Kendra Browning slammed the run gate shut and wiped her hands on the seat of her jeans. The litter of pit bull mix puppies jumped at her, tails whipping each other, eager to entice Kendra with their cuteness. She smiled and stuck her fingers through the chain link to allow them each to give her a wet kiss before she pulled her fingers out and left them for the evening. She made her way through the kennel, peeking into each cage and run, before pulling the heavy door open and entering the world of humans.

"Why are you still here?" Gertie Marsh asked. She'd been running the entire animal control department of Park County for as long as Kendra could remember.

"Just wanted to get the pups settled in," Kendra smiled. She glanced at the dry erase board, making sure she'd written the brand new occupants of run fifteen on its white surface. "It's a shame their mother had to be put down."

"She was in bad shape, Kendra, you know that," Gert told her. "It was the best thing for her. The pups are weaned and once we clean them up and vaccinate them, we'll find them good homes."

"I'd take them all home with me if I could," Kendra sighed.

Gert laughed and hugged the younger girl's shoulders. "You say that about every animal in here." She let her arms fall off and studied Kendra's face. "You're the hardest working, most compassionate person I know. Someday you'll have my job."

Kendra's green eyes widened as she shook her head, blonde ponytail swinging behind her. "I don't think so. I haven't been to college or anything."

Gert clucked her tongue. "You don't need a degree to be the Shelter Director. Besides, you know this place and how it runs better than anyone else."

"You're not going anywhere, are you?" Kendra asked cautiously.

Gert chuckled. "Not for awhile, I promise." She glanced at her watch. "It's getting late, don't you think?"

"Yeah," Kendra yawned. "I'll see you in the morning."

Kendra bid Gert a good-night and climbed in her truck. She followed Gert's cute little car down the dirt road and away from the sprawling buildings. The shelter stood on ten acres of lush, green land and consisted of three buildings; the offices and adoption center, the kennels and the barn.

The office building housed offices, Gert's included, records and a family area where perspective people spoke with representatives and bonded with adoptees. It also had a small room where cases of neglect and abuse were tried instead of clogging up the courtrooms. A retired judge came to the shelter once or twice a month and listened to charges filed against those with little to no respect of the creatures with which they shared the Earth.

A covered walkway led to the kennels. A full veterinary clinic took up the front half of the large building, including an intake area where animal control wardens and concerned citizens brought in animals found wandering or abandoned by their owners. The back was divided into three sections; feline, canine and misc. The shelter accepted all animals, no matter the species.

The last building was set back a ways and was home to horses, cattle and other livestock. Several fenced paddock areas sat behind the barn and oftentimes a horse or two could be spotted grazing lazily while waiting for someone to take it home.

Kendra loved her job. She'd worked at the shelter since she was 15 years old and desperate to get out of the house. She currently held the title of Kennel Supervisor but knew in only a week or two, she'd be in charge of the barn also. Abner Wilson was retiring after thirty years of service and Kendra had jumped at the chance for more responsibility. Gert had reassured her that she would get it; especially since none of her other employees seemed eager for the job.

She parked her truck in the lot in front of her apartment complex and eased her tired body to the door of her first floor apartment. She dropped her bag to the floor as she played her voice messages and scouted the remains in her fridge.

"Hi Kendra honey," her mother's voice called out and Kendra cringed. "I don't have a lot of time, as you know, but I wanted to check in with you. It seems like you're always working, unless you're avoiding me. I hope that's not true! Anyway, Raymond says I might be able to come home next week! Isn't that great? Don't worry, Raymond has already found a place for me to stay so I won't be putting you or your brother out. I better go call Kevin now. Love you sweetie!"

Kendra slammed the door shut and grabbed her phone. She dialed her brother's number quickly. "Kevin," she said when he answered. "Did you talk to Mom?"

"Yes, Kendra," he sighed patiently in the phone. "And hello to you, too."

"Sorry," she mumbled. "But do you think she's actually ready to come home?"

"Yes, absolutely," her brother reassured her. "She's doing very well."

"She did well before," Kendra pointed out. "But look what happened."

"Raymond seems to think this time is different," Kevin told her. "He said she's really showed progress. She's picked up a couple hobbies to keep her mind busy and she's taking a computer class."

