When I posted to an online writer’s resource group about needing to poison a fictional canine and asking for suggestions, I was unprepared for the angry comments I received from people who said they would never read a book where an animal was harmed.
What part of fictional did they not understand?
They were at the end of her block when Cami called to Grant. “He’s starting to heave, like he’s going to throw up.” She could hear the panic in her own voice but she couldn’t give in to it. She’d cry later. Petey was all that mattered.
“There’s an intersection, which way do I go?”
“Left on Stonehill, the vet’s on the corner of Crest.” She sat in the back seat with Petey’s head cradled in her lap, holding the plastic sack in front of him.
“Hang on, buddy. We’ll be there soon. Please don’t die, Petey. Please don’t. What would I do without you? I love you so much, you’re such a good boy.” She ran her hand over his muzzle, smoothing the soft fur on his nose. His eyes closed as he shuddered and her heart shook in unison with his body. “Hurry, Grant!”
They entered a small parking lot and Grant slid into a handicapped spot near the entrance. He opened the back and hauled Petey out. Grant carried him a few steps, then groaned as the dog began to slip from his grasp.
“I don’t have any strength in my arm, I can’t hold on to him.” Anguish filled his voice.
“Let me.” She moved in front of him and gathered the dog’s limp legs into her arms.
Grant hurried ahead and opened the door. She burst through and called to the receptionist.
“He’s been poisoned! Please help us,” Cami called.
The young woman behind the counter hurried to open the gate from the reception area.
“Bring him in, I’ll call the doctor.”
Cami followed her into an examining room. She eased Petey onto the metal table, and leaned over him, cradling his head in her arms.
A woman in green scrubs entered and laid a stethoscope on Petey’s chest. “What did he eat?”
“I don’t know, Doctor Lorenzo. He was chewing on this plastic bone,” Cami motioned to Grant for the plastic bag. “It’s not his, it must have been dropped in my yard. I think someone poisoned him.”
“How long ago?”
“I don’t know that either. We brought him as soon as we saw it. I gave him some hydrogen peroxide, so he’s been throwing up. And shaking, too.”
“Wait outside please, I’ll get you as soon as I know anything.”
“He’s scared. He needs me.” And she needed to be with him.
“I insist.” The vet’s tone was firm.
“No! I won’t leave him.”
“Cami,” Dr. Lorenzo said, looking into her eyes. “It’s better for Petey if you wait outside. You’ll upset him and he doesn’t need that right now.”
“Come on, Cami.” Grant took her elbow to guide her back into the waiting room as the receptionist followed them out, closing the door and keeping Cami from even glancing at Petey.
“How could I let this happen?” She sank onto a wooden bench and put her head on her knees. “I knew this guy was crazy.”
“It’s not your fault.” He patted her shoulder then wrapped his arm around her.
“If Petey dies, I swear I will track this guy down and…and…” There wasn’t a punishment dire enough for killing her pet. “He’s the sweetest dog in the world. He’s a big baby who wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s-” The possibility of losing Petey constricted her throat.
Grant squeezed her close. “It’ll be okay.”
The sobs came as she rocked on the bench. Grant held her, letting her cry until the tears slowed and turned into hiccups.
A veterinary assistant came out of the room, grabbed a purse from under the desk, and ran out the door.
Cami and Grant sat in silence. He held her hand, rubbing his thumb over her palm. He was trying to be sweet and supportive, she knew, but he couldn’t stop her thinking about Petey. Miserable and scared Petey.
Seconds ticked away into minutes until the assistant finally returned, dropped her things on the desk and slammed the door on her way to the doctor. She held a clear bottle that looked like vodka. Cami shook her head. That was odd. Why would they need alcohol?
They continued to wait, Cami on the bench, Grant pacing and holding his arm.
“What are they doing in there?” Cami asked as the minutes grew to an hour. “Don’t they know I’m out here?” She stared at the examination room door, wishing it would obey her demand to open.
Grant stood and walked to the reception area. “Can we get some information?” he asked the woman at the desk.
