The 2017 Dana Kay Barber Writing Awards 1

About the Awards The Dana Kay Barber Student Writing Awards began in 1998 in remembrance of the dedicated and beloved teacher and NJWP trainer, Dana Kay Barber. The awards are given to student writers to honor Dana Kay's love of her students and love of writing. Since 1998, hundreds of students from the state of Texas have received this award. Each year a committee of teachers from all grade levels reads 300 to 700 entries. These coded entries, which reveal neither the name of the student nor the name of the district on the manuscript, are evaluated totally on the quality of the writing. It is indeed an honor to place in the event. Abydos congratulates those students who achieved this honor; we applaud their efforts, and we encourage them to keep writing. 2

Table of Contents Grades Pre-K - 2 Prose "Chicago" by Ishaan Shah…………………………………………………………4 "My Best Friend" by Zixuan Huang……………………………………………….5 Grades Grades 3 - 5 Poetry "Angel Wings" by Jayla Martinez………………………………………………….6 Grades 3 - 5 Prose "Fell in Love" by Sofia Vidal………………………………………………………..7 "Ghostly" by Anushri Raj……………………………………………………………9 "Rights and Ridicules" by Elizabeth Hsu…………………………………………11 Grades 6 - 8 Poetry "Easter at Moon Lake" by Jack Prelude………………………………………….14 "Notice" by Sneha Elangovan……………………………………………………..16 "OCD" by Nathanial Hernandez……………………………………………………17 "I Am" by Vera Ong………………………………………………………………….18 "Young Fox" by Haylee Smith………………………………………………………19 Grades 6 - 8 Prose "Sisterly Love" by Erica Cedilla…………………………………………………….20 "A New Beginning" by Jordan Moore……………………………………………..25 Grades 9 - 12 Poetry "You" by Rocio Sidonio……………………………………………………………..29 Grades 9 - 12 Prose "Heaven Doesn't Need More Angels" by Jennifer Ernst………………………..31 3

Pre-k Prose 1st Place (tie) "Chicago" by Ishaan Shah The Village School Grade 1 Teacher: Michele Reguera There was a boy named Sam. He got to know that his family was moving to Chicago. His dad got a new job! Sam was sad to leave Houston, his friends and school. The day came when they had to leave. Same said goodbye to his room and all his friends. Same ate and watched movies the whole flight. They finally reached Chicago. After two days Sam went to his new school. On the first day he went to his locker. When he closed his locker and looked behind him, there were a bunch of boys laughing at him. Some bully had painted the back of his shirt. They laughed and teased him a lot. Sam cried all the way home. He did not like his first day! The next day Sam tried to be friends with the same boys that teased him. He showed them a new game that he and his friends used to play in Houston. The boys loved it and wanted to be friends with Sam! 4

Pre-K Prose 1st Place (tie) "My Best Friend" by Zixuan Huang The Village School Grade 1 Teacher: Michele Reguera My best friend is Avery. She is very nice to me. She is also very funny sometimes. Avery is also very clever. Everyday we play together. At recess we play tag and we like to play hide and see. Sometimes our teachers think we are twins, because both of us are asian girls with black eyes and similar black straight hair. Last year we were in the same class. This year we are not. But no matter where we are, we're always best friends forever. I like Avery because we like a lot of the same things. We both like to draw pictures and to play games on the iPad. We also have playdates on the weekends. We're always best friends forever. 5

Grades 3-5 Poetry 1st Place "Angel Wings" by Jayla Martinez Northside ISD Grade 4 Teacher: Jodi Ramos There's a pair of angel wings in the corner of my bed My aunt gave them to me and said, "Here, I want you to have these." Maybe she knew that a week later she would be gone! The angel wings take me to places that a normal girl can't go Sometimes I'm in Hawaii seeing tropical fish swim. Other times I'm on a boat in the front of the boat on the rail. I feel like I'm flying but I know it's not real! Sometimes when I wake up, I look up and...sigh I know she's not here. But I know that she's in my heart and that's where she'll be for the REST OF MY LIFE! 6

Grades 3-5 Prose 1st Place "Fell in Love" by Sofia Vidal The Village School Grade 5 Teacher: Lauren Attaway The world is full of secrets and things that will change the way you look at them. People who you thought were your best friends can change the way you look and treat them by their actions. Magic is real. That is because some days you'll need it. Though, magic cannot be stronger than love, because that's what hold it all together... The sun was falling out of the pastel colored sky as the moon came right up. They yellow and orange rays were leaving the trees and flowers alone for some time as they turned more opaque with their dark, green, leafy colors. Now, people were leaving Central Park in New York, except for a group of friends ice skating on the white ice near the dark grass covered in leaves. The chilly fall wind made Ethan, one of the four friends, fall. "Ouch," said Ethan, "I hope I don't get hurt for my soccer game." Mia came right up to him skating in a rhythm that really soothed Ethan after his fall, making him forget everything that just happened and focused on her. Her past six years of ice skating really paid off. "Here, let me give you a hand," she said almost bursting into laughter. Mia go her hand out of her pocket and offered Ethan help. "Thanks," he said in embarrassment. He held Mia's hand to get up for help and he felt this tingling sensation, love. Excitement ran through Ethan's body and he blushed. Their hands bonding for a second made Amy and Nathan chuckle. As Ethan got up, the ice started grumbling and then shaking. Seconds later, breaking. The four friends were astonished. The ice started getting this orange glow that could almost light up the whole city. It was getting brighter and brighter, as if there was sun under the ice. It was beautiful. "What are we going to do? We need to get help!" exclaimed Amy in her strong southern accent. Amy's brunette hair flung over the chilly hair and so did Mia's. The four friends fell on the cold, shaking, glowing ice. Crack! The ice started cracking and the crack ran from one corner of the ice until to the whole ice being split in half. "Jump!" said Nathan to Mia and Ethan who were stuck in the other half almost about to fall in the shining hole. "Jump, Mia, I'll be okay!" Mia jumped, her arms flung so violently in the air that one of them got stuck with the dark, brown, oak trees. The last thing the four friends knew was that Mia fell in the hole. Momentously, Ethan jumped into the shining, orange hole to save Mia, her loved one. 7

The ice started getting back to normal and fallen branches lifted up in place. The world seemed to turn correctly and the birds chirped in their normal way. Everything was back to normal, well except for Ethan and Mia. "Mia, are you okay?!" asked Ethan, screaming at the top of his lungs. He saw a black body silhouette, it had to be her. The light was getting closer and closer. He was getting closer to the end of the never ending hole. Ow! That didn't hurt at all! He said hitting the hard-rock ground. The person reacted the same way and said, "Have you found a white bunny with clothes anywhere? I recognize that he has a clock." "Oh,no. What's your name?" questioned Ethan. "My name is Alice Kingsleigg. I just got a proposal from Hamish, but I don't care. Obviously my curiosity takes me everywhere! Now, where exactly are we?" said Alice. Ethan was more surprised than ever, he had just finished connecting the points. It all makes sense! She was Alice in Wonderland! He just had to save Mia from Wonderland and let Alice off so that he didn't mess up the story. "Tell me about your dreams," requested Ethan, "and also, why is the rabbit hole in Central Park?" "I do no know what 'cientrail' park is. Although, I can tell you about my dreams. There was a bunny, caterpillar, two cute twin brothers, a magical cat, Mad Hatter, the White Queen, the Queen of Hearts, and the rest I can't seem to remember." It was perfect, he had the information he needed. It was just like the books and movies. Ethan went into the door and walked into Wonderland. Alice couldn't fit through the door and exclaimed, "Wait for me!" Wonderland was beautiful. There was just no other word that he could use. The flowers decorated the world with their forevermore shades and tones of colors. Butterflies flew in instant patterns and chattered with the flowers and bugs. Exotic and magical animals stared at Ethan as he walked past. The world was amazing. How could he put it into words? He now arrived at the tea party with the March Hare and Mad Hatter. At the corner of his eye he spotted Mia, who started running towards Ethan. "Ethan, you came back for me! I thought I was never going to get back," said Mia in excitement. "Of course I would," he answered stroking her brunette hair. Her blue eyes sparkled in the moonlight that just was just coming in. Mia blushed. She knew what Ethan meant. The ground started shaking and the friends fell to the ground feeling dizzy. This wind made them rise up in the air. Two seconds later they were in the busy streets of New York. "This was all magic! Ethan, do you believe in magic?" questioned Mia. "It wasn't magic, it was love," he simply answered. 8

