As Blair was packing her parents’ car for the drive to college, she felt a subtle pain somewhere in her chest. She was supposed to be excited, but the thought of leaving her best friend nagged like a throbbing splinter she couldn’t get out. Blair had sensed that Celia felt this too and had been trying to hide her worry. At first, she had resented Celia for not being excited for her. Then, refusing to say “goodbye” early that morning, they’d made each other laugh and cry repeating “hello” in between bursts of “I love you” and “drive safe” and “talk to you soon.” During the twelve hour drive, Blair started to miss Celia so much and to worry about what college would be like without her that she felt sick. They texted constantly, but leaving the cocoon of the car and walking into a nondescript hotel in an unfamiliar city felt like a second separation.
Blair’s parents drove her to campus the next morning and dropped her off into a whirlwind of other new freshmen, RAs, athletes helping move boxes, and orientation leaders corralling groups on the quad. That evening, as soon as she realized she hadn’t texted Celia all day, she called her on the phone. She filled the space between them with a burst of new places and people and things about college as Celia got quieter on the other end of the line. Both of them felt the uncomfortable, unknown distance growing between them, but all Blair could think to do was say, “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”
Blair’s first class was 8 a.m. chemistry, so she was grateful for the reprieve of creative writing that afternoon. She had texted Celia about how lost she already felt in Chemistry that morning, but now it was 2:00 and Celia still hadn’t responded. The creative writing instructor had a serious case of bed head, and his jeans were too short. He didn’t look much older than his students, and he wore a shirt with cartoon figures of milk and cookies on it, which didn’t help. Blair thought about texting Celia again, but she didn’t want to seem needy. As the last few seats filled up, the instructor wrote a list of “Workshop Rules” on the board in loopy handwriting that Blair thought matched his childish outfit.
“Alright,” he said, when the last student sauntered in late and took the last chair. “I think that’s everyone. We’ll be starting with some writing before we do introductions. Please spend ten minutes writing on this prompt,” (he turned his back and started writing on the board again) “without letting your hand stop moving.” When he turned back to face the room, the board behind him read: “I can’t possibly write about ________ because…”
This felt like a breeze after chemistry, and Blair was grateful not to have to play another lame icebreaker game.
I can’t possibly write about Celia because I don’t think I could put it into words. We’re best friends. Aren’t we? I don’t know. I like to think so, and that’s what I tell people, but it doesn’t feel quite right. It’s not like every other girl’s best friend, who you call after a bad breakup to eat ice cream out of the tub and watch Friends with, or who gives you advice on guys or life. I guess we did some of that, but we also do more. And if it were that easy, I wouldn’t feel so anxious about it right now.
When I’m with Celia, I genuinely don’t care about doing things other people might think are childish, like buying a slip n slide for her birthday or staying home on a Friday night, ignoring our friends’ texts, and and making her watch Roman Holiday (because she’d never seen it) when everyone else was sneaking out to a party. Why can’t I write about that? I guess because even what I’ve written just now seems so trivial. The girl sitting next to me could probably write the same thing about her best friend, but I know it wouldn’t be the same at all. I just can’t explain why. What Celia and I have, what we are, can’t be put into words.
I do remember the beginning, though. We were so little. We met at gymnastics, and in addition to going to the gym together on Mondays and Wednesdays almost year round, we played at each other’s houses at least one other day. But then Celia signed up for dance lessons with a girl in our gymnastics class. I tried to explain to my mom that this other girl was taking more from me than my Thursdays with Celia, but as a second grader I had trouble explaining that I was jealous that this random girl got to experience something new with the one person I had experienced so many new things with--the one I wanted to keep experiencing new things with. My mom even offered to sign me up too, but I was adamant about not wanting to be a copycat. I just stewed.
“It’s not good to be jealous,” my mom said. “If you spent every minute with Celia, then it wouldn’t be so fun!” I was not, and still am not, convinced about that.
Every Friday at school, Celia would demonstrate for me the newest dance steps she’d learned the evening before. She lit up in a way I’d never seen before, almost like she was becoming a new, more sophisticated person. She even started moving like a dancer when she wasn’t teaching me, just walking down the halls or out to recess with a graceful flow that made me feel childish and ugly. Of course I didn’t tell her that, and I played along dutifully with her ballet lessons, because all I wanted was to be close to her. Before her first recital, she showed me her tutu--then I was a different kind of jealous. It was prettier than our best gymnastics leos, the ones we only got to wear at meets, cut to make her look like a miniature adult. The sparkly tulle jutted out from her hips to create the illusion of curviness, and I remember thinking that her legs looked a mile long, not like the muscular legs of gymnasts we’d watched in the Olympics.
