A heroic story of three college women’s fight for justice
At first glance, Brooke Flanagan, Lauren Le, and Nikki Towers have little in common: a churchgoing virgin, a party girl, and a resident advisor. But they all have their own dreams, dreams that can be shattered in a single night.
When freshman Brooke Flanagan first arrives at the university, she’s excited to escape her sheltered life in a Southern town. Lauren Le, a scholarship student, likes to have a good time, but she never disappoints her hardworking, single mom. Nikki Towers always goes her own way. Confident, poised, and wealthy, Nikki’s biggest problem is what to do with her future.
Into these girls’ lives walks Colin Jordan. Colin is the son of a private equity titan, captain of his club basketball team, and a brilliant pre-law student. He is also a sexual predator.
Survivors’ Dawn relates a journey of heroes: the strength, courage, and determination of the victims as they fight to survive; the obstacles they face in their pursuit of justice; and finally, with its conclusion, hope for a future where students can pursue their dreams without fear of being attacked.
A contemporary novel, Survivor’s Dawn wrestles with issues of privilege, sexual assault, and the responsibility of academic institutions to protect their students.
At nine o’clock on a Saturday evening in September, Colin Jordan, a senior, sat at an outdoor table at Jolene’s, a sandwich place in the Triangle. A popular pedestrian plaza, the Triangle was lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. The open-air center was paved with brick and dotted with mature trees. As Colin ate a Rueben with chips and sipped a Diet Coke, he thought through his evening plans. He would have opted for an IPA, but he needed to keep his mind sharp.
Colin believed, due largely to the brilliant example his father provided, that life’s endeavors could and should be assessed in terms of investment and return; for example, Colin had invested several hundred hours to raise his LSAT score. As a result, on his second attempt his score climbed from 170 to 176, an improvement that assured his acceptance into an Ivy League school instead of one of the second-tier programs. This differentiation in pedigree would afford him a valuable advantage for the rest of his life, so the investment in preparing for the test, while painful to endure, yielded an attractive return.
Investment and return. Colin had applied the paradigm successfully in many areas of his life: sports (basketball and boxing), Greek society, and what he considered a uniquely laudable achievement: his efficient approach to sexual gratification.
Colin realized that in terms of opportunity he was living in an enchanted age created by the combination of promiscuity (supercharged by social media) and the propensity of newly liberated young people to consume excessive amounts of alcohol.
But here again, investment and return played a role; after considerable thought Colin had developed a framework for partitioning his sexual partners into three distinct categories.
The first category, casual hookups, required almost no investment; they satisfied his physical need but provided little intrinsic reward.
The second category, which Colin had dubbed “this evening’s entertainment,” required an investment of several hours to find and compel a girl (by needs both promiscuous and intoxicated) to return with him to his condo. This last step, no matter how inebriated the girl, sometimes required an extra nudge. Colin found that the more investment required to secure these conquests, the greater his return in terms of psychological satisfaction.
But the third category offered the greatest prize. Colin first had to find the right candidate, in and of itself a challenge, for the girl had to be exquisitely beautiful and innocent. Once he had identified his quarry, Colin was prepared to invest considerable time and ingenuity in her seduction, and to that point in his life, he knew of no greater joy than the moment of consummation. To date Colin had succeeded in the third category only twice.
Nevertheless, to achieve an acceptable return he had to closely manage how much time he invested on each girl, and this discipline demanded that Colin, on occasion, take shortcuts. He knew lesser elements of society would view these shortcuts with a skeptical eye. He did not share their view. The girls would without question acquiesce to their natural instincts and his desires, given sufficient time.
But still, there was an aspect of the enterprise that felt like stealing, like pocketing a candy bar in a convenience store, and the mere recollection of that sensation made his heart beat faster.
In between bites of the sandwich Colin watched girls stroll past, mostly in groups. He mentally catalogued his prospects: queen bees, athletes, sorority sisters, free spirits, and the party girls. The girls dressed to attract attention, with low necklines stretched tight across breasts, or short, tight skirts. Some wore skinny jeans with manufactured tears in the fabric. Many wore high heels.
