chapter 1: the setup
"What is this?" Phoebe looked at the chart for her next patient, a Papillon. A mysterious yellow dot had appeared next to the dog's name, covering a red one that she hadn't noticed before. "What does this yellow dot mean?"
"Nothing!" Melinda, one of the vet techs, responded.
"Then why is it on the chart?"
"It means..." Amber, the tech with what Phoebe thought of as "truth Tourette's" - the uncontrollable urge to tell the truth, often at inappropriate times - began.
"It means they might be due for heartworm." Melinda replied.
"I just saw Buttons last week." Phoebe glanced at the file for another patient with a yellow dot. "I spoke with her owner about preventative heartworm medication already. He knows that we're in a low-risk area."
"So you must've put yellow on there, meaning maybe not doing the preventative." Melinda's face was nearly blank.
"I don't put stickers on charts. I WRITE in the charts." Phoebe argued. "Let me see those." She grabbed two charts for the patients she was seeing later that day. "Why did you put a red dot on this one?" She held up a file for Millie, a Dalmatian.
"Because... Dr. Crosby wants to see that patient." Amber's eyes were wide. She was lying, and Phoebe knew it.
"That patient has specifically requested to see me." Phoebe said firmly.
"How do you know?" Amber asked.
"BECAUSE SHE'S BEEN MY BEST FRIEND SINCE THIRD GRADE!" Phoebe couldn't help yelling. There was no way Keesha had requested to see any other vet. Phoebe would have delivered Millie if the puppy's breeder hadn't already had a good vet, and the breeder even knew that Keesha's specific request was for Phoebe to treat her dog. Phoebe met Millie the day she was born - even before Keesha had. The girls were up to something, and there was nothing she could do about it. They'd messed with her charts before, and she was hoping to nip it in the bud this time. She wished she could discipline the techs, but Dr. Crosby didn't let her do anything. He only tolerated her more holistic approach, and allowed limited vaccines only on patients who agreed for a yearly wellness check. Keesha had told Phoebe to quit. But she couldn't, not until she found somewhere to go. The holistic practice in town wasn't looking for a usually mild-mannered new veterinarian who specialized in dogs and cats.
"Oh." Amber said softly.
"Just chill out, Phoebe." Melinda started. "Dr. Crosby can see Millie this time. He'd like you to see Duke here at 4:30." She handed Phoebe a Rottweiler's file with a green sticker.
"Tell me what the green means." Phoebe took a deep breath. "I can't help the patients unless you tell me what the color code means."
"Fleas." Amber tried.
"It means fleas?" Phoebe asked flatly. "Fleas how? Has fleas? Is on flea preventative? Had fleas? Is about to get fleas?"
"Limited vaccinations?" Amber tried again. Melinda rolled her eyes and walked away.
"Amber, please." Phoebe asked gently once Melinda had left. "Please tell me what the stickers mean."
"It means they're single." Amber said softly. "Green means the owner is single. And a guy."
"No." Phoebe's stomach sank.
"Yellow means it's not clear - no wedding ring, or maybe a divorce, or they have a girl in the emergency contacts..."
"Red means they're female or married. Or old, but Melinda's been making some of those yellow or green depending on..."
"So you and Melinda are pushing the green coded patients on me?" Phoebe asked. Amber nodded. "And taking my regular patients and giving them to Dr. Crosby?" Amber gulped. "What does he think of this?"
"He thinks you better get married soon or he'll think you're gay." Melinda reappeared with a can of soda.
"I wish it was my idea." Dr. Crosby nodded, coming into the break room. "How long has it been for you, Phoebe?"
"Don't any of you care about the animals?" Phoebe cried.
"Well, sure, but you've obviously got some frustrations." Dr. Crosby tossed a Hot Tamale in his mouth.
Phoebe tilted her head back and counted to ten silently. "You feel this is in the best interests of your patients?" She asked after a moment.
"To have happy doctors? Absolutely." Dr. Crosby shrugged.
Phoebe took a deep breath. "I want my patients back."
"Then get yourself a boyfriend." Dr. Crosby replied.
"My personal life is none of any of your business!" Phoebe cried.
"We both know, Phoebe, that you would benefit from some human companionship." Dr. Crosby began. "Why not begin looking among fellow animal lovers?"
"Because this is a veterinary office, not a matchmaking - place!" Phoebe fumed.
