r. Hart. Please, sit down.” The dean clasped Becca’s hand with her own cold and slightly
bony one and then indicated the seat in front of her oversized, mahogany desk.
“Thank you, Dean Morris.” Becca sat in the leather wingchair, feeling a bit like a
child as its size dwarfed her.
She glanced around the stately, well-appointed office and let her mind wander as the
dean of the faculty at Vassar College settled herself on the other side of the desk.
One day perhaps this office could be hers.
Rebecca Hart, Dean.
Becca’s doctorate in English literature more than qualified her for the position,
though she’d need a lot more years under her belt—years her boss obviously had, plus
some. The woman had to be seventy if she was a day.
Maybe that was what this impromptu meeting was about. Was Dean Morris retiring and
she wanted to inform the faculty personally? Becca tried to wrap her head around the
idea and think of who might be replacing her. Probably Harold Wexler, the stodgy old
Brit who’d been teaching at Vassar forever—at least it seemed that long to the bored
students in his classes.
“Dr. Hart, you’ve done an exemplary job here. Both your internal and external performance
reviews have been exceptional . . .”
She glowed with pride as her heart rate sped. Were they going to promote her to associate
professor? Or maybe she was going to be awarded tenure. It had been four years since
she’d completed her doctorate. That would be faster than usual for an assistant professor
to be promoted to an associate, but as the dean had said, Becca’s performance had
been exceptional. At this rate, she’d rise through the ranks and be a full professor
before she turned forty, which rarely happened.
Her chest tightened with excitement. Finally, all her hard work was paying off.
“However—” Dean Morris continued.
A lump lodged in Becca’s throat.
was not a good word to hear after a long string of compliments. It negated, in a
surprisingly painful and sickening way, each and every thing the dean had said before
it. She swallowed hard.
“—donor dollars are down. Expenses are up. I won’t bore you with the budgetary details,
but suffice it to say the college has had to make some very difficult decisions recently.
I’m afraid our department is being reduced, and consequently your position has been
eliminated.” Dean Morris did look moderately saddened. It didn’t soften the words
or the impact on Becca as she wondered if she could make it to the ladies’ room before
she threw up.
“Eliminated?” She was being downsized?
“Being the most recently hired faculty member, and without tenure . . .” Dean Morris
spread her hands and let the sentence trail off.
Becca could read between the lines. The department couldn’t fire any of the other
professors without due cause no matter how good or bad they were at their jobs, because
they, unlike her, were tenured.
“Of course. I understand.” Her nausea was replaced by anger. She was a better teacher
than half of the department, even if she had been there the least amount of time.
Students literally fell asleep in Wexler’s class. It was so unfair.
The dean leaned her elbows on the desk. “The semester ends in just a few weeks. Of
course we’d like you to finish out the term. I’m sure you’d agree this far into the
semester, continuity for the students is the main concern, but if you wish to take
the rest of today for yourself, I’d understand.”
She didn’t have any more classes this afternoon, but she would normally do a few hours
of work in her office before heading home. Nice of the dean to wait until after she
was done teaching for the day to drop this stink bomb in her lap.
It was amazing what a person could endure and still remain polite. She wanted to rant.
She wanted to scream. Instead, she smiled, stood, and grasped the dean’s hand. “Yes,
I think I will. Thank you, Dean Morris.”
The trip back to her own office seemed eternal, but once there she grabbed her bag
and car keys. Without checking if she had voice mail on the desk phone, or even looking
twice at the stack of paperwork she could easily do at home, she turned. Leaving the
office and the work behind her, she escaped down the hallway toward the exit. Thankfully
she didn’t see anyone, because she was running low on social niceties right about
She unlocked her car and tried not to notice how her hand shook.
Unemployed. The word echoed through her head like a death knell as she attempted to
quell the rising panic. She pushed the feeling down and tried to think logically about
the new state of her life. Yes, she had lost her job. But she had her condo, a small
sum in her savings account, and she still had her boyfriend—almost fiancé really—Jerry.
Jerry had a good job with a steady salary and health benefits.
—new panic rose as she realized she’d be losing her medical benefits through the college’s
group insurance. Maybe this was a sign. The universe telling them the time had come
for her and Jerry to finally talk about marriage. They already lived together, which
was almost like being married, just without the paperwork.
Sure, things hadn’t been all sunshine and roses since he’d moved in. They had their
issues, but that was to be expected in any long-term relationship. It was time for
the two of them to commit to a lifetime together. Marriage was the logical next step
and the perfect solution to her impending uninsured status.
While she navigated onto the road leading off campus, she pulled out her cell phone
and pushed the button for Jerry’s number. As she listened to the ringing through the
speakerphone, Becca decided they’d have a small wedding. She’d never wanted anything
large anyway, but especially not now with her recent unemployment. Just a hundred,
or maybe a hundred and fifty of their closest friends and relatives. It would be lovely
to have the ceremony outdoors along the Hudson River. Then maybe the reception at
the old inn in Rhinebeck. Yes, something simple and tasteful. Perfect.
Jerry’s voice mail came on, so she flipped the phone shut. She was almost home anyway.
She could call his office when she got there.
Everything would be fine. She would marry Jerry, find a new teaching position; maybe
they’d even buy a small house. She gave herself a mental pat on the back that she
could find the silver lining in even the darkest of situations. With newfound optimism,
Becca pulled into the driveway of the condo complex. She drove to the back of the
building to where her assigned parking space was located, but as she rounded the corner,
what she saw had her slamming on the brake pedal.
