Miseries of the Heart

(A/N: This was posted under a different account, but I thought I'd put this up along with my newly revived CK. Read and enjoy guys, and tell me what you think! :) )

Chapter One:

They stared up at me with the saddest black eyes I'd ever seen, their little tails wagging. I bit my lip and told myself that squeezing them would probably get me fired. My fingers twitched.

"They're cute, aren't they?" Kelly mused, standing next to me.

Damn. I kind of wanted to eat one... or hug one 'till it popped. I asked, "If I steal one, do you think anyone will notice?"

"Maybe." Kelly grinned, her green eyes bright. "But just to be clear, I know nothing about this."

"Absolutely." I nodded. "Now if you'll just look the other way..." I motioned for Kelly to turn around, which she did, her blond bob bouncing as she shook her head.

The Bichons came in earlier that morning. They were a litter of 5, barely passing the two-month mark, and could've passed for large cotton balls if they just stayed still. I reached out to rub one behind the ears, and it leaned into my touch. The others began to notice and clamored for attention too, nudging at my fingers and yipping.

Okay. Scratch that. I was going to take all of them.

"Eve?" Rosie called from the backroom. "Could you come back here? I need your help."

I sighed, giving them one last, long look before heading towards the back.

"Could you hold her for a bit? You know how she still gets a little scared with the shots," Rosie stood over the steel table by the far corner of the room, black hair tied into a tight bun on her head. Next to her was a Golden Retriever that cowered at the sight of the syringe in her hand.

I pulled my mahogany curls into a ponytail and did as she asked, wrapping my arms firmly around the dog. "It's okay, Poppy. You'll be fine." The dog whined and struggled under my hold, but Poppy was young and small enough that I could hold her without getting knocked over. It helped that Poppy had known me and Rosie ever since she was a puppy - she shivered less when I hugged her. I stroked Poppy's fur, whispering soothing sounds to the Retriever.

Rosie took ahold of the area between Poppy's shoulders. "Okay. And hold still..." she injected the vaccine. Poppy gave a small yelp, but I held her tighter, and it was over as soon as it started. "There we go. Good girl, Poppy." Rosie rubbed her head, scratching behind her ears. Poppy whined. "Oh, stop complaining. It's done."

When I first started working at the pet shop a few years ago, Rosie had already been there as the resident vet. It was Rosie who helped me learn the basics with the animals, in her quiet, gentle way, and as angry a teen as I used to be, I couldn't help but respond to that. There was just something about her that calmed people down, something even the animals responded to. It was why she made a great vet.

"Hey Eve, it's past five already. Don't you have another job to get to?" Rosie asked.

"Oh, shi-" Rosie gave me a sharp look, and I cut the word short before it all came out. I gave her a guilty smile, almost forgetting how much she hated cussing.

I was just about to leave when Rosie added, "By the way, I'll know if you take any one of those puppies, so don't even think about it."

"Not even one?"


"... aw, darn it." I sighed and left the room. As I passed the Bichons, I said, in a dramatic voice I knew was loud enough for Rosie to hear, "Goodbye, my pretties. Wait for me while I devise a plan to steal you away." Kelly chortled and shook her head again as I dashed for the exit, car keys jingling in my hand.

I knocked on the door of the Cormick house, plucking animal hairs from my sweater and skirt. Patrice hated it whenever I entered the house with stray hairs on my clothes. I usually changed, but as I was running late, I decided to risk it, hoping that Patrice wouldn't notice them.

The door opened, revealing a tall, grey-eyed woman in her early thirties, with a slightly protruding, rounded belly that hinted at pregnancy. Like most redheads, Sascha Cormick had pale skin and a dash of freckles across her shoulders and nose. Sascha's lips were a little thin, and her eyebrows sparse, but she emitted such a warm aura that it lit up her whole face. She grinned up at me.

"Hey. Joshie's been pacing upstairs," she said, ushering me in. I could hear the amusement in her voice. "You're fifteen minutes late."

"I know, I know, I'm so sorry Sascha."

Sascha laughed and patted me on the shoulder. "It's not me you have to say sorry to. Anyway, I have to go. I'll be back by 10; dinner's in the oven."

"Patrice isn't in?" I tried not to sound hopeful, but failed.

"Nope. She went out early this morning," Sascha eyed my clothes, and the hair strands that stood out against the black cloth of my sweater. "And a good thing, too, it seems." I gave her a sheepish smile at that, and mumbled my agreement. The older woman laughed.

The Cormick home was a large, but simple two-story house. There was a living room, a kitchen, a dining area and a workroom on the first floor, while all the bedrooms were located on the second. I knew this house as well as my own - after all, I had been a welcome visitor for as long as I could remember. My parents had been good friends with the elder Cormicks, and me and my brother had grown closer to them even more when our parents died. The Cormicks were family, even though we weren't related by blood.

