Two campus police officers appeared in the doorway behind Thorne. Had he called for them? Grace couldn’t remember. “Is there a problem, Dean?” one of the officers asked.
Thorne nodded toward Sidney. “He got caught,” he told them.
The two officers exchanged knowing glances, nodding slightly. Grace could feel her pulse pounding throughout her entire body. Her breath came in short gasps, she was actually trembling. Caught! What did it mean, he got caught?
Sidney was hurriedly putting his shirt back on, stammering, “Mr. Thorne, please, if I can explain-“
“Save it,” Thorne snapped. “You’re to report to my office immediately, Professor. My secretary will be waiting for you there.”
Sidney gulped. “Yes, sir,” he whispered meekly. He shuffled out of the room, edging past the Dean without looking up at him, and disappeared.
Thorne looked at one of the officers, the taller one. “Well?” he said. “Follow the bastard, make sure he gets where he’s going!”
The officer turned on his heel and scurried after Sidney.
Grace met the Dean’s eyes, still trembling. “Mr. Thorne,” she began, but he cut her off, too.
“Young lady,” he said, “I’d like you to go on back to your room, if you could, and wait for my call there.”
She nodded jerkily, but she was slightly taken aback by the calm, gentle tone of his voice. “I’ll be glad to do that, Sir,” she whispered.
“Don’t you worry,” said the Dean. “We’re going to make this as easy on you as we can.”
Her brow furrowed. “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand what you mean, Sir.”
He extended an arm to her, patting her shoulder in a very fatherly gesture. “I understand,” he said. “You don’t have to talk about it right now. But just so you know, there will be a counselor present, a female counselor, very nice lady, when we take your statement.”
Statement? Her confusion deepened. “Sir, I -“
“Go on back up to your room now, honey,” he said. “We’ll call you in a few minutes.” And gently, he ushered her out the door.
She sat on her bed, her knees against her chest, arms wrapped around her knees, rocking back and forth, holding the phone in one hand. Ben, god, please, help, call me, Ben, I need you, I’m scared, where are you? The words were looping in her head, and behind the words, the picture of Thorne’s face as he had walked into Sidney’s office and discovered their awkward position. Desperately trying to understand what was happening, she replayed the scene over and over again. He got caught. What the hell did it mean? And why did she need a counselor? Why had Thorne been so stern with Sidney, but so tender with Grace herself? It didn’t make any fucking sense.
No, she told herself, that’s not possible, put the thought out of your mind right now!
“He got caught.”
And now Sidney was trapped in Thorne’s office, held captive by the pinched-face hag of a secretary who watched and judged every move made in her territory. No doubt Thorne would inform the secretary – what was her name, anyway? We always just called her Hagzilla. And how she would look at Sidney when she was told why he was there! He would be the object of scorn and it would be her fault. Her fault, all of it her fault. And Sidney, he knew about her and Ben! He knew everything, he was there last night at the hotel! Would he tell them about Ben? Would he bury them all?
She tightened her arms around her legs and rested her forehead against her knees. A wave of nausea overtook her. Ben, please, God, Ben, I need you…
The door opened and Priya came floating into the room, crossing almost halfway before she noticed Grace balled up on the bed, rocking, wild-eyed, clutching the phone.
She rushed to Grace’s side. “Oh my god,” she said, “what happened?”
Tears welled up in Grace’s eyes immediately. If only she could tell her! “Oh, Priya,” she choked, “it’s horrible!”
Priya’s black eyes glittered with concern. “Honey, what is it? What’s happened to you?”
“I wish I could tell you,” Grace sobbed, resting her head now on her friend’s shoulder. “Please, don’t press me, please, I can’t talk about it, I just can’t…” If worse came to worse, at least her friend could honestly claim ignorance of the whole thing.
“Gracie, you’re trembling!” Priya cried, wrapping her arms around Grace. “You’re really shaking! Are you afraid of something?”
“I’m afraid of everything, deathly afraid…”
The phone rang then, and both girls jumped before Grace answered it.
“Grace Crawford speaking,” she said shakily.
Thorne’s Texan drawl crackled through the line. “Miss Crawford, I’ve sent a campus officer to escort you to my office. He should be there any minute now, so you just sit tight, okay?”
“Yes, sir,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Everything’s going to be all right, darlin’, you’ll see.” He hung up.
