Second Can Be Good

'Oh god,' Claire thought, 'how will I ever get through this?'
At 13, Claire was shy to the extreme. After loosing her parent's in an automobile accident, 6 months ago, she had quickly become withdrawn and unsure of herself. When she looked in her mirror, she saw her lanky reflection staring back, her face almost hidden behind her wildly unruly hair. What Claire didn't realize, is what other people saw, when they looked at her . . . tall and slender as a willow, with a perfect complexion complimenting her large light green eyes and full red lips. Her naturally curly, light copper hair curled becomingly, framing her cheeks.
And here she was now, ready to enter the show world, with all eyes trained on her. How could her Aunt Liz do this to her? Why did she ever agree with her Aunt Liz, when she suggested Claire try showing her favorite dog, Rio, in the dog show?
She chewed her fingernail, nervously waiting for her turn to compete. Her Aunt Liz had pushed her into entering the event. Aunt Liz hoped the rivalry between the competing teenagers would help draw Claire out of her shell.
Claire's hands shook, as she glanced at her watch. The tension she was feeling must have been transmitted through the leash to the Collie, because he turned and looked at her, his eyes solemn. He thrust his long nose gently into her hand and gave a small 'Woof' of encouragement.
"Thanks, Rio. I needed that." She smiled, amazed by his uncanny ability to know the precise moment when her dropping spirits needed a gentle nudge. Claire stroked the dogs head, as she again glanced at her watch. She was feeling nauseous, she was so nervous. Claire took a deep breath, then continued talking to Rio.
"It's almost time to go in, boy. You know, fella, if we do anything here today, it'll be because of you, and no thanks to me!" Rio wagged his tail in acknowledgment, his eyes sparkling.
Liz walked over to stand by Claire, and teased Rio's full white rough with a comb as she spoke to her niece.
"Claire, you did a great job grooming Rio. He looks wonderful! I bet you guys pull a first place!"
"Oh, Aunt Liz, be serious!" she said, rolling her eyes at her aunt's comment. "I've never done this before, and you know . . ."
"I know it's time for you to get in the ring, because they just called your class. Hurry! And good luck!" Liz patted Rio on the head, as she shoved Claire towards the show ring.
Claire followed the other teenager's into the show ring, with Rio gaiting effortlessly on her left side. First, the judge had the six junior showmen gait their dogs together. They stopped in front of the judge when they had completed their circuit around the ring, then stacked their dogs in the stance that would best show off each breed. While the judge examined all of the dogs individually, Claire glanced out at her aunt.
Noticing Aunt Liz's encouraging smile, Claire drew a deep breath and tried to relax. She smiled when Liz gave her a sign of approval. She hoped she would be able to get through this without being sick!
"Are you ready?" the judge asked.
Claire's head jerked back towards the judge. She gulped, realizing it was now her turn to be judged. She glanced down at Rio quickly, observed he was standing correctly, then nodded her head in affirmation. The judge stepped forward and began his examination of Rio. His hands moved quickly and thoroughly down the length of Rio's body. When he finished, he stepped back and stared at Claire and Rio for three seconds. Claire thought it was an eternity.
The judge gave a quick nod, then walked towards the ring entrance. Turning to stand by the ring gate, he waited for Claire and Rio to begin their solitary circuit around the ring. Claire's grip tightened on Rio's leash unconsciously as she looked towards the dignified, reserved man who was judging her performance. Her stomach began to flip flop and she felt queasy as the judge beckoned her over with a quick wave, once they had finished their lone course. Claire trembled slightly, standing in front of the judge. Rio held his head proudly, his stance demanding everyone pay attention to him.
The judge sneezed.
The sound seemed to echo through out the building, briefly startling Claire. She stood in front of the judge, uncertain what to do, and watched as he pulled a white linen handkerchief from his pocket. He blew his nose, loudly.
The handkerchief had little black poodles all around its edging. Claire's eyes were drawn to the ridiculous handkerchief as she bit her lip, wanting to laugh.
The hankie did it. She didn't feel nervous or scared any longer. After all, how could she be frightened of a judge who blew his nose on a piece of fabric that had poodles all around it?
"Triangle, please." he said. The judge sniffled loudly once more before giving his nose another quick swipe. Claire stared at those poodles, as he put his handkerchief in his pocket.
"Let's go, Rio," she said. Claire smiled at the judge, reaching down and patting her dog on the head, feeling her confidence grow.
Claire turned, Rio trotting gracefully by her left side. They moved in unison toward the opposite end of the ring, their movement harmonious and synchronized. When the team drew near the ring boundary they turned left, as if they were one, and smoothly continued. Rio circled easily and without pause around Claire at the final point of the triangle, and they completed their pattern, stopping back in front of the judge.
Aunt Liz felt a tear roll down her cheek watching the pair glide around the ring. They moved together like a well rehearsed ballet, each complimenting the other. She looked at Claire standing straight and sure in front of the judge, and her heart swelled with pride as she realized her niece was confident and assured once again.
"You may go to the end of the line," he said. The judge sniffled, then sneezed once more. He blew his nose, his eyes trained on Claire and Rio as they gaited to their place in line.
All of the competitors stood behind their stacked dogs, waiting for the judge to make his final selection of placement. Two of the teens frowned in intense concentration, while two more had stiff, plastic smiles plastered on their faces. One of Claire's opponents, a girl close to her own age, smiled down at her fluffy little pomeranian as if she hadn't a care in the world.
Claire glanced down at Rio. She was confident she had presented him to the best of her ability. He looked up at her and wagged his tail. She smiled lovingly at him, then turned her head to look at the judge, her smile still in place.
"You all did a wonderful job," the judge said, "in your presentation of your animals. This definately was not an easy decision!" His voice had a nasal note to it. He sneezed, delicately wiped his red nose with his poodle-lined hankie, and turned to the watching audience.
"Let's give these marvelous children the hand they deserve," he said, as he pointed to the four kids he had selected. The spectators applauded.
"First," he said.
"Claire heard someone let out an excited scream. It was the girl with the pomeranian.
"Second, third and fourth," he said, pointing in between sneezes.
Claire was second! Her eyes opening widely, she leaned down to hug Rio around his neck. Her eyes grew misty when the judge gave her a beautiful brown rosette ribbon. She hugged her ribbon to her breast as she quickly left the ring. She had to show her ribbon to Aunt Liz!
"Oh baby," Aunt Liz said, "I'm so proud of you! You were wonderful!" Liz hugged Claire tightly.
"Oh, Aunt Liz!" she said, "It was so scarey at first, then I saw his hankie. It was so silly looking. I knew I could do it then!" Claire knelt down next to Rio and kissed him between his dark brown eyes. He grinned in his special Collie way, then softly woofed.
"The show," Claire asked, "well. . . you know. . . was I good? I mean, really good? And please don't say yes just because you're my aunt." Claire looked up at her Aunt Liz, her arms wrapped snugly around Rio's neck.
"Honey, you brought tears to my eyes!" Aunt Liz exclaimed. "I mean it, Claire, you were wonderful. And not just cause I'm your aunt!" She chuckled as she glanced at her niece.
"I really did it, didn't I?" Claire whispered, her eyes shining from unshed tears of happiness. "When's my next show?"

Author's Note : This story was written approximately 20 years ago (todays date is October 22, 2012 , btw ), when my children decided they would like to try their hands, at Jr. Showmanship. Although 'Claire' was 13-years-old in this story, her feelings on showing -- having all eyes on you, being center stage, very closely resemble what I (and many others, I'm sure) felt, the first time in the ring. *smiles* Shari Lyne