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       Moonbeam, p.23

           Adrienne Woods
 

  But Mr. Pluggs was dear to us all.

  I opened the box underneath the loose floorboard. I placed his last letter about Pluggs in the box and closed it. She was doing great. She almost never spoke about him. She was smiling again. Laughing.

  Lee was a great distraction, although I hated his hormones.

  My happy child was returning to me, and this time it wasn’t because of a stupid bond. It was because of her normal human life. A dragon-free life.

  Albert would hate my decision, but she wasn’t ready for this yet.

  They would speak when she started Dragonia, and then she would hate my guts. Six more months. That was all I wanted.

  It had been two weeks, two weeks since I sent her that message. No crow showed. Lucian saw me send that message.

  He walked into the room.

  “The crow come?”

  I looked at him. “Why would he? I told you, I wasn’t the one ignoring her, Lucian.”

  He frowned.

  “You want to know the real truth why we went to China?”

  He nodded.

  “I didn’t get an invitation to her birthday and begged my father to go. It was a visit long overdue.”

  “What?” Lucian sat down at his desk. “No, Blake.”

  “She is not the person you think she is, Lucian. She’s like her mother. Holds grudges like no man can.”

  He shook his head firmly. “No, I don’t believe that. She didn’t sound angry when you were mentioned. She wanted to know if we weren’t really friends anymore.”

  “And…”

  “I told her you’re more like my roommate now. I told her how you pushed everyone away. I’m not going to lie to her.” His blue eyes held a challenge.

  I looked at the carpet. If only she were here. Then this darkness wouldn’t have been so suffocating.

  “Are you sure the crow didn’t lose its way or something?” he asked.

  I laughed. “They are trained birds, Lucian. They always find the location they need to find. She didn’t reply.”

  He ran his fingers through his cropped blonde hair. He was disappointed. In me or in her? I’d carried that look a million times myself.

  She never even sent me a birthday card. It was the second year now. If that didn’t spell out that she was still mad, I didn’t know what would. Lucian even saw that.

  He looked so confused.

  School was different this year. Exams came earlier. They were harder. Lucian did a Moon spell that wowed the entire crowd. He was only in his second year. Arianna excelled, too. I didn’t want to know what Elena would do next year.

  But that wasn’t what was rumbling inside my heart.

  We’d spoken a lot about Elena lately. If there was any truth in what he said—that she’d sent me letters that had never gotten a reply—then that meant something had seriously going wrong. I didn’t want to think this way, but Queen Catherine was very powerful and I always had this feeling that she never liked me much. What if her mom was behind this? I knew what her compulsion could do. I had experience with that lately myself. Especially on animals. It was a great party trick among friends.

  But that wasn’t it.

  Lucian was one of the best fighters out there. If Elena wasn’t born, I would’ve wanted to pair with him. He would’ve found a way to claim me.

  He’d sparred against her during Christmas. Put on a huge show for their ’rents.

  She’d gotten fast and skilled. What could I expect with, like, six different Art of War tutors? It worried me. What was our claiming going to be like? Violent? Marred with hatred, anger, and darkness?

  The way Lucian told it, I was going to meet my match. And he’d made it clear that she was my match in every way.

  When I denied it, he scoffed. “C’mon Blake, seriously? What do you like about Tabitha?”

  “I told you before why I like her. What is your point?”

  “She is beautiful, get that. She is smart, get that. She makes you laugh, but belly laugh. And her ice calms the Pink Kiss. Well, that is utter bullshit. I know about the Fire Caine.”

  I clamped my jaws and glared at him. “How do you know?”

  He rolled his eyes. “You’re not very good at destroying evidence. Don’t worry, I didn’t tell anyone, but you need to be careful with that, Blake.”

  Acidic fury rose in me. “You know why I had to do that? Because of the darkness.” Asshole. Still I didn’t see where he was going with this.

  “You said the only thing that was missing from making her perfection was that dash of trouble.”

  “So?” I snapped. I hated when he quoted me.

