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This story contains violence towards teenage children, and a mild portrayal of an abusive environment.
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About the author: Kayla Bashe is currently a student at Sarah Lawrence College, where she studies theater, creative writing, and history. She’s a graduate of the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers. Additionally, several of her plays have been produced by local theater companies. Her lesbian mystery novel Graveyard Sparrow is available from Torquere Press, and her story A Muse Afire was featured in the first issue of Vitality Magazine.
Riley Marigold and the Winged Lizards of Tel Aviv
By Kayla Bashe
It was only a one-girl campaign, but Riley Marigold made enough ruckus for twenty trained activists. Sign held high, cropped hair flying, she sprinted around the shared living room of Maple Community, a tornado in coveralls.
“I’m not leaving!” she chanted. “You can’t make me go!” But mid-stomp, her sneaker slipped on a colored pencil, sending her flying. She knocked over board games and crashed through an unstrung harp frame, all in one continuous yell. Propelled into an accidental forward flip, she almost righted herself before flopping into a basket of undyed wool. The wool rolled an itchy line down her face. She clutched her sign to her chest and tried to recreate the perfect pyramid she’d overturned.
At that moment, Riley’s per came in, still dressed in their baggy white beekeeper’s overalls.
They took in the scene of craft carnage. “What in the world-”
Now everyone was looking at her, not just the people whose afternoon she’d disrupted. This was clearly her chance to make a great political stand. She unfolded her sign and flapped it in Per’s face. “Don’t you dare send me away! If you do, you’ll ruin my day!”
Per just shook their head. “You know, it’s one thing to have a daughter who’s a would-be activist. It’s another thing when you’re protesting me.”
“I think it’s perfectly reasonable for me to protest. I mean, you’re about to uproot my entire life!” She could feel tears in her eyes, hot as a sunburn, itchy as bee-stings. “What kind of parent moves their child halfway across the world for a stupid research position?”
They bent to stroke her hair with a gloved hand. She pulled away out of spite.
“Riley, this is more than just a research position. I’ll be developing crop-growing techniques that could end hunger in drought-ridden areas forever.”
“Then you can go and leave me here.”
“Tel Aviv Habitat has volunteered to finance your secondary education, tertiary education, and rite of passage. You’ll even be able to apprentice with anyone you want.”
“And I’ll have to make all new friends. I’ll have to find new places to hang out and new favorite foods. New everything. It’s not fair!”
They said, “Life is inherently benevolent and self-propagating-”
“-but not inherently easy, and it wouldn’t be fun if we didn’t have to work to accomplish anything,” Riley completed in her most sarcastic grumble.
“I’m sorry, sweet-bee, but Tel Aviv needs us. Everything’s been finalized, and you need to get your essential belongings together. We’re leaving, no matter what.”
Riley pulled out her trump card, the thing that weighed her down the most. “I don’t want to leave Great-Grandmother Marigold’s gravesite! Would you abandon your own grandmom? It wouldn’t be fair!”
“Grandmother Marigold would understand,” Per tried to tell her.
“Would never. Especially since we’re giving her room to someone else. They might move all her furniture and that would be terrible.”
“You might feel differently later on. For example, you might have to open Grandmother’s locket.”
“Would not, would never!” Riley said hotly, snatching the beeswax-sealed USB key away. During the Last Ever war, the rebels had used voice-activated necklaces to pass secret messages, and Riley treasured hers more than even her favorite running sneakers. “I wouldn’t download anything onto it. No matter what.”
“Yes, but still, things change. Everything changes eventually.”
“I won’t.” She stamped her foot. “Especially since I don’t want to!”
“Well… I’m sorry, Riley, but we’re going to have to change where we live. It’s a done deal.”
Sorry? Yeah, right. Per didn’t even seem to feel bad about ruining her life. This sucked worse than a rainstorm. Worse than falling off a hoverboard. Worse than finding out there was only one maglev to the city and then missing it. She ripped her sign in half and threw it to the ground. “Tel Aviv Habitat can eat my compost!” Riley stomped outside, heading to the Memorial Forest.
Riley found the tree where her great-grandmother had been buried and curled herself under it.
“I want everything to stay the way it was before you died,” she whispered. Her palm fit so perfectly against the rough bark, and she imagined she was touching her great-grandmother’s hand.
