Iris steeled herself before walking into the lecture. She was going to do it. Today was the day. She would talk to Carol even if she had to break out pen and paper and then die of embarrassment to do so. Hand flying to her neck, she rubbed her necklace for good luck, something she’d done since she was a child, and marched straight in. Her eyes found Carol instantly. It wasn’t hard, there were only a handful of people in the theatre. Still… if her eyes were a compass, Carol would be north.

Like always, Carol was in the very middle of the theatre. Iris was at the start of her row before she could blink and actually standing at the seat next to Carol even quicker. She cleared her throat and Carol looked up, surprised but not unhappy. Good start, Iris thought.

“Can I sit here?” Four words! Double her previous record. Iris gave herself a mental gold star.

Carol smiled a tiny little, barely noticeable unless, like Iris, you were craving positive attention from her, “Sure.”

Iris sat and went about her usual lecture routine to steady herself. Inside, she kept repeating You can do this. Outside, she said, “How’s the Adam Kay book?”

This time, when Carol smiled, it was tentative and remorseful. Iris just about saw it before Carol’s head was firmly in her hands. Looking at Iris through her fingers, Carol sorrowfully said she hadn’t read it yet. There goes your one talking point, Iris sighed to herself, Why didn’t you create a bigger list? Of course she hasn’t read it, she has a life and studies and probably thinks you’re an absolute weirdo for remembering what she bought. Now you’re going to have to sit here in silence, knowing she thinks you’re psychotically obsessed with her book purchases. She’s never going to talk to you again.

Except she was talking. She was talking right now and Iris hadn’t been listening. Tuning back in while kicking herself discreetly, Iris caught on to what Carol was saying.

“…the show was so interesting and funny. Ben Whishaw can really act, huh? But yeah, I haven’t read it yet. Am I a terrible book customer?” Carol looked at Iris with wide, puppy dog eyes. Iris couldn’t help but laugh.

“You bought a book. Granted only one – you don’t quite qualify for excellent customer status yet – but you’re doing okay.” That was SO MANY WORDS! How Iris managed that, she would always wonder.

Carol looked mock horrified, “Are you saying I’m just an average customer?”

Iris laughed again, “No! Of course not.”

“But I’m not your favourite customer.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“No, just that I’m not excellent.” Carol shrugged and attempted to mimic Iris’s West Yorkshire accent on the last word. It came out closer to swedish.

“You sound like ABBA.”

“That’s okay – they’re great! Maybe not as good as Conchita…” Carol looked sidelong at Iris.

“No…” Iris says. “You love her.”

“And Verka! Great!” Carol tried Iris’s accent again. Iris burst out laughing. Carol’s face contorted into mock offence, “You try my accent then, if they’re so easy.”

“You try my accent then.” Iris copied.

Carol looked at Iris for 5 full seconds, her face completely blank. Then, she smiled a bright, full, toothy smile. Iris noticed one of her front teeth was slightly chipped. Even that was adorable. Iris could feel her heart beating in her throat. Meeting Carol’s eyes, Iris was sure she could stare at them forever.

“You sound like Borat,” Carol said. The two fell into a fit of giggles, just as a loud and pointed cough comes from the end of their row. Iris turned her head to see her lecturer staring daggers at them, hands on hips. He gives them a disappointed look before turning back to the lecture, which had started unbeknown to the girls 5 minutes ago.

Carol leaned over and whispered, “He is definitely NOT an excellent customer.”

Iris fought tooth and nail not to give in to hysteria. The two continued to talk throughout the lecture. After several more angry looks from the lecturer, they exchanged numbers and communicated silently. Iris thinks a thank you to Millie for making her talk to Carol. She doesn’t think she’s ever met anyone quite like the girl and she’s not entirely sure she wants to. Even one more Carol would shine so brightly, Iris would be blinded forever.

As they leave the theatre, Carol pulled Iris to the side, “Some of my friends are on the rugby team. Apparently, they’re having a party on Friday at some first years’ flat. I can send you the details, we can maybe go together?” Carol looked unsure and scared, like Iris might reject her. As if that were ever possible. Iris smiled a little and Carol smiled back, “I’ll send you the hosts’ address. Their names are Noah and Aaron.”

Iris’s smile fades. She’s not big into rugby, but having to listen to Raf talk about it for the past year since their ex’s little brother started at Bath, Iris knows there’s only one Aaron that Carol could be talking about. As much as Iris wanted to see Carol in a social setting, she couldn’t turn up to Aaron’s flat. It would be too weird.

“I’m sorry,” she says. Carol looked up from her phone, her smile fading too. “I can’t. Aaron knows my friend and it would be weird.”

“Did they date?” Carol was being oddly blunt now.

“No…” Iris starts.

“Do they not like each other?”

“It’s not that-”

“Then why can’t you come? I invited you, not your friend.”

Iris began to pull at her jumper sleeves, “It’s complicated. Aaron’s sister just broke up with my friend and it would feel like I was betraying Raf by hanging out with Aaron. Like I wasn’t taking their heartbreak seriously. Does that make any sense?”

“Not really.” Carol says. Her voice is hard. She looked at the ground, “You know, that’s a really bad excuse. If you don’t want to hang out, you could’ve just said that.” Her voice began to wobble slightly, “I should never have listened to Millie.” Those last words weren’t meant for Iris, but she heard them anyway. Like a punch to the gut.

Iris tried to explain more, but Carol was already hurrying away. Iris felt like this past hour had gotten her hopes up, floated them high above her, like they were attached to helium balloons, rising forever. These past 2 minutes, someone had taken out a rifle and shot the balloons right in the middle. Punctured, her hopes plummeted to the ground and smashed into a thousand pieces.

I should never have listened to Millie, Iris thinks.

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