Home > Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(2)

Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(2)
Author: H.M. Ward

Avoiding her gaze, I explained, “They hired me while I was in college. I was working on a ministry degree and I could have been an assistant minster somewhere, maybe with youth or something. But this church wanted me as their one and only minister. They wanted me to do seminary. It was three years of grad work on top of the student loans I already had. I said I couldn’t afford it, but we reached an agreement...”

Kate groaned, “Oh no. Tell me you didn’t.”

My throat tightened. I stared into my cocoa. I was stupid. While most kids had some debt from school that followed them around like a puppy, stealing their meager wages, making it harder to survive, I had a freaking walrus. It sat on me, it squashed me, and made my life a living hell. I thought Kate’s parents were deranged lunatics. They were anti-credit card. I can’t imagine the bitch-slap her mom would give me if I admitted to my walrus-sized loans.

Pressing my lips together, I nodded, “I did. I took out more loans to pay for grad school. The way my contract with the church was worded, it said that they would pay off my debt as part of my salary.” It didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time, and I really didn’t know the difference between ten dollars and ten grand. Apparently the lenders know that stuff. So did the church board.

Kate closed her eyes, shaking her head, immediately catching on, “And since they aren’t giving you a salary for this entire year...”

“I have to repay my astronomical student loans on my own.” I ran my fingers through my hair, practically pulling it out. There were so many major mistakes, and they were all super-sized. “I don’t know what to do, Kate. The church provided the parsonage. They gave me enough money to pay my bills and eat. It wasn’t enough to save anything. I was lucky that I had enough money to get here. When I told them that, they said the lilies of the field don’t worry about tomorrow and neither should I. What am I supposed to? If you hadn’t taken me in, I’d have nowhere to go.”

They screwed me. My church, the people I dedicated my life to, completely and totally screwed me. They wrote this off as a learning experience that would make me stronger. They broke their word about making sure my loans were paid every month without a second thought. Fury flamed to life inside of me. My fingers ran through my hair as that nauseating sense of desperation crawled up my throat again. It felt like I was being choked, but nothing was there. Hanging my head, I pressed my eyes closed, fighting to hold back the tears that were building behind my eyes.

Kate tapped the side of her cup, thinking, “Okay, let’s not freak out, yet. We need to address the loans first. You have a place to stay and you don’t have to worry about food, either.” She grinned, “I’m an awesome cook. No more Spaghetti-os for you!” Glancing up at her, head in my hands, I couldn’t find the smile within me. I felt crushed, like some huge ogre stepped on me, smashing me flat. “Okay, let’s see. I didn’t do the loan thing. My parents thought debt was the devil’s doing. But loan companies have options in case of emergencies, deferments to make repayment easier if there’s a crisis. Abby, have you filed for a deferment? I bet you could claim financial hardship and they’d give you a year or more before demanding another payment.”

I shook my head, “I don’t have anymore. We used them all.”

“We?” she asked, her mouth gaping like a fish.

I cringed. It sounded utterly stupid now that I was explaining it to someone else. Sitting back in my chair, I looked up at her. “The board. They asked me to use all my deferments before they began repayment. I didn’t think they’d toss me, so I used them… Oh my God, Kate.” My eyes were wide. I didn’t see how screwed I was until right then. Before saying it out loud, it had been an abstract thought of screwed-ness, drifting aimlessly through my mind. But now that I’d said it, it solidified and fell to my toes like a lead pancake.

Kate leaned forward, putting her mug down, her game face on. “The past is the past, Abby. You can’t change it. The only thing to do is try and come up with enough money to pay it. It can’t be that much, right? What is it? A couple hundred bucks a month? That’s doable. A minimum wage job would do that—you could work part-time and you’ll be totally fine.”

I shook my head and a tangle of reddish brown hair tumbled forward, freeing itself from my ponytail. “It’s $3275 per month.” I tucked the wayward strands behind my ear, saying the number completely numb. It was so astronomical that I should have been a doctor.

Kate’s jaw dropped so wide that I could see every tooth in her head. “Holy fuck! How much do you owe?”

“Just over $270,000.” Kate sat there stunned, recognizing the walrus. I sat there like the dumb-ass that I was, shaking my head, pressing my finger tips to my temples. “I need a job. I need a good job, fast.” If I kept saying it, maybe I wouldn’t freak out.

Kate came to her senses. She blinked those bright green eyes, as she shook the shock away, “Abby, what’s mine is yours. I’ll help you as much as I can. Don’t worry about rent or groceries. I’ll take care of that for a while.” She shook her head, “Damn, that’s a lot of debt. You need at least four grand to pay that, otherwise you won’t have enough money after taxes. The market sucks here right now. And your degree doesn’t help you.”

“I know. I tried to find work in Texas, before I left, but even down there in God’s country I’m useless. No one wants a minister around when they aren’t at church.” They told me some crap about not wanting God looking over their shoulders at work. That stuff was for Sunday, as if they could lock God in the church building.

