I added this scene to Chapter 15. While Darrell is away in Virginia, Natasha asks Karen whether she’s falling in love too fast. It slots in just after Darrell and Natasha’s Skype call and just before the dress arrives.
After a sleepless night, I decided I needed a second opinion. The time apart was giving me time to think, which was good, but it was opening up doubts. My feelings for him were stronger than ever—I wanted to move faster and faster, but I didn’t know if we were racing towards nirvana or a brutal crash.
I already knew what Clarissa would say. Jasmine would say the opposite—she saw everything as the plot of a romance novel or a romantic comedy (unless she could make it into a police show). What I needed was an unbiased observer.
I called Karen.
The strange thing about Karen is that, while she’s almost pathologically shy and definitely not a people person, sometimes she can cut through the bullshit. She’s like our resident Spock. I arranged to have lunch with her in Harper’s.
Karen was already there when I arrived, sitting mouse-like at a table in the corner, poring over a music score with her frizzy hair hanging down like a curtain to hide her face. She looked overcome with relief when she saw me, as if she wanted to scuttle back to the safety of her practice room as soon as possible.
It hit me, then, that maybe she didn’t practice so hard just because she was obsessed with getting it right. Maybe it was as much about avoiding people.
“I think I’ve chosen,” she told me as I sat down. “Almost certainly Brahms Double Concerto, with Dan on violin.”
I frowned. “You’ve chosen that for what?”
She looked at me as if I was stupid. “For my final recital.”
I blinked. “Karen, your final recital isn’t until the spring!”
“No harm in being ready early. If I choose now, I can get some practice in over the winter break.” She looked at me seriously. “Nat, I have one chance at this.”
I sighed and nodded. Karen’s dream was to get into the New York Philharmonic, and they scouted at the final recitals. Even so, the poor girl was heading for burnout if she started pushing herself this far in advance. I made a mental note to drag her out to Flicker more often, to ensure she let off steam. We all had to take care of each other.
“I need your help,” I told her. “About Darrell.”
Her eyes grew wide and fearful. The thing about Karen is, she’s very smart but very unsure of herself. If you can get advice out of her, it’s always good—I think she’s just terrified of getting it wrong. “Just your opinion,” I told her gently. “I probably won’t even act on it.”
“Okay…” she said nervously.
I took a deep breath. “Okay, so he bursts into my rehearsal and ruins it. Then he asks me to dance for him and I find out he’s a billionaire. I dance for him and I feel this…thing.”
“Oh,” said Karen. “He was pressed up against you? And his—” Her eyes flicked downward.
I blinked. “No! Not his cock! I felt this…attraction. Like nothing I’ve felt before. In fact, it was even before I danced for him…damn it, this is going to sound crazy—”
I looked at her. “I felt it as soon as I saw him. In the rehearsal and when I met him outside. An instant connection.” I leaned forward until my forehead touched the table and groaned. “I sound like a crazy person.”
“No,” Karen told me. “You don’t. Go on.”
“I danced for him the first time and we kissed—it was so sudden, but it felt so right. Sometimes it feels like neither of us are in control, as if we’re…I don’t know. Being blown by the wind or something. Like our only choice is to let it happen, or to dig our heels in and let the other one be swept away into the distance…but that could mean we lose the other one forever.” I looked at her. “Does that make any sort of sense?”
She looked at me for a long time and then nodded.
“And then I danced for him the second time—the time I fell off the stage—and we kissed again, and we talked. Only a little, though. We need to talk a lot more. And we were going to have a date, but now he’s gone off to Virginia for a week so the date’s on Monday and I don’t know if what I’m feeling is real and I’ve just fallen really hard for this guy, or if I’m going way too fast or—” I ran out of breath.
Karen put a hand on mine.
“I think,” she said slowly. “That you should go for it.”
I blinked. “Really?” That wasn’t the sort of advice I was expecting.
She nodded. “I know you. And I know how you keep people at a distance. And you’ve let this guy in, so quickly and so easily, that I think it has to mean something.” She paused. “I think you’ve fallen, deeply and truly, in love.”
There it was. That word I’d been avoiding.
“But it’s crazy fast,” I reasoned. “I’ve only met him a couple of times.”
“But when you look at him,” she told me, “you know. Don’t you?”
I nodded dumbly. I had my answer.
And then I saw it. Right in the corner of Karen’s eye, a tear was welling up. She was forcing herself not to blink, so that it wouldn’t spill over. She sniffed, claiming she was coming down with a cold, and hid behind a menu.
Had she seen something, in Darrell and me, that she was desperate to experience herself? Something she hadn’t experienced for a long time?
Something she’d never experienced?