Another Legacy 2.7

Life after college was turning out to be completely different than Kiki had imagined. On her first night in her new place, she closed her eyes and tried to visualize that it would be OK. The craziness of the past few days was over, she’d finally found someplace she could afford, she’d managed to get here with her few boxes of things and pieces of furniture she’d brought with her to college from home, and she was here. New life. Let’s go!

She’d always thought that she’d move to the country after college. Case said he had money set aside for her and he’d help her get set up wherever she wanted to start her life. The country sounded so nice–so her. As a fallback plan, she figured she’d move back home, at least until she got all the details worked out.

After Case passed so suddenly, she got a few texts from his lawyer, but she ignored them. She didn’t have the capacity to even think about talking to an attorney. Then, once school was finally over, she called him up, to find out what resources were available so she could consider her options. She had to get out of the college housing soon–like that weekend. She hadn’t realized that. She always thought she’d have the entire break before the next term to figure out the details–that was almost a month! Long enough to make all sorts of arrangements for the future. But she had to leave Sunday. Sunday!

And the attorney had terrible news. When she asked what was available for her, he said, “Nothing.” Not only that, but she couldn’t move back home. All of Case’s property was tied up in probate or something. Nothing was available.

“Aren’t I supposed to inherit?” she asked. “As next of kin?”

“That’s what we’d always assumed,” replied the attorney, ” which is why we weren’t in a huge hurry to draw up the will. But it turns out there was a technicality…”

The technicality was that the adoption was never actually finalized. The judge had approved it, on that WinterFest that Kiki remembered so well, but something had gone wrong. The clerk had forgotten to file the papers, or the judge forgot to sign them, or they got lost in the mail, but whatever it was that had gone wrong, the result was that Kiki was not legally adopted. Without a will, she stood to inherit nothing.

The lawyer talked about ways to fight it and postmortem this and posthumous that, but Kiki had to move out soon–like the-next-day soon. She had a little over 3,000 dollars saved up. An hour on the real estate listings online revealed the only places she could afford were unfurnished apartments in the city. First, down, and deposit would take most of her savings.

One place advertised city views with ceiling to floor windows, a second floor, and an upstairs balcony. There was only one other apartment on the same floor, and it was currently vacant, so she’d have minimal disturbance from neighbors. She took it.

The listing was right about the views. They were amazing.

The electricity wouldn’t be turned on until the next day, since she’d rented such last minute, but enough light streamed in that she could get a bit of a look at the place. It was… empty and dark.

It was cold, too. The central heating had been turned off on her floor, since both units were vacant, and even once the super turned it back on the next morning, it took hours to warm up. When the electricity came on, she took a good look around.

Oh, my. The kitchen was hideous.

If she squinted, she could imagine what it might look like, eventually, once she had enough funds to replace the counters and rusting appliances.

Being able to see the future in her imagination gave her the impetus she needed to do something. She spent most of the day setting up her place. For now, she left the upstairs closed off–she didn’t need the higher electric bills that would come from heating it, and she didn’t have anything to put up there, anyway.

All of her few things fit downstairs. The big rug from home made it feel cozy.

With the place set up, she got to work looking for a job. She’d sort of hoped to be able to take a few weeks or even a month off to explore her new locale–and herself and her interests–but that was no longer an option. She needed funds even to be able to buy groceries next week.

A graphic design agency was looking for free-lancers. She uploaded her resume and a sample of her work, and by nightfall, she had an offer, including a signing bonus, due to her degree and good grades. And they forwarded an email that contained the details for her first job. She’d be designing character concepts for a video game.

What? How amazing was that! And she’d get paid for it! And the pay was good, too, maybe even enough to buy a new stove!

She set up her easel in the corner. Her carpet was beneath her feet. Her diploma and graduation photo hung on the wall. Around her, gnomes from home cheered. Her painting, the silhouettes of a small family against the sunset, felt nostalgic, conjuring up everything she missed in that moment, but it felt hopeful, too, just like she did, inside.

