Home > All Rhodes Lead Here(9)

All Rhodes Lead Here(9)
Author: Mariana Zapata

The teenage girl’s eyes went a little wide, and I wondered why, but she waved.

“Hi.” I waved back.

“Where are you staying? You said you got here last night?” Clara asked.

“I’m staying closer to Chimney Rock.” That was a national monument on the opposite end of town. “And, yeah, I drove in last night. I came into town to buy groceries and check out some of the shops. I figured I might as well come say hi while I was at it.”

All I knew about Clara was that about a year ago her dad had gotten really ill, and she’d moved back to Pagosa from… Arizona? She had been married, and about eight years ago, her husband had died tragically in a drunk driving accident. I’d sent her flowers for the funeral when she’d posted about it.

“I’m glad you did,” she said, still smiling wide. “I still can’t believe you’re here. Or that you’re even prettier in person than in your pictures. I’d kind of hoped it was an app with a really great filter, but it’s not.” Clara shook her head.

“I didn’t do anything to deserve it. Anyway, how are you? How’s your dad?”

It was only because I’d gotten so in tune with people’s suffering that I caught a hint of her wince. “I’m good. Really busy here. And Dad is… Dad’s doing okay. I’ve taken over running this place full-time.” Her face was tight. “He doesn’t come in here that much anymore. But I’d bet he’d love to see you if you’re planning on staying a while.”

“I am, and I’d love to see him too.”

Clara’s gaze strayed to her niece before returning to me, eyes narrowed. She looked at me a little too closely. “What kind of job are you looking for?”

“What kind of job are you hiring for?” I asked her, joking. What the hell did I know about outdoor activities? Nothing. Not anymore. Just walking through the fishing section had been eye-opening.

Mom would be so disappointed with me. She used to take me fishing all the time. Sometimes it had been the two of us, and sometimes her friends came too from what I remembered.

Yet that was all a blank wall for me now.

I wasn’t exaggerating. I didn’t recognize half of the stuff inside the store. More than that probably.

The last twenty years without my mom had turned me into a city girl. I hadn’t been camping once since leaving here. I’d gone fishing a handful of times with my uncle on his boat, but that had easily been fifteen years ago since the last trip. I wasn’t even sure I could name ten different kinds of fish if I had to.

The surprising part was, Clara looked… well, she looked surprisingly interested. “Don’t mess with me right now, Aurora… or do you go by Ora now?”

“Either one.” I blinked. “And I was kind of joking. I don’t know anything about any of this.” I gestured behind me. “If I did though, sign me up.”

Her gaze hadn’t stopped being narrowed since I’d joked around. If anything, her chin had tipped up a bit. “You don’t know anything?”

“It took me a second to remember the flies and fishing lures back there weren’t called ‘fishing thingies.’” I grinned. “That’s bad.”

“My last guy that quit on me used to tell people they could catch salmon in the San Juan,” she said drily.

“You… can’t?”

Clara smiled, her little gap flashing at me, and I had to grin back at her. “No, you can’t. But he also showed up late every day he came in… and never actually called in when he wasn’t planning on keeping his shift…” She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m jumping all over you. I’ve just been looking for help, and I feel like I’ve hired everyone looking for a job in town.”

Oh.

Well.

I closed my mouth and processed what she was saying. What this could mean. Working for someone who I had a relationship with. We all knew how that had gone last time.

Great until it hadn’t, but that was life.

I was sure I could find something elsewhere, but I was also pretty sure Clara and I could get along. I’d followed her enough over the years to see her happy, upbeat posts online, which could have been a ruse and part of her highlight reel, but I doubted it. Even when her husband had passed away, she had been gracious in her grief. And we’d always joked around just fine online.

What did I have to lose? Other than making an idiot out of myself since I didn’t know anything?

“No, don’t apologize,” I told her pretty cautiously. “I just… I don’t know anything about camping or fishing, but… if you’re willing… I can try. I’m a fast learner, and I know how to ask questions,” I threw out, watching her facial features go from open to straight-up calculating. “I’m punctual. I work hard, and I almost never get sick. It takes a lot for me to be in a bad mood.”

She lifted a hand and tapped her index finger against her chin, her pleasant face thoughtful, but it was her slightly widened eyes that gave away her continued interest.

But I still wanted her to understand the extent of what she’d be dealing with by hiring me so that there weren’t any surprises or anyone ended up disappointed.

“I haven’t worked retail in a really long time, but I did used to have to deal with people a lot at my, uh”—I did quotations with my fingers—“last job.”

Her mouth puckered, eyes sliding toward the teenage girl—Jackie—before flicking back to me and ending up with a tight nod.

She wasn’t going to bring up Kaden in front of her, I guess, and honestly, that was totally fine with me. The fewer people that knew, the better. The Joneses had bet on me keeping my word about not talking about our relationship, and they’d been right.

But I only didn’t want to talk about him because I didn’t want to be Kaden Jones’s ex-girlfriend for the rest of my life, especially not if I didn’t have to. Damn, I hoped his mom got hot flashes tonight.

“I just want you to be aware of my absolute lack of knowledge.”

Clara’s mouth twitched. “The second to last employee I hired lasted two days. My last one was here for a week before she ghosted me. The last ten before that were the same story. I have two part-timers that are friends with my dad who show up once or twice a month.” Clara’s chin went high, and I swear she winced. “If you can show up when you’re scheduled and do something, I’ll teach you as much as you’re willing to learn.”

Yeah, that was hope blooming in my chest. Working with an old friend? Doing something that my mom would have killed at? Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad thing. “I love learning,” I told her honestly.

I’d spent so much of my life seeing hopeful, cautiously optimistic faces, that I recognized her expression for what it was: that.

She must really be desperate if she was willing to hire me, old friendship or not.

“So…” Her hands wrapped around the counter. “Do you want to work here then? Doing odds and ends?”

“As long you don’t think it will be awkward.” I paused and tried to smile at her brightly. “I’m a good listener; I know business is business. But if you get tired of me, will you tell me? If I’m not doing a good job? And real talk, I have a room booked for a month, and if things are going okay, I’ll stay for longer, but I don’t know yet for sure.”

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