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Gina concentrated on the target. It was nothing more than a bag filled with straw; 50 yards away with a 4-inch circle painted on the front. It was hard to see. It would be hard to hit.

            She placed an arrow on the string and put her gaze back on the target. She pulled the string back by her ear and held it, never looking away from bulls-eye. She waited a fraction of a second, just long enough for her arms to line up with the target. Then she immediately released.

            The arrow whizzed away from her. It arced in the air slightly and struck the very edge of the target, nowhere near the circle. Gina was frustrated. She had never been able to hit that circle. She looked for excuses.

            She looked at her arms. They were strong, yet they had a delicate appearance that defied their strength. She looked at her bow. It was perfect, the arrows perfectly sized for the strength of the bow, not one crack or imperfection on the whole thing. She looked at the sun. It was well behind her, definitely not in her eyes. Everything was right, yet something was distracting her.

            Jessica. "Hi Shamu," Jessica had said. An image of her former came into Gina's mind. She was fat, insecure. Weak. Jessica had preyed upon it. "What's the matter, you don't have any friends? Mr. Chocolate will be your friend." A tiny flame of anger ignited into seething hate. Gina nocked another arrow.

            She imagined the target as Jessica. The little circle was Jessica's heart, a shot to it would kill her. Without thinking she pulled back another arrow and released. The arrow flew well over the target and disappeared. The anger had made her miss, it made her tremble, and it ruined her focus. She tried to quiet the anger.

            Another image came into her thoughts; this one more recent, fresh in her mind. It was herself now, in the mirror. She wasn't a pound overweight, her body sculpted to perfection. It was the product of over a year of hard work. No one would call her fat anymore. Yet it wasn't enough.

More memories now. Bullying. Alienation. Hatred. Her tormentors were behind her now, never to see her again. But they never really left; they had made their mark. It would take more than moving away to get rid of them.

Moving. The biggest relief Gina ever felt was when she found out she was to move into the country. An escape at last, a refuge. That was when she started exercising and dieting. The kids in her new school were not going to make fun of her.

It worked. She had had the rest of the school year and a whole summer to prepare. When the first day of school rolled around she was skinny and fit. The kids were nice to her there; their shallow judgments were in her favor. She even pushed through positive first impressions and made closer friends, who thought they liked her for who she was. They said she was persistent, strong. Some even said they looked up to her, because she never gave up.

No matter what they said, she still had doubts. They didn't know how much she had changed or who she was before they met her. It wasn't her persistence or strength that had gotten her where she was. It was her weakness and malleability. She had turned herself into exactly the person they wanted her to be. She stood for nothing; she only lost weight because others essentially told her to. It wasn't just her appearance everyone controlled; it was everything she did. She remembered how on the first day of school she didn't say a word as everyone socialized. She watched them, studied them. She quickly made a mold of their behavior and poured her personality into it. When she joined them she fit in perfectly.

Not even archery was her own idea. It was another (successful) attempt to fit in. It was popular in the area, an ideal hobby for the wide-open fields. So she took it up. She was only practicing so she'd look good. Archery was a way to gain their respect. It made her practice obsessively.

The memories made her feel ashamed. "What am I, but a puppet... with my peers pulling the strings?" She thought. "I wasn't always like this...I used to do what I wanted, I never cared what people thought of me. How did they get to me?" She would never know the answer, but the question made her instantly decide that no one's opinion of her mattered more than her own. She'd still conform to some degree, but it wouldn't be the center of her life.

Hitting the target didn't seem to matter as much. The only person it would prove anything to, was herself. She did like archery on her own, no matter what anyone thought. It was just a coincidence that everyone else did.

Her last arrow protruded from the ground beside her. She picked it up, nocked it, and pulled back the string. Her mind finally clear, her focus shifted entirely on the bulls-eye. She released. The arrow soared and thudded to a stop in the bag of straw.

 

Right on the bulls-eye.

 

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