My head was in even more turmoil than usual as I rode my bike home slowly. I kept replaying what Mr Norris had said and I searched for some hidden meaning. Was he trying to make fun of me? Was I being punished for not being the smartest kid in class? Did he really think I could do it? My thoughts kept going around in circles.
When I got home I told Mum what Mr Norris had said and she just smiled.
‘I said you should do it, and it’s not too late you know.’ She gave me a big hug and I took a deep breath and tried to stop my heart from beating so hard. I was being whirled along against my will, but I suddenly realised that I had to try. Just this once I had to give it a go and not be so scared.
Catherine was excited for me when she got home from work and I spent an hour in her bedroom as she did my hair. She took extra care to make sure every strand was carefully pinned into place. She said I didn’t need much makeup because I was already so pretty, but a little lipstick and eye shadow wouldn’t hurt. I sat as still as I could while she stroked the makeup onto my eyelids and carefully ran lipstick over my lips. I had never worn lipstick before and it felt funny and sticky against my tongue. Catherine told me not to keep licking it or it would all come off. She made me look in the mirror and this time I really did think I looked sort of pretty.
Mum wanted to drive me to the school but I said I preferred to ride my bike. I knew I would just feel sick if I sat in the car all the way there and riding my bike would help to take my mind of what I was about to do. I carefully packed my long white Juliet dress that I had been wearing on the weekends in my school bag and climbed onto my bike.
‘Good luck, Molly,’ Mum yelled as I rode away. Catherine was waving at me through her bedroom window and I waved back.
I pedaled fast as I rode along and kept trying to remember as many of the words from the play as I could. I repeated them over and over in my head, but I didn’t even know which scene we were meant to be doing for the rehearsal. The headlight on my bike threw a little beam on the road and I followed its jiggling path all the way to the school.
When I arrived there were already lots of cars in the car park and I carefully put my bike in the rack and walked slowly over to the hall. It was all lit up as though the play was already on tonight and there was lots of noise coming from the hall. My heart was racing a million miles an hour, but I kept repeating to myself, ‘You can do this, you can do this,’ even though I didn’t really believe that I could. Any moment, I knew I was just one step from turning around and running away.
I stood at the door to the hall and hesitated whether to go inside. I was just about to back away when Mr Norris saw me and called out.
‘Molly,’ he yelled over the noisy crowd, ‘Over here please, we are just about to start. Hurry and get changed if you have an outfit.’
I went into the bathroom and quickly got changed into my dress and then looked in the mirror to make sure that I hadn’t messed up my hair or makeup. The face that looked back at me was sickly and colourless, but then I heard Mr Norris call out again to say that it was time. I turned away and went to find out where I should be.
Mr Norris was at the front of the stage talking to Virginia Williams and the other two girls that were auditioning, when he suddenly noticed me and beckoned for me to join the group.
‘What is she doing here?’ I heard Virginia say. The other two just laughed but I tried to ignore them all.
‘Okay, ladies,’ said Mr Norris, ‘I want each of you to take one of these sheets. You can have fifteen minutes to read through your lines and then you each get a chance to perform on the stage. We are doing part of scene five from act one.’
My stomach was churning already, but it did an extra swoop when I realised that it was the scene where Romeo kissed Juliet for the first time at the party.
‘You can read from your sheets, and Joel Kemp will be playing Romeo opposite you as he was the only one to put his name down for that role.’ He walked off and I looked down at the sheet of paper in my hand. I knew all of these lines by heart because I had read through the play so often, but now the words seemed to jump all over the page just like my heartbeat.
I was nervous but the fifteen minutes went by in a flash and suddenly it was time for the auditions. One of the other girls went first, and I hopped from foot to foot as she read through her lines in a monotone. Virginia kept making comments all the way through in a stage whisper.
‘Boring,’ she said, and faked a yawn.
The second girl took her place, but she kept stumbling over the words and that made me feel awful for her. I just knew I was going to stumble over my words as well when it was my turn. I could hear Virginia sniggering and I felt sorry for the poor girl, but I really felt sorry for myself because I knew she would soon be sniggering at me.
