(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-34 in earlier Blogs )
John looked at his watch for the tenth time that morning and decided enough time had elapsed. He got up from his chair and left the office, walking down the hallway, downstairs to the vicinity of room 242. Then he made himself walk slowly past the door, past the elevator, around the corner to the drinking fountain, where he loitered a bit. There was nothing, no sound. If it went on much past three hours that would indicate a problem, wouldn’t it? But why should there be a problem? She was ready, he was sure of it. The stuff he’d quizzed her on she’d come through with flying colors. Besides, she was so thorough. His studies hadn’t been as systematic as hers.
Suddenly, he heard the door open and saw Maddie quietly walking out. Then she started pacing, from one side of the hall to the other, pivoting at each wall. She was muttering, almost as if she were castigating herself.
He made as if he were simply coming round the corner and walking by. “How’d it go?” he asked.
She looked up from her funk with a startled, hunted look in her eyes. “Terrible!”
“No,” he countered, unbelieving, “it couldn’t have been that bad.”
She resumed the pacing. “Oh, but it was. The one thing…the one thing Dr. White told me to study and I bungled it. I couldn’t name the parts of the bean flower. Can you believe that? My own crop! I’ve made hundreds of crosses, I know every part of that flower, but I couldn’t name them. I…I drew a blank. How could I forget…” she was rubbing her forehead as if it had some stain on it.
“Anything else?” he asked, trying to distract her a little. She looked at him blankly. “Did you miss anything else?”
“I don’t know, I think I did okay on cytogenetics, even though Dr. Ellison had to practically lead me by the nose. He’s funny, isn’t he?” she almost smiled. “He expects every answer to be a list of ten items.”
“Yeah, I remember that. Ten chromosome aberrations, ten key points about crossing over, thirty stages of meiosis,” John joked.
“Ha! You forgot the ten examples of polyploidy – haploids, diploids, disomic polyploids, polysomic polyploids, tertiary trisomic hexaploids,” she took and exaggerated breath and went on inventing nonsense, “quadruplatory neosemantic aneuploids and so on and so forth!”
Because Maddie had been using a deep voice and mimicking a certain professor they were both laughing now, but trying not to be heard.
She seemed a bit more relaxed, so he said, “Listen, about that other question, don’t worry, they won’t flunk you for missing one question, okay?”
She looked at him as if this had only now occurred to her.
“And don’t feel bad about it either,” he went on, “everybody misses some, it’s on the overall performance that…”
They had both heard the click of the door as it opened. She buttoned her jacket as she was ushered back into the room by Dr. Gates.
All five professors were standing and Dr. White was the first to extend his hand. “Congratulations, Ms. Hawkins, you did a fine job.”
“Yes, congratulations.” Handshakes ensued and she heard her own “thank you” several times before the group dispersed and she walked out of the room with Dr. Gates. She exhaled slowly, telling herself that it was over. Her hands still shook.
Upstairs in the Grad Office, they were breaking out the non-alcoholic Champagne she had bought and passing out paper cups. The guys from across the hall came over and Lisa and some of Dr. Ellison’s group stopped by. Maddie was busy sharing the highlights of the exam with anyone who asked, and laughingly recounting the mistakes she had made. Slowly, the tension of the day was ebbing.
That’s probably what this little party exercise is for, she thought, outwardly composed. But inside her head she admitted that she just wanted to find a soundproof room and scream. Her eyes met those of John Pitts across the room and he lifted his cup in a silent salute. She felt that he was probably the only one who knew the truth about how she felt. She wished she hadn’t broken down in front of him like that. And yet, he had filled a need for her. If he hadn’t been there at the moment she came out, she would have been a mess when they called her back in.
John wound down his day’s work at five and his thoughts turned to his usual subject of contemplation. Her prelims were over. That meant she finally had a breather. It meant he could make his move without threatening her concentration or throwing her off balance. But he had to tread carefully. He knew that. However, it was definitely time to make a move. Given the pace of graduate student lives, where one crisis or deadline followed swiftly upon the heels of another, he had to take advantage of the brief hiatus or it would go up in smoke.
