Dair was a habitual liar. Not pathological or anything, just ...recreational. As she drove through Cincinnati on her way to Interstate 75, she mulled over the lie she'd tell her husband when she reached the airport. So often the truth needed a little spicing up.
What lie would she tell Peyton today? Traffic crawled on Clifton Avenue, and she cursed, realizing she'd forgotten about the University of Cincinnati's football game. She glanced at her watch; she'd be cutting it close. What could she tell Peyton had made her late?
Dair knew the secret to a good lie was to include as much of the truth as possible. This meant, however, that she had to be sure to remember which part was the truth and which part the lie. Forgetting or, worse—believing her own lies—was a dangerous line she feared to cross.
Sometimes, though, she lied because the truth was already so amazing that no one believed it. Sometimes the truth needed to be tampered with just so people didn't assume it was a lie.
She checked on the dogs in the rearview mirror. They rode contentedly along in the backseat. The car windows were up, the air-conditioning on, the day unseasonably hot for this late, drought-dry October. Blizzard, their imposing Great Pyrenees, licked Dair's sleeveless shoulder, leaving a string of drool. "Our guy is coming home," she said, reaching back to pet his long white hair. "We gotta share the bed again."
Shodan, their black Doberman, looked out the window and yawned at the Victorian homes passing by, the avenue lined with stately trees and old gas streetlights.
What were the true things she'd actually done today that she could shape into a more interesting story? This morning she'd taught her acting class at the Playhouse in the Park. Then she'd been to the liquor store, but she didn't exactly want to tell Peyton that, because he might ask why she hadn't just bought the celebratory champagne at the grocery store. He wouldn't be suspicious, he'd just be curious, and it would make her feel too small to explain to him that she'd also had to buy a bottle of wine to replace the bottle of wine she'd already replaced five times since he'd been on tour. Dair worried that the same pink-faced high school boy would be her cashier at the grocery, a boy who'd taken one of her acting classes, who might someday make an innocent reference about her wine purchases in front of Peyton.
Dair drove under 1-75 and inched toward the entrance ramp to the notoriously gridlocked highway. Some damn event always snarled up the traffic: a Reds or Bengals game at Riverfront Stadium or some concert at Riverbend....Dair wanted to kick herself for not opting to go through downtown. In the car ahead of her, some college-age kids passed a beer around. She thought longingly of that replacement bottle of wine.
The bottle was from their party stash—the gifts people brought to gatherings at their house that never got opened before everyone went home. Dair and Peyton kept them in a cupboard with the bread machine they rarely used, and it gave Dair great pleasure every time she drew attention to them, as they left for this cast party or that season opener, announcing,"Hey, there's still wine left from the New Year's party. Let's take a bottle with us." She felt such satisfaction handing Peyton a bottle identical to the bottle that Craig, perhaps, or Marielle had brought to their house. Peyton didn't guess that it was the sixth such bottle that had been there, the original and all its substitutes wrapped in newspaper and tucked into someone else's recycling bin down the street.
So ...she could tell Peyton she'd been to the grocery store and develop her story from there. What could've happened? An armed robbery? No, too much follow-up. Maybe someone had an epileptic seizure? Hmm ...that had promise, but why would she have to stay once help arrived? Ooh, the ambulance just happened to park in front of her car. No, something about that scenario wasn't grabbing her. For a lie to work, she had to be committed to it. Could someone have gone into labor in the checkout line?
"C'mon," she muttered to a driver studiously ignoring her as she tried to merge. "Let me in, you jerk." He did, and she nosed her red Saturn into the sluggish stream of cars heading south on 75.
"I know, sweetie," she said as traffic came to a complete stop. "What's the deal?" Northbound 75, across a concrete barrier to her left, seemed to be moving without a problem, cars zipping by as if to taunt her. She thought about telling Peyton she'd been stuck in traffic. Ha. Too lame to even utter.
