Read My Sunshine Online

Authors: Catherine Anderson

My Sunshine (8 page)

Laura was so delighted that she almost hugged
him. “Oh! Well, then. I, um—thank you, thank you very much.”

“Don't thank me. You've been working your tail off back here. I thought about waiting until tonight and calling you at home. During the day I'm always so busy that there's hardly any time to talk. But there's really nothing we need to discuss, no areas where you need improvement, no areas where you particularly shine. By all accounts you shine at everything.”

A quick, informal performance review suited Laura just fine. In fact, she was anxious for him to go so she could hug herself and do a happy dance.

Instead of leaving, he frowned slightly. “Can I pick your brain about something?”

The question tickled her funny bone. “I don't have much of a brain to pick.”

He narrowed an eye at her. “Don't say things like that.”

Laura shrugged. “Sorry. It's just not often that someone asks me for advice.”

“Mark the moment. I have this birthday party to attend tonight, and”—he glanced at his watch—“after I leave here, I'll have approximately thirty minutes to stop somewhere and buy a gift. It's for this older guy, Sly Glass, who works as a ranch foreman for my brother-in-law's family. He and his wife just remodeled their place, and she says he'd like something for their den. You're good with rooms. I thought maybe you'd have some ideas and possibly know a store where I can go.”

Laura thought for a moment. “What's he like?”

“Sly?” Isaiah rubbed his jaw. “He's a wiry old
cowboy in a droopy tan Stetson with a face like a crinkled brown paper sack.”

“The Stubborn Mule,” Laura said.

Isaiah gave her an odd look. “He is a little stubborn, I guess.”

“No, no, not your friend. The Stubborn Mule is a Western store. They have some neat stuff, things an old cowboy might like.”

The perplexity in his expression gave way to another lopsided grin that creased the corners of his eyes. “The Stubborn Mule, huh? I've seen it, I think. Out by the overpass, isn't it?”

“That's right.”

“Any ideas about what kind of gift?” he asked. “What'd work for a den?”

“For an old cowboy, I'd look for horse stuff. An old saddle would be cool. Or a picture of a field with horses in it, maybe? They also have some pretty leather throw pillows, all hand-tooled.”

“An old saddle, did you say?”

“Lots of people keep old saddles in a den. They set them on a . . .” Laura's brain went blank. “I can't recall the word.” She gestured helplessly. “I hate when this happens.”

“A sawhorse?”

She snapped her fingers and nodded. “Right, a sawhorse, only a pretty one.”

“You know, he might really like that. He's a saddle kind of guy.”

Laura smiled. “You'll find the right thing there. It's a fun store.”

After Isaiah left, Laura hugged her waist and twirled down the aisle, so happy she wanted to
A bona fide member of the team.
She tucked in her chin and tugged her name badge around to look at it. Right now it read,
. Next week, she'd get a new one that said,
in big block letters.

It was official. She was here to stay.


Midshift on Monday, Laura went to Val's office to get her new work schedule. Val, slumped behind her desk and frowning intently at a blank notepad, finally glanced up. “Hi, Laura,” she said, her voice lacking its usual enthusiasm.

“Hi. Isaiah said you'd have a new work schedule ready for me today.”

“Oh, damn.” Val made a fist in her short blond hair. “I totally forgot. Can you stop back by before you leave?”

“Sure.” Laura studied the office manager's face, noting the way her mouth turned down in weary defeat. “Is something wrong?”

Val rocked back on her castered chair. “At the staff meeting last week, Isaiah and Tucker decided we should decorate for all the holidays from now on, starting with Halloween. They think it'll lift everyone's spirits and make the clinic seem friendlier.”

“It is pretty bare,” Laura observed. “But then, I like lots of color.”

“I'm all for the place looking better.” Val thumbed her bony chest. “But guess who got elected to do the decorating?”

“Uh-oh. And you're not happy about it?”

