Authors: Ava Hayworth
“So Nick tells me you’re going to be a big-time lawyer.” I shoot Nick a dirty look as he gives a little wave and drags Sam over to another group.
“I’m not sure about big time. I don’t even have a job yet.”
“I’m sure a girl as pretty as you will find something without much trouble. Didn’t Nick mention some job interviews?”
I am not sure that I care for his implication that I will get a job based on my looks, but choose to ignore it. “I had two interviews last week, one at a midsize firm and another at a large firm. I haven’t heard anything back from them yet.””
The interviews last week had both gone well, but it was only the first round, where the person in charge of hiring screens you. The next round of interviews would be with the lawyers I would actually be working with – if I even get that far.
“Well, best of luck then, and hey, if that doesn’t work out, you could always give modeling a go.” I raise my brow at him and regard him skeptically. ““Why are you looking like that? You might not have the height to be a runway model, but I bet your face would photograph beautifully. As a matter of fact, I would love to photograph you. You have gorgeous skin and a lovely profile, and those lips. Just say the word, and we’ll set up some studio time. I think you would be quite pleased with the results.”
“The offer is tempting, but I think I’ll give the law profession a try first. I did just spend the last three years of my life studying my ass off.”
Davis laughs and gives me a wink. “Well, in that case, at least I know where to go if I ever need a good lawyer. Will you at least come by my studio sometime? I would love to show you my work. Maybe I can change your mind.”
I can’t help smiling at his persistence. “If that’s your best pick-up line, you might want to consider something with a bit more subtlety.””
Davis claps his left hand over his chest as if he has received a fatal blow. “You wound me. I am being completely sincere. Bring Nick and Brad if you think I am trying to lure you back to my secluded lair.”
Davis’s charm is hard to resist, and I make plans to visit his studio. Maybe I should let him photograph me. It is not every day that you get an offer like that from a professional photographer.
The elevator doors open, and I walk up to the reception desk at Houghton Mills. “Hello,” I say to the blond receptionist, who looks like she should be a Victoria Secret runway model. “I’m Elaine Hart, and I’m starting as a junior associate today.”
She gives me a cool smile. “Please have a seat, and I’ll let Ms. Rodriguez know that you are here.”
I take a deep calming breath to settle my first-day jitters and wish that I had not loaded up on caffeine this morning. As I move towards the waiting area, I see Alex Matthews come through the door and approach the receptionist. She seems just as cool towards him.
Alex and I were both hired as junior associates at Houghton Mills. We had been called back for a second round of interviews and met with the partners on the hiring committee. They had hired nearly 20 new associates, and I felt lucky that Alex and I were starting together. It would be nice to already have afriend.
Alex looks as nervous as me, and I give him a nod and a smile. He visibly relaxes when he sees me and sits down in the empty chair next to mine. “Hi Lainey, how was your time off?”
After graduation we had both taken a month off
before starting at the firm. I had spent some time with my mother and visited Sam’s family as well. “It was relaxing. I spent some time lying in the sun and just bumming around. How about you?”
“Family vacation. It was nice to spend some time with the folks.” I nod in agreement as Valerie Rodriguez, the lawyer in charge of us newbies, comes out to greet us.
She takes us back to a large conference room, where we spend the next several hours with introductions and going over company policies. There are three other women junior associates starting today along with six men. I am sitting next to Sonia, who has offered to help me learn the ropes. She apparently has a lot of experience working at law firms, because she spent several years
as a paralegal before going back to law school. I am trying to pay attention to Valerie and at the same time politely listen to Sonia, who fills in any silences with tales of the worst lawyers she has ever worked for and their various idiosyncrasies.
