Present and Accounted For

Chapter One

Work had been a drastically long day, overwhelmed with silence and, well, suited with songs that played over and over for this particular time of year. Eight hours always seemed like a drag, but the money was great and the benefits were awesome, not to mention the work itself was always educational and, as far as Vanity was aware of, the benefit of working with animals was justified enough. Vanity had been working at a local PetSmart for a few years now, moved up slowly but surely from meek cashier to lead Pet Care Specialist, one of the best seats in the building. Even if some days were boring and seemed to never end, especially when working the evening shifts, Vanity never complained. Free time just meant more time for her to work on things she could set for herself. She could use the excuse to check animals for health issues, just to sit in the habitat and hold the animals for a good fifteen to twenty minutes.

Every few minutes Vanity would check her watch, only to find it was barely seven in the afternoon. The store usually closed at nine, but on a Sunday, much like today, the store closed at eight, and no one was ever in the store past six. When people did come into the store, Vanity would secretly scowl at them before turning to greet them with a smile and ask if they needed help finding anything. Late night customers were always the worst, because they always wanted to do a thirty minute job five minutes before the registers closed. Luckily, hardly anyone came in on a Sunday for a small pet.

"Oh, Mottle, you are just so adorable. One day I will take you home, like all the other animals in the store."

Smiling graciously, thinking no one was ever watching, Vanity lifted one of the agouti rats from the bottom large cage, holding it up as if it were an infant before putting him against her chest. She always adored talking to animals in private, as if they were her own children, despite her dislike for human children. In fact, she never talked that way to any humans. She was always into her job more for the animal care than she was the customer service. She always named each of her favorite animals and would spoil them more than the others, as unfair as it might have sounded, but in the end ended up spoiling everyone.

"Too bad my roommate would kill me."

Looking sadly at the rat, as it simply stared back at her while gritting his teeth, she sighed and lowered down to place him back with his cage mates.

"Hey, excuse me?"

Before she could even stand, the sudden voice completely startled her as she shot up, just barely missing the cage door from hitting her on the top of her head. Allowing her heart to begin pumping regularly again, she exhaled deeply and stared straight at the assumed customer just outside of the habitat's glass door. With a fake smile and inaudible grumbles, she stepped out of the habitat after locking the rat door and wiped down her collared blue shirt.

"Hi, how can I help you?"

"Sorry, you looked busy, but I have a few questions about the ferret stuff."

As the young girl explained her situation, Vanity took the short time while listening to notice the girl's appearance. She looked about Vanity's age, perhaps a year or two off, and was incredibly gorgeous. She wasn't very tall, maybe an inch or two taller than Vanity, short various colored dyed hair, glued into a faux-hawk, with all men's clothing on, but small enough to fit her figure perfectly and know that she was a girl. Even if she was normally not content with discussing things with new customers, after minutes of talking over ferret supplies and regarding that many other small animal products would work just as well, with time to kill Vanity managed to get into a conversation about other animals. It wasn't long before an announcement was made over the intercom, telling customers the store would be closing in ten minutes.

"Well, my name is Vanity and if you have anymore questions feel free to give us a call and ask for me."

"Bailey, thanks for your time. Maybe I'll drop by again later in the week."

After a simple hand shake, Vanity watched as Bailey walked off. It wasn't abnormal for people to come in and interact in the same way. It was how all of her regulars started. Just a regular person comes in for advice, a conversation starts, then next thing you know in a few months you know everything about their life. Vanity didn't think too much of it, just simply grinned and turned to turn things off and start facing the store.

x.x.x.x.x

As usual, closing the store took about half an hour before Vanity and the rest of the closing crew were free to go home. The drive home with the easy paced traffic took about fifteen minutes, easing her way through the door of her apartment complex she was rather relieved to see there'd been no unexpected company. Her and her best friend had shared an apartment together, although sometimes it always felt like there were more people living there, with how often her friend had people over. With her being alone, it either meant she was having a bad day or… well, she was simply having a bad day.

Tossing her keys to the coffee table, Vanity slipped off her coat as she dragged herself to her room, not taking a glance to Alexandria though knew she was laid out over the couch, watching some repeat of America's Next Top Model.

