“Cello” was created by Naomi Aires, age 11, from Elkins Park. She made this collage, as a cover for the assignment book for her cello lessons, out of scraps cut from magazines. The cello body includes pictures of wood from an architecture magazine as well as photos of grilled meat from Bon Appetit.
Dajah Dale is 11 years old and in 6th grade. Her favorite thing to do is draw. This piece was one of the winners of the Pinocchio Writing contest co-sponsored by PS Jr. and the Arden Theatre.
Martha Smith is an 8th grade student at the Waldorf School of Philadelphia.
Sondra Fiorella is an 8th grade student at the Waldorf School of Philadelphia.
Chloe Bartlett is an 8th grade student at the Waldorf School of Philadelphia.
Yeogyeong Gim attends Abington Junior High School and loves art! This piece was one of the winners of the Pinocchio Writing contest co-sponsored by PS Jr. and the Arden Theatre.
Jason Hong Shu is in 8th grade at Wissahickon Middle School. He enjoys reading novels and likes to write many different things, including short stories, poems, essays, and bad puns. He hopes to write a novel or novelette in the future. He has taken online writing courses from the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) through Johns Hopkins University. Jason plays the cello and piano. He likes to write instrumental music, listen to music of all sorts, and draw objects and people. He also loves to watch movies. He lives with his awesome parents and his pet parrot, Yo-Yo, in Blue Bell, PA.
People say that the city never sleeps. Granted, the streets seem to pulse with an incessant stream of life. During the morning—the busiest part of the day—businessmen, students, and the occasional cluster of tourists flow down the sidewalk, converting the cement pavement into a one- way stream of bobbling heads. It stems off of the adjacent river of cars, trucks and bikes in which even more people travel untiringly until they arrive at their destination: a soaring building off to the side.
Most return to their apartments around the 5 o’clock rush, and the cacophony of horns honking and wheels grinding against the asphalt transforms into a faint roar that lulls city natives to sleep; however, the city is kept awake and alert by ambitious, type- A workers. Their office lights stay on well into the midnight hours; from the streets, their windows are artificial stars that illuminate the sky.
College students take advantage of their newfound freedom and return to the streets for an unpredictable night out. Hours later, some of the college kids stumble out of the clubs, young and foolish and drunk on either life or alcohol. Yet, simultaneously, they harbor such an ineffable aura of invincibility—or as close to invincibility as a mere human can attain.
But most of the people on the streets in the nebulous hours between dawn and dusk are not leaving a party or a work office nor progressing towards home; they wander because they have no home. They wait on doorsteps or on street corners for the sun, which will lure the rest of the city out once again.
Seemingly, the city never sleeps.
Yet, part of it lays dormant at night.
I am one of the students whose head can be seen weaving in and out of the morning throng, and occasionally, I’m one of the blithe college kids leaving the club with my arms linked around my friends’ elbows. I navigate the streets with ease and can successfully hail a cab. After almost four months in the Big Apple, I have integrated myself into the vivacious city atmosphere. Like I thought, I have a propensity for the city life. I was made for New York.
But as much as I try to blend in, I have the eyes of a foreigner—and this enables me to see the parts of the city that natives unintentionally overlook.
My phone buzzes in my bag, and I dig through my books to find my phone. I give the screen a cursory glance. A picture of my mom smiles back at me. Without hesitation, I press “ignore”, and continue my brisk walk to the train station.
With what seems like the population of the whole city, I finally descend into the metro station and flood into the train when it screeches to a halt. I’m sandwiched between an exhausted mother with a child clinging onto her legs and a stereotypical businessman, attired in a formal suit and Rolex. The businessman laughs boisterously into his phone. “Yes, I had to work pretty late tonight. My latest project has kept me busy. But don’t worry; I’m taking the next few days off so that I can be home in time.” On my other side, the mother tries to quell her querulous son with promises. “You can have all the pie you want when we go to grandma’s, but no ice cream right now.”
Each time the door opens, cool air blows in and people trickle out of the subway like sand out of a sieve. Eventually, the jolly businessman exits the train at one stop and the mother with her child at the next. The lively shouts and laughter, the constant honks and beeps leave with them. The warmth leaves with them. I’m left with the empty, robotic whirring of wheels against the track. It’s a sound that the others on the train—the natives—don’t even register because it’s become like background music to them that plays throughout their day; however, I am very familiar with it.
Slowly but surely, I watch part of New York City fall asleep.
I share the subway with one lone, elderly man. Although he can’t be past sixty years old, his face is long, wrinkled and worn. In fact, his whole presence feels tired; he slouches and hangs over his clasped hands as if he long lost interest in looking others in the eyes and carrying himself with dignity. He wears a double- button pea coat that could have once been impressive and quality but is now shabby around the edges. The bottom button is missing, like the eyes of an old, dear stuffed animal that has been forgotten about long ago. His neatly combed salt- and- pepper hair seems like a façade—his halfhearted attempt to conceal his weariness.
