“Rigel and Orion could have gotten very hurt.”

“But they didn’t. Why aren’t you happy?”

“I am happy, but I’m mad for next time.”

“Mad for next time?”

“Mad so there doesn’t have to be a next time.”

Preventative madness? It had seemed to Roo at the time like madness indeed, and this felt like that: preventative madness, aftermath madness, madness in relief. Rosie wanted just to go to bed.

Penn did not. “What were you thinking?” This without preamble and directionless, toward everyone in the room and no one in particular.

Orion, tumbling over himself already: “I wasn’t thinking anything. It was an accident.”

“An accident?”

“I didn’t mean to.” His voice was shaking. His hands too. “It just popped out.”

“How do you say something accidentally?”

“Like one of those camisole thingies.”

“Camisole thingies?”

“Freudian slips,” Rigel translated. Penn often suspected Orion and Rigel of telepathy because simple twindom insufficiently explained how they understood the inanities that came out of each other’s mouths.

“No,” said Penn. “Freudian slips are when you accidentally say what you actually mean rather than what you’re pretending to mean. Is that what happened here?”

Orion looked cowed and miserable but mostly lost.

Rigel put in, almost too quiet to hear, “It was just a good opportunity. You know?”

His parents did not.

“He could say it,” Roo explained, and his mother was surprised to hear his voice, “and it wouldn’t matter. For just a minute, it was like we didn’t all have to be carrying around this crazy secret.”

Rosie and Penn found themselves looking at Ben as if he were the one who could tell them whether all this was true or just boyish bullshittery. “Secrets are heavy things,” he said, absolving neither his brothers nor his parents.

“We have to be careful.” Penn struggled to keep his voice under control. “Now more than ever.”

“Why now more than ever?” Roo’s lip curled like a caterpillar.

“Because we’ve come this far,” said his father.

“Yeah but if that’s true,” said Ben, “won’t it always be now more than ever? Won’t every day be more than the day before?”

“Enough excuses.” Rosie was done with this conversation. “Orion, you were messing around with your friends, showing off, and you said something you shouldn’t have. It’s only luck this wasn’t much, much worse. It’s not your business; it’s Poppy’s. It’s not your life; it’s hers. Let’s not make this out to be gallantry. This was a warning shot, so heed it. Everyone else can keep their mouth shut. Everyone else has managed not to tell. You can too.”

These were perfectly reasonable points. But in the end—somewhat before the end actually—a large percentage of them proved untrue.


Parent time is like fairy time but real. It is magic without pixie dust and spells. It defies physics without bending the laws of time and space. It is that truism everyone offers but no one believes until after they have children: that time will actually speed, fleet enough to leave you jet-lagged and whiplashed and racing all at once. Your tiny, perfect baby nestles in your arms his first afternoon home, and then ten months later, he’s off to his senior year of high school. You give birth to twins so small and alike, they lie mirrored, each with a head in the palm of one hand while their toes reach only to the crooks of your elbows, but it’s only a year before they start looking at colleges. It is so impossible yet so universally experienced that magic is the only explanation. Except then there are also the excruciating rainy Sundays when the kids are whiny, bored, and beastly, and it takes a hundred hours to get from breakfast to bedtime, the long weekends when you wonder whose demonic idea it was to trap you in your home with your bevy of abominable children for a decade without school.

They were all of them, even Poppy, still little boys in Rosie’s eyes, never mind four-fifths of them were now eight-plus inches taller than she was with voices deep as wells. That was something she would explain to people about Poppy if she ever actually decided to explain to people about Poppy instead of keeping her a secret: your babies are always your babies. Roo and Ben were nearly six feet tall with limbs like giraffe legs and wingspans that augured flight. Fourteen-year-old Rigel appeared no more like baby Rigel, fourteen-year-old Orion like toddler Orion, than Poppy did like little Claude. But those tiny boys, those tiny bundles of baby, were right there before her every morning over breakfast and every evening over dinner and every time they woke up sick in the middle of the night or came home with some school miracle accomplished or ranged into moments of stumbling maturity. Poppy’s transformation, she would have told people, if she told people, was no more miraculous or astonishing or, frankly, absurd, than any of the others, nor any more apparent to her rainbow mama eyes. Parent time is magic: downtempo and supersonic all at once, witch’s time, sorcerer hours. Suddenly, while you aren’t paying attention, everything’s changed.

Poppy was about to start fourth grade, the twins ninth, Roo and Ben their junior years of high school. On the way to work, Rosie considered that she had only two more years with her whole tribe, and then she’d be down to three. She had only two more years—after a dozen of them—with a child in elementary school. Only two more Halloween parades. Only two more turkeys shaped like hands. She could scarcely imagine a holiday season without “Up on the Rooftop” stuck in her head, but she looked forward to trying it out. The weather was all turquoise sky, sunshine spread wide and warm like butter on new rolls, dappling shadows that somehow made clear it was the end of summer not the beginning, back to school not semester’s end.