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A noisy neighbour came to our house for tea one evening. It was from her that we learned that Xander had lost his elder brother in an accident and had not gotten over the loss. He was killed in an air crash the previous year and the family moved to our neighbourhood to help him. Being a gifted mathematician, Xander has joined a college nearby. His family gave him the space he needed to grieve while they coped with the loss. Rumour had it that his mother was also injured by the accident and needed home care. I barely slept that night. I could not believe that this was the Xander who played with me every evening for a year. I realised that he would always have me talk of myself, and rarely volunteer any info on his life. I made up my mind to ask him the next evening.
At school, I was totally lost. I could barely concentrate and had no patience to listen to anything anyone said. All the girls were busy discussing the upcoming birthday party of the most popular girl in class. Not only was she pretty, she had a good looking beau from college to her credit. Not everyone was as lucky as her. The invites for the party was being discussed and I had not received one. Another day, this would have bothered me but today, I could care less. I could not wait till evening. I ran home after school, changed to a summer frock and ran up to Xander’s house to talk to him. This was my first visit to his house.
I ran the doorbell. Soft chimes were heard in the house. I looked around. The house seemed to be tastefully done. A small white kitten purred at my feet. I picked it up and ran my hand over the soft fur while I waited. Xander opened the door with just a towel on his waist. The term Greek God suddenly popped up in my head. He looked awesome in wet hair, muscles toned like a statue and a dimple smile. I never thought I would be so appreciative at the male body…since I did have a smelly brother at home.
“Are you done gawking?” he asked as he smiled.
I blushed. I was doing it again. Damn him. I nodded.
He invited me in and went to change into something that didn’t make me ‘gawk.’ I forgot what I had come around for until I saw a picture of his family. They were a lovely lot. His mother was a pretty woman with straight hair and she sat in the centre surrounded by three men in wavy brown hair. Xander’s father looked handsome and it was easy to see where the dimples came from. His brother looked like his mother with a shy smile and kind eyes. Picking up the picture, I looked at it wondering how hard it was to lose someone we love.
The kitten purred again. I turned to pick it up and met a frail lady sitting on a wheelchair. She looked at me and smiled. She looked like tired and the vitality in the family picture was all gone. “ Misha” she called out to the kitten. I suddenly felt sad for my friend. Was this why he didn’t tell me….because he could not bear it? My mother told me that some people grieve silently. Was that Xander and his family were doing? “Come here...” she urged the cat. The kitten ran over to the wheelchair and darted up her knees.
“Hi….I am Xander’s friend.” I said as I introduced myself.
“Oh, Xander talks of you all the time….he loves basketball” she said as she smiled.
“I didn’t know about Xander…..I mean…of your loss” I tried to sound like a grown up. I felt lost. I placed the picture back carefully.
Xander walked in with sleeveless Tshirt carrying a tray with three tall glasses of juice.
“Mum, you know who this is, right?….my basketball partner. You saw her from my room the other day.”
I smiled shyly. I was at a loss. She nodded. Each of us picked a glass and sipped quietly.
“I have never seen you outside. Don’t you go out often?” I asked, knowing it to be a stupid question as she looked tired. She smiled. I liked her face. It was so sweet and kind.
“I go out usually when Xander comes back from college. I prefer the beach. Xander loves to play and hence we both have a clash of timing when he has to play with you. He wouldn’t miss it for the world and I end up going out when he is free”.
I could feel a hot blush creeping up. Did Xander care so much to make his mother wait?
“Mum, You are embarrassing her!” Xander exclaimed when I blushed.
“ Sorry, Xander, I didn’t mean to” she said as she squeezed my hot hands.
“Anyway, I am tired. Take me to my room.” Xander nodded and wheeled his mother out. I watched her leave not knowing what to say. I heard him push the chair into a room and heard his tuck his mother to bed.
When he came back, I was at a loss for words. “I am sorry…” I said… ” about your brother. I didn’t know earlier”.
Xander sat down next to me without a word. “I should have told you earlier…..I couldn’t. I didn’t want pity.”
“ He was my best friend, so mature and honest. It is so unfair that he got taken so quickly…”
I didn’t know how to console him. I cautiously put a hand over his and squeezed. We sat there for some time. He talked of how Brian, his brother, was planning to surprise him and how their mum caught a connecting flight so that they could travel together. The accident changed their lives forever. We sat quietly until the sun set and I left for home.
Something changed that evening. I felt like I was a grown up already at 16. We never discussed the topic again as I understood Xander’s need to be left alone with his grief. Our friendship gave each out a shoulder to lean on. Playing basketball managed to get me fit and I felt more confident dealing with my peers. The inferiority I felt before was replaced with a quite acceptance. It was nice to have one person not expect anything other than my presence. My appearance changed in two years and ‘blossoming into a young pretty woman’ as my dad put it was something I didn’t expect. I personally called myself a pig.
It was time for college. I was going the next week. A grand get together to celebrate my 18th birthday and going off to college.
To be continued… The concluding part will be published coming Wednesday.