Smitten Gate (Chapter 3)
Copyright © Stan Goff 2022, All Rights Reserved
Saving Dr. Ryan
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
May 12, 2009
“They’re the same,” Deangela told him, only because class participation was a grading criterion. She felt like an impostor, despising grades as much as she depended upon them. She especially disliked “class participation.” Give me a good lecture any day, she thought. A well-conceived thesis, expounded systematically, and ingested anonymously. Class participation made her feel like a subjugated hound compelled to speak — “Woof!” — for her Bubba Rose biscuit.
Dr. Ryan knitted his brow reflectively. His weirdly small hand tugged at a gold bead posted through his earlobe. His sleeve-mosaic forearm tattoo peeked out of his quarter-rolled shirt cuffs. He liked to display his weightlifter’s bod by jogging through the campus in his tank top and nylon shorts, all that gym muscle rippling under elaborate, vaguely Buddhist tattoos. Female students, some at least, made giddy noises about him — thirty-nine, prematurely gray, long classic face, framed in a rebellious beard, and topped with a bad-boy buzzcut.
Deangela, though, she considered him a peacock. It was animus at first sight on the first day of class this semester. Western Moral Philosophy, a level-four, first-year graduate course, finals in a week, praise the Lord. She tried to conceal her contempt in part because she wasn’t altogether sure why she detested him so immediately and intensely. He was a genuinely knowledgeable and skilled teacher as well as a publishing juggernaut on a fast track to tenure. Brain muscles to attend to the body muscles. She disliked grandstanders, men full of themselves, and she couldn’t overcome the suspicion that there was some lightless toxic void behind the freewheeling, hip performance.
She had to admit that, so far, he always courteous, even deferential to her — the odd girl, the biracial prodigy starting her graduate studies at the advanced age of eighteen. She was haunted by ambivalence about her disfavor of him because it felt so personal. Ambivalence which was probably an inheritance of her mother’s syncretic Caribbean Catholicism, or so she’d theorized.
Cool damp air drifted in through the windows, opened just a crack. She smelled fried food and heard a barely audible conversation about avian flu from the sidewalk one floor below. And she heard birds. House sparrows, a blue jay mimicking a hawk, robins.
Her attention drifted while Ryan waited for his answer. Velocirobins, terrorizing grasshoppers and worms, even little snakes . . . rain hunters. Her mother and father alike had instilled in her a fascination with birds. She ached to be outside, away from this preening asshole. Grudgingly, she turned her attention back to the senescent classroom and the underwear-model with the impatient gaze.
Challenging Ryan was irresistible. The question had been, “What are the key differences between twentieth-century philosophers Rawls and Nozick?”
Her response (“They are the same.”) was an open provocation, cribbed from reading MacIntyre. Ryan had been portraying the Rawls-Nozick distinction for three classes now. He leaned back against his desk, arms crossed, waiting for her reply.
He’s posing, she thought, like one of those lizards that fans out its throat to attract a mate.
Her fellow students turned, too, waiting for the response of the mutant child. Philosophy grad students can be tedious, she thought. Not “tedious of the twice-told tale.” More like the confabulated tale, or the overprocessed tale, or the agonizingly arcane tale. Even within the closed system of their terminal geekdom, there were power struggles and dominance displays that gave her visions of stags pissing on each other’s territory and crashing their antlers into saplings. In this class, the diminutive, horn-rimmed James attended to prim Methodist Angela — his crush — as he quoted a virile Nietzsche against his rival — the prematurely and attractively balding David — who cleaved to a more effeminate Kant.
