- This Is How It Always Is
“I don’t cook,” said Stephanie.
“Not soup beans.” The witch thought damsels in distress should be quicker on the uptake. “Magic beans. I’ve got beans that will keep you from turning into a night fairy ever again.”
“Who will light the stars?”
“Who cares?” The witch shrugged. “Someone else’s problem.”
“What will I be at night then?”
“Just Princess Stephanie.” The witch grinned her awful brown witch teeth.
“But if I’m not a night fairy, who am I the princess of?”
“‘Of whom am I the princess?’” The witch was a bitch about grammar, but then she considered. “Huh. I guess if you’re not a night fairy, you can’t be a princess either. You’ll be Just Stephanie.”
Stephanie thought about this. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be Just Stephanie. On the one hand, it would certainly be simpler. On the other, what would the stars do without her? And besides, it was nice to be a princess. “Do you have beans that will control my wings just in the daytime? I’ll still be a night fairy and do the stars as long as I can keep my secret from my friends during the day.”
The witch sighed and rolled her eyes. Princesses were so demanding. But yes, she had those beans. And she felt for Princess Stephanie—it was different for her—so she handed them over. Stephanie went home, soaked them overnight, then turned them into hummus and ate it with carrot sticks for lunch the next day.
“Did it work?” said Poppy.
“It worked like a charm,” said Penn.
As soon as her parents’ lights went off, Aggie deployed her yardstick umbrella. Despite great advances in technology over the course of their childhoods, it would remain their communication device of choice. “Your brother’s in love with my sister.” She was talking before Poppy even had her window all the way open. “It’s gross.”
“Do I have another sister? Cayenne. Duh.”
“Who knows? One of them. All of them. Her phone pings every five seconds, and she’s in there laughing her head off. Which one of your brothers is still up?”
“All of them probably. No one showed up for storytime but me.”
“What happened tonight?” Aggie followed the adventures of Grumwald and Princess Stephanie like a soap opera.
“Steph’s wings were popping out all over, but she didn’t want anyone to know, so she went to the witch and got some magic beans. She made hummus, ate it, and felt better.”
“Weird,” said Aggie. “What do you think it means?”
“I dunno.” Poppy shrugged. “Something. There’s always some kind of secret message.”
Aggie considered the matter. “I think your dad wants us to know it’s okay to do drugs. And not tell anyone about it.” Improbable though it seemed, Agatha Granderson grew up and eventually became a professor of literary studies at the University of California at Berkeley. She had a gift for textual metaphor. “Fourth grade is going to be so great!”
Red Roo Rising
That January, as his grandmother had predicted they would, Roo’s needs arose. Roo needed understanding. Roo needed comforting. Roo needed his parents to realize what he was fighting and why, to see his hurt and confusion, to sort his legitimate anger from the other kind, or, if you prefer, his ordinary teenage angst from his more particular teenage angst. He needed them to take deep breaths and look at the big picture, but all Rosie and Penn could look at was the gash weeping blood from his forehead. Mostly what Roo needed was stitches.
It was a cold, wet Monday morning, and Rosie was running Howie-late as usual. She preferred Seattle January’s rainy forty degrees to Madison’s snowy four, but she also thought her toes might be growing mold from walking through the constant damp. Yvonne didn’t even look up from her computer when she arrived, red-nosed and sodden. “Fourteen minutes late.”
“I had to stop at the top of the hill to catch my breath.”
“For fourteen minutes?”
“Getting out of the house is hard.”
“Maybe you should drive.”
“Think of the environment. Did they wait for me?”
Howie ostentatiously stopped Monday Morning Meeting mid-sentence when she opened the door to the break room. “Ah, Rosie, thank you so much for joining us.” His opening move was the same every week as if passive-aggression were his own invention. “We can’t tell you how honored we are you could make it.”
Rosie didn’t even look at him. “What’d I miss?” she said to James.
“Quite a bit actually.” Howie glared back and forth between them. Elizabeth pretended to look at her (blank) notebook. “We’re almost done. Since you weren’t here, we decided in your absence to put you in charge of the staff-appreciation breakfast again this year.”
“It shouldn’t be me,” said Rosie.
“It won’t get started until lunchtime.” She grinned at James.
“The rest of us have families too, you know,” said Howie.