As I pulled into the parking lot of the Alamo Veterinary Clinic, I removed the orange earplugs from my ears and dumped them into the cup holder. For the past two weeks they’d been the only thing to save me from the cacophony of my life. In all honesty, I hadn’t anticipated acquiring super duper hearing as a Pranic trait.
Sitting in the parking lot I could hear the animals in the boarding area. A puppy was whimpering, an older dog was making a sound in the back of his throat, and one cat was purring. Normally, the boarding section of the clinic was full at this time of year and that’s exactly what it sounded like now.
The coffee pot was gurgling, and the clock in the breakroom and the reception area ticked off the minutes in militaristic precision.
Alice’s car was in the parking lot, the ping, ping of the cooling engine clueing me into the fact that she’d just recently arrived.
Behind me traffic roared, the engines of hundreds of cars polluting the air with sound. If I concentrated, I could hear the radios and the sound of the tires on the road. I focused on getting out of the car and closing the door silently — not because I was trying to be sneaky as much as prevent my ears from hurting — and made my way to the employee entrance.
Each step on the asphalt sounded like the slap of a brush against a snare drum and I was wearing sneakers. At least my footsteps weren’t as loud as they were at Graystone with its wooden floors. I’d gotten to the point that I only wore socks at home.
My hearing had gotten more acute with each passing day. Pretty soon I was going to pick up the sound of a jet landing in La Guardia. I was hoping — an irrational hope since nothing factual pointed me in that direction — that it would ease off just like it had increased. Or at least be something I could somehow control. Maybe twist my earlobe to hear something a few miles away.
I doubted that was going to happen.
After work today, I was going to go out to the castle to see Marcie. I wanted to make sure she was all right. In the meantime, if one of the doctors was free, I’d get checked out.
I didn’t want to have to wear earplugs for the rest of my life.
Before I used my passkey on the door, I hesitated, listening. I could hear movement inside and knew it was Alice doing her thing. She inspected the clinic first thing in the morning, made notes about who hadn’t put something away or who left a messy desk. I think she reported to Derek, our managing member, about all the infractions, including who was the slob who didn’t wash out his coffee cup.
I didn’t want to go inside.
Two weeks ago I’d called in sick, telling the managing partner that I had some type of gastrointestinal upset, reasoning that he wouldn’t pry too much into the symptoms. I wasn’t about to tell Derek that I was recuperating from not one but two transfusions or that my home had been attacked by a rabid vampire.
A few days had stretched into two weeks.
In actuality, I had one of the strongest stomachs in the practice. One of the vets got squicked out when an animal came in with a respiratory infection. Snot was not her friend. Another would avoid any kind of vomit, animal or human. Two other vets had a problem with blood. I couldn’t figure out how they’d gotten through vet school.
“I think it would be best if you got a doctor’s note, Torrance,” Derek said, all puffed up and pontificating. “I wouldn’t want you bringing anything into the clinic.”
I rolled my eyes, grateful we weren’t Skyping, and said, “I would, Derek, but I haven’t been to a doctor. I can go, of course, but that would mean I’d be out one more day. I think I had food poisoning and that isn’t contagious.”
With that, he’d reluctantly agreed that I should report for duty as soon as possible. Even though I had the time coming I was prepared to do my share of groveling. The reluctance to do so wasn’t the reason I was still standing outside the door.
I didn’t know what to do about Alice.
Unfortunately, the situation wasn’t going to get better by wishing it away. Something had to give.
She had called the police on me, but that wasn’t the reason I needed to talk to her. She had seen my father and fellow Council members fighting with a bunch of vampires.
That would be bad enough, because there was a lot of prejudice about prejudice going around lately. In other words, the PC Police were out and about. You had to be careful what you said about vampires. They were “life challenged” or “sunlight deprived.” You couldn’t call them blood suckers or fanged weirdos. You had to say things like cis-vampire and the new thing was to use the suffix “ell” appended to their names. I hadn’t figured that out until the other day when I was looking at my newsfeed. A prominent vampire in San Antonio was David Benson, now David Benson. The two lls looked like descending fangs.
Nope, Alice had gotten an eyeful, and it wasn’t just my father and his cronies laying into the vamps. They’d been Furry when they were doing it. I’m a Were but I call myself a Furry, to my family’s consternation. My father is a Were. Most of the people I know are Weres.
The world, however, doesn’t know about Weres. I couldn’t wait until they found out. What would they do to our names? They’d probably make us use “olf”, which meant that I would be Torrance Boydolf. Would I become a cis-wolf or a cis-Furry?
I couldn’t keep any of it straight.
The only thing I did know was that Alice had seen us, had reported the fight to the police, and now I had to do something about it.
And I didn’t want to.
I’m six feet tall and relatively strong, especially since I’d become Pranic — which basically is a super Were with vampire and witch blood — but I still don’t like confrontation. I especially don’t like confrontation with women. I don’t know why. I’m not scared, exactly. It’s just that women can be, well, catty. Especially if the woman is a species other than human, which I’m sure Alice was. I just didn’t know exactly what she was.
I was leaning toward witch, but I wasn’t sure. Since I had a few pints of witch/vampire blood in me you would think that would lead to some kind of detente between Alice Fenway and me. Don’t count on it. From the moment I’d arrived at the clinic almost a year ago, she’d been snarling at me. Unfortunately, I’d reciprocated. We’d both gone behind each other’s backs and been snide, not to mention juvenile. My relationship with Alice hadn’t been among my most shining moments.
I keyed in my card and stepped inside the clinic, made my way to the locker room, determined to change into scrubs and find Alice. She was peas before dessert. My mother had always said that it was better to do what you didn’t like and get it out of the way first, so at least the dread was over. I liked dessert, but I hated peas, so I always ate the peas first.
Until now I’d never noticed that florescent lights were so loud. The buzz followed me into the locker room. I could just imagine what the noise level was going to be like once the rest of the staff got to work. But I was going to have to tolerate it. Either that or wear earplugs and get curious looks all day.
Opening my locker sounded like a prison cell door sliding open. I concentrated on changing my clothes, trying not to pay any attention to the rasp of fabric against my skin, my breath echoing in my chest, or the booming beat of my heart.
Sitting on one of the long benches between the lockers, I put my sneakers back on and tied them. The act that had been silent a week ago was now one filled with sounds, the shoelaces abrading as I formed a knot, the soft squeak as the rubber of my soles touched the shiny tiled floor, my fingers grazing the tops of my socks.
Every action I’d taken for the past two weeks had been accompanied by a symphony.
My stomach gurgled, but I knew it wasn’t hunger. Nerves kept me tense as I stood, put my cell phone into the locker, grabbed the keycard on its lanyard and hung it around my neck. I fluffed my hair around my shoulders, took a deep breath, and went in search of Alice.
I didn’t wanna. I really didn’t. However, I was a grownup, a responsible home owner, a pet parent, a veterinarian, and a member of the Were Council. Plus I was a Furry and, as such, I had to protect my species.
Even if I whined a little doing it.