Biting the inside of her cheek, Andrea tapped her toe against the leg of the chair where she sat across from her counselor, Mrs. Taft. The tiny office was more like a jail cell, barely enough room for the desk and chair—which probably explained the counselor’s grumpy mood. Its only good feature was the window that took up most of the wall behind the rotund woman.
Mrs. Taft scrunched her forehead and peered through the glasses balanced on the tip of her nose at the papers on her desk. She pulled one out of the small stack and flipped it around so Andrea could see it.
“As long as you don’t fail any classes,” Mrs. Taft said in her nasally voice. “It looks like you have what you need to graduate and get accepted into most schools. Have you applied to many places?”
“Uhm, yeah. One. Northwest Missouri State.” Andrea tapped her toe faster. “I’m trying to get a scholarship for track and their coach has talked to me.”
“Athletic scholarships aren’t that easy to get.” Mrs. Taft leaned back in her chair. “Do you have an alternative payment plan in place or other schools?”
Andrea’s stomach tightened and she shook her head.
Mrs. Taft sighed and pivoted her chair toward the filing cabinet crammed between her wooden desk and the wall. Using her meaty hand, she opened the bottom drawer and fingered through the file tabs, sliding her hand into one and pulling out a stapled packet of papers.
“Here.” She laid the packet on the desk in front of Andrea. “This is the financial aid packet. It has all the information you need to apply for aid. Some are loans, others are grants. The grants you don’t have to pay back, but they are almost as difficult to get as athletic scholarships, sometimes.”
“Thank you.” Andrea slid the thick stack of papers toward her.
“Have you filled out your FASFA yet?”
“My what?” Andrea frowned.
Mrs. Taft sighed again. “The free application for federal student aid.”
“No, I don’t think I did.”
“That’s not good. You should have done that two months ago.” She turned back to the filing cabinet and pulled out another packet. Slapping it on top of the other pages she shook her head. “I’m sure it’s too late for you to get any state funds now. Those are first come first serve. But you will still be able to get federal loans. Your parents will need to help you with this because you’ll need their tax returns to complete the application.”
The knots in Andrea’s stomach moved to her throat. Did her dad even have a tax return being on disability? And he sure as hell wouldn’t help her.
“What about your major?”
“What do you want to study?”
“I-I don’t know for sure yet.” Andrea bit her bottom lip.
“Andrea.” Mrs. Taft. heaved another sigh, straining the seams on her shoulder-padded blue floral blazer. “Students who go into college without declaring a major are more likely to either drop out or take extra time completing their degrees. You don’t want to be in the first group and from the sound of it, you don’t have the option for the latter.”
Heat burned Andrea’s ears. “No, but I still have time to decide. Right now, I need to focus on getting my mile time down to get the scholarship.”
Never mind worrying about taking extra time to finish, Andrea wouldn’t even get to start without the help from running. As for her major, did the school have a program for How to Get out of the White Trash Ghetto? That’s all that mattered to her.
“Fill out your forms and start thinking about what you want to do with your life.” The chair creaked beneath her weight as Mrs. Taft pushed herself up with her hands on the arms. “I have another appointment and you need to get to your class.”
Andrea nodded then stood and picked up the stack of papers from the desk. She mumbled, “thanks” and stepped out the door into the main office. The next appointment sat in the row of chairs against the wall to her left. One of her ex-best friend’s old minions, Sarah wrinkled her nose at Andrea.
“Hello, Sarah,” Mrs. Taft said from behind Andrea. “Come on in sweetie. Let’s see what I can help you with.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Taft.” Sarah brushed past Andrea and smirked.
Andrea glanced at the wide smile on the counselor’s face and rolled her eyes. Stupid cow. Guess I’m not good enough for a smile.
Walking past the secretary’s desk and into the hall, she imagined punching a hole in the pale-blond faux wood of the door. Everyone looked down on her at this school. For the hundredth time she wished the district line splitting her trailer park had been two streets over, then she would have gone to the school in the next town with the rest of the park. At least with them, she didn’t stand out like the ugly redheaded stepchild nobody wanted to be seen with.
She had fit in for a while… until Jenny did her thing.
The passing bell rang, and students poured out of classrooms. They flooded the hallway with squeaking high-tops, yells and laughter, and even a couple of guys chasing each other until the hall monitor blew her whistle.
Andrea hugged the papers Mrs. Taft had given her to her chest and pursed her lips, dodging the others as they rushed around her to visit with their friends between classes. Stopping at a row of lockers, she twisted the three numbers into her dial and opened hers. She shoved the pages onto the top shelf and grabbed her chemistry book.
“Sorry, Jenny. The car is full already.”
“Yeah, maybe you can go to the drive-in with us next time.”
Across the hall, two girls, Dana and Christie, turned away from Jenny with eyerolls and smiles. They bent their heads together as they walked and Dana giggled, glancing back at Jenny. Andrea did, too, shaking her head at Jenny’s red face and hunched shoulders.
Karma was a bitch sometimes. When Jenny told everyone about Andrea’s economic status—a secret she’d vowed to keep when they were still friends—nobody gave her a hard time. They just treated Andrea like trash, laughing at her or calling her Trailer Park Princess.
But the trouble Jenny caused last year for her friends Mike and Cindy, claiming to have gotten pregnant by Mike to get Cindy to break up with him, totally backfired. Now she was the outcast. Her minions didn’t take orders from her anymore.
That’s what she gets for shitting on the most popular guy in school.
Slamming her locker, she glanced once more in Jenny’s direction and made eye contact. Jenny’s blue eyes shimmered with tears as she shook her long blond hair over her shoulder and lifted her chin.
Andrea raised an eyebrow and walked toward the stairwell to go to her classroom on the third floor. There was a time when she would have defended Jenny. Told Dana and Christy right where they could go, but that time was long gone, buried under mounds of insults and nasty rumors about Andrea and her parents.
Yep, karma is definitely a bitch and she’s got Jenny’s number.
“Eight six seven five three oh ni-y-ine.” Andrea chuckled and walked into her classroom.
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