"As the sun came up, a ball of red / I followed my friend wherever he led / He thought his fast horses would leave me behind / But I rode a dragon as swift as the wind!"
Only in her dreams did Gabriella find such pleasure, such awe. The "he" in the poem would be her love, riding a white horse while she rode a colorful Chinese dragon. They would race across golden fields, against the crimson sunrise, the wind straining to push her off her grand creature. The sheer rush of it all sent Gabriella spinning into her own world. She had not decided who would be riding the white horse, there was no one wonderful enough that she knew of.
Gabriella had a passion for dragons. She loved the mythical tales of fire-breathing, treasure-guarding, magnificent lizards. Most people thought dragons were evil, but not Gabriella. She believed that if she ever encountered a dragon, it would not harm her. She knew so much about them that it seemed impossible. Sometimes she even thought she could talk to them. When she was lying in her bed at night, she could hear them singing. But it was always in her dreams, even her racing companion. Gabriella could see the horse, the dragon and herself in perfect detail, but never the rider. She wondered if she would ever find out.
Her classmates referred to her as "the dragon lover." It sparked a considerable amount of ridicule once one thought about it for a while. Gabriella liked the name. It had a mystical quality to it, as if she had a secret no one knew. She sketched dragons in her notebook, read novels like The Hobbit in her free time, and searched for the rider of the white horse, even though she was never successful.
Gabriella sat in English class, lost in her favorite poem "The Dragons Are Singing Tonight." She hardly noticed when the teacher introduced a new student and pointed out the desk behind Gabriella. When everything returned to normal, she became aware of someone reading over her shoulder. Resisting the urge to look, she quickly flipped the page. Whoever was behind her drew back slightly and whispered, "I like your earrings."
Self-consciously, Gabriella fingered the dangling pair she had put in that morning. They consisted of a string of tiny silver dragons, each less than a half inch long. She had paid nearly all her savings for them, but it was worth it. It wasn't the first time someone had complimented them. She heard the whisper again, "Is that a good book?"
He was trying to talk to her, Gabriella realized. It was a boy, and one she hadn't even looked at. She passed the book back to him and he said nothing the rest of the class period. It was the only time Gabriella made contact with him. At the end of the day, her book was back in her locker. She thought nothing of it until she got home.
Sitting at her vanity, she removed her precious earrings and remembered the book. Something was different. Picking it up, she leafed quickly through and a piece of paper fell out. Gabriella jumped back as though it were a poisonous snake. It landed face down, but she was afraid to turn it over and see what it was. She placed the book directly on top of it and vowed never to move it.
The next day, something quite unexpected happened. Gabriella was sifting through her schoolbooks on the floor when she heard a voice say, "Hey, dragon lover."
Gabriella glanced up, startled. Nobody ever talked to her unless they had to. She was staring at Diana Jacobs, and Diana was grinning almost sarcastically back at her. "What do you want?" Gabriella muttered.
"What? You haven't heard yet? Oh right, you don't know a thing."
Gabriella stood up. "Not in the mood, brat."
Diana looked stung, but regained her composure and sneered, "Randy likes you. Couldn't tell you why."
"Who's Randy?" Gabriella asked, but Diana had already left. Funny how she had been here so long and didn't even know all the kids yet. Gabriella sighed with frustration, crammed her books in her locker and headed to her next class. Ironically it was the one with the new boy.
When she walked in, the first thing Gabriella noticed was the blackboard. In the teacher's round, neat lettering it said, "p. 292-Jabberwocky". Gabriella's mouth dropped. By far the most famous dragon poem in history! Putting a little bounce to her step, she went to her seat, humming the musical version of the poem. It was going to be a good day.
The bell rang, and Gabriella was once again aware of the boy's presence behind her. He was singing the words to her little tune. Entering the room, the teacher smacked her pointer on the board, getting everyone's attention. "Today," she began, smirking, "we study word usage. Lewis Carroll's poem is full of verbs and adjectives that are made up. What do you, the reader, the interpreter, make of Carroll's use of the words?"
Gabriella started to read the poem to herself softly. "`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.'"
