Palo Alto Weekly 34th Annual Short Story Contest
Second Place Young Adult

Magic Number 3

by Isabel Harding

Author Bio

Isabel Harding is a class of 2020 graduate from Palo Alto High school. She has lived in the Bay Area her entire life but is planning on relocating to Southern California this fall to attend the University of California, Irvine. She plans on being a double major in dance and drama, but will continue to write and specifically explore playwriting.


I wrote this story for an assignment in my Creative Writing class at Palo Alto High School. Upon reading it in class my teacher, Lucinda Filppu, encouraged me to submit it to the Short Story Contest. The story was inspired by a book I read in elementary school called Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper, combined with my own experiences with mental illness and disabilities. I mostly just wanted to create a story and character I could relate to, but that I felt was unique and I hadn't read about before.

Judge Comments

Understated yet powerful, Magic Number 3 is that rare story where more is revealed by what is not said then by what is. The young narrator's life is about to change in ways that he can't imagine. But, alas, we can, and it doesn't look good for anyone in this fragile family unit. A disturbing, involving piece of work.

— Tom Parker

December 3rd, 2016

Dear Dr. Lacey,

I knew it was going to be a good day today because it's a 3rd day. I woke up at 7:23 as per usual. I brushed my teeth and hair, and then put on my pink shirt with my blue jeans that cover my braces, my white socks, and my black shoes. Dad came in to help me put on my shoes which was weird because usually Mom does that. She says the bunny goes through the hole when she ties them.

Dad carried me downstairs and we had pancakes for breakfast. Dad made them, of course. Mom was sitting doing stuff on her phone. Ben cut up his pancake into a bunch of little pieces but didn't eat any. He said pancakes are gross because eggs are in them and eggs are gross. He found out pancakes have eggs in them today because he watched Dad make them. Big mistake. I had orange juice with two pancakes. I asked for three but Dad said I could only have three if I could finish the first two. I couldn't. I put butter on my pancakes because syrup is gross. Dad and Mom both had syrup on theirs so liking syrup must be a recessive trait.

At 8:06 Dad said it was time to go and got me my jacket. We were running a little late which made me nervous because I hate being late. I started chewing my nails and Mom yelled at me because she knows you think it's a compulsion that I chew them and she hates when I chew my nails. Dad got my backpack for me and I waved goodbye to Mom when I went to the front door to leave. Mom looked really tired today. She waved back and looked like she just ate a lemon when we left.

Mom is still not going to work if you were wondering. She keeps saying she's going back next week but then the next week she's still at home when I get home from school. I miss when my Mom had work because every Thursday she would bring me and Ben brownies home from her job. They were really good brownies. Dad's work doesn't have brownies unfortunately but he does bring home pens every once in a while.

In the car it smelled like dirt because Ben got dirt in the car after his soccer practice yesterday. I made Dad drive with the windows open on the way to school because of the smell.

When we got dropped off at school I waved goodbye to Dad but he drove off too fast and didn't see.

At school today we had art class. We did finger painting and my hands got really gross and I got upset and had an episode. Nurse Susie took me to the back room and washed my hands and let me drink juice and color. I colored a dragon and made it pink. We worked on our letters and then had snack. We had goldfish and apples and peanut butter. That's my second favorite snack. After snack I had my speech therapy session. I got frustrated in speech because we worked on the word Pacific and "es" and "kuh" sounds are hard for me so I got to end early and finish coloring my dragon.

At the 12:00 bell Miss Caroline told me I had to stay in the back room after school because I was getting picked up late. This made me nervous and I chewed on my nails. Nurse Susie took me to the back room and watched me color a new dragon. I colored this one purple. Miss Caroline went to get Ben from the kindergarden and when Ben came he colored with me and he colored a castle. We got to have a second snack since we were staying so late and they gave it to us at 1:14. We got more apples but this time with milk and pretzels. I like pretzels better than goldfish but I like both better than ritz. Ben crushed up his pretzels into dust. I asked if I could have a book to read after our snack since that's usually what I do when I get home, read. Miss Caroline went to the school Library and got me a Magic Tree House Book, an excellent choice. It was the one about Camelot, which I've already read but it was okay, it's a good one.

At 1:43 Miss Caroline let Ben take a nap on the carpet in the classroom and found him a blanket from the front office. At home Ben usually naps at 1:00, after we've had our lunch. I didn't mind having snack instead of lunch today but I think Ben might have missed his mac and cheese. I didn't though because I hate mac and cheese, it's disgusting and it makes me want to throw up when I watch Ben eat it.

I read my book until 3:00, when the bell for the normal kids rang. I know you told me not to call them the normal kids but it doesn't seem right to call them classmates because we don't have classes together. I could hear them all run past the classroom door loudly, yelling and talking. Miss Caroline says when I'm in High School I'll get to take classes with the normal kids which is pretty exciting. Only 5 more years to go.

Miss Caroline took me and Ben to the front office after the bell rang and had us wait there. Usually Mom picks Ben up from his class and me from mine at 12:00 everyday. Me and Ben sat in the ugly, scratchy purple chairs for 22 minutes before Dad showed up.

He was all huffy and red in the face and his shirt was wrinkly. It was very unsettling because he usually never looks like this. Dad is a very put together man. That's why Mom married him. Dad took us home and was quiet the whole drive. The dirt smell wasn't as bad anymore. He didn't put on the Alt Rock station today, which is his favorite. At home Mom's car wasn't in the driveway. I realized that must have been why she didn't pick us up after school. I think she started a new job.

Inside, Dad asked me what my new book was and realized I accidentally kept the book Miss Caroline lent me. This got me very upset so Dad took me to my room. He told me he would call Miss Caroline immediately to report the mistake and that I shouldn't worry which made me feel better.

That night I finished my book from Miss Caroline at 5:41. There was no use wasting a good book since I already had it. I watched cartoons with Ben until dinner was ready at 6:33 on the dot because Dad knows I like times that end in threes. I asked where Mom was and Dad said she wouldn't be home for dinner. This made me a little nervous because I usually have dinners with Mom there. She always promises to watch me when I chew food to make sure I don't choke. It's a phobia of mine. Dad promised to watch me chew today.

I brushed my teeth after dinner and put on my white pajamas with the teddy bears on it. I got into bed at 8:03 and was reading Nancy Drew when Dad came in. He sat on the edge of my bed but didn't look at me. It was very strange because Dad usually never comes into my room after dinner. Only Mom does sometimes because she'll read to me. I asked him why he was in my room and he just sat there really quiet for a while. Then he started crying. It was really weird, because I'd never seen Dad cry before. It made me really scared and anxious. I didn't have an episode though because I wanted him to stay, you would have been proud.

After 6 minutes of just crying he stopped. When he got up to leave I asked him when Mom was getting home and he said he didn't know. Then I asked if that's why he was crying. He said yes. Then I started crying too. He got into my bed with me and we didn't really fit. We stayed in my bed for a long time while I had my episode. I lost control of my hands and they started hitting Dad which made me cry more because I didn't want to hurt him. I tried to bite my hands to make them stop but Dad wouldn't let me. I scratched both of us a lot and I got my drool all over my shirt. Dad just stayed calm holding me. He was squishing me but I didn't really mind because the pressure helped to calm me down.

When Dad got back up he got me a new set of pjs since I got my shirt all messy and I changed. He got me the purple set which I really like. Then he sat with me while I did my journal entry for you. He waited by my door until 9:43 to turn the lights off, because he knows that I like times that end in threes.