Peanut goes to school, p.1
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       Peanut Goes to School, p.1

         Part #6.70 of Elder Races series by Thea Harrison
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Peanut Goes to School


  Peanut Goes To School

  Thea Harrison

  Dragos Cuelebre is no longer the only dragon.

  Dragos’s son Liam Cuelebre (a.k.a. Peanut) is springing into existence, reminiscent of the first of the Elder Races who were born at the beginning of the world. At just six months of age, he has already grown to the size of a large five-year-old boy. He can read, write in complete sentences, and his math skills are off the chart.

  A white dragon in his Wyr form, Liam also holds more Power than almost anyone else. In an effort to give him a taste of normality, no matter how fleeting, his parents Pia and Dragos enroll him in first grade.

  They hope school will help teach Liam how to relate to others, a vital skill that will help him control his growing Power. But school has a surprising number of pitfalls, and relating to others can be a tricky business.

  When a classmate is threatened, Liam must quickly learn self-control, how to rein in his instincts, and govern his temper, because there’s no doubt about it—he is fast becoming one of the most dangerous creatures in all of the Elder Races.

  To my copyeditor, Luann, who

  makes every story better.

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  About the Book

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  About the Author

  Also available

  Look for these titles from Thea Harrison

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  * * *

  The tricky thing about using a cloaking spell is that cloaking spells are tricky.

  Liam snickered to himself as he tiptoed around the patio furniture and changed into his dragon form. His dragon had grown to the size of an adult lion, and he had to be careful not to knock over the furniture as he shapeshifted.

  He also managed to hold on to his cloaking spell, which was a big fat win. Dad had said Liam’s cloaking ability was one of the best he’d ever seen, although it was difficult to stay hidden while changing forms.

  But since his dad could do it, Liam felt sure he would be able to do it also. Eventually. Sometimes. If he kept practicing, pretty soon he should be able to stay cloaked all the time if he needed to.

  Liam was playing his favorite game, Spy Wyr, which he had totally made up himself. When he grew up, he was going to be a secret sentinel. Uncle Graydon would send him out on missions, and when he returned after saving somebody, or maybe even after saving everybody, Mom and Dad would be really proud of him.

  Of course, because it was undercover, Dad would have to give him medals in secret. Sometimes they might be silver and bronze ones, or when he did something amazing, they might be gold. Or maybe when he did something really outstanding, Dad would give him a sparkly medal with diamonds on it. Then Liam would have to find a super-secret place to hide them.

  His dragon side liked the sound of that. It made him feel growly and fine.

  By day, Liam would be, oh, maybe a basketball player. Basketball players traveled a lot, so it would be a good cover, and besides, it would be fun to play ball all the time, so that would be a big fat win.

  Hi, my name is Cuelebre, Liam Cuelebre. My code name is Double Oh Peanut, but you can call me Rock Star for short.

  Snickering again, he started climbing the house. It was a big house and there was a lot of brick on the outside. If he had been in his human form, he wouldn’t have been able to climb it, but in his dragon form, he could get a good grip by digging the tips of his talons into the brick.

  One of his favorite things to do was sit on the roof and look around. Hugh said it was his perching instinct. Dad said he would have to get the roof reinforced, because Liam was going to get a lot bigger before he finished growing.

  It was mid-August, but the day was nice and cool for a change, so lots of windows were open. And even though it was Sunday, there were always plenty of people about. Hesitating as he clung to the side of the house, he tried to decide who he wanted to spy on next.

  Mom and Dad were hanging out in their rooms. . . . They had been relaxing a lot since Dad got hurt the month before.

  If Liam could sneak past Dad’s superpowers of detection, he was pretty sure he could sneak past anything. That might go a long way toward convincing Uncle Graydon to hire him for spy missions when he got bigger.

  Once the idea occurred to him, he couldn’t shake it loose. Giving into temptation, he climbed sideways to the end of the house, around the corner and up to Mom and Dad’s balcony. It was a lot more work than he had anticipated, so he got tired, and he was glad to reach the point where he could cling to a support beam on the underside of the balcony.

  From overhead came the sound of quiet rustling and the creak of furniture. Mom and Dad were outside on the balcony. They sounded like they might be cuddling.

  Liam loved to cuddle with them and sprawl in a big heap to watch movies or football games. As he thought of joining them, he started to lose interest in playing Spy Wyr.

  Then Mom said in a quiet voice, “I feel like it’s all my fault.”

  “You know that’s not true,” Dad replied. “He was growing quickly before you said anything to him.”

  Liam started to get a hot, tight feeling somewhere in his middle. Were they talking about him?

  “I know, but I’d give almost anything to turn back time and take back what I said.”

  Liam’s wings and tail drooped. He knew exactly what she was talking about. They were talking about him, and Mom sounded really sad.

  Last month, when Dad had gotten hurt so bad, Mom had said to Liam, You need to be a big soldier now.

  And Liam had thought, I can do that.

  He had pushed to get bigger, because Mom needed him to be strong.

