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Essence Morgan closed her eyes as she jogged slowly, intent to enjoy the sun and warmth now that she was able. She'd been cooped in her new home for most of the two weeks she'd been in this city and by God now she was at least going to see something other than drab walls and cardboard boxes. Even if it killed her. Which is the very thought pattern that had made her peel herself away from unpacking and head out this morning . . . well that and Angel was about to climb the walls right beside her.
She sighed, looking down as her German Shepherd pranced along in front of her; occasionally tugging at his leash when he would spot or smell something interesting before he'd settle back down. She rolled her eyes. You'd think he was the one who'd had to pack and unpack, transfer jobs and deal with all of the general hassles of moving from the way he was acting. But then again as far as he was concerned, he probably had. His food bowl had moved over four states after all.
She shook her head, using her free hand to push her slightly damp light brown hair out of her eyes; glancing around the new area she'd found herself in. So maybe a ten mile radius was a little large for her to take on her first run but she needed to familiarize herself with as much as she could. And in Long Beach she needed to make sure she did it quickly . . .
Which is how she'd found herself near the docks and marinas in the warehouse district, taking in all of the older buildings and salt worn architecture. Each new structure was slightly different than the last, the years of grime dirt and graffiti adding to the already chipped and dented siding and the cracked or broken windows to make each seem unique. And even though they were all in various stages of decay or repair she found that she loved comparing them. Chicago had plenty of buildings like these and seeing them made all of this a little easier on her.
Actually it made it a lot easier . . . because as soon as she closed her eyes and listened, she heard the one thing that Chicago had lacked severely. Even under the sounds of the city and the wind. She heard the ocean and the marina; she could smell the salt and water on the air . . . she was finally home. Despite how long she'd lived in Chicago–and everything she'd suffered through while she was there–she hadn't really had to look hard for a place to relocate when the world had finally become too much. She been born and raised in California, living and thriving on the west coast until after her fourteenth birthday. When he her parents had been killed in a rather grizzly car accident.
She'd gone to live with her older brother Troy after that, moving across the country and trying to build a life for herself as he balanced taking care of her and keeping his blossoming career afloat. She smiled, pride swelling in her chest as she thought about all her brother had accomplished over the past few years. Their parents would be just as proud if not more so . . . but then again how could they be anything but? Troy had done more than okay for himself, working hard to reach a height that his peers had never thought him capable of. Now as a high end attorney he worked with a multibillion dollar conglomerate that kept him flying across the country–and occasionally the world to solve certain international issues with his own brand of skill and charm. And while it meant that she didn't see him much she knew he loved her immensely . . . and that he was only a plane trip away.
Essence sighed, slowing down as she and Angel passed close to the Vincent Thomas Bridge. She looked up, taking in the menagerie of concrete and steel in awe before she shook herself and started back on her exploration. But as she moved further into the warehouses and turn offs to the water she couldn't help but wonder if the towering structure was any prettier lit up at night than it was in the day time. She grinned, shaking her head. Probably.
She made her way down one of the larger alleys, looking around the old storefronts and garages curiously. Who knew, maybe she could actually find someone to work on her baby down here . . . and if she was lucky she might just happen upon a better second job. She'd always had an interest in cars, even when she was younger. And working in and around garage couldn't possibly be as bad as what she was doing now. Hell it might actually take stress away from her life. She slowed, glancing in the largest free standing garage cautiously; trying to see if anyone was around . . . or if there was anything worth stopping to see. She'd noticed more than a few classics littered around the gated in yard–all in various stages of repair–and she had to admit she was curious to see what else they had.
She glanced into the open work bays and noticed there were several men outside, mingling just beyond the doorway. The men laughed and talked with one another, some hassling the others good naturedly as others groused and complained. But as soon as they noticed her all conversation stopped, the members of the group either fading back deeper into the large garage or standing and staring back at her. Essence raised a brow at them–in curiosity and confusion–before she shrugged it off, looking forward and focusing all of her attention on the music blaring from her earbuds as she continued on her way.
She rolled her eyes, heading down towards the waterfront as she tried to guide Angel the way she wanted him. But with how restless he was she knew after a lap near the docks she would need to head back. Or she would have even more trouble getting him to follow her. He was a great dog, but when he got bored or tired he had the attention span of a gnat. And she could practically hear her brother's teasing voice in the back of her head, accusing her that he was just like her.
