BOY CRAZY by absences

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									  BOY CRAZY
& Other Stories




   Creative Writing
       Period 1
     Spring 2010


    Mr. Zervanos
Katie Nolen



                                             Boy Crazy
       Brett is winded. I can tell by the way he‟s running, or, actually, by the way he isn‟t
running. Brett normally possesses a gazelle‟s grace when he‟s on the basketball court—there‟s a
smooth, loping ease about his legs as they carry him up and down the court. He tilts forward on a
slight angle as he runs, but his shoulders don‟t hunch. Most of the other boys on the team look
like hulking beanpoles tripping to their positions, but not Brett. He moves with the slightness and
poise of a ballerina. I would never tell him this, ever. He‟d think it made him less macho or
whatever. It doesn‟t though. I‟m still trying to make Brett understand that beauty doesn‟ t always
have to be feminine. Because that‟s what Brett is when he plays basketball: he‟s beautiful.
       Tonight, though, he looks like he‟s in bad shape. His head keeps bobbing, which is a tell-
tale sign he‟s beat. Brett should ease up, relax a little. The rest of his teammates are. There‟s only
forty-three seconds left in the game, and we‟re up by what I think is a pretty solid seven points.
He can‟t really need to sprint like that. Then again, that‟s what I like about him. Brett always
gives one hundred and ten percent of himself to whatever he‟s doing. He‟d never realized this
until I told him. It was during our third date, right after our first real make-out session. “Why do
you like me?” Brett asked while we lounged on my couch. “I mean, what is it about me that
made you notice?” When I told him about the 110% thing, and how much I admire him for it, he
just shrugged. “When I do something, I like to do it right. Why bother with it if you‟re just gonna
dick around?” It‟s funny, because now whenever anyone compliments Brett on his drive, he
smiles and says something like, “That‟s me, Mr. 110%.” He‟s half making fun of himself when
he says it, but I think the other half of him is proud of it. And that makes me happy. Surprisingly,
Brett doesn‟t have the highest self-esteem. I like pointing out his good qualities and watching his
face light up when he realizes maybe he‟s not so lame after all.
       The opposing team manages to put up two more points, but that‟s it. Their star player
lobs a brick at the buzzer, and we win. Our bleachers go wild with happy parents, shrieking
girlfriends, and football jocks nodding their heads in approval of the game‟s outcome. I see Brett
get in line with the rest of the team and shake hands with the losers. Some of the other guys are
celebrating in a big way, pumping their fists and yelling to their buddies about getting smashed
after this. They look like major tools. But not Brett. He moves down the line of players and
quietly shakes hands with the other team. That‟s another reason I like him: he‟s classy. It‟s only
after he‟s finished that he turns to scan the crowd. When his eyes fall on me a huge smile spreads
across his face. He gives me a nod. I nod back and head out to the parking lot. Brett‟ll celebrate
with his teammates tonight and then call me late tomorrow morning. We‟ll talk on the phone for
a while and then head out of town to grab lunch and hang for the rest of the day. It‟s our system.
And, so far, it works.



       I still remember my first Brad Pitt movie—Legends of the Fall, with Anthony Hopkins
and Aidan Quinn. It came out when I was fifteen, and I desperately wanted to see it. Eventually I
managed to convince my older sister to take me. We sat towards the back of the theater, in the
left bank of seats. At some point during those two hours I realized I was gay. I‟d kinda known
for a while, but that movie closed the deal. Hell, what guy wouldn’t be gay after watching Brad
ride around on horses in that I‟m-a-rugged- manly- man-who- hasn‟t-showered- in-weeks-and- is-
still- gorgeous way of his?
       Once I knew for sure, I told my parents. I‟ve gone to several Gay and Lesbian Society
meetings over the years (my mother‟s decision, not mine), and I‟ve heard enough coming-out
stories to make your head spin. Most spared the dramatics, but there were a couple doozies. One
guy came out at his great- grandmother‟s ninetieth birthday party, and the shock of his
announcement gave the guest of honor a stroke. Another had been Bedazzling his clothing for
years and wore heels everywhere—his parents were still surprised. There was one girl who told
her mother she was a lesbian and had been severely depressed for years. Her mother‟s response:
“Well maybe if you weren‟t such a sourpuss all the time boys would want to date you. Hopefully
you‟ll have better luck with girls.” She patted her daughter on the head and walked away.
       My own announcement was unremarkable. I sat my parents down at the kitchen table the
night after I saw Legends of the Fall and told them I was gay. Neither said anything while I
spoke. When I finished, my mother told me she and my dad loved me so much and thanked me
for having the courage to tell them. My dad didn‟t say anything, he just took my hand and held it.
That was the only time I‟ve seen my father without words, and I don‟t blame him, I guess. He‟s
always preached that the Carson family doesn‟t judge, not on race or gender or sexuality or
anything. But even so, it must have been hard for him to hear. I guess it‟s worth mentioning that
I‟m not obviously gay. I do theater, but I‟m not one of those guys who wear scarves or man-
Uggs or anything like that. There are still some kids at school just discovering I‟m into guys, and
I came out nearly three years ago. You can probably attribute the discretion to the fact that I have
some pretty awesome friends. They didn‟t go blabbing to everyone or make a big deal out of it.
I‟m lucky, way luckier than some other gays I‟ve met. I‟d be lying, though, if I said I didn‟t lose
friends. And there were a few angry telephone calls; even living in the suburbs of New York,
some people don‟t want their sons or daughters exposed to behavior they deem “unchristian.” I
could tell these people about their saintly Mollys and Mary Lous sleeping with half the wrestling
team or their do-gooder Johns and Peters shooting up before school every day, but I don‟t. It‟s
not worth it. I‟m a senior, I‟m off to college next year, I have a great support system, and I‟m
comfortable with my sexuality. Like I said, I‟m lucky.


       Brett calls me the next morning around 11:30. “Hiya,” I say, balancing my phone
between my shoulder and ear as I type on my laptop.
       “Hey,” Brett mumbles in reply.
       “Rough night?” I guess.
       “Mmmm…Coach kept us for an hour after the game to go over the tape, and then Meg
and I went over to Ricky‟s with some guys.”
       Ah yes, Meg, Brett‟s girlfriend. Not something I‟m okay with, but Brett assures me it‟s
just for appearances‟ sake. Still, it‟s something we‟ll need to talk about. Eventually.
       “So what do you want to do today?” I ask. “You could come over here if you want. We
could watch the game, I know my dad would love to watch it with someone who knows
basketball. Then maybe we can do something afterwards.” Unlike Brett‟s parents, mine know
about the two of us. They‟re a little concerned about the fact that we‟re hiding our relationship,
but I‟ve assured them it‟s for the best. Brett isn‟t ready for people to know. And I can wait for
him.
       “That‟s actually why I‟m calling. I can‟t hang out today. The old man‟s dragging me to
some scouting thing for next year. I‟ve told him it‟s a waste of time, I‟m not big enough to play
in college, but he doesn‟t give a shit. Let‟s do something tomorrow, okay? Meet up at
Raymond‟s.”
       I roll my eyes. Raymond‟s is this seedy little pub on the outskirts of town where they
don‟t card you. Normally when we go Brett gets completely wasted and talks about if his old
man ever knew he were gay he‟d destroy Brett. I don‟t like when he drinks—he gets mean—but
I‟d rather have him drunk with me than drunk with some jackasses fro m his team. I want to tell
Brett I don‟t want to go to Raymond‟s, but he sounds upset, and I don‟t want to push him. Brett
cries a lot. Like, a lot, and I‟m afraid if I upset him he won‟t want to get together at all.
        “Fine,” I sigh. “Let‟s go to Raymond‟s.”
        “Sweet, I‟ll meet you there around 2. Have a good one, man.”
        I hang up and sigh again. Sometimes I can‟t tell the difference between myself and some
guy from the basketball team Brett would enjoy having a beer with. Sometimes I wonder if there
is a difference.


        Brett is already nursing a Yuengling when I push through Raymond‟s door and shoulder
my way to the bar. “Hey man!” Brett‟s face lights up as he makes out my features through the
dim lights and smoke. “How you doing?” He runs his hand along my leg as I sit.
        “Fine,” I reply.
        “Listen, yesterday wasn‟t as much of a shitshow as I thought it would be. I talked to this
one guy who was real with me—told me I probably wouldn‟t get recruited with my height, but I
might have a shot as a walk-on. I figured, what, for Division III? But he said from the tapes he‟s
seen I could maybe swing Division II! If I start bulking up now, you know, I should be okay in
the fall. I‟m stoked!”
        I listen intently while the bartender asks me what I‟ll have. “Pepsi,” I say. I‟m not
drinking; someone has to be responsible.
        “Man, Ryan, did you hear me?” Brett asks. “I‟m gonna go out for college ball! You‟ve
been trying to convince me to do this for months.”
        I‟m happy for Brett, more than happy. Ecstatic, really. But for some reason I can‟t tell
him that. Not here. Not in some grungy bar on I-90 where he‟s started drinking at 2 in the
afternoon. “I hate it here,” I say instead.
        Brett looks confused. “What?”
        “I hate it here,” I repeat. “This place is pathetic. I hate it.”
        “Ryan,” Brett says, “you okay? We‟ve been here before and all…”
        “I know, and I didn‟t like it those times either. Why can‟t we go somewhere else?
Somewhere closer to home?”
       “You know why.” Brett lowers his voice. “I wouldn‟t know what to say if someone saw
us.”
       “So what if someone sees us?” I retort. “We can‟t just be friends? We can‟t just be two
guys out getting a bite to eat?” Brett spins his beer bottle around and around. He doesn‟t say
anything. He doesn‟t look at me. The bartender brings me my Pepsi. “Fine,” I say. I‟m halfway
done my drink when Brett jumps up.
       “Let‟s get out of here,” he says abruptly. “Let‟s go.”
       “Where?” I ask.
       “My house. You can meet my old man and stuff. C‟mon, let‟s go.” Instinctively, he grabs
my hand and pulls me towards the exit. An older man sitting by the window looks us over, his
eyes squinted, as if that will make it easier for him to pass judgment. I‟m glad he looks. It‟s time
someone saw.


       Brett began talking to me last February. He walked up to my desk in AP Economics one
day and asked, “You‟re gay, right?” I‟d been expecting this question as soon as I saw he was bee
lining for me. I got this shit from the guys at school all the time: “You‟re gay, right?” Yes, I‟d
reply. “Hehe. Faggot.” God I hate that word. I was used to it though. I was also used to in-school
suspensions for beating the crap out of these guys after their hilarious comments. My mother
protested these suspensions furiously, claiming I was simply taking action after being sexually
harassed, but my vice principal would put up his hands and say, “I know, but there‟s nothing I
can do. Ryan swung first.”
       I answered Yeah to Brett‟s question, casually pushing my textbook aside to clear the way
for what I assumed would be an aggressive lunge on my part, but, to my surprise, Brett nodded
and sat down. “Yeah, I knew that, I just wanted to hear it from you.” He settled back in his chair
and looked at me. Completely nonplussed, I sat in silence. Was he expecting me to say
something? “How did you know?” was Brett‟s next question. I didn‟t respond at first; years of
bullying had taught me to be wary. Brett‟s mouth curled into a smile, and he leaned closer to me
“C‟mon,” he said, “I‟m just curious, honestly. How did you know?”
       I met his gaze. “I just did,” I replied. “It‟s something you just know.”
       Brett nodded again. “Yeah. I think I knew that too.”
        Brett‟s questions continued from there—when did I know, who was the first person I
told, did people treat me differently after the fact. I humored him, but all the while I was trying to
figure out why he was so intrigued. I guess you could say I was slow on the uptake. It wasn‟t
until May that I finally got it. I was leaving a grad party, and Brett followed me to my car. He
grabbed me, spun me around, and kissed me square on the mouth. Brett likes to joke that it‟s a
good thing I figured out his intentions then, because otherwise he doesn‟t know what he would
have done to get my attention. I think about that night a lot; it‟s the only time Brett‟s kissed me
without first looking around to make sure no one‟s watching.


        Brett‟s house is big but not ostentatious: three stories, white siding, blue shutters, and a
basketball hoop in the driveway. It is the picture of suburban normalcy. “I like your house,” I say
to Brett.
        “Thanks,” he mumbles and gets out of the car. He‟s nervous. As soon as Brett opens the
door to the house we‟re hit by the aroma of baked goods and a happy housewife: sugar, clean
cotton, and hairspray.
        “Hi hon!” Brett‟s mother calls from the kitchen.
        “Hey,” Brett responds. He leads me through a spotless living room complete with
fireplace, flat screen T.V., and brown leather couches and into the kitchen. “This is Ryan. Ryan,
my mom.”
        “Hello, Ryan, it‟s nice to meet you,” says Brett‟s mother.
        “Same here,” I reply.
        “What‟s with all the food?” Brett asks as he surveys the kitchen.
        “I‟m in charge of dessert for your brother‟s wrestling banquet tonight,” Brett‟s mom
explains.
        Brett takes in the mounds of brownies and chocolate chip cookies. “Is the banquet for
Joe‟s wrestling team or all the wrestling teams in the Tri-State area?”
        Brett‟s mother gives him a playful swat on the arm. “Haha, very funny. I suppose I did go
a little overboard,” she admits. “But boys always eat so much! And besides, I knew your father
would snag a bunch before I could wrap them all up.”
        As if on cue, Brett‟s old man enters the kitchen. “Hey Brett, didn‟t expect you home so
soon.” He pops a brownie in his mouth. “Who‟s this?” Brett‟s father‟s eyes land on me.
         “Dad, this is my friend Ryan,” Brett says.
         “Good to meet you Ryan!” Brett‟s father booms. He claps me on the shoulder with one
hand and shakes my entire arm with the other. “And how do you know my son?”
         Brett shoots me a look.
         “We go to school together,” I say firmly.
         “Of course you do!” Brett‟s father continues. “And do you play any sports, Ryan?”
         “No, sir, I act,” I explain.
         “Huh.” Brett‟s father scratches his head. “That‟s funny. Well, I‟ll be gettin‟ ready for the
banquet if anyone needs me. Nice to meet you,” he adds as an afterthought. My answer to his last
question seems to end his interest in me.
         “C‟mon,” Brett mutters to me. “Let‟s go upstairs.” Once we reach his room Brett closes
the door and sprawls on his bed. “It‟s freaky, right?” he asks.
         “What‟s freaky?” I sit next to him.
         “My folks. My mom‟s some kind of Stepford robot, and all my dad cares about is sports.
They‟re, like, caricatures of the All-American Parents.”
         “They seem nice enough, though.”
         Brett lets out a bark of laughter. “Yeah, as long as everything‟s going the way they want
it to go. Tell them their oldest son‟s gay, though, and all hell‟ll break loose.”
         “Brett,” I say, “you‟re going to have to tell them eventually.”
         Silence.
         I lay down beside him so we‟re at eye level. “Would it help if I were with you? You
know, for moral…”
         “No.” Brett cuts me off. “No, I wouldn‟t put you through that.” Neither of us says
anything for a moment. Finally Brett sighs and turns so he‟s on his side, facing me. “I have been
thinking about what you said though, at the bar.” He takes a deep breath and continues. “You‟re
right, there‟s no reason people shouldn‟t know we‟re hanging out. I like you. Even if we weren‟t
together, I‟d still like you, and I want my friends to see that. It‟s not fair to you to keep hiding
this.”
         I catch my breath. “Are you saying…”
       “No,” Brett says. “No, I‟m not. I‟m not ready for that yet. But it is time for people to
know we hang together. I‟ll have people over next Saturday night, I‟ve been thinking about
having a party anyway.”
       I gaze at him. “Thank you,” I say.
       “Don‟t thank me,” Brett starts. “Please don‟t thank me. I should be the one thanking you.
You…” Brett trails off and then looks me dead in the eye. “Aw hell, man. You‟re the best thing
I‟ve got going.”


       The day of the party I pace and pace and pace. I can‟t help it—I‟m excited. I know Brett
said he isn‟t going to tell anyone about us tonight, but maybe someone‟ll see us and know. And
that wouldn‟t be so bad, right? If people were to figure it out on their own, then that would be
that. It might even be better that way.
       I pull up to Brett‟s house around nine, and the party looks like it‟s in full swing. Cars are
lined up and down the street, and I can hear music blasting from inside the house. It‟s some rap
song; I know for a fact Brett hates rap. I take a deep breath, shut off my car, and head up the
stone walkway to the front door, passing several couples groping each other in the darkness.
       I enter the house and come face to face with High School Party: jocks chugging beer;
girls standing in circles, trying to look desirable; tons of booze and no food in sight. I make my
way into the living room—no Brett. I see several other people I know, though. Acquaintances
who stop to greet me and then move on. I get some funny looks, from Brett‟s teammates, mostly.
I don‟t belong here. My only link to this world is Brett, and he hasn‟t come to claim me yet. I
continue to mill around until I run into Brett‟s girlfriend, Meg. “Hey Ryan!” She‟s drunk. Totally
and completely gone.
  “Hey Meg, have you seen Brett?” I ask.
  “I think he‟s somewhere in the kitchen,” she slurs. “He‟s with some of the guys.”
  Great. The Guys.
  “Thanks,” I say and start for the kitchen door. I can hear Brett before I see him. He sounds like
he‟s telling a story; his drunken voice is rising and falling in pitch, and most of his statements are
being punctuated with laughter. I press my shoulder to the door and swing into the room.
Everyone stops and looks. “Hey man,” I say to Brett. “I just wanted to …”
          “Not now, dude, I‟m in the middle of a story. So then I look at the guy and I say…” Brett
trails off as he sees me settle against the counter to catch the end of his anecdote. “What are you
doing?”
          I look around in surprise. “What?”
          “Could you give us a minute, man? We‟re kinda talking about something.”
          “Why can‟t I stay and listen?” I ask. It comes out sounding much more childish than I
intend.
          Brett looks at me, shrugs, and turns back to The Guys. “So I look at this guy and I‟m like
„What the fuck‟s your problem, man?‟ and he just keeps getting hotter and hotter…” Brett stops
and turns to me. “Not hotter like, you know, the way you would think of a guy.” Snickers from
the crowd. What the hell is Brett doing?
          Brett continues, his voice louder than before: “Look man, I can‟t focus. Can you please
just fuck off or something?”
          “Brett, what the hell are you doing?” I voice my thought out loud.
          “What do you mean „What am I doing?‟ I‟m enjoying my party.”
          “No,” I pull Brett aside. “I mean why are you acting like this?”
          Brett rips his arm from my grasp. “Get off of me, man! What the fuck‟s your problem?”
          I lower my voice. “My problem is you told me you were throwing this party so your
friends could see we hang out, and instead you‟re acting like a jackass.”
          “I would never hang with a queer like you, man!” Brett‟s voice is loud, almost shrill. The
Guys, who had been pointedly ignoring our conversation, can‟t help but turn and look at us now.
          “You don‟t mean that,” I say to him. “Brett…” I reach for his shoulder.
          The next moment I feel an explosion of pain in my jaw. I stagger against the kitchen
counter and hear roars of laughter coming at me from all sides. It takes a second before my brain
registers that Brett punched me. Brett, who‟d told me that I was the best thing he had going.
Who‟d said he was having this party for us. Who I had been dating in secret for seven months to
protect him from the torment his teammates heaped on me all the time. Who was now torment ing
me along with them. And Brett hadn‟t stopped with the punch. I can hear him shouting things at
me, and, while I can‟t make out what he‟s saying, I know it‟s nothing good. I try to make
excuses for him—he‟s drunk, he‟s with his friends, he doesn‟t know what he‟s saying—but it
doesn‟t matter. I can feel the word forming in my mouth even before I realize what I‟m about to
do.
       “Faggot.”
       There‟s laughter until The Guys figure out I‟m the one who said it. They stop and look at
me. Brett speaks first. “What?”
       “You‟re a faggot,” I repeat. I turn to look at his friends. “Brett‟s a faggot.”
       Everyone‟s staring at me. There‟s silence, until I face Brett. “Go ahead. You can deny it
if you want.” All the color has drained from Brett‟s face. His breath is coming more heavily, and
it looks like a thin layer of perspiration has broken out on his forehead. I know that look.
       Brett is winded.
Frank Baratta

                                                         Fall Back

           Trent Mason has been a basketball star ever since he picked up the ball at the age of three. Wh ile other kids
sat at home watching television or play ing video games, Trent was in his driveway shooting on the portable net he
received on Christmas at age five. His mother and father had him involved with the local boys‟ club teams and as
soon as seventh grade hit he was the best player on his junior high school team. He continued to excel in basketball
all throughout middle school, and upon reaching high school, he started at shooting guard as a freshman; Trent
proceeded to set school records for point and rebound totals that year, having only barely reached puberty. As a
junior, he had sprouted to 6‟7” tall and weighed over 220 pounds. He was an athletic freak o f nature. Opposing
teams could only hope to contain him to less than forty points per contest . There was no doubt the nation‟s top
colleges would be recru iting him with offers of fu ll scholarships and more.

           Trent is not the best of students maintaining a lackluster grade point average and has several times been
close to being deemed academically ineligible. During his senior year, Trent was caught cheating on his homework
and tests numerous times, but the faculty looked the other way because of the publicity that he was bringing to their
middle-class suburban high school. Students would ask Trent for autographs in the hallway, and whenever there was
a party, Trent would be the life of it. The future looked great as Trent signed with the Louisiana State Un iversity
Tigers and received his full scholarship. He knew in only a matter of time he would be swimming in millions of
dollars.

           The comparisons started sophomore year. He could be the next Magic, Kobe, or LeBron. He could rank
above the legendary Michael Jordan. Trent made cuts on the dime and had a flawless ju mp shot. No one could stop
him in the open court, and he was dunking the ball with authority at age fourteen. Thousands of hours of practice
and an athletic gift lead him to this point in his career, and now his NBA future was inevitable.

                                                         *         *        *

           At LSU, Trent met another fello w athlete, Jacob James, a star defensive back on the football team, and the
two instantly became best friends. They both lived only about twenty minutes from each other back at home and had
never known until now. The two learned that college life and partying was somethin g they could get used to after
only one week on campus, and that as star athletes, homework and class were pretty much optional.

           “That was some game you had last night,” Jacob said as he entered Trent‟s room.

           “Yeah,” said Trent, as if a co mp liment were expected. “I d idn‟t think I played that great. I wasn‟t feeling
my ju mper, and the fans weren‟t really into though. I just hope them scouts saw my dunk on ESPN this morning.
Now that was a masterpiece.”

           “Yeah, you‟re right about that,” said Jacob, chuckling.
         Trent‟s cell phone rang; it was Nike. They had been contacting him about next year fo r a shoe deal since
the summer because everyone knew Trent was going to leave college fo r the pros after his fresh man year. He was
the type of kid who put himself before h is teammates, and fame and fo rtune above everything. It was against NCAA
rules for Nike to offer Trent any sort of money or contract, but Trent had secretly verbally agreed to a deal in
exchange for a nice “graduation” present: a Hu mmer H2. Trent knew what he was doing was wrong, but the money
was too good to pass up and figured he would never get caught.

                                                        *        *         *

         “Trent, your test is tomorrow we need to get some studying in if you want a chance at getting anywhere
close to passing. You need to keep your grades up if you want to play,” said David, Trent‟s tutor supplied by the
team. “Please pay attention for once. I feel like I‟m just wasting my t ime.”

         Trent was busy daydreaming about money: how many shoes, jerseys, and burgers he would sell per week
with all of the endorsement deals he was being offered. “Man, I don‟t need calculus,” said Trent, “I‟ll be rolling in
so much money I won‟t need any of this. Co llege is stupid I should be in the pros right now. I hate this age rule.”

         “Trent, what happens if the NBA doesn‟t work out? What are you going to have to fall back on?”

         Trent laughed and said, “You think the NBA isn‟t gonna work out? I‟m already being considered one of the
greatest to play the sport before I‟ve even gotten there. All I need is basketball. Not stuff like calculus.”

         “It‟s always a good idea to have a back up in case something happens, Trent.”

         “Man, why are you so negative? Are you trying to get in my head or something? Get out of here. I‟ve heard
enough of what you‟ve got to say. I‟ll learn myself.”

         “Fine, Trent, but you better wise up. Just because you‟re good at basketball doesn‟t mean people will like
you, especially with that attitude. I‟m just trying to help you out. Go ahead though, figure it out yourself,” David
said sarcastically, as he slammed the door to Trent‟s dorm roo m shut.

         “He doesn‟t know anything,” Trent said to himself. “I‟m Trent Mason. I am the future of basketball.”

                                                        *        *         *

         The final game of the regular season was only two days away. The team just fin ished up a light practice of
shooting free throws and an inter-squad scrimmage. Trent was on his way back to his dorm when he met up with his
friend Jacob. The two walked through campus with a swagger like the best thing to happen to LSU since “Pistol”
Pete Maravich was there. The bulletin boards were covered in ads for the game on Friday night against their rival,
the University of Florida Gators. This game would decide the conference champ ion of the regular season, which
LSU had not one in eight years. With this win, LSU would be guaranteed a spot in NCAA Tournament and a chance
to play for its first national tit le in school history. More importantly to Trent, he would receive mo re the national
attention and showcase his skills for NBA scouts. Things could not have been going be tter for Trent as his fello w
Tigers walked up to him on campus wishing him luck and telling him how much they believed in h im and the team.
Trent brushed all th is off thinking, “I guess the fans will be this annoying no matter where I go. Whatever. I guess I
can deal with it because it comes with the fame and money.”

         The Tigers killed the Gators 79-55 for the conference title, and the student section stormed the court. They
mobbed Trent, the game‟s M VP with 32 points and 11 rebounds, after time exp ired as the Gators trotted off the
court in defeat. Jacob, who was in the front of the student section, rushed up to Trent and said, “You ready to party
tonight, Trent? These kids love you! You‟re the BM OC, dude!”

         “Yeah man. Let‟s go show these kids how we do it. There ain‟t nobody that party like we do,” Trent said,
as the students continued to rush the floor, and the rest of the team cut down the net.

                                                       *        *         *

         The NCAA Tournament starts on the ides of March, and LSU looks to be unstoppable right out of the gate.
They manhandle their first two opponents, beating both by over thirty points; they face tougher teams in the reg ional
semifinals and finals, yet the Tigers still win by double dig its in both games. After four easy games, the team is
confident they could win t wo more and a national title for the first time in school history. In Trent‟s mind, he
believes that these games have all made a statement to the scouts watching; he is the best player on the best team in
all of NCAA basketball and should be compensated as such after he is undoubtedly drafted number one. Trent feels
untouchable, and he and Jacob go out to Bourbon Street every night all throughout the week as soon as the team
arrives in New Orleans, where the Final Four will be hosted. Trent shows up hung over to the team practices every
day, but no one says anything to him because he is the reason they have made it this far. Without Trent, the Tigers
would still be suffering losing season after losing season as they had before. During the last team practice the day
before the game, the coach has the players have an inter-squad scrimmage to finish up. Trent, thinking about the
several fine wo men he and Jacob met the night before, loses focus when he goes up for a rebound and comes down
awkward ly on another teammate‟s foot. Crack! Trent‟s knee gives out, and he falls to the hardwood. The coach
sprints over to Trent‟s side yelling for anyone to get the trainer. Trent is rolling in pain grabbing his knee. “What the
fuck!” Trent groans, “Why didn‟t you get out of my fucking way, Calvin! Sh it, that hurts!”

         The trainer rushes over and says, “Looks like his knee cap popped out of place. He needs to see a doctor as
soon as possible.”

         “Dammit Calv in! Th is is all your fault! I better not miss this fucking game!”

         “Trent, I‟m sorry, man. I really d idn‟t mean it. Please don‟t put the blame on me, you‟re making me feel
guilty,” said Calvin, Trent‟s back up.

         “Man, you‟ve been jealous of me since I got here and took your spot! Whatever… Just get me to the
fucking doctor now. Th is shit hurts!”
                                                       *        *         *

         “So doc, what‟s the diagnosis?” Trent asks.

         “You‟re very lucky, Trent. Your knee is only slightly sprained. Fro m what your coach told me it sounded
much worse. If there‟s no pain you should be able to play tomorro w.”

         “Wow, that‟s great news. Thanks, doc. This game really means a lot to me.”

         “Don‟t mention it. Just be careful out there. I‟m an LSU grad; how „bout bringing home Tiger Nation a
national champ ionship?”

         “I‟ll do what I can, doc,” Trent chuckled, as he walked out of the room favoring his bad knee.

         That was a lucky break , Trent thought to himself. Now I have to go out and really earn that salary this
weekend. There’s no way I’m going to mess this up.

                                                       *        *         *

         The game is scheduled to start on Saturday night at eight o‟clock against the perennial top ten school of
Duke. During pre-game warm-ups Trent surprisingly feels better than he did earlier in the week, and his adrenaline
and will to win make him play so me of h is best basketball in a while. There’s no way we’re going to lose this game,
Trent thinks to himself. Right out of the gate, LSU wins the tip off and Trent scores the opening basket with a pull
up jump shot about eighteen feet fro m the net. The crowd, mainly consisting of LSU fans due to its proximity to
New Orleans, goes nuts and can already feel a national tit le birth in the near future. The game continues to go in the
Tigers‟ favor, and the score at halftime is 45-31. The announcers discuss Trent‟s performance, in wh ich he scored 21
first-half points, and how if LSU keeps playing like this, no one will be able to stop them. In the locker roo m, the
coach tells the Tigers that they must keep playing the same way they have been: stay aggressive and keep building
that lead. The Tigers are here to make a statement agains t one of the nation‟s best teams. As the second half starts,
Trent is on a high, knowing he‟s only one half away fro m the champ ionship, and one more game away fro m a mu lti -
million dollar salary.

         With thirteen minutes left in the second half, Duke is desperate for points, putting up threes left and right.
In thirteen minutes, LSU will be play ing for their first NCAA Championship in school history. After another missed
three-pointer, Trent goes up for the rebound. As he comes down, his leg is bumped in the a ir and he lands on the
side of his foot, rolling his ankle forward and twisting his knee. As his knee twists, Trent feels and hears a pop in his
knee. His ACL has completely torn, and his MCL, PCL, and cartilage in h is knee are damaged. The trainers fro m
both teams rush the floor as Trent cru mples in a heap to the parquet court, groaning in agony. Trent is carried o ff the
court, unable to walk on his right leg. His head is spinning, and he cannot comprehend the situation…How did this
happen…I need to finish playing this game…what about the scouts… the fame… the money…
         After four major surgeries on his right knee, Trent faces at least a year of rehabilitation. The Tigers, after
Trent‟s injury, barely held together to get the win against Duke but were blown ou t by Michigan State in the
championship game. With that loss, LSU saw its only opportunity in school history immed iately collapse as their
star player did in the previous game. The doctor tells Trent that his inju ries do not look good, and it is going to b e a
long road to recovery if he ever wants to play again. Trent is still determined, but with this diagnosis, he realizes the
magnitude of what has happened.

                                                        *        *         *

         “Fill it up with 87, p lease,” said the old man who pulled into the gas station.

         “Will that be cash or credit, sir?” Trent asked.

         “Cash… Say, don‟t I know you fro m somewhere?”

         “I doubt it…”

         “No, I think I‟ve seen you on the TV before. You look like so meone I know. I just can‟t figure it out.”

         “I don‟t think so, sir. Here‟s your change.”

         “I‟m pretty sure I know you … you sorta look like that Trent Mason, you know, that basketball player.”

         “No, that ain‟t me, sir.”

         “What ever happened to that boy anyway? He was gonna be a star… Ah, what the heck, have a nice day,
son,” the old man said, and then drove out on to the deserted road.

         Trent‟s father called out, “Hey Trent!”

         “Yes Pop?”

         “Help me with this car over here. I gotta change its tires.”

         “Be right there,” called Trent. He was replay ing the game in his head as he had countless times before. So
many things could have been different… this isn’t how I should be living… why, why me? The hundreds of sleepless
nights had taken a toll on Trent; he had put on thirty more pounds, and his toned muscles had now disappeared
under his excess weight. He had patches of facial hair in random spots on his cheeks and chin, and he had given his
hair an uneven trim four days ago.

         After the game, everything went downhill. Rehabilitation had only given him the ability to walk with a
limp for the rest of his life, and, once the sponsors and scouts heard about this, they removed all offers fro m the
tabled, repossessed his gifts they had given him, and moved on to find the next b ig talent; Trent was yesterday‟s
news, except for the fact that yesterday was four years ago. Trent had not watched a game of basketball since that
fateful n ight; the envy of the players on the screen made him go crazy inside. After the tournament, he was kicked
out of school and lost his scholarship because he did not maintain the grades. Without a sc holarship, his family
could no longer afford to pay tuition. As for his best friend, he had not heard fro m Jacob in over three years; Jacob
was too busy playing in the NFL to hang out with a has -been like Trent, or, as some of the harsher reporters liked to
call him, a “never-was.” Several sports programs tried to contact him about interviews for a “Where are they now?”
special, but Trent would have no parts of it. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing that would ever
counteract the anger, the hurt, and the sorrow the injury had caused. He did not want to let anyone into his world of
pain and self-loathing. It was too unbearable to talk about.

         Trent fin ished smoking a cigarette as his dad changed the last tire. “We did good work today, Trent,” his
father said.

         “Yeah,” Trent said, staring out into the distance, as the sun set down the street.

His father continued to finish the tire as Trent let the cigarette fall fro m his mouth and put it out. He could never stop
thinking about it. Never would he be ab le to live without wondering, Why? Why me? What if things were different?
Trent knew he could not go back in time no matter how much he wanted. He would have to live out the rest of days
always wondering, always questioning the past.
Austin Barrett




                                                   The Final Detail




          There weren’t mor e than ten people ther e that day for Mr. Curry. I was the only person from school who
bothered to show up. I couldn’t believe it either, not after what happened. I’m not sure who came up with the
idea, but Kyle was the one who squeezed a few drops of the clear, liquid chemical into Mr. Curry’s water bottle.
They said it wasn’t supposed to be anything bad; just a prank that would get a few laughs and make for a good
story. And there were laughs when he drank from his water bottle. But they stopped when his throat swelled shut
and he was rolling around on the ground, gasping for air. My chest compressions didn’t help to open his airway.
We all watched his face turn blue, and then suddenly, he was gone.




          I picked out his wife and eight year old son. They stood next to the reverend, the casket in front of them.
Mrs. Curry held her son close. Their eyes were wet with tears. The man who supported them, cared for them,
loved them, was no longer there. I tried to direct my attention from Mrs. Curry, but something drew my eyes to
her, like a magnet. I shared her sadness, just as I shared many of the emotions felt by Mr. Curry. She could never
                                                          th
know the final detail. No one could. The date was May 6 , and the ground was damp from a light rain the night
before.




          His nametag read “Mr. S. Curry”. Yes, S. Curry, just like the college basketball sensation Stephen Curry
from Davidson. We all knew that his name was Simon, because it was written in big black letters everyday on the
brown paper bag that contained his lunch. He looked like he came right out of a cubicle from the movie “Office
Space.” I kept waiting for Bill Lumberg to knock on the door with his suspenders and Initech coffee mug and say,
“Yeah, umm… I’m gonna need you to come in on Saturday.” A thin mustache sat above his upper lip and a round
pair of glasses rested comfortably on his thin nose, which seemed to protrude a little too far out from his face. His
graying black hair was parted in the middle and combed back to each side. His eyes were small, but his glasses
made them appear larger. He was probably younger than his graying hair suggested; forty, maybe forty -five. His
build was very thin. It wasn’t an athletic type of thin, but the kind where it looks like the person hasn ’t lifted a
single weight in his life.

         Mr. Curry began teaching our class in late March and was only there for about a month. It was tough not
to hear all the talking that went on about him. All of it was pretty much the same. “Is this moron actually going to
teach our class for the next month? What a fucking joke.” To their defense, it was a joke. I know high school kids
can be brutal, but Mr. Curry really was that bad. I’ve gone to school long enough to know that there are basically
three kinds of teachers. The first kind is the kind that really does know their shit and are good at teaching it. The
second kind is the kind that know just enough about their subject to get by, and are good at bullshitting. The third
kind is the kind that really does know a lot about the subject they teach. They have a lot to offer, but the student
needs to ask the proper questions to get the good information. Mr. Curry fell into none of those categories. His
lack of social skills and self confidence were almost equally matched by his knowledge for basic chemistry.

         I didn’t care. Let the guy teach the r est of the year for all I care. Unlike our regular chemistry teacher, Mr.
Curry didn’t tell me not to play tetris on my calculator during those incredibly boring power point presentations.
Even if he had a problem with me playing calculator games, I doubted he would have the gumption to ask me to
put it away.

         It’s not like I’d pay attention either way. I’m going to college in the fall, along with Ryan Scott, my best
friend since first grade. I spent enough time trying to figure out when during the week Ryan and I would schedule
our tee times for, and what nights of the week we would get trashed on, and how I could make my relationship
work with my girlfriend who will still be in high school. I felt bad that Mr. Curry was in the middle of all it.

         I looked up at the clock, counting the seconds until it read 10:16. I could barely stand to sit through
another class filled with lifeless power point slides. It wasn’t that Mr. Curry didn’t notice that our class was bored
to death. The guy simply didn’t know how to get students from drooling all over their desks. I happened to look up
at that moment and catch the expression on his face. It was the kind of look a person gets when has for gotten to
do something, but finally realizes what it is at the last second. For a moment he appeared to gain a hint of
confidence. “I have a… uh… joke for you guys.” Some heads lifted off their desks slightly. He spoke slowly, his eyes
focused at a single point, as if to maximize his concentration. “What do you do with a dead chemist?” Everyone
looked around at each other, wondering what the cheesy answer would be to this dumb joke. I was happy that he
was able to display a small sense of humor in front of our class. Maybe the answer will be p retty funny, I tried to
convince myself. He gave a smile of satisfaction as he delivered the answer. “You beryllium!” There was a delayed
reaction from the class. After a few seconds there were a few small laughs, proba bly mostly because it was indeed
a lame joke. Then Judie, a quiet Korean girl who sat in the back of the class, spoke. “Um, wouldn’t barium work
better?” Embarrassed, Mr. Curry responded, “Oh, uh… barium. Yep, that’s it.” The entire class erupted in laughter.
I didn’t know what to think or feel. I laughed too. But I felt the man’s embarrassment. The ringing of the bell finally
let Mr. Curry out of his misery. I have always thought that our school’s bell sounds way too much like an EKG does
when a person’s heart stops, with its semi-high pitched hum.

         It surprised me everyday when I walked into chemistry to see Mr. Curry wearing the same generic white
shirt, plain black tie, and black pants. Maybe he completely lacked a sense of style. Or maybe that white sh irt and
pair of black slacks were all he had. I don’t know. I heard from a few buddies of mine that he got a ride to school
every day from some lady. We figured it must have been his wife. Shit like that got me thinking about his family.
He did tell us at the time that he had an eight year old son. I felt bad, you know? What if his kid wanted to play
Little League, but he just didn’t have the money to sign him up?

         The day after the “beryllium” joke, where he completely missed the punch line, I sat down at my desk,
which was right up against a shelf. Beakers, test tubes, and bottles of chemicals occupied the shelf. “Anybody
know where the hydrochloric acid is?” he asked the class. “Right over here,” I said, pointing to the yellow bottle
with the sticker of the skull and two-crossed bones. It was on the shelf, a few feet above my head. He was still
learning his way around the classroom.

         What I saw next changed everything. Mr. Curry walked over to retrieve the bottle of hydrochloric acid. As
he reached up with his left hand, his sleeve slipped down, revealing the underside of his wrist. A deep, crimson cut
was sliced across his flesh. The color told me it had to have been within the last twenty-four hours. But there were
more scars there. I must have looked s tunned. W ell, I was, but I wasn’t ready when his eyes met with mine. He
knew that I saw. My heart raced, like an innocent child who sees something they know they are not supposed to
see. Everything had become so real in that moment. I had assumed before that Mr. Curry probably wasn’t the
happiest man, but now I had proof. Maybe he didn’t even want to live. It made me feel depressed. I zoned out. The
image of the cut, that deep crimson cut, burned in my mind, like a branding. Did his wife know? Did his son k now?
Before I knew it, the bell rang, and I was on my way out the door.

         The rest of my day was a blur. I didn’t focus too well in the rest of my classes. All I could think about was
Mr. Curry and that deep cut on his wrist. It must be really bad, I thought to myself. I had no idea why I spent so
much time thinking about a weird guy whom I didn’t even know. I wanted to do something to help him out. But
what could I have done?

         By the time I got home I was exhausted. I usually go downstairs and workout after school, but my body
didn’t feel like doing anything. I walked over to the fridge and saw a note taped to it:

         “Jer emy- working the night shift tonight. Dinner’s in the fridge. Call if you need anything. Love, Mom.”
         I poured myself a glass of raspberry iced tea and plopped down on the couch. I put the Phillies game on
and watched a few innings. Watching baseball during the day always makes me tired. I shut my eyes and drifted
away.

         “Jer emy! Wake up! You’ll be late for school!” my mom yelled from the kitchen downstairs. I reached in my
pocket and flipped open my cell phone. 7:03. I took a quick rinse off in the shower and brushed my teeth. I
grabbed a chewy bar before heading out the door.

         I parked my car in the student lot and began the slow walk into sc hool. I saw Kyle come running up from
behind me. “Hey-yo Jeremy!” Shutup douchebag, I thought to myself. I really didn’t like Kyle; all of his goofing
around and bullshitting got on my nerves. Our parents were friends so I tried to be nice to him. “Check i t out,
man.” He handed me a water bottle filled with some kind of clear liquid. “Laxatives. This is going right in Curry’s
water bottle. He’ll be on the toilet for the nex t hour!” I gave him a fake laugh and he hurried past me.

          I got the idea shortly after that and began planning everything out in first and second period. For this to
work, I had to cover my tracks. No one but me could ever know the final detail.

         The bell rang a few seconds after I took my seat in chemistry. It was a lab day, which mean t people would
be out of their seats for most of the class. Kyle sat diagonally in front of me, to the left. The bottle of laxatives was
easily within reach. I was able to get it without him knowing. After Mr. Curry explained the lab we would be doing,
people were up and walking around the classroom. My heart rate climbed. I looked up at the shelf. The yellow
bottle of hydrochloric acid was still sitting there. I stood up and faced the shelf to make it look like I was just
getting a beaker or something. The cap twisted off and I squirted a generous amount of the acid into Kyle’s bottle.
This should be enough, I thought. I quickly twisted the cap back on and slid Kyle’s bottle back where I found it.

