Tag Archives: 1st Place

Banquet of Crumbs

Banquet of Crumbs

So enamored with our fanciful illusion

As we recline on separate couches

The glare from the television

Piercing the nocturnal haze


Safe with the conjurer’s hand

We dance our psychic tango

Intoxicated with the belief

That the shields work just fine


Elated to once again slip away

From that other universe

Twelve miles from here

Where my wife gently slumbers


Here is our banquet

Cork crumbs in the zinfandel

How can we possibly know

That this will be our last supper?

– James Stephens, 1st Place in Poetry

A Child of the System

A Child of the System

Most adults can recall their childhood as being a safe haven where they were comforted, loved and well cared for.  That’s not how I remember my childhood.  I was a mere statistic, managed by an insensitive social services system.  I was one of 408,425 children placed in foster care.  I was placed there after both my parents were arrested for various crimes ranging from possession to murder.  When being placed in a foster home you can either go to a relative’s home, which happens about twenty-six percent of the time, or you can be placed in a non-relative’s home, which is what happened to me.

Prior to entering the foster care system, I was raised in an abusive environment, which actually helped me develop the survival skills I would need later in life.  You learn quickly how to be quiet and make yourself invisible.  I remember one particular occasion at the age of six, when I came home from school and found my father in a horrible mood.  You could smell the stale and acrid smoke mingling with the alcohol in the air.  The smell was offensive and it was difficult to breathe, and I held my breath as I entered our apartment and proceeded to my room to hide in the closet.  I stayed there until I heard his heavy footsteps pad into his bedroom and shut the door.   My father did not know I had even come home.

A few months later my father left me with a neighbor and never came back, and at the age of seven, I was placed with my first foster family.  I had already seen and experienced so many things a child my age should not have been exposed to.  I did not understand at the time that once your parents are gone you become a ward of the state.  The state places you with a family they have deemed to have a safe and good environment for children without parents.  The state pays that family money to help subsidize the cost they will incur by taking in a foster child.  That family is supposed to provide food, shelter, as well as clothing.  This does not happen in some cases.

The family I was first placed with had three other foster children who were all older than me.  I was given the hand-me-down clothing regardless of the condition.  Since I was the youngest and smallest I was given food after everyone else got their share.  At this point in my life, I was afraid of all adults, and had no one to trust or to look up to.  After about six months of being quiet and invisible I began to stand up for myself.  I became very argumentative and stubborn.  I retaliated.  Subsequently, this led the foster parents to request me to be placed in another foster home.

The second family reminded me of my parents, and I once again found myself slipping back into the role of being the invisible child.  I remember being scared that the foster dad would come in my room while I was sleeping, so I would sleep on the floor under my bed in the closet.  It didn’t stop him from coming into my room, but it helped me fall asleep.  I reached out to the foster mom, but she did not believe me and asked my social worker to have me removed.

I was eight and a half when I was moved to my third family.  This family was the best, because they were caring and treated me like I thought all the other children’s parents were treating them.  It was like a fairytale.  I had people who cared about me and were very patient with me.  I remember being extremely shy and quiet at first.  They helped bring me out of my shell and gave me the encouragement to reach out for the confidence in myself that I was so severely lacking.  I cried when they told me they were moving out of the state and couldn’t take me with them, because I thought I had done something wrong that had drove them away.  I realized and understood later in life that their leaving was not my fault and had nothing to do with me, but at that time I did not understand or realize that.

Over the next year I went through three more foster families due in part because of my attitude, lack of respect, and selfishness.  During this time my grandmother decided to petition the court for guardianship of me.  I remember being taken to the county courthouse, and going before the judge to be asked where I wanted to go, I replied “with my grandmother.”

I was ten years old when I moved in with her and neither one of us knew what we were getting ourselves into.  We quickly realized the support system we thought was there, did not exist.  Every three to six months a new social worker would stop by.  They would make unannounced visits to see us, and were very unprofessional, as they had not taken the time to look at our case enough to learn our names prior to visiting us.  They would refer to their clipboard which contains all the information about our case.  Eventually they stopped coming.  This was around the time my grandmother got sick.

My grandmother passed away from cancer when I was thirteen years old.  This was extremely hard for me as she was the only family I had really ever known and trusted.  She showed me that there are good things in life, and she helped me adjust from being the child that I was to the woman that I am today.  She helped me understand that while bad things happen, that does not mean you can’t pick yourself up from situations and learn from them.  My grandmother taught me that regardless of where you come from or how you grow up, it is up to you to make something of yourself; that your past does not define who you are.  She always said that we are only given things that we can handle and I am so grateful for having her in my life for even the briefest of moments.  What she taught me will last not only for the remainder of my life, but hopefully for my children’s as well.

– Venette Gonzales, 1st Place in Essay

The Right Ingredients

The Right Ingredients

When I was a little girl, I assisted my mother with baking my birthday cake every year.   Being the creative person that she was, my mother always allowed me to select the type of cake and the decorations I wanted to go onto my cake.  My mother taught me how to measure every ingredient and explained to me how the ingredients make the personality of the cake.   After mixing the cake ingredients, we placed the mixture into three round nine inch cake pans, followed by placing them into the oven for baking.  I always peeked through the glass door of the oven to watch the cake rise and bask in the sweet aroma of the baking cakes flowing throughout the house.  Eventually the timer rang and I ran to let my mother know that it was time for the cake to be removed from the oven.  After taking the cake out of the oven we waited for it to cool before we began decorating it with rich, smooth, butter icing.

