Henry Tiller's evil heckle rose above the others. I had one simple line in the Christmas play and somehow, for the third time this week, I managed to mess that up.
"It's a Christmas m... marble." I stuttered.
"Miracle. Catherine. The word is miracle." Ms. Haywood's gentle voice whispered.
Though the eyes in the crowd seemed to burn holes through my skin, my body shivered in the freezing air of the auditorium. I closed my eyes and tried to hide from the gawking faces staring back at me. I whispered, “Miracle.”
Thankfully, it’s the last line in this year’s Christmas skit and practice is finally over. Ms. Haywood dismissed class for the day. Exiting the stage, I took two steps and my left foot tangled in the hem of the robe I wore as a costume. I landed flat on my face. When I opened my eyes, I stared at the speckled tile two inches from my nose. The only thing I wanted at this moment was a hole to open beneath my body and swallow me into the depths of the earth under that stage.
Nancy's voice was kind. "Here Cat, let me help you." Her small hand reached out for mine.
I grabbed Nancy's hand. "One day I'm going to punch that stupid Henry right in his freckled nose." I said as I got on my feet.
I walked into the purple wonderland belonging to Ms. Haywood. I grabbed my bookbag from the hook hanging on the lavender wall. A white label had been stuck just above the violet hook with my name typed in bright purple block letters. No one had to guess Ms. Haywood’s favorite color. Everything in her classroom was some shade of violet, lavender or even plum. Who would have known there were so many shades of purple in the world?
"Catherine, let’s have a little chat.” Ms. Haywood's voice startled me when she stepped into the room.
I slung the backpack over my shoulder and walked towards the grape-colored desk in front of the room.
"Jennifer isn't feeling well. The nurse says her temperature is over one hundred and she probably has that nasty stomach bug going around.”
Ms. Haywood lifted a stack of papers from her desk. “Carry this home and memorize her lines tonight.”
"B...but the play is tomorrow. I won’t have time." I stammered.
"I know it’s tomorrow, but someone needs to say her lines. She only had four and since you only had one, you are the perfect person to say her lines in her absence."
I choke out the words, "I don't think I can."
"Of course you can. I have no doubt."
Tears formed in the corners of my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I stared at the floor. Ms. Haywood reached into the cardboard box covered in lilac lilies and pulled out a tissue. I accepted it with trembling hands.
"I think I know what you need." Ms. Haywood opened the top drawer of her desk and rambled through pens, pencils, and other little things. When she pulled out her hand, she kept her fist closed around the object she’d retrieved.
"Here this is for you.” She extended her arm in my direction. “Keep it in your pocket for good luck."
I opened my hand, and she dropped a sparkling magenta rock the size of a ping pong ball into my palm. I wrinkled my brow. "What is it?"
"It's my good luck rock. When I was young, I played piano. I loved it, but I hated to perform."
I took the rock from her hand. I gazed at its sparkling beauty while Ms. Haywood told a story.
"Dad died in the war leaving Mom to care for the two of us by herself. She took the only job she could find at a bar in the city. In the corner of the bar stood an old piano no one ever played. Mom peeled the label from an old, rusted tin can and made a little tip jar for me to place on top of that piano. Mom wanted me to play while she worked. I wasn’t sure I could do it even though I knew we needed the money.
On the first night, I sat on the worn bench and held my fingers over the keys with trembling hands. A bearded gentleman with white hair on his head hobbled over leaning on a cane. He reached in the pocket of his worn trousers and revealed the rock in your hand. He whispered in my ear as he told me about this good luck rock his grandfather had given him many years ago. He said if I kept it with me, I’d always do great when I played. That same evening, I made enough money to feed me and Mom for a week. I've kept this rock since that day."
"I can't take your rock Ms. Haywood." I held out my hand and offered it back.
"Of course, you can take it. Now put the rock in your pocket and go home. Memorize your lines tonight. Don't forget to put the good luck rock in your pocket tomorrow."
