Blind Faith (Blind Faith #1)

by N.R. Walker

Chapter One

I always thought a person's car was reflective of its owner, and as I opened the passenger door of the late '80s Ford Taurus and got in, I smiled to myself. Like its owner, Dr Fields, it was gray in color and in impeccable condition. Not a scratch, not a dent, not a thing out of place. Polished, tidy, and clean. Family oriented, safety first. Just like its owner.

And although it still ran well, although it was still reliable, it was getting on in miles, years. Just like its owner.

Was my car reflective of me? As much as I wished otherwise—yeah, it was. A sturdy Jeep 4x4, a few dents and scratches. Not too old, and certainly not showroom-pretty by any means. More rugged, well-worn, sometimes fun, always practical. That's me. Practical for my work as a vet, practical for me on days off to harness my dog in the backseat and head out of town. Nothing about my car strictly screamed "gay man" but nothing about me did either.

Unless you counted the small star decal on the rear bumper.

My best friend Mark had stuck it there before I'd left Hartford, Connecticut to start my new job in Boston. He'd known I'd bury myself in my work like I always did, limiting my chances of meeting anyone new. He had told me by having a star stuck on my rear bumper, it might increase the chances of some guy seeing the one tattooed on my hip. He'd said the star was more discreet than the "I'm gay. Wanna f**k?" decal he was going to put on my car. He thought it was hilarious. Mark always thought he was hilarious.

"What's got you smiling?" Dr Fields asked.

I looked at the older man behind the steering wheel. "Oh, nothing," I said dismissively. But I looked at him and smiled.

He smiled back at me. Then the older man asked, "How are you settling in? You enjoying it here?"

"Yes," I answered him honestly. "Very much. I mean, it's only been a week, but I love what I've seen so far." And I did. My new job at East Weymouth Animal Hospital was quite the step up for me.

He smiled again, seemingly pleased with his decision to hire me.

He concentrated on driving for a moment, then he asked, "Did you do house calls in Hartford?"

I laughed. "Uh, no. I thought house calls were something doctors and vets did in small country towns for large animals." Or in television shows, I thought errantly, but kept that to myself.

This time it was Dr Fields who laughed. "Well, there's not many house calls left on my books these days. Just the families who've been coming to see me for years."

And that's where we were on our way to now. The animal hospital was in a nice part of town, and all house calls were close by. Our first visit was to a Mrs Yeo and her seventeen year old cat, Mr Whiskers. When we got there, I wasn't surprised Mrs Yeo preferred house calls. She must have been near a hundred years old, all of four feet tall, with gray, wiry hair and skin like wrinkled paper.

"Don't let her appearance fool you," Dr Fields had warned me in the car. "She's as sharp as a tack."

So she was, but poor old Mr Whiskers wasn't doing so well. He was slow and not too responsive as Dr Fields gently checked him over. He gave Mr Whiskers some more arthritis medication, but even Mrs Yeo had given a sad nod, acknowledging she knew the poor tabby's days were numbered.

Against our insistence, Mrs Yeo had walked us out. Dr Fields had given her a reassuring pat on the arm, telling her if she needed anything to give him a call. As we got back into his car, Dr Fields sighed. "I don't think poor Mr Whiskers will see the end of summer," he said sadly. "Not sure how Mrs Yeo will cope without him. She got that cat for company after her husband died…" The older man's words trailed away. He didn't need to say any more. I understood.

It was easy to tell the older man loved his job. I'd only worked with him a week, but he knew every patient and owner by name, and he took his time with each of them. He knew their personal histories. He had an old-school work ethic, and I wondered how his pending retirement would fare on him.

I assumed he'd miss it as much as the hospital would miss him, and from my first week on the job, one thing was very clear—I had very big shoes to fill.

We drove in silence for a short while, and I watched the slow passing of houses through the passenger side window. The animal hospital was in Weymouth, South Boston, which was a nice neighborhood already, but the houses we were driving past were getting even nicer, the gardens and lawns well-tended.

Wanting to keep conversation going between us, I prompted the old man, "Next stop is the Brannigans."

Dr Fields nodded. "Isaac Brannigan…" he said quietly with a shake of his head. "Sad story, but not really mine to tell. Hannah will be there. She's his official caregiver," he said rather cryptically.

I wondered what he meant by that when we pulled into a circular drive. The large, single story house sat proudly in the midst of manicured gardens. It spoke money.

Dr Fields pulled up at the front door, but before he got out of the car, he said, "Isaac's having some adjustment issues with his new dog, Brady. He's a little…" he searched for the right word, "…insistent, but I guess he's got his reasons."

Before I could ask if he was referring to the dog or its owner, the older man got out of the car. I followed suit, grabbed the bag off the backseat and followed him to the front door.

A woman answered the door and smiled warmly as soon as she saw Dr Fields, standing aside to welcome us in. She looked around thirty years old—just a few years older than me—and had brown, curly hair, pale skin, and a wide, kind smile.

"Hannah," Dr Fields introduced us, "this is Dr Carter Reece. Carter, this is Hannah Brannigan."

I extended my hand, which she shook. "Very nice to meet you."

She was still smiling. "Does Max have you doing the rounds with him?"

She called him by his given name, so I quickly deduced she knew him well. Before I could answer, Dr Fields answered for me. "Dr Carter will be taking my place at the hospital."

