I thought about that conversation with Ariane for weeks, and the more time passed, the more the idea of becoming a lawyer excited me. I spent almost every waking hour thinking about and researching the areas of law practice. It didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to become a prosecutor. To me, it just made sense. After all, what better way is there to ensure victims receive justice than stop the criminals who harmed them?
For the first time since starting therapy, I looked forward to my sessions, eager to explore the possibilities with Ariane. It was hardly surprising, given her occupation, that she turned our discussion to my motivation for wanting to become a lawyer. Without even realizing it, I found myself, for the first time, openly talking about how seeing Eleanor prostitute herself, and then turn to drugs had made me feel. "Angry—helpless," I said.
“So you felt like a victim?” Ariane probed, and my first response had, predictably, been, "No, I was just mad."
“You said you felt helpless, Adam,” she pointed out, and I reluctantly conceded that I had felt that way. “Did you think Eleanor was helpless?” she asked.
“When they hurt her, yes, but she didn’t have to let them in,” I argued. Eleanor had tried to keep them out, my subconscious reminded me, but I stubbornly refused to admit the facts, even to myself, and fought off the memory.
Visions of the man with black hair in his dark suit and shiny shoes as he followed the two who'd broken down our door into our home. The feel of Eleanor’s tight grip, her trembling body as she held me close. His disdainful glance around our tiny living room before he looked at us; how smile didn't reach his eyes, ad his hateful voice when he spoke.
“Mrs. Mannering, I'm here to talk,” he said.
“It's M…Miss Mannering…” Eleanor stammered. “and this Adam, my son.”
“Well, Miss Mannering, I own this building, and you haven’t been paying your rent,” he said, scarcely sparing me a glance, and, although his tone had been soft and even, it didn't diminish my sense of dread.
Eleanor tried do reassure him that she wasn’t trying to avoid paying rent. “I’ll pay as soon as I can, Mr. …” she said, her voice quivering.
“My name doesn't matter,” he told her, “but I can't allow anyone, not even a beautiful woman like you, to get away with not paying their debt. Why don't you get rid of the boy so you and I can negotiate a settlement?”
Eleanor sent me to my room with a promise that everything was all right. “I’ll come and get you soon,” she said, but it was quite a while before she returned, and when she did, her eyes were red from crying. That man visited often after that, and even at five, I could tell she was terrified of him. So, yes, she probably had been a victim, but I can’t believe she’d been entirely helpless. She could have called the police. We could have moved. Mom’s tried, several times over the years, to talk to me about Eleanor, but I can’t and I won’t. I refuse to revisit that part of my life, and I won’t let Eleanor off the hook. She fucked up our lives with her shitty choices.
Ariane, sensing a withdrawal, didn’t pursue the matter. Instead, she asked how I felt when finding out about Adam Winston and his abandonment of us.
“I accept that he didn’t love her and that he didn’t want to stay with her, but he could have helped her financially—obviously—,” I answered bitterly. “I mean, I don’t need or want his money now, but Eleanor needed it then.”
“So you think Adam took advantage of Eleanor?” she asked.
“What about the men who visited?” she pressed.
“She had a goddamned choice. She didn’t have to see them!” I raised my voice.
“She may not have felt she had. She may have thought it was her only choice,” Ariane argued, but I obstinately refused to consider her view.
“Whether you agree with me now or never, Adam, I believe that, deep down, you know that Eleanor was a victim. I also believe that the reason you’re so passionate about prosecution is that you relate to the victims you claim you want to help, and that, what happened to Eleanor factors heavily into your choice, whether consciously or not. But, whatever your motives, I think you’d make a brilliant lawyer, no matter which legal path you choose to follow.”
I had one more therapy session before Ariane, Mom, and I agreed to an end, unless, in the future, I'd need a therapist. I still don’t accept Ariane’s views that Eleanor believed she had no choice other than to give in to those men, but I’m grateful that she ignited my interest in studying law.
I announced my decision to Mom and Dad that night. Overjoyed would be an understatement in describing their reaction. I don’t think it was necessarily my career choice that thrilled them—I suspect a great deal of their enthusiasm was because they felt I’d turned a corner in dealing with my anger.
With Dad’s help, I planned my post-high school path. He repeated his views about taking advantage of my inheritance. “You could get your law degree at any number of colleges, Son, but why not aim for the best?” And then, he played his trump card; the one I’m sure he’d kept up his sleeve. Hell, he’d probably always planned on using it at a moment just like that. “Use Adam Winston’s money to prove you’re equal to him and anyone from his world,” he said, and I folded.
