She had freed herself from Howard, who was deep in conversation with the head of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, and had wandered over to the bar for a glass of champagne. She had thought Stan would come to see her after the first set, but he didn’t. As the musicians’ break stretched to half an hour and a rising tide of disappointment began to seep into her heart, she reminded herself she had never been able to predict him.
The band was on stage again. He was deep in conversation with the two singers, his back to her, and his arms around their shoulders. They were laughing and flirting, and Karen felt as if he meant for her to see that he could still attract twenty-somethings at age forty-eight. But they don’t love you, she said softly to herself. And I – No, some things were better left in the past. And thinking about Stan, even being in the same room with him, was playing with fire. She couldn’t forget that Carrie was dead, and better for Karen Morgan that she stayed that way.
Karen put down the champagne glass and went back to stand dutifully by Howard, who was now engaged with Alan Warrick in a discussion of the litigation section’s place as the top revenue generator for the firm for the fourth year in a row. Alan gave her his minimal smile and his ususal when-are-you-going-to-get-off-that-bench-and-come-back- to-us-question. Karen took some satisfaction because he meant it. She had been the top grossing partner in corporate when she left. The cut in income had driven Howard crazy.
The music began again, and Stan was out front with an aggressive solo in “Black Magic Woman.” The singers never took their eyes off him, and she wondered which one he was sleeping with.
* * *
Karen went home to her condominium on the night of her conversation by the water with Stan, and tossed and turned in her cold bed until dawn. She was miserably jealous of Deanna, whom he had loved so much; and she was deeply hurt that he had warned her away. Before the sun rose, she admitted she was already in love with him.
At five a.m., she got out of bed and opened the closet. She reached to the top shelf, took down her flute and opened the case. Within a few seconds, the soft strains of the first movement of the Ibert Flute Concerto soothed her. Her fingers were clumsy and her mouth and tongue stiff, but she continued to play until her muscles were exhausted. Then she sat in the soft light of early dawn, holding the instrument while tears rolled down her cheeks.
On Sunday, she wandered the beach and considered whether she should return to Jazz By the Bay on Monday night. She honestly wasn’t sure how well Harry was doing financially. Some nights, the club was full; on others, she knew he didn’t break even. She needed to go back for another week or two to get a fair impression. She just didn’t have enough information to tell Alan Warrick on Monday that the place was ripe for picking by Waterfront Development. Although more than likely it was.
As she walked by the windy, bottle green Pacific that Sunday, she pictured Stan on stage with Harry and Kristin. All of their lives depended on the club. If Waterfront Development turned them out, where would they go?
That wasn’t her problem, she reminded herself. In the world of Warrick, Thompson, a lawyer never considered the consequences of a client’s wishes. A Warrick, Thompson lawyer only accomplished what the client wanted. It was her partnership year. She knew better than to go soft on Stan and Harry Rich. She could cut the knot and walk away from this. The part of her that had let go of music thirteen years ago told her to heed Stan’s warning and not look back.
But she knew she couldn’t. On Monday night, around the usual eight p.m., she changed in the Warrick, Thompson ladies’ room and headed for the club. She was so nervous when she entered that her hands were sweating.
Stan was on stage with Harry and Kristin. They had just finished a number, and Stan made eye contact with her immediately. He nodded to Harry, and they broke into “I Can’t Get Started.” Relief washed over her and a surge of happiness. She hurried to her usual spot and ordered a red wine.
But at the break, Stan merely gave her a friendly nod as he worked the tables, pausing longer than usual at the Table of Four. She left at midnight before the set was finished and hurried back to the office to check the documents that had come out of the overnight secretarial pool.
For the remainder of the week, it was exactly the same. She arrived. Stan acknowledged her by playing her tune and then studiously ignored any personal contact at the break. By Friday morning, when Alan Warrick, who had been out of town all week, arrived in her office, she was ready to scream with frustration and disappointment.
“So Waterfront wants the scoop on Harry Rich.”
“How was New York?” she stalled.
