“I’m with a patient,” Rosie said.

“It’s Poppy,” said Yvonne.

“On the phone?”


“Is it an emergency?”

“She says no”—all those children and grandchildren, not to mention thirty-four years in a doctor’s office, had precision-tuned Yvonne’s urgency barometer—“but I’m not buying it.”

When Rosie picked up the line, Poppy was silent. She could hear her breathing but that was it.


No answer.

“Poppy? Are you there?”

No answer.

“Honey, are you okay?”


“Sweetheart? You’re scaring me.”

And then, on the other end of Rosie’s phone, in the barest barely whisper of a breath, from a darkness that was very far away indeed, Poppy said, “Mom. They know.”

Rosie did not ask what—she knew. She did not ask how—it did not matter yet. What she asked was who. Who knows?

“Everyone,” Poppy only just managed. “Everyone knows.”

“I’ll be right there,” said Rosie.

Parenting in the Dark

At school, Poppy had just finished hanging up her jacket and her backpack that morning when she turned around and found Marnie Alison and Jake Irving pretending to be trying not to let her see them laughing at her while actually making sure she—and everyone else around—saw them laughing at her. If she ignored them, she’d look like an idiot. If she asked them what they were laughing at, she’d look like an idiot. If she battered them both with her backpack until their noses spouted blood like whales, she’d get suspended. So she said as little as she could manage, barely a syllable, but it contained all the surrender of the Treaty of Versailles, which they were learning about in social studies. “What?”

“We heard you’re a guy.” Marnie snickered.

Poppy felt the blood leave her face, her head, her chest and legs, and gush away from her heart like an eruption. “What?” That syllable again, the one that said: Kick me.

“We heard,” Jake fake whispered, “you have a giant dick.”

“Actually, it’s probably a little one,” Marnie said to him.

“Probably,” Jake agreed.

“Care to comment?” Marnie wore mascara and purple eye shadow every day. Poppy wondered whether her parents allowed this or she put it on after she got to school. Small beads of black globbed the tips of her lashes, which made them look like tiny licorice lollipops.

“I don’t have a … um…” Poppy could not bring herself to finish that sentence.

Marnie and Jake looked at each other. “She says she doesn’t have an um,” Jake said to Marnie.

“Then I guess she doesn’t have an um,” Marnie said back.

“Unless she’s trying to hide her um. Or is embarrassed by her um. Or she knows her um is disgusting.”

“All ums are disgusting.” Marnie pushed Jake, who pushed her back playfully like what they were doing here was a game rather than ruining Poppy’s careful, perfect life. Poppy followed them to their classroom and found her desk and tried to concentrate.

At lunch, Aggie threw herself into her usual seat with her usual lunch tray with its usual offerings: rectangle of pizza, pile of French fries, Granny Smith apple, chocolate milk. “You are not even going to believe what they’re saying about you,” she reported as if what they were saying to other kids weren’t what they were also saying to Poppy. “Marnie Alison and Jake Irving are telling everyone you’re a guy.”

Natalie snorted juice box through her nose, not because she was laughing but to show as clearly as she could how ludicrous she found this suggestion. Poppy saw this for the kindness it was. “As if. You’re the most popular girl in our grade. Marnie’s just jealous.”

“And mean.” As she did every lunch, Kim was deconstructing her sandwich so she could eat in pieces—the meat then the cheese then the bread. “Marnie and Jake are jerks. No one cares what they say.”

“But everyone’s talking about it,” Aggie reported soberly. “Cara Greenburg even asked me if I’d ever seen your thing when you slept over.”

“Did you say, ‘Duh, of course not’?” Kim asked.

“I said, ‘None of your business,’” said Aggie.

“Which is true,” said Natalie, “but maybe if you told them they’d leave us alone.” PANK realized they were all in this together. If Poppy went down, they all would. That’s how being ten worked.

“Told them what? I’ve never seen Poppy’s … thing.”

“She doesn’t have a thing,” said Kim.

“Maybe you could say, ‘We don’t stare at each other naked when we have sleepovers. What kind of sleepovers do you have?’” Natalie suggested. “Then they’d be embarrassed and just drop it.”

“They aren’t going to drop it,” said Aggie.

Then Keith Rice piped up from between Poppy’s legs under the table. “I see it! I see her thingy!”

Poppy kicked him and then, when he scrambled away, they all four kicked him, and he crawled out, transparent shredded lettuce sticking to his knees, a French fry flat as fruit leather mashed into his shin, hands raised, and protesting, “I’m just doing research for an article. My readers have a right to know.” Keith kept an elementary school blog the rough equivalent of Page Six and used it as cover for all sorts of sins.