Sing Out!!

Melissa explained the sequence of events to Jane Anne on the way to pick up the two other girls. When they arrived, they giggled and chatted animatedly about previous Christmas concerts, going over the difference in the many ways the holy story was told.

There was going to be a narrator that would read the Christmas story from the Bible as costumed church members played out the events concerning the birth of Jesus. There would be real animals, and a real baby as the Christ child! The girls told her that the audience would be expected to participate in the singing of hymns and carols  along with the church choir.

Melissa rummaged around in her back pack and handed out song sheets to the other three girls. When they arrived at the church, Melissa led the way to a huge area on the back lawn that had been roped off for the play. A real manger with hay and straw was set up. There were two sheep, a goat, a cow, and someone's barn cat! Jane Anne giggled when she saw the cat. She wondered if there were cats at the original Bethlehem manger.

The rest of Melissa's family, plus Andrea and Jocelyn's families were holding a whole plank of the lower bleachers for Mr. Baker and the four girls. Melissa motioned for Jane Anne to start down the bleacher plank first. She went all the way to the end, where Melissa's sixteen year old brother sat at the very end. Jane Anne had never sat beside a boy before so she put her head down and said nothing. Melissa wouldn't let the shy girl fade into the woodwork, so she introduced her brother.

"Mark, this is Jane Anne. Jane Anne, this is my jerky brother Mark."

Mark grinned, gave a short wave to Jane Anne, then blew a raspberry at his sister! She laughed, and suddenly felt at ease between her new friend and her brother. She watched as the Christmas story unfolded, and sang along with the choir and the audience when the old familiar songs were sung. Jane had a beautiful clear and melodic soprano singing voice. She had a natural ear for harmony, and matched her pitch to the sopranos in the choir.

The whole audience were all standing with their song sheets while the choir dressed as angels stood on either side of the manger as the three wise men arrived across the snowy field behind the church. She was nearly all the way through 'It came upon a midnight clear,' when she realized that only she and the soprano lead vocalist were singing!

She thought that she must have ruined a solo song for the other soprano, and she sat down abruptly to bury her burning face in her hands. She was weeping bitterly when Mark pulled her up by the shoulders and whispered in her ear.

"Take a bow Jane Anne, you earned it!"

She looked around, and saw that everyone was clapping, and the other soprano was taking a bow! With a flaming face, she made a sharp short bow toward the manger, then sat down again to thunderous applause! Jane Anne followed all the others when sitting and standing through the rest of the play, but she didn't sing again. She didn't really know what had happened, or how she had ended up as half of a duet, she only knew that she was painfully embarrassed.

After the play was over and the final hymn was sung, the animals were led away. The costumed church members filed into the back of the church to change. The choir members followed behind them. The soprano soloist broke off from the rest of the group as they passed the emptying bleachers. Jane Anne had descended from her row, and stood beside Melissa with a lap blanket in her hand. Conversation flowed around her, but she kept her head down.

Melissa knew that her new friend was embarrassed, but she couldn't understand why. Jane Anne had sung beautifully, and her voice had harmonized flawlessly with Brenda the soloist's voice. The whole song was so well done, and so seamless that the entire audience thought that it was a new planned feature to that year's concert.

The other soprano approached Jane Anne and stuck out her hand and introduced herself.

"Hi, I'm Brenda Madison. You were wonderful! I could never have reached the highest notes, so I lowered my part just a tad and let you do it. It worked out great! I wish Pastor Brown had warned me though."

Jane Anne was flabbergasted. Brenda thought that the duet had been planned!!

"Uh.. no, he didn't know.. I didn't know.. I've never been here before.. I didn't know you were singing solo.. I'm so sorry..." She babbled her words as she choked back apologetic tears.

When Brenda saw Jane Anne's distress,, she stepped forward and gave her a warm hug.

" Don't be sorry, don't be embarrassed, you were great!"

As Jane Anne was trying to process this information, a dignified looking older gentleman approached them. He stuck his hand out toward Jane Anne.

"Hi, I'm pastor Brown. I'm also the choir master. You did a magnificent job!" He turned toward Melissa, and pretended to be annoyed.

"I'm disappointed in you Melissa, where have you been hiding this angelic songbird?"

Melissa, Brenda and Mark laughed. Melissa shot back a quick retort.

"We haven't been hiding her pastor Brown, we've been protecting Jane Anne here from your evil clutches!" They all laughed heartily.

"Well, let's not stand here in the cold, there's hot chocolate and treats in the basement of the church. Come along Jane Anne, there are lots of choir robes, I'm sure we can find one to fit you."

Jane Anne followed along behind the others meekly. She was completely overwhelmed. She had no objection to joining the church, but she had no transportation, and her mom often worked Sundays. They did own a Bible though, which Jane Anne read now and then when she was feeling down and needed solace, and sought some peace for her tortured soul.

By the time the treats had been consumed, and the manger and bleachers were dismantled, pastor Brown had arranged for Jane Anne to be picked up from school with the other three girls for choir practice, also for church on Sunday. Her mom was also welcome to come whenever she wasn't working.

The girls had been in the choir most of their childhoods, but all three of them opted out that year. Jane Anne didn't find out till many years later, but they gave up participation that year, specifically to take her to the concert.

The three girls had watched the shabby treatment that Jane Anne had been getting on the bus and at school, and their senses of fairness and Christian charity were appalled! They had talked about bringing Jane Anne into their little group for three weeks before they got up the courage to set the wheels in motion.

They started small by covering up the glaring emptiness of the other side of Jane Anne's seat. They worked their way up to the day that Melissa sat with Jane Anne on the bus. They would have drawn straws to decide who was to sit with her, but Melissa declared from the first day that she wanted to be the one to sit there.

Melissa had admired Jane Anne's courage from the first day when she kicked aside the legs that blocked her way down the aisle. Melissa also admired Jane Anne's patience and courage when she was teased and talked about. The only time she ever retaliated was when she was forced to physically defend herself.

When she got home from the church that Christmas eve, she added two more names as well as a group to her List of Gratitude:

Brenda Madison - for being such a good sport when I jumped in on her solo.

Pastor Jason Brown - for welcoming me into the church and the choir, and for making me feel like I belonged.

The entire Baker, Anderson, and Kavenaugh families, for making me feel like an accepted member of their group.

That Christmas, when Jane Anne was fourteen, was the beginning of a legendary friendship that would span a couple of generations, several thousand kilometres, and the lifetimes of all four girls!

The End

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