Some of the girls had pre-gamed to manage their budget for the evening. They talked constantly as they walked, excited to be young and embarking on an evening of possibility.
He searched for a particular type of girl, someone who might be persuaded by his looks, stature, and generosity. He sought a girl who fit his second category, for he had the full evening to invest; but he absolutely had to have his desire fulfilled that night and would settle, if compelled, for a casual hookup.
One girl walked on the edge of a group of seven, tall, with high heels. She had big hips and wore a tight black skirt with a fuchsia top. What was that? She had a round face and black hair, distinctly Asian. She had a sexy walk, not fake sexy like the girls who learned everything from the Internet, but naturally sexy, like an animal in search of a mate.
He checked his watch. Nine fifteen. How long would they stay in the Triangle? Four or five hours. They’d have dinner at the Italian place or the gourmet burger spot, a trendy restaurant that wasn’t expensive. They would split the check. After dinner they would try one of the bars in the Triangle, buy a cocktail, and hope to find boys who would treat them to more drinks.
He spied a second group of girls with potential and found three of them exciting. One in particular wore a top with navy and white stripes. She, too, walked with a sexy sway. As Colin watched her, his penis grew semi-erect.
“How was the sandwich?” asked his waitress.
He hadn’t noticed her approach. She wore a black skirt and a white collared button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled past her thin wrists.
“Excellent. The sauce and sauerkraut were just as you described…awesome. Great recommendation. Thank you.”
She smiled, which illuminated her eyes, brown eyes so big he could stare at them for minutes at a time.
“Is there anything else I can get you?” she said.
What a peculiar question. Yes, oh yes. There was something else. He imagined her wearing a black spaghetti-strap top and nothing else. She faced away from him, bent over, her hands on a table. She was skinny, with bony hips. He loved that, too.
“No, thanks. Just the check when you get a chance.”
He left a 30 percent tip. He always left a big tip, because hardworking people like the waitress deserved to earn a living wage.
Colin was perfectly sober. He would spend two hours studying at the library before returning to the Triangle.
* * *
At eleven thirty Lauren Le stood with her new friends at the Homestead, a lively bar in the Triangle. Everyone talked at once, shouting to be heard above the music. The Homestead had space for a couple hundred people, with a large square bar in the middle, dozens of stand-up tables, and two dance floors. The constant beat and the bass notes coursed through Lauren’s veins.
She took a slug of the vodka soda.
Pace yourself, Lauren.
It had taken her a month to get comfortable on campus. She had grown up in Irving, Texas, outside of Dallas, and had never traveled this far to the east before starting school here. Some of her high school friends had gone to college, but none as far away as Lauren. They fell short when it came to grades and test scores and ambition.
Lauren was the result of a short-lived and reckless affair between a Vietnamese immigrant, Kim Le, who worked in a nail salon, and a tall Texan who lit out for the oil rigs as soon as Kim missed her first period. Kim had never heard from him again, and she seldom mentioned him to Lauren. As Lauren grew older she became curious and would sometimes ask about her father.
“I was stupid,” Kim had said. “I tried for a big dream with a big white man. But he was no good.”
When Lauren pressed for more information, Kim would grow adamant.
“You forget about him. You need to study.”
If Kim wasn’t working at the salon, a short distance from their apartment, she was doing piecework for a local tailor. Kim never paid Lauren an allowance, but she let her work a part-time job so long as she kept her grades near perfect.
With a tired mother and an absent father, Lauren was forced to learn how to have a good time on her own, and at that she had excelled. As a senior with a full figure, a fun nature—her hobbies were cosplay, online gaming, and organizing flash mobs—and a curious mind about partying and sex, Lauren had always attracted guys.
She had drunk one cocktail at the Italian restaurant and started with a shot of tequila at the Homestead. When they had first arrived, the girls danced as a group for nearly an hour, not allowing the dearth of boys to deter them from getting the party started.
