Clouds filled the sky above Pollock Secondary yard this Friday afternoon, but if it was supposed to be a dreary day, Tori did not feel so. Today was a special day for her, and she embraced the cooler weather as she did some sketches under the giant maple tree as it shed its last leaves. She giggled as one of the leaves blew in her face, and prepared to brush it off just as she heard the front door of the school open.
“Hey, Tori,” Oliver called out. “You sure got here early.”
Tori smiled sweetly. “Yes, we were lucky class finished early today,” she replied. “I’ve been working on a surprise for all of you.”
Everyone’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, whatcha got?” Stacy asked.
Tori laid her sketchbook on the ground, showing a picture of a brown-haired boy in the forest wearing a vest. He was proudly lifting a gem-encrusted dagger as he ran away, accompanied by a tiger. Oliver gazed at the picture wide-eyed in amazement.
“Hey, that’s me!” he cried. “This is amazing. Thanks, Tori!”
“You’re welcome,” Tori said. “And that’s not all.”
She turned the page to a futuristic metropolis, showing a girl in pink armour and rollerblades grinding the industrial rails. A whirlwind of cherry blossoms and a large dragonfly flew around her.
“Oh wow, I look so cool!” Cheryl remarked. “Thanks for doing this!”
Tori smiled, turning the page once more. “And this is me.”
She was standing at the centre of a lake in the meadow in a pastoral dress, singing to the birds, butterflies, and flowers around her. The other three continued to admire the detail she put into this series of manga-inspired pictures.
“It’s been three months since I first joined the club,” Tori explained. “I thought it would be nice to commemorate our time together by drawing my closest friends. And maybe, it’ll help get me closer to finding my own style.”
“Well, I may not have much artistic talent,” Cheryl remarked. “But these sure are stylish to me.”
“You’ve always got us beat in the art department,” Stacy added. “Say, what about me?”
Tori’s heart sunk, seeing her face so full of anticipation. “Um…” she murmured, holding the page. “I haven’t finished yours yet.”
Stacy felt a pang in her chest while the other two flinched in disappointment. “Why not?” she asked.
Tori was sweating. “Um, I’m still working on it,” she explained. “I didn’t forget about you, but, um, I just had trouble coming up with something.”
Stacy looked down at the ground upon hearing that, and Tori desperately tried to defuse the situation. “I didn’t mean it that way! It’s just, I had so many ideas for you, and I’m still trying to decide what to go with! Please don’t be mad. It’s coming. I promise!”
Stacy looked up, smiling. “It’s fine,” she said, her voice about to crack. “Good art takes time, right? I’m sure you’ll come up with something good.”
She looked at her watch. “Oh crap, I almost forgot. Sorry guys, I’ve got to go. Have a good weekend, everyone!”
The other three were initially puzzled, but then Oliver remembered the occasion. “Have fun at your music lessons!” he called out.
“I’ll try,” Stacy replied, sweating nervously as she strapped on her helmet. “Anyway, bye!”
“Bye!” the other three said.
As she rode off on her bike, Oliver and Cheryl turned to a depressed-looking Tori.
“I screwed up again, didn’t I?” she told them.
“Hey, don’t worry,” Oliver consoled her. “I’m sure Stacy understands.”
“It’s just,” Tori continued. “She’s our leader. She deserves something special for bringing us all together. And yet, I let her down.”
Cheryl, noticed how sad Tori looked, thought of a way to resolve this conundrum. “Hey, you said you had a lot of ideas for her picture, right?”
“Uh-huh,” Tori replied.
“So,” Cheryl said. “Would you mind if we helped you with that drawing? After all, Stacy’s done a lot for all of us.”
Oliver grinned. “I think I know something Stace might like. There’s this cartoon called Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld that she’s been bragging about recently.”
Cheryl was curious. “I didn’t know Stacy was the princess type.”
Oliver showed her and Tori a picture of the titular Amethyst. “She has a sword.”
