I eyed my history exam and rolled my eyes as I ripped off the corner and began writing a note to Liliana. I crumpled it up and lightly tossed it ahead of me to her desk. She felt it hit her hair and pulled it out. The note read:
This test is soooo boring.
I hate history.
Who cares, anyways?
After scanning the note Liliana took out a pink sticky note and started writing a response. That’s Liliana, I thought. Always so neat and formal. She then tossed the note to me and I cautiously opened it up and read it, careful that Mrs. Castillo wouldn’t notice. The reply read:
Alex, you need to start caring some more about school.
This history exam happens to count as 1/4 of our grade for the quarter!
Get to work!
Lily was right. I needed to get to work. I pulled the page in front of me and tried to focus on American History and wars, but could only think of my report card I had received. I used to do great in school, back in 6th grade. However, my most recent progress report wasn’t so pretty. History: B-. Math: C-. Science: C. Spanish: C+. To my parents, those were the only grades that mattered. Whatever that means. You probably think I’m a terrible person that doesn’t care and doesn’t try, but that’s not true. Last quarter, I also got an A+ in my literature class, but my parents just overlooked that. Plus, another A+ in art, also overlooked. It seems they just like to find the flaws in me.
“One minute remaining,” Mrs. Castillo called, looking up from her magazine.
It was like a Fourth of July firework exploded in my mind. I looked at my blank paper and started circling some random multiple choice bubbles and writing random names and dates I happened to remember from the unit in the short answer section. The bell rang, and I handed my paper to the teacher. If I was lucky, I’d get a C. Not a good sign. I raced out of the classroom but Lily still caught up with me.
“How do you think you did?” she asked me on the way to our lockers.
“Terrible,” I mumbled, not looking her in the eye.
“Oh,” she said blankly, getting the message that I didn’t want to discuss it. “I’m sure you’ll do better next time.
“Next period is art for you, isn’t it?” she tried.
“No. It’s science. I don’t have art today. Or my creative writing elective.” I hate Mondays.
“Oh.” She stopped trying to make me feel better. I’m a hard one to comfort. We both just walked to our lockers, looking straight ahead. She stopped at hers. “See you after school, right?”
“Yup,” I replied and opened my beat up locker to get my science things out for my 7th period class.
I hurried to the science room and walked in just as the bell rang and took my seat next to the grade gross kid, Sammy Peters. I didn’t even look over to see what he was doing; I knew I would regret it. Mr. Grant started the day’s lecture as usual and I zoned out. Welcome to my daily life.
“Open your textbooks to page forty-six,” he instructed twenty or so minutes later.
We all did, and, to my surprise, he called on me. “Alexandra, please read paragraph one about the periodic table for a warm up.” Another reason I hate science, Mr. Grant calls me by my full name.
I nodded and gulped. Warm up? I couldn’t even name half of the 118 elements and he’s saying that was just a warm up? I struggled to pronounce some of the words, and heard a few snickers in response to my terrible narration.
“Thank you, Alexandra,” he said slowly. “Now, Macey, read the Chapter 3 description. We’re going to be learning about marine biology….”
His voice trailed off in my head as I stared off into space, still looking at my book.
The bell rang and I sighed in relief as I packed up my things and headed out the door to meet Liliana at our favorite spot, the vending machine. Peterson’s a big middle school, so there are many snack stops, but this is the special one. Why? It’s where I met Lily on the first day of 6th grade, and we’ve been friends ever since.
I was a few minutes late and she was there before me. “Hey,” I said with a small wave.
“Hi!” She shouted vibrantly.
“What is it? Did something amazing happen?”
“Only the most amazing thing ever!” She shrieked, handing me a flyer. I looked it over.
“I thought that you should definitely enter. You love writing and you could totally win.”
A writing contest did sound intriguing. Maybe if I won, my parents would open their eyes and see that I could write instead of being a physicist or mathematician.
“What do you think?” she asked, wide eyed.
“Thanks,” I said, and smiled for the first time today. “I better get to work. Entries need to be submitted in two weeks and I need to put my best work forward.”
She smiled in return. “It’s nice seeing you happy.”
I walked back to my locker drowned in thoughts of what to write about. I couldn’t wait to get home and open up my laptop.
I packed up my things and went outside awaiting my mom’s arrival. She pulled up in her minivan and I hopped in the front.
“Hi Alex.” My little brother, Danny, greeted me as I buckled my seatbelt.
“Hi,” I replied and looked out the window, continuing my thought process about writing.
“How did the history test go?” my mom asked me.
“Good,” I lied as I attempted to blast some Bruno Mars on the radio that was immediately turned off.
I rolled my eyes and didn’t talk the rest of the ride to our house. We arrived ten minutes later and I ran out and upstairs to my room. I plopped down on my bed and got out my MacBook. I went to docs and started to write down all of my ideas. A bunch of different genres popped up on the page. Mystery. Drama. School story. Fantasy. You name it! I finally decided on utilizing the mystery idea right before I was called down for a dinner of spaghetti and breadsticks.
