Iliana Martinez Wins 2nd Place in State Competition


     Every year, in the fall, the PTA/PTSA sponsors a competition called Reflections.  This year, seventh grader, Iliana Martinez entered a short story in the literature category.  It was a piece she titled “Black Roses”.  With this entry she placed first for the Andrew Lewis Middle School round and then went on to place first at the regional level.  She then continued on to place second at the state level.  An awards ceremony will be held in May at the Salem Civic Center for all winners.  Congratulations, Iliana!

Iliana shared her story, below.  It is about finding yourself again.


“Black Roses”

by Iliana Martinez

Tommi Lee does this every weekend and hates it. The doctors, the needles- everything.

Tommi woke up, feeling drained of energy. Chemo was done. It felt like a ton of bricks had been

resting on her shoulders. It was Sunday night, roughly eight-o-clock. The nurse took off the IV,

and Tommi put her gray beanie over her head, along with her wide square glasses. She listened for

the rhythmic beats of her father walking down the hallway to get her. The seemingly dark halls

always haunted her, and they echoed with the sounds of worried people. The waiting room was

bland with a small tv that hardly ever worked.  She followed her father out of the tall, gray

hospital, her lips not moving like usual. Words are wasted breath, but not music. Music is a

statement to be heard. Everything is music.


“You alright sweetie?” Her father asked softly, knowing she wouldn’t respond.


Tommi nodded slightly and pulled out her phone, texting her friends.  She had three best

friends, Henry, Pepi, and Deja. Henry is a music maker and is struggling with his next piece. Pepi

is the social butterfly that somehow knows everyone and everyone knows her. Deja is a music

prodigy and helps Henry on sounds for his digital music.  Tommi used to work with couplets and

poems that could describe her pain with no sound. She missed who she used to be.


The three were asking how her chemo went, and she responded with the same text every

time: exhausting. Then they went on about their day. Tommi sent them some of her new couplets

and Henry got excited and called her.


“You should write music!”, he said loudly into the phone.


“Really? I’d have to sing it. I can’t even raise my hand during class.”


“You know how to, I know you do. You did it before you got the tumor in your lungs.”


Tommi hung up. Singing was like a distant dream, but the thought was enticing. She hadn’t

visited it since five years ago. When they got home, she pulled out a piece of paper  and a

notebook that had all of her poems. She copied some onto the paper, making it a full fledged song.

She hummed it to herself. It was about 3 minutes long. Not awful, but what if it was terrible. She

could never sing it at school. It would make her, once again, a joke. To Tommi, kids like her

weren’t a joke.


Her house was small, with an attic just large enough to be Tommi’s room. Her room was

decorated with polaroid photos from years ago that she had forgotten to replace. The kitchen and

dining room were the same area, and the living room was about five feet away. The next morning

before school, her mother was sitting at the table, head in her hands. Her coffee was going cold on

the table. Tommi sat across, eating a small bowl of cereal. Her spoon tapped against it, making a

small tune in her head.


“Tommi? Your doctor just called me. He had…..  upsetting news,” her mother said, tears in

her eyes.


Tommi stayed silent. Then it came to her. She had been wondering for a while. “How..

How long did he say I have?” She asked, her voice shaking.


“We don’t know Rosie. We don’t know.” Her mother spoke. Rose was Tommi’s middle

name. “But you’re a fighter. You can win,” she said.


If she couldn’t win the mental struggle to stay self confident, how could she win against



Henry was practically bouncing off the white lockers when Tommi told him she had

written a song. His dark brown hair covered his eyes, but you could see the excitement in them. It

was lunch, and they were running to the choir room. The marble floors echoed their footsteps, and

the large windows they passed hadn’t been cleaned in months. Welcome to Holloway High

School. The choir room was dark and small. Little chairs sat in a circle with white sheet music on

the seats.


Henry opened up his computer on the gray desk. “Okay Tommi. I know you wrote it

yesterday, but I really want you to sing for me.”


Tommi shook her head “No.” Then Henry closed his laptop, playing his usual

okay-I-guess-I-can’t-do-the-thing-I-love-most-but-thanks-anyway card. Tommi sighed. She looked

at her lyrics. The words seemed so delicate and fragile. Maybe that was the way to sing it. When

she sang, her voice was light, and soft. As she went through it her confidence grew, and she hit the

chorus with a loud, clear voice, that made Henry’s eyes go wide. When she was done, Deja and

Pepi had been standing by the wide, open door, with their jaws dropped. Pepi tucked her bright

blond hair behind her ears. “Be right back,” she whispered to Deja. Deja and Henry edited her

voice on the computer while Tommi ate her lunch. Henry put his headphones on, and swatted Deja

away. Deja smiled, rolled her eyes, and sat down next to Tommi.


Tommi didn’t see Pepi until after school, where she was bubbling with excitement. “Guess

what I did?” She asked her. Tommi shrugged.


