“I know you’re living in a house full of holes, in more than one sense, and using TV and takeout to try to patch them.”

I take a big breath, knowing I have gone Suzanne Sugarbaker on this woman but also knowing I am right. “You look at a few chores like it’s some great offense to your entire being—like your entire family is too good to cook or clean or take care of your home. Whereas that’s the whole ball game, Wendy! It’s a good meal and a loving family that will make for your kids’ happiness down the line, no matter what they choose to do for a living. Even if they don’t want to be entrepreneurs telling other people how to run themselves into the ground.”

She sighs, and I realize not only have I driven this point home, I’ve driven it into the core of the earth.

Wendy puts her head in her hands, and for a second I wonder if I’ve made her cry. “Seth is going to hear about Davis.”

“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, Wendy. And Davis is a great guy who cares about you for some reason. What is going on with that, anyway?”

“Nothing is going on with that,” she replies. “Davis is nice. He’s friendly, and he’s always got a listening ear for me. He’s a great coworker. But that’s all it is.”

“Well,” I say, not believing her at all, “it’s not the end of the world if Seth gets the idea that he has some competition for your affection.”

“This isn’t high school, Celeste. This is my marriage and my workplace.”

I shrug. “Fine. I just see why you work such long hours now.”

“I work normal hours!”

“I’ve seen your email inbox, don’t forget. I know you normally answer messages practically twenty-four hours a day. And I’ve seen your house. If you weren’t a workaholic, there’s no way it would look like that.”

“SOME OF US HAVE TO WORK!” she cries, surprising us both.

There’s a silence. I feel like a jerk. We are both red in the face, angry, and exhausted. We are both such terrible wrecks. I look at her in my body, my tired, saggy, overextended body that hasn’t gotten so much as a five-minute chair massage in years. I look at the weird clothes Wendy has dressed me in—far too formal for the real me. I think of what I changed into the minute I could. Pajama pants.

I start to laugh.

“What?” she asks.

“It’s just . . . we are so bad at this thing,” I tell her. “You’d think if we were having a mass hysteria or whatever, we’d be better at it.”

She shakes her head at me, mystified.

“We’re both highly competent people, right?” I say. “I mean, I taught math. You have a PhD. We have five happy kids between us. Safe homes and long marriages and attached garages with two cars each. How is it that we’re having such a hard time at this? We are successful women!”

“I’m not having a hard time,” she replies. “Your life is easy, Celeste.”

“That’s because you’re doing it totally wrong,” I reply simply. “In my real life I cook everything from scratch so that we save money and eat organic. I never let my kids use screens during the week when they could be playing or doing homework. I don’t go to Macy’s ever, because I might spend money there. I make gazpacho for Go-to-School Night and tutor during second period and drive four hundred children around town on behalf of their own working moms. Don’t get me wrong: I love what you’ve done with my eyebrows there”—I gesture to the pretty shape they’ve been tweezed into today while I wasn’t in my own body—“but I don’t usually have time or energy for the troublesome beauty stuff, and no one looks at my face anyway.”

“Maybe because they couldn’t see it underneath all the eyebrow hair,” Wendy says. And it’s not mean, the way she says it. It’s just funny. Funny like this whole situation is funny—or would be funny if it didn’t stink quite so hard.

“Maybe so,” I say, with a hint of a smile. “And you’re right—I’m being extra cautious about the kids. They’re the only ones I have!” I think of Davis. Seth. Bridget. Linus. “I know we said we weren’t going to screw up each other’s lives—”

“We said fuck up—” Wendy interrupts.

“Whatever. We said that. But we are totally screwing things up.”

Wendy smiles weakly. “Yeah, agreed.”

We both sigh.

Wendy reaches out awkwardly. She puts her hand on my arm and sort of pats it. “Let’s just do things in the way that feels right in the moment, ok? This can’t last too much longer.”

“Can’t it?” I ask.

“It absolutely cannot. The vodka is coming, right?”

I open my phone and show her the confirmation email. Scheduled to arrive Friday by 3:00 p.m.

“Oh, thank god,” she gasps.

