“Eww,” the girls said.

“You know what they loved about me when I was your age?”

“Nothing?” Aggie guessed.

“Table manners.” Orion opened up to show Aggie a mouthful of chewed-up pancake, and Aggie laughed, and Poppy felt like she would die of embarrassment, and Penn wondered where boys learned that, that trick of attracting girls by grossing them out, which only worked for a few years, like flirting training wheels. Maybe boys had it all along, that razor’s-edge balance of disgusting and charming, and for many years they didn’t notice or care, and for a few years girls found it fascinating, and for the rest of the time, men fought to keep it under wraps and only let it out when they were alone.

Poppy and Aggie and Natalie and Kim had been best friends since first grade when Poppy had been the new kid, and Aggie was her new neighbor, and they’d formed the PANK Club, whose avowed pursuit changed over the years from hopscotch to bird-watching to detective agency but whose name never changed because its members never did. At first, Rosie and Penn had been silly-grateful for these girls, not just for how much they loved Poppy but for how ordinarily. Eventually, though, the girls stopped being miracles and settled into family: Poppy’s friends, who were just there at the table when Rosie came home from work, ready to be asked to stay for dinner, who came out for ice cream with them after school or bowling on a rainy Sunday, Poppy’s friends who came over for movie nights and said, “Hi, Poppy’s Mom,” when they met in the hall at school, Poppy’s friends who disappeared into her room for hours and never sent a tray of clay models crashing into shards or came out to ask for a snack and consumed an entire jar of peanut butter and two loaves of bread as happened regularly with the boys’ friends. And whereas the boys’ friends came and went and even overlapped, Poppy and the PANK Club never wavered. They told each other everything.

Except for one thing.

Rival Neighbor Princess

They never planned to keep Claude a secret. It was an accident. It was an accident plus opportunity plus special circumstances. You can say that about a lot of things—Rigel and Orion said it, for instance, the time they lost their skateboard in the lake when they tried to use Jupiter as a sled dog during an ice storm—but this one was different because this one was huge. This one was different because it lasted (the twins had managed to keep their secret for less than ten minutes) and because it transformed so many lives. Usually secrets that do that are kept through foresight, scheme, and strategy, careful planning and obsessive track-covering. A lot of work. In this case though, secrets were kept by accident and then mostly forgotten. But their power was therefore no less portentous.

Four years before Poppy’s erev fifth-grade sleepover, moving from Madison to Seattle had been like moving from Madison to the moon. They swapped the tumbled brown middle of the country for the soaring blue edge; muggy, comforting summer days for long, clear, sun-kissed ones; the much-promised rain not yet in evidence. The pink turret house had been built the same year as the farmhouse—1906—but the similarities ended there. Where the farmhouse was wide and white and open, the pink turret house was tall and formal with dark, newly polished floors and dark, newly installed countertops, with granite and burnished metal instead of worn wood and wainscoting. Where the farmhouse had been a car ride away from even the bus stop, the pink turret house was a mere driveway from the sidewalk, short feet from the street. You could see downtown skyscrapers from the front window. The dining room was barely large enough to fit the homeworking table, itself a worn and whitewashed relic of their other home, another life. The floors were perfectly smooth but still, the boys had been frustrated to learn, poor for roller-skating, being constantly interrupted by too many walls. The house had been edited over the years by a century’s worth of owners with what were clearly widely varied visions, financial constraints, and priorities. The result was a bit hodgepodge. Orion’s room was tucked into the second-floor eaves and too short to stand up in except in the middle. Rigel’s was accessible the regular way but also through a trapdoor in the back of the linen closet. The steps to Poppy’s turret led up from the master bedroom. Roo and Ben shared the basement, one sprawling room Ben turned into six by repurposing the moving boxes to make a labyrinth of bedrooms, workrooms, corners, and hideouts. The house was polished and functional, just a little odd on the inside when you looked close enough. “Like me,” Poppy said.

Madison’s wide, amber flat was replaced with Seattle’s verdant verticality, the green hinting perhaps at the nowhere-in-evidence-yet rain but the latter a complete surprise. The pink turret house was on a hill so steep Penn thought they might need to hire Sherpas. Their main-floor living-room window looked out over their next-door neighbor’s roof. And it was this that was truly the biggest change of all: someone next door. For the first time in their lives, the kids had neighbors.

Alone on their farm, Rosie and Penn had forgotten all about the way your neighbors’ desire to live next to a mown lawn and weeded parking strip somehow trumped yours to not care and go to yoga instead of gardening on Saturday mornings, the way their kids lay out on towels in the backyard and played bad music loudly so there was nothing you could do to stop it entering your open windows and then your open ears, the way your own horde of children holding a science experiment to determine how loud you had to yell to shatter a wineglass meant you had to worry about more than the wineglass. And the way neighbors knocked on your door within hours of your arrival, never mind your house was a mess, your hair was a mess, your kids were a disastrous mess, and you were not in the mood to be sociable. Never mind it turned out that after all the ruminating and decision making over what to move versus what to buy new, what to keep versus what to give away, what you had but wouldn’t need (sleds) versus what you needed but didn’t have (something to entertain a troupe of children in the winter that wasn’t a sled), what you really required didn’t occur to you until it was too late.