tagNovels and NovellasThe Freshman Ch. 10

The Freshman Ch. 10


Chapter 10 - "One Screw-up in Life"

A storm front moved across the Mid-West the night after the Tri-Alpha race, bringing with it wind, cold rain, and dreary skies, a warning that the pleasant autumn weather soon would be drawing to a close. Rain pelted Cecilia's dorm window as she and Jason woke up. The couple canceled their plans to spend the morning walking around the university and having breakfast off-campus. Instead they got dressed and after getting cleaned up, simply decided to have breakfast downstairs in the dorm cafeteria.

Jason was hoping for another lovemaking session with Cecilia, but she dismissed him and ordered him to spend the day working on his term paper for Burnside's class.

"I'm gonna check your work tonight, so be ready to show me what you did today. I want you to get through at least four pages of the actual writing."

"But...I'm still taking notes..."

"Well, type out what you got so far. Then I can go over it and tell you what you need to do next. And...by the way, if you need to go to the library I want you to call me and let me know, and also when you think you're gonna be back."

"Is it OK if me and Ken go to the gym? I sort of wanted to go swimming and relax my legs from the race. And Ken's thigh is pretty messed up."

"I'll let you two go over there for an hour. But you'll have to go straight there and straight back. I don't want you messin' around doin' other stuff. You don't have any time for that. If you go, call me first."

"Yes, Cecilia."

She hugged him and gave him a warm kiss, and with that he was dismissed.


Cecilia was supposed to study, but she took some time away from her scholastic duties to attend to her commitments to "Socrates' Mistresses". She worked on a draft for a new section of the group's website, editing and organizing pictures and links to promote the group's upcoming album. She corresponded with fans and directed some questions to Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna.

After sending a draft of the web pages to Kim for review, Cecilia wrote an e-mail to Kim's sister Cynthia Lee concerning the upcoming visit by Prime Minister Dukov. Cecilia asked for advice concerning a topic for her own research paper. She knew that Cynthia Lee's Master's thesis had focused on foreign influence in Upper Danubia's recent election and the failed efforts of several multinational corporations to prevent Vladim Dukov from becoming Prime Minister, so she was the right person from whom to seek advice.

While Cecilia was waiting for the response from Cynthia Lee, she received an e-mail from Kim who stated that she was satisfied with Cecilia's web page drafts. Kim shared some of the group's upcoming plans for concerts around Upper Danubia and for promoting the new CD. Kim then did something that showed Cecilia how much she truly trusted her, she sent her fan the preview file of the group's most recently recorded song.

The song was titled "My father's land". The song was dedicated to refugees worldwide, but its point of view was Danubian. The narration was from the daughter of a Danubian refugee, who returned to land in Lower Danubia once owned by her family, only to find it taken over by foreigners. The narrator discussed her hopeless situation, and the knowledge her family never could return to their former home.

The song was by far the most ambitious musical project ever attempted by "Socrates' Mistresses", with very complicated female vocals, a mix of modern and traditional instruments, and the quiet chanting of the male musicians as part of the background music. Cecilia was dumbstruck at the song's very sad beauty. She knew right away that "My father's land" had all the makings of a truly great piece of music.

Cecilia's thoughts drifted to her past and the lands of her own ancestors. She wondered what the concept of "home" possibly could mean to her. Was "home" in Illinois, where she had her dorm room and her studies? Was it New Jersey, where she grew up and her estranged family lived? Was it the Dominican Republic, where her grandparents still lived? Or was it perhaps somewhere further back, in a land of her more distant ancestors? But then, if so, which ancestors? The ancestors from Spain? The ancestors from Africa? The ancestors from the Caribbean? What was "home" to Cecilia Sanchez?

The flash of an incoming e-mail message shook Cecilia out of her mental wanderings. It was Cynthia Lee, with a note that signaled the end of the dilemma over choosing a topic to research. Cynthia suggested examining the reasons why Prime Minister Dukov had decided to withdraw Upper Danubia's application to join the European Union. It was a currently important topic with plenty of historical background and perfect for Burnside's class. Kim's sister included a list of recommended reading, and in doing so saved Cecilia days of looking up information on the Internet and in the library.