I am tuning out Sonia when Valerie starts assigning us to the lawyers who we will be working with. I am the last associate to be assigned and it is to Elizabeth Duffy, who I will meet this afternoon. We are about to break for lunch when Valerie gives us a parting message. “I would like you all to have a great start at Houghton Mills, but I would be derelict in my duty if I did not make you aware of how competitive we are at this firm. We hire only the best, and that is why you are all here today. That being said, it may not work out for all of you here at Houghton Mills. Sometimes junior associates decide we are not a good fit for them. You will have to work a lot of hours, and although you know this going in, sometimes the reality can be overwhelming. It can work the other way too; sometimes we at Houghton do not feel like an associate is a good fit for the firm. On average, about half of the junior associates make it to a second year here at Houghton Mills. I want to impress upon you that this is not a competition. There are not a set number of openings. It just usually works out that way. So please let me reiterate: you work for the same team, and we at HM like to see team players.” The guy sitting next to Alex starts clapping, and we all awkwardly join in. Valerie just smiles and sends us off to lunch, reminding us to be back in an hour.
Alex and I decide to test out the closest deli, which happens to be next door. “Do you think clapping guy played sports in high school and the phrase ‘team players’ set off a Pavlovian response to clap and cheer?” I ask as we pick out deli sandwiches.
Alex laughs, “Yea, that wasn’t awkward at all.” He pays the cashier for both our lunches and gives me a wink when he sees I want to object. “It can be on you next time,” he assures me before continuing. “Even though Valerie said it was not a competition, I can guarantee you that at least one person heard the word competition and thinks this is the game of their life.”
I head for a corner table. “I really hope you are wrong.”
“Well, I know I am right. It is inevitable with a group this large. Just wait and see.”
I swallow a bite of my turkey and avocado sandwich. “Want to put your money where your mouth is?”
“Oh ho, little Lainey Hart, high stakes roller. Who would have thought? You’re on. What are the stakes?” Alex tips his bag of chips in my direction, and I nab one.
“A night out… and whoever loses pays for drinks… all night.”
“Oh, come on… you can do better than that.” Alex gives me a wicked grin. “How about…” Alex looks out at the midday foot traffic as he deliberates. “The loser also has to sing a song with the Naked Cowboy in Times Square?”
I consider for a moment. The Naked Cowboy is a street performer at Times Square and is famous for serenading tourists with his guitar dressed only briefs and a cowboy hat. As long as I don’t have to be naked too, I could handle those stakes. Grinning widely, I accept the bet. “You are on, and I can’t wait to see you up there putting your moves on.”
“You are going down hard, Hart,” Alex teases before clarifying. “If everyone is a team player, drinks are on me, and I will sing in Times Square, but if one person goes all Tonya Harding, the drinks are on you, and you sing at Times Square.”
I laugh. “Nice comparison, lawyer and psycho ice skater. I can see that. I just wouldn’t want to be Nancy Kerrigan.”
As soon as we exit the elevators and walk back into the firm, our buoyant mood from lunch plummets. Everyone seems to take the start at the firm seriously. Their somber attitudes subdue our high spirits. The next item on the agenda before meeting the lawyers with whom we will be working is an office tour. The firm is located on the top three floors of a Midtown office building, and we start the tour at the top. Valerie is instructing us on the various departments on the floor when the sound of a familiar voice hits me. I recognize the voice immediately and my blood turns to ice. I don’t have time to consider what to do when I see James step out the door of a conference room. He is conversing with an attractive blond. I know I must be standing there like a deer in the headlights, but I am in such shock that I cannot move.
Valerie gives them a friendly smile and motions them over. This pretty much dashes my hope that James is visiting from another firm. She introduces them as firm lawyers.
I don’t know where to look and am relieved when she doesn’t start introducing us all individually, but just gives us a blanket introduction as the new associates. My relief quickly turns to horror when Valerie singles me out. “Oh, Elaine, you will be working with Elizabeth.” She smiles and motions me over. “Elizabeth, this is Elaine Hart, who you will be working with for the foreseeable future.”
I do my best to smile and offer Elizabeth my hand. It takes extreme effort not to glance over at James even though I am dying to know what he thinks of meeting me like this. They are about to continue on when I finally gather up my courage and look over at him. He is ignoring me as well, and I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding. Maybe we can pretend to be strangers. This does not have to be awkward at all, I tell myself. At the last second our eyes meet, and my breath seizes up inside of me. I had forgotten what it felt like to be on the receiving end of that piercing blue gaze.. He does not acknowledge me with even a flicker of an eyelid. Elizabeth touches his arm, drawing his attention back to her. I can’t hear what they are saying as they turn and walk down the hallway.