  He shook his head, smiling. “You don’t see it or hear it, do you?”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “You’re describing Elena, Blake.”

  I groaned. “For the thousandth time, she’s like my little sister. What don’t you get?”

  His eyebrows rose. “She is far from a little girl, Blake. She’s not that Elena anymore. When I saw her on Christmas, I couldn’t believe my eyes. My heart was actually racing. She’s still the same Elena, but at the same time, she isn’t. She grew up, Blake.”

  I didn’t like the sound of this. What was he trying to tell me?

  “She turned into one hell of a fox,” Lucian said. “And if you don’t see her next to you in the near future, then you need to get used to the fact that plenty of guys are going to take your place. If you weren’t my friend…”

  “What did you do?” It came out jealous.

  “Calm down, nothing.” He sounded pissed off. “But she almost kissed me. I didn’t see that little annoying brat anymore. It was so hard to not give into her.”

  It hit me. He rejected her because of me.

  It didn’t surprise me that she’d grown up. Sammy had grown up; she had womanly curves, even though that sounded sick coming from her brother’s mouth. I was worried about Sammy joining the Academy soon because of what she looked like. Now Elena was all grown up, too. Of course she had. It was stupid that it hadn’t occurred to me.

  Lucian turned his back on me to do his homework. I grabbed my laptop and tried again to find pictures of her. I needed to see her before she attended next year. But nothing. No fucking picture.

  This was starting to drive me nuts.

  My birthday was coming. Sixteen.

  I found myself staring at a tattoo parlor. My mom would kill me, but once it was on, well, she’d have to deal with it.

  I went in and hid underneath my hoody. Inside it was quiet, accept for a girl in her late teens, with dark hair tied up in high short ponytails against her head.

  She was chewing bubblegum and had a goth vibe going on. Her arms were covered in ink.

  She looked up from her magazine.

  “Hi,” she said, smiling. “Can I help you?”

  I nodded as I walked toward the desk. “Can you keep a secret?”

  I walked out with a tattoo. The artist, Kevin, and receptionist, Tracy, said that they wouldn’t tell a single soul. It wasn’t as sore as I thought it would be. And I was still contemplating the design. I didn’t do it for him. I did it for me. It was the sign of the Rubicon that was on Blake’s arm. It was now inked on my shoulder blade.

  A reminder of who I am, not who my dragon was.

  I didn’t know how I was going to hide this from him, but I knew for a fact that he would see it eventually.

  In a few months Sammy and I would join the Academy. Reporters wanted an interview with me about Blake’s claiming since my sixteenth birthday was coming up.

  I wondered if he would reveal that I sent him an invitation. I was contemplating that, but I knew it would only show him how pathetic I was.

  I sat with my mom, Aunty Tanya, and Queen Maggie around a table. It was an annual tradition when my birthday was coming up.

  I stared at the list of names of who we were going to invite. I stared at the name Leaf. I sighed and closed my eyes.

  “Are you going to invite him?”
my mom asked.

  I shook my head. “He isn’t going to show, so what’s the use?”

  She rubbed my arm. “You know what?” She took the list. She placed her hand under my chin. “Look at me. I think it’s time to choose your own type of party.”

  WHAT?

  “Katie?” Tanya yelped. Queen Maggie looked at my mother as if someone had just told her Christmas was canceled.

  “Are you for real?” I asked.

  She laughed. “I’m sure I will regret it, but yes. I’m giving you the rope, Elena. Whatever you want, it’s yours.”

  New excitement emerged from my core. “Arianna had hers on a yacht this year, even though I wasn’t invited…”

  “You know why she didn’t invite you. She thought he would come.”

  “I know, and then he didn’t. Can I have it on the yacht?”

  “I’ll make the arrangements,” my mom said with a smile.

  I flung my arms around her. “Thank you, Mom.”

  She laughed. “Now go. I’m sure Sammy is waiting for you somewhere.

