“I don’t get many requests to do soles,” the tattoo artist said.
Darla clenched her teeth. “No kidding.”
She had slathered her foot with a topical anesthetic, but the effects were wearing off and she was starting to wonder how she was going to walk home.
Greg, the tattoo guy, must have read her mind. “You walked here, didn’t you?” he said. “Why don’t I get my wife to take you home? I don’t know how far away you live, but it’s going to seem a lot farther going back.”
“It’s just a few blocks from here,” Darla said, “but I have to admit a ride would be nice.”
When Greg’s wife Lacy dropped her off, Darla hopped to the stairs leading to her little apartment over the garage. After trying various options, she got up the stairs by sitting down and pushing herself up one step at a time using her arms and her “good” foot. She hoped Mom wasn’t watching her through the kitchen window—and she was glad the weather had warmed up enough to keep her backside from freezing as she inched up the stairs.
After crawling through the door, she flopped onto her couch. She had expected the tattoo to hurt, but she hadn’t been prepared for the reality of the pain on the sole of her foot. Still, it was worth it if it made David smile. She pulled her foot up and looked at the bottom. It was hard to tell what it was going to look like when the swelling went down.
Two days later, she had her answer. Though the foot still hurt, the design was clear. Small blue overlapping scales covered the bottom of her foot. Lighter in the middle and darker around the edges, there were hints of green and purple in the darker borders of the scales, but the overall color was blue. After putting on her socks and clogs, she hobbled over to the main house and into the kitchen.
“Where have you been all weekend?” Mom asked. “David’s been asking about you.”
“I, uh, have something special to show David, and it wasn’t ready till now.”
“Oh? What is it?”
“It’s something private. Between him and me.”
Mom’s tolerant smile changed to a look of alarm as Darla limped past. “What happened to your foot? You’re limping!”
“I hurt it a little but it’s already getting better. I promise.” She couldn’t risk Mom being concerned enough to look at the foot.
Without pausing, she continued on toward the den that had been converted into a hospital room for her little brother David.
“Darla!” His face lit up when she walked in the door. “I missed you!”
“I missed you too, buddy.” She sat down on the end of his bed.
“Remember that dream you told me about last week?”
His brow wrinkled in thought. His bald head made his skin seem even more fragile and transparent than it had before. “The dragon dream?”
“Yes, that’s the one. Can you tell it to me again?”
“Well, I dreamed a huge blue dragon was flying in the sky. He was so beautiful! And somehow, in my dream, I knew he was going somewhere wonderful. Just looking at him filled me up with joy. But when I called and begged him to let me ride on his back and fly with him, he just said ‘I’m not there yet.’ Do you think there are blue dragons in heaven and that they’d let me ride them?”
Darla smiled at him. “I dunno, David. But I know if heaven has blue dragons, you can ride them as much as you want. Look, I want to show you something.”
She took the sock off her right foot and swung it up on to the bed so David could see it. His eyes widened till she feared they would pop, and his thin face lit up with a hundred-watt smile.
“You got a dragon-scale tattoo? That is so awesome! What did Mom say?”
“Mom doesn’t know. It’s our secret, okay?”
He nodded, grinning. “Are you going to get the other foot done?”
She had expected this question, had been bracing for it.
“Yes, as soon as this one stops hurting and itching, I’ll get the other one done. We can pretend I am a blue dragon—in disguise. It’ll be our secret.”
By June, two months later, scales covered Darla’s legs up to her knees. Her car savings fund took a hit, but she didn’t really care because the dragon feet made David happy. She began working extra odd jobs to cover the cost of her ink. She still hadn’t told her parents. She wore sneakers and jeans most of the time so there was no reason for them to suspect that under those faded jeans she had dragon legs.
David was thrilled. “If you have dragon feet, you should have a dragon name. A girl dragon name.”
They spent several delightful days discussing and discarding every dragonish name they could think of, before settling on the name “Indiglory,” to emphasize the beautiful color of the scales and the general gloriousness of being a dragon. From that moment on, David never called her Darla again unless Mom or Dad was in earshot.
That evening, however, Mom climbed up to Darla’s apartment after David was asleep.
“Darla, you know I’m thrilled you and David have such a close bond. I would never have believed a nineteen-year-old and a nine-year-old would be such good pals. But Dad and I are worried about you.”
“Why? Because I care about my little brother?”
“No, dear—because you care too much. When was the last time you went to a movie with your friends? When was the last time you talked about taking college classes? What kind of life are you going to have left after David dies?”
“Don’t say that! Why do you give up so easily? He’s not gonna die! He’s getting all the right medicine! I’m helping him get better!”
“I don’t deny that you’re helping him feel better, Darla. But you know as well as I do that the chances are very slim he’ll recover.”
Darla put her hands over her ears. “Don’t say that!”