“Hurry, Cathy,” Anne called over her shoulder. Her tennis shoes pounded along the side of the road, and her ponytail swished from side to side.
“I am hurrying!” Cathy yelled back, barely three steps behind her. Laughing, they turned away from the road and ran across the gravel parking lot of Mr. Parkins’s Plant Place. Breathing hard, they burst through the front door into the rich smells of potting soil and damp, growing things.
“Well, hello, girls.” Mr. Parkins had a smile in his voice as he looked up from the cash register. “Did you come to work?”
“Yes, please,” Anne said. “Today and tomorrow.”
In the early spring Mr. Parkins often paid the neighborhood children to help transplant seedlings. “Where is your cousin Emmy today?” he asked.
“She went to help Granny,” Cathy said.
“Well, come along.” Mr. Parkins led them through the back door and into one of the long, low greenhouses. “We’re working on the petunias right now. I need all the help I can get. Are you saving up for anything special?”
Anne and Cathy exchanged a secret smile. “Yes,” Cathy answered. “A Mother’s Day present for Mum.”
“I know where you could get her some nice bedding plants at a good price.” Mr. Parkins winked at them.
“So do we!” the girls said together.
At the end of the greenhouse, Mr. Parkins opened another door and led them into another greenhouse. There, long tables were covered with solid flats of young petunia plants. Allen, Tom, and Lance were already working and laughing loudly.
Mr. Parkins stayed only long enough to make sure that the girls knew what to do, and to check on the boys’ work. “I’m sure glad the five of you could come,” he said as he left.
The greenhouse smelled warm and damp. The potting soil was crumbly and moist on Anne’s fingers as she carefully separated the tiny plants. Cathy worked silently beside her, filling each of the tiny container compartments with soil and planting the seedlings. For a long time no one said anything.
Then Lance elbowed Allen and whispered something in his ear. Allen laughed loudly, then whispered in Tom’s ear. Tom snorted.
Anne’s fingers started to shake, and she felt slightly sick. They were doing it again. “I wish Emmy was here,” she whispered to Cathy.
Cathy nodded. “So do I.”
In the next few minutes, Lance stopped whispering and started saying nasty things out loud. Some of it Anne didn’t understand, but she knew that it wasn’t good because of the way it made her feel. Again she wished Emmy was here. Emmy would know what to do. She was as brave as Nephi.
Just last week, Anne and Emmy had been walking home from school with several other girls. The sun was shining, but they all walked with their hands in their pockets, moving quickly to keep warm. Then someone started singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in a really silly way. Everyone laughed and joined in. The next song they sang even sillier, singing high and then low. It was fun until one girl started singing “I Am a Child of God” in the same way. It hadn’t felt funny to Anne anymore. It had given her the same sick feeling then as the bad talk in the greenhouse was giving her now.
But Emmy had known what to do.
“Hey, let’s not make fun of Church songs, OK?” she had said quietly. She made it sound friendly.
The other girls had looked surprised for a moment, but one said, “OK,” and started singing the song the right way.
But Anne wasn’t Emmy, and she didn’t know what to do. She was afraid that if she asked the boys to stop, they’d just get worse. Now they were using words that Anne knew were not right.
She looked over at Cathy. Her sister’s lips were pressed tightly together, and she looked as if she was going to cry.
“Shall we leave?” Anne whispered to her.
“But I want to buy something nice for Mum,” Cathy said quietly.
“Yeah. Me too.” They were silent for a few seconds, trying to not listen to the boys. “Besides,” Anne added, “Mr. Parkins said he needs all the help he can get.”
Cathy nodded and blinked as two tears slid down her cheeks. She tucked her chin down so that Lance, Allen, and Tom wouldn’t know that she was crying.
Anne moved closer to her. She was angry now. It was hard to remember to be gentle with the plants. If only Emmy was here! she thought. If only I knew what to do! Suddenly she had an idea.
Softly, almost too softly to hear, she started humming “A Child’s Prayer.” When Cathy heard the first few notes, she looked up at Anne in surprise. She smiled. By the end of the song, both of them were softly humming together.
The boys were still making ugly jokes, but Anne didn’t feel angry any more. She started humming “I Am a Child of God,” only just a little louder. By the end of that song, Lance was quieter, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. Anne, feeling braver, gave him a big smile as she started singing “Nephi’s Courage” out loud. Cathy joined in, and their two voices echoed sweetly off the walls and ceiling, while the boys’ voices softened to silence.
Anne and Cathy were still singing one Primary song after another when Mr. Parkins poked his head in an hour later. “Sounds good, girls.” He came over to the long table. “Your work is good too. But it’s almost dark—you’d better get on home. I’m glad you’ll be coming back tomorrow—I can always use good, cheerful help.”
Rubbing the soil off their fingers, the children followed Mr. Parkins out of the greenhouses and into the early evening light. Lance, Allen, and Tom scooted past Anne and Cathy.
“Primary babies,” Lance hissed as he went past. Anne just smiled at him again.
The air was cooler now, and goosebumps dotted the girls’ arms, but they didn’t feel cold.
“I feel all warm and happy,” Cathy said, looking up at the pink sky.
“Me, too,” Anne said. “Race you home!”