Category Archives: Flash Fiction Friday

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A Girl and Her Cat Chapter 10

Chapter 10

My phone dinged, interrupting the moment between Wyatt and I. I reluctantly withdrew my gaze and opened Facebook. Several comments had come up on my post to the corn allergy support group.

I haven’t had any problems with my service animal.

I hadn’t expected everyone to be having problems.

Sometimes the animals go through stages where there sense of smell becomes heightened. This could be one of those instances. I wouldn’t stress out about it.

That afforded me a little comfort. The last one made me scowl.

Aren’t you the girl with the service cat? Cats were never meant to be service animals. They don’t bond enough with humans. And they often go against their masters. You should get rid of it immediately.

“What is it?” Wyatt asked.

I turned off my phone and shook my head. “Nothing. Just some comments in a group I’m in.”

“From Bryan?” Wyatt asked.

“No.”

I didn’t want to have to think about what would happen if Echo left. I’d tried out three service animals before him, and was dangerously allergic to all of them. One of the more insensitive women from the agency who had been trying to match me to a service animal had said that I would likely have to trade the discomfort of a dander allergy for safety from my corn issues. I’d never believed that. I knew Echo was an experiment but in my heart I’d always known he was the right service animal for me.

My gaze was drawn to him, and he looked up at me with his beautiful golden eyes. Not for the first time I wondered what he was thinking. Why was he reacting to people so strongly? What had provoked him to attack that man? Had it simply been to protect me? Or was it something more?

I had too many questions and not enough answers.

As if fate had been waiting for this moment, a reminder popped up.

Animal control people.

My breath caught in my throat and I almost dropped my phone. They had an appointment this afternoon.

I had the proof I needed to show them that Echo wasn’t the problem. I could show them that he was reacting to something he smelled from the soda pop. How could they refute that? Would they really take him away from me?

I jumped when Wyatt put a hand on my back. He rarely touched me, and the gesture seemed oddly tender.

“Hey, it’s going to be okay.”

I blinked and tear rolled down my face. When had I started crying? I quickly wiped my cheek and gave him a smile. “I know.”

I don’t really remember eating my cheeseburger or going back to the van. Whitney sat with me in the rear seat all the way to my house. She gave me a hug as I exited and promised she would call thirty minutes after they arrived to see what had happened. I nodded, said something, and got out of the van.

Being numb gave me a new perspective on my home. I’d walk into it thousands of times but had never noticed how nice the trim around the door looked and how the edges of the bottom two stairs were starting to crumble. Echo pulled at the leash knowing he was almost off-duty. Just as I opened the front door a car pulled up to the curb behind me. I bolted inside and shut the door behind me. My legs refused to take me any farther, so I leaned against the door breathing hard.

“Everly?” my mother asked.

“It’s me.” The next words stuck in my throat. “They’re here.”

My mother must have noticed the tremor in my voice because she came out of the kitchen, took one look at me, and engulfed me a hug.

Our family wasn’t very touchy. Not like the Larsen’s. However, my mom’s arms provided me a solace I’d been missing. My mom always knew when I needed her the most. She squeezed me hard. “Your dad worked from home today. He can come out for the meeting.”

I pressed my head into her shoulder and whispered, “Thank you.”

She ushered me into the kitchen, where she already had a tray of lemonade ready,  and sat me down on a chair.

A moment later the doorbell rang.

I hadn’t even had time to tell her about what we’d discovered. Echo let out a little meow of protest because I hadn’t taken his leash off. “Sorry buddy, you have to wear it a little bit longer.”

The front door opened with a click and my mother greeted the people who could take away my life.

“Come on in. Everly and Echo are in the dining room.” I could hear the forced cheer in the words. At least I wasn’t alone in my anger.

I straightened in my chair. Maybe if I looked responsible and smart they would be more prone to listen to me.

A tall, rail thin woman with brown hair preceded an even taller man into the dining room. They both looked at me, looked Echo, and then looked back to me. The woman smiled and held out her hand. “Hi Everly my name is Jackie. And this is Harold.”

