Before Sunset
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Before Sunset

Chapter 6
The hallway was a madhouse of noise and activity. People scurried about to find sharpened pencils, to look up last minute answers, to question more experienced friends about previous exams... It was time for the bar exam. Many of the people in the room had taken the test before, some two, three, even four times. For Gregory Richards it was the first time. He stood against the wall, looking calm and confidant in his modest suit and tie. Some others had come casual, knowing that the exam would take hours and wanting to be as comfortable as possible. Gregory believed in the ideal that if you wanted to succeed you dressed the part. And no one wanted to succeed more than he did. The doors opened and everything went quiet. This was the moment they'd all been preparing for. One young man turned and rushed to the restroom, losing whatever he had bothered eating for lunch. Gregory strolled casually over and walked in, the first of the examanees to do so. He passed his ID to the proctor, was wished luck, and pointed to a seat. As the others were being checked in, Gregory sat calmly, appearing for all the world as if he were here for nothing more than a classroom lecture. Of course, no one could see inside Gregory's head... The poise and confidence were well reahersed. He had determined long ago that looking as if you knew were you were doing was very often enough to convince others you did. Once in class, when arguing a case with another student, Gregory had simply made up a reference for another case, getting the student judge to rule in his favor. It was a week later before the instructor, after hours of research and consulting with other lawyers, felt comfortable enough to call the student on it. Gregory had smiled, shrugged, and insisted that he must have confused the matter... He was, of course, warned against using such practices in a real courtroom, but he hadn't needed the warning. He wasn't an idiot and had only done it to prove to himself that the other student was an ill prepared fool.

He didn't even bother to glance up when the test was placed in front of him. Instead he arranged his pencils so that they were readily accessible and stretched his legs out in front of him. As the proctor began to explain the rules and time limit on the test, Gregory listened intently. He might be trying to look confident, but he knew that the majority of those in the room would fail the exam. The percentage of those taking it for the first time that would receive a passing score was significantly lower. He had to pass it the first time. He'd developed a reputation in the academic community, but it would only carry him so far. He refused to be some research assistant, even for a few months, while waiting on the opportunity to take the exam again. He had to pass. He had to get on with a law firm, and not just any law firm. It had to be a successful, big name firm. He had no plans to join the circle of high society in Sunset Beach. Gregory Richards planned to rule it....

Sometime later, Gregory placed the last answer on the form and glanced at the clock and then around the room. Many had left, some within the first hour. Many more remained, some with their heads on the desks as if they had given up but didn' have the will power to walk out of the room. He started to go back over the test, check his answers. Instead, he calmly picked it up, walked to the proctor's table, and laid the exam in the completed pile along with the address card that would ensure the results reached him if he missed the posted results later that month. To Gregory's knowledge, no one had ever missed finding out well before the results were mailed. Even if he didn't bother to check the postings himself, he would know within a few hours of their being placed on the bulletin board if he had made it. Either someone would race to find him in hopess of being the first to let him know he was know a full fledged member of the legal community, or he would see it in their faces when they did see him. The same look that had been given to hundreds of would be lawyers when their name wasn't on the list.

A month later - while Elaine slipped away for a weekend with AJ, Bette charmed her young intern, and Olivia realized her chance at a social life was slipping away in her effort to supply life's basic needs - a young, first year law student slowly walked to the main bulletin board at City Hall. In his hands was the sealed envelope containing the names of all those who had successfully passed the bar. He glanced around, knowing that soon the hall would be full of people anxiously searching for their name on the list. He also knew that their would be a huge party somewhere tonight with all of those whose names were in this envelope celebrating their accomplishment. Somewhere else would be all those who hadn't passed, most likely alone... He pulled the sheets out and quickly pinned them to the board. Within an hour word would be out....
Gregory sat at the Waffle Shop sipping his coffee when he heard it. The results are posted... Names flew by. Was Harrison on the list? Jones? McIntosh? No one there seemed to know yet... They'd only just heard it was listed. Gregory glanced up. Should he go? He needed to know. He HAD to know... But would going ruin his confident air? If he was so sure he'd passed, would he need to check the list for his name? For once, Gregory pushed aside the arguments. Sometime he would have to find out for certain. He could either walk over there and see for himself, or he could wait until someone found him. He stood up slowly and approached the others, "I suggest we all stop speculating and go see for ourselves..." he stated and turned to walk out, leaving each of them to decide whether to follow him or not. They all did. Every one of them...

Chapter 7
By the time Gregory and his little band of anxious lawyer wannabees made it to the Hall there was already a large crowd around the board, fighting to see the names. Timothy Prescott, who came from a family of lawyers and had failed the test no fewer than 6 times already to the eternal disgrace of his family, finally took over. "Okay! Calm down, everybody... Trust me, you are all going to get the results. If you will just shut up and step back a second, I'll read the list off loud and clear. Those of you who were here last year know that's the only way we are going to get this done in an organized manner..." Prescott might not be lawyer material, but he was well liked and respected. The crowd mumbled a little, but things were significantly quieter. Prescott grinned the little boy grin he was famous for, "Great... I love power." The crowd laughed and Prescott turned to read the names....

