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the hero boy returning money
“Excuse me, sir, I think you dropped this”

The night was black and warm, the air thick and smoggy and choking with every breath. The girl and her father, walking home from the movies, did not speak. This was partly because of the empty humid night but mostly for some other reason, one that neither the girl nor her father understood. They were not close. The father tried but gave up when the girl avoided him or ignored him. The girl had tried but felt that he was too busy when she actually wanted to talk.

“You know how parents are,” she confided into the phone earlier that day and listened as her best friend, Leslie, began bemoaning the uncaring ways of her father, who didn’t understand how much she needed to go to this concert. It really was a matter of life and death. They both knew that.

The girl’s father, who had been sitting at the kitchen table, with his elbow on a newspaper and a cup of coffee continually in his hand, leaned a little closer to his friend, who had been patiently listening to the laments of the father.

“You know how teenagers are,” the father said, and his friend nodded. He did know how teenagers are.

Later that day, the father went into the girl’s bedroom and asked her if she’d like to go to the movies that night since they were showing Spider-Man. The girl was on the phone and had looked irritated when he came in, but now her eyes lit up and she giggled and nodded excitedly.

“I love Spider-Man,” she said. “My hero is Spider-Man. That’s what Leslie and I were just talking about, isn’t it, Leslie?” and she held out the phone so that her father could hear Leslie’s assent that they had, indeed, just been talking about Spider-Man. The father was satisfied that he had done something right, but he felt out of place in the pale pink room with the posters of boy bands and movie stars everywhere, and so he left quickly.

They decided to walk to the movies, since it wasn’t far and it was such a lovely day. When they got to the movie theater, the line was long. In front of them was a man with three little boys. He was lecturing them on something and holding a crumpled fist of bills.

“Now, boys, sit quietly,” he said. “Act nice and grown up, all right?”

“Why can’t you go in, Daddy?” the youngest asked.

“I can’t, buddy,” the man said and ruffled his hair. He made a sour face. “I only got enough money for you guys.”

The girl looked up at her father. He had a strange look on his face and he was fishing around in his wallet. He pulled out a ten, bent over, stood back up, and tapped the man on the shoulder.

“Excuse me, sir, I think you dropped this,” he said. The man stared at him, open-mouthed.

“Thanks, man,” he said. The father nodded at him. Then the man turned back around. “Guess what, guys? I’m comin’ with ya.”

The boys cheered.

The girl looked up at her father. He looked down and gave her a small, nervous smile. She looked down again.

Coming home, it was very dark. The girl wasn’t afraid, and since she knew the way, she marched along, her arms swinging. Just then, a big dog leapt out of the shadows and, snarling, moved towards the girl. She screamed. Her father began to run. He had been quite a ways behind the girl, but now he caught up quickly and jumped in front of her. The dog barked at them and threw himself forward, but the father’s foot met him and he fell back. He growled again but slunk into the shadows.

The girl and her father started walking again. They could hear the dog but he stayed where he was. They walked down the street, the girl still swinging her arms and trying to pretend her legs weren’t weak. She glanced around to make sure none of her friends were out and about and then she grabbed her father’s hand. The father silently thanked the dog.

After they got home, the phone rang. It was Leslie. The father was standing close to the girl and heard Leslie ask how the movie was.

“Fine,” said the girl and flopped down on the couch. “Oh, Leslie, you’ll never believe what happened!”

The father stood a little straighter and waited to hear her account of his generosity and bravery.

“Can you guess?” the girl cried. “Noo… I’ll tell you. They showed Spider-Man without his shirt on!”

“Teenagers,” the father muttered and went to bed.

the hero shyla deland
Shyla DeLand, 12
Remsen, New York

the hero anika knudson
Anika Knudson, 13
Tumwater, Washington