Oftentimes, while waiting for the cake to cool, my mother knelt down, held my hands, and told me stories about when she was a child and how she did certain chores afterschool.  I liked the part of the story when her parents would give her a reward for the chores she did throughout the week. She also told about how when she was seven years old she asked her parents for a dog , but it wasn’t until two Christmases later that she finally saw a puppy under the Christmas tree.  I think that was the beginning of my realization that patience comes in all situations.  Baking my birthday cakes with my mother was so much fun, but for my mother it was always a teachable moment.

As I grew to my teen years, my family and I took trips during the summer. On one particular trip we sat in the terminal waiting to board the plane.   There was so much activity around the newspaper and magazine stands; people were very busy.  There was even a man who was entertaining everyone by playing beautiful songs from his violin.  Most people in the terminal were very friendly, but an incident occurred when a customer thought his luggage was lost.  He was so upset that his language became    extremely foul at the airline agent.  The airline worked hard to retrieve the angry customer’s luggage, but no matter what they did, the customer continued to complain. After about thirty minutes of trying to calm and offer the customer a solution to the missing luggage, they eventually discovered that the luggage was mistakenly picked up by another passenger, and that the customer was not in the right baggage claim area.   When all was resolved, the customer looked embarrassed by his earlier display of anger and frustration.  My mother then turned to my siblings and me and said, “Sometimes, when you are not given the right ingredients in your birthday cake as a child, you will demonstrate a behavior like the customer who lost their self-control over a lost suitcase that was not lost but accidentally picked up by another customer.”

When we finally got settled on the plane, I began to reflect back on my life.  I thought about the ingredients my mother and I used to put into my birthday cakes, the stories about the chores my mother did after school, the story about the long-awaited Christmas puppy, and now about the unruly customer in the airport.   I realized that had the customer listened more and spoke less, his outcome could have been more positive, but instead lots of on-lookers walked away with their opinions of that customer because of his behavior.

I believe that what we are taught at an early age can sometimes be demonstrated in the person that we become in the future.  I recall a childhood friend who had parents that never used the word “no.” Whatever she wanted, it was always “yes.”  In public, when she didn’t get what she wanted, she fell on the floor screaming so loud that everyone stopped to see what was going on.  Embarrassed by the spectators, her mother gave in and rewarded her. When my friend got older and had children of her own, they gave her the same treatment that she gave her mother.

So here I am as an adult. Life has taught me many valuable lessons, but the one that always seems to ring true is “first impressions are not only lasting, but they can also be the last impressions.” These days, more and more it seems like you only get one opportunity to get it right.  And as my mother used to say, the ingredients of a cake can determine the personality of a cake, the same can be said about people. “Whatever ingredients are put into a person’s life at a young age can make up the personality of who they become when they are grown.”

–  Janie Bundrant, 1st  Place in Essay

Episode Name Here

Episode Name Here

Television show: Author

Ep. 1: “Episode Name Here”


Midday. Very full of interesting pieces such as ceramics, fancy plates, statues and such. There’s a grandfather clock in the corner with a large NOT FOR SALE sign on it. CAMDEN, 30, strong, nice, Southern, is working at the register. JILL, 35, is shopping along a shelf of porcelain. She’s very nice, but strong willed and occasionally unreliable.

CAMDEN: Buy it tomorrow. Jill, honey; you’ll get fifteen percent off.

JILL: (bantering tone) Oh, but Cam, honey, you know I can’t possibly buy anything at less than full price.

SFX: CLOCK CHIMING. One o’clock.

Jill jumps. Looks at her watch. She makes a face like she wants to swear and starts to hurry, casting a longing look toward the piece she’d been examining.



ANNA, shy but hardworking, is walking along  the street leading to the store, talking on her cell phone. She’s struggling with a red scarf and her hair which are blowing about.

ANNA: Of course I wasn’t. Of course I’m not. Jimmy, please, I’m late for my interview. Okay. Love you. Bye.

And she runs straight into Jill in the doorway. They try to help each other up, but get tangled. SFX: DOOR BELL. Not doorbell, but the bell that dings when you open the door.

JILL: I’m so sorry, so sorry. Are you okay? I didn’t mean to run into you like that, I wasn’t looking where I was going and –

ANNA: (at the same time) Sorry! I’m fine,  just my boyfriend, distracted me, sorry I can’t stay, but –

BOTH: I’m late!

Beat. Both start laughing at the absurdity. Collapse against the doorjamb.  ERNEST, 40, tightly wound, appears from the back, hurries toward them.


ERNEST: Jill? What are you doing? You’re late for work. (not seeing Anna, checks his watch) And my interviewee is, too.

ANNA: Um, I’d be your interviewee. I’m sorry to arrive in so unprofessional a manner; I swear that’s not –

The shot freezes mid-scene as SFX: TELEPHONE.

CUT to a computer screen. The above dialogue is typed onscreen. An off-screen sigh and the sound of a person getting up from a chair as the phone continues to ring. REVEAL SHANNON, an unemotional woman in her 30s in


Also midday. She answers the phone.

