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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

December 25, 2007

On Christmas afternoon, at around two thirty, Karen pretended to believe Howard’s claim that he had left some important documents at the office. As soon as he had departed, no doubt to deliver the same diamond bracelet to Meg Atkins he had handed to her over brunch, she hailed her own cab and headed to Julliard at Lincoln Center. The day was overcast and cold, and the stars and musical notes that adorned the gigantic Christmas tree in Milstein Plaza had already been lit.

Karen walked around the Plaza pausing successively at the long white Julliard building, at Avery Fisher Hall, and at the Metropolitan Opera House. She wandered back to Julliard and stood in front, taking in every detail. “I could have been here,” she thought. “I should have been here.”

She found a place to sit. Even if it was cold and dreary, she wanted to be where music was learned and performed on this day when she felt as if she were the most alone person on earth.

* * *

November-December, 1994

He had come to her. As warm November lazed, day by day, under the autumn California sun toward mild December, Carrie marveled at the miracle of his presence in her world. At the office, she lost focus as she tried to read the dry documents that were her professional life.

At night, after hearing his last set at the club, they would talk and make love in his loft so late that she would sleep through the alarm. She would wake to the heavenly smell of eggs and bacon and the realization he would be hurt if she didn’t stay for breakfast although she was already hours late for work; and she knew Alan was waiting impatiently in front of her empty office.

She avoided what was staring her in the face: the natural rhythm of his life was far different from hers. He worked when she slept and slept when she worked. When he pulled her back into bed on weekdays for more lovemaking, she was painfully aware of putting her career in jeopardy. But she took the risk. Her need for Stan ran like fire in her veins. Her entire waking day was consumed by measuring the minutes they were apart.

Karen looked around Milstein Plaza in the gray December afternoon light and thought of how, in those early days with Stan, she had struggled to find time to practice flute. Being with him had awakened the music of her soul, and she longed to play for hours on end the way she once had.

But time squeezed her dry. She struggled to keep up her billable hours and be with Stan as much as possible. Every night, she counted the minutes until she could leave the office and slip into her usual place at the club. She knew he was waiting for her. She had to be there. She wanted to be there. She couldn’t let him down. And so, playing her own music, once again slipped down the priority list in her life. After all, he was the real musician. By her decision, she had made herself the amateur. Being close to Stan would simply have to be enough to fulfill her own creative needs. She didn’t have time for more.

They had spent their first Christmas tucked away in a cozy blue and white suite at Aynsley House, an exquisite bed and breakfast in an old Victorian gingerbread in Napa. Karen had wanted to give Stan a memorable Christmas gift that would take them out of their ordinary routines. They arrived on Christmas Eve to find two iced champagne flutes next to a huge four poster where rose petals had been scattered in a heart on the blue and white comforter. For those four days, she and Stan had dressed only when they went to the dining room for dinner. The rest of the time they made love – in the four poster, in the gigantic oval Jacuzzi tub, or in front of the fire. Stan’s craving for her seemed insatiable. On Christmas morning, he gave her a small gold trumpet on a fine gold chain.

At the time, Carrie Moon had seen nothing amiss in those four days, and she had wanted them to go on forever. But twelve years later, Karen Morgan at Milstein Plaza, eyes fixed on Julliard, knew the warning sign she had missed. A cloud had crossed Stan’s face on Christmas Eve at check-in at Ansley House when she had pulled out her American Express card to cover the bill.

* * *

A week later, on New Year’s Eve the club was full, not only with couples, but with an array of gorgeous women in gold, silver, and black sequined gowns. One group in particular that Carrie dubbed the Table of Eight waved and smiled and blew kisses to Stan all night long. And as the evening wore on, he never took his eyes off them. He seemed to be playing just for them.

Harry had reserved her usual spot close to the stage, and when Kristin wasn’t singing, she joined Carrie. As the second set began, Kristin leaned over and whispered, “Is everything ok with you two?”

“I thought so when we left home,” she whispered back. She wished Kristin hadn’t said anything, so that she could have gone on pretending Stan’s attention to the other women was just her imagination. He was an entertainer, she reassured herself; he was merely playing to his audience.

But something worse than flirtation appeared at eleven thirty. Carrie felt the cool rush of air as the back door opened, and she turned to see Lara Beaumont in body-hugging cobalt blue, one-shouldered satin. Stan’s eyes riveted on her face. She smiled and waived slightly as she looked around for a table. The only empty spot was at Carrie’s, so she slid into that seat, whispering, “I hope you don’t mind. Stan said to come by if I finished early at the Hyatt.”

Stan said to come by. The words hit Carrie’s heart like five lead bullets. He’d been talking to Lara. When? Not while she’d been at the loft; but she was at work a good part of every day.

Lara had just barely sat down when Stan summoned her to the stage to sing with him. Carrie saw Harry frown slightly at Kristin, who shrugged in return.

For the next half hour, she worked to keep a pretend smile on her face, masking her disappointment as Stan and Lara worked their way through “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Memories,” “I Can’t Get Started,” and “New York, New York.” Carrie watched the approach of midnight uneasily. Lara was all over Stan. If he gave her the first kiss of the New Year, Carrie knew her heart would break.

As the giant clock Harry had placed on stage began to chime midnight, he began “Auld Lang Syne” at the piano. Stan played along, while Kristin and Lara sang. The entire audience joined in. Carrie held her breath when the song ended. Kristin leaned over the piano to kiss Harry; and predictably, Lara reached for Stan. But he turned away, his eyes on Carrie in the audience.

She was so relieved she couldn’t stand up for a few seconds. Stan left the stage and came down to give her a kiss. “Happy New Year,” he smiled. Behind him, she could see Lara’s deeply disappointed face.

“Happy New Year,” she said and added one more kiss of her own.

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel,Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

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