Do you believe in fairytales? Do you believe in kingdoms ruled by strong and noble kings, evil witches that constantly scheme and plot against them, and noble knights that protect innocent princesses? Well if you don’t, this story is most likely not for you, so if you would rather read about how Steve Jobs founded Apple or Nelson Mandela’s twenty-seven years in prison, put this book back and forget about it.
But for those that do believe, and love a good story that you know couldn’t possibly happen in real life, than this is the book for you. It’s full of action, and peril; dangerous quests, and a legendary prophecy; noble knights, and a princess that is not all she seems.
It starts in the kingdom of Sciana; a big island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that no human has ever seen or touched or even heard about, due to the fact that it is protected by a magical barrier. This island is home to the Scianites, or what you may recognize as dragons. The kingdom is diverse, with dragons of each and every walk of life coming together in a single country.
The kingdom is ruled by the four members of the royal court, known collectively as ‘The Crown’. It consists of the Oracle; the healer of ills and teller of the future, The Captain; the protector of the country and leader of the soldiers, The Peacekeeper; the creator of legends and songs—and as their name suggests, the keeper of peace—and The King; the ruler of Sciana, who makes the laws and judges the guilty for their crimes. Every other century, the heirs to the thrones of The Crown are announced, celebrated with a grand party and other festivities traditional to the Scianites. The next century is spent preparing the heirs for when they take the throne.
Today just so happened to be that day. The air was thick with the excited gossip of dragons as to who would be announced to be the heirs of the thrones and Scianites were decorating their homes in preparation and hanging prayer flags for the health of the kingdom. However, inside the castle of The Crown, the atmosphere was considerably calmer.
In the main chamber of the King’s tower, a big black dragon was standing protectively over a small cradle. Despite his fierce, battle-ready posture, his orange eyes were filled with the purest of joy. Inside the cradle was not a chick or an egg as one might suspect, but rather a creature that was not commonly seen on the island: a baby girl.
Not a human one of course (Or, rather I should say, not entirely human); she had arms and legs and pink skin, but also horns and wings and a tail. The baby was cooing and playing with her tail, staring at it with the utmost of childish curiosity.
The door to the room suddenly opened and a lithe dragoness strode gracefully inside. She smiled at her fellow Scianite and then turned her attention to the baby. “Ignacius, how much longer are you going to be? The ceremony starts in two hours and you still haven’t prepared a speech.”
The black dragon looked at his visitor. “My apologies, Hydronia. I am just making sure she is alright.”
Hydronia moved closer to the crib, examining the child as if it were some specimen she had never seen before. “I remember reading about Scale Children during my years as a Cleric, but I never really could imagine what they looked like until Kallan’s birth. Each are precious, and nothing quite prepares you for their arrival.”
Ignacius smiled, puffing his chest out with pride. “My daughter; half-human and half-dragon. She will usher in a new era for the denizens of Sciana.”
Hydronia looked at Ignacius with worry. “Do you know how dangerous this is? Never before has a Scale Child been a part of The Crown, and now you’re suggesting that the next generation is ruled by a court completely composed of them?”
“I am quite aware.” Ignacius affirmed. “You foresaw it in one of your visions that this would come. It is not by chance that all of the members of The Crown conceived Scale Children, rather it is fate: destiny, even. At the ceremony, they shall be celebrated.” Ignacius lowered his head, allowing his infant daughter to grab his nose playfully. “Peacetime is at it’s best right now. It is the right time for the Scale Children to take their rightful place on the throne.”
Hydronia sighed. “If you say so, my king.”
“I do, my oracle.” He lifted his head to look Hydronia in the eyes. “Is Kallan ready?”
The dragoness’ blue eyes softened. “Yes. Kallan is quite excited. In fact, she’s already begun to have-"
The members of The Crown were interrupted by the sound of something falling to the ground and breaking. The King and the Oracle turned their heads towards a young girl appearing to be about six years of age with wavy blond hair and big blue eyes. Two webbed fins flattened against her head and her long, finned tail hid behind her back out of shame. Next to her lay a broken lamp.
“Kallan!” Hydronia exclaimed. “What are you doing here? I told you to stay with Sister Nari.”
“Sister Nari told me that the princess was in the palace.” Kallan said, innocently playing with her long hair. “I just wanted to look at her.”
Hydronia shook her head. “She’s but a babe. She’s extremely delicate.”
“But Lucian and Metalia-"
“I don’t care what Lucian and Metalia say. Lucian is only two years older than you are; as for Metalia, she’s just like her father—needs to be in charge of everything.” Hydronia scolded.
Kallan looked down at her feet in disappointment. “I know, but I’ve never seen a baby before.”
The Oracle was about to open her mouth to protest, but Ignacius silenced her with a flick of his tail. “You wish to see my daughter?”
Kallan nodded her head enthusiastically with a huge smile.
“Come see Princess Scarlett, then.” He moved out of the way so Kallan could lay eyes upon the baby girl. She giggled and made her way carefully to the cradle. She peeked her small head over and spoke in a voice no louder than a whisper. “Hello.”
