Emmett stayed outside Elle's door and kept arguing long after she stopped responding to him. "Elle, please, just open the door." No response. "You can't just leave now. Not after how far you've come, how hard you've worked." He laughed a little around the terrified, grieving lump in his throat. "You're the most dedicated tutoring student I've ever had." Still nothing. "Elle, after today, don't you think you're proven how smart you are? We'd be dead in the water if it weren't for you!" He winced at his choice of words, realizing that if Elle was still listening, they'd only remind her of what Callahan had said earlier.
Why hadn't Emmett noticed the older man's odd behavior? Callahan was never that complimentary of a student, no matter how well they did. He thought it would only make them weak to make too much of a job well done. I should've known something was wrong. I should've refused to leave without her. I should've- That line of thought would get him nowhere. He resumed pounding on the door. "Come on, please, open up!" He stopped pounding and pressed his fists and forehead into the wood as he'd done a thousand times that night. "It's just an internship," he whispered, but he didn't say it any louder because he knew it was more than that. To Elle, this was part of a lifelong pattern of people never seeing her as anything more than a pretty face. It was, in her mind, confirmation of the idea that that was all she could ever be; that anything she ever accomplished would be because someone higher up wanted to screw her; and that no matter what, she would never really be able to make a difference. She'd always just be playing dress-up at the whim of some old pervert with more money than sense.
Some women might have been content with that; some wouldn't have noticed. But Elle had always been brilliant, even before she learned to hone that brilliance; what's more, she knew people. Even if Callahan hadn't been so crude about it (really, sexually assaulting one of his own students? Even on a practical level, the man should've known better), she would have realized sooner rather than later if, as her career progressed, no one ever trusted her with more than just the most basic tasks. But Emmett knew, with a deeper certainty than he could explain, that she was too smart for any employer with half a brain not to notice. Even Callahan had taken her suggestions and input seriously - or at least, as seriously as he took any intern's input.
From inside the apartment, Emmett heard the sound of water running through pipes, indicating that Elle was taking a shower. She wouldn't be able to hear him until he got out. The young man pushed away from the door, swearing in frustration. Somewhere inside that apartment, the woman he loved was falling apart. She was poised to throw away everything he had watched her achieve these long months, and there was nothing he could do.
Or was there?
Emmett took a deep breath. "Okay, Emmett, think," he told himself. "She won't listen to you, but there has to be someone-" He bit his lip. He didn't know Enid very well, and Warner was out of the question for many very obvious reasons, but Vivienne... They hadn't spoken much since the fall, what with Emmett tutoring Elle and Vivienne dating her ex-boyfriend, but they'd been in undergrad together the year before Emmett graduated and had been on reasonably decent terms then. Furthermore, Vivienne was a smart woman. Surely she knew they needed Elle in order to crack this case. Still, Emmett steeled himself before making the call. As he dialed, he walked briskly away from Elle's building; if this was going to work, Elle couldn't know he had anything to do with it.
Vivienne picked up on the third ring. "Forrest, this had better be good."
"Vivienne, I need your help," said Emmett. "It's Elle."
"Elle?" He could almost hear her frowning. "What about her?"
Emmett held the phone away from his ear, wincing. "It's Callahan," he said after he put it back. "He-"
"I know what Callahan did," Vivienne snapped; Emmett arched his brows in surprise. "What does that old pervert have to do with anything?"
"Well, now Elle thinks that's the only reason he gave her the internship, so she's going home," Emmett told her.
"What ? But that's ridiculous! Callahan wouldn't waste a spot on Helen of Troy herself if she wasn't qualified."
"And I'd love to tell her that, except she's locked herself inside her apartment and won't listen to a word I say."
"Well, of course she won't listen to you, you're a man," said Vivienne dryly. "I'll handle this, Forrest."
"Wait, there's one more thing," he said. "Callahan fired her."
Vivienne sighed. "Of course he did, the boneheaded idiot. Men." Emmett considered objecting, then thought better of it. "Talk to Brooke. We all know Elle is her favorite; if she's gone, Brooke may refuse to work with us at all. We can use that to get Elle back on the team."
"Will do," said Emmett. "And meanwhile, you'll...?"
"Handle Elle," Vivienne repeated. "While you handle Brooke. She almost listens to you, so try to make sure our esteemed client doesn't do anything rash." She paused. "I didn't realize you and Elle were so... close."
Now it was Emmett's turn to pause. "I don't know what you mean."
"Does she?" Vivienne asked pointedly.
Emmett briefly considered feigning further ignorance, then decided there was no point. "No," he admitted quietly.
"Good. Don't tell her," she ordered.
"Emmett, you need to put your feelings aside and think for a minute," Vivienne said. "Elle has just found out that one of the only people who has ever openly acknowledged her intelligence was sexually attracted to her and believes that to be the only reason she has an internship. What do you suppose she would think if she found out her longtime tutor, to whom she surely feels she owes her success, has feelings for her?" Emmett's jaw fell open slightly in shock and dismay; why hadn't he thought of that? And to think he'd almost blurted it right out… He ran a hand through his hair, shaken at how close he'd come to ruining everything. "Tell her after the trial, if you must, when things have calmed down. Now is not the time."
"Of - of course," Emmett said weakly, incapable of anything but meek agreement at that moment.
"I will keep you informed of progress on my end. Now get some sleep," Vivienne ordered. "We both have a long day tomorrow." Then she hung up, leaving Emmett to stare at his phone, somewhat stunned. One thing was clear: he could not, as he'd half-intended before talking to Vivienne, go back and wait in front of Elle's door all night. It was a creepy thing to do anyway, he knew that; but after the conversation he'd just had, he could see clearly that he'd have to leave Elle's convincing in Vivienne's frighteningly capable hands. If he had thought he could have gotten in to see Brooke right then, he would have gone straight to the jail, but visiting hours were long since over and the inmates were probably all in their cells for the night. Finally, reluctantly, he headed home to try to get some sleep, as Vivienne had suggested. Elle had no reason to stay? Fine. He and Brooke would give her a reason. Then maybe, after all the dust had settled and Elle was back to herself again, Emmett could give her another one.