CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and FORTY-SIX
Monday afternoon – 2:45 p.m.
Wanda was on her own because Tink was still suspended from school and Sissy was pursuing her dream. She’d crossed the street to the Tattered Cover at lunch so she wouldn’t have to eat alone. While she missed her friends, she’d spent most of her life in the silence of her secret. She was used to being alone. She finished her last class and followed the line of kids out the front of the school. Standing on the top of the step, she looked for her mom’s car. As usual, Mom was late.
Looking out, she noticed a group of boys moving from the parking lot to the park. Just then, a senior boy walked into her. They jostled and his papers went everywhere. She helped him pick them up while they laughed. The boy patted her shoulder and went to the bike racks. When she looked for her mom again, she realized that the pack of boys were the boys who’d hurt Tink and threatened Sissy. A flush of rage shot through Wanda. She took off running toward the boys.
When Wanda was Wade, she’d competed in boy’s track in elementary school and junior high. Wanda was really fast. She just missed catching the boys at the light on Seventeenth Avenue. With her eyes on the boys, she waited until all the cars had passed and raced across the street.
Closing the distance, she saw her best friend from elementary school running up ahead. Of course, he was too cool to be her friend now. Even though he didn’t acknowledge her presence most days, she still thought of him as her friend. The last time he’d even looked at her, she’d given him cream for the burn on his neck left by the belt. He didn’t have to tell her he’d tried to hang himself; she just knew. She’d just set the cream on his desk and went back to her desk in the front of the class. The next day, his neck looked a lot better.
Was he one of the boys who’d hurt Tink? Unsure of what to do, she slowed.
“Whatchu doing freak,” a boy jumped out from behind some bushes.
“What are you doing?” Wanda’s voice was indignant.
The boy circled her like a pack of dogs surrounding prey.
“I have to go,” Wanda said.
“You ain’t going nowhere,” the boy said.
Before she could move, the boy hit her in the face.
Wanda screamed and fell to all fours. In her mind, she went through everything Mr. Colin had told her. She was going to fight these jerks. She was strong.
Mr. Colin hadn’t told her it would hurt so much or that she would be so scared.
When she looked up, she saw that a circle of boys had closed around her. Before she knew it, they were kicking her. She covered her head.
“Frankie!” she screamed.
Up ahead, Sergeant Aziz’s brother skid to a stop.
No one called him that anymore. Most people called him by his middle name, Brutus or Brut for short.
“Help me!” Wanda screamed.
Only one person called him Frankie.
Unable to stop himself, Frankie spun in place and ran back to where five boys were beating up Wanda. His rage and shame flushed through him. He threw himself at the group. He yanked one boy away from Wanda while kicking another in the rear. He was so angry that he didn’t feel it when they hit him back. He punched a boy in the face and kicked another boy hard in the nuts. He vented his rage with each point of contact.
Frankie didn’t fight fair. He didn’t even try to protect himself.
He just wanted to save Wanda.
He fought with all his might. And then, something weird happened.
“It’s okay, son, I got this,” a man’s voice said.
He looked up and saw Wanda’s father. The boys who’d attacked Wanda were running in all directions.
“It’s okay, Frankie,” Wanda’s dad held out his arms and hugged Frankie tight. Frankie felt like crying his eyes out, but the man let go.
A boy crept toward Wanda
“Get the fuck away from my daughter,” Wanda’s dad bent down and picked up a clod of dirt. He threw it at a boy. The boy ran away. “Good to see you, son.”
“We have to go,” Wanda said.
Wanda’s dad helped her up. Her dress was torn and her face was bruised. She was holding her ribs like they hurt. Her left leg was swelling. Frankie took off his hoodie and gave it to her. She put it on over her ripped dress.
“You okay?” Wanda’s dad asked.
“We have to help!” Wanda wiped the tears and blood from her face with the back of her hand.
“They’re going to get some girl,” Frankie gestured in the direction of where the pack of boys had gone. “On-Line’s sister.”
“I need to get Wanda to the hospital,” her dad said.
“No, Dad,” Wanda said. “Listen to me. We have to help!”
Her dad looked at her. His eyebrows scrunched together like he was thinking about something.
“You’re mom’s going to kill me,” he said. “This is just provisional and …”
“Dad!” Wanda said. “Some other girl is getting beaten up and raped and whatever else.”
“They said they was going to kill the girl,” Frankie said.
“What happened to your vocabulary, Frankie?” Wanda’s dad asked. “You’re a smart kid. Why are you talking like a thug?”
“Dad!” Wanda said. “Focus. We have to save the girl. They will kill her. They almost killed Tink.”
“You’re little friend?” Wanda’s dad asked. “The one I met last weekend?”
