This, my mom would have said, is what it means to commit yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re never lonely or distracted. It means you’re lonely or distracted and you give your whole heart anyway. It’s great advice, I know. I just am not sure how to follow it.
In every fundamental love relationship, we ask our partners to be both solid as a rock and thrillingly fun at the same time, and it’s utterly unreasonable when we get annoyed that they can’t do both. That my partner has revealed himself to be dependable and a bit boring is, by my measure, a huge win. The fun ones are useless. My mom always said how much fun my father was.
Take Seth, Wendy’s husband. He makes no money, shows no interest, and can’t even find the damned carpool lane at the kids’ school. His nice looks seem to be fairly moot: when he comes to bed, it’s before or after me by a fair bit, and with zero designs, even though Wendy is very attractive by every measure. What good is hotness if it comes with celibacy?
Hugh, the other side of the coin, has never faltered in his attention and has, occasionally, had to be swatted away with a cookbook I’m trying to read. When I’m not in the mood, I’ll come to bed in ancient Hanes and a sleep shirt with pit stains, but even then he’ll say, “Wow, babe, you can make anything look sexy.”
Without question, I have the better deal.
These thoughts leave me wondering: Which sort of man is Davis? He is nice to look at, and his accent is irresistible. He shows interest in the kids and in Wendy as a person. He has a job with a paycheck. He has already successfully navigated the carpool lane.
And he is definitely into Wendy.
“Did you buy out Dunkin’ Donuts?” I ask him when I see the spread on our conference-room table this morning.
Wendy’s office has a style unlike any workplace I’ve ever imagined. This is the sort of office one has if one wants to be featured in a glossy magazine, and in fact, there are framed photos of the office taken from local magazines scattered among bright prints and local photography when you first enter the suite. Past the reception desk and the luxe velveteen chaise, there’s Davis’s office, Wendy’s office, a kitchenette, three cubes, and this airy room lined with paned windows and papered in a delicate sage William Morris reproduction. The glass door that leads to it is etched with THE EXCELLERATOR, which would make me groan if the room weren’t so gosh-darned excell-ent. Based on the long, labeled drawer units by the far wall, this is where the “visioneering” happens, as well as the “initial consult materials” and the “moonshooting” and the “staff meetings.” I laugh at the mix of jargon and practicalities and marvel at how damned organized it all is. This is the same woman who basically sprints through her life in a haze of email and to-do lists. Here in the office I see a different Wendy, someone who takes care with detail and presentation. Who strives for perfection and, it certainly seems from the testimonials on the website, hits it frequently.
I want to ask Davis what moonshooting is, exactly, but since I’m supposed to be Wendy, instead I praise the spread of pastries.
“They’re from the Italian Labor Society,” he tells me. I’ve seen that place downtown, but as it has no off-street parking, I have never gone and may never go. The bakery is in a converted Workman’s Club that now sells fresh European baked goods during the day and red-sauce Italian at night. “The best part about living downtown is being able to walk there before work,” he tells me.
“Did I know you live downtown?” I ask, hedging for Wendy.
“Probably not,” he admits. “I mean, why would you?”
Why indeed, I think. Certainly not because I was wondering if Wendy had already paid him an intimate visit. “Because I take an interest in my coworkers,” I say with a soft smile.
Davis takes a beat. Then he says, “Do you?”
I can’t tell if he’s flirting or challenging my assertion about Wendy. Flirting seems better, but knowing Wendy, I’d guess she’s never asked anyone she works with the slightest thing about their personal life. She probably has a policy about that that is as forced as her policy about open doors. After breakfast I should take a look around her office for a file marked Policies. Or perhaps a file titled Things to say to your coworkers to make them think you care about anything besides work.
“I had fun meeting your son,” says Davis, “speaking of interest in coworkers. He’s kind of a paler version of me at that age.”
I look at Davis, who is quite fit. Muscular, even. “Really?”
