The Maple Tree

By: Ramya Chilappa

Marina Green had always been the epitome of normal. She got good grades, but they were nothing phenomenal. She was pretty enough, but no great beauty. She had friends (did one count?), but was nowhere near a social butterfly. Even her parents were normal, her father being an accountant and her mother a housewife. There was nothing out of the ordinary about her at all, except perhaps her incredibly compassionate nature and amazing love for books. But for the most part, Marina had just always been the quiet girl overshadowed by her best friend.

Rosella Jemson was a hard girl not to notice. She was exotically beautiful, with thick black hair, tan skin, and hazel eyes. She was friends with almost everyone in tenth grade. Her mother had once been a dancer, and her father traveled all over the world as an ambassador for his big shot software company. With a best friend like Rosella, Marina was almost always unnoticed.

But Rosella was special to her. Even if she could have sat with anyone in the school, she always sat with Marina. She was Marina’s safe haven, her one great outlet to the world.

And now she was leaving.

“I’m sorry, Marina,” Rosella said, swinging her legs over the branch of the big maple tree in front of Recon High School, which was their favorite hangout spot, “But it’s only this school year. My father really wants my mother and me to go with him to this one business trip. This could be a huge break in my dancing career.”

“But it’s junior year,” the other girl protested quietly, “It’s junior year.”

Rosella did nothing but shoot her an apologetic glance.

And so the next day, Rosella Jemson packed up her bags and left for the airport with her family. And Marina Green watched her best friend and her family leave. I’ll be fine, she tried to convince herself, I’ll be fine.

It wasn't working.


No matter how much she missed Rosella, Marina still had to go to school. So the next day, she dragged herself out of bed, got ready, kissed her mother and father goodbye, and left for school. Recon High School, widely renown as the largest high school in the county, was only a block over, so she usually walked there with Rosella. Today she walked alone.

While at her locker and getting her books, Marina took the time to listen to the people around her.

"We have a new student today."

"I hear he's been to jail twenty times!"

"Did you know he was expelled for beating up a kid at his old school?"

"Apparently all the kid did was ask him to move out of the way. Nicely!"

Her curiosity was piqued. A new boy? And a juvenile delinquent, apparently. She shook her head and started for class.

When she got to the classroom, she immediately walked over to the back of the room and set her books down on a desk. She knew that she'd be sitting alone today, since Rosella was gone. Her homeroom teacher, Mrs. Vanderbilt, walked into the classroom, causing the noisy chatter to cease. 

Right behind her trailed a tall, sulky looking boy who had his hands shoved into the pockets of his hoodie. He had blond hair that flopped over his eyes, and his lips were pulled down into a scowl. His features were well-sculpted and aristocratic, giving him the overall look of a snobby prince.

This must be the new boy, Marina thought.


Chance Travers was not happy. His parents had moved yet again, and some idiot had decided to send his (private!) record to the new school. This place had been no different. Rumors followed him where ever he went. And it was made even more obvious by the way all the kids in the classroom were looking at him with a mixture of curiosity and fear.

“Class, this is our new student, Chance Travers. He’s moved here from... where was it you came here from, Chance?” the teacher, a lady named Mrs. Vanderbilt asked.

He glared at her, before muttering, “California.”

“California to Connecticut! What a big move!” sensing the negative waves rolling off Chance, the old woman smartly chose to move on, “Why don’t you go take a seat next to... Marina. Marina, raise your hand please, dear. She’ll be your partner in homeroom for the rest of the year, Chance.”

He scowled.

A girl near the back of the room raised her hand, and Chance slowly made his way over. He sat down, and let the messenger bag slip off his shoulder, taking out a notebook and a pencil. While everyone else took out their supplies, he took the time to study his new “partner.”

She had brown hair and bright blue eyes. She was pretty, he supposed, in a girl-next-door kind of way, but was nothing particularly memorable. Not like some of the other girls he'd seen.

She noticed him staring, and sent him a shy smile.

