She managed a smile for the crowd. “Good morning everyone.” She could barely hear herself over the hammering of her heart. “My name is Diana Leventis. As with all the students here, we’ve been tasked by Professor de G-Graaf—” She could feel her cheeks heating up at the way her tongue suddenly stumbled over his name, and her color deepened when she heard Pepper snicker.
Clearing her throat, she tried again, saying, “We’ve been tasked by the professor to propose a novel approach in resolving the growing suicide rate among Catholics.”
“The last time we spoke,” the priest murmured, “I mentioned a few concerns you had trouble addressing.”
“Yes, Father. And one of the adjustments I’ve made was to redefine the limitations of my thesis.”
“With regards to what?”
“My thesis will not cover the rare and special instances in which an individual may be called upon God to end his life and serve His purpose, as was such in the case of several biblical figures—”
A rude, scoffing sound interrupted her, causing her to stop speaking.
The moderator cleared her throat. “I, err, believe Professor de Graaf has something to say?”
Diana’s astonishment turned into consternation at the older student’s words. That was the professor? Her head snapped to his direction, in time to see his golden eyes mock her as he drawled, “No surprise there, that after all the time you’ve been given to improve your thesis, and all you were able to do was add a fucking limitation—”
Nervous laughs erupted from the crowd even as the Carmelite nun seated next to Matthijs let out an affronted gasp. “Language, Professor!”
“Apologies, Sister Dorothy.” But his mocking gaze remained on the trembling, red-faced figure of his target. She was hurt and confused, but she was also visibly angry, and it was exactly what he wanted.
“I simply had to express my disappointment,” he murmured laconically. “I was hoping Ms. Leventis would have significantly improved herself, but perhaps I was expecting too much from someone like her.”
“Professor de Graaf…” Mr. Bakker looked distinctly uncomfortable. “It’s best not to make things personal…”
“If I had wanted this to be personal,” Matthijs drawled, “then I should have said from the start that trash is what one’s likely to expect—”
“Coming from a student whose admission essay singled out a teen TV show as her reason for wishing to study in Helder Meer.” The professor’s gaze swung back to her. “13 Reasons Why, wasn’t it, Ms. Leventis?”
Diana could feel everyone staring at her, judging her, laughing at her, and all she could do was gaze back at the professor. Why was he doing this? Why was he being cruel? Why?
In the corner of her eye, she saw Pepper taking a photo of her with a smirk, and when her dazed gaze swept across the crowd, she saw that most of them were the same, uploading photos and live-tweeting what they could of Diana’s gradual and inevitable breakdown.
Because it would happen.
His vicious, inexplicable cruelty had done a great job in demolishing her self-control, and even with her still doing her best to fight off her tears, Diana knew that it was only a matter of time before everything in her gave out.
“We’re waiting, Ms. Leventis,” the professor taunted.
Her lips moved, but the words just wouldn’t come out. She could only stare at him, wishing she had the courage to ask, Why? Dear God, why?
Why send all her those sweet quotes, making her think he still and truly loved her, and then do this?
Was it because her lawyer’s letter had stung his pride?
Was it because he despised her for breaking her word?
She just wanted to know why.
Diana bit her lip hard the moment it started to tremble, but if she had thought this would inspire his mercy, it did the opposite, and she actually saw his upper lip curl in contempt.
“So much for your so-called purpose,” the professor said coldly. “And to think you made so many of your peers believe that this whole thing was more than an academic requirement—”
“It is!” Hurting as she was, she couldn’t, she just couldn’t let him say that about her.
“And yet here you are, and all you can talk about is a new limitation for your thesis,” the professor derided.
The university therapist shifted in her seat when she noticed the tears running down Diana’s face. “Matthijs, I think that’s enough—”
But it was Diana herself who interrupted her, saying in a fierce, tight voice, “I meant every word I said.”
“You still believe the Church has the power to cure depression to prevent suicide?”
“How then?” he challenged.
“I’m s-still trying to figure out—”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” A majority of the panel protested more loudly this time, but the professor didn’t even look at them. “You’re trying as much as I’d expect from someone who think a TV show is a modern-day prophet—” He saw Diana take a furious step forward, and he rose to his feet with a sardonic laugh. “Itching to slap me, Ms. Leventis?” He stalked towards her until they were mere inches apart. “Go on. You have the privilege, being my ex-girlfriend—”