“I started a singing competition! And you’re in it!”


Tommi almost gagged on air. Sing? In front of people? People knew her as “The Kid With

Cancer,” and now she would have to sing in front of everyone? What if she sounded terrible?  It

had been years since she last sang in front of people. Pepi went on, and on, about how great her

voice sounded and that she got some other girls to sign up to. It amazed Tommi on how quick Pepi

could do things like that.


“Pepi!” Tommi said in shock. “I haven’t sung in five years, how can I do it now?”


Pepi grinned. “Tommi it isn’t that bad. You’re a good singer. You just have to find that part

of you again.”


Tommi sighed. “If it’ll make you happy, I’ll sing.”

Pepi cheered, pumping a fist up in the year. She gave Tommi a hug, “Thanks bestie!”


That night, Henry emailed Tommi the full song with music.  It had a heavy beat, and he lowered her voice. She replied, ​No Henry, needs to be soft and delicate. Fix my voice, maybe email Deja to work with some piano, and no heavy beats! ​ It took a while for Henry to respond, but after two hours, he sent the new song. The music alone told of the sorrow and pain she had written

about. It was perfect. Now, all she had to do was be able to sing in front of a bunch of people.



It’s been two weeks. Pepi had worked really hard to set the whole auditorium. The

decorations were phenomenal, she had some of the drama club kids  set up the lighting, she was

even able to get fourteen other singers to sign up. Tommi was preparing herself for the stage. Deja

was trying to get her pumped up, but it wasn’t working. Tommi had decided to call the song

“Black Roses”. The name just felt right.


Tommi volunteered to be the last singer. Three minutes multiplied by fourteen is 42. Those

42 minutes went by shockingly fast.


“And last but not least, Tommi Lee singing her own song, ‘Black Roses’!” Pepi

announced. She looked over at Tommi backstage and smiled kindly.


Tommi took a deep breath. She walked out on the long stage, seeing all the people in the

audience. She could see her mother and father, waving. Tommi gave a thumbs up to Henry and the

music started. The lights went down. A white light beamed down on her. She thought of all the

pain and trials she had been through. Tommi opened her mouth. She started to sing. Midway, when

she grew quieter, singing about her feelings, she could feel herself reliving that pain. And when

she was done, Deja was crying. Her mother was crying. Her father stood up, and started to clap.

Soon, the rest of the audience joined in the applause. It was so loud, it almost hurt her ears, so she

pulled her beanie over them. She felt proud of herself. Tommi hadn’t felt that since before she

gave up on music. It felt like a dream.


Pepi walked back onstage, and that was the cue for Tommi to go off. “Now, if you all

could please go to the school website, and vote your winner. Pepi smiled at her phone. After a few

minutes she raised the microphone to her lips. “Well, it looks like we have a clear winner!” Pepi

looked over at Tommi. “Tommi Lee!”


A few days later, and Tommi’s mother still couldn’t get over it. But that wasn’t the

weirdest thing. Strangers started to notice who Tommi was. Everyone in the school knew her name. Deja sent a text after school that said ​Tommi, you were on the news! You’ve gone viral! ‘Black Roses’ has been viewed on social media over three million times! People are practically begging you to write another song! ​ Then Henry texted, ​We could start a ​ Youtube​ channel! You would have to come up with a name. What about Rose Lee? ​ Then Pepi joined in ​Why Rose Lee?


That went on for a while. Rose Lee. She liked that. Maybe she should start a channel. Write

more music. After all, how long would she have left?


To Tommi, it was comforting to be herself again. She was now Rose Lee. She only had one

song, and she had 1.5 million subscribers in a week. She was more well known now. Random

people would high five her in the hallways. To Tommi, it was only a matter of time that this would

last. So, she enjoyed it and actually talked to people like she used to before the cancer.


Tommi wrote another song that she called ‘Colors of Blood’. Once again, Henry was super

psyched about it. The song was meant to sound confident, but fragile, like it could break into a

million pieces.  Henry was figuring out her style. It was a challenge since he liked rock music.

Tommi was also growing used to Henry’s style of music, so after ‘Colors of Blood,’ she wrote a

song that had a section for some rock. It was unnamed.


It was a year later, when Tommi, now called Rose, realized how much that singing

competition meant to her. It really opened her up. And from some amazing miracle, the tumor

shrunk, and hasn’t come back. She still wears her beanie. It matches her newly grown

strawberry-blonde hair. She had produced ten more songs in the last year, with her best friends by

her side the whole way. She had become basically, an internet celebrity.


But the whole internet fame thing wasn’t the reason she was so happy. After forcing herself

into sadness, Tommi forgot what it was like to be herself. Because of that competition she realized

that she should’ve never given up on herself. She learned that you should never give up on who

you are, even when life is going the other direction.