Having learned to speak in Norman Oklahoma, Ronnie got a lot of flack from his sixth grade classmates in Ohio.
“Where’s your cow, farm boy?” Marcus grinned, revealing the gap between his front teeth.
“Thet’s perty funny, Jerry Seinfeld.” Ronnie pulled the science book from his locker. “You ain’t countin’ on thet to make a livin’, are ya?”
Marcus stuck out his tongue and blew a raspberry. “It’s tough to compete with that hilarious accent.”
“Hey, Ronnie,” said Marcus’s cohort, Nathan. “Why don’t you try out for the school play?”
Ronnie could tell he was looking for a laugh, but he liked the idea. He’d played Hamlet in the parochial school back in Norman.
He went to tryouts the following week. His school was small, so he was surprised to see the gymnasium almost full of students reciting from scripts, practicing good projection, and swooning on cue.
“Hi, Ronnie.” A fat classmate named Ellen sat on a bleacher reading the first Harry Potter book. “You auditioning?”
“Yes’m.” Ronnie held up a ‘Death of a Salesman’ script.
“You don’t seem like the Willy Loman type.”
“I’m vers’tile.” He nodded at her book. “You readin’ from thet?”
“Heaven’s, no.” Ellen smiled and pulled out folded sheets of paper from the back of the book. “I’ve got me some Oscar Wilde.”
Ronnie nodded. “I like him.”
“Mr. Hammond doesn’t. We’ll probably do another Agatha Christie this year.”
Ronnie shrugged. He liked Agatha Christie.
“Hey, farm boy.” Marcus leered. “You gonna do Romeo and Juliette with your girlfriend here?”
Ronnie’s face warmed and his lips pulled tight. He was embarrassed and angry. He wanted to escape and deny anything to do with Ellen, but he also didn’t want this goon intimidating him, and, in spite of Ronnie’s self-consciousness, he didn’t want to hurt Ellen’s feelings. He could only manage to mumble, “Death of a Salesman.”
“Well, I do a killer Hamlet. I’ll definitely be the lead.” Marcus gave Ronnie a nudge. “Don’t worry, farm boy. I’m sure Mr. Hammond will let you play a butler or something.” He chuckled and wandered toward the stage.
“Okay, everybody.” Mr. Hammond stood before a card table in front of the stage. “Get in line on the stage and be ready to read your prepared audition. When everyone’s finished, we’ll announce the play were doing this year and give you some lines to read from it.” He swept his arm toward the stage. “Go.”
The students charged for the side stairs, jockeying to get ahead. By the time Ronnie got to the line, he was almost at the end, Ellen in front of him.
His classmates impressed him with their interpretations of Shakespeare, Neil Simon, and Dr. Seuss. Marcus delivered a superb soliloquy. As he walked off the stage, he looked at Ronnie and mouthed, “Eat that.”
When Ellen took the stage, she asked Kyle, a bit on the heavy side himself, to read the male counterpart in a scene from ‘An Ideal Husband.’ They had beautiful timing together, and a few of the students and Mr. Hammond laughed throughout their performance.
When they finished, Ronnie stepped up and opened the script where he’d dogeared it. He looked up at Mr. Hammond, who nodded.
He read. “Bus’ness is def’nitely bus’ness, but jest listen fer a minit.”
The gymnasium erupted with laughter. When it quieted, he continued, but had to suffer through snickers and titters the entire time, in spite of Mr. Hammond shushing them.
Face and ears heated, Ronnie plodded off the stage and plopped onto the bleachers.
Nathan hooted at him. “You’ll be doing props.”
Marcus almost seemed conciliatory. “It’s not for everybody.”
“I thought it was nice,” said Ellen, and Kyle nodded his agreement.
“Ladies and germs.” Mr. Hammond sat on the edge of the stage. “Drumroll, please.” The students slapped the floor, the bleachers, and the stage. “This years play is an adaptation of Tom Sawyer.”
Ronnie’s eyes grew wide. He smiled and looked over at Marcus, who returned his stare with a disconcerted look on his face. Ronnie raised his ‘rock on’ bull horns, bobbed his head, and said, “I’ve got this.”