When Harvey is sixteen, his mother does a terrible thing.
When Harvey is sixteen, years of practice make his mother arrogant in her misdeeds, and in her arrogance she becomes careless, as people often do. Arrogance makes her call her lover on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, and carelessness makes her forget to check that her sons are out playing with their friends, that Harvey hasn’t come down with something of a cold and decided he would rather stay home today. Arrogance feeds her hubris, and hubris makes her selfish, and for a moment, just a moment, she forgets that Harvey isn’t her confidant, that he isn’t her friend. She forgets that it isn’t her place to ask her child to keep such a secret for her, to beg him not to hurt his father this way, not to break up their family over such a stupid mistake that she’ll never, ever make again. And Harvey is sixteen, and he wants to trust his mother the way he’s always done, and he wants to keep on loving her without restraint, so he doesn’t think that what she means is that she’ll be more careful next time, that she won’t let herself get caught again, and he keeps her secret, even though it doesn’t feel right.
When Harvey is eighteen, he learns his lesson. When Harvey is eighteen, bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders, he strikes out on his own, because if the people he thought he loved are going to abandon him, then he’s going to leave before they get the chance.
Harvey has always been better off alone.
Life is fine, for awhile. It’s not good, but it’s fine, as he tries without much luck to make his way in the world, to figure out who he is and what he wants. He falls into a job in a law firm’s mailroom that doesn’t demand much of him, and he stays there until a happy accident sends him to law school, and this isn’t so bad, as things go. This is pretty good. Life is pretty good.
He meets Scottie, and they know they’re not forever, but they have fun together, and no one gets hurt.
Later, at another place and another time, he meets Donna, and he knows she’ll leave him someday because she tells him as much, but while she’s here now, life is a little easier.
Awhile after that, when life has gotten a little too easy, he meets Mike, and he thinks that maybe, maybe, this time will be different.
Harvey has no one to blame but himself.
The sky darkens too early this time of year, midnight coming on at six PM.
Harvey sits on his dark grey cotton sofa, eating his reheated leftovers with one hand and scrolling through his phone with the other as the television plays an endless marathon of Law & Order, or one of its various derivatives. Life isn’t too bad, the way it is, the way things are; the routine is easy, the routine he knows how to do. He runs in the light of dawn, the way he used to do when he was young, and then there’s lesson prep, lectures, casework review, and back home to take a breath and get ready to start it all again tomorrow. Easy.
The darkness comes on too early, this time of year.
One o’clock. Harvey turns off the television and figures that reading in bed might put him to sleep for a few hours.
Twenty minutes later, he turns off the lights and closes his eyes.
Four hours after that, he wakes in time to watch the indigo sky fade to powder blue, and wonders how long it’ll be before he starts feeling exhausted.
At six thirty, he gives up and gets out of bed.
Today is a day like any other.
Every year, every semester, Harvey dreads the shopping period.
Six years of building up a reputation ought have inoculated him against ambitious poseurs, but the warning never seems to quite make it all the way across campus. This year doesn’t look like it’s going to be any better than those past; well, he’s got no choice but to endure it, as he always does. It’ll be over soon. Then, tomorrow, and tomorrow. And then another.
It hasn’t always been like this. Has it? No. No.
Then again, it’s been long enough now that it might as well have been.
Harvey sighs, leaning against the dais and surveying his prospective students, trying to guess which of them won’t survive to come back next week. The kid in the third row reading Kierkegaard, maybe, or the septuagenarian in the front. Not that there’s any real way to tell, just by looking.
Harvey’s been wrong before.
It doesn’t really matter. This year will be the same as every other year; he’ll give the same agonizingly boring lecture he always does to separate the wheat from the chaff, see who stumbles back through the door tomorrow, and then he’ll carry on running the most thrilling class these punks have ever sat through in their miserable lives.
Harvey sighs. Might as well get started.
“Welcome to Legal Profession,” he says loudly. “Is everyone in the right place?”
A couple of students look around the room at one another, and one sheepish boy does creep out of his seat and make a break for the door, but by and large, they seem to be ready to go. Harvey clears his throat and bangs a stack of papers against the platform, letting his eyes go sort of sleepy and his posture slouch slightly to the right.
