Susan Thornton ~ Full Partner

Leslie squint­ed at the menu and willed her stom­ach to coöper­ate. She’d done her reg­u­lar half hour on the stair mas­ter, and sat in the steam room for a good 20 min­utes. That had always worked before to sweat out a hang­over. Maybe she was get­ting old. Thirty and change was when things caught up to you, she’d always heard, but didn’t want to believe. The over­head light caught on the heavy sil­ver fork and the gleam hurt her eyes. Could she choke down a chick­en sal­ad sand­wich? Better not.

So glad to have this Foxworth case so pleas­ant­ly con­clud­ed. It’s always nice to have a big job well done, isn’t it? A real feel­ing of accom­plish­ment.”

Yes, Mr. Easworthy.” Leon Easworthy was the senior part­ner in the firm; tra­di­tion dic­tat­ed that the senior part­ner took a promis­ing junior part­ner to lunch for a qui­et tête à tête just before announc­ing pro­mo­tion to full part­ner. This was a lunch Leslie had been striv­ing for­ev­er since she had talked her dad into the law school tuition nine years ago. He hadn’t been pleased. “I’ve spawned a lawyer? Are you sure there aren’t bet­ter ways to spend your time?”

Dad, this isn’t the Woodstock gen­er­a­tion any more.” Her dad had missed attend­ing the famous con­cert and nev­er for­gave him­self. He had hitch­hiked across the coun­try, smoked pot, demon­strat­ed against the war in Vietnam, and was right now some­where on the Appalachian trail, hap­pi­ly hik­ing along in his L. L. Bean boots and warm wool socks. Leslie had oth­er plans.

Her inci­sive, ana­lyt­i­cal mind had car­ried her through Yale, to grad­u­ate in the top five per cent of her class, and her strong con­sti­tu­tion had car­ried her through the week­ends of par­ty­ing that she always, some­how, found time for, even just pri­or to tak­ing the bar. Since join­ing Easworthy, Conklin, Rose, and Barr, she’d toned it down a bit, learned to drink mar­ti­nis, and to count her drinks in pub­lic. If she went for a drink with one of the part­ners, she nev­er had more than two.

Last night was the excep­tion. An end of sum­mer blowout. The last Friday in August. And it only hap­pened once in a while, excep­tion­al­ly.

You accom­plished in one month what two part­ners would have tak­en two months to do, young lady.” Easworthy was speak­ing again. “Bill Foxworth is extreme­ly pleased he can go ahead so fast on this deal. And time is of the essence, as we explained to you at the out­set. The own­er has had sev­er­al nib­bles for his prop­er­ty, and Foxworth’s part­ners were get­ting impa­tient.”

The Foxworth deal was a shop­ping devel­op­ment and plaza of immense pro­por­tions, slat­ted to occu­py twelve hun­dred acres of unpro­duc­tive wet­lands at the edge of a sub­urb that was about to achieve tax rev­enues beyond its wildest dreams. The work Leslie had done was a super­hu­man effort of title search­es for nine­teen sep­a­rate pieces of prop­er­ty, some owned by dis­tant con­glom­er­ates, some owned by reclu­sive lit­tle old ladies, all of whom had to be kept in the dark about the poten­tial pur­chas­er and use for the land. Leslie had put in four­teen-hour-days at the office, the law library and the pub­lic records depart­ment, and by dint of send­ing flow­ers and choco­lates to the coun­ty clerk’s staff had suc­ceed­ed in assem­bling the nec­es­sary data in half the time allot­ted to her.

It helped to be new in town, to be thir­ty and change, to have a good rap­port with the sup­port staff. Her moth­er, less a hip­pie than her father, and a sec­re­tary for a col­lege dean had taught her: “always befriend the sup­port staff.” Leslie had fol­lowed her advice, and it helped. Her looks helped too—the dra­mat­ic over the calf skirts, the slim waist, the thigh high leather boots and the curly dark hair, permed, and high­light­ed with hen­na. She kept her­self in shape with the stair mas­ter and the steam room and was a reg­u­lar at the Y even when she put in the four­teen-hour-days. And if she want­ed to have a lit­tle blow-out to cel­e­brate and kick loose after doing in a month what two part­ners couldn’t do in two months, well, hell, who could blame her.

She squint­ed again at the menu. The food at the City Club was uni­form­ly ter­ri­ble, but the local swells had nowhere else exclu­sive to go. Lack of com­pe­ti­tion makes any busi­ness slop­py, she decid­ed. Her tim­ing for this blow out—for last night had been a blow out, in point of fact, a blow out of mon­u­men­tal pro­por­tions, there was no doubt in her mind about that and one she need­ed bad­ly, or thought she did—her tim­ing wasn’t so good. Easworthy had sur­prised her with this lunch invi­ta­tion. She’d sensed, from the smiles of the recep­tion­ist, and the nudge in the ribs from anoth­er junior part­ner, that it was com­ing, but today wasn’t such a good day for it. Well, if she ate light, he’d just think she was a lass who was watch­ing her weight. Which was true. She watched it like a hawk.

