At her first recital, Michelle thinks she sees some friends in the audience--her stuffed animals!

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Michelle finished playing the last few bars of her minuet, then bowed to the stuffed animals on her bed.

“There, three times in a row with no mistakes,” she said. “I just hope I can play it that well at the recital.”

In just an hour she would be playing her first solo, and the thought was giving her butterflies. In fact, her stomach was doing somersaults.

“You’re lucky you don’t have to play by yourself in front of everybody,” she said, smoothing Lea the Leopard’s spotted fur and patting See-more Giraffe on the head. Then, gazing down at the smiling face of Zoey the Zebra, Michelle scolded, “You’re a big help. How can you be so happy at a time like this?”

She looked around the room at the bear, lion, monkey, and other animals that lined her bed and shelves. “I wish you could all come with me,” she sighed. She gave them one last glance and went to join her parents in the car.

“Do I have to play in the recital?” asked Michelle as she climbed into the back seat.

“Is my favorite first-grader getting nervous?” her dad asked, smiling.

Michelle didn’t answer. She was trying to picture what it would be like to play in front of all those people.

“You’ll do fine,” said Mom. “The first time is always the hardest.”

When they arrived at the auditorium, Michelle headed backstage. She handed her violin to her teacher for tuning and tiptoed over to where the curtains parted. Looking out, she could see that all the seats were filled, with many more people standing in back. Now her stomach was really doing flip-flops.

Nervously she took her violin from Mrs. Allen and sat with the other students onstage. She gulped as the curtains started to open and her teacher picked up the microphone to begin the program.

One by one the students played their pieces. Finally Michelle heard Mrs. Allen announce, “Our last student tonight will be Michelle Merrick, who will play Bach’s Minuet in G Major.”

Michelle’s heart pounded as she walked toward the front of the stage. She put her violin under her chin and placed the bow on the strings. But she couldn't remember even her first note.

Her eyes filled with tears. She shut them, hoping to blink the tears away. When she opened them again, everything seemed blurry. Oddly, it looked as if all the people in the room had changed into animals.

A woman in the front row looked just like Lea the Leopard. A young man behind her might be See-more Giraffe, and she was sure that she saw her smiling Zoey the Zebra standing in back.

She felt like giggling. It was almost like being at home. More relaxed now, she remembered her piece.

As she played, she looked out at her audience. Some of the animals seemed to be changing back into people. But Michelle was no longer nervous. The audience looked friendly now.

Finally she played the last note. She tucked her violin under her arm and took a big bow. She had done it! She had played her first solo!

As Michelle walked offstage, her parents greeted her with hugs. “We’re sure proud of you,” said Dad. “Say, let’s go for an ice-cream cone and get away from this crowd. It's a real zoo in here.”

Michelle grinned. “You can say that again,” she whispered.