“Cold. Hey, did you get bored and not go back? What gives with their financials do you think?”
I wish I had been bored, she thought. “No, I’ve been going, and they might be in pretty good shape. I need this weekend to tell.”
Alan stared at her, incredulous. “You can’t mean it. A place like that doesn’t break even!”
She shrugged. “Some do. When I was in college, I used to play at one in Boston that was quite profitable.”
“Oh, well, then.” Uncharacteristically, Alan conceded defeat to a higher level of knowledge. Karen noted his unusual deference with satisfaction. “Look, give me an answer by Monday, ok? Waterfront is in a hurry to find a reason to get him out of there.”
“I’ll let you know on Monday,” she agreed.
“Hey, you look sort of down,” Alan said. “I’ve got news that will cheer you up.”
“Burnett Biotech is going public, and we’re doing their Initial Public Offering.” He put a thick file on her desk. “We’re meeting with their representatives at three this afternoon.”
An IPO for a major client in her partnership year should have made Karen ecstatic. The money the deal would make for the firm would impress the partners, and they would have even more incentive to make her a partner. Instead, she felt trapped and miserable.
Her stomach sat in a tight knot for the rest of the day. She had Friday and Saturday night at Jazz By the Bay, and that was all. She tried to imagine a world in which she could no longer see Stan. And began to cry. She had to regain tight control over herself for the meeting with the Burnett executives that afternoon.
By six that Friday night, she had the Burnett documents ready for a first round in
the secretarial pool. But the Burnett accountants called at five after six and kept calling back until ten p.m. She tried to tell them they had weeks to get their numbers together, but they were nervous about their first public offering.
At eleven p.m., tired and disappointed, she went home to bed. Maybe a night off from Jazz by the Bay was what she needed. Maybe she wouldn’t go back on Saturday, and on Monday she’d just tell Alan to close them down.
On Saturday morning, she arrived at the office at seven thirty and tried to keep herself from thinking about Stan as she buried herself in the Burnett stock deal. But to no avail. By ten p.m., when she finally left the day’s documents in overnight secretarial, she headed for the club.
Her heart turned over when she walked in. It was Halloween weekend, and all of single San Diego was there. Every table was taken. And the Table of Four had become the Table of Six in very sexy costumes: three belly dancers, one Marie Antoinette with nearly exposed breasts, a leggy black cat in fishnets, and a Playboy Bunny. She looked down at her weekend work uniform of jeans, a tailored white silk shirt, and a tan fine-wale corduroy blazer and wondered if she should stay. But then, by some miracle, the group at her preferred table on the second row got up, and she hurried to her favorite seat before anyone else could take it.
As she gave the waitress her usual red zin order, she felt Stan’s eyes on her. He shared the stage with Harry at the piano, Kristin, and an alto sax player. He leaned over and whispered in Kristin’s ear and then turned to face the audience. Karen watched him set the mouthpiece in his careful, methodic way, his eyes fixed on her. and then “I Can’t Get Started” filled the nightclub.
For over an hour her heart soared as she listened. She watched his eyes rove over the audience, lingering often on the scantily clad Table of Six.
When the band broke at eleven thirty, he didn’t come into the audience. Karen’s heart sank as the next set began without any chance to speak to him. He had meant it: he didn’t intend to let her into his life. She downed the last of her wine and considered going back to the office. But alcohol and the Burnett accounting data wouldn’t be a good mix. She was already feeling the buzz. Besides she wanted to hear Stan play even if he was ignoring her. She ordered another glass of red zin. And then another.
The show ended at twelve-thirty. The club was still full of people, and they took their time leaving. Karen lingered at the back of the throng, so she could watch Stan on stage, putting away his instrument. She tried not to think this might be her last night to see him.
He kept his back to her as he emptied the valves and put his mouthpiece in its special pouch. “I’m hungry,” he said, his back still to her. “Want to get some dinner?”
By this time, other than a couple locking lips in the back, she was the sole person left.