Thirty-six hours later, the palm trees rustled overhead, and bicycle-cabs whizzed past, their bells ringing as they jockeyed for position in the tan-cobbled streets. Everything seemed built over the chockablock ruins of ancient hills, with one house’s roof at the level of another’s front porch. A yellow-winged bird swooped overhead, flapping down to perch in a persimmon tree, and a cat yowled inquisitively as they passed. The air felt warm and gentle on her skin.
“Wow,” The city was as big as a whole bunch of communities put together. Riley wondered how many houses would you have to stack on top of each other to make something as tall as the whitewashed building in front of her.
After they pedaled the elevator up to their apartment, all Riley cared about was that she had her own little room to herself, with a fan whirring on every piece of furniture, and she could see the sea from her window. And- she leaned down and squinted, trying to decipher the unfamiliar characters on the sign across the street-
“Hey! Per! G-L-E-D-A is Hebrew for ice cream, right?”
“Presumably,” came their amused voice from the other room.
Riley bounced off the bed and tugged on her recycled-plastic sneakers. “Then you’re gonna have to unpack without me, because I’m going to go eat some.”
Back home, she’d needed to bike 15 minutes to the bakery for anything sweet. They only had ice cream in the summer, and most of the time she had to wait forever to take the the trolley back. But right-across-the-street dessert? Riley could get behind that one gazillion percent.
The next thing Riley found was a courtyard playground that her residence building shared with three other buildings.
She sat on the steps and ate her ice cream: one scoop watermelon cheesecake, one scoop chocolate-covered marshmallow biscuit. She was getting started on the cone when a tall girl with long, dark hair ran past.
The girl darted across the grassy courtyard, stopping to catch her breath under a palm tree’s shade.
Then Riley saw what she’d been running from: a bunch of older boys rounded the corner at a lazy pace, jeering. She didn’t know what they were saying, but she could tell by their tone and posture alone that they were teasing her and making her upset. And if there was one thing that got Riley mad, it was boys who thought it was okay to make younger girls cry.
She flung her cone into the compost bin and dashed over. “Hey! Stop that right this instant! If you don’t apologize right now, I’m going to get you in so much trouble- you’ll have to be picking up litter for weeks! You’ll do community service until you wear holes through your sneakers, because I said so!”
They didn’t seem to understand any of what she was saying. But her tone was clear enough that they backed away, muttering insincere apologies, and headed back inside.
“You didn’t have to do that,” the girl said, “but thanks very much.” Her accent made Riley think of dark honey and the sea against rocks. She wore a big green jacket, probably made from repurposed army clothes, and frayed shorts that made her tanned legs look even longer. Her dark hair rippled down in effortless waves, and her eyes were like the sky at midnight.
Riley suddenly felt very small and very shabby. She wiped the ice cream off her mouth with the hem of her tie-dye T-shirt and stood up as straight as she could. “I’m Riley Marigold Maple. How come they were picking on you?”
“I’m Tamar. I look after the wing-lizards at the animal shelter. Most people think they’re gross because they eat bugs, so they think I’m gross too.”
I don’t think you could possibly ever be gross, Riley thought, but what came out of her mouth was “Wait, wing-lizards? Like dragons?”
“They aren’t really dragons. They’re small and genetically engineered. They’re pretty popular pets around here, but they lay twelve eggs a season and there’s always packs of strays wandering the streets, so that’s where I come in.” She ducked her head to examine her glossy fingernails. “Sorry for talking so much about my boring old reptiles.”
Riley was so excited, she couldn’t help bouncing. “I think it’s neat! Really neat. We don’t have wing-lizards where I come from. That’s Maple Community in North America. They’d probably freeze to death, or they’d have to live underground to stay warm. Where are you from?”
“I’m from Kibbutz Rakefet, up in the mountains. They raise goats.”
Kibbutz was what they called communities here, and rakefet was a bright pink wildflower. Riley thought Tamar would look ultra-pretty with a crown woven from rakefet.
They talked all the way to the shelter, which was on the second story of another tan-stone building closer to the center of town.
Riley poked her head in the door. “Those,” she said decidedly, “are dragons.”
“Technically, they’re bat-lizard splices. But lots of people call them dragons.”
Riley darted to the nearest cage and stuck a finger through the bars. She figured it was okay because Tamar didn’t yell at her to pull her hand out right this instant.
