I am confused about why I am walking through the Tools aisle of Wal-Mart. Unlike most girls, I hate shopping; no, I think it's fair to say I loathe shopping, and it's not because of the actual shopping part. It's because of all the people and being in a public place.

I can't breathe.

I suffocate.

I am a freak.

Long ago, I decided I did not care and a part of me doesn't, but that other part of me does. I am of two worlds – the humans' and the were-dragons'.

No, I am not human.

My mother – Dawn – and my father – Alejandro – can morph into dragons. No one can really tell looking at them except my mother has dragon eyes: pitch black, no white, a ring of fire at the center of each. It's not evil, not satanic, just strange. My family is strange.

I am the same way – part human, part dragon, all freak. I have my mother's dark eyes except mine are cold and unsettling where my mother's are warm and loving. My eyes creep people out. And I can't take a full dragon form. I get the fangs, and I get the wings, and I get the tail, but I am not a full-fledged dragon, and people would recognize me in either form; I am not all that changed in either form.

That is why I hate shopping. If I change my form in front of anyone, they will still know it's me.

I grumble and look at Mama as I do so. The only reason I am here is because she sensed something bad would happen, and she asked me to come along. Mama could always sense when Papa and his friends were in trouble growing up. It was no wonder she still sensed trouble a mile away.

"Ira, once we find a battery, we can go. Why don't you go look around? You've only been shopping once before."

I do not want to be here, but I listen and walk away. Mama is determined that I should get out more. I just want to hide from the world as the freak I am. I have acknowledged and accepted that I will never fit in among others.

Someone catches my eye. He makes pizza at a stove Wal-Mart is trying to sell. I love pizza, but I don't know how it's made, and I know they don't make it at Wal-Mart, so I sneak closer to watch him.

He is like most male humans – tall, dark-haired, and gorgeous; ah, who am I kidding? He's average. He's taller than I am (and definitely older), but he has light brown hair that could almost be blond and glasses. There's a shadow of a beard around his jaw, which suggests a rugged look of an older young man, but I know he can't be any more than twenty-one, and I don't think he's even that old.

He tosses batter into the air and catches it on his hands momentarily only to throw it back up in the air. His cheek has a bit of flour on it and his shirtsleeves are rolled up to his elbows. I stand in the shadows and drink him in like the blood from a freshly killed deer. I look closely and see his name on his nametag: Daniel. Well Daniel, what are you doing exactly?

He glances in my direction – as if he can see me – and says, "Come on out, youngling. I don't bite," and grins.

I slide out of the shadows and look at him almost shyly. I don't want to leave the safety of the shadows. I don't want to move at all really.

"What's your name?" he asks.

"Ira," I reply. I am still not moving toward him, and when he turns his attention back to the batter he is tossing up and down in the air, I slink back into the shadows.

He thumps the batter back down on the counter and looks in my direction again. A frown spreads across his face and he scratches his head, but then he grins and looks directly at me. What is it with this human?

"Come on out Ira. Now is no time to play hide and seek. I thought you might be too old for such childish games."

"I'm seventeen."



He glances at me with a grin. "Are you sure?" he asks.

"Yes," I reply. I don't get the joke he seems to be laughing at, but I like his smile. I relax a little and step out of the shadows.

I am truly blessed. I have red hair cut at my shoulders and a leggy form. I like to run – and jump off cliffs, but don't tell Mama – so I am nicely fit. My clothes all portray me as a dark and hidden person though – green feminine cargo pants and a black T-shirt saying, "Duct tape is silver. Silence is golden." I don't wear makeup or jewelry except for the single earring in my upper left ear that was actually made during a dragon fight with my sisters when the youngest snapped at my ear. I just wear an earring now to hide the hole. No chains though; Mama won't let me get any to wrap around my wrists. I do wear a fingerless leather glove on my left hand though to hide the dragon birthmark in the center of my palm.

For a moment, Daniel stares, and then he takes a breath and looks back at the dough. I smile and pull my hair out of my face.

"You sure are strange, Ira," he says.

"Oh?" I ask, already flighty.

"You're only wearing one glove. Even the kids I know at school that dress like you wear two gloves. Hey, how come I never see you at school?" He looks at me again as he kneads the dough.

"I am home schooled," I say and undo the buckle on my glove, pulling it off. "And this is why I wear the glove," I say as I hold up my hand and reveal the perfectly shaped dragon on my palm with its wings spread out wide.

"That's cool," he says and grabs a bowl of tomato sauce. "What do you like on your pizza?" he asks as he pours a little bit of sauce on, spreads it, and pours some more.

"Meat," I reply.

He glances at me. "Quite the omnivore, aren't you?"

I shake my head. "No; I don't eat vegetables at all."

All of a sudden, he reaches out and grabs me, pulling me over beside him. "You aren't afraid to get messy, are you?" he asks.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see my mother walking along the aisles as if looking for something. "No. I enjoy it actually." I don't tell him that I bathe in mud during the summer to cool off.

"Good. I'll make up another batch of batter; I want you to knead it with your hands."

"All right," I say. I have never made pizza before; this ought to be fun. He sets me to work right away, and when it becomes obvious I can't cook, he shows me what I am doing wrong and corrects me.

