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Paper Stars: An Ordinary Magic Story by Devon Monk (1)

Chapter One

“Snow Queen, Jack Frost, Old Man Winter,” Jean said as we clomped our way through wet sand toward the cave. Rain sliced sideways, stinging hard despite the all-weather police jackets we wore.

“Uh...the Abominable Snowman. There. That’s four people besides my boyfriend who could grant my wish, Delaney.”

“We are literally at sea level.” I waved toward the Pacific Ocean roaring and churning behind us like some kind of monster with a toothache. “We’re not going to get snow here on Christmas.”

“Not with that attitude we won’t.” My sister Jean Reed. Eternally optimistic. And just a little obsessed with Christmas.

“Don’t ask Hogan to grant you a snow wish, Jean.”

“Just because he’s half-Jinn doesn’t mean he’ll grant wishes willy-nilly. Also, his schedule at the bakery is crazy right now.”

She snapped her fingers. “You know who could ask someone to make it happen?”

“Give it up.”

She ignored me.

“Why you could ask, Delaney. I bet Jack Frost or Old Man Winter would listen to the amazing Delaney Reed, Ordinary, Oregon’s chief of Police.”

I grinned even though she couldn’t see me. I had never known someone more into Christmas than Jean. “As if. You know how Jack gets this time of year.”

Sassy was one description. Mob-boss-ish was another. You wouldn’t think being in charge of frosty spangles on car windows would make someone such a militant, sulky diva.

“Besides, Jack doesn’t live here. And if he did, I’m sure he’d rather not have his town buried in a snow storm.”

“But it’s almost Christmas,” she whined. “Three days, Delaney. You could send an email. Make an official request. Ooh, make a wish.”

I snorted. “One: What are you, a three-year-old? Two: Do you know how many actual three-year-olds are wishing for snow for their Christmas? Who do you think Jack or Old Man Winter are going to listen to? A twenty-something police officer who should know the reality of weather patterns on the Oregon coast, or little kids who have their hearts set on magic and snow?”

“We’re all little kids at heart. Plus, I like magic and snow.”

“Like it somewhere else. We aren’t prepared for snow. Ordinary doesn’t even own a snow plow.”

“You sound like Myra.”

“Good. Myra acts her age, and like me, saves her wishes for more important things. Unlike our youngest Reed sister.”

We stopped at the mouth of the cave, Jean muttering the whole time.

What?”

“Where’s your Christmas spirit? I don’t remember you being this grumpy last year.”

“I’m just waiting for Christmas, like a normal person, instead of going all Jingle-bell crazy before the Thanksgiving dishes have even dried like one abnormal person I know.”

“Hey, I waited a whole week before Thanksgiving to play my holiday tunes in public. That’s a late start for Christmas music. It’s no fun to wait all the way until December.”

“It’s not about fun, Jean.” I picked my way over the huge rocks that jutted out of the sand.

“It’s about being a police officer who doesn’t wear a Santa hat for six weeks straight.”

“What’s wrong with wearing a Santa hat?”

“Along with a gun? It confuses people.”

“Don’t hate on my hats just because Ryder’s been gone for two months.”

Ryder, my long-time-crush and recent boyfriend, had been on a job building a new care center over in Bend.

Our daily texts and long after-dinner phone calls had dwindled down to him sending me an occasional text every other day complaining about the weather, and how slow the project was going, and why no one could follow simple directions and do what they were contracted to do on the job site.

I missed him. I hadn’t heard him say he missed me, which was making me worry that he’d been gone long enough to re-think our relationship. Re-think the spark that had drawn us together in the first place.

Had we been drawn together because of a natural attraction or was he just interested in the supernatural things that surrounded me and filled this town?

I’d like to think it was natural attraction that brought us together.

But Ordinary was full of unusual people, powers, and things, including vacationing gods and supernatural creatures.

I was in charge of looking after everyone who lived here. Those duties meant Ryder’s and my relationship had already been tested by some heavy stuff.

This year alone, I’d been shot twice in the line of duty. I’d bargained away my soul.

Ryder had tied his life to a god of contracts who really didn’t like me or my sisters being the law here in Ordinary.