Grace was thoroughly puzzled. Why did he keep trying to reassure her? He wasn’t bahis firmaları going to … expect something in return for his silence on the matter, was he?
The thought made her shudder. She realized Priya was still staring at her with a look of deep concern.
“That was Thorne, Richard Thorne, he’s the… the Dean…” she stumbled along her words.
“Dean of Arts and Sciences, yes, I know who he is,” Priya said. “What does he want with you? Grace, are you in trouble?”
What had Sidney said to her that day, when she’d first told him about Ben, and he’d told her he was attracted to men? I guess we all have each other by the balls, don’t we? She swallowed. What had he told them?
“I might be,” she answered Priya. “I don’t know. There’s an officer coming to escort me to the Dean’s office. I’m supposed to give a statement.” That was the word Thorne had used, wasn’t it? A statement?
“What kind of statement?”
The knock at the door made Priya jump again. But Grace was prepared for it. “That must be the officer,” she said softly. “I’d better go.”
She opened the door to reveal the officer standing with a warm, concerned smile. Why are they all being so nice to me? she thought with a bitter annoyance.
“If you’ll please follow me, Miss Crawford,” the officer said gently.
She looked back at Priya and said, “If I don’t get to come back, you need to know I love you.”
Tears welled up in Priya’s eyes. “Ganesh be with you, Grace,” she said. “I love you, too.”
Grace followed the officer down the hallway. She had been living with Priya long enough to know that Ganesh was the Hindu god of wisdom, and he was also known for removing obstacles from one’s life. Wisdom and clarity, two things she desperately needed right now. She smiled in spite of herself, thinking that Priya always knew just what to say.
Once they left the dorm building, her momentary serenity melted away as she carefully scanned the open territory lying between herself and her destination. She fell back from the officer about five paces, trying to make it look like she was merely strolling, and the officer happened to be strolling, too. Only a few stray students lolled about, paying no attention to their surroundings, focused only on their destinations. She was glad of that. She looked at her feet as she walked, doing her best to be inconspicuous.
A wave of relief overtook her as they entered the administration building, the officer holding the door open for her and smiling warmly again. The smile was meant to relax her, she was sure, but it served only to set her nerves on edge again. She could feel her heart pounding in her throat, and a strange coldness settled in her stomach. She took a deep breath as she entered the Dean’s office, where the officer finally left her.
The office had an institutional feel to it, with its clean white walls and safe, unoffensive floral artwork, the fake potted tree and Richard Thorne’s framed credentials. Hagzilla – dammit, what was her name? – tapped away on the computer’s keyboard, intently filing some sort of report, her dyed red hair in a perfect librarian’s bun on the crown of her head, her bright pink lipstick shining like a neon light against her face. Her head snapped up when she heard Grace enter the room.
“Are you Grace Crawford?” she asked shrilly.
“The Dean is waiting for you in the conference room. Come on, hurry up, I’ll show you the way.” And she unwound her bony frame to stand, motioning for Grace to follow.
They reached the door of the conference room and just before opening it, Hagzilla’s face softened and she said, “I’m glad they caught that man, but I’m so sorry it had to happen to a good girl like you.” Then the softness vanished, and she opened the door and ushered Grace in.
Grace was dumbfounded. Her confusion deepened as she surveyed the room – not only was Sidney not here, but a woman who looked like the counselor was here, along with three other girls and one boy, all of whom Grace recognized as fellow classmates! The boy, as a matter of fact, was just a freshman, and had only just turned eighteen a week before the semester started. Richard Thorne sat at the end of the table, facing Grace, his ankle resting on his knee. The counselor, a slender blonde woman with big, overstyled hair and a crisp navy blue suit, stood up to greet her.
“Grace,” she said warmly, “we’re so glad you came.”
Grace looked at her suspiciously. “What choice did I have?” she asked darkly.
The woman’s blue eyes were kind, her smile bright and genuine. She ignored Grace’s comment and said, “Please, honey, won’t you sit down? We’re here to support you. I’m Janine Starr, but please call me Janine.” She took Grace’s elbow and gently led her to a chair.
“Please,” Grace said, settling into her seat, “if someone could please tell me what this is all about, I’m so confused…”
Janine looked sidelong at the Dean. “Denial,” kaçak iddaa she said confidentially. “It happens to all of them.”
The Dean nodded knowingly.
