The days continued to grow longer as spring progressed. Evermore, the surrounding hills, and the mountains continued to shift towards a vibrant shade of green as the sun made its presence known again and the weather grew warmer. A figure jogged her way through the forest that grew alongside the riverbank. Sunlight glowed through the trees, dappling her bare skin as she ran in her sports bra only. Her breath came in long, quick draws and she ran, her pace quickening as she turned in the direction of home and made her final sprint.

The forest trail emerged into a clearing, a house visible a short distance away with a deck that overlooked the property and the winding river. Aaliyah Cole ran that last few hundred metre to the back door of the house, stopping outside as her two dogs came to greet her. Bending over, she fought to catch her breath as sweat poured down her forehead. “Guys, no. Go away,” she gasped, standing tall, hands resting on her hips as her chest rose and fell. After a minute her breathing slowed and she looked at the pair, a wry smile curling her full lips. Samson, her white English Retriever, looked up at her with his endearing dark brown eyes. Celty, a low content wolf hybrid, also gazed at her, one hazel and one blue bright.

Checking her watch, Aaliyah cursed and quickly ran into the house and up the stairs to the main floor. Heading into her bedroom she turned her Bluetooth speaker on and set it to Morgan Wallen before strolling into her bathroom, shedding clothes as she went. She showered quickly before applying some makeup before the bathroom mirror. She quickly changed into the new work uniform she had inherited as of yesterday. She cringed a little as she slipped on the little black tshirt, barely long enough to cover her stomach. Luckily she was allowed to wear her own jeans and quickly slipped into those and the new pair of black runners she had picked up. She leg her long mocha locks hang in loose curls over her shoulders.

Feeding the dogs, she quickly made her way back downstairs, locking the door and checking the doggie door before heading out to her truck. Speeding down the highway, she hung an arm out the window. She started her first shift at 8 but she wanted to grab some food and read over her new manual before the start of her shirt. The Necromancer let out a deep sigh. She had truly never had a job before. Sure, she had led a faction and was more than capable but this was different. After nearly 80 years she was entering the work force for the first time.

Aaliyah parked her Toyota Tacoma and hopped out, grabbing her purse and manual before heading into the bar. It was a smaller place, the kind of place that was filled by local and regulars, all seeming to know the bartenders and severs by name as well as what was happening in their lives. Chewing her lip, Aal waved to the bartender and grabbed a seat at a booth before tucking into her manual. Time seemed to fly and before she knew it, she was behind the bar learning from Todd, the 50-something bartender that owned the place. Luckily she learned quickly and he had soon left her to her own portion of the bar.

It was only a Thursday night but soon the place was full of it’s loyal patrons and drinks were flowing. Aaliyah enjoyed working behind the bar, serving drinks quickly and referring to the drink binder when some folks ordered cocktails she had never heard of. The folks sitting in her section were patient and kind, taking the time to get to know her and waiting as she made their drinks and served their food. She engaged with them all, smiling and giving them a vague tale that they would believe. The same story she had spun for Todd, the owner. It was around 1030 when a group of 10 college aged guys stumbled in. Aal raised a brow, watching them as they staggered over to the pool tables and claimed a table and started playing. The group was loud, pushing each other, howling, and cursing. The brunette signed, shaking her head  and sharing a look with Todd as she returned to her job.

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“You little bitch! You’ve had that planned all along!”

The blonde turned around, her cerulean blue eyes watching as Chase Delaine descended upon her like the angry little weasel he was. It was difficult to keep the smile off her face but she managed it, batting her long lashes as she tapped the toe of her high heel on the floor absently. Tilting her head to the side as she stood her ground, the male getting all up in her space as he puffed himself up both from anger and to try and intimidate her. In 3 inch stilettos he was still taller than her and yet the wolf couldn’t be cowed like all of the other women he had come across which irked him to no end.

“Whatever do you mean?” Harper’s tone of voice was sickly sweet, her facial expression one of carefully adopted confusion as several people stopped to stare. It wasn’t every day that the nerdy scientists got to see such a dramatic confrontation and it would provide lots of gossip for the admin assistants. The male was too incensed to even realize that they had an audience, his complete focus on her, and the anger he now felt towards her. Granted from his perspective he had a reason to be as she had successfully yanked her project back from his greedy little clutches.

