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Soiled Shoes (I do not seek, I find)

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"Who's a good boy?" she slurs in that airy tone people use on children and small animals. "Yeees, you are. You're a very good boy."

Jonathan takes off his glasses and polishes them on his T-shirt, as if that would dispel the vision in front of him. When he puts them on again, the girl is still in his backyard. Kneeling on the wet grass and petting his dog. In the middle of the night.

"Excuse me," he calls, approaching her in measured steps. He's ready to dash back if needed. She might be faking, after all. "What do you think you're doing?"

A high-pitched whine had pulled him out of the house, to check up on his dog. The pathetic creature is still whimpering and cringing and cowering in her embrace. Any sane person could see it does not appreciate the affection she's lavishing on it.

"Dogs are great," she says, tripping over her own tongue and smiling up at him. Even in the insufficient light from the porch, her eyes are huge and glossy. She's not faking that much at least. "Don't you just love dogs?"

"Please get off my lawn. You're scaring my dog."

In truth, it had been scared before. But that's beside the point. The point is, she's making it worse. Which means she's interfering with his experiment and in the worst case scenario, he'd had to find a new dog and start over. He grabs her arm to pull her up, but she protests.

"Oh, not so fast, pretty boy! I think—oh, everything's spinning."

Then, the inevitable happens: she throws up. In front of his feet. No, not only in front of his feet – onto his feet. And him in his new shoes he got cheap at the thrift store. Well, so much for them. He should have seen it coming. This is decidedly not how he's planned to spend the night. Vexed, he wonders what to do with her. He can't just leave her out here. If she died of dehydration or exposure, it would only draw attention to him and he can't deal with that right now.

Nothing to it but to ensure she survives until morning, so she could be on her way then. With a sigh, he asks if she can stand and heaves her upright. She slumps against him, heavy like a wet sack of grains, and he half-guides, half-drags her into his home. He leaves his soiled shoes on the porch.

On the way to the living room, they bump against a floor lamp and knock over a couple of books on the low shelves. Apart from these minor disturbances to his furnishings, he manages to dump her onto his couch without accident.

Once she's let go of his arm, he fetches the bucket he uses for cleaning, hoping she'll get the hint if she feels sick again. He watches her for a moment as she groans and writhes, then decides to get a wet cloth and wipe her forehead with it. He also spreads a blanket over her – he'd rather have her ruin that than his sofa.

Unsure what else to do in a situation like this, he picks up his shoes and throws them into the shower cubicle. He'd deal with them later. Passing her on the way to the bathroom, he remembers she needs to hydrate he puts a water bottle on the coffee table next to her. But no glass. She'd only break it.

While scrubbing his shoes, he wonders if she's homeless. Why else would she be roaming the streets, half-drunk out of her mind, if not for a place to stay? Well, she could be returning from a party, but whoever let her leave in this condition would have to be pretty irresponsible or in about the same state of inebriation. You don't let people walk around by themselves at night. Who knows what madmen roam the streets and parks and back alleys?

Now there's a thought. If she is indeed homeless, she won't have many friends who would come looking for her in case she vanishes. He may have finally found his first human test subject. His mood improves.

By the time he reemerges from the bathroom, she's fast asleep. But Jonathan cannot follow suit. His body won't let him rest when there's a stranger in his home. Sleep brings him no peace.

In the morning, he's up early and somewhat cranky from insomnia. He walks the dog before breakfast because the annoying mutt needs to run off the anxiety of last night and won't stop whining until he sees Jonathan. Then, it tucks its tails between its legs and cowers some more.

The neighborhood is already teeming with joggers, pensioners, and other somnambulant people shuffling after their dogs. Jonathan barely notices any greetings. His mind is occupied with the girl he left snoring on his couch. He's uncomfortable with anyone in his home, let alone if he has to leave them there unattended. Who knows what she might be doing once she wakes up?

