Gabriel's Rapture - Chapter 25

By the time Meagan ushered the ladies back into the room,
Julia’s fingernails had been chewed to the quick and Soraya’s adrenaline was at an all-time high.
Julia’s eyes were drawn immediately to Gabriel, and what she saw upset her. His shoulders were hunched, and he was leaning forward in his chair, hands clasped between his knees tensely, head lowered.
She stared at him, willing him to look at her.
But he wouldn’t.
Professor Martin sat next to Gabriel, arms crossed against his chest. He didn’t appear happy.
“Miss Mitchell, allow me to come straight to the point. In light of Professor Emerson’s testimony, you are excused. We will be informing the Registrar’s Office that the grade assigned to you in Professor Emerson’s seminar should be allowed to stand.”
Julia’s mouth opened in shock at the Dean’s pronouncement.
“We will do our utmost to ensure that you are not victimized further.” The Dean glared in Gabriel’s direction. “If Professor Emerson troubles you in any way, or if you have concerns about the repercussions of your former involvement with him, please inform Professor Martin immediately.
“You are free to pursue a harassment complaint against Professor Emerson, but you must do so within sixty days of the submission of your final academic work in your program.”
The Dean nodded at Soraya. “I’m sure your lawyer will explain the particulars of the harassment policy to you. I know you’ve filed a complaint against Miss Peterson, but we’re hopeful that you and
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she can drop your complaints against each other, given the outcome of this hearing. You’re free to go.”
He began shuffling his paperwork.
“Thank you, Dr. Aras.” Soraya smiled widely and exchanged a nod and a meaningful look with Tara.
“I’m not a victim,” said Julia, stubbornly.
“Pardon?” said the Dean, peering over the rims of his glasses.
“I said, I’m not a victim. Our relationship is consensual.” She turned to look at Gabriel. “What’s going on?”
Gabriel kept his eyes fixed on the floor.
“Miss Mitchell, the committee has ensured that Professor Emerson was given due consideration.” Professor Mwangi spoke to her gently. “But in light of his confession, we are holding him accountable for his actions. And that includes seeing to your welfare.”
“My welfare is tied to him. If he’s going to be punished, then punish me too.” She took a step closer to the table behind which the committee sat.
Gabriel’s head shot up, and he gave Julia a furious look.
“Miss Mitchell, the university has a duty to protect students from being preyed upon by their supervisors. Please, let us do our job.” Professor Chakravartty’s tone was not unsympathetic.
“We did this together. If he’s guilty, so am I.”
“Not necessarily.”
“Then tell me what he said! Give me a chance to respond.” Julia looked desperately at the faces of the hearing officers, one after the other, hoping that someone, anyone would relent.
“Professor Emerson has admitted to engaging in an inappropriate relationship with you while you were his student. Professor Picton has confirmed that she marked your work in his seminar and supervised your thesis. So we are inclined to be lenient with him. Unless you insist otherwise.”
“Of course I insist otherwise! I want you to let him go.”
The hearing officers shook their heads.
“Why do you believe him instead of me? I’m the student. You should weigh my testimony more heavily. He didn’t hurt me. You have to believe me!” Julia grew desperate, on the verge of tears.
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“Miss Harandi, control your client.” The Dean’s voice rose with irritation.
“Please,” said Julia, taking a step closer to the hearing officers. “You have to believe me. Let him go!”
“We will ask you and all other parties to sign a confidentiality agreement that is as much for your protection as for the integrity of these proceedings. Once again, if you have further difficulties, you are to inform Professor Martin.” The Dean nodded at Soraya.
“Come on, Julia.” Soraya tugged on her arm, in vain. “Let’s go before they change their mind.”
“Gabriel, what happened?”
Julia took a step in his direction, but the pointed toe of her boot got caught in the carpet and she tumbled to her knees.
Finally her eyes connected with Gabriel’s as he looked down on her. She inhaled slowly as she realized that his dark blue eyes were cold and empty. He lowered his head.
In an instant, the fire in her veins turned to ice.

