Click, clickety-click, tip, tap. Maryann and Alice were practicing their tap dance. In two weeks they would put on a show. Every year they got together with their friend Tim to perform for the neighborhood kids.
Maryann’s little brother, Jesse, sat huddled on the cool garage floor, watching them. He wished that he could be in the show too. More than anything, Jesse wanted to bow in front of an appreciative audience.
Suddenly the tapping stopped. “Jesse, what are you staring at?” Maryann asked impatiently.
Jesse wriggled uncomfortably. The cement floor was hard. He barely looked at Maryann as he quietly pleaded, “Couldn’t I pleeease be in your show this year?”
“No way, Jesse. You’re too young.”
“No, I’m not!” Jesse protested. “I just turned eight.”
“What would you do for an act?” Maryann asked.
Jesse looked at the floor. “Well—um—I don’t know.” He looked up pleadingly. “But I know that I could do something.”
“Well,” Tim said, “everyone does something well. Let’s give him a chance to do something.”
Maryann paused to think. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to let him try,” she finally agreed.
Maryann and Alice and Tim worked with Jesse for over an hour, searching for one of his talents. First, Jesse tried singing, but he sounded like a sick bird. Next, he danced. But he was about as graceful as an elephant.
Seeing his embarrassment, Alice gave Jesse an encouraging nod. “Don’t worry, Jesse. We’re not through yet.”
Jesse tried his hand at simple magic, telling jokes, twirling a baton, playing instruments, and reciting poems. He was terrible at all of them.
“So, now do you believe me?” Maryann asked, plainly irritated. “Jesse’s too young. He’s hopeless.”
Jesse fought back his tears, wanting to just disappear. Then Tim said, “Listen, maybe Jesse wasn’t meant to be in front of the curtain. Maybe he could help us more behind it—as a stage manager.”
“What does a stage manager do?” Jesse asked.
“A stage manager opens and closes curtains, turns lights on and off, sets up tables and other props, and tells the performers when it’s time for them to go on stage. It’s a very important job,” said Maryann.
Jesse’s heart sank a little. “Does that mean that I wouldn’t get to take a bow?”
“Sorry, only the performers get to do that,” Maryann replied smugly.
“Hey, what do you say, Jesse?” Alice asked enthusiastically.
“Yeah,” Tim added, “we need a stage manager. Will you do it?”
“Um … OK, I guess. At least I’ll get to be part of the show.”
Learning a job with his sister as boss was hard for Jesse. But he was determined to be a good stage manager. He worked hard and learned fast.
The day of the show finally came. “Get ready, Jesse. The show starts in five minutes,” Maryann whispered from behind the old gray blanket that he had strung up as a curtain.
Jesse checked last-minute details. Boy, oh, boy, I hope I get through this without messing up, he thought. He was really excited as he raised the garage door to start the show.
Everything went perfectly until the last act. As Jesse snapped on the cassette recorder for the tap dance number, nothing happened. No music came out. He saw that the tape reels remained motionless.
Backstage, the girls were frantic. “What are we going to do now?” Maryann shrieked. “The batteries are dead!”
Jesse jumped up. “Can you stall for a couple minutes? I’ll be right back.” He raced out of the garage and into the house. Almost before the girls could blink, he returned carrying several batteries of different sizes. “Some of these must fit,” he said. “I remembered where Dad keeps them on his workbench in the cellar.”
Alice grabbed two size C batteries and popped them into the back of the recorder. The music started. “Jesse, you’re a lifesaver!”
The audience clapped loud and long as the three performers took their final bows. Jesse felt a little jealous as he watched. Suddenly he heard Maryann calling him to come out front.
Shyly Jesse stepped out from behind the curtain. He felt a little embarrassed when Maryann grabbed his hand and put her arm around him in front of all those people! “Ladies and gentlemen,” she announced, “this is my brother, Jesse. We couldn’t have put on this show without him.”
“That’s right,” Alice continued. “He took care of all the important work behind the scenes.”
Tim finished the thanks. “So let’s give a very talented stage manager a round of applause for a job well done.”
Maryann smiled at Jesse. Then she nudged him gently and softly said, “Go on—take a bow. You deserve it.”