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“Thank you for hosting Trey,” I choked out. “I’m going to go now.”

Charlene paused, and then said, “He’s having a wonderful time. It’s our pleasure.”

After I hung up with Charlene, I put the rest of the beetroot cake on a plate, refreshed my wineglass, and took both out onto our patio.

The temperature had dropped to somewhere in the low sixties. Shivering, I sat at the edge of the concrete and pulled my cardigan close around my middle. Our backyard, a healthy size for even a suburban plot, stretched out before me, velvety in the darkness.

Charlene’s comments weighed heavy, but I tried to shake them off, focusing my attention on an effective ad campaign for beetroot cake. It was fudgy, gooey, and delicious, but it resembled something you’d scoop up after your dog. I thought about what Dandelion Girl said. Alchemy, magic . . . though I could use a little of both in my life, my brain couldn’t figure out how to make them work for the slab of gelatinous goo on my lap. I shrugged and shoved a big scoop of it into my mouth. Maybe the skinny hipster know-it-all was right, and I had to train my brain.

I raised my second (third?) glass. “Here’s to you, Petra Polly.” It went down the way a good Bordeaux should—smooth and easy but grounded enough to bring you back to earth. I cut another slice of the cake, and that went down handily as well.

“You’ve got dandelions coming up,” said a masculine voice.

I started. “What?”

Mr. Eckhardt, my grumpy neighbor, bent over our low fence. Given the hour and our weak porch light, I couldn’t see much but his crew cut–topped head and condescending expression. “You haven’t had the service come in well over a year, and your son barely does a passable job mowing. If you don’t take care of the weeds right away, the problem will continue to worsen. Next year, your backyard will look like a vacant lot in a crack neighborhood.”

“Maybe I like dandelions,” I said, hearing the slur in my words.

Mr. Eckhardt gave me a surprised look. He’d heard it, too. His mouth flattened into a line of disapproval. “No one likes dandelions. They’re a nuisance. A predatory nuisance.” He looked at me again, hard. “If you can’t pay for it, I will.”

“Don’t,” I said, waving my glass at him to bolster my point. “Dandelions aren’t the enemy. We can eat them—did you know that? They clean out your organs. All the toxins come right out.”

“I’ll call the service tomorrow,” Mr. Eckhardt said, pretending I hadn’t responded. He pushed himself from the fence, and I could only see the tip of his pointy nose. “At this point in the conversation, I believe you should be thanking me.”

“I don’t want you touching my lawn.”

“I won’t be touching anything of yours. The service will spray, and the problem will be eradicated.”

“Maybe I don’t want my problems . . . eradicated.”

“Oh, now I don’t think that’s the truth, Mrs. Moresco. Though no fault of my own, I’ve been privy to your problems over the past few years. If you could call a service to spray away your problems, I think you’d do it in a heartbeat. I’m doing you a favor. I’d appreciate if you remember that.”

His nose disappeared, and I heard the sharp crack of a door being slammed. I poured myself the last of the bottle and sipped thoughtfully, remembering all the times Jesse and I had giggled at old Mr. Eckhardt while he devoted entire Saturdays to landscaping his yard, even to the point of edging the difficult-to-reach spots with nail scissors. We were neatniks but not entirely rigid. Our neighbor’s obsession with perfection meant everyone else fell short in some way, including us. He was obsessive and unfriendly and had disliked us since the day we moved in.

But . . . he was right.

If I could spray Grief-Be-Gone all over my life, I would, toxins be damned.

Disheartened, I kicked off my shoes and dug my toes into the cool grass. Once upon a time, our backyard resembled a stretch at Augusta National Golf Club—smooth and flawless, not a weed to blight its green perfection. Like most artificially beautiful things, our lawn required constant maintenance. I pictured Jesse, T-shirt dotted with sweat, pushing the lawn mower every Saturday, with Trey carefully working the edger around the perimeter. I watched from the kitchen window as I made lunch, bringing lemonade and sandwiches when they took a break. Jesse and Trey didn’t talk much while they worked, but they didn’t need to—completing a task that had tangible, measurable results appealed to both of their personalities, and bonded them in a way I could understand but couldn’t replicate.

I shook off the memory and took a hard look at what had become of our lawn. Mr. Eckhardt wasn’t exaggerating—weeds had sprung up all over, dotting the green, pushing up along the fence dividing our property, skirting the edge of the patio I sat on. The old me would have been mortified. The new me? Well . . . I nudged at one healthy dandelion head with my big toe and popped it right off the stem.

The casual destruction felt good. Really good.

Grabbing my spoon, I licked off the remaining beetroot cake and dug out the root of the weed. Then I proceeded to toss it over the fence. I did it again, and again, and again, until the small patch of lawn surrounding me was covered in little craters. It looked like the surface of the moon, and I howled. It felt good in a way I hadn’t felt in years.

I wanted more.

The earth, still cool and hard, nearly bent the spoon in half. Woozy, I stumbled my way to the garage. We had a garden spade somewhere, or maybe a shovel? I knocked down half of Jesse’s tools, but I found a rusty old digger behind a pile of rakes.

My normally boring suburban yard appeared dark and mysterious in the moonlight. I pushed the shovel into the ground, flipping up a chunk of sod, and then another and another, continuing on, stopping only once, to open up another bottle of wine.

CHAPTER 5

The alarm blared, but I awakened slowly, reflexes dulled by the heavy weight of a wine hangover. My pillow felt gritty against my cheek, and when I raised my head, more dried dirt fell from my hair onto the white linen.

Dirt was everywhere. Smeared across my sheets, lodged under my fingernails. Grains of it stuck to the inside of my bra. When I hauled myself up, I could see my feet were filthy, the bottoms blackened as though I’d charred them in the night.

Memories of what I’d done came back, watery, dreamy images. How long had I stayed out in the backyard, stabbing at the ground? Gingerly, I walked over to the window to sneak a peek and found myself staring at a large hole, the approximate length and width of a grave.

“Fuuuuuuck.”

I’d have to worry about resodding it later. I’d have to put off evaluating my mental health as well. Lukas had called the meeting for nine in the morning, and here I was, dirty as an unsupervised toddler, with nothing to wear (why hadn’t I done laundry yesterday?) and nothing to show Lukas (why hadn’t I worked last night?). I would think in the shower. The best thoughts came in the shower.

Except when the shower was so icy the droplets felt like tiny needles pricking the skin (why hadn’t I asked Jesse who to call?). I stayed in the shower only long enough to rinse the dirt off, shivered in a towel until I could find the suit I wore yesterday, and attempted to make myself presentable.

When I left for work, Mr. Eckhardt was standing in front of a pile of dandelion carcasses, his long pale index finger shaking with the effort to command my attention.

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