Jade-turquoise scales shifted as the creature inspected her, blinking alert clementine-colored cabochon eyes. She could see the folded, leathery membranes of its wings on its back.
“Hey, you,” she whispered, so quiet only it could hear. “My name’s Riley. I like bugs too, ‘cept I don’t eat them.”
The wing-lizard chirruped at her and crept closer, little toenails clicking on the cage floor. Ohmigosh, Riley thought. Snuffling dry breath, it nudged its warm, scaly head against her fingertips, then licked her hand with a raspy tongue to see if she had any food. She was so excited she wanted to scream.
“He’s not scary at all, I promise. His name is Amir and he’s only three months old. It’s not true what they say about wing-lizards biting…” Tamar’s voice faltered into nothingness when Riley turned around.
“I’m not scared. I think he’s amazing. Can I hold him?”
Amir’s tiny claws pricked Riley’s legs through her jeans, but she didn’t care. She stroked his smooth forehead and he head-butted her palm in a friendly bump. Fluttering his wings, he settled into a more comfortable position. Wow, Riley thought. She was acutely aware of his small warmth atop her lap, and of Tamar’s presence next to her.
Suddenly, the door flew open, and in clipped the blondest, fanciest woman Riley had ever seen. She wore an almost colorless dress of pale green synth-silk and a crown of artificial violets. Her gaze moved over the girls; instantly, her expression contorted into meanness.
“Tamar! What do you think you’re doing?”
Riley nearly fell over as the lizard, shrieking, took flight. Unsure and startled, she looked at Tamar. Surely she wouldn’t be frightened by someone so self-important and yelly.
But Tamar shrunk into herself. She looked like she wanted to pull her coat’s hood over her head and disappear; fear trembled on her face. “Sorry, Miss Peretz,” she whispered, ducking her head.
The woman advanced. Raw opals shone in the resin wedges of her shoes, which were so high it seemed to Riley that they should prevent her from walking. “And you,” she said, bending so close that Riley could smell the peppermint and violets on her breath. “Who do you think you are?”
Riley swung around the woman and hopped to her feet. “I,” she said, nearly boiling with self-possession, “am Riley Maple Marigold. You might know my Per.”
At once Miss Peretz’s entire demeanor changed. “Oh, Riley Marigold! Of course, darling. Feel free to touch any of the animals you want.”
Riley, doubtful, wrinkled her nose. “Really?”
“Yes, dear child. I’m thrilled to have you working here.” She turned to Tamar, a sneer taking over her expression. “You’ll have to feed the animals and clean their cages today. I have some very important calls to make.”
“We’re, umm, running out of food,” Tamar ventured.
“Yes, well, buy it out of your pocket money. I’ll pay you back.” With that, she disappeared into her office.
“How long have you been paying out of your allowance?” Riley asked as they worked together to coax the skeptical Amir down from his cabinet perch with offers of treats.
“A month, maybe. But I don’t mind. I love the shelter. And she does promise to pay me back. Well, eventually.”
That sounded strange to Riley, but maybe that was how they did things here. Still, she filed the thought away and returned to her task of waving a dead grasshopper to make it look alive and yummy.
After that day, Riley went to the shelter as often as she could.
One weekend she touched a cactus on a dare and got needle-stung all up her arm, She started sobbing, snot-faced, as soon as the pain hit. The boys Riley’s age didn’t think she would actually do it, and they all panicked and fled. It was Tamar, on her way to the community gardens, who carefully guided tear-blinded Riley to the nearest clinic. She sat with Riley while the medic picked the needles out of her arm, soothing her uninjured hand as if she was petting a baby rabbit.
“Thanks for helping me,” Riley muttered.
“You came and visited me at the shelter. No one else ever does.”
“Well, no one else ever held my hand when I get hurt,” Riley admitted, shifting in her seat. “Even the girls back home always said I had to be more careful and stop breaking rules ‘cause adults do stuff for a reason, blah blah blah.”
Tamar’s little smile was a sunrise over the olive groves. “I think you do stuff for a reason, too.”
From then on, they hung out during unscheduled hours, too. At the outdoor market, Tamar wheedled pomegranates and kiwis at a lower price than Riley thought possible. She went swimming in the ocean with her cutoffs on and found Riley bits of pale turquoise sea glass and shiny black shells that matched Riley’s eyes. They drank hot water with date honey and freshly picked mint and ate zaatar-spiced flatbreads.
