Jenna Winters lived a small suburb of Chicago, Illinois with her older brother Luke and her father. Luke just made the biggest mistake of his life. One mistake that could never be undone.
Dear Luke, March 13th
What were you thinking? I know you had your phone in your hand. That’s what the stupid truck driver told me at least. I yelled at him and kicked him in the shins more than a few times before a police officer pulled me away. I was crazy mad. I wanted to punch a hole through a wall. I’m mad at you too though. It doesn’t seem like something you would do, text and drive. Somehow only your phone survived. A party? It was for a party. You could have waited two seconds. Two seconds could have made all the difference in the world. The difference that makes you dead. What if that driver had left to go to work twenty seconds later than he did? Or if Brandon had sent you that message about his stupid party thirty seconds later because he got distracted by one of his ten trillion video games? I don’t know what I’m possibly going to do now. You’re all I had. I’m as good as gone.
Dear Luke, March 16th
When I came home I was still sobbing. I told Dad about what happened to you, and…I don’t really want to say what he said. Some police officers came by today so I could fill out some paperwork. I’m sure you would know how that went. Dad, drunk as usual, was sitting at the table with his head down when the police came in. There was no way I could cover for him at the spur of the moment. I had to explain everything to the police officers. About Mom leaving, Dad leaning on alcohol, and how we’ve been living with Dad like our baggage for the past ten years. So now I’m sitting in the police station with two giant suitcases full of everything I own, plus some of your old stuff. I think they’re sending me away. I don’t think we really have any other family. So maybe I’m going far away. It feels like my life is going to be over in the next twenty-four hours. Now I’m really going to be gone. I’ve lost everything in one day and I’m going insane. I swear I’m never going to text again. It haunts my memories.
Well dearest brother, March 17th
Thanks to you, I’m in a van on my way to Ohio. Ohio! Apparently there’s somebody’s family that’s willing to take me in out there. If you had stayed, I would still be home. We could stick to our plan of leaving Dad when you turned eighteen, never having to fall asleep to our father murmuring gibberish with his stench of alcohol in the air. I’m going to miss Chicago. Kind of. I’ll miss you until the day I die. You were everything I had. I’m wearing the first place medal you won in your last swimming race. You were going to go to the Olympics someday and you only had one more race before the trials. When you gave me that last medal…remember? You told me to keep it until I won one just like it, one that I could call my own.
I wonder what Ohio’s like. I don’t know about this new family. They’ll never compare to you, but I can’t decide whether to keep my distance from them or just wait to see what they’ll be like. I suppose I’ll never get used to this. It’s like I’m being sent off to live on another planet. I don’t like it.
Dear Luke, March 19th
I hate long car rides. I always get nauseous. From the picture I saw today, my new house looks nice I guess. I just know nothing about the people inside. They’re supposed to come pick me up from wherever these people are dropping me off. I wonder if I’ll have any siblings. I hope there isn’t a boy. That would make things torturous for me. I want to burst into tears right now but I’m trying to hold it back. I miss you. I feel like I’m stranded on an island without the ability to scream out for help. Everyone keeps throwing me around though and I feel like I’m losing me. This is killing me Luke. You got me into this mess, and I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to get out.
All I want is some nice people and a home to be in until I’m old enough to go and be on my own. I don’t even know what I want to do now when I grow up. Just two days ago I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer just like you were going to be. Now I’m not sure anymore. I just wish I was starting over with you still here.
Dear Luke, March 20th
Wow. This is really a nice house. The family seems so far. Except there’s one problem. They have two kids, and they’re both boys. One of them is older, about your age. His name is Daniel. The younger one is Cameron. The memories are already pouring back. The mom is okay. Her name is Clara. She just seems like she’s trying to make things too perfect. The dad, Bill, seems okay too. Better than ours at least. This could be a good house, just if you were in it too. But at the same time there’s something that just won’t let me be okay with this yet. There’s one thing I know for sure already. I’m not going to be involved with this new older “brother” any time soon.
