By the end of the week, two of the four teachers they'd interviewed accepted the position and Scott had his fill of talking to people. The two new teachers would arrive in three weeks in order to have a month to prepare for the new school year. They still didn't have a nurse, a secretary, or an official groundskeeper but the idea of more interviews gave Scott a whopping case of procrastination. Logan or Kurt would have to keep doing the repairs until he recovered from this round and maybe he could turn the secretarial position into some sort of internship program for one of the senior students.
The cook... crap, they were really going to have to hire a cook. No way could the Home-Ec class make enough food for a hundred fifty. He wondered desperately if any of the new teachers were handy with a stove.
I don't know how many more times I can make spaghetti before the kids revolt, Scott thought as he stood from the bed.
I like your spaghetti, he imagined Jean replying. A little heavy on the meat--
The kids need it for their metabolism, Scott responded, as he always had before. Especially the energy-based kids. Did you know Jubilee ate a half a loaf of bread this morning? With peanut butter, apples, celery, and Kool-Aid powder as sandwich filling?
Well, at least she gave a nod to the fruits and vegetable group. Don't move those! Scott quickly returned the medical journals he'd been tidying to their place on top of Jean's night table. I'll put it back when I'm done reading them.
You keep saying that but you never do.
Remember our deal, He could almost see her squiring her smile into her "lecture face." You can keep your half of the room as neat as you want as long as I can keep my half the way I want.
"I don't know how you managed to keep from picking up the wrong instrument in the operating room," Scott said out loud as he crossed Jean's (messy) side to get to the closet.
It's my special type of organized.
He slid the closet door open then, perturbed by the silence, turned the stereo on. The CD player buzzed, clicked, and soon Alicia Keys pounded out her opinion of a woman's worth on a baby grand. Scott wasn't a huge fan of R&B-- the lyrical content was too homogenous for him-- but Jean had loved the young singer saying that after hours of thinking at the hospital or in the lab, she needed plain, beautiful music to help her unwind.
The music played until he left the room.
Thick summer air leaked through windows and doors cracked open. He'd have to talk to the kids about air conditioning bills, probably at dinner time. They'd have to start formal assemblies soon or maybe set up some sort of PA system but from what he remembered, those announcements tend to be ignored. The professor could always send telepathic announcements... Scott smiled to himself at the mental image of the professor mentally humming a bell-tone before sending a list of forgotten homework and lunchroom menus.
Cold water splashed up his pants. Scott looked down at the spreading puddle coming from an impressive pile of iceballs. Several yards away, Bobby and Jubilee poured every ounce of cute they could muster into their grins.
"Do I want to know?" Scott asked.
"We were testing our reflexes," said Bobby.
"I wanted to see if I could paff his snowballs in mid-air," Jubilee said, "and then he wanted to see if he could freeze my fireworks in mid-air."
"First of all, since your powers are energy-based, Bobby would have to move at a molecular level to freeze them," said Scott. "For another, the floors can't take this much water and fire. Take it outside."
"But it's so hot out there," Bobby protested. "She'll have the advantage."
"Then sign up for time in the gym. Not in the main building."
"Yessir," said Bobby as Jubilee saluted. "Thanks for not telling the professor."
"Who said I wasn't?" asked Scott, but there was no edge to his voice.
With classic teenage enthusiasm, they ran roughly in the direction of
the pool annex. Scott continued down to his office. Cook, secretarial
position as an internship, PA system or possibly an assembly procedure--
"I have time," said Scott. He unlocked the door and ushered him in. Piotr didn't have to duck to get through the door but it was a close thing. Nineteenth century architecture didn't foresee six-foot-eight teenagers. "Have a seat while I put my files away."
Piotr waited silently, watching Scott straighten pencils and tuck away papers to his satisfaction.
"Okay, what's the problem?" Scott asked once he was seated.
"It's about the art scholarship I've received from Lord Braddock's Trust," said Piotr. He focused intently on a tear on Scott's blotter. "I can't take it."
Scott's forehead furrowed. "Have you changed your mind about going to U-Penn in September?"
"No, I..." Piotr took a deep breath to marshal his courage. "I really have to find a job. I need to send money to my family."
Ah. Wanting to stay unthreatening, Scott didn't move closer. With his voice pitched low, he asked, "How is your sister?"
Piotr's lip tightened. "She is... not doing well at all. Her medical bills and Father's combined are... I won't give up the chance for college, sir, but I can't right now. I need work and I need a degree that will guarantee work."
"Pete, with your skills work will stampede through the door."
"There's no guarantee for that," Piotr said. His fists threatened to make kindling out of the armrests. "Not in art. And even if it does, I've still got four years before I graduate. Meanwhile, my father's not getting his medication and my sister's--" He clenched his eyes shut, took a ragged breath. "I appreciate everything you've done to help me, Mr. Summers, but I really can't accept the scholarship."
"You won't be happy if you don't follow this through."
"If my sister's healthy, then I'll be happy." He jutted his chin out, resolved.
Slowly, quietly exhaling, Scott rested his elbows on his desk and steepled his fingers. "Before you enrolled here at Xavier's, you were working full-time, correct?"
