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"That's a dragon!"
Rose's head snapped around at the sound of the voice from behind her.
"She's drawing a dragon!" Trevor Wallace leaned over his desk, pointing over Rose's shoulder at her sketch pad. "Look!" he said, waving his arm. "That's not the assignment!"
"Shut up!" she hissed at him, but she was too late.
Coach Hyatt lumbered across the classroom, angling his bulk between the eighth graders' chairs as he bore down on Rose. He towered over her and stared down at her paper. "What's going on here, Gallagher?"
"I'm just drawing, sir ... Coach," Rose said, forcing a smile. She knew he preferred being called "coach," even when he was doing his extra duty as an art teacher.
"That looks to me like a dragon," he said, jabbing a thick finger at her sketch pad.
Rose looked at her drawing. She couldn't deny it. "Yes, Coach."
Trevor Wallace snickered. Rose shot him a glare that promised painful vengeance.
Rose's friend Lisa spoke up from the seat beside her. "It's really good, though. I bet nobody else drew anything as good."
The picture was good. The dragon spread its great bat-like wings across the page, crouching as if preparing to leap aloft. A serpentine tail coiled behind it, and elegant horns curved back from behind its eyes. It was so perfect that it seemed to breathe on the page. The strange thing was that Rose couldn't remember why she'd decided to sketch a dragon. It seemed so familiar, like she'd seen it in a book or a dream. There was no denying it was an excellent drawing, maybe even her best.
This fact did not move Coach Hyatt. "I don't care if it's a dang Picasso! Is it the assignment? Is it?" He leaned close to stare into her eyes.
"No, sir," Rose squeaked.
"What was the assignment?" He straightened up and surveyed the class. "Hmm? Anyone remember?"
"Coach!" Trevor's hand shot in the air. "Draw something from our lives, sir!"
"That's right. Now this here" — he knocked a knuckle on Rose's desk — "is make-believe. Did anyone else draw something make-believe? What about you, Wallace?"
Trevor was more than happy to show off. "I drew my baseball glove, Coach."
"Darned right you did," Coach Hyatt said.
Rose made a gagging face at Trevor's pathetic sucking up.
Coach Hyatt whirled and focused on Lisa. "What about you, Miss Sanders? Did you remember the assignment?"
Lisa gave Rose an apologetic look and held up her own sketch pad. "My dog," she said. "It's not very good."
"Good, bad, it doesn't matter!" the coach said. "It's just art. What matters is whether you executed the assignment I gave you. You there! McBee! What did you draw?"
"It's 'just art'?" Lisa whispered as Coach Hyatt heaved himself over to the next desk to continue his inquisition. "What a total goon. I wish Mrs. Jersey taught this class full time instead of just subbing when there's an away game."
Rose could agree with that, but she had another concern. "Do you think he's going around to check on everyone?"
"I think so," Lisa said. "He's on a roll."
Rose still had a chance. She flipped the page in her sketchbook and snatched up her pencil, angling her body so it blocked Trevor's view of what she was doing. If he blabbed again, he'd ruin her plan. Fortunately, Trevor was absorbed in watching the coach stomp around the room and interrogate each student.
"Gomez, let's see," Coach Hyatt said. "A cactus? Good, good. Leeds, what's that supposed to be? Oh, a cat? Looked like a fish. Never mind, good work. Pong, that's a fine-looking car. Your dad's? Good. Now, Ostrom, that's ... Wait a minute, Ostrom."
Rose glanced up from her work to see Coach Hyatt towering over the desk of her friend Clay Ostrom. If anyone else had messed up the assignment, it would be Clay. Rose didn't think she'd ever seen Clay draw anything from real life. If it didn't exist in a fantasy epic or a space opera, Clay didn't waste his energy thinking about it.
"That looks like a dinosaur," Coach Hyatt said. "Did you not hear the assignment? Why'd you draw something make-believe, boy?"
"Dinosaurs aren't make-believe!" Clay shot back. He adjusted his glasses and glared up at Coach Hyatt. Clay was skinny and small for a thirteen-year-old, but he wore a ferocious expression of defiance in the face of the looming coach.
Coach Hyatt didn't seem to notice. "Well, there are no dinosaurs in your life, Ostrom. The assignment was ..."
"This isn't really a dinosaur," Clay said.
The teacher peered down. "Looks like one to me, boy."
"No, it's a drawing of a statue of a dinosaur," Clay said. "See, my uncle works at the Lost World casino down in Vegas, and I go down there all the time to look at their model dinosaurs. This is the statue of a triceratops from the shopping promenade."
The coach's face suddenly lit up with a smile, and he delivered a friendly slap to Clay's back that nearly drove the boy through his desk. "All right, Ostrom! Way to improvise! So, looks like everyone completed the assignment except for you, Gallagher."
Rose sat up at her desk and smiled at him. "But, sir, I did complete it. Look."
Coach Hyatt trundled over to examine Rose's sketch pad. "What's this?"
