Chapter 3

Mrs Johnson looks pale. Emily is playing with Charlie in the backyard and Mr Johnson is putting away the meatball casserole I made for them before coming over. She's sitting on the couch with her feet propped up and a blanket over her lap. The book she was reading when Mr Johnson announced me in is on the centre table, forgotten for the moment.

"Dmitri said you were coming by. What can I do for you, dear? Nice outfit, by the way." He didn't tell her why I'm here?

"Mr Hale says he doesn't have time to tutor me. He advised me to ask your help."

"He doesn't have any time? What the hell?" She doesn't give me time to answer, grabbing the phone and calling someone. Him, I assume.

"Dmitri's not picking up." She sighs. "I'm sorry for you, but I-"

"It's ok, Mrs Johnson. I don't expect you to tutor me in your condition. I just came to bring some food, and see how you are. We are worried about you." I interrupt her before she can turn me away. None of what I said is a lie. Deep down I knew she can't, and we are worried about her.

"Thank you, dear." She sighs and rubs her belly. I don't know what to say now.

"Is Dmitri a good teacher?" Mrs Johnson asks suddenly. Well, shit. How am I supposed to answer that, he's a good teacher to everybody except me? "Before he went to teach I shared some of your work with him and he loved it. Dmitri was looking forward to meet you."

I don't want to tattle about her brother being a prick, he really does teach well to the others, it's only me he seems to have a problem with. "Hm, he hasn't shown as much enthusiasm as you seem to expect, but he teaches well." I settle for answering.

"I see. Well he really tends to be a taskmaster when he thinks someone has the potential so don't let him mess you around too much." She laughs. Yeah, that isn't what's happening, but I'm not going to contradict the pregnant lady.

"I have to go now. It was nice seeing you, Mrs Johnson." I have to get out before she makes me more question I can't answer! We shake hands, then I do so again in the kitchen with Mr Johnson. He looks tired. I'd love to help, but between my work at the shelter and school my hands are full.

"Come again whenever you like. Visitors cheer her up." He smiles then opens the door for me. I can just imagine his shoulders slumping as soon as I leave.

Trina is still withdrawn at night, but not unusually so, she seems to be perking right up, so I breathe a sigh of relief and go to bed.

"Alright, new unit today, please open your books on page 130 and let's start." Hale hasn't bothered looking at me sideways today. His face is pinched and drawn, a frown firmly entrenched in his brows. He's looking right through us, though his explanations are on point. It just looks like most of him isn't present.

Midway through his explanation an email comes up. He notices it immediately, but before he can close it I've already seen his email address. My photographic memory saved it the second it showed however. He looks at each of us quickly, trying to see if any of us is looking where the email just disappeared from. I make sure to look down just as his eyes skip past me. Yes, that's right, ignore me. I couldn't possibly have seen your email. Nope, totally innocent here, move on, move on. He does, and I let out the breath I'd been holding. It's not the only surprise of the day.

At work, there's a new and unusual litter of kittens coming to the shelter. They're all healthy, thank gods. The mama cat licks the head of the orphaned puppy she was caught breastfeeding in the streets. She's a beautiful midnight colour with golden eyes, but as soon as I see one of her kittens I'm a goner even before I see its eyes. My heart just immediately goes out to it. The bond is immediate and strong right away. The tiny black kitten is the rump of the litter and the only one with a star like mark on its forehead, and when it looks at me, good gracious, it has heterochromia central! The bottom half of its eyes are blue, and the top half are green, the parts where they meet are like a little swirl, it's a transition rather than a definite demarcation.

"Amy!" I call out. A long minute passes. Hm, that's weird, Amy never ignores a call, even if it's to say wait a minute. I finish fluffing mama's blanket and filling her water bowl before then go investigate.

"Amy, didn't you hear me, I was-" What the hell is he doing here?! Hale looks just as shocked to see me. He puts the pen he was holding down, and his jaw clenches.

"Ah, Cat, sorry. Mr Hale just signed a contract with us, isn't that great? He'll be photographing our charges and exhibiting the pictures online to help them get adopted. Isn't that great?" Fucking awesome, not. If he's here for them I better stake my claim first.

"Great. Listen, I want to adopt the runt of the new litter. The one with the star on its head." Both seem surprised I'm ignoring the news, but I really can't say I'm glad to now see him almost every day outside of school too.

