Things Are Going to Slide
Marilee Carson Cooper, daughter of a good southern family, had expectations, but now they are dashed. After her husband leaves her for a young man when she is pregnant with their second child, she pins her hopes for financial and career salvation on winning the coveted Chair of Clinical Law at Alabama Southern University.
The Chair goes to Dwight Hurley, a hometown boy who once broke her heart. He is favored because he claims to have written a forthcoming textbook, while Marilee’s job is now endangered, despite her success at the clinic. Dwight’s mysterious reappearance leaves Marilee burning for revenge.
At the same time, the troubled clients of the legal clinic are presenting Marilee and her student lawyers with grave issues. One of them—an unwed teen mother whom Marilee has known for most of her life—is accused of child abuse and murder.
As her feelings for Dwight become increasingly confused, Marilee realizes that her rival could be her only hope in saving the teenager.
Things Are Going To Slide grips the heart with its twists and turns of romantic love in a legal clinic and illuminates the dynamics of justice in a closely knit town.
Excerpt from Things Are Going to Slide
Attendance was high and the noise level higher in the spacious but packed ASU moot courtroom as the law school faculty placed faux bets on who they thought would be awarded the coveted Sam Bailey, Jr. Chair in Clinical Law. At one point or another, almost every professor glanced, smiled or nodded at Marilee Carson Cooper, the odds-on-favorite for the fourth endowed Chair in the history of the relatively young law school at Alabama Southern University.
Photographers and reporters from several newspapers and the law school magazine stood behind the assemblage, awaiting the announcement. Sharp, bright rays of late morning October sun streamed through the windows across the back wall, raising beads of sweat on their necks and backs, but did nothing to dampen their interest.
Marilee stared straight ahead, trying to look cool and calm, as though today were just another day and not one that would flip the downward trajectory of her life on its head. In a matter of minutes she would receive a much-needed boost of confidence, not to mention tenure and an increase in salary, prestige and power. The personal and professional blows of the past year wouldn’t evaporate when she was awarded the Bailey Chair in Clinical Law, but they would pale, lose their stranglehold on her, and over time fade into the sort of vague, ephemeral memories of events she might have read about in some book long ago. The Chair: she pictured herself in a velvet armchair, something very much like a throne, from whence she would rule her kingdom.
“You look like you might throw up,” Marilee’s sister Dede leaned in to whisper, her chin- length, dyed jet-black hair covering the side of her face.
So much for cool and calm. “Hush up.” Marilee elbowed Dede lightly, clenching one clammy hand in the other, then switching hands. “Don’t you need to go out for a smoke or go back to New York or something?” Marilee faked a smile. She was happy that her sister was in town for a change, though not sure why she’d really come home. She knew it wasn’t for this announcement; Dede had already been home for two weeks, eleven days longer than she’d stayed in Carsonville since she decided to skip college eight years ago and move to New York to pursue a dancing career. She claimed that she just wanted to relax at home for a bit. But the words “Dede,” “relax” and “home” had never appeared in the same sentence before, and Marilee suspected there was some other reason for the unexpected visit.
Dede’s pale gray-green eyes focused on Marilee, appraising her thoughtfully. “For someone on the verge of puking, you look beautiful.”
“Quiet!” Marilee shook her head. She didn’t feel beautiful, especially while sitting next to her tall, thin, gorgeous sister. That morning, after arguing with herself about whether sleep was more important than clean hair and make-up, sleep lost the argument and she’d stumbled out of bed, washed her shoulder-length auburn hair, applied make up, and tried on her maternity dresses – all six of them – looking for the most photogenic choice. Three clung too tightly to her near nine-month bulging midriff, and two were dotted with intractable juice or food stains. In the end, she chose the burnt orange dress, thinking it contrasted nicely with her green eyes, but when she got to the law school and glanced at herself in the first floor bathroom mirror she’d realized she looked like Charlie Brown’s great pumpkin. Hopefully, when she walked to the podium to receive the award, the photographers would focus their lenses on her face and feature close-ups rather than distance shots.
“Just trying to help you relax, Sis.” Dede reached over with her right hand and gently held down Marilee’s jiggling knee.
A hush settled across the room as Dean Dody walked in. Because nature had endowed Dean Dody with a short, heavy body and stubby limbs, many students, and even some of the faculty, had christened him Dean Dodo. The Dean’s factotums, Associate Deans Porter Larkin and Sue Scanlon, sat in folding chairs framing the podium and the judge’s black walnut bench. The red, blue and gold ASU seal’s eagle peered down on the them from the wall above.
As the Dean sat down, Associate Dean Sue Scanlon stood, running her hands along her form-fitting straight skirt, to the obvious pleasure of a few of the male professors in attendance. She walked to the podium, her hips swaying slightly as each red high heel touched the ground. At the podium, Sue flipped her thick blonde mane a few times as if she were in a L’Oreal ad, cleared her throat, and slowly smiled. Even though Dean Dody would be the one to announce the recipient of the endowed Chair, Sue, a paragon of self-confidence, commanded everyone’s attention with her steely, critical gaze and her gravelly, authoritative voice.
Sue announced that ASU had taken out a national ad celebrating the anniversary of Rosa Parks’s fateful refusal to move to the back of the Montgomery, Alabama bus and that they’d hired an architect to submit plans for a civil rights memorial in the ASU law school garden. In the “New South,” universities tripped over each other trying to prove their civil liberties credentials. A round of polite applause followed, and Sue beamed, as if she alone were responsible for these tributes.
Dede poked Marilee, and when Marilee looked over, Dede rolled her eyes. Marilee nodded. Without a word passing between them, they agreed: Sue was a piece of work. That she was always perfectly dressed and coiffed was not the issue, although sometimes it annoyed Marilee, especially in these last ever more frumpy days of her second pregnancy. What was most irritating about Sue Scanlon was her unshakeable belief that she was far smarter than everyone, and that her way was the only way.