SHANNON: Hello? (pause) Speaking. (long pause) Thank you very much. I’ll start work.

She sits back in her chair. Starts to type again.

CUT back to STORE.

ANNA: – swear that’s not a habit.

ERNEST: It’s all right. Come on back and we’ll talk. And Jill Go back to work before they notice you’re gone.

JILL: (on her way out) Don’t be too hard on her. I like this girl.

She leaves.



ZOEY: Did they call? Did you get it?

SHANNON looks up from the computer and nods. She’s not smiling, but not downcast either.

ZOEY: (con’t) Woo! I knew it! (happy dance, throwing purse down) Three cheers for The Corner Store!

She kicks her shoes off and goes to the pantry, pulls out a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses. Pulls up a chair and sits in it, pouring the wine and handing a glass to Shannon.

ZOEY: (con’t) To the newest show on TV. And its creator.

They clink glasses and sip.

ZOEY: (con’t) When are you gonna tell Mark?

SHANNON: After dinner tonight.

ZOEY: (sighing romantically) Mark’s wonderful. He’ll be so happy for you.

Shannon doesn’t react. Instead she stares at the computer.

ZOEY: (con’t) Itching to keep going?

SHANNON: Stuck, actually.

ZOEY: You’II think of something. Oh, guess what? I forgot in all the excitement. I got the job! I’m a waitress at Cricket Domino’s Dinner and Entertainment.

SHANNON: That’s great, Zo!

ZOEY: I start work on Monday. And you?

SHANNON: First draft’s due in two weeks. First episode airs in three months.



Immediately after. JILL runs in and slips into an empty seat. The room is already filled with people, including ROBERTS, a tight-laced boss who never smiles.

ROBERTS: Jill? You couldn’t be bothered to be on time?

JILL: I’m sorry. Lt just happened.

ROBERTS: That’s not tolerated here. Jill. You were warned that this was becoming a problem. Can you provide me a reasonable excuse for being late?

JILL: I lost track of the time.

ROBERTS: You’re more than half an hour late for this very important meeting which you were told to be at. This is a very highly coveted position.

JILL: It won’t happen again.

ROBERTS: I should say it won’t. Collect your things.

JILL: What?

ROBERTS: Collect your things. Miss Turner. I gave you your warning more than thirty days ago. You’re through with this company.

The rest of the staff watches, sorry for her, as she leaves and walks to her nearby cubicle. She slowly picks up a framed picture of her and ERNEST, a cute glass pen holder and a pack of gum  from the desk Then she crumples down into the chair and sobs, her things still in her lap. Everyone watches.


EXT: FIRST STREET. Evening. Remarkably similar to Main Street. SHANNON walks slowly. Beside her is MARK. a personable fellow at his wit’s end. Shannon is clasping and unclasping her purse with one hand. Mark kicks a crushed soda can out of the way. Shannon takes a deep breath, makes the decision to talk, except Mark isn’t watching and says-            

MARK: Shannon?

SHANNON: That’s me.

MARK: Something I’ve been meaning to say for a while. I – I don’t think this is working.

He waits for a response, but gets none.

MARK: (con’t) I never know what you’re feeling. I don’t know whether I’m annoying you or whatever. AI says he can read his girlfriend’s mind, and they’ve been together as long as we have.

SHANNON: I talk to you.

MARK: Never about anything important.

SHANNON: Is this goodbye, then?

MARK: There you go again! You don’t even seem upset. Do you even have feelings?

SHANNON: Answer the question, please.

MARK: Yeah, I guess.

SHANNON: Goodbye, then.

She walks away. Mark seems about to say something else, then makes a face and throws his hands in the air.



Night. ZOEY is sitting in the easy chair, reading a romance novel. SHANNON opens the door and Zoey stands, dropping her book.

ZOEY: You’re home already?

SHANNON: Uh-huh.

ZOEY: Why?

SHANNON: Mark dumped me.

ZOEY: (horrified) That complete and utter loser! We should introduce him to a hot poker.

SHANNON: We don’t have a fireplace.

ZOEY: All right, a hot iron! Or you could kill him on the show.

SHANNON goes to the computer.

ZOEY: (con’t) I wasn’t serious. Where are you going?

SHANNON: I got over my writer’s block



Afternoon. ERNEST is shaking ANNA’s hand.

ERNEST: You’ II start Monday. Sound good?

ANNA: Yes, sir.

SFX: DOOR BELL as JILL enters. She and ANNA cross paths again, smiling a little. JILL’S smile is sad. She meets ERNEST at the counter as ANNA exits, off camera except for the SFX: DOOR BELL again.

ERNEST: (a little concerned. but also afraid he knows what’s coming) Jill?

JILL: (fiddling with her purse clasp) Fired. Again. I know.  I was late.

ERNEST: Jill – how often is this going to happen?

JILL: I talked to him –

ERNEST: (kicking a ball of paper on the floor) You don’t even seem to think this is important! What does it take? I can’t do this anymore, Jill.

JILL: (frightened) Are you breaking up with me?

ERNEST: You do this again and again! You promise you’ll be good, then you manage to do exactly what’II drive your boss mad!

JILL: Ernie?

ERNEST: Yes. I guess I am.


JILL: How could you? No salary, and no concern from my boyfriend, no financial support at all, instead I get no boyfriend, too! You complete and utter loser! If I’d moved in with you like you wanted, I suppose you’d turn me out onto the streets!

