Chapter 9 : Someone to Talk to
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I apologize for taking so long to write to you. I have been busy arranging a special event. It is a big secret, so don’t ask me what it is.
I know you are probably still mad at me, but I want to hear more all about your new school. I heard you have started the baby project. How is it going? Which dragon did you pick? How are your classes? Your friends? Tell me everything.
PS: I’m planning a surprise for your birthday. I think you’re going to like it.
I frowned and flipped over the letter, but the next page was empty. Strange. My father’s letters were rarely shorter than a foot, and he always had lots of things to say. And what surprise? My birthday wasn’t until another two weeks.
I picked up my quill, intending to start replying his letter, but found myself at a loss of words. So much had happened in my life, but where should I begin? I was never a good writer, even if it was only a letter, and I wanted to do it justice. I wanted to let him know how I was good at every class except the ones that matter most here, how Gavin had been avoiding me for the last three days, how I couldn’t get close to Freckle without breaking out in cold sweat, and how I wished, more than anything, to have someone to talk to.
There was a hasty rap at my door, and Allison called out to me. “Irene, let’s go! We’ll be late for class if we don’t hurry.”
“Coming!” I yelled back, tossing my quill aside. Yet as I hurried with Allison toward our first class, something kept nagging on my mind.
What was that special event he was talking about?
“Don’t worry about it,” Lisa commented. “He’s not mad at you. He just feels a bit awkward, and, well, a bit hurt.” Catching the look on my face, she quickly added, “Don’t start feeling guilty now. You did the right thing.”
“You think so? You’re not mad at me for breaking your brother’s heart?”
Lisa shrugged. “Not really, just a bit disappointed. I would really like it if you hit it off, but I understand. If you didn’t break it off with Gavin but still want to date Charlie, I would be mad at you.” She heaved a sigh, as if glad she got it off her chest. “You know, we need to talk about what our report is going to look like,” Lisa spoke. “I was thinking we could do a kind of scrapbook along with a formal report, to make it more fun. Allison’s drawing is amazing, and Dawn has a charmed camera, so we’re already equipped for it.”
“That’s a good idea,” I agreed, pushing away the thought that I would have to pose with the dragon.
Lisa beamed. “You think so? Oh, I almost forgot.” She rummaged around in her white messenger bag and handed me a small white book with SFU’s logo at the cover and Freckle’s name written in a neat cursive above it. “Margareth gave this to us this morning. It’s Freckle’s health report. She’ll be writing in it every time we dropped him off and Professor DeMonte will be grading us from her. She hasn’t really written anything though, just his profile.”
I flipped the book open and saw Margareth’s handwriting on the book of the cover, detailing Freckle’s profile. The list went on something like this:
Breed: Swedish Short-Snout
Birthday: 11th October 1994
Tamers: Irene Connelly
“She didn’t have the time to measure him, but she said she would fill it in today,” Lisa said as she returned the book in her bag.
“So it’s a he?” I asked. Lisa grinned and nodded.
“Yeah, Freckle’s a male. I kind of feel guilty about his name. He’d get horribly teased if he were human,” she chuckled. “Did you notice he’s still freckly? I noticed it this morning when Dawn and I brought it here. There were some small, blue dots on his back, exactly the same as the ones on his eggs.”
Lisa would’ve continued to describe Freckle if we hadn’t arrived at the end of the walk. She raised a fist and rapped three times, and the black door materialized. We opened it and walked in. Most of the researchers were too preoccupied with their work to greet us, but one did and he nodded in greeting to us. Lisa eyed the bubbling cauldron in front of him interestedly as we walked by. I crinkled my noise, trying to block out the pungent of the room. It was a mixture of different scents that I couldn’t quite place. I would’ve commented on this if the room wasn’t so quiet. Conversations were held in whispers and they didn’t last long. These people, I realized, were really serious about what they did.
I slid open the door to the Infirmary and breathed in relief as my lungs were finally freed of the strange smell. Lisa gave me a funny look and shook her head. “I’m guessing you’re not taking Scientific Research next year,” she mumbled. I grinned and opened my mouth to reply, but closed it again when Margareth entered the room from a different door. She didn’t look surprised to find us there.