She and Marilee had been arguing about the law school’s future path since Sue arrived last spring from Harvard. Sue didn’t support Clinical Law, Marilee’s area of expertise, and had single-handedly nixed her otherwise popular proposal to expand the Clinic and represent the immigrants languishing at the nearby Department of Homeland Security detention facility. A year of Marilee’s hard work had been snuffed out with one word from Sue. Needless to say, Marilee disliked her and she could barely wait to have the Chair, a powerful platform for making an end run around Sue Scanlon.
Sue glanced down at her notes. “Please congratulate Professor Ken Barber on his latest article, which has been accepted for publication in the Vanderbilt Law Journal.” She looked up at Marilee, smiling meaningfully at her, and then began to clap.
Marilee glared back. Sue never missed an opportunity to remind Marilee that she was hopelessly late in finishing her first law review article. When the law school hired Marilee to launch the law school Legal Aid Clinic, the Dean had given her a two-and-a-half-year contract, but made clear that the contract’s renewal and any hope of tenure would depend on whether she published. Since then, although she’d written a number of draft essays on various Clinical Law topics, she hadn’t come close to putting even one into law review format, thanks to her all- consuming teaching and family obligations, including the end of what she’d believed was a happy enough marriage. Recently, with the publication deadline approaching even faster than the due date for giving birth, Marilee had gone to the Dean for an extension. He’d been kind enough to tell her she needn’t worry, that the endowed Chair would be hers, and, though they’d expect publication, she’d have all the time she needed to take care of the new baby first.
She hadn’t planned to have a second child, at least not until she’d put the finishing touches on a law review article. But, as the result of one moment of passion when her diaphragm had been the last thing on her mind, her four-year-old daughter Ellie soon would have a sibling. What she’d thought was passion, though, had turned out to be her swim coach husband Rick’s botched attempt to break it to her gently that he was in love with his NCAA champion free-styler – William Larson.
Rick left her in March; Marilee found out she was pregnant in April; Sue arrived in May. The year from hell.
Finally, Sue sashayed back to her seat and Dean Dody took the podium. Beaming, his round face bobbed up and down in anticipation. He looked to the left and the right, then straight ahead as if to assure himself unnecessarily that he had the faculty’s complete attention.
“Great gifts that change the future of an institution stem from a boundless selflessness,” the Dean began. “At best, those of us who are recipients of this beneficence can stand back in awe and gratitude. Today, through this substantial endowment in recognition of the upcoming Carsonville, Alabama Bicentennial, I am honored to officially announce that,” he paused for a silent drum roll, “a Chair, to be known as the Sam Bailey, Jr. Scholar in Clinical Law, will not only honor our law school but will support the critical missions of independent scholarship and teaching excellence.”
The Dean continued: “The terms of this generous gift from Sam Bailey, Jr. are few. The recipient, who will receive tenure, must have been born in the great State of Alabama, and he or she must be an authority in the field of Clinical Law. We foresee with this endowment that our Clinic, already nationally recognized in just the two short years since its establishment, will become a leader in this burgeoning field. Sam’s own law school Clinic experience up north at – what’s the name of that place again?” The Dean opened his palms, shrugged and smiled, attempting to make a joke about the insecurity “second tier” law schools like ASU wore like an albatross.
The faculty tittered with nervous laughter. Sam Bailey had attended Yale Law School, number one for the umpteenth year in a row in the all-important U.S. News and World Report’s yearly law school ranking. He’d spent a small fortune on his hometown school, ASU, trying his best to push it into the top fifty, the much desired “first tier.” Not only did he endow the Clinical Chair the Dean was about to bestow, but Sam also had contributed a huge chunk of money for the law school building itself, as well as the funds used to hire Marilee to start the Clinic two years ago.
“The Trustees and I, with the assistance of the Rank and Tenure Committee, under the able leadership of Dean Scanlon, have chosen the recipient for the Chair, and I am proud to introduce the new Bailey Professor of Clinical Law,” the Dean continued. “Please congratulate and welcome our new Bailey Chair in Clinical Law.” The Dean’s voice rose forcefully as he readied the crowd for the big announcement.
Marilee leaned forward slightly, inhaled, and tried to put on a grateful but humble face as she stood up.
Dede’s hand shot out, grabbed her sister’s arm, and pulled her back into her seat as heat spread rapidly up Marilee’s neck and across her face, leaving apple-sized hives, clear evidence of her dismay.
As faculty members sitting in front of her whipped their heads around, Marilee averted her eyes from the pitying looks and nervous giggles and prayed that most of the faculty had missed her presumptuous ascent, as well as her humiliating descent.
The Dean gestured to the side entrance doors and they swung open, as if under some spell, and there he was. Dwight Hurley. Marilee felt as though everyone else in the packed auditorium had disappeared, and that she and Dwight were in a slow moving dream, a nightmare. She bit the inside of her cheek hard but sadly didn’t wake up.
Dwight walked with the loose, cocky swagger of politicians and men who played college basketball. His black hair was stylishly messy and long, hanging just over his collar. Above a prominent nose, his dark blue eyes exuded a calm confidence.
Marilee looked down at her trembling hands, then stuck them under her thighs, palms down.
“What the hell is going on?” Dede whispered.
“I wish I knew.” Marilee could barely form the words with her bogus I’m-so-happy-for- Dwight-and-I-don’t-care-that-I-didn’t-get-it smile and a growing lump in her throat. If she could get through the rest of this event without weeping, she decided, the entire ceremony would have to be considered a brilliant success.
Dwight shook the Dean’s hand, then stood back a little to the side with his hands clasped behind his back, as though at attention, while the Dean detailed his credentials: Vanderbilt University (to Marilee’s Duke), Chicago Law (to her Emory), Sixth Circuit clerkship (to her Eleventh), the Public Defender’s office (to her law firm stint), and, just last year, the Criminal Clinic at Redmont Law School in Cincinnati, where he’d established an Innocence Project and personally participated in several high profile criminal trials, in particular the groundbreaking State of Illinois vs. Edmunds. “Lucky for us,” Dean Dody explained, “Dwight was only co-teaching one class at Redmont this fall, so he was able to leave on a moment’s notice to join us.
