“Is that what you’re doing by digging up the backyard? Reacting? Dad would never have done that to the backyard.”
“No, he wouldn’t have,” I said after a moment. “And I wouldn’t have when he was still alive.”
“So you’re saying you’re a different person now,” Colin said, satisfied with his deduction.
“I think the fundamentals stay the same, but parts of me are different.”
Trey snorted. “Which part of you dug up the backyard?”
“The part that wants to build something meaningful.”
“That’s the heart,” Mykia said. “You had a heartshift.”
“I had a heartbreak,” I admitted.
The table went silent.
“I want to know . . . ,” Glynnis said quietly.
I smiled at her, encouraging. “What?”
“I want to know what the other kind of change is. The kind that isn’t slow.”
Tears burned at my eyes, hot and quick. “It’s the kind that pulls you by the hair. The unexpected jolt. It’s merciless, and it doesn’t allow you to change cell by cell, cushioning the blow with time. It smacks you into a new reality. It forces you to examine things you’d rather leave under a rock.”
I paused, embarrassed. Why had I said that? I was happy with my life, but the life I had before required Jesse to make things work. We were just fine living in the small world we’d created for ourselves. It worked for us. But what happened when “us” became “me”? Isolation. Loneliness. Fear.
The tears began to flow. Trey’s eyes filled, too.
“That kind of change is the kind that’s fucking unfair,” he said. “It’s the sucker punch.”
“And the only thing you can do when that happens,” I added, reaching out to touch his arm, “is to breathe your way through the pain.”
“But it’s hard to breathe sometimes,” Glynnis said. “It’s so hard to breathe.”
Mykia set her fork down. “Do you ever see, when people are hyperventilating on TV, someone hands them a paper bag to breathe into?”
“You have to find your paper bag when you feel like you can’t get the air in,” Mykia said. She had an air of authority that had both boys hanging on her every word.
“Is that what my mom’s doing?” Trey asked. “Is the garden her paper bag?”
“Well,” Mykia said, resuming her dinner, “you are smarter than you look.”
The following week, three days after it was official on the calendar, summer danced its way across the farmers’ market. The sun shone brighter, high up in the sky, hot enough to warm my skin through the thin cotton of my blouse.
“I’ve got little green ones,” I said to Mykia.
“What?” She tilted her head back to take in the sun, and a carrot fell out of her hair.
“My tomato plants have green fruit popping up all over.” I couldn’t keep the joy from my voice. I’d gotten up early to water the garden, and to my surprise, the tomato plants were bearing gifts seemingly overnight.
“You’ve got to watch out for pests,” Mykia warned. “Keep a close eye.” She squinted up at the sun. “You’re going to be inundated with tomatoes. What are you going to do with all of them when they ripen?”
“Could I sell them here?” I said, a bit sheepishly.
Mykia squeezed my arm. “Sorry, but no. I’ll be dealing with an onslaught of my own. I end up canning enough to last through the zombie apocalypse.”
A memory, Technicolor sharp, ran across my consciousness. Jesse’s mother teaching me to make her secret salsa recipe, one of the few treasures his family owned. She taught me when she knew I would soon be a member of the Moresco family, tattered and spare as it was. She passed away a few years later, and it was our only real lasting legacy.
“I’ll make salsa. I have an incredible recipe.”
“I don’t have a decent salsa recipe,” Mykia said, a smile forming. “That’s not something I do. But if it’s something you end up doing, and doing it right, test run some jars in my booth.”
It was work to keep from tearing up. “I’ll learn how to can properly,” I said, struggling to stay practical when all I wanted to do was hug her tightly. “I promise I won’t give anyone botulism.”
“The lawsuit will be yours if you do,” she said. “But if it’s a hit? I’ll take you on at ten percent.”
Anything would have been a deal in my eyes. “Done,” I said. We shook on it.
As we shared a pint of strawberries, I watched Glynnis wind herself through the market, reaching out to touch plants and produce and never quite making contact. “If things keep going the way they’re going at work,” I told Mykia, “salsa making will be my only source of income.”
“That bad, huh?”
“That bad. We’re supposed to have a presentation next week for Landon Cosmetics.” Glynnis and I had not a single idea. Not one. Not even a file full of bad, in-case-of-emergency-only ideas. Jackie and Seth had found some common ground. I had seen them locked in intense conversation, nodding at each other like bobbleheads. Byron and Rhiannon swaggered through the office like they’d seen the future and knew they had the competition in the bag. We wanted to pelt them with copies of Petra’s book until they screamed for mercy.
“What do you do when you feel all tapped out?” Mykia asked. “I work on the farm. Hard labor. It gets the juices flowing again.”
“Whenever I was stuck, I’d talk to my husband, and he’d ask the right questions to loosen the spigot.” Had it been that long since I’d felt supported while I was being challenged? Over two years?
Mykia frowned. “Husband, past tense. You had me thinking he was still around. I had to figure out that he wasn’t from what your son was saying. How long were you married?”
“I’m sorry. I have trust issues. And . . . twenty-one years married, longer than that together.”
Mykia whistled. “That’s pretty monumental. No wonder you’re digging up your backyard. Why didn’t you want me to know?”
I shrugged. Sometimes the explanation required more energy than I was willing to give. But then sometimes the simplest explanation was the one that could be best understood. “Sometimes I feel vulnerable without my husband around. You were a stranger then, for the most part.”
“I hear you. No offense taken.”
She whistled. “I haven’t got any advice for dealing with that kind of grief. My longest relationship lasted a year, and he was in Doctors Without Borders. We Skyped more than anything.”
“That’s not unusual when you’re young,” I said, sensing she saw this as a fault.
“I’ve got nothing for you as far as ideas go. If you want to know the best ways to cook carrots to get maximum flavor, I’m your girl. But advertising tips? Sorry.”
“I don’t think there’s any work advice that could help me at this point, unless you have a solid, kick-ass idea for selling retro frosted lipstick and false eyelashes.”
Mykia laughed. “Not in my wheelhouse.”
“Clearly not in mine any longer.”
“That could be,” Mykia said, growing serious. “I was thinking about what you said about change. I thought about when I left dental school, and at first I felt I’d experienced the quick change you spoke of. But that wasn’t right. I’d been slowly moving in this direction since I was a teenager. I just didn’t notice. Isn’t it possible that you didn’t change overnight either? That your garden is something you’ve been moving toward for a long time?”