I come awake with a jerk, blinking the sleep out of my eyes. I’m still in the SUV all by my lonesome. Peering through the windshield to the glass fronted building in front of me, I see a standard animal hospital. And I know animal hospitals. When you grow up with a girl who pulls wounded birds right out of the sky, you see a lot of them.
I find Christy, and even from out here I can see the huge tears spilling from her eyes. Oh hell, one of the most heartbreaking sights in the history of the world is my baby sister crying. I jump out of the car and head for the entrance. I’m about to push my way inside when I hear the shout from behind me.
I spin around to see Michael jumping out of another black SUV and running for me, “Mike, not now!”
Before I can get in the door, he’s in front of me, “The guy’s in a burn unit and our whole investigation is shot to hell.”
“Mike, your investigation was shot to hell before we showed up.”
That makes him pause. He didn’t think I’d figure it out. Sheesh, even GI Rand figured that much out.
“Look,” He takes a step back and gives me that earnest come-on-help-a-guy-out look, “All I’m asking is for you to take a look at it. One hour, two tops. We just need to see where we got off track. I’m exhausted and my wife is threatening to walk out if I don’t get my ass home and learn to change a diaper.”
Oh, now that’s low. The man adores his wife, and dammit they just had a baby. I’m being played and I know it, but…“Alright, I’ll call you tomorrow, but if you don’t want to end up with a broken something-or-rather. Gavin’s in a mood.”
“Right right.” He starts jogging backwards, “You’re a good egg. Thanks.” He spins around and heads back to his SUV.
One crisis averted. I walk through the door and assess and oh no, this doesn’t look good.
Christy’s standing in front of a man I’m assuming is Gerald’s son. He’s got the grim look of a man giving bad news. Gavin’s a stalwart presence at her back. One large hand covering her tiny shoulder. His solemn gaze meets mine and it tells me everything I need to know. Lena looks nearly feral and Allie’s eyes are red rimmed. They’re flanking her. Everyone else is gathered by the window, but I can see Jack shooting concerned glances over his shoulder.
“What’s going on, Midge?” I slide between she and Allie, taking her small, cold hand in mine.
“Mama Mia’s bad off.” Christy turns those marble blue eyes dripping with tears on me.
“I was just telling your sister that the kindest thing to do would be to end her suffering.” Gerald’s son says with that detached compassion his kind use when delivering bad news.
And oh hell, Christy gets especially upset when she can’t save a mama, and Sweet Mercy she’d already named her. If there was a chance we needed to take it.
I address Gerald’s son, “Doc, can I see her?”
“The cat?” He asked, his eyes puzzled.
“Yes.” I nod.
“We’ll be back,” I give Christy’s hand a squeeze.
She gives me a jerky nod, wiping at her tears.
The doc and I go down a hallway and through double stainless steel doors into a multi-purpose room set up for anything from surgeries to x-rays, “The cat is over here.”
“I don’t need to see her.” I just needed to speak with him alone.
“Right,” He rested his hip on the edge of an exam table, “I thought not.”
“Doc, can you save this cat?”
“I can treat her with antibiotics and an i.v., but her chances aren’t good.”
That’s because he didn’t know my sister. Christy could damn well will an animal to live, “Your Dad’s a good man.”
“Uh, thanks.” His confusion makes the word a question.
“I think he raised a good son.”
“Okay….” He nodded slowly drawing out the word and giving me the what-the-hell look. I get that a lot.
“I’m going to tell you a story. It can’t go beyond this room.”
“Okay.” That settles him down. He crosses his arms over his chest and waits.
I give him the abbreviated, half-truth version. It’s more than enough. His face transforms from wondering what I was up to, to disbelief, to shock, to horror. By the time I’m done he’s stumbling across the floor to fall heavily into a chair, “I’ll ….” He clears his throat, rubbing a shaking hand over a face that’s gone as white as his lab coat, “I’ll do everything I can.”
