It was a beautiful Saturday morning in Smyrna.
Ronnie pointed. "That's where I first met Wishes."
Cherie looked. "What, the big bouncy thing with the slides?"
"No, behind it. This way." She led Cherie around the giant inflated bouncy, slidy thing for kids, to the fountain on the plaza in front of the . A few children were sitting on the edge, dabbing their hands in the clear water.
"No joke, Cherie, he was checking to see if his Sea Monkeys were growing in there."
Cherie's forehead wrinkled for a moment, the way Ronnie loved. "Monkeys don't live in the sea, Doll. Don't tell me you're a champion of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis!"
"I think the Sea Monkeys are really something called brine shrimp. They sell them in kits."
"Yanks will buy anything." Cherie looked in the fountain. "You can't grow brine shrimp in fresh water."
"So it would seem." Ronnie stretched, feeling the sun on her shoulders. "Gosh, it turned out nice, didn't it?" She looked at the sunlit glints of color in Cherie's hair, unpinned today and flowing past her shoulders. "If Wishes hadn't of taken me in like a stray cat, I don't know what I would have done. Maybe gone back to Tennessee."
Cherie smiled broadly at her. "God bless Wishes, then."
It felt like eleven. Ronnie checked her Forbidden Planet watch. 11:00. "Speaking of which, he should be somewhere around by now. Want to check out the booths?"
Cherie inhaled deeply. "Something smells good. Hope there's seafood." She took Ronnie's hand. "My gorgeous girl, let's see if we can see some seafood."
None of the guys Ronnie'd been with had ever walked hand-in-hand with her in public. The easy, natural way Cherie did it was just one of the things that were different about her. That, and her being female, which none of the men in Ronnie's past were.
From Village Green Circle down to City Hall, King Street was lined with canopied booths from a couple dozen local restaurants, all there for the .
This was what Cherie had requested for their Saturday. She'd said, "I want to know the good restaurants in Smyrna, so we can be sure of a good feed. When you're ready to have me over."
For half a week, they'd spent part of every day, and all of every night, together. Already it'd lasted longer than most of her relationships.
It was as near a perfect day as she'd seen since showing up here back in July. Just cool enough the sunshine was welcome. Lacy white clouds above; a soft breeze sighing in the tree branches. On Centennial Park's stretch of green grass, a tiny round-headed child ran in a circle, yelling, "Knick knack paddy whack, give a dog a phone!"
A little boy play-wrestled with his mother. A little girl in leotard and slippers carefully walked backward, holding a blue balloon. The balloon got away from her and drifted skyward; she stood still and waved at it, with a solemn, dignified face.
At the booth for Sri Rice and Curry, a charming man named Sriyantha sold Ronnie vegetable biryani and tandoori chicken. Cherie, foregoing seafood, got a double portion of Drunken Chicken from J. Gumbo's. She said, "It's land tuna."
A panting little bulldog lapped water from a paper dish and rolled on the grass. Two little terriers were wearing black vests labeled "SECURITY".
Speaking of terriers—there came Martian Fighting Machine, aka Marty trotting along on three legs. On the other end of his leash was Wishes. The coin-changer on his belt shone in the sun. He was holding an ice cream cone from the booth; Ronnie knew it was strawberry.
Marty caught sight of Ronnie and barked, spinning around. Ronnie walked up and knelt down, pointed her finger at the dog. "Bang!" He immediately flopped over on his back, and Ronnie rubbed his belly. She gave him a little chicken and looked up at Wishes. "You made it!"
"Sure, we walked. Nice day."
Ronnie stood up. "Wishes, you remember—" Cherie stepped past her and put her arms around Wishes, hugging him tight.
Wishes grinned. "What's that for?"
Cherie said, "Just because."
On impulse, Ronnie said, "Cherie's staying over tonight, is that cool?"
Wishes flipped up his clip-ons. "Why don't I move out of the big bedroom downstairs? I don't need the king-size; you two should have it."
Cherie put her arm around Ronnie. "Thanks, Mate, we'll be fine in Ron's bed." She looked at Ronnie. "You have got a bed, right?"
From behind her, Ronnie heard, "Oh, God, this makes me happy." She turned around. It was Shane, in shorts and a loud shirt, holding a cup of shaved ice and an ear of roast corn. Probably from Joe's and Glo's Hawaiian Shaved Ice & Bo's Roasted Corn.
He stepped forward and looked up at Cherie. "You're incredibly welcome to sleep with Ronnie in my house." He suddenly glared at Wishes. "Did you know about this?"
Wishes shrugged. "Sure." He licked his cone. "Obvious, really."
Cherie looked like she was struggling not to laugh. She asked Shane, "Are you sure?"
"God yes. Mi casa es su casa. "
Ronnie said, "It's your grandmother's house."
"Fine. Mi casa es mi—no, wait, uh, la casa de mi Ebola es su casa."
"Abuela, Shane, not Ebola."
"Whatever, Ronnie; nobody likes a mean girl. You're welcome."
Ronnie thought, Can't believe I worried so much about this. "Thanks, Shane. And thanks for not displaying your normal crudity."
"Who, me?" Shane looked hurt. He glanced up at Cherie. "You're six feet even, right, Cherie?"
"That's right, Mate."
"Same as Ronnie." His eyes slid between the two of them. "That must be convenient, in certain situations."
Marty remained on his back, patiently awaiting more belly-rubbing.