It turned out that Cat Girl didn’t always wear her cat-ear sweatshirt, and it also turned out that she had a name: Jackie Oaklaw.
Jackie and Magdalena became friends. For a while, until the next BFF came along, they were best friends.
Jackie Oaklaw was in all of Magdalena’s classes. The school, as part of its general accommodations plan, kept all the kids in the same classroom with the same teacher for every subject.
Even though Magdalena’s teacher spoke in monotone with eyes closed most of the time, he knew a lot. So if you focused on the content, rather than his delivery, his classes were really interesting. Magdalena learned a lot.
After that first day, Kareem wasn’t in her class anymore. It turned out he’d made a mistake and attended the wrong class on the first day. He was a few years ahead of her, and for some reason, he thought the senior class met in that room.
Magdalena felt it was a happy mistake.
She liked her classroom so much that she often opted to stay at her desk during lunch hour or when she had free time. It was a quiet place to catch up on studying, and it smelled good, like carpet cleaner, but in a nice way, not in a way that made your eyes itch. And if she was there already, she’d be sure not to be late to the next class.
So it happened that she was sitting at her desk, opening her trig text, on career day, after all the other students had filed into the auditorium to listen to the guest speakers. She noticed, with relief, that it was so quiet in the building.
She looked up to see Principal Abe gazing down at her–or at least, facing her direction with her eyes closed.
Principal Abe didn’t say anything. She just sort of hummed.
“Can I help you with anything?” asked Magdalena.
“Career day,” said Mao Abe.
“I thought I’d stay and study. Is that OK?” replied Magdalena.
“Not really,” said the principal.
So, Magdalena shut her book and headed off to the auditorium.
First, she listened to an insurance salesperson talk about collecting premiums.
“It sounds like a job that really helps people!” said Magdalena.
“Well, in a manner of speaking,” answered the insurance agent.
Next, she spoke with a recruiter for a professional soccer team.
“So, do we get free sneakers?” Magdalena asked.
A chemist was there, too, talking about drug research.
None of these were careers that Magdalena was interested in. She wanted to be a concert pianist.
The school didn’t have much of a music program, aside from a piano and a violin upstairs. But that was all right. Magdalena had plenty of music at home.
Everyone encouraged her to join a school club. It would help with scholarships. She liked being active and exercising, so football was an option. But her fingers–she needed to keep them whole and nimble for piano. Nope, football was out. Too many injuries.
Same with cheer.
That left chess and the computer club, and Kareem, she thought, was in the computer club. Plus, she loved video games. And maybe she could get an e-sports scholarship for college.
Computer it was! And Magdalena became one happy geek.
After the first computer club meeting, her mind was spinning from all the game sounds of the computers around her in the lab, and she just wanted some quiet. She had forgotten that it was Nicolette’s birthday. When she got home, the house was packed with Jonah’s work friends, old neighbors from the city, and Nicolette’s college friends.
Magdalena took her veggie rolls into her bedroom nook.
She could hear the celebration over the partition between her nook and the kitchen, but if she didn’t focus on processing what people were saying, the sounds washed together, like an orchestra warming up, or the gulls calling to be heard over the crashing of the waves.
As people started leaving, she went through the house, collecting the dishes. If you’re working on a chore, especially one that no one wants to help with, like washing dishes, people will leave you alone, Magdalena discovered. So through the chatter, she carved space aplenty for her own thoughts.
Jonah, laughing about how good it was to be alive for one more of his daughter’s birthdays, pulled her back to this world. She’d saved him. So had Kiana. They had that bond, the three of them. They were death-defiers.
The guests left. The house became quiet. At last, Magdalena had a chance to pull out her trig text. And Nicolette, heading over to play the piano, had a moment to feel that deep gratitude that can come over us on birthdays. We made it through one more year. Let us have many more, together.