I’d died.

My heart stuttered and my stomach clenched. Every time I thought about that, it hit me hard.

I licked my lips, tasting salt and pushing away those memories.

Ryder had been there for all of that. Had been there for me. So why was I worried?

He hadn’t made it home for Thanksgiving and wasn’t coming home for Christmas. That’s why I was worried.

Looking at our lives through the high-stakes we had experienced could make the holiday less interesting. Less important. Would it matter if we missed our first Christmas together?

Our relationship was strong enough to miss one holiday. We’d been there for each other when it really counted. Many times.

When things were dangerous.

But what about when things were happy? Safe?

Worse, what about when things were boring?

Just because we weren’t talking, never saw each other, and he hadn’t been brave enough to say he loved me (except for that one time when he was yelling it at a vampire) didn’t mean our relationship was sinking before it had even left the shore, right?

I sighed. Maybe I was kidding myself. Maybe we were boring now.

Maybe there was a big ol’ iceberg out there ready to sink this ship and it was time to deploy the floating door.

“Has he said it to you yet?” Jean asked.

Jean didn’t have mind reading abilities. Her family gift was that she knew when something bad was going to happen.

Actual mind reading didn’t run in our family. Or at least I hoped it didn’t.

“Not talking about it.”

“You don’t have to be afraid of the ‘L’ word, Delaney.”

Lifeboat?”

She gave me a weird look. “What is going on in your head?”

Yep. No mind reading.

“Not that ‘L’ word,” she said. “Love. As in: “I love you, Ryder Bailey with your dreamy green eyes and your hunky strong shoulders and your superpower patience when I’m being stupid like getting myself shot. Or when I’m being too stubborn to just call you and tell you I miss you. Or when I’m too moody to admit I want you to come home before Christmas.” Love-love. I checked the rule book and women are allowed to say it first.”

“Good. You should say it to Hogan.”

“You think I haven’t?”

“Have you?” I wouldn’t be surprised. Out of all of us sisters, she was the freest with her affection.

But she and Hogan hadn’t been dating for very long. She had spent most of that time worrying about letting him in on all the supernatural secrets of the town.

I’d just assumed she would be cautious with the secrets of her heart too.

On the other hand, this was Jean. Fearless and full of surprises.

She grunted as she hopped from rock to rock. “Not yet. I’m waiting for the right time to spring it on him. When it’s totally inappropriate and he least expects it.”

I laughed and wiped rain off my face. We ducked under the cave’s overhang. “Why is it so easy for you to believe that romance always works out?”

Jean’s cheeks were red from the wind. Her hair, bright green today, escaped her hood to frame her face.

“Wait. I have an answer for this one. Romance, my dear Delaney, is also known as love. Love is one of the best things about life. A magic thing. A magical romantic thing. Magical romantic things always work out, otherwise they wouldn’t be magical.”

Her blue eyes sparkled. “You know what else is magical and romantic?”

“Don’t say snow.”

“Snow! Especially Christmas snow. Add in a handsome guy, a nice warm fire, and ooh la la, is it hot in here or what?”

“Stop it,” I said.

“What?” All innocence.

“Stop trying to make Christmas romantic.”

“Why shouldn’t Christmas be romantic?”

I opened my mouth to tell her it couldn’t be romantic because my boyfriend wasn’t going to be around, but before I could say anything, movement deeper in the cave caught my eye.

I flicked on my flashlight and Jean did the same with hers. Twin beams cut into the restless shadows.

“It’s the police,” I shouted loud enough to be heard over the waves grinding behind us and the damp dripping inside the cave. “We need to talk with you. Please come out into the light.”

My heart beat a little faster, a little harder. I wasn’t sure what we were dealing with here.

An over-excited rockhound who shouldn’t have been exploring the hidden cave at this time of year, had come into the station this morning.

He had insisted some kind of huge, dangerous creature was snarling around in the shadows.

He said it was a gigantic crocodile. Or a massive snake. Or a dinosaur.

He hadn’t gone so far as to suggest it was a sea monster.

I wouldn’t have believed him anyway. At this time of year most of our sea monsters liked staying out at sea.

