Another Legacy 2.13

The moment Jonah got home from school, he pulled out his homework and got to work.

“You don’t have to do homework right away,” Kiki said. “You can do other things first–rest, eat snack, play. You know, charge your batteries.”

He thought for a moment. “There is something I’m really excited to do!” he said. “I’m just not sure how to get started.”

It was his school project.

“Oh, I used to love those,” Kiana said. “I can help!”

They worked together to put together the model of planets.

“I did this same one when I was in your grade!” Kiana said. “We had the same book, too.”

“It’s pretty interesting,” Jonah said. “Some of these words are really big.”

When they finished, Jonah pulled out his homework again.

“Do you like reading, Jonah?” Kiana asked.

“It’s hard,” he said. “My eyes get tired and sometimes I forget what line I’m on. But I like learning. So I’m motivated.”

Kiana chuckled to herself. Jonah had an interesting vocabulary, she’d noticed: “vista,” “motivated,” these were rather big words for a little kid.

“How do you know a word like ‘motivated,'” Kiana asked, “or what it means?”

“I hear people talking,” Jonah said. “They’re always saying things like, ‘Oh, Jonah is a very motivated learner.’ And I think they’re right.”

After homework, Kiana reminded Jonah that his supper was waiting on the kitchen table. “I have a few things I have to do,” she said, “but I’ll be down to join you before you’re done eating.”

Kiana took a quick shower, hopped into her PJ’s, and looked over her latest character concept she was developing for work. It was awfully quiet down there.

When she went down to check on Jonah, she found that he wasn’t in the kitchen. He’d carried his meal out to the foyer.

“Is something wrong?” she asked. “You know this isn’t actually part of our home. Is there a reason you’re sitting out here?”

“I like the view,” he said. “Is it OK? We don’t have any windows in the kitchen.”

“Sure. It’s fine. We don’t have any neighbors on this floor yet, and the view is nice. I’m sure it’s fine to take your meals out here when you want.”

They sat together while the sun set and the city grew dark. It was very peaceful here, and there was something magical about watching the lights come on in the buildings across the way.

“I’ll take your dish,” Kiana said when Jonah had finished eating.

“Can I stay out here a bit longer?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said.

After Kiana left, Jonah saw a pale light float from out of the apartment. While he watched, it seemed to form into the shape of an older woman.

He felt too shy to talk to it–can you talk with something that is and isn’t there? But he got a good feeling from whatever it was. It was the same feeling he got when he was around Kiana. Maybe this is what home feels like, he thought, or the feeling of being loved and being safe.

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Another Legacy 2.12

The concrete reality of her decision to step up to become an adoptive mom slammed Kiana hard when she turned to look behind her as she got out of the elevator in her building and there he was. Jonah. The kid she had adopted. She had really done this thing! And now, there was a kid who would always be behind her, who would always need her, and whom she would always be responsible for. Holy wow, indeed.

Her days of long quiet solitude and not having to answer to anybody were over. Just like that.

She’d thought long and hard about it, but in the end, she really felt it was the right thing–it was what Case had done, and since she had so much now, so much to share, it just seemed like she should do it, too.

“Gosh, we’re so high up,” Jonah said. “I want to take in this vista and treasure it, you know, so that when I get sent back, I’ll still be able to remember what it was like to live at bird level, even if it was just for a little bit.”

Kiana’s heart broke.

“You’re not going to be sent back,” she said. “You’re home! You get to live here always!”

If there’s a little kid who depends on you, she learned in that moment, then your own worries and concerns can wait. She’d figure out how to deal with losing her solitude–and she’d find some way to get what she needed–but right now, this child, her actual, adopted son, needed her and needed to feel that he was home.

It didn’t take Jonah long to find the balcony garden upstairs.

“I love plants,” he said, racing up to talk with them as the sun set.

Before bed, they sat together in the kitchen. Kiana cooked a snack of grilled cheese sandwiches, and after they ate, Jonah wanted to talk.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I think maybe this was meant to be.”

“Oh, yeah?” replied Kiana. “What do you mean?”

“The truth is in our names.”

She looked at him quizzically.

“Names don’t lie.”

“And so… what is it about our names that makes you think this was meant to be?”

“They rhyme!” He replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Kia-NA, Jo-NAH.”

“Sometimes I’m called Kiki,” Kiana answered.

“Then I can be Jo-Jo,” he said.

Kiana woke early, while it was still dark, to make breakfast and pack Jonah’s lunch. The adoption counselor had recommended that he begin school right away, to start right in with the normal routine and schedule. “We’ve found,” she said, “that for most children, having their new parents take them to school and then be there to pick them up, right away, even in the early days of settling in, actually helps the child adjust more quickly. It’s the routine as well as the going-off-to-school and the coming-back-to-home again that is important.”