“Are you talking to me?” The straw of her earlier despair suddenly spun into golden joy.
He turned, grinning mischievously.
“Well, I’m not talking to them.” Karen’s heart was beating so fast she thought he must be able to hear it even at that distance. His sudden shift from cold to warm was unsettling; but because he was opening to her again, she didn’t care.
At that moment, Harry walked onto the stage. “Hey, Stan. Great night. The cook wants to know if you want a steak before she closes up.”
He nodded. “And my friend Kay will have the same.” He gave her another impish smile as Harry headed for the kitchen.
Stan ignored the steps and jumped off the stage. He slid his hand under her elbow and guided her to an empty table. Harry came back with a glass of scotch for him and another red wine for Karen, then disappeared into the kitchen again.
Stan took a long drink and said, “Great costume.”
“What are you supposed to be exactly?”
“Looks kind of uptight to me. Why weren’t you here last night?”
“I had to work.” Karen’s heart smiled.
“A lot of it. I’m doing an Initial Public Offering for a client I can’t name until the deal goes public.”
Stan laughed. “So cloak and dagger. Well, if the stock’s any good when it comes out, maybe I’ll buy some.”
“I can’t give you any advice on that, otherwise you’d be guilty of insider trading.”
“Too bad.” He smiled. His eyes held hers. “I’m glad you’re here tonight.”
She tingled at the warmth in his voice. “Great show,” was all she could manage.
His dark eyes studied her face in the club’s low light. “I played it for you.”
She felt herself blush and hoped he didn’t notice. “Thanks.”
Stan kept his eyes on her, and her blush deepened as she met his gaze. “I’ve been thinking about you,” he said.
Harry appeared with plates of steak and steaming baked potatoes. The smell of grilled meat made her mouth water.
They ate in silence for a few minutes. Then Stan said, “You’re putting it away as if you aven’t eaten all day.”
“So are you,” she countered, and he laughed.
“But I’m a starving musician. People in your profession can afford three meals a day.”
“But we haven’t got time to eat them. I had a blueberry muffin from the vending machine when I got to work at seven thirty this morning. Lunch was a stale sandwich from the same machine.”
“Better go easy on the wine, then,” Stan advised as Harry set yet another glass by her plate. “Even this much food isn’t going to help if you’ve had that little to eat all day. Why so much work – and on Saturday?”
“It’s what places like Warrick, Thompson expect of people like me, who aren’t yet partners.”
“And when does that happen?”
“Next September. If everything goes well.”
“By goes well you mean what?”
“Just hits and runs. No errors. I have to make all the clients happy and make lots and lots of money for the firm.”
“And you’ve been doing that for what – five years?”
“Yes. And I have credit for the time I spent in New York. So I’m actually considered a tenth year associate.”
“Ten years since you left music?”
A shadow crossed Karen’s face. “No, thirteen Three years in law school.”
“And you’re not happy.”
“I – I don’t think about that very much.”
“What do you think about?”
She couldn’t tell the truth and say you. “Work, mostly. It expands to fill the time.”
“And you’re not happy,” he repeated. His eyes held hers, and she could tell that no matter what she said, he knew the truth. She felt as if he could look into her soul.
She was too hungry to eat slowly, yet she made every effort to prolong the time with him. He seemed to be lingering over his meal, too.
When they were finished, and Harry had cleared away the plates, Stan said, “Where’s your car?”
“In the lot next door.”
“I’ll walk you to it.”
Even as she smiled and thanked him, Karen’s heart sank. She didn’t want her time with him to end, yet.
The cool night air hit her hard. Her car and Stan’s were the only vehicles in the lot. He reached down and took her hand, and her heart began to race.
“Let me throw my horn in the car, and we’ll go walk by the bay for a little.”
She nodded, too happy to speak.
They started down the path they had taken a week ago, but Stan stopped at the first bench they came to and drew her down beside him. It was two thirty in the morning, and no one else was around.
