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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

December 24, 2007

At six p.m. on Christmas Eve, Karen Morgan once more stared at the bare, dark trees in Central Park as she waited in her empty suite at the Plaza for Howard to arrive. He had telephoned that he was on his way from the office, and he had reservations at seven at La Vache, a trendy French bistro ten blocks away. What was Stan doing that night, she wondered.

Knocking interrupted her thoughts. Why couldn’t Howard carry a key? He was such a baby: dependent on her, his secretary, his paralegal, and his junior associate. He was fully functional only in a court room.
To her surprise a messenger was standing at the door. He handed her a package that held two, blue Tiffany’s boxes and smiled. “Mr. Morgan wanted these delivered.”

“Thanks.” Karen took the package and sat down on the sofa in the living room. She pulled out identical boxes and stared at them for a moment. Howard never bought her more than one gift. She was too puzzled to wait for tomorrow. She’d act surprised when she opened them. Carefully she pulled the silver ribbon off of each one and looked inside. Identical diamond bracelets. Clearly one was meant for her, the other for someone else. But whom?

Probably Meg Atkins, the highly attractive blonde, twenty-eight-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears junior associate who was part of Howard’s litigation team. Apparently Meg didn’t mind spending Christmas helping Howard prepare for trial. Howard had mentioned that he had asked her and her husband to come to New York over Christmas because he needed Meg’s help. Karen wracked her brain to remember what the husband looked like. She’d seen him standing next to Meg at the Christmas party. He was about his wife’s age, an earnest, owlish tax attorney who worked in Warrick, Thompson’s pension planning section. Odds were he’d never know what the senior partner had given his wife for Christmas.

Karen had vague knowledge of Howard’s various affairs over the years, but this was the first hard evidence she had come across. She could confront him, but it would be pointless. He would deny it and claim the bracelet was to reward Meg’s hard work on the case. Even if she pointed out that it was professionally inappropriate, Howard would ignore her. He did what he wanted to do; he always had. What she wanted was inevitably irrelevant.

Besides, Karen thought as she wrapped the two boxes up again and put them back in the larger box they had come in, her feelings for Howard, if they had ever existed, had been extinct for years. The most horrible part of this discovery was not that Howard was sleeping with another woman. The horrible part was knowing down to the depths of her soul she didn’t care.

* * *

December 24, 2007

Stan lay in bed at two thirty a.m., wide awake. Terri had dropped off the minute her head hit the pillow. Thank God. He had been in no mood for sex that night.

They had played a Christmas party at the Hotel Del with Epic. Terri had looked daggers at Cat all night, and done everything possible to upstage her. In the process, she’d upstaged Marilyn, too. Bad move, he reflected. It was Marilyn’s band. At forty-five, she was highly sensitive to being shoved out of the spotlight by the twenty-somethings. Cat was smart enough to understand the politics and stay away from Marilyn’s toes. But Terri was determined to make her mark to impress Stan. She might not ever work Epic again.

He really hoped so. Marilyn had been so pissed she’d taken him aside during the first break to heap well-deserved blame on his head. Terri was his live-in. Why was he leading Cat on? Make up his mind, so the band drama would go away. Marilyn hated band drama.

Stan got up without waking Terri, who’d had too many pink martinis during the breaks. He went into the living room and slumped on the sofa. He looked around. The house was his, free and clear. He’d won it in Vegas on a lucky streak a few years back. He’d never expected to have a place of his own. He smiled because at last he actually had a home no one could kick him out of.

He knew he should tell Terri it was over. He looked at the sad, spare little Christmas tree slumped in the corner with a few presents underneath. Tomorrow wouldn’t be a good day for the news. But there was a deeper reason why he didn’t just tell her to pack and go.

When he’d met Terri, he’d become tired of the endless flow of women through the revolving door of his life. One night stands had gotten dull. The women on the chat lines predictably swooned over his profession and made conquest far too easy. He liked Terri’s spunk and determination to make it as a singer, and her complete oblivion to how cheap she actually was. He’d sworn he’d make it work even though he didn’t love her. Maybe even start a family. Well, no, not that. But he’d promised himself to stay with her, so he wouldn’t be alone.

He had never really been alone since he’d discovered how to charm women in his early twenties. And after he was widowed, they lined up to comfort him, each one determined to be “the one” to make him forget Deanna. But now he was sick of the compromise that Terri and all his relationships represented. He’d seen the real thing just a week ago. Tonight’s gig had been torture. Every time he’d looked into the crowd, he’d pictured Carrie’s face as she gazed up at him during the Warrick, Thompson party. And he’d have given twenty years of his life to see her in the crowd that night on Christmas Eve at the Del. What was she doing? He couldn’t imagine she’d been making love with that prick of a husband who likely couldn’t do it anymore anyway. Not wild, passionate Carrie Moon. She would never go to bed with a robot. Where did she live? He tried to imagine her house. She’d had a charming little condo in Del Mar back in their day. What had she created for herself and the prick? And then a thought so chilling swept through Stan, that he got up and went to the kitchen and poured himself a stiff scotch straight up. Children. He hadn’t asked if she and the robot had any. The thought split his heart in two.

How he hated Lara. No, it wasn’t her fault. He hated himself. He’d used Lara the way he was using Cat now. He knew his pattern, but he was powerless to stop himself. He couldn’t give in to love and lose control. If only he could, he’d have spent the last twelve years with Carrie.

* * *

November 1994

The phone woke him at ten a.m. on Sunday. Lara wanted to take him to brunch at Croce’s. She’d sung there the week before and had been paid with, among other things, a gift certificate.

He told himself seeing Lara would put Carrie out of his mind. But it didn’t. She seemed so plastic and artificial and cheap in her tank top and thigh high skirt, as she rubbed her legs against him under the table at every opportunity.

He managed to ditch her after the meal, pleading the need to practice. He walked by the bay for a while, but the ache in his heart didn’t ease. He tried practicing. That usually took his mind off of everything. But it didn’t. He kept seeing Carrie’s face looking up at him in the darkness of the club.

