I didn’t remember that. I was so lost to my own grief at the office party, and even more so when Big Frank was found.
“I regret that I acted like a love-struck teenager. It wasn’t right, even after KiKi died.”
“I don’t know if you can assign right and wrong to that situation. You couldn’t help the way you felt. Do you think he knew?”
She paused before answering. “Yes. Once, a few years ago, he walked by my desk and said, ‘Kid, you’re one in a million. And I’m not gonna be the only one who thinks it, because it’s pretty damn obvious to those who get to know ya. Capiche?’”
Classic Big Frank. So he knew. That was his way, the way of kindness. Of course she loved him. Who wouldn’t?
“You think badly of me now,” she said.
“Why would I? I think nothing of the sort, though this does change things.”
“I know,” she said, defeated.
“The way I see it, you’re a widow, too. All the more reason for us to stick together. No matter what happens in that conference room, I’ve got your back, and you sure as hell better have mine. Capiche?”
She put her head on my shoulder. “Capiche.”
We sat around the conference table, pairs huddled together, waiting for Lukas. No one spoke. Our laptops, open in front of us, didn’t provide enough of a shield, and we each glanced around the room, avoiding eye contact. Two of us weren’t going to make it through the evening. Hunger Games, indeed.
Lukas walked in smiling, which seemed exceptionally cruel.
“Paige and Glynnis, you’re up first,” he said brightly.
Glynnis squeezed my hand under the table. Her pallor shifted from pale to snow white, and I squeezed hers back.
“I’ve just sent you all the file,” I said, voice shaking. The others dove into their mailboxes. Were they simply curious or rabid to see us fail? I looked up, and Jackie gave me a subtle thumbs-up. It was enough to give me a little courage.
“Start the video now,” Glynnis squeaked.
The short video that Trey and Colin had begrudgingly helped us with looked polished. The music, ’60s Motown, began, and the image of Diana Ross sitting at her makeup chair, gorgeous and confident, appeared. The music shifted seamlessly into something more modern, and the image morphed into Tina Matthews, pop princess, in a similar position, her eyes showing that whatever the joke was, she was in on it. Then the ad popped up, the makeup in the foreground, the background split between the past and present. We’d re-created both backstage spaces perfectly. The words were displayed in frosty pink letters: The Past Makes a Beautiful Present. Glynnis had added a pink bow around the lipstick at the last minute, and the color contrasted beautifully with the black-and-white photographs.
“I really like it,” Jackie said immediately. She looked up at me, and I could see the pride in her eyes. I was so grateful for it.
“Thank you,” I said.
“The pink is a little too girly,” Rhiannon started, and I wished the earth would open up and swallow her whole. “Overall, I think it’s effective. I like the message.”
Shocked, I could merely nod in her direction.
“You can’t use those images without paying a fortune,” Byron noted.
My smile was brittle. “We’d substitute something similar.”
He flicked a key on his laptop. “Then the effect is completely gone.”
I glanced around the table. All eyes were on me—should I defend myself? I didn’t know. “I disagree,” was all I said.
Lukas put his elbows on the table and peered at me over the top of his glasses. “Byron has a point. You couldn’t go to a client with material that would add substantially to the cost of the project. I like the concept, Paige and Glynnis, really, I do, but I’m not sure of its . . . sustainability.”
“It’s not a rain forest,” I mumbled under my breath, and Glynnis kicked me. The others stared at us in relief. We hadn’t hit this one out of the park. We’d made it to first base, but that barely counted, even in make-out sessions.
“Byron, why don’t you show us what you and Rhiannon have come up with,” Lukas said, turning his attention to the A team. But had they brought their A game?
Rhiannon and Byron shared a smile, and then fiddled on their laptops for a minute. “It’s yours now,” Rhiannon said. “Take a look.”
It was a psychedelic Peter Max–style extravaganza—the colors of Landon’s line swirling together in a ’60s-inspired wonderland. The two hipstery girls superimposed over this masterpiece were laughing, passing the lipstick between each other. There was no tagline, simply the Landon logo scrolling across the bottom in hot pink.
“I guess pink’s not all bad,” I said to Rhiannon.
“It’s a certain shade,” she retorted. “I’d almost argue it’s got burgundy undertones.”
“It’s arresting,” Lukas said, obviously pleased. “Nice marriage of the past and present.”
Glynnis made a choking sound.
“It feels fresh,” Lukas continued. “Well done.”
“We were going for hipster meets hippie,” Byron said, unable to graciously accept his victory. “I’m glad we succeeded.”
The table fell silent again, but this time the smugness seeping off Byron and Rhiannon gave it an uncomfortable hum.
“Jackie? Seth? You’re up,” Lukas said.
I realized then that Seth had been silent up until that point. I also noticed that his color seemed off, his normally flesh-toned Pantone 62-7 color fading into something with a greenish tint. Was he sick?
“It’s there,” Jackie said flatly.
I found myself looking at an image of a lipstick-shaped rocket hurtling toward a star-laced sky. It was retro, trite, and . . . phallic. Jackie and I had both dismissed that idea as tired when we were sitting around my kitchen table. I caught her eye, and she gave a quick nod and pursed her lips. I noticed how much distance there was between her and Seth. They’d had trouble from the start and obviously hadn’t found a way to overcome it. I wished she’d asked for my help, but then would I have been able to offer any?
“Well,” Lukas said. “Well.”
“The image is well defined,” Rhiannon said in a rare show of grace. “The rocket is . . . dominant . . . and . . . shiny?”
Byron groaned. “Did you intend for it to look like a dildo?”
“Enough,” Lukas interjected. “It’s a traditional take. The space-age theme is a bit obvious, but sometimes that’s what’s needed.” He gathered himself and stood. “Petra Polly does not believe in embarrassing employees, and neither do I. I will share your proposals with Miss Trinka tonight. Tomorrow morning you’ll find an envelope at each of your workstations. Inside will be a card that says ‘stay’ or ‘leave.’ If you are in the position of leaving, take it merely as a sign that there are opportunities for you elsewhere and that you now have the freedom to pursue them. I do ask, however, that if you are asked to leave that you do so immediately, and through the back entrance. Whoever it is, be aware that we all wish you the best of luck. There is no reason for any long, drawn-out goodbyes.”
As we shuffled out of the conference room, bent and defeated, I wondered if Lukas’s method of kicking two of us to the curb was Petra’s method or his own.