“I can’t wait to get out of here,” Tom declares, echoing my sentiment as we leave our lecture, the last before Thanksgiving.
It’s been nearly three months to the day since orientation. Everything I’d been told about the comprehensive coursework, the endless hours of reading, the pressure, and the ever-present awareness of the need to succeed has proven true. There've been times when I’d been so tired, my brain so fried, that I’d fallen asleep fully clothed only to wake, shower, and do it all over again. Finally, about a month in and wondering how I’d cope, I called Jenna. “As busy as you are, as impossible as it seems to spare the time, you have to take a break, Adam. Mingle with your classmates, also other students because you’ll need to escape the law vacuum to survive.
“How often have you seen your family?” she asked, and I sheepishly confessed that I’d skipped going home twice, choosing, instead, to stay on campus and work for fear of falling behind.
“Could you have studied at home?” she asked.
“I could've, I suppose,” I admitted.
“There’s no suppose, Adam. You may not have achieved as much, but you would probably have remembered more because of the mental breaks interacting with your family provided. Those stops, no matter how small or infrequent, are necessary. Doing things other than studying is vital to your capacity to cope. The trick is to recognize which activities have the potential to become distractions and which benefit you. You’re smart and disciplined; you’ll learn the differences.
“Most importantly, remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Everything you do now is to prepare you for your final exam. That’s the one that counts,” she reminded me.
I followed Jenna’s advice and made a concerted effort to get to know members of my section other than Justin and Tom. I introduced myself to other residents in North Hall and occasionally wandered down to the communal living room for a break. I also ventured into the wider Harvard student community, where I met and befriended two students. Brooke, completing her last year of pre-med, and Max, an English Lit student, and I meet for coffee for an hour each week. Sometimes, one or more of their friends would join us. I’ve even succumbed to Tom’s constant requests and attended a party with him and Justin.
I’ve been careful to keep limit my social activities. And, despite the opportunities presented, I have, with the notable exception of that one party, refrained from acting on the chance to have sex. It’s a far cry from my undergrad years, but I keep telling myself I can abstain. “It’s not forever,” I remind myself each time Tom regales us with his exploits. So, I’m back to being intimately acquainted with my hand. It’s a piss-poor substitute for sex, but it takes the edge off and allows me to stick to my study plan because every day counts toward being prepared for that crucial final exam.
“Are you doing anything special, Adam?” Justin breaks into my thoughts.
“Spending time with my family and friends,” I tell him. “What about you?”
“Unlike you, I can’t wait to get away from my family, so on Friday, Tom and I are joining a friend, who has the use of their parents’ Hamptons place. You’re welcome to join us,” he offers.
“There’ll be a houseful of hot, eager women. Just what I need to end my sexual drought,” Tom adds gleefully.
Justin laughs, reminding Tom that he'd had plenty of sex.
“Not nearly enough, but sure as hell more than you two,” Tom taunts. “Justin's, at least, gotten himself laid a time or two. You, though, Adam," he snorts derisively. "What the fuck’s wrong with you? We're surrounded by pussy, and you've had more offers than most. How can you keep passing them up?"
“I like sex as much as the next guy, but I’m not going to risk my studies,” I tell him, not for the first time. Justin, Tom, and I spend a lot of time together. We get along, and we have become friends just as Justin predicted on our first day, but I was also right in my assessment that we don’t have a lot in common. The fact that we live in the same building, happen to be members of the same section, and attend the same lectures every day—our overall shared experiences at law school—are what drive the friendship.
They’re both smart and ambitious, understandably, or they'd never have made it to HLS. But Tom’s less driven than Justin, whose natural ability to succeed is heavily influenced by his father’s expectations. Senator Joshua Wade, I learned, expects his son to take over his seat when he retires, which he plans to do as soon as Justin’s ready to run. Which, as I read it, means as soon as they’re certain Justin will win. He’s expected to move beyond state politics and onto the national stage because Joshua, ultimately, expects his son to become president. While Justin shares his father’s ambitions, he doesn’t always agree with his ideas on how to achieve those goals. It's evident to me that their difference of opinion is a bone of contention. Justin, I've noticed, will often make a considered decision to rebel against his father's wishes. That's why, although he doesn't party as hard as Tom, he does just enough to piss the senator off.
