Waiting for Anna: Part Ten
The audience goes on forever.
Stagehands set up the card table for Anna and then back off, and she's standing all alone.
She sets down her props bag next to the table and takes out the remaining items. She puts each thing down with a flourish, though her wrists feel limp and weak, and it gets a spattering of applause.
She finishes setting up the props, and turns to the audience.
Instead of the audience, she sees her brother, sitting all alone in the field. He's watching her.
Well, you've got the clothes, for sure, he tells her, and his voice is close to her ear, meant just for her. But are you a real magician? Can you be?
I am a real magician, she thinks at him, fiercely, and the audience is back. Her brother is gone, or maybe he's still out there; she can't tell any more through the stage lights.
Anna takes a deep breath, and begins.
"Ladies and gentlemen!"
The final performer is a singer. The yellow Gelert has some power in her voice, but Anna is too busy to know. Her fellow performers are complimenting her, and she's walking in a daze, nodding and thanking them.
"I think you have a shot at winning," Robin tells her.
"There's a winner?"
"Of course there is." He looks surprised. "King Hagan sits on the panel that chooses it. Didn't you know that?"
"No." She hadn't even known King Hagan was out there. She performed for her brother, that was all. She had felt his approval as she finished.
Style, sis, he whispered in her ear, and was gone.
He smiles. "Well, now you know, I guess." He disappears into the crowd.
The last act finishes, and the audience applauds for her, politely.
"Okay," Robin's voice rings out, "all performers out for the bow!"
They stream onto the stage, and Anna's newfound friends push her to the front of the group as they take a bow together. The audience cheers and applauds. Anna quickly loses count of how many bows they've taken.
After they have to have been out on the stage for five minutes, there's a disturbance from the back of the group, and the performers all move to the sides, making an aisle for the panel of judges to proceed down.
"As a product of long deliberations--"
The audience laughs, settling into their seats again for the announcement of the winner.
"--we give you the winner of the talent show." The Quiggle hands King Hagan an envelope, which he opens.
"And the winner is..." the King says. "Stephen!"
It's the Nimmo who went just before Anna. He did have a good monologue, Anna thinks, watching him shake hands with each of the judges in turn.
She imagines herself standing there, and can't.
King Hagan is saying something--thanks to all of the performers, she thinks. The audience rises again and applauds as the performers go off.
The party goes on all night. Biblius congratulates Anna and tells her that he's too old for this; he's not staying, but he'll give her the key to the store so she can get in. She thanks him and plunges again into the party.
Compared to others, she leaves early. It's just past midnight when she unlocks the bookshop and eases into its comfortable darkness.
Under normal circumstances, her excitement would have kept her up for half an hour at the least, but her exhaustion takes precedence. She lights a lamp and then locks the door behind her, and goes to bed.
In the morning, the first person there is Biblius, as usual. He raps on the door and she lets him in.
"Congratulations," he tells her. "Again. I'm sure we'll be getting more than our usual quota of visitors today, so you'd better go and get ready."
Anna frowns at him. "Visitors?"
"Your admirers, I should say." He gives her a smile. "You did very well. We're all proud of you."
But the first visitor isn't a young boy, as Biblius was insinuating it might be. Instead, when Anna comes out after bathing and dressing, the Neopian waiting is a tall and slim Lupe. He gives her a formal nod.
"Anna?" he asks.
"Yes. What can I... do for you?" She glances at Biblius, who smiles at her encouragingly.
"I'm from the Association of Neopian Entertainers. First of all, I would like to congratulate you on an excellent performance. You have definite talent and potential as a young performer.
"Secondly," the Lupe says, "I would like to invite you to join our association and travel to Neopia Central, where we have a hall for performances. Our current resident magician has had to back out, unfortunately; he's going to Shenkuu on a tour instead. And no one else is available.
"Magicians are not a Neopoint a dozen, Ms. Anna," he says. "As I am sure you know."
Anna nods, dazed. She looks at Biblius again.
"Well? Are you going?"
"To Neopia Central?" Anna looks back at the Lupe. "What did you say your name was?"
