Snug Books would like to congratulate the winners in our 2022 writing contest, please take some time to read their entries below!
Winners in the Adult Category:
1st Place: Sara Landers
2nd Place: Georgia Corso
3rd Place: Alexandra Lemus
Winners in the Child Category:
1st Place: Dahlia, age 7
2nd Place: Olivia, age 9
3rd Place: Trinity, age 11
First Place Story in the Child Category
The Bookstore of Baltimore
By Dahlia, age 7
One morning 8-year-old Ja’kai woke to the sound of birds calling. She climbed down the loft and into the magic bookstore of Baltimore. She loved helping out her guests. The magic bookstore had a special box and you put a dollar in a slot then you could type what book you were looking for and BOOM! The book would fly to you! But in order to keep the magic running there was a magic crystal. If it was stolen then all was doomed and the magic would go away forever.
Meanwhile, Ja’kai was helping Mrs. Mikia her next-door neighbor. She was looking for books about cats. They both laughed as the books flew off the shelves. Mrs. Mikia left.
Ja’kai went to check on the crystal. But when she entered the closet the crystal was gone! Ja’kai started to freak out. She ran to get her parents. They gasped when she told them about it.
The next morning Ja’kai flung off her sheets and ran downstairs. She ate breakfast and got dressed then she ran outside to tell all her neighbors about the crystal. They all thought it was terrible and claimed they did not do it but Ja’kai knew it was not lost. That meant somebody stole it.
Ja’kai worried for weeks. She wondered if they would ever find it. Ja’kai went to her cousin. She had not checked there yet and she had a feeling that her cousin would understand. He had not been coming that often either so she went to go to see him.
Her cousin was in his room staring at something shiny. Her cousin jumped out of his seat when Ja’kai said, “Hi! What is in your hand”?
“Nothing,” said her cousin. His name was Tommy but Ja’kai called him Tom for short.
“Tom spill the beans,” said Ja’kai.
“Fine I stole the crystal. I am jealous that you live in a magic bookstore so I stole it. My parents do not know because they are always gone but you live in a magic bookstore with your parents but I guess I should not steal stuff.”
“You shouldn’t,” said Ja’kai smiling as they went back home to put the crystal away.
Second Place Story in the Child Category
The Secret Tunnels of Baltimore
By Olivia, Age 9
Our story begins on one cold day in the year 1931. There were four kids named Odette, Frank, Benjamin, and Meg. Meg was a fruit seller. Odette was a newspaper seller. Frank was a car cleaner. And Benjamin was a window cleaner. All four children were very poor and did not have much money. The Great Depression was not a time to have fun. This made it very hard for them to get a break. Until one day…
I’m so bored exclaimed Odette. Odette was waiting for someone to buy her newspaper. Not much going on over here either, said Meg. No high risks today, said Benjamin. On the other hand, Frank was just lying down in the grass sleeping! All four children were starving.They did not have much money so they couldn’t afford food unless they paid for it. I wish we could eat the fruits from the farm, said Meg. Meg’s parents did not allow her to eat the vegetables that were for their customers. This was sad news since the children were often hungry.
But then a strange woman appeared who was wearing clothes that looked too modern. What was going on? The woman said I am Odette from the future. Next a strange man appeared who claimed to be Benjamin from the future. Then another strange woman appeared who seemed to be Meg from the future. Lastly, there was a man who seemed to be Frank from the future. The four strangers from the future told the kids there were secret passageways in Baltimore and if they looked carefully they could find them!! Then they left.
I wonder what that was about? Odette exclaimed. Frank wondered what was up and Meg said this seems weird! Agreed, exclaimed Benjamin.
Weeks had passed when they finally found the secret passageways! They were walking home one day when they stumbled past a door. They slipped and fell right down into the tunnel! What in the name of Baltimore is going on, exclaimed Odette. This must be what our future selves were talking about.
As they went further underground it got colder and colder. Then they reached the bottom of the tunnel. They saw a climbing wall and a science lab! There was also a garden and what seemed to be a stage.
They all ran over to places where they each felt that they belonged. They went to the tunnels week after week, month after month. Until one day joy had come into their lives and they no longer needed the tunnels to escape. They were safe now and they were happy.
Little did they know that the tunnels had decided their destiny. Benjamin became a famous rock climber. Odette became one of the first women to win a Nobel prize. Meg became a famous gardener and began to write many books. Frank became a famous actor and starred in many movies and plays.
The tunnels of Baltimore saved the lives of many poor children who just wanted to have fun. But who is the tunnel creator? I can't exactly tell you but all I can say is that she’s among the fearsome four. But, that is a story for another day.