I hated the way my hand trembled as I stood.

My mother gestured. “Please, have a seat.”

They sat. My father joined us. His eyes flicked to Echo then back to the two intruders.

Jackie folded her hands together on the table and pursed her lips. “Everly, we’re here today to talk to you about Echo.” She shifted in her chair. “We’ve reviewed the facts of your case I’m sorry to say but —”

“I have new information.” The words burst from my lips like a whip stopping her before she could finish her dreadful sentence.

The man, Harold, gave me a pitiable expression. “I’m sorry Everly, but the decision has been made.”

I had dropped my bag in the hall when my mother had hugged me, now I shot to my feet to retrieve it. “Hold on.” I hefted the bag and spoke as I ran back.  “You have to understand there are extenuating circumstances. Echo has never hurt anyone before, and I don’t think he will again.” The dining room table shuddered under the impact as I poured all five soda bottles onto it. The adults scrambled to keep them from rolling off the table, and my father raised his eyebrows.

I pressed my hands flat on the wood surface so I wouldn’t talk with them. “You’ve heard about the soda pop recall?”

Jackie nodded. “Just the basic information.”

I gestured at the bottles. “All of these are from the recall batches. I got them from kids at school.”

My mother put her hand on my arm. “Everly, I don’t think they’re here to talk about that.”

I jerked away from her. “They’re here to take my cat away from me. You know the one who saves my life when he detects corn in food.”

My father reached out and tugged her back. “Listen to what she’s got to say.”

I  cleared my throat and spoke. “Ever since Echo attacked that man I’ve been trying to figure out why.”

Harold opened his mouth to speak, but I held up a finger. He stopped.

“My friends and I have tested Echo on a bunch of different types of corn and food and he’s passed every test with flying colors. We even had people eat candy bars fifteen minutes before he saw them and he still knew which ones had corn and which ones didn’t. Just by their breath.”

Jackie raised an eyebrow at me. At least I knew I had her attention.

“He hasn’t attacked anyone else but he has growled at a few people.” The moment that came out of my mouth I knew it had been the wrong thing to say. Harold and Jackie looked at one another and shared a small nod.

I went on before they could stop me. “I thought it was random. Sometimes the people were touching me sometimes they weren’t sometimes they barely looked at me. But something happened today that solidified what’s been happening.”

Everyone at the table stared at me. Echo, who sat on the floor, was looking up at me with interest.

I reached for soda bottle and wrapped my fingers around it as if it would keep me from falling. “Right after they announced the soda recall at school a kid in my class opened this bottle. Echo growled at him. A moment after he growled I smelled the cherry flavor.” I patted the bottle.

“That’s hardly proof that he isn’t aggressive,” Harold said.

“I know. That’s why I got these other bottles too. They’re all from the recall batches and if my theory is right Echo will growl at all of them.”

Jackie sat back and let out a little huff. Harold wait for me to continue.

The bottle was harder to open than it should’ve been. The whole thing shook as I took the cap off and set it down on the ground next Echo.

I’d been expecting Echo to hiss or growl, or at least flatten his ears. Instead he looked at me, looked at the soda bottle, and gagged.

“Honey, he always does that when he smells corn.” My mother put her arm around me.

I shook it off and grabbed another bottle. I waited until I sat it down next Echo before I opened this one. He gave me a look that seemed to say are you serious about this? Then he proceeded to gag.

No, no, no. This could not be happening. He had reacted to the soda, not Cedric. I grabbed another bottle and tried one last time. Echo did nothing but give me a tail thump.

My dad gently took the bottle out of my hand. “That one’s diet honey.”

I sat back. All the energy drained from my body and I deflated like a pool toy. Why hadn’t it worked? I looked at Echo and begged him to tell me what the difference was. He simply gazed back at me and licked his lips.

