The evening rain brought a sense of comfort to the quiet house, something that the lone inhabitant appreciated. While the day had not been physically taxing, the emotional toil did a number on her; it wasn’t anything serious, just the usual over stimulus from socializing with too many people in one day. Melody Ballerini was quite pleased when the rain began; she had been out with her roommates Tyler, Felix, and Vinny for lunch and, somehow, the small group had increased with guests who were invited through someone’s group chat. When the rain slowly crept its way over the town, she used it as a polite excuse to go back to the house while everyone else headed off to do other things. She was fine with that, being alone gave her the chance to do some baking.
As the rain pounded against the roof, Melody made a few trips to the large pantry closet to gather what she needed; sugar (granulated and brown), white flour, baking soda, baking powder and so on. During her last trip, she took a minute to consider what she wanted to make, carefully observing the ingredients that would define the treat. While she went through her internal debate, her right hand held open the pantry door and she shifted her weight to the right so that her hip pressed against it. Her index finger gently tapped against the door in rhythmic drumming, barely audible with rain. It took about a minute and a half for her to come to a decision and when she did, she carefully picked out what she needed before returning to the kitchen a few feet behind her. From there, once she organized the boxes, bags, and jars so that they were in the order of use, she gathered the tools she needed.
The last part of her preparation didn’t have anything to do with baking; she took out her phone and connected it to the Bluetooth stereo that was in the living room. Though the sound of the rain was relaxing for her, it wasn’t enough for the atmosphere she wanted while she baked. To achieve what she wanted, she opened a playlist and tapped on the first song listed; Piano Concerto No. 2 from Fantasia 2000. With everything set, Melody was ready to bake.
However, before she could preheat the oven, she heard the front door open and slam shut, followed by a mumbled curse. She recognized the voice despite only hearing a brief phrase and she hurried over to where her roommate was removing his shoes and soaked jacket.
“Tyler? I thought you were going to be gone all night.” She called out to him as she made her way over to the front door. As she did so, her relaxed demeanor fell as she heard a slight cry come from his direction.
“I—We had some problems and things didn’t work out.” Tyler was trying to keep his voice indifferent and even, but she saw right through him. “Melody, it’s nothing.”
“You’re crying,” She stated, taking a step toward him, noting that his clothes were soaked. When she saw him earlier, he had an umbrella with him, so where did it go? “How long were you outside?”
Melody shook her head and grabbed him by the shoulders, forcibly pushing him to the kitchen where it was warmer thanks to the overhead lights. She hadn’t started preheating yet, which would help keep the room warm so, once she finished bullying Tyler, she headed back to turn the oven on.
“Melody…” Tyler made a feeble attempt to complain but just as he sat down at the table in the adjacent room, he moaned. “Whoa...”
Melody, who had already gone back to the kitchen, let out an annoyed sigh before quickly deciding to make some canela for him. She figured that, in his emotional turmoil, he had stayed out in the rain long enough to get the chills; by tomorrow morning he was going to have a nasty cold.
“Can I at least get out of these clothes?” Tyler called to her, sounding both annoyed and pitiful. “They’re wet, you know.”
“Oh?” Melody replied with a mocking tone as she pulled out the cheap coffee maker, she used for making tea. “So, you were trying to make yourself look like a drowned puppy?”
“I was not!”
“Sure, because you totally haven’t done this before.”
“Whatever, I’m going to change.” She heard him struggle to get up, but then it seemed that he gave up as the sound of his moaning grew and there was no sound of footsteps following it. “Melody…”
Rolling her eyes, she finished pouring water into the back of the machine and took a minute to peel and break the cinnamon bark before placing it in the filter compartment. She closed the lid and pressed the start button, then headed to Tyler’s bedroom to fetch him some sweats, underwear, a t-shirt, and a warm blanket. She came back and placed the items on the table.
“Here, I doubt anyone will be back soon so undress here.”
“You might look.”