Grades 3-5 Prose 2nd Place "Ghostly" by Anushri Raj The Village School Grade 5 Teacher: Lauren Attaway "Dancing spirits in this world never leave you. People say fairytales aren't real but if you believe with your heart, the magic will appear." -Sofia Vidal The sky was dark and cloudy. White fog filled the air like spirits from the underground. The clouds painted the dark sky gray. It was a full moon night. There were leaves laid out on the ground like shattered bones. Hi. My name is Sofia Vidal. You can see me as a very friendly person. From my luscious long brown hair to my aqua painted toe nails, I was beautiful. Look, I'm not try to brag, okay? I should probably stop interrupting the story now. It was 11:00pm. I was coming back from having a fun day at the mall with my friends. My hands were getting super tired and it was about to rain so I decided I will take the shortcut home through the old, hair-raising graveyard. You might be thinking why, but as I said, my hands are completely sore. It felt like I have been carrying over one hundred pounds. The graveyard gate swung back and forth like a one hundred year old see-saw. "Creak!" I felt like someone was watching me. My feet suddenly rooted to the ground as eeriness took over me. A cold chill went down my back. Terror tumbled her feelings. It was as creepy as finding a roach on your pillow. Then something held me. I could feel the pointy fingernails scraping in my back. I had to let it out. "EEK!" I screamed so loud that someone could die! It turns out it was my mom. She was waiting for me to come back home, as it was so late. I texted her and told her that I was coming through the graveyard, so I expected her there. But it was still scary! "Mom! Cut your long creepy fingernails! You totally freaked me out!" I cried. "But dear, I didn't do anything. I was standing right in front of you," my mom explained in an innocent voice. "And I do not have long fingernails!" my mom added. I knew something was wrong. There was definitely someone behind me, but I don't want to find to because it won't be good. We both went home leaving the unknown mystery behind. 9

"One month later...." Now I still think about that mysterious creature. Was it real or was it my imagination? I want to find out but not by going in the graveyard. That night gave me a heart attack. "I guess the only way to find out, is to find out," I recited my grandma's saying. So that night, I crept out of the house, praying that nothing bad will happen. Suddenly, I was the bushes shiver. The trees nodded side to side. My heart skipped a beat. "I guess I should reveal myself..." the creature muttered under his breath. "Uh, hello human creature," the creature trembled with fear. "You're a troll! I mean, hi," I replied with terror. He looked sort of like the troll from the story, "The Three Billy Goats Gruff." We had a bit of a conversation which we don't need to go through, but it turns out, he just wanted a friend. His name was Bob. That day when he scratched me, he was actually tapping my back to get my attention. Bob said his nails were naturally long and sharp, and so he apologized about that. So over time, we became good friends and I often went there to meet him. But I obviously told my parents all about Bob. I don't think they believed me, but I meet him anyways. Bob is the most funniest and most kindest troll I've ever met. Well, he was the only troll I ever met. Anyways, we were the best of friends. Hopefully, now you believe fairytales do come true. 10

Grades 3-5 Prose 3rd Place "Rights and Ridicules" by Elizabeth Hsu The Village School Grade 5 Teacher: Lauren Attaway "Hey! Wonder what we're going to do now," she asked as her friends chorused, "Yeah." We were on the sidewalk heading to the bus. There was fresh dew on the grass, a bright sun, and everything seemed fine. But the weather definitely didn't match the mood. Everything's fine. They don't mean it. You're not what they're saying you are, I thought, trying to calm myself down. Their cunning remarks, still kept blasting at me as every second passed. Minutes. Maybe even an hour. Probably not, but a minute still felt like an hour. Why can't things just be simple? My perfect year has turned into a nightmare. Why couldn't it be fine now? The the flashbacks started: Every whisper. Every conversation. Every action. Then I realized it: I didn't enjoy being around them, but I also didn't have anyone else. Why did I have to forgive them? Why did it have to happen? I silently scolded myself. And then, I just walked away ignoring whatever other threats they decided to let flow out of their mouths. Next day... "Loser! You're so prying sometimes! You just want to know everything about everyone! What's wrong with you?" she openly denounced me. Ignore them, the tiny voice in the back of my head said, It's okay. But I couldn't listen to it. I just stared at the rubber stoles on my shoes. Instinctively, my head turned towards them. Their bright, cheery faces were lit up as if they had never been so ecstatic in their lives. "Why don't you speak? I wonder if she can!" she muttered to her "minions." All they ever do is agree with every. Single. Thing. She. Says! They giggled and paid their agreement. Their high-pitched voices sounded like airplanes buzzing in the back of my 11

mind as a headache started to form. How could something so cute cause so much pain? She snatched up the book in my hand that I was hiding behind and shoved it aside as she said: "Take your head out of that book and be brave. Do something for a change. And when you fail, you will finally understand who you really are. A stupid, dumb, idiot who doesn't know the difference between a freak and an adequate person who can and will succeed." Obviously that "adequate person" she talked about was her. And this time, it was her turn to walk way. Back at home... The scenes flashed through my mind. Not just from today, but all of them. "Freaking idiot! So stupid! You're so rude, too! Isn't she?" More flashbacks came, but they quickly ended. Then I stood up and looked into the mirror. My face was a dark red, and my hands were trembling. Tears were leaked down my chin. I washed off my face and sat back in my bed hugging my knees and buried my face deep into my arms. Their giggles flooded my mind and taunted me, draining me to do something about it. But I couldn't. So I sat up and didn't care, not anymore. I wouldn't. Next morning... "So, what do we have in store for today?" she asked me and her “hench women." "Let's see... Oh, yes! You're planning to torture me! Ah... Great plan!" I said sarcastically. "Finally! You actually decide to answer someone back! You know, besides the teacher. So since you're a year younger than us, You're going to do exactly-" she retorted. "Interesting... So what you're stating is that... I'm... smart? Or even intelligent? However could that be?" I spat with clear bitterness in my voice. I had a slight bittersweet taste in my mouth, but for the moment I just wanted to see if I could end this once and for all. She hesitated for a fraction of a second, and only a fraction of a second. During then, a glint of confusion, fear, and fury flashed through her eyes. "Well, it still doesn't change who you are. A-" 12

