I walked home with the poster for the spring musical heavy in my arms. I looked at it again, hoping that I had seen it wrong. Nope. The block letters were still dominating the page, telling me once again that I didn’t want to perform this spring. “Finding Broadway,” it said, “A Musical Without Words!” There wouldn’t be any lines, just solos. Just singing, which was my least favorite part of the play.
I had done the spring musicals for a couple of years now, running in the fall and hanging out with my friends in the spring. This year it seemed that I was going to be out of the loop, skipping the play. It was a new thing to me.
I entered my front door, kicked off my sneakers, and headed to the kitchen for a snack. I was halfway through my bowl of cereal when my mom walked in, having finished her email upstairs.
“What’s that?” she asked, pulling the playbill from my arms before I could snatch it away.
“Oh,” I said, looking down, “that’s the spring musical the school’s doing this year. I thought it looked kinda boring.”
“Hmmm,” she replied, looking thoughtful. “Only singing. Interesting. I didn’t know you liked singing.”
“I don’t,” I said. “I’m not sure about the play this year.”
“But honey,” she interrupted, “you always do the plays!”
“I know,” I sighed, “I’ll think about it.” I finished my cereal in silence and put my bowl in the sink. As I walked into the hallway, my hand reached for the phone.
“I think I’ll call Ellie,” I said to no one in particular. My fingers dialed the number before I even put the phone to my ear. It rang and rang, but Ellie never answered. I left a message, telling her to call me. If I truly didn’t want to do the play, I wouldn’t be seeing much of my friends for the next few months.
My dad stopped me on my way outside. He looked me in the eye for a few seconds before talking.
“You look stressed,” he said.
“Yeah,” I replied, “I know.”
“What’s going on?” he asked. I waited before answering.
“I’m not sure if I want to do the play this year. But all my friends will.”
“There’s always running, you know,” he added. My dad has been trying to get me to join the track team for years. I always decline, because of the spring play, but I guess he thought this year was a possibility.
“None of my friends do track,” I said.
“That doesn’t matter,” he said. “You’ll make new friends.”
“Right,” I replied. I hadn’t made a new friend since second grade.
“Remember,” he called over his shoulder as he walked up the stairs, “follow your heart, not someone else’s.”
The door slammed shut as I walked out onto the porch. My mind was full of swirling thoughts. I wanted to do the play because all my friends were doing it. I had never done track before. I wouldn’t know anyone there. I wouldn’t have any friends. I would be a loner. But I didn’t want to do the play because there would only be singing. I would hate my afternoons. I would be miserable for the next two months.
I still hadn’t calmed down after a half hour of sitting on the grass. My mind would not clear, and all I could do was stare at the flowers. After fifteen more minutes had passed, I moved to get off the lawn. One of the flowers caught my eye.
It was a bluebell, its petals blooming out towards the bright sunlight. It was about five feet away from the rest of the bluebells, which were only partway open. In my mind, I saw the poor flower as me, a loner by myself on the track team. But I also saw how happy the flower was, blooming larger than all its cousins in the shade. Maybe if I didn’t do the play, I would be like the flower. By myself, yet surrounded by happiness in what I was doing.
I got up abruptly, all the blood rushing to my head. I had made my decision. I would join the track team.
* * *
The first day of track practice was Monday. After the bell had rung, I grabbed my stuff and ran down to the gym. The locker room was full of kids, excitedly changing and talking. I pushed my way to the back of my locker row and quickly put on my gym clothes.
I ran upstairs to the gym and sat down on the stage. There was no one else to talk to. All of the other girls were with the friends they had signed up with and were giggling all around me in their little groups. I sat on the stage with my head down, feeling sorry for myself. Why had I ever chosen to do this?
“Track!” came a voice. “Get off the stage and come over here!” It was our coach, who was also our PE teacher.
“Hello,” he said, once we had all gathered around him. “My name is Coach Anderson.” Whispers were heard, like a small hissing noise had suddenly started in the gym. I was completely silent.
“I hope you all enjoy track today. I think we should start with some warmups,” he continued.
Everyone spread out with their friends, as Coach Anderson led us through some stretches. My legs felt tight. Running seemed impossible.
“OK,” he called, “let’s do some running! Eighth graders, lead the way!” The older kids pushed to the front of the group and started to run around the school. Our school was pretty big, and by the time we got back to the gym my heart was pounding and my legs ached. I wanted to go home, but Coach Anderson had different ideas.
“I want you to get in groups of six,” he called over the talking. “Get a stopwatch, and go run for twenty minutes. I want you back before four-thirty!”
Everyone started to split into groups with their friends. I wandered around aimlessly, hopefully glancing at groups. No one wanted to pick me. No one even noticed me. I gave up and stood still, waiting for Coach Anderson to put me with a group of annoying boys or whispering girls. Someone called my name. I looked up, but it wasn’t Coach Anderson.
I recognized her from my math class, but she hadn’t really talked to me before. I was pretty sure her name was Anna. She called my name again, and I started to slowly walk over.
“Yeah?” I said softly, not looking her straight in the eye.
“So… do you want to be in our group?”
“Uh, sure,” I hastily replied, suddenly feeling self-conscious. Did my shirt look too big? Were my shorts too bright?
“Well c’mon then,” she called, already walking toward the door. “We only have twenty minutes, you know!”
I followed her, staring at the ground. I wished I could crawl into a hole and curl up there for the rest of my life. Anything but run for twenty whole minutes with a group of girls that probably thought I was the dorkiest loser they had ever met.
Anna led me towards my fate, five or so other girls of varying heights and ages. All of them looked liked they didn’t belong and were as uncomfortable as I felt.
“So,” said Anna loudly, “who wants to carry the stopwatch?” A small, blond girl took a miniscule step forward.
“I’ll take it!” she said softly.
“OK,” replied Anna, dropping it into her outstretched palm. “Remember to start it when we start running.” The girl didn’t say anything in response, but Anna just kept talking.
“I want to get to know all of you,” she said, “but we don’t have enough time. How ’bout we talk while we run?” Everyone nodded silently. “Good. C’mon, follow me!”
Anna struck a slow pace while the rest of us fell behind her. She led us around the block and into the busy, crowded streets of downtown. We ran along the waterfront and past the playground filled with younger kids climbing all over it. Just as I felt my legs begin to loosen up, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Anna was running right next to me, her short strides matching up with my long ones.
“Hi,” I said nervously.
“Hi yourself,” she replied. Then, in a moment of sincerity, she lowered her head slightly and asked, “Did your friends do the play too?”
“Yeah,” I answered softly. “So I thought I wouldn’t have any friends on the track team.” Anna was silent for a moment.
“I was thinking the same thing,” she said, “but now you’re here. Maybe everything will be OK.”
“Maybe,” I replied, and seeing the smile on Anna’s face made me realize that I had made the right decision. Although taking a chance was hard, I had opened the door to a new possibility, a new hope. Just like the bluebell in the garden.