A little girl in the car beside Dair smiled and pointed at Dair's dogs. Maybe ...maybe Dair's shopping got disrupted by a hysterical mother screaming that her kid was missing. They'd locked the doors to the store, not letting anyone in or out while they searched. She practiced the story, talking aloud:"The mom kept screaming that Katie was a little blond girl. 'She's in a pink dress!' she kept saying. 'She has ponytails.' So, I'm helping look around; none of us know what to do, really, and I step into the corner by the wine racks. You know how it's kinda dark back there? The only real light is from the freezer where the drink mixes are? Well, back there, I see a cloth on the ground. I pick it up and it's a dress, and as I lift it all this long blond hair falls to the floor. I run out into an aisle to tell someone, and the first thing I see is this woman with a stroller, and in the stroller is a little blond boy, sleeping, and he's got a buzz-cut, and he's wearing overalls, and I know it's the little girl; it's Katie."
Dair jumped when Blizzard growled behind her head, a sound that never failed to tighten a fist around her heart, even though it wasn't directed at her.
"Hey, hey, what's the matter?" she asked. She put the car in park and twisted around to face him. Shodan growled, too, baring her teeth, her sweet Doberman face transforming into a werewolf's-lips curled back, ears pinned flat, eyes hard and hateful. Both dogs stood, hackles raised, staring out the side window. Dair turned in time to see a woman in a purple dress burst out of the trees flanking the northbound side of the highway. Dair blinked. Had the woman come down the hill from the fancy homes on Clifton Ridge above the highway? The homes, obscured all summer, were now visible through the autumn-thin foliage.
The woman waved her arms at the northbound traffic and stepped out onto the interstate. Dair cringed as cars honked and tires squealed, and a minivan swerved around the woman, almost sideswiping another car. The minivan slowed, but when the woman ran to it and pounded on the window, it peeled away.
Did the woman need help? Or was she drunk? She wore no shoes and weaved in a weak-kneed sort of way toward the concrete divider and the already stopped southbound traffic.
Blizzard and Shodan barked-predatory, savage sounds that dropped ice down Dair's spine. Dair hit the automatic lock as the woman climbed the divider and stumbled between the lanes of cars, yanking on door handles. Dair could see only the woman's torso as the woman came close to the Saturn. The woman's head came into view as she drew back from the snarling dogs hurling themselves against the window, but Dair still didn't see her face— the woman looked away, across the highway from where she'd come, her shoulder-length black hair obscuring her profile.
Some northbound traffic had pulled over, and other people crossed the interstate toward the woman. Some got out of cars on the south-bound side, too, holding cell phones to their ears. The woman scrambled across the hood of Dair's car. Dair glimpsed hairy legs, bare feet, broad hands with fine black hair on the knuckles. As the woman ran to the guardrail to the right of Dair, Dair saw that the purple dress wasn't zipped up all the way, didn't meet or fit across the back.
That was a man. A man in a dress.
And Dair recognized the dress. She'd worn that dress.
The dogs stopped growling and instead yipped eagerly as if greeting someone.
The man looked over his shoulder again, panic in his eyes-the only part of his face Dair could see through his blowing hair. He flung one leg over the guardrail.
Oh, God. He couldn't climb over from there—it looked wooded and shrubby, like the Clifton Ridge hillside he'd just come down, but it wasn't. He was directly over Clifton Avenue, where Dair had been just moments ago. "Don't!" Dair yelled. She lowered the passenger window. "Don't jump!" she screamed.
But he did. He threw his other leg over and disappeared as if yanked from below.
Car horns and screeching tires filled Dair's head.
She yanked the keys from the ignition and threw open her door. She ran to the guardrail, the first to reach the spot, other drivers crowding around her, all of them peering through the trees at the glimpse of purple on the road below, the traffic there stopped, too, horns blaring, car doors slamming, as people surrounded the body.
"Holy shit," said the man next to Dair.
"Do you think she was on drugs?" a woman asked. "Or was it a suicide?"
"She was saying,'Help me,'" another woman said."She pounded on my window and said, 'Help me.' Only it sounded like a man. I think that was a man in a dress."