         I got with my lab group in the back of the room. Everyone began to whisper about how Kyle was going to
put laxatives in Mr. Curry’s water bottle. People glanced at each other, and then to Kyle, who waited for the
perfect time to carry out his prank. Our regular chemistry teacher was out for the day, so Mr. Curry was the only
adult in the room.

         “Can I go to the bathroom?” Kyle asked. “Um… yeah sure,” answered Mr. Curry. He couldn’t even answer
everyday questions without stumbling or saying “um.” Kyle went to the front of the room and ducked down
behind the teacher’s desk. In one quick motion, he swiped the water bottle off the desk, poured the clear liquid in,
and put the water bottle back onto the desk.

         I played along with the silent laughter in the back of the room. Everyone had seen it except Mr. Curry. My
heart was still racing inside. I just wanted it all to be over with. I’m doing this fo r him, I thought to myself. It was
true. The guy didn’t even have a paying job. He was a loser. And a cutter too. I couldn’t let him suffer anymore. I
was just doing what he wanted to do himself, but couldn’t.

          I kept my eyes on him. It wasn’t too long before he made his way back up to the front of the room. Then
he picked up his water bottle and put it to his lips. The laughter had already begun. He swallowed a big gulp, a nd
within a few seconds, the glass bottle slipped through his fingers and shattered on the floor. His hands were
clutched at his throat. White foam began oozing from his mouth. “Shit, what the fuck happened?” Kyle yelled,
terrified. “Somebody do something!” a girl yelled. We all headed to the front of the room. He was kicking on the
floor. His throat was swelled shut and no air could get to his lungs. “Somebody call 911, he can’t breathe,” I said.
His lips were turning blue. I pushed down on his chest hard, though I knew he hadn’t choked on anything. The
kicking began to die down. A minute passed by. He had stopped moving. I reached down to feel for a pulse, but
there was none. “He’s dead.” I said. “Oh God, oh God,” Kyle kept repeating. “I didn’t want… it wa s a prank… I
swear.”

          It was silent. The high-pitched hum of the bell rang out.




          The funeral was coming to an end. Mrs. Curry and her son just stood there sobbing. I wanted to talk with
her, give her my condolences. I was, after all, her husband’s killer, but I’m not a bad person. This is what he
wanted. I think this is what he wanted…

          I approached Mrs. Curry and her son. I stood there until they felt my presence, and they turned towards
me. She was devastated. Wrapped in her arms was her son, his face wet with tears. They had no idea who I was or
what I had done. It would stay that way.

          “Mrs. Curry? My name is Jeremy. I was a student in your husband’s chemistry class.” She wiped her eyes. I
didn’t picture her looking like this. She was tall, and young compared to him. We looked at each other, but there
was nothing I could say. I looked down at her son. I knelt on the wet grass, my pant leg absorbing the moisture
from the wet ground. “What’s your name?” I asked. He wiped his nose with his hand. The boy ’s small, sad eyes
looked right into mine. “Jeremy.”

          Our eyes remained locked for a bit longer. Then I stood up and headed for my car. The tears came, as I
knew they would. It was getting cool out and the sun was on its way down.
Matt Bussy

         Mi ddle School Narcissism

         When I was 8 I wo ke up early one morning; about 6:30ish. It was just one of those wacky sleeps where one
wakes up really early fo r no reason whatsoever (sometimes urination) and then tries to sleep again but can‟t. I
walked into my family roo m and sat on the couch. I grabbed the remote and turned on the TV. The first channel that
showed up was a porno; one of those cinemax “after dark” specials that‟s intended for all n ight but sometimes goes
into the morn ing. In the scene a 20s -looking blonde wo man undresses for a man. I suddenly got a funny feeling.

         All I could keep repeating in my head was MORE. I WANT MORE ASAP. Later in the day I g rabbed
some old Entertain ment Weekly‟s that were lying around in the house. I looked through th em until I could find a
picture of a wo man I ad mired. The qualifications for a wo man to be admired were for my mind to simultaneously
repeat the word S.E.X. over and over again in my head while I stared pleasurably at her. After p icking the finalists, I
grabbed a pair of scissors and began cutting the women out. I brought about 15 of the paper ladies up to my
bedroom and taped them to my wall. When the gang started shitting me, I impu lsively invited them to my house one
day. They saw my room and laughed. At that mo ment I suddenly had a realization; a realization that maybe there
was hope in my life and maybe I would have buddies after all. I thought that I had finally proven to the guys that I
was straight as ever. When they left the room, the gay remarks were spat on me again. Hell, I could have sex with a
wo man in front of them and they‟d still thin k I was gay.

         Middle School is an infectious disease but a different kind. Its symptoms aren‟t the usual severe diarrhea,
vomit ing, sneezing, goiter, and fever but instead psychological ones. The student becomes more condescending in
behavior when infected with Middle School Narcissism and co mes to believe that he is beyond coolness. The
coolness he is believed to possess is apparently quadrillion times larger than Jupiter. He is believed to know
everything and everyone. He is believed to be a magnificent sex symbo l. He is believed to have mo re dictatorial
power than Mussolini and Hitler co mbined. The sympto ms are, as one may see, very unusual. Most bizarrely is that
he is somehow possessed by the disease and obtains no knowledge whatsoever of being infected. Above all, the
mind is transformed into an unbelievably rid iculous and obstinate human being. Also, the Middle School students
hate homosexuals for no reason whatsoever, somewhat like how the Hutu tribe hated the Tutsis in the Rwanda
genocide. They believe to have the “extraordinary knowledge” of detecting who is straight and who is gay but
they‟re mistaken and refuse to believe they‟re mistaken. The disease n ormally lasts about three years, sometimes
four, sometimes forever with certain people. It might develop near the end of Elementary School, when the body
grows older, hormones start, LCD kicks in, and the mind of the child widens. High School is the only real antidote
to the psychological disease and the kid doesn‟t even realize he‟s been cured until a few years after. Very rarely are
there middle school kids that are acutely aware that they‟re infected. I am the only one in the whole damn school,
and there isn‟t a single kid who takes me to be straight.

         What I‟ve been searching for my whole middle school existence was the truth about why they think I am
the gayest boy alive. My voice isn‟t the manliest one in the world but it‟s not even close to resembling Tru man
Capote. I dress in boy clothes and hate makeup. I‟m a very tough guy but I always say that if I fall madly in love
with a wo man and see her getting beat, I would let all my might out on the perpetrator. I‟m also not real b ig on video
games and instead show much more curiosity towards nature and wild life but sometimes I like watching people play
video games. I‟ve eventually turned to relig ion and every day assumed that God had placed me in this position for a
reason: to find my destiny.

           I‟m in 8th grade at Manson Middle School and constantly have to walk into the horned entrance (“Satan‟s
Mouth”) of the building fro m Bus No. 66. I have a daily schedule. First period: Spanish with Brendan. Brendan calls
me a faggot approximately 62 t imes a period. I s tare at him and imagine the infected student getting arrested and
sent to prison for life for attempting to commit any crime or misdemeanor at all. Nobody comes to visit him at the
jail. I g iggle.

           Next period: Language Arts with Jimmy. Jimmy calls me a bitch over 854 t imes a period. I stare at him and
picture the guy totally naked in the middle of the hallway. Everyone sees him and laughs, even the teachers and the
principal. Jimmy runs away fro m the school and the police see him. They arrest him as well. After I picture this in
my head, I pray to Jesus to do this on my behalf.

           5th period: chemistry, my most painful class to sit through because I can barely control my urge. Seth, a.k.a.
“The Devil,” sits in back of me near the table of periodic elements. Seth uses every derogatory term fro m the
dictionary and calls me the names over 23,749,815 times a period. He also trips me, punches me in the arm, puts
boogers on my desk, and sometimes steals tampons from Carrie Linney‟s backpack and puts them in mine. Wh en
the time co mes, Seth empties my backpack in the class for everyone to see. Skinny bitch Carrie accuses me of
stealing and slaps me across the face. Ryan MacIntosh, who has Middle School Narcissism real bad and almost on
the same level as Seth, calls me gay because I just got hit by a girl. M rs. Huffman then sends me into the hallway to
have a chat about the importance of good behavior. My pipe dream of Seth is terrific. The little d ick is tied up to a
chair cry ing for h is life in the front of the auditoriu m. The rest of the school is watching and laughing so hard there
are teardrops literally getting shot out fro m their eyeballs like p istols. I stand in the back of The Devil with a pair of
shears in my hands. I pull them open and move them towards his head. I push them together and VOILA! A fountain
of blood is formed!

           Seth is a pretty short boy but looks tough as anything. He has pretty decent muscles and his head always
looks fully capable of head-butting. However he has quite an ugly face, yet for some reason many girls seemed to be
lined up for him. None of the girls are really attractive, which shocks me because ugly girls to Seth are like
Americans to Japanese in World War II; in fact many of the girls are fat, crack -headed whores that make fun of me
too. Seth always claims they‟re the hottest girls alive. Perhaps it‟s the ru mors that the whores believe that attracts
them to The Dev il. The kid is ru mored to have lost his virgin ity at 11 years old, started crack at 3, engaged in his
first ménage-a-tro is at 11 and a half, and apparently had the second largest male rep roductive organ in the world, the
prize winner going to infamous porn star John Holmes, witness to the Wonderland murders in Ho lly wood back in
the day. Some of the ru mors may be true, but the disease overall causes the body to unstoppably make up lies yet
nobody around the middle school student notices it except for me.

         Whenever I walk to lunch the hallway leading up to the entrance gets longer, like the hallway scene fro m
Poltergeist. I grab a lunch, usually a slice o f pizza, chocolate milk, and an apple, and then sit down with the gang.
Jesus Christ I hate doing this; this is the worst part of the day. I feel masochistic in the way that I‟m looking to be
pleasured by bitter remarks and torture, but who else is there to sit with? They‟re all just as bad as the gang of
homophobes.

         Whenever I sit down I normally interrupt a conversation between Seth and anybody else, including Will
and Gay Ray, who aren‟t in any of my other classes. The conversation normally begins like this:

         “So you really fucked her then?!” Ray usually exclaims to The Devil.

         “Yeah, of course.” Seth calmly says.

         “Wait a minute. Which one? Christina or Heather?” Brendan asks.

         “It‟s Heather. He‟s not liking the sex with Christina so he‟s doing it with Heather instead.” Will answers.

         “No the sex with her is great too. I just like Heather‟s tits more. That‟s all. I‟m still screwing Christina. The
bitch has no idea.” Seth replies.




         Now that spring has arrived I‟m getting much happier for two reasons: One, 8th grade will end forever and
hopefully the guys will be cured in h igh school and also, the bugs are arriving. I‟ve always loved bugs for their
innocence and vulnerability. They‟re the only liv ing things on the planet that I can force myself to be friends with
and they‟ll always be fine with it because they‟re too clueless to understand what‟s going on in the first place.
They‟re all I have left. On a gorgeous April 25th I walk into Satan‟s Mouth and simultaneously imag ine Seth getting
mau led by lions. Nothing real surprising occurs in the morning and eventually I enter the cafeteria. I get my lunch
and sit down. The school pizza looked repulsive so I decided to get a Caesar salad with chocolate milk instead.

         “Hey fag.” Jimmy says to me, like any other normal lunch period.

         Brendan‟s next. “Hey ho mo.”

         Will‟s after that. “Hey faggot.”

         Then Ray. “Hey fudgepacker.”

         Then Seth. Seth always screamed loudly when making fun of Arthur. “Hey bitch!” He takes my chocolate
milk and puts on an apparent gay accent. “Thank you faggot that‟s so sweet of you I like, d idn‟t have, like, enough
money to get a drink.” Then he hits me in the chest. I try and catch my breath but try not to show it because the
remarks will only get louder.

         Today‟s interrupted conversation, shockingly enough, isn‟t about Seth‟s one-night stands and threesome
actions but instead pot.

         “So where‟d you get the pot from again?” demands Gay Ray.

         “My dad. He had extra so he gave it to me caus‟ he forgot my birthday last y ear.” rep lies The Dev il.

         “It looks fucking awesome to try.” adds Jimmy.

         “Can we co me over today and smoke it?” asks Will.

         “No way dude! There‟s only enough for one. Jesus. Besides me and Jenna gotta fuck when I get home. We
haven‟t done it in a day for Christ‟s sake.” exclaims Seth. I roll my eyes and smirk as I put a crouton in my mouth.

         Seth faces me and moves close to me. He talks loudly in my face as if I‟m a pathetic old deaf person.

         “You ever done pot bitch?!” he yells in my ear it hurts. I‟m so used to this type of talk that I sarcastically
respond with “Yeah, Seth. Every day.”

         “Wicked cool!” he responds. “Ever been with a girl, faggot!?”

         Once again I respond almost emotionlessly. “Yep.”

         “You‟re so unbelievably queer, Arthur. Oh my God.” replies Gay Ray. Th is really ticks me off.

         Ray Facklenberg is the most feminine boy in all of Manson. Everything about his voice, behavior, and
body is as faggish as Nathan Lane and Clay Aiken co mbined like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He gets me
mad the most. Why me and not him? Why isn‟t the faggoty little p iece of shit Ray getting spat at every school day?!
Somet imes when I let the anger out and exp lain how Ray is obviously a trillion times more feminine than me to the
gang, they immed iately exp lain back that Ray is “obviously straight.” They tell me this as if I don‟t know what one
times one equals.

         Ray suddenly puts a slice of p ie in his mouth. He then takes it out and puts it on my lunch tray. It‟s a
disgusting sight.

         In his pathetic voice he says, “Here you go faggot. It‟s more food for your gay bitchy stomach.”

         I slam my fork in my salad. I can‟t take it any more. Ray hasn‟t done anything this annoying and gross to
me and I need to let my anger out.
         “Why do you guys think I‟m gay?” I say a little loudly I almost catch the attention of a school teacher
nearby eating mayonnaise out of a cup with a spoon.

         “Jesus Arthur when are you gonna realize that you are gay? Just go look at yourself in the fucking mirror
bitch.” replies Seth.

         My voice gets a little bit calmer. “But I‟m not though. I mean, Jesus, when are you guys gonna realize that?
How many more times do I have to convince you?”

         “Arthur you‟re a fucking pussy and you‟ve never even gotten any pussy in your whole fucking life. Just the
way you act is faggoty all the time.” says Jimmy .

         “Your have a girl voice.” adds Will. I really don‟t.

         “Your handwrit ing is girly.” adds Brendan. It‟s not at all, at least compared to Ray‟s.

         “You wear faggy flip-flops all the time and just look at what you‟re fucking eating.” adds Seth. My flip-
flops weren‟t girly and two lunch tables across I saw quarterback Nick Hu mbert eating a Caesar salad as well.
Hu mbert was dating Kirsten Carmichael, the most beautiful girl in 8th grade.

         I‟m still calm but I‟m close to screaming. “That doesn‟t prove anything guys. Just listen to yourselves.
You‟re acting rid iculous. I‟m not gay but even if I was you guys are acting extremely ho mophobic and there‟s no
need for it.”

         Suddenly Ray adds one more co mment that makes my fist tighten.

         “Arthur shut up. You‟re gay.” he says. The guys laugh.

         I lose it. “Jesus Christ shut the fuck up Ray!” Ray just smirks a bit and shakes his head as if I just did
something really embarrassing.

         I turn to the rest of the guys. “Why don‟t you think he‟s gay and only I am!? Why

guys?!” Will and Jimmy start laughing out loud.

         Seth speaks. “Faggot, Ray‟s gotten so much more pussy than you. You‟ve gotten none. You‟re so gay.”

         NO HE HASN‟T! HE‟S A FUCKING QUEER AND YOU GUYS ARE A BUNCH OF FUCKING
ASSHOLES AND I HOPE YOU DIE RIGHT NOW BECAUSE I HATE YOU. I HATE YOU. FUCK YOU!

         I‟m back to calm again but I so much want to crack Seth‟s neck right now for what he just said. I put my
hands to my forehead and speak. “Guys, please. Please just stop this. You‟re ruin ing my life at this school. Please
just stop what you‟re-”
         Before I can fin ish Ray spills his red fru it punch on the table and it co mes onto my lap. I stand up from the
seat. The guys start laughing even more.

         “Ray!” I yell.

         Brendan says loudly, “Arthur just spilled his fruit punch all over him. Therefore, he‟s gay!” He laughs
more.

         A teacher comes by. It‟s Mrs. McGharon, a b itchy old history teacher. She comes to the table.

         “What happened here?” she says.

         I know it ‟s bad to be a tattletale but I need revenge so bad on Gay Ray.

         I point to the homo and innocently turn to the teacher. “He spilled the fru it punch on the table. I was just
sitting here.” I say to the teacher.

         All the other guys immediately respond “What?! No he didn‟t! It was you!”

         Ray cuts in. “Arthur. It was you. What are you talking about?” They‟re all so convincing that Mrs.
McGharon makes me go get napkins and a mop fro m one of the janitors. As I walk back the table with the mop in
my hand and all the assholes are laughing, Seth looks at me, nods his head, and speaks.

         “Jesus Arthur. You‟re just so queer.”




         I get the bus home like any other day. I have to sit up in the front of the bus because many infected students
are in the back and are apparently “smoking.” It‟s a beautifu l day; not a cloud in the sky. There have been pretty bad
days with the guys, but today is definitely marked as the worst day in the history of my existence. I slowly walk to
the front door. I decide to turn to my right and stare at the sky. I see myself h anging out with the guys at school.
We‟re having fun. I‟m not getting rid iculed. We‟re at my house downloading pornography on my co mputer. We‟re
at Will‟s house playing Nintendo or Playstation or any other game. We‟re hanging out at a fast -food place with our
girlfriends (Ray doesn‟t have one). A tear begins to drip down my left eye and it resemb les blood that comes out of
people‟s skin when they cut it. I don‟t burst out. I only sniff a few times as I stand near the front door, realizing that
there isn‟t any hope for me. No one will ever respect me for who I am. Of course, I can‟t burst out crying because
hell, the guys might have put secret cameras in my house videotaping everything I do and if they catch me cry ing
they‟ll make v ideo copies and sell them to the infected students at Manson. Come on I say to myself. M iddle
School‟s almost over. It‟s almost over. They‟ll be n icer in high school. They should be. They should be. They must
be.
         I walk inside and drop my backpack in the kitchen. I go outside. Whenever the good weather arrives, I rush
outside and look for my friends in the grass and woods that live a block away fro m my house on Steiner Street. I
come across a colony of small b lack ants on the edge of my driveway searching for food. I rush back inside and grab
a soft Chips Ahoy! cookie in one of the cabinets. As I run back outside I slowly cru mple up the small chocolate
cookie in my right hand. When I get to the colony I drop all the cru mbs on top of them. They freak out at first but
none of them are hurt. They quickly recognize the cookie cru mbs and start to crawl all over them. They then pick up
the crumbs with their mouths and bring them down into the soil where their families and friends are. It cheers me up
a bit. Because I can‟t understand what they say I make up in my head what I th ink they‟re saying.

         After about an hour of watching the ants engulf the cru mbs I see dog shit on the yard nearby. I walk back to
the house again and grab the pooper scooper on the deck. I walk back to the poop and scoop the shovel underneath
it. Suddenly, I see that the poop is breathing. Two dung beetles crawl out of the side of the shit. Then another. Then
another. Then five more. Right away I put the dung back on the ground and leave it there.

         “Sorry!” I say to the dung beetles. I walk off.

         “It‟s ok Arthur!” imaginatively replies one of the beetles.

         I look at my watch and realize I need to start getting work done soon but I have a strong impulse to go in
the woods. When I get there, I see a huge spider‟s web on the bark of a certain tree about 70 feet fro m the street.

         I look on the earth ground for 15 minutes, searching for any type of vulnerably weak-looking insect. I
eventually find a large black ant and pick it up with my finger and thumb. I run back to the s pider‟s web. The ant
bites my thumb a bit but the pain isn‟t like anything out of the ordinary. I raise my hand and throw the ant into the
web. The spider sees it and briskly crawls to it. The ant is saying: “Help me! So mebody help me! No!” The spider
touches it with two of its legs and then all of a sudden, the ant is spun around uncontrollably as the web is wrapped
around it. I‟m best friends with the spiders.

         As I see the spider spin around the ant with its web I have a sudden revelation. It doesn‟t strike me pretty
quickly but I eventually realize what my destiny is: the woods are where I belong.

         I‟d always thought of running away fro m the hellschool but I was a little too afraid of what might happen to
me. All my life I have prayed to God about how I could become happier and now He has finally told me. My entire
life has been leading up to this very mo ment. If I live in the woods, I‟ll finally be happy because I‟ll have friends.
The insects, the deer, the trees, the leaves, the sticks, the acorns, and the wind are all I have left.

         What to bring is difficult. I can‟t necessarily hunt other animals because, well, I‟m friends with them. I‟ll
simp ly start a new diet on leaves, dirt, and other sediments. I‟ll probably die of poisoning or infection of so me s ort
fro m what I eat but it‟ll be a peacefu l death at least because I‟ll be where I love to be. I don‟t need a blanket because
I can sleep under enough piles of leaves to keep me warm. I don‟t need new clothes or anything. There‟s a waterfall
about a mile a way in the woods and I can bathe there whenever I want to. So far, there‟s only one problem
remain ing: memo ries.

         I cannot start a new life without having hellschool memo ries stuck in my mind. I need satisfaction. I need
something to help erase these painful memories that lurk around in my brain and the only thing I can think of right
now is revenge on the assholes. I need to go to school one more t ime and satisfy myself before I live in nature. I‟m
not so sure how I could get revenge on them though. Stripp ing them in school is impossible because, well, it‟ll be
impossible for me to do and everyone will think I‟m “even more gay!” The guys could possibly cry if I punched
them but I don‟t think I have strong fists. Verbal revenge will be useless, as well as tripping them wh ile they walk
down the stairs. The only option I really have left is murder.

         It‟s totally fine though. I‟m not gonna go Columb ine on Manson. I‟m hu man and understand that killing
students is bad for the environment. I‟m simp ly just getting revenge for a good reason. My actions are actually
beneficial because they will most definitely have a huge affect on the issue of bullying in schools across America
and will possibly decrease it as a result. I will help deliver a message to schools about how bullying is the worst act
in the world and it must be stopped. Even better, the cops won‟t find me because they don‟t know me and won‟t
know that I‟m hid ing deep in the woods with the insects. Everything will be fine.

         Now, how should I kill the boys? I‟m against guns and I don‟t even own them. I‟d love to use a chainsaw
but there‟s no way I can get that into school. I‟m not a chemist so I don‟t know how to create food poisoning.
Knives are always bad-ass but if a teacher sees me with them then all hell will break loose. I need a weapon that‟s
not defined as a weapon but it can be used as one. It also needs to be something that I normally b ring to the
hellschool everyday. A pen would be nice. A pen would be perfect. Or a really sharp pencil. Yes. They‟re the best
option. Lunchtime will be the best time to get my revenge because they‟ll all be together. I‟ll simp ly bring a do zen
or so pens to school, get them out at lunch, and then quickly stab each bastard. This‟ll be tricky. I‟ll need to do it
extremely fast before the teachers run to me because the dicks will be screaming at the top of their lungs in
excruciat ing pain like bitches. Everything will be fine. This will be a beneficial act of school violence.




         Today is now the big day. I enter Satan‟s Mouth. It‟s unusual however. The school‟s atmosphere doesn‟t
feel as merciless as it usually does. Whatever. I get to my locker and get out my Spanish book, Spanish notebook,
and assignment book. The pens are in the front zipper of my backpack.

         I get to first period and sit in my seat. I suddenly hear Brendan‟s audible voice co ming fro m the hallway.
He walks into the class laughing. He‟s doing that ridiculous “cool guy” walk. He‟s about to walk past me. Get ready
ladies and gentlemen. Faggot remark # 1 is about to hit the building.

         “Hey Arthur.”
         He walks past me and sits in his seat. This must be a dream. It has to be a dream. He‟s never done that. It‟s
probably nothing I think to myself. Maybe he just….no.

         He turns around in his seat. “So Arthur did you hear about what happened at that zoo in Tokyo?”

         His voice seems co mpletely different except it‟s not. It‟s a comp lete switcheroo. My eyes widen a litt le bit
in bewilderment.

         “Um,” I stutter a little bit. “No. What-what happened?”

         “They were feed ing the crocodiles or something and then one of them attacked the zookeeper who was
feeding them! It was fucking crazy, man. I know you like animals and wildlife and all so I thought you‟d be
interested. It‟s probably on YouTube already.” says Brendan.

         My exp ression doesn‟t really have utter shock written all over it but the inside of my head does. Why was
he acting so nice? Was it a trick? Were he and the guys buttering me up fo r something? Was he actually cured of
this Middle School Narcissism that‟s plaguing everybody else?




         Jimmy was the exact same in Language Arts. No derogatory terms were spat at me once during the entirety
of the period. He kept try ing to talk to me but I kept acting shy. I don‟t think he noticed. After the period I went to
the bathroom and started slapping myself in the face in one of the stalls. Nothing happened. I tried rubbing my eyes
and I was still in the bathroom and not in my bed waking up fro m a pipe dream I normally dreamed about. Perhaps I
was hit by a car when I was crossing the road to get back to my house from the woods yesterday and right now I‟m
in a co ma. Maybe this has already happened; I‟ve already gotten my revenge and lived in the woods but I died there
and right now this is heaven. Maybe. Seth will without a doubt be the same guy at lunch.

         Seth is not the same guy at lunch. I walk into the cafeteria and see Seth and Will at the table chatting and
eating. I walk towards them to drop off my backpack before getting in line. Seth eats a cheesy Nacho and puts it in
his mouth. He turns his head to me.

         “Hey Arthur.”

         Will is next. “Hey.”

         I put my head down and slowly muffle out a “hey.” Today‟s interrupted conversation wasn‟t even about
sex and drugs but instead a movie called Batman Begins.

         “You‟re right. The movie was fucking aweso me. I finally watched it last night.” says Will.

         “You should have seen it in theaters, man. The experience was better.” says Seth.
         I bump into a trashcan by accident but there aren‟t any remarks. A girl at a nearby table looks up but then
looks down instead of yelling. I wait in line for a few minutes and get a meatball sandwich. A fter paying I see at the
table that all the guys are there. The rest of the guys, excluding Ray and Jimmy, have bought meatball sandwiches.

         When I get there Ray doesn‟t s ay hello and continues acting like a girl but doesn‟t spit at me verbally.
Jimmy sees my meatball sandwich. “Damn it I shouldn‟t have brought today.”

         Ray speaks. “Why would you want one anyway? They‟re so gross here.”

         “What? They‟re amazing here. What are you talking about?” says Brendan.

         “You just don‟t give this place a chance Ray.” says Will.

         “Seriously.” adds Brendan again.

         “It‟s cafeteria food guys. Just look at it!” exclaims Ray.

         “Oh shut up. Don‟t be such a pussy!” says Seth. When he says this he is smiling and for the first time ever,
he has actually called Ray a wo rd that he has always called me for the first time ever. I take a bite out of the
sandwich and swallo w. Ray talks to me.

         “What do you think Arthur? Doesn‟t it suck?”

         If I said yes, the other guys would freak out at me and if I said no, the other guys would still freak out at me
and Ray would flip an even bigger shit than them. I‟m going to say yes and if no remarks are spat, the guys must be
cured.

         “Yeah. I-I thin k it‟s pretty good.”

         The guys laugh and jokingly point at Ray. Ray smiles at me and nods his head.

         “No. No. No. No one ever takes my side. Screw you guys.” he says.

         For the next few minutes the guys don‟t even use derogatory terms or any other offending phrases. They
talk to me and ask my opinions about certain stuff. I can‟t finish my sandwich. I‟ve lost my appetite and can‟t think
straight. My heart is thumping over-excessively. I sweat a t iny bit. I throw out my lunch. I sit back down and reach
for my backpack under the table. The guys are talking about how they think a certain new Playstation game is cooler
than ever. I unzip the front zipper of the backpack and bring out the pens. I shake a bit.

         You need to do it I say to myself. You need to. It‟s your destiny. You n eed a new ho me. You need to do it.
It has to be a huge trick that they‟re scheming. Don‟t listen to them.

         I bring the pens up onto the table.
         “Wow. Jesus Christ where‟d you get them?” asks Ray.

         I need to do it quickly. They‟ll get suspicious.

         “I….found them on the…floor of the team center. I was gonna drop them off at Lost and Found.” Their
suspicions are gone.

         I breathe a little b it loudly over and over again. The guys start talking about a new action movie co ming out
soon but they‟re deaf to me. All I hear is constant ringing. I slo wly grab the pens with both my hands and pull them
off the table even slower. There are too many of them. I grab five of them and put them back in the backpack. I can
spontaneously hear again. The first thing I hear is something Seth banteringly says to Will.

         “Jesus you‟re such a faggot. Why‟d you say that to him?”

         I can‟t hear again. A montage of horrific clips fro m my school life expands in my mind. It won‟t stop.
They‟re cured. He was just joking what he said. He was just joking. Everything‟s going to be fine. It will be. You
can be happy here. But the memories are too bad. The memories can never leave even if I do become friends with
them.

         I grab one of the pens, take off the cap, reach over the table, and stick it in the left side of Ray‟s neck.
Blood goes onto his lunch. The scream is so loud.

         I need to kill the rest as fast as I can or else someone will call the cops before I reach the woods. The boys
try and reach for me and I luckily grab another one of the pens. I take off the cap and stick it in the middle of Seth‟s
forehead. I‟m totally emot ionless the whole time. Seth falls backward and lands on the back of some kids on the
table next to us. They scream too and curse. I can‟t do the rest. There‟s no more time.

I leap fro m the table and start running as fast as I can. I bu mp into a trashcan again and this time the whole thing tips
over. A security guard, Mr. Glover, grabs me and I punch him in the balls. He lets go and I keep running. I guess I
did have strong fists.




         I never knew I could run so fast. I run out of the school and after a short while get to the woods. As I run I
start laughing. I am happy. I am happy for what happened. I am happy that I‟ll now start a new life here. When I
think I‟m far enough I stop running and collapse onto the earth ground. Leaves are everywhere. It‟s a beautiful day
but I don‟t hear or see any bugs. I don‟t even hear any birds. They just must be away for now I assume. I nod my
head and talk out loud.

         “This is great. This is great. Those fucking faggots.”

         There‟s some blood on my shirt and even a little bit on my head. It actually smells pretty good.
         “I‟M HOM E!” I yell at the top of my lungs laughing. There‟s no response. I‟m still a little bit out of breath.
I stare out into the sky. A storm arrives.




                                                      THE END
Vicki Charles

                                                       Obituary




         I never wanted to hurt anybody.

                                                        * * *

         My parents died when I was 20. I’d have to say I barely knew the pair because I only ever felt a connection
with them when we wer e mutually pissed off at one another and someone was storming out of the room.

         What I knew of Edith and David was that both were from the same hometown and went to the same high
school and the same college. They were childhood friends then teenage sweethearts, so I guess you could think
their story would turn out to be the perfect fairytale with the perfect ending. Can’t say being chard to a crisp was
on their list of things to do together.




         That week of their unexpected death I had returned home from being away for a few years . Mommy
dearest and I never truly got along after I entered high school. I fell into a crowd of the unacceptable people, the
“freaks” I guess you could call them. I started doing the typical teenage experiments with smoking, drinking, dying
my hair, wearing lots of makeup, and showing off how different I was than the average people of my suburban
residency. One night Edith found me smoking in town among my freaks and … she freaked out. I didn’t even bother
getting into the car. Walking the five miles home that night sounded like a good idea in my mind so I could just cool
down and forget all the curse words and threats that were exchanged between the two of us. Edith didn’t forget.

         That night I left the house with a pillow, a thick jacket, a gym bag full of some underwear and other
clothing, and my pack of cigarettes. I didn’t even bother leaving a note; I didn’t think Edith would care to look for
me and David would just go off to the bar as usual and forget that he even had a daughter. I just lit up and left.

                                                         ** *

         Four years after leaving, and two days before my own birthday, I decided to see how Edith and David
were doing. I guess I just felt the nostalgia of home one night and wanted to go back to see how things were. I
guess it must have been triggered by all the families I’d seen everyday as a waitress. I guess I hoped that maybe
after all these years my family could be like these happy, quaint families that laughed and joked together instead
of screaming.
         I hadn’t gone very far from home, only to th e city from suburbia, so it was easy to get back. In the taxi cab
I was reminded of my hopes of becoming a family again; there was a poster of a smiling kid with his parents, being
all happy and showing the emotions I don’t remember sharing with Edith and David ever. A bit of a kick in the
pants was that the kid was shown in a cap and gown with diploma in hand.




         When I arrived I couldn’t help but notice it was eerily the same as when I had left. Even the same cars
seemed to be parked in the same exact areas. The only thing that seemed to have changed was me. I didn’t have
the money to be so extravagantly dressed anymore. All I had for attire was the basic jean and t-shirt combo with a
sweatshirt on top to keep me warm. I still smoked though, and right then seemed like the perfect time to have a
few cancer sticks. So I lit up, calmed myself down, and headed out.




         The dumb ass cab driver took me to the wrong block so I had to pay for the extra mileage. I guess that was
a sign that I shouldn’t be heading home, but that notion didn’t even occur to me at the time. I just wanted to have
a happy family and that’s all that mattered.

         The colonial-style home with its red shutters and empty glass reminded me of hell. The weather was
pounding at my face, blowing me awa y from my home and sending stinging reminders of the hatred the small
                                                                                    th
house held inside. Dante must have visited this scene to get inspiration for the 9 circle of hell. And yet still I
pushed on; I don’t even remember why I was so determined to get into that house, to approach the two people
who surely did not want to see me ever again. It must have just been that small glimmer of hope that kept me
walking, that small voice in the Pandora’s Box of my soul saying, “Things will work out. It will all be okay . Just keep
walking.”

         The door was a thousand pounds, and of course Edith had decided to put up a metal rack behind the door
so the wind wouldn’t blow it open.

            I don’t understand why I was trying so hard to get into this house.




         No one was home, or at l east no one was answering the door. I hadn’t expected this at all since it was
nine o’clock at night. I couldn’t find where the spare key was hidden, so waiting was all that I could truly do.
Through the front windows I could peer into the house, but it wa s pitch black inside, so all I could do was use
memories to attempt to see how the house looked. What a bland site our house was when I was sixteen. Dirt-
brown couches with off-white walls; pictures of dying flowers and fruits and dead animals hung upon all walls of
the house. It was creepy living in a house of so many memento mori paintings.

         I then turned my attention to the situation I was in, locked out of my old home and stuck on a porch while
the sky fell outside. I lit up another cig and sat on the porch, waiting and imagining their surprised expressions
when they found someone on their porch. I wondered if David would call the police on me, expecting the
mysterious light in the porch window to be some robber who stupidly decided to smoke before break ing into the
house.

         He never even got to see me.




         I was surprised when I woke up the next morning on the couch. I had forgotten how comfortable that
couch truly was and how easily it made you fall asleep. I’m surprised we never found any hobos asleep on that
couch before since even I was able to get onto the porch and stay there all night.

         Sitting up, I had forgotten that there wer e two large windows right above the porch couch which looked
into the house or out onto the porch, depending upon where the looker was located. Edith caught my moving
figure from the corner of her eye and grabbed a metal poker from the fireplace. She slammed open the front door
and stood ready to attack in front of me lying on the couch. I gave a bit of a yelp and confessed who I was. I was
surprised Edith even lowered the poker since I swore she was going to kill me right then.

         She commented on the stench of cigarette smoke, so I had to confess to being the perpetrator. She just
shook her head, walked away, and closed the front door. I had no idea what I was to do. Despite my body saying to
go back to sleep, I knew this would only cause more problems. I decided venturing inside the house would be the
best idea to start fixing my daughter-parents relationship.

         The house hadn’t changed much inside either. The same paintings of death hung from the old rusty nails
on the walls. The dirt couches had only faded slightly. That’s about all that had changed.

         I asked where David was and the only reply I received was “Out.” Edith had picked up a cup of coffee from
the kitchen and was sipping from the cup a little too loudly. She picked up the newspaper and covered her face. On
the front page was a story about the destructive forest fires that were being swept across South Carolina due to
the strong gusts of wind and lightning from the storm last night. Unfortunately for South Carolina, they weren’t
expecting any rain for a long time. What a shame.

         I remember wanting a cigarette so badly when reading that cover story.
         Edith continued to ignore me as she read the comics and sipped at her coffee. I could smell the scent of
hazelnuts throughout the entire room as she continued to drink. I sat at the table a corner across from her and
twiddle my thumbs.




         I never got to truly talk to Edi th in the end. She just sat there and read the newspaper for over thirty
minutes as I felt her hatred build against me. I could feel her anger of ever having to see me again being directed
onto me, and I kept shrinking inside of myself. Eventually I got the guts to ask how she was doing and the only
answer I got in reply was, “fine.”




         I had never wanted to do anything wrong to my parents, but I guess the deal was sealed. I lacked the
courage to attempt to get Edith to talk to me, so I just left. I knew nothing was going to change between us after
her reply was only “fine,” the universal equivalent of “I don’t want to fucking talk to you right now. Get the fuck
out.”

         I took out my last cigarette befor e leaving and lit it up. I can’t even remember why but I j ust tossed it
away after one puff.

                                                           * * *

         The next day I had picked up a local newspaper to catch what was going on in my town. I picked up a
habit of reading the obituaries because of the strange obsession with death I gained in high school. I didn’t expect
to see those names today.

         “David and Edith Sessleton: Both 39 years of age, the Sessletons lived a harmonious life together with
         their daughter in their small hometown. The couple lived their whole lives together and shall be buried
                                                      th
         together as well on Wednesday, August 16 at the Stretch Funeral Parlor.”




         The pair died in an unexplainable fire.




         I didn’t attend the funeral.
Stefanie Coladonato

Short Story



                                         “Love-Hate Relationship”



          “What happened now?” Andrea heard her mother, Clare, say in a concerned voice to her sister

Tiffany on the other end.


          It was around nine o‟clock on a Saturday morning. Andrea was downstairs eating a bowl of

Cinnamon Toast Crunch as she intently watched a story on the news about a boy being arrested at one of

the local high schools for selling drugs. The concern in her mother‟s voice distracted her from the news as

she nonchalantly tuned into the conversation on the phone. A moment passed before her mom resumed

talking


          “Are you serious? What was he…” Tiffany must have cut Clare off because she stopped mid-

sentence with an expression of shock and disappointment on her face. She glanced at Andrea and Andrea

quickly looked the other way, pretending to watch TV and not be listening to her conversation.


          “When is he going to stop? What is it going to take for him to straighten up his act? Poor Mommy

is over there praying to every saint possible for him to get his act together! I feel like we‟ve tried

everything possible to make him stop. I just don‟t know what to do anymore.”


          Andrea heard her mother begin to choke up. She hated when she cried; it made her feel terrible.

But because of that, she realized what—or whom—she was talking about: Uncle Pete. She sat pretending

to watch the news for a few more minutes until her mother was off the phone.


          “What happened?”


                                                    ***
           Since Andrea was a little girl, she knew there was something odd about Uncle Pete. She couldn‟t

necessarily tell because he always seemed normal when she saw him, but behind the scenes Andrea knew

there was something going on. She didn‟t know exactly what was wrong with him, but she knew

something was up by listening to Clare‟s phone conversations. She remembered overhearing Clare on the

phone multiple times discussing Uncle Pete, but she could never quite figure out what was going on. She

assumed it was a touchy subject since her mother would start crying during the majority of these

conversations, so she restrained from asking about it until one day when she was sixteen. Andrea and her

mother were in the car one day on the way home from the mall when her mother was in the middle of

another one of her phone conversations about Uncle Pete.


           “Mom, what‟s going on with Uncle Pete?” Andrea asked without hesitating after her mother

ended the phone call. Years of suspense had caused her to blurt out the question without thinking about it

being a touchy subject. She sat anticipating her mother‟s answer. Clare sighed and thought for a moment.


           “Well Honey, your uncle,” she said in search of the right words, “isn‟t well.“


           “What do you mean? Does he have some kind of disease or something?” Andrea responded,

naively.


           “Yes, sort of. Uncle Pete‟s disease is different though; he is a drug addict.” Her mother seemed

ashamed saying that. “Ever since we were teenagers, your Uncle Pete was always the wild one. Aunt

Tiffany and I seemed to be the only ones out of our siblings who cared whenever he was up to no good.

We were mostly friends with the same people but as time went on, Pete started to hang out with this other

group that did not have the best reputation. When he started distancing himself from Tiffany and me, we

knew something was wrong. We thought it might have been drugs so we asked him about it and he just

kept denying it. He seemed so sincere when he denied our accusations that Tiffany and I concluded he

was just going through a phase of some sort. A couple weeks later, Tiffany had gone into Pete‟s room to
collect his dirty laundry and when she opened up his closet, she noticed a little bottle of prescription pills

in the corner—your Uncle Pete was never prescribed any sort of pill in his life.”


          From there, Andrea‟s mother went on to tell her how they confronted Uncle Pete and told their

mother. Pete was persistent in denying accusations by saying the pills were a friend‟s. They gave him the

benefit of the doubt, but Pete‟s bizarre habits continued and even got worse. Pete‟s drug involvement was

finally exposed when he showed up to a family function high on something. Granted, Pete was a grown

adult in his mid-twenties and could do what he wanted as he always argued, but the family couldn‟t bare

to see him messed up. Clare compared the drug-induced Uncle Pete to a train wreck multiplied a hundred

times.


          Clare said the family had done practically everything possible to get Pete to go to rehab but he

resisted and his drug addiction grew stronger. A decade and a half had gone by since Pete showed up to

the family function high and he still had not even attempted to sober up. Andrea asked her mother what

drug he was addicted to and she solemnly answered, “Anything he can get his hands on.”


                                                     ***


          Clare stared at Andrea blankly as she waited for a response.


          “Mom, what happened?”


          Andrea‟s mother snapped out of her trance and looked down. She sighed and looked back up at

Andrea.