“How was your day at school today?” my father asked as he came in the door and sat down at the table.
“Good,” I replied simply, deciding that I didn’t want to tell them about the contest, knowing that they would just say it was a waste of time. “What about your day?”
“Same old same old,” he said before biting into his breadstick. “We had some interesting cases today, I guess. It all just becomes a blur of picking up trash and helping the animals.” My six foot one dad is an environmental science lawyer. He went to Harvard, which is where he met my mom, who is a whole foot shorter than him. My mom’s a part time pediatrician, so you can see that the bar is set pretty high for me and my little brother. An author or artist probably wouldn’t meet their standards. He stroked back his graying hair and moved his brown eyes to Danny. “What about you?”
“We played games,” Danny replied.
“That’s what he says every night,” Mom mumbled under her breath, but just loud enough for me to hear.
We finished up our dinner and I did the dishes quickly so that I could start my short story. I raced up to my room at got to work. My fingers flew on my keyboard as I watched the writing come together and form on my document. It wasn’t until 9 o'clock when my heart sank.
“Science homework,” I groaned and opened up my binder. I knew it would take me a while, so I had to kiss my hope of writing for the rest of the night goodbye. I glanced at my packet and sighed. I had certainly mastered the art of procrastination. The homework was due tomorrow and was given to us last week but of course I had to save it for 9:07 p.m., the night before it had to be done.
I was still working at 10:00 when my mom came in. “Honey, you need to get ready for bed,” she spoke.
I could feel her eyes on me but I didn’t look up. “I need to finish up this homework,” I said simply trying to sound chill so that maybe it could just blow over.
“And you’re doing it this late?” She said sternly. “Alex…,”
“I know, I know but I need to get it done. I’m getting close. Just please leave me alone, the work will get done quicker.”
“Fine. But I better not be walking in here at midnight and find you still up.”
I nodded and focused on the work in front of me. I had lied. I really wasn’t very close to being done. Maybe halfway. I finished the questions as quickly as I could and hopped in bed at 11:25. Not so bad. I’ve done worse. All I thought of was the contest and my story.
Things were going good for me until Friday came. I was at least halfway into my story when something terrible happened. The thing authors dread most.
“Writer’s block,” I groaned to Liliana while we were getting our sloppy joes from the lunch lady.
“Oh, Alex. I am so sorry,” she said sympathetically. “You’ll get through it. Don’t worry.”
“I hope so,” I sighed. “What makes it worse is that I don’t have as much time to write over the next week before I need to submit my work. There’s a big math test on Thursday and mom and dad are going to be following me everywhere to make sure I study. Plus, Danny has one of his little hockey games on Friday that I’m gonna have to go to.”
“I’m sure you’ll still find time. I believe in you,” she smiled.
“Thanks,” I replied but I wasn’t so sure. It was going to be a race against the clock.
It wasn’t until 11:59 p.m. on Friday when I finally submitted my story. I certainly was going head to head with the clock, and to my surprise, I won. If that’s not a miracle I don’t know what is.
A few weeks later, I got the email. The literal, surreal, life-changing email. I was checking my email for more information about the African Civilizations History project when I saw it. I noticed it was from JCPL, Jefferson City Public Library, so I opened it, heart pounding. The email read:
Dear Miss Evans,
I am very pleased to inform you that you have won our annual short story contest. Your work was most of the judges’ favorite, including mine. You will be mailed a certificate, cash prize, and exclusive t-shirt right away. Congratulations!
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had actually won. I couldn’t wait to tell my parents when the prizes arrived. This was awesome.
The package arrived the following week. I had been checking the mailbox almost every day and it had finally arrived. I brought it in with a smile on my face. I got mom and dad together and looked at them both in the eye. “Guys, I know that you don’t think I could ever pursue writing as a career but, maybe this will change your mind,” I said, handing them the package.
They eyed me and skeptically opened it. They pulled out the certificate and looked at it in awe. “You won the Jefferson City Public Library Annual Short Story contest?” My father asked my wide eyed. “They get over 1,000 entries each year!
“Yeah, I did,” I replied still smiling. “That’s what I’ve been doing the past two weeks. Writing.”
“Alex, I’m so proud of you. And you know what? You should do writing more. I’ve never read anything of yours, but if you could blow the judges away, I think I will enjoy you writing as well.”
“I agree,” my father said, nodding his head. “You really do have a talent.”
Tears were forming in my eyes now. “You don’t know how much this means to me,” I said, voice cracking. “I love this so much. I love you guys so much! Thank you!” I hugged them tightly and we all smiled.
“How about I go put on some beans and meat for tacos?” my father said with a grin.
“Sounds great,” I answered and he left the room. That night I ate my favorite meal, but I also was feeling my favorite emotion, happiness. That’s why you must always, no matter what bumps on the road you may face, you must always seize your chance.