An excerpt from How to Fall in Love: A Novel
A woman was crying in the lobby, silently, unobtrusively. Even across the enormous space of the David H. Koch Theater, she appeared sharply defined and as luminous as if only inches away from Evan. He removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes. Still he saw her clearly, exclusively, as if no one else were in the theater. Words rushed into his head: “I will imagine you Venus tonight, and pray, pray, pray to your star like a Heathen.” More of John Keats’s words to Fanny Brawne.
The woman was tallish, perhaps five six or seven. Fine auburn hair fell freely in waves around her neck. As he approached, he saw that her eyes were cop- per-brown behind the tears, and her lashes were thick; her freckled face, unmade up, was completely adorable to him. She was slim, dressed in body-hugging pants, a loose-fitting white sweater and a big silky green shawl. Her legs—ah, her legs!—were long and finely tapered. She wore flats—which emphasized the elongated curve of her calves and the delicacy of her ankles. He guessed her to be in her thirties or forties, but he never could tell women’s ages.
Her hands trembled. Delicate hands, the bones as long and fine as the veins in a leaf. She raised the left one to her face in a gentle gesture that touched him.
He was surprised to find himself imagining the two of them holding hands as they walked among the redwoods.
She seemed to be in trouble. He would help her.
Evan rushed to her. “You’re crying,” he said to the beautiful stranger.
“You okay? Can I help?”
The woman, startled, smiled up at him—laughed, really—as she shook her head no.
Evan laughed too. “If only I cheered up everyone in my life so quickly.”
“And I’m not even in your life.” She sniffled as she took a tissue from her bag.
If only, he thought.
“Sorry to accost you,” he said, not knowing what to do next. “Only you looked so unhappy, I thought I might help.”
“You did. I always cry at this ballet. Don’t you?”
“Actually, this is my first ballet.” He put his hand out. “Evan,” he said. “Evan Cameron. Sure I can’t get you something? A Coke? A glass of water? Champagne?”
“Not a thing. I’m Eve.” She returned his formal handshake just as soberly and then looked at him warmly. “Really, I’m fine.”
As if his life depended on getting some sentence out of his mouth other than another beverage offer, he spit out, “How can you feel so overcome when nobody onstage has said a word?”
“Oh,” she said, shaking her head slowly, “you’re one of those.”
“Who think artists have to speak to convey something important.”
“They could maybe sing?”
“Well, let’s see. Does a flower by Georgia O’Keeffe not speak? A face by Gauguin? Does Bach say nothing to you?”
“I’m afraid,” he said, lifting up his manila envelope as evidence, “I’m pretty much a word guy.”
She threw up her hands with a dramatic inhale. “Ah!” she said. “Me, I feel people’s emotions, their motives, most when they move. Show, don’t tell, right?”
“You can feel them?”
He squinted. “But if you don’t hear them say or sing anything, how...”
Without pause, she corrected him gently. “No one narrates a ballet, no one sings it, no chorus reveals any warnings...but when the young lovers move together, you feel what they feel.” She looked up at him hopefully. “And isn’t that the highest form of art?”
He smiled. “You’re not crying anymore, and I feel good about that.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” she said sweetly. “I don’t remember it.”
“Art. The highest form. Okay, I’ll ask it a different way. When two people breathe together, they become more than partners; they become...”
He awaited the answer, not having one himself.
She looked into his eyes. “Conspirators. From conspirare, ‘to breathe together.’”
He breathed deeply, shoved his hands in his fleece jacket pockets. “So...you’re an athlete, then?”
“A dancer. Was. My husband was a choreographer. He’s the one who taught me that thing about conspirators.”
Evan felt himself wince and looked at her ring finger, hoping she didn’t notice. “You’re married,” he said flatly.
“A widow. But whenever I come back to Lincoln Center, I’m pretty much as overcome as I am now.”
He noticed she’d changed the subject deftly. And was she looking at the manila envelope in his right hand, or was she checking out his left hand? Evan thought the latter but was interrupted by the bell signaling the end of intermission. Just then, three women who had been observing them both—Evan presumed they’d been as worried about the weeping stranger as he had been— moved toward them. The oldest one stepped up to Eve and gushed in Spanish, “A salute! A salute!” and kissed her cheek.
Eve smiled back at her and her companions, then glanced warmly at Evan and said to them all, “I’ve got to get down to my row quickly. I’m sorry. Gracias.”
Still trying to figure out the exchange, Evan called after her, “Wait! Have dinner with me. You can’t just—” “I’m so sorry, Evan!” she called back. “I can’t. I’m busy. But I loved meeting you. Enjoy the rest of the ballet!” She turned back to him. “Don’t forget, feel them breathing together!”
Eve vanished into the sea of strangers rushing down the aisles to their seats. Evan chased after her, surprising himself and her. She wheeled around, seeming frightened, when he touched her shoulder.
“Please, Eve. This is too important. Where do you live?”
She pulled away carefully from him. “Vermont,” she said. “And”—he saw a hint of regret cross her face as she slid past the couple on the aisle to her seat and removed her shawl. “I really must see this. The curtain is about to go up.”
Before she could sit down, though, a distinguished-looking man with a black bow tie behind her in row B caught her eye and, clapping softly in a gesture meant for her alone, whispered, “Brava!” The fat man ensconced in the seat on her left and the woman with a pillbox hat to her right noticed and turned to see whom they were next to. When they saw, they too clapped gently. Eve nodded to each one graciously just as the curtain rose.