The Worst Fourth Pirate in History

'Tis a Glorious Thing

The show was due to begin in fifteen minutes. Haley Brooks turned from one side to the other, examining her blue dress in the mirror. She had spent extra time hemming the skirt and making repairs as needed. Her hair was up and her bonnet completed the look. She kept checking and double-checking, scanning for errors.

“You look fine,” her younger sister Jessica, playing one of the major-general’s daughters, kept insisting.

“Do you really think so? Check the back, Jessie. Tell me if I missed any buttons.”

“Nada. You’re shipshape.”

Finally satisfied, Haley smiled. “Alright. Let’s get on out there.”

The girls hurried backstage where the rest of the cast stood in anticipation. Through a crack in the curtain, Haley could see a fair-sized audience, mostly made up of parents, getting settled in their seats. Her father had taken time off from his store and would be accompanying her mother in the front row. She looked back at her co-stars and started doing mental inventories.

Oh no.

“What’s wrong?” Jessica asked, seeing her sister’s change in expression.

“Where’s Aaron?”

“Who?”

“Pirate #4. The klutz.”

“Oh, him. Haven’t seen him today.”

Haley had a bad feeling about this. When she looked around again and he still hadn’t appeared, she turned to her sister. “I’m going to find him. Cover for me.”

“Haley, you can’t miss this opening.”

“I won’t. I just need to make sure he’s okay.”

“I’m sure he’s fine. Probably just ran into some random wall...” Jessica muttered as Haley hurried away.

Haley held a handful of her skirt in one hand as she walked briskly down the corridor. She popped into a few classrooms and asked around a little, but nobody had seen the AWOL pirate all day. Apparently he had missed all his morning classes.

Haley stopped in front of the locker room doors. She absolutely dreaded the idea, but she knew it was the most likely place. She knocked hard and long on the boys’ door and called out, “I’m looking for Aaron Hotchner. Are you in there?”

When she heard nothing, she tentatively opened the door. Between walls of blue lockers, a single boy sat hunched on the long bench. What a relief. Haley knew she should back up, but decided to deliver her message first. He’d better have a good excuse...

Something was wrong. Aaron wore jeans and that ratty henley, not his costume. His face was buried in his hands and he didn’t move when she walked closer.

“Aaron? Hey, I know I’m not supposed to be in here. I just wanted to check... Aaron?”

He turned his head away, still hiding his face.

“Can I get you anything, or anyone? Is everything okay?”

“You should just leave. Nobody needs Pirate #4.” His voice sounded so weak and dejected, she felt her gut soar.

“Yes, we do need you. You need to tell me if there’s a problem, and we can fix it.”

He shook his head. “I can’t go out there.”

Stage fright, thought Haley, but a creeping suspicion nagged in her mind. “I’ll help you. Come on...” She reached for his hand to move it from his face.

Aaron pulled away so swiftly it surprised her. He leaned to the other side, intent on keeping his face buried.

“Aaron, look at me.”

He didn’t move, but she heard him sniffle.

“Let me see your face.” Haley reached out again, gently, and guided his hand away. She gasped at what she saw.

A deep, inflamed cut forked under his left eye, still bloody-looking. Dark bruising surrounded the cut and buried his eye in purple and gray. The eye itself looked red, as if injected with blood. It was both terrifying and heart-wrenching to see.

“Oh, Aaron.”

“I... I, uh, tripped on the stairs, and...”

“Stop. You don’t need to lie to me. You don’t think I’ve been watching you since you aced a last-minute tryout? You don’t think I wondered about you always bringing a new injury to rehearsals, first your bruises, then your limp, and now this? Do you expect me to believe you’re the clumsiest kid on the planet?”

Aaron looked down.

“Someone’s hurting you, Aaron. You don’t have to hide it; I know. You just need to be open about getting help if you need it.” She took a deep breath, reining in her emotions. “Now I want see your face a little closer, feel for anything broken.”

Aaron didn’t resist as she pressed her slender hand against his face. She felt the eye socket and surrounding bones and found that her hand shook a little. Aaron winced. Something along his cheekbone felt cracked, but she couldn’t be sure.

“This needs to get checked out.”

“No, it will heal. It’s... happened before.”

“It must hurt. What happened?”

“I’m really not... supposed to be here. I should go.”

“No!”

Her own tone was so firm it surprised her as much as him. He stopped squirming and looked up at her.

Haley took a deep breath and lowered her voice. “Do you want to talk to the police? I can go with you.”

“No. If the police come in, things will only get worse. Mom said they would take me to jail, and all the felons would beat me to death. It’s safer at home.”

“But that isn’t true. The police can help you.”

“No. If they show up, Sean might get hurt. That’s what Charles said, and he’s not afraid to do anything.”

Haley started to realize how very little she knew about the people she went to school with. This boy was suffering, along with his family by the sound of it, and nobody would dare to do anything about it.

“I’m so sorry, Aaron,” she whispered.

There had to be something she could do.

“You’d better go, do your play,” muttered Aaron.

“You’re coming too.” She didn’t know where her conviction came from, she just knew she wasn’t going back to the auditorium alone.

“If everyone sees my face, they’ll start asking questions, the police will come, and Sean will get hurt.”

“Who is Sean?”

“My baby brother.”

Haley sighed. “If that’s the way it is, I’ll help you keep anybody from noticing.”

“How?”

“Quickly get changed. I’ll be back with a few things.”

