Excerpt from The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Opposite of Everyone

by Joshilyn Jackson

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson X
The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2016, 352 pages

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    Oct 2016, 352 pages

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That got his attention. Birdwine lived pretty strapped. He put a long, level gaze on me and said, "Will you stop with the muffins and the urgent, breathy letters?"

"Absolutely," I said.

"Actually, send muffins anytime you want. I got no problem with muffins. But you need to stay on your side of town. Have one of your minions email me the files, and use a reasonable title, like 'Here is a case for you.' I'll send you my results back in an email titled 'Here are my results.' How does that sound?"

Shitty and untenable in the long term, actually, but I said, "If that's what it takes to get you back on my team," which was the truth. Just not the whole truth.

I couldn't work with Birdwine at a distance. Not indefinitely. I needed to see him on the regular; his binges happened at random intervals, but the signs of an impending one were cumulative. Today, right now, he could be months from breaking. The eye-rubbing, the little taps at his temple, these could simply be the stress of this unpleasant conversation. He could go in the house and not eye- rub or tap or drink himself into ugly oblivion for weeks and weeks. On the other hand, if the signs repeated and intensified, they were harbingers of an imminent disappearance that could leave me stranded at my deposition.

"Damn, but you're pushy, lady. I'd forgotten that, too," he said, and now he was laughing outright. "Okay. All right. Let's get this clear— I'm not on your team. I'm doing a job for you because you're paying me a stupid amount of money."

"Good enough," I said. It was a foot back in his doorway, and once I had a foot in, well, he was right. I was pretty damn pushy.

"I take it you need a fast turnaround?"

Birdwine asked. His hand, resting flat on the folder, almost covered it. Outside of his physical presence, it was easy to forget how large the gods had framed him: big hands, big feet, long thick thigh bones, massive wrists.

"I have to depo this guy on the twenty- fourth. Right now, I have zero leverage."

"How low can I go?" Birdwine asked, limbo style.

"Low as you like," I said. "This is a straight- up BANK case." BANK was my acronym, and it stood for "both assholes, no kids." BANKs were the best. They were lucrative, and I could fight as dirty as I liked without helpless teenagers or toddlers wandering into the crossfire. When there were kids, or if the client was a dear and tender soul, I had to move carefully, try to minimize the damage.

"Excellent," Birdwine said. He liked low roads just fine, but he shared my soft spot for little pawns caught sideways in divorce. It was another reason we worked so well together. "What am I looking for?"

"Sex," I said, with certainty.

Before I met Bryan Skopes, I knew just by looking at his file that he had more than earned the A in BANK. Sure, he was in the Rotary Club, and he served on the finance committee at his church. He made sure his aging father was well cared for. He no doubt thought of himself as a "good person." Most people do.

But his first wife got no alimony and her child support was a pittance, though she was raising the two daughters he rarely saw. His second wife was fifteen years his junior. She'd worked for him as a receptionist, which further weighted the relationship. I didn't see a "good person." I saw a narcissist with a sex- and- power complex fueled by a genuine disdain for women.

Meeting Skopes in the flesh had both confirmed and lowered my opinion. The stealthy look I'd clocked him running over me— it wasn't like a hungry man with empty pockets gazing at a buffet with no hope of more than a whiff. This had been the eye- flick of a sated gourmand, one who was getting well fed on the regular. That glance had been insulting, but not for having sex in it. It was insulting because he clearly felt entitled to it. He thought he had the upper hand in the negotiations, and that power differential turned him on more than my body. It made the righteous in his indignation ring false.

Our client was an asshole, too, no question. But even assholes deserve fair representation, especially when up against an equal and opposing asshole. In this case, I'd lucked into the lesser of two evils. Daphne was still evil, just lesser. Sure, Bryan Skopes thought of women as commodities, and sure, he had bought Daphne. But to be fair, she'd consented. I couldn't respect her; I didn't like her; it didn't matter. So she had sold herself— well, I was her lawyer. My job was to make Skopes finish paying for her.

"You mean a mistress?"

Birdwine asked. I shook my head. "Don't waste time hunting for a romantic meeting of true minds. Look lower— this guy has got the secret nasty oozing out his pores."

This was how we worked together; I found the weak spots, then I pointed Birdwine straight at them and shot him. Together we had many more hits than misses. If I was right, and if Birdwine could catch him, Skopes would have to dial down the accusing, wounded tone and bring something much more substantial than a car title to the table.

