There was only one thing Kayla hated more than school: P.E. at school. A lot of her friends liked P.E., because at least it wasn’t algebra or biology or english lit. And hell, when she thought of it that way, P.E. wasn’t so bad, but then she considered the other half of the story: it was hot, she hated volleyball, and it was the only class she had with her step-sister Malerie.
It wasn’t that Kayla didn’t like her step-sister; rather, it was just that she and Malerie had nothing in common. Kayla liked pop, Malerie liked hip-hop; Kayla liked sitcoms, Malerie liked reality TV; Kayla liked polka dots and the color purple, Malerie liked stripes and green. Seemingly, they disagreed on even the simplest things. Other than that, they got along, but they rarely had anything to talk about, and Kayla hated being the lame step-sister sitting up in the bleachers while Malerie was down on the gym floor spiking the ball like a pro and earning enough points by herself to put her team in a commanding lead.
And that would be enough reason for Kayla to hate having P.E. with Malerie. Really, it would.
“Kay-kay, come play with us!”
But Malerie consistently found ways to make it worse.
“Sorry Malerie, not feeling too good.” Kayla hadn’t used that excuse in a while.
It was like Malerie just didn’t get how much Kayla hated this class. She didn’t want to get sweaty, she had no interest in learning the rules for whatever dumb game they were playing, and she’d probably end up with half a dozen bruises just for trying.
“I still can’t believe your dad married Malerie’s mom.”
Kayla turned to her right where her friend Anna sat. She’d actually met Anna through their mutual hatred of P.E. at the beginning of last year, which was long before her dad and Malerie’s mom tied the knot.
“Tell me about it.”
“It must be so weird to have grown up with this girl, and suddenly she’s your new step-sister.”
Kayla scoffed. “Weird barely begins to describe it. And it’s only been a week.”
“At least you’re the prettier sister, though.”
Kayla blushed. “Thanks. I wish I could agree.”
“No, really, you are. Malerie is pretty too, but you’ve got something special that she doesn’t have.”
“You’re really pretty too, Anna,” Kayla paused, adding, “Too bad neither of us have boyfriends.”
“Yeah, what a pity,” Anna said.
“Class is almost over,” Kayla said, looking over at the big analog clock on the cinder block wall at the front of the gym.
They got up and headed down the stairs toward the court where the other girls were smacking the volleyball around. Kayla caught a glimpse of Malerie right as the ball went to her, and Malerie spiked it so hard that it may as well have been jettisoned out of an airplane with a canon.
The coach blew the whistle, indicating the match point.
“Alright girls, great game. You can head to the locker room and get changed.”
A few girls congratulated Malerie on the score, but Malerie brushed them aside and ran over to Kayla and Anna.
Kayla winced at the embarrassing nickname. “Hi.”
“Why don’t you ever want to play with us? It’s really fun!”
“Malerie, you know I hate sports.”
“You don’t have to like them to have fun playing with your sister and your friends.”
Kayla paused at this. She disagreed with the statement overall, but she wasn’t caught up on the topic of the sentence so much as she was the word choice.
Malerie had grown up an only child, and even though she wanted a sibling – especially a sister – and her mom wanted to have more children, it was impossible once her dad passed away when she was 7. She thought she’d only be able to dream of having a sister.
Kayla, on the other hand, had an older brother – Benton. He was a junior in the same school – only a year older than Kayla and Malerie. They got along most of the time, but it was probably mostly because they left each other alone.
While Malerie was super excited to have a step-brother and especially a step-sister, it didn’t seem like a huge deal to Kayla. It wasn’t like they were related by blood, and it wasn’t like they suddenly had to get along.
That, however, did nothing to stop Malerie from being cheerful and excited…or from calling Kayla and Benton her sister and brother.
Now, it wasn’t that Kayla didn’t like Malerie, nor did she resent Malerie’s mother for marrying her dad; it was more along the lines that she thought Malerie was using those words – “brother” and “sister” – too lightly. Like telling a boyfriend that you love him after dating for two days or proclaiming you new favorite song the first time you hear it on the radio. Benton was Kayla’s brother because they’d grown up together, been through their mother’s death together, shared holidays and birthdays, played with each other on boring summer days, and shared toys when they were toddlers. Malerie couldn’t just walk in their house and claim to have the same title that they shared.
“Kay-kay, are you okay?”
Kayla snapped out of it. “Oh…sorry.”
“Is something wrong?”
“No, I’m fine.” Kayla paused for a moment and added, “Can you please not call me by that nickname? It’s a little embarrassing.”
