But then, as though I conjured him, Linus comes running down from the parking lot out of absolute nowhere. I rise to my feet and call his name, delighted to see him, wanting some snuggles and quite sure he’s wanting some too.
He looks over at me, a confused expression on his face, and then waves awkwardly. “Hi, Samuel’s mom,” he says.
Right. For all intents and purposes, I’m Samuel’s mom. Which means Linus’s mom is . . . where?
Celeste, in my body, emerges from a car I don’t recognize, carrying a reusable shopping bag, and behind her, coming from the driver’s side . . .
Is that Davis?
Did she bring my work husband to softball practice?
What. The goddamn. Hell.
“Mommy! Swears!” says Anna Joy. Apparently I said that out loud. “Mommmmmmmmy!” she says, delighted. “Goddamn hell!” she adds.
When Celeste hears this, her face—my face—scrunches up, and she shoots me a look that would wilt a lesser woman. Unwilted, I shoot her the same look back. Why did she bring Davis Pereira to softball practice? Why did she pick up Linus early and drag him here when he would much rather be building with LEGO with his friends at after-school? Why isn’t she at my office, for that matter?
And what did she do with my car?
“Mind if we pull up a blanket?” Celeste asks me, as though I would let her out of my sight right now. She spreads out my large lawn blanket and starts taking bowls and spoons out of a reusable cool bag.
I say nothing.
Davis leans over me. I look at him, confused, wondering what he’s doing. But he’s only introducing himself. “Hi, I’m Davis Pereira,” he tells me. “I work with Wendy.”
I swallow. Davis, a sports-psychology coach from the UK who’s been a partner at Wendy Charles Consulting since a few years in, has become a good friend, but his friendship has been heretofore relegated to the office. Outside of the professional setting it’s much, much easier to notice how masculine his presence is. With his suit jacket off and his shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow, he’s the kind of good looking that embarrasses me to look at too carefully. “I’m Celeste Mason. Nice to meet you,” I say. I try to think of what else a normal person would say. “That’s my daughter over there doing the snap drills.”
“Looks like she’s picking it up. First day of practice, Wendy tells me.”
I nod. Wait until he sees Bridget, I think. Now there’s a snap drill with some panache.
He turns away from me but says, “Wow, Wendy.”
“Huh?” I ask, but then cough and pretend I have a tickle in my throat. I find this body-swap thing so confusing.
“Your daughter looks exactly like you.”
Celeste smiles. “Doesn’t she?”
I study Bridge, then Celeste-as-me. It’s really rare to get a chance to just observe your own physical self from the outside. Am I as pretty as my daughter is? Nah. I mean, I’m old, and I have crow’s-feet, and my C-section scar poofs out over the top of every pair of underwear I own.
Still . . . I look at Celeste again. My face, with her brain behind it, seems carefree, less dour and wrinkly than I always imagine it. My torso seems less boxy and more muscular. The creamy silk blouse she’s wearing hangs well off the sharp lines of my shoulders. I haven’t worn that blouse in years. I should add it back into the rotation.
I look pretty good, even if I am still doing battle with the same ten pounds since I had Linus.
“Ice cream!” says Celeste.
Oh, come on. I just notice I’m looking ok, and she tries to ruin it with ice cream. I sneak a look at the container. Full-fat ice cream? The nerve. Those calories will go on my body, and I won’t even get to taste them!
“So, Wendy,” I say. “Before you eat, let me ask you. Aren’t you usually at your office at this time?”
“Took an early day,” she says lightly. “It’s the first day of practice, you know. And the carpooling situation made me a bit nervous.”
“You needn’t have worried,” I say a bit too sharply. “As you can see, Bridget is here.”
“She sure is. Looks like an eleven-year-old biking six blocks wasn’t such a huge deal after all,” she tells me with a little shrug.
“Well, now you know, so you can get back to the office,” I urge.
“To be honest, my own daughter’s convenience wasn’t my only concern,” she says pointedly. “In fact, I was a bit worried because earlier I was talking to one of the moms who drives the carpool for other kids, and I asked her some questions to make sure everything was ok, but she never responded.”
