Higher Education

Q & A

by Adele


Jane hurried up the front steps of Entry E, unlocked the door and went into the foyer, then turned immediately right to her room. She intended to pop in and drop off her books before going to meet Kirk and Wade for lunch. Her afternoon was free, but she knew Wade had a 1:00 class, so he didn't have a lot of time. Carrie didn't have an eleven o'clock, so she had already eaten. Jane was barely inside when Carrie jumped up from the couch and asked, "Did you hear?" with a grin of anticipation.

Jane didn't even bother to ask, "Hear what?" She just muttered, "You know I didn't," while looking around for her dining hall card.

"Wade beat up Kirk!" Carrie sounded appropriately horrified, but Jane knew her well and could hear the under note of glee. Jane stopped searching for the card and focused all of her attention on Carrie.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"It's true. Wade gave him a black eye. I don't know what they were fighting about."

"That is bullshit, Carrie. You know it and you shouldn't be spreading it around."

Any remaining glee drained out of Carrie, and she sounded legitimately hurt when she sulked, "Telling my roommate who is close friends with both of them is not 'spreading it around'."

She recovered quickly though. Her voice rising again she said, "Aren't you going to eat lunch with Kirk? Ask him! You'll see!"

"Fine. I will." Jane discovered her card on the corner of the mantle shelf, snagged it, and walked out of the room shaking her head.

As soon as she was outside in the courtyard she saw Kirk about twenty feet ahead of her. He was ambling toward the dining hall doors, but he didn't seem to be in any hurry to get there. Jane jogged a bit to catch up and waited to say his name until she was close enough not to have to yell. Kirk turned around. Jane was stunned to see that, while he didn't actually have a black eye, he did have a nasty-looking bruise spreading across his left cheekbone.

"Did Wade do that?" she blurted.

Kirk gave her a look of contempt. "You too?" he sneered.

Instantly defensive, Jane backtracked, "No! Not 'me too'. Carrie told me some crap rumor and I told her it was bullshit. I was just surprised because I didn't expect to see a bruise or anything on your face at all. How did you get that?"

"I walked into a door," Kirk admitted. "You walked into a door," Jane repeated, her voice oozing skepticism.

"I was drunk at the time," Kirk added.

"Ohhh . . ." That explained the clumsiness, but . . . "So why the rumor, then?"

"Daniel started it. He lives across the entryway from us."

"If you know who started it, why don't you just explain what really happened?"

"I did. He doesn't believe me."

"He thinks Wade punching you is more likely than you getting drunk and walking into a door?"

"He lives across the entryway and his bedroom shares a wall with mine."

"So?"

"I was drunk last night."

"Kirk, you're gonna have to connect the dots for me a little bit more here."

Kirk sighed and looked around as if hoping for some form of escape to miraculously appear. Not seeing anything, he began to speak in a flat tone without meeting Jane's eyes, "I was drunk last night. I walked into the door coming into the room. This morning . . . Wade . . . Wade was really mad about me coming home drunk. When I went to breakfast I ran into Daniel and he asked me about the bruise on my face. I told him what happened, and he said he knew I was lying. He said his bedroom shares a wall with mine. He said - he claimed -- he heard me begging Wade to 'Please stop.'" Kirk's voice trailed off.

Jane swallowed. "And did he?" she asked.

"Stop? No, of course not. He never stops until he's finished."

Jane blinked, then said very carefully, "I was actually asking if Daniel heard what he claimed to hear, but I guess you answered that question too."

Jane had no idea what to say or do. Kirk looked totally miserable. Even as she hated herself for doing so, Jane fell back on her default reaction to almost any problem. "Where's Wade now?" she asked.

"He went ahead to get lunch before his class."

"Does he know about the rumor?" "Yeah."

"How does he feel about it?" "How do you think? He's pissed."

"I guess we should go meet up with him. . ." Jane could not have sounded any less enthusiastic, but Kirk nodded and they trudged toward the dining hall.

