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A mysterious letter gives Sally the courage and confidence to stand up to her bullies

Silent wails poured from the door upstairs. Sally’s mother slowly trudged up the creaking stairs, knowing that the interaction was inevitable. She slowly opened the door to a room drenched in darkness.

As Sally heard her approaching steps, she tried to keep her sniffles down as much as she could. She didn’t want to be found. Oh no, she’s gonna come here. Why? Why, universe? Why are you so against me? What did I do to make you so mad?! As Sally softly sank into the safety of the closet, the door to her room slowly opened. Her mother inched closer and closer, and Sally’s breath shortened. Her mother’s soft, sweet voice drifted through the cracks of her closet.

Opening the door, she discovered that Sally was not there. Befuddled, Sally’s mother anxiously searched every inch of Sally’s room, wondering what had happened to Sally. Finally, she slowly went down to resume cooking, thinking about Sally. Did I really just hear Sally’s sniffles? Or was I dreaming? Should I get more sleep?

Letting go a breath she forgot she was holding, Sally opened the door. Thank God she didn’t check the closet. As she tiptoed back through her cave of clothes, the sweet aroma of cake tickled Sally’s nose. Her mom was baking a chocolate carrot cake downstairs, Sally’s favorite. Although Sally wanted to stay burrowed in her fortress, her stomach rumbled in disagreement. Groaning, she got up and slowly opened the door.

Creeping down the stairs, she kept her head lowered. Trudging for what seemed like a few hours, she finally reached the kitchen, where a humongous meal met her face to face. Rows and rows of spicy, delicious, gleaming, glorious food welcomed her. All at once she was overwhelmed and almost forgot all of her troubles. Almost. As soon as she saw all this food, she was instantly reminded of the bullying she’d faced at her school today. And then she saw the gigantic cake. All she could think was, Sugar, fat, bullying, danger. My weight. And as she ran upstairs in a burst of tears, her mother was stunned.

What did I do? All I tried to do was to make her happy . . . Heartbroken, Sally’s mother slowly stopped in the middle of taking the cake out of the oven. Battling to hold back her tears, she set the cake on the table and sat in silence.

Sally started to run, unable to keep the tears from falling. She landed on her mother’s lap, half in sad tears, half in grief and sorrow.

Crying gently, Sally knew deep in her heart that her mom was just trying to be nice. She could imagine her downstairs, sitting at the table in silence. Just thinking about her made Sally want to throw up. Feeling a little sick, she slowly got off her bed and inched toward the door. But the hard part was the stairs. It was like a blind fall. Sally didn’t know if she was going to be caught and embraced or if she’d just fall into eternity and beyond. So, as she edged closer and closer to the bottom step, sweat started forming around her brow. Brushing away her last remaining tears, she approached the bottom. A sudden gasp came from her mother. Sally started to run, unable to keep the tears from falling. She landed on her mother’s lap, half in sad tears, half in grief and sorrow.

“Don’t worry, baby. Don’t worry. It’s all going to be okay, it’s going to be okay,” her mother recited over and over as she slowly patted her daughter’s hair. They moved to the couch. Slowly settling into this routine of patting her head and reciting words, Sally’s mother dozed off to sleep, alongside Sally. And so they slept, a mother’s hand on her daughter’s hair, perfectly aligned with each other.

The next morning, they both woke up a little late.

“Oh, no!” they said in unison. “We’re late!”

“Wait! You knowwww, we could have a girls’ day off?” Sally said with an eyebrow raised.

Her mother laughed and said, “Sorry, dear, but we have to get you to school.”

Reminded of her previous day, Sally put her head down. Her mother saw her hesitation and was devastated, thinking of the pain Sally must be feeling.

“Hey! How about we go out and get some breakfast for you, huh? You didn’t eat dinner yesterday, right?” Surprised, the corners of Sally’s mouth reached her ears.

*          *          *

Ding! As the duo entered the pancake store, they were met head on with a blast of cool air conditioning. Eating, the two sat in awkward silence. After a little while, Sally had some deep thoughts. Now, fully thinking about everything, she realized that she had acted a little immaturely. She had to go to school, no matter how uncomfortable it would be. Then Sally experienced a flashing memory.

Sally was slowly walking down the stairs to the bus to return home. Suddenly, she flew off the stairs and crashed to the ground. Slowly getting up, she realized that a bully had pushed her. “Stout Sally, Stout Sally, Stout Sally!” As she put her head down and walked away, she felt something hit her back. Turning around, she saw that on her shoulder was a big slab of cake. It was Turner’s birthday, and I guess it was more important to throw the cake at her than to eat it. Snickers came from all around her. Suddenly, it was war. The cake was flying here and there, and almost none of it hit her. But it wasn’t that she was physically hurt. She was emotionally hurt. To know that no one likes you and that people think you’re fat and you can’t do anything but stand there—it’s a feeling no one should ever experience. Yet Sally had experienced it that day.

Sally was so mortified by that memory that her eyes started involuntarily blinking at superspeed. Traveling across the lot toward her mom’s car, it was all gray. Everything was. Going home, packing up, everything. Even that day of school was a gray blur.