"It was a man," Dair said, pulling away from the crowd. Had she really seen that? Her limbs felt heavy as she contemplated what she'd had to drink that day. She'd seen a man, wearing a dress she recognized, fall to his death. Hadn't she? She took off up the highway shoulder, checking over the guardrail until she found the place where land came up to meet it. She climbed over and nearly fell down the steep incline. She scooted on her butt, dodging trees and shrubs, gravel and broken glass skidding down the hill ahead of her. Blizzard bounded past, followed by Shodan. Oh, God. Dair realized she had left the door open.
"Hey, you guys, wait!" she called, imagining the dogs darting out in front of traffic. They stopped and looked back at her, tails wagging, tongues lolling in their laughing mouths, then bounded farther down the hill. Panic sent Dair sliding. When the ground leveled out, Dair stood on Clifton Avenue, dusted her butt, and called, "Blizzard! Shodan! C'mere!"
Fortunately traffic had stopped. The dogs materialized from the center of the hushed crowd under the overpass. One woman's hysterical voice rose from deep within the huddle, crying between hyperventilating gasps, "I didn't see her! I didn't see her! She was just there. Oh, God. Oh, my God." A different woman at the back of the crowd turned toward Dair, her face chalky, set. "I think she's dead," the woman whispered, pressing a hand to her mouth.A siren sounded a few blocks away.
Dair sat on the weedy, little-used sidewalk and said,"Blizzard, come." He did and sat beside her. Shodan followed. Dair grabbed both their leather collars. Their leashes were in the car. She looked up at the overpass. Her car. Her car was just sitting up there, driver's door open. People still stared over the edge; others scrambled down the hillside as she had.The siren began to drown out the crying woman's voice.
Dair's hands shook. She released the collars and hugged the dogs, on either side of her. Shodan whined as the siren grew closer. Blizzard buried his face in Dair's armpit.
The ambulance pulled up, cutting off its siren with an abrupt yelp. Dair stood when the crowd parted. She saw the crying woman near a car with a shattered windshield, the broken glass patterned in a red-and-white kaleidoscope. The man sprawled in front of her car, facedown, legs and arms doing things human legs and arms weren't meant to do.
That was the dress. She hadn't imagined it. A dress identical to the one she'd borrowed from Gayle, the artistic director of Queen City Shakespeare. Saying Dair "borrowed" it wasn't an outright lie, just some truth withheld. Dair took care of Gayle's cat whenever Gayle was out of town, which she'd been for the past three and a half weeks, guest directing a show in Chicago. Gayle had told Dair to make herself at home and use anything she wanted. She hadn't specifically said clothes, and Dair didn't specifically plan to tell her she'd borrowed any.
Dair had searched every catalog and store, but she hadn't been able to find that dress anywhere to buy for herself. Yet here it was, on a dead person.
An EMT knelt beside the man, reached under the neck, and paused a moment before shaking his head at the other EMTs, who then slowed their actions. Someone in the crowd said, "He was trying to get into cars, someone heard him say, 'Help me.'"
"He?" the EMT asked. He frowned and looked down at the body, as did several others in the crowd.
"It's a man," the onlooker said."A man in a dress. He wasn't trying to kill himself, he was running from something, he—"
A man behind Dair snorted and said,"I'd run, too, if someone caught me in a dress."
Some others chuckled, and Dair's pulse doubled its beat. Someone was dead; there was nothing funny. She turned to look, to locate the jerk who'd spoken, wanting to kick him. A bearded man grinned at the crowd's response. Next to him stood Dair's new friend, Andy Baker, the recently hired light board operator at the Aronoff Center for Performing Arts.
"Andy," she said.
Andy blinked, startled, and for a split second appeared not to recognize her. Then he walked toward her, his short blond hair lifting on the breeze. They stood before each other, unsure what to do. He turned to stare at the body.
"This is weird," Dair said. "I never expect to see you except outside the stage door."
He nodded, pale and obviously shaken. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. Dair often followed her fellow actors outside the Aronoff for smoke breaks during rehearsals, and since he'd arrived in town in August, Andy was inevitably out there, smoking with the union guys. Andy held a cigarette out to her now, but she shook her head no, and he lit one for himself.
"Hey! Whose dog is this?"
Dair turned quickly. Shodan nosed near the body, and the EMT seemed afraid to touch her.
