My heart lurched. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Now that I’ve fully complimented you, are you going to tell me how you got your hands on that dress?”
“Am I under arrest, Officer?”
“Should I hire a lawyer?”
“Not unless you’ve got something to hide.”
I felt a blush spread from my chest to my hairline.
“Now I’m really curious,” Sean said, grinning.
I explained how I’d found the dress, trying to make myself look as sane and innocent as possible.
Sean’s grin turned into a belly-rumbling guffaw. “You are such a weirdo. Definitely a strange bird.”
I’d spent my entire life trying to fit into the mold of a respectable, conventional citizen. His comment brought on a strange sense of panic. “I think anyone would have done the same,” I said primly.
“No. Most women wouldn’t have been digging in the first place.” He drew me to him, and his strong arms felt good against my back. “I think you’re phenomenal. I like that you’re offbeat. I like even more that you have no clue that you are.”
He held me for a moment, and then pulled back slightly. “I’ve got to admit I’m curious as to why Bill would bury his wife’s dress in the backyard.”
“Can you look into it?”
He nodded. “Something tells me we’re going to be surprised by what we find out. That man is in pain.” I ignored the look of recognition on Sean’s face that told me he knew exactly what that was like.
“That might be true,” I said, “but I’m more concerned with her whereabouts. I’ve lived next door to Mr. Eckhardt for over ten years, and I’ve never once seen a hint of a wife. He’s got a nephew who comes to visit with his family, and some neighbors pause to talk to him every so often, but that’s pretty much it.”
“That’s sad,” Sean said.
“Sometimes people never really learn to connect with other people.”
I smiled at him. “You don’t have that problem.”
Sean took my hand. “I want to dance with you again. Under the stars. In your beautiful garden. With all those people staring at us.”
I took a deep breath. I could connect, too. “I would like that,” I said. “Very much.”
Excerpt from Petra Polly: Chapter 12—Managing the Expectations of Others: What to Do with a Difficult Client
So your dream client is no longer happy with your company’s work. What to do? Remain calm. Remember that the organization should be seen as a person, body and soul, and what happens when a body needs to woo a wandering lover? Romance. The showering of gifts, both tangible and spiritual. A few mea culpas for not giving your undivided attention. Make the client feel cherished. Adored. Imply you have forsaken all others in order to make them happy.
And then work your ass off to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“We haven’t lost any clients,” Rhiannon said. “We’ve gained some. Why did he make us read this chapter?”
“Maybe because the wooing applies to signing the client as well?” Glynnis said, but she didn’t sound sure. “Then again, that was covered in chapter 4.”
We sat in the conference room, all of us save Lukas, arguing over what would attract a person like Petra Polly to a small advertising agency like ours. Lukas insisted the best route was to follow the instructions she’d laid out in her book to every detail, but I silently disagreed. Why would she need us if we could only provide her with what she already knew? We needed to add significant value to her investment. We needed a little flash and pizzazz. We needed a touch of Big Frank.
“She’s the type to want infomercials,” Byron said with a roll of his eyes. “Am I right? Tony Robbins, that Rich Dad Poor Dad guy, and . . . Petra Polly.”
Rhiannon snorted. “We don’t know what she sounds like. I couldn’t find one podcast or YouTube video. No television or radio interview. Nothing. Why do you think that is?”
“Maybe she’s been too busy?” Glynnis contributed. She’d been more talkative than usual, and a tad more assertive. I didn’t know if she’d talked to Byron at the party, or if she’d spent the evening crying on Seth’s shoulder. She, Jackie, and I attempted to get away at lunch to discuss the party drama, but it was impossible with Lukas monitoring our every move. Petra Polly would arrive in Willow Falls in exactly two weeks. We were anything but prepared, and Lukas was skirting a nervous breakdown. He was downing kombucha like a Brooklyn hipster on a bender and pacing the hallways endlessly.
“Maybe she’s hiding something,” I said, thinking of Mr. Eckhardt, fingering the earrings he forgot to take back. I wondered about his marriage. Had it been a happy one, like mine and Jesse’s? Instinct told me it hadn’t been. Bill Eckhardt was an angry, difficult man. I suddenly had compassion for this woman, this poor soul who married him.
Mr. Eckhardt’s attitude toward other people essentially boiled down to this—leave me alone because you are a lesser human who doesn’t deserve to breathe my rarified air. After a decade of it, I had difficulty finding a soft spot of compassion in my admittedly hardened heart. Still, I had to wonder why it was that a lonely man seemed so intent on ensuring his own loneliness.
“Paige!” Glynnis’s voice brought me from my thoughts.
“We haven’t got an idea worthy of Petra. Stop being so distracted. This is serious,” she said. “I talked to Seth at the party about his job search. He said he hasn’t had a single call, and he’s sent out dozens of résumés.” Glynnis groaned. “I can’t go back out there. I can’t lose this job.”
“None of us can afford to,” I said. If Seth—young, hip, and full of energy—couldn’t get a callback, then Jackie and I were destined for a temp agency. I didn’t know how to make decent coffee. Starbucks wouldn’t even hire me on as a barista.
“Then we have to be better than them,” she whispered, nudging her head toward Rhiannon and Byron, who were talking excitedly about . . . something. Though we’d all been hanging out in the conference room, they’d been increasingly distant from the rest of us, sharing inside jokes with Lukas and generally acting like they were from a slightly different species than us. “I need you to focus,” Glynnis stated primly.
“I am focused.”
“No,” she said, that newly minted assertiveness shining through. “You’re not. You’re thinking about your garden and that police officer who’s into you, and—”
“Do you think he’s into me?”
“Seriously, Paige. You are nearly twice my age. Grow up.”
I was acting like a teenager. But then again, it wasn’t exactly my choice. I was dating again, and what came with that was an avalanche of insecurities and second-guessing and forensic-scale analysis of every word or action. I even had acne, perimenopausal, hormone-induced acne, but still. For the second time in my life, I had to put an Open House sign on my heart. I had to accept the risk that no one might be interested. At Jesse’s funeral, a neighbor said to me, “You won the lottery when you met Jesse.” As time went on, I knew what he was implying. This isn’t going to happen again. It might not. Knowing that—and accepting it—was the only thing that told me I was ready.