The sound of a ringing phone could be heard over the earsplitting barking of mutts... ah, I mean precious fur balls.
"I got it," I called out, more than happy to dash away from the annoying little yipper I'd been shampooing. The Chihuahua had a nasty temper and seemed to think that my fingers were doggie treats. I left the precious bundle in the care of one of my co-groomers and popped into the front office, where the phone was ringing insistently. "Star's Groomers," I chirped into the receiver.
"If you could have anything you wanted, what would you wish for?" a familiar purr asked.
"A gag." The answer came out quickly, before I'd had a chance to give the question any thought. Not that it mattered, really.
Cia had been my best friend for going on three years now. For some reason I had never been able to figure out, she had a hobby of asking people, randomly, what they would wish for. I didn't mind. It was a fun game, and that question had been what had spurred on our friendship in the first place. I'd learn to answer with whatever popped into my head first, and figure out the reasoning after.
"A gag?" Cia repeated, incredulous. "That sounds kinky."
"Oh, get your mind out of the gutter," I groaned. "I'm really not in the mood. What's up?"
"I heard you got fired from Hackey's Electronics," Cia answered me, her tone taking on a note of concern.
"Where'd you hear that?" I didn't really need to ask. I already knew the answer. Who else would have told her but Jett? Of course, I really, really hoped I was wrong. I mean, I'd just lost that job that morning. I hadn't even told anyone. So how was it possible that my brother had found out already? But, on the other hand, if Jett hadn't told Cia, then who had? I wasn't certain if I wanted Jett to know about yet another job in my long list of occupational casualties or if I wanted to have secret stalker.
"Jett," Cia answered, dashing my hopes before they'd had a chance to really build. "What happened? I thought you got along with your boss there. Are you going to be able to make rent this month? Can you afford to be fired?"
"It's not the first time, Cia," I reminded her, suddenly feeling five times my age. "Besides, I've still got my gig here at Stars Groomers, and then there's waitressing at Billy Joe's Diner, and of course bartending at the Shack."
If you did the math and came up with four jobs, then you counted right. They were all part time, but they were also all I could get. I'd tried to nab a full time job, but that had ended in disaster after just a week. I'm not a bad employee. At least I don't think I am. I'm a hard worker, a fast learner. I'm enthusiastic and I always try my best. But somehow I always, always end up getting fired. It was like the whole world was out to screw with me or something.
Fortunately, Jett had a better track record than I did. He'd had the same full time job since he was eighteen. His paychecks tended to go toward rent and electricity for our apartment downtown, while my meager little things went toward food and various other bills. We weren't rich, but we weren't poor either. Jett and I did alright for ourselves. We managed.
When I was able to hold down four part time jobs anyway.
"I'll bet it was that son of a bitch, rat faced little cashier," Cia guessed. "He made a move on you, didn't he? Just say the word and I'll sic Jett on him! I swear I will, all you have to do is tell me to."
That startled a laugh out of me. "No, it wasn't Tony," I assured her. "There was a customer that complained about me." Because I hadn't given him my phone number, and had nearly broken his arm when he made a grab for my butt. But I wasn't going to tell Cia that. The minx was vicious enough without my encouragement.
"Shit, Say, I thought you were the perfect saleswoman," Cia complained. "What did you do? Sell the guy the wrong kind of alarm clock?"
"Is that all you needed, Cia?" I asked, really not wanting to go into details. "I've got a wet rat that needs rinsing, and I can't afford to lose two jobs in one day."
"Right, sorry, babe," I could hear a wince in Cia's voice. "Actually I was just calling to deliver a message. Jett wanted me to tell you that Billy Joe called and he needs you in an hour early tonight."
I'm not much of a curser, but at that moment I was tempted to quote my foul mouthed friend's choicer insults. Billy Joe was an arrogant, slimy pig. But he paid well, and a good part of my tips at his diner went towards air conditioning. Trust me, you don't know just how vital air conditioning is until you've been without it during the hottest month of the summer.
"Thanks, Cia," I sighed.
"I'll pick you up after work, kay?" Cia offered.
"Don't worry about it. Andy's getting me."
"Ugh. You're always with Andy lately," Cia complained. "I don't ever get to see you anymore. It's not fair. You were my friend for a lot longer than you've been his girlfriend."
"Sorry, Ci-ci," I tried not to groan. "We'll talk about this later, okay? I really gotta get back to work."
"I'm holding you to that," Cia sighed. The door chimes sounded as another customer came in, with a shaggy long haired dog the size of a small horse on a leash. "So, if you could have anything in the whole world, what would you wish for?"
"Scissors," I answered before hanging up so I could deal with the newest arrival. I wasn't looking forward to grooming all that fur.
