Here is an excerpt from Dragons Walk Among Us.

We talk about school until the waitress arriving with our food puts the conversation on pause. As we slurp ramen, Dalia guides the discussion to the upcoming homecoming dance. My knees clatter together in a frantic rhythm. Will Jason ask me to the dance, or should I ask him? 

“Is everyone going?” Dalia asks. 

 

“I’m attending as a reporter,” Haji says between mouthfuls of soup. 

 

I notice Haji staring at me. I meet his look and flash him a saucy smile. His gaze darts back to the soup bowl. 

 

“I am,” Jason says. 

 

I swallow the spicy concoction in my mouth and choke. My hand goes to my chest as I cough on the gob of noodles lodged in my throat. 

 

“Are you okay?” Dalia asks, voice shrill. 

 

She raises her hand, ready to pound on my back. The boys jump up. I hold up a hand to keep everyone at bay. With a final heave that makes my chest throb, I manage to dislodge and swallow the noodles. 

 

“I’m okay,” I gasp. God, I’m such a klutz. Why did I ever think Jason would want to go to the dance with me? 

 

The boys sit down, and Dalia lowers her hand. “You’re sure you’re okay?” Dalia asks. 

 

I nod and pick up my soup spoon. There is an awkward silence as we recover from me nearly choking to death and get back to eating. 

 

“So, Jason, you have a date?” Dalia asks. 

 

“I do.” Jason sets his spoon in the bowl. “She asked me today.” 

 

“She asked you?” I ask. 

 

I hold the oversized soup spoon in my hand like it’s a club. Jason smiles, his gaze dropping to the table. 

 

“I was going to ask someone else, but then she asked me. I couldn’t say no.” 

 

“Just tell us who it is already,” Dalia says.

 

“Leslie Chapman.”

 

The spoon falls from my hand and plops into my bowl of half-eaten ramen. Soup splatters across the table. My eyes feel like they’re bugging out of my head. 

Leslie Chapman asked Jason to the dance?

 

He said yes?

 

Oh my God.

 

Blinking, I rub a hand across my brow. “Wow.”

 

I look around the table, searching for a sign that what Jason said was my imagination. Dalia’s face is ashen. Jason looks apologetic, maybe, I don’t know. Haji continues slurping soup. 

 

I stand, grabbing my jacket and plaque. “I think my to-go order is ready.” 

 

I rush to the front of the establishment, retrieve my order in a brown paper sack, and pay the cashier in cash. I turn to leave to find Haji by the door. 

 

“Can I tag along?” he asks.

 

“I just want to be alone right now.”

 

I push open the door, and cold air blasts my face. 

 

Rain pelts my coat, and a gust of howling wind blows back my hood. I pull my hood up and hold it in place. Cars whizz by on University Way, headlights highlighting the heavy rainfall. 

My tears intermix with the rain while I wait for the light to change at the intersection of 42nd and Little Tahoma Avenue. Why am I crying? Over Jason? If he is dumb enough to date Leslie, he isn’t worth my time or tears. Doesn’t he realize she is a racist mean girl? Maybe that’s too harsh. How could he know? I should’ve asked him out sooner. 

 

I’m such an idiot. 

 

The wind dies down. I release my hood and wipe the tears, not wanting Joe to see me crying. A big truck roars by just before the light changes, leaving the stench of diesel exhaust in its wake. I cross the intersection and scramble up the low retaining wall separating Tahoma University’s grounds from the sidewalk. I march across the dark swath of wet grass interspersed with towering Douglas fir toward the lamplight in the distance. 

 

Obscured by the surrounding shrubbery next to the base of a conifer is a blue tarp. I press my free hand against the brown bag, feeling the warmth radiating from the container of broth. Good. I’d hate for the soup to be cold. 

A gust of wind pushes me sideways. From somewhere overhead comes a loud crack like the bone of some gargantuan creature snapping. A widowmaker thumps to the earth. Gasping, I nearly drop the soup and freeze in place. Overhead, the trees sway in the wind, branches creaking and groaning. I scamper toward the encampment. 

 

About half a dozen tents surround the base of the tall conifer. A wide man with hunched shoulders moves around the camp. I smile.

It’s Joe. 

 

I’m about to call out to him when I smell a strange mixture of eucalyptus and menthol and sweat on the wind. It’s the kind of odor I’d expect to roll off guys at a crowded dance club. I scan my surroundings for the source of the scent. 

 

A figure stands behind me in the gloom.

 

“What are you doing?” I ask.

 

The stalker strides toward me, raising something about a foot long overhead. A club?

My muscles tense like springs under immense pressure. Dad warned me about attacks on campus. I back away, a scream rising up my throat. The club whirls through the air too fast to avoid. 

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