Goodbye

“William, you’re running late!” his mother yelled up the stairs.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” Will said, opening his eyes and peeling himself off his bed. He still hadn’t packed; he’d just put off the inevitable.

He strode over to his closet and tried to calm his nerves. Will wrenched open the door, prepared for the usual mountain of junk that came flying out. He winced as his trombone smacked his shins. His mom would be in for a surprise when she came to clean out his stuff. Will pushed the thought aside as he dug through a pile of clothes. Eventually, he found what he was looking for.

He pulled his half-zipped suitcase out from under an old skateboard. God, what was that stench? Will began haphazardly stuffing clothes into his suitcase, not bothering to fold them. He’d lived in Westmouth, South Carolina his entire life. Never once had he left the small town. But now, he was leaving, once and for all. Will couldn’t necessarily say this was how he had expected to leave, and he hadn’t slept a wink the previous night, dreading his departure.

He’d gotten the phone call early one morning.  In fact, it had awakened him from a pleasant dream about an eagle in flight, swooping through the air before him.  At first, he’d had to pinch himself to be sure he wasn’t still dreaming.  The voice on the other end of the phone just didn’t seem real.  Will remembered sliding down onto the floor, his back against the wall, the phone clutched to his ear by his white-knuckled hand.  That was the phone call that had changed his life forever.

Will slammed his suitcase shut and surveyed his room one last time. The walls were painted black, and the ceiling was covered with glow-in-the-dark stars. A few beat-up paperbacks sat on his bookshelf. His Star Wars alarm clock barely illuminated the room with the faint glow it was emitting. At last, Will’s eyes rested on the only photograph in the room. It was a bit battered, but Will didn’t mind.  The picture displayed three grinning faces: his 5-year-old sister, Lily, his 17-year-old brother, Mark, and himself. It had been taken a few weeks ago, before Will knew he would be leaving.

Will gingerly picked up the photo, as if it was in danger of disintegrating in his hand, and pocketed it. His head snapped up when he heard the floor creak outside his door. Mark stood there, hands shoved in his pockets.

“Are you ready? Mom’s having a panic attack,” he said, surveying Will’s nearly empty room.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Will said, avoiding his brother’s gaze.

“Well, come on, then,” Mark muttered, crossing the room in three strides and grabbing Will’s suitcase.

“What do you have in here?” Mark demanded as the two brothers stomped down the stairs. “It feels like two dead bodies and a hand.”

Will felt a lump rising in his throat, prohibiting him from forming words. The lump seemed to double in size when he reached the kitchen, where his mother and Lily were sitting.  He fought to hold back the tears that threatened to spill over as his little sister streaked across the room into his arms. Almost immediately, he felt his shirt grow moist from Lily’s tears.

“Please don’t go, Will,” she pleaded, her red, puffy eyes meeting his.

“I’m sorry,” Will said, disentangling himself from her monkey-like grip and planting a kiss on the top of her head. Taking hold of his bag, Sergeant William Mercier, of the U.S. Air Force, walked through the door for the last time.

Olivia McCloskey is one of the winners of the first “Teens Take the Park” writing contest.

Richer Writing-Personification

We all know that animals can’t talk, right? Or can they? Have you ever found yourself having a conversation with your cat or dog, or another type of pet that you might own? In a way, your pet does talk to you, either through a look, a bark, a meow or whatever noise your particular pet may be able to make. I believe that  any people think their animals communicate with them without actually saying words. But what if animals could speak? What would they say? These are questions that have fired the imagination of writers for almost as long as there have been writers. Writer who have animals talk in their books and stories are using a literary technique called personification.

When I think of talking animals, two particular works come to mind: The Redwall books by Brian Jaques and Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh. I find the Redwall books interesting because, not only do the animals speak, they also have human characteristics. Some are good, some are bad.

Some are nice and some are mean, just like people. In the Martha books, I especially love the idea that Martha gains the ability to speak by eating alphabet soup. Children’s literature is filled with books and stories which use personification as a literary technique. But what about adult literature?


Celia Varady, Age 7, Homeschool Student © 2012

One of my favorite examples of personification in adult literature is a book called La Jument Vert, or The Green Pony. It was written by Marcel Ayme, a humorous French writer. The entire book is told from the point of view of a painting of a green pony that hangs on the wall in the living room of a French farmhouse. The pony tells us all about the family who lives in the farmhouse. Most of it is pretty embarrassing because the family doesn’t know the pony is watching them, and many of their family secrets are revealed. This particular novel also goes to show you that when using the technique of personification, it is not only animals that can tell a story. A painting can be the protagonist (or main character) of the story and give the main point of view. A tree could tell a story, or a rock, or even a cloud. When I was a kid I once wrote a story told from the point of view of a pair of sneakers. They had gotten separated in the locker room after gym class, and, alas, they despaired of ever finding each other again! I think it all worked out in the end, but really, I wrote it so long ago I can’t actually remember.

How about you? Have you ever written a story using personification? If you haven’t, you might want to give it a try. It can be a wonderful way to make your writing richer. If your pet were to tell a story, what story would it tell? How about the computer in your house? If it could report on what it sees every day, what would that tory be? Give it a try. Until next time, I wish you richer writing.

Teresa Sari FitzPatrick is a writer and board member of Philadelphia Stories, Jr.

A Thin Sheet of Glass

Miriam Rose, Age 10, Wyncote Elementary © 2012

A bone-chilling gust of wind swept over my cheeks as the door to the store jingled. I looked up from the cash register as a short, thin, and rather ashen-looking woman stepped onto the threshold of the Wawa. She wore a long, dark, down winter jacket, with a purple little scarf fastened up to her nose. Her dirty blonde hair fell in waves over her shoulders. I placed a handful of change into the hands of a customer, closed the register with my hip and chimed, as was customary:

“Hello! Welcome to Wawa!” The lady looked up and noticed me. She smiled, or, more accurately, grimaced, a little distractedly. Outside, a Chevrolet Camaro hummed in the parking lot – smoke furling out of its exhaust pipes and emitting loud, earsplitting music whose bass made the floor tremor and the windows rattle. She walked over to the coffee and began pouring herself a regular. She cast an anxious look out the window, standing on her toes in an effort to see over the shelves. The coffee flowed over the brim of her cup, splashing onto the counter. She let out a bit of a yelp as the hot, brown liquid stained her fingers. She glanced over at me, but I pretended not to have noticed. She mopped it up with a handful of napkins. Then she added sugar – and lots of it. She tried on every lid until she found the right size. She then approached the cashier counter, teetering unstably on her heels. The unmistakable smell of smoke wafted from off her jacket
           
“Will this be all?” I asked as she placed her coffee on the counter and pulled out her credit card.
           
“Yes…yes this will be all, Miss,” She cast an anxious glance out the window again. The car window was now open, with a trail of smoke curling out of it. A hand appeared as the source was dropped, smoking, onto the pavement. The lady snapped her attention back to me and stammered:
           
“On second thought, some nicotine patches please,” she directed my attention to brand. I rung her up and handed her the bag.
           
“Have a nice day.”
           
“Th-thanks,” she stammered. As she shuffled to the door, the driver-side door of the Camaro popped open. A tall, stocky, and rather scruffy middle-aged man stepped out impatiently. As she walked out the door, the man approached her angrily. As the hydraulic door began to shut, only the first few of the man’s words managed to reach my ears;
           
“What the hell took you so long, woman? I have things to do and places to be!” The doors clicked shut, muting his lips – yet they continued to talk vehemently. Through the one-way glass of the windowpanes, I saw the woman cower, shaking like a leaf in a storm, anticipating the gust of wind that would separate her from her branch. It was the woman, now, who was talking. Based on her lips, I could tell she was talking, or, more likely stammering, very quickly. I stood still at the register – the store completely unoccupied. The manager had gone to the back room to take account of the stock, and the lanky deli boy had stepped out to take a quick, five-minute break.
  

Ani Varady, Age 9, Homeschool Student © 2012

         
I turned back toward the window, aware that they could not see me watching their quarrel. The lady reached into the little plastic bag, still trembling. She pulled out the nicotine patches, thrusted them at the man, and looked anxiously up into his eyes. In a flash of fury, the man knocked the box out of the woman’s hands. They landed in a puddle next to his car that still vibrated with loud music. She recoiled, anticipating an aftershock. It came fast and relentlessly to her cheek. I dug my nails into the counter, looking frantically around the store for anybody who could help. What could I do? I recalled Benjamin Franklin’s famous advice: “Those who in quarrels interpose, often must wipe a bloody nose.” I looked again at the people outside. The man’s face had turned beet-red, and the woman had begun to whimper and cry, her cheek stained pink. She turned and looked straight at me through the window. While she could not see me, she managed to find my eyes. My nails dug deeper into the counter. I knew what I should do, but I was also aware of what I could do. The man was still yelling mercilessly as I disappeared into the back room to get the manager.
           
When I returned with him, the Camaro was gone, along with the man and the woman. The manager looked at me and shrugged. He returned back to the storage room. Yet I remained standing, motionless in the middle of a vacant Wawa, wondering why I hadn’t tried to do something sooner, why I had not stepped in, and how things might have been different, were it not for the thin sheet of glass that had separated me from the couple.