Wanda nodded. He looked at Frankie and Frankie nodded.
“What are you doing hanging out with people like that?” Wanda’s dad asked.
Frankie took off in the direction of the other boys. In order to make his point, Wanda’s dad followed him.
“You used to be on the honor roll with Wade!” Wanda’s dad said.
“Wanda!” Wanda limped along at his side.
They ran until they reached a quiet grove of trees.
“Holy crap,” Wanda’s dad said. He gave Wanda his phone. “You call the police.”
“I’m not going to sit this out,” Wanda said.
“Girls leave the fighting to the men and boys,” Wanda’s dad said.
“Not this girl,” Wanda said.
Frankie smirked and they entered the grove.
_Monday afternoon – 2:45 p.m._
Jacob let the dogs play at the dog park for a while after Charlie had sauntered off to basketball. He liked to see his puppy Sarah play with Buster, the ugly dog. Buster treated Sarah like his personal princess. They romped and played all over the fenced area while Scooter stayed close to Jacob’s side. Jacob leaned down to rub Scooter’s ears. The old guy was slower now, but still liked to be with the other dogs.
Jacob whistled for Sarah. She ran straight to him and Buster followed. He put clipped the leashes her and Buster and checked that Scooter was attached. He started a slow jog down Josephine Street past the East High parking lot and into the edge of the park. His plan was to jog along York Street and turn up Twenty-Third Avenue by the zoo. If Scooter seemed too worn out, they would walk the rest of the way.
Buster pulled toward the east side of the park.
“Nah, we’re going this way,” Jacob assumed he wanted to follow their usual morning route.
Buster pulled again to the east, but Jacob kept him on track. He glanced down at Scooter. The old boy trotted at his side with a big smile on his face.
Jacob smelled it first.
He stopped short. Buster jerked his leash and took off into a grove of trees.
“Buster!” Jacob yelled.
He used his psychokinetic capacity to stop the dog before he got too far. Uncharacteristic for the gentle dog, Buster turned around and snapped. He gave a loud bark and lunged at Jacob. Sarah jumped in front of Jacob. The dogs snarled at each other for a moment before Sarah looked up at Jacob. She gestured with her head that they should follow Buster.
“All right, boy, we’ll follow you,” Jacob said.
They started across the grass. Jacob slowed. A couple boys ran across their path toward York Street. The boys looked like they were running for their lives. Buster pulled and Scooter barked. He sped up and they ran deeper into the grove.
And he saw …
He wasn’t sure what he saw.
He blinked. The dogs scooted closer to him.
An enormous blue and green dragon lay in front of them. Her eyes were almond shaped and a beautiful shade of rust. Her eyelashes looked like long tree branches. The dragon’s mouth was as big as a fire truck. Fire came from the dragon’s mouth in a stream until it made a circle around Noelle.
Lit up in the fire’s orange and red, Noelle focused on her painting. As if they couldn’t see the fire, a group of twenty or more young men stood frozen just inches from Noelle. Lust and rage came off the boys like exhaust fumes. One of the boy’s held a baseball bat just inches to the side of Noelle’s head. Another boy was inches away from her with a knife.
A taller boy, clearly the leader, stood to the side. A joint dangled from his mouth and his pants looked worn, but his eyes held the pure dark emptiness brought by the joy of extreme violence. The boy was strategizing how to rape and kill Noelle.
In the corner of the clearing stood Wanda, her father Erik, and some boy. Wanda looked like she’d already had a run in with this gang. Erik’s mouth was open to shout and the boy next to him had the stunned look of someone waking from a nightmare.
“Jacob Marlowe,” the dragon said.
“Ma’am,” Jacob swallowed hard. Not sure what to say, he added, “Uh, what’s going on?”
“What does it look like?” the dragon asked.
Jacob groaned. Ghosts on Sun day. Dragons on Monday. How much could he really deal with? He thought about leaving, but there was no way he’d leave Noelle like this. He tried to remember what Delphie always said about dragons.
“Delphinium always says that dragons can’t answer questions,” the dragon said.
“It’s very rude to read someone’s mind without their permission,” Jacob sniffed.
The dragon laughed.
“I am not reading your mind,” the dragon said. “We’re out of time. Surely, you recognize the feeling of being out of time. You’ve been here before.”
Jacob blushed. In a fit of desperation, he’d pushed Jill out of time. He’d only done it the once.
“No shame, young Marlowe,” the dragon said. “You cannot help who and what you are any more than I can.”
Scooter tugged and his leash slipped from Jacob’s hands. The old dog went to the dragon. He greeted the dragon with his head down. He rubbed his head against the dragon’s shoulder. The dragon seemed to smile, without ever letting up on the fire. Scooter lay down at her shoulder.