So, together, we researched the top law schools in the country and their acceptance criteria. I quickly learned that obtaining the prerequisite undergrad degree wouldn’t be enough. To qualify for any one of the top six, I’d have to achieve exceptional GPA and LSAT scores. Included in the many sources of advice provided for those hoping to get into an elite law school was the need to build relationships with undergrad professors because good recommendations from them could, apparently, be advantageous.
‘Participate in extra-curricular activities,' another article read despite having warned, only a couple of sentences before, that if you were serious about attending one of the elite schools, there would be little time for girlfriends or boyfriends. A healthy social life, it stated, would be non-existent.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Adam?’ Dad asked at least twice during that time. “There are other career paths,” he assured me.
“I’m sure,” I replied without hesitation. Talk turned where I should apply for my undergrad degree and which of the top six law schools I should then submit applications to. We narrowed it down to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, New York, and Chicago.
“Do you have a preference,” Dad asked over dinner that night.
“Harvard,” I said.
“Why?” Mom questioned, and I knew, without asking, that she wondered why, given Adam Winston’s history there and my feelings for him, I’d chosen it. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure. There’s the prestige associated with Harvard, it’s law school and its long history, of course. And it’s on our doorstep, so it made sense for it to be my first choice, but there’s more to it than that. Deep down, I think it’s not only because I want to prove myself the equal of Winston and anyone like him; I want to spit in Adam Winston's eye. Metaphorically speaking of course; even though he’s not around to see it. What better way to do it than in a place he once walked, where he may well have completed his studies if Eleanor hadn’t fallen pregnant—with me.
I want to better his academic achievements. I want to prove that, ultimately, I’m smarter than he ever was because, yes, despite Ariane’s counseling, I still loathe the man.
But that was four years ago now—four years that feels like a lifetime ago now. In that time, I graduated from high school, earned my undergraduate degree in political science, and had enough sex to satisfy even that horny seventeen-year-old, who once dreamed of the promises made by a southern girl with a seductive drawl.
My studies were always my priority, but I haven’t exactly been a monk. Not that I’d been overly loose about sex; at least not when compared to some of my friends and fellow students. I’ve had my fair share of casual sex, but unlike many of my peers, I haven't deliberately mistreated girls, and I haven’t taken advantage of anyone. I’ve been meticulously honest and upfront about not wanting a permanent relationship. The women involved claimed to understand and accept that. Many, in fact, agreed they wanted the same thing.
I have had three relationships, though. The first and longest had been with Natalie Jones, my high school crush. No promises were made to any of the three girls . We'd simply, without any discussion on the matter, fallen into an exclusive dating pattern. None of those relationships lasted longer than six months, primarily due to me, because the moment I sensed they wanted more, I ended things. I didn’t intend being a bastard; I simply didn’t want to prolong a misunderstanding. Matt calls me a serial monogamist, and I suppose the description fits because I don’t condone cheating. I just don’t get why people do that. Why enter into a relationship only to cheat?
I haven’t met someone I’ve felt I wanted to make a long-term commitment to. The fact is, I don't want to; I’m not ready. It’s just too distracting, given my goals. Maintaining a relationship could have been possible while I was in college, I suppose, but, it would have made things so much harder. And, by all accounts, studies over the next three years of my life promises to be all-consuming. Making a commitment to anyone while in law school would be the height of stupidity in my view.
And so, here I am, still single on orientation day, my first official day at Harvard Law School, at the start of what I’ve been warned will be the most grueling year of my academic life. “It’s not like your freshman year in college,” Will, a HLS graduate and now a colleague of Dad’s lawyer, said when taking me on a tour of the school at the start of summer.
“Attendance isn’t optional, and you can’t get by with rewording a professor’s presentation. You’ll be expected to wade through mountains of reading material. I mean hours and hours until your eyes glaze over and your head spins.
“And then, even if you’re lucky enough to have remembered everything you’ve read, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a good grade because you can’t just regurgitate things. You’ll need to apply what you’ve learned to test cases, and grades are based entirely on the results of one exam at the end of the semester.
“And another thing; don’t expect help from other students, because, despite what everyone tells you about camaraderie, this place is highly competitive. Almost everyone turns into an asshole!” he added for good measure.
His comments did surprise me because, although, I expected and was prepared to be challenged academically, I didn’t think it would be that different to college. There, I’d coped with the workload and achieved the grades I set out to. I’d still had time to casually date and spend time with my friends.
