The Berkshire Athenaeum's Children's Library has announced the winners of its annual Short Story Writing Contest for Children and Young Adults. Numerous stories were submitted in five categories.

Stories were judged on their originality, appeal and writing style. Contest judges Marilyn Manning and Bea DaSilva were teachers in the Pittsfield schools and Sandy Gero was a nurse at BMC. Winning entries, honorable mentions and works of merit will be bound and added to the collection of the Berkshire Athenaeum, so that community members may read and enjoy them.

The winners and categories for 2016 are as follows:

In the age 5-6 category: First place, Reese Rathbun; second place, Lukas Mazzeo.

In the age 7-8 category: First place, Gabryela Y. Ortíz-Ramírez; second place, Natalie Hines; and honorable mention, Lisa Chen.

In the age 9-10 category: First place, Willow Papina Barboza; second place, Leora Cook-Dubin; and honorable mention, Katelyn McCormack.

In the age 11-14 category: First place, Ben Prescott; second place, Elliot Krantz; and honorable mention, Hannah Stroud.

In the age 15-18 category: First place, Emma Lezberg; second place, Trudy Fadding; and honorable mention, Jenna Crosier.

All first-place winners will receive a $35 cash prize. Second-place winners will receive $25, and honorable mention winners, $20. Prizes are donated by the Friends of the Berkshire Athenaeum, whose continued support make this contest possible.


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A reception, for all participants, family and friends, was held on Friday at the Athenaeum. The speaker was local author and Berkshire Eagle reporter Derek Gentile.

Here are the winning stories.

"Molly and the Very Interesting Adventurer"

Once there was an ant called Molly. Ants go into the jungle and find leaves. They bring them back home to eat the toxin on the leaves. Worker ants help the queen by licking the eggs to keep them wet so they won't die. If the babies in eggs get dry they will die.

Solder ants can tell if an ant is attacking or saying, "Hi." Solder ants help the queen by keeping the colony safe and also solder ants can bit off enemies body to 100 pieces. Solder ants have really strong jaws that rip a enemies head off. Slaves ants come from different colonies of ants and how they get them are from another colony takes them when they are a baby and when they grow up they become slaves ants. Slaves ant work in another colony they do not come from. Queen ants lay eggs and they lay 100 eggs a day. Worker ants help the queen by taking the eggs and bringing them to another worker ant so the one can take care of the baby.

Molly is very smart and very intelligent and always happy. Molly is very excited because she is going on a very interesting adventurer. So Molly decided to go up the longer way in the woods Also Molly loved searching for lots of things. Molly was a different ant like the others because she did not have six legs. Molly and her friends really look like each other. The next day, Molly and her friends went into the woods to start the adventure, and Molly was even scared because there might be an anteater.

Molly's three friends are Lilly, Leena and Jazzy. Lilly likes to move around and is always nice. Leena is very mean and pushes around, but she acts nice around Molly. Jazzy likes to dance.

Molly's family members are her little sister and her big brother and her twin sister. Molly's bigger brother is named Carter. Also Molly has two adorable twin sisters.

The next morning, they went out to get food for the colony. They first were walking on a trail and saw a big large humongous anteater. He was trying to find ants by digging in a hole. He did not see them because he was so busy with his long nose sniffing for ants.

When they saw the anteater, they went around him by climbing a tree. They walked along a long tree branch to another tree until they were past the anteater. They said to each other that they all did a good job working together to get around the anteater.

Then they saw a man walking through a big meadow and who almost stepped on them. They had to duck under a rock to get away from his big feet.

When he walked by, something dropped to the ground. It was a big brown bag with a small hole in the side. The ants wanted to check out what was inside the bag. They could not get in the bag. They crawled all over the bag looking for a way to get in. Lilly saw a small hole in the bag but the hole was too small to get in. Molly said maybe they could chew a bigger hole in the bag so they could get inside the bag.

Molly tried to chew the bag, but she was tired so Jazzy took over and worked on the bag. Slowly, the hole got bigger and Jazzy was able to put his head in the bag. But when Jazzy tried to back out of the bag to talk to Molly, Lilly and Leena, he realized he was stuck. They all tried to pull Jazzy out, and once all three grabbed and tugged, Jazzy finally popped out and they all landed on each other. They all laughed and gave a group hug.

