Chapter Two

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The semester had just ended, and the last exams had been taken. I was currently working part-time at our local pet and supply store, glad that I no longer had the stress of school in my life anymore. The only think I missed was seeing Erik more throughout the week, but we could make that up at his house now, so I guess there wasn't too much to complain about.

Most of my coworkers didn't engage with me much unless we had to do something work related. By now, just about the whole city knew about me and Erik. We had talked to the local newspaper a few months prior to set our story straight, surprised by the fact that they didn't completely flip the story on its head for rating spikes.

Jayna was the only person on the team I would have considered myself friends with. She was nice, mostly quiet, and would at least quiet anyone down if they started giving me a hard time. Not that that happened to me much anymore, mostly every time we got a new employee. Otherwise, the novelty of the situation had worn off for everyone else. Thankfully.

"I'm going to clean out the cat kennels. You want to help me?" she asked one afternoon while I was lazily standing around the breakroom, pretending I didn't need to be doing something productive.

"Sure!" I replied enthusiastically.

Cleaning out the cat kennels actually meant entertaining the cats while Jayna did most of the actual cleaning. It was a set-up we worked out together, so she didn't mind at all.

I had only known Jayna for about two months now, and I only saw her when we had the same shift. She was newer than me. I started right after I graduated that previous May, needing something to hold me over while I looked for full-time work.

We walked into the cat room and closed the door. Jayna grabbed the cleaning supplies from the cupboard while I opened up the first cage and tried my best to coax the cat out. Ash was a four year old, black, domestic shorthair, and pretty timid. Most of the time he curled up in the back of his cage and only came out to sniff around when the food and water were brought in.

"You're good with them," Jayna observed.

I shrugged.

"I just really like animals. I guess they can sense that."

She smiled and got to work on Ash's cage as he crawled into my lap and settled himself down. Most of the time we cleaned in relative silence. Only on occasion would Jayna feel like talking much. I guess this was one of those times.

"I'm thinking I'm going to go home for Christmas this year. I haven't been able to since I moved here for college, and it's been a bummer," she told me. Jayna had moved here for college as a transfer student two years ago. "What about you?"

Why did she have to ask? I was having a good time not thinking about my impending fate when I tried to bring Erik home to meet my family.

"Me too," I answered anyway, scratching behind Ash's ears. He purred in my lap, a soft, low rumble. "Although I'm not sure I'm so excited about it."

"How come?" she questioned, obviously.

"I'm just not sure how my family's going to react to my boyfriend," I admitted honestly.

Jayna didn't even hesitate, nor did she pause from what she was doing to look at me as she spoke, throwing me completely off guard.

"My parents weren't excited about me and Grant either. My dad almost castrated the poor guy with a kitchen knife."

"Grant?" I questioned, never having heard about her having a boyfriend before.

Why would her parents hate the guy so much?

"Oh, right. I thought I told you this before, but my boyfriend, Grant, is 47 years old."

Jayna was only 22, which meant that they were 25 years apart in age, close to what Erik I were. I had never before met someone in a situation like mine. It was probably evident when my jaw dropped to the floor.

"You most certainly did not tell me that. How long?"

She smiled, even as she scraped out Ash's litter box.

"We've been together for seven months now, not that I'm counting. I thought I would have told you this. I'm sorry. It must have slipped my mind somehow. Anyway... I'm crazy about him. I was from the beginning, but my parents definitely were not."

I could imagine why, even more than with my own situation. Jayna was younger, and she was much younger than I am now when she met Grant.

"How did you two meet?" I couldn't help but ask.

"I was out with a friend for her birthday," she explained. "We went to some stupid bar downtown, which I only agreed to go to because it was her birthday. I hate bars."

"Wait!" I interrupted. "You picked up a middle-aged man in a bar? Isn't that like... the definition of sketchy?"

Thankfully, she only laughed.

"Oh sure, and at first I was totally not into it, but... he was really charming, and apparently bars weren't his scene either. He told me that his friend had dragged him out because he needed to get laid. Apparently it had been a while."

"Likely story." She hit me with a cleaning rag, but in a playful sort of way. "I hope that was a clean one," I noted.

"Anyway... as I was saying. I agreed to go on one date with him, but it wasn't so he could get laid. We weren't having sex at all."

"Did it bother you that he was so much older?"

She shrugged.

"I suppose it wasn't something I saw myself getting into before, but no... not really. He was sweeter than most guys my age, and I'll be damned if I tried to deny that I thought he was incredibly sexy for a guy twice my age."

"So... what happened next?"

"I went on a date with him, and we decided that we should just stay friends, at least in the beginning. I think he was always interested in more, but he was respectful of the fact that I was hesitant. I mean, I hadn't even been looking for anything when I went out that night. I was just out to have fun at a party."

I listened to her story as I continued to pet Ash. She wasn't even cleaning his cage anymore. She had stopped and leaned against the wall of kennels as she told her story with misted eyes, like she was right there experiencing it all again.

"When did you know that you wanted more?"

She thought about if for a moment.

"I guess it was all the late night phone calls, the middle of the day texts. Sometimes we'd go out for lunch and just casually talk. He was so easy to talk to. We celebrated my birthday. I dated another guy for about three weeks before I realized that something felt like it was missing. We were friends for three months before we got together."

"Wow," was all I could think to say at first. After a moment, "When did you introduce him to your family?"

"Just last month actually. They're still recovering... I think, but mostly they just want me to be happy."

"I wish I could say the same," I admitted. "I'm not sure my mother cares about whether or not I'm happy. Not when all she can see is that I'm happy for all the wrong reasons."

Jayna got down on the floor, sitting cross-legged in front of me, and gave Ash some attention before she got up and put him back in his cage. I stood up with her, and she stopped and turned to me, putting a hand on my shoulder.

"I'll be okay," she said. "I know it doesn't seem like it right now, but everything will work out the way it's meant to. I'll be rooting for you."

"Thanks," I practically whispered. "That means a lot to me."

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