Another Legacy 2.19

It was a day specially set aside for giving thanks, so Jonah spent the morning up in their patio garden, thanking each plant, individually, for “breathing in bad stuff, and breathing out good stuff!” He liked people just fine, and he’d even made a few friends at school, but he thought that he liked plants best of all.

Kiana had invited nearly all of her friends, but only two of them actually made it up to the apartment. The others all got side-tracked by the sights of city and enticing scents wafting from the food stalls in the plaza.

Kiana waited as long as she could before serving the meal.

“Might as well dive in,” she said, at last, “before it gets cold.”

“The more for us, right?” said her friends.

“This is the best supper ever,” said Jonah. “I’m so glad your friends didn’t show up! More for us!”

“I didn’t realize tofu could be so good,” said one of her friends.

“As long as you don’t look at it, right?” said the other.

After the guests left and the dishes were washed, Jonah practiced the violin, wondering if it really was OK for him to eat food made out of plants. If he and Kiana chose not to eat meat because they didn’t want to eat mammals, birds, and fish, because they liked them better alive, well, what about plants?

You don’t have to kill a soy plant to get soybeans, he realized. Just carrots. Onions. Beets. Maybe he’d just stick to those crops you could harvest without having to kill the plant. And if you treated them well, and took good care of them, it should be OK, right? He’d ask Kiana tomorrow.

The next morning, in a kitchen over-run with gnomes, Kiana scrambled up eggs. She wasn’t really a vegetarian, not like Case had been, and her choices were mostly just personal preference, and she liked eating eggs on occasion.

“You can eat an egg without killing the chicken,” said Jonah while he watched her cook, “like soybeans and kale. Eat ’em without killing.”

“But eggs hatch into chicks,” Kiana said.

“Not all of them,” said Jonah. “We learned it at school. Just buy the ones that don’t.”

“I guess you’re right,” Kiana agreed. “I never buy the fertile eggs.” She couldn’t stand those little drops of blood in the yolk that fertile eggs sometimes had.

While Jonah was at school, she took a jog through their district. It seemed everyone was out enjoying the late autumn sun.

She wanted to get Jonah a present, not for any special reason, just because. Just because he was an awesome boy, and her life was so much brighter with him in it.

He’d been talking about joining scouts, so maybe she’d get him the scout manual, a Swiss army knife, and those bandana-holder-things for his neckerchief.

“They’re called neckerchief slides,” said one of her friends that she ran into on her jog. “And you can buy them down at the Navy Supply store on 4th.”

“Oh, thanks!” Kiana said, and off she went, jogging down to 4th.

“I got you something you’ve been asking for,” she said to Jonah before he tucked in for bed that night.

“For me? Really? You mean if I ask for something, I might get it?” That was a new concept for him.

“Sometimes,” she replied.

He was thrilled, but also a little bit nervous.

“What does this mean?” he asked. He halfway thought it might mean that Kiana was going away. Or maybe he was. He wasn’t used to nice things not having bad consequences, not yet, at least.

“Well,” Kiana replied, “you’ve been talking about wanting to join the Scouts, and it seems to me like this is a good time for it.”

“I can be a scout?”

“Yeah,” Kiana said. “I think you’re scouting material. What do you think?”

“I am so ready.”

While Jonah was putting away the manual, Swiss army knife, and neckerchief slide, it struck Kiana–another milestone that Case wasn’t here to see.

She didn’t think she’d ever get used to having to experience important moments without him. It hit her like that, sometimes–right in the middle of the happiest moment, there it was, this cliff of grief, and it was all she could do to keep from tumbling headlong off it.

“Ready for bed!” Jonah said, coming up behind her.

He stopped when he saw her face. She could never hide her grief from him.

“Sad again?” he said. “Do you miss your dad? Can I make it better?”

“Oh, Jonah,” she said, “you always make it better!”

