Vivian slammed the rooftop door open; the metal and brick clashed with all the defiance a wrongfully scolded four-year-old could produce. Tears made the marker ink on her face mix together like Neopolitan ice cream, but what dripped into her mouth tasted like paint. Her feet thudded on the cement before her tears cleared and she saw a mass of gold and brown scales: a dragon took up most of the rooftop.
She stepped back so she could see the face, and gulped and wheezed until the sobbing stopped. She asked, “Are you Puff?”
The dragon opened one eye and said, “Hardly.”
His lid began to close but stopped midway when she said, “I just drew a cave for him on the hallway wall, but since you’re here and he’s not, you can have it.”
The lid opened all the way again. “You painted a dragon cave?”
Vivian nodded her head like the bobble knight on her dad’s dashboard and said, “It’s beautiful except my mom hates it and says I can’t watch TV for a month, especially if it’s any of dad’s movies.” Traffic honked and screeched far below as if to add an exclamation point to her exasperation.
The dragon closed his eye before saying, “I don’t have much use for a two dimensional cave.”
Vivian sniffed the snot up her nose and said, “Are you hungry? My mom just went to CostCo and bought a big box of Goldfish.”
The eye opened and he said, “Goldfish? I can never catch enough of those to make it worth while. But if you have a big box…”
“I’ll be right back.” Vivian could hardly believe a real dragon was on her roof. Her mom was always telling her dad to grow up and quit telling Vivian such fanciful stories. But now she had proof. Down in the kitchen, she slid her step stool across the ceramic tiled floor and into the pantry. She stretch on the stool just enough to pull the bottom of the Goldfish box with her fingertips. It thumped to the ground. She listened for her mom’s footsteps, but she must’ve been asleep in her room. Vivian grabbed her treasure and ran up to the rooftop again, worried the dragon would be gone. He was there.
“I have the goldfish!”
He opened both eyes and said, “Well?”
She tore the box and bag open and scattered the crackers in front of his mouth like they were magic dust.
“What are those?”
“Are they dead?”
Vivian stared at the treasure and realized her mistake. A lump swelled in her throat, and she choked out, “They’re crackers. I didn’t mean real fish.”
The dragon sniffed. A long tongue darted out and licked up several crackers at once. “Cheesy,” he said and continued to lick the roof clean. “When can you bring me more? I’m Darius by the way.”
“I’m Vivian. We’ll have another box in a month. Can you come in and play?”
“I couldn’t possibly squeeze through the door.”
Vivian slumped, but then recalled the story about princesses kissing frogs. Maybe if she kissed him, he’d turn into a boy and fit through the door. She ran to his snout and gave him a peck. When he didn’t change, she dashed through the door and down the stairs, hoping he’d never guess her foolish notion.
Vivian burst out of the door and onto the rooftop, the only place she didn’t feel awkward in her body—tall enough to be a woman but flat like a little girl still. “Light the roof on fire! Light the roof on fire!” she yelled. Her fingernails and sneakers were covered with gold glitter, glimmering in the moonlight. The gold scales of her friend Darius glimmered as well, but there the similarity ended.
“If I light the roof on fire, where will you sit?” asked Darius.
Vivian slumped. He was always so practical. “I got your favorite tonight,” she said, not one to linger over disappointments. She only had an hour until her mom would be home from work and wanted to make the most of it. “Coke, lemon-lime and strawberry pop.”
“Oh, good. What did you get for yourself?”
Vivian stopped slurping her soda and gave a loud burp before answering. “Just Coke.”
Darius rolled onto his back and opened his mouth. Vivian set her own cup down and opened the Double Gulp with both hands. Pouring it down his throat she said, “You could ask politely, you know?”
“Oh, are we comparing notes now on who’s ruder?”
Vivian stuck her tongue out.
Darius’s tongue shot out of his mouth and wrapped around a passing pigeon.
Vivian turned away and popped her gum to avoid hearing the cracking of bones. Maybe today he would change into a prince and leave his dragony habits behind. When Darius finished his meal, Vivian said, “That was gross.”
“How’s school been?”
“Oh, you know, boring.” She told him about endless lectures and gossipy friends. At the end of her patter, she gave him a sidelong glance and said, “Logan wanted to kiss me behind science lab.”
Darius yawned with his maw gaping and tongue rolling out. When he finished he said, “And did you?”
Vivian wanted to blurt out, “Because Logan isn’t a dragon,” but instead said, “He chews spearmint flavored gum. I hate that. What have you been doing?”
He told her about flying over the Atlantic and being almost seen by a plane and then a cruise ship, but he reached a cloud just in time. “I think I’ll spend time in the Caribbean this month. Do some shark hunting.”
Vivian wanted to go shark hunting too, but more than that she wanted Darius to be human so they could be friends together. She had no idea how old he was, but always imagined his human shape as the same age as herself. Her mother would be home any minute, and it sounded like Darius wouldn’t be back for awhile. She jumped up. “I’ve gotta go!” She closed her eyes and planted a kiss right on Darius’s muzzle. When she opened her eyes, he was still a dragon.
She fled the roof, cheeks burning.
