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Chapter 9

        With all the pleasant distractions of the holiday season behind us, Jennalee and I both took advantage of the relatively uncluttered month of January to put in some extra time on our academic interests. I was proud of her for the dedication she was showing in applying herself to her school classes. Even though schoolwork still wasn't something she embraced nearly at the level of acting, it was clear that the lesson she had learned through her 'Odd Couple' experience about how hard work results in a very positive feeling of accomplishment had spilled over into her approach to regular studying. Her growth as a person was definitely continuing in the new year.
        Jennalee also reported that she was doing independent research into acting in general, and 'Hello, Dolly!' in particular. For the latter, she watched several different performances of the play on YouTube to learn the role better and get ideas for her own portrayal of Dolly.
        For myself, now that I knew what I was going to become someday I plunged into finding as much material as I could (mostly online, but some off as well) about all the aspects of a career in medical research, and about the disciplines I would be studying in college. I wanted to know as much as possible about every facet of my chosen career path before I ever walked into my first college classroom.
        Of course, there was more to January than just studying and research: Jennalee and I found ample time to hang out and have fun during the month as well. Like Jennalee's maturity, our closeness as a couple also continued to grow as time went on. Being together never got old for either of us.
        One very notable event that occurred in January was Jennalee's birthday, which that year fell on the last Sunday of the month. Her mother hosted a party for her during the afternoon, which included our family as well as a few relatives of theirs that lived in the area. Then she and I went out to dinner with Angelica and Dewayne for our own celebration of Jennalee turning eighteen.
        While we were waiting for our food, Jennalee opened her presents from the three of us (mine was an additional present, as I had already given her two others at the family party). Dewayne gave her a suncatcher that featured flowers and a hummingbird, her favorite animal. Angelica had gotten her a purse, the small kind that Jennalee liked but a bit fancier then the one she usually used. I gave her a picture frame that had a movie-making theme, with the space for a 4x6 print surrounded by images of things like an old-time movie camera, a clapboard and a director's chair, as well as actors playing scenes. Inserted in the frame was a glossy print I'd obtained through Mrs. Fletcher of the picture of Jennalee and Angelica, in costume and make-up for 'The Odd Couple,' that had appeared with the newspaper review.
        "You can replace it with one from 'Hello, Dolly' in a few months," I suggested. "Sorry I couldn't find a frame that had a stage theme, but at least it's about some kind of acting."
        "Hey, she'll be doing movies someday too, so it's appropriate," Angelica commented.
        "Well, regardless of that," Jennalee responded, "it's very cool and I love it! Thanks, Michael! You're awesome, as always." She turned to Angelica and Dewayne. "Thanks again to you guys, too," she continued. "I love all my presents. I'm so blessed to have such wonderful friends."
        They both assured her she was very welcome, as did I.
        Later, immediately after we had ordered dessert, Jennalee and Angelica excused themselves to go to the ladies' room, leaving me and Dewayne alone at our table.
        "Michael, can I ask you something?" Dewayne said as soon the girls were gone, looking very thoughtful.
        Though the four of us often hung out together at school and other places, Dewayne and I hadn't hit it off the way Jennalee and Angelica had, or anything close to it. I liked Dewayne, but we just didn't have a whole lot in common. So up to that point we had never had a really serious conversation. Apparently Dewayne wanted to have one now, knowing from experience that our girlfriends always took their time on their restroom breaks.
        "How did a nerd like me end up with arguably the most comprehensively awesome girl on the planet?" I guessed.
        Dewayne chuckled. "Apparently you've already been asked that question."
        "A few times, yeah," I chuckled in return.
        "I did wonder about that for a while," he admitted, "but Jen told the story to Angie, and she told it to me, about how the two of you were best friends for seven years and really knew each other well and liked each other a lot before you became a couple. So that's not what I was going to say. By the way, I never wondered that out of envy or anything, just curiosity. I'm crazy about Angie. She's such an amazing person, so beautiful and talented and smart and cool. I love being with her, and I hope she'll marry me someday. As much as I like and admire Jen, I've never wanted to take your place or anything."
