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The Buddy Mix-up Match-up by Danika Hall
Third prize - Charlotte Duncan Award 2015

First day back at school and all we can think about are our buddies. Different teachers and classrooms, new books and stationery are boring in comparison. We're finally in Year 6 and now it's our turn to look after the kindergarten kids. They aren't starting for a few days yet but we're in buddy-training, preparing for them. Mrs Faulkner is reading out the list of buddy names and who they'll be assigned to. She's up to the letter K. I hold my breath in anticipation. Will I get a girl or a boy?

'Beth Kelly, you're with Sophie Whyte,' Mrs Faulkner says.

Whoohoo! My buddy's a girl. Sophie. She sounds really cute. I listen as Mrs Faulkner calls out the rest of the buddy names. I'm sitting next to my best friend, Kate, and I want to hear who she gets.

'Kate Packer, you're looking after Josie Watkins,' Mrs Faulkner says, 'and Sky Parker, you're with Sophie White.'

What! I hate Sky Parker. She always counts everything. Like how many times she's won the class medal and how many times she's come first in the dance eisteddfod. She already bored us this morning with how many times she's flown on an aeroplane and how many times she's been to Fiji. Sky is the last person in the world I want to share a buddy with. I put up my hand in protest.

'It's okay, Beth. We've looked into this,' Mrs Faulkner says. 'There are two Sophies.'

Phew. Kate gives me a reassuring pat on the back.

'I hope our buddies are friends,' she whispers.

'Of course they will be,' I say and smile.

As we walk out of the assembly hall, Sky Parker pushes past me. She's arm and arm with her best friend, Clare. I overhear a bit of their conversation.

'I hope my buddy is pretty,' Clare says, giggling.

'Mine will be really pretty and really smart too,' Sky says. 'I just know it.'


The morning the buddies start school I'm running late.

'What's the matter?' Mum asks as we pull up at another red light.

'I'm meant to be at school early. We're meeting our buddies in the junior playground.'

'Well, I can't do anything about the traffic, dear. I'm sure your buddy will be fine. Most kindergarteners start school a bit older these days, so they're less likely to get separation anxiety.'

'What? What's separation anxiety?' I ask.

'You know, when they cry about leaving their parents.'

'Oh.' I'd prepared what to say to Sophie and I'd thought up some games we could play, but I hadn't realised she might be upset.

'Don't worry, you'll be great,' Mum says as she drops me off near the school gate.

I run to the junior playground where the kindergarteners and their parents are waiting. Lots of year 6 kids are there and already paired up with their buddies. I see Kate in the distance, holding hands with a kinder girl who must be Josie. She looks a shy little girl, with red hair and glasses. She's wearing a pink tag with her name on it. I ditch my bag and search the crowd for Sophie.

I find Sophie with her with her mum sitting off to the side. She's very pretty and taller than I'd expected. Her white-blonde hair is braided expertly into two long plaits and she's wearing a green name tag.

'Hi, Sophie. I'm your buddy. My name's Beth,' I say, smiling at her.

'I don't like your metal teeth,' Sophie says and scowls.

'Sophie, Darling. Those are Beth's braces. She has them on her teeth to make them straight,' Sophie's mum explains. She's tall and stylish, with enormous sunglasses that cover most of her face.

'Why aren't your teeth straight?' Sophie asks, suspicious. 'My teeth are straight.' She fingers her own pearly-white baby teeth.

I try to change the subject. 'Are you looking forward to starting school?'

'I already started, dummy,' Sophie says.

I don't like her attitude but maybe she's stressed. It's her first day, after all.

'I mean, are you looking forward to learning how to read and write, and that sort of thing?'

'I can read and write already,' she says, putting her hands on her hips and swaying from side to side.

'She's right, you know,' her mum says. 'She learnt to read when she was four. We hardly had to teach her. And she's worked out how to write most three and four letter words. We suspect she's gifted, our Sophie. Don't we, Darling?

