The memory has haunted me for years.
In the middle of a bright California summer, dark days came. My mother and grandparents spoke in hushed, serious voice, arguing about my absent father. Was it my fault he left? A soft whimper escaped my throat and my eyes burned. I needed a hug, but no one paid any attention to me that day. So I ran away to the refuge of my grandparents’ garden where I could hide among its statues and flowers.
My eyes lingered over the familiar garden ornaments. I passed the old birdbath, the statues of gnomes, and a cheerful squirrel. I ran one hand over the stone deer. Its brown paint had faded from years under the sun. Walking with quick steps down the gravel path, I made my way to the center of the garden, my special spot where my favorite statue waited.
A gnarled apricot tree grew there. Right now it was covered with tiny green apricots. Later in the summer the sweet fruit I loved would ripen. I would get to pick them with my parents, no, just with my mother. My lip trembled. My father wouldn’t be here.
The bright-green dragon lay curled at the foot of the apricot tree, partially covered by vines. My mother called the color jade green—the same shade as my eyes. As a child she talked to all the statues, but I only spoke to the dragon. I named her Daisy. Sitting down next to her now, the tears welled up at last, spilling over my cheeks. I wrapped my arms around my legs, making myself into a little ball of five year old misery.
“Child, why are you sad?” said a woman’s voice.
“Who said that?” I asked, wiping my cheek.
“Where are you?” I stood and peered at the plants and statues around me.
“Are not,” I retorted.
A soft laugh filled the air and the woman spoke again. “Perhaps you are right. Easy enough to fix, I suppose.”
The breeze picked up. The space beneath the apricot tree shimmered. Ripples warped the air like the heat over the barbecue when my father cooked. The sweet notes of wind chimes filled the yard. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t have any wind chimes. I whirled around to find the noise.
Under the branches appeared an enormous green dragon’s head. My mouth opened in a silent O and I held my breath.
“Now child,” said the woman. “I won’t hurt you.” Her voice came from the dragon’s mouth.
I opened my lips to scream, but no noise came. Backing away, I bumped into the hammock and froze.
“I don’t eat little girls.” The dragon’s huge golden eyes twinkled.
“How did you know what I was thinking?” I whispered.
“I am a good guesser. Besides, I know I must be very big to you.” The voice sounded kind, like my teacher’s.
“As big as Daddy’s car,” I said.
“Oh, I am much bigger than that,” the dragon said, smiling. Her teeth shone white and enormous. “I’m only showing you a bit of me right now.”
“Where is the rest of you?”
“All around us.”
“Why aren’t you smooshing everything?” I gestured around the garden.
The dragon chuckled. “You are a smart little thing.” The jeweled head tilted to one side. “You would be Siobhan, yes?”
“You said it right. Sha-vauhn.” Everyone messed up my name. I wished on every first star, each night, for a different name— a normal name.
“In the old country Siobhan means ‘God is gracious.’”
“Yep, that’s what Mommy says, too,” I said glumly. “What’s your name?”
“Gwyrdd ferch Heulen ferch Caden ap Haydn.”
“Gwyer-eth?” My mouth struggled with the unfamiliar name.
“Not bad,” said the dragon. “I like the name you gave me—Daisy.”
“It’s easier to say,” I said.
“I am not smooshing the garden because I am not quite here. Only part of me is here. What year is it?”
“It’s 1993, Daisy.”
The dragon stirred. “It’s too early, child. The prophecy says I should not be here yet.”
“What’s a prophecy?” My tongue stumbled on the unfamiliar word.
“It’s a prediction of what might happen in the future.”
“You mean like the weather? My daddy says the guys on TV mess up all the time,” I said.
Daisy chuckled, a low rumble deep in her throat. “Your father is not wrong.”
“What does it say will happen?”
“I am supposed to meet someone, but our appointment is for later,” said Daisy.
“Can’t you stay here until the appointment? I won’t let you be late,” I said.
Daisy frowned. “It’s a secret appointment. There are some people I don’t want to know about the person I’m supposed to meet.”
“Bad people?” I asked. “Is that why you hide and pretend to be a statue?”
“Have you ever had a friend,” asked Daisy, “a friend who misbehaved and needed a break?”
I knew all about that. “Sure, Danny hit Carter. They’re friends, but they both wanted the bike, and wouldn’t take turns. Miss Sarah told them to go sit down and have a time out.”
“Miss Sarah must be very smart,” said the dragon. “As it happens, friends and I have been fighting over something and we needed a time out.”
“Are there more dragons?” I asked.
“Yes, many more.”
“Are there dragons hiding in any other statues?”
The jeweled head moved slowly back and forth. “No, just me. The others cannot pass between worlds.”
“Why just you?”
“I have a job to do,” said Daisy. Her voice sounded sad.
“Are the dragons good guys?” I asked, scooting closer to Daisy and laying a hand on her warm nose. I didn’t want her to be sad.
Daisy snorted, tickling my hand so I giggled. “Yes, dear one, I think we are good.”
“But, if you come back now it would be bad?” My laughter faded.
“It would be very bad indeed, but later, when it is right, I can return.” Daisy sighed.
“I always knew you were real.” I straightened my shoulders. I had found a dragon in hiding.
“Really?” Daisy asked.
“You’re the only statue I named,” I answered. “Nobody fools me.”
The breeze picked up again. Daisy sniffed the wind. “Siobhan, I’m afraid it’s time for me to leave or the bad things will happen. Will you be all right?”
“My daddy’s not coming back, is he?” My worries returned.
Her scales sparkled in the bright sunshine. “No, he is not coming back to your mother although he will visit you and your brother.”
I sighed. “Daisy, will I ever see you again?”
The golden eyes twinkled. “Yes, I believe you will.”
The air warped again. I tried to watch, but a bird warbled close by, and I turned my head. When I glanced back at the apricot tree, the air shimmered and the small, dragon statue lay where Daisy’s head had been. “But, Daisy, who were you fighting with?”
A whisper floated on the breeze. I bent closer to the statue to listen. “That can’t be right,” I said to the empty garden.
On that day everything changed, especially me.
My name is Siobhan Isabella Orsini. It would be twenty years before I saw my dragon again.
Excerpted from "The Dragon in the Garden (The Watcher Rising Series, #1)" by Erika Gardner. Copyright © 2016 by Erika Gardner. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.