“Gwendolyn. Come on, get up.”
Hands were shaking her awake. She squinted her eyes open, shut them again in the harsh light before stretching and finally gazing upward at the stern face of Abernathy. His glasses caught the glint from the beams above. It made him look as if he were glaring--which, Ginnie thought, he probably was.
“The library’s closing. I got almost half of the work done today,” he said, as he busily shuffled papers together and slid them neatly into folders. Already half? Ginnie wondered, awestruck. And all by himself, too.
She reached for one of the papers. “Um,” she said. “I could help you clean up.”
Abernathy looked at her then, and she noticed how tired he was, his shoulders stiff and heavy. She felt incredibly sorry. He only glanced back down at his project and replied curtly, “No, it’s fine.” It was the same tone he had used to tell her just hours earlier, when he had commanded, Just sit there and don’t touch anything. I’m used to doing these things by myself. And so she had sat there for hours before finally slipping off to sleep.
Abernathy didn’t like her a whole lot. And he liked her even less when Mrs. Johanson decided to pair them together. She knew this, that he only pretended to be polite, but it didn’t matter anyway. In just a few weeks, this project would be done and they wouldn’t have to speak to each other ever again.
The sun was setting when they walked out of the library. A cool breeze nipped her cheek.
The first week of November, and it was already snowing. Not the deep, tough kind of snow that battled with your boots and tried to pull you under, but just a thin layer of frost over everything. Frost on the walls, on the hedges, even on the birds every morning in their nests.
They stopped at the curb where the sidewalk ended. The sun sank lower and lower until it was nearly swallowed by the treetops. Ginnie tipped her head back and breathed in the last traces of autumn, savoring it as much as she could before it shut the door and flew away until the next coming year. The spaces between the stars suddenly reminded her of the cricketsong evening seven years ago, when the stars were restless and the sky was still awake.
The dragon’s eyes flashed in her mind, two drops of silver. “Hey,” she asked him. “Do you believe in anything?”
He scoffed. “What, like ghosts?” She could detect the sarcasm in his voice. Like the sinking of the sun in the horizon, the thought of the dragon slunk back into hiding.
“No,” she said. Her face broke into a wide grin. “Bigfoot.”
When he wrinkled his nose in distaste, she couldn’t help but laugh. The wind laughed with her. Abernathy huddled closer into himself, reminding her of a snail locking itself into its shell. When he didn’t say anything more, she accepted the silence. She walked around the clearing of the library to hear the frost crunch under her boots. Her shadow followed her obediently, and she made it speak. Black jaws formed when she clasped two hands together, a hole where the eye should be. She didn’t have enough hands to make a pair of wings.
The seemed even smaller than before when she returned back to the curb. When he breathed, a cloud of fog billowed from his mouth before flying toward the moon.
“When are your parents coming?” she asked.
He checked his watch, scowling. Instead of answering directly, he mumbled, “I thought you’d gone home already.”
“Naw. Bigfoot lured me away and we had a fun time playing hopscotch under the trees.”
His nose didn’t wrinkle this time. Instead, he drew his gaze down toward his boots. It took her a few seconds to realize that the sound of two ice cubes clinking together was actually the sound of his teeth chattering. It took her exactly five more minutes to realize that the parking lot would stay empty, at least for the night.
He tensed up when she started shuffling around in his backpack. “Hey!” he exclaimed, jerking away. “What are you doing?”
“Did you know that bears are attracted to the color red?” she asked him nonchalantly, pulling books out of his bag. She squinted as she tried to read the titles under the dim streetlight.
He turned sharply so that he was facing her. “Excuse me?”
“Bears are also attracted to glasses. Kinda like moths. You might want to be careful, ’cuz right now they’re glinting under the streetlight like a signal.”
He huffed in annoyance. “Is that some kind of joke? Bears don’t even live here.”
She gave a startled jump and shuffled a few feet away, clutching the books against her chest. “Shhh!” she scolded. “If you say that, they’ll hear you for sure!”
