A/N: The first thing you have to know is that Transgender will play a HUGE part of the story; if you don't like LGBT stories, then this isn't for you. I do NOT want any negative comments bashing the LGBT community. Thanks, please R&R! This is the first chapter in a new piece I've been working on. I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1: Once Upon a Time


Ainsley Marlowe wasn't usually one to curse. She especially wasn't one to curse in front of people – so when the door that led to the front area opened and Leslie Valentin entered into the backroom where the dog kennels were, she couldn't help but blush a fierce shade of red, playing with a strand of honey blonde hair.

"Ainsley! Watch your language, you'll traumatize the animals!" Leslie said. She was a plump, redheaded woman, usually dressed in a pair of plain blue jeans and a hoodie. In her early thirties, she was always full of energy and still very young at heart; unmarried and childless. She always said the animals were her family and they made her happier than any man could.

Ainsley knew better than anyone, having worked alongside Leslie for three years, that the woman was lonely. She was a romantic, but too shy for her own good. She couldn't approach a guy, afraid that he would reject her. And whenever one did seem to like her, she was completely clueless until he had moved on.

If anyone in the universe had less experience with boys than Ainsley Marlowe, it was Leslie. And that was saying something, because at seventeen, Ainsley had never even kissed a boy.

But now it was nearing Noon on a wonderful July Friday and Ainsley had recently arrived at the shelter, dressed in a pair of short shorts and a simple navy blue tank top, most of her hair piled onto her head in a messy bun. She was looking into one of the many cages, her green eyes resting on her favorite dog, a black and white mutt named Roxy.

She didn't look so well and Ainsley was instantly expecting the worst. You see, Roxy was an old dog, about thirteen years old. She had spent most of her life with an old lady in the eastern part of the city, until one day about two months ago, Mrs. Jones had been transferred into an old age home.

Ainsley had known that Roxy didn't have much life left in her, but she was still upset that time was so quickly running out. She absolutely loved Roxy, and although Roxy was a true drama queen and nasty to any other human, she had taken a liking to Ainsley and vise versa.

"It's Roxy." Ainsley said, and the playful smile that had been etched on Leslie's face was quickly wiped away. The redheaded woman frowned, knowing exactly what was going to happen these next couple days. She had suggested upon receiving Roxy that maybe the best thing would be to put her down – because she was suffering a lot – but Ainsley had insisted they shouldn't be the ones to end her life. That nature would take its course.

"I'll go get her some fresh water..." Leslie suggested.

"It's still full. She didn't drink at all since we filled it yesterday morning." Ainsley said sadly. "And she didn't touch her food either..." she added, but that was no surprise. Roxy hadn't been eating a lot these past few days, just a few nibbles here and a few nibbles there.

For a couple minutes the two ladies stood there, watching the poor dog. All around them other dogs barked and whined, waiting for their daily dose of attention. On Roxy's left sat a young Terrier who had arrived at the shelter with her brother last Monday. Her brother had been adopted yesterday.

"Maybe if I take her out of her cage – just for a little while..." Ainsley said thoughtfully.

Leslie didn't say anything. She owned the shelter and she had the final say, but Ainsley was like her unofficial partner – just without the hassle of dealing with the finances and legal aspects of the business.

For three years, ever since Leslie had bought the shelter and moved into the loft upstairs, Ainsley had been a loyal volunteer, coming in most days of the week for hours on end. It had always been just the two of them, although a lot of people had come and gone over the years. None of them ever lasted more than a couple weeks though, given this wasn't a paying job.

If anything, most of the kids that walked through the doors of the shelter were trouble-makers who needed to do community service.

But now Leslie was hoping this new volunteer was going to change things up a little. He'd seemed like a great guy when she'd met him last night; he was eighteen and had recently moved from Seattle to live with his brother until he his high school graduation next year.

"Oh, Ainsley – do you mind if I give you a little job to do later?" Leslie asked.

"Sure, it's what I'm here for." Ainsley said, Roxy now lying in her arms, her tongue hanging limply from her open mouth. Poor dog, she looked so pitiful. It hurt Ainsley's heart.

"Jake Hawthorn." Leslie began, which instantly got Ainsley's attention. A new volunteer; that was always interesting. Leslie and Ainsley had been betting on how long they would stay, ever since one of them had quit just an hour into his first day last year. "He just moved from Washington... he'll be dropping by at around two, could you show him around real quick?"

"Of course I can." Ainsley replied enthusiastically. That was the thing about the blonde girl, she was always looking forward to meeting new people. She was bubbly and fun, but a lot of people didn't really like her because of her ambition. She had high hopes for herself and although she hated to admit it, she often stepped on people in order to get her way. Often – not always.

"That's my girl. Now, I'm going to get us some coffee, I've been here since six this morning taking care of the stock..." Leslie said. She was a bit of a caffeine addict; but then again, given her crazy sleep schedules – she was a self-diagnosed insomniac – it wasn't much of a surprise.

"The usual for me. I'll pay you back." Ainsley said. Of course, she knew Leslie would insist, saying it was 'her treat' and that Ainsley 'worked way too hard and deserved it'. This always happened, but Ainsley wasn't complaining. She was getting free coffee.

