Chapter 17: Falling

Thomas was pacing back and forth in the treatment room, frowning at the test results on the paper he held. He would have to rethink the entire diagnosis of pemphigus. Could it be lupus? He’d have to test for hemolytic anemia, and then–

Suddenly, his back left hoof stumbled on something and that leg flew out from under him, causing him to lose his balance. He tumbled to the ground. His hoof twisted and excruciating pain filled his being as he cried out.

In a flash, Tabby appeared in the doorway. “Who’s been murdered?” she demanded.

“I tripped on a cat toy,” Thomas said, looking at her accusingly. It was careless to leave such an item in the work area. The offending object had rolled across the room and settled near Tabby. Thomas gingerly touched the hoof where the pain was radiating from.

“Ohhh, that’s not so bad,” his assistant said, relief showing on her face as she picked up the jingly ball and tossed it carelessly onto the countertop. “The way you screamed, I thought for sure someone was dead.” She turned her back on him and hummed to herself as she rummaged through a cabinet.

“Is everyone okay?” Strawberry rushed in. “I heard a scream.”

“He tripped on a cat toy. He’s fine,” said Tabby succinctly.

“Oh–well–if you’re sure–” Strawberry still looked concerned, but the phone was ringing, and she ran off to answer it.

“Tabby, get over here,” Thomas snapped, sitting upright but struggling to put weight on the hoof. “Help me up.” 

“It was just a cat toy,” Tabby said impatiently, turning back to him. “It can’t be that bad.”

“An item doesn’t need to be large to cause injury. You should know that,” Thomas said testily. “I think my hoof is broken.”

Tabby looked at him skeptically, but knelt down next to him and examined the hoof. “I think it’s fine,” she determined after a peremptory look.

“You’re not a doctor,” Thomas said churlishly.

“Well!” Tabby said frigidly, drawing herself up and abruptly dropping the injured hoof onto the floor. Thomas winced. 

“I should go to the ER,” he determined.

“Well, we could call for the ambulance cart,” Tabby said, looking doubtful. “I’m sure everyone will have a good laugh, having to come to the rescue of the veterinarian. Just sayin’.” She shrugged.

“Ugh… well, maybe I’ll just give it a minute,” Thomas said reluctantly, suspecting that her assessment of medical personnel was harsh but probably accurate. “Let’s at least take an x-ray.”

Tabby at least had the decency to assist him to the x-ray machine, and a scan was run, but then it was time to start the day’s appointments, and Thomas didn’t have a chance to study the film before mid-morning. He hobbled his way through the day as best he could.

“Well?” Tabby asked, perched on the edge of his desk.

Thomas frowned at the radiograph. “It’s not obvious, but I’m sure there’s something. I can feel it.”

“Well, if you want a professional opinion,” Tabby said sweetly, “Toby’s going to be picking me up for lunch, so he can take a look at it then.”

Thomas scowled. The prospect of relying on his old school rival for medical aid did not sit well, but it did avoid the gossip that would be generated by going to the hospital. “I suppose,” he sighed.

* * *

“I hear you need a doctor,” Toby said, looking entirely too pleased with himself as he strode into Thomas’ office, trusty medical kit at his side, Tabby behind him. Thomas had his hoof up on an ottoman.

“It’s not obvious on the x-ray,” Thomas quickly spoke-up, “but I felt it break–”

“Hmm,” said Toby noncommittally and maintained a pensive silence as he inspected the injured hoof. “It’s fine,” he finally announced, straightening up.

“Told you,” Tabby said unsympathetically to her boss.

“What? No, something’s definitely broken. I can tell,” Thomas argued. ”Maybe another x-ray from a different angle.”

“No need to waste anyone’s time,” Toby assured him in an aggravating manner. “It’s a sprain, textbook case. Just keep it elevated and on ice, and take three ibuprofen three times daily until the pain subsides.”

“That sounds excessive,” Thomas protested.

“Oh… and you can wear this hoof brace,” Toby said, almost as an afterthought, withdrawing a flimsy sleeve from his bag. After helping put it on, he turned to the pink unicorn. “Tabby, are you ready to go?”

“Yes!” said Tabby with alacrity, taking the proffered hoof.

“You’d better be back by one,” Thomas said shortly.

“I know, I know.” Tabby waved dismissively as she and Toby exited the room.

A few minutes later, the phone rang on the internal line. “Thomas, Dusty Rose is here for lunch,” Strawberry relayed. “What should I tell her?”

“Oh,” Thomas said. Of course it was Wednesday, the day Dusty Rose typically tried to get together for lunch. “Send her to my office; I’ll talk to her,” he instructed. He would not be good company today, but wasn’t sure if Dusty Rose would accept that as an excuse to leave him alone.

“Thomas! Strawberry said there had been an accident. How are you?” Dusty Rose breezed in, clucking her tongue when she saw him with his hoof up.

“I’ve been better,” Thomas said in a pitiable manner. What a relief this attitude was from the unconcern of Tabby! “But I’m afraid I won’t be able to go out for lunch.”

“You poor dear,” Dusty Rose fussed. “What happened?”

“My assistant left some… equipment… out,” Thomas explained, “where I tripped on it.”

“How thoughtless. What a shame. Is it swollen? It looks swollen,” Dusty Rose chattered. “You must see a doctor!”

