“Wait . . . Mom?” she calls after me. I ignore her. I’m building a long-term conversion campaign, so I can’t go explaining everything to my customers. I have to create mystery.
“Gotta go make dinner, babe,” I call back to her. I find Linus standing in front of the open freezer, staring.
“We’re out of bagels,” he tells me.
I want to ask him why he’s looking in the freezer for bagels, but then I realize. He’s taken out an empty box of something called pizza bagels and is shaking it upside down, ignoring flakes of diced imitation pepperoni that fall to the floor as he does.
Why is an empty box in the freezer? Why isn’t he taking any care to keep the floor clean? Why is he trying to feed himself junk at exactly dinnertime? These are all reasonable questions, but I say instead, “Come wash your hands; I need your help in here.”
Linus looks at me like I’m insane.
“Go on,” I say and pretend to poke him with the end of a wooden spoon. He laughs but moves, washes up, meets me at the kitchen island.
“Eggs,” I say. “Remind me—can you crack them with one hand?”
He shakes his head.
“Can you crack them?” I follow up.
“Oh, this is going to be good,” I say. I get out a mug—the best container for young ones cracking eggs. “Egg cracking is one of the great human feats. I’ve read that so far no artificial intelligence has come along that can teach robots the right way to crack an egg for cooking. It’s all about using the right amount of pressure and then stopping before you go too far.” I demonstrate how to put an egg in the center of my palm, move my thumb to the top, crack on the edge of the mug, and pull my fingers open wide to split the eggshell one handed. The egg comes out, yolk whole, and I move the whole thing to a second bowl. “Now you go.”
He bangs the egg too hard and ends up with a handful of shell. “I can’t do it,” he tells me.
“Yes, you can. We have eight practice eggs. Keep trying until they’re gone, and then we can get serious.”
“I’m supposed to waste eight eggs?” he asks.
“You’re supposed to crack one egg at a time until you’ve got the hang of it,” I say.
“Then you’ll cook the eggs, silly.”
“On the stove?”
“It’s not quite hot enough to use the sidewalk yet,” I reply. “We need music.” I put my phone onto my favorite salsa channel. It makes me cook faster. “Here we go. Get crackin’! Get it?”
“Ugh. You’re being so dorky, Mom,” Linus says happily.
I start salsa-ing around with the tomatoes. Linus starts cracking more eggs. He’s making major improvements. Egg four is just right. I throw up my hands in celebration.
“Go show your sister this perfect egg,” I tell him, thrusting the mug into his hands. It’s covered with egg white and totally gross, but whatever: the floor is a lost cause by now, and no one’s eating off it anyway.
Linus runs into the living room and makes Bridget look at his egg.
Like magic, she comes into the kitchen and asks what we’re doing. I give myself a mental high five.
I tell her we are making music videos. Then, with a pan in one hand and a fistful of parsley in the other, I repeat a complicated hand-and-arm jive that Zoey taught me last week. Only she would never say the word jive out loud.
“Are you TikToking? How do you do that arm part?”
“What’s that?” asks Linus.
“Take a video,” I tell her. “Just be sure you put an emoji over my face if you want to put it up, or your friends will know it’s your mom.”
I repeat the dance for Bridget’s camera.
“Mom. That’s OP.”
I can’t remember what OP stands for, but I know it’s good. I turn away from her. “Linus, you are on fire.” There are six good eggs in my egg bowl.
Beaming, Linus cracks an egg for his sister with a flourish.
“How do you do that?” she asks him.
Soon she is working over a mug. I only need eight eggs for this recipe, but Bridge is starting on the second dozen. I stifle a laugh and get Linus started on beating the eggs while I take the broken bucatini off the stove and drain it—pasta in a frittata is surprisingly delicious. All three of us are wedged into this tiny work triangle between the stove and the sink and the island, and while we jostle around, I shake my hips to the music, bumping the kids around like pinballs.