“Ah, like He-Man!”
Oliver chuckled nervously, now having some weird mental image of Prince Adam in a frilly dress.
“She is quite pretty,” Tori observed. “It would be fun to draw her in an outfit like that.”
She grabbed a pencil and started tracing Amethyst’s body while Oliver and Cheryl watched, curious as to what would result.
Stacy sighed in relief as she parked her bike at Hopper Elementary. Got five minutes to spare, she thought, as she stood at the front doors. Not much has changed. I wonder how everyone’s doing.
After some deliberation, she opened the door. Okay, room 205. Where is that?
She spent a few minutes aimlessly wandering the second floor until Ms. Myska suddenly peeked outside her front door. Drat, Stacy thought. How did I miss that?
“Hi, Ms. Myska,” Stacy said cheerfully. “Long time no see!”
“Yes, it’s been a while,” she replied nonchalantly. “Did you sign in downstairs?”
“Um, no,” she said, her voice shaking. “I’ll do that right away.”
“No need,” Ms. Myska stated. “We’ll take care of that afterwards. The kids are waiting for you.”
Stacy chuckled anxiously as they walked into the room. She was greeted by a cacophony of hyperactive kids on the floor, who were talking amongst themselves. Out of the chatter, she managed to overhear a mention of Splatoon, and smiled.
“Hello class,” Ms. Myska announced. The kids ignored her and continued chattering, so she repeated, in a booming voice, “Hello, Class!!”
The class suddenly fell silent, curious about this weird-looking girl who showed up.
“That’s better,” Ms. Myska said. “Today, we have a special guest. Please give a warm welcome to Anastasia Nazarenko.”
The kids giggled at the sound of her name while Stacy blushed in embarrassment
“Stacy,” she whispered insistently to Ms. Myska. “It’s Stacy.”
“Very well,” she whispered back before turning to the class again. “Stacy has come all the way from Pollock Secondary to teach you music, so you best be on her best behaviour.”
The class whispered amongst themselves, which caused Ms. Myska to yell “Attention, class!” once again. Even after all these years, Stacy was impressed that someone so small could be so loud.
“Anyway, Stacy,” Ms. Myska continued. “Could you tell the class a little about yourself? Like, what are your favourite things?”
Stacy swallowed to clear her throat. “Let’s see,” she began.
“Girls with frilled skirts and megaton lasers,
Boys with tight pants, they make my heart waver,
Giant robots that have cities to wring,
These are a few of my favourite things!”
Ms. Myska looked bewildered as Stacy made a fisting motion for the last two lines. She was not expecting that kind of response from her. Noticing her expression, Stacy stopped singing.
“Um, should I continue?” Stacy asked.
Ms. Myska shook her head. “I think we got the point, thank you.”
Stacy chuckled, hoping she didn’t completely embarrass herself already. She looked around the room, and saw the children looking bewildered. A pair of girls were whispering to each other, but most eyes were on her.
Well, at least I got their attention, she thought.
“So, what do you think?”
Tori had drawn a quick concept sketch of Stacy clad in a minidress and shiny leggings, holding her sword up high towards the moon. The other two looked at it with a curious expression on their faces. Something was off about the drawing.
“Stacy looks weird without glasses,” Oliver told her, and Cheryl nodded in agreement.
“Oh,” Tori replied. “Well, Amethyst didn’t have glasses.”
“I know, but it just doesn’t look like Stacy without them,” Oliver explained. “I rarely see her take them off.”
“Me neither,” Cheryl said. “I think we should keep them.”
Tori put her hand to her head, thinking about it. “I understand. It wouldn’t be the same without them.”
The other two nodded as she hastily added Stacy’s glasses to the drawing. “How’s that?”
“That’s more like it,” Oliver told her.
Tori smiled. “So what colour should we make her dress?”
Cheryl was reminded of the green outfit she wears to roller derby practice. “How about jade?”
