Archive | Young Women’s Intensive RSS feed for this section


9 Sep

Excerpt from a novel by
Julia Knudten
7th Grade

18:00 hours
Captain’s Log,

“Dear diary” just sounds too stupid. Captain’s Log sounds more official and fancy. After 256 tests, Rose and Xander finally were able to wake me up. But now I can’t even go near a frying pan.  I found something out recently, and trust me, I would never want to tell anyone. At first, it was a little headache, nothing too bad. Then over the course of a few continuous hours, it started to feel like someone with a blunt object was hitting me in the head, OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER, you get the point. I felt a sick trickling sensation on the crown of my head, only to find it was blood. I was surprised no one noticed it in my silvery white hair; I was sure it would stain it. Anyway, I felt something that made my head feel like a jaw with two sharp canines coming in. They were short, tiny nubs on the top of my head. If I told anyone, I was positive that they would make continuous jocular references to them. I think they might be horns, but I don’t know. And I think my hair is changing colors again. First brown, then silver, and now what I think to be a black tint with flashes of gold. I don’t know what’s going on with me. Maybe it’s a serious allergic reaction, or something like that. I just don’t want to be that one leader who had horns. That’s sort of humiliating.  Oh well.

– Castiel Marena Rivers

My hand started cramping a little bit. I put my small pen down. I sighed and shoved the journal back into my canvas sack and headed out of my room. But before I could turn the handle to my door, a giant wave of pain washed over me.


Of course, while walking to my personal training room, I had to run into the one person I was honestly surprised even got into the army. Elke. I glared and pushed past her, obviously enraging her popular fury.

“Watch where you’re going!” Elke said, trying to gather my scattered attention. “Excuse me? Hello? Anyone in this emotionless vessel?” she screamed into my face. Something made my sense of smell curdle, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

“Yeah, I’m here,” I stated simply. “But I don’t find anything interesting about you to talk about. You ran into me, I did nothing. Now excuse me, I have to help save this screwed up world if you don’t mind.”

“I’m doing that too! But I’m not as dedicated as you because I actually have a life to attend to.”

“Really?! Wow, I haven’t noticed. Congratulations on doing something other than what you signed up to do!” I said, cursing the air with my foul words.

“Please. I could take you down, little Rosey Posey. I bet I work 10 time harder than you ever could,” she sneered. A sickening smell lifted into the atmosphere, nearly knocking me out.

“Bring it, Elke.” I swept her feet, landing her on her back, defenseless.

Her horrid perfume stench filled the air. I smiled, trying to hide a grimace, my response to her bad taste in fragrances, and continued walking to my desired destination. As I stepped past her, a raging stampede of her personal followers sprinted to her aid.

Why she was so popular, I had no idea. She was an immature girl who was forced into the Second Defense after her own father kicked her out of First Defense. I heard something that I could fully agree with: Elke was kicked out because 1) she didn’t even lift a finger, and 2) she didn’t try hard enough. She wanted to stay home, live a rich and famous life, but her father thought if she went into the family business it would give her some dignity and common sense.

And that HORRIBLE orchid perfume, Elke practically bathed in it. Not a single inch of her body wasn’t covered with that scent. Apparently it was her signature—not written, then your hand would cramp. She thought it made her more appealing. I thought it would definitely be the death of me. She wore so much, one little gasp could be your last, because you would die of asphyxiation, choking in her stinky grasp.

Later that evening, the air was getting thicker and thicker in my chamber, making it harder to breathe. I had to escape this warm death. I opened the door with a small creak, and the chilling air relieved me of the humid atmosphere. Stepping into the moonlight, I breathed the last bit of remembrance into the air. My once murky brown hair, now turned to a sweet mahogany. My originally pale face was now florescent in the pale light.

I trudged into the bog, where the arms of trees etched new shadows across my head. The black hood I wore over my light armor turned to a dark, beautiful maroon. The freezing air burned red into the tip of my strangely pointed ears. My speckled brown eyes flashed with bits of gold in the corners, highlighting the small spheres. My thin leather boots, now caked with mud, but still flexible and in decent shape. This was only a small trek, I would be back soon, but then again, I never wanted to leave.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a whole legion of guards surrounded me.

“HALT! YOU WILL BE HELD FOR TREASON! YOU LEFT YOUR POST, SOLDIER. THAT IS BREAKING ONE OF OUR FINE LAWS,” the leader said as one of his cronies tied my hands tightly behind my back. “YOU WILL BE EXECUTED FOR YOUR CRIMES.”

I had no clue what was going on. It was stupid that anyone would think that I would break the law. I wanted to tell them everything, but it was unlikely they would believe me. Crap, I’m so screwed. I thought pessimistically.


It wasn’t what I thought. My eyes were playing tricks on me.

“ROSE!” I screamed as she turned her head…well, as much as she could. The look of fear stretched across her familiar brown eyes. The first friend I made in the orphanage was about to get her head chopped off.

“Ignitus, this woman is a criminal. She must pay for her deeds,” the executioner pleaded softly.

“Release her.” I stated firmly.


“I SAID RELEASE HER. She is a soldier of the guard, and she has more ranking than you could ever dream of,” I growled.

They released her head from the little dip in the wood.

“THE REST OF YOU, GO HOME,” I screamed at the small group of citizens gathered to see the beheading.

I grabbed Rose’s arm and pulled her aside. “Yes, hello. I’m overjoyed to see you, not beheaded!” I yelled.

“I know, I know. I was just leaving my chambers to go for a walk in the woods. But, apparently, a warrior that looked just like me, left their post in Kirme, and they thought I was that traitor. And since it is heavily against the law to leave your post, I was taken. Sooooo yeah. How’ve you been?” she smirked.

I laughed a little. “Oh, you know, leading a rebellion, kicking Carrion off his own boat. It’s hard work. Oh, and I had to kill Dominicus and then put him back together. The same old same old.”

I was glad that I made it in time, so that my friend didn’t die for something she didn’t do. I sat in the harbor watching the waves crash against the slowly rotting wood.

“Now this isn’t so—” Rose started talking but was cut off by a large deafening ring.

Must be noon, I thought, not thinking much of it. But, as I looked over at Rose, she had a look of complete terror etched across her face. “Rose, what’s wrong?” I said.

“Th-that was a war bell. Something must be coming,” she said, slightly shivering.

“That was just a normal old church bell. Something horrible isn’t going to kill us, Rose. We’re going to be fine. Look, I haven’t been here long. I don’t know how many bells this section has, but I assure you that there is nothing to worry about.” I persisted, but she just wouldn’t listen.

She turned to me, a grim expression plastered to her face. “Cas, I’ve studied in this sector. I know everything about it. I think I’d know if it was a warning call. And I’ve never heard one like that before, so that must mean that something HUGE is coming our way.”

“Yes, of course, how could I be so ignorant?!? A whole legion of Umkaila  and red wolves are coming straight for us. If there’s any problem, I’m positi-” I was cut off by a large screech, which was soon followed by an ominous howl. “Oh crap.” I said, all the blood draining from my face.

“I TOLD YOU!” Rose screamed as she jumped up and sprinted to the entry

I barked orders at the soldiers, making each and every one of them understand the grave danger that we had fallen into. I was given my scythes and courageously made my way to the castle’s gate. I nodded at my soldiers and they made a thick line, prepared to either die or live without a few limbs.

“SET!’ I screamed at the first line of archers. They all pointed their elegant bows at a 90-degree angle, arrow tips gleaming in the afternoon sun. “FIRE!” They all released with a loud twang and impaled the majority of the monsters.

The monsters still kept on running and slowly prowling towards us. I felt like I could read their thoughts: they all screamed dinner! This made me excited. It was about time that I had a little battle. But I knew that blood was going to be spilled. And unfortunately, most of it wouldn’t be the monsters’.

Once again I felt that metallic lifeline spread across my tongue. The archers were almost out of their deadly ammo. I wished that this would all end. I think that they did too. I ran through the midst of the soldiers, making it to the very front of the line. Spreading my arms wide, I could sense danger. I smirked and made a small barrier around my army.

“CASTIEL, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Rose screamed through the sea of confusion.

“Saving.” I smiled back at her.

In my peripheral vision, I could spot a small river of tears streaming down my face. I felt a burst of pain in my one good arm and an attack on my left leg. I sighed, giving one last burst of life. I went to the floor, creating an ancient rune around my feet, mumbling an incantation I have never heard.

The world around me caught fire and made a haven for me, but nothing died, except the land surrounding me. My vision slowly turned to a shade darker than black and I finally gave up. Letting the shadows absorb me, I disappeared into a false world of monochrome. No light, but also no sign of darkness in sight. I felt at peace, and then something woke me up, a slight shake and then vicious gurgles of misinterpreted words. It sounded like blood and despair in their true forms. But I would never be able to see them. A sensation of a million nails digging into my spine emerged. Flashes of the past, and memories that no one would understand. No one ever understood.

I woke from my daze. My small army was still protected by a fiery barrier. I smiled, slightly grimacing. I lifted my head from the stale warm grass. The air was humid and it was impossible to take a decent breath. Coughing up a small pile of blood, a wave of crazed laughter washed over me without my consent. I looked up and glared that the prowlers slowly crawling towards me.

I shouted an incantation that I have never heard but knew by heart. I yelled, each word getting louder and louder. Everything that I never wanted in the first place was finally in a steaming pile of ashes. I fell into a little dream-world once again.


Castiel was knocked out for multiple days. None of us knew if she was ever going to wake up. After countless hours of getting nothing but sympathy, I had enough. I always told myself to never get attached to anyone, but this was an exception. Castiel was the family that never dropped me off at a doorstep and ran. She was the closest thing to it.

