Cori Desmond can’t find her rhythm. She’s been a writer and influencer in Washington, D.C. for nearly a decade, but can’t seem to shake her desire to pursue music. Avery “Carter” Niles can’t find the voice of his muse. He’s ready to release music again after a decade out of the limelight, but it’s just not complete without “the voice” he hears while creating. As one of Carter’s biggest fans, Cori’s determination to interview Carter for her podcast helps them find each other. And their hearts’ desire.
author’s note: it took me 14 years to finish “melody,” because of how difficult it’s been to imagine a love like this. but now it’s here & I couldn’t be happier to share it with you. thank you, Lord & most especially, my muse, for inspiring every word I’ve ever written for y’all.
A small, dim light cast a deep yellow glow over Cori Desmond’s face as she sat in the back of a late-night lounge. The lighting danced off the toffee hues of her brown skin and caused flecks of gold to flash in her deep dark eyes. Jet black curls framed her oval face, which dawned a slight trace of makeup behind her face mask. Couples filled the place tonight for Valentine’s Day, but Cori sat alone nursing a glass of dark red wine while she patiently waited for Carter to take the stage.
She had been waiting for over an hour for the former R&B superstar to step up to the microphone. Tonight was Cori’s first time attending a live show since the COVID-19 pandemic began, so a tinge of anxiety ached in her chest as she wondered how she would even approach Carter after his performance. Cori wasn’t even sure if he would talk to her, but she was determined to get his attention. Carter hadn’t answered any of her emails or DM’s requesting an interview. So, she was here tonight to make the request in person and would cross the bridge of figuring out just how once they were face to face.
“Alright, alright.” The DJ stood behind a booth on the side of the stage. “Let’s get this romantic night started. We’ve got a great line up for you this evening.”
The crowd gave a sporadic applause before the DJ continued.
“And to start the night, we’ve got the one and only, Carter, to sing some smooth and sexy throwbacks for you. C’mon out, man.”
The music quickly flipped to the opening instrumental of one of Carter’s biggest hits from over ten years ago. It was also one of Cori’s favorite songs. She snapped her fingers to the bassline and gingerly sipped her wine. This is a great date spot. Cori thought to herself, as she looked around and made a mental note to encourage Justin, her…whatever he was, to bring her here for a night out. He was out of town, again, for Valentine’s Day, but promised to make it up to her.
I’ll believe it when I see it. Cori took a healthier sip out of frustration, but it all fell away once Carter stepped onto the stage. Cori’s breath hitched while her eyes roamed over his entire body, drinking him in. The former R&B bad boy who’d managed to grab a string of hits in his late teens and early twenties was now a very grown man. Carter definitely aged, but his familiar features were still there under his full beard and mellow eyes. His smooth, brown cinnamon dusted skin was now decorated with tattoos and his build was nearly twice the size of what Cori remembered from back in the day. Now, even more than before, she knew that she had to feature him on her podcast. His story was too compelling. He was too compelling.
“Damn.” Cori gasped to herself.
Subconsciously, she still expected the young Carter to walk out onto the stage. The lights dimmed more and the crowd sat quietly, as Carter came closer to the microphone. Cori realized that she was still holding her breath, as she waited for him to sing. He inhaled deeply, and then covered the audience in his honey-rich voice. Cori immediately pulled out her phone to capture the moment and wished she could really make time stand still.
As Carter crooned, Cori hoped she wouldn’t lose the courage to approach him after his performance. She had to, if she wanted to get this interview, but the sudden butterflies in her stomach were threatening to hold her back.
The crowd’s sudden bellow of applause resonated in him and lifted his spirits, similar to a drug-induced high. But, the feeling of euphoria vanished just as soon as it came for Avery. Reliving his days as “Carter” only ever gave him a brief moment of release. The feeling would last for a few milliseconds before Avery was thrust back into the present after his performance. He finished his set, and then quietly nodded before exiting stage left.
“Good job, man.” The DJ nodded in Avery’s direction, as he made his way backstage.
Avery quickly covered his face with his mask, thankful that the days of prolonged conversations with strangers were long gone. He gave a nod of thanks in response and then headed towards the lounge’s exit. He’d gotten what he came for, and now, it was time to get out of dodge. He took a few steps forward before nearly slamming head first into a woman waiting near the door.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, as he attempted to move past her.
“Um, wait, excuse me.” She stepped into his path, forcing him to pay attention to her.
“Hi, I’m Cori Desmond.”