"Oooh, it's a beauty, isn't it?" Amy gushes. "Does your mom know?"

"She always said I could adopt one animal from here without asking and I haven't yet, but Lucifer's the one for me."

"Lucifer?" Hale asks. His eyes are very curious.

"Morningstar." I confirm. "Amy put up Lucifer as adopted and I'll show our new worker what I mean. He'll want a tour of the place anyway." He doesn't like being called worker, but he signed a contract, so we are equal, and I know more about the shelter than he does. Amy starts tapping away at the computer. She sends a smile and a nod my way when it's done, and I crook my finger at Hale. He's in casual clothing. Jeans, a turtle-neck sweater fitted enough that his muscles show a little, speakers, and his camera is around his neck. His hair is in a ponytail and gods does it look good. I turn quickly before he can guess my thoughts.

"This way, comrade." I don't look to see if he follows.

I'm so used to the smell of dog hair that I don't notice the blast of it as soon as we come inside, but Hale breathes it in to his lungs like he misses it. Oh! Right! Mrs Johnson wanted to get him a dog. "Your sister wanted to get you one." I blurt out nervously. Gods, calm the fuck down, don't make him think worse of yourself than he already does.

"One what?" He sounds preoccupied with something but his face is unreadable.

"Dog. When they came to choose Charlie."

"Oh." I'm suddenly self consciously aware of the apron I'm wearing over my jeans and the crown braid I have my hair in. I look... dowdy, homely, but I can't say I'd change right now. The braided coronet keeps my hair away from the little rascals, and the apron protects my clothes from the messes I have to clean up. Case in point, the smell of shit is huge when we enter a second grey door into the dog family wing of the shelter.

"Lila!" The white dog is covered in food and fezzes, her puppy body trembling with excitement when she sees me. Lila's mom is laying down in the back of the cage with an expression I swear I can understand. What do you expect? She seems to roll her eyes. "I guess this means bath time." The puppy's happiness increases. She's a mutt, but I swear she has Husky in her somewhere because she loves to talk back like one, and indeed, she starts arguing with me, and she's stubborn like one. Hale laughs behind me, so I glare at him, but there's no heat in it. Patty's footsteps echo closer, so I peek out the door. She comes along in a second and stops at my look.

"Wait, don't tell me. Lila." I nod. "Fantastic. Go on." She turns on her heels to get what she needs and I turn back to Hale, whose face is back to its severe lines.

"Let's continue. Patty will give a bath to this stinker." Lila keeps yelling at me until we turn the corner.

The tour takes us all over the place. He doesn't say anything, looking over everything attentively. The cage where the unusual family is resting is last. The seven-week-old kittens are playing and jumping everywhere, while Luci is sitting at the back. Smaller than all the other kittens, it looks gorgeous with his green blue eyes, looking everywhere. It's tail flicks naughtily and as soon as a brother or sister comes closer, it jumps, play biting the other's ear.

"I assume the kit with the white star mark on its head is your new cat." Hale says so suddenly that I jump, almost losing my balance where I was kneeling.

"Yes. Anyway, I hope you liked the facilities. What will you be doing here, after all? Photography, I know, but how. One at a time, in groups, outside in the play garden or in?"

"In for now. We can spread a blanket on the adoption area and scatter a few toys. I'll take pictures while they play." Sounds good. I'm a little ashamed I never thought to practice my future career on the pets desperately needing a home. We're a no kill shelter, but we still get crowded, and furthering adoption rates is always the goal.

"I know the perfect one to start." We went back the way we came to the senior wing. The dogs here are still somewhat energetic and very much loved by their carers, but I'd love to see them all in good homes nevertheless. In the middle of the rows we reach a dark and light mixed brown dog with long white muzzle fur and liquid gold eyes. The Dame's graceful lines always touched something in me. She's a mutt, but a regal bearing mutt.

"Her name is Dame, she's fourteen."

"The name fits. You're right, she's perfect as the first." I am not in charge of the seniors, only the youngsters, so he'll have to talk with Macy, but that's easily accomplished.

"Do you need anything else Mr Hale? I have to feed JoJo."

"Who's JoJo?"

"An orphan."

