An extraordinary thing had happened to Shayla MacLeish. Everyone who knew her thought her an extremely serious child, one who had peered at everything in the world studiously through her rectangular-shaped, black-rimmed glasses since she was barely out of toddlerhood. A no-nonsense little girl whom you couldn’t fool for anything, a young scientist in the making. And that was how Shayla also saw herself. Until the day her eyes glommed onto Andy Burns.
He had for her long been a neighborhood fixture, since he lived down the block and was only three years older than herself. But Shayla now saw that he was suddenly transformed. She recalled reading of the wondrous make-overs which the Greek hero Odysseus underwent through the magic of his good friend, the goddess Athena. At critical times in the story, she would make him appear to be taller, more broad-shouldered, more god-like than he had been moments before. Something of the sort seemed to have happened to 14-year old Andy Burns.
After this discovery, Shayla herself underwent a strange metamorphosis. Unawares, she took to conjuring his image at inopportune times: when, for example, she was being called upon in class by their teacher, Mrs. Hole. She also developed the uncontrollable habit of writing Andy’s initials on every surface that came her way. When her mother, sorting the laundry, found these initials written in ink down the legs of her daughter’s jeans, she asked Shayla, “Who is A.B.?”
Shayla looked thoughtful a moment. “Alton Brown?”
Mrs. MacLeish scrutinized her daughter’s face for signs of guile, but found none. But a few evenings later, she found a paper napkin left on the dinner table inscribed with the name 'Andy Brown' in ketchup. “A-Ha!” she exclaimed in the same tone of satisfaction as Champollion discovering the key to the Rosetta Stone. But she did not force a confidence.
The next day, Shayla spotted seated on her porch across the street old Marcella Spencer. No one called her by that name, however. 'Mrs. Spencer' was deemed too formal, 'Marcella' too informal. “Hi, Missy Marcy!” Shayla called to her. For by that merry-sounding name with its hint of the Old South, where indeed she was from, she was generally known. Missy Marcy waved Shayla over to her.
“What odd weather for the month of May! I’m wilting. Want to come in and join me for a glass of fresh lemonade?”
Shayla gladly followed the woman in inside where it was cool and dim as a cavern. She loved this house, so different from any other she knew, filled as it was with out-of-date lamps and other furnishings, bric-a-brac everywhere and a grandfather clock that always announced eight o’clock in another century. As they sipped their lemonade topped with sprigs of mint in tall, frosty glasses, the woman asked, “Well, what news, dear?”
“Oh, Missy Marcy … I think I’m in love!”
“It’s a secret, so please don’t breathe a word to anyone. But I don’t know what to do. He’s so much older – an adult, really – well, no, that’s not true. Almost. The problem is I don’t think he even sees me when he walks right by. What can I do?”
Missy Marcy closed her eyes, was silent a long moment, then said, “Well, back home in Arkansas when I was a young girl, I recall my grandmother telling me a secret. 'The surest way to catch a boy’s attention,' said she, 'is to tie a piece of your clothing onto the branch of a redbud tree.' It was a love charm, you see. It was supposed to do the trick by magic.”
“How did the magic work?” asked the young scientist-to-be.
“Oh, honey, that was so long ago! I can’t say that I recall, if I ever knew. I have enough trouble recalling all the things I’m supposed to these days! But it was the thing to do. Then all you had to do was sit back and wait for the charm to take effect.”
The old Shayla would have scoffed at such an illogical approach to a practical problem. But now she was hooked. “Where would I find a redbud tree?” she immediately asked.
“Why, that’s easy! There’s a whole mess of them nearby in Juniper Valley Park. And they’re in bloom now! Just look for the row of trees with the heart-shaped, purply-pink flowers. You can’t miss them!”
