Bleach clung to her nostrils as she scrubbed the stained concrete floor, a chore that was inevitable in her line of work. Sonya Chavez stopped to swipe tendrils of her jet-black hair away from her face, the dry back of her wrist the best body part for the job. The now dull sound of barking and whining echoed through the aisle, a cacophony that used to pierce her eardrums every time she walked into the locked aisle lined with stalls.
Finally, the floor was clean and Sonya could move onto more important tasks. Her gaze flew to the full pen of six week old pups that tumbled around in the stall nearest her current position. A sad smile creased her dimpled brown cheeks, as she thought of how the orphans came to be homed here. Temporarily, she hoped.
The last owners of the puppies were not expecting a litter of mutts and abandoned them in the hot sun on the side of the road a few days before. A good Samaritan had the heart to load them up and bring them in until they could be adopted out at eight weeks–a California law that ensured animals were properly weaned and old enough to eat solid food.
Sighing, she bent down to wriggle her fingers through the chain link fencing at the balls of fur wrestling with each other.
"It's alright. You guys will be fine, won't you? I know what it feels like to be left." Her soft voice was full of melancholy and empathy.
Straightening herself out, Sonya walked to the front desk of the Angel's Creek Animal Shelter, dumping her cleaning supplies into a closet on the way. Luckily, no one was waiting for assistance as she sank into the faded faux leather chair and reached for a drink of water.
Some days, sadness engulfed her spirit. At twenty-five, she was surrounded by dating couples or promiscuous women her age who urged her to find someone. It wasn't that easy, at least, not for her. Sonya tried once, nearly a year ago, and it only ended in twice the heartbreak.
The desk felt cool on her sweaty hot forehead as she rested on it, memories coming in waves through her mind.
Mandy, her best friend since high school, had introduced her to Alex one night when they went to Lemurs, the local bar, for drinks. Sonya and Alex hit it off almost immediately: laughing at jokes, finding similar interests, and similar culture. Alex had even met her family a couple months into their dating, and they openly approved since he was the same ethnicity as they are, his charm and personality a secondary consideration for them.
A laugh nearly erupted from Sonya's throat at the preferences of her parents. To them, heritage mattered a hell of a lot more than the person itself. That isn't to say they didn't believe in love, morals, and personality as they had raised Sonya with all of those traits in mind. Once puberty hit, they switched tracks and pummeled the idea into her that she must carry on tradition and bloodlines the way they had, and their parents before them.
Skin didn't matter, Sonya had realized after five months of a relationship with Alex Hernandez. One late August night, Sonya had gone to his home exhausted and covered in animal hair after a long shift at the shelter, walked into his bedroom and was horribly surprised by Alex and Mandy in the middle of sexual intercourse. Anger had heated from the tips of her toes to the top of her head, followed closely by deep hurt and betrayal.
Alex had nothing worthwhile to say about what happened as Sonya left and told him it was over. His only resounding excuse was that he was a man, and he had needs, that of which Sonya refused to fulfill.
It's not that Sonya outright refused or wanted to be a tease, but on their first date she told him outright she was a virgin still and wanted to wait until she felt ready to have it taken from her. He agreed and seemed not to be bothered by it until that night five months later. For the first time, also that night, Sonya felt that her virginity had been a bad thing.
The door to the building opened just then, pulling her out of deep thoughts. Luckily, she had no more tears left to cry for herself at this point, so her cheeks remained unstained.
"Hey good lookin'. What's up?" Stan, a local UPS driver, leaned on both elbows onto the counter that separated the two of them. His blue eyes twinkled in the bright lighting, and his blonde hair fell in waves over his forehead.
Stan was a handsome man and he never held back on flirting or asking Sonya out. On her good days, she felt equally flattered and guilty about his compliments. She knew she was a decent looking girl, and flattery helped boost her self-confidence a notch or two. Guilt set in when she turned him down, for selfish reasons, knowing he wasn't her type personality-wise and also because Sonya wanted to avoid the same embarrassment that Alex put her through.
"Hey Stan. What'd you bring today? Got anything good?" She gave him a cheery smile, that she didn't truly feel, and brightened her voice.
"Not sure about the delivery, but I can bring something good if you'll just go out with me." His sweet face made her feel all the more guilty as she turned him down gently once more.
"Sorry, just not ready to date yet. Besides, I'm sure you could get any girl." Sliding the signed paperwork back to him, she dropped the receipt into the basket of invoices and miscellaneous clutter to be filed away later.
"You know, that hurts, right here." He tapped his chest, winking as he did so. "Well, this might be your last chance sweetheart. I could be taken next time I see you." With a friendly goodbye, he left the packages and walked out to his truck.
As she put away the contents of the boxes, Sonya almost wished she could bring herself to date again. Nights were lonely in her small home with a couple of acres. Several random pets she'd adopted from her workplace helped ease the stale loneliness and kept her busy, but sometimes she lay in bed wishing for more. A man who understood her, was loyal, told funny jokes, and would make her life better. Maybe, one day, she'd find that man.
