In response to The Vindicator’s fifth annual Love Story Writing Contest, 60 entries were submitted in an attempt to win one of three prizes.
The rules were simple. Complete this year’s love story, “Sliding Into Love,” in 750 words or fewer by the Feb. 3 deadline.
A couple of the endings were too long. A few missed the deadline. But most were exactly what we asked for — a creative, happily-ever-after conclusion — making the selection quite a challenge.
But our judges read every single one of the submissions, and after very careful consideration selected the following winners — yes, all men!
A total of 12 guys participated, most of whom were among the top contenders.
Ladies, what can we say? We’ve got some real creative fellas in the Valley.
Here is the beginning of the our love story:
SLIDING INTO LOVE
As she watched the first big snowfall of the season from her apartment window, Jennifer Simon found that on that late January day she wasn’t consumed with the usual annoyances of clearing the powder from her windshield, slipping on icy sidewalks or feeling the chill in her fingers and toes.
Instead, she saw a quiet Youngstown blanketed in white and felt like a kid again. She hadn’t been reminded of the memory in years, but she thought of the days when she and her family would head to the sled hill at Mill Creek Park and zoom down it, blushing from the cold and laughing off each tumble and pratfall.
The warm memory made the bills due at the end of the month and a long list of errands seem to melt away. Suddenly, feeling that same joy in the snow seemed like the only option.
Her excitement began to flicker a little as she searched her closet for something warm, longing for the full-body snowsuits that she and her siblings wore for the excursions as kids.
Getting creative with her wardrobe, she piled jeans over old sweat pants, a hooded sweat shirt over two undershirts and mittens over her gloves, with her coat on top of it all.
Even during the precarious drive through snowy streets to Wick Recreation Area, she felt free and weightless, much like the fluffy snowflakes gently falling around her.
In the still-insistent storm, there weren’t as many people on the hill as she remembered during snow days off from school. However, a few families and individuals with Jennifer’s same rush for adventure were sliding along.
She climbed to the top of the hill and simply watched for a while, occasionally shaking off the snow settling on her head and shoulders.
A family was breathless from climbing up the hill but smiling happily, and the father held up a rounded sled and yelled in her direction.
“Hey! What are you standing around for? You can use our sled for a ride down ... we need a break anyway,” he explained as he shook the sled in Jennifer’s direction and smiled.
“Thank you,” she said earnestly, touched by the show of hometown hospitality. She felt a bit silly, now realizing the kink in her plan — how could she forget a sled when she wanted a sled-riding adventure?
“I’ll bring it back as soon as I’m done!” she promised, excited to get started.
Jennifer bent down, settled into the saucer sled and pushed off from the peak of the hill. As she gained speed, it was just as she remembered: The bite of the wind on her cheeks and the brief, blissful feeling of flying.
The harsh wind during her trip down also made her eyes water, and she was suddenly trying to blink away the moisture. Within seconds, she started to shriek as she found herself on a guaranteed collision course with another sledder.
They intersected like two high-speed cars, and sleds went tumbling through the air.
Getting up a few seconds later, Jennifer’s first reaction was anger. She’d come here to enjoy a perfect, worry-free moment.
“Hey!” she yelled acidly, poking a mitten-covered finger into the stranger’s chest after they both rose from their crash.
But then she saw ...
And the winners are (entries are unedited) ...
First place: Dr. Frank J. DeNiro of Canfield. He received $100 in gift certificates to Rulli Bros. of Austintown and Boardman.
... Jake Wilson, a childhood friend.
Shocked to see who it was, Jennifer laughed and apologized as she gave Jake a big hug. “Hey stranger — what brings you to town?” “I hear you live in the big city of L.A. where the sun shines almost every day.”
“Well, unfortunately, I am here for my father’s funeral,” Jake stated.
Sadly Jennifer answered, “I did read about it in The Vindicator. I am so sorry to hear about your father. He was such a nice man.”
“Actually, I came here today, Jake stated, to reminisce about the few good times that I had as a child with my dad on this hill.”
“I don’t know if you knew but I wasn’t real close with my dad,” Jake added. “He was a very successful businessman in town but making money was more important to him than spending time with his only child. After my mother died, I moved to California to just get away from it all.”
Surprised at Jake’s attitude towards his father, Jennifer said, “My mother worked as a secretary for your dad for many years. She often talked highly about him describing how well he treated her.
After my parents divorced, he treated me like family and often volunteered to take me and my siblings to this park to sled ride in the winter.
Actually, this is where I first met you on this exact hill. What a coincidence, some 20 years later that we meet again at the same spot.”
Jake replied, “I am glad you and your family admired him because in my case, as soon as I was 18, I was off to California to get as far away from him as I could. And fortunately, I will again be leaving for L.A. tomorrow night after I meet with his attorney to sign some important papers.”