Jane saw Wade as soon as she walked into the cafeteria. The large room was crowded with the lunchtime rush, but Wade had a square four-person table all to himself. Most of the house residents knew that some combination of Wade, Kirk, Jane, and Carrie almost always ate together, but Jane doubted even visiting students from other houses had asked to sit at Wade's table. His obvious anger put up a wall of hostility, more effectively marking the seats as unavailable than any books or backpacks left on them would have. Jane did not particularly want to join him, herself, but she got her food and carried her tray to his table anyway. Kirk trailed along after her.

Jane sat down on Wade's right and Kirk walked around the table to sit at his left. Wade acknowledged their arrival with a terse nod. He took a few more bites before turning to Kirk and asking quietly, "Are you all right?"

"Yeah. Are you?"

Wade was taken aback by the question. "Yeah. Yeah. Of course," he said sounding much more like his usual self. "You never have to worry about me."

He even managed a bit of a smile. Jane relaxed and turned her attention to her food. She hadn't taken more than three bites before her stomach clenched again when she saw Daniel approaching the table. Daniel cast a quick trepidatious glance at Wade and then very obviously addressed only Kirk. "You don't have to sit with him, you know," Daniel said putting a hand on Kirk's shoulder.

Kirk knocked Daniel's hand away and snarled, "Fuck off."

Daniel was undeterred. "I want to help you, Kirk," he insisted.

"I don't need your help."

"You do. You don't know it, but you do."

Kirk leapt to his feet with his fist pulled back so fast Jane gasped, but Wade was even faster. He grabbed Kirk's arm, halting the punch, and wrapped his other hand in a fistful of Kirk's hair. For a second all three boys froze. Then Wade bit out the words, "Sit your ass down."

When Kirk didn't move immediately, Wade added, "Right. Now."

Unwillingly, Kirk sat. Wade turned to face Daniel and Daniel took an involuntary step back. "If you weren't here--" Daniel started.

Wade interrupted, "If I weren't here, you'd be on the floor and Kirk would be on his way to the Dean's office, probably to get expelled. Is that what you want?"

"You're the one who should be expelled," Daniel retorted regaining some of his confidence.

Wade took a deep breath. "OK. I get that you want to help Kirk. Fine. But look at him, Daniel! Really look and see what you're doing to him. You're not helping. I know you feel like you need to do something, but this isn't it."

Daniel was not convinced. He started to step around Wade to get to Kirk again and Wade practically begged, "Come, on! You have to know he's not in any immediate danger. I mean, it's not like I'm going to beat the crap out of him in the middle of the dining hall, right? Do us all a favor and walk away. Please."

Daniel scowled at Wade and for a minute Jane thought Daniel might keep pushing, if only to show he wasn't backing down, but maybe he remembered something he had read about people in abusive relationships, or maybe he just realized he needed to get to class. Whatever the reason, he called out to Kirk, "If you need anything at all. Anytime. Call me, ok? Or come over. I'm right across the entryway," then he turned and walked out of the dining hall.

Wade collapsed back into his seat, but did not return to eating. Kirk observed, "You didn't help your case any."

Wade snapped, "I wasn't aware I needed to be making a case. Not to anybody else and certainly not to you." Abruptly, Wade put his face in his hands. Jane was appalled. She had never seen Wade look quite so at a loss before.

Kirk was still angry, though whether at Daniel or Wade or both, Jane wasn't sure. "Don't you have to get to class?" he reminded Wade.

"Yeah, but," Wade hesitated.

"Kirk, why don't you come back to my room after lunch?" Jane suggested. Wade gave her a grateful look and she continued, "We can study Sex."

Wade was puzzled, not to mention shocked, for a split second before he remembered that both Kirk and Jane were taking Behavioral Biology for non-science majors this term. The more popular core classes all had nicknames that appealed to a lowest common denominator sense of humor. Greek Myths was "Heroes for Zeros" Vietnamese history was "Rice Paddies". And Behavioral Biology was simply "Sex".

"Yeah, okay," Kirk agreed.

Somewhat reassured that Kirk was not going to do something stupid the minute he left, Wade picked up his tray and stood. He said, "It's going to be okay, Kirk. We're going to be okay," and brushed the palm of his hand against Kirk's cheek. Wade started to walk away, but Kirk grabbed his wrist and held it.

