“You’re nuts,” Tom scoffs. “Corporate transactions, litigation, and defense; that’s how you get rich.”
“I’m not interested in getting rich,” I say, struggling to hold my temper. It would be pointless explaining my motivation; neither Tom nor Justin would understand.
“With your results, you’ll have your choice of law firms. Do you even know how intense the competition for the best graduates is, how much the top guys are prepared to pay?” he persists.
“I’m aware, and it makes no difference. I won’t change my mind, Tom, so drop it!” I tell him, pissed off because, since learning about my internship, Tom’s been on at me to change my career path. Justin, I’m sure,agrees with him, but he, at least, keeps his thoughts to himself. How the fuck Tom thinks it’s any concern of his, I don’t know. I, sure as hell, have never questioned their plans.
We’re driven by different things; I accept that. Justin’s motivated by political ambition, his own and that of his father for him, while I want to represent the victims of crime. Tom, from what I can tell, has no driving force other than the wish to amass an even greater fortune. To each his own, I say, but it’s a good thing we don't see each other as often as we used to. If we did, Tom would have more chances to regurgitate this futile discussion, and I’d probably give in to the urge to punch him in the mouth.
Our second year is markedly different from the first. As One L’s we were required to study criminal law, contracts, legislation and regulation; torts, civil procedure, and property. We also had to undertake legal research and writing, referred to as LRW, and participate in problem-solving workshops. Other than two elective courses, most of our time had been spent with group members. So, given our section three membership and the fact that we all housed at North, Japer, Tom, and I spent a lot of time together.
Things are different now. Second and third-year law students have flexibility. We’re able to tailor a curriculum to suit our personal goals. Other than the stipulation that we take a course in personal responsibility and the need to complete a significant piece of written work, known as the third-year paper, we’re free to choose from a wide range of law courses on offer.
Justin, Tom, and I share some classes, but we’ve each included subjects suited to our ambitions. We remain friends and continue to spend a good deal of our free time together, but we’re no longer joined at the hip, so to speak.
“Well, I think— “Tom, who doesn’t know when to quit, continues.
“What are we doing tonight?” Justin, sensing my rapidly rising irritation, interjects.
Tom’s eyes light up. "The med guys are having a party,” he says, referring to some third-year medical students he knows. “Are you guys up for it?”
“I’m in,” Justin replies immediately.
"Cait and I have plans,” I say.
“Bring her,” Tom suggests.
“No way! I don’t want her exposed to the shit that goes down at those parties.”
“What? She’s at college—you don’t think she’s seen anything like that before?” Tom scoffs.
“She better not have,” I snap. He’s about to respond, but Justin, again, intervenes.
“It's better that you don't ask her. You’d be watching her all night and never relax,” he tells me.
“You can’t act like a guard dog. She’s an adult,” Tom chimes in.
“Mind your own fucking business,” I tell him, not liking his tone or the fact that he thinks he can tell me how to behave with my sister.
“Just saying,” he shrugs, trying to make light of his comment, but I know better.
“Stay away from her,” I threaten.
“She’s stunning, but I wouldn’t dream of pissing you off,” he says. “There’s plenty of fish in the sea, right? I may even go after that little doctor friend of yours. She has a thing for you, but I’m sure I could persuade her to forget about you.”
“What?” he challenges. “You don’t think I can?” he demands at my wry smile.
“I’m not interested in Brooke in that way. I value our friendship too much, and I’m sure you won’t succeed. She’s too smart to fall for your line of bullshit.”
“He’s right. Perhaps you need a new approach?” Justin jokes.
“It’s worked so far, and I just haven’t even tried with her yet. Care to wager?” Tom goads Justin. “A thousand says I’ll get her into bed. I’ll double it if you want some skin in the game. I’ll even give you a head start.”
“Justin!” a female voice calls out before he can reply. Cynthia Buchanan, his sometimes girlfriend, makes her way over.
“Well, there goes my plans for tonight,” Justin mutters and gets up to greet her, his irritation barely hidden.