Melody shook her head and scoffed, “In case you forgot, you had a habit of leaving the bathroom door open while you showered when I moved in and it took a year for you to stop. This ain’t anything I haven’t seen before.”
She then turned on her heel and made her way back to the kitchen to continue her baking. The oven was still preheating, but the heat was already filling the room. She finally got to measuring and mixing her ingredients, which she did without the same confidence she had earlier. She was worried; Tyler had come home like this before, and it usually happened after he and his girlfriend Natalia had some kind of argument. Melody wondered at what that preteen tramp could have done to him this time.
Natalia worked as a model and spent most of her time abroad, so her and Tyler had a long-distance relationship which was fine for the most part. One of the big problems in their relationship was that Tyler really wanted to make the most of the time when Natalia was in town, but Natalia sometimes wasn’t in the mood for that, so she’d go days, at most two weeks, without talking to him. Another problem was that Natalia and Melody absolutely hated one another.
Melody then thought about earlier in the day, when they were all at lunch. Natalia was one of the additional folks that showed up, and Melody wondered why she would be invited to be anywhere near her. Tyler looked elated to see Natalia (Natalia had been ignoring his calls for three days) and she said something to him that changed his whole demeanor for a moment. Shortly after that, Tyler told the group that he was leaving and, when asked if he would home later, he didn’t really nod but they all assumed that he did.
What did Natalia say to him in that moment? Melody wasn’t near them so it wasn’t like she could eavesdrop, plus the restaurant was noisy anyway. She thought she might have caught a glimpse of Natalia mouthing something like Vegas, but Felix, who was close enough to hear them, said that Natalia never said that. Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell what was said, only that he was sure Natalia never said Vegas.
“Whatcha making?” Melody looked up from the eggs she had just cracked and saw Tyler taking a seat on one of the four barstools across from her.
The blanket she had given him covered most of him, leaving only his feet and face uncovered. He was too tall for the blanket to cover him fully, so he settled with having his feet and most of his leg uncovered so that he could have the extra length to make a hood over his head.
“Mini cupcakes.” She discarded the shells and grabbed one of the three colorful whisks they had from its holder. “Haven’t made those in a while.”
Tyler hummed in agreement, choosing to watch her work before looking toward the steaming coffee maker. “That for me?”
Melody looked toward the machine as well and shrugged. “Yeah, you’re gonna need it.”
“Thanks.” Just then, the machine beeped and in the pot was a golden liquid. “Is it done?”
“No, for canela it has to go through a couple of times before it’s ready.” Melody moved toward the machine and flipped open the lid while also grabbing the pot’s handle. She then carefully poured the tea back into the water reserve and had the machine cycle it through again.
“Why does it have to do that?”
“What you need is the oils in the cinnamon bark,” She pointed to the pot she had put back and added, “When the tea is a dark red, it’s ready.”
“Huh.” He looked back to the batter she had been mixing and realized that she was making chocolate cupcakes. “It’s like you knew…”
He pointed at the batter with a sad smile, “Your chocolate cupcakes are my favorite, it’s like you knew I’d need them today.”
Melody looked down at the batter and laughed softly, “Honestly, I just figured that everyone would like them. But…Yeah, I guess maybe I was thinking of you when I decided to do this.” She reached over the counter and playfully tapped his nose.
Tyler laughed and leaned forward a bit; he clearly wanted to say something but was holding back for whatever reason. Melody was tempted to engage in small talk but thought better of that.
As she waited for him to gather his thoughts, Melody finished with the batter and began placing the aluminum liners in the mini cupcake pan. She had picked out the gold liners for this batch, the next one would be green, and for the third one, she would use red. As she did that, the coffee maker beeped again, the liquid was a deeper gold so it would have to go again, and she was also going to have to add more water.
Just as she put the liners down, she heard shuffling and looked toward Tyler, seeing that he was moving around the counter to where the coffee maker was. She was about to ask what he was doing but he stopped her with a humored look.
