tagErotic CouplingsTerm Paper Blues

Term Paper Blues


This story makes reference to a once-legal prescription diet pill, officially known as a biphetamine, which is no longer on the market. It had many street names like black beauty, but in the South it was called a black molly. In recent years certain designer drugs, also called Molly, have appeared on the rave scene. They are different compounds than the old diet pill.

[Many thanks to my volunteer editor LadyVer, whose helpful investment of time made this a much better story.]

* * *

The year is 1996. Late at night. In a small, lonely, off-campus apartment. The last week of school before finals. A term paper was due the next day.

Andrew Vinson was drowning in despair and self-loathing. Despite numerous promises to never let this happen again ... there he was, like so many times before: his mind as blank as the screen he was staring at, cursing himself for not starting the project sooner. The deadline for an extremely important term paper was approaching like a large, ruthless, predatory animal.

The class: English 436, Studies in Modern American Literature. An upper division course, primarily for junior and senior undergraduate students seeking a B.A. in English. The assignment: a final project of at least twenty pages on one of the authors studied in the class.

Andrew was a mathematics major. What the hell was he doing in an English class as a senior? He thought it'd be fun when he chose it as an elective. He'd always liked reading, fiction in particular. Maybe exercise some right brain muscles that had atrophied over the last few years while he buried himself in differential calculus and impossibly complex theorems. His math advisor had warned him to take something easier.

Too late now. This class was the only thing standing in the way of his getting a degree. The finals for his other courses would be a breeze. Why did he do something risky like this in the last semester before graduation?

There was no final exam for the English class; the term paper would be more than half of his grade. Professor Darden was very strict about punctuality and deadlines. If the paper wasn't delivered by the beginning of the last class at 8:00 AM, the lecture hall doors would be locked—and his grade would be zero. Not even straight A's up to that point would help.

He had chosen the author William Faulkner. The table was littered with paperbacks and library books. Andrew had the two that were on the required reading list: Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury. Plus about a dozen others, well-known and obscure, novels and short stories, as well as Cowley's Portable Faulkner.

Andrew was from a rural area of Massachusetts. There was no shortage of New England colleges and universities for him to choose from, but his parents pushed strongly for him to attend a school in a different part of the country and in a large city. He had been exposed to several Faulkner short stories in high school, and they were one of the reasons he selected a university in the South rather than on the West Coast.

Andrew's paperbacks had so many yellow highlights and red underlines as to be meaningless. Post-Its bristled from the pages of every book. A stack of note cards was full of scribblings and random thoughts. All that was missing was an insightful topic. One that could be fashioned into a term paper at least good enough to let him squeak by with a passing grade. But the private scolding he had gotten from Professor Darden after his midterm project haunted his thoughts.

Andrew had been the only one who didn't get his graded paper handed back to him in class. Professor Darden had asked him to come see him in his office afterward.

"Mr. Vinson, what grade did you think you got on your midterm assignment?"

"Uh ... maybe a B?"

"No, you got a D minus. Actually a 'gentleman's D minus, if there is such a thing. You really deserved an F, but I thought you might get discouraged and drop the course. Not something a senior should be doing in his last semester.

"Mr. Vinson, this isn't a book club. There are no special favors or relaxed standards for math majors in my class.

"Your attendance has been steady, but your classroom participation has been particularly uninspiring. You need to do more than just read the books. Wouldn't you agree?

"You must do a lot better than this on the final project, otherwise you will get an F. Which in your case means you won't graduate, unless you have some other credits I don't know about. I've done it twice before to other students, so don't think I won't follow through on the threat. Both of them had to waste their time and money in summer school so they could finish. And attend a sad little winter graduation ceremony later on."

Andrew had been overcome with flop sweat that day listening to Professor Darden. Those feelings were welling up again: fear, confusion, shame, panic. Like when you're about to be fired from your job. Or handcuffed by the police. A half-assed term paper wouldn't cut it.

