Quincy had returned from the store to buy a new ladder, which he placed outside the front of the house before he could enter. Penelope shut the door after him, and said, "Well, you're back so soon."
"I just went out to buy a new ladder," Quincy said. "I figured that if I don't do it now, I may regret it all the days of my life."
"Hey, Quincy," Betty Jane said as she, Mary-Anne and Laura waved to him.
"How's she doing?" Quincy asked them in a whisper.
"It's like she's crying about something," Mary-Anne replied. "She couldn't look more peaceful."
Quincy glanced down at his unconscious wife and held her hand. He was examining her soul, trying to find that one way to communicate with her. He got a piece of tissue paper from somewhere and gently wiped the tears off from her eyes. "There we go," he said in a whisper, admiring her even more now than ever. He caressed her hair, and was amazed by how soft to the touch it felt under his fingers. He had forgotten how soft and sweet her hair felt; the last time he ever caressed her hair was at their prom night---oh, and their wedding night as well. He gave her another kiss on the cheek as the memories continued playing around in her head, and gradually entering into his mind as well.......
The next day at Dance practice, everyone showed up to the school gym promptly. Allie and Betty Jane had walked together, and for a whole hour, they did warm-ups and practiced all the moves exactly the way Ms. Hazel had taught them. This time, almost everyone was making quite some progress. On a scale of 1-10, practice was an 8. But the best part of all was, Allie and Mary Beth were getting along better. There was no Esmeralda in sight to ruin anything for anybody.
When it was two minutes to 2:00, Ms. Hazel turned off the radio and said, "My goodness, I must say---I am rather impressed by most of you. It seems like we have been doing a lot of practicing at home, haven't we?"
"Yes, Ms. Hazel," everyone replied in unison.
"That's wonderful," said Ms. Hazel. "Remember, dance rehearsals are every single day after school next week, and the week after that, it's every single day from Monday through Thursday. Friday morning is our dress rehearsal, our final one before the big show that evening, so please keep all this in your reminders. Or I can pass out a copy of the schedule to each one of you. How does that sound? Now please form a single line and I'll give you your schedule, and you may head off home."
Everyone lined up in a single file, Allie standing between Betty Jane, who was in front of her, and Mary Beth, who was behind her. The three girls giggled, obviously very proud of themselves. Allie said, "I can't believe we did it!"
"You should feel really proud of yourself, Allie," Betty Jane said.
"I sure am."
"Esmeralda probably wouldn't even let me have this much fun," Mary Beth said with a shrug. "Oh, well."
"Do you always have to do everything Esme asks you to do?" Betty Jane asked Mary Beth.
Mary Beth shrugged again in response. "Eh, that's usually how the relationship works between me and her. Whatever she says, goes---or so she thinks."
"Well, forget her then, Mary Beth," Allie said, "'cause now you have us instead. Right, Betty Jane?" She smirked.
"Right." Betty Jane giggled.
"Next," said Ms. Hazel. Then Betty Jane stepped up to the front as Ms. Hazel handed her a copy of the schedule, then she handed Allie one.
"Thank you, Ms. Hazel," Allie said.
"You're welcome, Alessandra," replied Ms. Hazel. Then she gave Mary Beth a paper of the schedule, and then eventually to the rest of the other students. Everyone thanked Ms. Hazel altogether for giving them the schedule. "You're welcome, my dear students," she said. "Now you may go back home, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. I look forward to seeing you all Monday afternoon, after school."
"Good-bye, Ms. Hazel," said everyone in unison.
Everyone began heading out when Ms. Hazel called after Allie. "Oh, Alessandra, do you have a minute, please? I would like to have a word with you?"
Betty Jane and Mary Beth decided to wait for Allie as Allie came running back. "Yes, Ms. Hazel?"
"I would like to speak with you, just for a minute," Ms. Hazel said. "It won't be too long, I promise."
"Okay." Suddenly, Allie had this nervous feeling that she did something wrong, or maybe she blundered on a dance move during practice. "Um, am I in trouble, if you don't mind me asking?"
Ms. Hazel laughed and said, "No, of course not! There's nothing wrong with asking a question, sweetie. It's just----it's just---" She took a deep breath and cleared her throat before she could begin her speech. "You see, rumor has it that you initially wanted to quit the Dance Team due to an act of humiliation, shame, and brutal taunting. Is that true?"
