The sound of machines whirring quietly in the background and the smell of freshly ground coffee beans wafts through the air, rousing the small coffee shop’s workers from sleep, the early hour causing everyone to be slow and groggy, in desperate need of a cup of coffee themselves. Everyone, that is, but the young woman buzzing about in the shop, hair pulled up in a slicked down ponytail, shiny curls swaying with each peppy footstep.
She makes her usual rounds, giving out everyone’s positions for the day, making sure all ingredients are accounted for, and making one last, general sweep of the place before nodding in approval, satisfied. Now that her morning duties are done, the girl makes her way over to a tired looking barista, the tall man yawning and wiping absently at the wooden counters.
“Good morning, Jackson!” she chirps, entirely too energetic for it to be five in the morning.
The man in question shoots her a quick glare.
“How on Earth are you this happy this early in the morning? It never ceases to amaze me,”
She shrugs, walking behind the counter and propping an elbow on the counter, head resting on her open palm.
“So I was thinking,” she begins, getting straight to the point, “I heard about this new movie that came out on Netflix and I want to watch it with you. I could come over maybe at -”
“EliSa, this is honestly getting ridiculous,” her coworker exclaims with a sigh, “this is the third time this week you’ve asked to come over. Don’t you have anyone else to bother?”
Upon seeing the girl’s face flash with hurt, Jackson immediately regrets his words.
EliSa is the newest employee at the cozy coffee shop located in the outskirts of town. The entire staff has been surprised when the young girl (was she even in her twenties yet?!) had been introduced as the new manager. Everyone knew the old manager, a kindly middle-aged man, was leaving his position to spend more time with his children, and that the coffee shop would be under new leadership.
The girl in front of them looks to be fresh out of high school. This caused some workers to believe that she’d be easy to manipulate, but boy were they wrong. The young girl oversaw everyone with an iron fist and a smile. Most of the workers dislike her due to her inability to let things go, her constant pestering, and her attention to detail. Jackson, however, was determined to befriend the young girl. He remembers what it’s like to be thrust into a new environment, and wanted to make it easier on the girl.
His plan was successful. The two quickly became friends, Jackson taking a liking to the girl. It was fun until EliSa began to practically live under Jackson. Every day she wanted to go somewhere together, come over, or try some new place she’d seen on social media. It was like he had no life outside of her anymore and it was irritating the hell out of him.
So when he snaps at her, he feels good. Finally letting his agitation out, Jackson almost sags in relief, the weight of responsibility being lifted off of his shoulders. He hadn’t wanted to hurt the girl, he truly does like her, but enough is enough.
But now, looking at EliSa’s face fall into the same mask of professional indifference she wore with everyone else, Jackson knows he’s made a mistake.
“I apologize, Jackson, for overstepping boundaries. You’re absolutely correct. Please, continue on,” she says, pushing off from the counter and backing away.
With one more small, tight smile in Jackson’s direction, the girl retreats into the back of the shop, sliding into her small managerial office and closing the door gently. EliSa leans against her door, biting her lip harshly. She’s done it again. Become too clingy. She didn’t mean to become overbearing, she never does. It’s simply because she’s so used to being friendless that when someone does gain interest in her, she doesn’t know how to react, wanting to make up for all the years of loneliness she’s endured.
EliSa has worked very hard over the last several years, graduating from both high school and college by age eighteen. She was eager to get out into the real world and start making her own decisions, no longer wanting to be a burden to her aging grandparents. Although they never said anything to make her feel unloved or unwelcome, EliSa is very aware that they were not prepared to raise another child, especially not the child their reckless daughter had conceived on accident with her equally reckless boyfriend.
She grew up playing by herself, no children in her grandparents’ aging neighborhood to meet and befriend. School wasn’t much better either, EliSa experiencing some pretty harsh bullying for her smarts, mixed race, and the fact that her parents had abandoned her. By high school, she’d had enough, convincing her grandparents to let her finish her schooling online before enrolling at a small community college, getting herself a business degree by the time her former classmates were tossing their caps in the air.
She never knew how completely isolated she’d be. The overwhelming loneliness caused EliSa to grasp onto anyone she could too tightly, leaving her heartbroken every time someone no longer wanted to be around her. She understands, truly she does, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.
That day she makes sure to leave after Jackson’s shift is over, not wanting to make the man any more uncomfortable than she already did.
It’s a short but disheartening walk home, the girl’s brain filled with empty thoughts. EliSa is now back to square zero, back to being all on her own.
When she makes it to her small one-room apartment, she sighs, realizing that she’s in desperate need of groceries. She really doesn’t feel like going shopping today due to her self pitying mood and instead decides to grab dinner at the diner two blocks away. Today’s Friday, so she can go grocery shopping in the morning when she’s hopefully in a better mood.
On the way there, EliSa’s phone rings, the soft tune of Amazing Grace playing in the balmy afternoon. She takes a deep breath, mustering up some false energy, and answers the phone.
“Hello, Gran,” she says, looking up into the sky.
“Hi, sunshine. How are you doing today?” Her grandmother’s voice comes, the sound of her grandfather snoring in the background letting the eighteen year old know that they’ve retired for the night despite it being eight o’ clock.