Third Place Story in the Child Category
Please note this story has some curse words.
Tenya and Katsuki's
by Trinity, age 11
“Hey, Tenya? I’ve got a question for ya, and believe me, I’m not trying to be an ungrateful bastard or something like that, but why don’t you ever cook for me?”
Tenya almost spat out the water he had in his mouth, his cheeks turning bright pink at Katsuki’s question. Part of it was because he still wasn’t exactly used to how rough Katsuki’s vocabulary could be in some moments, but also because this question was something he had been afraid of ever since they started dating. It was like a ticking time bomb as Tenya wondered when Katsuki was finally going to bring it up.
“I’m sorry?” Tenya said after swallowing. It was simultaneously an ask for clarification and a genuine apology.
“Look, I get that you have a lot of crap going on and that you have more responsibility in class than the rest of us do, but whenever we do date nights in my dorm, I cook dinner. Whenever we do date nights in your dorm, I still cook! Or we order takeout. And not that takeout isn’t great every once in a while, but I’m gonna be honest, I’ve never seen you actually cook something before. I feel like you wouldn’t eat a damn thing if someone didn’t make food for you. That’s kind of a turn-off.”Tenya frowned deeply, his face turning redder by the second.
He tried to open his mouth and offer Katsuki a response, but honestly, what was there to say? The reason was just downright embarrassing, and he felt like an explanation would only further sour Katsuki’s opinion of him.
However, Katsuki’s eyes widened when he realized how upset he’d made Tenya. “Hey, quit looking at me like that. I’m not trying to make you feel bad, Tenya. I’m just asking the reason why.”
Tenya averted his eyes and stared down at the table he’d set up for them. He sighed heavily. “The truth is, I don’t know how to cook,” he admitted. “I know it’s shameful. It’s an embarrassment to me that I lack such a basic skill for survival. But I was never taught how when I lived at home, and I… well, I haven’t really had time to learn since we all moved into the dormitories.”
Katsuki blinked, then furrowed his brow in annoyance. “Your parents sent you away from home without teaching you how to make food for yourself?”
“I suppose that’s just how it goes in families like mine,” Tenya said sheepishly. “Growing up, my family had private chefs to make meals for the family. And my family is very traditional when it comes to things like multiple generations living in the house together. My parents weren’t expecting me or my brother to leave home, so we weren’t taught how to do things like that.”
Honestly, there were many things that Katsuki wanted to say about Tenya’s parents, and going off about how stupid it was not to teach their children basic life skills was now at the very top of his list. He had a slew of colorful words at the ready that he would probably be unloading to Kirishima and the others tomorrow. But the last time Katsuki had tried to criticize Tenya’s parents, Tenya had not reacted well at all. Tenya’s relationship with his family was very different from Katsuki’s relationship with his own. Katsuki was trying to get him to unpack his feelings about them little by little, but for now, he would choose a different tactic.
Without saying anything, Katsuki began to pack the food they’d ordered back into its containers, and when he was finished, he stood up from the table.
Tenya panicked. “W-wait—!! Katsuki, where are you going!?”
“C’mon,” Katsuki said, picking up the containers of food and then tilting his head in a gesture for Tenya to stand up and follow him. “Let’s go make some real food.”
“Oh,” Tenya said. He cleared his throat and stood up.
“What, did you think I was gonna fucking break up with you over this?” Katsuki asked, raising an eyebrow.
“For the sake of my dignity, I am not going to answer that question,” Tenya returned. “I’ve already embarrassed myself enough tonight.”
Katsuki snorted with laughter. “Not if I have anything to say about it.”
Tenya stiffened, peering at Katsuki over his glasses. “I don’t like that.”
“You know my favorite way to teach is trial by fire,” Katsuki said with a wicked grin.
To Tenya’s relief, the kitchen was empty when he and Katsuki entered it. He didn’t much feel like setting the stove on fire in front of all of his classmates, or whatever was going to happen while Katsuki looked over his shoulder and told him what to do. Not that it would have mattered anyways, because Katsuki would have chased anyone off who got in their space during date night.
“What are we going to be making tonight, anyways?” Tenya asked as Katsuki casually walked over to the barstools behind the counter and sat down, right after putting their takeout into the fridge.
“ You are gonna be making ramen. And I mean real ramen, not that instant packet crap,” Katsuki told him. “But don’t worry, even a toddler could make good ramen with the right ingredients. As long as you listen to what I tell you, there’s no way you can fuck it up.”