Allie looked stumped for a moment, then glanced back at Betty Jane and Mary Beth to figure out which one of them had spilled the beans that Allie had wanted to quit the Dance Team at first, due to Esmeralda's constant bullying. "I suppose so?" she replied with uncertainty.
"Alessandra, I understand," Ms. Hazel said calmly. "You don't think anyone does, but trust me, I really do. I was your age once, too, you know. I understand what it feels like to be bullied and have a strange, horrid rumor being spread about you. But instead of letting other people get away with putting you down, why don't you learn to stand up for yourself? Do you get what I'm saying?"
"Yes, Ms. Hazel."
"Miss Sampson, there's nothing to be ashamed about for telling someone, mainly a grown-up, that you are being bullied. I would've understood, had you come to me instead of insisting that you quit the team. One of your dear friends has told me you planned to quit."
"Betty Jane?" Allie asked.
Ms. Hazel nodded. "That's right. My point is, Alessandra, you shouldn't feel too down on yourself every time you get picked on. It's a natural part of life, and it happens only to the best of us. Even to me too, when I was young like you. But then, you learn to stand up for yourself, and you learn to feel better about yourself. You should always love and respect yourself, even if you don't feel that many people do. That's called dignity, Alessandra. You learn from your dignity."
Allie took the time to consider all this, then eventually said, "I never really thought of it that way, Ms. Hazel. Thank you so much."
"Don't mention it, sweetie," said Ms. Hazel with a friendly smile. "I may be your Dance instructor, but I always try my best to form a proper bond with my students, and I never allow my students to feel ashamed of telling me anything and anything at all that's on their minds. I don't want you to ever feel ashamed to let me know when someone is trying to put you down, or chase you off the team, or anything. I don't want you to be a quitter, Allie. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Ms. Hazel. I promise you," Allie said sincerely, and she and Ms. Hazel gave each other a friendly embrace.
"All right, now I look forward to see you here on Monday after school, is that correct?"
"Correct," Allie replied with determination.
"Perfect." Ms. Hazel caressed Allie's hair. "Now you run along, and enjoy your weekend."
"Good-bye, Ms. Hazel," Allie said, waving to her. She neatly folded her schedule paper into a small square so it wouldn't get lost or missing, or fly off anywhere. Then she ran up to Betty Jane and Mary Beth.
"Now what was that all about?" Mary Beth asked as the three of them were walking outside. "Never mind; B.J. and I overheard everything."
"I'm sorry, Allie," Betty Jane said. "I had to tell Ms. Hazel. I didn't want my best friend to be missing out on the same kind of fun I wish to have. I mean, we're all still very young. What's the point of living life if you can't have fun in it?"
"It's okay, Betty Jane," Allie said. "I'm not mad at you at all. I just......I guess I didn't really expect you to do something like this for me."
"Well, of course, Allie," Betty Jane said. "I mean, Quincy would do the same thing if he were in the same situation, don't you think?" They both giggled at the mentioning of Quincy's name. "I care about you too much to let you fall down flat on your face."
"Wow, that's peachy keen," Allie said.
"I can't wait to come over to your house tonight, Betty Jane," Mary Beth said excitedly.
"Me too," said Allie enthusiastically.
Then the three of them went their own separate ways home, and Allie soon found herself reading for a long time in her room. Alexandra was opening the door for the paperboy, who had come to give them their Saturday newspapers. "Thank you, Tony," she said to the young boy as she took the newspapers and gave them to Paul.
Just then, Allie came running out of her room, and Alexandra said, "Hi, honey. Did you enjoy dance practice today?"
"Sure did," Allie replied. "Mama, do you mind if I go over to Betty Jane's house tonight for a sleepover?"
"A sleepover, huh?" said Alexandra.
"You can do your own sleeping in your own house, sugar," Paul said as he took out a set of newspapers and began reading one of them.
"But, Daddy......" Allie protested.
"In other, simpler words: NO." Paul was usually strict with Allie going over to other kids' houses, but he would allow other kids to come to Allie's house.
"Paul, I think you are being a little unfair," Alexandra said, glaring at her husband. To Allie, she said, "Don't worry about him, sweetie. I want you to go to Betty Jane's house tonight and have a good time. What time is your sleepover?"
"7:00," Allie replied. "Betty Jane wants us to meet at her house at 7:00."
"That's when I'm going to meet up with my golf buddies," Paul muttered.