“This is a copy of the syllabus we’ll be following,” he says, holding up the paper as though he expects them all to be able to read it from wherever they are. “Everyone take one and pass them around while I set up this PowerPoint.”
Someone in the back row laughs, muted such that Harvey suspects he’s putting the tiniest effort into muffling it into his hand. Not that it matters; hell, if the kid wants to suffer through an hour of the auditory equivalent of watching grass grow just to mock him, Harvey isn’t going to complain. He’ll learn his lesson, one way or another.
Puttering around needlessly in a couple of dummy folders, Harvey eventually circles around to the presentation he’s looking for, pulling up a plain white slide filled corner to corner with a near-microscopic list of bullet pointed paragraphs. A couple of prospective students groan and murmur to each other, and Harvey clears his throat and shuffles his papers again as he smugly anticipates cutting the class size down by half.
“You should all have a copy of the syllabus by now,” he says atonally. “As you can see, we’ll be spending the first two weeks on the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, followed by demographic changes in the profession, the evolution of law firms, bar associations, and law schools from the early twentieth century to the present; the development of corporate law—”
“Professor,” someone interrupts from the back of the room, “are you reciting the course description from the website?”
Well, this is new. Harvey’s never been called out on that before.
“Moving on,” he drones, gesturing to the slide projection as the kid chuckles. “Everyone, copy down this information: A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice. As a representative of clients, a lawyer performs various functions. As advisor, a lawyer provides a client with—”
“Pro— Professor, isn’t that just the preamble to the Rules of Conduct?”
This might be harder to get through than he thought.
“You,” he says, looking in roughly the direction of the intruder’s voice. “What’s your name?”
The kid pauses a second, adjusting the baseball cap shielding his eyes.
“Rick,” he says with a smile in his voice.
Funny the way these things happen.
“Rick,” Harvey repeats. “Are we going to get through all these slides today, or do you think your time is more important than the rest of the class’s?”
“With all due respect,” Rick says, “I don’t think it’s up to me whether we’ll be able to get through them all.”
Harvey cocks his eyebrows sardonically. “Maybe you’d prefer to come down here and teach us all about the rest of the Rules of Conduct,” he says, “since you’re so familiar with them.”
Rick laughs. “No, sir,” he says. “I just like to read.”
Rick likes to read.
No. No way. It isn’t. It can’t be.
Harvey leans against the dais, biting down on the inside of his mouth. “Rick, what’s your last name?”
The kid leans forward on his desk in the back row. “Sorkin.”
God fucking damn.
Isn’t it funny how things turn out.
For a second, Harvey thinks about canceling class entirely, letting the kids out early for free play, but that won’t accomplish much but to push this charade off until tomorrow, sacrificing a real day of coursework he’ll have to make up later on. No, he can’t do that; then again, he’s always been good at thinking on his feet. Maybe he can still scare a few of them off with a different game plan.
“Rule one point one,” he says, doing his best to direct the question to the class at large. “What is it?”
A girl in the fifth row raises her hand, pursing her lips smugly, and Harvey powerfully suspects that she’s going to answer the question whether he calls on her or not.
“You,” he says, looking straight at her. “What is it?”
“Competence,” she says primly. “Client-lawyer relationship.”
“Competent representation,” he says, breezing straight past her cocky smile and neatly folded hands. “What is it?”
The hands are a little slower to rise this time around as a few of the students look nervously at one another, sensing a trick question but uncertain of how to sneak around it. Harvey’s eyes skitter across the crowd as he mentally separates the students into those jumping the gun and those taking their time, noting Mister Sorkin in the back row doing much the same.
“You, grey sweater,” he says, staring down a stoic-looking girl near the middle of the room. “Competent representation. Go.”
The girl goes wide-eyed and startled, glancing down at her notebook.
“Um,” she fumbles. “Being…prepared to represent your client, and…informed about the position you’re representing, and the legal precedent behind it. And, anticipating how you’re going to be challenged by opposing counsel, and…preparing counterattacks.”
“Yes,” Harvey says easily, looking over her head to the rest of the class. “What’s your name?”
The girl looks up from her desk, her lips parted uncertainly. “Uh. Connie.”
Harvey points in her general direction and narrows his eyes. “Someone tell me what Connie left out of her description.”
