“Ah . . . ok. Rebook the client—but for next week, at the earliest,” I tell the first. “And the reformatting is awesome—nailed it,” I say to the second. “And the proofs . . . I have to get back to you on the proofs,” I say to the third, as I run for the door. Book it, Celeste, I think. Before someone asks you for the nuclear codes.
I’m two steps down the hall before someone says, “Don’t forget to lock your door!” and I double back, look at all the keys on Wendy’s ring, and then just decide to use the push button on the other side. There. Crap. All these colleagues, plus now hot Strapping Man, are flat-out staring at me. Clearly whatever it is Wendy does requires three staffers and can have its stressful moments. Roger that.
Luckily I did nothing all day, so I have probably not effed anything up too badly. That was clever of me, I think as I race out of the office hallway, away from the staring eyes. It’s three o’clock, which is not exactly five but not noon, either, and I just spent an entire peaceful workday impersonating an employed person, and I think I got away with it! Ta-da! I think victoriously. Take that, Ms. “Good luck being me, my big, important life is so hard and complicated you’ll never do it right.”
Except the victory fades pretty fast when I get out to Wendy’s car. Though I have never seen one in real life, I know exactly what is locked onto her rear wheel, and I’m pretty sure it means despite all my best attempts, I’ve failed at rule number one of Body-Swap Club. Yep. That big yellow metal thing that promises Wendy’s body and I aren’t going anywhere right now is most definitely a boot.
I am a good girl. I was born a good girl, raised a good girl. I didn’t do anything even remotely irresponsible until I was in college, and then I felt extremely guilty about it. So no, I’ve never parked illegally in my life. I’ve never breathed illegally in my life. My most borderline-unethical act heretofore was when I returned an open bag of seaweed snacks to Costco because they tasted like . . . well, seaweed.
That was years ago. Now here I am with a head full of gazpacho logistics and an impounded car. There’s a phone number on the boot contraption, and I call it.
“Please listen carefully, as the menu options have changed,” it tells me, and I wonder, Who, exactly, calls about a boot on their car enough times to master the impound line menu? But I listen carefully. More proof that I cannot rebel.
I get to an option about wheel-restraining devices and impounding in place.
It sends me to a website.
I say, “AGENT!” into the phone. This works a treat whenever I have to rebook Hugh’s flights for travel.
Nothing happens. Automatic Menu Lady keeps giving me options. I navigate to the website while staying on the phone and holding for further assistance. It turns out I need to pay a fine by credit card, so I autofill with my own card. Lord knows this isn’t Wendy’s fault, and I’m getting the inkling that she couldn’t afford it if it were. I put in Wendy’s plate numbers and hit “Complete Payment.” Phew. Now I can get to school, pick up any stray children, check on my own kids and Wendy’s, and know that there will be soup made in time for tomorrow’s fundraiser. Thank goodness.
The next screen tells me a reversal agent will be by in the next two to twenty-four hours to unboot my car.
I feel like screaming.
What if I did scream right now? I don’t scream when I’m frustrated; that’s not who I am. But then I, as far as anyone else knows, am in my minivan with an uncertain assortment of children on the way to the softball field in Birchboro Hills. Wendy is the one who parked so very illegally that she can’t go anywhere for the next two to twenty-four hours.
So Wendy can definitely scream.
I open my mouth and let out something utterly bloodcurdling. It feels amazing. People all around me on the sidewalk turn and stare. I sustain the scream until my lungs are totally empty, then raise a hand, wave, and say, “I’m fine. Everything’s fine,” to the observing population.
And actually, I really, really am.
In the end, I get a ride from the unlikeliest of people. At least unlikely for Celeste. After my scream, I think of calling Hugh for help but remember the hedge-trimmers incident and decide that would be extremely confusing for him. I don’t have Seth’s phone number. I try to think of who Wendy’s close girlfriends might be—the kind of friends who would offer her a ride to get her kids in such a situation—but I don’t see any one person in my mind’s eye with any kind of clarity. That means it’s time to call a ride share.
