As the months passed by, the secret dances got rarer, and rarer. Though they didn't want to admit it, the dancing group of penguins were getting older, meaning that they couldn't hang out as much as they had in the past. They began meeting less, and less, but swore to one another that they would keep their feet happy, despite everyone's criticism. No one else knew about their secret dances except themselves... and Katie's mother, Renae.
Katie wasn't sure how, but somehow, Renae had caught her dancing by herself on a day that Joshua couldn't meet with her. So, to improvise, Katie found a little chamber within the icy walls on the opposite of the valley, and danced to her heart's content. That is, until Renae had shown up. Scared by being caught in the act, Katie spilled out everything to her mother, from her first dance with Josh to Adam, Taylor, Mike, and others' involvement in dancing. Surprisingly, she showed no criticism. Instead, she promised she wouldn't tell anybody as long as Katie agreed not to start a flash mob or anything like that. Katie agreed, and thanked her mother a thousand times.
In addition to Renae learning of her daughter's secret dances, and said dances getting rarer, and rarer, something peculiar was happening among the group. While Mike, Adam, Taylor, and the others molted normally, no such thing was happening to Joshua and Katie. In fact, by the time the others had lost most of the fluff on their backs, Josh and Katie only lost the fluff around their legs. It was strange, very strange, and they had no idea as to why they were like this.
Mike had made a joke about their fluffiness. "Maybe it's another deformity in Josh as a result of him not being able to sing. As for you, Katie, maybe it's like a disease! You were the first one to catch his happy feet!"
"Happy Feet pandemic!" Eugene exclaimed in agreement.
Josh and Katie didn't really mind keeping their fluff. It made them warmer in the freezing icy valley. However, there was one disadvantage for Katie. Because her fluff is unusually pure white besides the black part on her face, and she has sky blue eyes, many penguins were calling her the most beautiful penguin in the kingdom, which made Katie a bit uneasy. Taylor once told her that her mother, Kelly, was told that she was the most beautiful penguin in the kingdom before Taylor was born. Instead of being uneasy around others like Katie was, she used her beauty to her advantage, eventually becoming so vain that she still flirted with her past admirers. Katie had responded by promising that she would never act like that, and would only choose the right penguin who knew how to win her heart. And every time she said that, her friends would tease her with "It's Josh, isn't it?" "C'mon! We know it's Josh already! And we haven't even grauduated yet!" Katie simply rolled her eyes, or glanced shyly at Josh, yet she couldn't help but notice the way he looked at her, and how he compliments her singing, and dancing.
Graduation was perhaps one of the most important parts in a penguin's life. It was the day young penguins made their first trip to sea, and then celebrated at night with their graduation song. It was the day that Katie had been looking forward to for a very long time. And now, here she was, standing amongst the rest of the graduates. Standing beside her were Taylor on her right, and Josh on her left, both with their parents, and Katie's parents standing just behind her. Behind them was Mike, Eugene, Andrew, Matthew, and Greg, in a group as usual with their parents as well. As Katie stood amongst the crowd, she couldn't help but notice how different everyone looked from her, and Josh. When they were kids, everyone had the same gray, and white fluff. Now, it was just Joshua and Katie surrounded by black-and-white penguins with bright yellow, and orange markings. She felt out of place, but was glad that she wasn't the only one with her fluff.
Suddenly, a voice rose above the crowd, loud, and proud. "Penguins, young, and old, friends, and family, welcome to Graduation Day!" Katie looked up, and saw a tall, graying penguin standing on the tower of ice that sat beside the exit to the kingdom amongst other Elders, who were much shorter than him. Katie knew who this penguin was now, and she didn't like him. Edward the Elder, leader of the Emperor Kingdom, seemed to have a hate for Joshua and Katie. He knows of Joshua's dancing, which he thinks is driving away the fish in the ocean, but it is unknown as to how he came to dislike Katie. Perhaps it's because she kept her fluff just as he did. Pushing aside her dislike for him, she tried to look respectable by standing straighter, and puffing her chest out a bit.
