CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

Five months ago, I graduated, Summa Cum Laude. Justin also gained a distinction. Tom, however, didn’t. He received a creditable pass and, as predicted, appeared more than satisfied. “At least I  maintained a decent social life,” he said.  

 

On graduation night, campus had been rowdy, the air filled with the sound of students breaking free from the chains of academia. I joined the celebrations without restraint, the first time since entering law school that I allowed myself to let go. 

 

“We fucking made it!’ Tom hooted as he popped the cork on yet another bottle of champagne, the last in the case he’d managed to smuggle onto campus. He guzzled straight from the bottle before passing it to Justin, who drank and, in turn, handed it to me. "To freedom and success," he said, and I grinned, endorsing both Tom's and his comment, then raised the bottle and drank deeply.

 

I left the party in the early hours of the morning with Crystal, who’d been invited by someone else, not me, and spent what little was left of the night in her bed. I woke before her and hauled myself up, anxious to return to my apartment to finish my packing and go home. Crystal didn’t wake when I tried to rouse her, so I rummaged around until I found some paper and wrote her a note wishing her luck because she'd also just graduated.

 

At our building, I ran into Justin in the hallway as he was taking out the garbage. He looked nearly as bad as I felt.   “I made coffee; do you want some?” he asked. 

 

“Sure,” I muttered gratefully and followed him to their apartment.

 

“Tom isn’t back yet,” Justin informed me as he handed me a mug. Before I could respond, their door slammed shut, and Tom strolled in, looking the worse for wear.

 

“You look like shit,” I commented as he threw himself onto the sofa.

 

“That’s what spending the night with three drunk, horny women will do to you,” he smirked and swiped Justin’s mug from the table.

 

I chose not to respond as I didn’t want to hear the details that, with the slightest encouragement, Tom would undoubtedly have expounded on. “I should go,” I said instead and shook hands with both as we exchanged good wishes and promised to keep in touch. I knew it was nothing but platitudes; we all did because none of us held any illusions of a lasting friendship.  Our only common interest, our experience at law school, had come to an end.

 

Reveling in the constant presence of my family and the comforts of home, I allowed myself a week to unwind. I spent quality time with Mom, Dad, and Cait, collectively and individually, something I hadn’t done in ages. Mom and Dad's praise and pride in my results filled me with a sense of deep satisfaction. Still, I couldn’t be complacent because I had one more hurdle to clear before I could become a prosecutor. In fact, to practice as a lawyer in any capacity, I had to gain admission to the bar. And so, after one celebratory night with Matt and the guys, I hunkered down to prepare for yet another exam.

 

Then, more than ever, I'd felt vindicated that I'd ignored the advice of so many and sat for the MPRE early.  The MPRE is an exam based on the law governing laywers' conduct, and passing it is a prerequisite for sitting the bar exam. Most of my fellow students, Justin and Tom included, had opted to wait until after graduation to sit the test. “Why add unnecessary pressure? Just take the bar exam in February like everyone else,” Justin had suggested, but I didn’t want to wait. I planned to sit the bar exam in July, the only other time in a calendar year one can sit the exam in Massachusetts.

 

I understood why most law graduates chose to take the MPRE after graduation and then make the most of the extra months to sit the bar exam in February.  To me, though,  it seemed senseless given the years of study I’d already put in to drag out the process. So I gave up what little free time I had and, instead, studied for and sat the MPRE early. Thankfully, I passed, which left me free to concentrate solely on the bar exam after graduation.

I sat that test in July as planned, and, in the twelve weeks it took for me to get my results, I underwent the character assessment exam, another necessary step before I could apply for admission to the bar. Finally, in October, nearly five months to the day after graduation, I received notification that I'd passed the bar.

Sometime in the future, I plan on gaining admission to the New York bar also. It may come in useful; I'd rationalized when first hatching the plan. But, in truth, my motivation had been more about making an imprint in the place Adam Winston called home than any desire to practice law in New York. I'm in no hurry, though. Right now, I want to enjoy my achievements and, for the first time in years, I’m allowing myself the luxury of looking back rather than forward. 