Piotr nodded cautiously, not understanding the turn in the conversation. "Yes. Construction and... well, whatever else I could get."
"And if I remember correctly, the terms of your admission was that you'd be enrolled in a post-secondary institution as soon as you graduated."
Piotr's shoulders sank. "Are you saying I could still get kicked out of Xavier's this late?"
"Yes," said Scott. "But you won't. I'll be damned if I'll let your place in the Guggenheim's walls go bare. So let's make a deal."
Piotr could only blink dazedly.
"The school needs a groundskeeper," Scott continued. "You've had experience in construction and carpentry so you pretty much fit the bill plus I know that I can trust you to be discrete. But--" He pointed a finger at Piotr. "-- you have take at least two Distance Ed classes while you're working, courses that will go towards your fine art degree."
"You can do this?" asked Piotr in a hushed tone.
"I'm the deputy headmaster," said Scott. "I'll have to run it by the Professor but I don't see any reason why he'd say no. You can start as soon as I have copies of your registration papers. You'll be signed on as full-time staff so that means your immediate family will also be covered under the medical and dental benefits. Are you going to be okay with getting calls in the middle of the night?"
"Yes, sir," Piotr said, unable to process the information yet obliged to form a reply out of politeness.
"Good. You might want to check if U-Penn has a Distance Ed option. I know that St. John's does; you received an acceptance letter from them too, right?"
"So you can decide between the two." Scott snapped the papers aside and laced his fingers. "Is there anything else?"
"No, sir." Piotr started to stand up but Scott waved him down.
"I actually have one thing to ask from you."
"Would you like my left leg or my right?" asked Piotr.
His earnestness made Scott smile. "Nothing quite that extreme. I was just wondering if your mom was a good cook."
"I think she cooks very well," Piotr said, confused by question. "Perhaps not like the restaurants in the City but she's always kept us very well fed."
"Can she cook balanced meals for a hundred and fifty kids, seven permanent staff, and the occasional visitor and/or hanger-on?"
Piotr's eyes went glassy. He swallowed several times, with great difficulty. "Sir, are you offering my mom a job, too?"
Now it was Scott's turn to be unusually concerned with the tear on his blotter. "I'm having a hell of a time looking for a staff that we can trust with the kids, not to mention the sub-levels. It just seems to be the best option: the school gets taken care of, you can maintain your scholarship, and the hospital is less than fifteen minutes' drive away. Plus, after a few years, you should have enough saved up to go to school full-time. It's so perfect I don't know why I didn't think of it in the first place." He glanced up at Piotr.
The boy was still frozen in a crouch, half-standing, half-sitting, completely stunned. If Scott had donned a tinsel wig, grown a tail, and sung drinking songs in perfect Finnish, Piotr would have been no less shocked.
"Piotr?" Scott rapped the desk. "Is this set-up okay with you?"
"I'd have to be crazy to turn it down," said Piotr in hushed tones. "Mr. Summers, you are... the best... I don't know how to thank you. I... I don't have the words."
Scott blinked in response. "Um. That will do actually." He coughed. "Don't think this means I won't wake you up to fix the plumbing at three in the morning. You don't know the things that get flushed down the toilet."
The girl had a cactus fetish. Remy didn't know why Rogue had an intense need to take photographs of everything. Nevada didn't even have the interesting cacti that looked like giant dicks.
"I thought they were supposed to be tall as trees," said Remy. He crouched on the ground inspecting a small group of plants that resembled balls of yarn. Woolly balls. Heh.
"There are different kinds of cacti, silly. Maybe we'll get to the tall ones later." She wiped the sweat from under her hat. "I wish we'd come earlier though. Most of them just have fruit now."
"We'll come back in the spring," said Remy. "You can have as many flowering prickly things as you want. Hey, look, that one looks like a dick."
Three and a half media cards and two hundred zig-zaggy miles later, one pioneer town started looking like the next and Remy was starting to wish he took Bobby the Human Popsicle instead. Rogue winched her skirt boave her knees and fanned herself with her hat. Keeping covered must be a bitch in this weather.
"Why are we going back to Kelsey?" asked Rogue.
"Something feels off there."
She plugged a laptop into the car's power supply in order to transfer the pictures from the camera. "Should I be looking for something while I'm going through your pictures?"
"Are the pictures the most important part of the surveillance?" Remy asked.
"Apparently they aren't," said Rogue. "Okay then, so what are we supposed to be doing?"
"Watching. Listening." Remy turned down the radio. "Looking for things that ain't quite right."
It was like pulling teeth. "Like?"
"Like you and me." Stratified hills drew closer, softening the deep blue sky. "College kids on a road trip together before the new school year starts. What's wrong with this picture?"
Rogue looked around. The rental car wasn't new, nor were their clothes the height of fashion. Two stuffed backpacks slumped in the back seat with a small suitcase that hid less legal surveillance equipment. Superficially, they held more clothes and a few textbooks. The sleeping bags, rolled carelessly, were streaked with dust from the times Remy insisted on camping out. The scent of gas clung to them if you sniffed hard enough.
