A/N: I won't keep you all from reading this long awaited chapter but once you're done I request that you read the author's note at the bottom. Pretty please with a cherry on top! Now, on with the show!


Courtney began to read the chapter.

Jess

"What do girls do who haven't any mothers to help them through their troubles?"

"I had Dad and my friends to help me," said Jess.

"So were you this nervous on your first opening night?"

My mother doesn't answer. She never does. How could she? She's just an image on the TV screen.

"You could have called me Jess. I would have loved to talk with you before your opening night," Shannon said.

"How could I, Mom? You called earlier that day in the morning because you knew that you wouldn't answer the phone later," Jess replied.

It's not that we don't talk on the phone – we do. She's really good about calling me and my brothers every few days, but still, it's not the same as having her here with us at home. Watching her on HeartBeats is the best I can do for now. It feels good to see her face and hear her voice, and for a few minutes I can pretend that she's in the same room with me.

Onscreen, Mom is batting her eyes at the actor who plays her true love, Judd Chance.

Michael gags a little as he remembers how he had to watch this granite statue kiss his wife. Noticing her husband's distress Shannon said, "You know, whenever the director made us kiss onscreen, the only person I was thinking about was you," as she gave her husband a soft kiss.

Michael smiled at her as he smugly thought, Take that Judd Chance!

He looks like he's been chiseled out of granite. People in real life never look like people on TV. There's certainly nobody in Concord who looks like Judd Chance.

Thank God, thought Michael.

That's too bad, thought Megan and Becca.

Not that I've seen, anyway. He must be from California.

"Not everyone from Cali looks like a movie star Jess," said an annoyed Cassidy.

Emma chuckled. "She's right Jess. Exhibit A is sitting right in front of you."

It took Cassidy a moment to realize that she was the one sitting in front of Jess. "Hey!" she said indignantly as she watched her supposed friends laugh at her expense."I'll get you back for that, Hawthorne!" Cassidy promised with a pout on her face.

"Bring it Sloane!" Emma replied with a challenging smirk.

"I'm so afraid I'm going to panic when the curtain goes up," I tell her. "Did you ever feel that way?"

My mother is staring rapturously into Judd's impossibly handsome face.

"Larissa," he murmurs. "My love."

"Oh, my darling!" she replies. "Whatever shall we do?"

Cassidy pretended to throw up and mouthed 'gag me' to the four other girls, who attempted to hide their snickers behind their hands.

Sugar, who is sitting on the bed beside me, pricks up her ears and wags her tail when she hears Mom's voice.

"Sorry, girl," I tell her, turning the volume down. No need to listen to this drivel.

I bite into an apple. "I don't know what you and Judd are going to do, but I'm worried I might faint or something," I continue. "I really wish you could be here tonight."

My mother was supposed to come home to Concord this weekend to see the play. But then HeartBeats got nominated for some big award – which is hard to believe, because it's really, truly the most ridiculous show imaginable

"All soap operas are ridiculous, honey. Your mother's show just happens to be the best at being the most ridiculous," Michael said, as his wife playfully shoved him.

and the awards ceremony is this weekend and the whole cast is supposed to attend so she couldn't get away.

She and Dad got into a big argument over it on the phone,

Shannon sighed. "You weren't supposed to hear that Jess."

whichI wasn't supposed to hear but how could I help it?

"It's called walking away, Jess. It's what you do when you don't want to listen in on private conversations," Becca said teasingly, trying to get her mind off of what was coming up next.

"Like you have never eavesdropped on a conversation Becca," replied Jess.

Dad was yelling at her that she was selfish and from what I could gather she was yelling back at him that this was a big opportunity for her and that he was being the selfish one.

The whole room became silent as everyone gave Shannon looks of incredulity.

However, Shannon was too busy to notice as she kept trying to get her daughter to make eye – contact with her daughter, who kept staring out of the window with a hard look on her face.

After a moment of silence, Courtney continued the reading.

On my dresser is a huge bouquet of flowers. Mom sent them after the argument. They arrived while I was at school, along with a note apologizing that she wasn't able to be here for the play. She said she hoped I'd understand, and she sent me another train ticket, too, for spring break in New York. To make it up to me.

Jess snorted at her thoughts in the book. Like flowers and a train ticket is supposed to make up for missing one of the most important nights of my life, she thought bitterly.

"Jess, honey, please look at me. What's wrong?" Shannon asked with a desperate edge to her tone.

