Ever thought you wanted to be a veterinarian?
I did, when I was seven…and I’ve been on track ever since, with a minor diversion for a year. I’ve been that equine vet since 1988, when I graduated from vet school at UC Davis.
Following an injury (yes, another one), I started writing historical fiction, and wrote the first three books of The Long Trails series, and now, I’ve written my first contemporary, a veterinary tale, which will be included in our Christmas Boxed Set! It’s to be Volume Seven in the Once Upon a Vet School series, and…I’m starting in the middle of the series, just to confound people. 🙂
Here’s the cover :
I posted the first chapter in my last post, but here’s Chapter Two!
It will be available in OCTOBER! Just around the corner!
Once Upon a Vet School
I rested, leaning against a wall in the foyer, after my struggle to get to the classroom. When I’d gotten my breath back, the mere thought of the upcoming session’s topic had me hyperventilating…and the talk hadn’t even started.
When the lecturer enter the anteroom, I closed my eyes for a moment, and my already-warm face heated some more. It wasn’t Dr. Rye today, as scheduled, but Kit.
No—it’s Dr. Allen, I reminded myself, because I needed to think of him that way again. He looked up and our eyes met.
“How’s the leg?” he said, his own cheeks flushing as he approached.
“It’s fine, thanks.” I ducked my head and tried to ignore the fist curling in my gut, then I peered up at him.
He raised an eyebrow and glanced down at the crutch lodged in my armpit.
“So you did see a doctor, after all?”
“Yes, and thanks for your help that night.” I looked at the floor. “It would have been a long walk home.”
“It could have been rough,” he agreed.
I nodded while he hovered, as my fellow students flowed past us into the lecture hall, glancing our way before they walked down the steps toward their seats.
“Well, I’d best get prepared for my lecture.” Kit hesitated, then frowned. “Are you OK? You’re awfully pale.”
“I’ve been behaving, staying inside with my leg up.” I looked away, then glanced back to see his eyes narrow further.
“You take care of yourself, eh?”
“I promise.” I risked a smile upward.
He motioned for me to precede him down the steps, then headed for the podium. His slide carousel clicked into place as I worked my way across the row of seats. I stowed my wooden crutch by my feet and sank down with a sigh of relief. It was a long hobble from the bus stop, but it beat walking or driving my beast of a pickup. It’d be awhile before I could ride my bicycle.
Jess bounced into the seat beside me, glancing down toward her feet.
“A crutch? Whose is that? Yours?”
“Nailed, first guess.” I gave her a lopsided grin.
“What have you done now?”
I hesitated. She’d scream at me, class or no class.
“Slipped on some stairs and twisted my ankle. Sprained, doctor says.”
“Seriously? Sprained on steps?”
I bit my lip.
“Welcome back to school, everyone,” Kit called out, right on time.
Jess looked at me from the corners of her eyes while she pulled her notebook out, then turned her attention to the lecturer.
It seemed everything might just be all right. Kit, no, Dr. Allen, had plenty of cute slides of healthy mares and foals cavorting in grassy fields. He even got a grin out of me. I began to breathe again and shared a smile with Jess.
“That’s when everything goes as planned,” Dr. Allen’s voice cut into my reverie, and I gulped, “but this is a surgery lecture,” he continued, “and I wouldn’t be here speaking with you if everything always went right.”
I gripped my hands together as they began to shake.
“When everything goes to plan, most mares drop their foals within twenty to sixty minutes after their water breaks.” He flicked slowly through the next few slides.
He proceeded, relentlessly—pre-and full-term mares, late ones—and finally, presentations of the fetus requiring veterinary intervention. My pen clattered on the concrete floor as my world began to fragment.
Image after image of ropes attached to tiny legs that protruded from beneath the tails of down, sweaty mares, and one with red—oh man, the red—coating the mare’s backside, the veterinarian, and the straw. I gripped my armrests and bit my lip until my own blood came, willing myself to hold on, but I finally gave up, staggered sideways along the aisle and raced for the back door. I barely made it to the women’s locker room.
I wiped my face after my time spent kissing the commode and tried to rinse the foul taste from my mouth. Hot, flushed cheeks and haunted, green eyes peeked from beneath my profusion of brown hair in the mirror. I bullied the mass into shape with my fingers and braided it down my back to my waist, then collapsed onto a bench, eyes squeezed shut against the tears threatening to escape. I couldn’t go back in there. How would I ever pass my equine reproduction service rotation? I wouldn’t graduate, much less practice, would never finish what I set out to achieve at seven years of age—and most importantly, couldn’t ever pay the horses back what I owed to them.
I wanted to melt into the shiny pink and gray tiles on the floor and not have to face my classmates, Dr. Allen, or anyone else.
I jumped, with a yelp, as the door slammed back against the wall. Jess strode into the locker room, lugging our backpacks and my crutch.
“Are you okay?” Her concerned frown helped.
