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RED

By Merrylea Bullock

Drama

Chapter 2

By the time I get to my building, I start cursing freely. What was I thinking? There is no way I can get this beast in the house without my uncle noticing it and then we'll both be arrested for possessing it. Plus, it's scratching at my chest and starting to get hot, like those other fire creatures.

Well...you got yourself into this mess... I take a deep breath and jog up the stairs to my apartment, pausing to listen at the door. I don't hear anyone moving around, so my uncle might not be home. I cross my fingers and open the door.

Sure enough, the tiny kitchen/living room is empty. That gives me a clear path to my room, which my uncle never enters anyway. I unzip my jacket and put the puppy on the floor on top of it. It sighs and curls in a ball, looking irresistibly cute.

I reach out a hand and touch its back gently – but it flinches and lifts its lip in a growl. I jerk back and shrug. “Okay, okay, no touching. I got it.”

I leave it to lick its wounds and walk to the kitchen again, looking through the cabinets for a can of chicken broth. I finally find one at the very back of a shelf and pour it into a bowl. According to my friend Rock, this is what they do for especially pathetic dogs at his parents' animal shelter.

I bring it back to my room and set it down in front of the creature. It sniffs it cautiously and takes a couple of licks. I can't help but smile a little.

There's a slam. “DAN!”

I scramble to my feet and hurry out into the hallway, heart racing. “Yeah?”

Wood sees me and breathes a sigh of relief, putting a hand over his chest. “Thank goodness. You didn't come home after school and then there was that police raid at the gym...”

“I was...just staying for some extra homework help,” I take a step into the living room, hoping to steer him away from my room. “You know me, I hate the fights.”

He nods and sits down on the couch. “Yeah, I know. I just panicked.”

“Um...” My pulse starts to return to normal. “So what's for dinner?”

“I don't know. There's still some Chinese leftovers in the fridge,” He gets up again. “I'm working late shifts this month, so I gotta go. I only came back to make sure you were all right.”

“Okay. See ya,” I pause, thinking. “Wood?”

“Whatever happened to 'Uncle Wood'?” He shrugs on his jacket.

I roll my eyes. “Did you ever want a pet?”

“Yeah...but the landlord won't allow anything that could potentially make noise. We could get a goldfish maybe. Or a mute cat. But nothing else...why?”

“Just wondering. Have a good time at work.”

He snorts and is gone.

I wait until he's gone down all the stairs before sprinting back to my room.

The animal's knocked over the bowl of broth, sending it everywhere and is now trying to lick it up from the floor. I shake my head and pick up the bowl, regretting my decision already.

“At least I don't have a carpet.”

The little thing flicks its ear.

I cross my legs and watch it for a minute. “This is stupid, you know. This is incredibly, incredibly illegal, and if they find you, they'll just kill you anyway...”

It finishes cleaning the floor and yawns.

“Yeah. You don't care, do you.” I reach out a hand again, and it growls.

“Well, fine then.” I pick up the bowl and stand up. “But if we're gonna get along, you're gonna have to improve your attitude.”

It sits down and licks a paw, making a sound incredibly close to a purr.

“Well.” I shut the door behind me. “It's a start."


“Melissa!”

She turns away from her friends. “Sorry, I gotta go.”

They wave. “See you, Missy!”

She jogs to catch up with me. “What's up?”

I lift an eyebrow. “Missy?”

She rolls her eyes and punches me lightly on the shoulder.

Melissa and I have been best friends ever since the first day of first grade when she spilled paint on my coat and then offered to share hers (Did you know two six year olds can fit in one winter jacket?). I’ve also harbored a secret crush on her ever since middle school, but unfortunately –

“Where's Rock?”

– she's dating my other best friend.

I shrug. “I think he's got detention. Again.”

Melissa sighs. “You know, if his excuses weren't so funny, I'd get really mad at him.”

I laugh and start walking down the hall towards the courtyard. We’ve made it a habit to always eat outside in the courtyard, even now, when it was freezing and about to snow any minute. It's always deserted this time of year, and my friends and I prefer that to a crowd of screaming idiots.

“Brr...” She sits down at our regular picnic table and opens her lunch. “Remind me again why we do this?”

“It's your own fault for wearing a skirt.”

“Well, how else am I supposed to look sexy?”

Just by being yourself... “Whatever.”

I live for these moments, when I'm alone with her. Rock is a great guy and has been part of our trio since we were all ten, but get him and Melissa together and it's cootie central.

“Hey, thanks for waiting for me.”

Speak of the devil.

He slides in next to Melissa and kisses her on the cheek. I bite the inside of my lip.

“So what was it this time?” She crosses her arms. “More 'circumstantial evidence'?”

Rock gets detention nearly every day, but neither one of us knows why. He's more or less a good kid – at least, he wouldn't beat up anyone or insult any of his teachers.

“I'm telling you, babe, I keep getting framed! I'm walking down the hallway, right? And there's this...”

Melissa and I exchange glances and shake our heads.

“Hey, Rock.” I interrupt him just as he starts waving his hands wildly. “What would you do with a stray dog?”

“Why, did you find one?” He loops his arm around Melissa's waist.

“No...” Which is true, really. It isn't exactly a dog. “But...my neighbor did. It's kind of beat up.”

“Is it eating?”

“Yeah. A bowl of chicken broth last night.”

“What about this morning?”

“Same thing.”

“That's good,” He shrugs. “Any problems?”

“Well, like I said, it's pretty beat up. It's got a bunch of cuts, it limps on one foot and it's missing some – ” I stop before I can say “tails”. “– patches of fur.”

“That'll heal. I don't know, just keep it quiet and give it food.”

“Okay. Thanks. I'll...tell my neighbor.”

Melissa gives me a look, like she knows I'm not being completely truthful.

I give her another look, begging her not to say anything.

She gives me a look that says, okay, but you'll have to tell me later.

I give up and just nod.

Rock, of course, doesn't notice anything. “So, Dash, when's your next track meet?”

Melissa and I exchange glances again. He must be really distracted.

“Rock...” She tousles his hair affectionately and I feel a small twinge of jealousy. “It's December. Track isn't a winter sport, remember?”

He blinks. “Right. I forgot.”

This really isn't like Rock at all. He loves sports, memorizes all the statistics and everything and above all, knows track. He coached me through my first season, when I started getting serious and times me on all my runs. Lately though, he's been getting absentminded, kind of jumpy too. Not just about track, about everything. Maybe it's because midterms are coming up.

“Wanna come over tonight?” Melissa asks, clearly thinking the same thing. “I could help you...calm down a little.”

I take a much more ferocious bite of my apple than is really necessary.

“What? No, that's all right babe, I gotta bunch of homework...actually...” He stands up. “I should go get some of my textbooks. Catch ya later!”

His girlfriend and I share another look.

We've gotta get him back.
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