Deangela bewildered all of them. Scary smart homeschooled kid, who’d convinced the other students she was brilliant, yes, but somehow socially retarded. She seldom attended to her tangled hair and appeared at times to be someone who lived in the woods on locusts and wild honey. She never wore makeup. Her brows were dense and unplucked. Rumor had it she didn’t shave either, though she wore tattered boy trousers and thrift store shirts, never sleeveless. Hirsute was okay for a stoned, aging hippie woman hula-hooping in front of Weaver Street Market, but in grad school, on this eighteen-year-old, it suggested carelessness, or cluelessness, or both. Sometimes she showed up for class with dirty clothes, wearing scuffed and muddy Danners, looking not like a Carrboro hula-hooper but someone who’d just stolen a carcass from a pack of hyenas. The whole campus had heard the apocryphal claim that she’d read Tolstoy when she was nine, that her mother was a nurse from Belize and her father a white man in the Army.
She glanced out the window, distracted again by the jay pretending to be a hawk.
“Go on,” said Ryan.
She turned her eyes back to him and sat up straighter, wiping her hair away from her face only to have it fall back.
“Well, they’re both anti-Aristotelian, aren’t they? They both define every person as a detached agent, as someone without history or cultural context.” Her voice was her mother’s voice — fruit and whiskey, a little like Macy Gray. She picked at the edge of a book while she talked, eyes switching from book to Ryan to book again.
“Then a group of these rootless guys gets together to form rules for a common good.” Pausing again, she rubbed her index finger in short repetitive strokes now over the surface of her desk, like she was crossing something out again and again, her eyes aimed downward now as she consulted and retransmitted some distant voice. “They only disagree on the basis for establishing just rules based on competing origin myths . . .” Her hand stopped moving, her gaze on Ryan again. “. . . Rawls with his amnesiac veil of ignorance and Nozick with an Adamic figure who emerges from a cabbage patch fully grown and begins picking up pretty shells on the beach to establish the institution of property.” Right index finger now poking at two points on the desk, back and forth like a metronome. “But they both assume the existence and eventual discovery of norms apart from any named tradition. They both consider male as normative and ignore that this male normativity, along with the other social goods they narrate, isn’t universal at all, but the brainchild of the masculine, Euro-American, bourgeois history of which both Rawls and Nozick are products.” Ryan steepled his fingers as she continued. “Both of them are elaborately begging the question, arguing from a historically contingent status quo then asserting that what they’ve already accepted is universal. They disagree only on some particulars about the basis for justice within that status quo. There’s your distinction. But they’re both just proposing decorative rationalizations for liberal modernity.”
She held his gaze for a moment, then looked down at her desk, her mad-woman hair falling back over her face. The other eight members of the class gawked. Seven of them were men, so maybe the gender dig got their attention; but Angela House, the only other female in the class, was staring at her, too. Like Deangela just stepped off an alien craft.
Ryan stroked his beard a couple of times, then stood, smiling broadly, his perfect teeth eerily white against a suspiciously early tan. He walked a half circle to face the class from behind his desk.
“Okay,” he said dismissively, turning to pick up a dry erase marker and presenting his back to the class. Did he just lat flare? He made an R and circled it, then an N and circled that, too. “Let’s talk about these competing notions of justice.”
When the bell signaled the end of class, students gathered their books and papers. Out the door they went: Steve, the mustachioed and determined local International Socialist who passed out his annoying newspapers; Randall, the heavy one who wore Hawaiian shirts tucked in like an old man and always reeked of Axe cologne; Angela, the Methodist (Why wasn’t she going to Duke?); bespectacled David — James’s nemesis; and then Deangela.
“Have you got a moment, Deangela?” he asked, stopping her.
Ryan believed had a special sensibility about women, especially young ones. He knew women were captivated by him — many of them, anyway. He’d sensed from the first day that this girl needed the kind of affirmation he might give her; that she camouflaged her feelings of attraction this odd, Aspergerish compulsion to confront. She was undoubtedly brilliant, which has its own allure, kindling within him the ambition to domesticate her like an exotic animal. He’d peered beneath her ratty clothes (another camouflage for her own desire, he suspected). She was well-muscled, wiry, quite fit. No matter how she dressed, she couldn’t hide that hard little ass, the muscular calves, the almost boyish small swell of her breasts. Even her reputed refusal to shave beguiled him, like a counterpoint to the young women he’d been with lately who all seemed to have undergone full-body waxes. He liked that — the smooth infantile thing; but he liked variety, too. Ms. Dale was undeniably variant.