“Finally,” the Dean concluded, “because faculty scholarship is essential for the law school’s continued success, you all can understand just how thrilled I am to pass on this bit of very good news: Dwight has almost finished the first Clinical Law textbook and it will be published soon.”
A book? Marilee stifled a gasp. She hadn’t even finished an article and Dwight, who had taught Clinical law a year less than she had, had completed a book! In the world of academia, professors didn’t write textbooks alone in their attics, penning one page after the next, coming out with a masterpiece after years of isolated toiling. No! They circulated ideas and parts of papers; they e-mailed and conferenced; they collaborated and argued. How could he possibly have written a book on Clinical Law, the first textbook ever, without her hearing about it?
Dwight shook the Dean’s hand again as the faculty clapped its approval.
Was she mad? Jealous? Worried about her future? Yes, yes, yes. Adding insult to her injured ego, the Dean and the trustees had awarded the Chair to the charter member of the men-who-broke-Marilee’s-heart club. Dwight Hurley was Marilee’s first love, and, since their breakup ten years ago, she’d taken great pains to avoid him during his rare visits home. Unfortunately, because the ASU Legal Aid Clinic was a law firm in which the students practiced law pursuant to Student Practice Rules (think Legally Blonde but not so well dressed), she would be stuck working and teaching with him almost every single day.
Marilee wanted to disappear, and though she was too big to scooch under her chair, she wasn’t too large to walk away. She stood slowly, hoping no one would notice, and turned toward the exit at the back of the room, only twenty steps away. Perhaps they’d think she had a legitimate reason for her sudden departure – labor, or a doctor’s appointment, or a scheduled court appearance, for example. She could think of any number of clever excuses, but before she’d lumbered up three steps, Dede was next to her, her mouth close to Marilee’s ear.
“Marilee, turn around,” she whispered insistently. “You have to say something to him. You can’t leave!”
If Dede, who never bowed to convention, thought she had to stay, clearly there was no other option. In the moot courtroom surrounded by her colleagues, Marilee had to admit that she wasn’t free to act mad or jealous or upset. She needed to appear to be a reasonable, responsible grown-up, even though she felt like a rejected, neglected child, and welcome Dwight to what until that moment – although officially named the ASU Legal Aid Clinic – had simply been referred to as “Marilee’s Clinic.”
Faculty members surged toward Dwight to wish him their best and congratulate him on the prestigious award and a job well done. As he shook hands, he looked around, searching for someone. Marilee wondered if his wife Lana was there, and surveyed the room for a petite, gorgeous brunette.
When she didn’t see Lana, she turned toward her sister and mustered a small smile. “Okay, okay, I’ll go congratulate him.” She swallowed hard but the lump remained. What if she choked? That at least would get her out of there.
Dede nodded her encouragement, her light eyes full of concern.
Marilee started down the steps toward Dwight, but by the time she reached the last step at least twenty professors had surrounded him. Because she preferred to shake his hand without half the faculty watching so closely, she hung back and looked around the room. Dwight’s mother, Ruth Hurley, stood a few feet away looking pleased in a tight-lipped sort of way.
Marilee approached her, figuring that if she couldn’t get to Dwight, his mother was an acceptable stand-in. “Mrs. Hurley. It’s been a long time. I wanted to offer my congratulations to you and Dwight.” Marilee extended her hand.
Ruth recoiled slightly at the sight of Marilee but offered her limp hand. Hopefully she wasn’t reliving in her mind, as Marilee was, one of the last times the two had seen each other, when Marilee and Dwight were high school seniors. They’d broken up – something they did every few months during their six-year, high-drama romance – and a week later had made up. They were on the basement couch, their clothes strewn across the floor, ready to consummate the reconciliation, when Ruth had walked in on them.
“I’ll actually be working with Dwight in the Clinic,” Marilee said. “You must be very proud of him.”
“I am, thank you,” she replied primly.
“So, when did Dwight get back?” And where’s Lana, Marilee wondered.
“Just yesterday. Oh, if you’ll excuse me.” She walked toward the Dean, even though he was busy talking with a pack of reporters.
When the Dean looked up to greet Ruth, his eyes met Marilee’s and he cringed. She tried to read in his face the truth about why she hadn’t been chosen for the Chair he’d promised her, but before she had a chance to publicly demand an explanation – something that surely would have made her embarrassing situation even worse, he turned away.
The one person she always tried to avoid – Sue Scanlon – touched her forearm, then tapped it with two red nails, as if she were sending Morse code via Marilee’s body. “Oh, Marilee.” She shook her head, her layered blonde hair rising and falling with each shake. Sue’s expertly applied eyeliner, eye shadow, and mascara, and the plunging neckline of her silk blouse made Marilee feel like a homely, matronly, pregnant hick.
“What a terrible blow to you,” Sue gushed, feigning concern for Marilee although she clearly was enjoying every minute of her colleague’s pain.
“Oh, far from it! You know I wanted more faculty support in the Clinic, Sue, given how many students we have to turn away every semester. This fall we had twenty-one disappointed third years.” Marilee faux-smiled. “Now we can add another full section.”
“We’re not expanding the Clinic! I thought I made that clear to you when I told you we wouldn’t support your little proposal for Clinic work at the detention center. But good for you, what a brave way to look at being passed over for the Chair, Marilee. Keep it up. You’ll need that kind of spunk once you’re home with two little ones.” She looked at Marilee’s bulging belly and grimaced. “Thank goodness Dwight’s here now, taking care of things. We’re just so thrilled he accepted our offer.”
Marilee was in dire need of moral support. She scanned the room for her sister, but Dede’s back was to her as she talked with Dean Larkin. Dede stood like the dancer she was, her feet in third position, her hips slightly thrust forward, her right hand on her hip. Marilee would have to cross the entire room and talk to one professor after another about Dwight and the Chair just to get her attention, so she tried to imagine what Dede would say to Sue, what perfect zinger of a response. But she was too upset to think, much less to channel Dede’s biting tongue.
