Zoey hadn’t been to Skyler’s place before, but she saw that it was much larger than anyone else’s house that she’d seen previously, although she had to admit she hadn’t visited all of their places yet. It had nice little gardens around the property, including a small one beside the steps. When she paused to look at it, she saw little painted rocks among the flowers with faded, cracking paint. It looked as if they had been placed there quite a few years ago, and she wondered for a moment if they belonged to Doug and his friends. After all, Skyler was the oldest out of all of them, with his brother Sullivan the next oldest, and they were without parents when they escaped the lab, meaning they must have raised themselves. She realised she had paused at the little garden for a few minutes and she looked up to see Doug waiting by her, smiling weakly.
“That one is mine,” he told her, pointing to a haphazardly painted stone with yellows and oranges, and two black dots in the middle. “It’s supposed to be a sun, and the black parts are his sun glasses,” he added, sounding a little embarrassed.
“I’m sure I’ll be able to tell better when it’s light out,” she said, waving her hand at the soft glow from the moon.
He gave her a humored but doubtful smile, and they headed inside.
Misae greeted her with a quick hug, hovering a bit as if they weren’t sure how Zoey was handling this. Zoey liked to tell herself she was doing better than most people would be, but she allowed Misae to take her sweater anyway and hang it up as if it was a coat.
Lynda ran around the corner and turned, sliding in her socks the rest of the way and stopping just short of sliding into Ferris who looked less than pleased as she smiled widely back. Oscar popped his head around the corner, obviously having flown and arrived much quicker than they had, and motioned for them to follow him. They all wandered into a dining room and sat down, and it felt very formal, which was strange because it wasn’t as if this was a board room meeting. There were cookies on the table and water set out for each of them. Misae took their place next to Skyler and Tarian, and Sullivan slunk down in his cape on the other side of Tarian. Zoey sat in between Doug and Rebecca, giving the latter her hand in case she needed it, as she still looked entirely too worried. Rebecca took her hand weakly, and she gave it a little reassuring squeeze, it was so cold and trembling. She had probably wished she could leave the horror behind, but here it was causing problems after only a week of freedom. This all seemed like it was becoming an unfortunate trend.
“Alright, give me an idea of what happened,” requested Skyler, looking concerned at their bedraggled appearances, especially Doug and Ferris, who looked as if they’d been hit with a garden hose and smeared with mud. Doug’s hair was literally caked in mud, in fact, pushed off to the side at an unusual angle. Any scratches on them didn’t look serious, which was a positive.
“We ran into a water dragon with an attitude,” Ferris grumbled, sliding a little lower in his chair, and looking away from Skyler. “ruined the movie, honestly.”
“An attitude? Would think you’d know how to handle that,” mumbled Sullivan, chuckling to himself at his own joke. Ferris shot him a glare, but Zoey believed it was in jest.
“Specifically,” began Doug, looking at Skyler directly, laying his hands on the table, “We met a person who can change, like us, who was a water type, and may possibly be the son of the guy in charge of JARGON.” He finished by explaining the fight and the words that were exchanged, and by the end Skyler was looking grim.
There was a silence between all of them as it sunk in, until Sullivan sighed and spoke up, “I doubt he’ll try again soon, but I would take his word on it that he’ll be back,” he rolled his eyes up to Tarian, still slumped over in his chair. He wasn’t sure what to say, and was looking for her to take the lead.
“We were worried about the number of people that stayed loyal to the group after we broke out. There weren’t a lot, but fighting any of them is not going to be pleasant, to say the least,” Skyler added where his brother left off, “if they’ve continued the experiments, there might be more than we anticipated, although we’ve only met a few throughout the years.” he added.
“Maybe we should see if Sinley can visit?” suggested Misae, looking at Oscar when they said so, “I mean, obviously it’s up to Sinley but he is part of the family and I know he would help us out in a pinch,” they continued when Oscar began chewing on the inside of his mouth.
“It’s not that he wouldn’t, but… what even is our problem at the moment? They’re just hitting us with these little attacks in order to make us scared, we can’t exactly predict where and when this will happen again,” Tarian responded, earning a nod from both Ferris and Sullivan, who had probably been thinking the same thing.