Lauren took a break, her head buzzing slightly from the alcohol and the dancing. Cool air from the duct above her whisked away the perspiration.
God, college is fun.
The bar began to fill, and boys drifted by their group in ones and twos. A sophomore from New Jersey bought her another drink. He was her height, with red hair, and talked fast in a northern accent. He was almost cute, except for a big pimple and his lack of coordination. They tried dancing but couldn’t make it work. Afterward, he told her his dream of becoming a veterinarian. Snore.
Lauren spied one of the resident advisors from Roxbury Hall, Nikki Towers, watching her from the other side of the bar. The girls had approached Nikki when they first entered the Homestead, nervous because they had used fake IDs to get past the bouncer. They needn’t have worried. Nikki’s nickname was Cool RA. She had a reputation for doing her own thing in her own way and never traveling in a crowd. Cool RA had wished them a good time but advised them not to get wasted. (“I’m your RA, not your babysitter.”) Nevertheless, when Lauren caught Nikki’s eye, she could tell Cool RA was not impressed with the New Jersey kid.
“So…,” he said, “do you want to come over to the frat house and listen to music? I’ve got some killer weed.”
His eyes were glazed and his shoulders swayed, like a five-year-old on a bicycle. Lauren wasn’t a fan of just-met sex. If he had been gorgeous, like Liam Hemsworth, then maybe. Wait, maybe? Not maybe. Definitely! But she would not have sex with New Jersey, at least not tonight. “You know, I’m gonna hang with my friends a while longer. Thanks, though.”
“Not a problem. Catch you later.”
He leaned toward her as if expecting something. She hesitated, unsure, and then offered to shake hands. He only got about ten steps before he stopped to chat up another girl.
“What did he want?” said Caitlyn, her roommate. Caitlyn’s face turned sour as Lauren told her of the invite to smoke pot. “Eewww! That guy?”
They laughed. Lauren was light as a feather. She could party all night.
* * *
Nikki Towers sat at the bar and sipped her second glass of Sauvignon Blanc, wanting to make it last. She’d budgeted only three drinks, and the buzz from the one-hitter she’d smoked on the way over had dissipated. She would have liked to drink more, but she couldn’t afford the hangover.
She watched the girls from Roxbury Hall, laughing, talking fast, and dancing. Boys started to arrive and wandered through the bar searching for girls they knew, or new girls to meet. One of them tried to buy Nikki a drink. She politely declined and then ignored him until he vacated the stool at her side. She hadn’t come to the Homestead to find a boyfriend. Sure, she liked the feel of the wooden bar, sanded smooth with a semi-gloss finish, and she liked to watch the bartenders, a man and a woman, as they hustled drinks, swiped credit cards, and matched the rhythm of the crowd. But Nikki had primarily come out on the off chance she would stumble into a solid hookup with someone she already knew.
The lingering stress of a long week of classes and countless bullshit RA duties had worn her down. She didn’t want a boyfriend—too many time constraints—but she craved the physical closeness of a naked man, the thrill that lovemaking brought, and the intimate cuddling that came after. Good sex relaxed her. She glanced at her phone. She could try Tinder, but usually the guys were drunk, or less attractive than their profile, or just plain rude. And sex with a stranger carried certain risks. Much better to go with someone she knew.
She looked back at the Roxbury group. Lauren Le, the girl in the pink top, laughed and tipped her glass back. They all had to learn their own way, to suffer through some hangovers before figuring out their style. Most of the freshmen went through the same pattern, but not Nikki. She had arrived at college fully mature, her hard partying days behind her, her virginity surrendered in a neighbor’s basement in tenth grade.
Nikki was self-aware, a solid B student with a high street IQ, the daughter of a successful interracial couple in St. Louis. Her father had begun his career as a plumber in the western suburbs but soon started a plumbing supply company, which he grew rapidly until it earned a major share of the market in four states. He’d eventually sold out to a conglomerate for over a hundred million dollars, which meant they were rich, but that didn’t stop him from insisting that Nikki get a part-time job at school, hence the RA gig. He said it would build leadership qualities. Right.
