Our February 2023 Flash Contest was based on Prompt #240 , which asked that participants write a story/poem about love. The love we wanted participants to write about could have been any form of love—platonic, romantic, familial, etc. We received a bevy of submissions interested in all kinds of love, with pieces ranging from a poem from the perspective of a spited and obsessive former lover to a story about the protagonist's love for their dog to a poem about Eros and Aphrodite. As always, thank you to all you participated, and please keep submitting next month!
In particular, we congratulate our Winners and our Honorable Mentions, whose work you can appreciate below.
“Operation Valentine" by Oola Breen-Ryan, 11
“Teddy" by Aaron Duan, 11
“An Unexpected Valentine" by Violet Kottkamp, 12
“Love as a Blanket" by Claire Lin, 12
“Agapi" by Nova Macknik-Conde, 11
“Love" by Sofia Grandis-Oliveira, 10
“Because She Never Knew" by Sophie Li, 12
“Lay Me Down Tonight" by Chloe Ruan, 13
“Our Creek" by Pranjoli Sadhukha, 13
“Between Friends" by Joycelyn Zhang, 12
Oola Breen-Ryan, 11
It’s the Friday morning before Valentine’s Day, and I’m completely panicking. Everyone else in my class has a date for the Valentine’s Dance. Trust me, I have absolutely no interest in going. I’m just planning on staying home and consuming large amounts of chocolate. My best friend, however, is on a different schedule.
“You want me to what?!” I exclaim, dropping the chip that I’m holding onto the giant fluffy rug that covers her bedroom floor. The dance is on Tuesday, but I’d assumed that Kenzie would want to stay home like I was going to do.
“Come on, Harper—I just need you to befriend Nate. That’s all that I’m asking."
"How does me being friends with Nate have anything to do with him asking you out?" I ask.
"Because then you can set us up," she says, as if it’s obvious.
This plan seems...problematic. “The dance is on Tuesday, giving me two school days to become friends with Nate," I say. "This plan has more holes than Swiss cheese.”
“Please—I’ll arrange a date with whoever your crush is if you do this!”
This stops me cold. I’m not sure how I romantically align myself, but I have never had a crush on anybody before and I’m not sure if I ever will.
I must look pretty confused, because Kenzie quickly says, “If-if you do have a crush.”
I sort of grimace. “Kenz,” I say. “You’re my best friend. Of course I’ll try.”
She smiles at me then, and I realize: I have no idea how I’m going to pull this off.
“Um, hi Nate.”
Nate looks startled as he slams his locker door shut to reveal me, just standing next to his locker, slightly maniacal-looking. I stayed up late last night devising a strategy and I think I know what to do.
“Um, hi to you, too,” he says, looking sort of perplexed. Then he just walks off.
Darn it! I messed up my one chance to approach him. Now it’ll seem like I like him if I keep on bothering him during the day. And I’m not quite in the mood to embarrass myself.
I have basically no idea how to talk to him, though, so embarrassing myself it is.
My attempts were pointless. He has evaded, escaped from, steered clear of, eluded, and otherwise avoided me for the entire day.
Time for my last-ditch attempt. I have a folded-up note in my pocket that I wrote in art class. It’s pathetic, but I’m desperate.
Sliding it through the slits of his locker, I glance around. Our last-period classes are just wrapping up, so this is my last chance.
The paper makes a satisfying “clunk” as it lands in his locker. I walk away from it carefully, like it could explode at any point of contact.
And then I’m done.
On Monday morning, Nate completely ignores Kenzie. Eventually, he asks Tabitha Miller out. Tabitha is ecstatic.
Kenzie comes over to my house after school and sobs. I didn’t realize that it was possible for somebody to cry that much. But it is. I just sit there, on the sofa, wondering if I should get a glass of water for her so she doesn’t run out of liquids in her body.
“Hey, Kenz, want to go to the dance together? As friends,” I say, then gasp. I don’t know where that came from.
She looks up from her pillow, eyes wet and rimmed with red. “I, um, sure,” she says, sounding just as surprised as I am.
I nod. “Okay. I mean, Nate is a jerk.”
We both start laughing.
Nate ended up completely ditching Tabitha. She was crying in the girls’ bathroom. I felt sort of bad for her, but I wasn’t really sure how Nate had made so many people cry without being aware of it.
The dance was chaotic, but I think Kenzie realized that there was more to it than just being asked out by classmates. She had a lot of fun, and, to be perfectly honest, so did I.
And, for the record, I still got to eat a lot of chocolate.