"Josh?" I called out, glancing up the stairwell. Sure enough, the little monster was there, standing at the very top with his arms crossed. He glared at me with his hazel eyes, under a fringe of red locks that burst into a mess of curls. Try as he might to look menacing, the fact that he had the face of an angel and that he was wearing brightly colored Spongebob pajamas just couldn't cut it. I gave him a wobbly smile, on the verge of laughter, which made Joshua glower even more.

"You're late." he said in a clipped tone. Sascha mouthed a good luck in my direction, the same laughing grin on her face, and left, quietly shutting the door.

"I know. I'm sorry, Josh." I said, turning my attention to the four year old. "I'll make it up to you, I promise. Do you want popcorn?" I wiggled my eyebrows, but he refused to budge, still frowning at me. "I'll make them the way you like, with a bit of sugar on top." I almost laughed when he took on a thoughtful expression, but he said nothing. "Okay, fine. I'll add in ice cream. But only tonight or your mom will get mad at me. Are you happy now?"

Joshua broke out into a full-fledged smile and raced down the stairs, clinging to my legs. He grinned up at me. "I don't mind if you're late tomorrow, too!" he beamed at me, and I burst out laughing.

"Sneaky brat," I grinned, hoisting him up. I settled him on my hip. Josh giggled and wrapped his arms around my neck, nuzzling his head into my shoulder. Warmth bloomed in my chest and I smiled.

I had started babysitting for Sascha when Joshua was about two, so I had had more than enough time to grow close to him. This was almost a daily routine for us, after all. Josh was my baby brother in all ways but one, and to me, it didn't really matter that we weren't blood related. Although he was a pain in the ass sometimes, he brought me more joy than anyone else did.

Though Sascha had changed jobs more than she dared to count over those two years, we more or less followed the same schedule. Sascha would leave for work in the late afternoon, and I would come over to babysit until either Sascha or Patrice, the head of the Cormick family and Sascha's mother, would return home, which was usually at about 10. It didn't really bother me, as my house sat right next to the Cormick's. We'd been neighbors for as long as I could remember, so it was easy to settle into a routine.

I did as I promised, making the popcorn for Joshua and setting out some ice cream for him. We played, ate a late dinner, played some more, and finally ended up in front of the TV. I was spoiling the boy, but I just couldn't help myself. Besides, it was rare that I indulged him. Normally, I made it a point to keep him disciplined, but I let loose every once in a while.

By the time Joshua had finally fallen asleep on the couch, it was about 9. I carried him upstairs and tucked him into bed, making sure the door was open and that his night-light was on. When I was sure that he wouldn't wake up, I returned downstairs and began working on the tattoo I was commissioned to make, my pencils and paint scattered over the kitchen counter.

Besides my job at the pet store and my babysitting one, I also worked a number of odd jobs, one of which was designing for the local tattoo shop. This latest one was a leg tattoo, a koi fish that snaked up the ankles, all the way to the knees. Iridescent scales bloomed on the pristine paper as I outlined the draft and colored it in. I was so focused on her work that I didn't notice the time, and by the time I looked up from my project, the wall clock was glaring 10:46 in black digits. I wasn't surprised. It was a habit of mine, losing all sense of time when I was working on something.

I sighed and started packing up. Sascha was late, and I was expecting her to go bursting through the door soon. As I waited, my eyes fell on the family portrait that hung on the wall in front of me. I scanned the picture, familiar faces smiling out at me, before my gaze fell on a lanky boy who stood next to a much younger Sascha, his pale grey eyes piercing, even through the photo. I averted my gaze. There was only one person in the Cormick family that I didn't like, and I thanked god again for the fact that he moved away for college a few years ago.

Then I heard someone turning the lock on the front door, and I shifted her attention. "Sascha?"

"It's Patrice, Eve," The warm, slightly high-pitched voice made me jump a little. I'd almost forgotten about Patrice. I glanced down at my clothes and tidied up my appearance as best as I could. "By the way, I've got a surprise for you!"

"A surprise? I hope it's-" My words died out completely when I saw just what - or rather, who, Patrice's 'surprise' was.

To say the he hadn't aged a day since I last saw him would have been a lie. I felt my mouth dry up. He looked different. Better. Gone were all traces of baby fat on his face, which had sharp angles in all the right places. His red hair fell to his ears in choppy strands, shorter than before and looking rather messy, but in a good way. A black stud graced his right ear, stark against the paleness of his skin, which surprised me. I didn't think he was the sort of guy who wore accessories. A grey shirt showed just how much he'd filled out over the past two years, the cloth stretching over taut muscle. He wore dark jeans that showed off his long, lean legs, the ones that gave him that subtle grace that drew the eyes. He was taller, longer-limbed, more masculine... and just more.

I knew that he could feel my gaze on him, and as I silently assessed him, my eyes came to rest on his. It seemed that he only things about him that didn't change were his eyes - a pale grey that pierced into my own blue ones, hooking into me with an intensity that I hadn't seen in a while. I usually avoided looking him straight in the eye. I swallowed the lump in my throat and forced myself to look away.

Son of a bitch. Red Cormick was back.