Enrolling at Pawnee Heights High a few days before Christmas wasn’t my choice. I didn’t want to be here and didn’t want to be a new kid in the freshman class. I wanted my old school, my old friends. But I couldn’t go back. My dad died a month ago and my brother, myself and mom moved in with Grandma. Living with Grandma is all right, but she stinks up the house smoking Camels.
To escape the smell, I’d take long walks after school. Wrap myself in a warm coat and take off. I didn’t know the town well, but usually ended up at the school, outside the windows of my music class. As I leaned against the brick wall, I could hear Jill Brown practicing When a Child is Born with Mrs. Holt for the Christmas play. It was one of my favorite Charlotte Church’s songs. I loved singing it myself, well, I used to. But Dad wasn’t around to hear me anymore.
“Sing to me, Lily Angel,” said Daddy when I was four. And before you could say “do-ra-me” he lifted me on top of the kitchen table. On my ‘stage’ I’d sing melody after melody while Daddy sat back and listen. ‘An angel’s voice’, he’d say. ‘All day at work I think about my Lily Angel singing my favorites.’
“Sing to me, Lily Angel.” What he didn’t tell me was our time together helped keep his sanity. He worked in a welding shop and the heat was terrible, the work repetitious and expectations from the boss ran high.
After he died, I didn’t sing…I couldn’t. It didn’t seem right. I was mad. I wanted to blame God. Then I’d be sorry and pray for His forgiveness. It was hard to accept God knew what was best. Still, most days I’d hurt something awful and the anger would fester and I didn’t know what else to do but cry. No one saw me standing outside the windows, listening and remembering my dad, and crying.
On day of the program, Mom was running late, so I helped get Jimmy, under protest, in clean clothes. Grandma wouldn’t be going since the cold weather was hard on her knees. Luckily we arrived at the school on time.
Mom surveyed auditorium. “Where should we sit, Lily? I want to be able to see you.”
“I’ll be on left side of the stage, in the back. Mrs. Holt has me there since I haven’t practiced much with the group. Guess she’s afraid I’ll embarrass her.”
“Oh honey, that’s not why she put you there. Surely she knows you enjoy singing? Remember when your daddy put you on the table top?”
“Mom, I don’t want to think about that!” I nearly screamed at her. The surprised look on her face made me feel awful, but why did she have to say that now? Turning, I ran to the music room.
The room was crowded with the cast for the play. Half the members wore choir robes; the other half angle costumes. I heard Jill’s name whispered. Mrs. Holt was trying to get everyone’s attention so she could speak.
“Everyone, please listen. There has been some news. Jill’s home with the mumps.” The room roared back to life. Mumps? Jill? Home?
Mrs. Holt tapped her baton on the piano top. “People, quiet please! Quiet! Is there anyone who would volunteer to fill in for her solo?”
The room froze. Someone take Jill’s place, to be compared to her? Who was brave or crazy enough to be the soloist?
In that moment I was standing on the table singing melodies. Daddy was there too, smiling. Then, in the silence, I slowly stepped forward. A million pair of eyes on me...it’s the new girl…is she crazy?
Mrs. Holt smiled, didn’t even look surprised. I wondered what she knew about me. She handed me the costume. Quickly she clicked into high gear and said to everyone, “On with the show!”
Waiting behind the stage curtain, my knees started shaking something fierce. I could hardly breath. What had I gotten myself into? Too late, there was my cue. I climbed up to my make-believe cloud. I located my mom and brother and smiled weakly. The piano introduction began and the rest of the choir surrounded me. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and said a prayer. My prayer was answered by a soft whisper, “Sing to me, Lily Angel.”
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