Grace Killian Delaney © 2018
All Rights Reserved
As I walked out of my last class of the day, the wretched feeling grew larger in my stomach, and if it weren’t for the cool January air, I might have puked. I’d failed my first project. My second semester at UNLV’s law school was not going well, and I’d be lucky if I made it through the next four months without getting kicked out.
My father had been disappointed with my decision to attend our home state’s college. Being the senior partner and founder of the most prestigious entertainment law firm, with locations in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, he’d had ridiculously high expectations for his youngest son. When he came home from LA on Friday, like he did every weekend, the news of my being on academic probation would be reported to him by one of his many acquaintances (aka babysitters) before I had an opportunity to plead my side, and a butt chewing would ensue.
I trudged back to my apartment where I found my best friend, Devon Thomson, in the parking lot getting out of his car. His makeup and short brown hair were flawless, and the stylish wrap coat he wore stopped just above his knees, leaving his calves exposed. The ease with which he expressed his femininity had always impressed me.
Devon picked up on my body language immediately. “You don’t look too happy.”
“I failed.” My chest tightened. I’d never failed at anything before. I’d survived an undergrad degree in Biological Sciences and graduated summa cum laude, but I had no heart for law. Lately, I had no heart for anything; I was a zombie masquerading among the living.
Devon hugged me. “It’s okay, Os. You’ll do better next time—you always do.”
That’s why I loved my friend. He was always a hundred and ten percent supportive and affectionate. I missed our nights making love to each other as FWB and hanging out with him like we used to before he met his boyfriend. Whenever he talked about his lover, he glowed with happiness. I’d never seen him so happy, so in love, and it made any nostalgic desires I had seem trivial.
He released me and a wicked grin spread across his lips. “I got something that might cheer you up.”
“I know that look, and it means trouble.” I laughed, and it seemed like it’d been an eternity since that sound had come from me. “I’m in.”
He clapped, his suede gloves dampening the sound. “We got invited to a record release party in Los Angeles next weekend, and I was thinking we could dress up like we used to? It’s been too long since we had some fun together.”
My heart swelled. Seemed I wasn’t the only one missing our together time. I should stay and study. Be a good little student. But what Devon offered was too tempting. Screw it. I was going to LA. “Sounds perfect.”
“Yay! I’ve got the best outfit for you. You’re gonna look so hot, you’ll be swatting off guys and girls.”
“I don’t know about that.” Sometimes I thought being bisexual was a blessing, other times a curse. The curse had happened last semester when my fiancée determined my bisexuality was a cover for being gay and that one day I’d leave her for a man. I protested. She left anyway.
“I do,” Devon affirmed, hooking his arm with mine and resting his head on my shoulder as we walked the few steps to my front door
“Who are you? Susie Sunshine?” I envied the confidence he had; it drew people to him. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt safe or confident in my own skin.
He brought his hands to his face, framing it like a sun’s rays. “Oh, you know me. Just a ray of light wherever I go.”
“Will Stone be there?” Mentioning his boyfriend’s name brightened his smile to megawatt proportions. I’d need sunglasses if he kept it up.
“Yep. And before you even ask—no, Matty will not be there.”
Matty. Stone’s bandmate, who’d brought me to his hotel room, kissed me, and then shoved me away. Last time I saw him, he apologized for leading me on. Alcohol made any hole look good until a hiccup of sobriety hit. Whatever. Matty had been my last attempt at getting laid, and that was so many months ago, I’d reinstated my virginity.
I let out a breath. “It won’t matter if he’s there, Dev. We’re good. He’s over it. I’m over it. It’s not like he’s the first person to reject me.” That sounded more pathetic than I’d intended. Time to change the topic. “Do you mind if we stop by Paws for Love before getting dinner? There’s someone I want to check in on.”
“Wouldn’t be one of those gorgeous redheaded veterinarians, would it?” Dev raised his perfectly arched eyebrows.
“Despite my crush on the twins, no. It’s a female of the four-legged variety—much too hairy. I found a dog, a black lab, with a damaged leg.”
Devon brushed my cheek with his gloved fingers. “You’re so sweet, you know that?”
