|Wed, 1 Dec 1999
D Benway <email@example.com>
1968 [Jean Grey and others]
This story involves characters that belong to Marvel comics. The story itself belongs to me.
This story is not for kids. It is a sort of prequel to my story 'Jean's Little Problem'. I know that JLP was set four or five years after 1968, but at the rate at which Marvel time evolves, I don't think that this presents much of a problem.
Many thanks to Luba K for her editorial comments. Additional stories by me can be found at the Fonts of Wisdom, http://home.att.net/~lubakmetyk.
He hadn't wanted to do anything, and so she was here. Here, in a leather bucket armchair at the top of the world in the middle of Manhattan, in an empty room filled with leatherbound books that had been purchased by the foot and a sound system that promised the best in quadrophenic sound, so long as you played one of the ten quadrophenic records available. She couldn't tell it from stereo. She wanted to listen to the Byrds, but the old records didn't play on the new turntable and Warren's tape recorder was notorious for not working properly. Someone had been in to look at it that very afternoon, from the tools that were scattered about the place.
A shadow passed the door. Clara, one of the maids, the one who had let her in. The other one, whose name she couldn't remember, worked mornings and was usually out when she arrived. She had arrived late, after leaving Westchester in a rage on the 3:30 to Grand Central. She hadn't told Scott or the Prof where she was going, she had been that angry. Still, she had taken no risks. She had phoned Warren before leaving, and he had agreed to meet her. She had gone straight to his appartment and found the note, explaining that he was out and would be late. From the things Clara hadn't said, he was out on a date with some girl he'd met that afternoon. Typical. She waited as the sun set, imagining what her father would think if he knew where she was. She could trust the Prof and Scott not to tell him, at least.
She thought of returning on the 7:30, but then that would mean facing Scott again, and she didn't want to do that. Not until he had worried himself into a good solid panic, at least. She hadn't asked for much, just that they do something. It was so hard with him. The orphanage had taken something, had left a gap, something missing that Hank and even Bobby had, and that Warren had more of than anyone else she knew. The first time that he had kissed her, he had been shaking so badly that he had barely managed it. She supposed that it might have been touching, had the shaking not still been there the second and the third and the fourth time. Even so, he had gone further but somehow never far enough. On Tuesday, when the going had been hot and heavy, she had felt him come in his pants. He had fled. He hadn't spoken to her on Wednesday or Thursday, and this morning, when she had cornered him and suggested that they do something, meaning go and sit under the big tree in the back and talk, he had said in his flat midwestern way that he hadn't thought that she was that kind of girl.
She hadn't hit him, since she might have struck off his glasses and turned him into the victim. Instead, she had stormed out, phoned Warren from the station in tears, then taken the train to this big empty room. She checked her watch. It was already 7:20. She wouldn't make the train. The sun was already down below Hoboken. Clara passed by again, and she decided that when Warren did appear, he would be with a girl and that she would be introduced as his sister. She placed her hands on her hips and mouthed Men, putting on the expression that her mother so often used. She giggled, and thought of phoning Scott. Instead, she gathered up her jacket and bag and headed for the door.
It took her thirty minutes to reach the Village by bus. The subway would have been faster, but there were more wandering hands down there then there were above ground. She didn't get lost like she had the previous time, but as she stood by the green door, she wondered why on earth she hadn't phoned first. She knocked again, but there was no response. She thought about telepathically undoing it, but the last time she had done that there had been a scene and Sara had been too flustered to keep the story straight about how she had gotten past the lock. She went back down to the deli on the corner and phoned, but there was only a busy signal. Knowing Sara, that either meant that she was home or that she had knocked the receiver off the hook again. She returned to Sara's floor, then sat down on the stairs opposite the door.
Sara hadn't been in the Village for long, only since September. It seemed like only yesterday that her sister had set off for Barnard, the apple of their father's eye. Two weeks later, there had been the first fight. A glass had been thrown, and Sara had told her father to Fuck Off. At that point, her mother had ended the conflict by passing out. The boyfriends had come after that. All of them had long hair, some didn't wash. After a while, neither did Sara, or so her father had said. She said that it was just patchouli, but her father had no idea what that was. Sara stopped coming home. She took to finding her parents standing together at the phone, her father yelling, her mother crying. Her father stopped the cheque to Barnard. He got a copy of a registration to the City University of New York in the mail, and had burst into tears himself over dinner that evening. Her own report card from Westchester had sat unopened for some days. Just before Hallowe'en, she had seen her father drunk for the first time. Two weeks after that Sara had shown up with a new boyfriend who had only shoulder-length hair and who was in engineering school. She had found the address in the Village on a folded piece of paper in her jewel box afterward. By Christmas the engineer was ancient history, but at least they were all talking again.
