And she smells like lemongrass and sleep.
She tastes like apple juice and peach.
Oh, you would find her in a polaroid picture.
And she means everything to me.
-She by dodie
Despite all the excitement and nerves buzzing within her, Madison didn’t like the hectic process of school concerts.
Shuffling feet in the corridors, urgent calls for a missing cast member, these were all overwhelming for anyone to handle. And of course, it certainly did not help that her department, the stage and movement crew, were essential in getting the cast and dancers in order.
School concert productions were always the highlight of the school year. As one of two important events where students could actively participate and have fun, the concert was more appealing as anyone would prefer a musical than running under the hot sun for track and field. The downside however, students rushing around their departments to focus on their lines, dance formations and costume designs always meant that some collisions and accidents took place.
For some reason, Madison thought that it would be an easy job. But clearly, it wasn’t the case.
“You need to get those extras. They’re running late.”
“Yes, Ms Aisha.” Madison nodded with a gulp. Her teacher-in-charge was a nice lady, but she was also terrifying if you didn’t get what she wanted done quickly enough.
Dashing out of the hall to find the classroom where various cast members sat until they were called, Madison was scanning the name lists taped onto the doors which wrote the concert departments. She was so focused that she failed to notice the urgent footsteps of a few people running as she suddenly crashed into the ground.
“Oh my goodness! I am so sorry.” A voice called. “I should have watched where I was going.”
Squinting her eyes in the harsh light, Madison tried to get a good look at her surroundings. “It’s fine. I’m really clumsy, especially since…”
A girl was staring at her with a worried look on her face, eyes shining with concern and her lips pressed together in a thin line. She was clearly part of the cast as her make-up and dress matched Ms Aisha’s earlier descriptions of the extras.
Whoa, she’s really pretty, Madison thought.
“You okay?” Never had she snapped from her thoughts that quickly before. She couldn’t let this stranger think that she was zoning out or ignoring her during her attempts to apologise.
She coughed gently, grabbing the girl’s hand as she was pulled up from the ground.
“Yeah,” she mumbled, dusting off her skirt. “Sorry. I was caught off guard.”
“It was my fault—”
“You’re one of the extras, right? You need to get up to the hall now.”
“Thanks,” she said, eyes darting to the lanyard around her neck. “It helps a ton, Madison.”
A warm feeling spread from her nerves. “You can call me Maddie.”
“Sure, Maddie.” Julia spun around to run off in the direction of the hall.
“Hey,” Madison called, Julia stopping in her tracks to respond. “What’s your name?”
“Julia,” the girl replied. “Julia Fredericks.”
After the success of that school production, the school had been buzzing about this new Year 9 student whose acting talents were just extraordinary. Her composure and the way she conducted herself on the stage was all the entire student body talked about for weeks.
Being a year below this rising star, Madison had heard multiple bouts of news because it seemed that each time someone mentioned Julia Fredericks, it sparked another round of admiration and gushing.
Julia Yun Fredericks held a rather intriguing family background. Her Chinese mother was from a family who ran a successful business, and her Eurasian father was a piano teacher from Malacca. Both parents were incredibly supportive of their daughter pursuing arts and they made sure she had the resources to achieve her dreams.
One thing was clear: The entire student body adored her; she was untouchable and so surreal.
“So, no one has caught your fancy this year?”
Madison frowned at her best friend’s question as they walked down the school corridor. Oliver loved to poke his nose into her private life. Then again, he knew everything about it because they had grown up together.
“Mum’s been wondering when I’d get a partner,” Madison replied with a roll of her eyes, “something about how I should get some dating experience now so that I’d know what I want.”
“She just doesn’t want you to be unhappy.”
Oliver waited a few moments before opening his mouth again. “Julia Fredericks seems to be a nice girl.”
“I met her on concert night.”
“Rumour has it that she’s available now.”
Curious, Madison looked at him. “Didn’t you say a few days ago that she was dating someone?”