The familiar touch set up an ache in my heart, but not because I wanted to be in a relationship with him. Devon and I had been there, done that, and decided we were better off friends.
“Being sweet has done nothing for me.”
“Ooh, you could get yourself a leather daddy, go all whips and chains. You know, be bad.” Devon tapped a finger against his lips, his gaze shifted upward in thought.
“Seriously?” I struggled with the lock to the lemon-yellow front door, fighting back the disturbing image.
Devon lightly pushed me out of the way and turned the key twice before it gave. He plopped the key into my hand without acknowledging his triumph over the stubborn lock. “Might loosen you up some.”
“Getting laid would loosen me up, never mind getting a leather daddy.” I shouldered the door and went inside.
“I think we’ve found a goal for our LA trip.” He rubbed his hands together.
I barked a laugh. “My dad always says it’s good to have goals.”
Devon waited in the car and called his boyfriend while I went to check on my girl. A few extremely nervous four-legged patients were in the veterinarian’s waiting room. A fluffy, white Pomeranian shivered so hard I thought she might pee on her owner’s lap, while the other two, some type of shepherd mix, whined and panted in anticipation.
For six years, I’d volunteered at Paws for Love, cleaning cages, mopping floors, and doing whatever tasks the owners would let me just so I could be closer to the career I wanted, rather than the one I felt bound to by blood ties.
“Oisin.” Meredith Martin, a lithe redhead, and co-owner of the clinic greeted me. She and her identical twin were ten, maybe fifteen, years older than me, curvy, gorgeous, and happily married, and unfortunately so my type—minus the married part.
“Dr. Martin,” I said, mocking formality and earning a smile.
“We didn’t have any luck with Maggie’s microchip, but we’re still checking around to see if anyone is looking for her. Your girl is a strong one and is doing well. Go on back. Melissa will fill you in. I’ve got another patient.” She pointed to the quaking white fur ball.
Maggie, as I named her since she had no ID, had been limping and tearing through an old fast food wrapper when I’d spotted her. I gained her trust by offering my lunch—a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the only thing I knew how to make. That’d been enough to become best of friends, and I was able to get the emaciated animal into my car and to the clinic without any problems. She was too docile and trained to be a stray, but without a registered microchip, finding her pet parents would be difficult.
“I gave her fluids and reset her leg,” Dr. Melissa Parker, Meredith’s twin, said after exchanging hellos.
“What about the mass?” During her initial exam, Melissa had found a lump in the dog’s uterus and X-rayed it. “Are you going to do a biopsy?”
“I could, but it’d be better to remove the mass, whether it’s cancerous or not. It’s pressing on her bladder, and she’s probably in pain.” Melissa sat at a counter filled with computers and lab equipment. “We’ll have her blood work back on Monday and then we can make whatever decision we need to, okay?”
I nodded, understanding the darker meaning behind Melissa’s words. If there was an issue with the dog’s blood work, then an operation might not be doable. If that were the case, it’d be kinder to send the old girl home with nothing but painkillers.
“Will you be taking her?”
“My apartment won’t let me have a dog, and I doubt my mom wants another furry in the family.”
“I’ll tell you what, if we don’t find her owners, she can stay with me until you find a way to keep her.”
“Thank you. How much do I owe you? And please don’t argue with me.” Paying for Maggie’s care was one of the few things in my life I could control.
“Oisin,” she protested. “Keep your money, or if you really want to pay, donate the fees to the Pet Parent Assistance Fund.”
“You’re amazing. I’d kiss you if your husband wouldn’t get jealous.”
“I might take that kiss anyway. It’ll make Gareth appreciate what he’s got when he sees a younger man fawning over me.” Melissa winked.
“Please, that man worships you.” The times I’d seen them together, there was nothing but love in his eyes. They even had a sweet daughter, Nina, whom I’d occasionally colored with when they brought her to work.
“And what about you? Any luck in the dating department?”
“Let’s just say Death Valley has seen more rain than I’ve seen action.”
“My brother’s moving back into town. Let me set the two of you up.”
“I appreciate the thought, but I think it’s best if I focus on school.”
