"Most competent," concurred Professor Beaumont, and Connie smiled privately to herself. Thomas would doubt he had even said that much. Already Connie's mind was skipping ahead to the evening, when her thesis student would interrogate her about the questions that each of the professors had asked. As the committee continued to praise her performance, Connie felt a sweet mixture of relief and fatigue rush through her arms and legs. The voices of her mentors muffled and drifted farther away as a fog of sleepiness rolled across her mind. She was about to crash. She found herself struggling to get to her feet, to spirit herself away to the safety of her friends.
"Well," she said, standing, "I can't thank you all enough. Really. This is a great way to end the semester." They all stood with her, each shaking her hand in turn and gathering up their things to leave. She nodded automatic thanks and her hands began to scrabble for her coat. Professors Smith and Beaumont scuttled out together.
Professor Silva hoisted her satchel over her head. "C'mon, kiddo," she said, knocking Connie on the shoulder. "You need a drink."
Connie laughed, doubting that she would be able to withstand more than one of Abner's notorious Old Fashioneds. "I should call Thomas and Liz. They demanded an immediate report," she said. "I'll meet you there?"
Professor Silva – Janine, now, for she insisted that her graduate students call her by her first name once they had advanced to candidacy – nodded appreciatively. "I'll bet they did," she said. "Manning, we'll talk next week." Then with a wave she was gone, the heavy paneled door closing in her wake.
Connie began to wind her scarf around her neck.
"Connie, wait a moment," said Chilton. It was more a command than a suggestion, Connie noticed with some surprise. She stopped, lowering herself back to the table.
Chilton dropped into the armchair across from Connie, beaming at her. He did not speak. Connie, unsure what he was up to, hazarded a glance as far as the polished leather elbow patch that rested in the last shard of sunlight on the table.
"I have to say that this was an incredible performance, even for you," began Chilton. As always Connie was momentarily distracted by Chilton's clipped Brahmin accent, in which the "r" wanders in and out of words unpredictably. Pehfohmance. It was an accent that one barely heard anymore, almost unrelated to the Boston accent that caricatured on TV. Bahston versus Behstun. Chilton himself often struck her as a sort of relic, a scarab beetle preserved in amber, not knowing that it is frozen and that time has left it behind.
"Thank you, Professor Chilton," she said.
"I knew when we admitted you to this program that you would excel. Your undergraduate work at Mount Holyoke was exemplary of course. Your coursework and teaching have both been well remarked upon." Rehmahked thought Connie, then immediately chastised herself. Pay attention! This is important!