ERNEST: Prove to me that you can put a stable living above your random whims. Above your ideas, your preferences.

JILL: (royally furious) Fine. I will prove it. But don’t expect me to take you back when you see what you’ve let go. No, sirree.

She stalks out the front door, letting it slam as the DOOR BELL goes.



Day.  SHANNON stares at the computer. Stuck again. She gets up and starts to pace around the apartment. Finds a large plastic bone. Picks it up and fingers it.



JILL is hitting ERNEST over the head with the bone.



SHANNON moves on, finds a carpetbag.



ANNA and JILL smother ERNEST with it.



SHANNON discovers a pair of spiffy gloves and a plastic gun.



JILL, wearing the gloves, aims a real gun at an off-camera Ernest. She cocks it catlike and deadly.



SHANNON has moved into the bedroom by now. She finds a love letter signed “Mark.” She stops, reading it. ZOEY appears in the doorway. She smiles sadly. SHANNON looks up. ZOEY, stepping in, gives her a hug. SHANNON rests her head on ZOEY’S shoulder, eyes closed, but doesn’t cry.

CUT. SHANNON opens her eyes. Idea.



Immediately after. JILL catches up to ANNA.

JILL: Did you get the job?

ANNA: Yes.

JILL: Good for you.


JILL: (con’t) What’s your name?

ANNA: Anna.

JILL: Don’t ever be late, Anna.

ANNA: For…

JILL: For my boyfr – for my ex. For any job. Don’t be late. Don’t volunteer your ideas, even when you’re right. Don’t make judgment calls. Don’t argue. Don’t date the boss’s son. And don’t be late.

ANNA: I’m sorry.

JILL: Have you ever lost everything at once?


JILL starts to walk away.

ANNA: (con’t) But I could. I’m afraid, every day.

JILL stops and turns to face ANNA, who stops.





ANNA: (con’t) If he knew…

JILL: Tell him.

ANNA: How can I?

JILL: ‘cause either you’ll grow closer because he knows the real you, or it’ll end, but at least you’ll know. The wondering and waiting – that’s what gets you.

ANNA: Easy for you to say.

JILL: Ernest, he knew who I am. And he gave up on me. Maybe your boyfriend is smarter than that.



SHANNON: (whispering) He knows who I am. And he gave up on me.

ZOEY, watching her, puts on her coat and shoes, which are still by the door. She leaves, face set.




Night. The apartment is brightly furnished and comfortable, with cushy chairs and the like. JILL lays on the bed, surrounded by dropped projects, a laptop, a couple of books, a cell phone. She’s on the landline.

JILL: This time, I was ten minutes late coming back from lunch. Don’t lecture me, Mom. It’s not my fault.

SFX: CELL PHONE CHIMES. JILL checks her text messages.

CLOSE UP: cell phone.  Text from CAMDEN.

CAMDEN TEXT: Wash up. We’ll be there in five.

JILL: (con’t) I have to go. Unexpected company. Love you, too. Bye.

JILL speed-tidies, splashes some water on her face, and reapplies her makeup. SFX: DOORBELL. JILL opens the door. There are CAMDEN, ANNA and ROSITA. ROSITA is 6, adorable, and has Down’s syndrome.

CAMDEN: Ernie’s my man, but you’re my lady, Jillie, and I’m there for you, too. I brought the girls.

ANNA smiles shyly – she doesn’t really know why she’s here; she doesn’t even know this woman. ROSITA, however, runs up and hugs JILL, who hugs her back, smiling.

ROSITA: I brought Finding Nemo!

She displays the movie proudly. CAMDEN steps in, handing JILL a tub of ice cream and a box of chocolates. JILL smiles at him gratefully.

JILL: Camden, Rosita. (to ANNA)  Erm – Rosita and I are family. Cammie’s  taking the opportunity to induct you as well as comfort me.



Lunchtime. ZOEY and MARK are sitting, drinking coffee.

MARK: You here to plead Shannon’s case?

ZOEY: I’m Shannon’s best friend. It’s my duty to stand by her, so I’d stand by her even if you were justified. But I say you’re not.

MARK: I’m not justified in moving on from a relationship I can’t handle?

ZOEY: You knew Shannon. You knew she wasn’t one to show her emotions, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any. You must have known this was getting in the way. You must have known that within a few dates. You probably thought she’d warm up to you – am I right?

MARK: Sure. What’s wrong with that?

ZOEY: One, she did warm up to you. She loved you, even though you couldn’t tell. You broke her heart. And two, you had to have figured out sooner than this that it wasn’t going to work out. I’m not saying Shannon’s easy to live with – I’m not blind. But you should have left her before. I think you know that.



Same place, same people, except right through the party. It’s late. The ice cream and chocolates have been opened, and ROSITA sits on CAMDEN’S lap. There’s a bottle of wine open, too.

CAMDEN: And then, the guy says “I don’t know about any goats, but that’s my wife!”

All except ROSITA burst out laughing.

ROSITA: Tell the one about the pelican again.

ANNA: (to CAMDEN) You’re just full of animal jokes, aren’t you?

CAMDEN: Rosita thinks they don’t count, otherwise.

ROSITA: Pelican, pelican!

