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Cash Cow

Rachel Red

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It is an universally acknowledged truth that a single college student in possession of a limited allowance must be in want of an apartment.

 

The drive to the apartment complex passed in a flurry of chatter between my friend (let’s call her Ally) and me, our flapping mouths masking what was really on our minds. We pulled in the driveway, parked, then walked, quieter, to the office where the landlady had agreed to meet us. She had sounded so amiable on the phone. As I held open the door for Ally to enter first, I almost called her back, dread socking me in the gut. Was I really prepared to do this? Renting an apartment was no small matter, and if anything happened and we couldn’t pay…

 

But no. We had come here for a purpose. I entered.

 

“Hey there,” the woman (a Beatrice, no doubt) called from behind the corner desk. “What can I do for you?”

 

Ally introduced us, and when she heard our names, Beatrice perked up and motioned us closer.  “You two are here to tour the apartments, aren’t you?  Got a particular one in mind?”

 

We did. Actually, it was because of our other two friends who were currently staying here but were moving out in two weeks that Ally and I were even considering renting, as we hoped to take their apartment. It was pretty. Besides, renting was so much cheaper than staying on campus, especially for freshmen and sophomores. We wouldn’t have to pay for the ex-pen-sive All Access Meal Plan again, nor dish out as much as for a double dorm room, let alone the private rooms we both currently had. That, and the swell of accomplishment at striking out on one’s (sort of) own, made this seem the perfect solution. College was about taking risks, after all, wasn’t it? That was what all the professors said, anyway.

 

At the mention of our friends’ apartment, Beatrice leaned back in her chair and studied us with narrowed eyes. I didn’t like that. “Well, now, that’s a nicer one, a 500—not part of the 600’s deal I’m running. It’ll cost more than the price I gave you over the phone.”

 

The knot in my stomach tightened. “How much more?”

 

“About $100 a month.”

 

Ally glanced at me, then back at Beatrice. “Oh.” Her gaze returned to me, and she smiled a little too brightly. “Well, that’s only $50 more each. That’s not too bad.”

 

“Deposit’s due when you sign.”

 

I blinked. “When would we have to sign?”

 

“Eh, your friends are probably moving out in the next week or two, right? Space fills up fast. I can’t guarantee you the place until I have your name on the lease.”

 

And our money in her hand, no doubt.

 

This wasn’t going as I had planned. Fingers scrapping against my thighs, I took a breath and asked if we could see both sets of apartments, the 500’s and the 600’s. Beatrice readily agreed and directed us down the lot to where her husband was waiting to show us the apartment next to our friends’ in the more expensive area.

 

It was a nice place, I admitted to Ally, spacious and clean. I could easily picture my furniture stuffed into one of the bedrooms, my DVD’s piled in the corner of the living room. It looked homey. Next, the man showed us one of the other apartments, which looked only slightly different. A little smaller, a little less fancy. Still, my dorm room with its paint-splattered drawers and fixed thermostat wasn’t looking so good right about now.

 

Ally and I returned to the office after eyeing the apartment pool for several minutes, and Beatrice flashed another smile when we walked in her door.

 

“So what’d you think? One of them catch your eye?”

 

With only a moment’s hesitation, Ally answered in favor of the more expensive apartment, which I had anticipated. Her words, nevertheless, made me shift my feet awkwardly as I calculated how many Gatorades and macaroni boxes I could buy with $50. My budget was already bursting at the seams, even with so-called full scholarships, because of the university’s scholarship cap. With my private room placing my expenses over that cap, I was looking at paying a couple hundred dollars out-of-pocket next semester, but that was for four months—not that much money every month. Even if I did receive a refund check for not staying on campus, I wouldn’t get that money until December or January, so I’d be paying for this apartment with scraps until then. So much for the free ride everyone had promised me in high school.

 

“We’ll be in touch,” I said with dead cheer as I tugged Ally towards the door. “Thanks for your time.”

 

And for wasting ours.

 

In the end, Ally and I didn’t rent that apartment. I talked to so many people about it, trying to make ends meet like pieces from different puzzles, but nothing worked. Renting an apartment was a risk—a wonderful, exciting, terrible risk—that I, like so many other poor college kids, quite literally couldn’t afford.

 

And the worst part? Part of me was glad. Staying on campus was safe. Secure. Natural. My grades were all the risk I needed. That was what all the other students said, anyway.

 

Note: The names and dialogues have been slightly altered for privacy’s sake. Also, I like this version better. So there.     

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