Melody sat in the corner of the lecture hall sipping on a mocha latte and absorbing the pulse of the music from her earbuds. Her head nodded and swayed side to side, only stopping to down some of the chocolately-sweet beverage she cradled between her hands. She didn’t particularly need the caffeine, but she loved the taste of coffee infused with chocolate. But since when does a college student need an excuse to drink coffee anyway?
Her hair bounced in its ponytail as she quietly jammed out – apparently at her own personal rock concert. Other students were herding into the room, completely ignoring Melody as though she was just a part of the scenery – nothing more than the paint on the wall or the fluorescent lights recessed in the ceiling tiles. After all, there was nothing abnormal about a student drinking coffee and listening to music before class started.
The class began to settle down as the professor took his place at the podium and opened a slideshow that began streaming through the projector onto the screen at the front of the room. The title slide displayed the words “Introduction to Stoichiometry” in black font against a plain white background – the most boring of slides in the most boring of classes.
“Welcome back to class everyone. I hope you all had a safe and fun holiday weekend and are ready to dive right into today’s topic.”
Melody heard a few groans from students on her left. She would’ve groaned herself, but she was busy removing and storing her earbuds in her purse and pausing the music that was streaming from her phone, even though she so desperately wanted to at least finish this song. If she let her hair down and positioned herself in her chair just right, she probably could’ve listened to music for the entire class period and never gotten caught, but she went out of her way to make herself invisible most of the time, and anything that could potentially draw attention to her would be counterproductive.
Well, almost anything. She made an exception for jamming out to her music. She couldn’t help herself anyway, which was another reason to turn her music off during class.
There was no way she could go without music. She’d been brought up to appreciate all kinds of music: from the pop music on the radio to the classical symphonies of Schubert and everything in between. She loved and cherished music as if it were the source of her life force – a quality her parents had instilled in her and nurtured as much as possible. They loved music so much that they’d even named their daughter “Melody.”
She sighed as she took out her notebook and pen. The blank page patterned with light blue lines stared back at her, as if daring her to make a move. She put the pen down to the page and accepted the challenge, as boring as it may have been. She filled one page with notes, flipped it around the spiral ring, and filled the back as well. She did this with another page, and another, until finally, class ended. It had been a blur of terms and concepts she already didn’t remember, as per the usual with chemistry.
She put away her notebook and opened her purse, digging inside it for her phone – the precious purveyor of her music. This was her favorite part of the day – the instant when the music first began to pour into her ears. It was like magic as it saturated her thoughts and took over her body.
Melody rose from her chair and merged into the flock of students desperately trying to escape through the double doors on either side of the room. Everyone else seemed to be in a hurry to get wherever they needed to go, but with her earbuds on, Melody was already exactly where she wanted to be.
She emerged into the hallway moments later and ritualistically made her way to her next class. It was in another building across the quad, but she didn’t really need to think too hard about it. Her legs usually just took her there. Sometimes she wasn’t sure how she ended up in the right place on time every day.
“Hey, you with the gray shirt!”
Melody paused, barely hearing, but realizing that this voice could be calling out to her. She turned around, finding a guy running up to her.
“Hey,” he said.
“Um, hi.” Melody did not recognize him at all.
“You are always listening to music.”
“Yeah.” What did this guy want?
“I’m in your chemistry class. I always see you rocking out in the corner.”
Not good. Melody did not want any attention drawn to her. She knew her love of music would eventually backfire, and maybe it finally had. Her mind raced. She had to get this guy to go away; had to scare him off or weird him out or something.
No, that would be counterproductive. If she scared him, he’d probably tell other people that she’s a freak, and that would draw more attention to her. Best to play this one out, she figured.
“What’s your name?”
“Melody,” she said. “Like the melody that mother nature plays on wind chimes.”
He laughed. “That’s an interesting way to put it. I’m Ian.”
Melody stood there, unsure if she should be shaking his hand and saying “nice to meet you,” or if she should be concerned that this total stranger has approached her.
He laughed again. “Relax, relax. I’m not gonna do anything to you.”
Melody looked him up and down, observing his well-fitting t-shirt and jeans, and his clean, white sneakers that sharply contrasted the dark indigo of the denim.
“So did you want something, or…?” Melody paused, realizing that may have come out a little meaner than she’d intended.
“You seem interesting, and you’re always alone. I just wanted to introduce myself.”
This baffled her. Here she tried so hard not to stick out, but somehow, that had caused her to stand out to Ian. How could she possibly have grabbed his attention? She always wore neutral colors, she never spoke out in class; never fixed her hair really nicely, never wore makeup.
“What could you possibly find interesting about me? I’m dull and boring.” Insulting herself was long past hurtful. It was a defense mechanism that she’d engineered to convince herself that everything she did was necessary for her own protection. After she’d told people how boring she was for so long, she might have started to believe it a little.
“There’s something about you,” he said. “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a spark there.”
Melody’s face reddened. “I…”
“You’re trying really hard to hide something, and I don’t know why or what it is, but I know it’s there.”
Melody froze. This guy…he was seeing right through her. She might as well have written “Please figure out my secret!” right across her forehead. Confusion washed over her as she tried to work out how to handle the situation. This had gone from unfortunate to bad to worse.
He could not find out Melody’s secret.
No one could.