Lilly had a smaller body, so they decided to have her go in the hole and see what was inside. Lilly was able to fit in the bag and her body disappeared in the bag. Molly, Leena and Jazzy watched and waited to hear what she found in the bag. She found a grape, a piece of bread, a donut and a bottle of juice. Lilly was thirsty so she took a drink from the bottle of juice. She dashed back to the hole and told the other what she has found.

Molly, Leena and Jazzy were very excited to have found such a big bunch of food for the colony. Everyone would be happy when they got back to the colony and told them about the bag. Lilly popped back out the of bag. They would have to go back to the colony to get more worker ants to bring back the food.

They were so happy they rushed back through the forest, right past the anteater. They were so excited they forgot about the anteater. The anteater looked up at the four ants and they screamed and ran as fast as they could. Molly ran over the top of Lilly she was so scared. Leena pushed Lilly down and ran her over too. Molly looked back and felt bad, so she turned around and went back to Lilly and picked her up and yelled at her, "We have to hurry as fast as you can."

Jazzy was such a good dancer that he jumped over all three of his friends and ended up in front of them. They were still running when they saw a log hid inside. They were all breathing hard. Their hearts were beating so fast and they could barely talk.

Molly said, "That was close one." And Jazzy said, "That was very scary." Lilly said, "Thank you, Molly, for helping me get up." Leena said, "We need to get back to the colony to tell everyone about our adventure and what we saw."

So they started running again just in case the anteater came back. They went back the same way they came and were happy to see the colony just over the next hill. They ran inside the colony and told everyone about the big journey they had when they were out. They told them about the anteater and the big man in the meadow who dropped a bag of goodies.

All the worker ants formed a line and Molly, Leena, Jazzy and Lilly were in the lead to show them where the food was. They also showed them where the anteater was digging the hole. The went around the anteater like before by climbing the trees to get around him to get to the bag. Soon they had all the food and carried it back to the colony.

Once they got back to the colony, the Queen heard about the food they found and she was very happy. She was very happy to see Molly, Lilly, Jazzy and Leena. She told them that they did a great job finding food and could have the first bite of the grape.

Molly, Lilly, Leena, and Jazzy all gave each other a huge hug and said they couldn't wait to tomorrows next adventure.

THE END

"The Four Animal Friends"

Once upon a time, there was a tiger named Tigy, a sheep named Rosa, a duck named Quacky, and a bear named Blue. All of them lived in Rainbow Land. They were all best friends; they went to the same school.

One day, they went on a trip. But first, they asked their parents if they could go. Their parents said, "Yes. It is OK as long you stay in Rainbow Land." Blue said, "My mom told me to please be safe."

Quacky said, "This trip is going to be so much fun."

All four friends were walking to Rainbow Forest. Rosa said, "Hey, guys, look at the beautiful rainbows inside the waterfalls. Oh, wow, there are three rainbows together."

After that they saw a space ship covered with flowers. They moved the flowers and entered the space ship. Blue saw a big blue button. He was curious. And he pressed it at the same time as Tigy screamed, "Do not press that button!" They all were scared because they heard a noise. They all said, "Uh-oh," at the same time.

After five minutes, the space ship landed in a new place. All of them were walking far away from the space ship. Quacky said, "We are lost."

Tigy said, "Look, there is a house. Let's see if someone can help us." Outside the house, there were two girls playing.

Blue asked the big girl, "Hey, do you know were we are?"

The big girl said, "We are in Magic Planet."

Rosa said, "We are from Rainbow Land. Can you help us get back home?"

The little girl said, "Yes but how did you come here?"

Tigy said, "We landed on a space ship."

The big girl said, "Let's go back to see the space ship."

When they got to the space ship, the little girl said, "Just follow The Three Kings stars."

The big girl put the name of the land on the computer and said, "Just follow the stars to know that you are going in the right direction."

Both girls said, "Bye-bye! Have a safe trip back home."