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Another Legacy, 2.6

Kiki had done it! Yesterday, she took her last finals, earlier in the week she’d given her last presentation and submitted her last research essay, and now, she was done with school!

Her final grades contained one big disappointment–a B minus in Plein Air Painting?

That had been her favorite class! Sure, she often strolled in late, not always realizing just how long it would take for her to walk from her house to the painting site for the day. She was even a little late for the final, come to think of it, with all that emotional turmoil she’d been going through. But a B minus? Surely her work merited more than that!

For an instant, she felt relieved that Ira wasn’t there to see that she’d earned a lower GPA than Ira had–and then she felt guilty for feeling that, and ridiculous, too, for Ira would never make her feel bad for her grades. She’d help her reframe it.

She thought of what Ira might say. Look at your overall GPA! You’ve graduated with an A. This will make absolutely no difference in your life or your career, down the line. If anything, it’s taught you some valuable lessons.

Kiki wasn’t sure yet what those valuable lessons were or might be, but she could discover them in time.

“Hey, congrats on graduating,” said one of her roommate’s friends. “Good deal, star.”

Susume stopped her in the hall. “Hey,” he said, “before you move out, can you just do one thing? Can you just kick the soccer ball with me so I can brag that I kicked the ball with the Great Kiki?”

She flashed back on Susume’s words when she was waiting on the graduation ceremony to start… before she moved out.

Truth was, she hadn’t even thought yet about moving out. She’d sort of put all of that on the back burner… or even, not even in pot yet, but still in the fridge, figuring that she’d deal with it once she was done with her classes, so she could concentrate.

She had no idea what she was going to do next.

“Congrats! We did it!” One of the other graduates interrupted her thoughts.

“I know! We made it!”

The ceremony was long and boring, not really a celebration at all. And afterwards, Kiki was so full of energy and emotion that she had to juggle the soccer ball a bit, just to release some of what had been pent up. She didn’t work out too hard in order to save some reserves for the game that night.

Then she got a call from her coach. “Grats, star,” he said. “We’re gonna miss you.”

“Wait, what? I’ll see you in half an hour for tonight’s game, right?”

“Oh, man,” he replied. “Nobody explained the fine print, right? You’re off the team, babe. Graduated. Once you get that piece of paper, you can’t play for us anymore. We’d lose our eligibility. You’re welcome to come watch, though!”

And just like that, it was over, her whole athlete-scholar career. She always thought she’d have one last game, and that would be the real celebration.

She couldn’t bear to go watch. What if she cried in the stadium? What if her teammates tried to say goodbye to her? It would just be too weird to be there and not be suited up. Besides, they’d already replaced her.

She spent the night playing video games, something she hadn’t done for years. She’d think about tomorrow tomorrow.

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Another Legacy, 2.5

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.

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Lucky

This story was written for the March 2022 Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, coordinated by the one and only LisaBee! This month’s theme is “Lucky.”

In early April, head over to LisaBee’s blog to find the list of all entries. After you read them, you can vote for your three reader’s choices in the veteran and novice categories.


We named our dog Lucky. The neighbors thought that it was because, as a stray, he was lucky to be adopted by us. He had a reputation of being aggressive, and the county Animal Control had him on their list to be euthanized, the next time they received a complaint about him. Stubborn and with messy, shedding fur, no one else wanted him. But really, we were the ones who were lucky to have him in our lives.

He adopted us. He started by sleeping on our porch. Then I started setting out food and water for him, and before long, he chose me as his person, even letting me pet him and brush that thick matted coat.

My grandfather wasn’t a cuddly type.

He was a very good man, but growing up, I always felt he cared more about the state of the environment than he did about the state of my emotional well-being. I realize now that part of why he wanted to save the earth was because he wanted to leave me with a habitable planet; it was part of his selfless goodness. As a kid, I just wanted affection and someone I could talk to.

I found both in Lucky.

We were inseparable.

He walked with me halfway to school every morning, along the path by the stream, stopping when we got to the big street.