Luckily for him, she's still dormant when he returns. Unless she's already been up and is now only pretending to sleep. He puts on some water to boil and makes sure everything is still in its place. Not that he had many valuables, but it never hurts to double-check.

"The fuck?" a sleep-rough voice croaks. "Where am I?"

Jonathan walks into the living room and places a mug with chamomile tea in front of her. "Drink."

"Who the hell are you?" She blinks up at him blearily, holding her no doubt aching head. When her hand bumps against one of her pigtails, she winces and pulls off the elastic bands holding them up. Her hair tumbles in front of her eyes in messy waves.

"That's what I'd like to know," Jonathan says and folds his arms across his chest.

She stops mussing up her hair and looks at him. Or, in his general direction. "You mean you don't know who you are?"

"No, I mean I'd like to know who you are."

"Tell me how I got here and I'll think about it. No, wait. Tell me where your bathroom is. That's the much more pressing question right now."

Jonathan points down the hall. "You can't miss it." Although he wouldn't put it past her.

She throws the blanket from her legs and lifts herself with visible effort, swaying every step along the way. He wonders if he's supposed to offer his shoulder for support, but the mood has shifted since yesterday and he can no longer gauge which actions are appropriate to the situation. He wants to appear non-threatening.

A few moments later, she comes back, brushing her teeth. Maybe he's over-thinking this. She seems not to have a care in the world.

"Can I use your shower?" she asks around the foam in her mouth.

"Are you using my toothbrush?"

She pulls the item in question out of her mouth and regards it as though seeing it for the first time. "This is yours?"

"Who else would it belong to?"

"For a moment, I thought it was mine. But I use an electric one... Huh."

Jonathan inhales deeply. Is she trying to rile him up? "Yes, you can use the shower."

"Cool," the girl says and pads back to the bathroom.

"Do you need a change of clothes?" Jonathan offers without thinking. The girl turns around again and wobbles against the doorframe. "I can wash yours if you'd like."

She blinks. "Wow, that'd be... that'd be great. Wait a second." Without bothering to close the door, she throws the toothbrush back in its glass and strips down to her underwear. "Here," she says, bundles up her pants and shirt, and holds them out for him.

Jonathan frowns at her, but accepts the clothing items. She is what common men would think of as pretty with a lean but muscular body. The only thing marring her beauty are the many bruises discoloring her skin. Curious. He wonders where they come from. Not all of them could have been the result of this morning. Maybe she's into kickboxing? In that case, he'd have to be wary not to get on her bad side.

She grins at having drawn his gaze and pirouettes in front of him. "You've earned yourself a peek for letting me crash here," she says with a wink, then closes the door in front of his nose.

While he's filling up his washing machine with the laundry, he idly muses what else could have caused these bruises. Marks of that nature aren't usually the result of living on the streets. She seems to be unaware of them. Maybe kickboxing or self-defense classes aren't so far off. If she were another victim of domestic violence, she'd probably want to hide their existence. Though maybe she has run away from home and an abusive father. Not that Jonathan cares.

Once the washing machine has hummed to life, he moves to the kitchen and makes breakfast – something greasy to help with her hangover. He's a bit surprised at himself for going through all that trouble – he's not usually the altruistic type – but he wants her out of his hair as soon as possible, without any more casualties along the way, and the stronger she's feeling, the sooner she'd be gone.

When he's picked up a choice of clothes he's not too concerned about if they went missing, he knocks on the bathroom door and enters. He's greeted with the sight of her towel-clad behind as she's bending over to comb her wet hair over her head.

"Uhh, I know this is your house an' all, but don't you wanna give a girl some privacy?" She straightens, tests if the towel around her is secure enough, and continues brushing out her wet bangs.

"Pardon the intrusion, but I knocked. I thought you were still in there." He nods toward the shower.

She grins at him, somewhat predatory, and he finds that unsettling for a girl who is naked in a stranger's house. "Thought you could surprise me in there, did ya?"

Jonathan's not really sure if she means what he thinks she means, and if she does, why he would want that. So he opts for doing what he does best, which is changing the subject. "Breakfast is ready, if you want some."