  Getting bigger wasn’t hard. It was kind of like shapeshifting, and his dragon form wanted him to be big anyway. He could feel it inside, straining to encompass all of his Power. And, as Dad had said, he was growing awfully fast anyway. But for some reason, when he had gone through that growth spurt, it had hurt Mom, and the last thing in the world Liam wanted to do was hurt her.

  For the first time ever, he thought, Am I bad?

  Asking that question made the hot, tight feeling in his middle worse.

  “I can’t believe I’m going to take him to school in the morning,” Mom said. “Even though he’s taller than most first graders, he’s only six months old.”

  “We’ve talked about this,” Dad said. “We agreed that he needed school.”

  “I know and I was even the one who argued for that, but I have to ask—are we going about this the right way? He’s already far past what a normal first grader knows anyway. He’s read through a third of our library, he writes in complete sentences, and he’s been learning high-school algebra from Hugh.” She muttered, “I don’t even remember how to do high-school algebra.”

  “Never mind the academics,” Dad said. “You were right. He needs the socialization. The only people he interacts with are adults. He has to learn to relate to other children too, while he’s still a child.”

  “I agree,” Mom told him. “I’m just fretting. Dragos, he’s so innocent.”

  “I know, but that innocent boy is also a dangerous predator. He can already take down animals that are more than twice the size of his Wyr form.”

  It was only one cow, Liam thought. He hadn’t thought it was that big of a deal.

  Dad was still talking. “When he killed those cows, Hugh said he went into a complete frenzy.”

  Okay, Liam might have forgotten about the other cows. His snout itched, and he rubbed it on one forearm.

 
“He needs to learn how to control himself,” Dad said. “And for that, he needs to develop social ties. Relationships will be the only real check on him when he grows to his full size. He has to care enough about other people so that he controls himself, for their sake.”

  Mom whispered, “Like you?”

  “Yes,” said Dad. “Exactly like me.”

  They fell silent. Liam suspected they might be kissing, which they liked to do a lot.

  From around the corner, in the direction of the kitchen, Hugh called out, “Liam, come on in. It’s time for lunch.”

  He heaved a sigh. He didn’t want to leave. He wanted to listen to Mom and Dad talk until they said something that made everything better. He wanted that hot, tight feeling to go away.

  “Liam!” Hugh shouted. “Don’t make me come after you, buddy.”

  He could tell Hugh was too cheerful to be mad. Hugh almost never got mad, but Liam also didn’t want Hugh to find out where he was, because then Mom and Dad would find out too, and what was the point of spying if you couldn’t keep it a secret?

  Releasing his hold on the support beam, he let himself fall. Like a cat, he twisted in midair so that he landed in a crouch, right side up. Trudging around the corner of the house, he shapeshifted back into a human boy and went inside for lunch.

  The rest of the day seemed to go on forever. Desultorily, Liam played Spy Wyr some more, but his heart wasn’t in it.

  He was starting to feel nervous about school. What if the other kids didn’t like him? How was he supposed to learn to socialize, if that happened? From the way Dad was talking, it sounded pretty important.

  And besides, what if he didn’t make any friends?

  For supper, Mom cooked his favorite meal, spaghetti with meatballs, and Liam, Mom and Dad ate together in the breakfast nook off the kitchen. Mom had meatballs with her spaghetti too, but hers were the fake kind. Liam wasn’t like Dad about food—even though he liked real meat a lot better, he liked fake meatballs just fine too.

  For some reason, tonight his spaghetti noodles were hard to swallow, and he pushed the meatballs around his plate, until Mom frowned and asked, “Are you feeling all right, sweetheart?”

  He wasn’t sure. All his feelings were tangled up in a knot, and he didn’t know how to untangle them, or how to answer her. So, he shrugged and said, “Sure.”

  She looked at him for a long, thoughtful moment. “I’ve never seen you without an appetite.”

  After thinking about it for a moment, he shrugged again. “Me neither.”

  Both Mom and Dad laughed, and then it was Dad’s turn to study him. Dad’s keen, gold gaze seemed to see everything, and Liam squirmed in his seat. But all Dad said was, “Maybe you’ll be hungry later, or in the morning.”

  “Sure, maybe,” he mumbled, fiddling with his napkin.

  “Why don’t you go upstairs and take your bath?” Mom suggested. “I’ll be up soon to tuck you into bed.”

  Liam looked outside. It was still plenty light outside, but Mom had already talked to him about how he would have to go to bed earlier on school nights. At the time, he hadn’t minded, but now it kind of sucked.

  “Do I have to?” he asked. “It’s so early, and I’m not tired.”

  “Yes, you have to.” She smiled at him. Mom’s smiles were the most beautiful thing in the world, and they almost always made things better. They almost even made an early bedtime okay, but not quite.

  He thought about arguing, but he could tell by the calm look on their faces that Mom and Dad were going to team up on this one.

  He heaved an aggrieved sigh. “Okay, fine.”

  As he slid out of his seat and stood, Dad swept a large arm around him and pulled him in for a hug. Liam leaned against him. Dad was so big and strong that when Liam leaned on him, it was hard to be afraid.

  The problem was, he couldn’t lean on Dad forever. He had to go to school by himself.

  As he straightened, Dad kissed him on the forehead. Mom said, “See you in a few minutes.”

