Stay with Me (Wait for You #3)(3) by J. Lynn

The nursing program was no joke.

I slowly placed my book bag on the floor beside my legs as I scanned her desk. Elaine Booth was on her nameplate, so unless she was pretending to be someone else, that’s who I was sitting in front of. There were also a lot of photos on her desk. Family photos—black-and-whites, colored, photos ranging from toddlers all the way up to my age, maybe even older.

I looked away quickly as an old pang hit me in the chest. “So . . . what’s going on?”

Mrs. Booth folded her hands over a file. “We received word from admissions last week that your check for next semester’s tuition has bounced.”

I blinked once, and then twice. “What?”

“The check didn’t clear,” she explained, glancing up from the file. Her gaze drifted over my face and then quickly averted away from my eyes. “Due to insufficient funds.”

She had to be wrong. There was no way that check bounced because that check was attached to a savings account that I only used for tuition, an account that held all of my money for school. “There has to be something wrong. There should be enough money in there for the next semester and a half.”

Not only that, there should’ve been enough money in that account just in case of some crazy emergency, and to carry me through at least a couple of months after graduation while I did the job hunting thing and decided where I wanted to live, if I stayed here or . . .

“We verified with the bank, Calla.” She’d dropped my last name and somehow that seemed worse. “Sometimes we have problems with checks due to the amount or a typo in entering the account number, but the bank confirmed there was insufficient funds.”

I couldn’t believe it. “How much did they say was in the account?”

She shook her head. “That’s proprietary information we’re not privy to, so you’d need to talk to the bank about that. Now, the good news is that you’ve always paid your tuition early, which means we’ve got time to work something out. We’ll get this fixed, Calla.” Pausing, she opened my file as I stared at her like my butt was suddenly frozen in my seat. “You’re already in the system for financial aid, and what we can do is adjust the requests for next semester, ensuring that your classes are covered. . . .”

My stomach had dropped to my knees at some point and was quickly plummeting to the floor as she continued on about increasing loan amounts, applying for Pell grants, and even a crap ton of scholarships.

At this moment, I didn’t give two craps about any of that.

This couldn’t be happening.

There was no way there wasn’t money in that account. I was meticulous when it came to which account I used for which bill or need, and I never used that account unless it was for tuition. I hadn’t even activated the debit card attached to it.

Then it hit me as I watched Mrs. Booth pull form after form out from racks next to her desk, stacking them neatly and calmly as if my entire life hadn’t just slammed on the brakes.

Ice drenched my veins as I tried to drag in my next breath, but it got stuck in my throat. This might not be a giant f**kup by the bank and the college. This could very well be seriously happening.

Oh my God.

Because there was someone other than me who had the means to get access to that account—one person who was virtually dead to me, so virtually that I behaved as if she were dead—but I couldn’t believe she’d do this. There was no way.

The rest of the meeting with Mrs. Booth was fuzzy to me. Numbly, I took the FAFSA applications and I walked out of the chilly offices, out into the bright sunlight of an early May morning, loaded up with forms.

There was still time before my final, and I found the nearest bench, sat down, and shoved the papers into my bag. I pulled out my cell phone with shaky fingers, looked up the number to the bank back home, and hit call.

Five minutes later, I sat on the bench, seeing nothing beyond the shades of my sunglasses, and feeling nothing, which was good—the blank and empty feeling in the pit of my stomach was all right because I knew it would turn to red-hot, blinding and murderous, cut-a-bitch rage in no time. I couldn’t do that. I had to stay calm. Keep my emotions in check, because . . .

All my money was gone.

And I knew—every cell of my body knew—this was just the beginning, the tip of the iceberg.

Two

How my life went from mostly being okay, with the exception of being a little lonely sometimes, to one giant hot mess in a span of a week was beyond my ability to comprehend.

I was so screwed, and not in the fun and sweaty way.

It wasn’t just my savings account that had literally been cleared out two weeks before I’d written my check for tuition. Oh God, if only that was it. I could’ve bounced back from that. I could’ve even let that go, because what else could I have done?

After all, I knew it had been my own flesh and blood that had cleared me out, my own mother—my hocked up on pills, and most likely drunk off her ass, mother who my closest friends believed was dead. In a way, that hadn’t been too far from the truth. A terrible lie, but I hadn’t talked to her in ages and the alcohol and the pills and God knows what else had over the years killed the caring and fun mother I remembered from when I was little.

But she was still my mom. Therefore, the last thing I wanted to do was involve the police, because seriously, her life was already shitty as it was, and inexplicably, after all the drama and the heartache, a whirl of pity always surfaced when I thought of her.

That woman had to experience things no mother ever should.

But it hadn’t only been my savings account. Over the course of last week, during my finals, which I somehow managed to still complete without losing my ever-loving mind, the tip of the iceberg sunk the Titanic.

I pulled my credit just because . . . well, I had this horrible feeling it was worse. And it had been.

Credits cards I’d never seen in my life had been taken out in my name and they’d been maxed out. A student loan with a major bank I hadn’t even known existed had also been taken out, and that alone cost more than four semesters at Shepherd did.

I was in debt, to the tune of over a hundred thousand dollars when it was all said and done, and that wasn’t even including the debt I racked up on my own with the small student loans I’d taken out and the car loan I now wasn’t sure I could afford.

My stomach dipped and my chest seized every time I thought about how badly I was screwed, and it took everything in me to talk myself down from losing my shit. Credit and debt made or broke you in this world. I wouldn’t be able to get a loan if I needed one. Worse yet, even if I managed to scrape together the money to finish out college, any job I applied for could pull my credit and base their decision to hire me on what it showed.

On Thursday, after my last final, I’d suffered a minor breakdown, which involved a lot of tears, even more double fudge brownies, and maybe a little bit of rocking in the corner. I would’ve stayed in that corner for at least a month, but I refused, absolutely flat-out refused, to allow my life to get sucked away from me again.

Obviously, none of my friends knew what was going on or knew anything about me. Hell, they thought my mom was dead and Teresa thought I was from around the Shepherdstown area.

All lies.

And how could I tell Teresa, or worse yet, Brandon? Oh hey, I got to go home, and you know, commit an act of homicide and strangle my mother—yeah, the one you thought was dead, because I’m also a horrible liar—to death for dicking me over. Can we hang out at your place and have drinks when I get back? That convo was way too humiliating to even think about, because then I’d have to tell them about the drugs, the alcohol, the absolute fail at life, and then the weird separation between Mom and Dad, which really was just Dad freaking disappearing, and then that convo would ultimately lead to the grief and the fire that had destroyed my entire family and almost destroyed me.

I wasn’t going there.

So I told them I was spending the summer with extended family, and hopefully, they didn’t end up reading about me in the news after I murdered someone.

No one questioned those plans, because just last year I had pretended to go home over break when in reality I had checked into a hotel in Martinsburg, had splurged on room service . . . like a loser.

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