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.
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