And so for the next week, Karen Moon was back at Jazz By the Bay every night except Sunday when the club was dark. At work, she struggled to concentrate on the dry financial forms piled on her desk. She much preferred to picture Stan on stage in his white dinner jacket, eyes locked on hers as he played.
She grew to hate the bright October sunlight streaming through the glass walls of her office because it relentlessly reminded her hour after hour that she could not see Stan until dark. She longed for eight o’clock when the firm would be empty of everyone except the night secretaries, the janitors, and the associates trying to impress the partners with their super-human billables. At eight, she could slip into the ladies’ room and change into the demure black cocktail dress she had bought at Nordstrom on that first Friday afternoon after Alan assigned her spying mission She had been tempted by the plunging necklines that the Table of Four favored; but, in the end, she was afraid of appearing too obviously in competition with them.
Her dress was knee length, with a modest V neckline; but she added a set of very long and expensive rhinestone earrings to give it glamour. She bought body glitter to sweep over her throat and shoulders and silvery eyeshadow to highlight her eyes.
When she had transformed herself each night from Karen-the-Lawyer into Karen-the-Woman, she headed to Seaport Village, hoping for the most distant parking spot in the lot, so she could walk longer with Stan after the show. She loved hurrying along the Village’s winding paths, lit by the hundreds of white fairy lights, knowing she was leaving the real world and heading into an enchanted land full of possibilities.
On Saturday, following her week of nightly appearances at Jazz By the Bay,
Stan walked her out into the cool October night just after midnight and said, “Want to walk by the Bay for a little?”
“Let me put my horn in the car.”
He unlocked the trunk of a pristine red ‘65 Mustang and placed his trumpet bag carefully inside. He started to put his white dinner jacket in, too; but noticed Karen shivering slightly in the night breeze.
“Here, put this around your shoulders.”
The jacket still carried the warmth and smell of Stan’s skin. Karen felt a hard, stab of pure desire as he draped it around her and took her hand, leading her down the path toward the water. The moon was full, and its silver light was almost as bright as daylight.
He looked over at her with his mischievous smile. “Like the show?”
“You’re going to have to pick a new favorite tune. People are beginning to think I like you.”
“And do you?” She echoed his bantering tone, but her stomach tightened as she waited for the answer.
“A little.” His eyes still twinkled, but his voice reflected his discomfort at being asked. As they turned down the path that wound by the Bay, he moved the conversation in a different direction. “You don’t seem like a ‘Karen’ to me.”
“What should my name be, then?”
He stopped and studied her face in the moonlight. For a moment she thought he might kiss her, but he turned back to the path and began to walk again. “Carrie,” he said. “You look like a Carrie.”
Her stomach tightened again. Why did the moment when he decided not to kiss her feel like rejection? And yet, why did the next moment when he guessed her name feel so intimate? “I used to be Carrie,” she offered.
“All my life, until I went to law school.”
“Where you Carrie when you studied music at Boston University?”
“Yes. What made you remember that?”
“BU is an impressive music school. What was your instrument?”
He looked down at the hand he held and smiled ironically. “Flute fingers. I should have known.”
They walked in silence for a few moments. Then Stan said, “Why did you decide to become someone else?”
“I was afraid to go on being Carrie Moon.”
“Because she wanted to be a musician. She wanted to go to Julliard after college, and she was accepted.”
“So why didn’t she go?”
“Because she was afraid.”
Carrie stopped and studied the yachts bobbing on the moon-streaked water as she remembered the day she had put the letter in the mail telling Julliard she wasn’t coming. “All through college, my parents kept insisting music wasn’t a reliable career. I majored in music to please myself and in accounting to please them. Just before I graduated, I auditioned for graduate school in music and applied to law school. I got into Julliard and Harvard.”
“And you picked Harvard?”
“My parents were killed in a car accident just after I got the acceptances. Honestly, the three of us were never all that close. They were so busy struggling to pay the bills every month, they didn’t have much time left over for me. But when they died, I was suddenly weighed down by how alone I was. And I kept thinking about how much they had wanted me to have a career outside of music.”
