I set the book on the nightstand. Cheyenne's eyes are closed. We've each taken a turn reading. I'm tempted to read on in silence, but I love the sound of the words out loud, especially Cheyenne's voice, mellow and sweet.
I scooch down in the bed, tuck the pillow under my neck just so, bring the cotton comforter up around my ears, and spoon against Chey. She settles into the S of my body and I, already, I dream.
It is spring. I know this because the apple orchard is pink with blossoms. The sky is clear spring cerulean blue, the blue before the earth begins to release its summer filters of gas and farm dust.
I walk on the spongy orchard soil, twigs and leaf mold giving way to green and yellow grass shoots. I am wearing a long dress, itself sprigged with apple blossoms so lively I imagine I could pluck them. In my fingers is a blue sash from which dangles an oversized straw saucer hat.
Mother will chastise me later for the hint of sunburn on my skin, but I turn my face to the glow now and soak in the brilliance.
There. The biggest, oldest, gnarliest apple tree of all, the one that was there when my father and mother settled this land, before there was a house, before there were barns, before the orchard.
Stood that tree.
I embrace the tree, the bark and knobby trunk against my face, against my bare arms where the sleeves of the dress fall away. It breathes with me.
Still dreaming, knowing it's a dream, I waken, my back against the tree, legs outstretched in front of me, hat in my lap. Before I quite open my eyes, I smell cat. Musky. Big. Tawny. Wild. She is purring--loud Cougar purr.
I am afraid to open my eyes. I have had this dream before. If I open my eyes, she won't be there.
I lift one eyelid, heavily, hesitantly. Through the lashes, I see her. I will myself to take my breath long and slow, but it catches in my throat. Too late. She knows I've seen her.
She gets up. Stretches her strong, muscled body long, longer, her front legs far out in front, almost touching my toes. She widens her paws and flexes her claws, each one big as an eagle's beak. She licks my toes.
Where are my shoes? And in that moment of looking away, she is gone.
I do not wake from this dream right away. I curl against Cheyenne again, hugging her gently and close. In the air, I catch the scent of a big cat. Cougar air. Murgatroid growls. I do not wake from this dream just yet. My toes are moist.