Kiana thought of Ira while she cooked. Had Ira realized how much of a mom to her she’d been? She never called Ira “Mom,” for she always felt that her birth mom was there, an angel inside of her, but for her, the name “Ira” meant everything that “Mom,” in its best sense, signified.

She had set three tomatoes on the counter–and they reminded her of the little family unit she, Ira, and Case had formed. My, she had been happy! She felt, at home, that she always had a safe place with people who understood her. She hadn’t wanted for anything.

“Don’t worry, Kiki,” she heard a voice, that sounded a lot like Ira’s, say. “You’ll be able to provide the same for him.”

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Another Legacy 2.11

Kiana spent much of the next year behind her keyboard or digital sketchpad, working. It became a game to see how many projects she could complete each week, and by spring, she’d saved up enough money for the new kitchen.

The original turquoise wall tiles and the brushed concrete floor tiles, which the building super wouldn’t let her change anyway, looked fine once the new counters and appliances were installed. It was a little retro and a lot charming. She filled the kitchen with plants, and it became one of her favorite places to work.

By the time the next winter rolled around, she realized she’d achieved some major goals. Her contract agency had promoted her a few times, and she was earning good pay now, for each project she completed. She even won a professional award for one of her designs. And the best part was that she could control how much she worked, when she took time off, and which projects to accept.

She really felt like she was getting somewhere in life.

This winter, a friend built a snowman alongside hers. He even matched the radical, whimsical style. It looked like the snow buddy was saying, “Peace, dude! Life’s better with two!”

She didn’t know about that. There was something so sweet about the freedom of being single, not having to answer to anybody, waking up happy alone.

She felt that Case and Ira had both given her this built-in understanding that you were complete on your own–you didn’t need anybody to complete you.

Sure, you could have friends, and whenever you needed, you could find somebody to talk to–that was especially easy to do living in her district of the city, where there were always folk out and about, ready to chat.

But the best joy, she felt, came from projects, and her projects were her work. She got such a buzz from sending in concept designs for movie characters and hearing back from the director and producer that her quirky ideas were “just what we wanted!”

She really felt that this life could satisfy her for a long, long time, and she couldn’t anticipate or imagine any reason to make a change in the foreseeable future.

So it came as a huge surprise when she received an email from the Foster Care organization that had placed her with Case when she was a little toddler.

Dear Kiana,
You may not know that we make it a practice to follow the success of those whom we’ve placed with families, and your success has always been of special interest.

Well, that felt a little big-brotherish.

Your recent accolades in graphic design are matched by your reputation in the community as someone always willing to help.

It’s for that reason that we’re reaching out to you.
You may have heard that there has been an increase recently, due to social and demographic pressures, in the number of children needing good foster homes, or even adoption.

We’ve found that former foster children who have been adopted make the best foster and/or adoptive parents. Would you consider taking in a child? We have many, of all ages, who need a good home, one like you could provide.

Holy wow. That was a lot to take in. Would she be willing to foster or adopt a child? Did she have enough to share? Case had been a single professional, devoted to his career, when he took her in. And look at all gifts that had followed. Maybe she owed it to the universe to do the same.

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Another Legacy 2.10

Kiana discovered that the holiday season brought out the best in folks in her district of the city. Everyone wore holly sprigs in their caps and even complete strangers greeted each other with well-wishes and winter blessings. She hoped these good feelings might last throughout the year.

She wanted to contribute something that would bring smiles to passersby, without having to spend the entire day in the snowy courtyard, waving to neighbors and newcomers.

You can’t be too serious, she figured, if you wanted to make people chuckle, and what was funnier than asymmetry? Not much, actually.

She had a lot of cooking to do before her guests arrived for the WinterFest feast. Though the appliances and counters were still old and stained, her cookware was brand new. She made cranberry-citrus sauce, honey-glazed sweet potatoes, fresh rolls, wild rice dressing, and a tofu-turkey.

The kitchen smelled amazing.

Her old college roommate wasn’t convinced by aroma alone.

“You sure it’s safe for us to eat anything that comes out of this kitchen?” he asked. “I mean… it hasn’t been condemned, has it?”

“It looks like it should be,” Kiana agreed.

But the feast was amazing. If you closed your eyes, you could imagine you were in a five-star restaurant–or, better yet, a newly remodeled kitchen.

“I don’t remember you cooking like this back in our old place,” her roommate said.

“I don’t think I ever cooked,” Kiki admitted, “too busy studying and training.”

She sort of missed those days. It still felt odd that they could be over so quickly, and her new life begun. She loved so much about this new life, but it wasn’t yet routine, and she still felt like she was floating, ungrounded. Maybe that’s what came of living 12 flights up!

Father Winter came before they finished seconds.

“Introduce me to all your friends,” he said, and Kiana felt flustered. On the spot like that, she couldn’t even remember all their names. Somehow, she’d developed this knack of picking up friends with a simple hello, but putting a face to a name, and a name to a face, and remembering where each one lived and what each one did challenged her, even when no one was asking or waiting or staring at her.

