Chapter One - Today Is The Day
The sound of the clock ticking with every passing, wasted second was putting Ashlyn McKeown to sleep. She sat at her desk, looking at the worn notepad in front of her with a checklist that consisted of watering the plants, making coffee, and waiting to go home.
"How did I end up here?" she thought to herself, slumping in her chair.
She knew exactly how she had ended up here, and what made it worse was that it had taken a long time of blood, sweat and tears to do it. Ashlyn was a lawyer. Well, technically she had a law degree, which she had worked extremely hard for. Like it was in most fields, being a lawyer was to be a mans job and was no place for a woman. When she had landed this job after years of struggling, she had been so happy. Finally, she had made it. Yet here she sat, watching the seconds tick by as she did every day, waiting for her boss to throw her that bone he had promised.
She had been nineteen when she walked onto that campus, clutching her textbooks to her chest, a blue ribbon in her hair and wearing a matching blue sweetheart dress that had been carefully ironed. With straight glossy auburn that reached her shoulder blades, and creamy pale skin, she was the picture of innocence. She wasn't a tall woman, standing at just over 5'2", with curves in the right place that she kept purposely hidden underneath full skirts and cardigans.
People asked her if she was lost and tried to redirect her to the beauty school down the road. Some of the men made crude jokes about her being there as motivation to study. She did her best to ignore them, but understandably, there were many days in those four years that it would overwhelm her. Now, whenever she felt as if she would give up, she thought back to her first class at the very beginning of her journey.
The lecture hall had smelled of dust and damp, and the carpet was in desperate need of replacing. As she walked up the steps to find a inconspicuous seat at the back, she ignored the room full of eyes on her. She had placed her books on the battered desk in front of her and smoothed her dress down behind her as she took a seat with her eyes towards the front of the class.
The professor had obviously been made aware of her enrolment in his class as he did not seem surprised of her presence, but he had still watched her curiously as she made her way to her seat. Deciding that they were ready to begin their class, he cleared his throat and the room of eyes finally found their proper place at the front of the room.
The man was short, balding, and his outfit looked as though it had seen better days, she noticed, but what did she actually expect from this college? She had to pay for her tuition by working three jobs, so she had to settle with the cheapest school that would accept her application.
"Welcome to Criminology 101," he said plainly, as though it were a part of a speech he had prepared. "Before we begin, I want to see how much of you have read the recommended reading before you came here," he said with a smirk, as the male dominated room scurried to open their books for a last second cram, in vain of course.
"Who can tell me," he said, reading from a page on his desk, after noticing that Ashlyn had been the only one who had not moved to open her books, "who developed the theory of differential association?"
The frantic flurry of students trying to flick through their books to find the answer was complemented by Ashlyn's steady hand, which was raised immediately.
"Yes, Miss...McKeown, I assume?" Professor Hartby said, with a raised eyebrow. "Edwin Sutherland," she said with a nervous smile. The room turned, their mouths agape. Not a single student said a word. "Very good," he nodded approvingly, before peering over his glasses at the page again.
"Wow, call the papers, she can read," a blonde young man sniggered quietly from the centre of the room, which was follow by a low chuckle from his peers. Ashlyn ignored it, and stayed focused on the front of the room. Hartby ignored the comment, and instead of reading from the page, he sat on the edge of his desk with his arms folded, and took a second to consider his class.
"Since we know now that Miss McKeown has beaten you to the answer, perhaps I should give you another chance." he said, winking at Ashlyn. She tried her best not to smile, but couldn't help it. "What does differential association predict?" he asked, his eyes scanning the room while waiting for a student to raise their hand. Yet again, they all had their noses in their books.
He waited a few moments before looking up towards Ashlyn. "Miss McKeown, the answer is..." he raised his hands as she replied in a clear voice, "Differential association predicts that an individual will choose the criminal path when the balance of definitions for law-breaking exceeds those for law-abiding." The blonde young man clapped his hands, and didn't bother with subtlety this time, "Bravo Miss, Im sure you're very proud of your reading skills," which was followed by another round of chuckles.
Ashlyn didn't even have a chance to bite her tongue before the words fell out of her mouth, "I am. If you ask nicely, I may even consider teaching you how, since you apparently need the help." The room roared with laughter, the Professor included. The young man went bright red before slouching into his chair with a scowl. The Professor nodded to Ashlyn, as if to tell her she had done well. That day, she learned that she could do this. It would be hard, but she had what it takes.