"`Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!'" It was the boy behind her. Gabriella grinned slightly and read a little louder.
"He took his vorpal sword in hand: Long time the manxome foe he sought-So rested he by the Tumtum tree, And stood awhile in thought."
The boy followed suit, reading emphatically. "And, as in uffish thought he stood, The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, And burbled as it came!"
Gabriella took her turn. "One, two! One, two! And through and through / The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead and with its head / He went galumphing back."
The boy read the next part in a funny foreign accent. "`And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy."
And they finished together. "`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.'"
Surprisingly, the class applauded. The teacher smacked her pointer a second time and said, "Thank you for that enthusiastic reading, Gabriella and Randy. However, we are not looking for an oral presentation. We are looking for word usage. Let's take the first line: `Twas brillig.' By the author's description in the rest of the poem, what do you think this means?"
Gabriella extended a hand behind her and the boy gave her a high five. That was when it clicked. Randy, the one that liked her! She still wasn't sure she wanted to look at him. She was afraid to find out anything more than she already knew.
After class, Randy stopped by Gabriella's locker. She kept her eyes on the floor.
"Dragon lover, huh?"
"Yeah," she muttered. "Actually I kind of like it."
"You know where I come from?"
"Where?" Gabriella asked, not out of interest.
"I've heard them sing." His voice dropped to a whisper. "I've seen them fly. They're huge and just awesome. And Gabriella..."
The dramatic pause piqued Gabriella's curiosity. "I can only imagine," she murmured breathlessly.
"Want to come with me?"
She shook her head. "It's too amazing. Things that aren't even real." And before she knew it, she had spilled her secret dream.
"They're very real, Gabriella. The Chinese dragons are the biggest, and they always race with the white horses. I don't know where they all come from, but I see them."
Gabriella wasn't sure she believed him anymore. "Visionary, right?"
"Only if you think that way. You did read the poem I gave you, didn't you?"
"No." She was ready to leave. Gazing at the ceiling, she said, "There's a shop downtown. If you want to go after school-"
"I'll be there." He left her alone.
The shop that Gabriella mentioned was just a tiny part of downtown. One could almost pass up the place if it weren't for the fantastic window exhibits. At the top in ornate letters were the words "Curiosity Shop: for adventurers only." Gabriella was a regular customer there, mostly to ask questions. One of the coolest things in the shop was a small gong that sounded whenever someone entered. It gave the impression of stepping into another world. Dragons were the main attraction in the shop, along with many other oddities: fairies, celestial souvenirs, things that told the future. The gong rang out when Gabriella stepped inside. She smiled at the girl behind the counter.
"What can I do for you today, Gabriella?"
"We'll see, Lyra. I'm waiting for someone."
Lyra grinned, displaying her pink-clad braces. She was a little older than Gabriella, with wavy white-blond hair and big, violet eyes. She wore a glittery green turtleneck sweater and tons of amber studded jewelry. Gabriella loved the way Lyra looked, which was another reason she went there often. Lyra never wore the same outfit twice, even if it was just changing her earrings.
"A boy?"
Gabriella nodded, not really up to sharing any more details. She paused at a zodiac display and hunted purposefully for her sign. Her hands were shaking, she noticed with distaste.
"Talk to me, girl. Is he good-looking?"
She shrugged. She hadn't seen his face yet. Nervously, she moved to one of the walls and fingered the tag on a T-shirt. "Lyra? Are they real?"
"Of course they are. What did you think?"
Advancing to the counter, she replied, "I see them in my dreams. I hear them and I can feel when I ride one. I'm racing against a rider on a white horse, but I can't see who it is. I think I'm getting close to finding out, but I'm too afraid to look."
"What's his name?"
"Randy. I don't even know what he looks like. He liked `The Dragons Are Singing Tonight' and my earrings I wore yesterday. He even recited `Jabberwocky' with me. I'm afraid to look at him, Lyra. What if something goes wrong?"
Lyra listened intently to Gabriella's story. "What could go wrong?"
"He could be a messenger for a bad dragon. He could be really awful-looking and follow me around the rest of my life. That paper he hid in my book could be either a threat or..."
