The tattered hoodie did little to ward off the icy wind blowing across the water from places unseen, but Emma pulled it tighter just the same, remembering when down jackets and logo-emblazoned fleece protected her from the elements. She lifted her face to the wind, drinking in the freedom while, at the same time, her heart cried for the gentle walls that once were hers. Eyes scanned the horizon, seeking an empty place to park her fears, her anger, her aloneness. Her heart yearned for a silence that screamed of peace, not emptiness. This was her world since they left, since the smiles faded, since the joy evaporated. She was alone in this world without boundaries, without arms to be enveloped in, without warm lips to kiss her goodnight or hands to tuck the blankets in close around her in the warm room that was once her castle. Angrily she shook her head, dismissed the mourning and turned her mind to one more step, one more night, one more tomorrow. Digging her hands deeper into her pockets, shells and stones bruised her fingertips and she smiled a small smile at these few precious things that were truly hers.
Veering away from the shore, she scampered up the clustered rocks until she reached the top, parted the brush that met her there, and then stepped into the small clearing that surrounded the dilapidated bungalow where she now spent her nights. A quick scan assured her that nothing had been disturbed in her absence – the mat was still leaning partly across the bottom of the door and the tattered ribbon was still undisturbed in the window. She slipped onto the porch and pushed open the rickety door, quickly latching it behind her. The largest object in the room was a battered oak table standing in the middle of the space. Emma slung her backpack from her shoulder onto the surface. One by one, she emptied its contents – her journal, the purple marker that barely wrote these days, a lip gloss with the label worn away, her dog-eared copy of Jane Eyre, a half-empty jar of peanut butter, an apple, and a bottle of water – lining her meager possessions up in a neat row. Next she reached into her pockets, bringing out a handful of sea glass and shells, a small chip of rose quartz . . . and the stone. She picked the last item up, balancing it in the palms of both her hands, curious about its size and shape and weight. It seemed much too heavy for a mere stone. She had stumbled across it on the beach, landing face down in the sand and had picked up the heavy orb almost without thought, tucking it deep into her jacket pocket. In spite of its weight, she had almost forgotten about it. Now she examined it carefully, noting the deep indentations on its surface, feeling the warmth radiating from it.
Sitting it aside, she busied herself with preparations for the evening, rummaging a match from the carefully rationed box in the drawer next to the sink and lighting the one candle she allowed herself each evening. She had found the bungalow quite by accident soon after she ran away. Obviously no one had been there in ages, but she had discovered a treasure trove of supplies – matches, candles, canned peaches and pears, a small camping stove, a few cans of milk and jars of apple juice. There was a well-stocked bookshelf and a small bed with a mountain of blankets. She often wondered where they had gone, these people who had created this little hideaway on the cliff beside the ocean. The appearance was that they had simply left one morning and never returned. Just like Mama and Daddy had left that one awful morning.
Sitting on one of the two chairs at the table, she began to munch on the apple from her collection, washing it down with water. Lost in thoughts and memories, she was startled at the thump of something hitting the floor. She leapt off the chair, sinking to a crouch, heart thumping with the fear of being discovered in this place that had become a haven for her. In the silence, her eyes searched for the source of the sound and then noticed the odd stone on the floor next to her. Breathing a sigh of relief, she picked it up and put it back on the table – she must have knocked it off without noticing. Returning to her apple and picking up the beloved Jane Eyre, she started reading the words she practically knew by heart.
This time the thump wasn’t as startling, but she was sure she hadn’t touched the stone or jostled the table, yet there it was on the floor again. Curious, she climbed under the table on her hands and knees, watching the stone rock back and forth in its place there on the wood planks. Slowly, it picked up tempo, shimmying in a circle and as it rolled about, she noticed the small crack, the tiniest breach in the surface. Spellbound, she settled onto the floor, legs crossed, unsure but anxious to see what the stone would do next. Gradually she began to catch glimpses of blue between the spreading cracks and then a small head with sparkling scales emerged.
Emma held out a trembling hand, unsure of this unknown . . . wanting this dream to merge into reality, not to be whisked away into an imagining. The deep sapphire eyes didn’t waver . . . looking into hers as if searching for answers to questions she didn’t yet know . . . reading her heart and soul. Moments stretched to ages and then the wings unfurled . . . causing her to yelp and then clap a hand over her mouth . . . fearful of startling this magic into flight. The little creature squawked as it scampered behind the shards of broken shell, unsure and hesitant – but above all, curious. Emma set her jaw, rolled her shoulders and once again reached a tentative hand toward the skinny little ball of shimmering color, drawn like a moth to flame. Sniffing the air with upraised nostrils, lifting tiny talons, the baby dragon tiptoed forward, nuzzling its face against her outstretched hand with something remarkably similar to a purr . . . its voice filling the lonely places of her being with warmth and belonging as it silently called her by name.