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       Moonbeam, p.17

           Adrienne Woods

  “What did you do?” Her entire body tensed.

  “I yelled at her.”

  She stared to laugh…which made me laugh.

  “At least I can still count on you.”

  “Always there when it gets too dark,” I promised. “This is definitely one of those moments.”

  She laughed and lay on my chest again. “Thanks, Blake.”

  “You are welcome, Princess.”

  Summer break melted away. Blake was wrong about my mother not letting him come and visit. She felt guilty for keeping the truth from me. All of them did.

  Jako told me everything he knew, how angry he was, but then I’d crawled into his heart and made the loss of Cara a tiny bit easier. He echoed the sentiment that she’d died a noble death and that he’d known since the moment they discovered she was a Thunderlight, something monumental was going to happen. Something sad but beautiful. Only something great could make her egg hatch.

  He made me feel less shitty about killing his daughter.

  Tanya couldn’t handle my mother’s sadness and because of Irene’s words, she truly believed that it was what she’d meant. That Cara would save my life.

  I was still paranoid. I demanded tests to find out if there was a dragon inside me. Blake was at my side every single time I went to see someone. The results were always negative.

  Still, their answers didn’t put me at ease. My father brought in a Night Seeker. His face was ashen, and he had red lips with sharp teeth protruding slightly from his lips. They were blood drinkers. Some of them were blind because of the daylight thing, and some were just plain scary with their skeletal features. But they had an amazing ability. They had a gift of dealing with problems and situations like no shrink could. It was as if they could speed up the process.

  He scared me, but he was gentle. His name was Leo, someone whom my father trusted with his life.

  His pronouncement was that Cara had given her life to save mine. He said although there wasn’t a dragon inside me, she would always watch over me like a guardian angel. She would be there in times of grave danger, until Blake could fulfill his dragon duties. So it was better to keep her asleep.

  Just what Blake had said.

  Blake spent almost every day with me when he wasn’t recording songs with his band at the studio.

  It was just like old times. All summer long, we swam in the lake and talked for hours up in the treehouse until it was time for him to go back home.

  For once, my mother didn’t object. “Whatever she needs.” I heard my father say to her one night.

  But the day came when Blake had to return to Dragonia Academy and I had to admit, it wasn’t easy to say goodbye this time.

  “Remember,” I admonished as he prepared to go, “when the darkness gets too much, just let me know.”

  “Okay,” he tapped me on my nose and gave me another hug. “See you at Christmas.”

  “Better make it a great present.”

  “Yeah, yeah. I’ll go think hard about the Christmas present.”

  I laughed, but disliked every step he took away from me.

  He morphed into his dragon form. He was getting gigantic. My father put his arm around me and pulled me into his chest. My mother smiled sweetly, said goodbye and wished him a good flight.

  “Stay out of trouble, Elena,” he said and lifted off.

  “You stay out of trouble!” I yelled after him and watched until I couldn’t see him anymore.

  I was preparing for bed. Worry clouded my thoughts.

  “Love, if you rub your hands any more, they might fall off,” Albert said from the bed, glancing up from the crossword in his hand.

  “Did you see how she watched him leave?”

  His shoulders hunched wearily. “Let it go.” He opened his arms and I shifted closer to him.

  I plopped on the bed and lay my head on his chest.

  “What worries you about them so much, Katie? It can’t be just the intensity of their bond.”

  I looked up at him, saying nothing.

  “We always said it is a good thing that she’d have someone who will love her that deeply and will never hurt her. So what is it?”

  “I don’t know,” I evaded. “She is only thirteen, Albert.”

  “And next year she will be a little wiser, and a year older.”

  “That is my problem,” I said. “She will get older and he isn’t always going to see her as his little sister.”

  “And your problem with that is…? You forget we met around that same age, Katie.”

  “That was two hundred years ago, Al. Heck, women married at the age of fourteen back then. It’s different now,” I argued hotly. “Not the same.”