“Alright… if you say so,” Tenya conceded, even if he was still nervous.
To his surprise, though, Katsuki was right. Katsuki taught him how to make perfect soft-boiled eggs and tofu, how to season his broth, how to prepare scallions and seaweed, and how to cook noodles for a perfect bowl of ramen. And, he was able to do all of it without overboiling anything or setting the stove on fire. In the end, he’d succeeded in making a dinner that was acceptable even by Katsuki’s harsh standards, and none of it had been as scary as he thought it would be.
“What do you think?” Tenya asked expectantly, watching while Katsuki took his first few bites.
Katsuki mulled it over, taking an excessively long time to chew and swallow his food like he was a professional critic or something. “It’s no five-star restaurant special, but…” he began, and smirked broadly when he saw Tenya furrow his brow in annoyance, “it’s not bad at all. I might even say you did a damn good job.”
Tenya breathed a sigh of relief.
A note on the adult stories. Please note that some of the stories contain language and depict events that might be triggering to some individuals. The opinions expressed within the content are solely the author's and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of Snug Books, LLC
First Place Story in the Adult Category:
By: Sara Landers
Earlier today a young woman knocked on my door and asked me if she could scatter her mother’s ashes in my back yard. I asked if she had them with her. She looked stricken and then I felt bad. I said it as a joke because I thought she must be kidding but she wasn’t. I wanted to say of course you can’t scatter your mother’s ashes in my back yard, you weirdo, now get off my porch. But she was so earnest. Apparently, her mother grew up in this house, is now on her deathbed, and has asked her family to see about having her ashes scattered here. The girl told me that no one else in her family would even consider coming here to ask and they said she was foolish to do it. I wanted to tell her she should have listened to her family. It was too morbid. Too strange. Still, I told her I’d have to think about it. She gave me a letter to read but I set it on the little table next to the front door and went back to my Zoom meeting.
My wife and I are taking our daughter Mia to spend the night with her friend Isobel. Mia is seven and this is her first sleepover ever. Isobel only lives four houses away and the girls have been playing together since they were brought home from the hospital one day apart. Isobel’s mother Carla and I would lie them next to each other on a big blanket spread out on the living room floor like two pink burritos while we talked about cracked nipples and the consistency of newborn poop. My wife Rhonda has Mia’s overnight bag on her shoulder and we each have one of Mia’s hands.
“You know you can ask Isobel’s mom to call us no matter what time it is if you want to come home,” Rhonda says. Mia takes a giant leap across one of the sidewalk squares and I have to let go of her or get my arm pulled from the socket. She lands on both feet in a half squatting position and brushes her wild curls from her face.
“I know,” she says and makes another jump to the next sidewalk square.
“Even if you wake up in the middle of the night,” I say.
“I know,” she says again, and her third jump is her longest one yet, she makes it all the way to the yellow salt box on the corner. Isobel comes hopping down her front steps and the girls clasp hands and go skipping into the back yard. When Rhonda and I walk back to our house without our girl I want to run back and get her.
We are on the couch in our fuzzy slippers with Netflix cued up when I remember the young woman from earlier today and her letter. I get up and get it from the table by the door and I tell Rhonda about her request.
“Isn’t it morbid?” I say as I finish the story and pull the folded sheets of paper from the envelope.
Rhonda shrugs. “I don’t know,” she says. “The ashes will probably just blow away; they won’t really be in our backyard.”
“So you’re okay with strangers coming and dumping the remains of one of their family members on our property?”
“What does the letter say?” she asks instead of answering.
I unfold the looseleaf and read.
My mother’s name is Bev Gardner and she is forty eight years old.
I stop reading because this woman is only six years older than me. I look over at Rhonda, whose mother passed away two years ago when she was sixty-two, and we thought that was young. I keep reading.
Bev grew up in your house on Holder Avenue. She lived there until she was eighteen and then moved to a house on Ailsa Avenue with my dad. Once I was born my dad wanted to move us out of the city, but my mom wanted to stay. After a couple years my younger sister was born, and Dad won. We moved to the county, but mom always said she’d be back.
She has small cell lung cancer and when the doctor told her she probably had less than a year she asked me to write down these things and share them with you. She said, “tell them my story, they’ll understand. They’ll say yes.” When she says that and things like that, no one in my family, not my sisters, or my dad, not my aunts, uncles, grandmother, or cousins will look her in the eye. None of them will come to your house and ask you. They all think you live “downtown” and “they might get shot.”
Rhonda makes a huffy sound. I read on.
