The very first thing I noticed about him was how broad he was; he nearly filled the hallway he was walking down. Second, he was tall; nearly 6'4". Third was his smile, it was dazzling and reached not just to his eyes but into his eyes, His very very blue eyes. That color blue that changes with a person's mood. Right at that moment they were a happy stone washed jean blue.
"Hi, My name is Jack, I'm scheduled to volunteer today."
"uh.. sure.. um... Let me check the schedule"
Oh good job girl... good fucking job. You didn't even say hi back.. no no its too late now. keep your head down. look at the stupid ledger. there.... right there line 5: Jack Wolfe.
"Um Mister Wolfe?"
"Call me Jack" he flashed that brilliant smile again.
Are you going to giggle? DON'T FUCKING GIGGLE YOU IDIOT
"heh.. Sure Jack. Looks like they assigned you to the kitten room. Oh man. I can change it to the kennels if you want, or uh we have some horses back in the stables right now..."
"No no" he chuckled "Kittens is perfect."
I knew I should say something, but I just couldn't. I was locked into those eyes and the idea that this mountain of a man was ok with being assigned to volunteer work in the kitten room.
say something moron
"Well then, " I squeaked out after an uncomfortable silence. "Follow me. I'll, uh, I'll take you back."
It wasn't a long walk. Kittens are pretty popular at the rescue center so we keep them up close where everyone can see them. The door to the kitten room is solid glass. Looking through you could see that every available horizontal surface, that wasn't the floor, was occupied by at least one tiny little ball of fluff. Every color of the kitty cat rainbow was piled around the room. I opened the door and 20 pairs of eyes popped open within the little fluffs and looked at me.
"Hey kitty kitties. 'mere kitty kitties" I cooed at them. Easily half of the room's population transformed into tiny little yawning arches of fur; stretching their legs; tails high in the air curved into velvet question marks. The other half scrambled away to those mysterious hiding spots that only cats know about.
Behind me I could feel him. He radiated a tangible essence. I stepped aside and he walked into the room filled with mewling kittens. His presence caused the opposite of a stir, the room went dead silent and was quite suddenly vacant. I don't blame them, if Mount Everest here had walked into my kindergarten room I probably would have run and hid too.
I know one pussy who isn't afraid.
That voice in my head is Bad Anne. The part of me that I usually wish I was more like; except right this moment. I blushed with that thought and I know he saw it.
"Uh... I'm sorry. They'll warm up to you."
"Oh I'm not worried about it. I'm pretty good with animals."
"Ok, Well, if you need anything the intercom is right here, just buzz me. I'm Anne." I stuck my hand straight out. Fingers fused together thumb straight up in the air. He folded his hand around mine and gently shook it up and down.
"Nice to meet you Anne."
As I walked back to the reception area I held my hands flat to my stomach trying to calm the field of butterflies dashing themselves against my insides.His hand had completely covered mine; it was warm, and soft. Not soft like a person who isn't used to work, but the way the flank of a race horse is soft and solid at the same time.
The rest of the morning was a blur. We were having our big puppy adoption event and that always brought in the crowd. Around lunch time it was quiet enough for me to leave the front and go check on Mr. Jack Wolfe. When I reached the glass door I stood there and just stared. He was sitting in the little folding chair we keep in the kitten room for the volunteers. He had moved it over next to the window and was sitting in a pool of early afternoon light.
His lap was filled with five or six little kittens who were clearly asleep. One arm was cradling a lanky one eyed grey tabby kitten I called One Eyed Willy (nerdy I know). In his other hand was his phone and he was absorbed in whatever he was reading. his right shoulder was occupied by the smallest of our kittens, a little albino short hair. She was nuzzled right up against his neck with her head under his chin. He was unconsciously rubbing his stubbly jaw slowly across the top of her head.
I slowly opened the door making as little noise as possible. He looked up and smiled at me. My heart quivered at the sight.
"I see you won them over." I was speaking in a whisper that was just barely above the sound of a breath.
"Yeah" He responded with the same whisper. The vibration of his chest as he spoke woke One Eyed Willy. "This little guy was the toughest. I started calling him One Eyed Willy... You know because of hard I had to work to get to him"
Had it been possible, I would have melted into a puddle of goo right there on the floor of the kitten room.
"He's a total sweetie once he likes you. Its been hard to home him because of his eye." I was still whispering, the sanctity of sleeping kittens should never be violated. Its a universal law among animal people.
He looked down into Willy's one good eye. "I sympathize with the little guy, hard to find a place when you're just a little broken." He was still whispering as well but the sadness of that statement resounded through the room. It was a long moment before he looked up again. His eyes met mine and it was like being pierced in the soul.
My sharp intake of breath startled some of the sleeping kittens and caused an avalanche of kitties to fall from his lap. We both laughed at the many-limbed kerfuffle that ensued. Now that the little fluffs were awake we could resume our conversation in a tone more befitting of humans his size.
"Its lunch time.We usually close the doors for an hour and eat lunch together if you'd like to join us."
Again with that smile, "I'd love to".
He followed me through the winding corridors to the little room we called the break room. His presence behind me was unnerving. Bad Anne was suspiciously silent. Normally I would have been barraged with thoughts of what I would do to him if I was brave enough to suggest them. Entering the break room, introductions were made all around. Every single lady in there practically swooned when he brought that thousand watt smile to bear upon them.
The braver ladies and the men asked Jack all of the standard questions. Where are you from? How long have you been here? What do you do?
Turns out he was exactly what I had expected. Veteran, lived here most of his life, Never married, no kids. Just moved into a new apartment. Worked in a warehouse on the south side; Forklift Operator. Saw an ad on Facebook that we needed extra hands this weekend for the adoption event and decided to volunteer.
After lunch we all headed back to our respective stations and resumed helping animals find their new homes. at the end of the day I was mentally drained from answering the same three questions over a over. "Dogs to the right.", "Cats to the left", "no we won't give them to you for free no matter how nice your home is". After the doors were closed and locked we all began cleaning up.
I was bent over putting a bag in the rubbish bin under the front counter when a shadow fell across my back. I knew without even looking that it was Jack. I stood up and turned around. He grinned a low wattage version of his smile and held his hand out to me. I took it and we shook hands again.
"It was nice meeting you Anne. Thank you for not reassigning me I really need some quiet kitten time." He was still holding my hand.
That's probably the nicest thing Bad Anne has ever said.
I let go of his hand and stepped in a little closer I raised my arms up and rocked up to my tiptoes. He still had to stoop down a little but I got my arms around his neck and we hugged. I can't say for sure if the hug lasted longer than normal. Time decided to get weird. I was completely encircled by him. Our cheeks were pressed together. I could smell him. I could feel his heat seeping into me. I could feel his heart beating against me.
Then it was done. I felt simultaneously alone and fulfilled.
"It was really nice working with you today Jack."
"Same here Anne. See you around."
The door closed on it's cushion of air and Jack Wolfe disappeared into the glow of the evening sunset.
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