My fingers trembled as I laced up my toe shoes. I drew in a long, shaky breath. Why, when I had longed for these new satin shoes just a few months ago, did I want so badly to take them off and crawl under my bed?
"Got the recital jitters?" a voice asked gently. I nodded, oblivious to the speaker of the comforting words. Vaguely, I looked up. Of course. It was my best friend, Sarah. How could I not recognize that pretty voice? Sarah was the scarecrow in our ballet school's production of the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz. It was Sarah's and my favorite movie. Sarah was a wonderful dancer. Everyone was sure that she would get the lead role. Sarah was the only one who wasn't surprised at who got the part of Dorothy. Everyone was surprised. Even the girl cast as Dorothy was shocked. How could I know that? I knew because that unbelievably lucky person, the girl that Miss Stephanie saw as good enough to dance the lead role, was I, Morgan Quincy.
"Ready to get 'em out there, hon?" a deep voice suddenly shook me out of my puzzled thoughts. My dad smiled down at me. "You look beautiful, Morgan." I grinned at Dad. I was actually very average-looking, with a tall, thin figure, bright blue eyes. My long brown hair was tied in two ponytails for my part in the ballet. It didn't matter how I looked to my dad. My sister and brother aren't knockouts either. Sarah was the one who would be called beautiful. Her short blond hair was cut so it framed her round face perfectly. Her lively green eyes dazzled everyone. Right now, you couldn't tell that, because her elaborate scarecrow costume covered most of her.
My dad was the one who could always make me feel proud of myself. I don't know what I would do without him. "Oh sweetie, you look so grownup. That dress is so pretty. Are you sure it's not too small? You did grow quite a bit. Should I ask Miss Stephanie if she has another one? Oh, and one more thing, Gram and Granddad are here to see you. Your sister is here. She missed a day of college to see you. Arnold is in the audience; oh, Morgan, you are going to be wonderful. Hi there, Sarah, I'm sure you'll be wonderful too, dear."
As my mother stopped to take a breath she looked at my face more closely. "Is that makeup on your face?!" she practically screamed.
"Mo-om." I groaned, trying to keep the smile off my face. "Puh-lease. It's your youngest daughter's big debut. Give me some encouragement, will ya?"
My mom always tries to fill silence with words, but sometimes I enjoy silence. My dad and Arnold, my brother, like silence also. That's why we like fishing together. "If your mom came fishing with us," my dad would announce playfully, "the fish would wear earplugs!" Of course, my older sister Beth used to come fishing with us, but then she "outgrew it." I hope that I never outgrow fishing, because I like the quality time spent with my dad.
"Morgan, honey, are you OK? You have that daydreaming gaze again." I was able to get a nod in before Mom took off again. "Now I'll be watching from the audience, and after we will go out for dinner. I was thinking that French place down the street, the cute little cafe? I'll check it out later. Well, I have to go; good luck, darling!"
My dad rolled his eyes at my mom's excessive chattering and strolled away. My mom, all intentions of finding me a new dress and wiping off my makeup lost, linked arms with Dad and went with him.
"Wow," murmured Sarah, "your parents are really nice." I felt a pang of guilt. Sarah's parents had died when she was eight. I couldn't even imagine what it would be like without my parents. Sarah lived with her aunt and uncle and their son Eric. They were nice people, but to tell the truth, they were kind of dull. Sarah was the best friend in the world.
When Miss Stephanie told me about my part, I stood there speechless while Sarah wrapped me in a hug and squealed. If she was even the tiniest bit jealous she didn't show it. I wish that I could show some of her cool, calm behavior before every recital. She was well suited for the scarecrow. Not only was she a gifted dancer, she was a great actress and could act clumsy as the scarecrow should. Why did Sarah choose me for a best friend? I couldn't even think of anything to say about her parents. Instead I mumbled, "I'm so sorry, Sarah," and left a lot of things unsaid.
Sarah nodded, obviously too wrapped up in thoughts of her parents to speak. She often talked about them to me. She confided that she was glad that she had been old enough when they died to have memories. Personally, I thought it would ease the pain if you didn't remember them.
