Short Stories

Short Story: “In New York City”

Ben wears his usual gray sweatshirt and jeans. His hair is blond and his eyes blue. Even though we are siblings, we look nothing alike. He wears his usual expression that makes people trust him; one that says, “I’ve got everything under control, trust me.” And I do.

I follow his gaze and look around the departure wing. “Sad place, huh?” Ben says. He smiles. “How about let’s break the tradition, Katie? No sad farewells, okay?”

“Sure,” I say. Tears blur my vision.

He leans down to crush me in a hug. He smells like mint and home. I don’t know whether home will be home without Ben.

“I won’t be gone for long, sis, don’t miss me too much,” he says. Four years, I think, four years.

“Stay strong, Katie Cat,” he says. Only Ben calls me Katie Cat.

“Don’t give up, Katie,” he says, “don’t give up.” Then he’s gone. Off to California to get a bachelor’s degree in art. I stay there long after he leaves, staring at where he disappeared. I didn’t even tell him I love him. Don’t give up what? I want to scream, but he’s already gone.

Trying not to cry, I turn and start my walk back home. It’s a lonely one.

I tie my hair into a bun to make it look halfway decent and stare at myself in the mirror. Ben looks like Dad, I look like Mom. I have dark eyes and dark hair. I am skinny, but not tall enough to be slim. I am sixteen but I could be mistaken for thirteen. They tease me.

Hey, it’s Katie the Kid, they laugh. I bite my lower lip and ignore them; at least I try to. Their voices ring in my ears when I’m alone. Their laughter makes me want to cry. But I hold them in until I get home.

I go to Glen High, a top-ranking private school. The school handed out scholarships sparingly and I was lucky enough to get one; for my art. That’s why I am perfect for pushing around; I can’t do anything about it. Their parents are rich so nobody wants to mess with them, or their kids. But for me, one misstep and I’m kicked out faster than I can blink.

My mom used to say that my getting into Glen was the luckiest thing that happened to us after the divorce. We moved halfway across the States for me. But Glen is not a lifeboat on the Titanic, it’s another sinking ship. Then again, we’re all on sinking ships, you just have to pick the one that sinks the slowest.

Glen is eleven miles from my apartment so I have to walk two miles to the bus station and then take the bus the rest of the way. But I don’t mind. I like walking.

I pull my hood up to keep my ears from freezing off and stuff my hands into my pockets. Snow lies around the sidewalks. Yesterday it was white, but today it is brown; dirt and snow.

How short the life of pureness lives.

When the bus stops at Glen, I get off. Glen is made up of eight buildings surrounding a courtyard, habitually occupied by students who lie around finishing homework. The school is beautifully designed, and sometimes it’s all worth it just to attend a school that looks like this.

My first-period class is math. The desks are arranged into six hexagons and there are twenty students. A whiteboard is in front filled with equations no one understands. It’s the teacher’s way of saying that there’s always more to learn, no matter who you are.

When I sit down, I look across the table and find Simon Hubermann. Simon is tall, with green eyes and curly brown hair. His eyelashes are long, touching his cheeks when he blinks. I realize I have been staring for far too long and look down hurriedly, warmth flooding my face.

All of the girls in the school like him, and I know that me hoping someone like him could ever like someone like me is a fantasy. There are so many girls who are smarter, prettier, and better than me in every aspect. But Ben says that you have to hope no matter what. Because if you don’t hope you have nothing. So I hope.

Classes turn into a blur and soon the bell rings for lunch. I join the stream of students in the hallway towards the cafeteria. The cafeteria is ginormous, with circular tables and an extravagant buffet. They serve a different main dish every day; today, lasagna. The deli is in the opposite corner with a variety of sandwiches. The pizzeria is the most popular. There are lines of kids waiting to get a greasy slice of pepperoni pizza. I don’t care much for pizza or the long wait, so I take a tray of lasagna.

I stand in the middle of the cafeteria, trying to decide where I should sit. A gaggle of girls crowd the far left tables, maundering about these clothes, those boys. One of them catches me staring and calls out, “Hey, Katie Girl, come sit with us!” Laughter ripples across the cafeteria and I try to smile. I turn away and see Simon with a group of boys who are mostly on their phones. I long to sit down next to him and ask what he’s doing, but I don’t. Instead, I walk out of the cafeteria and into the school garden.