“I knew I’d find you here.” Cyntha kisses his cheek. Café Pamplona is an iconic coffee shop near Harvard Square, It's also one of our favorite haunts, something anyone who knows us would know. I have no doubt, however, that she would've tracked Justin down to almost anywhere. She’s that determined to hang onto him. His interest in her can best be described as tepid. He once confessed that he continues their on-again-off-again relationship to appease his father. ‘To get him off my damned back,’ he’d said.
“Tom,” Cynthia gushes and leans across to kiss his cheek also. “Hi, gorgeous,” he returns, making her smile grow. It leaves her face as she turns to me. “Adam,” she greets me coolly.
“Cynthia,” I match her tone. There’s no love lost between Cynthia Buchanan and me. She’s snubbed me from the moment Justin introduced us, and I refuse to fawn over her like Tom. I have no idea what her problem with me is, and, frankly, I don’t care. Cynthia epitomizes everything I detest about people like her.
The Buchanans rival the Whitlocks political history, and Justin’s father is determined to merge the two families. Justin and Cynthia’s marriage would, in his view, significantly improve Justin’s chances when he makes his bid for the presidency. I say when not if because Joshua Whitlock,I’ve learned, will stop at nothing to realize his family’s ambition of having a Whitlock in the White House. It’s not Cynthia’s political pedigree that I hold against her, nor is it her family’s wealth. What I abhor is her sense of superiority, the fact that she considers anyone who isn’t part of the social elite or who doesn’t have obscene wealth as being beneath her. It’s her sense of entitlement that fuels my dislike—the same attitude, probably, that resulted in Adam Winston casting Elizabeth and me aside.
Withdrawing some notes from my wallet, I place them on the table before standing. “See you on Monday,” I tell Justin and Tom before leaving.
* * * * *
It’s the last day of my semester break, and Matt and I are having a quiet drink at a pub. Matt and I rarely spend time alone these days, so we're making the most of catching up on what’s happening in each other’s lives. He wants to leave the company he’s working for and find a smaller one. “I’d like to interact with clients more, feel like I’m making a real difference. I’ve enjoyed the large-scale projects, but I’m only one of several contributing,” he explains.
“What kind of company?”
“Small to medium-sized construction or architectural firm; a place that does domestic as well as commercial work.”
“Why don’t you speak to my dad? He could probably point you in the right direction,” I suggest.
“Do you think he’d talk to me?” he asks, his excitement clearly visible.
“I’m sure he’d be happy to. I’ll mention it to him,” I promise, and when he thanks me, shrug it off, telling him it’s no problem.
“I saw Cait yesterday,” he informs me.
“With some guy, coming out of Strega on the waterfront.”
“What guy?” I ask.
“His name’s Tom. He looked a bit jumpy when Cait introduced me as your best friend—“
“That fucker!" I say, cutting Matt off. "I’m going to kill him.”
“Adam, what the hell? Matt lays a restraining hand on my arm as I jump up, and it takes me a while before I’m calm enough to ask for a description of the guy he met. Matt confirms my suspicion and when he asks what my problem is, I tell him about Tom and how he treats women.
“If you need help kicking his ass, let me know,” he says, angry too, which doesn't surprise me. Matt’s been almost as protective of Cait as I am since we caught those kids harassing her at school.
Cait's not home when I get there, and the thought that she could be with Tom aggravates me more. “What’s wrong, Adam?” Mom asks when unable to settle down, I get up and pace around the living room.
“Nothing,” I say because Cait and I never snitch on each other. So I invent some excuse about needing to catch up on my reading and go upstairs to wait instead.
The minute I hear the front door slam shut, I make my way to Cait’s room, and I’m sitting on her bed when she enters.
“Where’ve you been?” I sign, not wanting Mom to hear us argue because I have no doubt we’re about to.
“Out,” she tells me.
“A friend. Why're you so mad?” she turns to hang up her jacket.
“Tom?” I demand, getting up to block her way.
“Does it matter?” she snaps, elbowing past me.
“Yes, it matters!” I snap right back.
Cait, whose anger almost matches mine now, juts her chin out. She narrows her eyes in warning. “I’m not a child, Adam; you can’t stop me from seeing him. And you were out of line by telling him to stay away from me.“
The prick! I can well imagine how he manipulated that piece of information to ingratiate himself with Cait. “He’s a jerk, who treats women like objects!”