"Shodan!" Dair called. The Doberman lifted her head and trotted back to Dair with blood on her nose and snout. Dair's stomach heaved, and without thinking, she knelt and wiped the man's blood from the dog, then stood, staring at her red-smeared palm and fingers. Her first instinct was to get it off her, but she stopped.The blood itself posed no danger to her intact skin. The dark burgundy fluid was the proof of the man's life, his existence. And Dair didn't know what to do with it. It seemed somehow wrong, irreverent, to just wipe it on her jeans. She held her hand in front of her.
"Shodan?" Andy asked. "What kind of name is that?"
"It's a rank in aikido." Dair couldn't take her eyes from the blood.
"It's a martial art." She pulled her gaze from the smear on her hand. The EMTs hadn't touched the body, but a young woman now photographed it. She took shot after shot, her face grim.
"So, what rank is a shodan?"
Dair stared at Andy. Who cared? A dead body lay a few yards from them and he wanted to chat? "Black belt," she said.
"You're a black belt?" he asked with admiration.
Dair paused, considering the lie, but shook her head."I don't study aikido. Peyton does. My husband."
Peyton. Oh, shit. She looked at her watch.
The photographer finished, and at her nod, the EMTs rolled the body over. The dead man's blood-caked face moved and shifted, like a ceramic mask that had been cracked, his nose a gruesome, gaping hole. Dair's eyes burned, and she had to turn away. Andy did, too, the hand holding his cigarette trembling.
They stood shoulder to shoulder. He smelled like warm apples.
"I've never seen anyone die before," Dair whispered.
"Me neither," he whispered back. Dair was glad he was there. Witnessing this event with someone she knew comforted her in a strange way.
"I wore a dress just like that," she said, gesturing over her shoulder toward the dead man. "At Othello auditions." Andy turned and squinted at the dress. "Oh, my God. You did."
"I borrowed it from Gayle," she said. Andy shivered and took a long drag from his cigarette. Dair felt the smoke in her own lungs but longed for the gentle warmth of wine in her throat instead. She turned back to the street as the EMTs lifted the body to a stretcher. Some of the dead man's long black hair, those strands not heavy with blood, lifted on the wind and floated above his face. The brittle autumn leaves rattled in that same wind and fell down around them like confetti, one yellow maple leaf sticking to the man's dented forehead. The EMT didn't remove the leaf when he pulled a sheet over the man's face.
At the hollow clunk of the ambulance doors closing, the crowd shifted and began to drift away, as if it were the audience at a play and those doors the final curtain.
Dair looked up at the remaining observers on the overpass a moment, then turned to Andy. "I've gotta go."
"Need any help?" he asked.
"No, but thanks." They hugged, clumsily, embarrassed, then she clambered up the steep hill, grabbing on to thin tree trunks and branches for handholds, pleading with the dogs to stay with her, and held their collars as she walked back to her car. Someone had closed her door so that traffic could move around it, which it now did, albeit slowly.
She got the dogs situated, and as she dug her keys out of her pocket, she realized she'd wiped most of the blood off her hand, probably as she'd crawled up the hill. A faint stain remained, as if she'd held a leaky red pen.
She called Peyton on her cell phone to warn him of her now true delay but got only his voice mail. She didn't leave a message. She couldn't think of what to say. She crossed the Ohio River to the airport, too numb to come up with a lie but knowing the truth was too outrageous to be believed.
Dair wanted to cry when she saw Peyton. He'd wandered down to baggage claim and sat on his duffel, wearing a headset, his bag of dance shoes beside him.
When he saw her approaching, he grinned and stood, unfolding his long frame like a cat stretching. "Well," he said, talking over the constant banging clatter of the baggage carousel, pulling his head-phones off his neck. "This is gonna be a good one." His dark brown eyes sparkled.
She hugged him, nuzzling her nose into the hollow between his collarbones at the top of his T-shirt, breathing in his clean leather smell. She lifted her face to his. His shoulder-length black hair was pulled straight back into a ponytail. She kissed his high cheekbones, the small, crescent-shaped scar outside his left eye, his slender Roman nose.
"Dair? Aren't you going to play the game?"