The refrigerator was filled with Cokes. He had a bag of strong dark roast coffee and water on the boil. Even some caffeine pills. But what he really needed was a "study aid": some speed to keep him awake all night and maybe get the ideas rolling. Like a black molly. They had become scarce on the underground market in recent years. He had nursed a small supply of them until they ran out last semester. Andrew had called everyone he knew to find just one diet pill. No one had any, not even the sketchiest "friend of a friend" types who seemed like people who should have been in jail long ago.

He glanced at the bank envelope that contained $250 from his grandmother's graduation check he had cashed earlier that day. Andrew would need that and a lot more if he didn't come through. He'd be on his own for summer school tuition, rent, and other living expenses. She was coming to the commencement ceremony; it would be humiliating to tell her to cancel the trip. What if she wanted the money back?

Actually he wouldn't have hesitated to spend the whole $250 on a black molly right then. Just one to get him through the next eight hours. A heavy rain began falling, perfectly matching his mood.

Despair was interacting with fatigue, a delirium of exhaustion that no amount of caffeine could conquer. And from which no useful academic ideas would flow. Tomorrow morning at 8:00 would find him asleep, head on the desk, and drooling—without a single word having been written. And his future unnecessarily shot to hell.

Andrew was startled upright by his ringing phone. It was after 11:00. Who would be calling this late? He thought about not answering. He let it ring—over ten times. In his delusion he thought it might be Professor Darden saying he could take an extra day to finish. Andrew finally reached for the phone.

* * *

Earlier that afternoon, in another part of town.

The Aurora Bakery was an employer of people who needed a fresh start. Ones who had completed rehab or were trying to leave the gang life—or both. Tanja Tomczyk was an ex-junkie in her twenties, four months out of rehab, slowly putting her life back together. She had been at Aurora since she got out. It was the major reason she had stayed clean. The steady work and modest income were rebuilding her confidence and self-worth. And many of her co-workers had been trapped in the same hellhole of addiction. They understood how you could slip into that life and how hard it was to pull yourself back out—and stay out.

The bakery work was hectic and physically demanding, hot and noisy, dusty and sometimes dangerous. But she liked the act of creating, transforming, providing sustenance. Plus the camaraderie of the other women who helped keep her head straight.

Getting away from Ethan Nelson had also been a major step—her ex-boyfriend and partner in addiction. She hadn't seen him in months, just before she went into rehab. He wasn't like the lowlifes she usually hooked up with. Ethan was a college senior, ruggedly handsome—and from a solid, upper middle class home. He liked rock climbing, mountain biking, and other outdoor pastimes. And he was a few years younger, which was a first for her. She wasn't sure whether her job as an exotic dancer was something he merely accepted or actually thought was a plus.

The early months of the relationship were fun. Sure, they got high a lot, but they both seemed to have that under control. Tanja had a "no needles" rule, but she tried most everything else. When Ethan offered her a little snort of "something different," she foolishly trusted him. Ironically, if it had been one of the losers that she typically hung out with, she would have declined.

But now things were looking up for her. She had impressed her boss enough to land a promotion to a waitress position at their retail restaurant, the Aurora Café. It would be better pay and tips, but she needed a car to work the irregular hours. She was due to start next week.

Her Uncle Marek had promised to get her old Honda Civic running again if she ever got clean. He had done the labor for free, and Tanja had agreed to split the cost of the parts once she got settled into her new job. She was going to pick up her car that weekend.

Tanja was also nearing the end of her time at My Second Chance, a sober living residence for women. She had developed a friendship with Alice, who also lived there. They'd made plans to find a place together next month.

* * *

Her shift was almost over when her boss said she had a call on the pay phone.

"Tanja, you know we frown on people getting personal calls here at work, but the guy said it was an emergency."

She walked down the hallway and picked up the receiver dangling from the phone.


"Tanja Tomczyk?" asked a gruff, raspy voice.

"This is her."

"You're the one who lived with Ethan Nelson?"

"Not anymore. I haven't seen him in months."

"Well, your boyfriend Ethan owes us money, a lot of money. If he doesn't get it to us by noon Monday, we're coming for you. It won't be pleasant. We're going to hurt you. Then after we're done hurting you, we're going to sell you to our friends in Sinaloa. For your new career as a sex slave. A nice, young gabacha like you with big chichis—we may even get most of our money back."

