Just What the Doctor Ordered
By Carrie Carr
Disclaimers -- None. Don't like it, don't read it <g>. You may recognize these folks from previous stories (In the Blink of an Eye, Something to be Thankful For, The Greatest Gift) -- you don't have to read them to know who they are, but it might help. Or, it might not. Depends on you, I guess. This story, as are all of mine, is dedicated to my wonderful wife, Jan. She tolerates my late-night writing binges, and supports me in everything I do. Thank you, sweetheart -- I love you!
If you like it, or have thoughts or suggestions, drop me a line at email@example.com
Small, wide-eyed and trembling, the Chihuahua tried to curl up against the veterinarian's hip. Randi Meyers scooted the chart she had been writing on closer, and used her free hand to stroke the dark coat of the animal. “Ms. Racine, you'll need to bring Belle back Wednesday so I can remove her stitches. She's going to need a couple of more days to heal.”
Belle's human, Kristal Racine, placed one well-manicured hand against her hip. “But, Dr. Meyers, that's Valentine's Day. My boyfriend is taking me out to dinner, and it's going to take me hours to get ready. Is it really that important? Couldn't we do it on Thursday?”
Valentine's Day? Damn. I can't believe I forgot. Randi felt Belle's soft tongue bypass the new stitches on her stomach and begin to lick Randi's hand. “First thing Thursday morning, okay?”
Kristal waved her other hand in the air. “Whatever. If I'd known it would have put a crimp in my plans, I wouldn't have had it fixed.”
Randi bristled at the woman's attitude. She picked up the frightened dog gently, allowing a thankful Belle to lick her chin. “If you don't want Belle, I can probably find her a nice home.”
“Well.” Kristal considered the possibility. “It really isn't mine. My sister's husband got transferred overseas, and she didn't want to take it with them. I just agreed to take it off their hands.” She brushed imaginary dog hair from her pale green silk shirt. “I do get tired of cleaning up after it.” A gleam twinkled in her dark eyes. “If I say yes, does that mean I don't have to pay for the surgery?”
The callous way in which Kristal referred to Belle made Randi snap off a response without thinking. “Only if you bring all of her belongings back to me.” She hated when people treated animals with so little consideration or respect. The woman in front of her obviously didn't care about her pet.
Kristal started to give Randi an impromptu hug, when Belle turned and growled at her. “Super! I'll be back in an hour.” She gathered her purse and left the treatment room before Randi could change her mind.
Randi carried her new friend out of the examination room, keeping Belle close to her body to keep her calm. When her assistant, Joyce, came up next to her she tried to keep an unaffected demeanor. “Yes?”
“Is something wrong with Belle? I saw Ms. Racine race out of here like her butt was on fire.” Joyce lightly scratched the top of Belle's head and cooed at her.
“Slight change of plans.” Randi walked to Christina's desk. “Hey, wasn't your daughter looking for a puppy for the kids?”
Christina raised her eyes from the appointment book. “At one time, yes. But she changed her mind. Why?” She noticed the Chihuahua in Randi's hands. “What happened?”
Joyce leaned against the desk and crossed her arms over her chest. “Yes, boss. What's up?”
“I kind of told Ms. Racine she didn't have to pay for Belle's surgery.”
With an interested look on her face, Christina rested her chin on her propped up hand. “And why, pray tell, did you do that? I hate to be the one to break this to you, dear, but our office manager isn't going to like you giving your services for free.” She remembered the last time Randi had offered her services, pro bono, to a friend. Kay had to remind the vet that they'd soon be out of business if she continued to work for free.
Randi tried to ignore the dog, which kept licking her chin. “It's not my fault.” At Joyce's chuckle, she glared at her. “Well, it's not. She didn't give a damn about this poor little dog, so I told her I'd find Belle a good home.” She tried to hand Belle to Christina, who scooted her chair away.
“Oh, no. I'm not taking her. It took me over a month to get the last critter away from my grandson. No more destructive pets. My plants haven't been the same since that last cat.”
Turning around, Randi gave Joyce a pleading look. “Please? It'll only be until I can find her a good family.”
Joyce shook her head and hurried from the room. “My husband would kill me,” she called over her shoulder, before the door closed behind her.
Christina scooted to the desk. “Why don't you take her? It wouldn't hurt Spike to have another dog to talk to. Kay's still out of town, isn't she? You can find Belle a home before she gets back.”