"I just saw a man die." She moved her hands to the sinewy muscles in his shoulders.
He grinned. "Oh, this is a good one."
"I'm serious. We were stopped in traffic and a man in a dress jumped off 75 where it crosses over Clifton."
He shook his head and bent to pick up his duffel bag. "God, I've missed you," he said, smiling.
"He got hit by a car when he landed." She stood still as Peyton hooked the strap of his dance bag to her shoulder.
"He was in a dress? That's a good detail." Peyton started walking, holding her hand. She allowed herself to be led. "That's just weird enough that people would think it has to be true, because why would you muck up a story with some bizarro twist like that?" Dair said nothing.
"So, what color was this dress?"
"Dark purple." She reviewed the video in her head."Really a deep plum.Velvet bodice with a V-neck, flowing skirt. The skirt wasn't velvet. It was some sort of crepe, textured with teeny-tiny tone-on-tone swirls—"
"Okay, now see, that's too much detail—"
"—but there's more of that plum velvet around the hemline." Peyton slowed to where he was almost not walking at all, searching her face.
"It zips in the back, only it wouldn't close all the way on this man. It was open almost down to his waist."
Peyton frowned. "You auditioned for Othello in a dress just like that."
Dair nodded. "I borrowed it from Gayle."
Borrowed it, dry-cleaned it at the same place Gayle had cleaned it last, and replaced it in Gayle's closet. Her basement closet, where Dair remembered it hung with only two other gowns—both very formal, with sequins and beads—and a short fur coat.
Dair had felt gorgeous in that dress. It'd brought her luck, too, although she hadn't told Peyton this yet.
He stopped and faced her. "What happened, Dair?"
"I'm not playing the game. On my way to the airport, honest to God, a man in a dress just like the one I borrowed from Gayle jumped off the bridge and died right in front of us."
He opened his mouth to speak, but before any sound came out, a girl's voice shouted, "Hey, Dair! Dair!"
She turned, startled, to see redheaded twins running toward them. Sixth-grade girls with identical faces, round blue eyes, same height, same build, same hair length and style. The sight of twins, as usual, made Dair's mouth go dry and her internal organs shift. Peyton, guessing what she was feeling, squeezed her hand, which stirred her insides even more.
"Remember me?" one girl challenged.
"Of course. Hi, Kelly, Corrie. How are you?"
The girls' mother caught up to them, looking harried and irritated, her face flushed under her own frizzy red hair.
"Hi." Dair held out her hand. "I'm Dair Canard. I had the girls in class at the Playhouse."
"Oh!"The mother sounded relieved."They adored your class. They learned so much. And we just loved you in The Taming of the Shrew last spring."
"Dair taught us that lying game," Corrie said. "'Two truths and a lie.'"
The mother rolled her eyes, and Dair had a feeling she'd created a monster in their home. "Two truths and a lie" was her usual ice-breaker in a first class, but also her first exercise in the most basic key to acting: passing off something untrue as believable.
"Dair's was good," Corrie said. "She said: 'I'm a twin, too; I got my first role in a suntan lotion commercial when I was five; and I've been kissed by a walrus.'" Wow. The girl's memory amazed Dair.
"Guess which one is the lie," Kelly challenged her mother. The mom's sigh spoke of a weariness with this game. And she answered quickly enough for Dair to recognize that the mother had learned it was easier to guess than protest. "Well ...I doubt she's been kissed by a walrus."
"No, that's true," Kelly said, grinning. "She works at the zoo." The mother looked quizzical, and Dair nodded. "I'm an audience interpreter. Lots of actors in town are. I do the walrus show three times a week."
"So which is the lie?" Kelly prodded her mother again. "You get one more try."
"My guess would be ...the twin," the mother said.
"No!" Corrie said. "That's true, too! Isn't that cool? She had a twin sister!"
"Identical?" the mom asked.
Dair shook her head. Peyton squeezed her hand. "I've never been in a commercial," Dair said with a smile, eager to change the subject.
"You know why you thought that was the truth?" Corrie asked.
"Because she gave details—her age and that it was for sunblock. That makes it seem more real."