Dr. Crosby shrugged. "I met my wife when she brought that two-week old kitten in and I taught her to bottle-feed it. It'll work for you. Just be willing to let it happen."
Phoebe shook her head. "It's so unprofessional."
"Being professional isn't the answer to everything." Dr. Crosby smiled.
"Give me my patients back." Phoebe wished she could demand it.
"I'll let you have Millie." Dr. Crosby conceded. "For now."
Phoebe wanted to go in the parking lot and scream.
"But she's been rescheduled to Monday. We've got a Josephine overdue for a wellness check that John's working on right now." Dr. Crosby smirked.
"What kind of guy names his dog Josephine?" Melinda laughed. "Give him red, he's got to be gay."
"He's yellow -" Amber looked at the file. "It used to be a girl that brought Josie in."
"Dr. T, Josie's in the exam room." John, the only male tech, came back. Phoebe was glad that SOMEONE in the office acknowledged the fact that she'd completed four years of veterinary school. "They've been waiting already since all the other techs who already took lunch were busy." He glared at Amber and Melinda. Melinda rolled her eyes. Amber looked slightly remorseful.
"Get over yourself." Melinda smirked. "He's yellow - did you skip taking her temperature so Phoebe could have more time?"
"What?" Phoebe demanded. "Now you're not doing your job?"
"I'm HELPING you, Pheebs." Melinda reached for Phoebe, who angrily swatted her hand away and grabbed the chart. "You'll thank me later!"
Phoebe stood at the door to the exam room and looked in the window before glancing down at Josie's chart. Sure enough, there was a man there with the dog. She had been seeing more male owners lately. She gritted her teeth and took a deep breath before reading over the chart to prepare herself. The dog hadn't been in since last year for vaccinations and was overweight, had a poor coat, and the owner had declined a recommended dental cleaning. Dr. Crosby had not recommended the dog to go on a limited schedule - "Owner probably wouldn't bring her in if vax are unnecessary," he had written. Great, Phoebe thought. An overweight dog's irresponsible owner. Just what I want in boyfriend material.
"Nervous?" Melinda asked. Phoebe resisted the urge to flip her off. She believed in being professional. She also wished Keesha were coming in so she could whine to her. At least it was Friday. Maybe Keesha and I can go out for drinks or something.
"No." Phoebe replied. "Just angry." It's almost over, Phoebe. Just a few more patients. She took yet another deep breath, opened the door, and put on her best "friendly neighborhood veterinarian" face. "Is this Josephine?"
The Papillon that was standing on the table was not at all overweight, well groomed, and happy about life. She stood on the table, her black butterfly ears perked and tail wagging, wiggled all over as Phoebe approached. The wiggling helped Phoebe forget all the previous drama and just be with the dog, who was also a licking maniac. "What a sweet girl she is!"
"Phoebe?" The owner asked. "Is that you?" Phoebe looked across the examining table and could feel herself blushing. She'd never been as good with the owners' names and faces as she was with the dogs'. She remembered every dog who'd ever been on her table, but not the owners. This one she remembered.
"Ralphie?" She laughed once, uncomfortably. "What are you doing here?" She internally winced. What a stupid question! Ralphie had always been handsome, but seeing him here with his dog, who was doing quite well, was definitely doing him favors. He was wearing green scrubs and a Phillies baseball cap.
"Getting my dog a check-up." Ralphie smiled. "How have you been?" He came around the table to hug Phoebe. "I haven't seen you in years!" He reached out to give Phoebe a hug, but the brim of his hat knocked her in the forehead. "Sorry," he turned his hat backwards and hugged her.
Phoebe hoped that Ralphie didn't feel that the hug was as awkward as she felt it was. Part of her thought that stupid Melinda and Dr. Crosby - whose first name she was forbidden to use - were right about her needing to go out more, and she hated it. "I know!" She tried swallowing the lump in her throat. "Since... since college."
"Right." Ralphie let go of her. "My, uh - my ex used to bring Josie in here. She saw some Dr. Cosby - but they said he wasn't available."
Phoebe briefly imagined Bill Cosby as her boss and wished it were true. At least there would be more Jello and happiness in the office. "Dr. Crosby, right." Phoebe said. "He's been really busy lately," with all the rest of MY clients, Phoebe finished internally, "so I've been picking up the slack."
