He knows that he’s in the right place – knows it in a way that nobody else does. Everyone keeps asking “what made you decide on law school?” and most of the answers are uncertain and unknown. But he knows. He spent three years as a paralegal, sitting in a law form and acting as a glorified secretary while he watched the better-paid, better-dressed lawyers do exactly everything that he wishes he was doing. He read their briefs, and wished that he’d written them. He’d followed them to court and wished he we were speaking. He’d sat in on interviews and taken notes, wishing that he were asking the questions.
He knows why he’s here. And he’s beginning to think that it takes the pressure off. The other students seem to be trying to prove themselves, talking about having done moot court in college, or traveling trial team, or talking about how they knew this judge or that lawyer, or, for one girl, the complete inspiration that she’d taken from Atticus Finch.
It’s a little sick and twisted, but he kind of enjoys mentioning the Bluebook and seeing people freak out, wondering if they should know what that is.
So he’s glad when he hears about a party at the Larrimore. He’s ready to get to know people outside the craziness that is the law school. There stress there is so thick that it’s almost palpable – he can almost feel how upset people are, and it’s fills his own insides with fear and anxiety.
He gets ready in his small, one-bedroom apartment. It’s strange for him, living alone after so many years with the same roommate. It’s quiet, for one thing, without Scott’s loud laughter down the hall, or the music that was always playing in the background. It is nice not having that crazy cat around all the time, though.
He’d met Scott years ago, when they’d both been starting out as freshmen in undergrad. Jeremiah had been the overly dorky Jewish kid with the surprisingly bright shock of red hair – Scott the much cooler, brunette Christian. It was Scott who had talked Jeremiah into joining the frat, Scott who assured him that drinking underage wouldn’t really get him in any trouble, Scott who introduced him to his first girlfriend, and took him out for his first bender after being dumped that same month. They’d been inseparable since that first year, and even when they’d graduated, they’d stayed close, stayed roommates. Scott had gone immediately to law school, while Jeremiah – wisely, he’d thought at the time – chose to take a few years off, to see if law was really what he wanted to do.
Then again, here they are, three years later, and Scott’s graduated and has a job, while Jeremiah is back in school and amassing loans already, so it’s hard to say who was actually right about that issue.
The Larrimore is a big building – it’s the kind of ramshackle, falling down old place that’s expected to be rented by a bunch of college age kids. It was probably a single family home, but at some point a brilliant contractor had come in, added walls and divided up spacious living space into tiny, cramped little bedrooms – the more bedrooms, the more students could live there, the more rent to be had. There’s a window for each bedroom, but only just – tiny little things, barely wide enough to let in any light to begin with, and so old and dirty that they only filter it anyway. The wood is warped, and the floors lilt no matter which way he walks. Jeremiah is surprised, when he first enters, at how empty it is. In one room to the side, the door only partway closed, he can see a mattress on the ground, with no support and no bedframe. There’s a rod holding up clothes, and a few suitcases in the corner. He shudders a little, unwilling to believe that anyone actually lives there.
A large room next to the kitchen houses a ping pong table and a few folding chairs. Nobody is in there yet, but Jeremiah’s confident that before the night ends the chairs will be folded up and placed against the law, the table converted from a makeshift dining room table into a beer pong table – or used for flip cup, if nobody has ping pong balls.
He follows the noise of people talking – not quite the loud, raucous din of an undergrad party, but far from the more subdued, white-wine drinking crowd at the Dean’s reception. Everyone is in the backyard, it seems, though Jeremiah pauses for a moment in the kitchen to grab a red Solo cup and fill it up from a seemingly abandoned keg. IT’s been tapped, so he assumes it’s good to go.
There’s another keg in the backyard, this one manned by a huge, brutish looking guy – he must be the undergrad football player that everyone had been buzzing about at the earlier reception. It’s a little strange, to have a D1 football player attending a reputable law school, but Jeremiah isn’t one to judge. It’s strange for a born and raised Jew to join a Christian fraternity, but that had worked out well enough. Who’s to say that law school isn’t a great place for a UVA meathead?
The keg – and the football player – are surrounded by girls clamoring for a beer. The guys, Jeremiah surmises, prefer to bypass the lunacy and just grab their beer themselves from inside the kitchen. Jeremiah feels a smile pulling at his lips, almost unbidden. He’d missed this – missed the comraderie of being in a large class, missed the stupid fun of getting drunk on a summer night with near strangers. Three years working as a paralegal had transformed him into an adult – this is like a foray back into his earlier youth.