Everything was off, even me. Most of the more trained and famous fighters who agreed to fight in this rebellion were pushing to elect a new leader. It’s been three days and they’ve already moved on. Show some respect, I thought as I pushed past people in the tight streets.

I saw the bells before I heard them. A loud ringing like a rock hit me in the head. Something about it sounded airy and soft. Then again, it was like a million meteors striking your ears. It was a deadly red sound. The birds around me seemed to silence its violent sound. Their vocals flowed through the air in yellow and a beautiful off-white. This was different for me. Usually it was sound, now it was colors and pain. I felt normal and different all at once. The clicking of horse hooves sounded like a heather grey or a gentle brown as I past the stables. The hypnotic calls of the seagulls shouted colors of vibrant cyan or a crisp mint green. I wonder if others felt this as well, because it was more vivid than anything I’ve ever felt.


I’m usually calm in a crisis. Then again, this wasn’t a crisis. It was a dream, a hallucination, something too far from reality. I was lost inside my own head, seeing everything that I have remembered, or counted as a memory. My head seemed to be there just to mock every regret and fear that’s ever occurred. Lost in the woods, and tripping over long tangled roots was not a happy time. A low growling haunted me in the distance. I touched the trees, looking for a weak spot to hide.

Could be a red wolf, but since when are monsters haunting my dreams? Sure, the thing under my bed was in here, but when you bring something from the real world in here that is just the most creepy thing that I’ve ever witnessed I thought as I climbed the thick bark, hoping for a better view, which, luckily, I did get. Looking over the vast forest, I saw something grey with a metallic appearance.

I cut myself while climbing down, but the bark’s sharp and sticky texture was somewhat soothing. Running through the thick underbrush, jumping over roots that seemed to want to kill me, I finally made it to my desired destination. But, it wasn’t a thing, it was a pile of ash. I thought I had seen something valuable while sitting in my little perch, but it was high upon the mountain of ash.

I carefully climbed my way to the top. Looking around, I grabbed a thick, smooth object and sprinted down the collapsible pile of gravel—only to find that it was a rock. A ROCK! I chucked the rock into the forest, but didn’t hear anything when it landed. Suddenly without warning, everything around me burst into flames.

I was fine, but I glanced at something that made my stomach acid curdle. My friends, tied to each other, obviously knocked out, and slowly being cooked in the flames. I used all the strength I had left to untie them. It didn’t work.

Something glimmered in the fire. Not fuel, or anything combustible. Something shiny. I grabbed it, rubbing my fingers over its smooth surface, only to find the other side was scratchy as a high quality sand paper. It was shaped like a teardrop, light as one as well, but the end of it was so sharp it could easily take out an eye. A brilliant idea popped into my head, fueling the gears that were stuck in place for far too long. I ran over to me grumbling friends, cutting them free and creating a protective dome around them.

Friends are my family. And family is my greatest flaw now. I thought as I tended to their wounds. My old friend, Return, was the first person to stir from the mysterious slumber.

“Are you okay, Cas?” she faintly whispered.

“You should worry about yourself. I’m just dandy. Are you okay?” I said, reigning in my sarcasm. I always thought sarcasm was a bad thing, but over the years I realized it wasn’t quite that bad, but it wasn’t mandatory either. So I tried not to use it, but unfortunately I seemed to be fluent in it.

The floor below me turned into a mushy surface. I slowly sank further and further into the ground. It was solid a second ago. Am I just going insane? I questioned myself, which I usually didn’t like doing. My small dome was failing, quickly deteriorating and disappearing. The ground soaked me into itself like a sponge. I couldn’t help the others. I couldn’t even help myself!

I let the ground absorb me. As my head went under, I woke with a large bang. Apparently, for the last five days, Rose and Xander were coming up with ways to wake me. Today was test number 256, and it was two frying pans.

I sighed. The excruciating pain dropped to my lower torso. The pain was growing since I’d woken. Pain surged through my back, connecting to my shoulder blades. It dawned in bigger and bigger waves. I wanted to cry out, but that would cause unwanted attention. I felt dizzier and dizzier, the room spinning around me. The ground crashed into me faster than a simple snap. The fall certainly didn’t help the pain at all. Cries quickly found their way out. I sounded like a wounded animal. My tears stained the wood floors.

The incoming horns caused no pain. I think they were finally done growing in.

“Cas, are you okay?” Xander said.

Rose was standing behind him. “You sound like you’re dying!”

“I’m fin-AHHHH!” I screamed in agony. My breaths came in short gasps.

I saw something, or SOMEONE appear in the corner of the room. It was blurry, then I automatically knew who it was. “It’s about time you  transformed.” Carrion said in a low growl.

I scowled. He was only here to mock my pain. “GO AWAY!” I shouted fiercely.

The stabbing sensation in my back grew worse. Before I knew it, two fiery angelic wings sprouted out of my shoulder blades. It was a little surprising. I screamed, but this time it was only out of surprise. I sort of smiled. It was badass.

“Oh god.” I heard Carrion whisper under his breath. Knowing he was scared fueled my pride.

“Run.” I stated coldly.

His figure started to fade.

My hair was a shade darker than black. My eyes were a crimson that could pierce through your soul. My wings were a beautiful rose-gold.

Without my consent, the door flew open and Carrion’s apparition disappeared. I shrieked.

Xander and Rose stood there, jaws scraping the floor.

“Cas, why didn’t you tell us?” Rose blubbered.

“I agree!” Xander said.

I sighed. They needed an explanation. “Knowing you guys, you would laugh…” I pleaded, a guilty blush dusted across my cheekbones. I just wanted to disappear. My wings wrapped around me, comforting me in distress.

“Who do you think we are? We’re your friends!” Xander said.

“We aren’t monsters, Cas,” Rose said.

“I was scared!” I said. My wings collapsed and hid behind my back. “You two are intimidating!”

“Come on. Let’s show everyone.” Rose said, grabbing my arm and pulling hard.

I shook my head. “NO!”

“Come on! Be brave for once!” Xander said coolly.

My hand almost fell off due to Rose’s ruthless grasp. The doors to the main hall opened as if on cue. She dragged me to the middle, where every single soldier was gathered. They all silenced once they saw us enter the room. I might as well give it to them straight.

“So if you haven’t noticed…I’m a phoenix,” I blurted.

One guy in the back coughed uncomfortably. It was silent for a few minutes. They all stared in awe. My palms became sweaty under all this unwanted pressure. I decided to spread my wings for proof. Then the hall erupted with cheers. This was a better reaction than I expected. I smiled, but something I saw in the corner was unsettling.

Hidden in the shadows, there HE stood. This time, it wasn’t an apparition.

“YOU.” I growled, marching towards him, growing angrier by the minute. He was standing casually in the shade, like nothing was wrong. And he called out my name.


Murder and Girl Scout Cookies

9 Sep

By Emma Davis
7th Grade


I knew something was wrong. It smelled like something died in there. Maybe something had. Maybe…I walked in. Everything was normal. Except for the body lying on the floor.

He was a big man, six-food-seven, broad-shouldered. He was sprawled out on the floor, a spilled cup of coffee lying next to him.

Lily ran in. “Okay! I’m getting—” She stopped, seeing the corpse lying on the floor.

“Told you something was wrong,” I said.

Lily is my weirdo friend who always has the beautiful smell of mothballs, hair products, mascara, and wood shavings—I always thought she spent a lot of time in her garage, but actually she spends a lot of time with her pet ferret, who also smells like, well, wood shavings.

“I’ll call the cops,” she said, wide-eyed with fear. She pulled out her phone, which for some reason unknown to mankind, also smells like wood shavings.

I opened a window, casting a light on Lily. A five-foot-tall, lanky, thirteen-year-old girl with icy blonde hair, sea-blue eyes, and skin as white as milk. In Lily’s opinion, the moon is a hunk of cream cheese orbiting earth, and the zombie apocalypse is liable to happen twenty years from now. I don’t believe either of those things, but you know, that’s just Lily.

“Okay. Don’t worry,” she said into her phone. “We’re not panicking…Yes, he’s dead…We wouldn’t do that…Okay, the address? Hold on a sec. Hana, what’s the address?”

“7598 North Barrel Court.”

“Thanks. 7598 North Barrel Court…Yeah, the yellow one…Okay, thanks.” Lily pushed a button to end the call, and turned to reassure me, “He said he’ll be right over, Hana.”

Five minutes later two police cars were parked on the street. An average size man stepped out of one. “Okay, kids. Where is this so-called corpse?

“It is a real corpse, y’know,” I said. “I live across the street from him—”

“No need for explanation, young lady.”

I kept going. “—and he usually is a very social man. But he hadn’t been out of the house in three days, so Lily and I went to check it out.”

“Young lady, you—”

I cut him off, “I’m sorry, officer, sir, but we’re not tricking you.” I stood up straight and tall, hoping to make myself look less like a scrawny teenager. I looked him in the eye. “Sir, there is a dead man in that house.”

It wasn’t what I thought. My eyes were playing tricks on me.

“Okay, young lady. Where is this corpse now?” the officer asked.

“Well, I don’t know! It was there a second ago. Look, the coffee’s still there.”

“What coffee?”

There was no coffee anywhere on the floor.

“Sir, I swear, there was a dead man in this house. There was also a spilled cup of coffee. It was right here.” I pulled up the rug and saw a brown stain on the carpet underneath. “Sir, I told you.”

“You’re right. That is coffee. Then where did the body go?”

SLAM! Just the angry next-door neighbor.

