That fucking cat. Why did Anders want her to take him?
She opened the back door and looked around the backyard. “Nemmy?” she called. “Kitty kitty?”
She thought they finally had a truce. She’d leave him alone and he’d stop peeing all over the place. Of course he missed Anders. It broke her heart not to have him, either, but to be stuck with the cat instead? Salt in the wound.
She wandered out into the yard in her bare feet. She didn’t know how he got out. He was so wily.
She sighed, then put shoes on. He had such a low tolerance to be outside, she was sure he would be hidden in a bush nearby.
Armed with a cup of coffee, she walked out into the early morning light. Another sigh. She began to regret her cup of coffee. Exasperated sighs aren’t as satisfying without crossing your arms and acting especially put upon.
Why would Anders want her to take his stupid cat? Everyone knew she hated cats, but there is no way that she would say no to him on his deathbed. And even less likely that it would be a lie.
Her anger at Nemesis the cat abated. If she lost him, she would be doing such a disservice to Anders. The stupid cat and a promise was all she had left of him.
“Nemmy? Come on, buddy.” She poked around in a shrub, clicking her tongue. “Kitty kitty?”
Anders knew she would be careful with his Tigre. He would get lost amid a big group of cats. She would watch and take care of him.
His words hung in her ears. “Tib, a tabby for you. Will you take my Tigre?” She had nodded and said, “Of course,” before she thought through what it entailed. But, here she was, at 6:27 in the morning, poking through hedges for Tigre, recently renamed Nemesis. Maybe he didn’t care for Nemesis? He was protesting the name? Perhaps he’d like to be Moriarty or Khan instead. If she was feeling especially uncharitable, she’d offer him Joffrey. When she found the little bastard, she would ask him.
“Kitty kitty?” She would have to give this up soon and get ready for work. What a terrible trade, this awful cat instead of her dear friend.
She was too hung up on how much she missed Anders, but was stuck with this cat. Perhaps the cat wasn’t that bad. He was just a cat and trying to get used to a new place and person. She hadn’t given him a chance at all.
“Nemmy? Come out.” She walked a little further. “You want to be Moriarty instead? How would you like that? Or Khan maybe?” She huffed. “I know I’m not Anders. I miss him too.”
She walked a little farther and poked in a bush, then said, “You’re gonna have to wait till I get home, buddy.” She turned to start back home, then saw a grey ball of fur across the street in the gutter. She ran across the street and fell to her knees in the gutter. “No no no!”
She put a hesitant hand on his side and he raised his head and growled low in his chest.
“Oh Nemmy!” Her coffee spilled on the curb as she tried to figure out how to scoop him up. She didn’t want to hurt him worse or get scratched or bitten in the process.
“Hey, are you ok?”
She looked up to see a man with his Golden Retriever coming to a stop beside her. She shook her head. “No, my cat got out and now-” Her voice broke and she began to cry.
He dropped down next to her, commanding the dog to sit and stay, then ran a hand down the cat’s side. The cat’s low grumble began again. He checked over the cat, then looking at Nemesis’s face. “She’s just got a broken leg. I think she’s ok otherwise.”
“How do you-”
“I’m a vet. Hugo Rayne.” He looked at Nemesis then said, “I run a practice for dogs, but let’s take him to my buddy’s practice.”
“I don’t have a towel or anything to-” she sniffled.
He stood up and pulled his shirt off, wrapping Nemesis in it. “You want to take Goldy’s leash?” She picked up the leash, then started walking back to her house at a brisk pace, the big golden retriever following her. “You want help getting her there?”
Another sob started to grow in her chest, then she nodded. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I don’t know how he got out and-” It broke out and she started crying again. Goldy poked at her hand and rubbed against her leg.
“I think she’s ok. Just the front leg is broken. She’ll be ok. Happens all the time, unfortunately.”
“He. His name is Nemesis.”
“Well, Nemesis will be just fine.”
