The Million Dollar Girl
A Novel

Robert Harris
Version Date: October 11, 2008

Chapter 23

Amy had been so relieved that Dr. Miller had allowed her write another paper to replace the plagiarized “silly claptrap” of the first one. She had worked on this one so hard to please him, worked on it up to the last minute. But now, as she clutched the essay in her hand, she was worried about getting it to Dr. Miller on time. He had given her just so much extra time. She had used it all, staying up almost all night finishing it before falling asleep for just a few minutes. Amy could not believe that she had overslept. She was always up on time, even when her alarm did not work. But now she was almost late with her paper. It could not be late, or it would get a zero. She ran upstairs in the academic building and then down the long hallway toward the classroom.

Something was wrong. She could not find Room 266 where her critical thinking class met. The hallway was quiet. The building looked strange and unfamiliar and yet familiar, too. She ran from door to door, and even though the room numbers were wrong, she looked inside each one to see if she could see Dr. Miller or recognize her classmates or find anyone who might know where they were. The rooms were all empty.

The clock in the hall read 8:47, only three minutes until her essay would be late and she would fail. Her heart pounded. She felt flushed. Her mouth was dry.

“Maybe everyone finished early and Dr. Miller is back in his office,” she thought. Quickly she ran down the hallway. As she was about to take the stairwell, she noticed the door to the last classroom on the left was open. Inside she could see Dr. Miller sitting at a desk in the front. She sighed, releasing some of the tension. She was at least a minute early. She breathed deeply once or twice to slow her panting and her pounding heart, then walked inside with deliberate slowness. She tried to appear calm.

Dr. Miller looked up. He was not smiling. He looked hostile.

“Here’s my paper,” Amy said, holding it out to him.

Dr. Miller did not even glance at it. He did not take it. He did not even look Amy in the eyes. He looked back down at the work on his desk.

“It’s not late,” she said, as another jolt of fear-induced adrenalin shot through her body and made her heart pound again.

Dr. Miller looked at the paper she held out and then knocked it away with the back of his hand.

“Plagiarized,” he said with a snarl.

“No!” said Amy, her eyes shooting wide open.

“Plagiarized, like all the others,” Dr. Miller said. He pulled a printout of an article from his desk drawer and tossed it contemptuously on his desk. “Plagiarized claptrap.”

“No!” she screamed. “I wrote them. I wrote them all. Please believe me.”

“Why should I believe a cheater? And don’t think you can make me change my mind by working your feminine wiles on me,” Miller continued, looking at Amy’s body rather than into her eyes. “It won’t work.”

Amy looked down at herself to see what Miller was looking at. She was wearing only her black underwear.

Alarmed, confused, frightened, ashamed, feeling exposed, Amy dropped her paper on the floor and ran blushing from the room without another word. As she ran down the hall, her bare feet slapping on the shiny floor, students leaned out of the doorways watching her.

“Isn’t that the girl who plagiarized all her papers?” someone asked.

“Looks like she tried to use her feminine wiles on Dr. Miller.”

“The campus police are on the way to get her.”

Her fear increasing, Amy ran down the stairs, nearly falling, staggering awkwardly in her hurry to skip steps. The voices of laughter and criticism rang in her ears. Tears were welling in her eyes. Her face was flushed both from exertion and from shame. She was just pushing the door open, horrified at the thought of running across campus undressed, when Tina came up behind her and put her arms around her.

“Amy! Amy! Are you all right?” Tina asked.

The room grew dark. She felt her body falling and then rising. Tina was there holding her. Amy was sitting on her bed. Tina was next to her. Amy gulped. Her heart was still pounding. She was panting.

“Were they hurting you?” Tina asked.

“No, no,” said Amy, trying to recover her breathing. The disorientation took a few minutes to dispel as her brain shifted back to a wakeful reality. Amy and Tina sat on the edge of the bed for several minutes while Amy slowly resumed a normal breathing pattern. Amy checked the landmarks of reality in the room, visible in the dimness of the bathroom nightlight. Markayla was sleeping peacefully; the faint green glow from the back of her notebook computer shone on her desk; a lone candle flickered near Tina’s bed. Amy felt of her T-shirt and even pulled up the bottom edge slightly to check on the color of her underwear. White. Even in the semidarkness, she could tell it was white. She exhaled.

“I’m all right,” she said at last. “Thanks, Tina. Thank you for caring, for helping.” Amy wondered how her nightmare had appeared from the outside. “What was I doing?”

“It sounded like they were hurting you,” Tina said, not adding any specifics.

“It was just a bad dream,” Amy said, attempting to smile in order to reassure Tina. “Though that’s by far the worst one I’ve ever had.” Then she added, mostly for Tina’s sake, but perhaps a little for her own, “It wasn’t real. Thank God it wasn’t real.”