"You're not seriously asking that question," said Jess, who finally turned to look at her mother. "Do you not remember that conversation? You called dad the selfish one because he wanted you to be there for me. News flash Mom: you were the one who was being selfish. You were the one who chose to go to the awards show instead of coming down to see the play, you know, the one your daughter starred in," Jess finished, with an undercurrent of anger in her voice.

"Jess, believe me I wanted to go. I couldn't get out of not going…" started Shannon.

"That's a lie and you know it," Jess said, cutting off her mother. "We watched awards shows when we I was younger. There were tons of actors and actresses who didn't show up to collect an award for whatever reason. You wouldn't have been fired if you didn't show up for the award ceremony. Face it, you could have gotten out of going, you just didn't want to try," Jess said quietly in a hurt voice.

The entire room heard her but no one moved a muscle. Jess alternated between staring off into space and glaring at her lap, while her mother had silent tears running down her face.

"Courtney," said Michael, "perhaps you should keep reading."

Courtney nodded and began from where she left off.

I take another bite of apple. I'm trying not to care that Mom can't come, but I can't help it. I do care. I really want her here with me.

"No one can blame you for wanting that Jess," said Clementine, darting her eyes to Shannon's for a second and then turning back to Jess.

By now, Mom and her TV boyfriend are in a passionate clinch. In addition to stupid dialogue, there's a lot of kissing on soap operas. Even though I know it's just acting, it's weird to see Mom kissing somebody besides Dad.

"I just close my eyes and look the other way, sweetheart," said Michael.

"That's what I do too, Dad," said Jess, who gave a soft smile to her father.

I'm glad I don't have to kiss anybody in Beauty and the Beast. It's hard enough having to waltz around the stage with Zach Norton with everybody watching.

"I'm glad you didn't kiss him either," Darcy said, pulling Jess closer into his side.

Jess gave a quick kiss on the lips before she pulled away, with a blush on her cheeks.

"So here's the thing," I say to my mother. "What if I'm terrible? What if everybody laughs when I open my mouth to sing? I'll just die if that happens, I know it."

Becca snorted. "They would have to be insane if they laughed when they heard you sing," she said trying to help her friend cheer up. Jess rolled her eyes but smiled, so Becca considered that a mission accomplished.

Mom doesn't reply, of course. I look longingly at the phone. There's no point trying to call her. She's at the salon right now getting ready for the awards ceremony. I know this because she told me so when we talked briefly this morning, before school. She called to wish me luck – "to break a leg," as they say in show business. I made her promise she'd call me again later, after her awards ceremony, no matter how late it was, so I could tell her all about opening night.

"I kept my promise that night Jess," Shannon said quietly.

The phone rings. My heart leaps. My mother read my thoughts!

But it's just Emma.

"Oh, so I'm just Emma now, Jess?" Emma said with a pout. "Fine! I see how it is," she cried, hiding her face behind her hands.

"Emma pretty pleasedon't get mad at me. I promise that I didn't mean it in a bad way," Jess hurried to explain. "I'm really, really, really sorry!"

"Gotcha!" Emma said as she moved her hands away from her face. Her lips were curled into a smirk as she watched her friend's expressions go from surprise, to laughter, and then to annoyed.

"I hate you," Jess grumbled at her friend, without meaning the words.

Emma gave a little snort. "No offense Jess, but I think I'll live," she said, rolling her eyes.

"So are you ready for tonight?" she asks me.

"Ready to throw up," I tell her.

She laughs. "Jess, you're gonna be great. I've been to nearly every rehearsal. Trust me."

"Emma, that didn't help. At all," said Jess.

Emma shrugged her shoulders. "Eh. I tried."

Emma ended up volunteering to be assistant director. That means she's in charge of props, and making sure everything's where it should be backstage, and that all the actors get onstage when they're supposed to.

"My mom says to tell your dad we're on our way to get the pizzas, and that he should drop you off here at four thirty," she continues.

"Okay."

We're having an opening night party at the Hawthornes' tonight, before the show. I'll probably be too nervous to eat, even though we're going to have an early dinner since Megan and I have to be at school by six to get into our costumes and warm up.

I groan and flop onto my back on the bed. "What have I gotten myself into, mom?" I ask the TV screen.

My mother looks straight at the camera and smiles. I sit up. "It's not funny! I'm serious! I can't go through with this!"

"Yes, you can. I wouldn't have encouraged you to be in the play if I didn't know you could do it, Jess," her mother said.

