Saturday, June 21, 2014

Chapter Two


         It was hot. 
The air felt especially sweltering in contrast to the cold warehouse in which Eena had been standing a moment earlier.  This was a new area of land untouched by its healer.  A glance at her surroundings showed an accumulation of dead leaves and branches spread out over flat terrain.  A scarcity of trees pointed skyward across the scene, bare like toothpicks.
Eena dropped to the ground and pressed both hands against a knot of needle-thin twigs that poked out of the soil.  On contact, she sensed the weakness of the flora as well as a shared impression of mourning for plants that had died during her long absence.  She called on the necklace attached to her chest—an heirloom referred to as the dragon’s soul—to shine and transfer healing energy to the dying plant life.  Her arms warmed in the process; the heat spread to her fingers. 
A circle of rich greens and browns bled outward from where her touch met the terrain, spreading further while intensifying every passing moment.  Exotic bushes thickened at the stalks, plump with gold and burgundy veins.  Colorful fronds as delicate as silk threads pushed up from the tips of low-lying scrub while scrawny trees climbed to new heights, swelling at their trunks.  Branches jutted from every side of these growing trees, sprouting curly leaves resembling kale.
The healer stopped short when she heard her name spoken in a scolding manner.
“Eena!  What were you thinking?  You do know that Naga is duty-bound to carry out your requests, no matter how absurd they are.” 
The young healer reacalled her last words spoken to Naga.  Grinning at the idea of her wishes being carried out, she turned to see her protector standing just out of arm’s reach.  She bit down on her lip when Ian frowned his disapproval.
“Yes, I know,” she answered indifferently, standing to meet his scrutiny.  She defended her actions even though in her heart she knew the request had been both childish and risky.  “It’s not like Edgar doesn’t deserve it.  The jerk deserves far worse.”
“You’re not worried even the tiniest bit about repercussions?” Ian asked, his brow line arching.
“Not really.”  She was mostly certain— relatively certain—that Edgar had too much of a crush on her to retaliate in any hurtful manner.  He would never want her to hate him for all eternity.
Ian groaned at the justifications in her thoughts.  “You know, you’re not much good at making friends out of enemies.”
His criticism put a sour grimace on her face.  She kicked at a pebble and sent it soaring over the cliff’s edge.  “So what?” she shrugged, watching the pebble fall for the longest time before her eyes lost sight of it.
“So you seem to be too good at making worse enemies out of enemies that are foul enough already.”
“I never claimed to be Imorih’s pupil.”
“Obviously.  But it wouldn’t hurt for you to reread the book.”
Eena shoved at her criticizer, making him stagger a few steps backwards. 
“Hey, I said you should make friends of your enemies, not enemies of your friends!”  He acted as if he were overly upset, and Eena busted out laughing.  This earned a laugh from Ian as well, yet he seemed unable to completely shed the veil of despondency draped over him.  It was noticeable.
“I’m sorry you were called away with me again,” Eena apologized. 
Ian glanced out at the bright, cloudy sky.  His feet started forward along an edge of cliff that curved inward by degrees.  His queen walked beside him, keeping at his sauntering pace.
“Don’t worry about it,” he finally said.  “I was expecting it sooner or later.  Besides, I’d rather be here than at home listening to Nischeen cry all day.”
Eena sighed a sound of sympathy; she felt bad for him.
(Just stop it, will you?)
His curtness echoed in her mind.  She turned her eyes up in question, catching a deepening frown on her protector’s face.  He tried to explain his irritable reaction telepathically.
(I’m just sick of people feeling sorry for me.  Everyone feels such enormous pity.  I hate it.  I don’t want anyone’s pity.)
(Maybe not everyone feels that way,) Eena suggested.
Ian’s eyes grew big, stressing his certainty.  (Yes, everyone!  I can read minds, remember?  The whole city pities me!  I don’t need it and I don’t want it.  So stop it!  Just stop it—everyone stop pitying me!)
Eena snapped back at him defensively.  (If you hate it so much, quit reading people’s minds.  We never asked you to intrude on our personal thoughts.)
Ian hung his head, realizing she was right.  ( I know, I’m sorry.)
Still a bit defensive, she grumbled a reminder.  (You’re the one who said you wouldn’t judge me for my thoughts, remember?  Getting angry because I feel for you, because I care for you—that’s judging me, Ian. )
(I know, I know.  You have a right to think and feel whatever you want.  I guess I should be glad that people care.)  He didn’t sound very convincing.
