Saving Grace

Chapter 1

When Jared was fifteen years old he realised that human beings weren’t the sensitive, friendly race he had taken them for in his naive first half of childhood. It had started with a simple school bully, the average American guy with so little self esteem that he took to cornering Jared in hallways to proclaim how much of a fucking fag he was. There’d never been any beatings; Jared had been certain that was thanks to his best friend being one creepy motherfucker in the status of school, which made him untouchable physically. But just shouting stupid names at Jared? He didn’t need Chad to come to his rescue for that.

In the end it had turned out that self conscious assholes with divorced parents and daddy issues were not the worst of his teenage year worries. On Jared’s sixteenth birthday, he’d kissed a boy for the first time.

The guy had been giving him a lift home from the little party Chad had decided to host, and he’d been the only guy sober enough to get through a car journey. Jared had been the last one left, sprawled on the sofa watching guests come and go as the poor dude drove them all back to their respective houses. When he and the guy (Matt, Jared recalled his name being) reached the front porch, the drunken sexual tension built up from a silent ride home had led to kissing - kissing a boy - on the front porch of Jared’s house.

He’d thought he got away with it at first. His parents were definitely still in their bedrooms, and despite the drunkenness overcoming him he was almost certain he hadn’t made too much noise on the way into bed. But the next morning when he’d risen from his bed, hangover no longer making him feel like falling to pieces, he was faced with two stony faced parents sat at the dining room table. It had been so typical too; sat together with only one chair facing them and their fingers forming triangles against their chins, like they were deep in serious thought.

Jared hadn’t even bothered trying to sneak away or waste time making food and drink (he wasn’t sure he could keep anything down anyway) so he’d surrendered himself into the seat and faced them.

“Jared,” his mother nodded to him, fingers not leaving their position.

“Mom,” he replied, internally sighing at the monotone of her voice. She was pissed.

A silent tension ran through the room as silence took over once again.

“You know that both I and your father couldn’t care less whether you ended up falling in love with a man or woman, just so long as they make you happy. But Jared,” she paused and took a deep breath. “The rest of the family will have to know your preferences. I can’t imagine them taking it well if you decide to marry a man in twenty years without ever telling them.”

Jared knew what she meant. The problem was, the rest of the family weren’t exactly the faces of gay pride. He was more likely to get disowned and alienated by his own extended family just for his sexuality. He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them to the now softer faces of his parents.

“We understand that this is difficult-” Jared’s father began.

Difficult?” he was almost hysterical, shaking slightly in the dining room table seat. They were talking about becoming completely estranged by the rest of the family in soft calm voices, like they could somehow take away the panic he was feeling and the pain that would come later on.

Three hours later, Jared’s mother was sat at the table with the phone in her hands and her face resting in her palms. Jared had tried to ignore how obviously it was going wrong, but he’d been too busy on the brink of tears to get optimistic. He’d never even questioned his sexuality. He hadn’t had many relationships with women, but they had all been genuine and weren’t his way of covering up his feelings for men. He guessed he was pretty much bisexual, but leaning heavily towards men. He just couldn’t imagine a long term or sexual relationship with a woman.

It had been especially bad, in the end. His grandma cut off the call after several seconds of silence when she found out, and then they got no answer from his granddad's mobile. An aunt and uncle were fine with it, but the others made harsh comments before putting down the phone. They’d been officially cut off.

It was at this time of life that Jared decided animals were much better company than people.

He and Chad had done a bunch of really awful acts of kindness for elderly neighbors, like cleaning their cars which turned into a water fight, and doing simple housework jobs like cooking and cleaning which neither had ever really faced alone, leading them to believe at least three of the old men and women had gotten food poisoning.

In the end it had all been worth it though, and when the money Jared was saving up had finally reached the amount he’d calculated when he first got the idea into his head, he’d hugged Chad so hard that he managed to make him uncomfortable. Chad Michael Murray. Uncomfortable.

His parents had been unsure of the idea, but still feeling slightly worried about the effects of the previous events, had accepted without much persuasion.