The adults were talking but I couldn’t understand the words. The intruders stood, shook hands with my parents, and left. I found myself petting Echo and he was letting me. My mother knelt down next to us and scratched Echo under the chin just like Wyatt always did.

” Everly, they don’t want to take Echo just yet, but you need to keep him on a tight leash. If anything happens we are going to be held responsible.”

“They’re taking him away from me.” I sniffed. Crying again. “They’re going to kill him.”

My mother patted me on the knee.” “I’m so sorry Everly.”

***

If you missed the beginning of the story, click HERE to go to Chapter 1


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A Girl and Her Cat Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Whitney and I gathered five other bottles on our way out to the minivan. It hadn’t been hard to convince people to give up the soda under the guise that we said we would throw them away. I felt kind of bad for lying, but in the end we would throw them away. No one was going to drink them.

Neither of us were surprised to see Wyatt waiting for us. His homeroom was right next to the locker rooms and the exit. He glanced up and gave us a wave as we approached.

“He’s been awfully nice to us lately,” Whitney said.

I pointed at Echo. “He loves my cat.” Of course I wished it were for a different reason but for now Wyatt having a bromance with my cat would have to do. I thought struck me. “Where’s Anne?”

“Hopefully nowhere near us.” Whitney made a show of wiping her brow in relief.

Wyatt had caught Whitney’s dramatic display and said, “What was that for?” Then his eyes traveled to our hands. “What are those for?”

I quickly explained what had happened with Cedrik. Wyatt’s expression grew excited as he made the connection as well. “So if this is the cause, then Echo gets off?”

“That’s what I’m hoping.”

Wyatt squatted down and scratched Echo’s chin. Echo closed his eyes and approval.

“We’re not in the van yet Echo,” I reminded the cat.

That got me a tail swish.

Wyatt opened the doors with the remote. “Come on, I didn’t get lunch. I’m starving.”

Whitney snorted. “You haven’t been drinking any soda have you?”

Wyatt laughed. “Did you just make a decent joke?”

“Did you just reveal that you had an actual sense of humor?”

Echo and I settled on the back seat of the van. I smiled at the familiar banter and for the first time in a few days the weight on my shoulders got lighter. Echo butted his head against my thigh indicating he wanted to be pet.

I absently stroked his head a few times and then his back. I stopped before he got annoyed. I figured I’d have plenty of time to harass him later.

Wyatt drove us in to a nearby McDonald’s. He insisted on going inside so we could use their free Wi-Fi, because he got a notification on his phone that about the batches of bad soda pop. I took pictures of all the labels of the ones we’d collected before we went inside.

“Do you girls want anything?” Wyatt asked.

Whitney made a face of disgust. “No way.”

Wyatt looked at me. He wanted to know if I wanted something? Whitney was right he was being too nice. However, he continued to stare at me so I blurted out the first thing I thought of. “Cheeseburger?”

“You got it.”

Whitney grabbed me by the elbow and dragged me to a nearby table. We sat and she said glared at me. “Seriously he’s freaking me out.”

“I told you it’s Echo.”

“Echo’s going to be fine now, and he’s still acting weird.”

My eyes flicked to where Wyatt was waiting for his orders then back to Whitney. “Maybe he broke up with Anne.”

Whitney sat up straighter. “That would be awesome.”

I agreed.

I had to fend off a couple of kids who wanted to pet Echo and explain to them that he was my helper. By the time that was finished Wyatt arrived and slapped a full tray of food down on the table.

“How much do you need to eat?” Whitney asked.

“Coach says I need energy.” He shoved a single cheeseburger at me then unwrapped a double and took a big bite. As he did he started scrolling through his phone.

Whitney was also on her phone, so I took a moment to pull up the Facebook group my mom had put me in. It had been a while since I posted, but I saw that there had been some activity. I briefly explained that Echo was having a strange reaction to the soda that was in the recalls and asked if anyone else was having problems with their service animals.

Whitney leaned over to look at my phone. “Talking to Bryan?”

“Nope.” I put down my phone and picked up my cheeseburger.

