Unlike most high school predictions, my “Most Likely To Succeed” was pretty accurate. I was driven, unable to imagine any grade lower than an A or sports trophy with less than 1st engraved into its shiny, gold surface. But that wasn’t all. During my senior year, I was Juliet in the high school play, completed my Grade 10 Royal Conservatory piano examination, and took photos for the yearbook. If I slept, I don’t remember it.
I was beaten out as Valedictorian by a short, skinny guy named Paul Weatherby. Rumour had it his final grades were a half percent higher than mine but what did he do besides sit behind a computer all day? So what if he redid the entire high school’s computer system and made it easy enough for an ant to navigate through — who cares, really. I was the one who deserved Valedictorian.
Anyway, I’m off-topic. Paul Weatherby. High school. Both ancient history.
Somewhere between the bar exam and my first job at Barnes & Birmingham, I lost it. I lost my drive, my oomph. Maybe the decade of lost sleep finally caught up with me, I don’t know.
I blamed my friend Candace for my decline. She, of course, denied this. Our many conversations went something like:
Candace: “It was a holiday, Becky. It wasn’t like I forced you on the plane at gunpoint.”
Me: “Yeah, well. You almost did.”
Candace: “You needed a vacation.”
Me: “I didn’t need a vacation from life!”
Needless to say, Candace was mad at me for a time. But honestly, who could go back to fifteen-hour days, dressed in suits and three-inch heels, after cavorting on a beach in Maui? Maybe it was the sun. Maybe it was the deliciously unhurried lifestyle of both locals and tourists. Maybe it was all those mai tais. Anyway, by the end of the week I was so relaxed that I even let myself go braless in my new Hawaiian sundress and — almost — got a tattoo of a killer whale on the back of my neck.
When my vacation ended, it was still the middle of winter and horribly cold and it didn’t take long for my tanned skin to fade to sickly whiteness. Sometimes, when I was really down, I’d open my sunscreen bottle and take a deep sniff and rub a bit of it on my wrists like perfume, but I didn’t perk up.
I told myself it would get better when it got warmer. I’d love working again. I’d be satisfied again. What a joke. I mean, it’s not much fun spending hours of your life doing research for some senior partner, but the sting of it was reduced by pretending it was me in court, my brilliant defense strategies saving a client from life in prison. Now, it just felt like I wasting my life working for someone who probably didn’t know my name.
Twenty-five years old. Pretty young for an identity crisis, right? I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I ditched my job and moved to Maui and took up basket-weaving or waitressing and lived happily ever after on the beach.
When I approached my father with career-change ideas — no, I didn’t suggest basket-weaving — he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You like visiting the tropics? Keep your job so you can go there again.” I didn’t bother asking Mom. I knew she’d say the same. United front and all that.
What they didn’t say — but clearly implied — was the price of law school. It takes courage to quit a $40,000 education. It wasn’t even paid for yet, for crying out loud. And probably wouldn’t be for years. I knew that. And so did my parents.
Apparently, so did Barnes & Birmingham. My second day back, Paul Birmingham called me into his office, told me he liked my work, but the firm was severely behind since my vacation.
“Severely behind,” he emphasized, his fingers making a steeple. “Someone with your talent should be careful when she takes vacation so as not to disturb the larger cohesiveness of the firm itself.”
“Yes, sir,” I said quickly, trying to frown as much as he.
He smiled, just a little. I copied him.
“I’m glad you understand. You have a brilliant future ahead of you. Partnership, I think. Your hard work isn’t going unnoticed here, Miss Harper. We’d like to promote you come fall, provided you keep your nose to the grindstone.”
I watched his fat face relax even more. He leaned forward and, in a conspiratorial whisper, said, “In all my years, I’ve never hired such a promising intern. You’re our brightest star. If you’ll let us, we’ll make sure there’s no glass ceiling for you.”
I know what you’re thinking and don’t you dare judge me. What would you have done with an opportunity like that?
At 30, I became the youngest partner — ever — followed by full ownership of the firm at 45. According to everyone, I am a success. (Eat my dust, Paul Weatherby.)
The day Barnes & Birmingham became Harper Law, Inc., I celebrated with my staff in the expected fashion: champagne and cake and laughter only slightly louder than ringing phones and humming printers. But this wasn’t my real celebration.
To my credit, I didn’t cry once. Not until it was done, anyway, and I got my first look. Across the back of my neck swims a big, black killer whale in green-blue water, its tail creating a splash along the curve of my left shoulder blade. It is daring. And beautiful.
And long overdue.
Laura Crowe is a writer and editor and owner of her own company, Imagine It In Writing. Her work has been published in The Prairie Journal, Bridal Fantasy, Pages Of Stories, and Today’s Businesswoman, and she spent a delightful summer reading slush for Every Day Fiction. Her current project is a self-published collection of true short stories written by others.