Eena thought about it for a moment.  (You would pity me.  I know you would, if I were to lose Derian.)
Ian didn’t comment.
(And I probably would hate your pity too,) she mumbled, trying to understand his feelings.
Ian snickered in her mind.  Her eyebrows lowered in response.
(I know you better than that, Queenie.  You would love how sorry I felt for you.  In fact, you would cry your eyes out, balled up in my arms, soaking up every bit of sympathy I could manage for your loss.)  He quickly added, (Not that I want anything to happen to Derian.  I mean….you know….Derian’s not the one I’m worried about.)
(Who are you worried about?)
(You, of course.  I worry a lot for you.  I can’t let anything happen to you.)
(Quit worrying; nothing’s going to happen to me.)  It was an empty promise.  She reached for her protector’s hand.  He squeezed once on her fingers before letting go.
Continuing their walk along the cliff’s edge, they fell silent, lost in mingled thoughts.  The wind blew constant in their faces.  It was more than a light breeze, yet it offered relief from the heat.  The sky grew darker each moment as a sinking sun slowly disappeared off to their side.  The sunset was beautiful—a rich, striking crimson. 
(Do you have any idea where we are?”) Eena eventually wondered.  She noted how the cliff seemed as endless as the rough waters surrounding them.
(I don’t,) Ian admitted. 
She imagined it didn’t matter to him, especially with the dismal thoughts occupying his mind.  It occurred to her that his parents might miss him again.  Surely Gaila would be livid over what she would perceive as Eena’s selfish consuming of her son’s time.  Perhaps Edgar could be convinced to send him home.
(I don’t want to go home,) Ian said.  (My parents won’t miss me for a while.  I told them I was taking a walk around Lacsar Grounds.  They’ll expect me to be gone for hours.)
(When they figure out that you are missing, your mother will…)
(I’ll explain it all to her eventually.  She’ll get over it.)  Ian addressed the real worry on Eena’s mind.  (She doesn’t hate you.  Mom’s just hurting.  She doesn’t know who to blame, so she’s lashing out at you in behalf of Angelle.)
(In behalf of Angelle?) 
(Yes.  Mom’s been thinking a lot lately about how she was left alone while Father spent his days at Sha Tashi’s side.  It was okay when I was young, but after you were born, I started accompanying my father.  Mom felt abandoned.  She envied Sha Tashi for seeing more of us than she did.  It bothers her that Angelle died alone while I was off with you—another Sha.  Mom’s reacting personally to it, standing up for Angelle in a way she never did for herself.)
(I guess I can understand how she must feel.  I would probably be envious too.  I know I would want my husband’s time and attention.)
(And you’ll have it,) Ian assured her.  (Derian thinks of almost nothing else but you.)
(I doubt that,) Eena disagreed.  (He spends the majority of his time with the council.)
(Not these days.  He’s been trying his best to avoid Jorban so he doesn’t have to explain your situation.)
Eena was confused by this news.  (But I thought he was determined to tell the council everything.  He told me he was going to ask for their help.  He’s already informed Jerin and Marguay.)
(Yes, but Edgar threatened him since then.)
(Edgar told Derian that he would never see you again if he breathed a word of what he knew to the council.  He basically threatened the captain to keep his mouth shut or else.  It was enough to scare him.)
(Is that why Derian came seeking me back in Gabert Forest?  Is that why he’s so paranoid of losing me?)
(It’s got a lot to do with it, yes,) Ian nodded.
Eena balled her hands into tight fists thinking about it.  (That dirty, little, bullying twit!  I’ll kill him!)
Ian held up a halting palm.  (Hey, hey, Eena, clam down.  This is exactly why I don’t tell you things.  You go spouting off prematurely before thinking it through.)  He shook his finger at her as he warned, (You can’t breathe a word of this to Edgar, or Derian will end out paying for it.)
Eena slouched her shoulders—her resolve deflated.  She sighed a sound of defeat.  (You think I’m reckless; I know you do.)
(You’re impetuous, which is the reason Naga is chasing after Edgar’s derriere right now.)
She tried not to snicker at the imagery.
(Most of the time, Eena, it’s no big deal.  But sometimes the wellbeing of others is at stake.  You have to consider the potential consequences—think it completely through—before you act.)
She believed he sounded just like Derian.
(Well, sometimes Derian is right.)
(Okay, okay, I see your point, but Edgar really does deserve a good, hard bite on the derriere.)