The receptionist shrugged. “The doctor knows you’re here. She’ll be out as soon as she can.”
Grant sat and tried to hold Cami’s hand again, but it was her turn to pace. The floor was made up of alternating hospital-green and white tiles. She could take eight steps from one end of the waiting room to the other on the green squares or six on the white.
Finally, the assistant came out and Cami joined Grant on the bench. He put a hand on her knee as she braced herself. “It looks like he’s going to make it,” the young woman said.
Cami’s eyes filled with tears again. “Thank God.”
“The doctor will be out in a minute.” The woman left again.
“Thank you.” Cami gripped Grant’s hand. “Thank you.”
The doctor soon joined them. “Well, he gave us a scare, but I think he’s going to be fine. He’ll need to stay overnight so we can monitor his vital signs and give him fluids. If you hadn’t gotten him here so quickly, there might have been a different ending.”
The vet wore green scrubs under a white coat. She’d always had multiple piercings in both ears and up her cartilage, but she’d added a nose stud since the last time Cami brought Petey in for his vaccinations. Wouldn’t that hurt, when it was put in? The thought was banished as quickly as it came. Quit wasting time when you should be talking about Petey.
“Do you know what it was?” she asked.
“Antifreeze. We took a urine specimen and examined it under black light. He’s very lucky you brought him in so quickly. By the time symptoms present, it’s usually too late.”
“Did you send someone to go get…vodka?” It sounded bizarre, but she had to ask.
“I guess folks are busy maintaining their cars. This is the third case I’ve had in as many days, and I’m out of the antidote of choice.” Dr. Lorenzo ran a hand through her spiky hair until it stood out straight.
“The alcohol adheres to the enzymes and allows his body to pass the toxins rather than try to process them, which is what would kill him.”
Cami’s mind still reeled from the news that Petey had deliberately been poisoned. Now, her vet got him drunk. “That’s amazing.”
“There was a recent case in England where a woman accidentally drank some antifreeze. Her doctor gave her a choice between whiskey, gin, or vodka.”
Cami lost interest in the anecdote and wanted only one thing. “Can I see him?”
“He’s still on the table in the room. He’s not going to feel like doing much for a few days. You can talk to him for a minute before we move him to the kennel.”
“Thank you so much.” Words could never thank this woman enough for saving Petey’s life.
“I’m glad you brought him. He’s a sweet dog, one of our favorites here, we’d hate to lose him.” Doctor Lorenzo stuffed her hands into her lab coat pockets, smiled warmly, and strode down the hallway.
Cami walked to the room where Petey waited, stretched out on a cold steel table. His tail wobbled when he saw her.
“Hi, buddy.” She stroked his nose. “I love you so much. You’re going to be fine. Doctor Lorenzo wants you to stay here though. I’ll be back tomorrow.” The dog nuzzled her hand and his tail lifted for a second before dropping back onto the table. His eyes closed again, but his breathing was no longer labored and the shaking was only intermittent.
“You’re awesome, Petey.” Grant joined her and rubbed the dog’s ears. They stood silently, watching him breathe in and out.
“We better go, let him sleep,” Grant said.
“I guess.” She stepped away with reluctance. “I’ll be back in the morning, Petey.” One more tail wag said good-bye.
Cami unlocked her front door as Grant looked up and down her street. “Pack a bag while I call Paige,” he said.
She turned to face him. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re not staying here. Not after what happened. And especially not without Petey to protect you.”
Her shoulders sagged. “But what if -?”
“I’ll check you into a motel if I have to. We’re talking about your life.”
He was right. She dragged herself to the stairs and started up. “I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
She climbed the stairs to her bedroom and pulled an overnight bag from the closet. Okay, she’d need work clothes. She pulled khakis, tees and sneakers from her closet. Toothpaste and shampoo from the bathroom. She couldn’t stop to think about it all or she’d see Petey, trembling and throwing up while looking at her with so much trust in his brown eyes. She had to keep moving. She took her Bible from the nightstand and perched on the edge of her bed.