Her parents weren't happy with her life choices. No, thats a nice way of saying it. Her mother had been so furious that she had spent hours screeching at her about how much of an embarrassment she was. Why couldn't she be like all the other girls her age. Why couldn't she find a nice man, get married and settle down? "Im not like the other girls my age!" she would scream back. "Why cant you just be happy for me?!" Her mother would clutch her heart dramatically, and look to her husband for support."Well?" she snapped, "Tell her what a stupid girl she is being!" He shrugged his shoulders and looked helplessly from his wife, to his only daughter. "Oh for goodness sake George," his wife slammed her hand on the table."Well listen here young lady, as long as you live under my roof, you will live by my rules. That means no more of this law business!"
Ashlyn was sick and tired of the fighting and finally made a decision. "You're right," she said to her mother, standing up and pushing in her chair. Her mother smiled smugly, thinking she had finally gotten through to her. "Good girl, now be a dear and..." Ashlyn cut her off. "While I'm under your roof I'll never get what I want out of life. Im leaving." With that, she had walked calmly to her room and began to pack, leaving her howling banshee of a mother behind her.
Before she knew it, she was on the doorstep, a little suitcase of everything she owned in this world, looking out into the darkness of their street. "You will never get anywhere without the support of a man, Ashlyn, you hear me? You do this, do not bother coming back," her mother hissed at her, keeping her voice down to avoid bringing attention to themselves from the neighbours. "Goodbye mother," she said simply, trying her best not to let her firm voice waiver. Her mother responded by slamming the door in her face. She sighed, and started walking down the little path to the street, the suitcase dragging behind her.
She heard the door open and someone followed. She turned back and saw her father, standing with an apologetic smile on his face. "Goodbye buttercup," he said softly, placing a thick envelope in her hand before kissing her on the cheek. "Do me proud," he whispered, before smiling sadly. She smiled back and on tippy toes, kissed him on the cheek. "Bye Daddy."That was the last time she saw her parents. Two years later, she was told her father had passed away from a heartattack. She didn't attend his funeral.
She had refused to use the money her father had given her, she didn't want to prove her mother right. She didn't need a man to support her, she was fully capable of making her own way in the world. Today, she had a degree, a job, and an apartment (albeit an extremely small one). She paid her own bills with her own money and while she was nothing more than a receptionist who made coffee in this firm, she was employed in a legal office never the less. She just considered it another step in the right direction.
"Ashlyn, where's my damn coffee!" her boss barked from his office, more of a demand than a question. She sighed, and walked to the kitchen to make his coffee, making sure she did it exactly right or she would be sent back to do it again. Which happened often.
She walked into his office, and he was sitting in his brand new black leather office chair, hunched over the stacks of paper and files in front of him. He was in his late forties and his firm was the only one in town, This meant that they were doing pretty well because, well, there was no other option for their clients. His hair had started to grey, but you could still see that it once must have been black and glorious back in the day. He was still proud of it, acting as though he hadn't aged a day. The man spent a fortune on creams to try and look young, not that he would ever admit it. All the cream in the world wouldn't hide his growing beer belly, which was starting to strain the expensive suits he had been trying to stretch over it.
"Here you go, Mr Jackson," she said as she placed the coffee cup in what seemed like the safest place, the only space that wasn't covered in paper work on his desk. She bit her lip, and added hopefully, "Got a case for me?" Without looking up at her, he gestured to a file that sat on its own on top of the filing cabinet and replied dismissively, "Yeah sure, why not, help yourself to that one. Im sure you will do great."
She almost tripped over herself to grab the file, but straightened, not wanting not wanting to seem too over eager. "This is it! My big break!" she thought to herself, barely able to contain her excitement as she clutched the file to her chest. She mumbled her thanks as she quickly made her way to her desk to pour over every detail in the file.
As she left, one of the hot shot lawyers, a well groomed pig by the name of Alan Pierce, knocked on Jackson's open door. "What is she looking so pleased about," he asked, flicking his cigarette ash into one of the many trays littered around the office. Jackson looked up and leaned back into his chair, shaking his head.
"I told her she could take a case" he said with a smirk, and Pierce matched his smirk with amusement. "Its that Freak Show case. Once she sees who it is for, she will be back to her usual, dull self," He pulled a hip flask from his bottom drawer, and took a swig, offering it to Pierce who took it gladly. "As if I would give her a case," he sniggered, completely oblivious to the fact that Ashlyn had already left the office with the file. "Theres just as much chance of that happening as us actually taking the case for those freaks."