The baby cooed in response.
Kallan gently patted the top of her head. “She’s got a big head.”
“Human babies have oddly large heads.” Ignacius explained to the child.
Kallan giggled and then waved her tail in excitement. “She’s got a tail like I do! She’s like me!”
“That’s right, Kallan.” Hydronia affirmed. “She is like you, for she is also a Scale Child: born of two different creatures, but not exactly like either.”
Kallan nodded and held out her finger for the infant princess to grip with her small hand. She twitched her ears habitually like she always did when she was happy, and then leaned down to Scarlett. “I’m going to be your best friend, princess. We’re going to go on so many adventures together!”
Ignacius chuckled. “I would hope so.”
“Come on, Kallan.” Hydronia said, lifting her daughter unto her back with her wing. “We need to prepare you for the ceremony.”
“Okay, mother.” Kallan wrapped her small arms around her mother’s slender neck, nuzzling into it like a pillow.
Hydronia exited the room. “Farewell, Ignacius. I shall see you soon.”
“Goodbye.” Ignacius said, although his attention was once again fully trained on Scarlett. Hydronia made her way down the halls of the King’s Tower and flew towards her part of the palace, The Oracle’s Temple. Hydronia landed in the main chamber and smiled as Kallan once again gasped at all of the books, her jaw dropped in wonder and curiosity.
Letting her daughter down gently off her back, Hydronia looked at Kallan worriedly. “My drop, can you tell me about the vision you had? I just need to make sure.”
“Yes, mother.” Kallan replied obediently. The Scale Child closed her small eyes and relaxed until her breathing became slow and shallow. Suddenly, her eyes snapped open, pulsating with a white light that was as bright as moonlight. She spoke in a voice that was not one of a child, but one of someone that had seen many things over many years. “The Dragon of Shadow will take the Crown; Four will escape to where they won't be found; The Little Red Flame will take back what's hers; And one who she trusts will cause her much hurt.”
Hydronia sighed, her eyes filling with worry. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
“The time of the Scale Children will come with great force; The wall will be broken after remorse; The river shall sweep up what darkness has done; Then dragons and human shall together live as one.” Kallan continued.
“Dragons and humans living as one?” Hydronia mused, looking at Kallan inquisitively. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Kallan’s eyes suddenly returned to their normal color, and just before she could collapse to the floor, she was caught by her mother’s paw.
“Oh, dearest drop..." Hydronia purred, lifting her daughter once again onto her back. Let’s hope that these visions shall not come true for a very long time.”
* * *
King Ignacius stood proudly with his head held high and his wings outspread grandly. Even though precious Scarlett had been with him for only a month, Ignacius had been there to hear her first words, see her blow her first breaths of fire, and take her first steps; she was growing rapidly before the King’s eyes. Ignacius was overcome with a sense of joy as he now witnessed Scarlett vigorously flapping her small wings, trying to take to the air.
“You can do it.” Ignacius encouraged his daughter. “Fly, my flickering flame.”
Scarlett’s wings flapped a little faster, but nothing happened.
“Come on, fly to your father!” The King pushed.
“Ignacius, you’ve been trying to get her to fly for nearly an hour.” A silvery dragon next to the king noted. “Maybe she’s just not ready.”
A look of disappointment crossed the King’s face. “Argentum, we don’t use that negative tone around Scarlett. She can do anything she puts her mind to.”
A girl with coppery hair, golden eyes and silver dragonesque features resembling Argentum poked her head from the metallic dragon’s leg. “I for one think her wings are far too small for flying.”
Ignacius smiled. “They’re bigger than any chick’s that I’ve seen before; they’re perfect for flying. She can do it.”
A slender white dragoness suddenly appeared in a burst of clouds, a mixed look of exhaustion and relief veiling her face. She sat down atop the Peacekeeper’s throne and took a deep breath.
“You’re cutting it awfully close, Haizea.” Argentum teased.
Haizea smirked. “As Protector of The Crown, I thought you would have had a little more respect than that.” She shot back. “Now, Lucian, are you ready for-" Haizea began to look around frantically. “Lucian? Lucian! Lucian where did you go?”
A small boy with messy white hair younger than Argentum’s daughter appeared directly next to Ignacius, collapsing and speaking between heavy breaths. “Mom…you know…I can’t…cloud hop…that fast…”
“Lucian, I told you to hang tight!” Haizea scolded, picking him up with her extremely long, feathered tail and placing him on her back.
“I fell off!” Lucian countered. “You’re way too fast!”
As Haizea continued to fret over her son and start scanning him for any signs of injury, Ignacius caught some movement in the corner of his eye. As he began to focus on the source of the movement, Ignacius saw Scarlett slowly rising into the air. His jaw dropped as she hovered steadily about a foot above her cradle.
“She’s doing it!” Ignacius beamed. “I told you she could do it!”
“Scarlett’s flying earlier than Metalia did.” Lucian chimed which earned him an elbow in the gut from his fellow Scale Child.
“She got lucky.” Metalia complained.
