That's all it was.
The toaster was ringing. Martin was yelling. Paris was screaming. The phone was blaring and the oven was beeping. Clothes are all over the place and food stains are still evident on the couch. Plates are left unwashed in the sink as are bowls and cups.
To any stranger walking in this house, it would like a mix of a landfill and vomit of trash that nobody dared to clean up. I can guarantee that they would immediately come up with some excuse and run the hell out to a palace.
But to me, this was home.
My name is Varsha. Varsha Myrah. I am twenty-three-years-old, and a nurse. A financially unstable, overstressed single nurse with two younger siblings who have been born with a mental disability to clean up after themselves.
"I'm going to be late for work!" I cried over the screams of Paris and the languid taunts of Martin. "Hurry up and come help clean up!"
"He took my stuff!" Paris wailed.
"It was a shirt! And to be fair, she always takes my socks!" Martin complained.
"I don't have time for this!" I yelled. "Come fight down here. And bring your working hands with you. You guys aren't children anymore."
A chorus of grumbles followed my order, the only tone that they could ever agree on.
Sighing in fatigue, my relief was short-lived when I heard the toaster beep in warning, louder and faster.
Sliding on the kitchen tiles, I bumped my hip on the side of the metal cabinets as I slammed the stop button on the toaster, two pieces of bread flinging from the slits above and onto the kitchen island I had neglected cleaning.
I rolled my eyes. "Well, it's better than the floor," I said. I slid my sneakers on my feet as footsteps pounded down the stairs. Paris and Martin's argument reached my ears again and I internally scolded myself for refusing Amara's offer to buy me ear-pods. Was it a crime to wish for peace and quiet once in a while?
"Varsha! Tell Martin to give me my shirt back!" Paris whined, plopping onto the kitchen stool behind me.
"Why can't I borrow anything of yours? I let you wear my clothes," Martin asked, which I had to admit, was valid.
"Because you're a boy. You shouldn't be wearing girl's clothes," Paris sneered, reaching over the pile of plates on the marble to take a piece of bread.
"That's not true! Tell her it isn't true, Varsha!" Martin cried.
"He's got a point, Paris," I said. "There is no law saying boys and girls have to have separate clothes. Let him wear it. He lets you. It's only fair."
From the corner of my eye, I could see Paris grumbling under her breath, shoving the shirt in Martin's direction. His eyes brightened and he clutched the shirt to his chest. What was on that, anyway?
"You always take his side, Varsha," Paris mumbled.
"I take your side when you're right," I replied, pressing STOP on the oven. By now, the phone had stopped ringing, the pandemonium in the house finally settling...for now.
"When is that? When has that been in the last month?" Paris continued, ripping a bite from her food.
"When Martin promised to let you play Minecraft with him and he didn't let you because his friends were on the server too," I said, smirking at Martin.
He blushed, sheepish, and tried to slink away from my eyes, peeling at the stains on the table instead.
"Yeah...I guess so..." Paris pressed her lips in a thin line, brushing a strand of her blonde hair away from her bread. "Do we have any jam?"
"It's in the fridge," I directed, jerking my head towards the only clean part of our kitchen.
"Yuck!" Paris's nose crinkled. "Why strawberry? Why not blueberry?"
"Because when I asked you guys what kind of jam you wanted, Martin was the only one who answered," I said, soaking a rag in the sink. "You were busy on your phone."
"I couldn't leave Brandon hanging," she mumbled, dragging herself over to the fridge for the spread.
Martin shuffled in his seat. "Uh...Paris?"
"Is Brandon your boyfriend?"
"No," Paris replied firmly. "But he will be, just watch. He'll ditch nerdy Sophia for me. Just you wait and see."
"Paris," I warned. "Martin is talking nicely to you. The next time you complain, I won't help you. And that's no way to talk of Sophia."
"Why do you care?" Paris scoffed. "You don't have a social life. All you do is work. You don't have a boyfriend. You're just a stick in the mud."
"I'm just a stick in the mud?" I repeated, feeling my temper flare and burn in my chest.
Martin gulped, retreating quietly to the living room out of the side view of my eye, and I glared at Paris.
