The Million Dollar Girl
A Novel

Robert Harris
Version Date: October 11, 2008

Chapter 9

“Does the word love really have any specific, definable meaning?” Professor Miller asked, as he glanced at Gina and then quickly away. He almost looked at Amy, but settled on Markayla instead. Markayla raised one eyebrow.

Miller was hoping that he was not looking at Gina too often or too long as he presented his discussion about words. The class was somewhat small this morning, so there were fewer students to alternate eye contact with. A few students had decided to begin their papers about reason in their lives, and by their logic, working on a paper and going to the class requiring the paper, all on the same day, would have counted as double work, or at least overtime. So they chose to work on the paper and skip the class, thus keeping in balance the amount of time dedicated to each course and each part of their lives. A few other students decided to head off just a few days early for the weekend.

But even with the small attendance, Miller did not want to appear too obviously attentive to his front-row student. Usually, he enjoyed talking about semantics, but this morning he was distracted by the thought of flying to Las Vegas right after class. In fact, it would be a rush to get to the airport on time.

“After all,” he continued, “You might tell your significant other, ‘I love you,’ and he or she might reply, ‘I love you, too,’ but you two may not mean anywhere near the same thing. Besides, don’t you also say, ‘I love ice cream,’ and ‘I love music,’ and perhaps, ‘I love my parents’? Do you love your sister the same way you love your girlfriend?”

“What if your sister is your girlfriend?” some wag mumbled for the benefit of those nearby.

“Oh, yuck,” said the wag’s actual girlfriend.

“I hate my sister,” someone else said quietly.

A cell phone rang. The student tried to answer it discreetly, perhaps not realizing the impossibility of such an event in a classroom.

“Brandy, hang up or get out,” Miller said. He was being unusually tolerant this morning, allowing the choice of hanging up. Brandy hung up and apologized.

“The point is,” Miller said, driving onward, “that a single word can mean many different things. When people begin to talk about justice or truth or democracy, they get themselves into trouble because they all have different definitions.”

A hand went up.


“So, then, everything is just relative, and people who talk about justice or something are just playing semantic games?”

“The point is that you need to define your terms. Reason needs specific and clear language to operate properly. Vague and unintelligible concepts only get you into trouble.”

“In Poli Sci they said that justice is just what those in power say it is. Is that what you’re saying?”

Miller was about to answer when he noticed, in his wandering glances, that Gina looked mildly bored. Whether he took her expression as a token for the entire class or whether he was afraid of appearing less than exciting to her, he decided to move on.

“Well, we mustn’t allow ourselves to get off onto philosophical tangents here.” He looked at the clock deliberately, in order to show his concern with the time. “The next concept is that words represent connotative characterizations, sometimes arbitrary and sometimes non-arbitrary, applied to concrete things to shape your perceptions of them, and to abstractions often to produce a specious reification.” Miller smiled at himself as he turned to the blackboard. He found space next to verbal token on the crowded board to write connotative characterizations and specious reification. He therefore did not notice that three students threw their pens on the desk in disgust. Specious reification was just too over the top for them. Even Markayla was shaking her head, carefully marking the words for later lookup in her desk dictionary.

As Miller turned back to the class, Julie had her hand up.

“Yes, Julie.”

“Could you give us an example of a suspicious reification?”

“Specious reification?” asked Miller, using a question to correct her. “Certainly.” He thought for a few moments. “Well, for example, on those documentaries on TV, they often say things like, ‘Unless this plant gets adequate light and nutrients, its leaves cannot grow to the size that nature intended.’ Do you see that? Nature is an idea, not a person. It has no intentions. Nature is purposeless and without direction. There are no intentions in the world good or bad except the intentions of individuals.”

“What about governments?”

“Well, let’s not get back off into political science. Anyway, I see that our time is getting close.” It was actually ten minutes before the hour. A couple of students blinked. This was the first meeting where Miller had ever called the time himself rather than wait until the slapping of books told him to quit. And he was ending early.

“I have an appointment after class today, so I won’t be able to stay and answer questions. And do remember, people, there’s a paper due Monday.”

The mumblings and groans were mostly drowned out by the sounds of books slamming shut, backpacks being jostled and zipped, and the happy conversation of students unexpectedly receiving the gift of ten minutes.

