“Girl, put down the pen already,” said Angie, when Maia answered her phone. She realized then how late in the evening it had become. As if she had been in a trance, Maia realized that she had not stopped for hours now and wondered what time it was. She just knew that she was on the last paragraph of this latest assignment.
Hearing Angie, Maia put her on speaker and set the phone back in thr desk glitter and continued writing, trying not to lose her train of thought for her conclusion. She just wrote faster albeit messier than the rest of the assignment in the workbook. “Wassup?” Maia asked like Paul did.
“I’m coming up there on Friday.”
“Yeah, its reunion weekend, remember? We are staying at Paulie’s house with you guys?”
Coming back to reality after putting the last period on the assignment, Maia smirked. “Really?” asked Maia facetiously.
“Maia, c’mon...” said Angie, in disbelief. In the last week, Maia had changed from the funny girl she met in the hospital to an obsessed introvert who hardly chatted and didn’t have time to do anything but homework.
Maia walked over to her charts that were laid out on her bed and with a marker she crossed off the assignments on each one that she had completed for the day, checking to see what was left to do. She sighed, seeing what was left for the day. To be completely caught up before she started school next week, she had to read the three chapters of Art History, fill in the worksheets’ study guide, and write a short essay on the computer. Her eyes were tired. Could she push it all off until tomorrow or should she read at least one chapter and fill in the worksheets?
“Maia, are you there?” asked Angie, breaking Maia’s train of thought.
Maia recovered, realizing she had left Angie on speaker phone across the room on her desk. She loudly said, “I’m playing you.”
“Put down the pen, pick up the phone, and go get a Coke.”
“Okay, okay,” sighed Maia, picking up the cell phone and turning off the speaker phone feature. She set the pen in the pen cup on her desk, picking up the rest and doing likewise then left the room as Angie chattered on about school.
“I still can’t believe that Paulie insists on sending you to parochial school.”
“How did you get out of it? I figured your dad would have had you there as well.”
“I went when I was in elementary school, then my mom sent me to a boarding school. When I found my Dad, he wanted to send me to the local parochial high school, but Uncle Brandon is on the board of the arts high school where I go. He was determined that I was going to art school. If not, I would have ended up at St. Francis and wearing those gross royal blue uniforms.”
“Mine are burgundy and hideous. I can count on my hands the number of times I have worn a dress. Now I have to wear skirts every day.”
“Hideous eh?” Angie laughed. “I hear you girl. I wore uniforms and skirts for years and none of them were pretty or comfortable. Nothing worse than New England winters and the wind rushing up your legs.”
“Ugh,” said Maia, walking down the stairs. “Winter and hideous uniforms. So wrong,” she said, as Joey picked his face up from the book he was reading.
“I heard that,” said Joey, not looking up.
“The things I do to make Paulie happy,” she said, with a sigh as she entered the kitchen as he was frothing milk at the espresso machine.
“What?” he asked.
“Go to St. Nick’s and graduate with honors with full IB.”
“Yep,” he said, kissing the top of her head. “Want a latte?”
“Sure, I’m going to be up late.”
“You need more sleep, Maia. Lights out at midnight, regardless.”
“I’m fine, Paulie.”
“What are we doing this weekend?”
“Ugh, I knew you’d say that.”
“Hey, you need to get your trig grade up to passing so you get your car back. How can you drive up here and see me without your car?”
Paul smirked and pressed the scoops of espresso into the basket for her latte. She sat at the bar watching him.
“Are you any closer to meeting your goal?”
“Well...yes and no. I’ve kept up daily so far, but I spent too much time on New Testament today. There was a paper that I missed putting on the chart and decided just to get it done instead of putting it on the list. So now I must backtrack and do the art history chapters and research paper. I have to find sources yet, and what I can’t get off the internet, I will need Joey or Mack to pick up from the library. We need to decorate the journal this weekend, and I just finished the rest of the RCIA workbook. So now I have to wair until after lent to get confiemed."
“RCIA...no you aren’t!”
“I must if I want to go to St. Nick’s. I’m on probation right now until I finish it and vet confirmed.”
“My dad keeps trying to get me to do it.”
“Why don’t you make him happy and just—"
“OMG, you are too busy pleasing Uncle Paulie. I need to come up there and straighten you out. You forgot you are a teenager.”