"Relax, Gabriella. First of all, bad dragons only come if you are the most evil person in the world. Secondly, how many ugly guys do you know?"
"A lot," she answered with contempt.
"Then there's a good chance he'll be decent. New guys are never complete monsters."
"What if I don't like him?"
"He has the same interests as you. You've got to like him a little." The gong sounded and Gabriella ducked behind a row of gemstone containers. Lyra, however, was stunned. Her eyes met the newcomer's and refused to leave.
"Hi," he said easily. "Did Gabriella stop in here?"
Gabriella shot a panicked glance to Lyra, who pointed out her location. Gabriella stepped in front of the gem display and pretended to be intrigued by the multicolored stones. Lyra came up next to her and said, "I'd look now, girl. He's drop dead gorgeous."
"I don't want to. I'm too scared."
"If a dragon was a wimp, would they be so powerful?"
Almost in tears, Gabriella moved away to a rack of power bracelets. A hand reached beside her waist and fingered a metallic black bracelet, holding it up for her. "Happiness," he whispered gently in her ear. Gabriella shivered, but she was no longer afraid.
"I'm right here, Gabriella."
Slowly she turned around. Randy pulled her to him, but she shut her eyes. A silent tear left a shadow on her cheek. "Don't be afraid. I'm the one you're looking for. Your dreams come true tonight." He held her close, wondering why she was crying. He tilted her face to his, and she finally saw him. His dark brown eyes were deep and serious, and his smile told Gabriella he was her friend. She was lost in those wonderful eyes. She would never forget what he looked like.
That night, Gabriella picked up the book that covered the piece of paper. Cautiously, she turned it over. A dragon had been sketched, along with the words "As the sun came up, a ball of red / I raced my friend whenever she led / I thought my fast horses would leave her behind / But she rode a dragon as swift as the wind! Come with me. Randy Geller."
Gabriella let the paper waft to the floor, lay down on her bed, and cried. She didn't remember falling asleep, but suddenly there she was riding her incredible dragon. The white horse and its rider galloped next to her. When she looked, she saw Randy on the horse. The one who would be her love.
She woke with a start, hair matted from the tears on her pillow. Randy's drawing stared up at her from the floor, its too-real eyes burning into her soul. Gabriella had never been more frightened in her entire life. All the dragons in her room seemed to glare at her, daring her to move. There was a flash of light from her vanity. Her tiny silver dragons were swaying back and forth, but there was no breeze in Gabriella's room. Dreaming, she was still dreaming. That was when something dark floated past her window and a strange sound erupted from nowhere. It was hauntingly beautiful, music that could only come from another world. The melody went on endlessly, and Gabriella took it in. The dragons were singing tonight.
"Isn't it amazing?"
She jumped. Randy was standing right by her bed. He smiled and sat down by her.
"I told you I could hear them." They both listened until the song filled Gabriella's room. All her dragons joined in the chorus, and as Randy embraced her, she was swept away completely. Clinging to her love, Gabriella found herself outside watching the sunrise and dragons swooping and diving, filling the sky. A small, pearly-white one lighted next to her long enough for her to reach out to it. Calmly, it took off again and Gabriella watched as more and more came in for a landing below them. She and Randy were on a wide cliff. It would soon be over, Gabriella thought sadly. It was only a dream.
She raised her eyes to the sky again, in time to see two shapes air-wrestling. One lost flight, dropping like a stone, and suddenly her entire view was swallowed up in an orange fireball. It came straight for her, blasting off part of the cliff and tumbling Gabriella to the ground far below.
When she came to, Gabriella saw that she was inside a cave, and resting on the motherlode, no less! Her "bed" was a mountain of gold and jewels. All around her were diamonds and rubies and emeralds and every other gem she knew of, along with ones she had never seen before. Gabriella's eyes were dazzled as she gazed in astonishment at the piles and piles of treasure. A low, rumbling growl reminded her where she was-a dragon's cave. Worried, Gabriella dived behind the mountain she had been resting on and searched frantically for some kind of weapon. Where was Randy?
