Chapter One of Juniper Leaves, below!
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Below is the very first chapter of Juniper Leaves. I really hope you enjoy it, and if you don’t-I’d love to hear your thoughts, anyway!
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NOTE: Juniper Leaves is currently in the process editing process.
Juniper Leaves by Jaz Joyner
“Magic is just science we don’t understand yet,” Dad used to say. I guess you would expect him to, since he is actually a scientist.
“You’re blinded by the mystical lens of youth,” he’d joke, and I’d go mope in my room and question every fairytale dream I ever wanted to believe.
One time I really thought I had him. I was seven and sitting in his lap while he was reading a Natural Geographic. He was looking at these pictures of beautiful lights of greens and blues and yellows just hovering over evergreen trees. I pointed in excitement,
“Look, dad. I told you there’s magic!” And dad laughed in the sort of way that makes little seven year olds feel dumb.
“Ah Junebug, that’s actually called Aurora Borealis. It’s no more than a natural effect that occurs when the earth experiences something called geomagnetic storms. Geomantic storms are…”
Blah, blah, blah. Geomantic storms? How is a seven year old supposed to follow that? Don’t worry, I didn’t. But that was a while ago. Over the years I held on tight to fantasies. Well, until I lost my best friend, anyway…
_ _ _
Three months ago…
I squinted harder. Even harder. The cloud was a lion with a ferocious mane. Squinted again it became a deformed frog. I kept my eyes focused on the clouds as they moved and changed with the speed of that rickety van. The driver might as well have been blind as he rumbled and rolled over every bolder in our path to Evershire, Scotland. Earlier that week, my mom tried one last time to make me want to go to Evershire. Her main problem was that she described it as a “quiet, quaint little farmer’s town.” Nothing about that sounded appealing to me. From my research it was one of those remote, nowhereland towns, far outside of much cooler cities like Glasgow or London. I attempted writing in my journal to distract myself but there’s no such thing as writing in such a shaky van. I turned to the sky for resilience with plans to go back to my journal when things calmed down. I could always count on the clouds to take me away. As if they could help me daydream away the present. Take me back to North Carolina in my bedroom and make it so I was never on that plane to Scotland in the first place. That’s what I wanted, then. I trusted those clouds to distract me but I knew it couldn’t last.
Especially since it felt like we were riding a tractor. My dark arms were bare and shimmered with a misty glow of humidity. Mom had recommended I dress light and for once I was glad to have listened to her. My curls shriveled and poofed, one by one and I clung to a lone curl that hadn’t yet joined the others. The sky was a sort of milky blue, kind of taunting me with its beauty to disguise the fact it probably rained for hours right before I got there. My reflection in the window, usually a true brown, was a greyish mahogany to match the odd weather, or really, my current emotional state.
Gravity disappeared for just seconds as we flew over a mini cliff. I felt like I could fly into space if my seat belt wasn’t holding me down. Or even better, fly into an alternate reality. I settled in again and attempt to mimic my position before the cliff. It just didn’t feel the same. God, this driving! , I thought. The driver chuckled, robust like a giant. He sort of resembled one, too, with his white blonde hair and arms the same size as tires were round. He had one of those flesh colored beards that requires a double take, because you’re not quite sure if it’s a beard at all. He seemed friendly enough, though. When my family first got in from the airport, he even asked us to call him by his nickname, Broadie. I still can’t figure out what Broadie is short for. Broderick, maybe? I sort of felt bad about what I did after he said this,
“Welcome to Scotland!” with his larger-than-life, toothy grin. I rolled my eyes and huffed so loud I sounded like I might be in need of water or I’d choke. Mom and dad glared at me and I shrugged. I know it was rude or whatever but it wasn’t against Broadie, even though it definitely seemed like it at the moment.
I closed my eyes in my seat and held my head to the sun, slightly hidden behind clouds.
When they opened, they were fixed on a field of stout little sheep and the most majestic yellow weeds. The sheep had no fence, and some were so bold as to walk right onto the road. I wouldn’t have if I were them. Not with Thor driving that thing. Luckily, no sheep were harmed in the process.
