It starts with a drunken encounter.
Or no, it starts with a cold.
Her life is busy.
That’s an understatement, and it’s not the problem. She knew it would be from the moment she’d said okay to being in the ensemble - never does she think of it as the chorus - and that’s not the problem. She spends most of her days waking up before it’s light outside, rushing to shower and pack her duffel for the day, and then out the door she goes. Some days she goes to dance class with her new friends, others she still picks up a shift at the restaurant, and the rest is spent in rehearsal.
It’s tiring, but it’s also thrilling.
She hadn’t lied to her father when she told him this was good, she was happy, that it was a great opportunity. It really is.
Karen just wishes that it could be easier. There’s a selfish part of her that wants it all, but she’s finding that she can’t make that happen, can’t get that.
Her busy life isn’t the problem.
She’s the problem. Dev’s the problem. Or maybe they together are. She doesn’t know. She buries it deep down behind smiles and promises to text during ten minute breaks, kisses to cheeks as they both rush out the door for work. If she ignores it, it’s not a problem. And that’s so childish, but they’re both doing it, so she goes with it for now.
She loves the workshop.
She breathes easier with her spot in the ensemble now. Few are left who call her sneering names behind her back, or in front of her face, and most of them will chat with her before and after and during breaks. She dances and looks forward and moves in sync with the others, a perfect ensemble, group member.
It doesn’t bother her to play backup to Ivy; that’s a lie, it does still bother her, but she’s okay right now with what she has.
Karen enjoys this, being pushed to be better. She knows the others hate Derek, call their director a tyrant and other amusing nicknames. It’s grating and annoying, but he’s after the best thing that he can make. Some part of her can appreciate that even if it does make her think of horrible names to curse him with. He makes her better. She figures she has to acknowledge that at the very least.
Dev and she rarely see one another any more. It’s all in passing. They’ve just been skating around the issue of actually talking about it.
She comes home one night late because the workshop ran over with a new dance routine that Tom and Julia had finally gotten down.
Karen knows the minute she walks in that there’s something wrong. It’s in the atmosphere of her apartment, a stillness, and she freezes in the living room way, her excitement over the dance, how she’d wanted to tell Dev, dying. She eyes the open food containers and the two empty beers, him sitting on the couch, and feels something in her tighten as she realizes they were supposed to eat together tonight. She bites her lip, says softly, “Hey.”
To his credit, he doesn’t yell or get angry; maybe that makes it even worse. “Hey,” Dev replies, echoing. “Late practice?”
The ‘again’ is present without needing to be said.
She drops her back to the floor, goes to sit in the armchair, and drops down, stretching her legs out in front of her. “Yeah. New dance number.”
Dev doesn’t say anything else, just passes her a plate and gets up to put his own away. He goes to the kitchen, and she can hear him as she stares at the vegetables in front of her. He disappears into the bedroom.
She’s left alone.
Maybe it’d be more of a fight if he hadn’t done this on Monday, he late as he still went after the press secretary job, while she’d been the one waiting on the couch.
She’s got a blister on Thursday from the new dance shoes Jessica talked her into buying.
Karen bends down during break to see if she can adjust the strap to make it easier. The skin’s already turning red, and she knows that by the end of the day she’ll have a fat blister. More than likely it’ll pop too. She’ll have to suck it up.
It’s as she’s bent over that she hears Derek and Ivy talking.
She doesn’t meant to eavesdrop. It’s not her fault that she’s at the window closest to the piano where they are. She’s intruding, but there’s no way for her to move away without drawing attention to herself. Awkward, she stays where she is and turns her head so she’s looking at them through her hair.
They talk loud enough, or well Ivy’s loud enough, that she can make out their argument. Ivy’s mad at something Derek’s done, and judging by how unaffected Derek sounds he could not care any less; break up and ignoring and confusion over the definition of what a relationship entails.
It’s not her place to judge their relationship or comment on it, so she turns her head away.
Later, Derek pulls her up from the ensemble to go through a set of moves. He does this, uses her to show Ivy what she should be doing, as a way to encourage competition and push them all. It’s aggravating, but again, she knows what he’s doing, and she’ll play along.
He pulls her in close, large hand settling over the curve below her ribs.
