A Teacher’s Nightmare

John Grosvenor felt sick, ready to throw up at any second. Despite the desperation he was feeling, he was momentarily distracted by the thought of the headmaster and his desk being covered in a spray of fine, half-digested rice crispies, which brought a sickly grin to his sweating red countenance.
“I’m so sorry John,” he said. “We should be able to get this thing cleared up rather quickly. I can assure you that you have my full support.”
“You can’t suspend me Trevor. I am totally innocent. I never touched her. Emma Graham is simply trying to take revenge for the poor results that she has been given. For Christ’s sake man, suspending me will make the whole thing public. I will be eaten alive out there. You know how the papers love something like this.” He was almost raging. His actions were not helping at all to convince Trevor of his innocence.
Trevor McDonald thought quietly for a few minutes, watching him closely. He was wondering if he really was the paedophile that he had been accused of, or not. This is how it would be from now on. If in doubt “hang the bastard”. He had heard it often enough from other similar cases.
Trevor eventually spoke. “I believe you, John. I always assume innocence until proven guilty in such cases, but protocol is protocol. I have to suspend you until this is cleared up, one way or the other.”
“You see,” John blurted out. “One way or the other.” That’s already half an accusation. I don’t have a bloody hope in hell.”
“One thing I can promise you, John, is that we will try to keep the lid on this as much as possible, until the facts are all assessed.”
The naivety of Trevor almost made John burst out with hysterical laughter. He has no idea. The whole school will have known even before he entered this office.
He stood up, took a few deep breaths, tried to calm himself and left his office. The effort to keep his head up, walk to his car, which seemed like an eternity, was as much as he could take. He sat in the front driver’s seat, head spinning with thoughts about how he was to face his family and friends. Surely they would believe him. Deep down, he knew that many wouldn’t.
******
An hour earlier Trevor McDonald’s office had been full. Mr and Mrs Graham, Emma, Elaine Daws from the Social Services and PC Manda Jones.
Elaine began by asking Emma to take her time, and explain exactly what had happened between her and Mr. John Grosvenor, in the storeroom during the morning break.
Emma spent the next five minutes explaining how she had been asked if she would help sort some of the English text books into order, during the PE lesson, as she couldn’t take part, due to a sprained wrist. She said that she was keen to help and it would occupy her, instead of just sitting outside, watching the netball practice. She described how her English teacher, Mr Grosvenor, came to check on her, just as the morning break was beginning.
Mr. Grosvenor offered to help her finish the job quickly, so that she would still have some of her break time left, if she was willing. Emma said that she agreed.
Then Emma described in a very believable way how her teacher had told her that she had lovely breasts and that she must be very proud of her figure. Before she could respond he reached out and took them in the palms of his hands and began caressing them. Emma told how shocked she had been and it had taken a few seconds before she could react at all, by which time John Grosvenor was beginning to lift her blouse. She said that she ran from the storeroom and came straight to the headmaster’s office, where she told Janice Fairhead, his secretary, what had happened.
She hadn’t left the office since.
The small group of adults all looked at each other. Mrs Graham was trembling with anger.
“What are you going to do about this? “ She asked no one in particular, scanning the faces from social services to the police and finally to Trevor.
“Well first of all we need to hear Mr Grosvenor’s side of the story. We will arrange this for tomorrow morning. It can’t be done today, as our specialist for handling these cases is away until tomorrow,” explained Elaine.
“But surely you are not going to let this pervert continue teaching vulnerable children until then?” screamed Mrs Graham
“No, of course not, “countered Trevor, “he will be sent home on paid leave until this can be sorted out.”
Mr Graham had not said a word, or shown the emotional anger that his wife had demonstrated. In fact, he had been inert throughout the whole meeting. He just sat quietly, listening to his daughter explain how she had been molested by her teacher, a man of roughly his age, without a murmur. He looked almost nervous, rather than angry.
This type of situation was rare in the school, but there had been the odd case of misconduct or sexual harassment, mainly between pupils, over the years, but they all had one thing in common, an extremely irate father. It unsettled Trevor McDonald somewhat, that Mr Graham hadn’t displayed any such feelings.