“Well, I’ll see Sinley at the dragon gathering that’s coming up, anyway. I could mention what’s been happening and he’ll stick nearby if I ask him,” Oscar finally spoke up, but didn’t lift his eyes. He looked far less confident than he had appeared earlier, and Lynda was watching him very carefully. “I’d forgotten that was coming up,” he muttered, mostly to himself.
“We could talk to Vikki too, although she travels less than him, so we know where she is if we ever needed her,” Doug suggested, bringing Zoey back to the matter at hand.
“Who are these people?” she asked quietly, and was surprised when they all looked at her. She tried not to look embarrassed, but Lynda gave her a quick smile.
“Sinley is Oscar’s best friend, and he’s a dragon too, but he prefers travelling and living on his own. When he gets lonely, he stays with us for a few weeks. And Vikki is another dragon, and she lives near here but keeps to herself for the most part, other than her girlfriend Perrin, of course. Not everyone felt comfortable being around so many fully human people after they escaped. They stayed with Skyler until they were ready to live on their own, and they’re still family but they just live elsewhere. They like my beads,” Lynda reported, looking pleased with herself about that.
“Lynda makes friends wherever she goes,” Misae praised, but then their face looked pained at what Oscar had mentioned before. “There’s a gathering this year?” they asked, and Zoey could see the veins stand out on their hands when they clenched them. They were trying not to panic, but their eyes gave them away.
Oscar looked thoughtful, but then nodded. “It’s coming up in a few weeks, Sinley and I have been talking about it, of course,” he said matter-of-factly. He tipped his head to Skyler, who was deep in thought, but then nodded in return.
“That had completely slipped my mind,” Skyler admitted, and Sullivan groaned.
“I’ll have to get my good cape dry cleaned,” Sullivan complained, and Tarian pulled out her phone. When the screen tipped, Zoey saw that she was looking up fancy black and purple dresses on a fashion app. Meanwhile, Zoey remained confused.
“Question time again, what would a gathering be to you guys?” she asked, half wondering if she was involved, but guessing if Tarian was looking up an outfit then maybe she should worry as well.
“Well, Dragons – real ones – have these gatherings and we have to attend one every few years. It’s to make sure we’re behaving I guess, as dragons don’t particularly trust us. It’s something we all do to keep the peace. Remember, to get the DNA to alter us, they had to use dragon DNA, and that was taken by force as well.” Skyler told her, looking as if he was trying to be reassuring. Zoey wasn’t sure this sounded like a terrible idea, as long as she didn’t get eaten by a dragon. Seeing real dragons sounded a bit intimidating, but then again, they were organizing these little meetings, which sounded pretty nice of them.
“Can I go?” she asked, wondering if she sounded childish. Lynda perked up even more than normal at that.
“Sure, but it won’t really be a whole lot of fun. It’s like a giant meeting, although you will have to tell your parents you’re going to an event or something that’s not related to dragons.” Skyler reminded her.
Zoey figured she could come up with something, so she nodded. Her parents were often away on business trips, which meant she had a lot of time to herself, but also that they trusted her to look after herself. Perhaps this was not a good idea, as she had recently gotten involved with the seedy corporation underbelly of the town, and also dragons were involved, but Zoey wasn’t going to question their parenting skills as it allowed her more freedom in the long run.
“Meanwhile, we should all stay close in case that Karver guy or his buddies show up. I’ve never seen any of them at the meeting, but the dragons seem to understand that there is a difference between us and the members of the organization, so that never causes us any trouble. Wish it would cause some trouble for them, though,” Sullivan mused, taking a cookie from the centre of the table and offering it to Tarian, who split it and took half.
They all kind of helped themselves to the cookies after that thought, and their impromptu meeting dispersed a little bit after. Rebecca seemed more relaxed as everyone promised the event wasn’t her fault. Misae even checked with Zoey privately to make sure she wanted to go to the meeting. They were worried she was trying to keep up with everyone, and reminded her that everyone had taken their own time adjusting to everything. Just because everything seemed to be happening at the same time, didn’t remove Zoey from that right of taking her own time regarding all this dragon stuff. Zoey appreciated the thought, but had to admit, that every time she had gone looking for answers in this dragon world she had found some, so she was worried if she stayed behind the answers would elude her. Not that she wouldn’t get told the answers if she asked, as she had found plenty of times before, but she didn’t always want to be asking, and knew that if she continued dating Doug she would have to figure out these things sooner or later.