The Pear

At her house, her world was still gray. Her mother was slowly baking a proud pie, a childhood tradition. She would always bake this special pie to show her support for and pride in Sally. But Sally didn’t think she deserved that pride today. She had done nothing but go to school—not even really focusing in class and just doing. She felt like a robot, doing what she was told and nothing else. Today it had seemed that not even bullying could affect her, to the confusion of Baxter John and his bullying minions.

Quickly, Sally hurried to her room. A letter was on her bed. It seemed like her mother had taken it from the mail and placed it there. Who would be sending her a letter? She looked inside. A card had the words “Happy Birthday!” on it. My birthday was yesterday, though . . . Now Sally was intrigued. She opened it.

A bead of sweat formed. Why am I sweating? What? She opened it one inch. Then one more . . . and one more . . . She could almost hear the music building up, like in the climax of a movie. Finally, the card was open.

Her pupils dilated. Just the first word made her heart beat quicker than it ever had before. There was a ringing in her ears. The world felt like it was falling, and Sally was falling with it. She somehow knew what was inside this letter just might change her life.

Eyes scanning the paper, she slowly read: Dear Sally . . .

The world stopped. Tears were starting to form. The world felt like everything, good and bad, white and black, everything. What was she doing with her life? What is the meaning of my life?

After what seemed like forever, she slowly lay on her bed. She kept her face still for a moment and then the rushing came. Like a waterfall, tears streamed down her cheeks. This hadn’t happened since the time in third grade. And it was embarrassing, not only because she was crying but because it wasn’t because of sadness. It was because of joy. Pure bubbles of joy came in the form of happy tears. Sorrowful tears of understanding, love-and-hate tears.

And she felt free—she felt real freedom, not burdened by anything in this world. She was flying, glowing like the first star in the night sky. And there it was: light in the dark. The only light in the universe. Like the center of the universe.

It was pulling at her and she wanted it. And it wanted her. Whatever it was. Suddenly they were one. And her curiosity was all fulfilled. Before, she was wondering what it was. Well, she wasn’t anymore. The light was it. There were no words to explain it. It was a feeling of freedom, a feeling of love, and a feeling of just being full. As if she were floating. There might have been people who doubted her, people who made fun of her, but they weren’t important. They were just side characters in her story, and she was the star. There was nothing that could cast a shadow on her spotlight. To anyone else, it would’ve been blinding, but for her, it was like a cape of light, a star in her wake, something that only made her more there.

This wasn’t something that required thinking. It wasn’t something that needed to be slowly read. This feeling was like everyone in the world was looking at you. But in their eyes, there was shining pride, glorious satisfaction, and comfort. And she liked this. A lot.

*          *          *

Bustling crowds swam around her as she entered the lunchroom. Shining lights came from the windows, making her flinch. Suddenly all the bustling stopped. Everyone was staring at her. And she was blushing. But why? You see, earlier that day, she had decided she was going to change her life. She was going to wear the clothes that would represent her. And so she went to school wearing a new dress. Shocked gasps and giggles came from the crowd. And then she went to the table where she always sat. Like a broken spell, everyone started to resume eating, except for the bullies. Baxter John, Tommy Finch, and everyone who sat at their table suddenly started approaching her.

“What do you think you’re doing?” asked one of the girls.

“Yeah!” remarked another.

“I’m doing multiple things: breathing, eating, and being interrupted by some rude people. Which one are you talking about?” asked Sally in a nonchalant tone.

Suddenly their faces all turned beet red. As some of them slowly retreated, muttering distasteful words, only the brave stayed.

“A bold statement for someone as fat as you!” taunted one of the girls, who spat on the ground like it owed her something.

“Oh, really? Well, guess what? I don’t care!” Gasps came from the whole table, bullies and non-bullies alike. As she resumed eating, suddenly, one of the boys charged at her. She glared at him. He stopped mid-run and slowly collapsed on the ground. Getting back up, he was now a human with a big tomato for a face. As he and his friends returned to their tables, only three more remained.

“Sally! Sally! Sally! Sally!” Cheers were erupting behind her. As she looked, she could see her fellow tablemates cheering for her. And other people too. A chorus formed. And she didn’t see anger in that moment. She just saw people with hard shells but fragile hearts inside. She saw people who were bullied, people who wanted to right the injustice in this world. They were stars. Shining stars. And she saw a smile. A smile brighter than all the others. The person who had changed her life was smiling at her. So she smiled back.

And as the day passed like any other, Sally made a discovery. She noticed that without bullies, school was actually fun. Not only did she learn and make new friends, but she was also more social. And as she left school, the adrenaline that had been passed onto her finally dissipated. She was tired and overwhelmed and wanted to sleep for a thousand years.

*          *          *

Panting, Sally got off the treadmill and checked her weight. She knew the number was still high, but seeing it just gave her more motivation. Look on the bright side. You’ve been going to the gym for three months and you’ve already improved so much. Think positive! You can do it. You will do it! As she resumed running, her thoughts centered on one thought and one thought only. The letter. So she worked and worked until she couldn’t move anymore. Then she jogged home and went to bed.

Drinking a protein shake and settling on the bed, she stared at the ceiling. And as her last thoughts of her day slowed, she thought, The world is a bright place, and I make it brighter. And as she drifted off to sleep, her thoughts stilled like a galaxy, moving slowly but always moving. And every time someone stood up to a bully, a new star appeared.