The four friends said, "Thank you," and "Bye-bye!" at the same time. When they saw The Three Kings stars, they knew they were close to home. A couple of minutes later, they landed safely. They had a great adventure.

THE END

"The Glass Angel"

On a beautiful day, a girl named Angel went to a yard sale. From the first minute she was there, she spotted a glass angel.

She loved it so much that she asked her mom and dad if she could buy it. They both said yes. So she grabbed it and paid the lady running the yard sale for it.

As she was about to walk away, the lady asked her, "Are you sure you want this angel? It has a bit of old magic left in it." The girl replied with a smile and an excited nod. Angel loved magic and was looking forward to discovering what the lady had meant.

That night, when she put her new glass angel next to her bed she went to sleep right away and had the most amazing dream of her life. In her dream she was Paris, France.

She was walking the beautiful streets looking in all the shop windows as she passed by. She came to beautiful hat shop with many different hats in the display window. There was one hat that really caught her eye, it was a beautiful black artists hat with purple feathers coming off the side. She walked into the shop to get a closer look.

Just as she was holding the hat in her hands, she woke up from the dream. Next to her bed was the exact same hat she had seen in her dream sitting next to her glass angel. Angel ran downstairs to her mom and dad to ask if they had left the hat there for her. The both said no they had not. Her parents also said, "WOW!"

The next night, Angel stayed up thinking of the Dakota Eagles and then all the sudden she saw a magic sparkle come from her glass angel. She was more excited than scared by what was happening.

Then the most magical thing happened right in front of her eyes. The glass angel made a small wooden eagle appear. The glass angel said, "Here you go, my Angel." And then the magic was gone. Angel will now always believe in magic and always love angels, especially her glass angel.

THE END

"60 Seconds"

Part I

The wind is whipping around me, blurring my face and sending tears flying behind me. All the while giving me the rush no drug or drink can provide, it's the frightening speed and altitude that pushes your mind to the limit, racing over everything that could go wrong, weighing the risks. However, no matter how many things could go wrong, nothing is better than the blissful fear and excitement of the fall. Nothing makes you forget your past and just think of your future than skydiving, and that's why I love it.

I'm Dean. I've been skydiving for years with my best friends Caleb and James. We've been going ever since we turned 18. We only had to take one run until we all knew we were hooked on the rush. That terrifying sensation of falling, but always knowing your parachute will catch you.

Six years after our first fall at age 18 we are all going on our 60th jump. It's the perfect day, the sun is shining, the skies are clear, and it's looking to be the best jump of our lives.

We finally convinced Cal, one of our old buddies from high school to give us a free ride 2,000 feet higher than the designated drop zone. So now we're going to jump from 16,000 feet instead of the normal and regulated height of 14,000. Now we just have to wait for Cal to show up. We're just hoping he got through the whole being late for everything phase he was going through in high school.

One hour later. Guess he never got through the phase, I thought dejectedly.

Half an hour later, we see a plane hurtling out of the sky like an out-of-control missile, heading straight for the runway. The plane soars down and skids for about 50 yards, all the while leaving the smell of burning rubber lingering over the whole airfield. Cal jumps out of the plane and yells, "You ready to fly?" Cal says confidently

"Yeah about two hours ago, you!" James says heatedly.

"Well I'm sorry you had to wait but who has the plane here? I mean are you all forgetting I'm doing this for free?" Cal says smoothly.

"What James meant was we're all sorry we were so early and thank you for doing this for free," I say in a fake sincere voice. "Right James?"

"Oh, yeah. Thanks, Cal," James says apologetically.

"Well what are you all waiting for? Get on the plane and let's do this," Caleb yes. We all rush toward the plane, almost knocking Cal off.

"Hey, Cal," I yell.

"Yeah?"

"My parachute's torn and I was wondering if you had any extras," I say, ashamed.

"Yeah I have one in the pilot's room, but how'd it tear?"

"When I was putting it back in, it fell out so I got annoyed and just dragged it along with me and it snagged on some metal, and now it has a giant gash in it."

"I'll bring you the replacement."