Aaron, Adams, Anderson, Ascot... For the first time in his life Gregory Richards whiched he had a different last name. He listened intently to each name to be read off, placing a face with as many of them as he could, trying to call up the argument style and personality of each one. These were the people he might face in court... Ramey, Randell, Reilly, Rienheardt, Roberts.... Gregory felt sick. They passed his name. Prescott was still reading steadily and several people were already turning to look at him. He hadn't passed? That wasn't possible... He'd been confident. He knew the information. The test hadn't even seemed particularly difficult. Could it be a joke? Prescott wasn't beyond that, but then he hadn't hesitated at all. He hadn't had time to see the name and decide to skip it, had he? Everyone who turned saw only that Richards was still listening, as if waiting to hear what other friends had made it. He still seemed calm and poised. Was it possible he didn't understand? They were certain he would have been upset. Everyone expected Gregory Richards to pass. If anyone passed, it should have been Richards...

"Wallace, Williams, Young... That's it. Congrats to all of you who made it. The rest of you..." Prescott shrugged, "See you here next time." An uneasy laugh went up. How long would Prescott's family put up with his failure? "Oh..." He saw Gregory for the first time. "Sorry, Richards.. I didn't see you back there. You are wanted in the Chancellor's office. Says here you should report there anytime between 8:30 AM and 6 PM." He read from a small note attached to the list.

Gregory frowned. Why the Chancellor's office? He knew the staff had expected him to pass as much as anyone. Were they going to question him? Try to determine if something was wrong, if something had kept him from focusing? Wasn't he humiliated enough without being grilled by a bunch of concerned bureaucrats? He turned and strolled away from the crowd as if everything in the world was waiting to do his bidding. The crowd watched quietly. Some had looks of pity, knowing how it stung to not hear your name called. Others had looks of stunned awe. They had respected and looked up to Richards, knowing he would be a powerful force in the legal world. Still others wore smirks, delighted to see the self-assured young upstart defeated before he even got started.

"Party at the Watershed!" Someone shouted, breaking the silence. The hall was suddenly alive again with congratulations and revelry. Slowly those who had passed made their way out of the building to celebrate. Others went slowly home to descide their next course of action. Gregory winced inside. Things were not going as planned...

"Come in." Called the chancellor's voice at the sound of the knock. Gregory hesitated for a fraction of a second and pushed the door open. "Richards. I've been waiting for you. Didn't think it would take long for word to reach you. Come in, please. Close the door." Gregory did as he was told and took the seat that was offered. "I wish I cuold have found a better way of reaching you, but I couldn't get anyone at your house."

Gregory nodded. He hadn't been at his apartment since early that morning.

"I must admit, the results of the exam caused a great deal of concern and discussion among the staff..." The chancellor reached into his desk and pulled out a file. "I defended you, but I'm afraid even I have my doubts. You will have to explain..."

Gregory was confused. Since when was a student expected to explain his inability to pass the bar? He picked up the file that was lain before him. Inside were the results of his exam, the ones that should have been mailed to him. He looked at the numbers and his heart beat faster. He hadn't failed... He had done remarkably well. He'd not only passed the exam, but had gotten a score that seemed incredible even to him. He looked up to see the Chancellor's eyes on him. They thought he'd cheated... The realization hit him. What had been relief at seeing his score and knowing he hadn't failed turned to anger.

"I don't believe there is anything at all to explain." He stood up. "My academic record at this school more than speaks for itself. Everyone expected me to do well...."

"Not that well. Mr. Richards, sit down. I don't think you cheated. I told you, I defended you to the board. The fact remains that that is one of the highest scores I have ever seen on an exam. Easily the highest by a first time examanee. I don't think it is unreasonable that some members of the board would like to ensure the numbers are accurate."

"And what do they want me to do?"

The chancellor pressed a button and within minutes the office was crowded with members of legal staff. For two hours they grilled Gregory on points of the law, recovering much of what was on the exam to see if he knew it by heart or had carried a concealed crib sheet into the exam. Even those who hated the younger man, those who found him threatening, had to admit that he had a strong grasp on legal concepts.

The chancellor smiled, "Congratulations, Mr. Richards. I'm sorry for the manner in which this was handled. I am relieved however that I will never have to face you in a courtroom." He nodded and Gregory Richards, attorney-at-law, walked out of the room.

Chapter 8
Felicity Ascot pretended she was there to show her brother support. Truthfully she couldn't stand him. Yes, his passing the bar would open doors and possibly push them to a better position financially, but she hated that he was a success. It only magnified her own failures. Not that Felicity couldn't do better in school if she was interested. The fact was she hated it. She had no desire to secure a degree and wouldn't have gone at all except that her father's will had stipulated she was only to receive her monthly stipend as long as she was in school. What she was really interested in were the other young men who would be there, particularly those whose fathers hadn't managed to gamble away the family fortune. She was disappointed to hear that young Richards had failed the exam. She had found him rather attractive and had spent a great deal of time insinuating herself into his life. He had seemed promising. Everyone was certain he would go far... Now she found she had wasted her time. Well, she'd just have to see if one of the other recent graduates couldn't be charmed into sharing his pending fortune with her...

