Kristys book, p.2
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       Kristy's Book, p.2

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  When we finished our last snowperson of the day, Mary Anne’s dad said he’d bring us to Bellair’s department store to buy the present. And Claudia’s mother invited us all to a birthday tea for Mimi to be held the next day.

  On the way to Bellair’s we talked about what we should buy for Mimi. By the time we reached the store we had decided to get her a wool scarf to go with her black winter coat. “One with lots of beautiful colors,” said Claudia.

  Claudia and I thought that riding the escalator to the second-floor accessories department of Bellair’s was a big thrill. Mary Anne was scared until I stood on her stair and held her hand. As those wide, moving stairs rolled us up to the second floor, I remember thinking, We’re buying a birthday present for Mimi because I had a great idea!

  We picked out a bright red-and-purple striped scarf. Afterward, Mary Anne’s father treated us to hot chocolate and cookies.

  It was dark by the time we returned to Bradford Court. But there was a full moon that made the snow and our snowpeople glow and glisten in the dark.

  The next day Claudia, Mary Anne, and I presented Mimi with her present. We were rewarded with big hugs, thank-yous, and her wonderful smile.

  Mimi wore that scarf every winter for the rest of her life. And it always reminded me of my very first great idea.

  For example, Sam could cross our street to visit his friend by himself. I begged and begged to be able to cross to Claudia’s house alone. My mother finally gave in. But by then, Sam was allowed to visit a friend on the next block all by himself, crossing an even bigger street to get there.

  And here’s something that bothered me every night. Sam and Charlie could stay up until nine o’clock — half an hour later than I could. When I finally got permission to stay up that late, their bedtime moved up half an hour, too. So I still had to go to bed before they did.

  I must have understood at some point that I could never catch up. But that didn’t mean I didn’t keep trying.

  I loved to play with Claudia and Mary Anne. But I wanted to play with my brothers, too. I liked the games they played — kickball, baseball, and a bunch of neat games with marbles. The trouble was that my brothers didn’t want to play with me.

  They would only let me play with them if they desperately needed one more kid to make a team. Or sometimes, when my dad was playing ball with them, he’d include me. “How’s she going to learn if you don’t play with her?” he’d say to my brothers.

  “Aw, Dad, come on!” Charlie would say. “She’s just a little kid.”

  “Besides, she’s a girl,” Sam would add.

  “Don’t let your mother hear you say that,” my father would joke.

  Then my dad, my brothers, and I would play a game of catch. Of course, I wasn’t as good as my brothers. I was only five and a half years old, after all. But my dad would say things like, “Good catch, Kristy.” And because he was nice to me, my brothers sort of were, too.

  One of the things I had envied most about my brothers was that they went to Stonybrook Elementary School, while I went to preschool in the mornings and stayed at home with my mom in the afternoons. That changed when I started kindergarten at SES. Then every morning my brothers and I headed off to the same school. Of course Charlie and Sam never walked to school with me, but I still thought it was really neat that we were all at SES. They had a different opinion about the situation.

  Charlie claims that I was always pestering him in the schoolyard. Claudia and I would march up to Charlie and the big guys he was hanging out with. I’d say something like, “Charlie, will you play catch with us?” Or, “Let’s play tag, Charlie. You can be It.” (Mary Anne never did this. She was too shy.)

  Charlie’s pals would crack up. “Go on, Charlie, play with the little girls,” one of them would say.

  “How about ring-around-the-rosie?” another would tease. “Or patty-cake.”

  Charlie would go red in the face and say, “Beat it, Kristy.”

  His rejections didn’t bother me. They were like water off a duck’s back. Sort of.

  Sam says I embarrassed him in front of his friends, too. I’d usually find him playing catch or kickball with his second-grade pals. Seeing those guys having so much fun made me want to play with them more than ever. Mary Anne and Claudia would play jump rope or something, but I’d hang out near Sam and his friends. If Sam saw me, he’d give me a dirty look and motion for me to go away. But I didn’t care. And as soon as a ball was anywhere in my range I’d run for it, toss or kick it to Sam or one of his friends, and wait for someone to send it back to me. They never did. But I’d stick around anyway. If all I could do was retrieve their out-of-range throws, then that’s what I’d do. I figured sooner or later they’d let me in their game.

