WHEN PIGS FLY
When Jay cuts funding to Cassie’s wildlife rescue clinic, imminent closure threatens the hospital she built with blood, sweat and tears. After a war of the words, a betrayal of Hammy the pig, and an effort to save an orphaned chipmunk, Cassie and Jay realize the animals might not be the only ones who need rescuing.
This is my entry for the NYC Midnight 2018 short story contest. The restrictions were:
Maximum Words: 2500
Genre: Rom Com
Prompts: Charitable Organization, Window Washer
“So, you’re not taking my calls now.”
A vein bulges in Jay’s temple. “Cassie? What the hell are you doing here?” He nods to the micro pig I’m cradling and says, “Is…” Jay trails off as he glances at his clipboard. “Hammy. Is Hammy even sick?”
“Nope.” I pull Hammy tighter and a snort escapes.
“Okay.” Jay scrubs his new goatee and leans against the exam table. “You scheduled him an appointment just to hunt me down?”
“Absolutely. You know I have no shame.”
He shakes his head and sighs. “Unbelievable. And I’m not changing my mind.”
“My wildlife rescue clinic is the only one in the area.” My face burns. “We can’t stay afloat without your funding, and you know all the animals will be put down if we close. Come on, you have plenty of money for…for all this.” Juggling Hammy, I wave my free arm around his sleek, stainless steel examining room. I spy a saltwater fish tank built into the wall, and it pisses me off more. A veterinarian caging wild sea life for decor? What a prick.
“I’m really sorry, Cass.” His tone is soft. “But our hospital is using the funds for a second location. We’re overcrowded since we landed a celebrity patient. I can’t identify the parent, but the dog’s name is Gold Digger. Ring a bell?”
“You bastard.” I abandon my bleeding heart argument since apparently, he doesn’t have one anymore. “What about Palatial Pets’ philanthropic image, Jay?”
He pauses and glances to the floor. “I’m still funding other charitable organizations that are more…uh, influential in the community.” He clears his throat. “And I go by Jason now.”
I roll my eyes so hard it actually hurts. “What the hell happened to you?” When Jay and I were in veterinary school together, we were both passionate about rescuing animals, not money and power.
He stares at me, so I swipe my nose and ask, “What?”
“Sorry. It’s just impossible to stay angry at you.” The corners of his mouth lift, and I can’t tell if he’s patronizing me or not. I hate that my heart skips a beat.
A loud squeak coming from outside the room stops us both. I look to the window and suppress a gasp. My vet assistant, Barb, is squeegeeing the windows. She’s wearing a blue cap, sunglasses, and overhauls, but I can still tell it’s her. I hope the hell Jay can’t. When we make eye contact, she mouths, “Stay tough.” My eyes go wide and I try to give her the ‘cut’ signal, but she’s on a mission. That’s Barb. She’s now using her finger to draw something into the grime. It looks like maybe a flipped middle finger? Or is it a dick?
It doesn’t matter because squeeeeak, it’s gone.
When I return my gaze to Jay, a puzzled expression has taken over his face, but luckily, he says nothing. Rubbing his forehead, he continues. “Look, Cass, I can give you a list of other possible donors.”
“I don’t need a list, Jay,” I bite back. “I’ve already contacted everyone. I need your donation. The animals need it to survive.”
He sighs. “My hands are tied—”
Squeeeak from the window.
Props to Barb. The interruption gives me an idea for one last Hail Mary. But before I can say anything, Hammy flies out of my arms. “Hammy!” He lands on the floor with a splat. “What are you doing, baby?”
I look down to see him running in place on the slick tile before getting enough traction to scramble over to Jay. Jay squats and Hammy leaps into his arms like he and Jay are BFFs.
“Hammy!” I yell again. I look at Jay and shake my head. “He’s never done that before. Well, not without food involved.”
Jay stands back up and gives Hammy a good head scrub. “You’re a handsome little fellow, yeah.” Hammy sticks his snout in the air and lets out a gleeful snort.
I beckon Hammy with my hand like he’ll pick up that subtle human cue. Which, of course, he doesn’t. “Get over here,” I finally scold in a whisper. The pig doesn’t budge. “Let me just take him,” I say, approaching Hammy and wrapping my arms around the porky traitor. Hammy burrows into Jay’s chest, forcing me to go in deeper. Jay and I end up entwined in a Twister-like embrace around the animal. We’re so close that I can smell Jay’s fresh laundry scent and see the chips of sky in his eyes. It’s intoxicating. And completely awkward.
