Write From The Heart

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is a highly prestigious contest that recognizes the most promising voices in middle and high school. This year, they received 350,000 entries. Only the top 15% of the entries receive an award. All of our eligible students participate, and some submit more than one piece. We had 22 winners!!

Today, we are going to spotlight one of our winners: Logan B. Logan is an incredibly talented 9th grader who won THREE awards! He won Honorable Mention in the Flash Fiction category, which he wrote in our Creative Writing Workshop. He also won TWO Gold Keys–one in the Humor category (written in Literature 201) and one in the Short Story category (written in the Creative Writing Workshop). Both of his Gold Key wins will go on to be judged in the national contest.

Additionally, his short story was nominated for the American Voices Award. The nominees are chosen across all categories as the best in the region. At the national level, one nominated entry will be selected from the nominees as the best piece from that region.

UPDATE!! Logan won TWO National prizes!!

Logan’s story It All Started Out So Innocently won a Silver Medal at the National level.
Logan’s story A Sketch of Bravery won a Gold Medal at the National level.

Logan has been invited to attend the National Ceremony at Carnegie Hall in June. Congratulations, Logan!

Read Logan’s Flash Fiction here
Read Logan’s Humor piece here
Read Logan’s Short Story here


Mondays, Mornings, Midterms, and Misery

By Logan B., Pennsylvania, 9th Grade
Honorable Mention, Flash Fiction

I hated mornings.

The alarm clock buzzed angrily. I hated that clock. It always nagged at me, poking me, enraging me, ordering me to get out of bed at unreasonable hours of the morning and improve the very world that had created the doggone alarm clock.

Unfortunately, by some cruel twist of fate, I actually needed the alarm clock to force me out of bed and get to class so that I could take the midterm exam on time.

I honestly didn’t understand why the professors at university hated me so much. What sort of deranged psychopaths would intentionally and maliciously schedule a midterm for 8:30 on a Monday morning? I got the feeling that the professors wanted me to fail. Well, if those nerdy professors thought that they could get the better of me, then they had another thing coming. I could get up early if I wanted to.

I just didn’t want to.

My hand moved with a will of its own and, with a surge of Herculean strength, slapped the Electric Alarm Clock of Doom to the ground. It landed on the carpet with a dull thump, still buzzing in annoyance. I moaned, groaned, sighed, and yawned all in rapid succession before moving a centimeter closer to the edge of the bed. If I just moved a fraction of an inch every few minutes, surely I would get to class on time, right?

Right?

According to the clock (which lay lazily on its back with the time pointed to the sky), I had only twenty minutes to get out of bed, take a quick dip in the shower, pull on clothes, shove a granola bar down my throat, and hobble all the way across campus before collapsing into a hard chair to jot down answers to questions about calculus and other useless stuff that no normal human being would ever need to know.

This whole situation seemed rather hopeless.

I rolled out of bed, collapsing onto my back. I winced, wishing that I had flopped out of bed with a bit more grace and finesse. At least the pain managed to jar my senses awake, though, unfortunately, the fall had failed to wake my motivation.

With a burst of effort, I pulled myself to my feet. The world spun around me. I staggered dizzily toward the door. Why did I want the door? How did I open a door? What was a door, and what was my name? The remnants of last night’s sleep made it even harder than usual for me to focus on logic and reasoning.

As I shambled down the hall toward the bathroom, my head buzzed with questions. Why did I put up with this madness? Why did I tolerate this insanity? Why did I want to take this exam, anyway? Who needed calculus? Who needed education? Who needed mornings?

The cold water of the shower filled my bones with shivers. The icy waterfall sloshed against my back, sending thoughts scattering from my head and leaving a frosty void in my mind. I rubbed soap on my skin in a rush, determined to flee the frigid waterfall as soon as possible.

This exam would kill me before I even took it.

I hurriedly dried myself with a towel. Warmth slowly returned to my bones, bringing with it the voice of an angel that told me I had worked hard enough already. “You deserve a nap,” the angel said, his words soft and feathery at the back of my subconscious. “Why don’t you go back to the dorm and sleep a little longer?”

Ah, sleep…

Sleep sounded nice.

