Emma was embarrassed to tell him. It had been mortifying to go through, she didn’t want to relive it. Stanford was not the place for her.
“The tour was going well,” she began slowly. “Their facilities are incredible, state of the art. I – uh – was talking with this guy who was also on the tour.”
She looked up in surprise at the tone of his voice. He sounded and looked angry.
“His name is Rob Fahey. He wants to be a computer science major. When we were in one of the computer labs, he started telling me about how up to date all the machines were. He said this tour was a formality for him. His decision was already made. He was coming to Stanford in the fall. Chris are you mad at me?”
His face relaxed at her question. “No sweetheart,” he answered her, his tone more conciliatory. “There are a lot of assholes out there and you have to be careful.”
“I know,” she whispered, her eyes filling with tears. She didn’t allow them to fall. This was not something new. She should be over it by now, as much as it happened to her, but it still hurt every time it did.
She startled when he gripped her hands.
“It’s just me sweetheart,” he said rubbing his thumb across the top of her knuckles. “Tell your big brother what happened.”
“We walked through the Greek part of campus …”
She turned her hand around so that she could grip his. Staring at their hands helped to ground her and not get so emotional.
“People were hanging out in the front yards of each house,” she told their hands unable to look him in the eye. “Men and women had set up lawn chairs near the sidewalks and were sitting … as the group walked past them, they started – holding up numbers on these paddles. Then they would make these noises.”
He waited patiently, never letting go of her.
“I – I got a ‘3.’ ” She chanced a look up at him. He was frowning. “I thought that was pretty good, but then …”
Her eyes strayed back out the window.
“They started making these noises as I passed by,” she whispered.
“What noises?” he prompted.
“Co – cow and pig noises.”
She heard him use curse words she had never heard before. A tiny little spark of exculpation flared to life inside her. Never had anyone gotten mad for her. It felt good to not be alone in her hatred of those men and women who had made fun of her. To feel as if someone else thought it was wrong that they had hurt her.
“Emma, I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”
Her surprise made him frown. Why was she surprised by his empathy? It hurt him to think no one had shown her any sympathy when she had been bullied. “I know how hurtful that must have been,” he continued. “Did your tour guides say anything to those bastards?”
She shook her head. “No, they just hurried us along.”
“Well I think we need to send an email to the admissions office letting them know this type of behavior is happening and they need to do something about it.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Emma disagreed with him. “I’m not going to Stanford anyway.”
“Did you want to? Even a little?”
“Yeah but after that – I can’t.”
“Then they need to know that they lost one of the nation’s brightest minds because of those Greek assholes.”
“Do you think it will do any good?”
“I think they will definitely put a stop to it. They don’t want to lose students because of something so idiotic.”
“Emma look at me.”
When she did so, he laid a hand possessively around the back of her neck. She took a sharp intake of breath at this overt sign of ownership. A warm pulse of energy sprung up from her womanhood and permeated her stomach. It was deep and comforting. Wondering at the expression on his face, she watched him closely unsure of what he was about to do next.
“Little one, you are not a cow or pig,” he told her without a shred of prevarication. “You are a beautiful and smart young woman that some men are extremely intimidated by and so they try to tear you down. Don’t let them do that. If you want to go to Stanford don’t let those assholes be the determining factor on whether or not you accept the university’s offer. Don’t give them that much power.”
She nodded her head as best she could given his tight grasp of her. When he sat back in his seat, letting go of her, she felt lost, like she was missing her lifeline to this moment and place. What remained were her fear and anger, her humiliation and pain. For once she wanted to get rid of all that baggage and sink into the security of a person she could trust. She wanted to believe his words.
As he started the truck, she thought about what he had said but still decided Stanford wasn’t for her. Still leaning toward Harvard and being closer to their parents, she wondered if she could live so far from them in a place she had no support system.
Chris would be nearby but he led a busy life and wouldn’t and couldn’t be her main system of support. He probably didn’t want a little sister harassing him.
While she didn’t interact so much with mom and dad being in the same house kept her from feeling entirely isolated from society. They tried to get around her defenses. They insisted on eating together at least once a week. She could handle that and actually enjoyed herself most of the time. Doubting that Chris would have her over once a month let alone once a week, her decision to go to Harvard was becoming more and more easier to make.
“What are you thinking little one?”
“I don’t think I want to go to Stanford,” she told him honestly. “I think I belong on the east coast with mom and dad.”
“Ok, no to Stanford. You have three more places to visit. Keep an open mind about them. You might find a better match than Harvard.”
“I don’t think it is the school that is the issue. Being so far away from mom and dad makes me … anxious.”
“Ok, but if you lived here you would have me.”
She smirked. “You wouldn’t mind having a little sister pestering you all the time?”
“Somehow I don’t think you are the pestering type.”
“I try not to be but you’re my big brother. I think I have to annoy the hell out of you. It’s part of the little sister experience.”
He chuckled. It felt satisfying being able to make him laugh. It was nice to be able to bring any kind of good emotion to another person. If she kept it up he might not mind her being around him.
“You ready to go to the beach?” he asked her enthusiastically.
“Yes!” she exclaimed, feeling better after having told Chris what had happened and hearing him say she was beautiful. She pushed from her mind how he had made her wet with his proprietary hold on her. Grateful that he wanted to be her big brother, she knew she couldn’t ask for more. That would have been greedy, especially for a woman like her. He was way out of her league. She needed to remember that.