“Well, I better get going. It was nice seeing you again Jennifer,” Jake said.
“Yes, it was,” Jennifer responded, “but while you are in town, let’s get together for lunch before you leave. “Here’s my number and please call me tomorrow. It will mean the world to me to talk about old times especially those at Wick Recreation Park.”
Jake agreed and put her number in his cell phone and graciously hugged Jennifer before departing.
The next morning in the attorney’s office, Jake listened intently as the attorney read instructions for him from his father’s will.
The attorney then handed him an envelope and stated to please honor his father’s wishes.
Upon leaving the attorney’s office, Jake quickly made his way to the car and immediately opened the manila envelope. Inside was a key to a safety deposit box at a local bank as well as a hand written letter.
The letter read as follows:
“Dear Jake, if you are reading this, I have already passed. I know our relationship was somewhat distant, but I want you to know that I always loved you more than life itself. I understand I wasn’t the greatest dad but you were my pride and joy. Unfortunately, over the years, I kept a secret from you and your mother. I fathered a child, a daughter, named Jennifer. Her mother worked for me as a secretary and although it was a mistake, I loved both of them dearly. You may even remember playing with her at Mill Creek Park on the swings in the summer and sled riding in the winter. I enjoyed watching both of you play as I sat from a distance. I am now asking you to find my daughter Jennifer Simon, your half-sister, and tell her the whole truth. I enclosed a key to a safety deposit box where I put money away for both of you to pay bills. Please honor my request and tell her how much I loved her.
Love always, Dad.”
Jake was shocked over what he had just read. The girl he knew as a child and the one he just collided with sled riding on the hill yesterday is now his “sister.”
Jake thought this all had to be a dream or some heartwarming story one reads about in The Vindicator.
However, realizing the truth, Jake nervously dials Jennifer’s number to meet for lunch.
With envelope and letter in hand, Jake must figure out a way to break this incredible story to Jennifer and become the brother to a sister he never knew he had.
Second place: Robert C. Noble of Poland, who received a $50 gift certificate to Rulli Bros.
But, then she saw only a frightened teenaged boy. Behind him loomed a burley, red-faced Mill Creek Security Officer who nudged the boy aside and grasped Jennifer by the arm.
“Wanda Jenkins. I’m arresting you for the robbery of the PNC Bank yesterday afternoon.”
“Get your hands off me. I’m not Wanda Jenkins. My name is Jennifer Simon. Are you crazy?” She tried to jerk her arm free, but the man was too strong.
“Is this your sled?” With his free hand, the officer picked up the metal saucer and kicked off the snow with his boot. Stenciled in red on the bottom were the words: Property of the Little Tots Day Care Center.
“Robbing banks and little kids,” he snorted. “You’re a real case.”
He began pulling Jennifer up the hill. The teenager grabbed his sled and hurried away.
Jennifer felt faint and short of breath. Her socks were soaked and her feet icy from the melted snow in her tennis shoes.
She heard the sound of a siren winding down as a police car entered the parking lot. The guard increased his pace and half dragged her towards the car. Two officers had just emerged when they arrived.
“Thanks, we’ll take over here,” the older policeman said. The younger officer handcuffed Jennifer and searched her for weapons.
“Get your hands off me,” she cried, bent over the hood of the police cruiser. Outrageous: she wasn’t a criminal.
“Nothing on her,” the young officer said.
“No I.D., wallet, car keys?” the older officer asked.
Jennifer suddenly realized that her right thigh was cold. The collision had ripped her jeans and torn her pocket. Her wallet and car keys were probably at the bottom of the hill buried under the snow.
“Get her in the car, and we can check the photo,” the older policeman said.
“You’ve got the wrong person,” Jennifer said. “I’m no bank robber. Someone just loaned me the sled.”
At least in the police car, she was out of the wind. Her feet were still wet and cold, but the smell inside the car was rank, as if someone, maybe a drunk, had thrown up.
In the front seat, the policemen were leafing through a three ring binder looking for the photo from the bank’s security camera.
Jennifer peered through the dividing window. The woman in the photograph was wearing sunglasses but did look a little bit like her, and she was wearing a hooded sweatshirt like Jennifer’s. But the photo was grainy and in black and white.
The younger policeman studied the photo and then turned and stared at her once more.
“You’re Jenny Wilson. Didn’t you go to Liberty High School?”
The sound of her maiden name startled Jennifer. She had married Freddie Simon after high school graduation. The marriage was a mistake and offered her little more than a new name. Two years later, her husband was killed on Interstate 680, but Freddie had already drunk their marriage into oblivion.
At least there had been no kids. She hadn’t been that stupid.