Then it was time for Virginia Williams to have her turn. She moved gracefully into the centre of the stage and as she stood there like a princess I had to admit that she really did look beautiful. Joel was handsome as well and I looked at him for the first time as he entered the scene and then stopped in admiration of her beauty. I don’t know if he was acting or not, but for the first time I started to wonder how it would feel to have him looking at me in that way. He really did make a great Romeo. Virginia read her lines from the page, but she did a pretty good job and I was worried that it would soon be my turn. I knew I would sound awful.
She finished and walked towards me as she left the stage. ‘You haven’t got a hope, loser,’ she said.
‘Molly White,’ called Mr Norris from his seat in the audience, ‘It’s your turn.’
I felt like being sick as the moment arrived and I walked slowly to the centre of the stage.
‘Just take your time, Molly. Start when you are ready.’
I took a deep breath and nodded. Mr Norris waved his hand toward the side of the stage and then Joel walked out to join me. I couldn’t believe that I was standing so close to him now when he had never even noticed that I was alive before this.
‘If I profane with my unworthiest hand…’ he began. I stood there stunned to find myself in this situation. I couldn’t take my eyes of his lips as he spoke. ‘… with a tender kiss.’
There was silence as he paused, and I suddenly realised it was my turn. I looked down at the page in my hand to find my place and found the paper trembling so much that I couldn’t read it. My stomach was churning and I could feel my head spinning. I knew I was about to faint, but then I felt Joel reach out and take my hand in his. I looked up into his sparkling eyes and felt a shift in the universe. Suddenly it was just Joel and I standing there alone in the middle of this wildly spinning galaxy and he was smiling at me.
All of a sudden the words were right there on my tongue. ‘Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much…’ I didn’t even need to look at the piece of paper in my hand as I looked into Joel’s eyes.
‘Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?’ he replied.
‘Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer…’ I was no longer aware of my surroundings as I felt myself floating on a cloud. ‘Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.’
Joel smiled directly into my eyes as he moved closer. ‘Then move not while my prayer’s effect I take.’ He leant forward and kissed me slowly and my universe tilted completely upside down as I closed my eyes and leant towards him.
My eyes were still closed as he pulled away slowly.
‘Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged.’ We stood there for an eternity holding hands and staring at each other.
‘Okay, that is excellent. I think we have found our Juliet,’ said Mr Norris loudly from the front row.
Joel turned to face the empty rows of seats and bowed, but he kept hold of my hand. I think I would have collapsed if he had let go of me right then because my legs were shaking so much, but then he did let me go and I was suddenly surrounded by other kids from my class. They were slapping me on the back and everyone was clapping and saying how wonderful that was.
Mr Norris addressed everyone and told us all to go home and practice our lines over the weekend because there would be rehearsals every afternoon starting Monday. I felt like I was in a dream as Joel stayed close beside me until Mr Norris had finished.
I watched as he walked away across the stage, but then he turned and smiled at me before disappearing around the edge of the curtain.
I was still floating on my cloud when the evening finished and I changed out of my white dress and back into my jeans and tee shirt for the ride home. I found my way back out to my bike in the darkness and turned the light on as I started riding away. All I could think about was the way that Joel’s eyes sparkled in the spotlights and … that kiss.
The night was dark and although my heart was still racing, it was a completely different feeling to anything I had ever felt before. I was as light as a feather as I kept replaying the scene in my mind. I could still feel his lips against mine and every time I thought of the kiss my heart skipped a beat. I thought that was only in songs and I smiled because my heart really was skipping lightly.
I turned the corner as I got closer to home, when suddenly some bright car lights came out of a side street to my right. I grabbed the brakes hard as I heard the noise of its engine and then I was sliding in the gravel and the lights were right on top of me and I heard my leg break like a branch when the car hit me from the side.
Then there was silence and the universe had stopped spinning. All I could think about was the deep pain from my leg as I lay on my side on the road with my face pressed against the gravel. I heard a car door slam and then some voices were coming toward me as I slowly sank into the darkness.