“I knew Mrs. Johansen shouldn’t have assigned you as my partner.”
“Don’t worry, Abe, luckily my house is bear-proof. It’s only a few blocks away, so you might want to get a move on before you freeze where you’re standing.”
He scowled at her with a face sour enough to keep even grizzlies away. Straightening up, he retorted, “What makes you think I’m freezing?”
Ginnie didn’t answer. She was too busy running away, a fairy shadow flitting under the street lamps.
Abernathy suddenly felt uneasy and took a quick glance behind him. A feeling of dread crept up his spine. What if she was right? Here he was, standing like an idiot, when a bear could be watching him from the darkness.
“Hey! My books! Gwendolyn!”
By then, she was several yards away. Abernathy launched himself after her like a rocket
They scaled several blocks that way, Ginnie taking the lead and the boy sprinting like a seasoned runner behind her. She dodged rocks, cracks, uneven wedges in the sidewalk, the books nestled safely between her arm and her ribs. Her heart thudded in her ears. She slid past the garbage cans, sailed down the rows of houses, past the park. Her feet thudded on the pavement. The moon flashed and disappeared behind houses, appeared again in gaps between buildings. Her breath came in sharp gasps. It was only when her house appeared in her vision did she skid to a halt, bent over double and swallowing in bucketfuls of air.
After a while, the drums in her ears died down to dull throbs. Her ears perked up. She thought she saw the sight of Abernathy come crashing after her, but unexpectedly, there was nothing except for the sound of her labored breathing. She straightened up. When no boy turned up behind her, she looked in front, to the sides, and all around. Still no Abernathy. Did he get lost? It couldn’t be. The road to her house was only a few blocks away from the library.
When she had gotten back her breath and her chest didn’t feel as tight, she called, “Abernathy?”
An owl answered her. Other than that, her street remained dark and empty. The blackness once again reminded her of scales as smooth as obsidian, glinting like water against her flashlight seven years ago. She had seen it, hadn’t she? It wasn’t just a trick of the light. It had been whole, it had existed in her very attic.
Now, though, a twinge of fear trembled to make a seed of doubt worm its way into her mind.
A cracking of twigs. Like something moving. She tensed up, a spring in her heels. Eyes alert, ears pricked. The bushes rustled. Somewhere to her left. She didn’t move, didn’t breathe. Did it see her? Had it returned? She imagined claws glinting in the moonlight, a thin form sliding smoothly across the lawn to meet her. How many steps would it take to get to her house? She could see her front door right in front of her, yet it might as well be a whole ocean away. The temperature dropped a few degrees lower.
I can see through witches, she told herself. I can see through dragons too.
It’s happening, she thought, as the bushes parted. Two glowing orbs, two eyes, silver like a pair of moons. They were coming closer, she heard it crashing through the grass, it dug its claws into her shoulders and--
“Gotcha!” the dragon screamed. Ginnie cried out as the world rolled upward and jarred wildly, two claws pinning her down. The glowing eyes turned into the glint of his glasses as they caught the light of the moon.
Through the pounding of her heart, she could almost make out the sound of Abernathy laughing.
“Ha!” he cried out, as triumphant as a gladiator, picking himself up from the grass. “That’s what you get for stealing my books!”
She lay there for a few more minutes, winded, before hauling herself up. She gasped for breath. For a second there, she really thought--
Ginnie wheezed, “You’d make a great bear.” Coughing, she heaved herself to her feet and staggered upright.
Abernathy started picking up the scattered books. He scanned the neighborhood. “Why are we here?” he asked.
“This is my house.”
He jolted a bit, as though electrocuted, and began backing away. “No,” he said firmly, staring her down.
“No?” she asked.
“I need to get home,” he said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. He tucked the books back into his backpack. “My parents’ll be here any minute.”
“No they won’t.”
“Yes,” he said, through clenched teeth. “Yes they will.”
“Oh, sure,” she replied, waving a hand at him dismissively. She was already strolling her way toward the door. “In the morning, probably. Not right now.”
