Short Story: A Seed of Hope


A Seed of Hope

“Ruby? Is that you?” Mrs. Mertens asked as she poked her head out of the trailer next door.  

“Yes, Mrs. Mertens,” Ruby replied. “Good morning.”

“Them mums are sure lookin’ perty!” she continued, as she clutched her plaid robe around her thin shoulders.  

“Thank you. I gotta go now, or I’ll be late for school,” Ruby called as she looked over her shoulder, catching a glimpse of the row of chrysanthemums that exploded in gold, orange, and ruby across the front of their trailer.  

She and her mom had planted them the spring before she died. After that, the hospital bills started pouring in, so her dad had to get a better-paying job hauling freight cross country. With his being home only a couple nights a week, it was easy to let things go. Soon her grades started to slide, and so had she–into a pit of depression.  

As she came to the end of the lane of the trailer court, she saw an old Chevy truck approach the intersection. It was Ms. Bell, her horticulture teacher. She recognized Ruby and smiled, giving a tap on her horn. Like her mom, Ms. Bell appreciated growing things. Her room looked like a flower shop on steroids, with potted plants filling every available space. The other day, she had asked Ruby if she wanted to stay after school to help her repot a schefflera that had outgrown its planter. “You must have done this before,” Ms. Bell had commented, as Ruby carefully aerated the roots and mixed the soil.

“My mom is–was–really good at gardening,” she had replied, remembering how she had had to correct herself. It was still hard to think of her mom in the past tense. Even now, the memories of their last time gardening together were fresh in her mind….


“Ruby, check this out. I found ruby-colored mums at the garden shop,” her mom said with a childlike smile. The scarf on her head hid the fact that her hair was beginning to fall out from the radiation treatments.

“Really? Cool! Where are you going to put them?”

“I thought we’d put them in front of the trailer here, to add some color. Wanna help?”

“Are you sure you’re up to it?” Ruby asked, as she took the flat of flowers from her.

“I’ll make you do all the work,” she joked.

As they turned over the soil and added compost, her mom talked about burying treasure–her “autumn treasures,” she called them. “When everything is starting to die off, they bloom and give me hope.” She moved a wisp of her thin hair away from her eyes, turned to Ruby, and added, “And the rubies will give me the most hope….”


Ruby’s eyes filled with tears as she recalled the event. At this point, she didn’t feel like the source of much hope. They didn’t have enough to pay the phone bill, and she didn’t want to lose the Internet. Maybe I can get a job at Closet Collections, she thought to herself. Her dad wouldn’t like it, since he wanted her to keep her grades up, but she needed new clothes, and even though they were second-hand, they were still nice.

She arrived to her first-block English class early, so she got out her notebook, tore out a sheet of paper, and began working on her autobiographical poetry assignment. Lately, it had been so hard to concentrate. She wrote “Ruby” and thought, Ruby, you have lost your sparkle. “Yuck!” she said aloud.  

At that moment, Travis and his trolls walked in. “Are you talking about me, Ruby Slippers?” he asked with a smirk. When she didn’t respond, he turned to Troll 1 and said, “She can’t be talking ‘bout me ‘cause Ruby and me, see, we got a thing goin’.” He sat on the corner of her desk and leaned in. “How ‘bout clicking them he-e-e-ls together three times, Ruby? I promise to take you home–”

“Scuse me,” came a voice from behind. It was…Clark Kent meets Cowboy Bill? thought Ruby in surprise. Beside her stood a tall, lanky guy with a checked flannel shirt, crisp Levis, and a new pair of Timberlands. His black-rimmed glasses were too stylish for Norton High, and his haircut said city kid. “Is this Mrs. Krebill’s English IV class?” he asked.

“Who wants to know?” Travis asked.

“Sorry, I’m Drew Langdon. I just moved in from Des Moines. Stayin’ with my grandpa, Curtis Barrett.” Everybody knew that Curtis Barrett was one of the largest landowners in the area.


“You don’t say,” Travis replied. “In that case, you’ll be wanting to join FFA. We’re havin’ a hayrack ride tonight.” As the first bell rang, Ruby saw Travis pull out his phone and give Drew directions to the fall party.

Recruiting another troll, I see, thought Ruby. Almost nauseous with the memory of Travis’s disgusting “come on,” Ruby glanced from under her amber bangs at Drew, whose eyes met hers. Unable to read his look, she turned her fury into the first lines of a poem before the second bell even rang:

Ruby, So Alone


Semi-precious stone


Sits alone


behind an impenetrable defense,

She hides in her castle,

the walls so cold and dense

Ruby, semi-precious stone Sloan, so alone


Her first block blew by, with Mrs. Krebill covering more poetry devices, and she quickly gathered her things and headed to her next class, horticulture. If she hadn’t already told Ms. Bell that she would ride with her, she wouldn’t go to the fall party that night. She didn’t even know what she would wear–

“Oh, look, Madison, aren’t those the boots I wore freshman year?”