Karen moves with him, pretends that no one else is watching them.
His demeanor is business, he’s the director and she’s the dancer, but there’s an amusement, a spark in his eyes.
Her blister pops on the way home, and she thinks she may just deserve the pain from it.
The city gets colder, winter settles in, and soon she’s wearing thick coats over dance clothes as she rushes around the city.
Tom and Julia have most of the storyboard done, and the dance numbers are starting to come together. All of them are excited, fluttering hands and wide smiles, and it’s a real thing. Before it had been too, but this is real now. This is musical notes and choruses and hitting their marks perfectly on stage.
She wishes she could say the rehearsals all go smoothly but they don’t. Ivy’s harboring resentment over whatever fallout her relationship with Derek has caused. Some days she’s fine, if ever she can be fine with the stress they’re all under, and other days she’s a terror.
And then Karen comes home one night to Dev with a packed bag.
She sighs and unwinds the scarf around her neck, drops her keys on the kitchen’s counter. She takes a seat on the bar stool, gives him a small smile. “Yeah?”
Dev shrugs. “I can’t. Not anymore.” He walks forward, brushes a piece of hair that’s fallen from her ponytail. His fingers are warm on her cold skin. “And neither can you. It’s not fair to either of us.”
He’s the brave one here, and she wants that she could be like that.
Karen blinks back the tears that threaten to well up and spill over. “Be happy, please.”
He kisses her, presses his mouth to hers and holds there. Then he’s pulling back, a smile on his face. “If you promise to do the same.”
She sleeps through the night.
Two weeks later and Jessica corners her during their dance class.
“Okay, Iowa,” and there’s fondness in that, her nickname. “What’s up with you?”
Karen lowers her water bottle, and blinks at her. “What do you mean? I’m fine.”
Jessica shakes her hair out, bending down to pull it back up, sliding her fingers through the sweaty strands. ‘No you’re not. You’ve been weird for days now. Spill it.”
She’d thought she’d been doing well with not being sad. Ultimately, she’d known that Dev and her were over, done with long before that night he’d left. There’s something different with it actually becoming a reality though.
“Have I really?”
The blonde raises an eyebrow, grabbing her bag and hiking it over her shoulder as Karen grabs hers too. “You zoned out so bad last week you smashed into Derek while trying the new routine.”
Karen flushes, remembering that; she doesn’t think about how he’d caught her with both hands on her hips, or how his thigh had felt against hers, or his eyes peering down at her.
“And you’d have a mopey look on your face at times too. So what’s up.”
They’re walking outside the studio now, and she pulls her coat’s collar up to shield her neck from the wind. Snow’s supposed to be coming soon. She turns to Jessica, angling her body so she’s talking to her directly. “Dev and I broke up.”
It feels good saying it out loud, freer, and not in the way she’d said it to her parents last week.
Jessica gives her what she probably thinks is a sympathetic look: twists her lips and furrows her brow. “Sorry.”
Karen shakes her head. She doesn’t need pity. “I think it’s for the best. Or it will be.”
“Good.” Jessica looks out as a car screeches into a parking spot next to where they’re walking. Suddenly, she whips her head back around. “Hey, there’s a party Friday night. Most everyone’s going to be there. You should come, get you out of this funk of yours.”
She smiles as Jessica nudges her with her elbow. “Alright.”
She wears a red dress that stops at her thighs. Jessica had told her there’d be potential investors here too, so she dresses up, but still comfortable.
It’s at bar downtown with a swanky backroom, all high backed booths and gilded tables and lights. Posh, but effortless.
Karen doesn’t have to wait long after entering before Jessica and Bobby appear on either side of her. Laughing, she lets them lead her through the crowd, to the bar where they order shots and drinks.
It’s fun and great. She’d needed this, she thinks, as they talk about stupid things and sing loudly in their booth. Other drift around them, some being just as silly as them, others talking business. She sees Eileen and Julia with someone important looking, judging by the suit she could never afford.
Shots and a few drinks towards the end of the party, and she’s tipsy enough to talk to anyone who appears in front of her, normal caution having fled.
Unfortunately, the person who appears in front of her -read, the person she stumbles into while moving to leave- is Derek.