“What was that?” the officer said.

“Probably just our angry next-door neighbor,” I replied.

“But it sounded like it came from in the house.”

“Whatever. I gotta go see if Lily’s okay.”

I walked around the house, the yard. No Lily. I started worrying. Lily is a bit of a door-slammer though, so it was probably her. I tried to call her. No answer. That was weird. Lily always answers her phone. I blew it off as just her weirdness. I went back inside the house.

“Sir, I forgot to tell you that this man’s wife was on a trip and is coming home today. She’ll be picked up by her niece, from what I heard.”

It had rained the night before. It always does in Seattle. There was fresh mud on the ground.

The officer walked outside, soon coming back in with a look of shock on his face. “There are two sets of footprints outside. One coming and one going,” he said. “I guess I’m gonna have to believe you. You don’t wear size seven-and-a-half men’s shoes.”

“Um…yeah, no…”


A flock of birds sang in the winter trees, voices white, sweet, and airy as whipped cream. Even though there is no winter air this winter and there never is, Seattle’s just like that. As I stepped up the front porch, a tingling in my spine appeared out of nowhere. Mr. Willoughby had been dead for two days. His body still was not found. Neither was Lily. And now the police thought I would be of help? Obviously they were on the wrong track.

I banged the old-fashioned wolf-head doorknocker. A short, balding, middle-aged man with glasses opened it. “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout Cookies?” I asked.

“Of course, young lady. How much?”

“Five dollars.”

“Okay. Here you go.”


He placed a crisp five-dollar bill in my palm. I left, hopeful that this time the fingerprints would match.


For the last week, Lily had been missing. I was scared, not knowing if I’d ever find her, not knowing where she was or what had happened. I stormed upstairs to my room, slamming the door. I slid spinelessly off the wall and onto the cold, hard, linoleum floor. I felt like I was drowning, my limbs falling off one by one, the deep, blue, rolling waves of the ocean engulfing me, wrapping me in an infinite black blanket of emptiness, of sadness, of despair, of Girl Scout Cookies.

Cold, slimy tentacles wrapped around me, dragging me down to the endless depths. I struggled as much as I could to get away, but…

“Hana! Hana! Calm down! Calm down!” I opened my eyes to see my mom standing over me.

My pajamas were clinging to me with cold, clammy, sticky sweat. When my mom left, I peeled my clothes off and got dressed in my Girl Scout uniform.

I sat down at the table to eat my breakfast, then I went to the bathroom to brush and floss.

“Really? Finally?” I asked, hopeful that our little army of Girl Scouts was finally done with our task.

“No. We’re just out of cookies,” the police chief said.

“Mmff,” I replied, slumping into an egg-shaped chair. “Look, do you know how many stupid boxes of Girl Scout cookies I’ve sold this week?”

“Four hundred.”

“Yes. And look at the soles of my tennis shoes. I stuck my shoe in his face, revealing the worn soles and gaping holes in them.

“Mmff,” I said again.

“Yeah, well, it’s an mmff to us too. Do you know how much those cookies cost?”


“Well do you?”


“Come on, do you know?”


“How much?”


“Come on.”

“It’s three dollars a box, and that—a”

“—adds up really fast, I know. How many times have you had to tell me that?”

“A lot.”

I kicked off my shoes and started rubbing my sore feet. “Mmff.” I threw myself back in the chair. “Listen. Thirty a week is too much for me. I…”

But I was never able to finish because a thin, gangly dark-haired man in a lab coat rushed in right then. “We found the fingerprints matching those on the windowsill of the Willoughby house,” he said, dropping a folder on the chief’s desk and then bustling out.

“Really? Finally?”

“No. Just out of cookies again,” he said, flipping through the papers. “Just kidding. Girl Scout soldier #230 came back with the money this morning.”

“Sir. Where were you on the night of the thirteenth?”

“Watching TV at home, I told you.”

“Tell me the truth.”

“Okay,” he said, his voice shaking like a leaf. “I was at the home of Winston Willoughby.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Hana!!!” my mother’s voice interrupted me.


“What are you doing in that bathroom?” she asked.

“Interrogating the floss.”


“Forget it,” I said

After flossing my teeth, a packed a small tote bag with a flashlight, some rope, a few snacks, my book, phone, and wallet. When everyone was asleep I tiptoed downstairs, slid open the window and snuck out.

I think it looked kind of weird to see a thirteen-year-old girl sitting in her pajamas reading To Kill a Mockingbird on the midnight train to Eugene, but who cares?

I stepped onto the platform in Eugene and instantly saw a B-cycle station. I dropped twenty bucks into the payment slot and was soon off to 1298 Michigan Lane, Eugene, Oregon. I biked for about thirty to forty-five minutes until I dropped my bike on the green grassy lawn.

As I crept up the steps, a familiar and unwelcome tingling crawled up my spine. I shivered as I rang that cold, silver doorbell. No one answered. I started to body-slam down the door, but found it unlocked. You could have practically heard me blink when a tall, lean man with dirty blonde hair stepped out of the murky shadows with the stealth of a cat. He was holding a knife. I stared for a moment. Then, having decided not to bite his ankles, I pulled out my phone and took a picture of him.

“I’d better get going now. Bye!” I said nervously and ran across the lawn, not giving another thought to the man with the knife.

I pedaled as fast as I could to the nearest Eugene Police station.

“You’re telling me that some guy committed a murder and he’s still in the house?”


“And you’re asking for a warrant for his arrest?”


“I’ll give you the warrant, ‘cause you’re probably completely wrong, and I’ll also give you a police escort.”

“Okay. But when I’m right don’t let this go public, okay?”


He drove me back to the neighborhood in a police car and parked on the street by the house. We stepped out, breaking the ominous silence that seemed to hang in the air around the house. We found the middle-aged man hiding in the closet. “I have a warrant to arrest you, sir,” I said. We took the man back to the police car, grumbling and handcuffed.

The investigation conducted by the Seattle Police was completed, and the results were that this man had committed murder because he wanted revenge on both of the victims, my neighbor and the guy in Eugene. He wouldn’t admit why.

“So, case closed,” said the police officer on the phone.

“But you still haven’t found Lily?”

The doorbell rang.

“One sec,” I said to the cop. I ran over to the door. To my surprise, on the other side was…Lily? I gaped. “Come in here!”

She walked in, rolling a suitcase behind her.

“Where were you?”

“I was trying to tell you. I had decided to take a train to San Francisco.”


“I was tired of daily life, so I grabbed a little money and went to San Francisco for a few weeks.”

“I never will understand you, Lily,” I said, walking to the phone. “I’ll call you back. I just found Lily.”





The Curse of Ruthesiam

9 Sep

By Claire Mann
5th Grade

Barbra Washington is my best friend. She comes to school every day and always (It’s a little bit weird) she smells like lavender-and-lilac hairspray. She is so perfect. Her house even smells like pine air-freshener. She even gets to have a dog. I didn’t know she had one because whenever I saw her there was no dog hair in sight. But I’m a little suspicious because every day she disappears after school. It has been this way for about a year now. And it’s time for me to figure out what’s going on.

Chapter One – Menace

As some of you may have read, my best friend is acting mysterious. She is disappearing and I am going to figure out what’s happening.

Oh, wait. You don’t even know who I am. I’m Christina Vine, but Barbra calls me Cat. I don’t like ever talking to people anymore now that my best friend is basically gone. I used to talk to people all the time. We would laugh and everyone loved me. But it’s almost like my voice went down a long, ringing well. I try to hold back my sorrow from showing. I want people to think I’m still cheery, but I can’t. I just want to drown my sorrows down that well forever.

I need to find my friend. It was like we were sisters. So, today I devised a plan to get my own friend back

Chapter Two – Barbra

I cannot stand holding back any longer. I’ve heard about Cat and I cannot bear to see her like this! But I have to. Nothing can be done. I am forced to do this! Barbara told this to herself solemnly as she took her usual route to school.

Walking along, she brushed her fingers along the tall ivy-covered tree trunks that tickled her fingers. The flowers brushed against her feet as she walked through the dead, silent, still meadows, cut off from the other world. The meadow smelled of honeydew and soft sweet grass as she walked toward the small but deadly blade of grass. As she silently touched it, all the world went to sleep.

The moon rose up over the small, frail, decaying body of Barbra Rose. Her eyes were small red pellets, the only new light brought to the world. Her hair was tousled, and many parts had been ripped out. Her clothes were all black and ripped. She was barefoot and her skin was pinched and burned.

Barbra Rose was not who she used to be. The spell had ripped through her, turning her inside out. She knew what was going on. She knew what happened. She knew who did it. All she didn’t know was that she was not alone.

Chapter 3 – Foggy

I don’t want to follow my best friend into the dark world, but then I find myself watching Barbra as she repeats the curse of ominous sleep. Watching sadly, I finally figure out where she is, and it’s not good at all. At all.

Something brushes past my face and lands on the floor. Patting my ear, I gently pick the object up. It’s a piece of paper. I smile. It must be from Barbra.

Unfolding it, I see Barbra’s handwriting. The paper reads:


Dear Friend,

I think it is time to tell you where I am. (Too late for that, Cat thought.) I have been cursed and I have to put the world to sleep and remain trapped here. I’ve tried to get out, but I can’t. I just wanted to tell you so you wouldn’t feel bad. I get food that tastes like stamps and respect like an ant that gets stepped on. It’s bad. I just thought you deserved to know. I miss you!



