Caralyn’s eyes followed Xandra as she descended the escalator. Right before she disappeared through the immigration counters, Xandra turned. She looked up towards Caralyn and waved in farewell. Even from a distance, she could see that Caralyn was crying. Her own face was wet with tears. Caralyn waved back, attempted a smile, and made a shooing movement, motioning Xandra to go on. Xandra nodded and tore her eyes away from her best friend of years. She went through the immigration counters, and vanished from Caralyn’s sight. There was no point standing there anymore, so Caralyn left.
* * *
As soon as Caralyn reached home, she retired to her mini-library. It was the smallest room in the house, but she had managed to squeeze in two floor-to-ceiling shelves, a table and two chairs, and a comfy loveseat. She spent more time here than in the bedroom, even falling asleep on the cushions occasionally after her late-night readings. Picking up her favourite book, she settled onto the sofa and tried to lose herself in the story. But her mind kept drifting back to Xandra, and the course of their friendship.
Caralyn and Xandra were a year apart, and they met when Caralyn was 16, Xandra 17. Both of them were new student transfers, so they found their way to each other quite naturally. Xandra was more outgoing than Caralyn, and it took some time for Caralyn to be comfortable around a new person, but within a few months you’d never have guessed that they had only just begun to build their friendship. They quickly found out that they both loved books, the outdoors, and a passion for performing. Xandra was a ballerina, and Caralyn, a violinist.
It was an ungodly hour one day when Caralyn’s phone rang jarringly. Rudely awakened by the noise, she scrambled to answer it just to stop the bloody racket. As she lifted the phone to her ear, there was mostly silence, punctuated only by sharp intakes of breaths at intervals. After repeating “hello” a few times and getting no response, she checked the caller ID to see if this was supposed to be a prank of some sort. It was Xandra. Something clicked in her mind. Xandra was crying. She put the phone back to her ear immediately and told Xandra “it’s okay” over and over again, letting Xandra collect herself enough to speak.
Finally, Xandra found her voice. The first thing she did was choke out an apology for disturbing Caralyn’s sleep. Caralyn stated dryly that Xandra should really tell her what was the matter, since Xandra had woken her up anyway. Xandra spilled the beans after struggling for a few more minutes. She told Caralyn that she had an anxiety problem. She was bullied as a kid, and even though she did her best in everything, it never seemed to be enough. It almost seemed as if she was bullied because of her capabilities. Sometimes, her own thoughts overpowered her and she’d be a shaking, crying mess. What was she doing with her life? What did it mean to grow up? What was the purpose of life? What if she could never succeed in her passion?
Caralyn didn’t say anything throughout Xandra’s speech. She only listened. Only after Xandra had finished speaking did Caralyn respond by saying that she didn’t have the answers to Xandra’s questions, nor solutions to Xandra’s problems. The only thing Caralyn was able to provide was a shoulder to cry on, a pair of ears to listen to, and good old companionship. Advice given by another person wasn’t always good advice, so Caralyn preferred to say less. Xandra could barely manage a “thank you” before her eyes welled up with tears again. That phone call cemented their friendship.
Soon, they were having late night conversations through phone calls or Skype regularly. They shared their experiences in performing; their dreams and hopes for the future; their opinions on books they loved, and books they hated; their favourite authors; their common likes and dislikes; their crushes; their families… They even created life scenarios which were always fun to talk about even if they weren’t entirely plausible, and laughed at them. Many a time they laughed till their stomachs hurt and their throats constricted.
Caralyn thought back to the time when she was experiencing her first heartbreak. She had called Xandra, and the roles were reversed. Caralyn was the one with tears running down her face and Xandra was the one comforting her this time. That phone call was 90% tears and 10% words, but Xandra didn’t care; she would listen to Caralyn cry if that’s what she needed. Caralyn couldn’t stand being at home a lot during that time, and Xandra stayed out with her a lot, risking the wrath of her mother, but she never ever said a word. (Xandra’s mother was a very strict person who had very strong opinions about staying out late at night.) Xandra was also the one who persuaded Caralyn to take a bite of her food, then two, then three. Caralyn had lost an alarming amount of weight, and Xandra couldn’t bear to see Caralyn waste away like that. After Caralyn had recovered a little, Xandra had Caralyn stay over, singing ridiculous songs to entertain Caralyn and attempt to make her laugh again.
It was also common for them to write notes and letters for each other during occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and performances. They had a box each just to safekeep each other’s notes, and Caralyn even received a special Christmas postcard from Xandra when she was off dancing in London. Those notes contained words of gratitude for each other’s friendship, well wishes, encouragement for their passion and lots of love. To this day, there was nothing they treasured more than the notes they received from each other.
As they were both performers, they attended each other’s shows whenever possible. It was always a joy to see your best friend smiling up at you when you were on the stage performing. Hugs were always exchanged after the performances, photos were taken, and more words of encouragement given. In a way, they were each other’s motivation.
One exceptionally memorable occasion for them was when Xandra signed up for a ballet competition for the very first time. Caralyn, being more organised than Xandra, frog-marched her into going last-minute shopping for things she might have missed on out. It was lucky they went, because Xandra did actually need a lot of those items. Caralyn had Xandra stay over at her place, in order to help Xandra with her hair and make-up early the next day. (There was a time when Xandra was just simply hopeless with beauty routines.) Caralyn woke up at 5 am, getting herself ready before prodding Xandra awake at 5:30 am, pushing her in the direction of the shower. (Xandra was notoriously groggy when she first wakes up from sleep.) Caralyn then spent about an hour meticulously doing Xandra’s hair and make-up, before driving up to the competition. The competition was from 8 am to 6 pm, and Caralyn stayed the whole day.
Xandra made it through the finals, and the next day would unfold in the same sequence. The only thing was that Xandra was missing her armbands as part of her costume. Xandra wanted to make them herself, but Caralyn waved her away and insisted that she do it. Caralyn stayed up till 1 am that day sewing the armbands. During the finals, Xandra twisted her ankle about 20 seconds into her dance, but she still completed everything that she needed to. No one knew about her injury till the photo session, where all the contestants were invited onstage to take photos with audience members. Unable to locate Xandra anywhere, Caralyn knew something had gone wrong. She was about to barge in backstage, rules be damned, when Xandra emerged from a door, limping. As soon as Xandra saw Caralyn, her tears fell and she tried to rush over. Caralyn met her halfway and Xandra clung to her tightly, saying, “I twisted my ankle. It hurts. So much.” Caralyn hugged Xandra back fiercely, as if trying to give her strength and comfort, and whispered “I know” as a tear or two escaped her own eyelids. But they both knew that Xandra was crying not because of the physical pain, but the heartache that she wasn’t able to deliver her best after months of training.
Even as they grew up and lived increasingly separate lives, they were always there in a heartbeat when they needed each other, be it to share good times, or to survive bad times. It only took a phone call to connect again, and they both thanked God for letting them meet and have each other. Now, Xandra had been accepted into a prestigious dance company overseas, and they were separated for now. It wouldn’t last forever, but they both would feel the absence of each other acutely. However, they both knew friendship was more than regular meet-ups and having good times. It was also about how much they were willing to sacrifice for each other and how much they kept their promises.
Caralyn had promised to be there when Xandra performed for the first time at the company. All she had to do was wait till Xandra settled down and sent her the schedule. Feeling slightly better about the whole situation, Caralyn opened the book again, and this time, she did get lost in the story.
Credit: The featured image is part of the parabatai oath, taken from Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince.