“I blew things up,” I tell her. “I’m sorry. But I had to. I couldn’t take what I’d suddenly figured out about our lives and then tell a roomful of already overtaxed women to do more, more, more all the time. Think of all these people. Think of how it would have made them feel.”
She stares at me a long time. I think, Ok, this is it. This is when she snaps and kills me and hides my body in the chest freezer in my own basement.
But instead, she wraps her arms around me and hugs tight. “I don’t have to think about how it would make them feel. I know how it’s made me feel. And I know it’s time for that to stop.”
Before I can respond, Davis jogs up to us and acts like I’m the only person in the room. “Did you see this?” he asks excitedly. He holds up his phone, and it’s Wendy’s consultation schedule for next week. It’s booked solid with new business. Every opening she’s offered has a name in it.
Wendy’s jaw drops. Quickly, I lean in and whisper to her, “Never forget: you inspire people. Everything I said today—I figured it out from you.”
She looks at me hard, her eyes glistening. “Thank you,” she says. It’s two words, but to me, it means the world.
Davis pats me on the back. “You killed it!” he says. And then, right in front of Seth, Jesus, and everyone, the man gives me a massive hug full of joy and celebration and just a tiny bit of something else too. Desire.
I soak it all up, just this last time. This will be it for me. This will likely be the only crush I will ever indulge for the rest of my life, because I just realized how madly in love I am with my husband. And that makes me so incredibly lucky. “Amazing, Wendy!” Davis takes me by the shoulders. “You freaking knocked it out of the park,” he says to me. And then softer, just into my ear: “You’re amazing. I need you to know that, no matter what.”
I pull back. Inhale the adoration. And respond just loudly enough so that only he and the real Wendy can hear me: “You know what? I am. I didn’t always see it, but I am kind of amazing. Thank you for noticing, Davis, so I could notice too.”
Then I turn to Wendy. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I ask her.
She nods. “It’s time for you and me to get very, very drunk.”
That night I tuck Samuel, Joy, and Zoey in bed for what I expect will be the very last time. I linger over each of them. Tomorrow I will be myself again, but I will be different, and I will miss these kids.
I will miss Hugh too. As I tell him I’m going out to have a drink with my new friend, I take in his scent—a pleasant mix of aftershave and Downy that will forever make me think of their big soft bed and lying about the state of my vaginal health. He asks me if I’d like to sleep in tomorrow, since it’s Sunday. He offers to take the kids to the ballpark early and meet me there after I’ve gotten a few extra z’s.
I mean, this guy.
That’s why, before I take the sweaty glass of pink sangria that Celeste has made for me, I ask her, “You’ll be good to him, right?”
“Are you talking about Hugh?” she asks. “I’ve always been good to him.”
“I want you to be, like, crazy good to him. Unsolicited-back-rubs good to him.”
Celeste nods. “When this is over, I’m going to be go-to-awkward-work-events-without-complaining good to him,” she tells me. “Plus some sex stuff.”
I put my hands up in horror. “Please do not elaborate.”
She cracks up. Then she raises her glass to mine. “Let’s drink to that.”
“How do you think this switch back will work?” I ask her as we settle on the lawn just inside my yard on our big softball blankets, looking up at the pretty canopy of trees and the dark night sky.
“I have no idea why you’re asking me,” she says. “But maybe we just drink until we can’t walk straight and then go to bed? That seems to have done it the last time.”
I nod. “But what if after a glass of this we start fighting again?”
Celeste looks at me sternly. “I think you got the last of your fighting out this morning, didn’t you?”
I look down. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I was way out of line.”
“I’m sorry about what I said back,” she says. “But I do not apologize for sorting your baking supplies.”
“You know what, Celeste,” I tell her, shaking my head. “It doesn’t matter where you put the brown sugar; I’m not baking anyway. And I’m officially completely ok with that. After all, I heard this really inspirational speech today, and it made me think maybe I could hang up some of my fantasies about what a mother is ‘supposed to do.’”
“So you’re not mad at all about my little, uh, rewrite?”
