The Puppet Girl: Part One
My hand in a patched-up piece of felt and a crowd of giggling young neopets sitting in front of me, I did my favorite job at the NeoFair: puppet shows. I sat behind the neatly cut-out cardboard stage and acted out my character, a Blumaroo named Rooey. My puppet show partner and dear friend Oliver sat beside me, his paw in a Elephante Sock Puppet he called Elley. He cracked a joke and the young neopets roared with laughter. I couldn't help but chuckle, too. Puppet shows were my favorite way to spend the day.
"Hey, Lukio," Oliver said, packing away the props we had used for our show. "We did really great out there today, didn't we?"
I held my Blumaroo puppet Rooey and smiled. "We sure did. The little neopets just loved it."
Rooey and Elley had been a classic for years. The Blumaroo and Elephante were best friends and the whole show centered around Elley always losing his glasses and Rooey finding them in odd and strange places. Today, Elley's glasses had been on his face the whole time! I looked at Rooey, whose arm seams were practically falling apart, for his left arm dangled a bit. Oliver held up Elley and his tiny puppet-sized glasses were cracked and old from so many shows.
"Perhaps it's time for Rooey and Elley to retire," Oliver said, and I nodded.
We finished packing just as the Neofair adviser came walking our way.
"Great show. Great show," Mr. Toyo, a Mynci and also the Neofair adviser, said as he approached us. "I swear, you two could be comedians."
He laughed a great big bear laugh and said, "A little Kyrii girl and her owner came by here earlier, and looks like you two are gonna be doing a birthday show."
Oliver's face lit up and a smile broke out across his face. "That's super!" he exclaimed.
I couldn't wait either. "Awesome!" I shouted. I needed to start thinking of an idea for the show right away. What would a little Kyrii like?
Oliver and I walked home together that day, since we needed to work on our puppets for the 'Best Puppet' contest coming to Neopia. We had waited forever it seemed to be old enough to enter the 'teen' part of the competition. We sprawled out on the floor of my bedroom, pieces of felt, buttons, and string were all around us.
"Do you think we have a chance?" I asked. I looked the Xweetok puppet I was working on. It was supposed to be a replica of me, but it still needed work. Okay, maybe a lot of work!
The stitches holding down the button eyes were astray and some of the shadow-black felt was coming off of the body. I sighed. I would never be good enough. I would never be as good as Oliver was. I looked at his puppet in dismay. The seams holding everything together were perfect.
Oliver only smiled and nudged me with his elbow. "Are you kidding? You and I, we're like the perfect team. Like peanut butter and jelly. Like..." He tried to think of a another pair.
"Thread and a puppet?" I said, patching some black silk onto the tail.
"Exactly, like thread and a puppet! When we're together, we can never lose. And don't underestimate your puppets, Lu. They look great."
He always made me feel better.
I looked at my Xweetok puppet again. A crooked stitched mouth smiled back at me. It didn't look that bad, I guess. I mean, I wasn't the worst puppet maker ever. Maybe we still did have a chance to win.
The next day as I was walking into Neoschool, a bunch of girls were out on the courtyard ribbon dancing. I stared at them in awe as they twirled around beautiful rainbow-colored ribbons so freely and fun. Mia the Wocky was there too, spinning better than the rest. She was great. She noticed me watching and gave me her 'Oh no, what is she doing here?' look. Mia didn't like me much; perhaps not at all.
Her and her group of ribbon dancing friends walked up to me and Mia spoke, her icy blue eyes flickered with annoyance. "Hey, look, everyone. It's the puppet girl. What are you doing here? Certainly not thinking about becoming a ribbon dancer, I hope. It's in the rules; no puppet girls allowed. Just go back to your puppet making, okay?"
Then they walked away to continue their practicing. Mia could be so mean! Puppet making was very fun, and I had loved it ever since I was adopted by Crystal. I was only about four years old and I had just gotten to my new home when Crystal handed me a bear puppet with golden button eyes and little knitted scarf. I loved him so much, I decided to make my own and loved it since.
I was so mesmerized into that memory I didn't even notice a Pink Kacheek walk up to me and watch, too.