As soon as she saved the list of readings to a floppy disk, Cecilia called Jason. He would accompany her to the library, so she could supervise his time there, and, more importantly, to give her an extra set of arms to carry books back to her room. Jason agreed to drop his plans and go without saying anything, much to her satisfaction. He was learning to obey her properly. That was good.

That night, as she slowly fell asleep under to comforting caresses of her boyfriend's hands, Cecilia felt better about her life than she had felt since coming to the university. Everything seemed to have fallen into place for her. She faced a relatively easy time doing her term paper, Jason was there for her, she had $ 1,150 in purchases coming her way, there was her work for "Socrates' Mistresses"...yes it all seemed to be working out.

Cecilia's confidence in life was very short-lived. The following day she made a mistake that would seriously disrupt the tranquility of her semester and come very close to ending her entire university career.


Jason's modeling schedule shifted to the afternoon classes. During the mornings he was replaced by a female model, who, ironically enough, was the young athlete who nearly tied the Tri-Alpha 10-K female title with Lisa. She had an attractive figure for anyone who enjoyed looking at thin, muscular women. She was the perfect picture of physical fitness, a detail that Cecilia found erotic.

The RA left the art class somewhat distracted. She went to Burnside's office to discuss her research topic and present a list of books she had checked out the day before. Burnside took the list and logged onto her computer, to see if there were any other books and research articles she wanted Cecilia to add to her project. The professor logged on, looked up a list of articles, and told Cecilia to sit at the computer and write down several titles.

As Cecilia started copying titles and reference numbers, Burnside's pager went off. She glanced at the message and excused herself.

"I just got a delivery in the main office and I have to sign for it. I'll let you stay here and finish copying. Don't leave until I get back, and don't open any other files in the computer."

Cecilia finished copying the article titles and was just about to log-off when she noticed a desktop icon with the university logo titled "Examination Drafts". Out of curiosity she clicked on it and opened it. Inside the folder she noticed the names of several tests, including one that interested her, "Econ147Midterm01". Curious to see if the midterm for the Introduction to the Theory of Economics course would be the same as it had been the previous year, Cecilia clicked on the icon. A dialogue box came up.

"Click yes to continue."

Cecilia clicked "yes", and brought up the midterm draft, along with another dialogue box.

"Click yes to log your account."

Cecilia clicked "no", but the mid-term came up anyway. It turned out the test would have completely new questions, but keep the general format it had the previous year. Her curiosity satisfied she closed the file, and got another dialogue box.

"Click yes to exit".

The dialogue box "Click yes to log your account" came up a second time, but again Cecilia clicked "no". She closed the examination folder and returned to the list of the professor's research recommendations.

Burnside returned with a couple of certified envelopes. She laid them on her desk and instructed the student to help her take some supplies to the upcoming lecture.


Wednesday morning Cecilia's daily routine was interrupted when the dorm director knocked on her door.

"Cecilia, I just got a call from Professor Burnside. She wants you to go over to her office immediately."

"But what about my morning classes?"

"I don't know. Whatever it is that Dr. Burnside wants, it sounds kinda serious. I think she's more worried about getting you over to her office than about your other classes."

A prickly feeling of fear crept up Cecilia's back. Obviously something was very wrong. That became even more evident when the dorm director accompanied his RA to the Economics Building. It turned out Burnside had asked him to escort the student directly to her office.

Cecilia's boss departed as soon as his employee was safely deposited at Burnside's door. The professor's expression was not reassuring. Her face reflected a mixture of anger and worry. As soon as the door to the office was closed, Burnside got right to the point.

"Alright. I have a question for you and you'd better damn well answer me honestly. When you were on my computer the day before yesterday, did you open any files?"

Cecilia thought for a second, and then remembered the midterm draft. She had not thought looking at the midterm was any big deal, given that she was no longer a student in the class and already had taken the test the year before. It was obvious; however, there was indeed a problem.

