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The First Time

7:30pm. The night was set and the arrangements were all made. The only thing left was the talent. Kids from all grades made their way backstage as the auditorium began to fill up with eager parents and classmates. One of those kids was Kris. She was nervously twiddling her fingers together backstage, peering at the large crowd from behind a curtain Kris had been waiting for this day for a long time, but something just didn’t feel right. After trying so hard on her project, Joe wasn’t going to see it up close.

“Hey,” a sudden tap on her shoulder woke Kris up. “What are you doing all the way here? You’re supposed to be going into make up.”

Her mother. What a woman she was. Smiling down upon her was enough to give Kris courage but it didn’t give her enthusiasm.

“I’m nervous mommy,” she raggedly revealed in between breathes. “What if they don’t like me?”

“They’ll like you fine,” Ariel ruffled up her daughter’s hair. “Just remember to take things slow. Don’t rush yourself by over-thinking.”

“Oh…kay,” Kris huffed.

Meanwhile, nerves from the other side of town had yet to subside as well. Joe had caught the last bus from the terminal to Caoya just as barely walked out. The one negative aspect about public transportation, besides all the other aspects, was that it probably took twice as long as a normal car. Why? Because taking the bus meant taking it with the rest of the town; dropping and taking in passengers, all the while making a huge circle around town. No short cuts, no if ands or buts.

So as Joe dealt with the hustle and bustle of middle class life, Kris was waiting at the edge of her seat, getting the last bit of applicable make up plastered on her pure palette. Ariel however, had taken her seat in the large auditorium along with Calvin and Yi Zhen.

“So when is Kris going to show up in the program?” Calvin whispered over to Ariel.

“She should be last,” Ariel answered with a nod.

“Is she nervous at all?” Yi Zhen came into the conversation.

“A little,” she answered concisely. “Now where have you two been? I haven’t spoken to either one of you in such a long time.”

Looking at each other lovingly, Yi Zhen and Calvin just gave shrugs and Ariel knew exactly where they’ve been. Rolling her eyes, Ariel just left the two love birds in their own little world as they hugged and held each other’s hand. Disgusting, she thought. Public display of affection should be kept to a minimum…a minimum that could perhaps be her maximum. Sad, isn’t it?

“Forget I said anything.”

Just then, as Ariel was scanning the room, two figures popped in front of her.

“Mike, Rainie! Over here!” she called out.

“Hey!” they both waved back a hand.

“Come on over, I got plenty of space over here.”

As the parents and audience members found their seats, the red velvet curtain had parted from the middle and the lights dimmed low. The show was about to begin.

First up was the principal along with Old man Abe, who occasionally makes appearances here and there for town gatherings such as this. Not only was he a respected townsman but Abe was also gracious enough to help out on the festivities. The principal stepped forward and the spotlight quickly zoned on him.

“Ladies and gentlemen welcome to our annual school talent show,” principal Feng spoke joyfully. “This year the school and I are proud to present to our town, some of the greatest talents our kids of the future have offered for your viewing pleasure. But before we can relish in the festivities of the night, let us give a round of applause to the man who helped build our scenery and helped the kids develop and create their projects. ABE!”

The crowd roared in childish hooting from all around the auditorium. Parents were busy hushing their kids and keeping them from jumping out of their seats. Who knew Old man Abe had such an influence on the kids? Not only was he beloved from the adults but apparently the kids as well.

Abe modestly bowed his head and said “please enjoy the show.”

Meanwhile, as things finally began to start at the talent show, Joe was too busy being stuck in traffic and only God knows how long that would take. Sometimes…public transportation really does blow.

“If I keep going at this pace, I’m not even going to make it to the last performance,” he muttered to himself angrily.

“That’s it! I’m getting out.”

Once the bus came to a full stop, Joe leapt out with no regrets and in the middle of nowhere. Well, there was always another option besides the slow bus in this part of town. Thank goodness he was still in the city though. “Taxi!”

The night was coming to the second act and still no Superman to be found. Kris still had butterflies swimming in the pit of her stomach as she waited impatiently backstage. Her knees were shaking uncontrollably and her mom was way into the crowd. Just a few more performances and in no time, she’ll be in front of over a hundred eyes focusing on whether or not she’ll fall flat on her face…

“Hey, Kris?” Robbie tapped her on the shoulder. “Are you ok?”