“I don’t need to be babied, I’m almost thirty.” He pulled out the pot and poured the tea back into the machine, adding in the additional water as he had seen that the water level was lower than it was last time. “Besides, you do enough for me on a regular basis.”
Melody smiled, “Alright, but don’t push yourself, old man.”
“Old man? Listen here, missy,” It was moments like this that made her hate being shorter than him as he stood over her and accusingly poked her nose. “Just because you’re only twenty-five does not make me old.”
She looked up at him, gave him an unamused glare, and innocently responded, “Says the man who was whining about his back hurting this morning.” When he made no response, she turned back to her cupcakes, realizing that she accidentally overfilled one cupcake.
“Serves you right.” He huffed as he went back to his stool. “You can be an indignant brat sometimes.”
Melody recognized that insult and she couldn’t stop herself from responding to it. “If you’re going to quote Natalia’s insults at me, you can fuck off, Tyler.”
As soon as the words were spoken, Melody desperately wished she could take it back. Tyler didn’t respond, he only stiffened, and she didn’t dare to speak again out of fear that he might snarl at her.
She didn’t know why she spoke like that, she didn’t mean to say that! What was wrong with her? Even when Natalia called her that, Melody never responded so why did she now? And to Tyler of all people! She tried to look at him to see what his expression might be, but the blanket covered most of his face. He must have been angry, he had to be. She didn’t know what to do, so she kept to herself.
The only noise in the room was the coffee maker and the music she had put on earlier. Since neither were speaking, both of them could hear the Piano Concerto No. 2 a second time. Melody considered shutting it off, though she also worried that is doing so might trigger a reaction from Tyler. She didn’t get the chance to make a decision though; Tyler began laughing rather abruptly which startled Melody.
“W-What’s so funny?” She asked rather hesitantly.
“This song,” he giggled, “it’s from your favorite scene in that movie; the one with the toy soldier, ballerina, and jack in the box.”
Melody was surprised that he remembered that; their roommates had all known about her love for that movie, but they never really liked it so no one remembered anything about it. She had only seen Tyler watch it once; both were sick and it happened to be on Netflix, so he watched it with her. She figured she probably made an off-hand comment about how the scene adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s Steadfast Tin Soldier was her favorite segment, because how else would he have known.
“Do you have the song from one of the other scenes in that movie?” He asked, “The jazz sounding one?”
“You mean Rhapsody in Blue?” When he nodded, she gave a smile and a slight shrug. “Yeah, it’s after this one.”
“That one was my favorite, kind of fits my mood a bit.” He went silent for a minute before adding, “Did you put pumpkin spice in the batter?”
“Cool.” He fell silent again, this time she could feel that the tension had begun to dissolve.
When Rhapsody in Blue began to play, Melody raised the volume just a bit so that they could hear it over the noise of the coffee maker. Tyler, whose eyes began to droop, slowly swayed his head to the rhythm of the song and she wondered if maybe he was envisioning the scenes from the film; if he was, which part of the interconnected story was he thinking of? Maybe it was just her own bias, but she assumed that he might have been drawn to the unloved rich gentleman and his snobby wife as that was how she saw him and Natalia. However, she knew from experience that Tyler would never think poorly of Natalia, even when she’s done him dirty, so maybe he was just thinking of the wishful drummer, or the lonely little girl, or maybe the unemployed man. Whoever he was picturing, it seemed to resonate with him as his mood, which rose at the beginning of the song, was falling until he had begun to cry again.
“Tyler?!” Without thinking, Melody hurried over to him but was roughly pushed away as he stood up.
“I’m fine!” He snapped, “I’m tired, I’ll just go to my room.”
He left the room without looking back at Melody, without apologizing for shoving her, without any real awareness of what he had just done from what she could see. Whatever happened earlier, it had to have been painful for him. He was a romantic, wore his heart on his sleeve, and, because of that, he wouldn’t be able to conceal his pain.