“Scooter and I are old friends,” the dragon said.
Unsure of what to say or do, Jacob shifted back and forth. His mind threw out question after question. He tried to slow down and think.
“Noelle’s in danger,” Jacob said.
“Noelle’s in imminent danger,” the dragon said. “They intend to kill her.”
“You can deal with them,” Jacob said.
“I cannot deal with them,” the dragon said. “I’m with child. My powers are limited and I cannot fly. I can, however, eat them. While they look like tasty snacks, I believe Denver would notice a few chewed up boys. I’ve been hunted before. I’d like not to repeat that.”
“You want me to do something,” Jacob said.
“I want to use you as a channel,” the dragon said. “I will add my power to yours. You will toss these boys away from Noelle so her friends can save her.”
“I don’t want to be hunted either!” Jacob said.
“Noelle will think it’s me,” the dragon said. “Her friends and the boys are unable see our power. They are too caught up in themselves. We have to stall long enough for the police to get here.”
“Noelle will be hurt,” Jacob said. “Even with your power, I can’t hold them all off. There are too many and they are too …”
“They are on drugs,” the dragon said. “They enjoy this sport of blood and lust.”
Jacob shivered with disgust.
“And yes,” the dragon said. “I’m sorry that Noelle will be injured, but she will.”
“It will destroy her,” Jacob said.
“You can’t destroy a child like Noelle,” the dragon said. “She will be injured. So will you and Noelle’s friends. There’s simply no other way.”
“You’re sure?” Jacob asked. “And the dogs?”
The dragon gave him a wry smile. Jacob groaned.
“The dogs will be injured too,” Jacob said.
“Less than the humans,” the dragon said. “This is a human battle. Now, let the dogs off leash.”
Jacob unhooked Buster and Sarah. The dragon seemed to speak to the dogs. Buster got between Noelle and the boy with the bat. Sarah refused to move from Jacob’s side.
“She loves you very much,” the dragon said.
Scooter got up and encouraged Sarah to move toward the center. Sarah and the dragon stared at each other for a long moment. Jacob wasn’t sure what was going on, but Sarah looked at him and moved into the fight.
“Are you ready?” the dragon asked.
For a moment, he wished he was back in bed with Jill. He remembered her face in the moonlight. He remembered what she looked like when a tear ran down her cheek. He saw her in her silly mask from the party in Santa Monica. He wished he could transport himself to Jill.
He glanced at Noelle. She was the bravest little girl he’d ever met.
“Wait,” Jacob said.
The dragon turned her attention to Jacob.
“Delphie says that dragons cannot affect the course of human-to-human interaction,” Jacob said.
“That’s correct,” the dragon said.
“I’m no dragon,” Jacob said.
Jacob went to the boys around Noelle. He pushed down his sleeves to cover his hands and jerked the baseball bat out of the boy’s hands. He set the baseball bat where the boy with Wanda would find it. He took the knife from the boy near Noelle and threw it blade down into the grass. Jacob thought for a moment.
“You’ve done all you can do?” the dragon asked.
Jacob scowled. The dragon wanted him to do something else, but couldn’t tell him. Jacob looked from boy to boy. He looked at the dogs. Glancing back at the dragon, he saw that she was staring at Noelle.
Noelle had been taking martial arts since her mother broke her cheekbone. He had spent long hours with her teaching her Brazilian jujitsu. The boys joked that she was particularly ruthless. Jacob dropped down and crawled under the fire ring.
“Noelle,” Jacob shook Noelle awake.
Noelle eyes focused and she looked up at him. She gave him a confused look before noticing the fire ring and then the boys. She gave a tiny squeal. She grabbed onto Jacob in fear, and then pushed him away.
“Okay, okay,” Noelle said. “I’m okay.”
Jacob helped her to her feet.
“They are going to attack you,” Jacob said. “What do you do first?”
“I assess the strengths and weaknesses of my opponents,” Noelle said. She looked at the boys closest to her.
“What do you do next?” Jacob asked.
“I prepare myself because this is going to hurt like hell,” Noelle said.
“Exactly,” Jacob said.
“Um, why are they frozen?” Noelle asked.
“The dragon cannot affect human interaction,” Jacob said.
Noelle nodded like she knew that.
“Are you ready?” Jacob asked.
“I’m ready,” Noelle said.
Jacob slipped out of the fire ring. He repositioned the dogs.
“You know, the boys are high. Anything they say they will be suspect, especially if they say they see something as crazy as a dragon.”
“Duly noted,” the dragon said. “Are you ready?”
“Noelle?” Jacob asked.
“Ready,” Noelle said.
Jacob nodded to the dragon
And time returned.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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