The Million Dollar Girl
A Novel

Robert Harris
Version Date: October 11, 2008

Chapter 13

“Hey, Markayla,” Amy said as she came in and plopped her backpack on her bed.

“Hello, Amy,” Markayla said, barely looking up from her textbook. Amy looked over to say hi to Tina, but the girl was lying on the bed with her headphones on. Amy pulled a couple of books from her backpack and was about to carry them over to her desk, when she suddenly became aware of a bouquet of flowers sitting there in a vase. Markayla’s vase, with some very wilted flowers in it, was still on her desk. Markayla was still deep in her book.

“What’s this?” Amy asked.

Markayla put her finger on the page and looked up at Amy, then turned her head to where Amy was looking. “The guy you hang out with left those for no apparent reason,” she said. She then tilted her head back down to her book and removed her finger. Amy could not see the smile.

Amy danced over to the flowers and pulled off the note, almost knocking over the vase. The note said, “To a charming and cute repairman. Thanks. Matt.”

“Ah, how sweet.”

“Would you like to use my vase?” Markayla said, looking up again. “It is much heavier and my flowers are ready to retire.” Amy nodded. Markayla emptied the past-due remains of a previous bouquet into the trash and handed her the heavy vase. Amy soon had it rinsed and the new flowers brightly installed. Amy thought about her nap, but, seeing Markayla so dedicated, she decided to do something useful, too. So she sat down at her desk (“where I can be near my flowers,” she thought) and opened her notebook computer. It occurred to her that she had left it open earlier. She wondered how it had gotten closed.

She had just begun to check her email when the giver of the flowers himself made an appearance.

“Hey, Aim-o,” Matt said. “What’s happening?”

“Nothing, really.”

“Nothing at all?”

“No, why?”

“Are those Markayla’s flowers on your desk?”

“No, they’re mine. Some guy gave me flowers. Isn’t that sweet?”

“Some guy?”

“Yeah, some guy left a really nice bouquet of flowers and a mash note. Probably wants to date me.”

“And do you have any idea who this guy was?”

“No idea.”

“No idea? Didn’t he sign the note?”

“Well yeah, but he hid his true identity by forging your name, so I have no clue about who it really was. Isn’t that a scream—he signed your name so I’d think they were from you.” Amy realized she was losing control of her straight face, so she pretended to sneeze.

“Tell me, Matt,” Markayla said. “What made you want a crazy person for a girlfriend?”

Just then Amy screamed. “Matt, there’s a huge spider!” she said excitedly, pointing at the wall. On the wall a few feet from her desk a tiny spider sat in the light of Amy’s reading lamp, possibly getting a tan under the 60-watt sun. When Markayla saw it, she screamed, too, and backed up half way across the room. Matt looked over at it, leaning toward it just a bit.

“Hey, Chuck, my boy. How’s it going?” he said to the spider. Then, turning to Amy, “Oh, that’s just Chuck. He’s okay. He’s been living with you guys for quite awhile now. Don’t worry, he doesn’t crawl into bed with you unless it’s really cold.”

Sounds of “Eww!” The girls were not amused. They definitely had the creeps and were acting trembly. The screams had gotten Tina’s attention, too, and now she looked on the scene as well, though from several feet away, still on her bed.

“Matt, kill it!” Amy pleaded.

Matt got closer and peered at the tiny insect. His mouth opened with shock and he exhaled heavily. “You’re right,” he said almost breathlessly. “That’s not Chuck. It’s a Fangextensis girliphage, the long-toothed girl eater. Oh, those are bad.”

Perhaps the little bug detected the hostility of the monsters glaring at it—those thousand-foot monsters, with teeth so huge that the smallest one was larger than the spider’s entire body. Or perhaps the spider’s suntan lotion was a low SPF and he thought it was time to get into the shade. Whatever the reason, the bug took a couple of steps toward the far wall. Stereo shrieks immediately shattered the tense silence.

“Matthew! It’s moving!” Amy was doing that little running in place dance that girls sometimes do when they are freaked out by bugs.

The spider had stopped to contemplate his next move, when suddenly and unexpectedly his decision making career ended as a meteor landed on him, spreading him out flatly along the wall.

Matt grabbed a tissue from Amy’s desk and wiped off his finger.

“Whoo! That was close,” he said. “Good thing I got him. One of these babies can eat a girl, of, say, five foot three, in under two minutes.”

“Matt,” Amy said.

“They’ve been timed.”

“A little spider can’t eat a whole girl.”