Here is what my mother has said about growing up in your house:
When I was little the fruit man used to come down our street with his horse. You could hear him loud and clear before you could even hear the clip clop of the horses. STRAWWWW-Berr-EEZ! WAAUUGH-der melon! His booming voice was the cue for my siblings and I to grab a handful of change from the mason jar by the back porch and run outside to meet him. My mom would come outside and ask him to pick us the ripest watermelon or the juiciest berries from his cart and we would count out the coins to pay him. Then we’d go back inside, and mom would cut up the watermelon and put it into a big Tupperware. She’d let us have a few pieces right away and we’d take it out on the porch to eat it, the juice streaming between our fingers. Aunt Terry and I would bury the seeds in a corner of the yard in hopes of growing our own watermelons.
On summer nights when school was out, we would walk to Walther Gardens Snowball stand, is it still there? My brothers always got sky blue, and my sister and I got egg custard. Sometimes, if we had the extra quarter, we’d get marshmallow on top and have sugary white mustaches by the time we got back home. Then we’d stay out catching lightning bugs as they emerged for the evening. Mom gave us old pickle jars and we poked holes in the lids and put some grass inside. We’d line the jars up on the porch steps and watch as the bugs inside glowed greenish yellow like tiny lights inside the glass.
I used to play Barbies with Linda Chavione from next door in our blue plastic kiddie pool in the summer that sat so long in the yard we had a circle of dead grass by the time the pool cracked and warped and had to be thrown out.
My dad fell down the basement steps and broke his foot when I was a teenager. He had to stay home from work for several weeks. He said those basement steps needed a railing and I asked him if I could make one. He sat with his leg propped up on the hassock in the kitchen and called out instructions to me, as I measured and sawed and drilled holes. I attached the long wooden beam and Dad said it was the best-looking railing he’d ever seen and that no one would be in danger of falling any more.
I had my first kiss with Henry Chuckwill under the awning in the back when I was fourteen. Ricky Pinkert took me to junior prom and when we came home Uncle Tommy and Uncle Jerry got Ricky drunk off peach schnapps in the basement and he puked in the corner near the sump pump.
I move on to the second page.
I chipped my tooth tripping up the back steps. At the time I thought it was the end of the world, I couldn’t imagine anything worse, I hated those stupid concrete steps. Now I think of that incident with fondness. Isn’t funny how that works.
There is a small page break and then the writing resumes.
My mom has many more stories, these are just some of them. I hope I’ve conveyed what your house has meant for her. If you’d consider honoring her request, that would be amazing. You can call or text me at the number below, I hope to hear from you.
Rhonda and I are both quiet as we finish reading.
“What do you think?” I ask.
“I’m okay with it,” she says and by the way her voice sounds, I know she is thinking of her own mother. I’m still not sure.
My cell phone rings and I see that it’s Isobel’s mom. I answer and Carla tells me that Mia would like to talk to me. I look at Rhonda who is on alert.
“Hey baby, are you okay?”
“Hi momma. I’m okay.” She’s quiet and I can hear her breathing.
“I want to come home,” she says simply. She doesn’t sound frightened or anxious, she says it conversationally.
“Did something happen?” I ask.
“No, I just want to come home,” she says.
“Okay, mommy will come get you. Put Isobel’s mom back on the phone.” I hand my cell to Rhonda and throw a hoodie on over my pajamas.
When I get home with Mia, the three of us snuggle up together on the couch. Mia seems totally fine. It’s late for her, after nine, and she’s sleepy. Rhonda asks what happened. She says that nothing happened. I ask if she had an argument with Isobel.
“So why did you want to come home?”
“Because her kitchen is shaped like our kitchen, but you know where we have our apples and bananas in a bowl on the counter near the sink?” Mia says and we nod. “At Isobel’s house they have a big coffee maker right there and no bowl with fruit in it.”
We wait for her to go on, but she doesn’t say anything else. Just as I open my mouth to ask another question she says, “While I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom at Isobel’s house, I was standing on the rug in front of her sink, but her rug doesn’t move.”
“What do you mean her rug doesn’t move baby?” Rhonda says and runs her hand across Mia’s forehead, pushing curls away.
“It stays still. In one place,” Mia says. “In our house I can move our rug with my foot. When I’m hot I slide the rug away from in front of the sink and my feet get cool from the floor. But Isobel’s rug doesn’t move.” She finishes and settles herself deeper into my lap.
“But you’ve been to Isobel’s house a million times and where her coffee maker is, or her bathroom rug never bothered you before did it?” I say. She’s so tired now I can feel her getting heavier in my lap and her head is buried near my armpit.