  The days flew by. Lucian, Annie, Sammy, and so many RSVP’d. I contemplated sending Blake that invitation for a while, but then I made up my mind. He was still my dragon. Even if he was a douchebag at the moment. He was my dragon. Not some Barbie Snow Dragon’s.

  I rolled up one of the invites and wrote on the back, Please come. I really miss you. You can even bring your plus one. Just come.

  I contemplated “XO” at the bottom, but neither of us wanted to remember that kiss. Hearts signified love, too, and it wasn’t like that. So I just put, Elena.

  I whistled for the crow. They were stationed on the east wing’s tower. He finally came with a ruffle of warm air and midnight feathers.

  I put the invitation in his pouch. He gave me the same look he always gave me. You’re not getting the message, those eyes said. You are wasting your time and getting your hopes up for nothing.

  “Shut up,” I said to him. He shook his feathers. “I have to try.”

  I tied the pouch around his leg and prayed that this time Blake would answer, or just come. Anything would be better than not having him there.

  I heard tapping on my window. When was Blake going to give up? Luckily for me, Albert wasn’t in the room.

  He’d found out about my keeping the letter about Pluggs from Elena. He was furious with me for a week. He warned me not to come to him when things fell apart. He would go out of his way and use the words I hated the most: I told you so.

  I’d made this bed, and I would sleep in it. I’d take full responsibility when the time arrived.

  I took the pouch from the crow. To my chagrin, the letter wasn’t from him; it was from Elena. She hasn’t sent him anything for a long time.

  It was an invitation to her yacht party. I closed my eyes.

  I was starting to contemplate this. But with Lee there, it was too risky. I shook my head and placed the invitation in the hidden box.

  I felt like I was on a runaway train with no brakes. Just a little longer, sweetheart. I promise.

  I wasn’t going to be on that yacht, and neither was Albert. I’d seen the way Lucian reacted when he saw Elena during Christmas. Blake would do the same. And he would lure her into sin. So no. Over my dead body.

  The box was stuffed with letters now. Letters that drove a wedge between them.

  All my doing because of one stupid, malicious letter. All because I couldn’t bear to see her heartbroken. The letter that started all of this.

  Sorry. Sweetheart. One day you will forgive me. I hoped that was true.

  Lucian had already RSVP’d. I hadn’t even received an invitation yet. Still, Lucian kept watching for the crow. He even went up to the tower with binoculars to have a look. He didn’t believe me. Well, he was going to be pretty disappointed.

  When school was out, we went on our summer break. I still hadn’t received my invitation. Sammy had gotten hers.

  “Just come with me. Fuck the invite.”

  “And do what, Samantha?” I got annoyed.

  “Talk to her. Sort this shit out, Blake. She is your rider.”

  “No, to be honest, I already have plans tomorrow.”

  My sister stamped her foot. “Then cancel them.”

  “I said no, Sammy,” I practically yelled. I pushed her out of my room and slammed the door.

  My Cammy rang. It was Lucian.

  “What do you want?” I barked.

  “No invite?”

  I gave a humorless laugh. “I told you I’m done with kiddies’ parties. I really don’t give a crap.”

  He raised one eyebrow. “And I told you, she’s not a kid. Come anyway. Be the bigger person and apologize.”

  “I have, so many times. She doesn’t want to hear it. So just drop it, okay? Besides, I have a gig tomorrow night. I can’t come.”

  Lucian was not amused. “Cancel the fucking gig, Blake.”

  “I can’t.”

  “Fine, I’ll tell her you say happy birthday.”

  “Whatever.” I slammed down the phone.

  I considered canceling on Isaac. This party only wanted three of us. He phoned like two days ago. “Blake,” I answered. Of course he knew it was me; he saw my hologram.

  “You up for a gig on Saturday? Fancy affair, only wanted three of us. They even said they would supply the instruments.”

  “Fucking perfect,” I said, not wanting more details. It meant I wouldn’t sulk Saturday for missing Elena’s party again.

  He’d understood immediately. “She didn’t send you an invite again? Damn, chicks can hold grudges.”