Deangela waited with Ryan, while the rest filed out. James, Angela’s horn-rimmed Zarathustra, out the door; Déshì, from Taiwan; and finally, as always, Andrei, the enormous and phlegmatic second-generation Russian, who gave a kind of bow and mock salute to Deangela as he made his exit.
She was left facing Ryan, all five-foot-three of her angled up at his six, daypack slung on her shoulder in readiness for a swift escape. Ryan canted back against the desk again, the backs of his legs now propped against the edge to put him and Deangela at eye level, his legs stretched out toward hers.
“Deangela, you’re going to make your mark on philosophy, I expect. Have you thought about your future? Do you know about our Parr Fellowship?”
She didn’t reply. There’s that Asperger thing again, he figured, so he powered through.
“I’ve looked at your final paper.”
“Okay?” She shifted her pack higher on her shoulder.
“Interesting choice. ‘Wittgenstein and the Body’.”
“It’s an interesting topic . . . to me.” She tugged with her free hand at one of her anarchic locks, stretching it and letting it pop back. “Is the paper okay?”
He saw that flicker. Of doubt? Of interest beyond the paper? The need for approval? The hair thing. Maybe a pleasure signal?
“I’d like to talk with you about it.”
“I have to go. I have a meeting.” She glanced at the door then back at him. He smiled again, looking into her black-coffee eyes, then shifting his gaze to her mouth.
“Not now, of course. I have office hours this afternoon from three to five. Can you drop by?” She did a little two-step with her head down, then looked up again.
“Orienteering club.” He cocked his head like a hawk, still staring at her mouth, full like her mother’s.
“Really? What got you interested in orienteering?”
“My father,” she answered, but offered no more, ducking her head. He nodded absently, looked at the floor, then back at Deangela.
“Well, how about tomorrow then? Do you have half an hour or so tomorrow morning?”
“Between ten and twelve,” she said, looking out the window, then back at the door, then down at her feet, then back at Ryan. He had his hand across his beard, stroking downward. His hands were slight, narrow and knob-knuckled like a squirrel’s hands, incongruous at the ends of his veined, tattooed forearms and the slabs of gym muscle under his shirt. He could bulk up all he wanted in the gym, but his hands betrayed a sly, skinny boy peering furtively out from behind all that sculpted sinew.
“Excellent. Can you meet me on the way to work, at, say, eleven?”
“The Mediterranean? They have very good coffee.” Finally, something with which she could agree.
“Yes. Do I need to bring a copy of the paper?”
“If you like.” She stood silent. After a beat, he went on.
“Then I’ll see you at eleven. Don’t be late for your meeting.”
Worry pummeled her like a hailstorm. Something was amiss. Was something wrong with the paper? Had she confronted him one too many times? Was he hitting on her?
The subject matter was easy for her, God knows. Frozen as text, dissectable as grammar and logic. These people, though, at university, were worm bins of conflicting desires and agendas. These grammars she hadn’t mastered. She could blame it on home-schooling if she hadn’t already been here three years, even if her study of Wittgenstein had revealed their game-like character. She didn’t know the rules, even as she appreciated that there was a great deal at stake with them. Her gifts were of no use to her here. She was acutely aware, yet again, of her awkward youth, her atypical parents, her lack of siblings, her biracial status which placed her outside by another measure still. She raked over her memory of the conversation hunting for clues.
