“I didn’t say she was really a boy. I said she used to be a boy.”

“That’s not entirely true either.”

“What would you have said?” Rosie asked.



“Nothing. I would have just said, ‘This is my daughter, Poppy.’”

Rosie thought about Jane Doe bleeding to death in her hands. Rosie thought about Chad Perry’s fingers jerking back from what they found under her skirt like he’d pricked them on a witch’s spindle. If you didn’t tell people to begin with, you never knew when they might find out. “They’d realize. Eventually.”


“That’s what worries me.”

“It’s been a long time since we had neighbors,” Penn allowed, “but I don’t think one generally sees them naked.”

“So we just don’t tell anybody?”

“I don’t know. How was the conversation?”

“Terrible,” she admitted. “Weird. Awkward. Embarrassing for everyone.”

“Want to have it forty or fifty more times this week? With everyone we meet at the barbecue, on the playground at school, all the kids’ new friends and their parents?”

“I do not.”

“Besides,” said Penn, “on sight, how do you tell the difference between the Cindy Calcuttis and the Nick Calcuttis?”

“What do you mean?”

“How do you know before you tell them who’s going to say, ‘Okay, cool,’ and who’s going to be hateful and violent? Or who’s going to say, ‘Okay, cool’ and be secretly hateful and violent?” Penn pictured his imaginary gunshot wound. Penn pictured his fist slamming again and again into Nick Calcutti’s face.

“You don’t know,” Rosie conceded.

“I know this isn’t why we moved,” Penn said, “but it’s a nice bonus. Not everyone has to know. She can be just Poppy for a while. We can always tell people later.”


“I don’t know.” Penn shrugged. “Later. Once we’ve gotten to know them. When we know it’s safe. When the moment is right.”

Maybe there was a moment when the moment was right, but over the years, Rosie and Penn realized the impossibility of finding it. For the first few thousand of them after they met someone, it was too soon, Poppy’s story too awkward and complicated, too intimate, too risky to share with new acquaintances. But by the time those acquaintances became close friends, it was too late. Perhaps there was a perfect moment in between, when you were close enough to tell but not so close it was problematic that you hadn’t done so already, but it was infinitesimal, too fleet and fleeting to pin down, visible not even in hindsight.

“You can tell anytime,” Penn said, “but once people know, they can never unknow.”

For such a short statement, it was astonishing how much of it proved untrue.


At the barbecue, Penn remembered what else neighbors can be: entertainers of your children. The Elliotts, two doors down across the street, had twin boys a month older than Rigel and Orion—Harry and Larry—and though Penn and Rosie secretly thought rhyming twins were unnecessarily confusing and the Elliotts secretly thought twins named after stars were unnecessarily abstruse, when Rosie checked on them later, she found all four in old Rigel-knit eye patches, huddled around a neighborhood (treasure) map all but dancing with delight. Cayenne Granderson had her mother’s open face and wide smile but her father’s erratic garrulousness. If Frank came off at first as awkward and off-putting, his daughter read as unpredictable and dangerous. Intriguingly dangerous. She introduced Roo and Ben to some of the older kids, and when Penn went to investigate, he found seven or eight of them piled on a blanket in the corner of the yard, one boy strumming pointlessly at a guitar, Cayenne with her head in Ben’s lap. Ben looked frozen, overcome with good fortune but terrified that if he moved so much as a toe she might realize what she was doing and get up and go away. (Penn, who had more experience with these things, noted that Cayenne didn’t look like she had any desire to go anywhere.) Roo was scowling at the guitarist, realizing for the first time that playing the flute at a neighbor’s barbecue in front of a bunch of new kids was unlikely to earn him the same cachet. (Penn, who had more experience with these things, bet that even though Roo had never touched a guitar in his life, he could still play better than this kid.)

Poppy stood shyly behind her parents’ legs when they first walked in, her parents a little cowed themselves by the magnitude of living in an actual neighborhood. With actual neighbors.

“We’re so glad you could come,” Marginny cooed.

“So Poppy, are you hungry?” Frank bent down to peek at her behind Penn’s knees. Rosie held her breath. “Come meet Aggie.” He offered her a hand, but Poppy shook her head mutely. “Aggie,” he called, and a girl just Poppy’s age tumbled around from the side of the house in pigtails tied up with twist ties and a cape of plastic tablecloth that had lately been on the dessert buffet. She wore one yellow rain boot, one bare foot, and was dripping wet.

“Why are you soaked?” Frank said. The girl smiled sagely as if this were one of the universe’s unknowable mysteries. Frank seemed to change his mind about wanting to know. “This is Poppy. She just moved in next door. She’s going into first grade too.”