“So, have you any plans for this Thanksgiving?”
I look away from him, startled that he caught me in the midst of my examination of him, and then slowly look back. This time, his head is raised towards me. The garish lights cast long shadows and emphasize the folds in his face and bags beneath his eyes. I smile politely. “No, just staying in the city.”
“Well, why aren’t ‘cha going home?” The man’s voice is gravelly and almost echoes in the train.
I rashly toss aside anything I learned about not talking to strangers. “What makes you so sure that I don’t live here?”
He lifts a long, bony finger at me. “Your sweater, miss.”
I look down to check what I’m wearing, and blush when I see my NYU crewneck. Half annoyed that this man soiled my efforts to fully assimilate to New York City so easily, I pull my coat over my sweater to hide the outfit I chose in the 6 a.m. darkness.
“Excuse me for asking, but why aren’t you returning home for the holiday?”
I cross my arms, my annoyance growing. The man’s questions begin to feel like an interrogation. “I have my own personal reasons.”
He stares at me before finally returning his concentration to his intertwined hands. They look like a knot of gnarled roots. I avoid his eyes until he clears his throat. “I know a boy who had big dreams.”
“What are you talking about?” I consider the fact that I might be talking to a maniac or an insane homeless man.
“Just listen. I think it’ll do you some good.”
I pause. I’ll only be on the train another few minutes at most. “So, what about this boy?”
The corner of his mouth tugs up into a slight grin. “Yes, the boy. Well, he was a dreamer. Oh, he strove for the stars since he was born and never set his eyes anywhere else. When he was just a little kid, he dreamt of being an astronaut like all other boys. When he grew up though, he kept dreaming. This time, he wanted to be a film director. He was given a camera one Christmas, and well,” he chuckles and smiles wistfully. “He locked himself in his room for the rest of the day. He made a stop motion video using his action figures and RC cars. He was so proud of that video.”
“Sorry,” I intervene. “Is there a point to this story? Like a moral or lesson?”
He stares at me pointedly. “Just listen.” He holds his stare, and I lower my head in resignation.
He continues, but his pensive tone has faded. It’s melancholy. Frail. “But his father crushed his dreams. He was so persistent and stubborn about his son following in his footsteps. He was part of a law firm. Very successful lawyer, and he was also extremely cocky about being a Harvard law school alumnus. Obviously, his son didn’t want to be a chip off the old block. Even as a high school senior, he still had his sights on going to Hollywood to pursue his dreams. His father forbade him. Told him that he better study law. If he left for California, he wasn’t welcome home. Well, after finishing senior year, he was off on the first plane to Hollywood, leaving his family to wonder about what became of him.”
The man draws his story to a close and once again I can only hear the low whistle of the train wheels. I stare at him again, this time not looking away when he lifts his chin. He no longer seems like a rambling old man—rather, he is teeming with knowledge. His numerous wrinkles are indicative of old age, but of hardship and experience. After hearing the whole story, my irritation melts into a sense of connection.
The train stops. We finally reached the end of the line.
I find my wallet inside my bag. I only have a twenty dollar bill, and I’ll need it tomorrow, but I pull it out anyways. “Here, sir, I want you to take this.”
He looks at the outstretched bill with surprise and pushes my hand back. “No need to call me ‘sir’; just call me Teddy.”
Seeing that he won’t willingly accept the money, I place it in his lap. “Sorry for being so rude earlier; I really enjoyed your story. I hope you have a good Thanksgiving, Teddy.”
I turn to leave the train, but balk just short of the sliding doors. After some hesitation, I face the man one last time. “I can’t leave without asking you something.”
His expression of surprise hasn’t left his face. “Go right ahead, miss.”
I subconsciously squeeze my hands into fists and think of the last conversation I had with my mom. “Do you ever regret leaving your family? Just cutting them out from your life,” I look anxiously to the old man for an answer, “even though they disrespected your dreams?”
He plays with the string that once sewed a button onto his pea coat. After a thoughtful moment, he finally answers. “I wouldn’t know,” he says, “I was the one left behind.” He stands up, and for the first time I notice something behind his legs. It’s a slim briefcase with words engraved on it in the bottom right corner:
- THEORDORE B. MULLIGAN
MULLIGAN AND ASSOCIATES
He presses my money into my hand. “I appreciate the thought, but don’t rush to assumptions; Harvard law, remember?” Picking up his briefcase, he nods at me. “This is my stop, and I’m quite sure it’s yours too. Now, be safe in the dark, miss, and rush on home. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.”
