The Sorority Alumna (Pre-MU Events)

PREMISE/CONTEXT: Pre-MU. A salesmonster pays a visit to Hardscrabble’s office, looking to get his fraternity legitimized.

The Sorority Alumna

[i]Perhaps it was Dean Hardscrabble’s nocturnal heritage that prompted her to shroud her office in minimal light, that faint natural sunlight pouring from the window through the darkness like a single stage spotlight. Or maybe it was to affirm her credibility as a Scarer.

Don had the sudden intuition that Hardscrabble had no fondness for salesmen, because when he flipped out his business card out of simple habit, she responded, “Mr. Carlton, if you are engaged in your selling activities, I’ll have you know it’s a campus misdemeanor to advertise and sell non-campus-approved products.”

“My apologies.” And just when Don was about to stick his card back into his pocket, he spotted “OOZMANIAN INDUSTRY” in hard-black text. He reminded himself to print out new cards without his now-former company name.

Dean Hardscrabble went on, “Well, good day sir. I called you here to discuss your petition, regarding your request to return to the Scare Program. Mr. Carlton, your record states that almost 30 years ago, you dropped-out of the Program and moved onto a Marketing major. The school’s rules have changed. We rarely accept drop-outs back in order to discourage students from shirking their commitments. Too often they pledge to a high-risk field and abandon that pledge. You must answer me, why should you be among the few exceptions?”

“I considered that ole’ standards could apply to me now since I was a student in da’ 50s.”

“Mr. Carlton, the old does not always apply to the new. I will stand by the new rules.”

“I willingly retook da’ pre-Scare application exam this year, aced it, and Ima willing to improve my Scare knowledge. I’ll take on the new if I hafta.”

Her fingernails drummed onto her desk, her tapping almost ominous and yawning in the acoustics of her office. “Mr. Carlton, many students make the same promise shortly before breaking it.”

And for a moment, Don swore that Dean Hardscrabble saw into the young 18 year old freshman, who trailed into the entrance Scaring Program, naive to the grueling work ahead of him and overconfident that he could ace everything. “And it’s too my understanding that you were one of these students. According to records, you made no more than a C, and then you cited ‘Workload and Personal Matters’ as a reason for dropping Scaring over 30 years ago.”

He had not remembered putting that down until she had reminded him. And Don had wanted to say, “Oh, my late Pa’ Carlton convinced me.” But it wouldn’t have sounded appropriate. And the “Personal Matters” had referred to the personal matter of Pa talking him out of Scaring (“sonny, I think yer suited to something else besides Scaring”).

“The ‘Workload’ is the most common reasons for dropping out with students underestimating the difficulty and danger of the field. But I am curious about the circumstances of these ‘Personal Matters?’”

Don wanted to bring up Pa Carlton, but it would come off as a pity story. And pity stories would sound like excuses. Pity stories were excuses.

Don leaned a few inches forward, rested his elbows on her desk, then laid his chin on his hands. A salesman’s technique. Leaning the right amount forward would command the listener to consider the speaker’s words.

“Listen Dean Harescrabble, you pegged me down. Yes, I was a fool in mai early youth. Droppin’ out was a mistake. But for now, I implore you to see if I have da’ spark of potential that ya’ always look for. Perhaps in those thirty years, I have grown up enough to handle the Scaring field.” He lowered the pitch of his typically animated voice into something graver, not too much to seem that he was over-adjusting himself, but enough to have her take him more seriously.

The way her brows rose were deliberate, intimidating yet fascinating. Her eyes were neither disapproving nor agreeable, yet it carried some essence of cold amusement and resolve.

Don realized that she had figured his calculated gesture.

And she respected that subtle endeavor.

She craned inches forward to scrutinize Don. The eyes of the instructor and the salesman met like a match, and they exchanged character studies as taught by their expertise’s training. The record-breaking Scarer inspected Don for a capable Scarer. Meanwhile, Don studied the headmistress like a new customer, inferring her preferences based on the mannerisms and demeanor. In her stone face, he gathered that the her taste tended to be narrow, precise, and of high expectations.

And Don knew that his task would be to inspire the Dean to expand and open her judgments.

She delivered her verdict: “While you are not made of the conventional Scarer build, it would be unfair to deny your potential for the field. You are one of those who does not look scary but you can be scary. And while I do not recommend this for you as the best path for the job market, you have the right to enroll this upcoming semester based on your recent written pre-Test score. It seems I can veto your enrollment, but I cannot veto your determination. We can make an exception for you.”

“Mr. Carlton, you are not without potential.” It was worded as a compliment, yet it sounded patronizing, as if she intended her expectations to haunt him.

If Don had the spirit of the young M.U. student he was, he would have whooped in joy at this accomplishment. But not the current ole’ Don, who knew that the challenge was just about to start. “Many thanks.” His nod bent at a deliberate bow, as if in reverence. “As yer new student for next semester, I guarantee that I’ll be the finest surprise you’ll ever see.” He permitted himself to loosen up and raise his hand in a comical but serious salesman’s pledge.

“I’ll be overseeing your performance at the end of the semester. I make very clear distinctions between surprises and exceptions.” Her voice with condescending caution.

And he will wonder, if she had tried intimidating him out of the Scaring field for his own good.

Uncanny, how she carried the exact same severe expression from their last office meeting months earlier, like walking into a memory.