Madeline Bowne has won two C-Span awards for her documentary videos. In 2011, she won 3rd place for her Math Education in the Crossroads. In 2012, she won 2nd place for her documentary on the 19th Amendment. She also won 3rd place in the WHYY Youth Media Awards for her video Perfect Child. Her first poem, “Waiting for Autumn,” was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer when she was in 4th grade. She created her school newspaper for Clearview Middle School in Mullica Hill, and then moved to Cherry Hill and joined the newspaper staff. A pianist and clarinetist, she made All South Jersey band for 2012. An Honors student, she plans to attend Cherry Hill East in the fall.

Six-Word Memoirs

The following six-word memoirs were written by young people ages 6-15 during Tree House Books’ Tree Shade Summer Project, Conversations in the Garden: What’s Your Story. Campers wrote their own stories, expressed their story through different art projects, and interviewed longtime members of the North Central Philadelphia community. Tree House Books’ mission is to grow and sustain a community of readers, writers, and thinkers in North Central Philadelphia.”

Greg, age 10
That gold trophy will be mine.

Kurtis, age 15
In the footsteps of a leader.

Victoria, age 15
Tree House guides my future.

Nia, age 12
To me, it’s cheer or die.

Trinetta, age 10
I like Tree House Books projects.

Musadeq, age 14
I’m the next Tree House JSM.

Najwan, age 12
I am creative and love art.

Marisol, age 6:
I like doing better and better

Tatyana, age 9
My mom helps keep me safe.

Sameer, age 8
I would play in a tree.

Haley, age 9
Reading is a path to intelligence.

Hamzah, age 8
I love to tell people stories.

Meadow, age 8
I love Tree House Books.

Morgan, age 9
I love to ride my bike.

Kaseem, age 7
I like my scooter and water ice.

Laila, age 8
I love my brothers and sisters.

Nadira, age 9
I’m glad to be a sister.

Jamirah, age 7
Jumping on my street is fun.

Sinyae, age 8
I love to be a reader.

Milah, age 8
My mom is a vegetarian person.

Shaeef, age 8
Tree House Books helps me succeed.

Celina, age 14
I believe in making a difference.

The Old Man and the Fish

The old man sat at the table across from his wife, his head slowly drooping beneath his hunching shoulders. It was his birthday, and she’d decided to take him out to one of his favorite restaurants to celebrate. She’d scurried around all morning—confirming reservations, inviting friends, calling family and enforcing a dress code that “should have been taken care of by the restaurant anyway.” She wore the highest heels her old knees could bare, resurrected every corner of her makeup table, and sported a “sexy” black dress which, as the salesman had put it, made her look twenty years younger; a comment she so loved to regurgitate to the amusement of her family.

Smiles swelled around the old man- nearly too many to bear. He never did care for his wife’s side of the family; or his side for that matter. Noise swelled his ears as lively conversations unfolded in front of him. He let his head fall heavily into his outstretched hands- to rest for just a moment. But the restaurant skidded quickly as, in a flash, every head at the table turned and beamed toward a young waiter emerging, cake in hand, from the kitchen. The room grew quiet as every pair of eyes surfaced from conversation, intrigued by the glorious candles slowly swaying before the old man.


George Sloan, Age 10, Wyncote Elementary © 2012

He picked his up head from his feet, allowing his eyes to focus steadily through the window of his glasses. The pixels of surrounding faces slowly came into focus- his wife’s overwhelming lipstick; the waiter anxiously watching; the others diners looking on, as if granting approval for him to continue. And amidst all this roaring silence he found time to turn his head slowly toward the fish tank in the center of the room…

His heavy eyes pierced the thick glass, floated amidst the bubbles and grime of a thriving underwater city. Glorious colors of fish flew by in a highway current before disappearing into the blanket of blue. Crabs slowly groped the sandy bottom, carefully avoiding the silhouetted impressions of dozing starfish. And soon one particular fish caught his eye: one small speckled flesh floating anxiously amidst the hue of coral. Its fins danced in a slow quiver, as if struggling to remain in place, to resist the powerful tug of the tanks current. It seemed coldly alone, almost scared—eyes darting amidst the dark blue, prone for a sudden surge of movement.

And suddenly the old man was out of his chair and rapping at the glass. The fish’s eyes remained fixed toward the pulse of water amidst the thriving rush of bodies, and so the old man rapped harder, a slow rasp emerging from his throat to sooth this speck of life. Again the fish stared, retreating further into the safety of the coral.

And before the old man knew what was happening, the glass caved in- water rushed over the broken shards, tinged white by the crystal, and quickly flooded the restaurant floor. Diners screamed and jumped to avoid the monsoon of water, but the old man didn’t care- he quickly searched the flopping bodies, looking for a speckled fish.

And then he found it: a sodden lump of flesh, glistening like dew beneath the heat of the restaurant’s lights. He stooped to pick it up- felt the dwindling lump of life shudder in a futile struggle to breathe—to live. And he slowly brought the dying fish to his eyes and stared. Just…stared. And in those eyes the old man saw a cracking pair of spectacles; saw a drooping brow and withered frown; a wrinkled face, heavy with the weight of sorrow. And for just a moment, the old man saw what he had become. Saw himself, truly, for the first time in his life, as the fish’s tensed muscles relaxed, the face slowly fading in its glazing eyes.

Jacob Golden is 17 years old and goes to Jenkintown High School. He likes writing and playing football and soccer.

The Friendship Bracelet

The cool October air smacked into Katherine’s pale, freckled face like a swatter on a fly. She zipped up her jacket and slipped her hands in the pockets.

I didn’t know it was gonna be this cold! She thought as she turned the corner.

Her thoughts about the weather quickly faded as her gaze went straight ahead toward Fingleberry Park. But it wasn’t the yellowish-brownish tree leaves that caught her attention, nor the little boys and girls laughing and nudging each other while eating the Skittles they knew they weren’t supposed to be eating before dinner: No, she was looking farther to the right, just a couple feet next to the giant oak tree, which looked centuries old.

The shaggy blond hair, the tall, broad shouldered physique. Kevin Roberts. He was chatting with two of the guys from the football team. Those big, brown eyes twinkled whenever he smiled. Oh, that smile! Those straight, pearly whites and those smooth lips. At least that’s how Katherine imagined his lips to feel.

Katherine has had a crush on Kevin since they were both twelve years old and got to sit next to each other during the seventh grade class trip to the Smithsonian Museum, where they both talked and joked around the entire time.

That was three years ago and the last time she had a complete conversation with him. I mean, it’s not like Kevin forgot about her existence, it was just that he had school and football to think about. At least that’s what Katherine made herself believe.

Before Katherine knew it, she was standing at the corner of Boar Street looking straight ahead at Kevin. Not moving, just staring, admiring his distant presence, not caring about how numbly cold her hands were becoming. Lost in her thoughts when she finally snapped to reality and noticed he wasn’t talking with the guys anymore, but looking at her!

Oh my god! She frantically thought; what do I do? What do I do? Katherine thought desperately.

The panic in her mind made her knees buckle and before she knew it, she turned the corner and was pacing faster, faster towards her street. Her head down, her pale cheeks now a reddish color.

 

I’m so stupid! She scolded herself as she unlocked her front door.

The smell of chicken potpie swirled around Katherine’s nose.

She furiously unzipped her jacket, dropped her book bag, whirled her jacket off and walked towards her kitchen; passing the old family portraits of great-auntie Suzie and Grandpa Joseph.

“Kathy? That you?” Marie’s high-pitched voice called from the kitchen.

“Yeah,” Katherine answered as she walked in the kitchen and slumped down at the table.

Marie was Katherine’s stepmother. She had been her stepmother for a little over seven years now. Katherine still couldn’t believe how fast time flew. It had only been a year after her mother—her real mother—passed away that her father met Marie. A Macy’s store clerk from Idaho.

Katherine still remembered the first time she met Marie:

Her shouldered-length, brown curls bounced all over the place as her father guided her through their front door. The dark blue eye shadow she had on reminded Katherine of the Halloween makeup her mom would put on her. Her short legs were covered by long, flared jeans topped with a red turtleneck and matching boots (she didn’t look much different now).

Marie’s eyes lit up as she saw Katherine’s tiny, eight-year-old self shyly walking towards them, dragging her stuffed bunny behind her.

“Hey there!” Marie had said in, what Katherine at the time thought was the funniest baby voice she’d ever heard.

 

Katherine and Marie have hit it off since then. But there were times when she questioned what her father truly saw in Marie. I mean, her father was this tall, serious-faced, work-comes-first kind of man and Marie was a happy-go-lucky, “you’ve got to live life to the fullest” type gal. It’s not that they didn’t love each other; it was just that they were the complete opposite. But Katherine could only think of “Opposites Attract” as an answer.

The warmness of the oven door opening surrounded Katherine. Marie grabbed the chicken potpie with some mittens and closed the oven door with her foot, gently placing the potpie on the table where Katherine was at.

“And for the finishing touch…” Marie placed a tiny leaf of cilantro on the top of the potpie and clapped her hands together.

“…TA-DAAA!” She finished as she looked at Katherine, waiting for a response.

“Nice,” Katherine uninterestedly said.

Marie’s shoulders dropped and her happy face expression turned to this sarcastic “you’ve gotta be kidding me” look.