******
The Graham family pulled up on their driveway. Emma had sat sulkily in the back of the car, without saying a word, for the whole journey. In fact, nobody had spoken. Each were in their private thoughts, working out what to do for the best.
“Richard, I need to nip to the supermarket to buy a few things for our dinner, “said Diane Graham. “It’s best that you two stay at home. I won’t be long.”
They went into the house, waving goodbye to Mrs Graham and Emma went immediately to her room. A few minutes later, Richard tapped on her bedroom door and entered. Emma was sitting at her desk, still sulking and looking extremely forlorn.
“Emma, why don’t you tell me what really happened in that store room.”
“What do you mean?” she responded. “I told you everything. “He did exactly what you always….”
She stopped and dropped her head towards the floor.
“I’m not angry with you, Emma. I just want you to show me what happened.”
Emma began trembling. She knew what was coming. She had experienced it a thousand times, and worse.
She undid her blouse, removed her bra and looked directly into her father’s eyes. “This is what he was trying to do”, she stammered.
Richard took both of her breasts in his hands and began to caress them softly. “Just like this,” he whispered.
******
Mrs Graham arrived at the supermarket, reached into her bag to take a coin for the shopping trolley and realised instantly that she didn’t have her purse with her. In her rush to go to the school, she had left it on the table. With a curse, she got back into the car and drove home.
On entering the house, she was aware of an unusual quietness. She looked downstairs, found her purse and then went to the lounge, expecting to find her husband or Emma there. It may be a mother’s instinct or some other form of sixth sense, but she instinctively began to walk quietly. She climbed the stairs and could hear the murmur of Richard’s voice coming from Emma’s room. She pushed the door open and shrieked loudly at the sight of her daughter. She was wearing nothing on her upper half and Richard was sitting opposite her with one hand on her breast and the other between her legs. Emma was trembling heavily and tears were drying on her red cheeks.
Mrs Graham went berserk. She picked up a ruler from Emma’s desk and began hitting Richard repeatedly on the head, screaming obscenities, damning him to hell.
“I was just….just, “he tried to say, but there was nothing to say. He ran out of the house.
Diane Graham wrapped Emma in a blanket and took her down in front of the fire. She knew well enough that now was not the time to ask questions, Emma needed time to collect herself and her Mum had time to wait. She sat quietly with her daughter, waiting for her to speak, after first making a phone call to the local police station.
During the rest of the evening Emma explained to her mother that this had been going on for many months. He father had always told her that she was so beautiful and her mother would be very jealous if he knew how much he loved Emma. “If you tell her what we do, you will break her heart”, he told her. Emma explained how it all started with her father telling her what lovely breasts she had, and how he liked to caress them. It went on from there.
“What is wrong with these damned filthy men?” Diane protested, “Are they all the same. First your teacher and now even your own father.”
Emma winced at this last remark. She looked up pleadingly into her mother’s eyes.
Diane Graham could see the truth in her daughter’s face. “He didn’t do it, did he? Your teacher didn’t touch you at all, did he?”
Emma broke into tears. “I was just so angry with him. It just came out and the lie grew from there. I feel so ashamed. I’m all mixed up now.”
Diane hugged her daughter as tightly to her as she could. “You have nothing to be ashamed of,” she reassured her.
******
John Grosvenor entered his home shortly before 6pm. He had been wandering about most of the afternoon, weighing up his options. His overriding thoughts were that this was not the first time that he had been accused of a sexual crime. Back in his university days, after a one night stand with another student, he had been accused of rape. The accusation was made and although it was subsequently withdrawn after some investigation, it lingered over him like a dark cloud, ready to burst into a storm at some future point. That point was today.
In reality, he and a fellow student had been out drinking, far too much and had ended up sleeping together. It was six of one and half a dozen of the other. John’s wife, however, knew of it.