Edward's loud voice continued to echo around the crowd as he gave the graduation speech. "Today, our young ones show what they've learned by making their journey to sea for the first time just as their parents did, and their grandparents, and their great-grandparents. Though these have been hard times for the kingdom, we hope the best for our children, and we will endure!"
A cheer rose into the air, but Katie and Josh didn't join in. They knew what Edward meant by "hard times for the kingdom". Trying to cheer himself up, Josh quietly tapped his feet a couple of times, but stopped when he felt his father glaring at him.
"Blah blah blah blah blah!" Miranda squawked loudly.
"Miranda!" John exclaimed quietly whiel trying to hush Miranda.
"Who is he to say our boy can't graduate? He hasn't done any harm!"
Joshua felt a little better that his mother was defending him, but still felt distant from her. He knew that though she wants the best for him, she still wishes that he didn't dance. At least she doesn't beat me like Dad does, he thought gratefully. Trying to ignore his arguing parents, he turned his attention back to Edward, who was still talking.
"May the Great Guin watch over our young penguins, and give them fish today, and songs tonight! Excelsia! Yah, yah, yah!"
"Yah, yah, yah!" The cheer rose into the air among the graduates, and in one swift movement, they threw the drifting bits of their fluff into the air. Katie couldn't help wishing that she too could join in throwing her fluff into the air. Suddenly, all the graduates began waddling forward, exlaiming in excitement with their flippers in the air, waving farewell to their parents, and teachers. Excitement pulsing through Katie, she followed behind Taylor as everyone made their way out to sea for the first time.
However, Joshua stood there, rooted in place, and watched as everyone else made their way out of the kingdom, not caring when Mike, Eugene, and the others passed by him. Why should he graduate when he didn't deserve it? He couldn't sing; he couldn't graduate. Then, he caught a glimpse of Katie's pure white fluff amongst the black backs of the other penguins. He sighed. She deserves to graduate, he thought sadly. At least she can sing. He found himself wishing that he could be a regular penguin. That way, he could at least be with Katie.
"You know what?" Miranda's voice suddenly broke him out of his thoughts. "We're going to have our own Graduation Day."
Surprised, Josh turned around. "You mean it, Mama?" he asked in his soft, quiet voice. He watched as his mother bent down to scoop up some straying fluff.
"You betcha!" she exclaimed.
Smiling, Joshua scooped up some more fluffy feathers with his flippers, and faced his mother. "Excelsia! Yah, yah, yah!" they cheered happily, throwing the fluff into the air. Josh looked up at the feathers floating in the air, imagining that they were his own fluff.
The beautiful moment was short lived when John's flipper suddenly cut through the air, scattering the fluff, and forcing them to float back to the ground.
Joshua faced his father. "Dad..." His voice trailed off when a glare came into his father's eyes, dissolving Joshua's happiness. Joshua turned around to look at his mother, but Miranda had taken a step back, and was glancing at the penguins around them, who were staring at them as if they were crazy.
Suddenly, he heard a familiar voice calling out his name. "Joshua! Joshua!" Turning his head, Joshua saw that it was Katie standing at the gap in the icy walls that led out of the Emperor Kingdom. She was waving a flipper at him, motioning for him to join her. "C'mon! Taylor, and the rest of them are ahead of us!"
Joshua turned toward his parents. "Well... good luck out there," Miranda said, her eyes brightening again.
"Thanks, Mama," Joshua said graciously. Glancing at his father, hoping for him to say something, Joshua waddled his way forward to meet up with Katie, all his bad feelings left behind in the Emperor Kingdom.
As Josh and Katie ran as fast as their short legs allowed them, Joshua could see the group of penguins up ahead, and instantly picked out his friends at the back of the crowd. He tell it was them because they were the only ones dancing. Everyone else simply had their flippers in the air, or were screaming about how excited they were to graduate. "Taylor! Andrew!" Katie screamed, trying to catch her friends' attention, and at the same time, filling Joshua with amusement. "Guys, wait! Mike!" It was no use; they were too far away.
