The day Royce first entered New Hope Veterinary Clinic quickly came and passed, and weeks later still found the boy traipsing up Harvard Blvd towards his new place of employment. After he and Charlie polished the work shed spotlessly, Charlie argued with Doc quite a bit more than he liked, and the scruffy man reluctantly gave the boy more cleaning orders. Charlie helped him with everything, both to get on Doc's good side about teaching her more advanced veterinary skills as well as helping train Royce in doing her old duties. She helped him become acquainted with the supply closet, knowing what and where everything was, and taught him basic front desk management and file organization. But for some reason, no matter how much she tried to persuade him, Doc flat out refused to let Royce handle customers. Charlie was completely baffled by this unusual degree of stubbornness, but then again, she didn't understand some of the finer complexities of Doc's business- or the vampires and werewolves that might take Royce's presence as an invitation to start a fight- and considering how Doc simply ignored her attempts at talking about it, she eventually let it drop. Besides, Royce didn't seem to mind most of the janitorial work Doc assigned him, so he didn't complain. In order to handle the front desk, Charlie dipped into her own precious savings to buy a small metal bell for customers to ring when they needed service. That way, Charlie could continue to study from the Doc while being able to handle people as they came in. Win win. Everyone was happy.
Well, everyone but Doc. But he was nearly impossible to please, anyway, so it wasn't really surprising.
Doc was becoming especially irate at his two new employees spending so much time together. Despite the fact that he recognized that this was a small business and an even smaller building they all worked in, and the time they spent together was necessary for Royce to learn all he needed to know. But still... he was none-too-pleased to find the werewolf's infatuation growing stronger, even more so when Charlie started to reciprocate. He had already drawn the line with the boy, before- he had discussed the very human and very ignorant condition of his young female assistant, and warned the wolf away from getting too intimate. But that didn't stop the bloody girl from engaging him on her own, unaware of the danger.
Needless to say, Doc's cigarette pack count was reaching new weekly records.
But, for the most part, things were uneventful in the clinic. With Royce around, Charlie complained to Doc less, Doc began to train Charlie more, and Royce was fairly content having both a job and enjoyable company to look forward to three times a week. Doc didn't pay him much, but he didn't mind- he was never really in it for the money to begin with, anyway.
And so, more then five weeks passed.
Go on, do it. Just ask him out!
Charlie grumbled under her breath, chalking her warming face up to the unseasonable heat, and waved her notebook at her face to create a breeze. Despite her best efforts to forget it, her mind kept replaying her lunch with Morgan, the out-going, cheeky friend that worked at the perfume counter at the mall to whom she had only yesterday admitted her inner-office crush. Royce was sweet, charming, fun to talk to... and damn it if those dimples didn't haunt her dreams from time to time. And he was also attracted to her, as well, if Morgan's deductive skills could be trusted. And they really couldn't. But... still...
She was in the work shed, sitting at the desk trying to fill out prescription paperwork for the rescues she had treated last week- a beaver with a mangled paw, two orphaned white-tailed deer fawns, and an underweight coyote with an eye infection. But as she stopped thinking about penicillin dosages and started thinking about yesterday's lunch, her chin fell into her cupped palm and her eyes drifted out the window. As her thoughts paused, she couldn't help but glance through the corner of her eyes to the row of cages on the other side of the shed.
Royce was there, mucking out the waste from each occupied cage, and replacing food and water containers. The radio was already tuned to their favorite station- their favorite- and he was bobbing his head to the beat of some 70s hit while Charlie hummed the tune under her breath. He was intent on his work, so much so that he didn't notice the smudge of dust on his cheek left by a less-than-squeaky-clean cage bar brushing past his face. Charlie smiled.
"I can't ask him out! I... I mean he... just... I just can't! Besides, I don't know anything about him!"
And it was true enough. Over the last few weeks, they had talked a lot about their interests, goals, pet peeves, reasons why Doc was an African bull warthog in disguise... but never their pasts. Their families. Why they were here. Granted, Charlie wasn't exactly about to bring up her own story, so she could relate to him keeping his silence. Questioning him might result in questions herself, and that was the last thing she wanted. But... still... she was curious...
"Well, going on a date might be the perfect opportunity to cure that!"
"Morgan, I am not asking him on a date. Besides, where do you think we could go? This is New Hope, not New York City!"
"Why not invite him over for dinner? You can cook, right? Best way to a man's heart and all that. Wear a cute little frilly apron that'll make him fantasize about you in nothing but that apron, and you'll be set!"
Even in memory, Charlie had to roll her eyes. Morgan was a lot more... aggressive in her dating strategies than she could ever be. But... it's not like her dinner idea didn't have its merits. They lived in the same apartment complex, afterall, so that wouldn't be too weird, right?
Charlie frowned at her reflection in the window, tucking a curl behind her ear. If I didn't dress up, just kept it casual... I could make spaghetti and meatballs, that's easy enough... and maybe that chocolate pudding stuff for dessert... I can do that, right? I mean, it could be a step toward... something... but it's also something that friends could do, isn't it?
Frustrated by her own uncertainty, Charlie stuck her tongue out at her own reflection. Dork.
And then came the muffled laughter from right behind her. "What are you doing?"