Enough was enough. Marilee had been cordial as long as she could. She had to leave the moot courtroom before the tears pressing against her eyes caused her head to explode, right there, all over Sue and the moot courtroom bench.
Marilee hadn’t used the stairs to her fourth-floor office in months due to the extra weight she carried, but they were her only hope for dodging the other faculty members and nursing her wounds in private. As she dragged herself up the first flight of stairs, she let her frustration, disappointment, and anger loose with a few minutes of full-throttled crying. The event that was supposed to mark the end of the year from hell had just made her life exponentially worse. Wasn’t there some limit on how many terrible things could happen to a person in one year?
When she reached the second-floor landing, she heard someone above her breathing loudly and shallowly. Marilee gulped back her tears and walked slowly up the next few steps, peering upward, ready to run back down and escape out the second-floor door if necessary. But she had no reason to worry. Standing on the third-floor landing was Larry Lee Hallowell, his body pressed flat against the wall, as though he wanted to render himself invisible. How long he’d been there was anyone’s guess.
Mr. Hallowell, a Clinic client in his late thirties, never took the elevators due to panic attacks coupled with mild obsessive-compulsive disorder. Climbing the stairs sometimes took him close to an hour, depending on how many people interrupted his progress, as Marilee just had.
Marilee wiped her face as she approached him and thought about trying to explain her tears, but didn’t think it appropriate or necessarily helpful. “Mr. Hallowell,” she said, careful to resist the natural impulse to shake his hand. “How are you today?”
He wiped his hands nervously on his T-shirt, then looked down at his feet, the top of his buzz cut pointing at her. “Fine,” he mumbled. At least, that’s what it sounded like he said.
“I’m sure your student lawyers are looking forward to seeing you.” Of course, she didn’t know whether Lance and Paula, his student lawyers, would still be waiting for him by the time he reached the Clinic offices. His appointment could have been hours ago, or he might have dropped by without an appointment, as some of the Clinic clients did.
“Thank you.” His voice trembled as he raised his head just enough to see her, his eyes full of pain, most likely because she was in his space. He rolled his flip-flops nervously, bending one, then the other, under his toes, then under his heels.
Although Marilee appreciated the climbing break, she forced her right leg to take the next step, then her left leg. Bend at knee, place foot, heave self (and baby) up.
Larry Lee Hallowell once had a job and a family, but mental illness had robbed him of that life. His symptoms had appeared slowly over several years’ time, beginning with his refusal to take elevators or shake hands, ending with his inability to leave his apartment, sometimes for hours, sometimes days. As the symptoms multiplied, he’d lost his job at the auto factory, and his wife had left him, taking their three children with her. Finally, his wife had remarried and left the State of Alabama. Mr. Hallowell had come to the Clinic in September because after two years without his children he desperately wanted to see them again.
Working with people who lived at the edge of functioning society was humbling in many ways. Although some Clinic clients had been born poor or sick, many once lived productive, happy lives. Then a tragedy – a child’s death, a chronic mental or physical illness, a drug problem, a divorce or a job loss – pushed them further than their ability to cope. Marilee grabbed the solid metal rail and pulled herself up the last few stairs. It could happen to anyone, Marilee thought, including herself. And with that her tears began anew.
When she finally shoved open the fourth-floor stairwell door, she stopped short, as Dede fell into the stairway, almost knocking her over. “Where’ve you been? Are you okay?”
“I’m just great, Dede. Why wouldn’t I be?” Marilee stifled a sob.
“Come on.” She cupped Marilee’s left elbow in her right hand and guided her down the hallway. Thankfully, no one passed them. When they stopped in front of Marilee’s office, Dede held out her hand.
Marilee fished inside the pocket of her orange dress, found the office key, and handed it to her.
Dede opened the door and gently pushed Marilee forward. “Sit.”
Marilee collapsed into her desk chair and rested her swollen ankles on the footstool she’d placed under the desk months earlier.
Dede stood, her arms loose by her sides, palms open. “What the fuck just happened, M’lee? Jesus, of all people, Dwight Hurley?”
Marilee nodded, then shook her head, then shrugged.
“Did you even know he was under consideration?” she asked.
“Are you kidding? I didn’t even know he applied. Besides, the Dean promised I would get the Chair. I thought I was the only one under consideration.” She tried to chuckle at her own naiveté, but the sound was closer to that made by an irritable baby than a wry, intelligent adult who could detach from a difficult situation and make light of it.
Dede sat across from her and pursed her lips. “When did you last talk to him?”
“Really talk? Not since we broke up, sophomore year of college.”
“Come on. Are you saying that after six years with Dwight, after thinking he was the one, after all the breaking up and making up, you never got together again for ten long years? You must at least have slept with him when you were both home for the holidays? For old time’s sake. After all, he’s very good-looking. Fess up.” She leaned in, waiting for the answer she expected.
“Do we have to talk about this?” Marilee rested her head on her desk. If she could just go to sleep, maybe for a long time, she might not have to deal with any of this.
Dede lifted one of the steel balls on the Newton’s Cradle desk toy and let it drop. The steel ball on the opposite side swung up. The first ball flew out again. Marilee couldn’t stand the click-clacking noise the balls made; she left the annoying toy on the desk only because one of last year’s student lawyer teams had given it to her and they dropped by regularly to check in with their beloved Clinic professor.
Marilee slowly raised her head from the desk, her eyes widening under arching eyebrows, irritated. She held up her hand. “You know I hate that thing, Dede. Please stop.”
Dede shrugged and steadied the moving metal balls.
“If you must know, we have not slept together! Not everyone sleeps with everyone they ever liked.” Marilee’s eyes narrowed. “Except maybe you.”
“I do not!” Dede insisted.
