The silver dragon was barely visible in the overcast, predawn sky. She had seen this particular beast before. Her view shifted from the ground to the air and she looked down on the dragon and its rider, a man cloaked in armor to match the dragon’s scales. Julia had only watched the silver-armored man from a distance, but for some reason was drawn to him. Previously she’d only seen him in full helm. Now, with his helmet removed, long golden hair floated behind him.
Movement caught her eye. Four giant hawks rose from the clouds. In the past, Julia had only observed the hawks on the horizon, but she knew they were at odds with the dragon riders.
Whack! The loud sound made her jerk upright at her desk.
“Watch out for the hawks!” she screamed. Julia was rewarded with laugher. Her cheeks warmed as her classmates continued to enjoy her humiliation.
“Ms. Julia Johnson!”
She turned to face Ms. Matheson. The teacher impatiently tapped a ruler against her palm, the same ruler that had often awakened Julia before when the teacher used it to strike her laminated desk.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Matheson.” Julia shook her head, still caught between reality and her daydream.
“What hawks?” the teacher demanded, her frown deepening.
Julia hesitated; the images of the dragon and birds faded.
“There aren’t any hawks. I’m sorry, I was just daydreaming.”
“This is the third time in two weeks.” Ms. Matheson pulled her shoulders back and, though Julia thought it impossible, the elderly woman stiffened her posture even more.
Ms. Matheson evidently expected more, but after a long moment of silence, she stomped back to her desk. As the irate teacher fumbled through some papers, picked several up, then spun and marched back to Julia, Ms. Matheson’s face turned the color of strawberry Kool-Aid.
“Well, little Ms. Dreamer,” her voice rose with each word. “Maybe you can stay awake long enough in detention to complete these.” The teacher dropped the advanced calculus problems onto Julia’s desk before returning to the front of the room.
Julia managed to keep a smile from her lips. She’s probably forgotten I already have detention today.
She would have to get a couple of problems wrong, otherwise, she would infuriate the grouchy old teacher even more. It was the same in every class. As soon as she saw a problem or was asked a question—in History, English, or any other subject—Julia somehow knew the answer.
When Julia was younger, she had asked her aunt about it and the other strange things that had happened since she had passed into womanhood.
Her aunt would only huff, turn away, and grumble a disparaging comment Julia’s mother under her breath.
Julia walked sluggishly down the long lane to her aunt’s shabby farmhouse, nearly a mile off the busy Texas highway. She could taste the dust blown off the old road and nearby fields. It was drier than normal for winter, as if the rain gods had overlooked them…again.
At least the High School Principal, Mr. Randall, had been kind to her that afternoon. He had only shaken his head as he read the slip Ms. Matheson had sent with her. He warned her to improve her attitude in that ‘as-a-father-and-educator-I-know-best’ tone but did not add more days to her detention.
Julia stamped her shoes on the steps and then pulled open the squeaky screen. She placed her hand on the split wood and cracked paint of the weather-worn door. Julia took a deep breath as she pushed it open and entered the drab front room. Everything was either a faded grey or baby-poop brownish green.
“Is that you, Julia?” her aunt called from the kitchen in her familiar biting tone.
Julia thought of several sharp remarks but responded in as pleasant a voice as she could muster—the consequences of not doing so wasn’t worth the moment of rebellion. “Yes, it’s me.”
“The teacher keep you after again?”
Julia could feel the sarcasm from the other room. For the millionth time she wondered how this elderly woman could be her father’s sister. Not biological, as her aunt often reminded her. She knew little of her father other than he had been adopted when Julia’s grandmother remarried more than eighteen years after Julia’s aunt had been born.
“Dreamer. Nothing but a dreamer.”
Julia could easily imagine her aunt’s head shaking just like Mr. Randall’s.
“Julia the Dreamer.” Her aunt’s voice trailed off with additional disparaging comments about Julia’s parents. This always happened when she got in trouble or did something odd.
Julia started up the stairs to her room, but a harsh command came from the kitchen, “Get to your chores. Supper will be ready soon. I want you in bed early tonight. Maybe then you’ll quit disrespecting your teachers.”
After the grim diagnosis this past summer, her aunt’s manner had grown even harsher, but Julia couldn’t really blame her. Heart disease wasn’t something anyone wanted to hear. Her aunt had already declared that the day after Julia left for college, the farm was going up for sale.
Julia didn’t want to make life any harder for her aunt. Her voice became as respectful as she could summon, “Yes, Ma’am.”
She put her books on the stairs and headed out to the barn. Between detention, chores, and supper, she wouldn’t finish until after dusk. Then it would be off to her room for the rest of the evening. Only a few more months.