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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Embarrassed (07/19/07)

TITLE: Heart's Heat
By Ann Grover


It seemed like a good idea at the time, having Allison over after school. That’s what friends did.

Of course, I’d been to Allison’s house several times already, so I was definitely long overdue for inviting her over. I was always enchanted by the bowl of fruit on the kitchen table, the shiny stainless steel sink where not a single dish lived, and the lace runner on the living room coffee table.

Allison’s mom was friendly, asking how our day was, listening intently as we told her about spelling tests and explorers. After a snack of milk and thick slices of chocolate cake, we went to Allison’s room, where the curtains matched the bedspread and pillowcase. Allison set her homework on the desk beside her library books, and when she opened the drawer, I could see a box of stationary and a row of coloured pens.

We talked about books and horses and music. And, of course, whether Linda MacPherson was a phony or not.

When it was time for me to go home, my jacket was retrieved from a closet, and I rode away on my bicycle. As I pedaled, I contemplated the shiny sink, the glistening apples, and the swirling frosting on the cake.

Was it always like that? Or was it just for me?

“Can Allison come over?” Carefully, I broached the subject of inviting Allison over.

“I suppose,” Mom answered, without looking up from her magazine.

“Which day?”

“Not Friday. Thursday.”

So Thursday it would be. Maybe there would be brownies or upside-down cake or lemon tarts.

My corner of the bedroom was easy to tidy, smoothing the blankets, dusting the bureau, and lining up my books in the bookcase. I swept the floor and fussed with my plastic ornaments, regrouping them into a pleasing arrangement.

Wednesday night stretched long with anticipation and anxiety. Would Allison remember? Would I remember to take her coat and would we sit on the bed and talk about poetry and music? I finally slept.

Wednesday morning dawned sunny and blessedly ordinary. How would I ever endure Magellan and conjunctions and osmosis? The day was going to be endless.

Before I knew it, we were on our back porch, and I was holding open the screen door, asking Allison to go first.

There was no shiny sink, but three days’ worth of dishes teetered on the counter, and a dishrag lay in the bottom of a pot, coiled around the charred remains of boiled potatoes.

“Get changed and get outside,” came a voice from the living room.

“It’s me, Mom. Allison’s here.” I smiled at Allison. She smiled back weakly.

“Have a seat, Allison.” I moved a stack of newspapers from a chair for her. I looked for the tarts, the hoped-for brownies, but there was nothing, not even crackers. Then, too late, I saw that Allison had dragged her sleeve through something sticky on the table.

“Let’s go to my room,” I suggested, hoping she wouldn’t see the smear on her sweater.

Allison scanned my book titles and picked up an ornament or two, politely admiring each one. I suddenly saw the ornaments for their cheap tawdriness, the books with their bent covers, and the blankets unable to camouflage the sway-backed beds.

“I told you to get outside.” Mom stood in the doorway.

“Hello, Mrs. Hunt.” Allison said quietly.

Mom regarded her dispassionately and reluctantly said, “Hello.”

“Can’t we stay inside and talk?” I asked.

Mom left the room without answering. I felt colour rising in my face, the burn scorching my collar and flowing across my cheeks.

“I think I want to go home,” Allison said. I saw the smear on her sweater as she spoke, and I couldn’t look away, mesmerized by the stain on the fine fabric.

“We can play a game, Allison. Snakes and Ladders. Or checkers.” It was a desperate bid, I knew, that the visit would still end normally.

“No, I better go.”

Allison got on her bicycle and pedaled away down the road. She turned once, to wave at me, a forlorn figure standing by the road.

When I lay in bed that night, warmth flooded my face again and again as prickles needled at my heart, remembering the longed for hospitality that never materialized.

And in spite of my nine years, I saw things as they were, not the sad way of beds and books, but the heart.

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Member Comments
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Dee Yoder 07/26/07
How sad. Your main character is richly described. I felt for her, and her growing knowledge that something was missing from her mother's heart.
Lynda Schultz 07/26/07
Fine writing — I could "feel" the story and the pain, and hoped that your MC would discover hospitality is more a matter of the heart than it is of a perfectly ordered house, or a "nice" family.
Debbie Roome 07/26/07
Very touching. I could feel her emotions - the hope and then the humiliation. Very good.
Janice Cartwright07/27/07
Though externals are not the main issue here, i.e. well-apointed homes do not equal well-appointed hearts, there is a connection. It was lack of CARE that created the problem for the Hunt girl: care for family members and care enough to create a pleasing environment for them to live in. You did a fine job of connecting emotionally with your reader and the story flowed smoothly.
Melanie Kerr 07/28/07
My own experience of friends’ homes compared to my home was very similar to this. Luckily my friends saw behind the plastic ornaments but I never felt comfortable asking them back to the house.
Kristen Hester07/29/07
This is very moving and powerful piece. Masterfully wriiten. Wow.
Dianne Janak07/29/07
This evoked so many emotions in me..for both girls. Of course you wished that Allison would have seen through that and been her best friend... I didn't like people coming over at that age because of dad's drinking causing lots of fights in front of us.. The empathy in this story can be relateable on so many levels.. you are a tenderhearted writer and I loved it!
Jan Ackerson 07/29/07
Your main character is so perfectly etched...superb writing and full of empathy. Lovely.
Joanne Sher 07/29/07
Your characterization is wonderful, as is your portrayal of "both worlds." I definitely cared about your characters.
william price07/29/07
This was beautiful. No kidding, simply beautiful. Beyond impressed. God bless.
Loren T. Lowery07/30/07
I felt so deeply for your MC that this was difficult to read, but I'm glad I did becaause it contains a wonderful message. Evoking this kind of emotions from a reader is what writing is all about.
Lynda Lee Schab 07/31/07
Oh, this breaks my heart! A little girl desperately wanting her home to be "normal" and the disappointment and embarrassment she must have felt. You drew me in to her story and tugged my emotions.
Did someone already mention the "Wednesday" typo? (I didn't read the other comments before leaving mine). Anyway, that was about the only thing I could find to pick on about this one. Masterful to the end.
Patty Wysong08/01/07
This is so sad. You did an excellent job putting us in her shoes and conveying her feelings.
Sheri Gordon08/01/07
This is extremely well written. I felt the pain and embarrassment with your main character. Wonderful job with this topic.
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/01/07
This is a powerful story written so well it swept me along with the sadness of the main character. I scould vividly see her go from hope to hopelessness.
Julie Arduini08/01/07
This is perfect, right down to the title. In many ways that was my story and the absolute terror of a less than perfect experience paralyzed me. You captured the situation in an amazing way.
valerie chambers08/06/07
I have to say it AGAIN---You are just too AWESOME. One of the best I have ever read in my life. I have read thousands of books and articles but yours captivates the reader from beginning to end.If you wrote as fast as I read I fear I would get no housework done.