She made her way around the marina, looking over the different kinds of boats and ships as they danced across the murky water in the port. And she'd only had to keep Angel from chasing the gulls and pelicans twice before he'd gotten the message and been content to just bark and yip at the flying rats. Eventually her feet led her home, climbing the few steps to her porch as she tried to wrangle both Angel and her keys. Which were stubbornly trying to stay attached to her iPod arm band instead of coming loose like they should. She stepped inside before releasing Angel's leash, leaving him to gallop into the kitchen; where he immediately tried to swim in his water bowl as she made her way upstairs to take a quick shower before going in to work. She sighed, shaking her head at her dog. At least he wasn't small enough to fit in the bowl anymore . . . now that had been a horrific mess to clean up.
She sighed, letting her mind turn towards work as she turned the water on; adjusting the temperature before she started shedding her workout clothes. Being a first assistant for a shoe store that didn't give a rat's ass about their employees wasn't as glamorous as other people thought–actually in all honesty it sucked–but it paid well (since she'd worked her way up the proverbial latter and fought hard for all of her raises). Or at least enough for her to get by. So she'd slaved away for what seemed like forever until she finally transferred from Chicago, both her boss and the seemingly never-ending snow wearing on her dangerously thin last few nerves.
So now here she was, twenty-three years old in a new town with a fresh start . . . now she just had to make the best of it.
After her shower, Essence found herself glancing around her closet; trying to find something suitable to wear to work. She needed something she could move around in and still look professional . . . and that she wouldn't mind being seen in before she went in. Hell at least she didn't have to wear a uniform right?
She reached up, trying to push her hair back and out of her face before she reached out to trace one of her better dress shirts. She'd taken the extra time to style her long layers today instead of just braiding it or pulling it back, curling the layers in different angles to make them more noticeable before she'd done her makeup. She glanced around the closet again before shaking her head, grabbing her black leggings and one of her softer black tunic length shirts. The shirt would sit well on her figure, accentuating her waist without being too tight or fitting while the draped kimono styled sleeves bagged just enough to be either casual or dressy.
Essence turned, grabbing her grey suede calf-boots before she sank onto the edge of her bed; carefully pulling the square toed riding boots up and onto her legs; taking the time to make sure the leggings were completely tucked all the way around. She went to check her makeup, smoothing her hands over her slightly peachy pink cheeks before she reapplied her clear gloss. She'd found a long time ago that going for a natural look–save the mascara and thin black liner she'd used on her eyes to make them more noticeable–was the easiest way for work.
It wasn't too loud or dramatic. And people didn't mistake her for some kind of pampered little princess . . . or a skank.
She rolled her eyes, carefully adjusting the diamond briolette articulated dangle and sterling silver heart necklace from her jewelry stand. She knew the diamonds were simulated but Troy had gotten it for her on her eighteenth birthday . . . and she loved the way it looked against the otherwise dark outfit. She nodded once at her appearance before going back downstairs to get ready to leave. Angel needed fresh food and water–and his impromptu swimming pool needed to be whipped up–and she had to grab her keys and purse. Then she could get this show on the road.
She sighed, stepping over Angel as he wagged his tail; trying to intertwine himself between her legs as she hit the ignore button on her cell phone for the fourth time in as many minutes. She pointed at the whining and whimpering German Shepherd, shaking her head as he dipped his head and gave her his best 'wounded puppy' look. She rolled her eyes skyward before she crossed her arms, blatantly ignoring the ringing phone in her hand before she reached out and ruffled Angel's fur behind his ears. Earning her a happy bark and the best doggy grin he could give her as she gave him a deadpan look. Seriously that look might work with Troy but it didn't with her. Not when she'd seen him chasing his tail two seconds before.
"Bye Angel. Behave!"
The dog yipped again, settling on his haunches as she finally opened the interior door to her garage. God it had taken her longer to get around the dog to the side door than it had for her to do her hair and makeup . . . that decided it. She needed a cat. She shook her head, stopping to smile at the gleaming black 72 Gran Torino practically preening on its wheels; running her hand down the hood appreciatively as she made her way to the driver's door. She'd knew that most people thought the monster of a car was too much for her–and she'd had more than a few guys outright laugh at the fact that she drove a stick–but she'd fallen in love with it as soon as she'd seen it on-line. And Troy had been a sweetheart, surprising her with it on her twenty-first birthday.