She stood up as she heard voices on the stairs. Four men and a woman rounded the corner, making their way past her on the landing. A hand found its way onto her thigh for the briefest of moments. She couldn't see whose it was, and three of the men looked her over as they mounted the stairs where she had been sitting. She heard mumbled conversation from above. She knocked on the door again. One of the men came half-way back down the stairs.
"We're having a party," he slurred. "Wanna be my date?"
"No," she said.
She wished for a moment that she had worn the jeans and turtelneck of the morning instead of the skirt and blouse that she was wearing now. She decided that it probably wouldn't have Nickered what she was wearing.
"Hey," said the man again. "I want you to be my-"
He couldn't finish. A little TK push had him crashing down the stairs into a heap at the bottom. A gale of laughter came from the floor above, but she was already on her way through the door.
Five blocks away, she became aware of just how hungry she was. She had taken off an hour after an afternoon at the gym. She hadn't had anything at Warren's, so it had to be a good five hours since her last meal. She knew that there were good places to eat in the area, especially the Indian restaurant where she had eaten with Sara and the last boyfriend. She was thinking of doubling back to it when she looked across the road and saw a sign for a restaurant that sold steak and chick peas. It seemed eclectic. Why not? It had a weird name, something to do with Kansas City.
She had never been in a restaurant where everything had been painted black. There was art on the walls that looked like the things in Sara's books, not like the relatively tame stuff that she had seen when Hank had taken them to see Bernard the Poet. The audience at that gathering had been old, in their 30s, all in jackets and turtlenecks. She had suspected that everyone in that room had been from Westchester. She knew that she was the only person from Westchester now. Her stomach rumbled, and she took a seat in a booth near the door. A waitress who looked like a man with make-up on handed her a menu. It didn't have any chickpeas on it. She ordered a small steak and a salad. It was hard to mess up a steak, at least in Westchester.
Somewhere in the back, something that might have been music started, then stopped. A door opened, and four people staggered out who looked unusual even for people from the Village. She tried not to stare, especially after it became clear that they were staring at her and whispering. The waitress brought the salad, which was enormous and had strange kinds of lettuce in it that she had never seen before. She looked up as the four from the back room had gathered in front of her table.
"Can I help you?" she asked, her voice level.
The round faced little fat man and the man in the blond wig ignored her. The fat man whispered something into the blond's ear. The other two slid into the booth across from her. The rail-thin man with the spotted face pointed to her water glass.
"You want that?" he asked.
She shook her head. He took a swig of it, then spat it out against the wall. Some of it spattered back into her face.
"Billy," giggled the girl who had sat down beside him. "You animal."
Billy grinned at her, then slumped into the corner.
"Ever have a really bad taste in your mouth?" asked Billy, who then appeared to nod off into sleep.
She found that she couldn't take her eyes off the girl. Black leather (leather!) dress that had been custom made and hadn't been bought in Sears. Short black hair dyed blonde. Perfect skin, perfect face. The biggest brown eyes she had ever seen, but so empty. The girl giggled again. She went cold. She reached for her water glass automatically. It wasn't water. It burned. She spat it out, all across her salad, coughing. The girl giggled again.
"Must have been my glass," said the fat man.
"So natural," whispered the blond man.
"What's your name?" asked the fat man.
"Jean," she blurted.
"Blue Jean," said the blond man, softly.
"My name's Edie" said the girl, giggling again. "I'm a star."
"A superstar," whispered the blond man.
"We could make you a superstar," said the fat man. "You're 21, right?"
She knew that she could pass. She knew that he knew that she was 16. The fat man put his arm on her shoulder.
"Why don't we-"
He was spun around from behind.
"She wants to be left alone," said her saviour. He was not all that tall, but the solid muscle showed under His skin-tight t-shirt. His face was rugged, almost Roman under the short red hair.
"I-" said the fat man.
"ALONE," He snarled.
The fat man paled, and backed away.
"C'mon Henry," said the blond man, and pulled the fat man away with him. Edie stood up and stared at Him.
"You're no fun at all," she said.
"Neither are you," He replied.
She turned and fled back to the door to the back room. He reached over and started to lift Billy to his feet. Billy complained, but didn't seem to be willing to wake up. She wondered if drugs might be involved.
"Leave him," she said.
"This is no place for you," He said.
"I can take care of myself," she said.
"Suit yourself," He said. He turned to leave.