His cruel laughter sent a wave of dread through her body.

"But you're not going to like that. It'll be the worst sort of hell you could think of. In fact, you'd be better off robbing a bank to get the cash. A few years in prison would be paradise compared to what we have in store for you if we don't get the money. Hey, that's a plan: you and Ethan need to work together to rob a bank. Some Bonnie and Clyde action, mija."

"But I don't even know where he is. Or how to get in touch with him," she pleaded.

"You're not listening, pendeja. If you don't come through with the money, then you'll wish you had. First thing will be getting you hooked on caballo again. You'll be more cooperative that way. People like you never stay clean after rehab anyway.

"And don't think about leaving town. We're watching you. If you think you can slip away on the Greyhound, we'll be in the seat right next to you. Understand, you pinche concha?"

Then he hung up. Tanja was nauseous and trembling with fear. She wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn't come out. A passing co-worker asked if she was OK, but she didn't answer. She went back to her post and resumed cleaning up for the day, but her boss immediately noticed she was in severe distress.

"Tanja, you don't have to tell me anything about that call, but you look really upset. I think you should call it a day. The shift is over in ten minutes anyway. I'll finish the clean-up and punch you out."

Tanja was in a daze; she had to leave town—immediately. Were they really watching her that closely? She decided to get her car that night and pay her uncle as much as she could now. Did they know about him? She hadn't been to his place since she left rehab, so maybe not.

* * *

After getting on her regular bus, Tanja transferred to the one that would take her to Uncle Marek. She found a reasonably safe ATM and emptied out what little was in her bank account. A crazy idea popped into her head when she walked by the Goodwill store. Maybe a new look was in order.

Tanja hadn't worn a dress since she was in high school. No one would expect her in one. She picked out the first one that fit: a much-worn shirt dress from the '50s in a faded pastel plaid. The cinch belt was missing, and her bust strained against the front buttons—but the price was right. A quick visit to the dollar store on the next block added a box of hair dye that would hopefully change her blonde locks back to their normal brunette. She had been growing out her natural color since she entered rehab, but tonight she'd need to do a jump start. No telling how that would turn out.

Her uncle was highly suspicious of her reasons for picking up the car before the weekend and paying off part of what she owed earlier than he expected. Tanja begged him to trust her and not ask any questions. She promised to call as soon as she could. He insisted that she eat some dinner, but she wasn't that hungry and only managed a few bites. A stop to fill up her gas tank took another chunk of her limited cash.

The riskiest part of her planning came next: she needed some speed, a black molly, so she could leave that night and drive as far away as she could. She wasn't sure if taking it would count as a relapse since that wasn't the drug that got her addicted. But it would be a critical part of her escape.

The only way to get one required visiting some old druggie acquaintances, a toxic couple that she knew were still heavy users: Downer Don and his girlfriend Patch. Once a person gets clean she should never go back and hang out with people she used to get high with or score from—unless she wants a quick relapse. But Tanja had no choice if she wanted to leave that night.

When she stepped into their apartment, she got a weird, creepy vibe. Even when she was using she was never very comfortable around them.

"Where has our friend Tanja been lately?" Downer Don cooed. "Heard you'd left this lifestyle behind. Gone straight on us. Surprised you'd be crawling back here looking for drugs. Didn't think black mollies were your style. Do you need to stay up and study for a final exam?"

Patch let out a throaty cackle. "Yeah, maybe she's a college girl now. Trying to move up in the world? You should go back to stripping. A lot more money to be made there. You can probably get your old job back at Chez Pussycat. Then you could afford more than one pill at a time."

Tanja watched the couple dissolve into sloppy laughter. Downer Don held up a prescription bottle and shook the contents. "Got your mollies here. Like we discussed, $40 each. Special price for you, princess. But I gotta check to make sure you're not wearing a wire. Lift up your shirt for me."

"Ooh, good idea, Donny. I'll pat her down. Can't be too careful."

Tanja felt sick. She knew she had to play along until she had the black molly in her hand. Patch was bisexual. She always made passes at Tanja whenever they were in the same room. Tanja reluctantly lifted up her t-shirt while Downer Don moved closer and ogled her bra. Patch was running her hands between Tanja's legs, pretending to look for recording equipment.