I feel like crying. She did that for my sake. She’s awesome. The stamp part reminds me of when she and I had a sleepover and she showed me her stamp kit and we were looking at it and ended up with stamps in our mouths. Good times, good timeI know now that Barbra is in Ruthesiam, which is a strange world. Well, it is now. Ruthesiam was inhabited 1500 years ago and was filled with creatures of all kinds: large, small, hairy, long, short. It had land, water, and things of all sorts. It was a beautiful place, once filled with beautiful waterfalls and streams and trees and honeydew grass. The land was hidden away, so there were all these wonderful things but no joy.

One day a beautiful girl came upon the land and called it her own. Her name was Malient. Then there was joy in the land. But as she grew older, kings and armies came looking for gold. She had to kill. Her blood turned cold. She destroyed her own land in fury. Now when anyone comes near she destroys them with deadly fog.

I can’t leave Barbra to that fate! I will go get her right now.

I grab the letter and stick one arm in. I feel a strong tug on my arm. Something gently pulls my body in. It feels weird. It feels humid and cold at the same time. It feels harder to breathe in there.

I pull out the note. Uh-oh, I didn’t read the P.S. It reads:


DON’T COME IN HERE TO SAVE ME! No matter what!


Double uh-oh. I try to hide, but I step on some leaves

Barbra turns around, sees me, and gasps. “What are you doing here?”

“Wow, nice to see you too!” I say.

“I’m sorry, but why did you come here?”

“To save you!”

“Did you read my letter?”

“Yes, I did. But I felt bad for you.”

“Do you realize what you’ve done?”

“What?” Angry, I lean over and slap Barbra in the face, hard.

Gasping, Barbra immediately puts a hand up to her face. Feeling the red mark, her face hardens. “Well if you want to play that game…” She raises her hand high. Her hand comes down.

Expecting this, I reach up to take hold of her arm. “Stop it,” I say.

She unclenches her hand.

“Thank you,” I say. “Barbra?”

Barbra’s eyes are open very wide and she stands stock-still with fear.

“What? What is it?” I say.

Finally coming to her senses, Barbara drops onto one knee. Turning around, she almost stops breathing.

The curser is here.

Chapter 4 – Blind

Cat falls to one knee, looking up at the woman. She had pictured the curser more like a rodeo guy with a pistol. This figure was six-foot-four and dressed in a purple shirt, black pants, and a sky blue cloak.

“Well, well, shorty,” the woman said. “ Barbra, I thought you were sensible enough to not bring someone else here.”

“But, but I—”

“Silence!” the woman said. “You have gone far enough with the curse.”

Barbra’s eyes lit up, hoping she would be free.

“So,” the woman said, “you will be taking on the savior test.”

“What does that mean?” Cat said when she had the courage to talk.

“Oh, you’ll see,” the woman said. “Oh, and if you need me, say ‘Malient.’ That’s my name. Not like I was going to help you. I already gave you some help, so no more. That is where you’ll be taking the test.” Malient pointed behind them a ways. “Over there.” Malient smiled.

“Wait, what do you mean?” Barbra turned around, but Malient was gone.

“Great. What do we do now?” Cat asked. She felt worried. Her insides were turning inside out.

“Well, let’s go and see what we have to do,” Barbra said with a sigh. She was very frightened, but she did not want to show it. “And maybe I will stop tasting shapes. Apples are so sharp here!”

Okay…um, that is not at all weird. What the heck? Cat thought, confused.

“Well, let’s go do this random test.” Barbra made it sound easy.

Walking up the hill, Barbra wondered if she was going to get out alive. They both walked up the hill to nothing but a single flower. No! it’s another curse plant! Barbra thought, shuddering slightly.

“Why is there only one flower? There should be more like it in the rest of the fields,” Cat said. Hmmm, a little suspicious, but pretty, she thought.

“Whatever you do, don’t touch it,” Barbra squealed, afraid. She knew it was a lost fight. Cat always tricked her.

“Why not?” Cat asked. It can’t be that bad, she thought.

“The first time I touched something unfamiliar in here I got cursed. Almost for life,” Barbara said. Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it! the words repeated over and over in her head.

“But it’s so pretty,” Cat said dreamily. I’ll just go ahead, she thought.

“Don’t touch it,” Barbra growled this time. She was about to lose her best friend. Yes, Cat was still her best friend, even if she had gotten them both stuck in this world.

“Too late,” said Cat in a mocking tone. “It couldn’t hurt, right?” She reached out and plucked the little flower from its root. Cat smiled. “See. Nothing happened.” Barbra was wrong, finally. Yes!

“Really? Nothing happened?” said Barbra, annoyed by Cat’s lack of attention. Ugh. Dumb Cat. Again. Barbra pointed to the other end of the strange world.

A dark sky was rapidly coming toward them. A dangerous storm started. Lightning flashed all over the darkening sky. It lit up the now black world. Shivering, they both looked up. The faint figure of Malient was hanging in the sky.

“I knew it!” they both shouted at once.

Malient shouted a strange incantation as she hung over the world. It was in the Ruthesiam language. She grinned evilly. “This is your first test,” Malient shouted. She smirked at the sight of their frightened faces. She cackled and disappeared.

The storm stopped as fast as it started, but something new came in. Ready for this, Malient thought. A dark grey fog washed over the land, clouding their vision. It was killing everything in sight.

Cat cried out. “Barbra! Barbra!” Not being used to things like these, Cat was freaked out with no sense of directi

“I’m here!” Barbra shouted through the fog. She had to stay strong for Cat.

“We are going to run through it together,” Cat yelled. “We will stay together no matter what.”

They put their arms around each other, crying. They had tried their best. Cat was shaking. I will never let go of Barbra, ever! she thought.

“Cat!” Barbra shouted. “I’m with you.” I will keep her safe, she thought guiltily.

Cat felt better with Barbra by her side. “Run!” Cat yelled. “Let’s go

They sped off, and Barbra reached out and groped for a wall, clenching it tightly. Barbra pulled Cat over to the wall.

“Let go of me! Just hold onto the wall,” Barbra shouted. After seeing Cat’s face, Barbra shouted, “Do it! Do you want to die?”

“Fine!” Cat yelled in pain. “It’s getting harder to breathe.”

“I know. Just run!” Barbra shouted.

Cat sprinted, holding the wall as well, breathing heavily. She wondered, Why would Malient do this to us? Why?!

Barbra was getting farther and farther away from Cat, but she did not care anymore. She just wanted to get out of there. Cat was now ahead of the fog.

Cat realized they were in the same place where they had gotten into the dark world. Maybe they could get out.
“Barbra, I found it!” Cat called out.

“Coming!” Cat could hear Barbra’s faint voice.

Now it was Barbra’s turn to make her break. Gathering up all the strength she had left, she conjured up a ball of purple light and shot it out of her hand. In a split second, she appeared next to Cat. Cat’s eyes went wide.

“How did you get here so fast?”

“I’ll explain later, okay? Now let’s get out of here before the fog gets any closer. We don’t have to do anything, I don’t think. Just walk through. Three, two, one, go!”

They both ran at the wall, hoping to get through. Barbra braced herself. To her surprise and joy, she ran right through.

“Yes! We did it, Cat!” Barbra exclaimed with joy. “Cat? Cat?” She turned around, and her grin faded when she saw that Cat did not get through the wall. “No! Nooo!” Barbra yelled, sobbing, and threw herself against the wall, hoping to slide through. No luck. She stared at Cat’s wide eyes on the other side of the wall. Then she could look no longer as her friend got devoured by the fog.

She cursed under her breath as the fog slowly receded. As it became clearer, Barbra could see Cat lying on the ground, not moving.

Barbra was angry with Malient. She fired out an incantation in Ruthesiam. She had never heard it before. The dome started to collapse. A large gaping hole formed. Cat’s body rolled straight out of the hole. The fiery glow around Barbra receded, but then it fired up again. A red ball of light sped out of her fingers, into the sky, and back down on Cat. Cat slowly opened her eyes in pai

Barbra tackled her in a hug. “Cat! Let’s go home.”

“Yes, please,” Cat said.

They walked along the path back to their home. They walked up to Barbra’s front door.

Then they both shouted at once. “We’re back!” They stared at each other in surprise. “Uh-oh. Hahahahaha…”


11 Sep

By Edie Tavel
7th Grade

When I came out of my mother’s womb, it came as quite the surprise to the doctors that I didn’t cry. I took my first few breaths, and still not a noise came out of those rhubarb red puckered lips searching for the comfort of my mother’s breasts.

A couple of days later the doctors sent my mom home with her little mute daughter, assuring her I was perfectly fine.

By three, I had been nearly pickled with homemade remedies and solutions. Anything Mom could do to get some sound out of me. As if an annoying child would be better than a silent one.

And every night, once Mom and Dad thought I was sleeping, they would talk. That kind of adult talk in dangerously low and serious voices that makes you think someone’s dead. The kind of talk that drifts through the house like carbon monoxide; silently, until it reaches your lungs. The kind of talk that makes you shiver because you know the subject of conversation is you.

I’ve lived a decade like this. Today I turn ten. Which means ten years of parents with worried expressions and a throat overly pickled with quack ointments.

I hear a knock at my door. My mom enters quietly but squeals as soon as she sees I’m awake,

“Happy Birthday, Twila!” She hurries over to my bed and, before she drowns me in hugs and kisses, she pauses as if expecting something to float out of my mouth.

I remain silent.

“Oh my baby!” she continues. “My ten-year-old girl!” Mom coos and plants her kisses all over me. She’s gone quite overboard for the occasion. I cannot detect her usual scent of musty old-lady vanilla perfume, but rather a lovely scent of tropical flora. Although it is pleasing to smell, she is unrecognizable in the scent.