She sank into the plush seats, cranking the car and listening to the deep throaty idle before she reached under the dash and flipped the switch for the best feature. The radar deflector that Troy had painstakingly installed after her fourth speeding ticket. She grinned, reaching up and hitting the clicker for the door before she threw the car into reverse; edging out and into the street slowly. She made her way to the edge of her new neighborhood, trying to make sure she kept all of the kids running and playing in her sights before she pulled out onto the main road. She kept a moderate pace, glancing around until she cleared the first few lights. But as soon as she saw it was clear she was gone, maneuvering between the cars on the street as she made her way to Huntington Park.
As she drove, Essence started mentally preparing herself for the day–well night ahead of her . . . until her cell phone rang again. She reached down, glancing at the name on the face plate before she rolled her eyes. Today was going to seem insanely long as it was. And talking with her favorite but meddling brother was only going to make it seem longer. She sighed, answering the call as she sped past a Prius, shaking her head at the hybrid as it puttered along beside her. Car of the future her ass . . .
"Yes Troy, can I help you?"
"Why in the hell do you keep ignoring my calls?"
Essence sighed, rolling her eyes again as she shifted into the next gear; easily bypassing the other cars as she got closer and closer to her turn off. She knew she shouldn't take as much pleasure in hearing the irritation coloring her brother's voice but she couldn't help it. Besides he made it far too easy for her to harass him with how he worried. And she was his little sister, it was kind of her job to turn his hair gray.
"Because I'm on my way into work as we speak. And you know how I feel about driving and talking on cell phones."
She heard him snort and it was all too easy for her to see him leaning back in his seat as he rolled his eyes at her. She grinned, trying to fight back the wave of homesickness that started to bubble in her chest. God he was one of the few things she actually missed about Chicago.
"Yeah you do it all the time."
She shrugged, taking the turn onto 710 a little faster than necessary as she grinned. She couldn't argue with him there.
"What's up Troy? What's making you such a worry wart, huh?"
Tory sighed into the phone, letting her hear just how serious he was as he almost whined into the phone. She rolled her eyes. He was whining . . . he just wouldn't admit to it.
"I just miss you, Elixir. God now I know how Mom and Dad felt when I moved out after I turned eighteen. This is torture!"
She laughed, leaning further back into her seat as she tried to relax before she went into work. So she was still doing well over the speed limit and weaving in between the cars poking by her. She needed to try and get as much in as she could before she walked through those doors. And she wasn't going to do it on the phone with Troy.
"I miss you too, Troy. Now stop worrying so much! I'm fine. But look, I'm almost at work so let me get off here. I promise you can talk my ear off on the way home, alright?"
She heard him rustle around before he answered, sounding a little more at ease now that they'd spoken.
"Fine. Have fun at work."
"You too, big Brother. Love you."
"Love you too."
They both hung up in sync, something they always did. Mainly because neither liked to hang up on the other when they didn't have to. But as she slowed to turn into her parking lot she had to admit that maybe her day wouldn't be as long now as she'd thought. Smiling softly to herself she shook her head, moving to park. She knew–that despite their differences and the fifteen year age gap–nothing could sever the bond she had with her brother . . .
As soon as Essence clocked out she made good on her promise, calling her brother to talk about any and everything she could think of. She told him about how her house looked now that it was finished and all of Angel's antics both on and after their walk while he told her about the cases he was working on back in Chicago. And even though they talked well into the early morning hours, Essence didn't feel badly about it. If anything it was almost like he was there with her as they spoke, just in another room.
Even now, as she tried to wrangle Angel and get him ready for their new routine half asleep she wasn't sorry to have spent so long on the phone. Besides, Troy had apparently needed to hear from her as badly as she had him. She looked around her kitchen and living room, making sure she had everything she needed. Her keys were already clipped to the iPod strap and she'd tucked her cell phone into the strap of her sports bra, reminding herself to actually find some jogging or yoga pants with pockets before she bent to ruffled Angel's fur.
He yipped and jumped, already tugging on his leash as they made their way to the front door. And he almost jumped off the porch to chase the neighbor's cat as she bent and contorted to lock the door, forcing her to wrap the leash tightly around her arms as she scolded him. She sighed, letting him lead the way as she rolled through her music; trying to find something to help her keep a good pace.
She sighed, letting her mind wander in time to the music and her own steps as she and Angel made their way back to the warehouses and the waterfront. It seemed as good a place as any to run and she liked being able to feel a little more at ease in the midst of the old buildings. But as she started to come upon the few garages scattered around the district she started to rethink that opinion. Angel kept trying to leap at the other–cage and fenced–dogs as they barked, forcing her to keep fighting him to move forward. She rolled her eyes, tugging him with her as she moved closer to the garage she'd seen the day before.
