AChapADay, Final Chapter

AChapADay: Chapter Nineteen – FINAL CHAPTER

Sunday, April 15

Anna, or she guessed she was now Ann, sat at her kitchen island drinking her second cup of coffee.  She was nervous.  After all this time, blaming Scout for so much of her unhappiness, she was going to confront her.  Now, in the sunlight of Sunday morning, the sharp anger she’d held onto for so long was fading quickly.  She knew she’d exaggerated Scout’s role in her misery and she wondered if it was really worth bringing up at this point.  She picked up her phone, thinking maybe she could text Scout and tell her not to bother stopping by, but then there was a knock at her door.

Ann took a deep breath and stood.  When she reached for the door knob she realized her hands were shaking.  She squeezed them into fists to try to stop the shaking, and then swung the door open wide.

Scout walked in and pulled Ann into a tight hug.  “I just can’t thank you enough,” she said, finally letting Ann go.

Ann was temporarily paralyzed.  Scout was one of those women who carried life around with her.  When she walked into a room, when she spoke, people paid attention.  She was just vibrant and happy.  Ann had always found it really annoying, but she knew it was why people liked Scout so much.

Ann stepped back and Scout walked into her kitchen.  “Can I get you coffee?”

“Yes, please.  And, I’m sorry to say, I just don’t have tons of time.  We’re trying to get out of here by 10:30 or so.  But coffee, yes!” 

Ann poured her a cup and pushed cream and sugar towards Scout as she sat across from her.

“So, Anna Johnson, did you call me here to tell me who you really are?”

For the second time in mere minutes, Ann was stunned into silence.

“Because, you know I remember you, right?  Of course I do!” Scout offered a wide smile before taking a sip of her coffee.

“I didn’t realize you recognized me,” Ann said carefully.  Trying to figure out how to proceed with what was starting to feel like a worthless confrontation.

“Anna, we spent six years in school together.  You look different, of course, and amazing by the way.  But your voice, your mannerisms, and your name is almost the same.  Anna Johnson?  Ann Jones?”

Ann didn’t respond right away.

“I’m sorry, I’m being really rude.  Obviously you have reasons for changing your name and your appearance.  It’s not fair of me to call you out on that.  Look, I just meant that it’s pretty great to see you in such a good place.  I know things weren’t,” she paused and looked embarrassed.  “I know things weren’t always easy for you at home.”

“No,” Ann started.  And she made a decision.  “Things weren’t easy.  I brought you here because I have been misplacing blame for that on you for a very long time.  You came into our school and just beat me at everything.  I worked my butt off to be in the top spot in our class and you,” she paused again.  “You didn’t even seem to try and you were just smarter.  And better.  At everything.”

Scout looked down into her coffee.  “I did try, and I did work hard, but I had something you didn’t and it made a huge difference.”  She looked up and her eyes were shiny.  “My family supported and loved me no matter what.  They would have been just as supportive if I’d gotten Bs and Cs.  I’m not saying that to brag, I’m saying it so you understand, our work ethic was the same but our background and home life were very very different.”

“My father wouldn’t even come to graduation once he found out I wasn’t valedictorian.” 

“I know,” Scout whispered.  “I’m so sorry for that.  And I’m sorry it seemed like I was just taking it all away from you.  It was not my intention to make things harder for you.”

Ann started to cry.  This time, she didn’t hear any phantom voices of her father or grandfather telling her she was weak.  This time, Scout came around the island and hugged her again.

“I think you’re missing something, though,” Scout said, going back to her stool.

“What’s that?” Ann asked, wiping her face with the back of her hands.  They weren’t shaking anymore.

“You have provided the love, encouragement, and support that you never got from your own family, for the kids you work with in the school system.  Mack was just devastated when you left.  You were her special person, the nonparent who believed in her.  That meant the world to her.”

Ann nodded.  She guessed she had put her bad childhood to good use by giving other kids a different experience.