By three, he wondered if she were at work. He looked up Warrick, Thompson in the phone book and walked to the Emerald Shaprey Center, whose six hexagonal glass towers loomed over him and West Broadway, like an army of transparent Titans. The elevators in the marble lobby were guarded by a man in uniform who told him that Warrick, Thompson was on the twenty-sixth, twenty-fifth, and twenty-fourth floors. But off-limits until Monday morning.

Awed and intimidated by the corporate grandeur that separated his life from hers, he wandered back to his loft feeling tired and defeated. He’d screwed it up. He didn’t realize how much he’d miss her. And he didn’t know how to unscrew it.

When he pulled out the keys to his front door, the scrap of paper with her phone number fell out. It was worth a try.

She answered on the third ring. His heart was in his throat. “Carrie, it’s Stan. I thought you’d be at the office.”

“I was earlier in the day.” Voice flat. She wasn’t going to make it easy.

“Look, I’m sorry for the other night. It was a rotten thing to do. I miss you at the club. Harry misses you, too. Could we get together and talk?”

Silence. He struggled to keep his breathing even and the anxiety out of his voice.

“You mean now?”

“Well, it’s my only night off. If you’re not working, I mean.”

He could picture her eyes in thoughtful mode. Were they gray or green or that haunting mixture of color that defied a label?

“I’m at home. I’m tired. I’ve worked all weekend. If you want to come by, we could go for coffee.”
“You’re in Del Mar, right?”

“Yes.”

“Let me buy you dinner. I used to play a lot at Sambuco’s back in the day. The food’s good. We’ll get a bottle of wine and talk.”

“Ok.”

“Around six?”

“Sure.”

* * *

The condos were typical, coastal narrow stucco two-story buildings, directly on the ocean. Expensive, he thought. Hers was painted white, and he found her end unit without any difficulty. He followed the path from the parking lot to her front door but paused just outside. The haunting lilt of a flute playing Brazilian samba stopped him in his tracks. At first he thought it was a recording. But suddenly the tune shifted from throbbing syncopation to a passage from Mozart and the Magic Flute, and he realized she was the source. She was experimenting, he realized. And she was a damned good musician. Better than he had ever guessed.

He wanted to go on listening, but eavesdropping felt wrong. He rang the bell.

When she opened the door, she took his breath away. He had never seen her in anything but a suit or a cocktail dress. She was barefoot, wearing jeans and a white t-shirt and holding the flute in her long fingers. No makeup, and all that magnificent red hair loose around her shoulders. She looked about nineteen. This was Carrie Moon, the musician. The lawyer had disappeared. The change was so dramatic he could not speak for about thirty seconds.

“You sound amazing.”

“Thanks.”

“I didn’t think you still played.”

“I just started again.” She stepped aside, to let him in, then led the way down the white-tiled entry way to her living room. He noticed the music stand facing the ocean, which would have been visible in daylight through the sliding glass doors that dominated the room. He took in the comfortable, white sofa and matching chairs. Soft, black mohair throws cuddled beside red and black cushions, inviting him to sit and nestle among them. The walls were covered with abstract oils with slashes of orange, yellow, blue and green. Although the room exuded money and taste, it was also charming and inviting. But she, of course, spent little time there he reminded himself.

“What’s that?” he pointed to the page of thick notes on the music stand.

“The first movement of the Prokofiev flute sonata.”

“Play some of it for me?”

She hesitated.

“I’ve played for you,” he reminded her.

She put the flute to her lips and took a long breath. The haunting opening melody filled the room.
He watched her face as she played. She was happy the way she was at the club. And when they’d made love. The sharp sting of Lara and why he was here hit him. He wished for the hundredth time he hadn’t been so insensitive.

“You shouldn’t have given up music as a career,” he said when she finished.

She smiled but did not look at him as her long fingers twisted the silver joints apart, swabbed them out, and put them back one by one in the leather case. “Maybe not. But I did.” The profound sadness in her voice touched him. She went on, “You can want something too much.”

“You told me that on one of the nights when we walked by the bay.”

Her stormy green eyes suddenly met his. “Or someone.” She closed the flute case with a sharp click.
“Let’s go to dinner,” he said.

* * *

He reached across the red-checked table cloth, in the candle light flickering against the red brick walls of Sambuco’s and took her hand.

“I’m sorry.”

“You’ve already said that.” The wine was taking the edge off her anger and distrust. Her eyes were beginning to sparkle again. Stan hoped he hadn’t blown it forever.

“Will you come back to the club?”

“That depends. Tell me about her.”

“Who?”

“Lara.”

“Didn’t Harry explain?”

“In your own words. Who is she? Why is she important to you?”

So she was going to make this hard. Well, he deserved that.

“I met Lara and Deanna in Las Vegas. They were show girls at Caesar’s Palace. I played their gig that night. They were roommates.”

“And when Deanna died?”

“Harry told you. Lara and I have been an item, off and on. We end up in horrible fights.”

“Over what?”

“Deanna. Lara claims I don’t love her, that I just use her to avoid admitting that Deanna is really gone.”

“And do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Love Lara?”

Stan studied their hands twined together. Then he looked back at Carrie and the auburn glow of her hair in the pale yellow light.

“I thought I did. Until –”

She waited for him to finish. When he didn’t, she repeated, “Until?”

“I looked down that night at Harry’s and saw you looking up at me from the second row.”

She smiled, her entire face alight.

“Come back to the club?” he repeated. “Play with us?”

A shadow crossed her smile. “I don’t know about playing. I’m not a professional any more. I don’t have time to practice enough.”

“You sounded fine to me.”

“Endurance. I can’t play for hours the way I used to.”

“You could still sit in on some tunes.”

She smiled. “We’ll see.”

He rubbed his thumb along their entwined fingers. “Carrie, there’s another reason I want you to come back.”

Her green eyes met his. “Why, then?”

He sighed deeply, and studied their joined hands before meeting her steady gaze.

“I play better since you’ve come. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s because you actually know what I’m doing. If it’s good, you know. And if it sucks, well, you know that, too.”