But it would have to wait until after the exam.

When I returned to the dorm room, I yanked on a polo shirt and a pair of khakis. I didn’t dare waste precious minutes by fixing my hair. A quick look at my watch told me that I had only seven more minutes before the exam.

I didn’t have time to eat before the midterm. I would have to run.

The words of my English professor flashed across my head. “Every great hero must accomplish a great task to reach their objective,” she had once said. “Odysseus had to traverse dangerous seas. Sun Wukong had to obtain immortality. Harry Potter had to kill the Dark Lord, Voldemort.”

I, too, would need to accomplish a great task to reach my objective.

I would have to do the unthinkable and run in the morning.

The cold December air hit me hard, stripping me of precious warmth and dunking me in a whirlwind of frosty wind. The sun hadn’t even risen over the horizon. I had nothing but the dim light of the coming dawn to illuminate my path.

I burst into a jog. I had put too much effort into getting ready this morning, and I wouldn’t let all that hard work go to waste. I would arrive on time, and I would get a very good grade on that exam. My efforts would at least warrant a D+, right?

At long last, I arrived at the building which housed my Calc 2 classroom. I let out a sigh of relief, knowing that I had accomplished my great task and reached my objective. I stumbled through the door, dashed down hallways, and burst into the Calc 2 classroom only to find it almost completely deserted. Only one person–my math professor, Dr. Swenson–occupied the room.

He looked up from his desk and smiled at me. “Oh, hello! You’re early!”

“I’m…what?” I was many things, but “early” was never one of them.

“I said you’re early,” Mr. Swenson repeated. “The exam doesn’t start for another hour. Didn’t you see the email I sent last night? I decided to move the midterm from 8:30 to 9:30 to give all those night owls a little extra time to prepare and get ready for the test.”

I hated mornings.

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It All Started Out So Innocently

By Logan B., Pennsylvania, 9th Grade
Gold Key, Humor

Some stories begin with the boring line “Once upon a time…” Other tales choose the more adventurous opening “In a land far, far away…” This story, however, starts in the hall of champions, the birthplace of legends, also known as the middle school cafeteria on a Monday afternoon.

“And then,” Matt continued, laughing and talking with his mouth filled with ham sandwich, “I turned to my brother and told him, ‘Hey, that was my skateboard!’”

Cade snorted and lazily stirred his tomato soup with his spoon. “We already heard that one before. Try telling an original story for once.”

“It was still funny the second time,” Matt protested.

Lee shook his head. “It wasn’t even funny the first time.”

“Jay thought it was funny,” Matt said, pointing across the table at me. “You did think it was funny, didn’t you?”

I shrugged. “Meh. It wasn’t as funny as when Mrs. Stevenson choked on her water during English class last Friday.”

Lee burst into wild laughter, and Cade nearly spat out the spoonful of soup that he’d just put into his mouth. “Now that,” Lee said, “was a funny moment.”

Everything had started out so nice and innocent. The four of us–me, Matt, Lee, and Cade–all sat around a small cafeteria table, eating our lunches and chatting away casually. If only we had kept the topic of our conversation limited to Matt’s skateboard and Mrs. Stevenson’s incapability to drink water.

Oh, if only I’d known then what I know now. I could’ve prevented the calamity that would soon begin.

Matt stared across the room at a table that held five girls, all of them with styled hair and stylish pastel-colored clothes. They belonged to an elusive little coterie known by most as the “Cool Group.” They shrouded themselves in mystery and made no close relationships with anyone not a part of their own crowd.

“Hey, Matt,” Lee said. “Why are you staring at the back of Rylee’s head? You got a crush on her or something?”

Matt calmly turned to look Lee square in the eye. “As a matter of fact, Rylee and I are, as one might say, ‘going steady.’”

This time, Cade really did spit out his tomato soup while laughing. The stream of spittle and soup struck Lee right in the face, and that made me laugh twice as hard as anyone else. Matt somehow maintained a calm expression the entire time. “Going steady?” Cade asked. “Who even uses that term anymore? Who are you? My grandmother?”

