Harold took the leash out of the cabinet while Jill yanked on her coat.
“Do we have to do this today, too?”
“It’s an hour and it’s on our way.” He closed the cabinet. “I’ll feel better if I know he’s all right.”
Jill rolled her eyes, and plucked her keys from her purse. “I’ll be in the car.”
She swept through the front door, and clicked the bobble on her keychain, unlocking the navy blue SUV waiting in the driveway. Taking the driver’s seat, she pressed the button to automatically raise the back door, and then turned on the ignition.
Harold followed, leading Jasper, whose head bobbed with his limping, four pawed stride. The mutt’s salted fur coated his otherwise sandy muzzle and stained his pointed ears, while his front leg carried the scarred reminders of his recent adventure.
“Here we go, boy.” Harold let out a grunt as he hoisted the dog into the back. Leaving the leash attached, he closed the door and hopped into the passenger side.
“It’s right off Oak-.”
“I know where it is,” said Jill, putting the car in reverse, and plowing onto the road. Maintaining the speed limit with effort, she navigated the side streets and pulled into the parking lot. She shut off the car, and drooped in her seat.
Harold opened his door. “Are you coming?”
Jill released a long sigh, and stared into Harold’s brown eyes, as wide and hopeful as the puppies she heard yapping inside. “Fine.”
Tugging off her safety belt, she swung out of the car while Harold hefted Jasper from the back. Jill stuffed her hands into her pockets and walked after them, matching the slow pace needed for Jasper’s wounded and already arthritic limbs.
A departing parrot owner held open the door, beaming a smile as she held her caged bird aside. Tweeting, meows and a wall of dander greeted them as they entered.
After a sneeze, Jill hovered against Harold’s back as he strode through the waiting patients and arrived at the receptionist’s desk.
“Hi Madeline,” said Harold.
A sunny haired woman, leaking from her plush chair, looked up from her paperwork with a weary but welcoming smile. “Hey Harold. Is that you Jasper, come to get your results?”
Jill shuffled out-of-the-way, avoiding being thumped as Jasper increased his tail’s wag.
“If I can just get you to fill these out,” said Madeline, sliding over a clipboard.
Harold wrapped the leash around his hand and doubled over, marking the page and then adding his signature.
“Terrific,” said Madeline, accepting the clipboard. “Go on through. First door on your right, as usual.”
“Thanks.” Harold handed back the pen, and gave Jasper’s head a rub. “Come on boy, let’s get you cleared.”
Jill followed them through the side door, and into the first examination room. Plopping down onto one of the waiting chairs, she watched Harold ruffling Jasper’s flanks before snatching a magazine and flipping through the glossy pages.
“Okay boy, let’s get you up here for Doctor Barnes,” said Harold, working Jasper onto the table. The dog gave a quick woof, and perched on the steel counter. While Jill read, they worked through his various tricks: laying down, shaking with one paw, then the other, and speaking on command.
A quick knock on the door preceded the entrance of a stout man with glasses, and a laboratory coat. His scowl remained on the folder, splayed open in his hands.
“Afternoon, Dr. Barnes,” said Harold. “What’s the verdict?”
“I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
Jill looked up from the pages, and lowered her magazine.
Stumbling onto the table, Harold sat next to Jasper, and rested his hand on the nape of Jasper’s neck. “What is it?”
“Jasper here has a blood condition, it’s quite severe. I’m afraid it may be terminal.”
Harold’s face blanched. He looked down at Jasper’s head, laid between his paws
Jill straightened in her chair, the magazine crinkling in her hands. “I didn’t think you were testing for that. You were just looking into his cuts and arthritis.”
Barnes raised his gaze, opened his mouth, and then frowned. Staring back at his folder, he flipped through the pages. “I can’t believe I did that.” He glanced between both of them, and closed the folder. “I’m sorry, this file’s for a different Jasper.” Stepping forward, Dr. Barnes gave Jasper’s lifted head a scratch. “You’re not a Siamese, are you boy?”
Jill stood, and came to Harold’s side. Finding his shaking hand, she intertwined her fingers with his.
“Now, let’s see.” Barnes adjusted his glasses, and then examined Jasper’s right front leg. Fur had grown back over most of the stitches, and the healed edges on the wounds.
Harold tightened his grasp, his face remaining ghostly white. “Doctor? Is he okay?”
“Oh, yes, yes. I’m sorry for scaring you.” Barnes grinned. “A part from being a bit stiff here and there, he should be just fine. The best thing for him would be some short walks to keep his joints lubricated and some rest. Maybe cut back on the treats a bit, too.”
Blood ran into Jill’s hand as Harold loosened his grip.
“We’ll see you back here for his regular check up,” said Barnes, “unless he manages to have another run in with that raccoon.”
“Thanks, Doctor,” said Harold.
“No problem.” Barnes scooped up his file. “Sorry again about the mix up.”
Harold closed his eyes, and dropped his head after Barnes exited. A quiet, peppered with the sounds of the other patients and Harold’s deep breaths, descended.
Jill waited for the ticks on the wall-mounted clock to complete a circuit. “Are you okay?”
Harold sprung out of his meditations, and donned a forced grin. “Sorry, we should get going on those other errands.”
“Are you kidding?” Swiveling to face Jasper, Jill gave his neck a rub. “First, we’re taking this fellow for a walk.”