What did I do, God? To deserve this? Tell me and I’ll stop doing it. Or I’ll start doing it. Whatever you want, please make this all stop.
She hunched over and rocked as she pleaded with God. Silent tears ran down her face. She slid off the bed and sat on the floor. “I can’t.” But I can. The words were as clear as if they’d been audible.
“Cami?” Grant was calling from downstairs.
“I’m coming,” she answered, pulling a tissue from her pocket.
She lugged the overnight bag downstairs as Grant hung up the phone.
“Paige is in a meeting with clients. I left a message with Meredith’s receptionist. I’m about to call my parents.”
“Let’s wait on that until we’ve heard from one of the others.”
Grant shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter, you’re not staying here.”
“I know.” Her eyes filled as anger twisted her stomach. “I hate this! I hate that he’s chased me out of my home. I always felt safe here, but not anymore.”
Grant hugged her. “Can I change your locks? Add deadbolts? There must be something you need.”
“My locks are all fine. But you came for me this morning, on a moment’s notice, when I called. Then you broke several traffic laws getting Petey to the clinic. I needed that.” And I need you. But she didn’t allow the words to reach her tongue. “Thank you for taking care of me.”
He gathered her closer. “You’re welcome.”
As she rested for a moment in his arms, warmth spread up her spine. Maybe things would be okay.
Later that evening, she dropped her bag on the bed in Paige’s guest room. Paige had gotten the message and called Grant’s cell phone as he and Cami left her house. They each drove to Huntington Beach in their own cars.
The three of them met for a quick dinner where they discussed the events. Paige was horrified to learn what had been going on and insisted Cami stay with her until the guy was caught.
Cami picked at her Greek salad while Paige and Grant worked out a schedule to keep her under house arrest. But they called it protecting her. Finally she pushed the salad away and announced she was exhausted and ready to go to Paige’s.
At Paige’s condominium, Cami dropped her bag on the floor of the guestroom and herself on the bed. She could hear Paige rummaging down the hall.
“Next time, could you ask your stalker to give me some notice, so I can clean the guest bathroom before you arrive?” Paige emerged from the room in question with a fist full of paper towels and a can of cleanser. The pungent scent of lemon and chlorine followed her into the bedroom where Cami sat on the bed.
“What are you doing?” Cami asked.
“I had to make it presentable.”
Cami moved to what was troubling her. “What’s going on, Paige? What can I do?”
“You can take a hot bath. I scrubbed the tub.”
“I mean about what’s happening to me.”
“I know that.” Paige sat on the edge of the bed. “I wish I had answers for you.” She paused and thought for a moment. “Would it help to make a timeline of what’s happened, see if we can see a pattern?”
“That’s a good idea.”
“When was the first time you noticed something odd?”
Cami plumped a pillow and leaned back. “A couple of months, maybe? You know I’ve been hyper-sensitive to my surroundings for a long time, so I’m not sure if I was noticing real signs, or if my imagination was working overtime.”
“Give me some instances. But wait a second.” Paige left the room and returned a moment later minus the cleanser, but now armed with a yellow legal pad and a pen. “Okay. Tell me one of the times you remember.”
“The day I met Grant again, I thought I was being followed on my way to the rec center. But the car didn’t tag along all the way, it turned off before I got there.”
“Do you remember what it looked like?”
“Hmmm.” She thought back to that day, driving down Seaview, watching her rear view mirror. Seeing the car behind her. “It was red. It might have been a station wagon, a small one.”
“Wait a second…” Her voice trailed off as she tried to recall something nibbling at the edge of her memory. “Before that, maybe in February- yes, I remember it was during the Presidents Day weekend, I got a bunch of hang-up phone calls. Probably a dozen of them every day for a week. Then they stopped.”
“Didn’t you get some anonymous Valentines, too? I remember you mentioning them.”
“That’s right.” Her voice fell. “This is getting creepy.”