The door was unlocked, just like always. She liked to keep it that way.
“It’ll be warm inside,” she said casually. “And, personally, I think it’s a lot better than waiting on the curb in the cold.” As if it agreed with her, the wind let out a howling gale that rattled the branches and the windowpanes. Ginnie didn’t look back, but saw a small boy out of the corner of her eye. He looked as though he had shrunk, as though he had grown dusty, weak, tired, shivering. A boy without the protection of snide remarks and a sharp retort.
He looked like he needed a soft place to be in, a sofa to curl up on, hot chocolate and a homely kitchen.
Ginnie knew even before she stepped inside. The boy didn’t follow, not yet, but she knew. She busied herself with cleaning out two mugs.
It was only when the floor was filled with the aroma of chocolate did the shivering ragdoll finally slink inside, defeated.
The sofa creaked under his weight when he collapsed on top of it. Ginnie settled down next to him, setting one of the mugs down on the table in front of them while cradling the other in her hands. Abernathy came to life again and reached for it.
“Thanks,” he muttered quietly. The steam fogged up his glasses, but he didn’t seem to care. They sat, sipping in silence.
Ginnie listened to the emptiness in her house, aware of how the slightest noise was amplified in all that silence. It was a constant companion, and she was used to it. Her father--her father was probably on his way home right now. The distance between him and the house was a long road stretched as far as the earth was to the sun.
Ginnie wondered what to talk about. Her mind drew a blank, and she suddenly realized that she knew nothing at all about Abernathy except that he was the brightest in the class, always buried in a book, hardly spoken of or noticed. What interested him? What could she say? The evening was getting worse by the minute, like wax dripping down and deflating from a candle.
“My father’s a doctor.”
She jumped a bit. His voice was startlingly loud against the house’s stillness. He was gazing at her, his hazel eyes clear. She realized that it was the first time he had peered at her like this; not with a second-long glance, not with annoyance or contempt, but with certainty. He actually wanted to talk to her. Maybe this was the first time he had ever looked at anyone that way. And she saw him too, saw him for the first time. How his eyes were dappled, flecked with gold against brown. How, if he tilted his face up, the shadows disappeared from his brow so that he appeared almost friendly. Almost.
“My father’s a doctor,” he told her. “You’re probably wondering why no one was there to pick me up. He works long hours, so this is normal for me.”
She nodded, excitement unfurling in her chest. She finally had someone to talk to. The look he gave her was enough to break apart the ice. The words poured out of her like a river, unburdened and uncaged. She babbled on relentlessly, her head feeling light and free, her words sounding like music in her ears. She told him about her own father, a janitor who worked at a different school far away, and how it would always be late in the night when he finally, finally got back home. And her mother the botanist, a thin woman with hair made of fire, just like her own. She was on a trip to Brazil’s jungles, and would not be back until February.
And as soon as she had felt relieved, Ginnie was suddenly afraid. Abernathy was not the one to like noise; he liked reading words, but not listening to them. And he most certainly did not like the noise of a girl that he detested to begin with.
But to her surprise, he seemed amused. He was even smiling a little, something that she never knew was possible. The scowl from before had seemingly been etched onto his face with a permanent marker. Her words had washed it right off.
A thought struck her. Was he alone like her? Was his house quiet too, as stifling and as heavy as hers?
Abernathy stared down at his empty mug. His brow was furrowed and his smile had vanished, making it seem as if he had found something very nasty at the bottom of the mug.
“He promised, though,” he said quietly. Ginnie had to lean closer to hear him. “I would’ve walked home instead of waited. But he promised me that he’d pick me up tonight.”
Ginnie knew the feeling of disappointment all too well. The dropping of a heart, of a soul. “What about your mom?”
“She’s in the hospital,” he replied, and just like that, he was back to his old self again. Quiet, stern, and cold. She could practically feel invisible hands shoving her away. No, she thought, not yet. He was closing up right in front of her, but she was determined to keep this person.
So, she blurted out, “What do you like?”
