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

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