“Did you drink those?” The shock in his voice was almost heartwarming. His mother didn’t drink. His mother did not ever lose control.
“I did.” For some reason, inappropriate as it was, it felt good to admit it. I’d managed to hide the ravages of my grief from Trey. They leaked out at work, mostly, and in the privacy of my bedroom, where some nights I could wring out my pillow and fill a swimming pool.
Trey broke into a broad grin. “Oh, you were drunk!” The explanation pleased him—crazy was difficult and scary; drunk he could handle. “Why didn’t you say so?”
“I wasn’t drunk.” Drinking was one thing; admitting intoxication gave him an excuse to write off what I’d done. “I was drinking, but not drunk. There’s a difference. I was fully aware of what I was doing.”
“And what is that, exactly?” Trey shot me a skeptical look.
I didn’t have an answer I could articulate. “I’m . . . I’m not sure.”
Trey poured me tea and popped open a can of sparkling water for himself. After I thanked him, he shook his head and said, “Just resod it like Mr. Eckhardt said. He’s an ass, but he’s kind of right.”
“But what if I want to keep digging?”
“Why? I think you’re going to need a good reason to keep Mr. Eckhardt from getting in your face all the time. You don’t even have a reason at all.”
“I don’t have to justify my actions to him.”
Trey shrugged, and then gulped down his sparkling water. He needed time to make sense of things, and so did I. Where was this impulse coming from, this need to keep digging up the grass in my backyard until I completely destroyed it? Was this grief in action, or the opposite of that—healing? I needed to figure that out. Until I did, I’d keep digging.
“Let him think I’m going to resod the backyard,” I said to Trey, giving authority to my words. “I need some time. Okay?”
“I guess,” Trey said. “But time for what?”
“To make sense of things.”
“Good luck with that.”
That night and all the next day, I dug. The weather turned, sun shining with vigor, and my skin turned pink and then mottled red. I didn’t care. I kept at it, even when Mr. Eckhardt threatened to call the police (he didn’t), and Mrs. O’Shaunessy from down the block warned me to call the utility company before I dug farther, or I might hit a gas line (fingers crossed!). The dirt patch grew, amoebalike, its perimeter uneven but spreading. When Monday morning arrived, I was sore and sunburned, dirt in every crevice of my body. Trey asked me if I was having some kind of a breakdown, and if he could film it if I was. I told him I didn’t know, and I’d think about it.
I was so exhausted I sat in front of my computer screen, staring at the Seth-manipulated image of caramel gelato. Something wasn’t right about it, but my brain, muddled and dirt clogged, couldn’t figure out what it was.
Midmorning, Lukas tapped me on the shoulder, just as the sunshine of an idea began to burn through my brain fog.
“May I have a word?” he asked, overly polite, and I felt like the headmaster had called me into the hallway. I followed him to his minimalist, Instagram-ready, feng shui–approved office, where he sat, spine straight as my garden hoe, in a swivel chair seemingly constructed from wrought iron, duct tape, and the tears of young art and design students.
“We scored a meet and greet at Landon Cosmetics later today,” Lukas announced.
I flopped down on the overstuffed white couch in front of his desk. “That’s fantastic!” Landon Cosmetics was a retro-inspired line of lipsticks, glosses, and cheek tints, the packaging all done up in old-school movie posters from the ’40s and ’50s. Headquartered in downtown Chicago and helmed by Trinka, a gorgeous woman who could double for Dita Von Teese, Landon would be a major client for a suburban agency.
“I feel really good about this,” I added, taking in Lukas’s youth, his glossy looks, his carefully chosen attire, the rightness of him. It filled me with equal parts pride and shame. His father sweated through every dress shirt he owned, and had tufts of hair growing out of his ears, but I loved every messy part of Big Frank. Could I grow to love Lukas’s perfection if it worked for the company? Big Frank wouldn’t have gotten one foot in the door at Landon Cosmetics. I had to admit that Lukas seemed to know what he was doing.
“I could join you,” I offered, trying to keep my tone casual.
Lukas smiled tightly. “That’s what I wanted to discuss with you. I am going to take some creatives with me, but I’ve chosen Seth, Rhiannon, and Byron.”
“But I’m more experienced,” I said, fully aware of how defensive I sounded. “I know this business, and I know how to talk to people like your dad did. I can draw them in.”
“Look at your hands,” Lukas said, his voice clipped.
My gaze dropped to my filthy, ragged fingernails. I quickly flipped my hands over and saw dirt embedded in the whorls of my fingerprints.
Lukas clucked his tongue. “And your suit.”
Crumpled, stained, smelling faintly of BO.
My face burned. I’d never been such a wreck at work. How did I get to this point? “I can run home for a few minutes to freshen up.”
He shook his head. “We’re leaving in a few minutes.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, suddenly feeling as though I had failed him. And Guh. And myself.
Lukas’s expression softened. “I don’t want to pry into your personal life, Paige, but Petra Polly has a wonderful chapter on underperforming employees—”
Wait a minute. “I’d hardly say I’m underperforming.”
Lukas paused, one eyebrow creeping up to meet his receding hairline. “Really? Because what I see is someone who is letting her personal issues affect her day-to-day performance. I can’t take you with me because one look at you and Miss Trinka will think we aren’t up to the task. Rhiannon is quirkier than Zooey Deschanel with a side of ModCloth. Seth and Byron look like matching hipster salt and pepper shakers—one light, one dark, one bearded, one not, both flannel. She’s going to love them.”
“So, she doesn’t love older people? It’s a retro company—she adores the past.”
“Vintage, yes. Spent and exhausted, no.”
I crossed my arms over my middle, hiding my hands. “This conversation sounds vaguely discriminatory.”
Lukas sighed. “Oh, Paige. It’s not that they’re young, it’s that they care. I’m wondering how much you do.”
“More than you know,” I said with what I hoped was conviction. I’d been devoted to Giacomo for seventeen years.
Lukas stood and shrugged into his too-tight leather jacket. “I’m glad,” he said while he mussed up his hair. “I don’t want you to be one who goes. Sincerely. My father really liked you, and I do, too. That gelato ad is . . . coming along nicely.”
“Thanks.” Was he being sarcastic? Sincere? I wasn’t sure.
Lukas patted my arm, choosing sincerity. “How about you run the office for the rest of the day? We won’t be back until after closing hours. Miss Trinka likes to hold forth. She likes a salon.” He opened the door, and I saw Rhiannon, Seth, and Byron waiting outside like eager little puppies. Before they took off for greener, more glamorous pastures, Lukas turned and said to me, in a low voice but audible enough, “Read Petra’s book, chapter 8. I think you’ll find it enlightening.”
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