“You’re spacing out again,” Glynnis said. “Stop it!”
“Okay. Sorry.” I dropped Petra’s book onto the table with a thunk. “Let’s start by focusing on what value we can bring to her organization.”
“Okay,” I said, conceding lameness. “How can we sell her better than she can sell herself?”
“She’s not selling herself,” Glynnis said. “Beyond what her publisher is doing for her. She doesn’t have much of a Google presence. For someone who is expanding her company, Petra Polly doesn’t seem to want to be seen.”
That was odd. Maybe it meant she didn’t understand the power of social media? How could it be that we were following her every dictum when she didn’t understand how to use the Internet? It didn’t make sense. Petra was choosing to stay mysterious. But why?
“Let’s focus on the products,” I said, going with a hunch. “Not Petra.”
“But she’s cute and hipstery,” Glynnis said with a skeptical lift of her brow. “Don’t we want to use that?”
It was an easy way to brand herself. If Petra wanted to use it, she would have. “I don’t think that’s what she wants.”
“I disagree. I think you want the easy way out.” Glynnis gathered her things angrily, and then stooped to whisper in my ear. “If I wanted someone lazy and old-fashioned, I would have gone to Jackie.”
“That’s not fair.”
Glynnis’s fair skin had grown ruddy with her frustration. “If you want to keep your job, you need to start thinking—”
“Don’t say ‘outside the box.’”
She shoved Petra’s book into her messenger bag. “Make fun of it all you want, but, yes, that’s exactly what we need to be doing.”
“Giving her the expected response does not qualify as creative thinking.”
“We’ll make it special.” To my horror, her eyes welled up. “We can offer her that.”
“Of course we can,” I said soothingly.
“You’re the most talented, Paige. We all need you. I don’t want to keep living with my parents and asking to borrow their car when I need to go somewhere. I have student loans bigger than a car payment. I—” She dissolved into tears.
“I’ll try,” I promised. “I’ll really try.”
“We should go over there.”
Mykia sat on my counter a week after the party, popping blueberries into her mouth and staring out my kitchen window at Mr. Eckhardt’s house. She brought the fruit with her because my bushes wouldn’t produce enough blackberries to make a jar of jam for at least another year or two. Patience will be rewarded, the garden reminded me. Why was it so hard to listen sometimes?
“I’m trying not to obsess about my blackberry bushes making it next year.”
Mykia told me not to worry. “That’s the beauty of a garden,” she said. “Some stuff works, some stuff doesn’t, and some stuff you think isn’t working ends up producing the following year. Keeps you living in a constant state of suspense, so whatever comes, you’re grateful for it.”
Grateful. That morning, when I got up early to water and weed and do all the caretaking things that had become second nature, I’d found my tomatoes had changed from the greenish-orange slightly tie-dyed look to orange, burgeoning on red, like a really beautiful sunrise. The plants looked healthy and strong, their leaves a deep green velvet. I couldn’t disguise my pride when I showed Mykia as soon as she’d arrived.
“This is good,” Mykia had said with a deep sense of satisfaction. “You did good, Paige.”
No one had told me I’d done well at anything in so long that I’d teared up and hugged her.
She had a sharper expression on her face as she hopped off the counter and went to the window, taking in Mr. Eckhardt’s perfect lawn. “You still have the earrings, right? You didn’t give them back?”
When I wasn’t wearing them, I set them on the small plate that held a few special pieces I’d gotten from Jesse over the years. Mr. Eckhardt’s rage, along with Sean’s presence and the party overall, had me flustered, and I’d forgotten to even think of returning them that night. Had he noticed? Would he show up at my door again, even angrier that I’d kept them to myself?
“Maybe I should give them back.”
“You shouldn’t just return them, no questions asked,” Mykia said. “Don’t you want to know why he buried the dress?”
I did and I didn’t, but curiosity was one of my emotions I could never quite turn down. “Yes, I guess I do.”
“Bring the earrings, but don’t show him just yet. We’ll go over and knock on his door. We need the element of surprise on our side.”
Given that we had to cross the broad expanse of lawn in bright daylight and knock on the door, I didn’t think we exactly had that going for us.
We didn’t. Mr. Eckhardt had the door open before we reached it.
“What do you want?” he said, his tone unwelcoming.
I gathered up my courage. “I apologized to you at the party, but you didn’t apologize to me.”
“Thieves don’t deserve apologies.”
I tried to match his haughty expression. “It was half on my property.”
“And half on mine,” he said.
“I didn’t give you everything in the box. If you tell me why it was buried, I’ll give you the rest.”
Mr. Eckhardt looked like he might be sick. “You are an evil woman.”
“No, I’m not. Just curious about who I’ve been living next to for ten years.”
“Okay,” he said, which I should have realized was not really a promise of anything.
I opened my hand, and the earrings glistened in the sun.
“Where . . . ?” Mr. Eckhardt shot out of the house and stopped cold right in front of me. He took the earrings, cradling them in his palm, and closed his eyes. “You don’t know what you’re messing with.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“You don’t have a right to ask,” he snapped.
“You promised,” Mykia said, but her tone had lost its bite. She was softer, as if she wanted to offer Mr. Eckhardt a reason he could let his story loose. It obviously pained him greatly.
“You’re talking about my things,” he said tightly.
“Sometimes it helps to talk,” I offered.
“Well,” he said. He opened his eyes and fixed them on me. They were harder now, unyielding. “You have no respect for other people’s property because you have no respect for your own.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Isn’t it? Look at what you’ve done. Do you think you’re honoring your husband’s memory? You’re tarnishing it. Don’t you understand that?”
“Enough,” I said. “Enough.”
Mr. Eckhardt tossed the earrings on his lawn. “Pick them up,” he said.
“Pick up the earrings!”
Stunned, I did as he asked.
“Now, take them away,” he boomed.
“Are you sure?”
“TAKE THEM AWAY, PAIGE!”
Mykia and I left him standing there, a totem in the summer sun, casting a shadow over the fence.