"I sorta...took a look...at the midterm file for the Theory class, Dr. Burnside, you know...'cause I was curious to see if it was...like...like last year."

"OK. That answers one question. Now, what did I tell you about opening any files on the computer?"

"I wasn't 'sposed to do it, Dr. Burnside."

"That's right. You disobeyed a direct order. Now for the other question that interests me. Why did you open that file? What was in there that you felt you needed to see?"

"I...it...I was just curious, to see if it was like last year."

"Oh really? Just curious? That's it, just curious?"

"Honest, I was just curious..."

"My God! Just curious! You're trying to tell me that you opened a test file because you were 'curious'? Do you have any idea how lame that sounds?"

"Dr. Burnside, it's true...I was just curious...honest."

With that Burnside picked up a logbook and an ominous-looking folder with a computer printout. She let out an exasperated sigh.

"I can't believe this! You're claiming you accessed an official test file because you were curious!"

Burnside looked hard at Cecilia. She realized her student still did not recognize the seriousness of the situation. She handed Cecilia a memo sent to her office late Tuesday night.

"Here. Read this. Then I'll tell you the rest of it." Cecilia took the letter and read:

Dr. Burnside:

The university examination tracking system has detected a user violation on computer ECON748a, which our records indicate is assigned to your office. Last Monday, at 12:47 p.m. our records indicate there was an un-logged access to examination file 88382-f. You are reminded that an un-logged access to an exam file is a violation of Section 3, clause B-3 of your contract with this university.

Because examination 88382-f is compromised, the department chairman's office directs you to completely remove the file and all preceding drafts from computer ECON748a. Furthermore, you are directed to prepare a statement fully detailing any and all knowledge you have concerning the aforementioned violation of your contract and of this department's examination security policy. Upon completing your statement you will submit it for review by the University Ethics Committee for Tenured Instructors.


Richard Baker -- Ph.D. Acting Chairman -- Department of Economic Studies

Cecilia's hands shook as she handed back the letter. She couldn't look Burnside in the face. The professor continued in a tone of quiet rage:

"The university has a very strict policy for monitoring examination files kept in the campus network. The reason is quite simple, if a student or anyone else tries to access a file to steal it, we find out about it right away. That's why we haven't had any tests stolen for over three years. There have been all kinds of efforts to hack into our system, but we always catch them."

Burnside angrily put the papers back in their folder and continued. "I don't know what to say to you. I never would have suspected that you'd pull something like this. I trusted you, and obviously trusting you was a big mistake."

"But I didn't copy anything! I just looked at some of the questions! I...was just...curious!"

Burnside took a deep breath, still struggling to control her temper.

"Alright. On that I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, because the computer log doesn't indicate you copied or downloaded any text. Because no text was copied, I think we can avoid a criminal prosecution over this, although you might have to consent to an electronic search of you personal computer. But...you will have to understand that at the very least you're facing disciplinary action under the Student Code of Ethics."

A very sick feeling swept over Cecilia. A possible criminal prosecution? A search of her computer? Definite disciplinary action? Burnside's next words only made the student feel worse.

"I need you to type up a statement that describes, in detail, the entire incident from your point of view. I need you to include what your reasoning was when you opened the file, what you remember seeing, when you closed it, and what you did afterwards. I need it as detailed as possible, because the Department of Economic Studies Ethics Committee needs to check your recollection against the electronic log. It will be a sworn statement, and will be entered into evidence."

"But...what...what's gonna happen, Dr. Burnside?"

"I don't know, Cecilia. I don't know what's going to happen, except that you'll go before an official hearing to determine how the university is going to deal with you. You're screwed, but I won't know how badly you're screwed until we go before the ethics committee. I'll try to put the best face on this I can, but I can tell you the university isn't going to be happy about this, not with either of us. Now start typing."

Cecilia had one final question, the answer to which she already knew, but still, she had to hear it.

"Dr. Burnside, am I gonna get to go to my other classes? I'm kinda worried about the midterms..."