Eventually he had plucked up the courage to come home and try to convince them of his innocence. He had considered his position carefully. If this accusation found its way into a court, he was done for. If he was found guilty, his career and family life was over. If he was found innocent, he still had the belief that his career and family life was over. Who would believe in him afterwards? How vulnerable would he be to such future lying accusations? He had come to the conclusion that there were only two possibilities to clear his name completely. The first was for the accuser to come to her senses and apologise for lying. This seemed extremely unlikely for his position. The second was for him to take his own life, leaving a declaration of his total innocence. As his dying testament, it was more likely to convince the people who mattered to him, that he was falsely accused.
But what a price? Could he take his own life? These were the questions that had occupied most of his afternoon. He had decided that it would be the only way.
He made a plan. He must attend an interview tomorrow at the police station, where he will be questioned and asked to give his version of the story. Based on this, the police will probably decide whether or not to formally charge him. He decided that he will attend the interview and if it goes badly he would take the final measure. He wrote a short letter to his wife as follows –
My dearest Susan, if you are reading this letter I am no more. I have been falsely accused of physically abusing a fifteen year old girl at the school. I promise you that I have been faithful to you and Gemma, our wonderful daughter, ever since we have been together. It is for the love of you both, that I must say goodbye, in the hope that you can see this as a declaration of my total innocence and believe in me for always. I cannot stand the thought of seeing doubts or distrust in your eyes and forever wondering if I was really guilty or not. I love you so much. Your John.
As he entered the kitchen, where Gemma and Susan were already sitting around the table, he took one look at them and knew that his decision had been correct.
******
The following morning John looked awful. He hadn’t slept all night, neither had Susan. Although awake next to each other, they had hardly spoken a word. Neither knew what to say except “It’ll be alright” or “I am innocent”. So they both quietly lay, going through their ‘what ifs’ until the alarm announced the start of a new day, maybe John’s last.
He entered the police station at five minutes before 9am. To his surprise, Trevor was there. He had expected social services and police only. Trevor greeted him calmly and said that the police had suggested that he attend, as it is only an information gathering interview at this stage and he would have more information regarding the situation at the school.
John was surprised to feel pleased to have him there. He needed some support from wherever it came.
They entered the meeting room together. The others were already in place. John assumed that they had been there for some time, preparing their line of questioning.
After initial introductions, PC Amanda Jones asked John to explain what, if anything, had happened between him and Emma, yesterday in the storeroom.
“Well, where to start?” he said. “Emma has recently been performing well below her usual standard over recent months. This is not unusual with girls of that age, and I had tried to discuss the situation with her, to no avail. She had become quite withdrawn too. Therefore I had no choice but to grade her results well below average for the recent exams. I know that she took that hard. Yesterday I felt quite sorry for her. She had sprained her wrist and couldn’t join the netball practice, so I asked if she could help me in the storeroom, sorting some books. She offered to remain during the morning break, in order to finish the job, during which I stayed to help her. That’s it. I have nothing else to add.”
“Are you saying that you, at no time, touched her or made sexual remarks, in any way?”
“That is correct.”
“Mr McDonald, do you have anything to say or add in regard to Emma or Mr Grosvenor’s actions recently?” asked Ms Jones.
“I can only say that I have known Emma for a number of years. In fact I have known her mother and father for much longer. We were students together at university. As far as I know the whole family has always handled themselves correctly, no…impeccably. I can’t imagine that Emma would invent such a story. It is just not like her.” He looked directly at his colleague and said,” Sorry John, but it is the case.”
The sick feeling started to return. They had all decided that he was guilty. He could already see the headlines, the shame, the disgust. He put his hand to his breast pocket and could feel the letter by his beating heart. The final action was coming quickly now. Suddenly he relaxed at the thought of knowing that he had an escape that none of them knew about. He would control his destiny, not this group of misguided do gooders. He was just about to blurt out how much he hated the lot of them and their conniving, accusing tone. How he was innocent but didn’t give a shit any longer, as they had already decided what the outcome was going to be.
At that moment, a knock came at the door.
“Please excuse me a moment, “said PC Jones.
Two minutes later she returned, with a half-smile, half frown on her face.
“Mr Grosvenor, I have someone here to see you.”
Mrs Graham and Emma nervously walked into the room.
“Emma has something to say,” said Mrs Graham.
