Jay awoke the next morning by the sound of her phone.
Her mother was calling her, five minutes before her alarm would go off, to make sure she was up for her first day of work.
After a short, sleepy chat, Jay began to regret choosing to start work the day after she arrived, and wished she had put in for a few days of rest and settling in. She surely would have been granted it.
The night before, she had waited until ten when Molly and Renna came home, spending the time they were away unpacking boxes. Molly had bought Chinese food, and handed Jay a large folded box for her to eat, free of charge. Renna had also bought something, but took it up to her room to eat, away from the chatter.
Molly and Kay stayed up, eating and watching TV for a while, talking about their lives and their hopes and their dreams until the wee hours of the night when both of them were so sleepy they could barely make it upstairs. For Molly, this was no problem. She nearly always took the evening shift at the hair salon where she worked, but the same was not true for Jay, who had her first shift bright and early.
Peeling herself from her comfy bed, Jay dragged herself to the shower for a quick, cold wake-up, then threw on a polo shirt and jeans, along with her favorite scarf and a wool coat, and headed downstairs. She was the only one awake at the moment, so she helped herself to a glass of orange juice and placed the cup in the empty sink, heading out the door at eight.
The place where she would be working, Brighton Books, was a brisk walk from the house. While she probably could have caught a bus, Jay thought the exercise would be good for her, and just hurried along. While it was still rather early, a thick stream of bodies lumbered around in dark coats and hats, protecting themselves for the particularly bitter cold that morning. As far as she could tell, it was mostly business men out now. She didn't see any of the school girls or ruffians from yesterday. Then again, they were probably already in class.
A few blocks later, she arrived at the store, whose entrance was down a flight of stairs, tucked away in the basement of the building. Shades were still hung over the door and window, but the front entrance was unlocked, and she tentatively went inside.
Within was a treasure-trove of books, lining the walls in large, wooden shelves. Tomes of every color and thickness sat packed in, with piles more stationed on tables. Everything was here from new releases to yellowing antiques, sappy romances to scintillating sci-fis. Even the air wafted with the scent of paper and book glue. To Jay, who loved herself a good book, this place seemed perfect.
A bell jingled from above, rung by the opening of the door, and from the back of the store can a girlish call.
A figure appeared from a back room behind the register, drowning in a pile of books and a sweater two sizes too big. A pair of thick-rimmed glasses hung off her human face, and a pair of faux fur cat ears sat atop a crown of wavy, unkempt blond hair. She sat down the pile of books and eagerly approached Jay, smiling wide.
"How may I help you?"
"Uh, I'm Jay. I'm supposed to be working here."
"Oh, yes," the girl check a watch hidden under her long sleeve, "right on time! Mr. Brighton isn't working today, so he left me to teach you. I'm his niece, Brenda."
Brenda brought her back into the anterior of the shop, and quickly listed off facts and rules in an overly excited fashion. Without even confirming anything with Jay, she showed her how to use the cash register and handed her an apron to wear while she worked. Though Jay had never really had a formal job before, she thought this orientation was all a bit weird, and wondered just what was off with the girl teaching her.
After she had memorized the genre sections of the store, Brenda put her to work sorting books in the back, pulling copies from shelves to be held for customers, and doing other busy work. It was an easy job, so far, and found Brenda's ways to be oddly fascinating. She seemed to know almost every customer by name and could easily reccommend a long list of books from even the simplest request. She had obviously spent much of her time reading.
At noon, Brenda pulled the shades on the front and locked up, coming to the back for her lunch. Jay also pulled out her lunch, a container of left overs from the night before.
"So, you're new here, right?"
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
"I just kinda figured. You don't really look like most of the people we get around here."
"Human, you mean?"
"Yeah. We mostly get beasts coming in here. Can't remember the last time a human stepped foot in here."
"Well, you're human, aren't you."
Brenda went silent and frowned from across the table in the back.
"I am one fourth beast and I proudly celebrate my heritage."
"Oh, gosh, I'm sorry." Jay stammered, feeling like she had already made a big mistake on her first day.
"It's fine," Brenda's expression softened, "I get that a lot. With halflings the features are usually hit or miss, and I missed. My brother, though, he looked full beast. I'm jealous of him."
"Well, with him, he can just pretend he's full beast and go on with his life. Me? I gotta pretend and everything. Humans care about where you come from, and they'll know if you have their blood in your veins and shut you out. Beasts don't care where you're from, as long as you're one of them."
"Jeez, that does sound rough."
"Eh," she shrugged, "it's not so bad. As long as you're nice, most people leave you alone."
"So, what should I expect seeing as that I'm human?"
"Well, most beasts should be nice to you, maybe even too nice. They might think you're rich. Others might think you're a snob. There's even a few hardcore human haters out there, but you probably won't run into them."
"How can they even exist? I mean, humans are everywhere. Maybe not here, but in their parts of the city."
"They don't venture out. Most don't. Beasts going out into the human areas are likely to regret it. I can understand their hate but...it's not right. They're blaming humans for everything, even things that are their own fault."
Jay said nothing else, finishing up her lunch. The thought of there being those out there that hated her just for being who she was frightened and saddened her. Still, the way that Brenda made it sound, she probably wouldn't have to worry about it.
As soon as Brenda was done with her lunch, she opened the store back up to a steady stream of customers. For being a bookstore tucked into a basement, they sure did well. Considering who she was working with, she could understand why.
At three, Jay left her first day of work feeling very accomplished, grinning as she left the store. Even though she wouldn't see a pay check for til the end of the week, she still felt like she was doing something worthwhile, like she had made the right choice. She also couldn't wait to get home and tell Molly all about it. Even in the short time they had known each other, they were already on their way to be good friends.
Still, her curiosity was more prominent than her desire to go home and socialize. So, before she headed home, Jay wandered down the street, looking at all the shops around.
In this area, there were a lot of coffee shops and book stores. You could pretty much get a cappuccino and a novel at any place. There were a few places that stuck out; a smoke shop, a real deli, and a thrift store; but everywhere had the same feel, and Jay enjoyed it very much.
She did notice, however, a few common characteristics within each establishment. The entrances were very large, the ceilings were high, but the counters were low. There were also usually many chairs with open backs, or just plain stools. After some observation, she figured out these things were to accommodate the many different kinds of beasts that came. Whether short of tall, and with or without a tail, they could patronize these shops. Jay noticed that most signs were also written in several different languages, some of which didn't even appear to be in letters.
Having sated her drive to explore, Jay found her way home along the winding streets, and back to her home. By the time she returned, she saw that Molly and Renna had left for work. So much for chatting, she thought. Still, there was plenty to do with all the unpacked boxes sitting around her room. But instead of organizing, she fell back on her bed and closed her eyes, smiling.
This was turning out to be a very good decision indeed.