It is the private business of every changing-cat how and where they make their monthly shift, as well as what they do while human. There are a number of lockable rooms in the House of Cats, which afford privacy for those who desire solitude or, perhaps, just more exclusive company. But if you prefer to change in the woods behind the house, or up on the roof, or in the tub in the second-level bathroom, no one would question you. You would be left alone for two days, until the change had ended, and welcomed back when you emerged, thirsty and hungry and a little battered.
So it was with a rather guilty conscience that Topaz decided to follow Rune. He could feel the moon ticking along its path, no longer visible in the night sky, moving from Cancer to Leo by astronomical degrees at once tiny and vast. Topaz passed a pair of cats at the top of the stairs, where their tender ritual of grooming began to take on a more determined air. The change would come to them all within an hour. But what of his brother, with his stashes of dried catnip in untouched corners of the house? Topaz had never before dared to pry, but how did he spend two days as the only cat in a house of humans?
Rune’s gray tail disappeared into the attic. Topaz followed, glad that he had not yet changed and could walk silently. No other cats had chosen the attic that month, at least so far, so Topaz was the only one to see Rune trip a hidden button along the baseboard. A previously invisible panel slid back and Rune entered a secret room through a door just barely large enough to accommodate a human, but generous for a cat. Topaz chased after, seeing his chance to follow disappearing, but the panel slid back into place just ahead of him.
Topaz paced along the wall. He could not exactly find the button and waltz in there. He had never heard of or seen that secret room before, though it was well-known that the House of Cats had its share of hidden nooks. Rune would surely see him if he followed now. The door had been big, however, certainly big enough to allow a modestly sized human though. Maybe Rune slept in hiding while everyone else changed. He hated the sight of humans enough that seeing his friends turn into them probably traumatized him. Topaz sat down. He would wait. He would change and then he would go through. And if Rune was still awake and saw him, well, at least he would be large enough to not be killed outright.
When the change started, Topaz lay down in the middle of the attic, in an open space amongst the boxes of old papers and keepsakes. When the change finished, he had one leg over an old steamer trunk and the other crooked around it, while his torso and neck curled uncomfortably against the wall. He thrashed and squirmed free. He always thought he was smaller as a human than he turned out to be. He felt along the baseboard with fingertips that tingled with their newness. Every particle of dust felt like sandpaper against his skin. It felt like his ears were full of cotton. His nose too. Being human was hard. Something gave under his questing fingertip. The panel opened again.
It was much smaller than he had realized. He had to slither and use his folded arms to pull himself forward. Even if Rune was asleep, he would certainly wake from all the noise Topaz knew he was making. But curiosity had a hold on him and there was no turning back. Actually, there was no turning at all, he thought as he angled his shoulders this way and that to fit through.
When he finally made it out of the passage, he had to lie panting on the floor until he caught his breath and his arms stopped aching. When he rose, he brushed the dust and cobwebs from his bare shoulders and chest, then looked around the tiny room. The ceiling was low and slanted, situated as it was at the far edge of the attic. At the highest point, it was still too low for Topaz to stand upright. It was as empty as the main attic was cluttered. But on the opposite side, tucked between wall and floor and ceiling, slept a man whom Topaz had never seen before, but knew instantly.
Topaz inched forward on his knees. Topaz still had trouble judging age in humans, but thought he looked forty or so. He did not have that tired look of older humans. His hair was solid gray, but then, Topaz expected that much. He had a strange quality about his skin, Topaz thought as he looked down at him. Then he realized he was still shifting. Except he was shifting back to a cat.
A pile of dried catnip, curly leaves and tiny faded blossoms, had been pushed into an arc by Rune’s arm as he slept. The fingernails of his visible hand flexed and retracted and made a bloody mess of his fingers. As Topaz watched, his ribcage crushed itself and forced a pained groan out of Rune’s lungs. His tail came and went, as did pads on the soles of his feet. His knee jerked forward and hit the wall with a thud as he started to writhe.
Topaz recoiled in horror. He had never seen a transformation like that. Sure, it always hurt a bit. It was not fun or anything. But this was awful. Rune shrank down to cat size again, though his skin still had heat haze fuzziness to it, still changing minutely. He shivered and shook with exertion. His fur was wet with human sweat.
Topaz reached out and set a hand on him. He relaxed under the warmth. Topaz settled next to Rune with his head braced on his free hand. He looked down at the familiar tabby markings on Rune and shook his head. “You’re a mess, bro,” he whispered. “What are we going to do with you?”
