By the end of June, I was dying inside. Like, shriveling into a husk of my former self, dying. Every school worth attending was so far out of my reach that it wasn funny anymore. I wasn to rail against fate for cursing me so when all I wanted to do was keep learning. It didn escape me that those kids who didn want to continue learning, had several means in which to do so, but I, who wanted to continue her education so badly, was denied such a thing.

Life sucked balls.

By the beginning of July, I was banging my head on my desk about every day from the sheer frustration of it all. Which didn do much for my poor brain cells, to be honest, but they weren really helping me to figure out a solution to this problem.

A letter came from Alpha University about that time, but I sent it back instantly with a big, fat ”No! ” written in bright, red Sharpie just to help get my answer across to those at AUs admission office.

A girl had to have her priorities and morals and not being around stuck up, rich kids was at the top of both for me.

Of course, that didn go over so well with Granny Hard Head, who about literally knocked the sense out of my head for doing such a thing. I reply to her had simply been that it was my life, my future, and I would do with it as I saw fit. That is, unless she could fix her broken heart and make all our financial problems disappear just like that.

Not a week after my abrupt return of the acceptance letter, there was a knock on the door. I was in the process of trying to give the house a nice deep cleaning while juggling my rowdy brothers when I heard the knock. Toeing Hunter out of the way so I could return the vacuum to the closest, I went to answer the door.

Upon opening it, my brothers peeking around me to see who was there, I was greeted with the sight of two people, a man and a woman, on my oh-so-tiny doorstep. They looked out of place standing there in the blistering Texas sun in fancy suits and pricy Rolex watches. I instantly raised an eye at their folly, because who wore suits like that in Texas in the middle of the summer. It was just asking for heat stroke.

”Can I help you? ” I asked.

The man smiled at me in greeting and reached up to wipe his sweating brow with the back of one hand. ”Yes. We
e looking for a Miss Aurora Sawyer. ”

I eyed the man. He was in, at least, his fifties with thinning white hair peppered with black, eyes the color of sand, and a mustache that was on the bushy side and completely covered his upper lip. He was a pleasant looking man, but he looked like he was roasting alive in his charcoal gray suit. He would have pit stains before long.

”And you would be? ” I was hesitant to tell these people that I was the person they were looking for.

”Im Dean Nigel McWell from Alpha University. I came to talk to Miss Sawyer about attending our prestigious school. ” He was so cheerful as he announced that.

”Sorry, she doesn live here. In fact…she died. ” I went to close the door, but a wrinkled hand I knew all too well, stopped me.

”Aurora Noelle Sawyer. ” Yikes, all three names. I was in trouble. My granny pushed the door back open and gave the two adults on the porch a smile. ”Please forgive my granddaughter and her morbid sense of humor. Come in out of the heat. ”

It was official…my grandmother was a spoil sport.

Knowing there was no stopping this runaway train, I stepped aside and let the two in. My grandmother deposited me on the couch, the two school representatives in mismatched recliners across from me. My brothers instantly claimed their usual spots, Hunter on my left and Gabe on my right, both leaning into my lap. They were really starting to get too big for it, but I was nothing else if not a doting big sister.

After offering drinks, my grandmother sat on the other side of Hunter and gave me a pointed look. ”Aurora. ”

”Fine. Im Aurora Sawyer. What can I do for you, Dean McWell? ” I asked.

”We received your rejection of your acceptance into AU. ” Of course, they did. ”We were hoping to convince you to change your mind. You would be perfect for our special program! ”

I tried to tell myself to be polite, but I was ever blunt at the best of times. ”Why in the world would an elitist school want some backwoods, poor country girl like me? What do you gain from it? ”

The two shared a look, Dean McWell heaving a sigh. When he turned back, there was a sheepish look on his face. ”Allow me to be frank with you, Miss Sawyer. ”

”Please do. I hate people who beat around the bush. ”

”Aurora! ” The warning was clear in my grandmothers voice.

”Its alright, maam. I appreciate her honesty. ” Dean McWell turned his eyes back to me. ”You see, Miss Sawyer, our school, over the past few terms, has received a fair bit of a backlash from the public and press. We are, as you so eloquently put it, a school of elitists. Many have accused us of being prejudice against our less fortunate applicants, like yourself. ”

I raised an eyebrow. ”And you weren ? ”

Dean McWell cleared his throat. ”We were very…selective on who we admitted. That side, we decided to start the next term by admitting one such as yourself. Hence our special program. When your application came in…well, we were simply astonished by your achievements. And all while working and helping to take care of your family! My girl, you are just what our school needs. ”

In short… ”So, Im a publicity stunt. ”

Dean McWell had the decency to grimace. ”I wouldn quite put it that way, but…yes and no. We would treat you with all the fairness and privilege as we do our other students. In fact, in exchange for your enrollment and cooperation, we will even provide housing for your family and medical care for your grandmother, as well as a healthy living allowance. ” At my incredulous look, he gave me a sheepish smile. ”We truly could us your help to improve our schools image. ”

A sigh left me as I thought about it. It was a truly tempting offer, really, but I just couldn shake my own sense of prejudice. ”Can I have time to think about it and discuss it with my grandmother? ”

”Of course! We will return tomorrow. We simply must have your answer before we return. ”

My grandmother saw the two to the door. Once it was closed, she turned to face me, hands going to her too thin hips. ”The choice is yours, Rory. You don have to do anything just because you
e trying to take care of us. Thats my job. ”

I glanced at my grandmother. She said that, but I had seen the months bills. We were drowning trying to keep up and between her disability and my paychecks…we weren going to be able to make the bills. The house was falling apart, requiring increased money to fix what broke, we were already behind on our electric bill and car payment, and my brothers were in serious need of new clothes.

Looking down at my brothers, I remembered the panic I had seen in their eyes the night Mom had died and they had asked, ”Are we going to starve? ” They were ten now and understood a whole lot more than they did back then. They knew we were struggling. I could see the familiar nervousness in their eyes even now.

They were just as worried as I was about what we were going to do, and they were looking to big sister to solve the problems.

That night, I dreamt of my mother.

With blue eyes sparkling as she told me she knew I would do remarkable things, she held me in her arms. Once again, her favorite quote came to mind; Fortune favors the prepared mind. When I awoke in the morning, I knew what I was going to do. Truth be told, I had already known. I had long ago made up my mind to do whatever I had to in order to see to it that my brothers were taken care of.

Dean McWell and his companion, Mrs. Sparks, showed up at the same time they had the previous day. When they were seated across from me in my living room once more, I took a deep breath and gave them my answer.

”I will do it. I will enroll at AU and cooperate with your publicity stunt, but on one condition. ”

”Anything. ” McWell agreed.

”I can decide, at any time, that I want to leave, and you have to pay for my family to return to Texas. ”

Dean McWell and Mrs. Sparks shared a look before he nodded. ”Done. Pack your things, Miss Sawyer. Term begins in a month. ”

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