She grabbed him on both shoulders and with an unsteady voice she yelled, “What do you think!? We’re the only second graders here! Can’t you feel the pressure? I feel sick.”

“Kris? Chill. We’ll be ok,” Robbie reassured.

“How can you be so calm at a time like this?” she hissed back.

“You’re the brains here. I just have to stand there and look cool,” he shrugged. “Why are you so nervous? We’ve done it a million times.”

“I think we should have practiced more,” she cringed.

“Kris, you’re crazy,” Robbie laughed. “It’s not like we’re going to blow up the auditorium.”

As the show continued on, Joe had yet to arrive at the school. The night had grown dark and now traffic had hit the streets hard as people started to head on home.

“Excuse me,” Joe nodded to his driver. “How much longer is it going to take to go to the school?”

“With this traffic?” His driver sighed deeply. “Probably another hour just to get half way. But it’s just a couple of miles from here.”

“How many miles?” he asked curiously.

“Not much. Let’s just say, without this jam, it’ll take probably 30 minutes,” his driver reassured. “At the rate we’re going, I think you’ll have a better chance running there and getting to the school on time,” he chortled hard.

Now there’s an idea.

“Ok thanks,” Joe quickly answered as he swung the taxi door wide open letting it barely touch the car next to it.

“Keep the change,” he added swiftly, throwing a few bills in the driver’s lap before running out of the cab in mid traffic.

“Hey I was only kidding!” the driver yelled out the window. “You’ll never make it on time!”

“Hasn’t anyone told you?” Joe casually yelled back. “I’m SUPERMAN!”

The sounds of applause suddenly hit the air and the next act begins their performance. Mike had had enough of the

“talent” in this show. Apparently every kid and or parent thought that singing was raw talent whether or not the kid can actually sing.

“UGH, I can’t take it anymore! Rainie, you owe me big time for dragging me into this,” Mike whispered into his wife’s ear.

“Don’t tell me, you would rather stay at home all alone rather than see your only son perform for the first time,” Rainie growled back.

“I’m just saying,” Mike began to reason. “You could have taped it.”

“I’m going to kill you, Mike He,” she spat viciously. “I can’t talk to you anymore.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Ariel butted in politely.

“Oh nothing,” Rainie faked a smile. “Mike is just excited about the singing.”

“Really?” Ariel scoffed a bit. “One more singer, and I’m about to claw my eyes out.”

“Thank you!” Mike whispered loudly back. “See I’m not crazy.”

“Hey guys, look!” Calvin hushed at his friends. “I think the principal is going to announce the last performance.”

“Oh, finally, we get to see Kris!” Yi Zhen yelped excitedly.

This was it. The principal was going to announce Kris and Robbie as the final act. Ariel had already felt goose bumps creeping on her skin the moment Abe and the principal came on stage. If it weren’t for the heat in the auditorium, Ariel would have frozen right there and then. She couldn’t believe it, that she was more nervous for Kris than Kris was probably. She took a long inhale and gave a slow exhale.

“For our next act,” the principal began. “The kids will take a few moments to prepare so please wait patiently as our next performers set up the stage. Thank you.”

The row of adults cheering for Robbie and Kris gave an exhausted sigh.

“More waiting,” Mike whined.

“Don’t worry, this will mentally prepare them to be in front of the audience,” Calvin evaluated.

“I hope so,” Rainie patted her chest. “I’m so nervous for Robbie.”

“I’m nervous too,” Ariel squealed. “I can’t wait to see the final result.”

“Well this way, maybe Joe will see her perform too,” Yi Zhen casually mentioned.

“Yi Zhen that’s not funny,” Ariel rolled her eyes harshly.

“What? I thought he was coming to see her,” Yi Zhen shrugged.

“He has a flight tonight,” Ariel sighed. “He couldn’t make it.”

“I thought Jiro was covering for him,” Calvin interrupted. “We were supposed to ride with him but he said he was taking Joe’s flight to London.”

“W-wait what?” Ariel spat in the midst of revelations. “How come he didn’t tell me?”

“You didn’t know?” Rainie tapped at her shoulder. “I thought you’d be the first to know.”