“Who’s Bryan?” Wyatt asked around another huge bite.

“Just a guy I know.”

Wyatt raised his eyebrows. “Do I need to vent this guy?”

Whitney slapped him on the shoulder. “You leave her alone.”

“You leave her alone.” Wyatt spoken almost the exact same tone as Whitney had. Which almost made me snort cheeseburger out my nose. Wyatt opened his mouth to say something else, but he got drawn back to his phone. His expression of glee faded into a frown.

“What is it?” I asked.

“The story about the soda is number one on everything.”

“What’s so weird about that?” Whitney asked.

“I didn’t expect it to make national and international news so quickly.” Wyatt turned his phone around so we could see the list of reports. “It’s the top new story in almost all of the European nations.”

I flicked my own phone to life and saw that he was right. Even Facebook had a warning as the app opened. An interesting story caught my attention. “Hey, apparently there are some cannibals in South America.”

“Gross,” Whitney said.

Wyatt’s attention immediately turned to me. He leaned so he could see the screen. “Click on it.”

I did, and found a short article outlining a small town that had been isolated due to a mudslide a few weeks before. Rescue efforts had proved futile, but relief supplies had been dropped a couple of times. A medical team had finally reached the village the day before, and despite the fact that there was plenty of food left from the drops the people had apparently eaten two of their own.

I made a face that had to look similar to the one Whitney had made when Wyatt had suggested she get something to eat from McDonald’s. “That’s disgusting,” I said.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t have food left from the drops.” Wyatt said. “See if there’s any more on it.”

I scroll down but the article was only a few paragraphs long.

Wyatt pointed at my screen. His arm brushed my shoulder, sending a little zing over my skin. “What about that story?”

The title read “Two friends making video attack third.” I looked at Wyatt. “You want me to click on that?”

Wyatt touched the screen himself. The typical news site came up with the video available after an ad and the test of the story underneath. I scrolled down and caught the gist in just a few lines.

Curiosity finally got the better of Whitney, and she scooted next to me. “What is it?”

“Apparently these two guys were making a dance video and suddenly decided they were really hungry. They were out in the middle of nowhere and attacked their friend.”

“That cannot be real,” Whitney said.

I scrolled back up and waited for the ad to end the. We all leaned in as the video started.

The garbled sound of one phone picking up music from another phone came from my speakers. Two Asian teenagers appeared and started to dance.

“I’ve seen hundreds of these,” Whitney said.

We watched the two guys practice the same part of the dance a couple of times and was painfully reminded of going over the same song for the musical again and again. I suddenly wondered if the school would cancel it. As my mind wandered the two guys in the video stopped. They said something I didn’t understand, pointed at the camera, and then ran toward it.

The screen showed the sky and then must’ve landed on an angle where it could still film the two guys and their victim. Screams filled the air in as the two men grabbed this person’s leg and took a bite out of him.

Whitney recoiled. “That’s disgusting.”

Wyatt nodded. “Stop it and started again from the beginning.”

I didn’t really want to watch it again, so I handed him my phone.

“What did you do?” Wyatt asked after he took it.

“I didn’t do anything.”

Wyatt showed me my phone. The viewer had gone gray and now had opaque words written on it stating the video had been removed.

Wyatt glanced at it again. “That was fast, it’s only been up for twenty minutes.”

Whitney shrugged. “It was probably fake.”

Wyatt’s frown deepened as he scrolled down the screen. “There are a lot of comments on this.”

“Of course there are,” Whitney said. “Who isn’t going to comment on something like that?”

“No, other people have seen the same thing happen. Comments are from all over the world.”

Whitney rolled her eyes. “Is this more of your apocalypse theory?” She shot a look at me. “Did you guys find these beforehand you could scare me?”

I met Wyatt’s gaze. His usual confidence was there, but underneath there was something I rarely saw from him. Fear. A shiver ran through my body. Echo flicked his ear at me. I thought about the soda bottles in the car and wondered if this was a simple recall or something more.