She sniffled again, then said, “Thank you so much for helping me. Especially since you’re not a cat person either.”
“No, I’m not,” he laughed. “But I couldn’t leave you to figure this out yourself.”
She looked him over, now that she had calmed down and really saw him. He was gorgeous with black hair and blue eyes. And without a shirt on? He held Nemesis to his chest carefully and walked without jostling him.
They walked back to her house and she picked up her purse. He stood outside with Nemesis and Goldy waiting. She picked up a towel and brought it out to him along with a box.
She offered him the towel, but he said, “I don’t want to unwrap him. I want to keep him as still as possible.”
He sat down in the passenger seat, holding the angry Nemesis to his chest. “Let’s get to your vet,” he said.
“I don’t have one yet. I’ve only had Nemmy for two months and haven’t had anything come up.”
“We’ll go see Mike Howell then. He’s a good guy and will treat you right.”
She looked over at him again, shirtless, holding her cat to his chest. Who is he that he would do this?
They pulled up in front of the clinic as it opened. She pulled Goldy from the back and opened the door for him. She held the front door of the clinic open, then followed him in.
“Hugo!” the receptionist called out. “What’s going on?”
“Hey, Jess. Have a hurt cat here. Right front leg. Think it’s a tibial fracture.”
“Is he our patient?”
“No, not yet,” Tib said. “I just got him.”
“What’s your name?”
The receptionist started entering her information and Hugo leaned in to her and whispered, “It’s nice to meet you Tabitha.”
She grinned suddenly looking up at him. The receptionist showed them into the exam room and they sat on the bench together, Goldy laying at her feet, at ease.
“Do you need to call anyone?” she asked.
“No, I don’t have to be into the office until 10:30 today.”
“No girlfriend or wife to worry when you don’t come home?”
He grinned at her very transparent question. “Nope. How about you?”
She shook her head. “I do have to call my office though.” She called and left a message with her secretary, then turned back to Hugo.
“How is it you ended up with Nemesis?” he asked.
“My friend Anders was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. He-” she sniffled. “He asked me to take Tigre. I couldn’t say no.”
“I’m sorry. That’s tough.”
“But, here we are. I can’t not take care of Nemmy. How is he?”
“Angry.” Hugo kept him tightly wrapped.
Doctor Howell came in. “Hey, Hugo.”
“Mike, this is Tabitha Millhouse. And this is Nemesis. Suspecting a right tibial fracture.”
A vet tech came in and they started working on Nemesis. Dr Howell handed Hugo his shirt back, much to Tib’s disappointment. He shook the shirt out, then shrugged it back on.
“I get worse on me every day,” he said laughing to Tib.
“Ok, we’re going to take him back for an x-ray,” the tech said.
Tib and Hugo sat back down. Goldy raised her head and started pushing at their knees. She smiled and started scratching the dog’s head.
She looked up at Hugo sidewise, captivated by his blue eyes and black hair. “Sorry you have to work when you’re not at work,” she said.
“What kind of vet would I be if I left you to deal with this yourself?”
“You take a Hippocratic oath for animals?”
“Only for dogs,” he laughed. “I made an exception for you.”
She grinned, then said, “Do you really think he’ll be ok?”
“Oh sure, he’ll have a rough couple days, a convalescent period, then he’ll be right as rain.”
“I don’t know how I can ever thank you enough,” she said.
“Don’t mention it.”
“Then I won’t,” she laughed.
Doctor Howell came back in. “So- his leg will be simple enough to fix, but I think he experienced a little head trauma. We want to watch him for a bit.”
Her eyes filled with tears again. “Oh no!”
Hugo looked up at Doctor Howell, questioning and Dr Howell nodded, then quickly said, “Not that there’s head trauma, just that we should keep him for a bit.”
“I just-” Tib bowed her head into her hands.
