I slide out of bed, careful not to disturb Seth.
Like a character in a Hitchcock film, I spend the next hour staring out the window, watching for any appearance from Wendy, a light in the bedroom, any sign that all is well in my house right now. It’s too early to text, I think. But if she’s awake anyway . . . and wouldn’t I normally be awake right now, if I were home? But the house seems quiet. Around and around I go. At last, at about eight, I see Hugh come into the kitchen in his ratty old bathrobe—a robe I desperately wish I could bury my face into right now—and make the coffee. Soon he is joined by Zoey, who is bouncing around nervously, and then Samuel, who will want only one thing: to eat us out of house and home, as he does every morning. Eventually I see Joy emerge with a stuffed toy I don’t recognize, colored a flammable bright pink with those huge plastic eyes that are definitely a choking hazard if a kid pries them off.
Joy is almost four, I remind myself. She has never destroyed a toy in her life. She is safe. They are all safe, and all I want in this world is to walk into that kitchen as myself and have a normal, noisy morning with them. I would do anything for that. I take in a big breath, let it out slowly.
Just as I’m putting myself back together, I jump in my seat at a movement in my periphery. Wendy has let herself in the back door and sneaked up on me.
“How’s the spying going?” she asks.
I’d be annoyed, but I’m just so glad she’s alive and well and talking to me. “There you are!” I reply. “For a while there I thought maybe you’d taken the first flight out of town.”
“I was tempted,” she tells me.
“Don’t tell me this swap thing hasn’t made you reconsider your priorities,” I tell her.
She makes a truly inscrutable face and says, “I suppose it has.” Then, to my utter shock, she crosses past me to the cupboard, takes out a bottle of vodka, a can of spicy tomato juice, and a highball glass.
“Wendy! It’s eight a.m.!” I exclaim.
“That’s why I’m not drinking the vodka straight,” she says.
“What is going on with you? You are acting really weird. You disappear all day yesterday, you sneak up on me this morning, and now you’re hitting the sauce?”
She looks around furtively. “Is Seth up?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “I don’t think anyone is. Maybe Linus, but you know he’ll just hide in his room with a book until there’s some promise of food. I was just about to start eggs.”
“C’mon,” she says, grabbing me by the shoulder of the pretty linen sweater I put on over pajamas this morning and steering me into the pantry.
“What are you—”
“Hush,” she says and closes us both into the cozy space. Organizing her pantry was one of the most satisfying parts of tidying up Wendy’s life over the last week, and now I wait in happy anticipation for her to notice how clean and neat it is in here.
Instead I get, “What the hell happened in here?”
“I cleaned it!” I announce proudly. “Check out how I sorted your canned goods by expiration date!”
“You what? Honestly. What the hell is wrong with you? I don’t need my canned goods organized!”
“It was a mess in here!” I say. “You had six different half-used bags of flour.”
Wendy looks at me hard, a look I don’t understand. Aren’t we supposed to be friends now? Isn’t tidying a pantry something a friend would do? For a minute she says absolutely nothing to me. Then, after an eerily long time, she says, “And?”
“What do you mean, and? I took the bags and combined the ones that hadn’t expired and put them in this large canister here, and see, I made this label that says ‘Flour—White, Unbleached,’ so now it will be easy to find.”
“This is your idea of helping, Celeste? Organizing another woman’s baking supplies?”
“Well, I thought it might help us swap back,” I admit, feeling just a bit silly. “I mean, I tidy up your closets and get your kids to help out, and . . .”
“And, you know, I learn a bit more humility about how complicated your life can be . . .”
“So let me get this straight. For the last week you’ve been ‘fixing’ all the things that are wrong with my life in the hopes that you can get your own life back but be a tiny bit less smug about how much better it is than mine. Is that right?”
I gape at her. When she says it that way—cold, mean, insulting—it does sound silly. But yes, that’s exactly right, so I nod a tiny bit.
“And I suppose that part of fixing my life is setting me up with Davis, then?”
I grimace. I thought she understood where I was coming from on that.
“And tell me why, Mother Superior, you wanted to break up my marriage with Seth and send me off to live happily ever after with Davis?”
I stammer. I mean, I’ve let her know what I think of Seth before, in pretty certain terms. Do I say it all again? What in god’s name happened to her last night to make her so angry?
“Is it maybe because that way you wouldn’t have to share Seth anymore?” she asks me in a furious voice.
My jaw positively falls off my face. “What are you even talking about?” I ask her.
“Ok, sure, time to play stupid.” She takes a chug from her glass. “There’s no need, though, to act like a clueless idiot anymore.”
“I’m not a clueless idiot!” I insist.
“Nope, you really aren’t. You’re a freaking evil genius. How long have you been after Seth, exactly?” she asks me. “A month? Six months? The entire time you’ve lived here?”
“What? No!” I say. “I don’t know what you mean. I met him for real the day we body swapped. Until then I just knew he was your husband.”
“Was that all you needed to know for him to be desirable, then?” she asks.
“He’s not desirable!” I exclaim. Then I hear what I’ve said. “I mean, I’m sure he’s great, if you’re married to him, but I’m not into that. I’m married to Hugh. I love Hugh. You know that.”
“Hugh, who moves heaven and earth to give you the perfect life,” Wendy tells me. “Hugh, who takes the kids outside when I so much as give him a long look, who cleans up after dinner every single night, even if it’s takeout, and does bedtime with the girls and makes enough money that you don’t have to work. That’s the guy you want to cheat on.”
“I don’t want to cheat on anyone! I love Hugh,” I say, starting to feel panicky. I mean, I can’t just fake apologize my way out of this, whatever this is. It would be like an admission, when I haven’t done anything wrong and don’t want to. “I have no idea what this is about, but let me say it again: this week has been like an abject lesson in how lucky I am to have a great partner. I’ll admit that we haven’t been in a crazy romantic place in our marriage lately, but as soon as we swap back, I’m going to grab on to him and never let go.” I pause for a second. “And also, I’m sick of telling you this: I do work. Why do you keep insisting I don’t work?” I stare at her, mystified. I thought she was starting to understand. I thought we understood each other. “What is going on with you, Wendy? Is everything ok?”
She crosses her arms and leans back angrily. “I’m just sick of being you, talking to you, having you in my life at every turn. You’ve made a mess of everything. When we swap again, I’m going to have to deal with an awkward situation at my office that could cause the entire partnership to go to pieces. Plus, I won’t be able to find the fucking flour!” she shouts.
“Wendy!” I hiss at her. “Stop this. You’re acting crazy, and you’re going to wake up the kids!”
She lowers her voice, and when she does, her words drip with ice. “You’re right. I’ll stop shouting. Just know this: Seth thinks he ran into Celeste yesterday at the Water’s Edge Bar. And he seemed to think he knew her fairly well. He seemed to think there was something started between the two of you, and it was something he was ready to take to the next level after half a glass of IPA yesterday.”
I gasp. I’ve barely gotten my jaw off the floor, and there it goes again.