I didn't know, when the second article was published, just how many boats I would rock and how far the ripples would go.
Mike Stavanovitch wasn't just better, he was one of those “how I survived” cover stories in cheesy magazines. After his kidneys began to recover, Mike's overall health improved rapidly. Within a month, he was off of dialysis and wandering around Uncle Frank's house complaining and driving his mother crazy.
When I submitted our second article I decided to go ahead and tell Mike's story at the end, leading up to our conclusions in the last, upcoming article.There was no comment at first. In fact, the silence was deafening. Maybe our research was not as ground breaking as I thought it was.
Mike was the first to let me know something was going on. He had begun taking a few classes again, waiting to start a full credit load in the upcoming semester.
Mike was very thin and pale, but if anything, he actually looked better than the slightly pudgy and yellow guy he'd been six months earlier. On top of it all, he didn't wear thick glasses anymore. To Mike's delight, some of his friends didn't recognize him. He was thrilled with his story of near-death experience and miraculous recovery, and was constantly telling it to anyone who would listen. Eventually, he was called to the Dean's office and questioned. Afterward, he found me in the hall between classes.
“They wanted me to deny it,” he said.“They were practically interrogating me. Five professors, the Dean, and some guy that they never introduced. At first they were all nice and sugary sweet. The tried to get me to agree with them what utter nonsense it was. Then, when I insisted it was all true, they put on the doom and gloom and warned me how I could get sued, people would say I was a liar, it was unbelievable, yada, yada. . . And Molly, they had a copy of the journal that published your paper. It was laying on the desk when I came in. Mr. Craig quickly put it into a drawer; but not before I saw it! They read your research and they're freaked!”
An hour after I talked to Mike, Dr. Meir called me.
“Molly,” he said and paused. The moment I heard his voice I knew something was wrong.
“What is it, Dr. Meir? What's wrong?” I asked, a feeling of dread creeping over me like the chills and aches of a flu.
“They're getting rid of me,” he answered. His voice sounded incredulous.
“How? Why?” I cried. I turned the corner of the building and slid down the outside brick wall to hunch over on my heels in the shadows. I felt lightheaded with fear.
“They said the class I was teaching was being discontinued and that there won't be another opening anytime soon. They recommended I try another university. Molly. I'm going to France. The lab that emailed us last week, you remember?”
I didn't answer. I was too stunned to say anything.
“What about me?” I asked in a small voice. “What am I going to do? How am I going to finish without you? What about the third article?”
“You've done all the work,” Dr. Meir answered. “They'll assign you another supervisor. The third article's been written. The new supervisor will submit it for you. Don't worry Molly, our work will continue. After you graduate. . .”
“After I graduate!” I echoed, despairingly. “Another supervisor! Dr. Meir, they're shutting me down as surely as they shut you down.”
“You don't know that,” Dr. Meir answered, sounding completely unconvinced himself. “You've already done enough, Molly. All that's left is just to wait. Your doctoral project is done now; only the third part remains to be published, and that's just a matter of time.”
“How much time?” I asked, trying to hope. Dr. Meir didn't answer, and his silence confirmed my fears.
“I've gotta go to class,” I sighed. “I'll call you later.”
I was still trying to reassure myself when a another student tapped me on the shoulder and said I was to report to the Dean's office. For a moment I considered not going. I thought about running through an exit door and pretending I was sick for a week. After all, it was Thanksgiving weekend. I could be out of town. Maybe it would blow over.
Then I started thinking over the work I'd done and the families that had become involved in our project. Those families were hoping and waiting for answers. It wasn't about a paper. It was about the truth. I walked toward the Dean's office.
The Dean was also known as Mr. Craig, a man I'd never actually met before in person. When I walked through the door he stood up to greet me.
Dean Craig was a nervous little man with a mustache and beady, dark eyes that didn't seem to rest on anything, including me. Instead, those beady little eyes ran up and down and around, appearing to take note of my clothing, shoes, hair and backpack—but never meeting my gaze.