It was Melanie Driscoll, the resident b—-.  She looked Ruby’s way and stared at her feet.  

Ruby’s face burned in shame, and she felt herself falling into that familiar pit of darkness. I’m so over this school, thought Ruby, as she sank into her seat and reached to pull her poem out of her notebook. To her horror, it was gone. Oh, sh–! Can things get any worse? Somehow she

managed to get through the day, but she couldn’t shake the awful thought of someone finding her poem and posting a picture of it on Snapchat for all the world to see.  

After school, she walked home and dug through her closet. There was the navy sweater that her mom had bought from H&M the Christmas before she died. She said that it brought out the blue in her eyes. She got ready and waited for Ms. Bell to arrive, checking her phone for any indication that someone had found her poem.

When Ms. Bell’s truck pulled up, Ruby noticed that she was beaming with excitement. “Ruby, I need your help. Our greenhouse just came in–I mean, our seeds! I can’t wait to get started. Tell me that you’ll be in charge.”  

“Sure,” she replied, somewhat overwhelmed by Ms. Bell’s enthusiasm. As they drove to the party, Ms. Bell explained their upcoming project. In the bed of the pickup lay two large boxes and bags of soil. Maybe the winter won’t be so dull after all, Ruby thought.  

As they pulled into the driveway, Ruby saw Travis talking to Drew, who was sporting a new Carhartt coat. Ms. Bell parked the truck and began talking to the host. Ruby was drawn to the fire, which was glowing and crackling near a tall maple tree. A snowfall of yellow leaves tipped in red fell steadily, hypnotically. She sat on a log, enjoying the show.

“Mind if I sit here?”

Startled, Ruby turned to see Drew standing beside her.

“Yeah, sure,” she replied, studying his face for any signs of pretense. His brown eyes sparkled in the light of the flames, and she forgot her suspicion for a moment. To her surprise, he reached across and pulled a leaf off her shoulder.

“Look at that. Gold and ruby.” He smiled, and she began to soften. “Uhh, the guys told me your name. Would you like to sit with me on the hayrack?”  

Before she could reply, Travis and his friends approached. “Drew! You’re movin’ too fast, Dude. Ruby likes to do it nice and slow,” he insinuated, while his friends laughed and snorted like a bunch of hogs.  

Ruby got up and ran to the truck. Mom, I really need you now, she thought, as her eyes filled with tears.

“Ruby?” Ms. Bell put a hand on her shoulder and said, “If you kicked him in the crotch right now, I would not even say a word.”  

Ruby turned to Ms. Bell, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw Drew shove Travis.

“Look here.” Ms. Bell opened a quart-sized bag of seeds. In her palm was one wisp of a seed, like a pale piece of straw, half of it black with a gold tip at the end. “It’s chrysanthemum…. It may be small, but it packs a pretty hefty punch, don’t you think?”

Ruby smiled, and Ms. Bell wrapped her in a bear hug. All of a sudden, she pictured her mom’s row of mums, their bright colors refusing to give in to the cold. Thanks, Mom, she thought.

Suddenly, Drew appeared. “Excuse me, Ms. Bell. Can I speak with Ruby, please?”  

Ms. Bell looked at Ruby, who nodded her approval. “I’ll be at the fire if you need me.”

Drew took something from his coat pocket. It was her poem. “I found this yesterday,” he said. “Here’s something else. I thought you could use another stanza.” It read,


by an awkward prince all dressed in white

                who saw her for what she was,

                 A shining light

Ruby, precious-jewel Sloan, no longer alone  

As Ruby looked up, he raised his eyebrows comically and bowed, holding out his hand. “Lead the way, my awkward prince,” she answered with a laugh, placing her hand in his

as he led her to the campfire.


Ingrid Brownlee has taught middle school and high school English for 27 years at Fort Madison High School

Shortly after Brownlee graduated from Western Illinois University, she took a writing course through the Institute of Children’s Literature out of Connecticut, and uses what she learned there to assist students in writing their own fiction and nonfiction. Browlee taught in west-central Illinois for 10 years before moving with her husband and two daughters to the Fort Madison school district, where she has been teaching ever since.

“Each year, I see so many students who struggle academically, financially, socially, and emotionally. This story was inspired by those students who need some encouragement,” Browlee said.