***

Check out Chapter 10 HERE!

If you missed the beginning of the story, click HERE to go to Chapter 1


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A Girl and Her Cat Chapter 8

Chapter 8

The halls were a cacophony of pandemonium as students walked in packs from one end of the school to the other. Whitney and I did our best to stay out of the way of the seniors as we made our way to the English hall.

We’d been thrilled to find out we were in the same homeroom on the first day of school. It was nice to have a friendly face.

Rumors floated around us.

“I heard there was a big fight behind the school.”

“No way, I was just back there and there was nothing going on.”

“I saw the police outside earlier.”

“You’re making that up.”

I made sure Echo was between myself and the wall as we walked. He’d been stepped on a few times, and he didn’t like it very much. So far, no growling.

“Did that guy just say they found a body in the locker room?” Whitney asked.

I shook my head. I had totally missed that conversation. Whatever had happened it had to be serious, because during our orientation the principal had told us there would only ever be an emergency call to the homeroom if there was a serious emergency at the school. Or in the world outside.

The conversation Wyatt and I had had in the diner on Saturday came back to me. I felt like it had happened weeks before. Since I’d been so worried about losing Echo I hadn’t thought much about the apocalypse.

What if something had happened in the outside world? What if right now there was a plague? What if all the kids who had the stomach flu were getting sick because there was a super virus?

By the time Whitney and I got to our homeroom Mr. Smith was sitting behind his desk reading his computer screen and frowning. The feeling of excitement coupled with an undertone of fear permeated the space. Whitney and I slipped into our desks and I glanced around. Half of the students had just come from lunch and were still eating. Echo paid them no mind has a curled up on the floor at my feet.

Whitney, who sat behind me, leaned forward and whispered in my ear. “What if they really did find a dead body?”

“Don’t worry,” I hissed, “you won’t have to look at it. There’s no way they would let us see it if that was the case.”

A few moments later Mr. Smith clicked his tongue a few times and stood. The serious look on his face made me uneasy.

He walked to the front of the room and stood with his feet apart as if braced for impact.

“Students we have an announcement to make.” He drew his phone from his pocket and swiped it to life. “The health department has issued a recall on a large batch of soda pop. “ Mr. Smith looked up at us. “The batch numbers will be available to you and your parents via the local news later this afternoon.” He returned his attention to his phone.

“The contaminant in these batches of soda pop has been causing digestion issues that for most people resemble extreme hunger. Others may experience nausea.”

I heard Whitney shift behind me. I looked down at Echo who had raised his head. Contaminated soda pop? Could that be what was causing the problem? We only had diet in our house for my mom.

Mr. Smith continued. “If anyone is experiencing these systems we ask that you stay at home until they pass. The problems aren’t contagious, but if it does cause extreme agitation and discomfort.” Mr. Smith looked up at us again. “There’s a number to call for anyone who’s been experiencing these problems.”

He put his phone away. It wasn’t often that an entire room of high school students kept their attention riveted on the teacher. At least not unless it was science class and something was on fire. At this point I could’ve heard the fabled pin drop. A desk squeaked behind me. Mr. Smith cleared his throat.

“I’m sure you have a lot of questions, but that’s all I know right now. In ten minutes, after an announcement from the office, you will be dismissed for the day. Anyone who cannot go home will report to the gym. The rest of you please leave campus as soon as possible.”

Right then the most ironic thing that could’ve happened happened. A snap and to hiss sounded as someone opened a soda bottle.

Echo got to his feet and stared hard in the direction of the sound. It must’ve been the guy next to Whitney, because I smelled the sweet syrup and cherry flavoring a moment later.

Echoes fur proofed up and let out a silent hiss. He’d hissed at the homeless man.

Had I been right? Did all this come from some new or stray ingredient that had accidentally gotten into the soda? Did homeless people even drink soda pop?

I tugged Echo’s leash gently telling him to calm down. He sat but didn’t take his eyes off of the boy.

