- This Is How It Always Is
“He had a harder time helping her out though. He was asleep while she was doing stars. Without wings, he couldn’t reach anyway. In the end though what he could give her was better than magic wands and magic frogs and magic lamps. Better and more magical. What he gave her was moral support and unconditional love. He promised to be there for her always, even times when the sky proved too vast and the night was dark because she couldn’t kindle all the stars. He would light her way instead, he promised. He would be her Polaris, her celestial navigator, her astral guide. And whenever she came back to Earth, Grumwald promised, he would be there, waiting.”
Roo looked his father in the eye. “That was so cheesy, Dad.”
“See, this is why it’s better when it’s just a prince.” Orion rolled onto the floor. “Princesses are so corny.”
“It wasn’t Stephanie who got all emotional.” Claude stood up on the bed, hands on nightgowned hips. “That was Grumwald. Stephanie was cool with her gadgets like James Bond.”
“James Bond has nothing in common with Princess Stephanie,” said Rigel. “James Bond would never use a magic wand for algebra.”
“Algebra II,” said Penn.
But after everyone else left, Claude sat then scooted down the bed to hug Penn hard. “I got it, Daddy.”
“You’ll always love me and support me no matter what. Even if it goes bad tomorrow, you’ll be waiting for me at home.”
“Not true,” said Penn. “I’ll be waiting for you on the playground at school.”
No one slept well, and breakfast was a sleepy affair. Rosie considered whether it would be good parenting or bad to pour coffee all around. Claude came down, a little pale maybe, in a brown denim skirt, brown tights, a pink sweater, and penny loafers. He had pink barrettes in his still very short hair. His wings stood gauzy, arched and defiant on his back, and he wouldn’t take them off even when it meant he had to eat breakfast standing up. He nibbled the crusts off a couple pieces of toast and handed the middles to Rigel. Rosie couldn’t admonish him to eat without eating something herself, and she couldn’t imagine doing so.
She wanted to go to school with him. She wanted to don a gang jacket and sit in the back of the classroom with a bat so that everyone understood what would happen to them if they messed with her kid. She wanted to go in and give a speech she’d actually rehearsed over and over in her head. The rest of you may be gender-conforming children, she’d say, but you’re not nearly as smart, funny, or interesting as Claude, so you tell me which is better: awesome, dynamic boy in a skirt, or tiresome, whiny child with a runny nose who has nothing to offer but compliance. Instead—and this was probably for the best—she had to go to work.
But Penn went. That was another thing Claude wanted when asked. Yes, he wanted Penn to come to kindergarten for the day as long as he sat in the back and said nothing and left at lunchtime. So that’s what Penn did. He sat on an impossibly tiny chair, knees up by his shoulders, heart up in his throat, and sweated. It was three degrees outside.
“Welcome back, boys and girls. How was everyone’s break?” Miss Appleton enthused without waiting for any response. “I’m so glad to see your smiling faces. I hope everyone had fun, and I hope you’ve come back to school ready to learn. We have so many wonderful tasks and treats ahead. Now, I know a lot happened to some of us while we’ve been away. Susan lost her first tooth. Davis went with his grandparents to New York City. Carrie got a haircut. And Claude is going to be a fairy girl! We have so much to learn from one another, boys and girls.”
Everyone looked around at Susan, Carrie, and Claude. (A week in Manhattan seemed unlikely, even to kindergarteners, to yield anything interesting to look at.) Susan peeled back her bottom lip and stuck out her jaw like a monkey then helpfully pushed her tongue through the hole where her tooth had been. Carrie touched the back of her hair where her ponytail used to be. Claude smiled weakly at his shoes. The children wiggled.
“Does anyone have any questions they would like to ask? I would love to hear from boys and girls with their hands raised nicely who are sitting quietly on their pockets.”
Every hand in the room shot up but Claude’s.
“Let’s see,” said Miss Appleton. “Marybeth is raising her hand nicely.”
“Did the fairy come?” said Marybeth, and it took Penn a moment to understand that the fairy in question pertained to Susan’s tooth not Claude’s wings.
“Yup.” Gap-toothed Susan grinned. “She left me two dollars and a comic book.”
“Ooooh,” said the kindergarteners appreciatively.
“Next question,” said Miss Appleton. “Jason?”
Jason turned to Claude. “Are tights itchy? They look itchy.”
Claude flushed and shook his head.
“Very nice,” said Miss Appleton. “Who’s next? Alison?”
“Will Claude get long hair?” Alison asked her teacher.
“I don’t know, honey. Let’s ask him. Claude, do you plan to grow your hair out long like Alison’s? Or will you have medium hair like Carrie and Josh? Or will you keep your hair short like right now?”
“I don’t know,” Claude told his shoes, barely above a whisper.
“Well, we’ll just have to wait and see,” said Miss Appleton. “We have time for one more question. Elena?”