Before the infant Scale Child’s wings gave out, Kallan came out of seemingly nowhere, sliding underneath her to catch her. Hydronia followed shortly after and placed Scarlett back in her cradle, then sat upon the Oracle’s throne. “Now, children, take your dragon forms. They’re traditional for this ceremony.”
“Nonsense!” Came Ignacius’ loud bellow. “They’re beautiful just the way they are.”
“Trust me, my King.” Hydronia said in a warning voice. “It will be easier for the denizens of Sciana to accept them if they are seen as dragons first.”
After a short moment, Ignacius sighed and nodded. “Alright then. Use their Soul Gems.”
Kallan and Lucian all found the small crystal-like glands on their bodies and tapped them once so they became smaller versions of their parents. Ignacius ran a claw along Scarlett’s neck, causing her to become a small dragon chick. He then picked her up and placed her atop his head.
“The guests will come flooding in shortly.” Argentum noted, folding his wings flat against his body.
“Don’t you mean now?” Metalia asked.
Sure enough, the doors blew open and dragons of every shape, size and color came flying in. It was only mere moments before the grand hall was filled with Scianites and their chatter. The ceremony now officially could start. Once the dragons began to settle down, King Ignacius placed Scarlett on the ground next to his throne and began to address the crowd.
“Dragons of Sciana, it is with great honor that I welcome you to the Choosing of the Next Crown.” Ignacius announced. “Four dragons will be announced as the Prince, Cleric, Diplomat and Knight respectively. One day, these lucky four will take their rightful place as the next members of The Crown and the leaders of the next generation!”
The crowd of dragons cheered wildly.
“First, I will do the honor of announcing the Prince.” Ignacius leaned down to pick up Scarlett from the ground. “This is my daughter; my pride and joy. She hails from a long line of noble Flame Drakes and gives me a reason to smile each and every day. Her name is Scarlett Seraphina Rosetta Drakani Nilakanta-"
The words were interrupted by the sudden opening of the main doors. Storm clouds with lightning and shadows began to pour into the room, a dragoness riding atop them with a horde of shadow beings following her in their wake. Silence struck the room as she landed in front of The Crown, nobody daring to speak a word out of fear.
“Kali!” Ignacius growled.
The dragoness grinned. “Cousin Ignacius! It’s been far too long! I would have come by more often except—oh, that’s right—you threw me into the Prisoner’s Pit fifty years ago!”
“You had every right to be thrown in there!” Argentum snapped.
“You tried to kill Ignacius!” Haizea followed.
Kali laughed. “Water under the bridge. What’s in the past is in the past. Now let’s just sit back and enjoy the ceremony!” Kali leaned in towards Metalia, Lucian and Kallan, causing Metalia to squeal in fear. Kallan stood in front of her fellow Scale Children and sood in her most fearsome battle stance—or at least as fearsome as a dragon chick could look. “I assume the chicks are all of yours?”
Hydronia let a guttural growl from her lips. “Leave my precious Kallan and the others out of it! You are not welcome here!”
Kali smirked. “I can see the resemblances. Like mother like daughter; protectors of the weak.” She then leaned in towards Ignacius and touched Scarlett with a claw. “And I assume this beauty is your daughter, cousin?”
Ignacius let out a loud roar as a warning. “Leave now, Kali.”
Kali looked once more at Scarlett, then back at Ignacius. “I see what your plan is, cousin. Have you forgotten what they have done to us? How much strife those parasites have caused us? Apparently not, because now you’re suggesting that their spawn becomes part of The Crown!”
“What is she talking about?” Came a voice from the crowd of dragons.
“King Ignacius, we demand an explanation!”
Kali, knowing that she had successfully grabbed the attention of the members of her audience, turned her focus to the crowd. “Citizens of my beloved home and country, Sciana; the chicks that you see before you are not all that they seem! The very dragons that you entrust with your safety and wellbeing are going to put the spawn of our worst enemies in charge of the next era! These are Scale Children! Half-human, those God-forsaken scum!”
Half of the dragons in the crowd gasped in shock, the other half seemed to cheer in celebration. Suddenly, arguments broke out between the two sides.
“It’s about time we accept Scale Children! It’s not like we’re putting actual humans on the throne!”
“But Scale Children are the only creatures that can travel between Sciana and Araina! What if they conspire with the humans to kill us once and for all?”
“Are you really going to listen to the advice of the Dark Sorceress Kali? She’ll kill us all!”
“The fact that this is even occurring…” Hydronia trailed off, a look of worry crossing her eyes.
Kali smirked, a dark and malicious aura rolling off her in waves. “Ignacius, you do know the law, right? If the Scianite population does not agree to the next heirs of The Crown by a three to one vote, then the heirs will be permitted to take the throne. And as you know, this is a law that has been recorded since the beginning of dragonkind, so not even you—the King—can change it.” Kali spun around to face the crowd. “The Crown is going soft! They lie to their people and place humans on thrones made for dragons! We must take back what we believe in by force! Let’s kill the Scale Children and show The Crown where our real loyalties lie!”