Without skipping a beat, he answered, “Reptiles.” Like a stone dropping flat on the ground. But he said it as though it was the most ordinary thing in the world.
She asked, confused, “Like, snakes? Lizards?”
“Yes,” the boy said, and he was already turning away from her to gaze up at the ceiling. “I want to be a herpetologist when I grow up. Reptiles and amphibians, things like that.” He said it very quickly, as if he was embarrassed to be telling her this. She was sure that this was part of a collection of things that he had never told anyone in his entire life. And she was the first person to ever know.
The conversation died as suddenly as it had started. Ginnie was aware of how tired he seemed. Sad, even. She saw his mother in a hospital bed, his father never home, except that he was more alone than her because he had never seen a dragon in his entire life. Quietly, she slipped away to let him be.
The girl wandered deeper down the hallway. Picture frames hung on the wall, pictures she had etched deep in her memory. She stopped at the one in the summer. A photo of her holding up a trout by its tail. She remembered this one the clearest, because it was one of the best things she had done in her life. The biggest trout her parents had ever seen. Her father was crouched next to her. They were both smiling, but the winning smile came from her own face. She remembered how the fish glowed like rainbows under the harsh summer sun, how its scales breathed and glinted under her hand like a living jewel. How she had let it go afterwards.
The photo was her favorite, not because of the fish, but because of all the things that day had held, too precious to capture with a camera. The sound of their laughter. The warmth of the water lapping at her feet. The feeling of not being alone, of togetherness. Ginnie found herself wondering if Abernathy had any photos like these. It was hard to picture him doing anything without a sour face.
The attic door loomed ominously among the shadows. After that cricketsong evening, she had waited hopefully for the dragon to return. It never did. The days passed and turned into years until she was no longer seven, but a twelve year old who was starting to believe that it would never come back. Today was the first time in a long while that she had allowed herself to gaze up at it.
As if on cue, something muffled came from beyond that door. A slight sound of something familiar, something that brought her back to the past to when she lay awake listening to the witch in her ceiling. A glimmer of hope in her chest.
Scritch. Scritch. Scritch. It couldn’t be.
She held her breath, not daring to close her eyes. She strained to listen. There it was again! A noise that sounded like paws scurrying across wood.
In a mad dash, Ginnie scampered back through the hallway, past the living room, past Abernathy. She snatched the closest chair she could find and tried to drag it across the carpet.
The boy clambered up from the sofa to gawk at her, his eyes drowsy with sleep.
“W-what are you doing?” he stammered.
She didn’t have time to stop and explain. There was no time to lose. Her footsteps were frantic as she half-dragged, half-carried the chair after her.
She was already unlatching the cellar door when Abernathy finally stopped her.
He demanded, “What’s this about?”
“I’m looking for Bigfoot,” she whispered sternly. “And shhh!”
She placed her ear against it and listened again. Something on the other side scurried across the wood. It made her heart leap.
She imagined herself in her head. A small, round-faced girl with wavy red hair. Fiery red. And also in those eyes she saw determination. And she also knew that since she had waited for seven long years, she couldn’t back out now.
“Flashlight,” she whispered to the boy.
“Under my bed, the room to your left. Hurry!”
For once, Abernathy obeyed without a retort, probably alarmed by what he saw in her face. He was back again in thirty seconds.
Without wasting another breath, she propped the door open. A flower of blackness bloomed and consumed her. The scratching didn’t stop. It didn’t cease even when she shone the flashlight around her. Instead, it was amplified even louder by hundreds of tiny sharp nails. A hundred pairs of eyes stared back at her.
Something furry brushed against her hand.
Rats. A whole sea of them.
She jerked back, her heart thudding. They seemed not to take any notice of her; the black mass swarmed beneath her feet and darted every which way like ants.
“What is it?” Abernathy whispered from below her. She bit back a reply and steeled herself before hauling the rest of her body up. They were just rats. They couldn’t hurt her.