That didn’t mean some other kind of monster hadn’t decided to stake claim to the cozy cave though.

Jean and I had hot-footed it out here while Myra and Officer Shoe took the rockhound’s statement. We wanted to get this under control before the papers picked up the story.

I could feel the tension radiating off of Jean as the cave’s blackness remained black.

It was rare that a creature of Ordinary became violent, but it had happened before.

“There.” She angled the beam onto the shape coming toward us.

I held my breath. Reached for my gun.

The shadows slid around, at first huge, then wide, then long and then

A creature paused in the light, right there on the inside of the cave overhang.

“Is that…?” Jean breathed.

I exhaled all in one rush. “Yep.” I put away my flashlight. “It’s a dragon.”

“Piggy!” Jean crowed. “Look at all that pink. That little nubby nose, chubby cheeks and pointy ears. And that tail. So curly! That’s a pig, Delaney. A wee little piggy-pig-pig.”

The dragon oinked, its curly tail wagging a mile a minute.

“Jean, I’m not kidding. It’s a dragon.”

She tipped her head, considering it. “Are you sure?”

I studied the little monster. It looked like a baby pig, all pink and sweet-faced and adorably sandy from its chubby little legs up to its squishy round belly.

It opened its mouth in what could only be described as a darling little smile. But there was a sort of wobbly haze around it, as if looking straight at it caused a slight warping of reality behind it.

Dragons could appear as anything they wanted, any size they wanted. This one, apparently, wanted to be a tiny pig.

“It’s a dragon,” I said again.

“Aw,” Jean cooed. “Who’s a cute dragon? Is it you, little piggy? Cutey-pootie dragy-wagy?” She knelt. “C’mere, baby. C’mon, piggy-poo, cuddle boo-boo.”

It oinked, absolutely delighted with her. I raised one eyebrow, absolutely suspicious of it.

Then it ran at us. Well, not at Jean who had her arms wide open ready for some pig-on-police mutual admiration.

No, it ran at me.

Not good. Not good at all.

“Hold it right there, dragon,” I said in my cop voice. “You know the rules. No violence within the boundary of Ordinary, Oregon. If you want to remain inside Ordinary, you will follow the rules.”

The pig slowed to a cute little trot, then stopped at my feet, tipping its face up at me.

Okay, so far, so good. I had its attention.

“We’ve had a complaint,” I explained. “A man looking for rocks saw you in what I assume is your more natural form? You frightened him.”

The little tail wagged faster. The dragon liked getting a scare out of the guy. I tried not to smile.

“We’ve talked him out of coming back here to get a picture of you because we do not need news of a dragon spreading on the internet. Citizens of Ordinary expect to live here without their supernatural nature being discovered by the world at large. You’ve endangered that.

“What I need from you today, is a guarantee that you will take the form of a creature belonging to the natural world if anyone else stumbles upon your cave.”

Oink.”

“D’aw...” Jean cooed again. “Look at its little face. You can’t be mad at that little face, Delaney.”

“I’m not mad. But I am serious,” I said to the pig. “We’re going to tell the man that he probably saw a sea lion or a lost cow. If you’d rather stay in piglet form if he comes by again, that’s fine too.”

The dragon just stood there, wagging its little loopy tail, face tipped up to me like I’d uncovered the sun.

“Do you understand?”

The dragon trotted a little circle, and oinked once.

Jean snorted.

“Good. Okay.”

The dragon didn’t say anything even though I knew dragons were capable of human speech. So I guessed that was pretty much that.

Job done.

“All right then. Hope you have a nice day.”

“And Merry Christmas,” Jean added.

“Yes. Merry Christmas.” Did dragons celebrate Christmas? Who knew? Probably Myra.

I turned back into the rain that was still pelting down at an angle. At least now it was at our backs.

We didn’t try to shout over the racket of the wind, rain, and ocean as we picked our way over stones, soft wet sand, clumps of driftwood, more rocks, a tangle of kelp, and finally trudged toward the land’s edge.

We hiked up the gravel access road, the sound of storm and ocean dampened by the rise of the land on either side of us.

It was several degrees warmer without the wind, and I rubbed at my face to slick off the rain.