Aaron Duan, 11
The air around me was filled with a whimsical cheer. I playfully circled around Mom and Dad, trying to catch snowflakes on my tongue. The merry laughter of the crowd that had gathered on the promenade and the faint twinkling of the Christmas bells sounded far away as I immersed myself in my own bubble. Another flurry of snowflakes blew towards me and I rushed to get a closer look at their dazzling white, but my heavy boots failed me, and a moment later I was lying face down in a fluffy pillow of snow.
I was brought back to reality by Mom’s loving smile, her eyes a kaleidoscope of colors, reflecting the light shining from the glowing Christmas ornaments. As soon as I was pulled back up again, Mom gestured at me to turn around and I gazed upon the snow angel I had just made in my trance, a perfect imprint of my face on it.
“Oh, you silly little one.” She sighed and patted me on the head. My laughter started off soft at first, but gradually grew to a full on fit of hysterical giggling. Mom and dad started chuckling softly too, (Mom had always said that my laughter was highly contagious), while some passersby also could not contain their laughter. Back then I was still so naïve, trying to make sense of people’s actions, but always so curious about the world around me. Why were Christmas lights usually red, green or white? Why did all the grown-ups laugh when I talked about Santa Claus? Those were all things I learned in my later life, still retaining some, although far less, of the curiosity that I had possessed in my childhood.
As we continued walking onwards, the atmosphere became more hectic, with all sorts of presents and goodies on display in shops that lined the road. I was confused and puzzledly looked around, before I saw a gigantic teddy bear on display, with luscious brown fur and round eyes. My heart started racing. It looked like the perfect friend. That is, until I saw the price tag. Eighty dollars? Back then, my family was definitely not the type to spend hundreds of dollars on lavish accessories or dining. We owned a single apartment with three bedrooms and Mom and Dad worked hard to make a living. I knew that this was out of the question.
My eyes wandered desperately for another, more reasonable option, (for I was certain that I needed a teddy bear) and rested upon a bear with the same charisma and appearance as the bigger teddy bear, but... only fifteen dollars!
“Mommy, can I have this one?” I excitedly asked Mom as I pointed to the bear, jumping up and down. Mom came closer and examined the bear and then looked at Dad before saying, “Yes, sweetie, but then you’ll have to wait for your birthday next year to get that magic kit you wanted, ok?” I contemplated my choices, making a seemingly life changing decision. But all the while the bear was looking at me, waiting for life to come to it. I had made my decision.
“Ok, Mom.” I walked out of the store with the teddy bear clutched tightly in my hand, shielding it from the snow and bouncing happily along the road.
And so, the teddy bear came into my life, “talking” to me when I was lonely, encouraging me to do my best, comforting me when I was depressed. I gave it a name, simple and lovely, Teddy. I took him with me wherever I went and was especially proud to tell the full story at Show and Tell. But one day, five years after I had gotten him, I found Teddy missing, the place he normally sat at on my bed cold and lifeless. I searched every nook and cranny to try and find him, frantically called my parents to help. My mind screamed at me for being so careless and I almost called the police secretly. 9-1- Oh snap! Dad walked into the room.
After a week or so of trying to find Teddy, it became a pointless wild goose chase and I gave up. But I was grateful to my parents for being so understanding and loving towards me. The loss of Teddy enveloped me into a melancholy, and it felt like my childhood was gone. I eventually got over my loss, but I never forgot about Teddy, my best friend, the whisper of my childhood.
Last year, I visited my parents for Christmas, like I usually did, and on Christmas Eve, after catching up with them about everything that had happened that year, Dad took out a box, which I could tell had been painstakingly gift-wrapped by Mom and him.
“Open it, Robert. “I listened to them and slowly opened the box, careful not to damage it, and opened the cover. Inside the box, lying on plush velvety cushions, was Teddy. He looked brand new like the day, almost three decades ago, when Mom had first gotten it for me. Tears almost started brimming in my eyes, and I embraced Mom and Dad.
“Ma, Pa, I love you.”
“Oh, we know you do, Rob. We know you do... We found it under the closet when we moved out of our old apartment.”
“You don’t know how much I’ve... Thank you so much.” I thought I had not retained anything from my childhood except my love for Teddy, but I knew now - Christmas was and still is my favorite holiday.
And so, readers, I am writing this now, with care, with love, just like my Mom and Dad the way they did so to me. Their undying love, their perseverance, will forever be a part of my heart.
An Unexpected Valentine
Violet Kottkamp, 12
Pink and red banners wave over my head as the chatter of the cafeteria fills my ears. It's the day before Valentines and the whole school is decked out in romantic colors. Heart shaped notes have been flying from hand to hand with rumors of who likes who. Of course, it's me who hasn't even received a note, not that I want one anyway. I spot Ava amidst the sea of heads and make my way over to her.
"Did you get a Valentine?" she asks hopefully.