"Dude, work was crazy today."

"Adam called me earlier."

A rhythm of words that sounded all too familiar didn't even put a pinch in Vanity's mood, every day it was the same. Someone called or texted or e-mailed her saying something that put her in the dirt, it was usually a mix of a few different people, though Adam was a name she hadn't heard in a while. One of her ex-boyfriends a few years back, lived a few states away and had a terrible gambling problem.

"Oh, what'd he want?"

"I don't know. He called to say hi, but he sounded like he was up to something so I hung up on him."

As Vanity untucked her shirt and threw her shoes off, she made her way back into the living room, taking a wide-legged seat on a large yoga ball just feet away from her roommate, hardly taking a glance at the television as she coughed a laugh and rolled the ball under her to be closer.

"Oh my God, Alex. So guess what."

"What?"

"I met the hottest freaking girl today. She came into the store like… twenty minutes before we closed."

"That's great." In an unenthusiastic tone.

"Yeah, it is. She told me her name but I don't even remember it anymore. She had an awesome hairstyle, though, and she was only a few inches taller than me."

"Well, that's too bad, because you don't date women taller than you."

With a humored snort, she shook her head before standing, stretching her arms up in the air as she replied.

"You always said you'd never date a guy shorter than you, and the vast majority of your sex tally was shorter than me."

"That's not the point, I didn't date any of them."

"Good point, good point." Snickering as she grinned at her friend the same way she always did when implying that she was a whore, in the most loving way possible, she shrugged her shoulders and turned to walk back to her room.

"Hey, where are you going?"

"I'm going to sleep."

"Thanks, you're a pal."

"Yeah, I know."

With that, Vanity waved her friend off and shut her door, plopping unto her bed after stripping from her work uniform. Within minutes, she fell asleep, the only things on her mind before she dozed off were pointless scenes of who'd be her next girlfriend.

x.x.x.x.x

I can feel you all around me, thickening the air I'm breathing, holding unto what I'm feeling, savoring this heart that--

Bam.

After a shocking awakening to the obnoxiously loud ringing of her cell phone just inches away from her face, she jumped up out of bed and grabbed at the phone, blindly shoving her fingers against it to try and shut it off.

"Errgh. Shut up. Shut the fuck up."

"Vane? Vane, is that you?"

After the ringing had finally stopped and the voice had interrupted, the groggy feeling in her eyes cleared a bit as she glimpsed at her opened phone, an image of one of her first ex-girlfriends appeared on the screen with a timer, claiming she'd been on the line for the past thirty seconds. Lifting a vacant hand to her forehead, where she shoved back the messy locks of her hair, the other lifting the cell phone to her ear. She dropped back instantly against her bed, her hand sliding down over her eyes.

"Merrr, what do you want?"

"I really need to talk to someone. You're the only one who ever answers the phone when I call, and I'm really freaking out right now."

With a dissatisfied look sloping her face, she made a silent comment to herself concerning why no one ever picked up the phone when Gabby called.

"What time is it?"

Vanity questioned mostly to herself in a sloppy mutter, rolling over and peeking through her fingers to look over at the nearest clock. Her vision still seemed a bit slushy, but she could tell from the bright red blobs it was nearing nine in the morning. For a day off, she was definitely not interested in waking up this early.

"I don't know. I'm not home, I'm kind of out for a walk. Honestly, I don't even know where I am."

"Ugh, what? Why?"

"Michael and I are having some problems. He threw a tantrum and I had to leave, I forgot my keys and I didn't want to go back inside to get them. So, I'm walking."

"I told you not to marry him."

"I know, I know. You don't really know him though, V, he really is a good guy."

"Yeah, I know." Followed by a long string of silence. "Note the sarcasm."

"Yeah."

"Okay, okay, tell me where you are, I'll come pick you up."

With a senseless amount of description as to where Gabby had landed herself, it was amazing at all Vanity even knew what she was talking about. After a reassurance that she would be there to pick her up, and not to move a muscle, she hung up and rolled out of bed. Slapping on the first pair of clothing she came across, she quietly moved through the living room, now void of her roommate, and snatched up her keys. Soon, she was back on the road again, heading north to pick up a disheveled friend.