Ignacius’ eyes widened as the scene played out before him. As various dragons lunged with murderous intent towards the Scale Children, others stopped them and pushed them back. Within mere moments, the throne room was a bloodbath. The King felt something that he had not felt in a long, long time: fear.
“This means war!” Kali bellowed, lunging for Scarlett. Adrenaline kicked into the King’s body and he pushed his cousin back, but she was much too strong for him. Argentum quickly came to his assistance and helped to pin her to the ground.
“Haizea!” Ignacius yelled in a strained voice. “Take Scarlett and the other children somewhere safe! Kali cannot be allowed to kill them at any cost!”
Haizea nodded and quickly gathered up the four Children, disappearing into thin air and leaving nothing but a cloud behind her. Kali roared in frustration and then glared menacingly at Ignacius.
“You’ve only delayed the inevitable, cousin.” She warned. “No matter where they run, no matter where they hide, there is not a place anywhere that does not have shadows. It may take me a while, but I shall eventually track them down and save them so I can have the pleasure of murdering them right before your very eyes! Mark my words, Ignacius; your kingdom will fall!”
“Not before they take The Crown!” Argentum shouted.
Ignacius closed his eyes and began to pray. God of humans and God of the Eternal Flame, please protect my daughter. No matter where she goes, please make sure that Kali and her minions will never be able to find her.
That was what I was woken up to. Not an alarm clock, not the smell of breakfast, just a loud smack right outside my door. Worried, I immediately jumped up and out of my bed to see the framed painting I had done of a dragon hanging crookedly on the wall. I had done it recently, and I was so proud of it. The black head looked at me with a sort of royal air about him, his wings spread beautifully to either side. His pose was battle ready and his the flame on the tip of his tail looked like a torch. I readjusted it and saw Tracy lying next to me, cradling her head.
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh. You just hurt yourself again.”
Tracy looked up at me inquisitively. “What do you mean ‘just hurt myself’? I’ll have you know that this is awfully painful!”
“This is a daily occurrence, Tracy.” I explained, walking out of my room, into the kitchen and grabbing an ice pack out of the freezer. “You always hurt yourself one way or another. I have no idea why I’m even surprised by it anymore.” I handed her the ice pack and folded my arms.
Tracy smiled and sat down at the kitchen table, cradling her head like she’d broken her neck or something. “Thank you, Scarlett.”
I smirked. “And you thought they didn’t offer first aid for homeschoolers.”
I guess I had better back up a bit, huh? You can’t start listening to a story without knowing who’s telling it. My name’s Scarlett Kaida—but to anyone else, I call myself Sera Kingston. I’m fifteen years old and I live in New York City with my accident-prone foster mother, Tracy Kingston. It’s pretty obvious that we’re not related. For one, she’s much shorter than I am, and her hair is a whole different sort of unruly. While mine just refused to cooperate, hers was orange and frizzy, so much to the point where she had to keep it up at nearly all times. Not only that, but she’s much more of a social butterfly than I am.
I’m homeschooled—because I want to be, not because I’m not accepted anywhere else—and this was just another boring old day in my life. Or at least, I thought it was. What, were you expecting the sob story of little orphan Scarlett? Sorry, I don’t roll like that.
“Speaking of school…” Tracy started, looking up at me. “How’s it going?”
I shrugged. “Well, you know, I’m at the top of my class and I only need one more credit to graduate so…yeah. I’m doing pretty good.”
Tracy smiled. “That’s my girl! You make me so proud.”
I smiled. “I know.”
Tracy put the ice pack down and laid her arms down on the table, and I knew immediately that she was going into full-blown speech mode. I checked around for the nearest exit, racked my brain for the most plausible excuse, but nothing turned up. Nada. Zilch.
“You know there’s more to life than just your grades.”
And here. We. Go.
“You see, it’s amazing that you have such good grades, but what about the social aspect?” Tracy probed.
“We’ve been over this…” I sing-songed.
“Scarlett, kids your age hang out, watch movies and play board games! You know, spend their free time with actual friends!” She continued. “Social skills are very important for jobs, you know. If you can’t work with people, there are very few jobs that will accept you. And not even that, but…”
“Tracy, if this is going where I think it’s going…” I said with a warning edge to my voice.
“Don’t you want a boyfriend?”
I groaned and walked out of the kitchen, into the living room, then collapsed on the couch and screamed into the pillow. I heard the clicking of Tracy’s heels behind me and felt her sit next to me. I looked up at her, hoping she wouldn’t continue. Of course, I knew she would anyways.
“All I’m saying is that you seem so cooped up in this house” Tracy said, her blue eyes filled with concern. “Maybe you should meet a guy, go out on a date, lose your virginity.”
I flipped her off. “I hate you.”
“Well, I was joking about that last part, but you know what I mean, Scarlett.”
I gave her a look filled with as much disappointment as possible. “Tracy, I am NOT having a boyfriend! Especially not at this age! Boys are nothing but hormone-driven idiots that can’t look a girl without their eyes trailing to their chests. I don’t want that! And like HELL I’m losing my virginity!”
“I said it was a joke!” She defended, throwing her arms up.