He waggled his eyebrows at her, and she wanted to slap that silly smirk right off his face.
“Shut it,” Madison mumbled.
“Apparently, she’s not interested in anyone at the moment,” Oliver huffed a sigh, shutting his locker with a smooth click and pressing the padlock with precision. The sight of him reminded her of how meticulous he was when they were children. “Something about focusing on school and extracurricular activities.”
Madison shrugged, pressing her books and stationery to her chest as Oliver finally had his books in his arms. “Hmmm. I see.”
Julia was the human embodiment of the sun; if you flew too close, you’d burn. And it was not a risk she was willing to take.
Even though Madison never shared any classes with Julia, they still crossed paths sometimes. She would wave and share a smile whenever they came across each other, occasionally bringing up some topics of conversation. And eventually, the two became good friends.
The school year passed, typical students stressing over school work and tests were more than willing to be delighted by this distraction of their school concert. This time however, instead of covering a Broadway musical, they were to put on an original screenplay.
“It’s going to be exhausting.”
“Ms Aisha is probably going to yell at us if we mess up her stage and movement.”
“At least you don’t have her for chem,” Oliver remarked with a shudder. “You’re safe from her weekly complaints of us not knowing our syllabus well enough.”
“Lucky me,” Madison replied as she directed a smug look in his direction.
Changing the topic, Oliver decided to focus on the concert cast. “Who do you think will score the lead?”
Madison hummed, wracking her mind for an answer. “Julia Fredericks,” she finally said.
With a cheeky grin on his face, Oliver nudged her shoulder. “Don’t you still have a crush on her?”
As she almost lost her balance, she glared at him intensely before replying. “Maybe. What does that have to do with the concert?”
This time, her best friend thought carefully before responding.
“Aren’t you going to tell her how you feel?”
“I’m…” she hesitated. “I’m a bit nervous about that.”
“You’ve known her for so long. Don’t you think you should tell her before she graduates?”
“I don’t know,” she muttered quietly.
To take this friendship they had to go another step was scary. And honestly, Madison wasn’t even sure if Julia would be okay with it. They were comfortable with this friendship; why threaten its foundation when everything else was good?
Oliver sighed. “You do what you think is best, Maddie.. I’m just telling you that you don’t have much time.”
“You’re just saying that so I can date her.”
“No,” he said firmly, “I just want you to have what you want.”
Maybe, she thought. In time.
Before the chaos of concert night unfolded, Madison found herself leaning against the balcony on the top floor of the school block. The sun was about to set with the clouds painted with shades of pink.
Each morning before the sun rose, she had always arrived in school to watch the ball of fire emerge from the horizon. Students of her school were blessed with this beauty nature offered and she liked to soak in its wonder. But now, here she was, watching the sun sink into the horizon, beyond where man could touch.
“Mind if I join you?” Madison didn’t have to turn around to see who it was. She could recognise that voice anywhere.
Gazing out towards the balcony, both girls took in the skies. Sapphire blue turned into lighter shades and the pinks contrasted each other. It was like an artist actively painting the sky with the most beautiful colours they could find.
“Last one for the books,” Madison started, still looking at the sky.
“Not for you,” Julia still looked at the canvas above them. The fiery shades of orange and yellow were starting to blend upon the blues and pinks. “You’ll still be able to look at this for another year.”
A pang of aching hit Madison’s chest. Her deepest emotions just clawed their way out of her gut, threatening to spill if she wasn’t going to get it out fast enough.
“There’s something I want to tell you…” she began. But alas, the moment was interrupted.
“Julia,” a voice from behind them called. They both whipped their heads around to see a boy with black-framed glasses, probably from the costumes department. “Ms Lee is looking to do your make-up now.”
“Right. I forgot I needed to head back,” Julia muttered before flickering her eyes towards hers. Was there a flash of disappointment? Madison could not tell. “My apologies. We’ll have to talk later.”
“See you at the party?”