Jess wouldn't admit it right now (because of a combination of pride and stubbornness), but her mother was the one who gave her the final push to audition for the play. She gave a small nod to her mom before tuning in back to the reading.

But Heartbeats is over, and the screen goes black. I wait to see the credits before I turn off the TV. I always like to see my mother's name.

"It made us proud to see your name in the credits," Michael said as his daughter nodded her head in agreement. Shannon smiled at her husband and daughter, who had supported her dream.

There it is: Shannon O'Halloran as Larissa LaRue. My mother is using her maiden name as her stage name, just like she did years ago when she and Dad were first married. It's hard to imagine my parents living in New York City, but they did.

"It was difficult to adjust at first, but I liked it after a while. But I still prefer Concord over New York any day," said Michael.

Shannon shrugged. "I wouldn't be able to pick one over the other. I'm a city girl at heart, but I loved Half Moon Farm from my very first visit," Shannon commented.

Mom was an actress way back then, before Dad inherited the farm. A good actress, too,

"So, I assume that was when you weren't working on soap operas?" said Nick.

"Soap operas aren't that bad," Shannon said rolling her eyes.

"I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that they are full of bad dialogue," he started.

"Awful plotlines," continued Jess, remembering some of the more ridiculous ones from HeartBeats.

"And not to mention horrendous acting," said Michael. Upon seeing his wife's face, he quickly backtracked. "Except for yours of course, dear," he said with a smile and the puppy – dog eyes that his wife was never able to resist.

Shannon gave him a hard poke in his side before going back to the conversation. "Okay you make good points, but that's why soaps are so addicting to watch. But you assumed correctly Nick. I worked on Broadway when I first became an actress," said Shannon.

Dad says. Unlike me, who is going to bomb.

I shove thoughts of tonight's impending disaster aside and work on homework until it's time to leave. Ryan and Dylan pile into the back seat of the pickup truck, kicking and chopping at each other. Dad is taking them to karate lessons after dropping me at the Hawthornes'. When we get to Emma's house, he leans over and gives me a hug.

"I'll see you at school," he says. "Your brothers and I will be sitting with the Hawthornes. Phoebe got us all seats in the front row."

"Okay."

"You're going to be a beautiful Belle, honey."

"Thanks again, Dad," Jess smiled as she gave her father a quick hug. "It really helped me."

"You're welcome Jess," he said.

"Thanks, Dad." I kiss his cheek, then climb out of the truck. "Don't forget to pick up Sundance."

"It's hard to believe that she now has a kid of her own," said Jess.

Sundance is my pet goat. She's a little Nubian I raised for a 4-H project last spring, and she started limping a few days ago so we took her to the vet.

"Don't worry, I won't." He toots three times on the horn as he drives away, our family's "I love you" code.

"Your grandparents started it and we continued it," Michael said.

The Hawthornes' house smells wonderfully of pizza, which I normally adore, but tonight, as I suspected, I can hardly eat a thing. Neither can Megan, I notice, and I almost ask her if she's nervous about opening night too, but I don't. She'll just say something mean like she always does. She's hardly said two words to me since I got picked for the part of Belle.

"If you think about it, I never really said anything to you in general, so I guess it wasn't that much different than normal," said Megan.

She's said plenty to everybody else, though. She and Becca have spread the rumor all over school that the only reason I got cast is because my mother left and the drama teacher feels sorry for me.

"Not possible. Mrs. Adams never really liked me. I believe she thought that I would take her job away from her," Shannon mused.

Emma says let them talk, just wait until I open my mouth and sing, that'll shut them up.

"Not many people believed it anyway, so I don't think you had to worry about that," said Becca.

But what if I open my mouth to sing tonight and nothing at all comes out? Or worse, what if too much comes out? What if I croak like a frog? Or throw up?

While I'm picking at my pizza imagining all the horrible fates that await me onstage,

"You should always eat or drink something before you go on stage, honey. It helps with the nerves," Shannon said soothingly.

Mr. Hawthorne arrives home from hockey practice with Darcy and Cassidy. The three of them cram in around the dining room table with the rest of us and Darcy and Cassidy proceed to wolf down an entire pizza between the two of them.

"I don't know how you did it," commented Megan. "And, I don't think I want to know," she said before Darcy and Cassidy could tell her exactly how they managed it.

"Goodness," says Mrs. Wong, who is nibbling at some brown rice stir-fry thing she brought in a plastic container. "You two must be hungry."