She clicked the flashlight off. The glow of the full moon was bright enough to wash everything in a shower of silver. The lone window was closed. Outside, she could see the branches of the oak tree and the moon-bleached street. Eventually, the waves of squeaking, coarse-furred rodents subsided as they scurried back to the holes they came from, leaving her standing all alone in the middle of the room.
But something had spooked them.
If she paid close attention, she could see that the windowpanes weren’t all that smooth. She ran her fingers over the sill and traced them over one, two, five marks, five delicate lines that slithered through the wooden frame and onto the glass itself. Claw marks, she thought to herself, although she wasn’t entirely sure. They were cut deep into the wood.
Even before she could process what it was, she felt it shiver in her core, a coldness that curled down her spine. An eeriness that made the hair on the back of her neck quiver, an unsettling feeling that churned in the pit of her gut. Was she being watched? With a hitch in her breath, she fumbled for the flashlight. The beam turned on and flickered, once or twice, before plunging the attic into darkness once again. It had lit up the room for a few precious seconds, and in a single heartbeat she thought she saw something in the corner.
She wasn’t sure what it was. It had been too quick of a moment to see, too fast to react. But it had looked right at her.
Muffled footsteps downstairs. Abernathy shouted, “I’m coming!” and like a lightning, he shot up the ladder and was standing in front of her, gripping her shoulders hard enough to bruise.
“What is it?” he demanded. “What’s wrong?”
She could only gasp and point. Abernathy spun around and peered into the shadows. In the darkness, all the shapes looked the same. Stacks and stacks of dusty, decaying boxes. For a long time, the two of them stood there, huddled together with their eyes wide. She was aware of her panicked breathing. Her gaze was locked on the place where she had last seen it. Nothing moved.
Abernathy whispered, “What happened up here?” Ginnie didn’t answer. At least, not at first.
“I-I thought I saw something,” she managed to stammer.
Abernathy let go of her with a huff and glared. “What, that’s it? No wonder. It’s easy to imagine things in the dark.”
She wanted to argue with him, to tell him that it hadn’t been a trick of the light, because this was the day she had been waiting for all these years. She wanted to tell him about the rats flooding the floor only moments before. No one believed her--not her parents, not anyone--and she had always been alone. But Abernathy could understand, couldn’t he? He was alone just like her. He had to understand.
Clenching her hands into fists, she faced him and looked him square in the eye. “A dragon is living in my attic.” No lies, just the complete honest truth.
When their eyes connected, she saw something raw swimming inside his.
“You’re crazy,” he told her. “I’m telling Mrs. Johanson that I’m switching partners.” He might as well have punched her gut. The moon outlined his glasses in silver, and she could see how his annoyance and exasperation morphed into anger.
He spat, “First you steal my books, and now you force me into your house to see some kind of dragon!” He bit the word out with his teeth, as if it was vile. Ginnie blinked in disbelief and stepped back. Just before, he had been half-asleep on her couch, drinking hot chocolate, and now it was as if some spirit inside him had awakened. She had never seen him like this. At school he had always been bitter, but never fiery.
With his teeth showing, he hissed, “I’m leaving.”
She took a step forward. “Abernathy--”
“Just when I thought I actually found someone who I could trust, huh?” His voice was bitter, and he had turned his face away.
Ginnie didn’t understand. Then, all of a sudden she could. They were alone, the two of them, yet at the same time they weren’t. Abernathy must have seen something in her right when she saw something in him.
He thought she was loony. Or even worse. He thought she was making jokes, poking fun at him, lying to him about some beast living in her attic.
He was already making his way down the ladder.
“Abernathy,” she said, but he didn’t even glance up in her direction. This was worse than when she failed her algebra test. This was even worse than when she had slipped and fell on a puddle, soiling her favorite dress. She had finally made a friend, or at least a half-friend, and now he was dissolving right in front of her.
A heavy snort. Somewhere deep within the shadows. She spun around in her heels to face it, but nothing could be seen except for the weird shapes of boxes. Nothing moved, at least nothing that she could see.
