She wasn’t ready. Her hands were shaking. On this tallest tower, she stretched her arms, crossing them over her body. Contestants standing beside her eyed her down, waiting to see what she could do.
Millie’s pink hair flowed in the gentle wind, and her dark eyes glimmered in the sunlight. The sky was a perfect pink color and the crowds were all smiling. There was a smell of soft candy perfume coming from the chimney of the most famous candy shop. Spectators surrounding the Sugar Tower cheered for her as she stepped into the waiting line. She was the first nine-year-old girl of the day to attend this contest.
Each year, the Sugar Community hosted an event where contestants tried to catch as many floating sweets as they could while falling down the Sugar Tower. Whoever caught the most got to keep them and was crowned “Sugar Person” for the year. The Sugar Person had to keep everyone in their age group healthy by making sure they got enough sugar. The loser, who caught the least amount of candy, had to scrape all of the moldy, uneaten sugar from the crevices of the Sugar Tower.
Millie looked from the top to the bottom of the Sugar Tower and saw how disgusting it would be to lose. However, she also saw all the goodies she could catch. Cupcakes and candies on top of odd cloud shapes with mist around them made her eyebrows raise in shock. How are we supposed to reach the sweets? Won’t we fall too quickly and miss all of them? The people on the ground looked like little pink ants from the height of the tower. Mille backed away from the railing.
She looked up to see other contestants in line behind her, strong, tall, and fierce. An older girl with bright red hair caught her eye and Millie’s eyes grew wide. This girl was the height of about three Millies stacked on top of each other. Surely I won’t be winning this contest! Compared to the others I look like a weak little gnome. I’m so short! Getting diagnosed with itty-bitty candy syndrome is the worst! None of the other nine-year-olds are only thirty inches tall! It’s a cruel joke that my mother gave me a name that means “strength.” I hate being a Mildred!
The red-haired contestant walked up to Millie. Millie looked up past her stomach, barely seeing the contestant’s eyebrows. She gulped as the girl looked down and said, “Hey, kid, is this your first time? You know you’re supposed to get one of those white tote bags near the end of the tower to carry your candies. I see that you’re next in line, so I figured that you might not have known.”
Forgetting that she was scared of the contestant, Mille replied, “Yes, I forgot to get one of those bags. Thank you for telling me. Would you mind holding my place real quick?”
The contestant smiled and replied, “Not at all.”
Millie quickly ran to the end of the tower and saw a shed with a pink-and-white–striped roof, with white tote bags hanging on a hook on the shed wall. The young woman standing at the shed, cradling a stuffed toy bear, flicked light-pink hair out of her eyes and said, “Need a bag?”
Millie nodded. “Yes, I do, and I’m in a hurry! I’m going next for the fall!” She realized that she maybe shouldn’t have trusted the red-haired girl to save her place, and snatched the small white bag as she turned to run back.
The young woman shouted, “Good luck, honey! I believe in you.”
The red-haired contestant stepped back. It was Millie’s turn. Millie walked up to a Falling Board. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, remembering that someone just said they believed in her, and imagined that she would catch the most sweets. She could feel the gentle wind blowing the mist of the clouds up to her face. Millie leaned back as if she was doing a trust fall with the sky; everything around her seemed to be covered with different-colored auras. She smelled the soothing, sugary scent of cotton candy. Her mouth watered and she felt as if she were in heaven. She opened her eyes and looked at the gumdrops on top of the puffy clouds. Her body was floating and falling slowly down the tower and her hair was flowing in the wind. Millie was surprised, but quickly remembered that she had to grab the sweets.
She saw rock crystals glittering like emeralds, diamonds, and rubies, and peanut brittle on all the uniquely shaped clouds. Millie asked herself, Will these all fit in my bag? She glanced down to see how others were doing and saw many long arms and big hands grabbing the candies. She looked at her own small hands. Focus, Millie, you’re here to grab the candies. Don’t worry about anything else. Into her tote bag then went a glittering rock-crystal candy that had been on a star-shaped cloud. The star cloud slowly dissolved, only a little bit of mist left. She took more candy from a fluffy cat-shaped cloud: jumbo lollipops that could take you a year to finish, chocolates that could make you grow five inches taller, rainbow sour gummy bears and sour drops in nice packages that could make your hair turn different colors.
One by one, she put them in the white tote bag. She dipped her finger into some of the whipped cream on a cupcake and licked it. The taste of vanilla made her eyes pop. “I’m definitely going to grab and eat all the cupcakes!” Millie exclaimed. The cat cloud carrying the cupcakes poofed away and disappeared when she finished putting them in her bag. Millie wondered if she had dropped them since the bag was still so small. Scared that she was losing, she continued to take all of the sweets on every cloud and all the clouds poofed away. Slowly, her feet landed on the ground as the crowds cheered for her.
The white bag that Milie was holding suddenly expanded to an enormous bulk. Bright pink mist surrounded the gigantic bag and everyone cheered even louder. Millie hadn’t realized that she had grabbed almost a hundred sweets, including fifty cupcakes, as she was drifting down. She had broken the Sugar Community’s record!
“I can’t believe this! My mom will be so proud of me!” Millie blurted out. The judges rose to congratulate her, carrying a hot pink crown studded with dots of candied frosting on the sides, when suddenly a familiar voice said, “Millie! Wake up!”
She had left a pool of drool on the side of her pillow. On her way to the bathroom, she saw a cupcake covered in melting vanilla whipped cream sitting on a plate on top of her dresser. Millie whispered to herself, “Did my mom give this to me for breakfast? She must be out of her mind. It sure looks tasty though.”
She approached the cupcake and couldn’t help herself, so she took a big bite. Her body suddenly stretched taller and she was afraid she was going to hit the roof of her house.
“Help me!” Millie screamed, but nothing came out of her mouth. She was so shocked and scared. She suddenly woke up again, feeling the sweat on her back and forehead.
The stiff metal bed creaked as Millie turned and remembered that her only teddy bear’s head had broken apart from its body the night before. She rubbed her own aching back and stepped barefoot onto the splintered wood floor. It was still cloudy outside. She could smell the dampness of the rain that leaked from the roof. Through the thin walls, Millie heard her neighbors arguing. She sighed and walked away. On the kitchen table that rocked its uneven legs was a note saying, “Dear Millie, I’ve gone to interview for more cleaning jobs. Breakfast is on the table for you. Love, Mom.”
Millie looked at the chipped plate with a dry chunk of misshapen bread where the mold had been cut away. She opened her hands and saw her misshapen fingers, and wished once again for a little sweetness.