Randi sighed. “I might as well, I suppose.” Christina just had to remind her about Kay's being gone. For the past week, her lover was back in Woodbridge, out of some sense of family loyalty. Her aunt Louise was hospitalized with pneumonia, which brought Kay back to sit vigil at her side. She called every evening, but it wasn't the same. And now she won't be here for Valentine's Day. Maybe I can drive down after work, and at least see her that night.
“There, there, dear. It won't be forever. Her aunt can't be in the hospital too much longer.”
“You don't know Louise. She's probably milking it for all she's worth.” Randi walked behind the desk and sat in the empty chair near Christina. She rolled closer to the pet bed in the corner, where Spike was curled into a ball, asleep. After she had opened her own clinic, Randi's working hours had increased, and she didn't think it fair to leave Spike at home, alone. He adjusted easily to his new surroundings. “Hey, buddy.” He raised his head and glared at her, obviously not pleased at being awakened. Randi tried to put Christina's chuckles out of her mind and slipped off the chair to kneel next to her perturbed pet. “Come on, Spike. Don't give me that look.” She held Belle closer to him. “Would you mind puppy-sitting for a while?”
“You spoil that dog,” Christina admonished.
Randi ignored her. She waited patiently while Spike checked out the Chihuahua. He obviously didn't find anything threatening, because he dropped his head onto his paws and closed his eyes again. “I guess that's a yes.” She placed Belle in the bed next to him, and was relieved to see her snuggle against him. “Good girl.” With a grunt, Randi stood and brushed off the knee of her khaki slacks. “That solves one problem.”
The front door blew open and Kristal Racine rushed in, carrying a box. “I'm back!” She dropped the box onto the counter, earning a nasty look from Christina. “Here's all it's stuff. My sister had all sorts of crap for the little beast.” She started to leave. “Anything else?”
“I'll need you to sign a paper, giving up all rights to Belle.” Randi didn't want Kristal to change her mind. “That is, if you're sure about this.”
Kristal hitched her purse up higher on her shoulder. “Hell, yeah, I'm sure.” She peered over the counter at Christina. “Well, where do I sign?”
Christina gave Randi a dirty look before taking a sheet of paper from her lower desk drawer. It was a form they made up for an occasion like this. Her boss was notorious for taking unwanted pets and finding homes for them. She quickly filled out the top of the page before handing it to Kristal. “Here you go. Read over this and sign at the bottom.”
“Whatever.” Kristal scribbled her name with a flourish. “Awesome. She's all yours.” She blew Randi a kiss and breezed out of the office.
Randi pointed a warning finger at Christina. “Not one word.”
The secretary mimed zipping her lips closed, and then waggled her fingers at Randi.
With a heavy sigh, Randi shook her head and went back to work.
Kay was having problems of her own. She was in a hospital room, trying, unsuccessfully, to placate her aunt. “Louise, calm down.”
“No, I won't. These idiots can't seem to get it through their thick skulls that I'm dying!” She flopped against her pillow, causing the bed to rattle. She shook her finger at Kay. “You, of all people, should be sympathetic to my plight.”
Louise huffed impatiently. “Because, you're the one who works for a doctor.” She moaned and closed her eyes. “I need to update my will.”
“It couldn't have changed much since last month, when you revised it.” Kay made certain the chair she dropped into wasn't too close to the bed. She still had a bruise where her aunt had pinched her for not paying close enough attention. “And, as you well know, Randi is a veterinarian.”
“Which makes her a doctor. Don't be so literal, Katherine. My heart can't handle the strain.” Louise covered her eyes with her arm. “I'm dying, and you're arguing with me.”
At that moment, her daughter, Nancy, bustled into the room. “Mother, I've brought you dinner.” She ignored her cousin, instead placing a large paper bag on the tray in front of her mother. “How are we feeling?”
“We are dying, Nancy. Surely you can see that.” But Louise perked up at the smells emanating from the bag. She raised the top of the bed so she was sitting up. “Please tell me that's meatloaf from Matilda's.” The greasy-spoon restaurant was one of Louise's favorites.
“Of course it is, Mother.” Nancy tore open the bag and brought out a styrofoam container, along with plastic cutlery. She tucked a paper napkin beneath Louise's chin and barely got her hand away before her mother started eating. “You poor thing. I swear, they try to starve you to death in here. No wonder you're still so ill.”
Kay stood. She had tolerated her family's histrionics for too long. “For crying out loud. She's fine! The doctor was in here less than an hour ago, and signed her release.” She picked up her purse and headed for the door. “Nancy, you can take her home. I'm out of here.”