The moment was now just right. “Oh, I almost forgot,” Miller said, as if in afterthought. “I’ll be out of town on Friday, at a conference.” He forced himself not to look at Gina. “Therefore,” he continued, “there will be no class.” Better spell it out to them, he thought, or they’ll expect a substitute.

To say that the class cheered might be somewhat of an exaggeration, but not much. Nearly all of the students were delighted to have a class cancelled, and during the time just before a paper was due, too. What good luck. A few were thinking they could use the class time Friday to start the paper, even though most were more likely just to sleep in.


Coffee at the Cave possessed less than its usual interest this morning. Hardly anyone was there. Markayla had gone back to the dorm to make herself a cup of “real coffee, not that dark, bitter, hot water from the Cave.” The few students who did join the group this day once again polled each other about the status of the paper for Miller’s class, with much the same results as before.

The only event of interest at this meeting came at the end, as everyone was leaving.

“Amy,” David said. “Can I talk to you a minute?”


“Has Jeremy called you yet?”

“Jeremy? Jeremy Schneider?”


“No. Is he supposed to?”

“Yeah, he wants to talk to you.”

“About what?”

“I don’t know. Do you know if he has your extension?”

“I doubt it. I hardly know him.” Amy was truly confused. Jeremy was not in any of her classes, and David was the only acquaintance they had in common. She was not exactly part of Jeremy’s social circle.

“I can give it to him.”

“It’s 7204. Seven is the number for Pelletier, and 204 is the room.”

“Gotcha. Thanks.”

“No problem,” Amy said, as she slung her backpack over her shoulders. “See you Monday.”

“Have a weekend.”

“You, too.”


Some philosophers claim that there are truths too complex to be analyzed by the powers of reason, but that they are truths nonetheless. Similarly, we sometimes become aware of conclusions we have never thought about or turned over in our conscious minds. Such was the case as Amy walked back to her room. She began to feel a little sad, thinking of herself as hopelessly ordinary. She had not consciously noticed Miller’s extra attention to Gina this morning, and she had only briefly remarked on how nice Jennica looked in her cable knit, turtleneck sweater, and she had no idea what to make of David’s comments about Jeremy. But somehow all these factors, possibly combined with the fact that a carload of boys had nearly run her over in the parking lot on the way back from class, had made her think of herself with regret. “Sorry, I didn’t see you,” the driver had said.

“Sorry for being invisible,” she had thought.

This mood explains the scene that followed when she walked into her room. Markayla noticed that Amy had a glum expression.

“What is it, Amy?”

“What’s what?”

“You look sad. Did something happen at the Cave that has made you sad?”

“No. I’m not sad. I’m not happy. I’m just—average.”

“Things are not going as well as you wish them?”

“Oh, things are okay. It’s just me. I’m just average.”

“What do you mean by just average?”

“Oh, you know. Average height, average build, average brown hair, average brown eyes, average looks, just average. Depressingly average.” Amy was pulling at her hair and clothes as she spoke, as if a prospective buyer were critically assessing a definitively ordinary product.

“What is wrong with you?” asked Markayla in a tone more gentle than her words might imply. “Here you have every benefit of being a young, attractive woman in the richest nation on earth, with dependable drinking water and telephones, and yet you decide to be unhappy. Over what?”

“I’m just so average. Look at me. Just boringly average.”

“Have you been staring at your nose in the mirror again?”

“No.” Amy was embarrassed that Markayla knew enough to ask this question.

“I’ve seen you pushing your face around. Your eyes are too far apart or too close together. Your lips are too thin or too thick. Your eyebrows are too thin or too thick. Your nose is too big and it is sideways, and your ears are too big and they stick out too far and one eye is lower than the other, and your mouth is too big or too small and your teeth stick out.”

“Stop! Markayla, no,” said Amy insistently.

“Well, let me tell you. God loves average people. That is why he made so many of us.”

“He made lots of bugs, too, and we use bug spray on them.”

“Amy, this is not like you. What is getting into your head?”

“So many other girls seem to have all the advantages. Look at Jennica, the cutest blonde you’ll ever see. And funny. And Shelley. I wish I could be that outgoing.” Amy pouted.

“You want to be like Shelley?” demanded Markayla. “Shelley is crazy. That girl knows no boundaries. She frightens me.”