CAMDEN: A man goes into the doctor’s office with a pelican on his head. The doctor says, “Well, you sure need some help, don’t you?” And the pelican says, “I certainly do! Get this man out from under me!”

ROSITA giggles delightedly.

JILL: (to Anna) I think it’s supposed to have a parrot in it. Still, it’s her favorite.

ANNA: How long have you all known each other?

JILL: Rosita had just been born. So, six-odd years. She’s known me all her life. I’ll never forget, once she said to me, “All my friends think Daddy’s going to marry you. But I said no, Daddy’s adopted her.” And it’s true. He adopted me as a sister.

Everyone smiles. CAMDEN checks his watch.

CAMDEN: (to Rosita) We gotta be getting you home, missy.

They get up, stretch, stack bowls. CAMDEN opens his arms for a hug, which JILL returns.

JILL: Thank you.

CAMDEN: Nothing doing.

JILL and ANNA face each other. Tentatively, they hug.

JILL: You’ll be one of us forever now. You’ve seen too much.

ANNA: (smiles) If the parties are always this good, I could almost say I don’t care if Jimmy dumps me.

JILL: Anytime you want to talk about that.

ANNA: Another time.



SHANNON’S struggling to keep her eyes open. She walks to the bed and gets in without undressing. ZOEY comes in, looks at SHANNON sadly, and starts to get ready for bed.



FIRST STREET. SHANNON and MARK stand there. SHANNON’S arms are crossed.

MARK: I’m not here to ask you to take me back. I’m not here to apologize for leaving you.

MAIN STREET. ERNEST and JILL are in the same position on their street.

ERNEST: But I will apologize for the way I did it. I let it go on because I didn’t want to break your heart.

SHANNON: Six months you let it go on.

MARK: I know. That was wrong of me. I’ve known enough girls to know they think of everything. So I’m being straight with you. So you know how it was.

SHANNON: I appreciate that.

ERNEST: You are amazing. You’re passionate. You see things and you act on them.

MARK: I want to be the guy who can read you, read every flick of your eyes and see what you want, what you’re feeling. But I’m not that guy.

ERNEST: But it’s too much for me. It’s too unpredictable, too crazy.

MARK: And I need a girl who I don’t have to work every second I’m with her just to know what the appropriate response is.

ERNEST: You should be with the kind of man who’ll love that independence in you more than anything. Someone who’s perfect for you.

MARK: There’s a guy out there who can do it. A relationship waiting to happen that’s effortless. Ours couldn’t be like that.

ERNEST: I hope you’ll be happy, Jill.

MARK: I love you, Shannon. I hope you find the man who can know you and love you both.



SHANNON presses “send” on an email whose subject line reads “Episode One” and pushes herself away from the desk.


– Sally Little, 1st Place in Script

When I Find Myself Oppressed

When I Find Myself Oppressed

my tongue is molasses

and sticks to the roof of my mouth

like flies on rubber cemented paper


my tongue is thick

and chokes me when I speak


my tongue is red

and burns from where it’s been

bitten silenced held back


I should very much like

to cut out this thick, sticky, red tongue

and watch if it wriggles

and see the red hotness

drip from my mouth


– Anna Schroeder, 1st Place in Poetry

Ground Zero

Ground Zero


I’ve always loved Lex, but I’ve also always hated him. And that tends to make things kind of complicated.

I am not straightening my hair today, because it is January first. a day for new beginnings, and also because I don’t  feel like it. My head is pounding and my stomach roiling, but I didn’t drink last night. I just kissed Lex at the stroke of twelve.

Yeah, there it is. The first thing I did this year was make out with Lex. Way to go, self. Way to set the pace for the rest of the year. Way to stick with your one and only New Year’s resolution.

But I did it, and there’s no going back. So I leave the house without straightening my hair.

My follicles are for sure singing the Hallelujah chorus.

The stupid private school I go to is the only one in America that makes us show up on New Year’s Day (probably). Don’t they realize they’re just begging for a hungover disaster? I mean, not that there’s been one yet. But you never know, you know?

So I’m walking along and mulling this over when suddenly…

There’s Lex.

First day of the year and Lex wears a lime green suit. Of course he would. And of course he’s the one person in the wide world who looks good in a lime green suit, despite his olive skin and the neon purple streak in his otherwise jet black hair.

And his tennis shoes are blue.

He smiles nervously, showing his toothpaste-ad teeth.

“Good morning. Grayson,” he murmurs, thrusting his hands into his jacket pockets and making me want to thrust my tongue into his mouth for the second time today.

But all I really do is smile (demure is a good word here) and nod.

Lex’s shoulders drop just a bit, but the grin shines on ever so brightly. I know what I do to him, but I do it anyways.

So then he takes his hands from his pockets, letting them swing at his sides for a few moments before holding one hand out to me.

An invitation. Its RSVP will soon pass, so I’d better think – act – fast.

And because I’m feeling different, random, fresh, and new… Because I hate the way he can be so uncoordinatedly matching… Because I didn’t straighten my hair today…

I grab his hand and lace our fingers together, so that Lex and I walk to school together on January first.


Shanna snorted lines off my stomach last night, which is as close as I’II ever get to doing drugs. But Shanna is my best friend, so I basically let her use me for whatever she wants.

Only right now she is looking so trashed that I rethink our whole relationship, the way I always do when this happens.