        "Fair enough, and thanks," I said. "So what IS on your mind?"
        "Well," he said, suddenly looking a little uncomfortable, "I just can't help noticing what a great relationship you and Jen seem to have. You're always so supportive of each other and nice to each other, and you never argue. So first of all, I can't help wondering, are you always like that, even in private?"
        "Pretty much, yes," I answered. "I mean, we disagree on little things sometimes, like what movie to watch or what to do when we have some free time, but even then we always resolve the matter quickly. Occasionally we have different opinions about things that happen in the world, but we never let that get in the way of our relationship. On the really important matters we're almost always on the same page. Why?"
        "Well, it's good that you guys get along so well, but it's hard to understand," Dewayne replied. "It doesn't seem normal. I mean, people are different, and you and Jen in a lot of ways are VERY different. According to what everyone has told me, and even more from my own experience with Angie, friction happens between even the most loving people, especially when they're together a lot, which you and Jen obviously are. Making a relationship work is supposed to be all about give and take in those situations, finding compromises that both can live with. I mean, Angie and I usually get along pretty well and enjoy being together, but sometimes we get into it, and I don't always even know exactly why. Something that we disagree on gets blown up more than you would think it should, and we won't even want to talk to each other. Or one of us will just be in a bad mood, and it takes both of us down for a while. Things like that. I wish she and I could get along well more consistently, like you and Jen do. What's your secret, or are you two just the exception that proves the rule?"
        "OK, since you already know our basic story," I responded, "I'll fill in some details to help you understand better. From the day Jennalee and I met there was just something special between us, even though we were very different in some ways. We've always loved being together, and having such a close friendship for so long before becoming a couple is obviously a rare situation. Then, when we DID become a couple, we were both extremely thankful: me, because I had waited so long for us to get to that point; and her, because it took her so long to figure out that she was actually in love with me. It might not have happened at all, and that made both of us really appreciate what we suddenly had. It felt so wonderful that we didn't want that feeling to ever end.
        "It's been about six months now, and we both still feel that way. In fact, just last week Jennalee said something that I really liked. She said she loves how we're in love with being in love. I knew immediately exactly what she meant. It's like an addiction for us. Making each other happy is always so much better than doing something for ourselves, because then we're each making both of us happy at the same time. It feels so good we don't want anything to ever get in the way of that feeling. That actually pre-empts most arguments completely, because an argument is usually a clash of individual priorities. Since Jennalee and I have both made each other our permanent number one priority, we both always want to work out any disagreement as quickly as possible, so our closeness and happiness don't get disrupted. That's always so much more important to us than anything else.
        "As far as us being opposites in many ways, that actually benefits our relationship because our strengths and weaknesses match up so well against each other. We help each other be better in the ways each of us need it most. I'm so much better a person than I ever would have been without her, and she'd tell you the same about me. We have sort of an ideal symbiotic relationship."
        "Symbi-" Dewayne started to say, looking and sounding like he was going to ask what it meant. Then he suddenly smiled. "Oh, yeah, I remember about that. It's like that fish that cleans sharks, right?"
        "The remora, correct," I affirmed. "It cleans parasites off of the shark, and also gets leftover food from anything the shark eats. So the remora gets fed, and the shark stays cleaner and healthier. There are many such relationships in nature, like the plover bird and the crocodile, or bees and flowers. We humans actually have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria that live in our digestive tracts."
        "All right, I get the point," Dewayne interrupted. "Jen was right, you really ARE a walking search engine, aren't you?"
        "I guess so, to some extent," I chuckled. "I'll take that as a compliment, by the way; and I'm sorry, I didn't mean to go into a lecture there. The point is, Jennalee and I have that kind of relationship in terms of our differences; but an even bigger component for us is how well we know each other. Over time Jennalee and I have learned what makes each other happy or angry or sad, how to build each other up, how to not annoy each other, when to say something and when to hold it in. Eventually we even learned how to interpret each other's moods, body language and words, so that sometimes it's almost like we can read each other's minds.
