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       Moonbeam, p.18

           Adrienne Woods

  I paused. “What?”

  “Blake met someone.” His tone was gentler. Softer.

  Oh. This was why she was sulking. “But he’s like her brother. You said it yourself…”

  “I think Elena is past that stage,” He sounded annoyingly wise. “I think she just realized it after she got that letter. She hasn’t even written him back yet.”

  I closed my eyes. They weren’t even there yet, and he was already breaking her heart. I looked at Albert. “Why do you know about this and not me?”

  “You really want me to answer that?”

  I wanted to kick myself. She took her heart problems to her father and not me. Screw that. I got up.

  “Don’t push this, Katie.”

  “I’m not pushy,” I said, even though I knew it was far from the truth.

  I walked up to Elena’s room and knocked on her door.

  “Enter,” she said and I opened it.

  Her eyes rolled at me from the bed. I climbed onto her bed and took out one of her earphones. I lay down next to her and put it in my ear to hear what she was listening to.

  His voice blared in my ear. It took everything in me not to roll my eyes like my daughter just had. Don’t. Just don’t, I said to myself. It was the Shifters’ brand-new album. Blake’s band. They’d recorded it during summer break when all Elena had wanted was for him to be near.

  He’d asked if she could come to one of the recordings, but I’d said no. She needed the space from him. They were constantly in each other’s space that summer. The summer she discovered about Cara.

  “It’s his new song?”

  “I don’t care,” she said. She yanked out the other earphone.

  “Sweetheart.” I sighed. “We both know that’s not the truth. Daddy told me. He met someone?” Seriously, you have a princess for a rider? How could you dare to choose someone else?

  She looked at me. “I thought you would be happy.”

  “I thought so, too, but to be honest, I’m not,” I said. A tear welled up in her eyes. “What happened to ‘Eww, he’s like my brother, Mom?’” I mimicked her and she laughed.

  “I don’t know. I thought it was still Eww.”

  “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

  She let out a frustrated groan and got off the bed.

  “It’s Blake, for crying out loud. The guy who always got me in trouble.”

  “Uh-huh, I always knew it was that little jackass,” I said.

  She laughed again, but it vanished really fast. “Why does this hurt so much, Mom?” She started to cry.

  I pulled her in for a hug. “Because he’s like your brother, but he isn’t. We want only the best for them, and to be honest, nobody is going to be the best for them, Elena. This was what I was so afraid of, and to be honest, now that I’m there, it was stupid to be afraid of it. It’s breaking my heart. I never imagined that he would choose someone else.”

  “I told you before. We aren’t Cooper and Merica, Mom.”

  I kissed her on her head. If only that was true, sweetheart. If only.

  The months flew by and our relationship grew stronger. I helped her write a letter back to him, ecstatic about the news that he’d met a lame-ass Snow Dragon. But we pretended that we were really happy about it.

  I even told her to put in that she was busy training in the art of fighting. It was a happy letter; it was a letter that sounded like the Elena he knew.

  A few weeks later, he sent her another letter back. This time, the first person she called was me.

  I opened it and read her the letter, peppering my own colorful commentary alongside it. “That’s great that you’re training. Don’t get too good at fighting—I’m only one dragon!” Yeah, right. More like ten dragons in one.

  “I’m on my way to fame. A record label wants to sign the Shifters.” So far so good.

  “My classes are getting a lot harder this semester.” What did you think? That Dragonia would be a walk in the park?

  She laughed at all my little comebacks.

  And then I fell silent. Elena looked up at me with huge eyes. “What?” she asked.

  “He’s talking about the ice queen.” I sighed. It was the name we’d given Blake’s new girlfriend.

  “Just read it, Mom.”

  “Okay,” I sighed. It’s your heart.

  “‘Tabitha really wants to meet you, so I sort of invited her to your fourteenth birthday. I hope you don’t mind. She is really not that lame for a Snow Dragon. You will like her.’ Ugh,” I spat. Elena just took a deep breath.