He’d read up on the dog breed before he went right in, and knew it was the right kind for him. Although it costed a pretty hefty $295 just for the one puppy, the Siberian Husky was the kind of dog that he needed. Something energetic to take his mind off things. Something affectionate so that he could actually love something and have it love him unconditionally (dogs didn’t really judge you on your sexuality, it seemed). And especially something that he could spend his time on and earn the trust of.

His parents had refused to have anything to do with it, even when the puppy destroyed the house on it’s second day and would bounce up against their chests with it’s tongue lolling out and an animalistic grin. Jared really wished his parents would do something, anything, by the fifth day, as the puppy had to be so strictly trained to see Jared as her ‘pack leader’ that she would wear him out way before she herself was done.

And then there was the howling. Jared had read up on these dogs and knew all about their traits, but the howling had been a tough one to overcome. In the end he’d had to let the dog sleep on the floor of his bedroom so she would know he was present and wouldn’t panic.

In the end though, the Husky (who Jared had named Peanut, for no reason he could quite fathom in his own head) turned out to be one of the best decisions of Jared’s life. Not only did she keep him company for the lonely last few years of high school, but she also made him realise how badly he wanted a job with animals rather than humans. At first he’d considered a zoo or adoption home, but at this point he’d become something of a hermit (aside from Chad) and the thought of that much interaction with strangers on a daily basis frightened him.

In the end he settled for vet work. It was a quite highly regarded practice, with it being a medical profession with the same level of training required for becoming a doctor or GP. The pay was good too, which pleased him parents. Twenty thousand for a beginner vet, and the most experienced in the most highly ranked places could earn up to sixty thousand. Really, he couldn’t see any downsides.

Thankfully, his secluded nature meant that when it came to vet school and other students attempted to get through their classes and exams despite staying up until all hours with booze and loud music, he was free to sit alone in his dorm, his roommate never really bothering to strike up conversation (for which he was glad) and study away without distraction.

He kept up with Chad as much as possible, but with the other man managing to seal a book deal before he’d even hit twenty four, life was pretty hectic and hard to catch him.

So Jared spent eight years of vet school in a strange but comfortable solitary state. His parents rang occasionally, but Jared had worked out long ago that they were still trying to repress their anger at him for leaving them stranded from the rest of their family. They couldn’t go and see their own parents, just because Jared had made a drunken mistake on their porch.

The work itself was fascinating though. He missed Peanut back home with his parents whenever he watched the demos on how to perform certain surgeries to save a dog’s life, and learnt about the different prescriptions of meds for different breeds and illness. It turned out this medical work with animals had been pretty much the best choice he could have made, and could never understand those who would sit and complain about their workload, or the fact that they couldn’t become a certified vet until they’d suffered eight years of training.

He also enjoyed the atmosphere of being in a new state for the first time in his life. He’d quickly picked up a spot at the University of California, where he was promised to have a good education in animals and medicine. This had been true, but the real excitement of California was that the small unspoken rules of Texas didn’t seem to exist. It was like someone had just torn up the rule book and told everyone to go wild, have fun. And while it wasn’t exactly movie-typical California, it was certainly a beautiful place to be. The beaches were amazing, the sun feeling just right rather than oppressive and sweltering. Perhaps it was just the excitement of getting a change of scenery, but either way Jared loved it.

When Jared left the University at twenty six he already knew where he wanted to work. In fact, he’d already had several conversations with the owner just to get himself considered for the spot over the years. It was a relatively large, five vet clinic in a quiet backstreet area of San Franciso. He had to admit that he went for it based almost purely on the fact that it was in such a beautiful area that combined rural and urban artistically to create a business district that still worked for the environment. Around eleven years of seclusion from the human race (Chad was definitely not human) seemed to have given him a much stronger respect for the natural world around him that wasn’t influenced by too much human interruption.

He’d hoped that joining the clinic would help him leave his shell and start to interact with his coworkers and animal owners, but there’d been no such luck there. His coworkers seemed to understand that he was painfully shy, and because of this backed away from forcing him into conversation. Customers weren’t that observant, however, and Jared would often find himself out of his depth whenever a man or woman would attempt to talk outside of business. Some would try and crack jokes to ease whatever tension they were feeling, but others were the worst. They would try small talk.

