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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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LYDEN: Write a story where a character finds something they've no intention of returning. That was the prompt for this round of our Three-Minute Fiction writing contest. It's not an easy task, but thousands of you thought you were up to the challenge. We're about to read excerpts of some of the top-notch entries that our wonderful grad students helped us pick out.

Our readers come from more than a dozen schools across the country, including NYU, University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota. So first up, a story about missing rings.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: (Reading) The next day, a frazzled, middle-aged man scurried into the bar and asked her if she had found his wedding ring. She remembered seeing him with a brunette the night before, a woman who wore no rings. She smiled apologetically and promised to let him know if it turned up. As soon as he left the bar, she slipped the ring onto her finger.

(Reading) She found the second and third rings later that week. This time, two women entered to claim them, wearing the same clothes as the night before. She gave them the same answer she'd given the first man. They glanced down at the three rings piled on her finger, and left without saying anything.

(Reading) She had spent little time in her life thinking about marriage but now, it invaded her mind. Every time she found a stray ring, she cleaned it and pretended like it was brand-new, made especially for her.

LYDEN: That was NPR's Susan Stamberg, reading an excerpt from the story "Ten Ring Fingers," written by Tamara Breuer of Washington, D.C. Now, a story about a middle-school crush.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: (Reading) The letter smelled of lavender and vanilla, like she couldn't decide which perfume to use so she used both. Her handwriting had been drawn with the careful precision only seventh-grade girls in love have patience for. Hidden behind the words were indents and scratches, ghosts of words that weren't quite right, rewrites on top of rewrites.

(Reading) I thought of all possibilities before tearing open the smooth flap of pink paper. Sliding it back into her locker in secret would have been the gentleman thing to do, the honorable thing. But she would never have known what a gentleman I was, if I did that. I could have given it back to her. She would definitely have noticed me then. Though soon after, she would have given him the letter, and that would have been the end of me.

(Reading) No. I wasn't going to return it. I couldn't bear to be rid of it. Lunch that day consisted of me sitting hungry in a locked stall on top of a stained toilet seat, reading and re-reading those words, the words she wrote for him.

LYDEN: And that was NPR's Bob Mondello, reading an excerpt from the story "Ghost Words" by Matheus Macedo of Winthrop, Mass. You can read the rest of both of these stories at our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction. Be sure to tune in next week to hear more excerpts from Three-Minute Fiction Round 11.

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