“What about Lara?”

“She’ll be back on a cruise ship in a month. She’s never here long. Look, you said you saved the club so that you could hear me play. What was the good of that if you don’t come back?”

“You have a point.”

* * *

He walked her to the door, wishing she would ask him in.

But she opened it with her key and smiled from the threshold. “Thanks for tonight.”

“Sure. And, again, I’m sorry.”

“Understood. You can stop saying that now.”

“Tomorrow night, then? At Harry’s?”

“If I can get away.” She smiled and began to close the door.

Disappointed, he turned away and walked up the path toward the parking lot and his car. Wanting her close to him throbbed in his veins. He could smell her hair and taste her lips.

He opened his car door but stopped and stared at her building. He heard the rush of the ocean onshore and smelled the fresh, night sea breeze. And he remembered how it felt to hold her.

He closed the car and locked it. His heart pounding, he retraced his steps and knocked.

When she opened the door, he swept her into his arms. Her mouth opened hungrily under his, and she hugged him hard to her. Then, without a word, she smiled, kissed his open mouth, long and lingeringly, and led him down the hall to her bedroom.

* * *

He slept intermittently. He lost count of the times they made love. He felt like a man rescued from death. He had never thought anyone could love with the fire and intensity that burned inside of her. He was afraid it would consume him and yet afraid that it would not. He wanted to be one with her in a way he had never experienced with anyone else. If she consumed him or he consumed her, he could never lose her. He slept and woke to her fire over and over until dawn.

The alarm went off at six a.m. He struggled awake at the unaccustomed hour.

She wrapped him in her long, soft arms and whispered in his ear. “You don’t have to get up. Unfortunately, I do.” She kissed him, long and deeply; and he wanted her with that throbbing desire that blotted out all rational thought.

But she rolled away, and seconds later he heard the shower start in the adjoining bath. He dozed and wished she didn’t have to go to work.

A little later, she bent over the bed, now dressed in one of her usual conservative black suits. Carrie was gone, and now she was Karen the lawyer again. But she gave him another one of those bone-deep kisses and caressed his cheek.

“Sleep, sweetheart. There’s no rush for you to leave.”

He pulled her down to him in one long, last, glorious kiss. “Tonight at Harry’s. Ok?”

“Of course.”

The front door clicked behind her. He sank deeply into the sheets that smelled of her and sex. After a while he drifted off in the soft dark of early morning.

When he woke, the sun was streaming hard bars of light through the blinds. He opened his eyes and saw the time, ten a.m. He got up slowly, showered, and dressed, savoring the creams and lotions and soaps that attested to her feminine presence. She had left a note in the kitchen that coffee was ready to be brewed in the pot. He made a cup and sat on her patio, savoring the deep rich hazelnut and watching the changeling Pacific, first blue then green in the morning sun. He missed her. He never allowed himself to miss anyone. And he missed her, down to his soul. But a warning bell was already going off within him: their lives were so different. She was locked in those massive glass towers downtown while he was alone here by the sea.

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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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

December 2007

Don’t screw up. Alan’s words echoed in Judge Karen Morgan’s head twelve years later on Christmas Eve as she stared at Central Park from the window of her suite at the Plaza. Don’t screw up. Don’t try to find Stan. Carrie Moon is dead, and you can’t bring her back. Being the Honorable Judge Karen M. Morgan a/ka/Mrs. Howard Morgan is safe. Being Carrie Moon is certain death. Be safe. Don’t die. Don’t screw up.

“What if I don’t want to be safe?” she asked the empty room because on Christmas Eve, Howard was ensconced with his junior associate at the firm’s New York office, obsessively preparing for his trial to begin again on January 2.

“What if I want to screw up?” She demanded of the winter-bare trees across the street. And then, the most horrific question of all, “What if I want to die? What if I’ve wanted to die every day for twelve years?”

* * *

November 1994

But she hadn’t wanted to die that Wednesday. She could barely keep her mind on the Burnett file that morning. All she wanted was for night to come and to be back in Stan’s arms.

Around noon, she finished correcting the documents, left them with her secretary, and headed home to her condo to shower and change. She felt the first trace of unease when she looked at her answering machine and realized Stan hadn’t called. She had thought he would to ask her to come to the club that night. Was he angry because she had to leave so abruptly that morning?

She grabbed her black Nordstrom’s cocktail dress and a change of clothes for the next day as she headed out the door to return to work. She wasn’t going to show up on Thursday in Wednesday’s clothes. She would make sure she was at the club no later than ten. Surely as nervous as the Burnett accountants were about the sale of the securities to the public, they wouldn’t send her yet another set of numbers that night.

Carrie’s apprehension grew all afternoon as her secretary put through call after call. None from Stan. Most were from the Burnett accountants, questioning the numbers they had already provided.

But they didn’t send her any new ones, so she was able to take her clothes and slip away happily at seven to go home once again and dress for the club. She was glad she didn’t have to change in the Warrick, Thompson ladies’ room after all because she wanted to look her best for Stan.

The set was just beginning when she hurried to her usual table. Harry brought her wine without even taking her order. Carrie caught her breath at the sight of Stan on stage in his white dinner jacket. She waited with joyful anticipation for the first moment when his eyes would seek hers across the distance that separated them.

But that moment never came. Like the previous evening, he stood on stage so that he never directly faced her. When he made eye contact, it was with a stunning, sapphire-eyed brunette, cleavage spilling out of sliver lame at the Table of Five. Carrie had never seen her before.

She sipped her wine carefully, feeling her heart sink with every sip. As she listened to Stan play, she slowly began to understand that what she had thought was the beginning of all her dreams coming true had been only a one-night stand.

When the band broke at eleven thirty, Stan went straight to the Table of Five with his scotch. He aggressively sought the place next to the brunette, and they all laughed and joked together until the break was over.

Carrie was so stunned by his rejection that she couldn’t summon the strength to leave even though she wanted to. She felt Harry Rich’s sympathetic eyes on her; but she knew if she met his gaze, she would burst into tears.

