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"Aunt Jane, I can’t-"

"This is an emergency. Your uncle and I are tapped out."

She heard her uncle say, "Tell her to stop arguing and do what she’s told. The decision’s been made."

Allison could feel a slow burn coming on. She had reached the sidewalk in front of the auditorium and was now pacing back and forth. Students were passing her on their way into the building. She stopped pacing for a second and noticed a man in a heavy overcoat with the collar turned up standing at the top of the steps. He was watching her. Dan’s warning to be aware of her surroundings made her take notice, and she walked away from the steps as she continued to listen to her aunt’s argument.

"Your uncle’s right. We’ve made the decision. Just remember, family comes first, and Will needs you. Don’t be ungrateful after all we’ve done for you and your sister-"

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She interrupted. "Aunt Jane, it’s okay. I don’t need to quit my classes. I’ve already talked to Giovanni, and I’m doing a shoot during break, which is coming up soon."

She waited while the information was relayed to her uncle.

"Oh, that’s wonderful," her aunt said with a huge sigh of relief. "I’m sure the lawyer will wait, knowing the check will be coming. Your uncle will talk to him." 

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In their minds the problem had been solved, and Will would once again get a free pass. They really believed, with the right lawyer and enough money, they could get their son out of anything. And thus far they’d been right. They had somehow convinced themselves that Will was a victim. All he needed was enough love and support, and everything would be fine. Allison tried to care about her cousin, but she couldn’t understand his parents’ irrational devotion. They had added so many colors to the truth they had actually painted a new reality.

Allison’s statement about talking to Giovanni wasn’t a total lie. She had spoken with him just last week, but she didn’t have any work scheduled. She could call him tomorrow and grovel, she supposed, unless he really did have something for her. He had become not only her employer, but also what she imagined a father should be. She had gained his complete loyalty when she agreed to work exclusively for him. He called her his muse and often asserted that she was giving up the chance to be a top model by staying in Boston instead of moving to New York. She disagreed. She was neither tall enough nor thin enough, and she was already too old by the fashion world’s standards. There was also the fact that she didn’t have the extra drive it would take to succeed. Besides, her ambitions were taking her in an entirely different direction.

Allison ended the call and, putting her relatives’ problems aside, hurried up the steps. Heavy snow had started to fall, and the chill in the air was biting.

There was a seat on the aisle three rows from the stage. She unzipped her vest, removed her scarf, sat back, and then remembered to turn her phone to mute.

Jordan was standing near the podium talking with the moderator. It would be easy to be envious of her, Allison thought. Jordan seemed to have it all. Not only was she brilliant; she was also very beautiful, with long auburn hair, sparkling eyes, and an infectious laugh. The moderator looked enthralled. Jordan spotted Allison and waved to her.

After a brief introduction, Jordan spoke for thirty minutes about her experience as a software developer and her current project creating programs to simplify computer learning. Allison hung on every word. Then came the questions. Some of the computer science majors were a bit condescending, no doubt trying to impress Jordan with their knowledge. Her answers were given so patiently and with such a sweet smile Allison wondered if any of the questioners realized they had just been taken down by an expert.

When the lecture was officially over, most of the audience began to file out, but a few diehards stayed behind to continue the discussion. After twenty minutes of back-and-forth, a couple of students asked more complex questions that piqued Allison’s interest. She listened intently to Jordan’s expert answers and was spurred by her own curiosity to raise her hand. Jordan turned and pointed in her direction. "Yes? Your question?"

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Allison straightened in her chair and raised her voice. "I was wondering if you ever considered using Cobar to write your code for that particular program."

All eyes were on her now. A few people exchanged puzzled glances. Cobar was an obscure programming language unknown to most of them.

Jordan stopped to think for a minute. "That’s a really interesting idea," she answered. "Why would you think it would fit this application?"

Allison explained her reasoning, and before long the two women were engaged in a lively dialogue. At first, the other audience members who had remained behind tried to keep up with the conversation by asking for clarification, but it soon became apparent that most of them were lost. As the questions became more detailed-with Jordan asking Allison most of them-the dwindling audience began to lose interest, and one by one they exited the auditorium, leaving just Jordan, Allison, and a small band of fewer than a dozen students.

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