I groaned again. “You know, the whole reason I was put up for foster care was probably because my parents were freakin’ teenage sex addicts and then realized that they couldn’t support a child! I will keep my virginity and my single relationship status! I don’t need anybody judging me for every little thing I do just so they can go and leave me for some blond-haired blue-eyed beauty queen! As if! And even if I did want a boyfriend, I have impossibly high standards!”
“Okay, forget I said anything. Just…don’t you ever feel lonely?”
I shook my head. “No. I’m fine.”
Tracy sighed and got up, walking to the front door and slinging a purse over her shoulder. “Well, I have to go to work. I’ll see you later, Scarlett. If you want to order anything for lunch, my credit card is on the table.” And with that, she walked out the door.
I screamed one last time into the couch and sighed exasperatedly. Sometimes Tracy could annoy the crap out of me, but she was still the one who cared for me, so I cut her some slack. She had cared for me for a grand total of fourteen years, ever since I was 14 months old. She had been the one to tuck me in at night and read me bedtime stories growing up. Tracy was a great caretaker, but I could never quite bring myself to call her ‘mom’. It just didn’t seem right. She was more than that to me. She was Tracy. She did all she could to support me as a single parent. She had a biological daughter a while back, but apparently she lost custody of her to the father. It never made much sense to me, but I never asked beyond what I knew.
I lazily got up off of the couch and dragged my sorry hide over into my room, where I threw on some clothes and tied my hair back in a ponytail. Deciding I looked decent enough to be seen by the world, I grabbed my bag, Tracy’s credit card, and then headed out the door and down the stairs.
As I walked out of the door, I was greeted by the sound of people screaming and horns honking. Lovely, beautiful home. The air was acrid as per usual and there was nothing notable about the weather. At least, not that I cared to notice. I walked over to the bus stop at the end of the block and sat down on the bench. I checked the schedule and realized I had about a half an hour to kill before the bus actually came. I took my bag and reached inside for a book. I opened the cover and removed my bookmark.
I got no further than two sentences into my book before I was interrupted by a nearby conversation. Since I’m distracted easily, I couldn’t help but listen in.
“Keighlyn, where are you dragging us now?” A male voice complained.
“We have a concert to attend. I’d much rather be listening to classical music written in the romantic period than follow you on your fantastic whims.” Came a grouchy female voice.
“I feel like I need to be here. Maybe we’ll find her here.” Another female voice said.
“Keighlyn, I know you want to find her—we all do—but she’s not going to just be lying around some bus stop waiting for her best friend from fifteen years ago. Where’s any logic in that?” The grouchy girl scolded. “Now, come on. I did not leave my dorm to be dragged on a wild goose chase!”
“I don’t really care what we do.” The male voice said. “Anything beats going back and finishing Trig homework.”
“But…you have to believe me!”
I looked up from my book to see three kids around my age involved in a conversation. All of them were wearing the Eternal Academy school uniforms, but that’s where the similarities ended. The guy was really tall and thin, with white hair and golden eyes, looking like he had just guzzled ten cans of Mountain Dew. One of the girls had coppery hair done in ringlets and metallic grey eyes that seemed to judge every single thing she looked at, a permanent scowl fixed on her lips. The other girl had her back facing me, but from what I could tell she had long, wavy blond hair.
“Don’t worry, Keighlyn.” the boy said, placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “We’ll find her eventually.”
The blond girl seemed to lighten up a bit. “Thanks, Luke.” She turned towards my direction and I noticed that she had big blue eyes. She kind of looked like she always had her head in the clouds or got distracted easily—much like I did. My inference quickly proved to be true when I saw that she caught her foot under the bench and begun to tip over. Acting on instinct, I quickly dropped my book and caught her just before she collided with the pavement.
“Nice job, Keighlyn.” The guy said, putting his thumb up.
The other girl sighed. “If that girl wouldn’t have been there to catch you…”
“Hey!” I snapped, looking at the two prep school students. “In case you’ve forgotten, we’re all human. We all make mistakes. So what in the hell gives you the right to make fun of her because of it?!”
“No, no I don’t mind.” The girl said from beneath me. “They’re only joking.”
“I’m not.” Grouch Girl said. “Keighlyn, you need to be more aware of what you’re doing otherwise you’ll get seriously hurt one of these days. And then…”
“Would you stop nagging?” I barked at her. “Like I said, it was an accident. So why don’t you shut your mouth and just move on?”
That seemed to get her to stop. She rolled her eyes and placed her hands on her hips. "Wow...no need to be so immature. You take things way too personally, if you ask me."
I cast one last glare at her before looking down at the girl and helping her to her feet. “Hey, are you alright?”
She rubbed her head. “I think so…Thank you by the-" She looked up at me and her eyes widened. She stopped speaking altogether and I could have sworn that for a moment I saw her eyes flash white. “Princess…?” She reached up to touch my face, her nails just brushing my cheek. “Scarlett…Is that you? Do you remember me?”
“Scarlett?” I felt myself blush. No one knew my real name except for Tracy. I had always gone by Sera, especially by people I didn’t know. The doctors said I had some sort of social paranoia, but better safe than sorry.