“Why else would Jiro take a flight last minute?” Mike laughed.

“I didn’t know Jiro took his flight!” she yelped.

Well that’s impossible,” Mike frowned. “He told me the other day: ‘Mike, make sure you tell Ariel…’ oops”

“MIKE!” Rainie screamed. “You didn’t tell her?!”

“Well, where is he?” Ariel frantically looked left and right. “Joe’s supposed to be here right?”

No words were spoken; just open mouths with stolen gasps. Lashing back and back, Ariel searched for any image of Joe in the audience. To no prevail, she finally stood up and rushed out of the audience.

“I have to find him,” she muttered to herself.

“A couple more minutes and the show will continue,” the speakers blared in the auditorium.

Going from backstage to the real stage, Robbie and Kris were busy putting the last touches in their performance. Just a few meters away, Joe was already out of breath and dying for air as he reaches the outside of the school. He looks at his watch and notices that he had a few more minutes till the clock stuck 9. He took a look in front of him and saw fence after fence of barbed wire waiting to prick his entire body if he ever thought of climbing over it.

“What is this? A prison?” he glared at the sight. “How the heck am I supposed to get through this?”

Meanwhile, Ariel had rushed into the outside of the school, hoping to see if anyone had tried to get in. The night had already settled and nothing could be seen in the pitch black shadows.

“C’mon, Joe, you have to be here somewhere,” she whispered to herself.

“Ariel!” someone yelled from behind.

Turning around, Ariel disappointedly see’s Abe holding onto a cup of hot cocoa chilling under the dark night.

“Get back in there, dear, it’s freezing in a night like this,” he smiled back sweetly.

“I suppose you’re right,” she sighed to herself. “Joe, you have to be here somewhere.”

Slowly heading back to the auditorium, Ariel smiled back at Abe and closed her eyes for a brief moment to settle her heart back. Abe however, stayed back for a few moments to soak in the cold. After being stuck inside that stuffy room with noises pounding from every direction, he had to shake it off somehow. Suddenly, he turns to the side of the school as a distant rustling becomes more and more apparent. Calmly, Abe heads over to the edge of the school to see a strange man struggling to get over the fence. He was having a pretty hard time but once the scraps and tears of the man’s fancy jacket had stopped catching Abe’s attention, Abe knew exactly who it was.

“You know,” Abe chuckled softly, sipping a bit of his hot cocoa. “This is the exact reason why I carry spare pliers with me at all times.”

“You couldn’t have told me that beforehand!” Joe growled in response as he struggled to his feet. “Is the show over?”

“One last performance left and I think you’ll be mighty pleased to see who it is,” Abe joked.

“OK thanks, I’ll go sit in the audience,” he smiled back.

“I have a better idea,” Abe thought out loud. “C’mon follow me.”

Backstage, Kris was making weird faces to try to psyche herself out. Hopefully by doing this, should be a little less nervous but it was terrifying Robbie.

“Kris?” Robbie asked quietly. “Are you having a heart attack?”

“A little bit,” Kris muttered in between facial expressions.

“That’s cool,” Robbie nodded nonchalantly. “Well when you’re done come onto the stage ok? We’re up.”

This was it, go time. Kris didn’t exactly know what to do to stop her nerves so within those few seconds of preparation, Kris shook herself from head to toe and gave a deep growl to loosen up her voice.

“Please welcome,” Mr. Feng announced. “Our last performers of the night, Kris Lin and Robbie He, to the stage.”

The audience hooted and hollered as Kris and Robbie made their way to the stage. There was only a table in front of them and the secret box that Kris had been lugging around for these last couple of weeks. It was the same box that she showed Joe the night he first came to her house. The backdrop was pitch black and the spotlight was focused on the box. The applause had settled, a soft silent lull came right before some strange music started blaring from the speakers. It was a folksy, happy music that lightened up the mood for the brief moment of spectacle the audience was about to see for themselves.

The box had a huge question mark printed on, facing the audience’s direction, and after a few moments of cluelessness, Kris revealed what was inside the box; an old plastic lawn chair with hooks and straps ducktaped all over.

Robbie took center stage as he revealed exactly what was going on.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he loudly presented. “I give you, the amazing, the spectacular, the eighth wonder of the world…Supergirl!”

