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Working With It by Cass Alexander (1)

Chapter 1



Morgan



“What do you mean, you’re not sure? It’s the whole reason I enrolled at Persimmon!” I can feel my blood pressure rising. There is no way she is going to talk me out of this. No. Fucking. Way.

“Now, now, Morgan, there’s no need for theatrics.”

Theatrics? My mother obviously doesn’t know the meaning of the word. I’ll show her how theatrical I can get. I’m not usually one to throw a temper tantrum, or raise my voice to her, but I’m about to go thermal nuclear meltdown on Mama Bear.

Mom reaches across the kitchen island and pats my hand. Her face is sympathetic, but I still find the gesture patronizing.

I give a small shout out in my head to my sorority sister, Jen, for expanding my vocabulary. I used to think ‘patronizing’ meant being a customer. Gives me a case of the cringes, thinking about all the shit I don’t know, but should.

When I arrived on Persimmon’s campus, three years ago, I found the best friends I could ever hope to have. Lots of them. And they were smart, way smarter than I was. I secretly hoped they would rub off on me.

“Look, I know it’s something that you want, but we just don’t have the cash to spare right now.”

Ah, so this is about money. I suspected as much. A tiny part of me also believes it’s about my parents not thinking I’m deserving, not like my sister, Meredith.

She’s the brains in the family, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemistry at a school in Tennessee. It’s costing my parents a fortune. But it shouldn’t have anything to do with me. I shouldn’t be punished for her success.

“Then I’ll pay for it.”

“You don’t have that kind of money.”

I shake my head, trying to come up with something that doesn’t sound like I’m a total brat. Am I being a brat? I don’t think I am.

“So, you have enough for Meredith, but not for me? Is that what you’re telling me?” Oh, that was a total brat move. Damnit.

“That’s not fair, Morgan. Your sister is in grad school and it’s not cheap, even with her partial scholarship. Your father needs a new car. Gram needs help most months to cover her expenses. We don’t have the money for you to go traipsing across Europe.”

“Traipsing across Europe? Is that what you think I’ll be doing? It’s school. A class that fulfills one of my credits to graduate. I purposefully didn’t take my Art credit yet because this was the plan, to spend January in Italy. In the Art History class offered. We planned it before I ever stepped foot onto that campus.”

My eyes are starting to burn. I think I’m going to cry out of anger and frustration with my parents. I don’t recall the last time that happened. It only fuels my discontent. I’m not a crier.

“I know, and I’m sorry. But you don’t have a scholarship. You don’t have anything offsetting what we’re paying in tuition. It’s just a lot right now.”

Mom looks a little embarrassed, and I feel for her. I know money is tight. But we’re not destitute. My father’s a lawyer and makes decent money.

The problem is he’s a lawyer in a tiny town in Kentucky and doesn’t make as much as he would if he were practicing law in Louisville or Lexington.

My mom doesn’t work, even though she has a college degree. I’ve always appreciated having her at home, but right now I think I might resent her a little. If she worked, maybe we’d have the money.

I feel ugly inside for even thinking it, but I can’t stop the thought from popping into my head any more than I can stop the tears forming in my eyes, especially when I’m so upset over her attempt to kill my Winter Term dream.

Persimmon College operates on a three-semester system. Two semesters are full-length, one in the fall and one in the spring. The month of January is its own semester where students take one course.

Most students travel during this semester. Persimmon’s professors plan trips all around the globe and design curriculum to match the destination. The college advertises this as one of the perks of enrolling. Over 80% of the students take advantage of this opportunity.

I knew my family wouldn’t be able to pay for me to spend an entire semester in Europe, so when I read about the Winter Term at Persimmon, it was the perfect compromise.

I would get my dream of going to Florence, part of my tuition would cover some of the trip, and I would only have to buy a plane ticket and have money for spending on some incidentals.

Granted, the plane ticket alone will be over $1,000, and a month of food and entertainment will add up quickly. I try to do some quick math in my head to estimate how much I will need.

“You need to put the family first, Morgan.”

Mom’s words interrupt my calculations. I cannot believe she just said that to me. She’s using her guilt tactic to make me feel bad in order to get me to concede her point. Ain’t gonna happen, lady.