Matt stuck his nose up at Cade. He looked just like a stuffy aristocrat with his dignified expression and his nose held high. “What’s the matter, Cade? Jealous that you don’t have a girlfriend anymore?”

Cade rolled his eyes. “Oh, give it a break. Jen and I are still together. We’re just taking a little break from dating.”

“A break?” Lee asked as he used his napkin to wipe soup off his face.

Cade nodded. “Yeah. A break.”

“Kate and I are still going strong,” Lee said. “She tells me that she wants to start thinking about…long term plans.”

I knew that this conversation had taken a bad turn. I knew that, now that we had taken a step down this rabbit hole, we could never escape from it.

Cade turned to look at me. “What about you, Jay?”

I froze.

“Yeah, what about you?” Matt asked.

“C’mon, spill it,” Lee pushed.

The truth was that I technically still had no girlfriend. But, as any boaster knows, you cannot simply admit something like that to three other boasters. You have to go big, make unbelievable bluffs, and hope that everybody forgets all about it by the next day.

“Staci Gomez,” I blurted out.

Staci was one of the prettiest girls in my grade. She wore dark clothes, had a nose ring, and talked to nearly no one, but she had the sweetest smile and a demure personality. She read poetry in her spare time, and she got nothing but irreproachable grades in all her subjects at school. She probably didn’t even know my name.

Cade erupted into more raucous guffaws. Matt pounded his fist on the table as tears of laughter seeped from his eyes. Lee just stared at me incredulously. “Staci Gomez?” Lee shook his head. “You’ve been going out with Staci Gomez?

“Well, yeah,” I lied.

“Now that, Jay,” Matt wheezed between fits of laughter, “is the funniest joke I’ve heard all day. Well played, man. Well played. My hat goes off to you.”

“You think it’s a joke?” I tried my best to sound offended.

“Of course we do,” Cade replied.

Lee put his elbows on his table and laced his fingers together. “If you’re not joking, then prove it to us.” He pointed at a table on the opposite side of the room from us. “Staci’s sitting right over there. Bring her over here so she can say, with her own words, that she likes you.”

All great boasters know a guy like Lee. Lee is, as we boasters like to say, a complete and absolute killjoy. When he sees someone pulling off a successful brag, he can’t help but ruin all the fun by making sure that he gets in the last word.

“I don’t want to rush her,” I protested. “She doesn’t like commitments.”

Lee nodded. “Uh-huh. Sure.”

“And she’s shy, too,” I added.

Bells have always played a pivotal role in the story of human civilization. The ringing of a bell announces important events such as church services, funerals, weddings, or the end of lunch period.

I let out a sigh of relief as the school bell trilled. “Gotta get to math class,” I said, jumping out of my seat. “See you around.”

“You have until next Monday, one week from now,” Lee said, “to prove that Staci Gomez actually likes you.”

We’ve all done things that make perfect sense in the moment but seem really, really, really stupid only a minute or two later. I happen to be an expert on doing stupid things. I’ve made more idiotic moves in the past fourteen years than most people make in their entire lifetimes.

Nodding to Lee definitely won the award of Biggest Mistake of the Year. “Right. I’ll do that. Just you wait.”

Oh, the follies of youth…

Staci Gomez sat in front of me in math class. I had nothing to do during class except stare at the back of her head. The teacher’s lecture on quadratic equations served merely as a distraction as I contemplated how I could get Staci to like me.

As a wise old sage once said, “The most terrible ideas come from the wandering mind of a teenage boy during a boring class.” I didn’t know which wise old sage said that. Maybe it was my brother. Regardless, I couldn’t agree more with that sage’s sentiment.

Maybe Staci already liked me. Maybe she had a secret crush on me and didn’t want to say it out loud in case I didn’t feel the same way about her. Maybe–just maybe–Staci was thinking the same thoughts about me that I was thinking about her.

She glanced over her shoulder, and I couldn’t tell if she did that just to get a glimpse of my deep, dreamy eyes or if she only wanted to check the time on the clock at the back of the room. I noticed her hesitate for a fraction of a second before turning her head back around to face the front of the room.

No doubt about it, Staci Gomez had feelings for me.

Time flies when you have a deadline.