"Paris, your behavior has been deteriorating ever since you turned eighteen," I said. She rolled her eyes. "You've been rude to both Martin and me, ignoring us, and making snide comments. Any more of this and your phone won't be the only thing I take away."
"I'm an adult, Varsha. You can't take my things away," Paris fought back.
I raised my eyebrow, cocking my hip to the side. "That's right. You are an adult!" I agreed, "And since you are an adult, that means that you can live on your own!"
Paris's face paled significantly, her blue eyes widening.
I smiled. "Well? You wanted to be an adult, right? Adults live on their own and make their own money. Do you make money? Do you work? Do you spend more than eight hours a day making sure that your family is clothed, fed, and schooled properly?!"
"Okay! Geez, I get it. I-!"
"No," I said. "No, you're going to listen to me this time, whether you like it or not. You think that you are some big shot, don't you Paris? That you can say whatever you want to me or Martin and you'll get away with it? You don't know how hard I work to make sure you have a life! I don't want you to be working day and night shifts like I have to. I don't want you to go to community college and work minimum wage before landing a job. I want you to have a future. Why can't you see how much I sacrifice for you?!"
By now, I was shaking, leaning on the counter for support. I willed my tears to dry; I didn't want Paris to see me cry, but it hurt me at how ignorant she was to everything I did for her. She wasn't in my shoes. What would she understand?
Paris stared blankly at me, her throat bobbing as she swallowed. I in the living room, the TV had paused, Martin's footsteps approaching.
I took a deep breath, glancing at the clock above the stove. It was nine-thirty. I had thirty minutes. Paris and Martin had twenty.
"Listen, I'm sorry, okay?" I said. "I shouldn't have snapped at you, but please understand that I'm trying my hardest. It's not easy, Paris."
Paris's shock melted on her face, and her eyes dulled immediately. She bit her lip.
"Yeah, I understand," she murmured. "I'm sorry, Varsha. I didn't mean to make you yell."
I shook my head. "It's okay," I said, even though her words still stung me. "Just get ready for school. We'll talk about it later."
Paris nodded, leaving wordlessly from the kitchen and padding up the steps. She looked like a kicked puppy, which made my heart squeeze for her, but her words rang endlessly in my mind.
"You're a stick in the mud."
"Hey, Martin?" I caught my brother by the arm as he reached for a dishtowel.
"Yeah?" He asked, turning to face me. His hazel eyes were dull, just like Paris's, even though I hadn't yelled at him.
"Was I wrong for yelling at Paris just now?" I asked, helping him to clean the week-old plates. "Am I really a stick in the mud?"
"You weren't wrong for scolding Paris, Varsha," he said. "You're our older sister. You only want what's best for us. Paris is just blinded by her ego to see that."
"Do you think so?"
"I'm positive," Martin affirmed. "But, you are kind of a stick in the mud."
"You don't do anything for yourself," he explained. "I understand that you want us to have a better life than you had when you were eighteen, but you need to make time for yourself. We want you to be happy. I do, and Paris does too, even if she doesn't show it."
"Unless she does by fighting," I grumbled. "But I'm too busy as it is, little dude. I don't have time to go on dates and all that."
"Then make time. You deserve to be happy. Just like we are."
"Paris doesn't seem very happy."
"She's just jealous of Sophia. She'll get over it."
"I hope so," I said, relief filling me at the sight of the sparkling sink after a week of not doing the dishes. "I don't want her to worsen her reputation."
"Couple-wrecker, she's called," Martin recalled. "I don't think Brandon likes her, anyway. He seems pretty content with Sophia. I can't blame him. She's a nice girl."
"So she is," I murmured, wiping the counter while he scrubbed at the stains.
"Remind me again why we're cleaning all of this up?" He asked, successfully removing a stain.
"Well, first of all, our house resembles a landfill," I said. "Secondly, you have a doctor's appointment in two days, and I'd rather finish cleaning today than on Friday."
"That's providing that Paris doesn't invite her rocker friends over," Martin grumbled. "I don't like it when the house is messy."