Squeeeeeeak goes the window.
Jay tries to dump Hammy into my arms, and the pig fights so hard that he almost falls. I go in closer to catch him, and Jay and I end up nose-to-nose. Beads of sweat form at my brow.
Jay leans into my ear and whispers, “Hammy doesn’t seem to think I’m so bad.”
I meet his gaze again. Narrowing my eyes, I utter, “He just knows another pig when he sees one.”
Instead of looking insulted, Jay seems to be fighting back a smile. “I’d say I’d give you the money when pigs fly, but that one’s apparently off the table.” He pats Hammy and says, “Come on, tough guy. Your mom needs you.”
Hammy jumps back into my arms. Shaking off a case of the tingles, I pull away and smooth my fleece with one hand. “So, what does Jenny say about you pulling my donation?” Jay married Jenny before vet school, so I know her. She’s always been a big supporter of my rescue clinic.
The fire in his eyes snuffs out and he lowers his head. “Jenny left me last year. She was banging her life coach.”
“Oh, man.” The wind of indignation is knocked out of me. Now who’s the asshole? “Jeez, Jay. I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.”
“Me too. And the life coach. What a worm.” He shifts from one foot to another. “So how did you get Hammy?” he asks hastily, reaching over and scratching Hammy’s three chin hairs.
“Surrendered,” I stutter, still trying to process Jay’s divorce. They have a son too. “Surrendered like most designer pigs when people realize they aren’t actually dogs.”
“Ugh, that kills me.” He shakes his head, and our eyes meet.
I open my mouth to speak, but I can’t argue with him anymore. Not after hearing about Jenny. It’s time to go.
* * *
A Few Weeks Later…
Barb and I gorged on Mint Oreos all day. We’ve got one week left on our lease, and then unless a miracle happens, we’re both out of a job. And the animals…I can’t think about what’s going to happen to them. Working day and night at this rescue clinic, I have zero social life. I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do now. Cranked up on sugar, Barb’s trying to convince me to start a window washing business so that we can spy on people. “It’s like front row seats to a movie, Cass. Except it’s real.”
The door chimes and I look up. Seeing Jay, I stand.
Before I can speak, Barb says, “Sorry, we’re plum out of palatial pets.” Her hand is on her hip.
“Yup.” I wave my finger in the air. “You should check your other ‘more influential’ charities.”
“Douchebag!” A voice rings out. I forgot about the new parrot Barb brought in yesterday. His colorful vocabulary might be why he isn’t pet-store adoptable.
Jay’s eyes dart around, and when he spies the parrot, he frowns.
“That’s Taco,” Barb says. “The jerk whisperer.”
“Cass, I…” Jay trails off and turns back to the door. “We need your help.”
A young version of Jay steps inside. He has to be his son, Liam. The kid is holding a container and crying.
“What’s going on?” I run over and see a baby chipmunk inside the clear box.
Through sobs, Liam says, “Something happened to his mom. Now his brother is dead.”
Jay pinches the bridge of his nose. “I’m not allowed to take any wildlife into my hospital.”
“His brother is dead,” Liam blurts out again. “Alvin has to live.”
I squat down to meet Liam’s eyes. “We’re going to do everything we can for Alvin, okay?” With one look, Barb knows to go fetch the supplies. “We’ll give him a check up, then feed him.”
“Is he gonna die?” Liam’s lips quiver, and my heart breaks.
I put my hand on Liam’s cheek. “We won’t know for sure until we examine him, but so far, he looks good. Okay?”
Barb rushes over and puts her arms around Liam. “Come and sit with me while Cassie gives Alvin an exam. I’m going to tell you how to care for a baby chipmunk. Is that all right?”
Liam sniffles and nods, shuffling behind her.
I look at Jay to see that his eyes are glossy. After Liam is out of earshot, he says, “Since Jenny…” He shakes his head. “Liam was better about the divorce, but lately, Jenny’s been traveling a lot because the life coach is on a book tour.” He rolls his eyes. “Liam’s regressed. When he found the dead chipmunk, he just snapped.”
Tears bubble under my eyelids. “I’m so sorry, Jay.”
“I don’t have time to feed a chipmunk. They eat six times a day,” he mumbles. “Especially with the second hospital opening. And Liam needs this right now. I thought of you.”
“We’ll do all we can, but we’re only open for another week. That chipmunk needs at least a month.” I close my eyes and blow out a long breath. “But I’ll take him home. I’ll have time to feed him since I’ll be out of a job.”
