“Did you say my fucking name when you asked her, or did you just ask about your brother? It’s not the first time someone’s been confused.”
Taylor shrugged, sheepish, and Tyler moved toward him.
I held out my hands. “I kissed him!” I blurted out.
“I kissed him!” I said again, touching my chest with one hand, the other still held out toward Tyler. “This isn’t his fault!”
Taylor stood up and brushed snow and mud off his coat and pants, red-faced and teeth clenched.
Tyler glared at his brother. “I owe you one, dick.”
“Fine, you owe me one.” He glanced at me. “Nice to meet you, Ellie.”
Taylor’s jaws danced beneath the skin. “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.”
Taylor disappeared behind the storage building with Zeke not far behind. Tyler rolled back his shoulders and looked down on me with disappointment in his eyes.
“No,” I said, pointing at him. “You don’t get to be jealous. You barely know me.”
“I’m not jealous. That was my brother, Ellie.”
“Please,” I sneered. “Like this hasn’t happened before. Just based on the forty-five minutes I’ve spent with both of you combined, I’m fairly certain you’ve shared a dozen or more women at some point. Maybe without even knowing it.”
“No,” Tyler said, nearly pouting. “We have a system. It usually works.”
“I have to go back in.”
“Were you telling the truth or were you just trying to avoid a fight?”
“You said you kissed him … thinking it was me.”
“I thought you said you didn’t do repeats.”
I sighed. “I’m going to be straight with you, Tyler. I fucked up. My parents cut me off. I’m broke, and I need this job. I did something terrible to my sister, and I’m trying to change so if and when she finds out, she’ll know I’m not that person anymore.”
One side of Tyler’s mouth curled up, and the same dimple on his left cheek appeared.
I pressed my lips into a hard line. “This was just a weak moment. I don’t do repeats. Especially, definitely not now.”
“Colorado Springs?” Tyler asked, confused. Recognition lit in his eyes, and he seemed embarrassed for me. “Oh. That’s Taylor.”
My cheeks burned. “I’m glad I’m staying away from you. The twin thing is too much for me sober.”
Tyler laughed and reached out, offering a low, small wave as he began to walk away. “Goodbye, Ellie Edson. It’s been fun.”
“Fun Ellie is dead. All that’s left is broke-and-alone Ellie,” I teased.
Tyler stopped. “She’s not dead. Just transitioning. Like a butterfly.”
“I’ve been deeper,” he said with a smirk, pulling his cap down low, just like his brother had less than ten minutes before, and walked away.
I rolled my eyes and shook my head, pulling open the back door. Wick and Jojo nearly fell forward, and then pretended—poorly—to be doing something other than eavesdropping.
“Fired?” Jojo asked. “Hell no! That’s the most fun I’ve had at work since Daddy built this place!”
Wick held up a cigarette and squeezed by, and I followed Jojo inside. She went to her desk and I went to mine, staring at my computer for a full minute before I could focus.
“You’re welcome. No more breaks today.”
“Understood.” I let go of the button and covered my eyes with my hand. The new Ellie’s paint wasn’t even dry, and I’d already managed to ding the first door that had opened. I rubbed my temples, feeling another headache. I wanted a drink; my mouth felt dry, and my mind toyed with having José stop at the liquor store on the way home.
“Ellie?” Jojo said from the doorway, startling me.
I pulled my hand away from my face. “Yes?”
“You’re going the right direction. No one does anything perfectly the first time. It’s going to be okay.”
No one could have said anything better to me in that instant. Those three simple sentences set my soul at ease.
“Thank you,” was all I could manage.
Jojo winked at me and returned to her desk.
I clicked a few times to navigate to the computer’s settings, and then selected Change Username/Password.
Bluegrass played through ceiling speakers placed throughout the MountainEar building. I thumbed through a stack of pictures from the recent half marathon, shaking my head.
“You don’t like the music. I figured you were a rock chick,” Wick said, walking into my office.
“I tune out the music,” I said, laying the pictures down on my desk, fanned out. “It’s the pictures. They’re terrible, Wick. Who took them?”
“She’s right,” Jojo said, sitting on the loveseat across from me. She crossed her legs, her snow boots still wet from her walk inside. “I’ve seen them. They suck. You’ve got to quit letting Mike turn in that crap. Just quit using him period.”
I nodded toward Jojo. “Her coverage of the art walk was stellar. Why not just use Jojo?”
Jojo smiled and stood. “Because Jojo has an office to run.”
“Who took those?” Wick asked, pointing to the frames on my desk.
“Oh,” I said, turning them slightly. “I did. Just something to remind me what I’m trying to do.”
Jojo walked around my desk, picking up a frame holding a picture I’d taken at my parents’ house the weekend before. I had snapped just half of the black and white portrait of Finley hanging in my parents’ main hall—taken when she was just fourteen. Even back then, she was stunning.
“You took this? Who is this?” Jojo asked.
“My sister,” I said, my voice quiet. I hadn’t spoken to Finley since I’d woken up next to Sterling. She had left me a few voicemails, but she also understood that I might not want to chat about her vacation by the sea while I was stuck in a snow globe.
“It’s actually pretty good,” Jojo said. She looked at Wick, and he agreed. She picked up another frame, and then set it down. “What camera are you using?”
I shrugged. “Just a point-and-shoot my sister bought me. A Nikon, I think. It’s over there.” I pointed to a bag in the corner.
Jojo strutted over and rifled through my things, pulling out the camera and holding it up. “I started with this one. I can teach you a few basics over lunch. Take some pictures tonight, and show me tomorrow.”