But then I see him. Strapping Man. My goodness. He has his jacket off now in the May heat, and he looks like . . . everything good in the world. Sorry, Hugh, I send up mentally. Not my body. Not my hormones.
“You have a boot!” he observes.
“I . . . ,” I gracefully reply. “Have a boot . . . ,” I manage.
“Why, Wendy,” he asks. “Did you park in the tow-away zone? And if so, why?”
It’s a fair question. Real Wendy would presumably know the parking regulations near her office. Fake Wendy didn’t see the sign. Fake Wendy was a bit out of it this morning.
“To be honest,” I say, though honesty is sort of beside the point today, “I have no idea. Do you ever just feel like . . . you’re not living your own life?”
He laughs. It’s a nice laugh. Not as rumbly as I might have suspected, him being so tall and broad and his chest so . . .
“I know just what you mean. A couple of days ago, I pulled into my garage”—I try not to visibly swoon at the pronunciation of garr-idge—“with no memory of how I got there,” he says. “I was so wrapped up in thoughts of work that I just . . . I guess I went on autopilot. It was not a great feeling.”
“Yes!” I say. “That’s it exactly. I was just not . . . present in my own body, and someone else was running the show.”
“Thank goodness for muscle memory,” he remarks. “It’s funny you say ‘present.’ After that garage incident, I decided I need to work on being much more present for the day-to-day moments in my life. I don’t want to move through my days just through muscle memory. Matter of fact, you’re the one who inspired that decision.”
“You did. When you were telling me about how you had to really focus after work to be in the moment so you got quality time with your kids. Remember that conversation a couple weeks ago at lunch? I had the strangest sensation while you were talking. Here, get in my car; I’ll tell you all about it. Where do you need to go?”
For a second I am tongue-tied. Where do I need to go, again? Wendy, if I remember my text instructions right, goes to the store after work to buy a frozen family dinner or pizza and bagged salad, then puts it in a cool bag and goes to softball to pick up Bridget. Then she gets Linus from after-school camp at five thirty, rushes home and puts the food in the oven to reheat, and does twenty minutes of stationary cycling in the basement while the kids do homework. She then feeds everyone, and they watch TV together until Seth gets home.
Uh, no, that’s not happening. I can make a pretty vegetable frittata tonight. Broccoli, cheddar, and caramelized onions, fresh and fragrant and warm on the table in twenty minutes with stuff everyone keeps in their house already. I can serve it at the now-pristine dining room table and wrap up leftovers for tomorrow’s lunches. And I can certainly skip the spin bike. As for right now . . . well, I can get Linus before I go to softball, let him play soccer with the other boys in the fresh air, catch the second half of practice, get my eyes on my own kids, and let Bridget know her mother thinks her activities are really important, like look-up-from-her-emails important.
“Can we make two quick stops?” I ask Strapping Man. “They’re very close to each other.”
He smiles. “Of course. Does this end with us lying on a blanket in a park?” he asks.
Oh, how my head fills with that image. But wait, he’s not supposed to be joking with Wendy about rolling around on a blanket in the woods! Celeste! Get a grip! What would Wendy do?
She’d be in a huff. “Pardon me?” I ask, trying to imitate Wendy’s trademark outrage.
Strapping Man’s cheeks wash pink. “I mean to say, watching softball practice.” He coughs, stammers a bit. “You know. Last time I ran into you in the park, you were on that big plaid blanket. That’s what I was referring to. The blanket. For sitting on. While you watch girls’ softball. But not in a weird way.”
I crack up. I can’t help it. This poor guy. Six feet plus, built like a brick wall, stammering and awkward. He tries to laugh, too, but he’s still dark purple and tongue-tied.
“I get it now,” I tell him as reassuringly as I can. “I thought for a minute . . . but, of course, no.”
“Of course,” he echoes. “No. You’re married!” he adds. I realize that if this is the reason he cites to clear things up, it probably means he would be all too happy to roll around on a blanket with Wendy if it weren’t for her wedding ring. Very interesting.