“Yeah. I was a bookworm and nowhere near as wild as my sisters, who couldn’t hold still for love nor money. My mom put me in football, and it was . . . well, comical. You should see the match tapes. But I had fun, and it helped me make friends.” He tilts his head adorably. “It did not spark a lifelong love for team sports. I’ll take a weight room over a pickup game any day of the week.”
Well, that explains the biceps, triceps, and all the other -ceps. “I cannot imagine Linus in a weight room,” I tell him. “Not that he isn’t a great kid.” I fish around for a way to describe a kid who is the opposite of every other little boy I’ve ever met—my son and my little brothers especially. “He’s just small and . . . sort of delicate.”
“That’s because he’s eight and he’s living in his own imagination,” Davis says lightly. “When he starts getting moody and aggro as a teen, you can let me know, and I’ll show him how to use a weight bench to get the feels out.”
I imagine Davis shirtless on a weight bench and think that perhaps that’s something Wendy would enjoy seeing much sooner than Linus’s adolescence. “Linus shows zero signs of ever being an adolescent,” I tell him. Compared to beefy, rough-and-tumble Samuel, he is still a baby. “Zoey, on the other hand . . .”
Davis looks confused. “Wait, who’s Zoey?”
Oh crap. Wrong kid. “Um, Bridget’s friend. She’s, um, er . . .”
“Girls grow up fast, if my niece is any indication,” Davis says into my conspicuous stammering. “Bridget is so awesome, though. She reminds me of my student-athlete clients, even though she’s ten years younger. I can’t believe what those kids can do on the field.”
I frown at the thought of Zoey and Bridget turning into little adults so soon. That’s not what I want for these kids. “I’m a bit concerned about how competitive the team is, to be honest.”
Davis is taken aback. “Really? I thought . . . you told me that you thought that was the whole point of doing softball. You were worried that kids weren’t competitive enough, didn’t work hard enough for what they wanted.”
“Did I say that?” I ask. Sheesh, Wendy, I think. “I guess I’m not worried anymore. Maybe I was being silly, worrying about the competitive drive in a tween.”
“Not silly. You should know the value of competition. You didn’t get this far in business by lying around.”
I think a minute. Though I’ve been treating Wendy’s work almost like a hobby, this is, in fact, a real business. I’ve never really thought about what must have gone into starting it or why a woman who has everything—at least by comparison—cares so much about coaching other women from the ground up.
“And then there’s the fact that your competitive drive opened so many doors for you at her age. I’m thirty-eight years old, and I still have ten thousand dollars in student loans. You paid yours off in, what . . . two years?”
“I did?” I say. “I mean, yes. Well, that’s true,” I say. But I’m shocked. If it weren’t for Hugh’s great job, I’d still be paying off the high-interest credit cards I used to buy books and ramen in undergrad. How on earth did she pay off college in two years?
Also, inserts my libido, Davis is thirty-eight? Is that too young for me? I mean, for Wendy?
“So maybe Bridget just inherited her mom’s love of competition,” Davis continues.
“Maybe. But maybe she’s not . . . you know, balanced enough. She doesn’t have to be focused on one thing all the time.”
“Sometimes what bothers us most in our own lives is what we project onto other people,” Davis says.
I nod. “That makes sense. But . . . my life is fine. I think so, at least,” I say. Wendy acts like she invented Doing It All, and she certainly seems proud of herself for it.
Davis frowns. “You’ve told me yourself you’re stressed all the time. You’ve talked about the constant mom guilt and how everyone else seems to be doing so much more than you for their kids.”
I try to compose my shocked expression, but I can think of nothing to say that wouldn’t give me away. We sit for a moment in silence.
“You know what I think?” he asks me.
“I think these are the strawberry mojitos.” He points to a filled doughnut with white frosting.
“Is that a kind of doughnut?” I ask, grateful for the topic change.
“Coconut-rum frosting, strawberry-and-mint crème.”
“I got the cocktail mix,” he tells me. “Because I wasn’t sure what you’d want. I’ve never seen you eat a baked good before, to be honest.”