“A little better now,” I said.
“Last night’s chicken must’ve been bad.”
“You missed a great lecture,” she said, as a smile stretched wide across her face. “He talked all about cesareans, midline as well as standing flank—”
“—can we talk about it some other time?” I interrupted.
“Sure, I’m sorry. Are you well enough to make our next lab?”
“I’m sure I will be. Maybe I’ll go over to The Granary and have a drink.”
“Thought you’d never ask,” Jess said. She held the door for me as I stumbled out into the hallway—and nearly crashed into my last disaster.
Gareth Barnett-Bayne dodged clear, his bedroom-brown eyes taking in my tearstained face. He looked me up and down as I stood like a rabbit in the headlights, frozen. He flicked his dark mane back, smirked, turned on his heel, and continued down the hall, whistling beneath his breath.
“Glad you’ve done with that creep,” Jess muttered, with a scowl at him. “Come on, we have better things to do than look at the likes of him.”
I inhaled slowly and followed her. Kit, Dr. Allen, I nearly screamed at myself, caught up with us as we neared the front entryway.
“I didn’t think you looked well,” he said, with a frown. “Are you sure you should be up, with that leg?”
Jess glanced at me and I looked away.
“I’ll go have a rest before my lab.” I tried to smile at him, but I think it came out more like a wince. “Thanks for asking.”
“Any time,” Kit said, with his killer smile, and a glint in his eye. He held the front door to the building open for us before he turned back toward his office.
I gathered what was left of my wits, while my gaze shifted back to the front entrance. As I did every time I entered or left the vet school building’s hallowed halls, I nodded a greeting to my old friends, the menagerie of raised-relief marble animals surrounding the doors. I’d first seen them on a 4-H visit, as an elementary school student. They always reminded me why I was here, and that whatever effort it took to get here was completely and utterly worth it. I owed animals, especially horses, so much. My heart a bit lighter, I limped on down the steps to catch Jess.
Just down the block, beside the road teeming with students on bicycle and foot, the front door of The Granary stood open, and I sighed in relief. Jess flicked a look back toward the vet school, then rounded on me.
“What does Dr. Allen know about your leg?”
“He saw me twist my ankle.” I bit my lips together and stumbled as my bad leg gave way beneath me. I lost my balance and staggered sideways into the pannier of a passing bicycle.
“Sorry,” called the bicyclist, as my world exploded.
Only years of working with green horses stopped me from shrieking as I sprawled face-first, willing the pavement to swallow me, while the blinding white pain in my leg blanked everything else out.
“Are you OK, Lena?” Jess’s voice came from far away, as I hunched into a ball over my tucked-up leg. I didn’t think it could bend that much. Go figure.
“I—I think so.”
“You aren’t OK.” She ducked down beside me.
“Yeah, well, it’s a bad sprain.” I struggled to a sitting position and blinked away the blurriness.
“Lena, you look like a ghost—tears? He didn’t hit you that hard, what’s up?”
I couldn’t tell her. She’d warned me.
“And what’s with the skirt and thigh-high boots? I’ve never seen you out of jeans.”
“Oh,” she said, assessing. “Why aren’t you wearing jeans?”
“Can’t,” I mumbled to my pearl snaps. She’d find out soon enough anyway. I probably wouldn’t be able to walk after this—the leg felt like it had at the beginning.
“So, what’s up, chick?”
I froze as she lifted the hem of my skirt and gasped.
“Let’s go,” I muttered. “I’m glad it’s close. Don’t think I could walk much further.” Yep, it was worse now for sure. Jess pulled me to my feet and I turned toward the smell of brewing coffee from our favorite haunt. Trying to think of anything but my screaming leg, I wondered how something that smelled as good as coffee could taste so bad. I wiped the sweat from my brow as Jess and I struggled up the coffeehouse’s steps. She dragged me to a corner booth and slid me onto the smooth seat.
“Put your leg up on that,” she said. “Chocolate?”
“You’re a godsend,” I whispered, as she scurried off, then I bodily lifted my booted foot up onto the cushion.
I thought I’d need a scalpel to cut the silence after she returned. I looked up at her cute blonde curls peeking from beneath her cowboy hat and dropped my eyes again.
She sat in silence for a few minutes, then narrowed her brows and cut straight to the quick.
“It was that horse.”
“OK, I fell off,” I murmured, looking away. I scrabbled in my bag for a pen, hoping she’d believe me.
Her fingernails beat out a tattoo on the table tap and I finally glanced up to her frown.
“Let’s have a better look at that leg.” Refusal wasn’t an option, by the tone.
As my clammy fingers slowly pulled the skirt up to my groin, and Jess pushed the boot down toward my nonexistent ankle, her complexion faded to a sort of gray. Heck, the leg looked better than it had a week ago, but I wasn’t about to tell her that.
Uh-oh. Jess never swears.