While I was at school, he ambled through the meadows, or strolled back home to sit in the sun while Grandpa fixed things. And when I got out of school, as soon as I crossed the big street, I’d see him racing up the banks of the stream to meet me. We spent the afternoons rambling through woods and beaches.

As I started getting older, my grandfather reminded me more often about not talking to strangers. “If you don’t know their names, if they’re not folks I know, or people you know from school or town, just leave a wide berth,” he said. “Don’t give out any personal information, and, well. Just don’t talk with them.”

It didn’t make sense to me because I’d been raised to be friendly, respectful, polite, and helpful. What if someone new here, whom I hadn’t yet met, needed directions or help with something? Grandpa said it wasn’t my responsibility. Somebody else, an adult, maybe, could help them. This conflict in values was uncomfortable for me, but I trusted Grandpa, and I guess, at the time, obeying him was my prime directive.

One afternoon, a man followed me all the way home from school.

I didn’t talk to him, and I kept trying to get further and further away, but his legs were longer.

“Hey, little girl,” he kept saying. “Where you going? Why’re you in such a hurry? Don’t you want to slow down and talk to me? I’ve got something to show you.”

My grandpa’s words rang strong, so I stayed silent and kept on walking. I was afraid that if I ran, he’d grab me.

Something inside of me warned me not to go directly home, so he wouldn’t find out where I lived, so I took a detour down by the beach, hoping we’d run into someone. But the beach was empty, and he kept getting closer. I could feel him breathing behind me.

Then, I heard Lucky’s bark. I glanced back just quick enough to see Lucky racing towards us, going so fast now he couldn’t even bark.

Then he growled and snapped. We’d tried so hard for so long to teach him not to bark, growl, and snap at people, afraid of what Animal Control might do if he did, but I was so grateful that day that we hadn’t been successful in training him.

He stood, all the hair on his back raised and bristling, between me and the man.

Then the man backed up and walked off.

“You saved me!” I told Lucky. “You’re like a hero dog!”

A few weeks later, Grandpa and I were watching TV after supper, with Lucky lying on the carpet at our feet, when I saw that man’s face on the news report.

“That’s the guy that followed me,” I told Grandpa, “when Lucky rescued me.”

“What was that?”

I told Grandpa the story.

“We are very lucky,” said Grandpa. “That’s a very bad man. He’s done all sorts of bad things to little kids. That’s why he’s in jail right now.”

He reached down to pet Lucky. “Good job, old boy,” he said. He put his arm around me, for the first time I could remember, and held me tight next to him. “Good job for you, not talking to that man. Good job that you’re safe, little Annie.”

After that night, I sometimes saw Grandpa standing outside watching Lucky while he slept on the porch.

I always got the impression that he was thanking God for him, just like me, thanking God every day for our good luck.

Another Legacy, 2.4

Years later, when Kiana reflected on her second year at uni, she often thought that, if she’d known what was going to happen that year, she would have dropped out, gone home, and spent every free moment with Case and Ira. For this was the year when Case and Ira died. But that happened later in the year, and the year began with the biggest stress being what she put on herself as a star athlete.

Now and then, she remembered how much a part of her young life death had been. When the Romance Festival returned to the city, she felt nostalgic for the last time she’d gone, with Aadhya, and she imagined Aadhya calling her.

With that imagining, she felt Aadhya with her, and then she felt Knox, and all her other elder friends who’d passed, and even the warm whispers of her birth mom and dad, and maybe, after all, death wasn’t this big scary thing, but was just something that is part of life, and those you’ve known and loved who’ve died, maybe they aren’t totally gone, for you can still feel them inside.

This became her secret, her private source of joy and comfort, and when she pushed herself too hard and her sports injury returned, and she sometimes doubted if she could continue, she drew upon that secret feeling she carried inside of companionship with all those she’d loved who’d passed. It didn’t erase the pain of tendonitis, but it made the sensation of pain feel a little less lonely.

The companionship of her roommates helped, too. Their little rental became a peaceful place for study, or at least that’s how Kiki experienced it.