  “So not a problem anymore.” I waved him off. “What time?”

  “Around five.”

  Perfect again. That was when Elena’s party would be in full swing. “See you at three at Ernie’s.”

  “Cool. Ciao.”

  I put down the Cammy. Gigs were flying in lately, and so were the record label offers. A pity we couldn’t distribute behind the Wall. We were huge in Paegeia, or busy getting there.

  One of our singles, “Stupid Damn Idiot,” reached the top ten on last month’s chart. Best damn feeling in the world.

  I jammed my schedule in the next few weeks of summer with gigs and recording sessions. I’d just drown myself in my music.

  Elena would be so far from my mind.

  The yacht was about to set sail. I was only waiting for Lucian now. He’d promised that he would be here, and at two o’clock on the dot, he showed.

  He was out of breath.

  “Sorry I’m late.”

  “You are just on time, actually,” I said. He gave me a hug.

  “Happy sweet sixteen, Elena.”

  I smiled. “Never thought I would reach this age.”

  “None of us did.” He winked. Flirting again.

  I lowered my voice. “Just a heads up, Lee is here.”

  “You seriously still with that ass?”

  “No,” I hedged. We broke up a few weeks ago because I found out about Clair. “But I invited him as he is a friend.”

  “Fine, whatever. I’ll play nice. Besides, I feel sorry for anyone who is going to try fuck up this party.”

  I laughed.

  The yacht pulled away as I looked at the horizon one last time. My eyes caught on Sammy. She stood nearby, her auburn hair whipping in the sea breeze, watching me with soft understanding eyes. I pretended to look at something else. We pulled out of the dock.

  He didn’t come. I couldn’t believe he’d done it again. That crow had been so right. His stares had warned me that I was getting my hopes up for nothing.

  This was it. Al and Tanya spoke to me. They found Elena’s invite and they were right. It was time.

  I got the Cammy number for Isaac, Blake’s band manager. I phoned him. He picked up immediately.

  “Isaac,” he said and when he saw my face he almost choked.

  “Blake there?” I asked.

  “No, not yet. I mean, no, Your Majesty. You wan
t me to tell him you are looking for him?”

  “No,” I said too fast. “No.” It was gentler. “How does one hire you guys, not all of you, just say, three of you?”

  “Easy, what do you need, Majesty?”

  I laughed. “Blake needs to be one of the three.” I never thought that I would say it.

  “Okay.” He didn’t sound so sure but he got a pen and paper.

  “All the instruments will be there. Just show up.”

  “Where?” he asked.

  “Half-past four at the docks. A speed boat will get you there. And don’t be late. Don’t tell him, please. He might not show, and he needs to be there.”

  “Okay, I won’t tell him.”

  “What is your fee?”

  “About five hundred pagoleons.”

  “Five hundred? You guys are popular, aren’t you?”

  “If you want the big guy,” he joked. I could tell he said that a lot.

  I laughed. “Make her feel extra special and I’ll pay a thousand.”

  His eyes widened. “Deal.”

  I said goodbye.

  The day of her birthday finally arrived.

  “Thanks for handing me the rope, Mom.”

  I gave her a hug. “Don’t make me regret this, Elena.”

  “You won’t.”

  “And I hope you are going to love your surprise.”

  A smile lit up her face. “What surprise?”

  “You’ll know when you see it.”

  “You got me a Cammy!”

  “Wait and see,” I said with a tone of playful mystery. “I’m not going to give anything away.”

  She hugged me again. “Thanks, Mom.”

  I played the piano after that farewell..

  We weren’t many. About ten or so. Half of them were from my class, the other half were my best friends—Annie, Arianna, Lucian, and Sammy—and Lee. Lucian kept his word. He greeted Lee and Lee greeted him back. Civil.

  I’d told Lee it was over. The night after my mom caught us in my room, he’d slept with Clair, who was also in my class.

  Sammy didn’t understand how I could still invite both of them.

 
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