"They're awesome, aren't they?" she said. "They're having auditions in a few days, I hear. I would love to make it."
My mouth dropped open. "Auditions?" At that moment I knew I wanted to be a ribbon dancer. I wanted to twirl around and dance like they did.
I continued to watch until I heard the bell. All day I couldn't think of anything but ribbon dancing.
"Crystal!" I cried, as I ran into the door of our neohome. "I going to the store." She was my owner and her real name was Crystaline, but we had always called her Crystal.
Her and my little brother, Sywun, sat on the floor putting together a puzzle.
I ran straight to my room and grabbed my Xweetok coin purse containing all my money Mr. Toyo had given me from doing puppet shows.
"Bye, Crystal. I won't be gone long."
My owner looked at me and laughed. "Rushing, much?" Her bright blue eyes sparkled at me.
Please let them have dance ribbons. Please! I cried silently as I walked very fast to the Neostore.
I opened to the door to the store and asked the clerk where the dance ribbons were.
She showed me and said, "Pick any you like. These things are really popular these days." Then she sighed. "Ah, to be young again. I remember my first dance ribbon."
I looked at all the ribbons. There were pink and red and rainbow and gold and purple. I wanted them all, but I knew I couldn't do that. What if another young Xweetok out there had the dream of ribbon dancing, too? I chose the pink one and hastily counted out 6,000 NP. It was a lot of money for me, but being a ribbon dancer was worth it!
The Uni clerk handed me the dance ribbon and said, "Thank you, come again!"
I weighed it my paws. The smooth, silky pink silk was perfect. As I ran out the door, I twirled it a little. It was so much fun! Then I ran all the way to my neohome twirling and spinning and laughing and free. It was so much fun indeed.
When I twirled around in my room, though, it was different. It didn't fly and flap freely in the breeze as it had outside. Instead, it got tangled around me and everything else. I untangled myself and tried again. This time, it got caught around my bed post.
I sighed. This was going to take practice. Okay, maybe a lot of practice! I tried again and it was going great until it wrapped around me again. I heard the door open and Crystal poked her dark blond head inside.
"What are you doing, Lukio?" Her eyes flashed to the dance ribbon. "Oh, ribbon dancing!" she cried. "How fun! When did you get into ribbon dancing, Lukio?" She took it from me and waved it around the room.
"Well, I saw these other girls at school doing it and it looked like fun. They are having auditions this week, and it would mean everything to make it."
Then Crystal started dancing around and spinning the ribbon. I watched open-mouthed as she made perfect loops.
"Wow, Crystal," I said, amazed. "I didn't know you ribbon danced."
Crystal blushed and smiled, dimples pressed deep into her cheeks. "Well, I don't exactly, but I did try it a couple times."
I sighed. "I wish I was that good."
"Practice," she said. "You know what they always say, practice makes perfect." Then she handed me the ribbon and left the room.
Crystal was right; Crystal was always right.
"All I need is a little practice," I thought. "And then I shall be perfect."
Next day, ribbon dancing tryouts started and I was up before everyone. I was so excited, it was hard to choke down the breakfast Crystal had prepared.
After breakfast, I ran straight to my room to practice one last time. I picked up the dance ribbon from its place on my pillow and twirled it until Crystal yelled at me to start heading for Neoschool.
"Good luck!" she yelled as I ran off to the place where I usually met Oliver so we could walk together.
Oliver smiled as I approached, then his attention turned to the dance ribbon. "Huh? Lukio, what's this?"
"My dance ribbon. I'm auditioning today and I'm as nervous as ever!"
"I hope you make it," he said. "I bet you're good."
I couldn't help but blushing. "Well, maybe. I don't think I'm that good though."
"I bet you are. Show me something."
I really didn't want to. What if I was awful? So then I started twirling and out of the corner of my eye I spotted Oliver's eyes seem to be laughing. I stopped and cried, "I knew I was horrible!"
"No, no," he said and raised my arm a little. "Raise your arm, look up, and smile. You'll do fine."