Val tossed down her pen. “I'm terrible at decorating. Out front, they want it to look tasteful.”

Laura rocked back on her heels to glance around the door frame toward the front desk. “It won't be so bad. Almost any old thing will go with cedar trim and white walls.”

Val gave Laura a speculative look. “Are you good at decorating?”

Laura lifted her shoulders. “Okay, I guess.”

“They don't want cutouts of jack-o'-lanterns and witches plastered everywhere.”

“What do they want?”

Val puffed at her bangs. “Tasteful stuff, not that Tucker or Isaiah would recognize tasteful if it ran up and bit them on the butt.”

Laura snickered. “Ah, now. You'll do fine.”

“No.” Val wiggled her eyebrows like the villain in a children's cartoon. “You will.”

Laura threw up her hands and fell back a step. “Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes. You're bound to be better at it than me.” Val propped her bony elbows on the desk blotter and leaned forward, her expression suddenly pleading. “Please, Laura, please, please,
Just bring me the receipts, and I'll reimburse you for anything you buy. I
to decorate.”

Laura loved to decorate, and she liked Val so much that she really hated to say no. “I can't promise it'll look good,” she tried.

“If I do it, I guarantee it won't.”

“It's almost Hallo-ween,” she reminded the office manager. “There's not much time.”

“Tell me about it.
They have no clue what it takes to decorate a lobby. Save me, Laura. Please?”

On Friday Laura had called and quit all of her odd jobs. Over the coming week she would have plenty of time to take on an extra project. “Okay,” she agreed. “I'll try my hand at it. Why not? If you don't like what I do, I'll pay you back for the stuff and use it at home.”

“Deal!” Val beamed a grateful smile. “Just be sure to log in the additional hours so I can add them to your paycheck.”

“I don't have to get paid,” Laura protested. “I'll have fun doing it.”

“Are you sure? If I stayed over to do it, I'd get paid. Why shouldn't you?”

Laura shook her head. “There's a cap on how much I can earn.”

“Dinner out, then, my treat.”

“That sounds great.”

“It's settled then.” Val shoved aside the notepad. “You came in here for a reason. Now I can't remember what it was.”

“My hours,” Laura reminded her.

“Oh!” Val rolled her eyes. “I think I'm coming down with something. My brain feels like mush, and I'm a little sick to my stomach.”

“I hope you start feeling better.”

“Oh, I will. Some crackers and tea may help.” She rubbed her forehead. “Can you stop back in before you leave, Laura? I'll have a schedule ready for you.”

After leaving Val's office, Laura paused near the reception desk to peruse the waiting room, which
was milling with customers and their pets. In her mind's eye she pictured what kind of decorations might look good. Seasonal wreaths would be fabulous against the cedar. Baskets filled with gourds would lend touches of much-needed color, with the added convenience that the baskets could be redone for Thanksgiving and Christmas and filled with season-appropriate floral arrangements the rest of the year.

That thought propelled Laura into a U-turn. Val looked up questioningly when Laura appeared in front of her desk again. “About the walls,” Laura began. “They're all bare.”

“That's a news flash? Two bachelors own this joint.”

“The whole clinic is bare. I know we can't have a lot of stuff on the walls. That would make it hard to dust. But with nothing at all, it feels so cold. I go to garage sales a lot. What if I start buying this and that? It wouldn't cost much to dress up the place.”

“It is pretty boring out there.” Val considered the suggestion. “If it doesn't cost an arm and a leg, I'm sure Isaiah and Tucker won't object.”

“I see nice framed paintings at garage sales all the time. They never cost a lot.”

Val nodded decisively. “Go for it, then.”

After leaving Val's office, Laura trailed a finger along the wainscoting as she walked up the hallway. Decorating a clinic would be a challenging endeavor. Her experience ran more to houses. She wasn't sure what kind of wall hangings would work best. Maybe she could get some ideas by leafing through magazines.

