It had been two days since Bob's fascinating conversation with Joshua, and in those two days he still hadn't quite figured out how to approach the young woman he suspected of having, at minimum, exaggerated a bit on her application. (Some on the committee suspected that it was almost entirely a fabrication. Bob hadn't been sure, and Joshua's story made it likely that there was at least some real knowledge behind the claims.) He was definitely going to call, and even that wouldn't be so odd. He had called applicants before, even undergraduate applicants, although the vast majority were prospective grad students.
Bob did not want to accuse her of anything. Actually, he admitted to himself, he did want to accuse her, but he wasn't going
to. He was going to be kind, he decided. Kind and calm and polite, all while demanding the answers he needed. If Joshua hadn't believed in her, the conversation wouldn't be quite as much of a challenge. If Joshua hadn't believed in her, the conversation might not be taking place at all.
Even if it hadn't been good tactics, he would have been kind to her. He tried to be, with his students, and frankly Bob couldn't imagine anyone reading Dawn's application and then not wanting to be kind to her. He hadn't been kidding when he'd told Joshua that the application essay was one of the most moving the committee had ever received. The deceptively simple prompt had asked the students to reflect on their homes, and, as always, the committee had received a delightful mix of the abstract and concrete. More than one applicant had sent in poetry, several had illustrated their prose, and one enterprising young man had submitted a fully-developed comic book. Dawn Summers had sent in a plain typed essay that fell well within the 500 word limit. There was absolutely nothing extraordinary about it - that is, until one got to the content.
Over his years on the committee, Bob had read his share of sob stories. Students would admit to almost anything if they thought it would allow them to stand out. The difference with Dawn Summers was not the magnitude of her loss, although that was striking. It was, the committee agreed, the straightforward way that she reflected on the facts of her life that made it so notable. There was not a hint in her essay that she was seeking pity or special consideration, not a moment when it asked the reader to grieve with or for her. She did not soften her story, but the way she told it, with honesty and humor and wonderful snippets of happy memories, was just as moving as the story itself.
So he would be kind. She deserved that, at least. Well, that and the benefit of the doubt. Keeping in mind his conversation with Joshua - keeping in mind that this could very well be another Adam
- he dialed the number on her application.
"Hello?" The woman who answered was chipper and welcoming, which Bob took as a good omen.
"Hello," he replied. "May I please speak to Dawn?"
"Sorry, Dawn's currently fighting with her math homework." In the background, Bob heard a muffled thump. The woman confided in a mock-whisper, "I think the math is winning."
Bob chuckled. If he hadn't known better, he might have guessed that this was her mother. As it was, he would play good odds that this was the sister that figured so prominently in Dawn's essay. Grinning, he asked, "Can I leave a message?"
"Sure! This is Albrecht, right? When did you get back? I thought Willow said you were going to be in Germany until June."
"I'm sorry," Bob said. "I think you have me confused with someone else." If this Albrecht was the only German person they knew, Bob could understand why. Even though he had left home after university, his accent was still as strong as ever.
"Oops, sorry!" she said cheerfully, and then added, "You wanted to leave a message?"
"My name is Bob Harth. I'm calling from the Classics Department at Harvard University."
"Oh," she said, and the tone of her voice made him think that her eyes had just gotten very big. Then her voice dropped into a true whisper, "Um, can we just forget all that stuff I said about the math?"
Bob laughed. He couldn't help it. This was the most refreshing call he'd ever made to an applicant's house. It was a wonderful change from the stuffy formality that normally greeted the name Harvard.
"Um, that's bad, isn't it?" she asked warily. "Laughter can't be good right now." The real regret and worry in her voice sobered him instantly.
"No, no, my dear. Not bad at all. My own struggles with chemistry were legendary."
"Oh, Dawn's good at chemistry," the woman said somewhat inanely, but the smile was back in her voice. "So, you probably want to talk to Dawn, right?"
"I do not mean to interrupt her homework. I can leave a message," he offered.
"Nah, I'll get her. She'll want to talk to you. Hold on a sec."
"Dawnie," she yelled, and it wasn't deafeningly loud, so Bob assumed she must have covered the mouthpiece. "Phone!"
He could clearly hear the reply, which was simply the word, "Calculus," sung out in an annoyed tone.
"Harvard," was sing-songed in return. It had the air of an habitual exchange, and any doubt Bob had about their relationship vanished.
Bob couldn't say what followed on the other end. They must have reverted to a normal volume. The woman came back just to say, "Okay, here she is!" and then a voice that definitely belonged to a teenager said, "Hello, this is Dawn."