Gabriel's Rapture - Chapter 7

Christa Peterson sat in her parents’ house in north Toronto, checking her email a few days before Christmas. She’d been ignoring her inbox for a week. A relationship she had cultivated in addition to her pursuit of Professor Emerson had run its course, which meant that she wouldn’t be skiing in Whistler, British Columbia, with her erstwhile lover over the Christmas holidays.
The banker in question had broken up with her via text message. This was in poor taste, to be sure, but what would be in even poorer taste would be the follow-up email that was sure to be waiting for her, like a ticking bomb lurking in her inbox.
Having steeled herself with a glass or two of vintage Bollinger champagne, which she had purchased as a gift for the schmuck who was supposed to take her skiing, she checked her account. And there, sitting in her email, was a bomb. However, it was not the bomb she’d expected.
To say that she was surprised by the content of Professor Pacciani’s email would have been an understatement. In fact, she felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under her.
The only Canadian woman she had ever seen Professor Emerson show even restrained affection to was Professor Ann Singer. Yes, Christa had seen Emerson with various women at Lobby, but never the same woman twice. He was friendly with other female professors and staff, but only professionally so, greeting them always and only with a firm handshake. Professor Singer, in contrast, was rewarded with a double kiss when he greeted her after his last public lecture.
Christa did not want to rekindle her relationship with Professor Pacciani. He was sorely lacking in a particular physical respect, and she had no wish to return to the previous intimate encounters that had always left her frustrated and wanting. She had standards, after
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all, and any man who did not measure up to at least the size of her personal service accessory was not worth screwing.
(And she would have said you could quote her.)
Since she wanted more information about Professor Emerson’s fiancée, she feigned interest in a spring rendezvous with Professor Pacciani and subtly asked for the fiancée’s name. Then she went downstairs and finished off the rest of the champagne.
The day before Christmas found Julia sitting at the counter of Kinfolks restaurant in Selinsgrove, having lunch with her father. Gabriel was doing some last minute shopping with Richard while Rachel and Aaron drove to the grocery store to pick up the turkey. Scott was still in Philadelphia with his girlfriend.
Tom had faithfully delivered Julia’s gift from Paul. She’d placed it on the floor at her feet, and now it was staring up at her, begging for attention like a puppy.
She opened it, deciding it was better to display its contents to her father than to her boyfriend. She gave the bottle of maple syrup to Tom with a smile, she giggled at the toy Holstein and kissed it, but when she unwrapped the Dante and Beatrice figurines her face grew pale. It was almost as if Paul knew. And yet, he couldn’t have known that Gabriel and Julia were Dante and Beatrice, at least to each other.
While Tom ate his blue plate special — turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes — Julia opened Paul’s card. It displayed children engaged in a snowball fight and the typical Merry Christmas emblazoned on the front. But it was the words that Paul wrote in his own hand that brought a lump to her throat.
Merry Christmas, Rabbit.
I know it was a rough first semester and I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job of helping you when you needed it. I’m proud of you for not quitting. With a big Vermont hug
from your friend, Paul.
P.S. I don’t know if you’ve heard Sarah McLachlan’s “Wintersong,” but part of it made me think of you.
Sylvain Reynard
Julia didn’t know the song that he was referring to, so the lyrics he omitted did not run through her mind as she examined the card’s artwork more closely. In the center of the image of a snowball fight stood a little girl with long, dark hair in a bright red coat, laughing.
The quotation, the picture, the card, the gift — Paul had tried to keep his feelings secret, she thought, but he’d betrayed himself. It was all in the picture of the laughing girl and the song that she would listen to later.
Julia sighed and placed everything back in the box and set it at her feet.
“So, Gabriel treating you right?” Tom broached the topic of Julia’s relationship in between bites of turkey.
“He loves me, Dad. He’s very good to me.”
Her father shook his head as he reflected on how Simon had had the appearance of being good and Gabriel had the reality of being good — and how he had failed to recognize the difference.
“You let me know if he isn’t,” he said, tasting the mashed potatoes.
Julia almost rolled her eyes. Yes, it was a bit late for Tom to play the part of the overprotective father, but better late than not at all.
“When Gabriel and I drove into town this morning we went by the house. I saw the sign on the lawn.”
Tom wiped his mouth on a napkin. “I put it up for sale a couple of weeks ago.”
“Why not? I can’t live in a place where my daughter doesn’t feel safe.”
