Sally jumped up, reached out to catch the ball in mid-air... but miscalculated, and the ball smashed into her forehead and knocked her down. The coach blew her whistle, and the game came to a stop.
“Sal?” her teammate Alice asked with concern as she knelt by her side. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” the girl said as she recovered and stood up. “Don't worry, it's just... wow, I didn't see that one coming!”
“Sally?” the coach called. “May I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure, Miss Kraczinski.”
“Come to my office. And you girls, train with three-point shots!”
Miss Kraczinski was a P.E. teacher and coach of the female basketball team, and she was respected by the girls and their parents alike for her caring and supportive attitude.
“Sally,” she said when they were alone, “I have a feeling you're not very... focused, these days.”
“Yes, I know, Miss Kraczinski, I'm sorry, but I can assure you I'll be on top for the game!”
“That's not what I meant. Honey, everyone can feel down or preoccupied once in a while, especially at your age, when you have to deal with the stress of the exams, your friends, your parents, boys... and on top of that, you are captain of the basketball team and freshman class president, these are huge responsibilities. It would be most understandable if you freaked out under the pressure. But it is important for you to know that if anything's wrong... there are people who are here for you to talk to. Like me.”
“Thank you, but you don't need to worry about me, it's just something personal, I'll deal with it!”
But the coach was not fooled by these words. She had known Sally in September as a lively, strong-willed girl, and barely three months later, she was a blushing, fidgety wreck. In a fit of tenderness, she put comforting hands on the girl's shoulders and looked at her in the eyes: “I'm not stupid, Sally. I know there's something, or someone, troubling you. Are you... being harassed?”
Shamefully, she nodded. “It's Danielle Cassidy,” she blurted out. “She's more and more violent, I'm afraid of her... yesterday she said she might do something to ruin the game. She said she wanted to break my leg so I couldn't play.”
“Oh, dear, this is very serious! We need to report it to the headmaster!”
“Trust me Sally, it's the only way! Bullies like her count on the fear they inspire to keep going. As long as you're afraid of her, she will keep coming at you. Allow me to report it for you. With the school board and the PTA, we'll figure something out for this to stop. Nobody will know you talked to me in the first place if you don't want it. Think of your classmates, don't you want her to stop bullying them too? You're president, after all!”
She smiled. “Yeah, I see what you mean.”
“A smile, now that's better! Don't worry, everything will be alright.”
That night, Sally put her plan in motion. Shortly after dinner, as she told her parents she would spend the evening on Facebook with her friends, she let the music play in her room, locked the door, and sneaked through the window of her ranch-style suburban home to catch the first bus to the Projects. And here she was, walking down the sidewalks of Darrell Avenue in the blackest clothes she could find, which comprised a fake leather vest and a beret to tuck her hair under. Going undercover, she thought as she walked on uneasily, feeling like she was being watched. Just her imagination, excited by the danger of roaming this neighborhood at night. She was fully aware it was plain wrong, but she had to meet him. She felt tonight was her night. And maybe, maybe... she could ask him to protect her against Cass? She tensed as a group of young men walked past her, and she felt their lustful glances at her. One of them whistled. Feeling a rush of adrenaline, she quickened up her pace, and as she heard their laughs fading in the distance, she realized they'd never had any intention of following her. Easy girl, it's not because you are in the Projects that everyone you meet is a mugger or a rapist...