What was she expected to say to a comment like, “You are going to make your mark”? It was either true or false, time would tell, but was it intellectual flattery, or was he hinting at something else, some project? And why did that frisson of revulsion ripple across her skin when he gazed at her, stroking his fucking beard? Was that leer into her eyes just his way, or was he going for soulful? And why did he stare at her mouth? She hated that! She didn’t know him. She couldn’t disentangle his mannerisms from his indecipherable performances. Why was she so suspicious of him? Why did she feel patronized? What in the hell was this meeting with him over the paper?
Thank God this class was nearly over. Two more weeks.
She pushed open the door to the Student Union. Ian, Brett, and Oliver, the only other members of the vast orienteering club, were already seated around one of the coffee tables studying the map for an Umstead Park competition next week.
Deangela heard dishes bumping in the suds when she opened the apartment door and tossed her daypack onto the tattered olive love seat in the corner. Sam was washing dishes in the kitchen.
“Hiya,” said Sam without looking up from the dishes. The apartment smelled like hot yeast and rosemary. Deangela flopped onto the backless garnet divan across the scantily furnished room. The cushion sank precipitously on broken springs, and Deangela unlaced her hikers.
“Hey, Sam.” She set her boots on the white plastic shoe stand by the door, lined up with her Mudclaws, dried red clay from her last orienteering practice still attached, her exhausted old Saucony runners, her cheap aqua-socks for wading, and her scuffed purple Crocs. Sam kept her shoes on the lower rack, equally utilitarian: two pairs of Keds, one black and one white, a pair of Birkis, and a pair of nicked and faded Broges.
Women and their shoes.
While some assumed Samantha was a lesbian (as some assumed about Deangela, too), Deangela knew Ted, Sam’s fiancé in Asheville. They were an uncommonly contented couple in spite of their long-distance relationship. Ted was a nurse, like Deangela’s mother.
“Sam,” Deangela said, climbing out of the sinkhole in the divan. “Got a minute?”
“What’s up?” Sam called from the kitchen, slotting the last plate in the plastic drainer and wiping her hands on the dish towel. Deangela dropped onto the love seat and rubbed her feet. Sam dropped the dish towel on the DVD player by the little television, and took her turn on the quicksand couch.
“Something happened in Ryan’s class today. Is that bread I smell?”
“Yeah. Mixed it last night. Dutch oven with rosemary.” Sam never abandoned that Western North Carolina, white-girl accent. Pure NASCAR, it led people to underestimate her.
“Mmm.” Deangela felt a stab of hunger.
“So, what’s up?” asked Sam.
“Dr. Ryan stopped me after class.”
“Well, I’ve been wondering if you’d get a pass or not,” Sam said, stroking back her hair with both hands.
“He hit on you, didn’t he?”
“That’s just it. I don’t know. But it’s kinda ominous you went there before I said it.”
“Guy’s a walking hard-on, what I hear. He likes to fuck his grad students. What exactly happened?”
Deangela recounted the exchange. “He says he needs to meet with me about my final paper at Med Deli tomorrow. I mean, meeting in the Med is safe, right? And he might actually want to talk about my paper.”
“Hmm,” Sam rose with a grunt and went back to the kitchen. Deangela got up to follow. Sam put the tea kettle on, then pulled two cups down from the cupboard, one from a local bookstore and one from UNC Law School where Sam was pursuing her juris doctorate.
“You want tea?”
“Sure. Darjeeling, black.”
Sam squatted to retrieve the tea bags from a floor cabinet, her ginger frizz coming loose from a scrunchy, grunting against her own girth. Sam was a big-boned woman, boxy and sturdy and self-assured in her own skin. Deangela, for all her redoubtable intellect, was eighteen and still casting around to figure out how she wanted to be. She adored Sam, and very much wanted whatever it was that Sam had — that self-accepting poise.
“De, sweetie, you might be the smartest person at this University . . .”
“Sam, I . . .”
“Just a sec, you know what I mean. Hell, you might the smartest person in the whole damn state, for all anyone knows. What’s your GPA right now?”
“Four plus, but . . .”