Kendra rolled her eyes at her brother, defender of all those who are helpless. Kendra opened her fridge again and frowned at the contents. She really needed to find time to shop. "Let's just hope he's right. Hey, do you want to have lunch tomorrow?"

"Can't do lunch but I can meet you for dinner," he suggested. "What time do you finish at the shelter?"

"Whatever time you want to meet," she said with a grin. They bantered back and forth until they finally settled on a time and hung up. She heated a heaping portion of leftover lasagna in the microwave and poured a glass of milk. She took her meal and settled in front of the television.

Her mother would be back in town next week. Wonderful, she thought sarcastically. Maybe Raymond found her a place to stay and maybe Raymond was positive she was ready to return to the world, but, Kendra thought as she took a large bite of her lasagna, she wasn't quite so sure.

She finished her dinner and rinsed her dishes in the sink. She stacked them neatly in the dishwasher and returned to the living room. Her apartment consisted of four rooms; the living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. It was small but it was all that she needed and she was perfectly content for the time being. The only problem was she wasn't allowed pets. She couldn't wait to get her promotion and raise so she could maybe afford to rent a little house or buy one in the country. Then she could have as many animals as she wanted.

She sighed wistfully as she watched the news. She lived in the medium sized town of Walton, just on the outskirts of Indianapolis, so she picked up all the Indy stations. After listening to the weather man drone on about how warm it would be for the rest of the week, she perked up a little when the animated sportscaster gleefully proclaimed the Indianapolis Racers claimed another victory, it's seventh in a row. He hoped they'd hang on to their winning streak so they'd pull further ahead of the Brewers in the Central Division by the time the All-Star Break rolled around. Kendra rolled her eyes and shut the television off. She, personally, couldn't care less what the Racers did that year but she was sure her brother was thrilled.

She shrugged and filled the tub full of fragrant water. She slipped out of her clothes and into the tub, allowing the warm water to wash away all the worries from the day.


Troy Neal threw his head back and laughed heartily. Next to him, his best friend, Derrick McKinney, nearly snorted beer out his nose as he laughed just as hard.

"You're lying," Troy accused but Derrick just shook his head.

"I'm telling you, man, that's what she said," Derrick insisted. "She was serious, too."

Troy shook his head in amusement and drained his beer glass. He motioned for the bartender to hook them up with a couple more. "Derrick, my man, you need to find a good woman and settle down."

"Someday, maybe," Derrick smirked. "Lord knows that would make my mother happy."

"I bet," Troy agreed as he paid for their drinks. He lifted his glass to his friend. "Couple more weeks until the break and we're already sitting pretty."

Derrick clinked glasses and grinned. "Hell yeah. Let's hope we stay that way." Derrick took a long drink of his beer and studied his friend. "You're having a great year, man. What's your average?"

Troy swallowed his mouth full of beer and smiled. ".325 before today's game. Struck out first time up, though."

"So what," Derrick exclaimed. "Dude, you crushed that ball in the fifth. I thought it was caught but when it dropped in the corner, I knew you'd triple easily."

Troy leaned his forearms on the bar. "We won, that's all that matters. It sure would be nice to make it past the Divisional round. I'd like to see us at least make it to the Series."

"Hell, I'd like to see us win it," Derrick laughed. He held up his glass again and Troy knocked his into it. "To playing ball in October!"

"Here, here," Troy agreed. "Even if it's only June." They both laughed and drained their glasses. Troy glanced at his watch. "I'm getting out of here, man. It's getting late."

Derrick bumped his fist with Troy's. "See you tomorrow at BP."

"Sure thing," Troy said and his heart flipped. Batting practice was a thrill for him lately since he'd gotten hot. It seemed as though the ball was a big as a beach ball: He couldn't miss it! He knew he shouldn't become too over confident, that most players streaked on and off during the season and his could end at any given time. But he worked hard, stuck to his mechanics, and watched each pitch. He was determined to stretch his hitting streak as far as it would go before it snapped. He wanted to win every game and he wanted that World Series ring.

He climbed into his black Charger and fired up the engine. He backed out of his parking spot and entered the light Indianapolis traffic. The game ended hours ago and he'd been at Champs, a local pub, since he left the stadium. Lately, he hated the still silence of his big house. He'd chosen it two years ago for its isolation from the big city and the fresh air. He employed a housekeeper and a groundskeeper but neither where live-in employees.