"Wait," she said. "Can I eat at your table?"
An odd look crossed His face.
"Why not?" He said.
He led her to a small table that she hadn't noticed when she had entered. It provided a good view of the entire restaurant and there were at least three good ways to escape if He were to offer her a spot in His new film. Somehow, she felt that this was the last thing He would do. The waitress brought her a new salad and her steak. As she ate, she watched Him. She could see the muscles in His jaw as he chewed. She had a very good idea of who He was. The Hell's Kitchen had a new vigilante, a red-haired lawyer who appeared to be blind but who could in reality see. The prof had a file on Matt Murdock. If she was safe anywhere, it would be with Him.
She kept watching as they ate in silence. He reminded her of Marlon Brando playing Stanley Kowaslky. After she had asked a leading question last summer, her mother hand bundled her into the car in middle of a Saturday afternoon and had driven her to Queens, where they had watched A Streetcar Named Desire in a cinema frequented by the sort of men that she often saw on park benches in Washington Square. At the end, as Brando had screamed out Stella for the tenth time, her mother had turned to her and told her that she thought that he was the sexiest man in film. This hadn't so much answered her old questions as raised new ones, but she had agreed with her mother on that one point. She had looked for Stanley in Scott, but apart from the silence, there was nothing of that power in the boy. Hank looked as if he had it until he opened his mouth and all the words came out. Hank would have been so much sexier if he was like this Man.
"I don't like being stared at," He said.
"I'm sorry," she said. "You're right, I shouldn't have come."
"You are not from here," He said.
"I don't even know your name," she said.
"Nick," He said.
"Short for Nicholas," she said, laughing nervously.
He didn't smile.
"It's just Nick," He said.
"Oh," she said.
"I want you," He said.
"I'm Sara," she said. "What did you say?"
"Nothing, " He said. He stood up and pulled a wad of old bills from the pocket of his jeans. His pants were so tight that they left nothing to the imagination. He threw a twenty on the table and walked off.
"Wait," she blurted.
He stopped but did not turn.
"I'm coming," she said, fumbling with her bag.
He nodded without turning, then kept on through the door and into the street. As she passed the table where she had first sat, Billy opened his eyes.
"Smooth," he muttered, but she was running almost too fast to notice.
She was a on the back of His motorcycle, her arms wrapped around His chest. She had ridden with Warren on a bike, but there had been nothing to Him. Nick was rock. The wind carried her hair behind her as they sped through the streets. Scott had always insisted that she wear a helmet. She had no idea that it could be like this. She was going somewhere with Nick. She had no idea where, but she could take care of herself. She knew it. She closed her eyes, and imagined clinging to Him as they raced across the desert on the back of a great winged camel, passing lines of armoured men standing at attention, their lances thrust forward in salute.
He pulled to a stop behind what looked like an abandoned building, possibly on the East Side.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"Home," He said.
He took her in His arms. She raised a hand to His face. He caught it, moving faster that she could see.
"Not the face," He said.
He kissed her once, gently. She drew back. He kissed her again, this time with His tongue. He backed her into the wall. He pressed into her. Her hands were on His back, feeling the muscle.
"Want you," He whispered.
Something electric raced through her. Her skirt fell to her knees. She pushed her panthose down with one free hand. His hand finished it, stroking her most private parts. He pressed in again. The brick pushed back. Something was inside her, somthing warm, something wide, something large. He grunted, then disengaged. She sagged against the wall.
"What-" she began.
He turned away, doing up His fly. She had her skirt in one hand and her pantyhose in the other. Something warm was running down her leg. It wasn't blood.
"Is that-" she said, then stopped.
He was weeping. She reached out and her skirt fell to the ground. He turned away.
"I-" she said.
"No," He said. "I did. What I wanted. So fucked up."
"I wanted it too," she said. She held Him tightly, knowing rock could not tremble so. Her eyes were dry.
"Want to come up?" he asked.
She nodded. He led her up three dark flights of stairs. At the top, He knocked twice, waited, then knocked four more times and unlocked the door. Inside, two black men with huge afros sat at a kitchen table drinking Colt 45. They stared at her.
"Who're you supposed to be?" said one.
She didn't know what to say. She had never spoken to a real black person before.
"Nick," He said.
"Sarah" she said, flushing.
The silent black man gave Nick a thumbs-up. Nick led her out of the kitchen and into a living room lit only by a flickering TV screen. A man with short black hair was watching Ed Sullivan. The Smothers Brothers were on. The man with the black hair wasn't finding them very funny. In fact, he paid Nick no attention at all.