"It's my horse," she said. "His name's Beans. See?"
As the coach took her pad, Trevor spoke up, his voice ratcheting up to almost a soprano. "But, Coach! She just drew that! The dragon is on the other page!"
This was true. Rose had drawn horses so many times that she could whip up a reasonably good sketch in about a minute. Coach Hyatt's circuit of the class had given her ample time to produce a serviceable illustration of Beans.
A broad grin appeared on the coach's ruddy face. "Now that's how you execute a two-minute drill. Nice hustle, Gallagher!"
"Coach!" Trevor's indignant squeak sent ripples of giggles through the classroom.
"Pipe down, you hamburger heads!" Coach Hyatt commanded over the babble. "I've got homework for you." Rose listened as he rattled off the assignment, smiling in satisfaction as Trevor Wallace muttered angrily behind her. When the bell sounded, she lingered to pack her backpack while her classmates crowded toward the door, eager to be on their way home.
"Can I look at it?"
Rose turned to see Clay threading his way awkwardly through the other students. She gave him a curious look. "At what?"
"The dragon," he said. "Can I see it?"
Clay flipped aside the page with her impromptu horse drawing, his eyes widening as they lit upon the dragon. "Wow. That's awesome," he said, his voice tinged with a mixture of respect and envy. She knew he was only a passable artist himself, no matter how much he practiced. "That's your best yet."
Clay had seen plenty of her drawings over the years and had even hung some of her pictures of knights and monsters on his bedroom wall. He never held back his criticism when she missed some detail on a suit of medieval plate mail or if she got the heads on a chimera wrong, so his admiration meant a lot.
"Easily," he said. "Where'd you get the idea?"
"I'm not sure," she said. The dragon had just burst onto the page. Sometimes drawing was like that for her, but this time she'd really lost herself in her art.
"It's so good." He tapped the sketch pad. "You should frame it. See you later, Rose."
"Frame it," she said, looking at the drawing. Yes, she could frame it and hang it up. Her dad might even agree to spring for a nice frame if she asked. But only if she asked. She still remembered a time years ago when her mother had plastered the walls with Rose's drawings, lovingly displaying the most colorful ones in bright cardboard frames.
After her mother died when Rose was six, it fell to Rose to decide if any of her art should go on the fridge or the walls. Her father never discouraged her ... but he never offered to help. She wondered if he would even recognize that this drawing was her best work.
Lost in her thoughts, Rose didn't notice Trevor edging her way until it was too late. Suddenly, a splash of something sticky and cold struck her on the side of the head. She jumped in surprise and caught her foot on her chair leg. Rose let out a startled yelp as she tumbled to the floor, thick fluid covering one side of her head. Trevor stood over her, holding a dripping canister of white paint, now mostly empty.
"Oops!" Trevor said, his voice full of artificial concern. "Sorry, Gallagher! I tripped."
Rose ran her fingers through her hair and came away with a thick smear of white paint on her hand. Rage sizzled to life in her blood. "You little turd!"
Before she could get to her feet, Trevor bolted for the door, trailing a whooping laugh behind him. Rose looked around for Coach Hyatt, but he'd already left the classroom, eager to get down to the field for after-school soccer practice. She picked herself up off the floor, peering at her shoulder to check the damage.
When she looked down at her sketch pad, she saw a white blotch on her dragon drawing, its delicate pencil lines smeared away in the paint. Rose stared at it in disbelief for several seconds, and then a shout of outrage burst from her throat.
"I'm going to kill him!"
She might have actually launched herself in pursuit of Trevor, but Lisa was suddenly there at her side, snatching a handful of paper towels from the art supply table and going to work on the mess. "Ugh," her friend said. "It's all over your shirt and hair. Come over to the sink."
"Look what he did to my drawing!"
Lisa looked at the sketch pad and let out a moan. "Rose! You should report him."
"I should wring his stupid neck."
Lisa steered the fuming Rose to the sink and cleaned her up in earnest. "It's coming off your skin okay, though you've got a skunk streak in your bangs."
Her hair felt stiff on the left side, but she thought it would come out in the shower. "I need to cool off before I get home," she said. "Do you want to go rock hunting with me?"
Lisa rolled her eyes. "Only you would 'cool off' by hiking around the desert."
"Can't," Lisa said. "Piano lessons. Find something shiny out there for me, okay?"
"Maybe I'll get lucky," Rose said, looking down at the smeared remnants of the dragon on her sketch pad. She'd have to discover something pretty incredible to make up for what a rotten day this had been so far.
* * *
Rose stomped across the desert sand, trying to forget that idiot Trevor Wallace. This was the first time he'd destroyed something she cared about with one of his stupid pranks. She could probably report him and get him in trouble, but that sort of retaliation felt unworthy somehow. Rose liked to handle her own problems, not go whining to the authorities every time someone rubbed her the wrong way. She picked up her pace, pushing herself to force thoughts of Trevor out of her head.
