Judy and I had just spent five hours spiffing up her townhouse so that her real-estate agent could show it to a potential buyer, and now Judy was crying about it.

"What's wrong?" I asked. "This place looks fabulous!"

It really did. What was supposed to be a normal dust-and-straighten routine turned into a manic redecorating sprint. We began by organizing and filing papers that, to my best recollection, had been on Judy's desk since the Reagan administration. Getting them out of sight shattered our unspoken assumption that we were only tidying and triggered a frenzy of home improvement.

We Goodwilled items—snowshoes, an accordion, a unicycle—to which Judy had clung for years, just in case she started channeling Zelda Fitzgerald and ended up using them. The newly spacious rooms begged for color, so we visited the neighborhood florist for luscious tulip bouquets and then purchased paint to match the flowers. Two accent walls, ten picture-hangings, and an hour of furniture-arranging later, Judy's home was dazzling. Hence, the tears.

"I'm selling this place because I wanted to live somewhere more beautiful and inspiring," Judy quavered, "but now this is it! This is my dream house—and someone else gets it!" Weakened by paint fumes, she began to cry even harder.

"There, there," I said, patting her arm. "Maybe no one will make an offer."

But as I surveyed the newly gorgeous house, I knew that someone would.


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