The roommates, themselves, developed all sorts of other distractions from study which Kiki never really found out about, being, as she was, always either studying, training, or at practice.

And then, during finals week, the news came during the night. Case had died. Her roommate took the phone message and didn’t wake her up–why disturb her sleep? He’d still be dead when she woke up. But during the night, Ira passed, too. Kiki found two notes for her when she woke up.

It wasn’t supposed to happen. It couldn’t have happened. It couldn’t be real, right? Not both of them. The same night? It felt like losing her birth mom and dad all over again.

She clung to that thought. It was like losing them all over again. She’d survived that. In fact, life had turned out great. That’s how she got to be with Case and Ira, that’s how she came to be who she was now. OK. She’d survived that, and she’d just been a baby. She could survive this, now that she was older and knew so much more about life. She knew about grief. She was an expert in this. She could handle it. She could move on. In fact, moving on was probably the best thing. Finals were coming up, and she had to study, and she couldn’t miss class, and they had some big games soon. She would just get on with it. She would be OK.

And jogging to class on a rainy spring morning, she actually felt better than OK. She felt a little bit of joy. Death and life aren’t that different, and Case and Ira were tucked safe inside of her.

She held that thought all day, and when, returning from class, she ran into Lea Akins, her art center friend, who’d stopped by to make sure that Kiki was OK, it was Kiki who comforted her friend, not the other way around.

“Don’t be sad, Lea,” she said. “Death’s not, like, the End, the end. It’s more like, a transition. Something not quite corporeal, but it doesn’t mean, like, not-being.”

“But they’re gone,” Lea said. “You’re like, twice-orphaned.”

“That just means I have experience handling this,” Kiki said, and she almost had Lea believing her.

Her roommates were easier to persuade.

“Your parents were so cool,” they said, remembering their visit over the break. “They were like these cool hippie friends, so into each other, so proud of you.”

“Yeah,” Kiki said, “they really contributed to who I am now. They’ll always be here because they’re such a part of me.”

“Man, you’re really deep,” said the roomies.

But then it would sneak up on her.

Case and Ira died, while she was away. She wouldn’t be able to come home to them over the next break. They wouldn’t come to see her play in the season finals. What about their voices? Would she never hear them again?

She wasn’t OK. Having gone through this before didn’t make it any easier. She didn’t know anything about grief, after all. It could stalk her, sneak out behind a lamppost or column and attack, at any time. And sometimes, when she wasn’t OK, she wasn’t sure if the pain would ever cease.

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Another Legacy, 2.3

Though Kiki wanted, more than almost anything, to go home during the break between semesters, she just didn’t see how she could with soccer practice, the championship game, and the urgency of getting a head start on the next term.

“That’s OK,” Case assured her. “We’ll come see you!”

It had only been five months, but it felt like years. Had Case’s eyebrows been gray when she left? Was that a new stoop that Ira had when she walked? She tried not to notice the signs of aging Case and Ira displayed, but they were hard to miss.

“You look different,” Case said. “All grown up. So thin. You eating enough?”

“I’m great,” Kiki assured them. “How’re you two feeling?”

“Same old same old!” Ira replied. “Sorry we couldn’t make it last night’s game. I can’t believe we still haven’t seen you play.”

“Here! I’ll show you my tricks!” Kiki said. “I can dribble over two hundred times without missing.”

“You’re really good!” Case said. “I had no idea! That athletic scholarship turned out to be a good thing for you, eh?”

It really had. Kiki couldn’t imagine not being an athlete, at this point. The trainer told her to expect calls from agents next semester. Scouts had already been around watching her, and the offers were sure to follow. Kiki tried to put that out of her mind. She really didn’t want to become a pro–college athletics were what she wanted. Professionally, she wanted art to come first.

Kiki made a picnic lunch which they enjoyed in the back garden.

“So, I was hoping to get started on my presentation for music composition this weekend. You mind if I get to work? I’ll work on it out here, and we can visit while I tape stuff to the board.”