Spotlight turns to Kris as she lifts something from the below the table and she held up a red blanket right before she draped it on her back like a cape. Posing like Superman, she gave a few seconds for the audience to commence in their oohs and aahs with the hint of small laughter here and there.

“Bring out the balloons!” Robbie called out.

With only a few more minutes to spare, a backstage handler came out to deliver a whole sky’s worth of helium balloons. The sheer size of the balloons and the amazing rainbowish colors were even more impressive as the crowd let their mouths gape and hang in the air.

As the adults tie the straps of the chair to the floor, some more stage handlers helped to tie every balloon to the chair. Kris was waiting nervously until she looked about and saw her mother sitting right in the center.

“Mom!” she loudly yelped, letting a roar of laughter echo in the auditorium. “Oops.”

One by one the stage handlers left the stage and Kris remained in her pose for the next step. Sitting onto the chair, Kris took a deep breath as she allowed Robbie to strap her into the seat. Once she was secure, she whispered something into Robbie’s ear and he proceeded.

“It’s time for lift off. Ah but one last thing. Bring out the magic balloon!” he roared into the back. “One balloon to do it all, if all fails.”

Kris pulled out her hand to take the balloon as she sat still in the chair breathing in and breathing out, completely unfocused on who was giving her the balloon.

“Good Luck, Kris,” said a very familiar voice that led her to whip her head sideways immediately.
With eyes wide open and a voice so loud, she screamed to call him back. “SUPERMAN!”

“Superman!?!?!?!” screamed Ariel and her row of adults, lifting out of their seats and covering their mouths.

With that said, Kris was two centimeters close to grabbing Joe by the arm, but instead she tipped her chair over just a little before Joe caught her. The audience gave another roar in laughter at the sheer thought of all those balloon toppling over and smothering “Superman.”

“Shhh,” Joe hushed at his clumsy daughter. “C’mon you still have a show to do.”

“You came!” she squealed. “I take back every mean thing I ever said about you.”

“You said mean things about me?” Joe immediately questioned.

“Uh…get off the stage,” she hushed back.

Once Joe was completely off stage, Kris gave Robbie the OK to let the straps off the floor and propel her into the air. Robbie carefully took off each strap and before the audience could prepare, Kris was floating to the top.

“WHOA!” Mike screamed in the middle of the silent audience.

“That’s amazing,” Rainie added.

“How did they do it?” Calvin continued to say in awe. “I didn’t know balloons could lift so much weight.”

“Well Kris isn’t exactly a bull,” laughed Yi Zhen.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Robbie pulls out a small bb-gun and rings bullets into the sky. Each of them hit a single balloon, letting more than just the hearts of the audience plummet into their stomach.

“My baby!” Ariel screamed. “She never told me this was going to happen.”

Actually, Kris was only a few feet away from the ground and seemingly enough the dark backdrop was only an illusion to fool the naive audience. Robbie kept at it and soon enough Kris was down to her last 15 balloons and she was hovering quiet lowly.

“Don’t worry, people,” Robbie gave a cool, thumb’s up to the crowd. “I’m a professional.”

“That’s easy for him to say,” Ariel worriedly growled between fretting.

Pulling another round, Robbie this time slowly let his bullets fly and one by one the balloons popped loudly into the crowd. Kris was now holding onto five balloons and hovering still low but high enough off the ground to take a pretty bad fall.

“Now here’s the tricky part,” Robbie winked to the audience and quickly blasted away all the balloons except the one Kris held in her hand. The audience gave one deep unison gasp and held it for a long time.

“I’m ok, folks!” Kris screamed to the crowd as she signaled a big ok sign.

The crowd gave a long lasting applause as Robbie bowed his head. Letting the clapping die down, Robbie signaled Kris to come down and slowly but surely, Kris began to hover her way to the ground.

“Let’s give a hand to our Supergirl!” Robbie shouted to the crowd.

Kris took a modest bow but came up to see the audience at their feet, clapping and hooting their praises at the little girl before them not knowing that everything they had witnessed had all been an illusion. For all they know, she really was Supergirl. And now, the man whom she had been watching the entire time, thought so too. Giving a small wave to backstage, Kris silently thanked Joe for being there for her for the first time.

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