- This Is How It Always Is
Seattle also had a house that was almost if not quite big enough and that they could almost if not quite afford—if they were careful, if she got the job, if their farmhouse went for what it should, given what a perfect place it was to live if only you didn’t mind threatening playdates and murderous fraternities in your practically backyard. Rosie looked at the house online night after night. The school district got high marks. There were parks and beaches nearby. Roo and Ben could share the basement. Rigel and Orion could have their own rooms for a change. They could convert the garage for her mother to come up in the summers.
The house had a turret with a pink-painted attic bedroom, and the school had a skateboarding club, so Poppy was sold. Rosie bought Rigel and Orion wetsuits, and the twins spent hours online looking at pictures of what lived underneath Puget Sound: giant octopuses who changed colors like Gobstoppers and spotted ratfish with eyes like puppies and wolf eels that looked like old men who’d forgotten to put their teeth in. Ben required no convincing at all, for he knew Seattle to be a city where someone with smarts and computer savvy who had skipped the sixth grade would be treated not like a nerdy dweeb but rather like a nerdy demigod, a hero among middle-schoolers.
Penn needed no convincing in the end either, for he had learned about leaving. He learned it from Grumwald, who went Away even though he had a castle and a kingship calling him to stay. He learned it from Nick Calcutti, who had fairly begged every fiber of Penn’s being to stay and fight, but every fiber of Penn’s being mustered all its strength and insisted upon leaving anyway. He learned it from Claude, who’d known leaving was only making room for someone else. He learned, finally, that when the ER doctor comes into the waiting room and tells you you can go, you can, you should, you had to go. Leaving wasn’t weak, and it wasn’t giving up. It was brave and hard fought, a transition like any other, difficult and scary and probably necessary in the end. Fighting it only delayed the inevitable. And as far as transitions in his family went, Wisconsin to Washington wasn’t very far at all.
It was Roo who didn’t want to go. Roo was first-chair flute that year. Roo was quarterback of his peewee football team and president of every activity that had one: student government, class council, band, the No Girls Aloud (Quiet Ones Welcome) Club he’d formed with three friends in fourth grade when they were studying homonyms. Roo had friends, lots of friends, friends he’d known since preschool, friends who just shrugged and then laughed about something else when he told them his baby brother was wearing dresses to kindergarten. Roo did not want to share a room or give up his rope swing or move someplace where there was no sledding because it never snowed. Roo felt that Poppy could wear a skirt or Poppy could wear pants or Poppy could wear chain mail or a tuxedo made from bacon or a cape knit out of Jupiter’s fur, but that didn’t mean he should have to throw out half his stuff and then pack what was left into boxes and then drive two thousand miles to someplace where he had to start all over again in every way that mattered. And Rosie agreed. He was right. He shouldn’t have to do that. It was sad and unfair and very hard that he had to do that. But he did have to do it. That, she explained, was what family meant.
“I hate family,” said Roo.
“That too, I’m afraid,” said his mother.
Her new job paid to ship everything, including the furniture, including the boxes, including the cars and even the dog, so they got to fly to Seattle instead of driving. The road trip would have been romantic, cathartic maybe, to feel each mile drop behind them, to watch the landscape change and change again, to eat hamburgers in sticky diners and make picnics from sad grocery stores and take over motels so beaten they could afford to stay two to a room and everyone could have his own bed. That was, Rosie thought, what a move of this magnitude should feel like, how it should be marked, but in the end, it was already the weekend before school started up again by the time they closed on the pink turret house. On the final descent into Seattle, they flew so low over snowy, craggy Mount Rainier it looked like they could hop a few feet out of the plane onto its lid and just walk down. And that’s what the whole move felt like in the end, in the beginning, epic and age-old and monumental, ice-covered and treacherous and breathtakingly beautiful.
School started on a Tuesday, so Poppy was allowed to have a sleepover Sunday night. At quarter to midnight, she and Aggie and Natalie and Kim were sitting in a circle on Poppy’s bedroom floor, hands held, eyes closed, the apple-passionfruit candle Poppy’d got from her Secret Santa (Kim) the year before aflame, attempting to contact Aggie’s grandfather, who had died of a stroke in June. Their moms had carefully and repeatedly impressed upon them that they did not need makeovers for they were beautiful just as they were, but earlier in the evening, the girls had tried out half a million hair and outfit options anyway because you couldn’t leave what you were going to wear or how you’d do your hair to the night before fifth grade actually started. The night before fifth grade actually started you would not have three friends sleeping over because it was a school night, and you couldn’t expect to make decisions like these on your own. Aggie and Natalie both had older sisters who could help them if they were in the mood, which they almost never were. But Kim was an only child, and Poppy had nothing but hordes of brothers, which was actually worse, so they’d spent much of the evening weighing outfit options, doing and doing and redoing hair, painting their nails, and trying out different shades of lip gloss, lip gloss being a whole lot easier to sell than lipstick or—no way at all—mascara or eye shadow, which Poppy knew her mother would never ever agree to. Then they’d watched a movie and eaten their weight in pizza, popcorn, and ice-cream sandwiches. After the movie, Poppy got the bear (Alice) and the sheep (Miss Marple) who always came to bed with her so she could go to sleep, but Aggie said she missed her grandpa, and Kim said let’s hold a séance, and Poppy had that candle so it was pretty much perfect.