The night of the play was cool and crisp, the sky absolutely clear without a hint of clouds. We had to arrive an hour early, and I’d been feeling pretty bad all day about the way I’d talked to Jamie the night before. She’d never been anything but nice to me, and I knew that I’d been a jerk. I saw her in the hallways between classes, and I wanted to go up to apologize to her for what I’d said, but she’d sort of slip back into the crowd before I got the chance.
She was already at the Playhouse by the time I finally arrived, and I saw her talking to Miss Garber and Hegbert, off to one side, over by the curtains. Everyone was in motion, working off nervous energy, but she seemed strangely lethargic. She hadn’t put on her costume yet—she was supposed to wear a white, flowing dress to give that angelic appearance—and she was still wearing the same sweater she’d worn at school. Despite my trepidation at how she might react, I walked up to the three of them.
“Hey, Jamie,” I said. “Hello, Reverend . . . Miss Garber.”
Jamie turned to me.
“Hello, Landon,” she said quietly. I could tell she’d been thinking about the night before, too, because she didn’t smile at me like she always did when she saw me. I asked if I could talk to her alone, and the two of us excused ourselves. I could see Hegbert and Miss Garber watching us as we took a few steps off to the side, out of hearing distance.
I glanced around the stage nervously.
“I’m sorry about those things I said last night,” I began. “I know they probably hurt your feelings, and I was wrong to have said them.”
She looked at me, as if wondering whether to believe me.
“Did you mean those things you said?” she finally asked.
“I was just in a bad mood, that’s all. I get sort of wound up sometimes.” I knew I hadn’t really answered her question.
“I see,” she said. She said it as she had the night before, then turned toward the empty seats in the audience. Again she had that sad look in her eyes.
“Look,” I said, reaching for her hand, “I promise to make it up to you.” Don’t ask me why I said it—it just seemed like the right thing to do at that moment.
For the first time that night, she began to smile.
“Thank you,” she said, turning to face me.
Jamie turned. “Yes, Miss Garber?”
“I think we’re about ready for you.” Miss Garber was motioning with her hand.
“I’ve got to go,” she said to me.
“Break a leg?” I said. Wishing someone luck before a play is supposed to be bad luck. That’s why everyone tells you to “break a leg.”
I let go of her hand. “We both will. I promise.”
After that, we had to get ready, and we went our separate ways. I headed toward the men’s dressing room. The Playhouse was fairly sophisticated, considering that it was located in Beaufort, with separate dressing rooms that made us feel as if we were actual actors, as opposed to students.
My costume, which was kept at the Playhouse, was already in the dressing room. Earlier in the rehearsals we’d had our measurements taken so that they could be altered, and I was getting dressed when Eric walked in the door unannounced. Eddie was still in the dressing room, putting on his mute bum’s costume, and when he saw Eric he got a look of terror in his eyes. At least once a week Eric gave him a wedgie, and Eddie kind of hightailed it out of there as fast as he could, pulling one leg up on his costume on the way out the door. Eric ignored him and sat on the dressing table in front of the mirror.
“So,” Eric said with a mischievous grin on his face, “what are you going to do?”
I looked at him curiously. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“About the play, stupid. You gonna flub up your lines or something?”
I shook my head. “No.”
“You gonna knock the props over?” Everyone knew about the props.
“I hadn’t planned on it,” I answered stoically.
“You mean you’re going to do this thing straight up?”
I nodded. Thinking otherwise hadn’t even occurred to me.
He looked at me for a long time, as if he were seeing someone he’d never seen before.
“I guess you’re finally growing up, Landon,” he said at last. Coming from Eric, I wasn’t sure whether it was intended as a compliment.
Either way, though, I knew he was right.
In the play, Tom Thornton is amazed when he first sees the angel, which is why he goes around helping her as she shares Christmas with those less fortunate. The first words out of Tom’s mouth are, “You’re beautiful,” and I was supposed to say them as if I meant them from the bottom of my heart. This was the pivotal moment in the entire play, and it sets the tone for everything else that happens afterward. The problem, however, was that I still hadn’t nailed this line yet. Sure, I said the words, but they didn’t come off too convincingly, seeing as I probably said the words like anyone would when looking at Jamie, with the exception of Hegbert. It was the only scene where Miss Garber had never said the word marvelous, so I was nervous about it. I kept trying to imagine someone else as the angel so that I could get it just right, but with all the other things I was trying to concentrate on, it kept getting lost in the shuffle.
Jamie was still in her dressing room when the curtains finally opened. I didn’t see her beforehand, but that was okay. The first few scenes didn’t include her anyway—they were mainly about Tom Thornton and his relationship with his daughter.
Now, I didn’t think I’d be too nervous when I stepped out on stage, being that I’d rehearsed so much, but it hits you right between the eyes when it actually happens. The Playhouse was absolutely packed, and as Miss Garber had predicted, they’d had to set up two extra rows of seats all the way across the back. Normally the place sat four hundred, but with those seats there were at least another fifty people sitting down. In addition, people were standing against the walls, packed like sardines.
As soon as I stepped on stage, everyone was absolutely quiet. The crowd, I noticed, was mainly old ladies of the blue-haired type, the kind that play bingo and drink Bloody Marys at Sunday brunch, though I could see Eric sitting with all my friends near the back row. It was downright eerie, if you know what I mean, to be standing in front of them while everyone waited for me to say something.
So I did the best I could to put it out of my mind as I did the first few scenes in the play. Sally, the one-eyed wonder, was playing my daughter, by the way, because she was sort of small, and we went through our scenes just as we’d rehearsed them. Neither of us blew our lines, though we weren’t spectacular or anything. When we closed the curtains for act two, we had to quickly reset the props. This time everyone pitched in, and my fingers escaped unscathed because I avoided Eddie at all costs.
I still hadn’t seen Jamie—I guess she was exempt from moving props because her costume was made of light material and would rip if she caught it on one of those nails—but I didn’t have much time to think about her because of all we had to do. The next thing I knew, the curtain was opening again and I was back in Hegbert Sullivan’s world, walking past storefronts and looking in windows for the music box my daughter wants for Christmas. My back was turned from where Jamie entered, but I heard the crowd collectively draw a breath as soon as she appeared on stage. I thought it was silent before, but now it went absolutely hush still. Just then, from the corner of my eye and off to the side of the stage, I saw Hegbert’s jaw quivering. I readied myself to turn around, and when I did, I finally saw what it was all about.
For the first time since I’d known her, her honey-colored hair wasn’t pulled into a tight bun. Instead it was hanging loosely, longer than I imagined, reaching below her shoulder blades. There was a trace of glitter in her hair, and it caught the stage lights, sparkling like a crystal halo. Set against her flowing white dress tailored exactly for her, it was absolutely amazing to behold. She didn’t look like the girl I’d grown up with or the girl I’d come recently to know. She wore a touch of makeup, too—not a lot, just enough to bring out the softness of her features. She was smiling slightly, as if she were holding a secret close to her heart, just like the part called for her to do.
She looked exactly like an angel.
I know my jaw dropped a little, and I just stood there looking at her for what seemed like a long time, shocked into silence, until I suddenly remembered that I had a line I had to deliver. I took a deep breath, then slowly let it out.
“You’re beautiful,” I finally said to her, and I think everyone in the whole auditorium, from the blue-haired ladies in front to my friends in the back row, knew that I actually meant it.
I’d nailed that line for the very first time.