“I’m Bill Watson . . . Billy Watson,” the young officer said. “We were biology lab partners my sophomore year. You dissected our frog. The formaldehyde smell made me sick.”
Jennifer stared at the man, remembering the earnest face of the high school boy who had moved away after their sophomore year.
The intervening years had been kind to him — chiseled features, sandy hair, and the blue eyes that were still so striking
Bill jumped out of the front seat, ripped open the back door, and swiftly removed Jennifer’s handcuffs. He gently ushered her out of the car.
“We’ve made a terrible mistake. The park ranger called us with a positive I.D. Can we take you home?” He cradled her arm gently as if she might fall.
“I’d rather go in my car. I was in an accident and ripped my pocket. My wallet and car keys are probably in the snow at the bottom of the hill.”
Bill turned to his partner. “I’ll get her home safely. See you back at the station.”
To Jennifer, he said, “I can’t tell you how sorry I am for what has happened, but I’m really, really happy to see you again. Come on; I’ll help you find your stuff.”
He stood waiting, looking at her expectantly.
Jennifer’s feet were still cold, but for the first time in years, her heart felt warm.
Third place: Zach Currier of Boardman. He won a 2-pound box of assorted chocolates from Philadelphia Candies, provided by The Vindicator.
... a leg attached to a shoe sticking out of the snow a few feet away.
Shock ran though her body as she saw the person she collided with unable to stand up. The metal round sled must have severed his leg when they collided.
She then noticed blood on his face near the corner of his mouth.
Jennifer was in shock, thousand of emotions were running through her head and what had she done, then panic set in and she fainted.
Jennifer awoke to the sound of an ambulance siren. She found herself strapped to the gurney with an oxygen mask over her face.
She tried to talk and move but the EMT instructed her not to. She heard voices from the ambulance communicating with St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.
“We have a female approximately 30 years of age, blood pressure is 123 over 76, pulse is at 85, possible head injury, 2 minutes out.”
The ambulance arrived at St. E’s and the team moved Jennifer to the emergency room where she was met by the medical professionals who quickly started to assess her. The mask came off and Jennifer was now able to talk.
She asked “What’s wrong with me?” The nurse explained, “You were found unconscious and the ambulance brought you here. We are assessing you for any injuries. Do you feel pain anywhere?” Jennifer thought and replied “No.”
Jennifer then remembered the accident. “Nurse, how is the other person?”
The nurse looked puzzled and replied “You were the only one that was brought in.”
Jennifer was now confused and wondering what really happened and nothing was making sense.
Shortly thereafter, the doctor entered the room. “Ms. Simon, my name is Doctor Conti, How are you feeling?”
Jennifer replied, “Fine, I don’t know why I’m here.” The doctor explained “You were involved in an accident and the ambulance crew found you unconscious.”
Jennifer said “I remember sliding down the hill and crashing into someone. There was a leg and foot and ...”
The doctor looked perplexed and said he had no notes of anybody else involved. The doctor then ordered a CAT scan to rule out any head injuries.
After the CAT scan was completed, Jennifer lay awaiting the results.
There was a knock at the door. The nurse indicated she had a visitor.
Standing behind the nurse was a tall good looking gentleman with a military style hair cut and a smile on his face.
In a soft deep voice he spoke “Hi, my name is Matthew. How are you feeling?”
Jennifer recognized him from the hillside; it was the same person that she crashed into.
A flurry of emotions started cycling through Jennifer; from anger for crashing into her; to worry that she had hurt him severely; to confusion that he was in fact not hurt and standing upright; to vulnerable lying in the hospital bed; and a bit enamored that such a good looking man was standing before her.
Jennifer then tried to speak and stammered “W-hat H-appened? Is your leg ok?”
Matthew sat down beside her and started to explain that he had just returned from being stationed overseas and he lost his leg when his patrol was caught in crossfire.
He rolled up his pant leg and showed a prosthetic limb. He also explained that the fitting was a little loose and it had a tendency to slip off.
Jennifer now became very embarrassed and they both started to laugh about the whole incident.
Matthew became quite smitten with Jennifer and loved hearing her laugh. He spent the next 6 hours by her bedside.
The Doctor eventually returned and indicated everything was fine and that she was cleared to be discharged.
Matthew and Jennifer started calling each other and planning dates on the weekends.
Over the next three months they became best friends and when they first kissed it sent shivers down Jennifer’s body.
Matthew would call her everyday just to hear her laugh and her gentle voice. Jennifer waited patiently each week for the opportunity to get together again.
On Valentine’s Day Matthew took Jennifer back to the scene of the accident and this time they sled down the hill together with his arms wrapped snugly around her.
At the bottom of the hill were a dozen roses and a proposal written in the snow.
The emotions ran through Jennifer again, but this time when she fainted he was there to catch her. When she awoke she said “Yes!”