My mom also wears a fuchsia color on her lips as if she’s prepared for more than just a birthday. As if I would ever be able to speak.

“Come down when you’re ready, dear!”

I gradually creep out of bed and follow her sleepily to the kitchen. Despite her attitude, I know deep inside that Mom thinks of me as a disappointment. My chest tightens with sorrow. I am not the child she dreams of having, a child who speaks.

The cliché birthday includes balloons, cake, parties, and people, lots of people. I suppose you could call my birthday anything but cliché.

By five, I knew that I wanted no party, no decorations, and especially no people. People mean socializing, socializing means talking, and I don’t speak.

Last week, Mom disturbed me with her usual birthday question, “Are you sure you don’t want a party this year, with friends!

I returned her question with a stare, and she backed right out of the room. She got my message, No, no party this year, no party next year. And I don’t have friends.

But Mom always ends up sneaking in some of her “birthday surprises” every year anyway.

“Come down, Twila!” Dad hollers from downstairs

“You’ve got to enjoy turning ten, sweetie!” Mom chimes.

I’ve been reading up in my room. Sometimes I like to imagine I am a character in a book, maybe someone with courage, someone who’s known their voice front to back their whole life. I like to imagine I actually have the nerve to use my voice, to express myself, and I mouth the dialogue from my books to myself.

“Someone is here to see you!” my parents say.

Groaning, I head downstairs. They just don’t understand, but I can’t blame them. Their minds just don’t run into obstacles at every thought like mine does. Though I wish they could understand, I guess the minds of simple people are quite limited.

I enter the living room, and before I can tell what they’ve got in store for me this time I am nearly suffocated by an enormous hug. I am stuffed into a large lady’s chest and held there for an uncomfortably long time. Now this could only be one person, “dear” Aunt Susie.

“So, lil’ Twila, yer ten. So have ya bucked up the courage to talk to yer Auntie Susie yet?”

I’ve forgotten how irritating her outrageously strong southern accent can be.

Aunt Susie captures me in another embrace and as we pull away she says, “Oh if only you were like us, lil’ Twila, only then could you really feel ma’ love!”

I could never imagine wanting to be like her; all chatty and annoying. And not in a million years would I ever ‘buck up the courage’ to speak.

I catch my Mom’s eyes and maybe she sees my discomfort or something, but anyway, she says, “Oh Susie, can I help you with a drink?”

“Oh course ya can, Beth. Ya know, I’d really like some lemonade. Ya don’t mind do ya?” Their chattering voices trail off as they leave my proximity.

Now I’m just left with Dad and Uncle Tim.

“What about you, Tim,” Dad says, “Is there anything I can get you?”

Eyeing me, Tim notices something in my eyes that tells him I’d like my dad to leave. “Actually, that would be great! How ‘bout a beer,” he says,

“Coming right up,” Dad replies, and he exits into the kitchen.

“So how are you Twila, having a fun birthday?” Tim asks once the room has been vacated by all except us.

I sigh, and look up at him drearily. Tim’s the only one who’s ever understood me, the only one who knows why nothing’s ever come through my dry and cracked lips.

“I know,” he says, giving me a half smile, “Family can be tiring.”

I nod, and return his smile.

“Twila, you really gotta know that all they want is a daughter they understand. Got to admit you’re pretty confusing.”

I roll my eyes.

After a pause, he asks, slowly at first, “Twila, today’s your birthday, so I want you to try, please just try to talk.”

By now it’s 2 p.m., and from my room I smile contentedly to smell cardamom drifting through the air, but I soon return to reality and remember what Tim told me to do. But he didn’t tell me to begin speaking today. I remember, he told me to try. And I find myself making my way downstairs to simply “try.”

“Well there you are, honey,” Mom says.

I inhale, preparing my vocal chords to speak, but no sound escapes my lips.

“So Twila, I still need to grab some icing for your cake, so I’ll be back in a bit. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind spending some time with Susie and Tim.” I don’t respond, but she continues jabbering on about the cake.

I try for a second time to make some sound, but again nothing happens. Mom, preparing to go out, has not even turned to face me. This time I am determined to get her attention. I inhale deeply, but instead of a voice protruding from my mouth, I let out an odd sounding gasp.

“What, what is it!” Mom turns around to face me with one shoe on and her purse over her shoulder.

I am in such shock I just stare at her, mouth gaping open.

“If there’s nothing you want to say, leave me alone, Twila, I’m busy preparing your birthday!”

My Mom’s ignorance is so irritating I want to scream, a sensation I have never, not once in my life, truly felt; the desire to simply make noise.

“Whatever, honey,” Mom continues. “As if I have ever done anything for you.”

At these words, my anger bubbles over and I clench my fists so tightly they want to burst. I feel the bones in my hands becoming stiff, and my blood vessels pumping so incredibly fast they could explode from my palms. Anger rockets through my body, and as I swivel around to head back to my room all the air is released from my lungs in one single elongated breath, one so strong I almost scream. Almost.

I hurry back to my room, gasping for air, and I throw myself onto my bed. Once the initial shock has passed, my stomach drops and I feel weights tugging on the muscles of my heart.

I tried, and failed. And Mom doesn’t even have the slightest inkling that I might find my courage. She thinks of me–everybody thinks of me– as incapable and much, much less than them.

I am no longer so sure I truly will ever be able to speak; maybe I simply just can’t and never will talk. I cover my head with my pillow and dread ever socializing with my family again.

Suddenly I am hit with a surge of some sensation unfamiliar to my bones. My face clenches, brow furrows, and every cell in my body tingles with something I believe is called revenge. With adrenaline pulsating through my arteries, I head downstairs.

Everybody is seated at the dining room table when I enter. Aunt Susie, Tim, Mom, and Dad. They’re heads all spin around in unison as I take a seat. They’re stares are uncomfortable and they look at me awkwardly, as if I am nothing but a little newborn dud baby.

However, instead of staring at my feet and waiting for their attention to return to something else, I stare back.

It is then when Aunt Susie perks up. “Well Twila, hello…?” She says this with a certain tone as if expecting me to answer. I don’t. “Well of course, you little wimp, Twila, it’s simple, ya just talk.”

Yeah, sure, I wish it were that simple.

“Come on Twila! Uh, I’m sure you can do it!” Mom says, with an uncertainty to her voice I’m sure everyone in the room can sense.

I look towards Uncle Tim, he has a glint in his eye, trying to egg me on, but I can tell even he doesn’t believe in me.

This angers me past belief. My face turns red, but I still can’t speak.

“Okay,” Aunt Susie says to my Mom, “Where on earth did you go wrong! If I had a daughter, I would have raised her with every bit of courage I have in me.”

At this my Mom interrupts, “Sue! I hope you realize that I am an amazing Mother!”

“I agree,” Dad says.

Ignoring Dad, Susie continues, “You may be an amazing mother, but you failed this time around!”

“Now Sue, a quiet daughter is–“

“You can’t possibly have a defense for yourself!”

“So Twila doesn’t speak!”

“’So she doesn’t speak.’ So she’s a dud! Beth you’ve got yourself a dud girl!”

Their argument escalates into shouts and screaming words I cannot make out and I shrink back into my chair. All I can hear is the noise, trumpeting through my head like fists against my eardrums. The noise becomes part of my circulation, pumping louder and louder within each vessel.

I cringe, and press my palms against my ears, but nothing stops the noise that keeps resonating through my body. I close my eyes as tight as possible, unable to escape. My entire life has been about making myself smaller, finding ways to escape so nobody notices, but today I want to be bigger.

I feel the noise on each side of me, above me, below me, and inside of me.

It finds it’s way into my body, capturing my muscles, freezing my bones, and making my brain tingle with electric nerves. My heart swells, and suddenly, I explode.

All the noise I have held inside of me for ten years pours out of my mouth in one word.


And all goes silent.

“Stop.” I repeat, “Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.“ I feel the words protruding from my mouth, “Stop.” I form an S, then a T, an O, and a P, “Stop.”

The words feel not uncomfortable, like I would have expected, but oddly fitting, as if I was always meant to speak. My voice sounds, if possible, confident. This brings a wide grin to my face, and I look up to the utterly shocked expressions of my family.

“Well darn,” Susie says, “she finally spoke up,”

I look to my mom. She has the proudest smile I have ever seen her wear. It suits her. I smile back.

I look To Tim’s grinning face and say, “Thank you.” The words escape my mouth with ease. “Thank you very much.” As I speak, I feel my voice ringing from deep within me. By now my grin is nearly tearing my face apart.

I have found courage. Who knows what I could use it for? Everything, possibly. I don’t need to pretend anymore. For once I feel complete. As if all it really took was a word or two to finish the puzzle. I now have parents who understand me. But most of all, more important than parents or courage or anything in the world, is that a girl named Twila has found her voice.

The Box

11 Sep

By Kinri Watson
8th Grade

One: Renee.

Just a small-town girl.

I’m not entirely sure how long I’ve been here. Or how I got here. Perhaps there were officers who stole me away from wherever I came from. Houses or streets buzzing with a Crayola box-set of colors, or schools stained with the sepia that underlies any kind of rigor. Sometimes I am angry that I have lost such color, only to have it replaced with these faint shades of blue and green.

I don’t know if this is real or not. This room is papered in maps. If you can call it a room. It feels like a cardboard box. I have not moved from where I woke up. My fingers trace the lines of unlabeled continents. It looks like there are four other people in here, but even if this box is real, why would they be? It plays Don’t Stop Believin’ every other minute. So far I count forty-seven plays. Why would it be below the people who built this thing to give me something to make me imagine others? They never talk. And anyway, it’d be stupid to talk to imaginary people, right?

