I always thought a person’s car was reflective of its owner, and as I opened the passenger door of the late ’80s Ford Taurus and got in, I smiled to myself. Like its owner, Dr Fields, it was gray in color and in impeccable condition. Not a scratch, not a dent, not a thing out of place. Polished, tidy, and clean. Family oriented, safety first. Just like its owner.
And although it still ran well, although it was still reliable, it was getting on in miles, years. Just like its owner.
Was my car reflective of me? As much as I wished otherwise—yeah, it was. A sturdy Jeep 4×4, a few dents and scratches. Not too old, and certainly not showroom-pretty by any means. More rugged, well-worn, sometimes fun, always practical. That’s me. Practical for my work as a vet, practical for me on days off to harness my dog in the backseat and head out of town. Nothing about my car strictly screamed “gay man” but nothing about me did either.
Unless you counted the small star decal on the rear bumper.
My best friend Mark had stuck it there before I’d left Hartford, Connecticut to start my new job in Boston. He’d known I’d bury myself in my work like I always did, limiting my chances of meeting anyone new. He had told me by having a star stuck on my rear bumper, it might increase the chances of some guy seeing the one tattooed on my hip. He’d said the star was more discreet than the “I’m gay. Wanna fuck?” decal he was going to put on my car. He thought it was hilarious. Mark always thought he was hilarious.
“What’s got you smiling?” Dr Fields asked.
I looked at the older man behind the steering wheel. “Oh, nothing,” I said dismissively. But I looked at him and smiled.
He smiled back at me. Then the older man asked, “How are you settling in? You enjoying it here?”
“Yes,” I answered him honestly. “Very much. I mean, it’s only been a week, but I love what I’ve seen so far.” And I did. My new job at East Weymouth Animal Hospital was quite the step up for me.
He smiled again, seemingly pleased with his decision to hire me.
He concentrated on driving for a moment, then he asked, “Did you do house calls in Hartford?”
I laughed. “Uh, no. I thought house calls were something doctors and vets did in small country towns for large animals.” Or in television shows, I thought errantly, but kept that to myself.
This time it was Dr Fields who laughed. “Well, there’s not many house calls left on my books these days. Just the families who’ve been coming to see me for years.”
And that’s where we were on our way to now. The animal hospital was in a nice part of town, and all house calls were close by. Our first visit was to a Mrs Yeo and her seventeen year old cat, Mr Whiskers. When we got there, I wasn’t surprised Mrs Yeo preferred house calls. She must have been near a hundred years old, all of four feet tall, with gray, wiry hair and skin like wrinkled paper.
“Don’t let her appearance fool you,” Dr Fields had warned me in the car. “She’s as sharp as a tack.”
So she was, but poor old Mr Whiskers wasn’t doing so well. He was slow and not too responsive as Dr Fields gently checked him over. He gave Mr Whiskers some more arthritis medication, but even Mrs Yeo had given a sad nod, acknowledging she knew the poor tabby’s days were numbered.
Against our insistence, Mrs Yeo had walked us out. Dr Fields had given her a reassuring pat on the arm, telling her if she needed anything to give him a call. As we got back into his car, Dr Fields sighed. “I don’t think poor Mr Whiskers will see the end of summer,” he said sadly. “Not sure how Mrs Yeo will cope without him. She got that cat for company after her husband died…” The older man’s words trailed away. He didn’t need to say any more. I understood.
It was easy to tell the older man loved his job. I’d only worked with him a week, but he knew every patient and owner by name, and he took his time with each of them. He knew their personal histories. He had an old-school work ethic, and I wondered how his pending retirement would fare on him.
I assumed he’d miss it as much as the hospital would miss him, and from my first week on the job, one thing was very clear—I had very big shoes to fill.
We drove in silence for a short while, and I watched the slow passing of houses through the passenger side window. The animal hospital was in Weymouth, South Boston, which was a nice neighborhood already, but the houses we were driving past were getting even nicer, the gardens and lawns well-tended.
Wanting to keep conversation going between us, I prompted the old man, “Next stop is the Brannigans.”
Dr Fields nodded. “Isaac Brannigan…” he said quietly with a shake of his head. “Sad story, but not really mine to tell. Hannah will be there. She’s his official caregiver,” he said rather cryptically.
I wondered what he meant by that when we pulled into a circular drive. The large, single story house sat proudly in the midst of manicured gardens. It spoke money.
Dr Fields pulled up at the front door, but before he got out of the car, he said, “Isaac’s having some adjustment issues with his new dog, Brady. He’s a little…” he searched for the right word, “…insistent, but I guess he’s got his reasons.”
Before I could ask if he was referring to the dog or its owner, the older man got out of the car. I followed suit, grabbed the bag off the backseat and followed him to the front door.
A woman answered the door and smiled warmly as soon as she saw Dr Fields, standing aside to welcome us in. She looked around thirty years old—just a few years older than me—and had brown, curly hair, pale skin, and a wide, kind smile.
“Hannah,” Dr Fields introduced us, “this is Dr Carter Reece. Carter, this is Hannah Brannigan.”
I extended my hand, which she shook. “Very nice to meet you.”
She was still smiling. “Does Max have you doing the rounds with him?”
She called him by his given name, so I quickly deduced she knew him well. Before I could answer, Dr Fields answered for me. “Dr Carter will be taking my place at the hospital.”
“Oh,” she said quietly, looking from me to the old man. “You’re retiring?” she asked, and Dr Fields nodded. “Isaac never mentioned it…”
“He doesn’t know,” Dr Fields told her quietly. “I was going to tell him today.”
Just then, a man no older than me walked into the foyer. He was dressed as though he’d just stepped off a yacht. Khaki shorts, white polo t-shirt, expensive leather boat shoes and small, dark, designer sunglasses worth what I earned in a month. He was fit looking, matched my five foot ten height and had short, spiky dark brown hair and pale skin. He was gorgeous.
He smiled. “Tell me what?”