“You’re young. You should be out there getting some.”
“Says the woman who met her husband as an undergrad.”
“True. But you can’t let what happened with Carrie destroy your love life forever. You’re too smart and too good-looking to live the life of a monk.”
I cringed. I never said her name and hated hearing it.
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll ask my brother anyway, okay? I think you’ll get along.”
“Do I get to see a picture of him before you set me up? He could be a troll.”
“Not with these genes.” She brought her hand to her chest. “How dare you insult my family!”
“As long as he has all his teeth and hair, I guess I’ve got nothing to lose. Sure. Go for it.”
“All hair and teeth accounted for last time I saw him.” She grinned. “Oh! I can’t believe I almost forgot to tell you. I got ahold of Mr. Wheeler, the head of veterinary medicine at UC Davis. He said your application and essay looked good and to go ahead and submit them.”
“Really? That’s… Wow…oh God.” I worried my lip, sucking on my piercing. It’d been a dream, and this was like a winning lottery ticket. “I can’t believe you did that for me. Thank you.”
“It’s my alma mater. I got the hookup. Besides, you belong working with animals, not in some law office.”
I swallowed around the lump in my throat. “You’re completely—”
“Yeah, I know. I’m amazing.” Melissa tossed her red hair in an overdramatic gesture, something Devon would do if he had long hair.
“You are.” I hugged her.
“I think you’ve kept Maggie waiting long enough, and I’ve got to get back to work.”
“You know it!” She lifted her chin, looking smug. “Your pup was sleeping last time I checked on her. She’ll be happy to see you.”
I walked past the exam rooms and into the heart of the animal hospital where a couple cats and dogs rested in cages. Maggie was in a bottom cage. An unyielding cast prevented her from standing with any grace. When she saw me, her stocky tail thudded happily as she struggled to stand. We hadn’t spent more than a few hours together before I brought her to the clinic, but I swear she remembered me.
“Hey, girl.” I squatted and stuck my fingers through the bars to scratch her head and neck. “It’s okay. You don’t have to get up. Lie down.” I pointed to the ground, and when she did as I asked, I resumed petting her. “We’ll get you a good home, maybe even with me.” She gave an approving wag of her tail before drifting off to sleep.
I’d always heard if you loved what you did, then it didn’t feel like work. That was how I felt while getting my bachelor’s degree. The courses had been rigorous, but I loved it. It’d opened the possibility of combining my love for animals with my passion for science. Carrie’s dad had been ill on and off my senior year of college, and she’d wanted to stay close to him. As in a ten- to twenty-minute car ride close. Moving to another city to study veterinary medicine, never mind California where I really wanted to go, had not been an option. I understood and figured as long as we were together, I’d be happy. And I was. Sort of. Not really.
Melissa had pushed me to apply. “Just try and see, Os. There’s no harm in exploring your options, right?”
Right. And now it was an option.
“Should I go to California?” I asked a snoring Maggie. Without the financial support of my father and my monthly stipend from the trust, both of which I had no doubt would be severed should I approach my father with this drastic career change, I wouldn’t be able to afford veterinary school. That’s what had happened to my brother when he went for a performing arts degree from NYU instead of Stanford Law. I wasn’t sure how he’d managed to pay for college but suspected his husband or his husband’s family had helped out. If he hadn’t been overseas working on a play, I’d ask him.
Even if I had the resolve to approach my father, he wouldn’t listen. Something had changed between us over the past two years. There’d been no defining moment, more like a slow-growing discord that worsened each time we spoke. Growing up, I could pretty much tell him anything, but now our communication revolved around law classes and grades. If I deviated, he’d shut down, making it impossible to speak with him. So I’d given up trying. I missed the dad who used to play basketball and catch, the dad I could just hang out with, the dad I used to aspire to be like, the dad I could tell anything to and not worry about his disapproval. The current version of my father was impenetrable.
I scratched the sleeping dog’s neck. “I’ll find a way to keep you.” Maybe someday I’d stand up to my father, but not now. I was going to have dinner with my friend and get so drunk I’d forget everything. I gave Maggie a final pat and left.