"He's not giving you the problem patients, is he?" Ralphie asked. "Because I know that she - didn't always do the best by our - my - girl here." He stroked the dog lovingly, and she turned up to lick his arm. "She loved the idea of having a dog, but when it came down to nail trimming and poop scooping, she just kind of... stopped. So anyway, I took Josie once we split up and I've been trying to do right by her."
"Yeah." Phoebe's heart melted a little as she nodded. "Josie - is that what you've always call her?"
"Linda used to call her Fifi, but I think that sounds stupid."
Phoebe laughed. "She looks great! She's lost a lot of weight and her coat is stunning. Have you been taking her to a groomer?"
"Yeah, I did once, but then I figured I'd just brush her out myself. I put her on a diet and exercise regime, you know, for her weight, and then we took some training classes. She's really smart!" Ralphie sounded a little proud of himself. You have got to be kidding. Phoebe thought. This is too good. It's got to be a set up. "I wasn't so sure about her at first - I mean, she's kind of frou-frou looking, but she's just such a great dog."
"Papillons usually are." Phoebe smiled. Josie was soaking up the attention. "Her coat is lovely, and her nails are a good length."
"So how long have you been a vet?" Ralphie asked as Phoebe felt Josie's ribs.
"Well, I've been out of school for about a year now." Josie tried to lick Phoebe as she lifted the dog's lips to look at her teeth. "I'm doing some work on the side with a holistic practice, looking to deal with more holistic treatments, but I want a foundation in allopathic medicine as well. She's got a very sweet temperament - you're very lucky that she likes the vet this much. Her teeth are great."
"I brush them." Ralphie explained. Phoebe wondered if he were sucking up to her. He did seem eager about pointing out how he was doing everything right. It would explain how well things seemed to be going with the dog.
"So what are you up to these days?" Phoebe asked as she picked up her otoscope.
"I'm a physician." Ralphie explained. "I didn't just wear scrubs so I could match you."
"What kind of physician?" Phoebe tried not to think of how weird it was to catch up with an old friend while gazing into his dog's ears, or the fact that Ralphie seemed to be almost staring at her. She was used to avoiding eye contact, but not from men her own age.
"Sports medicine. I'm at the university hospital, and I mostly work with their athletes." Ralphie said. "It's awesome; I love it."
"Good!" Phoebe looked at Josie's eyes. "So do you do any surgery or just general practice?"
"I do some surgery; I initially certified for emergency medicine, then got a fellowship and specialty in sports medicine." Ralphie kept trying to make eye contact with Phoebe, who seemed either busy or unwilling or both at any given moment. "You wouldn't believe -"
"Oh, I would." Phoebe looked directly at him and smiled. "I deal with dogs, Ralphie. Dogs eat things. You wouldn't believe the x-rays I've seen."
Ralphie laughed. "You got me there. I didn't want to do gastroenterology for that reason. Or pediatrics. You know what kids eat?"
"You know what dogs eat?" Phoebe countered. Josie put her paw up on Ralphie to get some attention. Ralphie and Phoebe stared across the table at each other for a moment. "Anyway," Phoebe looked down, embarrassed at dropping her guard. "Josie looks awesome. I'd just want to discuss heartworm preventative, vaccines, and diet with you for a moment before you go."
"Before we do that..." Ralphie started, then swallowed before taking a deep breath and scratching the back of his neck. "Would you like to go get something for dinner?" He had kind of a sheepish, boyish charm to him. "So we can catch up and stuff."
"Um... sure." Phoebe bit the inside of her cheek. "I - let me check my schedule. I'll be right back." She rushed out of the exam room and took a deep breath. "How many more patients do I have today?"
"Do you need to go early?" Melinda asked. "I can give Dr. Crosby your last two..."
"I don't need to - I just -" Phoebe stammered. "I ran into an old friend and we -"
"Poof! You don't have any more." Melinda grinned. "Are you sure he's not gay?"
"Shut up." Phoebe was beginning to feel too jittery to be as angry "His ex - a woman - used to bring Josie in."
"Oooh, a rebound..." Melinda furrowed her brow.
"We're friends." Phoebe insisted. "We haven't seen each other for five years. We're just going to cat-"
"You're red. And shaking." Melinda pointed out.
"Shut up." Phoebe said and walked back to the break room and got a glass of water.
