Lela sat outside Dean Richards’s office waiting for only God knows what. She nibbled her fingernails wondering why she was summoned to the western-style decorated office from her sociology class. She eagerly stared at the secretary, a middle-age woman floating somewhere between fifty-four and fifty-seven. Lela read the glowing time on her cell phone anxiously waiting to be ushered into the office.
Lela wasn’t a troublemaker but she wasn’t an angel either. She got into her fair share of problems in school. There was the fight in second grade with a boy that stole her pencil. Then, there was the incident were Rachel Perkins accused her of flirting with her senior boyfriend during sophomore year at Verde High School. During Lela’s teen years she had a tardy problem that landed her detention for two days. Unfortunately, her smart-mouth later earned her three more detention days. Thankfully, somewhere around junior year she tapered off, catching her rhythm. That was also when she started dating Chris Barnes.
“Ms. Emery, You can go in now.” The Secretary instructed as she hung up the phone.
Lela stopped biting her nails. She clenched her backpack strap as she entered the Dean’s office where the western theme continued. The floor was lined with a Navajo red and ivory patterned rug. A black and white framed picture of a longhorn hung on the wall behind the Dean’s big bulky desk. He rocked back in a tufted leather chair as his cowboy boots poked from behind the desk and his black cowboy hat hung on the coat rack in the corner.
Dean Richards was back on the phone. He gestured for Lela to take a seat in one of the brown cowhide chairs in front of his desk. She warily dropped into the chair placing her bag by her feet. She wondered how the cow died as she nervously tapped her foot; maybe the animal died from natural causes. She hoped she wouldn’t die of natural causes when she left the office. A heart attack perhaps but then again she hadn’t done anything that warranted expulsion. Granted, she did peek at her neighbor’s test in Trigonometry but that was for only one answer and who didn’t need a little help on an equation or two.
“Sorry. My wife’s trying to guilt me into seeing the doctor.” Dean Richard spoke hanging up the corporate desk phone.
“Are you okay?” Lela asked genuinely concerned for the man’s well being.
“Of course. He gave an assuring smiled. “She just thinks I need a check-up because my fifty-eighth birthday is quickly approaching.”
“Happy Birthday.” Lela lightly smiled. Hopefully her kindness would earn her some leeway.
“Thank-you but enough about me. We need to talk about you.” Dean Richards swiveled his chair toward her. He sat erectly, clearing his throat; getting serious. His courteous smile faded, the wrinkles in his forehead deepen from wells to creeks.
“What about me? I didn’t do anything” Lela started defending herself nervously stroking her braids. “Is this about Trevor. I was not involved. I don’t condone buying grades.”
“No. No. No.” Dean Edmond said shaking his head easily. “This is not about that debauchery. I’m not accusing you of anything. This isn’t a disciplinary visit.” He assured with a head nod but his wrinkles didn’t fade.
“It isn’t?” She questioned narrowing her eyes, scrunching her eyebrows perplexed.
“No.” He clenched his hands together and placed them on top of the open planner littered with black, blue, and red pen scribbling’s. Surely, there was a system, each color meant something but from Lela’s angle it all looked like chaos. The same chaos her nerves were havocking on her body.
“Then what kind of visit is it?” Lela leaned closer to the desk.
“It’s a serious visit” Dean Richard’s swiped his hand along his red tie. “Being an educator I don’t like talking about these things.” He grinned his teeth, tensing his jaw. “But this is an institution and it calls for immediate situations to be taken care of so the educator in me can concentrate solely on educating.”
“And what is that?” She raised her eyebrows wishing he got on with it, stopped the communication four-play.
“Business.” He spit out clenching his hands tighter together as if it were painful to utter. “You have an outstanding balance.”
“My Tuition is paid for.” She knew it. She printed the fee statement that read balance remaining: $0.00. She tediously waited in that financial aid line inquiring about her refund check. Then when she received it she paid off her part of the rent for the remaining year along with her roommates.
“Yes, it was.” He gave a comforting smile demonstrating he knew something she didn’t. “Then Remington Memorial, the company that issues your scholarship filed for bankruptcy last week.”
“What does that mean?” She scooted to the edge of the chair kicking over her bag, textbooks slid out the tote onto the floor like all her hopes and dreams.
“That means that Remington Memorial’s funds are frozen. The money that you received in your account was on good faith on the Universities behalf to ensure that you would start school on time.”
“And now?” Lela’s mouth remained slightly open as tension brought a quiver to her lip.
“Now you have seven thousand dollars pending on your account.” Dean Richard closed his eyes tightly providing himself relief from Lela’s distraught face. He reopened them to see her distraught being blanketed by confusion.
“Am I expelled? Did you call me down here to tell me I have to dropout?” Lela barked holding back tears, burning in the wells of her eyes
“By all means no! Although, the application date for FAFSA has passed. You could apply for a loan but interest rates these days are a little steep.” He flashed another comforting smile again knowing something she didn’t. “So, I talked with the financial department and they made this plan for you.” He handed her a piece of paper tucked under the corner of the planner.
The breeze from the overhead vent fluttered the paper before Lela took it from him. She read the paper with the lime green and black Texas University letterhead at the top.
“I have to come up with fifteen hundred dollars in two weeks!” She dropped the paper in her lap like it was used, snot-filled tissue. “Then again for the next two weeks until December twelfth of this year.”
“I’m afraid so and if you fail to make the December twelfth payment you will not be welcomed back for the spring semester until you account is paid in full.” There was no comforting smile on his face this time; it was stern as stone.
“Paid in full! Or not welcomed back!” Lela angrily slapped her thighs.
Dean Richard reclined back in his chair. “I know it’s harsh but its business.” He smiled pitying the position one of his students involuntarily placed in.
Lela shook her head. “The business of education.” She stood grabbing her bag, her books, and the paper of her new fee schedule “Well, I should go. I have to go plan a bank heist now.” She left the office lacking the youthful carelessness she had before.
Now, the weight of the world rested on her shoulders. Actually, it was more like cinderblocks sinking them down with the stress and confusion she hadn’t felt since senior year in high school, when she didn’t know where she would find the money to pay for her tuition. She loved her parents even though they were too busy to raise her while they were off dealing with their own problems. They left her to be raised by an overworked, loving grandmother whom now has gone to glory. Then, for a brief moment when she was covered in acceptance letters from schools around the country, she wished she had different parents. She wished she had parents with money, parents like Trevor. Then she snapped herself back into reality being grateful to the parents that bore her and the grandmother that reared her. They were the reason she was this independent, hardworking, and courageous woman today. She hated being a citizen in the land of too rich to receive assistance but too poor to pay out of pocket for her education. It was the limbo of an offspring of the middle class. As she left the administration office her pity party was over. Now, it was time to plan and not a bank heist.