College senior and not-so-ex-ballerina Jane Trumbull is home for Christmas break. She welcomes the joyful chaos of a happy family holiday – then the rollercoaster of emotions begins.
Veterinarian Dr. Noah Barron hopes his return to Texas and his new clinic will help him forget about his dark days in California. But he can’t outrun unresolved issues and doesn’t know how lonely he really is – until he meets slightly clumsy Un-Plain Jane.
Can Jane and Noah learn to share who they really are and what they really want? And can they allow God to send joy after sorrow, hope for hidden dreams, and healing for past wounds?
Awards & Other Kudos
Oklahoma RWA (OKRWA) - 3rd in inspirational short category
‘Twas the first night of Christmas break
At Jane Trumbull’s house,
Monsieur Snowball wasn’t stirring
To even paw a catnip mouse.
His breathing was shallow
His tail didn’t flick,
Jane knew in an instant
Monsieur Snowball was sick.
So she donned her holiday ‘kerchief
And grabbed her beloved pet,
She raced into the darkness
Toward the emergency vet...
Jane Trumbull hit the northbound frontage road just outside of Austin, Texas and prayed she’d spot a neon sign for the after-hours animal emergency clinic. Strip malls and office buildings had sprung up everywhere in the bustling suburb while she’d been away at college. She no longer knew exactly where everything was.
“Hang in there, Monsieur Snowball. Do not, I repeat, do not go toward the light.”
She rolled through a stop sign. The sickly feline let out a deep but weak mewl as if to disapprove.
She reached out to steady his carrier. “Sh... Don’t worry about it. It’s two AM and there’s no one around.” She poked her finger through a square in the metal cage door. The cat’s pink nose and breath were hot against her skin. “You’re burning up. We’re almost there.”
Her gaze darted from road to cat to signage until the beacon of hope that flashed “animal” and “emergency” came into view. She sped across the nearly vacant parking lot towards the only lit business in the cluster of shops and offices.
She burst through the glass double doors and headed for the receptionist.
“Jane? Is that you?”
“Mrs. Salmons?” Jane placed the carrier on the counter and slung her silver metallic hobo bag beside it. “Oh, Mrs. Salmons, is Dr. Salmons here too? Because that would be a blessing straight from Heaven if Monsieur Snowball could see his own doctor.”
“Oh no, honey, he’s not here. I’m just helping out the new guy. His tech had a family emergency.”
Jane’s heart fluttered and sank.
“Don’t worry. Dr. Barron is very good.”
“OK, well, Snowball has been kinda listless today and wouldn’t eat much. His face is a little swollen, and I think he has a fever. I couldn’t get any water in him and that worried me.”
Mrs. Salmons pushed a clipboard toward Jane and plucked the carrier off the counter. “Sign this consent form and have a seat. I’ll pull up Snowball’s records, and Dr. Barron will take a look.”
Jane could barely focus on the page as she checked the box for do whatever necessary and scribbled her signature. “Wait. Can’t I come with him?”
The middle-aged woman nodded toward the coffee pot. “Grab a cup and give us a minute. We’ll come and get you in a bit.” She pulled the carrier to her nose and dissolved into cooing baby-slash-animal talk. “Isn’t that right, Monsieur Snowball? We’re gonna have a little triage time together.” Her voice trailed off as she disappeared through the private clinic door.
Jane ignored the coffee pot and dropped into a plastic seat in the corner. The place was empty except for her. She shed her wool, US Navy pea coat and killed about twenty minutes arranging and rearranging her red Christmas scarf in her mass of long, pale blonde hair.
Nearing an hour, no amount of mind-numbing magazine rifling could take her thoughts far from her cat. She stared a while at the blank space where a television used to be, then resorted to stacking the scattered brochures strewn about the two scratched up tables on either end of a row of connected chairs. There were seven copies of Does Your Cat Have Allergies? and only two of Does Your Dog Have Worms? Somehow, she felt that didn’t bode well for the dogs of Austin. There was a reason people took those brochures.
She checked her phone repeatedly, but didn’t really expect to hear from anyone in the middle of the night. Finally, she pulled her New Testament from the pocket in her bag and started thumbing through Galatians and other books written by Paul. Something about that brave apostle and his struggles always made her feel stronger, more determined, and better able to face difficult situations. So amidst the glow of a loosely hung strand of Christmas twinkle lights, she leaned her head against the cool glass front window and prayed. Lord, please take care of Snowball. I don’t know what I’ll do if he dies.
She jumped straight up. “Yes?”
Mrs. Salmons’s serene smile was classically non-committal. There was no way to read good news or bad. “C’mon back.”
“How is he?”
There was that poker-face smile again. “Dr. Barron will fill you in. There’s no one else here, so he said you could come back to the treatment room.”
Jane entered the area lined with built-in cages and filled with sterile looking stainless steel tables and counters covered with supplies. She rushed to Snowball’s cage and grabbed the door with both hands in hopes that some part of her fingers would be able to stroke his short, winter white fur.
“How ya doin’, buddy? I was so worried.”
