On the sixteenth floor of a nondescript office building is a conference room with paneled walls and healthy potted plants and windows that open onto garden roofs, and in the middle of this expansive room is a rich mahogany slab of a table, and across this table Ethan slouches.
Dead eyes fixed on some mysterious point outside, he acknowledges no one. He won't return to Pearville High, having managed an emergency transfer to a boarding school, and he will leave for college just as quietly, move away, go into finance.
“We're here to initiate civil case proceedings,” Mae's attorney explains, who, with his dated tweed suit, kind face, and thinning hair line, looks the way a George Lewis should. Upon Lucy's introductions, Mae approved of him instantly. Lucy came along the first few times they met, always making sure to point out that the state had a case against Ethan, and the evidence would put him in jail, no problem, but George Lewis wasn't so sure. The process could take years, he warned, and be “emotionally taxing.”
So Mae had her lawyer explain the alternative. A civil case would, almost certainly, lead to money—likely a great sum of money. So now Mae, like her mother before her, sits poised to benefit financially from the carelessness of men. Hands clasped, she makes a point to look interested as Marc Harrington miserably passes a form to his wife. Angela, who also refuses to return Mae's serene smile, releases the piece of paper in front of her son. They are exhausted, defeated. Without averting his catatonic gaze, Ethan scribbles apathetically. His pen, stiffly dropped, falls to the table with an impish crack and rolls toward Courtney. George Lewis silences it with his palm.
A serious woman with lavish gray hair and thick-rimmed glasses, the Harringtons' new attorney collects the paper from Ethan's place, swiftly, the way a waitress clears a plate. George Lewis is charmed by her; in fact they act less like adversaries and more like an old married couple, sending silent smiles across the table only they can understand. “So then, we'll be in touch.”
Ethan maintains a hollow look Mae will recognize two decades from now when she sees his arrest on the news. She'll be at Heathrow, waiting for a delayed flight at a bar—one of those surreal airport bars in the middle of a busy terminal, hardwood floors in the middle of gray carpeting, bottles backlit vivid blue—when a news anchor will utter Ethan Harrington from the closest television screen and she'll turn, incredulous.
Elbow to elbow, the lawyers chat on their way out. Heels tap toward the elevator. Mae hangs back, alone between tasteful grey walls, and that's when she sees her new goal: an established attorney, all business, struts out of the elevator in her crisp black suit. She balances a laptop and binders with ease, taking a moment to smile kindly at Mae before continuing on. No doubt glamorous, wise, successful. The image burrows into Mae's memory. It will emerge at the most opportune times: during undergrad, when Mae is weighing the pros and cons of law school; the moment she passes the bar exam; while getting dressed for the first day of her clerkship; each and every time she stands in front of a courtroom.
Mae files the moments away. Elevator doors swallowing Ethan and his family. George Lewis's tweed jacket next to her, bending down, asking if she has any questions right this instant. Wanting to ask her most pressing question—the one building in her throat, pressing against both temples—and shaking her head no instead. Walking outside into cool October air. Accepting a packet of peanuts from her mother's purse. Inspecting each one carefully. Throwing most away.