This room they gave me is pretty nice. They went all out though which is getting kind of creepy. It looks like they wanted to make everything absolutely perfect. A little too perfect in my opinion. I have this balcony-like thing through the huge doors near the window in my room and I think I can get onto the roof from out there. Maybe I’ll go up tonight. Life here is never going to be the same as it was. I just wish you were here.
Daniel walked up the stairs to the room where Jenna would be living. He didn’t know if she would like him, considering the look she gave him when she saw him. Daniel thought it had something to do with what she had just come from. He didn’t know exactly. His mom just told him to go upstairs and tell her that dinner was ready. He knocked on her door and said “Dinner’s ready downstairs, just letting you know.”
“Thanks,” Jenna responded, and put down the piece of paper she was writing on. She got up and walked out the door of her room past Daniel like he didn’t exist while she started down the stairs.
Dear Luke, March 20th
Dinner was okay. Well, no, actually it was a bit of a disaster. Clara kept trying to keep everybody talking the whole time. And then she did the worst possible thing. She asked me about what exactly had happened. Trying to be polite, I told them, but then ran out of the room crying. She ran after me and apologized about ten trillion times saying how she really shouldn’t have mentioned it. Later I came back into the dining room and continued eating with them. Then she started asking me about my interests, and I mentioned swimming after I realized that I was still wearing your medal. That was dinner.
Before dinner, Daniel came upstairs to get me and I think I was kind of rude to him. At dinner I didn’t look at him once. I have to go to school this week, we’ll see how that goes. I’m going to bed. Love you.
The principal of Dublin High led Jenna into the history classroom on the 4th floor of the building. All heads turned to her as she walked into the classroom.
“Well it appears we have a new student here at Dublin High,” the teacher at the head of the room said. “What’s your name sweetheart?”
“Jenna. Jenna Winters.” she replied shyly. She had just realized that she didn’t really know what to say her last name was. She wanted to keep her last name, it was what defined her. But maybe her new family would need her to use their name. She didn’t even know their last name. She went over to the seat her led her to and sat down, placing her bag beside her. The teacher barely had time to mention anything to her about the class before the bell rang, and she was supposed to go to the next class. She picked up her stuff when a kid who had been sitting next to her turned to her.
“Jenna,” “Would you mind helping me find the Spanish room?”
“Sure. So where did you come from?”
“Why would you ever leave Chicago? That place is awesome,” he looked a bit confused.
“Well…it’s not exactly something I want to talk about…” she replied as they walked down the hallway.
“That’s cool. You know you can talk to me any time if you need somebody. You can trust me. I know I seem a little weird considering I met you a minute ago but I tend to be like this with the new kids –no one ever really takes them in.”
“That’s nice of you.”
“Well here we are. Spanish. Have fun! I’ll see you around,”
“See you,” she smiled to herself and walked into the Spanish room.
Dear Luke, March 24th
Today was interesting. So, I think I have a friend. Definitely not something I’m used to. I had a friend or two every now and then back home but they never stayed for more than a month or so. His name is Zack. No, I don’t like him like that, but he’s nice. At least he’s something I can have to help keep myself above water for now, as you used to say. School wasn’t that exciting, but no school is ever necessarily exciting is it? The teachers were nice, like most teachers are on a new kid’s first day, but they’ll get more vicious after a while, I know it. I’m still kind of avoiding the new family; I can’t shake off somehow I just feel like I need to be alone.
I managed to maneuver myself up onto the roof. It’s really nice up there. You can see the stars. You would love it. I could survive there, just as long as I keep a distance from this new family. They keep trying to comfort me, and it’s getting a bit over the top. I just have to keep going.
Hey Luke, March 30th
I don’t think I have much time to talk today, but I just wanted to let out my thoughts for a minute. It’s guess been a while since I wrote. Zack and I hung out today. I told him about you and what happened. He was really nice about it.
I’m still avoiding the family. I just feel awkward around them because they aren’t my real family. You are. And I can’t have you, so I guess I’m just like the sore thumb in their house. I have to go. Zack convinced me to try out for the swim team so I have to go stretch. See you!
