The Greatest Show on Earth:Part Four
"It's not me using you, it's a partnership," Hyoo explained. "We can both help each other."
It was the next afternoon, right around lunch time. Preparation for the circus had begun, and everybody was practicing their talents. They had rented an old stadium for the next four weeks until showtime. All morning, Hyoo had alternated between helping them train.
After Ash had stormed off last night, he spoke to everybody else about his ideas, and everybody seemed to be on board. Everybody went home by midnight, but Hyoo and Kalua stayed at the tavern later, sharing ideas excitedly and losing track of time. Kalua was insightful, funny, charming, and had very creative ideas. She seemed completely taken with Hyoo, telling him she had never met anyone like him before.
Currently, Hyoo was having a heated discussion with Ash, who had shown up to bring the group lunch, but "NOT to perform with you guys under the direction of that opportunist snake," as she kindly put it.
"Yeah you say that about it being a partnership and all," Ash retorted to Hyoo, "But all I really see is you just using us. We had a good thing going. We performed together and it was great. We've done this successfully for years. You don't know anything about us, and you just storm in with your fancy ideas and upset everything. You don't even know us."
"That's true, I don't," Hyoo answered calmly. "But I would like to. That's why we have four weeks together to train and get to know each other. This circus will bring us much closer together if we let it. I'd like the opportunity to know you."
"Never," Ash spat. She dramatically turned away and stormed off.
"Don't mind her, she will come around," Kalua said as she danced in her tropical attire. Her hips moved rhythmically with the tropical music that was playing. She had painted herself with traditional Mystery Island body paint, a jumble of beautiful and colorful symbols. Her bangles clinked together as she moved. "She talks a big game, but she is a softie. She's like a volcano - just let her erupt, and then she will cool down."
"Yeah but she will destroy everything else in the process, like a volcano," said Casey, effortlessly balancing a ball on top of his head while juggling five bowling pins. Of the group, he seemed to be the least tolerant of Ash's outbursts.
"She just need patience," defended Jonvi. "She wants to feel like you understand her and respect her, like all of us want. Give her time. I'll see if I can talk to her."
Hyoo nodded at Jonvi, believing his words. He sat down on a nearby bench, thinking about two things: How to earn Ash's trust, and how to get the word out about his upcoming circus. He knew Ash's fiery talents would be a major draw to the show, and that he needed to get her on board. Both feats seemed very difficult, maybe even impossible. Stressed, Hyoo put his head in his hands and stooped down in his seat, sighing.
Polly, as if sensing his frustration, stopped what he had been doing (watching Kalua dance) and flew faithfully onto his owner's shoulder. Polly nudged his shoulder protectively, and Hyoo patted him on the head gratefully. As he sat there, patting his Pawkeet, he had an idea.
"Kalua, can you come here for a second?” he called to her. "I have an idea I want to run by you."
Kalua flitted over, her skirt swishing back and forth as she moved. “What’s up?” she asked cheerfully. He smiled. Even though he’d only known Kalua for a day, she had a way of always seeming to make him smile no matter how badly he felt.
“Remember how cool you thought it was when you say Polly for the first time?” he asked her.
“Yeah!” Kalua said, looking fondly at the plushie Pawkeet. “He was so cool I couldn’t even believe he was real.”
“Do you think other Neopets would think Polly is cool, too?” he asked. “I had this idea, maybe it’s stupid, that we could use Polly to help get the word out. Like what if I put together a nice-looking flyer advertising our show, and Polly could fly around town and show people? It’s unconventional, but maybe it’ll work? I don’t know.”
After a brief pause, Kalua squealed excitedly. “Hyoo, I think that’s a great idea! Oh please let me help you think of what to say on the flyer!” she said, clapping her hands.
Hyoo smiled. “Sure, I’d love that!” He paused, then asked, “So, about Ash…”
Kalua sighed. “Look, she is very stubborn,” she explained to Hyoo. “Once she has her mind set on something, it’s hard, almost impossible even, to convince her otherwise. For whatever reason, she just doesn’t trust you.”
“Is there anything I can do about that? We really need her in the show. Her talents are incredible and would add a lot to the show,” Hyoo said.
Kalua paused. “I wish I had an answer, but I just don’t know,” she admitted. “You just need to be persistent. Find a way to show her she can trust you. You’re creative and smart, you’ll think of something.”
She walked off to continue her training. Hyoo stood there, pondering. He thought about the fact that most people had a reason as to why they behaved the way that they did. Ash was very passionate about things. He could tell she was the type of person who felt emotions very deeply – even negative ones. There had to be a reason for that.
“Hey, Jonvi?” Hyoo asked, walking up to him.
“Yeah?” he responded.
“What did Ash do for a living before she came here?” Hyoo asked. Immediately after asking, a guarded look crossed Jonvi’s face.
“She doesn’t like to talk about it much. I don’t know that I am at liberty to say,” he said.
“That’s fair,” said Hyoo. “But I just want to understand her more. I want her to know she is safe here, and that she can trust me. But I don’t know where to begin. She won’t budge with me at all.”