“It’s not comfy,” she says softly and turns her face so that her cheek is against Rhonda’s arm but her body is still in my lap. She is practically asleep. Rhonda and I look at each other. We both smile.
“You put Mia to bed,” she says and then pauses before saying, “I’m going to email Bev Gardner’s daughter.” She’s looking carefully at me, and I nod. Then I take our daughter up the steps that creak in all the familiar places and tuck her into bed.
Second Place Story in the Adult Category
By Georgia Corso
Baltimore is famous for its crazy springs. The vernal equinox occurs typically in the third week of March, but winter can come back in the fourth week with a howling blast of Arctic wind. And so it was this March; three windy nights gusting up to 35 mph and temperatures dropping far below freezing, into the low 20s. My darling daffodils, which had joyously sprouted and opened their petals and perianths to that deceptive sunshine and spring warmth the week before, were bent over, their stems weakened from the frozen nights, their lovely blooms blown face first into the dirt and grass. I rarely treat myself to a cut bouquet; I want everyone who passes by to enjoy these sunny harbingers of spring, a charming accent to my yard, and they do not last long once cut. But, as they were unable to be lifted upright again, I regretfully got a pair of scissors, raised their little faces, cut the stems, and brought them inside to warm water in a vase. As I looked at this bright, lemony bouquet I was transported back in time, many years ago.
When we first moved to Mount Vista Terrace in Northeast Baltimore City, I met my neighbor Amelia (Miss Amelia to me,) an older Black woman who lived across the street. She had a big family and several generations lived there. She was mother, grandmother, or great grandmother to all, and owner of the house. Miss Amelia was soft spoken, gentle, with a wisdom born of many years. Our street is lined on both sides with American Foursquares, one of the post-Victorian architectural styles popular in the early 1900s. These houses were perfect for the narrow lots, and were multi-story, allowing more square footage of housing on a smaller footprint of land. While my house sat at the same level as the sidewalk, her house sat way up on a hill, the apex and crown of the terrace, looking down kindly on all the other houses.
There were two flights of ancient concrete steps to Amelia's front door. On that hill, rising from the sidewalk, were many daffodils, of all kinds, naturalized in whatever else was growing there. Enjoying years of accumulated mineral-rich silt, rain-washed down from the more level but gently sloping yard at the top, they basked in the warm western exposure of the afternoon sun. They had multiplied over many years, paying no mind to the competition from grass and groundcovers. Some of the daffodils I knew; no collection would be complete without the big, egg yolk yellow King Alfreds, with their matching long trumpets, the snowy alabaster Mount Hoods, and my favorite, Ice Follies, their short perianth of delicate ivory ruffles, tinged with the slightest kiss of yellow towards the center. Some of the others had tiny tightly ruffled cups of orange, some had larger cups in creamy white. They were all exquisite; an excellent collection of vintage hybrid daffodils and dazzling narcissus. Even a relatively inexperienced gardener could tell Amelia had been a master gardener. But it is not easy to till the soil on a steep hill and these were the survivors of her younger years.
I forget exactly how I first met Amelia, but when we talked, I was drawn to her grace and strength. Something about her eyes, especially when she looked into mine, touched my very heart. Her gestures, her movements, her expressions, all reminded me hauntingly of my maternal grandmother, long since passed, whom I had adored. She even had a way of sighing at the end of a sentence, almost exactly the way my grandmother did. So, whenever I would see Miss Amelia outside, I'd wander over nonchalantly and see if she was up for a litttle chat. Unbeknownst to Amelia, for me it was like a visit with my grandmother. She had good advice and, for me, new ideas on recipes from an African American perspective, memories of the neighborhood from previous decades, and the most fascinating stories, from years way back before I was born, and so it was always an enjoyable encounter.
One bright spring day, my daughter, just a child, came to me, smiling proudly with a bouquet of daffodils. The situation gave me pause. She was glowing. I didn't want to spoil the moment, but there were no daffodils growing in our yard at the time. I asked her, "Where did you get those flowers? Show me." She walked me out to the sidewalk and pointed across the street to Miss Amelia's hillside. I think every little girl does this at some point in time or another, sometimes unknowingly. I sighed, knowing what I had to do. "Well, Hon, they are not our flowers. We will have to return them." My daughter's face went from beaming cherub to horrified elf.
