“What do you think my dad will say?” Cecily leaned forward to look past Tariq in the front seat. Her family’s little yellow cottage crouched in a yard full of bright, waving foliage and flowers as Derek pulled to a stop at the curb.
“Dad will be okay,” Daniel said from Tara’s other side. Tara was sitting between him and Cecily in the rear of the car. Trying to pile all six of them into the five-seater had been very uncomfortable, and Solon had opted to walk home instead.
“Don’t worry about Dad,” Daniel finished.
Okay? Dad was going to take one look at her and freak. Cecily didn’t say anything and exited the car, waiting for the rest to join her.
Tara climbed out, came to Cecily’s side, and laid a hand on her arm. “It really will be okay.”
Cecily sent her a tired, disbelieving smile. “Why didn’t Cassia come with you and Solon?”
Tara froze for a moment, then looked away. “She didn’t feel comfortable riding in the car with Derek and Tariq.”
Cecily gave a small nod. “If Cassia is still afraid of dragonkind, how do you think she’s going to feel when she sees what I have become?”
Tara fell silent and Cecily turned her gaze back to their tiny house surrounded by plants, flowers, and trees.
“Come on, Cecily.” Derek came to her side, put an arm around her waist, and guided her through the front yard and up the stairs of her front porch. “Let’s get inside before curfew hits.”
She glanced up at the sky and nodded. The orange, pinks and reds had deepened into the darker purples of evening. The edges of the sky were already the deep black of night. Curfew was officially over. “All right. Let’s go inside.” She walked inside and paused in the foyer, waiting for them to join her. “Dad?”
“In here, Cecily.” Her father’s voice sounded as though it came from the living room area. “You and Daniel are late. It’s past curfew.”
“I know, Dad.” She hesitated and glanced back.
Tara and Derek moved up to join her, and Daniel brushed past to walk ahead of them into the living room. Tariq entered behind them and shut the door before folding his arms with a stoic expression.
“Dad, sorry about that. Something happened today and we were a little late getting home. Derek and Tariq gave us a ride,” Daniel said.
Thank goodness Daniel was speaking up. Cecily resisted the urge to hunch her shoulders and followed Daniel into the living room.
“All right.” Her dad’s voice sounded deliberate, patient. “So, you’ve established there was a reason. Would you two like to let me know what, exactly, that reason was any time soon?”
Cecily opened her mouth to speak and was about to step forward, but Derek shook his head and moved ahead of her to greet her father.
“Mr. Burns, before we let you know what happened, I want to assure you that Tariq and I will make certain no harm comes to Cecily.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Her father’s voice, dry before, turned hard.
Cecily huffed, frustrated. “You guys are just scaring him.” She pushed around Derek and Daniel and walked into the living room. Her dad was sitting in his chair, his arms folded, and the brown skin of his forehead crinkled. She moved toward him and stopped as soon as he saw her face and went still.
“This is what they meant, Dad. I’ve changed.”