Connie sinks down in her seat as the girl who recited the definition of competence raises her hand again, and Harvey contemplates the ethics of kicking a student out of his class for sheer pretentiousness.
Harvey looks up toward the back of the room.
“And why didn’t she include it?”
Mike flicks the underside of the bill of his baseball cap and smirks.
“Everybody’s gotta start somewhere.”
Only one potential student walks out before class is over, which Harvey considers to be both a loss and a win. He terminates the class the way he always does, informing them all that they’re free to return tomorrow but under no obligation to do so, busying himself turning off the PowerPoint presentation and gathering up his papers as he waits for them all to leave the room.
Harvey waits to hear the doors close before he looks up from his files.
“You here to see how the other half lives?”
Mike laughs. “I’m a little surprised I didn’t find you teaching Mergers and Acquisitions.”
Harvey stops pretending to play with his papers. “I figure this is my last chance to stop these kids from becoming lost causes.”
“Ah!” Mike snaps his fingers. “Should’ve known.”
Harvey smiles softly, shaking his head.
There are plenty of things I should’ve known, too.
The air smells of the age of things, the uncertain hint of vanilla flowers that old books sometimes have, and Mike walks down the stairs with a wistful look in his eye at this place that could’ve been his, this life he almost lived, the one he tried to fake for so long. This place where Harvey’s come to make a home for himself, this place where he’s tried to build a new life that’s nothing like the one he used to have.
That was the plan, anyway. Back at the start.
“Hey,” Mike says, looking out over the empty stadium seats, the empty tables, empty desks. “You wanna take a walk?”
Harvey gathers his papers into his briefcase and closes it with a satisfying click.
It’s been awhile.
“I’d like that.”
Mike bites his lip as he turns to walk to the door, trusting Harvey to follow his lead. To be fair, it’s not exactly a leap of faith; putting his life on the line to go to prison in Mike’s place does sort of overshadow a jog up a staircase that barely qualifies as an incline.
Well. It’s what’s on the other side that’s the hard part.
Out in the courtyard, Mike tips his head up toward the overcast sky and fidgets with the hem of his windbreaker, idling at the crossroads and waiting to be shown where to turn. Harvey closes the door behind himself and looks up at Mike’s figure cut against the crisp lines of the campus, the gloom and glower of the sky above; he belonged in a place like this a long time ago, Mike did, when the world was a different one from what they know now.
Harvey walks up behind him quietly, brushing his hand over his shoulder as he passes by and trusting him to follow as he makes his way toward the Old Burial Ground that’s next to the park that’s next to the Christian Science church that’s not too far from his apartment. They’ll stop somewhere along the way, probably; it doesn’t make much difference where. Anywhere quiet, anywhere they can have a moment just to be. To figure out what could have happened to get them to where they are, and maybe where to go from here.
Mike keeps on his heels as they walk, the simple fact of his presence a comfort overshadowing the knotty mess that comprises the past decade of their lives, and Harvey reminds himself not to look back, not to doubt in the reality of things, this mad happenstance that he never imagined but never quite stopped hoping for, in his heart of hearts. It’s all real, and it’s all good.
And even if it isn’t, it’ll be nice for a little while.
At the corner, Harvey sets his briefcase down and begins to button his coat.
“So,” he says when Mike stops beside him. “How did you find me?”
Mike smiles, glancing at Harvey and then lowering his gaze to the ground. “You weren’t exactly in witness protection,” he says. “You know that aside from you, there are only two Harvey Specters in New York? And one of them spells his name with an ‘o.’”
Harvey leans down to pick up his briefcase. “There’s a black sheep in every family.”
“I’ll bet.” Mike turns to look toward the oncoming traffic. “I got a busy signal when I tried to call you at the firm.”
That’s the way it goes with these things. We’ve seen it all before.
Harvey clears his throat.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he says. “After awhile, it didn’t seem worth it anymore. Fighting for a place, a name that had turned into something none of us really understood. And we said we’d stick together, we said we’d try again, start over somewhere new, but. You know how it goes.”
He would, wouldn’t he. Of all people.
“I looked you up online. Harvey Reginald Specter.”
Yeah, well. That’s one way to do it.
“So you followed me out here to finally get yourself a real degree?”
Mike quirks his eyebrows. “I’ve gotten this far without it.”
