Timid and light came Anna’s knock at the heavy wooden door that stood ominously before her – its every crevice lined with gold, and every edge adorned in no less ornate a fashion.
“Come!” Came a quick shout, its tones and tenors both confident and powerful, issued from behind the door by the woman within, the dean of Penngrove University: Karen Windgate.
Without hesitation, though such an effect threatened to bring stillness to the young woman’s daring, Anna reached down, turned the well-polished door knob, and entered.
“Ms. Lovelace…. Both the older and the younger, I presume. Come in, and have a seat.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Anna did her best to sound polite – to sound appropriate, terrified to her core that she might somehow ruin this moment, and her acceptance into Penngrove – she not yet fully understanding her place within its halls.
“Though I appreciate the formality, Ms. Lovelace, you can call me Dean Windgate.”
“Understood.” The response Anna gave was direct and to the point, exactly what she expected the dean would want.
“Ms. Lovelace. I have never met you before, nor have I met your sister. But, I want you to know, as preface, that I was a friend of your mother and father for many, many years. A /very/ close friend. The effect of that, for you, will be, quite frankly, a double-edged sword. First, I am, and will be very interested in seeing you succeed here at Penngrove. In fact, since those are what we peddle within these walls, I made a promise to not only your mother, but also your father, before he passed, that you would. That means a degree. That you would enjoy yourself. And that you would become a better woman, and be /the/ better woman, as we promise in all of our pamphlets for female students – I’m sure you’ve read them.” As each word came from the dean, she remained still, seated with her back straight, and her hands atop her leather-topped desk, fingers laced and nails perfectly manicured.
“I hav….” Before Anna’s response could even be fully set free, from lips to air, she found herself cut off.
“BUT that also means!” Dean Windgate emphasized, raising the volume of her voice, to make sure it was clear that she was not done. “That I will be harder on you than anyone ever has been. That I will stop at nothing to motivate you. That I will be working tirelessly, behind the scenes of your time at this university, to push you into the kind of success we here at Penngrove, your parents, and the alumni want you to achieve. You will not like it. After today, you will not like me.. You will think I am cruel, pushy, nosy, demanding…. And all of those things will be true…. But they will be true, not because I am unable to control the more virulent devils of my nature, but instead, because I will not let the promise I made, or the one I have been told you made to your late father go unfulfilled. Do you understand me…?” Dean Windgate asked almost as a formality, her eyes boring holes into Anna’s with the intensity of her unblinking stare.
“I do. And I want to sa….” Again Anna goes to answer, and again she finds herself cut off – her first two words being all that were needed, or wanted by the woman to whom she speaks.
“Do you swear to strive to be a better woman, to be /the/ better woman, and to take the guidance of myself, our staff, and the alumni of this university as instruction as to what that means?” Something about the way the question was worded, and the way the dean’s fingers tightened around each other, made Anna’s mind begin to search and seek – analyze and examine within herself. It was odd. As if something was being hidden – obscured by her command of language, and manner of speaking. Still however, even with those unspecified misgivings, and uncertain concerns, Anna answered quickly, and with no reluctance of commitment, she being determined in the extreme to keep her promise.
“I swear. I will.” Anna answered with only what was needed. What was asked for. Knowing that anything more would be smothered with speed, by the continued speaking of the dean.
“Good. Then your classes begin at 8:00 am. That gives you just enough time to change into your new attire. You can find it in your locker. Here is the code and the location.” The dean said quickly, as if in a hurry to conclude their meeting, thereafter sliding a small card across her desk to Anna. The young brunette in response, and with speed, took it, leaned back into her chair, and placed it politely in her lap.
“Thank you, Dean Windgate.” Most would have thought that the meeting was over at that point, but Anna, having already learned several lessons about the dean’s style and sternness in this single meeting alone, did not stand or speak – move to gather her things or even sigh in excited relief, knowing that any or all would have earned her the first of many lectures she was sure were to come. That refusal to move, and decision to remain, waiting to be given a cue before taking any action, caused Dean Windgate’s eyes to narrow, and then a smile to take to her lips.
“You are dismissed.” Only then could Anna breathe. Only then could she herself smile. The tension that had been building within her for months beginning to fade, as she stood, turned, and left the dean’s office – without any attempts at small talk or aims at levity.
Anna, in this first test, had done well, and had formally become a student of Penngrove University. Such an accomplishment meant that she was finally on the path of fulfilling the promise she and her sister made to their dying father, that they would attend Penngrove, earn their degrees, and become better women. A promise that will be harder to keep than she could ever possibly imagine….