Up at the front of the room Mr. Smith sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Did you not just hear what I said?”

At the same moment Whitney shrieked, “What are you doing?” Her piercing cry even made Echo shrink back.

I turned around and saw Cedrik with the bottle of cherry soda pressed to his lips. Everyone in class was looking at him. His eyes went wide and he slowly lowered the bottle.

That same eerie silence hung in the air as he screwed the cap back on. He looked at Mr. Smith and said, “Where do I get that list of bad batches again?”

Everyone laughed. His words broke the tension, and even Mr. Smith chuckled.

“The batch numbers will be available on the web within the hour.” He looked around the room “I suggest you refrain from drinking any soda pop between now and then. I certainly hope you all have that much self-control.”

That got another laugh.

Echo continued to look at Cedrik, but he didn’t growl or hiss again. I turned until my back was to Cedrik and waved Whitney closer.

“What is it?” she asked.

“When Cedrik opened his soda Echo kind of freaked out.”

Whitney’s eyes got wide. “Do you think that’s what’s been bothering him?”

“I hope so. If I can prove it to the guys coming to my house tomorrow they couldn’t take him from me.”

Whitney nodded enthusiastically.

My eyes shifted to Cedrick and then to the bottle of soda on his desk. The one that could hold Echo’s fate inside. I leaned closer to Whitney.” We’re going to dig that soda bottle out of the garbage after he throws it away.”

“You’re serious.” Whitney knew better than to make that a question.

I nodded.

The ten minute wait felt like forever. Mr. Smith answered a few questions, but it seemed he really didn’t know any more than he had told us. A few people got onto their phones and started looking up information. Before long the room was abuzz with fantastical stories about what had happened at the soda plant.

One website speculated that a rat had fallen into a vat. Another claimed poison was involved. Yet another cried government conspiracy. Mr. Smith rolled his eyes at that one. The principal finally announced that the busses would be at the school in twenty minutes. Everyone else who could needed to leave as soon as possible. When the bell rang everyone jumped up and started for the door.

I followed Whitney who stayed on Cedrik’s heels. I expected him to throw the soda in the garbage can at the back of the room, but he didn’t.

My fingers curled into fists and I whispered to Whitney. “We need to get that bottle.”

Whitney looked over her shoulder and gave me a wink. “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.”

Echo and I hugged the wall while Whitney took off after Cedrik. I couldn’t hear their conversation. But from what I could see Whitney used her smile, she batted her eyelashes, she leaned in toward the guy, and after a few seconds of confused expressions on his part he shrugged and handed her the soda.

When she turned back to me she held it up in triumph. She fought against the tide of bodies and got back to me. “I told him we’d throw it away for him.”

“How nice if us,” I said.

“Right?” She handed me the bottle. “I say we grab a few more on our way out.”

I grinned. “Good idea.”

I glanced down at Echo and found him looking up at me with a question in his eyes. I gave him a smile. “Don’t worry buddy we’ll clear your name.”

***

Check out Chapter 9 HERE!

If you missed the beginning of the story, click HERE to go to Chapter 1


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A Girl and Her Cat Chapter 7

Chapter 7

After our adventure at the gym I thought long and hard about what to do next. I lay on my bed for hours that night going through scenarios in my head and texting them to Whitney. Meanwhile Echo sat next to me snoozing like nothing had happened.

By the time we came up with a plan, and had enlisted Wyatt’s help, it was almost midnight.

Dress rehearsal for the play the next day might be the worst four hours of my life. Or I could just fall asleep and not play my part. I’m sure Mr. Stark would be thrilled about that.

The next day at school I bought ten candy bars and gave them to Wyatt. He’d volunteered to passed them out to ten different people and asked them to join us in the one of the practice rooms during lunch. Mr. Stark thought Whitney and I were practicing for the musical.

I kept a close eye on Echo all morning. Most of the time he was normal—walking next to me and looking down on humanity from a foot above the ground. However, twice he flattened his ears against his head, and not only did he growl at Jason but he added three others to the list.

