The Million Dollar Girl
A Novel

Robert Harris
Version Date: October 11, 2008

Chapter 17

Amy had been enjoying Professor Miller’s critical thinking class because growing up with her father had taught her the value of reasoning and thinking well, and Professor Miller had enabled her to stretch her thought processes. Though he was clearly affected and pompous in his lectures, he was still knowledgeable and informative. And though his films usually centered around violence or disaster, they made useful points. Even his textbook, which he bragged about a little too much, was really pretty good.

So it was that although most of the class had rejoiced when Professor Miller announced there would be no class on Friday, Amy did not rejoice with them. Even though she did not like getting up for an 8:00 AM class, she enjoyed it once she was awake. Today, though, since there was no class, Amy had planned to sleep in. She had deliberately not set her alarm clock. “I’ll just sleep until I wake up,” she thought. She had awakened at ten minutes after six. “Wow, a whole extra ten minutes of sleep,” she said aloud to herself. “I must have been exhausted.” Rather than try to go back to sleep, or just lie in bed resting, Amy got up and went through her usual routine. She was ready to walk out the door by seven. But why go through the usual routine? Why rush over to the dining commons when there is no class to go to until 11:00? “Maybe Matt would like to go to breakfast,” she thought.

It was clear by the sound of the voice on the other end that Matt had been asleep when Amy called. “I’m sorry to wake you,” Amy said.

“No, no, I’m awake. Fine. Hi, Amy. What time is it?”

“It’s five after seven.”

“Oh, great. That’s a good time to get up. You going to class?”

“No, class is canceled for today, and the DC sounds lame. How about if I treat you to breakfast at Quinlan’s?”

“Uh, oh, uh sure. That sounds great. Where are you?”

“I’m in New York City, but I can be at your room in ten minutes.”

“New—. Amy, it’s cruel to joke to sleepy people.”

“I’ll walk slowly.” Amy happened to turn around as she talked and saw Tina standing there in her pajamas with the teddy bears on them. Amy had forgotten that Tina was a much lighter sleeper than Markayla, who was still asleep because Amy had not set the alarm they both relied on. Amy had decided to let her sleep.

“Can I go, too?” Tina asked. “I’ll pay.”

Amy thought for a few moments. It was nice to be with just Matt, but poor Tina needed someone, especially when she was in an anxious mood. Many times Tina seemed to prefer being off alone and would disappear for hours by herself, sometimes to return with another radio or a magazine. But other times she grew nervous or even upset when Amy planned to go somewhere without her. When Amy asked her to go along, Tina seemed almost happy. So, Amy tried to accommodate the anxious moods.

“Tina wants to come, too. Is that okay? She says she’ll pay.”

Matt may have rolled his eyes, but he agreed anyway. He did not understand Tina, either, but sensed that she needed “to be cut some slack.”

“We’re coming,” Amy said.

“Okay. I’ll try to be ready when you get here.”

“Goodbye, you,” Amy said affectionately.

Tina pulled on some sweat pants and the large, hooded sweatshirt she had begun to wear more and more often. The sleeves were so long that her fingers barely stuck out. When she wrote at her desk, only her fingertips touched the pen or pencil in her hand. When she pulled the hood up over her head, she seemed almost to disappear in her clothes. Amy had asked her early on if she was cold, but she said she was fine. When Amy turned the heat up anyway one day, Tina soon complained that the room was too warm.


“It’s open,” said Matt when Amy knocked.

When Amy and Tina stepped inside, they noticed the tell-tale signs of male housekeeping. Dynamite and wind machines were obviously the tools of choice for decorating the living room. Piles of laundry were one thing, but the magazines, bicycles, books, and tools seemed to be arranged randomly.

“Be right with you,” Matt said from the bathroom. “Just doing my hair.”

“Have you changed your major to art?” Amy asked.

Matt walked into his bedroom from the bathroom just as Amy stood at the door from the living room.

“Art?” Matt asked, stepping out of the bathroom for a moment, comb in hand.

“The way you have so tastefully arranged the materials in the living room. And I see your bedroom is even better.”

“I wasn’t expecting company. I was going to clean up this weekend. I’ve been busy. I did do the kitchen.”

“I couldn’t tell.”

“Well, it’s guy clean.” Guy clean to a guy means clean enough. One brush of the mop, scrape the dried food off the countertop, swish the sponge over it. Vacuum the carpet every two or three weeks whether it needs it or not. Guy clean to a girl means not clean.

From her position in the doorway to the bedroom, Amy saw a photograph sitting on Matt’s bedside table. It was angled so that she could not quite see who it was, but from what she could see, it was a picture of a beautiful, smiling girl. Getting a little closer she could see the brilliant color, the wonderful hair. Amy’s heart sank. It is true that she had as yet no official claims on Matt, but she had felt that they were both becoming attached to each other. She liked him a lot. She had thought he felt the same way about her. Now she wondered if she was just a fill-in entertainment. Perhaps Matt had another girl, a real girlfriend.

By this time she had stepped into the bedroom far enough to approach the photo to see her hated rival. She turned the picture to look the girl full in the face. There looking back at her from the frame, radiant, eyes sparkling, cheeks aglow, was Amy herself.

“Is this me?” she asked, incredulously.

Matt was now in the room, buttoning his shirt.

“Of course it’s you. Girl of my dreams. Who else would it be?”

“Do I really look like this?” Amy asked.

“No,” said Tina, looking at the picture and then turning to look at Amy.

“Why does everybody have to be so honest all the time?” Amy thought.

“Remember when you and Emily and Karl and I went to that miniature golf course? That’s when Karl took this. I nabbed a copy.”