Her parents agreed to let her go with her new friends to the ‘concert’ coming up, as long as she agreed to text at least once a day and stay away from any illegal substances. In order to help ease their worries, she invited a few of them over for board games, along with Zabrina and Aisha in order to let them know what kind of people she was going with. Aisha and Zabrina, of course, could not go with them.
Zabrina, Aisha, and Zoey had a great time picking out snacks after school before everyone was supposed to come over, and although she was almost afraid to ask about Brie, she had sat with them at lunch, and apparently was texting Aisha quite regularly, but remained chilly to the others. Aisha had suggested not inviting Brie, because she knew she wouldn’t come, and would probably request for Aisha to bail as well.
When they had set up their board game selection and snacks, they began talking animatedly while waiting for the others to arrive. Zabrina had gone on a few dates now with Ted and was wondering if some time they could all go on dates together when Stacy was free. They wondered what they would do, maybe mini golf or hiking. Zoey interjected that Doug was fond of hiking just as the doorbell rang, and she heard her mom run to get it just as she stood up. It was Doug, Ferris, Oscar, Rebecca, and Lynda, who were the remaining guests for the night.
They did a small meet and greet but decided to get right into the game, which got overly competitive very fast thanks to Aisha. Most of the time she was fairly calm, but apparently took no prisoners when it came to games. It didn’t help that Doug was overly polite when playing games, as he kept letting the others walk over him quite happily. Zoey was fairly sure that Ferris was cheating, as whenever he needed something he just asked Doug for it, but that Rebecca and Zabrina were playing legitimately. She also thought that Oscar was playing by the rules to an extent but she kept seeing him slip extra game currency into the mishmash pile that Lynda had in front of her whenever she wasn’t paying attention. In all, however, they were having fun, so Zoey couldn’t complain, even though she knew she was far from winning. Part of her wondered if she could take advantage of Doug’s passive nature but she knew that would be mean and talked herself out of it, even though he didn’t seem to be upset at all about people tricking him.
Her parents seemed pleased with them as well, and after the board game was said and done, with Ferris winning and Lynda in second, Aisha in third and Doug in dead last, they suggested that the teens all watch some movies instead of heading home. Instead of focusing on the movie playing, they sort of spoke amongst themselves, about classes and different things happening in the school. Aisha and Zabrina seemed really happy talking to Rebecca, which was expected when talking to her, while Doug and Ferris were chatting among themselves.
Zoey refreshed everyone’s drink since it was her house and she tried to pay attention to the friendships she was watching. She hadn’t realized that Lynda had brought a small bead kit, but Oscar sat calmly on the floor beside her as she made more bracelets around his arm. Zoey had noticed that he would wear a few of the bracelets every day, and she figured it was because they reminded him of her since they weren’t in the same classes. After filling everyone’s drinks, she decided to talk to Lynda and Oscar and sat down beside them, earning a warm grin from them both. These two were the friendliest couple she could think of out of the entirety of them.
“How are you guys doing?” Zoey asked, settling down.
“Good, thank you for having us over,” Oscar told her, genuinely. He seemed to not be having the same anxiety he was the day before.
“I promise to pick up all the beads before I go, to be honest I was so excited about meeting new people, I kind of just wanted something to focus on so I didn’t get nervous,” Lynda told her, playing with a few beads in her hand. Zoey had to smile at that, because it was just so sweet, and she leaned over and gave the younger girl a quick hug.
“That’s cool, whatever makes you feel at home,” Zoey told her, offering her arm.
Oscar grinned at that, and started watching what was on the television. They stayed like that for awhile as Lynda made her bracelets, before talking quietly but addressing Oscar.
“Are you worried about the ‘concert’ we’re going to?” she asked, looking up at him.
He gave her a quick smile, and one to Zoey as well, throwing out, “it will be much of the same crowd that goes every time,” he said cryptically. He looked a bit brighter, and Zoey figured he was either cheery or calm, like he was most of the time. “You don’t have anything really to worry about. Skyler and Sullivan handle most of what is said, as they’re seen as the leaders of our group for the most part,” he was trying to sound reassuring, but he had slipped out of the concert ruse. Nobody had noticed, so she tried to tone it back in.