Kate frowned, “What else have you done since high school?” I didn’t answer. My brain reached back trying to think of something unrelated to my ministry degrees. Kate straightened in her seat, an idea spreading across her face, “Ooh! What about art? Tell me you took some college art classes.” Before I could answer she bounded down the hallway and came back holding a newspaper. She flicked through the pages.

“Yeah,” I said slowly, watching her flip through the thin newsprint, “I took some art history, photography, and a painting class—but they were all electives with an emphasis on religious art.”

She snorted, “Of course they were,” she glared at me from over the top of the paper, “but you aren’t going to tell anyone else that, unless they ask. Got it? Besides, most early art was religious anyway. It won’t matter.”

“Kate,” I began to protest, but stopped when she slammed the paper down in front of me. Her narrow finger pointed toward an article that said LOCAL MUESUM OPENS SOON. I stared at the paper, but couldn’t fathom what she was suggesting. “Clue me in, Kate. What are you thinking?”

“Well, a few weeks ago someone called MOMA looking for a new curator, and it was this place!” She pointed to the paper again. “I was the one who took the call. Abby, they’re brand new, so they can’t afford a seasoned professional—they need someone like you. Odds are it’ll pay your loans and maybe give you a little pocket change. In other words, it’s a crap job that no one can live off of unless they have an awesome roommate like me!” She beamed. “Plus, a reference from MOMA can’t hurt. I’ll call her first thing tomorrow.” For the first time in days, I smiled and laughed. Maybe things would work out after all.


Or maybe not.

My heart sank, clunking into the bottom of my shoes as the dreaded words poured out of the woman’s mouth, “The position has been filled.” The girl at the desk informed me before I even finished saying my name. The vastness of the empty room seemed to make her voice louder. “It was earlier today, actually. I’m sorry, dear. I tried to get hold of you, but there was no cell number.”

My shoulders slumped slightly, though I tried to hide it. Kate had spent the morning on the phone to get me this interview. There was no way I could afford a cell phone, so I didn’t have one. Apparently Kate’s recommendation wasn’t enough to overcome the preacher thing. I smiled softly at her, “Thank you for trying. I really appreciate it.”

As I turned to leave, she called out, “Hon!” I stopped and turned back to face her. She was scrawling something on a notepad. The museum was closed, so she was wearing jeans and a tee shirt. Plaster was splattered across her lap. “Wait!” I stopped, as she crossed the room quickly. “Listen, I heard that the Galleria needs help. It’s not a museum, but it’s an art job.

“The Galleria?” I asked, looking at the paper she handed me.

“Yeah, it’s not too far from here. It’s on the south shore in the Hamptons. Some rich guy owns it. That job’ll get snapped up fast. If I were you, I’d head over there right now.” She smiled at me. Her kindness floored me. I stood there for a moment before I found my voice.

“Thank you. Thank you so much!” I looked at the address as I slipped back inside Kate’s car. She worked at the Museum of Modern Art, otherwise known as MOMA, and said I could use her car. She worked crazy hours and said she wouldn’t miss it.

The maps of Long Island that I had in my head were old, but I thought I knew where the address that the woman handed me was located. I didn’t have a cell phone, and Kate’s car was too old to have GPS. I looked at the address again, wondering if I should go—if I could pull off a job interview when I didn’t even know what the job was. I was flying by the seat of my pants and hating every moment of it.

That choking sensation climbed out of my belly again, threatening my sanity. Without a job I’d lose everything I worked so hard on for the past ten years. My credit would be trashed, student loan collectors would harass me to no end, and my contract with the church would be violated. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, requiring a person to keep their credit in good standing seemed like a reasonable part of a job. However, since they were the ones that caused the financial distress, it hardly seemed fair now.

Glancing in the rearview mirror, I pulled out. How hard would it be to fake my way through an interview? Anyway, I was already dressed. No point in giving up, not yet. Where there’s a will, there’s a way—and other crap like that sputtered through my mind. What was the worst that could happen? Without hesitation, I drove directly to the address on the paper. My jaw nearly fell off my face when I pulled up. It was a large studio and art gallery—and it was beachfront property—on the most expensive part of Long Island. The official name was Jonathan Gray Fine Art & Galleria. It was in carved golden letters on a blue sign in front of the door.

Stepping from my car, I hurried up the front walk, noticing the white sand. The sound of the ocean crashing into the shore filled my ears. When I pulled open the door, several women who were dressed far better than me sat waiting in a poshly decorated room. Confidently, I walked to the desk, although I felt lacking when I saw the other women’s clothing. Their skirts and blouses hugged their bodies as if the garments were custom made. I was wearing my Texas Target dress with a white collared shirt underneath. Holy crap. I looked like a Sunday School teacher, or a nun in her street clothes. These were the wrong clothes for a place like this, but it was too late to do anything about it now.

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