And then there’s the new sofa in his studio.
It’s for naps, I remind myself firmly. I’m drying Celeste’s hair so vigorously right now it might fall out, so I stop, go over her curls with a wide-tooth comb, put in the new gel that makes it so amazingly shiny, and style it to perfection. Celeste looks so, so much better than when I got her. Just that tiny bit of care, a clean face at night, a nice new lip color, and some well-applied wax, but most of all a week straight of sleeping all the way through the night. Maybe that’s all that Seth responded to—surprise at the instant makeover. Just a weird, complicated impulse—maybe not even so different from what I’ve occasionally felt toward Davis. A moment you let down your guard and something strange creeps in that’s not welcome at all. It could happen to anyone. Seth just got very unlucky in the way that it happened to him.
Seth and I both.
Now the question is, How much more bad “luck” do I intend to put up with?
Celeste’s words echo in my mind, and for one self-indulgent moment I imagine keeping up the argument with her. It would be so, so nice to keep pretending my beef is with her. As long as I keep duking it out with Celeste, fighting her tooth and nail on every front, turning my problems around on her, and blaming her for all the things that aren’t working in my life, nothing has to change. We can drink the sangria, switch bodies back, and pretend this whole thing never, ever happened. Never talk again.
But that’s just not what I want.
I pull on a loose T-shirt dress that hangs just right on Celeste, gives her a waist instead of flaring out too high and making her look like a walking triangle. The bright blue looks perfect with her hair. I just hope when she sees herself looking like this, with her family and my family together, it plants a tiny seed of forgiveness in her mind. I hope she can see through that side of me that lost it over flour canisters to that part of her—the patience, the compassion, the understanding—that has changed me for the better.
I hope she can realize that becoming Celeste is the best terrible thing that’s ever happened to me.
Too angry to tiptoe around the bedroom, I stomp around, determined to wake Seth, that stupid so-and-so. If I had time, I’d throw a bucket of ice water over his head. As though he can read my mind, he glares at me and puts a pillow over his head, so I turn on my phone at top volume to Broadway hits. Then, singing along as loudly as possible, I put on Wendy’s stretchiest pantsuit over a feminine draped top that still had its tags and add sophisticated, if low-heeled, black shoes. I forgo the enormous resin statement jewelry in favor of a long silver necklace with two little silver charms, one etched with Bridget’s name and one with Linus’s. To look at me, you’d have no idea I’m absolutely terrified about this speech.
Satisfied that Wendy looks both professional and feminine—it is a women’s expo, after all—I go downstairs, make the kids truly outstanding blueberry-banana pancakes without mussing so much as a hair, and get them started on their new list of Saturday-morning chores. They know the new weekend deal: those children who have done their work when I get home will get rides to the movies and the comic book shop respectively, and those who haven’t will just get more chores. And now that I’ve been around for almost a week, they know I mean it.
Then I grab Wendy’s briefcase, preloaded with her laptop and the vital slides on Productivity in Practice and Purpose, which she sent me earlier in the week in that Wendy’s-prepared-for-every-eventuality kind of way, and take myself to the massive convention center set where I’m about to have someone else’s big moment. Because as mad as I may be with her right now, I am even madder at Seth. And I will be great goddarned (sorry, Jesus) if I don’t set this infuriating woman up for a lifetime of success so she can leave that guy the minute she gets up the nerve.
The place is crawling with other Wendys. Trim businesswomen clad in head-to-toe stretch wool or ponte, holding their free tote bags under their arms with a printed event schedule and phone in each hand respectively. It reminds me of when we had our college-internship fair, and we all dressed as fancily as we possibly could for malnourished college students and clutched for dear life three copies of our résumés on thick white paper given to us by our career counselors. So much nervous milling. So many people trying to get where they are not, all at the same time, without ever breaking away from the group.
And there are so, so many people.
Trying to hide my panic, I check and recheck the schedule myself. I am set to give the keynote over a tea service in the grand ballroom. A local newscaster will introduce Davis, and Davis will introduce me. Then I will speak for an entire hour on the subject of Purpose. I mean, if that’s not ironic, I’m not sure what is.
I head to the ballroom. To my great relief, Davis is there, and he pats a spot next to him at a large banquet table on the dais.
“Wow,” he says, taking in Wendy’s softer look. “Have you changed your hair?”
“Do you like it?” I answer back.
He eyes me strangely, and I remember I just apologized to Wendy three hours ago for flirting with him. “You look great as usual,” he deflects. “Are you ready for this?” he asks.
“As ready as I can be,” I lie. He doesn’t know I only had time to skim the speech—that I’ll be reading it line for line out there off the PowerPoint prompter. “Are you?”
“I’m excited,” he says. “Just think, when we joined our coaching practices, there were fewer than fifty women-owned businesses in the entire city—fewer still Black-owned ones. Now look around at this place. It’s teeming with a diverse group of entrepreneurs and executives. The playing field is changing day by day.”
The expression makes something pop into my mind, and I chase it down. Of course. The playing field. Tomorrow is the girls’ first competitive game of the season. Zoey has been blowing up my phone about her nerves, while Bridget is impatient for the day and can’t focus on much of anything else.
After this, it all comes down to the sangria. If it works tonight, I’ll be myself again. That’s what I want. I want my soft, out-of-shape body back. I want the mouth that can’t eat spicy food and the stomach that can’t do a sit-up and the life with no crushes and no accolades and no answer when I’m asked what I do for a living.
And without a doubt I want that body and that mouth and that life back more than anything in the world. I want to go to the game tomorrow and cheer my heart out for Zoey while Hugh and I bookend Joy and Samuel on the bleachers. I want to look behind the kids’ backs, catch my husband’s eye, and reach out a hand and hold his for a moment in pride for all that we’ve created. This feeling—this powerful longing—it’s not just for my old life in general. It’s for Hugh.
The audience starts to file in, and Davis gives me a killer wink, and to my surprise it just misses me entirely. Whatever appeal the man had, it falters next to the man with the ever-so-slightly hairy back who’s dragging our reticent son around a school science fair right now. Thankfully, Davis doesn’t notice. “Almost time. I’m going to go get my notes,” he tells me. “Good luck, Wendy. Don’t forget: passion wins. You’ve got this.”
Wendy does have this. Wendy’s life is hectic and stressful and kind of sad. Or it’s full and accomplished and pride inducing. Whatever it is, it’s hers. It’s the way she wanted it. She wanted to run around like a chicken with her head cut off, and she wanted to suffer through endless boot camp workout sessions, and she wanted to work through softball practice and look at holes in the walls in her bedroom and eat truly dangerous amounts of rotisserie chicken. She wanted the roommate-style marriage and the constant mothering guilt, because that is what she knows for her life, and to her, that is what feels real. And this week has taken that reality away. Any fool can see all that anger wasn’t meant for me.
But what about me? What feels real to me?
I shake my head to myself. A week ago I would have been 100 percent convinced that my life was jam-packed with purpose and meaning and that there was nothing more important than me being the secretary of the PTA and the class mom and teaching Joy American Sign Language before she gets to the ripe old age of four. But being Wendy has screwed all that up, and now 90 percent of what I was doing to fill my days feels . . . just a little empty compared to the real pleasures of my life. It’s not the stuff I do that gives my life meaning. It’s the people I do it for.