After he leaves, I stare at his back until it disappears. Finally alone on the train in the midst of the one sleepy part of New York City, I pull out my phone from my bag and bring up my call history. My mom first called two weeks after I arrived at NYU. As I continued to neglect her calls, her attempts became more frequent. Eventually, I felt no guilt from clicking “ignore” each time. She was as angry with me for leaving as I was with her for preventing me from doing so. I planned on supporting myself. I saved a good amount of money before coming to New York and was going to look for some work right after arriving; however, plans are hardly ever that simple.
I step out of the train, close my eyes and exhale before clicking “call”. The button brings up her photo ID. In the picture I have of her, she’s smiling so genuinely and her eyes crinkle at the side. The sun reflects off of her wavy brown hair. I remember that day pleasant spring afternoon; she had been working for a good hour or two, so I brought out a glass of cold lemonade for her. She laughed, pleased by my surprise, and I pulled out my phone and captured that joy in a photo. Each time she called, I saw that smile, frozen in time. Never before did I imagine her actual face on the other side of the phone line after I hung up on every call.
The other end clicks, and I quickly bring my phone to my ear.
“Hello? Avery, is that you?” Relief drips from her voice.
I walk out of the train station and back into the bustling night. People push past me, not giving me a second glance. They navigate the city streets like a map, so focused on reaching that “X- marks- the- spot”.
Looking up, I notice that a few stars have broken through the darkness and thick layer of city pollution; they’re the first I’ve seen in four months. And in that moment, I think about how they’re brighter than any skyscraper’s windows could ever be and how some nights I can’t fall asleep to the sound of traffic and how utterly and intensely I crave my grandma’s pumpkin pie.
Grace Shen is a high school sophomore in Cherry Hill. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and drawing. She plays piano outside of school and clarinet for her school’s band and also partakes in other clubs such as student government, the school newspaper, and her school’s Science Olympiad team.
the reason i am here in the first place
from look of the misnomered pleasantville apartments, one wouldn’t think that it was such a filthy place to inhabit. once one walks into the lobby, he/she would begin to have some suspicions, but mostly from the shady looking character working at the front desk. if one made it into the hallways, he/she definitely would be having some second thoughts, due to the mysterious stains and the lingering stench of mouse feces. yet here my mother and i are, in the hallways of the unpleasantville apartments, standing unflinching in front of the door to our new apartment, both of us worried about what we might encounter once the door is unlocked. neither of us move until we hear a door slam down the hall. my mother scrambles for the keys.
she swings the door open to reveal our new apartment, her face full of false excitement as she squeezes my forearm. “aren’t you so glad, james? finally, an apartment of our own; this is so great!” i hate to break it to her, since she seems so happy about us finally moving out of her ex-boyfriend’s apartment, but honestly, i would have preferred his hellhole over this one.
first of all, there were no leaks or peeling paint or mouse droppings at todd’s. secondly, at todd’s, we had real furniture. all my mother could afford on her own is a couple folding chairs and some surprisingly sturdy cardboard boxes to use as tables. (of course, this isn’t including food, clothes from goodwill, and the mattress and blankets that todd let us keep.)
my mother whispers my name again, and i realize i must not have answered her. i can’t tell her that, frankly, this place sucks, so i lie, “oh, yeah, mom, it’s nice.” sometimes, i’ve realized, it’s better to just lie to her to protect her feelings. she actually smiles.
courtesy of todd, all our furniture (or lack thereof) was brought over yesterday. to be honest, i think it’s because he wanted us out as soon as possible, but mom insists it’s because he’s a good person at heart. (maybe he is, although he lacks one, so. it’s a paradox.) this is how mom always is over her ex-boyfriend’s—she dumps them because they’re heartless, but then she tries to explain to me why they are “good people at heart”. i think she just doesn’t want me to go around assuming everyone’s a loser, which is what i do anyway, so she’s failing. though you got to give her brownie points for trying, i’ll say.
“are you excited for school tomorrow?” she asks. i want to ask her why a fifteen-year-old would be excited for school, but i don’t, because then she’ll feel bad for asking, so i just smile and nod. that always seems to work with her, because she looks relieved that i didn’t blow up with angry emotions. i know she’s upset about having me switch schools for the third time this year, even though i try to tell her that i don’t care because everyone at my old school sucks anyway and the people at this one probably will too. (she just laughs.)
she sits in a blue folding chair and gives me a way too cheerful smile. “see, james? comfy,”
i just smile and nod, and then she suggests we go to sleep, even though it’s not even six p.m. yet. but i can see she’s tired and worn out, so i just say okay, and pretend to be asleep until i can hear her breathing steady into the rhythm of sleep. i try to clean up the mouse droppings with a plastic spoon, which is disgusting and makes me want to vomit, but someone needs to clean it up and it certainly won’t be mom. (not that she doesn’t care; i’m sure she does. she just works almost all day and most nights. she has, like, five jobs, and all of them suck. i’d get a job, but she gets mad at me when i ask.) after that’s done, i leave her a note to tell her i’m going out and add the time.
