This is Part 5 of Iris’ Story. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

Iris smoothed the skirt of her dress. Without any sleeves to pull over her knuckles, this was the best calming technique she could come up with. Either this or down shots. But the drunker she got, the worse Iris would feel about having to do long-distance with Carol. When all Iris wanted was a nice night with her girlfriend, drunkenly spilling her insecurities and fears to Carol was off the table. So, Iris smoothed the skirt of her dress and kept smoothing it until Carol came back from the toilet.

As preoccupied with her dress as she was, Iris didn’t notice Carol walking towards her until she was right there, reaching for Iris’s hands. The cold brush of Carol’s rings against Iris’s fingers sent shock waves up her arms. Slowly, Carol tugged Iris onto the dance floor as Last Christmas by Wham started to play. Ironic, thought Iris. Is this what I’ll be singing next year? ‘Last Christmas, I gave Carol my heart but in February she got a plane and gave it away…’

“Are you ready to tell me what’s going on yet?” Carol’s voice sounded cold and distant.

“What do you mean? Nothing’s going on.” Iris didn’t sound much warmer.

“You know exactly what I mean.” Carol pulled away from Iris to look her in the eye. “You’ve been faking smiles all day. You’ve been stiff and tense and there are lines forming on your forehead from where you’ve been frowning.”

Iris reached up to rub at her forehead, her eyes lowered from Carol’s gaze, “I really don’t know what you’re talking about”.

Carol humphed, frustrated, “If you don’t want to talk that’s fine but I’m trying to have a nice time with you and I just get the feeling you don’t want to be here.

“Of course, I want to be here!”

“No, you don’t! And that really sucks given we don’t have a lot of time left!”

Suddenly, Iris couldn’t take it anymore. She was trying her best but Carol was making it really difficult to keep calm. Why did she get to be mad? Why not Iris, when she was the one being left behind? She snapped, “Exactly! We don’t have a lot of time left!”

Maybe she snapped a little louder than she meant because everyone was staring at her. Swallowing to hold back the tears, Iris turned and ran. Unfortunately, heels and a dress didn’t let her run very far before Carol caught up with her. Speaking before Carol can even touch her, the words tumble out, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Carol straightens, “What do you mean?”

“I can’t date you anymore. I’m breaking up with you.” The words were quiet but they both heard them. It can’t be unsaid or taken back. But Iris felt this awful sense of relief.

“Why?” Carol’s voice was even quieter, whispered into the air, like if she kept lowering the volume, she wouldn’t be able to hear what Iris had to say.

“I can’t do long-distance. It’s not right for me. My parents did it and it made all of our lives miserable.”

“You’re not your parents. We can try-”

“I can’t. I’m sorry. I…” Iris took a deep breath. “I know I’m not them but I also know, because of them, long-distance is hard. Way harder than normal relationships. You have to work so much to keep it alive. Fights are amplified over a screen but everything good is diminished. That’s not what I want for myself. I want to hold your hand as we walk through the city, and have you rest your head on my shoulder when we’re in lectures. I can’t do that over facetime. Maybe long-distance works for some people, but not me, not when it’s you. I like you too much to watch us die over zoom.”

The tears flowed freely. As she said the words, Iris knew what she was saying was right. Carol knew it too. They both reached out to hold the other’s hand. “Maybe we could keep this going until I leave?” Carol ventured.

Iris shook her head, “We have to stop this now. If we let it go until February, there is a serious risk that I’ll fall in love with you and then it’ll hurt too much.”

Carol nodded and placed her forehead on Iris’s, closing her eyes. “For what it’s worth, there is a serious risk I would fall in love with you too.” Carol placed one last kiss on Iris’s forehead and squeezed her hand. “Goodbye, Iris.” she whispered against her skin.

“Goodbye, Carol.”

♡❆♡❆

Iris had always loved Alexandra Park. It was quiet and peaceful and you could see the entire city from one of its benches. With the sky as dark and clear as it was tonight, Iris could see everything lit up, until the lights morphed into stars and stars morphed into moonlight. Phoebe Bridgers played softly in one ear, the other left free so that Iris could listen to the wind and sounds of the city. Quiet footsteps began from behind her. Turning, Iris could just about make out Raf’s silhouette in the darkness.

“I looked for you at the Snow Ball,” they said. “Carol told me what happened so I thought you might be here.” Coming to sit beside her, Raf placed an arm around Iris and held her firmly to their side. Sighing, Iris passed an earbud to Raf and rested her head on their shoulder.

The two sat there like that for what felt like hours before Iris’s neck got a cramp and she had to move. Raf’s arm was probably numb as well but they hadn’t said a word. Iris sat up straight, “Did you talk to Noah?”

Raf nodded, “At Snow Ball actually.”

“And?”

“And we’re not going to date.”

Iris groaned internally. She really hoped Noah was going to be the start of Raf’s upward turn. They’d been so sad about Jenna but Iris saw them with Noah at Aaron’s party – it was the first time in weeks that she’d seen Raf smile. Raf seemed genuinely happy around Noah and now they were throwing it all away. And for what? All so they could continue to mope over a girl who didn’t care enough to break up with them in person?

“I can’t believe you Raf. You have a chance to be happy and you’re not taking it. Do you seriously still think Jenna is the one?”

“Iris-”

“No, Raf, you need to stop this. Jenna is out of your life and you need to move on. Why won’t you let yourself be happy?”

“I am happy, Iris. You make me happy.” Iris stopped. That was not what she was expecting. Raf laughed at her confused expression. “You make me happy, Iris. These past few weeks have been hell but they’ve been a good deal better than they could have been if you weren’t there.”

Raf took a very deep breath before turning to face Iris head-on. They reached for her hands, “In the most platonic way possible, Iris Matthews, you are the love of my life. You are the best friend I’ve ever had. When the world seemed dull and grey, you were a rainbow. I don’t need anyone else to make me happy. I’m learning that because of you. Because you let me lean on you and because of how you take care of yourself. What you did with Carol was amazing to me. You put yourself out there and then were strong enough to decide to go it alone because that was what was best for you. If I could be half that strong, I’d be invincible. And I know it hurts, so I’m going to be here for you, through all of it. There is no place I’d rather be because I love you. I love you, Iris.”

“I love you too, Raf.” Iris smiled through her tears. Looking at her friend, she knew they’d both be okay. They had each other.

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