"Oh my God, you really want to be my Prince Charming, don't you?"

"I... don't understand."

"I mean, you're so nice and all, as though you want me to fall in love with you," she says with a dreamy expression on her face. Which darkens the next instant when suspicions creep in. "Wait! Did you put something in my drink and date-rape me last night? That would explain your behavior. You're feeling guilty now."

He raises an eyebrow at her, not bothering to feel indignant about the accusation. "I can assure you nothing of the sort happened," he says, and recounts the events leading up to now.

"Oops," she says once he's finished. "Sorry about your shoes."

"So what were you doing, drunkenly petting my dog in the middle of the night?"

"Oh, uhh..." she makes a face and shrugs. "I just had a rough break-up and got drunk off my ass, hoping it would numb the pain. I think I must have wandered the streets trying to clear my head, when I saw your dog and fell in love with it. I've always wanted a Rottweiler."

"It's a Doberman," he corrects.

"Oh. Really? I think I must have—Which is the one with pointy ears?" She extended her index fingers on either side of her head.

"That's a Doberman."

"Yes, that's the one I always wanted. They're cute. And yours just looked so forlorn, like it wanted nothing more than someone to pet it, and it resonated with me. Don't you take care of your dog at all?"

"Of course I do," he almost bristles. He doesn't like her accusatory tone. "I think your condition may have led you to see things that weren't real."

She crosses her arms in front of her chest. "Are you a shrink or something, telling me I hallucinated the whole thing?"

"Not the whole thing, but certain aspects of it."

"Huh... what's its name by the way?"

"It doesn't have name."

"What do you mean it doesn't have a name? Every dog needs a name. I vote for Günther."

"Günther is a bad name for a dog."

"Don't you dare insult my naming choices. Especially when I've already decided." She pouts. "Say, can I walk Günther later?"

"Um," Jonathan doesn't know to what extent her proximity to his dog would interfere with the experiment, but perhaps a little rush of endorphins might counteract the damage she did last night. "Okay, if you insist. But only if you stop calling it Günther."

"What else am I supposed to call it then?"

Jonathan has no answer, because he's never thought of that. So he does what's easiest and deflects. "How about you put these on first and join me in the kitchen?"

"Am I making you nervous?" she teases and picks up the clothes he's been holding all the while.

"Why would you?" he asks, although in truth, he is a little on edge with someone in the house.

"Oh, you know," she shrugs, "I thought it might have something to do with you being a guy and me being a girl who's standing half-naked in your bathroom." She's been drawing closer with every word, crowding him against the doorframe. "Aren't you at least tempted to take advantage of me?"

"I'm... sorry, but I think you have the wrong impression here." That rest alcohol in her system must sure be addling her brains.

"You know, you're rather cute," she says as she peers up at him. He fears she might kiss him any moment now, so he grabs her naked arms and holds her at a distance.

"You're still be in shock because of your break-up. And now you're trying to drown the hurt by sleeping with the first person you can lay your hands on."

She snorts and looks away. "Again with the psychobabble."

"It's a bad habit, I know," he says and pushes her off gently. "Come on, let's get you some breakfast. You'll feel better afterwards."

"You're incredibly sweet, you know that?" she says and clutches the borrowed clothes to her chest. Suddenly, she looks so small. "Anyone else would have thrown me to the ground and had their way with me, but not you."

He studies her for a moment. "And yet you seem to regret that I didn't."

She attempts a weak laugh and averts her eyes again. Such pretty eyes, come to think of it. "I guess you were right about me wanting to drown out the pain. It would have been easier to ignore."

"Get dressed and join me in the kitchen. Our laundry should be finished soon. It can dry while we're out with the dog."

With a simple suggestion like that, her whole face lights up in girlish glee. "That sounds awesome."

He is halfway down the hall when she calls after him, voice bright and full of laughter.

"You know, I'm really glad I threw up on your shoes last night."