Victoria Run

Chapter 1

Tuesday, September 3

If Molly hadn’t been so nervous, she’d have laughed. She looked at her Community Social Work class at Thompson Rivers University. Her classmates’ eyes couldn’t be wider if she’d brought a gun and waved it about. They sat in theatre style, maybe thirty of them. She still didn’t know most of their names. Even the students she knew were hidden by Covid masks and the dim lighting. She’d been picked to give the first presentation on a group needing social services and the barriers to helping them. She went with what she knew. That might have been a mistake.

“Sex workers can’t be lumped into one homogenous group. Some choose the work; others are trafficked against their will. In the middle are those who fall into the life through circumstance. To work with this group, we must first understand the complexity of the life.” Molly controlled the huge sigh she wanted to give and smiled.

“Thank you, Molly, you’ve given all of us something to think about. Assumptions are dangerous. Any questions?” Professor Tatianna Czysiki looked around the room.

“The common perception in the media is that sex workers are addicted to drugs. How prevalent is that?”

“Addiction on the street is whole other topic. Some choose to use drugs for recreation. Some are forced into addiction, then forced to sell themselves to pay for the drugs. I used drugs because it was the only way I could survive.” Shit, maybe they won’t pick up on it.

“What are you doing tonight?” A male voice called from the back. Nervous laughter ran through the room.

The professor’s voice cracked like a whip. “Cameron, stand up and apologize.”

“It was just a joke.” A student slumped to his feet.

“It was sexual harassment.” Her voice had no give in it. “Apologise or leave the class.”

“I need this class to graduate.” He straightened and glared at Molly.

“I’m waiting, Mr. Robinson” Professor Czysiki crossed her arms.

“Sorry.” He dropped to his seat with a frown.

“A social worker cannot afford to speak without thinking. Say the wrong thing at the wrong time and you can do incalculable damage to your ability to work with a community.” Professor Czysiki nodded at Molly, who stumbled to her seat. “Scratch many of the best social workers and you will find someone with a broken past who is determined to keep others from being broken the same way.” The professor’s eyes swept the class like lasers. “That’s all our time for today.”

Molly gathered her books and looked for the closest exit. Others from the class crowded around her.

“I’d never even imagined…”

“You’re so brave…”

A blonde girl broke through the group, wrapped her arms around Molly and sobbed. Molly dropped her books and held the young woman, half fearing she would collapse.

“Maybe leave us alone. I will answer your questions another time.” Molly tightened her arms around the weeping girl.

They nodded and almost tiptoed out of the classroom.

After five minutes the sobs began to slow. Molly glanced at the clock. She was going to miss her next class. It would just be a review of the readings from the last class, but she had questions about a couple of the articles. Be present; worry later.

“You’re Carolyn, right?” Molly asked.

Carolyn nodded and took a deep breath then hiccupped.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“Don’t be.” Molly squeezed Carolyn one last time and stepped back. “There is no class here until noon, so take all the time you need.”

“But we’ll miss History of Social Work.”

“So be it. I will explain to the professor.”

Carolyn hiccupped again but sat on a nearby chair. Molly sat beside her.

“You don’t need to say anything you don’t want to. But I’m here to listen.”

“When I was fo-fourteen I ran away from home. I was so mad at my parents; they wouldn’t let me do anything.” Carolyn wiped her face with her sleeve.

“I can imagine the rest of the story.” Molly leaned forward, resisting the temptation to take off her mask.

Carolyn nodded and more of the tension left her.

“I was busted and because I was underage, social services returned me to my parents. They welcomed me, but I couldn’t talk about what had happened. They acted like I’d never been gone, but it wasn’t like home anymore. I didn’t feel safe. I kept expecting my pimp to show up and drag me back to the street.”

“I know the feeling.” Molly put a hand on Carolyn’s arm. “How did you manage the withdrawal?”

“I went to rehab and sorted out more than just the drugs. I’d liked them; they took me away from my dismal life. When I was high, I didn’t mind the sex.” Carolyn blushed deep red. “I couldn’t go back to my old life like nothing had happened. I dropped out of band at school and didn’t go to any of the parties or dances. Mom was ecstatic that I was finally working hard in school.”

“And you let her believe that?”

“It was easier.” Carolyn shrugged and took off her mask to wipe fresh tears from her face. “How could I tell her there were times I thought about running back to my pimp? Normal life – it was like I didn’t fit in anymore. I couldn’t talk to the boys, and the girls left me alone. I thought coming here would help, but it just made things worse. Everyone thinks I’m cold and aloof. Though I’ve gotten good grades, I don’t feel like I’m learning anything.”

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