“I’d love to do lunch, but I’m sort of on a budget. I brought a sandwich from home.”
“It’s your fourth payday. You can’t afford lunch yet?” she scoffed. When I didn’t answer, she continued, “My treat. Don’t bother arguing. I’ll win.”
“Okay. I have a few things to wrap up first.”
Jojo left for her desk, and Wick disappeared into his office, closing the door. I was glad he was in a good mood. Thoughts of Sterling and the many possible reactions Finley could have about our moment of temporary insanity ran on a loop in my brain, and I was working on maybe three hours of sleep.
I finished answering Wick’s emails, and then pushed my roller chair away from my desk. The phone buzzed.
I picked up the phone and pushed the button for line one, wondering if it was a bartender complaining about something not working at Turk’s, or Mike hoping I’d give him good news about his crap pictures.
“This is Ellie,” I said, waiting for several seconds until the voice on the other end began to speak.
“I’m … I’m sorry to call you at work. Congratulations on the job, by the way.”
I hunched over, as if that would help to muffle the conversation. “You can’t call me here, Sterling.”
“I know. I’m sorry. But Finley isn’t returning my calls.”
I rolled my eyes. “She never returns your calls. Stop being paranoid, and stop calling me. Don’t think I don’t remember you passing me whatever the fuck that pill was. What did you do? Roofie me?”
“Then whose fault is it?” I hissed. “I don’t even remember what happened.”
“Neither do I!” he snapped. “You were upset. It was supposed to just make us chill. It was something new I scored from Preston.”
“Preston?” I hissed. “You gave me something you got from Preston? You could have killed us both!”
“You didn’t have to take it. You can’t put this all on me.”
“I trusted you,” I said, gripping the phone and trying to yell at him as quietly as possible. “But you’re right. I accept my part in what happened. You might love her, but she’s my sister. I’m trying to turn things around so I can prove to her that—if she does find out—I’ve changed.”
“I won’t. But you know best of all, Sterling. Finley always finds out. She knew I cut her Barbie’s hair and she wasn’t even home. We hosted a birthday party that weekend. It could have been anyone, but she knew it was me.”
Sterling laughed once. “I remember that story.” He was quiet for half a second. “You’re right. We’re fucked.”
I closed my eyes. My lips skimmed the speaker as I spoke. “This is not we. I don’t want to talk to you anymore, Sterling. You’re on your own.”
I hung up the phone and sighed, pushing away from the desk and gathering my things for lunch with Jojo.
She was standing by the door waiting for me when I rounded the corner. I followed her to her Outback and ducked inside, hugging myself for warmth. Jojo seemed oblivious to the cold, twisting the ignition like she wasn’t wearing huge sleeping bags for gloves.
“I figured we’d try Camp’s Café. The food isn’t farm-to-table or organic or any of that shit, so it’s tourist free, and one of the quieter places, so I can show you some tricks on your Nikon. I’m excited to see what you can do. You seem like a natural.”
“What?” Jojo asked, pulling out onto the road and poking at the heater setting with her mittens.
“That’s what Finley said. My sister.”
“Well, she was right. Maybe we can start covering things other than the farmer’s market and wandering wildlife.”
Jojo parked in the alley in a space meant for the townhouses spanning the entire block. She didn’t seem to be worried, stepping out and slamming the car door. We walked together, and I followed her past dumpsters and oil vats through a dirty screen door into the back kitchen.
“Jojo!” one of the cooks called.
Jojo waved, and then gestured for me to follow her past the pantry area, beyond the grill, and then the cash register.
The woman behind the counter nodded and yelled back to her staff. “Two Jojos!”
We pulled off our coats, scarves, gloves, and hats, and sat them beside us in a booth by the window.
“You have your own sandwich? That’s kind of cool.”
“Not really. I just order the same thing every time, and you’re going to love it, too. A fried biscuit with avocado, a medium fried egg on top, and their special sauce. It’s Korean or something, which is weird for a country cooking kind of place, but it’s f—it’s good. Trust me.”
I frowned. That didn’t sound appetizing at all, but it was a free meal and better than turkey meat on plain wheat bread, so I wasn’t going to complain.
I handed Jojo my camera, and she told me all about exposure, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. She had me play around with the different creative modes on the camera—the P, A, S, and M—showed me how they were used, and then educated me on why they were superior to the icon modes.
By the time I scarfed down the weird but delicious Jojo biscuit, I was already adjusting the camera and taking a few shots of the café and outside.
Jojo clicked through them, shaking her head. I bit my nails, waiting for judgment.
“Ridiculous,” she said. She handed me back my camera. “You really have an eye. Wick is going to shit, because he’s getting ready to lose his assistant.”
“No,” I said, waving her away. “Really?”
Jojo grinned, putting her elbows on the table and leaning in. “Really. You’ll still be helping at the office and cleaning his coffee table, I’m sure, but you’re going to be great. I can tell.”
“I’m not a journalist. I can’t write. I paid someone to do my papers in college.”
Jojo made a face. “You had to write papers for a degree in ceramics?”
Jojo cackled, and I laughed with her, really laughed, for the first time in a long time.
“Thank you,” I said, trying to catch my breath. “I didn’t know I could laugh like that sober.”
Jojo rested her chin on the heel of her hand. “I know you’re supposed to be some kind of family fuck-up, but you’re not that bad. I can’t imagine you’ve changed that much in a month.”
“It’s amazing what detox and responsibility will do for a girl,” I said, only half-teasing.
“You’ve been doing so well. Not one slip-up.”
“It’s hard to drink or buy weed when you’re broke. And even if I had, I wouldn’t tell my boss.”
“I’m not your boss, and you’re not a liar. It’s not just about the money, Ellie, and it’s kind of sad, because I’ve been watching you work so hard, you’re still waiting to get it wrong.”