Malerie looked slightly hurt, but tried to hide it behind a smile as she nodded and said, “Sure thing. I’m sorry. Should I just call you Kayla then?”
The girls started walking to the locker room. There was an awkward silence until they reached the rows of old metal lockers.
“I’ll see you later. Bye, Kayla.” Malerie smiled a sweet smile and turned toward her locker, which was across the room from Kayla’s and Anna’s. For just a moment, Kayla felt bad that she was sometimes a little cold to Malerie.
“I think you really hurt her feelings just now,” Anna whispered as they headed for their lockers.
“Well, she keeps calling me Kay-kay. It’s just…childish. I mean, we’re both 16 years old. Give me a break.”
“She likes you, Kayla. She wants to get closer to you, like real family. Like a real sister. Even I can see that. Why don’t you ever let her?”
This was the first time Anna had poked her nose into Kayla’s personal business like this.
“She can’t come into my life pretending like we’re best buddies, sisters, friends forever, whatever. She never made any attempt to be my friend before her mom and my dad started dating.”
“Did you ever make an attempt to be her friend?”
“No, but I’m not the one trying to act like we’re so close already.”
Anna frowned as she twisted the combination dial on her locker. “Maybe she never tried to be your friend before because you’re so freaking cold sometimes.”
“Nothing,” Anna said.
Kayla couldn’t tell for sure, but she thought that maybe Anna was a little pissed off at her. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything, though. If Anna was a little mad, it was her own fault for meddling in affairs that were of no concern to her.
Kayla kept her mouth shut and changed out of her perfectly clean gym clothes (all she did with them on was sit in the bleachers for an hour and a half every day anyway) and back into her school uniform. Her white shirt was slightly wrinkled from being hung in the tiny locker, but if her navy blue skirt was messed up, she couldn’t really tell. She ran her hands down the surface of her shirt to try to smooth the wrinkles, but to little avail.
“Is my shirt okay?” Kayla asked, trying to break the silence and change the subject in one swift move.
“It’s fine,” Anna said with a sharpness in her voice. Kayla decided to leave well enough alone and not push her any further.
The bell rang, and Anna and Kayla parted with little ado. This left Kayla feeling a little off.
“Hey Kayla,” Malerie said as she jogged up.
Malerie ignored Kayla’s dry response. “Ready for English?”
The two walked in silence for a few moments.
“Did I do something wrong?”
Kayla stared at the ground, but didn’t say anything.
“What did I do? I’ve been trying to be nice. I want to be friends; I want to be family, but you keep pushing me away. Why? Do you not like me?” Malerie’s tone was deathly serious. Kayla had never seen her like this.
“I don’t not like you,” Kayla began, desperately search for the right words as she spoke. “I just don’t like that you came into my family with the attitude that you are my sister when we’ve never even been friends.”
Malerie broke stride with Kayla and slowed to a stop. “I’m trying to be friends with you, but you won’t let me.”
“Just because our parents got married doesn’t mean we have to be friends,” Kayla shot back.
Malerie stared for a moment, tears welling up in her eyes. “What did I ever do to you? Why are you being so mean to me?”
“I know you’ve always wanted a sister and all, but our family situation does not automatically make us sisters. We are only related by law.” Kayla’s words came off shockingly cold, even to herself.
The tears in Malerie’s eyes began to fall down her cheeks as she struggled to regain composure. “I know it’ll take time, but I’m trying to get you to open your heart to me. I’m really trying.”
Kayla suddenly felt Malerie’s heart breaking, the words sobering Kayla to reality.
“I like you, Kayla. I’ve always thought you were cool. Admired your golden hair, your fashion sense, your good grades, how pretty you are…” Malerie trailed off. “I guess I just hoped we could share some bond, you know? I know we don’t have a lot in common, but…”
“I’m sorry, Malerie,” Kayla interrupted, feeling sharp pangs of guilt. “I didn’t mean to make you cry. I like you too, really. This situation has just been so weird, you know? I think we can be friends, maybe even sisters, but we have to give it time.”
A slight smile escaped through Malerie’s tears. “Okay.”
“A little at a time?”
“A little at a time,” Malerie nodded.
Kayla reached forward and wrapped her arms around Malerie in embrace.
“Now come on, we need to get to English before we’re late,” Kayla said.
“Yeah,” Malerie said, wiping moisture from her cheeks with her shirt sleeve. “Let’s go, Kayla.”
“You can call me Kay-kay, if you want…Mal.”
A smile spread across Malerie’s face. “Okay, then, Kay-kay.”