"I'll come with." He follows me back and watches the animals through the camera while I prep the kit's milk. My body is very aware of his. Whenever his gaze lands on me a shiver goes down my spine, so I focus on removing JoJo off his cage with a warm blanket around his tiny body. He sucks on the bottle hungrily, trying to help with his little paws. The three-week-old orphan's personality is starting to manifest and his defining trait is gluttony. Every few seconds I remove the plastic nipple from his mouth, trying to slow him down some. I'm focused, but it's hard to miss the flash of the camera. JoJo meows in response but keeps sucking. As soon as he finishes his meal he's already crying for another! I'm ready to stimulate a bathroom break if necessary, but JoJo does it by himself this time. I'm stupidly proud of him!

"Good job, JoJo!" The kitten meows back. A quick clean up later and he's back in the cage. Hale still hasn't run off. I've been honestly expecting him to. I don't know what to say to him. My body is running riot but I'm pushing through it, focusing on my tasks. JoJo's chart needs my signature to confirm feeding, and there're other kits to clean and feed, queens that need care... this is my place to unwind, where I can forget everything going on, but now he's here too. Hale is everywhere! How am I supposed to keep my cool without my breathing places? And I can't just snap my fingers and quit the job. I'd have to give 3 weeks advance notice.

I do my duties the best I can while Hale practices his shots all over the shelter. At six thirty my shift ends, so I wash up in the lockers, exchanging the jeans for an above the knee white dress, black ankle boots, with over the knee socks black socks and black leather jacket. It was a relief to loosen the braid until my hair was loose again. It's impossible to go without seeing Luci again. Employees are not supposed to enter the shelter area without the apron, so I peek in both ways before sneaking to Luci's cage. The kit happens to be napping against the gate. I can't help myself. Picking my phone, I start taking pictures. It suddenly gets up and looks at me briefly, long enough for me to capture its eyes, then looks behind me. The footfall makes me jump. Oh gods, I've been found! Amy is going to chew my ass and I'll have to take it 'cause she is right! The steps come closer. I pet Lucifer for calm before turning around with an apology on my lips.

Oh. It's him. Of course, it is. And he's looking at me with that hateful look on his eyes again, like I'm beneath him. "H-hey. My time to go. Bye now. Bye Luci." The kit meows at me so I pick it up, muzzle its belly fur, incidentally finding out it's a girl, and put her back. For some reason, Hale looks furious. Not my problem, I try to remind myself. "Goodbye then." I run off.

Hibiki, Suzy, Maya, and Johanna are at the bar on Friday night, waiting for me for our weekly out of school get together. We're all eighteen or over, no need for false IDs. The bar is noisy and crowded, but the girls still see me come in and wave me over, grinning. There's already a round in front of them, prompting a slight detour by the counter to get my own.

"Ready to partay?" Johanna grins, pulling over a chair. The other girls laugh.

"Of course. It's Friday, bitch." I grin back. "A toast, to being young, free, and fun!" I propose. Hibiki is the first to clink her bottle over. We all drink. Getting Over You by David Getta starts playing. "I'm gonna dance!" Beer in hand, and purse safely stored away in the club's lockers, I head out to the dance floor. Hibiki follows. Bottles high, we dance with each other. It's the first time I'm so comfortable in the bar, so free. The past two weeks have tripled my self-confidence enough that I can dance freely in the middle of the crowd like I've always been one of them. One by one, the girls come this way.

Sometime later, Maya grins towards the door. There's someone there, a guy in a leather jacket. He's average height and muscly of build, but I can't see his face. The press of people, and dark glasses, hide his features. Maya goes to him and a guy seamlessly claims the open space she left open. Johanna turns to him but I keep dancing front to front with Hibiki, both of us using the other as a shield against forward men.

Maya's boyfriend is still hidden from view, this time by her as she plants one on him. "That dude is trouble." Suzy whisper yells over the music, looking where I am.

"How do you know?" I ask.

"Gut feeling. Something about him stinks."

Maya doesn't come back to the dance floor or to our table. She gets her purse from the locker and waves goodbye from afar, leaving with him.

We dance the night away, and get buses home at around four am.

I'm drunk. That's the only excuse I have to what I'm doing, turning up the laptop at five in the morning, after five too many beers and three red fruit ICE's in the bar. I bite my black polished fingernail while writing Hale's email address with the other hand. The first social network comes up black, as do the other two, but the fourth... oh gods. There's a profile. It's not as private as it should, with a few public photo shoots. I click on them, greedily studying them one by one. Then... there's an album with ten pictures, but only one is visible. I click on it... And promptly lose all the air in my lungs.