But the mother didn't care; Dair could tell. "Is your twin an actress, too?" she asked.
"No. My sister passed away."
Peyton put an arm around her shoulder.
"I'm so sorry," the mother said, pressing a hand to her heart.
"It's okay." Dair smiled. "It was a long time ago." She put her arm around Peyton's waist. "This is my husband, Peyton Leahy. He dances with Footforce."
"Really?"The mom eyed him with new interest."I've heard of them. You're like a little Riverdance, right?"
Dair laughed out loud. Peyton grimaced. "Not exactly," he said.
"We've been around longer.We do contemporary choreography based on the traditional forms. You should check us out sometime."
"Oh, I will," the mom said.The way her eyes lit up, Dair knew she was expecting Peyton to be shirtless in leather pants. As they talked, Dair looked at her husband through this woman's eyes and felt lucky and lustful.
"We just came off a short tour. We've been on the road for three weeks."
"Oh, well, then, we should let you go," the mom said, shaking his hand again. She turned to Dair. "Are you in anything else the twins could see?"
"Actually ..."Dair smiled at Peyton."I'm going to be in Othello for Queen City Shakespeare. It opens in November."
"Marvelous! We'll be there."
"We signed up for another class," Kelly said as her mother tried to pull her away. "The audition class."
"Oh, that'll be with Craig," Dair said.
"Craig MacPhearson?" Kelly asked."Who was in Shrew with you?" Dair laughed and nodded.
"He's cute!" the twins said in unison. Peyton and Dair laughed at that.
"You'll like Craig," Dair promised.And the mom succeeded in dragging the girls away.
Peyton took her face in his hands. "You got cast in Othello?" She nodded, grinning. "Yup. I'm Emilia, the bad guy's wife." He kissed her. His familiar flavor flooded her body like a long swallow of port, soothing and dizzying at once. He waltzed her down the concourse, his duffel bumping them, marking the time.
"Peyton! Stop it!" Dair laughed.
He did, eventually, as they reached the exit and stepped out into the ovenlike air.
He kissed her hand. "Congratulations, love. Did Craig get cast?"
"Yes! He's Iago, my husband."
Peyton laughed. "Again? People will start to think he's your real husband!"
"I won't," she said."I promise."They kissed again, and she felt tipsy.
"We need to celebrate. Should we get something to take over to Marielle's tonight?"
"I already got some champagne."
Dair heard the dogs barking through the car's half-open windows. They'd seen, or smelled, their guy, their Peyton, and were beside themselves at his return.
He jogged the remaining hundred yards to the car."Hey, you guys," he said, letting them out. Shodan greeted him first, since she was his. She wriggled with joy, her little stump of a tail waggling. He bent down and hugged her, and she licked his ears and face, whimpering as if she couldn't stand how glad she was to see him. Once she calmed, he said, "Hey, Blizzard," and the Pyrenees shuffled shyly to him, then stood, his front paws on Peyton's shoulders, in one of his bear hugs. He added a few licks to Shodan's. Peyton took Blizzard's paws and lowered them to the ground, laughing, then wiped his face with his arm. The dogs danced little jigs of happiness at his feet. On the way home, traffic still crawled on both north and southbound 75 over Clifton. Peyton stared at the flashing lights, the yellow tape, and the news vans.
"I told you. I wasn't kidding. We got stopped right back there, just under Gayle's house." Dair took the exit and wound her way back onto Clifton, waiting for the police officer to wave her through the now one-lane traffic under the overpass. "The dogs knew something was weird before I did. Blizzard, especially, seemed disturbed." Peyton swiveled his head from the accident scene to face her, grinning, "You sound exactly like your mom."
Dair's spine stiffened. Her mother believed she could telepathically communicate with animals and was always telling Dair and Peyton that Blizzard thought this or Shodan felt that. Peyton was sweet about it, but it made Dair impatient. Her mom was an otherwise reasonable, intelligent woman, and Dair wanted to shake her when her mother ruined this impression by blithely blabbing about what someone's dog "said" about his treatment or home life. It had been the source of much embarrassment Dair's entire life. "Please," Dair said, rolling her eyes. "There's nothing telepathic about it. You just have to pay attention. Anyone would've been able to tell that Blizzard was bothered. And ...speaking of my mother: She's coming over tomorrow. I hope that's okay. She says she has some news she wants to tell us in person."