“But you grew up in that house. What about you and Deb?”
He shrugged and hid his expression behind a cup of coffee. “It’s over.”
She gasped. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
Tom sipped his coffee stoically. “We had a difference of opinion. And her kids don’t like me.”
Julia fidgeted with her silverware, lining them up so their ends were even.
“So Deb sided with Natalie and Simon?”
He shrugged again.
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“It was a long time coming. Truth is, I’m relieved. It feels good to be a free agent.” He winked at her conspiratorially.
“I’m looking to buy a smaller house. I’d like to use some of the money I make to pay for your education.”
Julia was surprised. Then she was angry. Her conflict with him had cost her and her father so much — too much to be remedied by a criminal record and some community service. She was scarred and her father lost his prospective wife and the Mitchell family home.
“Dad, you should use the money for your retirement.”
“I’m sure there will be enough for everything. And if you don’t want to use my money for school, then use it to buy beer. From now on, it’s just you and me kid.” He reached out a hand to ruffle Julia’s hair, his preferred gesture of affection.
He excused himself to use the men’s room, leaving her alone to contemplate her half-eaten cheeseburger and her changed father. She was deep in thought, fingering the glass of ginger ale in front of her, when someone moved to occupy the stool next to her.
“Hello, Jules.”
Startled, Julia turned and found her former roommate, Natalie Lundy, sitting next to her.
There was a time when Julia had laughingly called her former friend Jolene, for her beautiful and voluptuous features perfectly matched those described in the song. But that was before Natalie had betrayed her. Now her beauty seemed harsh and cold.
As Julia stared at her, she noticed something painful about the way she was dressed — the vintage designer coat with the slightly frayed cuffs, the expensive boots that were worn and second-hand. On first glance, she looked rich and well dressed. But Julia glanced twice and saw what others could not see — the small town girl who was ashamed of her blue collar roots and wished to leave them far behind.
“Merry Christmas, Natalie. What can I get for you?” Diane, the waitress, leaned over the counter.
Julia watched as Natalie transformed from cold and sullen to cheerful and sunny, slipping into the local accent.
“Merry Christmas, Diane. I’ll just have coffee. I can’t stay long.”
The waitress smiled and poured coffee, then moved to wait on a group of Tom’s fellow volunteer firemen at the far end of the counter.
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As soon as her back was turned, Natalie’s demeanor changed. She glared at Julia with hate-filled eyes.
“I need to talk to you.”
“You have nothing to say that I want to hear.” Julia moved to stand, but Natalie subtly gripped her wrist.
“Sit down and shut up, or I’ll make a scene.” Her voice was low, barely above a whisper. She smiled artificially. No one would know by looking at her that she was threatening Julia, who swallowed noisily and sat back down.
Natalie released her arm with a punishing squeeze. “We need to talk about Simon.”
Julia’s eyes darted toward the men’s room, hoping that her father would reappear.
Natalie continued. “I’m going to assume that your recent misunderstanding with Simon was unintentional. You were upset; he said some things he shouldn’t have, you called the police.
“Because of that misunderstanding, Simon now has a criminal record. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why that record needs to disappear before he runs for state Senate. You need to fix the misunderstanding. Today.”
Natalie smiled and flipped her hair behind her shoulder, acting as if she and Julia were engaged in a friendly conversation.
“There’s nothing I can do,” Julia mumbled. “He’s already plea-bargained.”
Natalie took a sip of her coffee. “Don’t treat me like I’m stupid, Jules. I know that. Obviously, you need to tell the District Attorney that you lied. Explain that it was a lover’s quarrel gone awry, you got your revenge, and now you feel bad about having made the whole thing up.” She laughed a little too loudly. “Although, I don’t understand how anyone believed that Simon could be interested in you. Look at you, for God’s sake. You’re a mess.”
Julia bit back a harsh retort, deciding prudentially that silence was best.
Natalie leaned toward her, pulling the crewneck of Julia’s sweater away from her throat with icy fingers. She examined Julia’s neck carefully.
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“There isn’t a mark on you. Show the D.A. your neck and tell him you lied.”