“Oh come on! You’ve got to find a better word than nice! I mean look at this,” she extended her hands out to the chicken pot pie; “It’s a masterpiece! Or do you think it’s awful?” Marie yelped.

“No, no, no, no, no! I didn’t mean it like that! I meant to say it looks…awesome!” Katherine quickly replied.

“Thank you,” Marie’s smile appeared again.

Marie quit her Macy’s job after she married Katherine’s dad and joined some “Generous Women of America” club that involved helping and serving the senior citizens in their neighborhood.

 

“Mrs. Peters is gonna love this!” Marie whispered to herself.

“Has Alyssa called?” Katherine said interrupting her stepmother’s thoughts.

“Oh, uh, yeah. She said to tell you to call her when you get back from the library.” Marie adjusted the cilantro leaf on the potpie.

“K,” Katherine answered as she leaped from the table and ran out of the kitchen towards the stairs.

“Pick up your jacket and hang it up! You know how your dad gets!”

But Marie’s yelling was no use. Katherine was already upstairs.

She pushed open her bedroom door and threw herself on her bed, making the scattered clothes on the bed fall to the carpeted floor.

She dialed Alyssa’s number. As she waited for someone to answer, she played with the bracelet on her left wrist. Tiny holes and dirty spots were visible on the faded, dark pink leather bracelet. Obvious signs of years of being worn. Alyssa had made it and gave it to Katherine, and Katherine made one similar to hers and gave it to Alyssa, which she wore on the same wrist, when they first met.

It was the first day of first grade and Katherine was wishing her mom were there to sit with her during lunch. She was a half-inch shorter than the other kids so she was an instant target to pointing fingers and teasing.

“Leave me alone!” Katherine would squeal. But with no avail. Until another little girl, about an inch taller with long blond hair stepped in and shut those bullies up quicker than you can snap your fingers. They made each other those bracelets that same day during art class. After that, no one, including their parents, could keep the girls apart. They were best friends, always and forever. But they were like Marie and Katherine’s dad: opposites. That’s probably one of the reasons they were so close. One was quiet and kept to herself while the other was loud and outgoing. But they made it work.

 

“Hello?” a woman on the end answered.

“Hey Ms. Marccero.”

“Hey Kathy! How’s everything?”

“Everything’s fine. Is Alyssa home?”

“Yeah. Let me get her.”

“K, Thanks.”

“Lyssa! Katherine’s on the phone!” Katherine heard Ms. Marccero yell.

Katherine always liked Alyssa’s mom. She, at times, reminded Katherine of her mother.

 

After some phone rumbling, Alyssa came on the phone.

“Hey, hey!” Alyssa said.

“Hey.”

“So, how was your studying?”

“You know how studying is: boring!”

“You see, that’s why I don’t study”

“Trust me, I know!” Katherine chuckled.

Alyssa giggled.

“So what theme are you planning on doing for your birthday party?” Alyssa asked.

“I don’t know yet.”

“Well you better know soon!”

“Whoa! What’s the rush? It’s like a month away! Plus, I don’t want a big party. I just want a cake, and some presents, and—“

“Kathy. Your birthday party needs to be awesome! It has to be the best party anyone in this tiny town has ever been to!”  Alyssa exclaimed.

“Well why don’t we close all the stores and call November 27th “Katherine Day”!” Katherine sarcastically joked.

“You know…that’s not a bad idea! I can totally have my mom talk to the sheriff!” Alyssa joked back.

“Shut up, Lyssa!”

The girls laughed.

After two hours of talking and laughing, the girls said their goodbyes and hung up.

 

The next morning started the same as any other day for Katherine: she got up; slipped on whatever jeans and blouse she could find, quickly combed her hair and ran downstairs to the kitchen where Marie and her father were.

“Morning, Daddy.” Katherine said to her already dressed, newspaper-reading father.

“Morning, Kathy.” He said from behind his newspaper.

“Kathy, your bagel’s in the toaster oven.” Marie said as she emerged from behind the ‘fridge door.

“Thanks.”

“Stock markets are down,” Katherine’s dad blurted out.

“That’s good, honey,” Marie said as she patted her husband’s head.

Katherine smiled as she took a bite from her bagel.

After saying goodbye to them, Katherine made her way to school.

South Valley High School was like any usual high school: annoying teachers, the cliques and groups, and in South Valley High’s case: the worst football team in the state!

Katherine never understood why anyone ever went to their stupid games and pep rallies because no matter how much support, the South Valley High Jaguars sucked! There was no nicer way to put it. They hadn’t been to the Championships since 1981. They lost almost every game they played. But the town still thought they had a chance. How many times has Katherine heard that before!? She felt sorry for Kevin, having to play for such an awful team.

 

“Sup.” Alyssa said as she walked up to Katherine at her locker.

“Hey!” Katherine said.

“UGH! I’m so happy its Friday! Last day of the week means no homework, no nasty school lunches, and more importantly: no Ms. Stuart!”

Katherine giggled.

Ms. Stuart was Alyssa’s Biology teacher. And her worst nightmare!

“Can you believe she’s assigning our partners for that dumb project? Ugh!” Alyssa gently slammed the back of her head on a locker.

“Don’t worry; maybe she’ll have sympathy for you,” Katherine soothed.

“I doubt it.”

The first period bell cut the girls’ conversation short.

“I’ll see ya at lunch.” Katherine waved to her friend.

“k,” Alyssa answered and they both walked away.

 

After getting her lunch, Katherine tiredly slumped down at the nearest table. She couldn’t wait to go home. She was swamped with work the whole weekend. She had to study for a French test, had a two-page essay due for History, and a research paper for Science.

“Just three more hours…three more hours,” Katherine sighed.

Just as she was about to take a bite from her apple, Alyssa suddenly appeared and slammed her food tray on the table, startling Katherine.

“Oh my gosh! You are not going to believe who Stuart partnered me with!” Alyssa furiously said as she sat down.

“Well hello to you, too,” Katherine replied.

“Guess—just guess!”

“I don’t know. Who?” Katherine sighed.

“Carla Myers!” Alyssa exclaimed.

“NO!” Katherine’s eyes widened.

“YES!”

“Are you serious?!”

“Serious as a heart attack!”

“Is that teacher crazy?”

“I guess so! I wanted to die when she said that witch’s name after mine!”

“What’re gonna do? Ask for another partner?”

“I can’t! I either work with Carla or get an F. My mom said I get one more F and she cancels our trip to Florida, and after this winter, I’m gonna need a tan!”

“When’s the project due?”

“Monday!”

“That sucks!”

“I know! I’m so mad right now! I mean, why couldn’t she have paired me with one of the emo weirdoes?”

“They’re not all weirdoes!” Katherine retorted.

Alyssa shot her a look.

“Yeah…they kinda are weird.” Katherine realized.

“That Carla Myers says one smart comment to me and I swear I’ll—“

Alyssa furiously stabbed her fork into the ‘mystery meat’ in front of her, causing Katherine to jump.

Carla Myers is the definition of mean, to the girls. They didn’t like Carla and Carla didn’t like them. But it wasn’t always like that. They were all best friends eight years ago. They even called each other the ‘Three Musketeers.’ But when Carla’s dad won a promotion at work, that meant more money, and more money meant a happy, spoiled Carla. And a happy, spoiled Carla with a daddy with money meant she was too good for two little girls with middle class parents. So they drifted apart until they were the two musketeers and the mean girl.

There wasn’t a time when the girls didn’t share some heated words with each other when they were together. Especially open minded Alyssa and smart-mouthed Carla.

 

“I have to go over her house to start the project.” Alyssa said.

“Why her house?”

“Because I don’t want that witch cursing up my house!”

Katherine snorted.

“Man I was really looking forward to us going to ‘Sally’s’ for some frozen yogurt to get my mind off all this homework.” Katherine pouted.

“MMMMM. Frozen yogurt in October’s the best! I really wish I could go,” Alyssa pouted her lips like a sad little girl who got her toy taken away, “how ‘bout I call you tonight to tell you how things with Carla went and we’ll go out for some fro-yo tomorrow? Sound good?” Alyssa suggested.

Katherine smiled.

“That sounds great!”

“Cool.”

As the girls laughed and talked, Alyssa noticed someone behind Katherine walking towards them.

“Bitch Alert.” Alyssa smirked.

“Alyssa!” Katherine loudly whispered as she saw whom she was referring to.

Carla’s long, wavy, auburn hair swished as she walked up to the girls’ table. Her French manicured hands holding tightly to her tray of food. Not even daddy’s money could get her a personal chef.

“Marccero. Smith.” She said while looking at both girls.

“Myers.” Alyssa slyly responded back.

Carla turned to Alyssa.

“Look, I hate this partner thing just as much as you—“

“You got that right.” Alyssa interrupted.

“So let’s get this over with so I can get my A+ and never have to speak to you again, okay?” Carla forced her glossed lips into a smirk.

“Sounds good to me, Myers.”

Carla rolled her eyes and walked away, her body swaying like she was walking a runway.

So let’s get this over with so I can blah, blah, blah,” Alyssa held her hand like a puppet, mocking Carla, “Ugh! I swear Kathy, just one arrogant comment—just one—and I’ll—“

“Trust me I know what you’ll do.”

The girls giggled.

“You better be careful,” Katherine began, “she might get her Chihuahua to attack you!” Katherine grinned.