But we crossed the street and up the long flights of concrete stairs. My daughter didn't want to go, and pulled on my hand, but I held firmly onto hers and said, "These are Miss Amelia's flowers and we need to return them to her." After a couple of knocks, Amelia came and carefully opened the inside door. She was curious about me standing there, with one hand holding firmly to a shy little girl she had not met, and the other holding a bouquet of daffodils. I introduced my daughter to her, explained about the flower picking, and expressed our apologies. Our eyes met and Miss Amelia winked at me. She smiled in that wise way that went far beyond just a greeting, and together we gently explained to my daughter how little girls should not pick neighbors' flowers. And we handed the bouquet to Miss Amelia and walked back down the flights of steps. It was one of those bittersweet lessons, a precious little cameo of raising children a mother never forgets.
Years passed like pages in an old storybook; my daughter grew to be a woman and moved out on her own. Amelia died, her family moved away, and her house sat empty for a decade. Then a man bought the house with the intention of recreating it into something completely different, updated, and unlike the other neighboring Foursquares. Teams of men proceeded to tear into the house, completely gutting the interior, filling roll off containers, almost daily, leaving only the barest skeleton inside upon which to build. I actually felt pain watching one of our grand old ladies being hollowed out, all antiquity ripped from her. The house was still undergoing this invasive renovation when, again in March, in the middle of the night, I woke up to see my windows lit up bright orange as though the sun was sitting just outside. I pulled the curtain aside to see Amelia's house now a huge ball of fire, the likes of which I have never seen before or since. There was a face created by the remaining front wall, the monstrous blaze shining through the two second story windows like fiery eyes and the front porch like an open mouth, screaming for help. The fire was out of control. All the Baltimore City Firefighters could do was prevent the powerful fireball from spreading to the adjacent houses. The roof collapsed suddenly like a thunderous earthquake, crushing the charred frame into the foundation's basement below ground level.
As the sun came up, the firefighters were still trying to put out the remaining cinders smoldering under the roof. The house was gone. Then, an excavator came in, tracked up the hill and shoveled the remains, like turning the soil in a garden, to put the fire completely out. Yet, a couple weeks later, in mid-March, all the daffodils came up on the hill. Somehow they had survived the equipment, the floods of water, the broken glass, and the charred wood. Even though the flowers were so beautiful, it would have been a heartbreaking sight for Amelia.
The foundation, filled with the burned out remains, sat for more than a year until a young, creative builder imagined another grand house on the hill. As is my habit, I went over and talked with him. He emailed me photos of other houses he had built nearby. It was encouraging. He bought the lot. Last year, after the daffodils were finished blooming, but still had their greens up, I had the temerity to ask him if he was going to completely renovate the grounds? And, if so, could I dig up the daffodil bulbs? I remember with guilt kind of downplaying how many there were and their beauty. But he said yes, I could have them, they would be destroyed in the course of landscaping anyway.
It was not easy to stand on a hill that steep without sliding, and to do it while footing a shovel was even more treacherous. At my age, I didn't want to find myself rolling down the hill. So, I got a young, strong neighbor to help; he excavated the bulbs, my expert daffodil eyes found their remaining leaves hiding among the grass and weeds. Early summer was not the best time to dig up spring bulbs, but I knew it was now or never. We planted them in my front yard, in a display facing the traffic, where cars driving by would see them. I hoped the bulbs would do well in my yard. The soil of Amelia's hillside was by far darker and richer than mine; my yard has a fair amount of clay. Thankfully, they had the benefit of the top soil that came with them. I made sure he took a generous amount of the soft earth with each bunch. The sun would not be the same as what they had enjoyed on Amelia's hill, either. The afternoon sun of the western exposure was blocked by the shadow of my house. They would have to learn to soak up the eastern rays of morning sun they had never known before. But it was their new home, and the refugee daffodils would have to make the best of it.
This year, in early March, they bloomed, rejoicing, having a lovely time. I was thrilled that they made it! They added a fullness to the orchestra of my smaller, plainer daffodils. Over previous years I had planted quite a few, naturalized in random places. So when that cruel freezing blast rolled in with a fury, knocking half of them face first into the grass, I was infuriated. Daffodils can handle a good frost, but the unseasonable plunge of temperatures, a return to Baltimore's biting cold winter for several nights, with brutal winds, brought them to their knees. That's when I thought, I guess I might as well pick them. Once inside, I very gently rinsed the specks of mud off the blooms and trimmed the stems.