“Well, sometimes instead of eating the girl right up, they just tie her up with a few strands of silk and then snack on her at their leisure. It’s pretty gruesome.”

“You’re being silly.”

“Oh, like irrational?” His smile showed that he meant the irony gently.

Just then Ron stopped in. “I’m just on my way to see my pukey girlfriend,” he said, “and thought I’d say hello.”

Matt was breathless again.

“Oh, Ron, you just missed it. I just killed a Fangextensis girliphage.” He pointed at the smudge on the wall. “It almost got me.”

“A Fangextensis girliphage?” Ron echoed with amazement. He gave a low whistle. “You’re a braver man than I am, Matt,” he said, slapping Matt on the back and then shaking his hand with congratulation. “That is one mean dude.” Then he turned to Amy and Markayla, with a nodding glance at Tina to include her, too. “Lucky for you girls Matt was here.”

“Not you, too,” Amy said.

“Hey, I told them,” said Matt. “The long-toothed girl eater is ruthless and voracious.”

“You guys would have been lunch on the hoof if Matt hadn’t been here with his trusty finger weapon,” Ron said. Matt held his hand like a gun and blew the imaginary smoke off his finger tip.

“You heard about that girl in Iowa just last week?” Ron asked Matt.

Matt nodded. “Under two minutes.” They both laughed.

“This is something you two have made up,” Markayla said. The tone in her voice indicated that she was largely but not completely sure.

“Men!” was all Amy said.

“I don’t like spiders,” Tina said softly from across the room.

“So now that you’re all alive and safe,” Ron said, “what’s the news on Shelley? Anybody checked on her recently?”

“I was over this morning,” Amy said. “She’s doing okay. No doubt she needs your tender care, though.”

“Yeah,” said Matt. “She seems to be hung up on some no good physics major who has made her crazy through drugs or hypnosis or something. She thinks he’s some deal. I’ve told her to get a cooler boyfriend. I think that’s what she’s planning to do as soon as she can get out of bed. Ha ha! In fact, realizing what a lame-o boyfriend she has may explain why she’s barfing!”

“By that reasoning, Amy would be dead now,” Ron said.

“You guys,” Amy began. Both ignored her.

“It’s just lucky for you that the women here have such low standards,” Matt told Ron.

“You know, you’re right,” Ron agreed. “It’s no wonder they say women always choose men who don’t deserve them. Look at Amy here. Kind of cute, smart, fun, nice figure—.”

“Ron, that’s enough,” Amy interrupted.

“Shelley always tells me to keep going and add details. Anyway, what I meant to say was, who could ask for a better cuddle bunny at a cold football game—.”

“Ron! That’s more than enough,” Amy said more forcefully.

“And yet she keeps going out with some hayseed farmer’s kid who has conned her into believing he owns a car. It’s a good thing he grew up on a farm where he learned how to use baling wire to hold junk together. Let’s just hope she isn’t with him when some kid in a red wagon challenges him to a race. She’d never survive the humiliation.”

Matt nodded his head as if he agreed with what Ron was saying. “And you know, that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that his best friend is an outlaw biker who mistakes his bike’s noise for speed.”

“It’ll blow the doors off your rolling coffin any day.”

“My rolling coffin? Shelley says you’re the only guy who can make her think about death. It happens every time she gets on your bike. And besides,” he continued, turning to the insult against his car, “Bertha may not be fast, but she’s reliable.”

“Bertha? Don’t you mean Eek and Creak?”

“Boys, stop,” Amy said. Markayla had ceased paying attention to them and had sat down to read, or to pretend to read.

“So, I’m off. Doctor Ron needs to make his rounds.”

“I hope she survives your treatment,” Matt said.

Ron turned to go. “Just remember, Matt. If they ever find a use for rust, you’ll be a rich man.”


After Ron had left, Amy turned to Matt. “In spite of the way you tortured us, thank you for killing the spider,” she said, stroking his arm.

“So now you’re really grateful, huh?”

“Mildly grateful.”

“So your gratitude and indebtedness to me are great, wide, and deep.”

“You want something.” Amy looked at him narrowly.

“Well, there is this concept called reciprocation, you know. And I have just saved your life.”

“Oh, so now it all comes out. It’s all clear now. My mistake. Excuse my blindness. Here I thought we were friends, but no, what we have here is a transactional relationship. Every good deed must be repaid in kind, and with interest. You do something for me only because you want something in return. Now I see it. Okay, fine. No love lost here. I’m ready. Just what is it you want?”