"OK. I'll be in the pilot's room if you need me. Oh, and Dean, here," Cal says as he tosses the parachute to me.

"Thanks, Cal."

"No problem, just you all need to get geared up because we're going to reach our designated drop zone in 10 minutes."

With my heart pounding inside my chest and my whole body shaking, it makes it really hard to put the parachute on, but as we near the drop zone I couldn't help but smile. As I pull my goggles on, I prepare myself for the best jump of my life.

After about 10 minutes, Cal comes out of the pilot's room with a huge smile on his face. "We're here," he says. "Now listen really closely to me, OK?"

We all start to stare with grim anticipation for what is about to happen.

"I'm going to pull the lever on the door and it's going to fly open, OK? And then you guys can jump out one at a time."

"How long will it take for us to hit the ground from this altitude?" I ask calmly.

"I was getting there, Dean, before you so rudely interrupted me. Now where was I? Oh, yeah. You all need to jump out one at a time. OK?"

"Got it!" we all shouted.

"But how long will it take for us to hit the ground?" I ask again.

"We are 80 seconds off the ground."

"OK, so we pull at 60 seconds. Got it, guys?"

"He was always too good at math. Right, James?" Caleb says.

"Yeah, that's our Dean," James says.

"OK, are you guys ready or should I wait?" Cal asks excitedly.

"We are ready," we yell.

When Cal yanked open the door, we hear the roar of the wind, but it's nothing like what you hear on your way down. "Go! Go! Go!" Cal shouts.

Caleb jumps out first followed by James and then I rush forward and jump out the door. The wind hits me like a freight train at first, until I finally started my descent. "79, 78, 77, 76." I was counting down, waiting until I had to pull my rip cord.

I could see Caleb and James right below me acting like a bunch of idiots. They were doing back-flips, and front flips making me want to throw up just looking at them. "72, 71, 69, 68." Only eight seconds until I have to yank my cord. Caleb and James finally righted themselves preparing to pull. "65, 64, 63, 62, 61, and pull!"

Caleb and James shoot up as their parachutes unfold, but mine is jammed. I yank as hard as can, all the while screaming at the top of my lungs. I call to Caleb and James, but if they hear me I don't know. I yank at the stupid rip cord, but it isn't working. My voice begins to crack because of all the strain, so I give up on yelling and just focus my mind on pulling the rip cord, and then I began to count again. "55, 54, 53, 52." Then my body goes limp and my arm rolls away from the rip cord. The roaring of the wind dies away to nothingness and everything goes black.

Instead of feeling the rush of the wind ripping at my hair, I feel something soft patting my head, as I gasp for breath. My eyes are squeezed tight and tears are streaming down my face. Suddenly I hear my mother's voice begin to talk in a calm and gentle way.

I realize this might be the only time I'll ever get to hear her voice again.

She says, "Dean, you're a big boy now, and big boys go to Pre-K."

"I don't want to go to Pre-K, I want to stay at home with you," I say. "Please don't make me go. I'll miss you."

Part II

Dean then begins to think how strange it is to be feeling the same thing now as he was when his parents were trying to get him into school.

"Dean, go into the class and just try and make some friends that you'll enjoy being with, maybe as much as you like being with me," his mom says.

"No, Mommy, don't go. I don't know these people. So don't leave me here," he says, pleading.

"Mrs. Kirsch, help me," Dean says.

"Dean, sweetie, come here. I want to show you to your table," Mrs. Kirsch says.

"No, me and my mom are going now. Right, mom? Mom. Mom, where are you?" Dean begins to sob.

"Dean, do you want me to show you where your table is now?" Mrs. Kirsch asks.

"Mm-hm."

As Mrs. Kirsch walks little Dean up to his table, he sees two little kids with matching shirts, and stupid grins stretching up to their ears. As he walks away from Mrs. Kirsch and toward the table, he hears the two little kid's laughter fall away. When Dean reaches the table, he says, "Hi, I'm Dean." The other kids don't respond, so he speaks again, "My Mommy tells me it's polite to say 'hi' after someone says hello to you."

"Well this is our table, and we can do what we want, so go away," the kid on the left says with a snide tone.