The cat squinted and offered a half-hearted stretch before he closed his eyes and yawned. He lay nestled among a blue bath towel and a piece of flannel bed sheet with cartoon characters all over it. Somewhere stuck in his body was a tube, but she couldn’t see where. She only knew about it because of the I.V. bag hanging to the side and away from the front of his little cat prison.
“That’s a beautiful cat.”
The masculine voice was attached to a tall lean man who came through the door behind her. He gave his hands one final pat with a wad of paper towels and tossed them away.
Was this Dr. Barron? She’d been expecting someone short and fluffy like Dr. Salmons. Instead, she saw shaggy-haired surfer guy with brown leather hiking boots and a red hibiscus-covered Hawaiian shirt peeking out from his open lab coat.
Kinda yummy in an off-beat, messy way.
“Thank you.” She flashed him her best up-all-night-and-worried smile. “You don’t see too many cats that are so completely white. Well, I guess you do because you’re a vet and all, but normal people might not. Not that you’re not normal.” She stammered to a stop and took a breath. “Anyway. How is he?”
“Snowball needs a little work, but I think he’ll be OK.” He rolled two stools toward the cage. “Have a seat,” he said and extended his hand. “I’m Dr. Barron.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Jane.” She climbed onto the stool, being careful not to let it slide out from under her. “What’s wrong with him?”
“You said you noticed his face was swollen?”
She met his steady blue-grey gaze and nodded.
“That’s because he has an abscess under a tooth there on that right side. I’m sure it’s painful. That’s why you couldn’t get him to eat.”
“And why he has a fever.”
“Exactly. You did the right thing bringing him in. He was dehydrated, and those abscesses can lead to more serious problems.”
“Are you going to pull the tooth?”
“Not tonight. We need to knock that infection down. I’m giving him fluids, antibiotics, and something to make him more comfortable. You can take him home in a bit after I make sure he’s progressing. I’ll give you more antibiotics for the weekend and he should start eating and drinking on his own. You’ll need to see Dr. Salmons first thing Monday. I’ll give him a heads up.”
“Do you think Dr. Salmons will want to pull the tooth?”
“That’s what usually happens. But I have to tell you, Jane, Snowball’s gettin’ up there.”
“I’ve had him since I was ten years old. Got him for Christmas that year, actually.”
“The tooth would have to be extracted under general anesthesia and that’s often not an option for elderly pets. Sometimes there’s a heart condition that would make it too dangerous to anesthetize. He’ll need a thorough examination to make sure, but you can talk about all that Monday.” Dr. Barron stood and rolled his seat out of the way. “I’ll be back to check in a while.”
Jane watched him go and then slid as close to the cage as possible. “That’s a relief, huh? Everything’s going to be fine,” she whispered. “Unless, of course, you count us maxing out my credit card. That puts an end to my Christmas shopping. But that’s OK. You’re worth it. And here I am babbling again while you need to rest which, by the way, you couldn’t cough or gag or something when I was rambling to your cute doctor about your fancy white coat? Never mind. I’m sure he’s spoken for.”
“He’s not taken.”
Jane jerked, as did the rolling stool. She clawed at the cage to hang on. “That is not funny, Mrs. Salmons. I almost fell off this thing. And you must have ears like a bat because I was whispering.”
“Sound really carries in here,” she said and put a pile of clean towels on the counter.
Jane started melting from the inside out. “Oh, no. Dr. Barron didn’t hear that, did he?”
“No, he’s gone down to the corner store for juice. He doesn’t much like coffee.” She joined her at the cage. “Ah, yes. He’s starting to perk up. Noah will probably remove the line when he gets back and let Snowball out of that cage to see how he’s doing.”
“Noah? Who’s Noah?”
“Sorry. Dr. Barron. His first name is Noah.”
“Wow. And he’s a vet. Clever.”
Mrs. Salmons pulled a brochure and business card from a plastic holder by the door. “Yes. Here you go. He’s fresh off the plane from California. This emergency clinic is his new venture. You can read all about it while you wait. I have to get back out front. Call me if you need anything.”
Jane studied the pamphlet until her tired eyes crossed. There were catchy marketing blurbs about his education, his years in practice and certifications, and his triumphant return to Texas—whatever that meant.
She held his picture up to the cage.
“This doesn’t look anything like the cutie who was just in here,” she told the cat. “This looks like his mom made him put on a suit five years ago just before she wet and combed his hair.”
She pressed her forehead against the cool, metal grid. “You’re looking better. I sure hope you feel better so we can get home and crawl in bed...” Her eyes closed and her mind drifted. She was weightless and calm and there was no sound.
The crash and boom, however, seemed extraordinarily loud and close. Then her hip hurt.
Her eyes flew open. “Oh, man, that did not just happen.” Out of pure embarrassment, she glanced around the room. There were no human witnesses, but Monsieur Snowball had come to the front of his kennel to see what had happened.
“Wow, kitty, you look great,” she said as she reached to grab the pen and lipstick that had flown from her purse when the stool slid out from under her. At least that’s what she thought had happened. “I mean you look really great. How long have I been out?”
She was on all fours trying to gather her things and check her phone for the exact time when Dr. Barron plowed through the door. “How’s he doing?”
This is not happening, not happening, not happening...
And yet, here he was, rushing to her side and reaching for her arm.
“Are you all right?”