“No buts, De,” she rebuked, aiming her ice blue eyes into Deangela’s. Sam swelled up with maternal affection (Deangela was nine years her junior). “You know as well as I do that your paper, whatever it’s about, is probably publishable.”
Deangela looked down and picked at a callus on her palm.
“Okay,” Deangela said, looking up again at Sam. “I don’t wanna jump to conclusions. You know I dislike him, and I’m afraid I’m projecting somehow. I mean, I’m not some campus diva,” she said, rolling her eyes skyward. “I’m the poster child for nerd-girl. Nerd squared. I don’t send off spawning pheromones, I send off footnotes. And I feel pretty validated [ironic air quotes] without that shit. Over-validated? Y’ know what I like most about Orienteering Club, besides orienteering? No one tells me how smart I am. They say ‘good run’ or ‘crappy attack point.’ I like that.” She laced her fingers into her hair, puffed her cheeks, and blew out a little jet of vexation.
“You ain’t gotta signal that fool,” Sam said. “Guy like him, your quirks are another invitation to conquest. You’re exotic to him. Little teen-age, hard-body, brown girl. Ryan’s probably intimidated by you, too. Half his age and already runnin’ circles ’round him. That intimidation . . .” she scanned the kitchen cabinets for the right explanation, “. . . his fear of inferiority, and your being a very young female . . . well, it puts a match to his tinder. Ryan’s a cockhound.” Deangela laughed at that. “A control monkey, a fuckin’ trophy collector, and he does not like women. Guys like that, they’re turned on by your humiliation. He thinks he’ll be in control once he gets you to spasm on his little pudenda-poker.” Deangela laughed again, louder. “That’s his little power fantasy. He’s a creep, and danglin’ a paper in front of you has the stench of sexual harassment, you ask me.”
“Prima facie? No. But when you hear alarm bells, you gotta listen.”
The kettle whistled. Sam got up, cut the flame, and poured spattering hot water over the teabags, holding the tabs to keep them out of the cups. Deangela followed. Sam handed Deangela her tea and picked up her own. Deangela retreated with her tea to the love seat. Sam followed, blowing across the top of her cup.
“Okay, what constitutes sexual harassment?” Deangela asked. “You’re the law student.”
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
May 13, 2009
An unusually warm mid-May day, the thermometers registered eighty by 10 A.M. Last night’s drizzle had settled moisture along the seams of the streets, and damp heat rose thick from the hardscapes, open dumpsters, and patches of grass in downtown Chapel Hill.
Deangela was running late, so she threw on the same pair of baggy green trousers she’d worn the day before and a freshly washed, oversize t-shirt emblazoned with “The Beatles,” two-dollar swag from Club Nova Thrift Shop. She gathered her hair back with a red bandana wrapped over her crown and behind her ears, forming a minor explosion on the back of her head and airing out a pebbling of mild acne along the northern boundary of her forehead.
At 10:50 A.M. she left the apartment and strolled southeast to jump off Basnight Lane and took Cameron, a long cut, hooking around onto Robertson to take Franklin. Going up Kenan was shorter, but she’d been verbally accosted there once from less than thirty feet away by a tribe of drunken frat rats — white guys who hooted “brown sugar” at her while they clutched at their crotches and fixed her with predatory stares. Their malicious alcoholic gazes had pushed into her heart like unwelcome fingers. She never went up Kenan again. Ever.
The Mediterranean was already feeding an early lunch crowd. Upon entering she was engulfed by air-conditioning and the comingled aromas of coffee, grilled lamb, and hummus. Her mouth watered. Dr. Ryan was near the back of the room at a tiny round table between two rows of dessert display cases. He wore jeans with no belt, loafers with no socks, and a gray polo shirt. Grinning like they were old chums, his gaze tracked her over a steaming cardboard coffee cup clutched in his knobby little squirrel hand.
She dropped her pack onto the chair opposite Ryan and said hi.
“Hi, Deangela. Need anything?”
