Eleven-year-old Kristin Miller was not excited for school to start. She had moved over the summer. Since she was going into sixth grade, she had to start middle school. Scary.
She sat in the back of the car, staring out the window as her mom drove her siblings and her to go back-to-school shopping. It was raining. Pouring, really. At least it matched her mood. Her older sister Maya was going on and on about how exciting high school would be and how tenth grade would be “the best year ever.” Yeah, right. Kristin would give anything to live with her parents together. But no. They got divorced right at the end of last year and now she only got to see her dad every other weekend. Meanwhile, Evan, her little brother, was reading off all the signs they passed, obviously excited for second grade.
“How about you, Kris? Are you excited for middle school?” her mother asked, as if middle school was a good thing.
“Eh,” she shrugged, not moving her gaze from out the window. She bit her fingernails, like she always did when she thought about school and other terrifying things.
“Of course you’re excited, Kristy,” Maya butted in, using Kristin’s dumb pet name. “When I was in sixth grade, I made a bunch of friends, and so will you!”
Oh, Kristin had plenty of friends. At her old school. And they would get to go to scary middle school together, and she bet it would even be fun for them. But no. Maya wouldn’t understand. She had a gazillion friends and would have no problem making more. She was pretty and popular, and she excelled at every class and sport she did.
“Oh yeah, I’m excited,” she lied, tired of Maya’s excited oblivious-ness and her mom’s worry. “I was just thinking about last year’s first day of school.”
Kristin would much rather read a good book any time than go to school. Sure, her classes weren’t super hard, but that was exactly the problem. She needed a challenge. That’s what her teacher had said last year. Kristin, why can’t you be more like Maya? is what the teacher had definitely been thinking. Well, she was used to that.
About twenty minutes later, they got to the mall. They went into Target and got all their supplies. Maya also convinced Mom to get her some clothes. Clothes, clothes, clothes. Maya was always thinking about clothes. Kristin had no idea how she managed to fit them all in her dresser. Kristin, however, did not like clothes shopping. Nothing ever looked as good on her as it did on Maya, who could wear a burlap sack and still look flawless. Maya was always wearing the trendiest clothes, but somehow made it look natural and not contrived. Kristin could never pull that off. Heck, she only ever knew what was “cool” at a given time based off of Maya’s tastes.
Kristin looked down at her worn-out jeans and navy-blue Mickey Mouse shirt, and her old pink Crocs, then at Maya’s black turtleneck and white denim skirt, and shrunk a little. She knew what was coming next before Maya even said it.
“Mom, can we get Kristy some fresh clothes, too? She’s been wearing the same things since like third grade.”
Please say no, please say no, please say no!
“Sure, I don’t see why not. Kris? You want some new clothes?”
No, as a matter of fact, I do not. “Um, sure Mom. That would be great,” Kristin said, preparing herself for becoming Maya’s personal fashion show.
Maya squealed and grabbed Kristin’s arm. “How ‘bout we meet you at the entrance in an hour, and you can take Evan?”
Their mom nodded, “Come on Evan. Don’t you want to get some more grown-up second-grader things?”
As Maya dragged her along, Kristin wondered at how the two sisters could be blood-related but be such polar opposites. Kristin had shoulder-length curly dark brown hair and blue eyes, and Maya had wavy blond hair that stretched halfway down her back, and pretty brown eyes, too. Maya was average height with the perfect body. Kristin was tall and gangly, and she was almost the same height as Maya, regardless of the fact that Maya was 15, and four years older.
“Ooh, I’m going to find you the perfect clothes, Kristy! You’re going to look so good!”
Kristin sighed, accepting her fate. There was nothing to be done when Maya got excited like this than to let her dress you up and get it over with.
Maya’s ideal day was one spent shopping, swimming and talking with friends, which was basically all she’d done that summer. Kristin had spent all summer reading “Harry Potter” in their hammock, pretending to watch Evan as he played in the pool or on the trampoline, or both. On rainy days she’d spent all day watching movies in the attic. Her personal favorites were Star Wars.
As they walked through the store, Maya was talking a mile a minute about the things she’d be getting Kristin. They finally got to the clothes, and Kristin stood a little straighter when she realized that they were in the “juniors” section, not the “kids” section. Maya walked around feeling different options and grabbing anything that she approved of.
Kristin daydreamed about books. She loved books. Especially “Harry Potter.” She’d hardly put them down all summer and had reread them once already since the first time and was in the middle of them again. Her dad had watched the movies with her. She got to watch one each time they visited. They’d already watched the whole series. She smiled, thinking about her dad. He had dark hair just like Kristin, and brown eyes like Maya. Evan looked exactly like pictures of their dad when he was little.
“Kristin Miller!” Maya shouted, shaking Kristin from her daydream. “Try these on, dear.” She handed Kristin a large pile of clothes, and Kristin had trouble seeing with the mountain in front of her. She walked into the dressing room and tried every piece on, walking out for Maya each time. Maya ended up picking a few outfits for her, but there was only one outfit that Kristin really liked. This was the first time Kristin had ever actually found something she liked while shopping for clothes. She caught up to Maya as she started walking through the aisles, heading to the checkouts.
“Wait,” Kristin said, “What about shoes?”
“Shoes? I suppose we can pick some out,” Maya replied, stopping so abruptly that Kristin walked into her.