Jared had parents who used small talk to get through life. He should have been used to the standard responses to questions asked, and he should have recognised a small talk question when he saw one. Instead he would panic at comments about the weather, muttering something about it being ‘warm, but not, y’know, too warm,’ quickly to try and pass the moment. Sometimes he would get into some pretty sticky situations when a customer would ask what he was planning on doing on his holidays. Jared had realised he had no idea, and fumbled for a while before quickly saying, “Not sure yet. Dunno. Maybe, maybe just stick around here and go to the beach or whatever.”

He often worried he came across as arrogant and moody, but customers always commented to the other staff about his good knowledge of animals and how he’d been extremely professional. Everyone seemed to just get him, in a weird way.

Half way through his first year of official veterinary practice, Jared received a call from home. He’d visited after he passed all the school exams for a small scale celebration, and to play with Peanut who, in the time he’d been away, had matured to full growth and reached a stage which he recognised as old age. That had been nearly eight months before, and now he was listening to the sombre voices of his parents on the voice as they delivered the news.

He’d been upset, of course he had. Peanut had set him on this course for a new life with a great job, and had really helped him understand himself more. But he’d seen animals get put down, seen how peaceful a dog’s death was. He knew they felt no pain, and always had a strong suspicion of what was going on. They never really blamed their master, and knew they would no longer be in pain.

Jared loved dogs.

He accepted Peanut’s death quite easily, which he wasn’t prepared for. Even knowing she went in peace he was sure he would have some sort of breakdown after losing the only constant stability in his life. However, the only real consequence was that he ended up traveling back down to Texas for his holidays to see his parents.

When he returned, he started to really look on his life and question what he was doing. He was twenty six years old, living in a shitty old apartment, and working in a vet that paid him nearly thirty thousand a year. It was insane.

That reality check had led him to buying a bungalow in a beautifully rural area of San Francisco, out away from the beach and the crowds. He still didn’t have his license, and he wasn’t sure what kind of mid-life epiphany would lead that to the decision to drive, so the house was relatively close the vet. The walk took around half an hour, and with the long work hours that was enough to keep him fit and healthy for a good few months after Peanut’s death.

It had taken one stroke of insanity for him to change his life again the next time. He’d been walking past a pet store in the business district he worked in, and hadn’t even thought twice about going in to look. It wasn’t a major scale thing, but had glass cases lining the back walls with hamsters living cuddled up to one another, and rabbits in hutches underneath the hamsters.

It turned out that a Russian Dwarf Hamster plus the cage and all extra necessities could be bought at only thirty dollars. Handy, considering he was only carrying forty on him at the time.

She was the first addition to his new family in the bungalow, and on yet another whim had named her Mango when she first crawled into her newly set up cage and home. She gave him a slanted look, and Jared couldn’t help but grin at the suspicious look in those eyes. Animals with human emotions and tendencies were always his absolute weak spot. He could tell she was going to be a character.

Slowly the family grew. His next purchase was a rabbit from the same shop, which he bought straight after his next pay check came through. This was a male, and for the first time his naming of the pet could be rationalised by the rabbit’s sprinkle of dark freckled spots against white fur. He named him Pepper.

It wasn’t as exhausting as he thought it would be when he got into the real swing of things. The pets were well behaved, and it wasn’t a problem leaving them at home when he left for work. Mango slept through the day anyway, and Pepper was lazy enough to adapt to becoming a nocturnal rabbit so that he would be let out in the evenings and night times when Jared was home.

What he really wanted, though, was a dog. He would often find himself researching different dog breeds online, checking the pros and cons and personality traits that came with each one. Then he would finally catch himself with the reality that his work hours were just not possible to own a dog, especially one with a hyperactive nature in need of many walks.

He loved the vet work, and wouldn’t give it up for getting new animals. And that was saying something. He loved being able to connect with each new animal that came in, offering medicine and advice to whatever new issue came his way. Even if putting down animals was an awful thing to experience, he took pride out of the fact he was taking the suffering away from the poor animals.