“Does that mean you and Nikolai are getting serious?” Nikolai was Dede’s on-again-off- again love, a dancer she’d met in Europe who now lived in New York City. Marilee didn’t want to discuss Dwight, and she was interested in learning whether Nikolai had something to do with Dede’s unexplained visit.
“We’re not talking about me though I’ll admit I have a healthy, active sex life, M’lee, whereas you seem to have no sex life.” She smiled her slightly crooked but sexy smile.
“How do you think I got this way, Sis?” Marilee pointed toward her belly. Sadly, this baby’s conception dated to the end of her sex life, as Dede knew.
“Fine. Okay. You haven’t slept with him. I get it. What kind of relationship do you have with him now?”
Marilee formed a zero with her thumb and index finger. “This kind. Nada. It was over the day he cheated, Dede. We haven’t talked since I caught him with Lana. I didn’t answer his calls, I tore up his letters, and I’ve avoided him whenever he’s come home.”
“You sound like you’re still mad at him, M’lee.” Dede cocked her head to one side as though trying to read her sister’s thoughts.
Marilee sighed heavily. “I’m not mad at him for being a liar and a cheater; I’m mad because he stole my endowed Chair!”
Dede stepped back from the desk a few feet, bent down, touched her palms flat to the floor, and hung there. “I’m not so sure it’s not both. Did you notice he wasn’t wearing a ring? I wanted to talk to him, check out his marital status, but I had to search for my missing sister.” She rose slowly and raised her arms over her head in a perfect fifth position oval.
“You sound like Mama, Dede. Listen up: I’m not interested in Dwight. I’m not interested in anyone right now.”
She’d tried to make this clear since Rick had moved away, but her mother had ignored her wishes and tried to set her up with any man she believed would be a suitable replacement, men of a certain economic and social class who didn’t panic when they heard about Marilee’s four-year- old daughter Ellie, and the baby on the way. Despite Marilee’s insistence that she wasn’t ready to date, much less begin anything serious, her mother had miraculously found bachelors all over the Southeast and arranged dates, dinners, and parties, none of which Marilee had enjoyed. At all.
“I do not sound like Mama!” Dede pirouetted to the corner of the office, then back, her eyes focused on Marilee as she made each turn. “I’m not saying you should marry him, for God’s sake. You shouldn’t marry anyone anytime soon. I don’t know if I believe in love, much less marriage. But it wouldn’t hurt for you to have someone to talk to and sleep with every now and then, especially someone so fabulous-looking!” She landed at Marilee’s desk, grinning lasciviously.
“I have my hands full with work, Ellie, and soon, the baby. Work and children are my life now.” She tried in vain to instill her words with enthusiasm.
Dede swayed slightly in rhythm as she played an imaginary violin.
“I really don’t care about Dwight, Dede, I’m just worried about how I’m going to work with him. He’s a criminal lawyer, and my Clinic only does civil law. And, the law school he’s from doesn’t teach the way I teach.” She sighed. “I can’t believe any of this is happening, really, I can’t. The Dean promised me. And he owes me an explanation.” Marilee didn’t want to confront Dean Dody, but did she have a choice? Slowly, she slid her feet off the stool, pushed her chair back, and stood up.
“I’ll walk with you,” Dede said. At the Dean’s suite she took Marilee’s upper arms in her strong hands and gave her a little shake. “Give ’em hell, Sis.”
Marilee inhaled deeply as she opened the door to the Dean’s suite. Assistant Deans Scanlon and Larkin occupied the first two offices. The last door led to Dean Dody, though first you had to get past his gossipy secretary, Fran, a reliable source for the latest law school news, always delivered melodramatically.
“How are you, Professor Cooper?” Fran asked. The cadence and tone of her question made clear that she was more than ready and willing to dish about Dwight Hurley’s appointment.
“Fine,” Marilee answered, trying to instill in that one word the sense that she could not be better.
Fran, a heavy woman who wore a green suit every day, in colors ranging from lime to pine, leaned forward, crushing her ample breasts into the desktop hutch. “I was so shocked to hear about the Chair,” she said conspiratorially. “I don’t know what they were thinking. That Chair should be yours!”
“Thanks, I appreciate it, but Dwight’s very qualified, Fran.” Marilee knew that whatever she said to Fran would be all over the law school by lunch and tempered her comments accordingly. “I’m sure he’ll be an asset to the Clinic.”
Fran looked puzzled; that wasn’t the response she’d expected.
“Is the Dean here?” Marilee asked. “I just need a minute of his time.”
“Let me buzz him.” Fran punched the intercom button on her phone. “Professor Cooper’s here to see you, Dean Dody.” She nodded in the direction of his door.
Marilee walked in and shut the door behind her.
Behind his massive desk, Dean Dody grimaced and his bulbous eyes showed worried concern. “Marilee, I’m glad you’re here. Will you sit down, please?”
“No.” She stopped at the chair he’d offered and rested her hands on its back, facing him. “Dean Dody, you said the Chair was mine. You said – “
He flinched slightly as he raised his hand to stop her. “I know, I know. I did tell you you’d get the Chair and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything but that’s water under the bridge now, isn’t it? I know you’re disappointed.”
“Disappointed! That’s an understatement. What’s going to happen now? I can’t work with Dwight. He’s never taught anything but criminal law, and we don’t even practice that here, and the pedagogy at Redmont is totally different. What were you all thinking?”
The Dean inhaled sharply, rested his elbows on his desk, and steepled his hands in front of him. “I don’t think you should worry about any of that, Marilee. Not when your job is on the line.” As he spoke the last few words, he pointed the steeple in her direction and she stepped back.
“What?” She stared at him with disbelief. What was he talking about? “Why?” Marilee inched closer, crossing her arms, grasping her upper arms with her hands.
“We gave you two and a half years to publish when you joined the faculty.”
“But, Dean Dody, you told me I could have an extension.”
“I know, I know. I wish I could give you one, but at the last Rank and Tenure meeting Sue read me the riot act: faculty publication is our number one priority. You know she’s head of Rank and Tenure now. She vetted Dwight. She made the big push for him. The New York Times wrote an article about his victory in the Edmunds case, and his textbook clinched the deal. We have new standards now.”