“I always put the family first, Mom. How can you even say that? I come home every time you ask me to, no matter how much school work I have. I help with Gram all summer long, every summer, instead of getting a job, because you asked. Which is exactly why I don’t have the money to pay for this trip. The one I planned before I ever left high school. The one you encouraged me to plan. The one that was the deciding factor in choosing Persimmon College in the first place!”

My mom’s face pales. “I wasn’t trying to imply that you aren’t devoted to your family, sweetie. I’m just asking, in this instance, to think of the family first.”

“No, you ask me to do that in every instance. And I do. Every. Single. Time. I never ask for anything, Mom. I’m not like Meredith. I see how she manipulates and expects things from you. I purposefully don’t pull that shit.”

“Watch your mouth, young lady. I know you’re upset, but we don’t use that sort of language in this home.”

Oops. I just said ‘shit’ in front of my mom. My sorority sisters would be proud. But I feel kind of gross about it. Spoiledus Braticus strikes again.

“I’m sorry. I’m just frustrated right now and I don’t think you’re hearing me,” my voice is weird. I don’t even recognize it. I don’t speak to my family like this, but I fear I won’t get what I want if I back down.

“I’m going to say something that will be hard for you to hear, Mom. I graduated from Planters Grove High School with a great GPA. I was Valedictorian, out of a class of only 70 kids. I played sports and was involved in virtually every club. I enjoyed high school. There were a lot of benefits to having a small graduating class. I had a wonderful upbringing. Let me stress that.”

I look at her, hard, making sure she registered the complement. Because what’s coming next will sound like I’m a brat on steroids.

“And you encouraged me to attend the college I wanted, which was Persimmon. And within one week, do you know what I figured out?”

Mom shakes her head.

“No way should I have been Valedictorian of anything. In my very first class, the students and professor were dissecting Romeo and Juliet and comparing it to the happenings of the time period, and I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. I was the only student to not contribute. I never read the freaking play, Mom! Did you know it’s required curriculum in the state of Kentucky? In pretty much every state in the U.S.? Yet our rinky dink joke of a school didn’t bother. Not one Shakespearean play. Not one.”

“Well—”

I’m on a roll, so I don’t stop. “I was not prepared for college. For any college. I spent my entire freshman year trying to catch up on just what I should have known before I got there. And I worked my butt off because I needed to stay at Persimmon. My focus was on keeping my grades up and getting whatever credits I needed so I could go on this trip.”

A tear spills over the edge of my eye and I quickly wipe it away. I don’t want my mother to chalk this up to hysterics.

“Well,” she starts again. “I don’t know much about the high school curriculum, but Meredith seems to have done just fine.”

“Meredith has a borderline genius IQ, Mom. But ask her about it. Ask her about all the extra work she did in the chemistry books because the teacher didn’t bother with it. She was smart enough to teach herself. I wasn’t. It’s why I couldn’t get above a 3.0 at Persimmon until last semester. And it’s not okay. You kept me in a situation where I wasn’t being taught what I was supposed to be taught. It’s probably why I didn’t get any sort of scholarship. So, whose fault is that?”

My mom’s posture straightens. Her lips are pressed tight together and her eyes are squinting. It’s her angry face, the one I hardly ever see. She’s usually a very loving and kind woman. I know she’s about at her limit on this topic of discussion.

“I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. But I want to be honest with you. Right or wrong, I feel like you owe this to me. I learned about opportunity cost in Econ last year. I gave up the chance to make money in order to help out Gram, which is now costing me this trip. All because I put family first. So, just to be clear, I am going to Florence. I won’t ask you for a dime. I’ll slap it on a credit card, if I have to. But I’m going.”

Mom lowers her eyes and nods. At least she’s not fighting me. I suppose she can’t tell me I’m not allowed to go. I am 21 years old now, which is far beyond childhood. Yet, I don’t quite feel like an adult. I’m somewhere in between.

I need to get out of here so I push the stool back and stand. She’s still not looking at me. Maybe I got through to her for once.

“I’m meeting Alex at the lake. I’ll be back for dinner.”

I grab my bag and keys and walk out the door.

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