Fourteen year old Kate stood in the center of the high school stage and smiled. She was here. People saw her! She wasn’t invisible! She ignored the heat from the stage lights, the ache in her shoulders from the tension. This was it! This was proof! People actually saw her!
As she stepped forward to take her bow, the audience stood up, the sound of the applause increased as did her smile. For the first time since she’d come to live with her uncle, Kate felt…alive!
Moments later, the curtains closed and the applause died down. It was over.
The other actors moved away from the stage, laughing and joking, high-fiving each other now that the show was finished. Kate didn’t move. She stood there for a long moment, just taking it all in. The heat and dust, the sounds of the audience talking and moving out of the auditorium…so many sounds and sensations coming at her. They were both good and bad and she absorbed all of it.
“Great job, Kate!” someone called out to her and she turned, smiling her thanks. “You nailed the part of Gwen!” another said as they passed by. Others came up to her with other compliments and she nodded, appreciating their praise but…even more than the praise, she felt as if she were part of something, part of a group. Part of a mission. People needed her here. People cared if she showed up, if she participated.
It was a revelation.
An hour later, walking home from the high school that afternoon, she smiled and nodded to the people strolling on the sidewalk. It was summer here at the university, so there weren’t many students out and about. Since she lived with her uncle on the edge of the campus for the state university, she was more used to the bustle of students rushing to and from their classes and dorm rooms. Summers seemed a bit depressing because of the decreased energy on the sidewalks.
For the first time in a long time, she didn’t worry about the missing vitality in the town. She felt alive, needed and…visible.
“Uncle Ray?” she called out as soon as she stepped into her house, hoping her uncle was home so she could tell him about the play in which she’d played one of the leading roles. She still felt the excitement and energy from being on stage.
The heavy wooden door to her right opened up. “No need to yell, dear,” Uncle Ray admonished as he stepped out of the kitchen with a freshly brewed cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other. “Did you have a nice day?”
Kate tilted her head slightly, waiting. She wasn’t trying to test her uncle, but she was curious. Not saying a word, she waited as he walked through the foyer from the kitchen to his study. Four. Three. Two. One.
“That’s nice dear,” he said and walked into his study. She smiled slightly. Sadly, Kate acknowledged that she was right. Her uncle had responded automatically to a response she hadn’t uttered.
The door to her uncle’s study closed. Silence once again ruled the house.
Looking up at the ceiling, Kate waited for the pain and loneliness to hit her. But at the moment, she didn’t feel anything other than the elation of the applause. The recognition that…well, the acknowledgement that she existed! She certainly didn’t get that here at her uncle’s house. But on stage…yes, on stage, with the lights and the actors and the audience…she existed.
Yesterday, her uncle’s complete lack of attention would have hurt. But today…she was okay. Better than okay. She still felt good.
She knew that her uncle hadn’t been in the audience today. In fact, he probably had no idea that she’d joined the summer acting class that had sponsored the performance. As a college professor, he studied a great deal, always had a book in his hand in an effort to find the wisdom from the ancients. He hadn’t planned on having children but had generously taken Kate in when her parents had been killed by a drunk driver years ago. He wasn’t a bad man. He was just…studious. Kate understood, even if it hurt a bit.
But acting seemed to soothe that loneliness inside of her. Walking up the stairs, she flopped down on her bed and grabbed a book. This one was on psychology. She’d started reading about body language and how the brain works a while ago. Until this past summer, she’d never read anything about acting. But now…maybe she had something to do other than reading and school! Oh, the possibilities were wonderful and the future seemed much brighter and more interesting!
Fifteen year old Talal watched the reporters and photographers as they watched his father. Everything was being recorded by both representatives from the national and international press corps and would later be analyzed and debated. Keeping the smile off of his features, he stood stiffly off to the side, listening carefully to the words and watching the way his father spoke and stood. Even the subtle tilt of his head or the way his eyes moved about the room was important. As sheik of Altair, Talal’s father had enormous power. Anything that was said or implied, could change the course of history, alter financial markets and cause heads of companies to scramble.
It was all just a giant game, he realized. A massive game of chess and everyone scrambled, trying to anticipate what the other player would do next. Although, in this game, lives could be lost or ruined. So perhaps it wasn’t a game so much as a balancing act.
He had to understand this, he knew. He would one day take over ruling the country and he wanted to do it as well as his father.
Straightening, he looked back at his father, admiring the stern expression that gave away nothing of his thoughts. Even a smile at the wrong time could be interpreted as bad or good or…weak. Strength was power. Talal knew that his father had to portray an image of strength to the world. The sheik represented Altair to the world. If a ruler appeared to be weak, then the country was perceived as weak.
Again, all a game. A psychological game that balanced right and wrong, kept others from attacking either with guns and ammunition…or with economic weapons.
This would all be his responsibility some day, Talal acknowledged. He had to learn to win the game. To balance everyone’s perception.
The news conference ended and Talal’s father stepped off the stage. “Are you okay, son?”
Talal nodded briefly, imitating the gesture his father gave to many of the reporters. “Everything is good, Father,” he replied. And in his mind, he knew that it was good. Everything was going to be great! He’d make sure of it!