  Upstairs, he gave his bath toys some consideration, but he didn’t feel like playing anymore, so he took a shower instead. After drying his hair and putting on some underpants, he went to his closet and pulled out a pair of tan khaki shorts and a yellow and blue plaid shirt. The shirt had a collar, and it buttoned down the front. The yellow and blue colors reminded him of the sky.

  It was his favorite outfit. He slipped on the khakis and shrugged into the shirt. He was just beginning to button it when Mom walked into his room.

  Her eyebrows went up. “What are you doing?”

  “I’m getting dressed for school,” he told her.

  The beginnings of a confused smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “Sweetie, you do realize you don’t go to school until the morning.”

  He gave her a serious look. “I know that.”

  “So why are you putting on your school clothes?”

  He toed the carpet with one bare foot. “I don’t want to be late. I thought it might be better if I got dressed now.”

  Her smile faded, and she gave him a completely serious look back. Then she went to sit in the rocking chair where she would rock him when he was a baby. Since he had gotten so big, they had taken out the crib and put in a real bed, but they had kept the rocking chair.

  Actually, he might still like it when Mom rocked him in the chair. Sometimes. As long as she didn’t tell anyone, and she had promised she wouldn’t.

  Mom had to move Bunny out of the way. Leaning forward, she rested her elbows on her knees as she held the stuffed toy in both hands.

  “Tomorrow’s a pretty big deal,” she said. “I understand if you need to wear your school clothes tonight, just to be sure. But what if I cross-my-heart promise that you will have plenty of time to get dressed in the morning, and eat a good breakfast too, and you will still be on time for school? Does that help?”

  Lifting one shoulder, he admitted, “It might.”

  “You can still sleep in your school clothes if you want, but if you do, they’ll wrinkle, and you might not want to wear them in the morning.”

  He frowned. He wanted to wear this outfit tomorrow, not something else. “Okay, I’ll put on my pjs.”

  “I think that’s a smart choice. You’ll be a lot more comfortable.” As he changed into his Superman pajamas, she petted Bunny between its floppy ears. “Can you tell me why you’re so nervous about school?”

  He gave it some thought.

  He couldn’t ask her if he was bad, because what if he was? And what if other people could tell that he was?

  What if Mom didn’t know he was bad until he asked her, but then she found out? The hot, tight feeling came back. He had never thought of loss before Dad got hurt, but now he had. And he couldn’t lose his mom. He just couldn’t.

  When she spoke again, her voice was quieter, gentler. “Liam, are you okay?”

  Ducking his head, he mumbled, “I dunno.”

  “Would you like to rock with me for a few minutes?”

  He nodded. She sat back in the rocking chair, and as he climbed in her lap, she wrapped her arms around him. He put his head on her shoulder, and she rocked him. After a while, she handed Bunny to him, and he smiled as he looked down at the toy. He was much too big for it now, but he still liked having it around.

  “Look at those legs of yours,” she said. “Look at those big feet.”

  She poked him in the thigh until he squirmed and laughed. They took a moment to look at his legs. They were too long, and his feet dangled almost to the floor, but he didn’t care.

  “Pretty soon you’re going to be too big to ride on my back,” she said softly.

  A pang struck. He loved, loved, loved her Wyr form, and he was never happier than when she took him for rides in the forest that summer.

  He whispered, “I can’t stop growing.”

  Immediately, she clasped him in a tight hold. “Of course you can’t,” she told him in a strong voice. “Nor should you. We’re just going
to have to flip things around. When you get big enough, I’m going to ride on your back instead.”

  He started to smile. “Really?”

  “Absolutely. And I will love it every bit as much. Pinky swear.” She pressed her lips to his forehead. “There aren’t any words big enough to tell you how much I love you.”

  Well, space was pretty big. In fact, it was the biggest thing he knew of. He told her, “I love you bigger than space.”

  Tilting her head, she smiled into his eyes. “How perfect. I love you bigger than space too.”

  They rocked until gradually the tight, hot feeling eased, and he felt better. When she suggested he climb into bed, he didn’t argue, and after she tucked the covers around him, she gave him one last kiss and turned the lights out as she left.

  Rolling over, Liam fell asleep almost immediately and dreamed of how delicious the warm, fresh blood from the cows had tasted as it gushed down his throat.

  Chapter Two

  * * *

  Mom kept her promise and woke him early enough so he could put on his favorite clothes and sit down to a big breakfast of scrambled eggs and steak with Dad.

  Dad was dressed for work too, but he didn’t wear suits as often in their new home as he did when he was in the city. Today he wore jeans and a black T-shirt, although he had a stack of business papers with him at the table.

  Liam bounced in his chair and waved his fork around as he talked around mouthfuls of food. Sometimes he pretended to conduct an invisible orchestra. The third time he asked what time it was, Dad got up from the table and left the kitchen area.

  After a few moments he returned with a portable alarm clock, which he set directly in front of Liam’s plate with such a look at Liam that he had to giggle. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Mom was laughing quietly too.

  “Sorry, not sorry,” Liam said. He had picked that one up off the Internet.

 
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