Acne, Asthma, And Other Signs You Might Be Half Dragon

By: Rena Rocford

For my family

Seven Days Before

efore I was close enough to be slathered in anti-acne cream, the kiosk lady had her bottle at the ready. Her eyes locked on me, the easy target. The stink of acid and rubbing alcohol told me the cream was fake. There was no magic bullet for acne; I’d already tried it all.

The woman held out her hand in the hopes I might mimic her and extend my arm–this wasn’t my first rodeo.

“The salts from the Dead Sea have natural healing properties. I guarantee you’ll see a difference immediately.”

Her smile was as fake as the gold around her neck, and I would know.

I could smell gold.

My mother said I was crazy, but I could smell metals. Gold had a scent like butter. Silver smelled of rain in a forest. Fake gold smelled like burning bread, and this woman was covered in it.

“No thanks.” I kept my hands firmly to my side.

My friend, Beth stretched her lower lip in serious consideration. “Oh, but how do you know if you don’t try?”

I punched her in the arm, but Beth was six-foot-three with a tendency to make refrigerators seem dainty; nothing I did was likely to make a dent in her. With the punch, I threw her a withering look, and Beth smiled, wagging her eyebrows.

I gave the saleswoman my most pleasant smile. “Thank you, but no thank you.”

Desperate for a sale, she reached for my arm. I grabbed her wrist before she could catch me and twisted her arm across her body. The motion smeared the fake Dead Seas salt across her sleeve.

“I have sensitive skin.”

Beth sputtered a laugh, but she walked to the nearest store window, making a show of examining the mannequin on the other side. I slipped away from the kiosk and joined her.

“I like this jacket.” Beth squinted, sighing.

“Then you should try it on.”

“Ha! The clothes in this store never fit”–she pointed at her chest–“they’re always a little too optimistic.” Her golden ponytail bounced as she shook her shoulders suggestively. Beth was many things, but curvy in the right places wasn’t one of them. On the other hand, she could go pro-roller derby at the drop of a hat. Beth was like a force of nature, and she didn’t mind tussling with anyone dumb enough to get in her way.

I was like a reject from a geisha convention. My hair was too straight and black for the Irish heritage of my mother, and my eyes were too green for my father’s Japanese heritage. I was caught in the middle. Half. Mutt.

“How do you know if you don’t try it on?”

“Honestly, Allyson, you sound like a school counselor. ‘How do you know you won’t enjoy fixing farming equipment unless you try?’”

“I was mimicking you.”

Beth arched her eyebrow at me. “Are you saying I sound like the school counselor?”

Before I could respond, a guy our age came into earshot, watching Beth as he walked, even as he passed. His wide eyes tracked Beth like search beams in the fog. He craned his neck, but his legs kept moving forward, as if the two halves of his body weren’t on speaking terms. He smashed into a cardboard ad of a man giving a woman flowers. He fell, his legs tangling in the chain holding the two halves of the ad together.

Beth ran to his side, pulling the cardboard off. “You okay?”

He stared up at her, blinking, like he saw a miracle, not Beth. His lopsided face fit his crooked expression, as if he’d been beaten about the head but more solidly on one side. What he lacked in symmetry, he made up for in size, easily topping Beth’s six-foot-three by another head. He clearly outweighed her by nearly a hundred pounds of lean muscle.

His mouth moved, but no words came out. A half smile of disbelief bloomed on his face as he grabbed the cardboard ad and broke off the flowers still tangling his feet. He took a deep breath as if steeling himself or taking in the fresh scent of a new day. With a mumble, he thrust the cardboard flowers at Beth. The rest of the ad ended up in a pile of broken commercialism.

“Uh, thank you.” Beth’s words sounded like a question, and we all stood there, waiting for the next minute to save us from the most awkward conversation on the planet.

Scratch that. To be a conversation, he’d have to say something. Anything.

Also By Rena Rocford

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