“Hello there, you two are a bit late. The other students had just left,” she greeted in her crisp voice. Once again I found myself wondering where I had known her before.
“We were held back,” I answered, avoiding Lisa’s eyes. Truth was, I was held back. Coach Turner took her time complaining about my lack of coordination, and wondering aloud whether or not I will pass her class. She thought she was being motivating, but I hated it when she did that. “How is Freckle?”
“He’s hungry. I haven’t given him his lunch because I want to see how you girls will handle that. How did his first meal turn out for you?” Lisa and I exchanged a look, recalling the bloody state of our room and ourselves after we managed to persuade Freckle to eat the chicken and not our fingers. It had taken every ounce of my will power to keep myself from throwing up, and to my surprise and delight, the girls had looked a bit disgusted too.
Margareth’s lips curled into a knowing smile. “I thought so. Come, put on your gloves and I’ll show you how to properly feed a dragon.” Her eyes lingered on me a bit longer, but her odd expression was gone before I could guess what it was. She waved us closer as she opened the back door. “Your dragon is with the other Short-snout. Quickly now, we don’t want to keep him starving for too long.” We followed her out of the room, and into a long, narrow walk. Tall trees cast their shadows over our heads, and I could feel the breeze in my face. I wondered silently where we were, and then got my answer before I needed to ask.
Loud screeches filled my ears as soon as we took the first turn. I flinched, but quickly recognized the noises. Only baby dragons could make those kinds of noises.
I was right. Next to Margareth’s office, there was an open ground, divided into several parts where our dragons could play with their friends, so to speak. It was a bit like a day care, I thought as I watched the dragons play with each other, if you could call it playing. Some of them were bumping their heads rather roughly to one another, while others were making conversations by screeching loudly. I noticed that the dragons were separated according to their breeds, and like the rest of the reservation, this place was decorated to be as similar as possible to their natural habitats. There were no bars as far as I could see, but when I held my hand up, I could feel something solid in the air in front of me.
Finally we stopped, right behind the area were the Swedish Short-Snouts gathered. Margareth took out her wand and did a complicated wave before she stepped inside. “Come here,” she instructed, pulling us to stand beside her just so the dragons could see us. “Put these on.” She thrust a pair of leather gloves into our hands. “Call him.”
I stared at her for a moment, not quite registering what she said. Lisa acted faster than I did. She clapped her hands once and whistled, “Freckle! Come here, boy!” Torn between the urge to laugh and to roll my eyes, I followed her example and called him. A picture of my dog flashed before my eyes, running toward me with her tail wagging and a bright smile on her face, and once again I resisted the urge to laugh as I pictured Freckle doing the same.
After a moment of ignorance, Freckle raised his head, looking for the source of the voice. When he did, he detached himself from the group and wobbled toward us. He looked so unbalanced on his small feet I was surprised he didn’t trip on his way over. I couldn’t tell whether he was smiling or not, for I wasn’t sure dragons could smile, but judging by his speed, he was excited to see us.
Once he got closer, Margareth started whispering instruction into our ears. “He’s going to approach the one he thinks as his mother, so when he does, kneel down to his level and maintain eye contact for a while before you stand up again.” We nervously nodded and watched the little dragon approached us. He didn’t even pause when he turned slightly and stopped before me, looking up expectantly.
I wondered when I ever started to understand his expressions.
I gulped down my anxiety and kneeled down. Lisa and Margareth were watching me, so I could not falter. I looked into his eyes, pushing all thoughts of being bitten and attacked aside, and tried to look domineering. I learned in class the other day that if you let the dragon dominated the relationship, it wouldn’t obey your order. So basically it was important for dragon keepers to show the dragons who the boss was.
“Tell him to follow you,” Margareth said.
“Come, Freckle,” I ordered, slowly standing up. He let out a low screech that I translated as a yes, and followed closely behind me as I walked back to the Infirmary, Margareth and Lisa walking behind Freckle.
After Margareth closed the door behind her, she turned to Lisa. “Tell him to come to you and then put him on that table,” she said, gesturing toward a tall, white table. Lisa looked surprised, but she did it nonetheless. Freckle obeyed and hopped into her hands. Lisa, caught unaware by the weight, stumbled a little, but she quickly regained her balance, and placed him on the table.