Two: Renee.

Livin’ in a lonely world.

It feels like sitting in a cardboard box. If this was real, I would be cramped by now. Right? If this was real I would’ve had to pee by now, or even wanted to move, but I’m still here, cross-legged and stony. In a circle with four imaginary people. We all have the same black t-shirt and sweats on, with one of those big red-and-white name-tags on the shirts.

The imaginary girl to my right’s shirt reads “Anise,” and then the next girl’s says “Cass,” then “Flip,” and “Drew.” Why my captors would give my hallucinations names is beyond me.

I had attached their names to their faces after the thirteenth replay. If they were real, who would they be?

Three: Renee.

Took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.

I’ve read the phrase “deafening silence” before. I always thought it meant “the absence of sound.” Now I’m pretty sure it means minuscule sound. Because the silence that fills the box isn’t silence. Or at least, true silence. That doesn’t exist. This silence is filled with little breaths, the rustle of clothes when fingers play with them. But there are no voices except for that of Steve Perry. And I think it’s driving me crazy. My memories are fading, and I don’t know my name instinctively anymore. A few minutes ago I had to look at my name-tag because I couldn’t remember. But it’s Renee. My name is Renee. Renee…

“Yeah, we get it, your name’s Renee.”

My head jerks up, and one of the other girls meets my eyes. Had she read my mind? Stupid. She’s in my mind. Her shirt reads “Anise.” Her voice sounds like it echoes in her chest before it slips through her lips. Her mouth holds the beginnings of a pout. Was it she who spoke? Am I starting to hear things? My hope sizzles in the air. Maybe I didn’t imagine it. Maybe she actually talked to me. Maybe I’m not imagining her. I hold her gaze for a few moments, long enough for her to drop her head and look away. I drop my head, too. Of course not. Why would they put another real person in here if they wanted to make me crazy? Still. It’s not like ignoring her would make me any less so. So I open my mouth, and maybe words fall out. No. I shut my mouth. She’s not real.

Four: Anise

Just a city boy.

This kid isn’t for real, is she? No person her age should know the lyrics to that, that infernal song. Then again, it’s been played so many times, ugh, who knows how many times, you’d have to be deaf to not know them by now. She’s ignoring me. Which is good. That way I don’t have to talk to her.

Just like I don’t have to talk to the boy who hasn’t opened his eyes this whole time, or the girl who has been relentlessly tapping along to that song. But holy smokes, it gets really annoying when she’s just mumbling her name over and over.

So I try to talk to someone for the first time since I was six. And she looks at me. That other girl looks at me too. Not real. It doesn’t feel like I’m supposed to talk.

And yet, I get a response.

She shakes her head.

Six: Drew

Born and raised in South Detroit.

From what I can tell, I’m sitting on the Caspian Sea, and to my left is a blown-up Honolulu. Under my right index finger is a pale swatch of the Atlantic. I stare at the Himalayas in front of me. I study the maps this room is papered with, and I try to ignore the hushed words from my right. But it’s the only noise worth concentrating on, since Don’t Stop Believin’ is now on a constant loop. So I listen in. The girl across from me, I think her name is Anise, is talking to the girl next to me. Renee. Anise’s voice is drawn taut across the space between the two of them, and I pretend to stare at a map on the far wall, if only to have something to distract me from the way my chest is tightening around my stomach. She’s a little scary.

Seven: Renee

Took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.

I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to pretend that her voice doesn’t raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

“Listen, you can’t just ignore me! What kind of response is shaking your head, anyway?”

She’s not real. I’m imagining her, surely. I’m alone, I have been for days. There’s no one here.

“What is your problem? Did no one ever teach you that you speak when spoken to?”

Please, please don’t, I think. My fists clench, and I can feel my fingernails cutting into the crease of my palm. It hurts, but it’s real. At least that’s one thing I can count on. Tears seep out of the corners of my eyes, running along the creases in my face formed by my tightly furrowed brow. I bow my head. This is the highest of cruelties. To know I am alone, and to have these false people dangled in front of me.

“Hey, are you okay?” Her voice has softened. I curl myself tighter inward.

 Her hand is warm on my shoulder. I jump and stretch out, looking at her, eyes wide in my tearstained face. My heart is a stone suspended by my shock. She’s real. I put my shaking hand to the floor and feel the paper drag along my fingertips. It’s real.

Maybe my eyes are imploring. Maybe they are clouded with tears. Regardless, the girl’s face softens. “Hi,” she says. “I’m Anise.”

I manage a diluted smile. “Yes.”

Eight: Anise.

A singer in a smoky room.

Under the din of that awful song, I breathe a sigh. Okay. So this kid is looking at me like I’m impossible, so what? She’ll be fine, I’m pretty sure she’s just frazzled. So I keep my hand on her shoulder.

The boy with his eyes closed is most definitely awake. I can see it in the straight line of his shoulders. He’s paying attention.

“Hey, why don’t you open your eyes? We’ve been in here long enough, we should start getting to know each other,” I say.

He blinks. “I’m Flip.”

“Okay.” I stand up, and Renee stands with me. Then the other girl, Cass, then Flip. Drew, the last one, is clambering to his feet when the music shuts off with a click, cutting off Steve Perry’s unattractive crooning mid-word. We stand in silence, none of us hearing the light hiss that permeates the suddenly empty air.

Nine: Renee

The smell of wine and cheap perfume.

Only when the air around my ankles begins to shimmer do I notice that there is gas being pumped into the room. I wipe what’s left of my face hurriedly and grab Anise and Cass’ hands. “We need to go!” I say, unused to the sound of my normal voice. I tug them towards a wall, and the two boys follow.

“How’re we gonna get out of here?” Flip says, looking to me.

Cass immediately begins knocking on the wall, saying, “You’ll hear it when we find an entrance. There has to be one.”

Everyone else follows suit, knocking up and down on the wall. It doesn’t take long to realize the purpose of the gas it to make the air more dense. It behaves like water, making it harder to move. I don’t have time to wonder if it can really be qualified as a gas.

“We’re not gonna stick around to see if we can drown in this stuff, guys!” Anise says.

I hear a hollow sound beneath my knuckles, and it sounds kinda like glass to my vaguely ringing ears. Without thinking, I turn towards the group and lift my arm. I smash my elbow into the glass, tearing the paper on the wall. Shards fly and I duck my head, elbow still raised. There are a few cuts, but I’m fine. Everyone is looking at me in surprise, until Anise snaps into action.

Water-gas spills through the remaining shards, and she gingerly steps over them in her socked feet, barking out an almost cheerful, “C’mon, y’all, we don’t have all day!” as she surveys the small room we are in, empty, carpeted, and then pushes open the door.

We hurry down a doorless corridor, then up some stairs, and turns, and then more steps. I lose track, keeping my eyes trained on the backs of Cass’ feet, following her following Flip following Anise. 

I fall quickly into a hurried rhythm, so when Cass comes to a complete stop, I pitch over, and Flip has to grab my wrist so I don’t fall. Drew stares at the closed door in front of us. There’s no knob, just buttons by the frame. Drew mutters to himself about codes for a while. Then I hear the stomps of combat boots on tile, and I whip around.

Anise doesn’t bother. “Flip, quick! Push the red button!”

Flip is already moving forward. “Which one?”

“The red one!”

Flip turns to her. “Anise, I’m colorblind!”

“Ugh, the top one, then!”

Flip pushes the button, and we are out onto the pristine lawn, and running. Running and running until we reach a street, and then along it until the ends.

I stumble a few yards before the road ends in front of a small wooden fence. My friends turn when I fall. I distantly register the scrape of the rough asphalt on my knees. I don’t feel the light sting through my sweatpants, too busy wrapping my arms around my torso. I know it won’t help, to hunch over myself, I know it only tightens the lungs, and yet I bend over anyway. I lose moments in the haze of my heartbeat pounding in my ears to my internal mantra of can’t breathe, can’t breathe, can’t breathe.

A set of hands grasps my shoulders, and my weight pitches backward. My chest is still as my wrists are placed above my head. This is good, I think groggily. Lungs expand when the body expands. It’s safer during an asthma attack.

If anyone speaks, it is lost to the sound of my heart as my vision closes in on me.

Art and Subway Stations

11 Sep

By Thalia Medrano
7th Grade

I enjoy the quiet. I love the privacy that only a large city can offer. Not many people understand that, but I have never found more truth in anything. In a place where there are so many people no one would ever notice me, not unless they were looking.

My mother always insisted I carry a compass on a leather thong around my neck. It was supposed to be a metaphor or some form of inspiration; carry a compass and you’ll never lose your way. If she wanted to be practical and keep me from getting lost, she should’ve given me a subway map, because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten lost that way. But I’m so grateful she didn’t because I love being lost.

It was, in fact, a simple train mix-up that brought me here the first time. I was rarely ever in Manhattan, as my family lives in an apartment complex in West Bronx. It was only two years ago that they started allowing me to ride the subways on my own, and thanks to my flawed sense of direction, I ended up on the southern tip after visiting a friend on the Lower East Side. It didn’t take me long to realize I had gotten on the wrong train, and I immediately got off when I did. In my frustration, I stormed away from the platform and found myself wandering into Battery Park.

I made sure to remember that stop, and jotted down the route and directions in the back pages of my notebook so I could always find my way back there, because it was a perfect little hideaway from the world.

