Her palms were sweating through the handkerchief she held in them. She tapped her foot on the tiled floor nervously. Her heart pounded so loudly that she heard every beat. She shifted in her seat, glancing towards the door. She figured she could make it out of the restaurant fast enough that she would not run in to him on her way out. She pushed her seat back with her and was preparing to get up and run when the waitress came to her with a smile, “Can I get you a drink while you wait? Maybe some bread for the table?” She leaned back, looking at the waitress while she made up her mind. “Actually, yes! Can I get a cocktail?”
“Which one? We have our house cocktail ‘the club special’; we also have a Pinacolada that has won some awards. Oh and….” The waitress was overly eager.
“Which is your strongest?” She cut her off rather crudely. She definitely was not interested in their award winning cocktail ingredients.
“Well, it kind of depends. We make them very mild to suit everyone but we can increase the alcoholic content at your request. Say! For instance……”
“Ok. Good! Get me your Club Special with the maximum alcohol content you are allowed for it.” She cut her off again. She wasn’t in the mood for friendly human interaction.
“Ok, Ma’am.” The waitress was still at it. “And may I ask? Do you prefer a slice of……” She had really had it with this perky cheerful drop of freaking sunshine waitress so she gently placed her arm on hers.
“Sweetie. I know you’re doing your job and you know what? You’re great at it.” The waitress’ eyes sparkled, indicating that this was not a thing she heard very often. “But I’m not in a chirpy, hyperactively good customer service mood. So get me your club special, lots of booze and no ice. No fruit, No vegetables, nothing. That’s it! Can you do that, honey?” The waitress nodded and skipped away.
She turned towards the door again. She was now facing a new variable to her calculations. She was now evaluating the possibility of escape before her drink or her date had arrived. She got out her phone. It is was 15 minutes past the hour. He was late, a little but still late. She didn’t know if this fact brought relief or anger. Did she want him to be late? Did this momentary lapse of punctuality raise a red flag that she was not yet aware of? Did this mean he was always late and she should get used to it? Was he standing her up? Had he forgotten about her? Or did he hear something from someone about her? It must have been something he heard or something he researched. With Google and online government databases, not to mention that ‘the incident’ was indeed public knowledge, he must have found out. Once again she regretted it; the party, the assault report, the dreadful court case, everything.
It had been exactly 2 years, 8 months and 13 days since she was raped by men, no monsters, whom she had assumed were her friends and she had never really been the same afterwards. Maybe it was the betrayal by friends she’d held dear, or the unnecessary intense scrutiny she had received reporting the case, Maybe, it was the case itself and the way her school’s publication followed every motion, every ruling, Maybe it was just the rape. The whole thing had changed her so much. She was once outgoing, overly social and extremely friendly; the real life of the party. But one fatefully rainy day in November, her charismatic strengths led her to her impending doom. She in her third year of Veterinary School and so far she was enjoying every part of it. Her grades were good, she was sufficiently involved in campus activities and she had made friends, most of the male variety, but only because not a lot of women glamorized the care of farm animals like she did, but it wasn’t something that had bothered her much. One Friday in November, she was invited for a small after-school get together. The message had said, “Lots of food, music and drinks. Bring your own girl.” At the time, she giggled at the sentiment that each was to appear with a female companion. At the same time, she was relieved that she wouldn’t be the only female attending this party. Friday evening rolled through swiftly, she walked with a few of her closest study buddies to an off-campus residence apparently belonging to a friend of a friend. They said he didn’t mind a bunch of strangers partying at his house, he actually enjoyed it. On their way there, Bessie did what she assumed was research; diligently asking Kobe if he knew this guy enough to trust him. He didn’t really know him. She asked Patrick and Phil (Short for Philemon) the same, they gave no more detailed answers than Kobe. She stopped dead in her tracks, the boys soon after she did. She said, “Guys, are we sure about this? I mean I love a party just as much as the next girl but I don’t know how I feel about this.” The men were quick to calm her with words like, “You’re going with us aren’t you? We’ll make sure nothing fishy happens. Don’t worry. He’s Jay’s Friend. We’re all friends, aren’t we?” Looking back, she now knew that was the moment she should have turned back and walked straight to her hostel a few paces away. She wished she did, but instead she believed these friends of hers and walked on towards her personal Armageddon.
It was twenty minutes past the hour now. The overly cheerful waitress returned with her drink and enough sense not to say much to her. Her date was now twenty minutes late and counting. She stirred her drink with her straw before she took it out and took a large swig of her drink. It was strong but for the kind of day she was having, it wasn’t strong enough. She would need a few more if she was to make it to the end of this evening and even more to spend the evening on this date. You see, Bessie had been having a totally normal day when she received a message to a friend with a link. “Gang Rape at Veterinary School: Do you know what you’re children are doing while away?” Her heart had sunk at the moment when the headline popped up on the screen. It hadn’t returned to normalcy yet. She knew the court case was public record but she had never assumed that some journalist would use it. Apart from her rescuer and a few friends, no one knew what had happened. The school publication had been smart enough to redact all facts that led to her identity. Despite this fact, she had not returned to school after that. She dropped out and convinced her parents that she was more into entrepreneurship now. She wished she had let her parents know exactly what happened that November Night. But now the damage was pretty much done. There was no saving face or damage control at this point. The stage at which she had arrived required truthfulness and courage to relive the incident every time she told it. It was excruciating to think about. She hadn’t read the article all the way through, just the headline was enough to send her stomach into painful knots. She got out her phone. It had been off since she read the headline; she wasn’t quite ready for the mental torture. She would see if she was now. She powered it up. The tiny aluminum colored device began to dance on the table violently; everyone was looking for Bessie. Her name must have leaked in the article as her phone vibrated violently seeking her attention. She ignored the messages, she wasn’t in the mood to be pitied and judged all at the same time.