“Jade does look good on her,” Oliver concurred. “And it would be a nice contrast to amethyst.”
Tori quickly coloured in her dress with a jade green pencil crayon, making her leggings cyan to match.
“I know it looks kind of messy right now,” Tori said. “But I need some time to polish it up. Hopefully, I can get it done by the weekend.”
“Take your time,” Cheryl told her. “I’m sure Stacy will understand even if it takes longer than expected.”
“Better a delayed drawing than a rushed one,” Oliver added.
Tori was comforted by her friends’ responses. She turned back to her drawing, looking at it curiously. “You know, I just realized something. Superheroes often have secret identities, right? To the public, they’re just ordinary men and women.”
“Yeah,” Oliver responded. “Whatcha getting at?”
“I can’t help thinking, maybe Stacy’s the same way.”
Oliver and Cheryl looked quizzically at Tori, who swallowed, organizing her thoughts, before continuing.
“We know how Stacy tries to be all smiles and cheers, right? Doing whatever she can to make us have fun in the club?”
Cheryl and Oliver nodded, their faces a mix of smiles and chuckles as they remembered Stacy’s antics.
“Yet,” Tori continued. “she seems to get upset easily. And even though she tries to hide it, I always sense this, sadness from her. She was crying, a lot when we talked about her dad.”
The other two frowned in concern, all too familiar with what she was talking about.
“I hope it doesn’t sound insensitive,” Tori concluded. “But I’d like to capture Stacy’s whole personality in the drawing. Would that be a good idea?”
Cheryl and Oliver looked at each other, thinking of what to say.
“Well,” Oliver began, pointing at the drawing. “It’s like you said, heroes have secret identities. Maybe we could also include Stacy herself in the picture along with her magical princess self.”
Oliver suddenly got an idea. “And we could call her Princess Anastasia!”
Cheryl and Tori rejoiced as they imagined the two Stacies together. “But wait, doesn’t she hate that name?” Cheryl pointed out.
“We can redeem it for her, can’t we?” Oliver responded.
“It’s a lovely name,” Tori agreed. “She shouldn’t hate it as much as she does.”
Cheryl had another idea. “We could show her comforting Stacy and giving her hope.” She grinned as she continued. “And since she’s the one who brought us all together, how about we also show her giving the rest of us our powers?”
Tori’s eyes widened in excitement. “Yeah, that’s perfect!”
She started frantically sketching so she’d remember everything. “Thanks so much, you two! With your ideas, I think we can make something truly special for Stacy.”
“Do, a deer, a female deer,
Re, a drop of golden sun,”
Stacy was playing the classic song on the piano, trying to encourage the kids to sing along with her, but they just stared at her blankly. She was getting annoyed, but she tried to keep up her smile.
“Heh, guess it’s a bit too old for you guys,” she remarked sheepishly.
“They play this song all the time,” a girl complained. “We’re tired of it.”
Stacy stopped to regain her composure. “What’s your name?”
“Nabila,” she said.
“Well, Nabila…” she said, trying to think of an alternative. “You’ve never heard it like…this before!”
She placed her hands on the piano, but started singing a capella.
“Do, you know like Homer Simpson, D’oh!”
As she smacked her forehead, the kids laughed. Stacy, realizing she was on to something, continued while introducing the accompaniment.
“Rei, my favourite Sailor Scout!
Mi, part of, A-mi, Yu-mi!
Fa, the warrior Fa Mulan!”
The kids listened in awe, and each line excited a different part of the audience as they recognized the characters she was singing about. Stacy realized she was on to something, took a quick breath, and kept going.
“Sol, is Latin for the Sun!
“La, when you can’t think of anything else to sing!
“Ti, yes bubble tea is great!”
“That brings us back to…”
Stacy immediately pointed towards the kids, and they slapped their heads in unison, singing Homer’s D’oh in scattered pitches. Stacy smiled as they giggled.