“Well, I have to take back the old vacuum booster to get a refund for the core charge, and I thought that if you wanted to go, we could do dinner tonight instead of tomorrow night, thus accomplishing both tasks on one tank of gas.”

“So dinner with me is a task now, is it?”

“Did I say task? I meant pleasure.”

“And I guess there’s a game on tomorrow night that you just found out about.”

“No, Amy. I didn’t just find out about any game.”

“You knew about it before, but you had forgotten.” Amy had learned a lot from her father about interrogation and the techniques of evasion. She knew that people often construct statements that are literally true but that create a false implication. To her surprise, she had hit the truth. Matt reddened a bit but said nothing.

“Aha!” she said with triumph. “Well, we’ll let that one pass until a time when I can get more mileage out of it.”

Matt relaxed. “Thanks.”

“But dinner with you as payment for killing the spider? Man, your price for a good deed is way steep.”

“I do not understand American romance,” Markayla mumbled to herself. Tina looked genuinely concerned, as if the two were in conflict.

“The price may be high,” Matt said, “but, as the commercial says, I’m worth it.”

“You wish. Looks like in the future, I’ll have to ask first what I’m going to have to do to repay you for a good deed.”

“But the future is so far away. Live for the moment.”

“Well, I guess I’m trapped now. What time?”

“Well, the auto parts store closes at 5:30, and it’s almost 5:00 now.”

“Do you realize that many girls will not go out with a guy unless he asks them at least three days in advance? And here you are asking three minutes in advance.”

“Yeah, but I don’t date those girls.”

“Oh, so this is interesting. That means you do date other girls. Which ones?” Amy gave Matt a look of intense scrutiny. “Confess.” She tapped her foot rapidly.

Markayla could take this silly banter no longer. “Go on. Get out of here. Go to the store. Go to dinner. Come back late. Some people would like to graduate from this university.”

As Matt and Amy got ready to head out the door, Tina walked over to Amy. “You’re both going away?” she said, with evident anxiety.

“Just out for awhile,” Amy told her.

Amy looked at Matt. She dared not invite Tina on a date Matt had set up.

“Would you like to go, too, Tina?” Matt asked, not realizing how many points he was gaining.


“Thank you, Matt,” Amy said as Tina ran over to her bed to put on her shoes and add a sweatshirt.

“What about you Markayla? Want some dinner?”

“Oh, the dining commons is fine. I am not picky. I eat anything.”

“Oh, right,” Matt said. “Like with coffee.” Then he tried to imitate Markayla: “Why was my father not a coffee importer rather than an oil man? This coffee is beneath every standard of acceptability. I cannot drink it. It should be outlawed.” The imitation was ridiculous. Matt’s imitation of a girl was to use a very high pitched, screechy voice. Putting his version of a British accent on the screech only made it worse.

“The food I can stand. The coffee is another matter completely,” said Markayla.

“Come on. We’ll go to the Klatch after dinner and get you some real coffee.”

“But I’m only on page 145.”

“You can study tomorrow. The whole day. We won’t bother you. It’s time for a break now. Time for food, fun, and fellowship. And besides, if you’re totally obsessive, you can study again when we get back. Amy’s parents won’t let me keep her out late.”

“That’s right,” Amy agreed.

“Yeah, three, maybe four A.M. is the max.”

Matt’s offer was persuasive. Markayla went to the closet for a sweater.

“You like Mexican, Tina?” Matt asked.

“If it’s the good kind.”

“How about you, Aim-o. Is Don Pepe’s okay?”

“How can I refuse? It’s part of my required payment for your chivalrous deed. I’m just a slave to your wishes.” Then she took hold of his arm and added quietly, “Don Pepe’s sounds great.”


As they pulled into the parking lot of the auto parts store, Matt heard Amy say, “Remember that you have to pay for dinner. Don’t spend all the refund on cans of spray oil or tools.”

“I’ve been cut,” Matt said, feeling of his chest where he thought his heart was. “I don’t know where these ridiculous attacks come from.”

“Experience, knowledge, observation,” Amy said.

“Ow. She not only puts salt on the rusty blade, but she twists the handle, too.” Matt coughed for effect.


Don Pepe’s was down the freeway a trace, so it was forty-five minutes later by the time the old booster had been returned and they had driven to the restaurant. Four hungry students therefore exited the car, which was grateful to feel the weight being taken off its sagging suspension.

As they walked up to the door, Tina stopped.

“What’s wrong?” Amy asked.

“They don’t want me to eat here.”

“Who doesn’t want you to eat here?” Matt asked.