The headline had already made it to her browser’s news reel. She clicked on the headline. As it loaded at what seemed to be a snail’s pace, she could already tell that even though the headline seemed generalized and informative, the article was specific to her case and vindictive. For why, even though he thought he was serving the greater good, would a journalist publish her name and all the particulars of the case without asking if he should share or conceal her, the victim’s identity. The first thing that she saw on the website was her school ID picture. She must have been 17 when that was taken. The caption read ‘Beatrice, now 20, was forced to drop out after she was unable to convince the school administration that her rape was not her fault.’
“What?” Bessie exclaimed loudly. Everyone turned in their seats to look at her. She did not notice. She began reading the article. And as if the publicity surrounding her rape were not enough, the author of the article all but asserted that Bessie caused her own rape. He used quotes like ‘A girl like Beatrice is known to play hard to get in the daylight and let too loose in the evening. These girls tease our boys then get intoxicated around them expecting them to express nothing but self-control and awe for their tiny outfits’ Again, her inner voice reminded her that reading this article would cause nothing but harm and emotional trauma. She had to police her heart, her therapist had always insisted. You mustn’t allow yourself to be exposed to triggers for your condition. That’s what he called it, a condition. At first, it had bothered her so she asked that he called an illness meaning that it was curable. He had declined stating that it was in fact incurable but optimistically he added that it was a treatable condition. She stared at her phone. She should have been calling the therapist or at least her date but instead she kept reading the foulest words she had ever heard or read about herself. This time she focused on seeing if any of her rapists had been mentioned. Then another quote ‘Your sons like these young men charged with the alleged rape of Beatrice are being lured like snake bait and then arrested for giving in to their most primal urges. Ludicrous!’
“Ludicrous?” She was laughing now while she spoke out aloud. “It’s not ludicrous to be a rapist in the first place?” When she looked up from her laughter, her date stood before her gazing at her. She composed herself quite quickly and said hello. He replied taking his seat across from her.
“Why you’re in a good mood for a girl whose date is half an hour late. What are you reading there?” He gestured at her phone. She instinctively covered the phone not wanting to bring up the whole article or rape thing and looked straight in his eyes. They gleamed with curiosity behind the gleaming was a sparkle that you could not miss. The sparkle in the eye of a man about to crown his queen. This man had been obsessed with her for a few months now and she couldn’t figure out why. They never did anything other than meet for meals and talk. He had always been a gentleman and never even asked why he was never permitted to ask her out on a more intimate date. Most guys gave up at around the third month of expensive lunches and fancy coffees but here he was, eight months later, with that damn sparkle in his stupid big brown eyes. Why didn’t he just give up? Why didn’t he just run!
“So? What’s so ludicrously funny?” He leaned forward, placed his hand over hers and looked deep into her eyes. She was uncomfortable, blood rushing to her face. She began to breathe heavily, deeply as if taking him in, all of him.
“It’s nothing. Just this article.” She wasn’t going to say anything more but somehow it just slipped out. “It’s about me actually. I made the news.” His face lit up.
“Can I read it?” She glanced at his hands over her hands over her phone. It felt like a crude metaphor for what would be of their relationship when she showed him. To reveal what had happened to her, would require her to detach from him first; for her to see him, not as a potential lover, but as a stranger or a plutonic buddy. In her mind, there was no way for them to continue down the path of love after he knew what happened to her.
“No. You can’t. I shouldn’t be reading it either.” His face cringed, he withdrew one palm from the table then the next.
“Why?” The look in his eye was less loving and more curious now. Bessie looked him genuinely trying to decide if her rape was coffee house conversation or pillow talk or one of those ‘never’ conversations. How would this man react to hearing what he wants has been had over and over again by force over her screaming and kicking? He could tell she was battling something deep within. He reached out for her hands again. She withdrew, leaving him to cuff her wrists. She tried to break free, the sensation of his hands around her wrists feeling oddly the same as that night. A feeling of restraint, not affection. Phil had held her down, just like that. She tried again. He wouldn’t let go. He was looking at her squirm and obsess like a caged animal. It seemed absurd, since he didn’t mean to restrain her but to keep her from withdrawing from the conversation. He let go eventually with a heavy sigh; he gave up trying to pry it out of her.
“I read it, Bessie.”
“I read the article. It’s everywhere, I’m sorry.” She looked away, fighting back tears with every fibre of her being. He continued speaking, “Frankly, it was distasteful and in my opinion, downright disgusting.” Bessie buried her face in her hands, realising that she couldn’t fight the tears anymore. “I know this is not how you wanted to break it to me. I know maybe you didn’t want to break it to me at all. I know you’re scared that what those animals did to you will follow you forever. I know this article kind of reinforces this fear.” She looked up now, scrambling for a napkin to dry her eyes. He continued while she blew her nose noisily, “It’s not your fault. It can’t even be. I wasn’t there, I know that but I also know you. You are kind-hearted and cheerful and no one!” He took her hands in his, looking her directly in the eyes which at this point felt like a dagger to her soul. “No one, Bessie, least of all you deserves such hostility and injustice. They tried to strip you of your soul, your being and your essence, yet here you are standing tall exuding strength and bravery that I could only dream of. I know you thought I’d run; for a hot second I thought I would too; but how? How could I leave a gem just because it is buried somewhere beneath the surface? I couldn’t possibly leave when I know that I will not, no, cannot find someone as brave as strong as the queen who sits before me. “