Karen bounces off of him somewhat, her fingers able to reach out and grasp his shirt, steadying herself. She looks up, blinking in surprise. “Oh, you.”
“Yes, me.” They’re near the entrance, where their coats had been taken. He’s already got his own, and in the process of adding his scarf too. She watches as his long fingers loop the wool around his neck.
She shifts on her heels, wrinkling her nose at his tone. He always sounds so amused at her, not with her, but at her. “I didn’t think you’d be at something like this.”
He quirks an eyebrow at her, the corners of his mouth stretching upward. “Something like this?”
Karen huffs, licks her lips and tastes the whiskey Jessica had ordered earlier. “You know. The Great Derek Wills down here with the rest of us.”
“Money, love.” He pulls on the end of his scarf. “Big shows need money. And if I have to make nice then so be it.”
Something in her stirs with his endearment, though she knows it must be just an offhand throwaway.
Derek cocks his head, lips pulling even more upward, and that’s not fair that his smile is so nice. “You’re drunk.”
She rears back, affronted. She huffs, “I am not.”
“You are too. You’re pissed. You smell like you’ve taken a bath in it.”
Narrowing her eyes, she steps forward, pushes into his space. There’s cars and cabs behind him out on the street, and there’s people behind her going about their ways in the dying remains of the party. “So what. I’m a grown up. I can drink if I want to.”
“Yes, you are,” he concedes; she thinks she sees his eyes flit from her face to her dress to her bare legs. “It was merely an observation, love.”
Again with that, and it’s not fair either that his voice is so pleasing sounding. She wants to tell him not to call her that. Maybe sober-Karen would have. Drunk-Karen has different ideas though.
Karen leans up, stretches slightly to close that distance and kisses him, meaning to wipe that smirk from his face. For a moment it works; it’s great. There’s the feel of his stubble against her smooth skin, the briefest taste of whatever he’d been drinking, and his fingers curling around her elbow. He even kisses her back, she’ll swear later when she wakes up.
And then he’s pushing her back, gently, but pushing her away.
She blinks heavy eyelids, confused. “What? Don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind.” It’s a statement, not a question.
His eyes hold hers, and his hand drops from her elbow. “You’re drunk. Go home, Miss. Cartwright.”
Mortification doesn’t hit until the next morning when she wakes up with the taste of dry cotton in her mouth and the memories replay.
It’s the bravest thing she does in rehearsal the following Monday when she approaches him while they’re taking ten.
She waits till no one else is around, marches resolutely with her head held straight, and says, “I’m sorry.”
He gives her a look. “For what?”
She opens her mouth, confused, but then closes it. His look is serious, even, intense. He’s giving her an out, a blank slate, wiping it away, as if it never happened. “For nothing.”
She walks away, pretends she doesn’t see his eyes on her for the rest of the day.
And then Ivy gets sick.
Ivy comes down with walking pneumonia, and suddenly it falls to Karen to do the numbers. Temporarily, everyone tries to reassure the star, but there’s a hidden note in there, whispers and the unspoken that she could be replaced.
They’re in the actual auditorium today, the stage ready to be used.
Karen sits in the front row, eyes where she’ll perform after lunch. She doesn’t turn her head when a body sprawls out in the chair next to her.
That does make her turn to stare him in the face. Teasing is what he’s doing, and it’s a sudden realization that she can tell the difference.
She stares Derek in the face, gives him a smirk of her own. “No. Watch and see.”
After lunch she waits behind the curtain for her cue, hears Derek shout out for silence and for the music to start for ‘Touch Me’, their scene for today.
Karen rubs her fingers on the white fabric of her outfit, that’s more like a bed sheet, where she will be on a bed in seconds, and steps out with a grin.
She performs the number with very few flaws, all eyes on her, and the applause at the end comes from everyone.
“You should want this.”
It’s become a thing for them, dancing the routines. Derek will get annoyed, face pinched, voice loud, and he’ll drag her up to go through the steps.
She cocks her head, staring at him as they move through the turn. She blinks, purses her lips as she tries to figure out his meaning. “I do want this.”
He stops her, clucking his tongue and shaking his head. She’s done something wrong. “Like this,” and he pushes on her back to move her how he wants. And then, “You should want it more. Again.”