The house was full of people. Humans. Men and women. Heather glared at a mother who was licking her child’s forehead. “You might use a cloth for that,” she suggested. She admitted that they did not all make very convincing humans, but it was so nice to be surrounded by people again. There was not a tail in sight.
There was a knock. Heather walked to the door then saw that the front room was occupied by an assortment of cats-turned-human, most of whom were blissfully ignorant of their nakedness. She hissed and shooed them out of the room as quietly as she could.
There was another knock. “Just a minute,” she called. She grabbed one man on his way out of the room. “Don’t let anyone come in here. Got it?” He agreed and hustled the lingering people out of sight. Heather smoothed her hair and opened the door.
The woman at the door wore a pearl choker. The hand she offered had manicured acrylic nails. She had the timeless face of a well-kept older woman. Heather immediately tagged her as high society and wondered what she could be doing all the way out at the House, which was not exactly next door to the nearest country club. Heather could not tell what kind of car she had parked a few feet away, but it was entirely shiny and new.
“I’m Yvonne Waverly,” she said. Her voice, when she spoke, was unusually low for a woman. “I am the president of the homeowners’ association here in Shadow Hills. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Heather Lee and likewise,” Heather said while thinking that she did not even know there was a Shadow Hills community to which she might belong. “Can I help you? Is there something wrong?”
“Not at all. I heard you had moved back here and I wanted to introduce myself.” She lifted her left hand to display a covered bottle of wine. “A little housewarming gift.”
“Would you, um, mind waiting here a minute? I’ll get you something to drink.”
“I would love to see your home. If I could.”
“Er. Well. I’m kind of in the middle of unpacking. Cleaning. Fixing the place up. You know. So.”
“I’ll just wait here then, shall I?” She gestured to the old porch swing like it might give her tetanus. Or plague.
“Please. And I’ll be right back with drinks.”
When she came back outside, Yvonne was sitting gingerly on the very edge of the swing. “Thank you,” she said as she accepted the glass of lemonade. Yvonne took a sip and left a perfect lip impression in red lipstick. “How long have you been here?”
Heather leaned back against the railing around the porch where the sun could warm her back. “A couple months. There’s been a lot to do, so it’s passed quickly.”
“I’m sure. Do you need any help?”
“Thanks, but we’re doing okay.”
“Oh, are you married?” Yvonne asked.
Heather began to feel that there was nothing this woman overlooked. She checked her clothing surreptitiously for stray cat hairs. “I just, that is, I have some friends who have been helping me. Locals.”
“So, homeowners’ association. That must be a big responsibility,” Heather said.
“It does keep me busy. I’ll admit I did have an ulterior motive for being here, though,” Yvonne said with a not-very-abashed smile. “Your predecessor–”
“Yes, of course. She was not active in our group, I’m sorry to say.”
Heather took that to mean Mother had not been interested in a cross-species game of keeping up with the Joneses. “So she never gave you the grand tour.”
Yvonne leaned forward with an expression of child-like delight. “I grew up in this town, but I never heard of anyone coming up to this property. It was the local haunted house.”
“I never knew that. I didn’t play with local kids much.” Heather steered her mind away from the one time she did play with the local “kids.”
“I didn’t either. You know what it’s like to have overprotective parents. An only child too?”
“As far as I know,” Heather said with a shrug.
Yvonne laughed. “Very clever.” She patted the space on the swing next to her. “I really just wanted an excuse to check the place out.”
“I would give you the full tour, but–” Heather sat down. There was a terrible tearing noise and the swing, both women, and two glasses of lemonade crashed to the porch.
“Remodeling. Right,” Yvonne said breathlessly after a moment. “I can see why.”
“Are you okay?”
“A little damp, I have to admit,” she said and wiped at the lemonade all over the front of her suit. “But otherwise uninjured, I believe. You?”
“Oh, swell,” Heather said as she rolled to her knees and up to her feet. She offered her hand to Yvonne and pulled her up. “Let me get you something.”
“I think I’ll go towel off at home,” Yvonne said.
“Sorry about that,” Heather said as she picked up the fallen glasses.
“Nonsense. But you get that fixed up, before someone does get hurt,” she said. Heather thought it sounded like more of a threat than a friendly comment. “You ask me, I think you have termites.” Heather prayed it was not so.
Heather nudged the sagging remains of the swing with her foot and pushed it out of the way. She set the step ladder where the swing once hung. With the hardware it hung from and a screwdriver from the kitchen in hand, she ascended the steps to see what the damage looked like.