A grin. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
With a successful concert and overjoyed cast, the party was everything Madison felt like was too much. Tons of chattering theatre students or those into creative arts, always meant that music blasted and random sing-alongs in the living room.
She practically stayed glued to the walls, as if hoping a hole would emerge and pull her into the abyss of nothingness. Therefore, she opted for the next best thing, staying out on the balcony to embrace the silence.
The moon had come out, casting a white glow, and the clouds framed the stars nicely.
“Party is too much?”
“Yeah,” she answered. “Theatre kids are wild.”
Julia nodded her head with understanding. A smile tugged at her lips. “I get what you mean.”
They fell into silence, watching the stars twinkle with the moon glowing in the night.
Better now than never. How could she miss this chance?
“Hmm?” The girl looked at her expectantly, and for a moment, Madison couldn’t get the words out. How could she finally let go of the feelings she held for so long?
“You know that feeling when you’re on a rollercoaster, right at the peak of the ride when it stops briefly to stall the suspense,” she began, fingers picking at the hem of her shirt. “Well, it’s scary and yet you want to get through it for that relief you feel when you touch the ground again.”
“You scare me, Julia. I’m terrified of whatever this is…” She gestured to the space between them, blinking back the impending tears and suppressing those creeping emotions. “It could break this friendship we have.”
She took another breath, prepared to go all out to lay her heart on her sleeve. More accurately, spill it out onto this space. Here, she could let it all out.
“I feel like I don’t deserve to be as happy as you make me.”
Her heart was racing now, furiously beating and pumping blood to sustain her body. Had the world shifted so much that everything was off balance?
To her surprise, she broke into a smile.
“That’s exactly how I feel about you, Maddie.”
“All this time… I wondered what this feeling was when I was with you. The feeling of wanting to be by your side, but then…”
“It’s scary to cross that line, because you can never go back to the way things were before. And honestly, I wasn’t sure what I wanted,” Julia admitted, curling her fists beside her. “To just be your friend or…”
“Something better?” Madison offered, her lips curled upwards.
Julia exhaled, like a weight lifted off her shoulders. “Yeah, I think something like that.”
Madison still smiled, her heart soaring in her chest as she looked at Julia.
“We’ll make it work, I promise.”
They were standing so close now, that Madison swore she could hear the thudding of Julia’s heartbeat. Rhythmic and steady. Within a moment,their fingers brushed, and a spark shot down Madison’s spine.
Julia turned to face her, a curious look in her gaze, and she hesitantly intertwined their fingers. Both took a breath like fresh air and stared into the quiet night before them. It was peaceful, the stars twinkling without a care and the silence which engulfed both girls entirely.
“You’re okay with this, right?” Julia asked a few beats later. In all their years of knowing each other, she had never looked this shy. “This holding hands thing.”
Giving their hands a squeeze, Madison smiled.
“More than I’ll ever be.”
I know I said I would do something special for your graduation gift. Well, that plan first starts with this letter.
When we first started this, we both fully understood that it wasn’t going to be easy. With my studies for college and your participation in various activities, time together was just hard to set aside. But like I said, we would find a way to make it work.
Remember I mixed up our time for that aquarium date you arranged? I couldn’t even think straight when panic seized me as realisation hit. But as I finally reached the last few steps to you who waited for an hour, you didn’t make you feel bad at all. You just said that spending time with me was already enough, no matter how short it was, I think I fell for you more since then. With that little grin on your face, my heart performed a somersault in my chest.
How do you do it? You simply add magic to the world; the way sunlight makes you look brighter, or how the orange sunset skies always remind me of your fiery personality. Each breath you take, I’m awed by you.
It still feels like a dream to know that you will always answer when I call, take my hand when I extend for you. Being oceans away is difficult, but it carries so much worth because each moment we share together is precious. I hope you know that with all this chasing, we’ve finally caught up to each other.
Happy graduation, Maddie.
Written By: Zhen Li