“Oh no! I’m gonna be so scared!” Alyssa pretended to be scared.

Katherine laughed.

“That was a good one, Kathy.”

After some more laughing and teasing, the girls said their goodbyes and headed to their last classes.

 

Once Katherine heard the dismissal bell, she quickly gathered her books and headed out the school doors.

See ya, South Valley High! Katherine happily thought.

Alyssa was already outside the school waiting for Katherine. Her last period class was on the first floor.

Lucky her!

“Finally! Come on, let’s get away from this place.” Alyssa linked arms with Katherine and they walked away.

 

“So…have you heard from your boyfriend, yet?” Alyssa teased.

She always knew Katherine liked Kevin. She offered to talk to Kevin, once, but Katherine begged her not to.

“Shut up.” Katherine rolled her eyes.

“You seriously need to get over that guy! He’s so stupid!”

“He is not!”

“He is too! He’s stupid for not noticing you!”

“I made a complete fool of myself in front of him yesterday.”

“Maybe that’s a sign that Kevin’s not the guy for you.”

“Whatever.” Katherine knew deep down, her friend was right. She just couldn’t admit it.

The girls stopped in front of Katherine’s house.

“Well, I’ll call you tonight.” Alyssa said as she hugged her friend and began to walk away.

“Okay. Have fun on your study date!” Katherine jokingly yelled.

“Get inside, Kathy.”

Katherine smiled and walked inside.

She wasted no time: she said hi to Marie and went straight to her room to begin her homework.

She was so focused on her studies, that when she finally took a break, it was 8:45 p.m.

Wow!

She remembered that Alyssa was supposed to call her once she left Carla’s house, about two hours ago.

Oh my gosh! What if she killed Carla?! Katherine thought.

Katherine shrugged her silly thoughts away and grabbed her phone and dialed Alyssa’s number.

“Hello?” Ms. Marccero answered.

“Hey Ms. M. Is Alyssa home yet?”

“No actually, she’s still studying with her partner.”

Oh…okay then. Well, can you tell her to give me a call?”

“Yeah, sure thing.”

“Thanks, Ms. M.”

“You’re welcome, honey.”

That’s weird.

Katherine didn’t sleep well that night. Aside from still having the French alphabet in mind, she never remembered a time where Alyssa didn’t call her when she was supposed to.

 

The next morning Katherine called Alyssa’s house again. But her mom said she had gone to the library to do more research.

Library? Alyssa…at the library?  Katherine knew she had lied to her mom.

Where was she?

Katherine couldn’t hold any longer: she grabbed her jacket and zoomed out her front door.

I’m getting some frozen yogurt. With or without her! Katherine thought.

 

Katherine entered the small, freshly painted white ice cream shop.

“Hey, Bill.” Katherine greeted the man behind the counter. His wrinkled face and tiny, green eyes lit up when he saw her approaching.

“Booger! HA HA! How you been?” Bill’s loud, scratchy voice boomed.

Katherine smiled.

Bill had known Katherine since she was three years old. Her mom would take her to get frozen yogurt every-other Saturday, even in January.

He called Katherine booger because when she was younger, she’d pick her nose a lot. Something he always found funny, while Katherine would look back at and feel disgusted.

“I’ve been good. Swamped with homework—but still good.”

“Atta girl! Want the usual?”

“You know it!”

Katherine ate the same vanilla with warm caramel every time she went there.

After chatting with Bill for a bit, she thanked him and left the store.

As she crossed the street, a familiar laugh caught her attention. As she looked around she saw where it was coming from: the burger joint two stores over to her left.

She walked towards the sound.

The laugh, the long, blond hair.

It can’t be—NO!

What the heck was Alyssa doing here? What was she laughing about?

As Katherine walked up to her friend, her legs froze as she saw whom she was with:  Carla Myers and Kevin Roberts.

Is this a nightmare?

“She has like the biggest crush on you!” Alyssa said to Kevin.

“That is so sad!” Carla managed to get out while laughing.

“I know!” Alyssa responded.

They all laughed. Once they saw Katherine standing behind Alyssa, Carla and Kevin went serious.

“What?” Alyssa said while wiping a tear from her eye.

When she turned around, her grin disappeared as she saw Katherine’s shocked face.

“Katherine! W-what ‘re doing here?” Alyssa stuttered.

Katherine dropped her frozen yogurt and quickly walked away.

“Kathy! Wait!” Alyssa ran after her.

“Leave me alone!” Katherine yelled back.

“It’s not what you think! I can explain!”

Katherine suddenly stopped and swirled around.

“Then explain!”

Alyssa couldn’t get any words to come out. Her mouth was open, but she said nothing.

“EXPLAIN!” Katherine yelled as her eyes watered.

“I’m sorry.” Alyssa quietly said.

“I can’t believe you.” Katherine yanked her bracelet off and threw it at Alyssa.

Alyssa gasped.

Katherine turned around and ran home, not caring to wipe the tears from her pale cheeks. She couldn’t believe her best friend, who she trusted with all her heart, betrayed her like that. How could she talk about her behind her back? And with the main two people Katherine had trouble with!

Katherine got home and didn’t bother finishing any of her assignments. How could she when her heart was broken? She just laid in bed the remainder of the day and cried it all out for Marie at night.

 

The next morning, Katherine quickly grabbed her books from her locker, sat at a different table with different people at lunch, and walked a different way home after school, just to avoid speaking to Alyssa. This went on for about a month.

As Katherine walked through the front door, she heard Marie on the phone.

“Wait, I think I heard her come in, hold on.” Marie held out the phone to Katherine and mouthed the name Alyssa.

Katherine frantically shook her head and mouthed the words No! No way!

Marie sighed and began talking into the phone again.

“I thought it was her but it was the uhm, TV, you know how my hearing’s a bit off sometimes,” Marie nervously laughed, Katherine forgot how bad of a liar Marie was, “yeah…okay…I’ll tell her…thanks Alyssa…bah-bye.”

Katherine heard Marie close the phone. She started walking up the stairs when she heard Marie call her name. Katherine rolled her eyes and made some lame excuse about reading some French book, knowing where the conversation was going to lead. But that didn’t stop Marie.

“Katherine. Get downstairs.” Marie firmly said. Katherine only heard this side of Marie when she was either really mad or upset.

“Yes?” Katherine sighed.

“Why are you ignoring her?” Marie said with her hands holding on to her waist.

“You already know.”

“You and Alyssa have been friends for a long time. You can’t just erase her from your life after something stupid she said.”

“It’s not what she said! Its how said it! She said it like I was just some random girl at the mall! Like I wasn’t her best friend!”

“Kathy, you can’t let that get to you. Think about it,” Marie said while sitting Katherine down at the kitchen table, “what do you think you’re getting out of this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you trying to teach her a lesson?”

“No, not really…”

“Give her a chance to explain. Everyone deserves a second chance. Okay?”

Katherine sighed and shot Marie a small smile.

 

 

As Katherine made her way downstairs, she tried not to step on any of the red and purple balloons scattered about. She became excited as she sniffed the aroma of sweet potato pie.

“SURPRISE!” Her father and Marie yelled as she entered the kitchen. There were even more purple and red balloons on the floor and colorful “Happy Birthday!” posters hanging on each wall including the refrigerator. Katherine couldn’t keep her excitement hidden any longer.

“This is awesome!” she said as she caught a glimpse of the medium-sized chocolate frosted cake with the lavender writing. HAPPY 16th BIRTHDAY KATHY!

“Oh my gosh! Thanks you guys!” Katherine said as she hugged both her father and Marie.

“Now, come on! Let’s sing you happy birthday, now, so you have time to open all your presents,” Marie quickly said.

“Okay.”

While Katherine’s father placed a birthday cone on Katherine’s head, Marie lit up the number one and six she had glued together to make the number sixteen on the cake.

“Okay, you guys ready?” Marie asked.

“Yup!” Katherine and her father said at the same time.

“One, two, three! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Katherine! Happy birthday to you! YAAAAAAY!”

Katherine grinned as her father dipped his finger in the frosting and placed a smidge of it on Katherine’s nose.

“Happy birthday, sweetie.” He said as he hugged her.

“Who wants a piece of cake?” Marie asked as she grabbed a knife from a drawer.

“I do!” Katherine excitedly yelled.

“Cake? I want a piece of that pie!” Katherine’s dad replied.

As he went in to snag a piece of it, Marie slapped his hand.

“No pie until after she opens her presents!”

“Aw, come on!”

Katherine laughed. She loved seeing her father like this instead of his usual serious self.

Just as Marie went to cut a piece of cake, the doorbell rang.

“You expecting someone, Marie?” Her father asked.

“Nope,” Marie replied.

After some distant talking and the door closing, they heard some footsteps.

Who is that? Katherine asked herself.

“Someone else will be joining us.” Marie said as the mystery person walked in behind her.

Her long, blond hair swayed as she stood beside Marie.

“Alyssa! Long time no see!” Katherine’s dad hugged her.

“Hey, Mr. Smith.” Alyssa said.

Katherine stood there, not knowing what to do.

“Well, we’re gonna go…. check the front door,” Marie awkwardly said.

“Check the front door?” Marie’s father confusedly asked.

“Oh, just come!” Marie tugged at his sleeve, pulling him out of the kitchen.