At the start of every lunch that week, Lee reminded me about Staci. Every time he asked about how Staci and I were getting along, I told him, “Oh, we’re still easing into the relationship.” Once you make a little bluff, you have no choice but to ride that bluff like a surfer on a tsunami until you crash onto the beach and roll off your surfboard.

By Wednesday, I knew for certain that Staci loved me. I saw her glance over at me not once but twice on Tuesday. We even made eye contact, and I could plainly read the lovesickness in her brown eyes.

At least it looked like lovesickness.

Friday confirmed my suspicions about Staci’s affections for me.

When the last day of the school week rolled around, I had an ingenious plan. I would “accidentally” bump into Staci, causing her to spill some of the books in her arm. Then I could profusely apologize and pick up some of the fallen books. I would ask, “Hey, you’re Staci Gomez, aren’t you?” Staci would, upon seeing me down on one knee to help pick up her schoolbooks, blush and say, “Yes, Jay, and I love you with all of my heart.” I wouldn’t talk to her for the rest of the day, but I would text her something poetic and heartfelt the second I got home.

In hindsight, I realize just how much this plan resembled a slice of sharp, white, hole-covered Swiss cheese.

The plan took place between first and second periods. Staci and I would have to cross each other as we went from one class to another. I could easily “accidentally” stumble into her and then act like a gentleman to win her undying affection.

I saw her walking towards me. She hugged her World History and Language Arts textbooks to her chest. My mouth dried and my heart beat wildly, but I knew that I couldn’t chicken out now.

I walked forward confidently and bumped into her arm.

Staci had stronger arms than I’d anticipated. She didn’t drop either textbook. “Whoops, sorry,” she mumbled before walking right on by.

I grinned. She loved me. Only a girl madly in love with me would say, “Whoops, sorry.”

I’d given $20 to one of Staci’s friends in exchange for her phone number.

I ran up to my room the second I got home from school. After tossing my backpack against the wall, I plopped down on my bed and pulled out my phone. I had a girl to text.

“Roses are red,” I typed, “larkspurs are blue, but no flower can compare to my love for you.” I hit the “Send” button and smiled, perfectly proud of my brief yet heartfelt poetry. Now all I needed to do was wait patiently for a response.

One minute passed. Staci didn’t respond. Maybe she hadn’t checked her texts yet.

Two minutes passed. No response. Maybe she was still processing what I had to say.

Three minutes passed. Still no reply. Maybe she couldn’t figure out how to put her love for me into words.

Four minutes passed. I would need a more aggressive approach if I wanted to coax a response from her. My fingers flew wildly as I typed my heart out.

“Staci, I love you. I can’t imagine a life without you. Your smile brightens by world, and your voice warms my heart. I can’t let these feelings keep boiling inside of me any longer. Staci Gomez, I love you.”

Who could say no to that?

Staci replied promptly to my message. “Sorry, who are you?” she asked.

I blinked. Maybe I had the wrong number.

“It’s Jay,” I texted. “I sit behind you in algebra class.”

I had to wait thirty long seconds before Staci’s reply.

“Oh,” she said.

My heart sank, and I felt like throwing up. I–Jay Colburn, bragger extraordinaire–had been completely and utterly defeated by an “Oh.”

We didn’t text each other for the rest of the weekend.

Monday came sooner than I had expected.

I confronted Staci before first period. Words poured out of my mouth. I explained my situation with Lee, and I asked her why she couldn’t just pretend like she liked me, just for a week or two until everything blew over.

Staci took a deep breath stared up at me with big, brown eyes. The corners of her crimson-lipped mouth twitched ever so slightly. We held each other’s gaze for a while until Staci finally broke the stiff silence. “You want to know the truth?” she asked.

“Of course I do.”

Staci glanced away. She bit her lip, sighed, and said, “I can’t pretend to like you because I like Lee instead.”

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A Sketch of Bravery

By Logan B., Pennsylvania, 9th Grade
Gold Key, Short Story
American Voices Nominee

My eyes darted around, flitting from one thing to the next.

The stairs looked a bit slippery. That shine on the steps presented a falling hazard.