“Sir, I never meant to…I mean I was just angry. I am so sorry.”
Then she turned to the other people in the room and said loud and clear, “Mr Grosvenor never touched me. I made it all up because I was angry with him. Mr Grosvenor has always been a caring and helpful teacher, and I only hope he can forgive me one day.”
John Grosvenor stood, tears in his eyes, and Emma ran into his arms and gave him a cuddle. He sensed that there was more to this although had no idea what. “You are already forgiven,” he replied.
******
John went home feeling completely wrecked. Within the last 24 hours he has been through the wringer.
He pondered over the people who had let him down. The working relationship, let alone the social relationship, with Trevor McDonald would never be the same again. The man was not his friend, as he had thought.
His wife, well who is to say how that will go. She had doubted him at a crucial time. Would things ever be quite the same again.
After he heard of the arrest of Emma’s father, and the subsequent charges, the only person who he had a better relationship with, ironically, was Emma.

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I Know Who You Are

It was one of those dark foggy evenings, just above the temperature necessary to turn the shallow puddles to ice, but cold enough to send a shiver down the spine and force the pale white hands deep into warm, cosy trouser pockets.
It was the 23rd of December. I had taken a bus to the end of the lane and was walking along the unlit verge between the lane and the drainage ditches, that followed wintry hawthorn hedges as far as the eyes could see, which wasn’t very far at all, due to the dense fog. I pulled my woolly hat down around my ears, covering my face from the biting cold as much as possible.
I will never fail to be irritated by those oncoming drivers, who obviously have seen me in their headlights, allowing little space as they whoosh past, still maintaining their lights on full beam, and blinding me momentarily.
I was tired, cold and in dire need of our log fire and a nice cup of tea. I had been doing the last of the Christmas shopping and was loaded with a heavy rucksack which contained some meat from my favourite butcher and two bottles of Artadi, Viña El Pisón, Rioja 2012, and a bottle of Tomatin 18 year, sherry cask, single malt whisky, along with a few last minute presents. I had ordered the wine especially for this occasion.
Forcing my hands deeper into my pockets, but enjoying the satisfying decision to take the rucksack with me, thereby allowing my hands to be free, I cursed the next set of full headlights as they approached.
It all happened so fast. One second the lights were ahead of me. I was squinting to avoid losing my night vision as much as possible. I was vaguely aware of the lights slowing down and stopping just ahead. The next second I was on the floor. I felt the tug of the straps as someone was trying to pull my rucksack away, as if in a dream, which I later learned was caused by being dazed after a sharp blow to my head. Then as my guts gave the most violent wretch, I just opened my eyes in time to see the flicker of a toe cap. That was the last I saw.
But, not realising at that moment, I had seen more than a steel toe cap of a boot. I had seen the face of its owner.
*****
The cold tore into me like a ravenous animal, gnawing first at the extremities, then raging into the limbs and body. I had no awareness of time, and as consciousness slowly returned I coughed and spluttered, as the pain in my temples and stomach slowly came to the fore. I was drenched, lying in the soggy ditch, soaked in dirty stinking water and bloody from a gash on the side of my head. It seemed an age, crawling and scrambling to get back onto the hard tarmac. For some minutes I sat bewildered until I gradually realised my predicament. I became aware of the cold and the mile and a half distance between me and home. With an effort, which almost caused me to lose consciousness again, I slowly came back onto my feet. Nothing was broken. Thank goodness. I could walk.
My hands had been far too numb to use a key. I came to the window and remember the ironic contrast between the beautiful scene of warmth, the Christmas tree, the log fire, the wrapping paper and my own momentary world of pain and agony. All I had been able to muster was a weak tap on the lounge window. Luckily she had heard it above the sound of Jingle Bells, which was echoing from the television.
Bettina shrieked as she opened the door. I slid over the threshold, buckling down onto my knees.
*****
I was still lying on the lounge carpet when the doctor arrived, but feeling a little better. No stiches were needed, and after a rest by the fire and some ibuprofen and antibiotics, I was able to talk to the police. They had been at our house for an hour, talking and eating mince pies with my wife, waiting for me to wake.