“Oh, Shelley’s okay. I think she’s a good person. She’s just an extravert. She’s so comfortable around everyone. And then there’s Gina Roper, that girl in our critical thinking class. She’s just perfect. Her hair, her eyes, the way she walks, everything about her is cute. I mean, when I smile, I look happy. When Jennica smiles, her face lights up. When Gina smiles, the room lights up.”

“Is this envy I see making you as green as a frog? Shame on that.”

“But people just think, ‘Wow, Jennica is a really cute girl. And Shelley is a really funny, playful girl. And Gina is a gorgeous girl. And oh, then there’s Amy. Yes, Amy is a girl, too.’”


“It’s just that I’m a girl of no adjectives.”

“I am thinking of some adjectives right now,” Markayla said. “You are like the man who complained about the lifeboat because the seats were not padded.” Amy was unsure of the application of this saying to her situation, so she let it pass.

“It’s just that no one even notices me. I almost got run over in the parking lot—again—just now. I’m so ordinary that it’s like I’m invisible. I’d just like to be attractive enough to keep guys from running me down.”

“Well, you are quite attractive enough. The boys in the parking lot would run down a model from a fashion magazine. You are a nice looking young woman. Healthy and young and well enough shaped. I do not know what you want.”

Amy would not permit herself to say or think that she wanted to be like Gina.

“I’d like to be more confident, to be liked more easily. To feel natural, normal, and relaxed around everyone. I’m just too shy and too plain to be noticed.”

“When you spoke up in class, everyone noticed you. You were a star. You were not shy then. And besides, Matt is a kind and smart and honorable young man. Not many girls have such a nice boyfriend.”

“He’s not my boyfriend. He’s just a guy I hang out with.”

Now that Markayla had been in the United States for four years, she had already begun to try to think of herself as an American. Therefore, she had promised herself never to say, “You Americans,” in a critical tone, a comment she had made more than once when she had first come into the country. Amy’s denying that Matt was her boyfriend, however, sorely tempted her. Instead, she judiciously decided to blame Amy’s attitude on her environment.

“Oh, that is a term for our age, ‘a guy I hang out with.’ Instead of, ‘Would you like to go out with me on a date?’ we must say, ‘Wanna hang with me this weekend?’” Markayla’s British-accented mimic of American speech made Amy smile against her will. “Hello, Mr. Jones, I am Markayla, and this is Amy, and this is Matthew, the guy she hangs out with. We are so glad to meet you.”

“Markayla, stop it.”

“Poor Matthew. He probably thinks you are his girlfriend, but, alas, you are only the girl who hangs out with him. Little does he know his lowly status in your mind.”

“Markayla,” said Amy, a little more emphatically.

“And not the guy she hangs out with, merely a guy. Oh, my. Tell me, Miss Herbert,” said Markayla, adopting the deep tone of a judge, “how many other male companions do you at this time ‘hang out with’ as the expression is?”

“He’s not a male companion,” Amy said, repulsed by the term that sounded like a euphemism. “He’s my—” and here she had to stop herself from using the term “boyfriend” and instead said “—friend.”

“Ah! So he is your admitted friend,” said Markayla, archly and with stress. “He is not merely a guy to be hung out with but an actual friend.” Markayla’s future as a lawyer was evident in her tone and body language. She was born for the role. Had she the knowledge now, she would already be a competent trial lawyer.

“Don’t you have homework to do?” Amy asked. “Besides, boyfriend is such a loaded term, with all kinds of scary implications.”

“But you do like Matt, in a special way.”

Just a little red appeared in Amy’s cheeks. “I guess so. I somehow feel relaxed with him. I’m usually afraid of guys. But Matt is nice.” Amy wanted to change the subject. “Where’s Tina Nicole?”

“She has gone to the bookstore to get a radio.”

“Another radio? She has three already.”

“She said she needed a radio.”

“Why? Did she say?”

“No. And I did not ask. I think Tina is maybe not all right.”

“I’m beginning to think so, too. But maybe she just likes radios. After all look at how many cans of spray oil Matt has. And I think he’s okay. Even though he likes me.”

“That is not funny, Amy. You do not deserve to be pitied, so you might as well not try to get any from me.”