Yes, that was a good idea, she decided. At the end of the hall, she turned to study the waiting area again, trying to envision how it might look. A clear picture wouldn't take shape in her mind. She only knew that the Crystal Falls Animal Clinic was about to get a makeover.

Chapter Four

aura was cleaning kennels five and six the next morning when Isaiah appeared at the end of the aisle. He wore a blood-smeared blue lab coat, a surgical cap, and a mask. His eyes burned with urgency above the swatch of white cloth.

“I need you in the surgery, stat!” he yelled.

Laura dropped the soiled bedding she'd just gathered into her arms, latched the kennel gates, and hurried after him. When she entered the surgery, he tossed her a sterile smock, a cap, and a mask. “Hurry. Over half the staff called in sick. We've got a compound fracture of the femur. A main artery is severed.”

Rooted to the spot, Laura stared in mounting horror at the dog on the operating table. An IV tube, fed by a see-through bag of clear liquid suspended from a tripod, was already taped to the animal's front leg. Its left hind leg rested at an awkward angle and had been tightly wrapped in a towel, which was now soaked with crimson. Beads of blood dripped from the stainless steel table onto the tile floor.

“Laura?” Isaiah gave her a sharp look. “I know
this isn't part of your job description, but you're all I've got.”

Laura just shook her head. Surely he didn't mean for her to assist him in surgery?
No, no, no!
She would make a horrible mistake. The dog would die because of her. She couldn't do this.

Isaiah drew the towel from the dog's leg and loosened the makeshift tourniquet that someone had applied to slow the bleeding. “You have to help me, Laura. There's no one else. Jennifer and Gloria are alone up front. They're doing their best to get some more people in here, but everyone they've called so far is knocked flat with some kind of flu. Belinda called in sick. Trish's husband phoned to say she's been puking her guts up all night. We haven't heard from Angela, but she's late. Chances are she's too sick to call in.”


“No buts. Tucker's got three emergencies in his wing and only Susan to assist him. Normally Val fills in when we get shorthanded, but she's not here either. That leaves only you to help me.”

Still shaking her head, Laura managed to push out, “I—can't. I'm sorry, but I just can't.”

“You have to.” His blue eyes locked with hers. “This dog's life is on the line. There's no time for his owners to take him somewhere else. He'll bleed to death.”

Laura clutched the surgical scrubs to her chest, wishing she were sick, too. How come everyone else had gotten the bug, and she felt fine? “I don't know what to do.”

“I'll talk you through it.” He inclined his head at
the sink as he grabbed a shaver to prep the unconscious canine. “That dispenser above the faucet is surgical soap. There are sterile gloves in that blue box at the end of the counter.”

After jerking off her soiled smock, Laura quickly donned the clean one and rushed to the sink. Pushing at her hair with numb fingers as she pulled on the cap, she glanced in the mirror to make sure all of her head was covered. Her eyes, huge and dazed, stared back at her from a chalk-white face.

“Hurry,” Isaiah urged from behind her. “I don't want to lose him.”

Laura was trembling so violently she sent soap lather flying as she washed her hands and arms. Moments later she grew light-headed as she approached the table. Blood had pooled around the dog's hindquarters.

“Don't pass out on me,” Isaiah warned softly. “Pretend it's something on television. That's what I used to do.”

He seemed so calm, so unaffected by the gore, that Laura found it difficult to believe he'd ever felt as queasy as she did.

As though he guessed her thoughts, he said, “The first time I observed an operation, I almost fainted. Happens to a lot of people. All you can do is find a way to separate yourself.”

Laura nodded. Pretending it was something on television didn't quite work. The coppery smell of blood coated her mouth, shivered over her tongue. Her gaze kept shifting to the stand beside him. A dozen different instruments lay on a white towel, the pieces of stainless steel glinting in the bright
light. She didn't know the names of the tools, which of them he might need. She'd watched enough medical shows to realize that a surgical assistant had to anticipate a doctor's needs and respond to his orders without hesitation.

