The teacher stood in the front of the classroom and clapped her hands, smiling. "Okay, everyone, I know you're excited from recess, but I want you all to gather here on the story rug and get ready for a discussion."All the kids came together and sat on the rug, Kid Joey wondering what the discussion would be about. His teacher had come up with some pretty interesting stuff so far this year: what everyone's favorite books or stories were, what they wanted to be when they grew up, what their favorite foods were, all kinds of fun things to talk about, to help everyone in the class get to know one another.
"Today, boys and girls, we are going to talk about something really fun: Imaginary Friends."
Uh oh, Kid Joey thought. Suppose your imaginary friends are real? And suppose you can't talk about them?
Already Kid Joey was in a dilemma. But little did he know that there was a friend in his class who also had been plunged into a dilemma.
Catherine Galloway sat quietly deciding whether she should talk about her friend, Shen Lung, in much the same way as Kid Joey. For Shen Lung was imaginary as far as ordinary people were concerned, but to Catherine he was real, and good luck. But if she revealed him, would that luck be broken? Or perhaps even turn to bad luck? That was a scary thought.
So far the teacher hadn't called on her to speak about her imaginary friend. Right now Mrs. Krendell was calling on Joey.
Kid Joey's eyes were wide, as he still couldn't make up him mind about whether or not to share a story about Sir WHIP with his teacher and classmates. But she would think the whole thing was made up, right? So why not?
"Joey?" Mrs. Krendell's voice sounded happy to have Joey share with the class. So he shrugged and began to tell a little about Sir WHIP.
"Sir WHIP takes me flying a lot," Kid Joey began.
"Oh! Sir WHIP is a pilot?"
"No; he's a flying dragon and he breathes fire."
"OOoohh," the whole class seemed quite impressed with Kid Joey's imaginary friend. Most of their imaginary friends were little kids like them, or animals who talked, but Kid Joey was the first to offer up such a dramatic friend.
"Wow! Joey, that's cool. What kinds of things do you like to do together?"
"Well, there's the flying; that's really cool. And sometimes Sir WHIP will toast marshmallows for me and my sister after dinner."
"That's very, very cool!" Mrs. Krendell said, smiling impressed by Joey's imagination. Then she moved on to the next person, and Kid Joey was glad he'd talked about his pal, Sir WHIP.
After class one of Kid Joey's classmates came up to him and smiled a shy smile. "Hi," said Catherine Galloway. "Your dragon sounds pretty cool."
"Yeah," Kid Joey said, chuckling. "Except for his breath, that's really hot!"
Catherine joined in the laugh. "Can you keep a secret?" she asked, lowering her voice.
"I have a dragon friend too," she said softly, her face close to Kid Joey's so no one else would hear what she was telling him.
"You do? That's awesome! Why didn't you tell about him in class?"
"Because he's a big secret! I can't tell anyone, or it might ruin his good luck."
"Then how come you're telling me?"
"Because you have a dragon friend too. So I thought it might be okay for you to know."
"And besides, dragons are just pretend," Kid Joey said, walking alongside Catherine as they made their way to the coat room, where they would get ready to catch their buses.
"Right," Catherine said, looking a little disappointed with Kid Joey. By that time they had their coats on and their back packs shouldered, and made their way outside to the line of buses ready to take them home.
"Want to come over and play with me and my sister tomorrow?" Kid Joey invited Catherine, sure his mom would say it was okay.
"Okay!" Catherine said, sure her mom would let her.
The next afternoon Catherine handed Kid Joey's bus driver a note from her mother saying that she had permission to ride home with Kid Joey and visit his house. Which she did.
"This is my sister, Ro," Kid Joey introduced his new friend as he sandwiched her in the seat between himself and Ro.
"You just started in our school, huh?" Ro asked in her friendliest voice.
"Weren't you born in China, and your mom and dad went all the way there to bring you home?"
"Yes, how did you know that?"
"My mom is friends with Mrs. Waters, your scout leader."
"Oh! Yes, Mrs. Waters and my mom are getting to be pretty good friends."
"She's pretty good friends with almost everybody. She's a really nice lady."
"This week will be my first meeting," Catherine said.
"If you want, you can ride the bus home with us and we can go to the meeting together, then you won't be all alone."
"That sounds like fun, and my mom could just meet us there and I'll go home with her afterwards."
"Sounds like a plan," Ro said, sounding very much like her dad.
About the time this conversation ended, the bus pulled up in front of Ro and Jo's house with the little purple flowers on the mailbox (it was one of Ro's favorite things about their house.
The kids went inside and huddled around the dining room table, hurrying to finish their homework so they would be able to play outside for a little while before the sun went down.
Ro and Jo got cheese sticks out of the fridge, and peeled off strings while they worked on math and spelling. Catherine liked doing homework with them.
Within an hour they were outside playing tag, Kato running around the yard at top speed, showing off for his newfound friend.
The kids plopped down on the back steps, panting and sweaty, and Kato nosed Catherine's hand up off her lap and ducked under it so that she would pet him. As soon as he had her full attention and knew she was a dog lover, he flopped over on his back for a belly rub. "Haha! He's worse than my dog!" she giggled, rubbing and patting to Kato's delight.
Sir WHIP had come out of his little house inside Ro's room, and watched the children out back from Ro's window. He knew that Kid Joey talked about him in class today, and that everyone thought he was just an imaginary friend, including little Catherine out there rubbing Kato's belly.
He sensed something about her, that she was a special little girl.
And that she had a very special friend.
"So what's China like?" Ro asked as she reached down to pet Kato's belly too.
"I don't know. I was just a baby when my mom and dad came and got me and brought me back to the United States."
"You said you have a dragon friend too?" Kid Joey said.
"Yes. Shen Lung. He's a good luck dragon," Catherine answer quietly, as if not wanting anyone else to hear but her two friends – well, three if you counted Kato, but she doubted he spoke human.
"What does he look like?" Kid Joey asked.
"He kindof looks like a big red snake with legs and a dragon face. What does Sir WHIP look like?"
Suddenly, Kid Joey gasped, looking up, movement high in the sky catching his eye. "Well, like that," he answered Catherine, pointing.
Catherine looked up and squealed in delight, clapping her hands. Oh, Sir WHIP isn't imaginary at all! Look at him fly around!"
And at just that moment Sir WHIP swooped across the sky and disappeared behind the house.
"Awww! Where did he go?" Catherine said, disappointed not to have had a chance to say hello to the giant orange dragon, so different from her own friend, Shen Lung.
She started to turn back towards the steps to sit and talk some more when Ro pointed at the sky. "Here comes Sir WHIP again, and look!"
"It's Shen Lung!!" Catherine shouted as a huge Chinese dragon, looking indeed like a giant red snake with legs and a dragon head zoomed into view, following Sir WHIP into the back yard.
The two dragons landed in the middle of the yard, bumped heads, as everyone knows dragons do as a friendly sort of greeting when they get together.
Mom came to the window more than once that afternoon, checking on the children who were squealing and playing all together, tag, of all things. She laughed at their antics.
But it was when she was away from the window that they had their real fun, because tag was much more interesting when a flying dragon whisked you into the air to get away from your pursuer.
Later on Mrs. Galloway came for Catherine, for it was dark and she had stayed for dinner, but it was a school night.
But Mrs. Galloway and Mom promised that there would be many more playtimes with Catherine.
The children were glad to hear that, and Kato too. But Sir WHIP especially was happy to hear that Catherine would be returning. He looked forward to playing with Shen Lung again soon. You just don't run into dragons every day, you know?