“I see you got rid of that dozy cow,” someone said from the front door.
Heather, startled, lost her balance and stumbled down from the ladder. “Don’t do that,” she said. It was Dopple in the doorway. “Going out?” Heather asked when she saw the coat slung over Dopple’s shoulder.
“Maybe. What’s it to you?”
Back up on the ladder, Heather scraped at the splintered wood with the screwdriver. “Nothing much. I just wondered. Anyone else headed out?”
“None of my business if they are.”
“Seems a pity,” Heather said as she tried to tighten a screw back into the wood. “Not to enjoy the change.”
“Yes, it’s no secret how you feel about it,” Dopple said. “Most cats,” she said with emphasis, so that it meant sane cats, “don’t like to advertise the fact.”
Heather tugged on the screw and it fell out of the wood easily and released a flurry of wood shards behind it. “Damn thing,” she muttered. “You spend more time human than the others.”
“I have a job to do.”
“You’re a rescuer.” Heather twisted a screw into place with her fingers then tightened it with the screwdriver. It turned easily. “But you mean to tell me you don’t enjoy it too? You never go to a nice restaurant or do some shopping for yourself?”
“Would that serve some purpose? Would it make anyone’s life better?”
“Maybe yours.” The screw fell out of the wood on its own this time. “Shit.”
“I don’t enjoy cutting myself off from my kind, so no, I don’t think it will enrich my life. Thank you for your concern.”
“You’re welcome,” Heather said. She was no longer really listening to the conversation. She chipped off some more wood. “How do you tell if you have termites?”
“What, on you? I would recommend a flea collar, if you’re concerned.”
“Not on me. In the woodwork. Yvonne said she thinks this is from termites. But I can’t see anything that looks like one.”
“Well, if Yvonne said it, it must be true.” When Heather made no reply, she slipped on her jacket and went down the steps. “I’m going to buy some more cat trees and have them delivered to the bottom of the hill.”
Heather stopped what she was doing and looked at her. “Thank you. Ours are looking pretty ragged. You have money?”
Dopple flashed a debit card.
“Let me know when they’ll be delivered and I can take some people down to pick them up.”
Dopple shrugged and walked away. “Whatever,” she said as though Heather had been needling her.
Heather got down from the step ladder and put her hands on her hips. She looked at the overhang of the porch. It was pockmarked from time and weather and had gone gray with fine patches of mold. It did not look good, she thought, but termites sounded serious. She would have to call an exterminator or something. That meant going into town, as the House had no phone line.
Heather folded up the step ladder and tucked the screwdriver in the back pocket of her jeans. Maybe Carlisle would come with her. Or Topaz. Surely someone in the House enjoyed the human side of life. Dopple’s comments had her out of sorts, but she would prove her point if she could get a bunch of cats together in town. It could be a field trip. The termite problem fled from her mind in the face of a more pleasant project to plan. Heather put her tools away and went in search of recruits.
Susanna tapped her glass against the bar and checked her watch for the third time in ten minutes. He was late. She sipped her drink, which tasted only of melted ice by then. How dare he stand her up, she thought, but could not seem to muster any anger behind it. It had been a long day, which was why she was still in the bar, drinking alone, when she should have stormed out long ago.
She felt the person behind her before he ever touched her. His breath warmed her neck as he said, “You must hate me.” A hot hand curled over her shoulder and lingered as he moved around to her side and took a seat.
“Hate is such a strong word,” she said coolly. “But if you wanted to say loathe, I wouldn’t stop you.”
George Ellison didn’t laugh. His eyebrows furrowed, which made him look a little like a sulky puppy, if they came in six-and-a-half foot sizes. “My assistant informed me, on my way out the door to meet you, that the building permits for South Acacia had been sent over by courier an hour before.” He signaled to the bartender to give Susanna another drink. “I’m going to fire that nitwit, if she doesn’t ruin me first.”
“And they had to be dealt with tonight,” Susanna said. She accepted the drink when it arrived and took a sip before saying, in slightly more sincere tones, “Because your work won’t wait.”
“I wish I could disagree with you,” he said and he had that easy grin on his face again. “But you know what I’m talking about. All those clients with hands to hold. Always certain that their problems are the only things that matter.”
“I suppose,” Susanna said and favored him by turning towards him a bit, no longer half ignoring him.
“Unlike that Lee woman,” George said after he ordered a drink for himself.