When the break ended, around eleven twenty, Stan proceeded to the stage with the brunette in tow. Harry, who was at the piano, and Kristin, who was also on stage ready to sing, gave him surprised looks.

Stan kept the broad grin on his face that he had worn since the minute he sat down by the brunette. He motioned for Kristin to give him the microphone, and she obeyed.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “I asked a special singer and friend, Lara Beaumont to come down tonight to help me with this song.”

Carrie was now transfixed by her hurt and humiliation. She watched in agony as Stan made his careful mouthpiece placement, breathed deeply, and sent the first haunting notes of “I Can’t Get Started” into the audience. Instead of Kristin doing the vocals, Lara sang the lyrics, gazing at Stan with wide blue eyes.

It was one of the most horrible moments of her life. Carrie placed her half-finished second glass of wine on the table and tried to stand up. She wasn’t in the least drunk. She was completely overcome with hurt and despair.

Stan had known exactly what he was doing when he asked Lara Beaumont to the club. He knew Carrie would come back, eagerly anticipating another night with him. And he was sending her the message to go away.

Forever, she thought miserably, as she finally managed to get to her feet. She noticed that Harry’s worried eyes were riveted on her from the stage, and she remembered his words, “Stay around. Show him he can’t drive you away.”

I can’t do that, she thought, as she struggled to breathe. Disappointment sat on her chest like a fifty pound weight.

Even though the tune hadn’t ended, she turned and walked toward the exit, trying to keep an even pace so it wouldn’t look as if she were fleeing. With her back to the stage, she could no longer control her tears. By the time, she reached the outer lobby, she was sobbing long deep sobs that shook her whole body.

She almost ran to her car. She sat in the driver’s seat with the window down, listening to the rest of the tune. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Huge applause followed when it ended.

She did not know how long she would have sat there if she had not seen Harry Rich crossing the parking lot to find her.

“Carrie? Are you ok?” Then he saw her tears. He opened her door and held out his hand to her. “Come, tell me about it.”

She got out and leaned against the car, trying to regain enough composure to talk.

“Want to go walk by the bay for a few minutes?”

She shook her head. “No, here is fine.”

“Something’s happened between you and Stan.”

She nodded and told him about the night before. His dark eyes were full of sympathy as the story unfolded. “I did what you said, Harry. I fought for him. I went after him. But what can I do about tonight? I can’t fight this.”

Harry sighed. “Stan’s never been one to know what’s good for him. Lara Beaumont isn’t.”

“Are they – involved?” Karen could barely make herself utter the question.

“Off and on, after Deanna. She was a friend of hers. But Stan and Lara never last. They wind up fighting.”

Jealousy ripped through her as she thought about the two women Stan had let into his life.

“So what is tonight about, then?”

“Stan’s usual behavior. He got close to you last night, and now he has to push you away.”

Karen leaned against the car and closed her eyes for a moment, trying to steady herself against the waves of love and jealousy tearing through her. When she opened them, she looked straight into Harry’s deep concern.

What am I supposed to do now?”

He shook his head. “Give Stan some time to process all this. When he’s thought about it, he’ll wish he hadn’t done it.”

“But he looked so happy on stage. Triumphant, even.”

“That’s Stan. Proving to himself he can drive you away. Go home now and get some sleep. I don’t think you’ve had much for the last twenty-four hours.”

He opened the door, and she got in. She smiled and waved as she pulled out of the lot. Harry was a good man, and he had deserved her help.

San Diego’s streets were deserted at eleven forty-five. Karen felt as if she were the only person left on earth. By the time she reached the first red light, she realized she had no idea where she wanted to go.

If she went home, she’d cry all night. But she wanted to avoid feeling the pain because if she let herself feel it, she would be overwhelmed. Work, she thought. If I go back, I’ll be so occupied I can’t feel anything.

* * *

Alan Warrick walked into her office at nine the next morning.

“Karen, are you all right? You haven’t been home!”

She looked up at him calmly from the stack of documents she was proofing. She didn’t care that she was still wearing the black dress or that her hair was loose around her shoulders, or that her face was still marred by tear tracks. “I’m fine, Alan. I’m just making up for night before last. No big deal.”

She could tell he was far more concerned about this disconcerting display of raw emotion than about her personal well-being. A tear-stained face and the previous night’s cocktail dress were completely unacceptable in Alan’s world.

She had to erase all traces of emotion. She leaned over, picked up the phone intercom, and buzzed her secretary. “Alice, I’m heading home now to shower and change. I’m leaving the Burnett documents on my desk with some corrections for you to make. I shouldn’t be gone long.”

She gave Alan a confident smile as she gathered her brief case and headed for the door. She didn’t feel confident about anything, but she knew acting that way would dispel Alan’s concern she intended to make a habit of showing up at work with her heart on full display.

* * *

Her condo was dark and had the musty smell of a closed house. She had left last night, excited about the prospect of another evening with Stan. Now she felt she was crawling back in defeat.

She opened the drapes covering the sliding glass doors to the deck that overlooked the Pacific and pressed her forehead to the glass. She watched the steady rise and fall of the waves in the morning sun. Their rhythm reminded her of Stan’s love making and the rise and fall of their joined bodies, releasing that strange, almost frightening wild energy that had permeated every pore of her being.

She couldn’t bear the thought of Lara Beaumont in her place in Stan’s bed. The tears she had held back through the wee hours so that she could read the Burnett accounting files now formed and overflowed. The pain of disappointment and lost love tore through her chest, and settled around her heart.

Impulsively she turned from the window and hurried to her bedroom. She opened the closet door and stared at the dull rows of navy, gray and black business suits. After a few minutes, she reached up and pulled the long leather case from the top shelf.

She went to the bed, sat down, and opened it. Her fingers caressed the flute’s cold silver. She quickly twisted the joints together, held the instrument to her lips and let her breath warm the metal for a few moments before she blew the first note, low deep and pure. The ice around her heart began to thaw.