The garden is my favorite place in Glen. It is not the most pleasant place here; it’s probably the ugliest. Bits of snow are shoveled into disgraceful piles. Desiccated plants lie in the cold sun. But I love it here because no one else does. No obnoxious laughter, no mocking, no scathing looks that make me want to die.

And after getting used to the plants, it’s not so bad.

My mom gets home late. She’s an accountant and comes back, drunk and tired. She usually collapses on the living room couch and falls asleep there. Sometimes she’s with one of her boyfriends. I come downstairs after and help her to bed and watch her sleep, trying to remember who she was.

Before the divorce, we had this tradition every weekend to bring a knife to the bridge and carve one word into the wooden balustrades. On one of the last days, we stood together on the bridge.

“Do you know what word I chose, Katie?” My mom asked.

I hum.

“I chose hope,” she said. “Hope stands for, ‘hold on, pain ends.’” We stared down the river that stretched towards the sun as it slid beneath the waves. “The sun is setting, but it always rises again, you know? Like hope.” I am silent.

“Hold on, pain ends, Mom.”

“Hold on, pain ends, Katie.”

My mom’s maiden name was Alexandra Davis and I know she was pretty, which waswhy my dad married her. Then in no time, my dad was gone, with a new wife, new children, and his old life left behind.

I know my mom still loves my dad. Every day, she tries to forget her heartbreak and dissolves herself in alcohol. I still love my dad too, but sometimes I get the feeling he wants nothing to do with us. We’re the reminiscence of a life he tried to leave behind. I understand. But there’s always a voice inside that screams at him to try and be more understanding.

When I stare at my mom as she sleeps, I can see the beauty that she once had. But a deeper beauty that my dad didn’t see shines through when she sleeps. A hope for the world that says that this isn’t what life is supposed to be and that life will get better and you only have to wait for it.

My room is a mess.
Paper is strewn over the floor and crumpled-up drawings are in the corner. Stacks of paintbrushes are stacked precariously on shelves that are nailed to the walls. The walls are painted with drawings of whatever came to my mind that day. But it still looks empty compared to my room in Kansas.

I remember when my dad and I were lying on my bed staring up at the dolphin after it was done. The room smelled of paint so the windows were open.

“Good job, Katie, it looks amazing,” my dad said. My chest filled with pride and a grin spread across my face. Only my dad could make me smile like that. “Do you know why I chose a dolphin to paint together?”

I shook my head, staring up at it.

“Because dolphins are more than beautiful,” my dad stroked my hair. “Even if they go down underwater, they jump back up. Like hope. Because even when it seems like everything is dark, hope is always there, as long as you look for it.”

A deep desire to call my dad overcomes me. My dad would understand, wouldn’t he? Talk to me about Mom, about Ben going to college. I pull my phone, dial the numbers, and press call.

It rings for ten seconds, “buzz, buzz.” I wait impatiently, every second a second of agony. Finally, he picks up. “Hello? Who is this?” He doesn’t know it’s me. He doesn’t have me on his contacts list. Hurt rises in my chest but I push it down. He must have accidentally deleted me. Of course, that must be it. I exhale.

“Hey Dad, it’s me,” I say.

“Oh.” Is it only me, or does he sound a little disgruntled? “Hi honey, what do you want?” What do I want? I swallow. I want you to come back, I want to say, I want you to say you love me and come back. But I don’t say that because I know it will never happen.

“I-I wanted to talk to you.”

He sighs. “Listen, Katie, I’m mini-golfing with, you know, Helen and the twins-” Someone runs up to him and he gets sidetracked. A cold fist tightens around my heart.

“It’s alright, Dad,” I say, “Go…do whatever you have to do.” I hang up without hearing his reply because I know it will make it hurt more. Tears are coming fast and I angrily wipe them away. Of course, he’s busy. Why am I feeling like this?

He doesn’t care about you, a voice inside of me says, He hates you. He hates his past life. I close my eyes and tell it to go away. Sometimes people mess up, they don’t do the right things. My dad is like that, everyone’s like that, and I can’t blame him for it.

Don’t give up, Katie, I hear Ben’s voice, don’t give up. “I’m trying,” I try to tell him, but he’s gone and I’m alone.

When I wake up on Saturday morning, I can’t go back to sleep. After a few minutes, I throw off my blanket and drag myself from bed. The smell of eggs and bacon meets me as I open the door. “Mom?”

She glances up as I enter the kitchen and smiles. “Good morning, Katie.”

