Mykia’s face softened. “Did you think it was him?”
“For a few seconds, yes.”
Mykia hugged me fiercely. “Oh, Paige. I don’t know what to say. You worked so hard.”
Maybe I’d become efficient at grieving, because while what Mykia was saying struck me as undeniably sad, it didn’t throw me over the edge. Caring for those tomatoes gave me great pleasure. Cultivating them sustained my soul over the summer, but when Bill Eckhardt and I managed to make such a delicious sauce with them, I felt like I’d honored their life cycle, as hippie earth mama as that sounds. They were ripped from the soil prematurely, but their life cycle was complete. Applying this to Jesse wasn’t beyond me. I’d mourn him every day until I drew my last breath, but I had to stop obsessing over the unfairness that he was taken and focus on the wonders he’d given us. He’d spent his life sustaining me, but now I had to let him rest.
“I’m okay,” I said into Mykia’s shoulder. “Really, I am.”
“I know,” she murmured back. “That fact was never in question.”
“Whatcha got for me?”
Petra and I rejoined the group after hanging out with Mykia for an hour. It was work to get Petra back inside, but once in the conference room, she took her place at the head of the table. By the way Lukas and the others were smiling, I knew they had something. Whether it was any good or not was yet to be seen.
And then he knelt. Right next to Petra, as if asking for her hand in marriage. By the horrified look on her face, I could tell that was exactly what she was thinking.
He placed his palm on her chair and curled his fingers over her armrest. Much too close for comfort.
Jackie and I both squirmed, trying to hold in our laughter. Glynnis’s eyes were close to popping out of her head. Byron’s mouth curled in disgust, and Rhiannon’s eyes sparkled with anticipation.
“Ms. Polly,” Lukas began. “Petra. Your words have meant more to me—to us—than I can ever successfully express. You’ve guided our organizational philosophy. You’ve offered us hope when it was in short supply. You’ve been my North Star, my guru, my teacher. You’ve helped me turn Guh into the powerhouse it is today—”
At this, Jackie coughed to mask her hysterics.
“We love you as you are,” Lukas continued. “And if we do, America will love you, too. Our ad campaigns will focus not only on what you can offer corporate America, but your sense of style, your infectious joie de vivre, your ability to relate to the everyman . . . or woman. We will turn what you see as a detriment into an asset. I promise you that.”
Lukas’s eyes shone with emotion. Up until that point, his passion had given me a fit of giggles, but watching him bare his hipstery soul to Petra, well, I saw shades of Big Frank in his presentation. I started a slow clap, and everyone joined in. Lukas blushed. “I meant every word,” he told Petra.
She was more difficult to read. After the applause died down, she tapped Lukas’s shoulder. “You can stand up now. I’m not the fucking Queen.”
“Of course,” Lukas said, practically bowing in response.
She was going to make us wait. Petra drew yet another cigarette from her purse and slowly lit it. She inhaled deeply and blew the smoke into the air. We watched, mesmerized. Petra had a presence. We could figure out how to use it effectively, I thought. We could do that for her. She held one hand up. We held our collective breath.
“I’m going to give you people a chance,” Petra said, and flashed me a quick smile. “But I want to make sure of something. I want a full team behind me.” She addressed Lukas. “Can you guarantee that everyone in this room will be working in some capacity on Team Petra?”
Oh, you dear girl, I thought. On the way over, I’d revealed the competition and my worries about one of us being let go. Petra Polly was one smart—and kind—cookie.
Lukas cleared his throat. “Of course. Guh is a family. Every person in here is important to that dynamic.”
“Would you be willing to put that into the contract?” She batted her eyelashes coquettishly.
Lukas nearly fell over. “Of course. That won’t be the least bit of a problem.”
“Well, then I guess we have a deal,” Petra said, and stuck out her small hand. Lukas smiled dreamily while he shook it.
“We have,” he said. “And you won’t regret it.”
“I know I won’t,” she said. “But you might.”
Lukas insisted on bringing Petra back to her hotel himself. I hugged her goodbye and promised to call her regularly about non-work-related things.
“You fucking better,” she whispered in my ear. “And you better keep boss man on a leash for me. I think he’d shine my shoes with his tongue if I asked.”
“Ew. That’s an image I’ll have to scrub from my brain.”
She laughed, hopped into Lukas’s BMW, and immediately lit up. He didn’t tell her no.
The tents were coming down as I made my way through the office parking lot. Big, voluminous white tents puffed up into the summer sky before collapsing in on themselves. I spotted Jackie helping Mykia fold hers into the back of the truck. A hint of fall hit my nose, and I noticed some vendors already hawking early apples and cider.
As I approached, I saw Glynnis sitting on the edge of the truck bed, where Petra had sat only hours before. The contrast between the women couldn’t have been more clear—Petra, brash and Technicolor, had stuck out like a fuchsia rose against the white-painted metal, whereas pale Glynnis became lost in it.
Mykia’s mouth was grim. “Glynnis needs to talk to you.”
“About what?” But something inside me clicked, and I knew.
I motioned for her to come to me. She did, slowly, fearfully. Her eyes were puffy and swollen.
“You’ll keep your job,” I said. “Aren’t you happy?”
“I didn’t think I would,” she said miserably. Her eyes skipped from Mykia to an equally solemn-faced Jackie and then back to me. “I was angry at you, Paige. I thought you’d abandoned us . . . abandoned me.”
“What are you telling me, Glynnis?”
Her face scrunched up into a red ball. “I came over to your house last night. I saw the lights were on in your house. You never came back to the office! Lukas was so mad—he was going on about how he was going to fire half the staff!”
“So you pulled up my tomatoes.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes,” she sobbed. “I’m so, so sorry.”
I wanted to strangle her. I wanted to pull every fine strawberry-blonde hair from her head. But I wasn’t like Mykia. I could replace my rage with pity. Glynnis let her anger get in the way of her respect for me, and for the life in the garden. I walked away from her, to the small patch of grass where we ate lunch sometimes. She followed, a sobbing, hiccuping puppy, full of remorse but not understanding.
“Are you mad?” she asked.
I used the best tool a mother had. “I’m disappointed in you, Glynnis. Sorely and devastatingly disappointed.”
Her shoulders fell, and she continued to cry softly. I let her suffer for a while.
“I’ll make it up to you,” she said after catching her breath. “I promise.”
“Do you think that’s something that can be made up? It’s a pretty dramatic imbalance, isn’t it?”
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