But Will’s wasn’t the only warning I received. Everything I read on the subject seemed a repeat of his words. So, after discussing it with Mom and Dad, I decided to find a One L tutor for the summer. One L, that’s what Harvard first-year law students are called, I learned. With Dad’s help again, I found Jenna, a retired, lawyer. I liked her immediately. She has a no-nonsense attitude, calls a spade a spade, and doesn’t gloss over the truth. “You’ll find out about the good bits soon enough. What I don’t want is for you to be ill-prepared for the things that will make a difference to you graduating or not,” she said at our first meeting.
Since then, Jenna’s helped me to better understand what I’m in for. She’s schooled me on what she described as some the toughest legal concepts I’d encounter in my first year. We discussed the differences in our adversarial legal system where the courts act in the capacity of impartial umpire in the contest between prosecution and defense as opposed to the inquisitorial system, which many other countries adhere to. In that system, the courts play an active role in investigating the facts. We debated the merits and pitfalls of each system, and we spent hours; days, in fact, discussing and then testing each principle she introduced. They were, as she’d promised, challenging—some more than others—but I found myself fascinated by every aspect of the law. I spent almost every free hour trying to absorb as much knowledge as I could.
I refused so many invitations to go out that Ian and Alan accused me of turning into a nerd. I ignored them, knowing they were only joking because we’re all finding our way in the world and pursuing our dreams. Matt’s always been fascinated by old buildings. “Everyone uses them, but hardly anyone thinks about the people who built them. Something of those people stays in those places even hundreds of years later. I can feel it, you know? I want to do that; leave something solid behind when I'm gone,” he said just before graduating high school when we discussed what we wanted to do. Matt now has a degree in construction engineering.
Ian studied hospitality management and works in a pub, which he intends buying from his uncle when he retires. Alan is a mechanical engineer. His dream is to own a luxury car and restoration business one day.
The difference between their situations and mine is that they’ve either started or are about to embark on their careers. I still have three years of study ahead of me. So, over summer, while they were out enjoying themselves, I was hard at work with Jenna, preparing for this day. Of course, that wasn’t my only preparation. Before that, I’d had to the tedious task of completing and then submitting applications for eight law schools; the top six, plus Boston College and Pen, which I included as backups. Overkill many, even my family had said, but I'd been hell-bent on not taking risks.
I received my acceptance from HLS in March. With it, my other applications became moot, and I turned my mind to arranging housing, parking, and, among other things, submitting a locker request. The list seemed endless.
Mom’s delight at my acceptance to Harvard had been dashed by my decision to live on campus. It sparked yet another round of lively discussion within my family. Dad supported me, saying it would help develop independence. I know he’d also been secretly pleased because he had, on more than one occasion, expressed concern about Ian and Alan’s partying ways and the possible negative influence it may have on my studies. Mom, of course, was strongly opposed to me leaving home. “You coped while in college,” she pointed out.
Cait, seeing my potential for independence as a precedent for hers when the time came, tried to argue that living on campus was key to staying focused. “Stay out of this, Caitlin. I know what you’re up to,” Mom said, having seen through her ploy.
In the end, and only after I’d repeatedly promised to come home for a weekly visit, Mom relented and then promptly assumed the task of researching accommodation. Then, having presented me with her findings, she ignored my protests that I’d be happy to share a bathroom. Mom insisted that I apply for a large, single room in North Hall because, there, every dorm has a bathroom. I said a standard room would be fine, but she ignored me again, waving the already completed application under my nose to sign. She also suggested, and Dad, probably not wanting another debate, agreed that I should move to a studio apartment at Mass Avenue in my second year. Mass Avenue is one of three Victorian houses converted into student apartments. Only returning students are eligible to live there; otherwise, I have no doubt, Mom would have insisted that I immediately apply for there.
“I’ll be perfectly happy with the large single room at North you’ve just sold me on,” I argued.
“Adam, do you remember how much work it took to get into law school? How you kept telling Cait to turn her music down and not stomp around?” Mom challenged and, not waiting for a response, continued. “Well, you’re going to need much more to get through law school. So don’t argue,” she said, and I shut up, knowing when I’m beaten.
Mom and Cait embarked on several shopping expeditions then—for mattress covers after discovering the dorm mattresses are covered in plastic; bedding, towels, and toiletries. They also bought cleaning products, a fan, laundry basket, even a plant because, according to Cait, the apartment needs a living thing because heaven knows, I'm barely human these days.
I felt most of the items were unnecessary, but, again, I kept my mouth shut, knowing they were as much for Mom’s peace of mind as they were for my comfort. I moved into my dorm room yesterday, and my family arrived in force to help me settle in. Laden down with even more things Mom said would make me feel ‘more at home,' their bounty included basic food, snacks, and enough homemade cookies, I swear, would last an entire semester.