"Yeah, go away," says the kid on the right.

"Mrs. Kirsch said I was supposed to sit here."

"Well she lied. So go stand in the corner, it's where you belong anyway," the kid on the right says rudely.

"Yep," the kid on the left says.

Dean drops his head to his chest and walks over to a corner to cry. Mrs. Kirsch rushes over and says, "Dean, what's wrong? And why are you not at your table?"

"Well those boys told me it was their table and that I should stand in a corner, because it's where I belong."

"Oh, OK then. Just give me one second and I'll be right back."

Dean sees her walk over to the two laughing boys, but when they see Mrs. Kirsch their smiles vanished. Dean could just barely hear words from Mrs. Kirsch, words like "unbelievable," "rude," "devious." Even though Dean doesn't know what those words mean, he knows they are words that mean the boys are in trouble. As Mrs. Kirsch walks back, he sees the anguished faces on the two boys, and he can't help but smile. As Mrs. Kirsch walks up to Dean, she says, "It's OK, you can go to your table now, and I'm sure those boys won't give you any trouble anymore."

"OK," he says, wiping away his tears. As Mrs. Kirsch walks Dean back to the table, he couldn't help but to grin right at them. As Dean sites down across from the two boys, Mrs. Kirsch says, "Children, introduce yourselves."

The boy on the right says, "I'm James." And the boy on the left says, "I'm Caleb."

Then his two friend's faces dissolve into darkness, as the roar of the wind returned.

Part III

I can still see the younger versions of my friends, and they are still stupid and annoying when they were little, but I can't help but imagine how my friends feel watching me plummet to the Earth. As the ground slowly grows closer, I know how much time I have left, so I do the only thing I can. I count down waiting for the inevitable. "35, 34, 33, 32." As I count down, my vision becomes hazy and then black once again.

My eyes open to see a sea of people below me, waiting for me to do something. And it clicks, I know where I am, but I wish I wasn't here — anywhere would be better.

I begin to speak to the audience in a bitter, annoyed tone, "I know you all expected to hear a great valedictory speech from me, didn't you? Sorry to burst your bubble, but I'm not giving a speech, and that's that." My feet begin to move as I walk away from the podium and leave the crowd to contemplate what I had said.

Part IV

Dean sees his parents staring wide eyed at him when he gets off the stage. "I know what you're going to say, so don't say it," he says.

"How do you know what we're going to say, young man?" his father says, sternly.

"You're going to say how disappointed you are and how you can't believe I did what I did."

"Well, you got half of it right," his father says.

"Dean, we thought you loved school and couldn't wait to be valedictorian," his mother says, kindly.

"No, you couldn't wait until I was valedictorian. You never even asked what I wanted, you just assumed I wanted to be a schoolboy, that I just wanted to be a valedictorian and how I just couldn't wait to go to college."

"College is that what this is all about."

"Yes, it is. You've been pushing me towards college my whole time in high school, you even picked colleges out for me to look at after graduation." His parents turn white.

"How do you know we picked colleges for you to look at?" his mother asks, defensively.

"You left the brochures on the table, Mom," Dean says.

"Dean, you need to go to college. You would do so well there. I mean, do you know how many colleges are dying for your application?"

"Mom, I don't care I'm not going. James, Caleb and I already have a plan on what we're doing."

"Oh, I see. They convinced you to do this, didn't they? And Dean, I swear if your plan involves skydiving, you aren't doing it," she says, sternly.

"You can't tell me what I can and can't do —"

"So it does involve skydiving! I knew it!" she says, darkly.

"Mom, Caleb, James and I are going to be skydiving instructors, if you like it or not," Dean says, angrily.

"You may not be an instructor as long as you live under my roof," she screams.

People look over at Dean's mother and began murmuring things like how disappointed she must be in her son and how she has a right to yell.

"Fine! We all wanted to be roommates, anyway!" Dean yells.

Dean begins to run through the crowd of people, tears welling in his eyes.

But the whole scene dissolves into darkness.

