I thought about that conversation for weeks. The more I did, the more the idea of becoming a lawyer excited me. I spent hours thinking about and researching the areas of law practice, and it didn’t take long to decide that I wanted to be a prosecutor. To me, it just made sense. What better way is there to ensure victims receive justice than stop the criminals who do harm?
For the first time since starting therapy, I looked forward to my sessions, eager to discuss the possibilities with Ariane. And, without realizing it, I found myself openly talking about how seeing Eleanor prostitute herself and then turn to drugs had made me feel. "Angry...helpless," I confessed.
“So you felt like a victim?” Ariane suggested, and my first response had predictably been," No. I was just mad."
“Adam, you just admitted to feeling helpless,” she pointed out. I reluctantly agreed 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 whispered. Still, I stubbornly refused to admit that fact, even to myself.
Visions of the man with black, slicked-back hair in his dark suit and shiny shoes as he followed the two who'd broken down our door into our home ran through my mind. The feel of Eleanor’s panicked grip, her trembling body as she hugged me close. His disdainful glance around our tiny living room before he looked at us; how smile didn't reach his eyes, and his hateful voice when he spoke.
“I'm here to talk, Mrs. Mannering,” he said.
“It's M…Miss,” Eleanor stammered. “and this Adam, my son.”
He hardly spared me a glance, "Well, Miss Mannering, I own this building, and you haven’t paid your rent," he said, and although his tone had been even, it didn't lessen my feeling of dread.
Eleanor assured 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's not important,” he told her, “but I can't allow anyone, not even a lovely 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 reach a settlement?”
Eleanor looked scared but sent me to my room with a promise that everything was fine. “I’ll come and get you soon,” she said, but it was a while before she returned. When she did, her eyes were red from crying. The man visited many times 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've called the police. We could've moved. Mom’s tried to discuss Eleanor many times over the years, but I can’t, and I won’t. I refuse to think about my life with her, and I won’t let her off the hook. She screwed up our lives with her shitty choices.
Sensing my withdrawal, Ariane didn’t push. 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 be with her, but he could've helped financially. Obviously,” I answered bitterly. “I mean, I don’t need or want his money now, but Eleanor needed it then.”
“Do you think Adam took advantage of Eleanor?” she asked.
“What about her male visitors?”
“She had a goddamned choice, " I snapped. "She didn’t have to let them in!”
“She may not have felt that. She may have thought it was her only choice,” Ariane argued, but I obstinately refused to consider her view.
“Whether you agree with me or not, Adam, I believe that, deep down, you know Eleanor was a victim. I also believe the reason you’re so passionate about becoming a prosecutor is that you relate to the victims and that what happened to Eleanor heavily influences your choice. Whatever your motives, I think you’d make an excellent lawyer.”
I had one more therapy session before Ariane, Mom, and I agreed to end them. I still don’t accept what Ariane said about Eleanor believing she had no choice but to give in to those men. Still, I am grateful to her for introducing the idea of studying law.
That night, I announced my decision to Mom and Dad. Overjoyed would be understating their reaction. I don’t think it was just my career choice that thrilled them, though—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 path after high school. He again mentioned that I should take advantage of my inheritance. “You could get your law degree at any number of colleges, Son, but why not aim for the best?” he said just before playing his trump card, the one I’m sure he’d kept up his sleeve. The one he'd probably always planned on using at just such a moment. “Why not use Adam Winston’s money to prove you’re equal to him and anyone from his world,” he challenged, and I folded.
So, together, we researched the top law schools in the country. I quickly learned that achieving the prerequisite undergrad degree wouldn’t be enough. To qualify for any one of the top six, I’d have to get exceptional GPA and LSAT scores. Included in the many sources of advice for those elite law school hopefuls, the need to build relationships with undergrad professors was stressed. Good recommendations from them can, apparently, give applicants an edge.
