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Face the Music

For the Unspoken Challenge

By Caroline CravenPublished 5 months ago 7 min read
9
Face the Music
Photo by Simon Noh on Unsplash

She catches herself staring at him. He acts like he doesn’t have a care in the world, waltzing into the room, tray of glasses balanced in one hand, a bottle of bubbly in the other. Someone cheers as he pops the cork, the golden liquid fizzing and foaming over the side, pooling onto the table. He should wipe that up, she thinks, before it leaves a permanent scar on the wood.

Iris strains to hear what he’s saying, but his words are swallowed up; lost in the chatter and clinking of champagne flutes. He’s laughing though. You’d never guess anything was amiss.

As he turns to welcome another guest, pumping his hand and slapping him on the back, she notices his hair is still damp from the shower, making it look darker and curlier than usual. His shirt is unbuttoned at the collar, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows showing off the last of his tan, faded and washed out, like her memories of their two-week escape to the sun.

He looks good though, way better than her. When she’d caught sight of her reflection in the mirror above the fireplace, she’d realized her lipstick was smudged, a red line smeared across her top lip. No wonder. She couldn’t stop her hands from shaking. She hadn’t even bothered with mascara. Her eyes were so red and bloodshot there was little point.

The doorbell chimes again, more people pouring in through the front door, giggling and shrieking. And there she is. Amy from work. Amy who’s just a friend. Amy who’s so funny and smart and…

Iris digs her nails into her palm as she watches him hold onto her jacket as she wriggles free, flicking her hair over her shoulders. She accepts a drink and leans forward, standing on tip toe to whisper something in his ear.

Iris wonders how she’s going to make it through this party. A party that had been her idea. Well, that’s what he’d hissed at her earlier. And he’s right. It was. She’d thought their fifth wedding anniversary was something to celebrate.

But they’d planned it when she was happy. Before she’d ever heard the name Amy.

Before...

She swallows down the lump in her throat. The pressure in her chest weighing her down, anchoring her to the corner of the room.

If this party was at any other place, I’d snatch up my coat and leave.

She takes a sip of her drink, swirling the wine round her mouth, letting it sting her tongue. She’s not even sure how the argument had started. It had whipped up like a storm on a summer’s day, dark and violent. They’d both said so much. Too much. Is there any way back from here?

She peeps over the rim of her glass and sees him looking at her. At first, she thinks he’s going to smile, wave at her, but then he just shrugs his shoulders and turns his back on her.

“There you are. Where’ve you been hiding?”

Iris startles at the voice and spins round to face her friend Lily, a man with stooped shoulders and thick rimmed glasses hovering just behind her. His hands are stuffed into his pockets and his eyes dart round the room.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Wanted you to meet Jed. He’s…”

So, this is Jed, the tall, mysterious guy in accounts who’d stolen her friend’s heart. He looks way too quiet and serious for Lily.

“Lovely to finally meet you, Jed. Glad you could make the party,” says Iris, retracting her outstretched hand as Jed stares down as his feet and mumbles hello.

Aiden should be here. He’s so much better at making people feel welcome than me. Where is he?

She glances across to the hallway and catches him leaning against the doorframe, chatting with Amy, running his hands through his hair, and smiling. He doesn’t even notice her looking at him. Iris presses her hand on her chest and tries to rub the pain away.

Aiden laughs when someone yells it’s too quiet and she watches him fiddling with his phone. The speaker beeps and within seconds music is blasting out, filling the room.

Wait. That song. Those lyrics about leaving and not getting back together. Surely, those words can’t be aimed at her. Can they?

There is no warmth in his eyes when he looks in her direction and nods, cranking up the volume.

“Jed’s been dying to meet you,” Lily shouts in her ear. “He was so nervous about meeting everyone, but I said…”

Iris shakes her head and lets her glass crack down on the side table, only half-listening to Lily recounting for the millionth time how lovely Jed’s smile is.

Is this it? Is he giving up on me? He can’t mean it, can he?

She whips her phone out of her pocket, and connects to the speaker, scrolling through the list until she finds the Blues song about starting over again.

Two can play at that game, Mister.

He raises his eyebrows and pushes off the doorframe, stomping across the wooden floor, stabbing at his phone.