The only offense these people had committed was walking closer to me than the rest of high school humanity. None of them reached out to touch me, and none of them acted at all aggressive.

By the time lunch rolled around, I was a nervous wreck. Echo and I got to the practice room early which gave us time to wait. Echo found a comfy spot on the floor, which to me looked like every other spot on the floor, and curled up so tight the tip of his tail covered his nose.

On the other hand, I walked the eight paces from one corner the practice room to the other, turned around, and walked back. I’d been at this for a while when Echo opened one eye and followed me with his gaze.

He clearly thought I was being ridiculous.

“This is your fault,” I told him. “If you would behave this wouldn’t be happening.”

Echo opened both eyes, raised his head, and stared at me. This expression reminded me that he’d save me from the man trying to bite me. Or at least that’s what he thought. And who could change the mind of the cat?

I swear I didn’t usually cave to Echo’s unprompted commands, but the reminder that he had indeed come to my rescue made my knees go the week and I sat on a chair. I only hoped that we could figure out what was bothering him so I could return the favor. If it wasn’t corn, what could be?

A knock sounded at the door and I jumped. I’d been so lost in my thoughts I had noticed Wyatt, Whitney, and a small group of others outside. Wyatt pressed his nose to the glass of the window between the room and the hall until it was almost flat. His eyes darted back and forth as if expecting some sort of attack.

The traitor that he was, Echo perked up, looked at Wyatt, and gave him a little meow of greeting. This brought a huge smile to Wyatt’s face, and he pointed at the cat.

I rolled my eyes. Guys were weird. I mean I always known human guys were weird, even though I didn’t have brothers. However, until I got Echo I had no idea that the gender lines could cross species. Echo really was like Wyatt’s little brother. I could totally see the two of them out causing mischief and mayhem.

Whitney elbowed her way to the front of the pack and open the door. She led the rest of them in, and suddenly my quiet place was full of laughing and talking.

We asked Wyatt to get us a good cross-section of people from the school. At least one person from each grade, half boys half girls, and different body types. This experiment was all about whether Echo was reacting to something these people have eaten recently. There was no way to tell what the homeless man had consumed. Whitney was in charge of asking Jason what he may have eaten, although considering every time I saw him he was chewing on something new that might be a big ask.

In order to try to figure out what might be wrong with Echo we decided to have these  students eat each eat a different candy bar before they came into the room. Most candy bars had corn syrup in them if not high fructose corn syrup. There were a few that still used plain sugar. The difference between those was subtle, but Echo could easily sniff it out.

Now we were going to see if his senses had suddenly become more astute. I’d never heard of it happening, but Echo was the first cat service animal with his training. So technically anything was possible.

Wyatt shut the door behind him as he slipped in at the back of the group. He gave me a grin before walking over to Echo and tapping him once in the top of the head. I swear I’d asked him a hundred times not to bother my cat when he was on duty, but Wyatt never listened.

To his credit, Echo never responded. I’m pretty sure Wyatt took that as a challenge, and it was now a game for the two of them.

“Everybody line up.” Wyatt pointed down the long side of the room.

“Did everyone eat their candy bars in the last fifteen minutes?” I asked.

All of our pseudo-volunteers nodded. My stomach clenched as I thought about what it would mean if this did or didn’t work. Just as I opened my mouth to continue, another knock came at the door.

Whitney let out a groan.

She took the words right out of my mouth.

Anne stood on the other side of the glass munching on a celery stick. She waved at Wyatt and pointed at the knob.

I could’ve sworn I saw Wyatt roll his eyes. Or maybe it was a trick of the light, because he walked over and let her in.

Whitney sidled up next to me and let out a grunt. “This girl is beginning to drive me crazy. She’s been following Wyatt around all day. He even went into the boys bathroom between classes to try to ditch her, but she waited for him.”

“Creepy,” I said.

One of our volunteers laughed at Anne. “Is that your lunch?”