He pulled her into his arms and held her head against his chest. Karen’s blood raced. This was the only place in the world she belonged. She wished he would kiss her, but he didn’t. As she cuddled against him, her eyes closed. He laid his cheek against her hair.
Stan held her for a long time, but it wasn’t long enough for Karen. Finally he dew away and looked down at her. He smiled as he pushed a stray wisp off her cheek.
She looked up. “You didn’t mean what you said, did you?”
“What did I say?”
“About not getting involved with you.”
“Your bun’s falling down.”
“Fine, let it. You didn’t mean it, did you?”
“You’ve had too much to drink, Carrie Moon.”
“Probably. Empty stomach. All that.” But she liked the dizzy feeling from the wine because she was close to him. She started to put her head against his chest again, but he held her away gently.
“Can’t sleep here, I’m afraid. And you definitely can’t drive home. Come on, I’ll take you back to my place. I have a loft at Fourth and G. Your car will be ok here overnight.”
Ten minutes later, she was leaning against Stan as the elevator in his building creaked to the fourth floor of the converted warehouse. When he opened the door and flicked on the light, she had a quick impression of a big, open room with exposed brick walls, sparsely furnished. She noticed a piano under one window.
He set his horn case on a table next to the front door, one arm still around her, and led her toward the partition that separated the bedroom from the living area.
“In here,” he said. “You can have the bed. I’ll sleep on the sofa.”
“No,” she protested. “Sofa’s fine.”
He laughed, as he removed her corduroy jacket and turned down the bed. “You’re cute when you’re drunk, Carrie Moon. But you’re sleeping right here. Lie down.”
Too sleepy to protest, she obeyed, hoping he wouldn’t make good on his promise to sleep elsewhere.
He leaned down and unzipped her jeans. “You’d don’t want to sleep in these.”
Obediently she let him pull them off. He paused, then, for a moment, as if he knew what else she wanted. His dark eyes held hers, and she reached up and put her arms around his neck.
He disentangled himself gently, kissing the top of her head as he pulled away and drew up the covers. “Not tonight, Carrie Moon.”
He turned out the light and went into the living room. She lay in the half-dark, awash in his strong, deep, masculine scent that permeated the sheets and blankets. She could hear him undressing. A few seconds later, he turned out the light, putting Carrie in total darkness. But only for a moment. Outside, a yellow street light glowed and then another yellow neon light throbbed off and on. As she watched the light come and go, she wondered what would happen if she got up and went to him. She ached to be close to him. But she was also warm and dizzy from the wine. Her limbs were heavy, and her eyelids kept fluttering shut no matter how hard she fought sleep to savor the smell of Stan that surrounded her.
She drifted off but came awake sometime later with a start. The alcohol haze had cleared, and she lay in the dark broken by the blinking yellow light, wondering for a moment where she was. Then she remembered. The clock radio on the beside table said four a.m. She peeled back the covers carefully and put her bare feet on the cold floor.
She tiptoed into the living room and approached the sofa quietly. Even though the room was chilly, Stan had tossed off the blanket that he had pulled over himself. He was sleeping on his back, in his white undershirt and shorts. He looked so vulnerable. Karen wanted to wrap her arms around him and hold him close and comfort him the way he had refused to let her when he had told her about Deanna’s death.
He stirred as she stood watching him and opened his eyes. “What’s wrong? Are you feeling sick?” He half sat up as he spoke.
Karen shook her head.
“Looking for the bathroom? It’s over there.” He pointed to a corner of the loft.
But she shook her head again. “I just woke up and wanted to know if you were here.”
He stood up and ruffled her hair affectionately. “Crazy girl. Where else would I be at four in the morning? Come on. Back to bed with you. We both need more sleep.”
She let him lead her back to the bedroom and tuck her in once more. Part of her thought he would stay, but the rest knew he wouldn’t. He kissed the top of her head and said, “Go back to sleep, Carrie Moon.” Then he turned and walked back into the living room. A minute later she heard the old sofa creak under his weight. Her lids fluttered, and she was asleep.