Eyeing him, she does as he wants, performs the steps, one, two, three, extended outward, feet crossing one over the other. “More than what?”
“Don’t play dumb. You are an intelligent being.” He taps her elbow, indicates he wants it bent inwards. Directing her, and oh pun intended. “With Ivy sick, you should be fighting for her spot.”
Karen stops, refuses to move, and now his fingers are just on her; she hasn’t thought of Dev in weeks. “I know what I want,” she repeats like a parrot.
Derek’s fingers twitch on her skin, hot through the thin cotton of her top. “Then show it.”
It sounds more like a challenge than an order.
There’s something nice about snow in New York City.
Whatever someone wants to believe, whether the movies and the ads and the stereotypes are all overdone, it’s still beautiful to look at on some base level.
The two feet that comes right before Christmas is perhaps not the greatest. She gets snowed in for a few days, and there’s no question to her leaving to go home or her parents coming here. She kind of likes it though. Holiday to herself, a time to reflect and think and all that.
She locks herself in, buries herself under blankets on her couch and watches Lifetime movies. Jessica comes over a few times and joins her, bringing bottles of cheap wine, and once the others come too. It’s nice to have friends; she doesn’t try to keep the smile from her face when they’re over.
By the time the roads clear enough that people can move around again easily, only a few days, her mind’s made up with what she wants.
Karen throws herself into the workshop.
She might not get the role in the end, but she’s not going to just bend over anymore. She’s determined to show them she’s just as good as Marilyn as Ivy, can be the star they want too. Make it more even, make it harder for them to dismiss her in the ensemble.
It’s thrilling, and she feels alive.
This is everything she wants, what she moved out here for, and she’s realized she has to take, along with wanting.
Derek attempts to hide his smile, but it curves in approval.
There’s another party. She wears a different dress and doesn’t drink as much; just one to settle her nerves.
Karen corners him by the bar, tilts her body so they’re somewhat blocked and out of sight at the end. There’s enough people too that they could get away with being ignored. “I’m not drunk this time.”
Derek looks down at her where he’s leaning against the bar, inclines his head. A bemused grin spreads over his face, charming, and he shifts his body towards her, his shirt pulling tight across his shoulders. “So you aren’t.”
She licks her lips, stares at him straight on. She’s pleased her voice doesn’t shake as she continues. “I know what I want.”
He stares at her, unwavering.
“And I’m not an idiot.”
Still nothing, and it’s not uncomfortable for some reason.
Karen smiles. “I think you like me too. I didn’t take you for an idiot, Derek.”
That gets something.
From the bar to the cab to out of the cab and his place is a blur.
What’s not a blur is how she’s now on the stairs leading to the second level of his place with Derek Wills between her legs, his mouth working her towards her first orgasm of the night.
The stubble of his beard is rough against her thighs. She’ll have marks there tomorrow underneath her leggings. Bruises too from the way his hand holds her leg over his shoulder.
Karen gasps as his tongue delves deeper inside her cunt. She squirms, the stair digging into her back. He’s worked her up to being so close, and she’s unashamed with her actions, beyond caring. With one hand she smacks out for leverage on the stair above, fingers scrabbling. Her other she grasps the short strands of his hair and grinds herself into his face.
She’s not even completely naked; he’d been impatient, how they’d ended up on the stairs to begin with, and he’d settled for pushing her dress up over her hips. She knows the picture she must make.
It doesn’t matter because he circles his tongue around her clit and then sucks, and she’s gone, arcing off and up. She may shout, may scream, may make some loud noise, she doesn’t know. His smug grin tells her it was one of those.
The stairs aren’t comfortable once the orgasm works off.
Second round is in an actual bed.
His bed with her legs around his waist, her hands on his shoulders, slipping over his back, feeling the shift of muscles there as he thrusts into her.
Derek mouths at her neck, tongue tasting her skin, teeth nipping her collarbone.
She clenches around him, wet and close again. He feels wonderful inside her
He groans, rhythm stuttering. “Karen.”
Her name, and that’s a victory.
A sigh, a content one, slips out from her lips.
After, she knocks his elbows out as he tries to hold himself over her just to feel his weight on top of her.
In the morning, she wears his shirt, and he hands her a bagel and water. He grins, and says, “Eat quick. We have work to do.”