Maia sighed. “Angie, stop. I like it how it is. I’m no different than what I was before I got here.”
“See, this is the problem. You need to learn how to act your age. You have spent your whole life as a little adult instead of a kid. We are going to change that.”
“What else do you have to do for school?”
“I got a paper, trig, and art.”
“We are not doing homework all weekend.”
“That’s why I’m trying to get ahead. You should too. At least write your outline and draft to your paper before you get here.”
“You are too organized.”
“I work smarter, not harder.” Paul poured her latte in a talle cup.
“I made hers half-caff,” said Paul, when Joey admonished him with his eyes upon entering the kitchen. Paul set the fresh foaming latte in front of Maia at the bar. Realizing that the kitchen was too crowded, Maia lifted her latte to her mouth and sipped it, smiling approvingly to Paul.
“Thank you, Paulie,” she said.
“What?” asked Angie.
“Paulie made me a latte.”
“Maia, I sent you for a Coke. That’s what a teenager would drink. You got a latte instead?”
“He was making lattes, so yes,” she said. “Healthier than a Coke.”
“What are we going to do for fun this weekend?” asked Angie.
“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”
“I wanted to drive up, but daddy’s taking his jet and Uncle Andy is picking us up.”
“Will he be here?”
“With Uncle Mitch.”
“Oh wow, I finally get to meet them.”
“They live a block away. Why haven’t you met them before?”
“Heck if I know why I haven’t met them,” said Maia as Paul’s eyes met hers. “I didn’t know they were neighbors.”
“You were sick,” said Paul. Maia rolled her eyes and left them in the kitchen and escaped them for Joey’s soft chair in the den. “Parentals,” sighed Maia.
“Tell me about it. Meg makes me nuts. Speaking of parentals, how’s Jonny?”
“Talking enough to give me a hard time over catholic school.”
“I thought he was for it?”
“Jonny was until they decided that I had to go through RCIA and become a Catholic in order to stay there. He doesn’t want me hurt by dogma.”
“Dogma is everywhere.”
“I guess. He wants RCIA to be my choice not forced upon me, because I want to graduate from a great school. It took a half hour for him to say that paragraph. He used to talk so fast that students taped his lectures.”
Maia sipped the latte.
“Do you agree with him?”
“Yes and no. If I were to do it in my own time, I probably wouldn’t. I’d die an agnostic. At least I’ll go to heaven if I ever check out in an asthma attack.”
“Doesn’t dying scare you?”
“Huh? No,” she replied with a scoff.
“Why should it? If I die tonight, I will die happy. I have everything I ever needed and wanted. I had a happy childhood, I met my papa, I have a brother who loves me, I have a Joey who loves me even more and now a school that challenges me. A Steinway to play and my own personal big brother barista. And I have you, my very first ever best friend.”
“But you never went anywhere.”
“I didn’t have to. Where I went was where I was supposed to go.”
Maia watched Paul and Joey chat in the kitchen by the espresso machine. “Bring some contraband,” said Maia in a low voice.
“What do you want?”
“A box of Marlboro Menthols.”
“I will be grounded forever. You are on oxygen. You can’t smoke. They have to go to Uncle Andy’s to smoke their nasty cigars and play cards this year because of it.”
“Fine, then bring me something else,” said Maia, finishing the last sip of the latte. Seeing the time on the clock in the den, she got up from the chair to take her mug to the kitchen.
“What do you want? A Playgirl?”
“So, a Playboy?”
“No thank you, I’m looking at enough nudes in art history,” said Maia, putting her latte mug in the sink. Paul and Joey shot each other a look and Maia walked past them and through the living room towards the staircase.
“I do not want to know,” said Paul, rinsing out his mug and hers.
“Nail polish?” asked Angie.
“Nail polish? I still don’t have some nails,” said Maia. “I really hate the feeling of nail polish on my nails.”
“Maia, you are a girl. You need to learn how to wear nail polish and other girl things. I know, let’s go shopping and get your makeup done.”
“Make up? Do you forget whom you are talking to?”
“Maia, you are a girl. You got to wear make-up.”
“No, I don’t,” she said, stacking her charts together and putting them on the desk. She was tired. No coffee was going to wake her up enough to sit at that desk any more tonight. Maia laid on her back on the bed with her legs hanging down at her knees.