          “Uncle Pete was arrested last night.” The tone in Clare‟s voice seemed to have no expression, as

if she didn‟t know what to make of the situation.


          “What? What the hell happened?”
        “He was arrested for being an accomplice in a robbery at a department store. I don‟t know…”

Andrea‟s mother seemed speechless. “I just don‟t know what to do anymore.”


        Andrea didn‟t know what to think. She put her spoon down and pushed away her empty cereal

bowl. She looked at her mother and asked, “Well, what‟s going to happen?”


        “I don‟t know, honey.” The emptiness in her voice overwhelmed Andrea. She anticipated tears

from Clare but they never came; she was just too sad.


        Andrea had gone back up to her room after her mother had gone into the garage to smoke a

cigarette. She only smoked when she was stressed or when something was bothering her.


                                                   ***


        In her room, Andrea collapsed on her bed. Instead of turning on the television as she would

normally do, she just sat there and thought. She thought about Uncle Pete, her mother, and tried to grasp

the enormity of the situation. Why? She kept asking herself. Why would he do that? That’s not the real

Uncle Pete. It made Andrea sick to her stomach that her Uncle Pete would do something as low as rob a

store. He was better than that. The Uncle Pete that Andrea knew took her to get ice cream when he came

to visit when she was younger. He sat and watched The Little Mermaid and The Jungle Book with her. He

played house with her and acted like the little child while she took on the role of playing the mother. What

happened to this Uncle Pete? He seemed to gradually disappear from Andrea‟s life. His visits became

less and less frequent until Andrea would go months without seeing him. The loving figure of Uncle Pete

seemed to transform into a selfish, dishonest, and downright crooked guy.


        As Andrea tossed her feelings about Uncle Pete around, she couldn‟t help but remember Kelly.

Kelly had been her best friend throughout elementary and middle school, and had died of alcohol

poisoning only a few months prior to Uncle Pete‟s arrest. Granted, Uncle Pete‟s addiction was a bit

steadier than Kelly‟s binge drinking habits, but any type or severity of addiction to drugs or alcohol sent
chills running through Andrea‟s spine after Kelly‟s death. Kelly left a permanent scar on Andrea‟s heart

as Andrea helplessly watched her friend being to hang out with the wrong crowd and become someone

who Andrea knew was not the Kelly whom she had been best friends with—similar to how Uncle Pete

had changed. She had thought things were beginning to turn around for the better when Kelly hung out

with her two weekends in a row, which was unheard of since the two started high school. But the

following weekend, Andrea received the devastating news that Kelly had died from alcohol poisoning at a

party, and since then, she objected all drug and alcohol use, contrary to that of a lot of teenagers she went

to school with. What scared Andrea the most was that drugs would take her Uncle Pete‟s life just as

alcohol took away Kelly‟s life.


        Andrea struggled to decide whether she loved or hated Uncle Pete. On one hand, she loved him.

She loved how he always made her laugh; she loved how he knew exactly what to order her when they

went for ice cream; she loved how she could talk to him about almost anything if she was upset. On the

contrary, her feelings towards him were bleak. She hated how he rarely came to visit, and when he did, he

was usually high, which she hated even more. She hated how he always made promises to her, only to

break them. She hated how he lied to her by saying everything was going to be okay. She hated how he

caused his sister Clare to cry when she had been the one to stand by his side. She hated how he knew how

badly Amy‟s death had affected her and still continued to march toward his own death with his drug use.

In general, she absolutely despised the drug-induced, low-life, department-store-robbing person that was

Uncle Pete. Drugs had taken away the Uncle Pete that Andrea loved and she didn‟t know if he‟d ever

come back.


                                                    ***


        It was a soggy Saturday morning in April when Andrea‟s mother woke her up so she could get

ready. It had been a few months since Uncle Pete‟s arrest and the day of his trial had come. Her family

and she were going to support him, although the outcome of the case seemed grim. In the car on the way
to the courthouse, the ride was nearly silent as the only noise audible was the sound of the engine

churning. Andrea‟s father broke the silence, “You know, I really don‟t think it‟s fair that we‟re going to

support someone who has caused so much pain in the family.”


        “He‟s my brother, Jim. I know he‟s only your in-law but what would you do if it was your older

sister Jane?” Almost offended, Andrea‟s mother remained firm in her position of supporting her brother.


        “Well, I can‟t say for sure since Jane is not a selfish drug-addict. All I know is that Pete has

caused you, your mother, and your brothers and sisters so much sorrow and distress over this whole

situation that if I was in your position, hell, I‟d tell the judge to lock him up!”


        “You know what, Jim, if you don‟t want to support my brother, then you can just drop Andrea

and I off at the courthouse and I‟ll call you to come pick us up after. God, Jim. Why do you have to act

like this? I don‟t think my „selfish drug-addict‟ brother is the only selfish one I‟m dealing with…”


        Andrea‟s parents continued to exchange words until Andrea‟s father let out a conversation-ending

line reminding Andrea‟s mother that they rarely ever fought until she became infatuated with Pete and his

problem. She hated hearing her father talk like this. Uncle Pete and him had been close before his

addiction spiraled out of control. As Uncle Pete‟s drug addiction began to unfold, Jim did what he could

to keep Pete sober. When they went out to the bars on occasion he‟d babysit him to make sure he didn‟t

do anything stupid, but Uncle Pete almost always managed to get out of Jim‟s view and sneak off to get in

his fix of drugs. It seemed as though Jim suddenly became frustrated with trying to help Pete because it

was almost as though he kicked Pete out of his life and wanted nothing to do with him anymore. Jim

stopped going with Pete to the bars, stopped answering his phone calls, and when Pete shows up to the

house or to family functions (although it became rare that he did), Jim would leave and not come back

until he was sure Pete was gone. Subconsciously, Jim‟s behavior towards Pete scared her. She wondered

if her father was capable of abandoning her mother just as he had Uncle Pete because Uncle Pete had put

a substantial strain on her parent‟s relationship.
        That was another reason for Andrea to take into consideration as she continued to decide whether

or not she hated Uncle Pete. Andrea‟s parents went from rarely arguing or disagreeing w ith one another,

to quarrelling almost everyday. Clare argued about the need to support Pete while Jim argued that they‟d

tried everything they could and the only thing left to get Uncle Pete sober, was himself. Andrea couldn‟t

decide which parent she agreed with more. She missed the old Uncle Pete and wanted to support him in

hopes of getting better but on the contrary, her family had tried everything to get him sober like her dad

suggested.


        One thing for sure was that it hurt Andrea to watch Uncle Pete struggle with a sever drug

addiction—especially after Kelly‟s death. Losing a loved one to the world of drugs and alcohol was

painful enough; losing two would be unbearable.


                                                          ***


        Andrea felt sick to her stomach. Andrea felt trapped. She was stuck between her parents on either

side of her listening intently to the Judge, Uncle Pete standing feet in front of her with his head bowed,

and two police officers feet behind her waiting to see if they‟d be needed or not.


        “According to witness testimonies and Pete McCann‟s past history, I‟m ruling Mr. McCann

guilty and sentencing him to two years of jail-time and 500 hours of community service. Case closed.”

The judge slammed his gavel down and the noise seemed make the courtroom shake.


        Andrea‟s stomach continued to turn. Although she was expecting the given verdict, the situation

still didn‟t seem real. Things seemed to move in slow motion as her parents and her sat enduring the sight

of the policemen walking to the front of the courtroom and handcuffing Uncle Pete. As the policemen

walked Uncle Pete out of the room, he looked over his shoulder in the direction of Andrea, Clare, and

Tom. He made eye contact with Andrea with a look of sorrow on his face that she would never forget.


                                                    ***
        Andrea rested her head against the cold glass of the back window. The car ride home was even

worse then the car ride on the way to the courthouse. Andrea didn‟t know what to think. She could hear

her mother sobbing in the passengers seat and watched her father take one hand off the steering wheel and

rest it on Clare‟s thigh, something she didn‟t expect. The warming sight made her want to smile but she

thought it‟d be inappropriate after the events that had just taken place, so she held it back.


        Andrea turned her head and gazed out the window. She watched the trees and homes pass by as

water droplets traveled across the outside of the window. The rain had slowed down and she looked up at

the sky. A little ray of sun poked through the ominous looking clouds. Andrea wondered whether it was

done raining or not. She turned her attention back to the homes and trees and she thought about Uncle

Pete‟s face as he left the courtroom in handcuffs.


        Andrea decided she didn‟t love nor hate Uncle Pete—she loved and hated him. She hated him for

his addiction landing him jail time and for continuing to make her mother cry, but the look she saw on

Uncle Pete‟s face at the end of his trial made her realized how much she loved him at the same time. The

look in his eyes gave her a glimpse at the remnants of the kind-hearted, loving, and sober Uncle Pete and

gave her hope that he still existed; but only time would tell if he would come back to life.
Alex Colkitt



                                               All In My Head




        You’re a liar. You’re a cheater. I can’t trust you. I can’t believe you. You’re a conniving heartless

selfish bitch… yeah right. I’m just the selfish bitch that saved your goddamn life, Ray.


        I whip back the shower curtain and force the knob all the way to hot. The valve releases and the

water shoots, colder than ocean water in the dead of winter, from the showerhead. I tug my shirt over

my head as my hair pulls through after my face. I step out of my jeans and toss them over the toilet seat.

I unclip my bra letting it slide down my arms til it floats over my wrists to the floor. Then, harshly, I push

my underwear over my hips and thighs and let it glide to my ankles. I stare at the expression on my face

through the mirror as it begins to fog slightly around the edges.


        What did I do to deserve this? Why did I save you? You’ve created this mess and now you’re not

worth anything to me.


        It’s cold in the bathroom, and the steam grasps my breath. The mirror fogs completely covering

my vulnerable naked body. I climb over the ledge of the tub and step into the rush of heat. The hot

water runs down my back, opening up my pores, making my skin moist. The water fills the basin,

trickling down my legs towards my feet, puddling around my toes. I turn around and let the water slap

me in the face.


        You’re a selfish heartless bitch. Bitch… yeah, the bitch that saved your fucking life.


        My head is too heavy to control as the water flows over my neck forcing my hair to cover my

face. I breathe in the coconut fruit fusion shampoo foaming on the lid. I slide down the wall to find a
ledge. My body rests there but then immediately continues its way to the base of the tub. I release my

body and put my head back allowing the water to caress my skin. I push the shower curtain away from

the showerhead. I can feel the warmth of the steam fighting against the harsh cold air trapped between

the curtain and the bathroom door. It’s hard to breathe.


                                                     ** *


        “Ray? Are you in there?” I banged on the door but it was locked. “Ray!” I screamed. But there

was no answer. “Ray, the police are coming and everyone’s gone, I know you hate me but you have to

let me in.” I scavenged for a bobby pin in my purse. “Shit,” I whispered. “Shit, shit, shit.” My hand

scrambled past my cell phone and wallet. I heard a crashing noise and the scratch of the shower curtain

across the metal support bar. More nervous, I rummaged faster, digging past everything, until finally, I

grabbed a pin out of my make up bag. I forced the pin into the lock hole and plowed through the door.

Orange and red vomit chunks covered the vanity and Ray lay tangled in the curtain in the basin of the

tub motionless.


        “RAY!”


        As fast as I could I yanked the shower curtain from his neck and unwrapped it from around his

body. There were remnants of the vomit from the sink lingering on his lips and cheek. Please don’t be

dead. “Come on, Ray! Wake up! Get up!”


        I looked around for something, anything. Sitting in the corner of the counter was a knocked over

red plastic cup. I snatched it from its position and filled it up with water, as cold as the faucet would go. I

knelt back over the tub and held up Ray’s head. “Wake up!” I screamed while throwing the glass of

water over his face.


                                                     ** *
         I open my eyes suddenly and feel the water still slapping my face. I breathe deeply. In, then out,

simultaneously with the beat of the water droplets.


         How can he still hate me? I saved his goddamn life, but he’s calling me a bitch…


         Before he met her, we were inseparable. I never understood how great we were together until I

lost him. I never understood how enthralled we were with each other until I watched him walk away

from our friendship. He knew me better than I knew myself. I knew him the exact same way. We were

the kind of friends you hated because we were being too loud in the movie theater. We were the people

that were annoying to be around because everything that happened seemed to have an inside joke that

only we understood. We were best friends. Why and how I still don’t understand. He’s a bastard.


         I lay still for a moment. I rack my brain to try and figure out where everything went wrong while

the water continues to attack my body. The only reasonable explanation would be when he asked her to

be his girlfriend. That’s when things went wrong. I mean he just wasn’t satisfied with how things were in

his life; he had to fuck them up by getting himself a girlfriend. That dumb bitch was jealous of our

friendship from the start too. She wasn’t happy that his best friend didn’t have a dick. How messed up is

that?


         He’s changed so much. He’s her puppet, her rag doll that she can boss around and control. He

doesn’t see that and that’s why I’m so frustrated. It’s so annoying ‘cause he isn’t, or wasn’t, even into

girls like her. He likes natural beauties that don’t wear a ton of make up. He likes intelligent, witty,

comical girls. Saige, however, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Fake baked, acrylic tipped, bottle

blonde with 2 inches of make up coating her face. She looks like a damn raccoon with all the thick black

eyeliner. We used to make fun of girls like her. We had laughed for hours about girls like her. Oh, Ray’s

laugh. Now he doesn’t even smile. She did that to him, yet I’m the bitch? I guess I see how that makes

sense.
        I shift my weight in the tub. As I move, I disturb the millions of bottles resting on the shelf. The

coconut fruit fusion shampoo lands in my lap. I allow the suds to wash away down my leg. I pick up the

bottle and rest it back on the shelf next to the conditioner. I catch a glance at the label, “WARNING: do

not allow near the eyes or in the mouth.” Saige should have come with a warning label.


        I’ll never forget the facebook message I got from Ray. He had been acting weird around me so

obviously I wanted to know what was going on. I asked why he had been ignoring me. I asked why he

was avoiding me. I asked why he couldn’t even look at me in the hallways or sit with me at lunch

anymore. His reply was simple, but it hurt. It cut deep.


         “I’m not allowed.”


        Those three words stung, just like if you get the shampoo in your eyes. Saige should have put a

label on Ray, “WARNING: do not allow near Taylor,” because basically our friendship ended after that

message. After those three words we didn’t talk to each other anymore. I tried but nothing was

reciprocated.


        I had called him; I had texted him; I had messaged him on facebook. I even talked to his mother

but I guess he didn’t get the memo… No, he got it. He just ignored it. He made me feel like I had no one.

I felt like I had lost half of who I am. He made me feel like absolute shit. I know the Ray that I kne w

would never do that. I know the Ray that knew everything about me and loved me anyway was still in

there. But this new depressed, tortured Ray was all Saige’s fault. He let her do this to him, so he

deserves everything he gets. Like I said, he’s a bastard.


        I lean forward to let the water run through my hair and down my back. My fingers are like

prunes and the water is getting cold. I want to get out and dry off but I can’t bring myself to move. Just

like I couldn’t bring myself to move when Ray was in my face, screaming at me. It had been a couple
days after I found him in the tub when he texted me for the first time in about eight months. I thought

maybe, just maybe, he was happy to have been in contact with me again. “Park. Three PM.” That was all

I got. Boy, was I in for a surprise.


           I got to the park a little late. I knew Ray would be there right on time. Like predicted, I

approached the swings where Ray sat twisting in the metal chains. He didn’t greet me. He didn’t make

eye contact with me. He simply stood there and waited for me to talk. The only thing I managed to get

out was “hi”. How lame.


           “Why did you help me?” Ray had questioned. I didn’t know how to respond. What kind of a

question was that? I told him the truth. He was strangled by the shower curtain and too completely

intoxicated to notice. I told him that I saved his life. I’m the reason why he was sill alive.


           I heard him mutter “bitch” under his breath. What the fuck did I do to deserve that title? I

questioned his remark but he just smirked and told me I didn’t get it. What is there to get? He thinks I’m

a bitch.


           In a louder tone he just let out that I’m a conniving heartless selfish bitch. He got up from the

swing and got in my face when he said that. I didn’t remember him being so tall. I knew he towered over

me, but he definitely wasn’t that tall in September. He told me that I was jealous of Saige. He told me I

was jealous that Saige had become his new best friend and his girl friend all in one. He told me that he

hated that I always wanted to hang out with him when he was with Saige. He told me that he hated

when I tried to make him feel better, ‘cause Saige was there to do that. He told me he was glad I wasn’t

in his life anymore because Saige is a better best friend than I could ever be.
          I stepped back and laughed right in his face. I thought it was funny how he thinks I’m jealous of

Saige. I thought it was funny how he used to love spending time with me. Before I became such a

burden.


          I screamed that she took over his life.


          She’s not a friend and never will be. She’s the bitch for tearing Ray and me apart. She’s the bitch

for being threatened by my friendship with Ray and the only way she could deal with it was by pushing

me out of Ray’s life. She’s the bitch for telling Ray never to talk to me again. And Ray’s the mother

fucking bastard for listening to her.


          Ray ended the conversation by telling me to back off. When he walked away my eyes teared up.

That was really the end of Taylor and Ray.


          I realized it was impossible to be friends with that creature, that monster, so long as it’s with

Saige. I fucking hate that bastard.


          I push my body up onto my feet. I reach over and turn the faucet to the off position and a

sudden silence takes over the bathroom. The echo of the water tapping the linoleum stops instantly. I

stand in the shower, dripping. I’m ready to embrace the coolness so I slide the curtain open and grab my

towel. Too lazy to dry myself I wrap the white terrycloth fabric around my chest and walk over to the

fogged mirror. I can’t see my reflection. I scribble “Ray and Taylor, BFF’s” into the fog. I stare at it for a

few seconds then harshly smudge the words away as if nothing ever happened.


          I take my pruney index finger and, in larger bold letters, write, “fuck you,” next to the smudge. I

mutter to myself. “Fuck you, Ray.”


          I regret saving Ray’s life, so I guess that does make me a conniving heartless selfish bitch.
Rachel Davis



                                                  California Dreamin




             The girl mu mb led awkwardly in her sleep, as a foreign languag e, unto itself, of babbling and dreams
trickled out her mouth and hung lazily in the air above her angelic face. She t witched and the brightly -patterned
covers slid further off her bed towards the floor, which was covered with many sheets of doodles from o ther nights.
Forgotten mo mentarily and apprehensive, they lay stiff on the carpet, waiting fo r the young girl‟s Crayola crayon -
holding stubby fingers and cheery, aloof eyes. Those eyes now viewed the inner landscape of the girl‟s mental
dreamland and instead saw abstract sights and otherworld ly colors that shifted unpredictably as neurons vibrated in
her skull. Various sheets of unlucky drawing papers were scrunched up and absentmindedly -tossed wayward to the
corner of the roo m, where the moonlight ignored them and the darkness consumed them. Shards of the mirror fro m
earlier still scattered the rug under the window and reflected the moon creeping up the sky, turning the creamy circle
of reflected sunlight into a kaleidoscope of broken light. The other girl turned away fro m the whole scene and
focused her attention again on the brilliant brightness of the night sky. She inhaled deeply on her Marlboro light
formaldehyde-filled cigarette, wondering exact ly what she was sucking into her young lungs every day bes ides that
well-known ingredient. But, really, she could have cared less, for the soothing trail of s moky n icotine that twisted
dragon-like down her throat and snuggled into the crevasses of her lungs lessened her anxiety about the sleeping girl
and also gave her an excuse to let some night breezes into their roo m to swallow up the stuffy trapped air. God, what
would the girl do without her? Probably just wallo w in the dread of loneliness every second and fall apart, because
she was all the child had. The windowsill creaked as the smoking girl shifted her weight, her right foot swollen with
blood and imag inary needles fro m being tucked under her butt the whole night. Carmen gulped down another, final
silky breath of s moke, stubbing the end of hot embers onto the old wood where she was perched. The brazen moon
light highlighted where she‟d carved her and her daughter‟s name in the wood months ago. Dark ash filled in the
crudely-shaped letters, “men” the only part left readable on her own name. Ironic, she scoffed; men are always the
ones left unscathed, free fro m the mistakes of their actions, the ash of consequences‟ fallout barely traceable on their
controlled lives. She thought for a mo ment about the evening and its ridiculous turn of events, the way everything
had played out, but not as predicted or hoped. But soon her attention was called back to the sleeping child, who
called out for Carmen among traces of gibberish and Sesame Street Spanish and shifted clumsily under the
remain ing covers.

                                                                ~

         She‟d meant to tell h im sooner, but the way things had been going lately, she‟d had no choice but to wait
till that climactic mo ment. She‟d been preparing to tell him for hours, scattered excuses on the tip of her tongue but
she lacked the gusto that she jealously admired in the fearless soap opera stars that left their spouses with the snap of
the director‟s fingers. If only she‟d had a director ordering her to leave him, who would hand her a script of preset,
polished conversation lines, complete with the sorrowfu l gazes and heavy sighs that always romanticized the
situation on TV. But soap scripts had no place for mentally and physically unpredictable ch ildren and dysfunctional,
lonely mothers who had nowhere to turn except in the direction they least wanted to go .

         It wasn‟t that she didn‟t love him any more, but she‟d grown tired with the way he‟d begun to treat her
daughter, the frustrated looks of despair and resentment that veiled his face whenever he was around her. She could
almost taste the bile that rose up in his throat every time he gazed at the small g irl, who sat ignorantly on the floor
repeating the same nursery rhyme over and over until she no longer was singing audible or recognizab le words.
Carmen did still love him, in the same maternal way her moth er had loved her alcoholic father through all those
lonely years of half-assed marriage, but she‟d tried so many times to rid that look of disappointment and failure in
her boyfriend‟s shining eyes to no avail that it had actually started to depress her. A nd annoy her too, for what was
there to be sorry or ashamed of? How could you not take your daughter to get ice cream or go shopping, even if she
was a little unstable mentally? It wasn‟t as if the poor girl went around purposely destroying people‟s lives,
knowingly making their lives harder and mo re stressed? But Carmen could not leave him now, despite his waning
affections for the girl and, she knew, her. Unfortunately, her savings had run dry fro m doctor‟s appointments and her
luck was up with family members taking her in any more and so she was forced to stay with her daughter‟s father,
whom she once loved but now could barely connect with. Besides, even though their relationship was strained due
to their child ‟s uncertain mental stability and frequent uncontrolled fits (always preceded by a calmness, just as with
the statement of affect ion before her most recent fit ), she wanted her daughter to grow up with some sense of a
father, even if just to make her co mfortable around males in general. Until Carmen worked up enough money,
somehow, she could not leave. She wished that time would co me soon.

                                                         ~

         As soon as she was off the phone, excited and her heart racing, Carmen wrote down a few more things on
her notepad. Dr. O definitely knew nothing of how to cure Bella, but he had suggested to Carmen someone who
might. This was such great news to Carmen, she could barely suppress her flowing emotions and broke down right
away. All the frustration, fright and tension that she‟d felt building the last couple of months slipped as easily off her
shoulders as the tears off her cheek, which stained her notepad of critical names and numbers. Up until now, not a
single doctor had been able to help her daughter, and the ones that helped only insured customers helped even less.
So it was a comp lete emotional and physical relief when her late father‟s old friend Dr. O suggested an alternative
med icine doctor on the West Coast who apparently worked wonders on all sorts of cases and could possibly help
Bella and Carmen out. With her boyfriend at work, she had only herself to tell and console with the wonderfu l news.
Relieved, but downtrodden, Carmen sat at the crowded kitchen table on the paint -peeling chair and gloo mily
pondered her options. With no job and no money, she knew she was at a loss. And Chicago isn‟t just a quick bus
ride to the Golden State. She pulled out her last cigarette, lit up and took a long choky drag, the choking due to her
anxiety. A lousy, dirt taste filled her mouth, so she stubbed it out and picked up her pen. Just then, her boyfriend
walked through the door, exhausted, and crashed head first on the couch. She didn‟t tell h im about the call.
                                                         ~

         As soon as he woke up, he saw Bella sitting on the carpet in front of h im, doodling the same picture over
and over and following a Sesame Street tune in her head off-key, occasionally falling over and then getting up to do
random movements. Annoyed, he asked Carmen why her daughter made weird noises.

         “She‟s your daughter too, you know, Rob. You can p lay with her a little. It‟s not like she‟s gonna hurt
you.”

         Sighing loudly, Rob slid off the couch onto the floor and picked up a yellow crayon lying near Bella. Not
thinking it was going to affect her, he t widdled it in his fingers and then tossed it down, bored. It accidentally rolled
out of Bella‟s grip and, incidentally, Bella flipped out because she couldn‟t reach it. Sighing loudly again, he
retrieved the colored piece of wax and handed it back to her. W ithout warning, Bella wet herself and, befo re the
stink could reach Carmen, Rob was up, freaking out and scolding Bella. He kicked some o f her crayons across the
room, producing further tears fro m Bella. Crying and crying out in Spanish for Carmen, who was clean ing the
kitchen up a roo m away, Bella held out her hands in the air and sat in her own uncontrolled pile of liquid. Storming
away, Rob wiped his pants off in the bathroom and, cursing, b lamed the girl‟s problems on Carmen. After he
changed, he rushed out the door, leaving a befuddled Carmen to co mfort their daughter, who clamped her
outstretched arms around Carmen and squeezed tight.

                                                         ~

         Hot water foamed in the s mall tub over Bella‟s tiny knees, while bubbles fluctuated in height as they
toppled over one another under the faucet‟s torrent. Bella giggled as some of the froth ju mped up on her nose, and
Carmen couldn‟t help but smile either as she stroked back Bella‟s soft hair. The heat of the water calmed the small
bony girl down, seemingly erasing the event‟s chaos from less than an hour before. Carmen breathed the hot air in
and out, relaxing as well. Then, without warning, Bella slo wed her hands in the water‟s bubbles and stopped
slapping the water. Her high-pitched giggles disappeared, creating a silence in the bathroom that highlighted the
swoosh of water co ming fro m the faucet.

         “Bella, sweetie. What‟s wrong? You want to get out now?” Carmen spoke softly and comfortingly so as not
to alarm her daughter, who sat naked and quiet in the tub. Turning to her mother, Bella looked up and smiled an
awkward s mile o f a few new teeth. “I love you, Mommy ,” she uttered seriously but lovingly. It was what any young
or old parent wanted to hear fro m their ch ild, but Carmen knew something was up to go so serious after just
laughing about popping bubbles a few seconds earlier. But before Carmen could contemplate the situation and
whisper back, “I love you too, baby,” Bella‟s big brown eyes rolled back into her skull and she started thrashing
around like a tiger cub in a cage, freshly plucked fro m the jungle.

         “Bella! Baby! Oh my god..someone..please..oh shit.” Carmen tried to grab hold of her before she hit her
head on the tub and smashed her little skull to pieces. The water sloshed over the edge a litt le and soaked the front of
Carmen as she finally got a hold of the girl, locking her arms around her in a tight embrace. Bella was so much
stronger than she thought. Just then, Rob came running up the stairs, asking what was going on, why was Carmen
screaming for help, where was Bella, oh my god, I‟ll get a towel, no, hold her, get her up, out, I‟ll bring her to the
bedroom, babe, what happened?, shit, oh…she‟s stopped squirming, let‟s get her out of here, yeah, I‟ll take her.
How weird that just as soon as she‟d started, Bella had ended her squirmy seizure. Soaked and exh austed fro m a few
minutes struggle to save her daughter‟s life, Carmen followed Rob to their roo m, where he‟d p laced Bella‟s limp
body and started sobbed loudly and lay down next to her daughter, who‟d become serene as the dolls she kept on her
bed, arms and legs permanently by their sides. Bella looked like any other sleeping child wrapped in towels after a
bath. Rob held his head in his hands after making sure Bella was breathing and venomously cursed to himself and
God for making his daughter this way.

         After a few minutes, he laid next to Carmen, who was down to soft whimpers of grief and confusion, and
held her hand. But unlike Bella‟s voiced adoration a few minutes, he did not whisper to Carmen that he loved her.
Instead, he told her he hadn‟t left but gone outside to smoke and co me running back in when he heard the thrashing
noises through the thin walls. She barely heard him, but nods and thanked him quietly fo r help ing her get Bella out
of the water. Poor Bella, their only daughter, the only connectio n that kept them fro m t ruly separating fro m each
other‟s lives forever. Rob said nothing, but went to clean up the bathroom, where the water had seeped up over the
edge and puddled on the floor. The t wo confused parents parted and Carmen continued to lie o n the bed, staring at
her now sleeping daughter, praying for some help.

                                                        ~

         After quietly confirming an appointment with the Californian doctor on the kitchen phone, Carmen came
back into the living roo m. Though a few calm days had passed, Carmen still remembered the recent trauma and fears
for the next unpredictable outburst. If only she‟d had her mother to call, or her father to hide in the arms of, she‟d
have been able to hold herself a little higher as a mother. Unfortunately, they were gone, availab le to Carmen only in
prayers and dreams. But Carmen knew she had to concentrate on the future, on getting Bella the help she needed.
When she walked in, Bella was sitting on the couch, curled up with her father‟s work-allotted laptop while he
smoked outside. The cheery Spanish accent from the game rang out from the small speakers and Bella happily
followed along, pressing random buttons and giggling along with Big Bird and Oscar. It seemed the afternoon was
going to go smoothly. Even the weather was sunny and warm. A ll of a sudden, Bella yelped. She‟d accidentally
spilled her little sippy cup all over the shiny black keys and as the sticky liquid seeped down into the mechanics of
the machine, Rob sauntered back in smelling of s moke. Carmen swallowed hard. Sh it, she thought. He‟s gonna kill
her for this. As soon as his eyes adjusted to the light, he realized what had happened and moved swiftly to the couch.

         “What the f***!? Are you kidding?! That‟s my laptop for work! Ho w the eff am I supposed to work now?!”
He didn‟t hesitate in yanking the laptop out of the girl‟s hands, nor in slapping her across her head. Stunned, she
flew to the floor with the impact. Carmen could hardly process what had just happened, but she knew she had to get
of there. He obviously had no love for her daughter anymore, and probably not even for Carmen. She went to go to
her daughter‟s side, but Rob stepped in front of her and began screaming in her face, taking out his frustration on her
and yelling angry accusations. As Rob harshly pushed Carmen into the kitchen, he blocked her v iew of Bella, who‟d
run into the other room. Back and forth, yelling and screaming at each other, they accused each other of Bella‟s
condition and barely heard the mirror s mash to pieces in the next roo m. Carmen yelled that she‟s finally found
someone who might be able to help, as she rushed into the bedroom and looked for her daughter. The crunchy pieces
of sharp glass scattered the sunlight coming through the window, under wh ich Bella huddled shaking.

                                                               ~

         Back in the bedroo m, hours later, Carmen puffed away, staring up at the sky, asking for answers. A mbient
nocturnal sounds wafted through the open window, occasionally harmon izing with Bella‟s sleepy dream utterances.
Rob hadn‟t cared that they were leaving and had almost packed their bags for them befo re storming out of the
disgruntled apartment. A shame, Carmen realized, for he used to be such a nice young man. Perhaps the stress of
being a father and the main caretaker had pushed him too far. Whatever made h im so mad, she knew it wasn‟t just
about Bella. He had told them to not come back until she was better, but Carmen realizes that she might not ever go
back to him. The ash fro m her p revious cigarette blew away with the window air, revealing her whole name and her
daughter‟s in the wood. She knew she had to the same, beco me whole again, get her baby better. Her faith in Dr. O‟s
suggestion kept her alive, and as she hopped down off the window sill, carefully avoiding the glass she hadn‟t
bothered to clean up, she knew they had to leave the next morning. Bella‟s cheek glistened in the moonlight after
she kissed it, and Carmen snuggled in next to her daughter, uncertain of their future but confident things would be
better soon.
Elizabeth Freeburg

                                                Dissimilarities

        I can't stop tapping my fingernails on the counter. "Look, this can't be right, there was no
problem in Cincinnati," I say in a rush. I've been out of breath since I got off the plane, since I grabbed a
piece of toast and locked my apartment door, dragging my rolling suitcase into an elevator that shrieked
all the way down. It probably woke all the neighbors. Serves them right. "I'm sorry, miss," repeats the
woman behind the counter. I wonder how long I have before they start calling me "Ma'am." "But there 's
nothing I can do." She tucks a loose strand of dishwater-blond hair behind one ear. The phone starts
ringing, insistent and clamoring. "You checked in too late, you'll be on standby until we board. If anyone
on this flight doesn't show, I promise you their seat is yours. If there are no seats, we will seat you on
the next flight to Phoenix, which is-" she consults her computer, "-tomorrow, 7 a.m." She turns away,
already picking up the phone. "Hello, Gate 16, this is Stacey."

        I slouch my way back to the upholstered seats and drop my backpack onto one of them,
dropping myself into the one next to it. My hands come up involuntarily to cover my face. Inhale. Exhale.
Perfect. Fabulous. Typical. Time for a status report:

        Leah Parker, age 23. Location: Gate 16 of Midway Airport, Chicago. In possession of: one (1)
Jansport backpack, purchased for this trip; two hundred sixty-eight (268) US dollars, and various coins;
two (2) forms of identification, one (1) of is a drivers license, and one (1) of which is a pass port, wishful
thinking made real; one (1) useless English degree; one (1) change of clothes, contained in
aforementioned backpack; three (3) romance novels, all of which had previously been read; one (1) well-
packed suitcase which has been sent ahead to Arizona; and zero (0) acquaintances in Chicago.

                                                        ---

        "That-Clarkson-girl-down-the-street has gotten completely out of hand," my mother said on
October 23rd of my sophomore year. "I thank God every day your brother isn't a hellion like that. Good
thing my entire life is according to my specifications, otherwise I'd probably snap, borrow your dad's AK,
and shoot up the PTA." Or something like that. I'm paraphrasing. I'd heard this spiel before: Hunter
Clarkson, in my brother David's grade, general hooligan.
        My mom had topics of conversation she could always fall back on in case of silence, and the
Clarkson girl was one of them. Sometimes she would turn down the car radio to make more room for
her words, filling my silences in with imagined agreements while she admonished the ether.

        My forehead rested on the passenger side window while my thoughts bounced around my skull
like moths against glass. Do I have a quiz today in Spanish? Did I already wear this shirt once this week?
What's the probability of our staying at this base long enough for me to have to worry about prom?

        Mom dropped me off in front of school, rolling down the passenger-side window after I had
gotten out. "Sweetheart," she called, "Don't forget, we've got dinner with the Millers tonight. Please try
and look nice, I'd like to make a good impression." Her face pursed into a moue of somewhat-shuttered
distaste. "Maybe do something with your hair." I nodded my assent, and trudged into the building.

        As I passed through the second pair of double doors, a tall red-haired girl -- a senior? Was she
friends with David? -- carrying a single green notebook fell in step beside me. Our strides matched
perfectly, though her sandaled feet looked strange next to my sneakers, the color of her skirt clashed
with my jeans.

        "So you don't have any friends, yeah?" she said abruptly. She spun to face me. I'd never seen
anyone with so many freckles.

        Homeroom -- room 109, Ms. Mitchell's room, with that smell, ugh -- was 10 feet away, give or
take. If I sprinted, I could probably make it. "Yeah, not really, thanks for asking," I said, shouldering past
the weirdo.

        The weirdo, it seemed, was light on her feet. I should have known better than to expect an Army
brat to be slow on the draw. She sidestepped me, darted back around and blocked room 109's doorway
with one freckled arm. "It's okay, I was just checking," she grinned. "I don't either. Well, I did, but,
y'know, you go out one night and one thing leads to another and before you know it everyone's joined a
nunnery." She held out her right hand. "My name's Hunter." When I didn't move (couldn't), she
continued, though her grin became a little more crooked. "Don't worry, I'm a vegetarian."

        My right hand reached for Hunter's of its own volition, I swear. "I'm Leah," I said, unable to
prevent myself from smiling, "which doesn't really lend itself to puns."

                                                      ---
        I hate airports, have since I was a little girl; the smell of them, of sweat and upholstery and
spilled soda. I'm already nauseous. The fluorescents are searing into the inne rmost parts of my brain,
scouring away whatever rational thought I have left. Brightly lit-up ads crowd for space, each trying to
out-garish the others. Skin cream that will turn back time, tchotchkes your alienated family will love,
flights to Europe for under $200. I can't think. The moth-thoughts are buzzing again, self-immolating in
the incandescence of my migraine, my fingernails cutting crescents in my scalp.

        An incessant ringing fills my ears -- my God, what fresh Hell is this? -- but it's just my phone. The
ringtone is "Under My Thumb" by the Stones; it must be Mom calling

        "I just wanted to see how things are going, make sure you're on track," she tells me when I pick
up. I can't tell if my current predicament makes her condescension more or less aggravating.

        "I'm on standby," I sigh. "For now." The woman sitting across from me is apparently unaware
that a glob of what I can only assume is non-fat yogurt is sliding slowly down the cup, mere inches from
her Ann Taylor slacks. "They'll seat me if another passenger doesn't show."

        "Did you explain to them that you have somewhere to be?" she asks. She's using her Vengetti
voice. All the women on her side of the family have it but me. It's the voice of a disgruntled empress, of
a rich widow incredulous that her napkins are eggshell while her china is taupe. It's the voice that
informed me that no, we couldn't take the dog with us to Germany, we couldn't stay in one place more
than eight months, we couldn't afford drum lessons and why did I want to learn to play drums anyway?
It's the voice whose every utterance's subtext is "Stand aside, lest ye suffer the consequences." I've
never been able to harness that voice.

        "Mom," I say, my migraine tripling, "the Parker family reunion, while indeed the event highest
on my personal social calendar," not much of an accomplishment, that, "most likely does not merit
special attention by Southwest Airlines." The yogurt glob slip closer to the edge, but the woman is still
unaware, her attention entirely on her US Weekly.

        "You know," Mom says, Vengetti voice on full blast, "It's that kind of defeatist attitude that gets
you into trouble. You have to assert yourself more." I can hear her winding up for a curveball. "You
know, if you'd made more of a name for yourself at that bookstore, you'd probably still have a job."
          "It was a publishing house, Mom," I say, as if she doesn't know. My dad may be a Lt. Colonel, but
that's not where I learned discipline. "Not a bookstore. And I lost my job because the company went
under. My boss got fired too."

          "All I'm saying is that a little more aggression couldn't do you any harm." She pauses. It's not so
much wheels I hear turning in her head as pistons. "You know, I don't see why you can't just come live
back at home." Phoenix has never been home. Mom and Dad moved there after I went away to college.
"Do you remember that nice man Mr. Conrad? He ran that paper company in Fort Worth." Fort Worth
had been Parker HQ for most of seventh grade; I've blacked most of it out, for good reason. "Well, he
manages an employment services agency in Flagstaff now, and he's hiring."

          "You mean a temp agency? Mom, I don't want to be a temp."

          "Don't be silly, it could be a great opportunity! Maybe you could get hired somewhere
permanently, finally get some real job security, meet a nice man." A nice middle-management type with
upward mobility, power ties, a gym membership, and a lovely string of pliant, suggestible secretaries.
Well, it would get me a head start in the family business of alcoholism at least. David's beating me by a
mile.

          "Hold on, I think the airline woman is coming back to talk to me," I lie. "We'll talk later, yeah?
When I get to Phoenix."

          "All right, sweetheart. I'm sure you'll get on the plane." Her last words are swallowed by the
click of my cell as it snaps shut. My plane is boarding in fifteen minutes. A sigh slips unbidden out of my
throat.

          "Family problems, huh?" I look up. The woman across from me is looking at me with something
the same color as sympathy in her eyes. "Happens to the best of us."

          "You have yogurt on your pants," I say, and get up to go to the bathroom.

                                                       ---

          "The best way to the top is to get up on the Dumpster," Hunter said on March 14 th of my
sophomore year, hauling herself up and holding out a hand to me, "and then to pull yourself up onto the
roof."
         I scrabbled after her, my movements halting and heavy. "I'm beginning to think this isn't going
to be worth the effort," I wheezed, finally overtopping the roof's ledge and sprawling spread-eagled on
the concrete. The sky above me was bruised gray and green, the sign of an oncoming storm. Hunter's
face suddenly entered my field of vision as she loomed above me.

         "When have I led you wrong?" she said slyly, the familiar tilt of her eyebrows letting me know
she was in on the joke. "Besides, it's not like we have anywhere better to be."

         I thought of 4th period history, of Mr. Moore's endless lectures on endless wars. "Point taken," I
assented, clambering to my feet. "So, fearless leader, enlighten me. What brings us to the roof of the
Campbell park restrooms?" I gestured expansively to the blocky building we stood on. "Perhaps the
fabulous architecture? Or maybe the lovely odor that now surrounds us?"

         "Excellent guesses, young padawan," she said, slinging an arm around my shoulders and guiding
me to the edge. "But not quite. See that spot where the treeline dips a little?" She pointed to the west,
and I squinted, seeing nothing of interest. "Keep your eyes there."

         For a few moments, I thought this was another of Hunter's jokes, like when she filled my locker
with plastic Easter eggs in midwinter, or the day that I opened my closet to see my entire wardrobe
replaced with gingham. Apparently I needed to embrace my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder. Hunter was good
at getting through locked doors. So, yeah, I wasn't expecting much.

         Then, to my surprise, slowly, gracefully, a long neck unfolded itself into our view.

         "A giraffe?" I said, not quite believing what I saw. When I looked at Hunter, her gaze was still
fixed on it.

         "From the Fort Campbell zoo," she said quietly. "They're in an enclosure, but from here you
can't see the fence or anything." She still hadn't looked at me. "I wanted you to see them." More giraffes
were joining the first one, dipping in and out of sight behind the trees.

         We stood there in silence as the sky darkened, wind rustling the leaves. Before long, the giraffes
were little more than smudges on the horizon. Then they disappeared altogether.

         "When I graduate, I'm going to move to London," Hunter said, breaking our long silence. "And
I'm going to be an artist, and live off what I make by selling my work. I'll have a tiny apartment that I'll
share with someone, and we'll be really poor, but sometimes we'll go to museums or the London Eye or
just walk around, whatever we want. And drink a lot of tea." She looked at me finally, smiling closed-
mouthed. "Stupid, right?"

        I shook my head. "Not at all."

