The sadness that wrapped itself around Kiki in junior year stays through the time the cold autumn days of her senior year. Kiki begins to think that this is her permanent new self, now: a sad person crushed by grief.
Case feels differently. He knows that grief can stick around, especially for a kid like Kiki, who still has an orphan’s abandonment issues. But he knows, too, that Kiki is surrounded by support, and even if her personality will always have grief’s depth, she will not always be a sad person. She has all the ingredients in place to discover her resilience.
For one thing, she’s kept her fitness habit, and daily runs, yoga sessions, and meditation have their ways of recalibrating even the saddest emotions. Good health goes a long ways.
For another thing, she has so many people who care about her.
When she was still a child, one of the men working as Father Winter that year befriended the family–and he still comes by every so often to check in on the little girl who warmed his heart. OK, so maybe he comes to grab a slice of leftover cake, too, but he always stays to visit.
And there’s Lea, the Art Center Friend.
“I’m worried about Kiki,” Lea says. “I mean, she never returns my calls, but she usually texts back. But this time, she hasn’t been in touch for months.”
“She’s been having a rough time,” Case says, not pausing to even consider that he has, too. After all, Knox, Moira, Tina, and Aadhya were his oldest friends, as well. But he’s been so focused on being there for Kiki, he has barely noticed his own sadness.
“Tell you what,” he continues. “Stick around. She’ll be back from her run soon. Let’s fill the afternoon playing games. We don’t even have to talk.”
The friends stay, and when Kiki gets home, they play her favorite game from childhood. It’s a rather boring game that Case and Ira rarely have the time or patience to play, but this afternoon, the slow, concentrated task of pulling out a stick from the tower engages all of them.
Maybe it’s the fresh stormy air. Maybe it’s having friends. But this afternoon, Kiki’s mood shifts.
“You know,” Kiki says in the evening, after their friends have left, “I feel like I haven’t even lifted my head to look around for months. Is it just me, or do we live in beautiful home?”
“It’s just you,” Ira mumbles. She pulled out her journal after supper, and thought led to thought, and now she’s reliving the past year’s losses. They were her friends, too.
But after Kiki and Case have gone to bed, Ira carries her violin out to the porch and plays a song of her own invention. She feels she’s playing her own life, with loneliness and happiness and solitude and company and grief and joy all intermingling in the notes. Even if she’s playing it herself, it’s beautiful. And beauty is healing, in its own sweet way.
Yesterday’s storm never materialized, and the family wakes to sparkling autumn sun.
“Your breakfast smells so good,” Case says.
“It tastes even better,” Kiki jokes back.
Lea stops by often to work on college applications with Kiki. Lea wants to attend University of Britechester for a distinguished degree in Fine Arts. That’s the same program that Ira is in.
Kiki’s not sure–she loves too many things. She loves art the most, but she also loves fitness–maybe even more. And a degree in Physics would be something she could do to make the world a better place.
“I don’t know,” Lea says. “I can’t see you majoring in anything but art.”
“Fitness is like food–it’s something you do for health. And physics? Bleh. The only thing you light up for when you talk is art. I mean, you’re always lit up, but when you talk about art? You shine.”
The next morning, Kiki runs the idea by Ira.
“What would you think if I majored in Fine Art, too? At Britechester.”
“It’s not the worst idea,” Ira says, then she laughs. “Are you kidding, Kiki? It’s what I’ve always expected! I mean, you’ve been following every step I’ve taken in uni as if you wish it were you! Of course you can choose anything, and whatever you choose, you’ll succeed at. But I really think that you’ll be happiest if you pursue art.”
During her morning run, Kiki processes it all. Her future has come so much sooner than she ever thought! She’s a senior already! She imagines herself studying art, integrating that love of pigments and brush strokes that she has with her academic life. She can see it!
When she gets back from her run, she gets a text from her high school counselor.
“We’ve been recalculating course credits, as part of our annual audit, and we’ve discovered that you’ll have enough credits to graduate early, at the end of fall semester, if you wish. Of course, you’re welcome to stay through spring and be part of the regular graduation, but if you’re feeling eager to move on with your plans, you can be part of winter graduation.”
It’s a lot to think about. But Kiki thinks she just might be ready.