And then she saw it! One gigantic clawed foot stepped into the cave, followed by another. Yellowish scales lined its underside and red ones covered its feet and back. Its tail swished back and forth, collapsing some of the larger mounds. As it came closer, Gabriella could see its head with glittering green eyes and monstrous shiny white teeth. The gargantuan head whipped around, right above Gabriella. She huddled against the gold, shaking violently. Then, to her utmost relief, she spotted a sword. It was about thirty feet away, but she wouldn't make it with the head so close to her. She wondered why she hadn't been seen yet. Never taking her eyes off the dragon's head, she reached for a particularly large jewel and thrust it toward the tail. It worked, the dragon turned, and Gabriella made a break for the sword.
Picking it up, she found that it was almost too heavy for her, but not quite. She had time for only one practice swing before she was under the green glare. The head snapped forward, but Gabriella heaved the sword and caught the dragon square in the jaw. It shook like a dog and spewed fire, melting the pile of gold where Gabriella had been just seconds before. She was up on her feet and running, having dropped the sword and not even glimpsing back. The temperature rose as the dragon sent another white-hot fireball her way. Gabriella had an idea. Swerving to one side, she waited for the fire to hit the wall in front of it, then she doubled back, narrowly missing the dragon's teeth. It didn't seem to notice when she slipped carefully to its feet and found a place to hide.
Heart knocking against her throat and lungs ready to explode, Gabriella tried to remember what she knew about dragons. There was always a weak spot. From her position she scanned the dragon's underside for some sort of hole. Finding none, she got another idea. She took the same path as before, picking up a shield on her way. The dragon located its target, not far from the tip of its nose. Its next fireball was its last. The fire hurtled toward Gabriella, who hid behind the shield. Bouncing off the shield, the fireball came speeding back into the dragon's open mouth. A roar of pain started an avalanche, and Gabriella was trapped. One of the rocks hit her on the head, and everything went black.
She awoke slowly, realizing she was staring at the mural on her own ceiling. The book was still on the floor and so was the picture. It was morning and time for school. Randy had to be there!
When the bell rang for English, the seat behind Gabriella remained empty. The teacher called the roll with no mention of Randy. After school, Gabriella stopped in the curiosity shop.
"Did Randy come in here?"
Lyra looked at her strangely. "Who?"
Gabriella was shocked. "No, no, oh please no. It was real, he was real!"
"What's the matter?"
She told her the whole story, but Lyra didn't remember a thing. It must have all been the most fantastic dream she had ever known.

Months later, Gabriella had stopped visiting the shop. No one knew who Randy was, no one recalled him ever existing. It was painful, but there was nothing Gabriella could do about it. She still saw him as the rider of the white horse, the only one she would ever see.
The curiosity shop was closing. When Gabriella heard about it, she decided to go see Lyra off. There was no gong as she opened the door. Everything was nearly cleared out. Instead of Lyra behind the counter, there was a guy. He had his back to her.
"What happened to Lyra?"
"She left already. I'm just...saying goodbye to this store. I'll miss it."
"Me too." Something caught her eye. It was a banner with words written in medieval style. She read it. "Tonight is the night all the dragons / Awake in their lairs underground..." It was her favorite poem. "I never noticed this here." She suddenly knew who had taken Lyra's place. Slowly she went to the counter and said, "Randy?"
He turned and stepped out from the counter. For a moment, he held her in his arms. Gabriella stared deep into his eyes, not wanting to forget him. "Now you know why I came. It was all over months ago, but they let me return because I hadn't forgotten you. I'll always be in your dreams, Gabriella. It may always be that way."
She nodded, so overcome with sadness she couldn't even cry. "Can we make this last forever?" It was a ridiculous question, but Gabriella didn't want to let Randy go. Not yet.
"I'm afraid not. I don't think I can come back again. But one never forgets their dragon lover. In a way it will last forever."
Gabriella hugged him tight, and then he was gone. The shop was empty, but Gabriella saw, hanging in a corner, a pair of tiny silver earrings. The dragons on them were all strung together, swaying gently in the draft from the open door.