Even on the quiet park bench tucked away in the southern edge of the park facing the water, the low drones of buses, the screeching and groaning of rubber on asphalt and the high-pitched squeal of brakes rang through the weaving streets of the city around. It was a wonderful white noise, keeping me from wandering too far into my head. It kept me halfway grounded in this reality like a tether around my ankle preventing me from drifting into space and being lost from this world. That was, of course, the burden of an artist. Our imaginations stay so constantly active it’s not difficult to get lost in our heads.

I opened my faded green messenger bag that contained my much-loved leather-bound sketchbook and fished for a pen at the floor of the fabric. Flipping through the pages, I added a few touch-ups before turning to a blank slate.

No one in my family seemed to understand my artistic side. They didn’t think much of creativity, and were, for the most part, very business-oriented. My parents were both accountants, my older brother a renowned doctor, and my five-year-old sister wanted to be a jockey but they would surely whip that out of her before she reached first grade. Their way of life was to suppress your feelings and let them out slowly in calm, healthy ways, like cooking or weekend spin classes. Apparently, art did not fall under that category, and neither did dying your hair sea-foam green in the bathroom while your parents were away for a function. They didn’t react well to that when they came back home.

I found myself drawing the world around me, trying in vain to capture the contrast and the way the mid-afternoon sunlight filled the world, but I felt I didn’t do it justice.

A red-haired woman wrapped in a grey wool poncho and dark skinny jeans sat down next to me. I grew a little uncomfortable, as I wasn’t a people person, but I was flattered at the way she was staring at my drawing.

“That’s really good,” she commented in a rolling, melodic tone, gesturing toward my sketchbook with the back of her hand. You have some amazing talent. Mind if I see that?” she asked, holding her hand out for my notebook.

“Oh, uh, sure,” I muttered, and handed it over.

She ran her fingers over the drawing, then began flipping through the pages, discovering a portrait I had drawn earlier in the week. After gazing at it for several moments, she turned back to me. “I’m a teacher at the High School for Art and Design here in New York. Have you ever considered going to school for art?” she asked.

I shook my head. “No. My parents want me to become a lawyer. They say I’m good at arguing,” I tell her, and she chuckles.

“Why does something tell me you don’t really want that?” she said, cocking her head to the side.

I said nothing.

“Well, tell you what, you take it up with them, because you would be a wonderful artist, okay?” she said.

I smiled and nodded.

She dug something from her purse and handed it to me along with the sketchbook. “Here’s my card. And you said you were good at arguing so you better convince them. Sound good?” the woman encouraged.

I grinned. “Sounds good.”

She got up and walked away, and the second she was out of sight I bolted for the nearest subway station. Here it was, this was my chance. Here in front of me was a real shot at a career as…as an artist! This was what I wanted, more than anything, to make a living out of something this fantastic. I just had to get my family to agree.

I checked over the subway map three times before boarding a train, determined not to get lost this time. I was too excited, too ecstatic. It was a long trip back to the Bronx without getting lost or turned around, and I couldn’t wait to tell them that now I had such a great opportunity in front of me. The would be so proud.


I ran up the concrete staircase, rushing past the people that were going so slowly and skipping every other step on the way up. I sped past the scattered people on the sidewalk, trying my best not to flat-out sprint, but I really wanted to. Walking painfully slow, keeping time with all the pedestrians around me. When I did finally reach the front door of my apartment complex, I sprinted up the staircases inside.
Upon arriving at the third landing, I sped past a few neighbors carrying grocery bags, and from the corner of my eye I saw them shoot me some very dirty looks after I almost ran into them. As I approached the end of the hallway, I slowed my pace, leaning against the wall for a second to catch my breath as I dug a house-key from my pocket.

The door unlocked with the satisfying click it always did, and I skipped inside. My mother sat at the coffee table, wearing an old t-shirt and drawstring sweatpants like she usually put on after work, but was sitting very upright for such casual attire, again, like usual.

“Hey, Mom,” I said, and my grin was spreading over my face despite my best efforts to contain it.

“Hi, honey. What are you doing back so early?” she asked.

“I’ve got some good news,” I said. “I met a woman at the park today, and she said I had real potential as an artist and it turns out she’s a teacher at an art high school. She thinks I should apply to get in!” I was now completely unable to contain the excitement in my voice, but my mom stared back at me with no excitement on her face at all.

“You want to go to school to be an artist?” she asked, incredulous.

“Well, yeah.” My voice was meek now.

“So, we’re giving you wonderful opportunities and educating you to have a nice, well paying job, and you want to throw all that away for a hobby?” she asked angrily.

“Mom, I have been presented with an opportunity to do something fantastic, and clearly at this point it’s more than a hobby!” I said, beginning to raise my voice in aggravation. “I draw every day, whenever I get the chance, and I wanted to be an artist when I was younger, but you said I couldn’t and now I can—”

“You can’t make a decent living as an artist!” she yelled.

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do, okay? Just because you can spend your life behind a desk sipping coffee and filing paperwork like some kind of drone doesn’t mean I can!” I retaliated.

My mother was in shock for a second. Her mouth hung open, and it slowly shifted into a bitter sneer.

“What did you call me?” she snarled.

“A drone,” I spat back.

“Go to your room!” she shrieked.

“No,” I said, arching an eyebrow.

“Now!” she hissed through clenched teeth.


She grabbed my wrist and yanked me toward the door to my room on the left.

“Mom, let go of me!” I shouted, but she ignored everything I said. “Let go!” I cried, digging my fingernails into the skin of her forearm until she released me.

“What’s gotten into you?” she yelled, rubbing her arm.

“Me? There’s nothing wrong with me. I just want to have a shot at doing what I love, and you can’t accept it. You just think I’m crazy!”

“It is crazy!” she insisted. “And is it so bad for me to want a stable life for my child?”

“Well, what if I don’t want a life like that, huh? What if I like the ups and downs and the risk of it all. I don’t want that kind of life!” I yelled.

“Well, it’s what I want for you,” she said quietly.

“Since when do you have any say in what I do with my life?” I retorted.

“I’m your mother,” she said, looking hurt.

“Yes, you are. So why can’t you just accept me and let me try to make it on my own? Is that too much to ask?” I said, grabbing my bag off the counter and walking back to the front door, slamming it behind me as she began to say something I couldn’t hear.


I stared out at the water, slumped on my usual bench in my usual park with my usual pen and notebook in hand. But I was too preoccupied to draw. How did everything go down that quickly? I thought my parents would be proud of me, but I guess they just wanted me to be like them. Remembering something, I dug the business card from my back pocket.

Allison Summers
High School for Art and Design

She had given me a chance to be what I really wanted, but I would never see her again because I apparently wasn’t that good at arguing. I hadn’t convinced them like she told me to. I looked out over the smooth surface of the water. The sun was beginning to fall toward the horizon, streaks of purple painting what was visible of the sky between the buildings.

I had to go home soon, didn’t want to be stuck outside at night by myself, and as I made my usual journey back to the subway station, I was stopped by the sight of someone I didn’t expect to see here. My parents walking toward me.

“What are you doing here?” I asked them.

My father smiled at me, and my mother looked indifferent. “We talked it over,” he began, “and your mother didn’t think it was a good idea at first, but I think it is, and finally we came to an agreement. We’ll let you go to that school if, and only if, you work very hard and become a huge success. Can you do that?”

My eyes widened. My mouth fell open. “Are you serious?”

“Yes,” said my mother without very much emotion in her voice, but she managed a forced smile.

“Yes, yes, of course I’ll work hard. Oh my God, thank you!” I shouted, locked my father into a hug, and although I didn’t want to, I felt obligated to do the same to my mother.

I realized I was still holding Allison Summer’s business card. I dug my phone from my bag and dialed the number printed at the bottom of the paper.

It rang for a few seconds before someone picked up, and a woman’s voice on the other end said, “Hello?”

“Hi, Ms. Summers,” I said cheerily, “I’ve got some good news for you!”

Bus Ticket to Anywhere

11 Sep

By Elaina Norton
8th Grade

Mary was all alone. In school, at home, and in life. The only two friends she had ever had were herself and fire-hair Polly. She lived an ordinary life all by herself. She did have parents, but they had never paid much attention to her. Mary’s daily life was all a routine of homework, reading, biking, and school. But she was very independent. Since no one would ever teach her anything, she had to teach herself. After all, she did practically live alone in the house since her parents would come home and leave while she was asleep, even on her birthday and Christmas. And this was what Mary was fed up with, her parents not being parents, and her lack of friends.

At fifteen, she had never spend a dollar out of her own pocket because her parents were rich and would occasionally leave money for shopping sprees. All her allowance, all the money relatives had given her, and all the money she had found added up to approximately $5000. Perfect for a ticket out of Iowa. Mary didn’t want to run away, just to travel, just to get her parents scared. And while she planned this out, staring at her allowance box, she realized she didn’t want to go alone. Mary picked up her phone and dialed.

About a mile down the road, Polly sat on her windowsill reading a book. Her phone buzzed. Without checking, she let it go to voicemail. Five minutes later, she heard a screeching noise out of her window. She opened the window and leaned out to find Mary pulling up on her old fixie bike that badly needed an oiling. Polly waved her bony hand. Her fiery hair was falling around her face. Mary pointed to the door.

Polly flew down the stairs and opened the front door. Mary looked serious, yet she had a gleam in her eyes, the same gleam people get before they say the punchline to a joke.

“Is your mom home?” Mary asked, and without waiting for an answer, she nudged her way into the house.

Despite the fact that they lived close to each other, Mary and Polly had never unexpectedly showed up to each other’s houses. “Are you okay?” Polly asked.

Mary leaned her bike against the wall, then turned and said quickly, “Come with me, Polly. Somewhere, anywhere. We won’t be lonely, and there is safety in numbers.”

