Chapter thirteen: Love and doubt
A couple weeks have passed since the incident and things have gotten weird between Melody and me.
I spot her sitting at the front desk as I make my way to the kitchen.
I should say hi, but she hasn’t seen me yet.
“Hey,” Melody says.
“Hey…” I respond.
And then it’s silent again.
Should I say something else or just head to the kitchen?
I nod politely and keep on walking.
I collect my tools, chopping board, knife, the lot and pull some onions from the string.
I get to dicing the onions then look around for some garlic.
And as I work my mind keeps drifting off to the girl at the reception desk.
It looks like at least for now like she’s gotten herself shocked into laying low for a bit.
That or she stopped discussing her plans with me.
But I hope that’s not the case.
She hasn’t gone out in a while.
Part of me worries about that. I hope the failed attempt didn’t make her even more melancholy than before.
She didn’t look sad just now.
But I find it more difficult to guess what she’s thinking nowadays.
It doesn’t help that I know she likes me.
I think I should feel happy about that but instead I mostly just feel awkward around her.
Like I missed my chance to tell and she’ll get mad for not telling me right away and now I’m forced to pine forever.
Which is obviously ridiculous there’s no way that was the right time.
But that doesn’t make any of this less complicated.
I sigh while pushing the chopped vegetables into a bowl.
Put down my knife then look out the window for a bit.
Okay so…there’s only one solution to this right?
I need to figure out whether I like her as much as she likes me.
I have to ask her on a date!
Which is definitely easier said than done.
For one, thanks to it being summer, people from all over travel to Unebre to party and the hotel is busier than ever before.
Meaning both Melody and I both barely have any time to relax. Even after dinner, we’re called upon for various tasks and responsibilities.
This lady needs help getting dressed, this fellow dropped a bottle of wine onto the carpet.
It’s absolute chaos.
“Delaylah, can you go to room seven for a bit? One of the guests has been…unwell.” Harmony asks me with an uncomfortable look on her face.
Maybe if these people drank less booze they’d get sick less often…but it’s not my place to say things like that of course.
It’s my place to clean up after them and not make a big deal out of it.
I sit down on the floor and scrub the tiles with a brush, dunking the brush into a bucket of soapy water regularly.
Then the door opens.
“I brought new towels,” Melody announces herself.
“Ah thank you, Melody, how’s Mister Grace?”
“Feeling apologetic but I doubt it’ll last till after six pm.”
“Well I’m going down-”
“Wait, uhm, Melody?”
“Do you have plans tonight?”
“Not really? Be exhausted from today most likely.”
“My sister wrote some new songs and she wants me to come listen to them. Do you want to come with me?”
“I know sitting on the floor and cleaning puke off the floor isn’t the most elegant way to ask you out but honestly I didn’t really know when we’d have a moment next.”
“Right, yeah no I get that.” She averts her eyes and pushes a lock of hair behind her face “Sure, I’d like to come with you.”
“Great! I mean, good, I go there at half past ten.”
“Gotcha, I uh, I gotta run.” She waves shortly, then rushes out again.
I push the brush back into the bucket.
And feel the bliss inside me as I continue scrubbing.
I check my hair in the parlour mirror, then fumble with my pereline a bit.
Did mention I to her it was a date?
It’s a date, right?
I hope it’s a date…
My shoulders jump.
“I didn’t hear you come oh-” I turn to Melody and find her wearing a low-cut cotton dress in a grey and green check.
My heart makes a little jump. I count that towards liking her. “You look very pretty.”
Her face lights up at the compliment “Thank you, it’s not too much is it?”
“I don’t think so.”
She smiles widely “Thank you. So, uhm, I guess we should be going then?”
The sun is setting already, I hope it’s a sign the season is ending. Maybe then we’ll get some rest againl
It’s a shame summer is ending, it’s my favourite season.” Melody sighs beside me.
“You have a favourite season?” I ask confuded.
“Yes, you don’t?” she sounds equally flabbergasted.
“I never really thought about it…what do you like about summer?”
“I like the warmth, the brightness of it. People are kinder in summer than they are in winter.”
“Customers definitely, but I think it’s broader than that.”
“I’ll have to start paying attention to that now.”
“You really ought to.” She chuckles and a butterfly flutters around in my chest cavity as a result.
I spot Memento. We head towards it and I open the door for her.
Her eyes go wide as she looks past me and onto our destination “Wow.”
It turns out it’s not just the hotel that’s feeling the season.
In Memento as well, the club is busier than I’ve ever seen it before.
The two of us can barely squeeze through towards the stage.
I get nervous every time she pushes into me with her body.
Striking that as another point towards liking her.
We manage to reach the stage eventually.
