I leaned forward once more to confirm and lifted my hands, letting them hit my thighs. “I couldn’t find a card.”
“No card? Do you have a guess?” she asked, sauntering into the room and planting her backside on the love seat. “Maybe the guy who just dropped you off?”
I reached down to turn on my desktop, taking a few seconds to get the ridiculous expression off my face before sitting upright. “Maybe.”
Jojo crossed her arms, looking quite smug. “I thought this might happen, with you spending so much time at the station. I just didn’t realize it would happen so soon.”
“Clearly,” Jojo said with a smirk. “You look like you’ve lost weight. Did they feed you?”
She stood. “I brought donuts to celebrate your first day back. They’re in the break room.”
“You’re a saint, but I’ve already had breakfast. I’ll eat some for lunch.”
“I have a lot to do today. Are you doing that write-up for me?”
“As best I can. Remember, I’m not a writer. I’ll just write what I know, and you can turn it into a story.”
“Yeah, yeah … I heard you the first time,” she said, disappearing around the corner.
I opened a new document and stared at the blank page for a while before my gaze wandered to the bouquet. I’d been sent flowers before, mostly from my father, but thought had been put into this bouquet. The colors were straight from my room, the roses meaning more than just ‘thanks for last night.’ Maybe I was reading too far into it, but Tyler wasn’t one to make dishonest gestures.
I shook it off, focusing on Jojo’s request. I recounted my first day, the basics like the names of the tools, what they looked like, and the crew’s funny nicknames. They all respected one another, but, in my opinion, looked up to Tyler. He settled arguments, led them on the mountain, and they respected the decisions he made when Jubal wasn’t around to make them. I talked about fuel breaks and mineral soil and vegetation. Packs, supplies, flight weight, and ten codes. I included my limited knowledge on slutter, fire towers, coordinates, and weather. Then I added stories like the one about the best helo pilot Tyler had ever worked with—an Aussie redhead named Holly who could back in her Huey and swing it around at the last minute to get them on the side of the mountain so they didn’t have to hike so far in—and the time Tyler ate a fat, juicy grub worm for two hundred dollars.
Two hours had passed without me realizing, and Jojo knocked on the doorjamb before walking in. She moseyed across my office to her father’s door. She knocked on it twice and then took a step back.
Wick walked out, his cheeks red and his eyes bright. Jojo stood next to my desk, crossing her arms.
“Daddy and I have been in awe over your pictures, Ellie. You’ve sent us some amazing stuff. You went out in the field and camped in freezing temps with those heathens for nights on end. You were born for this.”
“Daddy is going to hire another assistant.”
Jojo touched my arm. “It’s okay. Your new job with the magazine will pay more.”
Her eyes widened. “A lot more. Daddy wants this to be an ongoing feature for the magazine. He wants you to follow the Alpine Hotshots through fire season.”
“But if you hire someone else, then what?”
Jojo rolled her eyes. “Who are we kidding? Daddy isn’t going to find anyone. I’ve been doing it for this long. I can wait until fire season is over. You have to do this, Ellie. It’s going to be amazing.”
“I … don’t know what to say,” I said, both unsettled and flattered.
“Say bye,” Wick said. “I want you back out there starting today. We’ll need a continuing story for next month. We’ve already cleared it with the superintendent. Pack your bags. You’ll be bunking at the Alpine’s dormitory until October.”
“Oh, thank God,” I said, closing my eyes.
I could practically hear Jojo smiling. She had no idea I was going to be kicked out of my parents’ home next month. I had barely saved enough for my cell phone bill, much less a deposit and first month’s rent, even on houses or apartments up to half an hour outside of town. Shadowing the hotshots until October gave me six to seven more months to figure out living arrangements. Even if I was sleeping in a truck or tent most of the time, it was preferable to moving into a shelter.
“We knew you’d be happy! I told you she’d be happy, Daddy.”
Jojo sighed. “You’re done. Go back to resting your feet on your desk.”
I pulled out my phone and texted Tyler.
Did you hear the news?
Just now. I’m your official babysitter. Pretty pumped.
Thanks for the flowers. They’re beautiful. ☺
It took a while for Tyler to respond.
I didn’t send you flowers. I can’t decide if I feel like a dick or if I want to kill whoever sent them.
I wanna know who sent them.
Not for the same reason.
I’m having violent thoughts. All I can say.
I have a bad temper in general. Sending my gf flowers is not a good idea.
… I am not your gf.
Yet. You’re not my gf yet.
I set my phone to silent and put it in my drawer, shaking my head, a dozen conflicting emotions swirling in my head and heart, including curiosity about the flowers. Who else would send them but Tyler?
“Ellie?” Jojo’s voice came over the speaker, and I jumped. “You’ve got a call on line one.”
I pressed the button for line one and picked up the phone, fully expecting Tyler’s voice to be on the other line. “This is Ellie.”
“Bunny?” My father’s deep voice boomed through the receiver, so loud that I had to hold the phone away.
I slowly pressed it against my ear, speaking softly. “Daddy?”
“I heard the news. I’m so proud of you,” he said, his voice breaking. “I knew you could do it.”
“Th-thank you. Daddy, I can’t talk right now. I’m at work.”
“I know. I spoke to Wick this morning. He’s impressed with you. He says you’re the best assistant he’s ever had.”
Wick didn’t tell him about the assignment.
“I actually just got a raise, so I’ll um … I’ve found a place. I’m moving out this week.”
“Nonsense, bunny. You’ve proven yourself. Maricela is packing for you now, and your passport and plane ticket is at the house. We want you to join your sister in Sanya. Your plane leaves in the morning.”
“You said we want you to go to Sanya.”
After a short scuffle, my mother had possession of the phone. “Really, Ellison, you couldn’t have found something less … desperate?”