        "We've also always been each other's refuge when things were going bad. For example, whenever I was getting picked on or feeling lonely, because I was different from the other kids, she could always cheer me up and make me feel better. I would do the same for her when something was getting her down. So a central part of our relationship became being the one person in each other's lives who was always there and always cared. Beyond our parents, I mean, and that's obviously not the same thing. Besides, sometimes we'd have to cheer each other up when we had disagreements with our parents.
        "So we built a relationship as friends that was very deep and enduring. Even during the two years when Jennalee was with Kyle, we still remained each other's 'go-to' friend. Having that attitude and knowledge of each other develop over a period of years has allowed us to enjoy all of the good things about taking our relationship to the boyfriend-girlfriend level with very few of the many ongoing adjustments most couples have to make. Which goes back to my earlier point about why we avoid most disagreements, because that's obviously another reason for that."
        "I guess that makes sense," Dewayne said, "though I think it also supports my idea that your relationship isn't really normal."
        "Well, she and I aren't exactly normal as individuals either, when you come right down to it," I replied with a smile. "However, there's also the fact that even though we're very different in some ways, we also have a lot in common. Our tastes in things like movies and music are very similar, for example. The most important thing, though, is that we're both committed Christians. Faith in Jesus Christ and the whole view of life and the world that come with that are a uniting force for any two people who share it, but especially for a couple. Plus, to top it off, we both believe with all our hearts that God meant for us to find each other and be together. That literally puts everything into a completely different perspective."
        Dewayne gave a little smile and nodded. "That makes even more sense," he agreed. "You and Jen have a lot going for you, and I hope now that I understand better how the two of you do it, that I can put at least some of those things into practice myself with Angie. We're both Christians too, but I don't think we've ever really thought about how much that means for us as a couple. Plus, since we've only been going together since last fall, because she moved here over the summer and we didn't even meet until school started, we haven't had nearly the time to get to know each other that you and Jen have had."
        "I hope it works out for you," I said, "although I would caution you to not get too committed yet to the idea of marrying Angelica. Last summer when Jennalee and I became a couple my parents told us we should take things slow, let our relationship continue to develop before locking ourselves into being together forever. They were wrong in our case because of our unique circumstances, but as a general concept it's very good advice for people our age. In some ways Jennalee and I really are like an exception that proves the rule, and you shouldn't expect yourself and Angie to be able to duplicate everything we have any time soon. It's a process that takes a lot of commitment and time, but you can certainly make that commitment and start putting in the time without any further delay, if that's what you want to do. By doing that you'll not only build a better relationship, but also eventually find out just how long-term compatible you and Angelica really are, whether marriage is really going to be the right thing for you.
        "With that in mind, and if you're really serious about this, you should start working as hard as you can to develop all the aspects of your relationship with her. Make a deliberate decision to always put her first, above yourself and your own interests; and really try to get to know her as deeply as possible. That takes time, obviously, but you should always be moving that process forward as much as you can. Don't just wait for it to happen on its own. You need to know not just what she likes and doesn't like, but what she responds to, both positively and negatively, so you eventually learn how to constantly build her up and avoid as much as possible doing anything to annoy her or bring her down. Whenever she talks to you, listen carefully to everything she says, and process it so you learn more and more about her. Always tell her what you're thinking too, so she can learn as much as possible about you for the same reason. Another important thing is to tell her regularly how much she means to you, how blessed you feel to be with her. If you two are really meant to be together, these things will all bear fruit and make your relationship grow. It takes a lot of time and effort, but as you see from Jennalee and me, it's very worth it!"
        "Thanks, Michael," Dewayne replied. "That's all very good advice, and things I hadn't thought about very much yet. I guess maybe I've been thinking that as a guy I'm supposed to be tough and not get into all that emotional and sensitive stuff. Like when we have an argument, I would feel like I was being weak if I didn't stand my ground, you know?"
        "Well, despite what some might think or say," I commented, "it doesn't make you less of a man to be sensitive to a woman's feelings, or to sacrifice some of your own desires to please her and grow the relationship. A guy can be sensitive without letting himself get pushed around, too. Strong and sensitive CAN go together and work well. Jennalee and I prove that, because we both have pretty strong personalities. It's a dynamic that a couple works out over time, with both learning how to be sensitive to the other."