He also ended up, at the end of his first year working at the clinic, having his first proper conversation with one of the other vets in the practice.

Her name was Gen (or at least, that was what she told him to call her) and she worked the same shifts as he did in the appointment room next door to his own. It was surprising that he hadn’t forced out any annoying small talk with her yet, but the more short conversations exchanged between them the more he realised that she had understood from the first day that he had issues with social interaction and would rather be left alone to his work. The way she could mould conversations to go in the direction that wouldn’t make Jared too uncomfortable or put upon to talk was amazing, and in only a few lunch breaks he’d started to really get a feel for how Gen lived.

She and her boyfriend had a large apartment on the outskirts of the business district and she, unlike Jared, had learned to drive at seventeen years old. When Jared had been at that age driving was the least of his concerns.

He now had a grand total of two friends, and a growing collection of household pets that weren’t as high maintenance as a dog or cat. He still found himself browsing the internet for different dog breeds that were okay with keeping themselves occupied for a while when their owner was away at work, though. His bungalow was scrubbed clean every other Wednesday, and he made phone calls to his parents once every month, and twice a month to Chad.

Jared smiled a little at the thought of how his life had gone from hating himself for cowering away from civilisation in his bedroom, to embracing the way he really was inside at a point where it wasn’t completely unhealthy.

He was seated behind his desk in the private office behind his appointment room, scrubs loosely tied around his body and a file of paperwork spread out across the dark oak wood. He wasn’t quite sure why today of all days, when his workload was at it’s greatest in nearly five months and he still had three scheduled appointments for the day, he seemed to be so out of focus. He kept drifting back into his past, which wasn’t uncommon for him but usually took place in a more convenient place. Like in his bed.

Jared sighed and let his head drop down against the desk. He needed to get the paperwork done.

It was going to be a long day.

Jared was just exiting the building, scrubs exchanged for baggy jeans and a t-shirt that wouldn’t be too hot in the sweltering setting sun which was at a perfect angle to cast golden rays across the emptying parking lot of the vet. He was silently admiring the shimmer of gold flecks against hot tarmac when a hand caught his shoulder from behind, and he jumped hard enough to knock the hand away and hear a yelp from the other person.

He turned quickly and blushed when he realised it was his boss that he’d just shrugged away, but the other man was smiling at him (even if a little uneasily).

“Jared, hey. Look man, I know you don’t really want to talk to me right now, but I’ve been watching you lately-” Jared blanched at the words and took a small defensive step back. Wasn’t this, like, the ‘you’re fired’ speech?

“Hey, no, look,” the other man appeared to be having as much trouble as Jared himself, arms going a little wild trying not to grab Jared’s arm but at the same time wanting to reassure him. “I know you love the animals. And I know you got your own personal little collection going on at home. But I also get your work internet history when I check the computers for files and stuff, and I know you’ve been looking up dogs.”

Jared felt panic consume him once again. He’d been caught looking up dog breeds and traits on the job. Fuck, this had to be it.

“So I just wanted to say that you can get a dog if you want to. I’m always in my office, so I’d be willing to look after it - or them, whatever - if you really decide to. I know you’re not great with your people, and dogs, well-” he was cut off by six foot four inches of Jared wrapping around him in a completely unprofessional hug. His own arms reached around as much as possible and patted Jared on the back until he pulled away.

“Thank you, Mr Collins. I don’t want to be too much trouble, but thank you,” Jared said with a huge smile on his face. For once his emotions and actions seemed to have slipped beyond his control, and the true kindness that he boss was offering was almost too much to believe.

“Jared, I told you this over a year ago. It’s Misha. Not Mr Collins. I’m not a school teacher, you know.” Jared grinned at the look of exasperation on Misha’s face. “I’ll see you tomorrow Jared. Take care.”

Jared took up his boss’ advice almost immediately. He knew at this point that rather than going for a specific breed, he would prefer a Mongrel. Something with lots of different origins and without a set personality given by a website. And this time, rather than getting a puppy born from breeding to make a pedigree dog, he would rescue one from a shelter where the dogs often had bad histories. He’d operated on many animals that owners had brought in after buying them and discovering their extensive injuries from previous owners. The ability to rebuild something broken was one that Jared took pride in, and wouldn’t mind the challenge.