Anne took a giant bite of said celery and began to chew. The crunching practically echoed in the small room. It took a great deal of self control not to watch as her teeth chomped.

“No,” Anne said. “I already ate my lunch. I was really hungry yesterday, so I brought some extra snacks for today.”

Wyatt pointed at the celery. “That is not a snack, that’s torture.”

Anne took another bite. Somehow the volume of her chewing increased. I glanced at my phone and saw that we didn’t have much time. I cleared my throat and stepped to the middle of the small space.

“Hi everyone. Thank you for coming. I need to test my cat.”

Everyone stared at me like I’d grown horns.

Wyatt put his hand on his face.

So I was nervous. This time I took a breath before I started. “Sorry. I’m allergic to corn, and my cat, Echo, can smell corn in food. We’re wondering if he can tell when someone has eaten corn recently.”

“Why?” a tall, husky girl asked.

Good thing I’d thought about this. “Because he’s the first cat that’s had this training and we’re trying to see how far it goes. Some people who are allergic to nuts can actually get sick just from the remnants being on someone’s breath. If a cat can sense that, in this case with corn, it would be a big breakthrough.”

The girl shrugged.

“Cool,” someone else said.

Wyatt rubbed his hands together. “Let’s get this party started.”

I nudged Echo awake. In what amounted to slow motion, he stood and stretched.

“Come on.” I held out my hands.

Echo gave me a cat-glare. He hated being held, but knew he couldn’t fight it if he was on-duty. I picked him up and he settled into my arms. We walked to the end of the line and I said. “What’s your first and last name and what candy bar did you eat?”

“My name is Spring Rain Bowler and I had a Snicker’s bar.”

I held Echo in the path of her breath. One ear flicked, and he convulsed as if he might do his gagging thing, but then went still. Some reaction, but not enough. I moved to the next person. “Same thing.”

“My names is Drake Snyder and I had a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup.”

This one didn’t have corn in it. Echo flicked his tail. That was it.

We went down the row. Echo gave a small reaction to anyone who had eaten a candy bar with corn syrup in it, and nothing to those who hadn’t. I put him down and let him sniff everyone again. After that, he sat next to me.

“Did it work?” Spring asked.

“Sort of,” I said. I really didn’t know what to do with the information. Echo was detecting corn, like he was supposed to, but nothing else had happened.

Maybe it wasn’t the new additives in the corn after all.

“I hope this helped,” one girl said.

I gave her a smile.

“Thanks everyone,” Wyatt said.

“That was a waste of a lunch hour,” Anne said.

I’d almost forgotten she was lurking behind the line of people. When they’d all cleared out she moved to Wyatt’s side. “Let’s go.” She put her arm through the crook of Wyatt’s elbow and dragged him past me toward the door.

Echo stood as they went by. The hair on his neck rose and his tail fluffed out. A low growl rumbled from his throat. My heartbeat sped up. Why Anne? Yesterday she’d gotten the flat ears. Maybe he could sense I didn’t like her.

“Your cat is so weird,” Anne said as she pulled Wyatt through the door.

Whitney shook her head. “I can’t blame Echo for not liking her.”

“Me either.”

“This didn’t really help, did it?” Whitney asked.

“No.” I leaned against the wall. “I mean he could kind of smell the corn syrup, but he didn’t growl at any of them.”

“Until Anne.”

“Until Anne.”

Before I had a chance to digest that, a ding sounded, and the speaker in the ceiling crackled to life.

“Attention students. Please go to your assigned homeroom immediately. Do not go to your first class after lunch. Go to your assigned homeroom now.”

We’d been told that this would only happen in case of a school-wide emergency. Or something outside of the school.

“What could it be?” Whitney asked.

“I guess we should go find out.” The words came easily, but a cold ball settled in my stomach. What was this about? It couldn’t have anything to do with Echo, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of him as we walked out into the hallway.

***

Check out Chapter 8 HERE!

If you missed the beginning of the story, click HERE to go to Chapter 1


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