  My mother must have known how frustrated I was by being excluded from my brothers’ activities. One day after school she tried to talk to me about it. “I think it must be very hard for you to be the youngest and the smallest in the family,” she said. (This was before David Michael was born and long before I had two younger stepsiblings and Emily.)

  I slid off the kitchen chair and stood as tall as I could. “I am not small,” I proclaimed. “I am almost five and three quarters years old. Sam and Charlie are mean to me.”

  “That’s right, Kristy,” my mother said. “You are almost five and three quarters. But why do you want to do everything your brothers do? You have plenty of fun with Claudia and Mary Anne. And they’re your age. Besides, it’s more fun to play with someone who wants to play with you.”

  “I want to play with everybody,” I said. “I want to play ball.”

  Just then Charlie came into the kitchen with a soccer ball under his arm. Sam was right behind him.

  “What’re you doing, squirt?” Charlie asked as he brushed past me.

  “Nothing,” I answered.

  Sam went to the refrigerator, opened it, and swigged some orange juice from the container.

  “What are you doing?” I asked Charlie.

  “Playing kickball with the guys,” he answered. “But you can’t play with us, Kristy. So don’t ask.”

  “Mom!” I pleaded.

  “Come on, Charlie, let her play,” my mother said. “Just this once.”

  “She’s a little kid,” Sam said with a burp.

  “I’m already letting Sam play,” Charlie told Mom. “He’s the youngest. We have plenty of guys. Mom, we let her play with us lots. But not today, okay?”

  My mother agreed that they didn’t have to take me. Charlie and Sam left the kitchen with a bang of the screen door. When they were gone, my mother put her hand on my shoulder. “Try to understand, Kristy,” she said. “Besides, you might get hurt with all those big kids.”

  “I don’t care,” I said. I felt tears well up in my eyes. But I didn’t let myself cry.

  “Why don’t you go over to Claudia’s and see if she wants to come back here to play,” my mother suggested. “You can cross the street by yourself.”

  “Big deal,” I mumbled.

  Before I went over to Claudia’s, I stopped in the bathroom to make sure my eyes weren’t red from trying not to cry. But all I could see in the mirror over the sink was the top of my head. I was too short to see my whole face. My mother and brothers were right. I was little. I kicked the sink. Life wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t I have been the one born first?

  During the next week I made a mental list of all the things my brothers could do that I couldn’t do. I called it Things I Can’t Do. The list included: Ride my bike in the road … stay up as late as the boys do … go to and from school alone … call friends on the telephone without asking permission … go to a friend’s house after school without coming home first … play at the playground without an adult watching … drink juice and milk right from the containers … go to school without combing my hair.

  I don’t think my mother even noticed that my brothers sometimes went to school without combing their hair, and she often scolded them for drinking from containe
rs out of the fridge. But I never got away with either of those things.

  By Friday my list was very long and I was more annoyed than ever about being the youngest in our family. Maybe that was the reason for what happened next.

  It started after school when Claudia, Mary Anne, and I were waiting for Claudia’s older sister, Janine, to walk us home. I noticed that my brothers were hanging out in the schoolyard with their best pals, Rick and Randy Jones, instead of going straight home like me.

  “Wait for me,” I told Claudia and Mary Anne. “I’ll be right back.”

  I ran to Charlie and Sam. “How come you’re not going home?” I asked.

  “We’re going to a soccer game,” said Charlie, “at the middle school.”

  “Then we’re going to the movies,” added Sam.

  “My mother’s giving us a ride,” said Randy, “but we’re going to the movies alone.”

  “We’re gonna see Car Man,” added Rick.

  Car Man! I’d seen ads for that movie on television and everyone was talking about it in school. I wanted to see it more than anything.