        "That's another good point I hadn't thought of before," Dewayne nodded. "I really do want to start putting all this stuff into practice. What you and Jen have going is a great basic model for Angie and I to follow, even if we can't follow all of it because our circumstances are different. I'm really glad I talked to you about this, Michael."
        "Glad to be able to help!" I assured him. "Remember, though, I'm only six months into having my first girlfriend, so I don't pretend to have all the answers by any means. I just know what works so well for me and Jennalee, and I don't see any reason why those basic principles couldn't be applied by you or anyone else to their own relationship, with positive results. So take what I've said for whatever you think it's worth, and feel free to ask follow-up questions any time, if you want to."
        "Thanks again!" Dewayne responded, then paused for a moment. "Still, though," he continued, "I just can't help but think that sooner or later you and Jen are going to get into a major disagreement about SOMETHING. I still believe that no relationship is perfect."
        "Well, those are separate questions, of course," I replied. "I would never claim that Jennalee and I have a perfect relationship, by any means. It's just that the good things we have together are SO good that when we do have a disagreement, it seems inconsequential by comparison. The thing is, though, we're still in high school now. Our lives are relatively simple, and we still have enough space to live our own lives and follow our own interests in addition to all the things we do as a couple. Later on, when we're married and living together and have bills to pay, and especially when we have kids, there'll be a lot more opportunities for us to disagree about things, and more general stress potential as well. That's when-"
        As I was speaking, Dewayne's eyes suddenly shifted to my left, and he sat up a little straighter.
        "Here come the girls," he whispered urgently, interrupting me.
        "Hi, boys!" Angelica said cheerfully as she reached her seat. Then she looked into Dewayne's face for a moment, and her forehead crinkled a bit. "Were you talking about us?" she asked.
        I jumped in before Dewayne could respond.
        "Well, of course we were!" I exclaimed with an expression of mild astonishment. "Dewayne and I are blessed enough to have two of the most wonderful ladies in the world as our girlfriends! Why WOULDN'T we talk about you?"
        Angelica chuckled. "Aw, that's so sweet!" she said, smiling at me. "Thank you!" Then she turned back to Dewayne, and her smile vanished. "Why don't YOU say nice things like that?" she asked as she sat down.
        Dewayne gave me a quick glance, then took Angelica's hand.
        "I agree with Michael," he said in a sincere tone, following my lead as I'd hoped he would, "and if I haven't said enough how much I love you and how lucky I feel to be your boyfriend, I'm sorry. I'll do better from now on."
        As he spoke, Angelica's eyes widened a bit in surprise. When he had finished she looked at me, then back at Dewayne. Finally she turned to Jennalee and smiled.
        "You know, I think we need to leave these two alone more often!" she commented. Then she faced Dewayne again. "Thank you, I appreciate you saying that; and I love you too."
        I looked at Jennalee, and she was smiling at me. It was a smile that said, I'm so proud of you! as clearly as if she had spoken the words. She was perceptive enough to understand that Dewayne and I had had a significant conversation while she and Angelica had been gone, and that the exchange the two of them had just had was the first fruits of it.
        Moments later the server arrived with our desserts. While we were all eating, Dewayne continued to treat Angelica with a new level of affectionate attention, and she responded in kind. For a while they seemed to forget that Jennalee and I were also at the table, and neither of us minded that development at all.
        Later, on the drive home (after we had dropped off Angelica and Dewayne), Jennalee asked about what had happened between Dewayne and me, and I related the primary points of our conversation. By the time I had finished we had arrived at my house.
        "That was really nice of you," she said, reprising her proud smile from the restaurant, just before she opened the car door. As we came together behind the car to begin our walk across the street, she continued, "Of course, you're the best teacher I've ever known, and you always try to be helpful, so it doesn't surprise me at all that you did that; but thanks, because you could see that it made a difference between them right away. All through dessert and afterwards Dewayne was acting more loving and attentive toward Angelica than I've ever seen him do before, and Angie was responding to it like it was a dream come true. She looked so happy, and I'm really happy for her!"
