By the time her last semester rolled around, Kiki had found her cheerfulness again. Surrounded by seniors, giddy at the prospect of finally being done with school, it was hard not to be happy, too.
Plus she had soccer. She’d kept her MVP record, fielding recruitment offers from professional teams every month or two, and found, in the discipline and teamwork of sports, a type of lifeline that thread through every emotional twist and turn. When she practiced, she felt an I’ve-got-this feeling that she didn’t get from that many other activities, but which she could draw upon in everything she did.
She might have been pushing herself, but she didn’t really care. She was young, and she felt infinite. She could do anything. She remembered what she’d been like when she first started high school.
She liked herself then, and she never really intended to become an athlete. She just got scared when she learned about the health dangers of having a high BMI and set about to get fit. Then, with one thing leading to another, now she had her trainer telling her to eat more, train a little less, don’t forget to rest. But she loved working out. She could rest later.
She even learned ways to cope with having fans, too. “Trying to get some studying done,” she’d say when they’d burst in on her at home, “so I don’t get red-listed, you know.”
That did the trick. Nobody wanted their favorite team star booted for bad grades, and they didn’t need to know that she had a perfect scholastic record.
Yeah, Kiki felt pretty good about her life during senior year.
She daydreamed sometimes about what she’d do after she graduated. Something with the arts. Something colorful. Oh, sure, she’d keep involved with sports and wellness and fitness. But the arts! To be an artist!
“What do you think you’ll do when you graduate?” she asked her roommate Susume during one of their late-night study sessions.
“I’m not graduating,” he said.
“No, I’m serious! Like what job? Where will you live?”
“I’ll live here,” he replied. “I’m serious, too. I’ll be one of those perpetual students and live here forever.”
Kiki had to admit the idea, at least in that moment, was tempting.
If she were a perpetual students, maybe she could also be a perpetual student athlete. It would be pretty amazing to always be part of a team. She was really going to miss these guys once she graduated.
A few weeks before the end of the term, Kiki’s birthday rolled around. She’d never told anyone when it was because she dreaded having a fuss made over her, so this year, her last birthday in university, she spent alone, as she had all her other in-college universities. But to make it special, she treated herself to lobster thermidor. It wasn’t that good.
And then, out of nowhere, she got a feeling that Case was trying to get in touch with her, to wish her happy birthday.
This floored her. She thought she’d managed to deal with the grief, but it was mostly by keeping so busy and so focused on the present and the future that she forgot what she’d lost. That sense, so strong, that Case was there, thinking of her on her birthday, it was too much.
She hadn’t been dealing with the grief. She wasn’t over it. Maybe it was always going to be part of her.
And now, here it was, finals week, and she was still mired in feelings that sapped all her energy and concentration. Oh, damn. She was not ready. Life–and death–weren’t supposed to get in the way of education, but it seemed that maybe they did, anyway.
Only one thing to do, go for a jog. Half a mile later, that shift she’d hoped for had happened. OK, she had this after all! As long as she stayed busy, right? Just don’t dwell on the past, ever.
She crammed every waking moment of her last week at school, studying whenever she could, practicing when she wasn’t studying, running when she wasn’t practicing.
She filled her mind not with thoughts of the future–or the past–but with the content of her classes. If there’s no room in her mind for anything but fine and performing arts, there’s no room for feelings, right?
And that natural cheerfulness of hers, rekindled by her fascination with music and art theory, crowded out even the memory that she had ever lost anything.