Dear Luke, April 9th
I think I need to apologize to this family. I was talking to Zack today, and he was saying that they’re just trying to help me and make me feel better about what happened, and I guess he’s right. I haven’t been nice at all. They took me in because they thought it would be a nice thing to do. I’ve pretty much just been a pain, like an extra piece of baggage that they have to feed, like Dad was for us. Zack says they just want to help me get over being sad because of what happened to you. Maybe it’s about time I start making things better for people who are affected by me and for myself. Wow, I sound mature. I have to go out now to get a black dress with Clara. Your funeral is tomorrow. They let me bring you here to bury you and now they’re having a funeral. Clara said she worked it out. That was really nice. I have some apologizing to do.
Well Luke, April 10th
You had a very nice funeral in my opinion. There were lots of flowers and fancy decorations. Obviously not too many people came. It was Clara, Bill, Daniel, Cameron, some of their friends and me. I decided to invite Zack too since he’s my only friend.
The day before the funeral I had apologized to everyone, and I guess I felt a lot better. Of course, I sobbed, which was kind of awkward because I didn’t really have anyone to sob with. Everyone looked pretty sad, because I was so upset and crying just made me stick out of the crowd. I guess I’m kind of used to that by now. Everyone was very comforting though. Especially Daniel since I apologized to him. I had never been nice to him until yesterday when I apologized, so things are starting to look up for me I think. I’ve had a pretty good day, besides the fact that I was at your funeral sobbing buckets of tears. I’ll talk to you soon.
Dear Luke, April 20th
I got on the swim team at school! I wish you were my coach though. The one we have is nowhere near as good as you were. But she’s tolerable. She thinks I have potential…just like you did. If you had just stayed and gone to the Olympics we would’ve been able to leave home before you were 18. Life would’ve been so much better. But I made a decision this morning. I’m going to finish what you started. At least I’m going to try. This new life of mine isn’t that bad. Of course, I miss Chicago, and I can’t have the most important person in the world to me, but I think I’m doing as good as I can with what I do have. I feel like I’m starting to be able to be happy with this life. I guess I just had to have the right attitude to look in the right places.
Dear Luke, August 10th
It’s been a really long time since I’ve written. I haven’t exactly had the time. I had Clara drive me to your grave today. I’m sitting right next to it now. I’m in a really good mood today, because I’ve been thinking about all of this that’s been happening. Zack and I are best friends now, and Daniel and I are really getting closer. I think this new life, or practically new world of mine, is going to be okay. Maybe I could have been as happy in Chicago if things had been different but this new life in Ohio is making me so happy, and I think it’s all because of the new choices I’ve made, and things I found.
It’s starting to seem like this is better than the old life we had, especially with Dad. The only thing that could make this life perfect is the only thing I can’t have. You. The thing is though, that you don’t exist anymore. I haven’t accepted that you’re gone for good. But I can’t change anything that happened already, so I think it’s about time that I let go somehow. I love you so much, but I can’t keep living with my hand wrapped around your finger. I have a life ahead of me to live.
The next day, after they ate an early dinner, Jenna, Zack, and the family were going to head out to see a movie. Right before they left, Jenna ran up to her room to grab something. Before her family got into their van and Jenna and Zack got into Zack’s pick-up truck, Jenna turned to her family.
“If it’s okay, I need to make a quick stop on the way to the movie,” Jenna said.
“That’s fine,” Clara said, “just be on time at the theater.”
“We will,” She hopped into the passenger seat of the truck right after Zack.
“So where are we making this stop?” Zack asked.
“The graveyard. It’ll only be a minute. Maybe less.”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
And with that, they all set out. As they drove, Jenna leaned against the window and looked out, with a smile on her face the whole time. Her life was as great as it could possibly be at that moment.
Jenna stepped out of Zack’s old pick-up truck with a small package in her hand, wrapped with a red ribbon. She slowly walked over to her brother’s gravestone and set the package down next to the flowers she had left nearly a month ago that were slowly fading away. Jenna looked at the stone for a minute; it symbolized her brother, and she thought back to how her life used to be. A smile came to the corners of her mouth as she turned and slowly and walked back to the truck, not once looking back over her shoulder. Her letters had been delivered.
Thea Zalabak, Age 13, Grade 8, The Clinton School For Writers and Artists, Silver Key