“Thanks.” I’m almost to the door when he stops me.
“She says she wants to be a vet. We can’t always save them. She’ll have to face it someday.”
“Maybe…” I concede the point, meeting his gaze in the glass panel of the door, the ghosts of promises made long ago haunting my reflection, “But not today.”
We pull into the driveway, that’s more of an alley between the two row houses that my sisters and I call home, at 5:17 a.m. Christy and I share one and Allie and Lena the other….sort of. Last year Allie dated an architect. He designed a Florida Room that spans the alley and connects the two houses by way of French doors at either end. So now it’s more of a “your house is my house”.
Trudy our slobbering hell-hound greets us at our door, “Is there coffee?” Lena, pats her gigantic shaggy head once and shoves her aside, barreling in through our front door. She and Allie are perpetually out of coffee.
We follow her onto the deep covered porch and into the house. Christy’s got the three kittens Josie, Sadie, and Cracker in a large carrier. Gavin gets charge of M&M. Mama Mia became M&M sometime during the flight home while I slept.
“We should put her in the Florida room. She’ll like the sunshine.” Christy heads through the French doors, Trudy loping at her side. My sister is happy as a clam in mud, confident in her ability to nurse mama cat back to health.
I flick the light switch and the old fashioned chandeliers over our heads illuminate the space. We made it home before sunrise. Yee-hah. It wasn’t much of a victory, but I’d take it. Allie says something about blankets for the kitties and heads through the opposite doors into what is officially her house.
Gavin carries M&M through the French doors. Setting the box down on the slate floor
Christy’s already rearranging furniture so that she can put M&M in the sunniest spot. Gavin pitches in and moves the heavier pieces, the coffee table and one of the short sofas. Allie decorated this room with a lot of stressed white wood and white slipcovers. Floral pillows in what they call chintz. It’s not what I would have chosen but it’s relaxing and feminine. Shabby chic, Allie called it.
It’s a good compromise. She and Lena successfully mixed modern, old Hollywood glam, and southern charm in their townhouse, albeit with a hell of a lot of yelling and stomping and blond hair tossing. Christy and I like a more organic style. Lots of pale natural woods, taupes and beiges along with bright whites and pale neutral greens. Everything in our house speaks to calm. It usually gets shouted out of existence by whatever insanity is happening, but hey, at least we put forth the effort. Allie says the Florida room blends the two homes in a seamless transition.
“…So you can have my room… I’ll be sleeping out here.” I tune back in to Christy and Gavin’s conversation.
“I can take the guest room.” Gavin said.
Wait…guest…what… “Are you staying?”
“Just a couple of days, if that’s alright?”
“Of course it’s alright,” I wave off the question, and head through the French doors into the great room, “But the guest room’s out of commission at the moment. Allie saw a guest room makeover on one of those HGTV things.”
“Right.” Gavin nods, following me into the house, “Christy’s room it is, then.”
Allie loves HGTV. And well, Allie’s got this strange quirky brain thing. Show her something one time. Pretty much all it takes. Sometimes it may take two or three trial runs, but then she’s an expert. Last year she renovated the first floor of both houses. Brought in a couple of guys who were seriously impressed with her know-how once they stopped staring at her chest. She put them to work, knocked down walls, refinished floors. Now, we have the charm of an old row house, but with lots of light open space and dream kitchens. Oh, and then just for giggles, she went upstairs, knocked down walls, and gave us all en-suite baths. We’re the envy of the entire block.
The last room to be redone was the small guest room in the back of the house on the first floor. Originally it was a laundry room, but she moved the laundry upstairs when she redid the baths.
I pass through the great room and into my coordinating kitchen. Lots of white and pale milk glass green, light colors, a window over the farmhouse sink, and open shelving to show off the things we inherited from Granny Rose. Allie also had brilliant idea of making my countertops wood butcher block, as a baker this makes my life so much easier. There’s not a dough out there that won’t stick like glue to granite.