        She smiled for real at that. "I knew I liked you for a reason." She paused, and turned back to the
horizon. "You should come with me."

        I looked down at my sneakers. One of them was untied. "I don't know, I mean...thanks for
asking, seriously, but -- it sounds really awesome, you know? But I always figured I'd do the college
thing, get a job. I mean, my parents never went to college, so I ought to." There were a lot of things my
parents had never done. "Plus, I'm not an artist. Or anything." People like Hunter chased hot-eyed after
the improbable, but I wasn't like Hunter.

        "Bullshit," she said, interrupting my thoughts. "You're the best writer I know, that's totally art.
You could be the next Kerouac, take an epic journey and spill your guts onto the page."

        This was the problem with having actual friends. They knew stuff about you.

        "Just think about it," she said. "Anywhere I am, there will always be room for you."

        I forced a laugh to bubble around the rock that had taken up residence in my throat. "Yeah, and
then my mom would hunt me down and disembowel me. You too, probably."

        Hunter looked at me for a moment before pulling away. "Nah, she'd never catch me," she said.
"Check out these skills!" She jumped off the roof to the Dumpster and turned to look at me before doing
a back flip, landing in a crouch on the ground before taking off in a run.

        "Good God, I'm friends with a ninja!" I yelled after her as I climbed down, and we ran back to
town, laughing when the rain finally came down and ruined our mascara.

                                                     ---

        I'm walking back from the restroom when I hear the announcement, the woman's voice tinny
and alien through the loudspeaker.

        "Will Leah Parker please report to Gate 16. Leah Parker to Gate 16."
        When I get there, blonde-haired Stacey is waiting for me. She looks tired. I wonder how long
she's been working this job.

        "I have good news, miss. A passenger just called to cancel, some fami ly emergency, so you've
got his seat. I've already printed out your ticket; you'll be boarding with group C." She puts the ticket on
the counter. I'm in seat 24B. It's an aisle seat.

        "Flight 174 to Phoenix, now pre-boarding." The tinny voice is back. My arms are leaden by my
sides. "Will all elderly passengers and minors traveling alone please line up to board the plane." Stacey
leans across the counter, noticing that I haven't picked up my ticket yet. "Miss?" she says. "Is there a
problem?"

        To my left I see the advertisements that seemed so harsh a few minutes ago. In the farthest one,
Big Ben looms above a smiling family. Two parents, a boy and a little girl.

        "Flight 174, group A now boarding."

        Stacey's a patient girl, but she has her limits. "Miss, you need to take this ticket," she brandishes
it in front of me, "in order to get on that plane." She throws an arm out toward the gate. She must not
get much sun; her arms are milky white, like mine.

        "Flight 174, group B now boarding."

        "Look, Miss Parker, are you boarding or not? Because if you aren't, there are others waiting for
your spot." It seems even Stacey from Southwest Airlines has access to the Vengetti voice.

        I look back at the advertisement.

        "Flight 174, group C now boarding."

        There's a giraffe on the little girl's shirt.

                                                        ---

        We moved from Fort Campbell about three months before Hunter graduated. We exchanged a
few emails, but Hunter was never really one for the written word. I guess we lost touch pretty quickly.
        She lives in Louisville with her husband and kids last I heard. He owns an insurance company, so
she's working as his receptionist. They were 19 when they got married, and their first son was born five
months later. I think they named him Robert, after his dad.

        They live in one of the duplexes on Cherry Street, one of the ones that comes furnished with
floral curtains and fake wood paneling and a corduroy couch and a coffee percolator.

        I know all this because my mother knows this, knows it and tells me with relish how pleased she
is that the Clarkson girl finally settled down, finally learned her place.

        I tell stories about Hunter to my college friends sometimes, because all my good stories are
about Hunter.

        When they ask about her, I tell them she's dead.

                                                      ---

        My head's leaning against the window of the plane, my breath fogging up the glass.

        I'm $200 poorer than I was when I left my apartment this morning, but if I try I can forget about
the bills that I won't be paying. I'll have bigger worries soon enough.

        They seem far away for now, though, laying siege to but not breaching my mind. My phone is
gone, dumped in a Midway trash can. I've made arrangements for my luggage to get picked up in
Phoenix. The chicken I'm eating out of a foil box is surprisingly delicious.

        The Atlantic is bluer beneath me than I'd ever imagined.
Nicole Fullerton




                                         Baseball Season



        Jim slowly drove home from another long day of work. As he drove, he couldn’t help but to think
of how lucky he was to have achieved so much success and how great of a business man he was. He
drove below the speed limit, and took the long way home because he wanted to spend as little time as
possible at home. When he finally arrived home, he sat and watched his family for a moment. He could
see them through the dining room window, as they laughed, talked and smiled without him. He watched
them eat spaghetti, knowing his plate would be waiting, cold, for him on the kitchen counter. Jim
suddenly noticed his son, Andrew, staring back at him through the window. Andrew waved, Jim didn’t
wave back.

        Jim walked inside. He noticed the baseball themed cupcakes on the table, but didn’t mention
them.

        “Hi Dad! Guess what! I made the baseball team! The coach said I was great and that…”

        Jim cut his son off before he could say anymore. “Wow that’s really great. We’ll talk about that
later Andrew.”

        “Oh, okay Dad.”

        Jim walked into the kitchen and grabbed his plate. He knew Kelly, his wife, and Danielle, his
teenage daughter, were giving him dirty looks as he walked away. Everyone, except Andrew, knew the
conversation about the baseball team would never continue. Andrew was way too young to realize his
father had become completely disconnected from his family. As his father walked away, Andrew said,
“This is gonna be great and I want everyone to come to my first game.” Seconds later, the family heard
Jim’s office door shut behind him.

        Every night after that, when Jim came home, Andrew was outside practicing his baseball skills,
always holding out hope that his dad would come and practice with him. Every night, Andrew would say,
“Hey dad! Wanna play?” And every night, Jim had a new excuse for why he could not practice with his
son. The exchange between father and son had become routine but Andrew always held out hope that
one night his dad would come and play ball with him.

        One night, however, Andrew stopped his father just before he stepped into the house. “My first
game is on Friday. You’re coming, right?”

        Jim paused and said, “Um yeah, I’ll be there.”

        Jim walked into the house. He was annoyed. He didn’t see the point in leaving work early to
watch a little league game. He thought Andrew’s love of baseball was a silly phase, and now, it had
imposed on his work schedule. Jim walked into his office and sat down in the familiar computer chair.
On his calendar he noticed he had an important work related dinner to attend that Friday. He was
relieved he had a reason to miss Andrew’s game but figured work was more important anyway. He
didn’t want to upset Andrew, or start a fight with his wife or daughter, so he decided not to mention the
fact he would not be attending his son’s first game.

        Once Friday came, Andrew could hardly contain his excitement. He had practiced for weeks and
was ready to impress everyone, especially his family, with his baseball skills. After school, Andrew
decided he would head to the baseball field earlier than the rest of the team to get some extra practice
in. He said goodbye to his mom and started on his way to the field. The baseball field was only a few
blocks away, so Andrew’s mother trusted he would get there okay. Between his excitement and his
focus on the game, Andrew was not paying attention to where he was walking. He decided to cut across
the street and stepped between two parked cars. Without checking the road, he popped out between
the two parked cars and started to cross, when he was struck by a moving vehicle.

        Because the Johnson’s lived in such a small, close-knit town, Mrs. Johnson and Danielle were
notified right away about the accident. Andrew was rushed to the local hospital, with his mother and
sister by his side. While Andrew was being evaluated at the hospital, Jim was making his way to the
fancy restaurant where the business dinner was being held. All night his phone rang off the hook with
calls from his wife and daughter but he chose to ignore them, since he figured they were just calling to
complain about his absence at the game. He didn’t need to be yelled at while he was trying to work. He
just wanted to have a good time at the dinner.

        After a great dinner, Jim made his way home. He knew that he would never hear the end of the
fact he had missed the game, but decided going to the dinner was worth it. Jim had made new business
acquaintances and picked up new clients. He decided he had had a very successful night. On the way
home, Jim passed a sporting goods store and decided the least he could do was to stop in and pick
something up for Andrew. After picking up a new baseball mitt, he drove home, thinking of what excuse
he could give Andrew for never having showed up.

         Jim pulled into the driveway and noticed the house was completely dark. It was 10:00 pm, but
Danielle was usually awake, locked up in her room. Jim came home to an empty house. He knew
something was up. Panicking, he remembered his phone and noticed all the new voicemails he had
waiting for him. He listened to one frantic message from his hysterical wife who told him what had
happened to Andrew, and he jumped in the car and sped to the hospital. After arriving in the ER, he
found Danielle and his wife huddled together, talking to the doctor who had been looking after Andrew.
Jim heard the doctor reassure his family that Andrew would be fine and had sustained minor injuries. He
was incredibly relieved and ran to his wife and daughter, who received him coldl y. They yelled at him for
letting his work become such a priority and for neglecting his son in such a crisis. Jim was humiliated. In
that moment, for the first time in a long time, he was more focused on his family than anything else. He
asked if he could see Andrew and was led to his room.

         The sight of his young son lying on a hospital bed was more than Jim could stand. He realized
now how bad he had been to his entire family, especially Andrew, who had always been so friendly
towards him. He saw the scrapes and the cast on Andrew’s left leg, and was just thankful his son was
alive.

         For the first time in years, Jim started to cut back on work. His wife and daughter were happy
and surprised that he took the time to visit Andrew in the hospital, but were annoyed that it had taken
such a tragedy to make him take time off from work. Although his relationship with his daughter and
wife remained the same, Jim felt a new connection to Andrew. The possibility of losing his son had made
him realize how much he had neglected his duties as a father. Besides, Andrew was the only one who
still treated Jim with any type of respect. Jim felt terrible he had been so cold to the one person in his
life that still cared for him.

         Despite the fact that Andrew spent most of the time asleep in the hospital, Jim would sit
faithfully by Andrew’s side, getting to know him while he watched his son sleep. Jim started to follow
baseball, hoping to impress Andrew once he was out of the hospital again. He decided he would leave
work earlier to spend some quality time with Andrew. Jim hoped he would still have time to probe to his
son that he could be a good dad.

        At home, things became more tense than ever. Everyone definitely noticed Andrew’s absense,
and the family became more divided without the glue that held them together. Andrew was the only
thing that connected Kelly, Danielle and Jim. Had it not been for Andrew’s unwavering admiration for his
dad, Kelly would have left him years ago, and Danielle would have undoubtedly gone with her mom. The
divorce would have left Andrew, a peace maker, torn between his parents, so Kelly decided to stay in
the marriage for the sake of her son. Thinking about the dramatic turn her marriage took, still surprised
Kelly. The Jim she now knew was absolutely nothing like the Jim she had fallen in love with and married.
Her old Jim was funny, involved, and wanted nothing more than a family. But slowly, over the years,
success clouded Jim’s old dreams of a huge family and caused him to have new dreams about a huge
bank account. Despite the ambivalent attitude she had toward her husband now, she felt grateful for
having the opportunity to know the real Jim. Even Danielle had the chance to experience Jim as the
great father Kelly knew he could be. Andrew, however, only knew Jim as a workaholic, not a father, and
for that, Kelly resented her husband.

         Every time Jim visited his son in the hospital, he was always asleep. Andrew would stay asleep
for the entire duration of Jim’s visit, but Jim was grateful. He felt awkward around his own son and
worried about what he would say when Andrew finally did wake up and found his father, of all people,
sitting next to his hospital bed. The quiet visits gave Jim an opportunity to think about his priorities. He
knew his relationship with Kelly could never be saved and he knew Danielle had formed strong opinions
about him long ago, so he figured he would put all his attention on Andrew, after all, he was the only
person he had left.

        One day as Jim began to doze off in the hospital chair, he heard the blankets stir in Andrew’s
bed. “Dad?” Jim was speechless for a moment. He didn’t even know what to say to his own son.

        “Hey Andrew, how are you feeling?”

        Andrew looked extremely surprised, and Jim knew why. “Where’s Mom?”

        Jim answered, “She’s at home. We’ve been taking shifts visiting you at the hospital.” Andrew
looked at his father.

        “Yeah I know mom’s been here a lot. She comes all the time. I didn’t know you came too…”
        Jim was upset. Kelly hadn’t even bothered to mention to Andrew that he had been visiting him
religiously in the hospital. In that moment, Jim who had slowly but surely been realizing his mistakes,
realized the full extent of what he had done. All Jim could say was, “Yeah I visit you everyday.”

        As Andrew continued to rebuild his strength at the hospital, his relationship with his father
became stronger too. For the first time in years, Jim sat down and talked to his son about whatever
came to mind. Jim learned that his son was a math wiz but struggled in science. He found out his son’s
best friend from school had recently moved into an “awesome” new house, but remained in the district.
They talked about movies, food and cars, but mostly, baseball.


        Jim discovered that Andrew’s love of baseball was not a phase at all but, a hobby that had
grown over the years. They talked about all the baseball sports teams, and which team would win the
World Series. Most of all, Jim realized how good his son must have been at the sport. As Jim listened to
Andrew talk about all the compliments he received from his coach, Jim was extremely proud of his son.
He reflected back on the evenings when Andrew was outside throwing and hitting balls and he
recognized that his son had a true talent.


        Although Andrew was recovering, it was hard for Jim to look at his son lying in a hospital bed.
Despite the fact that Andrew only had minor injuries, the doctor’s wanted to keep him in the hospital for
observation. He blamed himself. Maybe if he had practiced with him one evening, he wouldn’t have felt
the need to go to the baseball field early for extra practice and he would have never been hit. Jim made
a promise right then that he would not let his relationship with his son dwindle away like it had with his
wife and daughter.


        Andrew and Jim had become so close had learned so much about one another, Kelly became
worried. “You can’t just show up in someone’s life when something goes wrong,” she said to Jim one
day. “You ignored him for years and suddenly you’re his best friend?” Jim understood his wife’s point
but he was grateful something had made him realize the mistakes he was making. Kelly continued, “You
can’t let him down again. When he gets out of the hospital you better not start ignoring him again.”


        Jim listened and said, “I wont and I am sorry.”
        Kelly stared at him, “It’s a little too late for ‘I am sorry’ Jim. Just don’t let Andrew down.” Kelly
left Jim standing alone in the kitchen. Even though Kelly doubted her husband, Jim knew he would not
let his son down.


        With Andrew’s accident, Jim realized he could still have a successful career and be a great
father. Jim and Kelly continued their hospital shifts and when Jim’s shift was over, he would head to the
office or get some work done at home. He felt horribly guilty that he only now realized what Kelly had
tried to tell him for years. He could have had everything he wanted-a career and a family-but now it was
too late.


                                                     ***


        The long awaited day had come; Andrew was finally leaving the hospital. Jim was obviously
happy his son was leaving but worried that their talks and bonding would come to an end. He picked
Andrew up from the hospital and helped him load all of his cards, flowers and candy into the car. As they
drove further and further away from the hospital in silence, Andrew finally turned to his father. “Dad,
your not gonna start working all the time again are you?”


        Jim looked at his son and realized Andrew also feared losing the connection they had built. “No,
no I’m not. I am going to make time for me and you. Don’t worry about my work schedule anymore.”


        Andrew looked relieved. “Okay. I was worried that once I left the hospital, you wouldn’t want to
hang out with me anymore.”


        Jim fought back the tears burning behind his eyes. “Andrew, I didn’t only hang out with you
because you were in the hospital. You being in the hospital just made me realized how selfish I had been
and how important you are to me. Things may not be perfect with everyone else at home but I know we
will be buds forever.”


        Andrew smiled, “Okay Dad.”


        As they continued driving the baseball field suddenly became visible. Jim turned to his son and
said, “Hey Andrew! Wanna play?”
        A huge smile spread across Andrew’s face. “Yeah I wanna play!” Jim helped Andrew into his
wheel chair and popped open the trunk. He handed him the new baseball mitt he picked up for him the
night he was hit by the car. “Thanks Dad.”


        “No problem. This will be our new tradition. Every night we’ll come up to the field and practice
for as long as you’d like.” Andrew just smiled and he and his father tossed the ball back and forth until it
was too dark to see anymore.
Steve Gerson




                                              Exchange



        “Look dude, it’s the freaking Eiffel Tower!”

        “Wow…I think it just hit me…we’re in FRANCE!”

        I awoke to sunlight and to the frantic conversations starting up all around me. France. It seemed
like only five months ago that I was dreaming of climbing the Eiffel tower and eating disgusting French
cheese, but now, it was a reality, and it had me speechless. I didn’t feel like announcing that I had
awoken, so I just listened.

        “Oh my god, I’m so nervous about stepping off that bus and seeing my kid again, ahhhhhhh this
is so crazy.”

        I couldn’t help but feel the same way. I’m a nervous person even when not faced with a nerve -
racking situation. I don’t talk that much to anyone that isn’t around my age, and I especially don’t talk to
strangers. I knew that it was going to be awkward, and I knew that it would probably get better, but that
didn’t help me from being scared.

        “Yeah, but I feel like that’ll all go away once you get home to her house, I mean you guys got
along, right?”

        “Yeah, we do, but we haven’t seen each other in almost five months!”

        “But you’ve talked to her on facebook, haven’t you?”

        “Oh yeah, of course, but the things you say online don’t always reflect what you’re thinking in
real life, don’t you think?”

        “Yeah, but…we’re in FRANCE!”

        “Ahhh…” their voices trailed off as I put my music back up and dozed off again.
                                             *       *        *

        I kept seeing signs that read Avignon, 10 km away, then 8 km away, then 5 km away, until we
were pulling up outside the walled city. We saw a crowd of parents waiting and immediately my limbs
stiffened. Oh god, here I go I thought, nervous as anything. One by one, we stepped off of the bus to be
welcomed by an enthusiastic group of French mothers and fathers each looking for their new son or
daughter. Fortunately for me, not all of the parents were waiting at this spot, and so we had to walk
through one of the gates to the city to get to the high school where we would reunite with our students.
Five more minutes of freedom until my entire world changes, I thought.

        I wasn’t worried about Guillaume not liking me, because I didn’t sense any hostility when he left
America. I wasn’t worried about not getting along with him, because he was silent as a statue. I guess I
wasn’t really worried about anything in particular, I was just…worried. We walked through the streets of
Avignon, standing out like a rose floating in a swamp. We walked into the front door, through two
hallways, and out a door into a big, beautiful courtyard with enormous trees, benches, and even
basketball nets (their school was so much better than ours). We went down some steps and there he
was. He was standing with his arms at his side, looking tall, awkward, and shy; normal.

        “Hey Guillaume, how are you? It’s been so long!” I said, in french of course. He looked at me
with an awkward smile and said that he was good. He asked me how my flight was and I told him that it
was long, and that I was very tired. I brushed off the awkward feeling that I felt, because I figured
everyone felt it too. I asked him, “Where’s your mother, I’m excited to meet her.” “I don’t know, I think
she will be here soon,” he muttered. Just as soon as it started, our conversation ended, and we s tood
there awkwardly until finally I snuck away to greet the other French kids that I had befriended in
America.

        After a couple minutes, Guillaume’s mother arrived. Her name was Magali, and was tall, blond,
had a big French nose, and looked exactly like Guillaume. She greeted me and asked me how my flight
was, and I gave her the same answer I gave to Guillaume. I was waiting for her to say something,
anything in English, just to reassure me that I wouldn’t have to speak French for the entire time. It was
not until later that I found out that no one in Guilaume’s family spoke English except for him, and he
never talked!

        I showed them where I put my bags and Magali asked me if I needed help with my luggage,
which I gladly accepted, as I was very tired and did not want to carry it all. Guillaume offered no help,
which I duly noted. I waved goodbye to my American friends and before I knew it, we were in the car
heading towards St. Saturnin des Avignon. And so started the exchange with Guillaume and a full
weekend with his family.

                                             *      *        *

        I awoke suddenly as my phone alarm buzzed on the side of the bed. I hate waking up in the
morning, and I always try to milk every minute I can get, so I hit the snooze button and drifted back to
sleep. The next time I woke up, it was to something different. I heard the door open and then softly a
voice came into the room, “Steve, it’s time,” said Magali. I managed to mumble out a thank you and she
closed the door to give me privacy.

        Guillaume’s mother was a very compassionate woman. She loved her family, and to her, I was a
part of the family for two weeks. She made sure I brushed my teeth, took a shower, and had enough
food to eat. Whenever she would pick me up from our excursions, she would always have a smile on her
face and ask what I did. She seemed so interested, like she never got that from her son.

        I pulled myself out of bed, turned on the light, and sat there for a second, collecting my thoughts
before I started my day. The little time I had to myself in my room kept me sane. I cherished the time I
had to be separated from the french language, as it was very taxing, speaking it every day. I put some
clothes on, grabbed my towel, and headed for the shower. The kitchen smelled like nutella and bread,
and as I walked quickly towards the bathroom, I saw Guilaume eating his breakfast solemnly. I hesitated,
kept walking, then turned around and said.

        “Hey Guillaume! How are you?”

        “Good.” He replied. He did not look up from his breakfast and instead went on eating.

        I think I said good, I can’t remember, I just wanted to get into the bathroom, and lock the door. I
didn’t really pay any mind to how Guillaume was acting, because it seemed normal. He was devoid of
any emotion, as usual, but he seemed a little too devoid of emotion. I couldn’t explain it, but I thought
something might be bothering him. I spent my entire shower thinking of how I could ask him what’s
wrong, because it was so very hard getting anything out of him.

        After my shower, I ate breakfast, rather fast, because we only had five minutes to catch the bus.
I shoveled down bread and nutella and chugged a glass of orange juice. I quickly got ready for school and
grabbed my lunch which Magali had made me. Guillaume and I waved goodbye to his mother, and
headed out the door for the bus.

        Outside, I was greeted happily by Guillaume’s two dogs, Cora and Nöe. They were both the
same size and they were both very cute. Cora would always jump up onto my legs and as I went to pet
her, she would wrap herself around my arm. Sometimes, I would sit out back with Cora in my lap and
Nöe at my side, just petting them for twenty minutes. Sometimes, I felt that I had a better relationship
with them than with anyone else.

        Our walk to the bus stop only took about a minute, so I didn’t have much time. I spurted out,
“So…Guillaume, are you Ok today, it seems like something has you down.” He looked indifferent to my
words and kept on walking. A couple seconds later he said, “I’m OK,” and he looked down the rest of the
way to the bus stop. When we got there, I knew something was wrong, and I just wanted him to get it
off his chest. “Are you sure you’re OK Guillaume, come on, tell me what’s wrong,” I insisted.

        He didn’t say anything. He stared down at his feet silently waiting for the bus. God Damn I
thought, what the hell is his problem and why won’t he talk to me. I thought that I needed to try one
more time, because giving up would only hurt us both. “Did something happen with your friend? Last
night, you had your phone in your hands, texting away. Are you mad at one of your friends?” Silence.
Before I could say anything else, the bus came tumbling around the corner and we got on. Damn, what’s
the point, he’s never going to come out of his fucking shell, why should I even care. I was so annoyed that
I took my iPod, plugged myself in and blasted my music the entire way to the school, awaiting my
reunion with the Americans.

                                              *       *        *

        After that incident, my relationship with Guillaume came to a halt until the end of the trip. We
talked even less than before, and actually avoided each other a little. Honestly, I couldn’t tell if his
parents knew that we didn’t really get along, but I found it obvious, I mean, he didn’t speak…ever!

        The last Saturday came around, and I was really looking forward to going to one of the two
parties I had heard about. It was going to be the last time I could see all of the kids from the exchange
together, for a night of fun. It was going to be a night to remember, and potentially one of the best
nights of my life, who knows. It was going to be so amazing, that I should have assumed Guillaume
wouldn’t want to go.
        “What do you mean you don’t want to go? It’ll be fun!” I questioned.

        “I’m not invited, and…I don’t know if my friends are going…and my parents are too tired to
drive. I don’t even know where the place is.” Guillaume shrugged, “I don’t want to go,” he admitted.

        I couldn’t believe it. All this time, through this entire experience, there was to be one night
where I could forget about my life with Guillaume and have fun with all of the other kids, and that
wasn’t going to happen because Guillaume was too lame, I don’t think so. I frantically started thinking of
any way I could get to one of the parties, either one, I didn’t care. Make him convince his parents…Ask
him again...nah, then I’d sound rude…Wait, I could get picked up by someone else! I had it. So I asked
Guillaume, “Would it be possible for someone to pick me up and take me?” He replied with a definitive
shake of his head.

        “Really? Even if they don’t mind?” Again, he shook his head.

        “I am sorry, but it is not possible…” Those words rang in my head as I quietly got up, muttering
acceptance, or something.

        “I’m going to take a nap before dinner, Guillaume.” He didn’t even look up and when I looked at
him, he was drawing again. He was so damn good at drawing. He would look at something, anything;
whether it was something he printed out, a book, a magazine, anything. He would look at that image,
and recreate it perfectly. It was hard to tell the difference between his image and the original. How
unfortunate, I thought, all he is good at is drawing those damn pictures. I told myself that I didn’t care,
but sometimes I wished he cared a little less about them and a little more about me.

        “Ok,” he eventually said. I was so sick of his one-word answers and his stoic expressions when I
talked to him. I hated the way he dressed, I hated the way he spoke, or lack of, and I hated the music he
listened to. I hated his friends, I hated his drawings, but most of all, I hate d him.

                                              *        *        *

        Having been so infuriated, I locked myself in my room, turned out the light, and lay there
overwhelmed with emotion. The thoughts were running around my head so fast, it was actually making
me crazy.

        I couldn’t wait for Paris; I couldn’t wait to get out of this hell-hole. I hated everything and
everyone. But then I thought of his parents. I felt sick to my stomach, they’re alright, I thought. His
mother, the woman who made me feel at home, was alright. His father, Jean-Louis, although completely
devoid of any English, was alright. How could I hate them? They did nothing wrong.

        I blamed Guillaume for everything. When he came to America, I took him places, I introduced
him to my friends, brought him to parties. I thought we had a good time. Every night when we returned
home, he would immediately go to bed, without a word, he would disappear. I felt like I failed, and it
seemed to me that he wasn’t having a great time, but I didn’t say anything.

        Maybe he didn’t have a good time…Maybe he’s…punishing me.

        No, I didn’t do anything wrong, it’s all him, he’s just too lame.

        I felt like I had an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. I couldn’t decide whether it
was my fault, or Guillaume’s fault.

        My room was dark and the only light was the faint shine of the television still on outside the
door. It was quieter than anything, and big as anything. I felt comfortable so I sat up, and started talking
out loud to myself, “This exchange is a waste, why did he even do it, because if he was trying to make
new friends, he sure as hell failed. I bet it was his parents! They probably wanted him to get out there
and meet someone from another country. They probably pushed him into it, and it makes me sick that I
got stuck with him. Fuck this.” My words echoed through my lonely room, and all I could do was hear
them again.

        I lied back down, grabbed my phone and checked the time. Nine. Are you serious? I thought.
What kind of kid goes to bed at nine on a Saturday night? I tried to calm myself down, but all I could
think about was the parties that my friends wanted me to come to. It was the last Saturday night of my
stay in France, and here I was, going to sleep at nine.

                                             *        *       *

        “I can’t believe its over.”

        “Yeah, turn this train around!”

        This time, I awoke to crying girls, sobs, and the engine of the TGV. It was over, and I had made it
out in one piece. I never had to see him again. This made me happy, but I felt out of place; among all the
tears and sobs, I was happy. Was that OK? I watched as many of the other Americans talked about their
trip and how much they were going to miss their exchange student. One of my close friends was crying,
and again, the feelings I had in my bed the previous night started circulating in my head. What a waste
of a good opportunity, I thought.

        Staring out of the window, the beautiful landscape put me in a trance. The past week and a half
were the only thing on my mind. I had so many questions and not an answer for any. Did I do something
wrong? I couldn’t help but immediately say no, until I thought again and started asking more questions.
Should I have tried harder? Did I not talk that much? I was so confused and I couldn’t figure out what
went wrong. I knew that something went wrong, and I was terrified to think that it might have been me.

        What is the purpose of an exchange if you are not willing to make new friends or pen yourself
up? I couldn’t answer that question, and still cannot to this day. All I know is that Guillaume didn’t try to
open himself up. He locked himself in and only hurt me in the process. If only things were different,
maybe I would have made a friend for life.

        Instead, I was left there to wonder what would happen next. Waiting for that crappy feeling to
go away was the only thing I could do. Staring out over the beautiful French countryside, I thought, God,
I can’t wait for Paris.
Matt Giardinelli                                                                                  Short Story



        Jeff Riggins was an average kid to most people who knew him. He was the smart kid that
everyone thought was going to end up at a great school, but he never really tried hard enough to get there.
Sports were his life, soccer especially. He tried other sports like baseball and basketball, but nothing
compared to the free-flowing, fast-paced game of soccer. Unfortunately his early teen years were plagued
with injuries ranging from just mild twisted ankles to a broken foot and a torn hamstring tendon. Looking
back on those years, he finds it hard to believe he managed to get through it with such a positive attitude
and sports are part of what got him through that rough time, as well as simple games in the backyard.
With a torn hamstring, Jeff was seriously limited with what he could do physically, but his newfound love
for baseball led him to wiffle ball; a game that he could actually play due to the reduced amount of
running required.

                             *                         *

        Philosophy class was the hardest class for him to focus in. It’s hard to stay awake when the warm
spring sunlight is pouring in through windows right next to you and it’s made even harder by the fact that
he had just eaten lunch. Senior year was good to him, but he also became lazier and lazier as the year
went onward and he found himself day-dreaming more and more as the end came near. While trying to
listen to Mr. Saddida give a lecture for the shortened period, he found himself slipping into yet another
one of these dreams that have become much too common place in recent weeks. It seemed oddly clear
compared to his other ones about lounging on the beach with friends or trips to Six Flags. It could be
because this one was about something much more common, something he’d experience countless times
before, a simple game of wiffle ball in his backyard with his brother Tom. While letting his fantasy take
him away from another lecture, he thought about how a simple game between siblings can be so soothing
and stress relieving.

                             *                        *                         *

        The bell rang and Jeff snapped out of his reflective dream and continued on to his last class.
Drafting was nothing anymore. Seniors had only a couple of days left and it was a half-day so it passed
quickly and he was out of the school. Walking through the halls towards the parking lot, he saw a few of
his friends and let them know what time to come over. Today was not just a regular day for him and his
friends; today was the day of the Annual Riggins Invitational. This big event started when Jeff’s brother
Tom was a sophomore in high school. Wiffle ball was more then just something to do on a summer day to
his brother and his friends; it was a sport. It started out as a simple competition to see who the best
players were and a friendly wager was put on it to add a small prize to the bragging rights that came with
victory. Early on, Jeff was way out of his element being the younger brother who was allowed to play just
because it was at his house, but times have changed and he is no longer the small younger brother. Last
year, him, and his best friend Mike, whose older brother was best friends with Jeff’s brother, won the
tournament, beating their older brothers in the championship game.

        Jeff came home to a house that was buzzing with activity. Both of his parents were running
around cleaning and preparing for all the kids who would be arriving shortly. Jeff walked inside, dropped
off his backpack, changed, and went out to prep the field for competition. It felt odd this year for him to
be painting the lines by himself, he couldn’t wait for his partner Mike to arrive and help him get things
ready. He unrolled the mesh fence and brought out the new sign, which was to be hung on the fence in
dead center field. He still didn’t feel right, and looking down at the sign that he spent the last couple days
drawing and painting, he felt that this had become more then just a friendly competition. In its 6 th year,
this tournament had become about friends and the bonds made between friends that hold up even when
spread over great distances due to college and life in general. Of course nobody would admit to this
because of how fruity it sounded, but Jeff knew it was in the back of everyone’s minds. He nodded
silently to himself and hung the new sign up just as his best friend Mike walked into the yard.

                             *                         *                        *

        Mike was one of his best friends, and has been for fourteen years. He was the first real friend that
Jeff made when he moved in, but they had a bit of a falling out a couple years ago when Jeff was stuck at
home for long periods of time with sports injuries. The two friends became really close again within the
last couple years, and wiffle ball was a big part of what brought them back together. With Mike’s help,
Jeff is able to have the lines painted, and the eight-foot wall in left field set up. The two friends sat down
on Jeff’s patio and waited with the people that have already arrived. P-Burg and Jonesy, the champions
from two years ago, were already there as well as Mike’s older brother CJ. The five of them began talking
about match-ups and teams with potential to win the whole tournament.

        P-Burg and Jonesy suffered through the most lopsided game last year when they played Jeff and
Mike. “There is no way that you guys can be considered sleepers anymore. You two won last year, but
we’re still gonna kick your asses this year.”
        “And so the trash talking begins…. Of course Jonesy is the one to start it up too.” Jonesy is the
biggest trash talker that any of them had ever met. He continued to talk trash last year while Jeff and Mike
were beating them 11-1. Jeff laughed to himself as he thought about it.

        “Yea, well we can’t let you little cock suckers win again, it’s embarrassing.”

        The ridiculous trash talk from Jonesy, Jeff found himself looking back at past tournaments and all
the good times that everyone has had.

        “What’re you laughing at? Jones is right, you’re about to get the shit kicked out of you all over
this field.” Even though Tom and Jeff had become much closer as brothers the last couple of years, he
still had to be the older brother and Jeff knew it.

        “Wait, didn’t we handle you’re bitch asses in a 7 game series already?”

        “That’s irrelevant, we hadn’t had enough time to get back into form.”

        “Alright, just don’t get too salty when you’re little brother beats you in your own tournament
again.” Jeff and Mike had never beaten their brothers in a game of wiffle ball ever until two years ago in
one of the best games in the tournaments short history.

        “That game was a fluke and you know it. You guys just got lucky last year, and we’ll set things
straight this year.”

        Jeff soon realized that Mike, CJ, P-Burg and Jones were all gone and he was sitting by himself
now. Looking around he realized that people were getting ready to set up the bracket and get the games
underway.

                             *                         *                         *

        “Jeff! C’mon, you’re mom’s throwing out the first pitch and we’ve got first game.” Jeff walked
out to meet Mike out on top of the wiffle ball logo that was painted on the field. He was really starting to
get excited now, especially with the expectations of being the returning champions. In the short lifetime
of this tournament, nobody has ever won back-to-back or even won more then once. The two close
friends couldn’t wait to try to be the first to repeat and prove that the year before wasn’t just a fluke, they
really are that good. Even though Jeff really wanted to repeat as champions, he didn’t want it as badly as
Mike did, and he also realized how perfectly things lined up last year and that it won’t be that easy a
second year in a row. He just wanted to play the game that has become much more then just a back yard
game between friends to waste away summer days. For Jeff, this game was his escape from the problems
that life presents. During the tournament, nothing else really matters, everyone is friends that day, and
even though the competition gets intense, it all is in good fun, and at the end of the day, that’s what this
tournament is all about.

        Jeff and Mike stood idly by, discussing who would be pitching first, and who would hit first as
well as other simple strategies to win their first round game against       P -Burg and Jonesy. Once Mrs.
Riggins had awkwardly thrown the ceremonial first pitch, stepping into the throw with the wrong foot,
Mike stood on top of the tournament seal for the ritual Rock, Paper, Scissors match that decides who will
be the home team. Mike lost, but the two friends weren’t worried at all, this game would be over after two
innings anyway.

        “Jonesy is pitching first, just wait for him to throw a good pitch before you swing.”

        “I know Mike, I hit 10 homeruns last year, you don’t need to tell me how to hit.” It sounded a
little cocky, but Jeff wasn’t lying. He was the best hitter in his school and at the tournament. Nobody
really knows how he does it, not even himself. He’s an athletic kid, but he’s not very big and has thin
wiry arms. If you ask him, Jeff would credit it all to just experience and practice from playing with his
brother so many times over the last couple of years. He tries not to be cocky about it, but its one of the
few things that he is the best at, so he catches himself bragging slightly whenever he talks about it.

        Jonesy threw his 3 warm-up pitches and the game officially got under-way.

        “You might as well just go siddown Riggs, you’ve got nothing.”

        “Fuck you Jonesy, just pitch the ball.” The first pitch came in and Jeff’s eyes lit up. It was his
favorite pitch, a supple curve right over the heart of the plate. He fouled it off. Right after that pitch, Jeff
knew that it was just going to be one of those days for him. The next pitch was a soft drop ball on the
inside part of the plate that again looked like a pitch he could drive, but again he jumped too early on it.
The ball carried well over his 50 ft. holly tree down the left field line, but it was just a long, long strike.

        “Nothing but a loud out boys, nothing to see here.”

        “O.K. Jonesy, just throw me those pitches again when I come back up and see what happens.”

        “Well maybe if you were a real fuckin’ man you wouldn’t have to wait for a second try, I’ll show
you how it’s done if P-Burg doesn’t fuck it up for us.”

        The inning ended uneventfully with Mike and Jeff taking a couple walks, but failing to do any
damage hitting the ball. Coming up to the top of the first inning, Jeff was up first to pitch for his team so
that Mike could pitch the last inning for their team. Although Jeff was a good hitter, his pitching wasn’t
very good. He only knew enough good pitches to get him through an inning with minimal damage done.
P-Burg was the only kid playing who hadn’t hit a homerun ever through all of the tournaments, but
Jonesy was a solid hitter. When he started to have a catch with Mike to warm-up, he started thinking back
on everything that his brother had taught him about pitching. Tom was by and far the best pitcher out of
any of the guys playing and the two brothers used to help one another out with developing their pitches.

        “You’ve just got ta’ snap your wrist down more so you can get more break on it.”

        “I’m trying, it’s not exactly easy to throw a screw ball.”

        “Just keep workin’ on it and try some different grips to see what works for you.”

        “I don’t know how you do it, I can only throw 3 pitches and you’ve got like 7. That’s
outrageous.”

        “Yeah, well I can’t hit like you, so it all evens out.”

        Jeff came back into focus on the game at hand and finished his two warm-up pitches before
beginning the inning. The first batter was P-Burg and Jeff was ready to go after him. He strictly threw his
drop ball, which was getting some good bite lately. P-Burg can’t hit very well and he struck out swinging
after taking a ball and fouling another one off. Jonesy is a tougher out then P-Burg and Jeff couldn’t come
inside on him because of his ability to hit homeruns. He worked the outside part of the plate with his rise
ball and got Jones to foul out. After Jones fouled out, P-Burg swung at the first pitch and hit a soft pop up
to Mike to end the inning.

        The second and third innings passed without a lot of excitement, but Jeff and Jones both hit three
and two run homeruns respectively. In the last inning, Jeff and Mike showed their power by going back-
to-back-to-back with Jeff hitting two of the homeruns and driving in 5 runs between them. With an 8-2
lead and Mike pitching, the game was basically over. Mike had a bit of a rough inning by their standards,
but he only gave up two runs and the pair still won the game.

                             *                         *                       *

        The two friends went to sit down with everyone there watching or waiting to play and catch up
with people they haven’t seen in a while. A lot of people came this year to watch the tournament to help
celebrate the end of an era. Jeff could remember years past when his brother was a senior in high school
and a ton of people came that year when, like this year, it was an end of an era celebration. This year was
different though. Even though everyone was laughing, joking, and having an all around good time, there
was definitely an underlying sadness that everyone could feel. People who were good friends during high
school were reuniting for the first time since leaving for college, and life long friendships were stilling
going strong as well as some new friendships arising with so many different people coming to be part of
the fun. Jeff went around and said hi to everyone playing the part of host with his brother not around. It
felt weird for him because he knew a lot of the people for a long time, but he wasn’t really friends with
them so it made for some slightly awkward situations.

        Finally Jeff got through all the hellos and small talk and went off to sit with his friends. Mike was
already sitting down with Shane, Derek, and Colin and Terri was just arriving as Jeff walked over to sit
down. When he came over, everyone except Mike stood up and gave him a hug. It was one thing that Jeff
loved about his friends, they are all very independent people, but they are still very close and treat each
other like family. He trusted his friends with his life in the same that he trusted his brother Tom. When
Tom went to college, Jeff had a hard time at first, not being accustomed to being alone as much as he was,
and not having a friend around at all times. This situation caused Jeff to put so much more trust in his
friends and brought him closer with all of them.

        “Yo guys, what’s goin’ on?”

        “What’s up Riggs? How you feelin’?” Shane is the one friend that Jeff would say he’s closest
with. Mike has been his friend for longer, but Jeff and Shane are so similar and spend the most time
together that their parents joke about the two of them acting like brothers.

        “I’m doin’ good man, there’s a lot of stuff going on right now so it’s helping me to avoid thinking
about it.”

        “That’s good, I was worried this whole tournament would just get you dwe lling on the past. Are
you’re parents O.K.?”

        “Yeah, my mom is keeping herself busy running all over the house and talking to all my brothers
friends. My dad’s doing good too. He’s got a beer and his grill, he’ll be fine.” All this was said while Jeff
made his way around hugging everyone and thanking them for coming.

                             *                        *                         *

        The group of friends sat around in a circle of chairs exchanging their favorite dumb stories about
being really drunk or messing around with girls or stealing street signs. They aren’t bad kids at all; they
just like to have a good time. Jeff and his friends never really got in trouble from their parents or the
police; except for the time Jeff punched through Terri’s basement wall.

        Jeff’s group of friends knew how to keep things light, even when serious stuff was going on in
one of their lives, and Jeff was thankful for that right now. Jeff’s a very independent person, and although
that allows him to move on quickly when things go wrong, he holds a lot of things inside which puts
unnecessary stress on himself. The past year has been weighing down on him and he’s had to deal with a
lot more then an eighteen year old should have to. If you ask Jeff, he would credit it all to having a great
group of friends to lean on, but everyone else would just say his independence allowed him to fight
through it and come out on top. But regardless of how he did it Jeff, still had to grow up in a hurry and
finish off his senior year with a positive mindset.

                             *                         *                        *

        While Jeff and Mike were relaxing with their friends, the tournament kept going on around them.
Mike’s brother CJ partnered up with Jim who was best friends with CJ and Jeff’s brother Tom growing
up. The three were inseparable when they were young, but Jim got a girlfriend in high school and has
slowly faded out of the picture in recent years. CJ and Jim won a close game against Jeff’s dad and
Mike’s step-dad, who joined the tournament because some people couldn’t come back this year. The
once-inseparable friends easily defeated the dad’s and the next game started up quickly with two very
good teams squaring off in the first round. The next game was a competitive one and everyone ended up
watching as the game ended up being a great one before it was over.

