Damn: 110. She needed a 70 to make the dean's list for her senior-level marketing class, but she'd pulled out a 110.
A smile touched Bethany's lips, her eyes darting around the room to see if she could make out the various grades on her classmates’ papers. From what she could see, she must have gotten the highest grade. She sat back in her chair and listened as the classroom filled with either groans or soft whispers of gratitude for passing grades. She hadn't worried much about passing, but simply passing was never enough. She had to be at the top—the best grade in the class.
The elderly professor moved to the front of the room, dropping a small handful of remaining tests on his desk and turning to face the class. A quick adjustment to his glasses and he scanned the room, his eyebrow raising at the noise.
"This was your final test for my class. I know some of you are graduating on Saturday, and I congratulate you. If you failed this test and subsequently this class and it's holding you back from graduating, that's your problem. You were given every opportunity to do well in here. If you failed, then you worked hard to do so."
He shrugged as a lanky guy in the back row spoke up, Bethany turning to look over her shoulder as his drug-induced voice resounded. "Is there a make-up quiz for this test?"
"No, Mr. Johnson. This is final, and you will be seeing me next semester, no doubt."
Bethany turned and raised her hand, her long chestnut locks tickling her shoulders as she moved. "What was the top grade in the class?"
"Yours." The professor smirked and moved from his reclined position. "Class is dismissed. Don't bother stopping by to talk with me. I have somewhere to be, so this is goodbye for this semester. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and don't have too much fun."
Bethany leaned over and grabbed her backpack, a smile pressing her cheeks toward her eyes as she got up and walked from the room, her head held high and smugness sitting on her like a well-worn cloak. She was the smartest, the fastest—the best.
A quick stop by the advisory office before heading to have lunch with her mother stole her thunder; her adviser’s news was depressing, a quick reminder of her financial reality.
"Congratulations, Bethany. It looks like you'll be graduating in the top 3 percent of your accounting class." The middle-aged man looked up, his portly belly almost touching the chair between his opened legs.
Bethany focused on the kindness in his gaze even though his appearance struck her with worry. She needed to get to the gym. The summer sessions were always so daunting and stole every waking moment she could find in order to simply keep up. It was over now, though.
She sighed with relief and nodded toward the adviser.
"That's great news. I've already been accepted into the MBA program, so I'll start in a month. I'm excited."
The man mumbled something, turning to his computer and hitting a few keys. Bethany sat back, her eyes moving across the various pictures that hung on the walls. The photos were filled with smiling kids and a woman as portly as the man before her, their happiness apparent or well-rehearsed.
A family had never been part of Bethany's thoughts. Racing up the corporate ladder and making a name for herself was her top priority. Making enough money never to have to worry where her next meal was coming from or if anyone would see her mother paying with food stamps was all she cared about. She would change her situation no matter what it took.
College was a luxury that her grades from high school alone had afforded her, but the master's program was still up in the air. The hope was that grants would cover most of the cost, and she could pick up a small job or paid internship at an accounting firm.
Time was the only restriction. She needed something flexible because her course load wouldn't allow for much more than studying and schoolwork. She reached up, tucking her hair behind her ears as she looked back at the adviser.
"So, am I good to go?"
"Hold on just a minute, kiddo. Looks like there’s an issue with your fees for next semester. I'm just trying to make sure you're all paid up." He glanced over at her before picking up his phone. He spoke for a few minutes to someone who she assumed was in the registrar's office. The conversation, from the parts she could hear, was only causing the knot in her stomach to grow. He thanked the lady on the phone and sighed, hanging up and looking over at Bethany.
"Good news and bad news. What do you want first?"
"The good news."
"The good news is that the first third of your upcoming semester was picked up by a grant."
"And the bad is that the last two-thirds weren't?"
"That's right." He shrugged, sympathy covering his round face. "Is there a possibility of getting a small part-time job or internship in the city?"
"I have no clue. Seems like more to do, but it is what it is." She sat back and sighed, the reality of her ever-present situation bleeding its way across her emotions. She was going to break down soon, and she'd rather it not be in front of him.
She stood up and reached over, her hand extended. "I appreciate your help. I have a month to figure it out, I guess."
"You have about six weeks before they require that second payment. Good luck. You’re smart; you'll figure this out."
She shook his hand and walked from the small building, the sun pressing down on her in the smoldering Texas heat. There was nothing to figure out. The MBA program at UT Dallas was way out of her league in terms of financial funding, and her mother was forever broke. Thanks to a drug-dealing father and a life left in shambles, there wasn't much hope.
She got in her car as the first tear fell. She'd have to ask her mom to do something that seemed far-fetched but was her only hope.
"Mom, will you marry Kent?" She looked up in the small rearview mirror, realizing how selfish she was being as she worked through how to ask something so demanding of her mother. But Kent was a billionaire. It would work in her favor, and she knew without a doubt that her mother would be much happier with the stability and love Kent would provide. It was good for everyone. No. She couldn't do it.
But what other choice did she have?