8 Years Apart
"Thank you for coming here today. It is Madeline, correct?"
Every syllable of Fyora’s greeting was perfectly enunciated, as if she had been turning over the words in her head. The green Xweetok nodded, unsmiling. Her stomach clenched and unclenched, almost in time with her pounding heart.
They walked in silence, Madeline’s soft steps seeming to reverberate louder in the quiet. The queen of the faeries floated ahead, leading the way up the twisting stairs. She also had an air of rumination around her, like she also dreaded the outcome of this day.
"She barely eats you know," Fyora admitted suddenly. She looked at the Xweetok, pain clear on her face. "Or sleeps. Or much of anything really. She’s only said one thing since she’s been released." The Queen stopped abruptly, Madeline running into her. They had arrived at a gnarled oak door, faerie wings etched into the frame.
Madeline let go a sigh – she hadn’t realized she had been holding her breath. "What did she say?"
Fyora turned to face her, looking her in the eyes for the first time since they had met. "She said that she was sorry."
The Xweetok swallowed, and patted down her jade coloured hair. "I’m ready," she said, steeling herself. Fyora smiled a little, and turned the door’s handle.
The room was small and barren, more like a hospital room rather than one in the royal palace. The walls were a purplish-pink, with dull tile underneath them. In the corner was a medium sized window, and that’s where a speckled Xweetok sat, staring.
A lifetime ago, Madeline Addison would have run to her with open arms. Now, she saw someone achingly familiar yet unrecognizable. She was young, almost fragile. But she could see in the reflection of the mirror, the violet eyes of someone much older, the eyes of someone who stared but could not see.
Those eyes snapped to attention to the window. They widened when they saw the reflection. Was it shock or fear? Madeline thought long ago she knew everything about Alexandra Addison, but now she could hardly see her through the tabloid pictures and news articles. The years and years of questions, pain, guilt. It would have been so much easier to see her as the world saw her, Xandra, the megalomaniac speckled Xweetok who brought Neopia to its knees.
But the small, childish part of Madeline saw her big sister.
A small Xweetok scurried onto the bed and plopped herself onto the pet sleeping in it, lime eyes gleaming. "Alex! It’s morning!"
Alexandra blearily opened one eye. "Too early," she groaned, and turned her face back into the pillow. Madeline noodled her way under the covers kicking her sister in the stomach during the process. She popped back out, now under her arm. "But we gotta go to school!" she exclaimed, nestling herself into the older Xweetok’s warmth.
"Maddy, you have your own bed," Alex said, muffled by the pillow.
"But it’s time to wake up! We can’t be late! It’s bad to be late!" the little Xwee protested, prodding her sister’s stomach.
The speckled Xweetok turned her head, giving her sister the stink eye. Maddy stared back, not phased. Xandra sighed and propped herself up. "Okay, I’m up. Can you pass me my glasses?"
Maddy jumped up and grabbed a pair of green thin framed glasses off the nightstand. "I want cereal!" she boldly exclaimed.
Her sister rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. "Why are you so excited for school anyway? School is so boring."
Maddy smiled widely. "I like to see all my friends! And I like reading the books!"
Xandra couldn’t help but smile back. She poked the holes where dimples formed in Madeline’s cheeks, much to her sister’s chagrin.
"I’ll get you that bowl of cereal."
The kitchen was cramped, pots and pans lining the walls with a too large table the centre of the ruckus. Three Xweetok sat at the table. Andrew, a white Xweetok was dressed in a school uniform and hurriedly shoved cereal into his mouth. Their father dark haired ruffled the newspaper, waiting for his coffee to cool.
"You finally got her up Madeline?" Their mother asked, looking up from stirring her tea.
"Yep!" chirped the youngest Xweetok.
Father didn’t look up from his newspaper. "You didn’t sleep on time, did you Xandra."
"I was busy studying the books Queen Fyora let me borrow. Of course I didn’t have time for sleep," Xandra said, grabbing two bowls. "You know," she added, "If I was in Faerie Academy like she said I should be, I could be actually doing magic than wasting my time just reading about it."