“Yes, Professor, give me a minute, please. Gonna get some food. I haven’t eaten.”
“David, please,” he said, shifting side-saddle and aiming his shoulder and a sensitive smile at her. “In graduate school we’re colleagues.”
“David. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Take your time.” Staring into her mouth again. What the hell, she thought.
She ordered a lamb and beef gyro. Lutfi, the youngest son in the family business, a slender Palestinian with big eyes and a day’s growth of thick black beard, told her he’d call her when it was ready. She returned to her seat, zipped open her Bean pack, pulled out a water bottle, and placed it on the table. Extracting the folder with her paper in it, she set it next to the bottle, re-zipped the pack, and plopped it on the floor. She scooted the plastic chair back and squared up to face him.
Ryan swung one leg over the other, draping his left arm over the seat back, and tipped his coffee back to drain the cup, exhaling a puff of steam. He parked the empty cup on the table and wiped his mouth with the back of his rat claw, his eyes all the while fixed on her mouth.
“Have I got something in my teeth?” she asked.
“You keep looking at my mouth.” Ryan dropped his leg back to the floor and his eyes to the table, flexing a bit, and interlaced his rodent fingers. She was seized briefly by thoughts of fleas and the plague.
“Do I?” he asked disingenuously.
He began looking around the restaurant now, licking his lips and rubbing his hands together. He finally faced her and clasped his knobby paws on the table, causing it to rock on uneven legs, almost toppling her water bottle. Deangela caught the bottle and placed it firmly on the floor. Self-organization says you can theoretically stand a pencil on its point, she thought distractedly, but it’s a lot easier to stand a marble in a bowl.
“Sorry,” he said. She wasn’t sure whether this was in reference to the bottle or staring at her mouth. “Nice save,” he said. She looked at him. “The bottle.”
“You said you wanted to talk about my paper.”
Before Ryan could reply, Lutfi called, “DeDe, you’re up.”
“Excuse me,” she said.
“Course.” Ryan felt he had to regroup. He’d read that women were more sexually susceptible if you didn’t face them directly — makes you appear needy when you mirror — and that they somehow experienced subconscious sexual “reverberations” if you looked at their mouths. Wrong-footed now, he wondered if her autism made her the exception and decided to change tack. When she came back, she dropped her paper plate with the gyro on the table and scooted the chair back under her.
“You mind?” she asked, unwrapping the gyro.
“By all means, go ahead. Do you prefer DeDe or Deangela? I want you to feel as comfortable with me as I feel with you.”
She hesitated while unwrapping her food for a split second, having this weird flash of an angry possum chewing on a fence wire. She inspected the contents of the gyro.
“Deangela,” she said. “About the paper?” She bit off a mouthful and dabbed cucumber sauce off the corner of her mouth with a paper napkin.
“Yes. The paper. Well, you were pretty hard on Kripke. He draws a distinction between metaphysical and epistemic possibility.”
God almighty, I’m exhausted by this already. She took a few seconds to chew and swallow, dabbing again with the crushed napkin.
“Not my issue, sir. He’s off-base in trying to transform Wittgenstein into a skeptic.”
“I did a Master’s Thesis on Kripke,” he offered.
“On his interpretation of Wittgenstein?”
She took a swig of water to prep for another bite of the gyro. Damn, she was hungry! She was always hungry, it seemed. Her mother approved of her appetite. Empty crocus bag canno’ stand up, Momma was fond of saying. You got t’ eat.
“No, no,” he smiled and looked down. “On modal logic.”
Well, there you are, asshole.
The way he was perched up sideways on his chair, she half expected him to fart.
“Kripke’s not the main character in my paper.” She took another greedy bite of her sandwich and had to chew with her mouth open. She exaggerated it a bit because she had the sudden puerile urge to gross him out. The old “see-food” gag.