“Since the trustees hired Sue to push us into the top fifty, it’s publish or perish, Marilee.” He rested his hands in his lap and smiled weakly. “You know, maybe it’s time for you to take a break, with the baby and all. You’re due anytime now. I’m sure you need a rest, some time to sort things out,” he said hopefully.
She took the seat Dean Dody had offered her moments earlier. As she eased herself down, the baby tried to do a somersault, a near impossible task given his or her size, and her belly moved in an undulating wave.
“Dean Dody, you know I’ve devoted myself to this Clinic and to our students. Setting up a Clinic from scratch, meeting with the students regularly, teaching seminar and going to court – that all takes a lot of time.”
“I understand that, really I do, but if you don’t publish an article before the end of the semester, my hands are tied. I can’t extend your contract.” The Dean turned his palms up and shrugged. “I wish it hadn’t come to this, Marilee. I’m a big fan of yours and the Clinic, but Sue’s laid down the law and it’s out of my hands. Try to think about the silver lining, though.” He cradled an imaginary baby.
“There is no silver lining, Dean Dody, and don’t try to pretend there is!” She pushed herself up from the chair and rushed out of his office, passing Fran without even trying to pretend for appearance’s sake that the conversation had gone well.
The tears began to flow again as she walked slowly back to her office. Marilee thought about Mr. Hallowell and wondered: Was she poised on the edge of her own slippery slope? Or was she already in a free fall? For the first time in years, strains of Dede’s favorite Leonard Cohen song echoed in her mind – as they’d echoed throughout the house at all hours during Dede’s teen years: “Things are going to slide, slide in all directions.”
Her own slide down the slope had begun the night Rick told her he was leaving their marriage. She’d just put Ellie to bed, something Rick usually did, but he was late, after calling to say he was working with a few of his swimmers who were training extra hard for some big meet. Marilee had tiptoed out of Ellie’s room and then down the stairs to get a snack when Rick, a big, broad-shouldered man, a former varsity swimmer, walked in the front door. Instead of his usual open, relaxed face, though, he’d looked tense and troubled. Marilee hugged him hello and rested her cheek on his chest. One of his large hands rubbed up and down her back, a comforting motion. She led him up the stairs smiling to herself. She’d been worried about their sex life; both had been busy and it was always hard to find time alone with Ellie around, but she believed as she walked him up the stairs that her fears had been baseless. Soon they were in their bedroom making love.
When they were done, Rick had begun to cry, a strangled, sad sound she’d never heard from him. She’d raised herself up on her elbow and kissed the tears on his cheek. “What, Rick?” And he’d told her. He was in love with Will Larson. “Will?” She swallowed hard and sat up, pulling the cover over her naked body. “Will?”
After Marilee had crawled out from under the covers where she’d hidden for a week – claiming to have the flu – she and Rick had focused on Ellie, on what was best for Ellie, on how to make the transition work for Ellie. When the semester ended Rick left town for Washington, DC, with Will.
Those first few weeks after Rick moved out Marilee had felt tired and nauseated. Who wouldn’t? As it turned out though, her broken heart wasn’t the cause, she was pregnant. The first person she’d shared the news with, unsure if she was sharing good or bad news, was Dede, who worried that Marilee would be taking on too much with another child, or worse, that this unborn child was a substitute for the husband she’d lost. She offered to fly home and take Marilee to the clinic in Mobile where a bunch of their friends had been at one time or another in high school and college. Marilee decided not to take Dede up on her offer, worried Ellie would never have a brother or sister otherwise and just plain too worn out to make a different decision. The status quo had been the path of least resistance.
Now, back in her office, Marilee locked her door and sat down at her desk. Thanks to Sue Scanlon, she had just two months to produce a polished law review article or she’d lose the job she loved. When Sue arrived, Marilee had hoped they’d be friends. Sue was a woman in her late twenties, like Marilee, but Sue had quickly made it clear that she wasn’t interested in a friendship, that she didn’t respect Clinical Law, and that she was out for herself, no matter who she had to stab in the back to get ahead.
Marilee flipped through the stack of papers on her desk: rough drafts of articles about Clinical Law that she’d drafted over the last two years. Unfortunately, her thoughts about Clinical teaching, based on her own experience as well as discussions with other Clinicians and students over the years, did not constitute publishable law review articles. Not even close. The average law review was fifty to seventy pages long and included hundreds of footnotes. Each of her humorously titled draft articles ran a mere twenty to thirty pages and there wasn’t a footnote in sight. To convert any one of her essays into a publishable article would require months of painstaking research and rewriting. If she had nothing else to do it might be possible to meet the deadline, but she had a class to teach, students to supervise, a child to care for, and last but not least, a baby to deliver in the next few weeks.
She knew she should pick up the essay on the top of the pile and dive right in, she knew she had to make the effort, but instead she had an overwhelming urge to throw the whole stack of papers out the window, forget about the looming publication deadline, and walk away, the wind in her hair, a smile on her face, laughing and free. But she didn’t. She called Dede’s cell.
“Did you talk to the Dean?” Dede asked.
“Yeah. Not good; I’ll tell you about it later. What are you doing this afternoon?”
“Going for a run, helping Mama with invitations for some event, then going out.” Since she’d come home, she exercised hours each day, then spent the rest of her time smoking and partying.
“What time are you going out?”
“Seven-ish. Scott’s band is playing in Montgomery.” Scott, one of Dede’s best friends in high school, was a member of a Ska punk band that played in bars across the southeast. Although Dede hung out with him whenever she visited, since arriving in town, she’d spent almost every evening with him. Was there more to their relationship than friendship? Maybe Scott, rather than Nikolai, was behind her prolonged visit home.
“Could you pick Ellie up at her Montessori school at 5:00? I need to stay here and get some work done, but I’ll be home by 6:30.”
“Great. Remember her car seat. And remember to buckle her in. And tell her I’ll be home soon and…”
“I know, I know, M’lee.”
