“Thank you,” I murmured, wondering exactly what I was being grateful for.
“No, thank you, Paige,” Lukas said. “I see your value, but I’m wondering if you do. ‘A good employee is a confident employee,’” he recited.
“Not Petra,” Lukas said, a wistfulness in his tone. “Big Frank.”
“Lukas left me in charge, and I say it’s okay.”
It was four o’clock. Lukas and his creatives were gone, and I was trying to get Jackie and Glynnis to leave early so we could go to the farmers’ market.
“I don’t want to go there,” Jackie whined. “It makes me feel bad about my life choices.”
“We’re supposed to stay until five,” Glynnis said, eyeing the wall clock. “What if Lukas comes back? Won’t we get into trouble?”
The old Paige would have reacted the same way. The new Paige grabbed a hand from each of them and pulled them to standing. “It’s a field trip. We need ideas, don’t we? Let’s go bombard our minds with possibilities!”
Glynnis frowned, but Jackie quirked a smile. “I think Petra covers that in chapter 9,” she said, her smile turning into a grin. “Okay. Let’s go.”
Dandelion Girl, perched on a stool behind her table, noticed us immediately and started waving.
“That woman has a carrot in her hair,” Jackie whispered.
“I kind of like it,” Glynnis said.
Just another week into the season, the market was already more bountiful. Endless rows of boxed strawberries stretched out before us, their aroma sweetening the air. Green onions, new potatoes, asparagus, and rhubarb—the beauty of the produce had me wondering, what could I grow? I had plenty of dirt. The only area I was lacking in was experience, but how hard could it be if a woman who used a carrot as a scrunchie could do it? Eccentricity aside, she seemed like the type of person who’d be willing to help even someone like me.
Dandelion Girl hopped off her stool and began to pack up. At this hour, the greens had begun to wilt, and a handwritten sign was hastily posted beneath them, Cheap! Cheap! Two-for-One Deal!
“What’s the deal?” Jackie asked her.
Dandelion Girl smiled. “However much you’re willing to pay. I don’t want to pack those up again. In another five minutes, they’ll be free.”
“I can wait that long,” Jackie said. “I’m gonna go for a smoke. When I get back, I want some of those.”
“People still smoke?” Dandelion Girl teased.
Jackie pulled a cig from her pack and stuck it behind her ear. “That they do,” she said, and went off to find the small patch of cement dedicated to those who did.
Glynnis walked off to marvel at the flower displays. Dandelion Girl continued to load her truck, watchful for anyone who came by but completely focused on her task. I stood there, toying with a strawberry, awkward as a middle schooler at her first dance.
“Are you gearing up to ask me out?”
I was so spaced out I was completely unaware she’d come up next to me. “What?”
“You look like you want to ask me something important.” Dandelion Girl’s tone was light, her sense of humor still present, but there was an underlying seriousness to what she was saying. She put her basket of strawberries down and crossed her arms over her chest. “Well?”
My earlier confidence shriveled up like her lettuce. I felt foolish, and old . . . very old. But it felt good to dig in the backyard, and I didn’t want to stop. “I’m trying to plant a garden in my backyard,” I explained, still wondering if that was what I really wanted to do. “I don’t really know what I’m doing. I kind of . . . just started digging and kept going. I’ve got a large plot now.”
Dandelion Girl snapped into professional mode. “What’s the square footage?”
“I don’t know. It’s . . . big.”
“Approximately the entire length of the house, and then going back a ways. I could measure it, if you need specifics.”
She smiled. “You just dug up your backyard out of the blue? I like that.”
I took that as encouraging. “What if I brought a photo with me on Thursday, and you can see what I’m dealing with?”
She fished around in the pocket of her housedress and found a chewed-up pencil and a slip of paper that looked like a receipt. “Tell you what,” she said, handing them to me. “You write down your address, and I’ll stop by on my way home. It’s better if I see your mess in person.”
I bent to write my details, but then I hesitated. Was I about to give my address to a stranger wearing a carrot as a hair ornament?
“My name is Mykia,” she said, amused. “And I don’t need to come over if you’re uncomfortable.”
“I just wasn’t sure what I was doing after work,” I said, lamely trying to cover my suspicions. I scribbled my address and handed it to her. “I’m sure you’re a very nice person,” I blurted, my face warming.
Mykia slid the paper into her pocket. “Oh, I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”
She was kidding, right?
“Why don’t you invite your work buddies, too?” she said. So Mykia was not only an alchemist, she was a mind reader. “Those two can help us measure.”
“I’ve never had a plant that didn’t die,” I admitted.
“I kind of figured that. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. Everything can be learned, you know? Some people learn sooner, others later. Not a big deal if the outcome is the same.”
I wasn’t prepared for company, but my guests didn’t seem to mind, especially my new friend Mykia. She’d taken one look at my backyard, and then announced she needed to eat before she could think about where to start with my small ecological disaster. After a quick trip to her truck to grab some produce, Mykia began to familiarize herself with my kitchen.
“Are these spices from this century?” she asked, holding up some jars I barely recognized. “I think they’ve permanently adhered to the side of the jar.”
I squinted at the labels. “Coriander and marjoram? When were those ever a thing?”
“They’re always a thing. You can’t mix up herbes de Provence without marjoram, so how would you make herbed pork loin or roasted goose? And could you imagine making Moroccan tagine without coriander?”
I couldn’t imagine cooking any of those things because I never had. But I didn’t admit that to Mykia. “I thought you were a vegetarian,” I said, changing the subject.
“What gave you that idea? I like everything. I eat everything.” She surveyed the pantry, stopping at the tower of tuna. “Are you a pescatarian?”
“Those are my son’s.”
“You have a son? Where is he?”
Mykia was probably just curious, but her question gave me pause. She was a stranger. I had a stranger inside my house, going through my things, talking about my son.
I crossed my arms over my chest, sending what I hoped was a clear message. “He’s out with my husband,” I lied. The lie felt strangely comforting.
“Cool,” was all she said, and she got to work setting pans on the stove. She washed the veggies and then began to slice them, a peaceful, satisfied look on her face. She hadn’t asked us what we wanted for dinner. She hadn’t asked for help. I felt petty and mean, my judgment getting the best of me.