And then she caught it. A pair of unblinking eyes, glowing like two gems. She forget to breathe. They were gazing right at her.
“What’s a cat doing up here?” Abernathy breathed, his anger forgotten. He could see it too?
They did look like a cat’s eyes. If the cat had suddenly turned into a tiger. The pupils were narrow and slitted, a slash as though they had been drawn on with a knife. Motionless. As though they were carved out of ice.
“A snake?” he whispered again. And then he abruptly fell silent.
The eyes narrowed into slits, impossible for a serpent. The rest of its body moved, a great big shadow, and the two children watched in silence as it padded into the moonlight.
It moved with a certain grace, not unlike a panther. The eyes rested on a head that was slender in shape, small horns curling across its cheekbones. The long neck and thin body ended with an even longer tail. A pair of folded wings. Spikes running down its spine. A deep black color all throughout, blacker than the darkest night. Its scales seemed to shimmer, and when it stopped moving, its eyes appeared to glow as bright as moonlight. Ginnie saw herself reflected in their watery depths. She was seven again, a little girl with wavy red hair. ‘Cherry-bomber red’, her mother had once told her.
The dragon. Her dragon had finally come back.
“Oh,” Abernathy said softly. He was trembling.
The floor creaked under her feet as she slowly moved forward. The dragon didn’t flinch or blink, not even when she was close enough to touch it if she wanted to.
“Hello,” she whispered. “My name is Gwendolyn Jones.”
Abernathy gawked at her from where she stood. He whispered furiously, “Gwendolyn, get back here! Don’t talk to it!”
“That’s Abernathy,” she continued. “He’s my partner. We’re working on a project together.”
There was no way to tell if it understood her. It only stared at her in its flat, expressionless way. Up close, she could see every detail in its face; valleys of sleek scales, a hill of horns. Dark violet streaks ran in rivers down its snout. Its underbelly was paler, like the belly of a snake, and the wings folded against its back were tinged in purple. Its eyes held some kind of meaning behind them, but they were as hard as two chips of flint.
She was aware of Abernathy whispering behind her.
“Gwendolyn,” he said in a pleading voice. “Come on. Run.”
Then the impossible happened.
The dragon actually answered. It was a voice as smooth as running water, yet all too terrible at the same time. The rats in the walls squirmed to get away. Ginnie trembled beneath it. Even if she had worn ear plugs, even if she buried herself ten feet underground, the voice would still find a way to burrow itself into her skin, travel deep within her bones. It seemed to tap itself into her skull.
“Yesss,” it heaved, lowering its muzzle until it was at the same height as her face. Its eyes burned coldly. “You should be running. Don’t you know what I am?” It parted its jaws wide to reveal rows of glinting teeth. The dragon shook its scales, a sound like wind chimes clinking together, and heaved a breath into her face that was heavy with the smell of smoke. The beast drew itself up to its full height. The attic was filled with the noise of things that were never meant to be; the scraping of claws, the flaring of nostrils, the flapping of gigantic wings. Alarm flared in Ginnie’s mind like a trapped bird. It was rearing up like a monster.
Unexpectedly, the tension died down like the ebbing of a wave right before the storm. It dropped itself onto all four paws, still glaring, its chest heaving.
But Ginnie had seen it wince. A flicker of the eyelids.
“Abernathy,” she whispered, never keeping her gaze off of it. “There’s a first aid kit in the kitchen cabinet. Can you get it for me?” She imagined his eyes growing round and nearly popping out of their sockets. “A-Are you insane?” he asked her with a quivering voice.
The dragon huffed at him, an angry noise from its nostrils. The boy shut up and quickly scampered down the stairs. Maybe he was leaving for good.
But Ginnie kept herself as stiff as a board, not even allowing herself to twitch. Her breathing was shallow. She didn’t dare tear her gaze away. It was marvelous, it was terrible, it was alive and it existed. She waited for it to say something else, braced herself to hear its thundering voice again, but it seemed to hide within itself and was quiet.