“All those years, she couldn’t be bothered with the place. Hardly a peep out of her. Now she shows up and takes control of everything, again without a word. Doesn’t it seem a little strange?”
“Hey, it’s less work for me either way. Maybe she just got sentimental.”
“You know better than I do, I’m sure.” Susanna noted the return of his hand to her shoulder. “It would make me wonder though. Personally, I think she wants to sell the place.”
“Oh, not this again. I’ve told you, it’s set up to remain in the trust always, even if there’s no family left, even if they don’t want it personally.”
“Never underestimate the determination of a seller.”
“Or a buyer, in your case.”
“Too true. I would be curious though, to see what she’s buying,” George said lightly.
“You mean if she’s fixing the place up to sell,” she said and tried to sound as bored as possible so he would change the subject.
“Exactly. Do you still get copies of everything?”
“We’re still working with the same accountant, so yes. But I don’t see anything until she sends it to them now.”
He ordered yet another drink. Did that make it her second drink? Or her third? Susanna giggled. She clamped a hand over her mouth to stop herself, which only made her giggle more. “Mr. Ellison, I do believe you are trying to get me drunk.”
“Nonsense,” George said. “A gentleman never lets a lady become intoxicated.” The hand moved around to the small of her back.
“A gentleman should take a lady home once she is,” she cooed.
“Not a bad idea. Only I think I’ll need a few more drinks myself before that.”
“Oh, you beast. What a terrible thing to say.” She tried to slap his hand away, still giggling.
“What can I say? You bring out the animal in me.”
“Let me know when the next batch comes in. I’ll swing by your office and take a look,” George said.
“Oh, will you now?” Susanna asked as he helped her out of her chair and put the strap of her purse in her hand.
“Come on, you know you’re curious too. We won’t be hurting anything. Just taking a peek.”
“Curiosity killed the cat, remember?”
“Good thing we aren’t cats then, hm?” George said. She let him maneuver her out of the bar. The cool night air did nothing to clear her head. “What do you say we get out of here?”
Topaz looked up from the trunk of clothing when he heard someone come into the room. His human body did its best to purr at what he saw. Carlisle as a human was a dish, Topaz knew, but he had nothing but a towel around his waist at the moment and water dripped from his curly hair. It seemed that a spotted coat meant curls as a human.
“You took a shower?” Topaz asked.
Carlisle blushed, yet another human detail that Topaz loved. “It’s impossible to get this body clean otherwise. That’s all.”
“You don’t have to convince me. I like water,” he said and pulled out a pair of jeans, these ones more intact than the cut-offs he favored.
“You’re a cat.”
“Most of the time,” he replied with a wink. “What are you wearing tonight?”
Carlisle snorted. “I’m not going.”
“What? But I was looking forward to getting a little alone time with you.” He held a shirt up in the mirror. Bleh. Ugly.
“With six other cats?”
“No reason why we have to stay with the class for the whole field trip,” he said and nudged Carlisle with his hip when the other cat came over to find clothing of his own.
“Field trip. Unbelievable,” Carlisle said with undisguised scorn.
“Problem?” Topaz watched him in the mirror as he searched.
“It’s a bad idea; that is my problem. Something could go wrong.” He dropped his towel and pulled on a pair of black slacks.
“Heather’s going to bring some of her cat’s bane pills,” Topaz said when his brain got back on track. “So if anyone starts to change back early, we’re covered.”
“Oh, what a comfort. More drug use.” Carlisle flapped a shirt in his direction. “I would think that you of all people would see the danger in this plan.”
“Cat’s bane isn’t nearly as bad as catnip. And Heather has it under control,” Topaz said, surprised as well to be defending her.
“Hah! That’s rich. She disappeared for twenty-five years thanks to the stuff.”
“Okay, I’m sensing outstanding issues here,” Topaz said.
“You’re too young to understand. You weren’t here.” Carlisle buttoned his shirt and refused to look at Topaz.
“Excuse me, what the hell?” Topaz felt his face go red. “Too young? Give me a freaking break!” Nettled, he plunged on, deaf to what he was saying. “I bet I saw more on the trip over to the House than you have in, ooh, twenty-seven years.”
“Don’t imagine you know what my life was like prior to your arrival,” Carlisle said, voice as cool as if they had been discussing what he ate yesterday morning.
“I don’t have to imagine. I can see for myself right now. Going to get Heather was probably the first time you had been away from the House for as long as you’ve been here.”
