“Marisol? Marisol! Are you there?”
I looked up and saw Marisol’s mother, Bastina, standing in our side yard. She was craning her neck and trying to see around the deck and gazebo.
I waved at her. “She’s here!” I gestured toward the small child, who was standing next to the gazebo under the intense scrutiny of Dragon (in her accustomed guise of an elf maiden) and Cleric. “Come on back!”
Bastina hurried over to her daughter and took her hand as she addressed me. “I’m so sorry! I rang your doorbell, but there was no answer. I saw the sheriff’s car pull out of here a few moments ago, and I was worried when I couldn’t find Marisol.”
“I came to see if I would be allowed to pet the horses, Mommy.” Marisol’s little face was crumpled in disappointment. “But the horses are gone. I think the dragon sent them away.” She pointed an accusing finger at Dragon, who started to shimmer and shapeshift to her true form.
Bastina’s eyes widened, but the shimmering stopped almost as swiftly as it started. The woman quickly composed herself, and I hoped she had not seen anything.
“Would you like some refreshments? We still have plenty of iced tea and cake.” I smiled at the nervous woman and gestured toward an empty chair on the gazebo.
Bastina looked at the refreshments set out on the table. “Oh, you’re expecting company! Marisol and I should leave.”
“No, we’re not expecting anyone else. Two of our other neighbors – Mace and Gloria – were here earlier, engaging in some backyard birdwatching with us, but they just left.
Marisol giggled. “You should have seen the lady, mommy! She fainted when the dragon stopped hiding.” She pointed at Dragon again, and this time it took a bit longer for the beast to control her shapeshifting.
This time, I was sure Bastina had seen something. Her eyes were wide, and she pulled her daughter closer to her.
I pasted a forced smile onto my face, and beckoned mother and daughter to the chairs next to me. “Wouldn’t you like a piece of cake, Marisol? If you don’t like iced tea, maybe Dray could find some milk for you.”
“Dray?” The little girl wrinkled her brow.
I pointed to Dragon.
“Oh, you mean the dragon.” Marisol giggled.
This time, Dragon struggled in vain to control her shapeshifting. As we all watched, the beautiful maiden began to shimmer. Then a large dragon stood next to Cleric, morphing from blue to red. It was a very long moment before the shimmering stopped, and Dragon was back to her customary guise. She had more than a hint of surprise on her delicate features.
Surprise was not the word I would use for Bastina’s expression. Abject terror would come closer; still, even those words couldn’t adequately describe the look of horror and shock on the woman’s face as she collapsed into a chair.
I poured her a glass of iced tea, trying to act as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred.
Dragon smiled at Marisol. “I will go get you a glass of milk, child. Then I think we should talk.”
“So.” I struggled to make conversation. I gestured toward the binoculars, field guide, and camera sitting on a second table nearby. “Are you interested in birdwatching?”
Bastina gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head, and she seemed to have trouble speaking. “N . . . no. Well, I mean, I d . . . do love birds. I . . . I love all animals, really. But I’ve . . . I’ve never spent any time actively observing them.”
“I do.” Marisol pirouetted and smiled broadly. “I spend a lot of time actively observing animals. And people, too. And dragons.” She giggled again as Dragon returned with a tall glass of milk. This time, Dragon remained in her guise, seemingly effortlessly. I wondered what had changed.
“Well, little miss, why do you not come up here and sit with this fierce old dragon and drink your milk? I will cut you a slice of cake to go with it. Which would you prefer – orange chiffon or chocolate?” Dragon smiled at the little girl who immediately joined Dragon and Cleric on the Gazebo.
“May I have a large slice of the orange chiffon, please? I really like orange, and I do not care for chocolate at all.” Marisol reached for the glass and took a big swallow of milk.
Bastina anxiously watched her daughter but started to relax when Dragon remained in her non-beastly guise.
“Your daughter’s manners are most impressive.” Cleric smiled at Bastina, who glowed with maternal pride. “I do not think we had the opportunity to properly introduce ourselves when we met earlier. My name is Clara. My sister, Dray, and I are Missy’s cousins.”
“Missy? I must have misunderstood.” Bastina’s brow furrowed. “I thought I caught your name as Marge.”
“It is Marge, but you know how it is with pet names among family. They’ve always called me Missy, as far back as I can remember.” I smiled tightly.
“May I cut you a slice of cake, too, Bastina?” Dragon held the cake knife and indicated the two desserts.
“Yes, thank you. I would prefer the chocolate, please. I confess to being a chocoholic.” The woman smiled wistfully at her daughter. “Marisol does not share many of my tastes.”
“I don’t look like mommy, either.” Marisol noted, after swallowing a mouthful of cake. “I more closely resemble my father.”
Before I could comment, Bastina changed the subject. “So why was the sheriff’s car here earlier?”
Marisol started laughing. “The man was all upset when the lady he was with fainted. He called the police on his cell phone. When the officers got here, the lady was so funny! She was screeching at the officers, and they got mad at her and the man. The man and woman went home as soon as the officers left.”
Bastina looked at me and raised her eyebrow questioningly.
