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Page 7

“It’s not like it’s some kind of vacation,” I say. “It’s a legitimate job. I have to take care of the place. Cleaning and keeping an eye on things.”

Chloe pauses mid-bite, sending noodles slithering off her chopsticks. “Wait—you’re not actually going to do this, are you?”

“Of course I am. I can move in tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? That’s, like, suspiciously fast.”

“They want someone there as soon as possible.”

“Jules, you know I’m not paranoid, but this is ringing all the alarm bells. What if it’s a cult?”

I roll my eyes. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m completely serious. You don’t know these people. Did they even tell you what happened to the woman who lived there?”

“She died.”

“Did they say how?” Chloe says. “Or where? Maybe she died in that apartment. Maybe she was murdered.”

“You’re being weird.”

“I’m being cautious. There’s a difference.” Chloe takes another gulp of wine, exasperated. “Will you at least let Paul take a look at the paperwork before you sign anything?”

Chloe’s boyfriend is currently clerking at a big-time law firm while prepping for the bar exam. After the bar, they plan to get married, move to the suburbs, and have two kids and a dog. Chloe likes to joke that they’re upwardly mobile.

I’m the opposite. Sunk so low that I’m currently eating in the same spot where I’ll later be sleeping. It feels like in the span of two weeks my entire world has shrunk to the size of this couch.

“I already signed it,” I say. “A three-month contract with the possibility that it could be extended.”

That last part is a bit of an exaggeration. It was a letter of agreement instead of a contract, and Leslie Evelyn merely hinted that the late owner’s nieces and nephews might need more time to agree on what to do with the place. I say it to give the situation a veneer of professionalism. Chloe works in human resources. Contract extensions impress her.

“What about tax forms?” she says.

“What about them?”

“Did you fill one out?”

To avoid answering, I poke my chopsticks into the fried rice, seeking out bits of pork. Chloe yanks the carton from my hand and slams it onto the coffee table. Rice sprays across its surface.

“Jules, you cannot take a job that pays you under the table. That’s some shady shit right there.”

“It just means more money for me,” I say.

“It means it’s illegal.”

I grab the carton and stuff my chopsticks back into it, defiant. “All I care about is twelve thousand dollars. I need that money, Chloe.”

“I told you, I can lend you money.”

“That I won’t be able to pay back.”

“You will,” Chloe insists. “Eventually. Don’t do this because you think you’re being—”

“A burden?” I say.

“Those are your words. Not mine.”

“But I am one.”

“No, you’re my best friend going through a rough patch, and I’m happy to let you stay as long as you need. You’ll be back on your feet in no time.”

Chloe has more faith than I do. I’ve spent the past two weeks wondering just how, exactly, my life has gone so spectacularly off the rails. I’m smart. A hard worker. A good person. At least I try to be. Yet all it took to flatten me was the one-two punch of losing my job and Andrew being a garbage human being.

I’m sure some would say it’s my own damn fault. That it was my responsibility to build an emergency fund. At least three months’ salary, the experts say. I would love to backhand whoever came up with that number. They clearly never had a job with take-home pay that barely covers rent, food, and utilities.

Because here’s the thing about being poor—most people don’t understand it unless they’ve been there themselves.

They don’t know what a fragile balancing act it is to stay afloat and that if, God forbid, you momentarily slip underwater, how hard it is to resurface.

They’ve never written a check with trembling hands, praying there’ll be enough in their account to cover it.

They’ve never waited for their paycheck to be directly deposited at the stroke of midnight because their wallet is empty and their credit cards are maxed and they desperately need to pay for gas.

And food.

And a prescription that’s gone unfilled for an entire week.

They’ve never had their credit card declined at a grocery store or restaurant or Walmart, all the while enduring the side-eye from an annoyed cashier who silently judges them.

That’s another thing most people don’t understand—how quick others are to judge. And make assumptions. And presume your financial predicament is the result of stupidity, laziness, years of bad choices.

They don’t know how expensive it is to bury both of your parents before the age of twenty.

They don’t know what it’s like to sit weeping before a pile of financial statements showing how much debt they had accrued over the years.

To be told all their insurance policies have been voided.

To go back to college, shouldering the cost yourself with the help of financial aid, two jobs, and student loans that won’t be paid off until you’re forty.

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