(Note: the story is not part of the puzzle)
“You have such tremendous potential, you really do. But what I just can’t quite get my head around is why you’re trying to squander it! I mean, you could do so well just by…”
Jared glanced out the window. Or, rather, he glanced at it. Closed to keep the heat in. Double glazed, like his eyes. Locked. Bolted. Barred. No escape.
“...if you could just start to apply yourself some more, you could achieve so much…”
It was a typical Melbourne day outside. Plumes of ash grey concealing slivers of azure. The sombre sky permanently threatening to erupt into a rolling thunderstorm. There would be no silver linings today.
“...look at your colleagues and look at what they are doing! Set yourself a goal! Set yourself something to aim for…”
He fixed his gaze back at the Dean. She was a stern-looking individual with a no-nonsense demeanour, and she cut an imposing figure even while casually leaning back on the edge of her desk. And she was more animated than usual — almost cartoonish in her hand gestures, golden wedding band dancing in the cold, harsh, fluorescent light of her spaciously bare office. Was that ring always there, Jared wondered.
“...you are about to enter a rigorous profession that demands ambition and dedication and excellence. You simply just can’t *coast* your way through...”
Eye contact, he suddenly remembered. With panic, he broke his fascination with the Dean’s orchestral hand movements and tracked back up to her face. But not at her eyes — never at her eyes, it would be too intense and too confrontational that way. No, right in that sweet spot between the brow ridges. To give him the plausible deniability of listening with intent, without the actual intent.
Passive active listening, he smiled.
“For goodness sake, Jared, do you think this is funny?”
Jared frowned. She had stopped speaking. Something was wrong. And in a moment of utter confusion, he smiled again.
A ripple of thunder broke outside. It was going to rain.
The Dean sighed, ruing the sudden and unexpected demise of yet another one of her motivational pep talks.
“This is the third time this semester, Jared. I don’t want to see you in my office, in this context, again. Get out.”
And out of the office came a man with the obstinacy of rebar concrete. Unbroken. Undefeated. Unchanged. Or so he thought.
“I guess I probably shouldn’t go watch the game tonight”, murmured Jared to himself.
(To be continued...)