i hurry out of the disaster called the pleasantville apartments and make my way down the street. the house keys jingle and jangle in my pocket; my ratty white reeboks slap the pavement. it’s late november, the cold air of december is beginning to creep in, and i’m glad i’m wearing a thin jacket. the elbows are worn out, but it helps keep most of the rest of my upper body warmish.
the town that we now live in is not unordinary. i can see the glowing sign of an acme in the distance, and there’s a couple family-owned shops lining the street on either side. there’s a bakery, a consignment shop, a café, the works. i jam my fists into the pockets of the jacket and look at the other shops. there’s a nice looking cd shop—it’s not exactly bustling with people, but most of the prices look reasonably low. really should get a new mp3 player; i didn’t see my old one at the apartment. i had all my cds in a cardboard box, and my prehistoric laptop, but no mp3 player. i bet todd stole it. (despite my mother’s protests, he’s really not good at heart.)
i spend a while wandering aimlessly around, and finally see a fluorescent bank sign announcing the time and temperature—it’s almost 8:30. i decide to head home. it’s not too far away, as i’m home within ten minutes. mom’s sitting up in “bed” with the lights on (all of them…), watching the door. when i walk in, she smiles and says, “oh, james, i was afraid you got hit by a car.”
i roll my eyes and then tell her i did and i’m the ghost of james delaney coming to seek revenge on her (for reasons unknown). she doesn’t like that.
then she holds up my note and asks me, “james, are you maybe developmentally disabled, or just lazy? because you don’t use capitals.” she always asks this, and frankly, it’s annoying. whenever i give her the answer, she always just shakes her head and says that she hopes this new school will finally fix that. that’s another thing about my mother. she doesn’t understand me.
“for the umpteenth time, mom, it’s unfair to lowercase letters. i find capitalization as confusing, aggravating, and just plain stupid as gay republicans.” i grumble and toss her the keys. she misses, but barely even flinches as it flies past her head and crashes into the wall. she just shakes her head and mumbles about how sorry she is for disrupting my mental development and such. to be honest, i don’t think she screwed up (too badly) because i turned out okay. just okay. i hope.
she suggests we actually go to bed this time and i nod, and we lie down on the mattress and fall asleep within seconds. it’s been an exhaustingly long week for us.
the day i meet shiloh
the following day, i am forced by law to attend the revolting social jail called “school.” don’t get me wrong: i am all for everyone gaining knowledge so we can survive as a human race and whatever, but you’ll have to agree with me that “school” has become more of a social gathering (for better or for worse) and less of a place to learn. not that we’re not learning—we are. just more about how much we all secretly hate each other than anything of actual importance, in my opinion. there are some classes that you do obtain knowledge in more than others, but mostly i just really hate school.
the bus stop is only a block away, near the cd store i passed the previous night. i think i’m the only one there at first, so i sigh happily and lean against the bus stop sign. maybe i’ll have some moments of blissful peace until the yellow hell on wheels arrives.
at my sigh, however, someone jumps up from a bench under a tree in a little grove behind me and walks over. it’s a girl, with a baggy t-shirt advertising a band that i like (so i know she has spectacular taste in music) and some gray-wash skinny jeans. she has worn-out reeboks, too, but they’re black and not white. she has her hair cut short, ending just below her chin, and it’s curly and red and frizzy. her eyes are big and brown, which i find really amazing since i’ve never met anyone with red hair and brown eyes before. she’s unusually short and pale and thin, and she has an oxygen tank on one of those little steel carts. she stops next to me and looks up at me. (i’m almost five ten, and i’m estimating she’s about four nine.)
she smiles and says, “hi, you’re new.” i don’t know what to say to her, so i just kind of jut my chin in her direction. she motions for us to sit down over on the bench, and we do. it takes her an extra moment, because she’s fiddling with her oxygen tank and the cannula tubes wrapped around her ears and the nubbins in her nose. she sees me watching and laughs, pointing a thumb at her oxygen tank. “cystic fibrosis,” she explains. “doctors says my life expectancy is 27.” and oddly, she laughs again, her eyes crinkling and her smile lighting up her face.
“oh,” i say, mostly because i feel like i have to say something. i feel dumb, and i bet i look dumb, too, but the girl with the oxygen tank doesn’t seem to mind. she just waves it off and cracks her knuckles.
“the name’s shiloh.”
“james,” i respond, and stare at the asphalt street. anything to keep my attention off her oxygen tank, because i think that’d be rude. usually i don’t care if i’m impolite, but something about shiloh makes me want to have her like me. i find my eyes wandering from the street to her oxygen tank. dammit.