She ran through the major and minor scales, playing them faster and faster as if speed would purge the pain in her soul. Her fingers were surprisingly nimble, despite not having played for a long time. But her lips and tongue lasted only through half the scales she wanted to play. Defeated, she held the flute tightly to her chest and wondered how she had lost her own soul. 

She closed her eyes and imagined the backstage smell of every concert hall she had ever played in. She breathed in the blend of old fabric, cork grease, and valve oil. She remembered what it was like to be surrounded by dozens of violin and viola bows, moving restlessly up and down over the ever-changing twang of tuning strings while, unperturbed, clarinets, oboes and flutes ran dizzy ladders of major and minor warm-up scales. Low brass blatted pedal tones. A French horn brayed a hunting call into the chaotic cacophony. She smiled. And then there were the trumpets, the pure egos of the music world. She imagined their high, clear notes cutting through every other sound.

She had been alive then, always on the edge of nerves, yet enthralled by rush of adrenalin that gave her the performer’s high. Being near Stan brought it all back, and let her relive those clear, pure moments when she had been doing what she had been born to do. She wanted to cling to him to avoid losing forever that lost part of herself.

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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

And check out Deborah’s latest book review at Deborah’s Book Reviews, http://deborahsbookreviews.com

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My lower back has not been happy with me for sometime. I try to take excellent care of it, but I do sit at a computer for a living. And sometimes the lower back says ENOUGH!

I have a series of stretches that I learned from Peter Egoscue’s book, Pain Free at Your PC that my lower back and I just adore. They have kept us out of the company of orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, and cortisone injections for years. My back and I swear by them.

But last August, after walking around hilly Seattle one afternoon while vising my youngest child who was interning for Microsoft, my lower back said I HATE YOU by shooting pain spasms through my left hip and left leg. Not wanting to be a kill joy (I hate to travel with complainers) I said nothing to Michael, but did my magic stretches as soon as I was back at the hotel. Only this time, they didn’t seem to work against my back’s Major Rebellion. No amount of cajoling and reminding my back of the dangers of orthopedic surgeons and of the negative attitudes of physical therapists (as a breed, they tell you EVERYTHING is YOUR fault) would persuade my back to stretch itself out like a good little kitty and go on with life.

So began my five-month journey to two Orthos and to two groups of physical therapists. Ortho One said sciatica and sent me to some monumentally grumpy physical therapists. After two visits, I switched to a group of three very cheerful PT’s, who happily beat on my back and disagreed among themselves and with me about what was wrong. Like vampires sucking blood, they happily gobbled up my insurance-paid physical therapy sessions and then threw me back in the pond, not much better. Ortho Two offered cortisone injections (at the height of the injections that killed people with meningitis) and looked crestfallen when I said no, thanks, I’m not into Russian roulette.

Christmas came and I didn’t want to think about it. I zumba’ed when I could but had to give up the elliptical at the gym for the BORING treadmill that doesn’t give me much of a workout.

Then last month I hit upon the bright idea of asking my family doctor for a referral to a scoliosis specialist because I’ve always known that was the problem. No one found the curve in my back until I was quite grown up and until it had curled up and settled in nicely for life. All I had to do was look into the mirror and see how the curve was getting worse. It wasn’t rocket science. I was in pain because my left and right halves were matching less and less all the time.

Grudgingly Fam Doc gave me the names of some specialists, but he said, look, what you’re looking for is physical therapy to make it better. True. And, he said, there’s this great chiropractor. WAIT! A WHAT? No, no. Not like in chiropractor. She’s more of a physical therapist.

So that was how I came to have a two and a half hour session of pure terror last Tuesday in the chiropractor’s office. And she definitely was not a physical therapist.

She spent the first half hour telling me scoliosis horror stories and impressing upon me how I could no longer live without her. She mentioned “adjustments” and when I asked her what that meant, she said, Oh, I’ll show you later. She used two big, loud scary machines to pound my poor little back until I got off the last one and hid in the bathroom for a while. I should have just walked out the front door, but I was waiting for the physical therapy to begin.

It never came. Instead, she wrenched my poor neck around so hard she reinjured it. I fell out of a tree when I was a kid and damaged some vertebrae and the one thing I tell every massage therapist before they touch me is DON”T TOUCH MY NECK! And after she wrenched it the first time and I told her to stop, she repeated her performance.

I dashed home, grabbed the ice packs, and was upset for the a rest of the day. To win my freedom from being held hostage in her office, I had promised to come back on Thursday.

Ha! Fat chance that was going to happen.

I was so angry, I started to do the unprofessional thing, and not even call on Wednesday to cancel the appointment, but I did. How I wish I hadn’t. She clearly had some sort of major mental problem. She called me four times screaming at me on the phone because I wasn’t coming back. The fifth and sixth times she called, I just raised the receiver a notch and threw it back into the cradle.

On Thursday night I woke up in a cold sweat at 4 a.m. You know the kind that lets you know you’ve done something REALLY STUPID, but at least you are STILL ALIVE. I turned on the light and took some deep breaths and thought about it for a while. What I had encountered in the chiropractor’s office had been violence. She had been violent when she wrenched my spine this way and that. The machines had been violent when they pounded on my back. But I hate violence of all kinds. For me, healing is about being positive and gentle.

Then I kicked myself. The answer was Egoscue. They have a clinic here, and they treat scoliosis. The stretches I knew how to do had never let me down. I just needed a bigger arsenal of gentle weapons to get better. I hadn’t needed to go looking for the answer. It had been staring me in the face since Day One of my back’s Major Rebellion in Seattle.

Today I’m headed off to the Egoscue clinic. If I had listened to myself all along, I would have known that was the answer. But I let the chatter of all the other people I had seen – the two Orthos, the grumpy and cheerful PT’s – become so loud in my head that I forgot the true path to healing is always listening to what’s inside ourselves.

 

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The “it girls” all arrived as princesses this Halloween. They made the trick or treat scene at our front door in ankle-length pastel blue and pink satin skirts, frothed with sheer tulle ruffles at the waist and hem. Bodices sported sequins and glitter. I doubt there was a Versace, Chanel, or Marc Jacobs in the lot, but each one was thrilled with her red carpet look for the evening. (It was Halloween. I should say orange carpet.)

