It was t-minus two hours until the Sapling Festival began. Jaxton stood in the midst of the pitch-black field behind the stadium trying to get those darn trees to dance. In front of him loomed two large, voluptuous trees off to his right and left and, in the middle, a tree that matched his seven-foot height.
The three trees stayed stock-still waiting for Jaxton's instruction; he hated that about them. The trees were obedient things, always ready to pounce when given the signal. They were good at that, waiting. It was getting them to move when Jaxon waved his hand that was the trick.
"Come on, you lousy things!" Jaxton grumbled. "When I lift my hand like this," he scooped his right hand through the air and over his head in a halo formation, "you on the right spring up on your roots and do a tour jetè. Then when I lift my other hand," Jaxton repeated the same motion on his left hand, "you on the left do the same thing. Can we try that simple step?"
A frustrated tremble crept into his voice though he tried to keep it calm. The trees didn't fare well when the trainer became irritated with them. He had seen the consequences plenty of times with his own parents.
Jaxton took a deep inhale, rolled his head, and cracked his neck bones, and drew his shoulder blades together behind him. Lifting his eyes back up to the trees, he put all his effort in conveying how greatly he needed them to listen. Jaxton put on his most stern gaze. He exhaled. "Third time's a charm."
Jaxton lifted his right arm and began signaling. He squeezed his eyes shut as he completed the motion, terrified to his very core to open them and see the trees unmoved. Jaxton raised his hand and swooped it above his head feeling the night air, humid and sticky, climbing up his arm. His hairs raised, prickling up his forearm and snaking all the way up to his neck.
It left his entire body tingling. That had to mean it was working, right? With much hesitancy, Jaxton peeled one eye open at a time. He opened them just in time to witness the right humongous tree spinning in the air and landing hard on its roots. The ground vibrated, creating a ripple effect starting where the tree landed and continuing under Jaxton's feet. The vibration knocked the wind out of Jaxton, and he fell back landing on his bum. Pebbles bounced up with the ripple and a few knocked him in shins.
"Geez!" he yelped. The tree, unaware of the bone-jolting vibration it caused, posed with its branches held high, a few of the leaves fluttering down the trunk in a way of bowing. The motion reminded Jaxton of the Leafing Gymnasts.
He shook his head, his brain bouncing against his skull from the sudden fall and glanced up at the tree. A slow smile spread across his cheeks. That oaf of a tree finally listened to him. Jaxton sprung up on his feet and paraded around in gleeful circles.
"Yes, yes, yes!" he said, a giddy laugh bubbling in his stomach and erupting in spurts out of his mouth. The trees stood motionless. Jaxton cleared his throat. "Right. Ahem. You on the left," he said, pointing. The tree's trunk seemed to straighten a bit. "Ready?"
Jaxton raised his left arm, swept his hand through the moist air, and created the circular halo above the crest of his head. The tree wasted no time. Up it went, it's branches swirling in the air along with its roots, creating a gust of wind that ruffled Jaxton's tuft of hair.
Jaxton let out a boisterous laugh, bending over at the waist and clutching his stomach. "That was perfect! Where was all this an hour ago?" he chastised. The large plants let a few of their bigger leaves drop to the ground in a way of saying, we didn't feel like it then, that's all. Jaxton rolled his eyes. "Well, it doesn't matter now. As long as we're ready in..." he paused, glancing behind him at the momentous clock ticking, constantly ticking away for the next year to begin. Ticking away the minutes until he rang in the new year with his talent. It hung on the side of the substantial stadium where the Sapling Festival was being held. It was supposed to create a continuous sense of eagerness throughout the Woodland world but all it did for Jaxton was create continuous dread.
Jaxton blanched. "T-minus one hour and fifteen minutes," he whispered.
He cracked the bones in his neck once again and faced the unmoving trees. The giddy laugh had died on his lips after looking at the clock and was now replaced with an uncomfortable grimace. "All right then, you there in the middle."