It's him. He's naked. Crouching on the floor in a runner's pose with one knee turned to hide the goods, palms splayed on the floor, looking at the camera with a fierce look like he's about to charge the person looking at the picture. The date is from two years ago, when he had long hair down to his waist. The hair in the pic is loose, making his sharp features look damn mysterious, like a demon. He looks powerful, breathtaking. I save his picture without thinking. Maybe it's the alcohol, but my skin burns feverishly while I'm getting undressed for bed. The more I stare at the picture the more the loose renaissance sleeping gown chaffs against my chest and teases my body. Certain body parts are crying out for him, for his touch, for his possession. The thought it won't ever happen almost makes me cry with frustrated hormones.

The picture keeps me awake until dawn and lingers in my dreams afterwards.

Trina looks cheerful Monday morning. Olivia's probing chatter doesn't seem to phase her much, for which my stomach is grateful. Mom's sitting for breakfast with us for once. Today her shift starts at nine. It's good to have her at the table with us, I've forgotten the last time it happened. She eats her food savouringly, enjoying the calm and relative silence. When she catches me looking, she smiles and pats my hand. It's time.

"So... I'm going to use my adopt a shelter animal without questioning card. I found the perfect member for our family." Displaying the picture of Luci looking at the camera on my phone screen, I pass it around.

"Wow, it's so pretty!" Trina is the first to react.

"Yes, Luci Morningstar is a pretty lady." Olivia recoils.

"You're going to name the cat Lucifer?" She demands scandalized. Oh right, she's Christian. The cat isn't hers however, and she loves the show so she can't talk.

"She's the first star we'll see in the morning, and she's regal and pretty, Olivia. Don't pretend you mind, I know you love watching Tom Ellis on the show, so don't turn judgemental over a name now." Mom laughs, which shuts Olivia's mouth up quite nicely.

"Fine." She clearly disaproves, but I'm not gonna listen to her. I might love her like a second mother, but that doesn't mean I like her all the time, and when she tries foisting her religion and opinions on us is when I really don't like her at all.

"Alright, remember it's the only one you get to pick. If you're happy with Luci, we'll take her." Mom agrees.

"Yay!" Trina jumps up, hugging both of us. Olivia sniffs, but doesn't say anything else about it.

Trina spends the entire car ride talking about Luci. I let her, because I'm too nervous about what's about to happen. How am I going to face Hale after seeing him naked? How does a person face another after bumping uglies anyway? Good gods, but I have no clue.

Daniel comes to the car this time instead of waiting at the school entrance. "Hello ladies, how you doing in this nice day?" He grins, resting his arm on her shoulders. Trina huffs, but doesn't shrug off his arm.

"Tell him about Luci." I throw over my shoulder, locking the car. Trina launches on another one sided conversation about my kitty. Daniel nods his head. She's halfway towards the school when she suddenly turns back and grabs my trench coat.

"Send me the pictures, send me the pictures!" She watches avidly as I take out the phone and WhatsApp them to her.

"Thank you sis." Trina hugs me quickly, drops a kiss on my cheek and goes off. In the mornings she is so perky it's easy to forget she's fifteen and not eleven. I'm the opposite, I brighten during the day because I am absolutely not a morning person. Coffee can fix it, but we all know my morning cheerfulness is manufactured.

It's time. I stand in front of the door, trying to gather my courage. Hale is visible through the crack in the door, but if just seeing this much of him is making my heart pound and my lower belly clench, the full sight might just kill me. It's impossible to ignore the muscles hidden under the three-piece suit now. It's cold outside, but he has the suit jacket off and the shirt sleeves pulled up to his elbows. Just that much skin is almost too skin, with the light dusting of hair on his forearms. I remember the wide, smooth looking skin of his naked shoulders and I start trembling. I feel... strange, like my entire body is begging for something. It's stupid how it takes me a moment to realise this is true, real lust, the kind of lust that makes a person do something utterly stupid, like get inside and jump in his lap and devour his lips. Except... He doesn't want me. He doesn't even like me. He hates me and I can't forget that ever. The thought almost acts like a cold shower. It certainly dowses most of the heat, though something low in my belly is still clenching at the sight of him. I'm so distracted I don't sense the person coming up behind with evil intentions until it's way too late.

Next chapter