Someone else was watch­ing her now; she felt Easworthy’s eyes on her cheek like a pair of crawl­ing hands. He was well over fifty, old enough to be her father, and very much mar­ried, but even through the fog of her nau­sea she could sense his look. Maybe it had been a mis­take to accept, to come to lunch alone with him. When the young men were made part­ner, they all had lunch alone with him. But young men weren’t his thing.

She felt a quick­en­ing in her pulse. She’d just keep it cool, pro­fes­sion­al, she’d han­dled horny old men before. After all, she got through law school on her brain and not on her back. She’d nev­er trad­ed sex for advance­ment in any col­lege course, sum­mer job, clerk­ship, or employ­ment posi­tion of any kind. She wasn’t about to start now. Her per­son­al life was under her con­trol and always would be. She enjoyed being sin­gle, liv­ing alone, choos­ing which man to let into her life at which time, and cast­ing off the ones who no longer inter­est­ed her. There were cer­tain advan­tages to stay­ing sin­gle, and def­i­nite­ly advan­tages to remain­ing child­less, at least for the time being. After she’d been part­ner for a cou­ple of years, then she might think about a mar­riage, if she found a man inter­est­ing enough who wasn’t threat­ened by a woman in the top five per­cent of the Yale grad­u­at­ing class.

The Foxworth project was a chal­lenge, Mr. Easworthy,” Leslie said. “I always enjoy ris­ing to a chal­lenge.”

A chal­lenge, eh, I’m sure that at Easworthy, Conklin, Rose, and Barr we will pro­vide you with many more chal­lenges through the course of your career with us, my dear.” Easworthy looked up. “Ah, the young man’s here. We can order.”

Clear soup and a sal­ad,” Leslie began, as she closed the menu and turned, then she stopped. The young man, bend­ing to take her order, was Scott, his blonde hair neat­ly brushed, not unruly and falling over his sweaty fore­head, his col­lar but­toned under the tight­ly knot­ted tie, not open and wet with sweat, expos­ing his throat, as it had been last night at Mr. Tony’s on the dance floor, his hands with their thick and know­ing fin­gers now hold­ing a pen and a pad of white paper.

Scott regard­ed her with a know­ing look and it all came rush­ing back: Scott of last night’s blow out. Dancing, arms and head flung back, Scott, his breath hot on her throat in the back of the cab, Scott, press­ing her face into his mat­tress, as she cried for more. She hadn’t asked his last name or where he worked or any­thing about him. She hadn’t cared. He was just Scott and he was there, and now he was here. She felt heat rise in her throat and looked at his chin, then away.

Easworthy was star­ing.

We have a tossed green sal­ad, and a Caesar as well. Which would you like, ma’am?” Scott’s tone was cool, amused. He must have spot­ted her the minute she walked in.

A tossed green sal­ad with dress­ing on the side,” Leslie heard her­self say, and hand­ed him the menu, care­ful not to touch his hand.

Easworthy was look­ing at her with a frank, assess­ing look. “Do you know that young man?”

No, not at all, that is…” As soon as the lie left her lips, she knew she was lost.

I noticed you ordered your sal­ad dress­ing on the side.” The old­er man leaned in towards her. “You must be very care­ful about what you eat and drink, my dear.”

His breath was sud­den­ly heavy on her throat, but to a passer­by it wouldn’t appear that he had leaned too far in for propriety’s sake. Leslie stiff­ened as his hand found her thigh under the table. “I’m so glad you chose our firm to work for, my dear; you’ve done so much good work for us to date. I’m pleased to offer you the pro­mo­tion to full part­ner with our firm. I’m sure you’ll be our most pleas­ing new full part­ner.”

His blunt fin­gers pressed into the flesh near her crotch and sud­den­ly she remem­bered the look she had seen on the face of the only oth­er woman part­ner in the firm, a haunt­ed, scared, and closed-in look, even as she swept back into the office, in her per­fect­ly fit­ting Talbot’s suits, return­ing in tri­umph from a suc­cess­ful court case. Behind Leslie, Scott had retreat­ed to the kitchen with his order pad and her order, and she saw clear­ly how much her last night’s blow out had cost her; how much her blush and stam­mer­ing revealed, how expen­sive a full part­ner­ship in Easworthy, Conklin, Rose, and Barr would be.

~

Susan Thornton lives in Binghamton, New York. Her mem­oir, On Broken Glass: Loving and Losing John Gardner, was pub­lished in 2000 by Carroll & Graf, New York. Stories have anthol­o­gized in The Best American Mystery Stories 2016 and Flash Fiction Annual (2017). Work has also appeared in Blackbird (2017) and Dark Fire Fiction (2014, 2015, 2016). Look for Susan Thornton Author on Facebook and Susan Thornton Author at Amazon.com.