"Ironic how you people are the ones publicly ridiculing me," I responded, faking sassiness by staring at my nails. And with that last snarky comment, she stalked away as her "winged monkeys" fumbled to catch up with her. Their eyes glared at me as they flipped their hair and left. But one girl stayed. "I'm sorry. She's sorry, too. She's too angry to admit it," a soft feminine voice said quickly. I could hear muffled padding against the ground as if someone was running away. I barley had a chance to look at her, but by the time my head whipped up, she was gone. Must've been your imagination, I thought. But something told me it wasn't. And then... I woke up. "Hey, you okay?" she asked nudging my shoulder gently. "Yeah, just really tired," I lied through my clenched teeth. "It's time for us to go back inside the school. Come on!" she playfully hooked my arm through hers as I cautiously stood up, brushing imaginary crumbs off my plaid skirt. There was one thing that was right about that dream, I thought, I have never really enjoyed being around them. But still I ran with her across the field, racing to catch up with our class. Someday they'd know the truth. Someday. 13

Grades 6-8 Poetry 1st Place "Easter at Moon Lake" by Jack Prelude Highland Park Middle School Grade 8 Teacher: Yvonne Janik The kitchen smells of food. Trash cans fill with packaging, paper plates lining the counter. Turkey and ham fall into metallic meat-serving trays, as the meat knife divides the meal, the first to taste the lunch. Doorbells buzz, delight and laughter are heard. Thanks and chairs are given and taken, traveling throughout the rooms. The counter fills with cookies, candies and salads, relieving the hands of guests. Greetings and hugs pass between us all. The house quiets as the guests clasp hands. After a short monologue, the single word rings throughout the room. Mouths cease to water as the smells escape lids. The light-colored decorations hang above the feasting guests. Games begin, the fresh calories beginning to deplete, the trampoline and zip-line savoring their fun. The kickball finds its way to the field. Teams form. Adults and children alike start the tradition once more. We battle each other, and the hill, laughing all the game, the score always a guess. Clocks are checked. Sadness hides behind our faces. We realize the day will come to an end. We hug and plan to meet again as many leave. The last of the food vanishes, as jokes are told and lives discussed. The youngest generation scrambles to find a bag, bucket or anything to collect the treasures in the yard. Hours of work, stuffing and hiding are taken in our palms, and stuffed in with the now colorful contents of our bags, as we scramble to find the golden egg. A winner emerges with the treasured prize. The cameras remember the moment, 14

everyone cools off from the Alabama heat, heading inside. Tackling the night, we plan the bowling teams and who will drive with whom. We look to see our paper plates in the trash. We hug and say goodbye, planning to see them again as many leave. Discussing the past weekends, scenery-inspired memories fill minds; the previous hunts for the golden egg, fishing on the pond my great-grandparents' property is named after, its crescent-like shape the reason for its glorified name. As Moon Lake and Easters of the past leave our minds, we hope in the next the fun will resume. Wrist watches see their first glimpse of daylight, as we see our last, the sun barely over the field. Sadness plaques the thinning crowd. We hug and say goodbye, promising to meet again, as many leave. We realize the day will come to an end. Cars awaken. Cousins talk the drive away, savoring their only visit of the year, trying to talk with all of them. Shoes are replaced. Courts are chosen. Bumpers rise and fall with the age of the player who finds their name on the screen. Yawns, loud and muffled are voiced, but the game continues. We finish the game, most unhappy with their score, yet thankful not to face the troubles of the discouraged player with the smallest number. Courts are left. Shoes are replaced. Cousins, saddened having only played one game, climb into cars, talking of schools and sports and games. Back at the old red house, the last of us hug and say goodbye as we find our own cars. The kitchen no longer smells of food. The door closes the final time for the day. The country house quiets; the last guests gone. The familiar road crawls underneath us. We think back on the great day. The lights end their long day's work as the many turn to one-And then to none. 15

Grades 6-8 Poetry 2nd Place (tie) "Notice" by Sneha Elangovan Fort Bend Grade 8 Teacher: Christine Rodriguez You strode into school with your new phone, peeking out of your back pocket. Your parents worked so much, so hard, But you didn't seem to notice their absence, you only noticed your new phone. Your mom's weary face beamed with happiness. But you didn't seem to notice. You only cared about yourself. Your dad's tired face smiled at your excitement. But you didn't seem to notice. You only cared about yourself. Your new phone attracted new yes. The populars asked you to join them for lunch. "Just this one time," you told yourself, turning to your life-long friends. One day turned into one week. One week turned into one month. Your old friends missed you, But you didn't seem to notice. You only cared about the popularity. They didn't like the new you, But you didn't seem to notice. You only cared for the popularity. Your new friends criticized you. "Change this." "Change that," they commanded. You obeyed. You lost weight ad changed your hair. But they didn't seem to notice. You only cared about what they thought of you. You caked your face with makeup. But they didn't seem to notice. You only cared about what they thought of you. You were not you anymore. But you didn't seem to notice. 16

Grades 6-8 Poetry 2nd Place (tie) "OCD" by Nathanial Hernandez Klein ISD Grade 8 Teacher: Holly Walsh I have this hunger Growing inside. It's something I try And struggle to hide. I have this itch I cannot scratch; A gap in my head That remains unpatched. I need a filler To feed this hole Or it'll continue to grow And torment my soul. I have a hunger Growing inside I try to feed it But it won't subside. 17

Grades 6-8 Poetry 3rd Place (tie) "I Am" by Vera Ong Fort Bend ISD Grade 6 Teacher: Kristi Person I still watch cartoons. Yes, I am secretly a 6 year old. I am also an old lady. I love classical music And enjoy reading classical romance novels. I love to watch anime And read Japanese comic books. That's why I dream of becoming A comic book writer. So this is who I am. I am not very interesting. Sorry for ending this awkwardly, But I am not very good at Writing about myself! 18

Grades 6-8 Poetry 3rd Place (tie) "Young Fox" by Haylee Smith Center for Teaching and Learning Grade 6 Teacher: Angela Bailey The white fur blows back in the cold breeze. The arctic fox's nose twitches to the snow that fall on its whiskers. He leaps into the air with pride. His fur glides through the air. The swift fox runs and leaps with pride and joy of his new territory. This land was his and ho others. A single snowflake glistens in the fog. He flicks his tail and barks. The fox sees more snowflakes fall upon the ground. His hair stands on end as it gets colder His luscious fu isn't enough warm him. He buries under the snow seeking warmth in it. He shivers and his pride falls. His heart pounds. This is not the pride and joy he was hoping for in his territory. Nose dry, whisker twitch. He smells something familiar, like his own scent. He peeks his nose out. Whiskers spring out of the snow. His curiosity guides him. He struggles to get out first, but he kicks his hind legs thrusting up and out of the fluffy snow. He catches some air, still barely off the ground. The fox lands on his side whining. The snow builds up fast as lightening. It begins to rage. He's forgotten about the scent. He no longer cares. The cold overwhelms the young fox. 19