"There you go, Ira!" he says.

He smells like Old Spice. Papa uses it as well.

He takes the dough and tosses it into the air a couple of times before he lets it fall on the counter again. "Spread some pizza sauce on it," he says and I do so, perfectly mimicking the way I saw him do it earlier.

"Good, now put all those toppings on it," he says and points to the different bowels spread across the counter.

I do so, frowning when I smell a type of vegetable.

He laughs at my expression. If he only knew how I like to eat deer straight from the hunt – raw, bleeding, and oftentimes still kicking.

"Now we put it in the oven," he says. I have never noticed before now that the pizzas sit on a pizza pan. We pick them up and stick them in the oven. Behind me, I sense movement and Mama's shadow appears in the corner of my eye. "Mama?" I question and look in her direction, but she is gone.

I ponder that as Daniel looks at me. "Is something wrong?" he asks.

I shake my head. "No, not really."

"Are you sure?" he asks, and I look at him. He seems genuinely concerned.

I nod. "I'm fine. I am just a bit dizzy," I say, and then I sniff the air. I really am dizzy. Why am I dizzy? What is that smell?

Suddenly, something under the stove explodes and the floor gives way beneath it. I leap back, but Daniel falls into the pit the explosion creates. I look around frantically for Mama. Where is she when I most need her?

"Ira!" Daniel shouts, and suddenly, there is a crowd. This is why I hate shopping.

I hiss as I stare down at Daniel. "Crap," I mutter, and then I am morphing into my dragon form.

Just so you know – the change hurts like hell.

I bend over into a full crouch as pain shoots through my core. A tail sprouts from my backside, ripping a hole in the back of my pants. Crap. These were brand new too. My nails turn into claws and grow a couple of centimeters longer. My eyes blaze coldly as wings rip through the back of my shirt and unfurl in the air around me.

"I hate life," I growl as I leap into the air and hover for a moment above Daniel's head. "Grab my hand," I tell him as I reach forward.

Beneath him the ground rumbles and I realize that the stove didn't explode; a pot hole opened up. Soon, Daniel is about to learn how to swim in a river of mud.

"Please," I cry as the ground beneath him rumbles again. "Take my hand."

He reaches up and grabs it, and I pull him into the air just as the ground gives way completely and the stove crashes into the muddy river flowing beneath the store. He stares down at it for a moment and then back at me.

I close my eyes for a moment and then look around for Mama. She stands nearby with a jacket in her hand for me to pull on.

I put Daniel on the ground safely, away from Mama, and then walk to her myself, my wings tucked around me until I reach her. "I bought this for you," she says as she passes the jacket to me.

I take it wordlessly and shift back to human form, even as I throw the jacket over my shoulders and pull my arms through it. It covers the hole where my tail came through my pants, and I zip it up so that my body is completely covered.

"Can we go home now, Mama?" I ask. I pull the hood up over my face to hide it from the people watching me. "I don't like being the freak show."

Tears well up in my eyes, but I refuse to let them fall before these strangers. "Why can't I be normal?" I ask as I follow her out of the department store.

"Honey, we were-dragons just are not normal. We are better than humans, stronger, faster; plus we don't have to breed as often."

"But Mama!" I cry and look up at her. "I am a freak! I am neither dragon nor human! I am caught in between!"

"You know, your daddy couldn't morph until the day he fought your uncle for me; sometimes, it just takes time," she says.

Now the tears fall hot and fast. "I am not like you, or Papa. I am a freak," I whisper, and I run off towards the car.

I wait for Mama by the car, sitting on the ground and looking at my hands. I pull off the jacket and morph once more. It hurts like hell, but I do it quickly just to get it over with. I have bright, sky blue scales on my tail with a white tassel on the end. My claws are like ivory, and my wings are bright blue with thin white veins traveling along the gossamer webbing that stretches across them. I wrap my wings around my form and put my arms around my legs and bury my head there to cry.

"Ira," someone calls.

I stiffen. Who is that?


"Go away, Daniel," I mutter and tighten my wing shield as if it will protect me.

I see him out of the corner of my eye watching me, and I shrink away from him – the freak of nature. "Please," I whisper. "Go away."

He doesn't though, and for some reason, I appreciate it. "Ira," he says. "Is that your real name?"

For a moment, I don't answer. I am tempted to do one of two things: one, tell him a lie and say that's not my real name even though it is, or two, ignore him completely. I decide that neither is really the course of action I'd like to take. I nod.

He nods. "That's a pretty name. Is this the reason you don't go to school?" he asks as he gives my tail a gentle tug.

Again, I nod. I have no desire to talk in words yet, as the words come out as garbled half-dragon, half-human speech when I have morphed.

"Ira," he says, and I give him a sidelong glance. "I am not going to run away. You can talk to me."

I hate myself for doing so, but I break down into sobbing tears. I morph back into my human form and lean against him as the tears course down my face. He holds me and pulls the jacket over my shoulders.

"Don't worry, Ira," he tells me. "I will protect you; that's what friends are for after all."

I smile sadly. I know he can't protect me forever, but his gesture is nice enough.

Besides, he called me his friend. What more could I ask for?