In the courtyard of Jenna Durstine’s apartment complex, where blades of grass are at a premium, there grows a tall, majestic apple tree. Nearby at Grayson High, where Jenna is now a freshman, her infatuation grows for the perfect apple lingering just beyond her fingertips. But when an intruder invades campus, Jenna must face her haunting past, must forgive her mother for the unforgivable, and must ultimately decide if love that’s out of her league is worth the climb.
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Scott H. Books
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In a courtyard within Jenna’s apartment complex, a courtyard where blades of grass were at a premium and little natural life existed, there somehow grew a tall, majestic apple tree. A deep, hearty root system buckled the sidewalk above, creating speed bumps for pedestrians. The grooves of its thick bark held strong after years of harsh weather and human wear and tear. In the fall, luscious red apples dangled from branches just out of reach of passers by.
It was a tree providing ambiance to the rapidly expanding concrete jungle. A symbol that possibilities abound when everything else works against you. Honestly, Jenna never paid much attention to the tree growing up. Sure, it was fun to climb and a fallen apple was a tasty treat now and again. But since the day they shared their first kiss, that tree, especially its fruits, had become much more meaningful.
It happened three weeks before the I.I.B. announcement. Mr. Sansom sat at his place in the discussion circle and said, “For the next few weeks we’re going to be concentrating our literature studies on a person who is, arguably, the most influential writer in history. Would anyone like to take a guess who I’m talking about?”
Steve Cooper raised his hand. “J.K. Rowling?”
The class laughed. “I’m a Harry Potter fan, too, but not who I’m thinking of. Think older,” Mr. Sansom said. He circled his arms like a combine as if trying to harvest thoughts from the class by pulling it out of them.
Crystal Walsh tentatively raised her hand. “Shakespeare?”
“Exactly.” He tossed a Hershey Kiss her way. “Mr. William Shakespeare. An incredible writer in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There’s the handsome fella right over there.” He pointed to one of the many posters of literary greats hung from his cabinets.
“For the next month we will be reading and discussing portions of some of his most famous plays and poetry. Today we’ll be starting with one of his most recognizable plays, Romeo and Juliet.” A few students turned to each other and playfully stuck their finger down their throat in a gagging gesture. Jenna couldn’t have been happier.
“Romeo and Juliet. I saw that movie! The girl playing Juliet was a fox!” Rodney blurted out from his place in the circle. His classmates broke into laughter.
Mr. Sansom responded without missing a beat. “Before it was a movie, it was a beautifully written play. We’ll need a male to play the role of Romeo. Any volunteers?”
Every male in the room squirmed as if his seat had suddenly become infested with ants. A game of “Don’t Make Eye Contact With Mr. Sansom” had begun. Rodney lost.
“Rodney, you were very interested in Romeo and Juliet a few seconds ago. Care to share the stage with one of these lovely young ladies?” He swept his hand dramatically across the female students in the circle. The girls, and Rodney, were as red as the fire alarm hanging above the doorway.
Rodney responded quickly, “Sorry Mr. Sansom, but I just found out last week I’m allergic to Shakespeare. Gives me gas.” The audience looked to Mr. Sansom for an indication to laugh, but his face was far from amused.
Mr. Sansom said, “I, like everyone else, appreciate your humor now and then. There is such a thing as going overboard though, Rodney. You’ve hit that point. Let’s give this material the respect it deserves.”
Just like that, the situation was settled, and the class was back on track. Similar to his talent for joking with students without hurting their feelings, Mr. Sansom had a talent for being serious with someone who was acting inappropriately, without being mean or condescending.
“If no one else wants to read, then I guess I’ll have to show you boys how it’s done,” said Mr. Sansom. “I’ll be reading the part of Romeo. Now I need a female who is willing to read the part of Jul—”
Jenna’s hand shot into the air before he could finish his sentence.
“Ms. Durstine. Think you’re up to the challenge?” Mr. Sansom asked.
“Definitely,” Jenna said.
“Thanks for volunteering, Jenna. I can always count on you.” Mr. Sansom pointed his finger at her like a toy gun and winked at her as he shot. “So. Romeo and Juliet were two people in love.” He drew a red heart in marker on the white board extending across the front of the room. “Can anyone take a guess as to what could cause a relationship like Romeo and Juliet’s to be so dangerous?”
“They were from two families who hated each other,” Jenna said without raising her hand. “No one but them believed they should be together.”
“Correct. Romeo was a Montague, Juliet was a Capulet.” Mr. Sansom split the heart in two and wrote the information in each half. He sat down, propped his elbows on his thighs, and folded his hands.
