- This Is How It Always Is
“That’s very pretty, Author-Husband.”
“Thank you … uh … Doctor-Wife.”
“But it doesn’t answer the question.”
“All the questions,” said Rosie. “Closet or rooftop? Blockers or puberty? Surgery or hormones? Both or neither? Girl or boy or in between? Today or tomorrow? Next month or next year? Fifth-grade meanies or homeschooling in her turret by the sea? DN or fairy tale?”
“It doesn’t answer the question. But it opens possibilities, and that’s even better, possibilities we never saw before, possibilities no one ever saw before. And it promises that when the time comes to decide, we’ve built someplace solid as ramparts from which to do it.”
Rosie was quiet for a while. Then she buried her face in Penn’s shoulder again so Poppy wouldn’t see her jubilation. “Can you believe she danced?”
“Of course I can.” Penn held her closer still. “Because you know what’s even better than happy endings?”
“All the happy with none of the finality. All the happy with room enough to grow. What could be better than that?”
“For a while,” said Rosie.
“A while’s a long time,” said Penn.
Poppy could not actually stand there and watch her parents dance, so she finished her juice and told Jake she’d be right back. She remembered the bathroom of her own at the fish spa in Chiang Mai, the nurse’s bathroom they’d made her use in Wisconsin, all the stalls she’d changed in over the years when she took swim lessons or went to the beach with PANK or it was pool day at summer camp. Sometimes being her was difficult and complicated. Sometimes only the bathroom was.
When she emerged from the stall, Aggie was leaning against the sinks, her hands tucked into her armpits and squeezed into fists. Poppy’s stomach did the same. She was so happy to see her, she thought she might start crying. She was so nervous to see her, she thought she might start crying. There was some chance she was also angry, but Aggie was her best friend in the entire universe so probably not. There was some chance that traveling halfway around the world to work with poor, often sick, sometimes orphaned children had given her a mature perspective on humanity that was going to help her handle this situation. But Aggie was her best friend in the entire universe. So probably not.
“Hi,” said Aggie.
“Hi.” Poppy remembered the first time Aggie had ever tapped on her window, the night they met, the night they became rival neighbor princesses. That conversation had started the same way—“Hi,” “Hi”—shy but full of promise, a million good things to come. Poppy had to admit that “Hi,” “Hi” wasn’t that uncommon a way to start a conversation and therefore probably didn’t reveal some fated belonging, but for one grace-filled moment, it felt like that anyway.
But then the spell was broken because Aggie’s mouth said, “How was Thailand?” but Aggie’s tone said, I could not even care less about anything you have to say ever again. Aggie had followed her in here though, so maybe she meant something else altogether.
“Hot. Crazy. Kind of amazing. How was here?”
“Sucky. Stupid. Totally boring.” Then, with a sneer, “Did you make a new best friend?”
“No.” Poppy thought of the friends she made in Thailand—her little students who showed her all about the Buddha and how school changes your life and how to tell stories and how to love your family, K who showed her how to be in between and live in the middle. “Did you?”
Aggie snorted in answer to this question. “Are you even allowed to be here?”
“The girls’ bathroom.”
Oh. “I guess,” Poppy said to her toes. “My parents told Mr. Menendez at the beginning of first grade. He said I was allowed.”
“You told Mr. Menendez but not me?”
“I didn’t,” Poppy said lamely. “My parents did.”
“Maybe you aren’t allowed anymore.”
“Everything’s changed,” Aggie said but not mean. Sad.
“Why?” Not just sad. Heartbroken.
“We can’t be friends anymore.” Was that why everything had changed? Or how?
“How can we?” Aggie was almost yelling. “What are we going to do together? We can’t have sleepovers anymore. We can’t talk about all the things we talk about anymore. We can’t be rival princesses. We can’t do plays.”
“Because you don’t like me anymore?”
“Because I don’t know you anymore.”
“I’m the same,” Poppy cried. “I’m exactly the same as ever. We can still have plays and princesses. We can still have sleepovers.”
“I don’t even…” Aggie’s face looked like she was trying to do long division in her head. “Poppy, if I ask you a question, will you tell me the truth?”