He closed the bedroom door. They were alone in the room. A mattress with a blanket and an old military trunk were the only furnishings in the room. She took off her jacket and folded it, laying it on the trunk. She turned, not knowing what to expect. He was staring at her, looking as if He might weep again.
"So long," He whispered.
She went to Him and embraced Him, gently. He took her in His strong arms, then threw her to the mattress. His hand swept up under her blouse and ripped it open. Buttons flew across the room. The hand dragged her bra off and wandered across her breasts, aimlessly. She tensed. She stared at the ceiling, lit by a single bulb. She didn't want to be there anymore. He stopped, and went limp. She froze. She could feel his erection on her naked stomach. He looked into her eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I think I made you do this. I shouldn't have been able to."
She went cold. She didn't know where she was. She didn't know who Nick was. There were three strange men in the apartment with them.
"Sara," he said.
"What?" she said, remembering. She was Sara now, the Sara that she had dreamed of being. She didn't want to be Sara anymore.
"I made you do this," he said.
"I wanted to do this," she said.
"I made you want it more," he said.
"I-" There were no more words.
"You have someone, don't you?"
"Yes," she managed.
He sat up. She retreated against the wall.
"I had someone, too," he said.
There was a desolation there. She had heard it in the Prof's tapes of his interviews with camp survivors and returnees from Vietnam. This is what I'm training you to fight, he would say. You're fighting what could do this to a man.
"She's dead," she said, knowing it at once.
"You looked so much like her," he said.
"What happened?" she asked.
"We were fighting in a war. We were both badly hurt. She died. I did not. I can barely remember her. We were so much more, then. I don't know who I am any more. You're all so strange in your heads, I can barely understand any of you."
"Was she Vietnamese?" she asked.
"Vietnamese?" he said, as if he'd never heard of the place. "We were chosen to be together, from birth."
"You're Mormons then?" She knew they were polygamous, but didn't know if they did arranged marriages. It was a stupid thing to say.
"No," he said. "From further away from that."
"What was her name?"
He turned away from her, folding in on himself.
"Jenskott," he whispered.
"I have a boyfriend called Scott," she said.
He turned on her, face rigid, eyes staring.
"What did you say?" he whispered.
He lunged at her, pinning her against the wall.
"YOUR NAME," he yelled. "WHAT IS YOUR REAL NAME?"
"Jean," she mumbed. "Jean Grey."
He screamed. He screamed and screamed. Someone kicked the door in. He collapsed to the floor, off of her. The man who watching Ed Sullivan had a pistol in his hand, pointing at her, except that it wasn't a man, it was a thin, wiry girl with short black hair and pale skin and a weird tattoo across her right eye.
"Against the wall, bitch," snarled the girl.
The training took control of her. She backed against the wall, putting on a face of passive terror, calculating the lines of force that would take the girl out.
"Nate?" said the girl.
Nate or Nick or whoever the fuck he was was curled in a ball doing a good imitation of a catatonic. She started to tremble.
"Shit," said the girl, lowering down the gun.
"He just keeled over," she said. The training told her to knock the girl senseless and flee. Flee from the man who had made her-
The girl had bent down over him and was taking his pulse.
"Nate?" whispered the girl. He moaned.
"Don't move," snapped the girl as she gathered her blouse up around her. He moaned again. He was so helpless, the man who had made her-
"He's had a bad trip," said the girl. "Happens sometimes. Too much bad shit in his past." She had him standing up, now.
"Go sit on the couch, Nate," she said. "Go watch TV."
He nodded, and walked like a dead man from the room. The man who had made her-
"Get lost," said the girl.
"I-", she began.
"What part of `get lost' don't you understand?" said the girl.
"My blouse is messed up," she said, and the tears came. "He said he made me-"
Her head snapped around to the side. Her ears rang. She was standing in a room and the man who had made her-
"So fix it," said the girl.
Mechanically, she turned and started picking up buttons off the floor. She could barely see them through the tears, even as she tried to hold them back. She stood up when she had eight.
"Is that all?" asked the girl.
"Don't know," she mumbled.
"So count the fucking buttonholes," said the girl, rolling her eyes.
There were nine.
"Over there," said the girl, pointing with the pistol barrel.
She picked up the last button and stood looking at them, laying in her hand. She could take out the girl, no problem. She could take out the men in the kitchen, no problem. She could take out, could take out, could take out the man who made her do this, but-
"I can't sew," she said.
"Fuck," said the girl, flicking the safety and sticking the pistol into the waistband of her jeans. "You are one sorry piece of shit."