One day they came into the shelter and saw that red X’s had been taped over several cages.
“What’s the tape for?” Riley asked.
Miss Peretz had been taping a final X over Amir’s cage. she turned to the girls, looking as if she couldn’t believe she had to explain something so obvious. “We’re running out of money, and we have to euthanize a few of the animals at the end of the week. These are the ones scheduled for termination.”
Riley felt Tamar stiffen next to her. “But-”
“You wouldn’t understand, you’re just a child. Now leave me alone while I try to manage what’s left of our money the best I can.” She disappeared into her office.
Riley wanted to yell at her and pull her long blonde ponytail and melt her lipstick in the microwave until it bubbled and burned. When she was angry she always wanted to do something. She yanked a heavy bag of lizard pellets down from a cabinet and threw it across the room.
Tamar looked scared. “Riley, stop! You’ll get us in trouble.”
“Get us in trouble? If we don’t do anything, we’ll get these little guys killed.”
Tamar gathered Amir from the cage and held him in her arms. Sensing her distress, he wriggled and tried to fly away. She didn’t let go. “There isn’t anything we can do. Just love them as much as we can in the time we have left.”
“No, but... listen. Think about it.” Riley paced closer. “How come she’s always in her office and you have to do all the work? How come this is supposed to be a no-kill shelter, but she’s going to get rid of a whole bunch of lizards? I’ve had activist training. If places are struggling, they’re allowed to petition for more money. She’s not even doing that. It’s like she doesn’t even care.”
Tamar scraped the gloss off her lips with a nervous nibble. “Riley, I don’t know if we should say stuff like that. It’s not nice. Where are you going with this, anyway?”
Riley sat down beside Tamar. “I think Miss Peretz might be stealing from the shelter,” she whispered, laying a hand on Amir’s scaly back. “We should go into her office and find out.”
Tamar looked down at the wing-lizard, then back at Riley. “Maybe she isn’t always… the smartest or the nicest. Or kind to the animals. But I don’t want to get in trouble. Working here is everything to me. I don’t know what I’d do if we got punished.”
“You’re not going to get punished. You’re with me, and I pinky-swear I’ll keep you safe.” Riley meant it with every fiber of her being. She snuck a look at Tamar’s girl’s face.
The tiniest smile was brave enough to creep onto her lips. “It’s worth a try.”
The next day, they put their plan into action. Tamar lured the suspected criminal out of her office. “Miss Peretz? I have a question.”
“I don’t have time for this.”
She poked her head in the door. “Yes, but it’s about the hydroponics on the roof. I think they might be leaking and getting the wing-lizards sick, and if we lost any animals we’d get investigated. It’s really important. You need to come look!”
“Fine, as long as it’s quick.”
When Riley heard them heading away, she jumped out from her cleaning-closet hiding place and got to work. Riley never wore anything in her hair. Cropped to her ears, it was too short for ribbons or elastic. But today, she’d pinned in a flower barrette made from recycled soda cans. Its irregular, pointy petals were perfect for slipping into a lock.
Riley crouched, squinting at the lock, holding her breath as she wriggled by feeling. Steady, steady…
“…and I’m not sure if the problem is with the tomatoes or the cucumbers, so I was wondering if you could help me check…”
Click! The door swung open. Silent as a ladybug, Riley crept inside. The office was so air-conditioned it made her shiver. Way too many fans for electricity-use regulations, and she was positive none of the fancy knickknacks had come from local mini-factories, especially that fancy gold statue of an elephant. Her computer was regulation, though, a sleek little green thing in a bamboo case. Riley snatched a glance at the door, then poked the on button until it started.
“Turtle butts,” she grumbled. So many folders. She hadn’t expected Miss Peretz to have so many different documents saved on her computer. To tell the truth, she’d hoped there would be a big spreadsheet called THIS IS WHAT I’M STEALING AND WHY. Oh well, good thing she’d brought the USB key. Riley reached into her pocket, pulled it out-
And this time she really did say a bad word. Because the flash drive wasn’t there. It must’ve fallen out on the bike ride over.
“…and if I could just get you to take a look at Virtue’s back scales…”
“Are you trying to bother me? Because that’s what you’re doing.”