“ ‘Getting’? Hon, it’s been creepy for a long time now.” Paige drew her feet up and sat cross-legged on the end of the bed, facing Cami, the note pad in her lap.
“How could I have been so blind?” But she knew the answer already. Because she didn’t want to see the truth, didn’t want to acknowledge that things were out of her control. Wasn’t there a saying that denial’s not just a river in Egypt? It had sure cut a wide swath through her life until it became impossible to ignore.
“You said it earlier.” Paige’s words brought her back to the present. “You’ve been super-sensitive for so long, that you became immune to the real stuff.”
“Why is this happening? What is God up to?”
“Have you asked Him?”
Not until tonight when she was packing at home. “I think so,” she said.
“I don’t mean prayed things like ‘God, why are you letting this happen?’ I mean seriously taken some time to think about it all and what lessons you’re learning through it and maybe what good God can have come of it,” Paige said.
“If we know that God works all things for our good, then what is the good that you’re getting out of this?”
Cami cast her mind back over the last few months, trying to remember any changes in her life recently. Especially good ones. “The only thing I can think of is Grant.”
“He really doesn’t count. You met him after the stalking started.”
“But it’s gotten more intense since we’ve been dating. What I mean is, because of the circumstances, I think our relationship has progressed faster than it would have otherwise.” That was true, although she probably wouldn’t have articulated it until Paige questioned her.
“And that’s a good thing? You’re the poster child for slow and steady relationships. Date for two or three years, then think about meeting each others’ families.”
“Very funny. I’m not that bad.” Was she?
“Bet me.” Paige’s smile took the sting out of the words.
Cami shrugged. “I think because of the stalker, I’ve been able to move through the dating stages faster, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Okay, that’s one good thing that has come out of this. But really, Cami, you can’t believe God would send a stalker to smooth out your dating life?”
“Why not?” Anger flared up then dissipated as quickly. “Well, it does sound stupid when you put it like that.”
“It’s not stupid,” Paige shot back. “Maybe naïve. Or simplistic. Even theologically unstable. But not stupid.”
“Theologically unstable? You sound like your father.” Cami jerked her feet back as Paige reached out to pinch Cami’s big toe. They burst into giggles that grew into hoots of laughter. The cork on her emotions finally popped and Cami laughed until she nearly crossed the line from mirth to hysterics.
“I needed that,” Cami said, still giggling as another thought occurred to her. She wiggled a little deeper into the pillows. “Here’s another idea: maybe God wants me to convert Grant.”
“You know missionary dating doesn’t work. Look at Autumn.”
Paige’s gaze unnerved Cami and she closed her eyes. “That’s all for tonight. I’m exhausted.” She stretched her legs out and rolled onto her side, stuffing the pillow under her head.
Paige tossed the paper and pen onto the nightstand. “There are towels in the bathroom. I have an early meeting, so I’ll be up and gone by six. Are you going to work tomorrow?”
“I think so. I’ll call Doctor Lorenzo first and see if Petey is okay, and then I’ll head to my new job. It’s a base coat day, so I’ll be done by noon. I’ll pick up Petey if – oh no!”
“What can I do with Petey? I can’t leave him at home alone. I can’t bring him here.”
“Grant to the rescue again!” Paige ducked out of the doorway to avoid the pillow Cami threw.
Cami brushed her teeth and changed into her red tartan pajama pants and an old tee shirt her brother had given her for Christmas one year. Mom Likes Me Best was emblazoned across the front and it had been worn until it was soft as old flannel.
She settled into the bed and pulled the grey plaid comforter up to her chin. Her thoughts drifted back to the conversation with Paige. Yes, her first idea about God sending a stalker to speed up her relationship with Grant did sound ridiculous.
But that was preferable to the other thought nibbling at her. That night with Patrick taught her some lessons: Trust no one. Rely on no one for safety. Don’t let anyone too close. And she’d learned them well. She had a guard dog, an alarm system, a large Get-the-tarnation-out-of-my-way SUV. And it had all worked perfectly, she’d been safe. So why did she feel so alone?