"Starved," says Cassidy. She takes a big swig of root beer and belches.

Clementine was about to scold her youngest daughter when Courtney spoke up.

"Allow me Mom," Courtney said with a mischievous smile. She continued to read

Her mother looks shocked.

And then, in a voice not unlike her mother's, she shouts

"Cassidy Ann!"

"That was really creepy, Court. You sounded just like her," said Cassidy, as she slowly inched away from her sister while rubbing her ears. "Reached the same volume too."

"It's a talent," said Courtney, who was proud to be a lot like her mother. "Besides, I've always wanted to do that."

Cassidy grins sheepishly. "Excuse me."

Beside me, I notice Megan pull out her cell phone and start text messaging surreptitiously under the table. She sees me watching and glares. I stare back down at my pizza.

"At least the pizza was nice enough not to glare at you," said Jerry, as he ruffled up his daughter's hair, much to her annoyance.

"Louisa May would certainly approve of tonight's performance," says Mrs. Hawthorne. "She was quite an actress herself. And a playwright."

"Didn't I read someplace that she had a play produced in Boston once?" asks Mr. Hawthorne.

"You sure did," Mrs. Hawthorne replies. "And she did a lot of acting, too, both as an adult and while she was growing up. She and her sisters made all their props and costumes, just like the March girls in Little Women. Remember Roderigo's boots?"

"Hmmm," muses Mr. Hawthorne. "The ones on display at Orchard House, right?"

Mrs. Hawthorne nods. "Louisa designed and sewed them for one of their plays."

Across the table from me, a flicker of interest crosses Megan's face.

"It was about fashion history. There was no way I could not be interested," said Megan.

Mrs. Sloane looks at the two of us and smiles. "And now we have our two budding actresses right here. You girls are going to be wonderful tonight, I just know it."

"Especially Jess," says Emma, beaming at me.

"Emma, did you know that in polite society it's considered rude to gloat," said Phoebe.

Emma's face became surprised and, in a tone of astonishment with a hint of sarcasm, she said, "Really! Oh my goodness mother, I had absolutely no idea!"

Phoebe stopped gawking at her possibly insane daughter and turned to Clementine. "Make that three budding actresses," she said, as she pointed to Emma.

"Don't forget Megan," says Mrs. Hawthorne, winking at her. "She's quite the dish."

Everybody laughs at her little joke, except Megan, who glares stonily at her pizza.

"But Jess is the main course," says Cassidy, mumbling the words through a mouthful of pizza. Mrs. Sloane frowns and shakes her head sternly.

"Are you shaking your head at her disgusting table manners or at her rudeness, Aunt Clementine?" asked Stewart.

"Both. Definitely both," Clementine answered.

Cassidy scowled. "Nice, Chadwick. Ganging up on me with my own mother. Very nice," she said.

Cassidy chews vigorously and swallows, then opens her mouth wide to show her mother that it's empty. Mrs. Sloane throws her hands in the air. "I give up," she says, and all the parents laugh.

"Because we feel like that every day. You're just the one who says it the most often," said Calliope, who patted Clementine's shoulder.

We talk for a while more, and then it's time to leave. I'm driving with the Sloanes, and as we head for their minivan, my legs feel like lead. I'm very, very glad that I didn't eat much. When we talked on the phone this morning, Mom said everybody feels this way right before a performance, but that once I get out onstage it'll be fine. I find that hard to believe. Impossible, in fact.

At school, I follow Mrs. Sloane to a classroom that's been set up for hair and makeup. She volunteered to be in charge of all that.

"Why don't you change into your costume for the first scene and then I'll work my magic," she tells me, plugging in a curling iron.

I head for the girls' room, and by the time I return she's putting the finishing touches on the Fab Four.

"I hate this costume so much," says Mean, examining herself in the mirror. She's wearing a black bodysuit, and she's sandwiched between two huge round pieces of cardboard that have been spray – painted gold. Becca, Ashley, and Jen are dressed the same, except that Becca's cardboard cutouts are in the shape of a cup, and Ashley's and Jen's are a knife and fork.

"Nonsense, you girls look greats," Mrs. Sloane tells her. "Just the way royal dishes should look."

Megan makes a face at herself in the mirror. Becca, Ashley, and Jen do the same.

"Monkey see, monkey do," I mutter.

"You mean, 'Wannabee see, wannabee do,'" Cassidy smirked.

Emma pokes her head in the door. "Warm – up in five!" she calls, then disappears again.

