The Recollections of Todd Burns – Anno Draconis 3-20-0023
My immunity helped, for a time. My gift, my ability to sense dragonkind’s whereabouts was an asset, priceless in its utility. I directed my men to attack, when possible, from a distance, keeping them away from the Call. We were fewer than the last encounter, and we dwindled with each battle.
With every attack and slight encounter I had with dragonkind, the traitorous ache, the ability to sense their presence, the strange feeling of familiarity, increased. Fire fell, like white lava, roasting the men below…and yet it grew. Their wings whipped like sails against the broken sky, and still the need swelled within me.
Toward the end, the need became an agonized desire to feel the wind, the sun, and the sky.
Anno Draconis 1-20-0051
Cecily woke to darkness. She’d set the alarm to go off early in order to leave and get to class without dealing with Daniel. There was no way she’d continue the fight from the day before. Avoiding him and her dad once she arrived home had been easy enough, even though being stuck in her room had sucked. Now, she had to leave before they woke.
She fumbled in the dark, moving around the bed’s edge. When she reached the dresser’s lamp, she switched it on. Light flooded the feminine room. Her mom had insisted on buying ruffled quilts when Cecily would have liked something less frilly. Matching lace curtains hung from the window, and pillows of varying size covered the bed.
The room was very clean. She’d carefully placed all her books in alphabetical order on the shelf above the dresser. Inside her closet, shoes sat in a neat row and clothes hung on hangers pointing in the same direction. She looked around. Everything looked perfect. She found her school clothes and dressed quickly.
Once dressed, Cecily grabbed her schoolbooks, tiptoed down the stairs, then paused at the front door. Should she have breakfast?
In that tense moment of silence, someone moved upstairs and Cecily fled out the door. By the time she reached school and entered class, she was out of breath. She looked around for her seat and saw Derek and Tariq. She smiled, feeling relieved. At least Brian and Jessica would stay out of her hair as long as he was around.
When lunch came, Cecily ached with hunger. Skipping breakfast might not have been the best idea she’d ever had. She sat down at her lunch and focused ravenously on the food. Once satisfied, she leaned back and glanced at Derek who sat next to her. He was watching her, his eyes dark and somber.
She surveyed his face and realized something. She could look him in the eye without feeling like drowning now. Weird.
Derek shifted in his seat. “I wanted to ask what you had planned for this weekend.”
She sent him a questioning look. “Nothing, I usually just stay home and study or clean the house. Why?”
He glanced at Tariq and responded, “Well, I thought I’d try watching some of the old human-made movies. Would you like to watch with me at my place?”
She raised her eyebrows. Derek wasn’t asking her on a date or something, was he?
He misunderstood her expression and hastened to clarify. “We wouldn’t be alone or anything. Tariq would be there. Goodness knows he’s an effective enough chaperone.” He shot Tariq an acerbic look.
She couldn’t believe it. Derek was asking her on a date. “So, you don’t want to be just friends?”
Derek’s gaze snapped to hers. “We’re friends if you want us to be.” His voice sounded hesitant.
Cecily bit her lip. This was awkward. Why couldn’t Derek just tell her what he wanted? Avoiding the issue was probably a good idea. “I don’t mind hanging out this weekend. What are we going to watch?”
Derek smiled. “You’ll see. Come here to the school tomorrow around noon and I’ll pick you up.”
Cecily’s heart jumped at his smile. “All right.”
Once school ended, she left Derek and Tariq and headed toward the house immediately. The last thing she wanted was to meet up with Daniel and go through a repeat of the day before. She walked home in silence, the crunch of broken asphalt beneath her shoes blending with the low songs from the Tenders finishing up their work in the woods.
She felt so strange. She’d never done anything reckless before. She was the responsible one, quiet, neat, clean and good. Daniel had always been the wild child.
Now she was doing something a little wild – and it felt good.
Sleeping was hard. The plants, trees, and blooming flowers outside the house rustled in the night air, a gentle whisper in Cecily’s ears. The sound had always soothed her before, but now it felt like everything would keep her awake. She finally fell asleep during the dusky hours between night and morning. She woke up to light streaming through the bedroom window, and bounced out of bed. She could almost relate to Tara’s insane bunny-rabbit act now.
Getting ready was even more difficult. Should she dress up and do hair and makeup? No. Both Dad and Daniel would notice. She only used makeup for school dances. She couldn’t dress too cute either. They would notice that also. So semi-cute would have to do.
Cecily pulled on some jeans, a dark green baby tee, and her boots. Moving in front of the bedroom door mirror, she stopped and surveyed her hair. It was long and shiny with a hint of wave. When it was short it curled, but she’d let it grow halfway down her back. She grabbed a brush and did what she could. Her mother had loved to style her hair in long tiny braids, which was why Cecily kept it so long. She preferred it shorter but, like most things that reminded her of her mother, she kept it the way it had been.