Ian couldn’t keep from smirking.  The creep definitely deserved worse.  (Perhaps.  However, it would serve you much better to stay on his good side.  I know he’ll forgive you for what you’ve done; I read it in his thoughts.  He’s infatuated with you, and I hate it.  But it’s probably good in a way.  He’s determined to protect you from Anesidora’s wicked temper, despite how you keep getting yourself into trouble.  He won’t tell his sisters about your recent discussion with Naga.  He’s decided that.)
Ian stopped walking and turned to face his queen.  His voice lowered in a more serious manner and his countenance sobered to match.
(In all honesty, Edgar may prove to be the one person who manages to keep you alive through all of this.  I’d like to think it would be me…)  He trailed off, wagging his head at his own unvoiced concerns.  (Let’s just hope, for all our sakes, Edgar stands up to his sisters if it comes down to that.)
Eena knew Ian was aware of the immortal’s offer, and she reminded him about it.  (Edgar would take the necklace right now if I agreed to his terms.)
Ian objected emphatically.  (No!  I don’t mean for him to help you like that; you can’t leave us.  What I mean is, if we don’t find some other way out of this and you’re forced to free his sisters, I hope he steps in and protects you.)
She couldn’t help but conjure up Ascultone’s fatal prediction.  Neither said a word about it.
“It’s getting dark,” Ian finally announced out loud.  He sounded tired.  “The moon isn’t up yet, which means it’s going to be impossible to see anything shortly.”
Eena glanced beyond the waters at a slivered crescent of crimson sun, the only bit of daylight still showing.  It wouldn’t take long for the sea to swallow it up. 
“Maybe we should start a fire.”
Together they gathered armloads of wood—dead twigs and branches that had accumulated over the years.  This natural compost thickly covered the landscape.  Eena suspected the powerful ocean winds were responsible for tearing the brittle limbs off the wilting trees.
“Over here!” Ian called out, gesturing to a cluster of timbers grown tightly together.  The tree wall would act as a decent wind break as well as back support. 
“We can camp here tonight.” 
Ian cleared off an area of ground around his feet.  He broke apart some of their collected firewood and piled it into a nice, high mound.  Eena took over from that point, using her powers to create enough spark to start a small campfire.  The air cooled quickly at the setting of the sun, making them grateful for the fire’s light and warmth.
They sat beside one another in silence, staring into the heart of red, flickering flames.  The periodic spit of sparks didn’t have the power to break their trance.  Though they were both absorbed in personal thoughts, Eena was aware that Ian could read her mind like an open book.  His own, however, was locked up tight, kept as secret as a diary.  She wished their mind link worked both ways so she could listen in on his concerns.  It didn’t seem fair that it was a one-way connection. 
What a stupid thing to think that life would ever be fair.
Inhaling a breath of smoke-scented air, Eena pulled her knees in close and placed her chin down on crossed arms.  She inclinded her head just enough to watch her protector.  He was looking up at the night’s sky, his face tight and concentrating as if counting the billions of stars above.  For the young queen, those stars formed unfamiliar constellations.
Wondering—guessing to some extent—what was on his mind, it didn’t surprise her when he responded to her curious thoughts.  In a faraway voice, he asked a desperate question.
“Where is she?  Where do good spirits, like her, go when they’re done here?”
Eena sighed solemnly, hoping he didn’t misread it as a sign of pity.  “I don’t know for certain, Ian.  Some say our spirits go to a paradise where all good people live together.  Others say we just dissipate—cease to exist entirely.  I personally find it absurd to think death could be a final end.  The very idea snuffs out any purpose or meaning to our existence.  There must be more; it only makes sense.  I’m sure she’s somewhere, Ian.  I’m sure Angelle is somewhere nice.”
Quiet claimed the night again as a troubled soul continued to stare up at the stars.  A sudden popping from the campfire stirred up a bright puff of orange sparks that reflected off Ian’s face, highlighting shimmers of moisture on his cheeks.  Eena realized her best friend was crying.  She scooted close enough to slide her arm through his.  Not knowing what to do or say, she put her head on his shoulder.
Ian didn’t react to the closeness.  Eena kept her cheek warm against his arm until he uttered another heartbreaking question.
“Why did she have to die?”
Eena gave him her best answer.  “I don’t know, Ian.  I just know that everyone dies at some point.  It’s unavoidable.  We have to pass through death as part of life.”