Sophie nods. She looks bored.

'What do your parents do, Beth?' Sophie's mum asks.

'Oh, they're teachers. But not at this school.'

She nods approvingly.

Sophie yawns.

'Do you want to come and meet my best friend and her buddy?' I ask. I see Kate and Josie standing nearby and point to them.

'I guess,' Sophie says.

I smile at the mum and take Sophie's hand, leading her towards Kate and Josie.

'Your hand is sweaty,' Sophie says. She takes her hand back and wipes it on her uniform.

'Hi, Kate! Hi, Josie! This is Sophie,' I say.

Sophie scans Josie from head to foot.

'Which pre-school did you go to?' Sophie asks.

'I didn't go to pre-school. I stayed home with Mum and baby Jack,' Josie says.

Sophie crosses her arms and turns her nose up. Apparently that's not the answer she's looking for.

I'm trying to like Sophie but she's not what I expected. So far, she isn't very likable.

'Josie, this is my best friend, Beth,' Kate says.

Josie looks up at me and smiles. She seems much younger than Sophie and nowhere near as self-assured.

'Do you want to play a game together? We could play schools... or hospitals. You two can be the patients,' I suggest, indicating the kinder girls.

'I don't want to. That's boring,' Sophie whines. 'I'm going back to tell Mum.'

She stomps towards her mother, throwing her plaits back over her shoulders.

'She seems a bit ... difficult,' Kate says.

I nod and sigh. I can't help feeling disappointed. I'd hoped for a fun-loving buddy. Someone I could play imagination games with.

Mrs Faulkner approaches us. Behind her is a small kindergarten girl with brown, curly hair. Her arms are wrapped around her mother's legs so we can't read her name tag. Her eyes look red, like she's been crying.

'Beth, this is your buddy, Sophie Whyte,' Mrs Faulkner says. 'She's a little upset because she thought you weren't going to turn up today. I've told her that it's alright, and that you're a very reliable girl.'

'But ... I thought that girl was my buddy.' I point to the blonde Sophie who is back with her mother. I can hear her demanding money to spend at the canteen.

'That's the other Sophie White. She's W-H-I-T-E, but your Sophie is W-H-Y-T-E. Perhaps we should call this Sophie, Sophie Y, and the other Sophie, Sophie I. Otherwise there'll be constant confusion' Mrs Faulkner says.

We all nod.

'Well, I'll go and introduce Sophie I to Sky Parker, if you're okay to look after little Sophie Y here?' Mrs Faulkner asks.

'Yes, of course!' I'm so relieved. From what I've experienced so far, Sophie I is a perfect match for Sky Parker. I crouch down to Sophie Y and smile. I try not to show my braces too much.

'Hi Sophie, I'm Beth. I'm so happy to be your buddy.'

Sophie Y looks at me and blinks back tears. Her mum smiles and puts out her hand to shake mine.

'Hi Beth, I'm Sue Whyte. Sophie's been so excited about meeting you this morning but now she seems a bit overwhelmed. I think she's worried about starting school.'

'I was too, when I started,' I say.

I crouch down again to be close to Sophie Y. She's absolutely adorable, with big, brown eyes and tight ringlet curls.

'Everyone's scared on their first day,' I say. 'I remember one kid ... I think it might've been Sky Parker, who wet her pants she was so scared! But school's actually really fun. You'll have a great time ... and I'm really looking forward to hanging out with you, Sophie. I hope we can play lots of games together. And you can meet my friend, Kate, and her buddy, Josie. They're really nice.'

Sophie Y looks at me and smiles. She gives her mum's legs a final squeeze then takes my hand.

'Can we meet them now, your friends?' she asks in the cutest voice imaginable. 'Can we be fairies?'

'Of course!' I laugh. And I'm so happy I flap my free arm, pretending it's a wing.

Copyright © 2015. Danika Hall