Andrew got up quickly. "The volume of this place is going to increase exponentially and I rather would go to school early than be bothered with the noise."
Father folded his newspaper, eyes steely. "Just because you have magic doesn’t mean you can give it all up and become a faerie!"
"I’m not saying that I-"
"You are a child! And more than that, you are a Xweetok! You are never going to be enough, no matter how much you study. So why don’t you keep your feet on the ground and find something good to stay up and study, instead of playing faerie?"
Xandra got up, making the table rattle. "Let’s go Maddy."
Madeline looked up from her cereal bowl, milk mustache glistening. "Oh, okay," she said, hopping off her chair. She took her older sister’s hand and they went out the door.
The moment they were a little farther away, Xandra dropped her sister’s hand abruptly. She trembled a bit, and Madeline saw the grass beneath her feet start to singe.
"Alex? Are you okay?"
Alexandra sniffled looking reproachfully into her wide green eyes. The smoke that had risen beneath her dissipated in the wind. "I-I’ll be fine…"
"This is where you’ll be staying?"
"Yep!" the speckled Xweetok grinned, pushing thick black frames up her nose.
Madeline flopped face-first into the bed. "It smells like cotton candy…"
"Maddy, don’t do that, I haven’t put on the bed sheet yet!"
The dorm room was cozy, with two barren beds on opposite sides, separated by a blinding fuchsia painted wall. The carpet was pinkish white, fluffy enough to sink into with each step. Xandra’s favourite part however, was the oaken desk and bookshelf, with plenty of room for the collection she had amassed over the years.
"Here, can you do the corners of the bedsheet?"
Madeline scurried across the bed and tucked into the purple linen as tightly as she could. She passed out on the bed with exhaustion, and her older sister laid down next to her.
"Do you… do you think you’ll like it here?" Madeline asked suddenly, turning to her sister.
"I’m not sure yet," she replied.
And as sudden as the question came, so did the younger sister’s tears.
"Woah! Maddy, don’t cry!" Alexandra said, reaching out for her.
"I just- I just hope you like it!" Maddy choked out through sobs, throwing her arms around her sister. They sat like that for a while, Madeline sobs dying to sniffles.
"I’m going to miss you," the smaller Xweetok eventually admitted. Alexandra stroked her hair.
"I’ll miss you too."
"Alex! Happy birthday!"
"Oh, Maddy! Wait, it’s my birthday today?"
Madeline couldn’t help but laugh into the phone. "Do you even know how old you are?"
There was a pause. "Twenty… four," Xandra replied with much deliberation. "And that means you’re almost sixteen. We’re eight years apart."
"Hey, you’re getting there! Now if you could only remember to call home once in a while!" Madeline kept her voice upbeat, but some of the resentment she felt shone through.
Xandra said nothing for a moment. "I’m really sorry Maddy. It’s just- I’m really busy with my research… and you know how mom and dad can be."
Maddy twirled the phone wire, feeling her stomach drop. "Alex… are you going to visit soon," she asked, already knowing the answer.
Silence hung in the air once more. "Why do you still call me Alex? No one calls me that except you."
Madeline donned small smile over the phone. "It’s just that… the name of my big sister is Alex."
Madeline’s body felt heavy as she walked towards the stranger in the corner, like it was screaming in protest. When she finally reached the chair, she tried to find the strength to say something, anything.
"Is it really you?"
Xandra’s voice croaked out like sandpaper was rubbing against her vocal chords.
Madeline closed her eyes. "Yes."
The speckled Xweetok got up from her chair slowly, almost without a sound. Madeline was surprised that she had to look down to meet those sunken purple eyes.
"You-" Xandra’s whole body began to tremble, and she looked away. "We- we aren’t eight years apart anymore."
After, Madeline Addison saw her sister crumble beneath her, and let out the ugliest cries she would ever hear.