“You’d better show her,” Henry says. “She seems like she needs help.”
Shawna nods, and Shelby follows her to the elevator.
“Do you like working here?” Shelby asks.
“What are you, the CIA?”
Shelby shrugs. “I was just curious.”
“I love it. Not that it’s any of your business. I love books, so what’s not to like?”
“I didn’t know that about you,” Shelby says.
Shawna narrows her eyes. She still looks fierce with her tattoos swirled across her face. “Why would you know that?”
“I wouldn’t,” Shelby says. “I guess I mean from looking at you I wouldn’t have thought you were a reader.”
“Yeah, well, don’t judge a book by its cover,” Shawna says. “I’ve probably read more books than you have. That’s the great thing about working here, you find treasures you never heard of before.”
There’s a rumbling sound and a little yip coming from the tote bag. Shawna peers into the bag. “There’s the barker,” she says.
She clearly doesn’t recognize Blinkie. That’s good. Shelby’s heart is pounding. There’s no way on earth she would ever give Blinkie back.
“I’m too irresponsible to have a dog,” Shawna says. “I’m sticking with books. They never let you down and they don’t judge you.” The elevator door opens and Shawna nods. “Your floor.”
“See you,” Shelby says.
“I doubt it,” Shawna says.
They look at each other. They’re nothing alike.
“Right,” Shelby says.
As long as she’s up here, Shelby takes a look around. She finds Nevermore displayed on a wooden table along with the new releases. Shelby grabs a copy and sits between some stacks of books. Ben Mink used to do this at the Book Revue in Huntington, where he read for hours when he was young and broke. Shelby loves the cover of Nevermore. When she looks at it she imagines she is seeing a part of James’s soul.
There’s a kid reading a graphic novel across from her. He glances over. “That one’s great,” he says, nodding to Nevermore. “You’ve got good taste. You like monsters?”
“Sure,” Shelby says. “It takes one to know one.”
The kid laughs. “That’s why the best heroes used to be villains and vice versa.”
Shelby leaves the comfort of the Strand. She hopes she finds a bookstore that’s half as good in California. On the walk home, Blinkie’s breathing changes. Shelby sits on a bench and peers into the tote bag. Blinkie’s eyes are closed and he’s struggling for air. She says his name but he doesn’t respond. Shelby feels a wave of panic. She hasn’t allowed herself to see how bad off he is. She hails a cab and gets in. “Ninth Avenue and Thirty-Second Street,” she says. “Fast.”
She calls James as they speed uptown and lets him know where she is. She tells him Blinkie will be fine, but she doesn’t believe it. By the time she gets to the veterinary hospital, he’s barely moving. She goes to the desk even though other people are waiting with their pets. “I have to see Harper,” she says. “It’s an emergency.”
“He’s with a patient,” the girl at the desk remarks without looking up. She has long black hair. Maybe she’s the one who was with Harper the morning Shelby found out he was a cheater who cheated. Shelby doesn’t care about that betrayal anymore. She only cares about Blinkie.
“Tell him it’s Shelby,” she insists.
“He has another patient right after this one.”
Shelby turns and pushes through the doors. She races along the corridor leading to the examining rooms.
The girl from the desk chases after her. “You can’t do this!”
Leandro, the janitor, has come out to see what the ruckus is all about. He waves when he sees Shelby. “Are you okay?” he asks. “We never saw you again.”
“My dog is dying,” Shelby tells him.
Leandro nods and brings her into an examining room. “I’ll get the doctor,” he says. “Don’t worry.”
Shelby stands weeping over Blinkie in the tote bag. She doesn’t hear Harper come in until he is beside her. “I heard you were here,” he says. “There’s my man Blinkie.” Harper gently takes the dog out of the tote bag. “When did this start?” he asks.
“I don’t know. This morning I think. He couldn’t walk.”
“Has he been drinking? Peeing?”
Shelby is furious with herself. She, who is about to start veterinary school, has been in denial. She looks at Harper through her tears. “Renal failure,” she says.
Harper places a hand on her shoulder. His touch is familiar and comforting, despite what happened between them. One thing about Harper, he sucked when it came to people, but he loved dogs. That’s why Shelby is here. “He’s old, Shelby. Maybe fourteen. Maybe more. You don’t want him to suffer.”
They both know once this sort of failure begins, there is no cure, only horrible pain if the situation continues.
“I don’t want anyone to suffer.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be in here when I do it,” Harper suggests. “You’re upset.”
Shelby shakes her head. “I’m not leaving him.”
“I didn’t think you would,” Harper says. “You’re loyal.”
Shelby stands beside Harper and the two technicians he calls in—not the girl with the long black hair, fortunately. She pets Blinkie and cries. “Hey, baby,” she says. “You’re my baby.”
Blinkie’s one eye is closed, and he doesn’t move when he’s given a shot of morphine to settle him before the IV is inserted. Harper is calm and he speaks soothingly. “That’s right,” he says to Blinkie. “You’re a good boy.” It takes only a few moments for Blinkie to die. “That’s because he was ready,” Harper says. “He probably lived ten extra years because of you, Shelb.”
Harper hands her a paper towel, and Shelby blows her nose. Blinkie looks so tiny and empty.
“Why did you bring him here?” Harper says. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that you did. I just wouldn’t have expected it.”
“Because you’re good at this,” Shelby says, “and I wanted the best.”