Sweat beaded his brow, making his head under the hat itch as he worked. Forking hay alongside his boss and friend, Dominic Sanders thoughtfully paused before answering Eli's question.
"I've sworn off sleeping around, man." He wasn't sure what else to say. He was still surprised by his own turning over of a new leaf.
"You? Mr. Ladies-Man? I thought it was a rumor." Eli stared at him, resting his weight on the handle of the pitchfork, his dark eyes unbelieving.
"Yeah. I don't know man. Watching you and Desiree, plus the nagging from my mom, has made me seriously rethink things." Dominic also rested against the barn tool, thoughtfully examining his black skin which had only been deepened by the sun.
"So, you don't flirt? Drink? Try to hook up? Hell, cop a feel?" Eli removed his ball cap and smoothed out his thick naturally wavy brown hair, a trait he had inherited from his mother who was from an indigenous Australian bloodline.
"Well, I still find myself charming as always with the ladies," Dominic replied, flashing a perfect bright smile, "but I stop after a dance or a couple drinks now. It doesn't feel the same anymore. You know, waking up next to a beautiful woman who made my night just doesn't feel right anymore. Almost like I'm..." He searched for the right word to describe his feelings.
"Bored? Ready to settle down?" Eli laid his pitchfork against the white plank wall inside the hay room that was built inside the stable, picking up two water bottles and offering Dom one.
"Well, yeah. I guess." Dominic took the water gratefully, chugging the whole thing before twisting the bottle and replacing the cap, a habit he developed to save room in his recycle bin.
Recycling was sort of important to him. He wouldn't call himself a greenie or anything, but the thought of tons of plastic, glass, and aluminum wasting space in a landfill somewhere made him think twice. Eli had come to adopt to his way of thinking, at first only to humor him and then in an attempt to do his part in this world.
"Hey. I'm proud of you man. I know me saying this isn't very macho, but I love you like a brother and I only want you to feel the same happiness I do with Desiree." Eli clapped him on the back, and as if just on cue his wife walked into the stable.
A cute redhead, of a couple inches over five-foot, stood in the openness of the stable aisle and looked in at the two of them. Her features seemed flawless except for a faint scar that graced her ivory left cheek, a souvenir of a tussle with a dangerous stalker of hers a while back. Her bright blue green eyes usually held a bright twinkling appearance, but for the last eight months she had death rays pouring from them more times than not.
"Eli! When the hell is nine months up? Everything freaking hurts and I feel like he's going to fall out any minute. Gawd. And your mom keeps calling asking for updates. Who the hell gave her my number anyways?" Desiree rubbed a splayed hand over her very large pregnant belly, standing with her legs apart and back bent back slightly to counterbalance the weight. Poor woman. Pregnancy always seemed so wonderful in movies, but now that Dominic saw what it could do to an amazing easy-going and happy woman, he was terrified to start a family. Ever.
Both happiness an sadness washed over him as he watched Eli gracefully and patiently calm his pregnant wife. Dom wanted those things. As much as this angry flame of a woman terrified him in her last trimester, he found himself wanting to have the same thing his friend did: a loving wife, life-long friendship, and a family. They were the true inspiration for Dominic's new path.
"Well, I'm going to go answer some of your mom's calls with texts, and finish up dinner. Dom, would you like to stay?" She turned her heated face to him, a glimmer of kindness shining through the discomfort that flared from her eyes.
"No thanks. I think I'm just going to go home. I have a date with the remote control, the TV, and a steak dinner." Dominic stepped forward to hug the woman he'd become fond of like a sister, or more accurately the sweet sister-in-law since he also considered Eli a brother in spirit.
"Well, take care. You'll be Eli's first call if this baby makes his appearance tonight, which would be just fine by me." With that, she waddled back out of the stable and to the house. Dominic cringed as he watched her.
After finishing up the nighttime routine at Eli's ranch, Dominic jumped into his newly purchased silver Chevy Duramax and made his way to the store for some beer, then home. Usually he kept a bottle of alcohol on hand to substitute for his old bar scene habit, but tonight he only felt the need for a six-pack of locally brewed beer. He felt like a fool drinking it, but it hit the spot and tasted good.
Dinner came out well, and his TV programs were a good distraction for a while, but soon he found himself yawning and standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom. It was the master bathroom of the single-family home he had recently purchased after becoming Eli's foreman, which gave him a sizable increase in pay. Money didn't mean everything, but it meant great beer, a luxurious hot shower, and a king size soft bed. Only thing it didn't buy was the love of the perfect woman.
Would he ever find her, Dominic wondered as he brushed his teeth and prepared for a shower. He had a list, which sounded adolescent he knew, but she needed to be at least half those things. Sweet? Pretty? Funny? Outgoing? Meeting Mom worthy? Sounded like a big order, especially as his list went on into specifics, derived from the traits he found most grating from women he'd dated or almost dated before.
One day, he tried to hope, she would show up.