Jaxton strolled over to the middle tree. The tops of its branches met with the top of Jaxton's head so that their heights matched exactly. This was the ritual, of course. The middle tree, the center of the entire act, had to be its trainer's height. It was supposed to represent the trainer's emotions and state of mind towards the others, though Jaxton never quite understood it. Why was it a reflection on him if the trees didn't do what they were told?
Jaxton looked straight into the tree's eyes - leaves? - and nodded once in preparation. "When your friends each perform their solos, I want you to leap up, spread your roots wide and throw your leaves about as if it is confetti. Then...well, we'll cross that bridge when we get there." Jaxton felt his lips twitched upwards in anticipation. He enjoyed the dancing as much as any other Woodland, but he very much enjoyed the fencing of the trees afterwards. So much was bound to happen, and he looked forward to it every show. "All right, let's get on with it then! From the top!"
Jaxton stepped back giving as much space as he thought needed for the dancing trees. He rolled his shoulders back. Inhaled, exhaled. Lifted his right arm first, then his left. The trees bounded up, completing perfect - well, not perfect but quite good enough for the festival - tour jetès. Jaxton felt his heart beating erratically as he felt the middle tree staring at him, waiting for the signal. Jaxton chewed on his bottom lip. He raised both hands this time, stretched them out towards the tree, and then flourished them out to the sides. The humid air encircled his arms, making the tiny hairs raise with anticipation. He closed his eyes in suspense, eagerly waiting for the ground beneath him to rumble with the landing of the tree. It was most certainly the most exhilarating moment of Jaxton's life.
Only, a beat passed. Then another. Then another after that. Jaxton remained with his arms open wide and his eyes shut until another beat of silence passed. He dropped his arms. "What's the hold up?" he asked.
The trees were motionless all except for a few small leaves floating down from the middle tree. Jaxton placed his hands on his hips. "One more time."
Straightening his spine once again, he lifted his hands. Right tree leaped; the left followed. Jaxton signaled the last choreographed move of the dancing sequence, but all was silent. A few more leaves descended from the plant matching Jaxton's height. Jaxton tapped his foot impatiently. He led the sequence one more time, arms now becoming sore from the constant swaying and directing. Tour jetè, tour jetè, and then...and then…
Nothing. Jaxton groaned, dragging a hand across his face. He collapsed onto the rocky ground. It was tempting to glance at the ever-ticking clock, but he resisted the urge. It would only make his heartbeat louder inside his chest. If this was going to work at all in time for the festival, he needed complete and utter tranquility. He needed to think. What did his parents do when the trees wouldn't cooperate? Well, he couldn't do that. Perhaps it would be helpful if he -
"Jaxton!" He started, his heart nearly performing its own tour jetè out of his chest. He placed a hand on his chest to slow his erratic breathing. His name was followed by a series of thundering footsteps, leaves and rocks crunching with every step. "There ya are!"
"Hello, Rain," Jaxton mumbled without looking up.
Rain slumped down beside him. "Trees giving ya trouble?"
"You could say that."
"Would one of these help?" Jaxton glanced lazily to his side to see Rain digging around in the emerald pouch slung over her side. Jaxton promptly straightened up. Rain's hand emerged holding a clear container. Jaxton spotted something bright green and a deep shade of brown inside the translucent box. His mouth filled with saliva as Rain rattled the treats in front of him.
He swallowed, swiping at a string of drool that snuck out of one corner of his mouth. "How would those help the trees perform exactly?" As the words left his mouth, he came to the conclusion that Rain's treats could help just about anyone.
Rain snorted, throwing her head back. Her thick blackberry hair swayed with the movement, lightly brushing Jaxton's shoulder. "Not for the trees, you big oaf. For you." She rattled the box again. "They're a new recipe. I made almost five dozen for the festival. Would you believe how many Woodlands there are in this world?" She shook her head, eyes bugging out.
Jaxton wrinkled his nose. "No reminders, please. I'm nervous enough as it is."
Rain cocked her head to the side, her full brows knitting together. She flicked her eyes to the trees still lined in formation, then to Jaxton, then back to the trees. Alas, she nodded in understanding. "It's your year, huh?"