Both girls stood in silence for a while.

“Happy Birthday,” Alyssa finally said, breaking the silence.

“Thanks.” Katherine replied.

“I brought you a present.” Alyssa handed her a small, wrapped box.

“Thanks.” Katherine gently ripped the paper off. When she opened the box, a smile formed across her face as she saw her friendship bracelet. “I’ve been looking for this. Thank y—“ she was cut short when she looked up and saw Alyssa’s watery eyes.

“I’m sorry, Kathy. I never meant to hurt you like that.” Alyssa sadly said.

“But why did you?” Katherine asked.

“Because I was stupid. I got sucked into Carla’s stupid lip gloss world.”

Lip gloss world?” Katherine jokingly asked.

“You know what I mean, Katherine!”

Katherine ran up to her friend and hugged her.

“I’m sorry, too.”

“I forgive you.” Alyssa sniffed.

“I forgive you, too. But don’t ever do that to me again! Okay, Marccero?”

“Oh, so now we’re on a last name basis?”

The girls laughed.

Alyssa wiped her tears away as she helped Katherine put on her bracelet again.

“I’ll never take this off again.”

“You better not, Shorty!”

“Shut up, Lyssa!”

“Okay! Enough crying! Let’s get some cake!”

“Well, we better get to it before they do!”

The girls grinned and ran towards the cake, but not before Marie and Katherine’s dad suddenly appeared in the kitchen.

“Wait for us!” Marie yelled.

“Grab the cake and run!” Katherine quickly said to Alyssa as she tried to get around Marie and her dad.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Katherine’s dad said as he picked her up.

Katherine yelped.

Before they knew it, they were running around the kitchen throwing cake at each other and laughing hysterically.

And at that very moment, Katherine wasn’t worrying about having an enormous birthday party, how cute Kevin looked, or how much of a witch Carla was. She was thinking how great her birthday was going and how awesome it was that she was enjoying it with the four people she loved most:  her dad, Marie, Alyssa, and her mom—who was grinning down at her from up above!

Danielle Perez found an interest in writing at an early age and especially enjoys creative writing, one of her strongest fields.

The Plane Failure

There was a boy named Nortin who was going on a trip to England. Nortin boarded the plane and then–whoosh—the plane flew up into the clouds. Nortin was very nervous about what could happen. Would the plane crash? Fall out of the sky? Anything could happen. Nortin was so scared, he fainted.

When he awoke, he was floating and then he saw an angel.

“Wow, where am I?” he asked the angel.

“Nortin, I must warn you,” said the angel. “When you wake, you will find yourself in the Atlantic Ocean.”

“Wait, what do you…”

It was too late. When Nortin woke up, he was floating in the Atlantic Ocean. He looked up and saw the plane flying right over him.

“Nooooo!” said Nortin in a stunned voice.

As he sank into the water, he died, and then he found himself in Heaven. He saw the angel again.

“Hi, Nortin,” said the angel.

“Why am I here?” asked Nortin.

“I chose you from all of the other passengers on the plane to bring you to heaven, just like I was chosen from a plane many years ago. The same thing happened to me that happened to you. That’s what makes us special.”

 

 

Eric-Ross McLaren is in fourth grade at Green Street Friends School in Philadelphia. He likes video games, Harry Potter, and writing stories.

Angel

I hate these months. They’re endless, and robed in a fierce white sheath that brings misery and pain to people like us. Most especially, they make it hard to sleep on the side of the road.

I can see my breath in a puff of something along the lines of white smoke as I hustle through the masses of people lining the streets. The shops seem to radiate warmth and happiness and holidays and light, but out here all I can feel is cold. The tips of my fingers, the ones that stick out of my cutoff gloves, are bright red and feel like they’ve turned to stone as I struggle to find a place to stay. Things couldn’t really get much worse, I think as snow starts to fall lightly.

This theory is, of course, challenged when I get back home and someone is missing. I count them like I always do, there’s Zero and Bella and Jet and Max and Rocky but…where is
Ghost?

Those aren’t their real names, of course. Ghost christened each of them as they joined our little band of lost children. I’m Angel.

But he’s gone. Ghost, my little brother, is nowhere to be found. In the dead of winter. In
New York City. We’ve never lost anyone before and I can tell the other kids are already worried.
“Don’t worry,” I say strongly, “We’ll find him.”

I grab Zero’s hand and squeeze it, giving them a little smile and then I separate them into groups. I take Jet and Max because they’re the youngest, and Zero, Bella and Rocky are more experienced on their own.

Through the streets of our darkening city we go, once again, but this time its stranger and more chilling. In the dark, the skyscrapers look like monsters, and the bare trees are like long arms, reaching for us, trying to steal my family.

“Ghost!” I call, checking all his usual hideouts, and feeling the stone in my chest sink more deeply, “Ghost, where are you?!”

Hopelessness settles in my stomach as I swallow a lump in my throat, and I sniffle.
Forgetting about the two little boys who are my responsibility, I sit right down on the blackened sidewalk and close my eyes.

I remember when he was born. I was three years old, but I remember his huge blue baby eyes staring right through mine. The rest of our normal lives, our lives with real names and parents and friends and houses, is just a collection of memories with my little brother starring in them all. A whirlpool of these sucks me into the past as I recall a skinned knee, a bike ride, my first breakup when I cried for days, his first crush and everything else we did together. And last of all, there’s the fire and then running forever until we’d left the flames behind. I’d left everything behind to protect him. I was going to protect him forever.

And I’d failed.

“Angel?” I glance up, already feeling guilty for breaking down and leaving two 8-year-olds alone, but what I see makes me stand up. The same eyes I looked at 11 years ago in a hospital in Manhattan.

I don’t know whether to slap him or hug him. For now I go with hug, and pull him close vowing to never ever let him out of my sight again and then I frown, “Where the heck have you been?”

“Got lost. Went home. No one there.”

“Yeah, Ghostie, it’s cause we were looking for you!” Bella says almost angrily. I hadn’t noticed that she and the other boys had appeared.

“I was fine. Always am.”

I let out an irritated sigh and grab his wrist, and Jet’s hand. “C’mon let’s go home.”

Home is the wall behind an apartment building, which radiates some heat. We’ve collected blankets and things, and created a sort of cocoon. Max collapses immediately onto the ground, curling into a ball. I sit down beside him, tucking blankets around him. The littlest get the most warmth, because I can’t bear the thought of waking up to find one of them blue. Bella scoots between us, and I feel Jet and Ghost cuddle up beside me on the other side as Zero and
Rocky sit on the edges.

Freezing cold stabs of pain still prick and poke at me, and probably worse at the others, but it’s different now because there’s a warm, fuzzy place right in my heart that flares when Ghost grabs onto my finger like a baby, and Bella rests her white-blonde head on my shoulder so she can pull Jet closer.

I laugh at the things they call us sometimes. Homeless. It’s true, we don’t have a roof over our heads, or full stomachs every minute. But we, every one of us, have a home. Our home is with each other.

Houseless, maybe. But never homeless.

 

Maeve Thomas is a student at Abington Junior High School in Abington, PA.

With a Click

The lights were on backstage. They were a strange blue light, but not hard to see by. I worked my way around all of the chairs and music stands, microphones and instrument cases. The curtains were slightly parted in the middle; Joanne was onstage. She was my sister, older than me by a little more than a year. Her long fingers, the nails painted deep red, danced over the piano keys. The large, black, magnificent instrument was positioned exactly center stage; she was the main act, what everyone came to see. The rolling, plaintive melody leapt around the theater, but there was not a soul to hear it, except for me. My feet tapped the hollow stage as I made my way to her.

“That’s really nice, Jo,” I said.

“Thanks. Didn’t see you there.”

“I just came to see how you were doing.”

The spotlight on her grand piano was absolutely blinding. It filled my head with a fuzzy sensation, as if I had just fallen into a very confusing dream. The hundreds, probably thousands, of red velvet seats in the audience sparkled in the lights. They were intimidating enough without being full of people and their judgments. The stage terrified me. The lights, the people, and, of course, the fact that I had no stage-worthy talent to speak of. All of it was petrifying.

Joanne, however, had always had the dancing fingers and the lilting voice that allowed her to captivate people and gain the admiration of an entire crowd. As a young boy, I had looked up to her with such a fond adoration that I listened to her play and sing for hours and hours.

“Are you coming to see me tonight?” Joanne asked.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I answered with a wink.

“Good.” She smiled with her beautiful white smile. I wish I had the confidence of that smile. “Will you go up and turn the spotlight off? Just leave the house lights.”
“Yeah.” I hopped the distance from the stage to the floor of the theater. My shoes hit the luxurious red rug without a sound. Walking up the aisle, every seat I passed would soon be filled by a pompous young man with a showy woman on his arm and a one-hundred-dollar ticket to a night out to see the concert. There were shiny gold plates with seat numbers on them and gold lining on every seat. As soon as I passed through the door that said “Employees Only” on my way to the light and sound booth, the carpet became rough and gray. From the booth with its multitudes of switches and buttons, I could see Joanne still playing with her blue dress falling in waves around her knees. I switched off the spotlight and headed back down.
The spotlight no longer illuminated Joanne, but even in relative shadow, she glowed. I hoisted myself back on to the stage.