"What's the matter, princess?" griped Downer Don. "You showed a lot more than this every night at The Pussycat. I've got to make sure you're not trying to set us up. Ooh, you've got nice tits. If you're off the horse, you must really be getting horny. Why don't you stick around and let me scratch that itch?"

"That gives me an idea, Donny. Get out that money, college girl. You can pretend you're a customer instead of the stripper now."

Tanja handed two twenties to Patch.

"No, no, girlie. Like the guys do at The Pussycat." Patch unzipped her jeans and pulled them down to her thighs and wagged her butt. "Slip one of those bills in my panties. Show me how it's done. Nice and slow."

Tanja reeled as bile curdled her stomach. She knew they were both sick perverts. Completely capable of knocking the shit out of her, dragging her to the back, and each taking turns raping her—maybe both at the same time. She stuffed a twenty into Patch's undies while Downer Don mocked her, waving a molly inches in front of her face.

"Put the other one in the front now, girlfriend," Patch ordered as she caressed her panties and lowered them seductively.

As Tanja stuffed the other twenty in her underwear, Patch grabbed her hand and pushed it down into her crotch. At the same time she pulled Tanja's hair, yanking her into a nasty, wet kiss.

"Stop it!" Tanja screamed as she slugged Patch in the stomach and pushed her backward. Her fall knocked the prescription bottle from Downer Don's hand, spilling the contents onto the floor.

"Hey, you little shit. Look what you did," he yelled, kneeling down to collect the pills.

Before Patch could get up, Tanja leaned over and grabbed one and bolted for the door. "You got your $40. Thanks, but I gotta go study now." She stumbled down their stairway and ran out to her car. She would have thrown up, but Tanja hadn't eaten enough to do a decent hurl.

* * *

When Tanja got back, she parked in the McDonald's lot near the bus stop so it would look like her normal walk home to anyone lurking around. She grabbed the hair dye and went to visit Maybelle who lived down the hall from her. Tanja needed a quick makeover, and Maybelle was a cosmetology student.

Maybelle cautioned that she hadn't done any coloring herself, but she had watched. That would have to do. Tanja always hated the messy process, despite enjoying the privileges of being blonde. It felt funny to think about going brunette again after almost ten years. Tanja asked Maybelle to first cut her chest length hair shorter.

"Can you do a simple bob? And I want the part moved over to the side."

"Tanja, I'm not very good at this yet. Are you sure you want to go that short?"

"It's OK, May. You're bound to do a better job than I would trying to cut my own hair. And yeah, that short."

When the haircut was finished, Tanja had some of her hair brown with the rest blonde, down to her chin. Maybelle brushed on the hair dye as Tanja silently decided what to take with her.

"I wish I'd had a chance to practice this before working on you," Maybelle remarked.

"As long as we follow the instructions on the box, we should be good. Let's cross our fingers."

When everything was cleaned up and dried off, it didn't look too bad. Surprisingly close to her natural dark brown. Maybelle had missed a few spots, but Blonde Tanja was no more—it looked weird to her.

She found two reusable grocery bags and a cardboard banker's box and started packing.

"May, I need a big favor. My car is parked over in the McDonald's lot, a blue '86 Honda Civic. Can you get it for me and pull up in the back alley?" Tanja couldn't say why she didn't want to go outside herself.

That took some convincing, even if it wasn't that far. Tanja sweetened the pot with $20 and the gift of her radio she was leaving behind.

Tanja had few possessions other than her clothes. Everything fit into the two bags and the cardboard box. She made sure she had her folder of important papers and stuffed that day's mail in her purse to read later. Maybelle came into her room to return the keys.

"Tanja, I thought you and Alice weren't moving until next month."

"Just getting a little head start, May." She felt awful screwing over Alice. That would have to be one of her first calls when she got a chance. But now she needed to contact Ethan's parents. Surely they knew how to reach him, to let him know about the threats.

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byKenNicottii© 9 comments/ 43118 views/ 25 favorites

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