Jenny stood on stage, dressed in her tights and dancing shoes. Five others stood with her, including Michelle. All triple threats. Each one accomplished in singing, dancing, and acting. Each one eager to be John Peterman’s latest Broadway discovery. Each one pleading silently to be chosen for this role. Any role. A chance.
Bright lights blinded her, but Jenny was accustomed to not being able to view her audience. Her throat was raw and her head throbbed, but she ignored the cold and flu symptoms as best she could.
The man with the booming voice called her name. Jenny stepped forward and shaded her eyes with her hand. “Yes.”
“You sang ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’ in the first audition, is that correct?”
“Yes.” Her voice quivered with the strain of answering his questions.
“Did you bring your sheet music with you?”
“Yes.” She looked to the man sitting at the piano.
“What will you be singing this time?”
With her cold and her throat feeling the way it did, Jenny knew her voice wouldn’t carry any musical number with more than a two-octave range. Normally her voice was able to scale four octaves, something that had amazed and thrilled her music teachers in Custer, Montana. But such versatility wasn’t uncommon here in New York.
“I’ll be singing ‘Rainy Days and Mondays,’ “ Jenny told the faceless voice. The first piano notes broke into the silence. She was forced to clear her throat, which had tightened up on her to where she could barely speak, let alone sing.
The piano player looked at her when she didn’t come in on cue and played the introduction a second time. She opened her mouth and nothing came out. She tried again, and what sound did escape wasn’t anywhere close to being considered musical.
Miserable, Jenny raised her hand and stopped the piano player. There was no use continuing. Not now. She couldn’t do it.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, wavered, and reached out blindly, afraid she was about to collapse.
Michelle gripped her hand. “Jenny’s sick . . . she shouldn’t even be here.”
Her roommate placed her arm around Jenny’s shoulders, and she slumped against Michelle, needing her friend’s support to remain upright.
“She has a fever of a hundred and two,” Michelle informed the casting director.
“And you are?” the loud voice boomed.
Michelle stiffened. “Her roommate. I realize this is none of my business, but I’m afraid Jenny’s sick. If you want to hear her sing, our agent can supply you with any number of tapes. Come on, Jenny,” Michelle said, steering her off the stage. “I’m taking you home.”
“No,” Jenny protested. It was bad enough that her best chance of ever appearing on Broadway was being taken away, but she wouldn’t allow her own misfortune to ruin Michelle’s chances, too. “You stay here.”
“I insist. Don’t argue with me. This is your chance.”
“Michelle Jordan!” the voice shouted.
Michelle wavered and looked over her shoulder.
“Are you staying or going?” the voice asked.
“Staying,” Jenny answered for her. She’d meant to shout. She’d put all her effort into making herself heard, but what remained of her voice was shockingly weak.
“Oh, Jenny, are you sure you’ll be all right?”
“Of course. All I need is a little rest.” She managed to put on a bright smile, which depleted what little energy remained. “I’ll get a taxi,” she promised a second time. A real luxury, considering her finances.
“Yes. Now break a leg, kid,” she said in her best Humphrey Bogart imitation. “You’ll have to make it for both of us.” She felt like weeping but managed to keep the tears at bay until she was outside the theater.
It was snowing. Wouldn’t you know it? Every man, woman, and child in New York would be looking for a cab. Jenny stepped halfway out into the street and raised her arm in an effort to hail a taxi. The cold snow was a welcome coolant as it drifted onto her upturned face.
“You’re going to help her, aren’t you?” Goodness asked Mercy. “That poor girl’s sick and miserable.”
“Of course I’m going to help her.” Mercy was indignant that her friend would believe otherwise. “It’s just that this is the worst time imaginable for her to find an empty taxi.”
“Well, do something.”
“What would you suggest?” Mercy snapped, impatient herself.
Mercy grinned. Why hadn’t she thought of that herself? It wouldn’t be so difficult to create a distraction. Not with Goodness there to help her. Naturally it would work; she just hoped Gabriel didn’t find out about this.
“Come on,” she said, sharing a gleeful smile with her friend.
“Where are we going?”
“Times Square,” Mercy answered.
“Yes, but . . .”
Even Goodness looked surprised, and Mercy grinned sheepishly. “Don’t worry, Gabriel will never hear of it.” Well, at least she hoped that was the case.
“Look.” Someone near Jenny stretched out an arm and pointed toward the huge electronic billboard above Times Square. “What in heaven’s name is going on?”
Jenny looked up and did a double take. The sign that had flashed a huge Santa drinking a bottle of Coca-Cola only minutes earlier had disappeared. In its stead stood a picture of her own face, with the words flashing “Jenny needs a cab. Help Jenny.”