It was a simple interview. They asked me to explain what had happened, paying extra detail to anything I could remember of the make of the car, or identifying features of my attackers.
I truthfully told them that I had not seen the car. The glare of the headlights had temporarily blinded me, making it impossible to give any useful information. Regarding my attackers, I explained that there were two men, but even that I was not certain, as it all happened so fast. I gave them a description of my rucksack and contents and that was all. They left with a promise to look into the mugging, but had to admit there was very little to go on. We wished each other a Merry Christmas and they left.
Christmas Eve was spent making the last finishing festive preparations. Bettina was busy most of the day, purchasing again the lost items. She even managed to find a bottle of single malt, but not the favourite brand I had acquired. I kept the name of that to myself. I spent most of the day, lying on the couch, trying not to feel sorry for myself, or concentrating on the pain, that was still aching in my groin and head. The hardest pain of all though, was the knowledge of the identity of my attacker.
*****
Every year Christmas day is spend at home. Robert and Josie, our two children, arrive during the morning with their families. They each have two children, and now that they have all reached early adulthood, we don’t get to see them as often as when they were children. The family gathering is so much part of our tradition at Christmas, it would be unimaginable to change it. Luckily, our son-in-law and daughter-in-law both seem to enjoy coming.
Bettina and I had agreed to play down my terrible experience of two days before. In truth, I was feeling much better and we both wanted to ensure that Christmas was not spoiled by long discussions about muggers and what should be done to them.
So, as Robert, Sarah and the two girls arrived, we put on a pleasant face and made a small joke about the cut on my brow. The swelling had subsided somewhat and a plaster covered the cut.
“I would love to see how the other fella came out,” said Robert, with a big grin on his face.
I nearly choked at those words, and found it difficult to muster a smile. If only he knew.
One great thing about being a grandfather of girls, especially when having been in the wars, is that they fuss over you even more. Emma and Louise hardly left my side, apart from placing the presents under the tree. This is another one of our family traditions. When we have finished eating, we all open our presents together, just as we did when they were small children.
Josie arrived with her husband, Bob and lovely Emily, who was home from University for the holidays, while we were already tucking into the first of the mince pies. “Hey, I hope there will be enough for us”, Josie quipped and we all greeted each other. A few jokes about being plastered and having a head as “hard as nails” later, Josh arrived. We were now complete.
Bettina was busy running around serving drinks, pastries and nibbles, while at the same time holding the fort in the kitchen.
“The mountain of presents is becoming shameful,” I joked, pointing to the huge pile of carefully wrapped and decorated parcels around the tree. “Whatever will we do when great grandchildren begin to arrive,” I said, at which point everyone looked towards Louise and Emma as the most likely sources of such offspring.
“Don’t look at me”, Emma remarked, with a happy smile.
Dinner was a strange affair, for me. For the rest of the family it was simply a normal festive get together, where everyone was happy, laughing and enjoying the togetherness of a big family gathering. But in my case, there were moments where I forgot about the robbery and got lost in the banter, and other moments where I drifted into a world of my own, becoming angry, wanting to tip the table upside down and scream. On a number of occasions Bettina squeezed my knee, to gently bring me back to the here and now. Luckily, everyone was so engrossed in pulling crackers, placing paper hats and reading the jokes to each other, that no-one else noticed my troubles.
*****
The presents opening is always the part of Christmas that I like best. We share our presents and I am always filled with pride to see my family receiving more pleasure from what they have given, than from what they receive. It sends little, “We did a good job of bringing them up”, bells ringing in my head.
Only this year was different. The event of two days ago was eating into me. I was switching between sadness and anger. My emotions were all over the place.
We took turns in opening the presents, thanking and kissing the giver, showing our appreciation or, at least, making fun with silly banter over the more unusual ones.
Next was my turn. Josh picked up his gift for me from under the tree and handed it over with a big smile. “Merry Christmas, Grandad”.
My hands were trembling as I unwrapped the gift. I first read the small card, which read “Lots of love from Josh”. Peeling back the wrapping paper, I gradually uncovered the label on the bottle.
Viña El Pisón, Rioja 2012