She looked down and almost started weeping again. A firm hand gripped her jaw and raised her head. She looked into two small black eyes.
"Enough tears," said the girl. There were no more tears. She felt herself beginning to tremble again. She restrained it before it became visible, barely.
"Help me?" she pleaded. "I can't go home looking like this."
"In here," said the girl, pointing to a small bathroom. "Sit on the can."
She did as she was told.
The girl joined her and closed the door. A fully operative 50mm heavy machine gun was propped up behind it. The girl was looking at her.
"Know what that is?" asked the girl.
"Gun," she said, in a little girl voice.
"Broom," said the girl. "It's a broom, and I'm going to fix your blouse, and if you leave here and tell anyone about this, I'm going to hunt you down and kill you with my broom. Get it?"
She looked into the girl's eyes. The girl was only half joking.
"Deal?" asked the girl.
"Deal," she said. The training was coming back. She felt strangely safe, with two doors between herself and him. She started making a mental list of details, things that she could use when she got back to Westchester, things that she could bargain with to deflect away the coming storm.
"What's your name?" she asked, as the girl took a large needle and some thick black thread from the medicine cabinet.
"Just call be Bea," said the girl.
"As in Beatrice."
"Like in Dante," she said.
"Who?" said the girl, finishing the first button.
"Nothing," She said. "He said he could make me-"
She hadn't meant to say it, but it had simply come out. Bea finished a second button.
"He says a lot of shit," muttered Bea.
"I don't know if I wanted to-", she began,
"You wanted to," said Bea. "He could have made you, once, could have read your mind, but he's too fucked up now. Too much bad shit, fucked with his head. He couldn't make you do anything you didn't want to do."
"Are you his-"
"No," said Bea, breaking the thread. "Shit."
"You're fast," she said.
"Have lots of practice," said Bea. "Of course, it's usuallly him I'm sewing up."
"Were you a virgin?"
"So where's blood?" said Bea, smirking.
"Got broken a long time ago."
"Someone diddle you?"
She didn't know what Bea was referring to, but whatever it was, it was something worth killing over.
She almost said yes, that she had been 'diddled'. It was easier than thinking of what had really happened.
"My friend got hurt when I was eight. I vaulted over a wall to get to her. It broke then."
"That all? Looks like you'd rather have died rather than tell me."
"My friend got hit by a car. She died. In my arms."
"Oh," said Bea, looking back at her sewing.
She watched Bea finish the button.
"You on the pill?" asked Bea.
"Are you on the pill?" enunciated Bea, as if to a three-year old. "The birth control pill? Did you use a foam, do you have a diaphragm?"
She was back in the alley. Something large and warm was in her.
"You're not using anything, are you?" said Bea, disgustedly.
"I'm not that sort of girl," she said.
"We're all that sort of girl," said Bea. "At the right time and place, anyone is capable of almost anything. Nate taught me that."
"Can I take a pill now?" she asked.
"Nothing you can do now," said Bea, finishing off the seventh button. "You know what you have to do if you don't get your period for the next two months?"
"No," she mumbled.
"You get an abortion," said Bea. "I'd start saving now. Costs about a thousand to have it done right."
"No," she moaned.
"Why not?" said Bea, starting in on the eighth button.
"Catholic," she said.
"So what?" said Bea. "Money is money. Nate'll never be good for it. Do you want your boyfriend to find out?"
She was numb. She knew what Scott would say. She knew exactly what Scott would say, and what her father would say, and what the priest that she saw every Christmas would say.
"Here," said Bea, handing her the blouse. All of the white buttons were sewn in with black thread. It might as well have been scarlet. Everyone would see. Everyone would know. Unless-
"Don't think about it now," said Bea. "Things have a way of working themselves out."
She had her blouse on, but couldn't seem to be able to do up the buttons. Bea did them for her.
"If the worst happens, you must have someone that you can go to," said Bea.
"Warren." she whispered.
"See?" said Bea. "Not so hard, is it?"
Bea fussed with her jacket, then took a facecloth and wiped her smudged make-up away.
"Now," said Bea. "Get the fuck out of here and don't come back."
Bea led her out through the bedroom and into the living room. Nate was sitting on the sofa, watching Johnny Carson. He didn't turn to look at her, but as she reached the kitchen, she looked back. Two pale blue eyes of the dead burrowed into her from the darkness.
The two black men were still at the table. They no longer looked hostile, only sad.
"Have a good journey, girl," one said. Bea smirked.
"Bye," she managed.
She found the alley. She found the street. She memorized the way back and returned six weeks later when her period had failed to happen. There was no sign that anyone had ever lived there.