Liam’s older sister, Riley stood in front of the hallway mirror putting wind-polish on the scales of her long, blue tail. She was proud of how the wind-polish made her dragon scales shine.
Liam stood next to her holding the small jar of polish where she could reach it.
Riley and her friends were going to flying practice. Liam wished he could go, too. He picked up Riley’s bright red cap with blue letters and yellow wings on the front and looked at it. When he went to flying school he would have one, too. He wished he could go today. He decided to ask.
Before he could open his mouth, Riley grabbed her cap from his hand and said, “I need to get my lunch bag.”
She put the cap on as she dashed to the kitchen.
Liam moved to the front of the mirror. He dipped one finger into the jar of polish and rubbed it on his own, short tail. He moved his tail up and down and back and forth admiring how shiny his scales looked.
Riley returned with the zipper bag their mother had packed for her lunch. When she saw Liam, she started to laugh.
“What are you doing with my polish?” she asked.
Liam dropped his head and said, “I thought you might let me go with you.”
“You’re too small,” she answered and took the polish jar from his hand.
“I could just watch you fly,” he said. Liam stepped away from the mirror and looked at his sister hopefully.
“You can’t come with me,” Riley said.
The baby dragon sighed by didn’t move away.
“Stop staring at me,” she shouted. “It isn’t my fault that your wings are too little.”
Liam started to cry. Riley was right. His wings were too little.”
Riley rolled her eyes and put the lid on the polish-jar. She set it carefully on the hallway shelf then turned back to him.
“I’m sorry I shouted,” Riley said gently. “Maybe you can come with me next year. When I get home from practice later, we can play fire-breathing together.”
She hugged her little brother and said, “I don’t want to be late for the bus.”
Liam sighed as she ran from the room.
He climbed onto the couch by the front room window and watched as Riley and her friends hurried down the sidewalk to the bus stop. The bus had open space inside of it and rails for small dragons to hold. But Riley and her friends flew up to the dragon perches on the top of the bus.
When the bus drove away Liam went to his cushion in the corner of his bedroom, turned in a circle to fluff the pillow just right then plopped down. He curled up with his chin resting on the base of his tail.
He was lonely. He closed his eyes tightly and pretended to be asleep.
“Maybe next year will come soon,” he thought to himself. “Next year I will be bigger. My wings will be gigantic!”
Later that day, when the bus dropped Riley off after flying class, she came running into the house calling out his name. “Liam! Liam!”
The baby dragon rose to his feet and shuffled slowly into the living room.
Riley had a large smile on her face. “This is for you,” she said and held out a cap.
Liam blinked his eyes and looked at it. It was bright red with blue letters on the front.
“It looks like the hat you wear to school,” Liam said.
“It is,” she answered. “Only it’s yours.”
She took the cap and placed it on his head. It was a too large, but she tilted it over one of his budding horns.
“Perfect,” she declared. She pointed one of her claws at the cap and read it for him. “Dragon School of Aviation”
Liam smiled and ran to the hallway mirror so that he could see himself.
“Perfect,” he agreed.
“That’s not all,” Riley said. “Next week, you can come with us. The flying teacher says that we can carry you in a carriage basket so that you can see what flying is like.”
“How will I get to the top of the bus?” Liam asked worriedly.
“You can ride inside,” his sister answered.
“By myself?” Liam asked.
Riley flicked one claw-finger along side her face and thought for a minute.
“We can pull you up with our tails,” she said. “That way you can sit with us.”
Liam looked back into the mirror at his hat and grinned happily.
The following week there were two zippered bags on the kitchen counter, and Riley helped him put wind-polish on his scales.
The flying teacher was a large, brown and red dragon. He held a clip board that he often clicked with one claw nail.
“Line up. Line up,” the flying teacher called out. “I know that all of you will be nice to our new student, Liam.”
With that the teacher walked over to a shed. When he came back out he handed a pair of goggles and a long spy-glass to Liam.
Riley helped her brother put on the goggles and showed him how to work the spyglass.
The teacher went back into the shed. He returned with a carriage basket that had long, bright ribbons tied along the edges.
“Liam will be your Navigator,” the teacher said. “While all of you are busy staying in the air, he will be using his spy glass to see all around you for any signs of danger. Who can tell me what dangers a flying dragon might face?”
“Hunters,” one student said.
“Bigger robber dragons,” another student said.