Of course they didn’t mind, remembering how much time Ira had to devote to her presentations when she was in college, and soon, Kiki was deep in her notes. Case and Ira took their conversation in the garden so as not to interrupt her concentration.

When she noticed they’d stepped away, Kiki felt struck by her independence. College really had taken her out of the family circle. It was so different, not living at home, not being part of the daily fabric of their lives. She had grown up, and she wasn’t sure she liked it.

“Your folks seem super cool,” her roommate Susume said.

“Oh, they are,” she answered. “They’ve always been that way, almost more like friends than anything.” But she felt lonely when she said that, glimpsing their conversation across the yard as if it were taking place across the county.

“I’m adopted,” she said.

“That’s cool,” said Susume. “You really lucked out with your parents.”

“Yeah, I guess I did,” she said. “But it makes this so hard. How come they’re right there, and I miss them so much?”

“Growing pains?” Susume suggested.

“I guess so. I kinda still want to be the little girl at home, but I’m just not that person anymore.”

“Well, everything changes,” Susume said. “That’s the devil of it.”

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Another Legacy, 2.2

Kiki felt ready on the first day of class, but she woke up early to go over her notes from the class readings just in case.

She arrived an hour early to her first class, before the doors to the lecture hall were even unlocked.

No matter–it was a beautiful morning, warm for winter.

The first lecture, in photography, filled her with so many new concepts. She had no plans to be a photographer, as Ira had been, but as a painter, all the ideas of perspective, shading, and framing could transfer to her chosen art form. It would just take time to process the new ideas.

Between classes, she read or got ahead on homework. What she really needed was time, to integrate what she was learning, but time was something that didn’t seem to be part of the university experience–every moment was filled.

Each evening, she had either practice or a game. She still felt honored to be part of the team, and deep down, she believed it was developing really good personal skills that she wouldn’t be called on to develop otherwise, but even during the first week of the semester, she came to realize that sacrifices came with this opportunity.

She was tired and dirty and sore every night after practice, and then, she still had to either stay up late or get up early to complete her course work.

Aleki, one of her roommates, studied art history, and he’d often join her at the breakfast table before class.

They’d share ideas and inspiration, and sometimes, she’d be so excited when it was time to head to class that she’d leap out of her chair. Around her, she felt the air became texturized with thought–blues and indigos from Aleki’s insights swirled and mingled with the purples and maroons of her own.

The richness of ideas became too much sometimes, pressing in on her temples. But when she stepped outside, the swirling thoughts had room to stretch, and she could find a passage way through them.

She pushed herself so hard, in her studies and practices, that, in hindsight, an injury seemed inevitable. She sprained her left wrist when diving for the soccer ball, and though she worked with the team trainer on rehabilitation exercises and kept the arm taped, the injury persisted. She didn’t let on how bad it was, for she didn’t want to be benched, but there were some nights when the pain was severe.

She could do it, though–that’s what she told herself. And because she was young and fit and excited by ideas, she pushed herself through it, and sometimes, she even soared.

How high could she go?

Could she skip sleep to study or paint?

Could she practice harder each session?

Could she workout, even when exhausted?

Now and then, she crashed, and crashed hard.

But being young is an amazing thing–a shower, a good night’s sleep, and then next morning, you’re ready again, all fired up and driven by ideas!

She started to get noticed on the team, and sometimes, while she was waiting for class to start, the university mascot would show up and cheer her on. She did her best to ignore him. She was definitely not in this for the attention.

She was in it for those quiet times, before or after practice, when she ran down the campus streets alone, when the university was so silent that all she heard was the slapping of her feet on the pavement and her beating pulse. Then her ideas would fall in line with the movement of her body. Composition helps you make sense of competing visual input. Subject matter allows you to convey meaning. Light and dark play off each other, tracing paths through which the eye could follow.

During her first year, these moments when she was alone were what kept her sane.

Never before had she felt the type of stress that arrived at the end of the term. Finals. A researched term paper. A presentation. And championship games.