“No, Miss. But…”
Riley clapped both hands over her mouth to keep from screaming. This was probably her only chance to sneak into the office, and she was ruining everything because she didn’t have one stupid USB key.
Her own words played back in her mind.
Would not, would never.
Everything’s going to stay the way it was.
But Great-Grandmother had changed many times in her life. She’d been an ordinary woman and an activist and a soldier and a community leader and a mom. And she’d lived lots of places before coming to Maple House.
Most of all, though, she’d been a rebel. And when she really thought about it, Riley was positive her grandmother would approve of all her new adventures.
“Especially this,” said Riley Marigold. She reached for her locket and broke the wax.
The conversation had nearly faded out of hearing when Miss Peretz yelled, “That’s it! If you think this is important, handle it yourself. I have things to do, and you’re wasting my valuable time.”
The door handle turned just as the last document finished downloading. Riley grabbed the locket and dove under the desk. She slipped it back around her neck, clutching it like a talisman.
Riley held her breath as resin-opal heels clicked on the recycled, polished bamboo floor. She felt like a rabbit hiding from a wolf. Don’t come closer, don’t come closer.
One step. Another.
Riley breathed out.
Manicured talons grabbed her overalls and hauled her up from under the desk. “What in the world do you expect me to believe you’re doing?”
Riley dangled off the floor like a desert rat caught in a falcon’s claws. All she could think of to squeak out was “Umm.”
“That’s absolutely it. You’ve been so much more trouble than you’re worth- than either of you could ever be worth. I might as well just-”
Something stung her shoulder like a wasp; instinctively, she tried to twist away.
“Miss Peretz, I have another question!” Tamar shouted.
She hardly ever raised her voice, so Miss Peretz turned to look at her. So did Riley.
“What’s your question?”
“Duck!” That was when Tamar picked up the expensive metal statue from Miss Peretz’s desk and hurled it through the window. It was only glass, not solar glass, and it shattered at once. Startled, the woman let go of Riley; Tamar dashed past them both and hopped nimbly out the empty frame. Riley copied her.
They landed in the orange tree and tumbled down in a shower of leaves. Riley met the ground in a perfect crouch, but now her shoulder really hurt. When she tried to stand up, she couldn’t.
“I’ve got it.” Tamar plucked a barbed something from her shoulder and hauled her to her feet.
“Don’t look, don’t think about it. Just keep moving.”
Riley wanted to sit down, but she knew she couldn’t. The USB key was locked to her voice, and she managed to tell Tamar as much.
“She can’t catch us unless we stop, I can’t open the key without your voice code, and we have to save the dragons.” Her eyes were very dark and very serious. “Riley, don’t panic, but if you sleep now, I don’t know if you’ll wake up.”
For the dragons. For Tamar. Riley, fourth-generation Marigold rebel, stumbled heavily through the freshly baked afternoon, leaning her weight on her sister-in-arms.
A bike-cab passed by. “Maybe we should-”
Riley shook her head, making the room spin. “If I sit down, I’ll sleep.”
They kept walking.
The stained-glass colors of solar windows blurred into whitewashed houses and rain barrels. Pomegranates fell from the sky and burst into watercolor paintings at her feet. Her toes were making like guerrilla gardeners and putting down roots. Tamar kept talking to her, the violin thrum of her accent darker than ever. Just a few more blocks, she promised, and you can foster Aliyah’s hatchlings when she drops her eggs. She called Riley neshama, darling, like they were girlfriends, and that got her through another half-block. When Riley’s strength flagged, Tamar resorted to pulling her along by the shoulders and screaming YALLA, YALLA in her ears as if she was a pony, and Riley staggered onwards out of sheer stubbornness.
Up ahead, a sun logo glowed in Riley’s fuzzy vision. The low, rounded sandstone building was a community center with a serviceperson outside. Riley had never been so happy to see an adult in green, and she broke loose to take the last few steps herself in a sort of vertical fall.
“I need to see your tablet,” she said urgently. It came out as slurred nonsense, a hive of bees singing. The young man didn’t listen.
She lunged forward and grabbed it from his belt. When he reached to yank it out of her hands she turned her body away and drove her knee into an ornamental cactus, the pain providing an extra stab of alertness as her legs gave out and forced her to kneel. It felt like her skin was on fire, but it hurt too much for her to pass out. She fumbled with the key around her neck, finally getting it loose and wiggle-jamming it into the drive jack. Enter voice password, the screen flashed. Riley’s heart was made of shrapnel, but she forced her mouth to say “Riley Marigold.”