I hit the counter and go for the coffee pot, but it’s not there. Lena’s got it sitting next to her at the breakfast bar.
“Hey,” She stops guzzling when I grab it, “If you drink, you brew.”
“You know you don’t live here, right?” I wave the pot at her, “This is my coffee.”
“Don’t I know it,” Lena snorted in her cup, “It’s weak as water. I had to use half the bag to get a decent brew.”
Oh for fuck’s sake. Lena should just skip the brewing process and chew on the beans. I go to the cabinet and pull out one of over a dozen travel mugs. We have a rule. If you see a travel mug – buy it. We’re always drinking on the go and keeping up with the mugs doesn’t happen. The McGovern women have left travel mugs up and down the east coast. I pour what’s left in an extra-large mug with a cartoon of a hung-over, coffee drinking Santa and slam it down in front of Lena. Putting the pot in place and filling the tower, but when I go to take down the bag of coffee I see my sister wasn’t exaggerating. There’s barely enough left for one last pot. I whirl around, “Dammit, Lena this was my last bag of Thanksgiving Blend.” I live for Thanksgiving blend. I wait outside the morning they get it in and buy every bag in the store, or a couple of stores, okay so every store in a twenty mile radius.
“Oh,” She manages to look a little ashamed, “Sorry, sis.”
I just glare.
“Uh, I’m really sorry?”
I shake the bag at her.
“Uh, I’ll buy you ten bags as soon as it’s available?”
I open the bag, dump the remaining beans into the grinder, then hold the bag in one hand and bring my open palm down, crushing it like a soda can, “It’s July.”
“Yeah…uh..right,” Lena nods, trying for placating and reasonable. Why she’s doing that I don’t know. Reasonable is not her forte. At a time like this, you play to your strengths, “Thanksgiving is a few months off, but you’d have run out in a few days anyway…”
The crushed bag bouncing off her head cuts her off, “Okay, okay, you’re right it was thoughtless. I’m an evil thieving coffee whore. I’ll get on the internet and see if I can find you some?”
I let it go with a grudging nod. Partially because if anyone can find me a bag of out of season coffee on the information highway it’s Lena, and two, enough black gold has dripped from the pot to coat the bottom of my cup and adding the proper amount of cream and sugar to what amounts to a thimble full of coffee is tricky business.
“Yeah, so I’ll just go get right on that.” Lena skedaddles while the daddling is good.
“What did you say to the vet?”
That question from Gavin is…unexpected. I keep my eyes on the pot and try a casual shrug, “Not much, just that Christy can will an animal to live.”
Silence. I risk a look up to see the man who knows me, I mean really knows me, leaning on the other side of the breakfast bar, his eyes solemn. I try for a subject change, “So who called you?”
“Rand.” One word and he’s still watching.
“Yeah, I should have seen that coming.”
“You should have.” Flat statement and still watching.
“I thought you were out of the country.”
“Got back yesterday morning.” Still watching
“Gavin, whatever it is, just say it.”
“One day, Mckenna.” He comes around the counter, till he’s standing a breath away, so large and solid, his hands on my shoulders a heavy, comforting weight, and I can’t meet those eyes that have always seen more than I want to reveal, “You promised me.” The words rumble over my head. I feel those ghosts of the past again, a cold chill at my back, as I watch his chest expand with his breath, wondering if I can get away with falling into it twice in one night.
I used to lean on him without thinking. Throughout my childhood, Gavin was the safe harbor in the raging storm that was my fractured mind, but then, I grew up and… things changed.
Growing up kind of sucks.
“Not today.” The words leave me in a hoarse whisper, hollow, small, and vulnerable. Fuck it, I’m giving stone cold bitch the morning off.
I feel a fleeting brush of warmth on my brow and Gavin takes the decision out of my hands when he pulls me into his arms, wrapping his strength around me, banishing the ghosts. I feel his heartbeat under my cheek, and his low whisper in my ear, “Alright Mckenna, not today.”