“And I’m not going to let you be friends with my new assistant, either,” Wick said.
“I’m right here,” I said. “And I can hang out with whoever the hell I want.” I stabbed my cigarette in the sand of the butt canister and patted Wick on the shoulder. “Thanks for the job. I’ll see you in the morning. Nine?” I asked, hopeful.
“Sure. Don’t be late. I’m a fucking bastard in the morning.”
I walked around the smaller building to the front, relieved to see that José was early. I slid into the back and let my head fall back against the cushion.
“Did you get the job, Miss Ellison?”
“Congratulations,” José said, smiling at me from the rearview mirror.
“This,” Jojo said, placing her hand on top of a five-foot-tall metal cabinet, “is our backup database. The hard copies—when we have them—go here. On the back desk by the wall is the scanner and printer—I’ll show you how to work those later—and in the corner is the most important part of your job … the Keurig.”
Littered with torn and empty sweetener packages and used coffee pods, the table was water-stained and wobbly when touched. The trashcan beside it, however, was empty. I shook my head.
“No,” Jojo said. “He doesn’t know how to throw anything away. Dawn cleans in the evenings, but Dad drinks about six cups a day, so try to make her job easier. She’s good, but she’s not a magician. And, since this is the first room anyone coming to see Wick will walk through, it would be a nice change for it not to look like a landfill.”
“Noted,” I said, pushing some of the pods and paper into the trash can.
Jojo gestured to Wick’s door. “It’s closed when he’s in a good mood, open when he’s not.”
I raised an eyebrow at the closed door.
Jojo lifted her hand, holding her fingers next to her mouth. She whispered, “So you can hear him better when he yells.”
She pulled out the chair, and I sat automatically. Jojo didn’t know it was second nature for me to sit in a chair pulled out for me, but I felt the blood rise under my cheeks when I realized what I’d done.
She tapped the space bar on the keyboard. “Create your own username and password here, but make sure to keep it written down somewhere so if you’re gone I can access this if I need to.” She waited while I tapped in my normal ESquared username and DoubleE5150! password. Despite my father’s constant warnings, that login had been created in middle school, and I had since used them for everything. If Jojo had paid attention, she could have signed into my social media or even my online banking if she wanted.
Jojo educated me on the program I would use for Wick’s calendar and reminders. It seemed simple enough. By the end of my first hour, I could check my email and Wick’s, and had access to his contacts and what to say when his various friends and frenemies called.
Wick opened his door, and I waited patiently for him to yell, but instead he dug inside his front pocket for his soft pack of cigarettes and jerked his head toward the back door.
“Is your brain full yet, Ellie?” he asked.
“Dad…” Jojo said, unhappy. “She’s being paid by the hour. We didn’t hire her to be your new smoke buddy.”
“He already has a couple of those,” I said.
“Zeke is a big teddy bear. He looks mean, but he’s the kind of guy that opens doors and brings you flowers. Tyler is a bastard.”
Wick looked insulted. “Now, Jojo, don’t go around telling people that. He’s not a bad guy.”
Jojo narrowed her eyes at him, and then her gaze turned back to me. “He takes Tyler’s side every time. This is a sore subject with us.” She looked back to her dad. “So I’m not going to gratify his ignorant opinion of Maddox with a reply, but he is a bastard. If you know him, you’ve already slept with him, so I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that.”
Wick and Jojo both watched me, waiting for an answer.
“So?” Jojo asked, flattening both her palms on my desk. “Have you?”
“Slept with Tyler?” I said, swallowing. I crossed my arms, fidgeted, and made weird noises with my throat while I tried to find a way to change the subject. Normally I wouldn’t mind finding an abrasive, too-truthful answer for such an inappropriate question, but sobriety was a confusing time for me. “Have you?”
Wick turned to his daughter and put a cigarette in his mouth, holding it between his chapped lips.
Now Jojo was fidgeting and shifting uncomfortably. She stood upright. “I don’t think this is a suitable conversation for the workplace.”
“Damn it, Jojo! Now I’m going to have to shoot my favorite smoking buddy, because we all know I can’t kick his ass!”
Jojo rolled her eyes and turned on her heels, walking around the corner toward her desk.
Wick waited for me to put on my coat and then led me to the back alley. A small steel storage building behind the magazine’s main steel building created a cubby between the drive and us. A concrete pad provided parking spots for Wick and Jojo, but beyond that was a pasture full of snow and the intermittent rock poking through before a landscape full of Blue Spruce and Aspen trees.
“That fire station up the road … is that the hotshot station?”
“And the city’s second station. But some of the guys who work there are seasonal hotshots—like Tyler and Zeke. During fire season they live out at the Alpine barracks.”
“During fire season, they eat, sleep, and travel around the country fighting fires. Three to six months of the year.”
“Oh,” I said, wondering if Tyler was already gone.
Wick sparked the white paper and tobacco and took a puff, then handed me the lighter so I could do the same with one of my father’s stale leftovers. The pack had three somewhat mashed cigarettes left, and I had just thirty-four dollars of the money Finley had left for me. Prices weren’t something I had paid attention to, but I was sure I couldn’t afford cigarettes before my first paycheck.
“Does nine hundred a week mean you pay me every week, or were you just talking wages?” I asked, rubbing my head. I could feel a headache coming on.
“Every week. Just like my bar staff.”
Seconds after Wick answered, I heard boots crunching against snow. Zeke and Tyler rounded the corner, already smoking and carrying on conversation. They both looked happy but unsurprised to see me, and then both took a turn shaking Wick’s hand.
“Taylor!” Wick said. He noticed his street clothes the same time I did. “You must be off today.”
I frowned, wondering if Wick was trying to be funny or he’d just gotten Tyler’s name wrong.
“I heard you finally found someone to put up with your shit, Wick,” Tyler said.