The Next to Last Mistake by Amalie Jahn
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Tess approaches the move as she would a new game of chess, plotting her course through the unfamiliar reality of her new life. While heeding Zander’s long-distance advice for making new friends and strategizing a means to endure her dad’s imminent deployment to the Middle East, she quickly discovers how ill-equipped she is to navigate the societal challenges she encounters and becomes convinced she’ll never fit in with the students at her new school.
When Leonetta Jackson is assigned as her mentor, she becomes Tess’s unexpected guide through the winding labyrinth of cultural disparities between them, sparking a tentative friendship and challenging Tess to confront her reluctant nature. As the pieces move across the board of her upended life, will Tess find the acceptance she so desperately desires?
I stand without making eye contact with anyone else in the room, especially Mrs. Alexander who’ll block me from leaving if given the opportunity. I gather my books hastily into my arms and run for the door. After skidding into the hallway, I make a beeline out to the student parking lot.
By the time I get there, Leonetta is already waiting for me, leaning against the hood of my car.
“Shortcut,” she says as I approach. “There’s a delivery corridor behind the closest stairwell to Mrs. Alexander’s room. Comes out right over there.” She nods toward a door on the side of the building, not twenty feet from where we’re standing.
Despite the storm raging inside me, I grin at her. She’s a good friend. A great friend. I should’ve known she’d come after me.
“What’s going on?” she asks as I sidle up beside her.
I consider saying ‘nothing’ and leaving it at that. I don’t want to talk about my epiphany, but I can’t lie to her. She’ll see right through me.
“You remember the guy, Zander, my friend from back in Iowa?”
“The one you talk about all the time?”
I glare at her. “Not all the time.”
It’s her turn to raise an eyebrow at me.
“Okay, I talk about him sometimes,” I concede. But then I stop. I can’t find the words to go on.
“What about him?” Leonetta urges, nudging me with an elbow.
“I…” I’ve never said the words aloud and it’s harder than I thought it was going to be. “I love him,” I say finally.
She makes a small sound. A bit like a laugh but more like a contented coo, as if she’s a baby and I’ve been tickling her toes. “I know.”
It feels almost like she’s punched me in the gut.
“You know?” I say. “How is that even possible? You’ve never even met him.”
She lays a hand on my shoulder, and if it had been anyone else doing it I would have thought it condescending, but since it’s Leonetta I’m certain she’s being sincere.
“Honey, that wistful look you get whenever you talk about him… There’s never been any doubt in my mind about your feelings for him.” She narrows her eyes at me, searching for something in the lines of my face. “Don’t tell me you’re just now figuring it out.”
Am I just now figuring it out?
“I’m afraid we might end up like Catherine and Heathcliff because we’re exactly like them, and I don’t want that for us. We were kids together. We grew up together. We have this thing between us that’s so much bigger than simple friendship. When Catherine says ‘I am Heathcliff,’ I totally relate. Because I am Zander, whether I want to be or not. I can’t separate myself from him because so much of who I am is tied to who he is. Our history is long and deep. But since we’ve been apart, things have changed.” I take a deep breath, surprised at how easily all of this is flowing out, but I focus, forcing myself to come to the point. “What destroyed Catherine and Heathcliff was their refusal to embrace change. They didn’t let their love mature. If my friendship with Zander is going to survive, it’s what we need to do.”
Leonetta shrugs. “So, you gonna tell him?”
My heart stops. “Tell him I love him?”
She slides off the hood of my car. “Yeah.”
“I don’t know if I can. At least not right now. Not while we’re so far apart.” She scowls at me. “I will, though, eventually. Maybe this summer if he comes to visit.”
“What if he never comes to visit?” she asks.
Tears pool in the corners of my eyes. “He’ll come,” I tell her. “He has to.”
When she's not at the computer coaxing characters into submission, you can find Amalie swimming laps, cycling, or running on the treadmill, probably training for her next triathlon. She hates pairing socks and loves avocados. She is also very happy time travel does not yet exist. Connect with her right here in the present day at these social media sites:
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