"Nope. Did you?" I reply. She sighs.
"No. I'm still hoping he's just waiting till after lunch to give it to me," Ava says, glancing at a table not far from ours, Luke's table. He and his friends are talking loudly, teasing each other, and laughing. Ava sighs again. Even though I don't like Valentines, I want Ava to enjoy it.
"Want to make a Valentine’s Day dessert after school at my house?" I offer. Her face lights up.
"Yeah, that's sounds great. Thanks, Cloe," Ava says, tucking a wisp of blonde hair behind her ear. I open my backpack to take out my lunch and accidentally knock a small box with a red bow out of its hiding place. Ava sees it and before I can stop her, pulls it out of my bag.
"What's this," she asks, waving it in front of my face teasingly.
"Hey, give that back!" I plead, snatching it out of her hands. She gives me a look and I relent.
"Fine, it's for my Valentine. I'm giving it to him later," I say, putting the box back into my backpack and opening my lunch.
"Who is it?" Ava presses, but I bite into my sandwich without replying.
"Pleeeeeeease?" Ava whines. "I won't tell!"
"You'll see him today, at my house. He'll be there," I reply, somewhat enjoying the effect I'm having on her.
"Okaaaay," she says slowly, and thoughtfully pulls apart an Oreo.
The lunch bell rings a few minutes later and I pack my bag, ready to crush the last few classes of my day. At first, Ava is right beside me when I walk out of the cafeteria, but suddenly she disappears. Surprised, I re-enter the cafeteria and see Ava running towards me, away from Luke's table.
"Got one!" she squeals, holding a red note in two fingers.
"I knew it," I say, squeezing her hand excitedly. As we enter the classroom, a girl calls out to me.
"I love your sweater!" she says. I give her a thank you smile and head into class, the black letters on my sweater causing laughs and smiles.
"It's cute!" Ava compliments, reading the letters. I smile knowingly.
"This cake is absolutely delicious," Ava remarks, her mouth full.
"Agreed. We should make this every year," I suggest. "It could be our tradition!"
"Ooh, good idea!" Ava nods. The cake is a simple vanilla cake, but with caramels and chocolates on top of a perfect pink frosting. It is wonderful.
"Hi, Oliver!" I call out as my dog clomps into the kitchen. I open my backpack and retrieve the red box.
"Wait, what?" Ava asks, confused. I lean down to stroke Oliver's head, and he licks my hand affectionately. Opening the box, I pull out a large, heart shaped dog treat.
"Will you be my Valentine, Oliver?" I ask. Oliver barks and wags his tail eagerly. Ava bursts into laughter behind me and I join in as Oliver take the treat from my hand. Wiping it on my pants, I turn to Ava.
"Just like your sweater says," she remarks through gasps of breath.
"Yes," I laugh. "My Dog is My Valentine!"
Love as a Blanket
Claire Lin, 12
Love is like a blanket
that you hold on tightly to
Sometimes the edges are rough
And maybe occasionally,
there’s a juice spill
and the blanket
in the dryer
as a result.
But it’s still the same blanket
even if it’s
or has fluff torn off.
Because love is like a blanket
that you hold on tightly to
Nova Macknik-Conde, 11
A birthday party at two. Eros smiling up at Aphrodite. His first bow and arrows.
“Happy birthday, Eros!” Aphrodite says, slicing the pink-and-red cake.
Practicing archery at four. Hitting the heart-shaped target exactly in the middle.
“Yes! That was great, Eros!” Aphrodite says, wondering what she ever could have done to deserve him.
A scraped knee at six. Eros sobbing and biting his lip.
“Oh no!” Aphrodite says, putting a band-aid on Eros’s knee. Kissing Eros’s wound.
Mother’s Day at eight. Finding and plucking a big rose. ‘For Mommy,’ Eros thinks.
Aphrodite finding a red rose on her pillow with a note. Her favorite flower.
A fever at ten. Warm chicken soup, a cold compress on Eros’s forehead.
Aphrodite sitting on Eros’s bed and watching him sleep after the fever breaks.
Hide and seek at twelve. Hiding in Aphrodite’s closet until she calls out that she gives up.
Eros running out from Aphrodite’s closet, laughing, into her arms.
Snowfall at fourteen. Eros launching a large snowball at Aphrodite.
Aphrodite ducking Eros’s snowball and retaliating with one of her own.
Taller than Aphrodite at sixteen. “Uh… Mom? I think I’m bigger than you…” Eros says.
“You’re growing up!” Aphrodite says with forced cheerfulness.
Eros’s eighteenth birthday. Waking up with a gasp. “Mom, I’m all grown!”
“But to me, you’ll always be my baby,” Aphrodite says, “no matter what age.”