        "Wow, I wasn't thinking when I was talking to Dewayne that part of the result would be to make YOU happy, but I'm glad it worked out that way!"
        "Well, Mom says that being nice is like throwing a stone into a pond," Jennalee replied. "You never know how far the ripples are going to go."
        "Very true!" I agreed. "In any case, I guess you can consider that an extra, unintended birthday present. So happy birthday again!"
        "Thanks!" she chuckled. "It was a really good one! Especially since I'm eighteen now, and in the year ahead I'll be graduating high school, and starting college..." She paused long enough to wrap her arm around my waist and snuggle herself into me as we walked. "...and getting ENGAGED!" she concluded significantly.
        "Yeah, I suppose that could happen," I conceded with a smile as we arrived on her porch. We said and kissed our goodnights, and then she went inside, smiling at me as she closed the door.
        As I walked back across the street, thoughts of my eventual proposal to Jennalee were on my mind.
        There was a lot there to think about.

Chapter 10

        A few days later Dewayne and I, for the first time, hung out together without our girlfriends. Our conversation at the restaurant turned out to be the beginning of a genuine friendship between us, as well as a new era of growth in Dewayne's relationship with Angelica. Before long I considered Dewayne to be the closest male friend I'd ever had.
        On the Wednesday following Jennalee's birthday, Mrs. Fletcher came up to Jennalee and me at school as we were on our way to the cafeteria for lunch.
        "Hi Jen, Michael!" she said happily. We stopped so she could talk to us. "Just wanted to update you on what's going on with the musical, Jen. Miss O'Neill and I have talked to each of the choirs together this week, telling the members that we're doing 'Hello, Dolly!' to follow up on the success of our Fall Play. I assured them that with you and Angie on board again it would be another quality show, particularly since you were also going to serve as an additional acting coach for the production, and we just needed to get enough volunteers, especially boys, to play parts and share the stage with you. Long story short, between the two choirs there was enough interest expressed that we should definitely be able to fill out the cast and chorus without any problem. So my gamble paid off! I can't wait to see you play Dolly, Jen!"
        "I'm glad it seems to be working out," Jennalee replied, "but I insist that there be auditions for Dolly Levi just like for the rest of the parts. I want to earn my part like everyone else."
        "I admire your sense of fair play," said Mrs. Fletcher. "I was, of course, planning to include Dolly in the auditions, just to follow proper procedure. I don't see how anyone could possibly beat you out, though. The only other girl I know of in this school who is even remotely close to you in acting ability is Angelica, and as I'm sure you already know, she wants to play Irene. I'll be fair, though, even though I'm dying to see what you would do with that role!"
        "Thanks, Mrs. Fletcher," Jennalee responded. "I hope you're right, 'cause I know playing Dolly would be a lot of fun!"
        "Thank YOU, Jen," Mrs. Fletcher replied. "I'll be posting the audition notice by the end of the week. Oh, by the way, because of how well attended our shows were last fall, I've convinced the powers that be to add a second weekend of performances this time. We're also going to try to get the paper in the Big Town to send someone to see it opening night and write a review, in addition to the reviewer from our own paper. The review of 'The Odd Couple' from our paper last fall will hopefully convince them that our production of 'Hello, Dolly!' will be an event worth covering. If we can get any decent amount of traffic from the Big Town for this we should be able to get good audiences for all of the performances. So, all in all, everything's really coming together." Then she took a deep breath and gave a little fist pump. "This is so great! Doing 'Hello, Dolly!' is a dream come true for me, and Miss O'Neill is excited about being vocal director for it too. This show is going to be awesome, I can feel it! Take care, Jen, Michael!"
        Jennalee and I simultaneously bid her farewell as she began to move away.
        "For a second there I thought she was going to break into a happy dance," Jennalee chuckled as we resumed our walk to the cafeteria.
        I laughed. "I can almost picture it," I said. "ALMOST! I don't really want to go there."
        Jennalee laughed fairly loudly in response to that, causing a few heads to turn as we joined the lunch line.