        After the game, Jeff heard people talking about the game between Jeff, Mike, Tom and CJ two
years ago. As far as anyone was concerned, that was the greatest wiffle ball game ever played. The two
sets of brothers battled it out with great defensive plays by both teams being the deciding factor. That was
the first time that Mike and Jeff had ever beaten their brothers in a game of wiffle ball, and ever since
then, they’d had the better of their brothers. Jeff couldn’t help but think back on that day and how much
fun he’d had. He and Mike had made it all the way to the championship that year and lost, but the game
between their brothers was the most memorable of all the games he’d ever played. Any time he played
against his brother, Jeff would have a great time, regardless of whether or not he would win. The friendly,
sibling rivalry would always make the game a lot of fun to play in, and he found himself wishing for one
more game between the two of them.

        The day wore on, and not much changed, the teams that were expected to win, won, and more and
more people began to stop by as the day went on. Mike and Jeff worked their way through the bracket,
losing in the championship of the winners bracket and having to go through the losers bracket to return to
the championship game.

         The two friends were forced to play against two of Tom’s closest friends to make it to the
championship; Will and Henry. Will went to college with Tom and played soccer with him for a long
time before Tom quit for a reason that Jeff never found out. Henry was another one of Tom’s friends from
soccer, but he also played in the band with Tom for seven years where they became good friends. These
two teamed up to be a solid wiffle ball team and Will was a great home run hitter, second only to Jeff
over the years. Mike came up to Jeff to talk to him about strategy, but Jeff wasn’t as concerned with
winning as Mike was. It was more important for Jeff to play in this tournament and enjoy the atmosphere,
friends, and general fun going on, rather then actually win the championship, but M ike still wanted to
win. Not wanting to annoy his good friend, Jeff pretended that he was just as focused as Mike was while
they talked.

         “Alright, now remember not to work Will inside too much cause he’ll jump on it and drive it to
left. I don’t think you’ll need to worry to much about Henry, he hasn’t been hitting too well so you can go
after him.” Mike’s intensity was obvious; he hated losing in wiffle ball and always wanted to be the best.

         “Ok, I’ll see if I can work my riser on the outside part of the chair and try not to through my
slider unless I have to.”

         Jeff got out of the first inning on five pitches by taking advantage of the two players over
aggressiveness. In the bottom of the inning, Mike led off with a walk and Jeff came up to bat. The first
pitch he saw he drove deep to center field. At the Riggin’s house, their neighbors have a fence that they
put up behind the bushes that Jeff and Tom would use as the homerun wall. If the ball goes over that
fence, then it counts as an out-o-matic grand slam. This ball was crushed and it found a space between the
two trees that guarded homeruns from going over the fence and carried well into his neighbors yard. Jeff
just stood there with a smile on his face as his dad looked over at him from the patio laughing.

         “Jeff, that thing must have gone a hundred and fifty feet. How the hell did you hit a wiffle ball
that far?”

         “If I knew, I’d tell you. I guess I just swung really hard.”

         After that one hit, the game continued on without any excitement. Jeff and Mike ended up
winning the game 6-1 with Jeff adding yet another home-run to his total with a little poke-shot out to right
field.
        The sun was starting to sink down in the sky and everyone was hanging on the patio waiting for
the championship game to start. Fittingly, the game would be between Jeff and Mike and CJ and Jim.
Either the brothers of the founders would be the first team to repeat as champions and a Riggins would
win the final tournament, or two of the three original founders would win. The game ended up being a
pitchers duel and it was fairly uneventful until the top of the fourth inning. CJ had hit an RBI triple earlier
in the game to put them up 1-0 and this was Jeff and Mike’s last chance to hit. Jeff got to lead off the
inning, but they had to face CJ who was a great pitcher. Jeff’s first at-bat was a bad one and he went down
swinging on a bad pitch. Mike came up to bat and got yet another walk to bring Jeff back up to bat. This
was the kind of situation that Jeff really excelled in, and he knew he could come through. The first pitch
he saw came right over the plate and he drove it hard down the left field line. The ball carried out over the
green monster in left and they were now up 2-1. Mike came back up to bat and tripled off the wall in right
but Jeff struck out right after and the Mike popped up to the pitcher to end the inning.

        Jeff felt very confident that they could force a second game in the championship with Mike
coming up to pitch in the bottom of the last inning with a one run lead. Mike started off the inning well by
striking out Jim and getting CJ consecutively. Then Jim came back up to bat and popped up to Jeff for
what seemed like the last out. But the sun had dropped into a spot that shined right into Jeff’s eyes as he
tried to make the catch. Jeff lost sight of the ball and it bounced off of his fingertips, giving CJ and Jim
life with a man on second. The very next pitch showed how one mistake in a game can be killer. CJ
turned on an inside curveball and bounced it off of the foul pole in left. With one swing, the game was
over and the celebration for Jim and CJ began. Fresh beer was cracked open for the kids that were of age
and one of the two trophy balls with everyone’s signature was given as the award for winning.

        Once the tournament was over, people continued to hang around for a bit, most to say their final
good-byes to friends and Jeff’s parents, and others to just keep the fun-loving atmosphere going for a little
bit longer. But all good things have to come to an end and after an hour or so, only a handful of people
were left. Jeff’s parents had gone inside with a couple of other parents who came by to see the last
tournament, and Jeff was outside with Mike, CJ, Jim, and Jack; another one of Tom’s friends from high
school. Jeff’s parents had let him and Mike have a beer with the older kids because of the magnitude of
the situation. It was highly possible that this may be the last time that the five of them were all together
and nobody really knew what to say. Jack ended the silence and began talking about memories with Tom
from high school and college.

        “I remember when he talked this one girl into having sex with him because he said he was the son
of the guy who owned the Ghiardelli chocolate company.”
        “That sounds just like my brother. He would say just about anything to get a girl in bed,
especially when he was drunk.”

        After a little bit more reminiscing, Jeff felt it was time to give out the presents that he was
secretly planning for a couple days now. He quietly snuck out and went out to the fence in centerfield
where the new sign hung. Looking at it now in the moonlight, with everyone gone, and only the closest
friends remaining, Jeff finally found himself being overwhelmed by the situation. He couldn’t hold back
the tears that began to run freely down his cheeks and eventually, he gave in to his emotions. He couldn’t
get himself to stop crying, and while he was wrapped up in his own emotions, he didn’t notice everyone
else come up behind him and stand with him. He was grateful that they were all there and wasn’t
embarrassed at all by his tears. In-fact, when he looked up, he noticed that everyone else had tears
running down their faces as well. Seeing the love that all these people have for his brother, calmed him a
bit. He was only around for twenty years, but he was the kind of person that brought happiness to
everyone around him, and his fun, up-beat attitude made him beloved by his friends and family.

        Jeff walked up to the fence and stopped for a second to look at the beautiful sign that was
designed specifically for this last tournament. It was drawn by one of Jeff’s friends from school who was
a fantastic artist and was done in great taste. “Thomas Riggins Memorial Tournament.” It was hard for
Jeff to read that because it made everything feel so much more real, and even though it had been a year
since his brother passed, Jeff still missed him every day and wished there was something he could have
done to save him. Finally, Jeff took down the sign and peeled off the tape on the back. The sign separated
into five pieces, just like Jeff planned and he held out four of the five pieces to the others around him. He
knew that they all loved his brother and this was their tournament as well, so Jeff figured he’d give them
all a piece of the tournament as well as a way to always remember Tom and all the friends involved in
this over the years.
Alex Jumper


                                               4 Months


        As Melinda Walker pranced around the expectant mother section of Nordstrom Department

Store, she was greeted with looks of confusion and question. She had become accustomed to these

looks; she didn’t mind these looks. Ever since the end of her first trimester the other expectant mothers

looked upon her with envy after discovering that she was pregnant. Her frail frame had gained no more

than five pounds and made her pregnancy almost undetectable. After resenting her petite frame during

her awkward adolescent years, Melinda was finally thankful that it had helped her accomplish

something. Keeping this pregnancy hidden from everyone- except of course, her mother and boyfriend,

Aaron, had been a top concern since discovering she was pregnant four months earlier. The last thing

she needed was to have her senior peers at Ridgemont High School gossiping about her life, each rumor

becoming nastier than the last.


        Melinda debated between a blue and yellow blanket as her mother approached carrying photos

of designer baby cribs. The thought of purchasing a two thousand dollar crib may have seemed

impractical or downright ridiculous to most, but knowing Aaron’s parents would fit the bill allowed

Melinda to splurge when it came to the comfort and lifestyle of her son-to-be. “All right Melinda, which

crib should we get for the new apartment? How big is the nursery again?” Her mother’s banter went in

one ear and out the other. Her mind turned to Aaron, her 19-year-old boyfriend who attended Cornell.

His father, a neurosurgeon, had pulled every string possible to get Aaron enrolled. Aaron’s high school

life had been far different than most of the other freshmen students at Cornell. His nonchalant attitude

about schoolwork had earned him poor grades and innumerable after school detentions. It was his

reputation as a notorious bad ass and above the law mentality that had first attracted Melinda to Aaron

during her junior year. Melinda never expected someone of Aaron’s prestige in the social community at
Ridgemont to be attracted to her, let alone ask her out on a date. Maybe he had telepathically heard her

thoughts each day in chemistry class, switching his last name with hers, and envisioning herself staring

into those baby blue eyes over a romantic dinner at the local Italian restaurant. Whatever it was, he had

seen something in Melinda that set her apart from the other girls.


        Melinda and her mother purchased the lavish crib and decided on the yellow blanket. As she

swiped the black American Express card that had been gifted to her from Aaron’s parents, the

Williamsons, she couldn’t help but smile when the cashier asked to see identification for the purchase.

Of course, it was understandable, it wasn’t every day some teenager strolled through the store spending

four grand on just two items and then charged it to their black card. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so

bad after all, Melinda thought as she placed the card back into her wallet. She could definitely get used

to this lush lifestyle. Sure she’d have to sacrifice college, but isn’t this what she ultimately wanted from

life? A family? A home? Financial stability? Maybe all this was coming sooner than expected but Melinda

knew she could make it fit together and work. This she was sure of. Melinda’s roles in High School as

Student Council President, Tennis Captain, and involvement in math tutoring, foreign language tutoring,

and almost every other club had helped her develop a knack for balancing many things at once. Now,

Melinda hoped her past experience would help her find a way to balance her happiness into the

equation too.


        Perhaps it was her vulnerability or her loyal nature that had attracted Aaron to her. He, along

with every other student at Ridgemont, knew about her father’s suicide and the deep depression her

mother had fallen into afterward. Her mother, a former MADD advocate, was so blindsided by the

suicide that she began to rely on self-medicating herself to make it through each day. The emotional

pain was so devastating to her, that she’d quit her job and became a social pariah. After blowing her

husband’s $250,000 life insurance policy on costly things: cars, vacations, gambling, she began tapping
into the family’s savings account to fund her new found addiction. Still, Melinda had stood by her side,

trying to help ease the pain by pretending to support her mother’s reckless spending.


        As Melinda got into the car with her mother, her phone flashed and beeped indicating a waiting

message. Although Melinda hoped it was Aaron, his constant partying and irresponsible nature made

her doubtful. As she called her voicemail and began to drive home she listened to the numbe r from the

voicemail operator, and realized with surprise that the message was indeed from Aaron. The sounds of

loud music hit her ear. Baby come here. What’s your name? You’re so beautiful, what are you doing

later? She heard Aaron’s voice now, but this was not the message she had expected. Melinda realized

with disgust that once again Aaron had accidently called her. He’s too damn stupid to figure out how to

work his five-hundred dollar phone she screamed in her mind. The message had only affirmed for her

what she already knew. Aaron always had been a complete player, utterly afraid of monogamous

relationships- or at least remaining faithful to them. It was sad that these messages didn’t even faze her

any more. The fact was Melinda knew Aaron cared about her, but not enough to give up his rock star

lifestyle or fully commit to her. Sometimes she thought that if it wasn’t for their child, their relationship

would have ended long ago and turned into a less stressful friendship. Being fully cognizant of this,

Melinda allowed herself to lead the single life too, even if she was almost 4 months pregnant.


        The first time Aaron hit Melinda it had been self defense. Or so he rationalized with Melinda.

Shortly after their whirlwind romance had began to blossom, Melinda discovered Aaron had cheated

with some freshman. She slapped him across the face after he denied the publically known accusations.

Never did she expect her new boyfriend to retaliate by tackling her to the floor and punching her

relentlessly in the arms, face, and abdomen. Melinda wore her black eye in embarrassment, keeping

her head low, avoiding the perplexing glances from teachers and friends. Her alibi, an overthrown

lacrosse ball, was actually somewhat believable to most due to her lack of athletic ability, but close
friends and her mother especially were unconvinced of the all-too-convenient tale. She continued to

stick by his side after this first incident, reasoning with herself that it would never happen again.

Subconsciously she knew she was wrong, but it was too late. Aaron knew he had Melinda, to mistreat

and abuse; he knew Melinda would be by his side.


        “Melinda, slow down!” her mother screamed from the passenger seat. Her usually calm tone

had suddenly turned agitated. The Xanax high was beginning to wear off, leaving Melinda’s mother

irritable and short tempered. “Mom, I’m going the speed limit, if I go any slower I’m going to cause an

accident.”


        “Melinda, stop it with the damn attitude… Always making smart ass remarks- just like your

father.” Melinda cringed at her mother’s reference. She hated when her mother brought up her dad.

Ever since her mom had started abusing prescription drugs, every mention of her father was negative

and belittling. She knew her mother loved her father, but the way in which he had left the family had

caused her mom to speak quite bitterly about him. The fact that he had left her alone with a kid to raise

and no explanation had driven Melinda’s mother to feelings of near hatred for a while. Now, a couple

years later, the anger flame inside had finally died down; however, the occasional cruel comment still

helped Melinda’s mom cope with her husband’s mental instability and selfish choices.


        It was after her mother had transformed into this unloving, cruel person that things between

Melinda and Aaron began to get serious. Melinda relied on Aaron emotionally to release her anger and

frustrations about her mother’s drug abuse, and he relied on her sexually and physically in order to help

himself feel empowered and strong. Growing up in a strict Catholic home, Melinda had compromised

her morals when she agreed to sleep with Aaron. In order to ease her screaming conscious, Melinda

convinced herself of the love between her and Aaron, telling herself that they would be together

forever. Unfortunately, she knew these lies to be far from the truth. She regretted her decision from the
moment she gave into Aaron’s demands, knowing once again she had allowed Aaron the control and

empowerment he craved.


        As they pulled into the driveway of their small suburban home, Melinda and her mother weren’t

sure what to do next. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. Neighbors were out and about walking dogs,

playing Frisbee, and enjoying the nice weather. However, appreciating simple things l ike this had never

been farther from the minds of Melinda and Susan Walker. Melinda realized there were so many other

(insignificant) things on the mind of a pregnant teenager that made appreciating life’s little gifts almost

impossible. As they trudged inside their home, eight hundred dollar blanket in hand, both Melinda and

her mother wondered what they would do for the remainder of the day. Should I even bother calling

Aaron back? Melinda wondered. “Melly,” Melinda’s mom yelled down from the upstairs bathroom,

“don’t you dare think of talking to Aaron right now, you don’t need that kind of stress, it’s only going to

hurt the baby!” She had her answer. Melinda knew she was right, her mother despised Aaron, but

Melinda knew he was going to play a crucial role in their son’s future. Mostly a financial role, but

nevertheless an important one. “Why don’t you ask Mike to come over and keep us company Mel? I

haven’t seen him in forever where has he been?” Her mom’s seemingly insignificant request made her

heart jump. Mike Kelly, also a senior at Ridgemont, had been Melinda’s best friend since the third grade.

During their freshman year of High School, they began secretly dating on and off for the next four years.

They needed to keep their relationship secret in order to take advantage of the lax rules their parents

offered of their co-ed friendship concerning sleepovers and late night phone calls. Mike had always been

in love with Melinda, always remembering her birthday, offering advice, helping with homework, eve n

doing her chores when Melinda wasn’t feeling well. However, it wasn’t until freshman year when girls

began talking to Mike that jealous feelings emerged in Melinda and she knew she had to do something

as to not lose him. She told him she loved him, and always had. Mike believed her half true lies and

devoted himself to Melinda, blowing off all his other admirers. Then she met Aaron. She told Mike they
needed a break, even though she knew from the start he was the better man. Through this break Mike

stayed true to her, waiting patiently for the word permitting his return. It was only after the physical

altercations with Aaron had started that Melinda gave this word. She allowed herself to fall for Mike,

knowing that she was insignificant to Aaron. Why had she done this, Melinda wondered. Everything

would be different now had she not forced herself to pursue love and a relationship with both of the

boys.


        Melinda debated calling Mike or not. Her relationship with him had been strained since

discovering her pregnancy several months before. Although she now loved Mike and knew he was the

perfect guy for her, she knew he wasn’t in a position to care for a child. She didn’t want to tell him about

the pregnancy and lose him. For one, she knew he’d question whether the child was his, a question she

couldn’t answer. She’d have to explain to him how she still spoke with Aaron. It was all too much for

her. Melinda started crying and instead of calling Mike laid down on her bed and took a much needed

nap despite the glowing sun and warm weather outside. She dreamed of a normal life, she envisioned

her family back together, happily venturing down to the beach as they always had at this time of the

year, she dreamed of living a life free of lies and false hopes and promises.


        When Melinda awoke, she glared out at the setting sun. She knew what had to be done. She

picked up her phone, dialed Mike, and started to explain.
Tyler Klause

Mr. Zervanos

                                                   Tony

         I opened the door to my room, stepping out onto my pool deck. Staring into my empty,
unfinished pool, I felt the wind as it gently caressed my face. It was a warm Saturday evening in May, one
of those days when it feels like summer has finally arrived. I couldn‟t wait another month for summer, for
my pool to be finished, for high school to finally be over. As I began to ponder what the future might
hold for me, I felt my phone begin to vibrate in my pocket.

        “Hey Craig, you busy?” I heard my friend Tony say over the static of a bad signal. “Lauren is
having people over tonight. I‟m heading up there around 8, after I get off work. If you want go, I can pick
you up on my way there.” With nothing planned for the night, I told Tony that it sounded like a plan.
Lauren‟s parties were usually fun and I just needed to relax and take it easy with summer so close.

        I soon heard the low rumble of Tony‟s old, rusted truck as he pulled down my street. Headlights
flashed across my living room, like a can of yellow paint thrown upon the walls, and I headed outside. I
jerked at the handle a few times before it would open. Tony desperately needed a new car. As I pulled
myself into the truck, I noticed a cigarette burning in Tony‟s hand. He only smoked when he was stressed.
Tony pressed the accelerator and the car rumbled back down my driveway and disappeared into the dark.

       “Hey, man. What‟s the problem? Don‟t say it‟s nothing. I know something‟s wrong,” I said to
Tony, whose fingers were trembling like he had Parkinson‟s.

      “Nothing, don‟t worry about it. “ He muttered back. Tony reached over and turned up the radio. I
knew what was wrong.

          Tony had been my best friend since elementary school. We had grown up together, always ran in
the same circle. Some friends moved in or out of our circle, but Tony and I were constants. We were like
brothers. Early in freshman year, Tony had gotten into drugs. I had quickly followed suit. We started with
weed, but it soon progressed to other things. Pills, Mushrooms, Ecstasy, Acid, Coke, almost anything we
could get our hands on. I tried to stay away from the harder stuff, but Tony didn‟t shy away from
anything. He had always been more adventurous than me. Soon, it seemed like drugs had taken over his
life. It was all he would talk about. He seemed to be a different person. The deeper down the rabbit hole
he went, the more it repulsed me. I quit messing around the day he was arrested. That had been last
summer. Tony‟s parents got him checked into rehab and cleaned up. When he got out, things went back
to the way they were before between us. I liked having sober Tony back, but I could tell Tony sometimes
didn‟t.

         We pulled up to Laurens, parked, and headed towards the old Victorian house. Music faintly
leaked from the house, breaking the night‟s silence. The stars flickered brightly above us, illuminating the
yard filled with cars. Lauren greeted us at the door, as she usually did, before blending back into the
crowd. She seemed a bit edgy, perhaps because her parents weren‟t home. There were more people than
usual. Most of the faces were familiar, but there were a few I hadn‟t seen before. Tony and I made a
beeline for the kitchen.
         “Hey Craig, when did you get here?” I heard a voice behind me say. Spinning around in the dimly
lit room, my eyes fell upon Claire. Claire was one of Lauren‟s best friends. However, I didn‟t really know
her until this year, when we had to suffer through three horrible classes together. Our shared experiences
helped us form a quick friendship

         “Just now,” I replied, “You got anything to drink?” Claire handed me a beer as Tony slipped out
of the room without saying a word.

        “What‟s wrong with him?”

         “He won‟t say. I think he‟s just a little stressed out, but don‟t pay him any attention. It‟s just how
he acts sometimes.” Claire and I wandered into the living room, where a multitude of people was
watching a game of pong. With the crowd growing, we moved across the room toward Claire‟s friend,
dodging ping-pong balls bouncing astray. She looked familiar, but I couldn‟t remember how I knew her.
Then it hit me, she was Ryan‟s little sister, Sam. Ryan had been a good friend of Tony‟s. He had
graduated last year and I ceased seeing him once I stopped messing around with drugs. He had replaced
me as Tony‟s best friend for a few months. While he was a good person, he had a bad temper that often
got the best of him. Adding a coke habit to a bad temper like Ryan‟s can get you arrested pretty fast. Once
I realized who she was, I didn‟t feel like mentioning how I knew her.

         As the game continued in front of us, the conversation between Sam and I slowly grew. Her
words seemed so familiar, so real. The game soon ended, and Claire was in the next one. After she left,
the game became an afterthought. My conversation with Sam ebbed lightly with the faint rasp of a radio.
As the hands on the clock turned, I could feel the effects of the alcohol loosening my lips and hers as
well. Sam and I slipped outside so she could smoke a cigarette. Our conversation continued and it seemed
like we talked for hours, though I couldn‟t tell you what we talked about. At some point, I mentioned
knowing her brother. She wanted to know how I knew him, giving me a glare that suggested she hated her
brother. I lied and said I met him once through a friend, which was partially true. I asked for her number,
fumbling my phone as I pulled it out of my pocket. As it bounced off the grassy mattress that was
Lauren‟s yard, Sam cracked a smile. When I put the number in my phone, I realized we had been outside
for over two hours. I suggested heading back inside, and took Sam‟s hand, pulling her behind me towards
the warm glow of the party. We had reached the porch when I heard yelling inside. A crash that could
only be toppled furniture came from within. I held Sam back for a moment. The front door swung wide
open, slamming against the side of the house. Tony emerged from the house, blood dripping from his
face, his white shirt now crimson. He began stumbling along the porch.

         “Fuck, dude! What‟s going on?” I exclaimed. Tony glanced at me looking bewildered. I grabbed
his arm and he pulled his other hand back, as if he were preparing to unload a fury of punches into my
face. Realizing who I was, Tony‟s arm went limp and his face lit up, as though a light bulb had gone off
inside his head.

        “Come on, man. We gotta get out of here. I need some help,” Tony quivered. Sam looked lost and
frightened, as if a homeless man was mugging her on the streets.

         “Sam, I‟m sorry. This is my friend, Tony. I don‟t know what‟s going on, but I gotta get him out
of here. I‟ll call you tomorrow or something. Sorry about this, but I‟ll see you later.” I said trying comfort
her. She squeezed my hand tight, afraid to let go, frightened of blood-drenched Tony and the party. But
Tony started to stumble down the porch, pulling us apart. I put my hand over Tony‟s shoulder, supporting
him as he limped to his truck. Tony‟s shirt and arms were wet with blood, like he had just murdered
someone. I didn‟t even want to know what had happened. Tony turned the ignition and the car sputtered
to life. He threw it into drive and sped down Lauren‟s driveway, like a fugitive escaping from prison. The
country roads we drove down were all empty, lit by gentle moonlight that cut across the road where there
were no trees. We drove in silence for ten minutes, before I decided that it was better to know what Tony
had gotten himself into.

        “Dude, what the fuck was that back there?” I demanded Tony.

        “Sorry man, some bad shit went down,” he quietly replied.

        “Like what? Why are you covered in blood? Did you stab someone or something? Where the fuck
did you go after we got there?”

        “I‟m sorry Craig. I really am. I got into a fight with Nick. He pulled a knife on me, so I pulled
mine out. That kid‟s crazy. I mean why did he need a knife. I didn‟t want any of that to happen, I swear. I
was just defending myself. He accused me of stealing some of his shit. Like ten percs and an eightball.
The idiot probably dropped them somewhere. Am I bleeding bad?”

        “You look like you just murdered someone, but you don‟t seem to be bleeding too bad. He knows
you‟re clean though, doesn‟t he?”

        “Sorry, dude. I really am. I didn‟t want you to know, but I‟m not completely clean anymore. I‟m
not as bad as I used to be. I just need something when I‟m real stressed. I promise I‟ll never get as bad as I
was. What were you doing outside with Ryan‟s sister?”

        “Fuck, dude. Jesus Christ. After all you went through. You didn‟t learn your lesson? And we
weren‟t doing anything, just talking.”

         “Don‟t worry about me, I‟ll be fine. Stay away from Sam, Craig. You know better,” Tony rasped
as we sped around a corner. We passed the rest of the ride in silence, the radio blaring to provide an
escape from the night. I couldn‟t believe Tony was using again. It was only a matter of time before he
changed back. He couldn‟t resist: not then, not now. Tony‟s truck began rolling down familiar roads.
Roads we had spent our childhood exploring. As we reached my driveway, I couldn‟t help but think about
Sam, leaving her on the porch and running off with my blood-drenched friend. I texted Claire to see if
Sam was all right. Tony turned his truck up my driveway, coming to a stop next to the garage. I hopped
out and slammed the door without saying a word. Looking over my shoulder as I headed across the deck
to my room, I could see Tony shaking his head as he pulled away. The air was now cold and the wind
whipped through my shirt, a cold chill licking at my skin. I lay awake in my bed for hours, running the
nights‟ events through my mind.

         I awoke the next day late in the morning, that time of day when it‟s too late for breakfast, but too
early for lunch. My stomach let out a low groan as I rolled out of bed. It was a perfect day outside: bright,
sunny, and unseasonably warm. As I ate some Lucky Charms, I punched Tony‟s number into my phone,
but it went straight to his answering machine. I needed to talk to Tony; he was acting like a recluse living
alone in the woods. Relapsing was quickly going to turn him back to the old Tony. I left a message on his
machine; I was concerned about the kid. After finishing my cereal, I called Sam, like I had promised. I
didn‟t care about what Tony had said. She picked up and asked if I had made out all right the night
before. Telling her I had, I asked if she wanted to do something today, maybe something like swimming
in the cove. Tony and I used to visit the cove almost everyday during the dog days of summer. Nothing
beat the cove when you didn‟t have a pool and didn‟t feel like trying to sneak into one of the private pool
clubs. Sam thought it a fine idea, considering the heat of the day.

         I met her at the mall, and we hopped into my car. I threw my car into gear and we headed down
some windy back roads on our way to the cove. The wind whipped in and out of the car as we sped
around corners and long, windy turns. The landscape grew more rural as we approached our destination,
the houses growing farther apart and the lawns getting bigger. It seemed like we were almost in the
country. Sam and I made our way up to the train tracks that led to the cove. Our conversation began to
grow again, like it had the night before. But it quickly began to center on Tony and his fight. Sam
explained how her parents thought they had messed up with her brother, weren‟t hard enough on him.
They thought that was why he had turned out how he did and weren‟t ready to see the same thing happen
to their baby girl. Sam‟s parenting was the polar opposite of Ryan‟s. Her parents were strict with her and
wouldn‟t let her go out on most nights. That‟s why I hadn‟t seen her prior to Lauren‟s. Her parents were
out of town for the weekend, meaning for two days she had no curfew, no rules, just freedom from their
oppressive regime. As we walked along the tracks, I tried to balance myself and walk down the rails, like
a tightrope walker. Flailing my arms wildly to stay on, I fell off the rail, landing on my back upon some
leaves. Sam doubled over laughing, her voice echoing through the surrounding woods. She helped me up
and we continued towards the cove, over two bridges and through a tunnel. Our conversation had me
sucked in, and before I knew it we had reached our destination. The cove was just a swimming hole, a
section of a creek that had been dammed up. It was some fifty feet across and twenty feet deep. Nothing
was special about this swimming hole, except for the fact that a bridge overlooked the creek from the
train tracks. Standing on the edge of the bridge, one could leap out and fall twenty feet into the cove. Sam
had never seen it before, so I walked her out to the edge to show her the jump we would be making
shortly.

        “That‟s a pretty big drop. Are you sure it‟s safe?” She wondered.

        “I‟ve done it hundreds of times, I replied, “and we can jump at the same time, if it makes you feel
any better.”

        We stood at the edge, peering out at the abyss below. Kicking off our shoes, we prepared for the
descent into the unknown below us. I reached out, taking Sam‟s hand and pulling her over the edge with
me. We tumbled through the air, floating for what seemed like forever. As we hit the water, a huge wave
spun outward into the swimming hole. The water was freezing, though it was a cool relief on an
unbearably hot day. We made our way through the tunnel, climbed the train tracks, and jumped back in.
We stayed at the cove until 4, when I remembered I had to write a paper for my philosophy class.
Walking back down the tracks, our clothes leaving drops of water on the railroad ties, we soon began to
talk about Sam‟s parents. She didn‟t think they would let her hang around me if they knew about Tony,
my best friend. They didn‟t want any bad influences around their daughter. I didn‟t mention anything to
Sam about my past. I didn‟t think it necessary, now that I was clean. We reached my car, and sped
quickly to her home. She hopped out and headed down the rock path to her front door.

        “Hey Sam,” I yelled out from my car, “Call you tomorrow?”

       “Sure, I‟d like that,” she yelled back, her hand upon the doorknob. I took that as a signal to turn
my keys, my engine roared to life, and I headed home.

       I awoke Monday morning to the buzzing of my cell phone on my desk. I lurched out of bed, in a
zombie-like state, and hunted for my phone. It was Tony.

          “Hey Craig, my car‟s getting inspected today. Do you think you could give me a ride to school?
I‟ll be ready on time and everything,”

         “No problem,” I replied before closing my phone and heading back to bed for that extra five
minutes of sleep. I woke up at 6:37, late as usual, and rushed to my house to get ready for school. I was
out the door in record time and was on my way to school. I picked up Craig on the way, as well as two
girls who lived near me, Nicole and Caitlyn. Craig was wearing a sweatshirt and I didn‟t bother asking
about his cuts from Saturday night. I didn‟t need to dwell on that much longer. We pulled up to school at
7:20, only to be stuck in that endless line of cars, where luck determines who‟s late and who isn‟t. It
would‟ve been my third lateness, warranting me the most pointless of detentions, but luckily I made it to
homeroom in the nick of time. First and second period went as usual, nothing but a boring review of math
and talking about our philosophy papers. I couldn‟t wait for 5th period to come, bringing lunch with it.

         Third period arrived, the most dreaded part of my day. I slowly meandered down the hall, takin g
my time to walk as slow as possibly, like a prisoner about to be put to death. I took my seat quickly,
getting in some quick conversation about the past weekend with my friend, Josh, before our teacher
entered. He arrived and we shut up. I despised chemistry.

          “Put your notebooks away. I have a pop quiz for you on the weekend‟s reading on Acid-Base
reactions,” Mr. Donaldson explained. Josh‟s head slumped onto his desk with a thud; limp as if he had
just had fainted. I had forgotten to do the homework as well. As Mr. Donaldson handed out the quiz, I
tried to remember how we did Acid-Base reactions last year. When he got to me, he didn‟t place a quiz on
my desk. “Craig, Mr. Warner wants to talk to you in the hallway. Take your stuff with you,” he whispered
to me. I got up and headed to the door, wondering what the principal could possibly want with me.

        “Come with me. I‟ll explain everything when we get to my office,” Mr. Warner stated in an
authoritative tone. He ushered me down the hall at a frenzied pace. Thoughts began racing through my
mind. What could this be about? We entered his office and he sat me down. I noticed a police officer
standing outside the door. I could feel my heart thumping faster and faster, though I could not think of a
reason I would be in trouble. “We had an incident today,” the principal started, “One of our students was
found in possession of marijuana. It just so happens that you drove this student to school this morning.
Would you happen to know anything about this?”

        “No. Which student?” I replied.
         “I‟m afraid I can‟t say. As of now you‟re not in any trouble, but we‟re going to have to search
your bag and car. Just standard procedure, you know.” Mr. Warner placed my bag upon the table and
systematically searched every pocket, every crevice, anywhere contraband could‟ve been hidden. He
didn‟t find anything. I wasn‟t surprised. Mr. Warner ushered me out to the parking lot. We walked to my
car gravel crunching underfoot on the cool pavement. I popped the trunk on my black Subaru. Mr. Warner
didn‟t even give it a glance. It was completely empty except for a spare tire and a jack. I unlocked the car
and stood aside while Mr. Warner crammed himself into my car. He started on the driver‟s side, making
his way to the passenger‟s then the rear. He checked every compartment, rifled through the trash, moved
my floor mats, and lifted up the carpet to glance underneath. I was beginning to ease up and relax. I
wasn‟t going to get in any trouble and I had missed a quiz I would‟ve surely failed. But right as I relaxed,
Mr. Warner pulled a plastic baggy from the passenger seat pocket. In it was a green substance,
unmistakable as weed. Mr. Warner grabbed my arm, marching me back into his office. The state trooper
was now inside the room along with us. He pulled handcuffs off his belt, and snapped the cool metal tight
around my wrists.

          “You‟re under arrest for now, Craig,” Mr. Warner told me, “for possession of marijuana on
school grounds. Don‟t freak out on me here, but it‟s just procedure. I‟ve been your principal all through
high school, and I‟ve never had to see you once for a disciplinary problem. I believe that you‟re a good
kid, that this isn‟t yours. But until someone else claims it, you are at fault. Now, who did you drive to
school this morning?” I gave Mr. Warner the three names and soon enough, all three were in his office. I
looked over at Tony, noticing he was handcuffed as well. It didn‟t surprise me. Mr. Warner asked the
three if the weed he had found in my car was any of theirs. I didn‟t expect Tony to comply immediately,
but he didn‟t speak up. Mr. Warner continued to explain that if nobody claimed it, I was going to be
punished. Tony kept silent, his head staring down, not eyes not making contact with anything apart from
the lines on tiled floor. Tony refused to say anything. Was he going to let me take the blame for his
mistake?

        “Tony, just claim it already. You‟re already in trouble. You won‟t get in much more. I‟m sure
they won‟t kick you out, but you can‟t seriously be thinking about doing this. We‟ve been friends since
grade school. What are Sam‟s parents going to think if I go down for this?” I pleaded. Tony just sat there,
limp and lifeless like a human vegetable. His eyes never moved in the twenty minutes we sat in Mr.
Warner‟s room, waiting for a confession. My heart began to thump louder and louder. Tony was really
going to do this to me. I couldn‟t believe it. At 12 o‟clock, the trooper picked Tony and I up and led us to
the squad car. He pushed my head down and pushed me inside. As we pulled away from school, I
couldn‟t help but wonder what the future would hold now for me. Would Tony claim it? What would Sam
think? What about my parents? Thoughts like these raced through my mind and I came to the realization
that I was no longer sitting next to my friend, Tony, that I had grown up with. I was sitting next to an
abomination of Tony, twisted mentally and emotionally. As we drove for what seemed like forever, Tony
remained silent. He looked like a robot that had been turned off.

         “The fuck, dude! You really gonna do this to me are you?” I yelled at Tony. He turned on, his
head rotating to face mine. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. He slumped back into
his seat, defeated and limp. My head hurt. Were all of those years of friendship fake? Was it ever real? Or
did I just imagine it? The squad car pulled up to the police barracks and the officer got out of the car. As
we were being led into the station, I heard a faint whisper from Tony.
“Don‟t worry, Craig. It‟ll be all right.”
Mike Malady

Short Story Assignment

Period 1

5-04-09




                                                The Decision




          It was his final week of Russian Studies class, and the final week of college. Brody Gillman was
more than ready to graduate. There was practically nothing left for him to do since the policy at Harvard
for select classes is that the final exam is not required if an “A” average is maintained. Brody had easily
achieved this by finishing the year with the best grade in all of the Russian Studies classes. After an hour
of casual talking, Professor Sakharov dismissed the class. While leaving the class, Professor Sakharov
called out to Brody.

          “Mr. Gillman, could you spare me a few minutes after class? I have something I’d like to speak to
you about.” Brody made his way over to the professor’s desk and reclined in one of the Italian leather
chairs.

          “Yeah, Professor, what’s up?” queried Brody.

          “As we both know, you have done an exceptional job this year, and you truly have a gift for the
language. You may, or may not know, that I graduated from Harvard in ’71 and was the captain of the
football team. After I graduated, I joined the Navy SEALs and served for twenty years before I became a
professor here. You remind me a lot of myself; you captained the ice hockey team and won a national
championship your senior year. I know someone affiliated with the CIA who may be interested in
someone with your qualifications.”

          “Professor Sakharov, I don’t know if I could do something like that. I mean, I enjoy the language;
however, I don’t know if I could exploit it in a situation with the CIA,” replied Brody.
        “Well, I sense you’re just the man for the job. Talk to your parents. Let us convene again in two
weeks.” Professor Sakharov fastened his briefcase and escorted Brody out of the class room. Brody
sauntered back to his dorm confused with numerous thoughts flashing through his mind.

        The following week Brody graduated and said his final goodbyes to his friends and professors.
He caught the shuttle to Logan International Airport where he waited for his plane to San Diego. Several
hours later, Brody arrived in San Diego. His parents picked him up and drove back to their house in Del
Mar Heights, California. Everything in town and his parent’s home appeared just as Brody had
remembered it; nothing had changed a bit. Brody ascended the stairs to his room and unpacked all his
clothes and belongings from college. A few minutes later his mom summoned him for dinner. Brody sat
down at the table; his favorite meal of king crab and filet mignon had been placed before him. He
thought that during dinner it would be an appropriate time to inform his parents about what Professor
Sakharov had mentioned to him during his last days at Harvard. His parents were shocked by the idea,
but also proud that their son was offered to do something like this. Brody told them he would not make
a final decision until he met again with Professor Sakharov and the professor’s political friend.

        A week later Professor Sakharov called Brody and told him he’d like to meet with him in
Washington, D.C.

        “Hello, Brody, how are you doing?”
        “Just fine, Professor, how are you?” replied Brody.

        “Wonderful! I have a meeting set up for us tomorrow to talk about your future plans.”

        “How am I going to arrive in Washington, D.C. by tomorrow?” asked Brody.

        “Don’t worry. Your ticket has already been purchased. It will be waiting for you at the American
Airlines counter; your flight leaves from San Diego at 5 A.M. Just call me when you land.”

        Brody extinguished the lights in his room and crawled into bed hoping to get a good night’s rest
before he departed for Washington early the next morning. Unfortunately, Brody was so nervous that
he dozed only for an hour before he had to get up and leave for his early flight.

        The alarm buzzed and woke Brody up out of his fog. He grabbed his small overnight bag and
trudged downstairs to find his mom making breakfast for him. Brody grabbed the bagel and drove his
car to the airport. The airport was almost empty, and Brody had no trouble boarding his flight. As soon
as he found his way to his seat and sat down, he fell asleep.

        “Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and
Washington, D.C.,” the pilot announced. The plane taxied to the gate. Brody seized his bag and walked
down the jet way. When he reached the baggage claim, he saw Professor Sakharov.

        “Brody, nice to see you again. Come this way; we have a car waiting for us.” Professor Sakharov
led Brody outside to the taxi and limousine lot. As they approached the limo, a man stood ready holding
the door open for them. Brody got into the limousine and made himself comfortable.

        “Here’s the deal, Brody. We’re meeting with a special CIA operative at the headquarters about
thirty minutes north in Langley, Virginia. He has an operation that he would like to offer to you. I think
you should really consider it because it would be perfect for you.” Brody listened to what Professor
Sakharov had to say and was extremely curious about what this operation could entail.

        The limousine pulled up to tall gates and a guard tower. The guard scanned the driver’s I.D., and
the car entered the headquarters. Brody and Professor Sakharov were escorted inside the building and
into a private meeting room where a well-dressed man was sitting behind a desk.

        “Brody, Professor, how are you? Come, sit down, make yourselves comfortable. Brody, I’m Dick
Esposito. Nice to finally meet you. So how was your final year at Harvard? Heard you were quite the
language student.”

        “It was an awesome year; I’m definitely going to miss it. Oh, yes, Professor Sakharov taught me
well,” chuckled Brody.

        “I wouldn’t doubt that; there aren’t many better than Professor Sakharov. But, I have something
to discuss regarding your language skills. We are currently curious about possible nuclear weapons being
built once again in Russia. With your Russian language skills you would be a perfect fit. Another aspect
we need is your hockey ability. We are going to have you play professional hockey while you are in
Russia. We will be able to supply you with everything you need.”

        “What would I be doing when I wasn’t playing hockey? Is this going to involve my being put in
life threatening situations?” Brody asked uneasily.
        “I can’t guarantee that. However I can assure you that you will be very safe while you are there.
We will have several people in Russia who will be able to assist you with anything you might need. I will
give you the day to think about. We’ll all meet for dinner tonight and make a final decision.”

        Brody and Professor Sakharov were escorted back outside to a waiting limousine. They were
shuttled to a nearby hotel where they would spend the day before they went out to dinner. The first
thing Brody did once he got to his room was close his blinds and crawl under the bed sheets.

        Brody was awakened by a familiar noise but wasn’t quite sure what it was. He cleared his blurry
vision and noticed it was his phone ringing.

        “Hello?”

        “Brody, were you sleeping? Wake up! We have to meet Mr. Esposito for dinner in thirty
minutes,” hurriedly advised Professor Sakharov.

        “Alright I’ll be in the lobby in ten minutes.”

        After hopping out of bed and turning on the shower, Brody picked out his clothes that he would
wear to dinner. He showered, dressed quickly, and left his room to ride the elevator downstairs. As the
elevator doors opened, he saw Professor Sakharov waiting in a cushioned chair in the lobby.

