I looked away. “I’m just mentally checking my schedule. I think it’ll work.”
“Good. Just keep in mind . . . the process is messy.”
“Noted.” The thought of another man in my kitchen made my stomach lurch.
He walked me back to the patio. “I don’t have any children myself,” he said before leaving. “But I’ve seen plenty of teenage boys in my time on the force. He’s a good kid, but sometimes circumstances make sure that doesn’t matter. I know you’ll keep an eye on him.”
“Always,” I said as Officer Leprechaun got back into his cop car. He made a U-turn, flicking the siren on momentarily as a goodbye. Breathing deeply to quell the little earthquakes erupting inside me, I went in to see to my son.
Later that night, I shut off all the lights in the house, checked the locks, and watched the green lights blip on the fire alarms. Safety was never guaranteed, but there were a few things I could control. Then I checked on Trey. His door was shut, but a thin strip of light underneath it told me he was still up.
“Yeah?” he said when I knocked.
“Can I come in?”
Just as I had when he was younger, I weighed the cost and benefit of accepting his rejection or pushing past it. My anger at his immaturity paled in comparison to my worry for his state of mind. Do I leave him to his own thoughts or try to add my own to his musings? Grief made regular, run-of-the-mill worry completely irrational. The mind skipped to worst-case scenarios because of the realization that the worst could actually happen. Was Trey depressed? Would he harm himself? I flung open the door.
He sat on his beanbag chair, his copy of The Lord of the Rings open and facedown on his lap. Some kids used food for comfort, or drugs—Trey used Tolkien. Tears streamed down his face.
“Oh, honey . . .”
“I told you to go away! Don’t you respect anything?”
“I’m sorry. I—” As with so much lately, I had no idea what to do.
“You’re right. I shouldn’t have taken those things,” he said, voice listless, as his attention turned to the window. “And I’ll stay in all week. I’ll help you around the house, but I will not help you with that garden. It’s just as stupid as me stealing the ketchup bottle from Richie. Those plants are going to die, and we’ll be left with a big mess. It just doesn’t make any sense. I’m admitting I did a stupid thing. Can you?”
Excerpt from Petra Polly: Chapter 9—Dealing with Failure by Forgetting about Success
So your idea fails. What now? Some will worry, some will give up, and some will keep pushing the dying idea until it is a lifeless, floppy mess. None of these will help. What will help is forgetting. Forget the concept of success, at least temporarily. Forget the failure. Forget the stress and the disappointment. Don’t analyze what went wrong. Don’t flog a dead horse. Forget it all so you can be reborn. A clean slate. No ideas ever existed before this very moment. Free yourself from the pressure of success, and you’ll free yourself of the oppressiveness of failure.
“What happened to reaching the brass ring?” I asked Jackie while she blew smoke in the other direction. The Landon presentations were scheduled for the evening, and the atmosphere at Guh was nearly intolerable. Each duo guarded their project with police-dog ferocity—even Jackie hadn’t told me what she and Seth had come up with. She stalked across the office, looking miserable when she asked me to join her for a break, so I assumed things weren’t going well. I thought Glynnis and I did a decent job—not spectacular, but not merely passable. We had a chance.
Jackie made a disapproving sound. “Petra Polly was drunk when she wrote this. Like Rhiannon said, she makes fuck-all sense.”
“If we see her in a bar, we’re beating her silly.”
“I want to yank those golden braids. Hard.”
“She’s probably the type who’d like it.”
We laughed, but there was no joy in it. Because it came from fear.
“We’re not ready,” Jackie said after a fierce inhale. “Seth thinks we are, but we’re not. I don’t think he understands what’s on the line here.”
“I think he does,” I assured her. “But even if he doesn’t, you know what you’re doing. You’ve got this.”
Jackie shrugged. “I didn’t tell you, but I sent out some résumés about ten days ago. I haven’t heard a word. Not a word. I can’t lose this job, Paige.”
“You won’t. It’s not going to be us that get the boot. It can’t be.”
“I don’t see Rhiannon and Byron failing.” Jackie quietly finished her cigarette. We gazed out at the empty parking lot.
“I miss the market when it’s not here,” Jackie said. “Hard as it is to admit.”
“We need to have another dinner at my house.” I checked my phone. It was five o’clock. “It’s time to get back upstairs. Lukas is going to be prompt.”
Jackie put a hand tentatively on my arm. “Paige, if it is me, will you still keep up our . . . friendship?”
There was so much insecurity in her eyes. There shouldn’t have been. We’d known each other for nearly two decades. It shamed me to think I hadn’t strengthened our connection over the years enough that she wouldn’t be so afraid it would snap easily.
“Of course we’ll still be friends.” I drew her into a quick hug. Her sprayed hair tickled my nose, and she smelled like Poison. “Our friendship goes beyond this office. You know that.”
“Now it does. I know it wasn’t always like that.”
“I like how it is now,” Jackie said, starting to cry. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you more when Jesse died.”
“Oh, but you were.” Honestly, I couldn’t remember. The months after Jesse died were a blur of people offering gifts I could never repay—food, gift cards, checks for Trey’s college fund. I didn’t remember even writing thank-you notes, but I was grateful for everything. Had Jackie sent flowers? Brought over a casserole? Hell if I knew. It was easier to assume she had. And knowing her, she’d done something. And I was indeed grateful.
“Thanks for being a good friend,” I whispered in her ear.
“But I’m not,” she sobbed. “I’m not.”
“Why would you say that?”
She pulled away. We were close enough for me to see that Jackie’s mascara-stained eyes were full of shame. “There’s something I haven’t told you.”
No one liked to hear those words, as so rarely did they end with an explanation that brought anything but sorrow or disappointment.
I steeled myself. “What is it?”
“I loved him. With my whole heart. I loved every part of him.”
My mind reeled. “Who?”
She swallowed. “Big Frank.”
I had to let that register for a moment. Jackie and Big Frank? KiKi, aka Mrs. Big Frank, had died only a few years before he did. Had he and Jackie been carrying on an affair? I suddenly felt sick.
She lowered her eyes. “I never told him. Never acted on it. I obsessed about it, and tried to manipulate situations so he and I would be together at the office. I bought him presents for his birthday and Christmas. I have photos of him in my apartment. That sounds so weird, right? I made a fool out of myself at the Christmas party, trying to get him on the dance floor.”