When Gregory walked into the bar, heads turned and conversations stopped. No one had expected him to show up at the celebration. Not after having failed the exam... They were even more shocked when he casually strolled to the bar and ordered champaign for everyone. Timothy Prescott, a multi-failee himself, strode over. "That's right generous of you, Richards... I didn't expect to see you here... Me, I'm always looking for an excuse to party. Fail or pass, this is a tradition for me. But you..." He shrugged, amused that he had just put the ever so arrogant Richards in a catagory with himself. He knew Richards looked down on him for his failure, even if the younger man was always polite.

Gregory smiled and quietly pulled an envelope from his pocket, "Well, I believe this was a party to celebrate the entrance into the legal community all those who had recently been added to the state bar."

Prescott frowned and opened the envelope. It contained Gregory's exam results and the glass almost slipped from his hand. The scores were unbelievable... He looked up at Gregory, stunned and respecting the man despite himself, "Welcome to the party...."

Del had heard the exam results were out. The celebration parties were always a good time. Especially when some of the social climbing females had a little too much to drink and could no longer distinguish between promising young lawyer and casual observer. Any man in the area was able to pass himself off as a chance as an upper rung on the social ladder. Not that Del needed the charade himself to attract females, but it was amusing to wonder what the poor woman must think in the morning when she woke up with a hangover next to the service station attendant. What Del was interested in was the lawyers. Many of them would be starting businesses, or representing thse already established. Del wanted those contacts. He needed them. And so he was always there, to congratulate the men he hoped would make him rich. And so, he left the house and went down to the bar.
Olivia looked around, annoyed. Finally.. Finally she had a weekend off. And what did everyone do? They left... Bette was out with her new boyfriend, the intern... Elaine was away with AJ. That hurt more than anything. She knew AJ was interested in her, but she'd blown it. Of course he was with Elaine. Olivia certainly hadn't been available. She'd been too concerned with working extra hours in an effort to earn enough money to buy the things she thought she'd need to really attract AJ's attention. Real good, Liv. So you can buy a new dress. Lot of good that will do while AJ and Elaine watch the sunrise over the lake. She sat on the couch, a scowl on her face.
Felicity smiled. Gregory Richards... So, he had passed after all. And not only passed but, from the buzz that was quickly spreading through out the celebration, he had practically aced the exam. She quickly disengaged herself from the already drunk Andrew Wallace and made her way over. "Congratulations, Gregory... I was just heartbroken when they said you hadn't made it. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what could have happened. I wouldn't have been here at all if it weren't for my dear brother... I so wanted to come find you. Now I'm glad I was here, so we can celebrate together...."

Gregory smiled. He hated Felicity. She was so fake. She was, however, incredibly attractive. And she had social standing. He was smart enough to realize what she was after. They would make a logical pair. He would provide her with the money her father had squandereed and she would provide him entrance into the best homes. If only he didn't want to choke her after spending more than a few hours in her company... Tonight, however, he was feeling generous. He slid his arm around her waist, "Then let's get started celebrating..."

Del for once found the party boring. Gregory Richards was the center of attention as the girls tried to catch his eye and the guys questioned him concerning what had happened with the test results. Del couldn't get even the most ambitious of the young lawyers to discuss business with him. And the girls.. Anyone worth spending time with knew exactly were to be, fighting Felicity for Gregory's attention. He looked at his watch. Olivia would be home by now. At least he could have someone here. And maybe he could introduce her to someone that would prove profitable to them both... He walked out, unnoticed.

Olivia glanced up from her book when the door opened. "Del! Thank God. I am so utterly bored..."

"Well, my love, I am here to rescue you. Quickly.. Run upstairs and get yourself changed. Put on the most... Forget it, let me pick something out." He grabbed her hand and drug her upstairs.

"Del, I am perfectly capable of dressing myself!"

"Shut-up, Olivia. You have to look just right..."

"For what? And don't tell me to shut up."

Del ignored her as he pulled a dress from the closet and held it up, "Well.. It would be nice if it had a bit more cleavage, but I guess it will do. Now go, change..." He pushed her toward the bathroom.

Olivia was too relieved to be going out to argue. She went quickly and changed then came out, "Shoud I put my hair up?"

Del looked at her, lifted her hair and then let it fall, pulling it around her face. "No.. But I wish you had let it grow..."

"I'm starting to wonder what you are up to..." She frowned.

"Olivia... Don't you trust me?" Del grinned. He was answered with a knowing look that said he was the last person on Earth Olivia was liable to trust. He didn't care. He just shoved her towards the door. She did look great. She always did. Perhaps, just perhaps this evening would prove profitable after all. Maybe Olivia could even get everyone's attention off of Gregory Richards for a few moments....

Chapter 9