        On Friday the audition notice was posted, as well as calls for volunteers to help with costumes, make-up, building sets, and being stagehands for the show. By the following Friday, Mrs. Fletcher had reported that the various crews had been adequately staffed, and that there were enough singers willing to be non-speaking chorus members and dancers where needed. So all that remained was the main casting.
        That second Friday also happened to be the first Valentine's Day for me and Jennalee as a couple, and we celebrated by going to a very nice restaurant in the Big Town for a fancy meal. Before we left we sat down on the love seat in her living room and exchanged our presents and cards.
        Jennalee gave me a custom wall clock she'd had made that had a picture on the face of the two of us kissing, with the caption:

'Michael and Jennalee:
No such thing as
too much time together!'

        "Very cool!" I laughed after I had unwrapped it. "I love it! I'm going to put it up on my wall as soon as I get back home later. Thanks! I remember now on Christmas morning when your mom was taking pictures, how you wanted to make sure she got one of us kissing. You were so casual about it I never guessed you had an ulterior motive."
        "Well, I wanted to have that picture anyway," she responded, "but yes, I was thinking ahead to today and this present too. I'm glad you like it!"
        Then Jennalee opened my present: a silver bracelet formed with alternating hearts and crosses, which I thought was an ideal gift for a Christian guy to give his girlfriend on Valentine's Day.
        "Oh, it's beautiful! Thank you so much!" she exclaimed, and started putting it on. I immediately helped her with the clasp. When it was securely around her right wrist she continued to look at it, and then declared, "I'm going to wear it all the time! Thanks again!"
        "You're welcome! Glad you like my gift too," I replied. "The first one, I mean."
        "What do you mean, 'first one?'" she asked. Then she noticed that there was a folded sheet of paper inside the box that had contained the bracelet, and she picked it up. "What's this?" she continued as she unfolded the paper.
        "It's a poem I wrote for you," I said softly, with a shy smile. "Please keep in mind that I'm an emerging scientist, not a poet. It may not be great verse, but it's from the heart."
        She began reading the poem silently to herself:

'Forever and Ever
by Michael Davis
for Jennalee Morgan

They say that all good things must come to an end,
but I know for sure that's not true.
Though this life will pass, we have souls that will last,
and live with God always like new.

Because we're together I have a great life,
but this life is only the start.
In Heaven we'll share all that God gives us there,
and eternally you'll own my heart.

Forever and ever you'll have all my love.
and I know I'll have your love too.
We won't ever end, for I know that I'll spend
forever and ever with you.'

         When she finished reading there were tears in her eyes, and she looked at me with a smile that expressed large amounts of both love and astonishment.
         "You really wrote this?" she asked emotionally. "It's GOOD! I mean, maybe it's not Elizabeth Barrett Browning level, but I'm CRYING I'm so moved! I had no idea you could do something like this!"
         "Well, I promised you last summer that I would find ways to be romantic," I reminded her. "I figured if I could write even a halfway decent poem, that would qualify."
         "It certainly does," Jennalee agreed, "and this one's much better than just halfway decent! You've found a lot of ways to be romantic since you promised, but this has to be your best one yet! Thank you so much, Mikey! You just never stop amazing me!" She set the paper down, put her arms around my neck and gave me a long, tender and affectionate kiss. When it ended she leaned back again and looked at me.
         "You know what's really cool?" she pointed out. "How we both had the same basic idea with our presents, that no amount of time together can ever be too much for us."
         "Good observation!" I agreed. "I'm so glad to know that you feel that way too."
         "Of course I do!" she replied with a little chuckle, taking my hand in both of hers. "Thanks for everything you do that makes it impossible for me NOT to feel that way! Thanks again for the poem and the bracelet too."
         "Thank YOU for the clock, and for everything," I responded. "Most of all, just for loving me." I gently touched her cheek. "Forever and ever, right?"
         She gave me her biggest, most beautiful smile.
         "Forever and ever!" she confirmed.
         And I could tell we both knew it was true.

