NOTE: This is from “A 38 Day Education,” my first full length novel, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords in both paperback and various ebook formats (including Kindle and Nook).
Then phone rang. It could only be Terri. Nobody else knew I was back.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hey Jay!” she said. Indeed, it was Terri.
“Terr…” I used an abbreviation for her name for the past few months.
“Whatcha’ up to?” she asked.
“Not much. Just relaxing and getting ready for a new quarter.”
“So am I, but I’m spending it at home.”
“Huh?” I said dumbfounded. “What did you say?”
“Well,” she confessed. “I’ve got some personal matters that popped up that absolutely have to be dealt with. On top of that, my grades tanked, so I have to go home for a quarter or two.”
“Wow,” I said. It was all I could think of, except for screaming holy shit! I never expected in a million years the ship would be rudderless.
Then it dawned on me…..
“Wait,” I said, stunned. “If you are leaving, then that means….”
Every so often in our lives, there is that so-called “awkward silence.” It’s similar to when the Catholic Church selects a new pope. At that time, he is led to the room containing the three basic sizes of papal vestments. This room is called the “Room of Tears” because practically every cardinal who has ever set foot in there to choose their new outfits had broken down in tears of realization of the magnitude of the responsibility they were about to assume. In my case, it was more like a “closet of tears.”
Like a newly selected pontiff, Terri’s admission hit me like a ton a bricks, only to leave me speechless later. In this case, it was a combination of shock, horror and overwhelming insecurity.
“Yes,” Terri said. “I guess it’s all yours now.”
That was the last time I ever heard her voice.
For months, Terri was under the microscope. Everything she did and decision she made was questioned, analyzed and second guessed. Few knew the breadth of the situation she endured, expect for me. I didn’t envy her; instead, I felt nothing but pity. Contrary to popular belief, she did not bring most of these issues up. They presented themselves to her, and she was ethically bound to run with them as stories The problem was that nobody on campus had her back.
Now it was my turn.
There is an old saying “fortune favors the bold.” I preferred a revised version of this, first heard in one of my favorite movies, “may fortune favor the foolish.” I was a total fool for accepting a position which I was completely unprepared for – the position of Editor of The Scope. Once simply a possibility, my ascension to the office Terri once referred to as “The Meat Grinder” was now reality. There was only one thing to do to relieve the tension; watch a skin flick.
The office seemed much bigger.
This was the moment I was hoping for at one time, but now having been left alone at the wheel, I was adrift in a sea of confusion I expected to land the Editor’s job sometime around senior year, not junior year and certainly not halfway through my sophomore year; this was completely uncharted territory. After pondering things a moment, instinct took over.
Money, I thought. This ship’s engines run on money! The ledger, the finances: where are they? One look around the ramshackle office and for the first time, I cursed my disorganization. The filing system Terri established with my help betrayed me that day. After several minutes of confused and somewhat frantic searching, I found the ledger and the numbers all lined up. They looked good; they looked perfect, actually. That, right there, was my worry.
It’s too perfect.
Something in my gut was all awry. Not even a pallet of dyspepsia medication could stop this beast. There were footsteps in the distance. Someone had dropped in for some unknown reason.
“Jay?” a voice cooed. “You in here?”
It was Tamara. A smart, brassy young woman in her mid-20s, Tamara was very much the “artsy” type. Not particularly tall or lanky, she was a healthily built woman with very pale skin, but equally red lips. While she was not a woman of many words, when she did speak it was with great authority. Just a glance from her piercing green eyes was all it took to bring anyone in line. When that didn’t work, her gentle coo turned into a dagger-strewn river of profanity.
She was just the type I needed around the office.
“I’m in the…er, my office,” I called. My office. There’s a concept I was going to have to get used to.
She popped in, looking quite exhausted.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, “Just going over the books.”
“I heard about Terri. Are you running things now?”
“It would seem so,” I murmured, not realizing I was mumbling instead of speaking.
“Excuse me?” she said, sounding as though I had insulted her.
“I’m sorry,” I corrected. “I’m just trying to wrap my brain around all this It’s a lot to absorb.”
“Well, you have the ledger,” she said as she pointed to the black book in my hand.
“I know, but for some reason, it just doesn’t look right.”
“Well, you know you can request a balance statement from the Finance Office.”
“Ahhhh…that’s right. Thank you!” I bounded out of the office and across the hall to a flight of stairs. I wanted to kiss her on the cheek, but I knew that such a move would turn a reasonably happy moment into one which would have required a steak to be applied atop my right eye.
The Finance Office was quiet that day. I approached the counter and was greeted by Missy, the longtime clerk. Her coiffed brown hair and brown-rimmed glasses gave her the appearance of country-professionalism, something contrary to the fact she had been sitting there all day.
“Hello, Jay,” she said with a light, airy voice and a sunny smile. “How can I help you?”
“I need to get the financial statement for The Scope for this month,” I responded.
Missy clacked her keyboard for a few seconds and suddenly her ancient dot-matrix printer whirred into life. Within a moment or two, six fan-fold green-bar pages of numbers and line items were printed. She tore the sheets from the printer, looked through them for a few moments and then circled a spot on the sheet while presenting the stack to me.
“There you go, Jay.” she said, this time with a slight look of concern. “You have 46 cents remaining in your account.” I froze. Shit, shit, shit! She had to be kidding.
“46 cents?” I gasped. There were no words in the English language that could describe the level of anxiety that washed over me.
“That’s right,” she said. “Do you need anything else?”
“N-no.” I said What could I say? Holy shit, where the hell had all our money gone? Yes, that was rattling around my brain, but I dare not say it in front of a lady. I simply walked away up the stairs, across the hallway and into the office All the while I had a strong sense of tunnel vision. I couldn’t really fathom the idea that I was Editor, but now to be Editor of a newspaper that had run out of money. That was a rather large pill to have to swallow.