1. Second warning
EMILY HAMPSTEAD AND HER ROOMMATE, Cindy Matthews, gathered their books and stood. The noise level in the amphitheater-shaped auditorium rose as the students called out to each other for lunch appointments, hugged farewell for the Christmas break, and wished each other good luck on final exams.
“Let’s eat at O-Hill,” said Emily, referring to the Observatory Hill dining hall, conveniently near Lefevre House, where they lived. The two friends started down the aisle.
The instructor, a teaching assistant from somewhere in Eastern Europe, was standing by the door. He kept glancing at Emily as he nodded to the students exiting. Emily tensed as she reached the front of the room. She stepped aside to have Cindy go first.
As Emily passed by the door, she felt the hand run down the small of her back and squeeze her right buttock. Her hand was already grabbing the man’s wrist when she whirled around. She stepped on his foot, drove her left fist into his solar plexus as she lifted her left knee into his groin and head-butted his nose in a single, swift movement.
The students behind them shrieked and backed up.
The instructor doubled over and tried to staunch the nosebleed with his hand. Emily pushed him into the nearest chair.
“Sit back and hold your nose.” She pointed at a startled student. “You! Grab a paper towel from the desk.”
“What the hell, Em?” Cindy came back in. Cell phone lights were popping as students filmed the encounter.
“You attacked a teacher, Miss Hampstead.” Anger flared in his eyes as he rocked to nurse his painful genitals.
“No, I did not, Mister Laslowicz. I reacted to your assaults. I warned you last week, didn’t I?”
“I saw his hand,” said the girl who went for the paper towel. “He groped her first.”
The instructor, a graduate student probably four years older than Emily, glared at her in silence. The blood stopped running.
Emily looked at the room of excited student-videographers.
“Sorry, Mister Laslowicz, I can’t do a thing about all the publicity this will get. I have no choice but to file a sexual harassment report with Student Affairs. Come on, Cindy.”
As the two women left the room, applause broke out among the students.
“Yes, Penny. What is it?” Katherine Dempsey held the phone against her ear as she walked back to her office from her last class before exams. Dean Penelope Graham had recruited her to the University of Virginia a year ago, and they had established a close professional relationship.
“I’m afraid Emily’s gone viral again. Check social media.” Katherine could hear the urgency in the Dean’s voice but no hint of accusation.
“I’m on my way to the office. Thanks. I’ll get back to you.”
The longest video clip on Facebook and Instagram seemed to have been taken by a student near the front who was filming the students cheerfully leaving their last class. The videographer caught the grope and Emily’s lightning-fast reaction. The video also caught the voices of the startled students, the exchanges among the principals, and the applause after Emily and Cindy walked out.
After an initial shock of dismay, Katherine allowed herself a little burst of pride. Her daughter could do things that Katherine had only wished she could do with men like that TA. She also knew that the Dean would not be in a mood to let the patriarchy run over such a clear case of sexual harassment.
She called her dean back, sent a text to Emily’s phone, then packed up for the day. Her only afternoon class had finished for the semester.
At least this time, she isn’t a thousand miles away, kidnapped in a foreign country, Katherine thought. There would be media blitzes, PR strategy sessions, and paparazzi to deal with going into final exams. But after the nightmare of Emily’s abduction in Canada last summer, she knew that they could weather this.
First stop, the dean’s office.
Cindy looked up from her computer as Emily pushed into the room and flopped down on her bed.
“How was it?” Cindy had answered questions for the committee assembled by the Dean of Students. “They told me not to stay.”
“It wasn’t pretty, and I almost got expelled before it was over. That’s what the department chair wanted, and he was backed by the course advisor.”
“Dean Graham showed up. After they called in Marty Ngo and reviewed his mp4 file, it was pretty clear that Laslowicz had broken the rules.”
“Marty took that long video of the whole thing, didn’t he?”
“Yeah. The two guys made an effort to chastise me for using violence, but the Dean of Students reminded them that sexual harassment was violence too. They were stalemated for a while until Marty mentioned that I had been harassed before and had warned Laslowicz.”
“So, what happens now?”
“To me, nothing. The student Judiciary Committee won’t meet because I’m not accused of anything. I don’t know what will happen to him, but if I never see him again, it will be too soon.”
“You still have to pass the exam.”
“Don’t remind me. I had a perfect score going in too.”
The next afternoon, Cindy and Emily went to the final exam together. When the hundred or so students were all seated, the Department Chair walked in with the advisor for the course.
“Mister Laslowicz will not be meeting with you, but he did prepare the exam. Professor Morefield here will grade it.” He extracted the exam sheets from his briefcase and handed them to the students to pass back. His scowl as he stood there indicated that questions were not welcome.
