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CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

You're listening to WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. You ready for the tick, tick, ding?

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HEADLEE: We're reading the best of the best from Round 10 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest. The challenge this round was to write a story in the form of a voice mail message. And next week, our judge, Mona Simpson, will announce the winning story.

Our graduate student readers helped us out tremendously during this contest. They combed through more than 4,000 entries and helped us select the top stories. We had readers this round from some of the top creative writing programs across the country, including Vanderbilt University, Cornell University and University of Iowa.

First up, we have an excerpt from a story called "The Escape" about a bride making a tough choice on the eve of her wedding day.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey, Julia. It's me. Kind of glad you're not picking up - this'll be easier, maybe. So here goes. I'm going to ask you to do something for me. It's not an ordinary best friend kind of favor. God, I wish it was. I wish I just needed you to pick up my dry cleaning or something. Anyway, here it is. It's big.

I need you to somehow explain to David - and I guess everyone else - that I won't be there on Saturday. I just can't do it. This won't make any sense, I know. You'll think I'm insane. Everyone will. I'm at the airport right now. I'm getting on a plane in a few minutes to Guatemala.

HEADLEE: That was NPR's Tamara Keith reading an excerpt from the story "The Escape" by Lisa Turano of Asheville, North Carolina. Next up, an excerpt from the story "Three Little Words."

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BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Yeah, you were right that before we move forward in this, I have to say those three words. And you're absolutely right that no relationship between two people can work without getting around to saying them. Someday, maybe we'll say them to each other all the time and give each other a kiss and go to work. I'd like that.

But still, you know, they aren't easy to say out loud the first time. The thing is I've never actually said them to anyone else. You're the first. Well, my mom, of course, and my dog, Wiggles. He was my dog when I was 7, a Labrador Retriever. I said it to him sometimes when I was by myself.

But you're the first time I've really said it and meant it. But I'm ready. I really wish it wasn't on a phone message, but I can't wait any longer. So here it goes - I was wrong.

HEADLEE: That was NPR's Bob Mondello reading an excerpt from the story "Three Little Words" written by Rick Hodges of Arlington, Virginia. You can read both of those stories in their entirety at our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction. That's Three-Minute Fiction, all spelled out, no spaces. And be sure to tune in next week when we announce the winner of Three-Minute Fiction Round 10.

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