Marilee took the essay that happened to be on the top of the pile, grabbed a red pen, and turned on her desk lamp. The title: IF YOU PRICK THEM, DO THEY NOT BLEED? HOW TO TREAT YOUR CLIENT AS A PERSON, NOT A LEGAL PROBLEM. She would have to devote every spare moment and every free evening, work hard early mornings and late nights and weekends until the end of the semester to keep her job. The baby? Some women were back at work hours after the doctor cut the umbilical cord. Why not her? Could she meet the deadline Sue had set for her? She had to try.
Someone knocked on Marilee’s office door, immediately turned the knob, and pushed. It was never locked, except today.
“Just a minute,” Marilee called. She looked at her calendar. Damn. Two of the Clinic students, Lance and Paula, Mr. Hallowell’s student attorneys, were scheduled to meet with her three minutes from now. She pulled the compact out of her desk drawer to check her tear-streaked face. Ugh. She touched it up as best she could with a little powder, then grabbed her office comb and ran it through her hair. She moved slowly from behind her desk to the door, trying to come up with a good excuse to cancel the supervision meeting so she could work on an article. But the weekly meetings between each student lawyer team and their faculty supervisor were a critical part of the Clinical program, and she couldn’t throw the students under the bus to get her article done; she’d have to find time somewhere else.
She opened the door. “Sorry.”
Lance, a tall, curly haired guy in his late twenties, balanced a cup of coffee and a Twix candy bar in one hand as he waited for Paula to enter before him.
Paula, who looked sixteen but was actually twenty-four, pulled her backpack on wheels behind her.
Like most of their law school classmates, both were dressed in worn-out jeans, likely purchased new but in a scruffy “distressed” condition, and T-shirts.
They came in and sat across from Marilee.
“Ready for the joke of the day?” Lance, who bartended weekend nights, liked to begin almost any encounter with a joke and tried to associate the jokes with either current events or something else happening to him or those around him.
“Sure.” Marilee enjoyed his jokes most of the time, viewing them as good practice for the narrative skills he’d need to be a trial lawyer; seasoned litigators swore by the maxim that whoever told the best story in court won the case. Today though she doubted she could enjoy anything.
Paula rolled her eyes, waiting to start the meeting until the joke played out. An assertive, stubborn young woman, she reminded Marilee of herself at that age.
Lance began: “A small-town prosecuting attorney calls his first witness to the stand. She’s an elderly woman. He approaches her and asks, ‘Mrs. Saunders, do you know me?’
She responds, ‘Why yes, I know you. I’ve known you since you were a young boy. And frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a big shot but you haven’t got the brains to realize you’ll never amount to anything more than a two-bit small-town paper pusher.’
The lawyer’s stunned. ‘Mrs. Saunders, do you know the defense attorney?’
‘Yes, I do,’ she says. ‘I’ve known Mr. Hammer since he was a youngster. I used to babysit for him. And he, too, has been a big disappointment. He’s lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. His law practice is one of the shoddiest in the state.’
At this point the judge raps his gavel and calls both attorneys to the bench. In a quiet, menacing voice, he says, ‘If either of you asks her if she knows me, you’ll be jailed for contempt before you can say another word!’”
Lance smiled broadly.
“Funny,” Paula said, feigning enthusiasm. As Lance’s Clinic partner, she’d heard more than her share of jokes.
Marilee laughed, for a moment distracted from her problems, only to stop suddenly, as though she’d been slapped. Standing in her doorway was Dwight Hurley. He smiled his most engaging smile, held up his hand, and gave her a little wave.
The students turned around to see what had diverted her attention from them. When they saw a man they didn’t know, they turned back to her, expectantly.
Marilee cleared her throat. “Lance Ford, Paula Scott, this is our newest faculty member, Dwight Hurley.” She tried to sound welcoming, but even she could hear that her tone sounded fake-cheerful, like a doctor explaining how you’d learn to love life without whatever part he was about to surgically remove.
Nevertheless, Dwight took her words as an invitation to enter her office. As he shook each student’s hand and looked each right in the eyes, they basked in the light of his attention. “Morning, Lance, Paula. It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” he said.
“What will you be teaching?” Paula’s mouth parted slightly, in awe of Dwight’s easy charm and striking good looks.
Women! Although Marilee wasn’t interested in dating anyone right now, especially Dwight, she couldn’t help but notice what Dede had told her earlier: he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. But even if she’d been looking for love, she wouldn’t look in the direction of Dwight Hurley, the cocky interloper. As her students so often said: been there, done that.
“Clinic,” he said.
“Great!” Paula replied.
“He’s the recipient of the Bailey Clinical Chair,” Marilee said before Dwight had a chance to toot his own horn. She looked at her watch. “And I’m sure he understands how busy we all are, and that we need to get back to our supervision meeting.”
“Oh,” Dwight said. “Of course. Sorry.” He sounded disappointed. “Can we meet afterward, Marilee?” His eyes locked onto Marilee’s.
No we can’t. But she kept the smile plastered on her face. “My afternoon’s pretty busy. Maybe tomorrow?” Although she couldn’t dodge him forever, she could postpone the meeting, for days, maybe weeks.
“I’ll be around all day meeting the students and the faculty, so if you have any time, I’m here.” He turned his attention back to Lance and Paula. “I look forward to working with both of you.” He nodded at them and left.
Paula watched him walk away, her attention on Dwight.
Marilee cleared her throat. “Your client?” She prodded. “Mr. Hallowell?”
“Right, right.” Paula swiveled her head back to face Marilee.
“I saw him in the stairwell earlier,” Marilee explained.
“Oh no! We have an appointment tomorrow morning with him, not today.” Lance shook his head, worried.
Paula sighed. “Maybe he was confused about the time. We can call and make sure he knows the appointment is tomorrow.”
“What’s happening tomorrow, if he shows up?” Marilee asked.