Grades 6-8 Prose 1st Place "Sisterly Love" by Erica Cedilla Klein ISD Grade 8 Teacher: Holly Walsh I never knew this would happen to me. All I did was hear about it. Although it never occurred to me that this could happen to someone I loved. My parents would tell me don't worry, she'll be ok. But inside I knew she was hurting and I knew my parents were't telling me the whole story. My life changed before my eyes as if it was a flicker of light in the distance telling me that someone I love has left this world and entered a new one up above, and I just sat there helpless not knowing what do to. Everything was fine until two years ago on October 3rd, 2008. It was a crisp fall morning in Ohio. My brown hair flowing through the breeze, the cool crips wind on my face as I ran through the leaves. I knew today was going to be a blissful day. My sister, Maya, had just woken up. She was eight years old and she would refuse to get up in the morning as she was an extremely deep sleeper. Her brown hair flying behind her and on her face she wore a sweet smile that could make everyone one happy in a blink of an eye. Maya came running up to me and jumped in my arms and said, "Good morning, Mikayla." Her cold face buried into my jacket as I squeezed her small body. I carried her inside for breakfast while she told me about her amazing dream with unicorns, rainbows, and other things that an eight-year old in third grade would dream of. We sat down at the breakfast table. I served her a bowl of cereal since she refused to eat anything else. She began telling my mom and dad about her dream. My dad sat on the couch drinking his coffee and got up and gave her a kiss on her forehead. He told her to never get older. Maya then walked away to the kitchen. We spent the whole day running in the yard and just enjoying the tremendous weather we had. We were playing tag then suddenly Maya fell face first in the dirt. I ran up to her and flipped her over, and I nearly screamed when I saw her face. She had a big bruise on her cheek and her nose was spewing blood down her face like a volcano. I screamed for my mom and dad and they came running out. They interrogated me like I was a victim of a crime scene. My parents asked me how did she fall and I explained that she was running. My mom asked how hard did she fall, and I responded with she fell very softly, but she fell face first. My dad carried her to the bathroom and my mom followed them and began to clean up her nose. I was worried it was my fault, and I caused her to fall but I knew I she was just simply running, and then she just fell like a leaf to the ground. My parents assured me it wasn't my fault, and they told me thank you for telling us right away. My mom said it looked she broke her nose, but there was 20

no purple area or bruised area on the bridge of her nose. As for the vast bruise on her cheek, she said she'd never seen this happen to Maya, so she doesn't know how she got the bruise so easily. Later that night we went to bed. All these thoughts flew through my mind like millions of birds in the sky. I mainly wondered why? How did she fall delicately and still manage to get an extremely bloody nose and how did she get such a vast bruise on her cheek? That kept me up all night just wondering why? I knew I had to go to school tomorrow, so I had to go to sleep. I fell into a deep sleep thinking tomorrow is going to be new day, nobody's going to get hurt and nothing will go wrong. I woke up and got ready for school. I had to get up early since the middle school I go to starts early, so I did my daily routine and walked into the kitchen. My parents were still sleeping even though they had to go to work early as well, and I just thought to myself, "Wow, I'm in middle school in the eight grade and I'm fourteen and still get up earlier than my parents." They knew I got up early though because I had to catch the bus. i grabbed an apple and headed for the bus stop. I got on the bus, sat in the same old spot, saw the same old friends and headed to the same old school. I went to all of my seven classes and tried to stay awake in all of them. Lucky the day ended quickly, and I got back on the bus, got off and walked down the street to my house. I came home to find Maya's nose spewing blood again and she had another vast bruise but on her knee this time. Apparently she rolled off the couch, but my parents said she didn't fall hard. That's what made me extremely curious. Days like this happened for two weeks straight. Me coming home and finding my mom, sister, and dad in the bathroom cleaning up her bloody nose and she would have another vast bruise on her body, but my mom and dad though it was normal and that she going through a phase, yet I knew something was wrong. It turns out every time she gets a nose bleed the nurse sends her home. I wondered why this happened, but I just ignored it and went on. About three weeks later, I was in my fourth period which is science. My teacher received a call in the middle of class, and she told me I had an early dismissal. I gathered my things and walked down the stairs. Nothing came to my mind that anyone was injured or sick or even if my parents just wanted me out of school early. I walked into the front office to find my dad standing there with a worried and exhausted look on his face. I was curious why he looked like that, but I didn't have the courage to ask him. He just looked so depressed and out of it. I just stayed quiet as we headed our way not home, but to the hospital. We entered through the door and a cold dark feeling whisped over my body, and I knew something was wrong. For a second I thought one of my grandparents was in the hospital. But my dad walked up to the desk and asked in a trembling voice as if he was about to cry, he asked that lady sitting there what room was Maya Hope in? As soon as I heard my little sister's name my heart dropped and 21

everything stopped, my eyes filled with tears and tears rushed out like a raging river. I tried to interrogate my dad with multiple questions but all that came out of my mouth was mumbles and stutters and weeps. We got to her room and I pushed the door open rapidly to find a pale sleeping child laying in a hospital bed with wires hooked up to her and a nurse standing next to the bed while my mom was sitting next to her in a chair with a dull and far away face that seemed to say, why my child? Why? I rushed to my mom and wrapped my arms around her and tears began to pour out of her eyes like a waterfall. I asked her what's wrong, why is Maya here, but she didn't answer me. She just sat there crying and staring at the wall not saying a single word but just weeping in sorrow. I slowly began to cry as I looked around. I knew this wasn't good news. I could tell the way my mom and dad looked, especially poor little Maya who didn't really know what was going on. I asked the nurse what's wrong with Maya and she said, I'd rather wait until your parents tell you what happened. I walked out of the room and sat outside the door wondering what could've been wrong, but I knew it was something bad. It was now two thirty in the afternoon and I was still slouched over next to the door thinking about what my parents would tell me. I saw a male doctor walk into the room, but he left the door ajar, so I listened carefully since I knew my parents wouldn't tell me until I was ready to take in the news. All I remember is the doctor say, "I'm sorry to break to you Mr. and Mrs. Hope, but your daughter has Leukemia." After he said that I burst into tears and so did my parents. I couldn't take it any longer just the suffer and pain of every day to come home and find another thing wrong with my little sister. I ran out of the hospital and out onto sidewalk. I just sat there on the curb praying that it was a false alarm, but I knew it wasn't. I crept through the door trying to be silent as possible, but as soon as I stepped through the door I heard Maya say Mikayla comer here, I want to talk to you. I have to admit I was nervous. It made me sad to see her this way but I knew she was still her happy and cheerful self. I walked over to her bed and saw her big smile that she always wore upon her face. I couldn't do anything else but smile back. Her smile just gave me a warm feeling in my heart even though I knew she wasn't feeling good, yet I knew she would make it through and survive. It feels as if we sat there talking for hours. She told me about how before she came to the hospital she had a huge nosebleed and my mom couldn't figure out what was wrong so they took her to the hospital and they hooked her up to a machine. Then she told me they put her to sleep with medicine and she went though the surgery so they could figure out what was wrong with her. When she told me that my heart broke like glass shattering. It hurt me because she didn't think what was being done was a big deal, but really it was a life or death situation. 22

