“Hurry up!” Mackenzie Clark exclaimed as she jumped out of the car. “We don’t want to miss a second of the show!”
“Don’t worry, we have plenty of time,” Papa Kurt said.
“Yeah.” Daddy Jim smiled and pushed his glasses up his nose. “Besides, we’re recording it at home. You can watch every second of it as many times as you want.”
“That’s not the point.” Mackenzie glanced from her fathers to the Fit Kidz gym. Every window was glowing in the fading evening light. “This is the premiere!”
It seemed to take forever, but finally her dads were out of the car and walking toward the entrance. Mackenzie rushed ahead, her long limbs quivering with excitement. The big night was finally here! Tonight was the broadcast premiere of Junior Ninja Champion—?and they were starting with her episode!
Most people who knew Mackenzie were still surprised that she’d decided to become a ninja. She was still a little surprised herself. She’d always been proud to be a nerd, more interested in science fiction than in sports. In fact, she’d always joked that she was allergic to exercise. But being a ninja—?swinging around on bars or ropes, climbing up walls, jumping and balancing on all kinds of crazy obstacles—?well, that didn’t feel like exercise. It felt like fun!
The viewing party for the show was already in full swing when Mackenzie and her dads walked into the gym’s big main room. It looked as if the entire town had turned out to celebrate. People of all ages crowded every corner. Mackenzie’s science teacher was over by the refreshments table, and two of her neighbors were perched on a weight bench, sipping punch.
“Yo, Mack!” Ty Santiago yelled.
Mackenzie followed her teammate’s voice. Ty was leaning against the spiral staircase that led up to the running track on the mezzanine. JJ Johnson was perched on one of the steps.
Mackenzie waved to the two boys, who were both on the Fit Kidz Junior Ninja team with her. She glanced around for Izzy Fitzgerald and Kevin Marshall, their other two teammates, but they were nowhere in sight.
“Go on and talk to your friends,” Papa Kurt said with a smile. “We’ll mingle.”
Mackenzie didn’t have to be told twice. She took off toward Ty and JJ.
JJ grinned when she reached them. “Can you believe we’re about to be TV stars? Every single one of my cousins came tonight.”
“My dads are here, too.” Mackenzie waved a hand toward the spot where she’d left her fathers, though they’d already disappeared into the crowd. “It’s too bad my birth mom is away on a business trip. But she promised to watch at her hotel.”
“Cool.” Ty pointed to several guys his age who had just entered. “Hey, check it out. It’s my boys from the baseball team!”
He grinned and pumped a fist at the guys. Mackenzie smiled as the other guys whooped and waved back. Ty was the opposite of Mackenzie in many ways. He was superathletic and seemed to be great at just about every sport there was. His parents owned the gym where the ninja team trained.
Then there was JJ. He wasn’t into team sports the way Ty was, but he loved climbing around in the huge tree house he and his dad had built in their backyard, which meant he was a natural at being a ninja. When Mackenzie glanced at him now, JJ was waving to someone in the opposite direction from Ty’s friends—?a petite woman with dark hair and a tattoo of a firecracker on her bicep. She was chatting with Ty’s parents next to the far windows.
“Hey, Tara’s here!” Mackenzie exclaimed when she saw the woman. Tara “Tiny Torpedo” Warner was the coach of the team. She was also a ninja herself—?she’d appeared on National Ninja Champion, the adult version of JNC.
“Of course she’s here,” JJ said with a laugh. “There’s no way she’d miss this!”
Just then a portly man with a handlebar mustache hurried into the room. Next to him was a young kid wearing a cape and alien antennas on his head. They both waved at Mackenzie as they headed over toward the refreshments table.
“Friends of yours?” JJ asked.
“Yeah,” Mackenzie said. “That’s Carl—?he owns the comic book store over on Oak Street. He told me his son is a huge ninja fan. I can’t believe how many people turned out to watch! Look, here come the others.”
Izzy and Kevin were weaving toward them through the crowd. Izzy was sipping from a paper cup. As usual, Mackenzie thought, she looked supercool in her leather jacket and high-top sneakers, the purple streak in her hair making her look sort of like an anime character. Kevin, a few inches shorter than Izzy, had his black curly hair buzzed short and was wearing khaki shorts and a plain blue T-shirt.
“Hey, it’s the odd couple,” Ty joked when they arrived.
Izzy frowned. “Who are you calling odd, weirdo?”
Ty held up both hands. “Chill, it was just a joke,” he said. “You know—?because you’re tall and Kev’s short?”
Izzy rolled her eyes, but Kevin just laughed. “I’m glad you finally got here, Mackenzie,” he said.
“Me, too. Daddy Jim got a phone call right when we were leaving.” Mackenzie glanced at Izzy’s cup. “I think I’ll get some punch before the show starts.”
Halfway to the punch bowl, Mackenzie spotted another familiar face. “Hi, Noah,” she said, veering off toward a slender dark-haired boy sitting on a leg press in the corner. “I didn’t know you were coming.”
Noah Dhawan glanced up from poking at a half-eaten cookie on a paper plate. “I didn’t either,” he said with a shy but friendly smile. “My mom heard about it from your dad, and she said we should go.”
Noah’s mother, Stella Perry-Dhawan, directed most of the shows for the local community theater. Daddy Jim had acted in a few shows, including a recent production of Fiddler on the Roof.
Noah himself was a talented dancer and had appeared in most of his mom’s shows. He never seemed to have a speaking or singing part, but he was always one of the best dancers on the stage.
“Did you see my review of Fiddler on the blog?” Mackenzie asked him. “I mentioned how great you were in your scenes.&rdqu...