“Where?” Polly asked, concerned.

Mary looked insane right now, but utterly alive. “I am sneaking out,” said Mary. “I’m going to get onto a plane, train, ship, or bus, and get out of here.”

Polly was bewildered and frantic. “You’re crazy! You could get kidnapped or hurt. You could easily be arrested and just taken back here. I am not going. I loved my life, and you should love yours too.”

Mary’s eyes were no longer giddy and gleaming, instead emotionless and still. “All I want to do is start living,” she said softly.

Polly was determined to change Mary’s mind. She started toward the stairs. “Come on. Let’s go upstairs. I need help with the math homework,” she said.

Mary followed her to her room and sat down on the floor.

Polly handed Mary a math book before joining her on the floor as well. “I need help on number three,” she said.

Mary didn’t look at the math book. Instead, she held Polly’s gaze and said, “Please come with me. You’re the only friend I’ve ever had.”

Polly ignored her. “I guess I could look the problem up then,” she said, pulling out a laptop.

Mary stood up. “Okay then. Goodbye, Polly,” she said. “As long as nothing happens to me, I will come back one day.” And she simply left the room.

Polly heard her go down the stairs and realized how sad squeaky floorboards sounded, how sad Mary’s cheap bike screeching when she pulled the brakes sounded. She heard the front door open and close and watched Mary ride away from her window. Polly reassured herself that Mary would never do it because she had never done anything too extreme before. But looking back on their conversation, she realized that was the only reason Mary wanted to run away.

Mary was close to tears the whole way home. She refused to cry, even when she was pulling 30 mph down a hill. She dropped her bike on the porch and went in and stood by the front door for a while. When Polly had told her she wasn’t coming, it had disillusioned Mary greatly. They had been friends for as long as they both remembered. Mary had watched Polly’s hair grow from blonde to fiery red as she grew older. Polly was her surrogate sister, maybe even her surrogate mother. And Mary might not ever see her again. Might. That was the word that kept her plan going that night. At that time, Mary believed that as long as she was wise with her money and stayed safe, she could get home at any time. That was only partially true though. She would leave tonight, and it would be easy without her parents at home.

Six outfits were in Mary’s duffel bag. Six pairs, seven pairs. How many would she need? Mary took out three. She could reuse her clothes. It was ten at night. Her parents would be home in half an hour. She should leave soon. Mary put on pants and an oversized t-shirt. She finished off the look by stuffing her snow-white hair into a black slouching hat. Mary’s goal at that moment was to look like a boy. She would at first glance, but anyone who spent an extra moment focusing on her would realize she was a girl not a day over sixteen.

Mary then packed her journal, a pen, crackers, a blanket, and a sack filled with her allowance. She laced up her reliable combat boots and walked down the stairs, key in hand. She fumbled with the keys, but before she could find the right one, she heard a voice. “Mary?” Her mother was behind her. The one day Mary’s mother had come home from work early Mary was running away. Mary dropped the key. Her mother’s eyes rose from the key on the ground, to the boots, then to her daughter’s eyes. Mary bolted.

She pushed past her mother and flung the back door open. She ran towards the back door as fast as she could, as if getting past the gate would make everything all right. And then, when she did, she kept on running. Mary could taste the night air on her tongue. It was clean and cold. Mary was running to the nearest bus stop that went up the hill, because on top of that hill there was a Greyhound station.

En route to that bus stop, she stopped at a café and ordered the cheapest coffee on the menu so she could use the bathroom. In the bathroom stall, Mary transferred $100 to her wallet, because having a whole separate sack of cash looked suspicious. She left without even touching her coffee and kept on running. At the bus stop, she waited less than five minutes before the bus arrived. The whole way up the hill, no one got on. There were still twenty minutes until curfew, so Mary wasn’t worried about cops, yet.

Back at Mary’s house, her mother sat at the table. She held her face in her hands, remembering her parents’ absence, wondering why she hadn’t learned from them to never be like that to her own child. She laid her head against the blue dining room wall and wondered what she was going to tell her husband when he got home.

Mary got off the bus. She quietly thanked the bus driver without making eye contact and stepped off. She walked down a block to the Greyhound Station. It looked just like a train or light rail station. The next bus arrived in twenty minutes. It went from Cedar Rapids to Seattle. Mary decided she would take this trip. It was only $40 for a straight shot to Seattle. She put her hundred dollars into the machine and got her ticket and change and went to use the bathroom. She stared at her reflection in the mirror. “Why am I doing this?” she asked herself. Mary didn’t know. Maybe the courageous and ambitious girl in the mirror would.

Mary walked to the seating area. There was a homeless-looking man and a woman with two little boys there. Mary sat a couple of aisles away from everyone. She regretted not drinking the coffee at the café; she nearly fell asleep while waiting. The bus arrived and the jumping silver greyhound dog logo seemed to bark at her, snapping her out of her drowsy dizziness. The man and the woman with the children got on, but Mary hesitated. If she got on, the first opportunity to get off would be in South Dakota, a long way away. The driver looked at her impatiently. Mary got on the bus and sat a couple of seats from the front. Then Mary allowed herself to doze off.

Mary woke sometime around six in the morning. She readjusted her hat and pulled out her journal and started writing and drawing. At around seven, she looked at the digital bar that displayed the time and their next stop. It flashed “Aberdeen, South Dakota,” and this triggered Mary to panic. She was on a bus. The sounds of the engine and the starting and stopping pounded in her ears like blood. With every inch she went west, she realized she would never be able to go back. Mary badly wanted a window open because she felt like she was locked in a soup can on wheels. Condensed. Fused together. Only someone from the outside could free them. Mary stood up and accidentally dropped her bag. She tried to pick it up, but her arm wasn’t obeying her mind and she missed far right. Then she fell backwards onto her seat. It was easier to pick the bag up while sitting. Mary took a deep breath. Her panic attack was over, and she continued writing.

Not long afterwards, a police officer came onto the bus. Mary’s heart pounded loudly in her chest. The officer talked quietly to the bus driver, then scanned his eyes over the bus passengers like a hunter looking for an otter. His eyes met Mary’s, and decided Mary was not an otter, but a shape in the water worth checking out. His boot heels clicked as he walked towards her.

“Young girl,” the police officer said, “how old are you?”

“I-I’m fifteen,” Mary replied, not very confidently.

“Well, where are your parents?” he asked.

“Oh, they’re in Iowa. I’m going up to Belleview to visit my grandparents,” she said.

He paused for a moment, then decided he would believe Mary. He gave her a small nod, then apologized to the bus driver and stepped off. The bus started and Mary was relieved, more relieved than she ever had been. Her tight chest seemed to let go and expand.

The remainder of the drive was uneventful. There were some shady-looking characters, but she just moved closer to the bus driver when she was uncomfortable. Otherwise, she just wrote and slept while traveling and ate at diners at the rest stops. A day after the police officer event, at around nine at night, they arrived in Seattle. Mary stood up for the first time in hours and thanked the bus driver, then got off. She looked down the hill and saw what looked like a big city. There were buildings, city lights, fast cars, and sloping streets, and she saw the Space Needle. This was Seattle, and Mary started to walk towards it.

Halfway there, she saw a bike path, and on one side a tree sheltered a portion of it. This was where Mary decided to sleep. She climbed up a wall to reach the path. It was perfect. She pulled out her blanket and covered herself. Within five minutes, Mary had fallen into a deep sleep.

“Dear?” Someone was patting Mary’s face. “Wake up, dear.” Mary woke with a start to the glaring sun and a woman standing over her. She had copper eyes and brown ringlet hair that fell to her waist. She was slightly overweight, but in that attractive way some women can hold. She had a friendly and almost maternal glow to her, but Mary was still very frightened.

“Don’t be frightened,” the woman said. “I just want to know if you’re all right.”

Mary didn’t respond.

The woman sighed and said, “If you’re a runaway, I’m not here to get you in any trouble. I just want to help you. Do you want any food?”

At the mention of the word “food,” Mary’s stomach growled.

The woman smiled. “Come with me. My name is Mimi. What’s yours?”

“My name is Mary.”

Mimi smiled and they started to walk towards the city.

Mimi talked about her past. Turns out she had run away when she was seventeen to try her luck on Broadway. The biggest role she had ever gotten was as an understudy. She went to Nebraska after that, where she fell in love with a man named Jonathan. She had a baby at twenty, Laura Lee who was now six, and they had all moved to Seattle, where they opened an insomniac café and lived in the upstairs apartment.

Mary and Mimi walked until they arrived at The Coffee Beans Café, where Mimi turned and asked. “Do you want a job as a waiter here? We need all the help we can get around here.”

Mary was stunned. “Ummm, I guess so,” she said.

“Great, but that means you must live here with us. We all pitch in to pay rent and put food on the table,” Mimi said as she walked in.

Again, Mary was surprised, but she followed Mimi in. In the coffee shop, there was a man and a young girl. Mary knew they were Jonathan and Laura Lee. Mimi introduced her to them and explained that she would be living with them. They were fine with it. Laura Lee looked at Mary and said, “You’re pretty.” Mary smiled. It was the best, most honest compliment she had ever received.

Three Years Later

A girl walked into The Coffee Beans Café. She ordered a medium latte and put two packets of sweetener into it. Mary, now eighteen, caught her eye. She would’ve been able to recognize that fire hair anywhere. Polly smiled at her. Mary smiled back. They knew each other, now in an unspoken friendship. Polly put a travel lid over her latte and left. A couple of days later, she moved into an apartment complex a couple of blocks away from the coffee shop. And every morning, she would go back and order her same medium latte, and add two packets of sweetener.