Nothing But the Best

By Janet Craig James

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    Sitting in the assembly hall with the rest of the sixth-graders, Patty Barnes fixed her eyes on Miss Fletcher as she mounted the platform, paper in hand.

    Today was the day when the pupils from Alma Heights School would hear the complete program for drama night. Not only would there be a play, but the choir would sing and there would be instrumental numbers.

    Patty fidgeted impatiently and twisted a lock of hair that curled around her right ear. She was sure she would be asked to play the sonatina she had been practicing for months.

    “In addition to the play,” Miss Fletcher glanced around the auditorium, “the choir will sing ‘On Wings of Song.’ The boys’ glee club will do three sea chanteys, Ron Bateman will play a violin solo, and Deedee Bates will play a piano solo.”

    Patty gasped so loudly that her friend, Rosalie, who was sitting next to her, gave her a sharp nudge in the ribs. It seemed that Miss Fletcher also heard the gasp of dismay, because, as she concluded her remarks, she looked right at Patty.

    “It isn’t fair,” argued Rosalie loyally, as the boys and girls were dismissed and began to make their way toward the lunchroom.

    Patty could not answer. There was a choking feeling in her throat and she was afraid that if she blinked, the tears would start.

    “Thanks, Rosalie. You go ahead and save a place at the table. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

    As she went back into the classroom to talk with Miss Fletcher, bitter disappointment gave place to anger. She couldn’t believe their teacher was capable of such an injustice.

    “Was there something you wanted to say to me, Patty?” Miss Fletcher asked, looking up from her desk.

    Still smarting from the hurt, Patty answered, “The last time I played in an assembly you were almost sure I would be playing on the program. I don’t see why Deedee was chosen. After all, she hasn’t been—”

    “I know just what you’re going to say, Patty—Deedee hasn’t been going to our school very long, and she has pushed you out of your place.”

    Up until now Patty had never thought of Deedee as a rival. They had even played duets together down in the music room after they had finished lunch.

    But now, thought Patty, I’ll never play another duet with Deedee as long as I live!

    Miss Fletcher was waiting for Patty to say something. “It isn’t fair!” Patty finally declared, “I don’t think it’s fair at all.”

    Miss Fletcher sighed, and then she got up from her desk and motioned to Patty to sit down with her on a little bench by the door while she explained, “When we were planning the drama night, Mr. Lawson said, ‘We want to have the very best program possible.’ That’s why all of the teachers and I decided to have Deedee. Those who have parts in the play were chosen the same way. I know you’re disappointed, Patty, but we all must learn to recognize and appreciate talent, regardless of who has it.”

    “But does Deedee really play better than I do?” Patty questioned, still unwilling to believe the right decision had been made.

    “You play very well, Patty, but Deedee is a remarkable little girl,” said Miss Fletcher. “Someday she will have something wonderful to offer the world, and we must all help her. Do you remember when you were playing the ‘Turkish March’ together that Deedee played the music through only once and that she didn’t need to look at the notes again? But she’s terribly nervous about playing in front of people. That’s where we can all help her. At our drama night she’ll be playing in front of a very sympathetic audience and that should give her confidence.”

    Patty’s heart went down, down, down. She knew within herself that what Miss Fletcher said was true. She hated to admit it, but there was something special about Deedee. Her fingers flew over the keys with scarcely a ripple, and she could make up little tunes right in her head.

    Trying to be a good sport about Deedee’s good fortune, Patty moved toward the door and said, “I guess you’re right. I’ll try to help her.” She wanted to smile at Miss Fletcher, but somehow she couldn’t, so she turned and hurried down the hall.

    It’s funny, she thought, but sometimes when people show you that you’re wrong, you still want to believe that you’re right.

    During the afternoon Patty tried not to resent the fact that all her work on the sonatina had been in vain. She congratulated Deedee, and even felt sorry for her when she saw how frightened she was about the idea of playing in front of an audience.

    Walking home with Rosalie, Patty tried to think of a way to break the news to Mother and Dad, but she didn’t find it nearly as hard as she had expected. She even managed to make a little joke about it.

    Dad gave an exaggerated sigh of relief. “You mean we’re not going to have to go through another week of having you pound out that sonatina?” he teased. Then he put his arm around her shoulder and said lovingly, “Don’t feel badly, Patty. You’re the best pianist in our family.”

    Finally, the drama night came. Patty sat in the audience with her parents and thoroughly enjoyed the choir and the play.

    Then during the intermission, Patty saw Miss Fletcher slowly walking down the aisle and peering along the rows as though she were looking for someone. When she saw Patty, she motioned to her.

    “Oh, Patty, I’m so glad I found you!” Miss Fletcher said when they reached the back of the room. “I need your help. Deedee has gone completely to pieces. I know it’s short notice, but could you play your sonatina for us in her place?”

    “I’ll be glad to,” Patty said without a moment’s hesitation.

    As she followed Miss Fletcher backstage a feeling of triumph swept over her. What a surprise it would be for Mother and Dad when they heard her play.

    Then Patty saw Deedee, white and shaking, standing in the wings. All Patty’s happiness ebbed away. Deedee was something special and Miss Fletcher’s words came back to her, “We must all help her.”

    If Deedee doesn’t learn to play in front of an audience now, she may never be able to do it, Patty thought.

    She walked over to Deedee and put a steady, warm hand over Deedee’s cold one. “Remember the fun we had playing the ‘Turkish March’ together?” she asked. “That’s what we’re going to do, both of us together.”

    For a moment Deedee hesitated, and then she smiled and walked out onto the stage with Patty.

    In a few minutes the audience heard the best piano duetists in the whole school!

    Illustrated by Nina Grover