Josh looked at Katie. "Come on," he said. He leaped forward, and landed on his belly, using his flippers to propel himself through the snow. Looking behind him, he saw Katie do the same, copying Joshua's movements. Now, they were catching up on the crowd. As they got closer, Joshua saw a blur of dark blue on the horizon. The ocean! Excitement coursed through him. And I'm going to be swimming in it for the first time! His excitement giving him energy, Joshua pushed harder through the snow, gaining speed.
At last, he was close enough to clearly see, and hear his friends singing, and dancing, moving their hips, and spinning to the beat.
We're fallin' apart to half time!
And these are the lives you'd love to lead!
This is the way they'd-"
Their singing was suddenly cut off as Joshua and Katie zipped through them, nearly knocking Eugene and Andrew off their feet. As Josh and Katie weaved their way through the crowd, there was the sound of bodies falling to the ground. Looking behind him, Joshua saw his friends on their stomachs as well, pushing themselves through the snow. Excitement pulsed through him, and he pushed through the crowd, ignoring everyone's complaining squawks, and shouts.
Suddenly, a hill loomed up in front of Joshua, and the realization that he was going too fast slammed down on him like an icicle. Lifting his flippers, he tried to slow down, and jump to his feet, but it was too late. Hearing an exclaimation from Katie, Joshua went flying into the air off the crest of the hill, performing a back flip before landing on his feet, facing backwards. Still unable to slow down or catch his balance, Joshua slid down the hill, pushing through the crowd. Complaints, and annoyed squawks answered Joshua's flippers shoving other penguins aside, and hitting them in the shoulder.
"Watch where you're going!"
"Wait your turn!"
Then, all of a sudden, the ground disappeared beneath Joshua's feet, and he plummeted down the side of an icy wall that glared pure white in the sunlight. As he spun through the air, the world turned into a blur of black, white, sky blue... and dark blue! Just as Joshua managed to spin around, and dive head first, the ocean water loomed in front of him, and a second later, he plunged into it.
Katie's heart skipped a beat when she saw Joshua drop off the edge of the cliff. Slowing to a stop, Katie jumped to her feet, and waddled to the edge until her toes her hanging off. "Joshua!" she screamed, gazing into the dark water far below her. She heard footsteps stop behind her as her friends jumped to their feet as well, and crowded around her. Murmurs began to pass through the crowd as to what happened.
"Who was that?"
"Pfft!" A penguin close to Katie had the nerve to laugh about Joshua's clumsiness, but thankfully, just as he opened his beak to say more, Eugene smacked him on the back of the head, silencing him. Katie watched the water intently, praying that Joshua was okay.
"Does anyone see anything?" someone asked quietly. No one responded. Joshua, please be oka-
Katie's thought was cut off when Joshua suddenly emerged from the water, rocketing into the air for a moment. "Whatcha waitin' for?" he called out before gravity took control, and forced him to flip around, and dive back into the water.
Joy filled Katie's heart at the fact that Josh was okay. Someone shuffled toward her, ready to leap into the water. Determined to get in the water first, Katie leaped forward, spinning head first into the dark water below her. She closed her eyes as collided with the water, but when she opened them, Joshua was there. She smiled, and in a blink of an eye, dozens upon dozens, hundreds upon hundreds, thousands upon thousands of penguins were leaping into the water all around them, leaving behind a trail of bubbles as they darted through it. Joshua glanced at Katie before heading deeper into the water. Katie followed after him, determined not to lose him the crowded ocean.
All around the water, penguins were darting to, and fro, creating intricate designs in the water with the bubbles that trailed behind them. Spiralling towers, criss-crossing hills, and dizzying swirls filled the water, created by the many penguins as they explored the ocean for the very first time.
Katie and Josh spun through the water together, matching up with other penguins' designs, and adding to their underwater art. They caught glances of the others dancing through the water together, spinning, and twirling. Katie couldn't help but notice how Taylor and Adam never left each others' side. They have grown close over the long months, and Katie knew that Adam fancied Taylor. Mike, however, was still with his group of friends, still never leaving the group just as they did when they were younger. Katie was happy to be here with her friends, and was glad that not much has changed between them as they grew older.
