[Annie Hunter, the novel's narrator, is desperately searching for answers for a way out of her and her husband's financial struggles, as well as a way to save their failing 15-year marriage. At this point in the story, she has found a woman, through the Internet, who has a copy of Robert Kiyosaki's game Cashflow®, and has arranged to meet with her. -- Ed.]

 

Wednesday afternoon at 12:30 sharp, I looked up from my little table at Starbucks to see a petite fireball with bouncing brown hair and athletic stride approach the front door. She spotted me the moment she entered and her face lit up with a smile that would've melted Ebenezer Scrooge's heart and made the three ghosts' visits unnecessary.

"You must be Annie--it's so great to meet you!"

For a moment I was disoriented--whether more by the woman's rich Southern accent (what was it, Georgia? Alabama?) or her unbridled friendliness, I couldn't say. As we stepped over to the counter to order our coffee drinks and she chatted away at her introductions, it dawned on me what it was: this woman was so brimming over with life, it felt at first as if I were standing there listening to my son Jake talk about his day. I had only known her for about 45 seconds, and I already knew that Rose Badura was the single most positive, confident, genuinely friendly person I had ever met.

"...and that's the thing I love most about living in the desert," she was saying as our turn came, "it's so dry, my hair doesn't curl up! I'll have a granday coffee lottay, darlin'--what about you, Annie?"

I stammered my coffee order, and before I'd realized what had happened, Rose had paid for them both and we were sitting back at my tiny window-side table.

"So, what's got you interested in Cashflow?" she asked as she sipped.

I told her about how I'd stumbled upon Rich Dad Poor Dad a few weeks before and had been intrigued. How on my next trip to Barnes, I'd followed up with Cash Flow Quadrant, and how I wanted to know more.

She nodded, and asked, "What else have you been reading?" I told her about Napoleon Hill; she nodded and grinned, "Of course! And what else, darlin'?" I went on, and as I reeled off the names--Tracy, Mandino, Covey, Peters, Clason, Carnegie, Ziglar, Waitley...-- she kept nodding, punctuating now and then with a murmur of approval. It was clear she had read all the same books.

I told her nothing about myself, nothing about David, nothing about my desperation; just that I was "curious" about Kiyosaki and his "theories," and "interested in checking out" the game. After a good ten minutes of such superficial banter, I had grown so comfortable prattling away with this woman that I dropped the façade of casual interest and started sharing my real feelings with her.

I told her I'd grown up believing that a college degree would be my ticket to freedom.

"Like a magic charm?" she teased, her eyes sparkling.

"I guess so...yeah, exactly like that." I paused as I realized how precisely she'd nailed it. That's what I'd thought, wasn't it--like a magic charm. "Like a professional amulet I could hang on a chain around my neck to ward off the evil spirits of financial insufficiency."

She laughed at that, a full-throated chortle that made me smile and turned a few heads in the place--which she either didn't notice or didn't mind.

"I know exactly what you mean! I started out with a Ph.D. in education, you know; worked as an elementary school principal till Angela came along--that's our youngest--then Tom and I realized, we wanted one of us to stay home with the girls for a few years. At first, we thought we'd just have to cut back on our expenses."

I let out a quiet snort of assent--Oh yeah, I know about "cutting back on expenses." I hadn't intended Rose to notice, but she didn't miss a thing.

"Oh, did I touch a nerve?"

I tried to wave it away--"No, I'm sorry...go on. I want to know what you did."--but she wouldn't budge. "We'll get back to my story," she coaxed, "but go on. Sounds like you know about 'cutting back on expenses.'" Her words so closely echoed my own thoughts, I literally did a double-take; but she was all eyes and ears, so I went ahead and trudged through my tale of woe. High school...college...degree-job-marry-kids...X number of businesses launched and sunk...and me here at Starbucks, hoping to find some clues to the great Puzzle of My Life from a board game.

In under sixty seconds, I'd pretty well gone from A to Z. "So, here I am."

"Here you are," she agreed cheerfully, then paused, and added: "So, where exactly are you, Annie?"

For all her easy manner and relaxed Southern charm, this woman knew how to sharpen a mere handful of words to a fine point and drive them right into the heart of the matter. That's the question, isn't it? Where am I--and exactly what am I doing here? I took a breath, and started in on my answer.

After closing the gas station, I told her, David had settled into a job that paid a decent wage, but even with both of us working full-time, it was difficult to make a comfortable living. I wanted to find some way to finally make our original dreams a reality, but if we just kept on doing what we were already doing, that would never happen. I'd decided it was time to make some choices...

She had put her hand on my arm and interrupted in the gentlest way--

"Actually, darlin, don't you think you've already made some choices?"

--and it stopped me in my tracks. I started to reply (something glib and cynical, about "the choices we make when we're young and don't know enough to make the right choices, and by the time we know enough to make the right choices they're not available any more..."), but the words died in my throat. Rose must have lobbed a bomb into the center of my chest, because I could feel every part of me scattering for cover.

Hadn't we already made some choices?