“That’s not true,” Ian disagreed, shifting his weepy eyes down on her.  “Your stupid immortal friends will never die.  They just keep living on and on and on…..screwing up the lives of those with terribly limited days.  And the worst part is, they don’t even appreciate what they have.  To never suffer the loss of a loved one.  To never hurt this way.”
“They don’t appreciate it because they can’t understand it.  Death and loss are outside their experience.”  Eena reached for her friend’s trembling hand.  “I think it makes us better people than they are.”
“Why do you say that?” Ian asked.  He watched her fingers gently caress his own while tears continued to glide silently down his cheeks. 
“Well, the fact is we value life because we know how fleeting it is.  It makes us grateful and more compassionate.  Kinder and wiser.”
“Wiser,” he groaned.
“Yes, Ian,” she said, tenderly squeezing his hand, “because we’re able to learn from tragedy and the consequences connected to it.”
“So, what exactly have I learned from losing Angelle?”  His eyes squinted at the question—skeptical and yet desperate for answers.
“You’ve learned to never take love for granted, and to be thankful for every moment you have with the ones you love.”
“That’s great,” he muttered sarcastically.  His hand pulled free from caring fingers to wipe at the wetness on his cheeks.  “What good does that do me now?  To learn this powerful lesson and not be able to make use of it?  She’s gone, Eena!  She’s gone forever!”  The intensity of grief in his voice made her want to weep with him, but she resisted, swallowing back her tears.
“I know, Ian, I know.  That’s the sad irony of life.  Once we learn our lessons……it’s over.”
“What good is it then?  What good is living if you lose everything in the end?” 
“I know it seems hopeless.”  She grabbed his arm, pushing on it to make him turn and look at her.  His need to make sense of his loss was understandable, and she wanted to help him find reason in it.  “That’s why I can’t believe death is the end for us.  Everything we learn in life, all we become, all we accomplish……it must serve a purpose somehow, somewhere.  I refuse to believe life ceases once we die.  Angelle is still out there; I know it.  I’m sure of it.”
“Then I want to go where she is, Eena,” he cried.  “Let me go with her.” 
Rising to her knees, Eena took her best friend in her arms, hugging him as securely as she could.  He grabbed her and held tight as if he never meant to let go. 
“I don’t want you to leave, Ian.  I need you here.”
“You have Derian.”
She felt guilt stab her like a dagger because she still had her promised one.  “I know,” she whispered as solemnly as if it were an apology.
Ian held on to their embrace, silently crying.  Eena stroked his dusty hair while silent tears wet her face.  Eventually, he let go and pushed himself away, wiping his cheeks while resuming his scrutiny of the night’s sky.  Eena tried not to feel rejected despite how abruptly he turned his back on her.  She knew this was hard for him.  It was hard for her too.  She found comfort in her own arms, wrapping them snugly around her waist.  She watched her tormented friend, unsure of what else to do.  His somber voice broke the silence again.
“It’s bad enough that she’s dead, that I’ve lost her for good.  It’s even worse that I wasn’t there when it happened.  I should have been there.”  His head wagged back and forth, signing disappointment in himself.  “But what really eats me is the fact that I didn’t have a clue she was in trouble.  I didn’t sense anything, not even the slightest twinge of uneasiness.  How the hell could I not have known she was in trouble?” 
His gaze darted sidelong, finding Eena, locking onto her sad eyes with shocking intensity.  She inclined her head, but all she could do was shake it uselessly back and forth until he looked away.  He went on talking, anger amplifying his voice. 
“There I was living it up, laughing along with the Grotts while Angelle was all alone, drowning.  How could I not have sensed it?  How could I not have known that my promised one was in trouble?  How could someone I love be suffering—dying—and I not feel anything?”
“I was with the Grotts too, Ian.  I didn’t know she was in trouble either.”
With a sweeping gesture, he dismissed her attempt to ease his burden of guilt.  “It’s not the same,” he argued.  “You weren’t in love with her.”
“No, but that…”
Ian cut in, stopping Eena mid-sentence.  His eyes were tight, dark slits as they turned on her again.  “I would have known if it had been you.”
They stared at each other for the longest moment.  Her utterance broke their trance. 
“Not necessarily.”
Ian’s brow furrowed, questioning her.
“You were asleep when Ascultone almost killed me.”
His countenance paled, resembling a ghost, making her regret reminding him of the incident.  She apologized at once.  “I didn’t mean anything, Ian.  It’s just that…well…you can’t be aware of every bit of suffering another person goes through, no matter how much you love them.”
“I would know if you were dying,” he insisted.  “I would know.”