“So you let someone else choose your life?”
“That sounds so harsh, but in a way a I did. Still, my decision to leave music was not entirely because of them. Have you ever wanted something so badly you were sure you could never have it?”
“A career in music was like that for me. I wanted to play so much it hurt. But I was so afraid I’d fail if I tried to be a professional musician. I was afraid I wasn’t talented enough.”
“So you couldn’t fail if you didn’t try?”
“Or I failed because I didn’t try.”
“Didn’t you miss music?”
“All the time. I promised myself I’d practice every day. I didn’t mean to ever stop playing. But law school was overwhelming. Gradually, days went by when I never opened the case. I kept telling myself I could go back whenever I wanted. But deep down, I knew it was a lie.”
“But still, Harvard law.” She could see the idea intimidated him and put space between them.
She felt the now familiar flicker of fear that any sign of rejection produced. “Don’t be impressed. The way you play is a much bigger deal than going to Harvard. Where did you study?”
Stan shrugged. “Here and there. I grew up in a bunch of different foster homes in San Diego. My father split just after I was born. My mother struggled to keep me until I was five. Then she handed me over to Social Services and never came back.”
They had come to a bench, facing the bay. Stan pulled her down beside him. She wanted him to put his arm around her or take her hand, but he didn’t. He stared at the waves dancing in the silver light. “I picked up the trumpet when I was nine. The elementary school had a beginner band, and my foster father had played the trumpet. He let me take the instrument with me when I went to the next family.”
“How many homes were you in?”
“Five. Or was it six? I’d have to count up.”
“But somewhere you learned to play like that.”
He smiled. “I got a paper route to pay for my lessons. And I went to UCLA for a year. But I was getting gigs by then, and I thought I needed the money more than the stuff they were teaching me. I saved up and took lessons from Jimmy Stamp and Claude Gordon. You know who they are, right?”
She nodded. “So why aren’t you still in L.A?”
A shadow crossed his face. “I was there for about twelve years, mostly playing in a lot of rock and roll bands and looking for better gigs. Four years ago, my wife died. Harry knew I needed a change of scene, so he offered me a regular spot here at the club.”
Karen reached out and put her hands over his which were clenched together in his lap. He smiled but remained slightly away from her on the bench, shoulders hunched, eyes fixed on the water. “I’m sorry about your wife.”
“Thanks. We had six great years. I met her in Vegas after a gig. She was a dancer. I was twenty-five; she was twenty-one. Three months later, we got married.”
“Crystal meth. She started using during the last two years we were married. I didn’t like it. I’ve always stayed away from the people in this business involved in drugs. I wish to God Deanna had. Anyway, she told me she’d stopped using, but I came home on Christmas Eve after playing a party in Beverly Hills and found her dead.”
Karen squeezed his tightly interlocked fingers again, but he still did not respond. He looked at her, his eyes masked, apparently oblivious to having rejected her comfort.
He said, “Don’t think about getting involved with me.”
The now familiar flicker of panic shot through Karen, but she kept her voice devoid of emotion. “Why not?”
“Because I won’t fall in love with you. Or with anyone else for that matter. Losing Deanna hurt too much. And, besides, attachments don’t work out for me. I learned that growing up. As soon as I’d get attached to my foster family, they’d send me away.”
“What if I stay around?”
“Don’t. You’ll just get hurt.”
His final rejection stung, and Karen felt tears begin to well up. She looked out at the bay and concentrated on making them go away, so he wouldn’t notice.
He pulled her to her feet. “Hey, it’s late. I’ll walk you to your car.”
The return trip was devoid of the magic Karen had felt earlier. She continued to struggle to keep her emotions in check. Beside her, Stan was silent.
He took her key and opened her door. He was in a hurry for the evening to end. She slid behind the wheel, wondering miserably if she would ever see him again. She couldn’t go back to the gray life she had led before he came into it.
Stan closed her door and stepped back. “Take care driving home. See you around.”
“Thanks for tonight.” She started the engine and backed out of the parking space, fighting the urge to stop and jump out and beg him not to shut her out of his life. She drove away, tears streaming down her cheeks.