"I'm on it. We done?" Birdwine asked.

"Yeah. Thanks, Birdwine," I said.

"Please, call me Zachary." He gave me the close- lipped version of his smile, bland and insincere.

"Heh, I see what you did there." When he first started working for me, he'd told me only his ex- wife called him by his first name, and she'd remarried ten minutes after their divorce was final. These days she was living down in Florida, too busy squeezing out babies and pretending he was dead to call him anything. "I'll stay out of your way." I didn't add, for now.

He got out. I drove off to get some dinner, my worries about Skopes v. Skopes already fading. If Birdwine stayed sober, then this problem was already solved.

I wasn't sure he would stay sober, though. I became less sure as days passed with no word. Still, I stayed cool. Skopes and his lawyer, Jeremy Anderson, had been playing the delay game for months now. I could delay right back until Birdwine came through or until I found another way to break Skopes.

On February fourteenth, I stayed late researching a tricky precedent. By the time I finished, it was past eleven. I closed my computer down and got out my checkbook. I wrote Cash on the line that said Pay to the order of. My mother's legal name was Karen Vauss, but I had no idea what name Kai was floating in her current incarnation. I signed the check and ripped it from the book.

I put it in an envelope from my personal stationery— plush cream- colored paper with Paula Vauss and the address of my midtown loft engraved in dark burnt brown. I scrawled Kai's PO box number in Austin on the front and sealed it.

I sent her a check on the fifteenth of every month, both a ritual and my only form of communication with my mother for a decade and a half now.

It was my way of asking, Are we square yet?

Cashing it was her answer: You still owe me.

I paused before I threw it in my outbox, even though I had plans to meet up with a guy I knew. We were going to hook up at precisely 12:01, once Valentine's Day was safely over. Still, I lingered. I could let Verona send my paper proxy out with the rest of the mail, let it ask its monthly question, right on schedule. Or I could run it through the shredder.

I toyed with this choice every month. What would Kai do, if it simply didn't come? Silence might settle in between us, and I'd know I'd finally paid enough for nailing her gypsy feet down, stealing almost a decade of her freedom. Silence sounded close enough to peace for me to let it count. Either that, or she'd show up on my doorstep, demanding to cut a pound of flesh out of my body.

Not for the first time, I wondered what would happen if I got more aggressive. What if I mailed Kai a note instead? I pulled a legal pad toward me, then sat staring at it. Minutes passed, and the paper stayed word free. I needed to go home and change and feed Henry before my date. By now he would be marching up and down the stairs from the great room to the lofted bedroom, impatient for his wet food, but still I sat there, staring down at the blank page.

Finally I closed my eyes and felt my hand begin to move the pen against the paper. I wrote out the essential question, blind: What will it take to make us square?

When I looked at the words, I could see they were too blunt, too bald. Worse, they admitted culpability. I scratched them out and wrote instead: You named your kid for Kali, so what the fuck did you expect? You got exactly what you asked for.

That sounded more like me, but it wasn't at all mend- y. Well, making amends was not my forte; any fortes I had lay in the entirely opposite direction. I could break things in a thousand ways— anything from surgical dismantling as meticulous as bomb squad work to wrecking ball–style mass destruction. If I broke a thing, it stayed broke. If I broke one of my things, I lived with pieces or replaced it. I tore the page off and crumpled it up. I shot it at the wastebasket in the corner, and I nailed it for a cool three points. Screw it. I put the check in my outbox and, as always, setting it in motion was a relief. Kai was paid, so for a week or two, I could push her from my mind. Soon enough, she'd creep back in, making me feel faintly itchy until I wrote out her next check.

As I stood to go, I heard the ding of an email landing in my inbox. It was from Birdwine, titled just as he had promised: "Here are my results." Safe bet he wasn't asking me to be his valentine. What else was new? I sat back down and opened it. The body of the email said only, Yep, you called it. There were two attachments.

I opened the first and found a hefty, hefty bill. Heftier than I had expected. The next attachment was a PowerPoint file. I started clicking through the slides.

There was Bryan Skopes, seen from above, but still recognizable. He was good-looking in a blunt- faced, former frat boy way, but with too much scotch and too many fried oysters gathering in the paunches under his eyes and around his waist. He stood in a thicket of evergreen azaleas with a hollow heart. The bushes made a room that was well screened on all sides, but roofless.