“I did,” Thomas sighed, “and all he would do was give me this brace.” He gestured at it helplessly.

“Is that all? For shame!” Dusty Rose pursed her lips. “I tell you what, my boss broke his hoof last year and there’s still a crutch floating around at the office,” she relayed. “No one will miss it. Hang on, I’ll be back in a jiffy!” And she scurried off.

Thomas passed the time studying the x-ray, looking for any small detail that might have been missed. But, he begrudgingly acknowledged, the pain medication may have helped, and perhaps he was feeling a tiny bit better…

Dusty Rose returned encumbered with the crutches, along with a paper bag with the logo of a sandwich shop located a few doors down. “We’ll just have lunch here in your office,” she said breezily. “It’ll be cozy.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you,” Thomas said, pleasantly surprised at the solicitude.

“I’m happy to help,” she assured him with a bright smile, pulling up a chair next to him.

Certainly none of this attention from his assistant!

* * *

Meanwhile, Tabby and Toby walked to a cafe that was a common lunch stop for the couple.

Maybe she had been a little hard on Thomas this morning, Tabby considered as she let her mind wander. He had just made such a fuss, she would have thought an entire limb had been torn asunder. And she was relieved it wasn’t anything that serious, which could have been interpreted as unconcern. Perhaps she could have demonstrated more sympathy for his discomfort, even if he was not mortally wounded.

“I hope Thomas isn’t too difficult to work with during his recovery,” Toby remarked, as if sensing her train of thought. “He seemed a bit short-tempered.”

“Aren’t you supposed to exercise some compassion? He’s in a lot of pain,” Tabby said snappily, though her initial opinion had been less than sympathetic herself.

“Of course.” If Toby was surprised by her vehemence, he treated it with equanimity. “I only meant that I wish him a speedy recovery.”

“Oh. Right.” Tabby settled into silence for a moment, but then: “Are you sure there’s not something wrong that you didn’t see?”

“I’m quite sure of my diagnosis,” Toby said with a slight frown.

“You’re not a god; you can make mistakes,” Tabby said, rather sharply.

“He’s welcome to seek a second opinion if he so wishes,” Toby pointed out.

“And I mean, that brace doesn’t really do anything, does it?” Tabby continued on her tirade.

“It’s mainly a placebo,” Toby admitted. “But relax. He’ll be fine.” He reached across the table to press her hoof reassuringly.

“Still, maybe I should head back,” Tabby fretted, uncharacteristically. “Sug was going out for lunch, too, and he’ll be alone. What if he needs something?”

“I’m sure he’ll survive,” said Toby dryly.

“Yeah… yeah, I guess so,” Tabby said, and then lapsed into silence for the rest of the meal despite Toby’s efforts to draw her out.

* * *

“Hey, I’m back,” Tabby announced, flinging open the office door, only belatedly realizing that Thomas was not alone.

“…beautiful scenery down by Silver Lake; my dad used to take us kayaking. I’d love to do that again sometime,” Dusty Rose was hinting broadly as Tabby entered the room. “Oh, hi, Tabby,” she said curtly.

“I didn’t realize you were having company today,” Tabby addressed her boss with a pointed look. She was annoyed at him and Dusty Rose for enjoying a comfortable coze, but the emotion had no logical basis. Why was she letting herself get drawn into these jealous feelings? She wasn’t involved. “It is almost one o’ clock,” she pointed out.

“Oh, is it that late already? I lost track of time,” Dusty Rose said with a sweet smile at Thomas.

“I hope I haven’t made you late,” Thomas said with a concerned look.

“It’s fine,” Dusty Rose assured him. “But I should be going. I’ll call you later.” She gave him a peck on the cheek before brushing past Tabby with a smug smile.

“Bye,” said Tabby, smiling as neutrally as possible. “Where’d the crutch come from?” she inquired as Thomas reached for the instrument.

“Dusty Rose found one at her office,” Thomas explained.

“Well, that was convenient,” Tabby said, narrowing her eyes.

“She is very considerate,” Thomas said with a sidelong look at her as they walked down the hall.

“She’s coddling you,” Tabby protested.

“Is that so bad?” he shot back.

Tabby was silent for a moment. Why couldn’t she stop with the waspish remarks? Was it so hard to just be nice? “How are you feeling?” she asked with as much meekness as she could muster.

“Better. Thanks.” Thomas looked surprised, and she mentally berated herself for being so unfeeling that the simple question was unexpected.

“Maybe you should go to the ER after work, anyway, just to be sure,” Tabby said in a rush.

“I thought you were sure of your diagnosis… and Toby’s,” Thomas pointed out.

“Well, I mean, we’re not perfect, so…” Tabby trailed off.

“I think I’ll wait and see how it feels in the morning,” Thomas said, a little bemused. “Why the change in attitude?”

“It’s not–I just–” she stammered.

“Don’t tell me you have a heart after all,” he said with a grin.

Tabby did have a heart, because she felt it plummet. He thought she was heartless, and why shouldn’t he? Her unconcern and snarky remarks about everything left little room to think anything else. And yet she secretly yearned to capture his attention, the way Dusty Rose did? What an absurd thought!

But not having a heart provided her a shield against being hurt… which would surely follow if she opened herself up.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I don’t,” she scoffed in answer to his question, then quickly ducked into the exam room to dab at the tears that had sprung unbidden to her eyes.