Lost in her thoughts, Katie didn't realize someone calling her name until they were right next to her, forcing her to swim out of the formation of the swirl of bubbles that she, Joshua, and about a dozen more penguins were creating. "Hey, Katie! Hey, Katie! C'mon! Come swim with me." Katie looked behind her, and saw two of her previous classmates, Alan and Sable, swimming after her. Groaning, and rolling her eyes, Katie swam away from them, trying to lose them in the crowd of penguins.
When she was finally rid of her pursuers, Katie made her way to a medium-sized ice float, which was a perfect place to take a rest from swimming. Several other penguins were already making their way onto the ice, launching out of the water like a flying fish. Pushing through the water, Katie flew out, and landed on the island of ice, her slick belly allowing her to slide easily across the ground.
Before Katie could find a good resting place, another voice called her name. "Katie!" Unable to distinguish who it was, Katie ignored it until someone came crashing down on her, making her skid at an uncontrollable speed across the ice. She didn't need to look at the penguin to know who it was. She recognized him by his laughter.
"Joshua!" Katie flipped over onto her back, causing Joshua to land on his side.
Joshua's dark brown eyes widened in surprise, and a goofy smile spread across his beak. "Hi," he simply said.
Giving him a playful glare, Katie smacked him with a flipper, and kicked his leg. Josh retaliated by kicking her back. Before Katie could get her revenge, she felt the ground disappear below her, and she yelped in surprise as she, and Josh plummeted back into the water. They let themselves sink deeper into the water until the icy island was far above their heads.
Joshua looked at Katie, and smiled. Katie smiled back, and before she knew it, she, and Josh were swimming upward together, spinning in a circle together. At the same moment, a crowd of penguins came up, and surrounded them in a tunnel of bubbles, and penguins. The crowd dispersed, and Joshua, and Katie flipped backwards in opposite directions, creating a large, magnificent arc of bubbles. When they were right-side up again, they found themselves just inches away from each other. Joshua smiled shyly. Katie looked so beautiful under the water with the reflection from the sunlight dancing across her pure white fluff. Now's my chance, he thought, his heart pounding.
Sadly, what Joshua was going to say was suddenly cut off when somebody screamed "Fish!", and Katie darted away. Watching her go, Joshua saw a small school of fish not too far away. Suddenly, dozens of penguins were making their way toward them, yelling "Fish! Fish!"
Determined to catch something, Joshua propelled himself furiously through the water, which was now filled with penguins darting to, and fro as they tried to catch a fish, creating uneven criss-cross designs in the water. Penguins were slamming into one another, and stealing each others food. The mayhem made it nearly impossible for Joshua to catch a fish... until one swam right in his face. Instict kicking in, he gave chase, darting in between fighting penguins, and easily out-swimming others until finally, he snapped his beak, and grabbed hold of the fish. As if that was a signal, the crowd began to break apart. Very few penguins would be eating today. Edward was right, Joshua realized. There's not many fish left.
As he brought himself to a stop, Katie suddenly appeared. "Josh! You caught one!" she exclaimed happily.
"Did you catch one?" Joshua asked, mumbling his words around the fish.
Katie shook her head. "Nope. Maybe next time," she replied optimistically.
Pity for Katie took control of Joshua, and almost without thinking, he stretched his neck forward. "Here," he offered.
Katie shook her head. "Thanks, but it's yours," she said.
"But you deserve it," Joshua tried to persuade her.
"No, Josh. You deserve it. You caught it."
Just as Joshua stretched his neck forward again, doing his best to give the fish to Katie, he caught a glimpse of a dark shape in the water. At the same moment, somebody yelled, "Leopard seal!" In moment as fast as a blink of an eye, penguins began swimming away, propelling themselves as fast they could through the water. Joshua turned his head, and sure enough, a giant, hungry leopard seal was making his way through the water... and he was heading straight for Joshua and Katie!