“What business is it of yours, regardless?”
“Oh, hey, just gut me for wanting you to loosen up a little. I thought it would be fun to go out. You know, fun? Sounds like fun?” He waved his arms wildly as he spoke.
“Yes, how droll. I should have known you would side with her.” Carlisle turned to leave.
“I’m not siding with anybody. I just want to go on a damn date with you, you jerk,” he shouted.
“Compelling though that invitation might be,” Carlisle said from the doorway, “I believe I shall remain a recluse for one more night. If it’s all the same to you.” He shut the door — shut, not slammed — and left Topaz red-faced and miserable.
“So, what is anyone getting?” Heather asked as she looked over the menu. She and six other cats were seated at a long table at the back of the restaurant. She made a note to plan ahead next time, so they could get a better view. But so far, nothing horrifying had happened.
“Do they have fish here?” asked one of the others. Her name was Annabelle, a small and bright-eyed white short-hair normally.
“Yes, but don’t forget that everything will be cooked,” Heather said. She kept her voice low. “Well, they have a sushi appetizer, but this really isn’t a good place for sushi. There’s salmon under the chef’s specials.”
“I want another drink,” Topaz said. He rattled the ice in his cup for emphasis.
“You finished it already?” Heather asked. “Slow down, will you?” Topaz had been out of sorts all evening but he would not tell her why.
“Do I really have to wear this?” Evergreen, an unfortunately named cinnamon tabby, tugged at the long sleeves of his shirt. Heather had helped them all dress and had done her best to cover up their more unusual markings. In his case, it was the swirl of light and dark tan patterns on his skin, which looked like a bad tanning lotion accident. He undid the buttons and started to roll the sleeves up.
“Hey, remember what I said? We’re incognito,” she said and he reluctantly rolled the sleeves down again. “Come on, what sounds good? I’m thinking about the pot roast.”
“The chicken will be dead, won’t it?” Dorian, a truly huge, wire-haired cat, asked. He looked like a Viking with his tangle of red and brown hair and his chunky forearms. “What’s the point of any bird if it’s already dead?”
“Okay! Let’s not discuss dead things at the table,” Heather said with strained cheer. “Just try to pick something that you think you’ll enjoy. It’s one meal; if you don’t like it, no one will make you eat it again.”
“What’s a salad?” Annabelle asked. She pronounced it sa-LAHD. Cats at the House were taught to read, but some took to it better than others.
“It’s lettuce and other vegetables. I’m not sure you’ll like it much.”
“Is it like grass?” Rafflesia asked. Heather had marveled, upon meeting her for the first time, at her mother’s taste in baby names. She looked about twelve as a human. Her mother, Valoria, sat next to her and fussed over her kitten whenever a human walked by their table. They were both long-haired calicoes with green eyes that looked utterly wrong in a human face. “I like grass, but sometimes it makes me throw–”
“And again, let’s not talk about that right now. It is a little like grass, I suppose. In a manner of speaking,” Heather said, now reluctant to say more for fear the kitten would decide that salad was a good idea.
“These drinks are fantastic,” Topaz said to no one in particular. He must have asked a waiter for another while Heather was distracted by the others. “They taste like pineapple. And possibly lighter fluid.”
“Oh, that does sound great. I think I’m going to impose a two-drink limit.”
“Spoilsport,” Topaz said. “I thought we were going to have fun!”
It became increasingly apparent to Heather that Topaz’s idea of fun that night would consist of getting rip-roaringly drunk. She tried to prevent him from getting a third drink, but there was only so much time she could spend watching him. The other cats all needed her attention more than he did. She had to teach them to use silverware and straws and napkins, all of which were mostly foreign to them. She could not believe she had thought it a good idea to choose cats who were less experienced with human life. “To give them a good introduction,” she had said to Carlisle. Good god, what an idea.
Once the food was there, everyone settled down a bit. Their manners were not attractive, but they did not growl or fight over anything either, for which Heather was grateful. Topaz had gone silent some time before that. Heather wondered, watching him pick at a salmon steak, if he had ever had alcohol before. He was by far the most experienced one there, second to Heather herself. Yet Rafflesia was the only one younger than he. She wondered who he had been before he came to the House.
“I think we should go dancing,” he said suddenly after his plate had been cleared away by the server.
Heather recognized that inebriated gleam in his eyes from her own time working in restaurants. “I don’t think there are any clubs around here. This is a small town,” she said.
