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“Don’t worry Mom, I’m sure it’s going to be fine,” I reassured her. “Sam will be behind the lines, and probably restricted to the green zone. You know what happens in the camp. They never see any fire. It’s gonna be okay, I’m sure.”

“I’m not sure,” replied my mom tearfully. “I hear medics go out into Kabul with the troops, and you know how Sam is. He’d volunteer for the front line just to make sure his brothers are safe.”

What could I say to that? Although I’d only met Sam a few times, I could tell that my new stepdad was a good guy. He probably would sacrifice himself just to save a mouse, so I made soothing noises.

“Don’t worry Ma, everything’s going to be alright. Just hold tight. How long is his deployment?” I asked.

“A year,” she cried. “And we just got married!”

“That’s no time at all,” I soothed again. “The United States isn’t going to make you into a widow so fast,” I said. Oops, major boo-boo because my mom wailed even louder then. I hastened to correct my mistake, smoothing things over.

“You’re going to be alright, okay Mom? Aren’t you at the hospital right now? Just focus on work, and everything’s gonna be fine. The kids in the children’s wing love you, so don’t let them down just because of this.”

She sobbed a bit more and sniffled, but then calmed down somewhat.

“Thanks Melly. You take care too, okay? How is school? Are the people at Trinity nice? How are they treating you?” she asked.

“It’s great. The people are great,” I reassured her, trying not to sound worried. Because how could explain my situation to her? Trinity is pretty awesome, except for the tuition bill sitting on top of my dresser. I wanted to talk to her about next year’s fees but now didn’t seem like the time given that she was borderline hysterical at the moment. To make things work, Noreen brought up the topic of finances herself. Or more accurately, the lack of finances.

“Well honey, we love you but try to save a little during the coming year okay? Sam’s going to be paid an Army wage, which is almost nothing, and you know how little I make as a nurse. So be frugal okay, baby? Is there any way you could get a part-time job?”

I could almost hear a big steel door clanging shut on my dreams but I kept my voice steady for the sake of my mom.

“Sure, I can find a job, Ma,” I said. “Let me just go to the Student Learning Center and take a peek because they have a job board over there. Don’t worry about a thing,” I promised. “I’ll be okay. In fact, I am okay. You just worry about you and Sam, okay?”

“Thanks baby,” she sniffled. “I appreciate it. And you’re coming home in two weeks, right?”

Oh shit. That’s right, I’d promised to come home to spend some quality time with Noreen after four hectic high school years where we barely saw one another. It’d be my first visit home since starting freshman year, and I couldn’t bail. So I made my voice cheerful.

“Yep, that’s right Ma, I’m going to drive up after class Friday, so see you then!” I said with fake cheeriness. “Looking forward!”

My mom made some relieved noises, and I hung up on a high note. But my chest felt tight, and a cloud of panic was descending on my mind. Not only was my stepdad going to war, but I had no way of paying next semester’s tuition. What was I going to do?

CHAPTER THREE

Melanie

The crowds were raucous and noisy from behind the velvet curtain. I twisted the tie on my g-string and fidgeted uncertainly. This idea didn’t seem so good anymore. What had I been thinking? But my rationale for being at the Donkey Club was all too clear because just last week, I’d been sitting dumbly in my dorm room, staring at the tuition bill again when my roommate Lauren came back from class. She dumped her backpack onto the bed and flipped her blonde hair carelessly over one shoulder.

“Hey Melly, what’s up?” she’d asked, tossing her jacket onto her mattress. It was one of the distressed denim ones, the kind that looks beat-up and semi-dirty, but was actually really expensive. I, of course, have no clothes that are expensive. Not even sort-of expensive. My stuff comes from Walmart and Target, but it’s okay. It fits my budget, and you can get some really cute stuff so long as you keep your eyes open.

But back to my roommate. Despite Lauren being from a wealthy family, we’d gotten to be friends over the couple weeks we’d been living together. I felt comfortable enough to confide.

“Did you get your tuition bill yet?” I asked in a low voice.


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