As I arranged this aureate bouquet in the vase, my mind drifted back to that day when I had to take the high road, return the daffodils my little girl brought me, so thrilled, with such love in her eyes. And it suddenly occurred to me that these daffodils were ironically from those exact same bulbs! I had to smile. Decades before, in my heart of hearts, I had truly wanted to keep the flowers. But we had to do what was right and just for Miss Amelia on that day, to teach the next generation respect for elders, respect for neighbors and their property, but also respect for a fellow gardener who had chosen her bulbs quite well, and planted them with love. But today, this particular spring, I was the elderly woman and I could keep the bouquet, almost as though my daughter's little hand was holding them out to me once more.
Second Place Story in the Adult Category
By Alexandra Lemus
I was 16 when I fell in love. I will never forget my first day of school at Blair High School. I was full of anxiety. I had just come from Guatemala and I had only been in America for a month. I was afraid that no one would speak Spanish at the school I was going to attend and that they would bully me for not knowing English.
On the contrary, a counselor greeted me warmly. She took me to my first period class. I introduced myself to all my classmates. Apparently, they all liked what I had to say–they were all so friendly. I liked everyone. But the two boys–Asher and Chay–were different. They treated me wonderfully. They became my first friends. They made me feel great, but Asher treated me like I was his Princess. We spent most of our time together.
One school day at noon, Asher and Chay convinced me to sneak away to go with them to McDonalds. I had resisted their offers in the past, but that day they convinced me. I went with them, but on the condition that I return before the school bus left.
We arrived at McDonalds. We ordered what we wanted to eat. I remember I was so nervous because I was the girl who never disobeyed her parents, I always took their orders and everything they told me was like the law.
I didn't even eat my hamburger because I was so nervous. Time flew by and the school bus left without us realizing it. I remember that I was so nervous that I didn't know what to do.
We decided to walk home. The whole time that we were walking, I worried that my parents would be angry that I disobeyed them. When suddenly my phone started ringing and ringing, it was like touching the devil. It was my mom. I answered instantly.
Mommy: "Why haven't you arrived at the Princess’ house? The girl who lives on the second floor arrived a while ago."
Me:"Mommy! The bus left me."
Mommy: "Mmm…that's strange. You've been at school for more than six months and until now you’ve always left on the bus. In any case, you carry your phone. You don't have irresponsible parents."
Me: "I know, mommy. I'm sorry. Yes."
Mommy: "We're coming for you anyway. We'll be there in five minutes."
Asher: "What did they tell you?"
Me: "My mom is very out of touch with me. She's coming for me. It's better that you leave because she'll get even angrier if she sees me with you."
Asher: "Okay, I'll text you when I get home." He kissed me on the cheek> I got so nervous that I forgot to say goodbye to Chay.
When my parents arrived, they had faces that I had never known they were capable of. They did not speak to me for a long time. Finally, my father decided to speak.
Father: ”This is your first and last time the bus leaves you. I don't know how you will do it but I love you. 3:10 is the last time you have to get home.”
Mommy: “You already heard your father. This is the first and last time that you miss the bus.”
Me: "Yes, mommy. I'm sorry. Yes."
When we got home, I had dinner. I finished my homework and I was chatting with Asher on instagram when he started throwing poetry at me like he had never done before. We always treated each other nicely, but this was something new. I finally decided to ask him what he was up to because he was behaving differently. He told me he wanted to confess something to me tomorrow at school. I had no idea what it was, and the curiosity was killing me. Finally, I asked him what it was and he said, “I'm going to stop beating around the bush. What I want to tell you is that I like you so much that I can no longer hide it.”
This shocked me. I told him, “Don't play with me that way, little face. Seriously. I need you to be honest.”, I believed him because all my friends had already told me how he felt. I was very nervous, but I told him: “You, too. I like you too.”
Asher: "Why didn’t you ever tell me?"
Me: “Because I was afraid to ruin our friendship.”
Asher: "I couldn't hide it anymore, Princess."
The next day I expected to see him in our first class, but not he supposedly had things to do. When it was time for lunch, he called me asking if I wanted to go watch him play basketball. I said, “Well, I'll ask Chay if he wants to go with me and we'll go.”
Chay refused to go with me, so I went alone. When I arrived, nobody was playing basketball. Only a group of Asher's friends were gathered. Suddenly, I saw Asher with a sign that said, “Do you want to be my girlfriend?” and a bouquet of roses in his hands. I was confused. I said, “Who are those roses for?”
The friends yelled, "for you!"
Asher, “Alexa, do you want to be my girlfriend?”
It took me a while to answer because I was nervous. I asked him a question: “Do you want me to be your girlfriend? Make things very clear to me from the beginning because I don't want to be suffering for love.”