“True enough,” he allowed, hesitating for a bit to watch her chomp on her food. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
She slowly placed her sandwich on the plate, swallowing, then dabbing her mouth again.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I just want to get to know you better. Sorry, didn’t mean to pry? Huxley said that an intellectual is someone who’s found one thing more interesting than sex.” He smiled.
“What?” She wasn’t smiling. Hit with a gush of icy antagonism, the last remnant of her anxiety fell like a muddy brick.
Just then, Oliver, fellow orienteer, walked into the Deli. A nineteen-year-old junior from Winston-Salem with uncombed blond hair, he wore cargo shorts exposing strong legs covered in pale down. She waved, sucking at her teeth. He waved back. She held up a finger at him, one minute, and Oliver nodded.
“Who is that?” Ryan asked her.
Ryan was revising his Asperger’s thesis. She seemed comfortably social acknowledging her friend.
“Would you like to get together another time?” He queried. “Perhaps we could have dinner. You seem to enjoy food. We could discuss food as desideratum.” He flashed an oily sex-shop smile.
Desideratum! The shit was on now!
“I don’t think so,” she said, wrapping her half-eaten gyro back in the foil. “Dr. Ryan, is there anything wrong with my paper that we need to discuss?”
“Well, I can’t really say . . .”
“Because, I’m going to be frank with you, sir,” she cut him off. Then she worked a pinkie into the back of her gums to dislodge something. See food, dickhead. “It’s a good paper, which I may publish when this semester ends. I’ve already queried Faith and Philosophy, and they’re interested.”
“I’m sure . . .”
“Excuse me, Profess . . . David. I’m not quite finished.”
“Well, go ahead,” he said, looking cornered and put out.
“My roommate is a law student, and she and I reviewed Title XII and Title IX last night together, as well as the Education Amendments of 1972.”
“Wha . . .”
“They cover sexual harassment. And while I am not intending to file a complaint against anyone, I believe you might be soliciting a relationship that goes beyond grad school collegiality.”
“But . . .”
“If I’m wrong, I apologize in advance. David. But for the record, I have neither the intention nor the desire to sleep with you, now or in the future. So, from this point forward, I’ll ask that our intercourse with each other be of the academic and professional kind. That means that any further attempts to seek personal information or personal contact with me will be unwelcome, and therefore fall within the scope of the law.”
Sam’s legal verbiage sounded pretty tough, she thought. The scope of the law. Ooooooooh!
Ryan had drawn himself up in his chair, his feet were flat on the floor now, his little hands clamped onto the edge of the table like a squirrel at a bird feeder. His eyes had narrowed into slits, and his mouth — which she looked at now — was a straight, cold line.
“There’s no need for you to be bellicose,” he stated. “I’ll certainly maintain a professional distance if that’s your wish. We came to discuss your paper, which I think needs work. I know you have a perfect scholastic record, and I assume you want to retain it. I was just trying to help you do that.”
“Dr. Ryan, I’m eighteen. I look even younger, so people to jump to a lot of conclusions. I’m not worried about the quality of my paper. I know the grade it deserves, and I know you’ll be fair. Because if my grade is questionable, I’ll formally challenge it, which will include a paper trail. I’ll be writing a memorandum for record of this encounter today when I get home. It’ll be witnessed by my roommate, a law student. I don’t want to file an actual complaint. Not because I’m worried about my scholastic record, but because I’d worry about you.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No, Dr. Ryan . . . David. I’d never put anyone in the position of having been publicly accused of improper advances toward me. I’d be terrified that it would get back to my father.”
She suddenly realized that this did sound like a threat. She regretted it the second it was said, like a girly-girl calling on a male relative to defend her honor. Her concern, though, was exactly as stated. She never wanted her father involved in something like this.
“Your father?” He’d swelled up, sleeve tats hopping, gym muscles contracting, his lats spreading under the polo shirt. “What about your father?”
“I love my dad. Very much. I don’t wanna see him in prison.”
“And who is your father?”