1 Soaking Wet

Blood pooled beneath him and tears poured down her face as she clutched him to her chest. She had already called 911 but with the way things were going she didn't know if they would get here soon enough.

"Why would you do that, Casey?" she sobbed. "Why?"

Casey smiled wearily up at her before coughing, blood speckling his lips in the process. "Because I…wanted…to…save you."

His eyes closed and his head flopped to the side as she screamed. "Casey! CASEY! You have to stay awake! CASEY! You can't leave me here alone!"

Casey didn't respond. The sound of the sirens coming up the street barely registered as she doubled over, her tears splashing onto his bloodied chest. Too late. They were going to be too late!

How had this happened? How had any of this happened at all?

===

Vera Gilmore hummed to herself as she went over her usual checklist before opening up shop. It was rather gloomy out but that was an average day in Washington and wasn't nearly enough to dampen her spirits.

She was looking forward to closing time today when she would finally be able to work on her latest pet project. A once-beautiful bookcase she had found at an estate sale that she was certain would be stunning once she restored it. She made most of her money by restoring things other people brought to her but her favorite thing to do was find gems amid junk and fix them up to sell herself.

Her aunt Tilly had been the same way, which was why she opened up her own shop. Now that she was in a nursing home, barely lucid most of the time, she had left things to Vera.

She wouldn't fail her aunt's legacy. Tilly was the only family she truly had, taking her in because neither of her parents wanted her. Her childhood may have been unconventional trailing after a much-sought-after professional antiques restorer but she wouldn't change it for anything.

Vera wouldn't be who she was today without Tilly's influence, which was why it had been so hard watching her waste away. Putting her in the nursing home was a difficult decision but she hadn't had any other choice. Home nurses were too expensive to maintain.

She visited her aunt nearly every day though despite her not being "all there" mentally. On the days she was lucid they were able to talk about Vera's latest projects like they always used to. And when she wasn't…well, those days were hard.

Tilly would love hearing all about the bookcase she had found. It was a steal because it was in such bad shape but it wouldn't be like that for much longer.

Vera wouldn't let her aunt's current state get her down. Sad as it was, she had gotten used to it by now. She couldn't let it control her life. She was determined to be happy even though the only one she loved was in bad shape right now.

New projects were excellent distractions. Distractions had always kept her going when she was stressed.

If it rained later—and it probably would—she would perk herself up with her favorite gourmet hot chocolate before she holed up in the workshop for the rest of the evening after her usual visit. That never failed.

Vera finished her checklist and turned on the neon sign indicating they were open before unlocking the front door and settling behind the desk. Since there weren't any customers she may as well look over the ledgers for a while. She did that until someone came in wanting to browse. She put them away and put on her best customer service face asking if they were looking for something in particular.

They were, which made her job much easier. It was always better helping people find exactly what they were looking for rather than trying to make a sales pitch when they didn't know what they wanted.

She felt rather satisfied since they left the shop having purchased three different items and paid for them before leaving to go borrow their friend's van to pick them up. She removed them from the sales area so no one else would get any ideas before they came back.

Sometimes she wondered if she should try to hire someone else to work here with her. She didn't really have the money for it though.

Tilly had run this place on her own for many years aside from Vera helping with the restoration projects for fun. As she became less capable of doing things herself, her niece helped out of familial obligation but wasn't paid much.

Now it was all hers and she was a one-woman show too. She couldn't afford to bring anyone else on but it wasn't like things were so busy that she really needed another person.

The only times she could use help involved moving things. She was deceptively strong for her size from so many years doing heavy lifting but some things did require two people to move.

Vera was used to doing things on her own though. Tilly had taught her to be independent and she put those skills to good use after her aunt's health declined.

A loud clap of thunder broke her free from her musings and she realized that it was raining cats and dogs out there. Maybe she should indulge in her hot chocolate sooner than she originally planned since there wasn't anyone around to judge her for it.

She should probably wait until after that customer came back...but it might be a while with all the rain. She was still waffling about whether or not to do it now when someone made the decision for her.

The bell indicating the door opened rang and she looked up to see someone soaking wet standing just inside. He was underdressed for the weather, wearing nothing but a simple long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and sneakers. He had long bangs completely covering one of his eyes that were dripping pretty badly. His brown hair likely would have been lighter if it wasn't so wet.

"I'm s-s-sorry for intruding," he said quietly through chattering teeth. "B-but can I b-borrow a phone? My car w-won't start, my phone d-d-died, and I've been w-walking for miles."

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