She exhaled heavily.  “Only because we’re connected.  Normal people aren’t that way.  Derian would never know.”
“No.  No, he wouldn’t,” Ian agreed.
“But if something ever did happen to me, he would feel guilty about it—just like you.  It’s normal.”
Ian drew in a deep breath and slowly blew it out, thinking.  “Yeah, he would,” Ian finally decided.
The conversation ended on that note.  The night turned silent excepting the far-off sound of waves crashing against the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.  It was growing chillier by the hour.  Ian rose and tossed an armful of wood on the fire.  It only took seconds for the flames to swell high and wild, greedily eating up the added fuel.  He stood above the blaze, across from his queen.  The heat seemed to reach up at him, threatening to burn the hairs off his folded arms.
“You ought to get some sleep,” he said.
“I can’t sleep.  I just woke up a few hours ago,” she reminded him.
Her finger habitually coiled a strand of hair, twisiting it over and over, as she continued to watch her protector.  His features appeared angry.  She blamed it on the firelight and the shadows that blackened every dint in his features.
“If I went to sleep, I would have nightmares anyway.”
Ian flickered a glance at her before returning his gaze to the fire.  “It shocked me to see Angelle in your dream,” he admitted.  “She looked beautiful.”
“Yes, she did.  I don’t know how Anesidora managed that.  You would think if she could create such illusions she would make herself look better.”
It was a sweet sound to hear Ian actually chuckle out loud.  It was unexpected.  Eena looked up as if checking to be sure her ears hadn’t deceived her.  She smiled at a softer look on his face.
“She is one ugly ghost, isn’t she?” Ian said.
“Frightfully ugly,” Eena agreed.
Silence subtly prevailed again.  Eena hugged her knees close as she stared blankly at the fire, aware of a toasty sensation tingling her arms and legs and face.  Ian had planted his feet very close to the flames, continuing to view them from above.  The predominate sound, a background murmur of sea water, captured Eena’s ears and she found herself thinking about her dream of vacationing on the Oregon Coast.  The dream had felt as real as if she and Ian had been transported back to Earth, two high school friends living out their days as carefree and happy as before.  Their problems had vanished while lost in that dream.  It had been lovely.
The young queen looked up again, checking on her best friend.  His feet were still planted before the fire.  One arm remained across his chest, but the other was raised to cover his face.  Eena straightened up, observing closely.  She noticed how his hand trembled while at the same time his back appeared to shudder.  She skirted the campfire in seconds.  Not knowing if he would accept or reject her comfort, she embraced him from behind, pressing a cheek against his back.
“Oh, Ian, I’m so sorry,” she breathed.
It took a moment, but at last he turned around.  His arms encircled her as she buried her head beneath his chin.  The young protector broke down, sobbing much like he had at the morgue.  Eena cried at his meltdown.
To experience the extent of his broken heart—the way he secured himself to her, gasping for breaths while mourning over his loss—was painful.  All she could do was hold on as he clung to her.  She wished for more options, for another way to ease the grief or heal his broken heart entirely.  But there was no easy fix.  Then again, there was a source of temporary relief.
Eena pulled her hand in close enough to press Naga’s ring to her lips, but her actions were too slow.  Ian reacted fast and snatched her by the wrist, stepping outside of reach.  He held her hand up in the air between them and objected staunchly.
“No!  No, you’re not doing that to me again!”  He wiped the blinding tears from his eyes with a free hand, continuing to protest.  “I understand why you did it the first time…..I lost control then.  But you’re not putting me to sleep with that thing again.”
She pled with him, whining his name, begging him to surrender to pleasant dreams.
“No, Eena, sleeping won’t solve anything!  It won’t bring Angelle back, and it will leave you alone out here without a protector.  Don’t you dare kiss me!”
His squinted gaze was moist but alert, keeping tabs on Eena’s every move.  He was determined to keep her loaded lips away from him.
She tried to be convincing explaining her motives.  “I didn’t use the ring last time because you lost control but because you were hurting so badly.  It’s hard for me to watch and feel how you suffer.  This ring will give you some relief from that.” 
She took a step forward, but Ian yanked on her arm, forcing her sideways and away from the fire.  She squealed at the painful twist of her wrist.  Her eyes grew more incredulous when she realized Ian had sneakily pulled the ring up to his lips during the shuffle.  He was now armed with a sleeping kiss too.
“Don’t you dare!” she warned.
Ian challenged her as he declared, “If you try and kiss me, I swear I’ll kiss you first.”