“Miss Flynn, please have a seat,” he said. His eyes flickered over me.
There was a stranger in the room with him, a man I had not seen before. He was thin and stooped over, as though he were tired of standing, but had no other choice. His gray eyes found mine immediately and his glance was piercing. For no reason at all, I shuddered. After I sat down, both of the men resumed their seats as well.
“Are you Molly Flynn?” The stranger asked me.
“Yes, sir. And may I ask who you are?” I replied.
“I'm not from here,” he answered briefly.
“Where are you from?” I persisted and noticed the Dean nervously clearing his throat.
“Michigan,” the mystery man replied, and turned away.
“What do you do?” I asked, feeling my heart thunder with stress, knowing this man did not want to answer me, and that I was pressing him.
“Molly,” Mr. Craig interrupted hastily. “Do you know why I asked you to come and speak with me today?”
I looked at Mr. Craig and sighed. “You haven't told me yet,” I answered. “But I am guessing it has to do with my doctoral thesis.”
“That's right.” Mr. Craig suddenly seemed to gain confidence and stood up behind his desk, and cleared his throat. “Miss Flynn, unfortunately, Dr. Meir's class was discontinued, so you've been assigned a new supervisor for your doctoral work. Have you met Professor Valerio yet?”
My heart sank to the pit of my stomach where it promptly turned into a hard knot. Raul Valerio was old and notoriously slow at helping students publish their doctoral work. I personally knew one student who had waited an extra year to get his degree because his supervisor had been Professor Valerio.
“Professor Valerio will meet with you in a few weeks to discuss topics for you doctoral work,” Mr. Craig continued after an awkward silence.
“I've already completed all of my doctoral work with Dr. Meir,” I answered, feeling hot and light headed. The floor seemed to rise up and tilt to one side. I leaned back in my chair, reminding myself to breath. “We did a three part series, and all but the last article has been published. But it's finished and ready to—”
“Ah yes. . . that little piece about pesticides. You'll need something a bit more serious and professional for your doctoral work, Miss Flynn.” Mr. Craig refused to meet my eyes and pretended to be intensely studying a sheet of paper on his desk.
“You're dismissing all the research I did with Dr. Meir over the last two years?” Even though I'd known it was coming, I hadn't expected the set-down to sound so lame, to be so pathetic and unbelievable.
The mystery man in the corner cleared his throat and unfolded his long legs. When I glanced at him, he closed his eyes as though he were attempting to shut me out. Mr. Craig glanced nervously in his direction, and then back at me again.
“Yes, it is unfortunate that you wasted so much time on that rabbit trail. Fortunately, Professor Valerio is well-respected enough to help you restore your credibility in scientific circles—although it may take some time.”
“Some time?” I asked in a weak voice. The man in the corner coughed and then finally spoke.
“You could publish a retraction,” he suggested. “Admit that your research was biased and inconclusive.”
I didn't say a word, I just looked at him, wishing I'd brought a voice recorder with me. Mr. Craig nodded in agreement.
“Yes, yes—I'm sure we could arrange everything to make sure you get your degree in a timely fashion and a job placement somewhere,” he added encouragingly.
My stomach turned over and nausea hit me. I wondered if I was sick or just nervous.
“Otherwise it might take a long time?” I asked.
“Yes, otherwise it would probably take a very long time, to. . . to work out the details and restore your credibility.”
“A very long time,” I echoed, standing to my feet. The sick and dizzy feeling left me, burned away by the familiar hot flare of my temper. This time it seemed like the support of an old friend, and I let the rage fill me with courage.
“Talk about losing your credibility—who's pulling your strings, Mr. Craig? Him?” I asked and turned toward the placid man in the corner, who shifted uneasily, his eyes widening in surprise.
“Miss Flynn, you can go now,” Mr. Craig interrupted hastily, clearing his throat and rapidly blinking his eyes. “I think we've covered everything.”