  He laughed. It was a laugh I hated, one that made me feel stupid and small. I got up in anger.

  He pulled me down into another hug again and rested his lips on my temple. “I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just…you worry about things we have absolutely no control over. And if you push too hard, I’m scared she’ll despise you. Give her some credit. Give her some rope and see what she does with it, love. It’s been twelve years. You need to let this go.”

  I sighed. It was hard. So hard.

  “So, give her some more space, more responsibility, and a rope to hang herself,” I joked.

  He laughed. This time it was the laugh I always loved. I joined in.

  “She is not going to hang herself,” he assured me. “And do you know why?”

  “Oh, do tell me?”

  “Because she has the most amazing mother a girl could ever ask for.” He kissed me on the tip of my nose.

  Blake wrote almost every day in the first month and then fewer crows came—like twice a week. His letters grew shorter and less. He was having fun. It carried on like that until Christmas.

  We spent every Christmas with the Leafs. One year it was with them, the next with us. This year we went to our summer house in Sovereign. Mom loved the summer house, the sprawling two stories and the waterfall in the backyard. Whenever we went there, we caught fish with our bare hands. Some part of me had always guessed that I was part dragon because I could do the things they could, except for flying of course.

  My family descended on the house first, along with some staff members. Over the course of two days, we decorated the house with festive baubles and a massive Christmas tree. The dragon ornaments were my favorite. They were molded to look like family members who were going to join us. There was a Night Villain that represented Sir Robert, a Swallow Annex for Aunty Isabel, a Fire-Tail for Sammy, and on top of the tree was the present Blake had made me for my thirteenth birthday: a Rubicon that perched on a star.

  I’d begged Mom to put it on top, just for this year.

  “Please, Mom,” I begged. “Please.”

  She sighed. “Okay, fine. Go get it.”

  I ran to my room, which I would be sharing with Sammy. I removed it from the black wooden box Blake had also made, and brought it back downstairs.

  She just laughed as she looked at it and then climbed on the ladder and put it right at the top of the tree.

  The tree was perfect.

  On the Friday two days before Christmas, the Leafs showed up. I was thrilled to see their outlines in the sky.

  “They’re here!” I yelled from the kitchen to my parents, who were sitting on the porch. Without waiting to see if they followed, I ran and opened the front door just as they landed one by one. The backyard quickly became crowded with the hulking, glittering forms of dragons. They smoothly morphed into their human forms and took the robes the staff held out.

  “Merry Christmas, Elena.” Aunty Isabel wrapped her motherly arms around me.

  “Merry Christmas,” I said.

  My father’s dragon, Sir Robert, gave me a passing kiss.

  Sammy hugged me with a huge smile. We both went to the same private school that non-gifted kids attended until age sixteen. Still, Mom insisted on a private tutor in the afternoons to introduce me to the subjects at Dr
agonia. He was old, and one of the professors who used to give classes at Dragonia, but because of his interest in dark potions—his fascination with their danger—they’d had no choice but to let him go. He believed I should know about all the objects, spells, and potions in Paegeia that were forbidden.

  Blake was last. I hugged him tight. I hadn’t seen him in six months. Either I was crazy, or he was taller and a lot more grown-up looking than before. His muscles were visible beneath the planes of his stiffly starched shirt.

  His thoughts must have mirrored mine, because he said, “Seriously Elena, you should stop growing.”

  “You are way taller than me. No one grows that much in six months.”

  He smiled. “Merry Christmas, wiseass.”

  “Merry Christmas.”

  We spent the entire day up by the stream, catching fish. Being around Blake loosened me up. He was really funny and I could speak to him about anything.

  “So, Elena, no boyfriend yet?” he asked.

  “No,” I said. “Eww.”

  He laughed. “Arianna had, like, two last year.”

  “I’m not Arianna.”

  “That you aren’t,” he chirped.

  “Don’t lie, Elena,” Sammy goaded.

  Blake gasped with raised eyes. A smile tugged at his lips.