"Hello," she said, offering him her hand.

He stared at it for a moment, and then shot Marina a look that told her exactly what he thought of her. She got the message and retracted her hand, turning hurriedly back to stare at her own desk. Chance smirked, but it quickly slipped back into a frown. Was she afraid of him too? Was everyone?

"Hey," came the girl's soft voice.

Chance snapped out of his trance to realize that the classroom was filled with the quiet chatter of working. He must have missed the teacher's instructions.

"We're supposed to talk about ourselves. Try to get to know each other better," Marina said.

He glared at her. If the girl thought that he was going to talk to her, she was seriously delusional.

They stared at each other in silence for the next few minutes, until Marina began speaking, "My name is Marina Green. I like reading, animals, and soccer. I don't like broccoli or people who look down on others. My hobbies are making bracelets and writing poems. Now you go."

Chance stared at her stubbornly, but seeing that she wasn't budging, he sighed and reluctantly began to talk, "I'm Chance Travers. I like very few things. I dislike very many things. My hobbies are none of your business."

The girl didn't look taken aback or surprised at his curt response. She simply smiled at him and turned back to her desk to fiddle with her pencil.

He scowled, before deciding to stare at the chalkboard for the rest of class. When the bell rang, he was the first one out the door.


Chance hurried out of the math classroom, gripping his books tightly when everyone moved quickly out of his way. The rumors people were spreading about him were really starting to bug him.

It was lunchtime, and he had decided to eat outside. No use taking up a table in the cafeteria when he'd be the only one at it.

On the way there, he heard a familiar voice shouting, "Give it back! Please, give it back!"

He followed the voice to the abandoned hallway of the old wood-working classroom. Hardly anyone went there anymore, but there were people in there now.

It was Marina Green, the girl that sat next to him in homeroom. Two tall, bulky seniors were holding what he assumed to be her lunch bag high above her head. Being as petite as she was, she couldn't reach it.

"What's wrong, Green?" one of the boys mocked, "Where's that pretty friend of yours that always helps ya out? Now that she's gone, whatcha gonna do, huh?"

"Aw, look at her," the other one laughed, "She's getting angry. She looks like a  mad kitten, don't ya think?" 

Chance wasn't sure why he did it, but before he could think about what he was doing, he had strode forward, grabbed the senior's arm, and twisted Marina's lunch out of his grip.

"Pick on someone your own size, you jerks," he growled.

"Hey Matt, that's the new kid. The delinquent," Ugly Number One said.

"I heard he's almost killed a guy before," Ugly Number Two exclaimed, looking at Chance with a mixture of awe and fear.

The two older boys practically ran out of the hallway.

"Here," Chance said gruffly, tossing the girl her lunch bag, "Be more careful next time."

Marina just barely managed to catch it.

"Thank you," she whispered, staring at the ground.

He nodded, "Whatever. Go to the cafeteria before someone else catches you."

Without bothering to wonder why he cared, Chance turned around and began to walk toward the school doors. It wasn't until he was outside on the grass of Recon High's front lawn when he realized he had been followed.


Marina wondered why he had helped her. No one ever had, until Rosella came along. And from what she had heard about him, he didn't exactly seem like the type of guy to do random acts of kindness.

For some reason, she found herself following him when he walked away and out of the school.

For a juvenile delinquent, he doesn't seem very mean. I'll eat lunch with him, she decided.

When they had reached the high school's front lawn, Chance seemed to finally notice her presence when he whirled around and glared at her. "Why are you here? Why are you following me?" he snapped.

"To eat lunch with you," Marina replied simply.

"Go away," he grumbled, sitting in the shade of the large maple tree, "Go eat with your friends or something."

"I don't have any," she said as she took a seat next to him, asking herself when she had gotten so bold.

Chance stared at her in surprise.

Reading his expression, she explained further, "I only had one, my best friend Rosella. She went on a trip with her parents for this school year, so I'm alone."

