The knock came after a half hour.
“Go away, Mom.”
Dave eased the door open and wavered there.
Spencer lay on his bed, exploring the field of stars Dave had painted on his ceiling.
“Okay, Dave. As long as it’s not Mom.”
“Spence, your brother doesn’t remember your dad. But you…I won’t be insulted if…”
“The thing is, Dave…”
“It should be right for you.”
“Jeez, Dave, can I finish? I don’t remember Dad. Not really. I remember you.”
Dave stepped into the room.
“I expect a car, though, Pops.”
“In your dreams, son.”
“Lift me out a cool one, darlin’.”
Toni dropped her hand into the cooler and found Jim a beer by feel, its slim, round neck sleek with icy dew. Without opening her eyes, she waved it at him, spraying cold droplets over her bare legs. She shivered.
“Ooh, that feels good.” She opened one heat-shuttered eye. Jim also had his eyes closed, his head lolling over the back of the lawn chair. Insects whirred in the bushes. Little Butch lay panting, his long tongue puddled on the ground, his short dachshund legs in the air, exposing his long dachshund belly to any stray, imaginary breeze.
Full of hot summer devil, Toni leaned forward to lay the cold one against Jim’s leg, but when Jim and Butch snored at the exact same time, she just didn’t have the heart to do anything but laugh, lean back and drink it herself.
“Snag me one, darling.”
Tony couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Snag you one what?” If he hadn’t already been soaked through with sweat, he would have broken out in one. Jean opened her heavy-lidded eyes to look at him. Her fingers curled around the aluminum arm rests of the lawn chair.
“A beer, of course. One beer. Jesus, Tony.”
He flipped back the lid of the cooler.
“I don’t see any more. I drank…”
“For God’s sake, Tony.” Her jack-knife forward in the chair and her flat voice brought the dog to his feet, his sharp shepherd ears up.
The ever-vigilant dog, that’s what I am. Shepherd, dogsbody, nurse, foe. Insects whirring from the bushes grated on his last nerve. He plucked the remaining bottle from the icy liquid in the chest, opened it, and drank.
It was almost more than he could stand. Slender ankles, curving calves, swelling behinds. Some racial memory stirred, and it was all he could do to stop himself from nipping here and nibbling there. He threaded his way between all those evocative limbs and couldn’t help the spot of drool that spangled his lower lip.
“Oh,” said his companion when yet another woman crooned over him. “He’s a dream and very well-trained. Yes, a Queensland Heeler. They’re used to herd cows.”