He puts one shoulder down and begins shoving his way through the throngs. He’s looking for someone he knows – maybe someone he’d spoken with at the reception, or else someone from his small group. It’s not that he doesn’t want to talk to strangers, not that he’s averse to striking up a conversation with people he doesn’t know, but it’s easier to say hi to a familiar face. He spots, just over the crowd, a head of curly hair that he recognizes, and he begins shoving over there.
“Jeremiah, hi!” Henry splutters a little, almost over-excited in greeting. He lifts his beer cup before turning grandly to the others around him. “Guys, this is Jeremiah. He’s one of the 1Ls in my section.”
Jeremiah promptly finds himself engulfed – all of the older students are eager to tell him horror stories from their own 1L years, or else to give him unasked for advice.
“Who are your professors? Professor Windward is the worst, I swear she lives just to hear herself talk.”
“Don’t bother taking any notes – I’ll give you my outline. IT’s all I studied, and I got a B+.”
“Don’t look like that – everyone gets a B+. Unless you’re a genius like this guy” – a brief pause from the cacophony as the speaker shoves Henry in the side.
“Professor Howard doesn’t take attendance – if you’re going to skip a class, skip his.”
“Yeah, and he coldcalls in alphabetical order. So just make sure you won’t be on call, and he’ll never even notice you aren’t there.”
“But don’t skip Professor Yun’s class. You’ll think that she has no idea what’s going on, but she’ll know every single student within two weeks. And if you cut class with her. . .whoo, you are in trouble.”
“Do you know about the case briefs on Westlaw? That’s all you need to get through.”
Jeremiah politely listens and sips his beer. It’s a little flat, and clearly cheap, and absolutely wonderful. He nods his head at all the right places, and makes small, noncommittal sounds. None of it is news to him – Scott’s told him about the professors, and between Scott and the young lawyers are his old firm he could write an entire book on advice to share people on surviving law school.
When he finally spots some people in his own class year that he recognizes, he tries to say good-bye. Henry claps him on the shoulder, and offers again to answer any questions he ever has. Jeremiah drags himself away.
Two of the girls from his seminar are standing just a few feet away. Anna is a little curled in on herself. She holds her beer carefully, her hand perfectly curled around it, keeping it just above chest level. She holds it in front of her mouth, he notices, taking dainty little sips every few seconds. He recognizes the strategy – a way to keep from having to talk, a way to stay closed off.
Riley, on the other hand, is a bubble of energy. Her blond hair is down, and seems to move in a constant cloud around her head. She’s nodding, shaking her head, throwing it back in laughter and cocking it to the side in question. Unlike Anna, she’s careless with her drink, spilling over the edge every few seconds as she wildly gesticulates. Jeremiah makes sure to sidle over next to Anna.
“Hey girls,” he says. “How’s it going?”
“Jeremiah, hi!” Riley says energetically. “Were you just over there talking to all of the 3Ls?”
“Yeah,” Jeremiah says. He’s carefully considered how he wants people to see him this year – he spent undergrad being the nerd in the corner. Here, now that he has the chance, he’s going to be cool, understated, enigmatic. “They’re cool.”
“Well, at least Henry’s hot,” Riley says. Anna’s face instantly blooms into a bright blush. It’s cute, Jeremiah thinks. “So, Jeremiah, tell us about yourself.”
He doesn’t know where to begin – he wants to ask her what she means, but realizes that is a hugely uncool thing to do. So he starts to talk – he begins by explaining that he used to be a paralegal. Life experience is sexy, right? And he knows that women like older men, so he puts in a few times that he’s not straight out of undergrad.
Halfway through explaining why he’d decided to come here to school, Riley gets distracted. While Anna continues to listen with an almost scarily-intense focus, Riley begins hopping up and down, waving her hands at someone in the distance. “Gus and Travis,” she explains when Anna and Jeremiah start craning their necks to see what she’s so excited about.
A few moments later the other boys join them. They immediately begin discussing the exercise from earlier in the day.
“It was weird, right?” Riley says. “I mean, what exactly is the point in making us pretend to build a new colony?”
‘It’s about the evolution of common law,” Anna says, speaking up for almost the first time. “Their point was that common law grows and changes – it’s not static like the Constitution.”
“Static like our Constitution, you mean.”
Jeremiah tries hard not to roll his eyes – he really, really does. But when he hears Adam’s voice, he almost can’t help it. He just doesn’t like the other guy. There’s something slimy about him. Besides, he clearly thinks that he’s better than everyone else. Plus, he still doesn’t appreciate the way that the other boy had talked about him like he wasn’t even there during their activity. Still, everyone turns as the other man walks up – they’re still in that overly polite time of year, when everyone wants to be fair and equitable and nice to everyone else.
“What do you mean?” Anna asks politely.
