Dr. D texted, saying he had a surprise for me. When I arrived at an apartment complex that was gated with high metal bars, a friendly security guard, and a fountain that looked like it belonged at the Bellagio, I knew I wasn’t going to like what he was about to tell me. I’m like, really? When I got my body back, I wouldn’t be able to make rent. And then what? I’d be kicked to the streets with nothing. I did have a great deal, living at the Hacienda. Sure there may have been working girls hanging out there from time to time, but seriously, Ms. Fantasia was a really nice land lady. If I didn’t have rent right on time, she’d just pat my hand and tell me to get it to her when I could.
But before I went all kicking and screaming toddler on him, I decided to hear him out.
He waved his arms and said proudly, “Well, what do you think? I know it’s kind of small but you really don’t need much, and at your income, I believe you’ll be able to swing it once we’re back to normal.”
I shook my head. The stone walls alone looked like they belonged to a bazillionare. And it had floor to ceiling windows with a view. The cockroaches at my normal digs had better views than I ever did. “I don’t know, Dr. Day…I mean, you do realize I’m a poor girl. Growing up, I’d been tossed around in foster care until I was 18. I’ve never had money. There’s no way I’ll be able to afford this.”
“It’s okay, Charlene. I’ve realized this and I’ve got a great plan. I’ll float you the expense until next year when I can take you on as a TA. You wouldn’t make a lot but I’m willing to pay the difference of what you can afford. It’s worth it to get you out of that slum.”
“I don’t want your money, Dr. Day. Seriously. And YOUR TA? Are you kidding? You hate me. I wouldn’t last a week let alone the three years until I graduate.”
But he wouldn’t listen to me. He just pulled me into the bedroom and said, “Look, if you think the genie wants us to improve each others lives, think of this as part of the solution. It’s a gift. A blessing from the genie.”
“I don’t know…” I gaped at all the stuff. Scads of expensive clothes and the shoes! I was going to have a heart attack just looking at it all.
My own dressing table!
And when I saw the bedroom, how he put together my stuff with the colors and all my favorite things, I couldn’t help it.
The water works started in my eyes.
“Why are you crying, Charlene? You really don’t like it that much?”
I tried to hold it in because I didn’t want to do this in front of him. Not cold, Dr. Day. I’d built a wall around myself and never let even my friends in on my wounds.
Dropping to the floor, I covered my face.
He sat next to me. “What’s the matter? I’ll redo it if it’s that bad. Really. I don’t mind.”
Sniffing, I said, “It’s not that…
“I’ve just been alone almost my whole life. No one has ever really cared for me like this before. And I know you’re doing it because you have to but…I don’t know…it feels overwhelming. I’m not used to it.” That was as far as I’d go. I couldn’t tell him why I was in foster care. Why I had to scrape my way out of the trash heap. Scholarships were the only thing that kept me sane. I wasn’t about to allow my sperm and egg donor define me. Hell, I never really knew anything about them other than “Mom” was an addict and I was living like a feral child when I was found.
“Wow…I…um…didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
Hearing about Charlene’s hard life blew me away. I felt like shit for a lot of the things I’d thought about her. I truly surmised by the way she acted, she’d been coddled and spoiled all her life. But a person who had nothing and who had gone through foster care to come out of that with a full ride to The Archaeological University master’s program? She was a phenom in my eyes.
I needed to change the atmosphere, though. Pulling her to her feet, I said, “Have you ever watched College Cram?”
“Oh God, you’re kidding me, right? Isn’t that like a bunch of dirty lame jokes and awful acting?”
“I’ve heard it’s funny. Let’s watch it.”
Actually, the ratings were horrible, but I figured it would lighten this mood. I hated seeing Charlene so upset. I couldn’t imagine the life she’s led. I, at least, had my parents, for the most part. Both of them loved me even though they had their own lives after Brandy died. My suffering was nothing next to being shuffled around as a kid. Unloved.
After the movie was over, I said, “That wasn’t so bad was it?”
“If you like hormone-induced mascots running around woohooing in each other’s locker rooms. Okay. Yeah.”
“Oh, come on…I saw you laugh through the whole thing! That streaking scene alone. Come on!”
“Okay, I’ll have to admit, seeing Ham Tolland’s ass was a plus.”
“And what about when they duct taped that naked guy to the laundry cart? You can’t say that wasn’t epic.”
She snorted. “Oh my God that was so BAD!”
I laughed along with her. It was the worst show I’d ever seen.
“And…hee hee…the spit wars…” I added through laughs. “It was…so…STUPID!”
“GOD! Will you stop? I’m about to pee my pants right now.”
“You owe me one for making me watch that crap,” she said when she got back from the bathroom.
“Okay. You get to torture me with a horrible movie of your choice next time.”
The following morning, I arrived at the university at 6 am. I hoped I could get there before anyone else. I needed to get caught up on some work and that couldn’t happen with the staff watching.
But I was surprised by Todd’s voice. “You’re here awfully early, Charlie. Can I help you with something?”
For some reason, seeing Todd made my heart climb into my throat. “Um…just going to the library, Dr. Monteira.”
Before I could sidestep him, he pushed me to the wall. What the hell? Did he always jump on women students when no one was around? I would have pushed him away but remembered how much Charlene wanted a date.
Leaning in, he said in a sweet voice, “I’ve noticed how much you’ve changed, Charlie. New hair. New clothes. I must say…I like what I see.”
Searching for a way out, I battled with myself. Did the genie really want me to fulfill every wish Charlene made? Todd was way out of line. But maybe I could salvage it a little. “H-How about we could go for coffee after class today, professor. I-If you wish.”
“How about YOU come with me to the lab room and we can identify…stuff.”
Okay. That crossed a line.
Pushing him away, I punched him with all I had (which wasn’t much). Thankfully, I’d gained a little muscle from recent workouts.
Best friend or not, I was going to report his ass to the dean asap.
When I stormed off, I heard him say, “Pretty good punch there…Liam.”
The sound of my name stopped me cold.