Right about the time she’d discovered that mercurial, insidious emotion called envy, Kendra Troyer had been envious of the Eight. Though it shamed her, she understood it.
Why, just about everyone who wasn’t in the famous clique envied them something awful. They were good-looking, loyal to one another, and led great lives. Their close friendships had already lasted a decade, and they were only in their early teens.
Above all that, just being around their group made a person feel better about the world. They constantly seemed to be in good moods, loved teasing one another, and always had something new and exciting planned.
So, sure, Kendra got why the group was popular with most everyone. But it didn’t make sense. After all, they shouldn’t have fit in anywhere, given that they were a combination of all the different groups in Walnut Creek. Some were English, some Mennonite, and others were Old Order Amish. Why, one member was even New Order Amish like herself.
The Eight were on her mind as she walked through the middle school parking lot on Friday afternoon. Two girls who sat behind her in choir had been talking about Englischer Andy Warner and his Amish best friend, John Byler. Both boys were handsome as could be, and Mary Kate and Cassidy had seen them splitting a pizza together the night before. Instead of singing, they’d been whispering about the boys, wondering if they’d ever give a girl who wasn’t part of their tight circle a second glance.
Kendra had wondered that a time or two herself.
She’d also wondered what it would be like to have a big group of close friends—or at least a group of friends who wanted to go have pizza with her on a Thursday night.
As she continued through the parking lot, each of her steps feeling like lead, Kendra half pretended that she was on her way to anyplace other than home.
She’d stayed late at school to help one of the teachers get ready for Saturday’s science fair, not that she would be presenting a project or anything. Even if she had been smart enough to design an experiment, she couldn’t have done it anyway. Projects like the ones the other kids were showing cost money. That was something she didn’t have. Something she’d never had.
She hadn’t minded helping Mrs. Kline set up the table, though. She liked being helpful. More importantly, since this was her eighth grade, and therefore would be her last year in school, she wanted to do as much as she could. Next year she wouldn’t be so lucky. Instead, she’d have to stay home to take care of her four younger siblings even more than she did now.
Realizing it was getting late, she sped up her pace. Their father was going to be home soon, and there was no way she would let her younger siblings be alone with him if she could help it.
Slinging her backpack over one shoulder, she pushed the crossing button at the intersection.
“Hi, Kendra!” E.A. Schmidt called out. “Are you walking home, too?”
“Jah.” She smiled at the red-haired girl with bright blue eyes. As far back as Kendra could remember, Elizabeth Anne had gone by E.A. It was rare to hear anyone ever call her by her given name, except maybe some teachers on the first day of school.
Most people did whatever E.A. wanted. She was pretty, one of the Eight, and most importantly, she was probably the smartest girl in the whole school. It had always been that way, too. Every year E.A. seemed to get smarter and smarter. She was always receiving awards for earning the best scores on tests or getting straight A’s or tutoring her classmates or little kids.
E.A. didn’t push all her gifts into everyone else’s faces, either. She just went about her business, never acting like she was better than anyone.
But everyone in Walnut Creek Middle School still knew she was brilliant.
“Want to walk together for a while?” E.A. asked.
“Sure.” Kendra smiled at her. Maybe she had a chance to be part of the Eight after all.
When the light changed, they crossed. “So, how come you were here so late today?” E.A. asked.
“I was helping Mrs. Kline set up the science fair in the gym.”
“Really?” Her blue eyes looked incredulous before she quickly masked her surprise. “Why, that’s wonderful. What is your project? Mine’s on Newton’s Second Law of Motion.”
“I don’t have a project. I was just helping out Mrs. Kline.”
And… there it was again. The confusion that wasn’t quite masked. It wasn’t E.A.’s fault, though. “I, uh, saw your booth. It looks really good.”
“Do you think so?” When Kendra nodded, she smiled. “Thanks so much! It’s taken me forever. My mother kept trying to tell me that it was good enough, but I wanted it to be really special, you know?”
What could she say to that? “Good luck. I hope you do well.”