Tyler was in a state of agitation for nearly two weeks; he didn’t eat much, talk much, or acknowledge the other three people he lived with. He was on autopilot; went to work, came home, went to bed, that was it. Melody, despite her increasing concern, never dared to approach him out of fear that he might push her again. Felix and Vinny, on the other hand, tried to get answers but got nowhere. They did, however, agree that it had to do with Natalia as she was the last person he was with before he became distant and angry.
Naturally, they had theories as to what might have happened though nothing gave them any satisfaction. Eventually, they gave up; there was no way they could help or understand Tyler if he wasn’t willing to tell them what was wrong, so they did their best to move on. Even Melody had to remove herself from the situation as, since that evening, Tyler had become distant and almost hostile toward her.
Melody could only wonder why she was the one he was avoiding; had it been because of her telling him to fuck off? She thought that he knew her well enough to know that she didn’t mean anything by it, that she regretted even saying it. But then again, he was upset, and it wasn’t his job to make excuses for her bad mouth; she would have apologized by now if he’d let her.
Felix told her that Tyler just needed time to get over himself and suggested that she go out and enjoy herself with some of her other friends for the afternoon. However, most of her friends weren’t available so she instead wandered around the mall by herself until three so she could get home. Or at least, that was her plan.
While she had been wandering the mall, she overheard a mother and her kids mention something about a holiday display in the center of town and Melody was intrigued by it.
That was how she found herself among crowds of families and young adults, looking at impressive Christmas trees and decorations. The decoration she was most attached to was the large toy soldier that occasionally moved the arm that held the soldier’s rifle. It wasn’t built to look exactly like a normal toy soldier; it was squarer and messily painted with splotches of red splattered on the black boots and smudges of white were all over the whole thing. Still, Melody absolutely loved it.
She circled around to the soldier several times, unable to spend more than a few minutes away from it. Most of the people around her never gave the soldier more than a glance, but she kept coming back as she found something new to look at each time.
The buckle was sprayed with a metallic gold which was chipping. The gun wasn’t painted black, it was an extremely dark blue. There was some faint discoloration that looked like the soldier had been tagged by some kids. Finally, she noticed that the soldier’s eyes were different shades of blue; they kind of reminded her of Tyler’s eyes.
She absentmindedly toyed with the end of her violet scarf; funny how Tyler hadn’t been in her thoughts until she saw the soldier’s eyes. But then again, maybe that wasn’t as true as she wanted to believe; she kept seeing his silhouette in the corner of her eye, running away until she bothered to look back and realized that she was spooked by men who were the same height as Tyler. It made her feel stupid; in fact, she knew she was being stupid, but she couldn’t help it!
Tyler was not her everything, but he was something to her and she really did care about him. She wasn’t sure if it was love, but she knew there was more to their friendship than what most people saw. On the surface, they were playful friends (sometimes mistaken as brother and sister) but in reality, there was some tension between them, and she knew they were both aware of it. She wanted to be a part of his happiness, to be the one he waited to hear from or see at the end of the day.
Last Christmas, she gave him a special locket as a way of expressing her feelings. One the right half of it was a photo of them decorating some gingerbread men while wearing ugly sweaters that Vinny had bought them. Their faces were decorated with various colorful smears of frosting, holding up two poorly made gingerbread men. The left side was vacant, she hoped that he might put in a picture of his family there, but he never did.
Instead, Natalia acquired the locket and she proudly wore it for about a week after Christmas before it was thrown away for being ugly. Melody didn’t know why he regifted it to his girlfriend, but it hurt her more than she wanted to admit. Felix stayed up with her for three nights, telling her that Tyler did really love it and that Natalia had taken it away because she mistook it for one of her presents, but Melody didn’t believe it. She believed that Tyler was just a thoughtless jerk even though she knew it wasn’t true.
This Christmas she wanted to give him a gift that couldn’t be given away, but with what had happened earlier in the month, she still hadn’t bothered to get him anything. Chances were, he didn’t get her anything either as he had forgotten about her last year.
