Authors: Ren Monterrey
The Club Series
Copyright © 2015 by Ren Monterrey
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.
This is a work of FICTION.
Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author's offbeat imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons living, dead or previously dated by the author, is entirely coincidental.
Cover Art by Adrijus:
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On earth, and to itself most draws the soul,
Would seem a cloud that, rent asunder, thunders,
Compared unto the sounding of that lyre
Wherewith was crowned the sapphire beautiful,
Which gives the clearest heaven its sapphire hue.
From Dante’s Divine Comedy (Paradise: Canto 23)
Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1864)
ust when you think things can’t get any worse they always do.
My hands begin to shake as I read the past due notice. The mortgage hasn’t been paid in two months. I had no idea Doug hadn’t been paying it. Add it to the long list of things my husband had been hiding from me.
Unfortunately there’s nothing I can do about it now. It’s the first day of the fall term and I can’t be late. I stuff the notice into my purse and head for work.
Autumn hasn’t set in yet, so the mature trees that line the walkways are still in full bloom. Most of the students who are shuffling to their early morning classes or who are in search of coffee or breakfast are wearing shorts and t-shirts, enjoying the last traces of summer before the cold weather sets in.
The one hundred and fifteen year old campus looks the same as it did three months ago when I left for summer break. I feel completely different, however.
Maybe it’s because my entire life came crashing down like a house of cards. When I left in May my future was bright and I felt like I had the whole world ahead of me.
Doug and I had both been voted
The Most Promising Scholars
in our fields. We both made
The 35 Under 35 Most Popular Professors on Campus
list. Both of us were applying for tenure when the fall term started.
Now I’m starting my fifth year as a faculty member in the Medieval Studies department as a thirty-two-year-old widow. I’m sure to be the butt of every joke around campus as the collateral damage of a sex scandal that made national headlines. And my dead husband left me completely broke before he killed himself.
The Medieval Studies department is housed in one of the older buildings on the north edge of campus. Too bad it’s on the opposite edge from where my townhouse is located. My walk always takes a little longer than I allow time for.
By the time I hurry into our building I’m already five minutes late. The trek up three flights of narrow stairs adds another five minutes. I hold my breath and hope that the Dean of Liberal Arts, Joseph Harris, started his daily rounds with another department and hasn’t yet made his way to Medieval Studies.
My best friend and colleague, Lucy Serrano, stops me in the hallway as I’m sprinting toward my office. Like me Lucy is in her early thirties, but people often mistake her for being much older. Lucy keeps her dark hair cut super short and even though I’m only five foot six inches tall I tower over her. She’s one of those people who looked like she was forty in her twenties and will probably still look forty until she’s sixty.
“Slow down.” I can tell by the look on her face that I’ve already missed the Dean.
“Did he say anything?”
She nods. “He said he wished you were here so he could personally give you his condolences.”
“Shit! It’s the first day back and I’m already on the Dean’s Late List.”
The Dean makes a point of walking by all of the faculty members’ offices first thing every morning to make sure we’re on campus bright and early. Being on The Late List is bad, especially when it’s faculty evaluation time. Being on the Late List when you’re applying for tenure is an even more serious problem.
“Just this once he may give you a pass,” she offers. “After everything you went through this summer he may take pity on you. Way deep down inside that cold-blooded creature there may actually be a heart beating.”
“I’m not convinced,” I tell her. “I think you’re giving the Tin Man way too much credit.”
People tell me I’m naïve and they’re probably right. That was demonstrated pretty clearly when I found out I didn’t really know the man I had been married to for ten years. Lucy likes to call me a Pollyanna with rose-colored glasses.
“Guess what the Tim Man told me?” Her big brown eyes search mine expectantly.
“That we’re all getting raises,” I kid.
She laughs. “At this point even discounted parking would be nice, but no. No raises and no reduced parking. Our department is getting a graduate research fellow.”
My eyes grow wide. “How is that possible? The Dean has told us more times than I can count that with only three faculty members our department is not big enough for a research fellow.”
“Apparently some very wealthy alum donated a boatload of money to fund a research fellowship just for our department.”
“What’s the catch?” I ask.
She smiles. “You’re a lot smarter than you look.”
I adjust my black frame glasses. “Don’t these glasses make me look scholarly?”
“You look like one of those hot magazine models that the editors think they can make look studious by throwing on a pair of glasses. Even with those ridiculous glasses you wear when you’re teaching you’re still much too pretty to be smart. It’s not fair.”
“I think you’re exaggerating my level of attractiveness.”
“You’re the only faculty member in our department who has a chili pepper hotness rating on the Rate My Professor website.”
I roll my eyes at her.
“It’s also why Andrew can never take his eyes off you,” she adds.
As if on cue the third faculty member in our department, Andrew Madden, joins us carrying three large Styrofoam cups in a cardboard holder. “Caramel Macchiato for my favorite colleagues.”
Lucy and I each grab a cup.