Two nights later we got to take Maya home with us and we had to go to bed because she needed all the sleep she could get because of how weak she was. I kissed her goodnight and headed to my room. I sat there thinking how did she get it and why her? Why do the happiest and most cheerful people get Leukemia or any illness? I tried to keep thinking positive and thinking of the best things that could happen, but all I could think about is what if she dies from this and what if they can't cure her. All I thought that night was what if. I woke the next morning and got ready for school. I really didn't want to go to school. I just wanted to stay at home with Maya and be with her. I couldn't stand leaving her to go to school, but I knew I had to go. I got on the bus and didn't talk to anyone. I just felt like I shouldn't be happy at a time that my sister was suffering. We went the same route as every morning and ended up at school. I couldn't even think through any of my classes: I just felt like no one would understand what's happening in my life. I tried to rush past the day, ignore my friends, and I didn't even feel like eating lunch or doing anything just so the day could go by. I finally got home to find my sister on the couch sleeping. A calming rush went through my body knowing that she's just sleeping and that she's ok. This was just the first day. I thought there's just going to be many more days like this. I sighed and went to my room to do my homework. As long as she's okay and happy then I'll be happy, and I knew the days will get better from here. Unfortunately, they didn't get better. They got worse. She began losing hair days at a time, and after she lost all of her hair she became bald, pale and very weak. Although she couldn't do anything she still made it an effort to smile every time she saw me, and that's the only thing that's been getting me through my day. Except for the trips to the hospital every weekend for her treatments our lives stayed pretty normal. This was now the fourth week of Maya having Leukemia, and she was doing amazing with her treatment. I went though my routine every morning, got up, got on the bus, went to school, and got home. Except this time when I got home no one was there. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my phone and called my mom. I was shaking vigorously. I was so scared of what she was going to tell me when she answered. Luckily she answered, but her voice sounded different. She sounded worried and scared. She told me to ask Alex our neighbor to drive me to the hospital and I said ok and hung up. I rushed over to Alex's house and asked her for a ride. She gave me a ride, and we were off to the hospital. I was worried of what lay ahead at the hospital. We got there and I bolted through the doors. I went to the desk and asked for Maya's room number and I sprinted to the room. I flung open the door and found Maya on the bed playing with her dolls and my mom and dad sitting in chairs with worried looks on their faces. They told me that the doctors were going to perform a surgery to help cure Maya. I was so happy I began to cry. I thought this is it. She'll be better and we could play with each other again. My parents 23

stopped me from having my joyful moment and told me this could actually be bad for Maya. She had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. The doctors said that we don't have anything to worry about and the procedure would be great. Maya and I talked until she was taken back for the procedure. We said bye to each other and Maya said see you later, but I heard my dad mutter to himself hopefully we'll see you later. The procedure took about three hours, and we also had to wait until she woke up because they had given her anesthesia. They called us back and told us Maya was ready to see us. We headed back to the room and the doctor told us he had some news for us. I felt a lump form in my throat and my palms were sweating as if it was summer and it as one hundred degrees outside. I knew this wasn't going to be good news. The doctor told us that Maya's body responded well in the beginning, but in the middle of the procedure something went wrong and her body wasn't taking it in like it was supposed to. He finished off with, "I'm sorry, but Maya may not make it through the day." My heart broke into a million pieces like someone smashed it with a hammer, and I could feel the life drain out of my parents. I couldn't think about life without Maya, but right now it was important to spend all two hours with her and talk and hug her as much as possible. I rushed into the room and gave her a big hug and I began to cry rivers. I just couldn't handle it any more. I was going to miss Maya with all my heart. We spent two hours playing, talking, and laughing all together as a family. I gave her a huge hug as did my parents, and we gave her a big kiss on her forehead. She told us she knew she wasn't going to make it through today, and she had to go visit God upstairs and that she would miss us dearly, but she'll never forget us and she'll always love us. We all cried because we knew this would be the last time we saw her. While we were playing she began to get extremely weak, and I could slowly see the life drift out of her eyes. I gave her one last big hug because I knew this was it, and as soon as I grabbed ahold of her she whispered I love you Mikayla, and then the life line went dead and I cried and cried. I held onto her tightly and never let go until the nurses had to barge in and pry me off of her while I screamed and kicked. I couldn't believe that something so precious could just be taken away from you like that. As I stepped away I could see her small frail body sinking into the hospital bed. My parents were sitting in the chair crying their eyes out. I stepped into the hall and prayed to God that he would protect her there and that she would be loved. Then I slumped to the floor and fell to sleep. I'll never forget her beautiful smile to this day. I will always think about her and I'll never stop dreaming about her. From that day on I would always dream about our family being together again in a place that people wouldn't die and they would live together forever. She will always be in my heart and I'll never forget what she said when she died in my arms. "I love you, Mikayla." 24

Grades 6-8 2nd Place "A New Beginning" by Jordan Moore Klein ISD Grade 8 Teacher: Holly Walsh I stared out of my window for what seemed like days, even though they were just hours slowly ticking by. We soared high above the clouds like birds, unwilling to come down back to earth. The ride was peaceful, and my eyelids soon became heavy. The soothing lullaby of a mother cooing her child into a deep sleep caused it to be almost impossible for me to keep my eyes open. The cool air from the air-conditioner resulted in a shiver going down my spine, but on the inside I was warm and cozy. I dreamt about my new beginning in America. I was excited, yet scared. I was being sent to live with my grandparents, on my mother's side, whom I had never met. My parents had passed away recently on a cruise around the world when the ship had caught fire. Now, I had to travel all the way to California, along with my brother and sister, to live with relatives that I've never seen. Thirty minutes later I was in the airport, carrying a solid black duffel bag and dragging my suitcase behind me. Suddenly, I tripped over the foot of a lady taking a selfie and fell into a shady looking man dressed in an oversized t-shirt and baggy jeans. "Sorry," I mumbled, scrambling to my feet. I flung my duffel bag onto my arm and ran to catch up with my siblings. We stared at the line of people, all of them holding a sign with a different person's name on it. Finally, the name "Dean" caught our eye. A gray-haired woman with kind green eyes smiled at us. "Are you Lena, Kyle, and Mason Dean?" she asked. "Yes," my sister Kylee said, running up to the woman and wrapping her arms around her. After we exchanged greetings, we loaded into my grandmother's SUV and were off to her apartment. I couldn't shake off the feeling that someone was watching me, yet I knew that I was safe as long I was with my family. I stared out the window as we drove, taking in the views of California. A familiar looking face stared at me form the car next to us. It was the man that I had run into at the airport, and he was looking straight at me. A shiver ran down my spine as we pulled into the parking lots of my grandma's apartment complex. * * * After dinner, I sat in my new room, doodling on a sheet of notebook paper. My parent's faces, drawn in lines of ink stared up at me. Their faces smeared from my tears. My parents had always been there for me, no matter what they had going on, and the one time when they had been taking a break from that, the tragic event 25

occured. I rose from my chair, tossing my duffel bag onto my bed. Ever since the accident I kept a scrapbook of my family when it was all together, when we were all happy. I opened the bag, expecting to see the cover page of the book, my parents huddled together, holding me in their arms, but it wasn't there. In fact, none of the stuff in the bag was mine. It was full of bundles of cash and flash drives. The flash drives were labeled with numbers instead of names. How did I get this stuff? Whose bag was this? What were these flash drives for? Questions filled my mind as I picked up a flash drive labeled "10967." I darted over to my desk, putting the flash drive into my laptop. Immediately, a new window opened. Numbers and codes covered my screen until an error code appeared. Permission to view this file has not been given, the message flashed over and over again. I still don't know what the file was, but one thing was for sure. It was something illegal. * * * I tossed and turned all night. My mind couldn't shake off the feeling that I was being followed, and no matter how much I tried to prevent it, my mind always wandered to the file and what it was about. Suddenly a face flashed into my mind. The guy from the airport. Hadn't he had a duffel bag exactly like mine? Of course this had been his. For a moment it crossed my mind that I should tell my grandmother, but I quickly pushed the idea to the back of my brain. I haven't even been here for twenty-four hours, and I have seen the unsure looks my grandmother gives me. She already thinks I'm nothing but trouble from the stories my siblings tell. They seem to only remember the bad things Iv'e done, instead of the good. I didn't want to add to the idea that I was mischievous. A ringing phone snapped me out of my thoughts. I glanced at the phone sitting on the nightstand by my head. It was silent. The ringing was coming form somewhere else. I slowly got out of bed, crossing the room to the back bag that sat by the door. The ringing grew louder as I approached it. I dug into the bag and pulled out a vibrating phone. The caller ID was only marked by a number, one similar to the kind that were on the flash drives. "30614" it read. My hand slid across the 'accept call' button. The ringing ceased abruptly. "Hello?" I whispered uneasily into the phone. "Hey, number '29850' this is '30614.' I'm in trouble. Big trouble. I need my flash drive, and I need it now. Can you meet me at the alley behind the old factory tomorrow morning at eight?" I don't know why I did it. I don't know why I said, "Sure, see you then." I immediately covered my mouth in awe at what I had just agreed to. Fear caused the blood running through my veins to turn ice cold. I began to dig through the duffel bag until I found a flash drive labeled "30614." I plugged it into my laptop and sighed when the same error message appeared. I looked at the phone in my hand. What had that guy called me? Number two...nine...something. I tried to focus as hard as I could. Number two, nine, eight, five, zero. That sounds right. I stared at the message on my screen, pressing the drop down arrow in the corner. Enter code, the box said. I quickly 26