Her mother, unquestionably the life of the party, was a white blues singer who sang with several local bands around St. Louis. She had met Nikki’s father through a drummer she performed with on occasion.
Neither of her parents had allowed the business windfall to change how they lived: her father worked for the conglomerate as a regional manager, and her mother sang three nights a week. They both seemed solidly comfortable with their lives, which made Nikki a bit nervous, because she had no idea what she wanted to do.
Eventually, she had chosen economics because she liked the courses, particularly the macro stuff, but the major provided no easy career choices. Some econ grads became bankers. Others became baristas. She still had a year to work it out, but uncertainty bothered Nikki. She liked to have a plan.
* * *
Colin logged a couple of hours at the library and then briefly stopped by his condo to freshen up. After that, he tried Raven’s Way, a popular bar in the Triangle. It was almost midnight, and the energy of the crowd had begun to climb. Students crammed the dance floor, enticed by the pop music. They moved constantly, as if they were a single many-limbed entity.
Colin scanned the bar and spotted the girl in the navy and white top. The stripes ran horizontally, about two inches thick. The sleeves were three-quarter length and carried the stripes with them. Tight brunette curls sprang from her head and ended before they touched her shoulders. She stood at a cocktail table with two other girls and talked in an animated fashion, her arms moving constantly. He walked straight to her.
“Can I buy you a drink?” He stood erect with his shoulders back, wearing an open-collared white shirt and designer jeans. He looked right at her, his gaze unwavering, not acknowledging the other women, his attention reserved solely for her.
Navy stood dumbstruck, her eyes wide, unblinking, and took a moment to scan his upper body, strong neck, and face. “Uh…sure.”
From that point, the action unfolded as he expected. He helped her decide what to drink and then extended the offer to the other women. They declined, perhaps hesitant to interfere with Navy’s good fortune. He went to the bar for the drinks, giving the girls some time to confer, and by the time he returned the other two had gone to dance.
It was obvious to Colin when they introduced themselves that she didn’t recognize his name. No matter. He’d work that into the conversation at the right time.
She was too sober. He’d suspected as much when they first spoke, so he had asked the bartender for a double Manhattan. She nibbled on the cherry and took a big sip. Another couple of those and she’d be ready.
He asked about her intended major. Education. He inquired about her other interests. Movies. Politics. He laughed at the right moments and touched her elbow where the navy met the white. She hoped to study abroad her junior year.
“What country?” he said.
“A beautiful place. I once sat on a balcony in Sorrento overlooking the Gulf of Naples; no place on earth should be so beautiful. I couldn’t speak.”
“Have you been?”
“You’ll love it. Like another drink?”
“Um.” She looked at her glass, which had less than half an inch left. “Sure.”
He hustled to the bar again, but by the time he returned, her friends were back from the dance floor. Both of them, the tall one and the blond girl in glasses, were texting madly.
“We’re thinking of going to a party at Holcombe,” said Navy.
“It’s supposed to be a rager,” said the tall girl.
“You could join us,” said Navy, her face lifted toward him, her lips slightly parted.
The tall one raised her eyebrows, still texting; the blonde studied Colin closely, as if trying to figure something out.
Colin said, “I’m not into freshman dorm parties.” He glanced at the blonde; she listened closely. “But you could stay here. We’ll talk more about Italy, have another drink, and then I’ll drive you back to the dorm.”
Navy considered his proposal, leaning toward acceptance, her face framed by impossible curls, so cute, but then the chick in glasses touched her elbow.
“You need to stick with us,” she said. “That was the plan, remember? You two exchange digits and meet for coffee sometime.”
After they left, Colin trolled the bar but found no other prospects, so he went to the Homestead.
* * *
He gave his eyes a minute to adjust to the darkness. It was nearing one o’clock, and the crowd had begun to crest, both of the dance floors jammed with sweating bodies. Tropical house music bumped from the speakers. He spotted Nikki Towers sitting alone at the bar; it was the first time he’d seen her all year.
