"I've never dreamt so vividly before in my life," said Dan, stepping away from her as if she were a beautiful and frightful apparition. He was acutely aware of how slowly he was breathing, as if his entire body was savouring the odd and impossible moment.
"Will I b-be s-safe here?" Cassie stuttered, her voice threatening to break. There was a bruise below her neck, and three on her arms. The back of her hand was red, nicked with something sharp. She licked at the wound, watching him cautiously.
Dan nodded. He was perplexed. "Did your father do that to you?"
"Y-n-no, no," Cassie said with sad hesitation. "He just watched with indifference."
Dan's face fell. His eyebrows caved toward each other. His mouth stood in an apalling gape, full of sympathy. And his arms, too, they fell. They fell protectively around her in an embrace.
"Promise me you won't let go," her whisper wavered in his ear, "ever."
"Ever," he said, nodding against her white-blond curls.
Then, Cassie did something subtle. She pressed herself against his body so closely that Dan felt naked. "You won't," she acknowledged his arousal.
He smiled, "Of course not."
"I'll be your cat, Daniel Paddock," she told him. "I'll be your little white cat." Then she rested her head against his shoulder and nipped his neck playfully as he leaned them onto his bed.
"Then I will be your boy," Dan said, one hand resting at her side and the other in her hair. "But you are your own master, Cassie Tanner. Never let anyone tell you otherwise."
She purred at that.
And they fell asleep slowly, looking into each other's slowly closing eyes. When he woke up the next morning, trying to remember if they had kissed, he felt deeply refreshed. She was the cat at his feet. And from downstairs, came the sound of the old piano that Dan thought his mother never played. The birds out his window seemed to sing along. And for a brief moment, all felt at disbelieving ease in the Paddock house.
The piece of music continued, bright and consonant.
Then his mother's hoarse voice yelled from her bedroom, "Have you lost your mind!? Quit playing that damn piano, it's 7:15 A.M. and I've got a bloody hang over, Dan!"
The birds flew away in a panic. The song ceased.
And Daniel exchanged a mutually confused glance with the cat at the foot of his bed.