He is not born into a troubled family.
The opposite instead, his is a happy one. They do not suffer from poverty or gambling or excessive drinking or abuse like what is so often whispered behind cupped hands about those families of upper society.
No, he is born to two loving parents, born from his grandparents who came to America and gave them the opportunity to better themselves from what they had. His mother had been the first to become a doctor, a large change from his grandmother who hand-sewed all of her children's clothes. His father had been the first to go to any kind of schooling beyond two years of college on his side.
His family is instilled with this idea of opportunity and to always be better than the one before.
He's born into this, and cannot help but feel, as he gets older, that he's a constant disappointment.
Cary's five when he decides he wants to be a lawyer.
His father works for a firm, on track for partner, in a tall building downtown. He likes when he gets to visit because his dad's office is on the twentieth floor. The windows and the view make the people look like ants below.
He likes his father's office. The wide windows and wooden desk, the bookshelves filled with important looking books with titles his tongue trips over when trying to pronounce.
Cary listens at dinner when he talks about his cases for the week, the trials and the long process of it all, and when he loses or wins.
He eyes the careful slant of when he signs his documents. He wants that, the important job that makes all their family friends respect his father.
His mother's a surgeon, important too, but blood makes him ill. He cannot be a doctor like her, and has never entertained that thought, or even tried to play at being a surgeon. It’s not for him.
His father’s job is much better, he thinks.
Observing his dad, Cary likes too that he seems to enjoy his job. To his five year old self, that's all he needs to confirm his desire.
When he's a junior in high school, he visits Harvard.
It's where his mother went after busting her ass to get in and then busting her ass further to pay for the costs to stay there. Her diploma hangs in the study, and he likes the raised lettering he can see from behind the glass's frame.
Cary likes too the way the name sits in his mouth. How it rolls around on his tongue, the taste of the prestige and weight it has as it drops out of his mouth.
It sounds right. It sounds good. It sounds like a way to prove himself. He throws himself into trying to be the best in high school that he can be.
Harvard doesn't take him for undergrad.
The rejection letter hits him hard, and he mopes for several days afterwards. He’s sullen and cross, snapping at anyone who speaks to him. At dinner, he pushes his food around his plate, the grains in the wood of the table fascinating.
His mother finally has enough one afternoon and confronts him about it.
She sets his three acceptance letters and their brochures down in front of him on the kitchen table, and taps them with polished nails; they're chipped from washing the dishes the night before, bits of clear and bone color shining through. "Columbia, Yale, and NYU. You're very lucky to have this choice. And the opportunity with it."
Cary remembers the feel of her fingers in his hair, brushing against the flow of its natural growth. He remembers too the feeling of her lips brushing against his forehead as she whispered,
"Pick one, Cary." Her thumb brushed against his skin, just above his eyes. "You'll do great anywhere. Be thankful you have options."
He feels a flush of shame warm his face then.
Three excellent schools are better than none and better than what others have.
Cary doesn't mope about it anymore.
He decides that if Harvard won’t take him for undergrad, they sure as hell will for law school. It’s the best in the country, and he’ll settle for nothing less than that.
Cary’s college life is split between two things: either he’s studying for his classes and grades, or he’s out drinking. One or the other, and some sleeping in between. His friends are amazed at what he can do and how he doesn’t burn himself out.
He does though, burn himself out.
When he does go home for breaks, it’s to fall asleep in his bed in his bedroom that has not changed since he left. He feels bad, not spending enough time with his parents when he is home, since he’s the only child and the house is empty now.
It’s all worth it though when he takes his LSAT and sends his application in and the acceptance letter comes.
It’s actually a phone call that he gets from the Dean, a week before the letter will come.
Cary listens to the Dean extend him congratulations and an offer, breath steaming out white in the February air. His hands are tight, the leather of his gloves creaking.
“Yes, sir,” he answers, choice already made.
It’s not enough though.
He finds Harvard Law to be full of people like him: people who all dreamed of coming here and thought themselves to be the best. He’s not the smartest anymore, the work and knowledge and lectures don’t come easy.There’s no fun to be had with his classmates though, they don’t challenge him in the way he wants.
Cary works hard anyway. He schmoozes with contacts, creating a personal network that is impressive for a twenty-five year old.
His ass-kissing pays off because six months after graduation he has a job at a top law firm in Chicago.
Cary sizes up his competition the first time he sees her.
She’s older than him, by quite a few years. He doesn’t always pay attention to Chicago politics, but he knows enough to recognize her name. The scandal has been impossible to ignore.
He would dismiss her, throw her motherly looking PTA suits to the side, tired looking hair, bags under her eyes, pain that she carried around like a scarf on her neck, all visible to anyone who looked for even just a second. But he knows better.
There’s something there when he looks at her. She’s competition, someone who’s after his spot, someone who could take his place here. He thinks back to the long nights of undergrad and law school, thinks it will come in handy that he has nothing but an empty apartment to go home to; no commitments other than the ones he makes.
Cary can beat her.
He knows he can.