Brooke couldn't believe what she was reading. Ivy University was beginning construction on a new wing to the Science Building and in the process removing several of the stately oaks that adorned the campus. Was one of them 'her' oak? The tree she sat under and ate her lunch, the tree under whose branches she studied and often took a nap? She threw the campus newspaper in a recycling bin and went to see for herself.
When she arrived where 'her' tree stood, her heart sank. Survey stakes dotted the area that weren't there three days before. 'Her' tree and several others had an orange band and an 'X' spray painted on their trunks. They couldn't do this, they must be stopped. Taking her cell phone from her purse, she began calling her friends.
Chief Brannigan of the Campus Police had no more settled back in his chair and sipped his morning coffee when Madge, his secretary, came striding in. "It's Dean Rawls on line two and he sounds upset."
[i]Nice way to start a Monday, [/i] "Brannigan here, good morning Dean."
"Brannigan, I need your people at the College of Science Building construction site immediately. Someone is perched in a tree that's to be cleared and they need to be removed. We're wasting time and money. I want this over quickly."
Brannigan barely had time to say "Yes, sir" before the Dean hung up, "Marge, who's on patrol in sector three?"
"Send him over to remove whoever's in that tree."
Kent Williams parked his blue SUV near a group of men wearing hard hats standing by a bulldozer. Getting out, he adjusted his utility belt, put on his uniform cap, and then walked toward them.
" ... I say knock the damn thing down and if the silly bitch gets killed it's her own damn fault..." a burly man in overalls and work boots was saying, "We're burning daylight here. To keep on schedule, were gonna have to ... Okay here's the law. Now we'll get something done."
"What's the problem?" Kent asked.
"Some goofy broad's up in that tree," said a tall thin man in faded jeans and a torn t-shirt. "She dropped some notes sayin' that it's her tree and we can't cut it down."
"We tried to reach her in the cherry picker," another man chimed in, jerking a thumb at the vehicle. "The canopy's too thick."
Kent looked up into the tree. It was huge. He could just make out what looked like a platform near the top.
"I'll have to climb up there. You guys have a ladder?"
One appeared quickly and set against the massive trunk. Kent took off his cap, sunglasses and equipment belt, buttoned his cell phone in his shirt pocket, ascended the ladder's rungs and began to climb.
"I have the name of that student in the tree," the Dean's assistant Ellen McGuire said as she strode into Dean Rawls' office.
"Whoever it is they're expelled," Rawls said angrily. "I want them arrested. We're losing money every minute this project is delayed."
"Her name is Brooke Pembleton, a second year grad student in Environmental Law. Graduated at the top of her undergraduate class, active in many campus organizations..."
"I don't care if she can whistle 'Moonlight Sonata' through her teeth," Rawls interrupted. "I want her arrested."
"Does the name Pembleton ring a bell?" Ellen replied.
"Of course, he founded this University. What does that have to do with... ?"
"That woman in that tree is none other than the great-granddaughter of Isaac Pembleton, the inventor of Cheery Cola and coincidentally the university's founder."
"You mean she's one of the Pembletons?" Rawls said morosely, head in hands. "If the media gets wind of this, we'll be inundated with reporters and be on the evening news. We have to keep a low profile. The Board of Directors will have my head if anything happens to that woman."
"Her father Matthew is on the Board," Ellen said helpfully, barely hiding a smile. Dean Rawls was a petty tyrant and Ivy University his fiefdom. She could barely contain her glee at his discomfiture.
"Tell Brannigan his officers are to treat her gently and with respect. Under no circumstances are they to use force to bring her down. We'll have to reason with her."
"Immediately," Ellen replied, turning on her heel and exiting the office, shoulders heaving in barely suppressed laughter. This was too good not to share with Maureen in Student Services.
Kent was sweating profusely by the time he neared the platform situated between three massive tree limbs. He'd torn his shirt and trousers and was by now thoroughly annoyed.
"You up there come down immediately, this is the campus police and you're trespassing."
A trap door opened and a woman peered down at him. Long blonde hair framed a finely shaped, almost elfin face and some of the biggest green eyes he had ever seen. His heart did a back flip.
"No, I refuse," came the reply. "I'll stay up here forever if I have to; I have to save my tree."
Brooke awoke with a start when she heard the rumble of engines far below. It was so peaceful up here, the wind sighing in the branches, the birds singing, the dappled sunlight warming the walls of her tent.
Her friends in the College of Engineering had designed and built a sturdy platform that when assembled fit perfectly between the branches. She had gathered her camping gear from her summer vacation in the Rocky Mountains, carried it to her aerie and made herself comfortable. She had food, water, a lantern, a sleeping bag and a sturdy tent, all the comforts of home.