"No, you're not going to any other classes, not 'till we go before the ethics committee. As of now you're officially suspended, and you're not allowed to be anywhere on campus unescorted. You're going to have to stay here in this office this morning. When I teach, you'll have to stay out in the reception area in the sight of the secretary. If the ethics committee decides to expel you, I'll make arrangements to have someone from the department help you get your stuff out of Huntington Hall. I think I owe you that much."

Cecilia stood immobilized from shock. Burnside's sour voice snapped.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Sit your butt down and type out your explanation."

As Cecilia sadly sat typing, Burnside called her co-workers who served on the ethics committee. She requested an emergency hearing, since it was important to resolve Cecilia's situation as quickly as possible. She was enormously relieved when the ethics committee chairman responded and agreed to hold a hearing at 6:00 that evening. Whatever happened to Cecilia, at least her situation would be resolved by nightfall. Either she could go back to her dorm room and return to her normal life, or she would have to go to a motel, but either way it would be settled.

Burnside managed to calm her temper. As angry as she was with Cecilia, the professor still felt responsible for her well being and success. The priority now was to salvage the student's career, because she was well aware that to expel her from the university probably would end her life. At all costs, Burnside had to do what she could to convince the ethics panel not to kick Cecilia out of the university.

Cecilia got about halfway through a page-long explanation when she stopped. She put her head down into her hands, as tears started dripping down her cheeks. It's over...she kept thinking to herself...it's all over.

Burnside glanced at the student. She doubted that the ethics panel actually would expel Cecilia from the university if that wasn't what her professor wanted. More likely she would be placed on probation, but it would be a close call either way. Burnside said nothing to reassure the young woman, because life had taught her to be pessimistic. She did not want to give Cecilia any false hope, unless she was absolutely sure the ethics panel would refrain from imposing the maximum penalty.

"Cecilia, if you're going to just sit there crying, then you might as well go back to your room and change into some decent clothing. You and I have a hearing scheduled for 6:00 tonight and I want you to be presentable. I'll have Dr. Halsey's TA escort you back to your room."

The walk back to the dorm was absolutely humiliating. Cecilia knew Halsey's arrogant TA and the two women totally hated each other. Having to be escorted back to her room clearly indicated the scholarship student was in trouble, a fact that no doubt would be a source of gossip and speculation throughout the department over the next few days. The TA smirked as she walked back to the dorm alongside the quiet Dominican. To make matters worse, she insisted on going into the dorm room while she changed her clothes.

As they stood in her room, Cecilia asked: "Could you at least turn away while I get undressed?"

"No. I'm told to watch you and that's what I'm gonna do."

Cecilia stripped down to her thong; cringing at the thought of a woman she intensely disliked studying her bare figure. She changed into a light-colored dress she had bought Monday night as part of her wardrobe expansion from the gift certificates given to her by her boss. She sighed, wondering if the next time she entered this room would be the last time, to take her things off campus.

"OK. I guess we can head back."

After Cecilia returned to Burnside's office, she managed to finish her statement and handed the disk to her professor. Burnside took it, opened and reviewed the file, and secretly deleted the sentence in which Cecilia mentioned that she had been told not to open any files. Burnside had every intention of settling the issue with her student later on, but the priority of the moment was to get her past the committee hearing.

Cecilia spent the longest afternoon of her life sitting in the Economic Department's reception area while Burnside taught her classes. TA's and students entered and left the office, all curious at seeing her sitting well dressed, quiet, and miserable in the waiting area of the Economics Department. The waiting gave her time to think about how bleak her situation had become, all because of a single mistake.

How quickly it all had ended for her! How easily everything she had struggled for had been swept away! All it took was just two minutes of curiosity and stupidity, just one dumb act, to destroy all her ambitions! Her life was over, because she couldn't see how she could recover from this disaster. There would be no going home. She had no home to go to. There was no way she could face her family after this failure; so New Jersey was no an option. Nor was there any way she would be able to face Jason. She would have to leave without his knowing, and then write him a letter giving him a partial explanation about her departure. Then she would disappear from his life.

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