It was too much for one person. It was too much for her. Her injury was acting up again, and she wasn’t sure how she could handle everything. Maybe she should drop out.

She had no way of knowing if her paper was any good or how well her presentation went. She felt good about both of them–but, well, the presentation was really a blank. Had she even delivered it? And she felt sick all through the finals. She couldn’t even remember what she’d answered for most of the questions.

The team won their first match in the championship, though, and she’d made a few of the winning plays. So there was that. But still, if she flunked out, she wouldn’t be able to stay on the team. Maybe she should just drop out.

The grades arrived in the mail the day after her team won the championship. She’d been named MVP, due to making the most scores and blocking a few crucial attempts by the opposing team’s forward. It was a great feeling–her rooky year, starting out as a trainee and ending as MVP. God, she hoped her grades were good enough that she wouldn’t be kicked off the team or put on probation.

She took a deep breath. She opened the transcript. Being a champion was a great feeling–but this was even better.

Honestly, she had to look three times, and even then, she halfway expected that there’d been some mistake. But when she looked again–really looked–there it was. A wall of A+’s starting right at her.

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Another Legacy, 2.1

After she loaded the boxes of her things, her easel, and a few mementos from home into the moving van they’d rented, Kiki took a moment to let all the feelings settle. This was the day she was going to college. She wasn’t sure when she’d be able to return home again, with her busy schedule on the soccer team, so each breath was something to savor. The fresh air of home!

She felt gratitude, mostly. Sure, she was scared, excited, nervous, anxious, sad, and homesick already, but she was also incredibly, amazingly, unbelievably full of gratitude.

Her scholarships covered most of the fees and living expenses, and family funds made up the little bit still needed. She wouldn’t have to take out student loans. She’d been given everything–a home, great role models, discipline, and belief in herself–from Case and Ira. She was ready for this, no matter how much of a challenge it was.

After unpacking her things and setting up her easel, after Case and Ira drove off to return the rental van and head home, Kiki stood before her new campus home. It as beautiful, and she was here!

A college athlete! The moment she’d accepted the position on the team, she began practicing with the ball. She could juggle it 88 times without dropping it! She wasn’t sure, exactly, how that would help her in a game, but it was an addicting habit.

Ira had advised her to check out the syllabi for her classes online and get started right away. “Once the term is underway, you won’t have time to catch up!” she’d said. “So start out ahead.”

She was taking all core classes, and studying music theory, art history, and photography was fun. She couldn’t believe this was what she was supposed to be doing, and not some guilty pleasure she was sneaking in between other obligations.

The next evening, Case dropped by.

“I thought maybe you forgot your book on medieval pigments,” he said.

“Well, I don’t think I need it at this moment,” Kiki replied. “I thought I’d get it next time I came back home, but thanks!”

“Of course,” Case said. “You let me know anytime you need anything, Kiki!”

She gave him the tour of the house.

“You seem settled in already,” he said. “How’re the roommates?”

“I haven’t met them yet,” Kiki said. “But the house seems clean enough, right? They must be decent!”

The next several days, pre-term, flew by. Kiki was busy with team practices, researching for the presentation she’d have to give by the end of the semester, and planning her term paper. She wanted to be so ready once the semester started.

She discovered that she loved being on the team. Her teammates and the coach were so focused on the plays, strategies, and developing skills that there wasn’t any time for socializing–it was all soccer, all the time. As the youngest trainee (and probably, because of being recruited through the special Inclusion and Diversity Incentive), she became something of the team pet. Everyone loved her. But it didn’t bother her. It felt cozy, somehow–like she was the little cousin.

They won the pre-season game. Since it wasn’t an official game, Coach pulled Kiki off the bench to get some field practice. She scored a goal and blocked a crucial pass. Everyone said they won because of her.

She felt like the star of Cinderella’s dream. Is this really going to be her college experience? To go from being an outsider in high school to becoming a member of the winning team?