Only ten minutes had passed when Ainsley found herself at the front desk, smiling up at a man in his mid-forties. He had a little girl by his side, the striking resemblance leaving no room for doubt that she was his daughter.

"–yes, Marley has been dying to see you guys. She's perfectly fine, we have her in the back." she was saying, referring to a teenaged German Shepherd that had been brought in a few days ago.

Now addressing herself to the little girl, her eyes seemed to brighten up, Roxy's health pushed aside for just a little bit. She needed a good distraction right now, and being able to tell a little girl that someone had brought in her lost puppy was good. "Want to come and get her with me?" she asked.

"Yes!" the four year-old exclaimed.

"Great, then come with me little lady." Ainsley said cheerfully, waving the girl over to the backroom, only accessible to the public if an employee was present to unlock it. Thankfully Ainsley had just come out from being with Roxy and had left it unlocked. The keyhole was a real bitch, and she often found herself embarrassed when she couldn't get it to work in her favor.

"Hey, are–" a voice said, just when she was about to push open the double doors to the dog kennels. Ainsley didn't pause, a small smile on her face as she glanced behind her at the young man standing there.

"I'll be right with you, just a sec!" she said.

It took her a few seconds to get to the young Marley's cage, as it was at the very back of the kennels.

"Marley had a great neighbor – he's the same age as her; he's a lot smaller though." she said to the little girl as she pointed to the male Yorkshire Terrier mix.

"He's so cute! I want him!" the little girl – Sarah-Beth – exclaimed, her blonde pigtails waving back and forth as she cooed. "You're such a cute puppy!"

Sarah-Beth only stayed to look at the Yorkshire pup for a while though, a lot more interested in seeing her own dog. "I thought I would never get to see her again!" she cried out gleefully, anxiously waiting for Ainsley to open the cage. The dog was just as eager, his tongue flapping about as his tail waved, splashing the water from her water bowl all around. Ainsley noticed from the corner of her eye that the dog had also left a nasty surprise. The stench was only confirmation.

"Alright, well we have to get your dad to fill out some paperwork and then you and Marley are good to go!" Ainsley said, shrugging. She had time to clean up later.

Filling up the paperwork only took a few minutes, and soon enough Ainsley found herself doubling back into the kennel area, where she pulled on a pair of yellow rubber gloves and began cleaning out Marley's old cage. Of course, she made a stop at Roxy's cage, only to find the pooch restlessly lying down, her eyes droopy but open, staring blankly in front of her.

Ainsley sighed as she began cleaning the dirty cage. It was already a long day... and to think she hadn't even been here an hour yet.

"Excuse me, I'm–"

"You're not supposed to be back–" but Ainsley stopped herself mid-sentence when she realized who was speaking.

It was the guy at the counter; the one she had ordered to wait for her. Apparently she had mistaken the new volunteer for someone who had lost or found a pet – or something. She instantly felt her cheeks grow a little pink.

"I'm Jake Hawthorn." he said with a grin, extending his hand.

Oh, that was Jake Hawthorn. Ainsley mentally punched herself. What a great first impression she was giving of this place: we neglect and forget people that are patiently waiting at the front desk.

"Ainsley Marlowe." Ainsley made a move to shake his hand, but noticed the yellow gloves dirty with dog dung. Her cheeks burnt red with embarrassment – again. "I think it's best we keep our hands to ourselves." she said with a shaky laugh.

When she realized the double-meaning to her words, she reddened even more. She probably looked like a fiery tomato by now.

"Yeah, you're probably right." Jake laughed as well, his hands falling to his sides. Ainsley took advantage of the moment when Jake was looking at the dogs to observe him. He was handsome, with shaggy light brown hair falling around his face. His eyes were a piercing blue – he had this innocent look about him, mixed with strength and determination.

"So you're the 'new guy' Leslie pressured me into showing the ropes?" she asked as she removed her dirty gloves and dumped them into a nearby trashcan.

"Looks like it. You don't have to do anything though, I'm sure I can handle myself." Jake replied. "How hard can it be to feed a couple animals and clean their – damn it!"

Ainsley couldn't help but giggle. "Careful, Missy bites."

"Thanks for the heads up." Jake said, sarcasm leaking from every syllable. He sucked on his left index finger and when his lips parted, Ainsley noticed that the tip was bloody.

"That looks bad – she really got you good... you should go get it checked..." Ainsley said. She was suddenly very pale. She had never really been good with blood. It was the reason why she didn't want to become a doctor. "...at least by Leslie." Ainsley added after a pause.

But wait, Leslie wasn't back yet. Maybe she should check it? You see, while Ainsley did have a slight fear of blood, she had always been a mother hen, even to complete strangers. Or acquaintances; because that was what she and Jake were now.

"It's not deep... You don't need to worry." Jake reassured.

"Sorry... I get squeamish around blood." Ainsley said with an uneasy giggle.

It was only then that she noticed how close she'd gotten to him in the last five seconds. She looked up and met his eyes before taking a carefully calculated step back.

"Don't worry..." Jake said, looking just as awkward as he glanced around – anywhere but Ainsley's face. "So, are you going to put me to work?" he added with a grin. As Ainsley showed him what his first job would be, she couldn't help but find herself thinking that Jake Hawthorn had a really sexy smile.