Alina pushed the hair back from her face and frowned in concentration. Her pencil scratched against the paper as she slowly worked out the problem. She double-checked her calculation and then nodded. It was as good as it was going to get. Junior year Numerical Methods had been kicking her butt all semester but she thought that she might finally have a hold on it. Maybe. She would find out when she turned in the homework and got her grade back.
The brunette gathered up her notebook and textbook and slid them into her purple backpack. She checked her phone for the time and cursed. She was supposed to meet her friend for dinner at six and it was already five till. Alina quickly shouldered her backpack and left the study room where she had been working. Ten minutes later, slightly out of breath, she stepped through the door of her favorite taco shop. A redhead stood up from the table where she had been waiting and walked over. Her fingers were flying over her cell phone but she slid it into the back pocket of her too-tight jeans as she walked over. Her hips swayed ever so slightly as she moved.
“Hey, Genya,” Alina said.
“Lose track of time again?” she asked. Her voice was low, almost sultry. She flipped her hair behind her shoulder and fixed Alina with a pointed stare. She crossed her arms over her chest.
“It’s five minutes. Don’t look at me like that. Besides, it’s not like it matters anyway.” She grumbled out the last sentence and her friend looked at her questioningly. “It’s nothing,” Alina added. “Let’s eat.”
They stood in line for their food and then picked out a table. As they ate their tacos, Genya chatted without pause.
“He ended up being really sweet, though. Like, almost too sweet. He was scared to touch me.”
Alina had to resist rolling her eyes. Her friend always had interesting and fun stories to tell about the men she met but sometimes it was a little bit much. Besides, Alina wasn’t particularly in the mood to hear it today. Finally, Genya slurped at her drink and then set it down with a bang.
“Okay, fess up, what’s going on?”
“What?” Alina asked, refusing on her friend. She had stopped paying attention at some point.
“You aren’t even listening to me!” Genya said impatiently. “And you’re all glum. What’s going on?”
Alina sighed. She had known that she wouldn’t be able to keep the truth from her friend for long but he had been hoping to avoid talking about this. Talking about it would make it real. Finally, she decided that she might as well get it over with.
“I got a letter from the loan company,” she said. “They’re not going to give me any money for next semester.”
Genya let out a sharp gasp. “How can they do that?” she demanded, a fire lighting in her eyes.
Alina shrugged. “I guess they can do whatever they want. But that’s it. I mean, I can’t pay the tuition on my own and my parents can’t help.” She trailed off. Genya already knew that Alina’s parents were barely scraping by as it was. There was no way they would be able to help her pay for school on top of their own bills.
“What are you going to do?” Genya asked. The tacos lay on the table, forgotten.
“What can I do? Even with my part-time job, there’s no way I can save up enough for next semester. I’m going to have to drop out.”
Genya frowned. Sympathy was written all over her face. Alina looked away. This was why she hadn’t wanted to tell her friend about what had happened. She knew that Genya would feel sorry for her or, worse, come up with some harebrained scheme to help. When a light shone in Genya’s eyes, Alina knew it was the latter.
“I have an idea,” Genya announced.
“Uh, oh,” Alina muttered.
“You can come work with me,” Genya said.
“Work with me!” Genya repeated, sounding more excited this time. “We can always use more girls! And I know Dee would just love you. You’re perfect!”
“Genya!” Alina exclaimed. “I’m not going to,” she lowered her voice, “become an escort.”
Genya flipped her hair out of her eyes and held up one perfectly manicured nail. “One, you need the money. Two, it’s easy work. Three, you’re gorgeous.”
“I’m a virgin,” Alina hissed at her friend. She had known ever since she had befriended Genya in Freshman year that Genya was working for a high-end escort service. That was why she always had so many good stories. Alina listened to them with amusement but she had never seriously considered joining her friend’s line of work. Was Genya seriously asking her to consider it?
“So? It’s bound to happen sometime. Might as well get paid for it.” Genya slurped at her drink and then fixed her friend with a stare. “I’m serious.”
“I know you are!” Alina exclaimed. “That’s what scares me.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Genya said. “I’ll see if I can bring you to Friday night’s charity ball. It’s high-end, glitzy, all that stuff. I’m going with a client. You could tag along, meet some people, see what you think. No expectations.”
Alina hesitated. She really needed the money. It had been her dream ever since she had been a kid to be an aerospace engineer and work for NASA someday. She had even lined up an internship there during the next summer. But if she had to drop out, that would never happen. Was she really going to let that dream slip through her fingers just a year and a half from graduation? Maybe it would be worth tagging along, just to see what it was like. There couldn’t be any harm in that, could there?
Genya could tell her friend was wavering.
“I’ll even lend you something to wear,” she added. “And you can get your nails done for it! Come one, when was the last time you dressed up for anything? All you do is work and study.”
Alina sighed. “I guess I could afford to go out one night,” she said hesitantly. “And there wouldn’t be any, uh, expectations?”
Genya shook her head gleefully. “Nope. You’ll just be there to have fun and meet some people. We go to events like this all the time so it’ll give you a taste of what you’re in for. Heck, maybe you’ll even meet someone.” She winked and grinned. “I can tell you, there will be a lot of very hot and very rich men there.”
Alina sighed. “I can already tell I’m going to regret this,” she said, but she could feel some excitement building nonetheless. Genya’s life had always seemed exhilarating and scandalous. Now, maybe Alina could see what that was like. And besides, it wasn’t like she was going to have to sleep with anyone, right?