“Mad, no. Shocked . . . well, maybe a little.”
“You’re going to be making a fortune in the next six weeks, if it’s any consolation. Your consult schedule is completely full through August.”
“The trouble is,” I reply, “those people are going to want to be told they can have more by doing less. And I’ve got no reason to believe that’s true.”
“But it is!” Celeste says. “It has to be. I mean, Wendy, look at our lives. We’ve seen it from both sides of the thorny shrub now, and they’re both just . . . too much. I mean, I have a literal hole in my abdominals I didn’t even notice! Something has to give. You must agree with that by now.”
“I guess I do,” I say with a heavy sigh.
“And you’ll figure that out, just like you figured out how to write a business plan and fund a company and hire people and create a partnership and get A-list clients and publish planners and give keynotes,” I tell her. “You’ll take everything you know about productivity and—like you did with that bank teller—put it toward only the most important things in your life.”
I look at her in wonder. “Do you really think I can do that?”
“Of course you can! I’m completely sold on Wendy Charles Consulting. In fact, someday I’m going to send Zoey to you to learn your mad skills.”
I set down my drink for a moment. “Really?” I ask her. “You’d trust me with your daughter?”
“Don’t act so surprised!” she says. “My kids have been under your care for the last week!”
“Yes, but . . . I thought I was doing a terrible job,” I confess to her.
“Not really,” she says. “You didn’t really think that.”
“Yes, really! Of the two of us, you’re the good mother,” I remind her. “I’m the businesswoman.”
She rolls her eyes. “It’s possible, just possible, that you’re both.”
I think on this for a few minutes. “Seth told me, long ago, that we were both too selfish for kids. And I still think about that all the time. What kind of mother would rather be at work than with her children?” I ask her. “You’re not supposed to love your job more than you love your kids.”
“That’s idiotic,” says Celeste, and I can tell the vodka is working on her. “What a silly thing to say. Perhaps you prefer the work at your office to the work of parenting, but that’s not the same as putting your job before your children. That’s just called being a normal grown-up who prefers doing grown-up things.”
“You don’t prefer doing grown-up things,” I say.
“Yes, well, it takes all kinds.” And then after a moment she adds, “Surely you know that just because I enjoy staying home with my kids, that doesn’t mean changing diapers or playing My Little Pony for two hours is my idea of a good time.”
I say nothing for a long moment, because no, I don’t think I did truly get that until just now. “I tried to play My Little Pony with Joy and lasted about seven minutes,” I admit.
“Better than Hugh. He falls asleep while she’s still trying to teach him the rules of the game. Most of the time he ends up just being part of the terrain, and then when he wakes up, he’s forced to hold still until the ponies clear off Dad Mountain.”
“That’s adorable,” I say.
“It really is.”
I look at my glass. Empty. I set it down and flop onto my back on the blanket. Celeste grabs the pitcher of sangria and tops off our glasses. In the stillness of the evening I imagine all our babies sleeping away in their rooms, and a pang surges through me. “I cannot wait to be myself again,” I tell her. “If for no other reason than to have a good hug from Linus.”
“He’s the snuggliest,” Celeste agrees.
“He’s like a heat-seeking missile,” I say. “I cannot believe how much I miss him.”
“Why not? He’s so lovable. I know I’ll miss him like crazy when we switch back.”
“I thought you said he was an entitled Jordan almond.”
“He’s a very sweet, very smart Jordan almond who is starting to get the hang of folding laundry.”
“You’re kidding,” I say. “You have Linus helping out?”
“I have them both going on a chore chart. I have mad skills, Wendy, and soon you will learn to worship at the altar that is my parenting.”
I laugh. “Consider yourself worshipped. You’re freaking Mother of the Year. I have tried for years to get the kids to do stuff. No luck.”
“Let me guess: it’s easier to just do it yourself.”
“Exactly. Easier and faster, and it gets done right.”
“If you want your kids to do their laundry, prepare for a lot of pink laundry,” she says.
“I can’t deal. I’m way too uptight for that.”