When Iris greets her with a friendly kiss on the cheek all she feels is hate. Not for Iris but for herself, for her heart beating ecstatically in her chest. Melody can't even say if the smile she greets her with is genuine or fake, a product of her very real feelings for Iris or her desire to hide her own self-disgust.
Melody watches as others mill about the party with drinks in hand, some dancing sloppily, practically atop each other. Alcohol makes people do stupid things and view situations through a foggy lens, but she doesn't have such an excuse, everything she thinks and feels comes from a clear and sober mind.
She sees Alexy and Morgan laughing in the far corner of the room, the pair bouncing and bopping to a cheesy 80's track that blares from the stereo and splits her ears. They're clearly happy and Morgan's a fantastic dancer, yet something makes her adrenaline rush uncomfortably. It's not a thrill, more like she's been launched into fight or flight mode and forced to confront something fierce. Quickly, she turns her gaze away.
Priya and Chani come sit at her table and she finally smiles in a way she knows is real, grateful to be distracted from her own mind. After pleasantries and a general catch-up, Chani brings up university and finally, Melody has a topic to dive into, something she can get caught up in and set her racing thoughts aside. They talk of past lectures and current projects, of the topics brought up in class recently and Melody is at peace.
That is until Chani says something about Professor Zaidi. With everything she's been feeling tonight, Melody can't help but factor him into the equation. Naturally, she admires him. He's intelligent and funny, a talented man excelling in her field so of course she holds him in high regard. But is it more than that? He respects her and treats her as an intellectual equal, more of a colleague than a student, really. He's obviously handsome, a joy to be around, and yes she can picture him being in her life forever.
And maybe once she thought it was love, she did like the idea of it. The thought of being with him seemed good and felt safe. But in those moments when they were alone, when he'd be close and smile her, a knotting in her stomach was always there.
At first she thought it was intimidation. It was a fitting explanation; he's successful and older so it's understandable she'd be intimidated, right? Only it didn't really start or end with him. Men at bars or parties, one's without the stature or résumé to intimidate her, gave her that same feeling when they' express any sort of interest in her at all.
Iris joins the table and encourages them to join her and the others dancing. Melody gets up to follow her, as do Priya and Chani, but it's her hand Iris takes, leading the way. Her adrenaline surges again.
The music is some old song she hasn't heard in years but the lyrics come back to her quickly, as if they were just waiting for the rhythm to unlock them. They scream-sing the words at the top of their lungs as they dance around in a sloppy circle, revelling in the nostalgia and in each other's company.
But it ends too quickly. The playlist soundtracking their night veers sharply into a slow ballad and the tonal whiplash is evident by feet leaving the dancefloor. Melody intends to do the same but a voice stops her in her tracks.
"Oh stay for this song, I love this band," Iris says, and Melody is incapable of saying no.
Some of the couples in the room slow dance. They hold each other in their arms and seem to know instinctually how to move and how to keep in step with each other. Iris doesn't do that, she shuts her eyes and sways to the music and Melody tries to do the same.
Except she can't take her eyes off of Iris. She's bewitching and Melody feels stuck, rooted to the ground like she was put there to see Iris. Iris puts a hand to her chest, feeling her heartbeat and the music coursing through her. Melody's heart feels like it's about to explode.
Iris opens her eyes and before Melody can apologise for staring, Iris has wrapped her arms around her and joined in with all those other couples. Despite her surprise, Melody tries to loosen up her body and follow Iris' moves, she rests her head on Iris' shoulders, letting her lead. She's certain Iris can feel her racing heart now that they're this close, but it feels too good to care.
"I love this song," Iris says to herself as the song reaches the chorus. Melody doesn't reply but hums a sound in agreement. It's a good song, special to her now thanks to this moment. In this moment she feels safe, not intimidated. There's no uncomfortable twisting in her stomach or panic in her heart, just comfort in Iris' arms like it's the exact place she's always belonged.
Tears begin to well in Melody's eyes as she thinks again of her feelings for Iris, and for the first time, she doesn't hate herself for them.