The walls didn’t pose much of a threat, though I wouldn’t want to bang my head off that corner.

The ceiling–thank goodness–was high enough that I wouldn’t bump my forehead into it, unlike with a number of ceilings at this school.

The floor, thank goodness, didn’t look too slippery. Of course, I could still end up tripping over a rogue shoelace, or maybe I’d managed to trip over my own feet, or, most likely, someone else would cause me to trip and spill my books.

Strands of my long, black hair fell over my eyes, blocking my vision. I ran my fingers through the greasy hair, pushing it away from my eyes. I couldn’t have my own hair blocking my vision. I needed my vision more than anything if I wanted to stay safe in this dangerous place.

I walked down the hall. My sneakers squeaked on the dirty tiled floor. I glanced around and saw one, two, three…ten people in the hall. I gulped. I usually avoided other people whenever possible. Other people always posed a threat to my safety. To make matters worse, school had just recently let out for the day. If I dawdled around for any longer, even more students would flood the halls. I groaned softly. The end of a school day always brought with it so many problems.

I kept my head down and my shoulders hunched. If I didn’t draw too much attention to myself, then maybe I could sneak through the hall without anyone hurting me.

Someone’s leg reached out and tripped me. As my schoolbooks spilled from my arms and skidded across the floor, I realized just how foolish I was to think that I could escape this hall without someone tripping me like that.

“Hey, Langley,” came the mean voice of Sal Winters, the kid who tripped me. He wore black pants with a white tank top to show off his sculpted biceps. “Nice trip. Need any walking lessons?”

I pushed myself to my knees and began gathering my dropped schoolbooks. “N-no thanks, I’m good.”

“Oh, is this a stutter I hear, Jonas?” Sal asked smugly. “Need talking lessons too? Man, how many problems do you have?”

“Please, j-just leave me alone,” I said as I picked up the last fallen book–my calculus textbook–and put it back in my arms. Just as I was about to rise back to my feet and leave the hall, Sal put a hand on my shoulder. He pushed me down, trapping me in my crouched position.

“Why should I leave you alone, Langley?” he asked, hissing in my ear. “You don’t belong in civilization. You’re not like us.”

“Just l-let me leave and I’ll–”

Sal’s fingernails dug into my shoulder, causing stabbing pain. To my horror, more students had gathered around to watch the spectacle between me and Sal.

“Oh, no,” Sal said, shook his head and grinning. “I can’t let you go. Not without teaching you a lesson.”

I gulped. “A lesson?”

Sal nodded. “Yeah, Brain Boy. A lesson. You think you’re so hot for skipping two whole grades before landing here in twelfth grade. You think you know everything.”

“Um…no,” I replied. “Actually, I don’t think that I know–”

“Shut it, Brain Boy,” Sal interrupted. “I’m the teacher now, and I’ve come to teach you a much–deserved lesson. You think you’re so tall, towering over everyone with those legs of yours that look like you stole them from a stork. Well, let me do you a favor and knock you down a notch or two.”

Sal had it all wrong. I didn’t feel superior over anyone, and I didn’t see why everyone made such a big fuss about my abnormal height. However, I got the feeling that Sal bullied me not because of my height but because of my…well, phobias.

Sudden pain shot through my shoulder as Sal’s fingers dug deeper. “Maybe you’ll feel a little less superior over everyone else here if I…hey, what’s this book thingy?”.

I prized that sketchbook more than anything else I owned.

“Hey!” I shouted. “Give it back, Sal.”

Sal laughed. “Yeah, no, I think we’re going to have a bit of fun with it first. In fact, I know a great game we can play with it, and the rules are so simple that even you could understand them. Catch me if you can!” With that, Sal tore off down the hall. I dropped my other schoolbooks and chased after him.

My stork legs gave me an advantage, but I couldn’t match Sal’s athleticism. Half of my brain screamed that this chase was too dangerous while the other half of my brain demanded that I reclaim the sketchbook as soon as possible.

Sal and I burst out of the school and into the warm, spring air. Sal spun around and waved around my sketchbook, taunting me. “Hey, Brain Boy! Do ya like heights?”

