Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: At Wit’s End (02/13/14)
TITLE: Thirty Percent
By Sara Harricharan
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“That’s one-hundred percent your own fault and fifty-percent my headache, because I recommended Professor Dorsal.” Jen chewed on her lower lip. “Would it have killed you to try a decent effort at least a week ago? Nevermind, c’mon.”
Chelsea hurried after her, pausing only to grab her backpack before they headed back to campus. At Jen’s dorms, her roommates were each occupied a corner of the living room, surrounded by piles of meticulous notes and study guides.
“Wow.” Chelsea muttered. “That’s dedication.”
“Honor students,” Jen reminded her. “Be nice.” She cleared her throat. Two hands immediately went up, a silent prompt to hold all questions for a moment longer. After about five minutes of awkward silence, one hand went down and the second one soon followed. Jen looked relieved. “Hi.”
Five different heads looked up, each student bearing various degrees of frustration and annoyance at being interrupted. “What now?” Tina spoke up.
“Chels was hoping someone could help with her paper?”
Tina exchanged a glance with the others and then shrugged. “Most of us are busy.” Her eyes flickered to the closed room door at the other side of the living room. “Most of us actually care about our grades.”
“If that’s an insult, I’m still unpacking it,” Olivia’s bored voice came from the shadows within the room as it cracked open. She stepped out. “Oh. Jen. What’d you want now?”
“My—friend, Chelsea?” Jen gestured to her. “She has one of Dorsal’s assignments-”
“You mean the pain-in-the-butt research paper with the annotated bibliography?” Olivia’s eyebrows danced up. “Ouch. Need my old textbook?”
“Too late for a textbook,” Tina said, witheringly.
“Well, we can’t all be brilliant like you, Tina dearest.” Oliva shot back. “How can I help?”
“You’d actually help?” Chelsea grew teary-eyed. She thumped her backpack on the arm of a padded recliner. “I have notes. I attended every class, but I still feel like the whole thing is swimming over my head-”
“Just tell me what your paper’s about.” Olivia plopped into the chair. “Slowly.”
Chelsea looked between her and Jen. After a moment, she began to explain her topic, the inspiration behind it and what she’d meant to do with the paper.
Olivia listened, patiently, knees drawn up to her chest, skinny fingers curled in her oversized sweater. “Sounds alright. Thesis could be clearer. You’ll probably want at least three more sources though.”
“I don’t have time for that!” Chelsea moaned. “I wish someone else would write the stupid thing.”
“Oh?” Olivia’s eyes narrowed.
“Yeah. This’ll take forever.”
“Got a car?”
“Car. You know, personal transport system? I don’t. So I’m stuck here, unless someone’s feeling generous.” She studied Chelsea, then snuck a glance at Jen. “That’s why you brought her, isn’t it?”
Jen did not look at her.
Olivia sighed. “Fine. Not like I have a choice, if I want to eat.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What will you give me to write your paper?” Olivia said, calmly.
Chelsea gaped at her for a full minute, then she began to scramble. “Uh, I could-”
“There’s a grocery list on the ‘fridge.” Olivia took the class folder out of Chelsea’s slack hands. “Get whatever you can afford on there. I’ll take that as payment.” She wrinkled her nose. “Take Jen with you and I’ll even find you those extra sources.”
“…you’d really do that? What’s the catch?”
“The catch is that I can’t even take public transportation to the grocery store. Crazy schedule. You’re keeping me alive.” She smiled, tightly. “So get the staples first, okay? Canned milk before frozen dinners and poptarts before waffles.” With the folder in hand, Oliva unfolded her tall frame from the chair, heading to her room.
The door clicked shut.
Jen breathed a sigh of relief, ignoring the looks her fellow roommates sent her way. “C’mon. Her list’s usually right here. By the time we’re back, she’ll probably be done.”
“S-so fast?” Chelsea swallowed. “This doesn’t count as plagiarism, does it?”
Jen shrugged. “Difference of opinion. She’ll write exactly what you told her to, well, except for the sources, but it’s really close.”
“I just—I’m at my wit’s end, y’know?” Chelsea nibbled a fingernail. “If I can’t pass this class, I can’t graduate and there’s no way my parents will pay me through another semester. They think I should’ve been just as smart as Katie and I’m not.”
Jen patted her shoulder in consolation. “S’alright. Let’s just get going, ‘kay?”
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