By the time she finished, it was past eleven. As long as she didn’t stop to eat she’d have time to get to the school. The walk was only fifteen minutes anyway. She grabbed her book sack with schoolbooks – this was the part that would have to fool Dad and Daniel – and left her room.
She tramped down the stairs, then paused with one hand on the front door knob. The living room was quiet except for the soft sounds of someone turning pages in a book. It was probably Daniel doing homework. She twisted the knob and called over her shoulder, “I’m heading over to Stacy’s house to study! I’ll be back later.”
There was a muffled noise of surprise.
Laughing, she darted outside and slammed the door. She’d always wondered what made Daniel so reckless,
what it felt like, and now she knew. She felt buoyant with life.
what it felt like, and now she knew. She felt buoyant with life.
Cecily hurried up the street and took the long route to avoid getting caught. By the time she arrived at the school parking lot, she was winded from jogging part of the way. The only vehicle there was a black BMW, and one of its tinted windows rolled down as she walked up.
Derek leaned out the window. “Hey.”
She smiled. “Hey back. Are we going now?”
“Yes, here you go.” He opened the passenger door.
She sent a nod to Tariq in the back seat and settled in. Turning, she swept her eyes around the car in wonder. Humans weren’t allowed vehicles without special dispensation since the end of the dragon wars. Cars weren’t even built anymore. The only cars in existence were dragon-built, and what human could afford an object made with dragon magic?
She straightened in her seat and buckled up. “I’ve never been in a car before. My dad used to tell me about cars.”
“How do you like it?”
“It feels different from walking.”
He laughed. “That’s true. Just relax and enjoy the ride.”
“So are you going to tell me what we’re going to watch?”
“Nope, you’ll see when we start watching. Are you hungry?”
Cecily nodded, hiding her relief. “I didn’t eat breakfast.”
“All right, we’ll pick up some food on the way there. There’s an excellent dragon-owned burrito shop not too far from my place.”
They drove to the shop and Derek ordered enough food to feed a small army.
Cecily stared at the bags of burritos. “Can you really eat all that?”
“That’s just a snack.”
She blinked, dismayed, and he laughed.
When they arrived at his apartment, she grabbed a bag of food, stepped out of the car, and looked around. Derek’s BMW stood out in the worst way. The apartments on each side of the street were old and run-down, and his car was the only one there. She followed as Derek and Tariq, arms packed high with bags of burritos, tramped up the stairs.
Pausing to balance the bags, Derek unlocked the door to the lobby. He looked back and motioned for Cecily to join them.
She moved ahead of them and gazed around, dismayed. The interior was as dingy as the outside of the building. The light was dim, the hallway walls were gray, and the burgundy stairway carpeting was torn and stained.
“There’s been no crime since Tariq and I moved in. I think the other tenants are secretly happy,” Derek said cheerfully. “Come on.” He led the way up the stairs and stopped in front of the first apartment. After he unlocked it, he motioned her forward.
Cecily went inside and looked around. The inside was old and dingy like the outside of the apartment. No surprise there, but how he could live in such a place if he was used to luxury items like cars?
She looked back as Derek carried in the bags of food. Tariq came in and deposited his bags on the kitchen table before grabbing half-a-dozen burritos. He gave them both a short nod and went inside one of the bedrooms down the hall.
Derek glanced at her. “You like comedic action movies?”
“Sure, they’re all right.”
“Good, let’s grab some of the food and sit down.”
Cecily shook her head at the bags piled on the table, then dug through them and looked for the one she’d ordered. After a moment, she gave up. There were just so damn many. After grabbing a random burrito, she sat on the couch to eat. When she bit into it, she had to wrinkle her nose.
Derek grabbed a couple of burritos, produced a transmitter from somewhere, and flipped on the light screen.
Cecily stared at the glowing, amorphous light in awe. “So that’s a light screen. Dragon-built with dragon magic, right?” She glanced at Derek.
“Yes, you’ve never seen one?”
She shook her head. “They’re dragon-built,” she said. “Only extremely rich humans can afford dragon-built items.”
Derek nodded thoughtfully. “I see.” He sat next to her and started the movie. “I think you might like it.” He glanced down at her uneaten food. “You don’t like it?”
She felt her face warm. “It’s cold.”
“Ah.” His green eyes sparkled. “Give it here.”
She handed the burrito over and he took it in both hands and blew. Emerald green sparkles suffused the wrapper in a brilliant, wavering glow. She gasped. So that was the magic the adults feared, the magic dragons used to fuel new technology and old things from before the war. Dragon magic. But Derek’s magic didn’t seem bad. His was beautiful.
He looked her over, clearly checking to see if she was afraid, then grinned. “Here you go.”
