He sits across the desk from her, dark curly hair falling across his face, eyes resting heavily on her. His expression calm, confident, sinister. She desperately wants to run out of the door screaming, but she is powerless around him. He shouldn't have this much control over her but he does, and it's the most shameful thing, the fact that no matter how many people she knows has her back, she can tell none of them about this.
At first he pretends that what he is doing is ok, normal, friendly, and she says nothing, except 'no' to him. But the more she says no, the more he insists, the angrier he gets, and he starts punishing her, threatening her. She has to come see him every other day, then every day, spend a whole hour sitting in his office, alone and terrorised. If she doesn't he will ruin her, tell everyone she is psychotic, hysterical, lying, and everyone will believe him, not her. If she doesn't he will tell Jackson that she started it, she was flirting, she was touching, she was kissing. If she doesn't he will not write her the recommendation letter she needs, not the one Jackson needs, and that kills her, so she comes and sits in the room with him for an hour each day, wanting to run out of the door screaming the whole time.
Sometimes he touches her, brushes against her, plays with her hair, tries to kiss her, but she mostly manages to dodge him. Sometimes she is the love of his life, what he needs the most, the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. Other times he curses her, with him she is sometimes nothing, insignificant, immaterial, most of the times she is a bitch, a slut, a whore, and he makes her feel like one. When she is not locked in his physical presence, he reaches out to her mind, sending her long rambling emails or text messages declaring himself, praising her, making love to her with his words, then blaming her, accusing her, denouncing her. It goes on for weeks, months, and he is exhausting her.
Jackson notices, of course, as does everyone else. She is spending too much time with Mr C, it's not normal. He questions her, she deflects, tries and fails to distract him.
"Why don't you want me to touch you anymore?" he complains.
She doesn't want to be touched much anymore, which is unusual for her, for them, and frustrating for him. She has no reasonable answer, and she knows she is hurting him, which makes her hurt worse. She is already agitated, nervous energy rippling through her body. Her neck is tense, her head hurting, her stomach hurting, filled with a lump of ice that refuses to melt. She looks unwell, constantly, skinnier than before, dark circles under her eyes, which even her best friends mistake for guilt. He gets jealous, not unreasonably so from the face of things, but his jealousy is utterly misguided, and it exhausts her further.
An ugly rumour surfaces after a while, rising around her like a tidal wave. Someone has seen something, drawn conclusions, put pieces together, seemingly a perfect fit. The rumour is as rumours often are, false, hurtful and suffocating. It is his worst threat realised, everyone now convinced that she is a cheater, and it's his worst condemnation, everyone else now also calling her a whore. It is her worst nightmare, but she is already awake. Nausea washes over her as Hannah and George offer her sympathetic looks and understanding hugs, because they are sympathetic about the wrong thing and they understand nothing. In their words they tell her they believe her, but in their eyes she sees that they don't, exactly as he told her they wouldn't. Still she says nothing, the weight of his threats crushing her diminishing frame.
Jackson finally confronts her, fed up with the same rumour being relayed to him in hushed tones, accompanied by apologetic glances and faces filled with pity.
"What is going on with you and Mr C?" he asks, eyes averted as if he is already flinching from an answer he has been expecting.
He doesn't ask her if the rumour is true, but she realises he already thinks it is, essentially asking her for a confession.
"Nothing," she says wearily, for the millionth time.
She knows she owes him a confession, just not the one he is expecting, and it's the one thing she can't offer him right now.
"This is insane," he mutters to himself, hands on hips, body slightly turned away from her. "You know what everyone is saying, right?"
She nods, lips dry, she feels dejected, trapped.
"It's not true," she says simply, knowing it is impossible for him to believe her.
"This makes no sense," he whispers, running a hand over his head in exasperation, eyes blinking and blinking.
"If the words don't add up, it's usually because the truth was never in the equation," she offers, realising how inadequate her words are to him.
"I love you," he says desperately, fighting for her. "But you're not being straight with me."
"I love you too," she says equally desperate, wanting it to be enough.
Still she says nothing, safeguarding a secret that is destroying her whether she keeps it or not, but she will not let it destroy him too.
Later that day she has to go see Mr Canlas again, dragging her feet behind her. He is in foul mood, she can see it straightaway. He is pacing the room, agitated, almost manic.
"What were you doing with him?" he hisses, teeth gritted, eyes narrow.
She realises he means Jackson, and quickly decides not to aggravate him further by answering.
"What were you talking about?"
He won't leave her alone, his voice increasingly menacing.
"Were you talking about me?"
There are no answers to any of his questions, so she cowers, shrinks and hopes he can calm himself down.
"I have given you everything, you ungrateful bitch!"
He keeps his voice low, so no one passing by his office can hear him, but to her he is shouting unbearably loudly.
"I've done everything you have asked of me, and you still treat me like I'm nothing!"
He is escalating, every vein in his throat protruding and pulsating, teeth gritted, fists clamped tightly together.
He rips her out of her chair, hands digging into her arm, making her yelp out in pain. The sound of her pain only seems to anger him further, slamming her into the wall, her wrists locked in his impossibly strong grasp. He presses his lips to her, desperately, forcefully, painfully. His hands feel wrong on her, hard and threatening, unrelenting and unforgiving. He hovers over her, face red and furious, and she is scared. Scared of what he is going to do next, scared of how far he will go before he stops, scared that he will never stop.
She barely registers what happens next, she feels her head crack against the wall, a sharp flash of pain spreading across her face, a warm trickle of fluid flowing from her nose, and then she can't feel her legs anymore. Her vision is skewed, she can see feet approaching, but they are the wrong angle. She can hear muffled voices, Ed? Mr C? Mr Hall? She is not sure, her ears are ringing, her eyes wet, and nothing makes sense anymore.
His voice is soft, filled with pain, and it sounds wrong. She turns towards the voice, cringing as her brain slams against her skull, filling her eyes with tears. He looks beautiful even though his face is marred with worry and anger. She tries to sit up from the examination table, paper rustling under her, pain stopping her.
"Don't," he warns her, leaning over her, hands that feel better on her shoulders.
"I'm sorry," she cries, overwhelmed with pain and shame, but mostly shame.
He strokes her face, tries to wipe away her tears, but they keep coming, making his hands wet. He has to wipe them on his jeans after a while.
"You should have told me," he says when he realises the tears aren't going to stop anytime soon.
"I know," she says, struggling to control her voice. "You should have trusted me."
He is angry, and she understands that he is not angry with her, but she doesn't need angry right now, angry is not helpful.
"Can you just...?"
He understands, face softening, blueish-green eyes moist and steady, hands that feel right soothing her. She hesitates to fill in the blanks for him, knowing the final piece of the puzzle will hurt him, but he deserves the truth.
"He threatened to fuck up your college applications if I told anyone."
He swallows hard, eyes falling to the floor, nodding in realisation, anger dissipating. He is a part of this, he is culpable, but she will never blame him for it.
The whole sad affair unravels, Mr Canlas illicit emails quickly painting a vivid picture for the administration, drawing the interest of the authorities. A career is shattered, a marriage is broken, a family torn apart, but she can't care, and she won't. All she cares about is her future, and Jackson's, which she is assured will be dealt with and given every possible consideration. All she cares about is Jackson, and that they will be ok, that this will not break them, and she is hopeful. All she cares about is herself, that she is strong enough, smart enough, brave enough to let go of the shame, guilt and regret. That is all she cares about, and that is enough for now.