“I’m doing well. It was a good day at work today, no problems with customers at all. Everyone did their job really well,”
That’s not exactly true. While there had been no complaints today, one of her staff had missed his shift without informing her of his absence, forcing Jackson and Lucy, one of the other baristas, to both have to work overtime. Neither was particularly happy about it.
“That’s good, dear. I was just calling to check on you, I didn’t want anything in particular,”
EliSa smiles, her grandmother’s jovial nature always managing to cheer her up, even if it’s only a little bit.
“Well I’m glad to hear your voice, Gran,” she says, the sign of her destination coming into view.
A laugh is heard through the line, soft and quiet.
“We talk every day, EliSa,”
“Mmm, we do. But still. You’re amazing, you know that, Gran? But I’ve got to go. I’m catching dinner with a friend and I just pulled up to the place. Talk to you tomorrow?”
“Alright, go have fun with your friend. Make sure you get enough sleep, okay?”
“I will. Love you! Bye,”
A small bell dings when EliSa pulls open the door to her favorite diner. The small restaurant is practically empty. She figures that most people have better things to do on a Friday night than ordering the daily special at LouAnne’s.
She orders her usual and picks at her food when it arrives, being slow to clear her plate. Mostly, the eighteen-year-old stares out of the large central window into the day, still bright despite the hour.
There’s something wrong with her, she knows it. She just doesn’t know how to fix it. What can she do to get people to like her?
“ . . . in need of loving homes. The animals at Saint Mary’s Sanctuary have all been rescued from dangerous and unfortunate situations . . .”
The small television hanging from above the counter catches EliSa’s attention.
As a child, the girl had never owned a pet, neither of her grandparents particularly fond of having animals in the house. It had never really bothered her; She was just as content taking care of the small garden at her childhood home as she’d be having a cat or dog. And yet, EliSa finds her attention snared by the commercial on the outdated television.
“Here at Saint Mary’s, our number one priority is the safety and wellbeing of our animals. If you are interested and can provide a good home, please do not hesitate to contact us,”
There is something about the commercial that struck her.
Even once she’s showered and attempting to go to sleep at night, EliSa’s brain is swimming with thoughts of Saint Mary’s sanctuary. She knows she’s unlikely to be approved to adopt for several reasons: she’s young, she works full time, she has a small house, she probably can’t afford it . . .
But it won’t leave her mind.
It’s no surprise then when her morning grocery trip turns rogue and EliSa ends up outside of the animal sanctuary. She has been sitting in her car for the last twenty minutes, just staring at the door, trying to come up with the courage to go inside.
Certainly, her milk is no good anymore.
The girl nearly screams from fright when a soft knock comes on her window, almost knocking her head against the door. Embarrassed, she smiles awkwardly and lowers the window, seeing a kind looking young man.
He’ll tall, six foot or near it, with a dark complexion, flawless skin, a head topped with curls, and the absolute longest eyelashes she’s ever seen. She stares at him for a moment, nearly jumping again when he speaks.
“I’ve noticed you just sitting here and was wondering if you were coming in,” he says with a smile.
He has the whitest teeth she’s ever seen.
Besides being the most attractive guy she’s met since she moved out on her own two months ago, the man wears a navy collared T-shirt with the sanctuary’s logo stitched in white on his left breast pocket. His name tag reads “Zayd”.
“Ah, um . . . I haven’t decided yet,” she stutters out.
“You really should come inside. At least have a look around. I was nervous when I first adopted as well,” he replies in an attempt to soothe the obviously jittery girl.
EliSa gives him a somewhat skeptical look.
“Pardon me if I’m being rude, but you have a pet? Isn’t that expensive? I doubt working here pays much,”
As soon as the words are out she slaps a hand over her mouth, mortified. EliSa’s cheeks bloom with color.
This is why you don’t have friends, EliSa!
The man - Zayd - laughs loudly.
“It doesn’t pay anything, actually. I just volunteer here on the weekends. But you don’t need to be a millionaire to adopt from Saint Mary’s. Or even all that well off, to be honest. As long as you can provide for one of our animals and are a kind person, you’re set. With some proper paperwork, that is,”
“I’m sorry. I have terrible social skills,” she explains, face feeling like it’s two hundred degrees.
Zayd just shakes his head.
“No don’t worry about it. It’s a common question for first timers and it’s quite obvious that you are one. Let’s go on inside, shall we? I think you just might find what you’re looking for,”
Saint Mary’s sanctuary is a large, mansion-like house with three visible floors, large windows, and a beautiful stone visage. The parking lot sits beside a large garden with a huge yard and blooming flower bushes. It’s breathtaking, really. Nearly out of a fairy tale. Nothing like the Humane Society she went to once with a cousin.
Zayd leads EliSa into the building through grand sliding doors, cold air whooshing out to greet her. The inside of the building is an elegant shade of cream with champagne accents and white marble floors. The man waves at a coworker sitting at the wood and marble front desk. She smiles brightly at Zayd.
“Hey, Lindsey, I’m just showing -”
He turns to the girl beside him.