“Denial?” Grace repeated. “Denial of what?”
One of the girls spoke up. “You don’t have to pretend,” she said. “It happened to all of us, too. Even him,” she nodded toward the boy, who hung his head ashamedly.
“Grace, this is Kara,” Janine said, indicating the girl who had spoken. “And the other young lady’s name is Jennifer, and this young man here, he is Matthew. They all went through the same thing you went through today. And we’ve brought them here to share their stories with you, if you’d like to hear them, and also to apologize to them, and to you, for not preventing this as we should have. Would you like to hear their stories?”
It was no use asking more questions. Clearly this woman, this counselor, this Janine, was in control of the situation. Grace simply shrugged. “Why not?”
Kara spoke up again. She was about Grace’s age, maybe a year older, with drab brown hair but exquisite blue eyes and full lips. “I wasn’t doing well in Chem 102,” she said. “He told me that there were certain things I could do to raise my grade, he called it ‘extra credit’. When I asked him what I could do, he took my hand and put it down his pants.”
Grace’s blood ran cold. It was beginning to make sense, but what sense did it make? Sidney had… what? Taken advantage of these kids? Her Sidney? Impossible!
Jennifer, a shy-looking golden-haired girl about the same age as Grace and Kara, softly said, “I was doing just fine in his class. But one day I needed help with a lab project, and as he was watching me over my shoulder, he started…touching me. First it was just my breasts, but then it was…other places, too.”
Janine reached across the table and took Jennifer’s hand in hers. “Thank you so much for being here for Grace,” she said sincerely. “That took a lot of courage.”
The other three murmured their agreement as Grace just stared, face all agog.
Janine turned her gaze toward Matthew, whose dark features were twisted with shame or regret or anger. “Matthew, sweetheart,” she said gently, “you don’t have to share if you don’t want to.”
“Why?” Matthew snapped. “Because I’m a guy, and the same thing happened to me? Am I not allowed the same feelings the girls are having?” His dark stare fell on Grace. “Something like this happens to you women, and the whole world is ready to support you, to sob for you, to console and comfort and impart its strength to you. What about us men?” He angled his body toward her. “You want to know why you never hear about men as the victims of sexual abuse? Because the world expects us to have our own built-in immunity to emotion. We’re supposed to rely on our own God-given strength to overcome the feeling of being violated. We’re supposed to bury it, forget it, and move on. You have no idea how lucky you women are – people expect you to be weak, and when you’re not, it’s somehow remarkable.”
Janine’s hand now covered Matthew’s. “We acknowledge your anger, Matthew, thank you for sharing it with us.”
“Oh, cut the psychobabble bullshit, Janine,” Matthew grumbled, but he didn’t move his hand.
Grace’s fingers went up to her temples. “Wait a second,” she said, “let’s back up the Crazy Train. Are you telling me that you think Professor Hargrove …” She trailed off. She couldn’t even say the words. Abuse? Sexual harassment? Christ, what were these people saying?
Thorne, who had been respectfully quiet the whole time, now spoke up. “It’s plain enough to see,” he said. “These three young people were victims of this man’s libido, and now you’ve been subjected to it, as well.”
“But, sir!” Grace cried.
“When Kara first came to us,” Janine said, cutting her off, “there was little we could do, legally, to prove her accusations. Then we heard Jennifer’s story, and then Matthew’s, and ever since then we’ve been trying our best to find a way to put a stop to this man’s abuse of his students. It was plain luck today, that the Dean happened to catch him in the act. We’re so sorry this happened to you, Grace, sorry it happened to all of you, but we’re also very glad we have the evidence we need to convict him of sexual harassment.”
“But…this, this isn’t right!” Grace cried. “He didn’t advance on me, Mr. Thorne, I was the one who approached him!”
A look of pure sympathy washed over Janine’s face. “Oh, you poor precious thing!” she exclaimed, throwing an arm around a thoroughly puzzled Grace. “Don’t worry, honey, you don’t have to tell us all about it, if you don’t want to.” She looked at the Dean and explained, “It’s perfectly normal for a victim of abuse to want to protect her attacker, especially if the attacker was someone she knew and trusted.”
“Or he,” Matthew muttered.
“Or he, of course,” Janine repeated.
The Dean nodded. “I see.”