“Thanks! I know it’s prideful to want to win first place, but I can’t help myself. I’d love for that to happen,” E.A. said just before her smile widened. “Hey, look who’s walking toward us.”
But E.A. didn’t hear her. She’d already turned all her attention to the approaching boys. “Hey, Andy! Hiya, Nate.”
Andy Warner grinned. Next to him, Nate Miller raised a hand.
Andy Warner! Kendra smiled cautiously at the boys, thinking that things really were changing. First, E.A. wanted to walk with her, and now, here she was, stopping on the sidewalk to talk to the leader of the Eight! If Mary Kate and Cassidy saw her, they’d be so jealous.
As the boys got closer, E.A. turned back Kendra’s way. “You know them, right?” she whispered.
“Jah.” It was the truth, too. Their community was a small one, and most everyone knew everyone else, at least slightly.
When the boys waited for them to catch up, Kendra pasted what she hoped was a pleasant smile on her face. She feared she just looked desperate, though.
“Hi,” Andy said when they all were standing next to one another. “What are you doing getting home so late?”
“I was tutoring. Kendra, here, was helping set up the science fair,” E.A. replied. “What about you two?”
“Andy had baseball practice, and I stayed late to finish a history test,” Nate said with a groan. “I canna wait until I’m done with school.”
Andy grinned. “You only have a couple more months until you’re done for good. I still have four more years of high school to get through.” He shifted his duffel bag to his other hand as he turned back to them. “So, I’ve got a game tonight. Are you coming?”
“Of course,” E.A. said. “Marie and I are going to cheer you on every time you get up to bat. You better hit a home run.”
Andy laughed. “I’ll do my best. Hey, afterward, my parents said I could have people over. Want to come?”
“I’ll try,” E.A. replied. “I’ve got to ask my parents, but it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Kendra could hardly believe it. He’d asked her over. It was happening! She wasn’t just going to talk to E.A. and Andy on the sidewalk, she was going to get to go to Andy’s house and hang out with all their friends! She’d sneak out if she had to, even though she would get in so much trouble for leaving the house.
She noticed then that his expression was a little sheepish. Maybe a little embarrassed. “Hey, Kendra. Um, you’re welcome to come over, too. I mean, if you don’t have anything else to do.”
Time practically stopped.
Andy hadn’t meant to invite her. He’d been talking to E.A. alone, as if Kendra hadn’t been standing right there, too.
She’d been invisible to him.
“Danke,” she said. “But… I’ve already got plans.”
Looking relieved, Andy grinned. “Yeah. Sure.” He turned to Nate. “Miller, you know Kendra Troyer, right?”
Nate looked at her and nodded. “We know each other.”
Kendra had gone to the food bank once with her mother, and Nate had been volunteering there. Her mother had been sporting a black eye, and Kendra had felt as if every person in the facility had been staring at them.
Though that had been years ago, Kendra felt shame slide deep into her chest. She half expected Nate to tell them about that day.
She needed to get out of there. Quickly, she pointed to their left. “I’m headed that way. I’ll see you later.”
“See ya, Kendra,” E.A. said with a smile.
“Yeah. Bye,” Andy said.
Nate just stared at her.
But when she was about halfway across the street, she heard Nate say, “That girl is all right, but she’s got a real messed-up family. And they’re really poor.”
“She can’t help that. There’s nothing wrong with Kendra Troyer,” E.A. said.
“There’s nothing good, either. I’ve seen them go to the food bank. And there’s all kinds of rumors going around about her father, too. Like, he drinks and is as mean as a snake,” Nate added. “You got lucky Kendra ain’t coming over to your house, Warner. Your mamm would have to hide all her stuff.”
“Ouch. That’s harsh,” Andy said.
She didn’t hear what E.A. said, but it didn’t matter. Kendra felt like she was choking.
As she hurried home, she had a change of heart. From that moment on, she decided she wasn’t going to be envious of the Eight. Not at all. No, from now on, she was going to be real glad that she wasn’t a part of their group.
And as for Nate Miller? She hated him now, and probably would for the rest of her life.