“That didn’t even rhyme!” Nabila pointed out though her chuckles.
“Well, I made it up just now,” Stacy admitted, as several of the kids gasped in amazement. “Anyway, now that I’ve got you listening, how about we sing for real? Don’t just listen the words. Follow along to the sound of my voice as well!”
In the corner of the room, Ms. Myska was frowning. She was expecting a tutor, not a clown. Stacy noticed her icy expression from the corner of her eye, and froze, unsure of whether she should continue.
“C’mon,” Nabila encouraged her. “What are you waiting for?”
Wow, she’s really eager, Stacy thought. She was a bit embarrassed to be receiving commands from a little girl, but at the same time, she appreciated her enthusiasm. Boldened by her words, she started singing again. “Do, like Homer Simpson, D’oh!”
Soon, others joined in. “Rei, my favourite Sailor Scout,”
Got ‘em, she thought, grinning.
“Mi, part of, AmiYumi
Fa, the Warrior Fa Mulan!”
“Okay, I think we’ve done enough for today,” Tori announced, as she put down her pencil and closed her sketchbook. “Thanks again, guys, but I have to go. Mother will be upset if I’m late for dinner.”
Oliver sighed in relief. “Let us know how it turns out!” he told her.
“We’re here to help if you need any other ideas,” Cheryl reminded her.
“Thanks,” Tori said. “Goodbye, everyone!”
She began running off to catch the bus, as Cheryl and Oliver smiled at each other, satisfied with how Stacy’s drawing was progressing. But suddenly, she turned around just as she reached the bus stop.
“One more thing,” she demanded. “Don’t tell Stacy, okay? Not until it’s done!”
She did a twirl as she turned to face the arriving school bus, while Oliver and Cheryl looked at her in shock.
“Wasn’t expecting that from Tori,” Oliver commented.
“Me neither,” Cheryl concurred.
“Ti, yes bubble tea is great!”
“That brings us back to, D’oh!”
Everyone was beginning to sound more synchronized as the kids made various over-exaggerated D’oh! gestures to Stacy’s amusement.
“Good job, guys,” she commented. “You all sound great!”
Suddenly, the bell rang, and Stacy saw several parents at the door. “Well, that’s it for today. I hope you enjoyed the lesson, and maybe I’ll see some of you on stage someday!”
“You sure about that?” Nabila asked, unconvinced. “Or are you just telling us that to make us feel better?”
Stacy frowned. Tough crowd, she thought. “Well, obviously, you have to work hard at it,” she responded. “But it doesn’t hurt to dream big, to envision the future you want for yourself, so you can motivate yourself to go for it!”
Nabila listened intently. The children were all bright-faced, entranced by Stacy’s enthusiasm.
“And maybe not all of you are interested in performing,” she continued. “But that’s okay. I hope you seen, er, heard how fun making music can be, and you’ll keep enjoying it in whatever way you desire. And remember, be nice to Ms. Myska!”
Their teacher cracked a small smile at that remark. She noticed them preparing to leave, and gestured for them to stop. “Anyway, what should we say to Stacy?”
“Thank You!” the kids announced in unison.
Stacy heard plenty of chatter as the parents took their kids out of the room. Eventually, when there was only Nabila left, Ms. Myska turned to Stacy.
“How’d I do?” she asked, shaking anxiously.
“I must say,” Ms. Myska began. “You have a very, unorthodox style of teaching.”
Stacy frowned. “Is that a euphemism?”
Nabila suddenly joined in the conversation. “Can we have Stacy here again? Please?” she asked her teacher.
“…the kids seemed to like it.” Ms. Myska concluded. “So whatever you did worked.”
Stacy had a large grin on her face. “Glad to be of service.”
“And since Nabi here asked so politely, would you like to come back again next term?”
Stacy gasped. “Really?”
“Yes,” Ms. Myska responded. “We’re a bit short on teachers here, so not all the students really get a chance to learn music properly. If we have time, you’d really be a great help.”