Mrs. Sloane turns to me. As she starts curling my hair, another head pops in through the doorway. It's Zach Norton.

"Is it safe to come in?"

Mrs. Sloane nods.

He crosses the room and hands me a single red rose. "This is for you," he says shyly. "Good luck tonight. I mean, break a leg."

"That was a really sweet thing for Zach to do for you Jess," Emma said, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

"Yeah, it was adorable," said Megan, who had picked up on the game quickly.

"More like charming," Becca said, with a small smile.

The girls watched as the scowl on Darcy's face became more and more pronounced with each comment. Jess covered her smile with her hand and struggled to muffle her laughter as she watched her friends taunt her boyfriend.

"Hawthorne, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you want to say something," Cassidy said with a smirk.

"Sorry to disappoint Sloane, but you are wrong. I'm fine," Darcy said, in a tight voice that contradicted his statement.

"You, too, Zach," I reply. "Thanks." In the mirror's reflection I can see the Fab Four watching us. Megan looks like she's wishing the floor would open up and swallow me up. Too bad, I think. It's her own dumb fault that Zach is keeping his distance. She shouldn't have let Becca read Emma's poem at the rink.

"I don't know why I didn't realize that until much later," said Megan.

Zach tugs on one of my long blonde ringlets. "Nice look."

"Thanks," I say again.

"What is with all these compliments? He's already told you how nice you look already. No need to do it multiple times," Darcy grumbled as he finally caved.

"So are you saying that you wouldn't compliment me multiple times?" Jess asked her boyfriend.

Darcy shook his head. "No. I'm saying that I'm the only one who is allowed to compliment you multiple times," he said as he pulled her close to his side.

Michael cleared his throat just as it looked like his daughter and her boyfriend were about to kiss, making Darcy visibly jump about an inch away from Jess. Michael pointed to himself and his wife when Darcy turned to look at him.

Darcy backtracked on his previous statement and said, "Except for your dad and the rest of your family," he said.

"Now Darcy, you can't leave out little old us," said Emma. The four girls looked up at the guy who was like a big – brother to them with innocent smiles and puppy – dog eyes.

Darcy gave in and sighed, "Fine, your friends can do it too."

"Aren't you forgetting someone Darce?" Stewart asked with a devious smile on his face.

"I know what you're thinking Stewart and no I will not let the boyfriends of my sister and her friends compliment my girlfriend several times," Darcy emphasized.

Stewart smirked. "Now we know that you are definitely not a mind – reader Darcy. Speaking as the brother of one of Jess's friends, I was thinking that it would be unfair if you were to exclude the families of her friends. I think all of them would be very upset if you were to do that. Especially the fathers," Stewart commented nonchalantly.

Darcy gulped and then threw his hands in the air. "Fine! I give up. Anyone in this room and their families get to praise Jess as much as they want," he caved, as he sat back against the sofa with his lips in a pout.

Jess asked the question that was on her mind since the taunting began. "Do you guys do this to him because it's just too easy?"

"Yes," Cassidy, Emma, Becca, Megan, Stewart, and her dad answered, all of them looking unrepentant.

Jess shook her head at her dad and friends. She turned to look up at her boyfriend who had the beginnings of a scowl on his face and his arms crossed over his chest, looking more like 5 than 17. "If it helps, I feel giddy whenever you sweet-talk me," Jess said, trying to pacify her boyfriend.

"It does actually," said Darcy, bending down to kiss his sweet girl on the forehead.

As he turns to leave, Calliope Chadwick barges into the room. She grabs Becca by the arm and hauls her over to Mrs. Sloane.

"My daughter needs more glitter!" she orders.

Mrs. Sloane puts down the curling iron. "I think Becca has enough glitter on her face," she replies.

"The audience will hardly be able to see her! I want her to shine!"

"Becca would shine brighter than a disco ball if I put anymore glitter on her Calliope," said Clementine.

"Don't forget that Becca only has a supporting role, Calliope," says Mrs. Sloane, smiling sweetly. "Members of the chorus aren't supposed to outshine the star."

Becca goes back over to join her friends, and Mrs. Chadwick casts a sour glance at me. Behind her, the door opens and my father comes in. "Star?" she says to Mrs. Sloane. "Ha! From what I've heard, the casting of this play was influenced by favoritism, and I plan to speak to the school board about it. Giving lead roles to hoity–toity girls from some ramshackle farm who think they're something special just because they're in some ridiculous book club, and just because their mothers happen to be acting in some ridiculous soap opera, is no way to run a drama department."