In high school Amy had experienced occasional anxiety dreams, usually involving an inability to remember her locker combination. Sometimes she could not find her locker or perhaps not remember which one was hers. But the most common dream was a failure to remember her combination, almost always right before class. She was familiar with the experience of awaking in the night with a pounding heart.

In real life, she had never even hesitated over her combination. She remembered it even now in her second year of college: 16, 43, 0. It was not difficult.

Then, last year, as a university freshman, her anxiety dreams changed. Instead of forgetting a combination, she now forgot to hand in an assignment, or perhaps even to do it. She never found funny those jokes students like to make when they pretend an assignment is due: “Did you get the paper done for today?” In spite of her careful system for noting assignments and due dates, she was still momentarily unsure that a paper was not really due that day. It always started her heart pounding. She hated that.

In the past, she had found herself in her dreams in an empty classroom, wondering where to turn in a paper. But this dream was the first one where Professor Miller and other students were present. It was the first one where she had been ridiculed and accused of plagiarizing all of her papers. And it was only the second time in her life, waking or sleeping, that anyone had ever suggested the possibility of Amy even having, much less using, “feminine wiles.” Amy smiled a wry smile in spite of herself. That part of the dream, along with the plagiarism part, clearly came from her waking experience with Dr. Miller. “Too bad that wasn’t just a dream, too,” she thought.


That morning, Amy kept quiet about her dream until she and Markayla were sitting together at breakfast in the dining commons. They had found a private enough corner where low conversation would not be overheard. At that hour of the morning, many students were still asleep or just getting ready. The breakfast crowd had not yet arrived.

Amy had no trouble remembering the details of her dream. Unlike many dreams that fade quickly when we awake, Amy’s dream had been quite clearly etched in her memory. She told the story quietly but emphatically, pausing to repeat certain parts where she had felt particularly fearful or embarrassed. Markayla listened quietly, nodding regularly as if she understood. At the end of the narrative, Amy looked down at the breakfast she had scarcely begun and drifted into a meditative gaze.

“You know, Amy,” Markayla said, “I have had that very same dream.” Markayla took a sip of coffee, and then winced and looked at the cup. She put the cup down.

“You’ve had the same dream?” Amy asked.

“Oh, yes,” said Markayla. “Only in my dream, I am carrying a tray of apples, brought from America, to the poor in a local village back home. As I walk toward the town elders to present the tray, children and dogs surround me, trying to get at the apples. The children pull on my arms and the dogs pull on my clothes. The apples begin to spill. The tray has no lip. It is flat, so the apples roll off easily. I try to balance the tray to keep the apples from rolling off, but soon they are all gone. The children grab them and run away, laughing and biting into the apples.”

“And the dogs?”

“The dogs just bark at me. But when I get to the elders and have only an empty tray in my hands, they frown at me and tell me to leave their presence. They call me a useless girl. They tell me I am too ambitious, that I am trying to do too much. One of them says that I could have brought one apple in each hand safely. Then he quotes the proverb, ‘Haraka haraka haina baraka,’ which is like the English proverb, ‘Haste makes waste.’ It means there is no blessing in too much hurry to do something.”

“What do you think it means?” asked Amy.

“I do not know what this dream means. Perhaps it means something, and perhaps it means nothing. I wondered for awhile, after dreaming this two times, if the dream means that I am too ambitious to want to become an American lawyer. Perhaps I should be more humble in what I attempt.”

“Do you still think that?”

“No. I want to listen to God, not to dreams. God can speak to me in dreams, but I do not know that this dream is from God. I think it is from worry, like your dream. I do not think we should allow ourselves to become prisoners of dreams we do not understand. We know they are only dreams. They seem real when we are asleep, but when we wake we know they are only dreams.”

“It’s odd that sometimes we wish our dreams could be true and our reality could be a dream. But in this case, I’m glad my dreams aren’t true.”

“Perhaps Tina’s problem is that she thinks her dreams are true.”

“I wish I knew. The way I think of it is that when people experience a dream or imagine something, the thought has a little tag that labels the idea as not real. When people go crazy, their brains wash away the tags and they can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.”

“So they lose the label that says ‘this is real cloth’ as it is ripped out of the clothing of their thoughts.”

“Well, sort of, but not exactly. Tina thinks that unreal things are real, so it’s more like she’s lost the tags that say, ‘this is a synthetic fabric.’ Real things still seem real, but imaginary things seem real, too.”

“Well, you must not be crazy yet, because you still know when you have a dream.”

“Yet?” Amy said.

“I am only kidding.”

“I remember when I was little, my dad would pretend that my stuffed animals were alive and that I had hurt them or hurt their feelings. For awhile I wasn’t always sure whether he was kidding. I’d ask, ‘This is just betend, isn’t it daddy?’”

“We all like to pretend.”

