I stood up abruptly, fighting to keep my face from crumbling. From the look on his face, I was probably failing. “Thanks, professor,” I said in a horribly cheery voice. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

My words echoed hollowly in the small office. I looked around at the dank office, taking in the battered books and how tired he looked, as if his job had prematurely aged him. Why had I come here? He had never even been published. He was just as much as a failure as I was.

“Jessica, wait!”

“Bye professor!”

I pretended not to hear him as I dashed out of the office. Pressure was building up behind my eyes and I felt myself gasping for breath. I thought suddenly of the Golden Gate Bridge and saw my body leaping off the red bars to be swallowed by the icy waters. Everything will be fine. I would go to the library and research. I’ll spend the whole day there if I have to. Clearly, I couldn’t count on anyone for help. I was on my own, just like I always had been.

Once I entered the library, I felt a bit calmer. The library was my sanctuary. When I was young, I spent whole days away from home at the library. It was easy to crack a book open and dive into the story for hours, and escape. When the library closed at five, only then would I return home. I could still remember how sick I felt when my feet brought me closer and closer to my home.

I slid into a chair and logged onto the computer. Someone had left a Time magazine on the desk and I pushed it aside. The computer monitor burned my eyes as I scoured every website I knew for editing jobs and found a few that I had overlooked before. I spent hours typing up cover letters and sent half a dozen emails. I also sent my resume to other non-editing jobs. Professor Lark was right; I couldn’t afford to keep waiting for my dream job.

I grabbed the mug of coffee I brought with me, which was now stone cold, and knocked over the magazine so that the cover landed face-up. An article caught my eye.

How I Became a Millionaire’s Sugarbaby

Intrigued, I flipped the pages to the article and read one of the enlarged quotes:

“I make about $5000 a month, which doubles when I travel with him.”

Holy shit.

My eyes scanned the article quickly, as if I was the first one to learn this secret. The article was about sugarbaby websites, where the world’s richest men would ‘hire’ young women to go on dates with them at the most exclusive restaurants, or as companions when they traveled for business. The woman in the article claimed that she had never had sex with her clients. Women who became sugarbabies were usually college-age. They needed to pay for their college tuition, or their credit card debt, or whatever.

This can’t be real.

I immediately clicked to one of the websites they mentioned, www.millionairearrangement.com. I gaped as I scrolled through the list of “gentlemen” and saw their profile pictures, their net worth, and their location. Apparently, the website did background checks on their millionaires’ tax records to make sure that their income was legitimate.

My mouth watered as I thought of what I could do with five thousand dollars a month. This couldn’t be real. It was too easy. They probably all have sex with the millionaires, making them little more than prostitutes.

I imagined myself on the arm of a sixty-year-old man and my guts twisted. But really, who cared how old he was? I could go on a couple dates with him. It’s not like I was signing a contract to go home with him.

This is a really stupid idea.

But I could choose whom I went out with. He didn’t have to be sixty years old.

I took the Time magazine with me, stuffing it into my bag. It wasn’t the first time I had ever stolen something, but I still felt a little guilty.

Like a zombie, I walked back to the shuttle and returned to the BART. I was so out of it that I almost got off the wrong stop. A battle raged inside me as I took the BART home, wondering whether I should tell Natalie or not. I knew that she would not approve.

Jessica, don’t be stupid. This is just an escort site disguised as something else.

A part of me was scared that I was considering doing something so desperate. But my situation was truly desperate. I needed a job. I had no desire to return to retail. This seemed like such an easy thing. A couple dates a month for a fat paycheck. I could at least try it. If I was uncomfortable with the experience, I could just delete my profile and never do it again.

You’ve lost your damn mind.

I ignored Natalie’s voice as I unlocked the door to my apartment and walked inside. It was a grimy, two-bedroom apartment in the East Bay that I could barely afford. Though Natalie’s parents were well off, they had the opinion that once you turned eighteen, you were on your own. As a result, our apartment looked like shit. A moth-eaten sofa that might have once been beige laid in the living room, and a chipped, circular wooden table surrounded by fold-up chairs sat in the linoleum kitchen. That was it. We didn’t even have a coffee table.

Natalie, my best friend and roommate, was in the kitchen, eating leftovers. I couldn’t believe how late it was. It was almost suppertime. How many hours had I spent in that library researching?

“Hey,” she said from the table. “How’d it go?”

So well that I’m considering prostituting myself. I shook my head. “He can’t help me. I’ll have to figure something out.”

Her face fell and she shook her head. I was dying to tell her about what I had read in the magazine. The secret was burning a hole in my bag where I had stashed the magazine.

Instead, I crossed the room and sat on the couch. I didn’t feel very hungry. Sometimes, I felt so tired that I didn’t have the energy to contemplate hunger. Besides, the article had filled me with something so much more substantial than food—hope.

I turned the TV on and left it on the Entertainment Tonight channel, not really caring about what I was watching. Natalie sat down next to me with a bottle of beer.

“I applied to a bunch of jobs and stuff while I was at the library.”

She said nothing for a while. “That’s good.”

There was a montage of an extremely handsome, well-dressed man on the screen.

“God, look at this guy.”

I snapped my attention to the program.

“Billionaire playboy Luke Pardini was spotted partying in San Francisco last night.”

The screen flashed a series of images of a young, twenty-something man stumbling out of nightclub with tall, gorgeous women hanging on each arm.

“The troubled billionaire left Ruby Skye with two employees at 3am and was seen entering a Pardini hotel in Union Square. Luke’s father, Giacomo Pardini, is the owner of the multi-billion dollar hotel industry. Last year, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The business magnate has had a reportedly strained relationship with his son, who is expected to take over Pardini Worldwide.”

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