One afternoon, Gryphon and Tiger went to visit their friend Eagle in her nest home deep in the forest north of Town, and they learned from her how to make her yummy partridge popovers. Both Gryphon and Tiger wanted to surprise their families by making the popovers for their Harvest feasts. Tiger was a very good cook and learned quickly how to make perfect partridge popovers. But Gryphon had a harder time of it, for his paws were so very big and the partridges were so very small. Gryphon became grumpy and Tiger gave him a hug, and told Gryphon that his popovers tasted better than the ones Tiger made, which was not only very sweet but true, as Gryphon had had to try harder.
When they returned to Town, Gryphon and Tiger saw Black Cat Boy slinking catlike down the street in his black catsuit. Black Cat Boy carried an armload of sweet potatoes and he was trying to go home, but he kept wandering off the sidewalk and bumping into lamp posts and dropping his sweet potatoes all over the place. Once Black Cat Boy almost got run over by a horse-drawn cart carrying jars of pickled-persimmon plum pudding. Black Cat Boy nearly bumped into Gambling Man, who was very mean and would have been very angry except that Gambling Man was too busy studying his Dragon Racing Form, and didn’t notice. A very impatient Dim Knight yelled at Black Cat Boy when the boy got in the Knight’s way, but Black Cat Boy seemed not to notice these things.
Gryphon and Tiger went up to Black Cat Boy and made sure his eyeglasses were in place, for Black Cat Boy had very bad eyes and often bumped into things if his glasses slid down his nose. But Black Cat Boy’s eyeglasses were in perfect working order, and even though he kept bumping into lamp posts and dropping his sweet potatoes, Black Cat Boy would not stop smiling.
Tiger made sure that the hood of Black Cat Boy’s black catsuit wasn’t too tight on his head, and then said, “Is everything okay, Black Cat Boy?”
Black Cat Boy grinned so wide that even his freckles looked happy. “Have you ever met Fuzzy Bear Boy?”
“No,” Tiger said; and Gryphon added, “Isn’t he the star ball boy for the Town Firebreathers?”
Black Cat Boy nodded and said, “He was buying sweet potatoes for his mom, too.”
Gryphon said, “So?” But Tiger waved his paw right in front of Black Cat Boy’s face, and even though his glasses were right where they should be, Black Cat Boy didn’t even blink.
Gryphon and Tiger saw this and said, “Ah.”
It was a week until the big Harvest Festival Dragonspike game between the Town Firebreathers and the Big City Spikewings. Black Cat Boy cared nothing for sports, but he learned everything he could about Dragonspike, which is a game with dragons and riders and three balls and very long racquets with netted baskets at their ends. Black Cat Boy bumped into things all day at Polytechnic Academy, but as soon as classes ended he ran to the school that Fuzzy Bear Boy attended, and followed him home. One evening, Black Cat Boy ran back to the place where Gryphon and Tiger helped build the Polytechnic Academy’s float for the Harvest Parade. Black Cat boy sighed, leaned up against Tiger, and said, “He talked to me!”
It was hopeless to try to get Black Cat Boy to stop bumping into things, for he was as smitten as a boy can be.
Fuzzy Bear Boy was eleven, the same age as Black Cat Boy, and he had green eyes and shaggy blond hair, and looked overall to be very cuddly and fuzzy. He not only liked being a boy very much, he also liked other boys very much, and the brave Gryphon and Tiger had made everyone in Town realize this was a good thing. Fuzzy Bear Boy loved being a ball boy for the Town Firebreathers, because ball boys were a very important part of a Dragonspike game; and besides he liked to run and feel the wind in his shaggy blond hair and the sun on his strong body. Fuzzy Bear Boy thought it was funny at first that Black Cat Boy followed him everywhere, because Black Cat Boy liked books and sitting still, and became easily winded if he ran anywhere. But Fuzzy Bear Boy liked having Black Cat Boy cheer him on during Dragonspike practice, and thought that the way Black Cat Boy admired him was adorable; and soon Fuzzy Bear Boy became very fond of Black Cat Boy.
One crisp afternoon after practice, Fuzzy Bear Boy bought Black Cat Boy an ice cream. Afterwards, Black Cat Boy bumped into so many lamp posts that Town Constable had Gryphon guide the boy home.