“What-what are you doing here?” Mom’s hair is tied into a ponytail and she wears a dress I haven’t seen her take out since Dad left. Makeup is on her face. Full red lips and blush on her cheeks.

“Johnny and I are going to the mall today,” she says. I take it Johnny is her latest boyfriend. “I quit being an accountant – that job was so suffocating anyway. I decided to turn a new leaf and got an internship at one of those news companies. The motto is; forget the past, forge towards the new future. What do you think?”

I try to smile. “Sure, Mom.” I sit down and pull the plate of eggs and bacon to me.

“Do you want to come with us?” She asks. I know she doesn’t want me to come but she asks anyway, to be polite. I shake my head.

“No, I have other plans,” I say. My plans today: walk outside and waste time.

I hear honking outside and Mom stands up. “That’s my cue.” She smooths down her dress and picks up a purse I’ve never seen before. She wraps an arm around my shoulders, kissing my head. “Don’t get into any trouble, love.”

Walking through the doorway, she turns to wink at me, and she’s gone.

I push away from the table, not bothering to finish the rest of my breakfast. Opening the back door, I step outside. The sky looks beautiful despite its grayness and the snow has melted. I pull my coat around me and walk towards downtown.

New York City is beautiful. The thing about something beautiful is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. The imperfections of the city make it more beautiful. It is bright and loud whether it’s day or night. People always joke about New York traffic being the worst, and they’re not wrong. So many people, so many cars.

I look up and see that there are only a few seconds left on the pedestrian crossing light. Breaking into a run, I step onto the street and I’m smack in the middle when I hear honking. Looking up, I see a blue pick-up barreling across the intersection towards me. I freeze and for a moment, I can see the driver. He is blonde and wears a Yankees cap and his eyes are as wide as mine as he scrambles to swerve.

I fall to the ground and cover my head with my arms and the truck veers past, skipping over the sidewalk and slamming into a building. People are screaming, a hundred phones dialing 9-1-1 to 100 Wadsworth Avenue.

In a moment, they reach me and a woman turns me around by my shoulders and the only thing I can register is how much her eyes look like what the sea looks like in movies. I only notice she’s asked me a question after she’s asked it multiple times.


“Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I say automatically after years of being asked the same question. People don’t want to know if you’re not okay. Yes is what they want to hear. I stand up and when I’m on my feet, I wobble. I wave the woman off when she tries to help me.

“I’m okay,” I say, “I’m okay.”

I push past the people who are crowding in to see the crash. I block them all out and walk across the street where I am mostly alone. I can still feel the woman’s eyes on my back, so I turn down another street, towards the Hudson.

I think of going home but I know Mom will not be back yet. She’s out with Johnny, breaking up with him, kissing him. And even if she were home, she would hug me. Comfort me. But tomorrow she will expect me to be better; to forget, as she does about everything she regrets. But even the horrible things are part of who you are.

I think about calling Dad. Dad would sympathize. He would tell me he understood. Or would he? Does he even care about me? Care about anyone except for his new family? He wants to forget, like Mom. Not with drugs, but with distractions. I bite my lower lip so hard that it starts to bleed. But I don’t feel the pain. I don’t feel anything.

Ben would know what to do. He would tell me the right things. Understand and help me. His arms would be around me, his voice soft in my ear as he tells me what I should do. But he is not here. I am by myself.


I find myself in Battery Park, the one several blocks away from Glen. Have I already walked this far? I hear a child. “Mommy, look, a dolphin!” I turn and see a child with her mother. With her small hand, the child points out across the river. The mother doesn’t look at the dolphin but at her child, with a smile on her face. Her hand wraps tighter around the hand in hers. Pain sears through my chest. I hear my mother on the bridge next to me.

“Hold on, pain ends, Katie.”

I watch the dolphin fly across the water. The sun reflects on its skin and it slides back into the water. But a second later it comes up again, farther away. Tears stream down my cheeks.

“Even when it seems like everything is dark, hope is always there, as long as you look for it.”

I stare across at the sun which is now setting. But it’ll rise again tomorrow. It always rises again.

“Don’t give up, Katie,” he said, “don’t give up.”

The dolphin leaps towards the setting sun and disappears. I won’t. I promise.

Samuel Teoh is a homeschooled high school sophomore living in New Taipei City, Taiwan. He loves listening to music, drinking bubble tea, and reading a book, preferably at the same time.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *