Handing me a chocolate chip breakfast bar, Mom pushed me out the door with my backpack and lunch box. “No one’s going to make fun of you, Aaron. Don’t worry! You can do it!” she tweeted, with an encouraging smile. Shrugging my shoulders, I headed out the door and trudged along to the bus stop. I groaned as I touched the scar on my face. Over the summer, I had fallen off my bike going down a hill and a slab of rock collided with my face. Twelve stitches left a colossal scar the size of China on my right cheek. And with my wire-rimmed glasses, I looked like the biggest nerd on the planet. Not a great way to start middle school.
I stomped on to the bus with a hood over my face mumbling a quick hello to the bus driver. Plunking down next to Samuel in the seventh row, I smiled at him nervously. “Goodness, what happened to your face?” Samuel was my best friend. Everyone in school loved him. He was tall and athletic and yet his brown eyes were always full of compassion.
“Please don’t ask,” I murmured quickly changing the subject. I listened to him talk about his summer until we finally arrived at school. Samuel and I entered through the cafeteria and headed to Mrs. Mead’s 6th grade Advanced English class.
“Aaron Jones?” Mrs. Mead called. I raised my hand inconspicuously. She looked up at me, blinked a little, and then called Samuel’s name. The kid across the row from me snickered as he stared at my scar. My heart sank. Samuel glared at him and the bully instantly clammed up. I wish I could be more like Samuel. He’s brave and doesn’t seem to care what others think of him. He knows how to hold his own, I thought to myself as I sank lower in my chair.
As soon as Mrs. Mead started talking about all of the things that we were going to learn in Language Arts, I perked up. English was my favorite subject. “Your first project will be a poster that you do today with a small group. You will come up with adjectives to describe everybody in your group and present it in front of the class. This will be your first grade. Your groups are written on the board,” Mrs. Mead explained. I looked at the board and saw that I was in Group 1 with Jade Barman and Ray Klee.
When I reached the back table where Group 1 was meeting, I cringed. Ray was the kid who had sneered at my face. “Oh great. We have to work with him?” Ray scoffed. I wanted to fly away and hide in a tree. Why did this have to happen to me? I thought. Squaring my shoulders, I mustered the confidence to stay put and work on the project.
Fifteen minutes later, while Jade and Ray were still fooling around, I had finished the project. I read it to the class, and Mrs. Mead clapped as I finished, pointing out how smart I was and how my group members needed to show more effort. “Hacker!” Ray grumbled. “You are going to pay for this later.” I kept an eye over my shoulder the rest of the morning.
At last, it was time for lunch. As Samuel and I were walking to the cafeteria, Ray jumped out of nowhere and tried to block our path. “Freak,” he snarled. Samuel grabbed my arm and tried to push past him. Just then, Mrs. Mead walked by. Ray tried to flee, but she stopped him. “Ray, be nice,” she admonished. Ray turned plum and glared at us. I thanked Samuel once again for always having my back.
Arriving at the cafeteria, we sat down at the end table next to two twins. Surprisingly, they didn’t get up and scurry away. “Hi, I’m Anna,” the girl in the green shirt said, “and this is Lily!” I smiled and waved. Samuel said hello. “Do you want to play Four Square?” they asked eagerly.
“Sure!” we chimed at the same time. I finished my lunch and threw away the garbage just as Mr. Grieser, a math teacher, stood up and blew a whistle. We hurried outside to claim a Four Square spot. We were successfully able to avoid Ray all recess and for a few moments I even forgot about my face. Maybe school won’t be so bad after all, I thought.
Unfortunately, my optimism took a dive. After the last class, I headed onto the bus lot trying to avoid seeing anyone. Just as I reached the curb, Ray and his gang were there waiting for me. With a smirk on his face, Ray stuck out his foot. I tried to dodge him, but instead I brushed his shoulder and lost my balance. I fell down right there on the cement pavement. Adding insult to injury, the gang burst into wild laughter. I struggled up and stared at my scratched hands. They must have hurt a lot, but the pain inside was greater. Humiliated, I lowered my head trying to force my eyes to stay dry. “Look at him. He’s ugly AND clumsy! Like a donkey!” Ray taunted in his loud annoying voice. The gang’s laughter rolled like waves. Raising my head, I clenched my fists and glared at him, taciturn. I was just about to break down and cry when an arm clasped my shoulder. It was Samuel. “Shame on you!” he scolded and shook his fist at Ray. “Don’t worry, Aaron!” I heard him say as he dragged me onto Bus 1296.
