Toni’s alone in the makeshift dressing room, staring at her reflection in one of the lit-up vanity mirrors, when the door unceremoniously opens and closes behind her. There’s a loud sigh, then a suddenly halted set of footsteps.
“Sorry,” the girl says, “I thought I was the only one in here.” Toni reaches for her phone across the counter.
“Oh, I was just leaving,” she says, shoving her things in her bag. She picks up her beanie—it’s the dark purple one for good luck, she always insists to Fangs—and turns to face the new girl, whose catsuit is, quite literally, a catsuit, complete with glittery leopard print. There’s a little cat-eared headband resting on top of her curls, slightly off-center, which she seems to know—she frowns, taking it off to fiddle with the ends of it while she talks.
“You’re the chick from the Copperheads, right?” Toni nods. “You’re good. Self-taught?”
“Obviously,” Toni says.
“Cool,” the girl says, “me too.” It takes her a second, but Toni realizes she knows exactly who she is—the outfit should’ve been a dead giveaway.
“You’re Melody,” she blurts out, at the risk of sounding a little star-struck. Everyone knows who Josie and the Pussycats are, not just the Rockland County Battle of the Bands judges (some underpaid high-school music teachers who’ve got a Friday night free). They’re actually good. Toni had seen them on the lineup sheet, but she’d had to go on herself two acts after, so she hadn’t gotten to see their performance. “From the Pussycats.”
“Well, I know my name,” Melody says, amused. “What’s yours?”
“Toni Topaz.” Melody shakes her hand when she extends it. Toni squints at her.
“Haven’t I seen you…” She’s sure she’s seen Melody somewhere else before, not on a stage or in a local newspaper, but she can’t quite pinpoint where.
“I work at Pop’s part-time,” Melody adds. “Maybe you saw me there.”
Toni, unlike what feels like three-quarters of the population of Riverdale, isn’t the biggest fan of Pop’s. In the year and a half since she first moved to Riverdale, she’s only been a handful of times—she’s still not used to how everyone there is just the slightest bit too cheery all the time. “Yeah,” she says, “maybe.”
“So what brings you here?” Melody asks. Something about the headband must not be working, because she sets it on the tabletop and fishes around in her purse for something else. “You guys serious about music?”
“Nah,” Toni says. “I mean, I love it, but not, like, full-time job love it.” She shifts from one foot to the other—she hadn’t planned on being in here for long. Fangs is probably waiting for her to join the rest of them.
“I get you.” Melody pulls a little circular thing out of her bag—some kind of makeup, Toni figures. “I love the Pussycats, but sometimes I think Josie is a lot more serious about… the industry, and all that, than me or Val. Val’s the keys, by the way.”
“I saw her.”
“Yeah,” Melody says. “I think someday I’d want to be a writer, or something. Change the world.”
“Me too,” Toni agrees, half because she really does feel the same way and half because she wants to fit in with Melody, for some reason she can’t quite articulate. “I mean, maybe. I don’t know,” she adds on. “As a journalist, or something.”
“Also writing,” Melody notes. She smiles, like they’re in on a secret no one else shares. “That’s cool.” She examines the orange-beige snake sewn onto Toni’s denim jacket. She’d done it herself by hand. “The Copperheads?”
“My friend Fangs came up with it,” she says. “He plays guitar, our other friend Sweet Pea does bass, and Fangs’ kind-of boyfriend Joaquin sings.” She suddenly feels embarrassed, talking to someone who’s obviously more serious about music than a couple kids who meet up in the Southside High music room after school a few times a week, but they’re fifteen. It’s not like it’s meant to be anything serious. “We’re not anywhere near studio-professional or anything, but we do it ‘cause we love it, you know?”
“I get that,” Melody says, fixing her glittery eye makeup that Toni’s sure has to have negative health side-effects, or something. She doesn’t sound phased at all. “You do music outside of that? In school, or whatever?”
“To be honest, I always kind of wanted to march drumline,” Toni admits. “But Southside High doesn’t have a marching band.”
“Riverdale has one,” Melody says, “but it’s not really my scene.” She tilts her head to the side, studying her. “Snare?”
“I’d want to play quads, actually,” Toni says.
“You’re a little small for that.”
“But strong,” she adds. “Don’t underestimate me.”
“Oh, never,” Melody says. The faint sound of cheering in another room catches her attention. “Winner plays an encore,” she says. “I’ll look for you in the crowd.”
Toni snorts. “You wish,” she says, but she knows the Pussycats are almost guaranteed the win—from the kind of things she’s heard, no other small-town high school band is even close to their level. She reaches up to put her beanie back on, but Melody shakes her head, stopping her with a hand motion.
“Leave it down?” she says. “It’ll make it easier for me to spot you. You know, pink hair and all.” If Toni didn’t know any better, she’d think she was flirting with her.
“I don’t know,” she says, “I’m pretty hard to miss.”
Melody grins. “I can tell.” A short announcement sounds out over the loudspeaker about awards in fifteen minutes. “That’s my cue. Josie’ll probably freak if I don’t get back soon,” she says, carefully putting her cat-ears back on. She glances back at Toni. “See you around, Topaz.”
“See ya,” Toni says. When the door clicks shut, she folds her beanie in half and stuffs it into her bag with everything else.
“Where’ve you been, T?” Fangs asks when she joins them in the main auditorium, taking the folding seat next to him. On his other side, Sweet Pea is staring off into the distance, completely oblivious to their conversation. “I was gonna text my mom, in case you went home early and got a different ride or something, but…”
“No, yeah, I’m fine,” Toni assures him. “I just…” She shrugs. “I met a girl.”