She blinked, certain she was seeing things. Her fever must be higher than she realized for her to hallucinate this way. Obviously she’d stepped over the edge of reality.
Cars slowed to a crawl. Any number of people paused and pointed to the sign.
“Are you Jenny?” a bag lady who was nearly bent in half asked her. She wore a ragged wool coat. A worn shopping bag was draped over her forearm.
“Yes,” Jenny whispered.
“I’m here to help you,” the old woman proclaimed. “I’ll get you that cab, now don’t you worry none.”
“I’m sick,” Jenny whispered.
“Yes, I know, dear, now don’t you fret. You’ll be home soon enough.” Holding Jenny by the arm, the old woman marched her out into the middle of midtown traffic and stood in front of the first yellow cab she spied.
The cabdriver stuck his head out the window and shouted angrily. Apparently he hadn’t been in the country long, because his accent was so thick that it was nearly impossible to understand him.
“This is Jenny.” The bag lady opened the cab door and stuck her head inside. “She’s sick and needs to get home.”
“I don’t care if she’s the president,” the man inside the cab muttered, clenching his briefcase as if he expected the woman to snatch it from him. “I’m not giving up this cab. Driver,” he instructed, “do something.”
The driver twisted around and placed his hands over his ears. “Only been in America one day.”
The passenger said something under his breath.
Undeterred, the bag lady tried a second time. “That sign up there says this woman needs help. Now get out.”
The dignified-looking businessman bristled. “What sign?”
“Look at the billboard!” she shouted. “Now do as I say.”
Jenny remained in a daze, barely able to decipher what was happening around her. Horns blared. People stopped and stared. Traffic snarled even worse than it normally did. No one moved.
“You’re Jenny?” the businessman leaned halfway out of the cab to ask her.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Oh, all right,” he muttered, and with that he hopped out of the cab.
Jenny turned to thank the bag lady who’d helped her, but she’d disappeared into the crowd. Safe and warm, Jenny climbed inside the cab, laid back her head, and closed her eyes. The next thing she knew the driver pulled up in front of her apartment complex. She couldn’t remember giving him her address.
“How’d you know where I lived?” she asked as she pulled out her limited cash reserve to pay him.
“The old lady told me.”
“But . . .” Jenny shook her head, hoping to clear her thoughts. She’d never seen that woman before in her life. How could the bag lady have known where she lived?
“Good job,” Goodness said, standing under the blinking lights of Times Square.
Mercy was downright proud of herself. She’d pulled off the role of the bag lady with the finesse that had done all angels proud. “Jenny never even guessed she was dealing with an angel,” she bragged to her friend.
“I see you had a bit of a problem with that businessman, though. He didn’t seem willing to give up his seat.”
“A nonbeliever,” Mercy explained. “He prefers to take care of matters himself. Poor fellow. He doesn’t know what he’s missing.”
“It looks to me like he’s missing his cab.” Goodness chuckled and pointed to the street below. The man stood with his shoulders hunched against the cold, his arm raised in a desperate effort to hail a taxi.
Joshua was about to give up hope that Hannah would show. He’d waited a half hour and was tempted to admit he’d been wrong. His face stung with cold and his fingers were numb. He might have left if it hadn’t been for the skaters gliding over the ice and all the bright lights on the fifty-foot-tall Christmas tree. Both held his attention and kept him from dwelling on his disappointment.
This was the first day of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday that observed the freedom of religion. These few days in December celebrated the hope for peace. This night Jewish families around the world lit the first candle of the menorah, commemorating the Jewish recapture of the Temple in Jerusalem from the Hellenic Syrians in 164 b.c. It was the holiday honoring “the miracle of the oil.”
If Joshua remembered his history correctly, only one small jar of undefiled oil could be found for the Temple’s menorah. It should have been enough for only one day, but the jar lasted eight days, until a fresh supply could be delivered.
Joshua had never considered himself a particularly religious man. He preferred to think of himself as a man of faith. In the darkness of winter, his people celebrated the return of light.
That was the way Joshua thought of Hannah. She was a ray of sunshine in a world that had been filled with dark ambition. A ray of hope. He hated placing Hannah in the awkward position of having to choose between him and Carl, but he was confident she didn’t love the other man. He would have staked his career on that.
This evening would be telling. What he’d said to Hannah earlier about her not being able to stay away was true. If she truly cared for him the way he suspected, she’d find a means of meeting him.
Rockefeller Center was big, but somehow, some way, they’d connect. Joshua checked his watch one last time: 8:40.
His disappointment was keen. He’d wanted her to come. Willed her there. But it was apparent now that he’d been wrong. He had no option but to release her; she’d made her choice. He’d found her too late.