Her disdain for salesmen had not changed.

That salesman habit tingling again, Don whipped out his business card. “Don Carlton, former student of yer Program, and it’s a pleasure meetin’ you again.”

“Then I’ll remind you that non-campus-approved selling is not permitted here.” She glared at the SALES on the cards.

Apologizing, he withdrew his card.

With the voice of a concerned yet stern mother, she inquired, “Mr. Carlton, if I may ask, is your back doing fine?” She meant it kindly (possibly a tad snidely) but Don still couldn’t shake off the uncomfortable memory of his Exam day.

“Dandy as ever.” Don extended the paperwork, which she peeled off from his suction cups. Even if he possessed twice the charisma in his younger days, he could never cajole an amused expression out of the Hardscrabble.

Skimming over the signatures and paperwork, Dean Hardscrabble bore a stare that pierced the smug expressions of the most prideful students. Her lips mouthed the names, Scott Squibbles, Terry & Terri Perry, and… Art (Don noted her subtle sigh). At some point of their lives, they all stood on a child-bedroom simulator under Hardscrabble’s watchful eyes, reciting answers and demonstrating techniques.

As she continued reading, Don passed the time by studying Hardscrabble like a potential customer. But he found nothing new in her. No flinch in her stern demeanor. She made silence intense.

It won’t hurt to strike up a conversation.

“I wonder, Dean, yer fond of them frats and sororities?”

She did not raise her head, keeping her sight on the paperwork, but Don could note the mild raising of her brows from the angle of her bent head. More amused that someone bothered with starting a conversation.

“Oh, I was a former sorority girl.” And she finally lifted her head for a glance at the wall.

Don also turned his head to the wall where he spied a black-and-white photo of the young Abigail Hardscrabble, an Eta Hiss Hiss sister (now alumna) standing in the foreground of her sisters. The young Abigail had a straight mouth and dull eyes, donning trendy dark attire, almost like the Claire girl, except there was the distinct sorority pride in her eyes. But what stuck out wasn’t that she was the tallest, but that she was the sole grinning member, a rebel in her own group.

He had been so adjusted to Dean Hardscrabble’s authoritative presence that he had forgotten that she had a history as a student. He and Abigail were a generation or two apart, but he understood that she had aspirations and a desire for belonging. What did it take for her to belong to that sorority? Did she love it? She must have been fond of it enough to have those photos. Does she call them? No, do they call her or leave her messages?

“May I ask how young Mr. Squibbles came up with the idea of this fraternity?” Her voice bore an edge of amused intrigue.

“Well, it started with my idea. A pretty desperate one. Start a frat for failed Scare students.” Suddenly, Don regretted the wording. Former, not failed. Former Scare students, not failed Scare students. “It’s not the best idea, probably an average one, and I thought it suited Scott more than me.”

But he chided himself quickly. Scott did not deserve to be thought of as low. What connotations did he meant by “average”? What did he mean to do when he passed that “desperate, average” idea to Scott, thinking it could cheer him? What did he meant, when he acknowledged the idea “wasn’t the best and average” but it suited Scott? Didn’t Scott deserve better?

“Not to say that, young Scott here should be thought of someone average, he’s of exceptional character. I allowed Scott to move onto the idea, and next thing I knew, I was on it too.”

“Then may I ask you how did you come upon this idea of such a group, Mr. Carlton?”

So Don started, “Well, ma’am, with young men getting thrown out of the Program, some are frightened out of their wits a-bout what to do next. Thought these boys… and me, might need a place that could encourage them as they find their new paths.” A raspy edge escaped his throat, as stifled as Scott’s attempts to choke back sobs the day he stumbled down the Scare School steps.

He felt embarrassed. Like he was confessing a pity story.

The Founder of the Scare Games threw another glance at the Eta Hiss Hiss photo on the wall, then she looked to the Founding-Father-to-be of O.K. Her years as a Scaring examiner must have built up immunity to the pity stories of her many students, who looked for excuses to be considered exceptions.

Her fingernails tapped on the brass of her pen.

It was difficult to tell if there was sympathy or mockery in Hardscrabble’s stone face, but Don was certain he detected pity. Pity, you are just among the many respectable students who weren’t fit to scare. I can’t afford to show my pity. What you will do next after the pursuit of Scaring is your concern alone.

“Mr. Carlton, please tell your members this, particularly to young Mr. Squibbles, do not over-exert yourself out over your setback with the Scare Program.” She gave a deliberate nod. “I wish your fraternity the best.”

With that, Abigail, a former sorority girl, signed the papers.

There was no smile. But her words sounded genuine.

Departing from her shadowy office, he wore not a salesman’s grin, but a customer’s grin of a wise purchase. He didn’t believe that he would be so grateful to obtain Abigail Hardscrabble’s autograph.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This one-shot actually is a snippet of a chapter of my (now revised) fanfic “More Than Ok,” with received little reviews or even constructive criticism on PixarPlanet. The snippet originated here as Chapter 10 of a multi-chaptered story. The full story further elaborates on some context, such as why Hardscrabble inquires about the state of Don’s back or why Hardscrabble is involved with legitimatizing fraternities.

The full fanfiction.

Reviews will be appreciated.

This is a prototype illustration by artist ech0-73. This is a commission piece for this fanfiction. She is currently working to color and finalize it.