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dog days

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The tires beat a steady rhythm on the highway, and while he’s never been one to sleep in cars, he thinks perhaps if he wasn’t driving, he could nap. It was a good case—short, with a happy ending—and now, with nothing but miles of cornfield and open Ohio sky ahead, a rare sort of peace settles into his bones.

It is late August, just on the cusp of fall. They had a good summer, slow by their standards, full of days like this: long, syrupy drives through the Midwest, Joni Mitchell on the radio, roadside hotdog stands and fifty-cent paper cups of frozen lemonade in the heat of the afternoon.

It has been a long, long time since he’s truly appreciated the dog days of summer. Even longer since he’s felt this bubbling sort of optimism for the autumn to come. It’s all because of her: his shotgun rider, his newfound lover. She has tinged all of it—the ninety-degree days, the blink of fireflies at dusk, the chirrup of crickets and cicadas in the humid nights—with an intangible shimmer, the glint of heat on blacktop.

He spares a glance for her now, and his breath catches. Photographers call this the golden hour, but they don’t know a thing, not one single thing, unless they’ve seen her here, now, like this. Her hair blazes in the late afternoon sun, a corona of red and gold that would burn him, singe him straight to the bone, if he were to touch. Her pale skin glows like marble, the freckles on her cheeks (for her makeup has long since worn off) each a toasted speck of cinnamon begging for his tongue.

And her eyes. Her eyes—translucent as sea glass. When they roll towards him, lazy beneath half-mast lids and Covergirl-dark lashes, he thinks of sirens who lured men to their death among the rocks and surf. He thinks those men probably died smiling.

“What?” she says, not self-consciously. The tip of her nose is pink from too much time spent in the sun.

If he kissed her now, he’s certain she would taste of cherry pie, of Coca-Cola from a glass bottle, of honeysuckle fresh from the bush. But they are moving at seventy miles an hour and he cannot kiss her, so he settles for taking her small hand instead. He raises it to his lips and brushes along her delicate knuckles.

“I love you,” he says, and she flushes the way she always does.

“Mulder,” she says, like a warning without the heat, scrunching her little pink nose. She squeezes his fingers once, twice, and he knows it means I love you, too.