He had slept with Nikki four or five times, the first when she was a freshman, but Nikki was no rookie in the bedroom, not even then, her talents honed before she arrived at the university. He considered her a near equal in that regard.
His fingers had thrilled to skim her light brown skin, the surface unblemished. Her figure enhanced her beauty even further; the top of her head came to his chin, and her arms and legs were strong from yoga, her breasts and ass firm.
She came from wealth, not big money like him, but enough to live well; however, at the insistence of her father she drove a mid-size Nissan SUV and worked as an RA at Roxbury Hall. Colin had asked his own father about the plumbing company her family had owned. Francis had heard of it, said they’d tried to get in but had been priced out of the deal.
“Yo, stranger,” she said as he came to her side. He kissed her on the lips and slipped his hand to her back, strong, as always. In addition to yoga, Nikki favored the odd sports: mountain biking, rock climbing, and snowboarding.
“You look great,” he said.
He ordered a light beer for himself, pacing his consumption, and another wine for Nikki. They talked a while about nothing much: the forthcoming elections, their summers, and their respective plans for the year. Between sentences he searched the room.
“Here to check out the newbies?” she said.
He gave her a you-caught-me-in-the-act smile. “Well, you know, it’s my last year.”
“Okay, but if you crash and burn, I’ll be here a while longer. We could go to your place and…listen to jazz.”
Nikki would be a hell of a consolation prize; it was tempting. He recalled the lighter color of her breasts, which contrasted with her tanned arms and shoulders. But he had principles, objectives, and he hadn’t given the night enough of a chance, so he kissed Nikki again and then toured the room. That’s when he met Lauren Le. She was alone at a stand-up table.
The black skirt looked even better up close, pulled tight across her gorgeous ass, and the fuchsia top glowed in the black light. Her face—framed with fine black hair, her lips full and her skin like porcelain—made his heart jump.
He used the same approach as with Navy, and it worked just as well, only Lauren had had more to drink. She talked loudly, laughed a lot, and soon asked if he wanted to dance.
She came alive on the dance floor, whipping her hair and twisting her hips and shoulders. He watched from all angles as she spun around. She used the crowded floor as an excuse to dance close, and flashed him a smile whenever their bodies came into contact. They danced enough to perspire, a thin film appearing on her upper lip that he found exciting.
Back at the table, she finished her drink and asked if he could get some water. As he returned from the bar he saw her texting. Her fingers flew until he reached her side.
He ran through his standard questions about academics, hobbies, and dreams. He asked about her home, and she lamented the boredom of Irving, Texas. Many of her friends had remained in the Dallas area to attend local schools or work in retail or construction. When he mentioned his summer internship in London, her eyes grew big.
He was about to suggest another drink when two of her friends returned with two boys in tow, guys they knew. The boys had offered to walk them back to Roxbury Hall, and they were ready to leave.
“I thought we could have a nightcap,” said Colin. “I can drive you to Roxbury after.”
Her words came more slowly now, enunciated with great care. She pulled him to one side and leaned softly against him, holding his arm.
“Just so we’re clear,” she said, “I’m not going to have sex with you tonight.”
“Of course not.”
“You know…maybe someday, but not tonight.”
She turned back to her friends and announced that she already had a ride. The three girls huddled in a tight circle. Colin asked the boys where they were from and smiled politely at their answers, his ear tuned to the women. They giggled. Lauren said, “No,” and one of the others said, “Whatever.” And then they were gone, leaving Colin with Lauren.
The Homestead crowd had thinned considerably although a few stubborn dancers remained on the floor. Colin and Lauren moved to the bar itself, taking two stools. Nikki had already left.