I narrow my eyes. “She was probably busy driving and running errands. Picking up turkey roasters. Dropping off strange boys at their grandmothers’ houses. That sort of thing.”
Davis watches the conversation ping-pong with wide eyes.
“Didn’t strange boys walk to their grandmothers’ like they were supposed to?”
“Strange boys don’t take that much room in a van for a two-block drive,” I tell her.
“So . . . they shared a seat belt, then?” she asks, her voice rising to a pitch most audible to dogs.
“And everything turned out just fine,” I say. “Four softball players, Samuel and Anna Joy, and me, all at the diamond, all alive.”
She pauses for a moment as if satisfied, if grudgingly so. Then, with a tilt of her head, she asks, “What’s that Anna Joy is doing on this gorgeous sunny day?”
“Watching PBS Kids,” I say blithely. “She loves Martha Speaks.”
“Does she? And here I thought you guys were a no-screens-on-school-days kind of family,” says Celeste pointedly.
“Oh, well, a little TV on a Monday isn’t a big deal. She’s three. It’s not like she needs to be doing algebra homework or studying music theory.”
Celeste scowls. “And I had heard three was such a great neurological age for absorbing new educational experiences.”
“She’s absorbing the heck out of that show right now,” I reply, just to see if smoke will come out of her ears.
“Is she . . . is she also eating corn chips fried in vegetable oil?”
“Yep. She just loves Fritos,” I tell Celeste with an absolutely shit-eating grin on my face.
Celeste exhales loudly. For a second I think she’s beaten. “You know what I love?” she tells me, a wicked smile creeping over her. “Huge servings of Oatmeal Cookie Ben and Jerry’s.”
I frown. I cannot underestimate this woman. “That sounds very caloric,” I say.
“Oh, sure, but I’m having one of those lucky days where I can eat what I want and never gain a pound,” Celeste replies smoothly. “I might eat this entire thing.”
Davis laughs nervously, clearly mystified by our undercurrent. “I hope you save me a bite.”
“Oh, of course I will. For you, anything,” Celeste says, her body angled toward Davis but her eyes looking straight at me. “You really came to my rescue today!”
What is happening? Is she flirting with Davis? She should NOT be flirting with one of my coworkers. Especially not the guy who pays me a little too much attention as it is. And not in front of our kids!
While he looks at her, I make that cut-it gesture, a quick slice across my throat with a flat hand. She just turns to Davis and gives him this killer smile I didn’t even know I had in me.
He seems to sit an inch taller, and the way he looks at her . . . I have to wonder if I’ve been kidding myself about him.
“So, Linus,” he says, forcing the boy to look up from his own single-serve container of strawberry swirl for the first time since he arrived. “What do you like to do for fun?”
“I like to play LEGO,” he tells Davis sharply. “That’s what I usually do at after-school with my friends.”
Give ’em hell, Linus, I silently cheer.
Davis presses on. “Your mum told me you were a brilliant reader. That is so cool. When I was eight, I was so into one series of books that I read it three times. But it’s fantasy, so you may not dig it.”
“What’s it called?” Linus asks, properly taking the bait.
“Redwall,” he says. My ears perk up.
“I loved that series when I was a kid,” I say. “Brian Jacques, right?”
“Mm-hmm,” says Davis, as though I barely spoke, and turns back to Celeste-in-my-body. “Wendy, did you ever read it?”
I want to wave my arms and say, I’m over here! but that wouldn’t make any sense to Davis. So I catch Celeste’s eye and waggle my brows while nodding.
She looks at me and then says, slowly, “Yes . . . ? But! It was a long time ago? And I can’t remember anything about it?”
I shrug. Good enough. Davis and I can have a good chin-wag about Cluny the Scourge and the other classic characters in the series another time.
“Maybe Linus can give you a refresher,” says Davis, tapping a few buttons on his phone and then handing it over to my son. “I have it right here on my book app. Linus, do you like scrolling action or page turns?”
“Page turns for sure,” says Linus excitedly. “But I know how to use this app either way. What is a novice?” he asks, already scanning the book’s description.