The car rocked to a stop and she sat, unable to comprehend what was happening in front
of her. She didn’t park, mainly because a truck already filled her spot. Not just
any truck, but a rental moving truck. One Jerry was currently loading with his prized
jumbo-size, flat-screen television.
Becca inched her car forward until it was just feet from the nose of the truck backed
up to the curb, then she threw it in park and cut the engine. Her vehicle, sideways
the way she’d left it, was blocking a whole bunch of parked cars. She didn’t care.
She knew the moment Jerry noticed her there. The panic was clear on his suddenly pale
face. Then again, he was always pretty pale, even in summer. Too much time spent indoors
on the sofa watching that damned television he loved so much, she supposed. His wide-eyed,
deer-caught-in-headlights expression was new, though.
Swinging the driver’s side door wide, she stepped out. Leaving the door open, she
walked around her car and stopped by the side of the truck. She was glad she was wearing
her favorite suit. She felt powerful in this suit, and the length and cut of the pencil
skirt made her legs look amazing.
Take that, Jerry
“Jerry, what’s going on?” She had a feeling she already knew the answer. So much for
“Becca. Uh, wow, you’re here. I was hoping to be all cleared out by the time you got
home from work.” A deep frown creased the brow beneath his prematurely receding hairline.
She predicted he’d be bald by forty. She’d noticed she could already see hints of
his scalp through his thinning blond hair. “Why are you home so early anyway?”
That was his response to her question? Why was she home earlier than usual?
Oh, no, he wasn’t going to get away with answering her question with a question. Especially
since her question was why, after living together for almost a year, he was secretly
moving out while he thought she was at work. After the day she’d had, she was in no
mood to answer questions for this cowardly man.
“Where are you going,
?” Her overly sweet tone brought an even more fearful expression to his face.
He let out a breath and leaned his khaki-clad butt against the edge of the truck.
Who loaded a moving truck in light-colored khakis? He was going to get filthy. Good.
She took great, though admittedly immature, satisfaction in knowing he’d probably
have to throw those pants out when he got to wherever it was he was slithering off
to, the damn sneaky snake.
Jerry finally raised his pale blue gaze to hers, before he yanked it away again to
study the driveway at his feet and then the tire of the truck. “Well, you know things
haven’t been going that great with us lately.”
Her brows rose sharply. “You could have fooled me.”
Her mind latched on to his coming home smelling of beer just the other night, after
which he’d proceeded to have sex with her for what seemed like a solid hour before
he finally gave up and admitted he was too drunk to finish. Then he’d rolled over
and started snoring, leaving her lying there unsatisfied and too awake to fall back
Men who were unhappy with a woman didn’t still want to have sex—especially bad sex—with
her. Or did they? Maybe they did. She couldn’t be sure of anything anymore. The world
seemed turned upside down. It was like she’d awoken in an alternate universe and she
was now living Bad Luck Becca’s life instead of her own.
Jerry stood again, but stayed close to the truck. He continued to keep his distance,
leaving a good bit of space between them. Maybe he wasn’t quite so dumb after all.
“I’ve been thinking about moving out for a while—”
“Then perhaps you should have mentioned that.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
“—so when one of the guys at work had a roommate move out, he said I could have the
room.” He ignored her interruption and finished with his rambling explanation, as
shitty an excuse as it was.
“How convenient for you.” She glared at him.
“Becca, I think we need a little break from each other.” Jerry took one step forward.
“A break?” Her voice rose in both pitch and volume. A break. Ha! She’d like to see
something break, all right. Like perhaps Jerry’s big-ass television after it fell
out of the truck and broke his foot.
“Yes.” He took a step back and retreated to his original position.
“Fine.” She couldn’t be here any longer or she might take a tire iron to Jerry’s TV
as well as his skull. She spun and walked around the hood of her car, back to the
“You’re leaving?” He took a single step after her. Now that the bulk of the vehicle
was between them, chicken Jerry must have been feeling brave.
She paused, her hand on the open door. “Surely you didn’t expect me to help you move?”
“No, no, of course not.” He frowned, but she wasn’t convinced the thought hadn’t crossed
his mind. “It’s just, I thought you’d want to talk or something.”
She glanced at what she could see of the inside of the open truck, already packed
pretty full with a jumble of boxes, bulging trash bags, furniture, and loose items.
It was total chaos, but not even her obsessive-compulsive need for organization could
make her help him now.
“The time for talking is long past, Jerry.” Becca got in and slammed the car door
shut. She turned the key in the ignition, but then hit the button to roll down the
window as a thought hit her. “I paid this month’s cable bill out of my account. I
expect you to leave me a check inside for it.”
Jerry wasn’t going to get away with moving out with no notice and then stick her with
all of the bills, especially now in light of her recent change in employment status.
Not to mention he’d upped their cable television package to the biggest, most expensive
one the company offered the moment he’d moved in last year. She’d cancel that as soon
He nodded meekly as she slid the window shut.
Feeling moderate satisfaction at the thought of taking Jerry’s money, she pulled to
the end of the drive and stopped. In front of her was a four-lane road. Now what?
Shaking so badly she probably shouldn’t be driving, she flipped on her blinker and
aimlessly chose to turn right, mainly because she didn’t trust herself to cross traffic
at the moment. She drove a short distance and then pulled into the parking lot of
the first shopping center she came to.
It took her two tries to dial her sister’s office number correctly. When she finally
heard Emma’s voice answer, Becca’s last bit of composure broke.
She drew in a shaky breath, tinged with a sob. “Em? I need you. Can you meet me at