They went over to the shoes and Maya started trying things on. Kristin didn’t like anything Maya suggested, but she kept looking anyway. And then she saw them. A beautiful pair of shoes that were very familiar. She picked up the black Converse. They had gold and silver hearts on them and were the same ones she’d worn when she had started kindergarten. She’d been so scared because she didn’t have any friends, but her parents had assured her that everything would be okay and bought her these shoes to help her feel more excited.
“I want these,” Kristin announced, and Maya looked up from the boots she was trying on.
“Ooh, those are pretty cute,” she said, and walked over to find Kristin’s size. “Here,” she said, holding a box with size 6 in it.
Kristin tried them on and immediately knew they were the ones. They were so comfortable, and she never wanted to take them off. “I’ll wear them out of the store,” she said.
“Hang on, Kristy,” Maya said, changing out of the boots she had half-on as Kristin started to walk out of the aisle. Maya picked up the boots and caught up to her. Kristin smiled as she went towards the entrance of the store.
“Excited, are we?” Maya asked, grinning when Kristin turned her face away. “Well, no need to defend yourself,” Maya said, grabbing her hand.
The thing was, Kristin somehow was excited now. Maybe Maya’s bubbly personality was rubbing off on her, or maybe it was the shoes. Or both. But she wasn’t as scared of middle school anymore. Maybe she’d even make some new friends! She hoped they’d share her love of pizza.
When they got to the doors, Kristin heard her mom before she saw her. She was on the phone, probably with Kristin’s dad. “No, of course not. Why? Well, Maya’s super excited, and so is Evan, but Kris is still being sulky. I don’t know how to make her realize that she has to get used to this. She doesn’t want to go to school at all.”
As she heard this, Kristin shrunk down a little. Was that what people thought of her? A burden? Sulky, like her mom had said? She thought about it and realized that she had been kind of angsty over the summer and ever since her parents got divorced. She looked up at Maya, her happy mood disappearing.
“Am I annoying, Maya?” she asked, as Maya put her arms around her for a hug.
“Of course not. And you’re not a burden either so don’t ask. Mom’s just having a hard time taking care of the three of us by herself. You’re a happy and easy-going girl with a love of books. Lots of people love you, Kristin.” Maya smiled at her.
Kristin sniffled and dried her eyes off with her sleeve. Maybe Maya was right. Maybe not, but either way, she decided to stop being sulky. She would try as hard as she could to make everyone’s life as easy as possible.
“Hey, stop wiping your face with your shirt. You’ll ruin it!” Maya said, with a playful wink.
Kristin smiled, suddenly grateful for her sister’s ridiculously happy personality. They walked over to their mom, Kristin clinging to Maya’s hand the whole time.
“Hi Mom,” Maya said, as she hung up the phone and looked over to them.
“Hey Maya, Kris,” their mom responded, looking at the two of them. Kristin was pleased that she had noticed.
“Mom, do you like my shoes?”
“Hmm, oh, yeah. Those are cute!” She obviously didn’t remember them, but that was okay. Kindergarten was a long time ago, since she was a grown-up sixth-grader now.
“I remember those shoes, you know,” Maya whispered to Kristin. “I was starting third grade and thought it was so unfair that Mom and Dad went out of their way to get you fancy new shoes when all I got was an ice cream cone when we were shopping. But then Mom explained how you were having a hard time, and that I should be supportive or whatever. I mostly made myself happy by telling myself that I was a big kid, and you were just a little kindergartener.”
Kristin giggled. She remembered shopping for the shoes almost as vividly as Maya’s combination of complaining that she didn’t get an extra pair of shoes and bragging about starting third grade and being an old pro at the whole “school” thing.
“Woah Kristin, I love your shoes,” Evan said, finally looking away from the notebook he was holding. There was an optical illusion on it, and he was pretty mesmerized by it.
A week later, Kristin opened the door of the car, looking up at the huge building in front of her. It said, “Seattle East Middle School” above the huge front doors. This is it, she thought, and she couldn’t help but look down at her beautiful new shoes. She remembered what her sister had told her; to think of good things about herself. Every time she did, it made her more confident. She had won the spelling bee last year. That was a good thing! Remembering the happiness of that night got rid of some of the anxious butterflies in her stomach. No, not butterflies. Maybe they were moths. Butterflies usually are a positive thing, and moths are annoying. But she’d never heard anyone mention moths in their tummy. Hmmm.
“Bye Kris. Have a great first day,” her mom said, interrupting her mental debate.
Kristin smiled. She was determined to make today better than great.
“Yeah, Kristin. Enjoy sixth grade,” Evan said, not looking up, but mesmerized by his notebook once again.
Maya opened up the passenger window and said, “Remember your shoes, Kristy.” It was a bizarre thing to say, but It made Kristin smile even bigger.
“Thanks,” she said.
Maya smiled, too and said, “Bye Kristy. Today will be great. I can feel it.”
Kristin smiled. “Bye Mom, bye Evan, bye Maya. Second grade will be epic, Evan. Enjoy high school, Maya.” She waved as they closed the car doors and headed towards the entrance.
There were lots of people around her, luckily all looking equally as nervous as Kristin. Kristin smiled as she walked, and right before she walked through the doors, she could’ve sworn she heard a yell, “Nice shoes!”