She groans when she sees Lex and me.

“Hello to you, beautiful,” I laugh in that way that isn’t really laughing. I’m not being sarcastic when I tell her she is beautiful. Even when she’s coming off a high, she is the prettiest girl I know.

“Grayson,” Shanna wails miserably, coming at me with her arms outstretched.

I drop Lex’s hand apologetically, regretfully. His eyes bore into mine for a split second and then he disappears.

Now Shanna wraps her arms around me.

“Grayson, I feel awful,” she moans. I’m used to this too. Shanna never thinks about consequences, and I always hear about it the next day.

“I feel awful too,” I admit. And I completely do. Like I said, my head? My stomach? Both going insane, but I don’t know why and then of course there is the matter of Lex.

Because I don’t know what I’m doing.

I never know what I’m doing when Lex is around. He has a hold on my brain that he won’t let go. I love him with every fiber of my being.

But I hate him for making me so stupid.

Only Shanna assumes that I mean I’m hungover, since she can’t remember enough from last night to remember that I did not drink anything stronger than Pepsi. And I was the one who drove her home.

So since she assumes that I mean I’m hungover, she pulls back from me gingerly. I don’t want her to go. I want her arms around me. She is always very warm and very welcoming.

But I don’t argue with her. It’s no use. The bell is about to ring and the day is about to start, and that is already upsetting enough as it is.

And then there’s the bell. Shanna gives me a sad smile, a tiny wave that’s really just a waggle of her fingertips, and she leaves, and now I will be alone for the rest of the day.


The school is finally going to get the hungover disaster it’s been begging for, and I am going to bear the brunt of it.

If Lex were in any of my classes, he would get his share too. But he never gets his share. It’s only ever me, and that’s because I’m “the promiscuous one,” if your definition of promiscuous is someone who kisses boys unabashedly often, and Lex has only ever kissed me, as far as kissing boys goes.

Oh, and also? I turned Lex on to liking guys in the first place. I’ve always been pretty hated for that.

I could just run away, so to speak. I could skip class and go home, but that would be cowardly of me, to say the least. And I’m not like that. I don’t run.

Chris Hennessy has decided that I was wasted last night and had my kinky way with Lex. No use in trying to convince him otherwise, since he was the one who was wasted, and besides, he’s always harbored a secret crush on Lex. Though it’s not so secret to me.

The second I walk into my journalism class, it begins.

He sits in my desk, for starters. He looks like crap. Or, well, more so than usual.

I sit in the seat behind my usual one, trying to ignore Chris. As if that has ever worked before.

He calls me a faggot, but that doesn’t bother me. He grabs my wrist and yanks me forward over the desktop, but that doesn’t bother me. He wraps his hand around my throat in a choke grip, but that doesn’t bother me.

Everybody is watching, and he brings up Lex’s name. That bothers me.

I kick my legs up so my foot smashes into the back of his knee, the way he’s sitting. He drops his hold on me and lurches forward. I hope he’s in pain.

It would not be running if I left now. I whisper it to myself as I stand up to leave.

But then a fist collides with my face and I black out, so I couldn’t even run if I wanted to.


I wish I could say Lex is there when I come to, but he isn’t even. Neither is Shanna. I’m not incredibly surprised. I wouldn’t expect Shanna to be there, just because she probably wouldn’t find out about something like this until way later.

And I wouldn’t expect Lex to be here since that would mean people finding out about us possibly being on-again. And God knows neither of us can handle that, even though it’s not as if Lex would get hell for it. People see him as the innocent victim, the poor guy suffering from Stockholm syndrome and then there’s me, the evil corruptor who is holding Lex captive forever.

But it so totally isn’t even like that. Lex and I pretty much love each other, I guess, for about ninety percent of the time.

The other ten percent of the time? That’s  when we hate each other, both wish we were dead, both wish the other was dead, and everyone else in the world (except for maybe Shanna, although I do have my suspicions about her too) is thrilled to pieces, because it means no more of the gay boys’ love affair for the time being.

And that is exactly what they fear and hate so much: the gay boys’ love affair. Or possibly the gay boys themselves, although I don’t think that’s it. I think they’re afraid of the fact that we are different and don’t care. We don’t fit in. Never have, never will. So they try to force us into place, but everyone knows what happens when you try to connect two wrong pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Eventually, they break.


So again, I am alone when I come to.

Well. I mean, not totally alone. The school nurse is there, but she’s weird. She doesn’t count. I couldn’t care less if she was there or not. Only she’s all bent over me ,looking  at my face.

“Um…excuse me,” I say. My voice sounds weird.

“What?” she barks. Not even “Yes?” or something polite. Reason numero uno why I hate the school nurse.

“Can I just go?” I ask her.

She sighs and walks away, grabs an ice pack from the mini-freezer and tosses it at me. “Keep the swelling down. You’II be fine in a few days.”

“Can I go home?” My head is starting to throb. I want to go to sleep.

“Go ahead. Here’s your pass.” She hands me a slip of paper and practically dropkicks me out the door.

I don’t drive. Anyone who pays attention knows this about me. I like to walk. It makes me feel more like I’m going somewhere.

So I push open the front door of the school, ignoring the security guard who is screaming at me that I can’t leave.

News flash, dude: Anybody can leave. Just not many ever do.