“Well that was a big one!” My dad joked from the front seat.
I had been in my own little world up until then but I knew they’d been chatting because dad had his signature “I love talking about my job” look on his face. That’s usually the sort of thing he talks about with just about anyone, by the way. Dad used to tell me everyone has their go-to topic; Something you could talk about for days that you use to start off conversations.
“Just to get the ball rolling,” he would say.
But I’d never been the type that could just go up and talk to someone, like my dad can.
“I’m here on academic leave. You see, I’m on the cusp of discovering something great.” My dad continued.
My dad’s like that. He likes to keep the suspense up. So he starts off most of his stories with every bit of mystery, forcing the person he speaks with to ask a million questions before they reach the meaning of it all. Lucky for you, I can just say what he was getting to and save you a few hours. My dad’s job was the big reason we were in Scotland. He’s a professor at North Carolina and they funded a leave of absence so my dad could continue research on some rare plant he coined the Vesiferous. From what I knew about it, dad had strong evidence that led him to believe some necessary chemicals linked advancements to curing lupus. It took him years to get the funding. They agreed to funding a year before then, but that summer was the first time my parents agreed to make a trip of it. So you can imagine how excited he was to be there.
And then there was my mom. On most days she was a nutritionist. But this trip for her was really meant for “strict relaxation.” Her words, not mine. She’d been sitting beside me in the back of the van, nothing but one of those tiny, middle seats separating us. It felt like she’d really never been there at all. She hadn’t spoken a word or changed her expression since we set foot in that rinky dink, piece of trash of a van. I didn’t want to look at her but something forced my eyes in her direction. There was enough pain on her face to soften an evil monster. I couldn’t stand it. The pain, I mean. I hated it most when she smiled those days. Not because I hated her smile. She had a beautiful smile, really. No, it was those eyes. No matter how big her smile, how much of her teeth showed, I still saw that same pain. It’s like she was lying to me without even saying anything. I know she wasn’t really happy anymore, even though we were supposedly on a happy family vacation. I wished she’d listened to me and that we just hadn’t come to Scotland. Because really, mom was the main one that should have been against the trip altogether.
Dust turned into mud as Brodie bolted over the clearest stream. The stream flowed all the way towards a mountain in the distance that looked like it was at least a million years old. I rolled down the window and was met with splashes of water that felt like relief on my clammy skin. I’d never seen such green, green grass. Like each blade was painted one at a time. But then I sneezed and my eyes watered from perpetual allergies. I frowned because it reminded me how I didn’t want to be there in the first place. Far back in the valley there was a tiny cottage covered in vines. Up the road, just in my line of vision was another. I wonder what my mom was thinking. There was no way of knowing by the distant expression on her face. A part of me, an evil, careless, part of me wanted her to regret the trip. I didn’t understand how she was okay with being there, after grandma had died only six weeks ago.
The night before we left, I dreamed grandma was still alive. I dreamed she’d met us at the airport in the morning and we went on that trip like we’d planned; grandma and grandpa, my parents and me, like it was supposed to be. But that morning, we went to the airport and Uncle Vincent and Grandpa waved us goodbye. No grandma. She just wasn’t there, no matter how much I wanted her to be. I hated my parents for making me get on that plane.
I knew if grandma had come with us, she would have sat by me. She would have told me jokes on the flight and we would have played a game of goldfish. Grandma knew I didn’t like flying. She knew me better than anyone. She was my best friend in the whole world.
And thanks to my mom, I was alone and a thousand miles away from anything that kept me close to her.
_ _ _
Grandma taught me to imagine. There was only one thing in the whole world that made me feel like magic might really existed, and that was grandma’s stories. My grandma grew up on an orchid and apple tree farm that my great grandparents passed down to her. She had so many amazing memories from her childhood living on such a cool farm, and I remembered every single one of them. There was one story that haunted me since the first time she told it. She’d talk about an amazing juniper field a few miles back on the farm land. It was so far from the rest of the farm it made her feel like she was going on an adventure just to find it. She’d wake up at crazy hours in the morning so she could play alone and none of her seven siblings would bother her. When she was in that field alone, the weirdest things would happen. Things that if anyone else told me, I’d doubt them before they could even finish their story.