Chapter 11

        Auditions for the speaking parts in 'Hello, Dolly!' were on the following Monday. Jennalee, of course, had been working hard all the previous week on polishing her audition scene, even though there was little question she was going to get the role. Angelica and Dewayne (who was trying out for Horace, the most prominent male role in the play) got together with us a couple of times so the three of them could practice and help each other (which turned out to be mostly Jennalee coaching the other two). The three of them all wanted me to be there too, so I could give my general impression of their performances. I didn't think my opinion of their acting was worth much, but they were interested in it anyway. Jennalee, of course, always valued my judgment, and Angelica and Dewayne had shown a significantly higher general regard for me as a person ever since Jennalee's birthday and my conversation with Dewayne. In any case, I thought they were all doing very well and would have no trouble getting the parts they wanted.
        On audition day we all went to the school theater together after our last classes (I tagged along just for the chance to spend some extra time with Jennalee, of course). Angelica, Dewayne and Jennalee each had an audition form that they had prepared in advance. There were about twenty people in all gathered in the waiting area, the majority of them girls, when Mrs. Fletcher came out to let her assistant at the registration table know that she was ready to begin. She paused for a moment, glancing at the turnout, then turned and went back into the theater with what appeared to be a look of slight disappointment on her face.
        My three companions were each called in later on in the proceedings, and we were all still in the waiting area discussing their auditions and the show in general when the last person who was auditioning came back out.
        "I want to go talk to Mrs. Fletcher," Jennalee said. So we all went into the theater.
        Mrs. Fletcher was seated at a little table just on the opposite side of the orchestra pit from the stage. She was making notes, and didn't notice us approaching until we had nearly reached the table.
        "Oh, hi kids!" she said, looking up and pausing in her writing. "Sorry, can't give official results now, you'll have to wait until they're posted." She smiled. "But off the record, none of you three needs to lose sleep worrying."
        "That's not why I came in, but thanks!" replied Jennalee. "So, how did it go overall? There didn't seem to be a whole lot of boys here to try out."
        "Yes, I noticed that when I went out right before we started," Mrs. Fletcher replied. "I've got the main parts covered, but it looks like I'll have to double up on a couple of secondary male roles to complete the cast. I saw Stanley the waiter and the judge played by the same person in a school production once, so I guess we can do that. Unless I can find at least one more boy in the next few days with enough talent and willingness to play a part; and be in the chorus too, of course. Our balance is tilted toward the girls at this point, so any extra boys would be good to have."
        Jennalee suddenly turned to me. "Michael, why don't YOU do it?" she said excitedly. "All the times you've helped me practice you did a good job reading parts. With some help from me I bet you could be a good enough actor for a small role! And maybe you're not a natural singer like me, but you can carry a tune, and that's all you need for the chorus."
        "Jennalee," I replied, smiling with embarrassment, "that's flattering, but you know I have no experience at all with this kind of thing; and all I know about acting is what I've picked up from you."
        "Well, the judge is a non-singing, non-dancing part," Mrs. Fletcher pointed out. "If you could act well enough, that's all you'd need to play him. The chorus dance parts will all be pretty simple, and obviously you don't need to have a great voice, because you'd be singing with the whole group."
        "Best of all," Jennalee added slyly, "you'd be working with me on something I love! Don't you think that would be fun?"
        There were probably a dozen valid reasons for me to say 'no' to being in the play, but the one reason Jennalee had just given me to say 'yes' easily trumped all of them: it would be a LOT of fun to share this experience with her, that was something I couldn't deny.
        "Well, I suppose I have to audition first, right?" I asked softly.
        Jennalee stared at me for a moment, then lit up with joy.
        "You're gonna do it!" she declared, and threw her arms around my neck in a tight hug. "Thank you, Michael, thank you!"
        "I WILL need to have him read, at least, Jen," Mrs. Fletcher put in. "Just so I can see that he has some basic ability to act." She looked at me. "The judge is elderly, so you have to act that way. He only has two short speeches, but they are important ones; especially the second, where he has to be very emotional. Plus, you'll need to be physically reacting to everything that happens during the rest of the scene if you get the part. Think you can handle all that?"