I started to realize that it wasn’t just that I was jealous of this other girl spending time with Celia--plenty of other kids did that while we were at school all day, my sister Elizabeth had pointed out to me once when I was whining about Celia being gone. It was more that I was jealous that this other girl got to see Celia like this--looking beautiful and graceful and grown up with a fire in her eyes that she didn’t have when we were at gymnastics or playing on the playground after school or sharing snacks in my parents’ backyard. This other girl got to witness my best friend discover a part of herself, become someone she was clearly meant to be. Mostly, I was jealous because I wanted her to look at me the way she looked when she was dancing--like whatever she was thinking about was the best, most important thing in the world.
The instructor clapped his hands, making Blair jump. “Now, read.” He waved an arm at the students. Blair looked at the girl next to her, who kept her eyes glued to her own notebook. The instructor seemed to think that the discomfort seeping around the table was the most annoying thing he’d ever seen. Raising his eyebrows, he repeated, “Read. Now.”
Blair shifted in her seat toward the girl, but she leaned farther forward, making her long, curly hair a curtain to keep Blair out.
“Okay, I guess I’ll go first?” Blair ventured.
When she got to the point where she mentioned the very girl she was now reading to, she glanced up to gauge her reaction. Their eyes met for a brief moment. The girl looked away before Blair’s eyes returned to the page, but Blair noticed that the girl was wearing a necklace with a yellow flower pressed in a pendant that rested in the groove at the base of her collarbone. Somehow, despite not knowing what she was going to write until the words poured out, getting them on paper jogged her earliest memories with Celia as if they had been locked deep in her brain, and her pen was the key.
The day she met Celia was also the first day of gymnastics. Blair had gotten up extra early so her mom could put her hair in a bun. She even used hair spray to tame the frizz and wrapped the bun in a red velvet scrunchy she dug out of a drawer in her bathroom. Blair thought it was the most beautiful she had ever looked. But by that afternoon, when her first grade class streamed out the front doors of the school, she was distraught; her hair had come loose, the frizzy ends were back, and a few unruly strands had slipped out of the scrunchy.
When they got to the gym, they followed their dad to join a long line of daughters and parents snaking down the hallway. Next to the registration table, rows of bleachers stood in front of big glass windows overlooking the gym below. Even stretching up on her tiptoes, Blair could only see the high ceilings and bright banners displaying the team’s achievements. The girl in front of them must have seen her struggling.
“Want to watch while we wait? Come here,” she said.
Blair shrugged at Elizabeth and they followed the girl. She walked along the bleachers, trailing her hand along the metal bars, till she came to a break in the rows covered by a curtain. She pushed the curtain aside to reveal a tunnel padded with blue mats. She ducked in, then dropped to her hands and knees and crawled into the dim hole. She turned around to make sure the others were keeping up, then reached out with her hands stretched over her head, swung onto a bar, and dangled over a gap in the floor. Suddenly, she dropped without a sound.
“Don’t you think we should tell Dad—” Elizabeth sounded nervous.
“Don’t be a baby!” Blair replied. Secretly, she was nervous, but she wasn’t about to let Elizabeth know that. “Come on!”
Blair reached for the bar, closed her eyes, and swung back and forth, relishing the feel of the cold metal in her sweaty palms. “It’ll be fun!” she said, as much to reassure herself as to make sure her sister would follow. Then she let go.
“See? It’s easy!” their new friend said when Blair plopped down beside her. They had landed in a giant pit of yellow foam cubes in front of more viewing windows, this time on the lower level. To their left and right were obstacles like a cargo net, dangling rings, a slide, and even a trampoline.
“My name’s Celia,” the girl told Blair. “My brother’s in level 5 already,” she said proudly, pointing out the window at a muscular boy in a red leotard and black gym shorts swinging on a pommel horse. Blair moved closer to the window just as Elizabeth dropped into the pit behind her.
“Do you want me to fix your hair?” Celia asked. “My mom taught me.”
It was a strangely intimate question coming from someone she’d just met, but it also surprised Blair that Celia so quickly picked up on exactly what she wanted. Celia pulled herself up till she was sitting on the edge of the pit and motioned for Blair to move in front of her.
Celia pulled off Blair’s scrunchy and stored it around her wrist. Removing bobby pins one by one, she held them in her teeth. Then she smoothed Blair’s hair back, pulled it into a tighter ponytail, and said, “We don’t have any hairspray, but this will be better than nothing.”
