Regan had known from the beginning that Laurel’s love was conditional. It came with so many strings that it was easy to get tangled inside it, unable to even consider trying to break free. Laurel’s love was a safe, if rigid, cocoon. Regan bit her lip and shook her head, unsure how to articulate any of the things she was feeling. “Laurel’s my best friend,” she said.
“Does that make it okay for her to push you around and tell you Heather can’t be your friend anymore? Is that fair? You know there’s no right way to be a girl. Destiny isn’t reality.”
Regan shook her head again, less fiercely this time. “No, it’s not fair,” she said miserably. “But she does it anyway, and she’s my best friend. If I can only have one of them, I choose Laurel. Not Heather. I choose Laurel.”
Regan’s mother frowned, filled with a sadness as vast and impossible to articulate as it was when she’d been Regan’s age and squirming under the thumb of her own playground dictatrix, because some things spin from generation to generation, and never really change, no matter how much we wish they would. She turned toward Heather and her mother.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t like this either, but refusing to play with someone isn’t bullying. It’s just being a less generous person than I would have hoped. I can’t order Regan to be friends with your daughter.”
“I told you, Mom,” said Heather, voice despairing, and wrenched her shoulder out of her mother’s grasp. “I don’t want to be friends with them anyway. They’re mean. I said I didn’t want to come here. I want to go home.” She turned and stomped out of the house, leaving her mother gaping after her.
“I really am sorry about all this,” said Regan’s mother apologetically.
“You should teach your child some better manners, before she gets herself into real trouble,” said Heather’s mother, in a clear attempt to have the last word. Then she followed her daughter out of the house, as Regan collapsed, sobbing, into her mother’s arms.
THE COST OF BEING ORDINARY
TIME KEPT PASSING AFTER that, as time always does. Heather stayed away from Laurel and Regan on the playground and in the cafeteria, crossing paths with them only when school and its associated adults forced the issue. Years went by, first one and then two more. Laurel continued showing the sharp side of her tongue whenever given the opportunity, while Regan followed her through the world like a silent shadow, always careful to keep herself tucked inside the box Laurel had drawn, the one labeled “girl” in glittering, immutable letters.
Thankfully, Regan’s horses, large and smelly and occasionally dangerous as they were, somehow managed to fit inside that box. She sometimes thought they would have been expelled from the box in an instant had Laurel ever bothered to learn anything about them, had she ever bothered to accompany Regan to her riding lessons or the stables. Horses had big, stompy hooves and large, terrifying teeth, and even with as much as she loved them, Regan had a healthy respect for the amount of damage horses could do if they decided they wanted to.
Plus, they stunk. Not so much when she was actually around them, and the reality of horse could drown out the less compelling realities of sweat and urine and horse poop, which came in piles as large as her torso, but as soon as the horses were out of the picture, and it was just her and the shower, or her and the shovel, the mammalian reality of them could be a little difficult to bear.
At least she didn’t need deodorant yet. Her own mammalian realities were taking a while to make their presence known. It was frustrating at school, when Laurel and the other girls currently allowed within the inner circle started talking about training bras and periods with the worldly air of ten-, almost eleven-year-olds, and Regan had to hang around the edges acting like she was too cool to have opinions on shaving her armpits and whether Vivacious Vanilla or Luscious Lavender worked better for school-day antiperspirant.
She didn’t like either one. She’d tried swiping them from her mother’s side of the sink in the upstairs bathroom, and they both smelled like laundry detergent—yuck. Maybe if she smelled bad without them, she’d learn to have an opinion, but she didn’t think so. Opinions were better reserved for things that mattered, like whether she should go to Karen Winslow’s slumber party when it meant missing her Saturday evening riding lesson, or whether it was better to keep up her training and avoid being shut into Karen’s bedroom with a dozen other girls, most of whom tolerated her only because she was still inexplicably Laurel’s favorite.
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