“The Abierto group,” Tina said.

“Who’s that?” Matt asked again.

“It’s been taken over by the Abiertos,” Tina said, pointing to the sign in the window that said, “Open. Abierto.”

“That means they’re open,” Amy said.

“I’m not an Abierto,” Tina said.

“Don’t worry, Tina,” Amy told her. “You’re with us. It’s okay. Come on.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Come on. They have good food here.”

“We are with you,” Markayla added.

Tina was persuaded, and they went in.

They were soon seated in a padded red booth and brought a large tray of chips and salsa.

“My three girlfriends and I would all like water to start with,” Matt said as he took the last menu from the waiter.

“Yes, sir,” the waiter said. Back in the service area, they could hear an exclamation that sounded like, “Ay, Chihuahua!”

“Matt, you’ve totally scandalized that waiter,” Amy said, in a scolding tone.

“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The food arrived and the four held hands as Matt gave a brief blessing. He gave Amy’s hand a little extra squeeze before letting it go.

The food was quite good, but Amy was now worrying about Tina more than ever and wondering what was really wrong with her. What could be done to help her? Did her parents know? Could the school counselors or health service help? Amy also felt grateful to Matt. Here he had wanted to be alone on a date with Amy, only to end up with her two roommates as well, one of whom clearly was not quite well. What a nice guy he was. She looked over at Matt, a look of sadness on her face and her eyes glistening with emotion. Just then, he happened to look over at Amy. Not knowing the complexity of her thoughts, he read her face to be an expression of her deep feeling for him and felt fully repaid for any loss of intimacy the presence of the other girls had caused.

Matt was his usual happy self during the meal. He ate heartily. Once, when the waiter returned to fill the water glasses, he said, “My women and I really like your food.” The waiter merely nodded. Markayla put her hand up in an effort to hide the look of embarrassment on her face. Tina did not appear to be paying attention. Amy stepped on his foot. “Ow,” Matt said, looking at Amy with a pained expression. “You stepped on my foot.”

“And I’m not apologizing, either,” Amy said.

Markayla praised the flavor of what she called “the ethnic food.” Tina looked over her food almost with suspicion and picked out several little pieces that looked just like all the other pieces, but she ate nearly all the rest of it. Amy’s stomach was not communicating with her brain at all, and she could not have said with accuracy whether she was still hungry or not. However, she remembered having been hungry as they drove to the restaurant, so she made herself eat.


“Well,” said Amy after they were almost finished eating, “I guess I should forgive you for preferring some sports thing over me and bouncing me from tomorrow night to tonight. This food was really good.”

“Yeah,” said Matt. “All in all, it was worth a little extra to get the flowers with the spider. The result has been quite gratifying. Good food, beautiful women—”

“Do you mean that you brought that spider in on purpose?” Markayla asked, her eyes wide.

“It’s okay, Markayla. He’s just teasing. In his twisted sort of way.”

“You started it.”

“What makes you think I was teasing?”

“Don’t argue, please,” Tina said, looking at Amy. Her face wore a pleading, troubled look.

“It’s okay, Tina. We’re just having fun. Matt and I are friends.”

“Of a very odd nature,” said Markayla.

Matt picked up the bill. “Ow, ow, ow, ow,” he said, as if in pain.

“Do you need some help, Matt?” Amy asked. “You don’t have to pay for all of us.”

“No, I’ve got it. I’ll just use pretend money.” He took a credit card from his wallet and took the bill over to the cash register. Amy stayed with him while Tina and Markayla went on outside.

“These things are great,” Matt said, waving his card. “Have all the fun you want, live with wild abandon, and don’t have to pay for it until later.”

“Matt, I’m really worried about Tina,” Amy said softly. “She needs some kind of help.”

“Why don’t you talk to the RA?” Matt said. “Or the health center?”

“That’s a good idea. I’ll do that tomorrow, or tonight if Melanie is around. Thanks.”

“Hey, no prob.”

“And thank you so much for the dinner and for just being you.”

“Well, thank you for helping me with the car.”

“Any time. It was fun.”

“You’re the only girl I know who thinks getting greasy is fun.”

“I didn’t say that part was fun.”

“But you like tools, don’t you? Admit it.”

“Tools are tools. You use them.”

“Tools are my friends.”

By this time they were out at the car. Matt opened the doors for everyone and soon they were gently swaying and bounding down the road, bottoming out at every bump or dip.

“Gotta get that suspension fixed,” thought Matt.


Go on to Chapter 14
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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com