She attempted a good, hard tug on her arm, but he kept a firm grip.  Then his eyes brightened up with a notion.
“You know, I think the dragon’s kiss would be put to better use on you anyway.  If I can keep the powerful Sha Eena asleep under its spell, those wicked, immortal sisters will never get their hands on the remaining star points.”  He aimed a finger at her.  “You’re the one who needs a good, looooong nap.”
Afraid he might attempt to carry out his threat, Eena used the dragon’s soul to send a mild electric shock to his grasping hand.  He let go of her, shaking his fingers wildly in the air.
“Criminy, Eena, that smarted!”
“Just stay away from me,” she warned.
“Likewise,” he retorted.
They faced off, glaring, both on guard.
Eena stuck out a pouty lower lip.  “All I’m trying to do is help you.”
Ian repeated the same words back at her.  “All I’m trying to do is help you.”
“If you would just sleep, Ian, you would feel better.  Didn’t you have pleasant dreams last night?”
Ian shifted his weight onto one foot.  “That’s beside the point.  What you’re trying to do is make reality go away.  It won’t help.  Angelle’s not coming back and I have to face it.  I can’t hide from reality.”
“I know, but…”  she stepped toward him. 
He retreated, maintaining a gap between them.  “Stay back,” he warned. 
His insistence only peeved her, and she took two defiant steps forward. 
Circling to the opposite side of the fire he cautioned, “I’m faster than you are, Queenie.  You better knock it off or my lips will be on your cheek before you know what hit you.”
Ian’s threat did nothing but provoke her competitiveness.  “You are not faster than me.  I always beat you in every race we ever had on Earth.  I was the first one to school, the first one home, and the first one to the top of the hill every night.”
“That’s only because I was being a gentleman.”
“Oh, convenient excuse,” she groaned.  “I would have beaten you anyway.”
He laughed once.  “Never!”
With that, she took off after him, rounding the fire as he did.  When she stopped, he stood across from her with a smug grin on his face.  Her eyes narrowed as she doggedly tried the other direction, halting abruptly to twist and reverse course.  Ian copied her moves perfectly, keeping himself lined up across the fire at every step. 
Eena reacted to an idea the very second it struck, not allowing her competitor a chance to counteract.  His leg was bound and secured by a nearby tree root before he could growl.
“You cheater!  You shameful cheater!” 
Eena was standing before him in a flash.  The tree root released its hold as the pair wrestled, struggling to keep the other person’s lips away from any area of exposed skin.  When Eena’s mouth reached for the hand securing her wrist, Ian pulled both their arms down forcefully and stole the opportunity to lean in.  His lips pressed against his queen’s forehead.  There was a split second of sheer surprise when he felt her lips touch the side of his chin at the very same instant.  They fell to the ground mingled in a dead sleep.

It seemed as if they were forgetting something important.
“Did you remember to do your homework?” Sevenah asked her best friend.  It was the most likely thing to have forgotten. 
Standing outside the white gate to her front yard, she rummaged through her backpack to find her physics assignment completed and tucked away in a green folder.  Satisfied, she handed her backpack over to Ian.  He slung it across his shoulder, careful not to mess up his place in the paperback book his fingers had propped open.
“What homework?” Ian said, a culpable grin on his lips.
“I don’t know why you even bother going to school,” she grumbled.  “You should put down those sci-fi stories and pay attention to the real world now and then.  How do you ever expect to get into college?”
“Sorry, Mom.  I’ll try to do better, I swear.”  Ian held his free hand up, gesturing a mocking vow.  He chuckled when she rolled her eyes.
Side by side they stepped down the dirt road that led to Royal City’s high school.  It was Friday.  Sevenah loved Fridays because her parents relaxed on curfew and she could spend more time with Ian and her other friends.  She was excited to get past the day’s big test and on to the football game that everyone with any school spirit would be attending that evening. 
Ian nudged her to pull her from her thoughts.  “Hey, I’ll race you to school.  I’ll even give you a head start this time.”
“Like I need a head start against your skinny legs,” she teased.
The next thing he knew, she was tearing down the dirt road, kicking up a trail of dust behind her.
“You shameless cheater!” he called out.  Ian smiled big, allowing a sizeable gap to form before stepping into a run himself.
He caught up with her five minutes to the school, and they raced side by side until the familiar gold-brick building drew near.  Then both runners took off in a deadlock sprint.  Sevenah barely won…..again.

Copyright 2014 Richelle E. Goodrich

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