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Chapter 9

To say that the play was a smashing success was to put it mildly. The audience laughed and the audience cried, which is pretty much what they were supposed to do. But because of Jamie’s presence, it really became something special-and I think everyone in the cast was as shocked as I was at how well the whole thing had come off. They all had that same look I did when I first saw her, and it made the play that much more powerful when they were performing their parts. We finished the first performance without a hitch, and the next evening even more people showed up, if you can believe it. Even Eric came up to me afterward and congratulated me, which after what he’d said to me before was somewhat of a surprise.

“The two of you did good,” he said simply. “I’m proud of you, buddy.”

While he said it, Miss Garber was crying out, “Marvelous!” to anyone who would listen to her or who just happened to be walking past, repeating it over and over so much that I kept on hearing it long after I went to bed that night. I looked for Jamie after we’d pulled the curtains closed for the final time, and spotted her off to the side, with her father. He had tears in his eyes-it was the first time I’d ever seen him cry-and Jamie went into his arms, and they held each other for a long time. He was stroking her hair and whispering, “My angel,” to her while her eyes were closed, and even I felt myself choking up.  The “right thing,” I realized, wasn’t so bad after all.  After they finally let go of each other, Hegbert proudly motioned for her to visit with the rest of the cast, and she got a boatload of congratulations from everyone backstage. She knew she’d done well, though she kept on telling people she didn’t know what all the fuss was about. She was her normal cheerful self, but with her looking so pretty, it came across in a totally different way. I stood in the background, letting her have her moment, and I’ll admit there was a part of me that felt like old Hegbert. I couldn’t help but be happy for her, and a little proud as well. When she finally saw me standing off to one side, she excused herself from the others and walked over, finally stopping when she was close.

Looking up at me, she smiled. “Thank you, Landon, for what you did. You made my father very happy.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, meaning it.

The strange thing was, when she said it, I realized that Hegbert would be driving her home, and for once I wished that I would have had the opportunity to walk her there.

The following Monday was our last week of school before Christmas break, and finals were scheduled in every class. In addition, I had to finish my application for UNC, which I’d sort of been putting off because of all the rehearsals. I planned on hitting the books pretty hard that week, then doing the application at night before I went to bed. Even so, I couldn’t help but think about Jamie.

Jamie’s transformation during the play had been startling, to say the least, and I assumed it had signaled a change in her. I don’t know why I thought that way, but I did, and so I was amazed when she showed up our first morning back dressed like her usual self: brown sweater, hair in a bun, plaid skirt, and all.  One look was all it took, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. She’d been regarded as normal-even special-over the weekend, or so it had seemed, but she’d somehow let it slip away. Oh, people were a little nicer to her, and the ones who hadn’t talked to her yet told her what a good job she’d done, too, but I could tell right off that it wasn’t going to last. Attitudes forged since childhood are hard to break, and part of me wondered if it might even get worse for her after this. Now that people actually knew she could look normal, they might even become more heartless.

I wanted to talk to her about my impressions, I really did, but I was planning to do so after the week was over. Not only did I have a lot to do, but I wanted a little time to think of the best way to tell her. To be honest, I was still feeling a little guilty about the things I’d said to her on our last walk home, and it wasn’t just because the play had turned out great. It had more to do with the fact that in all our time together, Jamie had never once been anything but kind, and I knew that I’d been wrong.

I didn’t think she wanted to talk to me, either, to tell you the truth. I knew she could see me hanging out with my friends at lunch while she sat off in the corner, reading her Bible, but she never made a move toward us. But as I was leaving school that day, I heard her voice behind me, asking me if I wouldn’t mind walking her home. Even though I wasn’t ready to tell her yet about my thoughts, I agreed. For old times’ sake, you see.

A minute later Jamie got down to business.

“Do you remember those things you said on our last walk home?” she asked.

I nodded, wishing she hadn’t brought it up.

“You promised to make it up to me,” she said.

For a moment I was confused. I thought I’d done that already with my performance in the play. Jamie went on.

