Plain Old Kate

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
July/August 2008

Lauren Klepinger

“Phooey,” Kate said as she stared out at the rain. She and her friend Madison had wanted to play badminton in the backyard, but the clouds had stubbornly defied them.

“This stinks,” Madison said. “We’ll have to find something else to do.”

“Like what?” Kate asked.

“Like… we could draw pictures. Or I could help you with your homework.”

Here she goes again, Kate thought. Offering to help me with my homework.

“Let’s draw pictures,” Kate said.

“OK!” Madison said cheerily. Kate retrieved two pieces of clean white paper from the depths of her closet and brought them to the kitchen table where Madison already sat. She gave her friend a sheet and placed one in front of herself. Then she hustled away to get colored pencils. When finally Kate was ready, she plopped down in a chair and began to draw. She drew crooked lines and erased too much. When she looked at Madison’s paper, she gasped.

Madison had drawn a beautiful picture. It was a collie lying on a soft patch of grass. Madison had captured every detail of it, even though the drawing was unfinished. As Kate watched her friend draw the back leg of the dog her jaw dropped. Madison’s hand flew gracefully across her paper. Kate stared at her own page. She had tried to draw a pumpkin, but it was lopsided and crooked, and covered in ugly dark lines that had been partially erased.

Plain Old Kate drawing in the kitchen table

As Kate watched her friend draw the back leg of the dog her jaw dropped

“It’s OK,” Madison said with a weak smile, trying to compliment Kate’s drawing. “It looks… happy” Kate and Madison stared at each other.

“Let’s do something else,” Kate said, crumpling her picture and throwing it away. She felt relieved when Madison finally left for home.

*          *          *

The next day at school Kate and Madison’s math teacher, Mrs. Meyers, was passing out the most recent tests. Kate crossed her fingers under her desk, praying for a big red A. Madison, who was sitting next to her, winked and grinned. Unfortunately, Kate was about to be disappointed. When the test appeared on her desk she found herself staring at a big red C-minus.

Kate glanced at her friend’s test. Hers had a big red A-plus written on the top. Madison was smiling.

“I would like Madison to come up and read us her answers. You can write in corrections while she reads,” Mrs. Meyers said. Kate sank down in her chair. Madison was always better than her at math. Actually, Madison was better than her at everything. As Madison read the answers, Kate reluctantly wrote her corrections in a red pen. As soon as the bell rang she stuffed the wretched paper in her backpack and slunk off to her next class.

Madison happily plunked down next to Kate at lunch.

“What did you get on your math test?” she asked.

“C-minus,” Kate muttered bitterly.

“Oh,” Madison said, her smile disappearing. “I could tutor you for the next test if you want.”

Plain Old Kate getting a failed mark

Actually, Madison was better than her at everything

“Nah,” Kate said. “I’m OK.” But Kate wasn’t OK. There was an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach. Madison was so much better than her. A perfect picture, an A-plus… they were so Madison-style. A lopsided pumpkin and a C-minus were so incredibly and horribly Kate-style. But Kate didn’t want them to be.

*          *          *

A few days later Kate went to hang out at Madison’s house. They were playing Scrabble. Madison used big words like “warbling,” “elixir” and “quagmire,” while Kate used words like “dog” and “that” and “horse.” When the game was over, Kate said nothing.

“Are you OK?” Madison asked.

“Yeah,” Kate murmured. “Well… no.” Finally, all of Kate’s hard feelings towards Madison poured out of her. “It’s just that you’re so perfect in every way. You’re Madison, the girl who gets an A on every assignment. Or Madison, the girl who won the drawing contest. Or Madison, the girl who beats her seventeen-year-old brother at Boggle. You’re the A-plus person, and I’m just a C-minus person. I wish that we could be the same. It would be so much easier to be your friend if you were the same as me. And seriously, why should you be better than me at everything? You’re just miss prissy perfect lady. I feel like you’re leaving me behind with your Rs and your trophies and certificates. You’re popular, Madison, and I’m not. I’m plain old Kate, and you’re Madison the Fantastic, or Madison the Brilliant, or whatever. I feel like I’m not as good as you. You’re always wanting to help me with my homework, or finish my drawings, or something like that.”

A single tear rolled down Madison’s cheek. “OK,” she said, “if that’s how you feel about me.” She got up and silently left the room.

Kate stood and reached for the phone. “Mom,” she said, “can you come pick me up early?”

“Why? Are you sick or something?”

Kate steadied her voice. “No. Just… just come pick me up.”

“OK…”

*          *          *

Kate couldn’t get comfortable in bed that night, and repeatedly found herself thinking about Madison in school the next day—instead of the textbook. At lunch Madison sat with Hillary and her band of friends. She sat in the front of the bus on the way home, while Kate sat near the back. When both girls exited the bus at the same stop to go home, neither spoke a word to the other. They just went on their way.

Kate leaned against her bed and began her English homework. When she screeched to a halt on one question she reached for the phone beside her bed. She automatically began to dial Madison’s number before she realized what she was doing and hung up. Instead, she went downstairs to ask her mother for help.

“Is something weird going on with you and Madison?” Kate’s mother asked suspiciously. “You two haven’t talked much lately, and you came home early from her house yesterday. It’s not like I haven’t noticed.” Kate said nothing. “Kate,” her mom said, with a knowing look at her daughter. “Come on, cough it up.”

“I said something to her that I shouldn’t have said.”

“What?”

“I… I said I wished she wasn’t as good at everything as she is.”

“Why did you say that to her?”

“I’m not even sure. I just know I said something mean that tore her down, and I really, really wish I hadn’t.”

“Well,” Kate’s mother said, sighing. “I can’t tell you that what you said was right. But I can tell you how to a it.”

“I should apologize,” Kate said.

“Yes, you should.”

Kate nodded, tears in her eyes.

*          *          *

Knock. That’s all you have to do. And hope that Madison’s mom doesn’t yell at you when she opens the door. Kate made herself knock on the door. Madison’s mom opened it.

“Hello,” she said. She gave Kate a curious look that made the girl feel a little uncomfortable.

“Can… can I talk to Madison?” Kate choked out. Madison appeared at her mother’s side. Her mother left with the shadow of a smile on her face.

“What, Kate?” Madison asked a little too firmly.

Plain Old Kate girls hugging

“I… I’m sorry for what I said a few days ago.”

Madison raised her eyebrows. “Yeah, it was stupid.”

“It was. And mean, and harsh, and… and I’ve realized I’m proud to have such a talented friend. I hope you’ll forgive me, and we can be friends again.”

“Listen,” Madison said, “I don’t blame you for feeling like I interfered too much. I might have overdone the whole tutoring thing, and the finishing your drawings thing, and the Scrabble thing, and the…”

“Yes, Madison, I understand. So… will you forgive me?”

Madison smiled a little.

“Of course I will. You think that one argument will ruin our friendship?”

“I… I felt like it ended for a little while,” Kate said quietly, shuffling her feet. Madison put a hand on her friend’s shoulder and Kate looked up at her with shining eyes.

“I did too…” Madison admitted, “… for a little while. But I think it’s good that we’re different. I can learn from you, and you can learn from me. But please, don’t yell at me like that again.” They both laughed. Madison stepped forward and hugged her friend tight.

Kate whispered into her best friend’s ear as they stood there hugging, “I won’t. I promise.”

Plain Old Kate Lauren Klepinger

Lauren Klepinger, 11
Sherwood, Oregon

Plain Old Kate Zoe Hall

Zoe Hall, 10
Rockville, Maryland

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