I looked at him with my you're-lying-and-I-know-it sort of look.
"I'm not lying. You're pretty good. You just lack confidence, that's all. Confidence is the key to success."
I took a deep breath. "Okay, so I'll try to be more confident. Anything else?"
Just then, the bell rang.
"Oh, gee. The bell! Wish me luck!" I said as we hurried off to our classes.
My Zafara friend grinned at me with his soft, friendly grin. "I'm crossing my fingers. See you after school."
I stood in the auditorium with a nervous grin on my face and watched some of the girls dance around waving their ribbons. Some of them were great, and some of them were amazingly great. Little butterflies fluttered around in my stomach. I watched silently and dazzled at the way Mia twirled her dance ribbon. It was lemon colored and matched her icy blue eyes and fluffy pink tail perfectly. Even though she wasn't very kind, I still couldn't help agreeing that she was a pretty good ribbon dancer.
Mia was like the most popular girl in school and one could only dream of being as cool as her. She had a group of the other most popular girls with her who always followed her everywhere. She only wore expensive clothing and her owner was like a millionaire and above it all, she was painted faerie! She wasn't the nicest neopet, though. She always looked down on me for my love for puppets. But just because she wasn't very nice to me, didn't mean I couldn't be nice to her. And plus, I was better than that.
I walked up to her and said, "Hi, Mia. You're a really good ribbon dancer and I like your dance ribbon too."
She raised her eyebrows at me and her bossy blue eyes glistened with annoyance. She fluttered her pretty pink wings at me. "Oh look, it's the puppet girl again. Lukonio, is it?"
Her friends laughed at this but their mean snickers and judgmental laughter didn't offend me.
"It's Lukio, actually."
"Ah yeah, whatever. Like it matters. So why are you here again? Finally give up for stupid love for puppets? Or did poor little Crystaline make you so she had something else to talk about you for besides stupid little puppets?"
I felt my face go red. How dare they talk about Crystal like that! I wanted to hit her, but Crystal would be disappointed in me. So instead, I turned around and walked to the other side of the gym. I wasn't going to let them get in the way of my ribbon dancing concentration. I started practicing for a little while until Ms. Mandie, our Acara ribbon dancing coach, called us over to her.
"Okay, girls, I'm gonna need you to get in pairs, then we're gonna go through some stunts and exercises. Am I clear?"
"Yes," I said along with the other girls. I looked around to see who maybe could be my partner. Mostly everyone was popular and certainly wouldn't want to be mine. Just then I saw Shelby the Aisha sitting all alone on the bench. She was new and I didn't know her very well, so why not start now? She seemed to looking around for a partner too.
I walked up to her and smiled politely. "Hi, Shelby. I noticed you sitting over here alone. Want to be my partner?"
Her dark honey-colored eyes looked at me in shock and she nodded and said, "Okay," in a small, timid voice.
"So, decided you wanted to try ribbon dancing? Do you think it's fun?" I asked her.
She fiddled with her silky soft red ribbon and didn't look up at me. "Well, Kassey, my owner, said I should try something new. She thinks maybe it would take away some of my shyness if, well, I meet some new friends and tried doing something I've never done before. And yes, I guess it's fun."
The first we did was just working on holding the dance ribbon correctly. I tried to be good, doing what Oliver had told about raising my arm and stuff. Ms. Mandie went by and nodded an approval. I looked over at Shelby, who was way out of correct posture.
"No, Shelby!" I cried. I ran over to raise her cloud painted arm and straighten her back a bit. "That's not right, you have to stand with confidence and correct posture. Dancing is all about being light on your feet! Spread your legs out a bit too."
She moved with me shyly and kept saying, "Okay, thank you."
By the time I had arranged her position, she looked better. "That's right," I said. "That's perfect."
Then we worked on twirls, and each time Shelby seemed to come more and more out of her shell. We laughed each time the dance ribbon tripped one of us or when we saw Mia trip and get up with the funniest look on her face. Next, we worked on some stunts and making little circles with our ribbons.
"Mine look more like eggs!" Shelby remarked, pushing her glasses up to the bridge of her small pink nose.