Her mouth was full, and that was a good excuse to stay quiet, and by the time she’d swallowed, everyone had introduced themselves. Crisis averted.

They all had a good time and stayed so late, and even after she’d packaged up the leftovers in to-go boxes and scrubbed the stained counters and mopped the chipped floor, people were still there, talking.

Even a kitchen in desperate need of a make-over is still a kitchen. Even a home without much furniture is still a home. Even friends whose names you can never remember are still friends. It’s feelings that count, and the feeling is warmth.

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Another Legacy 2.9

Kiana finally ventured up to the second floor during the holidays. She needed someplace to put the tree.

She’d spent the past few evenings stringing popcorn and cranberries. They looked festive when she hung them on the tree, and the entire room filled with a salty, tangy, piney aroma.

She’d found some vintage glass decorations at a second-hand store–an entire box for five dollars! The tree looked so beautiful. Even Ira would have approved!

She picked up some presents for her old college roommates and some of the new people she’d met in the city, whom she’d invited to drop by for a WinterFest feast. With the gifts wrapped and set beneath the tree, she felt settled–a milestone met! Her first holiday in her own place!

From the upstairs balcony, she could look out over the snowy city parks and walkways towards the hills beyond the bay, frosted like a cake!

Even though it was winter, she decided to start a garden on the patio. She picked up some vertical planters and a few pots that were on discount from a landscape supply store. The balcony had southern exposure, with sun all day. A perfect place for a garden!

She thought that the people in the offices and apartments across the way might enjoy looking out and seeing some greenery once the plants reached maturity. It felt good to bring more nature into the city.

She did some calculations while she took her daily jog through the snow-covered walkways. At her current rate, this time next year, she should have enough for her new kitchen, and even to furnish the upstairs. Plus, the agency had hinted that she’d be getting higher rates, soon, since she was becoming their most-requested free-lancer.

When she took the flat in the city, she’d thought it would be temporary, just long enough for her to save up for a better place. But she had to admit she liked it here. The lifestyle in her district suited her, and her apartment had the potential to become close to perfect for her.

Could it be that she could be happy living in the city? Was it that her present held the seeds for her future, right here, and all she had to do was plant herself in this bright and sunny locale?

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Another Legacy 2.8

Kiana, for that’s the name she decided to use professionally, discovered with delight that she loved her work. For the most part, she only had to communicate with her clients and contracting agency through email, chat, or text, and that suited her just fine. She didn’t always understand exactly what her clients asked for in their project descriptions, but she was good at guessing, and when she guessed wrong, they always gave her the opportunity to revise her work and resubmit it.

She got to choose which projects to accept, how quickly to complete them (as long as she met their more-than-generous deadlines), and when to accept a new job. In this style, she earned enough to pay a month’s rent, bills, and groceries in the first week, and she even had some income leftover for furniture. It was going to work out, and she was having fun.

For the first time, possibly ever, she had ample time for her own art, too, because she wasn’t on a soccer team, she didn’t have to study, and there was no homework. She had autonomy, and it made her feel that she could do almost anything.

She even had time to explore the city a bit.

One afternoon, heading to the Spice Festival, she felt Case’s presence so strongly. Rarely had he ever been sad in his life, but when she felt him, she felt, in addition to his usual warmth, a new heaviness. Was it regret?

“It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way,” she felt him say. “I wanted to leave you everything. It was all for you. Everything I did was for you.”

“It’s OK,” she assured him. She explained about the apartment, and how, now that she was getting furniture and had almost saved up for new appliances and counters, it was a pretty cool place to live. She told him how much she loved her work, how good at it she was, how the bonuses kept rolling in, how she was going to make it just fine, and then some.

“Plus,” she added, “Now I know I can do it! I can’t even express how that makes me feel. To know I can make it in life.”

She felt Case’s spirit grow bright, and she felt the pride he had in her. He really had given her everything she needed.

She wanted to tell him that, too, but by the time she formulated the thought into words, his spirit had left, and she wandered the city on her own again.

And the neat thing about living in a city is that even if you’re on your own, you’re never really alone. There’s always someone to talk to.

If she ever felt lonely or just wanted company, all she had to do was wander down to the courtyard in her district. There were food booths, street musicians, people walking, folks sitting and hanging out. It was even better than the college campus, because these people all seemed to have time, and not a lot of stress.

The people she met, without fail, were interesting, too. Kiana actually felt like she was kind of the normal one, which was nice, for a change.

And it was beautiful. There were views every way she turned, city art installations, twisting walkways through gardens, and over it all, an amazing sky that reached from city to country to mountain to sea.

It hadn’t taken long for Kiana to discover that her new life suited her very well.

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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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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.