“Thanks, that light was making me sweat.”

“No problem,” I said, “But honestly, how are you not terrified by the prospect of hundreds of people watching you and judging you?”

“They’re not coming to judge, Tommy. They want to hear music and I know that I can give them that.”

“Yeah, I guess. I could never do it, though,” I said.

“Then, luckily, the task falls on me, not you.”

“Yeah, you’re right. You want some lunch? I’ll go out and get you some,” I offered.
“Thanks. I’d like that.” Joanne smiled that beautiful smile again. I smiled back with my rather disorderly, not so winning smile.

As I exited through the backstage door, I could hear the melancholic melody again, floating off into the theater.

The sun outside was blinding. It took me several long seconds to be able to see anything, and that was just enough time for an empty taxi to pass me by. I cursed quietly, but quickly caught the next one. It was not a long ride to Victoria Street, but I tipped the cabbie a little extra. He had a nice sort of Scottish accent.
I bought some tomato and cheese sandwiches, but before returning to the theater, I sat along the Victoria Embankment to eat my own sandwich. The cheese had a sharp taste that made my mouth revolt for a moment. It was nice when I got used to it.

Barges and boats of all shapes and sizes floated up the river and I watched each until it was out of sight. It was a beautiful blue-skied day and an abundance of tourists were taking advantage of it. People with thick international accents and dozens of languages passed me by. Children ran around and pointed excitedly at all the sights. Their parents snapped pictures with expensive digital cameras.
My parents hated cameras. In general they hated anything that would capture memories: pictures, videos, journals. I’d only seen them use a camera once.
When Joanne was eight, she had taken her first piano lesson. It was a resounding success, and we all discovered her exceptional talent for the instrument. The school instrumental concert was her first performance. My father had knelt in the aisle with his video camera as my mother directed him. “Get closer! No! Zoom in! Stop shaking it so much!” Their quibbles were the majority of the video; only the beginning and end were truly of my sister’s beautiful piano playing.

Even at age eight, she had commanded the stage, and her fingers had sung so eloquently that several audience members rose to their feet. My parents received countless congratulations on their virtuoso child.

“Joanne played beautifully!”

“Oh, didn’t she? Just splendid!” They would reply.

“And what about little Thomas? Does he play too?”

“No. But Joanne, she really has never played much before! Picked it up just like that! Barely a full month of lessons,” they would gush.

“Thomas should learn violin! They could play together! A little family duet.”

“No, he’s not musical at all.” And they would tousle my hair roughly.

They never meant to dismiss me; they loved me as any parents should. It was not their fault that now I was unable to make real headway in any talent or profession. I was dabbling in lighting, set design, and various backstage arts, but none did I find captivating or have any particular knack for. So my parents never pulled out a camera and pointed it at me. And that was fine.

I didn’t have such a keen dislike of capturing memories. I never had owned a camera of any worth or quality, but my phone was full of the faces of my few friends and moments worth remembering. Joanne was in most of the photos.

Victoria Embankment was so lively and bustling that I pulled my phone from my pocket and took several pictures of the beautiful sky and the happy children. The river twinkled in the noon sun and everyone was reveling in the joy of the day.
The phone rang as I took a picture of a passing barge.

“Hello?”

“Hey, it’s Joanne.”

“Hi. Sorry I’m taking so long, I just stopped by Victoria Embankment for a second. I’ll be back in a second,” I said, stuffing the end of my sandwich in a nearby bin and looking around for a taxi.

“No, it’s fine. My cello player just bailed on me, said she can’t come on Friday. I phoned my agent, but he’s on vacation in Thailand or some place like that. He said to go to the Royal Academy of Music.”

“You don’t know a cello player that could fill in?”

“Several orchestras are touring in France and Spain right now and they’ve got all the good cellists.”

“I’ll have you a cellist, Jo. I promise.”

“Really?”

“Of course.”

“Okay, I trust you. See you soon. And forget about lunch; this is more important.”

“Right. Bye,” I said, and hung up. I flagged a taxi in seconds flat and jumped in.

“Royal Academy of Music, please,” I called up to the cabbie. London traffic was bad today, and the plethora of tourists crossing the street slowed our route considerably. The cab got caught behind two double-decker buses, which moved slowly with constant stops.

We finally were able to exit the Victoria Embankment area and enter a less tourist-infested area. The Royal Academy of Music was not far then. As soon as we pulled up at the tall brick building I tossed the cabbie several pounds and ran in.
The front desk was occupied by an elderly woman with a tight bun and thin spectacles perched on her pointed nose. She eyed me severely as I entered in my jeans and dirty, ripped coat. She wore an immaculately cleaned and pressed black dress with a silver necklace.

“What do you need?” she asked.

“I need to speak to a cellist, please,” I said, out of breath from sprinting in from the cab.

“Do you have a lesson or an appointment with one?”

“No, I don’t. But it’s important.”

“If you’re not in the schedule, it’s unlikely that time can be made for you.”

“It will only be a minute.”

“I apologize for any inconvenience, but it can’t be accommodated.”

“I’m Joanne Davies’ brother,” I said, pulling my classical music trump card.

“Oh, really? Is she here?” The receptionist asked, peering interestedly at the door to see if Joanne would enter suddenly.

“No, but she needs a cellist, and she sent me to find one,” I said.

“I’m sure it is an honor for any cellist to play with Miss Davies. I’ll ask around,” she said, and stood. Her heels clicked, echoing on the hardwood floor as she made her way through the opulent halls. I followed her closely and she poked her head into several doors before opening one and admitting me.

“This is Miss Annabel Baker. She is one of our most accomplished cellists and has instructed some of our best students in recent years.”

Miss Annabel Baker sat behind a dark mahogany desk, its curling clawed feet clinging to the floor. Many music scores were scattered around her desk and she was wildly marking them up with a red pen. A beautiful cello stood on a stand by her desk and the bow still in her hand showed that it had been recently played.

“Miss Annabel, this is Joanne Davies’ brother . . . ”

“Thomas,” I said.

My breath caught when she looked up. She was very young for such a musician and really quite beautiful, and her wildly intense eyes pierced me suddenly.

“Nice to meet you,” she said and, stacking together some of her scores, stood to shake my hand.

“Mr. Davies is here to -” the woman said, but was interrupted.

“I’m sure he can tell me himself,” Miss Annabel Baker snapped, and ushered the receptionist out of her office.

Shutting the door with a definitive slam, Miss Baker offered me a seat. The chair was deep and cushiony and made me feel uncomfortably pampered. She reseated herself in her simple, straight-backed chair.

“So why are you here?”

“Well, as you heard, I’m Joanne Davies’s sister.”

“Yes, yes,” Miss Baker said impatiently.

“She has a concert on Friday night and her cellist bailed on her. She needs a substitute,” I explained.

“And you want me. I’m flattered.”

“Well, if you can do it. I mean, you’d have to prepare the pieces quickly. But you musicians are always very good at that so it shouldn’t be a problem,” I said.

“No, it shouldn’t.”

“Good.”

“So what time is it?” Miss Baker asked, pulling out a pen and a notebook.

“The call time is at five-thirty on Friday. At the Apollo.”

“Great. What pieces?”

I took a pen and wrote down the pieces that Joanne had put on the program.
They were mostly Brahms, and some Chopin, and Miss Baker smiled approvingly when she saw them.

“Good choices. I know all of this pretty well already,” Miss Baker said.
“Good. So, I’ll give you my number and you can call me if you need anything else.

Joanne has several practice times for the ensemble to meet in the afternoons. I think there’s one today at four o’ clock.”

“Okay, I can make it,” Miss Baker said, checking her schedule in a little black leather book. She handed me a pen and paper to put down my number and I offered her my hand to write her number on. Her fingers brushed me and then pressed the pen deep into my skin. She smiled and it reminded me of Joanne; the confidence brimming in her and pouring out in her smile.

“Thank you for doing this, Miss Baker,” I said.

“Any time. I’m very excited to play with your sister. And my name is Annabel. You can call me that.”

“Okay, Annabel.” She showed me out of her office and shook my hand fiercely before showing me to the door. Her grip was firm and when she turned to go back to her office, I watched her dark brown hair swish back and forth as her heels clicked back down the hallway.

Exiting into the sunlight, the number written on my hand glistening, I programmed it into my phone and snapped a photo of The Royal Academy of Music. Flagging another taxi, I made my way back through the tourist laden streets to the Apollo, where Joanne still sat at the piano. Brahms flew from her instrument. I stood concealed in the swishing black curtain for a while, just watching. When I made my way out on to the open expanse of the stage, Joanne stopped playing.

“Hey,” I said, and extended the sandwich that I had bought for her and had been carrying since sitting on the Victoria Embankment.

“Did you find someone?” she asked, taking the sandwich from me.

“Yeah. You’ll like her. She’s good.”

“You heard her play?”

“No,” I admitted, “but she seems good and is well respected. She’s from the Royal Academy of Music.”

“Who?”

“Annabel Baker,” I said.

“Oh, I’ve heard of her! That’s wonderful!” Joanne looked well pleased with my choice of cellist, although the receptionist at the Academy had truly made the choice. Joanne gave me all of the cello music and, sending me out to get it photocopied, went back to her intent practicing.