Peyton frowned."Is anything wrong?"
"No. I asked, of course, but she says not to worry. You know she'll probably tell us that Blizzard feels threatened by another dog in the park, or that Shodan desperately wants to have puppies."They laughed. Dair pulled onto their street, high on its hillside overlooking the Cincinnati Zoo. She parked across the street from the purple Victorian house they lived in.The huge house wasn't entirely theirs; it was divided into three apartments—the main house split into a two-story duplex, with an efficiency apartment on the smaller third floor. The third floor came complete with a turret.
"Ahh, home," Peyton said with a sigh. "God, I miss you when I'm gone." He touched her cheek with the back of his hand."I love you."
"I love you."
Shodan whined, then barked. "Okay, okay!" Peyton said as if answering her.
Dair got out of the car and carried Peyton's bag of dance shoes up the steps that climbed the steep, ivy-covered hill of their front yard. Living here kept them all in shape.
Inside the house, their cat, Godot, sat in the middle of the worn Persian rug, awaiting Peyton. Completely buff colored, with no markings whatsoever, Godot reminded Dair of a miniature lion cub. He fixed his golden eyes on Peyton and mewed."Well, hello," Peyton answered, sitting on the floor.
Godot had earned his name by making them wait for his appearance the entire first two months they had him, hiding so completely that Dair would've blamed the dogs for his empty food bowl and sworn he'd run away if it weren't for the daily deposits buried in the litter box. Eventually their wait was rewarded, and he emerged to join the family.
Godot examined Peyton's legs, lips parted, taking in the smells of Peyton's journey. Then he rubbed his chin repeatedly on Peyton's knees, purring audibly. Once he'd marked the man as his again, Godot approached the dogs with his tail high.
The cat batted Blizzard's nose, then took off, leaping over the still-sitting Peyton toward the kitchen. In a flurry of barking, the dogs were after the cat, also clambering over Peyton, but not as gracefully.
"Hey!" Peyton yelled, rolling out of the way. He ended up on his back, looking up at Dair. He raised his eyebrows.
She lowered herself and straddled him. She slipped her hands under his head and undid his ponytail, running her fingers through his straight, silky hair. He reached up to her head and unclipped her own tangle of dark brown curls.As she leaned down to kiss him, she heard the approaching stampede, toenails and paws clacking like pony hooves on the hardwood floors. Godot used Dair's back as a spring-board. "Look out!" Dair said, arching herself over Peyton, sheltering his head in her arms. Blizzard tried to leap off her, too, and knocked her sideways. Laughing, Dair and Peyton watched the dogs corner the cat under a chair. Godot lay belly up, batting at the dogs around the chair legs on either side of him.
"Better than TV," Peyton said. He still lay on his back, head turned to watch them. Dair lay beside him, on her side, propped on one elbow. Peyton stretched out an arm and playfully squeezed Shodan's back foot.
With his arm outstretched, Dair noticed a greenish gray bruise inside his elbow, the size of a thumbprint. She leaned across his torso, chin resting on his sternum,and touched it with her fingertips."What's this?"
When he didn't answer, she lifted her head to look at him, tucking her hair back out of the way. He gazed at her, his face blank. Their eyes met, and when she realized what he thought she was asking, her heart wanted to slide up out of her mouth.
"Looks like a bruise," he said in a careful, even voice. Dair wanted to erase the moment, change the subject, anything but make him think she questioned him, but she knew that to drop it now would only make him doubt her belief in him.
"Duh," she said, straddling him again, poking him in the ribs."What's it from?"
She felt him breathe again beneath her. "I don't know." He lifted the arm and examined the bruise. "Probably that Vestiges piece. You know, the one with the fire and drums? It sometimes gets a little out of hand." He dropped the arm back down.
She leaned over, her loose hair falling all around her, and kissed the bruise, lingering. She felt his pulse under her tongue. And, as often happened with them, they articulated the same thought at the same moment."I'm sor