Janet was having a lousy day at work. First, it was the end of the month – the busiest for someone in the accounting field. She was having a hard time balancing the books, and on top of that her manager, Barbara, needed her to prepare a major report for upper leadership. And just when things couldn’t get more hectic, her mother called with yet another hypochondriac episode. Janet looked at the clock. It was just 9:00am. She dreaded what the rest of the day would entail.
To help calm her nerves, Janet went to the break room to grab a cup of coffee. As she poured, a bubble of hot liquid splashed the front of her pink blouse. She couldn’t believe her luck. She put the cup down and picked up several napkins nearby. As she dabbed at her shirt, she could feel that the liquid was just as hot as her temper.
Janet took several deep breaths before picking up the half-filled cup of coffee and returning to her desk. As she sat and swiveled towards her computer, she noticed the voicemail light taunting her. She feared who might have left the message, but figured it was probably her mother again. She dialed in, but received a greater shock. It was a paramedic. Janet’s mother was being rushed to the hospital with heart attack-like symptoms.
Janet froze in place, but her head and nerves were racing 100 miles per hour in several different directions. When she finally gathered herself enough, she grabbed her purse, informed Barbara, and headed to the hospital.
On the drive over, Janet prayed that all would be well with her mother. She felt guilty that she didn’t believe her earlier. She had cried wolf so many times before that it was hard to know when she was really telling the truth. This was one of those moments that Janet hated not having family or at least a sibling to help her deal.
After 3 hours in the hospital emergency waiting room, it was determined that Janet’s mother had a bout of anxiety and gas. Janet was furious, but tried to keep her composure in front of the hospital staff. However, on the ride home, she let her mother have it.
“Mom, you know the end of the month is really busy for me. Why would you do this?”
“Watch your tone, young lady! I’m the parent, here. I wasn’t feeling good. I told you that this morning.”
“I’m sorry about my tone. But not what I said. You never feel good. You call and then it turns out to be nothing. When you do that it makes me second guess you. One of these days it will be something real and I’ll think it’s nothing major.”
Janet’s mother sat in silence, contemplating what her daughter stated. She was fazed at first, but then dismissed the comment thinking that her daughter should run to her aid whenever she called. When they arrived at her mother’s home, Janet helped her get settled then headed back to work. On the ride, she hoped that things at the office would be better than before.
Janet stayed late to make up for the time that she was gone and also to get as much work done as possible. She printed off the report for upper leadership and headed to Barbara’s office. While setting the report on Barbara’s desk, Janet noticed a picture of a family complete with dog sitting on the steps of what appeared to be a mini-mansion. The face she recognized was her manager. Janet assumed the others in the picture were her husband and children.
As Janet looked around the office, she noticed several things – a picturesque view, wall full of degrees and accolades, expensive pieces of art, and more pictures on shelves of a family that vacationed together and seemed to love and enjoy each other. Janet felt a pang of envy that turned to hurt. She walked out of the office, shoulders slumped, headed back to her desk. The original plan was to work another hour, but she just wanted to go home. She grabbed her purse and left.
At home Janet stewed in her funk. She looked around her small, lonely apartment. There had been no vacations since the field trips in high school. She had been the poster child for workaholics since then. She worked two jobs with a full courseload in college, and she never was a social butterfly, let alone a beauty queen. These further drove her towards being successful in something – unfortunately it was work.
Janet chose to close it down for the evening. She took a shower hoping it would improve her mood. Instead it left her to run down a rabbit trail of other things that were wrong with her life like being close to 35 without any prospects for dating or a family let alone any adventures of her own. Well, her mother’s presumed ailments did give some spice to her life. “Why can’t my life be different?”
She put on her bed clothes and slid under the covers. Her last thought before dozing off was, “I wish I’d wake up tomorrow and be anyone but me.”
The next morning, Janet arose and went to the bathroom to start her routine. She scratched her hip, yawning as she groggily opened her eyes and looked in the mirror. She jumped back then leaned into the mirror, touching her face. She couldn’t believe it. She was Barbara.
Janet sat on the side of the bathtub wondering what she should do. Her first thought was to call in sick. She couldn’t go into work looking like Barbara with a Janet mindset. But she was curious what Barbara’s life was like. She dared to venture to her home. She’d wait long enough to ensure that everyone had left for work or school. She hoped that Barbara’s family would be like any other and leave a spare key in a flower pot or under a mat.
The community was gated and Janet didn’t have a gate key or pass. However, the guard recognized her as Barbara and let her in. As Janet drove into the subdivision, she was in awe at the massive homes and manicured lawns. When she pulled up to Barbara’s home, she felt excited and somewhat nervous about being there. She took a deep breath for courage, then exited the vehicle to follow the brick sidewalk to the front door. She lifted one of the flower stands and sure enough, there was a spare key. She only hoped they didn’t have a security alarm.
Janet’s hopes were answered. She made her way into the home without incident. As she looked around, each room looked as if it were a picture from a magazine. Everything looked expensive. She found the family room and saw even more pictures of trips and excursions – some with her husband and kids and others just adventures for the couple. Janet plopped down on the sofa wishing this life could really be hers and not just that she looked like Barbara. Then she heard a noise. It sounded like the garage door was opening. She scrambled to find somewhere to hide. She found a hall closet off from the kitchen.
“Hello! Is anyone here?” The male voice boomed as he took steps to inspect the home. He checked each room not sure who he was looking for, but knowing that someone had to be around.
“I thought you said no one would be here. Who’s car is that Thad?”
“I guess the cleaning lady, but I don’t see her. Barbara and the kids left over an hour ago.”
“Should we stick around? I mean, I’d hate for anyone to catch us.”
Janet tried to remain as still as she could, but even she could figure out that the pair wandering around was Barbara’s husband and mistress. There was silence, then noises that sounded like kissing. She cracked the closet door slightly, and her eyes saw what her ears already knew. The couple had begun to remove each other’s clothes without a thought that someone may walk in and see them on display.
Janet felt disgusted and angry. Even though it wasn’t her husband, she liked her boss and thought she deserved better. Then the phone rang. Thad and the woman jumped. Then started back fondling each other. A few moments passed, then Thad’s cell phone rang. He didn’t want to stop, but knew if he didn’t go about things as if it were a normal day, he’d get busted.
The call came from the private school where the children attended. His adolescent son had been fighting yet again. The principal needed Thad and Barbara to come to the school right away. As much as he hated to, he had to end his playdate to tend to family.
“When will it ever be just you and me?”
“These things take time. I can’t just up and divorce my wife right away. I have to make sure it’s a clean break. Don’t want her coming after me for alimony and child support.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Haven’t quite planned everything yet, but was thinking about a boating trip where a little mishap takes place.”
Janet couldn’t believe her ears. Not only was Barbara’s husband a cheating louse, but also one capable of murder. After Thad and the woman left, Janet slowly stepped out of the closet. Not for fear of being caught, but rather in disbelieve and feelings of sorrow for a woman’s life she admired.
On the ride home, Janet wondered how she could tell the real Barbara the details she learned. Would she even believe it? She had to do something. She didn’t want Barbara or her children hurt let alone killed.
This dilemma plagued Janet for the rest of the evening. It tired her out to the point that she decided to take a cat nap on the couch. An alarm began to ring after what seemed like five minutes. Janet jumped up, noticed that it was daylight, and then ran to the bathroom mirror to see who she was. She was Janet – in fact, the same Janet that had the coffee stain on the front of her blouse. She realized that it was all a dream. And real or not, she found herself thankful for the life that she has.