Julie grew up with her family in an apartment in Maple Hills. Since kindergarten, she longed to plant a tree, her own tree—an apple tree, specifically. One day after school, she was sitting by the window staring at the back side of her neighborhood where a line of maple trees stood, shedding their red and gold leaves in the autumn breeze. The evening sun shone through the tree branches and lit up the fallen leaves on the lawn. The smell of crisp pinecones and wet mud drifted into the house through the open window. This neighborhood was beautiful and tranquil, it was almost perfect, but Julie was not satisfied. Something was lacking. There should be an apple tree. Only the sour smell of decaying apples completed the flavor of fall. Dad always baked apples in the fall, but that disappeared ever since he got busier and busier at work; now Julie saw him only on the weekends. In her head, Julie pictured an apple tree growing beside the maples, bearing a heavy coat of red apples dancing happily in the wind.
The desire for a tree came from her loneliness as an only child and a longing to take care of something in apartment homes where pets were forbidden. Her motherly nature pushed her to want to care for a weaker one and rejoice in seeing it grow and mature.
With a “whoosh,” a van drove up the street. The gardeners came every Thursday, trimming the bushes and caring for the well being of the trees. Julie decided to explore the neighborhood and savor the joys of being a kid. As she walked out of the house, one of the gardeners caught her attention. He was planting a tree! Julie observed him with curiosity and wondered why they would suddenly plant a tree since they had never before.
The gardener looked up and his eyes met her inquisitive gaze, “Hey there, um . . . how ya doing, young lady?”
“Good,” Julie stopped and smiled timidly back at the young man.
After an awkward silence and fidgeting with her hands bashfully behind her back, she finally had the courage to ask him what kind of tree he was planting.
“An olive tree,” said the youthful gardener.
“Oh, I wish it were an apple tree,” Julie sighed in a whisper.
“You like apple trees? I love them too! Especially the sour smell; it’s what makes fall, fall.”
Julie’s eyes sparkled—finally, there was someone who understood her. She told him about her dream and life and was surprised to find how much they had in common. After he left, Julie couldn’t wait to see her new friend again. The joy initiated from their conversation could cheer her up the whole week.
When next Thursday approached, the gardener arrived with a bump in his truck bed. As he slowly removed the cover of the mysterious object, Julie was surprised to find a tiny baby tree lying there.
“Surprise! I got you an apple tree,” he said with a wink and a smile.
Julie’s mouth dropped open in shock and all most wanted to give him a tight hug, but she controlled herself not sure how to respond to the new friend. She couldn’t count how many times she smiled at the baby tree and at him because she could hardly believe that her dream had come true. They planted the tree on the back side of the neighborhood, next to the maples, exactly where Julie imagined it should be. As they dumped the last pile of soil under the tree, the feeble tree finally could stand on its own and confidently raise its head in the wind. Julie stared at it with a strong sense of pride and satisfaction that she knowing she could finally take care of a life.
From then on, the gardener came every Thursday to water the tree with her. The simple and dull activity never felt so, as they moved on to interesting conversations. Julie would sit on the grass, rambling about school and family. The guy was always a good listener; he took all of her words to heart and consoled her.
One day, Julie came with an aura of grey around her, looking down to hide her despair. “My parents are divorcing,” she murmured.
Life had changed dramatically for Julie in the last few days. It turned out that her mom wanted to divorce her dad for another man whom she said would be more responsible to the family and wouldn’t be gone for days like Dad. To Julie, all of her visions of an original, complete, and happy family faded away. Her heart felt like a tree splitting in half. With no one to turn to at school, Julie came to the gardener, who was her shoulder and listener.
Days passed and something greater hit Julie. Her mom had decided to take her and move from the apartment to her new husband’s house on Thursday. Julie’s heart shrank. What about the apple tree? What about her friend? What about the memories?
As the day approached, Julie hoped to see the gardener one last time. She needed to say goodbye and give him a warm hug for everything he had done. Three o’clock in the afternoon, sitting anxiously by the little apple tree, Julie’s heart was beating fast. She almost jumped up when a neighbor’s car drove up the street. The sunlight started to grow into a warmer yellow as the sky turned orange-red. When the cool blue tone of the afternoon sky was replaced with a darkened violet color, Julie heard her mom calling her to pack up—it’s time to leave. Julie cuddled the tree in her arms, the overwhelming sense of emptiness and incompleteness was eroding her already dimmed hope.
“I’m sorry, but I have to go.” She finally gave up, kissed the tree softly, and looked one last time at it. Then, she jumped into her mom’s car and left.
Julie started a brand new life at the new house. For the first few weeks, she missed her tree and the gardener badly. She was afraid that she would never see them again and the guilt of not saying goodbye bothered her every time she thought of them. However, a month later, her mom became pregnant. Then a year later, Julie had a little brother. Julie was cheered up by him. She loved taking care of him, playing with him, and watching him grow. As time flew by, memories from the apartments blew away with the wind.
On a warm fall afternoon, Julie was driving home from school. She took a different route, which passed by Maple Hills. With a strange sense of longing, Julie decided to take a walk around the apartments where she spent her childhood.
She walked passed some maple trees and houses. Then she stopped because a gardener’s van drove up the street. A guy about thirty years old walked straight toward a different-looking tree beside the maples and started watering it. Now Julie realized how beautiful that tree was. The gold painted leaves sheltered ruby colored apples which gave out reddish glow under the sunlight as if they were oriental lanterns. Julie’s heart started to pound hard; foggy memories began to diffuse in her head.
Suddenly, the voice of the gardener interrupted her contemplation, “Hello, would you like an apple?”
He smiled at Julie, reaching out to pull off a gleaming ruby and handing it to her. Julie starred at the apple in her hands, crisp and red. Surrounded by the sour decaying fruity smell in the air, Julie felt so complete and satisfied. She looked up at the gardener and saw the smile on his face and sparkle in his eyes. Then he said, “Don’t thank me, thank her, who wanted an apple tree.”
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