Stacy’s heart was pounding. “I’ll have to check my schedule, but I’ll let you know as soon as I can!”
“Yay!” Nabila cried.
Ms. Myska smiled. “Thanks a lot, Stacy. I look forward to seeing you around.”
“You too!” Stacy said.
Finally, Nabila’s mother arrived, accompanied by her brother.
“Sorry I’m late,” her mother said.
“It’s okay, mama,” she told her. “Stacy was really fun.”
“I’m so happy to hear that,” she said, while her brother looked at Stacy intriguingly. “I’m Maya, by the way.”
Stacy walked up to shake her hand. “Stacy.”
Nabila’s brother’s eyes lit up at that name. “Hey, aren’t you Nick and Ian’s cousin?” he asked.
Nabila looked oddly at Stacy, who walked up to shake his hand. “Yep. Ahmed, right?”
“Yep,” Ahmed said. “Your cousins have told me you’re quite the gamer. Care to prove it sometime?”
Stacy smirked. “Any time.”
Ahmed laughed. “Well, I can’t wait to see.”
“Can I join in too?” Nabila asked. “I’m a great gamer.”
Stacy and Ahmed smiled. “Of course!”
She extended her arms to hug Stacy, who returned the favour. Before the family started to leave, the three of them exchanged phone numbers and emails so they could set a time later.
“Bye, Stacy!” Nabila called out.
“See you soon,” Stacy called back.
Ms. Myska was pleased to see the girls get along so well. Though Stacy was still quite odd to her, she was looking forward to seeing what she’d come up with next term.
The next Monday morning, the last maple leaf began to fall in the courtyard of Pollock Secondary. The Games for Everyone club and several other students, crowded around to see it happen. Their eyes were locked to the leaf’s trajectory as it whirled around a bit, then peacefully drifted downwards to join the others. Staring at the now bare tree, Stacy looked on in regret.
“Looks like term’s ending soon,” Stacy remarked, sighing. “And we didn’t really do much as a club, did we? Guess I should have planned things better.”
“Aw, c’mon, Stacy,” Oliver retorted. “I don’t know about everyone else, but I had fun.”
“I did too,” Cheryl added. “It was fun just chilling with you all every week at lunch.”
“Still,” Stacy said, smiling. “I can always be better, right?”
“Look, Stacy,” Cheryl replied. “You’ve done enough for us already, just by bringing us together.”
“I’m glad you went through with the club after all,” Oliver added. “And didn’t listen to Lucas.”
Stacy looked around to see all her friends smiling for her. “Thanks, guys,” she told them.
“I never had friends like all of you before,” Tori said, looking up as she finished sketching the falling maple leaf. “I’m really glad you accepted me.”
“Of course!” Stacy told her. “You’ve done a lot for us too, with all those lovely drawings you’ve done of our time together.”
Tori’s eyes perked up, suddenly reminded of something. “I almost forgot. I’m still working on that drawing. Sorry I couldn’t get it to you today, but we’re trying to make it the best we can.”
Stacy’s eyes widened in surprise. “Oh yeah, the drawing. Yeah, take your time. I can wait. But in the meantime, could you at least give me a clue as to what you all have planned?”
Tori smiled mischievously. “We can’t tell you much right now, except I’m doing what I can to make it totally perfect. But it’ll be worth it. I promise.”
Stacy beamed. “I’m sure it will be.”
The bell rang, and all the students in the yard started walking towards the front doors. As the foursome arrived, Stacy turned towards her friends.
“Well, we don’t have many days left before exams, so let’s all buckle down and do our best!” she announced. “May the odds be ever in our favour!”
“Indeed!” the other three exclaimed in unison.
Following the other students into the door, a huge flock of crows flew overhead, cawing out loudly. Everyone was filled with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, knowing that the term was coming to an end and they only had their finals left to decide their fates. And yet, something was telling them that in the end, everything was going to be all right.