Lorinda sneaked a peek at Tom every few moments. She felt comfortable sitting in the passenger seat of his car. As if she had been there, in this very place, many times before. For years. It was so odd to feel that way. She hardly knew him.
“Do you have cats?” she spoke into the silence. The box of kittens was nestled on her lap, her sweater covering the top.
He smiled broadly. “Yes, I guess you could say that. And other animals too. I head up an organization that rescues abandoned and abused animals. We’re really small right now but we have a mission. These animals are our companions. We must keep them safe.”
“Ahh, so that’s how you know this vet we are taking these little guys and gals to?”
“Yes, he and I are old friends.” He paused and a seriousness took over his eyes. “He has donated his services to my organization. We couldn’t do what we do without him.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting him,” she said, pulling her sweater toward her so she could check in on their tiny charges.
Lorinda cautiously followed Tom into the small veterinarian facility. The outside of the building was old and worn. The building needed a paint job and a new door. But as she entered the office, she found nice furnishings, brightly decorated displays of animal food and supplies, and a cheery feel. It was in strict contrast to its austere outer shell. The waiting room was full.
“Hello, Becky,” Tom said to the woman at the front desk, “Is Ross around?”
Becky chuckled. “Wow, I don’t think we’ve seen you since yesterday.” She gave him a playful grin, “Of course, go on back.”
Lorinda smiled shyly at Becky as she followed Tom, gripping the box of now noisy kittens. They had been quiet in the car, but had awakened and apparently noticed that they were still hungry.
Ross was just handing a small chihuahua back to a woman with a worried look on her face, “Fifi will be okay,” he said assuredly, “Make sure you give her all the medicine, and call me if you have any concerns.”
The woman hugged her dog close to her, tears of relief welling in her eyes as she walked down the hall back to the waiting room.
“Tom, you old freeloader,” Ross said as he gave Tom’s shoulder a push, “What have you got for me?”
“Abandoned kittens,” Tom said, “Mom ventured out into a busy street, and now we have little waifs in need of care.”
Ross smiled at Lorinda. “Hi,” he said, “People call me Dr. Ross. Excuse my friend’s rudeness.”
Tom wrinkled his brow, “I’m sorry. Lorinda, this is Ross, one of my oldest and dearest friends. Ross, this is Lorinda, the angel who saved these babies’ lives.”
Lorinda blushed, then caught herself. She reached out to shake Dr. Ross’ outstretched hand while juggling the box of kittens with the other hand.
“Whoa,” Dr. Ross said, “Let me have that, Lorinda. It’s nice to meet you.”
Dr. Ross took the box from Lorinda’s arms and placed it on the table. He removed her sweater and handed it back to her. “What have we got here?” He picked up two of the smallest kittens and peered into their little faces. They both stopped mewing and attempted to crawl onto his shoulder. “Whoa, little ones. Let’s check you out first.”
After he had examined all five of the kittens, he said to both Tom and Lorinda, “They’re a bit dehydrated and undernourished, but otherwise in surprisingly good health. It’s good you found them when you did.”
Tom let out a deep sigh, “That’s wonderful.”
“You’ll need to clean them up and give them round-the-clock feedings. Becky will give you what you need.”
After they returned to Tom’s car and settled the now sleeping kittens into the back seat, Tom said, “I guess I better get you home.”
“You’re not getting rid of me that fast,” Lorinda said, “You heard Dr. Ross. Those kittens need round-the-clock care.”
“It’s not my first all-nighter,” he said smiling at her, “but I’d love some company if you insist on being part of their recovery.”
“I do insist,” she said, “They are part of me now.”
Shortly before six o’clock the next morning, she woke from a fitful sleep. She had been laying on Tom’s shoulder against the wall, with the outline of his shoulder seam on her cheek and the sheltered animals of his organization stirring in their enclosures. She jerked herself awake. “You let me sleep past my last turn at feeding them.”
He was leaning back against the wall, arms in front of him, all five kittens embraced within his loving grasp. Two of the kittens were kneading his chest while the other three slept peacefully. “You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty. I thought I’d give you a chance to rest.”
“What about you? You must be exhausted,” she said.
“How can I be tired,” he said, “The world is a cruel place. But when you hold a tiny creature in your arms, magic happens. They only exhilarate me. And bring a calm that is rare to find anywhere in life.”
Lorinda beamed. “I didn’t know people like you existed. You’re right. It is a cruel world. But I see the joy and the good you bring to it with your organization here. Your animals. Taking care of them. Connecting them with people who need the special kind of love they give.”
She stopped momentarily, wondering if she had said far too much. During their evening of tireless nursing, she had become closer to him. During the night, they worked steadily and without distraction on fostering the little ones back to health. She felt closer to him than to anyone else, and they hadn’t known each other but less than 24 hours.
“Lorinda,” he said, “Come work for me.”
“What?” she said surprised.
“I can’t pay very much salary now. But we’re growing, and we need caring people like you. People who have a kind and nurturing nature. What do you say?”
The phone rang. She looked at his full arms, “I’ll get it,” she said jumping up. “I have an excellent phone manner.”
“Dr. Ross here. Lorinda, is that you?”
“Yes,” she said, “We’ve taken good care of the kittens and they are thriving.”
“Good,” he said, “I’d still like to see them again sometime today. See if we need to change anything that we are doing.”
She looked over at Tom so she could relay to him what Dr. Ross was saying. He had fallen asleep against the wall, kittens still in place.
“I’m afraid Tom is asleep, but I will let him know later when he wakes up. In the meantime, I will take good care of the babies.”
“I know you will. You have a way with animals. I can tell. You’d be a great asset in the veterinarian field.”
“Tom just offered me a job,” she said, “I’m seriously considering it.”
“I’m not surprised. He’s a good judge of character,” he said, “And . . . I’ve never heard him call anyone ‘angel’ before. That’s saying something. I’ve known him a long time.”
“I think he can tell I love animals,” she said coyly.
“It’s not just that,” Dr. Ross said, “He never allows anyone to help him watch vulnerable animals. And never allows himself rest unless he is sure he can trust the person he’s leaving the watch with. I think you’ve just had your first date.”
“Dr. Ross . . .”
“Don’t tell him I said that.”
“Okay,” she said quietly. “We’ll see you later.”
She hung up the phone. Maybe her life was taking a positive turn in two ways. A new dream job and a possible love interest. How quickly things can change in just a short period of time.
She walked over to Tom and laid a hand on his shoulder. He was definitely out. She gently removed the kittens from his chest, “Come on little ones. It’s time for your next feeding.”
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Copyright 2023, Monica Nelson