Jaxton sighed, letting his head hang down. He bobbed his head up and down slowly.
"I see you're just bursting with excitement," she said, giving him a playful shove on the shoulder.
He jostled with the shove. "Clearly."
"That's what happens when ya don't practice the whole year and then end up being the first to perform." She winked.
Jaxton felt his face grow hot and he turned his head away in embarrassment. "Ironic, isn't it?"
He huffed and snatched a treat from the box laid across her lap, stuffing it into his mouth. Syrup and tender crust drizzled in various seasonings exploded in his mouth. Jaxton moaned in ecstasy. "Woah, holy - wow, almighty!" he exclaimed between mouthfuls. "What are these, Rain?"
He reached for another and Rain only laughed in response. It was an easy sound, one full of humbleness. "Oh, they're sap-filled bark scones with just a little sea salt thrown on top. I gather they're not horrible?"
"Horrible?" Jaxton scoffed. "These are by far the most delectable things I've ever tasted! Woodlands from all over the world are going to be trampling over one another to get to these."
Rain was extremely meek when it came to her talent, though Jaxton never understood why. How could someone be so self-effacing when they had such a talent as Rain's? Jaxton felt only a twinge of jealousy at the thought of Rain's gift. At least her gift didn't have a mind of its own.
She laughed again, shrugging. "I can only hope. If they really are a hit, I'll add it to my Sapling Festival list for whenever my year comes." She sighed wistfully. Jaxton watched her for a moment as he continued to savor the scone in his mouth. He never noticed how her eyes looked like melted chocolate chips whenever she daydreamed. Jaxton's lips twitched into a slight smile.
A blaring chime jerked Jaxton's attention away from the chocolate eyes and back to the colossal clock reading only ten minutes until the Sapling Festival began. Ten minutes until he had to present his talent to the entire Woodland race and ring in the new year. Ten minutes until his parents decided if he was good enough to carry on the McCosky name. Holy mother of all that is good and pure.
Rain must have seen the terror shadow his face as she rubbed his back and turned his face towards her. "You're gonna do great, Jax."
"Easy for you to say," he grumbled, nodding to her sap-filled bark scones. Those delicious treats would easily keep her parents from kicking her out of the house. That was a given, though. Jaxton had met her parents only once but already he knew they were the most loving and kind people of the Woodlands he knew. Even if she did horrible, her parents would still pat her on the back and give her a medal.
"Don't let the crowd get to you. Tell those trees who's boss!" She was on her feet and already backing up, scones in hand, and was beginning to jog back to the festival. Jaxton wished she would stay. "Think of something happy! Think of my scones!"
Rain winked and gave him a thumbs up before sprinting down into the festival. Jaxton wrinkled his nose and turned back to his dancing trees. Even though he couldn't see, he was sure the trees were staring at him, waiting.
Jaxton popped the last bite of the desert into his mouth, then sprung to his feet. He dusted off his hands. Nerves and jitters clambered around inside his stomach mixing with the scones. It was an unpleasant feeling and Jaxton grimaced.
"Okay, you three," he said facing the trees with wavering confidence. "Let's ring in the new year with our awesome choreography, shall we?"
He meant to feign boldness as well as he could but couldn't stop the slight quiver in his voice. The trees didn't seem to notice. The right tree strolled forward first, branches held high and trunk straight, and the left followed. A leaf detached from each of them and landed in Jaxton's hands. He grinned ever so slightly, feeling a bit more comforted by his tree friends.
The middle tree, however, stayed grounded in front of him. Its branches shook, letting leaf after leaf fall to the ground fortuitously. Jaxton walked up to it gently.
Three reverberating chimes sounded behind them signaling the Sapling Festival was beginning. Jaxton looked hard into the tree's branches, hoping he exuded encouragement. He inhaled and saluted the tree by placing his two right fingers to his temple.
The tree, tentatively but surely, lifted a small branch and saluted back.