It’s empty for now and yet people hang around it, anticipating the star who should make her way onto the stage in about ten minutes.
“What’s up with the butterflies? Melody asks pointing at the picture frames on the wall.
“I think the owner wants to remind people they’ll die one day.”
“Why? That sounds like a horrible thing to think about.”
“I don’t know.”
She crosses her arms probably dissatisfied with that answer.
“They’re fake, made from silk,” I tell her in an attempt to ease her nerves.
“Yeah, I can see that it’s just…eerie.” She crosses her arms.
“I’m sorry, if you rather go to Utopia-”
“What no! No, I uh, I like the skeletons, they’re cool.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah, like that squirrel and the ferret is fierce.”
“You know what they are?”
“Uhu-” Melody opens her mouth to respond but gets interrupted by a familiar voice.
“Delaylah, fancy seeing you here.”
“Jaxogeras, Good to see you too. How’s the renovation going?”
“Slower than I’d like, but by the end of the month I should be ready to open the doors again.”
“I can’t wait to see it.”
“I mean you can always come by and help.” They give me a soft push on the shoulder.
“Right, I will, I promise.”
“Uh-huh.” They respond sounding less than convinced “And who’s your friend?”
“Oh this is Melody, Melody this is Jaxogeras, a sibling of mine.”
Melody curtsies politely “It’s nice to meet you.”
“What are you renovating?”
“A gallery, but it has to become something else now.”
“What?” she asks.
“I’m not sure yet.”
“But you just said you’d open next month?”
“Surely I know what it should be by then right?”
My conganions eyebrows know together at that “I’m not sure that’s how that works.”
“Maybe not, but it gives me something to strive for.”
Melody looks at me flabbergasted.
I just shrug in response. The lights dim.
The crowd goes quiet.
Then the spotlights turn on and Kregaya is standing front and center of the stage.
Did she sneak on the stage without anyone hearing her?
The crowd goes wild over it, cheering and clapping. Beside me, Melody claps along and it makes me feel a bit silly about not knowing what to do the first time people started clapping around me.
It looks like Kregaya got a new wig from Zjeliah this one is the colour of fairy floss an absolutely massive. Black roses and silver chains are weaved throughout the pompadour and her black pannier dress seems to be only half-finished as it cuts off above the knee.
Around me, I notice blokes blushing at the sight of a wooden knee.
It makes me chuckle.
Her songs have gotten more lighthearted as well. Instead of lamenting the past we lost together it gazes to the future with hope and aspirations. It makes a nice contrast to her presentation which looks recognisably dated.
And the audience is eating it up. It’s nice to see my sibling get this much attention though.
Even back home she had a way of demanding attention.
It was kind of annoying at times, but on others it really cheered me up.
After father died I didn’t talk for a time.
Talking about it made it feel real, so I preferred to just dive into the books and ignore everything else.
But Kregaya wouldn’t let me slip into a spiral of self-pity and apathy.
She’d talk to me.
I’d tell her to leave me be or find a different spot inside the house where she wouldn’t find me.
One time she pulled the book from my hands.
I got so angry at her.
She asked me how I was doing.
I got even more angry at that, demanding the book back, insisting it’s none of her business.
But she kept at it, asking what I was feeling. Why do I shut people out? Is this because of father?
And that question just made me sad.
I walked away after that,
But she came after me and hugged me.
It took me a while to understand why she did those things.
I felt angry at first.
Annoyed after that.
But now I’m grateful she did.
I can’t imagine staying in that house still.
Book in hand.
Trying to shut out the world.
The world has wonderful things in it like flowers to pick and trees to climb.
I look at Melody enjoying the songs.
It has wonderful people too.
I want to hug her, but I’d probably startle her right now.
I carefully brush my hand against hers. She winces for a moment, then looks at me.
She mouths some words I can’t hear because Kregaya’s voice has the power of a very articulate thunderstorm.
I wrap my hand around hers gingerly.
She smiles at me.
And we keep watching together.
Kregaya wasn’t kidding when she said she was going all out.
She practically flies over the stage while dancing and singing. Radiating that life and enthusiasm that draws people to her like a moth to a flame.
And enjoying every second of it.
And also looking wonderful doing so.
I’m glad she found a place to belong. She’s earned it through years of trying.
I just wish I could be as certain of what I wanted in life as her. Be this headstrong, tenacious and brave.
But maybe, just maybe. I’ll find a place to belong in the hotel.
I look over to Melody with a sense of longing in my chest. She lets go of my hand. This alarms me for a moment but then I notice the reason as Kregaya stopped singing.
And the applause is deafening.
My sister beams atop her stage.
Melody is smiling ear to ear.
And then the violins start their cats lamenting once more.