“Oscar, I know you’re fairly optimistic but none of the band members are going to talk to us,” Zoey joked, and he stiffened, realizing his mistake.
Oscar glanced around, and visibly relaxed when he didn’t see anyone looking at him. “True, you’re right. My mistake,” he told her, and she thought she saw his hand shake a little. She exchanged a worried look with Doug, who was glancing over, but Lynda had already managed to distract Oscar by asking about his choice in colour of beads. Zoey wondered if this was on purpose, as she had watched Lynda select some beads, place them off to the side, and then slide them back into the pile just as Oscar’s hand shook.
This whole thing was becoming more and more suspicious, and despite hanging out with Oscar plenty, she couldn’t understand his nervousness. Or why it seemed to set everyone else on edge when he was nervous. He seemed to be one of the calmer guys in the bunch of them, maybe only rivaled by Doug. He wasn’t as passive as Doug however, as it was more like Oscar was always listening and energetic. Maybe that was because he was dating Lynda, who was a complete bundle of energy. She didn’t have time to wonder much longer as Rebecca, Aisha, and Zabrina wandered over to watch Lynda work and chat about classes. Rebecca and Lynda had a test coming up in Geology and Lynda had mentioned asking Rebecca for help. Secretly, this was probably an attempt to ask Ferris for help, but Zoey had no doubt that they would get the help they asked for, despite his grumbly nature.
Over the next few days, Zoey tried to be nicer to Oscar, because she worried about his increasingly quiet behavior. He did brighten up whenever Lynda was around, but during classes he kind of just completed his work with his head down. Doug noticed what she was trying to do, but didn’t really explain his behaviour.
“You’ll see how other people react to us, especially Oscar, when we reach the gathering. Everyone’s a bit nervous, but when we’re done, we won’t have to go to another one for a few years,” he told her, with a bit of force behind his happiness. She paused, but then leaned forward and gave him a quick hug.
“I hope it gets easier for you guys,” she told him very quietly as she hugged him. She wasn’t sure if he heard but she felt her sentiment was still there, so she didn’t worry about it too much.
They attended one of Calder’s track meet ups after school, which was a time to bring them all together but also a time to see who could cheer louder, Brinly or Skyler. Zoey had never suspected that Brinly, always wearing such dainty outfits, and spoke so calmly, would be so animated while cheering for Calder, even having made a shirt with the school’s track team logo on it. Meanwhile, Skyler was acting like an embarrassing over-the-top parent at a child’s game whenever Calder was involved in an event.
Zoey had wondered why Misae had sat with Sullivan instead of their boyfriend, now seeing that they were trying to avoid Skyler and Brinly’s flailing arms. Zoey now realized that once you were in the family, Skyler was everyone’s overly enthusiastic dad. Calder’s actual parent’s glanced over at the group with slight horror.
“Skyler’s like this at my swim meet ups too,” Ben whispered to her, but there was some humour behind it.
Zoey wondered if she asked for a puppy would she be allowed to get one and keep it at Skyler’s house. When she jokingly told Doug that, he gave her a strange look, and then glanced at Skyler.
“Seriously, he probably would. So don’t ask unless you actually want a dog,” he told her warningly.
Calder actually did quite well in his events, and from the screaming you would think he won all of them, although Brinly warned that he would probably need to rest quite a bit the next day. If they were going to be heading to the meeting, it was probably the worst time to have a track event. Looking around at everyone cheering him on, some harder than others, Zoey was really glad she had been accepted into their group, and hoped it would last. They were all so tight knit, and had luckily welcomed her and some of her friends in as well, which meant a lot to her.
Zoey busied herself with different events the school was putting on and with her friends, such as a charity dog walking event, and a school wide sculpting challenge that none of her friends won but they all had fun participating in it. She snuck in a few dates with Doug as well, even holding hands at one point during a walk but then telling herself afterwards how silly she was getting excited over that. She knew she could probably kiss him any time but part of her also wanted to wait for the perfect moment. This led her to staring at him sometimes so intensely that he asked her if something was wrong and she realised she was being strange again. She was a bit worried at both their shy personalities they would never actually kiss but she figured if time wore on she would have to make certain that downtrodden future never happened. Then she told herself that thinking like that sounded like she was narrating a film and not thinking about kissing someone. Then she realized she was staring at Doug again. This was going to be harder than anticipated.