I knew back in August that Krystle was going to be a different sort of Mackenzie than Elaine was, and I probably shouldn't compare them much. It wouldn't be fair or helpful to Krystle, it wouldn't do me much good, and it probably wouldn't help my friendship with Elaine to thinking of her as a pre-teen. So I'm trying not to do it, especially since they've supposedly got different goals - Elaine was always looking to return to her real life, while Krystle, not seeing that as possible, is trying to start from scratch.
(And what of the original Mackenzie Mahoney? I gather she gained a few years, and when her parents realized they would change back but she wouldn't, some sort of arrangement was made for new identities, which apparently involved a clean-enough break that we'll never hear from the Mahoney family again. Makes me kind of paranoid sometimes, because it's sort of suspiciously convenient.)
Starting from scratch is a heck of a difficult thing if you don't have to, though, and Krystle can't help but be very aware that her old life is going on just a hundred miles away, and the magic hotel that can make her not a kid is only a few miles down the road. And while being a kid again sounds like fun, the loss of freedom can be a tough pill to swallow, especially when you consider that just a few months ago, Krystle was traveling the world on her own, and while there were certainly parts where she was looked at with some suspicion for being a young black man, being 11 puts a lot of other bounds on her, from where she can ride her bike to what music she can have on her phone when she's around real kids, and that was before school started.
And that's where things got tricky, because it turns out Krystle is pretty bright. As much as I received a first-person lesson in how people underestimate you when you're black, a woman, or both, I still let myself judge her a bit by my first impression, although I also think she doesn't necessarily know her own capabilities. She didn't pay much attention at school her first time around, I guess, and she still doesn't seem to really like reading that much, although she doesn't have much trouble with anything she's given at school. From what she tells me, the fact that she was pretty decent at math during Jonah's senior year of high school is what had her thinking that if she went through school again, she could get into college and maybe do something with numbers when she's an adult again.
But she's bored, which is not a good combination with being used to more freedom and not exactly being able to connect with her supposed peers. She hasn't exactly gotten in trouble yet - no detentions or me being called to pick her up from school - but her teacher told me she was starting to be kind of disruptive. Good marks, and often had an interesting perspective during discussions, although she can be kind of pushy with them, but one student with a lousy attitude can derail an entire class.
Folks, it is not easy to have a talk with a 26-year-old woman to encourage her to behave better in the sixth grade. She wasn't expecting anything like it when I got back, in part because Elaine told her that I more or less just showed up to maintain cover, and just looking at her, I have to guard against the 11-year-old I see dictate how I speak, even after two-plus years of knowing there was an adult in there. When I said her teachers were worried about her attitude, she kind of laughed at first.
"Don't do that, Krystle. I've seen bad reputations hang onto people for a long time."
"I know, it's just, when does this get worth the time? I'm tryna pay attention, but it's so boring! How did Elaine manage it?"
I told her that Elaine found things easier to accept when she had plans in place to return to her old life and could treat the year as a sort of learning experience, and that she also made a project out of helping me with the hot dog truck. "Maybe you should just not worry about beyond this year; growing up again is quite a commitment."
She grunted, saying she would try harder, but looked kind of defeated the next few days. I racked my brains trying to figure some way to help out, until I saw something on the bulletin board at the supermarket and dropped a card in front of her during dinner. "What do you think of this?"
She read it and gave me a look. "Piano lessons? Ain't I little-white-girl enough for you?"
I'd actually looked up Alicia Keys' name to drop, but it didn't seem to much impress her. "I just figured it was something you could start now that didn't involve other kids, and maybe give you something to look forward to. I dunno, I'm trying to figure out what I'd do in your position. Maybe try it for a week and if you don't like it, we'll try and find something else. "
She was skeptical, but she was kind of sick of going straight home after school and not really doing much until it was time to catch the bus in the morning. I don't want to say she loves it, but she's at least busier now, and has something to look forward to a couple times a week.
It costs a bit, though, not just in terms of money, but time - it's a little bit too far to ride her bike, especially now that the days are getting shorter, and there's no buses or trains here. So I've got to build my day around getting her to and from, which I can do. The money's a bit trickier - Elaine and J.T. had an arrangement about her dipping into her bank account when she needed some cash, but Krystle doesn't have that with Jonah. She has a bit of a college fund from selling someone the chance to be the new Jonah, but we haven't really figured out rules about dipping into that.
So I'm paying for this, and the new keyboard, and maybe a nicer one if she sticks with this through Christmas, but if I don't find a way to earn more money than usual this off-season, things could get tight.
I guess, in some respects, I'm going to have to be more of a parent than I figured on.