“Hey now,” Hugo said, putting a careful hand on her back. “He’ll be ok. He’ll stay here today, Mike will watch him and if anything happens, you’ll get a call.” She raised her head and wiped her eyes.
“Yeah. He’ll be safest here. We’ll take care of him, then you pick him up on your way home,” Doctor Howell said.
“Mike’s not going to do some shady shit and try to charge you an arm and a leg. He’s a decent guy,” Hugo said.
“Once he’s done being casted, we’ll bring him back in so you can give him a little scritch, then we’ll take care of him. He’ll be ok, Tabitha,” Doctor Howell said. “If he stays here and he needs something, we’ll be able to give it to him. Safer for him and easier on you.”
“I know. I just-” she huffed again. “I’ll be back after work.”
Dr Howell nodded, smiling. “He’ll be good to go by then, I promise.” He turned and left by the back door of the exam room.
“How common is this?” she asked.
“He’s not going to blow up your bill. I didn’t notice anything, but I didn’t have a light, I didn’t have anything but my t-shirt,” he grinned wryly. “I would trust him with my cat.”
“Can I take you out to dinner or something for being so cool?”
He smiled. “I’d like that. This weekend?”
She looked at him with those big, sad eyes, hair pulled back in a sloppy ponytail. If this is what she woke up looking like, he couldn’t imagine how great she would look all done up. Her auburn hair and green eyes, big full lips. How could he not stop to help her?
Mike was going to take care of the cat, he’d come out looking like a hero for helping her, the cat would be fine.
His hand was still on her back, fingertips just touching the bare skin over the top of her tank top. He ran his hand down her back and started scratching Goldy’s head. The sweet girl put her chin on his knee and wagged her tail with that happy golden retriever smile.
Mike opened the door with a sedated Nemesis in his arms. “Oh, Nemmy,” Tabitha cried out. She stood up and gently petted him. She looked up at Mike and said, “Thank you, Dr Howell.”
Mike smiled, then said, “Don’t thank me, thank Hugo. He did a hell of a job immobilizing that leg with his shirt.” Mike grinned at Hugo as she turned back to him. Those big green eyes, full of gratitude.
She smiled, then turned back to the cat and kissed his head. “Be good, Nemmy. I’ll come back for you tonight.”
Hugo stood up, then said, “Thanks, Mike.” Mike just nodded and grinned. They went back out to the receptionists desk and Tabitha put down a deposit of two hundred and fifty dollars. Hugo took one of the business cards and wrote his phone number on the back of it, then handed it to her. She tucked it into her purse and smiled.
“Stupid cat,” she sighed, as they walked toward the door.
“Hey now,” Hugo laughed. “What happened to poor little Nemmy?”
He held the door open for her and she passed in front of him, her sloppy high ponytail just under his nose. She was bewitching.
“That was before he was going to cost me rent.”
“No, Mike will be fair,” Hugo said, shaking his head. “He’s not going to rip you off. I mean, he wouldn’t anyway, but since you’re my friend, he’ll be perfectly circumspect.”
She turned to him and smirked. “You mean to tell me there’s a chance he would if we weren’t friends?”
She was perfect and amazing. “No!” he laughed. “I always see these exposés on vet’s offices and how we’re all a bunch of shady bastards. I’m just- he’s-”
“I know!” She pushed her shoulder into his arm, then laughed.
He put his hand on her lower back and just barely put his fingers against her. She looked up and smiled at him. “Give me a ride home?”
“Of course. Get in.” She unlocked the car and Goldy jumped up in the backseat. They sat down in the car and she said, “Where to?”
He guided her to his house and she pulled up at the curb. She wrote her phone number down on a receipt in the door and handed it to him. “We’ll finalize plans for this weekend,” he said as his fingers brushed against hers.
She grinned, a full, open smile. “I’d like that.” He got out of the car and let Goldy out. She bounded out and ran to the front door. He looked back at her and waved. She smiled again, then was gone.