Part V

I opened my watery eyes and look down to the rising ground. I've made mistakes in my life. Some big; some small. But I'm happy with what I've chosen. Do I want to die? No. No one does though. (Well, death by landing would hurt, but at least it's quick, I think.) Hey, I'm happy with my life choices, and I'm glad I can say that. As I stare at that beautiful, green ground my tears burst forth, like a dam breaking, my tears aren't that of sadness or happiness. They're tears of fear and acceptance. So with a sturdy and certain voice, I count aloud, "3, 2, 1."

"The Diner on Birch Street"

Every morning, my father would sit at the kitchen table in a dress shirt and striped tie at 7 o'clock, forearms resting on the floral tablecloth, spooning his daily bowl of Fruit Loops. At that time, the newspaper was delivered at night—The Evening Echo—but he never read it until morning.

When the bowl was empty but for rainbow milk, my father would lean back and look out the window for a moment, then rise slowly to his feet, pick up the newspaper off the island, and thumb through the first few pages. If something caught his interest, he would return to the table and read; if not or if he were feeling rushed, he would call, "Bev, would you save the paper for me?" And my mother would yell back a "Yes, dear" from upstairs, where she was fixing the beds or putting makeup on, and then my father would set the newspaper back down on the counter and head to the bathroom to wash his face.

If only things had stayed so predictable.

I was nearing his old office, I realized: Up Route 4 with two lanes of traffic each way and a 45 mph speed limit, past the blue-collar homes lined up like dominoes, through the traffic light that always seemed to be blinking yellow. And then past the sparkling lake on the right and the factory proper on the left, there was his office, up on the third floor, his quartered window the second over from the end.

Except the traffic light was green now, and the houses were peeling yellow and baby blue paint, and the factory, of course, wasn't a factory anymore. It had been renovated into condos years ago.

So I continued on to the other side of town, passenger side window rolled down, no country music playing on the radio. The mountains were enough, humming melodies I hadn't realized I'd missed on the flat plains of northwest Ohio. A few years ago, I'd run into Linda Burbank at the grocery store—she'd also moved out from Maryland to Ohio—and she'd told me that our hometown hadn't changed much since we'd left it. She wasn't wrong, exactly. At every turn, I recognized something: There, the little market where my mother had bought milk and my father cigars; or there, the blacktop tennis court where my parents had taught me to ride my bike; or there, the graveyard where my father would be buried on Friday.

My hands tightened on the wheel.

The rearview mirror was empty, so I slowed, coasting right there in the middle of the road. I couldn't see the graveyard from my car, but I knew it was there. Down a windy road, hidden from view by the grand church, which is just how he would have wanted it. My father wouldn't have liked anyone braking in the street to look at his tombstone.

When I'd gotten home from work yesterday, dirt under my fingernails and an overripe zucchini in my purse, my phone had been blinking. It was a message from all three of my half-siblings, on speakerphone. I hadn't seen them since Sara's baby shower. We sent each other holiday cards, of course, and had emailed a time or two when Amber wanted us to pitch in to buy Dad a bench for the golf course, but we hadn't seen each other in four years now. Not because of any particular grudge, not anymore—just lack of effort on all our parts and the knowledge that we were so different, in so many ways, that striving for any meaningful relationship would have either gone nowhere or blown up in our faces. They engaged or married—Sarah with a beautiful little girl—and I divorced. Them with wallets and company pens in their bags, I with a pocketknife to open straw bales. They living among coffee shops, I among chickens. It just wasn't worth it.

Heart attack.

I listened to the message and called back once I could breathe again. They were all there. Sarah was sobbing, as I knew she would be. John was quiet, barely saying a word. Amber, the one engaged to a lawyer, took charge. How quickly could I get there. She'd take care of the casket and the preparations. Speak at the funeral if we wanted her to. In that self-important tone, I couldn't stand when we were teenagers.

If she spoke at the funeral, she would remind everyone how our father had volunteered at the soup kitchen every Friday, how he went to Mass each week, how religion was the nucleus of his life around which all else orbited. I would want to interrupt her, to say "No, that's not it, he had this incredible vegetable garden—"

"Sure" was all I could manage.

