Home > The Rebound - Jennifer Bernard

The Rebound - Jennifer Bernard
Author: Jennifer Bernard





Even though it was five o’clock on a rainy June morning, Jason Mosedale whistled as he strode into the apparatus bay of the Lake Bittersweet firehouse. He considered himself lucky to live in the most beautiful town in Minnesota, no matter the rain, lucky to work as a firefighter, lucky in most ways—with some giant glaring exceptions. He preferred to whistle through those.

The other crew members, volunteer and staff alike, groaned at the sound.

“You got laid, didn’t you?” grumbled Brent, a longtime member of the crew, the best driver they had.

“Isn’t that every day for him?” Colleen Hopper, one of the three women volunteers, nursed a steaming thermos of one of her herbal concoctions. She kept trying to coax the others into trying her mixes, but got no takers. “There’s hardly a woman in Minnesota who would kick him out of bed.”

“Sorry, aren’t you…?” Brent squinted at her from under his deer hunter’s cap.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” she said sternly. “But the answer is yes.”

“Uh, what’s the question?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Jason figured they were skating awfully close to some kind of human resources rule. He’d better put a stop to it, especially if he was going to apply for fire chief.

Big “if.” Would he be able to joke around like an ordinary crew member if he was the fire chief? Joking around was one of his favorite things in life. Was moving up in the world worth it? He still wasn’t sure, but he’d better figure it out soon because the board of aldermen wanted someone in place before the summer season really got going.

“Can’t a guy whistle just because he’s in a good mood?” He dumped his duffel bag next to his locker and pulled open the door. A blowup doll burst out of it, making him jump back in surprise.

The other firefighters howled in laughter. Good one, he had to admit. Nothing like a firehouse prank to kick off an early morning training exercise.

“If he didn’t get any last night, he can now,” called one of the volunteers.

“I heard he goes for the airhead type,” said someone else, triggering more laughter.

Jason composed his face into a serious expression, which was a big lift for him. His usual mode was fun-loving and easygoing. He loved life and saw no reason to hide that. He took hold of the doll and slowly, menacingly turned to face the ring of firefighters.

“What. The. Fuck…?” He spat the words out. Everyone’s smiles dropped away. Brick, the rookie, turned white and looked like he might throw up. Jason continued after a perfectly timed pause. “…are you still doing here? Can’t a guy get a little privacy?” He wrapped his arm around the doll’s plastic waist.

It took a moment, but then everyone howled with a new wave of laughter. Relieved laughter. The poor crew had no idea what to make of a seriously angry Jason Mosedale. Who would? It would be as if one of the local moose wandered out of the woods and ordered a cappuccino.

Someone at the edge of the crowd, back by the entry door, cleared their throat. “Should I come back another time? Looks like y’all are busy.”

Jason startled at the sight of Kendra Carter halfway in the door, her hand still on the doorknob. As always, even at this early hour, she looked stunning. Her hair was held back with a vivid red silk bandanna and she wore a tight-fitting white shirt.

He’d known Kendra forever; they’d even been friends in high school, sort of. Their lockers had been close together, and they’d exchanged friendly jabs nearly every day. She’d even tutored him in public speaking and American history.

But she’d jetted off early to an accelerated college slash business school program while he’d slogged through the rest of high school and then studied for the firefighter exam. Recently, she’d come back to town, and things had been…interesting between them. A little banter, some casual conversation, maybe even some flirting.

She had his attention, for sure. But as far as he could tell, she didn’t take him at all seriously.

Then again, she might have good reason for that. He remembered that he was holding a blowup doll and thrust it behind him.

“We’re about to start a training exercise, but if this is an emergency…”

“It is,” she said gravely, coming forward. “Why else would I be here before sunrise?”

The plastic arm of the doll popped out from behind his back. He shoved it down. Smothered laughter came from the crew.

“What’s the nature of your emergency?” He said it with hopefully enough sternness to make up for the absurdity of the blowup doll trying to sabotage Kendra’s impression of him.

Not that there was much to sabotage. In high school she’d thought of him as unambitious. She’d even lectured him about it.

“How should I know? Isn’t that your job?”

“Huh?” A whistling sound came from behind him. Crap—the blowup doll was losing air. It made a quiet wailing sound punctuated by odd squeals.

“Damn, Jason. You sure know how to make a woman moan,” said crusty old Sven Lundgren, who should have retired years ago, if you asked Jason.

“Is this the emergency?” Kendra asked, gesturing at the doll. “Am I supposed to do something? Remedial foreplay instructions?”

Howls of laughter came from his cursed crew. Great. He felt his face turn a slow-baked red. Normally, he didn’t mind playing the fool for laughs, but with Kendra around, it bothered him, just a little bit.

But at least he’d finally figured out what was going on. “You’re filling in for Patty?”

“Yeah, she called me this morning. Very, very early this morning. Her bursitis is flaring up and she asked me if I could play your victim.” She spread her arms open. “So here I am. Your designated damsel in distress.”

Jason couldn’t imagine anyone less suited for the role of damsel in distress. Kendra Carter was smart as a whip, good at everything she tried, independent, outspoken. On top of that, she had a longtime crew of friends and a retired blues legend for a father—Alvin “Redfish” Carter, with whom she ran the restaurant at the Blue Drake Club.

Kendra Carter was used to taking care of herself. Except that…he still didn’t know why she’d left Minneapolis and come back to Lake Bittersweet. At first he’d assumed it was because of her father, but something told him it was more than that. Since she’d come back, she’d seemed more subdued than he remembered. Something had happened in Minneapolis, but she wasn’t talking about it. At least, not to him.

He dragged himself back to the task at hand. Training exercise. Victim. She stood a few feet from him now, her arms folded across her chest. She wore a thin gold necklace that glinted against her radiant brown skin. “We’re doing a swatting drill.”

“I know how to swat mosquitoes. Those little mother-effers know they can’t mess with me.”

“I bet.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

And there was the feisty Kendra he remembered from high school. “Hey, you said it. I’m just agreeing.”

“No, there was subtext. I heard it.”

He grabbed the hand of the blowup doll and slapped his own cheek with it. “That’ll teach me to keep the damn subtext out of my mouth.” He slapped himself again with the plastic hand. “And not to say ‘damn.’”

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