Walter froze with his mug of tea halfway to his mouth, and held his breath as another burst of fireworks boomed from their neighbor’s yard, then winced when Arlo dug sharp claws into his thighs. Their neighbors had been setting them off every time the US team won an Olympic medal, so apparently another athlete had earned one.
Conrad jerked and mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “borborygmus”—one of the medical terms he’d been studying for an upcoming test—but didn’t wake up. Walter blew out a relieved sigh, because the poor guy needed some sleep. Sadly, he was practically buried in books and couldn’t possibly be comfortable the way he was sprawled across the couch.
But, Walter didn’t want to risk waking his husband by moving him. Although—he glanced at the time on his phone—it was past ten o’clock, so maybe he should try to get Conrad to move to their bed instead. Except once he woke up, he’d probably resist that sound advice and go back to studying.
Walter sighed and sipped the tea. When he reached to put the mug back on the side table, Arlo evidently got tired of being jostled and jumped down. With his lap free of cat, Walter stood and stretched.
Conrad snorted a couple times and settled into a snoring pattern, so Walter liberated the pencil from his hand before he hurt himself with it, and couldn’t resist landing a light kiss to Conrad’s brow after successfully removing his glasses.
He walked to the window. It was a clear night, and the first quarter moon was still visible in the western sky. The night was peaceful despite the occasional jarring burst of fireworks from the neighbors.
He wasn’t sure what triggered the sensation—maybe some slight sound that registered only with his subconscious—but the hair on the back of his neck rose, and he turned in time to see Arlo crouched in attack position, his fur bristled, and his tail swishing tightly behind him. That wouldn’t have been a problem if Conrad hadn’t been the cat’s unsuspecting target. Or rather the loose thread at the hem of Conrad’s shirt shifting idly in the breeze of the ceiling fan.
“No Arlo,” Walter whispered. The cat’s hind legs trembled as he reared. Walter was too far away for any kind of physical intervention. “Don’t you do it,” he hissed. “No no!”
Arlo leapt and landed with a piercing meow, sharp claws extended, right on the doomed man’s lap. Conrad jumped about a foot in the air and shouted “horripilation,” of all crazy—but oddly appropriate—things. Another one of those words from that list he’d been studying.
Not the reaction the slow-witted cat had expected, judging by the way he tore out of the room, bouncing off a wall in the hallway before the noises of his hasty exit came to a sudden halt in their bedroom.
“Sorry,” Walter said. “You okay?”
“I’ll live.” Conrad put a hand on his heart and flopped against the back of the couch. “Christ, that cat is crazy.”
“You picked him out.”
Conrad huffed, but the corners of his mouth twitched up. “Don’t remind me.”
He reached for one of the books surrounding him and raked a hand through his thick dirty-blond hair. “How long was I out?”
“Not long enough.” Walter knelt beside him and patted his knee. “You’ve got all weekend to study. How about we hit the hay, and you can get a fresh start tomorrow after a good night’s sleep?”
Conrad placed a warm hand over Walter’s and grinned. “Or we could ‘roll in the hay’ instead of ‘hitting’ it.” He turned on his puppy dog eyes. “After that jolt I really need some help to fall back asleep.”
Walter laughed and helped Conrad stand. “Nut. Come on.”