I won’t lie. Law school had been hell at times, particularly that first brutal year. Especially those first few months when I wondered what the hell I’d taken on. But I made it and got through the endless, endless hours of study. At times, I felt as if the library had become my second home. Though not a walk in the park, the second and third years had proven less stressful, not only because of the lessened workload but thanks also to our conditioning as One Ls. Many of my fellow students made the most of the flexible programs to enroll in several extracurricular activities. Like them, I welcomed the respite but chose to limit myself to competing in moot court and, along with Justin, joining the debating team. I enjoyed the intellectual stimulus of both, and the combination of the two seemed like perfect vehicles to test and hone my legal and oratory skills.

I avoided the official sporting teams, and what spare time I had, I devoted to fencing, something I discovered and grew to love while in college. I find it both physically and mentally testing, and I enjoy the company of Nick Burns, my instructor. I especially appreciated the time away from anything law or campus-related.

Justin and Tom returned to rowing and tried to convince me of its merits. I refused, stating that I couldn't fit it into my schedule. They disagreed. "You're on top of everything," Justin insisted, but I remained steadfast, pointing out that I was managing because of my limited activities. That had been true, but there’d been another, deeper reason for my refusal.

On a visit to Harvard before starting my undergrad degree, I was shown the Trophy Room. Among the victory regalia and photographs, one drew my attention. A particular face stood out. I recognized the all-too-familiar jawline, the shape of the nose. His hair had been light brown, almost blond, his eyes light— gray or blue—nothing like my green, yet I knew. I knew before reading the plaque that Adam Winston had once been a member of the heavyweight rowing team. The inscription was dated fifteen months before I was born, and I'd wondered whether he’d already met Eleanor by then. Had he already decided to take advantage of her?  Rage and disgust had burned through me at the sight of his carefree, smiling face. It took everything in me not to smash my fist into the glass. 

I chose Harvard, knowing he’d been an alumnus. I wanted to prove myself in the place where he’d probably hoped to graduate. I had no intention, however, of replicating every facet of his time there; quite the opposite, in fact. I had then and still have no compulsion to participate in something Adam Winston had so obviously enjoyed. And that, other than not wanting to get sidetracked, had been why I refused to join the rowing team.

That night, more than a year after Charles Adams handed them over, I asked Dad for the letters Adam Winston had left me. I’m not sure what I hoped to find—some redeeming quality maybe, or something to ease my hurt and anger. I found none of those. All reading those letters did was add Eleanor’s pain and sense of rejection to my own. I hated the bastard even more.

Each word in those letters is etched on my brain. Even now, seven years later, I recall every one.

Dear Adam,

 

I’m confused and hurt. I don’t understand why you left, why you refused to speak to me, and why you didn’t leave a number or address. I loved you. I still do, and I thought you loved me.

 

I know my pregnancy came as a shock. I was shocked too. I don’t know what happened, but surely you must accept that it wasn’t my fault? Not entirely. I was naïve and made a mistake. We both did, but I couldn’t do what you asked. I couldn’t kill our baby. 

 

So, in less than three months, I’ll give birth. I don’t know if it will be to a son or daughter, but I feel sure our baby’s a boy. I don’t know why; I just do. When I read your note, I was determined to do this on my own, and I’ve managed so far. But my doctor said I have to slow down. I can't work two jobs, and I can’t do double shifts. If I do, I’ll harm our baby.

 

I have no one else, so I’m asking you for help, Adam, please. Not for me, but for our child. Just enough to see me through the birth and until I can work again. I’m not asking for anything else, but I can’t help hoping and praying you’ll change your mind and that you’ll want to be involved in his life. I just know that if you see him and touch him, you’ll love him. I already do. I did from the moment I learned of his existence.

I’m begging you, Adam, for our child’s sake.  We need you.

 

Yours,

Eleanor.

 

I hadn’t cried for Eleanor in nearly a decade at the time of reading her words, but I admit to crying that night. Not for me, not for the photograph of the baby attached to the letter, one she must have sent after my birth. I cried for her and for the pain I read between those lines. But I was also so fucking mad.  How, having known what abandonment felt like, could she become addicted to drugs and leave me?

 

His letter, though, made me put my fist through my bedroom wall.

 

Adam, he wrote.

 

I have no idea how old you’ll be by the time you read this, but I hope you’ll be old enough and man enough to understand. I wondered long and hard about what to tell you, what the right things to say would be. Frankly, I’m no closer to knowing, so I’ll just go with the truth.