"Oh," she said quietly, looking from me to the old man. "You're retiring?" she asked, and Dr Fields nodded. "Isaac never mentioned it…"

"He doesn't know," Dr Fields told her quietly. "I was going to tell him today."

Just then, a man no older than me walked into the foyer. He was dressed as though he'd just stepped off a yacht. Khaki shorts, white polo t-shirt, expensive leather boat shoes and small, dark, designer sunglasses worth what I earned in a month. He was fit looking, matched my five foot ten height and had short, spiky dark brown hair and pale skin. He was gorgeous.

He smiled. "Tell me what?"

This guy was Isaac Brannigan? I don't know why I was expecting an old man, but I was. Dr Fields had said Isaac had a caregiver, and I assumed Hannah—with the same surname—was the daughter assigned to such duties. Maybe she was the wife.

"I'll go get Brady," Hannah said, just as Isaac walked out into the foyer. "I let him out for a toilet break before you got here."

Dr Fields smiled at her then turned to face Isaac. The younger man was looking toward me, though not directly at me. "And we have company?"

"Ah, yes," Dr Fields said. "Isaac Brannigan, this is Dr Carter Reece. He's a vet, too."

"Hi," I offered. "Nice to meet you."

"And why's he here?" Isaac asked, rather rudely. I was a little shocked at his blatant rudeness toward me.

"Shall we sit in the living room," the older man said. "I have some news."

Isaac turned and walked through the large opening toward the sofas. He lightly touched the edge, then the arm of the sofa, before he turned and sat down. Dr Fields followed him, while I still stood, a little baffled, in the foyer.

Dr Fields had said this guy was insistent. I thought he was just f**king rude. But I followed them anyway and sat on the sofa across from Isaac, while Dr Fields sat next to him. And he did the oddest thing. He put his hand on the younger man's knee.

"I brought Carter along with me today to meet all my house calls," Dr Fields told him, "because he's my replacement. I'm retiring, Isaac."

Isaac just sat there. No reaction, his face stoic. He didn't even take off his sunglasses. "When?"

"In two weeks," Dr Fields said.

Then Hannah walked in from the kitchen to where we were sitting with, who I presumed was, Brady, a golden lab, maybe two or three years old, with bright eyes and a happy face. He trotted in and sat at Isaac's feet as though he was part of this conversation with the humans.

Isaac ignored the dog, which struck me as odd. Not even a quick scratch on the head, not a pat, nothing. Instead, he said, "I'll need some calcium powder. The one I normally get for Brady's food."

Dr Fields nodded. "I thought I brought some with me last time."

"I knocked it over," Isaac said quietly.

Something didn't add up. The way Isaac didn't face Dr Fields square on when they spoke. The glasses. I looked around the room until I found what I was after. Photos on the mantelpiece across the room. And there it was. Photographs of him with another dog. And not just any kind of dog, but with a guide dog.

Isaac Brannigan was blind.

"I'm not sure, Max…" he said. "You've been our vet for so long…"

Dr Fields looked at me and smiled, somewhat apologetically. "Dr Reece is very good. I handpicked him to be my replacement from a slew of applicants. He's moved from Hartford to Boston to take on the position."

"I can understand your reservations," I interjected honestly, and it was then Isaac turned his face toward me. I wanted to prove to him he could trust me, but I figured if I was going to have either Isaac or Brady even begin to like me, I'd have better luck with the dog. So I added, "You trust Dr Fields and you don't know me from Joe, but Isaac, if you don't mind, I'd like to spend a few minutes with Brady."

Isaac mumbled something that sounded like, "Sure, whatever," then stood up and walked toward the open kitchen. Brady sat up taller and he watched Isaac, but didn't follow him.

I called the dog's name softly and he turned obediently to my command. Sitting forward on the sofa, I patted my thigh. "Come."

The dog did as asked, of course, and while he sat between my knees and looked up at me with his big brown eyes, the dog seemed to smile. It made me grin right back at him, and I looked up at Dr Fields, but he was watching Isaac.

The man walked to the edge of the kitchen counter and turned into the kitchen with a familiar ease. He ran his fingers along the countertop and stopped. "Can I get anyone a drink? Iced tea?"

He didn't really wait for an answer; he simply walked over to a particular cupboard, collected glasses, then went to the fridge and pulled out a jug of iced tea.

Obviously familiar in his own kitchen, he did it all as though he could see. I found myself watching him, and it was when Hannah spoke from the sofa beside me, I remembered the reason for our visit.

"Brady's got you figured out," she said with a smile.

I looked down at the dog to find his chin on my knee with his eyes closed, enjoying my absentminded scratch behind his ear. I looked over at Hannah and smiled.

"Yes, I seem to have found a friend."

A rather loud clang from the kitchen made our heads turn. Isaac had dropped a spoon, or from the less than pleased look on his face, I wondered whether he'd done it deliberately. He didn't look happy.

I looked back to Hannah, and she rolled her eyes with a smile. "So, Carter, is it?"

"Yes," I answered, thankful for the distraction. "Carter Reece."

"And you just moved here?" she pressed. "Is that what Max said?"

I nodded, still petting Brady. "From Hartford, but now I call Boston home. I moved into Weymouth, nice and close to work."