Asher, “I really love you, Alexa. You are like the girl of my dreams and you are the one who has moved my heart in this way. Alexa, I really love you and I really want something serious with you.”
I was so nervous that I didn't know what to do. I jumped for joy and I told him “I accept!” I felt butterflies floating in my stomach. Asher was also very nervous and he stole a kiss from me without my permission but I let myself be carried away but it was my first kiss although I never let him know. But I know he knew it. I will always remember that day as one of my favorite days. Everything was so wonderful that I will never forget.
That day, I came home and my parents even asked me why I had such a happy face. I just told them I had a wonderful day.
My daddy said, "I would love to see you like this every day."
I just smiled at him.
For many days, we spent wonderful moments together. We began to spend most of our time with each other. Everything was perfect. When we were together everything was fantastic. I can't even explain how great it was. Asher showed me his love Every day. Every morning I woke up with some beautiful texts to read.
But the happiness did not last that long.
For six months everything was perfect. Wonderful colors, as they say. But then everything changed, The jealousy began. Asher did not like it when any boy approached me. when boys did approach me, he said they wanted something more from me. I knew that he did that because he didn't want to lose me but with time everything got worse. Asher threatened to hit all the boys who approached me or spoke to me. It was terrifying and I couldn't stand what he was doing.
We broke up and got back together every three weeks for the same reasons. I went back to him every time when he went to drugs or to drink and all his friends began to text me to get back together because he was struggling.
I was so in love that I went back with Asher so that he could focus on his life and avoid the bad influences. I preferred to continue in that chaos instead of letting him make his own decisions. Quickly, the perfect relationship became the most terrible relationship.
And then my parents noticed that I was distant and stressed. I felt like I was living in hell. My mom began to ask me what was wrong with me, and I told her ''Nothing. It’s all fine. don't worry. It's just a little stress because of the exams that are coming up this semester.
Mom: “I don't think it's that but it's okay. I'll trust you, but I know you're not.”
Then my dad joined the conversation.
Dad: "What is happening with you my love? You have always been a girl who smiles at everything."
Mom: "I'm scared of the way you're behaving. You know you can trust us."
Me: "Seriously, I'm fine, mommy. Daddy–it's just a little stress from the exams, like I told mom."
Daddy: "Lend me your phone. You know I don't like to do that, but you're not okay and I'm doing what's best for you."
I gave it to them without thinking. I knew that what they would see would disappoint them, but I couldn't stand the situation anymore. My mom started scrolling through my picture gallery. The face she made scared me. iMy mom got mad but then she gave my dad the phone. and she didn't say anything to me. She just looked very unhappy. When my dad saw the photos I had of Asher and the chats, he had questions.
Dad: "What is this, Princess?"
Me: "I'm sorry I let you guys down like this but I really love that boy and we didn't do anything over the line, daddy."
Dad:"The photos aren't bad or anything like that, but it's the chats, my love, that make me angry. How can you be with someone like that?"
Me:,"It's just that he wasn't really like that, daddy. He was so sweet.e agreed to be my boyfriend."
Finally, my mother spoke.
Mom:, "Alexa, how much have I told you to trust us? That we support you in everything."
Me: "I know mommy. But I thought you would never accept what was happening."
Mom:“What I don't accept is this. Mira threatens, and you come back. Enduring things like that is too much, Alexa. ight now you're going to end up with that boy because being with him only hurts you."
Dad: "Just do itIt's what's best for you, my love."
With my heart in pieces in my hands, and with tears running down my face, I had to call him.
Asher: "Hello love, how are you my beautiful Princess?"
Me:" Hello, not good…"
Asher: "What's wrong with you? Are you crying?"
Me: "Asher, we can no longer continue with this relationship. We have already done a lot of damage."
Asher: "Alexa, what's wrong with you? I haven't done anything right now. I know I've been a jerk, but I'm changing for you."
Me: "Please understand: you have been hurting me!"
I cried and cut him off the call.
Asher tried to call me. My parents deleted his number. They blocked it from all my social networks. They took my phone away. They told me I wouldn't have a phone until they saw my recovery and, of course, they decided to change schools.
A week passed and I didn't go to school because my parents were looking for a new place to live, where I could attend a school far away from Asher.
They found a house here in Baltimore and we moved here. In my new home, my parents looked for a psychologist to help me recover. Psychology helped me a lot. It made me understand that I must love myself first and that I must not put up with people with harmful attitudes. I am not saying that I have forgotten Asher. I will not forget him, but I learned an important lesson about love for myself when I walked away.