“You sure do have a lot of faith in this vodka.”

She shakes her head. “It has to be the vodka. It has to. I have to have my life back by Saturday morning.”

“The huge work event.”

“Huge. A keynote address for the Upland South Women’s Expo. Hundreds of ticketed guests. Live web broadcast. My business needs this. Badly.”

I inwardly gulp. “Hundreds of guests?” I repeat. “Maybe I should prepare a little, just in case.”

“There’s no ‘in case,’” she insists. “We’re switching back Friday.”

Her lips to God’s ears. “Even if you’re right, we still have to get through the rest of this week. We have to keep the wheels on, be separated from our families, and fool everyone we come in contact with.” I try to keep the panic at bay.

For just a second, Wendy looks panicked too. But then she squares her shoulders and takes a deep breath. “Listen to me, Celeste. We can survive this. We just have to lower our standards a bit. If I get a little backlogged at work and your kids get a little TV time, it’s not the end of the world, as long as when this is over everyone is still in one piece.”

I mimic her deep breath gratefully and nod. “You’re right. That sounds like a good philosophy.”

“We’ll just stick to the other two rules.”

“No sex with anyone,” I confirm.

“And no telling the kids,” she answers back.

We shake on it.

“I’m sorry about Davis,” I say. “I see now why that wasn’t cool.”

“I’m sorry about the weaning,” she replies. “I should have talked it over with you. I just panicked.”

“It’s ok,” I admit. “I do actually think it’s time. I’m ready to be done. You’re right about that.”

“And you’re right about Seth,” she says. “Maybe competition will bring out the best in him.” She doesn’t sound convinced.

“I hope so. The kids will be ok?” I ask her, not sure why I want reassurance from her but wanting it all the same.

“What they don’t know can’t hurt them. They’ll be totally—” Her voice stops suddenly when we both startle to a loud thud.

“What was that?” She looks at me, eyes wide. I am looking at her right back.

Just like that, rule number two shatters into pieces.



The sound isn’t a whisper or the crackle of a twig. It’s a thud. The thud of the other shoe dropping. The thud of this surreal situation Wendy and I are in going from a two-woman hallucination to a full-on family psychiatric event.

Or the thud of a small boy falling out of a tree.

“Samuel!” Celeste hollers. We both run to him, lying under a cherry tree, his body a dark puddle over the top of the pretty fallen blossoms. He is still for a moment, and my heart stops beating; a strange time-stopping sensation falls over me—not panic, not fear, just primal readiness as I race to his side.

Before either of us can get all the way over there, he’s up, popped to his feet, and pointing at us with a wicked grin on his face. “WHAT?!” he demands. “What can’t we know that won’t hurt us?”

“Samuel Mason, you scared the ever-loving Pete out of me!” Celeste exclaims. I elbow her hard and cross over to Samuel.

“Young man,” I say. “What were you doing up in that tree? Were you spying?”

Samuel shakes off like a wet dog. “Don’t you want to know if I’m ok?”

I eye him. “I can see perfectly well you’re fine. Now come over here.”

“I have to get Linus down first,” he says.

Linus? Is in a tree? I shoot Celeste a concerned look, but she ignores it, still stealing glances at her own son to see if all his limbs are attached.

“Linus?” I call.

“Hi, Mrs. Mason,” he says. “It wasn’t my idea.”

“Sellout!” says Samuel.

“It’s all right; it’s ok,” says Celeste. “No one’s in trouble if they tell us what they’re doing out of bed right now and . . . what they think they overheard.” She reaches up a steadying arm, and I watch nervously as Linus slowly slides down the tree to safety.

“We couldn’t hear anything because you were whispering, and Mom, you are NOT supposed to keep secrets, remember?” Samuel whines.

I look at Celeste. What the hell kind of crazy rule is that? The entire job of parents is to keep secrets from their kids. Tooth fairies? Wizarding worlds? The accursed elf on the freaking shelf? “Sorry, dear, but I also don’t think you’re supposed to be spying on adults. Or be out of bed at this hour. Now off you go.”