“So what do you do?” Claude kept trying to tuck his hair behind his ears. Except he had no hair anymore.

“Come home. Have a cry with your family. Let them tell you you’re awesome. Wig out. Shave your head. Go back the next day and try again.”

“Does it stop? Does it get better?” He was crying again, which didn’t seem possible. At some point, shouldn’t your face run out of water?

“Some,” Ben promised. “If anybody overheard it though, I could still get beat up for having this conversation.”

“And the other one?” Claude said miserably.

“Other one what?”

“You said you had two points.”

“The other one is you’re not a guy.”

“I am a guy.” Claude held his arms out from his sides like he would fly right out his window if he could. “Look at me.” He touched his head. “Look at me.” He peeked down the neck of his sweatshirt. “Look at me.” He pulled his sweatpants open at the waist and gazed down. “Look at me. Look at me. Look.”

“I am looking,” said Ben. “You look sad. You look like someone who’s going to regret very rash hair decision making. You look like someone who’s just realized ten-year-olds can be horrible human beings. But you don’t look like a guy.”

“I don’t because it’s worse than that.” His voice was breaking, and every other part of him felt like it was breaking too. “I don’t look like a guy, but I am one anyway. I can’t pretend I’m not. I have to learn to be one. I should have been learning all along. Now I’m behind and I’ll never catch up. All I needed was help. I live with like a thousand guys, and no one would help me.”

“We did help you.” Ben could hear his voice rising. “Are you kidding? We did nothing but help you. We said okay when you switched to dresses. We said okay when you changed your name and grew out your hair. We moved across the country for you. We kept your secret for you.”

“That’s not the help I needed.” Claude’s hands tried to grab fistfuls of hair at his temples but came up empty. “I needed help being a boy. I didn’t need help being different—I am different—I needed help being the same. I needed help being like you, and no one helped me, and now my life—both my lives—are over. I can’t be Poppy and I can’t be Claude. I can’t be anyone.”

“Everyone’s someone,” said Ben.

“I’m nobody.” Claude was studying Emily Dickinson in school. Back when he used to be enrolled in school. “Who are you?”

“I’m nobody too.” Ben’s voice was shaking. “There’s a pair of us.”

“No there isn’t.” Claude was crying again. Ben looked like he might too, which made Claude feel a little bit better. But only a little bit. “There isn’t. I’m the only only one.”


Claude ignored the tapping on his window, which commenced at 11:24 and continued until five minutes past midnight when he just couldn’t take it anymore. He pulled open his blinds and then his window and leaned into the dark rain. Could a rival princess be a prince? Could a princess have a penis if it weren’t a secret? Or was Aggie just one more thing Poppy had to lose? The night wind chilled Claude’s hairless skull. It was raining hard enough to soak them both but not enough to mask the tears he’d have given anything to hide from Aggie but could not keep from rivering out of his swollen eyes.

“Nice hair.” Aggie sounded mad.

“Yeah. Thanks.” So Claude sounded mad back. Mad was better than gnawing grief, than agonizing mortification and terror, so it felt something like relief.

“So. You’re a guy?” There was something under Aggie’s mad, but even Claude—even Poppy—could not tell what it was.

“No. I’m nothing.”

“But you have a … thing?”

He nodded. The only way to keep the crying from turning to sobbing was to clamp his mouth tight as a tourniquet.

“My mom said that doesn’t make you a guy,” Aggie shook her head hard, “but I don’t understand.”

Claude shrugged miserably. “Me neither.”

“Is that why you always change in the bathroom? It’s not because of Roverella?”

“I guess,” Claude said.

“You lied to me.”

“Not really. I didn’t want Roverella to see me either. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I’m gross.”

Aggie nodded. That made sense to her, which made Claude feel even worse, which he hadn’t realized was actually possible.

“Well”—Aggie made her eyes widen and her head shake and her shoulders shrug in the most adult way she knew to express befuddlement—“have a nice life I guess. Though I don’t really see how that’s possible.”

She pulled her head inside and started to shut her window.

“You hate me because I’m a boy?” Claude sobbed. He was going to just go back inside too, but when he accidentally opened his mouth, that was what popped out. When he imagined life without Aggie, he imagined tipping himself over the lip of the turret window and crashing into the pavement three stories below.

“You said you aren’t a boy,” Aggie sneered. “You said you’re nothing.”