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Who’s Your Friend Who Likes To Play

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At the end of Inside Out, there’s one thing it doesn’t show: Riley thriving.


It still takes time to adjust to California, of course; one impromptu heart to heart with your parents doesn’t fix everything completely. But for the most part, things get better.


One thing it certainly doesn’t show is the effect of the move on her grades. While Riley’s grades were never terrible in Minnesota, the majority of her time was always devoted to hockey instead. With rinks everywhere and frozen lakes for nearly half the year, it was easy for Riley to spend most of her time skating in Minnesota; in San Francisco, with the closest rink twenty minutes away through traffic, it’s a little harder.


Riley spends more time on school, and her grades rise. Even more important, she meets a science teacher who’s encouraging, and through middle school it’s a subject Riley learns to love.


By the time Riley’s in high school, she’s smart and a hard worker and she knows what she wants. She plays hockey and her team is good , they make it far, and she balances it with her schoolwork well. She gets high scores in science and math classes, and she starts to think that maybe it’s what she wants to do when she grows up.


Riley is smart and a hard worker, in school and on ice. The emotions cheer her on, and she ends high school with strong everything: mostly As, AP classes, high SAT score, a long-standing, impressive extracurricular.


She gets into a good college. A really good one.


She studies hard, and majors in engineering after a lot of deliberation. She throws herself into college and has fun, joins clubs, works hard, even gets an internship. She’s in her junior year, thinking about what she wants to do when she graduates, when she finally admits to her roommate what she really wants to do.


“I think I want try becoming an astronaut.”


Her roommate pauses, carrying a plate of reheated leftovers out of their kitchen. “Heck yeah. Go for it.”


She snorts.


And she goes for it.


The years after that are grueling. NASA seemingly requires nearly everything from its astronauts- a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, at least three years of professional experience, ability to pass a military-grade physical. And that’s not even counting the interview, or the other skills required to make you stand out among the thousands of applicants that are whittled down to the ten or so accepted each application cycle.


But Riley works hard and goes for it anyway.


She goes back to school and gets a masters degree, and after that works hard at the company where she’s employed as a mechanical engineer, and rises through the ranks. She picks up extreme mountain climbing (being able to work in groups with other people in isolated areas, NASA likes that) and learns to speak Russian (seeing as the majority of non-American astronauts come from there).


She draws on her hockey roots and makes sure she’s fit. She gets a piloting license, and gets scolded by the instructor for constantly humming as she flies.


She sends in her application, and she’s called back for the final round of interviews. Her heart is in her throat, but NASA wants astronauts who are calm and steady under pressure, and she is.


She waits almost a day to check if there’s a email in her inbox, right around the time there should emails sent to notify people of their acceptance. And there is one.


Everyone around her is so happy and so proud of her, but Riley takes a breath and doesn’t stop, just keeps going because she knows being accepted doesn’t mean what most people think it means, accepted means being part of a pool of astronaut candidates and that even if you complete all of NASA’s training you might still never be picked for a specific mission. Riley hunkers down like it’s a win in an important playoff game for hockey- very good, yes, but there are more games to play and she can’t afford to take a break.


The people who go into space are the rarest people in the world. There are more games to play, and Riley’s going to be damned if she loses them now.


And she keeps going.


And now- oh and now if she thought she was working hard before, that’s nothing on now. It’s one thing to compete with people who are theoretical, and something completely different to see them face to face every day as they all train. The pressure is intense, and NASA’s astronaut candidate training lasts two years so stays there for that long. And she works, and she works, and some days there seems to be every reason to give it up and just rest, and every reason why doing that would be justifiable and okay, and there’s no emotion in the world- joy, sadness, disgust, anger, fear- that can explain why she gets back up and keep going.


And then one day, finally- finally - after the years of training, and the years of waiting and keeping fit and keeping eligible, there’s a manned mission they’re planning to land on the moon and take samples and they’re choosing people from the pool and she looks at the list of names and-


And it’s her.


And it’s her and it’s her and it’s her and it’s her and it’s her -


Riley screams and calls her parents and yells, “Mom, it’s me! They picked me! I’m going all the way to the moon!” she sings, and laughs.


They laugh and talk for nearly an hour, until the first wave of joy has burnt out and they’re all quietly content. Finally, her dad speaks.


“You know Riley, it’s kind of funny, what you first said when you called. ‘I’m going all the way to the moon’?”


Riley straightens. “Uh, yeah? What about it?”


Her dad chuckles. “I don’t know, it’s just that you used to say that exact phrase when you were younger. Do you remember Bing Bong?”


Riley stills and knits her eyebrows. It feels vaguely like something familiar, but she can’t remember from where. “No?”


“He was an imaginary friend you had when you were really young,” her mom chimes in. “The two of you had a rocket that ran power? And you always talked about going to the moon.”


Riley racks her brain for a couple seconds, trying to remember, but comes up with nothing. She shakes her head. “I don’t think I remember that. Guess I was too young.”


“I’ll keep him in mind when I get there, though.”