We sat down to stretch, only a half-hour before the show. I thought about the show. I had several solos in the show, including one to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It was my favorite dance of the show. It had plenty of feeling, with pirouettes and jetés, my favorite moves.
"Morgan, don't get all starry-eyed on me now," Sarah teased. I flashed her a smile, glad she wasn't thinking about her parents. "Concentrate on the music, the steps will come."
I frowned slightly. Where did that thought come from? Miss Stephanie, I realized. Of course. How many times had she circled around our dancing groups, eyes flashing, whispering, "Concentrate on the music! The steps will come!"
"Shoot!" I muttered suddenly.
Sarah turned to me, full of concern. "What's wrong, Morgan?"
I almost laughed. Leave it to Sarah to be worried about nothing. Well, practically nothing. "It's just that Miss Stephanie wanted to see me in her office. Five minutes ago," I explained.
Sarah's eyes widened. "Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but Miss Stephanie doesn't exactly like it when people are late coming to see her."
"You're right." Awkwardly, I scrambled to my feet. I tried to walk with dignity down the hall. I could hear Sarah stifling a giggle. I wasn't mad. I knew that I looked pretty funny trying to walk with toe shoes. And with the raw blisters under the soft pink toe pads. Unfortunately, the toe pads didn't prevent all of the sores from developing on my toes.
I reached Miss Stephanie's office and boldly knocked on the door. For some reason being filled with apprehension of the recital gave me newfound courage.
Miss Stephanie opened the door. "Ah, Morgan! Come on in, dear." I hesitantly stepped into the cream-colored office. The desk was old-fashioned, but the computer on it looked new.
Miss Stephanie cleared her throat. "Morgan, I'm pretty sure you want to know why you were chosen as Dorothy for the production." She paused. "Right?"
How could she know that I wanted to know more than anything why she chose me? I nodded.
"Well, that is what I am going to tell you. You see," she continued, "it was a very hard decision between you and Sarah. Before I continue, am I correct in saying that you girls have noticed that Sarah performs each dance step perfectly?"
I nodded. Yes, of course I had noticed.
"And am I right in assuming that you had automatically thought that Sarah would dance as Dorothy?"
"Yes," I agreed softly.
"That being said, the reason that I chose you over Sarah is very simple. Sarah is a marvelous dancer, but she lacks something that you have. You have feeling when you dance, Morgan. You can see in you face, in your body, in your eyes, that you love to dance. Your whole soul pours out when you perform. You are a natural dancer, darling, and I sincerely hope that you stick with it."
I stared at her, dumbstruck. Finally I managed to stutter, "Th- thank you, Miss S- Stephanie."
"You're quite welcome, my dear, I was just telling you. Now go out there and dance your heart out, which you do anyway. Good luck!"
I left the office, my heart soaring.
I didn't have time to see Sarah before the show. I was a little bit late. I hurried onto the stage. The curtains were closed. I ran softly as possible to the center of the stage and got into my starting position. I tilted by chin up, put my feet in a perfect fifth position and waited for the music to start.
The curtains slid open and the music started. I stood paralyzed with fear, staring at the audience. Then, all at once, my feet worked again. My body, which was so tense a few seconds ago, gave in to my heart and danced. The steps were so right, so perfectly right for the music, that I wondered why I had ever forgotten them, even for a second. My heart felt free. My soul flew from my fingertips and touched the audience. I could feel myself smiling. I could feel the audience watching me. I didn't care. In fact, I wanted them to watch me. Why else would I be up here?
Suddenly I realized that never while I was doing anything else but dancing would I feel my heart and soul, together. Not later, when my sister tried to impress me with her new "college" words, like "Oh, Morgan, your performance was simply superb." Not when my little brother Arnold put his sticky fingers in mine and whispered, "You looked pretty, Morgan." Not when my mom chatters to everyone about how beautiful her daughter looked. Not the proud looks on Grammy and Granddad, or even anything Dad or Sarah says. Suddenly I realized that I didn't need the approval or compliments from them, although they were nice. I knew, at that moment, that the only person's approval I needed was my own. My heart and soul decided for me.