Her legs felt as if they'd turned to water, but she forced herself to move closer. “I don't know what to do,” she said again, her voice quavering and thin.

“No worries. All I need is an extra pair of hands.” He nodded at the instruments. “Right now I need the scalpel.” When Laura hesitated, he described the implement and then winked at her when she grabbed the right one. “See there, sweetheart? Already a pro.”

When he made a long incision in the animal's leg, Laura gulped audibly. Little black spots danced in front of her eyes. She turned her gaze to the dog's head. Its eyes were only partially closed, and its mouth hung open. It looked to her as if Isaiah had pulled the animal's tongue out over its teeth. Her stomach tumbled and rolled. To hold down her gorge, she focused on the cotton blanket that now draped the canine's body.

“What kind of dog is it?” she asked, desperate for something, anything, to take her mind off what was happening.

“He's a mongrel just like me, part this and part that. Mostly shepherd of some kind, I think. ‘Mongrel' isn't a very flattering term. I prefer the term ‘mixed-breed' myself.” He glanced at the monitor to check the dog's vitals and adjusted the IV drip. “Do you know what capillary refill is?”

Laura nodded. She knew the meaning of many terms that she could no longer say.

“Every few minutes, pinch his tongue and press on his gums to check his refill for me. Try to use only one hand for that. Keep the other one sterile to pass me instruments. If you forget, change gloves.”

Laura stared stupidly at the dog's tongue. “His name is Humphrey,” Isaiah said, as if he sensed her reluctance. “When he wakes up, he'll lick your hand to say hi. You do want him to wake up again, don't you?”

The question worked on her shocked system like a glass of ice water in the face. She gingerly pinched the dog's lolling tongue and pressed a fingertip to his upper gum. Because she couldn't say
to save her soul, she settled for, “His refill looks fine. The color comes back pretty fast.”

“Good, good. His vitals are within normal range, but that can change in a blink when an animal has lost so much blood.”

Laura's heart caught. This was
she thought dizzily. This dog's life rested partly in her hands. Because it did, she reached deep for courage she hadn't realized she possessed. A strange calm settled over her. She could do this. She
do this. She wanted Humphrey to wake up soon, wanted to feel the rasp of his tongue on her hand and see life in his now expressionless eyes.

“Tell me about him,” she said shakily. “Is he a new patient?”

Isaiah's gaze flicked to hers and held for only an instant, but in that instant his eyes warmed on hers. “I've been seeing him for about a year, off and on.”
He asked her to sop up some of the blood with a piece of gauze so he could see what he was doing. While they worked, he went on to say, “Just office visits—shots, deworming, that kind of thing. We haven't had a lot of getting-acquainted time, but judging by the little I've seen, he's a great dog, smart and very friendly.”

Beneath the mask, Laura smiled slightly. “He has a friendly look. What are his people like?”

He cast her another twinkling glance. “You have it turned around, don't you? The people own him.”

Laura disagreed. “I don't think it's about who owns who. It's about love. Does he have nice people?”

Isaiah nodded. “A man, woman, and a cute little girl with big brown eyes and pigtails. I'll leave you to guess who Humphrey loves the most.”

“The little girl,” Laura quickly replied. She could almost see the dog playing with the child, barking and running happily after a ball. She was suddenly very glad that Isaiah had asked her to assist him. If Humphrey lived, she would be able to say that she'd helped in some small way to save his life. “He looks like a dog that loves kids.”

“Right on target. And as of this morning, he became quite the hero.” He winked at her, a habit she was coming to suspect he had cultivated because his hands were so often occupied and the lower part of his face was covered by a mask. “The little girl ran out in front of a car.”

” The last of Laura's squeamishness vanished. “Is that how he got hurt?”