He sighed and massaged his forehead, thankful that he had taken Derrick up on his invitation to hit Champs before going home. It was late enough that traffic had thinned out reasonably well and it wouldn't take but twenty minutes to get home.

He shoved a CD in the player and turned up the volume. As the music pumped through the speakers, he debated on whether or not he should call Beth or Renee to keep him company, but decided, in the end, he'd rather just go to bed. Alone.

He turned off the highway and down a dark, quiet road. The houses were a little more spaced out and cars not so frequent and he relaxed. His parents lived in Chicago but his grandfather had once owned a farm in downstate Illinois and Troy used to spend his summers there. He loved the quiet, gentle country life and vowed to one day have his own spread. Well, he did have a spread, fifteen acres to be precise, though he rarely enjoyed it. He was busy with baseball for about seven months out of the year and spent the winter either vacationing with friends or curled up inside the warm house.

"I won't let that happen this year," he muttered in the dark. "I'll get to know my land this summer and I won't ignore the outside this winter."

He slowed as he approached a stopped car a few feet ahead of him. As he grew nearer, he saw the car door open and something fly out. The car took off and a flash of white fell into his headlights. He slammed on his brakes and leaned over the wheel to get a better look. A trembling ball of fur with big eyes peered up at him, too frightened to move. He put the car in park and got out cautiously. He crept toward the fur ball, hand held out and soft words falling from his lips. The thing trembled harder and stayed put, ducking only when Troy reached out and touched it.

It was a dog but what kind, Troy had no clue. He continued to stroke the mangled fur on top of its head while speaking softly. It was a young dog, he was fairly certain, even though it was a good size already. Anger shot through his veins as he realized the car in front of him must have dumped the poor thing. Troy carefully lifted it in his arms and carried it to his car. He admitted he wasn't much of an animal person but he wasn't about to leave the poor thing out here all night. He'd take it home and call someone to come get it.

The dog curled up on the passenger seat, big eyes staring at Troy for the rest of the journey. As Troy entered the gates to his property, the dog finally stopped shaking. Troy pulled into the garage and carried his bundle into the house. He set it on the kitchen floor and watched it to see what it would do.

"Well?" Troy asked and the pup lifted its ears. "What am I going to do with you, huh?" The puppy continued to stare at him, ears lifting with each word. "With all that fur, I can't tell if you're skinny or not. Maybe you want some food? Water?"

The puppy lifted its ears and cocked his head making Troy laugh. He fetched a couple bowls and filled one with water. He set it before the puppy and watched as it sniffed it before dipping its head and drinking. Troy opened the fridge and considered the options. He had no idea what to feed a puppy besides puppy food and he definitely had none of that. He had a couple of chicken breasts leftover from the other day so he took one and cut it up. He placed it in the bowl and set it next to the water bowl. The puppy sniffed this one eagerly and snapped the chicken up so quickly, Troy wondered if he should cut the other one up as well. Not wanting to make the puppy sick, he decided against it. He left the pup in the kitchen and pulled a couple towels out of the closet in his bathroom. He folded them up and placed them on the kitchen floor. He waited for the puppy to crawl on them but it didn't; it sat on the floor and looked up at him with its big brown eyes.

Troy crossed his arms over his chest and tried to glare. "You're not sleeping with me, my friend. It's the towels or the cold tiles, your choice." The puppy cocked its head again and Troy knelt down to ruffle its ears. "Good-night, my friend. Don't chew anything up or…you know…make a mess on the floor." He patted its head once more and stood. He surveyed the room to make sure there was nothing chewable in reach and left, shutting the light off and closing the door tightly.

Five minutes after he left the room, the puppy crawled into the towel pile, curled up and closed its eyes.

A/N: Yes, I'm back. I'm so sorry this isn't RJ or Robby but I just don't have the heart for them still. I took them down TEMPORARILY until I can do something with them. I will finish them sooner or later.

Anyway, I had a sort of idea for this story in my head for awhile but recent occurrences motivated this storyline so I decided to try it out and see how it goes.

I must warn you that I have a couple other projects that I am working on, some things in life I must take care of, so more than likely I will not be able to update every day. I will do my absolute best to update frequently.

I've updated my profile and listed upcoming projects I intend to do so check it out if you're curious.

Thanks for giving this a chance and if it starts to suck, I'll have to take it down.