I could feel my cheeks grow warm. “It was a misunderstanding. As your daughter said, Mace got upset when Gloria fainted.”
“Why did she faint?”
“I think she had a touch of heat stroke.” I hoped I sounded convincing.
Marisol laughed again. “She fainted when she saw the dragon.” The child pointed at Dragon again, but nothing happened.
I let out a huge sigh of relief. “How’s the cake, Marisol? Would you like Dray to cut you another piece?”
Marisol looked at her mother for approval before nodding. “Yes, please. This is delicious.”
Bastina leaned toward me and spoke in a whisper. “Did the woman see anything? Something that might have caused her to faint?”
I blinked. “Whatever do you mean?”
Bastina smoothed her napkin and folded her hands tightly in her lap. She frowned and chewed on her lower lip for a moment before answering. “I . . . I don’t really know how to explain it. Sometimes . . .” Her voice trailed off and she sat there staring at her daughter.
“Sometimes people think they see something your daughter has mentioned?” Dragon gave Bastina a knowing look.
Bastina gaped at Dragon. “Why . . . why, yes! That’s what happens . . . sometimes. How did you know?”
“Oh, I have some experience with children. Occasionally, when a youngster has an exceptionally active imagination, their . . . enthusiasm . . . causes others to imagine they see the same things the child claims to see. It is a sort of sympathetic reaction.”
“Really?” Bastina seemed relieved. “Then, it is normal?”
Dragon nodded, and Bastina visibly relaxed, tucking into her cake with gusto.
“Mommy always worries about me.” Marisol looked at her mother sadly. “I tease her and my Aunt Danica that they’re witches because they’re always brewing their herbal concoctions, but mommy fears I might actually be a witch. I’m adopted, you see, and mommy doesn’t know much about my bi . . . bio . . .”
“Your real parents?” Dragon prompted the little girl.
Marisol frowned and shook her head. “Mommy is my real parent. She chose me, and she is the one who takes care of me. No, I mean my bio . . .”
“Biological parents.” Bastina said softly.
Marisol nodded sagely. “Yes, my bio-logical parents. They’re the ones who created me, but they aren’t my real parents. For some reason, they gave me away. Maybe they died, and there were no other family members who could care for me, or maybe they just didn’t want me. Maybe they created me by accident and didn’t know what to do with me. So, mommy adopted me, and she’s my real parent.”
“I see you’ve discussed this at length with Marisol.” I tilted my head and looked at the little girl, and then at her real mother. “She has a very good understanding of adoption for one so young.”
Bastina nodded. “I’ve never hidden it from her. I wanted her to know that she was special, and I chose her to be my child.”
“Do you remember your biological parents at all, Marisol?” Cleric studied the little girl closely.
Marisol scrunched her eyebrows down and stuck her tongue out of the corner of her mouth as she considered the question. “Not really. I was just a baby when mommy adopted me. Why?”
“Well, you mentioned that you resemble your father. Were you referring to your biological father, or your real father?” Cleric took a sip of her tea.
“I don’t have a real father. Mommy isn’t married. But it’s something she and I say when people comment on the lack of resemblance between me and mommy.”
“Well, we want to thank you for your hospitality, but Marisol and I really should get home. We’re going over to the farm this afternoon. I’m working at the herb shop.” Bastina stood up and beckoned to Marisol.
The little girl turned to me. “Thank you so much for the cake and milk. May I help clear the dishes before mommy and I leave?”
Dragon waved her off. “Oh, that will not be necessary, child. Clara and I will take care of that. When you get to be old like us, it helps to keep busy. You run along and have fun with your mommy at the farm.”
Marisol giggled. “Dragons live for a very long time, don’t they? How old are you?”
“Marisol! It’s rude to ask someone their age!” Her mother’s tone was sharp, and she blushed furiously. “Please excuse my daughter.”
Dragon winked at Bastina. “Do not apologize for the child. It is never rude to ask a dragon their age.” She turned to Marisol and replied in a stage whisper. “I am several centuries old.”
Marisol laughed, and Bastina seemed relieved as they departed.
As soon as they were out of earshot, Dragon toppled into a chair. She grew pale and her breathing was labored. “That child has amazing power! It drained every bit of my strength and energy to counter her magic.”
I gaped at Dragon. “You mean she really is a witch? Then that bit you told Bastina about people having a sympathetic reaction causing them to see things the child mentioned was untrue.”
Dragon shook her head. “No, not a witch. Something else. I need to do my research. And, yes the sympathetic reaction of which I spoke was untrue, just something to put the woman’s mind at ease. But I am on the verge of collapse. For now, I need to sleep, to rejuvenate and regain my strength. We will talk when I awaken.”
“I will prepare some of my healing herbs for you before you sleep.” Cleric helped Dragon to her feet, and they slowly made their way to the house, Dragon leaning heavily on Cleric.
I remained on the gazebo, lost in thought. What power could this child have so great as to drain all of Dragon’s considerable power, and where did she acquire it?
Will Dragon discover just what Marisol is, and what power the child possesses? Be sure to come back next week and find out. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.