Yelling "Come on!" to Katie, Joshua followed the crowd of penguins through the water, unsure as to where he was going, but hoping that they would get somewhere safe, and far away from the water. A yelp from Katie made Joshua turn his head. The leopard seal was getting closer! "Push harder!" Joshua shouted to Katie as he himself pushed harder through the water. Then, he saw a blur of white not too far away. Penguins were leaping out of the water, and onto the ice. A shore! At last, a place to escape this monster! Joshua continued to launch himself out of the water, fear giving him energy until the only thing he could think of was Escape! Escape! Escape! He imagined the leopard seal right behind him, ready to bite down on his tail, and drag him deep into the water. Without thinking, Joshua shut his eyes tight, and rocketed out of the water. He felt himself rise, and then arc forward before dropping down again... and slamming into hard ice that nearly drove the breath out of him. Another slam, and gasp behind him told him that Katie made it onto land too.
Joshua opened his eyes, and found himself sliding toward a crowd of penguins, all backing away from the water to avoid the seal below. Near the front of the crowd was Taylor, Adam, and the others. Taylor spun around, and gasped in surprise as Joshua and Katie slid their way toward them. "Joshua! Katie!" she exclaimed. She reached down with her flippers as they got closer, as did the rest of the group to help them come to a stop.
"Are you guys okay?" Taylor asked as they got to their feet.
"Did that leopard seal get to you?" Mike asked.
Katie was gasping for breath, a wild light in her eyes. "Besides my heart nearly jumping out of my chest, I think I'm fine!" she exclaimed breathlessly.
"That beast nearly got me!" Andrew shouted, a look of unbelievable fear on his face.
"Thank the Great Guin it didn't!" Matthew said, full of relief for his friend.
Joshua looked around. As far as he could tell, everyone had made it. He saw his classmates spread out among the crowd with their friends. There were too many penguins to count to make sure that they were all still here, but he was positive that nobody fell to the seal.
Just at that moment, somebody near the front of the crowd shouted, "Where's Karl?" Almost everyone fell silent; the only ones still chattering were at the back of the crowd.
Stretching his neck up, Joshua recognized his classmate, Angelica, along with Paul, a friend of hers from another class. They had taken a few steps near the water, stretching their necks as they tried to spot their friend. Despair filled up inside Joshua. Surely nobody could die on their Graduation Day? The Great Guin wouldn't allow it!
Angelica let out a whimper of grief, but at that moment, a penguin launched out of the water, and stood up with his flippers raised into the air as if he had accomplished the most amazing stunt in penguin history. It was Karl. "I made it, guys!" he exclaimed, his flippers still raised into the air, and a big smile on his beak.
His moment of glory was short lived as the giant head of the leopard seal rose out of the water, causing Karl to jump so high into the air, Joshua thought he would start flying. The penguin jumped out of the way just as the leopard seal's jaws came down on the ice, slamming so hard into the ground that Joshua could feel the vibrations made by the creature's large snout. Grunting in anger, the leopard seal slipped back into the water.
Karl, still hyped up on all the excitement, decided to continue gloating. "Ha ha!" he laughed. "What now? What now?" He jumped on the ice in pure happiness, trying to show off that he wasn't scared of the leopard seal. Once again, his moment of bragging was ruined when the seal jumped out of the water, heading away from the penguins, but it still scared Karl into running back into the crowd with his friends. Everyone watched as the leopard seal's dark shape made its way through the water, heading toward a flock of skuas that were flying over the water where the penguins were originally enjoying their Graduation Day.
Shocked by all the excitement that happened today, Joshua had forgotten that he still held the fish he had caught, now dead, his his beak until Katie turned to him, and said, "Actually, I think I'll take that fish now."
Joshua smiled, and leaned forward as Katie took the fish from his beak. What a day it's been! Joshua thought, exhaustion suddenly taking control of him. First, I acrobat my way into the ocean. Then, I got the chance to swim with Katie for the first time, and catch a fish for her. And now, we all succeeded in escaping a leopard seal! Joshua smiled to himself. I can't wait for tonight!