"Neither do I, but what can we do? You have school, I have work. If I had money, I would hire a housekeeper, but I don't, so..."
"Why don't you take Omen's offer of help? Or Amara's?" Martin asked. He reached under the table to collect the discarded clothes from the ground.
I sighed. "I can't do that. Then I'd be in their debt."
"They're your friends, Varsha."
Martin glanced at the clock, dropping the clothes onto the counter. "I'll get Paris to help me finish the clothes and other work by tonight. We have school now."
I beamed. "Tell her she won't be able to have her band over if she doesn't help," I said. Martin nodded, and I circled the island to press a kiss to his forehead.
"Be strong, okay? You're almost out of high school. You won't see Kennedy McAlister in a few months," I said.
Martin gave me a half-smile, his eyes darting to Paris's uniformed frame. "I will. I'm not embarrassed by who I am."
I gave him a gentle push on his backpack, and with a smile, he nodded to Paris, opening the door and walking into the bright light of the early Bloodhill morning.
Paris didn't meet my eyes as she tied her long hair in her ponytail, slinging her backpack over her shoulder and trudging out of the door with not a single word to me.
I flinched, closing the door behind her and surveying the room around me. My heart sunk in my chest, guilt gnawing at my chest.
I shouldn't have yelled at her like that I thought, even though my brain begged to differ. She's not in my shoes, but I'm not in hers.
I swept my eyes around the rooms. The hallway leading to the steps was the only thing separating the living room from the kitchen.
The living room was small. It held two couches flanking the walls, a table in between on an old carpet with unknown food stains gripping the fabric. A TV hung above the fireplace, soot covering the stone and pictures above it.
I didn't keep many pictures in the living room, mostly because it brought back unwanted memories, to everyone in the household. I kept a couple of Martin and Paris over the years, and a few from my own graduation, but that was it. We didn't need anymore.
The kitchen was a bit bigger than the living room. Circling around the square tiles was a dusty marble countertop holding random pots and jugs filled with spices and ingredients Martin used for his science experiments.
Cabinets hung above the countertop, hugging a rusty microwave that hovered over the oven. The kitchen island held the sink, dishes now cleaned, and put into the cabinets. The fridge and pantry were beside the last cabinet and were possibly the only clean articles in the kitchen before Martin helped me clean.
"I hope they put their clothes away," I said to myself, picking up a hair-tie from the ground. It wasn't wet, which meant that it was still somewhat clean.
I collected my noir locks and plaited them quickly, tying the band to the bottom of the braid and tossing it behind my shoulder. A couple of stands kissed my eyelashes and cheeks, but I ignored them, rushing to grab my backpack from the chairs closest to the door.
I didn't bother to check and see who had been calling earlier. If it was important, they would have left a voicemail. If not, it was probably a scam.
Checking to make sure that my keys were secure in my pocket with my wallet, I locked the door behind me, brushing strands of hair away from my bluebell eyes.
Bloodhill was a relatively small town, located on the border of Arizona. It was named after the towering hill on the horizon. When the sun sets, the red color drips from the slope and looks like blood, hence the name.
A strip of concrete road paved through the streets, separating the houses and shops on either side. At the end of the road, past the park and the hospital, was the aforementioned hill. Rumors of supernatural activity swarmed the bump of nature, but when it came to small towns, there were always rumors and gossip. It was best to just ignore them.
Because Bloodhill was so small, that meant that everyone knew each other. Your husband? He had heart surgery and didn't make it? Yep, we knew. The mayor is having an affair with the butcher's wife? Already made the headlines twice. Secrets were kept poorly in Bloodhill, which is why I always made sure to keep track of what I said, and when I said it. One wrong move and you're suddenly the villain.
Since I was cutting short on time after my hectic morning, I decided to take a short-cut through Bloodhill park, next to the high school. It wasn't very far from my house, and it was closer to the nurse door at Bloodhill Hospital than the regular emergency door.
The park was empty when I passed through, probably because it had rained the night before. The swings and slide were still damp, as were the monkey bars and other childish equipment. The woods surrounded the park, the grass green, and leaves full of color. Summer was approaching, and with the Arizona heat, I knew it would be the last time I saw the park empty before the Summer Solstice next week.