Harvey nods off into the distance.
“Can’t argue with you there.”
So it really is just for me, then. That’s why you came.
It’s not much, but it’s something to wrap myself in when the world gets cold.
Harvey starts across the street, and Mike follows at his heels.
At the edge of the cemetery, Harvey stops, looking out over the grass, the suburban sprawl reaching out beyond. This place so different from the way things were when they were them, so close instead to the life he ran from all those years ago, the petulant child he used to be.
Things change, all the time. There’s no escape; there shouldn’t be. This is how things are, the way they’ve always been, and maybe there’s hope for him yet.
Maybe for both of them.
“Why are you here?”
Mike stands beside him and looks at the same cemetery, the same grass and the same sky, and Harvey wonders what he sees.
“It wasn’t how I thought it’d be.”
Things never seem to be quite what we expect, do they? That’s supposed to be what makes it fun.
We do our best.
Mike shakes his head. “Everything.”
Harvey looks at him askance, and Mike starts walking again.
“Forsyth didn’t need someone to run his firm,” he says. “He needed someone to file his motions and babysit his associates. He needed an office manager with a law degree.”
“Explains why he tapped you,” Harvey says.
Mike snorts. “Yeah, well, back up against a wall, he was probably looking for someone who didn’t think he had the option to say no.”
“No kidding.” Harvey puts his free hand in his pocket. “Guy with all that money to throw around, I’d think he could set his own schedule.”
“Not if he needed to be up and running in time for the next local election,” Mike says. “Seems that the Republican front-runner for City Attorney was doing some horse trading with the mayor’s office that no one was supposed to be looking at too closely.”
Harvey blinks quickly to keep his eyes from widening overmuch. “Forsyth was covering it up?”
“He was ‘involved,’” Mike says, quirking his fingers in the air. “Politics, man, what can I tell you.”
And to think, Harvey always figured it was the other Washington that was such a hotbed of corruption.
He shakes his head. “God damn,” he murmurs. “Why didn’t you call me?”
Mike scuffs his heels against the concrete. “Come on,” he says, “the way we left things, what was I supposed to say?”
You saved the firm, Harvey told him, back then. You saved us all. You saved me. You’re all grown up now and you’re strong enough to do whatever you like. You make your own choices, you live your own life. You go your own way.
That’s what I told you, that night. That’s what you could’ve reminded me.
And I’m proud of you.
That’s what I would’ve said. If you’d asked.
“I would’ve helped you.”
Mike sighs through his teeth. “Little late for that now.”
“What do you mean?”
Waving his hand vaguely, Mike turns to walk on the grass, to let the damp soak into his sneakers as he moves aimlessly into the park. Funny; Harvey hadn’t realized they’d gone quite so far.
That’s how it is, though. Just like old times.
“Forsyth was arrested,” Mike says. “He got out on…something, he cut some kind of deal with the Attorney’s office to flip on someone or turn over some books or something, but there was no way he’d be able to come back to run the firm, so Rachel and I had to take over.”
Harvey keeps pace beside him, watching out for the path before them as Mike rambles on.
“It didn’t work out?”
“Not exactly.” Mike smiles grimly, looking up at the dingy sky. “We fought all the time, and that’s when we were speaking to each other at all. Half the associates quit, the rest of them all took sides; it was a fucking mess, we had to close the place down after a couple months. There was nothing anyone could’ve done.”
I could have. I would have, I would have found a way.
But I would have tried.
“We hung on for a little while after that, trying to be…you know, married, but there was nothing left, and we both knew it.”
Harvey slows as Mike steps aside to lean against a maple tree.
Mike folds his arms over his chest. “Well, we’re back on speaking terms, so that’s something. She joined a civil rights firm that does a lot of work with the Washington Innocence Project; I applied to work at a major family law firm, got strung along for about six months, found out they didn’t want to deal with my dirty laundry, hung out my shingle, and learned the hard way that no matter how much you mean well, it’s not really the most feasible business model to charge on a sliding scale when ninety percent of your clients live below the federal poverty line.”
It’s all a joke, now. All something that happened god knows how long ago, something we’ve gotten past with all our lessons learned, all the boxes checked. Look at the men we thought we were, the things we thought we could do; laugh at our foolhardy ideals, our good intentions and our hard-fought battles. Laugh at our failures. The things we thought would fix all of the mistakes we kept making.
