The Youngest One by Nancy Springer

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Jessie is tired of dealing with her drunk mother and life in a rough part of town, and when a creepy woman approaches her one morning and advises her to pay attention to Shakespeare's As You Like It in her English class she shrugs off the recommendation. After all, what relevance does Shakespeare have with her life? A chance encounter with an unusual toad, however, is about to completely alter Jessie's perceptions of what matters in the world, and might just provide her with an unexpected happily-ever-after.
A short story.
“Good morning, Jessica,” called the squatty old woman who always sat on the porch of number 321.
What’s so good about it? Jessie wanted to scream, her mood as heavy as the backpack hanging from her arm as she trudged toward school. There’s nothing to eat, not even a slice of bread, and Mom’s passed out on the sofa again. But she forced a small smile and replied, “Morning.” 
“Jessica.” Leaning toward her, Warty beckoned her closer. “Warty” was what the kids in the nabe called the old woman because there were bumps on her face, each with a single thick white hair sticking out like a cat’s whisker. Warty’s hunched body looked kind of lumpy too, under her polyester dress, and it bulged like a bean bag over the edges of her chair. Most of the kids called her names, laughing at her to her face. But Jessie never wanted to hurt anyone, especially not a bent-over old woman who could barely walk. Her mood was so bad she wished she could ignore old Warty, but that would be mean. So, stepping off the sidewalk, she stood at Warty’s gray, unpainted porch railing.
The old woman’s knobby hand hovered in the air as she fixed Jessie with a stare. “Are you studying Shakespeare in school right now, Jessica?” Those old eyes, faded blue, almost white, seemed suddenly so bright that facing Warty was like being caught in front of a pair of halogen headlights on high beam. 
“Um, yeah,” Jessie stammered. “Yes.” Eighth graders had to read Shakespeare, written in the sixteenth century and having sooo much to do with Jessie’s life in a low-rent row house on Railroad Street. 
“Which play?”
“Um…” Jessie had to think. “As You Like It.”
The old woman nodded once, decisively, and her crooked hand settled in her lap. “Read it closely and pay attention,” she ordered.
“Um, sure. All right.” Sensing herself dismissed, Jessie stepped back and kept walking toward school, though she didn’t feel like going. What was the use? With Dad run off no clue where, and Mom drunk or maybe stoned too, and Jarod and Jason staying out all night instead of helping the way older brothers ought to, what was the use of anything?

  • Published by: Untreed Reads

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