        "Only one way to find out for sure, I guess," I answered. "I'm confused, though: there was no judge character in the movie."
        "The courtroom scene with the judge wasn't used in the movie," Jennalee replied. "I didn't realize at the time we were watching it how different it is from the play in some places. I found that out when I watched those YouTube videos of 'Dolly' performances last month."
        "Ah, I see," I responded.
        Meanwhile, Mrs. Fletcher had picked up a script from her table and flipped quickly through the pages until she found the place she was looking for.
        "OK, here's the courtroom scene," she told me, handing me the script. "The judge's lines are at the beginning and end."
        "Since I'm not familiar with the scene or character, can you give me a few minutes to look at what I'm going to say? These guys had over a week to prepare, after all."
        "Sure, by all means," she replied. "Take your time, I can wait."
        I sat down in the nearest theater seat and focused on the judge's first speech, which opened the scene. I read through it once quickly to get the words into my head, then two more times, going a bit slower and concentrating on exactly how I wanted to say it. Then I flipped ahead, and repeated the process with the second speech at the end of the scene. For that one I also considered how I could work up the emotion I needed - and the obvious answer to that question came to me almost immediately. Finally I closed my eyes, and tried to get myself to think and feel like an elderly judge.
        I stood up and handed the script back to Mrs. Fletcher, noticing at the same time that my companions had taken seats in the front row on the other side of the teacher's table while I'd been preparing.
        "Ready!" I said, with as much confidence as I could muster. Mrs. Fletcher looked at me curiously for a moment.
        "You sure?" she asked in a doubtful tone. "That couldn't have been more than two minutes."
        "Well, I'm as ready as I'm going to be today," I amended. "Do you want me on stage, or can we do it here?"
        "Here is fine," replied Mrs. Fletcher, looking down at the script and then back at me. "Uh...don't you want this?" she asked, holding the script out.
        "No, Ma'am," I answered, shaking my head slightly. "I've got the part memorized."
        Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jennalee give Angelica a little poke with a big smile on her face, the clear message being, How about my boyfriend, huh?
        "Well, I knew you were smart," Mrs. Fletcher said, looking somewhat astonished, "but...well, then, let's do this!"
        I tried to speak just a bit hoarsely, to make my voice sound older, and used a fairly slow, deliberate cadence, which I also thought would suggest an older person. I performed the first speech, where the judge calls the court to order and begins the case. Then I looked at Mrs. Fletcher.
        "Go ahead with the other one, whenever you're ready, Michael," she said.
        I closed my eyes for a moment and silently invoked the emotional stimulus I'd thought of during my brief preparation. With tears in my eyes, I then delivered the second short speech, where the judge dismisses most of the charges after having been moved by the romantic declarations from the various defendants before him.
        I looked again at Mrs. Fletcher. She was smiling.
        "You'll need some work on the delivery of your lines, Michael," she said, "especially with projecting your voice better; but for someone doing their first ever audition that was quite good. The emotion on the second part was actually VERY good, you pretty much have that aspect down already. So, all in all, I'm satisfied that you can handle the role. Congratulations, Michael!"
        Jennalee leaped to her feet, ran over and threw her arms around me again.
        "I'm so proud of you!" she exclaimed. "You HAVE learned something from me about acting!" She released me and turned to Mrs. Fletcher. "And don't worry: I'll have him doing those speeches like a pro by the time we open."
        "I believe you will, Jen!" she replied with a chuckle. "So, we have our cast! Thanks again, and see all of you at rehearsals!"
        We said our goodbyes to the teacher and headed out of the theater.
        "Mrs. Fletcher was right, Michael," Jennalee said as we walked. "Your emotion on the second speech was wonderful. I was surprised you pulled that off so well. How did you do it?"
        "Actually, that was the easiest part," I answered, looking at her with a loving smile. "All I had to do was think back to that moment last summer when we both had tears in our eyes as you told me you loved me for the first time."
        "Awww, really?" Jennalee replied emotionally. "That's so cool! We help each other sometimes even when we're not trying!" She stopped walking so she could give me another big hug. "This is going to be so much fun, you'll see!"

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