Short Stories

The Ugly Tree—A Short Story By Dana Romanin

lonely tree in the field in very strong fog“She fell off an ugly tree.” My best friend Sam slapped my back and gestured toward a girl walking toward the front of our red-bricked school.

I glanced at the girl. I didn’t recognize her. She must be new. “What are you talking about?”

“You know … she was at the top of the ugly tree then fell, hitting all the branches.”

“I’ve never heard anyone butcher a saying worse than you.” I rolled my eyes and started toward the entrance feeling the weight of my Algebra test with each step. I was so not ready. Jackrabbits pounced in my stomach at the thought taking it.

The girl stopped before going inside and turned to look at the parking lot. Her eyes darted around, like she was looking for someone. She had long, brown hair and I wouldn’t say she was thin, but she wasn’t fat either. Her face was round and had the telltale signs of an epic acne battle. I rubbed my jaw. I knew how that battle went. It was vicious.

My hands were frozen. This winter had been harsh and the bright sun did nothing to break through the chill of a January in Virginia.

When we got closer to the door, Sam leaned close and whispered, “Why don’t we ever get hot new girls? That one is, at best, friend material. Nothing more there.”

My stomach lurched. Did she hear him? Sam was an idiot. He may have been the school’s best basketball player, but that couldn’t make up for his big mouth.

The girl’s eyes cast to the ground before looking up and meeting Sam’s then my eyes. She tilted her head then smiled. “Hello. I’m Josie. Maybe you can help me. I was supposed to meet a friend to show me around, but y’all will do.”

“Sure,” I said. Was she serious?

I opened the door and Sam started to go in ahead of Josie. I grabbed him by the collar and jerked him back. “Be a gentlemen, Sam.”

“Seriously, Sam. I’m starting to second guess my decision about making you my friend.” Josie stepped through the door.

“Huh?” Sam followed Josie into the dark school hallway. Seriously. Couldn’t they choose a better color than gray for the walls? It was so depressing.

She turned and waited for me to come inside as well. “I told you I was waiting for friends to show me around.” She looped her arm in mine then Sam’s. “And I choose you two. So c’mon. Show me around.”

This girl was…kind of amazing. I’d almost forgotten about my Algebra test. She was a miracle worker if she was able to help calm those jackrabbits.

She started to steer us left. “That leads to the cafeteria. We need to go this way.” I tipped my chin toward the opposite hall.

“Look. If we’re going to be friends, you need to learn something about me. I need my caffeine first thing in the morning.”

Sam chuckled. “I thought you didn’t know your way around.”

“Are you kidding me? I knew this had to be the way to the cafeteria. Even a fish could follow that smell.” She pulled us further down the hall toward the cafeteria.

“Well, actually some fish like sharks have a very keen sense of smell,” I said before I could stop myself. Why did I have to be such a know-it-all?

Josie laughed. “I knew I picked you for a reason. Ummm what’s your name?”

“Mike.”

“You, Mike, will be science study buddy.”

I’d known Josie all of about two minutes and already she’d made me laugh, calm my Calculus test induced jitters, and made me feel good about myself.

We stopped in front of the soda machine. Josie reached in her pocket, pulled out a dollar bill, and fed it to the machine.

Sam glanced at me and shrugged his shoulders. “Josie, what are you doing after school today?”

Josie punched the button for Coke and turned to look at Sam and myself. “Hanging out with you guys, of course.”

“Of course.” I laughed. “Now let’s get you to your first class. Where’s your schedule?”

Josie reached in her back pocket and spilled coke on her jeans in the process. “I’m such a mess.” She made her eyes go cross-eyed and laughed.

How cute? Wait. Where did that thought come from? She was one of those people that was so beautiful on the inside, that it made them beautiful on the outside.

Sam and I walked Josie to her first class. “See ya at lunch.” She waved before going inside.

Sam and I walked toward Algebra. “I’ve got dibs.” Sam punched my arm.

“No way.” I stuck out my foot, causing him to stumble.

“I saw her first.” Sam corrected himself before falling.

“You said—”

“I said, she’d be a good friend.” Sam arched an eyebrow.

I nodded. “And you’re right. She will make a great friend. Let’s not mess it up with anything else. Deal?”

Sam held out his hand. “Deal.”

I shook his hand and we both headed to class—happy to have a beautiful new friend.