“Don’t you remember me? I said we’d be best friends.” She reiterated, a sort of strong hope behind her voice.
I shook my head. “I’m sorry. I’ve never seen you in my life before today. And…my name’s not Scarlett.” I gently pushed her away from me, and then I saw the girl frown a bit, then shake her head.
“But the resemblance...” She whispered softly.
The guy stepped in and moved the girl out of the way. “Okay, that’s enough! Someone had way too much candy last night!” He gave me a look of apology. “You have to excuse my friend here. She’s a little insane.”
Grouch Girl nodded. “Since everything’s already awkward, why don’t we introduce ourselves? I’m Talia, he’s Luke, and our friend over there is Keighlyn.”
“Sera.” I returned. “Sera Kingston. Nice to meet you.”
Keighlyn frowned and shook her head. “I’m sorry…that must have been really uncomfortable for you. I thought you were someone else.”
I smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll find them eventually. Whoever they are.”
“An old childhood friend of ours.” Luke said.
“We haven’t seen her in years.” Talia said ruefully.
“And she looked a lot like you did, so I think you can guess why I got so excited.” Keighlyn admitted, looking down nervously at her feet.
I smiled. “Well, I can understand. Not a lot of people look like I do.”
“Yeah, your eyes are bright freaking red.” Luke said, earning him a jab in the side from Talia.
“She probably wears contacts you idiot.” Talia brushed off, crossing her arms haughtily and letting out a scoff.
“Actually..." I began, putting my hands on my hips and smirking. “They’re one-hundred percent natural. And before you ask, my hair is as well.”
Luke smirked. “Look like we found ourselves a literal redhead.”
“It looks kinda like fire.” Keighlyn noted.
I laughed. “I guess it kinda does sometimes.”
A bit of silence passed before Talia coughed and flipped her coppery hair over her shoulder. “So where do you go to school, Sera Kingston?”
“Actually, I’m homeschooled.” I admitted. “Almost graduated, too. Once I’m done with that, I’m going to send in a bunch of applications and go to whichever school catches my eye the most.”
“Oh, you’re eighteen?” Keighlyn asked.
“Ah.” Luke said
“Do you have a part time job or anything?” Talia asked.
I nodded. “I DJ at a nightclub.”
Luke whistled and Keighlyn’s eyes widened, while Talia rolled her eyes like she’d heard it all a million times before.
“Cool…” Keighlyn breathed.
“Yeah, I have to agree. It is pretty cool, but most days I kinda have to watch out. Drunk guys don’t know how to keep their hands to themselves.”
“Ew…” Talia said, making the face that one does when they find a rancid burrito that has been housing maggots for five months.
“Which club?” Luke asked.
“Shadow Strike.” I answered. “It’s across the street from the arcade on Roosevelt Avenue. I actually have a shift at the sound booth tonight so feel free to drop by if you want.”
“We might just have to take you up on that offer.” Keighlyn said cheerfully.
Luke looked at his watch and then raised his eyebrow. He then looked to his friends. “So…when exactly did you say that concert started again?”
“Quarter after eleven.” Talia answered curtly.
Luke frowned. “Well, it’s eleven right now, and we’re not even halfway to the University.”
Talia checked his watch and her eyes widened so much they almost didn’t look judgmental. “Luke! Now we’re going to be late! This is all your fault!” Talia began running down the sidewalk, grabbing Keighlyn by the arm.
“Nice to meet you, Sera!” She said
“And you as well!” I called back, waving goodbye. I looked to see that Luke was still next to me, not moving a muscle as Talia and Keighlyn disappeared from his line of vision.
After a little bit, he finally spoke. “I know Talia may seem like a cold, heartless witch, but she really does care for others. She just doesn’t know how to express it. And as for Keighlyn, her head my always be in the clouds, but she’s got a big heart. She’ll be there for you whenever you need her.”
I looked up at him. “They seem like nice people. You’ve got yourself some pretty good friends. Makes me wish I had ones like them.”
“Yeah.” Luke said.
After the passing of a few moments of awkward silence, I looked back to Luke. What was with this guy? Why didn’t he follow his friends? “Don’t you have a concert to attend?” I asked, chuckling nervously.
Luke shook his head. “Nah. Talia and Keighlyn wanted to go. They just dragged me along because they assumed I like orchestra music. I just want to grab some food and then head home, watch YouTube, and be the lazy bum I was meant to be.”
“Well..." I started. “If it’s food you want, I was about to get some grub myself at one of the best places I know of.” Why was I doing this? I didn’t like people! He wasn’t my friend, either. He was just some random guy I just so happened to meet on the street.
That seemed to have piqued Luke’s interest. “I’m listening.”
I smirked. “Quick question: On a scale from one to ten, how much do you like burgers and steak?”
After a short bus ride of more awkward silence, we arrived at our destination. It was a small, run-down looking building crammed between two apartment complexes with a tackily painted hanging on the window that said “Jake’s Diner.” I saw Luke raise his eyebrow and then look at me suspiciously.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” He said. “Please tell me this is just a joke and the real place we’re eating is a nicer place around the corner.”