The desert welcomed her like an old friend, inviting her along a familiar narrow footpath that wound between jutting stones and dry clumps of sage. The faint scent of creosote in the air soothed her angry nerves. Rose loved to venture out in the desert, whether on foot or on horseback. Somehow, even when she came by herself, she never felt alone.
This afternoon she pursued her ongoing quest to uncover interesting stones. Most of her classmates couldn't tell a chunk of worthless basalt from a nugget of Nevada lapis, but Rose had been trained in the secrets of stones all her life, peering over the tabletop as her father sorted through piles of rocks to feed into his noisy tumbler for polishing.
Today, she was looking for geodes — mottled eggs of limestone that looked utterly mundane on the outside, but revealed glittering crystalline caves within when they were cracked open. These were her favorite.
She knew she had a particularly good chance of making a find that day. A rare rainstorm had cast its fury down onto the desert earlier that month. During such a deluge, the parched earth became saturated quickly until it turned into water-repellent clay. Such storms led to flash floods that swept across the dry riverbeds, kicking up debris and rapidly eroding large chunks of sand. The upside to these floods was that sometimes they unearthed buried deposits of stone, creating a perfect opportunity for a rockhound like Rose to find something special.
She hoped so. It would be good to have something to bring back to her father. A love of stones was one of the few things they still shared.
Unfortunately, flash floods turned up garbage as well as treasure. As she reached the lip of a new trench that the floodwaters had carved across the familiar landscape, Rose saw a twisted stack of metal and plastic half buried in the sand. An uprooted Joshua tree lay tangled with the remains of an old dirt bike that had been battered and broken by the chaotic forces of the torrent. She wondered if the rushing waters had claimed a portion of someone's backyard where the motorcycle had been stored.
Rose spotted one end of the handlebar that had broken off at the base. What remained was a bar the perfect length to serve as a sword. She picked it up, tested its weight, and brandished it at the sky. "Who dares to challenge me?" she called out.
When she'd played fantasy games with Clay, he always liked to play the sorcerer, while she took the role of a knight or a warrior. She flourished her weapon as if for the benefit of an unseen audience, then whirled and faced the uprooted Joshua tree. "I see you there, villain!" she cried, picturing Trevor Wallace's face superimposed over the squashed bristles of the plant. "Trying to ambush me, eh? Have at you!"
Rose launched herself at the Joshua tree, putting all her weight into an overhand swing. The impact of aluminum on wood sent a satisfying shock down her arm. "Take that, art ruiner!" She rained down more blows, punctuating each with an insult. "Hair puller! Mouth breather! Fart lighter!"
This felt so good that she soon adopted more targets. The deflated front tire of the bike became Coach Hyatt. "You call yourself a teacher? Receive your punishment, you lard sandwich!" Her weapon flashed, vanquishing imagined phantoms with each strike.
Finally, she stepped back from the battlefield and raised her sword. "I have conquered. All hail Warrior Princess Rose! The treasure is mine by rights."
A green gleam caught her eye.
Rose focused on the glint of sunlight from a reflective surface. There was something beneath the spiny fingers of a yucca. She dropped the handlebar and moved in for a closer look. It was a large teardrop-shaped stone about the size of her fist. It caught the sunlight so brilliantly that it appeared to glow with its own inner radiance.
She stared at the stone with wonder. It was unlike anything she'd ever seen. A thrill surged through her as her fingers brushed the glassy surface. The translucent stone was surprisingly heavy — much denser than regular glass. Tiny, delicate ripples crisscrossed its surface, creating a sparkling dance of light.
Rose knew all the local rocks quite well. Trained from childhood by her father and grandfather, she could identify every kind of mineral that southern Nevada had to offer. This stone wasn't from around here. It shouldn't have been here at all.
"It's a tektite," she whispered. "Has to be."
Rose remembered her father teaching her about tektites. They formed when a really massive meteor hit the earth with an impact big enough to kick chunks of molten debris thousands of feet up into the freezing stratosphere. When the crystallized remnants fell back to earth, they landed as tektites. She'd seen pictures of tektites and even some black ones in person at a gem show in Las Vegas a couple years before. Those tiny, black blobs were nothing compared to the wonder she now held.
"But there are only a few places in the world where you find tektites," she said, peering into the depths of the gold-green stone. "And Nevada isn't one of them. So what are you doing here, hmm?"
Rose held the stone close to her face, studying the minute golden flecks suspended within the green translucence. This had to be the greatest thing she'd ever found. Her mind began to race with the possibilities. She'd be published in scientific journals, applauded for her amazing discovery.
How much was the stone worth? But the thought of selling it suddenly wrenched her heart. She didn't want it to go into a museum. She wanted to keep it and stare into it forever, to let herself fall into the strange world hidden within the stone's green and gold beauty ...
A loud noise shocked her out of her daydreams of glory as something heavy thumped onto the ground nearby.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Dragon Waking"
Copyright © 2016 Grayson Towler.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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