"You never do that," Kirk said, "You've never touched me like that in public before."

"Well, maybe I should have." Wade replied. He waited patiently, awkwardly bent over, until Kirk let him go, then turned and headed off to class.

Jane had lost her appetite and Kirk didn't seem interested in finishing his lunch either. They exchanged glances and then simultaneously stood up. Without a word they returned their trays and left the dining hall. Side by side, shoulders not quite touching, Jane and Kirk silently walked the paths across the courtyard to Entry E. Both of their keys would work on any Winthrop House entry door, but Jane actually lived in this entry, so following convention, Jane unlocked the door and led the way inside.

Carrie had taken off somewhere, and Jane and Kirk had the suite to themselves. Kirk immediately flopped down on the couch in the common room. Jane went into her bedroom and found the copy of On Human Nature by Edward O. Wilson on her bookshelf. She took the book and her laptop back out to the common room and joined Kirk on the couch. Jane handed the paperback to Kirk and opened her laptop to access the resource materials on the class blog. She had gotten to the web site and was about to click on the reading schedule when she noticed that Kirk had not opened the book. He was just sitting there staring at the creepy photo of Wilson on the cover.

Jane set aside her laptop and turned on the couch to face Kirk full on. She said one word: "Talk."

Kirk looked up and then asked a desperate question, "Am I crazy?"

Kirk was so upset the thought of making a joke did not enter Jane's mind. Her first impulse was to adamantly deny it, but something made her ask instead, "What do you mean?"

"You know how you see abused wives on the news and in movies and they lie and cover up bruises and defend their husbands? You think, 'What the hell is wrong with them?' but it's like they really don't see what an asshole they are living with. They don't believe it even when you show them the evidence. Not even if you shove it in their faces." Kirk's voice shook as he finished, "Am I like them?"

This question Jane could answer without hesitation. "No, Kirk, you are not like them."

"How do you know?"

"Well, you're a guy for one thing," Jane cracked.

"I'm serious, Jane, how do you know?"

"I know because Wade is not an abuser."

"Maybe he is. These guys fool people. They're charming."

Jane actually chuckled. "First of all, Wade is possibly the least charming person I know." Then Jane finally relented and got serious. "Kirk, look at me." When Kirk was focused on her face, Jane spoke with quiet sincerity, "I like Wade a lot and think he's a great guy, but you are my best friend. If I thought for one second that you were in a relationship that was unhealthy, or even was making you unhappy, much less one that was a danger to you, I would do whatever it took to get you out of it. Your denying there was a problem wouldn't stop me."

"What about the fact that you do what Wade says almost as much as I do? Wouldn't that stop you?" Kirk challenged.

"Actually, that's part of why I'm confident Wade isn't like that. I only submit to people I respect, and I have zero respect for assholes." Jane grinned.

Kirk still appeared unconvinced, so Jane said, "Fine. Let's be scientific." She woke up her laptop and Googled domestic violence. In seconds she had pulled up a screening questionnaire.

"You're supposed to answer these questions with Frequently, Sometimes, Rarely, or Never. Got it?"

Kirk said, "This is stupid. I'm not doing this." But Jane ignored him and read the first question.

"Does your partner monitor your time and make you account for every minute?"

"Of course not. Jane stop--"

"So that would be never then? Does your partner ever accuse you of having affairs?"

Kirk gave up. "Never."

"Is your partner overly critical of your clothing or appearance? Does your partner attempt to isolate you from friends and family?" Kirk continued on answering "Never" until Jane asked, "Do you lie to your partner to keep him from getting angry?"

"God, no. Wade would kill me if I lied to him." Kirk looked horrified at what had come out of his mouth and started stammering, "Wait. I mean. No. I."

Jane took pity and said, "I'm just going to put down 'Never'." A few more "Never" questions and then Jane asked, "Does your partner throw objects, punch walls, or break things when angry?"

Kirk responded, "No, never, but I do those things all the time. Maybe I'm the one abusing him?"