Her song stops, abruptly, mid wail. Iris holds her breath as the music starts back up. The harmonic chord progression is replaced with angry snarling guitars and a man howling about hard-hearted women.

She collapses onto the arm of the sofa, Lily sinking into the seat next her, dragging Jed with her. He perches on the edge of the cushion, his legs jittering in time with the music.

“You okay hon? You seem a bit quiet?” Lily yells, breathing champagne fumes into her face.

Iris tries to explain she’s fine, but the words stick in her throat. She scoops up her phone and finds the song she heard playing in the pub the other week. It’s true it’s a little mournful, but the track doesn’t even get to the chorus before someone yells: “Jesus, are we at a party or a wake? Put something cheerful on!”

Iris wipes away a tear as it trickles down her cheek. What a terrible night.

The music changes. She can never remember what it’s called, always gets the name wrong, but it was playing in the restaurant on the night they’d met. They’d stayed up talking for hours, giggling, neither of them wanting the date to end. As the owner stacked the chairs and swept the floor around them, she remembers it playing on the jukebox in the corner. She knew he was the one.

She scans the room, searching for him, but all she can see is his back. She wishes he’d turn round so she could see his face, try to work out what he’s thinking.

She scrolls through her music catalog. Will he even remember this one? The song would play over and over on the radio when they first moved into their house. She smiles as she remembers how they’d flicked paint at one other as they tried to banish the previous owner’s exuberant taste in wall coloring. At the end of each day, they would squash up together on the sofa drinking wine and reading in companiable silence. Tonight, though it’s just been silence. She’s been cold shouldered and ignored.

He looks up, his brow furrowed. Is he listening? Or is he just playing back the row from earlier?

Iris closes her eyes and leans back, the cold wall pressing against her spine. She can’t lose him, not over this. She’ll talk to him and make it right. Amy isn’t going to come between them.

As she steadies herself on the arm of the chair, she sees her husband wrap his arm around Amy’s shoulder and propel her towards the doorway.

It’s too late. I’ve lost him.

She shivers when she hears the opening chords. It’s the song they played at their wedding, their first dance when they’d skipped and whirled across the floor. She hadn’t noticed anyone else. He was all she could see.

She trembles and stares at her hands, sliding her wedding ring up and down her finger. As she blinks back tears and reaches into her pocket for a tissue, she notices a pair of polished leather shoes in front of her. When she looks up, Aiden’s standing right there, holding out his hand. She lets him pull her into the middle of the floor, resting her head against his chest as he wipes away her tears with his thumb.

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Amy kissing Aiden’s brother Finlay and flinging her arms around his neck.

Finlay? Finlay and Amy. Oh…

Iris takes a step back and looks at her husband. He bows his head and drops a kiss on her cheek. The music is so loud, she almost misses it. I love you; he mouths.

Short Story
9

About the Creator

Caroline Craven

Scribbler. Dreamer. World class procrastinator.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  1. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (7)

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  • L.C. Schäfer2 months ago

    So much was said here without a word 😍

  • Donna Fox (HKB)4 months ago

    This was such a creative take on a conversation between two people with no words!! Very clever! This story felt very emotional and relatable to me and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Great work Caroline!!

  • Hannah Moore4 months ago

    I thought about doing something with music, but it couldn't have competed with this, this is such a rollercoaster.

  • Naveed 4 months ago

    In this gripping narrative, the emotional journey of Iris is vividly portrayed.

  • My heart broke so much for Iris. Lily wasn't much of a help either. She couldn't even notice the state Iris was in. All she could see was Jed. I started crying when Aiden put his hand around Amy. Like Iris, I too thought she lost him. But yes, Amy and Finlay. So grateful for the happy ending ❤️

  • Naomi Gold5 months ago

    So nice to see a new story from you! You can probably guess that I resonated deeply with this as a music lover. And as usual, I was surprised by your twist ending. I’m glad these two got a happy ending. I was ready to bash Amy, haha.

  • Donna Renee5 months ago

    Omg you had me so mad at Aiden! 🫣🫣❤️❤️. The back and forth was so well crafted. I love this one and I was so glad to see your name pop up in my notifications again!! 😍

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