As I opened the door, Mom asked me how my day was. “Okay,” I lied as I headed to my room. I plopped down onto the bed and hid my face under the pillow. Why me? I thought. Why do I have to look so ugly? I had a pity-party for five minutes and then I forced myself to focus on the good things that had happened today: the English project, Four Square, and Samuel.
Things will get better tomorrow.
The next day, Mrs. Mead made an important announcement. “Today, we are going to have a spelling bee!” My heart pounded. I loved spelling as much as I loved English; in fact, last year I won the county bee and almost made it to the national bee. “We will go in alphabetical order, starting from…” I didn’t hear the rest of her statement. Butterflies were flying around in my stomach. Samuel looked over at me and whispered, “Here is your chance to shine.”
“Aaron, your word is aerodynamics. Please spell aerodynamics.” Feeling confident, I took a deep breath and spelled the word.
“That is correct.”
The rounds went on for one more hour. Finally, it was down to just me and Samuel. At this point, I felt split into two pieces. Should I let my best friend win, or should I clench my chance? As if he could read my mind, Samuel whispered, “It is okay if you win. I’ll be supporting you!” I nodded and smiled at him. Thanks, I mouthed.
I spelled the last word of the contest correctly and won our classroom bee. Samuel high-fived me and everyone, even Ray, started chanting, “Go Aaron! Go Aaron!” I beamed. Mrs. Mead gave me a list of words to study for the school bee. I bowed and walked out the classroom. The sky was a lovely shade of sapphire.
Throughout the next two weeks, Ray continued with his bullying, although his attempts to insult me gradually subsided. I tried my best to ignore him. The more he bullied, the harder I studied for the spelling bee.
Finally, the day of judgement rolled around. Mom dropped me off at school. “I’ll be waiting in the auditorium, sweetie. Enjoy the competition!” I hugged her goodbye. Feeling excited, yet afraid to lose, I entered the gym. Mrs. Mead and Mr. Grieser were sitting in the front row next to my mom. I sat on stage together with 41 other students.
Mrs. Rogers, the librarian, announced the rules and the competition began.
Soon it was my turn. “Pastrami. P-A-S-T-R-A-M-I.”
“That is correct.” My teachers beamed, and I felt myself begin to relax a little.
The rounds flew by. Finally it was down to me and a girl named Maya from Mrs. Parry’s ELA class. She was also in 6th grade. By then, my heart was pounding like a drum and sweat was streaming down my face. Maya received the word “tintinnabulation.” Sadly, she struck out.
It was time for me to prove myself. I took a deep breath and looked out at the audience. My mom smiled and waved. I gulped.
“Aaron, you need to spell two more words correctly to win. The first word is zymology.”
Closing my eyes, I remembered seeing this word on the list I had painstakingly studied. I knew this one by heart. I stood tall and spoke each letter loudly and clearly. “Zymology. Z-Y-M-O-L-O-G-Y?”
“Correct. Your final word is… flauta.”
I hadn’t studied this word. I started to shake. I looked out at the audience. Mom was looking at me too. She nodded slightly. I knew she was trying to say, “Just try your best.” I asked for the definition.
“A usually corn tortilla that is rolled tightly around a filling such as meat and deep-fried.”
Wait a moment. Didn’t I see Dora play a flauta, a little flute, when I watched a Dora the Explorer episode at the age of five? An instrument that is also a food? Maybe the two definitions refer to the same thing. But does the word end in “T-A” or “D-A”? To help me decide, I asked for the origin.
“This word is from American Spanish,” Mrs. Rogers said.
Ah! It must be “T-A”! I spelled slowly and carefully. “F-L-A-U-T-A.”
“We have a winner!” the announcer roared.
Mom cheered along with Mrs. Mead. I shook the principal’s hand, smiled, and received the trophy. “Congratulations,” he whispered.
After the spelling bee, I was mobbed by my classmates who all wanted to talk to me.
“Was it difficult to study?” Lily asked.
“Were you very nervous?” Jade inquired.
“You are so smart!” Bryce boomed.
Samuel winked at me. “I knew you could do it.” It was as if I went from no one to someone in one day. Just then, Ray sauntered over, and even though I wasn’t sure if he was being fake or not, he patted me on the back and said, “Good job, Aaron.”
The days that followed became easier and easier. I stopped worrying about the scar on my face and about what kids like Ray thought of me. I focused on the good things in my life and studied with due diligence. Eventually, Ray stopped the bullying altogether. I guess he grew tired of it when he realized it no longer affected me. With a best friend like Samuel by my side, I learned that I truly can do anything.