She wriggled from her sleeping bag; lifted three coffee cans weighted with pebbles and dropped them one by one to the ground below. Each contained a warning that she was up here and had no intention of coming down unless her tree would be spared. Striking limbs on the way down, the cans ricocheted in all directions, the last hitting with a CLANG!, followed by a volley of oaths.
After a while, scraps of conversation floated up indicating something was going on. She sipped an energy drink and munched a breakfast bar waiting for the people to go away. Putting some peanuts out for the birds, she relaxed in the late morning sun and luxuriated in it's warmth.
Hearing a voice calling to her from not far away, she looked down from the platform and saw nothing. Puzzled, she opened the trap door and saw a disheveled man in uniform directly below her.
He was ruggedly handsome, a shock of brown hair hung over his forehead and his hazel eyes looked at her with captivating intensity. She felt instantly warm and not from the sun.
Chief Brannigan arrived at the site, parked and levered himself from the seat of his blue sedan. Puffing with the exertion, he walked along the uneven ground towards a group of men staring up into a huge tree, their machinery sitting idle. Officer Williams SUV was nearby, but he was not among them.
"Where's Officer Williams?" he shouted. The men pointed upwards.
"Since you've come all this way stay and visit me," Brooke said, dropping a rope ladder.
Kent scrambled up through the trap door and knelt on the platform catching his breath. Brooke offered him a bottle of water, which he gulped down.
"Thanks. I needed that, Ms... ?"
"Brooke, Brooke Pembleton, Officer Williams," she replied reading his nametag.
"Call me Kent," He said with a smile. Brooke felt warm again. "Quite a place you have here."
"Thank you. My friends built it for me when I told them what I planned on doing. Are they going to cut down my tree?"
"Not with you in it. I came up here to bring you back down..." He paused, lost for a moment in her beautiful eyes; they sparkled when she talked and he was captivated.
"Well, are you?" Brooke felt a sudden urge to hug him.
"If you choose to come willingly, yes, however I'm in no position to force you to come down, besides I left my handcuffs down there." Brooke smiled. He was so cute. She opened another tent flap letting the breeze cool him off.
"Would you care for more water, Kent?"
"Just a swig or two, I don't want to cut into your supply."
"No problem, I can get more."
"So, I guess you're a student here. What are you studying?"
"Second year grad student, Environmental Law, have you been a police officer long?"
"I just joined up in January. I was a MP in Iraq. I'm waiting for a slot to open in the city police department."
"You were in Iraq? That seems like an awful place."
"Parts of it are and other parts are beautiful. Overall, the people there are friendly. I didn't see much action; mostly directing traffic, guard duty and arresting drunks. Had a couple close calls with car bombs..."
Kent's cell phone warbled. He looked at the screen, "It's the Chief, probably wondering what I'm up to. Yes sir, she's right here, she's fine. No sir, she refuses to come down. I'm trying to talk her out of it, but she won't budge." He winked at Brooke and she smiled. "Yes sir, I understand, I'll see what I can do."
"I'll bet he's mad, I bet they all are. I don't care."
"Scared is more like it. I'm supposed to treat you gently. So what's got them so spooked?"
"My father is on the university's Board of Directors, I guess that's why they're worried. I don't care. This is my fight, not his. I'm my own person. That's why I'm studying Environmental Law; I want to help preserve the beauty of nature." She paused for breath, her face flushed.
[i]What a woman, she's smart and beautiful.[/i] "Listen Brooke, I better go back and calm those people down." He paused, "Could I visit you this evening when my shift is over?"
"I'd like that Kent, very much. Call me and I'll lower the ladder for you."
"I'll see you then."
Brooke partially unrolled the ladder, careful to hide it from those below. She watched as Kent made his way down, and then clambered the last few yards on the tree to the ladder leaning against the trunk.
[i]Awesome, he's coming back tonight.[/i] She felt warm again.
Chief Brannigan shifted nervously in his chair before the Dean's desk. His summoning to meet with the County Sheriff meant the matter was out of his hands and in consequence reflected poorly on him. He wondered if he'd be fired over this. His self-pitying reverie ceased when the sheriff ambled into the room, the Dean explaining the situation to him in an exasperated tone.
" ... I don't want to remove her by force, Sheriff. I was thinking of lifting her from that tree by helicopter ... good, you're here ... Chief Brannigan, Sheriff Williams."
The men shook hands. Removing his Stetson the sheriff took a seat, his lanky frame folding like a card table. "So as I understand it, you want to use our helicopter to take this young woman off your hands? I can have two of my deputies' rappel down and strap her in a lift basket no trouble at all."
"One of my men has been in close negotiations with her," Brannigan interjected, seeking to redeem himself. "We expect a breakthrough any time now."
"Yes, Officer Williams," Rawls blustered, "One of our best men."