"Oh, yeah.......about that," Alexandra said. "Allie sweetie, your father and I are going out tonight. You see, your father just landed himself a promotion at work yesterday, and he decides to celebrate by suggesting that we go out for dinner with him and his colleagues, who happen to be avid golf players just like Paul himself is." She chuckled, turning to her husband. "You're just too much sometimes, you know that?" Then she turned to Allie. "But we can drop you off to Betty Jane's before we start heading out. Right, Paul?" she nudged her husband.
"Right, yeah. Whatever." Paul sighed reluctantly.
"Oh, thank you so much, Mother!" Allie said, giving her mother a hug.
"Now of course as you know, you learn to mind your manners, be as polite as possible, and other than that, enjoy yourself," Alexandra said. "And call us anytime tomorrow to let your father and I know when we should pick you up. Is that clear?"
"Yes," Allie replied.
"Now let's get packing," Alexandra said.
Pretty soon, it was 7:00 in the evening, and while Allie was fully packed and prepared for her first-time sleepover at another friend's house, Alexandra and Paul were readying themselves for a diner. Allie was waiting eagerly in the living room by reading a book. Paul went down the stairs, adjusting his tie along the way, and shook his head at Allie. "You just can't put a book down for at least one minute, can you?" he said with a little laugh.
"No, Daddy," replied Allie.
"Well, don't go reading too much at the sleepover party, otherwise you'll be missing out on tons of fun," Paul said as he sat down on the couch next to her, waiting for Alexandra.
Alexandra, now ready with her black gown, black hat, and carrying her purse, arrived down to the living room. Paul glanced at her, very intrigued. "What are you doing, being all dressed up like you're going to somebody's funeral?"
"It's the style, Paul. Get used to it," Alexandra said with a small scoff. Allie just giggled.
"Are you ready, Allie?" Alexandra asked.
"Couldn't be readier, Mama."
"Okay, now come on, let's get going now."
And then, the car ride began. Allie's parents were taking her over to Betty Jane's house for the night, and after that, they were out on their own little date with some friends. Allie was so excited, she didn't even bother to read her book while in the car. Eventually, they got to Betty Jane's house, and through the window Allie could see that Mary Beth had already beaten her to the house. Alexandra got out to assist Allie with carrying her bags and belongings, and Allie went up to the front of the house and knocked on the door.
The door opened, and it was Betty Jane's mother. "Hello, young lady," she greeted Allie, shaking hands with her. "How do you do?"
"Fine, ma'am," Allie replied.
"Nice to meet you," Alexandra said, also shaking hands with Betty Jane's mother. "My name is Alexandra Sampson. This is my daughter Alessandra. She wants to sleep over at your daughter's house tonight."
Just then, Betty Jane came into the living room and helped carry Allie's bags. "Hi, Allie. Welcome to my house."
"Why, thank you," Allie said with a little giggle.
"What time will you two come pick up Allie?" Betty Jane's mother asked Alexandra.
"Uh, anytime in the morning when Allie feels ready, but I'm sure that she'll give us a call. Right, dear?" Alexandra said to Allie.
"Right," Allie said.
"Okay, you two have a good night," Betty Jane's mother said to the Sampsons.
"Good night." Alexandra waved to Betty Jane's mother, blew a kiss out to Allie, and Allie waved good-bye to her mother as she made her way out.
Allie could not contain her excitement any longer, that she started screaming with joy, and Betty Jane and Mary Beth joined in. "Wow, you're all just so excited, aren't you?" Betty Jane's mother said, amazed.
"We can't help it, Mother," Betty Jane said. "You know that Allie has never been to my house before!"
"I hope you're not nervous, though," Mary Beth said to Allie.
"Why would I be?" asked Allie.
Mary Beth shrugged. "I don't know......maybe because of the fact that it's your very first sleepover at another house of a human being. I'd be a little scared if I were you, not knowing what to do at a friend's house and such." Allie noticed that she was starting to sound a little bit like Esmeralda, in that slightly condescending tone of voice. As if Mary Beth could read minds, she said, "Oh, no, I didn't mean it as an insult, if that's what you're thinking. I'm sorry, Allie."
"Um, that's okay," Allie said to her, trying to be forgiving. Then in her thoughts, she added, I guess?
"Something tells me that we are gonna have an adventure of a lifetime tonight," Betty Jane said with confidence. And she was most certainly right about that.