The next morning I jogged up the stairs to Whitney’s house and knocked on the front door. Echo kept pace. Wind rustled the dry leaves still clinging to the trees. My mom watched from the car until they door opened.
Whitney leaned around me to glance at my car. “Is your mom still freaking out?”
I shrugged. “She only cried once this morning.” Not that Whitney was one to talk. She’d burst into tears twice more outside the diner the day before.
After she waved to my mom and closed the door she folded her arms across her stomach and stared at me. “So what’s this about? I know you like breakfast and all, but you don’t usually come over on Sundays.”
I glanced down at my cat before I spoke. “Because Echo attacked that man they’re threatening to take him away from me.” Saying the words aloud made a cold ball form to my stomach and I clenched my hands into fists.
“Can they do that?” Whitney said.
“They can.” I hated saying the words aloud. It made it too real.
“Well come on let’s grab some food and go to my room.” Whitney waved me forward. Only then did I notice the smell of frying bacon, fluffy pancakes, and some form of eggs. Of course it would be turkey bacon, egg whites, and possibly flourless pancakes. Anything that tasted good wasn’t good for you according to Whitney’s parents. I was glad my dad had kyboshed the health freak phase the Larsen’s were going through. Although they usually kept their house corn-free, which was nice of them.
We had to go through the living room where Wyatt lounged on the couch tapping on his phone. I forced myself not to stare. I wished he’d stop wearing tank tops. He glanced over his phone, gave me a lazy wave, held out his hand so Echo could slink under it, and went back to it. Whitney completely ignored him.
Unlike my house which was all thick lines and sharp angles, Whitney’s house was sleek and contemporary. Everything about it screamed modern, which meant every piece of furniture looked slightly uncomfortable.
It always seemed odd to me that Whitney’s parents worked together in the kitchen. In my house my mom ruled the kitchen with an iron fist, and my dad knew better than to get in her way. Unlike my family Whitney’s mom made pancakes while her dad worked on the eggs. They both took turns flipping the bacon. It was fun to watch.
Whitney and I walked up to the long bar, swung the stools out from underneath, and sat. Her dad, who wore a bright blue apron that said “World’s Greatest Dad,” turned around and gave me a grin. “What can I get you, Everly?”
I made a show of sitting up as tall as I could to consider my options. “How about a couple slices of bacon, a stack of pancakes with the good syrup, and half an omelet—no peppers. Please.”
Whitney’s dad raised an eyebrow. “Picky customer. What about the cat?”
“Nothing for him. He’s on a strict diet.”
Echo, who sat at my feet sniffing the air, flicked an ear at me.
“I’ll sneak you something,” Wyatt said from the other room.
“Don’t you dare,” I said, knowing full well that Wyatt would do whatever he wanted.
A moment later Whitney’s mom pulled a couple of pancakes off the griddle, put them on a plate with some bacon, and set it in front of Whitney. “Order up.”
Whitney grinned. “I ordered before you came.”
“Smart,” I said.
“Everly dear, how are you feeling?”
I was surprised it had taken Whitney’s mom this long to ask me about the day before. I held up my bandaged forearm. “Besides this I’m fine.”
“Did the police say anything about the man who attacked you?”
I nodded. “Officer Dalton called last night to tell my parents that the man who attacked me had been on drugs.”
Whitney’s mom shook her head. “What a shocker.”
Whitney’s dad glanced over his shoulder at me. “Looks like it’s not the apocalypse.”
Wyatt’s voice came from the other room. “I kind of wanted it to be the apocalypse.”
My lips pressed together, and I willed them not to let anything stupid slip out. Stupid like the “My hero” from yesterday.
“You’re way too attached to that phone for an apocalypse. I mean, you’d be Tweeting pictures as it happened and probably get killed by a mob of hungry people,” Whitney’s dad said.
“You mean Instagram. Twitter is for old people. Besides, I’d be posting videos.”
Both parents looked at one another and rolled their eyes. It was terrifying how much they reminded me of their children when they did that.
“Order up.” A plate loaded with food appeared in front of me.
“Hey,” Wyatt said from the other room, “I ordered before her.”
“I didn’t think you’d notice,” his dad said.
“You’re dead to me, old man.”
I grabbed the plate, forcing myself to ignore Wyatt. “Thanks Mr. Larsen.”
