“Is this a biker chick convention or treatment spa?” Gigi watched the thin, leather-clad woman circumnavigate Grace, Debbie, Gigi and the other seven students’ desks as she sauntered to the chalkboard, fried blonde hair stringing down past her pendulous breasts.

“I bet she was really hot in her day,” said Debbie.

Hanna Karp, Finedale’s human resources expert, was sausaged into tight, shiny black pants. “Heads up, bitches!” Hanna Karp’s sultry whiskey voice rolled out like a carpet of dirty velvet—the kind those glittery tigers and peacocks are painted on, the ones found in trailer park yard sales. “Career Training is a course you’ll survive, now that your slack-ass husbands abandoned you for a wet little piece of ass. Tough love is what you pampered, overindulged crybabies need now. And fast. Before those fuckers trick you into couples’ counseling while they rearrange the finances and make it look like they earn half their salary.”

Grace raised her hand. “Why would a husband do that?”

Bemused, Hanna Karp regarded Grace in deathly silence for what felt like eternity before she spoke. “Listen up, fuzzy kittens with your yarn balls! Magic word for you, here. Write it down: alimony.”

“Good Lord.” Grace connected the dots from goldfish care to her own survival. Tears seeped out from the corners of her eyes as her trembling hand scribbled notes. Hanna’s words were having an equally penetrating effect on the other women in the class. Some burst into tears, others made exclamations of fear, and one left the class retching.

“My survival course is traditional wisdom, and I’m here to give it to you straight-up. Got it?”

“Holy Christ,” whispered Debbie. “She’s quite the drill sergeant.”

“As if you’d know,” said Gigi. “Kitten.”

“Over the last twenty years, my expertise in HR has evolved into my role as executive divorce advisor for Fortune 500 CEOs conniving to ditch their wives. I know all the tricks. In one case, the CEO fired his co-founder, who lost all his stock options. After that co-founder finalized his divorce, he was hired back at full salary and with fully-vested options. My charter is to help you short-circuit the sons of bitches while you find rewarding new careers.”

“I’m on board!” said Gigi. She stood up and saluted Hanna with a faint click of her Nike Air heels. Hanna pointed her left index finger at Gigi and pulled the trigger of her imaginary gun.

“Basically, you’ve got four options. I’ve developed a series of proprietary tools, including aptitude tests, personal interest graphs, and experience correlation charts that I will share with you, or you can download my guide from my website.”

“May I ask?” Grace raised her hand cautiously. “What are the four options?”

“Don’t go jumping ahead,” said Hanna. “I’ll get to that in due time.” Hanna slammed down a pile of glossy catalogues from a recent Sotheby’s auction onto Debbie’s desk.

“Pass these around,” Hanna instructed Debbie. Relief flushed through the classroom, and murmurs regarding fine art and gorgeous jewelry could be heard.

Gigi broke ranks from Hanna’s laser lock and whispered in Debbie’s ear, then stood and quietly snuck out the back door that led to Anna Becky Johnson’s empty classroom while Hanna was turning her computer on.

With the current section of students, Hanna had resigned herself to exactly what the previous instructor had offered—four careers.

When she had first read over the prior instructor’s final report, she had thought he was being chauvinistic. How dare he simplify the qualifications—or lack thereof—needed to excel in any of the careers? The purchase of a home qualified someone to be a real estate agent? Ha. Or since most of the women had children and, as such, had planned birthday parties, the term ‘event planner’ suddenly formalized their expertise? A bit of a stretch. And those wives who took an undue share of the credit for how the interiors of their homes turned out—could they consider themselves as talented as the well-versed interior designer they had hired? Okay, maybe I can work with that one. But the last of the four, art consulting, had had Hanna stumped.

“Let’s start with art consulting.” Hanna counted the women in the room. “Is someone missing?”

“Gigi had to leave,” said Debbie. “She’s convinced—wrongly, I might add—that if she gets a job, her husband won’t give her as much money. So she went to the spa to get Restylane injections in her lips.”

“I’m sure she’s going to love you, Cotton Tail, for sharing that little tidbit with the entire class.” Hanna pressed the remote control so the large screen brightened behind her.

Debbie shrugged. “Gigi’s the first to share which parts of her body are real and which have been augmented.”

“More importantly, focus your attention on saving your own ass.” Hanna pointed at the screen. “And start taking notes.”

Career Opportunities

- Flexible work schedule

- Income potential

- Leverages fundamental talent

- Excellent tax write-off

“These are the criteria we took into account when developing the various careers for each of you.” The next slide appeared on the screen. “Now, who here would like to hand out a business card with the title stating trade-in wife? But all of you would feel good about yourself if your title read art consultant or special events producer, agreed?” 

Career Quadrants

- Design

- Art

- Real Estate

- Events

“Oh look, it’s an acronym,” Grace whispered excitedly to Debbie.

“Notice these four career paths spell something. Patent-pending, the proprietary career modeling software, or D.A.R.E., feeds in data regarding skills that meet today’s lifestyle and your interests and experience. If you choose the accelerated course, it’s an exhausting but stimulating intensity, increasing from three half-hour classes per week to a grueling forty-five minutes a day. Only those who are truly committed should proceed. But don’t worry—whether you plan to enroll in AP Careers or keep to the basic class, you’ll be provided with career options.”

Like the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, Hanna called each of the students up to the podium individually to announce their suggested areas of study. Sally had been in sales before she got married so she was given the Real Estate study packet. Mary was handed a binder on Event Planning. As Grace reached the front, Hanna dictated that, because of her early career in fashion merchandising at I. Magnin and her love of design, she could be an interior designer.

Grace strode back to her chair with her head held a discernible inch higher. Despite the life expectancy of her goldfish plummeting with every added day she was gone, she would stay on at Finedale a full week to participate in the advanced career training.