Observing them as I handed out Halloween candy reminded me that I had had a secret desire to be a princess when I was their age. Just as small boys announced their intent to be firemen or policemen, small girls are prone to favor the princess line of work. The only trouble was, I couldn’t quite figure out what princesses did. Sitting on a throne all day waiting for a prince to show up sounded like the height of boredom. So did swirling around a ballroom at all hours in an evening dress and diamonds. And I wasn’t particularly thrilled about eating a poisoned apple or pricking my finger and sleeping for a hundred years. Just regular sleeping overnight was pretty boring, in my view. So even though I was taken with the princess uniform – evening dress, glass slipper, and tiara – the job that went with it didn’t sound as attractive as I’d first thought.

Then I went to school and began to read history. The princess gig began to look less and less attractive. For example, Henry VIII had no trouble dispatching unwanted princesses to nunneries and scaffolds. A little later, in France, the guillotine did the job of eliminating the surplus princess population. Moving into modern times, a Russian firing squad did away with a whole family of princesses in Ekaterinburg in July 1918, along with an Emperor, an Empress, and a Tsarevich. And then, to prove it still isn’t safe to be a princess, Diana, Princess of Wales was smashed up in a car “accident” in 1997.

Conclusion: “pretend princessing” has its upside: a swirly satin skirt for the evening and all the chocolate you can stuff into a plastic pumpkin on Halloween. But the real thing isn’t safe. You don’t want to wind up as another princess statistic. Just say NO to Prince Charming when he hacks through the hedge after a hundred years.

Regulation Princess Gear

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Life as a stay-at-home mother of three children, five and under, was an endlessly demanding job. I had always been a hard worker and an over achiever, but child/care 24/7 was the most exhausting challenge yet. There were days when, as much as I loved my three little ones, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get up at sun rise and keep going. I had never been so tired in my life. And I had a sinus infection that lasted for three and a half years. One unhelpful and terrifying male doc said I needed to be tested for HIV. The woman doc whom I went to for testing and whose children were the same ages as mine couldn’t stop laughing when I told her why I was there. Honestly, it wasn’t very funny.

I became fascinated with Princess Diana in that period. I’m not sure why. There were probably a lot of reasons for my fixation. First, I loved her clothes. Whether in her early Laura Ashley mode or in her shoulder-padded Power Suit mode in the 1980’s, she was gorgeous. She was the IT Girl of Style.

Second, she delighted in mothering just the way that I did. In the pictures of her with William and Harry, who were only a few years older than my children, her love shines off the page. Granted when she played games with them in their nursery, she’d had a full night’s sleep because her nanny was on call, but even my sleep-deprived brain could connect with another mother who loved her children the way I loved mine.

Third, she and I had entered into similar marriages. My husband’s job was to our marriage what Camilla Parker Bowles was to Diana’s. The third party to my marriage was a corporation whereas for Diana it was the Other Woman; but the result was the same. And Diana had married a man who wanted a wife and children from Central Casting to be available only for photo ops. And so had I.

Fourth, Diana went through a very public divorce with a man determined to wound and humiliate. One of my few consolations on those terrifying days when I left the Family Law Courthouse threatened with the loss of my children and so emotionally upset that I was afraid to drive, was that at least the venom that had just been spit in my face wasn’t going to be heard around the world. For Diana, it was a very different story.

I didn’t lose my children. I would have if I hadn’t been a lawyer. Oddly enough, the role that sat most uncomfortably on my heart was the one that saved the people I loved most from being lost to me. But that victory came at a heavy price. During that marriage, I had done the thing I had wanted to do all my life: I had written a novel. After a lot of tries, I even got an agent in New York. In those early dark days of my divorce, my little book traveled from editor to editor at major publishing houses. Some did not like it. Some liked it but would not buy it. It was called Summers’ Child, a title that another writer would use for her own very successful novel some years later. (I had copyrighted my manuscript, and I knew she hadn’t done her homework before using my title.)

But when my husband found out that I had written a novel that was not succeeding with New York publishers, he dragged me down to the Family Law Courthouse and accused me in public of being a no-account deadbeat who was trying to live off child and temporary spousal support. He argued that I was trained as a lawyer, and so I had to go back to work as a lawyer. Even though I hadn’t done any work as a lawyer for eight years and hadn’t the foggiest idea, anymore, how to even sigh on to a legal research service.

Family Law Court, at least in those days, was a terrifying hell of illegality. I had graduated second in my class from law school, and I knew how unconstitutional the various rulings from that court were. The family law court operated at that time as if the Right to Privacy did not exist. At one point, I actually thought they were going to send me to involuntary psycho therapy to force me to withdraw my accurate and true statements that my husband had abused me and the children. I felt as if I’d wound up in a Russian Gulag as a political prisoner for not Speaking the Party Line.

I knew how to challenge these outrageous family law court rulings in higher courts. But the problem was I had to play the Family Law Court game or lose those dearest to me. It would do me no good to take my case to the United States Supreme Court only to be reunited with my children by my victory there when they were adults. So even though the Thirteenth Amendment abolished involuntary servitude, the state of California said I had to go back to work as a lawyer. And I did. In my living room, where I wrote appellate briefs and remained close to my children. But who I really was born to be was quietly dying, day by day.

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In the end, I drifted up the road from Richmond to another, smaller firm in Washington, D.C. where my creative bent found a home. Not long after I arrived at New Firm, the Most Important Partner came into my office one day to congratulate me on a memo I had written for him that the Florida Legislature had then adopted at a statute for the benefit of one of the firm’s clients. He was a very happy Most Important Partner. The client was a Very Happy Important Big Bucks Client. And the firm sure could bill for that one! Redeemed at last.

But finding a home as a lawyer wasn’t as fulfilling as I had thought it would be. It was all still paper and stale conference rooms and working trips on air planes. And business suits, starched shirts, and floppy bows. So I struck out for California (on an airplane, not in a covered wagon) and motherhood.