“You know exactly what I mean. You had that whole thing planned just to make me look bad.” Forgetting his place he reached out and grabbed her upper arm, nearly eliciting a warning growl from her that she just managed to hold in check. “You are going to march right back in there and tell them you can’t handle the responsibility and give me the project back. Or so help me…”

“What? So help you what?” In a quick and practiced move, the blonde twisted her arm out of his grasp and knocked him back a couple of steps in the process. His eyes had gone wide, his mouth opening like a fish out of water either from surprise or indignation at having been manhandled by a little woman. Taking two slow steps forward she got right up in his face, “I will do nothing. You're damn right I have been waiting to do that, for the last six months you have been running MY project into the ground.” He scoffed and opened his mouth as if he had a retort but she cut him off, “You have no earthly idea of the sciences behind the project, you have siphoned money from essential functions and budgets for god knows what, you have fired good people in order to fit your own disgusting agenda, and when brought to the carpet you have no idea how to account for any of it. Now when brought in front of the big wigs you about the accounting shortfall and how to bail it out you have nothing.”

The meeting had gone exactly like she had expected, with the President calling his nephew out in front of everyone and demanding a full account of the Ocean Cleanup Project as well as a full status report. The status report he gave was verbatim what had been in her last reports since as the project manager all of her reports were open for his review. It was when the money aspects came up that he fell short as the debacle he had made of the budget was astronomical. The company had lost at least 6 million thanks to his flippant attitude which normally would have equated to the entire project being shut down. Thankfully Harper had submitted a bailout plan to the board a few nights ago and when the trustees called her in she was ready with details and any questions they might have had.

As she had hoped the Trustees had given her the Project back and promised that no other oversight would be involved in the project. This had been her brainchild to begin with and no one knew how to run her department better than she did. Taking the file she shoved it into his chest, “Next time you think your last name and Daddy’s connections are going to get you an easy job you might want to open your eyes. Delaine is only going to get you so far, at some point if you don’t get your head out of your ass you're going to fall hard. Today was just a taste, at least I let you leave that meeting with your dignity. Now stay off my floor and out of my way.”

Letting him take the folder that enumerated how horribly he had messed up Harper turned on her heel, finally letting a full-blown smile grace her lips as she hit the elevator and headed out of the building. Work would wait for tomorrow, right now she was ready for a celebratory drink. Shooting Aeryn a text to let him know the meeting had gone well the blonde crossed over into downtown and went to her favorite bar. Shooting Todd a nod she found an empty place at the bar where a new woman was working, wincing at the noise of a large party that was playing over at the tables.

“Bourbon on the rocks please.”

As the early evening had progressed, the college boys had steadily managed to chase away the regulars until half the bar was nearly empty and the other half was full of drunk frat boys and sorority girls who had joined not long after the original group had arrived. Aaliyah kept pouring out the pitchers of cheap beer they were requesting and sending them over, happy to not have to actually serve the kids directly.

As groups trickled in and out the music got louder in the corner by the pools tables. A group of business men strolled in, shrugging out of suit jackets and loosening ties. Giving Todd a wave, their eyes lingering on the new brunette at the bar as Todd started preparing their drinks. Aaliyah offered an inviting smile before turning away and dropping the false smile. Taking care of the dishwasher and drying some of the scotch glasses, she leaned against the bar and surveyed the crowd as she worked.

“Aal, why don’t you grab a drink and take a quick 30 minute break before we really pick up,” Todd told her before his attention returned to one of the servers placing her drink order. Aaliyah nodded, placing an order for some fries for herself and pouring herself a whisky over ice. She was about to grab a seat on the other side of the bar when a blonde walked in and took a seat and ordered herself a drink. “A woman after my own heart,”[i] the Diviner said with a cool smile she said as she poured the bourbon and gave it to the other woman. The cook called her fries up and, grabbing them, Aaliyah strolled around to the other side of the bar and settled herself before her drink and beside the blonde.

“Cheers,” she said, raising her glass to the stranger and taking a long sip and letting out a sigh. Aal preferred tequila but they were out of her choice selection of tequila so she went with her second favorite. Digging into her fries, she checked her phone for a few moments before putting it back behind the bar and taking another sip of her drink. Todd was busy behind the bar and orders were starting to get just slightly behind. Despite only waiting a few short minutes, one of the college boys made his way over to the bar, placing himself at the empty chair between Aaliyah and the blonde.

“Hey, can we get our drinks dude?” the kid slurred before leaning against the empty chair and giving Aaliyah and the other woman drunken smiles. “Hows your night going ladies?” he asked, leaning in closer to the blonde. Aal rolled her eyes and got to her feet, slipping back behind the bar to pour him another two pitchers of beer. She grabbed the receipt so Todd didn’t make the order twice and gave him the beer. “Make these ones last hon,” she said, with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

As he stumbled back to his group, beer sloshing from the pitchers, Aal shook her head, pale sapphire optics rolling as she took another sip and finished off her drink. “Fucking annoying,” she grumbled, grabbing more fries and biting down on them. She watched the young group at the pool tables, her eyes narrowed and booted heel tapping on the floor in annoyance. She liked this bar for its older crowd. Everyone once in a while a young group came in but they were usually respectful. This group was none of that and she already some of the men getting snippy with each other and exchanging words with folks that entered the bar.

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