“Anytime. Give me a five-star review on Google.”
“You got it.”
Whitney stood and started for her room. “They are so weird.”
“All parents are weird. At least yours are funny.”
“That’s up for debate.”
I followed her up the stairs into her room which, besides a pile of folded laundry in a basket ready to be put away, looked immaculate. As usual. We settled on the floor. Echo jumped onto her bed and curled up on her pillow.
“So,” Whitney said after a few bites. “What’s your plan?”
“Plan?” I dabbed my pancakes into the syrup and ate them. For sure gluten free, but not bad.
In truth I only had the bare outline of a plan. I’d spent the rest of yesterday in a haze and hadn’t been able to think clearly until this morning. “You’re the smart one. What should my plan be? How do I save my cat?”
A little flattery went a long way with Whitney. “Good question.” Whitney tapped her lip with her fork as she thought. “He’s a service animal. His service to you is detecting corn in food, correct?”
“I suggest we start with the baseline. We need to know he can still do his job.”
This is the same thing I’d come up with. “He was fine in the van when Wyatt picked us up from play practice,” I said.
“Okay, but we should still test it.” Whitney waggled a finger at me.
“Fine. Then what?”
“I’m not sure.” She gave me the look that said she was about to say something I wouldn’t like very much. “He has been acting strange since yesterday?”
“What do you mean?”
“He growled at Jason outside the bathroom. Then Kendra at the diner.”
“I thought you were paying attention to Jason,” I said.
“I was, but a growling cat is hard to ignore.”
I looked at Echo, who looked like he was asleep. I knew it was a lie. “He did the same thing to the man who attacked me.”
“Before he tried to bite you?” Whitney asked.
“Maybe he’s getting aggressive. He is a Bengal cat. Aren’t they like half wild animal? Maybe he thinks you’re his territory.”
More like I was his slave, but that was a cat thing. The same thought had crossed my mind, but I wasn’t ready to face it. Echo hadn’t given me any other indications of being aggressive like that. “I don’t think that’s it.”
“You need to be willing to accept it as a possibility.”
The words tore at my insides, but she was right. I looked down at what was left of my breakfast. “I know.”
“Good. Now, how do we figure out what’s changed?”
I’d done some research before I came. “I’m on this Facebook group that’s for people who are allergic to corn.”
“You’re on Facebook?”
“My mom made me.” I brought the page to life. “The government has been adding supplements to a third of the corn in the country. It’s supposed to be more nutritious. Starving people could eat less and get more out of it.”
“Would that change the way Echo acts?”
“I don’t know, but no one has reported problems with their service dogs.”
Whitney leaned over to see the screen. “Who’s Bryan?”
My face flushed. I shouldn’t have left messenger open. Maybe she would drop it. “Just another kid allergic to corn.”
“You’ve been chatting with him?”
She was going to make a big deal about it. “We met at a really boring no-corn cooking class last year. We started messaging during it.”
Whitney narrowed her eyes. “Why have I not heard about this?”
“Because he lives across town and has a girlfriend. Or had a girlfriend. I think they just broke up.”
“Is he cute?”
I pulled my phone away from her eyes. “Focus!”
A knock came at her door. Before Whitney could say to come in, the door creaked opened. Wyatt leaned against the jam with his plate of food balanced in one hand. “Who’s Bryan?”
Whitney grabbed the nearest pillow and threw it at him. “Get out! I told you never to open my door!”
Wyatt dodged. “Hey! I have food here.”
He looked at me. “There’s a problem with Echo.”
How much had he heard? His eyes darted to the bed, then back at me. I sighed. “Animal services might take him away for attacking that man.”
“Not happening.” He sat on the floor a mere foot from me and started to eat. “What’s the plan?”
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Whitney said with an edge in her voice.
“Great.” Wyatt turned his smile on me. “What can I do?”
He wanted to help? Me?
No, he probably wanted to help Echo.
Who was kind of a part of me. Right?
He reached out and patted the bed to get Echo’s attention. “Don’t worry, buddy, we’ll clear your name.”
Echo opened one eye in acknowledgement.
I did my best not to think Wyatt was doing this for me.
Check out Chapter 5 HERE!
If you missed the beginning click HERE to go to Chapter 1