So she regular-danced with Jake Irving. It was hard because everyone in the entire world was watching them, but it wasn’t that hard otherwise. You moved your feet one way and your hips the other and kept your arms mostly at your sides and your eyes mostly on the floor.

Jake said, “So.”


“How was Thailand?”

“Kind of amazing,” said Poppy. “I got to teach little kids.”

“Really? What?”


Jake looked impressed. “I mean, I speak English, but I wouldn’t know how to teach it.”

“You figure it out.”

“I guess. I bet you were a good teacher.”

“I guess. What makes you say that?”

Jake shrugged and looked back to his toes. “You’re nice. You’re smart. I remember when you helped me with that report on dolphins in second grade.”

“You’re nice and smart too.” Poppy said it mostly only because she didn’t know what else to say, and when someone says something nice to you, you’re supposed to say something nice back.

“I’m smart”—Jake frowned at his toes—“but not very nice.”

She remembered in fourth grade when he let Owen Gregg win the fifty-yard dash at Field Day because Owen’s parents were getting a divorce. She remembered in third when Aggie dropped her brownie at the Halloween party, and Jake just handed her his without even waiting to see if there were any extras. “You’re nice,” Poppy told her own toes.

“Not to you.”

She shrugged. “Not once. But other times.”

“I’m really sorry, Poppy. I really, really am.”

“I know,” she said.

“You do?”



She made herself look up at him. “You asked me to dance.”

Then a slow song came on. He looked up at her too. “Wanna get some juice?”


Rosie and Penn had replied to the email asking for volunteer dance chaperones at the speed of sound. Then they spent forty-eight hours vowing to their youngest child that they would not talk to her, look at her, take pictures of her, intimate knowledge of her, stand near her, offer her food or beverage, or address her in any way. Should the building catch on fire, they would not approach her but would allow her to find her own emergency exit and then seek one—a different one—on their own.

They had not, however, promised not to dance. In fairness, this was because Poppy, in her wildest nightmare scenario, had not conceived that she would dance herself and certainly had never considered the horrifying possibility that her parents might. But that’s just because she was still a little jet-lagged. Presented with a cheesy slow song in an elementary school gym decorated for Valentine’s Day, her parents were obviously going to dance to it.

As she took her husband in her arms, Rosie also took a moment to savor the smell of him, the feel of his hand in her hand, the way in which he was hers, for sure and forever. She remembered the high school years when she didn’t have a boyfriend and the college years when she had one but he was mean to her and the first years of med school when she was sure she’d never be in love again, and she remembered the feel of the wall on her back at the middle school dances when her friends got asked and she didn’t and the boy she liked chose someone else, and she felt how it was all worth it if it earned her, if it won her, if it resulted, karmically, narratively, miraculously, in Penn at last, Penn forever, Penn who was always and only and always hers, certain as sky.

As he took his wife in his arms, Penn also took a moment to remind himself he was in the presence of ten-year-olds. Don’t touch her ass, don’t touch her ass, don’t touch her ass.

“Thank you for coming home,” he whispered into her hair.

“I’m so proud of you, Penn.” She drew back from his shoulder to meet his eyes. “Author-Husband. I never doubted this day, not since the first time you took me to bed.”

“I am very persuasive in bed.”

“But your getting published is not why I came home.”

“I know.”

“Was there ever any doubt in your mind?”

“Never. But that doesn’t mean I am not grateful.”

“After all these years,” she said, “what made you finally write it down?”

“It wasn’t finally.” He pulled her closer. “But it was time.”


“We’ve always been living a fairy tale, Rosie. From the moment we met. From the moments before we met. We have this perfect love story. We have this love story that feels like a fairy tale and must be because how else to explain something so magical? But the problem with fairy tales is that they end, and quickly too. The lead-up is everything. Then you get transformation, love, and happily-ever-after all in one breath. That story’s nice, but it’s not big enough to hold us. There’s no room for the hard parts. There’s no room for the transformations and the loves that come next and next and next. In a story, nothing is unalterable, but nothing is alterable either. After the magic, there’s no more change.

“That’s no way to live, but I was trying to anyway. Make sure Poppy stays a little girl. Make sure Poppy stays a secret. Change her so she’ll never change. Metamorphosis to ward off transmutation. It makes no sense; that’s what I realized when you went away. So instead I tried the opposite: write it down, carve it in stone. Or, if you like, paper’s just as permanent once you send it out into the world. It seems like it closes the story, settles on one ending eliminating infinite possibilities, fixes it in place, in voice, but no, it does the opposite. You write it down so others can read it, and then it can grow. You nail it to a moment so it can pass through time. A book is just a foundation. Like us. You write it down to build upon. Our love, our magic fairy-tale love, is what supports the rest of it. It doesn’t mean the kids can’t grow—of course it doesn’t—but it lays down a place for them to do it from. That’s what story’s for.”