I made it back to the Apollo at exactly four o’ clock. My legs were tired from an hour or so of walking the streets of London in search of a photocopier. I had bought some coffee for Joanne and her ensemble of musicians and was carefully balancing them in a tray on my hand as I reentered the theater. Joanne was talking to her violist and harpist and pointing at numerous sheets of music as I entered. She barely looked up, her hand flying around the music and marking it up. I offered them all coffee. They said a quiet and distracted ‘thank you’ and went back to their conversation.

I sat in the front row of the Apollo Theatre, the plush red chair enveloping me, balancing the remaining coffee on my knee and clutching Annabel’s copy of the cello music to my chest. I could almost imagine her playing on that stage right now, her bow flying back and force in a passionate frenzy. Notes would billow from the instrument and with a final flourish, she would stand and bow to the impressed audience: just me.

After a couple minutes, the real Annabel Baker entered and unpacked her cello. I leapt up, almost spilling the coffee on the luxurious seats of the Apollo, and climbed on to the stage. She smiled and waved to me as I made my way across the stage to her.

“Coffee?” I offered the final cup to her.

“No, thanks, I don’t drink coffee. You can have it,” she said.

“Okay, you sure?” And when she nodded emphatically, I took a sip. “And here’s your music.”

“Do you work for your sister?” Annabel asked as she took the music gently from my hands and slipped it under her arm.

“Not really. I just help out,” I explained.

“What do you do then?”

“Well, uh, nothing right now. I’ve done lighting for some of my sister’s concerts. I did some stage managing for a theater company a while back.”

“So, you like backstage work? You’re the behind-the-scenes man?” Annabel
“I guess. I don’t love it, but it’s been good to me,” I said.

Annabel looked as if she had a hundred more question for me, but Joanne came over and introduced herself. Annabel and Joanne greeted each other very amiably, and the rehearsal began quickly.

I went up to the light booth and flicked on the stage lights. From my little booth, I couldn’t hear the beautiful music that flowed from the four instruments, but it seemed that I could almost see it. Joanne glistened in the spotlight and her piano shone. Light beamed off of every string of Annabel’s cello, and her hair caught the spotlight. A luminous halo seemed to form around her. I pulled out my phone and captured the pure angelic aura of the illuminated musician.

When I stepped again on to the floor of the theater, the music was immense and filled the whole room with its roiling notes. I sat again in the first row of the theater and watched the musicians play with such fiery intensity that it seemed to shake the walls. Notes cascaded around me and then resolved to a deafening, beautiful silence. The musicians sat poised to begin the next movement.

For the next hour, they played, discussed the tiny details of the music, and not once did any of them look at me. I had found long ago the passion with which Joanne and her friends played, and when they were doing so, they thought of little else. I did not clap at the end of pieces so as not to distract them. But finally, when the last piece on the program had been played immaculately, I saw Annabel look down from her haloed position on the stage and smile at me. I smiled back and gave her a thumbs up.

I ascended the stage again and praised Joanne and Annabel on their playing.
Their smiles told me that they appreciated it, even though they already knew how wonderful they were.

“You hardly even needed to practice those pieces,” I told Annabel.

“I knew them all pretty well. I teach most of them to my students regularly,” she said bashfully.

“Well, they sounded great.”

“So,” Annabel said as she began to pack her cello up again, “I was going to ask you, if you don’t love your work, do you have something that you love?”

“I’ve never been really great at anything. So I guess I haven’t found my passion yet.”

“You can be passionate about something you’re not great at. That means you can only get better. Do you think I was amazing the instant I picked up a cello?” Annabel asked.

“That’s all very inspiring, but I don’t have the natural talent for anything that I’m sure you have for cello,” I assured her.

“Well, you’re a good brother, I think.”

“I hope so.”

Annabel turned and zipped up her cello case and organized her music into a black folder before turning to me.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” she questioned.

“Tomorrow at four again.”

“Okay, I’ll see you then.” Annabel turned and her dark hair and long black cloak swished out of the stage door into the street beyond. I watched until the door snapped shut, encasing me in backstage darkness.

On the night of the concert, I ironed my shirt and chose a matching suit. I wore a yellow tie that took me several attempts to get right, and even then it was just passable. My hair resisted combing, but I combed it anyway, and in my mirror was someone who looked as if they belonged in the Apollo Theater to hear Joanne Davies and her ensemble play. The man in my mirror might even be able to tell Annabel Baker that she was beautiful without turning red.

I took a taxi to the Apollo and entered through the stage door forty-five minutes before the curtain opened. The backstage lights were off and I blundered through rows of music stands that clipped my elbows painfully before pulling the curtain aside. The musicians were sitting quietly together each studying their music. They then began to play together as beautifully as ever. Joanne saw me come up behind the group and waved them all to a halt. The music discordantly ceased and Joanne stood to talk to me. She waved the three others to go on practicing. I stood, slumping with my hands deep in my pockets, as Joanne approached me, pristinely dressed in a shimmering black dress with a ruby necklace that matched her blood red nails.

You’re dressed up,” she said simply.

“Shouldn’t I be?” I asked.

“Of course, it’s just not your usual look.”

“I know.”

“Well, I just wanted to say that Annabel’s great. She’s got all the music spot on and has been really professional about the short notice of the concert,” Joanne said.

“Yeah, she’s great. I’m glad you like her,” I responded, smiling.

“Well, I just wanted to thank you. I’ll get back to practicing. You can take a seat in the audience if you want. I got you a seat in the fifth row.”

“Thanks, Jo,” I said, and made my way down to my seat, waving to Annabel as I descended the stairs. She smiled and waved back.

I had a perfect view from my seat. I could see every musician perfectly and Annabel
most of all. She was gazing at me as I took my seat, and our eyes met for just a second until the ensemble returned to rehearsing. I felt as if my suit and combed hair should give me confidence, but instead I felt incredibly out of place in this fancy theater among such distinguished musicians. I pulled out my phone and took a picture of Annabel with her bow flying through the air, singing beautiful pure notes. I took the picture discreetly, holding my phone casually to my chest and with a click Annabel was immortalized.

Fifteen minutes later, the ensemble finished practicing; people would soon be filing down the red-carpeted aisles to take their seats. Annabel descended the steps and sat beside me.

“Did we sound good?”

“Great. But you should go backstage. The audience will be here soon,” I advised.

“Not for a couple of minutes.”

“I guess.”

“So, do you enjoy photography?” she asked. I blushed dramatically. I was so sure my photographing had been nonchalant.

“Sometimes I do.”

“Can I see the photo you took?”

“It’s not really very good,” I said.

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not very good.”

“Well maybe you can show me later? I bet you’re better than you think,” she said and got up to leave as a few lone audience members arrived in the back of the theater.

“What are you doing after the concert?” I asked quickly, fearing that I would become overcome with fear if I waited to long.

“Nothing. Going home I suppose,” Annabel replied.

“You wanna get dinner?”

“I think it will be past dinner time.”

“Oh, yeah of course. You’re right,” I said turning away from her sheepishly.
“But who cares about that kind of thing? I’d love to.” I felt immediately inflated. Annabel Baker actually wanted to have dinner with me.

“Great,” I said and she ran off backstage.

The theater began to fill. The aisles bustled with talkative people. It was all of London’s well-dressed, elite, music appreciators. They stood upright and talked in unaffected accents and had neatly shined shoes. I almost looked like them. But my hair felt extremely uncombed and I could feel every crease in my pants that I had forgotten to iron. The air felt heavy around me; the opulent crowd seemed to wall me in. I slouched down in my seat, and stared deep into the curtains of the stage, which Annabel stood behind.

She was surely standing tall with her cello poised by her side, her long slender finger gripping the bow, her dark hair cascading its way down her back, shimmering and glowing. Her eyes would be filled with her fiery passion for music, and when she played, the audience would be stunned into immediate admiration.
The house lights dimmed and the spotlights that I had been turning on and off all week came on, worked by some unknown hand up in the light booth. The curtain parted to reveal Joanne’s regal grand piano and three chairs and music stands. After a welcome from the Apollo Theatre management, the musicians took the stage. The harpist entered, followed by the violist, and then Annabel. The audience clapped civilly for them; I clapped perhaps a little louder. Maybe Annabel could hear me clapping, but her eyes turned to me for a second as she took her bow and seated herself. Joanne entered last, the star of the show.

The audience went wild, in the most urbane way possible. Joanne Davies was known. The sophisticated and worldly members of London’s populace held her in high esteem. So did I.

All the musicians were seated. Their music was laid out on their stands, and they were poised, ready to play. The audience seemed to hold its breath; silence and stillness pervaded the theater for several long moments, and then the music began.
The audience was captivated. I had seen them play every piece before, but I was in awe of the power that radiated from the stage. Annabel had never looked more beautiful to me, and my ears hung on to each note from the cello until every other instrument faded away. Everything around Annabel seemed to be fuzzy and unimportant.

The first half of the concert slipped by without my noticing. Every time a piece ended, I clapped loudly. Not loud enough to be noticed, but more enthusiastically than my refined neighbors in the audience.

During intermission, I ran out of the theater and about two blocks to a flower stand. Pulling a pound from my wallet, I bought one long-stemmed red rose and carried in gently back to the theater. I rested it in my lap for the whole second half of the concert, stroking the petals and carefully touching the sharp thorns.

