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Underneath the Maple Tree
Just like the wind stares and whispers at the trees, I want to fade away into a nice, invisible breeze. The eyes stare at me like an owl in the night, but I can’t do anything, I can’t even put up a fight. “Look at her! Wow, she must be so embarrassed. I know I would be embarrassed if that was me! Oh my gosh it’s her, the girl who just fell and broke her foot walking.” A chorus of laughing snaps me out of my poetry like that as they have so many times today. I finally thought they were going to let me sit, stay, and drift away.
Let’s start at the beginning, my name is Juliette Ann Habersburg, but you can just call me Juliette. I have always been the shy, nerdy kid who basically just blends in with the wall or the tree that I always sit by when I write my poetry. My best friend is Sienna Charles, we’ve been friends ever since I dropped my sandwich on the ground on the first day of kindergarten and she shared half of her sandwich with me. I still remember the taste of that PB & J sandwich. Anyways, our other friend is Seth Rema, but I haven’t talked to him and gotten answered back in about six years. Well, except for the occasional quick, mumbled apology if I ran into him or something like that, but I don’t think that counts. I think after we started middle school he just couldn’t be seen with the “uncool kids anymore”. Whatever. We are all three seniors at Wilkerson High School, in Vermont, but the difference is that i’m the nerdy, quiet kid with all straight A’s, Sienna is the extremely social person that everyone knows, and Seth is the jock.
“SETH...SETH...SETH...SETH...SETH!”, the crowd chants as I score the winning goal of the game, and the championship. Frankly, I don’t even remember kicking the ball towards the goal, all I remember is staring at that beautiful, auburn hair and the willowy frame of Juliette Ann Habersburg, the prettiest and most amazing girl in our grade, or so I think. I’ve had a crush on her ever since kindergarten, when I tried to kiss her underneath the slide. (She punched me in the face in case you want to know.) I had a black eye for weeks afterward, but I never stopped loving her. If the other boys knew of my admiration of Juliette, I’d be toast and would never ever hear the end of the teasing. Straight A girl and you, that’s funny! Her, are you serious? Who? I couldn’t even begin to imagine their jabs at me. Plus, I was already dating Aubrey, the most adored girl of Wilkerson High. Honestly though, she’s just a pretty face, if you could even call her that under her a million layers of makeup. The boys would make fun of me FOREVER if I broke up with her. It was definitely a long journey to make Aubrey mine.
“BADUMBADUMBADUM” The music was blasting into my eardrums and I was sure I’d be deaf by the time the night was over, if I wasn’t already. I was just wishing that Juliette was here, if she could get over telling me the facts of deafness, I’m sure she would have so much fun. Of course, after the sixth grade end of the year party, which could hardly be called a party, she won’t go near one. She played spin the bottle and had to kiss Jeremy on the cheek. “SIENNA!’, My friends jolted me back to reality as they shouted over the music. I guess I better go join them.
“GOOD MORNING WILKERSON HIGH! I’M YOUR PRINCIPAL, MR. JONATHAN!”, The class was still whispering between themselves and laughing at how the principal couldn’t use the PA system correctly when the announcements came on. “NOW LISTEN UP BECAUSE I HAVE A VERY SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT TO MAKE TODAY!”, The whispering abruptly stopped. “ONE OF OUR VERY OWN STUDENTS JULIETTE ANN HABERSBURG HAS WON THE ANNUAL STATEWIDE POETRY CONTEST WITH HER POEM TITLED DEWDROPS! Dewdrops are like nature’s reflection, they reflect the good and never leave anything or anyone without protection…”
“Yes Juliette! That’s awesome! Woohoo!” All eyes were turned towards me, like an owl on its prey. People were crowding around me now, my palms were getting sweaty, and hands were reaching out to me for high fives and fistbumps. I could hear my heart beating loudly in my chest. BADUMBADUMBADUM, was my heart supposed to be beating this fast? No no no no no this cannot be happening, I thought to myself. I ran out the door of the classroom and went right outside, running off into the woods and trying to get away from that awful sound of the PA system repeating itself in her head. JULIETTE ANN HABERSBURG, JULIETTE ANN HABERSBURG, JULIETTE ANN HABERSBURG...the sound of the principal’s voice seemed to echo off of my skull and I just let my feet lead me where they wanted to go. While running blindly with tears running down my face and my cheeks red and hot from embarrassment, I thought to myself, there goes my perfect attendance record. Attendance didn’t matter anyways, since I was just going to crawl into a hole and not come out until I died.
I was sitting in homeroom listening to the PA system in the background while I caught up with all my friends. All of the sudden, I heard the words Juliette Ann Habersburg and the words won statewide poetry contest and my breath caught in my chest. I was sure Juliette had already ran off somewhere and I had to follow. This was my duty as her BFF, instead of congratulating her, she needed me to just be there for her and try to shield her from the embarrassment of recognition. If this was me, which it would never be, I would be screaming from excitement, but she just wants to stay hidden in the shadow of her big, ancient maple tree. I ran out of my class and didn’t even bother closing the door behind me as I ran off to find her.
I was joking off with my friends and dribbling a ball around in homeroom when I heard the word Juliette. My face immediately heated up to about a million degrees as I thought of her willowy frame and her auburn hair in my mind. However, I thought of her back in second grade, when she won the school wide poetry contest. She crawled under a desk and bawled her eyes out while the teacher tried to coax her out from under it. I also remember her mom all but pulling her to the bus stop the next day, she didn’t want to go to school since she was so embarrassed. She’s had social anxiety as long as I can remember, so it’s a struggle to even come to school everyday, let alone get called out at school. I bet that she’s still embarrassed about it to this day. I mumble to my friends “I don’t feel well.” and run out the door to find her. Sure I haven’t talked to her in about six years, but I love her so much that I can’t just neglect how anguished she must be right now. I might have no idea what I’m going to say to her, or if I will even make it known that i’m there, but I know I have to be there if she needs me.
