It could have been that the man in back – they were sure it was a man, although they couldn’t see in, of course – was looking for an address, but the girls all hoped he was checking them out. They waved and posed. The grey car slowed to a crawl, but it didn’t stop. When it came by again, they all started speculating, but nobody had any ideas why the mysterious occupant would be on their block three times in one hour.
The fourth time the car came by, Tawny was back, straightening her thigh high skirt and smoothing the reddish brown hair that had caused Nick to give her her name. “Wow!” she said when she saw the grey limo. “That’s his car. He owns it,” she said, voice full of awe.
“Who owns it?”
“Whoever’s in there. See, it’s not a T license. It’s not a limo you rent out by the hour. Now, that’s high class.”
“You saying I’m not high class just ‘cause I get rented out by the hour? Them’s fighting words, Sugar.” The girls all laughed at Crystal’s mock indignation. But they stopped laughing and looked curiously at the grey car, as it came to a stop by the curb. They all watched, silently, as the door opened and a tall man wearing dark glasses got out. Tawny squeezed Crystal’s hand, hopefully, as he approached. “I think he’s looking at us,” she whispered.
“Should we give up? Try again tomorrow night?” The younger man, sitting on the right side, had been peering out the window at the sidewalks they passed, squinting to see as well as he could. He wore dark red sunglasses, making it hard to see without much artificial light. Of course, no place in the City is entirely without artificial light, but it was a dark night and right now they were stopped on a dark block. A deserted stretch of 44th Street, right by the West Side Highway access point.
His companion, a bald man of about sixty, considered the question before answering. “No, let’s try one more time. We gave up too soon last time. She was there after we left that night. Let’s wait another fifteen minutes or so, and try again.”
The man in the dark glasses nodded his agreement, saying “Once more into the breach, dear friend,” garnering an ironic smile from his companion. The younger man then pressed the intercom button and told the driver the plan. “You should have sat on this side,” he said to his companion. “I don’t know that I’ll recognize her. It’s too dark. I’m having trouble seeing much of anything. I’m worried I missed her last time we went by.”
“No, she wasn’t there. I’d know if she were.”
A few minutes later they came round the block again. “That’s her,” the bald man said, as they approached a group of scantily clad women.
Or were they all women? One tall figure might have been a man in drag, the younger man in the car thought to himself. “Which one is she?” he asked.
“The one in the red mini-skirt.”
“Not much help.”
“Sorry. She’s towards the right of the group, very young. Next to that tall black man in drag. She’s the only one without any jewelry on.”
“Yes, of course. Well, I can’t see well enough to notice the lack of jewelry, but it makes sense she wouldn’t have any.”
“No metal at all on her, I’d bet.”
“I’m sure you’re right. ‘No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all, And women too, but innocent and pure.’ Sounds nice. Not that idleness is encompassed in my view of Utopia.”
“No, it wouldn’t be. What’s that one from?”
The car stopped. “Good luck, Scott,” the older man said.
“What should I say?”
“Whatever it takes to get her in the car.”
It didn’t take much persuading. Really, it would all have happened in a few seconds if not for Crystal trying to convince him that he should take them both. Tawny kept trying to dissuade her with looks and nudges, worried that she’d queer the deal, but Crystal was persistent. After a minute, though, Tawny started to relax, realizing Crystal wasn’t scaring this guy off. She stopped worrying and found herself kind of enjoying the show of Crystal arguing with the red-shaded john. He seemed nice. He was firm and clear about only wanting Tawny, but not at all belligerent towards Crystal. “No, thanks,” he kept saying, politely, as Crystal regaled him with tales of what they could offer as a team. Finally, his patience wearing thin, he turned to Tawny and said, still perfectly pleasant, “I don’t have any more time to discuss this. Just you. Not him.”
“Him? Him?” Crystal was indignant.
“I’m sorry,” the man in the dark glasses said. “Perhaps I’m mistaken.”
“You better believe you’re making a mistake, Sugar. I’m more man than you’ll ever be,” she said, “and more woman than you’ll ever have.” Crystal stood tall. An imposing figure at 6’2” in her stocking feet, and wearing four inch heels right now, she towered over the stranger. “What do you think of that?”
The man in the dark glasses smiled. “I think you’ve seen Rent a few too many times.”
Crystal laughed, casting off the pretense of high dudgeon. “Have fun, babe,” she whispered in Tawny’s ear, and kissed her on the cheek. “I bet it will be fun,” she added. “He’s hot. Oh, and fun or not - make a bundle. He can afford it. Those glasses alone are worth at least a grand.”
“Tell Nick I might be a while,” Tawny whispered back. She got into the car and the man with the red shades got in after her. Crystal blew him a kiss just before he turned to get inside. He shook his head, smiling and waving to her, then got in and closed the door.