The day of the big game arrived, and everyone in Town poured into Town Coliseum, and the sharp white autumn sun made everyone’s bright colorful banners and bright happy smiles even brighter. The Town Firebreathers were favored to win by a large margin, and only someone with a mean heart like Gambling Man would bet against them. But everyone ignored Gambling Man, who wore dark glasses and a shiny green topcoat with a stained pink vest. Gambling Man smelled like spoiled fish salad and he kicked children who got in his way, because gambling was a very serious business.
Gryphon and Tiger were almost as clueless about Dragonspike as Black Cat Boy had been, but just for him they got tickets to the game, and all three friends sat right behind the Town Firebreathers’ bench. Black Cat Boy wore a yellow and purple ribbon around the neck of his black catsuit because those were the team colors, and he jumped and cheered so much that Gambling Man, who was sitting behind Black Cat Boy, almost kicked him. But Gryphon, who was so big he took up three seats, gave Gambling Man such a look that Gambling Man simply shut up, which made everyone around him happy while they waited for the game to begin.
But Black Cat Boy’s cheering grew quieter and quieter until he finally asked Tiger, “Where’s my Fuzzy Bear Boy?”
Gryphon and Tiger looked around at the cheering crowd and the excited dragons and the happy riders and the laughing ball boys, and the dancing bears and ballerinas who were about to perform the Town Anthem; but Fuzzy Bear Boy was not among them. The Town Firebreathers’ Coach was big and gruff, but he was worried too, and he sent another ball boy to go look for Fuzzy Bear Boy. The ball boy returned, and said Fuzzy Bear Boy was nowhere to be found.
Black Cat Boy was worried, and twisted the long fluffy tail of his black catsuit. Soon it was game time, and Coach pointed at Black Cat Boy.
“Can you,” Coach said to Black Cat Boy, “sub for Fuzzy Bear Boy?”
Black Cat Boy swallowed hard. “I’ve never played Dragonspike in my life!”
“It’s easy,” Coach said. “All you do is catch the balls when they go out of bounds and pass them back to the players on our team, just like Fuzzy Bear Boy does at practice.”
But Black Cat Boy was very nervous, and really he was no good at sports, and although he tried and tried because he knew Fuzzy Bear Boy would be proud of him, it wasn’t long before the Town Firebreathers were down by three goals.
Gambling Man chuckled at the score, but no one paid any attention to him.
Tiger worried about Black Cat Boy, and twisted his tail while he watched Black Cat Boy run frantically. The riders banked their dragons through the air and batted at the three balls with their racquets, and shouted at their dragons, who roared at their opponents. Gryphon was bored, and he watched the crowd and wondered about Fuzzy Bear Boy, who would sooner die than miss a game of Dragonspike. Finally Gryphon looked up to see if there were any clouds to watch, and instead he saw a big shadowy beast circling in the air high up over Town Coliseum.
“Tiger,” Gryphon said, “I think that’s Other Gryphon up there.”
Tiger looked up, too. “I think you’re right.”
“If Other Gryphon is around,” Gryphon said, “there’s something bad going on.” Gryphon waited for a time out to be called in the Dragonspike game, and then he stood and spread his huge eagle wings, and flew up into the sky.
Black Cat Boy nearly cried, for he thought Gryphon left because Black Cat Boy was ruining the game.
“It’s okay,” Tiger called out to Black Cat Boy. “Don’t flinch when the ball comes at you! Stand fast and catch it!”
Meanwhile, Gryphon flew higher and higher until Town Coliseum was just a tiny oval shape far down below. Before long, Gryphon recognized the ill-kept fur and feathers of Other Gryphon, who had a very bad reputation because he took gold from humans to do their dirty work for them. And as Gryphon got closer he saw, on top of Other Gryphon’s back, the cuddly and fuzzy shaggy blond head of —
“Fuzzy Bear Boy!” cried Gryphon. “Other Gryphon, what are you doing with him?”
Other Gryphon laughed, but it was a very mean laugh that felt like a grey cloud passing over the sun.
“Gambling Man has a bet on this game,” Other Gryphon said, “and he paid me to fly around with Fuzzy Bear Boy until the game is over. How bad is Town losing?”
“Bad,” Gryphon said. “This is a wicked thing you’re doing, Other Gryphon!”
“All the more reason,” Other Gryphon said, “why I enjoy doing it!”
“Gryphon, help me!” cried Fuzzy Bear Boy. “Other Gryphon snatched me right up from the sidewalk while I was walking to the Coliseum!”