I was sitting with Juliette under the big maple tree in the woods, trying to console her, when Seth Rema showed up. He came sprinting through the woods to the tree like he hadn’t just ignored Juliette and I for the past six years.
Sienna seemed to be a million feet tall as she blocked my view to Juliette and spat at my feet. “What the heck are you doing here Rema?,” she seethed.
“Um...I...Uh…”, I stuttered back
“Save it! You have no business strutting into here like you haven’t just ignored both of us for the past six years! Go back to your little jock friends and leave us alone like you have for the past six years!” I stumbled back as she stepped forward but quickly recollected myself and took a step back towards her and the sobbing Juliette.
“I might not have treated you guys at all the way that I should of the past six years, but if there is a time to start treating you correctly, it’s now. We both know Juliette and we both know that she needs as many helping people as she can get right now. If you still want me to when this is all over, I’ll just go back to my little jock friends like you want me to. However, right now i’m sticking with you,” My voice started off quiet at first but it grew in volume as I gained more confidence.
“Fine,” Sienna sighed but obliged and stepped aside to let me through. I’ve never seen a more heart wrenching sight than the girl that I love most curled up into a ball, crying hysterically.
All I could see was a blur, but I thought I saw Seth through the blur. It must be a mirage though. He hasn’t even talked to me in six years. “Juliette?” I hear his honey sweet voice and forget about why I was crying in the first place. I slowly unfurl my limbs and stand up with his and Sienna’s assistance. “Let’s go,” He says. I follow him to our favorite restaurant, Maple Diner. Sienna and I still go to this place every Friday, but he hasn’t been with us in what feels like centuries. They help ease me into a booth and as soon as our waitress comes, they order our old favorite, The Maple Leaf Special.
I almost can’t handle the nostalgia, the last time that we all came here together was the last day of fifth grade. I sit across from Juliette and Sienna, just like I used to. The jocks slip from my mind, a college scholarship slips from my mind, and soccer slips from my mind. All that matters right here, right now is that i’m here once again with the gang.
It’s been a week since I won the poetry contest and I’m standing at my locker. I’m still crumbling inside from the embarrassment like a building after a hurricane, but Seth and Sienna are the one pillar still standing to keep me on my feet. I absolutely hate the attention. I might have completely crumbled if they weren’t there. This was like my greatest fears come true, the stuff nightmares are made of.
I still can’t be with the girls at school, but I can be with them out of school. I’m too afraid of what this would do to my social status. I fear that I would drop to the bottom of the food chain, and be the prey of every single student in the school, even my so called old friends. However, everyday I sprint from soccer practice straight to the tree where I meet the girls. We then walk straight to the Maple Diner to catch up. They understand better than I thought they would but the boys are starting to wonder why I can’t hang out with them. I’m definitely going to have to do something about this soon.
Dear Juliette, I start. No that sounds too formal. Yo, Juliette what‘s up? Ugh that sounds too much like the boys. Juliette, I begin and I just keep on writing. I look around before I slip the note into her locker and slink away. I pray to anyone who’s listening that she’ll just give me one chance.
I have loved you ever since the second grade when you tried to kiss me under the slides. After you slapped me, that only made me love you even more, which I didn’t think was humanly possible. You may be somewhat broken, but everyone’ is a little bit broken inside. Your smile makes the world shine brighter and your eyes light up the world. It would be the best day of my entire life if you would go on just one date with me. I don’t think anyone could love you more than I do.
I’m not sure what to think as I finish up reading my first ever love note. My whole body heats up and my face turns red. I owe him that one chance, and I think I owe myself that chance too. What is this feeling?
“Hurry up, he’s almost here”, I say as Sienna adds the finishing touches to my hair and makeup. There are butterflies fluttering in my stomach and my palms are clammy. “Ding dong,” The doorbell rings and I start hyperventilating. “Breathe,” Sienna says calmly. I take a few deep breaths. I hold on to the railing with a death grip, my legs shaking.
She looks so beautiful walking towards me, the sun a halo around her head. She’s wearing a white, flowy dress that falls loosely on her slim frame and her long, silky hair is hanging long down her back. She walks towards me gracefully like I imagined in all my dreams about her, and slips.
It happens in slow motion, my feet get stuck under me, I’m heading towards the concrete sidewalk, a rush of pain and the world goes black.
I wake up to the sound of a beeping machine. “Beep beep beep,” It goes on and on, a metronome in my brain. Then I feel the pain like a truck rolling over me. My vision is blurry, but I fight through the pain to see Sienna and Seth standing there. Forever and always beside me, the way that it’s meant to be.
It’s been a month since The Accident and I’m finally out of a cast and a boot. My leg was broken in three places. The pain was agonizing, but the embarrassment was even worse. At school all I would hear was “oh my gosh it’s the girl that broke her leg tripping on her own foot,” and “that girl is so pathetic,”. People are always staring at me out of the corner of their eyes. It’s to the point where I want to just scream at them, “WHAT ARE YOU STARING AT?!”
Now the gossip is winding down, as I’m sure they’ve moved on to some new topic like a shark that smells blood. If this would have happened before I had Seth and Sienna, I’m sure I would have gone home every night and had a panic attack, or had just not been able to go to school anymore just like back in second grade. The only thing that’s changed now is that they’re the life jacket keeping me afloat on the journey of life. It’s been a bumpy ride so far, but I think the waves are starting to die down.