  To the mental list of Things I Can’t Do I added: Go to ball games after school alone … go to movies alone. It wasn’t fair. I was angry. I wanted to go to the movies, too. I was sick of being left behind.

  As we were walking home I told Claudia and Mary Anne that my brothers were going to a ball game and to the movies by themselves.

  “All by themselves?” said Mary Anne. “I’d be scared.”

  “Someday we’ll be able to do that,” said Claudia.

  “I’m going to do it today,” I declared. “I just have to go home first. Then I’m going to meet Charlie and Sam at the game.” When I said that out loud I knew that I was going to go to the soccer match and to see Car Man. I just didn’t know how. By the time I arrived home I had a plan. I explained it in detail to Claudia and Mary Anne.

  My mother was in the kitchen making lasagna for dinner. “Hi, sweetie,” she said. “Do you want a snack?”

  “No, thanks,” I answered. I went straight to my room, opened my piggy bank, and took out all the money I had — two five-dollar bills. Then I went back downstairs.

  “You sure you don’t want a snack?” my mother asked. “We’re eating a little later than usual tonight.”

  “I’ll have a snack at Claudia’s,” I said. “She invited me to go to her house. Okay?”

  My mother smiled at me. “Okay,” she said. “Go ahead. Have fun.”

  I patted my jeans pocket to be sure the two five-dollar bills were still there. They were. “ ’Bye,” I called.

  I walked out of the house. And then I ran down the block. At the corner I did something my brothers did that I wasn’t supposed to do. Cross big streets alone. It felt great.

  When I reached the Stoneybrook Middle School playing field, the soccer game was already in play. Lots of people were in the stands. I couldn’t find my brothers right away, but I wasn’t afraid. Not for an instant. I was a big kid now, just like them.

  I finally spotted Charlie and Sam sitting on the top row of the home-team bleachers with Randy and Rick. I climbed up and sat next to Charlie. The guys were pretty surprised to see me.

  “What are you doing here?” Charlie asked.

  “Kristy, go sit with Mom,” Sam said.

  “Mom’s not here,” I told them. “She said I could go to Car Man with you, too.”

  “Hey,” Sam said. “Not fair.”

  “I’ve got money and everything,” I said. I held up my two five-dollar bills. “I have enough money to buy everybody popcorn.”

  “Great,” Randy said.

  After the soccer match (Stoneybrook Middle School won), we met Mrs. Jones in the parking lot for a ride to the movies. She was surprised to see that I had joined the party. “My mom said I could,” I told her.

  “Well, I guess it’s all right if you’re with your brothers,” she said.

  When we reached the theater, Mrs. Jones told us, “I’m meeting a friend for coffee in the cafe right next door to the movie theater. Come find me there when the movie is over.”

  She waited until we’d bought our tickets. But once we were in the movie theater we were totally on our own. First we headed to the refreshment stand. We bought popcorn, sodas, and candy.

  I felt great as I marched down the aisle of that movie theater holding a box of popcorn in one hand and a soda in the other. I wasn’t a little kid anymore.

  We found seats in the middle of the theater and settled back to eat and wait for Car Man to begin. Charlie got stuck sitting next to me, but he didn’t seem to mind. A few of Charlie’s friends came in and sat behind us. While he fooled around with those guys I ate popcorn and looked around at all the people in the theater. I decided I was the youngest person there who wasn’t with an adult.

  Then the theater darkened and the movie screen came alive with Car Man.

  I loved the Car Man character. He was a superhero who could transform into a car whenever he wanted. Car Man had a secret identity as Todd Jones, used car salesman. The citizens of Biglee didn’t know that Todd Jones was Car Man, the superhero who protected them from the bad guys. Here’s the neat thing. Car Man didn’t turn into the same car over and over. He could become any car he wanted. It was a great disguise and a great way to do detective work.

  About halfway through the movie, Car Man turned into a toy model car in order to spy in the hideout of his arch villain, Fire Breath. It was the first time that Car Man had turned into a model car. What he didn’t know, and discovered right along with the audience, was that when he turned back into Todd Jones, he would be only four inches tall.