“Who needs a club?” Topaz asked. He pushed his chair back and Heather had visions, horrible visions, of him jumping up on the table and stripping.
Dorian clamped a huge hand on his arm and pinned him to the chair. “Behave yourself, kitten,” he rumbled.
“Check, please,” she said to the server. “Quickly,” she added with a nervous glance at Topaz.
“I don’t feel so good,” Topaz said. He had an arm draped over Heather’s shoulders and leaned on her heavily.
“Big surprise there,” Heather said. “Point yourself in some other direction if you decide to throw up.”
“Don’t talk about it,” he whined.
“I can take him for a while,” Dorian said.
“Thanks.” She rearranged Topaz against Dorian.
“Hey, big fella,” Topaz said. He patted a hand against Dorian’s stomach. “Nice six-pack you have there. You want to have some fun with me later?”
“Oh, this gets better and better,” Heather muttered. “Topaz, don’t hit on him. Please. I’m sorry about this,” she said to Dorian. “This isn’t quite the evening I had in mind.”
Dorian grinned. “I’m not complaining.”
Rafflesia piped up. “Yeah, this is fun!” Her mother chuckled and shook her head.
“I appreciate your saying that, but it isn’t necessary.” Heather jammed her hands in her pockets and slouched like she could shrink and disappear. “Carlisle was right. This was a mistake.”
“Are you kidding? Nothing this exciting ever happens at the House,” Dorian said. “Best we can hope for there are fights over field mice. This was cool.”
“You really didn’t hate it?”
“Naw. What’s to hate?” Dorian said. “At least he isn’t–”
And of course, that was the moment when something happened, something unexpectedly worse. Topaz started twitching. He shivered. His skin seemed to ripple.
“Shit! He’s changing,” Heather said. They were still making their way out of the shopping center where the restaurant was located. She pulled Dorian towards a narrow passageway between two storefronts. It opened on one end to the stores and the front parking lot and on the other end on the back lot.
“In here. Yeah, set him down there. Valoria, you two stand out front and look like you’re waiting for someone or shopping or something. Just keep anyone from seeing us. Annabelle, you go with them.” She dug out her bottle of cat’s bane. “Take these first. It must be the alcohol. He had more to drink than the rest of you.”
“I didn’t have any,” Rafflesia said. “Do I have to take it?”
“No, sweetheart, you’re fine.”
“What about Topaz?” Evergreen asked as he gulped a pill down.
“Too risky. It’s started. It’s really rough to force the change to stop in the middle,” Heather said and thought of her own unpleasant experiences with the same problem.
“Why didn’t you warn us about this before you let us drink?” Annabelle asked quietly, trying to make it look like she was talking with Valoria.
“I don’t drink,” Heather snapped. “I didn’t know this would happen.”
“Can we do anything for him?” Evergreen asked.
“We just have to wait for it to pass. Then we can carry him home. I’m more concerned about avoiding any unwanted attention in the meantime.”
Topaz moaned quietly and the three out front raised their voices a bit to cover it. His shaggy hair shed away and melted into the air. Fur sprang free of his skin, changing from a five o’clock shadow to a full coat in a few minutes. Bones creaked as they changed shape and size. His abdomen roiled as his organs shuffled into position. When his body finally settled, he gave one great sigh and fell asleep.
Heather lifted him and pulled off the clothing he had been wearing. Dorian cradled him in his big arms while Heather folded the clothes. “We’ll go this way,” she said and pointed to the back lot. “There’s less light. We’ll pick the road up once we’re out of sight.” So six humans and one cat slipped into the shadows between streetlights and made their silent way into the open night on the streets.
“What were you saying about excitement?” Heather asked when they were alone on the road that would take them home.
“Nothing bad happened,” Evergreen reminded her. “No one saw us.”
“That we know of,” Heather said. “I’m really sorry I put you all in danger like this.”
“Psh. Danger,” Valoria said. “Rubbish. We’re in more danger just going into our own backyard. Life is danger, dear.”
They walked in silence a while longer. Then, in the dark, Evergreen’s soft voice spoke. “We should do this every month,” he said.
“Next time, let’s go shopping for toys,” Rafflesia said. “Auntie Heather, do you know where there’s a toy store?”
Heather could not help but laugh. “I’ll make sure to find one before next Leo moon.”
“And we can bring all our friends along,” Rafflesia said.
Drunken escapades and high society ladies aside, Heather found she was happy to think of these people as her friends. A little company, she decided, after all those years living alone, might not be so bad.