By 1991, I had three children, ages five, three, and newborn. I had hired a college girl as afternoon help three days a week because I just could not keep up with the demands of the mother job, which was a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week affair. I had no family to give me a break. Babysitters didn’t want three kids or a newborn. And the kids’ dad had parked us in a ritzy part of town where moms had Hispanic nannies. (And went back to Work. To avoid the tough job of Mother, I was convinced.) So no one needed a Mothers’ Day Out Program. (Except me, apparently.)

Mothering, I soon discovered, was an endlessly creative job. My artistic self smocked tiny dresses for my daughter, rompers for the boys. I marched clowns and balloons, cupcakes, and teddy bears across their tummies. I looped ribbon into “frou frous” and sewed them onto my daughter’s dresses and hats. I made tiny linen and velvet suits and vests for the boys. I made doll wardrobes and Halloween costumes. (Think my daughter as Pooh and my first son as Piglet when I was pregnant with Number Three.) I made matching velveteen mother-daughter-son outfits for Christmas. And I used a gallon milk jug and fake fur to create a dead wringer for a Coldstream Guards hat. (For my daughter, not the two boys.)

Of course, this activity was not a California Mother Thing at all. California Mothers (the ones without nannies) wore yoga pants and stuffed their children into knit rompers from Mervyns and Gymboree. My activities were so unusual that I had to smuggle a “pleater,” the device consisting of rows of tiny needles that prepares fabric for smocking, back from Tennessee in my suitcase. I ordered smocking patterns and laces and tiny French hand sewing needles from Georgia and Florida and Virginia and Texas.

And naturally I didn’t send my California children to school in these artworks that only a Southern Mother could love. No, as soon as my daughter could pull the OshKoshs off the hangers and put them on, one leg at a time, the dresses hung in the closet quietly waiting for Sunday, like the Good Girls they were.

But, of course, Sunday came. And again, I behaved as a Southern Mother would. CHURCH. Being Episcopalian, we had no duty (Thank, God) to proselytize the California Mothers and their offspring. I could quietly dress my little ones in their smocked and French handsewn best and shuffle us all off to Sunday School (which, true to Southern Mother Form I taught) and CHURCH. (Where I provided stickers and crayons and paper and tiny coloring books to keep the small troops quiet through the boring (to them and sometimes to me, true confessions) service. One interesting Sunday, my small daughter pointed out we were almost the only people there under fifty. Everyone else was at BRUNCH in their yoga pants and knit rompers, California Style.

But I was a Southern Mother. I didn’t know any better.

Being creative as a mother wasn’t just about their clothes. No, it was far deeper and more fun and more substantive than that. Southerners love stories and are born storytellers. I told stories about the South and about their grandfather the FBI agent and their great-great-grandfather the Civil War solider (for the Union!). I read and read and read and read. We loved Thomas the Tank Engine (we called him “Thomas Tanken”), Madeline, Good Night Moon, the Runaway Bunny, Winnie the Pooh, any alphabet book ever written, and all forms of Nursery Rhymes. We watched Sesame Street, talked about “Bee Bo,” “Oscar the Grouch,” “Cookie Monster” and “Count One Count.” (My daughter’s name for him which I thought much better than the original.)

We went to Disney moves, although my daughter wisely decided she did not want to be a Disney princess like her California counterparts, who would ditch their knit rompers for princess gowns, tiaras, and scepters to wear to the park. My daughter, on the other hand, put on her Coldstream Guards costume for outings and marched beside her little brothers’ stroller.

We ate fish sticks and tater tots for supper with plenty of ketchup. We had pillow fights and said prayers at bedtime. (Always the Lord’s Prayer because Now I Lay Me had terrified me as a child because it talked about dying.) We waded in the Pacific on days that never seemed to end because of the stifling heat. (The kids’ dad, who worked in air conditioned comfort, said we didn’t need to be cool.) And we promised every time that we wouldn’t go in the water in our clothes. But we always did. In short, the four of us laughed and created and played and had fun, Southern Mother style, in the foreign country of California. We made few friends, although we tried. But we had each other.

Somewhat skimpy ribbon frou frou on dress

Bee Bo!

Thomas Tanken!

A Smocked dress

Her costume looked like this!

 

A pleater.

 

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The seasons change in Southern California, but subtly. For the first two autumns I spent here, I was always waiting for the cold, wet, windy day that would announce winter had landed. That day always came in the South, a day when it became apparent that winter coats were now inevitable until late March or early April.

But to me autumn in Southern California has always consisted of the uneasy feeling that real winter is just around the corner. Except there is no corner, and real winter never arrives.

In my second autumn-waiting-for-winter here, my September baby began to settle into life. By late January, she slept more and cried less. From her infant seat, she began to look around at the world she found herself in, appraising its potential to entertain.

Less sleep deprived, I started to recover from months of living in survival mode. At last I began to feel separate from the child who had not allowed me to put her down since birth. And as I did, I began to reconnect the dots of the picture that was me. It was as if coming to California had severed my life into two halves. In half number one, I had been first a teacher and then a lawyer, married to a gentle man who wanted me to assume the responsibility of breadwinner. In half number two, I had married a man who ignored me, I had had a child, and I had lost myself. Why had I chosen this path? What had I been running from?

At least part of the answer could be traced to a deep winter day in February in Virginia. One morning I was sitting in my tiny cubicle of an office (it was exactly the same size as a secretary’s cubicle, but it had a door), watching the icy James River slide by my window and wondering if there would be black ice on the commute home. To say I was bored would be an understatement. I had never dreamed life in a big law firm could come to a crashing halt, day after day. But the litigation partner I worked for was busy on matters that didn’t require my help; and likewise the senior associate, who would be a partner within a year, hadn’t produced any interrogatories for me to draft or answer for more than a week.

Enter a Newly Minted Partner in the labor practice, looking for an associate to do a research project. I was “loaned” to the labor section and ushered into a conference room whose floor was white with paper. Every legal job begins with a story. And this was the story.