"Are you okay, Dr. T?" John asked.
"I'm fine. Thanks for taking care of Josie." Phoebe downed her 16 ounce glass of water. "You do a good job." She walked back to the exam room before John could reply.
"Well?" Ralphie asked.
"It looks like I'm done after you." Phoebe replied. She saw Melinda and Amber peeking through the window in the exam room.
Ralphie looked at his watch. "Well I'd like to change and take Josie home, if you don't mind, so I can pick you up around 5 - I mean, if it's okay for you to tell me where you live."
Phoebe laughed awkwardly. "That's fine - I usually bike to work anyway. That's another reason for me to wear red scrubs. Visibility. You know."
"You bike? That's awesome." Ralphie nodded excitedly.
"Not seriously or anything, no, just a few blocks to and from work. And around with my dog." Phoebe explained. She fumbled in her lab coat for her prescription pad. "Here's my address and my phone number." She scribbled.
"See you at five, then?" Ralphie asked.
"Can it be six? I'm going to need to shower and stuff." Phoebe countered. "Otherwise I'll smell like the vet's office."
"Sure thing. See you then." Ralphie hugged Phoebe again. "C'mon Josie, let's go!" He clipped the leash to Josie's harness and lifted her up off the table. As the door to the exam room shut, Phoebe realized she hadn't finished the exam.
"Wait!" She tried turning the doorknob, but the door was locked. She patted her pockets, but her keys were missing. "Melinda, stop locking me in the exam rooms!"
"He's gone," Melinda opened the door and held out Phoebe's keys. "Guess he'll just have to come back."
"You'd better not charge him for that visit." Phoebe grabbed her keys.
"Don't worry about it." Melinda smiled. "Go home and get ready for your date."
"Wear something revealing." Amber suggested. "That works for me anyway."
"It's not a date." Phoebe hung up her white coat and stuffed her stethoscope in the pocket. "We're old friends catching up."
"It's a date." Melinda insisted. "And you wrote him a prescription for your phone number."
"Oooh," Amber cooed. "How sweet!"
"It's paper. Paper I had in my pocket." Phoebe put her purse over her shoulder. "I'm going to go get ready now."
"And you're taking time to get ready..." Melinda added.
"Why don't you two go back to work?" Phoebe suggested, grabbing her helmet. "You've only got one vet for the next two hours - you'd better actually do what you're supposed to."
"Fine then. Enjoy your date!" Melinda called after Phoebe as she left the office and unlocked her bike off the bike rack. She rolled up her pant leg and put her helmet on, then began to pedal home. Her mind raced. What about Huntington? He would hate being alone. It looked like she wouldn't get to have drinks with Keesha after all - so maybe Keesha could watch Huntington. That is, unless Carlos objected. Carlos had this crazy idea that Huntington was probably evil since he was a pit bull. Phoebe sighed. That was not an argument she wanted to have, but Hunt & Millie always had a great time together. Maybe I should type up my half of the conversation and give it to Keesha to read to Carlos... unless Carlos is just joking but nobody knows it... Sometimes his jokes weren't totally apparent, and the brain-swelling thing could be some weird joke. You could never tell with Carlos. He'd made all kinds of weird comments about Millie when Keesha brought her home, and Phoebe had been sure it would've been the end of their relationship - but Carlos was kidding. She had no idea how Keesha figured Carlos out, but it had been working out well for them for years. As she pulled up to her house and put her bike in the shed, Phoebe pulled out her cell phone and dialed Keesha.
"Whatup, Pheebs." Carlos half-asked, half-said.
"Why are you answering Keesha's phone?" Phoebe asked.
"You don't want to talk to me?" Carlos sounded way too sad.
"I would have called you if I wanted to talk to you."
"But you called Keesha."
"Because I want to talk to Keesha."
"But you got me."
"Carlos..." Phoebe sighed. She heard Keesha in the background.
"Are you tormenting Phoebe again?" Keesha called.
"Maybe a little," Carlos said.
"Sorry," Keesha said.
"Why do you let him near your phone?" Phoebe wondered.
"He's awesome with solicitors."
"I see." Phoebe closed the shed door.
"So what's going on?"
"I may or may not be going to dinner tonight." Phoebe bit the inside of her cheek again. "And I think Hunts might need some Millie time."
"Hold on a minute - you're going out?" Keesha asked a little too loudly.