“Well, I’ve been thinking about what you could do,” she continued without letting me get a word in edgewise, “and this is what I’ve come up with.” She asked if I wouldn’t mind gathering the pickle jars and coffee cans she’d set out in businesses all over town early in the year. They sat on the counters, usually near the cash registers, so that people could drop their loose change in. The money was to go to the orphans. Jamie never wanted to ask people straight out for the money, she wanted them to give voluntarily. That, in her mind, was the Christian thing to do.

I remembered seeing the containers in places like Cecil’s Diner and the Crown Theater. My friends and I used to toss paper clips and slugs in there when the cashiers weren’t looking, since they sounded sort of like a coin being dropped inside, then we’d chuckle to ourselves about how we were putting something over on Jamie. We used to joke about how she’d open one of her cans, expecting something good because of the weight, and she’d dump it out and find nothing but slugs and paper clips. Sometimes, when you remember the things you used to do, it makes you wince, and that’s exactly what I did.

Jamie saw the look on my face.

“You don’t have to do it,” she said, obviously disappointed. “I was just thinking that since Christmas is coming up so quickly and I don’t have a car, it’ll simply take me too long to collect them all. . . .” “No,” I said cutting her off, “I’ll do it. I don’t have much to do anyway.” So that’s what I did starting Wednesday, even though I had tests to study for, even with that application needing to be finished. Jamie had given me a list of every place she’d placed a can, and I borrowed my mom’s car and started at the far end of town the following day. She’d put out about sixty cans in all, and I figured that it would take only a day to collect them all. Compared to putting them out, it would be a piece of cake. It had taken Jamie almost six weeks to do because she’d first had to find sixty empty jars and cans and then she could put out only two or three a day since she didn’t have a car and could carry only so many at a time. When I started out, I felt sort of funny about being the one who picked up the cans and jars, being that it was Jamie’s project, but I kept telling myself that Jamie had asked me to help.

I went from business to business, collecting the cans and jars, and by end of the first day I realized it was going to take a little longer than I’d thought.

I’d picked up only about twenty containers or so, because I’d forgotten one simple fact of life in Beaufort. In a small town like this, it was impossible to simply run inside and grab the can without chatting with the proprietor or saying hello to someone else you might recognize. It just wasn’t done. So I’d sit there while some guy would be talking about the marlin he’d hooked last fall, or they’d ask me how school was going and mention that they needed a hand unloading a few boxes in the back, or maybe they wanted my opinion on whether they should move the magazine rack over to the other side of the store. Jamie, I knew, would have been good at this, and I tried to act like I thought she would want me to. It was her project after all.

To keep things moving, I didn’t stop to check the take in between the businesses. I just dumped one jar or can into the next, combining them as I went along. By the end of the first day all the change was packed in two large jars, and I carried them up to my room. I saw a few bills through the glass-not too many-but I wasn’t actually nervous until I emptied the contents onto my floor and saw that the change consisted primarily of pennies. Though there weren’t nearly as many slugs or paper clips as I’d thought there might be, I was still disheartened when I counted up the money. There was $20.32. Even in 1958 that wasn’t a lot of money, especially when divided among thirty kids.  I didn’t get discouraged, though. Thinking that it was a mistake, I went out the next day, hauled a few dozen boxes, and chatted with another twenty proprietors while I collected cans and jars. The take: $23.89.

The third day was even worse. After counting up the money, even I couldn’t believe it. There was only $11.52. Those were from the businesses down by the waterfront, where the tourists and teenagers like me hung out. We were really something, I couldn’t help but think.

Seeing how little had been collected in all-$55.73-made me feel awful, especially considering that the jars had been out for almost a whole year and that I myself had seen them countless times. That night I was supposed to call Jamie to tell her the amount I’d collected, but I just couldn’t do it. She’d told me how she’d wanted something extra special this year, and this wasn’t going to do it-even I knew that. Instead I lied to her and told her that I wasn’t going to count the total until the two of us could do it together, because it was her project, not mine. It was just too depressing. I promised to bring over the money the following afternoon, after school let out. The next day was December 21, the shortest day of the year. Christmas was only four days away.

“Landon,” she said to me after counting it up, “this is a miracle!”

“How much is there?” I asked. I knew exactly how much it was.  “There’s almost two hundred and forty-seven dollars here!” She was absolutely joyous as she looked up at me. Since Hegbert was home, I was allowed to sit in the l............

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