Tom doesn’t have the same pressure. Sure, he’s expected to succeed, and he will, given his family’s wealth and influence. That, and the fact that his grandfather’s a senior partner in a very successful law firm, probably explains his lax approach to his studies. He hardly, if ever, refuses an invitation to a party and, by all accounts, indulges in sex at every chance he gets. I've rarely been present when Tom’s been on the prowl, but I’m not impressed by what I’ve seen or by the way he speaks of his conquests after. He doesn’t respect women, in my view, and he sure as hell doesn’t like being told no by any female he targets.
“Well, I think you’re nuts. Both of you,“ Tom responds to my comment, and then, as we round the corner to our dorm building, suddenly stops. “Fuck! Who’s that?” he asks, his attention riveted on the entrance.
“That,” I say, my tone acid, "is my sister."
I rush over to Cait. “What are you doing here?” I ask.
“Thought I’d help you pack,” she signs.
“I don't need help!” I sign back.
“Shut up, Adam. You would've forgotten something!” she says out loud, her violet-blue eyes flash a challenge before she turns her back on me. “Hi,” she smiles at Justin and Tom.
“Sorry. This is Caitlin, my baby sister,” I say, emphasizing the word as payback for her dig at me.
“You look very grown to me,” Tom answers suggestively. I narrow my eyes at him.
“It’s good to meet you,” Justin intervenes. “I’m Justin.”
“Hello, Justin,“ Cait returns his greeting, but Tom angles him out of the way.
“Tom,” he offers his hand and then, when Cait accepts, hangs onto it for far too long.
“Let’s go." I practically snatch her hand from his and lead her away.
“See you, Caitlin,” Tom calls out, and I turn to glare daggers, warning him off. I don’t want him anywhere near my sister.
Much to my annoyance, I forget to pack the food containers Mom specifically asked me to bring home.
“See?” Cait says smugly as she reaches for them.
“Shut up, and grab that bag." I playfully tugging at the ends of her hair.
* * * * *
On Saturday, at a party at Ian’s, Tess interrupts my conversation with Libby, another friend of Lana’s I’ve been chatting to for most of the night. “I’ve decided to study law,” she announces, making herself comfortable on the sofa arm next to me.
“I thought you wanted to work in finance?” I ask and shift my knee from beneath her hand. She doesn't comment, but I notice the irritation in her eyes.
“Changed my mind, and my undergrad in economics will qualify me for law school, so it’s not wasted. How are you finding it?”
“It’s hard work, but I’m enjoying it,” I reply.
“Have you applied anywhere yet?” Libby asks.
“I’d love to join Adam at Harvard, but my dad doesn’t own his own business like his." She strokes my arm this time. I ignore the reference to money and try, also, to disregard her hand, which she hasn’t removed from my bicep.
“I want to stay in Boston, so BU, Boston College, Northeastern… you know,” she says, looking at me, disregarding the fact that Libby had asked the question. “I thought we could get together later tonight or perhaps tomorrow so I can pick your brains, Adam.”
“I wish I could, but I’m taking Libby home, and I'm spending tomorrow with my family.”
“What about next weekend?”
“I need to prepare for my fall exam,” I tell her and then feel guilty for not being more helpful. The thing is, I can’t be sure about Tess’ motives because she’s come on to me before, and, although I like her, I’m not interested in her in that way. Despite her very undeniable attractiveness. Besides, she’s been involved with Ian, then Alan, and she’s even had a brief fling with Matt—both she and Lana have dated all three at some time. I’m judging anyone, but I’m not into sharing women with my friends. And I’m certainly not keen to participate in whatever complicated shit their behavior has at times caused within our group. It’s always been resolved, with no lasting hard feelings, but, damn, things have been awkward at times.
“Ian and the other guys have my email address. Just send me your questions, and I’ll provide as much information as I can.”
“Thanks.” Tess' voice is noticeably cooler as she takes in Libby’s hand. She's raking her nails slowly up and down my thigh because, yes, we’ve already decided we’re both up for a good time.
“I’m ready to leave if you are, Adam?” she suggests.
