Similarly, that trim stomach can only be Wendy’s trim stomach. That C-section scar must belong to Wendy. The navel that is taut, not deep like a cavern? That must also be Wendy’s.
I look at my crotch. My god. Does Wendy have a brazilian?
Am I Wendy?
Do I have a brazilian?
Refusing to let myself think, I lie back in the bed, this time on my side. I smoosh the bald Seth. He grunts and says, “HEY!” and then sits up, looks at me, and says, “Honey, what are you doing?”
AND HE IS NOT SETH!
He is Hugh Mason. Celeste’s husband. The squishy, middle-aged sales VP with the fancy grill setup Seth lusts after.
I jump out of bed and start to scream.
“What are you doing here?!” I screech.
“What? Celeste, what’s wrong with you?” Hugh pops up in bed and throws off the covers. He is naked. He is totally naked. I scream some more.
“Are you having a dream?”
“Did you just call me Celeste?” I ask him hysterically as I cover my eyes.
Hugh is out of bed already, before I can tell him to cover up, and heading over to my side of the bed. In a horrified panic I flee toward the bathroom, shouting, “Cover yourself!” Confused but always obliging, he turns to grab a robe from his closet, and I stare at his bottom, at the thatch of light back hair toward the top of each shoulder blade, the muscle and heft of his biceps, the strong, thick legs and slight dad paunch. What the hell is happening here? What is happening to me? Did I go to bed with Celeste Mason’s husband? And if so, my god, why?
“Celeste, honey. Are you sick?” he asks the minute he comes close to the wrong-side bathroom. “Oh man. Is it still the sangria?”
I try to find someplace to put my eyes, to quiet my screaming brain. It’s like I’ve been hit by a hammer in the area of my cortex where reason used to live. But my eyes . . . they’re not blurry anymore. They’re clear. Clear, as in clear enough to see details on things on the other side of the room, though I am 99.9 percent sure my contacts weren’t in a second ago. I can see the details of a half-open wall closet with frumpy women’s clothes in it. The folds of pretty, feminine curtains on the windows. The curves of bold accent wallpaper in the wrong-side bathroom and the pretty tile that is sending comforting little heat waves up into my panicked toes.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I have no idea what I’m doing here.” I lurch out of the bathroom, try to stay upright and evade Hugh-in-just-his-bathrobe to flee for my life.
Hugh takes me by the shoulders—bathrobe still wide open, nakedness perfectly in focus—and says, “You don’t need to apologize. If you’re this hungover, you need to be in bed, not running around making yourself upset. Lie down with a cool washcloth, and I’ll take care of everything. Oh, sweetie. I’m sorry we fought last night. I didn’t realize how far gone you were. How much of that stuff did you drink?”
I have no idea what this man is thinking, but I’m not going back to bed in someone else’s house with someone else’s husband no matter how hungover I might be. I push past him to the open closet, start looking through the clothes for something I can wear outside.
But my reflection, perfectly clear, in the large wall mirror across the room catches my eye.
That and some pendulous breasts that seem to be attached to my chest.
Pendulous breasts that are somehow at once hard and saggy. I freeze in front of the mirror, tilt my head, watch the head looking back at me tilt too. My mouth, as well as the reflection’s, slowly drops open. I see curly shoulder-length hair, reach up and touch curly shoulder-length hair. I see the overgrown grays dominating the first inch of her part. A little button nose, nice white teeth, large clear black eyes. I straighten my head. The face in the mirror straightens. My brain cracks.
I seem to be seeing Celeste in the mirror. The mirror is some kind of hallucination, or trick, or weird fitness device, maybe? But that doesn’t really make any sense. My panic rises, and I worry I’ll be sick again.
“Baby, what are you doing?” Hugh asks. “Are you ok?”
I think of all the things I could say to him right now. I could say, I’m not your wife. I’m not your baby. I’m your neighbor. And I have no idea how this could be remotely possible, but it seems I’m trapped in your wife’s body. I could say, Excuse me, good sir, but would you put on some pants and make some coffee? I have to get sober and then go straight to the ER, because I’ve lost my mind.