  “You are not seriously going to consider it, are you?”

  “What do you think?” she asked me. She never asked me for my opinion anymore. What I thought. I had my baby girl back. Make it a good one, Catherine. One that won’t bite you in the ass.

  “Honestly, if it were me, I wouldn’t agree. But we need to sound like you,” I said. She nodded. “So as hard as it’s going to be, baby, just tell him it’s okay. You can’t wait to meet her, too.”

  “Okay, then let’s do it.” She jumped up.

  I held up a finger. “I’m not done. There is a ‘but’ in this.”

  “But what?” she asked.

  “He might really like this girl. He might kiss her. He might always be close to her. You might not spend a moment of your time with him.”

  She swallowed hard. I bent over and kissed her head. “You don’t need to answer him right away. Remember, you are too busy to give a crap.”

  She laughed.

  “Think about it first, sweetheart. Let him sweat a little.”

  I thought about what my mom said. I wrote Blake a letter saying he could bring her to my birthday party so that I could approve—and next to that in huge letters, I scrawled HAHA JOKING.

  I hated the fact that my mother hadn’t been worrying all these years for nothing. She’d always known. I was the idiot for not wanting to believe her.

  I tried to prepare myself, thinking of worst-case scenarios. Them kissing, dancing, holding hands…everything. Mostly I wanted to puke just thinking about it. But I knew I was supposed to pretend to be happy for them.

  He was obviously ecstatic over the news and sent me a crow back, saying:

  You will love her. The two of you are so alike, except for the Snow Dragon part.

  That angered me the most. How dare he compare me to a freakin’ Snow Dragon? Seriously!

  Everybody knew Snow Dragons were smart and probably owned one of the coolest gifts, but they were also cowards and ran away every chance they got. Unless she is somehow extra special. It was funny how that came out sarcastic inside my head.

  I disliked her already just for liking him. He didn’t belong to her. He was my dragon. The Princess of Paegeia’s. It wasn’t a freakin’ secret, which told me that she wasn’t a typical Snow Dragon material; she actually had a backbone. Yet that pissed me off even more.

  As much as I wanted to hope she was ugly, I knew she wouldn’t be. Dragons were known for their godlike beauty.

  A huge sigh left my mouth. Blake was eighteen. He would never see a fourteen-year-old as his ideal girlfriend. To him I was probably still like his little sister. He saw himself as nothing more than my guardian who’d promised to be there when it got too dark.

  Well, my world was dark. And he wasn’t here.

  One thing that didn’t turn out to be a lie was my training. Mom hired martial arts instructors. It was becoming the highlight of my day. They taught me the basics of fighting. I learned how to judge opponents, how to throw a punch, how to aim a kick. I discovered that my weapons of choice were the bow and Frankish axes. I excelled in them.

  The days crept closer to my birthday. Funny how no crows showed up again.

  How was I going to pull this one off? Would I be able to handle seeing him with another girl?

  I had no choice. Mom drilled it inside my head to pretend that my day was too hectic to even worry about what he was doing at Dragoni
a Academy or who he was with. She claimed to be positive that it wouldn’t last, that he would be mine at the end. But I wasn’t so sure anymore. Just because Cooper and Merica were a couple, it didn’t mean that Blake and I would end up as a couple. We grew up together, and I wondered if Cooper and Merica had also grown up together.

  I wondered where they even were.

  It was said a long time ago that no two Rubicons could live at the same time, but somewhere inside Paegeia there was another Rubicon. So they were wrong about that, too. But wherever they were, they didn’t want to be found. It was like they’d just vanished.

  Thinking about that made me feel all sorts of emotions. I didn’t know if I wanted that to be true. It still felt so weird thinking of him as my boyfriend, but at the same time I didn’t want him with anybody else.

  What did any of that even mean? That I wasn’t ready for that yet? Then why was I so upset that he was with someone else?

  Love was so complicated. It made my stomach churn and my palms get sweaty. It made me sad just thinking about it.