Amy’s fake pout showed that she was beginning to rally out of her blue mood. Just as she frowned so winningly, the phone rang.

Since Tina never got a phone call, and Markayla’s were rare, Amy answered, hoping it might be Matt.

“Hi, Amy. Remember me? Jeremy. We met last year.”

David had evidently wasted no time in giving her number to Jeremy. Amy knew who Jeremy was and saw him around campus occasionally, but did not remember actually meeting him. She knew that he was intensely good looking and had the reputation of being something of a lady killer. He was seldom seen with the same girl.

“Hello,” she said.

“The guys all say that you’re really smart in the critical thinking class.”


“And I’ve noticed that you’re a really classy chick.”

Amy thought Jeremy sounded fake, insincere. “Oh, come on,” she thought. “’Classy chick’? Who talks like that?” She thought of Shelley’s friend Brandy, who in her desperate desire to be thought cool called girls chicks, as if that were the term approved by the in crowd. It seemed just as phony in Jeremy’s mouth. What kind of person would think of her as a chick?

“Um, thank you, I guess,” Amy said, feeling awkward. Jeremy was usually seen talking to or walking with a beautiful girl. Amy wondered what in the world he could want from her. His clumsy flattery was alarming.

“Say, Amy,” Jeremy continued, plowing through the stiffness of the situation with remarkable smoothness, “I’ve never gotten to know a really thoughtful, nice girl before. Everyone says you’re so sharp and kind and fun.”

“They do?”

“Well, yeah, so I was wondering if you’d like to get together. I was thinking about dinner tomorrow night. We could go to someplace nice and quiet, have some good food, relaxed conversation, and get to know each other better.”

Jeremy’s sweet talking her reminded Amy of one of Matt’s homey sayings from his farmer upbringing. “They put the butter on just before they eat you,” he would say. After repeating this to Amy the first time, he had added, “I know it’s corny,” and then laughed pretty hard at his own pun.

“I’m very flattered by your offer,” Amy said, ever trying to be polite. “But I’m sort of already in a relationship. And tomorrow looks pretty full. But thank you anyway.” The truth was that Amy was not at all interested in Jeremy, handsome and suave though he was, and that she was afraid that his intentions were merely to make her another comment in his little black book. She was glad she had her friendship with Matt to use as an excuse. She was even willing to exaggerate her idea of it if need be.

For his part, Jeremy was surprised. He had very seldom been turned down for a date. His charm and good looks were almost always a winning combination. But just in case, he had been careful to circulate stories about his future. Everyone knew that after graduation he would become an automatic partner in a financially highly successful family business. Yet here he had been turned down. He wondered for a moment if Amy remembered what he looked like, who he was, what his future was. Should he have asked her in person to be sure that she would say, “Yes”? Had he the slightest doubt of being accepted over the phone, no doubt he would have made the attempt face to face. But to think that a girl of average appearance would reject his overtures was something he really had not considered.

“Wouldn’t you prefer a steak or some lobster at the Argentine to the junk at the commons?”

“Oh, I don’t mind the commons food.”

“You’re always going out with Matt Prager, aren’t you?”

“Well, yes, but he’s a special friend.” Amy wondered just how Jeremy knew this fact.

“And you’d rather go with him than with me?” Jeremy was beginning to lose his temper.

“Well, I’ve known him a long time. And I don’t really know you.”

“We could get to know each other really well. I could teach you a few things. Things Matt doesn’t even know.”

Amy was feeling deeply uncomfortable now.

“Thank you again, but I don’t think I’m interested. Sorry.”

“You’ll only be sorry if you don’t reconsider.” There was a cold, not quite threatening tone in his voice.

“No, thanks. I’ve got to go now. Thanks for calling. Good bye.” She hung up. She had not meant to be impolite, but the conversation had become too much to take.

“Who was that?” asked Markayla.

“Jeremy Schneider.”

“Who is he?”

“Just some guy. He asked me out.”

“You see? You are not the unwanted, unattractive girl you have been moaning about all morning.”

“But he’s a creep,” Amy said. Then, thinking better of her unguarded comment, she added, “I mean, I don’t really know him, and I’m sort of seeing Matt pretty regularly. So I told him no.”

“But he likes you.”

“That’s one interpretation.”


Go on to Chapter 10
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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