“You see, Romeo was down in the dumps because he was having second thoughts about a girl he was dating named Rosaline. Meanwhile, a man named Paris was slowly trying to convince Juliet to marry him. I say slowly because she was still two years too young to marry according to her family.”
“How old was she?” asked Bruce.
“Only a couple of years older than all of you. Juliet wasn’t thrilled about the idea of marrying Paris. Does anyone want to take a guess how Romeo and Juliet fell in love?”
Jenna burst out. “It was love at first sight. They saw each other at a party and fell in love.”
Mr. Sansom was out of his seat again. “Right, Jenna.” He tossed her a Hershey Kiss as well.
“They fell madly in love, but were more than a little upset to hear that they were from dueling families. Two people, who shouldn’t be falling in love with each other, are doing so. All the makings of a great story, right?” Most of the class nodded their heads in agreement. Mr. Sansom’s enthusiasm was infectious.
“Everyone please open your textbooks to page twenty-five. With that background, today we’re going to read a brief, famous segment from Act I, Scene V.”
“You mean the scene where they first kiss?” Jenna interjected for a third time.
“Yes,” he said. “You sure know a lot about Romeo and Juliet.”
Jenna looked innocent. “I read it once. It’s in our textbook, right?”
“We’ve got a very knowledgeable Juliet here. I think we’re all in for a treat,” Mr. Sansom said.
Only a few students flipped to the appropriate page. Most kept their eyes glued to Mr. Sansom. Rodney raised his hand. “Is it legal for a teacher to kiss a student?” Jenna awaited his answer.
“We won’t have to find out.” He turned to Jenna. “Sorry to disappoint you,” he joked. “We’ll just blow kisses at the appropriate time, okay?”
Jenna was lost in thought.
“Okay Jenna?” Jenna refocused and nodded in agreement. “As we read, listen to Shakespeare’s exceptional language and the way it makes you feel when you hear it.” He placed his hand to his heart. “It may sound like gibberish at first, but we’ll discuss it at the end. Jenna, are you ready? Top of page 352.”
“Ready,” Jenna said. She stood tall and stepped into the middle of the circle, fully focused on the upcoming performance.
Mr. Sansom began,
“If I profane with my unworthiest hand,
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand.”
It was as if Jenna had been born on the stage. She channeled all her energy into her character. There was need for her to look at the book. She knew it by heart.
“Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too
Which mannerly devotions shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do
And palm-to-palm is holy palmers’ kiss.”
Jenna and Mr. Sansom held their hands in front of their bodies, palms facing front. Mr. Sansom said, “Juliet is letting Romeo know that they can show the same affection by touching hand to hand as they can with a kiss.”
When it was time for the two young lovers to kiss, Mr. Sansom said, “Here’s where Romeo goes in for the smooch.” He continued,
“Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I
Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.”
Mr. Sansom kissed the palm of his hand, laid it flat, and gently blew the kiss to Jenna. Jenna grabbed it from the air and pulled her palm to her lips.
“Then have my lips the sin that they have took.”
“Juliet has cunningly created a reason for Romeo to kiss her back,” explained Mr. Sansom.
“Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.”
As if possessed by an outside spirit, Jenna leaned forward for the real thing. Mr. Sansom continued acting, not noticing Jenna’s movement, and concluded the reading by kissing his palm one last time and blowing it to Jenna. Her eyes opened just in time to grab the kiss from the air once again.
The crowd burst into applause, hoots, and hollers. Jenna stood still, blood flushing her face as if pumped there by massive fire hoses. The bell rang, ending third period.
“Class, it looks like we’re out of time. Great job today! Sorry we didn’t get to discuss the meaning of that scene. We’ll start with that discussion first thing tomorrow. No homework for tonight.” The class cheered again at this final piece of good news.
The class filed out quickly. Jenna remained motionless in her spot.
“That was a really impressive reading,” Mr. Sansom said as he erased the heart on the board. “Best I’ve ever heard. You never cease to amaze me. Has anyone ever told you you’re mature beyond your years?”
Jenna shook her head.
“With emotion like that in your reading, you’ll either be an incredible actress, or you’re going to make some lucky Romeo very happy some day.” Mr. Sansom took his hand to the top of Jenna’s head and tousled her hair.
“Thanks Sh-, I mean Mr. Sansom,” fumbled Jenna. “Have a night great—I mean, great night!” she managed to yell as she rushed out the door. The moment she exited, she spun, her back to the wall of concrete blocks. She clutched her books to her chest, looked upward, and breathed a deep, contented sigh. Slowly her fist unclenched, and she stared at her open palm. Then, with another contented sigh, she brought her palm to her lips.