Saturday, August 14, 2010

Chapter 10

Although only a quarter past six, it was already dark outside on the relatively warm December evening of the last day of classes. Cindy McMann knew the feeling wouldn't last for more than a day or two, but it seemed like the beginning of a long holiday since the weekend and a two day reading period lay ahead before the start of final exams. Cindy knew she was fifteen minutes late as she entered the Turkish restaurant, but there was Charles Truehart sitting in the waiting area--wearing his black suit, just as she had asked him to.

He stood up when he saw her. "Hello, Cindy. It's been a long time. It was quite a surprise to get that call from you yesterday."

"Hi Charles! Let me just hang up my coat." Cindy quickly dashed into the self-serve cloak room (it was that kind of restaurant) and re-emerged revealing herself in a short, black cocktail dress and black stockings.

"Wow! You sure look nice!" exclaimed Charles. "What is going on? What's the mystery reason for calling me to meet here tonight all dressed up?"

"Let's sit down and I'll tell you," she responded. They were quickly ushered to a table and given menus. Charles had never been to a Turkish restaurant, so Cindy recommended that they start with dolma and then have doner kebabs. When the waitress came to their table, Cindy gave their order and also asked for a bottle of merlot.

"That's kind of expensive, isn't it?" asked Charles.

"Not really," said Cindy. "Besides, this is all my treat, so don't worry about it."

"Cindy, what is this all about?" Charles asked again.

Cindy looked downward as she said, "I found out it wasn't you. And I'm really sorry."

"You found out what wasn't me?"

"You weren't the Charles Truehart that the graffiti was written about."

"I could have told you that," said Charles. "In fact, I tried to but you wouldn't listen. But all that was a long time ago. Why is it being brought up again now? And who has convinced you that I am innocent?"

Cindy was glad that Charles did not appear to be angry. The fact that he had agreed to meet her at all had led her to expect that he wouldn't be.

"Something odd happened yesterday morning, before I called you," began Cindy. "I actually got a call from a Washington Post reporter--Kate Morgan. She was the one who told me that it wasn't you."

Charles looked at her incredulously. "A Washington Post reporter called you to say that some graffiti written about me in a woman's lavatory a couple of months ago was not true?"

Cindy laughed. "No, that's not the main reason why she called. I'm not quite sure why she wanted to talk to me in particular. She said she was talking to a number of people at NDU about the whole sexual harassment situation and those `unwanted' posters in The New Dominion."

"Oh, yeah," said Charles. "I remember seeing a new one this week--something about a professor telling someone that if she wanted a higher grade, she should wear a shorter skirt."

"It was about a Professor Gibson. I've never heard of him. Have you?"

"No," said Charles. Like most white students, they were only vaguely aware that African-American literature was even taught at NDU, and were not at all aware of who taught it. "I'm kind of surprised that a professor would say that."

"Well, yeah. Wasn't that outrageous?"

"No, what I mean," said Charles, "is that I wouldn't have thought it was necessary. Although not surprising at the end of spring semester, I'm always amazed at the number of girls who wear incredibly short skirts to final exams even at the end of the fall semester. Have you ever noticed that?"

"I have actually," Cindy said laughing. She usually did it herself, but didn't think Charles needed to know. "I remember during my first semester at NDU, one of my girlfriends who was a sophomore told me: `Wear a short skirt to all in-class exams. It might not help your grade, but it sure can't hurt it either!"

Both of them laughed, but Charles shook his head. "I feel sorry for these professors with girls teasing them like that. It's kind of sad that these older guys must think you're attracted to them, only to find out that you're just working on your grade."

Cindy snorted in contempt. "They know better than that! And any who don't should!"

The wine arrived. When the waitress began the ritual of pouring a small amount in the man's glass for him to taste it first, Cindy grabbed the glass, swallowed the wine, and pronounced it acceptable. The waitress looked scandalized but said nothing. She poured out their two glasses and left the bottle with them on the table.

"I don't think women in Turkey would do what you just did," commented Charles.

"Well, shit!" said Cindy. "I'm the one that's buying. It's a sexist ritual anyway. They should pour a little in both glasses."

"If there were a party of ten or more, the bottle would be practically empty by the time everyone was given a taste. It's more efficient if just one person tries it," said Charles.