Vivian set a huge box loaded with cups of designer coffee onto the rooftop of her apartment building. Left over heat from the summer day radiated up from the cement. The full moon shone off the gold scales of Darius—it was her favorite time to view him. She said as if it hadn’t been months since they’d seen each other, “I’m afraid they got cold in the elevator.” She wore a black camisole with shorts, and had a tattoo on her shoulder of a gold dragon that looked similar to Darius.
“I’ll take care of that if you step back,” said Darius. He stood on his hind legs and puffed out a flame over the box. “That should do it. Would you mind pouring them for me? I hate the taste of cardboard.” He flopped down on his back as Vivian set aside one cup for herself and began pouring the rest down Darius’s throat. When he was finished, he rolled over, and Vivian sat down and leaned against his belly. “How were finals?” he asked.
“Good. This is my last summer home. Time to go out into the real world.” She wanted to ask if he would visit her when she found a new apartment, but was too worried he’d say no; he’d never visited her at college. Instead, she asked, “Done any shark hunting lately?”
“Been in the mood for bear. Just got back from the Black Forest. Date anyone interesting this semester?”
Vivian thought of the guy who’d hounded her the whole semester for a date. He was in all of her classes, but she hated how he smelled of wet dog and drooled on her books whenever they studied for tests. At their last session, she’d had to punch him in the jaw to keep him from ripping off her shirt.
“No,” she said and pulled her knees up to her chest.
She heard a howl from the corner of the roof and saw a wolf dressed in what looked like her study partner’s Chicago Bears jersey. The wolf gnashed his teeth and ran right for her with his claws clicking on the cement.
Darius swung his tale around and impaled the werewolf with the spike on the end of it. There was a brief whimper and then nothing. Vivian stood up, walked away and looked out at the city lights with the sound of a skull splitting as accompaniment to the horns of traffic below.
“You should set up shop with a nice musician or something. This Little Red Riding Hood business is only going to get worse as you get older,” said Darius when he’d finished his meal.
Vivian turned around and tried to ignore the spittle mixed with blood on his golden scales. She walked back to him, closed her eyes and kissed him on the muzzle. He was still a dragon when she opened her eyes again. “All men turn into monsters at some point,” she said and walked to the staircase.
Vivian popped the cork off of a bottle of Champagne on top of her childhood apartment. She’d come to visit her parents in the hopes of seeing Darius again. As she poured, bubbles ran over the rim of the glass and over her golden ring with the silhouette of a dragon carved into it. She set the glass down and held up the bottle to Darius. “If you hold the bottle like this, I think you can drink it yourself.”
Darius sat on his bottom with his tail stretched out behind him as she’d taught him the last time they’d been together. She molded his claws around the bottle, feeling sparks of affection shooting through her veins. After she’d pulled her hands away, he lifted the bottle to his mouth and tilted it up.
“Bravo!” she exclaimed and clapped her hands. She drained her own glass and popped the cork off of another bottle.
“Congratulations on your promotion,” said Darius.
“Maybe I can finally take time off for a vacation with you. I took some hunting classes.” She could feel his eyes on her as she wrapped his claws around another bottle.
He drank it down, and she drained another glass. He said, “I was actually thinking of hibernating for awhile. Dragons do get sleepy. Any thoughts of settling down?”
She shivered when she pictured the man who’d been interested in her before she’d been promoted above him. He always had cold hands, and his handshake almost crushed her fingers. She heard a flap behind her and whipped around to find the man standing behind her and bearing fangs. Darius reached past her and impaled the vampire’s heart with his claw. “I think a nice executive would suit you,” he said.
She smashed her glass and yelled, “I am a nice executive.” Before Darius ruined his breath with vampire dinner, Vivian pressed her lips onto his muzzle. He was still a dragon. As she stalked to the staircase, she heard claws dicing up the vampire.
Vivian jabbed her cane onto the cement and hobbled out of her helicopter that had landed on top of her childhood apartment. She smiled at Darius who was still golden and glittering in the moonlight. He hadn’t aged a bit. One of her servants had brought up a serving set, and she poured out the tea.
Darius picked up a cup nimbly with his claws and said, “You should’ve had someone to take care of you like I did.”
“I’ve done well enough, besides who did you have?”
“Why do you always kiss me goodbye?”
The evenings of nightcaps with her scaled friend flitted through her mind and pressed a tear out of her eye. “I hoped you would turn into a prince, but I’ve never liked princes as much as I liked dragons.”
“Kiss me one more time, please.”
Vivian set down her tea cup with a shaking hand. Now that she was old and wizened, he’d change into a prince for her? Still, maybe they’d have a few years together as the same species. She leaned over and pressed her lips against his muzzle. The pop and puff of magical smoke she’d hoped for all these years finally happened, except Darius didn’t change into a prince—she changed into a dragon. Elated. she stretched out her golden wings that glittered in the moonlight.
“I can teach you to hunt properly now that you’re a dragon,” said Darius before pressing his muzzle against hers.
Sparks exploded in Vivian’s heart and she felt the full rush of dragon desire. Unable to control all the new feelings, she pushed off of the rooftop and flew towards the moon with Darius in heated pursuit behind.
Melinda Moore lives in Albuquerque, NM: The Land of Enchantment. Possessing a love of adventure, she has been a dancer, professional musician, music educator, recipe creator, parent and now published author. Her awards include The Sallie Mae First Class Teacher Award and Finalist in the Pillsbury Bake-Off.