The photos had been taken from above, and as far as I could tell, Birdwine had panthered his way very high up into a tree that overhung the thicket. He could have broken his neck, but he got the money shots: Bryan Skopes was not alone. A friend with magenta hair knelt in front of him, her face jammed between his legs. As the images progressed, his spine flexed back and his round, florid face tipped up. His mouth fell open, slack. His eyes were closed, or he might have made eye contact with Birdwine. I grinned at the thought; wouldn't that have been so disconcerting?

Near the end, I came to a slide that made me stop clicking forward through this common, sordid story. In this shot, the girl was still on her knees, but she was looking up at Skopes. Her face was round and smooth, fat- cheeked as a baby's, and the skin under her eyes was unlined and faintly pink. I felt a lemony trickle of something sour and sharp enter my blood. She was so young. Fifteen, maybe.

In the next slide, she was standing while Skopes packed himself away. In the next, their hands were touching, palm to palm as he passed her the money. The sour trickle in my blood became sharper and more acidic. So I was right twice: Skopes was cheating, and he liked his sex with an ugly power differential. This poor kid was so young and fresh she didn't know to get paid first. Another month of street living will fix that, I thought, and for once, being right didn't make me feel good.

I looked at her baby cheeks, her downturned mouth, and it was as if I knew her.

Hell, I could have become her. I knew girls who had become her, back when I was in foster care. Sometimes I still dreamed that I had fallen off the world with them. I would tip into sleep and find myself walking right off Earth's secret, jagged edge. I would hurtle past the world turtle, past Joya who tumbled limp and silent, past Candace who reached for me with needy-greedy eyes. Past everything, into an endless nothing. Not even stars.

I could have ended up exactly like this girl in Birdwine's slides, with her hennaed hair and her cheeks still full of baby fat. I could have spent my days crouched and shivering on my knees for some asshole standing in azaleas, and all at once, going after Bryan Skopes felt personal. I was no longer working only on behalf of Daphne. She was my client, which meant I'd bring my A game, sure—but I wasn't fond. Daphne was standard trophy wife material. Her main interests were grooming and toning so she could be attractive at cocktail receptions. She was blank and selfish and more than a little boring.

I had no doubt that Daphne had driven past plenty of girls like this magenta-haired creature. They were common enough in Atlanta. This kid was one of a thousand strung- out runaways all over the city, unwilling or unready to be salvaged, getting by in whatever way she could.

I felt certain Daphne had never once thought to buy a girl like this a sandwich or offer a ride to a shelter. But I also knew my client had never taken a kid like this into the bushes, used her like a Kleenex, and then handed her a wad of greasy money. I felt myself shifting from professional advocate to my own self, playing for my own stakes. If I had my way entirely, Skopes would go to prison and learn firsthand how hard life could be on the knees.

It wasn't feasible, and not only because it was against my client's interests. This girl he'd used was smoke, already gone. Maybe Birdwine could find her, given time and money, but she wasn't going to testify or press charges. I knew her kind.

So what I had left was hitting Bryan Skopes hard in the money sack, in his misapplied belief in his own good personhood, and most of all, in his gloating love of power over women. I could make him bend over for Daphne and for me. The very idea made my spine feel longer. I could feel myself growing taller. I ran my tongue over my teeth, hungry for next week's scheduled depo. How much had Skopes given to that girl? I wished I could see the money clearly. A couple of twenties? A fifty? I didn't know the going rate, but this I did know: Skopes was going to pay more than he'd ever thought for that one-off in the bushes.

I closed the PowerPoint and forwarded a copy to my partner Nick with a note: Can we get Daphne in here this week? I need to prep her.

I went to PayPal to send Birdwine the full amount of the bill from my own account, instantly, plus a sizable bonus. It would be a paperwork ass-pain to get reimbursed, but I wanted the speed to resonate with him. Usually his invoices had to go through Verona.

In the message box I typed, Thanks for the dirty pictures—better than a box of chocolates, but then I erased it. I barely had him back working for me. It was too soon to try for our old combative- flirty banter. I tried, See why I can't do without you, Birdwine? but that read too personal. After a moment's thought, I changed it to See why I can't do without you, Zachary?

Still too personal; he'd been very clear, in the car. I sent it blank, then started a fresh email with a different case file attached. I typed in, This guy's discovery is BS. He's hiding money. My bet? In something artsy- fartsy like sculpture or wine. Find it? Regular rates. I hit send and waited.

Excerpted from The Opposite of Everyone by Tom Jackson. Copyright © 2016 by Tom Jackson. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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