"Yeah, but does it always have to be the man?" countered Cindy, her voice rising. Then, in a lower voice: "But this wasn't what I wanted to talk to you about. Let me tell you more about what that reporter said. One of the things she asked me was if I remembered what one of the `unwanted' posters said about a Charles Truehart. When I told her I remembered it, she asked if I knew a Charles Truehart. Without telling her about us, I said that I knew you and that you were a student. Then," Cindy said dramatically, "she asked me if I knew the other Charles Truehart at NDU--apparently someone in food service. I said that I didn't. Then she said that he was observed by a security camera repeatedly molesting several of his female assistants. He's been fired and is being sued both by the women and by the university."

"That's funny," observed Charles. "I don't remember reading anything about this in The New Dominion."

"I don't think it was in The New Dominion," said Cindy. The reporter, Kate, said she learned about it from the university administration."

The dolma arrived. Charles started to pick one up with his fingers, but Cindy indicated that he should eat it with a fork. Cindy refilled their wine glasses.

Charles shook his head. "I still don't see why anyone from the Post would be interested in something as unimportant as this--even if it does vindicate me."

"Sexual assault is not unimportant, Charles," Cindy informed him primly. "Besides, it wasn't just you--I mean, the other Charles Truehart--which she was mainly asking me about. She was more interested in talking to me about Professor Barnes."

"Professor Barnes?"

"Yeah, you remember that `unwanted' poster: `Prof. Barnes touched me inappropriately.' She wanted to know if I was the one who wrote that."

Charles sat upright. "Were you?" he asked. "More importantly, did he?"

"No and no," Cindy replied. She was touched that he seemed both jealous and protective. "Well, the answer to your second question is a little more complicated." She then told him the whole story of what happened when she went to Prof. Barnes's office after the first midterm in his IR Theory class, though in considerably less emotional tones than she had originally related it to her roommate, Tiffany.

"He touched you on the shoulder because you were crying? I don't think that constitutes sexual assault, or harassment, or whatever," commented Charles.

"Well, I guess not," Cindy admitted. "At the time, though, I was really indignant. In fact, I went and complained about him to the Sexual Assault Services Office."

"Cindy, you didn't!" exclaimed Charles.

"It wasn't a formal complaint," she explained. "Just an informal one. It's not really serious. It was Tiffany who talked me into going there."

Cindy giggled. "Actually, the main reason I went was to try and find out if anyone had filed a complaint against you."

The doner kebab arrived. They were both quiet for a few minutes as they ate the tender meat and the pomegranates in the yogurt sauce it was smothered in.

"I wonder if Professor Barnes thinks you're the one who wrote, `Prof. Barnes touched me in `intimately' or whatever it was," mused Charles.

"`Inappropriately,'" Cindy corrected. "I don't think so. Why would he think that?"

"If I were him and I knew you filed some sort of complaint against him, I would just assume that you were the one who wrote that graffiti. I presume he knows that you filed a complaint against him?" asked Charles.

"No," said Cindy. "Like I said, it was an informal complaint. I didn't sign anything or officially give my name."

They ate in silence for awhile longer.

"Well, if it wasn't you, I wonder who wrote, `Prof. Barnes touched me inappropriately,' then," said Charles.

"I don't know," responded Cindy. "When that `unwanted' poster was first published, I just assumed that it was another female student describing a separate incident with him."

"But as my own case shows," Charles remarked, "this sort of graffiti is not always accurate."

"It was accurate about Charles Truehart the food service manager," Cindy corrected, "but not about Charles Truehart the student."

They ate a little more. This time, Charles refilled their wine glasses.

"I wonder if that Washington Post reporter somehow knew that you had filed a complaint against Barnes," suggested Charles. "Maybe that's why she called to see if you wrote that graffiti about him."

Cindy considered this over a sip of merlot. "I'm trying to think of the exact words she used. She asked if I knew who might have written the graffiti about Professor Barnes, not whether I had actually done so. But she then asked if I or anybody I knew had filed a sexual assault complaint against him."

"What did you tell her?" asked Charles.

"I told her that I knew of no such complaint, and that I myself thought he was a terrific professor," Cindy answered. "Since I'm not going to follow through on that complaint, I didn't see any point in telling her about it."

"Why are you so positive about him now? I thought you didn't like him."

