I laugh. “I think I can be too hard on myself. I’m working on that,” I tell him, picking up one of the two mojitos. “Starting right now. You want the other?”

“Nah, this one over here is a mudslide. That’s where I’m putting my energy.”

“What are we going to do with all these doughnuts?” I ask him.

He looks at me wickedly. “Eat them all?”

“Maybe not,” I say, though would that really be so bad?

“Just kidding,” he says. “You know I try to limit sugar.” Aha! So this paragon does have a fault. A fault Wendy would be super into. “But the doughnuts will find homes. We’ve got a full house today. The bookkeeper will be in, and you’ve got that intro session with what’s-her-face, and the women’s expo is just a few days off, so maybe a little pick-me-up later won’t go amiss.”

I pretend the thought of speaking to a crowded hall about productivity doesn’t make me want to lose my breakfast. “Ah . . . the women’s expo.” I take a beat, say a little prayer for the vodka’s timely arrival. “You’ll be there too, right?”

He looks at me funny. “Of course I will. Forty percent of my annual earnings come out of that expo. And your keynote is already sold out in person, down to webinar availability only.”

“Sold out?” I ask, growing suddenly quite concerned. What if I actually do have to give this speech? “How long do you think a keynote should be, exactly?”

“Very funny. Like you haven’t written and edited it to perfection already. Twice, maybe. I know how it is. You’re in the room with me, but your brain is adding high-impact graphics to your PowerPoint.”

“Heh-heh, right. So I give the keynote, which I’m totally ready for,” I say slowly. “And you . . .”

“I’m giving your intro and doing the seminar on salary negotiations. Small beer. You’re the one who has to come up with all the new microinsights and generate media attention.”

“Right,” I say again. I don’t know what any of that could possibly mean. So instead I say, “How exactly did we get our job assignments, remind me?”

“You sure you’re feeling ok?” he asks me.

“Fine, fine,” I say. “Just a bit nervous about the sold-out keynote.”

“Just remember what we tell our clients: passion wins. If I was up there speaking, it would be fine; I’m a good speaker. But when it’s you talking about what you really care about, women getting ahead despite the thousands of challenges . . . the room just turns on.” Davis shakes his head and puts up a finger to signal I should wait before saying anything further. “I think the doors are open.” He pokes his head into reception and says, “Yep, Cat’s here.”

“How did it get to be nine already?”

“Right? I’d better get to it,” he tells me. “See you back here at eleven,” he says on his way out.

“Eleven?” I ask.

“The in-house planning session for that charitable thing you’re all hyped about? The free seminars for women on parole. That is today, right?” he asks, already halfway through the door. He checks his watch. “Yep, that’s today. See you then.”

“Wait, what?” I say into the empty room.

I stand there slack jawed. I came here to suss out Davis further, but instead I got a crash course in Wendy that doesn’t fit with anything I thought I understood. Suddenly I feel like I’m not just in someone else’s body—I’ve become someone I don’t even know.


When I finally try to get up after my workout, everything hurts. Calves, thighs, groin, butt, shoulders, and especially all those tiny little muscles on the backs of places you didn’t know you had. I try not to groan aloud as I franken-walk to the changing room and out of the studio and sink into the blissfully comfortable minivan. I sit there at the wheel, poking and prodding at the middle of Celeste’s body, where on my real body there is a modest wall of muscle. But on her it’s an open space that goes clear to . . . where? Her abdominal cavity? I shiver a little.

Why hasn’t she gone to the doctor about this? I text her exactly that question, with a link to the condition from the university hospital’s site, and then put on the sweater I brought along today, even though it is not cool outside, to protect my tender underbelly. Thankful for the soothing effect of this minivan’s heated seats, I pick up Joy, Samuel, and the girls, take them all to the softball field, and unpack the bag of Goldfish I picked up on the way to keep them all from the brink of starvation. And then, just as I’m about to settle in and put on some Martha Speaks, Samuel clears his throat. “Um, Mom?” he says, quietly.

“Yes?” I answer, because something is wrong; any mom can tell that.

“I need you to sign this note,” he says, then hands me a piece of paper.

It’s a memo from his school, saying that Samuel is getting an in-school suspension tomorrow unless a parent or guardian—that would be me—shows up today, in person, before the school closes at 5:00 p.m., to discuss his behavior.

“What the HELL is this?” I ask him.

“Swears, Mom!” says Anna Joy.

I put my hand up at her. “Oh, I’m swearing. Your brother has been very bad.”

I immediately call the school. They won’t tell me anything. I have to come in, they say. I tell them I’m responsible for other kids right now, and my daughter is at softball. They say maybe then my partner can go.

“My partner has a job!” I say. “These are working hours!”

“But it says here that you’re unemployed.”

“Well, that doesn’t mean I sit around all day waiting to rush to school on someone else’s terms!” I announce.

There’s a long pause.

“We have a policy, Mrs. Mason. Unless Samuel can come in and discuss his actions in person, he is receiving an in-school suspension applicable tomorrow at start of day. And the law is clear that you or another guardian has to be present for such a discussion.”

I sigh loudly into the phone. What would Celeste do? She would take her kid’s side no matter what. All her kids. “You know what?” I say. “Do your worst, lady. Samuel is a good kid, and I’m proud of him, and I’m committed to being where I am right now. I’m keeping him home tomorrow, and he and I can discuss this ourselves.”

Then, still channeling Celeste, I hang up the phone, give it to Anna Joy, and say in no joking terms, “Samuel Mason, what did you do?”

“I called someone a bad word. He was picking on a small kid and driving me nuts, so I said, ‘Do you wanna fight me?’ And he said he was gonna tell on me, so I said, ‘Then you’re a pussy.’”

If my hair could just all spontaneously fall out from surprise, it would, right then. “Excuse me?” I say, but then, since I don’t want him to say that word again, I shift to, “In what universe do you think it’s ok to start a fight? Or say that word?”

He looks down guiltily, and I can see I’ve hit home. “Sorry, Mom.”

I shrug. “I’m sorry for you, because now you have to learn where that word comes from, understand why it’s so offensive when used as an insult, and write I am not a misogynist fifty times in cursive.”

He looks at me like I’ve lost my mind, which, ok, is accurate on a semantic front. “I don’t know cursive,” he says.

“Well, then it’s going to take you a really long time.”

“Mom?” he asks. “I don’t actually know what it means—that word.”

“Misogynist?” I ask.

“Yeah, but also the other one. The one that made you so mad.”

I sigh. “I’ll explain later. For now, can you promise you will never do that again?”

Samuel frowns. “Ummmm . . .”

“Why are you not promising?” I ask him.

“Because I’m not sure it would be true, and then I’d be in trouble for breaking a promise.”

I swallow the urge to laugh at this solid reasoning. “You cannot be going around starting fights and calling names, Samuel,” I say to him with my straightest face. “There’s no acceptable reason.”

“But you told me—you said, ‘Treat Linus like a friend you just haven’t made yet, and he’ll come around in time.’”

“I said that?” I ask.

“And I can’t let someone pick on my friend, can I?”

The wind goes out of me with those simple words. I look at Samuel, hard, and see in him for the first time a kid with a heart as big as his appetite. How did I miss this? Does Celeste know how lucky she is?

But of course she does. She’s the one who made him this way.

“You’re going to have to apologize to that kid,” I finally say, recovering. “And do the punishment.”

He nods.

But then I wrap my arm around him. “Samuel, kid, you know what?”


“Linus is pretty lucky to have you as a friend he hasn’t made yet.”




When Hugh walks into the bedroom a half hour before the gala starts and sees what I’m wearing, I am afraid I’ll need to get a Taser.