From Chicken Soup for the Child's Soul

Second Act

Everybody, my friend, everybody lives for something better to come. That’s why we want to be considerate of every man—who knows what’s in him, why he was born and what he can do?

Maxim Gorky

“We need Abraham Lincoln!” my third-grade teacher, Ms. Schlitter, announced to our class one morning. We were putting on a play about the month of February, and the narrator of the play was Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday falls on February 16. The narrator was the most important part of the play, and I was sure I would get it because I was the best speaker in class. Plus, I remembered things like facts, numbers, and stories, and I was a natural-born ham.

As I waited for Ms. Schlitter to call my name, I glanced across the room at Charles Pender. Charles, or Slow-Poke Charlie as some of the kids called him, sat with a frown on his face. Charles wouldn’t be interested in our class play and being cast as Abraham Lincoln. Forget it! Charles can’t remember anything. He’s the most mixed-up kid I’ve ever seen. When he does remember to say something, it comes out so slow you can’t understand him.

Charles lifted his head and caught me looking at him. He waved in that shy way of his and reached for a book on his desk. No, Charles couldn’t be interested in our play.

“Our Abraham Lincoln for the Month of February Play is Charles Pender!”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I looked at Ms. Schlitter with shock on my face. Lots of kids in the room did. Even Slow-Poke Charlie raised his head and stared at her. He didn’t look like he believed what she had just said.

“Ms. Schlitter,” I heard myself say, “are you sure? Do you really want to cast Charles in the role?”

Ms. Schlitter went over to Charles and put a hand on his shoulder. “Charles will make a fine Abraham Lincoln,” she told us, “as long as we support him.”

I looked away from her. I knew everyone was probably looking at me, wondering what I had done to earn Ms. Schlitter’s wrath. I didn’t think the whole thing was fair. Then, a second unbelievable thing happened. Ms. Schlitter asked me to help Charles learn his lines for the play.

“What about me?” I asked. “Don’t I get a part in the play?”

“You can be Charles’ understudy,” Ms. Schlitter told me. “If Charles gets sick and can’t be at the play, you would take over the part of Abraham Lincoln.”

At the mention of not being able to do the part, Charles raised his head. “You mean I don’t have to be in the play?” he asked.

Ms. Schlitter patted his shoulder. “You’ll make a great Lincoln, and I’m sure your parents will be proud.”

“I guess,” Charles said. “My mom would like it if I did. There are lots of lines.”

“You’ll help him learn his lines, won’t you?” she asked me, giving me one of her ‘I’m counting on you’ looks.

Sighing, I nodded and tried not to scowl at Slow-Poke Charlie. “I’ll help him.”

Charles went back to reading his book.

The next day, I went over to his house. I’d never been to Charles’ house before. I don’t think anyone had, although he lived in the neighborhood. His slowpoke ways kept most of the kids from hanging out with him.

His mom let me in, and I dragged my feet to his room, wanting to be anywhere but there. I was about to knock on the door when I heard a cough. I listened, hoping there would be more, that Charles had caught a cold and wouldn’t be in any shape to play his part. What I heard weren’t more coughs, but singing. Charles was singing in his room!

I stood and listened, and found myself not believing something for the third time that week. Charles could sing! He had a terrific voice, and sang loud and clear, not slowly at all. He didn’t stumble or mumble. Then, I heard Charles switch from singing to saying lines from the play. He sounded great as Abraham Lincoln. He spoke in a strong voice and wasn’t the least bit slow. I opened the door and went in his room.

“Wow!” I said. “That’s pretty good.”

“Hi,” he said in a slow, low voice. “Do you want to help me learn these lines?”

“Sure,” I said. “Why don’t you start at the beginning?”

When Charles spoke, it was in the way I was used to hearing him speak. I caught him staring nervously at me. I understood everything in a flash. The only reason Charles was slow was because he was nervous. Nervous because he thought guys like me were staring at him, waiting to make fun of him. Even if I had never called him Slow-Poke Charlie aloud, I had thought of him that way just the same.

“Hey,” I said when Charles had finished the first page of lines, “why don’t we go out to the park and toss a ball? We can practice our lines and feed the ducks.”

Charles looked straight into my eyes. “You really want to?”

“A good understudy takes care of the play’s star,” I told him. “And the way I heard you singing and saying your lines, we’re going to have the best Abraham Lincoln our play has ever had.”

I was right, too. During the play, I watched from backstage as Charles delivered the performance of a lifetime. He and the class got a standing ovation. I wish I could have been out there with Charles, but when I saw the look on his face and heard all that applause, I realized that it was one of the best moments in both our lives.

John P. Buentello

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