Nine-year-old Star sat alone at the lunch table in the cafeteria of her new school as she picked at her cold lunch with a fork. She had no appetite. None of the other children tried to make conversation with her. Some of them stared at her and made faces, like Natalie. Natalie’s freckled faced was permanently etched in Star’s mental picture book from the very first day of school. When her aunt Lenora dropped her off to school that day, the first person to make Star feel completely out of place was Natalie.
“Eww, who did your hair?”, Natalie said as she wrinkled up her nose and looked over Star’s crooked, frizzy braids. It was the best aunt Lenora could do since she unexpectedly had to take Star in after her mother left her at home by herself with not so much as a goodbye card.
“My aunt.”, Star whispered as she stared down at her feet and hurried down the hall past Natalie and her friends who were all standing around giggling and staring like she was some kind of freak show exhibit. Her heart was beating furiously, and she wanted to dart to the restroom and cry. That is exactly what she did. She closed the stall door and sat on the toilet seat before silently letting tears fall down her little brown face. She held in her sniffles as she heard girls coming in and going out. When the coast was finally clear she felt a feeling inside her heart that told her to dry her tears and get to class. The feeling was strong, too. Star did as she felt she should. She took a deep breath and walked to the sink. After washing her hands and making her way to class, Star told herself the rest of the day would be okay. Star was strong for a nine-year-old girl who had just been abandoned by her mother.
Nightfall had arrived, and Star was still at the dinner table scribbling in her notebook. Aunt Lenora walked over and placed her hand on Star’s shoulder.
“It’s time for bed, baby. What are you writing?”.
Star marveled at her work before handing it to her aunt.
It was a book report on a book that Star read for school.
Aunt Lenora was impressed after reading.
“Wow, baby girl! Who knew you were this great of a writer.”
Star blushed as Aunt Lenora read it aloud with great enthusiasm. That night she slept peacefully, proud of her book report and anxious to turn it in when it was due.
Star was warming up to her new school. Not all the students were like Natalie. Some were nice to her. Olivia was the nicest. She shared her scented crayons with Star and always made sure they sat together at lunch. She even waited outside at parent pick-up with Star when Aunt Lenora was running late. The two became good friends. Olivia made the days go by quicker and less awkward.
“Hey Star, how come your mom or dad never picks you up?”, one of the kids yelled from across the hall as the dismissal bell rang.
“Because my Aunt does it for them”, Star yelled back and kept walking. She looked straight ahead instead of down at her feet like she normally did. Being the new kid in school came with a lot of uncomfortable situations. In the beginning, poor little Star would always cry and shy away. Some of the things the other kids said really hurt her feelings. She didn’t want to feel like an outsider, but the kids made it hard for her not to. Slowly, but surely Star was finding her strength.
Friday morning came, and Star woke up with knots in her stomach. It was the day the book reports were due. Up until now, Star was very confident in her report but since the teacher made a surprise announcement that each student would have to read their report out loud she felt a lot of pressure. She was a very shy and reserved child and just the thought of standing in front of her new class and reading aloud made her cringe. She skipped breakfast and didn’t talk much through the day. In her mind she was already coming up with ways to get out of presenting her book report to the class. After lunch, Star was light headed. She knew that it was almost time for her to present. She sat in the back of the class fidgeting in her seat as she tried to calm herself. The other students presented their reports with ease. Some of them were so comfortable that it made Star even more doubtful of herself.
The class clapped for Trevor Fields as he wrapped up his presentation on a book about sharks. He was very excited and even the teacher could tell that he had a passion for sharks. He gave a lot of detail and interesting facts that triggered some of the students to ask questions after he was finished. He answered them like a pro. Star sat quietly in the back of the room assessing everything while remaining quiet.
“Very good, Trevor that was excellent!”, Miss Henry said as Trevor made his way back to his seat. “Star, you’re up next sweetie.”
Star felt a lump in her throat as silence fell over the class. All eyes were on her. Her legs felt wobbly as she stood up. She tripped over someone’s foot on her way to the front of the class and the snickers from her peers made her want to run away but she kept walking until she reached the stand. Star laid her book report on the small podium in front of her. She saw Miss Henry smile and give her the thumbs up and she knew it was now or never.
“I-I’m doing my report on----“, she stuttered.
“We can’t hear her!”
“Why is she talking so slow?”
Other kids laughed.
This was too much. Star closed her eyes as her heart beat rapidly in her chest. She felt a tear stream down her face. Miss Henry walked over and whispered in her ear. “Honey, it’s okay. Take your time.”
Just as Star was about to give up, she felt a feeling of triumph overcome her, very similar to the feeling she felt in the restroom that moved her to walk back to class. She knew that there was no reason she couldn’t deliver a report just as well as Trevor or any of the other students. She had so much confidence in her report before she knew she had to present it, so she told herself to read it like she was reading to Aunt Lenora.
She pictured Aunt Lenora being the only one in the class as she began to present. Slowly she adjusted. Her voice grew louder and stronger and she spoke each word about the Nancy Drew mystery book with excitement and confidence. Before she knew it she was finished presenting and her class was standing and clapping for her! No one else had received a standing ovation. Star smiled her biggest smile and gave a sigh of relief. She did it! She pushed through the fears and doubts because she knew she had what it took. When Star sat down in her seat Miss Henry walked over to her.
“Star, I am so proud of you, honey that was amazing! This is for such a great job!” She handed Star a beautiful notebook with hues of oranges and reds with one word written on the front. Courage. Star basked in all her courageous glory and smiled to herself knowing that she could now face anything if she believed she could...and she did.