“don’t be embarrassed about me, please,” she rolls her eyes. “i hate when people do that—try not to look at me. that includes the oxygen tank. that’s part of me, too. it’s my lungs. if humankinds’ lungs were exterior, would you purposely look away in fear that i’d be offended? no! just like you wouldn’t give a second thought to checking me out.” she pauses, and winks at me. “because i know you were. no one can resist thiiiis.” she gestures to herself. i find myself blushing. i thought i was being subtle. “don’t worry. i like you, james. you’re good at listening. or just hate talking, either way works, because i adore talking. have to talk before i die, you know?”
it strikes me odd how much she didn’t seem to care about dying, but i like it. she talks a little bit more, about how much school sucks and why all the people there are annoying in one way or the other. she’s sarcastic and witty, cracking jokes that make me laugh until my lungs ache and beg for air, and sometimes she gets rather dark, talking about death and how much she just doesn’t care, because what can she do about it? it’s death, and you shouldn’t fear the reaper and such. every once in a while, she breaks for a slight cough and says it’s just a tickle in her throat.
the school bus arrives too early (well, technically, it’s late, but i wish it would never arrive so i can keep talking to shiloh), and shiloh takes my wrist and pulls me into the closest empty seat on the bus. she talks almost the whole time, pausing to catch her breath and cough and wait for my awed responses. finally, she gets very quiet and looks up at me, eyes wide, and whispers, “now it’s your turn.”
i don’t say anything. she keeps looking at me expectantly, and finally i nod and tell her about my mother and the unpleasantville apartments and todd and capitalization and republicans and mp3 players. she listens the whole time, and when i’m done, she looks up at me and whistles, long and slow.
“well, then, james, looks like you need a dose of shiloh.”
then she jumps back into a monologue, full of sardonic statements and complaints and praises, and a thought begins to form in the back of my mind.
My second dose of shiloh
i meet shiloh at the cd store so we can walk to the bus stop together. yesterday, she told me her dad owns it and she lives in the little apartment above it. i told her that that is extremely cool and she agreed. she said her dad’s pretty cool, and even though it’s difficult going down all the stairs with her exterior, portable lungs, she can deal. (“at least i only have twelve more years to deal with it, haha!”)
she talks almost the whole way, telling me about free cds her dad gives her, and that’s how she became so obsessed with music. her favorite is nineties alternative rock, but she’ll listen to anything that’s alt rock. plus she likes heavy metal. she really does have good taste in music. we debate our favorite bands.
at the bus stop we discuss politics, and she tells me, “i just can’t wait to vote.”
“my mother isn’t into politics, but i make her vote and she’ll vote for whoever i tell her is the best candidate. so i can pretty much already vote.” i reply, smiling. shiloh scoffs in jealousy and says she wants to meet my mother. she tells me her own mother took off when she learned shiloh had c.f., but shiloh tells me it doesn’t matter. i tell her about how my dad is “out of the picture” and she shrugs and says, “that sucks, but your mom sounds awesome.” i kind of disagree, so she punches me feebly. (not on purpose. i think she wanted to hurt me.)
on the bus, we talk about food. she mentions her favorite food is green beans because nobody likes green beans. i tell her i hate green beans and she laughs and says, “see?” she’s beautiful when she laughs, and also when she coughs, which i notice she’s been doing a little more today. it’s a mucus-y cough, which she says is a result of c.f. she uses a napkin when she coughs.
we walk up to school together, and she says i have permission to continue the food conversation at lunch but we can’t talk anymore about food now due to the fact that she’s getting hungry. i give her the granola bar that’s half of my lunch. she hesitates, but i insist.
by lunch time, i’m positive i’m in love with shiloh. the thought molds in my mind.
the diagnosis party—eight days in
shiloh invites me to her diagnosis party tomorrow night, which is a saturday. i ask her what a diagnosis party is.
“a diagnosis party is the day i got diagnosed, obviously.” she laughs at me as though i’m stupid, but i know she’s joking. “i celebrate it.” i tell her that she’s weird, but i’ll come anyway. she hugs me and suggests i bring my mother and a present. (“no presents, no entry.”)
“okay,” i say.
at home i tell my mother that we have a party to go to tomorrow.
“what for?” she asks. the apartment smells like microwavable lean cuisine. she’s cooking one in the microwave. i tell her it’s for a girl’s diagnosis party and then i have to explain everything. i can feel my cheeks turning flaming red.