Jonvi sighed, looking wary. But he told Hyoo anyway.
Before joining the group, Ash lived in a place called Moltara. It was a drab, dull town often mistaken for a mineshaft due to its lack of color and lack of activities. It was also a very dangerous place to live. There were magma pools everywhere, and active volcanoes dotted the landscape. The Neopets that lived there had to be tough, strong, and smart to survive.
Ash was all of those things, and more. Apparently, Ash’s affinity for fire went much deeper than fire breathing and fire baton twirling. She had an actual, physical connection to the element. She could harness it and control it. One day, as a young Draik, she saved herself and her sister from a volcanic eruption by stopping the volcano clear in its path. Onlookers saw. And from that point on, whether she wanted to or not, Ash was in charge of stopping any cataclysmic events.
“She began to feel used,” Jonvi explained. “All anybody ever really wanted her for was her abilities. She felt reduced to them, like she wasn’t even a Draik anymore, just a utility. She doesn’t trust people easily. When she first met us, she wouldn’t even perform with us for a while. It took her a long time to open up. She didn’t want to be known as ‘The Draik Who Controls Fire’ somewhere else, too. She just wanted to be known as Ash.”
It all made so much sense to Hyoo now.
“Jonvi, thank you,” he said hurriedly. “I have an errand to run, I’ll be right back.”
With that, he dashed off to the nearest pastry shop where Ash liked to frequent. Kalua had told him that Ash had an affinity for chocolate muffins. He was hoping she would be there, and she was. She sat in a corner, eyes down. For once, she didn’t look tough or intimating. She looked…sad, almost.
Hyoo stood in line and bought her a chocolate muffin. Taking a deep breath, he walked over to her. “Ash?” he said. She looked up.
“Oh great, it’s you,” she growled. But her eyes were fixed on the muffin in his hand.
“I got this for you,” he said pleasantly.
Ash snatched the muffin out of his hand and took a bite. “Just so you know,” she said between chews, “I’m only eating this because I’m hungry, not because I’m ok with you.”
Hyoo shrugged; he was surprised she even accepted it at all. Maybe he could get through to her. They sat silently while Ash devoured her muffin. When she was done, she stared at him. “Why are you still here?” she asked.
“I was just thinking,” he said.
“About what?” Ash scoffed. She acted as if the idea of Hyoo being thoughtful was an inconceivable concept.
It was at that moment that Hyoo realized how badly he had messed up, and he could see why Ash had so much disdain for him. Hyoo had treated Ash and her group of friends like circus attractions – which they were, in all technicalities. He had been drawn to them for their talents, and the fact that they could help him reach his dream. But he had been so focused on their talents that he had forgotten that underneath them, they were still just Neopets. They had thoughts, hopes, and dreams. They were more than just their talents. They had so much more to offer.
And Ash, who had a difficult time trusting anybody due to her past, picked up on Hyoo’s misguided attitude from the beginning, while the others had not. The others assumed the best in everybody. But Ash assumed the worst. And he realized now that he hadn’t given her any reason not to. He wanted to change that.
“You know how everybody has a major flaw?” Hyoo asked her. Ash nodded, making a quip about how his was arrogance.
“You’re probably right about that being one of them,” Hyoo said. “But I think my biggest problem is my ambition, and how it can make me blind to everything else. I want something so badly, it makes me lose sight of things. Like this show. You know I left home before I even finished school? I had less than two months left until I graduated.”
Ash raised her eyebrow. “Yeah why is that?” she asked. For once, she didn’t sound hostile, just genuinely curious.
“I wanted what I wanted, and nothing could stop me,” Hyoo responded. “My owner, Anna, tried to tell me that the decision I was making was very drastic, and would affect me for the rest of my life. But I couldn’t wait even one more month. I had to get out there and do what make my soul come alive.”
“I can’t tell if that makes you stupid or inspiring,” Ash said. But there was a teasing tone to her voice.
“Well, nobody is ever really one thing or another, they’re usually a lot of things,” he said meaningfully. He met her eyes. “There’s a lot of reasons why we turn out the way we do, and it isn’t always pretty. But what matters deep down is that your intentions are good. And all I really intend to do with this show is make people happy. To give our stars the chance to inspire and delight the world. To make them feel good about themselves. And to bring people the same sense of wonder I got when I was so young. I just want to bring a little more magic to this world.”
Ash’s eyes seemed less guarded than before. They seemed contemplative. They almost looked kind. Had they reached an understanding? Ash looked at him, the remains of her muffin still in her hands. She seemed at a loss.
“I have to get back to practice,” Hyoo said, pushing his chair back and standing up. “I really hope you will join us later. And not just because you are talented. But because you are smart, strong, and a loyal and protective friend.”
Hyoo was out the door and halfway to the arena when he heard a voice behind him yelling, “Wait, stop!” Hyoo turned around, his heart being fast and hopeful. Sure enough, it was Ash. Her face was flushed from running.
“You don’t think you can really have this show without me, do you?” she teased, her eyes sparkling mischievously.
Hyoo grinned. “Well, come on down, then,” he said happily.
To be continued…