In the week that passed, Arly learned more about the men she peer-reviewed each period. She knew that Tom's parents did not approve of his artistic aspirations. He also wasn't near as much of an asshole as she expected. She knew that Kyran wanted to return to Africa when he completed his studies to continue working towards a better future there. Benny, she didn't know much about him yet. She knew he was shyer than the others and did not like talking about himself. That was fine - Arly did more than enough talking for both of them.
By their third class period, a group text had been formed by Benny so that they could discuss the lecture without interrupting it. At least, that was the intention of the chat. It devolved into sharing their favorite internet jokes and making plans to eat lunch together. The hardest part about the shared messages were hiding their amusement from the professor.
Their fun came to an end when the professor passed newspapers out to every student in the classroom. Arly was the first to receive her copy, seeing what the Ethics professor likely wanted to discuss in class that day. Everyone had been talking about the Miller v. Johnson case that day, and for good reason.
Johnson United Manufacturing was accused of dumping the byproducts of their merchandise near a local aquifer. This led to widespread illness in the community that lived nearest to the aquifer. The parents of the sick children mounted a civil suit. Unfortunately, most of the evidence that the lawyers were using was circumstantial. The case had been thrown out that morning by a judge. People were still rioting outside of the corporate office and the founder, Benedict Johnson, was nowhere to be found.
Arly did not know what to think as she read a detailed account of the decision. It could not be easy for a judge to make those choices and she could not imagine being in their position. She looked to Dr. Roswell as the others collected their copies, seeing Benny shift in his seat. "This is a perfect example of what we've been discussing this week in terms of corporate ethics," Roswell began, turning her beady gaze to Benny. "Would you like to start our discussion, Mr. Johnson?"
Benny's voice was hardly audible as he asked, "Why me?"
Arly did not think it was possible for her to hate a professor so much as the class shared a collective gasp. She understood the implication that Dr. Roswell was making. Benny Johnson and Benedict Johnson were related. She wondered how that escaped her knowledge, as Benedict Johnson ran most of Haven Heights, and understood why he would keep it from them. What right did Roswell have to take that away from him?
She knew that people could be cruel, but there was not much she could do to help Benny out of the situation. This professor wanted to make an example of Benny. All she could do was lay a hand on his leg and provide what support she could. A rational person wouldn't blame Benny for the things that his father's company did or make an example of him. What she could not know was that Roswell knew the Miller family. She had met those who were sick. It was not easy to be rational in that situation, knowing that a student in her class could be directly involved in that. Roswell did not regret her actions.
"I hate it too," Benny defended himself, only meeting Arly's eyes. "Honestly. It's awful, what happened to those people."
No one spoke up in Benny's defense but no one rushed to judgement either. The lecture hall was completely silent.
The professor let them leave ten minutes early and offered a half-assed apology to Benny. Arly kept him moving forward, with Kyran and Tom on each side so that no one would hassle him. She did not know what to say and only offered a tight hug when they reached the parking lot. Benny thanked her quietly and got into his car with the others watching. He didn't try to leave. If anything, it looked like Benny might be crying.
While he suffered in silence before finally starting the car, Arly seemed to be on a warpath, threatening to call the dean and report Roswell for that stupid student. Tom and Kyran did not understand why Arly found herself so bothered by what Roswell and Johnson United Manufacturing had done. There was nothing that they could do about it and Tom made a point of telling her so. "I hate when people say that," Arly complained, her eyes following the back of Benny's car. "And I hate bullies."
Tom shrugged, because Arly was not much of a match against a professor or a CEO. All they could really do for Benny was believe that he hated it as much as they did.
20 years young. Should be writing.