I pass a storefront and catch my reflection. Both of my eyes are puffy and bruised. I look like hell. I sort of feel like it, too.

It’s not even like I have anywhere to go right now. I’m sort of just walking aimlessly.

I’ve gotten rid of the ice pack ages ago by this point. Don’t ask why, but I’ve always figured that if someone causes me pain, they probably had a reason, good or not, so I should experience the pain instead of trying to make it go away. That’s generally how Lex succeeds in destroying me, during those ten-percent times.

I want food. I’m not particularly hungry, but I want food. So I’m going to go to my one safe haven, the one place where I can’t be touched.

Christian is Lex’s half-brother. He is very gorgeous and very perfect. Very smart and very kind and he can cook like a wizard. He is twenty-three, lives on his own, and is not close to Lex in any way. They’re only brothers in the most technical sense of the word, and even then, they don’t even share the same mother, so as you can imagine, they’re pretty distant.

I knock on Christian’s door when I get there. The most depressing feeling washes over me, an ache in my throat like I’m going to cry. I’m not upset, but it’s just that I know that Christian will be able to make me feel better, and even though I don’t like to make my own pain go away, I so welcome other people making it go away for me.

Christian comes to the door in boxers. Um, nothing except his boxers. His hair is all over the place and he is squinting at the sunlight. Fantastic. I definitely just woke him up.

But then he opens his eyes wide, taking in my bruised face, and he grabs my arm and pulls me inside. “Grayson Ryan Carroll!” Christian exclaims. His voice is even deeper than normal, having just woken up.

“Um, Christian Mitchell Cornell?” I say softly.

His dark blue eyes fill with concern and his brows knit together. “God, Grayson, what happened?” he mutters, leading  me to the kitchen so we can sit down at the bar.

“Uh, well,” I start, “I left school. With a pass, but still. I left.”

Christian sighs. “Grayson. I know that. What happened to your face?”

“Chris Hennessy happened.”

“He’s the one who did it last time?”

“He is.”

“Why this time?”

“Because I was wasted last night and I had my way with Lex.”

I know that Christian will get it. He’ll realize that that’s not actually what happened. He’s got fantastic insight, another reason why he is my safe place.

Christian’s eyes dart back and forth between mine for a few seconds, and then he breaks the stare. “Your hair isn’t straight today.” he points out.

I sigh heavily but grin. That was exactly what I needed. “So,” I say.

“So,” he says.

I shrug. I don’t want to just ask him outright for food. That feels too much like I’m taking advantage of him.

But like I said, Christian’s got fantastic insight. He stands up and walks over to the fridge. “So, do you want something to eat, then, Grayson?” he asks.

.               “I do,” I reply. I can’t disguise my excitement. I am not fat or anything, but food – eating in general – makes me happy, and like I’ve been saying, Christian is amazing in the kitchen.

“Want anything in particular?” He opens the refrigerator.

And here it is again. It’s January first, and I feel different. Which is why I didn’t straighten my hair. Which is why I tell Christian I want bacon.

His jaw drops. “You want bacon?!” he repeats.

“Yes. I want bacon.”

“But…but you’re,l ike, the most diehard vegetarian I’ve ever known, Grayson! You haven’t eaten meat for, what, six years? Why do you suddenly say you want bacon?!”

I shrug. He may think this is completely out of the blue, but I think it’s been a long time coming.

“Geez, Grayson, are… are you sure? Are you sure you want…you want bacon?”

“You may have stuttered, Christian, but I didn’t. Can you please just do this for me?”

He looks at me long and hard, then starts pulling ingredients out of the refrigerator.


I’m sitting at the bar in Christian’s kitchen eating the most fabulous BLT, knowing I’m probably going  to be sick later since I haven ‘t eaten meat in over half a decade, seeing as how I gave it up when I was twelve.

Christian watches me eat, his head resting in his hands. He’s put on a shirt and jeans by now, and I don’t think he’s in a particularly great mood. But then again, maybe that’s just me projecting.

When I’m done with my sandwich, I push the plate away. The crumbs are pissing me off for some unexplainable reason. I don’t want to look at them, but there’s nothing to do with them, nowhere to put them. So I let them sit there on the plate, looking sloppy. They’ll get cleaned up one way or another. It won’t be Christian. It won’t be me.

Time goes by really slowly when we’re sitting there in silence. I think that Christian has fallen asleep, because he’s sitting there leaning his head on one fist, his eyes closed.

Only then he talks.

He doesn’t move or open his eyes, but he says, “Grayson.”


“Can you tell me something?” He opens his eyes now, but that’s all.

 “Um, sure? What?”

“What do you want with Lex?”

“What do I want with Lex?” I repeat incredulously. Why would Christian ask me this?

.               So now Christian lifts his head, steeples his fingers in front of his face, looks me straight on m the eyes.   ‘Grayson Ryan Carroll.” He uses my full name for the second time today. “Tell me what you want with Lex, please.”

It is in this way that Lex and Christian are alike. It is one of the only ways, in fact. Both of them have impeccable manners, in an almost old-fashioned way. Take, for example, Lex’s “Good morning, Grayson” from earlier today. No other eighteen-year-old in the world would say that to their…whatever I am to him.