Miss Peretz’s desktop spread over the digital image. The tablet fell from Riley’s numb hands. A cool sea breeze tickled the back of her neck. She smelled spices and citron.
When Riley woke up, she was on a bamboo bench in the community center, her head rested in Tamar’s lap. Miss Peretz loomed above them both, pacing and lecturing.
“You are both very, very disrespectful girls. I did nothing wrong, whereas you? No qualms about hijacking others’ property! I’ll have you both disbarred of your apprenticeships and working in factories during your wandering years. As for you, I’m even more disappointed in you, Tamar. Why, you’ve been working under me for years. I thought I could trust you. But now you’ve proven yourself-”
Tamar glanced upwards, her face as serene as the desert. “You may as well stop now, Miss Peretz. I’m not afraid of you anymore.”
Her slim, warm hand slipped into Riley’s, and Riley stuck her tongue out at Miss Peretz when no one else was looking.
A community serviceperson came in from the other room.
“Well?” Miss Peretz snapped at the young man. Only then did Riley realize that handcuffs, not her usual expensive bracelets, encircled her pale wrists.
“Everything on the file is very internally consistent,” he said with a shrug.
“So you see there’s no problem at all,” she declared, seemingly satisfied. “These children were merely experimenting recreationally with the animal medicine and decided to blame me for their carelessness.”
He nodded. “Indeed, there’s no doubt whatsoever. But it was very thoughtful of you to keep such a detailed spreadsheet of your embezzlement.”
“Embezzlement? How can you call it that? How dare you call it that! I deserve more luxury than some ridiculous, superfluous winged lizards!”
“I’d say the Council of Elders will probably sentence you to, oh, a year or five in the offshore farms for the theft. And much more for attempting to kill a child.”
She turned on Tamar, her nostrils flaring. “What nonsense did you tell this man?”
“Everything you’ve told us.”
Riley, blinking up at her, was in awe of Tamar’s quiet strength.
“You- you-” Watching the woman’s bruised-ego sputtering was like watching a balloon that someone had just let go of. “I’ll contact your supervisor! I’ll have you exiled! I come from an extremely important community-”
“Tell it to the protein-rich algae. Now please come along quietly, it would go against the community code if I had to use force.”
“I’ll algae your mother,” she muttered, but stomped along as requested, still teetering in her ridiculous gem-embellished high heels.
Riley wanted to whoop and scream and cheer. Her throat was so dry it hurt, but she still managed the biggest grin ever as she pushed herself into a sitting position. “That was awesome.”
“What’s awesome is that you’re still alive,” Tamar said, glossy hair swinging as she shook her head. “I was scared half to death. The stuff she stabbed you with? She’d planned to use it to put down the wing-lizards. They used to use it on police dogs during the Last Ever. Death without any pain, just going to sleep and not waking up. The only reason you’re still here was because it expired.”
The gentle concern in her face made Riley feel antsy, but in a good way. “Well, I’m all right,” she reassured Tamar. “I always am. We Marigolds have a way of making things turn out okay.”
“Riley,” said Tamar, half laugh and half sob. Then she was hugging Riley, very carefully so as not to put pressure on her bandaged knee, and her hair felt even softer than it looked.
Another community worker came in. “Excuse me. Tamar of Kibbutz Rakefet?”
“That’s me,” Tamar ventured.
He handed her a tablet: an electronic form with space for signatures. “How would you like to be in charge of the reptile shelter?”
She let the tablet fall to her lap as if it had pricked her fingers. “I don’t know if I could do it by myself. I mean-”
“Not by yourself,” Riley interjected. “You’d have me. I’ll be your apprentice.”
Tamar gave her a skeptical look. “What, you’d be willing to change cage blankets, and scrape litter trays?”
She nodded as hard as she could. “Uh-huh.”
“And hang out with the girl who smells like grasshoppers and lizards? If people know you’re friends with me, you might not be all that popular either. Some of the older boys might even start calling you Dragon Girl, too.”
“If we’re going to be dragon girls together, I’d rather be that than anything else.”
A shyly overjoyed smile dawned on Tamar’s pretty face. “Wow,” she breathed; and, evidently overcome with satisfaction, she leaned down and kissed Riley on the cheek.