Margareth smiled encouragingly at her. “Miss Connelly here might be the mother, but you and your other teammates have to take the charge as well, so he will learn to obey you too. Now, look into that bucket over there and take a slice.” Lisa did it and took out a moderate piece of red meat. Freckle eyed it hungrily and was about to jump and grab it, but Margareth quickly cast a shield around him. He screeched angrily as he hit the invisible wall, and wouldn’t stop trying to break through until Margareth told me to order him to stay still. She gave me an inquiring look, but didn’t voice whatever it was she was wondering about.
She led us step by step as we learned to keep Freckle quiet as we fed him. Freckle devoured his meat gratefully while Lisa and I talked to Margareth about his development. “Freckle is an active dragon. He got along quite well with the other dragons, and he’s in perfect health so far. Keep monitoring him and you’ll do just fine,” she told us with a smile.
After Freckle finished eating (he announced this with a noisy burp), Lisa and I got him into his cage with some difficulties, thanked Margareth for her help, and headed to leave. But Margareth called out to me and asked me to stay behind. Lisa threw me a confused look, but closed the door behind her without any question. I turned to face Margareth, trying to figure out why she wanted to talk to me.
“Sit down,” she said, gesturing to the seat next to her. I sat. She took a long look at my face, smiling thoughtfully. “My, you do look a lot like your mother. I thought Ignatius was joking when he said all you got from him is your hair.”
“You know my mother?” I inquired in surprise. Several teachers had stopped me after class, asking me to give their regards to my father, but no one had claimed to know my mother.
“I do, indeed. You don’t remember me, do you?” she asked, her blue eyes wide. I shook my head sheepishly. She smiled understandingly. “Of course you don’t. You were so little. I used to work as your father’s assistant, starting from when your mother was pregnant with you until you were about five. Used to babysit you too sometimes. We were good friends, your mother and I. I learned about dragons from your father, but your mother taught me about life.” Her expression saddened, but she continued to talk. “She understood your father’s passion, but she never liked it when he wanted to bring you to the reservations. That’s why I was surprised to see you here, especially after that accident...”
“You know about that?” I interrupted, paling.
“I was there,” she said carefully. “I stunned the dragon off you.” She shook her head, her eyes gazing at the floor. “I blamed myself for it. I was supposed to look out for you while your parents went to meet the Head of the reservation, but I turned around and you were gone. And then I heard you screaming.” She shuddered visibly, and pictures started flashing before my eyes. Me, bounding happily down the halls, poking my head curiously into strange looking rooms. The small dragon, sitting so still on the table I believed it to be a doll. Me, tiptoeing to it, strangely drawn to this unknown creature.
I closed my eyes as I tried to push the memory away, suppressing the pain that surfaced with the new details. Margareth’s voice drifted into my ears from what seemed like a distance away. “I have never felt so scared, and I have never seen your father so terrified. They never blamed me, but I felt so guilty, I had to leave.” A warm hand touched mine, and I opened my eyes to look into Margareth’s pleading ones. “Can you ever forgive me?”
Stunned, I answered her the best I could. “I never thought that there was someone to blame, and I never wanted to blame someone. So there’s nothing to forgive.” I smiled as I watched relief washed over her face.
“Thank you,” she said, patting my hand. She straightened up, but apparently the conversation was not over yet. “But why are you here? Your mother told me you were so traumatized you wouldn’t even look at your stuffed dragon. Are you over it now?”
I took a deep breath, preparing a smooth lie, but before I knew it, I started ranting about everything, except for my boy problem. Margareth listened closely, giving appropriate response at every chance. “And that’s why I’m stuck here until next year,” I ended.
“I see,” Margareth nodded. “Well, if you ever need someone to talk to, I will be right here. Don’t worry, I won’t tell your father.” She winked, and I grinned. “Now off you go, before your friends come here looking for you. I’ll see you in the morning.”
I shouldered my bag, and headed for the door. “Thank you so much for the talk, Margareth,” I said, turning toward her.
She smiled, and patted my arm motherly. “Anytime, dear, anytime.”
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