  So, I tried to push it aside as I drew another picture of his dragon form. I loved drawing dragons. Mom said that I got my artistic talent from her dad.

  He had died a long time ago before it was common knowledge that dragons could bequeath their essence to their riders. Dad and she had both gotten the essence from their dragons, which was why they were both two hundred and sixty-odd years old. I wondered if Blake would ever give me his essence. I wondered what it would be like to be semi-immortal.

  The dragon came out great. I struggled with his face, though. It didn’t look anything like Blake. Well, practice makes perfect. I tore off the page, rolled it into a ball, threw it into the trash can, and started over.

  An hour later, Mom came in with a sandwich and a glass of juice.

  “That is stunning, sweetheart.” She leaned over my shoulder to look at it. “A real keeper.” She kissed me on the head and left.

  She was becoming my favorite person in the castle. Dad was still cool, but Mom had amazing ideas about how to cope with the latest developments. I just hoped that her tactic—pretending not to be bothered—wouldn’t bite me in the ass one day.

  At times I thought Blake was just doing this to see what sort of reaction he would get. I was scared, but then again, any eighteen-year-old doing that to find out what a fourteen-year-old would do, would be lame as hell. Nothing like Blake.

  He just didn’t fall in the lame category. And I doubted he ever would.

  The day was upon us. I didn’t know who was more anxious, me or Elena.

  What if Blake breaks her heart again?

  I hated the fact that I’d suggested pretending that it didn’t bother her. It clearly did. I didn’t know if she was strong enough to handle this. I was scared she would be humiliated. How was I going to fix that? Not to mention how unhealthy it was for me to teach my daughter that she had to set her feelings aside and hide them from men.

  I had to admit I loved every moment that they were apart. Not in a bad way. There was going to be plenty of time for them to read each other’s thoughts. I’d seen it. It would happen. But how could I tell a fourteen-year-old girl that the two characters from my past that she couldn’t stop hearing about were, in fact, herself and her best friend?

  She couldn’t cope with that. That much I knew. She was still too young to carry that burden. We all vowed to keep the ability Blake would receive around age thirty a secret.

  I wondered about that grown-up Elena a lot. Would she ever show herself? I wanted to meet her with all of my heart. To show her that I had given her a better life, that I had slayed the nightmares of her dreams and turned her life into a beautiful nightingale song. But my Elena never acted differently. She was always the same with consistent responses to whatever she was going through. She never spoke in tongues about stuff we didn’t know. I watched fruitlessly for signs that she remembered her other life.

  I hoped that one day she would know I loved her so much I’d killed my best friend, Goran—who had been to me like Blake was to Elena—without hesitation. Even though he’d betrayed us, I’d done it for her.

  Because of how much I loved her.

  He sometimes haunted my dreams. His eyes blazed with questions, with the realization that I knew what he was going to do, with sorrow. I believed that in the moment of his death, he felt remorse. The specter of him I saw was sorry. So, so sorry that he’d strayed. But what haunted me the most was the way his body had disintegrated. It was almost like I’d used the King of Lion sword and its magic on Goran. Albert’s sword caused its victims to explode. My dagger had magically made its victim turn to dust. It was a slow process. And his screams left no doubt that it had been an extremely painful process as well. Sometimes I could still hear it echoing through the castle.

  But that was a long time ago.

  “Love, you ready?” Al appeared from behind me.

  I shook myself to clear my maudlin thoughts. “For this birthday? Never,” I said softly. “Is he here yet?”

  “No, he got word to me that he is running late. I should pass it on to Elena.”

  “How is she?”

  “In desperate need of help with what to wear.”

  My face fell. “Don’t you miss the days when we used to dress her? No worries about anything.”

  “I do, my love. But they all grow up eventually.”

  I rested my head on his chest. “You ever wonder about her?” I asked.

  He stoked my hair. “Whom are you referring to now?”

  “The old Elena. Merica.”

  “I remember her as a redhead with freckles. I don’t remember her the way you do.”