"And now what do you think Calliope?"" Shannon asked in an ultracalm voice that was eerily similar to her husband's.

Calliope hung her head and looked down at her lap. "You can't imagine how sorry I am for everything that I have said," she said, bringing her eyes up to meet Shannon's and then Jess's. "I made assumptions on the basis of rumors and I did not stop to think."

"Too right," muttered Shannon.

Calliope's lips twitched. "But I hope you can accept my apology, Shannon," she continued.

Shannon thought for a moment and decided that if her husband and daughter could forgive Calliope for what she said, then so should she. Hanging onto a grudge years later didn't help a soul. She sighed internally. I sometimes wish Jess wasn't so good at hiding her feelings, she thought wryly. "Apology accepted, Calliope," she said.

"That ramshackle farm, as you call it, has been around since the Revolutionary War," my father says quietly. Mrs. Chadwick whirls around, surprised to see him there. "In case you've forgotten, Calliope, Paul Revere himself took shelter there with one of my ancestors, while your in-laws were busy turning traitor."

The Revolutionary War is a sore spot with Mrs. Chadwick, whose husband's family sided with the British.

"That's code for: Don't bring it up every time the two of you are within hearing distance of each other," Jess said, chastising her sheepish father and Aunt Calliope.

"And from what I've heard," my father continues in that ultracalm voice he uses when he's furious, "your daughter got just the role she deserved. I hear she's pretty good at dishing out unkindness."

"Punny, Uncle Michael. Very punny," Becca snorted.

"Thank you Becca, I thought so too," said Michael.

Mrs. Chadwick's mouth pops open in an angry O. Before she can say anything, Mrs. Sloane slaps something into her hand. "You want glitter?" she says frostily. "Take the glitter. Just remember, though, all that glitters is not gold. And that includes dancing tableware."

"You tell her Mom," Cassidy cheered.

Mrs. Chadwick gives a wounded sniff, draws herself up with as much dignity as she can muster, and waddles off. Her attempt at a grand exit is spoiled, however, by her large bottom, which wags behind her like a reproachful buffalo.

"Don't pay attention to that old battleax," my father tells me once she's out of earshot.

Just as Jess and her father open their mouths to apologize, Calliope holds up a hand to stop them. She shakes her head and smiles to show that she understood what they were trying to do. The three then settle back to listen to Courtney.

"You earned this role fair and square. And besides that, you look like a princess!"

I give him a sidelong glance. "Princess Jess of Ramshackle Farm?"

Mrs. Sloane laughs. "That's the spirit."

"Is Sundance okay?" I ask my father.

He nods. "You bet. She's in her crate in the back of the truck."

"Who's Sundance?" asks Mrs. Sloane, winding another strand of my hair around the curling iron.

"My pet goat," I explain. "She was at the vet's."

Across the room, I hear the Fab Four burst into laughter. I don't even have to look at them to know they're talking about me. Goat Girl, they're saying. I feel my face grow hot.

"Being embarrassed doesn't help anything Jess. You need to be proud that you're our Goat Girl," said Megan.

My dad gives me a kiss and tells me to break a leg, and then it's time for warm-ups and a pep talk by Mrs. Adams. As we take our places backstage, Emma peeks through the curtains. "It's filling up!" she reports. I pace back and forth, wiping the palms of my hands on my dress and trying in vain to control the wild thudding of my heart.

The prelude starts and Emma shoves a book into my hands. I stare at it blankly.

"Your prop for the first scene, remember?" she whispers.

I try and recall the first scene. I can't. I try and recall my first line – nothing! I grab her arm, panicked.

"You're gonna be great," she reassures me, and races off.

"It was my job to raise the curtain or I would have stayed to help you with your nerves," said Emma.

The curtain rises and the audience claps enthusiastically when they see our elaborate stage set – the painted wooden houses and storefronts of a small French village. I peer out from the wings and spot my father and my brothers sitting next to Darcy and Emma's parents in the front row, right where they said they'd be. I look around for my mother, just in case maybe she decided to surprise me, but she's nowhere in sight.

The underlying tension in the room between mother and daughter was brought out again.

"You have no idea how awful it was to know that you were not out there in the audience," Jess said, not wanting to make her mother feel even more upset but she couldn't hold anything back now that she had let it all out.

Shannon was thinking about how it wouldn't have been too hard to come down to Concord from New York to surprise her daughter. She could have seen her baby on stage instead of being at the awards show.