"They do look like eggs." I giggled. I looked to see what mine were making. It was a loop, a pretty good one too.
"Wow, those are so much better than mine. I saw one of the ribbon dancers on the squad last year make a heart with her ribbon. My owner Kassey said that was a neopet of true talent." She tried making a heart with hers but it looked more like an egg than before. "Guess I'm not that talented."
I decided to try with mine, even though I guaranteed I wasn't going to be able to do it. I mean me, make a heart? Yeah, right. So I tried, and my mouth dropped with surprise.
A heart! I was making a heart! I couldn't believe my eyes! How did I do it? It was the way my paws moved with the ribbon. The heart was perfect.
Ms. Mandie walked by and gasped with excitement. "Oh, Lukio! Where ever did you learn to do that?"
I continued twirling my perfect heart and shrugged. "I don't know. I just did it... I guess."
I felt everyone's eyes on me and I caught Shelby's eye and she was smiling at me like, "You're definitely gonna make it."
Even Mia was staring at me, her eyes blazing with rage.
I heard her snort and grumble, "Big deal. Anyone can make a heart."
She picked up her lemon dance ribbon and tried, but it came out eggy like Shelby's. Everyone laughed, even her friends, but they stopped once Mia gave them the evil stare.
I was beaming with pride. Wait until I told Oliver!
Soon tryouts ended and Shelby and I walked home together.
"Wow, Lukio. I wish I was that good. You are definitely going to make it."
I blushed. "Did you see Ms. Mandie? She looked really impressed."
"She did. And did you see Mia? That served her right trying to make you look bad!"
Shelby got quiet then, only not a bad quiet. More like a thinking or deep-it-thought quiet, I guess. Then she spoke up.
"Uh, Lukio? Do you think maybe... do you think maybe you could give me lessons? You are such an amazing dancer and I wanna be good like you!"
I was shocked for a moment realizing she wanted me to teach her how to ribbon dance. I didn't really know myself!
"Well, I'm not really good, Shelby. That heart back there, that heart was an accident. I didn't know how to do it."
"But it was a good accident! Oh, please teach me! Please?" Then she quieted. "Well... only if you want to."
How could I say no to a friend like her? "Okay, sure. Come over tomorrow, okay? We can start then."
Then she threw her arms around me and hugged me to death. "Oh, Lukio! Thank you."
After many tiring days of tryouts and tiring days of Shelby lessons and tiring days of Oliver and me working on our Best Puppet contest puppets, the day to announce the makers of the ribbon dance squad had finally arrived.
During the morning walk to school, I caught up with Oliver. We hadn't walked together in a while, since I'd started walking with Shelby, who today said she was running late and would meet me there.
Oliver had his usual grin on his face and the usually warm friendliness in his deep blue Zafara eyes.
"Hey, Lu. Care if I join you?" He swished his tail back and forth in excitement.
"Of course." I smiled. "Man, I am so nervous. I really hope I make it. Maybe then Mia wouldn't tease me so much."
"You shouldn't let her push you around," he said. "Besides, you're probably better than her anyway. I heard what you did on Monday."
"Huh? My heart loop? That was nothing but an accident."
"Maybe it was." He paused. "Aren't you excited about the Best Puppet contest? We are definitely going to win first place for sure! With our puppets, we can't lose."
He took his white Zafara puppet out of his backpack. Its navy blue button eyes shone at me.
I sighed. "Well, maybe if my puppets were as good as my ribbon dancing, I'd have something to work with."
Oliver grinned. "Aw come on, Lu! Where's the confidence? I wanna see it right now."
I couldn't help but smile. "Oh, Oliver. You always make me feel better."
"That's what I'm here for. Because you and I, we're unstoppable. We're like thread and a puppet; we're one."
Later in the gym, Shelby and I stood nervously together waiting for the good or terrible news. My paws were trembling violently and Shelby's paw was in mine shaking also.
Mia and her group of friends sat carelessly and maybe too-confidently on the bleachers. They messed with their hair, played with their ribbons, anything to pass the time.
