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Trey’s desire to take pictures for a living was one of the many things Jesse and I had been in perfect agreement about—we both felt it was a bad idea. As the son and daughter of working-class people, we had trouble with our child pursuing a creative degree. Not because we were dismissive of art, but because we were distrustful of debt. We knew the true price of owing money, whether it was to the guy on the corner or Uncle Sam. Jesse had been quieter about his disapproval, assuming Trey would come to his senses, but I’d made the mistake of telling him photography would be a really nice hobby.

“So, basically you’re saying only rich people’s kids should get degrees in creative fields,” he’d huffed in response. “That’s so elitist. And you’re a hypocrite. You use your creativity to make a living.”

“I minored in business. My job relies more on those skills than anything. Maybe if you minored in photography and chose a major like accounting? Or, international business?”

“Could you see me in a suit?” he’d countered. “Like, sitting at the head of a table in some boardroom?”

Yes, I’d thought. I could. But then I could also see him living like the many photographers I knew through my job, scrambling for the next gig photographing a car dealership, or busy placating bridezillas at weekend weddings. It was a lifestyle that ended up producing more anxiety than artistic satisfaction.

When Jesse and I talked about it, late at night, I’d conceded that Trey had made some good points, but we needed to stick to our guns if we were going to put ourselves in financial peril to send him to the university of his choice. Stability was the name of the game. It was the thing that gave happiness a pedestal to stand on. Jesse agreed. Trey would come to understand this, he’d said.

But now, watching Trey twitch with the need to leave, I realized that maybe I should have been encouraging and optimistic, even if I had to fake it. “Well,” I began after quickly gathering my thoughts and strategizing, “if you think you can do some self-reflecting at Colin’s, then I’m not going to stand in your way.”

“You’re not?” He was always skeptical of me, always questioning my sincerity.

“Nope. I’ll even drive you. Just give me a minute to change clothes.”

“Colin’s already on his way,” Trey said, smiling as he got to his feet. “I’ll text you later, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, comforted only that he still needed my consent, even if it was perfunctory.

Later, when I was alone, I sat staring into the patch of dirt in my backyard. After a while, I grabbed the garden spade and did the only thing that made me feel better. I dug.


Excerpt from Petra Polly: Chapter 2—On Collaboration

Not only is there not an I in ‘teamwork,’ there isn’t a U either.

Expect all of your employees—including yourself—to work together. Seem obvious? Well, consider the following questions. How often do you allow office doors to remain shut? Cancel group meetings because of perceived busyness? Allow conversations to be held entirely electronically?

The company is a singular, multicelled organism that must work in complete harmony to bring life to your organization. When one cell goes rogue or isolates or mutates, the organization becomes ill, sometimes perilously so. The prescription is simple. Breathe the same air, ponder the same ideas, eat together whenever possible, and encourage real-time, in-person conversations. There is a T in ‘teamwork,’ and it stands for ‘togetherness.’

“If we start going to the bathroom together, that’s where I draw the line.” Jackie spoke into my ear so the others wouldn’t hear her mutinous comment. The employees of Guh sat on the postage-stamp-sized patch of lawn behind Gossamer Space, discussing Petra’s latest words of wisdom. The farmers’ market had returned, so outdoor real estate was at a premium, but the weather was near perfect, and all of us wanted to get outside. Lukas demanded we all eat lunch together for the foreseeable future; however, he was conspicuously absent, spending his lunch hour at the municipal building, officially putting the name Giacomo Advertising and Design to rest and replacing it with the single-letter designation. I would have paid a fortune to see the look on our village clerk’s face. Mrs. Cruikshank was ninety and had known Big Frank since he was born.

Glynnis was the only one smart enough to bring a blanket. It was the serape variety, the kind you get at tourist traps and (once upon a time) Dead shows. We were huddled on it, Glynnis, Rhiannon, Jackie, and me, our lunches held precariously on our laps. Seth and Byron sat with their backs against the building, long legs stretched in front of them, vape pens at their mouths.

“Vaping? You guys are such losers,” Rhiannon announced.

“Two of us are going to be losers,” Byron said. “By the end of the summer.” He had a knowing, sardonic way of speaking, so even the most mundane comment begged a reaction. Glynnis smiled at him. She had a crush.

“What I don’t understand,” I said, “is how we’re supposed to work as one body and still engage in healthy competition.”

Rhiannon snorted. “That’s the beauty of Petra Polly. She doesn’t have to make fuck-all sense.”

“It works,” Seth countered. “She’s number one on the New York Times bestseller list.”

Rhiannon shook her head, not budging. “That only means she’s trending, or has a fantastic publicist. It doesn’t mean her stupid rules work.”

“You don’t seem to have any problem following her stupid rules when Lukas is around,” Byron countered.

“I need this job,” she retorted. “Do you know how long it took me to find it?”

“We all need the job,” Jackie said miserably.

We ate in silence for a while.

“I have an idea,” Glynnis said, her voice nearly inaudible. “We still have some time left, and we’re supposed to be bonding or something, right?”

“Don’t even think of suggesting we do trust falls or play truth or dare,” Rhiannon snapped.

Glynnis shifted so she could rise to her knees. “Nothing like that. I think we should go around the circle and say one interesting thing about ourselves. Something memorable. Let’s humanize each other.”

Seth made a noise of protest. “Are you kidding? Not going to happen.”

Glynnis clapped once, sharply, and then offered a timid smile. She must have been a Girl Scout in a prior incarnation, or an eager church group volunteer. “It can happen if we keep it simple,” she said. “Answer this question—why did your parents name you what they did?”

Jackie pointed at Rhiannon. “Well, she’s got the most obvious story.”

“Why?” Seth asked. “I don’t get it.”

“Fleetwood Mac, you dolt,” Rhiannon said, covering her head with her hands. “Why didn’t they name me Stevie? I would have liked that better.”

“Rhiannon’s the white witch,” Jackie said. “I think that’s pretty cool.”

“You would,” Byron muttered.

“What about you?” I asked him. Byron was starting to grate on my nerves.

“I thought that was obvious. Lord Byron.”

I had to admit that was impressive. “Were your parents academics?”

“They own a dry cleaning business.”


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