A concrete path circled the park for parents who liked to stroll while their children played. It cut through the woods, but it was the quickest way to the hospital if I wanted to be on time.
"They're only rumors, Varsha," I consoled myself. "Werewolves don't exist, and they definitely don't eat people."
I repeated the phrase over and over to myself as I padded carefully around the path, near the opening to the forest. I didn't believe in any of that supernatural garbage, even if a howl echoing from the woods did startle me. It was at that moment that I wished it wasn't so quiet in the play place.
Soft humming brought my attention from my impending death to the canopy of branches straight ahead of me. A dark, but pale figure leaned against the bark, his throat thrumming with the tune he hummed, and I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be relieved or more anxious than I already was.
As a young, eligible, single nurse, I got hit on by doctors, nurses, and patients alike. Almost every single or sometimes married personnel in Bloodhill Hospital flirted with me.
Well, almost everyone.
Doctor Nikolai Romanoff was always a queer sort of man. He was handsome, no doubt, what with his defined physique and his pale, snow-white complexion. His eyes were shielded by a colorful pair of sunglasses, ones he rarely took off unless he had surgery to do. Rumor had it his eyes resembled the color of the hill at nightfall.
Doctor Romanoff was a quiet guy. He didn't talk, and when he did, his voice was always a deep baritone; monotonous and empty. As if he had no empathy for his patients. It was already hard to see his expression as it was, but his voice…
His voice had many women signing up for his work, or rather, signing their children for his work. He was a pediatric doctor, working with the younger species of our kind. It kind of surprised me that a dark, brooding looking man like Doctor Romanoff would work with children of all people, but then again, looks can be deceiving.
He was a well-built guy, actually, for a doctor. He often wore tight-fitting cotton shirts, the top button always loose. His lab coat looked just about ready to rip on his arms, and if I could feel sorry for an inanimate object, I would be apologizing to it by now.
It was hard to get Doctor Romanoff as a doctor. Not because he had a hefty price; no, he actually charged pretty cheap in the medical community. It was just the type of doctor that he was.
Being a pediatric doctor is one thing, but also being a home doctor? That was nearly unheard of in the twenty-first century. But then again, this was Bloodhill, the place that relied on groceries, farming, and the medical industry.
I had only spoken to Doctor Romanoff once. It was when I was assigned as the nurse for one of his patients. She was a stubborn little girl, refusing to see him as she was afraid to have her shots. Her mother looked as though she was more interested in seeing the doctor himself rather than her daughter's fears.
Alas, it was the only day that he was in the main hospital, so I ended up dragging her to the examination room right as Doctor Romanoff appeared, his lab coat flourishing around him like a superhero's cape.
I don't know what he said to the girl, his voice so deep and his accent so thick that I was hardly able to understand him on a regular basis. He said something to her, and immediately, she quieted, her lips pressed together. I'm not even sure if she knew when he had injected her, and after, all he had told me was to give her mother the prescription he wanted her to take.
And that was that.
He wasn't a very amicable person, nor was he sociable, just like I was. He wasn't the type of person who sang about his personal life for the whole world to hear.
But never, ever in my life, would I have thought that he smoked!
A long cigarette dangling from his pale lips, Doctor Romanoff continued to hum his depressing tune, his eyes fixated on something that I couldn't see. His sunglasses hung on his coat pocket, the fabric flailing behind him like a superhero cape.
I wanted to ignore him and continue on my way to work, but unfortunately, he was standing right beside the path to the hospital, which meant I could either be late or converse awkwardly with Doctor Romanoff and then be late for work.
Steeling myself, I cautiously walked towards him, noting how his eyes stayed glued on what looked to be the horizon as I neared him. True to the rumors, the glow of the rising sun cast on his orbs, giving them a rich red aura.
It was beautiful.
What? Shaking my head, I groaned to myself. No, no it isn't. It's weird, that's what it is. Not beautiful...well, maybe pretty.
"Good morning, Miss. Myrah," Doctor Romanoff spoke bluntly, pulling the cigarette out of his lips to puff a trail of smoke.