        “Very nice punctuality, Brody; let’s get going.” Professor Sakharov and Brody strode toward the
waiting limousine. It was a fifteen minute drive to where they were meeting Mr. Esposito for dinner.
When the two arrived at the restaurant, they were impressed by its elegance.

        “Jeeze, I hope I’m dressed alright,” Brody said worriedly.

        “Don’t worry. Your attire is just fine,” Professor Sakharov assured him.

        They two made their way inside and asked if Mr. Esposito had arrived. The hostess examined
her paper and escorted them to his table.

        “Professor, Brody, nice to see you again. Please take a seat.” The trio talked for a bit and placed
their orders. After receiving the main courses, Mr. Esposito decided to tell Brody what the secretive
operation would entail.
        “Brody, I’d like to give you the details on what you would be doing during your operation. We
have a few very good candidates for this operation; however, I believe you would be the best person
suited for the job. What puts you ahead of the rest of the others is the fact that you play hockey. The
president of Russia is a huge fan of hockey, and I believe that will aid you in accessing inside
information. I know this seems like a considerable task for you since you just recently graduated from
college, but I can assure you this job will be extremely beneficial to you,” Mr. Esposito intently informed
his audience.

        “Yeah, this seems a little extreme for someone with so little experience to attempt, but I believe
I could get this done. I’m definitely going to have to talk to my parents about it, though,” replied Brody.

        Mr. Esposito was pleased with Brody’s response. The three joyfully finished their dinner, and
Mr. Esposito treated. After they were finished conversing, they left the restaurant and ambled back to
their respective limousines.

        “Brody, thank you for your time, and I should be hearing from you shortly.”

        “Absolutely, Mr. Esposito, I will call you as soon as I talk this over with my folks,” Brody
answered.

        Brody said his farewells to the Mr. Esposito and Professor Sakharov and got into a different
limousine that returned him to his hotel and then the airport for his return flight home to California.

        When Brody landed in San Diego, he received a voicemail message from Professor Sakharov. He
told Brody that he needed to meet with him one last time before he departed for Russia. His flight
would land in Boston and he would spend the day there before his flight left for Russia. Brody had to
leave the next day for Boston, so he needed to start packing as soon as he got home. He also had to tell
his parents that he would be playing hockey in Russia.

        When Brody arrived home, he spoke to his parents immediately and told them that he would be
spending the year to play hockey in Russia. His parents were a little unsure about the idea, but
nevertheless they supported him as they had done throughout his whole life.

        After Brody finished packing all his clothes and necessities into two gigantic suitcases, he
descended the stairs to the basement where he kept his hockey equipment. His Harvard jerseys with the
national championship patches on the chest were hanging on the wall. He re called all the great
memories he had playing hockey at Harvard. This memory began to excite him even more about playing
hockey in Russia. He would do anything just to lace up those boots again! Brody threw all his equipment
in the bag including his Harvard practice jersey for inspiration and memories. He walked up the steps
and placed his bag next to his two suitcases. Then it hit him, and he couldn’t believe it, he was actually
going to Russia to play hockey.

        It was time again to go to the place that Brody knew so well, the airport. He had the whole
routine down to a science by now. The flight to Boston seemed short for some reason, but he wasn’t
complaining. Once Brody got to the baggage claim he saw Professor Sakharov waiting for him.

        “Hurry and grab your bags, Brody, we only have a few hours until you need to catch your flight
to Russia,” Professor Sakharov informed. Brody grabbed his bags and the two then made their way out
to Professor Sakharov’s car. It was only a short thirty minute drive to Professor Sakharov’s house in
Quincy, Massachusetts.

        “Take a seat on the couch. Make yourself at home. I’m going to make us some lunch. What
would you like on your sandwich? I have turkey, salami, or ham.”

        “I’ll have a turkey sandwich, thanks,” replied Brody.

        Professor Sakharov came in with two nicely prepared sandwiches and a bag of chips. The two
small talked a little bit about what Brody is going to encounter while in Russia.

        “Brody, I have something extremely important to tell you that may be a little bi t surprising.”
Professor Sakharov continued talking as Brody ate and kooked at him with curiosity. “I’m a double agent
for Russia. I was hired by the intelligence agency in Russia three years ago. I send off information weekly
about what I hear from Mr. Esposito. It’s a very risky job, and you are the only person in the United
States that is aware of this. What I’d like to offer to you is a partnership with me. You will be working in
Russia until you understand fully our plans. I will use you to relay the information to the Russian
Intelligence Agency.”

        Brody was in shock from what he just heard. He never expected his own Russian professor to be
a double agent for Russia. He was dumbstruck!

        “Oh yes, I forgot to mention one last thing. When you arrive in Russia, I have five million dollars
in a Swiss Bank account under your name,” remarked Professor Sakharov.
        Brody was overwhelmed by all the things that had expired lately. He didn’t know what to say to
Professor Sakharov, but he then realized he was very anxious about the whole situation. Brody
reluctantly agreed to Professor Sakharov’s offer.

        “Yikes! It’s quarter after; we need to leave!” Brody stated. “I’ll be ready soon. I need to use the
bathroom before we go.” Brody ran into the bathroom and made a qui ck phone call.

        “Hello?”

        “Mr. Esposito, it’s Brody Gillman. I don’t have much time to talk. I just was speaking with
Professor Sakharov; he told me that he works as a double agent for Russia. He has been relaying top-
secret information for three years. We are on our way to Logan International right now.” Brody heard
footsteps coming toward the bathroom and quickly hung up.

        “Ready?” questioned Professor Sakharov from the other side of the door.

        “Yes, let’s get going,” Brody replied quickly.

        After arriving at the airport, Professor Sakharov parked in the short-term parking so he could go
over the plans with Brody one last time.

        “Brody, here is a phone that you will use strictly to communicate with me. I have my number
already programmed into it.” Professor Sakharov and Brody strode to the ticketing section of the
airport. As soon as the two entered into the doorway, a SWAT team tackled Professor Sakharov and
handcuffed him.

        An agent came over and approached Brody with a phone and told Brody that he had someone
who wanted to speak with him.

        “Hello?”

        “Brody, it’s Mr. Esposito. You have no idea what you just did for this country. I knew all along
that you would be perfect for a job in the CIA, and you certainly just proved that. I don’t need you to go
to Russia anymore. I’m going to get you set up here in the U.S. first. You also have a ticket purchased for
you for a flight to San Diego in an hour. I’ll be in contact with you within the next few days.”
        Brody hung up the phone and gave it back to the agent. Brody turned around to see what was
happening to Professor Sakharov. Their eyes met as Professor Sakharov was being escorted out of the
airport. Brody stood and stared until he was nudged into the back of an undercover police car.

        Brody walked up to the ticket counter where he was greeted by an airline ticket agent. “Hi, I’m
Brody Gillman I should have a ticket waiting for me.”

        “Oh, yes, here you are, Mr. Gillman. Ooh, San Diego. Are you going on vacation?” questioned
the attractive ticket agent.

        “Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
Mary Kate Manganiello


                                                   Need




        Jess sat on the couch of the empty house. Her sparkly hot pink nails were tightly clenched

around the bottle of hard liquor—an unfitting atmosphere for such a material girl. Her long blonde hair

done to perfection laid exactly where she wanted it to on her shoulders. Her makeup was suitable for

prom and her outfit mixed and matched accordingly. The dark room with no furniture spun around Jess.

She took a swig from the bottle and leaned back against the cold white walls. Her knees that were

propped up right gave in and crashed to the hard wood floors. Her heels fell off.


        Jess liked how the alcohol made her body feel numb and her mind feel drunk. This feeling- it was

what she imagined heaven would feel like. Little did she know it could get her there. Jess tried to make

her self think that she couldn’t remember how she got there. She did though—No matter how hard she

tried. There was no forgetting what was wrong or the night that got her there. As much as she didn’t

want to think about it, she took another gulp of alcohol and her mind took her back to that night.


        It was a night like a lot of the others that she went out partying with her friends. She drove to a

college party with one of her girlfriends. Not her best friend though. Jess didn’t really have any of them.

She was one of the most popular girls in the school. Everyone wanted to be like her. She was smart,

beautiful, witty, and she always went to the best parties. Everyone wanted to be friends with her; and

they were. She just never let anyone get too close. Before high school she and her mom were best

girlfriends, but not any more—things changed. She really didn’t like girls that much anyway. They always

seemed to be getting themselves into everyone else’s business. They always knew how to solve

everyone else’s problems but when it came to there own, they were clueless. This was not Jess. She
never let too much information out about herself. She always pretty much stuck to herself. Jess liked to

handle her own problems; She knew that best.


        In the dark room, Jess thought about the ride to the college. She made sure the music was

blasting the whole ride up so she didn’t have to talk much. The only conversation that was said was

when Ren, Jess’s friend, said,


        “I can’t wait till this ride is over! I just want to get wasted and get with hot guys!”


        Jess played along with her fake girly voice, “Oh my God same! You have no idea!”


        Jess could do with out the boys though; she really just wanted to start drinking. It wasn’t that

she didn’t like boys. She just never was a relationship girl. The men in her life always let her down. Jess

was more into the random hook ups. Somehow she managed to get around being called a slut. She

always made sure to stay away from other girls boyfriends no matter how hammered she was. She

craved to feel drunk though, and it wasn’t just on the ride up. It was all the time. Sometimes during the

week when Jess had school the next morning, she would steal alcohol from her basement and drink

herself to sleep. Falling asleep with the bottle next to her under the blanket, Jess thought how the bottle

had become her best friend.


        She took another gulp of the alcohol. She remembered how as soon as she and Ren got to the

party that night they started playing drinking games. She partnered herself with the hottest guy there.

She never got his name. Jess remembered taking her ninth shot and passing out on the couch. Hours

later she woke up in this unfamiliar frat house—still wasted. She loved the feeling she had. The feeling

of barely being conscious but still aware of everything around her, she felt amazing. She was totally

relaxed. A jolt of insecurity ran through her body, slightly killing her drunk. She realized she was

completely naked.
        Jess took another shot and thought back to how she felt rolling over and seeing the same kid she

was partnered with in beer pong completely naked next to her. The only thing running through her mind

at the time was “Damnet … are you serious Jess?” She thought about getting changed and seeping the

rest of that night off in the car parked around back of the shitty frat house known solely on its hard

partying. Jess remembered not being able to sleep and looking up through the sunroof of the car

thinking about how disappointed her mom would be.


        Jess took a big gulp this time. She thought of her mom.


        “Bitch.”


        Before high school Jess and her mother were best friends. They shared everything with each

other. She kind off missed the quiet peaceful conversations they used to have. She always did whatever

her mom said and was happy too. If something they did disagree on ever came up, they would

compromise with each other. They never seemed to yell at each other. Jess could only remember them

smiling. Jess was a lot different then. She was the well-mannered Catholic School girl who played the

piano, ran track, sang in the chorus, took art class, prayed every night before she went to sleep, and set

the table on her own. The image of the perfect daughter to her mother Ann. Her mom was a

perfectionist but it had never bothered Jess. Everything changed the year Jess entered high school. Her

mom caught her dad cheating on her and they got divorced. Jess and her mother were in a constant

argument from that point on. They both had changed so much. Jess was in the popular crowd and

started to party more. Getting drunk and occasionally experimenting with drugs, Jess loved it. She would

get picked up by all the cute upperclassmen boys who would take her to all the best parties. It was so

fun doing what she wanted. She knew her perfectionist mother would never understand. Jess’s mom,

Ann, would freak out if she found out about Jess’s behavior. Her mom wasn’t stupid. She caught on to

Jess’s lies about where she was going and who she was with. She thought Jess was the average high
school girl who tried a beer once in her life and didn’t like it, which is what Jess claimed the first time

Ann caught her drinking. It wasn’t just the partying her mother had begun to complain about. Je ss took

another gulp. She thought about all the things her mom complained about. She could hear her mother’s

voice now.


        “Jessica! Stand up straight!... What on earth are you wearing? … You are such a slob!... Why are

you hanging out with such a gross young man?... You breath to heavy!... Your makeup is terrible!...

You’re a horrible driver!... Do you not work hard at all?... You don’t think you can make more money

than that?... Your hair is too long!... Your hanging out with the wrong people”


        She couldn’t stand to hear her mom’s voice. It was like nails on a chalkboard to her. She hated

her constant negative judgment. Jess felt that she could never be happy and make her mom happy at

the same time. She just tried to avoid mom all together. Running to her room as soon as she got home

from school, text massaging her mom saying she was out doing homework but really out partying, Jess

rarely had to talk to her mother. She would always make sure her mom knew she was somewhere, even

if it never was where she really was. She couldn’t bear to hear any more complaining. For some reason

as much as she despised her mom she could never actually hate her. She still wanted her mother to

accept her. She wanted someone to talk to. She needed her now.


        Jess took another gulp. She thought about how after her dad left her mom went bitter. This

dysfunctional family didn’t fit into her perfectionist mentality. Her mom had tried so hard to cover up

the problems between Jess’s father and her—for nothing really. It all came out in the end. It hurt more

for Jess having no idea it was coming at all, like being struck by lightening. Jess never thought it would

happen. She never had anyone to talk to about her problems. Everyone just assumed she was the

perfect, popular high school girl who knew how to have a good time. Her problems ate away at her and

she knew it. She just knew she didn’t have anyone to help either.
          She took another gulp. Her mind rushed back to thinking about it. Off course it had. It

encompassed her. She hadn’t gone five minutes in the last month with out thinking about it. It was apart

of her. She couldn’t tell anyone. She needed to, but she had no one to tell. When she first found out, she

first thought of telling her mom, her old mom. She couldn’t though, not anymore. She couldn’t deal with

the criticism of her mother. She had to deal with it herself; like everything else.


          Jess tilted her head back, lifted the bottle to her lips, and just let the alcohol slide down her

throat.




          It was Thursday night. Ann sat in her living room reading her new addition of Working Mother

magazine that she got in line at the super market as the fire burned in the background-- A perfect scene.

She had the house to herself that night. Her only daughter Jessica would be sleeping over her friend’s

house. She said she was going to be up late writing a paper so she was just going to sleep over. Ann was

worried about Jessica lately. She had caught her sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night

three times in the last month. Ann was sure it must be a boy Jessica was crushing on. She knew how

teenagers acted when they were in love. Ann thought back to when she didn’t have a care in the world

and was falling for boys in high school. She worried a little extra about Jessica though. Being smart and

gorgeous, Jessica would be attracting all kinds of men. She just wanted her daughter to be safe. Ann

couldn’t stand the thought of creepy men eyeing up her daughter. Ann knew Jessica was the smartest

girl in her school, and the best pianist, artist, writer, and leader in her eyes.


          Ann loved Jessica so much. She hated to fight with her. She just wanted her to stay and track

and lead the most successful life possible. It was every mother’s aspiration. Ann knew she went hard on
Jessica, but it was her only child and she wanted the best for her. She knew Jessica could easily fall down

the wrong path with the crowd of friends she was hanging out with. She didn’t want her to start

experimenting with drugs or alcohol.


        Ann thought of the fight they had earlier. Jessica stormed out of the house mad at her ... again.

Ann was complaining about how Jessica’s shirt was too tight and she looked slutty. Jessica off course

screamed,


        “MOM, I can dress however I want leave me alone! I look good compared to all the other girls in

my school. I just gained a little weight that’s why it’s so tight!”


        “Go change!” Ann demanded. Off course Jessica didn’t and left for her friend’s house. Ann

thought of how ungrateful Jessica had been lately for all the things Ann did for her, considering the fact

that Jessica’s father did nothing and Ann did it all on her own.


        Her phone alarm began to ring. She had to take her pill. She took it with her glass of wine every

night. She hated to take it, but the doctor said she needed to. Ann suffered from depression ever since

her husband left. She never told Jessica; she didn’t want to worry her. It made her tired and moody but

she tried to hide the side effects. She could do it all on her own. She thought of her husband.


        “Fucker.” She thought to herself.


        She hated him so much. She had spent much of the last three years of her life thinking about

how much she hated him. She hated every single part about it. It made it that much harder to be around

Jessica. Jessica was his spitting image. Every time she looked into her daughters eyes she saw her

husband. She saw the happy family they used to be—the family they could have been. She blamed

herself for not working harder to make it work, for not being sexy enough to make her husband not
cheat, for not being loving enough to make him want to stay. Ann was so angry. She finished her glass of

wine and went to sleep.


        Hours later Ann was waken up by a knock at the front door.


        “Who could this be on a Thursday night at this hour?” She thought to herself.


        It was her worst nightmare knocking on the front door. She leaned out of bed and could see the

police lights reflecting off her window. She ran downstairs to answer the door. Ann knew it wasn’t good.

It had to be Jessica. Already crying, Ann answered the door.


        “What’s wrong with Jessica?!”


        “Ma’am it’s regarding your daughter.” The officer stumbled over the words. You could tell that

this type of news was never easy no matter how many times he did it.


        “Tell me!”


        “I’m so sorry but your daughter was found in an empty house down the street. A neighbor called

the police cause they noticed the back door was open. She was found in the back room dead from

alcohol poisoning.”


        “NO!” Ann let out a loud yell. She collapsed to the floor


        “She had no I.D. on her but the neighbor that had called us I.D.’ed her as your daughter. The

doctor’s ran tests and it came up that she was thirteen weeks pregnant. The doctor’s said they see cases

like this a lot where girls try to have an abortion by killing the baby with alcohol. Sometimes they are

lucky enough to find them before it’s too late.” He bent over to comfort Ann. It was no use.
        Months went by. Ann continued to pretend she had a regular life. Except every night when she

took her nightly anti-depressant with a glass of wine, she washed it down with ten shots of liquor. Her

problems ate away at her and she knew it. She just knew she didn’t have anyone to help either.
Jess Maroney


                                          Good Old James

        It was 12 o’clock when I rose from my bed, a typical morning for a hard working college kid on a
Saturday. I had fallen asleep in my clothes because I felt like it and I instinctually grabbed my phone as I
did every morning. I had been at school for seven months straight and at this point nearly everything
had become habitual. I was fooling around with my phone when it began to ring,”James” the screen
read. My heart skipped a beat and I answered,

        “Hey, hey, hey!” I said excitedly, “I haven’t heard from you in forever.”

        “Likewise,” James said smoothly, yet his tone seemed to have a hint of nervousness.
        “Well what’s up?” I was curious to what my x-boyfriend had called me about.

        “I’m going to be in town today, I got tickets to Keller,” he said

        “Wow,” I said. My nerves started to kick in. I hadn’t talked to James in months, we had
just faded apart. “That’s great.”
        “Well I was wondering if you would like to go with me? We could catch up and such”

        Crap I thought. “I have other plans today…I’m sorry…really.”
        “It’s all right …um I’ll see you around then?” he said.

        “Yeah sounds great.” There was a pause.

        “Allllright then, bye.”

        “See ya”. He hung up. I looked at my phone. It was a strange feeling to not say, “I love you” at
the end of the conversation. My emotions were swirling. I didn’t know what to think. We had alway s
planned to keep in touch keep the emotions we had for each other strong, but plans change. I began to
miss him. Before I could get deeper into thought my phone rang again. The new name on the screen
read Tyler. I answered without emotion.

        “Oh hey you,” I said

        “Hey babe, let’s go get some coffee.”
          And the conversation was over. I didn’t like coffee that much but I was a people pleaser. With
James and coffee on my mind I remembered my first experience with the two together…

          “Ew, I know it’s gross but he did it anyway…oh my phone’s ringing…Becca it’s him, should I pick
it up?”

          “Well, of course,” my best friend said while sipping her coffee. My other girlfriends around me
nodded in reassurance and I took a gulp of water to give me courage. After the phone conversation I
looked around the coffee shop and my friends looked at me, silently speaking with their faces, “w ell…?
Talk!” I looked at them and moaned,

          “He’s coming here.” In confusion with my lack of excitement Becca questioned,

          “Ok and the problem is…?”

          “Look at me,” I paused so they could get a glimpse of me. I was wearing slippers,
sweatpants and I kept my head tilted to the right as a means of concealing one of the bigger
pimples I’d had in my lifetime.
          “I didn’t even brush my hair!” I whined. I hadn’t known this guy at all and he was going
to meet me at my worst, talk about first impressions. I didn’t want him to come and I tried to
convince him otherwise but something in me let me give up. He came and talked to girls he
didn’t know and swept me away, sweatpants and all. I had never been so relieved to lose an
argument.



          The image of me being so embarrassed brought a smile to my face. I gazed around the modern
coffee shop while sitting in an oversized brown leather chair across from Tyler. Giant leaves in pots lined
one wall and windows surrounded the shop. It was almost strange being inside a warm earthy room
while snow flakes fell outside. Tyler was now sipping his mocha chai tai mai what not, and looking down
at my cup of water I asked him,

          “Do you remember where we first met?”

          “Hmm, of course,” He said immediately, “At the hockey game you threw your drink at my friend
and—“
        “I didn’t throw it, I’m clumsy, it slipped,” I interjected feeling falsely accused.
        “Well it landed on him and before either of us could get mad, you apologized all cute and
offered to pay for our tickets.” He half smiled and placed his hand on mine.
        “Oh yeah. Then all sly like you asked for my number and stuff so I could repay you.” I
pulled my hand away sarcastically.
        “You still owe me some tickets.” He said as I smiled, and continued to drink my drink.
My smile retreated as Tyler swallowed the last drops of his coffee. “Ready Freddy?” I asked as I
habitually said, and we got up and started to walk towards his apartment.
                            *       *       *       *       *       *       *
        That coffee hit the spot, Tyler thought. I’m so lucky to have her, even though she doesn’t
like coffee. Tyler stared at Brittany. She seemed distracted, hopefully she was thinking about the
surprise date he had planned for her today. Her hands were in her pockets and her nose was
crinkled against the winter air. He hadn’t expected a relationship in college, and officially they
weren’t together but she was all he cared about. She was always spontaneous and trying to have
a good time. Even during times when she irritated him, he admired her. He was going to show
his appreciation tonight.
                            *       *       *       *       *       *       *
        There was a silence between us two it wasn’t awkward but I always thought silence showed
people were uninterested in each other so I interjected. My seven-year-old brain immediately triggered
my mouth to say,

        “Wow look at that!” Tyler looked and with great amusement I said,

        “Made ya look!” My face froze in goofiness but Tyler was unimpressed. I had broken the silence
and created a more awkward one, where I couldn’t tell what Tyler was thinking, and I feared that even
more.

        “I’m sorry,” I finally muttered, “I was hoping you would laugh.”

        “Oh Brit don’t get sad… I’m just…used to it now”. He stopped and looked at me. “Today
is going to be fun, just the two of us,” he reassured. With his hands tight on my shoulders and
smiling he brought me into his chest and hugged me. The warmth of his arms made me regret the
whole incident and with my mouth against his body I muffled that I wasn’t sad. Tyler was proper
and at times I forgot that. I found his sensible acts to be an attractive quality, even if I had to get
used to it, and when I didn’t all he had to do was hug me to settle my brain. However, this hug
was not as effective and as I let him go and the cold winter air pierced my unprotected cheeks I
thought of the comfort of James who let me act in whatever way I pleased and always
approved…


        “Come on lets go off that ramp”

        “Really…?” James questioned.

        “Yes really!” we situated ourselves in sled so that we fit into one another like puzzle pieces.

        “Ready Freddy?” I leaned back and felt his body then I felt the wind whiz in my ears and I started
to wish I hadn’t wanted to sled off a four-foot ramp on the steepest part of the hill. It was too late. We
were in the air screaming, but before we could fully enjoy the rush, gravity took our sleds and our
tailbones and thrust them into the ground with a crack. We rolled out of the sled still connected and still
moving. In pain and on top of each other we laughed. It was a stupid idea but he didn’t care. Still
laughing we looked at one another; the white backdrop only enhanced the scene. We laid together in a
silence I didn’t feel needed breaking.




        I chuckled at the memory.

        “What?” Tyler said turning to me outside his room.

        “Oh nothing I was just remembering how…funny…that night we had together at that silly yoga
concert thing.”

        “Oh yeah… now that was a waste, but I guess it was a night to remember,” Tyler noted. As well
as thinking Phew I couldn’t control my little voice in my head from saying, Jeez man the glass is half full!
Before I could get lost in my thoughts Tyler put his hands over my eyes and said,

        “Trust me.” His hands and words were warm. Together with my eyes still closed we
opened his door. After a dramatic pause I felt his hands leave my face and he whispered,
“Surprise!”
        I swung around and hugged Tyler again feeling his warmth. He had been fortunate to receive a
single room and I had been fortunate enough to have him decorate it for me . The scent in the room was
a mixture of a variety of candles morphing to one pleasing but unrecognizable aroma. Pillows upon
pillows formed a sea of fluff at our feet. I knew he had put every pillow in its place meticulously judging
the qualities of each and determining if they fit into this corner or that.

        “Well la-ti-da,” I said as he handed me a glass of sparkling...something. We clinked
glasses and took a seat on a giant red pillow resting against his bed. It was comfortable. I drank
my drink, which I just realized was champagne. I had nothing to say but comment on how
beautiful the setup was. It truly was. Tyler did all the talking. When he needed a response I just
nodded with my drink to my mouth to show him I was busy. As I finished my fifth glass I started
to forget about James and our sled. Tyler turned to me and waited as I lowered the glass from my
lips.
        “Brit” he said, “happy five months together. I don’t think I’d be able to have this much fun with
anyone else on the whole campus or even this whole world…I love you”.

        My heart broke but my mind numbed from my drinks didn’t tell me so. I knew I loved him, but I
wasn’t in love with him and for me the in was a very big distinction. My mind raced and I sipped my
empty glass to give me courage and I said,

        “I love you too.”

        As he hugged me my eyes began to tear up. I couldn’t help it. I knew I only loved Tyler as a
person, as a relative or friend. I knew he didn’t know the difference. I knew he didn’t know why I was
crying. Those words are not the same the second time you say them. I felt like a liar to myself a liar to
him. I betrayed James and the love we had that felt right. I could have said I’m not ready, damnit, I could
have said something, anything, the truth would have been nice. Tyler and I let go of each other and I
downed another glass of champagne. Looking at him and his dismal half smile my mind turned as
alcohol ran down my throat. What if I did love him? I didn’t have a reason not to. He’s been everything a
companion should. I kissed him and he kissed me back. We rolled together onto the floor connected. I
was making him happy I could tell, and this started to make me happy. Through every one of my forced
touches I made him happy. Together on floor in between the pillows we didn’t se em wrong. Together
we didn’t feel right either. But together we laid there. Some reason, aided by champagne, kept me
grasping him tighter and closer and let him kiss me and squeeze me. I felt like he deserved me, I’m a
people pleaser so I gave myself to him.

        With James out of my mind I turned to face Tyler, we had moved to his bed. He looked at
me, and I at him. He got the message in my eyes and once again wrapped me in his luxurious
arms, which intoxicated me better than any alcohol. I snatched a quick glance at the clock and
needed to get back to my room. I sat up stretched and looked at Tyler. He looked as if he just had
gotten out of bed but had actually woken up content. Satisfied with my work I thanked him for
everything he had done, I told him this was a great gift and an even better five months. I gave
him one last kiss to complete my job and walked out. As I walked out the door I heard him say,
        “I love you Brit!” Without any drinks in my system I couldn’t convince myself to say it
back and as I shut the door I said
        “I’ll talk to you later boo,” I didn’t wait to see if this was a good response or not, I didn’t want to.
I kept walking and hoped he would make nothing of it.

                             *       *        *        *       *        *        *

        That couldn’t have been better, he thought. Tyler felt that he had done well. He made
nothing of Brittany’s last words; he figured she was tired it was 3 in the morning. Thinking of
their future he fell asleep under the shimmer of scented candles.
                             *       *        *        *       *        *        *

        I reached my dorm and methodically undid the locks. My door creaked open. My
roommate was gone. I flopped onto my bed, hugged my pillow and cried. After some time, my
wet pillow shocked me upright. I looked around my room, only half there. It was 5 am. All my
energy had gone into my tear soaked pillow so I flipped it over and fell back onto the bed. In my
clothes and under the covers I drifted asleep. Without struggle my thoughts began to run on their
own. I was dreaming and my roommate was still nowhere to be found.
        I woke up in the middle of my dream, it had been a memory of James, and I wasn’t surprised.
The interruption allowed me to recall it in its entirety and I lay there playing it back in my head…
          James and I were together we had pushed the center table in my den to the side and opted to
sit on the floor. We were crying. We sat up together; I was on top of him. Just before that moment we
had been talking about love.

          “Do you think you can love someone as a friend or something, without being in love?” I said. “I
mean do you get what I’m saying?” I added, unsure of his response.

          “Yea,” he muttered, “I get it”. I wasn’t completely satisfied but I dropped the thought. I still
didn’t really know this guy after two months. The topic had switched to me leaving in the morning for
three weeks. I was going to miss this guy I thought I didn’t know. I began to cry he followed. We were
crying.

          “I love you”, he mumbled. I stared.

          “I love you too,” I choked out in amazement.

          My brain woke me up here just as we were falling to the floor together again. I grabbed
my phone. It was 1 p.m. I scrolled through my address book. My head was full and weighed
heavy with confusion. My phone signaled that it had a message. I listened. It was James.
          “Hey girl I’m just getting on the train now… It was a great concert you would of loved it,
he played bear foot and all just like last time… um just wanted to call and say I was thinking
about you, been thinking a lot lately…Maybe you can come down here some time we’ll hang out
then. Hope your day was as good as mine… goodnight,” he ended quietly.
          I looked through my numbers and called James. I waited as each dial tone sent tension
through my ear. I heard his voice,
          “Hey”.
          “Hey,” I said with lightened heart.
                                                                                             Taylor McManus

                                                    In an Instant

         “Yo, Kev, give me a hand with these cases.”

         Kevin looked over to see who was calling him. A gust of warm, spring-laden wind ruffled Kevin’s
hair as he looked over at Teddy standing on the road next to a skid piled high with beer cases, where the
truck had dropped it off. Kevin looked at the beer. Natty. Cheap beer. Not that he was expecting
anything different; it is a fraternity after all.

         It was about three o’clock. People will be arriving for the party pretty soon. They’ll start
wandering over at four-ish, while there was still some daylight for the barbeque.

         Each of the fraternities at Capri University had at least one huge party during the spring
semester, prior to Greek Week. Tonight was Kevin’s fraternity’s turn.

         Chi Phi is one of the bigger fraternities. They have about forty-five brothers, including the
recently inducted pledges, like Kevin.

         When they finally finished carrying the cases into the house, with the help of another recent
inductee, Adam, who lent a hand, a few brothers started
rolling in trash cans, while the rest helped to unload the van of the brother who had taken a trip into
town to buy ice. Kevin started slicing open the cases with a pair
of scissors and then began chucking the beer cans into the trash cans while another brother poured ice
in.

         They had just finished filling up all the trash cans when people started wandering in. At first it
was people from the neighboring fraternities and sororities.
Somebody apparently had plugged an iPod into the speakers, because music started blasting.

         It was the first big fraternity party that Kevin ever attended. He was a little nervous. He hadn’t
drunken much before, but he doubted that he’d be able to
get away with being sober tonight.

         He pulled out his phone and clicked a button on the side to illuminate the screen. No tex t
messages. No missed calls. He wasn’t surprised. His phone has a strong vibrate and he can almost always
feel it go off. That didn’t stop him from checking it every ten minutes, though. He had called his
girlfriend, Jamie, earlier today. She didn’t answer so he left a message. He told her about the party at his
fraternity tonight and said it’d mean a lot to him if she would come.

           Jamie was extremely anti-Greek and when he had told her about his decision to join a fraternity,
about a month ago when rush started, their relationship started to burn up. They were still together.
Technically, at least. She never called him. He rarely saw her, and never for very long. She was still
pissed. He knew she would be, but he stood by his choice anyway. It was something he needed to do for
himself.

           Teddy noticed Kevin looking at his phone. He knew what was wrong. The weekend before, Kevin
had gotten buzzed at a party (the most drunk he’d ever been), and ended up telling Teddy way more
than he would’ve had he been sober.

           “Don’t worry about it, man,” consoled Teddy.

           Rick, who was passing by at that moment with four six-packs of Corona balanced precariously in
his arms (the upperclassman brothers would buy higher quality beer for themselves and let everybody
else stick with the cheap stuff), overheard and asked, “What’s up? What’s wrong with Kev?”

           Teddy, who was a good guy and hadn’t told anybody about Kevin’s girlfriend problems, just
shook his head and said, “He’s just in a rough spot, don’t worry about it.”

           “Alright, alright, I getcha. Here, Kev, take a Corona, start the night off right. Pretty soon you’ll be
wasted and you’ll completely forget about your problems, I guarantee it. In fact, I’m making it my goal
for the night.”

*          *       *

           It was the first weekend back from winter break. Kevin was out with his normal group of friends.
They were walking from the library down to the town to go out to dinner at Chipotle. Kevin was in the
lead.

           As they walked by the street that led up to the Hill, Kevin couldn’t stop himself from looking up
it. The closest fraternity house was just visible at the top. He could hear the music pumping, albeit
muffled from the distance. He wished he was there.
        Without realizing it he had slowed down and Cory walked into the back of him. With a snort of
disgust at seeing Kevin look at the fraternities, Cory replaced Kevin at the lead and walked the few
remaining blocks to the Mexican restaurant.

        All throughout dinner, Ralph, tall and lanky with wispy hair, Laura, skinny with hair that was
always frazzled, with numerous rope bracelets that dotted her wrists, and Cory, short and plump,
discussed their physics test and how well they thought they did.

        Kevin didn’t take part.

        He wanted to be at that fraternity party, not here talking about physics on a Friday night.




        That night, Kevin lay in his pitch-black dorm, facing the ceiling that he couldn’t see. Kevin shared
a room with a fellow engineering student. In fact, the entire floor was engineering students. He did what
was called a Living-Learning rooming arrangement, where they grouped people with the same major on
the same floor of the dorm buildings. He hadn’t wanted to, but his parents made him do it so that he
could start off his freshman year with strong grades.

        All through high school his parents had drilled him into getting good grades. He got grounded
for A-‘s and he was practically beaten if he brought home anything lower.

        He hated it.

        He was a reasonably popular kid in high school. Maybe not outside of school so much, but in
school everybody was nice to him and he seemed to get along with most people. Gym was his favorite
class because it was really the one period of the day that he wasn’t stuck in some AP class with other
kids who were essentially beaten by their parents if their grades weren’t satisfactory. In gym he would
chat with the normal kids while playing football or soccer or whatever it was. They’d always tell him
about parties they were at over the weekend and all the stuff they did. It sounded great.

        He never did any of that. Sure he’d had alcohol. Once. At his cousin’s wedding. His mom allowed
him to have a glass of wine. That was basically it.

        His thoughts drifted back to the Hill, where all the fraternities on campus were located. He’d
never even been inside one. He’d tried to convince his friends on multiple occasions to take a trip out of
the ordinary and go to a frat party, but he was always booed into submission. These days they sneered if
he even mentioned the word ‘frat.’

        Kevin thought back to when he first made his college decision. He argued with his parents for
weeks for them to let him come here. Sure, it wasn’t the best school he’d gotten into, but he didn’t care.
Capri is 39% Greek. The frat parties are completely open. That’s all he needed to hear.

        His parents argued with him, saying he should go to Penn instead, but he refused. And with that,
he was off to the little town of Bethlehem, hopefully to start anew.

        But reality fell short of his dreams. He was in the same place as he was in high school. He
needed a change. He needed to join a fraternity.

*       *       *

        Noise raged around him. Kevin sat on the arm of a couch, beer in hand, watching a game of
double-pong (where there are two 6-cup triangles on either side of the table, instead of one triangle on
each). He took a gulp and shook the can to see how much was left. He drained the last bit, then threw
the can into a trash bag. He was five deep.

        “Yo Kev!”

        Kevin looked to his right to see who had called his name. His vision lagged behind for a second
as he moved his head, blurring his eyes. He was pretty buzzed. “What’s up?” He couldn’t tell, but he had
a hunch he was slurring.

        “I told you I was gonna get you hammered, and yet you’re just sittin’ here! C’mon let’s go. We’re
playing some pong. Me and you on a team,” said Rick, the junior who had given him a Corona earlier.

        Kevin shrugged and stood up. He had been sitting on the couch pretty miserable. Jamie still
hadn’t responded. He was glad, in a way, that Rick was forcing him to join in on the party, but his misery
wouldn’t let him be overly glad.

        Kevin stood at the table next to Rick and reached for a ping pong ball as Rick filled up the cups
with beer. His clumsy fingers knocked the ball away a few inches before he snatched it up.

        Two pong games later he was feeling pretty good. He was smiling and laughing. Jamie was off
his mind as much as the classes he attended the day before. Smiling, he glanced around at the growing
crowd. His efforts were met with a blur as his vision shifted through the people. He noticed a girl. He
concentrated and squinted a little so he could see her better. She was cute. Really cute. She smiled and
swept her blonde bangs behind her ear. Screw cute, she was gorgeous. Kevin smiled back. Then the
crowd erupted as Kevin's opponents bounced a ball into a cup while he wasn't paying attention. He
glanced back over at the girl, smiled sheepishly, gave her a wink (which surprised him since he didn't
think he'd ever winked at a girl before) and then quaffed down the cup that Rick handed to him.

        After losing the game, Kevin found himself standing in the crowd, next to the girl. "I'm Kristen,"
she introduced herself.

        Hoping he wasn’t slurring, but knowing he was, he managed to say, “I’m Kevin.”

        A rush of sound, a blur of color, and some inconceivable time later, Kevin found himself on a
couch with his arm around Kristen. He was a little shocked since he couldn't remember how that
happened. He felt some feeling gnawing at his stomach. At first he thought it was nerves, but then he
realized he was too drunk to be nervous. He finally realized it was guilt. But why did he feel guilty? He
wasn't doing anything wrong, right? He couldn't figure it out, so he shrugged and let the feeling go.

*       *       *

        Kevin was scrutinizing each of them throughout the conversation. He wanted to tell them today.
He pretty much knew what reactions each of them would have. Strong disapproval would be
unanimous. He still needed to tell them though. It was like forcing himself to do something distasteful
and embarrassing. He needed to just open his mouth and blurt it out.

        “You all right there, Kev? You’re mouth’s been hanging open for a solid minute like your trying
to say something.”

        Kevin looked at Cory, who was unwrapping a piece of Easter candy, and then his eyes passed
over Ralph and Laura before coming to rest on the Fire Escape Plan card that was mounted on the wall
of the lounge. He stared at it for a second. His gaze never drifted to the right to meet Jamie’s eyes. He
took a deep breathe and made the plunge, “Yeah. I wanted to ask you guys about something.”

        Jamie took her head off Kevin’s shoulder to look at him. “What is it?”

        He didn’t respond for a minute. He looked at his girlfriend’s face. His eyes passed from her
straight brown hair, hanging over her shoulders, to her eyes.
He noticed her eyes were blue right now. Her eyes changed color, altering between a beautiful blue and
a vivid green. After dating her for the past four months, he had come to the conclusion that her eyes
changed color based on her mood. It seemed a little silly when he first realized it, but he came to believe
that it was true.
Whenever he saw her, he would always look at her eyes to figure out how she was feeling. Green meant
she was pissed. They were blue on this sunny afternoon.
Blue meant at peace. Blue meant she was happy and content. He doubted they’d remain blue for very
long.

        “I… well, you know how… I’ve always…” he stopped. He couldn’t articulate to them his reasons.
He gave up trying. “I think I want to join a fraternity.”
He cringed as their predicted reactions all rushed from their mouths simultaneously. Only Jamie
remained silent. He reluctantly turned to face her as she opened her mouth. He looked into her eyes,
almost out of habit. Seconds before, they were a blue that reminded him of being forty feet beneath the
ocean in the Grand Caymans on one of his many scuba diving trips that he went on with his dad and
brothers. Now, the green that radiated in his direction seemed to shear through him like a blowtorch.

        “A fraternity?” she said quietly. The quietness disturbed him. He would’ve preferred her to
scream it at him.

        Kevin was almost grateful when Cory interrupted her before she could continue, “Yeah, are you
kidding me? You want to go become one of those stupid, drunk losers? Try thinking about your future
here, Kevin.”

        Laura, always careful never to interrupt, barely managed to contain herself until Cory was
finished speaking before bursting out with, “This is ridiculous Kevin. You’d never be able to get through
all your school work. And why would you go and waste your parents’ money by getting wasted every
night and passing out at some stupid party. Fraternity guys wouldn’t be real friends. All they care about
is how much beer you can drink. Don’t even think about it, Kevin.”

        Even Ralph, normally shy and quiet, spoke up, “Frat guys are a bunch of bullying jocks, Kevin.”

        None of their lectures cut him as deeply as the withering glare that Jamie was casting at him.
She had withdrawn from him completely. He suddenly noticed that they weren’t holding hands
anymore, and that she had managed to separate herself from him by a full foot on the dusty green
couch. He was sure she hadn’t blinked since he made his statement, making sure her stare remained
fixed, unwavering, for full effect. He tried returning her gaze; he tried to let his feelings show through his
eyes. After a few seconds he was forced to blink and lowered his eyes, unseeing, to the open textbook in
front of him on the coffee table.

        Joining a frat would mean losing his friends and, most of all, Jamie.

*       *       *

        Kristen had stood up. At first he thought she was going to leave. But then he realized she was
holding his hand and pulling him up. He stood, wobbled for a second, waited for the room to stop
spinning, and then allowed her to lead him through the house. He heard his name being called from
somewhere behind him, but he was too drunk to look.

        After a few steps he realized it was extremely quiet. He wondered why. Then he noticed they
were outside, walking down the Hill.

        He didn't notice that they were walking up steps inside of some building until he was halfway up
them. Kristen opened a door, and Kevin's blurred eyes struggled to view the room. It was small and
cramped, with two beds. It dawned on him that it was a dorm. Her dorm.

        Kristen led him inside, then closed and locked the door. She went up on her tippy -toes and
kissed him. Then she shoved him backwards onto a bed.

        Kevin's last comprehensible thought of the night was, "Why not?"