Tawny had expected to be alone in the back with the man with the red shades. So she was surprised to find herself seated between the two men. Surprised, but not concerned. “Just a little business talk first, love,” she said in an almost apologetic tone, looking back and forth between the two men. “A hundred for a blow job, two for a fuck.” She tried to say it casually, as if she were accustomed to charging such prices. She thought she managed to pull it off, her voice not trembling as she stated the large amounts. “And I’ll give you a great deal. All night for five hundred. Both of you, whatever you want to do.” She looked to the man in the shades, to her right, and then to the older, bald one. “What do you say?”
Neither of the men said anything. “Are we going to do it in the car?” Tawny asked. “Or are we going somewhere?”
“We’re going somewhere.” The older man spoke for the first time. “This isn’t what you think, RoseAnn.”
“What did you call me?” Tawny was starting to feel nervous.
“RoseAnn,” the younger man repeated what his companion had said. “RoseAnn Mendez. I’m Scott Summers. This is Professor Charles Xavier,” he added, gesturing towards the other man.
The older man spoke again. “We know who you are. We know what you are. We know all about you, RoseAnn.” His tone was gentle, soothing, but his words were frightening to her.
The car was going faster now. Tawny had been paying attention to its occupants and not to where they were. She realized they must be on the West Side highway now. Heading north.
Something about this was making her very nervous. Not just that they knew her old name. The other stuff. What had he said? “We know all about you.” What did they know?
The car began shaking, as if a sudden strong wind were pulling it. The driver up front was clearly having trouble controlling its movements, more trouble as they continued northward. “Charles!” the younger man said, in a tone of urgency. “We’d better stop.” He reached for the intercom button to communicate with the driver, but the older man stopped him.
“Not yet. Let her see what she’s doing. Let her understand the power she wields.” He turned to Tawny, still speaking calmly as the car jerked and shuddered. “You can’t control when it happens, can you?” he asked. “It’s because you’re upset that you’re doing this to the car now.”
“I’m not doing anything! It’s just happening!”
“It’s you doing it. You’re worried and this is what happens. Any time you’re feeling strong emotions you do it. It’s getting more and more frequent, isn’t it? And stronger. You’ve nearly hurt people a few times. It’s just a matter of time before something terrible happens.” He reached over to her ear, touched the holes where earrings used to go. “That helped for a while, didn’t it? No metal touching you. But it’s not helping anymore. You’re not able to stop it anymore.”
“I can... I know... I don’t let myself...”
The younger man spoke to her. “It’s not enough. You’ve tried so hard. I know it. You can’t do it on your own. You need help. We can help you.”
“I know how to stop it. I don’t need anything from you.”
The younger man took her right hand in both of his and spoke softly and clearly. “I want to help you. I’ve been where you are.” Tawny looked at him in surprise, wondering what he could mean by that. “I know what it feels like when you can’t make it stop,” he continued. She felt the tears well up in her eyes. “You’re good and strong and brave. You’ve done everything you can. It’s not working, what you’re doing. It’s everything you can do, on your own, but it’s not enough. It will ruin your health, maybe even kill you before it works. There aren’t enough drugs in the world to make it stop, to make you stop feeling. Not enough to make it stop, RoseAnn.”
“How do you know? What do you know?” She looked wildly back and forth between the two of them.
Neither answered her question. The older man pressed the intercom button. “Pull over,” he said. The car continued to shake for a few minutes after the engine was turned off. When it stopped moving, the bald man spoke again. “We can teach you how to make it stop. And we can teach you how to do it when you want to, how to use it.”
“I never want it to happen. I never want to do anything like that. I just want it to stop.” Tawny shook as she said it, sobbing. The car shook, too.
“I know it feels that way now, but you won’t always think that. Someday you may want to use it. I may sometimes want you to-” the older man began, but the younger one stopped him.
“Charles, no.” He turned towards Tawny. She couldn’t see his eyes behind the impenetrably dark sunglasses, but she felt that he was looking right into hers. “If you don’t want to do it, then you don’t have to,” he said. “You’ll never have to use it if you don’t want to. We’ll teach you how to stop.”
“How can you ...”
“You’re not the only one with this gift - we know it can be controlled. We’re taking you somewhere you can get help. You’ll have a home, an education, protection. A place in the world. I promise you that.
“There’s so much we can teach you. And it will be entirely up to you what you do with the knowledge you acquire. We’re here to help you, not control you. Try to trust us, RoseAnn.”
Now she was really crying. The man with the red shades continued, his voice kind and full of understanding. “I know it’s hard. You’ve been through a lot and it’s taught you to rely on yourself, not others. It takes time to realize that you don’t have to anymore. I’m willing to take that time. I don’t expect instant trust from you. Neither does the Professor. We’ll give you the time you need. But do try to believe us, to trust us. We’re only here to help. Do you want to come with us?” Tawny nodded. And then, before she knew it, she was pressed against the man with the dark glasses, being held in his strong arms, crying hard.