I could feel my heart increase its speed in my chest at the slight pucker of his smooth lips and flex of muscle.
"Good morning, Doctor Romanoff," I returned, hoping I didn't sound shaky.
"How are you? Are you heading to work right now?" He asked, his dark orbs swiveling to mine as he pushed himself up from the bark he was leaning on.
"Yes. I was caught up with my siblings and I don't usually take this short-cut, but I would rather not be late," I said, studying the burning cigarette hanging limply from his lips.
He nodded, blowing another puff of smoke. "Hm…Paris and Martin, I assume? Twins?" He drawled, bringing the cigarette back to his lips.
I nodded. "Yes. How did you know? I never mentioned them."
"Amara," Romanoff replied, reaching into his backpack. His muscles flexed as he pulled out a bundle of papers. "And because I have an appointment with them tomorrow, in case you forgot."
"I didn't forget," I bit out. "I just didn't know you knew they were twins."
"I see them in town sometimes. Always bickering, hm?" He asked, chuckling. "I used to bicker with my siblings as well..."
I handed him back the papers he had shown me, smiling. "Siblings can be a pain, but when you watch them grow, you realize it was worth it to have them around."
He hummed, "Of course," although his eyes didn't meet his words.
He put the papers back neatly into the pocket of his backpack, pushing his body away from the tree. His coat was slightly damp, revealing the dark lines of muscle underneath his shirt.
I tore my eyes from his skin when he cleared his throat, tossing the butt of the cigarette into the thicket of the forest behind him.
"Aren't you afraid of endangering the werewolves in the forest?" I teased, leaning closer towards him. I didn't understand what, but something about his aura, despite the walls I could feel around him, was inviting; warm.
Doctor Romanoff smirked, his teeth gleaming in the damp sunlight. I didn't realize how predatorial, how sharp his smile was, or his teeth. "Do you really believe those silly tales that Omen tells you?"
I shrugged. "No, but it doesn't hurt to have a little bit of imagination, does it?" I asked, stuffing my hands into my coarse uniform pockets.
Doctor Romanoff studied me for a moment, then he reached into his backpack again, taking out a lighter and another cigarette. I watched him as he lit the hungry flame over the bud of the drug, blowing another puff of smoke into the air.
"You're a hypocrite, you know that?" I asked, crossing my arms over my chest.
Doctor Romanoff's dark red eyes swiveled to mine, the cigarette dangling from his lips again. "What do you mean?"
"You're a doctor, and I've seen you many times tell your patients that smoking is bad, yet here you are, smoking away," I explained, astounded that I had managed to keep a conversation for so long, and especially with him of all people.
He smirked, his lips curling. "It isn't illegal to smoke in Bloodhill," he said. "And it does no harm to me. I have only advised a patient to not smoke, because, as you said, I would be a hypocrite. Besides," he grinned tentatively at me, pulling the cigarette out to puff another ball of smoke. "Smoking is the only real pleasure I can ever get if you catch my drift."
I rolled my eyes, swallowing a groan into the burning race of my heart. "I have no desire to listen to your sex life, Doctor."
He laughed, tossing the cigarette into the woods again. "Who said anything about my sex life, Myrah. And here I thought you were a pure soul…" his eyes trailed over me, over my loose uniform, over the open skin of my coat and the slight crevice showing. His Adam's apple bobbed, his eyes growing darker in the fading light of the sun.
Heat coiled around my stomach, but I quickly stomped on it, hoping the fire would extinguish.
"My eyes are up here, Romanoff," I said, trying not to sound shaky.
"Oh, I know they are, Miss. Myrah," he said, his voice dropping to a soft, deep murmur. "I am a doctor, after all."
He took a step closer to me, and I nearly grunted, my back hitting the bark behind me. The stench of cigarettes surrounded me, cradling me as Doctor Romanoff put both his hands beside my head.
My heart sped up and I swallowed thickly, his dark eyes tracing the movement of my throat. Something pink ran along his lips, and before I could figure out what it was, he leaned close to me, his breath tickling my ear.
"I want you to call me by my name. Nikolai."