typed '29850,' hoping that this would work. Access granted, the message read. I smiled, starting at the numbers and words in front of me. It reminded me of the time my dad showed me how much money I had in my college fund. It looked as if money was being taken from bank accounts and put onto the flash drives. I gasped. Something had to be done about this. * * * The next morning, I woke up early so I would be ready to meet the mysterious '30614.' Nobody else was awake. I sat on the couch, eating cereal and watching the news. The reporter droned on and on about terrorist attacks, traffic, and weather. I was about to change the channel when once again a familiar face flashed on the screen. It was the guy from the airport. I almost choked on my breakfast as I turned the volume up on the tv. "Damien Jones is wanted in three states including New Jersey, Nebraska, and now California. If you see this man, please alert authorities immediately." I opened my eyes wide, noticing that it was time for me to leave. I grabbed the flash drive and my phone and headed outside. Once again, the thought of alerting my grandma returned. Now that I know I am dealing with a dangerous criminal, it seems like I should get her involved. I thought about it for a moment, then shook my head. There was nothing my grandmother could do. She wouldn't able to prevent anything from happening to me. The first thing I noticed was a blue Sedan parked on the curb. I had never noticed before, and despite the various open parking spots it isn't parked where it should be, and the car was still running. I headed down the road, I could already see the abandoned factory in the distance. As I walked, the feeling that I was being followed returned. I turned around, but couldn't see anything but the blue Sedan down the street. I continued on, but still had the unbearable feeling that I wasn't alone. When I rounded the corner, the blue Sedan passed me slowly. My heartbeat sounded at a mile a minute. I began to run, and I heard the door slam closed. New footsteps now joined my own. I looked behind me, and sure enough, Damien Jones stared back at me, and he wasn't alone. Minutes later, I was pinned to the ground. "Give me the flash drive if you know what's good for you, girlie," Damien sneered. "I don't think that's happening," I laughed confidently. He glared at me. "It will if you want to keep the precious memories of your parents." He held up the scrapbook. My parents smiled down at me from the cover. "I'm sorry, Mom and Dad," I said. I held the flash drive in my hands, ready to throw it into the gutter. 27

Damien pulled out a lighter. "Say goodbye to your parents, girlie." He burned the sides with the lighter, tempting me, yet I didn't break down. "And you can say goodbye to your flash drive," I shot back, tossing it into the gutter. "You shouldn't have done that." He opened the book, and ripped out the first page. The once that had my parents' wedding picture on it. My mom was laughing as she smeared cake onto my dad's face. That was my favorite picture. He held the lighter beneath it. All he needed to do was flick it open and the picture would be enveloped in flames. The memory would be gone. He smiled, opening the lighter slowly. A tear ran down my face. Out of nowhere, a police car turned the corner roughly. The annoying sirens and flashing blue and red lights caused Damien to stumble and drop the lighter into the gutter. I smiled to myself. "Damien Jones, you are herby under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in court." A tall cop shouted, handcuffing Damien and his friends and locking him in the backseat of the squad car. The passenger door then opened, a frail old women stepping out. "Grandma!" I yelled. "How did you know I was here?" "I heard you on the phone last night," she said. "You came for me." I smiled gratefully. "Of course. You're just like your mother. I would do anything for you." And that is how my new life in American began. 28

Grades 9-12 Poetry 1st Place "You" by Rocio Sidonio Spring Branch ISD Grade 11 Teacher: Javier Martinez THE GOOD You were a work of art. You were a concept. There you laid so peaceful. So beautiful. You woke up with a smile, I felt partially to blame for that. You held my hand and I felt secure, It gave some sort of commitment from your part. We drove around and admired how lights changed from red to green, It was peaceful. We danced like idiots. You pulled me in as an attempt to get closer. My room was some sort of dance floor. The first time we kissed. It was brief seconds. Brief seconds that felt like a 12 hour trip, I desperately didn't want to end. You were never fond of drugs, you hated them. I was, in fact: you were my choice of drug. I didn't know the high was going to be so good. So baby, I'm sorry, I can no longer overdose on you. We went to parties that consisted of alcohol and circles full of potheads You never wanted to leave my side. And I see you making casual conversation, but I'm not paying attention to the words coming out of your mouth. The smoke surrounds your surface and you look like some type of grungy aesthetic that I am so addicted to. And all I'm thinking is how we're in this unholy place, yet you manage to make yourself look like a god. 29

THE BAD You were not art. You were distraction. You made me full of anxiety. Knees constantly shaking. Stuttering words. At loss for air. You spoke me into ashes, yet somehow I still wanted to get lost in you. Lying here 2AM, crying a river, and refusing to accept the fact: you never loved me. You never thought of me. You only thought of yourself and how good those 15 minutes inside of her felt. The horror that followed you leaving me were that you were scared of commitment. Love was something you just couldn't do. I looked at you knowing you could never treat me right. Still, I stayed. I hated your smile, it wasn't pleasing. I hated your ugly red hat, you always wore it. I hated how much I loved you, you didn't deserve it. Your hugs were demeaning, I felt as if I was somehow being suffocated in you. Your kisses felt hungry. I'm sorry if you ever saw me as a something you could be esurient with. I hate that I miss you, because I'm not supposed to. Being disappointed constantly isn't something you're supposed to miss. You left me stranded in a never ending forest, with no compass, with no sense of direction. You were some kind of void in which I got lost in. We were supposed to make it. You were supposed to get over your pride. You broke me. My lungs feel twisted and searching for air. My hands and knees are shaking. Baby, I need you. I need you to fix what you broke. That damage is done. THE END I can no longer wait for you. I'm sorry, but I'm putting myself first. Goodbye. 30

