I pointed to the one remaining white spot. “Imagine a line printed here that reads, ‘When a vegan clears her plate, you know it was good!’”
Lukas leaned forward. “Seth, can you verbalize what you feel is the issue with Paige’s ad?”
“She’s insulted vegans, the main demographic for the product,” Seth said disdainfully. “It isn’t funny enough to get away with it.”
“I thought it was pretty funny,” Jackie contributed.
Rhiannon ignored her. “The line sucks, but the image isn’t bad. We could work with it.”
We. My presentation was shit, but it was mine. “I could rewrite it. The concept isn’t—”
“Isn’t right,” Glynnis quietly offered. “But it could be, Paige, and then the ad would be fine. Good, even.”
She meant well. I smiled weakly in her direction.
“Let’s help her out,” Lukas said, sweeping his arm to encompass everyone but me. “How can we make this ad shine?”
Seth jumped in immediately. “I like the circle. The richness of color, the crumbs sticking to it offer depth and texture. The dark line—what is that?”
“Dirt,” I said, unable to think of anything else. “It’s dirt. I was eating outside.”
Lukas flinched. “Regardless of how unsanitary that sounds, it does add something to the sum total. We’ll leave it in.”
Glynnis cleared her throat. “It reminds me of a work of modern art, like something you’d see at MoMA. Who is that artist I’m thinking of? With the colors and lines and shapes?”
Every single artist who ever lived? But then I saw what she was getting at. “Rothko,” I said. “Glynnis, you are onto something. What if I put a frame around it, and instead of a line at the bottom, it reads something like this—” I picked up a black marker and wrote:
Beetroot, cocoa, and brown sugar
Mom, Family Dinner, 2016
“People won’t get it,” Rhiannon pronounced.
“Unless you set it on a wall, next to other stained plates made to look like art hanging in a museum,” Byron suggested.
“Or in a dining room,” Seth added. “That would broaden the appeal.”
“I guess I like that idea,” Jackie said.
Rhiannon pushed back from the table and crossed her arms. “Though it is sexist. Replace ‘Mom’ with ‘Dad’ and I guess I’m in. What do you think, Lukas?”
Lukas stood abruptly, his face resplendent. “I’m thrilled—not so much with the ad, but with your process! This is exactly what Petra is talking about. We’ve taken a lackluster idea and together turned it into something we wouldn’t be embarrassed to present to a client. I gave you a challenging assignment—not impossible, but definitely difficult—and not only did you all bring something to the table, but you offered substantive suggestions in the spirit of collegiality. Impressive.” He fell back in his chair, apparently exhausted by such a show of emotion. “But there is always room for improvement. Petra has so much more to say about working collaboratively. I want you all to read chapter 2. I guarantee you will find it absolutely enlightening. We’ll discuss the concepts next Monday, and at that point I’ll fill you in on the next challenge.”
The day felt endless, and when I finally pulled into my driveway, I’d almost forgotten about what I’d done to my backyard while drunk and moonstruck, so it was a shock to find Trey sitting at the edge of the patch of dirt, his stuffed backpack propped next to him.
“I didn’t do this,” he said before I could get a word out.
“I know you didn’t, because I did it.”
He shot me a dubious glance. “Seriously? Why?”
I removed my heels and dropped onto the grass. “I honestly don’t know.”
“It looks . . . raw,” he said. “Like something we shouldn’t see.”
“It’s just dirt.”
“You hate dirt.”
I shrugged. “Maybe not so much. But I need to figure out how to fix it, or Mr. Eckhardt is going to have a coronary.”
“I’m surprised he hasn’t called the police on you.”
“I’m sure they have better things to do.”
Trey snorted. “Not in Willow Falls. Nothing happens here.”
I wanted to tell him he was lucky to live in such a place. I certainly hadn’t when I was his age. But he’d never experienced that kind of fear, and I didn’t want to put it in his head.
“Were you bored?” Trey asked, because that was something he could understand.
“I guess that’s what it was.” I nudged his shoulder. “Come on. I need to call a plumber, and then I’ll help you unpack. We can order a pizza with extra cheese. I’m too tired to cook.” I slowly got to my feet, joints creaking, and held out my hand. “I’ll even watch a few episodes of American Ninja Warrior. We can make a night of it.”
Trey didn’t take my hand. Instead, he dug the toe of his sneaker into the dirt. “I just packed that bag. I want to stay at Colin’s again, maybe for a couple of days. His dad bought a new sound system, and he wants to teach us how to install it. That’s okay, right?”
No. No, it wasn’t at all okay. I wanted Trey sleeping in his own bed. But then I thought about how starved he must be for a male influence. “Is his dad a nice person?”
“Yes,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Of course he is. He also gives good advice. He wants me to make decisions for myself.”
“Is the implication that I don’t want you to?”
Trey made a sound of frustration. “Why do you take everything so personally? Colin’s place has a great vibe. That’s it.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s not a big deal.”
“Then why can’t you explain it?”
“Colin’s trying to figure out who he is. He’s exploring. I can relate.”
“You can? What exactly is he exploring? Wait, what are you?”
“I knew you’d take this the wrong way.”
Desperate to be right about something, I said, “Does that include learning how to drive? Are you ready for that? We can explore that together.”
“I don’t want to drive.”
Trey would be a senior next year, and still he hadn’t signed up for a driver’s ed class. The school wouldn’t let him graduate without it. It was a sore subject between us. He claimed his refusal was political (They can’t force us to consume oil!), but of course there was more to it, a fear he attempted to hide underneath his anger. The image of Jesse’s Volvo, battered and broken, never really left our minds—it sat there like a nightmare that didn’t fade once morning came.
“Colin said this was the time for me to really think about who I want to be, creatively. Soon, I’ll be so wrapped up in trying to decide which college to attend and what I’m going to do with my life, and there will be no time left for myself, for just being me in the moment. Colin said I need to figure out who I am with minimal interference.”
“Apparently Colin talks a lot. But I think I understand.”
“Do you? Like I said, it’s nothing personal. Colin’s going to set up a gallery wall at his place. We’ve got some friends coming over to help.”
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