He'd heard about the internship on a prelaw forum he hung out on. He hadn't even told his mom about it; he knew she'd dismiss it outright like she'd dismissed so many other opportunities that took him out of her realm of comfort and care. It was why he went to an online high school. Plus, he hadn't wanted to panic her for nothing. Samir was used to being the levelheaded one in their duo, the one who took care of things, the one who didn't require much.
So he'd applied in secret, writing the essay at his desk at night and sending off the electronic application without any hope that he'd get picked. And instead, he'd gotten the call.
He was one of the top five applicants, and they wanted to do a phone interview. He still didn't tell his mom then, thinking there was no way he, a homeschooled boy with no law connections, would ever get picked. He'd done the interview when his mother went out for her weekly visit with his friend Ashish's mom. And then, a couple of days after that, he'd gotten the email. Attorney Leon Stepping, a senior partner, had picked Samir as his summer intern.
Now Samir walked up to the enormous front desk, thinking about the conversation he and his mom had had after that, the feeling of a claustrophobic, heavy net tightening around him with every "no" she verbalized. But he'd looked her straight in the eye, stood up straighter, and told her he'd made his decision. He was going.
He remembered her looking at him, her mouth opening and then closing again. And finally, after five long seconds of heart-pounding silence, she'd said, "Fine. Okay." Samir had felt the thrill of exhilaration: It was the first time he'd ever asserted himself like that. He knew what had changed for him. A couple of months ago, his best friend, Ashish, and his...frenemy...Pinky had convinced him there had to be a better way to do life than he was currently doing it. At the time he wasn't so sure, but he supposed he'd just wanted the internship so badly that he'd spoken before he had a chance to overthink it. There were other things he still hadn't changed, though. For example, he hadn't yet told his mom he wanted to be mainstream schooled for senior year, and he wasn't sure he would. Wasn't that taking things too far?
"Hello!" he said now to the muscled, blond, female security guard at the front desk, who responded with an apathetic "Mm." Undeterred, Samir continued cheerfully. "My name is Samir Jha. I'm here to see Leon Stepping of Iyer & Whitman."
The security guard looked at a clipboard at her elbow, her eyes running down the list of names. Samir saw hesitation cross her face, and then she looked back up at Samir. "I need to make a call," she said, picking up the phone. "Have a seat." With her free hand, she gestured over to a small collection of aesthetically pleasing potted plants and leather armchairs clustered around a tabletop fountain.
"Oh, um, is there a problem?" Samir asked, feeling his mouth go just the tiniest bit dry. He wanted, needed, to be up on the fourteenth floor, being shown where the copier was.
But the security guard only held one authoritative finger up and then gestured to the seating area again. Opening his mouth and then thinking better and closing it again, Samir turned away like some door-to-door salesman who'd been told the dogs would be set on him if he didn't take his leave. Except I was invited to be here, Samir thought, straightening his shoulders. This was clearly a mistake. Leon Stepping probably just forgot to put his name on the list.
Aboard the Boeing Something-or-Other aircraft, Pinky sat in her first-class seat behind her parents. Her dad turned around and winked at her, his face soft and rounded and pale, completely the opposite of her mother's.
Technically he was her stepdad—he and her mom had met when Pinky was a baby and had gotten married when she was four—but she couldn't remember life before him. One of her first memories was of throwing a lump of sweet potato at him and him laughing uproariously. So, naturally, toddler Pinky had done it again.
"You comfy there, kiddo?" her dad asked now.
"Yep." She'd promised her mom she wouldn't wear her ripped shorts and midriff-exposing crop top, so instead she was dressed in an off-the-shoulder top and distressed capris, which was practically formal wear in Pinky's eyes. She glanced at her reflection in the plane window. At least her hair, with its unruly pieces of teal and magenta and green, and her nose and eyebrow piercings still helped her feel like herself.