Colin ordered Negronis in tall glasses, and Lauren got up to visit the restroom. When she had gone he gulped a third of her drink and then glanced around the room. No one was watching. He took a small flask from his back pocket and poured three ounces of Everclear into Lauren’s drink. The liquid was ninety percent alcohol, the equivalent of four regular cocktails. The strong flavors of Campari and sweet vermouth would disguise the extra booze. Lauren was close to hammered already. It wouldn’t take much to put her over the edge.
On her way back from the restroom he found her even more attractive than when he’d first spotted her six hours earlier. Her hips and breasts hinted of licentious potential. The bartender had turned off the black light so her fuchsia top no longer glowed, but when she arrived at his side and turned into the stool, his breath caught at the sight of her tight skirt.
“Now,” she said, a little too loudly, “where were we?”
* * *
Colin’s condo wasn’t that big, less than a thousand square feet, but it was more than he needed. He had been content to stay in the frat house, but his mother had lambasted the place on her last visit—called it a roach haven—and insisted he move out his senior year. Over the summer she had overseen the complete remodeling of the condo. They’d torn down the walls to create one large room with an upgraded kitchen (Sub-Zero refrigerator, Wolf range, and green granite countertops), a high-end sound system, classic but comfortable furniture, and a platform bed. They’d expanded the bathroom to create space for a giant walk-in shower and a freestanding tub. Honestly, it was too ostentatious for Colin, and was more his mother’s style, but he had to admit that living alone had its advantages.
Colin sat naked in a plush armchair, temporarily sated, and considered Lauren. She lay nude across the bed, on her side, sleeping, one knee pulled up toward her chest, the other leg almost straight, a sheet draped over her torso. Her hair covered most of her face. Gravity pulled her heavy breasts; one rested on the mattress and the second nestled against its twin.
Colin relished Lauren, admiring her dark-brown nipples. He replayed in his mind everything he’d done to her, the various positions he’d tried. Was he done for the night? He looked at his penis, flaccid now with a light pink tinge.
It was three thirty in the morning. She’d floundered in his car, almost completely out. In the garage, he patted her face to wake her enough to walk in. He’d once had to take a girl to the emergency room, so he knew to watch her carefully.
With experience he’d learned what a girl could take, how to read their subtle noises and the movements they made if they were about to vomit. Lauren’s size helped her process the extra alcohol, and she hadn’t thrown up—much better that way, far less messy.
He liked it best when they were semiconscious, like Lauren, generally not aware of what was happening but still reacting. She had moaned a few times. At one point he could swear she moaned in pleasure.
Lauren had experience with sex. He knew that. He’d had no trouble and, of course, he’d used a condom. He kept a drawer full of condoms.
He was a thief in the night, a modern-day cat burglar pursuing jewels of a different sort, and his nerves burned with the thrill of his success. Few women, he knew, would acquiesce to his wishes after a single conversation. (“Just so we’re clear, I’m not going to have sex with you tonight.”) It took time—dinners, movies, concerts—but he always got there. And after a couple of carnal encounters they would urge him to make a commitment. In essence, they wanted him to lie to them, and to what end? If he made any kind of commitment, exclusivity, for example, they would fall in love with him. Soon they’d angle for a longer-term proposal—“Let’s go public”—and if he succumbed to that demand, they’d fantasize about him asking the even more preposterous question, “Will you marry me?” It was absurd. He’d endured that torture already, once in high school and twice in college, during his freshman and sophomore years. To make matters worse, the girls suffered when he broke up with them. A long-term commitment? Why did they even want that? It was stupid.
The express route was a better approach for all concerned. Lauren got laid. She may not have realized it at the time, but she still got laid. And he got laid. Fuck, did he ever get laid.
Of course, the mainstream would judge him harshly, but what about his family? What would his mother say? The materially gluttonous Sharon Jordan, a blue-blooded debutante from Northern Virginia, had hit the jackpot when she met Francis. She would avert her eyes and say, “What a mess! Clean up, Colin, and escort this young woman home.” On the other hand, his father, with a knowing smirk, would nod and say, “Enjoy it, Colin. A young man should sow his oats before settling down to make money and build a legacy.”
Colin chuckled. Enjoy it.