I watched in horror as Sal chucked the sketchbook up on top of the school’s roof. It slid down into the gutter. I could see its colorful cover peeking down at me, practically begging for me to climb up and retrieve it.

A number of other students had followed me and the bully. “C’mon, Jonas,” Sal said, sneering, “what’s the matter? Just shimmy up the drainpipe, grab the book, and come down. Simple as that.”

The drainpipe went up twelve feet–a very unsafe height. Not only that, but the drainpipe didn’t even look like it could support my weight. Climbing up would be my doom.

Sal taunted me a little more. Some other students joined in with him.

I couldn’t even hear their voices. I could only hear the sound of Parker’s Stadium from nearly ten years ago to the day.

Spectators had packed the stands. They had all come to see Tyler Langley, the wildest motorcyclist and the most daring daredevil. He could ride his motorcycle off a ramp and do three backflips before landing. He’d ride around with both hands off the handlebars while playing the guitar. He could do anything, and he was my father.

The smell of chili dogs filled my nostrils. The crowd buzzed excitedly around me. I couldn’t wait to see Dad do another one of his tricks. I’d heard from Mom that my father, my hero, the infamous Tyler Langley had a real doozy planned for the night.

Dad rode his motorcycle up a ramp that towered twenty or maybe thirty feet into the air. I leaned my head back and watched as Dad ascended.

I knew something was wrong the second his wheels left the ramp.

Dad must’ve hesitated for longer than he should have. Instead of flying cleanly off the ramp, he tumbled. He did a single flip before crashing to the ground.

The show was over. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital. My mother buried him a week later.

When I saw the sketchbook, I saw my dad. I heard the voice of the great daredevil Tyler Langley. He told me, “Be brave, Jonas. Stand up to your fears. Don’t be afraid. Be brave.”

Bravery had killed my dad.

My fingers curled into fists as I remembered sitting by Dad’s hospital bed. It all came back in a painful burst. The hospital’s sterile smell. The sound of Mom’s soft crying. All of it.

The heart monitor beeped, then beeped again, then stopped, all because of a stupid motorcycle and an act of “bravery.”

“C’mon, Langley,” Sal said, punching my arm and dragging me back to reality. “What’s the matter with you? You chicken or something? Go on. Get up there. Be a brave little boy.”

I acted using only my emotions and none of my brain. In that moment of anger, I did something “brave” for the first time since Dad died.

I decked Sal.

Mom shook her head. “That wasn’t bravery, Jonas.”

I sat on my bed next to Mom. Light trickled into the room through the small square window set in the whitewashed wall. I stared at the carpeted floor, deeply ashamed of what I’d done an hour earlier.

My fist had gone straight into Sal’s nose. Blood spurted from where I hit. Sal fell to the ground, and I panicked. I didn’t wait for the bus to take me home. I ran all the way back to my house without my textbooks. My sketchbook still sat in the gutter. I’d accomplished nothing.

When I got home, I sat on the stoop for a solid half hour. I buried my face in my hands and mentally replayed the scene with Sal over and over and over. My fist had moved without me allowing it. My emotions had taken over, leaving me with no way to control them.

And now I’d pay for that little mishap.

Mom eventually opened the door to the house and found me. She asked why it took me so long to get home. I tried to fib, but I broke down after only a minute of lying. I’d never truly learned how to tell a proper half-truth.

Mom took me to my room, we sat down on my bed, and I told her what had happened, including what I’d done to Sal.

“It was the first brave thing I’ve done in a decade,” I told her.

That was when Mom shook her head and told me that what I’d done was not bravery.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Bravery involves courage,” Mom explained, “and courage involves standing up to your fears.”

“But I did stand up to my fears,” I protested.

Mom shook her head. “No, Jonas. You ran from your fears.”

“But I–”

“You took the easy route. That’s not courageous.”

Mom gave me a hard look. I opened my mouth and then closed it, trying to figure out what to say. Then I opened my mouth again and asked, “How was that the easy route?”

“You didn’t solve your problem,” Mom replied simply. “You instead chose to do something that helped no one, not even yourself. When you go back to school, you’ll not only have to face that same problem again, but you’ll also need to face new problems that you caused by punching Sal. You can’t run from your problems. They’ll always catch up to you.”