She nearly dropped the burrito as the green sparkles faded away and left it hot to the touch. “Thanks,” she murmured. She finished eating self-consciously, aware of his closeness. Should she lean against the armrest? She didn’t want to look like she was avoiding him. Undecided and nervous, she almost didn’t hear Derek’s question.
“So, Cecily, comedies are ‘just all right’? What movies do you like better?”
Derek scanned her face. “Is it something embarrassing for humans?”
He had no idea. Who liked the human movies ancient enough to be in black and white? She gave an embarrassed laugh. “A little bit. I love the really old romances, but not ones that end happily. The tragic ones like Gone with the Wind and Romeo and Juliet.”
He sent her a curious look. “You don’t like happy endings?”
She shrugged, feeling the sliver of distance between them on the couch. “‘Happy endings just don’t make sense to me. They haven’t since Mom disappeared.”
He sobered. “I see. Maybe you’ll like the ending in this one today?”
She smiled. “Maybe.”
Derek returned her smile and turned back to the movie, sliding an arm behind her.
Cecily stared at the screen, her heart jumping as his arm brushed her back. The worst part was, unlike her, he seemed unaffected. She felt a stab of irritation. Well, why would he be? He only wanted to be friends.
Derek laughed at something in the movie and glanced her way. When she smiled, he grinned and turned back.
Time crawled by and Cecily’s back burned from sitting rigid until Derek slid his arm down and pulled her to his side.
Her heart flew to her throat and she stiffened, then inhaled. He smelled wonderful. Like sunny breezes and warm April showers. Did all dragons smell like that?
She relaxed and leaned into him. She didn’t realize how close they were until Derek turned his head and looked straight into her eyes. She froze and the exhilarating feeling of his gaze swept over her. Was he going to kiss her?
His head bent and she lifted her face. When Derek’s lips touched hers, she flushed with heat and slid her arms up around his shoulders. His fingers ran through her hair and she shivered. When he finally pulled away, she blinked.
Derek smiled. “You okay?”
“Yes.” Cecily cleared her throat. “Does this mean you don’t want to be friends?”
His eyes glinted with amusement. “We are if you want us to be.”
Great. Cecily huffed. Who knew dragons could be a tease?
Derek laughed. “No, I would like more than friendship from you.” He hesitated. “Do you feel the same?”
Hah. He had to ask? She pretended to think hard. When he started to look apprehensive, she gave in and laughed. “I do. Don’t look so nervous.”
He exhaled. “I couldn’t help it. You had me worried.”
“I’m sorry. You should have seen your face, though.”
div>”Well, I was nervous. Your father won’t be happy.”
Cecily winced. She’d forgotten about Dad. She thought for a moment, then exhaled. “I’m not telling my dad, and once I turn eighteen it won’t matter. When I graduate I won’t be in the enclave anyway.”
Derek raised his eyebrows. “You won’t? Where will you be? When do you turn eighteen?”
She eyed him. They had a lot to talk about. “I turn eighteen next month on the 28th, and I’ve already received my dispensation to apply to colleges. I’ll be going this summer, hopefully.”
Derek looked incredulous. “So you’re leaving?”
She blinked, surprised. “I thought you realized what would happen when I told you Daniel was going away to college.”
“I never connected his leaving with the possibility of you leaving.”
She gave him a crooked smile. “You could always go to college.”
Derek cocked his head. “I suppose I could.”
“You’ll learn about humans just as much there,” Cecily pointed out.
“True.” Derek flicked her a sideways look. “Would you like me to come?”
“Only if you want to,” she teased.
“All right,” he decided. “If you want me to come, it might be fun.”
She grinned. “Oh, good.” She laughed as Derek pounced on her.
Pulling her onto his lap, Derek teased, “Now let’s watch the last five minutes of this movie, or I’ll be mad I didn’t get my money’s worth.”
The movie took longer than five minutes, but it didn’t matter. Cecily couldn’t remember anything from it anyway. When it was over, she took a quick look at the clock hanging on the kitchen wall, then peeked out the window behind the couch. The sky wasn’t dark yet, but it was turning pink. She needed to leave to get home before curfew.
Derek called for Tariq, then helped her to stand. “Do you want to do this again tomorrow?”
“You mean watch movies here again?”
He shook his head. “I have something planned. I think you’ll like it.”
“Same time. I’ll meet you at the school.”
Behind them, Tariq cleared his throat, and Derek rolled his eyes and grabbed the car keys.
The sun was setting by the time Derek reached the school.
Cecily climbed out the car and waved before hurrying toward the cottage. When she arrived, she went straight to her room and locked the door. She wanted to tell someone, preferably Tara. Unfortunately, that girl couldn’t keep a secret, and they still weren’t talking anyway.
Cecily sighed and pulled out her schoolbooks. Derek had hinted at something special, so it wasn’t likely she’d have time to study the next day.