
"For making me feel a whole lot better. Not many people can manage quite a feat you know."
Scott was grinning like a fool. He had survived the wrath of Hurricane Jean, and tamed it.
"Listen, erm...I got you a gift. I don't know whether you'd like it now, or you'd rather wait for tomorrow."
Jean's eyes lit up at that statement. "Ooh, how very sweet of you! You do realise the others will know Scott Summers is going soft." She punched at his arm lightly.
Only for you red.
"Of course I'd like to have it now! Where is it? Where is it?" Right now, Jean was squealing like a four-year-old, bouncing on the bed.
Scott dug into his bad and pulled out an oblong package wrapped in sparkly paper. Jean grabbed it, and started ripping one corner off. Scott just stared.
"I thought only guys tore up wrapping paper."
"Oh." With that, Jean started attacking the sticky tape on the opposite corner instead. But after two minutes of picking at the tape, she gave up.
"Friggin' piece of tape. Now I know why guys tear up wrapping paper. And, it so much funner!"
Scott tried hard to suppress his laughter. Temperamental and impatient. Paul was right; he did have a lot of guts. Wait, what am I thinking?
"Hmm? What did you say Scott?"
Scott snapped from his daze. "Oh, nothing."
"Isn't it pink?"
"Doesn't look pink to me."
"Looks pink to me."
"Scott, it's lilac."
"Don't worry, I'm not a big fan of pink."
"You struck me as one of those 'pink' girls."
"Eww...I'm not those girly girls Scott. But anyway, it's really nice. Thank you." Jean fingered the embroidery. It had a mild scent too. "How'd you know I like lilacs?"
"A stab in the dark I guess." What's a lilac look like anyway? "The rose-smelling ones irritated me." Noted. Jean likes lilacs.
Jean got up and walked to her desk. She picked up a pen and started scribbling something on the first page.
Scott walked over and peered over her shoulder. She shot him a glare.
"Scott, it's a diary."
Scott didn't budge.
"Meaning: You're not allowed to look so go away?"
Scott gave her a slight pout. "Well, at least let me write you a happy birthday note in it, so you'll know who it's from."
Jean thought about it for a second. "Alright. Here, on the back of the cover."
Scott picked up a pen (he was certain it was a pink glittery one) and the book, and held it close to him. He proceeded to write in a neat, engineer's script.
"No peeking Jean." Scott pondered a while on how to sign it off. He finally settled for a simple 'Scott'. He blew at the ink, making certain it was dry before closing the book and returning it to Jean.
Scott picked up his bag and headed for the door. "Happy birthday in advance Jean."
"You're attending the party right?"
"Of course I am. Wouldn't miss it for the world." He closed the door silently behind him, leaving Jean to indulge in the privacy of her own thoughts.
Jean flipped open the cover. "Scott Summers, you wrote it in pink!" She mused fondly, reading his words over and over again. That was until she noticed a tiny smudge just before his name. "Darn." Jean picked up that same pink pen Scott wrote in, and drew a small heart over the smudge. "There, that ought to fix it nicely."