“Why not Gee?” I couldn’t help myself.
“If I see the letter g, my brain reads it as gee.” Jackie nodded in agreement.
“That’s a hard g,” Lukas explained. “Petra believes names should be both symbolic and easy to remember. Clients should feel working with Guh is completely effortless.”
“It’s your dad’s name,” I said, unable to hide my disapproval. “Giacomo.”
“Exactly,” Lukas said. “My father did an amazing job laying the groundwork, but he left it to me to take it to the next level.”
My cliché meter had grown stronger since dealing with people who, after Jesse died, told me everything happens “for a reason.” I opened my mouth to call Lukas on his triteness, but then he lifted the box of my personal belongings and dropped it into my hands. It wasn’t as heavy as I’d thought. “Read the first chapter of Petra’s book,” he ordered. “It provides a comprehensive overview of her philosophy.”
I hoisted the box to my hip. “And do you have a timetable for letting people go?”
“We will be participating in fierce and friendly competition in the coming months. Terminations won’t happen until the end of the summer.”
“I’ve been here twenty-two years,” Jackie croaked.
Lukas briefly touched her cheek. “What are you talking about? We’ve only been here for a few months.”
“So, we’re talking fierce as in Hunger Games.”
Jackie and I sat on a bench on the outskirts of the Gossamer Space parking lot. The lot itself was unusable, as the first day of the farmers’ market had finally come. We’d talked about it in the office—would there be local honey? Fresh bread? Hemp T-shirts? Moonshine?—but now that the stiff white tents stood tall like meringue, blocking our view and forcing us to park half a mile away, we weren’t so enthusiastic.
“Frank would never stand for this,” Jackie said as the smoke curled from her lips.
I nearly laughed at the look of repulsion on her face. “I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to smoke in the vicinity of so much fresh produce.”
“Frank wouldn’t stand for all this vegetable bullshit either,” she said bitterly.
Frank isn’t able to stand at all anymore, I thought. Perhaps if he had tolerated the occasional vegetable . . . I shook off the unkind response and focused on the practicalities. “What we should do is get our résumés in order and start looking for something else.”
Jackie nodded, but I knew her thoughts jumped to the same frightening scenarios as mine. The market was terrible. We weren’t cheap. We secretly hoped to stay at Giacomo’s until retirement.
“Then again, maybe some of our competition will leave,” I said. “Lukas said he wasn’t going to let anyone go until the end of the summer. Maybe they’ll get tired of the stress and quit?”
“Maybe,” Jackie said unconvincingly. “I don’t know. They seemed invigorated by it.” She went quiet for a moment, then said, “I can’t lose this job, Paige. I don’t have any backup, and who’s going to hire me?” The weariness in Jackie’s voice, more than the fear, had me scooting closer, my shoulder meeting hers.
“Compared to the rest, we cost a fortune,” she went on. “Do you think it’ll be you or me who gets fired? He couldn’t lose both of us. We know where all the bodies are buried.”
A Big Frank line. I didn’t mind the cliché.
Lukas couldn’t afford to lose both of us, but he could lose one of us. My heart gave a lurch. I needed my job, too. I didn’t have any backup either. I glanced at Jackie, who was sucking again on her unfiltered cigarette.
They say a woman clings to the hairstyle she wore when she was happiest. Jackie must have been ecstatic when Jon Bon Jovi and Van Halen rocked the charts, her thin blonde hair parted down the middle and feathered back (calling it layered didn’t do it justice) and highlighted and sprayed to the crispy, fragile texture of spun sugar. She wore jeans to work, sometimes with pleats, and topped them with washed-soft Henleys in various shades of pink. The photo atop her box was from the highlight of her life, when she scored VIP tickets to a Def Leppard show and got someone to snap a shot of her with the band. The drummer casually slung his one arm over her shoulder, and Jackie was grinning as though he’d just told her a delicious secret.
With Jackie Everett, all of your assumptions were correct. Frank never tried to push her from the time warp she’d been living in for three decades. Her work was always good, and anyway, he liked her style. It meant she was safe and dependable. Something told me Lukas didn’t see her in the same light.
And under which light did he see me? I caught my reflection in the window beside me. Blonde helmet bob, dated power suit, makeup applied to conceal the evidence of interrupted sleep and too much coffee. Neither of us fit into that sleek office with its neon brightness. Only youth could handle its scrutiny.
Jackie yanked a small bag out of her backpack and unwrapped her sandwich. She paused, waiting for me to dig through my purse for my bento box. “Shit,” I said. “I ran out of the house so quickly I forgot to bring something.”
“You want half of mine?” Jackie winced slightly when she caught the harshness in her tone. We’d shared lunch plenty of times, but suddenly sharing meant something more. I’d always joked that Jackie was my work spouse—were we getting a divorce, too? The thought brought on a wave of sadness. Not the Big Kahuna of grief, but a breaker that drew my energy out to sea.
I stood and smiled at her, trying to counter the uneasiness between us. “Thanks, but I’ll just buy something from here,” I said, gesturing toward the white tents. “Can’t be too bad, right? Fresh, local—”
“Expensive,” Jackie finished.
“I’m sure.” I dug through my purse and thankfully found my wallet. “Wish me luck,” I said, but she just nodded, her mouth full.
The view from inside the market was impressive. Bustling with vitality, healthy-looking, sun-kissed vendors conducted brisk business with the hordes of downtown workers on lunch breaks. Cheese, meats, veggies, honey, flowers, baked goods—my head spun as I tried to take it all in. Everything seemed a little brighter, and gave the impression of people living lives that were better, richer, more wholesome, like the produce they were hawking.
“What are you looking for?” called a woman wearing a brightly colored housedress over a pair of destroyed jeans. She’d piled her bright magenta curls atop her head and secured them with what looked suspiciously like a carrot.
I smiled tightly. “Just browsing.”
“You can be browsing with purpose,” she said, grinning back. She was missing an eyetooth, and I felt shameful relief at the evidence of poor life choices.
The girl went on in a singsongy voice. “We’ve got every little thing you need.”
Oh, yeah? I wanted to shout. You’ve got my husband in your truck? Job security? A teenage son who doesn’t seethe with unexpressed anger? You’ve got all that hanging out with the asparagus and early onions?
She separated out a bunch of vibrant greens, tied them together with a spindly length of raffia, and tossed them on the table between us. “What about these?”
“What are they?” I snapped.
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