The sky continued to darken as the storm clouds rolled in from the west, quickly going from blue to grey, with patches of darker grey floating by much like smoke from a nearby fire.
Birds swarmed in the distance, as if unsure of the safest path, as thunder began to disturb the otherwise peaceful quiet of her early Sunday morning. Leaves ruffled in the sudden breeze. Squirrels chattered from high in the pine trees as black crows squawked even louder.
Chilled by the cold air arriving with the storm, she tugged at the left side of her thin fleece jacket that hung loosely off her bare shoulder, pulled the zipper up a little higher.
She had slipped out of bed and into a pair of lounge pants as quietly as possible, not wanting to wake him, and thrown the jacket on as she headed to the kitchen of their lake cabin. Once she had poured herself a cup of coffee, she stepped out onto the long, covered porch, and sat in the wooden swing they had shared the night before while enjoying a small glass of wine.
Small. Cozy. Secluded. Safe.
There was no other place she'd rather be than this cabin, and no one she'd rather be with than him. He was her life, her rock.
She took a sip of her coffee, then held the cup close to her chest with both hands as she recalled the night before. It was the first time they had made love since she returned home. He had been so gentle with her as if she would break, but the passion had been intense. Afterward, he'd held her tightly in his arms as she lay against his massive chest, assuring her without the need for words that everything would be okay.
She had fallen asleep quickly for the first time in much longer than she could remember, and had slept throughout the night, only waking once in need of the thin quilt that had gotten shoved to the edge of the bed during their lovemaking.
The eerie sound coming through the open bedroom window had frightened her at first, but his steady, light snoring, along the awareness of his arm across her lower abdomen calmed her impulse to panic. She had gently pulled the cover-up over both of them and then focused on the constant soft hoot hoot of the owl outside their window calling for his mate. The next thing she knew it was morning and the hooting of the owl had turned to the chirping of birds.
Turning her attention back to the present, she placed her coffee cup on the table in front of her, then pulled her knees up, hugging them close to her chest. Her bare feet exposed freshly painted red toenails. It was a bold color, and she had been proud of herself for selecting it. He'd found the color sexy, which pleased her even more.
Out of nowhere, a grey tabby cat suddenly appeared on the porch railing. One second he hadn't been there, the next second he was. She watched as he balanced himself on the narrow warn wooden board, prancing back and forth along it. Then he sat, faced her, purred loudly.
"Where'd you come from?" she asked. "Seeking shelter from the storm?"
And then it came, hard and fast, the sky opening up and dumping its full load, as lightning shot across it, the roar of the thunder arriving only moments later, loud and furious.
And just as quickly as the rain hit, the grey tabby cat disappeared.
Moments later, it reappeared, in the swing next to her. Just as she reached to pet it, the back door swung open. She turned to see him standing there, dressed in faded denim jeans and tight, white tee shirt, his hair mussed, coffee cup in hand. His feet were also bare.
"There you are," he said. "You're up early. Did you sleep okay?"
"I did," she assured him, smiling.
He stepped over to her after closing the door behind him, bent down and kissed her on the lips. "Good." Then he turned around, looking out past the porch. "Quite the storm this morning. You okay out here?"
"I'm fine. We both are." As she said the words, she turned toward the cat by her side, only to realize it was gone.
"Both?" he asked, frowning, his eyes expressing deep concern.
"Both of us. You and me." She pointed to herself and then him as she spoke. "We're safe from the storm here under the covered porch. Come, sit." She scooted over in the swing to where the grey cat had sat and patted the now empty seat for him to join her.
Before doing so, he set his coffee cup on the table next to hers.
"Looks like you need a refill, want me to get you more?" he asked.
"You don't have to do that."
"I don't mind." He picked up her empty cup from the table, then kissed her again. "Be right back."
"You are too good to me," she replied, reaching up to touch his face. "I don't deserve you."
"Yeah, you do."
She watched him as he headed back inside. She didn't feel she deserved him at all. He was so good to her; if only she could be the wife he deserved. She wanted so much to be just that.
"You're back," she said, noticing the grey tabby cat sitting on the railing directly in front of her. It didn't purr this time, just sat there, watching her.
"Did you take your pills yet?" he asked, returning with her coffee and handing it to her.
"Good." He picked up his coffee, sat down beside her.
She hadn't taken her pills, not this morning, and not any morning since she'd returned. She hated the pills, hated the way they made her feel, and she had been confident she no longer needed them. She was well, she was sure of it.
He slipped his arm around her. They sat in silence for several minutes, sipping their coffee, as the rain continued, although the worst of the storm had passed, and the skies had quieted. The grey cat had disappeared the moment he had returned with her coffee.
"How about some breakfast, and then a walk in the woods once all this rain passes?" he asked, breaking their silence.
"Both sound perfect. I am starving!"
"I'll get it started then. You're favorite. Want to come in and help, or do you want to stay out here and finish your coffee?"
"I want to come in, and watch you work," she teased.
He chuckled. "That's fine. Come on." He stood, then reached his hand out to her.
When she took it, he pulled her close. Lowering the zipper of her jacket, exposing a hint of her firm breasts, he whispered, "Maybe we can skip that walk after breakfast."
His eyes remained focused on her chest as he spoke, and then he lowered the zipper even more. She shuddered at the touch of his fingers on her skin, offered a faint moan as he lowered his head, and his warm, moist lips touched where his eyes had been.
"I say we skip breakfast as well," she managed to say as she ran her fingers through his thick hair.
He raised his head, smiled. "I thought you said you were starving."
Looking deep into her eyes and pulling her closer, he exclaimed, "God, I am so glad you're home. I have missed you so much. It's going to be okay this time, right?"
"It is," she assured him with all the confidence she was able to muster.
He took her by the hand and led her to the back door. Just before stepping inside, she turned back to check the porch railing.
She could so easily convince herself that the grey tabby cat stretched out on it was real, that it wasn't a figment of her imagination, that the hallucinations hadn't returned. She could, if only it hadn't winked at her.
She turned back around and followed him inside.