My oxygen-deprived lungs begin to object, and I start coughing. I feel everyone turn to stare at me, and Valerie points me to the water cooler. The cool water feels good on my throat. I use the time at the cooler to regain my composure before rejoining the group. My ears pick up snatches of a whispered conversation between the women junior associates. “Bluest eyes…never seen anyone so hot…work under him any time.” I know without a doubt that they are talking about James.
The rest of the tour passes in a blur as my mind races with the implications of working at the same firm as James. As far as I could see, it would be best to just pretend we had never met. It was a one-night stand that happened three months ago. It was not as if we were in a relationship or planning on pursuing one.
My first week of work, I walk around on pins and needles. I am in a constant state of awareness, and find myself looking for James around every corner. I tell myself that I don’t want to see him, but a tiny part of me knows that this is a lie. The junior associates sit at desks in an open office on whichever floor their department is on. I am on the top floor, the same floor as James. The open office space is broken up into rows where the administrative staff and junior associates sit. Tall dividers separate the rows, providing some visual privacy. Copy and file rooms, as well as a modern kitchen, are in the center. There is some foot traffic that goes by my desk, and I find myself looking up every time someone walks by. My desk is in a cluster of six cubicles. Two paralegals sit closest to me. I discover that Patti is the loud, friendly one who loves to talk about her boyfriend, and Nora is the quiet one. Nora reminds me of a sexy librarian. This is because she wears red plastic framed glasses and her chestnut-brown hair up. She also has a habit of sticking pencils through her up-do so several pencils are usually sticking out.. Unfortunately, Nora will be leaving the firm to go to law school in the fall.
Although she looks young, Patti talks like she has worked for the firm for years and years. She has a slightly Asian look since her mother is Filipino, and she is tiny. I would guess her height to be just over five feet. I have to make an effort to keep at my work because it is easy to be sucked into long conversations about Patti’s large family, who all live in Queens. The stories are all entertaining but distracting.
I am able to relax my vigilance in operation “Lookout for James” when Elizabeth mentions that he is in Los Angeles doing some depositions. This whole time I had been walking around on tenterhooks, and he had been in an office on the other side of the country. I decide that I am not going to let the situation stress me and concentrate on my job. They had not been kidding about the workload. After informing me that she had been easy on me the first week so that I could get acclimated, Elizabeth begins the second week with a huge file of contracts for me to review.
The contracts are dull and fairly routine, and it is nothing that I can’t handle. I am glad that I don’t have to run to Elizabeth with a lot of questions. I am hoping that I can prove myself capable so that she will start shifting more challenging work to me. With this in mind I decide to stay late on Monday. Maybe if I get through the majority of the contracts, I could sit in on some meetings later in the week.
On Tuesday, I notice a change in atmosphere at the office. Instead of working sluggishly at their desks with their heads down, the paralegals look up at me expectantly as I walk by. I am putting my things away in my desk drawer when I hear a few hushed exclamations. Looking up, I see James striding down the corridor. To my amazement, the paralegals and juniors flash him flirtatious smiles and offer him perky greetings. Other than to minutely nod his head in everyone’s general direction, James doesn’t acknowledge the attention. He breezes past me without a word, and I am uncertain whether he notices me sitting at my desk or not. With the others, I watch his beautiful back until he turns the corner and goes into his office. There are a couple of beats of pregnant silence, then a collective sigh as if everyone had been holding their breath. The whispering is louder this time, and I hear comments about topics ranging from James’s wardrobe choices to the physique underneath. Stunned, I realize that his passing through the office is like a great wave of energy brushing us all with its force. Even the male employees have looked up from their work, although their reactions tend toward eye rolling as opposed to the eye batting of their female counterparts.