  I sighed. “She’s starting to resemble her more and more each year.”

  He kissed me on the tip of my nose. “We will know when she makes herself known, Katie.”

  “How? What if we miss it?” I knew I wouldn’t, but I was so scared that she would just shut up.

  “I think she will love you with all of her heart.”

  I slapped him in mock anger. “She already loves me, thank you.”

  He laughed. “Go, help our fourteen-year-old get dressed and stop worrying about what-ifs. We won’t miss it.”

  I smiled, kissed him, and headed to Elena’s room.

  Mom came and helped me get dressed. I went with a pair of jeans, a shirt, a sweater and my black pumps. It looked like normal stuff I would wear. Pretend that they aren’t going to bother you. I was going to fail miserably.

  Pluggs was on my shoulder and I was waiting for my guests to arrive. Tanya and Jako had already arrived. A year ago, my birthday had ended with the discovery that they’d sacrificed their daughter, Cara, to save my life. I’d found out as much as I could about her since then, and in my eyes she was taller than the Rubicon. She was my heroine.

  Sometimes I even pretended that she spoke to me from deep within me. Even though there wasn’t a dragon inside me, I imagined that I could hear her voice guiding me through everything in my life. She always called Blake a rodent, as his choice in a girlfriend reflected a rat.

  I just hoped she would guide me through tonight, too.

  “So you ready?”

  “Yes.” I smiled at my godmother. I was sure she already knew everything. At times it even looked like they could read each other’s thoughts. That was why my mother used to be so crazy.

  The McKenzies showed up first. Lucian gave me a hug.

  “Fourteen, huh?” he said, as if it was the lamest age ever.

  I sighed. “Yep, and not as lame as you make it out to be.”

  He laughed and dropped my present off at my table. Everyone started to arrive. Sammy and her parents arrived with much fanfare and a flurry of hugs. My heart actually beat faster, but there was still no sign of Blake.

  “He will be here,” Sammy promised me. “He is just running horribly late.”

  “I really don’t care that much, Samantha,” I lied. I was dying to know if she had seen t
he Ice Queen yet, and what she thought about her. But it was dangerous to tell the sister of my dragon how I truly felt.

  She gave me an appraising look. “This really doesn’t bother you?”

  “What?” I asked airily.

  “That he is actually dating.”

  “Eww,” I said. “He’s like…”

  “Yeah, I know.” She rolled her eyes. “Your brother.”

  “I’m happy for him, Sam,” I said.

  “Yeah, I finally see it now. I told the ’rents they have absolutely nothing to worry about, but you know Mom.”

  “Your mother is sweet, but seriously. Gross.” I went over to my mother. I couldn’t speak too loudly; Sammy also had enhanced hearing. Thank heavens my mother wielded her shield.

  “You okay? Where the hell is he?” she asked me. She reeled Tanya in with us.

  “He’s not going to make it, Mom. I can see it already.”

  She lay a hand on my shoulder. “Calm down and smile.”

  I did as she said.

  “I will use a full dose on him and wipe that girl from his memory if he doesn’t show tonight,” my aunt threatened.

  Her sudden venom made me throw my head back and laugh.

  “You’re doing great, honey. Just watch the heartbeat,” Mom warned and lowered her shield.

  I hated that she could hear my heartbeat’s elevated tempo.

  I spoke with Arianna and Desi for a bit. We’d all attended her wedding just after Christmas. Blake hadn’t shown up then, either. Now I knew how it felt.

  Desi was already expecting her firstborn.

  She seemed happy. I wished I could just magically jump into the future to be her age and not worry about any of this. To be as happy as she was.

  Sammy reached me again and we slipped out to my treehouse.

  My father started to speak over the mic. The evening was going to begin, even if Blake wasn’t here yet.

  “Seriously?” she asked.

  “It’s okay, Sammy, really,” I said as I desperately tried to push away the tears.

  What is keeping him so long?

  “It’s not okay. Elena, he is a douchebag and if he doesn’t show, I hope you never speak to him again.”

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