*       *       *

        Sun streamed through a curtain-less window. Head pounding, Kevin opened his eyes. He was
face down in a pillow. He pushed himself up onto his elbows. He didn't recognize the room he was in. He
looked at the clock next to his face. It read 11:13am. He never slept this late. Only then did he notice the
beautiful nude girl lying next to him.

        The entire night rushed back to him. His stomach dropped and his face turned pale. He couldn't
believe it. But he knew it happened. He cheated on her.

        He quietly got out of the bed and pulled his pants back on. He took out his phone and flicked it
open. He had two new messages. He scrolled through them. They were from Jamie. The first one was
received at eleven-ish the night before, announcing her arrival to the party. With a gut-wrenching rush
of memories, Kevin remembered that somebody had called his name as he left the party. It was her. The
next text simply said, “I can’t fucking believe you.”

           He shut the phone, tears brimming his eyes.

           He slipped on his shirt and tried to leave the room without waking up Kristen. He didn't succeed.
As he opened the door, she sat up and asked him something. The sound never reached his ears; they
were filled with an odd ringing noise over his loss of Jamie. He walked out and shut the door, ignoring
Kristen.

           He left the dorm and headed for a different one. He walked up the stairs, his heart pounding. At
the third floor, he left the stairs and walked down a hallway. He stopped outside room 247 and raised
his hand to knock, his heart beating faster. He knocked.

           After a couple seconds, the door flew open, revealing Jamie, eyes streamed with tears. Kevin
opened his mouth to say something. To say anything. But nothing came out. She waited for him to
speak, and when he hesitated, slammed the door in his face.

           Kevin knocked for five minutes straight, but she never answered the door.

           Kevin was crushed. He tried to call her, calling at least five times a day for the next three days,
but she never answered. He texted her, but she never responded.

           A week had gone by since the party.

           Kevin had tried to talk to Cory about it in class throughout that following week, but once Cory
heard what he did, he immediately called him a "heartless bastard" and refused to offer any advice
other than that he should hate himself. And he did hate himself. He tried to talk to Ralph and Laura, but
they reacted just like Cory.

           Kevin didn't know what to do. His best friends had shunned him. They had always been there for
him, but now, they were gone.

           On Saturday, a week after Kevin woke up next to Kristen, he wandered over to the fraternity
house for the first time since that fateful night. He sat down on a couch in the TV room. Rick and Teddy
were in there with Adam and a few other guys, watching a hockey playoff game. The Flyers were up 2-0.
        One look at Kevin was all Rick and Teddy needed in order to know how he was feeling. They
both immediately moved to sit next to him on the couch.

        "What happened man? You look like shit. No offense," Rick said consolingly.

        Kevin shut his eyes as tears sprung to them and put his head in his hands. He managed to spit
out two sentences, summing up his ordeal.

        Kevin waited for a response, but none came. At first he thought they would tell him to go fuck
himself, just like Cory and them did, but then he felt a hand being placed on each of his shoulders. They
weren't going to leave him. They were going to stick by his side. That fact made even more tears come
unbidden to his eyes. He was glad they couldn't see them.

        Then Kevin's phone vibrated. The vibration was loud enough that all three of them heard it
clearly. Kevin lifted his head and, in a daze, dug his hand in his pocket and pulled out his cell to see who
was calling. He looked at the screen. It was a number he didn't have plugged into his phone . He opened
it, hesitated, and then said, "Hello?"

        "Kevin?" said the voice on the other line.

        "Yeah?"

        "It's Kristen." Teddy and Rick froze. They glanced at each other. Kevin's phone volume was up
loud enough that they could both easily hear Kristen speaking.

        Neither of them had to strain to hear the sentence that Kristen spoke next. The sentence that
cut into Kevin, making him feel like a bullet was driving through his stomach. The sentence that caused
Kevin's black Motorola Razor to slip out of his lifeless hand and land with a clatter on the wooden floor.
The sentence that hammered in the last nail on the coffin Kevin made for himself at that party. "I'm
pregnant."
Innocence, Rage, and War

By Corbin Muetterties



        Luke awoke to the sound of packing bags and the creaking of rubber soles on the steel deck. He
rolled to his feet and struggled to quickly lace up his boots. Then gathering up his pack and grasping the
22-caliber sniper rifle, he descended down the gangplank until he stepped onto the smooth sand of the
German shoreline. The sun was already bearing down on him and Luke could feel beads of sweat
beginning to run down his neck. The light was unbearable. As his eyes finally began to focus he could see
they were in the middle of a barren coastline. In front of him loomed a pair of rocky cliffs, above which
flew a spotless American flag. Its contrast to the war-torn landscape seemed to scream out its recent
erection. Luke found himself standing next to a battered AA cannon. Like a crippled soldier, the cannon
stood proud even in its failure to defend against these enemy invaders. Its shaft was scorched and rust
had begun to creep up from its base, the bite of the ocean slowly taking its toll. Around the cannon the
blackened sand lay in halo’s surrounding the craters ripped open by American guns. Luke looked down
and watched the water gently wash around his feet. The water looked strange to Luke and when the
realization suddenly hit him it caused a cold shiver to run up his spine. As the waves slowly rolled over
his beaten leather boots he noticed the water was still a deep shade of red.

                            *                        *                         *

        Luke hated marching. Monotonous and boring he considered it one of the worst parts of being a
foot soldier. When he first joined the army he pictured it was as an intense experience, an endless
excursion where danger was lurking around every turn in the road. However after marching 20 miles
without hearing so much as the crunching of boots and the rustling of the wind he decided that
marching was nothing more then simply walking. One more disappointment to add to the list. As far as
he was concerned the army had turned out to be full of disappointments.

        The letter came on his eighteenth birthday. He found it as he was eagerly searching through the
mail for cards full of money. How ironic that he should find the draft notice among cards wishing him
good luck in the years to come. He might as well have crossed out years and wrote months. A week
before Luke had received his acceptance letter from the College of William and Mary. The school of his
dreams, he couldn’t have been happier with the way his life was looking. For a time his future had
seemed bright, like he was going somewhere. That all changed with the letter. In an instant his life had
been turned upside down. Rather than waking up to a loving family, Luke now awoke to the sounds of
rifle blasts and drill sergeants. His soft warm bed was exchanged for a cot he could have sworn was
carved out of bedrock and delicious home cooked meals were replaced by the shittiest canned food he
had ever tasted. Pretty much everything in the army sucked. The uniforms were dirty, the vehicles were
all broken, and the radios only ever seemed to pick up one station. The army was fucking terrible.

                            *                         *                        *

        As they made it further inland, the scenery began to change. The jagged coastline gave way to
rolling grassy hills and Luke couldn’t help admiring the beauty of the landscape. Filled with crystal blue
rivers and rich soil, the entire country seemed to be one beautiful, never-ending plain. Tall, yellow grass
stretched as far as the eyes could see, and when the wind blew, it turned the land into an endless
golden sea. Luke let his hand brush against the grass as he walked and it was smooth to his touch. The
unbearable heat that had greeted him on the beach now felt like a gentle warmth coupled with a
cooling breeze. Occasionally in the distance Luke could make out the clockwise spin of a windmill or the
outline of a farmhouse.

                            *                         *                        *

        Luke didn’t understand why he had been drafted, why he had to fight in this god-forsaken war,
just because some fucking German’s decided to start carrying out mass genocide. He hated the
German’s and he hated the war. He was anxious to shoot his first German. They deserved it after all they
had done to the Jews. They deserved it for what they had done to his life.

        Caught up in his hateful reflection Luke didn’t see the camp until they were nearly upon it. At
first a speck on the horizon, a small German barracks slowly rose out of the grassy sea. The sight made
Luke tighten his grip around the cold, steel shaft of his rifle. His instincts told him that he would soon be
among the enemy, and the only thought on his mind was how many Germans he could bring to justice
with the righteous crack of his rifle. He checked his ammo and cocked his rifle with a metallic click.

                            *                         *                        *

        As the last of the sun’s rays dropped below the horizon Luke’s company silently took up
positions surrounding the German encampment. His heart was pounding. Luke could feel the adrenaline
coursing through his body, heightening his reflexes, making him into a deadly machine. He took up
position behind a stack of discarded wooden crates. In the fading light he could barely make out the
words das brot crudely painted on the fresh cut pine. Kneeling in the tall grass Luke unfolded the stand
for his rifle and balanced it across the surface of the crate. After removing the safety Luke steadied his
breathing and peered through the scope of the rifle. Through the crystal clear lens he saw the outline of
the barracks, its concrete form shrouded in the darkness of the night. His sight was immediately drawn
to a circle of light to the left of the building. When he shifted his scope he saw that it was a campfire
surrounded by 15 or so German soldiers. Dressed in khaki uniforms each soldier bore an emblazoned
swastika on their shoulder, its red outline in stark contrast to the overall simplicity of their outfits. They
sat around a roaring bonfire drinking beer out of aluminum cans and taking long draws from cigarettes.
With each intake of breath their faces were briefly illuminated. Luke could make out their boyish
features from his perch a hundred yards away. These weren’t hardened German soldiers, they were kids
just like him. Slightly taken back, Luke forced himself to refocus his rifle. He scanned each of the men
sitting around the fire before coming to rest on a boy sitting near the center of the circle. Sitting closer
to the fire than the others his face was fully illuminated allowing Luke a perfect view of his adolescent
features. The boys shoulders bore the markings of a captain which seemed to conflict with the
youthfulness of his face. On his head he had a mop of blonde hair, longer than most men are ever
allowed while in the army. His fair features extended to a prominent jaw line, which seemed to
compliment the overall attractiveness of his image. He was a handsome boy, and Luke watched as he
joked and laughed with his fellow Germans. His face bore the look of innocent joy.

        Suddenly Luke felt the rage boiling up inside of him. How could this boy be so happy when his
life was miserable? How could he smile after what he had done? All of Luke’s rage for the war, all of his
anger for the loss of his life were in an instant focused towards this single soldier. It was all his fault.
Everything. The war, the Jews, all of it. He was here because of him.

        As soon as Luke pulled the trigger he regretted it. The rifle’s recoil pounded into his shoulder as
the deafening roar of the gunshot rang in his ears. Time seemed to stop. Luke watched in horror as the
bullet connected with the boys forehead directly between his eyes. The force of the bullet knocked the
boy off his feet, crushing his skull inwards and causing his head to explode in a skyward shower of
crimson rain. Before his body even hit the ground the rest of Luke’s company opened fire. Luke watched
as chaos erupted all around him. Everything was moving in slow motion. Though they were directly in
his ear, he could barely hear the gunshots exploding all around him. The battle seemed distant, surreal,
as if he was watching it underwater. His instincts told him that he should stand up and fight. His body
refused to respond. Instead Luke watched as the unarmed Germans were ripped to shreds by the
American artillery. He could hear each bullet as it pounded into their flesh; see the blood arcing from
their bodies. One soldier managed to make it halfway to the barracks before being torn apart by the
unforgiving brutality of the American soldiers. The rest hadn’t even made it that far. A few soldiers lay
dead around the fire, their hands still gripping the aluminum cans, the beer now mixing with blood. The
rest were sprawled out across the dark German soil, their faces, even in death, still gripped by terror. In
the distance Luke could hear the cheers of his company as they celebrated their total victory. The
German’s hadn’t even fired a shot. They never stood a chance. His head reeling, Luke stood and walked
towards the sounds of his fellow soldiers, a single image burned into his mind. The look of innocence on
that boy’s face just before he’d pulled the trigger.

                            *                          *                      *

        Luke hadn’t eaten in days. His stomach was already filled with so much guilt there was simply no
room left for food. He had dark circles under his eyes and all the color seemed to have drained from his
skin. His footsteps were slow and heavy, his feet barely leaving the ground so that each step scraped
against the dusty surface of the path. In an instant everything had changed. Luke’s chest felt heavy and
empty. The colors had faded from the trees and the wind no longer blew against his face. Regret
consumed him. He wished that he could take it back, call back the bullet to his gun. But death is final.
Luke felt numb as he marched silently with his company.

        The landscape changed to match Luke’s mood. The sea of grass faded from golden brown to a
decaying gray before finally giving way to a great dusty nothingness. Even the sky, which had once been
an everlasting blue, was overcome by dark storm clouds. The sun was completely shrouded behind the
impenetrable sky, casting darkness over the horizon. The days no longer came, only darkness.

        As he marched, Luke thought about the war and his life. College, no longer on his mind, seemed
distant and unreal, like a dream already written off. They weren’t coming back from this war, and he
knew it. His memories of home grew dimmer with every step he took and he could feel himself slipping
away. His movements were becoming mechanical and without purpose. A single thought bounced back
and forth through his head as he marched. Why did that boy have to die? He had been unarmed,
surrounded, and completely defenseless. Why had he shot him? He could have made him surrender.
The boy would have given up without a fight. Luke didn’t understand why he had felt so much rage, how
he had been capable of such violence. He didn’t know who he was anymore, what he had become as a
result of this war.

                            *                         *                        *

        Luke could see the concentration camp on the horizon. As he marched towards it he began to
feel a slight brushing against his cheek. His first instinct was that it was snow, but when he looked up he
saw that they were millions of tiny gray specks. The sky was raining ash, and like filthy snowflakes, they
slowly fell upon his shoulders. Each footstep left its mark on the ground and as they got closer to the
camp Luke could see that the ash was pouring from a great smokestack in the center of complex. Barbed
wire was coiled around the camps outer fence, twisting together as it wound its way around the ten-
foot tall chain link fence. An uncountable number of long wooden shacks lay in rows surrounding the
center of the camp, their walls a makeshift collection of wooden scraps and paper. Walking through the
camp Luke didn’t notice the people until they were right in front of him. They looked inhuman and
impossibly worn down. His eyes fell on a young girl roughly his age standing at the front of the growing
crowd. Her dark brown hair was matted and un-brushed, and she wore mismatched patchwork of rags
that just managed to conceal her naked flesh. Her eyes had dark circles surrounding them and had
begun to sink deep into her skull. Her body was covered with bruises and Luke guessed that she had
been a frequent victim of sexual abuse. Yet through the filth there was a visible core of beauty. As he
approached her she raised her downcast eyes to meet his gaze, and Luke was seized by the color of her
eyes. They were an ashen grey, and they poured out emotion despite the dejected state of her body.
Her anguish seemed to reach into his chest and take his breath away.

        In an instant Luke’s whole world came crashing down. They were too late to save these people.
The damage had already been done. In her face he saw the boy, the innocent young man whose life had
been so cruelly and abruptly ended by his hands. It no longer mattered which side he was on anymore.
German, American, they were all the same. Either way, it was the innocent people who were being hurt
by this war, and who were paying the price for the rage of others. The war, the boy, his life, it had all
been for nothing.
Colin Robertson




                                                   Tacos

        My heart's vicious beating vibrated my entire shirt which brought me back to the reality that I
was not dreaming. The virtual community of poker players all had their eyes fixated on my table, looking
on with obvious excitement and even envy. Everyone who was watching wanted to be in my spot and
only I could claim it. The first three cards were shown: ace of clubs, 3 of diamonds, 4 of hearts. The next
card flashed, the 8 of diamonds, followed by the last card, the river, the 4 of clubs. The last pot of the
tournament was slid to my avatar, and instantaneously, the screen that can only be described as my
golden ticket appeared. The writing was irrelevant; the $836,480 sent me into a state of instant nirvana.
It was 3 a.m. in my dorm, and in approximately 14 hours, I translated $55 into 10 times what the
average person makes in a year.

        After thoughts started racing through my mind. My family was always wrong. I knew poker
would pay off. My friends are going to be so stoked. A final thought crossed my mind; one that seemed
far more important than the others: Should I become a professional? I had always had aspirations of
becoming a poker player for a living, but it always seemed to be a fleeting dream. My parents were
strongly against my decisions and always prevented me from playing whenever they could. However, I
continued to embrace the hopeless thoughts of glory because I never believed that I would make it
anywhere else. I was a junior studying mechanical engineering at Maryland, yet that title was all I had.
My grades have been on a sharp decline the past year which correlated with the amount of classes I
attended. My parents were unaware of my failures, but it didn't matter now. Nothing mattered now. My
brain slowly relaxed after a more minutes and I shut down my computer as well as my body, eagerly
waiting for the next day, unsure of which path of life I would take.

        “Cliff...yo..Cliff wake up.” My ears heard the monotone message, inducing my body to travel
further into exile. I glimpsed at the clock before I shoved my head back into my pillow. Four-thirty. Just
let me sleep. My roommate, changing his tone and clearly frustrated, shouted again, “Cliff. Goddamn
dude. You got a phone call.” I swung my arm up into the air and caught the phone. I slid the phone to
my ear and spoke in a slurring voice, “Hello?”

“Clifford. It's your dad.”
“Oh. Hey. I'm really tired. I'm gonna call you back later.”

“Cliff. Something happened.” The same adrenaline that less than two hours prior helped me achieve the
world now awoke again with new intentions. As a poker player, I've learned to compute and synthesize
people's tones of voice with what kind of hand they are holding. My dad was holding nothing, a hand
that was simply obliged to lose.
“What? What happened? Is everything okay?” The phone was silent for a few seconds before I felt
obligated to ask again. “Dad, everything's good, right?” My mind stayed positive, but a looming
movement in my gut began to gnaw at my insides. My dad returned to his position as massager. The bad
feelings grew stronger from the gnawing before my stomach finally exploded with the words, “Your
grandma.. just past away.” Why? Why now? Fucking why? I just won a million fucking dollars. Now it
means nothing. How ironic.

        In general, a child's relationship with their grandparents seem to vary on different levels. I only
had one grandma my whole life, and she couldn't have been more special to me. I went to her house
everyday after elementary school was over, and everyday she would be so excited to see me. The
feeling wasn't mutual though. Don't get me wrong, I loved my grandma, but sadly, I took her presence
for granite.

        She was the one to teach me poker. Occasionally, the two of us played penny five card draw.
She always cheated, saying, “That's how gambling is. You can never beat it fair and square.” I guess it
served as a discouraging message to me so that I would never become addicted to gambling. I never
listened. Little did she know, the frustration of losing just made me try harder, pushing me towards one
singular goal of beating her. She always won.

        She carried an ocean of life lessons with her which now all crashe d together into one single
wave, barreling towards me, causing me to slip into a brief trance. Now, the same person that wanted
me to stop gambling has passed away the same day I finally accomplished my goal for gambling. I just
wanted to give the money back so I could play one last game of penny five card draw with her. I wanted
to show her it was possible. But maybe she was right after all.

        My father's voice brought me back from my mental slumber, echoing, “Cliff. I got you a ticket
back to Pennsylvania. Funeral's in five days. I'll give you a call later for details.” My mind wasn't
registering words.
        “Yeah. See you.” The phone clicked. Nighttime was still lingering.
                                             ** ** ** * ** * *




        The funeral came and went. After the ceremony, people went back to my parent's house where
I caught up with a lot of relatives I haven't seen since I was little. The talks were brief, both sides seemed
to want to contribute to the conversation just to get our minds off the devastating fact that a loved one
is not returning. Several times I passed the stairs and saw an isolated group sitting in the corner, passing
small conversation that was out of my earshot. They were dressed unusually nice, and clearly looked
wealthier than my average relative would. My curiosity was abruptly put on suspension when my
mother whispered in my ear, “Your father wants to talk to you about something. He's upstairs.”

        “Alright.” I started up the stairs. Passing the small group, I overheard a discussion they were
having. One man who appeared to be in his seventies was gloating, “Remember when she bluffed that
movie producer. He got so mad that...” I wanted to stay and listen, but my dad was waiting for me at the
top of the steps, preventing me from hearing anything else. My dad's face was stern. He looked as
though he was about to say something, then paused, and turned around as though I was suppose to
follow him. I hesitated for a second, perplexed by what he wanted from me, then decided to follow him.
The conversation downstairs, however, held my interest, urging me to maneuver my body back around
so that I could have included myself in the conversation that dealt with poker. On any other day, I
probably would have.

        I reached my dad in his room and he was already rummaging through his cl oset. Apart from the
occasional times I had to enter when I had a nightmare during my younger years, this was one of the
first times I actually entered this room under their consent. I rarely entered this room as my parents had
strange tendencies to keep me and my brother away, as though there were forbidden secrets that were
never to be discovered by my brother or me. My dad paused for a brief moment before he continued his
search. It seemed as though he was hesitating, almost fighting with himself, on whe ther or not to find
what he was looking for. Finally, he pulled out an extravagant box.

        “This is yours. It was your grandmother's. I know you didn't know too much about her.” He was
right. I never did know anything about her. Whenever I tried asking my parents about my grandma's
past, they simply replied, “Oh, she lived a good life. We just can't tell you about it. Grandma wouldn't be
too happy.” And my naive brain simply pushed the question aside for a later date, figuring that it wasn't
a big deal as I'd find out someday. I would later in my maturity account my lack of knowledge of her past
as a reason as to why I never got too close to her. Besides our interest in poker, the two of us had little
in common. And poker even had its extent; she never wanted to talk poker- just discuss it. And now, I
had just wished that my grandma were here to tell her story instead of whatever was in this box.

        The box was decorated lavishly; it was made of flawless mahogany lined with golden edges and
a gold lock. The room became vacant. With my eyes fixated on the box, I became unaware that my dad
had left the room. Had he already known what was in the box? I closed the door to the room,
completing my isolation, and hurried back to the gift I had just received. Clearly well-maintained, I
steadily worked my fingers around the box to slide the lid open, ensuring that this treasure would
remain the way it has always been since God knows how long ago. To my surprise, the box opened its
secrets to me without resistance. Thoughts remained absent from my mind with the exception of one:
Just who were you Grandma?

        Two baby blue casino chips with a “25,000” number rested neatly on a pile of photos. Throwing
them to the side, I began to search through the photos. Familiar faces and places could be found on any
photo. Faces from Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, the late Chip Reese, and even Stu Ungar all found their
way standing next to my grandma. Places like Bobby's Room at the Bellagio, the Horseshoe casino, and
the Rio all became engraved into my mind. Jesus Christ.

        “Shit!” I yelled and sprinted down the stairs. Most of the company had left, making my search
much easier. However, I found no luck as the people who were talking about poker early had left. My
mother had stepped into the room, hearing my disturbance of the remaining visitors, saying, “I guess
you saw that box.”

        “What the hell mom? Why have you been hiding it?”

        “It could've ruined your life. We had to protect you.”
        “Protect me? That's a joke. I don't have time right now. Where did those people go who were
right by the stairs earlier?
        “Gone. They had to leave.” Fuck. Bobby Baldwin and Ted Forrest, two of the world's best poker
players, don't just fucking come and go everyday. After searching one last time around the house, I
returned back to my parents room where the rest of the box awaited. A single piece of paper remained
untouched in the box. It was solid white, without aging on it. Opening it up, the date read March 3,
2009. Five days ago. Instant curiosity erased my memory that five minutes ago, two people wealthier
than God himself stepped foot in my house.

        Taco. I just saw that you won your tournament. That’s great. I’m sorry I never told you about my
poker background. I finally feel at peace. Not because you won- I’m happy because you found something
you love. I loved poker. The people. The game. Everything about poker was for me. I didn’t want you to
fall into the lifestyle. It’s too risky. You have such potential to become something great for this world. An
engineer. A doctor. Something- but after seeing this tournament I’ve recognized that you truly enjoy
poker. And I saw that ever since you were little. Again, I’m sorry and tell your parents I’m sorry for
introducing you to gambling. I’m sure they won’t be all too mad though- you did just win 800,000. I love
you very much. Gram

        “Thank you Gram, I always knew you were doing what was right.” I settled down to my
computer and looked for the next flight to Vegas.
Marina Solomos
AP Literature and Composition


                                       The Past and Pending


       In 33 years, Shannon Moretti had never enjoyed the taste of gorgonzola cheese. It was
creamy and simultaneously chunky, a weird combination, she thought. No matter, though; she
forked the off-white lump, a piece of medium-rare tuna, and a leaf of lettuce. Save for the
audible gulping of water and chewing of salad, the dining room would have been completely
silent. Occasionally, her mother would comment on the moistness of the fish, and her father
would nod in agreement; her brother and sister—both older than she—stared solely at their
plates. Then there was Ben Perry, M.D., wearing his favorite gray button-down shirt, fiddling
nervously with the gold cloth napkin on his lap. Shannon put her fork down to wipe her sweaty
palm on the leg of her black trousers, only to return to the salad seconds later.

       There was nothing wrong with Dr. Ben Perry, except that he adored everything about
Shannon: her crooked front tooth and narrow calves, her silent laugh, her indisputable cooking
skills. Shannon liked Ben because he was a safe choice, no surprises. He wore collared shirts
and thick rimmed glasses. He always had the same haircut, combed in the same direction every
day. Ham and cheese sandwiches—never with mayo—were his lunch of choice, and he always
put both his socks on before even thinking about putting on his shoes. Ben would never stop
loving Shannon—she knew that much. But besides that, she knew nothing.

       After cleaning the table, eating dessert, and cleaning the table again, Mr. and Mrs.
Moretti escorted their youngest daughter and Ben to their car. After thank yous and nice-to-meet-
yous, Shannon’s mother pulled her aside, and kissed her daughter on the cheek.

       “Don’t worry about your father,” she whispered reassuringly into her daughter’s ear.
Shannon would have believed her, had he not returned to the house without saying goodbye to
her. Her mother smiled, and Shannon could see the tears welling up in her eyes. That was never a
good sign, either. “I love you. Call me when you get home.” Shannon opened the car door, sat,
and listened to the satisfying rumble of the engine as Ben backed-out of her family’s driveway.
Finally. Noise.
       “So?” Ben spoke first. “Not so bad, right?”

       “Horrendous,” Shannon responded, her voice muffled by her gray cashmere scarf.
“Absolutely horrendous. Not surprised, though.”

       “What did I do wrong?” Ben asked. Shannon could sense he was upset; he hated
disappointing her.

       “Nothing. My dad just didn’t care.”

       “Shannon, how can you tell me that your dad doesn’t care about who you’re dating?”

       Shannon loosened the scarf around her neck. “Because he’s never cared about anything…
You should know this by now.”

       “Well, I don’t believe you.” Ben paused, searching for reassuring words. “I probably
bored him.”

       “Probably.” Shannon replied. She didn’t want to discuss the evening anymore. It was
over, time to move on.

       Ben, clearly, had not been expecting Shannon’s response, and the conversation came to
an abrupt end. He lifted one hand off the steering wheel, pushed his glasses back up onto the
bridge of his nose, and stared straight ahead at the highway. A few rainclouds began spitting a
drizzle, and the loud, rhythmic swaying of the windshield wipers helped lessen the impact of the
awkward homeward-bound quiet.

                                              ***

       Shannon Moretti could not remember the last time she believed she loved her father. It
was funny to her, in a way. Whenever she thought about it, she’d think about that one time in
second grade her dad came to pick her up from school after returning from Europe. She saw him,
and jumped into his open, ready-to-hug arms. The next day her teacher said she had seen them
and had been moved to tears. Then Shannon got a little older and had the joy of having her point
out everything that was wrong: her hair wasn’t clean enough, her face had too much acne, her
arms were too hairy, she ate too much at dinner and shouldn’t even think about eating dessert,
etc., etc., so on and so forth. But then Shannon got even older, and her dad slapped her at
graduation for having an attitude problem, and after that, their relationship and any consequent
conversation was limited to “Hello” / “How are you?” / “Good” / Walk away slowly, pretending
to be busy. Both of them also mastered standing right next to each other and not even
acknowledging the other’s presence.

                                                ***

       Shannon had not been able to fall asleep that Sunday evening. Her eyes, burning with
fatigue, were fixated upon the glowing, green digits of her alarm clock: 2:13 AM. She blinked.
2:14 AM. She shut her eyes—hoping that her brain would finally understand her need to sleep—
only to open them again. 2:15 AM. Frustrated, Shannon began to change her body’s position.
Pausing between every movement as to keep the mattress still, Shannon ended up lying on her
left side, staring at her Ben. He was hers, after all, wasn’t he? She enviously watched his chest
rise and fall, his eyelashes flicker, his hand twitch. The loud bang of the heater switching on
didn’t even wake him, where Shannon jolted at its unexpected thud, tearing her even further
away from sleep. Tears quickly formed in Shannon’s eyes, but she ferociously blinked them
away, forcing herself to believe that she was simply exhausted. Upsettingly exhausted. Rolling
onto her back, Shannon bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted her metallic, sour blood.

                                                ***

       A warm hand was brushing the thick waves of sienna hair off her face, and the smell of
hazelnut coffee was filling her nose.

       “Hey.” The hand lingered on her bare shoulder. “Time to get up,” Shannon opened her
eyes, and Ben came into focus. She breathed in deeply and began coughing, choking on the fresh
air.

       “Sorry.” She propped herself upon her right arm. Ben handed her a warm mug of black
coffee. “Thanks.” She forced a smile.

       “I love your hair in the morning, it’s crazy.” Ben searched for the next words but failed to
find any. Shannon rolled her eyes at the comment, muttered her token, cynical thanks, and
contemplated telling Ben he looked pretty damn good with his white Hanes undershirt and
morning stubble. She didn’t.

       “Gonna get ready now, then head off to work. You leaving soon?” Ben nodded and began
to smile. Shannon got defensive. “What? What’s so funny?”

       “Nothing, just… Oh, hell. Hold on.” Ben went to the closet. “Close your eyes.” He was
almost giggling. Shannon obeyed, but she heard some rustling. Then she felt his weight shift the
mattress as he sat next to her. “Open.” She was greeted by a grinning Ben. She looked down. A
ring box—open—was in his hand.

       Shannon’s brown eyes opened wide and her mouth gaped open. She looked Ben in the
eyes. “What are you thinking?” She shook her head disapprovingly. The proposal, the timing—it
was absurd, ridiculous. Shannon couldn’t breathe. Her stomach lurched.

       “I’m thinking I love you, and… and want to spend the rest of my life with you.” Ben was
still holding Shannon’s hand. It felt awkward and heavy to her. “You love me, don’t you?” Ben
moved away from her.

       “Well, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.” Shannon couldn’t look at him. That wasn’t so
much a lie; she stayed with him for some reason.

       “Come on, Shannon.” She sat, silent. Ben moved towards her again, trying to comfort
her, coax her, even, into saying the three words; but it was Shannon who moved away this time.
She stood, didn’t dare look at him, and left the room to take a shower. When she finished, Ben
was gone, just as she hoped.

                                              ***

       “It was just weird, you know…just really weird. I don’t know the hell had crossed his
mind.” Shannon stared out the window of the cafe, hypnotized by the early afternoon sun shining
flickering off the glass. “I don’t know.” She shifted her gaze to her mother’s face. “Am I
wrong?” She stopped, still thinking, and let her mouth drop open. She noticed and immediately
and closed it, still waiting for a response. Her mother mulled her da ughter’s question, squeezed
the juice of a lemon wedge into her water glass, and proceeded to take a drawn-out sip from its
straw. She swallowed, put the glass back on the small, wooden table, and smiled at her daughter.

       “Yes, actually. I’d say so.” Mrs. Moretti looked down at the placement. Shannon laughed
out of disbelief, shook her head, crossed her arms, and closed her eyes.

       “Why.” It was more of an exasperated statement then a question; Shannon didn’t really
want to hear what her mother was going to say.

       “At some point in your life, you’re going to realize how good you’ve had it.”

       “You said that years ago, Mom. I’m still waiting for the enlightenment.” Shannon ran the
sentence together flatly; it had come out more abrasive than she had intended.

       “One day you’re going to find out how important it was that you had a loving family, a
great education, a job…”

       “Yeah, when I’m on my deathbed.” Shannon laughed at her own statement, though it was
more truth than humor.

       “Shannon, can I ask you something?” A change of subject—clear indication her mother
didn’t appreciate the joke. “Has it ever occurred to you that maybe your father would like to hear
from you sometimes? Maybe have lunch like this with him…”

       “I don’t think it will work.” Shannon opened her wallet book to give a credit card to the
waiter. “Plus, I’m going to be busy in the next few months. Lots of new patients are coming in.”

       Her mother was visibly disappointed. “Maybe try to scheduling something quick, then?”

       “We’ll see.” In her mind, though, Shannon Moretti had already dismissed the idea.
Likewise, she dismissed herself, stood, and kissed her mother on her hair.

                                               ***

       There was nothing like watching families mourn over the loss of a relative. Shannon
hadn’t gotten used to it—at least not yet; and the acrid smell of rubber gloves and sterile floors
still bothered her. She stood watching, from a comfortable distance, a wife and two daughters,
silently weeping, bending, holding hands—Shannon adjusted the collar of her shirt and looked
down at the deceased’s file: David Butler, age 76, prostate cancer. She lingered for a moment in
her silent solidarity before entering the room. She closed the file, like the doctors in movies
always did. Watery eyes stared at her.

        “I’m so sorry.” She always hated saying that, but nothing else ever fit the moment. She
was the doctor; she could be blamed.

        Silence. More crying.

        Shannon stood for a moment, feeling awkward as hell (though it was nothing new) while
trying to think of what to say. She wasn’t experienced enough yet, nor did she have any authority
to take the family to her nonexistent office. In time, she thought, in time. One day this would be
easy.

        “Is there anything I can do for you?” It seemed appropriate. At least mildly. “Anything to
help your family?”

        “No, not now,” the wife said between silent heaves.

        Well, Shannon thought. What now? Back away slowly? Keep standing? Close my eyes,
cross my arms, nod my head and hope my magical powers whisk me away?

        A shadow came up behind her and put its hand on her shoulder. It spoke. Shannon
recognized the voice. She exhaled.

        “Hello, Mrs. Butler. I’m Dr. Perry.” He walked towards the women, and they had already
begun to feel calmer in his presence. Getaway time. Shannon left the room, her hee ls
authoritatively clacking against the linoleum, even though she had failed at using any power
whatsoever. She turned, though, and Ben had been expecting her to. She mouthed a “Thank you”
He half- smiled in return, and then officially pronounced David Butler’s time of death as 11:37
PM.

                                               ***
       Shannon was about six- years-old when she first realized she was going to die. She would
start thinking about it right when she was about to fall asleep, and she’d come-to and her body
would go tense trying to comprehend the situation. Then she would remember that her mother
was going to die first, and Shannon would spend hours crying hysterically, trying to figure out
how she’d act and feel, her pillow becoming drenched in salty tears. Of course, she’d eventually
realize there was nothing she could do about it, or she would just naturally pass out from
exhaustion. It rarely occurred to her that her father was going to die too. And even if it did, well,
it made no difference.

       It came as a shock, then, when Shannon Moretti’s mother actually did die. It was a heart
attack that did her in, apparently. Shannon didn’t—couldn’t, rather—listen to the details. It had
been her father’s voice on the phone, the deep, stern voice with a slight hint of lingering Italian
accent, telling her. There had been a quiver in his voice at one point. He asked that she come
home that evening. She said she would.

       Shannon never remembered calling Ben, but he had somehow found what happened and
immediately stopped what he was doing. She walked with him to the red door of her childhood
home, clasping his hand. She realized, then, that it completely enveloped hers. She quite liked it
actually, and looked up at his face. He looked concerned, and he clenched her hand even tighter.
Shannon could see through the door’s window that her father was walking towards the front of
the house. She sucked in some cool air, which was briefly calming to her churning insides. The
door opened and her father stood behind the glass storm door, undoing its fidgety lock to let his
daughter inside. Shannon couldn’t help but laugh at the old man spinning the lock in either
direction, failing to achieve the correct combination. Eventually, it worked; the springs of the
door’s hinge groaned.

       “Shannon.” He paused. “Ben, thank you.”

       “Absolutely,” Ben responded. No hesitation.

       Shannon managed to look her father in the eye for a quick moment, but then he looked
away. She followed his darting eyes to Ben, who stared straight ahead at Mr. Moretti.
       “Is there anything I can do for you?” The words were familiar. “Anything to help your
family?” Ben’s tone was hushed.

       It was funny, Shannon thought, how those words had a calming effect on her after they
seemed to never soothe anyone else. She felt it. Her father felt it, too, she could tell by the way
he breathed in heavily through his nose. He held the door open wider, and Ben grabbed it with
his hand, holding it open for Shannon. She stepped into the foyer, and Ben was right behind her.
And there they stood with her father, each of them unsure where to go next.
          Steve Weathers




                                                      Baseball




          “Brian it’s time to wake up, we have to be at the baseball tournament in one hour.” yelled Mom
up the stairs.

          “OK. I’m getting up now!” Brian yelled back as he hopped out of bed wearing his baseball
uniform including everything except his hat which he’d carefully placed on his nightstand the night
before. Brian was in third grade and it was a usual occurrence for him to wear the same clothes for days
at a time. He never felt the need to change out of his baseball uniform on tournament weekends
because he would just have to get back into it again the next day. Brian walked downstairs and ate
breakfast which his mom had prepared for the whole family. There were eight people in Brian’s family;
three older brothers, two sisters one older and one younger, and his two parents. His parents and two
sisters were seated at the table when he came downstairs for breakfast. All of his brothers were still
asleep.

          After breakfast, it was time to leave for the game. Everyone hustled out to the two cars idling in
the driveway, except for his oldest brother, Matt, who was a sophomore in high school. Brian’s dad
began the usual routine of honking the horn and mumbling under his breath about how inconsiderate
kids could be, while everyone waited for Matt to come outside. Sometimes Brian thought his dad was a
little too uptight when he got upset about waiting for his brothers, but today, he couldn’t have agreed
with him more. After all, he had an important game to play. It was the final game of a weekend long
tournament. Both teams were tied with two wins, so the outcome of today’s game would determine
the tournament winner.

          After about five minutes, his Dad stormed out of the car to go inside and get Matt. Toge ther
they came back out to the car, with Matt looking like he’d just gotten an earful. Mr. Schultz continued
to curse and mumble the whole way to the field about how Matt needed to grow up and be more
considerate.
        Finally, both cars pulled into the gravel lot and found a place to park. Mr. Schultz and Brian
hopped out of the car. The whole team was waiting for them because Mr. Schultz was the coach. Today
was an important game and Brian was scheduled to pitch. Through the first few innings, the score was
very close, but in the third inning, when Brian came off of the mound, their opponent started to pull
away. The final score of the game was 7-5. Brian’s team had lost, but he had pitched three good
innings, not to mention hitting two triples and a double. After both teams received their trophies, Mr.
Schultz gave them a final talk before he dismissed them. On the way back to the car, Brian only said a
few words. These words came after he broke his second place trophy over his knee and threw it into
the woods. He said, “There’s no second place in my house.”

        That same morning, Brian’s neighbor, Billy Connors, woke up even earlier than Brian to get
ready for the game. Billy had to get himself ready and then go downstairs to cook himself breakfast and
help his mom before his ride to the game arrived. When Billy’s alarm went off at 6:00 a.m, he hopped
out of bed, scrubbed his face, brushed his teeth and then carefully put on the freshly washed uniform
he’d laid out at the foot of his bed the night before. Billy knew he had to hurry to get everything done
on time this morning. As he got dressed, he went over the list in his head, first he had to get himself
ready and eat breakfast. Then, he had to fix his mom’s breakfast and help her to the kitchen to eat.
Billy’s mom was confined to a wheel chair most of the time because she was too weak to walk. She was
also blind in one eye, because she’d had diabetes for so many years. She went into the hospital after
Christmas and she had just come home last week. Billy was so happy to have his mom back at home, he
didn’t mind doing extra chores. He just hoped she would start to get better.

        Billy came into the kitchen and quickly went about his morning routine, first he fixed the coffee
and poured two cups of juice and a glass of milk. He put two English muffins into the toaster and
gobbled down a bowl of cereal while they were toasting. He knew how important it was for his mom to
eat three healthy meals every day and his grandmom wouldn’t arrive until lunch time, so taking care of
breakfast was his responsibility. After he was finished eating and his mom’s breakfast was ready, he
went upstairs to help his mom get out of bed and down to the kitchen table. This was Billy’s routine
every morning, even on school days.

        Billy and Brian were on the same baseball team. Billy wasn’t sure he would even get to play
today at the tournament because he’d been late to so many practices, but he was happy just to be on
the team. Baseball was Billy’s favorite sport; he practiced in his backyard whenever his dad came to visit
on the weekends. During the week, he practiced by himself using the swing away and the tee. He had a
bucket of balls which he hit one by one off the tee towards the targets he’d set up in the backyard.
Afterwards, he ran out to retrieve them, scooping them up with his glove and tossing them back to the
place where the tee and bucket sat. He pretended he was the center fielder and the fans cheered him
on as he scooped up the balls and threw them towards home plate. His mom always sat by the window
when he practiced. He knew she probably couldn’t see him clearly, but she tried to as best she could
because she loved to watch him play. His swing was improving nicely. He noticed it the few times he
got up to bat in games.

        Billy heard the horn blow in the driveway. He quickly kissed his mom goodbye and hustled out
to the car. The championship game was exciting. Billy couldn’t wait to get home and show his mom his
second place trophy. He wished he’d gotten a chance to play, but he knew what Coach said about being
late to practice so he hadn’t expected it. Maybe he would get a chance to play in the next game.

        The next day Brian got up late for school. Brian didn’t like school very much because he was not
a particularly good student. It wasn’t that he couldn’t be a good student if he tried to be, it was just
hard for him to sit still sometimes and concentrate. After a long boring day of school, Brian got on the
bus to go home and went to his usual seat in the back. Today there was a fifth grader sitting in his
regular seat so Brian decided to sit in the seat in front of him. The fifth grader told Brian that he was not
allowed to sit in the back of the bus because he was only in third grade. Brian refused to get up and
move. When the fifth grader wouldn’t let it go, Brian decided to shut him up himself. He stood up,
walked to the seat behind him and banged the kid’s head against the window. The fifth grader was so
surprised he hopped up and ran to the front of the bus crying. The bus driver stopped the bus, came
back and filled out an incident report. He told Brian he would be visiting the principal’s office the next
day.

        That night at baseball practice, the incident on the bus was all the team could talk about.
Everyone kept telling Brian how brave he was to stand up to the fifth grader. About half way through
practice while the team was doing a hitting drill, Billy showed up. He told Mr. Schultz that he was sorry
for being late and said he would try to get to the rest of the practices that week on time. Mr. Schultz
said it was fine, but if he couldn’t get to practice on time, he wouldn’t be getting much playing time at
the games this weekend. When it was Billy’s turn to do the drill, he hit very well. The whole team was
surprised. Billy smiled and vowed to himself to practice even harder this week.
        During a break in practice, Brian decided to talk to Billy about why he was always late to
practice. “Yo Connors, why do you always show up late to practice?” questioned Brian.

