May The Best Team Win – Episode 10

Gerard Fay © Priscilla makes her presence felt Illustration: Gerard Fay

Neil was feeling uncharacteristically low, partly because of Rachel. He’d been about to go over and talk to her at the party.

She’d been looking a little down, but just as Neil began to make his way across the room, Ewan had plonked down and put his arm around her.

Neil hoped his intentions were honourable. Rachel had been through enough.

Her husband had had an affair when Sophie was only six years old. Rachel had been devastated.

Now, it seemed Ewan had taken a shine to her, but Neil couldn’t help feeling she deserved better.

But the main thing weighing him down was Apollo.

He looked at his beloved friend, limping along beside him, and bit his lip.

Poor Apollo wasn’t at all well and Neil was on his way to the vet’s.

In the park, a warm sun shone through the russet leaves and, over on the lake, the ducks were arguing and a squirrel raced up a nearby tree clutching an acorn.

Apollo didn’t turn a hair.

“Hey, Neil. Apollo. How are you?”

Ali and Cam were coming towards them across the grass, their shoes wet and their faces glowing.

“Oh, hi.”

“Good to see you, mate. Hello, Apollo, old fellow.” Cam patted the dog’s back and Apollo whimpered.

“What’s up with you?” Cam looked startled.

Usually, Apollo would be barking a welcome and leaping around them.

“Is everything all right, Neil?” Ali asked, looking at the golden retriever.

Neil shook his head.

“I’m taking him to the vet,” he told them. “He’s off his food and he seems to be limping.”

“Oh, no, poor boy.” Cam knelt down beside the dog and stroked him gently.

“I’m so sorry, Neil. How long has he been like this?”

Neil shrugged.

“I didn’t notice anything wrong until last night. I rang the vet first thing this morning.”

“Well, they’re really good at the surgery. They’ll sort him out.”

Neil nodded. He hoped Cam was right.

He hadn’t had much call to go to the vet’s with Apollo in the past, other than for routine matters.

Ali gave him a reassuring smile.

“We all get ill from time to time.”

Neil felt comforted. That was true. He smiled for the first time that morning.

“Good day, all.”

Neil turned to see Priscilla marching towards them.

She was wearing a long coat. Her honey-coloured hair was neat and she wore an arresting brooch.

Neil wondered if it was one of Ali’s.

The satisfied look on her face seemed to confirm it.

Usually, Neil enjoyed Priscilla’s company. She was a very intelligent woman who had been high up in the Civil Service before she’d retired.

Neil often savoured a conversation with her, and her pithy remarks amused him. However, he wasn’t sure she was the person he wanted to meet on a day when he was low.

“How is everyone?” Priscilla asked, her sharp gaze sweeping their faces. “Is something wrong, Neil? You look like a wet weekend.”

Neil tried to maintain a pleasant smile.

“I’m afraid that Apollo is unwell, Priscilla. I was just taking him to the vet’s.”

She turned her gaze on the golden retriever.

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, Neil. Although I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Neil took a breath and made a conscious effort not to raise his voice.

“And why’s that?” he asked. “Apollo has always been very healthy.”

“I’m sure he has.” Priscilla nodded. “But you do spoil him. Perhaps a stricter diet and more exercise would do the trick?

“I’m not sure that walking a sick animal to the vet’s is the best idea in the world.”

Neil didn’t trust himself to reply.

“Neil takes excellent care of Apollo.” Ali was indignant. “Really, Priscilla, you should be supporting Neil, not criticising.”

Priscilla raised an eyebrow and Neil thought he could detect a flush of pink along her cheekbones.

“There’s no need to be touchy,” she retorted. “Constructive advice is always helpful.

“I’m sure Apollo will be much better before long,” she added awkwardly.

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“I tell you what,” Priscilla said at last. “I’ll take a quick look at him. I’ve had a lot of experience with pets and all dogs love me.”

Neil saw Ali and Cam exchange glances.

“Here, boy, let’s see what’s ailing you.” Priscilla moved towards Apollo, who nestled closer to Neil and watched her warily.

As soon as she bent down to stroke him, he howled.

Priscilla stepped back hurriedly, her face red.

“Well,” she said. “There’s nothing I can do for him, after all. You’d better get him to the vet. Good luck.”

The others managed to hold on until she was beyond earshot, and then they erupted.

To be continued…