I shook my head with a sigh. “Appearances aren’t always everything, Luke.” I scolded. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to judge a book by it’s cover?”
“She also told me not to follow strange girls into places that looked like they should be put up for foreclosure due to risk of salmonella, but obviously I didn't take that advice now, did I?”
I cocked my head. “Your mom told you that?”
“My mom gave me a lot of weird advice.”
“Just come in.” I said, opening the door and walking in.
The logical part of my brain was telling me that I shouldn’t be doing this, but there was some part of me that was encouraging me to hang out with him. Tracy said I needed friends, right? And if this went wrong in any way, this would just give me a reason never to interact with anyone ever again.
The inside was a lot better than the outside; decorated with a nice, homey feel and the smell of great home cooking. There were carved wooden tables to sit down at with chairs to match. Inside there was a waitress delivering food to a group of men that were most likely on their break from construction work, judging by their outfits and greasy faces. I smiled in satisfaction when I saw the expression change on Luke’s face.
“Told you so.” I looked at him. “So, how much time do you have? Do you want the dine-in experience or do you have someplace you need to be?”
Luke looked at me. “Whatever you think is best. I don’t care either way.”
“Dine in it is!” I announced, walking up to the hostess at the front of the restaurant. She had long, bleach blond hair and an overly perky grin. I looked down at her name tag, which read ‘Tanya’. She spoke in a voice so high and cheery it seemed that every time she spoke, her sentences ended with an exclamation point.
“Hi! Welcome to Jake’s Diner! It’s great to have you here! Is this your first time?”
I frowned. “I come here every day, Tanya…”
And it was true. I did. I had come here to eat every day since I was a seventh grader. That was the last year I actually attended public school. I had stumbled upon Jake’s Diner by accident, and ever since then, it’s been part of my ritual to eat there everyday.
“Oh, right! Sorry, Sera!” She looked at Luke, and then back at me. “So I’m assuming a table for you and your friend?”
“Well, not necessarily friends, I would say we’re more-"
I silenced him with a glare. “Do you want free food or not, boy?”
That seemed to do the trick.“We’re best friends. We’re pals, chums, buddies!” Luke quickly said, awkwardly hugging my shoulder before I pushed him off. Never underestimate what you can get a teenage boy to do when food is on the line.
“Okay! I’ll get you seated right away!” Tanya picked up two menus and then motioned for us to follow her. “Right this way!” She led us to a smaller table in the back with just two seats. Once we settled in and took our seats, she laid down the menus and took out a notebook. “Is there any drinks you would like to start with?”
“I’ll have my usual.” I said, getting comfortable in my seat.
“Mountain Dew, please.” Luke said.
Luke looked at me with an odd glare. “What you laughing at, woman?”
“Nothing, it’s just it’s funny that I totally called you as a Mountain Dew kind of guy.”
“Sort of. I like it, but I'm more of a Coke person, actually.” Luke said, smiling at me.
Tanya left and a few seconds later came back with a glass of Sprite and Luke’s Mountain Dew. She then smiled even wider—which up until now I thought was impossible—and looked at the both of us. “Shelby will be with you in a moment to place your order!” She then walked off and rolled her eyes and groaned.
“Never thought someone that perky could hate someone so much.” Luke noted.
“Shelby and Tanya hate each other. The only reason neither of them quit this job is because the pay is better than anything else they can get as a part time job.” I explained.
“Jeez, you do spend a lot of time here.” Luke picked up his menu and I immediately snatched it out of his hands and put it down. “What was that for?”
“Trust me, I’ve got you covered. I know the best thing here, and it’s what’s not on the menu.” I told him.
Luke grinned. “Off-menu items? This place just keeps getting better and better.”
Within a few minutes, a brunette waitress with bright red lipstick and eye-popping green eyeshadow came to our table. “So, have you had enough time to decide what you want to order?”
I nodded. “We’ll have two of Jake’s specials. Rare and medium.”
Shelby smirked. “Who is this, Sera? Did you finally bring someone home from the night club?”
I felt a growl rise in the back of my throat. “You know, I don’t just bring home the first guy I see—unlike you. I met him earlier today and he said he wanted food. I brought him here. End of story.”
“Sure…that’s what they all say.”
“Shelby…do your job or I will talk to John about this and you will get fired.” I threatened with a slight smile, mustering all the hate I had into that single sentence.
Shelby scoffed. “Whatever.” She then walked off, leaving more awkward silence between Luke and I.
“Sorry about her.”
Luke shrugged. “Don’t apologize. You can’t control what other people do or say. It’s a simple fact of life. Trust me, if I could control what happened, I'd be playing video games all the time and make a living off of that.”
I nodded. “You know, you’re not that bad.”
“Talia begs to differ.” Luke said. “She won’t shut up about how much of a lazy bum I am and how I need to get a job, hobby and a girlfriend.”
“Same…except Tracy doesn’t tell me to get a job anymore. She tells me I need to ‘socialize’ and ‘fall in love’ when I’m perfectly content just the way I am.”