  “Who?” I yelled at her.

  “Oh, Leeeee,” she sang.

  I shook my head in mock disgust.

  “Who is Leeeee?” Blake wanted to know.

  “Someone Elena is dying to have.”

  “I’m not.” A fish slipped through my hands while I was distracted, and I scowled. “He’s just a boy at my school. His father owns a big transportation company.”

  “Elena and Lee sitting in a tree.”

  I slapped him. “It’s not like that. Sure, he’s cute but he is a bit of a ladies’ man. The girls are always clucking around him.”

  Blake struck a pose. “Something Lee and I have in common.”

  I laughed again. “Yeah, okay, whatever,” I sang.

  Lee wasn’t mentioned again.

  A while later, I rubbed my arms briskly. “Can we please go? It’s freaking cold up here.”

  “It’s refreshing. C’mon, a little cold never bothered you before.”

  “Not this cold,” I said. “There are literally ice cubes floating in the water.”

  “Okay, fine. Let’s go before Elena’s feet turn into popsicles.”

  I giggled. Sammy trudged out of the water with a wriggling fish in her hands.

  The ’rents cooked the fish. Over dinner we listened to stories. Somehow these gatherings always ended up with us talking about Merica and Cooper. Blake loved those the most, but my mother always got so quiet, really weird, and my father usually cut them short. He switched over to a topic they almost never spoke about.

  Uncle Goran.

  The laughter vanished. His death was hard on all of them, especially my mother, even after all these years. I wondered for the hundredth time what Goran truly meant to her.

  After Goran’s name came up, all talkativeness dried up. Isabel sent us all to bed.

  The next day we went skiing. We spent the entire day on the slopes. Blake did his own thing. The girls wouldn’t leave him alone. We only saw him again around five, and the girls almost cried when he said goodbye. I thought it was as funny as hell and teased him about it the entire night. My mother also teased him. It was funny as hell.

  Blake just grunted a lot, which made everyone laughed.

  Finally, Christmas dawned cold and clear.

  We opened presents around the fire. Blake gave me a stunning bracelet he’d made from his own skin.

  I stared at the creation in horror-filled awe.

  “Blake Samuel Leaf,” his mother scolded.

  He fluttered his lush black eyelashes innocently. “What? I heal fast.”

  “I need to speak to Master Longwei. It’s all those weapons at Dragonia.”

  “Relax, Issy,” my father said. “The boy said he heals fast.”

  “Oh, I would like to see the two of you if Elena carved out a piece of her skin to make him a bracelet.”

  They all laughed the way Aunt Issy said it, but I was so with her.

  When I remained speechless, he mouthed, “What?”

  I shook my head and give him a soft smile.

  “Over my dead body,” my mother burst out, pointing an accusatory finger at him. “Don’t ever do that again.”

  “Yes, Mom,” Blake joked. I couldn’t help but join in their laughter. He always teased her; he knew that she worried her ass off about us becoming like Cooper and Merica.

  “Thanks, Katie,” Aunt Issy said in a playful manner.

  “What are friends for?”

  I presented Blake with a journal I’d made myself. A fierce dragon glowered from its cover. My tutor had helped me put a spell on it so only Blake could open it with his Pink Kiss—as he dubbed it. Lame, I knew. But how freakin’ cool is this journal?

  He adored it. Now he could write whatever he wanted with absolute privacy.

  Samuel whipped up a delicious Christmas lunch. With full bellies, we all had a snowball fight in the backyard. Blake threw me over his shoulder and tossed me in a deep snow drift. I retaliated by tripping him and laughing as he fell on his ass. We made snow angels—and snow dragons! —and the icy blue sky rang with our happy calls.

  The ’rents went back inside when it got too cold, but we loitered. Blake went for a smoke break. When the sun started to set, it was time to go back into the house.

  We had to say goodbye the next day.

  “See you on your birthday.” Blake hugged me tight. I inhaled his trademark musky scent, already missing him.

  “See you. And be good.”