Of all the days for him to decide he was Rambo puppy today was the one he picked.
She stopped, about to point and reprimand Angel when her phone started to vibrate beneath her shirt; causing her to groan before she went to retrieve it. Right as four men drove by and started to cat call and whistle to her, making her roll her eyes at them as she fought with the cell and the dog. Seriously they thought shit like that was attractive?
She shook her head, glancing at the name before she growled. She hit the answer insignia, not even giving her brother time to start as she drolled to him over the line.
"What's wrong now Troy?"
"Please let me help you get a job, Essence. We both know that working in retail and part time at the hospital is not going to pay all of your bills!"
She rolled her eyes as she sighed, leaning back against the fenced in yard of the garage, completely ignoring everything around her as she tried to talk sense into her brother.
"We've been over this, Troy. I don't want a job you found me. I want to find one for myself! That way my co-workers will respect me. And not think I need to be kept."
Troy sighed to himself, letting her hear how frustrated he was about all of this. She knew she shouldn't have said anything last night but oh no. She just had to talk to him about everything and now he was in worry mode.
"I just want you to be secure, Essence. I want to give you everything you need."
"I want you to remember I'm not a child anymore Troy!"
She bit out exasperatedly, going to run the hand tangled in Angel's leash through her hair. Only to remember she'd thrown it back into a high ponytail rather than dealing with it.
"Listen, I know it's hard to let me be an adult after you raised me . . . but I just need a big brother, Troy. One who would be there if I fail at all of this. But you've got to let me try. I don't mind the work, Troy, I never did. You just have to believe and trust me that I can live on my own."
She sighed, letting her hand fall back to her side as Troy spoke again. And she felt bad but she knew it was something he needed to do. He couldn't coddle her forever. "I'm sorry. I'll try harder to let go. Love you."
She smiled, sagging against the fence as she answered him. He was a good brother. Over protective and nerve-racking but good. She turned, raising a brow to the older man that had moved to the opening in the fence she was propped against; smiling to her shyly as he gave her a little wave.
"I love you too, Troy. Look, let me call you when I get off work, okay? I think I'm messing with this guy's business looking all cop-like so I've got to go. Give my love to Ava for me. Bye."
She glanced back at the man beside her, grinning bashfully as she waved the phone.
"Sorry. Over protective big brother."
The man chuckled, the sound warm and welcoming as he shook his head lightly.
"That's fine darling. I just wanted to check on you. Make sure you were okay."
She smiled back to him, relaxing as he shifted on his feet slightly. He was a little taller than her with hair that was more white and gray than the dark brown she could see on the ends, with a completely white thick mustache above his friendly grin. He was wearing worn and slightly dirty work pants and a shop shirt, the name Otto embroidered in the oval patch over his heart and a pair of what looked like really thick glasses peeking out of the pocket with a small wrench and screwdriver.
"I'm fine, just family drama. Well over protective brother drama."
He nodded, running a hand over his hair as he grinned to her sheepishly.
"I kind of overheard. So . . . you're looking for a new job?"
She nodded hesitantly, cocking her head to the side curiously as the man before her started to resemble a shy little boy more and more. Finally he grinned, shoving his hands in his pockets and rocked on the balls of his feet before he nodded back to the large garage. It was bigger than most of the others she'd passed. And there were a good bit of junked and wrecked cars in the side fence.
"Well you're in luck, kid. I need a secretary. My wife keeps nagging me to get the office under control but I can't ever seem to find the time. Or the willpower."
Essence grinned, crossing her arms and tugging Angel to sit beside her.
"And judging from your desperate tone your office is a huge mess right?"
The man flushed but grinned, shrugging.
"Yeah. Something like that."
Essence smiled apologetically, tugging at the leash to make Angel stand.
"Well I would love to but I know what clerical work pays. And I honestly can't afford to take the cut that quitting my retail job would mean. Meaning I won't really be spending too much time trying to organize your office."
The man seemed to panic slightly before he responded quickly, practically tossing out his next statement like it were a life line.
"I'll double whatever you're making right now."
She looked at him like he was crazy and he continued, talking almost a mile a minute as he almost pleaded with her.
"Please, kid? My last two secretaries saw the mess and quit the next second. I'm beggin' ya."
She crossed her arms, looking at him before she sighed. She'd tell him how much she made and he would probably let her go on her way.