Some of the information was downright confusing. 'Participate in extra-curricular activities,' one article advised. Only a couple of sentences before, it had stressed that anyone serious about attending an elite school could forget about a healthy social life.
“Are you sure about this, Adam?’ Dad asked at least twice during that time. “There are other career paths."
“I’m sure,” I said without hesitation. Next, we discussed 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 my feelings about Adam Winston, I’d chosen it. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure. There’s the prestige associated with Harvard, its law school, and its long history, of course. It's also on our doorstep, so it made sense for it to be my first choice, but there’s more to it than that. I don't just want to prove myself to be Winston's equal; I want to spit in his eye—metaphorically speaking, of course— even though he’s not alive to see it. What better way to do it than in a place he once walked, where, if Eleanor hadn't fallen pregnant, he probably would've completed his studies. A place he'd run from because of me.
I don't just want to match his academic achievements; I want to better them. I want to prove that I’m smarter than he ever was because, yes, despite all of Ariane’s counseling, I still loathe the man.
That was four years ago. Four years that feels like a lifetime ago. In that time, I graduated from high school and earned my undergraduate degree in political science. I'd also had enough sex to satisfy even that horny seventeen-year-old who'd 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. Not when compared to some of my friends and fellow students, anyway. I’ve had my fair share of casual sex, but, unlike many of my peers, I haven't intentionally mistreated girls, and I haven’t taken advantage of anyone. I’ve been scrupulously honest and upfront about not wanting a permanent relationship. The women involved claimed to understand and accept that. Many, in fact, claimed they wanted the same thing.
I've had relationships, three to be precise. The first and longest had been with Natalie Jones, my high school crush. I made no promises to any of the three girls, and none of those relationships lasted longer than six months, primarily because of me. The moment I sensed they wanted more, I ended things. I wasn't trying to be a bastard; I simply didn’t want to prolong a misunderstanding. Matt calls me a serial monogamist, and I guess I am because I don’t cheat. I don’t get why people do that. Why enter into a relationship only to cheat?
I haven’t met anyone I’ve wanted to commit to. The fact is, I’m not ready. Being in a relationship right now would be too distracting, given my goals. And unfair to the other person because, by all accounts, studies over the next three years of my life promises to be all-consuming. Committing to anyone while in law school would be the height of stupidity, in my view.
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, an HLS graduate and now a colleague of Dad’s lawyer, pointed out when taking me on a tour of the school at the start of summer.
“Attendance isn’t optional, and you can’t slide through by 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.
“Even if you’re lucky enough to have remembered everything you've read, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a good grade. 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," he'd added as if that hadn't been bad enough, "don’t expect help from other students because, despite what everyone spouts about camaraderie, this place is highly competitive. Almost everyone turns into an asshole!”
His comments had shocked me. I expect and am prepared to be academically challenged, but I didn’t think it would be much different from college. There, I’d coped with the workload and achieved the grades I set out to. I’d still had time to date casually and spend time with my friends.
Will’s wasn’t the only warning. 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, and liked her no-nonsense attitude immediately. She 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.
Jenna’s helped me to better understand what I’m in for. She’s schooled me on what she described as some of the toughest legal concepts I’ll encounter in my first year. We discussed the differences in our adversarial system where the courts act as an impartial umpire in the contest between prosecution and defense compared 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 warned, 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 as I could.
I refused so many invitations to go out that Ian and Alan accused me of becoming a nerd. I ignored them, knowing they were joking because we’re all finding our way in the world. 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. Matt now has a degree in construction engineering.
Ian studied hospitality management and works in a pub, which he plans on buying from his uncle when he retires. Alan is a mechanical engineer. His dream is to own a luxury car and restoration business.
The difference between our situations 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, while they were out enjoying themselves over the summer, I was slogging away with Jenna, preparing for this day. Let's not forget the tedious task of completing and then submitting applications for eight law schools; my top six, plus Boston College and Pen, my backups. Overkill, even my family had commented, 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 concentrated on arranging housing, parking, and, among other things, submitting a locker request. The list seemed endless.