        “I always have to help my mom and I end up missing my ride to practice so I have to walk up to
the field which takes about fifteen minutes.” answered Billy.

        “Man that sucks, my dad really has a thing about people being on time so I don’t know how
much play time you’re gonna get next game.” replied Brian.

        Billy just shrugged his shoulders. He already knew what Brian said was true.

        That night, Billy’s dad showed up to pick him up after practice, Brian overhe ard Mr. Connors
talking. He couldn’t believe what he heard about Billy’s mom being sick and about Billy being the only
one at home to help her.

        That weekend at the game, Brian overheard his dad tell Billy that he would try to get him into
the game. He saw Billy’s face light up with a smile. The game was tied 7-7 in the fifth inning. It didn’t
look like Billy was going to get in after all. Brian was next at bat. As he took his practice swings, he saw
a lady sitting in a wheel chair out of the corner of his eye. He realized that this must be Billy’s mom. He
looked over at Billy and the smile he’d been wearing at the beginning of the game had turned to a
frown. It looked like Billy was doing everything he could not to cry. “Brian” his dad yelled, “You’re up!
Focus!” As Brian stepped into the batter’s box, he knew what he had to do. The first pitch whizzed in, it
was outside, ball one. The second pitch came in high, ball two. Brian didn’t know if his plan would
work. Pitch three came in as a gift from God, it was heading right for Brian’s left shoulder. Brian closed
his eyes and stood his ground. The ball connected with his shoulder. Man that hurt Brian thought to
himself as he took first base. When the inning finally ended, Brian told his dad that he didn’t think he
return to his position in center field because his shoulder hurt so much. Mr. Schultz looked at Brian and
then at Billy. He called Billy over and told him to warm up at center field. Billy’s face lit up like a jack-o-
lantern as he ran onto the field.

        The first batter stuck out and so did the second. When the third batter came up to the plate,
Mr. Schultz signaled for the fielders to back up. Billy silently prayed to himself that this batter would
strike out. Strike one, Billy breathed a sigh of relief. Pitch number two was a ball. Billy was in a sweat.
He wished he were back in the dugout on the bench. The third pitch came in right down the middle.
Whack, it was a shot to center field, warning track power. Billy felt sweat drip down his forehead as he
ran full speed to try to make the catch. Brian closed his eyes tight, hoping he had made the right
decision. Billy felt the gravel of the warning track at his feet and started to slow down, boy this would
be close. He extended his arm, just over the top of the fence, and the ball fell into his glove. His
teammates ran towards him cheering wildly, and crowded around him. Thanks to him, they had won
the game!

        After the game, Billy ran over and gave his mom and grandmom a hug. His mom told him that
she was very proud of him. Brian and his dad walked towards the car. “How’s the shoulder feel?”
questioned Mr. Schultz.

        “Good as new.” Brian replied.
Lawrence Weathers



                                                 It’ll Be Okay



         I almost can’t think about it. Like my mind won’t let me get to thinking about it. But I have to. I
know I just have to. It- what happened tonight- seems so sudden now. So quick. It’s almost like...did it
even happen? I can’t believe it, it could have all been a dream. A terrible, awful dream. But it feels so
real. Right now, being back here, back on the bridge, next to the black pond, is so real.

        The slight breeze reminds me I’m not trapped in a vacuum, but I still wish it were warmer out.
Or colder. I just want to feel something external. I see the black trees, visible only in the moonlight, lined
around the pond, standing silently. I focus on my breathing, in and out, in and out...I can’t believe it
happened, can’t wrap my mind around it all...

        But it did happen, and suddenly I am back there. I can feel the car door as I held onto it like an
anchor...can see the silhouettes in the glow of the window...it kills me...Free Fallin’ playing distantly in
my car...I can see her, see her put it to her head...no...God...I want to do something...but I...can’t...

          The silence is instantly broken. I hear it again, the gunshot, the sound I will spend the rest of my
life trying to forget. It explodes outward, consumes my world, blinds me, then implodes in a mental
supernova, leaving behind quiet, torturous, echoing remnants.

        Everything is devastatingly silent again.

                                                     ---

         I heard the music blaring as I went to knock on the door. My friends just laughed as they pushed
ahead of me and let themselves in as the music and sound of people talking poured out. N o matter how
many of these parties my friends dragged me to, I could never get the hang of them. I followed them in,
closing the door behind me, immersing myself in the party scene. They were already lost in the crowd,
but as I looked around for them, I found someone even better: Jess.

       I never really liked these parties, but I would come for two reasons: one, because my friends
came to these parties, so it was either this or sit at home and do nothing; and two, and probably more
importantly, because Jess came to these parties. I liked Jess; she’s pretty, smart, and funny. But we
never hung out outside of these parties. Whenever my friends would tell me about “the big party this
weekend,” I would always silently hope that Jess would be there, and she usually was.

         I pushed my way through the crowd to Jess, where she was talking loudly in a circle with her
girlfriends. I found an opening across from her and pushed myself in. “Hey, guys,” I said as I looked
around the group, making sure to stop on Jess. She gave a small smile as she twisted her curly blonde
hair with one hand while holding her red plastic cup with the other. I was happy to see her, but I didn’t
like the sight of that nearly empty cup. That was one thing I didn’t like about Jess: how much she drank
at these parties.

          However, I forgot about that as soon as she spoke. “Hey, Peter,” she said when everyone else
was done with their greetings. I couldn’t help but let out another “Hey” specifically to her, which I
immediately regretted. Even though I could tell she knew I liked her, I still liked to pretend I could hide
it. All part of the game, I guess. The stupid game.

         But something caught my eye as I looked up at her. Over Jess’s shoulder, a girl stood in another
circle of people. She looked familiar, but uninterested, bored. Trying to think of why she looked familiar
made me forget what I was doing for a moment. She looked over in my direction, and I quickly shifted
my gaze back to Jess. Jess giggled, not noticing my distraction.

        I spent most of the next few hours with Jess. That red plastic cup was filled and emptied
throughout the night as I watched but tried to ignore it. When we ended up next to each other on the
couch, though, it was hard to ignore her drunken state. She breathed heavily on my neck and leaned
close to me. I wished I could enjoy it, I should have enjoyed it, but I found myself just trying to make
room between us. Finally, she stood up.

         “Peter, come here,” she said, holding out her hand. I looked at that hand and thought of where
it could take me. Ideas formed in my mind, but I tried to brush them aside; I didn’t like to think of Jess
that way. Not knowing what else to do, though, I took her hand and stood up, hoping she had something
else in mind. She let out an excited squeal and started leading me through the crowd. My mind raced for
an explanation that I liked, but before I knew it we were heading up the stairs. I started to pull back.

        “Jess, where are we going?”

        “Just up here, silly, where we can be alone...” she giggled, swayed a bit, looking at me
seductively, or drunkenly, through half-shut eyes. We reached the top of the stairs. I pulled my hand
away.

        “No! Jess, we can’t-

        “What?” she asked, sincerely confused. “It’ll be okay...”

        “Jess, I don’t want- Not- urgh!” I spun around and ran down the stairs, angered and confused.
She might have yelled something, but it was lost as I ran into the crowd. I didn’t know what to do, who
to go to. I looked around. The back door. That’s what I needed, to just go outside, clear my mind, get out
of here...I pushed through everyone before finally reaching the door and quickly stepping outside.

         I didn’t realize how uncomfortably warm it had been inside the party until I felt the rush of cool
air against my face. I let out a quick sigh, freeing my lungs of the sweaty air from the party. Trying to get
away from the house, I sat in a hammock by some trees in the back of the yard. Fresh air renewed me as
I took a deep breath and lay to hide in the hammock. But something caught my eye. A figure, standing
away from me on the side of the yard.
         I tried to look closer without being noticed, but the hammock rocked to one side and I fell off
like a brick. Embarrassed both by being seen and by being seen because I fell off a hammock, I quickly
scrambled to get up. By now, the figure was fully turned toward me. It was that girl, the one I had seen
before who looked familiar and disinterested. She sure didn’t look disinterested now, but highly
amused. I could feel my face turn bright red.

        “You all right?” she called. Her voice was warm in the cool air.

         “Yeah,” I blurted out quickly, voice cracking. I cleared my throat. “Yeah, I’m cool,” I said in what I
think was a deep voice. Hoping to end it there so I couldn’t embarrass myself further, I began to walk
briskly back to the party without looking at her, giving up on trying to clear my head. But she called back
to me.

        “So why are you out here?”

        I was almost to the door; I could get away with a short answer.

        “You know, just doin’...stuff.” A more intelligent short answer would have been better. I was at
the door now though, so I called back to her one last time to redeem myself, “But I’m going back in the
party now so...yeah, see ya.” It was at this point I realized I really needed to think before I open my
stupid mouth.

        But as I turned around to go inside, I immediately stopped. Jess was on the other side of the
crowd, upset and crying, looking around frantically, though she didn’t see me. But she was also a
drunken mess: she kept falling, knocking down other people, throwing her arms out. Suddenly, I
preferred staying outside with this girl who I just royally embarrassed myself in front of to going inside
to deal with Jess’s drunken tears.

         Turning around, I saw the girl still watching me, still looking amused. I cleared my throat, trying
to clear away the last few minutes with it. I meandered over to her.

        “Looks like I’ll be staying out here,” I said, perhaps a bit defeated.

        She exhaled softly, looking away for a second before looking back at me.

       “So why are you out here?” she repeated. Her voice sounded distant, yet interested, as if she
wanted to compare her reason for being outside with mine.

        “Just...too much going on in there. That’s all.”

        “Hm,” she replied. I knew she understood there was more to it. She looked up at the sky; I
followed her gaze. At first, I saw just a gray orb anchored in a sea of dark blue, but soon I could make out
a few faint spots sprinkled in. I heard myself speak again.

       “...And some girl trouble and...” I trailed off. Had I just said that? Why did I volunteer this
personal information? I didn’t even know this girl’s name! But she did look familiar...
       The girl continued to look at the sky before throwing a glance at me. “Really? What kind of girl
trouble?”

         I watched her, my mind racing to figure out how I knew her. I didn’t want to have to ask, but I
came up with nothing. I shook my head. “I’m sorry, but...where do I know you from? You look so
familiar...”

        She finally looked back at me. “I’m Sarah, Sarah Abramson. You sat in front of me in social
studies freshman year.”

         “Oh, right!” She looked so different from back then, it surprised me that I thought she looked
familiar. I remember she was always cheerful, perhaps even bordering on naivety, and very nice, but my
friends didn’t talk to her, so, without thinking twice, I never did. Her brown hair was longer now, and she
looked liked she really grew up, maybe because she looked so young freshman year. And the one thing I
recalled most vividly about her, her brown eyes, which were always opened wide as if taking everything
in for the first time, were no longer filled with that wonder. Suddenly, I missed the eyes I hadn’t cared
about back then, and I couldn’t help but blame maturity for stealing them from her. “With Mr. Bullitt?” I
recalled.

        “Yup. And your name’s Peter Hurwitz, right?”

       “Yeah,” I answered, feeling bad she had remembered me but I hadn’t remembered her. Not
wanting to go back to talking about my “girl problem,” I quickly asked, “Why are you out here?”

        She glanced over at the house. “I hate these parties,” she said with a sigh. “There’re too many
people, you know? Too much superficiality.” She paused. “I didn’t even want to come. I...um,” she
stuttered for a second, before slowly saying, “...had other plans, but...”

        I was surprised. I never thought about it, but that’s how I felt about these parties too. I marveled
at how she could put my feelings into words better than I could and felt relieved we had something to
talk about other than my “girl problem.”

        “So what was this about your girl problems?”

         Shoot. She wasn’t going to let that go. I looked at her, trying to judge what to tell her, how much
to tell her, where to start. I wondered if I should just tell her everything, if it was even worth keeping
secrets.

        “It’s just… this girl. Jess.”

        “Jess Sorelli? Do you like her?” she asked as if the question meant nothing.

       I was about to answer with what I thought was an easy “Yes,” but when my mouth opened,
something else came out.
       “I don’t know. I mean… I think I do. We have fun together. And she’s nice. And great to be with.
But sometimes… I don’t know.”

         When I stopped, I was surprised with my own answer. I thought I had been through this a couple
months before and decided I liked her. I wanted to like her, had worked on liking her, and I thought I
had finally gotten over that confusion. Now I was back here. Suddenly, I was glad to have Sarah there to
talk to.

        “I saw you two on the couch. You were pretty close.”

        The thought of other people seeing us disgusted me. For a moment, I pictured what we must
have looked like: her leaning into me, me leaning into the arm of the couch. Did I look as unhappy as I
felt? Suddenly, I started talking again.

         “Yeah, well...it’s when she does stuff like that that makes me not like her. I mean, usually
nothing comes of it, and I’m glad, because I don’t like her that way, it’s just this time...” I stopped to
choose my next words before realizing I was saying this to a girl I had never talked to before, telling her
things I wouldn’t even tell my friends.

        “...things went too far? You didn’t like it?” she finished for me.

        “...Yeah,” I started slowly, studying her as if trying to find how she could read me so well. “How
are you doing this? How are you making me tell you all this?” I couldn’t keep a hint of amusement out of
my voice.

       She looked away. “I don’t know. I just think it’s good to...” she looked down, before looking back
up at me, “get things out that are bothering us, you know?”

       She was right. Although I hadn’t done anything to solve my problem, and in fact only made it
more confusing, I somehow felt better talking about it. I couldn’t talk about it with my friends; it was
good to have Sarah. I smiled at this simple thought.

         “Well then, what about you? Do you have anything you want to get out?” This idea of talking,
just talking, without any pressure or worrying what we thought of each other excited me a bit.

       Sarah shifted her weight and fully turned her head away from me. She sighed before saying,
“What time is it?”

        I was slightly taken aback by the question. I had wanted to talk...hadn’t she? I reached in my
pocket for my cell phone anyway. “It’s, uh...” I began, my hand still fumbling around, looking for my
phone. I kept too much stuff in there. Finally, I found it and opened it.

        “...it’s one. It’s almost one.” Was it really that late already?

        Sarah looked back at the party before looking at me, brushing a lose strand of brown hair out of
her eyes. “Do you want to give me a ride home?”
         I did, but the question seemed sudden and odd. “How’d you get here?” I asked, trying to sound
like I was curious rather than trying to find an excuse not to drive her.

        “My friends drove me.”

        “Won’t they wonder where you went?”

        “I’m sure they won’t notice.”

        Something seemed sad about her answer, but my mind quickly turned to my own friends.

        “Oh, I drove my friends here tonight. They’ll probably want a ride home.” Why did I keep
thinking up these excuses?

        “Oh, okay,” she said, looking back up at the sky, the same way she had been whe n I first came
out. She stood still, waiting for me to leave.

        “You know what?” I said, feeling bad, “My friends will probably stay the night here. They’re not
going anywhere.” I smiled weakly, hoping this made things better between us. When she looked back at
me, though, she still looked sad, so I was surprised at her response.

        “Great.”

        I stalled for a second, confused by what seemed like such an out-of-place response for how she
looked. “Okay,” I said, shaking it off and beginning to move past her. “Come on!”

                                                   ---

        The doors slammed shut and I started the car. I cleared my throat as my car hummed to life.
Once I started driving and the sound of the wheels on the road became background noise, though, it
seemed very quiet in the car. I waited for her to say something. For some reason, that seemed right. I
didn’t even bother to ask where she lived; I stopped for what seemed like forever at the first stop sign,
not knowing which way to turn.

        “Right.”

        That’s all I needed. The icy silence inside the car had melted with her one word.

        I had to say something now. She had said something, and now it was my turn. But I didn’t know
what to say. What could I ask that could have taken us back to the conversation we were having before,
back to that moment of complete honesty? How could I do that for her the way she did it for me?

        “Why do you drive your friends to those parties if you don’t like them?”

      The sound of her voice surprised me. I was supposed to ask her, help her “get stuff out...” But
my mind was already wrapped around the question, answering it as I listened.
        “I don’t know. I guess because they can be decent guys sometimes. They can be fun to hang out
with, but they can also be real jerks. Sometimes I feel like I don’t even fit in with them, but it’s not like I
have another group of friends to hang out with instead...”

        “I meant the parties. Why do you drive them if you don’t like the parties.”

        I had to think about that one. Was that really what she meant? Why did I assume she meant my
friends? I had never even thought that about my friends, but now that I had said it, I realized I had
definitely felt it.

        “Oh,” I said, scared of my own feelings.

        “Now turn left.”

        “What?” I had completely forgotten I was driving Sarah home, but suddenly remembered and
had to turn sharply.

       “Sorry about that.” Good thing it was dark, because I must have been bright red. Sarah didn’t
even seem phased by it, though.

        “S’all right. Just make the next left, and that’s my road.”

        Now I knew I definitely had to ask the next question. Ask something. Anything.

        “So why don’t your friends care about you?”

        WOAH, ANYTHING BUT THAT.

        “WAIT- um, no...I mean...Oh, God. I mean, why don’t your friends care if you leave the party?” I
could have killed myself right there. I tried to escape the embarrassment momentarily by focusing all my
attention on making that left turn.

        “No, you’re right...I don’t think they care about me.” She fell silent. I wanted to say something,
but kept my mouth shut in fear of letting another idiotic comment come out of my mouth. I drove
slowly down the street, partly so I wouldn’t miss her house, but mostly because I wanted to spend more
time with her. I wanted to talk with her more, and somehow dropping her off a few minutes later was
going to help me do that. Finally she said it, the words I didn’t want to hear.

        “It’s this one.”

         I slowed to a stop on the side of the road and looked at her house. It was big, bigger than I
expected. I don’t know why I even expected anything. In the silence, I waited to hear the car door open,
a foot step outside, maybe a “Thanks,” but I didn’t hear any of that. Instead, I heard a sigh, followed by
something I didn’t expect.

        “Let’s keep driving.”
        I looked over at her, not believing what I heard.

         “Really?” I asked, maybe sounding more surprised than I should have. She nodded. She wanted
to spend time with me, just talking? Part of me wished Jess was more like her, but another part of me
wished I didn’t have to wish that. Trying to keep my excitement hidden, I slowly pulled away from the
side of the curb. I waited a moment before penetrating the silence.

        “So why do you think your friends don’t care about you?” Glancing out of the corner of my eye, I
could see she was silently sorting it out, figuring out what to say. Then she spoke.

        “It’s just, like...we’ve all been friends for so long, and – like, since before we can even
remember, most of us – and it hasn’t always been like this, I mean...We were close all in elementary
school, but then middle school...that’s when they started changing, and it’s like...” She paused. I looked
over at her; I hadn’t expected this from her, this girl I had just met who seemed so kind and quiet. Her
right hand was making a clenching and unclenching movement as she searched for new words, as if it
showed more than she could say.

        “Weird?” I offered, not knowing what else to say.

        “Yeah, it’s like...they wanted to grow up, and they started wearing smaller clothes and more
make-up and acting dumb around guys and I didn’t like that. And they made fun of me for saying stuff
about it. And I guess I’ve always...blamed myself that I couldn’t hold us together, keep them happy with
who they were. All I could do was watch them change, but I couldn’t hate them for it. I hated myself for
not being able to do anything. I became so angry.”

          I could hear her begin to choke up, but I didn’t dare look to see if she was crying. All this from a
girl I barely knew. And it all sounded so natural. I could barely comprehend what she just said, how she
must have felt. Then she said something else unexpected.

        “Turn here.”

        There was a parking lot there, and without asking, I turned into it. I wanted to know what we
were doing, or where we were, but figured it was unimportant for now. If Sarah wanted to be here,
that’s what I wanted. She began to get out of the car, and I did the same. Once again, I felt the night air
on my face, but quickly forgot about it when I saw Sarah walking away. I followed her, and saw that the
parking lot was at the top of a big hill. Sarah was already halfway down the hill, and I ran to catch up to
her. When I did, I could see in her face there was more she was thinking about.

        “And what about now?” I ventured. Her fast pace slowed considerably.

         “And now I just go along with it. I’ve been going along with it for, like, six years.” She sniffled.
“Seven years. And I try not to care about them, ‘cause I know they must not care about me, but I can’t
help it because I feel they are still just as confused and unhappy as when they started pretending and...”
she let out another shaky sigh, “and I still want to help them.”
     She became silent again. I walked next to her with my head down; I could make out the
movement of my sneakers in the darkness, could hear the grass move beneath our feet.

Soon, the hill sloped off and the ground became flat. In front of us was a small lake, or a large pond, or
whatever you want to call it. A forest circled the lake, save for the path we took down. Except for a
white smear painted on by the reflection of the moon, the pond was black, and for some reason I
imagined it being very deep.

       She stopped, and I stopped with her. “How could you help them?” I asked, wanting to free her
from her thoughts. My voice sounded loud in the surrounding silence, but she must have barely heard
me; she was still staring distantly at the ground, making that clenching movement with her hand again.

        “I, um...” she paused, lost in thought and unable to form an answer to the question. Suddenly
she looked up. “I’m sorry. It’s cold out here. It’s really...” she looked around with an out-of-place smile,
an embarrassed, nervous, sad smile. It wasn’t cold out at all...I suddenly realized how self-conscious she
must have felt. Like I had. She began to walk away along the pond.

         “I come here to be alone sometimes,” she said, almost to herself. “Heh, the funny thing is,” she
said as she started walking by the pond, letting out a weak laugh as if to reassure herself, “this is where
my dad used to bring me. For walks, and...to just...” she choked up again.

       I didn’t really see the funny thing about it, or how it connected. As she regained herself from
choking, I walked over to her.

        “Your dad?” I asked, though it was unnecessary; she was going to talk about this whether I
participated or not.

         “He used to bring me here...when I was little. And I...It was fun. Me and him.” She reminisced
for a moment before starting again. “Our last time here, in third grade, we stood on that bridge.” She
looked to a small bridge at one end of the pond. “He was fishing. I loved when he would fish because he
would be so calm, and it would make me feel calm, because he would go away on trips a lot and I didn’t
like that. And he was leaving that weekend, and I wanted to be with him...and...I was next to him with a
stick I had found, pretending to fish with him. And we just sat there, and every once in a while he would
ruffle my hair and look at me and say, ‘You catch anything?’ and I would say, ‘Nope. You catch
anything?’ and he would smile and say, ‘Nope,’ and we would go back to fishing and I liked it. I was so
happy.”

       We reached the bridge. Like I thought we would, we stopped, and I put my legs through the
metal bars on the side and sat with my feet dangling over the water. She leaned over the rail next to me.

       “Why was that your last time here?” It was hard to ask, but I knew the answer was coming
anyway.
        She sniffled, then buried her face in her hands. My heart nearly stopped; Had I gone too far?
Was this the forbidden point? For a moment, I would have done anything to take that last question
back. But then she put her hands down and she exhaled. I could see her tears now.

        “Because I went home and...I wanted to write to my friend –an e-mail – about how fun my day
was. And I went on my dad’s computer, the one he used for business – I figured it would be okay,
but...And I went to his e-mail and I found...there was an e-mail open, saying how she couldn’t wait to
see him that weekend. Some woman. She said she loved him. Some woman I didn’t know. And I looked
and found more e-mails from this woman, saying she loved him. I panicked and told my mom and she
read the e-mails and she started crying, and I thought it was my fault. She went to talk to my dad, I
heard yelling and crying, and he left early for his trip. When he came back, he didn’t live with us. He
lived with my grandmother. And he only visited me a few time. And I felt it was all my fault. I wish I had
never found those e-mails.” She paused, breathed heavily, before starting again.

        “He sent me a necklace when I was in middle school. Expensive. Pretty. But I didn’t want it, I was
disgusted by it. And I realized I was disgusted by the father I once loved more than anyone, and it killed
me. And all I had left was my mother.”

          For everything she just said, something about that last statement made me feel better. At least
she still had someone, I figured.

         “She’s getting married in two weeks. To some asshole it’s like she just met. And he doesn’t even
try to get to know me. All he cares about is her, and she’s starting to feel that way about him. I feel like
she’s left me for him.” She wiped her eyes and sniffled more. “It sucks.”

       My mind was reeling from everything she said. I didn’t think I could take anymore, but she
continued.

        “And she wants me to be a bridesmaid. She’s making me one. But I told her there’s no way I
would ever go to the wedding. She thinks she can make me, but she can’t. I won’t give her the chance.”
She sighed.

         I just sat there, watching the moon’s reflection dance on the ripples in the pond. How could I
even began to understand how she felt? What she must have felt like with absolutely nobody around?
Sure, I felt out-of-place with my own friends sometimes, and I argued with my parents every now and
then, but I still liked them. I went over everything she told me in my mind, thinking of what to say, what
to do. Even so, I felt content, thinking that allowing her to let all that out must have made her feel
better. Under this assumption, I said with a small smile, “It’ll be okay.”

        Now, I wish I never said that.

         She looked at me, her eyes dry but her cheeks wet. “I want to go home,” she said. Her tone
completely changed, the emotion was gone. I took this as a sign; she was done talking, she had gotten it
all out, and I had helped her. I climbed out of the railing, feeling like I’d done well.
                                                    ---

        To me, the silence between us on the ride home was comfortable. I was thinking about how,
even though I came to some tough realizations, I enjoyed the outcome of the night. Sarah and I now
shared this deep connection, more than anything I could ever have with Jess, although a different
emotion. Resolving to do this more often, I almost couldn’t wait for another night like this, where we
could just talk.

       This time, I pulled slightly into her driveway. She got out of the car quickly as I watched. I must
have been too distracted with my thoughts of the future, though, because if I really was watching
maybe I would have realized then that she still looked upset instead of realizing it now when it’s too
late.

        “Good-bye,” she said into the car as she closed the door.

        “Good-night, Sarah,” I called after her.

        She opened the door again. “Good-bye, Peter.” Her eyes looked down, then up at me. “Thanks,”
she said, sounding uncertain.

        I smiled and watched her walk up her driveway as I backed up. She was almost at her door when
I drove away.

         I thought about everything from that night. Meeting Sarah, looking at the night sky, driving, the
park...I didn’t want it to end. I figured I could extend the night a bit more by driving past Sarah’s house
one last time for the night. Just to make sure she got in safe and all. Not that I expected anything wrong,
but...just to make sure. I arrived at the road I was supposed to turn on, but instead I circled around and
headed back. I decided to put on some music to fill the silence; I found a station midway through Tom
Petty’s Free Fallin’ and, content with it, I left it on.

       I tried to roll the window down, but the weather wasn’t warm enough for that yet, so I put it
back up, hooked my left hand back on the steering wheel, and leaned back in my seat.

        Free fallin’...Now, I’m...free fallin’...

        I slowed down as I got to her house, nearly to a stop. I saw a light go on in one of the second
floor rooms. Her room, I figured. Part of me was sad about this; this meant the night was truly over. But
something caught my eye. A silhouette – her silhouette – ran into the room and spun around violently. I
stopped the car and put it in park quickly, wondering what could be going on. She was yelling something
to someone I couldn’t see, but to me, everything was silent except for the low murmuring of my car.
Another silhouette came into my view. A woman. She was yelling too.

        I wanna glide down...

       Sarah’s silhouette picked something up and put it to her head. They both suddenly stopped
moving. I opened my door and slowly got out, hoping I didn’t know what was going on.
      “No...” I whispered, moving closer to the house while still clutching the open car door. In the
window, she shook her head, apparently at something her mother said.

        Gonna leave this world for a while...

       “No...” I whispered again, this time letting go of the door and taking a few steps forward. She
hung her head down. I heard the gunshot.

        And I’m free...Free fallin’...

      Her mother lunged at her, but it was too late. Sarah collapsed out of my view. My eyes widened,
my body stiffened, and my mouth opened to scream. I could feel the word escape my mouth, felt the
movement in my throat, but I heard nothing. All I could hear was the thunderous echo of the gunshot in
my mind. The gunshot and, somewhere far in the distance, a guitar solo.

                                                      ---

        I remember only pieces of what happened next: the woman’s silhouette embracing a
man’s...throwing myself into my car...a blurry road...Other than that, I don’t fully remember driving
here. Back to this park. I don’t know why I came back. I should have gone home, told my parents, told
somebody, but I didn’t. I came back to sit on this bridge’s rail again, to sort things out, to be alone. How
long have I been here for? It doesn’t matter. I don’t care, I’m just here.

        It just...It doesn’t make sense. Why? Why did it happen? She told me, she told me everything,
except what she was planning to do...why didn’t I see it? Why didn’t I do something? I could have said
something to help her. Why didn’t I? Why did I enjoy it, sharing secrets, her fatal secrets? I didn’t know
then...but still. I...

         All I’d have to do is go back to the beginning of the night and I could change things. I would talk
to her. Show her I was there for her. If I could just go back a few hours, could I do that? It seems like it
should be so simple, just go back a bit...Why can’t I? I would just change that one thing...Not even much.
Can I even try?

        But I know I can’t, and I hate it. Hate it. Hate this feeling, hate that I didn’t know, didn’t do
something...I hate that I even met her. If I hadn’t gone outside and talked with her, I...I wouldn’t have
gotten involved. I...I should’ve just gone inside, is what I should have done, left her when I had the
chance...I didn’t need her. She just made my life infinitely more difficult. Just...But I hated Jess too.
Hated how she drank, how she thought she was cool. This game, how I had to try so hard with her. And
my friends. Hated how I put up with them. Hated...Why did Sarah have to do this to me?

          It’s so unfair, all seems so unfair, and I can’t bare it. What just happened, everything with Jess,
my friends...it all just...I feel it building up inside of me, in the pit of my stomach. The hatred, anger,
despair...all coming forward. I can’t lose myself. I fight to keep my sanity, fight it all back, keep it down.
But suddenly it becomes bigger than me. It all blows through me, exploding outward, pouring out, and
all I can do is yell.
        It hurts, but I keep yelling. I yell as loud as I can. I feel it all drain out, my regret, my
anger...everything. It just flows out of me and I can’t stop it. I yell until I can yell no more, until I am out
of breath, until every ounce of confusion and rage and hatred has left me. Until I am weak, until I am left
gasping for breath, feeling numb inside.

          I feel nothing for a moment. It all is gone, at least for now. In this nothingness, something begins
to echo, something inside of me. I try to understand it, to feel it, search for it. It’s as if I’m trying to grab
a fistful of water. It’s something familiar, something I had said tonight. I don’t want to hear it, now know
she probably didn’t want to hear it, but it echoes in me nonetheless. I don’t believe it; it seems like I will
never be happy again, never be content. Like I’ll just exist in this nothingness for the rest of my life, but
this echo is there, I feel it, and it almost makes it worse. Mocking me. Those three words. “It’ll be okay.”
Zach Wibbens



                                               Charlieís Path



   The snow fell quietly from the murky night sky. Inside the cozy little cabin the wet logs in the fire
hissed and spit as they smoldered under the mantle. Charlie and Claire sat in different rooms, seemingly
lost from each other in the void of the cabinís silence.



   She sat in the worn arm chair, glaring into the fire as she watched the hot tongues dance in the fire
place. Its crackle was the only sound to break the cabins silence. Charlie sat quietly on the corner of the
bed in the room opposite the fireplace, his face wedged between his hands. Watching her quietly, he
wondered how they had gotten here. This weekend was supposed to have been fun, a weekend alone in
his familyís cabin. He had trouble understanding how somehow they were here again; another fight had
come and gone, its purpose still eluding him.



   Everything they seemed to talk about ended in a fight, and somehow she always seemed to pin it on
him. Claire had a way of doing that, she had a certain sense of self righteousness which seemed to hav e
swelled to new proportions in the past month. Nearly three times a week it seemed she was telling him
he had changed, that he was somehow different from when they had first met, and pleaded for him to
be the way he used to. But what truly perplexed him was that the more she pleaded the more he
seemed not to care. For several weeks now, he had become more fed up with the fights rather than
concerned. Each successive fight was less meaningful than the last. He used to hate them for the simple
fact that Claire was upset, but now he was unfazed.



   As the fire slowly died, Claire got up from the arm chair and quietly made her way to the second
bedroom. Charlie quickly stood to follow her, the bed creaking loudly as he did. She spun sharply in the
doorway and leered at him. ìNo!î she said loudly, in a tone so cold enough to freeze him in his tracks.
The single word seemed to resonate in the dead silence of the cabin. She slowly slid the rest of the way
into the dark room, the door closing behind her.



   A new wave of anger washed over Charlie as he climbed into bed, defeated. His mind raced with
frantic, hateful ideas. ìIf only he could put her though half of the bull shit she does,î he thought. He knew
nothing would come of these ideas, but he couldnít help but flirt with them. ìHow hurt she would be if
he ended it tomorrow, that would show her,î he thought. Realizing how perverse these thoughts were
becoming, he quickly stopped and rolled over, waiting fruitlessly for sleep to come. Outside the pitch
black night spewed a steady stream of snow, slowly entombing the cabin.




        The morning seemed just as dreary as the night. The steel gray clouds blocking the sunrise or
any kind of sun at all for that matter Lost in his thoughts, Charlie had slept very little that night. Having
given up on sleeping hours earlier, he sat at the end of his bed, exposing himself to the bitter cold of the
cabin. He sat for a moment, watching for any signs of morning, and as the room slowly brightened he
laced his boots and threw on his jacket.



         Stepping out onto the porch, he winced as he felt the frigid morning wrap itself around him.
Pulling his jacket more closely around his stiffened body, he set off towards the forest. Smiling
whimsically, he looked up, watching his breath drift up and slowly disappear into the dismal sky.
Snapping back to reality he set off down the path he and his father used to hike when he was young. He
hoped a place he had such fond memories of would help clear his mind and put the previous night
behind him. But despite his best attempts to remember crisp autumn afternoons with his father, he
couldnít dislodge Claire from his mind. ìHe hadnít even done anything!î he thought with a disgruntled
sigh. Shuffling his feet though the fresh snow, he continued on down the path.




   He had been sitting on the couch in front of the fire when she came into the room. He watched her as
she sauntered over to him, wearing the sweatshirt and a pair of pajama pants that he had once owned.
She smiled widely when she noticed his gaze. His face remained emotionless as she lowered herself onto
the couch. Stoically he returned his gaze to fire as she lovingly draped her arms about his neck. ìIím so
happy to be here with you,î Claire cooed in her sweet voice she knew would make him melt as she
nuzzled into the nook of his neck. Unfazed by the comment, he continued to stair deeply into the
flames. They sat there for several minutes in silence until Claireís sweet voice again broke the silence. ìI
really have been looking forward to this weekend. Iíve missed being able to spend all this time with you
like we used to. I know these past couple weeks have been rough Iím so happy you decided to work this
out with me. I really donít know what I would do with out you, I love you so much.î Normally he would
pull her closer and reassure her that nothing would pull them apart, but tonight all he could do was
think to himself how needy she had become. Moments later he replied ìYeah, me too,î eyes still fixed
intently on the fire.



   ìIs everything ok, you seem off?î she asked, a troubled look coming over her face.



   ìYes,î he said flatly, sighing shortly after.



   ìYou sure baby? Something seems off, ìyou sure youíre not mad?î



   ìWhy do you think something it wrong? Why is something always wrong? Canít we just sit here and
enjoy each others company?î his tone becoming more severe.



    ìIím sorry,î she said, a look of bewilderment coming over her face, ìYouíre just acting so strange. I feel
like your not even pay attention to me. Can you please look at me?!î



  ìHere we go,î he thought out loud, glancing at her before quickly returning to the fire. ìWhy is
something always wrong with you?î he demanded. ìYouíre always so damn needy!î



   ìIím sorry,î she retorted sarcastically, ìBut I didnít try to break up with you out of the blue now did I?î



   ìAgain, really? Itís been a month Claire. How often do I need to tell you I made a mistake? Maybe if
you werenít so damn needy I wouldnít have done it.î



   With her pain almost palpable, Claire removed herself from his side and angrily slouched into a worn
arm chair across the room. Further annoyed, Charlie angrily trudged to far bedroom, muttering ìBitchî
under his breath.
         He shook his head remembering the previous night. Still furious, the thought of breaking up with
her again, finding vile solace in the idea of breaking her heart. Dwelling briefly on this idea he again
realized how sick and backwards the thought was. Yes, he was annoyed, angry, and furious even- but he
loved Claire. This idea, this beast had won him over the month before. Having learned the beastís
trickery, he shook it off, trying once again to clear his troubled mind in the solitude of the snow capped
wilderness.




         So lost in his thoughts, Charlie hadnít noticed the rays of sun beginning to break their way
through the thinning clouds. Looking around he found himself in wonderment of the forestís beauty.
The growing spots of sun had lit the previously dismal forest and suddenly the cherished walks with his
father didnít seem so far away. He stopped momentarily in a small clearing, the sun now bathing the
forest. A light breeze swept through the trees brushing a crystal powder from their branches, drifting
weightlessly to the ground. Charlie couldnít help but immerse himself in the moment, slowly spreading
his arms and grinning widely. As he set off down the path, he tried to remember the last time he had felt
so at peace with everything. As much as his pride fought against it, he had only one comparable
moment in mind.



         It was an unusually cool day for late August but that only added to the serenity of the afternoon.
Charlie lay on his back, the hammock swaying lazily in the summer breeze, watching the leaves in the
massive oaks dance merrily far over head. The breeze blew a strand of his sun bleached hair into his
eyes. Guiltily, he removed his arm from around Claire, careful not to wake her as she slept peacefully on
his chest. He raised his head slightly as he brushed the nuisance from his eyes. Looking down, he saw
her golden brown curls sprawled across his shoulder, her little head resting on the side of his chest.
Seeing this he couldnít help but smiling. It was just something about seeing her there, so peaceful,
pulling herself close to him. Despite his best efforts, Claire began to stir, a squeak escaping her body as
she stretched her arms high above her head, draping them gracefully around his neck as she slowly
opened her eyes. Looking down at her, he could see the afternoon sun gl eaming in her crystal blue eyes.
When their eyes met, neither could stop themselves from smiling. Both smiled even wider breaking into
a simultaneous laugh. Charlie pulled her closer soaking in every moment. They lay there for hours
holding each other, neither saying a word, just enjoying the otherís presence. That afternoon seemed to
go on forever, neither seeming to notice the dayís progression until the afternoon sun hung low in the
sky, their shadows long black smears on the well kempt lawn.
   As much as he wanted to, he couldnít bring himself to smile. The memory was so bitter sweet. As
much as he wanted to bask in this happy memory he simply couldnít. He stood up strait, stretching his
back, and ran his hand through his hair, looking to the sky, as if to ask for an answer. Why couldnít they
stay like that? Those innocent times in the blossoming of their relationship captured in that peaceful
day back in late August. As much as he tried, as much as he wanted to, he could never maintain that
feeling of carelessness, wanting nothing more than the girl in his arms. Never more than in this moment
had the question troubled him. He simply couldnít put his finger on it, that day had come so easily, it
seemed to flow from moment to moment. But so rarely now did their days flow with such ease. More
than anything else, being together seemed stressed, and days filled with awkward bumps and
uncomfortable pauses trumped the careless feelings. As he pondered this, he came to a startling
realization, maybe, in part, he was to blame. He thought back to the fight they had had the previous
night, how quickly he had blamed her for ruining their night. He began to wonder if it was not her fault
for their recent fighting, rather his. A slight noise suddenly distracted Charlie; as his gaze fell upon on the
path in front of him. He had been too lost in his own mind to notice the figure in front of him moments
ago, but the stark contrast of blood on the crisp white snow snapped him back to reality. Time seemed
to freeze for a moment as he looked down upon the mangled creature. It lay in a pool of morning sun,
its features almost glistening in the innocent light. Its legs were spread wide in an unnatural fashion, its
brown velvet coat marred by the violence. Its white spots were almost indistinguishable amidst the
blood and gaping lacerations. The once beautiful creature, so young and full of life, was now barely
distinguishable. It was no longer a fawn but a carcass, a pile of flesh and bone. He stood there frozen,
unable to pry his eyes from the poor creature. It was then he heard the growl.



        The beast was no more than three meters away, crouching in the shade of a large pine. It slowly
strode forward into the clearing with its back arched, and hairs standing on end. First its bone white
teeth closely followed by its snarling, bloody muzzle moved forward. Next, its terrible eyes, a sickly
yellow, gleamed furiously. Finally its blood stained paws crossed the threshold and finally its whole body
was exposed to the light. Charlie could see its mangy brown fur matted with fresh blood as its turn its
side toward him, never removing its menacing gaze from him, beginning to walk a sweeping semicircle
toward him. The beast growled more loudly as he slowly tried to inch away from the scene, almost
demanding that he stay for whatever was to happen. Obligingly, Charlie halted, slowly crouching to the
ground, his eyes never leaving those of the beast, as he wrapped his hand around a stout branch. At that
moment the fiend let out a guttural snarl and lunged forward. Letting adrenaline guide his motions,
Charlie sprang upwards, throwing all his momentum in the swing. The branch whipped thought the air
and caught the brute mid air below the jaw, its fang only a foot from his body. The beast went limp, its
body crashing into him smearing blood on his jacket, both of them falling backwards. Quickly regaining
him footing, he spun to face his opponent only to see it taking off into the woods.
        He stood for a moment, branch still held above his head. Slowly he straitened himself, realizing
his foe was not returning, letting his arms fall to his sides. Still in shock, he remained frozen for several
minutes, eyes fixed upon the spot where the beast had run off. Then, as if the whole thing hadnít
happened at all, Charlie turned, striding down the brightly lit path he had traveled before.



         He saw her from a distance as he emerged from the forest. She sat with her knees tucked close
to her chest, her slender arms wrapped around them. She was staring intently at a spot on the porch in
front of her. He had forgotten how cute she could be when she thought she was alone. He couldnít help
but smile. As he drew nearer she heard the crunch of snow under his feet and quickly looked to his
direction with eager eyes. She too couldnít help but smile when she saw him and threw herself into his
arms as he approached the porch stoop. Looking at him more closely now she saw the fresh blood
smeared across the front of his jacket



        ìWhat happened to you?î she exclaimed. The concern in her voice refreshingly genuine.



        “Everything is fine,” he said, “Everything is fine.”

								
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