I stand up too fast. My head spins, my face throbs. I fall to the floor, and so I lay there flat on my back and stare at the ceiling. Until I’m staring at Christian, because he’s come to stand over me.

Generally I could answer this question. I could tell Christian I want love from Lex, but I know I can’t have it. In a place like this, the type of love I want- that I need- is next to impossible to have and hold on to.

Only I know that Christian knows that already, so I don’t tell it to him.

But the sinking feeling in my chest returns now, which scares me, because it’s supposed to stay far, far away from me when I’m in my safe place.

So that can only mean one thing, then.

We’re about to enter into one of the ten-percent times, but this time it’s going to be different, and not necessarily in a good way, either.


Lex and I are a pair. Shanna and I are a pair. When you get all three of us together, though, there’s always a definite third wheel. It’s just never clear exactly who that third wheel is.

Even though I look a mess, Lex is here. Even though Lex is here, Shanna is here. And even though Shanna is here, Lex doesn’t leave.

I am the object of attention – of affection – tonight. Lex sits up on the couch with his back against the arm rest, and I lean backwards into him, his arms tight around me and our fingers intricately Intertwined now that we don’t have to worry about anyone (except for Shanna) seeing. And speaking of Shanna, my feet rest in her lap, and she is giving me a foot massage, the way she always does on weekends.

But something is very wrong. None of us are talking.

Something has shifted inside of Lex since this morning. Something has shifted inside of Shanna, too. I can feel it, both changes, like a negative energy buzzing in the air. Something has shifted inside of me, too, probably, but I’m more concerned with Lex and Shanna and the fact that neither of them are talking to each other or to me.

A phrase that I have always hated is “elephant in the room,” but that’s the only way to describe this. My bruises are just part of it, because it goes deeper than that. Much, much deeper. And Lex and Shanna are just skirting around it.

My face hurts. I’ve got that deep, intense pain going on in my nose that makes you feel inescapably sick to your stomach. I think my nose is probably broken, except I don’t remember bleeding. I don’t think I bled, did I?

When Shanna gets up to go to the bathroom, I think that maybe Lex will talk. But he doesn’t. He remains silent, causing me more pain, and I have to squeeze my eyes shut to ward off tears, causing me even more pain still.

It’s started already. We are so close right now, but still so far away, and that is how I know it’s started already.

Shanna is still in the bathroom. I have to say something to Lex.  “Lex,” is what I start with.

“Hmm?” he replies, barely moving.

“Lex, I’m sorry.” Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t be the one apologizing. After all, I’m the one whose nose may or may not be broken because I may or may not have made out with a guy who may or may not be my boyfriend.

But that’s the sort of power Lex has over me.

Lex still doesn’t move or say anything, and now I am actually getting scared.

Shanna comes back now, but she doesn’t sit on the couch where she was earlier. She instead chooses the other side of the room, as if she can sense the explosion about to occur. But much to my surprise, there is no explosion after all. Shanna leaves, and even when it’s just Lex and me, nothing happens.

My heart is racing. Why isn’t he talking? Silence is so unlike him!

My heart is also sinking as the minutes tick by. It falls deeper and deeper into some unknown abyss with every unsaid word.

My watch beeps to tell me it is midnight, and finally Lex makes a move to leave. I stand up so that he can stand too. There is a brief moment in this in which our faces are close enough that I could kiss him, or he could kiss me, but there is no kiss. His eyes meet mine instead, flashing with a fury that is gone as soon as it’s appeared, scaring the hell out of me.

Why is he angry?! What did I do?!

I walk him to the door, and we stand there in the breezeway, awkward as the first time I walked him to the door.

Usually, this is when we kiss, and he tells me good night, just like that: “Good night, Grayson.”

But now I know that the shift I sensed earlier wasn’t in him, and it wasn’t in me. It was in us as one. And this is a change that was a long time coming, because it was a matter of time before one of us was persecuted for a public display of affection between the two of us. And that is what happened today. He knows it. I know it.

We are too dangerous.

Lex does not look me in the eyes, and he does not touch me.

His voice is filled with grief. He says, “Goodbye, Grayson.”

My heart plummets all the way to the very bottom.


It is a sleepless night, and when morning comes I go through the motions to get ready for school. I straighten my hair, deciding that is where I ultimately went wrong yesterday.

I am dreading this day like I have never dreaded anything else before. I know what Lex does. I know what he is going to do. He has already said goodbye, thus protecting himself from any further hurt. He has already put up his wall. The people have gotten to him. I thought he was strong enough to resist it, but I wasn’t fooling anyone except for myself. Lex has never been strong, except for when it comes to putting up this sort of barrier.

And that makes no sense at all, but that’s the way it is.

I see Lex walking when I leave  my house. His neon confidence from yesterday has dissipated into a gray thermal and a pair of jeans. His shoes are old. His hair is still wet, plastered to his forehead and to the nape of his neck. It is in this that I have some assurance that at least the break wasn’t completely clean and easy on his part.

Shanna is amazingly clueless. I could kill her for all the things she tries to do to make me feel better. She should know that right now I want nothing more than to drown in my misery.

She thinks this is just another one of those ten percent times- when Lex and I hate each other. She doesn’t know this is ground zero; there will never be another ten percent, or another ninety percent, or even, dare I hope for it, a hundred percent.

Lex and I are over.

– Karissa Jones, 1st  Place in Short Story