I sighed. Mom had a point. I’d accomplished nothing. I’d done what I thought was brave, and it turned out that I’d just acted out of cowardice. As always.

“Your father always treasured bravery,” Mom said.

“Bravery killed Dad,” I replied, my tone a bit harsher than I intended.

“No, I’m not talking about his motorcycle stunts,” Mom told me. “I’m talking about the Tyler Langley outside of the arena. Remember on your fourth birthday when you climbed to the top of our house? You wanted your father and I to see you up there.”

I nodded, smiling and remembering the days before Dad’s death, back when I actually liked heights and silly stunts. “Yeah. I remember.”

“And then you fell?”

“The fall was actually kinda fun.”

“And then your father dashed out to catch you? And his arms broke your fall at the last possible second?”

I nodded again. “Yeah. I remember all that.”

That was bravery.”

I sighed. I had an idea of where Mom was going with this conversation.

“Bravery requires that you do the hard thing rather than take the easy way,” Mom told me once again. “You’ve got to learn that, Jonas. Bravery doesn’t mean falling off tall ramps. It doesn’t mean climbing up drainpipes. It means doing the hard thing.”

“So…” my voice drifted off. “So…you want me to apologize to Sal tomorrow.”

“Of course I do.”

I gulped. Maybe back in kindergarten I could have apologized to Sal and he’d forgive me. Now, however, in our senior year of high school, things wouldn’t go so well for me. Sal wouldn’t forgive me with open arms. The other students would stay far, far away from me. Sal’s parents would call and complain to Mom. I’d have trouble with the teachers. This incident might even go on my permanent record and make colleges and employers think twice about accepting me.

I’d really made a mess of things.

“Okay, I’ll apologize,” I said.

Mom nodded. “Good. And you’re grounded. Two months.”

I sighed. “Okay.” After punching a fellow classmate, I probably deserved more than that. Two months’ worth of grounding was a light sentence.

As Mom left my room, I couldn’t help but imagine all the many things that could go wrong the next day.

Sal leaned against the lockers. He’d cleaned up his nose, but it still looked bent and broken. Our eyes met, and I knew then and there that he had plans for me.

I walked timidly up to him. “Um…hey, Sal.”

He scowled. “Got problem, Langley?”

I sucked in a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” I managed to blurt out. “For…what happened.”

Sal snorted. “Spoken like a true loser. Scram. I don’t want to look at you today.”

Well, at least I’d apologized. I’d have to figure out some way to make things up to him later. However, I had something that I needed to do before first period.

The drainpipe miraculously held my weight.

I pulled myself up slowly, my knees pressing against the pipe’s smooth sides. I’d get a good grip on the pipe with my long-fingered hands, pull myself up a few more inches, and then repeat the process all over again. I tried not to look down. I kept my eyes fixed on the sketchbook.

Before long, I managed to reach up and snatch it from right out of the gutter. It had rained a bit last night, and the sketchbook had gotten soaked. I got the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to get much more use out of the soaked pages.

Unfortunately, as I looked over the sketchbook, I subconsciously glanced down at the ground far beneath my feet.

A six-foot drop. I hated those. They looked so much taller than they were. If I landed wrong, I could sprain an ankle badly. If I landed terribly, I could break my spine.

Was this how Dad felt up on that ramp, looking down? Was that why he hesitated? Because he was scared?

Did Dad get scared too?

My fingers slipped, and I fell from the drainpipe. I landed in a crouching position. Pain shot from my ankles. I winced, groaned, and staggered to my feet, my sketchbook in one hand.

Three minutes later, as I walked down the hall to my first period class, my eyes didn’t dart around, flitting from one thing to the next.

I walked around with a newfound freedom, which I found a bit odd considering that Mom had just grounded me for two whole months.

I’d done something brave and I’d climbed a drainpipe. The freedom had liberated me.

I opened the sketchbook to the first page. I’d gotten the book on the last Christmas I’d spent with Dad around, though I only started using the sketchbook a year ago. The first page had a note from Dad written in it.

“For Jonas, my brave, beloved son.”

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