(Intro: from first story)
This is the third in the series of stories about Max and Ollie where in episode one they were looking after a tree in primary school. Max was a bit of a laugh, always finding something funny, especially at the back of his class in school. He was always in trouble for making everyone giggle, and so people were a little surprised when he made friends with Ollie, who was much quieter – a little dreamy, and not good at paying attention to the teacher. I suppose Ollie and Max were friends because they were both in trouble a lot, even thought it was for different reasons. And when he was paying attention Ollie did have a good sense of humour…the teacher gave them part of her allotment as they were so interested in the tree.
When Ollie and Max went up to the first year of secondary school, they still looked after the allotment. Max would come and help with the heavy digging as he was growing taller than Ollie and played a lot of football so he was very fit. Ollie liked to plan everything and do the planting with the help of their allotment neighbour Old Mary and her many cups of tea!
Secondary school was busier for them and so the allotment became a bit neglected over the winters. In the spring when the days became longer and brighter they set to after school to clear and dig and plant new things.
On this particular day Ollie called out to Max as he caught up with his friend on the way out of school. ‘Hey, Max, Mum texted to say you can come for tea after digging on the allotment if you like – spaghetti pie and chocolate cake?!’ he grinned, knowing this was Max’s favourite. ‘Oh yeah, that’d be great! Your Mum can cook! Did you get the seeds?’
Ollie was just about to reply when there was a commotion ahead. A group of girls were pushing and shoving, shouting names, and one of them fell over in the muddy grass verge. The others all laughed and walked off, the tallest girl shouting back over her shoulder ‘Don’t you come near us again with that disgusting metal mouthful – you look like a robot! You make us feel sick!’
Max recognized Jewel, Ollie’s younger cousin from the first year, and they helped her up as she brushed away a tear. ‘Thanks Ollie.’ she mumbled gratefully. ‘First term is always the worst,’ said Max. Jewel’s head hung down and she muttered ‘Even worse now, they will never leave me alone.’ And then she showed them her teeth. The tears rolled down her face, and the boys realized she had been to the dentist. She had new metal braces, and that was why she was being teased.
‘Tell you what, you’re muddy already, why don’t you come with us to the allotment and give us a hand. Old Mary’ll make you a brew, and we could do with some help,’ said Max kindly. Jewel sniffed a bit, but blew her nose and cheered up. She loved gardens and plants and agreed to go along.
Later they sat in front of the allotment hut with a tin mug of tea with a digestive biscuit each. ‘Ee,’ said Old Mary, ‘nothing like a bit of fresh air an’ mother nature, I always say. Now yer’ve dug over yon plot them seeds’ll be springin’ up in no time. Food fer the heart n soul that be’, and she slurped her tea with relish.
Over the next few months, Jewel settled down at school a little bit more with Max and Ollie looking out for her as much as they could. She still had days when she put up with a lot of comments and tricks from the other girls, but she began to see that it was mainly the tall girl, Cassie, who was really leading the others on. One or two of the others sometimes looked unhappy about what was going on, although they didn’t want to be left out either. It didn’t help that Jewel’s schoolwork was suffering and the teachers didn’t seem to have time to listen to her problems.
So, when there was time to work on the allotment, just now and again Jewel would look a bit sad. The battered old radio was on with music to keep them company while they worked. They were watching some butterflies one day dancing among the flowers, when Old Mary was delighted to see Jewel get up and dance away to the music just like the butterflies. To her surprise suddenly Jewel stopped and her eyes filled with tears. ‘Whatever is it luv?’ said Mary, passing over a clean tissue from her garden apron. ‘I used to dance when we lived in the country; I love dancing. But this school is so different, and people laugh at my braces all the time.’
Ollie had stopped for his tea at this moment, and when he heard what Jewel was saying he looked thoughtful. ‘Tell you what,’ he said, slowly, ‘there is a dancing audition coming up at school for the show at the end of term. Why don’t you have a go?’
Jewel looked hopeful for a moment, and then wailed, ‘But what about my braces, they will all laugh at me!’ becoming tearful again. Old Mary smiled kindly and said, ‘I doubt if they’ll even see yer teeth dear, them’ll be looking at yer feet n so on!’ At that moment Max turned up to hear what Mary said and they all burst out laughing. Jewel laughed too, and thought maybe she would audition after all.
As she set off for the audition the next day, summoning up all her courage, she bumped into Cassie and her group, who said jeeringly, "Off to the audition, are you? What, you fancy yourself as a pretty dancer, do you? That's a laugh! You'll make a fool of yourself, with those ugly metal bars on your teeth. Who would give the part to you?!” Cassie boasted loudly, "You should see my house - it's full of dancing trophies that I've won. I'm far too busy to waste my time auditioning for a silly school show." Then she and the girls cackled with laughter and shoved Jewel out of the way, smirking.
But Jewel remembered her friends’ encouragement, and auditioned anyway. Then, a few exciting weeks later, she found herself backstage at the beginning of the school show, ready to dance, and feeling very nervous. She had kept all the details to herself and didn’t tell anyone what it was about, not even Max and Ollie, or Old Mary, who deserted her allotment just to come to the show. And she had found that focusing on the dance seemed to stop her worrying about everything.
Her costume was really simple, a dark leotard and leggings and a large brightly coloured scarf. The curtains opened as she looked on from the wings, where she could see some of the older students who were performing a part of the Arabian Nights, all dressed up in veils and turbans with feathers. As the story unfolded everyone in the audience was spellbound, especially when the genie appeared in a puff of smoke, and the beautiful princess was captured. And now came Jewel’s dance – she was the butterfly destined to pass a message from the princess to tell the prince where she was. She danced the journey to the beautiful music with such grace and so very like the movement of the butterflies she had seen on the allotment. Jewel used the scarf as though it were her wings sweeping across the stage on tiptoe; then poised on a ‘flower’ with wings upswept; finally whispering the message to the prince; and falling exhausted to the ground with her ‘wings’ enfolding her.
The audience burst into applause for a moment before the story continued, with Jewel the butterfly remaining still until the curtains closed for the interval. The princess was rescued in the second half, and Jewel came on stage at the end for the finale. Everyone took their bow in turn before the prince and princess at the end, and when it was Jewel’s turn she saw all her classmates – including Cassie – jump to their feet and cheer and shout for her.
Jewel’s Mum and sister Susannah, Max, Ollie and Old Mary were waiting for her afterwards all full of admiration for her beautiful dancing. ‘Well done, luv, you were brilliant!’, said Old Mary wiping away a tear. Ollie threw his arm around her shoulder: ‘I never knew you could dance like that, how did you manage to keep it a secret?!’ The girls in her class crowded round patting her on the back and giving her hugs, including some of Cassie’s ‘friends’. Even Cassie came up to her playfully with a ‘high five’ and a ‘cool’, and then slid away quietly without fuss.
Max stood at the back slightly speechless, looking at her with amazement, and just smiling weakly. ‘Well done.’ he said quietly, turning a bit red. Jewel turned a bit pink as well, and her sister Susannah was a welcome distraction.
There was no more hassle from Cassie and her crew, and on the following Saturday on the allotment, Jewel was full of energy picking beans with Ollie and watering lettuce seeds, without a care in the world. Max turned up from football training, spade in hand, and Old Mary handed round the tea and digestives.
The butterflies danced in the sunlight, and Jewel said a quiet ‘thank you’ to them in her heart.
© Copyright White Eagle Lodge. We are happy to share these stories, but would ask that you credit the author and the White Eagle Lodge.