"I didn't at first, but I've warmed up to him since then," Cindy explained. I really studied hard after the first midterm and came to understand what he meant about the difference between description and analysis. I got an A on the second midterm, I feel very confident that I'm going to ace the final as well.

"Besides," she continued, "I found IR theory to be pretty interesting, especially as the class looked at the twentieth century. Barnes even gave a pretty good lecture about feminist IR theory. That was pretty cool!"

Someone took away their empty plates. When the waitress came to enquire whether they wanted dessert, Cindy ordered baklava and Turkish coffee for them both.

"I've already signed up for his International Political Economy class in the spring, and I plan on taking his Latin American politics seminar next fall," Cindy continued.

"Wow! You've really become a fan of his," commented Charles. "I think I'm jealous."

"Oh, Charles! It's not like that," she reassured him. "You know what I like about Barnes? He's one of the few professors I've had here who will go to the bother of telling you what you're doing wrong and how you need to improve. Most don't care enough to do that, you know? And when someone like Barnes does tell you that you're doing well--you know you've earned it! I have to admit, though, that being away from you for most of the semester gave me a lot more time to concentrate on my classes."

"Oh, so it's my fault you didn't do well on that first midterm, is it? By the way, what was it like in his class after that `unwanted' poster appeared about him?" asked Charles. "I certainly received some negative reaction for a week or so after the one my name was in appeared."

Cindy hung her head. "Yes, Charles, I know. I slapped you. I'm really sorry."

"I wasn't talking about that," said Charles. "I meant that for a week or so, the girls in my classes tried to sit as far away from me as possible. Some even put their arms across their breasts if I looked in their direction. But then it all died down. What was it like to be in Barnes's class when the `unwanted' poster came out about him?"

Cindy thought about this as the coffee and baklava were served. "Normally when he walks into the classroom, people just keep on talking with one another until he starts lecturing. But I remember when he came into class for the first time after the poster appeared, everyone stopped talking. He didn't say anything, and nobody said anything to him--at least, not in class. After that, it went back to normal. Still, he completely stopped making wisecracks the way he did beforehand."

They ate their dessert and were sipping their thick Turkish coffee. "This is really sweet!" remarked Charles. "So Barnes never indicated that he suspected you of writing that graffiti even after the scene you two had in his office?"

"It's funny," said Cindy, "but I don't think he even remembered that. The Sexual Assault Services Office told me not to go back to his office, but I did after the second midterm to ask him about his class next semester. He didn't even remember my name! I had to introduce myself to him all over again. I thought he would remember what happened before, but he sure didn't seem to."

"Most of the professors I've had wouldn't recognize me outside of class," said Charles. "I guess there's a lot more of us than there is of them. Still, I would think a pretty girl like you would be more memorable."

"That's a sexist thing to say, Charles," Cindy admonished, "but I do appreciate the compliment."

The bill came, and Cindy grabbed it. When Charles reached for his wallet, Cindy insisted that she was paying in order to atone for having slapped him and for doubting his loyalty to her. "You haven't been seeing anyone since then, have you?"

"I haven't, actually," he said. "I guess I've been concentrating on my studies too this semester. Well, thank you so very much for the dinner. By the way--why did you choose this place? We never came here before."

Cindy smiled mischievously. "I chose this restaurant because it is right next to the Holiday Inn where I booked a room for us. Actually, I've already checked in; that's why I was a little late. This way, we get to avoid having to deal either with your roommate or with mine."

Charles beamed with happy anticipation. "Cindy, what a great idea!"

"Shall we go?"

"All right!" As they stood up, Charles furled his brow. "So is there going to be a story in the Post about Professor Barnes and me?"

"I think it's going to have more do with Professor Gibson," she said. "He's some sort of big fish or other. Sorry, but I think you--or Charles Truehart--won't get much attention."

As they went inside the cloak room, Charles said, "You know, Cindy, if you're
not serious about pursuing a complaint against Professor Barnes, I hope you withdraw it. He might be in trouble because of it."

"Don't worry, I will. Barnes doesn't know it yet, but he's going to be writing law school recommendations for me next fall. I can't have him resigning in disgrace or anything before that!"

Alone in the cloak room, Cindy and Charles indulged themselves in a long kiss.

"In just a few minutes," she said afterward, "I too will truthfully be able to write that Charles Truehart fondled me." Taking his hand in hers, she added, "But it won't be a complaint."