I turned my attention to the rest of the creative artefacts in the box. Amber was currently arranging a collection of coloured crystal dragon ornaments on a shelf. Their eyes were made of tiny chips of opal or pearl, and their scales were carved with a breathtaking precision, their wings so thin they could have been actual membrane. I had to take a step back as I admired them in case I broke them. They looked extremely delicate, but their jewel eyes glinted like ice as though to reassure me that they were strong as steel.
“I‘ve always wanted to see a dragon,” Amber said suddenly. Her voice was light and musing as she gazed at the collection of ornaments. “It’s said they live in mountains far away from civilisation… so I don’t suppose I ever will.”
“You - you - believe in dragons?” I asked uncertainly, quite taken aback. Amber did not appear to be lying or taking the mick; her heart-shaped face bore a dreamlike expression. My mother had been spot on about this girl.
“Oh, yes, of course. I love mythical creatures. Though they shouldn’t be called mythical when they really aren’t…it‘s what the non-believers call them.”
She noticed my sceptical expression and stroked the wing of the smallest emerald dragon as she continued, “Myths have a basis in fact… if you haven’t seen something with your own eyes, it doesn’t mean that it does not exist. There could be whole other worlds that nobody knows about, but does that mean they aren’t there?”
She had tilted her head back to gaze at the ceiling, as though she could see through it right past the stars to the shining worlds she imagined. I found myself also glancing upwards, involuntarily; and found myself wishing that I could see them too. Amber made it seem as though it was all real, and in my mind’s eye I could see the fantasy world where the creatures that starred in myths lived freely alongside humans. But if that world existed, it was a billion light years away. I would never have wondered if it was much closer to home…
“Here we are.”
A bright voice and a rattling thunk brought me abruptly out of my reverie; my mother had arrived with a second box, this time full of what looked like cat toys. I reached in and pulled out a caged ball made from soldered metal wire, inside of which a small golden bell tinkled amongst miniature holly leaves.
Amber interrupted my bemused question, taking the ball out of my hand and setting it in a card tray on the shelf with its variously-coloured fellows.
“JingleBells, they’re very popular at Christmas… you hang them over doorways so they ring when people go in or out… much like a shop, but entirely more festive. A family friend makes them… I recommended them for the gallery shop.”
I stared blankly at the box which to me was still full of, no matter what Amber proclaimed them to be, cat toys.
“I’m sure you’ve helped enough, Ruby… why don’t you go for another jaunt around the shops?” my mother said hastily, noting my confused stare directed at the irrepressible Amber, who was humming what I was sure was an entirely made-up tune as she arranged the JingleBells in rings according to their colour.
“She can be a bit overwhelming the first time you meet her,” she said in an undertone as she guided me to the door. “Has she asked you about the faeries yet?”
I was still in a state of shocked confusion at the dreamy girl’s complete and utter strangeness. I shook my head as I pulled open the chrome and glass door.
“No - dragons.”
My mother grinned as she held the door open for me. “Like she says, you never know. And be back before it gets dark,” she added sharply, with a stern glance which I turned my back on as I walked away down the street.