“You’re so good at it.  Really, if you have the ability to go back, you should seriously consider it.  I know Mack would be beside herself with joy if you did.”

“I’ll think about it.  I have this place to run and other real estate I have to manage,” even as she spoke, Ann knew none of those things fed her soul like working with kids did.  And she knew then that she would absolutely try to get her old job back.

“Listen, I hesitate to even tell you this because it didn’t change anything and won’t change anything now,” Scout said.

“Tell me what?” Ann asked.

*****

May, 1994

Scout looked in the mirror that hung in her locker.  She puffed her bangs and put on another layer of lip gloss.  Grabbing a book and notebook, she slammed her locker shut, and walked down the hall to the office.

“Is Ms. Hartley in?” Scout asked Janine, the woman who sat at the front desk.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No, I just, I need to talk to her.”

Janine picked up her phone and rung Ms. Hartley’s office.  After exchanging a few hushed words, she hung up and told Scout to head back.

“Scout, what can I do for you?  Are you excited for graduation?”  Ms. Hartley was a short curvy woman who walked the halls in high heels that you could hear from a hallway away.  She was loud and boisterous, but ran the school with an iron fist.

“Yes, I am,” Scout said, sitting in a chair in front of Ms. Hartley’s desk.

“And you’re going where next year?”

“University of Minnesota.”

“Yes!  My alma matter, go Gophers!”

“Go Gophers!” Scout repeated, automatically.

“So, what can I do for you?” Ms. Hartley asked again.

Scout shifted in her chair.  She was nervous.  “I know Anna Johnson has the number two spot in our class.  Right behind me, right?”

Ms. Hartley typed something on her computer with long red fingernails.  “Let’s see…”  She squinted as she read what was on her screen.  “Yes, you barely beat her!”

“Right.  So, um, I’m wondering if there is any way you can make her the valedictorian at graduation?” 

Ms. Hartley turned her gaze from her screen to Scout.  She had big blonde hair and thick glasses.  “But, Scout, you are the valedictorian.  You’re the head of your class.”

“I know, I’m just,” she paused to try to think of how to say the next part.  “It’s just that her parents are really strict and only care about school.  And my parents, they’re proud of me no matter what.  I mean, they won’t care if I’m not valedictorian.  But Anna’s parents will really care if she’s not.”

Ms. Hartley’s expression didn’t change.  Scout shifted again under the scrutiny.

“I’m sorry, Scout, but we can’t just switch it because you don’t want it.”

“No, I’m not saying I don’t want it, it’s just that Anna and her parents want it a lot more.”

Ms. Hartley was nodding, and Scout felt hopeful, until she said “yeah, no.  That is not going to happen.  Anything else you need today?”

Scout would have tried again, but Ms. Hartley started shuffling papers on her desk to clearly indicate that they were done.

Scout mumbled a thank you and left the office feeling defeated.

*****

Sunday, April 15

“I’m sorry I didn’t try harder.  And, like I said, it doesn’t change anything.”

“It changes everything,” Ann whispered, new tears falling from her eyes.  “That is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.”

*****

Ann and Hank stood at the front door of the Carlos Lake Lodge as the girls and their moms filled the back of the cars with luggage.

When they started piling themselves into the car, Scout and Mack walked back up the stairs.

“Thanks again, to both of you,” Scout said.  She shook Hank’s hand and hugged Ann again.  Ann hugged back, tight. 

Mack was next.  She hugged both Hank and Ann.  “I wish you were coming back to school,” she said.

“I’m going to look into it.  Maybe I can work part-time.” Ann said.  “And don’t forget, I expect all of you to come back this summer!”

“Honey, go get in the car,” Scout said to Mack.  Mack waved and ran for the car.  “Anna, it was so good to see you.”

“It was good to see you too,” Ann said.

They smiled at each other and Ann realized she was looking at her oldest friend.

As the cars drove off, she took a deep breath. 

Hank put his arm around her shoulders and said “how about we go in and bake something?”  Ann smiled and let him lead her back into the lodge.

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