“No.” Julia moved out of Natalie’s reach, resisting the urge to show her the bite that she’d slathered with concealer that morning. She pulled her sweater further up her neck, pressing a hand over the place where Simon had bitten her. It was a phantom pain, she knew, but she could still feel where his teeth had broken skin.
Natalie dropped her voice to a whisper. “I’m not asking — I’m telling you.” She pulled her BlackBerry out of her large handbag and placed it on the counter between them. “I hoped I wouldn’t have to do this, but you leave me without a choice. I have pictures of you that Simon took. They’re very…colorful.”
Julia’s eyes darted to the phone. She tried to swallow, but her mouth went dry. With a shaking hand, she lifted her glass to her lips, frantically trying not to spill her drink.
Natalie smiled, clearly enjoying the torture she was able to inflict on her former rival. She snatched up the cell phone eagerly, scrolling through the pictures. “I could never figure out how he set up the shots without you knowing. Or maybe you knew but didn’t care.” She tilted her head to one side, narrowing her eyes at Julia. “Do you care if everyone in Selinsgrove sees these pictures on the internet?”
Julia scanned the eyes of the townspeople around them, hoping they hadn’t heard Natalie’s threat. At least no one was looking in their direction. Her first instinct was to run, to hide. But that strategy hadn’t saved her from her mother when she was younger. Her mother always found her. It hadn’t saved her from Simon, either. He’d been stopped only because Gabriel hit him back.
Julia was tired of hiding. She felt her spine stiffen.
“Simon’s record is your fault. He came to see me to get the pictures. But you’ve had them all along.”
Natalie smiled sweetly, but didn’t deny the accusation.
“Now you want me to clean up your mess. But I’m not going to do it.”
Natalie laughed. “Oh yes, you are.”
She looked at the screen again, making a show of bringing it close to her eyes. “God, your tits are small.”
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“Did you know that Senator Talbot wants to run for President?” Julia blurted.
Natalie tossed her hair behind her shoulder. “Of course I know. I’m going to work for the Senator’s campaign.”
Julia gave Natalie a long look. “Now I understand. Simon’s record will be a problem for the Senator, so you need it to go away. You screwed up.”
“How’s that?”
“If you release those photos, Simon will dump you so fast your head will spin. And you’ll never get out of this town.”
Natalie waved a dismissive hand. “He won’t dump me. And the Senator will never know about the pictures.”
Julia felt her heart beginning to race. “If I’m in those pictures, Simon is too. What will the Senator think of that?”
“Haven’t you heard of a little program called Photoshop? I can edit Simon out and edit someone else back in. But I won’t have to because you’re going to be a good little girl and do the right thing. Aren’t you, Jules?”
Natalie flashed a patronizing smile as she placed her BlackBerry back in her purse and stood to leave, but Julia stopped her.
“He’ll never introduce you to his parents. He told me that. You can do better than being Simon’s dirty secret.”
Natalie’s expression faltered, then hardened. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she snapped. “He’s going to give me exactly what I want and so are you. If you don’t fix this problem today, I’m posting the pictures online. Enjoy your Christmas.”
She started to walk away but Julia called after her. “Wait.”
Natalie paused, looking at her former friend with undisguised contempt.
Julia took a deep breath and gestured to Natalie to come closer. “Tell Simon to make sure the Senator renews his subscription to The Washington Post.”
“Because if you release those pictures, I’ll call Andrew Sampson at the Post. You remember him, don’t you? He wrote an article last year about Simon’s DUI arrest and how the Senator intervened.”
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Natalie shook her head. “I don’t believe you.”
Julia clenched her fists stubbornly. “If you release the pictures, I have nothing to lose. I’ll tell the newspapers that Simon assaulted me, then sent the girl he keeps on the side to blackmail me.”
Natalie’s green eyes grew very wide then narrowed into serpentine slits.
“You wouldn’t,” she breathed.
“Try me.”
Natalie stared in furious surprise before setting her teeth. “People have been walking all over you for years and you’ve done nothing. There’s no way you’re going to call up a reporter and spill your guts.”
Julia lifted her chin, fighting to keep her voice steady. “Maybe I’m tired of being walked over.” She shrugged dramatically. “If you release the pictures, you’ll never work for the Senator’s campaign. You’ll just be part of an embarrassing scandal they’ll sweep under the rug.”