The first number begins and Mrs. Adams pokes me in the back, my cue for my entrance. I take a deep breath and wander out onstage, pretending to read a book like I'm supposed to. I focus on the music and try to ignore the audience. The stage fright will pass, I tell myself grimly. Mom promised.

"But I wasn't really putting much stock in your promises," Jess said, looking up at her mother. "For example, you promised that you would come back to Concord after three months. You broke that promise by staying for a whole year. You said that you would come to my performance. And guess who decided to cancel at the last minute," she said, with a cutting edge to her voice. "Forgive me, but at the time I wasn't eager to believe in anything that you promised," Jess said. She stood up and mumbled an excuse before storming out to the Hawthornes' backyard, slamming the door behind her. Pip jumped off of Emma's lap and went through the doggie – door to follow Jess.

Everyone was stunned into silence until Darcy spoke up. "Aunt Shannon, you need to go talk to her."

"I don't think that's a good idea Darcy," Shannon replied faintly. "In case it wasn't obvious enough, I don't rank high on the list of people she wants to see right now."

"Shannon, I think it would be good for both you and Jess to talk to each other. Dancing around the topic will only make things worse," Michael said to his wife.

Shannon sighed and stood up. "I suppose you're right. I'll go talk to her" she said and went through the back – door. Closing the door behind her, Shannon looked around to find her daughter sitting under a tree with Pip in her lap. Jess petted the little dog as she stared off into space, not noticing whenever he slobbered all over hand.

Shannon went to sit in front of her daughter. Jess turned to look at her and looked back down at the dog in her lap. "I have always valued your opinion Mom, even more so once I started performing. So when you didn't come down to see the play, it hurt. A lot. Because I thought that you didn't think it would be anything great so you decided to just not come," Jess finished with a few tears running down her face.

Shannon scooted over to her daughter and gave her a hug, just as she did whenever Jess had fallen down while learning to ride a horse. The two were quiet for a moment before Shannon spoke. "I never meant to hurt you, Jess but that is what I ended up doing anyway. To you, your brothers, and your dad. I was so busy thinking about me and about having the fame that I never got when I was younger that I didn't stop to think about the four of you," she said morosely.

With a great sigh, Shannon continued, "I was proud of you when you didn't complain all the while that I was in New York and I was proud of you when you had the courage to audition for the play. Never doubt that I am not proud of you Jess. I made a very big mistake and I give my word that from now on I will never break another promise to my family and friends. I am really sorry Jess and I hope you could forgive me."

Jess was silent for a while as she pondered it over while looking up at the sky. "It depends," she finally said.

"On what?" he mother asked.

"If you can forgive me for all the shouting and awful things that I said today," said an ashamed Jess.

"Already forgiven and forgotten," Shannon replied, moving to hug her daughter again. The two sat together under the tree and talked for a while until they realized that it was ten o' clock at night. Mother and daughter jumped up, fixed themselves to hide that they were crying, and came back into the room with smiles on their faces. Pip ran back to his place in the middle of the circle of girls on the floor, while Jess and her mom went back to their seats.

"Everything good girls?" Michael asked as he put his arm around his wife.

"Everything's great, dad," Jess replied as her mom nodded her head in agreement.

Everyone in the room was happy that the two had worked this out and could go back to normal now. Courtney continued the chapter.

Amazingly, astonishingly, she was right. As soon as I open my mouth and begin to sing, suddenly I'm not me anymore, and this isn't the stage at Walden Middle School in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been transported to a village in France, and I am Belle. I have actually become her. Jess – shy, tongue-tied Jess, is someplace far, far away. There's only the music and me and the audience, who is hanging on my every note.

I'm soaring.

"I loved it," said Jess, as she remembered how it felt to be on stage for the first time. "It was exactly like flying and never wanting to come back down."

Is this how it is for Mom, a distant part of my mind wonders? Does she feel this way when she's acting too? This alive? Is this why she had to leave Half Moon Farm? To feel this incredible feeling again? But this isn't the time or place for such thoughts and I shove them away, forcing myself to concentrate instead on the action onstage.

"It was one of the better reasons for going back to acting," Shannon said.

We're almost through the first act when it happens. Right at the end of a big, rousing number the one where the dishes and furniture from the Beast's castle break into song for Belle. I don't notice that all the dishes aren't there, that a certain cup has disappeared offstage, and I don't notice the commotion a short while later in the wings when the cup returns. I hear a ripple of laughter from the audience and assume it's because of the tableware cancan line. That always gets a laugh.