“so, shiloh, huh?” she smiles and adds, “your girlfriend?” i tell her i don’t know. (i don’t add that i really hope she is.) we eat dinner in silence.
the following day i ask my mom to borrow five bucks. some teenagers might not find this as horrible and selfish as i do, but considering our financial issues, i feel like satan himself. but she doesn’t even flinch and gives me ten extra dollars—fifteen bucks total! i’m impressed and she says she worked an extra shift at the diner last night to get some extra tips so i could get shiloh a nice gift. i hug her tightly and she seems very surprised. she smells like french fry grease and burgers. i can’t remember the last time i hugged her.
i spend the whole day wandering main street and gawking at stores, trying to figure out what to get shiloh. i want to get her a cd of a band i think she’ll like, but her father owns the aforementioned cd store and she’ll know ahead of time. she told me she works there on the weekends. i decide to buy her green beans. i don’t know why, but i hope it’ll be funny enough to make her laugh. i really want to see that smile again.
the local gas station convenience store is pretty well stocked on generic brand green beans. i get five cans for five dollars and some rhododendrons for my mother. i vaguely remember her saying she likes rhododendrons. or roses? i get some yellow roses as well. the clerk looks annoyed at my addition. i’m short one dollar and she just waves me off and says, “i already fixed up the bouquets.” i smile at her.
at the apartment, i present my mother the flowers and she cries. it’s a big cry of joy, with her shoulders racking back and forth and tears turning into wide rivers flowing down her tired cheeks. i feel happy that she’s happy.
soon it’s time to go to shiloh’s. my heart is pounding on my ribcage, screaming her name. my mother is excited, as well. (i think she thinks i was lying about shiloh not being my girlfriend.)
shiloh’s father—mr. reynolds—opens the door. he’s tall, unlike his daughter, even taller than me. from his clothes, i can derive that he is stuck in the nineties’ grunge period: beanie over his shaggy blonde hair, t-shirt not unlike the kind shiloh wears frequently, jeans with purposeful holes in the knees, and black vans. he greets us with a half-wave with his right hand and says, “’sup. i’m shiloh’s dad, jeremy.”
shiloh’s head pokes out from behind him. “daaaad, you’re embarrassing me in front of my boyfriend.” then she winks her chocolaty brown left eye at me. my mother shoots me a look that says, ‘so she is your girlfriend.’ i feel my cheeks turn a fiery red, and shiloh pushes her dad weakly (but he pretends it hurts and falls to the ground.)
“how about we go into the living room?” she offers and doesn’t wait for my reply. we sit on the overstuffed couch. her apartment is nice, especially when compared to mine. i wait for her to fix her oxygen tank so we can sit down together. like i said, don’t want to come off as rude even though she assured multiple times that it’s okay if i am.
“james,” my mom shoves the convenience store’s plastic bag in my hand. she smiles at shiloh and says, “hi, i’m miss delaney, but please call me anna.”
shiloh grins, “hi, anna, i’m miss reynolds, but call me shiloh.” my mother laughs, and then jeremy takes her into the kitchen for a beer and “adult chat time”. shiloh looks horrified, so i ask her why.
“james, do you not understand what this means? they’re probably going to coo about how cute we look.” i nudge her side gently and she shrugs. “what? wait! give me my present. i’m dying to know what your sorry ass got me.” she grabs the bag and pulls out the green beans. “yum. i will save these for the zombie apocalypse.”
i smirk at her and say there’s no such thing as zombies, and she rolls her cart over my foot. (now that hurts.) then she starts tugging on my shirt sleeve and gawking at me.
“oh! right. my dad wanted me to give you the talk.” this transports me to pre-adolescent times when you’re getting the actual talk, but then she nudges me and adds, “the fact i’m going to die in twelve years probably and we can’t grow old together and stuff.” she pauses to cough in a napkin and tosses it into a wastebasket next to the sofa. “sorry. still got that tickle. anyway, you’re going to be brokenhearted for the rest of your pitiful life.” i look at her, wide-eyed, and feel as though she’s rejecting me. she reads my mind. “my dad’s words, not mine.”
then she rolls her eyes back into her head and says in a raspy voice not unlike a possessed opossum: “but i do want to break your little heart. snap it in two. suck the life out of it. douse it in green beans.”
“screw you, nosetube girl.” i joke, and she smiles and gushes about how insensitive i am. i feel all jittery inside. the thought from the very first day is beginning to finish.
then she squeezes my forearm and whispers, “want to wear my cannula tubes for, like, thirty seconds?”
“what? won’t you, like, die?”
“no. and even if i will, don’t fear the reaper.”