“This is ridiculous,” kaçak bahis Grace said. “Janine, Mr. Thorne, please, the Professor never -“
This time it was Thorne who cut her off. “Look, Miss Crawford, whether you tell us what happened or not, we have enough testimony to put this guy away for quite a long little while. You may as well just tell us the truth.”
“Richard, don’t pressure her!” Janine cried. “She’s frightened enough as it is!” Janine’s warm blue eyes fastened again on Grace. “You take all the time you need,” she said. “When you’re ready, we’ll make an appointment, and you can tell us what happened. But Grace, we do need your testimony, because the Professor is going to suffer serious consequences.”
They weren’t listening to a word she was saying. It was just as well, she thought, if these stories about Sidney were true. She took a deep breath and looked deeply into Janine’s eyes. “Could I do that?” she asked. “Take some time, I mean. Just to…just to let all of this sink in. It’s been a hell of a morning,” she added with a mirthless chuckle.
“Of course you may, dear,” Janine replied. “Just you go on back to your room and take it easy for a little while. When you’re ready, call down to the office and we’ll make an appointment.”
Grace nodded and stood to leave. She got as far as the door, turned, and surveyed the room again. Her eyes settled on Kara, who sat stiffly and primly on the edge of her chair. “These things you’re saying about the Professor,” Grace ventured, “they’re really true?”
“Much as I wish they weren’t,” Kara replied, “it happened. It happened to all of us, and God only knows how many more who haven’t stepped forward.”
“And the Professor?” Grace asked. “Where is he now?”
“County jail,” Thorne replied. “Though he may have bonded out by now.”
“County jail?” Grace repeated. “Then this will be all over the news, won’t it?”
“More than likely,” Thorne said bitterly. “I wish there was something we could do about that, Miss Crawford, but there’s no controlling the media.”
“I understand, Sir. Any chance he might still be in jail?”
“He might be. I haven’t heard any news.”
“But he won’t be allowed back on campus, will he?” Grace asked, with the appropriate amount of fear.
“He’ll be back over my dead body,” Thorne replied, a sudden darkness creeping into his voice.
“Don’t you worry, Grace,” Janine consoled. “You’ll never have to see him again, if you don’t want to.”
Grace nodded, and without another word, she turned and left the conference room.
If only Ben would call, she thought as she made her way across the lawn toward her building again. He’d know what to do with this astounding bit of information. Sidney a sex criminal! Who would have guessed it! No wonder it had been so easy to seduce him – maybe she had just beat him to the punch. Of course they’d never believe that she’d seduced him. And how many others were keeping silent out of shame or fear?
What this really meant, though, was that she was going to get away with her affair with Sidney, simply because he had hurt the students before her. She wasn’t going to get expelled, reprimanded, or otherwise chastised, even though, by all rights and purposes, the entire affair had been her fault.
But without her, there would have been no justice for the students who had suffered at his hands, right? How long would it have taken Richard Thorne and Janine Starr to launch some lackluster investigation, trying to catch him in the act? Janine had said it exactly – it really was plain luck.
A slow, sly smile crept across her face as she reached her dorm room. And no sooner had she opened the door – where had Priya gone? – than her cell phone rang, and Ben’s number popped up on the screen.
She flipped the phone open and shut the door behind her. “Jesus Christ, I was worried sick about you!” she cried.
“And hello to you, too,” he said. She could hear the smile in his voice.
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry, I was just-“
“Worried sick, I know. But don’t worry anymore, honey. My life just got one hundred percent better. I have reached the light at the end of a dark, dark tunnel!” He laughed a short, giddy laugh.
“Oh, there’s time for me to tell you that, and besides, you won’t believe it when you hear it!” He laughed again. “But shush, enough about me, have you been all right?”
“That’s another long story, and you’re not going to believe it, either,” she replied.
“Sounds like we have a lot to talk about,” he said.
“We really do, and it’s pretty heavy.”
There was a long pause on his end of the line. “We’re… we’re still okay, aren’t we? You and me, I mean, we’re still…”
“Absolutely,” she assured him. “I think we’re more okay than we’ve ever been.”
“Meet me somewhere,” he said. “The park. You ever made love in a park at sunset?”
“No,” she said, grinning widely.
“I’ll see you there. And Grace?”
“I love you madly.”
Tears sprang to her eyes. “I love you, too.”
“One hour,” he said. “Can you get away?”
“I will find a way,” she promised.