"Forgive me. My name is Carl." He reaches into his pocket and produces an envelope. "Here is the formal letter of invitation. It is addressed to the winner of the annual Brightvalian talent show, but we have no current need for an actor, and we agreed that you were the natural second choice."
Anna opens it slowly and reads it through twice. She doesn't want to go even further from Meridell, but she has a year, after all... and it's not like, once she earns some Neopoints, she can't come back here any time she wants.
"How much did you say you would pay me?"
"Your pay is negotiable," the Lupe tells her. "Our last resident magician earned ten thousand Neopoints a day while he was with us. Your pay will probably be lower, as he had been with us for quite a while."
"All right," Anna says, folding the letter. "I... see." She looks at Biblius.
"I will return tomorrow," Carl says. "For your answer. There is no need to accept or reject the offer at this moment, Ms. Anna." He bows.
"Well. Thank you," the Aisha says.
Biblius waits until the door has closed behind the Lupe. Then he speaks. "I've heard of this Association. They have a good reputation. If they're offering you a position, that must mean you are good. Then again--"
"What?" Anna looks at him.
"I don't know if I trust--Carl, was that his name?--Carl. To be telling the truth about where he's from. May I see that letter?
"I think it's the real thing," Biblius says at length. "If this is true, will you go?"
Anna bites her lip. "I think so," she says. "I have to do something. And I can't stay here. I mean, everyone's nice--"
"I understand." He holds out the letter. "How about you go to the Brightvale address on this? Tell them you're there to accept the position offered. If they haven't heard of you, Carl's a fake. If they have, then he was telling the truth. No need to wait until tomorrow."
The Aisha smiles and takes it. "All right."
"He was telling the truth!"
Biblius looks up as Anna bursts into the shop.
"They knew who I was, and they said to come there tomorrow afternoon with everything packed and we would go. It's for a year, but they'll let me off early to--"
She stopped. Biblius nodded.
"And they're paying me five thousand Neopoints for every performance, but I'll get an increase after a month if they think I'm doing well," Anna finishes. "Isn't that marvelous?"
Biblius laughs. "We'll make a bookworm out of you yet. That is marvelous," he adds. "We'll all be sad to see you go, of course--"
The bell over the shop door rings out into the air.
"Especially your admirers. Come in, come in! Don't be shy."
Anna has to stay in the bookstore all day and accept congratulations from everyone. A few bring her flowers, and some bring her more useful presents: a little pot of jam, a hair ribbon, a pair of shoes that their youngest "had just grown out of, he's going through a growth spurt, I swear I don't know where he gets it from," a very nice bracelet, and a blown-glass figurine of an Aisha knight charging some unseen battle line on a Uni.
By the end of the day, she's exhausted again, but this time her excitement wins, and she lies in bed for almost a full hour, staring up at the dark ceiling, before she falls asleep.
The next morning she packs.
She doesn't have very much to pack. Her props for the magic show are already in their bag, and she's decided to leave quite a few of them behind in any case. She is sure they'll have all the decks of cards and handkerchiefs and coins that she could ever want at the Association's headquarters.
But she does take most of them: the ones that the Brightvalians made for her and the ones that she designed, and the diagrams for the use of them. She takes the magician's outfit Robin made for her, her walking stick, and the shawl that she wore when she first went to the Armory.
Her packing is interrupted constantly by visits from more fans. She's almost done by noon, when Biblius beckons her over to his desk.
A stack of books sits in front of him.
"You can't," Anna says, automatically. He smiles.
"I can." He places the first book in her hands: the first book she read in his store, the book of Faerie tales. Then come the book of beginning magic tricks, the other magic trick books that he ordered for her, and three more books of tricks that she's never seen before.
To the growing pile in Anna's arms he adds a book that was one of her favorites, a book-length Faerie story, and she wonders how he knew. How he knew about any of these.
"I own a book store," Biblius tells her. "Now go and finish packing, and I'll walk you down."
As they walk through Brightvale, everyone greets them. Not just Biblius, but Anna, too. They smile and wave cheerfully.
Neither of them mention to the other Brightvalians that Anna is leaving. Anna knows that Biblius will have to tell them sometime, but for her last walk through Brightvale, it is more pleasant just to stroll along and wave.
To be continued...