“What did the doctor say?” She raised a brow at me, and the steel in her baby blues warned me not to lie. “You did go, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” I’d have to remember to thank Tamarah. Without her insistence, Jess would be dragging me down the street toward student health right now.
“Why aren’t you in the hospital? By the colors in that leg,” Jess said, “it’s been two weeks. Just when did you see this doctor?”
I stared into the depths of my mug for as long as I dared.
“Three days ago,” I murmured.
“No time like the present, eh? Why’d you wait so long? Death wish?” Jess was nearly shouting. “What, did Tamarah make you go?”
“You should thank me—you get to see pathology in action,” I said lightly, but neither the full-color contusion demonstration nor my attempt at veterinary humor did the trick. I gulped.
“Why is it so hard to take care of yourself?” Jess said, shaking her head.
“You know why,” I growled. “She’d have put me in the hospital. I can’t just stop—”
“—oh, hell,” she snarled, “you could have gotten a stroke and died.”
“I’m still here.” I shrugged, with a twisted grin. “Hard to kill a weed.”
She closed her eyes and leaned over the table to hug me, carefully.
“But a much loved one, you idiot. Drink up, we need to move on soon—” she broke off and frowned, but then seemed to reconsider. She drank her coffee, peering at me from the corners of her eyes occasionally, then we headed slowly back to lab at the teaching hospital barn, watching over our shoulders for more demon bicycles.
I’d hoped I’d effectively distracted Jess from the details of how my injury happened, but I should have known there was a reason she cooked dinner for me that night. Turned out it wasn’t just pity, after all. Fancy that. She waited in silence until I was cornered behind the little table in her student digs.
“Tell me,” she said, picking up her fork.
“About what?” I knew what was coming, and concentrated on slicing a piece of spaghetti into 0.25 cm lengths like a microtome, afraid to look up from the perfect sections.
“How you did that.” She nodded at my leg.
“I told you.” I squirmed. “I fell off.”
“No, you didn’t,” she said, barely audible, and I jumped as her fork hit the table with a clatter. “The truth,” she barked.
It never pays to mess around with a horsey girl.
Jess sat, waiting for an eternity, arms folded against her chest.
I took a deep breath.
“Mickey and I disagreed. I wanted to go on and he wasn’t so keen.”
I took a deep breath. This wouldn’t be pretty.
“And he reared,” I said, in a rush.
“And I suppose you fell off and knocked that leg on a branch, right?” she said, from between gritted teeth, as her eyes shot daggers. “How stupid do you think I am? That blasted nag threw himself over backwards and landed on you, didn’t he?”
I couldn’t even try for a reasonable excuse. Jess had known all along—and she’d begged me not to buy him, for this express reason.
“That horse’ll be the death of you.” She sat still, head in hands, and finally looked up. “And this isn’t the first time. He’s been doing it for years at that riding school where you bought him. He knew the fastest way home from a ride on the levees was to back up to a deep, steep-sided irrigation ditch and rear.”
“Yeah,” I whispered, staring at my plate. “I saw him do it, once. That student took one look over her shoulder at the water in the bottom of the drain and she practically let him gallop home. Never rode him again.”
“So why did you think Mickey’d be any different for you?”
“We usually get along well…this was the first time he went that high with me.”
“Yeah, well,” Jess drew a big breath, “it might have been the last. Don’t you get it?”
“Yeah, but what else can I do? As fantastic as he is in the arena and on the cross country course, nobody else’ll tolerate his behavior. He’d just end up in a can.” I stirred swirls into the sauce on my plate, and the scent of garlic tickled my nose. “I can usually keep him in line—but I wasn’t on my game that day and he hadn’t had enough work lately. Mea culpa.”
She shook her head, then jerked it up and stared at me.
“So what does Dr. Allen really know about it?”
I shredded my nails beneath the table while I my brain scrambled for an answer.
“He was at Mickey’s stable when I rode in after my accident.”
“And, it was dark. No one was around. I had no idea how I was going to get off the horse, much less drive my truck—and there he was. My knight in shining armor, just coming out of the barn. He was…a lot kinder than I expected.”
“Lucky you.” She raised a brow. “Was it nice?”
“As nice as it could be, with my leg, ribs, and scraped-up body throbbing all to hell.”
“Miranda will be so jealous.”
“Miranda?” I stared at her blankly.
“In our class. She’s been tagging along after him, but he seems to be running just a little faster than she is.”
“He’s a resident, and we’re students,” I said, flatly, then added, in my best snobby tone, “Not a gratuitous combination, by all accounts, according to the edicts handed down from the vet school hierarchy through perpetuity.”
“That’s never stopped you from looking at him before,” she said, with a sly look at me.
“Yeah, well,” I flushed so hot, my cheeks burned, “no use being a fly on the windshield…again. It’s not going to happen. I’m sure I’ll get over a little crush.”
Jess gave me a twisted grin and chuckled.
“We’ll see,” she said.