“But I didn’t look all this, this nice.” She was afraid to say gorgeous.

“Well, I just scanned it and used a little software to bring out your best. After all, if fashion magazines can take plain girls with chunky legs and make them slim and beautiful for their covers, I can take a cute girl and give her a little extra sparkle.”

“Thank you, you fibber. At least it’s nice to know that’s how you imagine me. But where’s Emily?”

“I’m afraid I had to edit Emily out of the picture.”

“That sounds so cruel.”

“But it’s not Emily who interests me. What do you think I dream about at night, anyway?”

“Sixteen-speed drill presses and eighty-gallon air compressors, why?” Amy’s tone implied that her answer was an obvious fact. “And don’t deny it. I’ve seen the catalogs.”

“Well, yes, of course,” Matt said, taking her joke and turning it back on her. “But I mean in addition to that, what do I dream about after I get bored with tools?”

Amy gave a little cry of mock indignation and gave Matt a shove. Then she said, aloofly, “I don’t really care, and I’m afraid to imagine. Besides, I doubt you ever get bored with tools. In fact, I see you’re still sleeping with Baby Blue Eyes.” Amy motioned toward the little air compressor in the corner, just feet from Matt’s bed.

Amy had been with him in the discount store when Matt’s eyes first fell on the little air compressor, for sale for $99. According to her later reports, his eyes glazed over, his tongue hung out, drool ran down his shirt, his knees wobbled, and he staggered toward the tool with arms outstretched, mumbling, “I need this so bad. I’ve got to have this. I can’t wait any longer. Come to me!”

“You should have seen the lust in his eyes when he first saw that thing,” Amy said to Tina. “It was thick enough to cut with a knife. No, that’s not true. You’d need a chain saw.”

“Hey, I don’t have a chain saw yet. Great gift idea.”

“Won’t your air compressor be jealous?”

“Hey, I’m just keeping her here to be safe. Don’t want her to get kidnapped,” Matt said. “The bad guys are everywhere, you know.”

“They’re watching us,” Tina said, flatly and seriously. Matt and Amy looked at each other.

“Tina, Matt was only speaking figuratively,” Amy said. She could not keep herself from glancing about the room looking for any obvious camera lenses. Matt’s computer was on screen saver, with his father’s favorite saying scrolling slowly by: “Pray hard and pull with all your strength.” Amy looked over the computer table to see if Matt had a Web cam. She saw none.

“Well, I’m ready,” Matt said. “You want to go to Quinlan’s?”

“That was just an idea.”

“How about the Blue Ribbon Buffet? They have breakfast. And I think I have a coupon here somewhere. Matt walked out and into the kitchen. Amy and Tina followed. The kitchen table was deep in litter. Mail, old food containers, newspapers, homework, parts of something Matt was taking apart. Matt was rummaging around in the mess.

“By the time you find the ad, we’ll need a dinner coupon,” Amy said.

“Got it,” Matt said, pulling the flyer out of the pile.

“How do they always do that?” Amy wondered. “Sure,” she said, “Blue Ribbon is great.”

“No,” Tina said. “Blue is the enemy of Green.”

“What do you mean?” Matt asked.

“Nothing. Can we go to Quinlan’s? I like it.”

“You’ve been to Quinlan’s?”

“Oh yeah, yeah.”

“Okay,” Matt said, with a little resignation. “Quinlan’s it is.”


Tina had eaten about a third of her ham and cheese omelet when she stopped eating and looked at the plate of food suspiciously. She threw a partly eaten piece of toast down on the plate.

“What’s wrong?” Amy asked.

“They switched it.”

“Switched what?”

“They switched the food I ordered and put this icky stuff in its place.” Tina would eat no more of her breakfast.

“Are you sure?” Matt asked. “It looks the same to me. I didn’t see anybody switch it.”

“I don’t want it. It’s got bugs in it.”

“Bugs?” Amy asked.

“Why are they always doing that?” Tina demanded.

Matt and Amy finished their breakfast, while Tina drank a few sips of water. She had a look of quiet disgust on her face. She had been wronged.


“Tina,” Amy said as they drove from the restaurant, “we’d like to help you.”

“I don’t need any help. Go away.”

“But your thinking seems strange. Like this Blue and Green stuff. You seem confused.”

“Have you been hypnotized by the Abiertos? Please leave me alone.”

“And someone switching your food.”

“They put bugs in it.”

Amy decided to drop the conversation until she could learn more about how to help Tina. She did not want to alienate the girl by insisting on her seeing a counselor. Instead, she decided to call Counseling Services after getting back from breakfast.

“Not having your right mind is probably the most tragic thing that can happen to you,” she thought. “If you lose an arm or a leg, you can still function and think and live and create and love. But if you lose your mind, you can’t even decide you need help. Imagine not even being able to understand that something is wrong with your mind.” Amy felt sad, but she tried to hide it from Matt. After all, she was happy to be with him, she told herself. And maybe taking Tina Nicole with them was good for her, too.

“When we get back,” Matt said unexpectedly, interrupting Amy’s thoughts, “I gotta write me a new chapter in my book, The Man with Two Girlfriends, by Matt Prager.”

“I think you’ve miscounted by two,” Amy said, not looking at him. Matt glanced over to look for a suppressed smile. Amy remained deadpan.


Amy got an appointment with a counselor for Monday afternoon. The receptionist told her to send an email in the meantime describing the problem, so she wrote out a short description of her concerns and sent it off. Someone had to be able to help Tina. The girl seemed to be getting further and further away from reality in her comments.


Go on to Chapter 18
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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