Countdown To Christmas – Episode 23

I DON’T think I’ve ever been so scared in my life!” Kate held out a trembling hand to show Sally. “Look how I’m shaking!”“You’ll be fine,” Sally insisted. “And the crowd’s great. Did you hear the way they clapped for the little Rainbows? The girls had them eating out of their hands.”The show had begun. The Rainbows had gone first to get the audience in a sympathetic frame of mind, Evelyn had admitted honestly.“Not that I think you’ll need it,” she’d hastily assured them at one of Sally’s famed eyebrow quirks. “Everyone’s in a great mood.”And it was true. The panic of the morning over the unexpected snowfall, and the way everyone had worked together at the hall, had created a feel-good atmosphere throughout the whole community.Every seat in the place was taken, with latecomers standing in the aisles, and the applause had been genuine and prolonged for the Rainbows’ little dance routine, and the joke-telling Charlie Hopkins who had followed them.“Bless them, they’d heard ’em all before, but everyone’s in the mood for a good laugh,” Evelyn confided, before moving on to make sure the next act was all set. Ted had put her in charge of keeping things moving in the dressing area while he was at the side of the stage, making the announcements and ensuring the acts changed over as smoothly as possible.Now Kate and Sally and the rest of their little dance troupe were gathered at the bottom of the steps that led up to the stage, fidgeting and checking their costumes.Dolores was hissing last-minute instructions.“Remember to smile. I know it’s hard when you’re concentrating, but we want to look like we’re enjoying ourselves!”“Fat chance!” Kate muttered. “What’s on now? I’ve forgotten. I hope I don’t forget my steps!”Sally consulted the list that someone had thoughtfully stuck to the wall.“Paul and Susan from the bowling club. They’re singing a couple of Peters And Lee songs.”They cocked their heads and listened critically for a moment.“Sounds good,” Sally commented. “I think that’s their second one. So it’s us next! I mean, you . . .”“Help!” As applause filled the hall again, Kate grabbed Sally’s arm. “I don’t think I can do this . . .”“Of course you can,” Sally said firmly. “You have to. You can’t let everyone down. They can manage without one of us, but not us both.”“I can’t,” Kate wailed.“You can!” Sally insisted. “Look, I didn’t dose myself with painkillers and come all the way down here lugging this” she indicated her arm, now encased in a plaster cast and resting in a hospital-issue sling. “ just to see you wimp out! You know this dance. You can do it. And I’ll be right at the side of the stage to watch you.”She had been having to coax Kate like this ever since she’d relayed the hospital’s instruction that on no account was she even to think about performing a tap-dance routine that night. Not that she would have been capable. Sally had confided that her broken wrist was emitting an intense throbbing pain, and Kate knew that every instinct must be telling her she should be in bed with a hot-water bottle, trying to sleep. Normally Kate would have felt incredibly grateful to have a loyal, supportive, generous friend like Sally but right now she was too petrified to think of anything else but the ordeal to come.Paul and Susan came bounding down the steps, looking relieved but elated.“It’s great fun!” Susan told them. “I felt like a real star!”Ted was beckoning frantically, and Dolores clapped her hands together without making a sound, which Kate hadn’t even known was possible.“Everyone ready? Here we go . . .”“Look, I’ll come up the stairs with you . . .” Sally said, gripping Kate’s arm.Dolores led them up the half-dozen steps, and Kate followed in a daze.They reached the top just as Ted was finishing their introduction.“Miss Dolores Granby and the Granby Tappers!”To enthusiastic applause, they arranged themselves on the stage. Kate looked to her right to see Sally giving her a thumbs-up from the wings. She looked left to check on George, who smiled nervously, and then forward to reassure herself that Dolores was there . . . and that’s when she saw the audience, a sea of faces, smiling, expectant . . .Panic seized her. She felt frozen to the spot. She couldn’t do this! What was she thinking?Their music was starting. But how could she move a muscle when she couldn’t remember a single step?“Kate, you can do this!” she heard Sally hiss, defying Ted’s disapproval. “Just watch Dolores. Follow her steps . . .”At the same time, she heard a voice in the audience call out.“Attagirl, Kate!”That was Steve, looking out for her as always, reassuring, giving her strength.Dolores was lifting her right foot . . . and Kate found herself following. Then her left . . . and finally the steps came to her, just the way she had practised over and over again for months.As her confidence grew, Kate became caught up in the music and the moment, tapping in unison, listening to the satisfying clatter as they all danced together with no missteps to mar the rhythm.She dared a glance at Sally, who with her good hand gave her another thumbs-up. On her other side, George gave her a conspiratorial wink. And Kate found she was smiling.


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