I didn’t mean to cheat on Sarah. First she had the flu for two weeks and then she left on a trip. Next thing I knew I hadn’t seen her in a month. That’s when I ran into my ex-girlfriend Carla at the grocery store.
Thing is, I forgot Sarah and Carla knew each other.
When Sarah got back from her trip, I immediately went to explain myself but she’d hired one of those vicious green dragons to perch on the roof of her craftsman house. I felt confident I could’ve talked my way past a red one, but the green ones were notorious for not listening to reason.
The one Sarah had hired was smaller than others I’d seen, but his wings still reached the ground. He cradled the house like an egg. His mean little eyes scanned the neighborhood and smoke puffed from his nose.
I parked across the street and took a deep breath. I’d heard the trick to getting past a dragon was to hide your fear. I walked toward Sarah’s door with my shoulders back and my head down which was actually sort of uncomfortable.
“Halt,” the dragon said in a booming voice. His claws gripped the roof in the exact spot where Sarah and I had sat the first time she’d invited me into her house. We’d climbed out of her bedroom window and lay there watching the stars and the occasional dragon soaring past. We didn’t kiss or anything. It was sort of wonderful.
The green dragon craned his reptilian head down to me and sniffed the air. Then something that sounded like a laugh belched out of him with a plume of smoke.
“Holy shit, man,” he said finally. “She told me you’d show up but I didn’t believe it. Did you not see me up here?”
“I saw you,” I said.
“My orders are to turn you into a pitiful pile of ash the moment you step into the yard. Then she wants to sweep you up and mail you to Carla with a note that says ‘He’s all yours.'”
I gulped. It didn’t seem like Sarah to go for the burning death option.
“And here you are, in her yard,” he said. Flames danced gleefully in his nostrils.
“I wanted to apologize,” I said. “But I’ll leave. You don’t even have to say I was here. I promise I won’t come back.”
The dragon thought about it. “I’m curious about what this apology would’ve sounded like. I mean, you did nail one of her friends.”
“They aren’t that good of friends,” I said. “I used to date Carla.”
“So that makes it okay?”
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go down. I wanted to tell Sarah that I missed her. That she smelled like everything nice in the world. That the guy who’d hooked up with Carla wasn’t the real me. “It was the opposite of okay,” I said.
“I’m going to throw this out there: Your apology is total garbage,” the dragon said. “It’s like you don’t know Sarah has feelings.”
“I know she has feelings,” I said. Just before she’d gotten sick I’d taken her to see a movie and she’d cried when the main character’s dog died. I’d given her our last clean napkin and put my arm around her. I could still feel her head there now, her cheek pressed into the fleshy part of my chest.
“We’re at an impasse,” the dragon said. “I’m supposed to char your ass but I imagine you want to live long enough to screw over some other girl. So I’ll make a deal with you. Convince me that you’re sorry and I’ll let you go. Don’t convince me and well, you know what happens.” He stretched his wings out to the side and shook them before tucking them onto his scaly back.
I squeezed my eyes closed. “When I feel like I’m getting too close to someone, I do something to push them away.”
“Cliché!” the dragon roared.
I held my breath and waited for the cascade of fire.
“Besides, Sarah said you guys hadn’t grown all that close yet.”
“She said that?” I thought we’d had something special. There were times when I was with Sarah that I felt content. Like we’d never climbed down from her roof.
Smoke steamed from the dragon’s mouth. “She said you were never, and I quote, real with her.”
That really got to me. “You tell her that I never thought she was real with me.
What was I supposed to think when she had the flu and wouldn’t let me see her? Isn’t the point of a relationship to see each other at our best and worst times? I could have brought her soup or rubbed her feet. I don’t know. It’s not like I ever wanted to be with someone who had the flu before. Then she didn’t see me before she left on her trip. Did she stop to think how I felt?”
The dragon stared but since he wasn’t murdering me yet, I kept going.
“It was terrible. I was thinking about her when I was doing other things. I found myself driving by her house and going over our past conversations looking for clues. I hated her for making me feel that way.”
“This isn’t an apology.”
“It kind of is,” I said. “It’s getting there.”
“I’ve heard enough,” the dragon said. “I’ll give you a five second lead.”
He immediately started counting and it wasn’t until he got to two that I finally turned and ran for my car.
“Five!” the dragon yelled as I was pulling open my door.
I received third degree burns on my back and shoulders, but I lived. I drove myself to the hospital with my skin melting to the seat. Even in indescribable pain, all I could think was how after a few weeks in the hospital, I would have another chance to make things right with Sarah.
Josh Denslow’s stories have appeared in Barrelhouse, Third Coast, Cutbank, Wigleaf, and Black Clock, among others. His collection NOT EVERYONE IS SPECIAL will be published in 2019 by 7.13 Books. In addition to constructing elaborate Lego sets with his three boys, he plays the drums in the band Borrisokane and edits at SmokeLong Quarterly.