The lobby was drab, decorated in beige and fake plants, and full of firefighters, some of them gearing up to go out, others standing around with a beer in their hand. A chalk sign by the bar read Welcome, Firefighters! Half-price IPAs and appetizers!
Tyler began arguing with the female desk clerk, and then he pulled out his cell phone.
I frowned when he produced his wallet, slapping his credit card on the desk. The clerk ran his card and handed it back with two small envelopes. He looked around for me, and then walked across the room to where I stood.
“Here,” he said, handing me one of the envelopes.
“I could have done that,” I said. “I have a card from the magazine.”
He sighed. “I didn’t know that. Anyway, I took care of it.” I started to walk around him toward reception, but he took my arm. “What are you doing?”
“I’m giving them my card so you don’t have to pay for my room.”
“I told you I took care of it.”
I pulled away from him, glancing around at the different faces in the room. Most of the firefighters hadn’t noticed our exchange, but the Aussies had.
“I’m just trying to get you a fucking room, Ellie.”
“No, why are you so mad? You’re like … I don’t even know this person.”
Tyler sighed, looking at everything in the lobby but me. “It’s me.”
He laughed once, fidgeting. “Who the fuck am I jealous of?”
“Liam saw me naked. So what? It would have ended there if you wouldn’t have not only told him I was single, but fanned the flame of every man’s fantasy.”
“Well, don’t be surprised if Liam asks me for a threesome one of these days.”
“I can’t believe you’re so intimidated by him.”
Tyler took a step closer. “Let’s get something straight, sweetheart. No one intimidates me.”
“You’ve sure been pissy since Liam walked in.”
“When he walked in on you. You just stood there. Took you a full three seconds to even cover yourself.”
“Oh? So I’m supposed to rush to protect my lady parts because some rude dick walks in on me? You walk around with your ass out all the time at the barracks.”
“Why? Because I have tits? When have you ever known me to be modest?”
I snatched the envelope out of his hand and stomped to the elevators, mashing the button several times until the door opened. The family already inside slipped past me to the hallway, the daughter wearing a bathing suit and holding a flamingo inner tube around her waist.
I rode up to the third floor, walking down the hallway and around the corner to my room. My shaking fingers fumbled with pulling the key card out of its casing, and then I held up the card to the sensor, but a large hand covered mine, pushing it down.
“Goddammit, Ellie,” Tyler said. “You’re right. I’m jealous as fuck. You’re sending all these mixed signals and some guy walks in on you, sees you naked, then he’s asking about you … I have a million fucking feelings swirling around. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I’ve never felt like this before.”
I held up the card again, and the lock buzzed. I pushed down on the handle, looking up at Tyler. “Grow up,” I said, shoving through the door and then slamming it behind me.
I unpacked the four shirts, five rolled pairs of socks, three pairs of cargo pants, two oversized nightshirts, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a brush, mascara, and lip gloss from my backpack. The Alpines could have been called out at any time, and I wanted to be ready. It wasn’t lost on me that I was arguing with the only hotshot assigned to keep me safe, or that Tyler needed to be focused on the growing fire and not our ridiculous predicament.
Tyler and I weren’t an our. We weren’t a we, meaning no jealousy, no expectations, and no deep discussions about our relationship status or where it was headed. I was a recovering drunk, and he was a recovering whore. Any therapist I’d seen over the last five years would say the same thing I was thinking: we had no future.
I picked up the remote and turned on the television. The news channel was already reporting on the fire, the latest updates scrolling across the bottom of the screen. I only listened for a few minutes before turning it off.
My phone buzzed, lying in the same place on the bed where I’d tossed it earlier. Even from ten feet away, I could see it was my sister. It rang a few times before going dark, and then the display lit up again.
I walked the few steps and reached for my phone, unsure of whether I would throw it across the room or answer it until I held the speaker to my ear.
She sighed. “I thought you were dead. Mother and Dad thought you were dead.”
“I guess to them I sort of am.”
I could hear her wrath building, cringing when she yelled into my ear. “Not to me! I haven’t done shit to you, Ellie, and you’ve been ignoring and avoiding me for months! Do you think I’ve been hanging out on the beach just hoping you were okay?”
“Fuck you! Don’t hope nice things for me right now. I’m mad at you! I don’t deserve this from you!”
I froze, wondering if she meant more than just being ignored.
“Say something!” Finley’s voice broke, and then she began to sniffle.
“Why won’t you talk to me?” she cried. “What did I do?”
“Nothing. You didn’t do anything. I just didn’t want to ruin your vacation. I didn’t want you to feel guilty, and I didn’t want you to worry.”
“I don’t want you to be sorry!” she snapped. “I want you to answer your fucking phone when I call!”
“You promise?” She was calmer now, taking a deep breath.
“I promise. I’ll answer when you call … if I’m not working.”
“What are you doing, anyway? Mother said you’re a secretary or photographer or something for the magazine there.”
“Are you using the camera I bought you?”
I could hear her smiling. She had already forgiven me. She didn’t know about Sterling, and when she found out, she would remember this conversation and feel even more betrayed. All I wanted to do was get off the phone, but that would only make her suspicious.
Finley didn’t talk for a few seconds. “I feel like I’m talking to a stranger.”