  There wasn’t a sound in the theater. Every kid held his breath as tiny Todd tried to hide from Fire Breath. I was terrified and loving it.

  Just then the screen went blank and the lights went on.

  Before anyone could yell out, “Hey, what happened?” a woman’s voice rang out, “Is Kristin Thomas here?”

  It was my mother.

  When I heard my mother shout my name in that movie theater, I slid as low as I could in my seat.

  “Turn the movie back on,” someone yelled.

  “Who’s Kristin?” someone else shouted out.

  “Get her out of here,” another kid shouted.

  One of the guys in the row behind us stood up, pointed to me, and yelled, “Here she is!”

  By then my mother was walking down the aisle. She spotted me and my brothers and stopped at the end of our row.

  “Charles Thomas,” she shouted. “What is Kristy doing here?”

  “She said that you said —” Charlie began.

  “And you believed her?” my mother asked incredulously. “Come on. You’re all coming home with me.”

  “Mom, we didn’t —” said Charlie.

  “But Mom, it’s Kristy’s —” Sam whined.

  “Now!” my mother said in the mother-voice that didn’t leave any room for disagreement.

  The three of us stood up, squinched past the kids next to us, and followed our mother up the aisle.

  Some of the kids we walked past were angry at us because it was our fault that the movie had been stopped. But most of them were laughing at us, which was even worse. Charlie hissed in my ear, “You’re going to get it.” And Sam gave me a little push.

  Mrs. Jones was waiting for my mother in the lobby. “I’m so sorry, Elizabeth,” she said.

  “It’s not your fault, Maxine,” my mother told her.

  “It wasn’t our fault either,” Charlie said.

  “We’ll talk about that when we get home,” my mother snapped. “And not another word from any of you until I say so.”

  I walked next to my mother on the way to the car and made sure to sit in the front seat with her. I figured that was safer than being in the back with my brothers.

  As soon as we arrived home, Mom told us to go to our rooms. “I’ll speak to each of you separately,” she said, “starting with Charlie.”

I lay on my bed. I knew I’d be punished. I tried to distract myself from worrying about that by guessing what happened next in Car Man. Then I pretended I was Car Girl. As Car Girl I could turn myself into a big van and drive away from my stupid brothers and dumb-old-stupid Stoneybrook. I’d take Claudia and Mary Anne with me. If anyone tried to catch us, I’d keep turning myself into a different car. They’d never find us that way. I was in the middle of this Car Girl adventure when my mother walked into my room. She interrupted my Car Girl fantasy as abruptly as she had interrupted the Car Man movie.

  Mom listed all the forbidden things I had done, starting with You crossed a big street by yourself. It was a long list. Finally, she said, “Do you have anything to say for yourself, Kristy?”

  I knew she wanted me to say I was sorry. But I wasn’t sorry about what I had done. I was only sorry I had gotten caught. So instead of apologizing and begging forgiveness I said, “How did you know where I was?”

  “That’s all you have to say for yourself, Kristin?” she asked.

  I nodded solemnly.

  “I asked Mary Anne and Claudia where you were,” she explained. “Claudia pretended she didn’t know, but Mary Anne couldn’t do that.”

  I knew that Mary Anne could never tell a lie, even for a best friend. I wasn’t mad at her. And I was glad that Claudia had tried to help me.

  “It’s a good thing that Mary Anne told me what was going on,” my mother continued. “If she hadn’t I would have had the police and fire department out looking for you. I was worried sick. I could hardly bear the thought of all the terrible things that could have happened to you. What if you were lost or had been kidnapped?”

  I saw tears gathering in my mother’s eyes. Suddenly I was sorry I had made her so worried and angry. I knew then with all my heart that what I had done was wrong. “I’m sorry, Mom,” I said. “I am sorry I scared you. I won’t do it again.”

  There was just one thing I didn’t understand. Didn’t Mom know I could take care of myself as well as Charlie and Sam could take care of themselves?

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