 

I was born into a family with great wealth and status in society, a place that generations before me have worked to improve and uphold. It would be  deemed highly unacceptable for anyone in our family to marry outside of our social circle, and it would be unthinkable to father and admit to having a child out of marriage. 

 

I never meant for my relationship with your mother to be more than a brief affair. Unfortunately, things got out of hand, and she fell pregnant. In hindsight, I shouldn't, have pursued her, but Eleanor was beautiful and innocent, and different from any woman I knew. I succumbed to temptation, and when things imploded, I did what I thought was best and left. I hoped she'd take my advice and move on.

 

I was livid when learning that she’d decided to go ahead with the pregnancy, and I refused to help when she all but begged for assistance. I was callous, but it was best for everyone concerned. Eleanor would eventually move on, marry someone, and she and her child would be taken care of. I would live the life I was meant to. And I did until some years ago when watching my son and my daughters, and I found myself wondering about my other child. Yes, I never doubted that you were mine; Eleanor was untouched when I met her.

 

I paid an investigator to trace your birth record. That’s all I wanted to know—when you were born, whether I had a son or daughter so that, one day, I could try to compensate for my actions. 

 

I wish you well, Adam, and I hope you live a productive life.

 

Mom and Dad both rushed into my room when I hit the wall. I expected Dad to be angry, disappointed at the very least, but he took one look at me, at the crumpled letter on the floor, and wrapped his arms around me. “It’s okay, Son, I’ve got you,” he murmured over and over as I gulped for air while trying to contain my tears and the red haze of fury engulfing me.  Mom rubbed my back. “I fucking hate him. I hate him,” I announced. Neither admonished me for swearing, and Mom, when I told her to destroy his letter, silently picked it up. She left with it and Eleanor’s letter and the photograph and returned a short while later.

 

They left when I'd calmed down. “We’ll talk when you’re ready,” Mom said, kissing my forehead, and we did, the next day. Both my parents reminded me that they love me and that I’m a Thorne.  “I hate that I have his name. Why did she call me Adam?” I asked. 

 

“You’re a better man than he ever was, Adam. The fact that you share a name doesn’t diminish who you are. It’s Eleanor’s legacy to you. It was her way of nullifying his rejection,” Mom said.

 

“Make it count; stand for more than he did.  Be a better man than he was, than he ever could have been,” Dad added.

 

“Screw him,” Cait said when she heard.

And now, with my bar admission and without knowing exactly how smart Adam Winston had been, I feel  I have, at the very least, come close to matching his academic achievements. I’ve proven that the child he'd wanted aborted is as good as he was— equal to anyone from his privileged background. For me, that's enough for now. I’m within spitting distance of achieving my goal of becoming a prosecutor.  I’ll spend my life advocating for the victims in society and ensuring that I’m nothing like him.

My two summers of internship also paid off because, when hearing that I’d passed the bar exam, Bill Watts invited me to interview to fill one of two ADA vacancies. "You understand that even though you’ve worked here, we have to go through the process, don’t you, Adam? It wouldn’t be fair to the other candidates otherwise. That said, your academic results, coupled with your track record here, should serve you well," he said. I thanked him for the opportunity and, in the days leading up to my appointment, tried to tamp down my excitement, reminding myself not to become over-confident.

I was surprised and momentarily confused when entering the meeting room for my interview that both Bill Watts and the DA, Mr. Beazley, were present. "I hope you don’t mind that I’ve invited myself, Adam.  I make it a practice, whenever possible, to sit in on final interviews,” he said before I could apologize for interrupting.  

“Of course not, Sir.” I tried not to appear too awestruck. Gerard Beazley is an imposing man. Tall and thickset with dark brown, almost black hair, piercing blue eye, and has an impressive prosecutorial record. I should know; I read up on every one of his cases when joining as an intern.  I’ve seen him around the office, of course; he’s hard to miss, but I’ve never, before then, had the opportunity to address him. I took a calming breath when Bill Watts waved for me to sit and waited for the first question.

Mr. Beazley didn’t say much. He listened and, occasionally, asked me to elaborate on a response.  I remained keenly aware of his presence, however and tried not to let it distract me, and concentrated hard not to think about how my answers would shape the DA’s impression of me. I reminded myself to draw on my knowledge and to answer frankly. It took me some minutes to settle down, but I did and in the end, I felt I did okay.

