The Speed of Love, a web novel — Episode 4
Welcome back 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 3 of The Speed of Love.
The Speed of Love follows the lives, personal dramas, and love affairs of six young adults. In Episode 1, you met bumbling librarian Cara and acclaimed photojournalist Darren, who shared a drunken moment long past. In Episode 2, you met beauty queen turned barista Eloise and grad student Alyssa. And in Episode 3, you met wilderness-obsessed Josh and twenty-one year old high school senior Alejandra.
Now we’re back with Cara and Darren as they reflect on their library encounter and revisit old memories…
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.
Cara’s shift didn’t end till five thirty, but at four the library had cleared out so much that the head librarian on the shift told her she could go early.
She walked to the bus stop through the soupy summer heat and waited for the 101. When she got on, it was crowded, and she had to stand, gripping a pole. She wasn’t tall enough to reach the upper rail comfortably.
She lived just over the line in Somerville, up on Winter Hill in an apartment. A new apartment was in store, because her ex was paying for half of this one but the lease was up and she wasn’t going to be able to afford to pay it on her own. She’d started halfheartedly looking for a place closer to the library. But truth be told she liked the apartment in Somerville, which had big windows with a view on Boston.
It was a view, though, that she supposed was about to disappear. They were building more condos next to her building. Her building — she really had to stop thinking of it as hers. Same, really, with her ex. Why did people think of them as their exes? It was not really like they were theirs. That was the whole point. They were exes.
When she got up, she put on a kettle. A year ago the ex would’ve been making her a gin and tonic. But she’d given up drinking after the ex had told her, quite bluntly, that she had a drinking problem. Well, he’d been responsible for half the drinking problem, hadn’t he?
She was still bitter about it, even though she recognized it as the truth.
They’d gotten together during their junior year at Columbia. She’d thought they’d get married. Now she didn’t like to think of his name. Matt. And he’d been a doormat, up until the very end when he’d decided, very suddenly, that she wasn’t fit to be with him anymore. That was how he’d presented it. You have a drinking problem and you have a problem, period. Why are you working at a library when you could be in a PhD program at Harvard? Don’t you want to make money? Don’t you want us to have a nice future?
There’d also been the part where he’d started banging another girl on the side. But that, in his eyes, was, uh, besides the point.
Cara hated him with a burning passion, but she mostly hated how much she’d cared about him and how much she’d thought it would work out between them.
She had been working at the Somerville Public Library as a secretary, not a librarian. It’d been a temp position — one of the secretaries had been on leave. When Cara had seen the librarian job open up in Medford, she’d thought why the hell not and jumped on it. She’d seen librarians in action. Turned out it was a lot harder than it looked. For one, wheeling that gosh darn cart wasn’t easy. And if she wanted to stay for long, she was going to have to go back to school and get a degree to do library work. And if that was case, then —
“Quit with the worrying,” she muttered.
The teapot whistled. She filled her mug, watching the teabag float up to the top. She bobbed it up and down in the steaming water, which began to tint. Pale green and then darker.
“I can’t believe I didn’t recognize him,” she said aloud, swirling the water in the mug. A drop jumped out and landed on her thumb, and she winced. “What the hell, Cara. How the heck didn’t you recognize him?”
Well, she’d been very drunk. There was that problem with alcohol again. And it had been dark. And she really hadn’t gotten much more of him than that lopsided smile, but, heck, she should’ve recognized that lopsided smile. There’d been a time when she’d looked for it on the streets of New York. Had sworn to herself that she’d know it if she saw it.
No name. No number, he’d told her, in someone’s dorm room at 3 AM. She’d agreed because they’d both been ridiculously drunk. And it had been right before she’d made the plunge and started seeing Matt. A last hurrah, she guessed. She’d never told him about it. Why would she have? It was the sort of thing you only told your partner if you were looking for trouble. And she’d never looked for trouble once in her life, except that one night…
After a year or two of looking for him on the street, she guessed she’d forgotten. And let it go. And why would she have thought that he’d pop up here, of all places?
She took a sip of her tea and burnt her tongue. Eyes watering, she leaned back in her chair. It was the strangest coincidence she’d ever walked into in her life.
And, yeah, he’d known her name all along. And she knew how. In the light coming through the crack of the door when he’d been leaving, she’d seen him pause at the bureau, move her license across the wood. As if he’d been memorizing her. Her name. Her face.
Darren guessed he’d been a little creepy.
She was probably sitting around wondering how he’d found out where she was. Truth be told, it was a coincidence. He’d seen the name while helping his mother with some computer crap and then he’d asked the see the photo.
“Someone you know?” she’d asked him.
“Yeah,” he’d said, his voice fading. “Yeah. From college.”
She’d given him a sharp look, but hadn’t pressed the issue.
When they’d met — okay, met was the wrong word — he’d been an up-and-coming student in the NYU photography program. And she’d been a smart girl, but she’d been partying hard. They’d met at an NYU party. She’d come with her girlfriends. At the time, Darren had just broken up with his high school sweetheart, a girl who had gone on to become Miss Massachusetts runner-up. They were still friendly. He still chided her about that sometimes. They’d broken up because she’d been questioning her sexuality. Still was questioning her sexuality, as far as he knew. But they still met up a couple times a year and got drunk together. Sometimes hooked up, though that had gotten rarer and rarer as time had gone on.
He’d been away from Massachusetts for a long time. A long time! He’d forgotten how touchy Massachusetts people could be.
Now he was riding the Orange Line. He had nothing better to do. He had his camera around his neck but, heck, what was he going to take pictures of? Snap photos of the people on the train and deal with angry questions? Get off in the city and take photos of the Statehouse like a fucking middle schooler?
He’d been hoping to maybe catch dinner with Cara. To apologize to her for not getting the nerve up back in college to ask her out. The sex had been good. But they’d done more than have sex. They’d talked. And even drunk, she’d made an excellent conversationalist.
Maybe it was on him, then. Maybe he’d left her at a loss, and she’d never thought of him again, and it was just an embarrassment to drag up a drunken memory that she’d forgotten.
Or, worst of all, maybe she didn’t remember in the first place.
He knew that wasn’t the case because of the way she’d reacted. So at least he was absolved of that.
He leaned back against the train door, felt the whoosh of air at his back. Closed his eyes and breathed in and out, in and out. Heck, he wasn’t one to back down. He’d seen worse than this. Much worse. He’d hurt worse than this. She was just a girl.
And he was persistent.
Back again tomorrow, he thought. Back again tomorrow. Carrying coffee this time. Bringing it to her. Apologizing for embarrassing her. Even though I embarrassed myself even more.
Thank you for reading!
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Next week, we’ll return to Eloise and Alyssa. As always, thank you for your readership and support!