“Yeah. The scary thing is, we all sometimes wish that what we imagine could be real. People who get their wishes are called visionaries, and people who only believe that their wishes are real are called crazy. Telling the real from the imaginary is one of the big things in life. Trouble is, we all like self deception. It’s so much kinder. We talk about true and false, but we should be talking about reality and imagination.”

“Everyone who falls in love knows what you are talking about. What girl or boy has not wondered whether the signs of returned interest are real or are imaginary? We fear that we are imagining or making a wrong interpretation. But we wish so hard.”

Amy wondered if this comment was an admission that Markayla had been in love. She decided not to pursue it. “Yeah. We want our love to be returned so much that we start to think it really is, when maybe it isn’t. We believe what we want to, and reason gets bounced out of the way.”

“We must not let reason get bounced out of the way. It is necessary for a happy life. It is how we understand reality, after all.”

“But how do we know what’s real? We might all be dreaming now. You can’t prove we aren’t. And besides, we live in a world where people talk about an infinite number of truths, all equal, all true, even though contradictory.”

“Now you are being clever like the professors and other students. Clever but foolish. You know that there are not an infinite number of truths that conflict. You know there is God’s truth.”

“Right now, that’s the only thing that keeps me sane,” Amy said, still wondering what in the world was going on in her life.

“And you cannot reason about whether or not we are all dreaming. We simply know when we are not dreaming. It is knowledge apart from reason and apart from proof and apart from demonstration. Just like the existence of our families or trees or even—.” Markayla stopped and looked around the room. “—Or even coffee. We cannot prove they are there, we just have to know they are.”

“Don’t let Dr. Miller hear you talking like that. He doesn’t believe anything you can’t prove by reason.”

“Dr. Miller is a smart man who says many true things,” Markayla said, “but I do not think he is always right.”

“Markayla!” Amy said, pretending to be astonished. “How can you disagree with the great Dr. Miller?”

Markayla deliberated for a few moments.

“Markayla,” Amy said. “I’m only teasing.”

“Nevertheless,” she said finally, “he is not always right. Reason is important. It is necessary. But it does not lead us to every true thing.”


The girls returned to the dorm and Markayla headed off to a business class. Her professors liked the Tuesday-Thursday class schedule because they could run a company on the side while coming to campus only twice a week. Amy noticed that while she and Markayla had been at breakfast, Tina had dramatically neatened up her area. Her desk was almost completely cleared off, her clothes were all put away somewhere, and her books were all lined up along the wall.

“Wow,” Amy said, “great clean up job, Tina.”

“Can I talk to you, Amy?” Tina asked.

“Sure. What’s up?”

“I know you’re sad and all and that things are bad for you right now.”

“I’ll survive. Somehow.”

“I just wanted you to know that I’ve been given permission to go upstairs.”

“Upstairs?” Amy wondered whether Tina was moving to a new room. That would explain the packing. However, the dorm had only two floors. There was no upstairs from this room in this building.

“So I’ll be leaving you soon.”

“I’ll miss you, Tina. But where are you going?”

“I’m sorry I won’t be able to protect you anymore.”

“Protect me?”

“You’ll have to go out to eat without me. Be careful.”

“I’ll try.”

“I wanted to thank you for helping me. For being my friend.”

“But where are you going?”

“I’m returning to my orb.”

“Your orb? What’s that?”

“I was here to use my special powers to earn my rule. My time here is accomplished. But I want you to know I appreciate your friendship. When I get to my orb, I will send you 800 million dollars. It’s available for thank you gifts to those who have helped me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You see my name isn’t really Tina. That was just a name for this realm. My granted name is Astrea.”


“I’m the goddess of star fire.”

Amy was silent. She did not know what to say.

“I wanted to return earlier but there has been a war going on among all the planets and the higher beings. I had to wait. Now it’s almost ready. When everything is ready, I’ll be going.”

“How are you going to get where you are going?”

“I’ll walk into the next dimension.”

“Tina, are you sure you didn’t just dream this?” Tina was silent. “Or imagine it? I mean, maybe it isn’t real?”

“No, no, I’m not crazy.”

“But remember that dream I had last night? It was just a dream, even though it seemed real. So maybe you have dreamed this and it isn’t real?”

There was another pause. Amy felt overwhelmed. She had no idea how to handle a situation like this. She thought about shouting, “Tina, you have to be reasonable!” but she knew that Tina already thought she was being reasonable. Finally, she asked, “You’re not leaving right away are you?”

“I’m not sure. I’m waiting for the final sign.”

“What is the final sign?”

“There will be a message on the radio.”

Amy thought she would make one last attempt.

“How will you recognize the message as one for you and not for someone else?”

“They use a special name on a secret channel.”

“And how do you know you can trust the message?”

“There is a special code word. It’s all been worked out.”

Amy felt like crying. But this time it was not for herself.


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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