EMILY SAT TRANSFIXED in the second row of pews with her friends in the University Fellowship. Her mother and stepfather sat a few pews behind.
Looking at the chancel of Saint Paul’s Memorial Church, Emily held her breath as the voice of her friend Hilda reverberated off the walls of the building, matching the power of the Skinner organ. The choir filled in the harmony as best they could behind the massive instrument and the commanding singer.
She knew that Hilda had a nice voice, having had heard Hilda sing along with recordings at host’s homes as they toured Canada the summer before. When she had met Hilda, Emily had been walking home with her wrecked bicycle on her shoulder and had heard Hilda singing a waltz in German a quarter-mile behind her. Now the power of that voice flowed over her in the confines of the church. The music vibrated in her bones and the wooden pews.
She could sing birds out of trees, Emily thought. But the not-so-retired army nurse could also soothe a wounded patient, calm a nervous mother, and bark a room of drunk rowdies into silence. The voice worked seamlessly with her height (198 cm, about six feet five), her eyes (lapis-lazuli), her skin (shining anthracite), and poise to accomplish the mission, whatever the mission was.
Usually, Hilda’s eyes flashed when she commanded a room, but here she gazed beyond the far wall as if singing to another audience. Emily felt the presence of an invisible multitude around her, drawn in by Hilda’s gaze and the power of the anthem.
No one in North America had ever heard this voice. Maybe her friend Jack had, Emily thought, but he was in the Middle East somewhere and would only be back in time for Christmas.
When Hilda, the choir, and the organ cut off precisely at the end of the final, long note, the sound pounded in their bodies and hearts for a while before Emily heard the people around her letting out their breaths. Only when Hilda turned smoothly and floated back to her place in the choir did the Rector stir and stand to continue the service.
“It feels strange not to have Jack and Hilda here for the holidays.” Emily fed the silver garland to her mother as they walked around the tree. Major Jack Rathburn was Hilda’s partner, and the two of them were the girl’s closest friends.
“They do have families, you know.” Katherine tucked the last end into the branches and stood back. “When did they say they’d be back?”
“Jack has duty New Year’s Eve, so he’ll be back next week from Aberdeen.” Jack’s brother lived on an island in the Chesapeake Bay. “Hilda said that Kaiserslautern puts on a great New Year’s Eve party downtown, and she agreed to sing with her mother outside the church. Apparently, it’s a fundraiser for the church because people know Margareta so well.”
“Curious, but I understand that she was an opera star back in the day.”
“Hilda says that the fundraising was unplanned. Lots of groups put up stages to entertain the revelers, but one year some GIs got so excited about Margareta that they put a box in front of the stage and stashed it full of dollars and deutschmarks. Now it’s a tradition, and it funds a big part of the music program during the year.”
“After what I heard in church, I bet that Hilda and her mother put on a powerful show.”
“I wish I could see it. I can’t imagine what Margareta must sound like.”
“You probably will, dear. I can picture you riding with Hilda again.”
“Yeah, that would be nice.”
The holidays that year went by with a pleasant balance of activity and days of relaxation. The year before, Emily had transferred from Newton High School in Kansas to Charlottesville High School in Virginia between semesters, which had not been relaxing. Katherine had moved from the faculty at Wichita State University to the University of Virginia, and Mark Dempsey, Emily’s stepfather, had taken over a company in Richmond, Virginia. They had stayed with his parents briefly before going to Charlottesville, but except for settling on Saint Paul’s as their church, they were still finding their way around town when the second semester started.
This year, they drove to Lancaster County on Christmas Day and spent most of the week with Jim and Dorothy Dempsey. Mark’s brother, Bill, came down from Quantico for the day too. Emily and her parents rode around the Northern Neck and relaxed in the den that looked out on the Chilton Woods State Forest.
On the twenty-ninth of December, they drove back to Charlottesville. On New Year’s Eve, Emily joined her friends Taniqua Jackson, Fran Monroe, and others from Charlottesville High School for First Night Virginia, the city’s celebration on the Downtown Mall. After the fireworks, Fran and Tani walked home, and Emily rode home on her bicycle.
The week before classes resumed, Emily moved back into her room in Lefevre House. The Virginia Cycling Club started training early because they expected that winter weather would cancel more training rides than they liked. There were two major races in February to get ready for.
Emily rode home and had lunch or supper with her family every day, but she liked the idea of returning to her room to read ahead for the next semester. When she was not training with the UVA team, she and Taniqua would ride. Emily had coached Tani when they were in high school together, and the younger rider was now on the Charlottesville Racing Club team and making a name for herself.
By the time Cindy came back from Virginia Beach, Emily felt settled in and ready for the new semester.
© 2021, JT Hine
Rule Number One, the second book in the Emily & Hilda series, is available worldwide in print and electronic form. Click here for links and information.