“Ah, it’s EliSa,”
Zayd grins at her.
“Miss EliSa around. See if anyone catches ger attention,”
Lindsey smiles like he brought her sixteen roses.
“Sure, Zay, I got it out here,” she says, sitting up straighter and dusting off her shirt.
As the couple walks down the spacious hallway, EliSa gives Zayd a sly smirk.
“I see you’re popular,”
Zayd’s face lights up like Christmas.
“Ah, well . . . oh look, we’re here!” He announces suddenly, pointing to a door.
“It’s policy to go over some general information with every potential adoptee before allowing them to meet the animals. Just so we don’t waste anyone’s time or get anyone’s hopes up,”
“That makes sense,” she says as the two step into an office of sorts.
A computer sits on top of a simple mahogany desk, framed news articles and photos hanging on the wall.
“If you’ll just take a seat here,” Zayd gestures at one of the plush chairs on the opposite side of the desk.
EliSa does as told looking around curiously.
“Okay, before we get started, I need a bit of info about you. Maybe I have your ID, please?”
EliSa rummages through her purse and pulls out her wallet, handing over her ID.
“Okay. Full name?”
“Nineteen nineteen Mockinghill Lane, Suite 104”
“Okay then, everything checks out. So, tell me. Why are you in the market for a pet?”
“Uh, I saw one of the commercials for this place and it caught my interest. The idea kind of stuck in my head. I have . . .”
EliSa hesitates for a moment, trying to figure out how to say the next part without sounding pathetic.
“. . . lived my life a little fast. I’ve already graduated from both high school and university and am in the workforce. But because of that, I kinda put my social life on pause. I’m not very good at pressing play, it seems,” she says, laughing a bit awkwardly, “so I thought about maybe getting a pet to remedy that,”
“I see,” Zayd says, making no real reaction.
Instead, he simply types something on the computer.
“Do you have any other pets?”
“Do you live with anyone?”
“How long are you usually home?”
“I work nine to six,”
More computer typing.
“Let’s go have a look around then, shall we?” he asks, standing up from his position behind the desk.
The pair exit the office and make a turn, entering a large courtyard. Several people, other volunteers, EliSa assumes, and different dogs are scattered about. Some dogs lounge in the shade, minding their own business. Others play together in the sun, running around and catching one of several balls being tossed their way. One is even in a tree, relaxing.
However, as soon as the two enter the yard, all the animals halt, eyes on them. When they see Zayd, most of the dogs return to their previous activities, not paying any attention to EliSa. One dog, however, approaches the pair, startling EliSa when it jumps on her, panting, almost grinning at the girl.
“Hope! What have we told you about that, girl?” Zayd exclaims.
The dog returns to all fours before plopping down, sticking her front paw out to YN. She shakes it, still a little taken aback.
“She’ll well trained, it seems,” EliSa says, the dog rubbing herself on her legs.
“Yeah, she used to belong to a pretty well - to - do elderly lady, but she passed away a few months ago. Hope’s lived here since then,”
“That’s sad. I’m glad you guys are taking care of her, then. What type of dog is she?” EliSa asks.
She knows absolutely nothing about dogs. She couldn’t tell a pit bull from a Shi Tzu.
“Golden Retriever. Three years old. She’s a really sweet girl,” Zayd replies, scratching the dog’s ear.
“Wanna play, with her, EliSa?” the man asks.
Hope prances excitedly, leading her away with a wagging tail. The two stop at an open spot near an abandoned rubber ball.
“Catch?” EliSa asks, watching as the dog lights up, rolling the ball towards her with her snout.
The two toss the ball back and forth for a bit in silence, EliSa content just watching Hope chase down the toy with the same vigor no matter how many times she throws it. Without her realizing, several hours have passed as she gets to know Hope, playing with her in a variety of ways. When Zayd comes to fetch her, it’s already midday.
The girl can hardly keep the bounce from her step.
Hope is perfect for her. She’s the dog she wants to adopt.
“So, what paperwork do I have to fill out to bring Hope home?” EliSa asks Zayd once they reenter the office.
“Unfortunately there’s a bit of a process involved. Your home has to be inspected by one of our trusted home advisors. We’ll also need some evidence that you have a job - your most recent paycheck will suffice. And finally, you’ll have to go to one of the basic new owner classes offered here at the Sanctuary,”
EliSa nods, a bit of disappointment entering her heart. She had hoped to bring her home today.
“How long will all that take? And how much will it cost?”
“ Depends on you, depends on how busy we are, how fast you can get evaluated. Usually about a month. Maybe less if there aren’t any problems. The total cost would be just enough to cover those fees, about a hundred fifty dollars,” Zayd replies.
YN’s eyes nearly bug out of her head.
“That’s it? Really?”
“Yes, really. The sanctuary runs mostly on government funding,” Zayd says, “I didn’t believe it in the beginning either,”
The pair schedule a date for the home inspection two weeks from today and EliSa decides to stop by again on Monday, when she receives her next paycheck, to work on the paperwork.
Driving home with spoiled milk is the happiest she’s been in a long time.