Laurel, who could be cruel and could be petty and was frequently not a very good friend, held up a hand to signal for silence. The giggling stopped. With what sounded like genuine concern, she asked, “Regan? Can I help?”
And that was when Regan made the decision that would change her life forever, for both good and ill. She sniffled, and looked at the girl she’d called her best friend since kindergarten, and nodded.
“I think maybe you can,” she said.
They finished the bus ride in silence, and walked together to the classroom. Fourth grade was taught by a single teacher in a single room, with the exception of PE and band, which happened in their own spaces. Some of the older kids said that when they reached sixth grade and transferred to the middle school across town, they’d change rooms throughout the day, with a different teacher for every subject. Regan thought that sounded very inefficient, and probably unpleasant, since there was no guarantee every teacher would like you, not when you had six different ones every single day.
But for now, it was one teacher in one classroom, and her desk was next to Laurel’s, where it had always been, and she was happy. She would have been happy if she could have stopped the world right where it was, so no one grew up, and there was nothing strange about her staying exactly the way she was.
Laurel, who could be like a dog with a bone when she thought people were keeping something from her, spent the first three hours of the day slanting sidelong glances at Regan and occasionally reaching over to tug her hair or swipe pencils from her desk in a bid for attention. Regan swatted her hands away and shushed her, eyes on the front of the room. She didn’t want to get in trouble. Not when she was already tired, and her head felt like it was full of bees, and everything was wrong compared to the day before. The day before, she’d known who she was and what her world was going to be; she’d been so sure life had no surprises in store for her.
When the bell rang for lunch she jumped in her seat, so startled she nearly fell over. Only Laurel’s hand grasping her sleeve and pulling her back kept her upright. Regan glanced at Laurel, thanks on her lips, and swallowed them when she saw the bright intensity in the other girl’s eyes. Laurel had been scenting a secret all morning and now, like a hunting dog kept on the leash too long, she was ready to start biting at anything between her and her quarry.
“Come on,” she said. “You promised.”
And that was how Regan found herself at a table in the back of the library with Laurel, her lunch unpacked in front of her, the librarian somewhere up at the checkout desk, where she could keep an eye on the less obedient students, telling Laurel everything.
Maybe she wouldn’t have done that if her mother had insisted she take a day off from school to think about what she’d learned and what it would mean for her future. Maybe she would have realized staying quiet wasn’t the same thing as lying, and that while her body wasn’t any sort of shameful secret, she was under no obligation to share it with anyone, especially not with a girl who had proven, over and over again, that she couldn’t be trusted with anything that didn’t fit her narrow view of the world. Maybe she would have realized that if there was no right way to be a girl, there was no wrong way either.
But Regan was accustomed to trusting Laurel, treating her like a vicious dog that wouldn’t bite the one who held its leash, even as it barked and snarled at everyone else. Maybe that was why she missed the slow widening of Laurel’s eyes, the slow paling of her cheeks, right until the moment Laurel pushed her chair away from the table and demanded, in a horrified tone, “You’re a boy?!”
“No,” Regan protested. “No, I’m not a boy, I’ve never been a boy, I’m a girl just like you, just one whose body’s built a little differently—being intersex is perfectly normal, it’s as common as being redheaded, and we have six redheads just in the third grade. I’m not a boy!”
“You are, though,” Laurel insisted, taking a big step backward. “You line up with the girls during PE, and you come to slumber parties with girls—you’ve seen me in my pajamas!” Her lip curled in clear disgust. “You’re a gross, awful, lying boy!”
Regan leapt from her seat, shouting, “I am not! I’m a girl! My parents said so!” As soon as the words were out, she had to wonder if they’d been the right thing to say, or whether Laurel would care what her parents said about her.
Laurel did not. She took another huge step backward. “Don’t you come near me! If you do, I’ll scream!”
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