Jay looks at me wide-eyed. “You’d do that?”
“Yeah, of course.”
He nods. “I shouldn’t be surprised. This is what you do. It’s who you are.”
Those same tingles I keep getting around him return, but I only give him a half-smile.
When I look Alvin over, he’s chilled and dehydrated, but otherwise okay. That’s completely normal given that he’s been without his mother, but we need to get on it. I prepare his bed, which is a hot water bottle covered in cloth for warmth. I grab the syringe of Pedialyte that Barb made, then invite Liam back to watch the feeding. I get nervous when the chipmunk doesn’t take any. I can tell Barb is nervous too, but she’s calm when she tells Liam that Alvin just needs some time.
I try again, holding Alvin close to soothe him before I put the syringe to his mouth. But again, he doesn’t take it. I flash Jay a look, and his face falls.
Liam puts his hands over his eyes and starts sobbing again.
Jay’s upbeat when he asks, “Can I give it a try?” I nod and he takes Alvin from me and pets him. “Hey little guy, you gotta eat so you can grow into a big, tough chipmunk, okay? You’re gonna rule someone’s backyard someday.” Jay has this calming yet commanding voice that works magic on animals. It might be having some effect on me too.
After a moment of tense silence, Jay looks at me. “Can you give me some formula, please? I know Pedialyte is best for dehydration, but milk works too.”
“Yep,” I say, standing. “That was next.” I go to get it, but Barb is already standing there with a syringe of milk. “Thanks, Barb.” I hand Jay the new syringe, and he puts a tiny bit of milk on the chipmunk’s mouth to taste. His gentle manner reminds me of the Jay I used to know.
All the air disappears from the room as we wait for Alvin to respond.
Sure enough, when the little guy gets a lick of the good stuff, he sucks away.
“He’s eating!” Liam claps his hands. Then runs to me and throws his arms around my waist. “Thank you.”
My heart bursts as I pat his back. “You’re the one who saved him, Liam. You found him and brought him here.” I glance at Jay, and he has an ear to ear grin.
When Alvin’s ready, Jay places him in his warm bed. After the baby is settled, Jay asks, “Can I take a tour of the place, Cass? It’s been awhile.”
It hits me that this will be his last chance, and the realization cuts deep. “Of course,” I say just above a whisper.
“Can I stay and watch Alvin sleep, Dad?” Liam asks.
Jay glances at me. “Ask the boss.”
“Sure,” I reply, shooting Barb a look. Someone has to make sure Liam doesn’t touch the baby any more, as it’s not good for him.
“I’ll stay here with him,” she says.
As I take Jay around, Hammy finds us and begs his way into Jay’s arms. We visit an injured mole rat, a nest-fallen baby bird, and two wild bunnies.
Entering the lobby, Jay sighs and scratches Hammy’s back. “I thought I had it all figured out.”
“How do you mean?”
“Opening the second hospital, becoming more successful.” He stops. “I thought it would make me feel better about Jenny leaving.” Shaking his head, he continues. “But that’s not really going to do it, is it?”
I hesitate, choosing my words carefully. “I don’t think that usually works, no.”
“Doing something meaningful,” he purses his lips, “that’s what heals.”
“It’s why I’m here every day. And I’m happy.” I think about my lonely nights and add, “For the most part.”
“I used to know that too, but somewhere along the way I forgot. Having Liam. It made me want to give him the world that I did not have. But look. This is what makes him happy. Caring for animals.”
“Just like his dad.”
He smiles, and those crystal blue eyes of his could light up all of Las Vegas. “So, I think I can shuffle some funding around to give you your donation. It should’ve never been cut in the first place.”
My pulse races. “Really?”
“Yeah. And I’d like it if Liam and I could volunteer here. It would make him happy.” He exhales. “Both of us.”
“And the animals.”
“Of course.” He nods. “There’s this incredible woman I know who has a flying pet pig. I hope it might make her happy too.”
My breath hitches. “It just might.”
“You know, in vet school, if I’d been single, I would have been after you. Day one.”
“Good to know, Jason.” I bite my lip. “So, what about now?”
“Now?” He fidgets with his hands. “There’s this wildlife day hike I’ve been wanting to do for years. I’d love it if you’d join me. And not for your expertise.”
I smile, a big one this time. “I’d like that.”
“Douchebag!” Taco chirps.
“Eh, give him a chance, Taco.” I flash Jay a wink. Maybe he just needed a little rescuing too.