Palo Alto Weekly 15th Annual Short Story Contest
2nd Place - 9-11 year olds

I'm Still Leslie

by Caroline Hodge

About Caroline Hodge

Writing is just one of several creative outlets for 10-year-old Caroline Hodge, who won second place in this year's Weekly contest for nine- to 11-year-olds. Caroline also dances, plays piano and goes to acting camps in the summer.

"I've been writing stories for a long time," said Caroline, a fifth-grader at Palo Verde Elementary School. She once completed a booklet of her writings as a gift for her father.

Caroline's entry, "I'm Still Leslie," tells the story of a girl named Maya, who convinces her reluctant pal Amelia to visit their friend Leslie in the hospital. The story explores the two girls' nervousness about seeing their friend in a hospital bed. Caroline said she identified with Maya, who overcomes her fear. "That's how I imagine I would be," she said.

Caroline said she wants to continue writing, and hopes maybe to become an author or a journalist someday.

Do you think these colors look nice together?" Maya asked, her gaze fixed on four strands of embroidery floss pinched between her fingers. It was a dull Thursday afternoon. Maya and Amelia were sprawled across the brown leather couch in Amelia's living room. Amelia peered over her shoulder and glanced at the embroidery floss.

"Those look really good! I think I'll do mine like that too." Amelia reached over to the square coffee table directly in front of them, grasped the blue, yellow, and purple strings, tied a knot at the top, and began to twist and braid it into a friendship bracelet. "Shouldn't we make one for Leslie? We can deliver it to her as an excuse for visiting." Maya said spontaneously.

"Nah. We can make one, but let's give it to her when she comes home." Amelia spoke quickly, as if she didn't want to interrupt their special time together.

"Why not?"

"Well, just because, she's probably too sick. How do you know she doesn't have tubes coming out of her nostrils or something? She's in the hospital, you know."

"Yeah, but . . . "

Amelia cut her off, "She's probably too sick to even know what's going on.. Anyway, I really want to go swimming and practice my backstroke Saturday, which is when we'd go."

"All we have to do is go and visit her on Saturday morning for a couple minutes, I'll call her parents tonight. "

"Noooo!"

Maya, surprised at Amelia's indignant attitude said, with her eyes wide open, "Don't tell me, Amelia, that you, of all people, are afraid to go and see her just because she's in the hospital? You've got to realize that this is your best friend you're talking about? Your friend from preschool. This is Leslie you're talking about. Leslie!" Maya shouted as she shook Amelia's shoulders.

"Okay, okay, you don't have to throw me to outer-space you know. I get the point.

"So, you're gonna come?" Maya asked eagerly.

"Nooooo! I said no, and I mean no. Do you understand?"

"Yes, of course. But you could change your mind. Just in case. I'm going to call Leslie's parents and find out a good time. Anyway, I've got to go." She stormed out of the front door, leaving her unfinished friendship bracelet behind.

That evening after dinner, Maya called Leslie's parents. Her mother, Kathleen, answered.

"Hello?" Kathleen said.

"Hi, Kathleen, this is Maya speaking, Leslie's friend?"

"Yes, hello Maya."

"Alright, well, Amelia and I were wondering if Leslie is well enough for us to come and visit her Saturday?"

"Yes, it would be find for you to come."

Maya hesitated. "This may sound funny, but I was wondering if she has any tubes coming out of her?"

"She does have one tube coming out of her nose, but she still can talk fine, is what I know you girls do best."

"Sure. Then, we'll come." Maya secretly thought of herself trying to do some last minute convincing in front of the hospital door. "What would be a good time?"

"How's 10 o'clock Saturday morning? Rob and I will be there too, but we'll clear out if you three want to have some private time together. We'll meet you in front of the hospital."

"Um, well, okay! Thank you! Bye!!!!"

Maya hung up the receiver slowly. Now Amelia definitely wouldn't come. Leslie had a tube coming out of her nostril. Amelia would be terrified! Maya couldn't lie either. But she had to lie! She decided. Maybe if she told Amelia that she didn't have any tubes at all, she would come. And then, when Amelia said she was glad she came after all, Maya would tell her that she had lied to her just so she would come. Yes. That was what she'd do.

She picked up the telephone again and dialed Amelia's phone number. Ring Ring. Maya waited impatiently for someone to answer.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Amelia, this is Maya. So I called Leslie's parents, and they said that Saturday morning would be fine, and she doesn't have any tubes at all.