“Yes, you think you have. But you can't bury crap like this deep enough to keep it from coming back to haunt you, Mr. Craig.” I answered, and in spite of my anger, I felt sorry for the nervous little man who had the power to take away the degree I had worked so long to achieve.
In that moment, I realized that truth isn't won like a medal or a 4.0 GPA, which everyone agrees is a good thing. Truth appears like a winged creature in mid-air, defying all the rules. It opens your eyes and laughs in your face. You can either laugh with it and follow it down the path of discovery, or you can close your eyes and walk away.
Mr. Craig had closed his eyes. I laughed, and both of the men in front of me jumped as though I'd shot a gun.
“Miss Flynn. . .” Mr. Craig said in a pleading voice.
“I'm going,” I answered, and walked through the door.
“Miss Flynn, if you speak to any of the students about this, or cause any trouble, we will get a restraining order,” The man in the corner spoke hastily. I paused with the door knob in my hand but did not turn to look at him. Without answering, I shut the door and walked away.
I didn't know if I needed protection, but if I did, now was the time. I called Jeremy.
He was between classes, and met me at the front doors. I told him what had transpired, warning him that being seen with me could jeopardize his own position.
“Oh God,” Jeremy whispered, in response, closing his eyes. “Oh, God help us.” He opened his eyes again and looked at me with a smile dawning on his face. “Molly, you're a she-lion. God loves you.”
I was used to Jeremy talking to God as though he were walking along with us. Jeremy would have felt pretentious in a chapel. He never stopped praying, so a special-event prayer would seem offensive to him.
“Molly, you've got to call the Morgans.”
“I know. I will. I have to call my parents first though, and move out of the dormitory. They threatened me with a restraining order and I think I'd better be gone by sundown.”
The Dean had already called my parents and put the pressure on them to make me retract my research. The situation was getting worse by the minute. The last thing I needed right now was to have my parents freaking out.
The whole time we were walking back to my dormitory, I was on the phone with my dad, trying to calm him down. Jeremy was on the phone too, talking to the Morgans. I wished desperately that I could talk to them instead of my dad, who was practically screaming over the phone.
“Dad, can we talk about this later? I have to pack. I'll be home in a few hours and we can talk about it then.”
“No you don't. You are not leaving the dorm. I want you to turn around right now and go back to the Dean and apologize. Agree to retract your thesis. It was against the rules, Molly! It's practically a crime. Do you want to be a criminal? You can't come here.”
“You won't let me come home?!” I exclaimed incredulously. “It's Thanksgiving weekend!”
“Not until you make this right. I'm doing this for your own good, and I'm ordering you to turn around right now!”
It was the first time in my life that I hung up on my dad. I even turned my phone off because I knew he'd keep calling. I just couldn't take anymore. It was like everyone had gone insane. What was I going to do? Where could I go?
“I talked to Will,” Jeremy told me. The sidewalk blurred and I staggered; tears were streaming down my face. He caught my arm and held me up, forgetting the long-standing caution he'd always demonstrated.
“Molly, it's going to be all right. It's going to be okay.”
I wiped my eyes furiously and nodded my head.
“I'll have to go to a hotel tonight,” I said. “Then I'll look for an apartment. Maybe I can get a lawyer and sue the school.”
“You need money for that—a lot of money,” Jeremy said. “All the money in the world is behind them; it's not just the school you're fighting.”
“I know,” I said, and wiped more tears away. “I have to pack. I have to pack and think.”
“I'm going to stay out here and pray,” Jeremy stated firmly. “I'll be right here, okay?”
I nodded and stumbled up the steps to the dormitory, and found relief in the physical labor of packing. I was almost done when Mom and Dad showed up. It was like my worst nightmares, all run together into one day. Losing my future, my family. . . I felt numb with the shock of it all.
“Oh God,” I cried, feeling the stress rise and smother me like a thick cloud of poisonous smoke, “Jeremy said. . . if you love me. . . please, help.”