Newly Minted Partner, who was the rarity of all rarities at The Firm, a Female Newly Minted Partner, had just lost a Motion For Summary Judgment with her Mentor Male Senior Partner (to become partner at that firm, it was an advantage to have one of these). Now Summary Judgment is the worst legal insult possible. It means your lawsuit did not even get to first base. You filed something that didn’t state a claim a court could consider. Bad news. You’ve wasted everyone’s time. And money. And the client doesn’t think you are very smart.

Now The Firm, being one of the smartest and best anywhere, rarely fell victim to Summary Judgment. But, then, again, no one is perfect. Although The Firm did not see things that way.

At any rate, the paper on the floor was nearly every sex discrimination case ever decided by an appellate court. My job was to find the rest of the slippery little dears – if any more existed – and turn them into a memorandum that would be The Firm’s Secret Weapon to be used by Newly Minted Partner and Mentor Male Senior Partner when they went back to show the judge just how wrong he had been to dismiss their Age Discrimination Case. Or, in the alternative, my memo would be the basis for writing a new lawsuit that no one could throw out. Either way, The Firm had been embarrassed in front of one of its Highly Important Clients. And I was now thrown into the breach to repair the damage.

That project seized my imagination as few projects had done since becoming a Big Firm baby lawyer. Maybe it was the sight of a woman who had survived to join the Inner Sanctum that grabbed me. More likely it was just the intellectual challenge of making sense of all that paper. One of my professors in graduate school, when I’d been dreaming of being a professor myself one day, had explained we are biologically driven to create order out of chaos. So perhaps my creative juices were happy to be alive and well again.

I was given two weeks to produce The Firm’s Secret Weapon, otherwise known as my memorandum. I threw myself into it, spending twelve hour days reading and researching, sometimes working while lying flat on my back on the floor because I was in the grip of a nasty inner ear infection that gave me vertigo. (Someday I will tell you how I discovered baby lawyers were not allowed to be sick. But that is a story for another day.)

My then-husband was quite supportive. An extraordinarily bright man, he listened as I talked endlessly about the project and my findings. He made helpful comments here and there even though he was not a lawyer himself. And I’m sure in the back of his mind was his devout hope I would survive to become a Newly MintedPartner one day for our Mutual Economic Benefit.

Trouble was, about three days into the project, I saw why The Firm had lost. The existing law was against what they were trying to do. The judge, whom Newly Minted Partner had not had nice things to say about (use your imagination, but remember to keep it professional), had actually gotten the law quite right. Oh, dear. What was a baby lawyer to do?

Now, despite what happened next to me in this story, the truth is the best lawyers are creative. Think Thurgood Marshall and Brown v. Board of Education. He saw the possibilities in the law where none yet existed and pushed forward to change the lives of every non-white, non-male American forever. (Yes, Virginia, the African American civil rights movement made the Women’s Movement Possible. And now the push for Gay Rights. We owe it all to Thurgood.)

Anyway, I wrote my memo, explaining the existing state of the law and then explaining how Newly Minted Partner and Mentor Male Senior Partner could draft a new pleading, using the Sex Discrimination Law creatively for an Age Discrimination client. If it had been a law school exam, I would have had an A plus plus. I finished, after a nearly all nighter, handed over the thirty page extravaganza, and went home to sleep the sleep of the Righteous. My then husband, Ph.D. in English in hand, had read my magnum opus and congratulated me on my writing and my presentation. Even he, a non-lawyer, got it.

TWO WEEKS LATER:

I know it was the end of February. I like to think maybe it was leap year and the 29th, so it is a day not often to be repeated. But I am not sure. I was summoned to the Ninth Floor to the office of Newly Minted Partner where I expected to receive congratulations on my work. For not every one of us spiffy little J.D.’s can see how the law can be pushed and molded and prodded to the next level of social change. And no one had ever said I couldn’t research and write with the best of them. Until that day.

She was one of those enviably thin women whose suit skirts never had to be fastened with a safety pin. (True confessions. All that sitting at a desk and Firm Luncheons had taken its toll on me.) She had the short, professional haircut we all thought was required in the eighties, and she had the most highly polished French manicure I had ever seen. She was certainly a woman in charge of her life and highly successful in a world and time where women did not succeed. She’d sacrificed marriage and children to her success, but I assumed it was a choice she happily made.

I admired her as a sort of Legal Rock Star. And I had put my everything into her work. And she spent the next forty-five minutes telling me what a Worthless piece of Human Trash I was. About three minutes into the diatribe, delivered in the low professional tones you would associate with someone of her standing, I realized that she hated me, my work, and the creative solution I’d given her. Rather than seeing the beauty of my striving, she pronounced me an ignoramus for not coming to her on Day Three of the project and telling her the law was not on their side. (Something I had assumed was obvious from the beginning since they were the victims of Summary Judgment.)

Newly Minted Partner wore hats. Even now, it is rare to see a professional woman in a hat. Especially a red hat. As the diatribe continued, I fixed my eyes on the stryofoam head behind her desk that held her hat and pictured my head there in the morning, eyes glassy in what she would have considered my well-deserved death. The whole idea was so ludicrous, I wanted to laugh out loud. But I’m sure Newly Minted Partner would not have taken it well.

Her parting shot, as she released me from the hell of her office, was “We couldn’t bill the client for your work!” The ultimate disgrace for a Big Firm baby lawyer.

I went home and cried all night. My then-husband tried to comfort me, reminding me over and over how unreasonable she had been. But she looked so wise and knowing behind that Big Firm desk under the guise of Big Firm Partnership, I forgot who I was. And I let her bully and humiliate me. And then I eventually fled to the other side of the world, away from everything familiar, cutting a swath through the center of my life, in an effort to escape my own incompetence. Except, I wasn’t incompetent. And I had nothing to escape. But I was a long way from discovering that fact in the first autumn of my daughter’s life.

So, as I began to come back to myself in the mild California January, I blamed myself for being creative – the very thing I was born to be.

Below:  Richmond in Winter.

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