Christina opened the door to Randi's office and peeked inside. The vet had her elbow resting on the desk, with her head propped in her upraised hand -- and sound asleep. Papers were strewn in front of her, and her free hand held a pen. “Randi?”
Randi's eyes opened as she jerked awake. She rubbed her face with her hand and blinked several times. “Hmm? Sorry, I was finishing up some paperwork.”
“I can see.” Christina stepped further into the room. “Why don't you go home? Everyone else left hours ago.”
“What time is it?”
“Close to nine.”
Randi stood and stretched. “What are you doing here so late?” She walked around the desk and followed Christina into the waiting room, where they were greeted by Belle and Spike.
“After hours is the only time I have to get caught up with my own bills. If I go home, Jim will hover and drive me crazy.” Christina's husband had recently retired, and followed her around the house like a bored puppy.
“Has he found any hobbies, yet?” Randi hung her lab coat on a hook near the door. She clipped a lease on Spike's collar, and picked up Belle.
Christina opened the door, and after Randi stepped out, closed and locked it. “I think the only hobby he has is tormenting me.” She followed her friend to their respective cars, which were parked side by side. “Have any suggestions? Besides locking him in the garage?”
Randi opened the driver's door on her Corvette. “Nope. But I'm sure you'll think of something.” She waited until Christina got into her own car and started the engine, before doing the same. She wasn't looking forward to going home. The apartment was too quiet and lonely without her partner, and not even Spike's antics could keep her from moping around.
She drove as slow as she could, not in any hurry to go home. Spike enjoyed the ride in his usual position, front feet on the top of the passenger door, watching the scenery. He'd growl ever so often at a passing car, but otherwise behaved himself. Belle, on the other hand, was more than content to lie across Randi's lap.
Once at the apartment complex, Randi was so intent on gathering the dogs and getting them to the apartment, she only gave a slight wave to her neighbor, who was walking his pug. She rolled her eyes as Spike sniffed around. “Come on, buddy. I'd like to get some dinner before it's breakfast time.” Belle squirmed, so she placed her on the ground. “All right. But make it quick. I'm beat.”
Ten minutes later, Randi opened the apartment door, still grumbling at the dogs. She unclipped the leash from Spike and let Belle join him in racing around. “You two try not to tear the place up.”
“Do you always have such titillating conversations?” a voice asked from the hallway.
Randi, who was in the process of hanging Spike's leash, dropped it on the floor. “Kay?” She met her lover halfway, and caught Kay in a firm embrace in the center of the living room. “God, I've missed you.” She felt hands cradle her face and bring her down for a long kiss. The lips beneath hers trembled, and she couldn't tell whether it was her tears or Kay's that dampened her face.
“Me, too.” Kay finally pulled away enough to look into Randi's face. She brushed a thumb under her eyes. “You look exhausted.”
“I'm fine.” They made their way to the sofa. Randi kept one arm around Kay, loathe to lose contact. “It feels like you've been gone for a month, instead of five days.”
Spike announced his displeasure with a sharp bark. He leapt onto Kay's lap, his stubby tail wagging furiously.
She kissed the top of his head. “I've missed you too.” Motion by her feet caught Kay's attention. “And who do we have here?”
Randi picked up the Chihuahua, who was curious to what all the excitement was about. “This is Belle.” The little dog's soft tongue started to bathe her fingers. “She's, um, I mean—”
“Another stray?” Kay hazarded to guess. She held out her hand for Belle to sniff, before stroking her head. “She's adorable.”
“Actually, her owner didn't want her. I'm trying to find her a new home.”
Kay watched as Belle curled up on Randi's lap and closed her eyes. “Looks like she already has one.”
“No, I don't think—” Randi paused and looked at the dog resting in her lap. “Well, Spike has gotten fond of her. What do you think?” She leaned into Kay's hand that touched her cheek.
“Honey, you don't have to ask me. It's only fair, since I practically stole Spike from you.” It was true. For whatever reason, Spike had quickly adopted Kay. It was a subject they both had fun with. “You can consider her a Valentine's Day present.”
Randi felt guilty that she had forgotten the day. “But I didn't get you anything.”
“I meant, for Spike.” Kay laughed at the look that crossed Randi's face. “I was kidding.” She rested against her lover's shoulder. “Just being together is a gift in itself.”
“Yeah.” Randi tightened the hold she had on Kay and closed her eyes, relishing the moment. “Yeah, just what the doctor ordered.”
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