Samuel hangs his head and starts to march back to the house. Linus, being my child and far less obedient, wheels on Celeste. His eyes narrow. “Are you guys talking about me?” he asks.
Celeste makes a face. “No, silly. We’re just having a chat.”
“What kind of chat?” he asks.
“The kind of chat friends have,” Celeste says to him.
Linus looks at her skeptically. “But you guys aren’t friends. You said Mrs. Mason makes you as mad as a wet cat.”
Celeste’s brows rise slightly, and I brace for that temper of hers, but to my relief she shrugs slightly and says, “Oh, she does. But sometimes you find yourself annoyed by the people who are most like you.”
“And sometimes,” I interject, “you’re highly annoyed by people who are very different from you too.”
“Either way, you’re annoyed, and yet you can still be friends, right, Mrs. Mason?”
I inhale. “Right, Mrs. Charles.”
“Ok, now,” I say to Linus. “You run along to bed, or you’ll be dog tired for tomorrow’s coding class after school.”
He looks at me. “How did you know about that?” he asks.
“I told her,” Celeste quickly says. “Off you go; I’ll be inside to tuck you in again in five minutes. I just need to say good night to . . . my friend Celeste here.”
Linus tucks tail and heads inside, slowly, quietly, in case we say something good, but still, he’s doing as he’s told. When he finally disappears inside my back door, both Celeste and I let out exhales of epic proportions.
“Oh my lord,” she says. “That was close.”
“Too close. We’ve got to be careful, or we’re going to have bigger problems than gazpacho and emails.”
Celeste nods. “You’re right. From now on we’ve got to try to play nice. No more constant sniping at each other, or the kids really will figure us out.”
“And then they’ll tell the guys,” I continue.
“And then it’s straight to the padded cell for us,” she finishes.
I nod. “What does it say about me that right now the padded cell isn’t sounding so bad?” I ask.
“After a day running around in your shoes,” Celeste says, “I hear you one hundred percent.”
Everything Wendy owns is just slightly too small. Which is bizarre, because her actual size is pretty much the social ideal. She doesn’t have extra weight on her body, and none of her clothes have any stretch. That means that twenty-one days a month, assuming the normal postperiod loss of water weight, this woman is walking around being uncomfortable for no good reason.
Further, when we were texting this morning, she wrote: Please go to Pilates today. Pleeeeeeeease. You have no idea how fast I can gain weight. Or how long it will take me to lose it.
I don’t understand this dynamic one bit. Too-tight clothes, punishing workouts, skipping meals—on purpose. If I were Wendy, I’d take a garbage bag and fill it with all the clothes that don’t quite fit and take them straight to Goodwill. Actually, if I were her, I would never have bought them in the first place. Think of all the money she could have saved. Money she wouldn’t need to work so hard to earn. If time is money, Wendy’s closet full of name-brand clothes, overpriced convenience foods, expensive gym, and utterly useless housekeeper are all hours of her life she could have back.
Unable to stop myself, I start sorting through her closet. On the floor is a pile of clothes clearly needing cleaning, alterations, or new buttons. There’s a pair of pants with the tags still on that, when I hold them to Wendy’s waist, are easily four inches too long. If I were her, I’d have these pants altered in twenty minutes.
I am her, come to think of it. I could sew buttons, remove stains, and fix zippers without breaking a sweat. I could pull everything that’s too tight, too itchy, or too uncomfortable out of the mess and donate it to women in need of professional clothing, where it could make a real difference. I could give Wendy a proper make-under she could badly use without spending a single penny.
That said, sending her clothes out for resale seems a bit antagonistic. Instead, I spend an early half hour taking the too-small stuff and moving it into the guest room closet. I pack up a big tote of mending and one of those hotel sewing kits from the hall closet to take to work for the times when I have no idea what to do with myself. What’s left—stretchier skirts, kindly cut jackets, and light cotton cardigans—suits me just fine and looks a heck of a lot less uptight than what she was wearing before. As I close the closet and take my Wendy-ness in with some pride, I consider: maybe the reason she’s such a pain in my rear is because she’s slowly suffocating to death in her normal clothes.
Next up, I take in her row of pointy black high heels hanging from shoe compartments on the bathroom door. I could box those all up, too, but when I put them on, I feel my alignment change and my shoulders straighten. I put my hands on my hips like Wonder Woman and remember how I would wear heels on dates with Hugh, back before children. How glamorous they made me feel. How they made Hugh’s world—miles away from the hand-to-mouth way I’d grown up—feel less daunting, thanks to the three-inch shift in height.
Ok, fine. While I am Wendy, I will wear heels and put on pretty red lipstick. I will even go to that workout class she wants me to do. It will probably be fun.
I clip-clop over to Seth in bed. Yes, in bed. He has snored through an entire early-morning closet reorg and a high-heel fashion show. On hardwood. “Seth,” I say as I shake his shoulder gently. “I’m going in to work early.”
“Mmrfph,” he replies.
It occurs to me that perhaps he is not going to remember this conversation unless I take drastic measures. “Seth,” I repeat as I turn on the bedside lamp. “I’m going to work early. You will take the kids to school, right?”
His eyes open fully; he groans and clamps them shut tight again and says, “School?” like an idiot.
“That’s right. You need to take your children to school,” I say. I have a firm look that’s very similar to how I look at my kids, designed to take the place of the words AND I MEAN IT. I give him this look.
“Fine. Fine,” he says, turning away from the light. “Can you send me a pin on Google Maps?”
“A pin to what?” I ask him.
He sighs, beleaguered. “A pin to where you’re supposed to drop the kids. I let them off in the wrong place last time, remember, and you got that passive-aggressive email from the Twerp?”
I wonder which twerp this is, exactly. Probably Ms. Kranz, the school secretary, who enjoys policing the carpool line more than anyone really should. Personally I adore her, because before she took it on as her personal mission in life, the school parking lot was mayhem. But it makes sense that Wendy, who is too busy for rules, thinks she’s a twerp.
“I’ll send a pin,” I promise, though I’m very tempted to not follow through and let him develop competency on his own. After all, if Hugh asked me where to drop the kids for school, I’d take him in for a brain scan. I bet all Wendy’s problems would be solved a lot faster if she’d only just raise her expectations and demand some help. But then, I grumble uncharitably, if she asked for help, she couldn’t pretend she invented busyness.
Seth rolls over and settles back into bed. He’s definitely going back to sleep. I wonder—briefly—if the kids will get to school today on time, and for a moment I think perhaps I should rethink my plans for today. In the end, I decide it’s ok if they’re ten minutes late. You see, I really want to get to the office early today.
After all, Wendy has a breakfast meeting with Davis.