Grades 9-12 Prose 1st Place "Heaven Doesn't Need More Angels" by Jennifer Ernst Fort Bend ISD Grade 10 Teacher: Ashli Taylor It was dark. Too dark; the kind that would make toddlers fear a monster would jump out at them. It didn’t matter, though; my body knew where to go and my legs moved in a blur (or what I assume they would have been, had I been able to see). My mind was empty except for his words, which rattled around and ricocheted off my skull. Hey. I’m sorry. I just- I dunno. I wanted to talk to you for a la- I just wanted to talk. Cuz you never know, you know? I- forget it. This is stupid. He’d hung up before I was able to register the words. The fact that I got the call at one in the morning was enough to make me worry, but his words gripped my heart in an icy fist. I snuck out and started running. I’d been really worried about Conner for the past few weeks. About a month ago his mom died, and now his dad was always stressed. Any interaction between the two would end in a screaming match. Conner seemed to shut down, almost deflate. The effervescent, ever-smiling friend I used to know was now a shell, and one that spent all his time sleeping or sitting in front of a TV. What worried me more was the fact that his dad kept a gun under his bed. He also gave me his baseball cards- all 67 of them. He kept them stuffed in a box under his bed, and, being fifteen, said he saw them as infantile and only kept them because they could be worth a lot someday. I knew the real reason, though: they reminded him of being younger, and more importantly with his mom, and it seemed like getting rid of them would make the memories evaporate, too. When he gave them to me, he kind of just shoved them in my hands and said he wouldn’t need them anymore. I was stunned. This was the same guy who almost had a mental breakdown when I bent the corner of his Jagger Rusconi. I asked him about it, and he told me that, being twelve, I was “practically a baby” and would probably like ‘playing’ with them. The card collection was the final straw. I’d tried talking to him for so long, but he kept throwing up walls. I finally just asked him. Are you going to kill yourself? I asked it, just like that, after taking a deep breath to steel myself. He 31

froze, and then I could see each muscle stiffen and all his hairs stand on end. Then he turned around, slowly, and his eyes were colder than ice and filled with hurt, and something else that seemed like a sense of betrayal. I just want to know. Those words made him unfreeze and fill with anger, and he started screaming about how crazy I was. I pushed more, asked more questions, prompting him to slap me. Hard. I clenched my jaw, held back the tears, and walked to school. School that day was awkward. I walked into class, keeping my head down. Mr. Howard flashed a quick smile and kept going, then stopped. He took a doubletake, then stiffly walked back towards me and squinted hard. Our conversation went as follows: “Andrew, could I see you in the hall for a sec.” It was more a command than a request. “Why?” I said, much too tersely. A quick scan of the room. “Just for a second.” I followed behind slowly, trying to flip my hair over what must have been an angry red handprint. “Is everything fine at home?” “Yes. Perfect.” Big mistake. Perfect, in this case, seemed to mean ‘Please call CPS and get me into the foster system,’ and Mr. Howard’s eyebrows shot up in concern. “Andrew, who hit you?” His voice seemed so small and fragile in comparison to his large figure, like sugar glass. I looked down the hall. “Nobody,” I mumbled. “Maybe I just leaned on my hand too hard on the bus,” I offered, shrugging a shoulder. Which was an obvious lie, because, even though we were only three years apart, Conner’s hand was about twice as big as my own. Another tug of the eyebrows, then an “Okay.” I’m pretty sure he still thinks my parents beat me up. All that was forgotten now, though. I race blindly through the dark, to the house that was always my rock. My second family lived there. It was the place I went when I fought with my parents and was too pissed to stay at my own place. I’d had my first sleepover there, and hid my report cards in his closet when I was too afraid to show my parents, and did countless other things there that had seemed stupid until now. All I can think about now is saving him. If it’s not too late. I swallow hard, trying to force the morbid thought out of my head. But that only left more room for his last words. Last words. Why would I think that? Shut up, I tell myself. I finally get to his house and start fumbling for the key. In the window paneling, eighth strip from the bottom. They refuse to keep it under the cliched 32

doormat. Probably because they don’t have one. I stick it in the bottom lock. Never the top. The top one jams. I hear the chunk of a deadbolt giving way. I hesitate then. I’m not sure I want to see him now. My vision is greyed around the edges, and I feel dizzy from exhaustion and apprehension. It would seem so ridiculous if nothing was wrong. But there was. Maybe his dad would find him, when he got home from his night job. But I had to do this now. I step inside, pausing in the ever-comforting foyer. Why do I feel like that was all about to change? I turn to the stairs and start ascending. I stand before Conner’s door for a moment, then push it open. * * * * * Blood is a strange color. Darker than you would think, closer to black than to red. A little more than seven pints. That’s what I had learned in Ms. Meijer’s science class last year- the average human being has a little more than seven pints of blood in their body. I wondered how many of those pints were pooling on Conner’s carpet now. I slide down against the wall, hugging knees to chest. I don’t feel anything. I couldn’t possibly do anything but stare, and I’m not even sure I am doing that. I flick my eyes up at the ceiling. Where was that water coming from? Wait, no. I’m crying. My face is wet where salty rivers carved through the sorrow. It is amazing what death does to a person. Conner is- was- 6’2”, a monster at fifteen. I’m a measly 4’10”, more the stature of a lanky nine-year-old boy than a normal twelve-year-old. Whenever we went out, people would think I was his (very) little brother. One time I looked small enough that, when I was doing some stupid thing in a store, a man told Conner to “control his kid.” Now he looks more my height. I never thought he could look so… broken. Conner had broken himself. His dad’s .32 lies a few feet away. Why is it away from him? And why can I only see details? I get up, go to the phone, and dial three numbers. I can’t remember making myself do that. I don’t know how long I had sat there, but the sky is morphing black to gray. Two and a half rings, then an answer. 9-1-1, what is your emergency? The pleasantness of the voice grates against the situation. I freeze now. There is no emergency. Conner is already dead; there is nothing left to do. 33

Hello? the voice says, wavering. There’s a dead guy. The voice felt detached. Is it really mine? Excuse me? Sir? I wasn’t answering. Sir? She sounds like she might hang up, dismissing it as some bored teenager who couldn’t sleep. I finally, slowly, open my mouth. A suicide. 47 Alcrest Road. Can I have your naI hang up before she can finish, then go back to my spot against the wall. A few days passed. Actually, it was probably no more than twenty minutes. In my mind, though, several infinities had passed. The strangest thoughts come at these times. I almost laugh at the thought of old Mrs. Greenstein correcting me: No, Andrew; multiple infinities cannot occur. By definition, they last forever, so it is impossible for them to ‘pass.’ There would be no shame in getting extra help if you still don’t understand these concepts. Anyway, there are flashing lights outside Conner’s window now. Sirens, too, but they seem muffled. Heavy knocks, more like pounding, assault the door. I can’t force my legs to move again, so the door is broken in. Pounding steps, searching every room, coming up the stairs, shouts of ‘Clear!’ These sounds fill the house. Then I notice something strange: my dad is here. Why would he be here? Oh, right, I remember numbly. He works suicides for the NYPD. ‘Heally, Conner’ was about to become another case in his filing cabinet. I never noticed how intimidating my father looked in his work clothes until he was standing over me. Andrew? Andrew! What the hell happened? “What do you think happened?” I snap. In my head, anyway. My physical self is still trying out for the lead role as a vegetative ice cube. I am light enough for my dad to pick me up with one arm. That’s exactly what he does, and he carries me down the fourteen stairs and outside onto the porch. He opens his mouth as if to say something, then shuts it and walks down the porch steps. Yellow tape is already wrapping around the yard. I watch my dad walk over to a uniform, point in my direction, then walk back inside, squeezing my shoulder with a tense bear paw on the way. Physical connection from my father is rare, an emotional one even harder to acquire. I think he started switching his emotions on and off; off to deal with his demons at work, on to be the cool cop dad. Somewhere along the way, he seemed to forget how to switch them back on. The policewoman promptly walks up and tries to gently pry information from my lips. What happened? Did you see it happen? Was there anything you 34

