Lily Bryan’s untitled story was the 10th-grade winner in the first Montclair Literary Festival Short Story Contest, held this spring. Arianna Donas and Ellie Whittam were runners-up for that grade. The contest received 77 entries from Montclair High School students.

“Now, you can clearly infer that Jane does not care about the societal expectations placed upon her, yet she—

“Sam Peters, if I see that phone one more time!” I sigh under my breath, and the familiar sound of Mrs. Williams yelling at Sam automatically reduces to the same buzz that I have taught myself to push to the back of my mind. I pick up my pencil, and soon the words flowing in my mind are all I can hear. As usual, the poem begins to write itself. I have soon become so concentrated that I do not notice the buzzing in my ear has stopped and not a student is with pencil in hand, until I hear a new voice. I look up, and Mr. James, the president of the high school, is standing at the doorway. I feel the rush of fear I always do when an official is in my presence.

“May I please speak with Karam Arian for a quick moment?”

My head jerks up at the mention of my name. The rush of fear immediately turns into a full-blown panic. I push back my chair and stand up, my legs shaking. As usual, the class erupts into the usual “oohs,” but this time I cannot join them.

As I follow Mr. James down the hall, I run through in my mind everything I was taught to say if anything like this were to happen.

My name is Karam Arian. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts. I now live in Montclair, New Jersey. I am 16 years old. I am legal.

Those last three words bounce around my skull, like a mantra I can’t seem to shake. I am legal. I am legal. I am legal.

We enter Mr. James’s office, a room I have always looked upon with a sense of dread. He settles in his desk chair, while I sit across from him. I feel my heart frantically beating against my rib cage, and find myself unable to look up.

“Mr. Arian? This is nothing bad, you know.” I look Mr. James in the eye, unable to believe what I’m hearing.

“N-nothing bad?” I stammer. He smiles and shakes his head. “Karam, do you know your writing is something exceptional? It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read, years and years above your grade level. Mrs. Williams sent me a few pieces of yours, and I can’t quite explain what it is, but there is something so powerful about your writing. From what I can infer, writing is something you very much enjoy. Is this true?”

This is more than true. Writing is my everything; the only way I keep myself sane. To not be able to write would be to not be able to feel, to think. I cannot possibly express this to Mr. James, so I keep my answer simple:

“It’s my passion.”

Mr. James smiles. “Well, I’m glad. Please keep writing, I don’t come across many students with such an exceptional ability. I would strongly advise you pursue a writing career.” I nod my head swiftly and reach across the desk to shake his hand, in complete and utter disbelief of his words.

The puddles splash my jeans as I walk home, but I don’t notice. I can’t stop contemplating Mr. James’ words. I would strongly advise you pursue a writing career. The thought has never even crossed my mind, but now I can’t get it out. Writing makes me happy, and the thought of doing something I love for the rest of my life fills me with warmth.

The door is open when I arrive. I throw my backpack down on the kitchen table and sprint upstairs. I had heard a new video game was being released today, and I am eager to find out which one. I am halfway to my room when I hear my name called. “Karam Arian, how many times must I ask you not to leave your backpack on the kitchen table?” I sigh.

“Sorry, Mom!” I sprint down the stairs, grab my bag and place it by the door. I went to go back upstairs, but my name being called once again stopped me.

“Not so fast. How was your day?” My mother never fails to ask me this question. I look up at her. She is truly a force to be reckoned with, someone I would never think of crossing. She is of Syrian descent and proud to be so. It is evident in me as well, and not something I’ve ever been ashamed of.

“It was good. Can I go upstairs now?” She sighs and nods.

My eyes fly open to a pitch black. I fumble around until I find my alarm clock and squint at it. 3:42 in the morning? What woke me up? I hear a yell, definitely the cause of my awakening. More yelling. I feel frozen under my covers; unable to move a muscle. I know I should go downstairs and find out what is happening, but I just can’t. The only thing I can do is squeeze my eyes shut and pray that this is a dream, some type of bizarre nightmare, and that when I wake up in the morning everything will be as it always is.

Three years. It’s been three whole years since everything. Three years since my mother was deported. Three years since I’ve seen my father really and truly smile, the kind that goes all the way up to your eyes. Three years since I’ve had a room to myself. Three years since I’ve willingly picked up a pencil. But things are starting to change. I’m beginning to seeˆ nature and people surrounding me the way I used to. New ideas for poetry pieces are beginning to pop into my head, and I am starting to listen to them instead of pushing them away. As I look out the classroom window at what used to be my beautiful house before the move, I realize. I realize that I cannot let what has happened to me and my family change the way I learn, or the education I am here to receive.