She found the first ring on a night that smelled of body odor and beer. The bar's last customers had finally given up hope of taking her to bed and staggered away, leaving her to clean the stains of their desperation. She mopped the floor as quickly as possible to escape the place that made her feel uncomfortable in her own skin.
The letter smelled of lavender and vanilla, like she couldn't decide which perfume to use so she used both. Her hand-writing 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.
The envelope lay flat and perfectly sealed in the middle of the hallway. If it had not been in front of her locker I may have left it there. I thought of all possibilities before tearing open the smooth flap of pink paper.
In 1995, an unintended cult-classic trilogy was born with a film that centered on a simple, romantic premise. Two strangers in their early 20s spend a spontaneous night together in Vienna. The characters, Jesse and Celine, split ways in Before Sunrise, but they reunited nine years later for a sequel, Before Sunset.
In that sequel, Jesse and Celine, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, find each other in Paris for another brief rendezvous. Even though both are now in other relationships, they can't shake their connection.
There was a time around 2003, before e-books and e-readers, when it seemed that everywhere you turned — in an airport, on a bus or anywhere people read — people were lost in The Kite Runner. An epic tale set in Afghanistan, the book sold more than 7 million copies in the U.S. and catapulted the author, Khaled Hosseini, onto the global literary stage.
Hosseini followed that success with another book about his homeland, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which also became a best-seller.
According to New Yorker writer George Packer, there used to be a kind of deal among Americans — a deal in which everyone had a place.
"People were more constrained than they are today, they had less freedom," he says, "but they had more security and there was a sense in which each generation felt that the next generation would be able to improve itself, to do better."
On-air challenge: Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase or name in which the first word starts with H-A and the second word starts with T.
Last week's challenge: From listener Al Gori of Cozy Lake, N.J. Name a famous American man — first and last names. Change the first letter of his first name from T to H. The result will sound like a term for an attractive person. Who is it?
NPR's Susan Stamberg reads an excerpt of one of the best submissions for Round 11 of our short story contest. She reads Plum Baby by Carmiel Banasky of Portland, Ore. You can read the full story below and find other stories on our Three-Minute Fiction page or on Facebook.
When 20-year-old Amanda Knox left for Italy in August 2007, it was supposed to be a carefree year studying abroad.
No one could have foreseen it ending in her being accused, tried and convicted in the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher.
The case, and Knox, became an international media sensation.
"I think that there was a lot of fantasy projected onto me," she tells weekends on All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden. "And that resulted in a re-appropriation and re-characterization of who I am."