We step out into the yard and move past the kids. Samuel and Linus are at the picnic table drawing something, acting very sneaky, which probably means the cartoons are bathroom related.
Bridge and Zoey are hitting balls off the pitching machine on the other side of the house. I can’t help but notice that the machine is facing our house, so any broken windows will be at Wendy’s.
“Try to keep to grounders, ladies,” I holler.
Wendy smiles. “Look at you, with the lingo.”
“We tried your version of a rainy day at home,” I explain. “We all piled on the sofa and watched baseball movies. Anna Joy thought The Sandlot was hysterical.”
“That’s odd,” says Wendy. “All that TV, and yet . . . they don’t seem like their brains are completely rotted.”
I shrug. “I am forced to admit that TV may not actually be the devil. Or if it is, we’re corrupted.”
“Where do you come down on s’mores these days?” she asks. “Processed sugar served with processed chocolate between two squares of processed flour?”
“I’m very much pro s’mores,” I say. “As dessert. No s’moring my kids until they eat something from a food group.”
“Fair enough,” Wendy says as we settle into the twin adirondack chairs, moved from the front yard to the firepit. Turns out we are a backyard family after all. “Actually, I’ll go with the same policy.”
I smile at her warmly. “Look at you. Respecting my rules.”
“Look at you,” she replies smoothly. “Having reasonable rules.”
I open my mouth to say that all my rules are reasonable but stop myself just in time, asking instead, “Is the weekend going ok? Without Seth?”
Wendy exhales deeply. “The kids will need time. No question. For them it’s a huge adjustment. But for me a weekend without Seth is no different than a weekend with him. Minus some snoring.”
“Then you did the right thing.”
“No question. I suspect issues will come up when I need help with childcare for staff meetings. But that’s what babysitters are for.”
I shake my head. “You don’t need a babysitter, Wendy.” I gesture to the kids. “You’ve got us.”
She raises an eyebrow. “You sure? You’re not just offering to try to be useful?”
“The girls entertain themselves. And the boys . . . ,” I say. I don’t need to finish; I can just gesture toward the picnic table.
“How weird is that? Nothing in common, and yet they’re the best of pals.”
I raise my eyebrows at her meaningfully. “Apples,” I say, with a wave toward the boys, “and trees,” gesturing at the two of us.
“And they got there without any trips to the ICU,” Wendy adds.
“Kids are smarter than we are.”
Wendy looks toward the girls, laughing and chattering away, but her eyes look unfocused. She sighs. “Things will have to change for me.”
I nod. Wendy has a long road ahead of her.
“They’ll be at their dad’s at least once a week,” she says. “And I know I should feel awful about it, but I just feel relieved. It’s been a long time since I had extra hours to spend on whatever I want. I can use the extra time on the business without guilt and come home earlier on the other nights. On Seth’s weekends I can maybe even go out.”
“With Davis?” I ask.
A small smile slides over Wendy’s face. “Maybe.”
“You have to let me live vicariously through you,” I tell her. “I’ve been married a long, long time.” Hugh cheerfully waves over at us from the pair of sawhorses he’s using to finish up a simple Leopold bench to set by the fire.
“A long, long time to a wonderful man,” Wendy says, then lowers her voice. “If hairy.”
“For all you know, Davis has a chest like a shearling coat.”
Wendy smiles wickedly. “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
“Be nice to him, Wendy,” I tell her. “He’s been pining a long time.”
She shakes her head. “He said he wasn’t a piner.”
“I’m sure he wishes he weren’t a piner. But he pines like anyone else.”
“Like Linus?” she asks, and I follow her eyeline. To my surprise, I see him looking up from the notebook where the boys have been drawing, gazing adoringly at my older daughter.
“Oh my goodness,” I say.
“Yup,” she says. “This should be interesting.”
“Meanwhile Samuel is too busy drawing fart cannons to even realize girls exist,” I say. “My oblivious little man.”
“Your day is coming,” Wendy says. “Samuel is going to be . . .”
“A hellion,” I finish for her. “I know. I’ve heard all about it from Hugh’s mom.”
“It’s kind of a relief,” Wendy admits. “Before last week I thought your kids were perfect. Too perfect.”
“They are perfect,” I tell her. “This is just what perfect looks like.”
“Messy,” says Wendy.
“Crazy,” I tell her.
“Bookish,” she replies.
“Sporty,” I say back.
“At home,” she says.
“At work,” I reply.
“Eating sidewalk chalk . . .”
I look up. “What?”
Wendy gestures over to Joy, who is licking a stick of blue chalk like it’s a lollypop. “Ugh. Joy!” I jump up to redirect her.
“Chalk is for drawing,” I tell her and demonstrate its, uh, original purpose. “Would you like something to eat?”
“I’m eating blue!” she tells me, and her tongue is evidence that she’s also sampled green and yellow.
“I bet you are thirsty,” I tell her.
“Milk?” she asks.
“Cow’s milk,” I offer. “Or banana-oat milk?” There’s that familiar tug in my breasts, but it is time. When it’s time, you know.
Just then we hear the sound of a softball hitting something solid, and everyone in the entire yard swivels around.
“My bad!” says Zoey. Our eyes follow the sound—Zoey’s line drive to third has knocked off a section of Wendy’s gutter downspout and brought it clattering to the ground.
“I got it,” says Hugh, with the sigh of a man who is handy and has three boisterous kids.
“You’re a doll,” I tell him, blowing him a kiss on the way to the kitchen to make blended banana milk, our happy compromise between breast milk and Starburst. As I go, I see Wendy go sit down by Linus and Samuel, which means she’s being treated to a giggling play-by-play of their new graphic novel. Behind her, the sun is setting, bouncing golden light off the siding of Wendy’s house onto the lawn, the kids, the fallen downspout, and the rosebush, which is finally starting to shoot up new wood.
Back outside, Joy curls up on my lap drinking while Hugh bends over the firepit and Wendy hovers at the picnic table with the hysterically laughing little boys. Zoey and Bridget sit as far from us as humanly possible on the finished but unpainted Leopold bench that is sure to give them splinters, whispering and giggling. Wendy calls to me through it all.
“So this is perfect, huh?” she asks me, as she waves around our backyards, kids, Hugh, rosebush, and thorns.
“This is it,” I call back and raise my glass of sangria (without vodka) in her direction. “As perfect as it comes.”
I would like to thank my crackerjack publishing team: my agent, Holly Root; my editor, Chris Werner; Tiffany Yates Martin; Danielle Marshall; Alexandra Levenberg; Brittany Russell; Gabriella Dumpit; and the entire team at Lake Union Publishing.
Big thanks to the talented and supportive Tall Poppy Writers and all the inspiring mothers in my life who took the road less traveled by. You make all the difference.
Thanks and love to the Harms family; to Chris Meadow, who moved heaven and earth to get me writing time; and to Griffin, who inspires me at every turn and makes sure I am never bored.
Finally, thank you to Tui T. Sutherland, whose fantastic stories allowed my son to travel to faraway worlds while we sheltered safely at home in 2020.