think foreshadowed this? She evidently gives up, then procures a manufactured empathetic expression. “It’s not your fault, you know. He probably felt alone and felt he couldn’t talk to anyone.” Those words make me snap out of my semi-coma state. “HE COULD HAVE TALKED TO ME!” I was screaming, and every eye, including the ones in the forming crowd behind the tape, snap to me. The worst part was the fact that she had just been trying to help. I push past everyone and run home with bitter tears threatening to spill over, leaving twenty people trailing me with their gaze. I come in the front door, hurt and rage and despondency all battling for dominance in an emotional battlefield. My mom jumps at me, slinging the onslaught of Universal Worried Mom Questions. I am buried under a slew of Where were you?s, Why weren’t you in your room?s, and How dare you sneak out?s. I am still numb, except for the newly acquired buzzing in my ears, which serves to tune down the Questions. My face must look pretty horrible, though, because my mom stops following me halfway up the stairs and lets me go. I go into the bedroom, this one without a dead friend inside. My father has the same routine every night. I can’t remember a time when he did something different. He comes in through the side door, shuffles to the table and dumps his duty belt on it, then collapses on the couch to watch an episode of Arrow. Upon completing this, he’ll go upstairs to take a shower, taking the belt with him to tuck it in his closet. So, what I’m saying is, he leaves his gun on the table. For a full forty minutes. When he comes in tonight, I wait until he flicks on the TV, then creep downstairs and into the kitchen. I lift the gun out of its holster and hold it in both hands, as if trying to cup water in them. Then I press the cool metal to my temple. * * * * * My father is stirring. That wasn’t part of the plan. Once he was on the couch, he wasn’t supposed to get up; he must have heard me come down. I quickly slip the gun back in its holster, then walk over and stick my head in the fridge. “Hungry?” My father is standing behind me. His voice is gravelly, and it is the first time I’ve ever seen him look so unsure of himself. I turn to face him, shutting the door. “Not really.” He comes over to the table and sits down, nervously slapping the salt shaker between his hands for a few moments. He clears his throat a few times, trying and failing to cover the sound. “What happened, Andrew?” He says it in 35

that brittle voice adults have been using around me lately, and there is a catch in his voice like he might cry. Everyone liked Conner. I freeze, biting my lower lip, then shrug. “He was depressed, Dad.” I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want think about Conner crying to me about his mom dying or Conner slapping me or seeing Conner’s broken body on the carpet or me screaming on Conner’s porch. I guess my father understood this and didn’t push it. Instead, he just nods, and he keeps nodding even after I have retreated back to my room. Once again, my school life has been affected by Conner. Peter with the awkward hair from down the street had been behind the tape at the scene and saw me run off screaming, so he took the liberty of telling anyone who would listen in the cafeteria. They, in turn, took it as their birthright to tell all their friends, and the cycle continued. Between periods four and seven, the whole school found out that Andrew Coleson had run off crying like a baby after watching his best friend blow his brains out. Now all the boys avoid me, seemingly afraid of “catching death” or that I might turn psycho again. Girls convene for hushed whispers upon my entering their field of vision, and the more outgoing ones have started acting really nice to me, pretending like we’ve been friends since kindergarten. The teachers must have heard the kids talking, because they have all started giving me better grades even though I haven’t gotten any smarter. The guidance counselor is the worst, though. I think I make her nervous, and that she is afraid I might try to off myself, so every time she sees me in the hallway she asks how I’m ‘holding up.’ Incidentally, I learned that Peter with the awkward hair is capable of remorse, as two days later he found me in the hall, cast his gaze to the floor while twisting a mechanical pencil in his hands, then mumbled “Sorry ‘bout tellin’ everyone cuz, well, you know.” Subsequently, and without moving his eyes up (I think they actually sank further down), he walked away stiff and quickly, his face turning red. Incidentally, my parents, especially my mom, seems to be convinced that seeing my dead friend has scarred me and has caused permanent damage to my ‘lovemap,’ whatever that is, so I now go to the psychologist Dr. Grossbard every Monday. I can’t even tell you what we talk about, not because I don’t want to, but because I can hardly remember half the time. I don’t know if it’s the fact that it’s a total stranger or that I really am damaged or if it’s because it is actually possible for someone’s name to be Grossbard, but I kind of shut down in that office. I mostly come up with stuff that seems like the right thing to say or that I think might make him tell my parents I’m ‘cured,’ or whatever it is the goal is. But I think that’s been kind of retroactive, because he told my mom that I seem very ‘cold and detached.’ I tried convincing her that that is just my personality, but she got freaked out even more with that comment. I really screw up later, though, when my parents start talking about how horrible it was when people kill themselves and that it should never be the answer in a not-so-thinly-veiled 36

attempt to bring up the topic. Without thinking, I said that it can be a good thing, depending on your mindset. I will admit that that sounds very dark, but I was saying it mostly to myself, though it didn’t seem to matter. Now I go to the office on Thursdays, too. I never did explain to anyone what I was doing when I held that Glock to my head. I guess the answer seems pretty obvious, but in this case it isn’t. I had no intention of firing that gun, or using any other means of killing myself. I realize how ridiculous that sounds, and it’s something Conner would have described as a ‘load of horse crap.’ Happy people generally don’t hold pistols to their heads. But I really do not want to die, and, more importantly, I really, really want to live. I know that what I did with the gun was not inherently wrong, but I feel guilty nonetheless, so I decided to tell my parents. I catch them when both are sitting on the couch, and sit myself on the very edge of the far armrest. “Remember that night when I- when I came home?” Both heads snap up, turn to face each other, then pivot to gawk at me. They keep staring silently, so I start talking. “That night, I. What happened was. Well…” I keep starting and stopping, unsure of how to tell them. My hands are cold and clammy, and my parents are looking at me like they are considering the possibility that I am having a stroke. “Anyway, I… putaguntomyhead.” I blurt it out but was mumbling, so it comes out sounding strange and strangled. My father glares at me, stunned, as if I had committed the ultimate betrayal. It is my mom’s reaction that really gets me. She is crying, and it isn’t the normal kind of crying. It is the silent, delicate kind of crying, the kind where the tears just keep coming and twist your heart until it’s unrecognizable and make you wish you could take back everything wrong you ever did, if only to make them stop flowing. It is my mom that speaks. “Why?” That sugar glass voice again. Why. It is a simple enough question, just one little word. Yet it is harder than any test I’d ever taken. How could I explain this? “I don’t really know, Mom. I just… I guess I wanted to understand. I just wanted to understand Conner.” It is that moment that my father stops glaring and my mom stops sobbing and wipes away the tears. They just got it. And I have never been happier in my life than when I knew they understood. What I told my parents, while true in its entirety, doesn’t do the reason justice. I wasn’t sure how to articulate it then, but I think now I do. I never understood why Conner killed himself. There was never a note or anything, and the last phone call was just a goodbye. Most people blame it on his mom’s death, but plenty of people’s moms die and they don’t off themselves. I wanted to see 37

how it felt to hold a gun to your head with your finger on the trigger. I can say now that I will never do it again, because it felt horrible. It gave me an idea of how Conner felt, though. He must have felt execrable if holding a gun like that felt favorable. I’ve never been very religious, but I do believe there is something that comes after. Our entire lives can’t amount to just a casket and tombstone; at least not in my mind. I won’t be one of those people that say committing suicide is a sin, but I do believe we all have our number. When someone goes before theirs is up, and it happens so much, it’s like sending Heaven a bunch of angels that it wasn’t ready for. And please, please believe me when I say this: Heaven doesn’t need more angels. It really doesn’t. 38


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