How to Be Nice
Maybe Kyla's problem is that she’s from Ohio. I've never been anyplace other than New Jersey. That's where I live. I don’t count the time I went to Philadelphia on a class trip. I threw up a lot that day and didn’t get to see anything. But that's another story.
Kyla is my stepsister-my new stepsister, I should say. Her brother Timmy is three. Her mother Joellen and pops were married two months ago. Then my new stepfamily (ugh) moved in with us. That was the end of my life as I knew it.
The problem is that they’re too nice. Maybe all people from Ohio are that nice. Maybe that's why Ohio is where it is, out in the middle of the country. Maybe all the nice people in the United States reside there. That way they only have to put up with each other.
My name is Rosie Foster. Rosie's short for Rosalind, but only Pops knows that. I swore him to secrecy a long time ago. My mother loved the playwright Shakespeare, so I got stuck with a name from one of his plays. If my mother had lived past my first birthday, I might have convinced her to change it. But she died. The first thing I said when I started to talk was that my name was Rosie.
Sometimes Pops calls me Stubby. That's another thing that's just between us. I'm short. A little chunky. A little, well, stubby.
Kyla, in addition to being nice, is the exact opposite. Of course. She's tall. Okay she's a year older than me-she's going into the fifth grade- but she's still tall. And graceful, too. Her long hair is the color of dark chocolate, and her eyes match perfectly.
I wouldn't care if her only fault was being pretty, but her being super nice was just too much. It put me over the edge.
I tried to explain it to Pops. "She's nice," I said. It was the first time I'd gotten him alone in two months, and that was only because my new stepfamily was in Ohio visiting relatives.
"I'm glad you like her" Pops mumbled. He was grading history papers; he teaches summer school at a local college. The rest of the year, he teaches at a private high school.
"No, I mean she's too nice," I explained. I put a lot of emphasis on the "too."
He looked up. "You mean she's phony? I don't think she's phony."
"That's the problem," I said. "She's not phony at all. She's genuinely nice. I mean, she actually means what she says."
"What's wrong with that?" asked Pops. Now I had his undivided attention.
"She'll never survive here," I insisted. "The kids at school-they won't get her. Like, when I say something sarcastic, she just smiles. Joellen's the same way. She smiles at me constantly. And she makes oatmeal cookies just because she knows I like them."
"So?" Pops asked.
"Kyla offered to share a bedroom with Timmy, so I could go on having my own room," I said, amazed. "Do
you realize how weird that is? And she told me that when school starts next month, I shouldn't feel like I have to hang out with her."
"She sounds thoughtful," Pops answered, sounding perplexed. "I don't know what your problem is."
"It's just not normal" I insisted. "Besides, I'm not used to nice." I said. "It would be a lot easier if she were nasty. Then I could hate her."
"Sorry Stubby. Deal with it!" Pops said. He went back to his papers.
Okay, I thought. I'll deal with it. If nothing else, I figured I could hate her just for being nice. Why do I want to hate her, you ask? That's easy. With her being so nice, everyone is sure to like her more than me. Obviously, Joellen does. After all, she's her mother. And Timmy does too, of course. But the person I'm mainly concerned about is Pops.
Pops thinks Kyla's perfect. That's because she's fascinated by the Civil War-my father's specialty. Kyla knows dates, battles, and why the war was fought, and she and Pops have actual conversations about it.
The following week, I found out that even Carmen liked Kyla. Carmen is my best friend. Kyla offered to lend Carmen a shirt that she had admired.
"Really? You wouldn't mind?" Carmen was shocked. We were at my house that Monday, and Carmen had just told Kyla how much she liked the shirt. "Isn't it new?" Carmen asked.
"Yeah, it's new, but I don't mind," Kyla answered with a smile. "Besides, the color will look great with your hair."
Carmen glanced over at me. I knew what she was thinking. I had no doubt that she was remembering the time she had asked to borrow my camera. I hadn't let her because it had been brand new and she's never let me forget it. But that's another story
Later Carmen and I were alone in my room. I had to say something.
"Kyla's just being nice because she's new here," I said.
"So? What's wrong with that?" Carmen asked. "You act like being nice is a contagious disease or something. Some people are just like that- naturally nice."
"Well, I don't like it. It makes me look like the mean stepsister" I said. "I want her to be the mean stepsister. I want people to say, 'Poor Rosie, look at what she has to put up with."'
"You're nuts," Carmen said. "Wouldn't you rather have someone nice to live with than a totally obnoxious jerk?"
"Not really," I replied. "Not when everyone likes her better than they like me."
Carmen laughed. "Well, maybe you should start being as nice as she is then."
That’s when the lightbulb lit up over my head. I wasn't going to be able to make Kyla mean. But maybe I could make myself more like her. Maybe I could learn how to be . . . ugh . . . nice.
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