Better Than Magic

By Helen R. Nieberl

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    Jill squeezed her eyes shut, then popped them open again. Tree shadows moved across the unfamiliar wallpaper. She wished that morning would come so that she could get the first day at her new school behind her. How she longed to be back at Three Forks! There everyone knew her and she had good friends. But her father’s new job had taken them out of Montana’s January blizzards to the gray curtains of rain in Seattle, Washington.

    If only I could find a magic ring, like the little girl in the fairy tale! Jill thought. Maybe then my wish would come true. She let herself drift back to her dream of deep grass rolling in the wind.

    Awake once more, Jill saw that it was morning. She looked down at her hand—no magic ring.

    “Jill,” her mother called, “time to get up! French toast!”

    Her favorite breakfast. Mom was trying to help. Jill put on her dark blue skirt and white sweater, then pulled a sock over her thin, twisted foot and shriveled leg. Taking her crutch, she swung herself to the stairway and expertly two-stepped her way down.

    “You look very nice this morning,” her mother greeted her. “And see what Great-Aunt Laura sent you. It’s a ‘schoolwarming’ present.”

    By the side of Jill’s plate lay a gold-colored thimble. “Mom! It’s a magic thimble!” She slipped it onto the middle finger of her right hand. It fit perfectly.

    “It may not be magic, Jill, but it’s a nice gift from your great-aunt. Now, drink your orange juice and eat your breakfast while it’s still warm.”

    “OK, Mom, but I’m going to take the thimble with me, just in case.” If it is a magic thimble, she thought, I’ll have at least one wish come true.

    At school the principal, Mr. Pearson, told Jill, “Your teacher is Mrs. Rhodes. I’ll take you up to her class.”

    Jill followed Mr. Pearson upstairs to her classroom. All eyes turned toward her when she and Mr. Pearson went in. Blood rushed to her face and neck. This was the moment she dreaded most—people looking at her and staring at her brace and crutch.

    A slender young woman came forward, and Mr. Pearson said, “This is Jill Oldham.”

    “I’m Mrs. Rhodes, Jill. We’re glad to have you with us. You can sit at this desk here.” She pointed to an empty desk in the front row.

    Morning classes began with math. Although she was good at it, the butterflies came back again as she heard the teacher and the class talking about “sets.” What are they, anyway? she wondered.

    Jill slumped down in her seat, avoiding her teacher’s eyes. Kathy, the dark-haired girl next to her, had her hand in the air constantly, and she snapped her pencil back and forth between her thumb and forefinger. Suddenly Kathy’s pencil slipped out of her hand and landed on the floor, its point broken off. Mrs. Rhodes frowned. Jill hesitated, then offered her pencil box to her classmate. Kathy flashed a pleased smile as she picked out a sharpened pencil.

    Next came social studies. Jill pricked up her ears at mention of the Lewis and Clark expedition. When Mrs. Rhodes asked if anyone could name the three rivers that came together to form the Missouri River, Jill put up her hand.


    “The Madison, Gallatin, and Jefferson rivers.”

    “That’s correct. I understand that you moved here from Montana. Is that how you knew?”

    “Yes. Three Forks, Montana, is near where our family lived. And, besides, my dad named our three cats after those rivers!”

    Mrs. Rhodes smiled, her classmates giggled, and Jill joined in. Then a bell sounded. Recess! The other kids would rush out to the playground, but what would she do? At her old school, she and her best friend used recess to do projects and share secrets. But she didn’t have a best friend—any friends, for that matter—here. She took her crutch and made her way to the end of the recess line.

    “Kathy will you be hostess for Jill today?” Mrs. Rhodes asked. “Show her where the lavatories and the cafeteria are.”

    “Yes, Mrs. Rhodes.” Kathy replied.

    Jill felt her face redden. “You go ahead of me, Kathy,” Jill said. “It takes me longer to go downstairs.”

    “Oh, I’ll stay with you. I don’t mind. I hurt my leg last year when I chased our dog over a ditch, and I had to be on crutches for a while. I know how it is.”

    As Jill made her way down the stairs, Kathy said admiringly, “You sure know how to handle yourself. You’re twice as fast as I was.”

    “Well, I’ve had enough practice.” Jill smiled ruefully.

    On the playground the girls first sat behind the baseball safety fence and watched their classmates play one-up. Then Jill said, “C’mon. Let’s swing. I like to pump high. It makes me feel good.”

    Kathy said, “I like to pump high too. But I didn’t know you could do that.”

    “I can do lots of things,” said Jill. “I can swim and ride a horse and play the piano.”

    “Say, where do you live?” Kathy asked on their way back to class. When Jill told Kathy, her classmate exclaimed, “Hey, we ride the same bus! Only I go four blocks farther. I’m glad you came to our school! I’m still mad at one of the kids on the bus. He called me ‘peg leg’ when I was on crutches. He’d better not say anything to you, or I’ll hit him on the head with my lunch bucket, and he’ll have jelly sandwiches hanging from his ears!”

    Jill laughed. Putting her hand into her pocket, she discovered her great-aunt’s gift. I found something better than a magic thimble, she thought. I found a friend!

    Illustrated by Robyn S. Officer