“You are going to be on stage. You must wear make-up on stage.”
“Of course, but not for every day.”
“Ha, that’s what you think. You’ll be wearing it to school before Easter.”
“The hell I will,” she said.
“Maia,” said Joey on the intercom, startling her. She sat up in a hurry and pulled her oxygen tube from her nose on accident. Did he just hear her swear? Can he eavesdrop on her with the intercom?
“The alarm for your night meds just went off,” he said.
“I’ll be right down.”
“I’ll PM you in ten minutes,” said Angie.
“Turn on the PM this time.”
“Okay, okay, I was doing homework.”
When Maia walked into the kitchen nook to the sideboard and took her medication, Paul was there, lifting the crystal lid from the cake safe. In it was a sour cherry pie that Elly had baked yesterday. Maia poured herself a glass of water and took the pills.
“Want a piece of pie?”
“No thanks. I’m just going to go back to work.” Paul put down the pie server and looked to her.
“Don’t start, I’m fine.”
“You are tired. The bags under your eyes are worse than when we first met.”
“I am happy. I’ve waited months to do just this. Please don’t start. Look at it this way. You don’t ever have to bug me about doing my homework.”
“You seem perplexed. Is this about your conversation with Jonny? You have hardly said a word since then. Even at supper you were silent. What did he say?”
“He went to catholic school and became a Buddhist. He wants RCIA to be because I want it instead of being forced into it.”
Paul nodded. “I don’t blame him. I think he’s right.”
“So what do we do?”
Turning his attention back to the pie, Paul cut himself a bigger piece than he should have, knowing that Joey would have something to say about it if he saw it. “I guess we let you decide.”
“Okay, when? Now?”
“Well?” asked Paul.
“I've already decided to tell Father Tim I want to be confirmed."
"Why?" asked Paul.
"So I can go to mass and feast days with my family.”
It was the first time she said that word about the three of them. He kissed the top of her head and she put her arma about his waist.
“Paulie, I need to go to mass this week to figure out the book, so I don’t look foolish to the other kids at chapel.”
“Okay, we will go to noon mass tomorrow.”
“And the beads?”
“It’s called a rosary.”
“Rosary, right. I need a crash course. In the RCIA book it says about confession and penance and the bead prayers and I’m like so clueless.”
“I got just the teacher. She heads the rosary society and has taught children for years.”
“Who?” asked Maia.
“Elly. She is just awaiting your willingness to learn.”
Maia returned to her room and instead of going to bed, she set aside the charts into her soft chair and returned to her desk, this time with the RCIA workbook and her Bible that Joey gave her. She had been reading about eternal life, about the difference between heaven and hell. When she contemplated where Cat was, if she was in heaven or if she was in hell, Maia fell apart. With her feet flat on the chair, Maia buried her face in her knees as she hugged them to herself.
It was after midnight when Joey found her. With her Bible open, on the journal page, and written in Maia’s capital letter script, were the words “IS CAT IN HELL?” across the top of the page.
“Maia,” said Joey. She did not reply, just sobbed.
Paul entered. “Is she okay?” Joey pointed to the notebook. Paul sighed and nodded. “We knew we would have to talk about this someday,” replied Paul. He reached for her and drew her into his arms. Maia clung to him and he sat on the ottoman as she sobbed.
“It’s okay,” he said holding her.
“No, no, no... it’s just not.”
“Maia, God gives us all chances to come to him. She chose not to. In our religion, we have heaven and hell. Cat was a Buddhist. She believed in Samara and Nirvana. In her religion, she may have already achieved Nirvana. We won’t know until we get beyond this life, kiddo. It can be comforting or painful to consider.”
Maia wiped her face with the back of her hand and Joey handed her a tissue. Joey reached for her and held her as well, rocking her back and forth as she clung to him.
“What’s really going on, Maia?”
“It’s so hard,” she said. I don’t know how I feel about her anymore. One minute I hate her, the next minute I miss her.”
“That’s called grieving,” said Joey. “Praying your rosary will help.”
Maia tried not to cry anymore, but it wouldn’t stop. Paul stood and from behind her, he enveloped her and Joey into his larger frame.
Maia cried until she was too tired and fell asleep in Paul’s arms as Joey turned down her bed. Carefully, Paul lifted her into bed and covered her. They each kissed her on the forehead and then left her to sleep.