The turtles are the worst part of the job, Patrick thought. As he and the other volunteers walked along the shoreline, they found animal after animal. Some were alive and covered in the slick black oil, but most dead. It was a somber celebration when they found an animal alive, but Patrick always felt defeated when they found a dead fish or bird or - God - turtle.
They tagged and bagged the dead animals and sent the animals still hanging onto life to the rehabilitation center and to Andy and Joe. From there, it would be decided if the animals were well enough to save or if they needed to be put to sleep.
Patrick heard a shout from a fellow volunteer and he jogged to where she was standing - she had a shock of orange hair and he thought her name was Hayley - and pointing. "I think this one's alive," she said.
It was a turtle. Patrick adjusted his hat as his heart simultaneously sank and rose. Oil gathered around the turtle's fins and along the back of its shell. The turtle weakly raised its head as Patrick reached down with gloved hands to pick it up. "I'll take him back to the van."
Hayley nodded at him and gave him a small smile. She turned back to the coast and he turned in the direction of the climate-controlled van. "Don't worry, man, we'll get you fixed up."
The van was in the pier's parking lot and standing outside the van's open back doors was Pete. Pete saw him approaching and waved, a smile adorning his face. "Here, I'll take that little guy. It's getting dark, we're going to have to stop for the day and take these guys back."
Patrick handed off the turtle to Pete, murmuring a be safe. He nodded and spoke quickly into his walkie talkie before pulling his gloves off. "Can I ride back with you?"
Pete looked surprised, but pushed away the emotion quickly. He brushed a bead of sweat off of his forehead and let a wide grin slip onto his face. "Yeah, yeah, I'd like that."
When Patrick smiled, it felt unfamiliar on his face. He guessed it hadn't happened in a while.
Andy was waiting for them when the van pulled into the loading dock. His face was set into a grim line. He murmured something to Pete and brushed back a flyaway from his ponytail. Pete's face fell and he walked to the back of the van, waving a hand to motion for Patrick to help him.
Patrick jumped out of the passenger seat and walked around to where Pete was. Andy was already back inside the facility.
"Sorry about that," Pete said. "Andy's just - he's worried. He said that Brendon went in to check on the birds and found three dead. You know how Brendon loves those birds."
Brendon was an intern with a heart of gold. He worked with birds mostly, though Patrick had seen him a few times in the turtle pools, talking to the turtles.
"Yeah, he does." Patrick tugged the brim of his hat down lower. Brendon was a good kid. "I guess we should get these animals inside."
"Yeah," Pete said. "I guess we should."
Andy Hurley was the main veterinarian at Bay Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. He was stressed out to tremendous degrees from the oil spill, going from a usually carefree individual to a cranky, snappy one.
Patrick tried not too say too much as they brought the animals in, one by one, to Andy for their physicals. The animals had to have a complete physical before they could be cleaned of the thick oil by Andy's veterinary partner Joe.
Andy just sighed as they brought in the first of the animals. He checked the bird over and deemed it okay besides the oil. He turned to Patrick and put the animal on a cart. "Take this one to Joe."
If Andy was snappy, Patrick didn't say anything. He merely nodded and wheeled the cart out, pausing only to watch Pete bring in the next animal.
Joe was quiet, but happy to see the bird. "Put him over there. Thanks."
His usually bouncy fro was tamed and he was wearing the appropriate suit. He pulled off a pair of soiled gloves and pulled a clean pair out of the box. He began the process of washing the bird, but it would take half an hour at the least. He turned his head and yelled toward the back room, "Hey, come help me, dude!"
Ryan came out holding a few unopened toothbrushes before setting them down on the table next to the tub. He reached into the tub and held the bird carefully, gazing at Patrick before looking back down at the bird. Joe took a toothbrush to the bird, scrubbing carefully. The clean water of the tub started to take on oil. Patrick watched for as long as he could.
"I'm going to go check on Brendon."
Ryan looked up suddenly and the words tumbled from his mouth in a jumble. "Make sure he's okay."
He looked apologetic. Patrick nodded. "Don't worry. I will."
Brendon was sitting in the middle of the floor, surrounded by bird cages. There were three empty cages on the wall behind Brendon. When Patrick entered the room, Brendon didn't even move. It even seemed as if the birds were quieter than usual.
Patrick sat down next to the usually boisterous Brendon and tugged his hat lower on his head. He wrapped one arm around his knees and swung the other around Brendon's shoulder. "We found some more birds. Joe and Ryan are washing one right now."
Brendon sniffled. "That's good."
Patrick could tell that he meant it. "We found birds - seagulls and pelicans. And a turtle. We found a turtle."
Brendon laughed a little halfhearted chuckle and looked up at Patrick. "Everything's going to be okay, right?"
Patrick smiled, nodded, and said, "Yeah, everything's going to be alright."