He didn't say anything, but began to pick at the grass.

For the rest of the lunch period, Marina (being unusually talkative) chattered on about various things, while Chance sat and listened silently. She had even offered to share her lunch with him, since he hadn't brought any, but he adamantly refused. I'm not hungry, he said. But Marina was content talking, with him listening.

Because, unlike everyone else, Chance listened.


Chance was confused.

The annoying girl from homeroom talked to him in Mrs. Vanderbilt's class and always found time to make conversation during passing periods. Every day after that faithful first day of school, she had followed him outside to eat lunch with him. He had grown used to her presence, and had even (dare he say it?) begun to enjoy it. But he was still puzzled as to why she even bothered with him. He never talked back, besides the occasional short yes or no.

One day, he finally snapped and asked her at lunch."Why are you always bothering me?"

She sent him one of her happy, innocent smiles that he knew would get her in trouble someday.

"Because, Chance," Marina said, crossing her legs and leaning back against the maple tree, "You're my friend. And even if you won't admit it, I'm your friend too."

They sat in silence for the next few moments.

"Marina," Chance finally said. She looked at him, startled. He had never used her name before. "Thank you," he whispered.

She smiled again, even more brightly this time, "You're welcome, Chance."

It wasn't much, but it was a start.


He hadn't shown up to school today.

And Marina's bullies snatched the chance to make fun of her again.

This time, they stole her books. She couldn't get to her third period math class without them. If only Chance was here...

She closed her eyes and clenched her fists. Why was she relying on him so much? If he listened to her, why wouldn't someone else?

"Stop!" she finally screamed, losing her temper.

The seniors stared at her in surprise. Marina Green had never, ever fought back before.

"How dare you!" Marina shrieked, letting loose six years of emotions, "If you don't give me back my books right now, you stupid seniors, I will tell the principal all the things you have done to me in the past six years and make sure you have the nastiest detentions for the rest of the school year!"

They stared in surprise. Of course, they didn't hand back her books, but she used the distraction to pry them out of their hands. She turned around and began to walk to class, but something made her stop.

Standing there was Chance, grinning widely. "Good job," he said.

She smiled back, feeling as if she was glowing.

Because she had finally been heard.


At lunch that afternoon, Marina remembered something that had troubled her earlier in the  day.

"Hey, Chance?""Hm?" he replied absentmindedly, snagging a pretzel from her bag.

"Why were you gone this morning?"

He froze, his hand stopping before it reached the pretzel bag. "Oh, that," Chance said. Was he blushing? "I was at the vice principal's office."

"Why?" Marina exclaimed, appalled.

He murmured something unintelligible.

"Say it again. I didn't quite get that," she said.

"Someone called you a spoiled, obnoxious brat for not talking much, okay? They think you think you're better than them because you don't speak. They called you some other really terrible things, and I lost my temper and punched them!"

Marina, who had been preparing to lecture him, felt her mouth go dry and the words suddenly leave her tongue.

"Are you mad?" he asked, turning his face away from her.She reached out and took his hand, causing his head to snap up in surprise.

"No, I'm touched."

Chance tentatively curled his fingers around hers, and they sat without saying anything.

"They're not true, you know," he said abruptly.

"What?" she asked confusedly, turning her head to face him.

"The rumors about me. They aren't true. I transfer schools a lot because of my parents' jobs, and they finally got a permanent one here. I did once critically injure a kid and send him to the hospital, but I was only acting out of self-defense because he was bullying me. That's how the rumors began. None of them are true, but people enjoy gossiping. Especially the teachers, who have access to my record."

She rested her head against his shoulder, "I know."

Sitting there, with her new friend and her newfound confidence, Marina Green smiled. She traced the bark of the big maple tree with her spare hand, remembering all the memories made under it.

She breathed in the scent of fall on its way, feeling the heat radiate off of Chance. Even though Rosella wasn't here, Marina found herself looking forward to the school year.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.