“And you don't?” she demands. “The only reason you want me to stay away from Tom is to stop me from finding out what you get up to.”
“I don't do the fucked up things he does. And that’s not why—”
“What’s going on in here?” Mom interrupts, and I realize I’ve been shouting. “Adam, watch your temper and stop cursing, especially at your sister." I don’t bother telling Mom that Caitlin frequently outswears me.
“He’s being ridiculous,” Cait scowls at me. I glare back, challenging her to be reasonable, but it’s clear she’s determined to ignore whatever I say.
“Sorry,” I apologize to Mom before turning on my heel. In my room, I start packing.
“What are you doing?” Mom asks from my doorway.
“I have lots to do to prepare for tomorrow, so I’m going back to my apartment,” I say to appease her.
“But we agreed you’d leave in the morning,“ Mom protests and then, stepping close, touches my arm.
“What were you arguing about?”
“Nothing, Mom. You know how we are. It’s just a stupid argement. It'’ll blow over,” I assure her.
“Are you sure you have to go?” she appeals. I hate disappointing Mom, but I’ve decided what I need to do. So I tell her yes and return to stuffing clothes into my bag before she can question me further.
“I’ll get your food ready.” Mom kisses my cheek.
At Mass Avenue, I stop only to dump my bag on my bed and place the food in the kitchen before making my way to Justin and Tom’s apartment. Justin opens the door, and, ignoring his greeting, I brush past him.
Tom’s leaning in the doorway to their living area. The bastard smiles as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. “I thought you weren’t back until the morning. Want a beer?" he offers.
I grab him by his collar. His shock doesn't douse my anger. It stokes it because he’d apparently thought he’d get away with messing around with Cait behind my back. I pin him to the wall, my forearm pressed tight against his throat. "Stay the fuck away from my sister!" I’m so mad; I feel myself trembling. Visions of Tom with those women in the bathroom, memories of Elizabeth crying out as some man hurts her, the helplessness I felt then, all flood through my brain. Fuck that! I’m not a helpless kid anymore. No one’s going to harm my family ever again.
"I like her…" Tom protests.
I increase the pressure on his throat. "I don't give a shit! I'm not having you treat my sister like some easy lay.” His face turns red, his eyes wide and panicked as he struggles to breathe.
“Adam—“ Justin grips my arm, but his placating tone enrages me more. Ever the politician, pretending to take the high ground when, in fact, he condones Tom’s behavior. He probably does the same shit, except he’s smarter and much more subtle.
"You knew, and you didn't tell me?" I accuse him.
"It really isn't any of my business." He drops his hand, raising both in an appeasing gesture.
"Well, it's my fucking business. You should have told me," I yell. A look of acknowledgment, or perhaps apology, crosses his face. I can’t tell; I’m too mad to think straight.
“A…Adam, hear me out, okay?” Tom chokes. “I haven’t f… had sex… with Cait—“
I tighten my hold, bringing myself almost nose to nose with him, silently warning that I don’t want to hear any of his usual bullshit. “I won’t,” he says and assures me that he respects Cait. I ease off, not quite releasing him.
"My sister is nothing like the girls you go around with. If I find out you've done any of the shit you usually get up to with her, I'll take your fucking head off. I don't give a shit about the consequences," I tell him, and then with one last shove, walk away.
It takes weeks before I can be in Tom and Justin’s company or even look at them without feeling angry, but things eventually return to normal. As normal as they can be now that they’ve confirmed my initial observation—that we have little in common and that neither of them has accepted or are likely to view me as a true friend. Friends, in my view, don’t treat each other underhandedly. Tom, realizing the precarious nature of our truce and knowing that I’m watching like a hawk, is careful not to antagonize me.
Cait and I make up the weekend after our argument. “He’s fun to be with,” she says about Tom, and when I start to warn her about his reputation, she cuts me off. “We’re just seeing each other casually, and I wouldn’t get intimate with someone I’m not in a serious relationship with,” she assures me, so I let it go because I trust my sister not to lie to me.
About a month later, when Cait tells me she’s no longer seeing Tom, I’m delighted and relieved. I stop monitoring him, put my friendship with him and Justin into perspective, and concentrate even harder on my reason for being at Harvard.