She smiled again, and I wondered if she was amused or smug. “Dandelion greens.”
“People eat those?”
“They do. Cleans the liver. Helps you flush out the bad stuff.”
She was smug. Just a little, but it was there. I was sick of people younger than me feeling superior. Sick of hipper than thou looking on me with pity because I was so ignorant. “I have a toilet for that.”
She laughed, unperturbed. “Why not give this method a try?”
The greens were a perfect verdant green, maybe too perfect. “No, thanks,” I said, and walked straight back up to the office, pausing only to stuff a few crinkly dollars into the vending machine Lukas had threatened to do away with. The machine stuck, and I had to shove my hand up into it, freeing my energy bar from its noose.
The employees of Guh spent the afternoon trying to prove that Petra’s common-space concept was a revelation, not the awkward, slightly adversarial game of workplace musical exercise balls it was proving to be. The millennials were nothing if not polite, but after a few hours I’d grown tired of the constant “Is it okay with you if I take a look?” and “Would you mind explaining why you do it that way?” Fidgety, I stood to adjust the blinds and found myself plopping down on Seth’s lap when I sat back down. As we fumbled to right ourselves, bouncing halfway across the room, I could see Lukas in his office, arms crossed, watching us.
“I wanted to see what you’ve done with the salted caramel gelato ad,” Seth explained quickly, and I could see a blush rising from the edge of his scruffy beard. “I thought you were getting up. Sorry.”
“No need to apologize,” I replied, my smile so broad it hurt. I brought up the ad I hadn’t yet finished, swallowing down my irritation at showing my work before it met my standards. “The background color isn’t right yet, but I’m happy with the dominant image.”
“I can do some tweaking,” Seth offered, loud enough for Lukas to hear behind his closed office door. “If you’re okay with that.” He ran his gaze over the ad, frowning. “I can see what you mean about the color. And are you sure you’re happy with the size of the image? I can mess around with it for a while.”
I was fairly certain Petra Polly disapproved of intraoffice strangling. “Knock yourself out.”
During our exchange, I’d noticed Jackie slipped out for a smoke break. I found her at the bottom of the stairwell, door open to the parking lot. “I don’t know if I can do this for three months,” I said, leaning against the wall next to her.
Jackie turned to me, tears threatening to make a black, soupy mess out of her mascara. “Why didn’t you come back to eat lunch with me? What were you doing? Did you go to talk to Lukas without me?”
I gestured to the still-bustling market. “I felt overwhelmed by all that, so I came upstairs and ate an energy bar. I’m sorry. I should have told you.”
Jackie stared at me for what felt like a long time. “I don’t want to think that of you, that you’d go behind my back. We’ve known each other a long time.”
“We have,” I agreed, wishing for a moment that our friendship wasn’t locked into the workday. We didn’t do girls’ nights out or Saturday trips to the mall. Hell, I hadn’t been inside her apartment in years. But we’d grown into the middle years sitting next to each other, and that counted for a lot. I put my arm around her shoulders and resisted the urge to wave the smoke away. “We’ll show Lukas that letting either of us go is not in the best interest of . . . Guh.”
Jackie shivered. “I can’t call it that. It would break Frank’s heart.”
“We’re going to do what it takes,” I said. “If that means speaking in phonics and following the lead of some skinny hipster bitch in Heidi braids, so be it.”
Jackie flicked her cigarette into the open air, a rare sign of aggression for her. “We’re not powerless,” she said.
“We’re not,” I lied. “Not at all.”
When five o’clock came, the six of us glanced nervously around the airy loft, not making eye contact, but trying to gauge who would be the first to leave. Did we exit together? In pairs? Would Lukas dismiss us? Glynnis pulled Petra’s book from her bag and began flipping through pages in search of the answer.
“Meeting!” Lukas called out from the conference room.
We scurried into the brightly lit room, rushing to take our places around the table. Instead of boxes, the table held six brown paper bags this time, a name scribbled on each.
Lukas took his spot at the head. He steepled his fingers and closed his eyes for a moment before speaking. “Petra Polly believes adaptability is the heart of creativity.”
Six heads nodded in unison. Maybe Petra wasn’t so bad. There was truth to that assertion. Not a complete truth—creativity was a complicated beast—but close enough.
“And speed is the heart of adaptability,” Lukas continued. “The client should not have to wait for your precious inspiration. We’re picking up new clients all the time, and they want the work done quickly.” He stood and began distributing the brown bags. “I visited the farmers’ market earlier and picked up one item for each of you. By tomorrow, I’d like you to create an effective ad for this product, adaptable to all platforms, from a national magazine to an Instagram ad. We’ll reconvene to share our work, then I’ll rate the ads according to Petra’s rubric for effective communication.”
Create an ad in a day? Effective ads required a lot of thought, and those thoughts had to marinate. Lukas watched too many reality shows.
I wondered if we’d all slink away to study our products in private, but no, for my fellow designers it was Christmas morning. They tore into their bags, pulling bunches of radishes, spinach, and green onions and fresh-baked bread. Triumphant, Rhiannon hugged a bouquet of daylilies to her ample chest. Jackie smiled weakly at her jar of strawberry jam.
My bag sank into my lap, whatever it contained weighing as much as a newborn. With an equally heavy heart, I revealed my product, a flat, gelatinous circle, brown so dark it was almost mahogany, with lighter bits sprinkled throughout. It glistened like an oil slick. “What’s this? A cow patty?”
“There’s a label,” Lukas said, his jaw clenching. “You’ve got more description than most, Paige.”
Vegan chocolate beetroot flourless cake.
Some instinct rose up and told me Dandelion Girl was responsible for this stomach churner. “Would anyone actually eat this?”
Lukas smirked. “It’s your job to ensure they do.” He directed his attention to the group. “Tomorrow’s meeting is at nine a.m. I would say good luck, but you shouldn’t need it.”
Excited by the prospect of getting to work, the good employees of Guh practically leaped for the exit, pushing past me in a blur. I knew I should rush out with them, putting my enthusiasm on display, but I took my time gathering my things, overwhelmed by all I had to carry—Petra’s book, the odd cake, my box of personal belongings. I pushed out of the building awkwardly, the box nearly sliding out of my arms.
“Let me help you with that.”
Dandelion Girl. Her dark forearms were smudged with something neon pink, and the carrot had half slid out of her hair.
“I’ve got it,” I said through gritted teeth.
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