“Kat! Time for dinner!”
Kat had come home from a long day—a very long day—at Hearst Middle School. She wasn’t hungry, she was mad.
“Kat, it’s getting cold!”
She sighed, closed her homework book, still ignoring her phone, and headed downstairs.
“Did you have a good day?” asked her mom as she was scooping pasta onto the dinner plates. Kat’s brother, Finn, was already eating the Italian bread and getting crumbs everywhere. Kat sat down and grabbed a piece of bread. Maybe she was hungrier than she thought.
“Kat? Did you hear me?”
“So how was your day?”
But Kat had really had the opposite of a good day at school. Faith, her best friend, had dumped her over a boy neither one of them really even liked, then she was bullied by Becca, the most popular girl at school. Again. And she’d lost all her math homework for the year. Or maybe she hadn’t lost it; maybe someone had taken it. She wasn’t sure, and she wasn’t sure if she was ever going to be sure. Three huge problems, no huge solutions. Ugh.
Kat ate her dinner and ruminated quietly about the day’s events while Finn, Mom, and Dad yapped about some football game or something. Every once in a while they tried to include her in the conversation, but she just shrugged, sighed, or rolled her eyes.
* * *
The next day when she got to school, before any classes started, she bought a cup of hot chocolate in the cafeteria. She went back outside to sit on the bench and wait for the first bell for homeroom. She was sitting there, thinking about what she could have done with her math homework and how to explain to Faith that she really didn’t have any interest in Brian, when she heard someone cry out.
That’s when she saw the self-appointed popular girls—the Sassies, as some people called them, but never to their faces— bullying a girl named Samantha in front of the school.
“Hey, stop it!” said Samantha as they pushed her to the ground.
“Let her go,” yelled Kat.
“What are you going to do about it?” mocked Becca, the leader of the gang. “You want me to let her go? Say please!”
Her group laughed. Samantha was trying to pull away, but Becca was too strong.
Right then and there, without planning or knowing what she was doing, Kat spilled her hot chocolate all over Becca’s satin dress.
“Please,” Kat said in her sweetest voice. “Oops.”
“Hey! My dress!” Becca cried.
“That’s what I’ll do about it, bully. I guess that chocolate wasn’t so hot after all. Come on, Samantha. Let’s go to homeroom.”
Kat and Samantha hurried away from the gang, who were all still stunned at what Kat had done to Becca.
* * *
Later, after third period, Kat thought she was in the clear. She’d made it through gym and the Sassies hadn’t bothered her at all. She thought they were done with her, or maybe even a little scared of her.
Big mistake. On the way to the cafeteria after fourth period, she turned a corner and came face to face with Becca and her group. They swarmed around her.
“You’ll be sorry for what you did to me,” said Becca.
Kat knew from experience that when Becca said someone was going to be sorry for what they had done, they really were going to be sorry. Becca had beaten up two girls in the fifth grade for daring to talk back to her.
Becca didn’t look scared of her, that’s for sure.
* * *
At lunch, Samantha thanked Kat for standing up for her this morning.
“Thank you, Kat. That was really nice. And really brave.”
“Oh, it was nothing.”
“No, it wasn’t nothing. Becca is the meanest girl in the whole school.”
“I guess so.”
Because she’d stuck up for Samantha and stood up to Becca and the Sassies, Kat thought she should feel good about herself. But she had butterflies in her stomach because she didn’t know what Becca was going to do.
* * *
That night, she couldn’t sleep. Her phone kept beeping because she was getting mean texts that said things like, “Is Crybaby going to cry because she can’t stand up for herself?” Which didn’t make any sense because she had stood up to them, not for herself but for someone else. Then again, where is it written that bullies and their dumb texts have to make sense?
Kat turned the volume down to zero and went to sleep, but she had some pretty rough dreams. In one, Becca was an evil witch who was trying to turn her into a cricket!
* * *
On the bus the next morning, Becca and her group were convincing people that Kat had bullied her and that Kat was mean for doing that. It was all a lie.
Of course, Samantha didn’t believe it because she was there when it actually happened! Still, in every period Samantha was the only one who didn’t ignore her. Everyone else believed Becca, maybe because they were afraid not to. Even Faith, her supposed best friend, was mean to her, “Gosh, Kat, you have some nerve to bully Becca.”
“I didn’t bully her!” cried Kat. “She was beating up Samantha and I stopped her!”
“Stop lying. Liar.”
“I’m not lying, and if you weren’t so mad about this Brian thing, which isn’t a thing at all, you would trust me and believe me like you always do.”
“Wait,” said Faith, “why is the thing with Brian not a thing?”
“Because he likes you, not me!”
“Then why were you talking to him the other day in gym?”
“Because, silly, he was asking me about you!”
“Oh. Really? He likes me?”
“Really. Now can you do me a favor and help me find my math homework?”
Faith looked down on the ground and blushed.
“I don’t have to help you find it because I know where it is. I have it in my locker.”
“I was mad about Brian. Please forgive me.”
“OK, deal: if you stop believing I’m lying, I’ll forgive you for snatching my homework!”
They laughed and hugged and it felt good.
“You know something?” said Faith. “I don’t really even like Brian.”
Kat smiled and said, “I know.”
They laughed again, glad to be friends once more.
* * *
That night, Kat was happier than the night before: two of her three huge problems had been solved!
She wished the third one could be sucked into a hole and disappear. Fat chance.
She had turned off her phone to avoid that nightmare, and then she went to sleep. She had another dream about Becca. In this one, she found herself standing up against Becca while everyone in the sixth grade watched. They ended up liking her and wanting to hang out with her while Becca ran away crying.
In the morning, she thought, “Could that really happen? Can I make everyone see the truth about Becca and her lie? Could the dream I just had really come true?”
She let the question hang in the air for a couple of seconds. Then she made the decision. She knew what to do and how to do it.
* * *
As usual, Becca called her a “crybaby” on the bus.
Her reaction to that was very strong, but according to her plan she kept it inside.
When they got off the bus, Becca and the Sassies surrounded her and all the other kids stood around to see what would happen.
Kat walked up to Becca and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Becca, I’m sorry for spilling that hot chocolate on you. I hope you can forgive me and that we can be friends like I always thought we could.”
Becca stood there with her mouth wide open, looking completely stunned for the second time that week. She clearly didn’t know what to say.
Kat stuck out her hand in a gesture of friendship and peace.
The other kids started chanting, “Shake her hand, shake her hand!”
With everyone watching in anticipation and chanting, Becca had only one choice.
She shook Kat’s hand!
* * *
After that day, Becca never bothered her again. They never really became great friends, but they had an understanding and, more importantly, Becca pretty much stopped picking on other kids. The Sassies were still kind of sassy but they were usually nice to her. Faith decided she liked Brian after all, but that’s for another story!
And Kat never got to be as popular as she’d dreamed, but she was really happy with how it had all turned out. And she never was turned into a cricket after all.
Three huge problems, solved!
What problems would tomorrow bring?
She wasn’t worried. Bring it on!