Jean hummed Jingle Bells as she walked around to the passenger side of the Jeep. She’d been humming Jingle Bells for three weeks straight.

It was epically annoying but I knew if I told her to stop, she’d only sing it louder.

Sisters.

She studied the phone in her hand, thumb swiping across the screen.

I found my keys, got the doors of the Jeep open, and was debating pulling off my soaking jacket when I heard a sound at my feet.

Oink. ”

Jean.”

Yes?”

“The dragon is following me.”

“Dragon pig, dragon pig, fol-low-ing us home,” she sang to the tune of Jingle Bells. “I told you this is the best Christmas song. You can put any words to it!”

“Not helping.”

Jean just laughed.

“Do you need something?” I asked the dragon. “Are you all right? Are you hurt? Lost?”

It trotted in a circle again, jumped up into my Jeep then hopped into the back seat, making itself comfortable with a snuffle and grunt.

“You want a ride?” I continued the apparently useless twenty questions. “Somewhere down the beach? Into town? By the lake?”

The pig snuffled again, then closed its eyes, cute as an internet meme. It started snoring.

Jean chuckled. “Oh, my gods. So cute.” She held up her phone and snapped away, then typed something.

“It can’t stay there,” I said, trying to feel grumpy about the situation and failing. The cute was powerful with this one.

“Looks like it can.” She pressed one last button. I had a feeling that pig was going to show up on all of her social media. “See how happy it is?”

Yes, I could admit it made a adorable picture. I was just trying to get my head around the fact that I had an actual dragon curled up in my vehicle.

“This is my Jeep. I need it for work. I can’t drive around with a dragon sleeping in the back seat.”

“I don’t think it’s listening to you. And unless you want to do battle with a dragon….”

She paused, a little too much hope in her expression.

I scoffed at her.

“Spoilsport. Fine. Then I’d suggest you stop worrying so much and let the dragon situation work itself out naturally.”

Naturally?”

“Naturally. Like how nature intended.”

“Nature didn’t plant a dragon-pig in my backseat, Jean. The dragon-pig did. And this is…”

“…our job?”

I sighed to cover a groan. She was right. This was our job.

“Fine.” I got in the Jeep and glanced at the dragon in the rearview mirror. “You let me know if you want off anywhere, okay? One grunt for yes, two grunts for no.”

It grunted once.

Jean chuckled. “Progress! Actual dragon-pig, human communication. See how great things work out when you stop worrying and just go with the flow?”

The hazy warp still surrounded the piggy, but it wasn’t as noticeable. The dragon was getting better at controlling how it was perceived. If someone saw it in the back seat, they’d probably think it was a normal pig.

At least it knew how to hide in plain sight. That was a good trait for surviving in Ordinary. Maybe it wouldn’t be any trouble.

I put the Jeep in gear.

“Hold on.” Jean pulled off the Santa hat she’d been wearing under her hood and dropped it gently on the pig’s head.

It sat up and oinked. It turned its head side to side as it tried to bite the edge of the hat.

Jean snapped more pictures. “Adorbs to the millionth power! Hey, dragon, can you make it snow?”

Jean.”

The pig oinked twice.

I laughed. “That’s a “no” sister.”

She shrugged. “It was worth a shot. You know what else is worth a shot? Calling Ryder and telling him to come home.”

“He’s busy.”

“He’s lonely and so are you.” She shifted in her seat and stared at my profile as I drove.

What?”

“I know you keep wondering when you and Ryder are going to stop being a thing, but two months apart isn’t going to change what you are to each other. ”

She was right. I knew it. But a small part of me still worried.

She patted my knee. “Believe in a little magic, Delaney.”

“Dragon in the back seat looks like a pig. I believe in magic.”

“Then it should be easy to believe in love.” She smiled and fiddled with the radio.

Christmas music rolled out loud and strong, ordering us to “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

Jean sang along. Loudly and off-key just to bother me.

It must have bothered the dragon too because it ate her Santa hat. Sucked it down like a noodle until the little white pompom popped in its mouth. Then it chewed and swallowed.

Jean thought it was hilarious. She recorded it on her phone.

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