"So?" Amelia said abruptly.

"So, you're going to come, right? You can practice your backstroke in the afternoon."

"I guess so," Amelia replied in the same rude tone.

"Okay, great! Uh, well, we're supposed to be there at 10:00 Saturday. We'll pick you up at quarter till, alright?"

"Fine."

"Bye."

"Bye."

Maya slammed the phone back onto it's cradle. She'll cheer up by Sab May said to herself, trying to turn her mood around.

On Saturday, Maya's father dropped the two girls off in front of the hospital steps, where they waited for a few minutes before Leslie's parents came to show them the way. Soon, a tan Chevrolet drove up, parked, and the passengers climbed the stairs up to where Maya and Amelia were standing.

"Great! You made it!" Leslie's father, Rob called out as he stepped onto the last stair.

Amelia shoved hard into her waist with her elbow, indicating that she should answer, because it was her idea, and that she didn't even want to be there in the first place.

"Yeah."

"Alright then! She's in room 47. This way." Rob said, gesturing in front of him. The girls followed meekly. Amelia gave her another hard shove in the waist, and said in a hushed tone, "I can't believe you made me do this!"

"What can't you believe about it? It's common courtesy to visit someone when they are in the hospital. Didn't your parents teach you that?" Maya replied, annoyed at Amelia's rude behavior.

Amelia started to answer, but quickly noticed Leslie's parents were looking at her questionably.

"Uh, nothing, we were just talking!" Maya explained briskly, and shuffled ahead. Rob gave his wife a quizzical look, shrugged his shoulders, and kept on walking.

In a few minutes, they reached Leslie's room, number 47. Leslie was overjoyed to see them.

"You guys, finally! How come you didn't come sooner?"

"We were just busy, I guess." Maya answered.

"How's school?"

"Oh, it's okay, same stuff as usual. We're taking our English exam Monday." Maya answered again.

"Ooooo, did you study?"

"Yeah, I'm going to study some more tonight though," Maya answered for the third time in a row. Leslie must have noticed this, and inquired suddenly, "Hey Amelia, what's wrong, you haven't talked this entire time! You usually take any chance you get to talk!"

"Mmmmmm," was Amelia's only word.

Maya thought quickly, "Leslie, I really have to go to the bathroom, I'll be back in a sec. Amelia, will you come with me? I'm not quite sure where it is."

Amelia nodded, and inched her way out the door sulkily. Maya followed. A as they were a fair distance away, the squabbling started.

"Maya! You lied to me! She does have a tube coming out of her nose. How could you?"

"Amelia, calm down, I only lied because I wanted you to realize how important it is to visit her, even if she does have tubes coming out of her nose."

"But still, how come you lied? She doesn't even want us to be here. I know it!

"Amelia, you're being completely ridiculous. She does want us to be here can't you tell? Didn't you see how happy she was when we arrived?"

"I know, but as I said, if she has tubes coming out of her nose, she is probably not in very good condition and we should not interrupt her healing process. And also, you lied to me!"

"I know I lied to you, and I know she has a tube coming out of her nose, but can we just forget that for now, and have a nice time, and cheer her up a bit?"

"Yes, but."

Maya interrupted her. "Will you just try? Please? For Leslie's sake?

"I suppose."

"So then, let's go!

They entered room 47 for the second time. Leslie was still there, lying on the hospital cot, her legs crossed, and her arms laying limply at her sides. A odd silence filled the air. No one spoke. Leslie just kept looking at Maya, then fixing her gaze on Amelia.

Still, no one spoke.

Maya couldn't stand it any longer.

She blurted out to Leslie, "I can't keep it from you any more, Leslie. The reason why Amelia won't talk to you is because," Amelia glared at her. Maya ignored it. "Is because she's scared of the tube." Her voice quivered as she said the last few words. She stared down at the checkered floor, awaiting a response. When she looked up, she saw that there was a large hump under the covers.

"Why does it matter if I have a tube in my nostril or not? I'm still Leslie," came a muffled voice from under the covers.

Amelia hesitated, then gave Maya a smile and whispered something to her. A second later, they both ran up to the bed, dug under the covers, climbed in next to Leslie, and said quietly together, "You are still Leslie!"