“Of course she can, Jordan,” Torrey calmly insisted. “Having her in your apartment solves all the problems presented by her release from the hospital. She’ll be close at hand. You and I can check on her as often as necessary. If she needs help, we’re only seconds away.”
Torrey continued filing, completely ignoring Jordan’s agitation. “If Kat’s assailant believes she can identify him and thinks to harm her, your presence will discourage him. There are two bedrooms in the apartment, so you won’t need to sleep on the couch. And everybody in this town knows what a Popsicle you are, so it’s not as if anyone is going to accuse you of inappropriate behavior. Kat’s reputation will be perfectly safe.”
“Popsicle—what do you mean everyone knows what a Popsicle I am?”
“Jordan, you’ve been back in Spruce Creek ever since you received your license. In all that time, you haven’t dated one single female in this town or anywhere else, for that matter. You are a cold stick. For all anyone knows, you might be gay.”
“I’m not gay, and you know it,” Jordan sputtered. “I just don’t trust women. You know what my mother did. I’m not going to open myself up to that kind of heartbreak again. I have you and my sister. You two are the only women I trust. I don’t need a relationship with any other woman.”
“That statement supports my comment that Kat’s reputation is safe if she stays with you.” Torrey turned to Jordan and stretched out her hands. “You don’t have a relationship with anyone. You avoided your father before he died. You don’t reach out to your brother and sister. You don’t have any male buddies that you hang with. You growl at your employees. You are disagreeable to the pet owners. If the next nearest vet wasn’t twenty miles away, you probably wouldn’t even have a clinic practice. Look how poorly you treated Mr. Gardner the other day.”
The sad disapproval written on Torrey’s face caused him to pull back. “I did not treat Gardner poorly. I just defended how I choose to run my practice,” he said. “I need to make an adequate income to keep the clinic viable, to pay your salary and the rest of the staff. If I’m forced to close my doors, the people of this town will be driving those twenty miles to get treatment for their pets.”
“I know your financial status, Jordan. The Spruce Creek Veterinary Clinic is soundly in the black. That’s not the problem. The problem is your attitude.”
He heard what she was saying, but he didn’t want to believe it. “I don’t need to stand for this kind of criticism, not even from you.” He turned and stormed off.
While Jordan was angry with Torrey for pointing out his shortcomings, he knew she was right. He didn’t care about much. He treated the local animals because that was his job, but he didn’t have any empathy for their owners. He had no connection to his employees; he easily could replace any of them—except Torrey. He knew he couldn’t replace Torrey.
He had come home to Spruce Creek when he received his license because he loved the environment. He enjoyed living in the mountains and experiencing four distinct seasons. But he didn’t have any connection to the community. Taking over his father’s clinic was simply easier than starting from scratch somewhere he wasn’t known. His father had suffered a stroke during Jordan’s final year in school, and then, after Jordon took over the practice, he passed on. Jordan felt guilty that he didn’t feel any sense of loss.
His father, Old Doc Walker, had always cared about the people as much as the animals. What did it get him? The old doc didn’t charge enough to support a family, and what he did charge, he didn’t always collect. As a result, his wife and children did without. When his father wouldn’t or couldn’t change, Jordan’s mother packed up and left. Three motherless children were abandoned and didn’t understand why. The farmhouse across the road from the clinic ceased to be a home and turned into a shell occupied by a sad, lonely man and three bewildered kids. Jordan was six years old when his mother went away. His sister, Jessica, was ten. His younger brother, Jeremy, was eighteen months.
Jessie did her best to be a little mother, but it was too much to ask of a ten year old with a father who didn’t understand and couldn’t accept his wife’s departure. Jessie and Jordan were in school most of the day, but the toddler Jeremy was brought to the clinic and cared for in a haphazard way by the clinic staff. He was just one more puppy to be petted and cuddled by anyone with a free minute.
When Torrey came to work for Doc Walker, she assumed responsibility for managing the children, as well as the clinic. The apartment above the clinic was made habitable and she lived there until the kids no longer needed a surrogate mother. While the children were young, when they came in from school, she would meet them upstairs with a warm hug and a snack. She expected the Walker kids to do their homework. Torrey went to parent-teacher conferences. She imposed discipline on three unruly hooligans. She did her best to act in loco parentis.
When their homework was complete, the children were expected to come downstairs to the clinic and pitch in. Jessie didn’t particularly like working with wounded or sick animals, so she helped out on the clerical side. Jordan learned veterinary medicine on the job following behind his dad. Jeremy, when he was old enough, did menial labor cleaning cages, walking dogs, feeding and watering recovering animals. When the day was done, four disconnected souls traipsed across the road to a building that housed their beds but not the spirit of a family.
Thanks to Torrey they didn’t have a miserable childhood, but it was unconventional and not especially happy. Doc Walker was out of touch with his kids. He did for them whatever he was told to do by his office manager, stumbling along, a broken and disillusioned man.
In her search for love, his sister Jessica made what she mistakenly believed was a poor marriage. Jordan didn’t agree. He thought Matt Whitaker was an admirable man, one who would do anything for Jessie.
In his search for identity, his brother Jeremy wandered without direction. Jordan wasn’t sure where his brother spent his time or what he did to keep his pockets lined. But he never seemed in need of money, so Jordan didn’t concern himself.
Jordan didn’t accept that he personally needed to search for anything. But while he couldn’t point to any specific lack, he knew he wasn’t happy with things as they were. So perhaps Torrey was right, and he should be searching for a new attitude.
What did any of this have to do with Kat coming to stay at his apartment when she was discharged in the afternoon? Was reality such that no one, not even Torrey, believed he could be attracted to a lovely woman living under the same roof with him? Perhaps they were right, or maybe—just maybe—they were wrong.