“Sure, just let me say goodbye to the guys, and I’ll meet you back here,” I tell her. “Take care, Tess,” I smile my goodbye.
“You too,” she answers, barely managing one in return.
The next morning—well, it’s nearly midday when I walk into the kitchen—I find Dad and Cait sitting at the table, chatting while Mom bustles around.
“Did you have a good time last night, Son? I didn’t hear you come in,“ Dad asks after I’ve greeted everyone.
“I did, and I’m not sure what time I got in,” I tell him despite knowing it was after four. At around one-thirty, when I started getting dressed and suggested I should go, Libby straddled me. The lure of her hot, moist flesh had proven too much of a temptation. "Perhaps just one more for the road,” I said, returning her sexy smile. One more which turned into two because Libby, it turns out, can be very persuasive. Nearly two hours later, when I finally left her bed, she asked when she could see me again. “I’m not sure,” I responded, explaining my heavy workload. "It’s best I don’t make promises or that you don’t count on anything.”
“You’ve already said you don’t want to get involved with anyone, Adam. I get that, but I had a great time tonight, and I’d like to see you again. No ties, of course.”
“I enjoyed your company too, Libby. I’ll call sometime, and if you’re free and still want to, I’d like to catch up again,” I said and made sure to get her number. I meant it because Libby had been good company, and the sex had been great too.
“It was quarter past four,” Cait accuses. “You woke me when you went to the bathroom.
“Why does he get to come home at all hours?” she challenges our parents.
“Because Adam’s no longer a teenager, and you are,” Mom replies.
“I’m nearly twenty!” she protests.
“In eight months, Cait. We’ll discuss your curfew again when you turn twenty-one,” Dad says firmly. She huffs before turning back to me.
“Were you at Ian’s all that time? Who else was there?”
“There were lots of people. I didn’t know them all,” I answer, deliberately ignoring her first question.
“Was …never mind. I’m not interested in your boring friends,” she says and storms out.
“Are you hungry, sweetheart?” Mom asks, placing a cup of coffee in front of me. “I saved you some waffles and sausages, and I can fry you an egg.”
“Please, Mom,” I smile my appreciation, and when she kisses my cheek, I wrap my arm around her waist and give her a hug.
While Mom gets my breakfast, Dad and I discuss my upcoming exam and how prepared I feel for it, and I ask about his latest projects at work. Later, I take Cait out and, over a late lunch, listen to stories about her experiences at MIT, where she’s studying strategic marketing and management. I ask about her friends, relieved to learn she doesn’t have a steady boyfriend and that she’s dated but as part of a group. “Keep it that way, and promise me you’ll be careful,” I warn.
“If you’re worried that I’m sleeping around, then you can stop, Adam. Although I don’t see how it’s any of your business. It's not like you saved yourself for that someone special like you’re always telling me to. Who did you sleep with last night?” she demands.
“I don’t want to hear your excuses,” she tells me, her expression a mixture of anger and hurt.
“Cait, it’s different. You’re different,” I say, holding up my hand when she’s about to interrupt. “You’re my sister, and I love you. I don’t want anyone taking advantage of you, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Why? Because I’m deaf?”
“Don’t be ridiculous! Because you’re young and beautiful, and you’re still innocent.”
“How old were you when you started sleeping around? Do you take advantage of girls—is that why you worry about me?”
“I don’t take advantage of anyone, especially not innocent girls. The girls I see know what they’re getting into, and I don’t ever lie to them.”
“But you do sleep around. You and your friends—”
“I don’t sleep around. Well, not as much as you think,” I correct myself when Cait glares at me. “And what have my friends’ habits got to do with anything?” I ask.
“Never mind. Let’s just forget this conversation,” she decides, and because I’m being a bit of a hypocrite and don’t feel comfortable discussing my sex life with my sister, I do as she suggests. Our disagreement, as always, is soon forgotten, and we spend the rest of our time chatting and teasing, simply enjoying each other’s company.
That night, we join Mom and Dad for a night of movies in front of the television like we did when we were kids. I spend most of Sunday studying in my room, stopping only to join the family for meals. On Monday, I return to campus to repeat the hectic routine of the last three months.