“Thank you, Adam; that was interesting,” Mr. Beazley said at the end. I thanked them both and left wondering whether ‘interesting’ is a good or bad thing.

Eight days, which felt more like a month, passed before Bill Watts called to say I’d been successful, and, contingent on my admission to the bar, they’d like me to start at the beginning of December. I quickly assured him that I could and would be happy to start sooner, but he interrupted.

“You’ve spent the last seven years studying, and I doubt you’ve had much time in the last three to relax. Forget about the law for a while; it will benefit both you and the department in the long term,” he said decisively.

I was disappointed at the time, but now, days later, I acknowledge he’d been right. The law had consumed me. When Mom and Dad heard about the job offer, she suggested we travel to Europe, something we’d spoken about doing for ages.

“You and Cait have both finished studying, so the timing’s perfect. Neither of you has to spend the entire time with us. You could go off on your own whenever you choose,” Dad added without hesitation, which made me think  that he had Mom had already discussed the holiday.  Cait immediately started planning, of course.

“Don’t you want to go, sweetheart,” Mom asked when seeing my hesitation.

“ I do. It’s just—I don’t want to make any plans until I know whether I’ve been admitted to the bar or not.

“You will be, Adam,” she replied confidently.  

“I’d rather not count my chickens,” I said.

“What’s the worst-case scenario, Son?” Dad asked.

“I’d have to retake the exam.” He smiled, having already known the answer.  “So, in the unlikely event that you have to resit, when would you be able to do so,” he asked, again, knowing that I’d have to wait until February.  

“Exactly,” he answered before I could. “So, let’s plan our trip.”  We did.  We talked about visiting London, Paris, and Rome. Mom and Dad wanted to see Ireland and Scotland, so Cait and I decided we’d stay in London for a week longer and then meet up with them in Paris after spending a week in Spain.

Matt, when he heard, asked if he could meet up with Cait and me in London and travel with us to Spain.“Sure,” I said, “but you’ve never wanted to see Europe before?” I asked because he’d always spoken about South America. He also seemed oddly embarrassed or nervous. I couldn’t determine which because Matt avoided meeting my eye, something else that struck me as unusual.

“I just think it would be great to see those places with you,” he said.

“Cait will be there too, so if you’re expecting to pick up girls, forget it,” I warned because Matt is a bit of a player, worse than I’d ever been.

“I know that.” He looked and sounded irritated.

“I’m not trying to be a dick, Matt, but I won't do that around Cait,” I told him.

“Nor would I,” he said, glaring at me.

“That’s settled then,” I told him, and so included Mattin our plans. I'd expected Cait to complain about our time together being spoiled, but she hadn’t. In fact, she seemed more than pleased. I found it strange because Cait had insisted that our time alone would be good for rebonding.  “I miss the way we used to be,” she’d lamented after I’d left for law school. Preoccupied with waiting for news from the admissions board, I thought no more of her and Matt’s odd behavior.

Finally, the day I’ve been working toward for seven years arrived—well, eight, depending on whether I choose to count from that pivotal moment in Ariane’s office or the day I started my undergrad degree. This morning, I received official notification that I’ve been admitted to the Massachusetts Bar.

In two weeks, I’ll attend the formal admissions ceremony at Faneuil Hall, where, in an actual session of the court presided over by a Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, I’ll take the Attorneys' Oath, sign the Roll of Attorneys, and be presented with my license to practice law. 

 

Three days after that, I’ll fly out to London with my family, and, later, Matt will arrive. He and Cait, my two best friends, will join me for our first European adventure. Right now, I feel extraordinarily blessed. I’ve come a long way from that little boy who watched my mother’s decline into drugs and prostitution and who, years later, learned that his father had wanted him aborted. Thanks to the dedication and warm heart of Emma Thorne, who could have written me off as just another welfare case, I’ve been given a new and better life.

Things could have turned out very differently for me, a fact that had been repeatedly underscored during my pro-bono stint and internship. Learning firsthand about the deplorable crimes perpetrated against the weak and vulnerable has strengthened my resolve to make the most of the advantages I’ve been given. In January, when I start the new phase of my life, I’ll do everything I can to win justice for the victims of crime. After all, I could so easily have suffered their fate.

 

                                                    

 

— The End —
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