Jane rolled her eyes but she was glad to see Kirk was relaxing at least a little. They got on another "never" roll and then Jane asked a question and Kirk didn't reply immediately. When the silence had extended for several seconds Jane turned from the screen to look at Kirk. She repeated the question from memory, "Does your partner ever strike you with his hands?"

Kirk dropped his eyes and whispered, "Yes"

Impatiently, Jane said, "S&M does not count, Kirk."

Kirk was getting entirely too much practice with his look of contempt today. "I know that," he sneered, "Trust me, I was not turned on this morning."

"Fine. Frequently, Sometimes, or Rarely?"

"Frequently," Kirk declared as if he were daring Jane to contradict him.

Jane pressed her lips together and checked the box. The next question was, "Does your partner ever strike you with an object?"

Kirk didn't hesitate much before saying, "Sometimes."

Jane briefly considered asking Kirk what object, before deciding she didn't want to know. The next question was a never, but then Jane read, "Does you partner ever leave visible marks such as welts or bruises?"

"Rarely," Kirk answered. Jane checked the box without comment and quickly finished up the questionnaire putting the expected "Never" down to things like your partner putting you in the hospital and calling the police on your partner. Jane read the instructions and added up Kirk's "score".

"This quiz doesn't really apply to you, Kirk. All those behaviors that are typical of abusers, the controlling and the isolating and all that, Wade does none of those things."

Kirk pulled the laptop out of Jane's hands and figured out his total for himself. "Oh, look," Kirk said dryly, "My relationship is Moderately Abusive."

"Just barely. You got the lowest number in that range," Jane said, then realized what a pathetic argument that was and stopped talking.

Abruptly, Kirk stood up and started toward the door. Jane jumped up too and followed him saying, "Kirk! It was a stupid Internet quiz. It doesn't mean anything. I'm sorry!"

"It's OK, Jane. I know you were trying to help. I just need to figure some things out. Maybe I'll go talk to Daniel after all."

"Wade is expecting you to stay here until he gets back from his class," Jane protested.

"Yeah, well, it won't be the first time I haven't met his expectations." And with that, Kirk walked out the door.

*****

When Wade got back from his class, he went straight to Jane and Carrie's room without going to his room first. He knocked on the door and Jane's "It's open" was quick, but oddly quiet. Wade opened the door and went in to find Jane reading on the couch and Kirk nowhere in sight.

"Where's Kirk?"

"He left."

"You were supposed to keep him here with you," Wade said, irritated.

"How, exactly, was I supposed to do that?" Jane demanded.

"You're right. I'm sorry. Thanks for letting him come over for a while, anyway."

Wade turned to go and Jane called out, "Where are you going?"

"Back to our room," Wade said, sounding like he was revising his estimate of her intelligence.

"I'll go with you."

Wade gave Jane a strange look, but didn't try to stop her. The weather was good so they went outside and across the courtyard to entry C rather than cutting through the basement. Wade unlocked the door and Jane followed him up the stairs to the second floor and the door to Wade and Kirk's room. Jane carefully made sure she didn't even glance at the door across the landing. Wade called out to Kirk as he entered their suite and Jane hoped wildly that Kirk would actually appear, but of course he didn't. Wade went into his bedroom and dropped off his books, then walked into Kirk's bedroom. It was empty.

Wade sat down on Kirk's bed and leaned back against the wall. Jane joined Wade on the bed and copied his pose. She idly looked at the books on Kirk's bookshelf. His copy of On Human Nature was from the library. Apparently he didn't need to highlight lines and take notes in the margins to pass a course. Lucky guy. Still staring at the books, Jane asked, "What did you do to Kirk this morning?"

"I thought he told you."

"Not exactly. He kind of danced around it, but didn't come out and say it."

"I gave him a whipping," Wade said bluntly, "A whipping he totally deserved, I might add."

Jane had figured as much, but it was still weird to hear it said out loud. She didn't respond and Wade continued, "Do you remember freshman year, Jane? How Kirk was partying every weekend, Friday and Saturday nights, and drinking during the week too?"