Natalie’s ivory skin flushed a deep, dark red.
Julia took advantage of her silence and continued. “Leave me alone, and I’ll forget about both of you. But I’m never going to lie about what he did to me. I’ve lied to cover for him too many times, and I’m not doing it anymore.”
“You’re just angry that Simon chose me over you,” Natalie spat, her voice becoming louder. “You were this pathetic, weak little girl who didn’t even know how to give a decent blow job!”
In the awkward silence that ensued, Julia realized that the other restaurant patrons had stopped talking. She looked around the room, utterly humiliated, as the townspeople stared. Everyone heard Natalie’s crude revelation, including the Baptist minister’s wife, who sat with her teenaged daughter in a quiet corner drinking tea.
“Not so tough now, are you?” Natalie hissed.
Before Julia could respond, Diane suddenly appeared at the counter. “Natalie, go on home. You can’t come into my restaurant and talk like that.”
Angrily, Natalie withdrew a few steps but not before muttering a few choice curse words. “This isn’t over.”
Julia lifted her chin. “Oh, yes, it is. You’re too smart to jeopardize your future by doing something stupid. Go back to him and leave me alone.”
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Natalie stared daggers at her before turning on her heel and storming out.
“What’s going on?” Tom suddenly appeared behind Julia. “Jules? What’s wrong?”
Before she could respond, Diane told him an extremely sanitized account of what happened.
Tom cursed and put his hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “Are you all right?”
She nodded reluctantly before running to the ladies’ room. She wasn’t sure how she’d ever be able to face the townspeople after what Natalie had shouted. Fighting nausea, she grabbed the top of the vanity for support.
Diane followed Julia into the washroom. She dampened some paper towels with cold water and handed them to her. “I’m sorry, Jules. I should have slapped her upside the head. I can’t believe she’d talk that kind of trash in my place.”
Julia was quiet as she slowly wiped her face.
“Honey, nobody heard a thing that girl had to say. It’s noisy out there and everyone is talking about how the Santa Claus over at the mall got drunk on his lunch hour yesterday and tried to make out with one of the elves.”
Julia cringed.
Diane smiled at her sympathetically. “You want me to make you a cup of tea or something?”
Julia shook her head and inhaled deeply as she tried to compose herself.
If any god is out there listening, please give all the people in Kinfolks restaurant amnesia, just concerning the past fifteen minutes.
A short time later she reassumed her place at the counter, next to her father. She kept her head down, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. It was too easy to imagine the entire restaurant whispering her sins and judging her.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” she said in a small voice.
He frowned and asked Diane for a fresh cup of coffee and a jelly doughnut. “What are you sorry about?” His voice was gruff.
Diane served them, patting Julia’s arm sympathetically, and moved to wait on some tables in order to give them some privacy.
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“This is all my fault — Deb, Natalie, the house…” She didn’t want to cry, but somehow the tears welled up and she couldn’t stop them. “I’ve embarrassed you in front of the whole town.”
Tom leaned toward her. “Hey, I don’t want to hear that kind of garbage. You have never embarrassed me. I’m proud of you.” His voice broke slightly and he began coughing. “It was my responsibility to protect you, and I didn’t.”
Julia wiped a tear away. “But now your life is ruined.”
He snorted. “I wasn’t that attached to my life anyway. I’d rather lose the house and Deb than lose you. There’s no contest. None.”
He pushed the jelly doughnut in front of her and waited until she took a bite. “When I met your mother, I was happy. We had a few good years together. But the best day of my life was the day you were born. I always wanted a family. I’m never going to let anything or anyone separate me from my family again. You’ve got my word on that.”
Julia smiled up into her father’s face, and he leaned over and ruffled her hair.
“I’d like to swing by Deb’s place to talk to her about what just happened. She needs to explain to her daughter how to behave in public. Why don’t you phone that boyfriend of yours and ask him to pick you up? I’ll see you at Richard’s house later on.”
Julia agreed and wiped her tears away. She didn’t want Gabriel to see her crying.
“I love you, Dad.”
Tom cleared his throat roughly, without looking at her. “Me too. Now finish your doughnut before Diane starts changing us rent.”