  “Oh, I will,” he said.

  I didn’t stay to watch him leave like I had the last time. For some reason I didn’t like watching him leave anymore.

  It was one of my favorite Christmases. I hated that it had gone by so quickly.

  Shortly after Christmas, my mother bought me my first pair of high heels. She wasn’t kidding with those heels. I took a few wobbly steps in those strappy green stilettos and bam! I toppled down the stairs. I was lucky that I’d only broken an ankle—and not my neck. It took an entire two days before Constance came over to heal it.

  Blake’s second semester at Dragonia was the hardest. Why, I didn’t know. Probably because I only received one crow a month. He’d never been this quiet before. But he wrote that he had the coolest journal and laughed each and every time someone tried to open it. It was like a party trick. They had parties. It was so freakin’ unfair.

  I couldn’t wait. Two more years and I’d join them.

  Still, it upset me when the once-a-month crow dwindled to once every two months. It stung that he had all the fun and had forgotten about me.

  I wanted a Cammy badly. But my mother refused. At least with a Cammy I could’ve phoned his ass.

  One night, I sat on my bed.. Mom had loaned me her Cammy to speak with Sammy. Mom didn’t even have Blake’s number. I’d looked. I sighed, and then Sammy’s hologram hovered over my dingy cast, wearing a sympathetic expression. She hadn’t heard a thing from her brother either. I was making her crazy. After pestering her, I begged her not to tell him anything. I didn’t want him to think that I was becoming like Arianna, who had annoyed him for an entire year.

  Just thinking about it made me shiver. I wished he would just write. I had no idea what was going on in his life. We’d never been like that. We’d always known what was happening in each other’s lives.

  When I switched off Mom’s Cammy, I heard a tapping at my window. It was a crow.

  He perched on the sill.

  This couldn’t be.

  I jumped up off the bed and ran to the window to the crow, and eventually took the letter from the pouch around his neck.

  I eagerly tore the envelope open without giving the crow his treat. He pecked me hard. A crimson droplet o
f blood appeared.

  “Ow! Patience. Don’t they teach you that in flight school?” I stuck my finger in my mouth. It hurt like hell. If Blake were here, he could heal that easily.

  I bent down my desk and grabbed a dried mouse. I hated keeping them, but crows were picky. If the treat wasn’t good, then they wouldn’t bring another letter.

  He took the dried mouse meat and lifted off. Greedy crow.

  I opened Blake’s letter.

  I met someone, he wrote. Her name is Tabitha. Don’t judge me, but she is a Snow Dragon. Haha. I guess one can’t choose who they love.

  For some reason my heart sank lower and lower as I read a rambling page he’d written about a stupid Snow Dragon. Nothing about his day. Nothing about the past month. Just about her.

  I chucked the letter into my drawer. Why was I so sad? He was like my freakin’ brother. I should be happy that he’d met someone. But it hurt that someone else got so much of his time and I, the girl who was fated to be his rider…none.

  What if she didn’t like me? Would I see him less and less?

  I already didn’t like this girl, whatever her stupid name was.

  She was going to make trouble for us. For sure.

  My happy daughter was turning into a not-so-happy daughter. I missed her cheeky comebacks. I missed her smiles. What if she ascended sooner than she should?

  We were sitting around the dinner table one night. I broke apart a flaky, golden roll and was rewarded with the scent of fresh-baked bread. “Elena?”

  “What, Mom?” It was barely a grunt.

  “What is going on?” I asked.

  Albert give me a raised eye. What am I missing here?

  “Nothing,” she whined. She got up without asking to be excused and left.

  I turned on Albert. “Seriously, what is up with her?”

  “Calm down. She’s okay.”

  “She isn’t okay, Albert.” I smeared creamy yellow butter on half the roll. “What if she ascends soon? You think it’s a sign? I need to phone Constance and find out.” I dropped the uneaten bread and was already on my way to the phone.

  “He met someone, Kate!” Albert yelled after me.

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