“Hang on,” Gryphon ordered Fuzzy Bear Boy, and then he said to Other Gryphon, “You’ll pay for this!”
“No,” Other Gryphon said, “I’m getting paid for this! Ha-ha-ha!”
Gryphon reared back, swept in fast toward Other Gryphon, and began to fight.
Meanwhile a cheer rose from Town Coliseum, for Black Cat Boy had finally helped a player score a goal. Black Cat Boy wished Fuzzy Bear Boy could have seen it, and the thought nearly made him cry.
Far above the Coliseum, the two gryphons fought, and there was much shrieking and roaring and slashing. The people in the stands looked up, but the game was almost over and the Town Firebreathers were about to lose, so the crowd didn’t pay much attention to the gryphons fighting way up in the sky.
Gryphon slashed and clawed at Other Gryphon, and kept trying to reach around Other Gryphon’s head to snatch Fuzzy Bear Boy off Other Gryphon’s back. But Other Gryphon kept ducking away just in time.
“I beat you once,” Gryphon cried to Other Gryphon, “and I’ll beat you again!”
“Not today,” Other Gryphon said. “This time, they paid me more gold!”
“No one,” Gryphon said, “can pay you enough gold to defeat me!”
Fuzzy Bear Boy hung on tight to Other Gryphon’s tangled and dirty mane, and called out to Gryphon, “Is Black Cat Boy down there?”
“He’s…” Gryphon slashed at Other Gryphon. “Playing…” Gryphon shrieked at Other Gryphon. “Your…” Gryphon whapped Other Gryphon’s face. “Position!”
Fuzzy Bear Boy shook his head, for although he was falling in love with Black Cat Boy, he knew his adorable new friend was hopeless at sports.
Other Gryphon was bruised and bleeding and getting soundly beaten. Finally he decided Gryphon was right and he wasn’t being paid enough for this. So Other Gryphon bucked and jerked and rolled over twice, and knocked Fuzzy Bear Boy off his back.
“Gryphon,” cried Fuzzy Bear Boy as he fell, “help me!”
Gryphon took one last slash at Other Gryphon, and left a deep cut on Other Gryphon’s face. “If the boy dies, I’m coming after you,” said Gryphon, and then he dived down after Fuzzy Bear Boy.
There was less than a minute left in the Dragonspike game, and all over the field flew battling dragons and the three game balls. No one looked up to see the tumbling Fuzzy Bear Boy, nor could anyone hear him scream over the roar of the crowd. But Gryphon pumped his wings furiously and got closer and closer, and finally grabbed hold of Fuzzy Bear Boy’s arms just a few yards above the playing field. Gryphon swooped across the field in between battling dragons, and everyone in Town Coliseum cheered. Gryphon set Fuzzy Bear Boy down right next to Black Cat Boy, pulled Black Cat Boy away, and hollered, “Go, go, go!”
Fuzzy Bear Boy was tired and dirty, and he was covered with Other Gryphon’s blood and shorn fur and broken feathers. But he stepped into the game as if he’d been there for the whole thing, and very quickly he helped score three goals, and when the final whistle blew, the Town Firebreathers had won 21-20. The crowd cheered wildly and the band played brassily while Gryphon grabbed Gambling Man and threw him to the ground. Gryphon would have beaked out Gambling Man’s heart right then and there if Town Constable hadn’t stopped him. Then Town Constable arrested Gambling Man.
Gryphon laughed at Gambling Man and said, “Now you’re both wicked and poor!”
Down on the field amidst confetti and balloons and firecrackers and dancing dragons, Fuzzy Bear Boy and Black Cat Boy hugged each other very tightly, and didn’t move for a long, long time, and they both cried happy tears because they had thought they would never see each other again.
Finally, Fuzzy Bear Boy kissed Black Cat Boy, which nearly made Black Cat Boy faint. Then Fuzzy Bear Boy said to his friend, “C’mon, I’ll buy you an ice cream.”
Gryphon and Tiger watched the boys, and they smiled, and held hands; and Tiger said to Gryphon, “The best thing in the world is to have a friend who will always buy you an ice cream.”
Black Cat Boy never got anywhere near sports again, except to cheer for Fuzzy Bear Boy. He didn’t even want to play chess anymore, but Tiger convinced him that chess was still a good thing to play.
So Black Cat Boy played chess, and beat Tiger three times in a row.