“Can you ignore it while getting out of my way? I have to find a vet.”
I lowered my eyes to the dog. She was staring at Noah, and weakly wagged her tail as he leaned down to pet her.
“For the dog I found.” My heart pounded as my tongue formed my lie.
Noah raised an eyebrow at me, then checked his watch. “It’s your lucky day. I know a vet six minutes from here.”
I hesitated. “Really?” How random.
“Really. Come along. I’ll drive you.”
I debated the situation. The dog needed help, and badly. And she’d get looked at much, much sooner if Noah drove. With my sense of direction, I could end up driving aimlessly around South Miami until four in the morning.
I would go with Noah. “Thanks,” I said and nodded at him. He smiled, and the three of us walked over to his car. A Prius.
He opened the back door, took the leash from my hands and, despite the dog’s patchy coat and the fact that she was infested with fleas, scooped her up and placed her on the upholstery.
If she peed all over his car, I would die. I had to warn him.
“Noah,” I said, “I just found her two minutes ago. She’s … a stray, and I don’t know anything about her or if she’s housebroken or anything and I don’t want her to rui—”
Noah placed his forefinger above my upper lip and his thumb below my bottom lip, and applied the slightest pressure, cutting me off. I felt lightheaded, and my eyelids might have fluttered closed. So embarrassing. I wanted to kill myself a little.
“Shut up,” he said quietly. “It doesn’t matter. Let’s just get her checked out, all right?”
I nodded feebly, my pulse galloping in my veins. Noah walked over to the passenger side and opened the car door for me. I climbed in.
I SETTLED INTO THE SEAT, ACUTELY AWARE OF MY proximity to him. Noah fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, then a lighter. I spoke before I could help myself.
He flashed a small, mischievous smile at me. “Would you like one?” he asked.
Whenever he arched his eyebrows like that, his forehead creased in the most appealing way.
There was something wrong with me, absolutely. I chalked it up to my deteriorating sanity and avoided his eyes.
“No, I would not like one. Cigarettes are disgusting,”
Noah placed the pack back in the top pocket of his shirt. “I don’t have to smoke if it bothers you,” he said, but the way he said it set me on edge.
“It doesn’t bother me,” I said. “If you don’t mind looking forty years old at twenty, smelling like an ashtray, and getting lung cancer, why should I?” The words tumbled out of my mouth. So obnoxious, but I couldn’t help it; Noah brought out the worst in me. Feeling a tad guilty, I snuck a glance at him to see if he was annoyed.
Of course not. He just looked amused.
“I find it hilarious that whenever I light up, Americans look at me like I’m going to urinate on their children. And thanks for your concern, but I’ve never been ill a day in my life.”
“How nice for you.”
“It is nice, yes. Now, do you mind if I drive this starving dog in the back of my car to the veterinarian?”
And the guilt was gone. A rush of heat spread from my cheeks to my collarbone. “I’m sorry, is driving and talking too complicated? No problem, I’ll shut up.”
Noah opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it again and shook his head. He pulled out of the parking lot and we sat in awkward silence for nine minutes, thanks to a train.
When we reached the vet’s office, Noah left the car and started walking to the passenger side. I flung my door open, just in case he had a mind to open it. His coltish gait didn’t change; instead, he opened the back door and reached for the dog. The upholstery was mercifully free of canine bodily fluids as he lifted the dog out. But instead of placing her on the ground, Noah carried her all the way to the door of the building. She nuzzled into his chest. Traitor.
As we neared the door, he asked me what her name was.
I shrugged. “I have no idea. I told you, I found her ten minutes ago.”
“Yes,” Noah said, cocking his head to one side. “You did tell me that. But they’re going to need a name to register her under.”
“Well, pick one, then.” I shifted my weight from foot to foot, growing nervous. I didn’t have a clue how I was going to pay for the vet visit, or what I would say once we went inside.
“Hmm,” Noah murmured. He looked at the dog with a serious expression. “What’s your name?”
I threw my head back in exasperation. I just wanted to get this over with.
Noah ignored me, taking his sweet time. After an eternity, he smiled. “Mabel. Your name is Mabel,” he told the dog.
She didn’t even look up at him; she was still curled up comfortably in his arms.
“Can we go in now?” I asked.
“You’re a piece of work,” he declared. “Now be a gentleman and open the door for me. My hands are full.”
I complied, sulking the whole time.
When we walked in, the receptionist’s eyes widened as she took in the dog’s appearance. She rushed off to get the vet and my mind raced, trying to think of what I could possibly say to finagle treatment for the dog without having to pay for it. A cheerful voice from the other side of the large waiting area startled me from my scheming.
“Noah!” A petite woman emerged from one of the examining rooms. Her face was pleasant, alight with surprise. “What are you doing here?” she asked, beaming at him as he bent over and kissed both her cheeks. Curious.
“Hello, Mum,” Noah said. “This is Mabel.” He nodded down at the dog tucked into his arms. “My schoolmate Mara found her near campus.”
It took a conscious exertion of will to nod my head. Noah’s smile suggested that he noticed my bewilderment, and enjoyed it.
“I’m going to take her in the back to weigh her.”
She motioned to the veterinary assistant, who gently extracted the dog from Noah’s arms. Then it was just me and Noah in the waiting area. Alone.
“So,” I started. “You didn’t think to mention that your mother was the vet?”
“You never asked,” he said. He was right, of course. But still.
When his mother came back into the room, she outlined the various treatments she was going to administer, which included keeping the dog over the weekend for observation. I silently thanked the heavens. That would buy me some time to figure out what I was going to do with her.