Was it just her imagination, or did it seem smaller somehow? It had curled itself into a ball beneath the window, its winding neck and head resting against its paws. Its horrible eyes still watched her, unfriendly, but they were not as fierce as before. They looked tired. Ginnie wondered if it had flown from a long way away.
Abernathy hadn’t left. Instead, he climbed back up, although with shaky legs, and slowly inched his way until he was behind her.
“You’re going to get us killed,” he protested hoarsely in her ear. Maybe, she thought back. But it least this wasn’t any more dangerous than the time she jumped off the roof with a quilt tied around her neck, hoping it’d make her fly.
When she started toward it, it lifted its head without warning to shoot her a glare.
“Shhh,” she said, making her voice as soft as she could. “I know you’re hurt. I’ll fix you up, okay?”
It speaks English, she thought. A dragon that speaks my language. Suddenly, it made her less afraid.
When it didn’t respond, the girl slowly inched closer. She reached out a hand to stroke its muzzle, then flinched when it growled. A low noise in its throat like rolling clouds, warning her not to come any closer.
It was only a second-long memory, but she remembered something her mother had once told her. Speak softly and the world will listen.
Her mother was a botanist. It worked with the flowers. Maybe it worked with dragons, too.
“You’re beautiful,” she murmured. At this, it stopped growling, surprise evident on its face. It was, in fact, beautiful. The moonlight ran off its scales in pearly drops, and now that it was calmer it looked more like a fawn. A very large, very sharp-clawed fawn.
“It’s okay,” she told it. “I don’t hurt people.” She reached out again. Abernathy gasped as her hand made contact with its face. Its scales were smooth under her palm, not hard or crusty. Its muzzle was cool to the touch, like pebbles at the bottoms of rivers. She slowly stroked it. It didn’t protest, didn’t growl, and its gaze seemed to have softened.
“Beautiful,” she breathed again, and knelt down until she was almost resting at the curve of its side. She saw rows and rows of scales, but nothing seemed out of place.
“Its paw,” Abernathy whispered. “Look.”
There was a red streak on its hind leg. Blood, she knew immediately, yet even its injury blossomed delicately like a flower. Everything about the beast was perfect, enchanted, and even the wound refused to mar its beauty.
“I’m going to clean it,” she said, “and wrap it in bandages. I know it’ll hurt. Just promise you won’t eat me.”
For the first time, it stopped staring at her and closed its eyes, lowering its great head to rest on the floor. Ginnie took it as a promise.
She set to work. This was the part that her father had taught her when they had rescued a stray dog. They had done it together, one of the few times that they had spent side-by-side. Ginnie closed her eyes and let her memory guide her hands.
Get water now, wash all the grime away--like that. Gently. Good. Take the antiseptic and dab it on there. That’ll keep all the germs away. That’s great, that’s good. You’re gonna be a real vet someday, Ginnie.
Ginnie opened her eyes again to pat the bandage down. The dragon cautiously dragged its head over to sniff it.
“Just leave it like that for a couple of days. Does if feel better now?”
Its nostrils flared and Ginnie tensed up, imagining a million things that could go wrong; the dragon charging at her, opening its mouth again, its teeth snagging into her skin--but instead, it only scooted up against the wall with its back toward her.
She turned around and saw Abernathy crouched next to her, his eyes fixed on the mound of scales. He caught her gaze. “That was...amazing. I was certain that it would attack you.”
She shrugged and grinned. “I guess I’m just good with dragons.”
To her surprise, Abernathy grinned back. The look was there again--the gaze he had given her earlier, the I-see-you gaze, and for a few heartbeats she forgot that he hated her, that he was the kid in her class who had ignored her until now.
The two of them stared at the giant. It made no movement, still facing the wall. Ginnie prayed with all her heart that it would still be here the next morning.
Abernathy nudged her. “We’d better give it some space before it gets angry again.” He led the way as they climbed down the ladder, one after the other. Before she left, Ginnie stared after it one more time.
“Be good,” she whispered, loud enough for it to hear, and climbed away from the attic.
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