When the concert ended, everyone stood and applauded for several long minutes and many shouts of ‘Encore!’ I clapped delicately with the rose still in hand. When the audience began to move from their seats out of the doors at the back of the theater, I pushed through the crowd towards the stage, and scaling it quickly, I ran towards the curtain to go backstage. Enveloped in the folds of the curtain, I could see beautiful Annabel untightening her bow and laying her cello in its case. Joanne was talking quietly with her and they laughed together.

“So you are going to go out with Thomas?” Joanne was saying. Yes, she was. She had said she’d love to. With a glowing smile.

“Yeah, we’re going out right now.”

“He’s a good brother . . .” Joanne trailed off.

“He seems to be.”

“He’s never had a really serious girlfriend, if you’re wondering,” Joanne said.

“I’m not his girlfriend yet,” Annabel said, carefully putting her music back into its folder.

“Do you want to be?”

“I don’t know, Joanne. I haven’t even gone on a date with him.”

“Right, okay.” I didn’t want to step out from the deep shadow of the curtain. The rose bit my hand with its thorns.

“He’s not really you’re type, I think,” Joanne said.

“How do you know?” Annabel sounded a little annoyed.

“You know, he’s not a musician, or much of anything really. He’s really sweet, but you’re accomplished and I think he might be intimidated by that.”

I wasn’t intimidated. Annabel was passionate about her music and it was part of what made her attractive.

Annabel nodded slowly. “So? Do you not want me to go out with him?”

“He’s different than you. I just thought you’d go for someone more . . . professional. More put together. I’m not trying to make you cancel the date, I just don’t see it working out. And I don’t want Tommy to get hurt.”

“Well, it’s certainly not my intention to hurt him,” Annabel said steadily. It wasn’t Joanne’s business. I felt a sudden urge to step from behind the curtain and present Annabel with the rose, but the thorns pressed into my finger and I could not bring myself to do it.

“He gets hurt pretty easily. So if you think that it couldn’t work out at all, don’t even start.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Seriously, I’m trying to give you advice.”

“And I’m listening, Joanne.”

“Thomas isn’t strong. He’s never really been able to make decisions for himself, or even live his own life, so if you lead him on, it’s all on you.”

The soft curtain pressed against my face like a gentle hand. The air weighed a ton and was warm and humid. It slipped into my throat in a forced way. My suit seemed foolishly big on me, and I missed my ripped jacket that always felt like my own skin. I buried the head of the rose in my pocket. I could feel the fragile petals warp and snap in my fist and far away I could hear a cello case close up, each latch clicking like a camera.

 

 

Magda Andrews-Hoke is a 16-year-old sophomore at Germantown Friends School.

The Discovery

“No you’re a big fat liar!” yelled Lily.

“Yeah, ok. You’re so believable” responded her brother Josh.

“Josh go upstairs and Lily come to me now!” yelled Lily’s mom.

Josh stomped upstairs and Lily stomped to her parents’ room. She sat on the bed and prepared herself for a big, long lecture. Instead what she got was a “Come here.”

Lily responded by saying, “I don’t get what you can show me that has to do anything with siblings being that you don’t have any.”

“Just come look at this,” said Lily’s mom. “This was your Aunt Paige. She died a year before you were born. She was my older sister.”
Lily just stood there, shocked taking deep, deep breaths to calm herself down so that she didn’t freak out. “I’m so sorry mom.”

“It’s ok. In fact, you sort of look like Paige. You keep the picture.” Lily then took the picture upstairs into her room and put it on her dresser on an angle so that the picture frame wouldn’t fall off of her dresser.

The next morning Lily ran downstairs to catch a quick breakfast before her bus came. The grocery store was out of her favorite cereal, so her mom bought her brother’s favorite instead which was one of her least favorites. She instead chugged a bottle of water and had a multi-grain bar. She said her final goodbyes to her mom, since her mom was leaving the state for a business trip. About thirty seconds later, her school bus came.

On the bus she had to deal with fifth, sixth and eighth graders of which some she did know and others she didn’t. Lily was in seventh grade when this happened. There were only two other seventh graders on the bus besides herself. The fifth, sixth and eighth graders always trampled the seventh graders because a large percentage of them were very short. Lily was one of the shortest in her grade and wore pink clothing a lot so sometimes strangers thought she was younger then she was.

When Lily got to school, all she could think about was how she had an aunt and she didn’t even know about it. Jessica, one of Lily’s friends, threw a paper ball with the answers to the worksheet on it because she could tell that Lily was zoned out, and she saw that she didn’t have the answers on her sheet yet. Lily wrote them down fast enough so that when her teacher came around to see if everyone had done their work, Lily’s was done. At the end of class Lily’s friend, said “You owe me now.” And Lily just stood there thinking how could I pay her back?
[INSERT IMAGE]

The First Clue

When Lily first got home, at the time she was still curious about her aunt, so she immediately ran upstairs into her room and looked at the photo of her Aunt Paige. She held the photo in her hand just staring at it. All of a sudden it slipped out of her hand. At the edge of the back of the frame, she saw a little white piece of paper sticking out. She undid the back of the frame and unfolded the paper. She saw writing on it and read it. It said:

Whoever is reading this, you are about to go on a marvelous journey to find where you can see me again. The first clue is at Maddie’s old house. The one that got burned down.

Have fun! -Paige Heifmen

Madeline, or Maddie for short, was Lily’s mom’s name. She had no idea how she would be able to do this task; she was only 12 and couldn’t drive herself everywhere. Then she got it. She would trick her gullible dad to drive her everywhere she needed to go and say it was weekend homework to take notes for a scavenger hunt. She went downstairs and told her dad about it, holding the note in her hand. Her dad of course, said yes, and Lily got in the car to start her journey.
She gave her dad her mom’s old address from when she was in college. The car ride was quiet until Lily’s dad asked.

“Can you teach me some teen slang?” and Lily just hit her head hard.

Then her dad asked, “If I was trying to be a cool dad, should I introduce myself by saying: I’m the Eric-nator, who are you?”

Lily responded, “No. You’ll look stupid and unprofessional if you do that.”

“Then what should I do Lily-nator?”

“Just say: Hi! I’m Lily’s dad. Who are you? It’s that simple!”

“Really? That’s what teens consider cool dads?”

“Yep. Just as simple as that” and at that very moment, the navigation said, “You have reached your destination.”

  The Second Clue
Lily got out of the car to find an empty space in between college dorms. Her mom’s college dorm really did get burned down. From far away, Lily saw something that looked like a little rock, but as she approached it, she realized that it was a locket. [INSERT IMAGE 2]

She opened the pretty blue locket, and realized it was about the same color as her friend Jessica’s eyes. She had come up with an item to give Jessica back for her I owe you. Lily then opened the locket and saw another paper with a clue on it. She stuck the first clue in her pocket and read the second. It said:

Very well. Good job. You have successfully passed the first task. Now are you up for the second task? Well, go to my daughter, Mackenzie’s house. When you get there, ask her: “Where was your favorite place to go when you were younger?” Once you get the answer, go to that place. You will find another clue there if you look for it very hard. -Paige Heifmen

She called her cousin Mackenzie asking for her address. You might be wondering, why didn’t she just ask her on the phone? Well sometimes when on an adventure with clues, you have to follow what each one says.  Also if you were wondering, she thought that Mackenzie’s mom was Mackenzie’s stepmom.

The Third Clue

Lily got in the car again, and told her dad the new address. It was only five minutes away from her mom’s old house. When they got there, Mackenzie was waiting at the door. “So, what do you want?” she asked. “I want to know where was your favorite place to go when you were little?” responded Lily.

“Oh that’s easy” said Mackenzie, “the little playground two blocks away. My favorite part was the sand box.”

“Thanks.”

“Oh, just asking, what do you need this for?”

“Ummm… school stuff” responded Lily.

“Ok. See you later little cousin.”

“See you later big cousin.”

The Fourth Clue

Lily ran down two blocks, running like she never ran before. When she got to the playground, she immediately went to the sandbox. She thought that the clue would be there because of the information Mackenzie told her. She was right, for there in the sand bucket in the sandbox, there was a piece of paper inside. She pulled it out of the sand bucket and there was another clue. [INSERT IMAGE 3]

The clue said:

Well done! This is the last clue. Come to the curvy yellow slide. Then you will find where you can see me. -Paige Heifmen

Lily then climbed up the ladder on the playground and ran to the curvy yellow slide. She just stood there, waiting patiently for something to happen. She then felt the green bar, which was connected to the top of the slide, and a figure popped up out of nowhere. “Woah!” she said. She saw a human like figure that was bleach white. “Hi Lily! It’s nice to finally meet you in person. I’ve been watching you for a long time.”

“You look exactly like me, but you’re a ghost” said Lily.

“That’s because I’m your Aunt Paige” said the ghost.

“Are you really?”

“Yes. I’m really your Aunt Paige.”

“How can I see you? How can I do this?”

“You can do this because you went on the journey to find me; where you can see me. I have to go now, but remember only you can see me, for you were the first one to go on this journey.”

“Well, I’ll see you when I see you then, aunt.”

“And I’ll see you when I see you niece.” Lily hugged her Aunt Paige and said goodbye.

[INSERT IMAGE 4]

 

Kellie Graves is in  5th grade Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.