I caught Mia's eyes and they burned with hate and laughter. Her wings fluttered with irritation.
"You're not going to make it," she mouthed to me. "You're not good enough. You're just a puppet girl."
I turned away quickly. I wasn't going to let her mess with my head. I had to have confidence. Oliver said confidence was the key to success.
"Where's Ms. Mandie?" Shelby whispered in my ear. "She making us wait too long. I can't stand it!"
She looked around nervously and her cloudy furry forehead was streaked with sweat. She pushed her Lisha glasses to the bridge of her nose and puffed out a sigh of relief as Ms. Mandie walked in carrying a clipboard.
I sighed too, only because my paw was falling asleep from holding Shelby's paw so long.
Ms. Mandie stood before us with a serious look on her face.
"Okay, girls, first thing is I'd like to thank you all for trying out for the Girls Ribbon Dancing Squad. We had many good dancers this year, but only so many could be chosen, so without further delay I will read the list."
The room got quiet, then Ms. Mandie spoke.
Janet was a Korbat, and she squeaked in surprise at the saying of her name.
Cady was good. She was a Kougra and a more experienced ribbon dancer. I had a feeling she was going to make it.
Violet. One of Mia's group of friends. The group cheered for Violet, all except Mia. She cared more about herself making it than her friends. In fact, she could probably care less if her friends made it or not.
Ugh, more of Mia's friends.
The Zafara twins and very good ribbon dancers.
Shelby! My arms flew around my friend.
"Shelby!" I cried. "You made it! That's wonderful."
Shelby looked so surprised and she couldn't even speak.
Mia just snorted and her face pinched up in disgust.
She was a Kacheek and very good.
Please let me be next! Please! I thought silently. There were only two spots left. Would I be one of them?
"Payton." And then Ms. Mandie paused slightly.
The last person was next! Who would it be? Mia hadn't gotten picked yet either. Would it be her? The butterflies in my stomach took over and felt as if they were going up my throat.
"And Lukio," she finally said, "who I have chosen to dance the lead role in the Ribbon Girl Performance this Saturday at the Neofair."
My paw flew to my mouth. Had I really made it? Really? And gotten the lead role too?
Shelby hugged me with excitement and our laughter collided and soon the whole room was either filled with heart-breaking sobs or mouthfuls of congratulating laughter and smiles.
Mia looked straight at me with pure hate and disgust and then her big mouth flew open and yelled, "HER!?!"
The room got really still and quiet then. Everyone's attention turned to Mia.
"Her? Ms. Mandie, there must be some mistake! Lukio isn't a ribbon dancer; she's not good enough! I deserved that spot! Lukio's just a stupid puppet girl!"
I thought for sure Mia was going to cry.
"She plays with stupid little puppets and has a dorky little Zafara friend named Oliver she has puppet shows with. And she likes that freaky Shelby girl. And me, well, I'm pretty and popular and cool and totally a better dancer than her!"
Then she stormed out of the gym covering her face. I felt sorry for her. All eyes turned to me and I felt terrible.
On the way home, Shelby said I shouldn't worry about it and I deserved that spot.
"Still, I feel awful."
"Well, you shouldn't. You deserved it. And to think, you were chosen for the lead role!" Shelby said, and then got a little skip in her step. "Can you believe I made it, Lukio? It's all because of you too. You taught me how to ribbon dance."
I smiled and didn't know what to say.
"I can't wait until our big performance on Saturday," she continued. "Can you believe we're going to be performing at the Neofair? I'm not really good in front of audiences, but with you there, I'm sure I can manage."
Performance? Saturday? Neofair? But that was the day of the 'Best Puppet' contest! And Oliver. I couldn't bail on him. What was I going to do?
Shelby tilted her head at me. "Lukio? Is everything okay?"
"Oh, Shelby!" I blurted. "What am I supposed to do? The 'Best Puppet' contest is on Saturday at the Neofair! At the same time, too. Oliver and I were planning to win first place. It's our dream."
We had arrived at Shelby's house.
She waved goodbye and said, "I don't know. Looks like you're going to have to make a choice here, Lukio."
To be continued...