“We’re your only colleagues,” Lucy reminds him.
Andrew is forty and already tenured, but he still retains a boyish charm. His green eyes always sparkle when he talks to me, so there may be some validity to Lucy’s claim that he finds me attractive. Word around the university is that he’s been single for six years after a very ugly break-up with his first wife. It’s not something he ever talks about.
“Did you hear about our new graduate research fellow?” He looks back and forth between me and Lucy. “I heard that he’s from a super wealthy family and that his rich daddy donated the money for the fellowship just so his son could have it. Apparently he was the only applicant.”
A look of disdain consumes Lucy’s round face. She works hard at hiding her contempt for the rich, but every once in a while it seeps out. Whenever she gets the opportunity she will tell anyone who will listen that she worked three jobs while she was in college and graduate school. And that she had to walk up hill both ways in the snow, barefoot, to get to school each and every day.
Okay, I made the last part up, but her story does tend to get bigger and more pitiful every time she tells it.
“Great,” Lucy says. “All these years we’ve been begging for a research fellow and when we finally get one he’s some rich kid with a silver spoon in his mouth who’s probably never actually worked a day in his life.”
“Let’s try to keep an open mind until we meet him,” Andrew suggests.
“I’m willing to bet cash money the kid will be worthless,” Lucy replies.
“He starts next week.” Andrew takes a sip of his coffee. “We’ll find out.”
n between teaching my undergraduate Introduction to Medieval Studies class and my graduate Foundations of the Medieval World class I check the messages on my cellphone. I’m surprised to see I’ve gotten three. For someone like me who rarely gets three messages in a week that seems excessive.
The first message is from the mortgage company. Since Doug’s cellphone was finally cancelled they’ve been coming after me for the delinquent payments. I want to tell them they can’t get blood from a stone. Doug and I sunk nearly all of our savings into the down payment on our townhouse. My dream had always been to have a house near campus so that I could walk to work and not have to worry about owning a car. All of the money I inherited when my parents died went into the townhouse we purchased six blocks from campus. Now it seems likely that I’m going to lose it.
The second message is from the electric company. They’re threatening to shut off my power if they don’t receive payment by the end of the week. Add that to the growing list of bills that I assumed Doug had been paying before he died and which I now have no way to pay.
Not only did Doug not pay any of the bills after the sex scandal broke I found out he had drained what was left in our bank account. I have little doubt he used the money to pay for all of the expensive hotel rooms where he regularly fucked a half dozen of his students.
Doug was supposed to be the one who was good with money. He was the one who took a second major in finance as an undergraduate. I trusted him to take care of all of our household accounts and pay the bills. I just didn’t know he had stopped doing it.
The third message is from my sister, Virginia, begging me to babysit for her on Saturday night. She’s a stay-at-home mom with three kids. Her husband makes decent money as a carpenter, but with only one salary and five mouths to feed there isn’t much money to spare.
That’s why I always get the call to babysit. I’m not great with kids, but my price is right. I work for dinner and a rental movie.
With the last vestiges of my life crashing down around me I know I should be panicking, but for some reason I’m not. Maybe I’ve just become numb after everything that’s happened.
I still haven’t been able to say the word suicide out loud. I guess in a weird way I was lucky that the scandal was all over the news. None of my friends or colleagues had any reason to ask questions. All the sordid details about the Anthropology Department’s sexual harassment lawsuit, my husband Doug being one of the four professors accused of coercing their students into engaging in sexual relationships, and his subsequent suicide were all laid out in great detail in the news.
I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to pay the mortgage or any of the other outstanding bills. I’m not even sure how I’m going to be able to buy food. The first of my post-summer break paychecks won’t arrive until the end of the month, still two weeks away.
Even when I do get paid it will barely be enough to cover the monthly expenses. There won’t be enough to pay two months of delinquent mortgage payments.
Virginia may be able to spare a few hundred bucks, but I would feel guilty even asking her. I know how tight their budget is already. With our parents gone, she’s the only family I’ve got.
When I spot two of the students from my undergraduate class at the end of the hallway looking suspicious, almost like they’re getting ready to do a drug deal, my curiosity is piqued. Sydney and Mallory definitely don’t look like girls who use drugs, not that I’m an expert at that sort of thing. I get woozy just using cough syrup.
As nonchalantly as I can I move close enough to hear their conversation as I pretend to read emails on my cellphone.
“I’m not lying. My cousin makes five thousand a month,” Sydney says.
Maybe I was right about the drug dealing after all.
Mallory shakes her head. “I don’t know. It sounds too good to be true.”
“They’re rich, old horny guys who want to bang college girls. My cousin, December, told me she only has to have sex with the guy once a week. That’s all he wants.”
I bite my bottom lip so my jaw doesn’t drop. They’re considering selling their bodies for money? Prostitution?
“Wouldn’t that make me a whore?” Mallory asks.
Sydney shakes her head. “It’s not like that. You sleep with the same guy. He pays you to be like his girlfriend.”