"Well I make ten fifty an hour now. So I really don't think–"
"Kid I'll give you twenty-two fifty an hour."
She blinked, trying to wrap her mind around what was happening as he shifted on his feet again. He apparently took her stunned silence as a no so he continued, trying his hardest to get her to agree.
"I'll put the offer in writing and everything. You can sign the contract the day you start. So how about it?"
Essence nodded dumbly before her face split into a bright grin. She knew she was beaming at the guy but she just couldn't help it. This was like an answer to all of her worries!
He nodded, his shoulders sagging in relief before he clapped his hands together; rubbing them enthusiastically as he smiled wildly to her.
"Alrighty then! Let's go on in and write all of this up. Can you start today?"
She blinked before shaking her head slowly, shifting on her feet as she reached down to pet Angel again. God was he really that desperate?
"Um no . . . I work at the hospital tonight, unfortunately. But I can start tomorrow. I'll just need to drop my key off at the store first . . ."
He nodded, extending his hand to her with an award winning smile. And Essence suddenly wondered what she'd gotten herself into. But she sighed, taking the offered hand with a smile as she sealed her proverbial fate.
"Great! I'll see you tomorrow, say eleven?"
"Sounds great. See you then Mr . . ."
He grinned, motioning to the patch on his chest with a mischievous twinkle to his eye. Which had Essence fighting between laughing and rolling her own. God this guy was a trip. But at least he seemed nice enough.
"Like the shirt says, darling. Otto Halliwell. But feel free to call me Otto . . ."
With a nod and another warm smile, Essence wrangled Angel and started back towards the front of the garage. Now she needed to go home and start the process of quitting her old job . . . She grinned, moving through the gate back to the world outside of Halliwell Restoration. God now that was a great thought. But first she was going to finish up her run. No need to get lazy just because she was employed right?
Otto watched the girl go back out front, shaking his head as he smirked. Well at least now Junie would leave him alone for a while. And who knew maybe the kid would actually stick around . . . He turned going further into his domain before he spotted ten of his favorite aggravations looking at him like he'd lost his mind. He glanced down, checking himself over before he ran a hand through his hair. His glasses weren't teetering atop his skull–for once–and he'd actually worn the matching work shirt and Dickies that Junie had laid out this morning. So why were they looking at him like he'd escaped the nuthouse? It wasn't like they'd caught him talking to the dog . . . recently anyway.
Finally he had enough, crossing his arms as he demanded "What?"
One of the younger men stepped forward slightly, practically bouncing on his feet as he pointed the way his new secretary had gone. And Otto had to fight rolling his eyes at what the kid said. God they were all so damned paranoid.
"Otto man what did you just do? She could be a cop, dude!"
Otto raised a brow to Tumbler, shaking his head again as he tried not to sound irritated.
"She's not a cop, Tumbler."
The shorter black man behind him snorted, reaching up to adjust his ever present sunglasses before he threw in his own opinion. Some of the others chuckled but Otto just gave into the desire to roll his eyes. God they all needed to take antipsychotics or something.
"Oh sure. Because none of them like to keep German Shepherd as pets!"
Otto sighed, reaching up and pinching the bridge of his nose; counting to twenty in his head before he answered. This was his payback for teaching his son how to aggravate Junie he just knew it.
"She's not a cop. She was just looking for a job that her brother didn't hand her. That's all. Nothing more and nothing less, okay?"
Memphis looked to him, brow raised before he groaned; shaking his head.
"Please tell me you didn't hire her for the secretary job."
Otto huffed, nodding as he glared at all of them. It was still his damn garage!
A chorus of groans and comments erupted in the enclosed space, every member of the group giving their opinion or prediction to how all of this would end. Well, everyone but one that is. He merely stood back, watching the others argue before he rolled his eyes. He agreed with Halliwell. The girl that had just left wasn't even close to a cop; no matter what the others said or thought. But he did have to admit–if even just to himself–that watching her try and tame the disaster zone the man called an office was going to be interesting. And at the very least extremely entertaining . . . especially since the last two who tried hadn't even lasted a full minute.
A/N: I know, I know, I still have Mystery Girl to do and the sequel for the King Arthur story, but this one and the other story I posted has been on my mind. Hopefully it will help with my writer's block. Thank you to Chaosia Guadimus who's been a great help with both stories and being patient with my madness and correcting in what needed correcting and thensome. Okay, please review and let me know what you guys think. The title was previously for an X-men story that just didn't work out.