But the ripple becomes a tidal wave and the music grinds to a halt and I turn around to see a goat skitter across the stage.

"Sundance?" I whisper, incredulous. "How did you get out of the truck?"

My pet's left foreleg is wrapped tightly in a white bandage and she's limping. She spots me and comes trotting over.

"Maaaa – aaaa," she bleats.

The audience hoots with laughter.

Sundance butts her head softly against me. "Maaaa – aaaa," she bleats again, her sweet little voice muffled by the fabric of my long dress. But it can't muffle her fear. She's scared by all the lights and people.

"You're lucky that nothing worse happened to Sundance, or I don't think I would have ever forgiven you," Jess said to Megan and Becca, who had not stopped to think about the repercussions of letting Sundance out on stage.

"Goat Girl," calls Megan in a stage whisper, and she and the Fab Four start to laugh. So does the rest of the cast. Mrs. Adams chooses this unfortunate moment to rush onto the stage waving her clipboard, which startles Sundance. Sundance takes off again, and pretty soon all the boys in the cast are chasing her and all the girls are scattering, their squeals blending with my pet's frantic bleats.

"Leave her alone!" I cry. "She's scared!"

"She's not used to being around many people," said Jess. "I wasn't kidding when I said that she was scared. It took me a couple of hours to calm her down once we got home."

No one can hear me above the pandemonium. No one but Sundance, that is. She tries to dodge a couple of villagers to reach me, but one of them grabs hold of her tail as she darts past and she stumbles and falls.

"You're hurting her! Stop it!" I scream.

"That guy is lucky that I don't remember what he looks like," growled Jess, who was protective of the animals and people that she considered her own.

"Go, Goat Girl!" cries Becca, and she and the Fab Four break into an impromptu cancan. The audience loves it. No one's paying the least bit of attention to me.

"Thank god for that," Jess said. "That was the most preferable option just then."

It's Darcy Hawthorne who saves the day.

"My knight in shining armor," Jess said softly as she held Darcy's hand.

"Always," Darcy whispered back to her, doing his best to comfort her.

He jumps up onto the stage from the front row just as Sundance wobbles back up onto her legs and makes another bid for freedom. Standing quietly till she scoots past, he throws his coat over her and whisks her up in his arms.

I rush over to them both, sobbing.

"It's okay, Jess, it's okay," Darcy assures me. "I've got her – she's safe."

"You could not imagine how much better I felt after I heard you say that," Jess said, leaning back against Darcy's knees from her spot on the floor.

Mrs. Adams gestures frantically at Emma and the backstage crew and the curtain comes down, mercifully concealing my humiliation from the flabbergasted audience.

And as it does, all I can think is, I'm so glad my mother wasn't here to see this.

"I was half glad and half not so glad," said Jess.

Courtney closed the book. "That was the end of the chapter."

Nick looked at his watch and said, "How about we read one more chapter and then all of us can head home? We'll be back here tomorrow at about nine in the morning."

The occupants of the room agreed. Stanley took the book from Courtney. "I'll read next," he said.


A/N: Hey guys! This is a little later from when you expected me to post again but life really got in my way. And it wouldn't move. First it's all the stuff that I needed to get ready for college applying, then regular schoolwork, and then my family. Now some important announcements:

To Maya who got the right answer for the question that I posted for chapter 4: Congratulations! You get to pick the next day that I update this story! Either leave a review or send me a PM. The only requirement is that the date has to be in December. Note: I realize that I made a mistake earlier and should have told you to put the answer to the question and your date of choice in the review. I will remember that for future use, but for now I request my readers that if you are not the Maya who answered the trivia question then please do not come forward and claim that you are. Everyone has a chance at the trivia question and it would be unfair if you were to steal someone else's prize. Good things happen to those who do good, but bad things happen to those who do bad.

Will be working a lot on my writing during Thanksgiving Break so you'll hopefully be seeing more of me soon.

Also tons of prayers and blessings to everyone who got hit by Hurricane Sandy. We are all hoping and praying that things will get better.

I have been keeping up with review replies so if you sent me a review and I have not replied yet, I'm really sorry.

A ton of love to all of the readers and reviewers who have continued to support me! Every single one of you has helped me through the writer's block I had for this chapter and you all make me happy to be a writer. Thank you so much once again!

That's all for now, so I hope you enjoyed the chapter and I'll see you all soon.

Love from,

ree