On New Year’s Eve, she finally met her roommates. They said their names so quickly that she didn’t catch them, and she felt embarrassed to ask them to repeat them. She wasn’t really sure she could remember their faces, either, so if she met them on campus, she wasn’t sure she’d recognize them. She hoped that wouldn’t lead to awkwardness. Would they think she was cold in not greeting them?

Before she thought up any strategies for potential social situations with them, the doorbell rang. It was Ira.

“I couldn’t let the New Year roll in without being here to wish you a good one!” Ira said.

“You came all this way,” Kiki replied.

“Of course, darling,” said Ira. “I’d cross the world for you. And campus is really just a hop, skip, and a jump from home!”

Kiki had forgotten how close the university and home were–they felt universes apart.

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Another Legacy, 1.38

One last push and Ira will make it–the completion of her long era as a student. She’s defended her thesis, held her last individual show, and now, all she needs to do is write her short biographical statement for the MFA Graduates’ Show.

How can she sum up the essence of herself in under 60 words?

Ira Mahajan developed her eye for the out-of-place in her early career as a paparazzi photographer. She brings that sense of the strikingly absurd, mixed in with the everyday, to her work as a painter. Having been a student for over a decade, she’s not sure yet what else waits for her, but she is eager to find out.

She truly feels unsure about what she’ll do with her time when she doesn’t have a perpetual to-do list with impending deadlines, but she’s kind of eager to find out. One thing’s for sure, she’ll start by finally getting some sleep.

It’s a long morning of sleeping in that she daydreams of while waiting for the winter graduation ceremony to begin.

But when the other graduates show up, the daydream fades, and the excitement of reality jumps in.

“We really did it!” Ira exclaims.

“Bro! Dude! We’re here!”

None of them are sure what they’ll do after graduation–that is, the next day, or the day after that, or the month after that, and this realization casts a bit of somber cloud over their jubilations. But still. What an accomplishment. And in the quiet moments before filing in to the ceremonial hall, they each pause with their own reflections on hard work, perseverance, and privilege. They made it.

Graduation is held on Winter Fest, and after the morning event, the family joins in with their holiday traditions. Their house is still too small for an inside tree, and once again, as it did on the Winter Fest when they found out that Kiki’s adoption was going through, it snowed during the night.

But Kiki and Case love being outside best, especially in the snow, and Ira feels happiest when they are happiest.

“How is it to finally be an MFA?” Case asks Ira.

“I’m not sure,” Ira says. “What if I don’t do anything with my graduate degree?”

“Does it matter?” Case asks. “I mean, look at who you are. How wonderful you are, as an artist, a thinker, a person–a friend. And so much of that has been developed while you’ve been a student. Just as you are right now, I can’t imagine you need anything else.”

It’s the sweetest, most validating thing anyone could have said to her. She does feel pretty well perfectly complete.

They have a grand feast with tofu turkey, mashed potatoes made from potatoes they grew in their own garden, ginger-carrots (also home-grown), and cranberry sauce.

“Best feast ever, right?” Case says.

Kiki closes her eyes and realizes this might be her last holiday while still living in the house. They haven’t decided yet, but there’s a chance she might move onto campus, and if she does, she knows how one thing leads to the next, and she’s not sure the stone cairns that mark her path will lead her back home once she sets out on her way.

Father Winter comes at dusk.

“I hear you already have every heartfelt wish,” he says, “but I brought you some presents, anyway.”

A few days after Winter Fest, they hear from the university. Kiki’s been accepted for early admission in the Fine Arts Distinguished Degree program. She’s racked up a slew of scholarships–enough to pay tuition, books, and then some. She was even awarded an athletic scholarship. It seems a bit odd to her, since she’s never been on a team, but her P.E. teacher did write an amazing recommendation based on her fitness scores. When they dig deeper, they discover that it’s part of the Inclusion and Diversity Initiative. The athletic program is given an incentive by the university to include a certain number of students with disabilities–and Kiki’s autism diagnosis counts. If they meet their quota, the athletic department gets more money. Simple as that.

