Chapter Three: The Best

CASeries #1: KNIGHT

Chapter Three: The Best

The cab pulled over in front of Logan International. The clock was at ten o’five and she had over ten missed calls from Xandra. There were distant sounds of planes taking off and the noisy clutter of luggage trays as the airport staff pushed loads of them in one go. Xandra and her parents waited in front of the gates.

Valeriana rapped on the back of the driver’s seat and spoke. “Sir, I’ll just be a minute. Do you mind waiting?”

“Alright,” he said. “Don’t take too lo—”

She did not let him finish and disembarked the cab in a flash. “Xandra!”

Her best friend jumped at the call and swiftly turned. Her parents looked up as well and saw Valeriana limping for them. The surprise quickly showed on their faces while Xandra ran forward thoughtlessly and crushed Valeriana into a bear hug.

“Oh my god, Val. I was so worried,” she said, breathing against Valeriana’s unruly hair.

Valeriana returned the embrace and breathed in the trademark scent of Xandra. After everything that happened so far, she was glad she still came. No words could explain the feeling in her heart.

“I’m so glad. I called you so many times but you weren’t picking up.” She tightened her hug further, the worry coating her tone.

“Ouch. Wait.” She hissed as her best friend accidentally brushed against a tender spot on her back. She tapped on her shoulder and pulled away, grimacing.

“Sorry!” Her brown eyes glinted with guilt, her eyes raking over her body. “What the hell! Look at you! Bitch, you need to go to the hospital! You’re even bleeding!”

Xandra unapologetically hammered her head with a fist, making Valeriana wince and smile at the same time. She didn’t look that bad, in her opinion. Aside from the messed up shoes, ripped jeans, and dirtied white shirt, she looked fine. Perhaps through other people’s eyes, she wasn’t.

“I’m fine,” she said. She wasn’t about to start about what sort of hell she went through.   

“No. You need to get cleaned up,” Xandra insisted. “Come on, I’ll take you to the—”

“Xandra, please. I’m not that injured,” she told her. “This will take little work to patch up. You have a flight and a life ahead of you to come after, so please don’t bother.

Xandra stared at Valeriana for a few moments, tears welling up in her eyes. “How can you say a life ahead of you to come after, so don’t bother so easily? Val, I may be going away, but that doesn’t mean I can’t care about you. What about the thief, huh? Do you know how close I was to calling the police? You shouldn’t have come and you should’ve just given him what he wanted!”

“Xan . . .” she stepped forward and took the other girl to her embrace. “It’s alright. He got away in the end, now stop crying . . . please,” she whispered. “Look on the bright side, I did get my bag back.” Valeriana held up her blood-stained duffel bag. “The blood isn’t mine.”

“You look like a walking crime scene,” her best friend commented.

Xandra sniffed, regained her composure, and began fussing. Even so, her rant fell on deaf ears. Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez examined her with incredulity as they came behind their daughter. Anna, Xandra’s mother, grabbed Valeriana’s shoulders as she scanned her from head to toe.

“Dear lord, Valeriana. Are you alright?” Anna asked. She brushed back Valeriana’s tangled hair. “What have you gotten yourself into, again?”

Anna quickly apologized when her fingers brushed against a wound, chuckling. After that, tears pricked the corners of her eyes. This wasn’t the first time Valeriana came up to Xandra’s parents looking like the way she did. In fact, there were several instances in both their childhood life that she came out messy.

It brought back memories.

“Oh, I’m going to miss you.” She kissed Valeriana on the forehead and caressed her cheeks.

“I’m totally fine, Mrs. Hernandez. Thank you so much.” She took Xandra’s hand and felt her chest tighten. These good people were leaving in a few hours. There would be oceans between them.

“I think we can spend a few minutes and bring you to the hospital ourselves,” stated Xan’s father. “We can’t leave you in that state.”

“No! Please don’t bother doing that at all. You’ll miss your flight.”

“Well then, we’ll call the—”

“No, no . . . I’ll handle this, I swear. I just can’t tell mom. She’ll scold me to death.” She suddenly felt nervous. If she was seen like this, she would be questioned. She didn’t know what sort of reason she should come up with.

“But what—”

“Please,” she said. “Just let me say goodbye and I promise I’m going to go home immediately.”

They looked at her with doubt and worry.

“Can you guys not tell mom what happened? I can’t have her worrying too much,” Valeriana pleaded. She watched them exchange hesitant glances and grimace. “Please?”

Anna sighed disapprovingly but nodded. “Alright. One last favor before we go. But you have to get yourself treated at once.”

She looked at Xandra. She had been with her since their childhood days. Over the course of twelve years, they were with one another. It was hard to think that they had to be separated.

While Valeriana was outgoing, she wasn’t a social butterfly. She preferred a small group of close-knitted friends over hanging out with a bunch of people she hardly knew for the sake of having fun. She chose to form more intimate relationships, which was why letting go for her was harder than anything else.

She thought she wouldn’t cry. She practiced her goodbye in front of the mirror several times and didn’t cry. Even so, the sudden wave of tears flooded her eyes. Without paying her heed, big and fat drops of salty water trickled down her cheeks and sobs started tearing through her throat.

Xandra had the same reaction seeing her face.

“I love you, Val,” she said, their bear hug resuming. The warmth of her best friend and cherry blossoms washed over Valeriana’s senses. She closed her eyes, wanting to file this memory deep in her brain.

“I love you, Xan. My god, I’ll miss you. It’s so bad we didn’t try Candlepin Bowling one last time,” she murmured with a chuckle pressing their cheeks against one another. She would never get enough of Xandra and the comfort she brought.

“I’m sorry to leave like this. I’ll be back, I promise. I’ll always be with you.”

Valeriana made the strangest, strangled cry—a cross between a dolphin and a dog. Xandra could not believe what she heard and pulled away, laughter bubbling from her chest. Valeriana could not help but laugh as well, wiping off the tears and snot on her face.

“Oh my god, what kind of sound is that?” She howled with laughter, sounding more like a horse under an asthma attack.

Valeriana snorted at that and shook her head. “I don’t know.”

They all laughed, even Xandra’s parents. They then dried their faces and composed themselves, sniffing as they held each other’s hand.

“Gosh. I’m really sorry. Instead of giving you good memories, I just had to send you off looking like this.”

“I think this is one more reason not to forget about you, not that I ever will,” Xandra told her, sadness coating her words. “I’m so lucky to have you as my best friend. God knows what lengths you went through for me.”

She groaned, shaking her head.

“But really. I’m going to miss you so much . . .” Xandra trailed off, her voice cracking in the end.

“Don’t give me those eyes.” Valeriana chuckled. “I’m going to miss you too. I wish you don’t have to move away.”

“Oh, honeys. I really wish we could stay,” Mrs. Hernandez said. “College is really expensive here, though. Besides, Philippines is not that bad. Maybe you can come and visit us. It’s a really wonderful place!”

Xandra’s father nodded. “We’ll come visit,” he said in his accented English. “And you can come too. You’re always welcome.”

At the mention of her best friend’s home country, Valeriana felt herself breathing out loudly. Thinking about the distance between them made her head ache, but it was inevitable.

“So it’s final, huh?” she whispered. “I’m happy for you.”

“Have you decided which university you’re going to?” Xandra asked.

“No, it just isn’t the same.”

“Yes,” she replied and shook her head. “I’m sorry I can’t fulfill our promise.”

“Since you’re not coming with me, I’ll probably go somewhere different. Maybe like Hogwarts.”

They giggled.

“Unleash your inner sorceress, then,” Xandra told her. “And I will, too.”

And they hugged once again, one last time.

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