“Flash storms that come on suddenly,” a third student offered.
The teacher nodded. “As your Navigator, Liam will be responsible for watching out for all those things and more. Let’s get going.”
Liam looked around at the student dragons. He thought that they did not look happy about him being there. Except for Riley. She smiled at him.
“Two times around the field for warm up.” the flying teacher called out.
When they were ready to fly the third time, he said, “Each of you to pick up one of the ribbons. All of you lift it at the same time. Fly around the field holding it.”
The students leaped into the air. They flapped as hard as they could, but the basket did not come up off the ground.
BLEEEEEE! The teacher blew his whistle at them. They stopped trying to fly and gathered on the ground to listen to his instructions.
“You have to be able to lift it higher than buildings or trees so that no one gets hurt,” the teacher told him. “Keep trying. You’ll get there. Keep trying.”
The students tried four more times before the carriage-basket lifted. The teacher signaled for them to keep flying with it and turned to Liam.
“You are not going to up in the basket today,” he said.
Liam dropped his head sadly.
“When you come next week, you will, though,” he added.
Liam’s face brightened.
The teacher took Liam over to the exercise area and talked to him about how to keep his balance in the air. Then he told Liam to stand on a long board with a ball underneath it. Every time Liam fell off, the teacher made him try again.
By the time practice ended, Liam was very tired. Since he was too tired to ride on the top of the bus, Riley rode inside the bus with him on the way home.
At practice the next week, the dragons were able to lift the carriage basket right away.
They flew around the field twice carrying it easily.
It was time for Liam to ride in the carriage basket. Liam was so nervous he almost started to shake.
Riley called out, “Hurry up.”
He looked at his sister in embarrassment. She stood with the other dragons, holding her ribbon. All the student dragons were smiling at him. He swallowed to hide his fear then quickly climbed into the basket. He held the spyglass under one front leg. Straightening his shoulders, he pulled his goggles over his eyes.
The student flapped and flapped and the carriage basket tipped to one side. Liam shifted the other way and it leveled off.
Suddenly, they were flying, straight and true. Really and truly flying!
The air stung his face, but his goggles protected his eyes.
The wind-polish his sister put on his scales helped the wind slide over them.
As they flew higher, things on the ground looked smaller and smaller.
Suddenly, his left wing twitched. He thought he imagined it. Then his right wing twitched. Then both wings twitched. He opened them as wide as his little wings would go. The wind rushed across the webbing.
He looked up and saw that the dragon team was watching him.
All at once they lifted their heads and roared. Liam lifted his head to roar, but instead, coughed. He coughed one more time. Then he was roaring right along with everyone else.
As he finished roaring, Liam saw something out of the corner of his eye. Pushing his goggles to his forehead, he set the spy glass against one eye. He twisted it into focus.
In the distance he saw another young dragon, about the same age as Riley, spinning toward the ground. One wing was hurt.
Liam roared at his teammates and pointed. Together they turned the carriage basket and headed to the desperate dragon.
On the practice field, the flying teacher scratched his head in confusion. He shouted, “What are doing? Stay in your own area.”
They heard the teacher, but went on.
When the carriage basket team reached the injured dragon, Riley dropped her ribbon. She wrapped her tail around him, and she pulled him into the basket. It tipped to one side as she dragon dropped beside her brother, so Liam shifted his weight to keep the basket level.
Riley grabbed her ribbon again, and they flew back to the practice field. When they landed, the teacher helped the injured dragon out and told him on the ground.
“What happened?” the teacher asked.
“I flew too low,” the student dragon said. “My wing ripped on tree branches. When I flew back up, it tore all the way apart.”
“You should have landed right away,” the teacher said. He peered closely at the torn wing and hissed kindly. “Rest here. I will get help.”
The dragons on Liam’s flying team, stood around the hurt dragon. Some asked him questions. Some walked a little bit away and sit down to wait.
After being so excited and working so hard to save the dragon, Liam felt lost. He did not know what to do next. He thought he should do something, but he did not know what.
He picked up his spyglass, adjusted his goggles, and started to walk back the starting field.
Behind him his sister called out, “Liam! Liam, wait.”
He turned around and saw all the dragons and the flying teacher looking at him.
“Good work, Navigator,” the teacher said, smiling.
Liam adjusted his aviator cap. He flapped both his little wings.
“No big deal,” he said, grinning.