805 80 30

 The next week quickly became nothing but a blur. Rachel's thoughts and energies zipped through her and she couldn't ever seem to catch them. 

Everything in the world was happening to her. Everything was so dreadfully exciting. So excruciatingly exciting.

There was Christmas of course, and as the days continued to smear past her, Rachel watched more houses transform into brilliant displays of twinkling lights. In music class, they sang "Jingle Bells" and "Dreidel", and because there weren't any Jehovah's Witnesses in her class this year, none of the parents complained and told them to stop. There was even a faint stirring of a rumor, that this year the class may be allowed to have a Holiday Party.

Even if they didn't get a Holiday Party at school, Rachel would get one at Dance class. And on Christmas Eve, Rachel would open her presents with Nan and Papa. And on Christmas day she would get to go home with her Mom and sisters!

Rachel already had her suitcase packed. An old gray CareBears suitcase sat in her closet, filled with Rachel's bell bottom jeans and butterfly t-shirts and the toys and jewelery that Rachel had bought for them for Christmas. There was even a small cassette tape holder for Octavio.

Rachel filled her time by practicing for her solo. Her grandparents weren't fond of noise, but always made an exception when it came to Rachel's singing and dancing. Rachel sang her solo for hours in her bedroom, sometimes with music and sometimes without. Rachel had learned from Mrs. Drake that it was best to practice singing both ways.

Rachel leaned into the words, putting as much into them as she could. The notes should be high, but not too high that her voice became squeaky and harsh. The word "goodbye" should have a slight warble in it; a bit of an elongation.

"Think of me fondly, when we've said good-bye."

Rachel let the word "good-bye" flutter and stretch across her vocal cords.

"Remember me, every so often promise me you'll try."

Again, high, but not too high. There was a precise place that her voice needed to hit. Rachel didn't know anything about cords or keys, but she knew the way that her voice should feel in her throat. She knew the sound when she'd made it.

Nan took Rachel to get an outfit for the benefit. Rachel wanted to get a deep purple ballgown displayed on a mannequin at Sears. It had tiny capped sleeves and a satin bow around the waist.

"Stop with the nonsense, Rachel," Nan tsked. She shuffled Rachel over to a rack of velour dresses. In the end, Nan picked her one that was navy blue and came with a matching shawl covered in dragonflies.

Then of course they had to get tights and shoes and matching barrettes and they had to go to a different store for each of these items. The entire process took over three hours, as Rachel had known it would. Nan loved to shop, and she was so particular about everything. Everything had to be just so. She couldn't just walk up to a rack of tights, grab a pack and walk out. She had to inspect each one and look at all of the subtle differences between each pair of tights. Rachel really liked going out and doing things with her Nan, but not shopping. Shopping with Nan was an enormous bore and weighed heavily on her patience.

"Just three days until your solo!" Nan said, as they stood in front of Nan's full-length mirror.

Rachel was now wearing the entire ensemble that Nan had picked, everything from the dress down to the tights and shoes. Nan fiddled with Rachel's hair and tucked a piece of her long hair into a barrette.

"This looks nice, Rachel," she said. "You're going to look very pretty up on the stage."

Rachel looked herself over in the mirror. It was a fine dress, and her hair looked fine as well, but...

"Looking pretty isn't everything," Rachel asserted.

"Oh Rachel, stop it. You do look pretty."

Rachel shook her head.

"I don't want to be pretty. I don't think it's important to look good. Maybe I can look ugly and people can still like me because I'm nice, and I can sing good, and I read lots of books."

"Rachel, you look lovely."

Nan sighed, and fluffed out the skirt of Rachel's dress, trying to keep the velour from clinging to her tights.

"Stop ruining it, Rachel," Nan said. "Just let me make you look pretty."

CombustionWhere stories live. Discover now