Believe it or not, but I actually do like animals. When I was a child, they were my only friends, aside from Jett. As twins, Jett and I had always been close. He was two minutes older than me, and never let me forget it. But when our father died when we were six years old, we became all we had left. Our mother had died in child birth having us, and neither she nor our father had had any extended family.
For years, we'd only been able to rely on each other, but I hadn't minded. I'd thought that as long as I had him everything would be alright. I like to think he felt the same way. Even when times were hard, we always found things to smile about. Some days it was the only thing that kept me sane.
Today was one of those days. It was bad enough that I'd been fired from one of my jobs that day, but now I had to go in early at Billy Joe's Diner. Only my job at the bar was worse than the diner. I could fend off drunks easily enough, but Billy Joe was harder. You try keeping your boss's grubby hands off you and see how long you can keep your job.
He wasn't the first employer to come on to me, and sadly enough I don't think he'll be the last. Ever since I hit puberty, I'd been attracting the wrong kind of people. I didn't understand it, but there it was. Jett had made sure I could defend my honor or life, but that had a tendency to get me into more trouble. As for the law… well, it was useless when it came to an uneducated girl in her early twenties. At least not in my world.
I'm not complaining, mind you. I refused to complain, and I'm nothing if not stubborn. Just ask my brother. I always did my best to look for the silver lining. And, on that day, I needed all the silver linings I could get. It was easily shaping up to be one of the worst days I'd had all year.
Somehow, I managed to get the little yipper rinsed and dried, complete with little bow. I didn't have to groom the long haired dog that had been brought in while I was on the phone, fortunately, but I did have to take care of the three Siamese cats that a fussy gentleman brought in half an hour before my shift ended.
Nineteen scratches and sixty-eight minutes later, I was finally able to hang up my grooming apron and pull out my waitress notepad. Of course, by then, I was late for my next job.
"Sable," Charlene, my co-groomer, called just as my hand touched the door handle.
I flinched, glad that my back was to her so she couldn't see me. Pasting a smile on my face, I spun around to face her. "Yeah, Charlene?" I asked pleasantly.
"I've got family coming to visit next week, can you cover for me?" Charlene asked, looking at me pleadingly. "Please? They're coming all this way just to see me. But The Dutches with their hounds from hell have an appointment, and there needs to be at least three people here to cover them. I already asked Marlene and Shawn, but they're both busy. You always seem to have time on your hands though. Pretty, pretty please?"
No! Absolutely not! I can't, I have other jobs, other things. Don't make me! "Sure, I'll work something out." Have I mentioned my mouth doesn't always listen to my head? No? Well there you have it. A third of my lost jobs were because my mouth ran away on me.
With another smile, I brushed off Charlene's thanks and rushed out before I could be stopped again. I knew Charlene was lying. She hated dealing with the Dutches' five Great Danes. For as long as I'd been working there, going on six months, she'd made up some excuse or another to take off the days that the hounds were brought in. Usually, she managed it by getting me to cover for her. So, I knew she was lying, but did that make a difference? No. My mouth still volunteered me to cover for her. Stupid mouth.
I got five steps before someone grabbed me from behind. A lifetime of being Jett's sister took over and I slammed heel into the foot of my attacker. When he yelped and loosed his hold around my waist, I spun, swinging my very heavy bag at where I thought his head would be. It crashed into the shoulder of someone very familiar.
"Shit, Sable!" Andy yelped, stumbling back.
Horror filled me as I stared wide eyed at my boyfriend. His dirty blonde hair was cut stylishly short and had that rumpled look, as though he'd just rolled out of bed. His sapphire blue eyes were wide and shocked, though I knew from experience that there was usually a mischievous twinkle in them. He had a strong jaw, chiseled features. The first time I'd seen him, I had thought he looked like a surfer, with his healthy tan and easy smile. Definite womanizer. He was perfect in every way, charming to a fault. And I'd just attacked him.
"Oh God," I whispered, panic taking the place of horror as I hovered worriedly. "I'm so sorry, Andy. I thought I told you never to grab me from behind! I'm so sorry."
"It's fine," Andy assured me, rubbing his shoulder. "I'll just walk with a limp for awhile, no big deal. Geez, what do you have in that bag? Rocks?"
"How'd you know?" I blinked owlishly at him. For a moment, I was almost tempted to laugh at his startled expression.
"Seriously?" he asked, staring at me.
"They make it heavier," I shrugged. "It was Jett's idea, originally, but after a couple months I stopped noticing how heavy the bag was."
"Christ, Sable, your brother's insane," Andy shook his head.
"Are you okay?"
"Just a bit bruised," he assured me. "I'm sorry, I wanted to surprise you. Guess I know better now, huh?" He flashed me a warm smile that made me want to melt in his arms.