He went to her grad office, not quite sure of what he was going to do, only that he was going to do something. But she wasn’t there. Her desk was clear and her backpack was gone. “Darn!”
Alex Vieira was still at his desk so he asked, “Hey Alex, do you have any idea where Maddie is?”
“She’s gone,” he said “I think her parents are in town, John.”
“Thanks, man.” Her parents were in town! This was definitely something worthy of note. He had to find a way to meet her parents. It would be very important, given his ultimate goal, to make a good impression on her parents.
He went down the hall to Lisa’s office, like a hunter seeking clues. She was still in. “Hi, Lisa. How’s it going?” he said.
“Hey, John. It’s a mess, man. A f— mess.” She thumbed her hand in the direction of Dr. Ellison’s office. “Sometimes I could strangle some people.”
“What’s up, hon? Is he giving you a hard time?”
“Yep, too much work, too many expectations. He’s sending me to the Tomato Meetings next month, no actually, in less than three weeks and he just told me today. I have less than three weeks to finish analyzing the data, write the paper, shoot the slides and–Ugh!”
“Whoa. Why the late notice? The abstracts had to be submitted months ago.”
“Oh, you know him, he’s got so much influence in the Tomato World he can get away with anything. He sits on practically every board and committee there is. Anyhow, he must have sent in some sort of generic abstract and figured he’d pick one of us to do it later. And he’s picked yours truly. Three weeks before the fact! With everything else I have to do! Ugh, I could kill him!!”
“Gee, I’m sorry Lis. But I’m sure you’ll pull it off. I’ll be glad to help shoot those slides if you need help,” he said. “And listen, look on the bright side. Even though he threw you a curve ball, at least he pays your expenses, doesn’t he? That’s something at least. Pinkerton won’t pay a nickel for anybody to go to a meeting.”
“I know,” Lisa leaned back in the chair and threw the pencil on the desk, “In Maddie’s group it’s the same.”
“Speaking of Maddie,” John saw his chance, “Do you have any idea where she is?”
“Yeah, her parents came up to see her. They’re staying at the Ivy Inn. They’re taking her out to dinner tonight, to celebrate.”
“Any idea where?” He asked.
Lisa scrunched her forehead. “I think she said Malby’s.” Her eyes lit up. “What are you planning, John?”
“I think I might just crash that party,” he said.
“Oh! That’s good, that’s good,” she clapped.
“Yep. Gotta meet my future in-laws,” he joked.
Lisa’s mouth fell open. “Yeah well, you better make a good impression, ‘cause you’d have to have their consent in order to tie the knot.”
“Well, she explained it to me once. It has something to do with her religion. They look upon marriage as bringing two families together and so the parents have to be behind it, kind of to help it succeed. Anyhow, I don’t think they choose the guy, but they do get to veto him if they feel he’s a bad egg. Maddie would never marry without her parents’ consent,” she finished.
John reviewed this for a moment. Another unique thing about Maddie. Well, it didn’t bother him any more than her other idiosyncrasies. But, he felt he needed all the advance briefing he could get. “You’ve met her parents…what are they like?”
“Oh yeah, I went home with her for Thanksgiving. Oh, John, they’re the salt of the earth. They treated me like a princess. Like I was somebody really special.” Her eyes had a dreamy look and her voice was a little shaky.
“Lisa, you are really special. You’re one in a million,” he said and leaned down to kiss her cheek. “I gotta go, honey. See you later.”
“Good luck, John,” she got up and yelled at his back as he walked down the hall. He waved back.
John was wearing his Aramis cologne, his best sports coat, and his Armani tie. He still had on jeans because this was, after all, a college town. Outside Malby’s he took a deep breath.
When John walked into the foyer of Malby’s the female maitre d’ eyed him up and down and then smiled a little too nicely. “How many tonight, sir?”
“Only one,” he answered.
She seemed to perk up. “Oh!”
The silence drew out a beat beyond comfortable. “I’ll just go in to the bar,” he motioned with his head.
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DISCUSSION QUESTION 35: On a scale of 1 to 10, how’s John doing? Does he have a chance?
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