When they left after wishing me luck, and after Mom, tearful, made me promise, yet again, that I’d visit the following weekend, I wandered around the space that would be home for almost a year. I familiarized myself with where they’d stored everything, and then reread the pamphlet I received in the mail some weeks ago. In it, One L’s are instructed to report to the designated administration building at ten o’clock for registration before the start of orientation and some preliminary instruction. During the familiarization program, which takes place over three days, we One L’s, will have the school to ourselves. Upper-year students will arrive over the weekend, in time for the start of classes on Monday.
Satisfied that I knew what to do and where to go in the morning, I showered, silently thanking Mom that I didn’t have to wait in turn to use a bathroom. I settled down to watch T.V. and reminded myself that it would probably be one of the few, if not the last, time I’d be able to indulge in that pastime for a while.
I slept remarkably well given my unfamiliar surroundings and woke early, grateful for the coffee and supplies Mom and Cait had left. After breakfast, I showered, got dressed, and then read over the keynotes Jenna had helpfully provided. That was twenty minutes ago, too early, then, to leave, so I passed the time by making my bed and cleaning the tiny space Mom called the kitchenette. Cait would be impressed by my domesticity.
It's still early I realize as I shut my door, but what the hell, I'm too nervous to wait around. It's obvious, though, when I arrive, that I'm not the only one anxious to get started. The administration building’s already bustling with students. I'm welcomed and handed a wad of forms and pamphlets on entering, and then another person, who asks my name, directs me to a classroom where, I’m told, students in my section are gathering.
Each year, One L’s are divided into seven sections, each with around eighty students, depending on intake numbers. So, I’ll be sharing all my classes with the seventy-nine people I’m about to meet. The only exception will be in the spring when we’re required to undertake a single elective course.
Outside the room where section three—my group— is assembling, I join the disjointed line of students. “Abandon hope all who enter here,” the guy ahead of me comments wryly, and I can’t help smiling.
“Justin Wade,” he says, offering his hand.
“Adam Thorne,” I respond, shaking it briefly just as we reach the doorway.
Inside, the rest of my section, my colleagues, potential friends and, if Will is to be believed, my rivals, are settling in. Some have formed in small groups to talk, but most are seated, sorting through their orientation packs I spot a guy, Doug, I know from my undergrad class, and I’m about to make my way over to him when someone else I know joins him.
Heather’s the best friend of Kelly, a girl I’d been seen on and off. I wouldn’t call what Kelly and I did dating because I’d never actually asked her out. We initially met at a party and, well, one thing led to another. We ran into each other on several occasions after and enjoyed a repeat performance. I liked her, but after our third or fourth hook up, I suspected that she’d wanted more. Kelly was upset when, the next time we met and she invited me back to her room, I told her as diplomatically as I could that it wouldn’t be a good idea. She’s never spoken to me since, and, Heather, who I’d gotten along well with, supported her friend and also stopped talking to me.
To avoid any awkwardness, I take a seat across from them out of her line of sight. Justin joins me and, again, initiates conversation while we complete the seemingly endless registration forms. I learn that he attended Harvard for his post-grad degree in philosophy. “So did I. Political science,” I say.
“I considered it. In fact, I was pushed to do it, but I refused. I endure enough politics at home, but more than anything, I wanted to piss my father off,” he tells me, smiling at what I can only imagine must be a memory of such occasions. Realizing that he could be related to Senator Joshua Wade, I ask.
“My father,” he answers. “He has ambitions for me to follow in his footsteps. Actually, I share those goals, we just differ on how I should get there,” he adds.
I learn that Justin and his friend, Tom, are also rooming at North and are planning a move to either Mellon Street or Mass Avenue in their second year. “That’s him,” he points out a guy just entering. He grins when spotting Justin, and, as seats on either side of us are occupied, slips into the row behind us.
“Thomas Martin,” Justin introduces him. “This is Adam Thorne.”
“Hey,” he greets me. “Call me Tom,” he says after shaking my hand. Justin tells him I’m also at North.
“Do you plan on staying there for the duration?” Tom asks, and I tell them I’ve applied to move to Mass Avenue the following year.
“Great,” Justin answers. “I sense we’re going to be good friends.”
But, somehow, despite his sincerity, and both his and Tom’s friendliness, I hold reservations. Justin’s a Wade and he and Tom, I've learned, have been friends since childhood. We don’t run in the same circles, and I’m not sure we have enough in common to become friends. Also, I can’t help recalling Will’s warning about almost everyone at law school turning out to be an asshole.