And it’s time to go.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go backstage?” Jaxogeras offers.
I shake my head “Kregaya would rope us into staying all night, and we’ve had a busy day.”
Besides me, Melody yawns.
“Very well, next time then.”
“Next time” I assure them.
The air feels crisp, a small army of clouds has gathered above our heads and is marching onwards looking for a place to rain.
I hope they’ll move along a little longer. I notice Melody’s shoulders trembling. I guess she’s feeling cold.
I take off my pereline and offer it to her.
She looks at it with flushed cheeks “Oh, thank you.”
We walk together passing the long channels that supply the city.
“Hey uhm,” Melody speaks up. “About the whole…’telling you I have feelings for you’ thing. I hope that didn’t make things weird between us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I don’t know. Some people think it’s creepy. I don’t want you to think I’m creepy.” She averts her eyes from me.
“I don’t think you’re creepy.” I brush my hand against hers again, she grabs it gratefully.
“Thank you.” She looks back at me with a mix of relief and surprise.
“I think I like you too.” I admit carefully.
Her mouth falls open for a second “Really? Well, that’s great.”
“I’m just having…”
“Doubts?” she asks.
She nods solemnly, then directs my attention to a bench “You wanna sit down for a bit?”
We sit down, below us the channel looks dark, deep and full of secrets.
There’s silence for a bit. I should probably say something. I think it was my turn. But what do I even say?
“Do you want to talk about the doubts you’re having?”
I don’t think I want to per se, but it’s the polite thing to do at least. “Well, okay so the whole courtship…thing. I haven’t done that before. I don’t know if I’d be any good at it. I don’t want to hurt you like Hope did.”
Melody shakes her head “Hope has her own issues to deal with, I don’t think-”
“But what if I have issues too? I don’t know how to tell or what to do then.”
“I see.” Her gaze drops to her hands “So it’s best not to even try then?”
“That’s probably the wisest thing…but then I wonder if I’ll regret not trying it for the rest of my life.”
“Well, that doesn’t help.”
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry I-”
She sighs “It’s okay…If I’m being honest I’m having doubts too.”
“Yeah, I’m worried about father finding out about us. With Hope it was much easier to separate my work and private life.”
“You mean, we’d have to pretend to be just coworkers during the day?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Then perhaps the only solution is if I quit my job.”
She shakes her head “I don’t want you doing that for me. Besides, I don’t want father to find out I like girls as much as I want him not to find out I’m dating an employee so that wouldn’t fix the problem exactly.”
“I guess. I guess it also doesn’t help I’m a doll…”
“How so?” She asks surprised.
“Well I mean, I don’t eat, I don’t sleep.”
“Well, yes, I know that.”
“I also don’t age so…I mean you’ll grow old at some point and I won’t. It turns people off sometimes.”
“Delaylah, darling I mean this in the kindest of ways, but I’ll probably get married off to some loser before I get the chance to grow old with you. I just…I just want to have loved before that time.” She rubs the back of my hand with her thumb.
“Right, you mentioned that before…”
“I wish I could promise you forever but I’d have to break with my family completely and I’m not sure if I could do that.”
I shake my head “You don’t have to do that for me. The time you’ll permit me I will cherish. And when it’s over it’s over.
She nods solemnly but then the corners of her mouth creep up into a smile “Does that mean you want to be my girlfriend?”
“Yes, I think…I think I do.”
She laughs sweetly “Good.” and then kisses me on my wooden lips and I wrap my arms around her.
It feels like home.
We talk for some time more about nothing in particular as we watch the water together. Her head resting on my shoulder.
I just want to stay like this for as long as possible.
Until the sun rises.
Until we have to jump straight into work before her father finds us.
But I can feel Melody’s head grow heavy as she slumps into me, falling asleep.
Just because I don’t sleep doesn’t mean she shouldn’t.
“All right, let’s get you home.” I gently push her upright.
Then get off the bench and scoop her up into my arms.
She looks alarmed for a second, then leans into me, laying her head onto my shoulder.
She closes her eyes.
And we go home together.
We arrive back at the house at four in the morning.
Which may have been a mistake looking at my girlfriend.
“Are you sure you’re gonna be okay? You look exhausted.” I ask her as I set her down again.
“That’s because I am.” She kisses my cheek “It’s gonna be okay though.” She stretches her back and rolls her neck from side to side.
It makes concerning cracking noises.
“I’m going to grab a bit of shut-eye. I’ll see you in a bit.”
“Sleep tight Melody.”
“I sure hope not I won’t want to get up again.”
“Oh right, um.”
She smiles “I’m kidding.” With that, she waves at me and sneaks up the steps.
I hope for Melody’s sake tomorrow is a slow day. Leave her a little bit of time to rest up again.