That night in bed, Shayla wondered what item of clothing would be best to offer the redbud tree. She decided on the green silk scarf that she had received as a birthday gift from her favorite aunt two years ago. She loved this garment, but that was precisely the reason she settled upon it. Besides, she intended to give the tree just a few weeks to work its magic. Then she would retrieve the scarf if it was still in its branches. If not, and the magic worked, the loss of the charm would be a small sacrifice. She fell asleep, happy with her plan.
The next day, after inscribing in one of the corners of the garment the initials 'A.B.' in tiny letters, she headed for the park, wearing the scarf as a belt over her jeans.
The row of redbuds was easily found, for they greeted visitors to the park loudly from afar. Shayla stood before these trees for many minutes, staggered by their transcendent beauty. Then a strange thing happened: For a moment or two, she felt she was losing herself in the masses of purply-pink swaying in the breeze. Here was the real magic of the redbud: an invitation to glory in colors so vivid they made everything else pale in comparison. And seen against the clear, cobalt-blue sky, these trees looked as if they were decked out for a party. Only in her best dreams, thought Shayla, had she encountered such electrifying color.
Coming out of her reverie, she remembered her mission. She undid her scarf and tossed it with all her might toward the lowest branch of one of the trees. But it floated back down to the ground. These trees were not giants, like the pin oak across the way, but still Shayla was elfin compared to them. Now it became a challenge to get the thing up there. She tossed again several times, but each time with the same result.
How was she to get the scarf up into the tree? She cast around her for an inspiration. And there it was! Only a short distance off, in the shade of a large tree, was a deserted beach chair. Obviously, someone who had come here to enjoy the fine weather had left momentarily, perhaps to get a cup of coffee or to take a short stroll. I’ll just borrow it for a second, Shayla told herself.
Standing on the chair, she was at last able to fling the scarf successfully onto the lowest branch of one of the redbuds. She congratulated herself on this, climbed down and replaced the seat before its disappearance was noticed. Then she left the park with an air of satisfaction and thinking: Now all I have to do is wait!
Weeks passed and there were no results. The whole business of the love charm is just plain 'poppycock' as Mrs. Hole would say, thought Shayla. I should have known better! That’s it! she told herself and she decided then and there to return to the park for her beloved scarf.
When she arrived at the row of redbuds, she was amazed: They were completely transformed, as if by magic! The masses of purply-pink were all gone. Now these trees were sporting vibrantly green summer-wear!
It took a while, but she was finally able to discern her green scarf now camouflaged among the leaves of the low-lying branch of the right redbud. There was no beach chair in sight this time and so the dilemma was the reverse of her last visit: how to get the garment down.
Seeing a stick on the ground, she picked it up and then jumping as high as she could with it in her right hand, she tried to knock it down. But try as she might, she had no success, for it was still out of reach for someone of her diminutive height.
Walking through the park on his way home from baseball practice in the nearby field, Andy Burns stopped to regard the curious phenomenon occurring a few yards off: a small girl jumping up and down, over and over again, stick in hand, apparently trying to knock something off a branch of a tree. Entranced, he watched for some moments, then went over to her.
“Hi! Do you need some help with that … um…?”
Shayla, astonished, quickly explained: “Oh, this must look ridiculous! But I’ve been having trouble with math and we were having a big test last week and I had to do well on it. Old Missy Marcy told me if I tossed a piece of clothing onto the branch of a redbud tree, it would work as a good luck charm … It didn’t work … I didn’t really think it would … but now I want my scarf back.”
“If you’re having trouble in math,” he said, easily reaching up to retrieve the scarf and handing it to her, “I could help you with that if you like.”
It was not even vaguely true that Shayla was having trouble in math. She usually got 100s on tests, except when she scored 110 if there were extra-credit questions.
“Could you do that for me?” she asked eagerly, as if her life depended on the help.
The two left Juniper Park together. “My name is Andy, by the way – Andy Burns. You know, when you’re faced with a math problem … it’s like walking into an enchanted forest …”
“Uh-hum. Scary at first, but then you get to know your way around. You’ll see …”
It was the redbud, working its old magic once again.