11: New Girl in School

11: New Girl in School

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

New Girl in School

Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.

~Spanish Proverb

The new girl joined our fifth grade class in February. Her name was Kiki, short for Jacqueline, pronounced the French way. It wasn’t only her name that had French flair.

Everything about her was different — the way she wore her hair, her shoes. She couldn’t change the school uniform, yet Kiki wore hers with more flair — her uniform shorter and more tightly fitted.

All the boys had crushes on her. They’d stare at her as she walked into class, make excuses to walk by her desk or talk louder when she was nearby. All the girls wanted to be her best friend. So I was thrilled when Kiki singled me out from the others.

For weeks, we’d spend recess together, whispering and giggling about the other girls in the class. That one was too fat. That one was too thin. Another one had a big nose. A fourth one had stringy hair. No one was safe from Kiki’s sharp tongue, except me.

Every so often, I’d feel a little pang of unease. After all, I had been friends with some of these girls before I met Kiki. But compared to her, my old friends were dull and boring.

Two weeks before her birthday, Kiki handed out beautiful invitations to a select group of girls, including me, for a Saturday luncheon at her house. Her mother was going to cook real French food.

I wanted to look my best so I persuaded my mother to buy me a new outfit for the party. When I tried it on, I felt very sophisticated, as if a little of Kiki’s fashion flair had rubbed off on me.

I spent hours trying to find her the perfect present. Books, puzzles or a stuffed animal seemed too childish for her. I finally decided on a silver necklace. It cost my entire savings — two months’ allowance — but I wanted to be sure she’d like my gift.

I couldn’t wait for the party.

The day before the party, Kiki and I got into an argument. I don’t even remember what it was about. But Kiki’s face turned red, she put her hands on her hips, and narrowed her eyes. She stared at me for a moment. Then she said, “I don’t want you to come to my party.”

I was crushed. I spent that Saturday in my bedroom, gazing at my new outfit and feeling sorry for myself. At noon, when I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I wondered what marvelous French food the other girls were eating. As I read a book, I wondered what kind of games they were playing.

As the day wore on, another thought occurred to me. Since Kiki had said so many mean things about other girls, was she now saying mean things about me? I rushed to my bedroom mirror. My nose wasn’t big, but maybe she thought it was too small. My hair wasn’t stringy but maybe it was too curly. And while I was neither the fattest girl in the class, nor the skinniest, I definitely fell on the heavier side. Was Kiki telling the other girls it was a good thing I wasn’t there because I’d probably eat too much birthday cake and get even fatter? Would she have even liked my new clothes?

On Monday, when Kiki saw me in the school playground, her first words were, “Why didn’t you come to my party?”

“Because you told me not to,” I said.

She shrugged. “Oh that. I didn’t mean it.” Then she waved her hand as if it were nothing. “Too bad you missed it. It was a really good party. I got lots and lots of gifts. You can bring me my gift tomorrow.”

I stood there for a minute, not quite believing what I’d heard. The school bell rang and Kiki walked toward the front door. I began to follow her and then stopped.

I decided I would bring her gift to school tomorrow. However, instead of giving it to Kiki, I’d wear it around my neck.

That recess, instead of gossiping with her, I joined another group of girls in a game of tag.

Within a day, Kiki had a new best friend. Every so often, they’d look over at me and giggle. That hurt. At first, I would automatically pat my hair or smooth my shirt over my hips. But as I renewed my friendship with my former friends, I stopped caring as much about what Kiki said about me.

Over the next few months, Kiki had many new best friends. Some lasted a couple of days, some lasted a couple of weeks. But one by one, they were tossed aside when they disagreed with her or she tired of them. One by one they learned the same lesson I had learned. By the end of the school year, when she moved away for good, few people were sad to see her go. But I had learned that friends are supposed to make you feel good about yourself.

~Harriet Cooper

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