(This scene is an unpublished prologue to Not A Mistake)
Jordan glanced around the bustling café and saw no familiar faces. Thank God. She sank deeper into the battered sofa and raised the book higher to hide her face. Surely, with this particular paperback in her hands, anyone who caught a glimpse of the flaming blush on her cheeks would know exactly why she’d turned church-door red. More slowly, she reread the mortifying passage in Professor Lawrence’s book.
To indulge in sexual fantasies about a colleague, friend, or acquaintance is undoubtably a form of sexual abuse, rendering them an object with no opportunity to consent. Whether romantic or explicit, the fantasy inevitably alters the relationship—innocence and mutuality are lost. Furthermore, as reported in the case studies cited above, nearly all illicit transgressions begin with fantasies of breeching the appropriate boundaries of the relationship. The fantasy is the first step, the story that rationalizes the unethical behavior to come.
Was he right?
She’d certainly let her mind go wild imagining him without his permission. In an absurdly porn-esque scenario, she’d fantasized about him approaching her after class with a stern, “There’s something I need to speak to you about in private.” Once they were alone in his office, his gray eyes would burn with feral hunger and he would say, “I can’t resist anymore. I have to have you, just this once. Tell me you feel the same way.”
Jordan would step near his lean, powerful torso, feel the heat radiating off him, and say “You know I do,” before she kissed him.
She made sure always to wear a skirt to this particular fantasy, even though jeans were her standard seminary attire, so he could reach under it to cup her butt as he pulled her close, then bent her over the desk and said filthy, un-professorial things in her ear.
Sure, maybe she’d felt a little awkward the next time she saw him, but so what? No way were those lusty daydreams the first step leading anywhere. Dominic if-your-eye-causes-you-to-lust-gouge-it-out Lawrence would never sleep with a student, and she wouldn’t want him to. His principles, if somewhat rigid, were also entirely admirable.
Someone coughed and her skin tightened. Could a throat clearing sound familiar? Because, if so, that might very well be…She lowered the book just enough to peek over the top.
Professor Lawrence towered over her, a red demitasse in his hand, his golden eyebrows arched, his sandy hair in that perfectly sculpted swoop back from his forehead.
He took a seat on another shabby sofa across a narrow coffee table from her and rested his ankle on his opposite knee. “A little pleasure reading?”
The blush radiated from somewhere deep inside to smolder under her skin. But she tried to shake it off. Even if he’d caught her in flagrante delicto, rehashing her allegedly immoral fantasies about him, he couldn’t read her mind. In fact, that’s why his whole ethical argument was bogus. Thoughts were private and secret, and almost always harmless.
She closed the paperback, using her ballpoint pen to mark the page. For a churchy book, the cover wasn’t bad. An artsy close up of a man’s neck clothed in a clerical collar, and the title in large white block print: Sins of the Fathers. In it, he’d detailed his studies of clergy who’d abused their spiritual authority by conducting affairs with parishioners or church employees.
Her thumb rested on the L of his name. “It’s not exactly a beach read, but it’s fascinating.”
“And informative, I hope.” He brought the espresso to his lips. The mug was ridiculously small in his big hands, and yet he looked perfectly suave and sophisticated drinking from it while wearing one of his designer suits, his free arm draped over the back of the ratty, salmon-colored sofa.
She couldn’t believe this lowbrow café even stocked demitasses. Perhaps they kept only one of the fancy little cups, under a sign that read For the Sole Use of Professor Dominic Lawrence.
“Yes, very informative.” She shrugged, knowing her answer wasn’t what he’d intended in writing the book and yet also how very much he valued honesty. “I feel sorry for the victims, but I pity these priests too. Their stress, their isolation, their longing to be fully loved.”
“Of course you do.” His tight smile was either affectionate or patronizing—she was never quite sure.
“Your analysis of their motivation is…” She was no expert, but it seemed ethically flawless, only it was missing something. “It’s a little unsympathetic.”
A flash of white teeth tipped his smile in the direction of warm affection and she wanted to bask in it, to fan the flickering feeling that just maybe he found her special, interesting, pretty.
“I’d love to argue this with you,” he said. “But I have precisely two minutes to drink my espresso before my next class, and I wanted to respond to the paper proposal you emailed me.”
“Oh, okay.” Every conversation with him felt rushed, like he was always on the way somewhere, leaving her with unspoken questions and embarrassingly futile desires.
“Your outline is very solid and you’re taking an interesting direction.”
“You don’t think including the example of my brother is too personal?”
He swallowed a sip of the coffee, his Adam’s apple bobbing. Even after reading his damn book, she wanted to lick it.
“Not at all,” he said. “I think it’s very moving, and perfectly appropriate to the assignment.”
Very moving? It was always the little glimpses of his heart that made her most curious. “Thanks. I’ll go ahead with it, then.”
“I look forward to reading it.” He tipped the last of the coffee to his mouth, the red cup a match for the tie he wore—mottled with penny-sized red hearts.
Even if it was the day before Valentine’s Day, the tie was so unlike his usual power stripes or tasteful paisleys that she leaned forward and squinted to be sure she hadn’t mistaken the pattern.
He smoothed it with his fingers. “Ugly, isn’t it?”
“Not at all. It’s just not your usual style.”
He held her gaze, and his stare felt like a silent commentary on the fact she paid attention to his style, but it was probably just his typical cranked-up intensity.
“Well, I’m off.” He set the little saucer and mug down with a clatter. “I’m preaching on the Feast of St. Valentine in chapel today. Retelling the story of his martyrdom at the hands of the Romans as an antidote to all the saccharine romantic love greeting card and chocolate manufacturers want us to associate with the day.”
“Wow. Sounds festive. Sorry I have to miss it—paper to write.”
He chuckled from deep in his throat, tapped his watch, stood and walked away.
She reopened the book and underlined the passage she’d been pondering. To indulge in sexual fantasies…is undoubtably a form of sexual abuse.
She found herself doodling one of the hearts from his tie in the margin, carefully inking in the crosshatch pattern that gave it a plump, 3-D look.
Poor, hot Professor Lawrence. Maybe she should send him chocolates and a romantic greeting card with an anonymous note reminding him that God made us with bodies, and desires, and that he might feel better if he indulged his once in a while. Lord knows, they probably both needed to get laid. The difference was, if Jordan could ever dislodge the fantasies of him from her mind, she might meet a nice if less hot guy to love her, while Professor Lawrence seemed dead set on denying himself that, and any pleasure.