Avery glared at the woman whose features were covered by a mudcloth fabric mask. So, he scanned the rest of her. She was dressed in tights, an oversized sweatshirt, and combat boots, which gave her a 90’s flair. He liked her style and couldn’t help but notice her eyes. They were large, brown pools that were easy to drown in.
“Do I know you?” He tried to brush past her again, but she stood firm.
“No, not exactly. I host Black Paint podcast, and I was hoping,”
Avery silently cut his eyes at her before forcing his way by. The cold Washington, D.C. winter air whipped around him once he pushed open the back door. He didn’t want to get involved, but this woman was tenacious. He could hear her footsteps keeping pace behind him, as he made a beeline towards the parking lot.
“Wait, please. I’d really like to have you on the show.” She called after him, but Avery kept walking.
He wasn’t interested, as his mind jogged back to the email he told his cousin and manager to send right to the trash folder. Avery knew of Black Paint. It started as a local magazine that reported on cultural and social news, but had blossomed into a national lifestyle brand and media company. Black Paint spanned across several platforms, all aimed at capturing Black influence. Its creator and founder, Booker Malone, was the figurehead, but Cori was a featured contributor and podcast host. He’d never met either before, but their brand was familiar.
An interview with Black Paint was the last thing Avery wanted to do for several reasons. First, he hated interviews, especially unscripted ones like Cori’s show. Second, Black Paint kept up with trends in culture, but Avery wasn’t trendy anymore. He was “boring” these days. There was nothing to interview him about. He finally reached his car and unlocked it.
“Please, wait!” Cori yelled. “Please, just hear me out, Avery!”
He froze at hearing her call his first name. Only his closest friends called him Avery and the way it fell off her lips gave him a start.
“I just wanna go home and mind my business.” He glared, as she stopped a good six feet away from him to keep a safe distance.
Her chest heaved from chasing after him. She was 5’7, at most, while he was 6’1 with long legs. She had definitely walked double time to keep up with his stride. A moment of silence fell over them until Cori cleared her throat and caught her breath.
“Okay, but that’s like…not even an answer to my question.” Her previously warm tone turned cold. “You just keep rudely ignoring me.”
She turned those eyes on him and Avery needed to take a step backwards before he could respond.
“Is that not a “no?” He furrowed his forehead inquisitively, trying his hardest to be nice.
It was surely a no in his book. A hell no, actually, and he had no problem with saying it to her face. No matter how distractingly comforting her eyes were.
“Technically, it’s not.”
Comforting and incredibly familiar, he was still caught in her eyes. He liked them.
“So, it seems we are at an impasse.” She crossed her arms, which made him check back into the conversation.
He opened his mouth to counter, but couldn’t think of anything to say. She was absolutely right. And he liked that, too.
“You know what,” Avery couldn’t hold in the slow rumble of laughter that started in his chest. “You’re right.”
Cori’s own melodic giggle joined shortly after until they were both doubled over, holding their sides. Their warm breath escaped from behind the coverings on their faces and floated up into the air along with the frustration that Avery was trying to hold onto.
“Please, just hear me out. I’m standing out here in the cold for goodness’ sake.” She slowly stood up straight again.
A few stray curls fell in Cori’s face and Avery’s eyebrow twitched at the sight. Something was happening to him, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Mentally, he went through his usual register of emotions in order to label whatever “it” was. Quickly, he reasoned that “it” couldn’t be significant, because he could barely see Cori’s face behind her mask or make out anything else about her from underneath her large sweatshirt.
You trippin, forreal. Avery was picky, which meant it would take more than a nice set of eyes, an alluring laugh, and a head full of perfectly pullable curls to reel him in. Still, there was an inkling that there was more to her…and this encounter. Avery swallowed “it” down, as Cori took a step closer.
“You’ve done so much since you’ve been out of the limelight, Carter. All of our listeners ask why we haven’t had you on yet, and honestly, I don’t know why.” She shrugged.
“Your story is so interesting, a perfect fit for our show.”
“Interesting, perfect…” He scoffed at Cori’s word choice.
Avery felt he was far from both and figured her flattery was just part of Cori’s pitch to get her way. Even further, revisiting his career pitfalls and rehashing his very public break up with his actress ex-girlfriend were not at the top of his personal to-do list. That was all nearly ten years ago. Avery had moved on and wanted everyone else to do so too, end of story.
“Yes.” She firmly insisted. “At least think about it and get back to me, please?”
Cori stuck her hands back inside her sweatshirt. “You know how to find me if you decide to.”
She left the ball in his court, before turning back towards the lounge.
“I doubt it.” Avery shook away his intrigue, as he watched her walk away.
Listen to the full playlist for “melody” on Spotify & Apple Music