The heroine of our love story is Sarah Thomas. Fresh out of law school, bright-eyed and bushy tailed to seek justice for those who can least afford it. To seek out justice for people like her mother, if she had been able to afford a lawyer.

Sarah would tell you she is here to save the world. In reality, she is avenging a debt that can never be paid.

Her story starts here:

Unlike other women her age, Sarah Thomas did not sing upon the world and lavash in its promise of brighter seasons. Like those who were children for too short a time, she sought to bring her light to the dark corners of the world that only women like her could see. Few would understand. Many would seek to wrench the torch from her hands and shatter it against the wall. And still, she would tread the darkness, even if trembling.

Sarah stood next to the desk with her briefcase in one hand and a paper cup of steaming coffee in the other. It was her first day of work and although she had seen the office the previous Friday, she still didn’t know if she would be able to endure her new surroundings.

The threadbare carpet ran to the moldings, where it curled into a ragged edge. Fresh streaks from a vacuum cleaner revealed the valiant efforts of somebody trying to make it look clean, despite years of unidentifiable stains. The vinyl veneer on her desk was worn through enough in some places that the press-board beneath showed through.

Six thoughts ran through her mind at the same time. She wondered if she had put two or three spoons of sugar in her coffee. Whether or not she had missed something in calculating her paycheck to make sure it would cover the mortgage on her ramshackle house at the edge of the wrong part of town. If she should call Elaine and tell her right away about her first job as a lawyer or wait until she had survived her first week. What the clients would be like and how much help they could actually get from a run-down agency with just three attorneys, including her. How the Emmerson Foundation would find enough money to pay the rent and electric, never mind her meager paycheck.

Finally, she tugged at the hem of her blouse, realizing that her size 16 skirt was a little too tight. She reminded herself she needed to get some more exercise. Again.

She started to take a sip of coffee when the fluorescent light hanging over her desk started buzzing. She groaned, remembering the same thing had happened on Friday. She had even seen somebody change the tube. Just as quickly as it had started, the buzzing stopped.

She shook her head to clear her thoughts and sat down at her new desk. Her in tray had only three folders, but she knew that it would be overflowing soon enough, just like those sitting on the desks of the other two attorneys. A small laptop computer and monitor perched on one corner of her desk. Sarah knew the internet connection and a subscription to LexisNexis were some of the few things they actually spent real money for. She could use the service to research any case or law that she might need to help her clients. She hadn’t cared for it in law school and still preferred the books, so she left the computer off.

She had brought her law books in over the weekend and neatly stood them up in a bookshelf across from her desk. State statutes mostly, they reminded her of the sturdiness of the law, the time-honored principles that stood as the cornerstones of civilized society. When they weren’t used as a weapon to deny people of dignity and money. It depended on how you used them.

The books were the only way she could settle her mind into a single train of thought. When she read the law, her mind focused on the chains of logic, seeking out bright lines wherever she could find them so that questions about mortgages and friends drifted away. She stood up, pulled one from the shelf and sat back down, opening to a random page. Bright lines were good for warming up, but weren’t all that helpful because they were too easy. As her mind limbered up, she would seek out some compound law with sections and paragraphs and sentences that went on for miles. She would prop her elbow on the desk and lean her forehead into one hand while she skimmed her other hand across the page. Soon enough, her mind was consumed by grappling with words and ideas to determine how they applied to the issue at bar. Law, as it turned out, was the only way she could truly clear her mind.

She set the book aside and studied the picture in a small gold frame perched on the other corner of her desk. A young man looked back at her with soft eyes. She took a sip of coffee and wondered, again, if she would ever see those eyes again. She still didn’t know the best answer when people asked about him. Fiancé. Boyfriend. Whatever. As long as she didn’t have to tell them the truth.

The sound of the front door opening broke her reverie. Maureen, a taught slender black woman somewhere in her sixties wearing black rim-horned glasses banged the door against the wall and kicked down the doorstop. She lifted the hinged plank over the opening in the counter, stepped through and let the plank slap the countertop with a loud bang to remind the people wandering in behind her that they should stay on the other side.

Maureen stopped and looked at Sarah. “You’re here already?”

Sarah stood up and folded her hands in front of her skirt. “I thought I’d get an early start.”

Maureen smiled and grunted. “Well, you’ll get over that.” Then she walked back to her desk against the back wall, plopped down her purse and picked up a clipboard hanging on a hook.

Early arrivers were already funneling in through the front door to claim one of the six plastic chairs sitting in the space between the counter and the front door that the staff euphemistically called the lobby. A dull murmur rose up in the lobby as more came in behind them, including a frazzled-looking woman with a crying baby on her hip.

Maureen glanced sideways at Sarah as she walked back to the counter. “Since you’re here, might as well get started.” She flashed a wicked smile as if she were about to throw a live lobster in the pot and marched up to the counter like a drill sergeant meeting her recruits on the first day.

“All right, listen up.” The murmuring stopped instantly. “You should have your case sheet with you. When I call out your case number, come on up.” She glanced at the clipboard in her hand. “CSO-65118.”

Everybody looked at their crumpled case sheets as if they were lottery tickets, except for one man who looked sheepishly at Maureen and said, “I don’t have mine with me.”

Maureen slid her glasses halfway down her nose and looked at the man. “Then go get it.” The man looked around helplessly and then shuffled out the front door.

The woman with the crying baby stepped up to the counter and held out her case sheet. “That’s me.”

Maureen snatched the paper away and scanned the number. “Alright,” she said, lifting up the plank, “follow me.”

Sarah winced as the plank slammed back down and Maureen marched towards her with the young woman in tow.

Sarah smoothed down the front of her skirt and cleared her throat before pasting on a smile she normally wouldn’t even attempt until after her second cup of coffee.

Maureen flashed another wicked smile and Sarah could almost hear her cackling inside. “Ms. Herrera, this is Sarah Thomas. She’ll be taking care of you.” She turned on her heel and headed back to the counter.

The woman nervously jostled her baby on her hip, who was thankfully starting to fall asleep. Sarah reached out to shake the woman’s hand. “Please, won’t you sit down?”

And just like that, Sarah Thomas, Esquire, started practicing law.

©2023 Michael J Lawrence

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