I walked home from school dreaming about the excuses I could use to miss tomorrow night's performance of the Christmas play. I wondered if mom would believe I had a stomachache. Probably not, I thought, she's going to be angry anyway when she sees the bad grade on my math test tonight. I wouldn't show her, but Ms. Haywood agreed to add ten bonus points if I brought it back signed and I desperately need those ten points.
My sister Marlene stood in the kitchen when I walked into the house. "Cat, look at the dress I'm wearing to the school Christmas program tomorrow."
She swirled around like a graceful ballerina wearing a red velvet dress with lace at the hem just below her knees. It fit her slim frame perfectly and made me feel frumpy in my gray t-shirt and faded blue jeans with holes in the knees.
"It’s nice," I muttered walking past her.
"You didn't even look," she whined as I dashed down the hallway to my room.
I stood in the doorway to my messy bedroom. "Sorry sis. I don't feel good."
I shut the door and pounced on my bed. I reached in my pocket, grabbed the rock, and laid it beside me.
My bedroom door flew open. "What's that?" Marlene asked.
"None of your business. Go away."
"You're so mean." Marlene slammed the door.
I locked the door and laid on the bed with the rock right beside me. I pulled the stack of papers from my bookbag. My new lines were all underlined in purple ink. I repeated them what felt like a million times engraving them into my brain. My eyes grew heavy. I slipped the rock inside my pillowcase and fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning on my way to school, I walked several yards down the sidewalk before I remembered the rock. I hurried back inside, grabbed it from inside the pillowcase and now running late, I sprinted towards school gripping the rock in my hand. Halfway to school Henry jumped out of the bushes directly in my path. Stopping abruptly to avoid the collision, I dropped the rock on the concrete near my foot. It bounced on impact just once and landed over in the grass. Henry darted towards it and picked it up before I even gathered my senses.
"What's this?" His freckled face smirked as he held up the sparkling purple rock out of my reach. “Oh I know, it’s a m…. marble.”
"Give that back." I jumped trying to snatch the rock from his hand while he cackled.
When Henry cackled, rage overcame me. Without thinking I swiftly kicked him in the shin, and he buckled over and groaned in pain. I snatched the rock and ran as fast as I could.
Standing on the school steps and out of breath, I stuffed the rock inside my pocket before I went inside. I wondered if Henry would tell on me when he got here. But if he did, maybe they would send me home and not let me be in the play. I could only hope. Henry didn't tell on me though. I guess he was embarrassed that a girl nearly half his size sent him toppling over on the sidewalk in pain.
I made it through the school day and before I knew it, the time for the program had come.
My heart raced as I stood on the stage staring into the blurry crowd. It was time to speak Jennifer’s first line but when I opened my mouth, I froze. I closed my eyes and reached for my pocket. With my fingers pressed against the good luck rock, I recited the first line without a hitch, each word flowing perfectly from my mouth.
I was elated it had worked. I relaxed and peered into the auditorium. My parents and Marlene sat six rows from the front and directly behind mean Henry. Next to Henry, a woman sat whom I guessed was his grandmother. She appeared to me the type who might knock him over the head if he even considered acting up.
It was time for my second line and out of the corner of my eye I saw Henry smirk. I looked away and pressed the rock in my pocket reciting the line with ease. I scanned the audience and noticed mom smiling like she did when I’d made her proud. I smiled too. This wasn’t so bad, I thought.
When the time came for the third line, I avoided Henry’s face and instead gazed into the crowd and spoke each word with perfection. Ms. Haywood caught my eye and winked.
The fourth line was the longest of all, but my hands didn’t tremble when I reached down to press against the rock in my pocket. I focused my eyes on Ms. Haywood’s face and repeated the lines without missing a beat.
When it was time for the final line of the play, my confidence was high. I stared directly into Henry’s eyes when I said, "It’s a Christmas miracle." I articulated the words just perfectly and took a bow.
When the crowd’s applause filled the room, I lifted my head and opened my eyes. I guess Marlene caught that nasty stomach bug that's been going around the school because when I stole a glance at Henry, Marlene had vomited all over his head.