She left and hurried to the girls’ room, where she stuffed her purse and few other items into a book bag. She paused, then decided to sneak into the storage room behind the auditorium. She rummaged through a couple bins, found what she needed, and crammed it into the bag as well. She felt a little silly tromping around the back rooms in her fine blue dress and bonnet. When she finally collected all her supplies, she rushed back to the boys’ locker room. The play would begin in about five minutes.

Haley knocked, called out, “It’s me, Haley,” and slipped inside. Aaron stood in his simple pirate shirt and trousers. He was shrugging on the black embroidered vest as she entered.

“Okay, we don’t have much time, so I’ll make this quick.” Haley sat down with her bag and patted the bench beside her. “Don’t worry. I’m something of an expert.”

Aaron sat beside her, nervously wringing his hands. She noticed for the first time that he was blushing a little.

“First I’m going to clean what I can. We can do more bandaging and stuff afterwards, but this is just to create a sanitary base.” She found the wipes and antiseptic in her bag and began gently cleaning out the gash under Aaron’s eye. Then she taped a thin square of gauze over the deep cuts. When she finished, she revealed a theatrical make-up kit.

“There’s no way you can cover everything with make-up,” Aaron said.

“That’s probably true, but I don’t need your pessimism interfering with this operation.”

Haley carefully brushed a make-up base over the gauze and the worst of the wound. She brought in some more skin tones and tried to neutralize the ugly marks. What make-up couldn’t cover, she enhanced with cheesy stage gore to make an extra long, extra fake-looking scar crossing from his eye down his cheek. She even lengthened the fake scar up his forehead an inch.

While Haley worked, she talked animatedly to keep him distracted. “Pirate #4 needs a little more backstory, wouldn’t you say? Let’s make something up. You must have gotten this scar in an exciting sword fight. Perhaps you were fighting to save your brother, or a beautiful girl in trouble.” She sort of enjoyed watching his face redden several more shades.

As a finishing touch, Haley placed an eye patch over the swollen black eye. Then she stood back to admire her handiwork. The gauze was nearly invisible. The scar looked overly exaggerated. It did look rather convincingly fake, but a good fake at that. How funny it seemed to try to make a mark look unrealistic, when her usual goal with make-up was 100% believability. Haley leaned in to add a touch of color here, a smear of powder there, just to make it a little more realistic. She didn’t want her work to be considered mediocre.

How ridiculous of her. This wasn’t about her make-up abilities. This was about protecting Aaron and his baby brother from whatever wicked people would hurt them. She held up her personal mirror. “What do you think?”

Aaron stared for a minute. “That looks great.”

"Oh, one more thing.” Haley reached into her bag. “Since you got on the cast last minute, you weren’t assigned one, but look what I found in storage.”

She pulled out a high-quality, black pirate hat with a skull-and-crossbones on the front and a red feather fountaining up the top. Aaron inhaled in awe. It was a beautiful, detailed hat. It was the sort of thing any child with an adventurous spirit would have drooled over and cherished forever.

Noticing his speechlessness, Haley placed the hat on his head. “There. You look like the best fourth pirate in history.”

Despite his obvious pain, Aaron glowed. “I can’t thank you enough.”

“You can by hightailing it to that stage. We’re only two minutes late.”

Aaron stood and shoved his clothes into an empty locker. Slamming the door, he turned to Haley and smiled. “Aye, cap’n!”

She grinned back. That was, perhaps, the best deliverance of that line she had ever heard.

While Aaron limped backstage with his battle wounds and beaming countenance, Haley hurried to escape the boys’ locker room and put her things away. She hoped she’d never have to be in such an awkward situation again.

Haley made her scene with minutes to spare. From there, the play went very well. She held her breath half the time, hoping nobody would mess up, but she was pleasantly surprised by the all-around engaged performances. The exhausting practices had paid off. Her mom and dad cheered and waved from the front row, filling her with pride.

Vinny played a fine Frederic, but Haley knew he was a jerk offstage. She smelled a little alcohol around him, and she didn’t like how he held onto her in the “romantic” scenes. But it didn’t last long, and she was on to the next thing. Plus, she got to call him a “poor wandering one” to his face.

More than anything, she was attentive to Aaron Hotchner. Who could be so evil to hurt him all the time, and threaten his baby brother as well? Haley prayed that he might find refuge in the safety of the stage. Just give him a break. He needs some peace.

She couldn’t help chuckling a little at his self-conscious dramatics. He really was a terrible actor, but his effort was admirable and kind of sweet.

Between scenes, she saw him sitting alone backstage, smiling and gazing at a wrinkled Polaroid. He didn’t mind her sitting beside him and glancing at the photo of a happy family.

“I hope my dad can watch from Heaven,” Aaron whispered.

Haley impulsively placed her hand over his. “I’m sure he’d be very proud.”

There was a pause. They could hear the police sergeant and his small band of officers singing and dancing. Haley cleared her throat.

“Do you think maybe—”

At the same time, Aaron asked, “Would it be okay if—”

They paused again. Haley tried once more, “Do you want to hang out later? Maybe study in the library together?”

“Study in the library?” Aaron’s one visible eye could not get wider. “Oh my goodness, yes.”

They joined the cast a short while later for a rousing chorus of “It is, it is a glorious thing to be the pirate king.”

She had a hunch it would be a glorious thing to have a friend like Aaron. Pirates or struggling schoolmates, they would trust, support, and protect each other. That was the nature of their friendship. And nobody, not Vinny Perotta, not the abusive monster in Aaron’s life, could keep Haley and Aaron from loving each other.

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