Three days after being pulled aside by Misha, he walked into work with Sadie and Harley. Gen had approached him immediately with her face softening at the sight of the dogs. She dropped down to their level and let the two fully grown animals pounce at her with paws and tongues. A few of the other vets stopped on their way in to pet the dogs and all failed miserably at keeping their cool. Bringing dogs, especially dogs who were newly bought and excitable at the best of times, into a veterinary clinic full of animal lovers was certainly going to get a few reactions.

When the crowd had moved away and the dogs were looking suitable worn out and happy from the onslaught of affection, Jared picked their leads up and walked towards the back of the building.

Misha’s office was huge. Jared wasn’t even sure what he did in there, considering they were a private clinic and there were other workers in charge of getting medical supplies and doing inventory. As far as Jared could tell he just sat there with a professional looking computer programme on the screen and a rabbit hutch in the corner of the room.

Misha’s immediate reaction to the dogs was similar to every other worker’s. He dropped down to let them lick at his face and scratched behind their ears, earning a satisfied whine from both dogs.

“These two are beautiful. Looks a lot like a Mastiff cross, that what they are?” Misha asked, thoroughly enjoying the company of the animals. The shelter hadn’t known the breed of the two dogs when Jared had pointed them out, but did know that they were a male and female, found on the streets after a bad owner had typically ditched them after realising (probably financially) that they couldn’t look after the two.

“They didn’t know,” Jared replied. Misha at this point was guiding the dogs and Jared into his office, despite the clock telling them that opening time was in only twenty minutes. “Look, I have to-”

“It’s okay Jared, get to work. I’ll take care of these two for you,” Misha reassured and pointed at the door. “Chop chop.”

It was a long, hard day’s work; as per usual. On his lunch break he visited Misha and the dogs, who seemed satisfied and slightly exhausted, though still bounced up to pounce on him when they recognised the familiar face come through the door. Jared hadn’t realised, but the dogs were everything he needed at this stage in his life to really be happy. Now he was starting to see that as just the adoring look in their eyes brought a smile to his face.

“One more thing before you go, Jared,” Misha called from his office door. He beckoned Jared and the dogs back to where he stood.

“When you get home there’ll be an invitation in the post. If I said nothing about it then you’d refuse to show up and sit alone in your house for the night. Just know that as your boss, I want you to be there. No excuses.” Misha’s voice was hardly ever serious and sincere, and often carried a teasing lilt to whatever he said. In this instance, his voice was void of anything but stern seriousness, and his face a calm mask. Jared felt suddenly very anxious, but nodded.

Sure enough, lying on the doormat when he got home was one white business-looking envelope. It’s insides, upon further inspection, were definitely not businesslike.

A dark purple slip of glossy paper fell out, and Jared winced at the sight of the giant words, ‘California Private Veterinary Clinic - Work Night Out!’ surrounded by clip art fireworks and glasses of alcohol.

Misha was going to pay for this.

‘Dear recipient,

You’ve been invited to the CPVC work night out at the Seven Hills restaurant. Meeting time is at 8pm on Sat 27th August. Wear your fancy clothes, but this isn’t prom. No need for the black tie event suits and gowns. If, for any reason, you cannot attend, please send an RSVP to Misha in head office.

Thank you,
Misha Collins’

Fancy clothes. Jared winced at the mere thought of it. Luckily his coworkers weren’t exactly the type to go to fancy restaurants and party, so he could see it being a quite subdued evening as nights out go. Not that he’d ever been on a night out.

Jared breathed deeply as his mind tried to supply him with the horrifying images of alcohol and good clothes and having to keep up the small talk that he so desperately hated. It was going to take some serious mental encouragement and denial to get through not only the night itself, but the lead up with buying clothes and finding someone to take care of the pets for the night.

Jared looked back down at the purple slip of paper and felt bile rise in his throat. 8pm. He repeated to himself, before picking up the slip of paper and throwing it in the bin.