“oh,” i purse my lips, then nod. “yes.”
so i do. it tickles. i laugh and watch her watching me. she’s taking giant, deep breaths, and smiling a big smile that shows off all of her teeth. finally i take them off and put them back on her. “that was cool. i’m glad you didn’t die.”
she closes her eyes and inhales deeply, then coughs a little. “mmm-hmm. i’m glad i didn’t die, too.” i hold her hand and it’s freezing cold. i try to warm it up with my own hands, but i’m cold-blooded so i think it’s making it worse.
suddenly her eyes snap open and she looks at me bug-eyed, like a deer caught in headlights, and very quickly she whispers, “iloveyoujames,” and leans in and kisses me. she tastes salty.
i’m pretty sure fireworks go off because it’s wonderful.
the last day—twenty days in
my body feels like static on a television, all tingly and warm and happy, even though it’s a school day. school seems to suck less, and shiloh holds my hand every second she can. i notice she’s coughing a lot, and she tells me not to worry, just a tickle in her throat. (i’m starting to think it isn’t.)
the thought has been sitting in a filing bin in the corner of my mind, almost complete, needing a little something more.
after school i walk her home, up to her door, and i work up the courage to kiss her goodbye. she still tastes salty. i like it. if only i had realized this would be our final goodbye, i would’ve kissed her for longer. a lot longer. i wouldn’t have let her go.
at home, my afternoon starts out ordinarily. pop a hot pocket in the microwave, lounge on the mattress, procrastinate, eat the hot pocket, hit the books. mom comes home smelling of french fry grease and burgers, i nuke her a hot pocket. she eats it and then she naps.
then the phone rings. i close my english notebook and answer it. “hello?”
“hey, it’s Jeremy, shiloh’s dad.” jeremy’s voice sounds not so much breaking as much as already broken. his voice is thick, like pudding, as though he’s been crying. a lot. “is this james?”
“yeah,” i reply, hesitate, and then add, “is something wrong?”
“yes, actually, shiloh’s in the hospital. she’s had a cold for a while now, and we’ve had to keep an eye on her. it wasn’t a bad cold… but… but, well, it’s really bad. we’re at the local hospital, and she’s sleeping now… but… i’d like you here.”
i tell him we’ll be right there. at least, i think i did, because i’m in a haze, and the air thickens and it feels like i need some portable lungs for myself. i mumble something to my mother, but she seems to know what i’m saying, and next thing i know we’re in shiloh’s hospital room. i’m so distressed i can’t even hear anything. my mom’s hugging me, and everything’s happening in slow motion.
somehow my hand hurts and i think i punched the wall.
it feels like someone punched my heart.
at 3:29 in the morning, shiloh reynolds meets the reaper, fearless.
it happened too quickly.
and then, the thought is complete.
what i figured out
sometimes, i decided, important things deserved capitals. kind of like Shiloh.
Hailey Mullen is in ninth grade and enjoys listening to music, reading, writing, and playing RPG video games (such as Skyrim). She also likes fencing and resides in Lansdale, Pennsylvania with her mom, dad, and younger sister and brother. Her current favorite book is Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
Everybody knows the classic story of Cinderella. I know it especially well, considering that I am her. But here’s the thing: it didn’t happen exactly as they would have you believe.
‘Kay so, my mom never died. I think the writers had it that way to make it seem like I was all lonely and heartbroken and stuff, but my parents actually split up when I was nine, and my dad got full custody. Not that I even liked my mom, anyway. She had like, twelve tattoos of peace and love symbols and her closet was full of eighties clothing. Whenever I said anything to her, she quoted the Bible.
Anyway, my dad married, like, three months later, claiming that he needed to “support me,” and have “another person to provide for me,” even though he had a high paying corporate job that could buy us a mansion, and he totally couldn’t fake a low income that well.
But who could blame him, really? Belle was in-your-face gorgeous, with calm features and flowing blond hair. I felt, like, really lucky to have her as my stepmom. Plus, she was really cool, and always gave me tips on how to do my heavy black eyeliner and lipstick right. I grew to love her much more than my hippie mother.
You heard it right folks. Heavy black eyeliner? Lipstick? Your blond haired, blue eyed princess is goth. As in, neon and black striped socks, black pigtails, death metal t-shirts goth. I’ve even got bat-wing tattoos on my back and about five piercings in each ear, not even counting the rest of my face.
‘Kay so, my stepmother turned out really nice, but my stepsisters didn’t. There were two, just like in the fairytale, and they were both pretty good looking. Like, medium beauty. My dad thought they were the sweetest girls in the world, but you already know not to trust his judgment.
Anyway, the one girl, Charlotte, would like, blackmail me into doing her chores and giving her my allowance – which my dad STILL gave me. At sixteen, you can’t be goth if you’re dad totally babies you. But try explaining that to him. You see, I was hanging out with my friends one night, walking through the woods, me and Andy almost carrying Chealse and Violet, who were high (don’t worry, I’m one of the few in my group who refuses to do drugs) from the pot they had gotten from some guy on the street corner. We ended up stumbling in on a party my neighbors were having in their mansion and my friends said some really stupid things. They threatened to rat us out for trespassing unless we mowed their lawn for the next year for free. They have a HUGE lawn.