Working this way, a fifteen-minute frittata takes forty-five minutes, and no one cares. It turns out Linus has never worked at the stove before, and Bridget has never been allowed to touch the oven. Both of them get a proper lesson on egg doneness and fight over the pepper grinder. When we’re done, they look at the frittata topped with green salad like it’s an extralarge pizza bagel with double cheese.
“I’m soooooo hungry,” Linus says.
“It smells soooooo good,” Bridget says.
“I’m eating standing up,” I tell them. I’m hungry enough to eat a horse for some reason. Probably the stupid grilled-chicken salad—no cheese, no dressing, no bread—that Wendy’s office manager ordered her at lunch. I slice the dish into fourths and slide three onto plates.
We are eating and laughing at the enormous pile of eggshells when Seth finally walks in through the garage door.
“Dad!” Linus announces as his father lingers in the mudroom. “I made dinner!”
“What?” he asks. “That’s great, kid.” He shoots a glum look at me. “Frozen pizza?” he asks as he comes around the corner.
“What’s this called again, Mom?”
“Bucatini frittata,” I say. “The kids made it together.”
Seth looks at us, surprised. I’m expecting whoops of celebration, or at the very least a request for details. All he says is, “That’s great. How’s my slugger?”
“Are you going to eat some, Dad?” she asks.
“Ate at the studio, Bridger. More for you. Any guess about field position yet?”
She shrugs. “It’s day one. I won’t know for a while.”
“Third base or nothing, right, kiddo?” he asks.
Bridget looks down at her dinner. Her face is blank.
Something just happened here, something complicated, between Wendy’s daughter and her husband. But I’m not sure what it is. It doesn’t feel good. So far, very little surrounding Seth has.
Well, looking at him feels good. He is hot—there’s no denying it. But that’s starting to run really thin, really fast.
I’m going to ask Wendy tonight exactly how this marriage is supposed to work. I add it to the mental list that feels about forty miles long and then text her a quick note.
Same time, same place tonight? I type, and as I do, I feel daunted. I want my body back; I want this to be over. But there’s so much to do in this home, so much to fix. And from the way Seth keeps slipping in and out of this house, I’m guessing it’s pretty much on me to do it all myself.
At 8:15 p.m. that night, I am drop-dead exhausted. Even though I did next to nothing all day behind Wendy’s computer at work, every single second afterward has been jam-packed. I clean up from dinner, mop the floors again, get the kids going on homework, and dash out for a quick grocery run. When I’m home again, I do another load of laundry and fold the cleans, watch three sushi instructionals online, and then make and package up two california rolls for Bridget’s lunch. For Linus, I make deli sushi—a.k.a. turkey, spinach, and cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla.
Then I prep a Crock-Pot meal for tomorrow. I pick up the living room, trying not to huff even though three people are sitting there watching TV while I do so. I draw up a chore chart that will be slowly, slowly revealed to these lazy people over the next day or two. I download some software that will automatically change the Wi-Fi password every morning and send the new password only to me so I can get some motivated assistance. I clean out the microwave, which is vile, using my hot-wet-sponge technique. I want to bake the kids homemade pita chips to dip in fresh veggie hummus for an after-school snack, but I run out of time before I’ve got to tuck them into bed and get out to talk to Wendy.
But when I get out to the trimmed-shrub meeting spot, Wendy is nowhere to be seen.
I text her again. I compose a message saying why we need to meet and how much I will appreciate catching up with her about how things went today. I hit send.
Ten minutes go by.
I send a text that says, Are you ok?
Another five minutes.
Then she bursts out of the back door and stomps to the bush. “I cannot believe you canceled my four o’clock!” is what she says to me. Though I thought I was ready to discuss screen time and childhood nutrition calmly, my blood instantly roils. I have swallowed a thousand huffs, and now they are all going to come spilling out, and Wendy Charles, a.k.a. Birchboro Hills’ Mother of the Year, had better watch out.
“I cannot believe you fed my kids garbage and gave them TV all day,” I reply sharply. “I asked you to do a few easy things. Did you get the Nesco?”
“I got your precious Nesco,” she replies. “Did you pay the parking ticket?”