A tall silhouette appeared in her peripheral and, unlike before, Melody didn’t run away from it as she believed that it was just another stranger. However, the silhouette drew closer and closer until it stood almost directly above her. Turning toward the person, Melody was shocked to see that this person was actually Tyler, dressed in his usual attire of a short sleeve shirt and dark denim jeans.
She got no response unless him looking away from her counted as one, and she felt even more concerned when she felt a sudden strong breeze.
“Tyler! You shouldn’t be outside without a jacket!” Melody hastily took off her scarf and tried to cover Tyler with it when he gently pushed the scarf away from him.
“I’m fine, you’re the one everyone was worried about.”
“You told Felix you’d be home around three, don’t you realize that its almost six?”
Melody shook her head and pulled out her phone from her pocket, seeing that it was just barely six O’clock. “Oh…I guess I lost track of time with this.”
“Figured,” He shifted his weight a bit and rubbed his arm with his left hand. “Um…”
Melody refrained from speaking, a little unsure of what she should say. Luckily, Tyler seemed to have something on his mind that he needed to say because he started blurting things out as if his life depended on it.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, say that again.”
“I’m sorry for taking out my anger on you.”
Melody wasn’t taken back by that apology, but she was a bit surprised as she thought that she had done something to deserve it. When she questioned him about what he meant, he gently pulled her over to some nearby benches and told her that he something to tell her; the truth of what had been happening for the past year between him and Natalia.
Around March, Natalia had told him how she felt it was time for them to move in together; at first, he had been all for the idea but then she started making excuses as to why he couldn’t move in. Then, around June or July, she pushed for them to get married as she wanted to get started on the domestic life while both of them were stable in their careers. Tyler wasn’t thrilled about that as he knew there was no way Natalia would risk her career by taking time off for a honeymoon or having kids and she gladly proved him right. She informed him that they would marry in Las Vegas and spend a week at Lake Tahoe for a honeymoon. As for kids, she was only open to adoption and that was only because he begged her to consider it. After that, communication between them was scarce, and when she would call or text him, she’d accuse him of having an affair with Melody while she was gone. It got to the point where he was the one ignoring her calls.
Then the thirtieth of November happened.
Natalia had been in town for three weeks, begging Tyler to come to her apartment and then backing out last minute. As that was unusual for her, he was worried and demanded that she let him go see her to make sure she was alright. Instead, she asked where he was and met him while he and his roommates were out for lunch. The news she bore hurt him in ways he never thought possible.
Natalia had gone to Germany in late August, two weeks into September she found out she was pregnant. She tried to beg him to marry her so that she could have someone to help with the baby but, when he refused, she changed tactics. She blamed him for loving Melody instead of her which was what drove her to do to shun him and get pregnant by a stranger. She told him other things, things he wasn’t ready to share with Melody, but it all boiled down to him being worthless and Melody being the problem.
“When I came home and you were there, everything she had said came back as if she were there. I didn’t mean to upset you when I called you an indignant brat, I forgot that Natalia even called you that. And then, all the nice things you were doing for me…I felt like such an ass.”
Melody could only smile, “You were an ass.”
“Thanks,” he responded dryly before continuing, “I know that I can’t take back what I’ve done after that day. Although Natalia was blowing up my phone either to beg me to take her back or to just throw shit in my face, that doesn’t excuse how I treated everyone, you especially.”
“No, it doesn’t,” she agreed, “But it makes me happy to know that I wasn’t the one you were really upset with.”
Melody leaned closer, just enough so her head could rest against his shoulder. He didn’t push her away, though she could feel that he was still tense. Now that he was quiet, Melody could hear the last part of Last Christmas playing through the huge speakers that were next to one of the Christmas trees. How appropriate.
This Christmas, she wasn’t going give him anything that symbolized her feelings for him; this wasn’t an appropriate time for that. Instead, she decided that what he needed this year was a friend and maybe next Christmas, they can try something between them. If he’s interested, of course.
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