In seconds, Celia crafted a more secure bun than Blair’s mom had that morning. Blair felt the skin on her forehead and around her eyes pulling back, but it wasn’t painful. It made her feel strong. Celia replaced the scrunchy as a finishing touch, then startled Blair by grabbing the bun and shaking it—hard. “That's how you test if it will stay,” she explained. “If it moves, you have to do it all over.”
“Thanks!” Blair said. Still a little unsure, she just looked at Celia awkwardly, in awe of her ability to be so at ease here.
“What's your name?” Celia asked.
“Oh. I’m Blair, and that’s my sister Elizabeth.” Blair added her twin into the conversation automatically with a glance, but when Blair looked back at Celia, she saw that she was still looking at her. Without fail, every time Blair and her sister met new people--teachers, neighborhood kids, their friends’ parents--someone pointed out the obvious fact that they were twins. Most people also took the opportunity to ask stupid questions about whether they had cute matching outfits or if their parents had trouble telling them apart.
But Celia looked at her differently. Somehow, looking into this stranger’s brown eyes, Blair felt like an individual, not one of two twins, for the first time in her life. Celia was the first person Blair had ever met who seemed unfazed by the whole novelty of being in the presence of twins. Blair was smitten.
A few weeks after that first gymnastics class, Celia asked if Blair could come over after school. School let out early on Wednesdays, and usually Blair and Elizabeth’s dad would come pick them up. Sometimes he even took them for ice cream. It never occurred to Blair that not all parents could leave work at two o’clock in the afternoon, so her first instinct on this Wednesday was confusion. In the swarm of kids running toward the bus loop or parents’ cars, Celia grabbed her hand and pulled her back toward the playground.
“Aren’t we going to your house?” Blair asked.
“My mom comes at 4,” Celia said, not seeming to notice Blair’s hesitation. “Let’s go!”
Blair stood rooted to the asphalt for a moment, suddenly jealous that Elizabeth would get to go for ice cream with her dad while she stayed at school. The night before, she had rubbed in the fact that she got asked to a friend’s house on her own; she and Elizabeth had rarely done anything apart and Blair revelled in this new bit of independence. Resisting the urge to look for her sister in the crowd, Blair turned to see Celia headed for a spot in the grass shaded by an enormous cottonwood tree, away from the rambunctious kids swarming the jungle gym. Looping her thumbs in the straps of her backpack, she ran after her new friend.
Swirls of cotton from the tree gathered along the crack dividing the grass and the sidewalk like snow piled up there by a plow. Celia crouched in a squat, pulling and flinging bunches of grass over her shoulder. Dropping her backpack against the wide tree trunk, Blair knelt beside her.
“What are you doing?”
Celia uprooted a dandelion flower, thrusting it under Blair’s chin. “If your chin glows yellow, it means you like a boy,” Celia giggled.
It tickled, but what made Blair laugh was the sudden seriousness of Celia’s frown. “Is it yellow? Let me try your chin,” she said, before Celia could answer. She held the flower under Celia’s uplifted chin, but all she saw was the smooth, caramel colored stretch of her friend’s neck.
Celia read Blair’s blank face as a “no,” and said, “Duh, boys are gross. I’ll make you a necklace.” She jumped up and bent to pick another dandelion.
Sitting under the cottonwood tree, knee to knee with her newest friend, Blair felt the afternoon stretching before them as if the sun had paused its path in the sky. Something about being with Celia made her feel like they would never run out of time for anything, whereas every other play date or activity she’d had before had been bounded by strict times and bookended by rushed transport from one to the next. She hadn’t known what it was like simply to be and not be concerned with what she was supposed to do next.
Celia finished Blair’s flower necklace, connecting the final two stems with graceful fingers around her neck while Blair held her hair out of the way. She knew it was just a string of weeds, but she felt like prancing around the playground to show off the way Celia had made something beautiful, just for her.
When a teacher blew a whistle, Blair felt the same sensation you get waking up in a strange place: she had forgotten they were still at school. “Snack!” Celia said. She bounded toward the picnic tables, tearing the dandelion chain from her neck and flinging it onto the grass without a second thought. Blair hesitated. Something about the wilted flower necklace lying limp and broken in the grass made her sad. Just moments before, its bright yellow flowers had rested like jewels against Celia’s chest. Blair bent to pick it up, cradling it like a wounded animal.
“You coming, B?” Celia called.
“Coming!” Blair wound up the chain and slipped it into her dress pocket for safe keeping.
Without knowing it, she must have stored away the memory of that day for safe keeping too. In a dandelion necklace, one flower is pierced to allow the other in, each body surrounding and filling another just like its own, forming something stronger together than one plucked flower could be alone. That’s how she and Celia are, Blair thinks. She’s still not sure how she’ll write about her best friend, but now she has a place to start.