A beat of silence passed, two ticks of the rooster clock on my mantle. Then John: "Eliza, why don't we all go out to lunch tomorrow? To catch up, you know. Dad would like that."

"Where?" Amber asked. Her voice leaped at the end of the word, as if the idea were preposterous.

"What about that diner? The one Dad used to bring us to. Good Eats."

"I can't just go out to lunch any time I want," Sarah sniffled. "I've got Reilly, you know."

"Can't Mark watch her for an hour, 12 to 1? He took the day off, didn't he?" John hesitated. "Come on, you guys. It would be nice. Eliza? Can you make it in time?"

Two more ticks. Could you make it for my wedding? For the 30th birthday party Dad had me invite you to? Could you make it when my mom got sick?

I would be exhausted by then. If I packed and left by eight, I could drive for a few hours tonight and find somewhere to sleep on the eastern border of Ohio. Then get up early and be off by seven, drive through Pennsylvania and into Maryland, stop once to go to the bathroom and make it there by 11:30 if I didn't hit much traffic

"I'll try," I said finally. And then, "I'm not sure I remember how to get to the diner."

"Don't you have a GPS? Or a cell phone at least?"

"Once you're back here," John replied, ignoring Amber, "you'll remember."

And he was right. I knew exactly how to get there. As if no time had passed at all.

I glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Quarter of 12. Then in the rearview mirror again. Still no one behind me, odd for the middle of the day on a Wednesday, even on a side road.

The church was tall and steepled, gray stone, windows shaped like crosses, no worse for the wear of time. I had gone to confession there. Had my confirmation. Attended my grandfather's funeral, then my grandmother's, then my mother's. And now—

Oh, God, head hitting the wheel, nails digging into thighs, breath shaking, world shaking. I couldn't deal with them right now. Sarah's nervous laugh and easy tears. Amber's callous comments, shrewd eyes judging the messy bun I had thrown my hair into, the salad I would order, my bare ring finger. John's much-too-late attempts at kindness.

I could stay here. Pull over, wait an hour, and tell them I got stuck in traffic. We were so different. In so many ways. Why bother?

But that's what my father and I had done to each other these last few years. Given up, let ourselves drift apart. Inaction is an action; he'd taught me that. And look where it had taken us.

I tore my eyes from the church and my mind from the graveyard and stepped on the gas pedal. Past Scoop, the ice cream shop, except now it was call Frogurt and, ostensibly, sold frozen yogurt instead of cones. Past the drive-in movie theater Evan and I had stopped at after our junior prom, except it wasn't drive-in anymore. Past the country club where we'd gotten married, too young, and where my father had remarried so soon after divorcing my mother.

And there it was, Good Eats, the little diner on Birch Street. The one my father had brought me to on Saturdays at noon throughout my childhood, celebrating every special occasion and quite a few ordinary ones. I'd felt his presence on every street corner in this town, but none so much as here. The wait staff knew his "regular." The owner would come out to chat. A real-life version of "Cheers," where everyone knew his name.

I parked in the lot next to the diner and climbed, hesitant, out of the car. Were the other three here yet? I passed a few expensive-looking minivans and a gorgeous red sportscar.

Then the scent wafted toward me. Pungent and throat-choking and unmistakable, so utterly redolent of my father ...

He stood next to the heavy wooden door, holding it open for me with a smile playing on his lips. What do you think you'll get today, Eli? His brown rumpled cap covered wisps of gray hair, with matching tweed suit and shined shoes, and the bushy eyebrows Mama had always wanted to pluck accentuated stern yet playful green eyes. A man ripe with contradictions. He held the door open with his left hand, gesturing elaborately for me to pass through with the other, a puff from his cigar drifting into the neatly trimmed bushes along the side of the building ...

But then the smoke dispersed, along with my father.

A man, a few years older than me, stood by the door with cigar in hand—much too short to be the one in my vision, his eyes not nearly as vivid and passionate as my father's had been. He shot me an odd look as I stood frozen in front of Good Eats, stunned by the richness of my recollection, eyes stinging, throat aflame.

Then I shook my head and brushed past him, grasping the same handle my father had held so many times before, and stepped into the diner.