Isaiah nodded. “The owner says Humphrey
leaped into the street just in the nick of time and knocked the little girl out of the way. Unfortunately for Humphrey, the woman in the car says it happened so fast that there was no way she could stop. If it weren't for Humphrey, she would have hit the child.”

“Oh, my God.”

Though Laura couldn't see Isaiah's mouth, the creases that suddenly fanned out at the corners of his eyes told her he was smiling. “You ever saved a hero's life?”


“First time for everything. Humphrey deserves a medal.” He parted the animal's flesh, revealing tendon, bone, and the damaged artery. Laura had one bad moment when she looked into the wound. Then she thought of Humphrey chasing a ball again, and the black spots in her vision went away. She grabbed fresh gauze to dab away the blood. Isaiah nodded in approval. “Do I remember your saying you couldn't do this? I think I'll keep you in here full-time.”

Laura gave a weak laugh. “No way. I'm happy in the kennels.” Her smile faded when she looked back down at the dog. “Will he make it, do you think?”

Isaiah reared back to avoid a spurt of blood. “Clamp!”

Laura grabbed frantically for what looked like a clamp, handed it to him, and nearly collapsed with relief when he used the apparatus to stop the bleeding. “Oh,

“He's right here,” Isaiah said huskily, “looking
over our shoulders and guiding our hands.” He glanced up. “God, I mean. Some people would call me crazy for believing that.”

Laura wasn't one of them. In that moment, as she looked into Isaiah Coulter's eyes, she understood what had led him to become a vet. Not a desire for money or a yearning for prestige. He was here, doing what he did, because he loved animals and felt a calling to help them.

“With God on duty, maybe Humphrey has a chance,” she said tremulously.

“No maybe to it. God cares about all of us, man and animal alike. Humphrey will make it.” He threw a look at a speaker in the ceiling above them. “Next time around, remind me to turn on some music. I work better to a beat.”

Laura's stomach squeezed. “Next time around?”

“Got a pup with a chicken bone stuck in his intestines.” He winked at her again. “Unless Gloria can work a miracle and get some more people in here, I'm going to need you most of the day. Unless, of course, you have other commitments you can't weasel out of.”

Laura had intended to start decorating the waiting room when she got off at noon. A puppy with a bone in his bowel definitely took precedence. “No, nothing,” she said.

“It's a date, then, darlin'.”

An awful thought occurred to Laura. “I won't have to help with your horse patients, will I?”

He burst out laughing. “No, we have specially trained techs out in the equine center for that. You're safe.”

Laura was relieved. Surgery on dogs and cats was one thing, but surgery on a horse would be something else entirely.


For Laura, the morning passed in a surreal blur. She soon stopped thinking about the blood. There were far too many other things to occupy her mind—the names of different implements and surgical techniques, disinfectants, and medications. When she wasn't standing at Isaiah's side, assisting in a procedure, she was racing about sterilizing tables or gathering the necessary items to do surgery on another patient.

Shortly after noon, right in the middle of an operation, this time on a Newfoundland with a stick caught in his throat, Laura noticed that Isaiah's hands were quivering. Concerned, she studied what she could see of his face above the surgical mask. There was a pale cast to his dark complexion, and his skin shimmered with sweat.

“Are you all right?”

He nodded, but Laura wasn't convinced. “Isaiah?”

“I need to eat. Got the weak shakes.”

“What did you have for breakfast?”

“Nothing. I meant to go by McDonald's on the way in, but then I got the call about Humphrey and never went.”

The moment they had the Newfoundland safely deposited in an observation cage and covered with warm blankets, Laura stripped off her surgical scrubs and hurried to the refrigerator. Inside she found mostly soft drinks. The only food items were
containers of fat-free yogurt and low-fat string cheese, not the most desirable fare for a large, hardworking man. She filled the crook of one arm and both hands with food and then motioned to her boss, who was already putting on a fresh lab coat to do surgery on a cat with a plugged urethra.

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