Chapter Twelve

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I swallowed my pride in order to tame you. I fought for the prize in order to blame you and reached for the skies so that I could save you. But there's nothing in you but emptiness and echoes, so here I sit taming and blaming and saving myself. – Jackson Killian

Chapter Twelve

"Katie, can you work a little OT tonight?" Vivian asked through her mask and I nodded.

"Super. Take a break and text Jeanie. Bettie, can I get your hands over here?" I backed away from Mollie, the unconscious beagle, and went to the sink to scrub up. I tossed my gloves into the HAZMAT bin and double-pumped the soap into my palm as Vivian gave instructions to Bettie. "Palpate the stomach, please. Gently."

I grabbed a few of the coarse, brown paper towels and pushed out of the surgery into the hallway. My phone was an awkward block in the pocket of my scrubs as I walked down the corridor and out into raw midnight.

The orangey fog was thick and lit up all around by streetlights and signs. I breathed in the sharp night air and keyed out my message to Jeanie.

Sundays were normally a busy day at MRAH; rowdy football parties too often lead to injured animals. Dogs pillage garbage cans and eat everything they shouldn't; cats forgotten outside get into night-fights; drunken celebrations knock over birdcages or other creature habitats.

Vivian was covering for a vacationing vet, and her presence plus the hectic non-stop flow of patients kept Bettie and I from having to interact much. When we did, it was like gunfire. Short, sharp bursts of rapid necessary communication.

We'd triaged injured and sick animals almost continuously since I'd arrived. We cleaned, kenneled and comforted multiple dogs, a few cats, and one iguana with a broken leg. In motion all night, there was no time for the silence that had risen between us after our conversation the day before. There was no time for resolution either.

After Fairytale town, Quinn had conked out in the car almost immediately, and Bettie had turned her stereo up just loud enough to indicate she didn't want to talk. The short drive back to my house seemed endless as I chewed on statements I didn't make.

Acid statements that left a bitter taste in my mouth.

At my house, she'd idled the car between my front porch and the carport, shifting in her seat but making no move to kill the engine and come in—something she normally did after our outings together.

Our friendship in that front seat was reduced to its barest element. We weren't Bettie and Katie; we were leader and led. We were strong: Bettie, and meek: me.

We were right and wrong. We were judge and judged.

I reasoned that Bettie had no right to judge me, but that wouldn't stop her from doing it anyway. I'd expected her to, but I hadn't expected how bothered I'd be by it.

"I need to consider some stuff," she'd said.

I held her gaze without apology or explanation. Determined not to be cowed by her righteousness.

"You do that," I'd said, opening the door and stepping out. I opened Quinn's door and maneuvered his sleeping body out of the car seat.

"I'm going to go put him down, and I'll be right back to get the seat out."

She nodded at her steering wheel. Quinn jerked in my arms but didn't wake.

The inside of my house had been especially cold and dark when I'd swung the door in. I laid Quinn on the couch and threw a blanket over him, then flipped the switch on the heater before heading back to the door. I opened it to find Bettie pulling down the drive, the car seat standing on the front porch.

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