“A counseling session about his options for getting his kids back,” Lance answered. “I have an outline all typed up for what we have to discuss with him.” He pulled his backpack into his lap, unzipped it, and searched for the counseling notes, dropping his three-ring binder as soon as he removed it from his backpack. “I’m just a little nervous. Helping someone who hasn’t seen his kids in two years get custody is a big responsibility.”
The student lawyers in the ASU Clinic sometimes got cold feet before they interviewed or counseled a client or made a court appearance. As part of the nondirective pedagogy of the Clinic, the student lawyers were primarily responsible for the clients while the “real attorneys” supervised their work from a distance. The purpose of the supervision meeting was to discuss how the students planned to conduct the counseling of Mr. Hallowell, as well as how they planned to address any issues likely to arise. After the counseling session, they’d meet with Marilee again to discuss what they did, how successful it was, and what might have worked better.
The independence Marilee gave the students with her nondirective, hands-off approach provided them with a unique opportunity to experience lawyering first hand. If Marilee attended the client counseling the next morning with Lance and Paula, they would defer to her, and Mr. Hallowell likely would look to her as the “real attorney,” undermining the students’ ability to take on the serious responsibility of representing a client, to own the work. Nothing took away ownership more quickly than the presence of a senior lawyer at every important juncture.
Among clinics in the U.S., there were varying degrees of senior staff involvement in student attorneys’ work, ranging from the nondirective clinics, like ASU’s, to the directive clinics, like the Redmont Law School Clinic where Dwight last taught. There, the supervising attorneys represented the clients while the students served as glorified law clerks. The battle between the various models of clinical teaching was being waged in the annals of every Clinical Law Journal in the country, if not the world.
One of Marilee’s draft essays in the pile of papers on her desk addressed the different supervision methodologies and made the case for the nondirective model employed at ASU: PREPARING OUR STUDENTS FOR PRACTICE – WHY SUPERVISING ATTORNEYS SHOULD STAY OUT OF THE WAY.
Lance picked up the binder and flipped through it for his outline. “Here it is,” he said, sounding relieved.
“You could do the counseling without your notes, Lance,” Paula assured him. “You drafted most of it from memory, for goodness sake.”
“Don’t want to leave anything out.” He studied the outline. “So, first, we want to review the case law on custody, and then we want to summarize the procedural history of the case.”
“Based on what?” Marilee asked.
“All the court filings from his divorce and the custody battle. A lot happened before he retained us.”
“Mr. Hallowell brought the court documents in when we first met him,” Paula said, holding one hand up as far as it could reach and the other at her lap, signifying a pile of papers a few feet deep.
“Did he have a lawyer then?” Marilee asked.
The students shook their heads. “He represented himself,” Lance said.
“Not a good idea,” Paula added. “After reviewing the history of the case and the law, we’re going to recommend he sees a psychiatrist to try to get his behavior a little more normalized so he’ll have a chance with custody.” Paula’s hands flew as she talked. “It shouldn’t be too difficult to discuss with him, hopefully, because he’s well aware of his mental health issues. We found him someone at the hospital who will treat him pro bono.”
“That’s great,” Marilee said. “One thing. Did you – ?” Before she could ask them if they’d gone to court to take a look at Mr. Hallowell’s official court files, her phone rang. The caller ID showed the number for Ellie’s preschool. Her heart flip-flopped and she raised a finger and picked up.
“Everything’s fine, Marilee,” Jo Ellen, the preschool receptionist began, “but I just wondered if you’re gonna have time to bring over the healthy snacks. You signed up for today at back to school night. Remember?”
Damn. At home that morning she’d been so focused on her hair and clothes and the excitement of getting the Chair that she’d forgotten all about the snacks. “Right, right. I just need to finish a few quick things and I’ll be right over.” After she stopped by the Piggly Wiggly and bought the snacks, that is, something she should have done yesterday.
Lance and Paula looked at her, wondering, she was sure, whether some client crisis required her to leave the law school in the middle of the day. Or perhaps a news producer was asking her to appear on a nightly news show, as she did from time to time, to decipher some obscure legal issue.
But she didn’t dare tell them who had actually called or why. She knew from her own and other women’s experiences that sharing personal details about your children caused students and colleagues to view you as less than a full-fledged professional and more as a mom. For that reason, she didn’t have pictures of Ellie in her office. Some of the male professors’ office walls and shelves were covered with photos of their children and wives, and no one doubted their professionalism because everyone assumed someone else (guess who?) took care of the kids while the male professor devoted every waking minute to the attainment of intellectual nirvana at the law school.
She hung up and looked at the students. “Sorry about the interruption. Anything else we need to discuss?”
Lance shook his head, though he grimaced as well. “We’re prepared; I’m just nervous!” He looked at Marilee anxiously, his mouth partly open, as though he might change his tune, but he didn’t.
“Good luck tomorrow. I’ll talk with you after your counseling session.”
They packed up their stuff and left, chattering about the case, excited at the prospect of counseling their client. Like the majority of the students, they treasured Clinic work. They were delighted to get out of the classroom, where they focused on hundred-year-old cases that often had no relevance to the type of law they intended to practice, and actually represent clients, which was the reason they had gone to law school in the first place. After a few weeks of Clinic, they often viewed their substantive classes as irrelevant drivel. Real clients! Real cases! Real lawyers at last!
Marilee loved working with the students during their transition from student to lawyer and helping them along the sometimes difficult but always exciting way. Their enthusiasm was catching and contrasted dramatically with the attitude of the associates in the law firm where she’d worked in Atlanta, Wooten and Payne. There, the associates billed and billed, their only goal more billable hours than the other associates vying for partnership. Many had gone to law school to help others, some to save the world, but some had exorbitant educational debts, while others had become addicted to the finer things of life, whether it was a BMW, a club membership, or a steady supply of designer shoes. The dream of becoming an attorney whose job was to help clients with difficult problems was often lost in the race for partnership.
Chair or no Chair, Marilee loved teaching Clinic and she would be damned if she’d let Sue Scanlon run her out of there.