“I mean that most countries amend their constitutions more easily than we do,” Adam says. “We give far too much weight to bunch of white men who wrote law centuries ago.”
The denigration of the white man sounds silly coming from Adam’s mouth, with his clear European looks and sandy brown hair. Still, Jeremiah gets what he’s saying – America, for all that it claims to be a society that accepts everyone, seems sometimes to be one of the worst at evolving past the policies of its founders. As much as he doesn’t want to agree with Adam’s remarks, he finds himself doing so nonetheless.
“Well, the constant nature of the Constitution has kept this country politically stable,” Anna says. “Which is more than can be said for the countries who continuously change the law that serves as their basis for governance.”
Jeremiah finds his attention wandering a little. He notices that off to the side, a group of guys have started playing cornhole. He definitely notices the group of girls standing next to them, cups in hands, flushes high on their cheeks, and consistently giggling.
“Not to be a bitch,” Riley says, and Jeremiah snorts a little in laughter. Her tone is the very definition of bitchy – it’s tight and constrained, and she sounds a little like tshe’s laughing at the smaller girl. He pulls his attention back to the conversation. Partially because he’s interested in hearing what she’s saying, but honestly, it’s as much because Riley is hot as anything else. “But need I point out that our country did go through a really brutal Civil War? And that’s just the most famous war. America’s been having border disputes between states and with Canada for centuries.”
“Really?” Jeremiah asks, because this is the first he’s heard of any battle between states. It’s an interesting idea – he wonders if there are state militias that line up along interstates, next to the “WELCOME TO PENNSYLVANIA” signs. One of the guys who was playing corn hole is wandering over to them.
“Sure!” Riley says. “Ohio and Michigan nearly went to war over the Toledo strip. Maine, back in the 19th century waged a lumberjacks’ war against Canada.”
“Hey, guys!” Cornholer has finally made his way over. Jeremiah recognizes him – thinks that he does, anyway, from their class. Jeremiah doesn’t consider himself racist, he really doesn’t, but he has to admit that the only thing he remembers about the guy is that he’s black. It’s a standout feature in a school that is 95% white – the same as the redhead girl running around somewhere, or the one guy with a Unibomber beard. Still, it makes Jeremiah a little uneasy to realize that he’s already stigmatized Cornhole as The Token Black.
“Whatcha talking about?” Cornhole asks.
“Constitutional law,” Anna says at the same time that Riley says “War” and Adam says “the evolution of common law.” Cornhole stares at them blankly.
“That. . .” he says slowly. “Is the lamest thing that I have ever heard. This is a party. Try talking about something fun.”
“Such as?” Riley asks, one eyebrow arched. Cornhole grins.
“Boobs?” he says hopefully. Anna instantly starts to blush, as she crosses her arms in front of her chest. Riley rolls her eyes. Jeremiah is expecting her to launch into a feminist rant, but surprisingly it’s Anna who squares her shoulders and lifts her chin.
“That is extremely rude and degrading,” she says. “And highly unprofessional. . .”
She continues to rant, but Jeremiah has fully lost interest in this conversation. He wants to get to know the other students in his legal skills class – his fake, law school firm – but he also wants to have fun and let loose at a party, and it’s clear that hanging out with that group is not the way to do so. He wanders over to cornhole. He’d been pretty good at that back in college.
He’s pleasantly surprised to find Travis and Gus standing there, idly sipping their beer. They lift their glasses in recognition as he walks up.
“Hey, guys,” he says.
“Hey,” Travis grins. “We’ve got the next game. You want in?”
“Sure,” Jeremiah says. This is much more his speed. Travis begins idly talking about the upcoming football season.
“Hey,” Gus says, “I’m out of beer. I’m going to get a refill, you two need anything?”
Jeremiah considers double-fisting, but he finds that he kind of really wants to win at cornhole. Plus, his own cup is still mostly full. Travis hands his cup over with a grunt of appreciation.
“So,” Travis says. “Where you from?”
Both men immediately crack up at the obviousness of the question. “That sounds like we’re on a blind date,” Jeremiah says finally. Travis laughs.
“It does, doesn’t it? This is just weird, though.”
Jeremiah is about to agree – it is very weird, a party filled with strangers, everyone so eager to make friends that nobody is acting normal. He’s about to say as much, when he notices, out the corner of his eye, that Gus has stopped in the middle of returning with the beer, and is now chatting with Anna. Adam and Riley have somehow disappeared.
“Looks like Gus isn’t having any problems making friends,” he says.
“Yeah,” Travis agrees. “I’m pretty sure that he’s had a massive crush on her since she stood up for him in class today. Still, I wish he’d wait to get his flirt on until after he got me my beer.”