Mom had been delighted by my acceptance to Harvard. My decision to live on campus, however, had sparked yet another round of lively discussion. Dad supported me, saying it would help develop independence, but Mom was firmly against me leaving home. “You coped while in college,” she pointed out.
And Cait, no doubt seeing my bid for independence as a precedent for hers, argued that living on campus would help me stay focused. “Keep out of this, Caitlin. I know what you’re up to,” Mom warned, having seen through her ploy.
In the end, and only after I’d solemnly 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 wanting to avoid 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'm sure Mom would've insisted that I immediately apply there.
“I’ll be perfectly happy to spend three years in 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 yelling at Cait to turn her music down and not stomp around?” Mom challenged.“Well, you’re going to need much more to get through law school. So don’t argue,” she continued without waiting for a reply. I shut up then, knowing when I’m beaten.
Mom and Cait embarked on countless shopping expeditions—for mattress covers after discovering the dorm mattresses are covered in plastic, for bedding, towels, and toiletries. They also bought cleaning products, a fan, a laundry basket, even a plant because, according to Cait, the apartment needs a living thing because, "heaven knows, you're barely human these days."
I felt most of those things were unnecessary but 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 —laden down with even more things Mom said would make me feel more at home—to help me settle in. Their load included basic foodstuff, snacks, and enough homemade cookies to feed an army.
They left after wishing me luck and only after Mom tearfully and for the hundredth time made me promise that I’d visit the following weekend. I wandered around the small 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 weeks ago. In it, One Ls are instructed to report to the designated administration building at ten o’clock for registration before the start of orientation and preliminary instruction. During the familiarization program, which takes place over three days, One Ls, 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 to use a bathroom. I watched some T.V. and reminded myself that it would probably be one of the few, if not the last, time I’d be able to enjoy that pastime for a while.
I slept well despite the 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. I passed the time left before I needed to go by making my bed and cleaning the tiny area Mom called a kitchenette. I snorted at my newfound domesticity; Cait would be impressed.
I shut my door ten minutes before I'd planned, but what the hell, I'm too nervous to wait around. I'm not the only anxious one, it seems, because the administration building’s already bustling with students. I'm greeted and handed a wad of forms and pamphlets on entering. 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 groups, each with around eighty students, depending on intake numbers. So, I’ll be sharing all my classes with the seventy-nine people in that room. The only exception will be in the spring, when we’re required to undertake a single elective course.
Outside the room, I join the disjointed line of students. “Abandon hope, all who enter here,” the guy ahead of me mutters, and I can’t help smiling.
“Justin Wade,” he offers 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's right , my rivals, are settling in. Some have gathered 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 recognize joins him.
Heather’s best friends with Kelly, a girl I'd seen on and off. I wouldn’t call what Kelly and I did dating because I’d never actually asked her out. We first met at a party and, well, one thing led to another. We ran into each other on several occasions after that and enjoyed a repeat performance. I liked her, but after our third or fourth hook-up, I suspected that she wanted more. The next time we ran into each other, and she invited me back to her room, Kelly got upset when I suggested 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 sit as far away from them as possible, out of her line of sight. Justin joins me and starts another 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 share.
“I considered it. In fact, I was pushed to do it, but I refused. I get enough of politics at home. More than anything, though, I wanted to piss my father off,” he smiles gleefully. Realizing the possible connection, I ask him if he's related to Senator Joshua Wad.
“My father,” he informs me. “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 entering the room. He grins when spotting Justin and, as the seats on either side of us are taken, slips into the row behind us.
“Thomas Martin,” Justin introduces us. “This is Adam Thorne.”
“Hey,” he greets me. “Call me Tom,” he says after we shake hands. 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 think we’re going to be good friends.”
Somehow, despite his sincerity and his and Tom’s friendliness, I have my doubts. Justin’s a Wade, and he and Tom, I learn, 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.