purple illustration of a street full of houses, with a woman in the window of one house.
Illustration by Alex Nabaum

The Worst

How do you fix a terrible mistake? 

By Kristin Lewis
From the October 2021 Issue

Internal conflict is a struggle that takes place within a character’s mind. External conflict is a struggle between a character and someone or something else.


1. Think about Graham’s internal and external conflicts.

2. Find two lines that reveal the internal conflict.

3. Find two lines that reveal the external conflict.

Alex Nabaum

Graham had been in a good mood when the day started. He went swimming at Jake’s house, and there were lots of kids there from the neighborhood. They were just standing around eating burgers and hot dogs and drinking lemonade and feeling happy about summertime.

But then . . .

Graham had said that awful thing. About Brianna. And everyone had laughed. And Brianna had overheard. And Graham had locked eyes with Brianna, and she had looked at him with disbelief.

Brianna was smart and funny and nice—the trifecta of qualities that make a person awesome, at least in Graham’s book. She and Graham had lived across the street from each other since fourth grade. So why did he say that awful thing? He didn’t mean it. It wasn’t even true. Graham wished he could reach out and pluck the words from the air. Smash them. Drown them in the pool. Throw them on the grill until they crisped into ash.

But the thing had been said and it couldn’t be unsaid, and now Graham didn’t know what to do. What he did know was that he was getting that feeling when your stomach tries to climb out of your mouth. Usually that feeling is followed by a big barf. He needed to get out of there. So that’s what he did. He fled the scene. Did a 180-degree spin and walked—no, sprinted—out of the yard like he was running toward a finish line. Except he wasn’t running toward anything. He was running away.

Like a coward.

When Graham got home, he trudged up the stairs, the thud of each step a nail in the coffin of his friendship with Brianna. Maybe with everyone. Because who would want to be his friend now? His life was over.

His mom called out, “You’re back early” from somewhere in the house, but Graham didn’t reply. He hurled himself into his room, shut the door, and stood there shaking as the memory of what he had said crashed over him again and again and again. He searched for the word to describe how he felt and then he found it: loathing. And what he loathed was himself.

To drown out the horror, the shame, the catastrophe, Graham switched on his PS4, but his heart wasn’t in it. Clearly, the only thing to do now was change schools. Move away. Cut his hair. Dye it green. Get a new identity. Yes! A fresh start. He could be better. Nicer. Everyone in his new school would love him.

That evening, Graham made the mistake of getting out his phone. Jake had sent around a video of the entire incident. A bunch of others had texted that he was the worst. But the one person who had not texted was Brianna.

He peered out the window of his bedroom. Across the street, he could see the light on in Brianna’s room. His heart pounding, he went downstairs, opened the front door, and crossed the yard. Then he stepped off the sidewalk and into the street, which felt like stepping off a cliff. And far sooner than he wanted, he arrived at Brianna’s front door. And to his own surprise, he knocked.

Writing Prompt

Write a sequel to the story. Are Graham’s internal and external conflicts resolved? Up to you!

This story was originally published in the October 2021 issue.

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