Kiki’s not sure how she feels about being accepted under those qualifications, especially as she’s never had team experience. They’d start her as a trainee, and she’d have to go to daily practice, every game, and discover her potential. If she did OK, she could stay on the team and continue to receive the athletic scholarship. One other thing: she’d have to live on campus. And she’d have to start soon, before winter break were even over.

She thinks it over during her run. She loves being physically active, more than almost anything, and the idea of being on a team excites her. She’s never really been part of a group, and here is a chance to do so. And she’d get to learn an actual sport. The other kids used to call her a spaz, back when before she got fit, and she was never chosen for sports at recess–not that she was the last to be chosen, she simply was not ever chosen. This could be a chance to turn that around.

When she gets home from her run, she gazes at Ira’s graduation photo. All during childhood and her teen years, Ira was there studying, painting, practicing violin–working so hard. Ira never backed down from the challenge.

Now her MFA with Honors diploma hangs on the kitchen wall to testify to that hard work.

Kiki will step up to the challenge, too. It will mean leaving home sooner than she’d planned. It will mean stretching herself beyond any concept she’d had before of what she was capable of doing. But now, she wants to be a scholar athlete more than anything she’s ever wanted. She isn’t sure she’ll be able to do it, but she has Ira as her role model, and she wants to try.

Case and Ira throw a going-to-college party for her. They invite all the friends, and to Case’s surprise, they have a full house.

Case feels as proud of Kiki for taking up the challenge as he does of Ira for meeting her challenge. If he’d stopped to think, he might’ve felt proud of himself, too, for what he’d accomplished, in the community, his career, and the lives of his family. But that’s not his nature, to feel proud of himself.

Instead, he stands at the window and looks out on all the memories with the bittersweet taste of goals met, griefs endured, and love tended.

And with that, Gen 1 comes to a close.

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Another Legacy, 1.37

“I’ve decided I want to graduate early!” Kiki announces at breakfast the next morning.

“Say what?” says Ira.

“Wait a sec!” Case says. “You want to what?”

Kiki explains about her counselor’s text.

“Just think how much I could learn if I don’t have to go to school!” Kiki exclaims. “I could work on my painting, step up my workout routine, start a daily yoga practice! Maybe learn a new language! I’ll be so ready for college in the fall! Or maybe, by some stroke of luck, I could even get early admissions and start Spring semester!”

Once they get past the shock and the idea of a change in plans, Case and Ira can’t think of a good reason for her to postpone graduation, and all the options she envisions for the coming months sound promising, so the wish becomes reality.

Kiki graduates early, and before they know it, they’re having a graduation party.

No one from high school comes, but Olive Tinker, Lea, and a few family friends show up, eager to usher in this new stage of life for Kiki.

Case puts birthday candles on the graduation cake. “It is like a birthday,” he says, “for the new high-school-graduate you!”

Kiki knows what to wish for. While a few months off of school sounds enticing, Kiki’s secret desire is to somehow get accepted early so she can start after winter break. A college student! She can taste it with every bite of vanilla icing!

Ira, who’s been a student for the past ten years, can’t imagine one more semester. She’s so close to done. All that’s left is the defense of her dissertation and the adjudication of her last show.

Case feels a bit overwhelmed. So many changes!

Ira’s accomplishments–the stellar grades, the acclaim at her art shows, the so-close-you-can-touch-it graduate degree in fine arts–these are successes that she hasn’t even realized she’s achieved yet. But Case feels respect, admiration, and gratitude. He’s so glad she’s been here to be a role model for Kiki.

On her first Saturday as a high school graduate, Kiki drinks each breath on her morning run. It’s the flavor of freedom. No homework! No classes on Monday! She can set her own routine and run all morning, if she wants.

That afternoon she submits her college and scholarship applications. She’s applied for next fall, but she put a check in the box asking if she would consider early admissions, if there were openings.

She has a good feeling about this. She wrote her application essay from her heart, her teachers provided shining recommendations, and her transcript practically blazes with her high marks.

There’s a door opening before her, and she’s going to fly right through it!

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