"I'm really, really sorry, Andy," I apologized again. I didn't think I could say it enough. I'd had plenty of boyfriends before, but like my jobs, they never lasted long and usually ended badly. I didn't want to blow my chances with Andy. For once, I had found a good man and I was going to hold on to him for all I was worth.
"I'm fine," he repeated, wrapping his arms around my waist again, this time while I could see him. He leaned down a bit so that he could kiss me. I was a bit on the tall side, so he didn't have to lean far. Every time his lips touched mine, I fell a little more for him, and this time was no exception.
I mean, really, how many guys do you know that would forgive their girlfriends for nearly splitting their skills open with a bag of rocks? Okay, so maybe you don't know that many girls who actively carry around rocks, but that's not the point. He was perfect. My cynical side declared him to be too perfect and was waiting for the other shoe to drop. My romantic side was content to enjoy the sensation of being in a loving, healthy relationship until things went sour. Like I said, silver lining all the way.
I leaned into the kiss a bit, letting the tension that had built up during the miserable drain away. Moments like this, surprising little minutes where things were wonderful, these were what I lived for. Moments where I could pretend the rest of the world didn't exist and that my life had been perfect and sheltered.
When he deepened the kiss, I pulled away, letting reality come crashing back. I would have loved to have just stayed lost in his arms, but I was late. He wasn't exactly a good influence on my attendance record. A flaw, I suppose, but one I could live with.
"I have to go to Billy Joe's early," I told him. "I'm already late."
"Work, work, work," he sighed, releasing me. He caught my hand in his and held onto it as he led me down the sidewalk to the parking lot where he'd left his car. Living in the city meant that, even without a car of my own, I was never without transportation. Still, it was nice to be picked up and dropped off every so often, which Andy seemed more than happy to do when his schedule allowed it. "All you ever do is work. I hardly ever get to see you."
"Funny, Cia said the same thing about you," I noted. "If I don't work, I don't eat, though. But look, I've got Saturday morning off. We can go out, do something if you want."
"Is Jett working?" Andy asked, surprising me. I hadn't thought my boyfriend and brother got along. Jett didn't get along with anyone, really, but he especially tended to hate my boyfriends. Not that I could blame him. He was always right about them being scumbags in the end. This time, though, I was certain he was wrong.
"I think so. I can ask him though," I offered, smiling. Spending the morning with two of the three people that mattered most to me would have been wonderful.
"No, it's okay," Andy quickly assured me. "I don't think he likes me much."
"Jett doesn't like anyone," I sighed, giving up on that wistful little dream. I hadn't gotten too attached to it, so it didn't hurt too much to let it go. "You'll grow on him, though, if you stick around long enough. Cia did."
"Cia doesn't much care for me either," Andy winced. We reached his car and, like the gentleman he was, he opened the door for me. Once I was in and the door was closed, he went around to the driver's side before picking the conversation again. "And what do you mean 'stick around long enough?' Am I going somewhere?"
"I didn't think so," I shrugged, a small smile in place. "But you never know, right?"
"I'm here for the long run, Sable," Andy told me, catching my gray eyes with his own. The look he gave me was so full of affection that I almost teared up. You try growing up as an orphan with only one person to love and be loved by you and not be starved for affection and stability.
"Thank you," I whispered. Then the moment got too emotional for me and, looking away, I changed the topic. "Anyway, I'm not working at the electronic store anymore."
"Sable," Andy sighed, disappointment tingeing his tone. Irritation surged up. Yep, the moment was good and gone. So he wasn't completely perfect, but if he didn't have some faults, some things that annoyed me then he'd be boring, right? At least that's what I told myself. Still, it hurt when he seemed so let down just because I'd been fired. I felt almost as though I'd done something wrong. I hated feeling guilty for things that I had no control over.
"It wasn't my fault!" I protested, wishing he'd understand. "A customer came on to me. I just…"
"Broke his arm like you nearly broke mine?" Andy asked, arching a brow.
"Well, not exactly the same way," I hedged.
"Sable," Andy repeated, his tone the same chiding one as before. I suddenly felt nine years old. I tried to think of something I could do to get him to smile at me again. Something that would wipe away the disappointment. My mind came up blank.
In the past, whenever someone made me feel this way, made me feel as though I was less than I was, I didn't bother with him. Who would want to expose themselves to that kind of emotional torture? I might have yearned for affection and acceptance, but if I couldn't have it because of who and what I was, then it just wasn't worth it. But Andy was different. It wasn't like he tried to mold me into someone different. He genuinely cared about me. His disappointment was on my behalf. That, I think, made it worse.
In the end, my mouth betrayed me again, and I said nothing.