"He was a scared kid, away from home for the first time, Wade."

"I was scared too. Scared he was going to get kicked out of school or just plain flunk out."

"And now?"

"Now he still acts like a kid, but he's not so scared anymore. And I'm not either."

"The end justifies the means? Is that what you're saying?"

"No, I'm--,"

Jane held up her hand and cut Wade off. "Listen," she whispered. From the other side of the wall they were leaning against came a series of thumps and then two voices raised in anger overlapping each other.

"Wow. You really can hear everything through that wall," Jane mouthed.

Suddenly, there was a much louder thump followed by Daniel clearly yelling, "Kirk, stop!"

"Fuck!"

Wade and Jane said the curse simultaneously, but Wade was already two steps ahead by the time he reached the bedroom door. He dashed across the common room and out into the entryway with Jane on his heels. He actually paused and raised his fist to knock, but before his knuckles touched the door it swung open revealing Daniel's very startled and confused roommate. Wade brushed by the guy and headed for Daniel's bedroom. Wade had never been in their suite before, but he knew which bedroom was his of course.

Daniel's door was open. Wade and Jane rushed into the room just in time to see Kirk slam Daniel against the wall. Daniel was fighting back, but not making much headway. Wade took in the situation in one glance. He walked up to Kirk and placed his hands on Kirk's shoulders.

"Come on, Kirk. Ease off. Let him go." Wade's voice was calm, gentle, soothing, and completely ineffectual. Kirk did not react at all. He was caught up in his own personal storm. Wade looked at Daniel, and then twisted his head to look over his shoulder at Jane. Jane shrugged and raised her hands helplessly. Wade set his jaw and made a decision.

Wade tightened his left hand on Kirk's shoulder and let go with his right. He swung his arm back and smacked the back of Kirk's right thigh as hard as he could. Kirk was jolted just enough to loosen his grip on Daniel the tiniest bit. Wade caught the moment perfectly, slamming his left forearm across both of Kirk's arms. Jane heard the crack of bone hitting bone and knew both of them would have bruises the next day. Daniel was freed and he wasted no time scuttling to the opposite corner of the room.

Wade grabbed the back of Kirk's neck. It was obviously something Wade had done many, many times before. He bent Kirk over Daniel's desk never letting go of his grip on Kirk's neck. Kirk was snarling and cursing, but Wade ignored him. Wade held Kirk in place with his left hand and started spanking him. Kirk had the protection of his pants, but that protection was more than offset by the fact that he was still sore from that morning. Not to mention the fact that Wade was holding absolutely nothing back. Wade had once told Kirk that when Kirk was dressed Wade felt free to use more of his strength, maybe up to eighty percent. Kirk had been a little offended by this remark. Not anymore.

In mere minutes Kirk's curses were replaced by long hitching breaths. Kirk stopped struggling to escape and focused his energy on struggling to control himself. He wasn't going to beg again. Luckily, Wade sensed the change in Kirk. Wade significantly reduced both the speed and force of the swats immediately, and then continued to lower the intensity of the spanking more gradually. When he finally stopped he kept his right hand resting on Kirk's ass. Likewise, Wade's left hand stayed on Kirk's neck but switched from a restraint to a caress. Wade leaned over Kirk and spoke gently to him and now Kirk was able to listen.

Daniel made a small noise reminding Wade that other people besides Kirk existed.

"Don't move," Wade ordered Kirk before straightening up and turning around.

"What are you going to do?" Wade asked Daniel.

"I was only trying to help--," Daniel started, but Wade cut him off.

"I know. What are you going to do now? Are you going to report Kirk? Me? Both of us?"

Daniel shook his head. "I'm not going to do anything."

"Thank you."

Kirk had stayed frozen in position as instructed. Now, Wade clasped Kirk's upper arm and pulled him up saying, "Let's go."

They started to walk out of the room with Jane falling in behind them. Daniel called after them, "Would you do me a favor, though?"

Wade looked back. "What?"

"Next time, use your bedroom instead of Kirk's"

~ Adele

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