This story is for Chris – as a thank you for giving us the chance to hear what Virgil would have sounded like as Billy. If you haven't heard him, go to the Tracy Island Chronicles website, click on The Mansion then visit Lady Penelope's library and check out David Holliday's file – and enjoy.
My thanks to Purupuss and Boomercat for proofreading.
Seventeen-year-old Virgil peered out through a gap in the curtains with a sinking heart. The school hall looked a heck of a lot bigger from up here on the stage than it did from ground level.
Why had he ever let the drama teacher talk him into taking a part in the school play in his senior year? He could have been down there in the orchestra, tucked safely behind a piano, where nobody could see him. Instead, here he was, up on stage playing (and singing, heaven help him!) the part of Billy in the musical Carousel. By now his stomach felt as if Scott's plane was inside it, doing aerobatics.
The auditorium was starting to fill up. He could see his family sitting near the front. Alan and Gordon were already digging in to a bag of popcorn they had brought with them, while Scott and John, both home from college, were looking round to see if there were any familiar faces from their schooldays present. Across the aisle from them he noticed some of his team-mates from the school football team. Matt, Shane, Ray, even Gerry the team captain had come to watch. If he flopped tonight there was nothing else for it, he'd have to leave town. He'd hitch-hike across America, leave the country, join the Navy – anything.
Just when he didn't think things could get any worse, his eye was caught by a petite figure whose long brown hair hung down to her waist coming through the door. Serena Bateman: by all that was holy what was she doing here? She had been in the year above him and he had worshipped her from afar all through High School but never plucked up the courage to ask her out.. Just to make things worse, she had her whole gang with her – Kim, Chris, Juliet. That was it, he was out of here. As they took their seats he wondered if he could get a taxi to Kansas City Airport and leave the country before anyone noticed he was missing.
He jumped a foot in the air as a hand was placed on his shoulder. "All ready, Virgil?"
Virgil turned to see the smiling, chubby face of Mr Stubbs, the drama teacher. "Yes, fine, thank you, Sir."
"Splendid, splendid!" replied the man in his normal jovial fashion. "Glad to see you're not worried. No need to be of course, you'll be fine!" Stubbs was looking around. "You haven't seen Helen, have you? Just want to make sure she's feeling happy."
Virgil shook his head. "Not since she went to get changed, Sir." He had spoken to the girl who was to play the female lead opposite him only briefly when they had both arrived.
"Oh, well, I'm sure she's around somewhere," replied the teacher and wandered off. Virgil stared after him, wishing he had the older man's confidence, but then he wasn't going to be the one out on stage in front of all his fellow-students.
Virgil wondered if he should go and check on Helen, just to make sure she was OK. He headed towards the girls' dressing room, but just before he got there a small figure in a light blue dress came running out and dashed past him without stopping. He realised it was Alison, the ninth grader who was playing his teenage daughter, Louise. The door opened again and Marilyn Hepple, who was playing the second female lead, put her head out.
"What's wrong with Alison?" asked Virgil.
"Oh don't bother with her! What do you expect from a silly little freshman? Have you seen Miss Rogers? She was going to help me fix my hair. I just can't seem to get it right on my own."
"Sorry, no," replied Virgil as he turned to look for Alison, concerned by her rapid exit. He followed the direction she had taken and found her huddled behind some of the scenery flats. As he approached she sniffed and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
"Hey, what's this?" he asked as he lowered himself onto the floor beside her. "Method acting? We don't have your crying scene until the second act, remember?"
Her only response was another sniffle. Never having had younger sisters, Virgil was at a loss what to do. He suddenly remembered the bandana he was wearing and unwound it from his neck, holding it out. "Here, dry your eyes with this."
"I can't use that, it's part of your costume!" she protested.
He pushed it into her hand and gave her a smile. "I'm sure Billy can manage without it."
She blushed bright red. He had had a sneaking suspicion all through rehearsals that Alison had a crush on him, and the way she was behaving now seemed to confirm that.
"OK," he said gently as she wiped her face, "now tell me what's the matter," though he had a pretty good idea already.
Alison stared up at him with brimming eyes. "I can't do it, Virgil! I can't go on! I'm the youngest one here and I'm scared I'm going to let you all down!"
Virgil shook his head. "You're not the youngest – don't forget we had to draft in some kids from the junior and elementary schools to play the other children."
"I'm the youngest one with a speaking part. I've got that big scene with you and Helen and I'm afraid I'll forget my lines and ruin it for everyone."
"You won't do that. You know your lines. You were fine at rehearsal yesterday."
"You think I'll be OK?" her voice was hesitant.
Virgil picked up her hand and gave it a squeeze. "I'm sure you will. Trust me on this. I believe you can do it, so does Mr Stubbs, or he wouldn't have picked you for the part." Thinking fast, he fished in his pocket and produced a coin. "If you think it will help, I'll lend you my lucky quarter. Here, take it." He pressed the coin into her hand and folded her fingers over it. "I had this in my pocket when I did my first piano competition, and I've taken it to every performance ever since. It helped me, and now it will help you."
"Don't you want it?"
Virgil shook his head, "No, I won't need it, I'm fine," only realising as he spoke that while he had been encouraging her, his own nerves had evaporated.
Alison looked at the coin, then up at Virgil, her eyes shining. "Thank you, Virgil! I promise I'll take good care of it and give it back to you after the performance."
Just then Mr Stubbs voice was heard echoing around backstage. "Two minutes to curtain-up. Places please, ladies and gentlemen!"
With a final glance at Alison, Virgil went to take his place onstage. His lucky quarter. Well, it was lucky he still had a quarter in his pocket after he'd been to get some chocolate out of the slot machine. But he was sure it would do the trick.