Luke smiled. “Looks like we’re in the same boat, then.”
I can’t tell you exactly what happened after that, just the fact that the both of us were extremely lost in conversation. Many moments passed, and suddenly, we had our food. I felt myself drool as two bacon burgers and two medium rare steaks were laid down in front of us. Luckily, the waitress left after handing us our drinks as well. I didn’t want to waste my time talking. I wanted to spend it stuffing my face.
Soon, the talking was replaced by the blissful sound of two teens gorging themselves on greasy food, slobbering and all. I only stopped when I was done, looking up at Luke to see that he was content with his meal. I leaned back and groaned in delight.
“I am happy.” I sighed. “I could die right now and not have any regrets.”
“Same.” Luke agreed with a smile.
I looked at Luke and crossed my arms. “Do you have anywhere you have to be, or…?”
I felt myself smile. “Then do you wanna just waste time then?”
“You mean my favorite thing in the entire world? How can I resist?”
The both of us stood up, left the restaurant and then walked out into the street, where we just aimlessly wandered for about fifteen minutes. It was a little bit before Luke finally said anything.
“So…I know it’s none of my business, but who’s Tracy?”
I felt myself frown.
Luke coughed. “Sorry, forget I-"
“No, it’s fine.” I took a deep breath. “Tracy is my foster mom.”
He looked at me with curiosity. “So you’re adopted?”
“Yeah.” I put my hands in my pockets and sighed. “The records say my mother died and my father put me up for adoption. I don’t know their names and I don’t care. Whoever they are, they aren’t me, so why should I know who they were?”
Luke threw up his hands. “Ouch.”
I laughed nervously. “Sorry. Did I give a little too much information?”
“No. It’s fine.” He looked at me, and I saw a glint of sadness in his golden eyes. “If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t know my dad, and my mom had to give me up when I was about two years old…No one can control these things, they just happen.”
I uncontrollably sighed. “Yeah, I know, but all I want to know is just why wasn’t I enough for my dad? I couldn’t care less about all that other stuff, but just why?”
“Don’t think of it like that.” Luke said, dismissively waving his hand. “Maybe your dad really did want to keep you, but he realized it wasn’t the best decision. Maybe he knew you’d be happier and more content with someone who could give you all the things he couldn’t. I may not know much, but I am pretty sure your dad didn’t just abandon you. And if he did, that would truly be rare, and frankly depressing.”
I looked up at him, furrowing my eyebrows. “How can you be so sure? I mean, it’s not like you can see everything.”
He looked back at me. “I’m not; I never said I did know everything, so I may be wrong. But hey, I’ve found it’s easier to look at things in a positive light. If you get caught up in the negativity and the darkness, soon it starts to take you over and you’ll become the very thing you’re scared of.”
I chuckled softly and then looked at the ground. We walked in silence for a little longer before I heard a rustling in a nearby alley. My head popped up and I stood completely still. Hearing it again, I slowly turned my head in the direction of the noise.
“Sera, what’s wrong?” Luke asked.
I walked over to the alley. “I hear something.” Soon, I was able to dictate that the sound came from a dumpster. Placing my hands on the lid, I debated whether or not I should open it.
“So, you’re going dumpster diving?” He asked, smirking.
I looked back at him. “Why not? It is very fun, after all.”
“Well…what if there’s a wild, rabid druggie in there?” Luke chuckled. “He may bite you, and then you’d get infected with…” He leaned in close. “The Blunt.”
I laughed and pushed him back. “As if! I’m opening it.”
And just as I said, I opened the lid. I looked around to see if I could find anything in there, but there was nothing but a small, furry thing eating some trash. It looked up at me and hissed, grabbing the trash it was eating and jumping over my shoulder. I shrieked and fell backwards, luckily being caught by Luke. He looked at me with a smug smile painted on his face.
“Well…maybe not a rabid druggie, but a rabid rodent is close enough.”
“Oh, shut up!” It took me a few moments to realize that I was being held bridal style. Once I was fully aware of this, I felt my entire face flush red.
I looked away and bit my lip. “C-Can you put me down, please?”
Luke stayed silent for a little bit and then did so, making sure I was fully capable of standing on my own two feet before completely letting go of me. He pat my back and pushed on my forehead, so I looked him in the eyes. “Hey, let’s get you home.”
I nodded. “That...that sounds great.”
“Wait…” Luke reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. “Can you give me your number first? If you don’t mind, I need to give Talia some legitimate proof I wasn't just at home lazing around.”
I nodded and quickly added the number into his phone. I handed back the phone to him and felt my eyes nervously flit between the ground and his face.
“So…I can count on you to be at the club tonight…right?”
Luke smiled. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
After that, nothing else mattered. I rode the bus home, took my online class, crashed face-first into the couch and sighed hopelessly. What had I done? Why was I feeling like this? I pushed those thoughts out of my mind and just laid among the mountain of blankets, pillows and stuffed animals that were piled around me.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
I laughed and snuggled deeper into my mountain. Tonight, somebody would be doing something just for me. Maybe this friends thing wasn’t as overrated as I had previously thought.