The Dragon’s Call Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Anno Draconis 1-22-0051

Cecily woke early, intending to meet Derek at the time they’d agreed on. She was almost to the front door when she discovered Daniel had camped in the living room to catch her when she hit the foyer.
He leapt up from his impromptu nest of blankets on the floor and came toward her. “Where are you going?” he demanded, moving to block her path. “You don’t have any friends named Stacy at school. The only reason I didn’t tell Dad is because I didn’t want him to stress.”
Cecily pulled herself up, gathering every shred of dishonesty in her body. It wasn’t much, but she’d do her best. “I just joined a new club at school and met a girl there named Stacy. We’re study partners. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” She pushed past him and left before he could retort.
She took the long route again, and by the time she arrived at the school parking lot she was twenty minutes late. Derek’s car sat parked and waiting, and her tension left in a rush. She’d been so afraid he wouldn’t wait.
The car’s window slid down, and Derek leaned out the window as she walked up. “What happened? Are you okay?”
“Daniel’s getting suspicious.” Cecily said. “I had to think up something to tell him. Then I took the long way so he wouldn’t see where I was going.”
“I see. Is meeting on the weekend a problem?”
“No, it’s okay.” She wasn’t going to change her plans. As long as Dad and Daniel didn’t know, it should be fine.
“Alright, if you’re sure.” Derek’s voice was hesitant.
She opened the passenger door and climbed in the front seat. “I am, let’s go.” She glanced back at Tariq and nodded in greeting.
They drove for a long while, passing rusted lampposts and listing stop signs. Soon, the aged concrete street edged into a dirt road framed by bushes and trees. When the car’s speed slowed, she looked around. Derek was pulling into a gravel-filled area at the end of an off-road.
Cecily peeked out the car in wonder. The trees surrounding the area were tall, much taller than the human-tended trees at home.
Derek and Tariq exited the car, went to the trunk and rummaged inside. Derek came back with a large bag of food in his arms, and opened her door.
She climbed out and surveyed the bags. “Burritos again?”
Derek grinned. “What can I say? They’re my favorite.”
She moved away from the car and looked around. Oak and pine trees loomed ahead of them with an earthy scent of leaves and pine needles. Above, birds called in chirrups and whistles. “Where are we?”
Derek took her hand and led the way to a low wooden fence crumbling with age and termites. “We’re in my favorite place.” He lifted her over the railing. “I come here to listen and breathe and just be.”
The forest was full of life. Wildflowers grew at the base of the trees, and warm rays of sunlight dappled the earth. After a few minutes of walking, the trees thinned and the three of them entered a meadow.
Cecily inhaled. Budding tulips of every color filled the meadow: white, red, yellow, pink. “How…” She swallowed. Humans couldn’t have done this. Tulips were so expensive even pictures of them were rare in the human enclave.
Derek studied the meadow, seeming disappointed. “The buds haven’t opened yet.” He gave her a diffident look. “I want to do something, but I don’t want to frighten you.”
Frighten her? How could she be scared when he’d given her something so precious? She pulled her gaze away from the meadow and looked up at him. “You won’t scare me, Derek.”
He exhaled and smiled. “Okay, good.” He motioned her to stay back. “Watch this.” He walked to the center of the meadow and raised his hands palm up. A light breeze picked up and suddenly, emerald sparkles began to glow and spin around the length of the field. Spinning faster and faster, the light surged suddenly, then faded away.
Cecily gasped as all the tulip buds through the length of the meadow slowly blossomed.
Derek lowered his hands and returned to her side. “Do you like them?”
“Yes,” she said, awed. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“Oh good,” Derek said, looking relieved. “I wasn’t sure. Then I forgot to ask if you had allergies or not, and then–”
She turned and kissed him with tears in her eyes. “They were my mother’s favorite.” She released him and stepped back, sweeping the meadow with a blurry gaze.
He blinked. “They were?”
“She used to tell me about tulips – what they were like before they were decimated by the war. She loved all flowers, plants, and trees, but tulips were her favorite. She had a garden full of them as a child. Her parents taught her to care for them…” Cecily turned and whispered, “Thank you.”
Derek pulled her into his arms. “I’m glad you like it.”
Behind them, Tariq gave an irritable grunt.
After a moment, Derek motioned Tariq to remain behind, then led Cecily down a small path.
She gripped Derek’s hand as she nearly tripped over a rock. “Where are we going now?”
“There’s a small stream up ahead with some large rocks. We’ll be able to sit and eat there.”
After a second, Cecily saw the rocks Derek had described. They were large, mossy, and slippery from sitting close to the stream’s edge. Derek climbed up the rocks, then reached down for her. She took his hands and inhaled as he lifted her onto the stone beside him.
Once she was seated, Derek pointed at something a little ways off. “Look, over there.”
Cecily turned. A doe and her fawn were stepping into the clearing toward the tulips. Dismayed, she held still. “Will they eat the tulips?”
“It’s okay. They can be replaced.”
The fawn followed its mother’s steps, tripping and prancing around the flowers.
Cecily chuckled, and the doe and fawn bolted into the trees. “Oh,” she said, disappointed.
Derek laughed and handed her a burrito.
Cecily took a last look around before biting into her food. Water burbled over the rocks in the streambed below, and birdsong whistled through the air. When she was full, she turned back to him. “So, how does a dragon fall in love with burritos?”
“Who doesn’t love burritos? They have everything you could possibly want: meat, rice, beans, sour cream, cheese…” Derek ate his last bite with comical relish, then stood and jumped off the rock onto the ground
. He reached up and caught her around the waist. “Did you enjoy it here?” He held her gaze as he brought her to the ground.
Cecily flushed. “Yes.”
“Good.” Derek leaned in to kiss her.
Cecily’s breath caught as his lips touched hers. When he pulled back, she leaned against him and inhaled. “Next time, remind me to breathe.”
Derek grinned. “All right, I don’t want you passing out. That would be something to explain to your family.”
Crap. Cecily looked around. The sun was edging downward, and she’d forgotten about Dad and Daniel.
Derek followed her gaze and nodded. “Time to go.”
They turned and headed back, stopping to pick up Tariq on the way to the car.
The drive home was shorter than the trip there. Derek drove faster than he had coming.
“I don’t want to leave you at the school, Cecily. Let me take you home,” he said. “If you try to walk home you’ll miss curfew.”
“No, they can’t see us together, it would end everything.”
“Then tell me someplace nearby where I can drop you off. I’m not going to risk your safety.”
“All right, but stay back. There are no cars in the neighborhood and yours will stick out.” She told Derek the way.
When they arrived, the sky was swept with deepening tones of pink and orange.
Derek parked a block from her house, then turned to her and caressed her cheek. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow?”
She nodded, shivering.
“Go,” Derek murmured, dropping his hand.
Cecily stepped from the car and gave him a wistful look before turning to walk home. 

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