"Shush! Carlos is going to hear you!"
"That's what I want." Keesha explained.
"It's not a date." Phoebe insisted.
"Who asked whom?" Keesha asked.
"He asked me."
"Uh-huh. And he's picking you up?"
"And he's presumably paying for it?"
"I don't know." Phoebe turned the key to get into her back door, where she was nearly knocked over by 50 exuberant pounds of pit bull, but she gave a sit hand signal quickly. It's a lesson she had to learn the hard way.
"So who is this gentleman?" Keesha asked, taking a sip of her iced tea.
"Ralphie." Phoebe replied. Keesha started coughing. "Why are you even drinking when I'm talking to you about going out on a Friday night?"
"That was a poor decision." Keesha acknowledged. "So how did this happen?"
"He asked me and I said yes."
"Did you run him over with your bike like the last guy?"
"I did not run over Joe. I just bumped into him" Phoebe stood in front of her closet, looking for something to wear. "And Ralphie brought his dog in. The techs are trying to set me up again."
"So they set you up with Ralphie? Weird."
"Ralphie happened to be one of Dr. Crosby's patients that they transferred to me. Apparently most of the male owners have become my patients now."
"Sneaky." Keesha paused before taking a sip of her tea. "So you want us to dog-sit then?"
"If you would."
"Then I am gonna need details."
Phoebe sighed. "You know my details suck, Keesha."
"I want them not to suck. You are going for it." Keesha advised. "Full-court press."
"I told you, I don't do hockey."
"That's basketball." Keesha corrected. "And you're tall, so yes, you do."
Phoebe laughed. "Remember in high school when they drafted Tim to the varsity team because he's tall and black?"
Keesha laughed. "That was awesome. I've never had so much fun at basketball games..."
"Oh man he was bad..." Phoebe gasped.
"Anyway," Keesha interrupted and stopped laughing abruptly. "Seriously, Phoebe. Who else will understand your weird childhood like Ralphie?"
"You have a point."
"And he's not doing too bad for himself, now that that crazy bitch is out of the picture."
"How do you know?"
"Oh, the guys play poker sometimes and Carlos tells me everything. And I mean EVERYTHING."
"Wanda and I bugged the room once." Phoebe didn't know where this was going. "And Carlos gave me a better account than the bug."
"That's very creepy." Phoebe stood at her closet. "What should I wear?"
"Something that makes you feel good."
"That isn't scrubs."
"Just put on something comfortable and a little tight." Keesha advised. Phoebe was silent. "Don't make me come over there."
"Would you please?"
"He's picking you up. That would look sketchy. You can dress yourself, big girl."
"Fine." Phoebe pulled out a red t-shirt and her leastworn out pair of jeans.
"Are you wearing makeup?"
"No, should I?"
"My makeup is really old."
"Do it. Wear it anyway." Keesha ran a mental inventory of other things Phoebe might forget. "Did you shave your legs?"
"Shave them. Shave them fast."
"What time is it?"
"You have half an hour. Go! Go! Go!" Keesha shouted. "Wear perfume. Not a lot, but put some in your cleavage."
"What cleavage?" Phoebe tossed her clean clothes in a heap on the vanity next to the sink, and pulled her bag of makeup from the back of a drawer and placed it on top of her clothes heap.
"Where your cleavage would be."
"Okay... I'm going to get in the shower. How do you want to get Hunty?"
Keesha thought a moment. "Carlos."
"Please, Keesh, no."
"I can't drive. I broke my foot."
"Not even this once? Really?" Phoebe asked. "I thought we were friends."
"We are, but Carlos is your friend too. He's coming over."
Huntington started barking.
"He's here now, isn't he?"
"We had a contingency plan." Keesha admitted.
"I'm in a towel." Phoebe threw a towel around her body.
"Carlos doesn't care."
"Bye Pheebs! Remember, details!" Keesha hung up.
"Crap..." Phoebe loped to the front door and found Carlos had already come in.
"You should lock your door, you know." Carlos said casually. "And put some clothes on!"
"I'm getting in the shower. Don't do anything stupid." Phoebe called as she ran back to the bathroom. As she showered and shaved, she started calming down. It'll be fun. She thought. What's the worst that could happen?
author's note: When will Phoebe learn that she should never, EVER ask that question? Fixed a name error.