Welcome to The Speed of Love, a web novel.

I’ve been playing around with the web novel concept for a while now. My autobiographical series This is Not a Sad Story is hitting its stride, but I also wanted to do something fictional. After watching the 2019 Netflix film Marriage Story, I knew what I wanted to write about. Cross that with the Modern Love column in The New York Times, and I was golden. This is Episode 1 of The Speed of Love.

The Speed of Love follows the lives, personal dramas, and love affairs of six young adults. In this episode, you’ll meet two of the characters. You’ll meet the other four in the next two episodes. There are no heroes here and no villains. Everyone is human. I expect you to pick favorites among the characters, but that’s only because you’re human too! My hope, though, is that you’ll love and hate each character by turns. Because that’s what humans do. We love and hate.

Without further ado, I’m proud to present to you…

The Speed of Love, a web novel, Episode 1 cover

Cara

Cara peered between the stacks.

Two days on the job and she was feeling useless. Was this what she’d gone to Columbia for, to putter around the Medford Public Library waiting for Harvard to have an opening? She was supposed to be a goddarned archivist, not a librarian!

To add insult to injury, the lady who was retiring — the lady whose position Cara was filling — hadn’t been in, though she was supposed to be the one showing Cara the ropes. The management hadn’t scrabbled together a plan yet — so she was in limbo.

“Hell,” she muttered, pushing the book cart. She didn’t know where anything was supposed to be shelved, despite spending time in her town’s public library as a child and countless hours studying in Butler at Columbia.

She peered between the stacks again. Movement.

His shadow fell against the wall. She was sure it was a he. She could smell his cologne.

The book cart squeaked around the corner. She winced. The corner had dug into the shelves on the far wall. Stuck. Again. Third time that day. Her breath hissed between her teeth.

“Shit.”

“Hey, uh…” The shadow fell over her. “Do you need a hand?”

She blinked and raised her head. It was a he, all right. He was wearing sunglasses. Who wore sunglasses inside a library?

He had a camera, a really expensive looking camera, on a strap around his neck. She blinked again.

“No thanks,” she said.

She backed the cart up. His eyes were still on her. She pushed it forward again. It snagged.

“Hey, let me give you a hand with that,” the guy said. The corners of his mouth had turned up in a lopsided smile. He reached out and put a hand on the other end of the cart.

“No, really, I’m fine.”

“Listen, hon, chivalry may be dead, but I’m not. And my mom’s the head librarian here. I’ve been pushing these carts since I learned to walk. So are you gonna let me help you, or am I going to tell your boss that…” He eyed the shelves. “You scratched a book and bent a couple pages.”

“You wouldn’t do that,” Cara said, her spine prickling. She tugged on the cart. It didn’t move. He was holding it in place. She inspected the books. “Besides, I didn’t do any of that.”

“Sure.” He let go of the other end. She drew it back into the aisle and pushed it forward in the other direction. Finally, thankfully, it made it around the corner without catching. He was on her back.

A line of sweat trickled down her neck and down her back and soaked into the thin linen of her blouse. “Could you give me some space?” she snapped at last.

“Okay, but I’m not that close.”

“You’re too close for comfort,” she said. They’d emerged in the audiobook section. She turned to face him. “And your shades give me the creeps. You look like a predator.”

He gave her another of those annoying smiles. “Who says I’m not, Cara Choi?”

She stared. He reached up and pushed up his sunglasses. She blinked. Oh, shit. Shit was really hitting the fan. He was that guy.

“Drunken mistake,” she blurted out, and made to round the corner. The cart slammed into a rack of audiobooks, and cases went flying.

Darren

No lie, he’d kinda been hoping she’d be happy to see him.

No lie, he was kinda dumb.

After he assured his mother dearest that the audiobooks all over the floor were his fault — he’d bumped into the cart — he left the library and went down the street to nurse his wounds with ice cream at Colleen’s. He’d kinda been hoping they’d go together. But what the hell had he been thinking? She had a shift to work. She was new and now he’d just embarrassed her in front of half the library regulars — and embarassed himself — because they sure as hell had seen what had happened, and he hadn’t bumped into the cart.

He brought his empty ice cream cup back up to the counter.

“Could you ladle a bit more hot fudge into that?” he asked, giving the guy his best miserable look.

It would’ve worked if the guy were a girl, any girl other than Cara Choi. The guy gave him a deadpan stare. “Two dollars.”

“Two dollars?” Darren heard his voice in his own head. He was whining. “Two dollars for some lousy hot fudge? Nah, man. Maybe fifty cents.”

The other customers, mostly mothers with wide-eyed little kids on their laps, were staring. The guy wasn’t backing down.

“Two dollars, or you can walk your lousy ass out the door,” he said.

“I’ll walk my lousy ass out the door, then,” Darren found himself saying.

He threw his ice cream cup on the floor on the way out and heard the startled gasps of the mothers and the little kids. Good riddance to them if that was the worst thing they’d seen in a while. What about heartbreak upon heartbreak? And commitment issues. Some real big commitment issues. And the accident, the accident that had left him out of commission for months, and now that he was back in commission he couldn’t get his shit together to get on a plane and head back to —

“You lost it,” he said aloud to himself. “You lost your fucking nerve.”

It made him want to cry. It had been the only thing he’d had. His only leg up. The only thing he could hold over the others. They took better photos, sometimes. But he’d had the nerve to go places no one had gone before and the nerve to capture human experiences no one had ever dreamed of.

It didn’t seem like something he could get back. And the drunken, one-night stand with Cara? That didn’t seem like something he could get back, either.

The Speed of Love, a web novel, page divider

In the next episode…

You’ll meet Eloise, beauty queen turned barista, and Alyssa, physics grad student.

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