Page 79 of Tripping on a Halo

Nicole glanced back. “As far as pay, it’s a thousand a week. I’ll need you from nine in the morning until four, Monday through Friday. Chanel will be a large part of your job. Does that work for you?”

My breath was short as we finally hit the top of the stairs, my mind working overtime. A thousand a week? That should be enough for food and rent, with a little extra to pay down my tuition until NYU coughed up my diploma and allowed me to get a real job, one that would make use of my real estate development degree. I frowned. My original plan, after graduation, had been to work in commercial and residential real estate, a non-salaried, straight-commission job. A job that—in the wake of my newfound poverty—was now unfeasible. I refocused on the conversation, my mind stuttering a little at the second mention of the child. I’d never been around a baby, my knowledge of infants restricted to sporadic episodes of Teen Mom. “Yes, great. That sounds perfect.”

She stopped on the landing, holding up a red-tipped finger and pressing it to her lips before turning the handle, pushing open the door to a nursery. I silently groaned at the crib, set in the back of the pale pink room, CHANEL on the wall in block letters. I followed slowly, reluctant to meet the baby. A smile fixed into place, I leaned over, glancing into the crib, and—helpless to stop myself—gasped at the body that lay there.

A dog’s body.

I stood at the side of the crib and fought to keep my expression normal as I took in the pink outfit that encased a body not weighing more than five pounds. It lay on its side, brown poufs of hair spilling out of each opening in the ensemble, a fur-lined hoodie loose across its back, and snored, little purrs as it stretched out across a duvet.

“She’s sleeping,” Mrs. Brantley whispered loudly.

Duh. I attempted a polite smile and looked back at the pup. This was a large part of my job? To dog sit? Everything turned more appealing, diapers and runny noses no longer part of the equation.

“When can I start?” I whispered, careful to give the proper respect to sleeping Chanel.

She glanced at her watch, a diamond-studded timepiece. “Can you work today ’til four?”

“Absolutely.” I smiled brightly.

Mrs. Brantley patted my arm in what seemed to be approval. “Tomorrow, I’ll go over my needs. Today, I’d rather you focus on getting to know Chanel and introducing yourself. I’ve got to hop on a call. If you have any questions, hunt down one of the help.”

The Help. A group I was now part of. I nodded politely, watched her exit, and performed a cursory sweep of the room. Decorated in three different shades of pink, the en suite included a miniature treadmill, a puppy closet that rivaled my own, and dressers stocked with supplies and toys. Unsure of what exactly Getting to Know Chanel meant, I settled into a leather chair and waited for her to wake up, the gentle snores from the crib creating a soothing lullaby.

I may or may not have fallen asleep. But we could pretend that I diligently watched over Chanel’s sleeping form without a single head droop. That was me. Best New Assistant EVER.

At 4:05 PM, I nodded a goodbye to the maid, pulled on my coat and stepped onto the street, the afternoon sun minimizing the chill as I pulled the door tightly shut behind me. Success. I wanted to dance—right there on the street, strangers brushing by—in celebration. I wanted to wave my arms and revel in the fact that I, Chloe Madison, was officially independent. I had my own job. Would not become homeless. Would not fail. It was liberating, exciting in a way that my privileged upbringing could never afford. Yes, a thousand a week would barely make a dent in my mountain of debt. Yes, I’d be eating Ramen noodles and taking the subway. But still! I was on my own and, for the first time, it didn’t feel scary; it felt manageable.

I moved down the street, swinging my purse from my shoulder and dug for my cell, the phone to my ear by the time I hit Park Avenue.

“Hey beautiful!” Cammie’s voice rang through the phone, her greeting seconded by Benta, and I could imagine the two girls, faces together over a pitcher of margaritas, the phone held between them.

“Hey you tan goddesses,” I teased. “Enjoying the Florida sun without me?”

“We’d be lying if we said we weren’t.” In the background, I heard music start. “How’d the interview go?”

I delivered the good news, the girls squealing with an excitement that rivaled my own, a laugh spilling from my mouth at their reaction. “I wish you guys were here to help me celebrate.”