And it was true. He did. Being happier meant she could become sadder, sometimes, too, but it rarely stuck anymore. Not with Jonah’s little arms ready to wrap around her when she felt her most bereft.

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Another Legacy 2.16

One summer afternoon, Kiki had that rare feeling that everything–absolutely everything–was all right in her world. She couldn’t remember a time like this, when all the aspects of her life seemed in order. Her freelance work was going great, earning accolades and higher commissions. The apartment was furnished and decorated just the way she liked it, and all the appliances were fixed and pesky stains cleaned up. Jonah was earning good grades at school and seemed like such a happy kid, overall. “He’s just got such a good attitude,” his teacher had said at the last parent-teacher conference. “Even when other kids tease him, he just smiles and carries on, like water off a duck’s back.”

When she got home, she found an email from her contract agency. A big film studio was looking for concept designs and requested her, specifically. If they didn’t get her, they’d go somewhere else. It was a big job–would she do it?

She took the job. With everything going so well, she had the extra bandwidth to focus on this. She stayed up late that night, sketching out a few ideas to send to the producer, so she could see if she was on the right track before devoting too much time in that direction.

She got up a bit late the next morning to find Jonah busy with a drawing.

“What are you working on, bud?” she asked.

“It’s such a big project,” he said. “I gotta finish it up before school to send to the design studio.”

She chuckled, but it made her wonder, too, about how much of her–what she did, what she said, what she thought and felt, even–Jonah took in.

“Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?” Jonah asked when he got back from school.

“No,” she said. “In fact, I’m still not really sure it’s what I want to be. It’s just sort of what I do.”

“You mean, you didn’t choose to be an artist so you could be different from everybody else?” Jonah asked. “So when they teased you, it wouldn’t matter because you were, like, a famous artist and words couldn’t hurt you?”

“No,” she answered. “The teasing just sort of stopped when I got to college, and I think I’ve always just accepted that I was different, even before I started doing art.”

She wondered if something was going on. Maybe she should have asked more when his teacher mentioned teasing, even if she did emphasize that he handled it well.

“Let’s spend some time together,” she said. “Would you like a story?”

He chose the big book of Grimms’ fairy tales.

“Can you read ‘Simpleton’?” he asked.

OK, now she knew something was up. She’d talk with him after the story. But partway through, he said, “Excuse me,” and ran upstairs. When he came back, he was wearing a bear costume, part of a matching set that they’d worn for a community center talent show–the Singing Dancing Bearios!

“Feel like being a bear, huh?” she asked.


“I remember I was a bear for a while, when I was a kid. Would you like it if I were a bear now, too?”

“Would you?” he asked.

When she joined him, two yellow bears on a blue couch, she thought maybe this was the right opportunity to talk.

“So, grrrr. It’s kinda sweaty to wear these costumes in summer, growl. Any special ggggreason to wear them tonight?”

“I just thought if I was a bear, people couldn’t call me fat, because pineapple bears are supposed to be fat.”

“Oh. Are people calling you fat, then?”

He nodded his bear head.

“Other kids?”

Another nod.

So this was, at least, part of the teasing.

“I bet that feels lousy,” she said.

He nodded. She pulled him close and they sat together for a bit.

“I’m too sweaty,” he said.

The next morning, he was still in his bear suit, so Kiana put hers on, too. Together, they worked on their designs.

“I want you to know that I think you’re just right,” Kiana said.

“I think I am, too,” said Jonah.

“Did you know that I used to be really fat?” Kiana asked. “I mean, really–like way overweight.”

Jonah laughed. “Now you’re teasing!”

“No, it’s true!” She told him all about how heavy she’d been her first year of high school, and how she turned that around once she discovered that there was a correlation between being overweight and all sorts of health problems.

“I liked myself,” she said, “and I loved how I looked, but I decided it was more important to be healthy. Then, fitness and wellness became special interests, and I joined the soccer team in college, and that was that!”

“I want to join the soccer team when I’m in college, too,” Jonah said.

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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 2.8

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, 2.6

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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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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