Stern(10)

By: Brenda Jackson


“Don’t you have a switchboard to cover? You are on payroll,” she reminded her.

“Don’t try pulling rank on me, young lady. This is my lunch break, and need I remind you I am entitled to one?”

“No you don’t have to remind me, but I’m working through mine, so if you don’t mind, I—”

“I do mind,” Wanda interrupted, resting her hip on the edge of JoJo’s desk. “And the reason I mind is because I think you’re making a big mistake.”

Seeing that she wouldn’t be getting any work done until Wanda had her say, JoJo tossed her pen on her desk and leaned back in her chair. “Evidently, you want to get something off your chest.”

“I do.”

JoJo nodded. “All right, you have the floor.” She placed the card down on her desk.

Taking JoJo at her word, Wanda stood and paced in front of JoJo’s desk. Wanda was a beautiful woman who had gone through two marriages. The first had ended in death and the other in divorce. Wanda would tell anyone that the second marriage had been a mistake because she’d tried to find a man who could replace a husband who was irreplaceable.

Wanda had fallen in love with a cop at the age of twenty-one, and he’d left her a widow with a newborn baby at twenty-eight. She had remarried at thirty-four and divorced at thirty-seven. She and her ex were both still single and remained friends. It wasn’t unusual for him to drop by the shop every so often to take Wanda to lunch or dinner.

Tension now throbbed at JoJo’s temples. She had a ton of paperwork to do, and like she’d told Stern, she needed to go home to unpack and do laundry. She’d become impatient with the pacing when Wanda finally stopped, snagged her gaze and said, “You’ve fallen in love with Stern.”

JoJo was glad her backside was firmly planted in the chair or she would have fallen out of it. She was totally positive she hadn’t given her feelings away so how had Wanda figured things out? JoJo didn’t want to believe what her father had always jokingly said about Wanda: that she had a sixth sense about stuff that wasn’t any of her business.

When JoJo didn’t say anything, but just sat there and stared, Wanda said, “Admit it.”

JoJo quickly snapped out of her moment of stunned silence. She reached across her desk and picked up the pen she’d tossed aside earlier and pretended to jot something down on one of the documents she picked up. “I won’t admit anything. Don’t be silly.”

“Not silly, just observant. And you should know by now that I don’t miss a thing.”

JoJo replaced her pen on the desk and tilted her head. “And just what do you think you haven’t been missing?”

Wanda smiled. “The way you’ve started looking at Stern when you think he won’t notice. The way you smile whenever you see him. How excited you were to go on that hunting trip with him. You acted like it was your first time when you do it two or three times a year.”

JoJo waved off her words. “All circumstantial evidence.”

“Yes, but then you decide to check out a guy who could be Stern’s clone. To me that’s an obvious sign.”

JoJo nibbled on her bottom lip before allowing a frown to settle on her face. “You make me sound pathetic.”

Wanda shook her head. “Not pathetic. Just confused.”

Now it was JoJo who needed to stand. Instead of pacing, she moved to the window. It was a beautiful September day, but all she had to do was look up at the high mountains to know Denver would get an early winter. And a pretty cold one, too.

She turned around and, not surprisingly, she found Wanda leaning her hips on JoJo’s desk. “Let’s just say your theory is true. Mind you, I’m not saying that it is,” JoJo said. “But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it is. What’s wrong with me moving toward a sure thing instead of getting hung up on a lost cause?”

“Why would you think Stern is a lost cause?”

JoJo thought long and hard about Wanda’s question before answering. “He’s only a lost cause when it pertains to me. I know him. He’s my best friend, and he knows that’s all he’ll ever be to me. There’s no need for me to waste my time wanting more. Knowing that, I’d go to a plan that might work.”