I could ask, Did I get hit in the head last night, and no one told me?
But none of that makes any sense, does it? No. I’m Wendy Charles. I’m not Celeste Mason. I don’t look like her; I don’t have her generous boobs and round butt and understyled hair. I don’t have her hairy-backed husband. I never went to bed in this house. These are not my beautiful things.
I run to the bathroom and look in that mirror. Celeste Mason is there too. She is me. I am her. My brain is my brain, but my body is someone else’s. So . . . then . . . I’ve gone insane.
I turn from the second mirror, take Hugh by the hand, and look him directly in the eyes so he will know just how serious this situation is, and I say, “Hugh. I don’t know what you’re seeing right now, but this is Wendy talking. Can you please call an ambulance? I think I’ve had a terrible stroke.”
Hugh won’t stop laughing. I mean, he just will not stop. I am not finding a single thing about this situation funny, and he’s having a big chortle.
“Ok, ok. You’ve made your point. Wendy’s got a stick up her ass, sure. But then, sweetie, people might say that about you from time to time. You’re the one who told me: Sometimes what looks powerful on a man looks rigid on a woman at first glance. The trick is to look harder. And that has served me well for years.”
I stare at him, mystified.
“Do you know what I think?” Hugh asks me in his newscaster accent. “You’ve been telling me for months now that a break would do you good. And now here you are showing me exactly why I need to listen carefully when you tell me things are getting rough. Why don’t you crawl into bed and take the day off, see if that doesn’t fix you right up?”
I look over at that gorgeous bed. It looks so much better than the mental breakdown I’m currently having. I try to talk myself into doing the right thing. “I’ve got to get up. The kids . . .”
“You need to rest, Celeste. For real. I know people have been treating you like your life’s a cakewalk around here, but they don’t see what I see. Let me take the kids.”
For a second I think he’s talking about my kids too. About Bridget and Linus.
“All of them?”
He laughs again, a warm sound full of assurance. “Lie down, and when you’re feeling ready, I’ll send in the monsters for a movie and cuddle if you like.”
It’s the thought of the cuddle that snaps me back. I have two children at my house all alone with my husband and his own likely hangover. Shouldn’t I rush over there and take care of things? And where the hell is Celeste?
“Where the hell is Celeste?” I ask.
Hugh looks at me funny. “Is this about that identity crisis book you wanted me to read?”
I look back at him, his broad smile and the wrinkles by his eyes. It’s all so warm and welcoming. I just want to get in that nice big bed and go back to sleep. What is wrong with me that I’m seriously considering it? The sheets look so clean. “What book?” I ask drowsily.
“The one about Bernadette.”
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” I ask. We read that in book club a year ago.
“Yes, that’s it. I know you said you wanted us to read it together. I’m sorry. I just . . . it’s so hard to get into fiction right now.” He claps his hands. “I’ll get the audio right away, listen to it on my commute. Ok?”
I nod, confused.
“Are you having a where’d-you-go moment, Celeste? Please don’t even think of packing up and leaving us. I know we’ve been a little weak in the romance department lately, but you’re what I live for; you know that.” He cups my face in his hand. “So you got drunk at a barbecue. So you smell like . . . I don’t want to say. Not great. Your life is not slipping away before your eyes. You’re not going to suffocate to death in the oppression of a nice neighborhood with good schools. You just have to find your people.”
“My people?” I ask. I’m back in that conversation with Seth. My people, Linus’s people, Celeste’s people. So many people.
Hugh gives me a pat. “Go brush your teeth, take a long, hot bath, and then get all tucked into bed and just take the day off. When you wake up, you’ll feel a million times better, and the kitchen will be clean, and the kids will be clean and fed and exercised.”
“My kids?” I ask, already moving toward the bathroom sink to brush my teeth, realizing in just one more disgusting cherry on this insanity sundae that I’ll have to use Celeste’s toothbrush.