"I give up, Obi Wan Makscruffy, what are we missing?"
"Hickies," Remy answered succinctly.
She leaned away, pulling her sleeves down over her bare hands. "Uh-uh. You, dirty old man; me, jailbait, remember?"
"Peaches, you got a whole lot of potential but I am not that hard up for women," Remy said. "But it's true. We need hickies."
"Couldn't we be chaste college students on a roadtrip?"
"And if you believe that, I got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you." Smirking, he said, "I won't touch you, Stripes. You just have to be real flexible and give yourself a hickey. Up here." He smacked his biceps. "Make it nice and big and obvious."
"So I look like a ho-bag and you get off scot-free." Rogue shook her head. "You have to give yourself a hickey, too."
"Whatever you say, partner." Without warning, Remy pulled over the side of the road. He rolled up the sleeves of his T-shirt and, after pinching the area viciously, he bit down on the meatiest part of his left bicep.
"Did I kiss you or eat you?" Rogue asked, laughing.
"You look like a biter," said Remy, pausing momentarily. "Come on, it's your turn. Big and obvious."
Chuckling and unable to stop, Rogue lifted her right arm up and started to suckle on the paler, tender side.
"You look like you're sniffing your arm pit," said Remy.
Rogue let her fist fly. "Stop it! I'm having a hard enough time doing this."
"I'm gonna smack your boyfriend up for not teaching you the finer points of hickies," said Remy. "That's just sad."
"He can't exactly help it," said Rogue.
"Hell with that! I know a girl in San Francisco who could do things to me through six layers of clothing that no bikini could even compare to."
"Gee, that's exactly the kind of skill I want on my resume," said Rogue. Without warning, she yanked viciously at her skirt. "I can't take it any more, Remy. I'm going to die without air-conditioning."
"It's almost sundown, Stripes." He shouldered a small pair of binoculars and the digital camera. "I'll get our camp ready; you go on with the other camera and have a look around to see if anything's off."
"Cacti without hickies?"
Remy reached over to ruffle her sweaty hair. "That's why I'm keeping you around, Sugarplum. You're quick."
"I'm beginning to think you chose me 'cause I got you caught breaking in."
"That too." He laughed when she lobbed a pebble over his head. Yeah, he knew she'd be fun to have for surveillance. Not as twitchy as Jubilee or Bobby but not as serious as Pete. Collecting data had to be the most boring part of a job, especially one that didn't guarantee a pinch.
Well, actually, this was one job when he wouldn't mind skipping a pinch because that meant that Adam was really in trouble.
Remy shook the thought off. They pulled into the outskirts of Kelsey in time to see a cavalcade of jeeps enter town. End of the workday meant they could camp watch the mine from the car. By the time Rogue returned with an empty bottle of water and two dozen pictures, he had the tent set up with the portable grill warming.
"I'd kill for a banana split," Rogue sighed as she accepted a cup fo coffee.
Remy wagged his finger. "Not until you fetch dinner from the cooler."
Heaving a beleaguered sigh that let him know exactly how tortured and abused she was, Rogue fetched. "Harry's down by Salem Centre has banana splits as big as your head. He smothers it in whipped cream. Pools of fudge, strawberry syrup, and pineapple sauce. Mixed crushed nuts. Real cherries instead of maraschinos."
"You're gonna have to settle for spicy ramen, Stripes. That stave off the homicidal tendencies for a while?"
"I could live if it was sloppy joes."
"I like sloppy joes!" Rogue said, hands at hips.
"Obviously, since we had it dinner last night and lunch today. Meantime, I got a dozen packs of perfectly good ramen noodles going to waste."
"You over-spice everything."
"Puts hair on your chest," said Remy solemnly.
Rogue rolled her eyes. "We've got a couple cans of chicken noodle soup. How about that?"
Blowing out resignedly, Remy nodded. "Good thing I packed tabasco sauce."
"I'm amazed coyotes haven't come sniffing at us, strong as you eat your food."
"It repels them," said Remy. "I'm way too spicy to eat but you..." He clucked his tongue. "Might want to hole up in the car tonight, Peaches." Rubbing his whiskers, he added, "Your shoulders are looking a little too pink. You been putting on sunscreen?"
"Yes, Dad." Rogue laughed as she dragged a blanket near the hotplate and took a cup of coffee, inhaling the scent gratefully. "You've been bugging me about sunscreen since we landed."
"If you weren't so damned pale, I wouldn't bug you so much. You should tell Scott to let you all out for a breath of air once in a while. Not everyone's as big a nerd as he is."
"In my old school, I had a friend who had a younger sister," Rogue said. "They were exactly like you and Mr. Summers. They looked alike enough but acted like complete opposites. Is that how it always is with brothers and sisters?"
"Guess so," said Remy. "He as hard-assed with you guys as he was with us?"
"I don't know." Rogue shifted on her blanket. "He's like all teachers, I guess except he actually knows how to teach which is a big help."
"'Course he does; Scotty knows it all." He handed her the pot. "You watch the soup. I'm gonna look through today's pictures after I take a leak."
"Whatever you say, boss."
"Boss." Remy stroked his chin. "I like that."