She would see these…figures. They weren’t human. They were like nothing she’d seen before. The size of dragonflies; with wings and tiny, human- like faces. They ate Juniper buds and only came out when she was very, very quiet. It sounded so silly. I don’t know why I ever believed her. For some odd reason though, it felt real to me.
When my dad would science me and my mom would baby me, grandma was always there to treat me like me. She never tried to mold me into something I’m not. She taught me how to think beyond this world, beyond what we know into what we want to know. She’s the reason I wanted to be a cosmologist and find out what’s beyond us. I really thought there was so much more because of her. But after she died, I didn’t really know what to think.
So maybe now yo get why I wanted to badly to not go on that trip. As far as I see it, I don’t call three months of free farm work at my dad’s friend’s Scottish “croft” to be the ideal vacation. And last time I’d checked, black families working in fields for free was a little thing I like to call slavery. That’s what I told my parents. Too bad this point didn’t fly when I presented it to them in a ten minute PowerPoint presentation entitled “Slavery is Beneath Us”.
I’m named after the Juniper fields. Juniper Alice Bray. I hated my name up until the week grandma died; And then I sort of liked that it connected me to her. It felt like the only connection I had left.
“Almost thaur, folks!” Lies, Broadie. Lies. We weren’t almost there.
Try fifty minutes away. The way he said it I assumed the McKinney farm was right around the corner. The McKinneys’ are who my parents and I stayed with all summer. You’ll learn a lot about them.
I’d tried just about everything to get out of that trip. But my dad was so excited to see his friend, Simon, or to me, Mr. McKinney. I’d later call him Uncle Simon, so it’s weird writing Mr. . I’ll just call him Uncle Simon. Anyway, dad and Uncle Simon met in high school when Simon was an exchange student and they’ve stayed in touch ever since. And now they were doing a whole research project together.
I also wasn’t too fond of the fact that my part in that whole trip was to feed goats, plant herbs and all around just “enjoy myself” while my dad got to discover possible cures. Oh yeah, and I was supposed to hang out with Simon’s sixteen year old daughter, Blair, in my free time. According to dad, I had no choice but to spend most of my time with her. He thought it was so “awesome” that we happened to be the same age. Every time mom bugged me about not spending time with kids my ae, dad brought Blair,
”Oh, well at least you’ll have a friend in Scotland!”
“Good thing you and Blair will hit it off!”
It shouldn’t have, but it sort of made me cringe when he said things like that. I mean, quite honestly it would have been nice if he were right. If when I met Blair I somehow became some social butterfly. But, let’s be honest, I’m not all that great at being social, non-awkward, or…normal. No, I’m not exaggerating.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the McKinney croft. (Croft is a Scottish farm by the way. I was so confused when Uncle Simon would call it that. ) Even in my stubborn state, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by it all. This has to be it, I thought. Four grey, wild horses galloped in a fenced-in field in front of us. Five little brown pigs in a stable, roomy enough for thirty cows. And chickens. So many chickens running every which way through a crop that looks like it might be strawberries. Farther back there was the biggest garden. And beside it stood a brick cottage so viney and rugged you’d think it was made by wood elves or something. And not a town in sight. It was just land land and more land. This home and its farm stood alone like a long, lost, medieval site untouched by tourists. We rolled up slowly as if Broadie were giving a tour. The dirt road was the smoothest there, more than anywhere else. But Broadie had to stop every few seconds to let a few chickens cross. He pauses again beside a sign on the side of the wooden fences on either side of us. It read “McKinney Manor.”
We were there. That was the start of the beginning of the first day of the rest of my long, long, summer. Whoa, I was in for a wacky, mystical ride.