Laugh at how stupid we used to be.
Harvey stands in front of Mike with his hand in his pocket.
“What did you do?”
Mike smirks. “I lived off my savings for eleven and a half months before I had to shut the place down.”
He shakes his head. “I’m not indebted to the mob or anything,” he says. “I’ve been working at Legal Aid for the past three years, paying off the debts from my practice and living paycheck to paycheck. Just like the good old days.”
The good old days.
No, it’s okay. The past is all a joke now. We can laugh at the things we used to do, the ways we used to live.
It was never very funny at the time.
“Mike, if you need money—”
“No— No.” Mike pushes himself away from the tree and shakes his head. “No, god, I finished paying my debts off three months ago, I have a savings account again, I’m— I’m fine.”
“You’re fine.” Harvey presses his lips together and looks away as the wind kicks up. “I have a hard time believing you came all the way out here for ‘fine.’”
Mike frowns. “But I am,” he says. “I— I did.”
And you’re here now, isn’t that enough?
Harvey takes a step backwards and bites his tongue.
“You never called me back.”
It’s not a fair thing to say. It’s not. He knows how Mike will answer, and he shouldn’t have said it, but it’s been so long, and he’s so tired, and Mike must be, too. He knows that. He does. He does.
But none of this is fair.
Mike shoves his hand into his hair and tilts his chin down to his chest.
“I didn’t,” he says, pacing in the opposite direction. “And you want a good reason for it, and I don’t have one. I fucked up, okay, I fucked up and I was embarrassed and I was, I was ashamed, and I didn’t want you to know, I didn’t want you to see me like that, and I thought if I didn’t call you, I thought maybe you’d think I was…”
Dead in a ditch? Out on your ass? Locked away for life for a crime you didn’t commit? Maybe for one you did?
No. Not Mike. Not Mike, who always thinks the best of everyone. Who’s always trying to look on the bright side, even when there isn’t one.
“I’d think you were busy because you were doing well.”
Mike presses his hand against his skull and closes his eyes.
“It was so stupid.”
Of course it was. But then, we all make mistakes.
Harvey shuffles through the grass to lean against the maple tree.
“Having emotions,” he says. “Gets you every time.”
“You always knew what to say to make everything all better, didn’t you?”
“It’s a gift.”
Yeah. That’s what it is.
Mike turns back around and drops his arms to his sides.
“You know why I tried to find you now?” he says. “Because I felt like I’d finally got my life in order. You know, it’s not great, it’s not what it was, it’s not what I want it to be, but at least it’s honest. At least it’s a start, at least it’s something I know I can be proud of.”
“Overworking yourself to death to defend rapists and murderers?”
Mike laces his fingers behind his neck.
“They’re not all guilty.”
“You got a percentage on that?”
“Right, and exactly how many fascist billionaire sociopaths have you enabled over the years?”
Harvey wrinkles his nose and tips his head from side to side, and Mike grins smugly.
“You plead the fifth, don’t you.”
“That’s what I thought.”
Harvey chuckles and glances away.
Mike takes little steps toward the maple tree as though it might be big enough for two, if he stands in just the right way.
“What were you looking for?” he asks. “When you came out here, when you took this job. What did you want?”
A better life. A more fulfilling life, a life that makes me look forward to living it, a life that makes every day feel like more than a misaligned photocopy of the one that came before.
I wanted a life less ordinary.
Harvey shakes his head. He knows the truth. The real truth. And if he can’t be honest about it here, now, then where? When?
“I was looking for another you.”
What a fool’s errand that was, don’t you think? A ridiculous mission, an impossible task. I was stupid to think it, crazy to try.
It’s okay. You can say it; I know it’s true.
Mike braces his arm against the tree trunk, his fingers twitching and coming to rest over Harvey’s as the wind kicks up again. Harvey smiles to himself.
Maybe you were looking for me, too.
He shifts his gaze to their hands and turns his palm over, and Mike leans in a little closer.
“How’d that work out?”
Harvey slips his fingers between Mike’s.
“I don’t think I’m gonna find one.”
So is this the past or the future that we’re moving toward these days? Maybe it doesn’t matter very much.
In the end, we always seem to find what we need.