‘Kay so, while I was stuck doing chores one night, my sisters declared they were going to a big fancy party held by the rich kid down the block that all the girls in my school swooned over. And I wasn’t allowed to go. At first, I didn’t really care. But as I saw the girls pick out flowery dresses and twirl around in the mirror the princess side of my came out and I totally hid in my walk in and pigged out on chocolate to make myself happier (it was the good stuff from Belgium! Don’t even try to tell me you wouldn’t do that too!).
By the end of the day of the party, I felt like I should not be the only one not at the party, so I opened my closet and shifted through eons of black and funky-colored clothing trying to find the one dress that I had that was okay to wear: a mini black strapless with a line of paperclips down one side on the front. Once I tried it on and stared at myself making poses in the mirror for at least, like, fifteen minutes, I was the teeniest bit excited. I pulled my stick-straight hair into pigtails. I had gone with magenta streaked black hair for the month. It wasn’t as cool as neon colored, but Belle said I had to turn it black at least six months out of the year or I wouldn’t seem as awesomely goth as I was, and she kinda had a point. That was why I made her do my makeup.
After doing my makeup, we were all pumped up, so we hijacked the neighbors Mercedes Benz and drove through some bushes to beat it up a little on the way to the party.
As soon as I stepped through the door, my best and totally emo friend, Sammi, was all “Hey, Ella, over here!” As soon as I goth walked my way over to her, the music changed to a dub-step tune I’d never heard before. Sammi pulled me into the crowd to dance.
When the song was over, she was all, “awww…” and sad, so we hung out near the food table trying to scare off other girls’ dates. When Sammi was all happy again, we danced to a bunch of punk, dub-step, and heavy metal songs. After like, five songs, I started to get blisters on my heels from my awesome lime green high tops (I know. So unfair!). I didn’t want them to rip my fishnets I had gotten for half price at Hot Topic (score!), so I snuck to the bathroom and took them off. My eyes had watered when they scraped against the blister, so my awesome mascara was running down my face and totally gave me a sad clown look.
‘Kay so, I totally couldn’t go barefoot in fishnets (so uncool), so I like, wandered the halls looking for a bedroom or something that might have black pumps. I kinda had to hide from the security guards, though, cause they were coming down the halls every like, five minutes. Eventually, I found a woman’s bedroom and stole black heels from her closet. On the way out, I couldn’t resist the urge to bounce on the bed. It might have been smart to take the heels off first…
Anyways, I totally realized that the rich kid’s mother was at the party, and she might recognize her shoes, so I put them back and kept up my search. I was just about ready to go back to the party barefoot when I came across a quite secretive looking door. I was all intrigued and stuff, so I picked the huge lock with my giant skull barrette and heaved the chain off. The doors were so totally heavy that I had to put my chucks back on for traction.
After I showed off my amazingly awesome strength to whatever particles were in the air at the moment, I took off my chucks again and walked up to the only thing in the room: a glass pair of heels in a glass case with an unlocked door that said DO NOT TOUCH.
‘Kay so, being goth and such, I’m prone to doing the wrong thing. And despite how bad the heels would have looked with my awesome fishnets, I kinda had to try them on.
The weird thing was, they fit perfectly. I was strutting my stuff around the room in them, doing all fancy turns and showy-offy things that are hard to do in heels. As I was grabbing my chucks, prepared to walk back out, the rich kid came in.
He was all, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be in…oh my heavens, you fit the family shoe! Let me kiss your feet!” I’m paraphrasing. But he did bow.
So while I was trying to figure out why the richest kid in school was worshiping my existence, I was sort of swept up into oddly muscular arms. So I was all, “Ahem!”
And he was all, “Sorry. You totally fit the family shoe!”
And I was all, “If you don’t explain yourself, I’ll snap the heels.”
So he kinda threw a small spazfit and I just watched him until he spit out the whole story. Apparently, I was supposed to marry him.
So I was all, “You’re a creep. I’m leaving.”
And he was all, “I’ll rat you out.”
That was, like, about the time that my heartbeat quickened until it was just one constant thuuuuuuuuuuump, and my brain slowed down until, like, it took me a minute per second to process everything. I thought totally unhealthily hard for a minute or so before deciding to go to jail.
But then, there was a knock on the door.
‘Kay so, I spun around really really fast and saw a guy dressed all in white sneak in through the ginormous door. And omigod…he was hot.
So the rich kid was all, “Hey, give us a minute, will you?”
And I was all, “Who is that?!”
And he was all, “He is my servant. And someday, he could be yours.”
And I knew I was being set up. I really, truly did. But he was soooooooooo hot.
“FINE! I guess I’ll marry you.”
And he was all, “Yay!”
And hot boy was all, *ridiculously cute smile in my direction.*
Clara LaBrake is currently in eighth grade at AJHS in Abington and loves writing short stories and poetry. She is an eight grader at Abington Junior High School.You can support young writers like Clara with a contribution to PSJR today. Click here to read how.