Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

Regan grabbed a shirt from the laundry hamper, folding it with sharp, efficient motions and dropping it onto the pile already on the bed. She knew why she was still Laurel’s favorite. She was Laurel’s favorite because she’d been there for the snake incident, and she’d learned, better than anyone could have possibly expected, why going against Laurel was a bad idea. Heather had never socially recovered from being cast out of the inner circle. She had a few friends who kept her company between classes—she wasn’t alone—but she had never regained the vaunted heights of Laurel’s approval. Regan had been there to see it happen. She had been there to understand just how quickly and viciously Laurel could take someone from beloved to beneath notice, and she had internalized that lesson remarkably well. She was still Laurel’s best friend because she was willing to do the work to never lose her position, never be cast out of favor, never have to face the world alone.

As long as her horses didn’t become the thing that made her strange, she’d be fine. She wasn’t sure she could give them up, even for Laurel. No matter how many times her mother told her that girlhood wasn’t destiny, she didn’t think she could survive without Laurel.

But the other girls were starting to change in ways she couldn’t copy, no matter how important it seemed. Their bones were migrating into new shapes, hips getting wider and waists nipping inward, some more obviously than others. Laurel was one of the “lucky ones,” according to the girls who flocked around her in their ribbons and flounces, praising her developing breasts like they were something she’d accomplished through hard work and personal virtue, not hormones and time.

Regan grabbed another shirt, snapping it out with force before folding it neatly. She was being shut out more and more, referred to by the other girls as a child who should play with kids her own age, even though she was older than most of them. Breasts weren’t a sign of maturity; they were just a sign of—of breasts! She wasn’t even sure she wanted them. Some of the older girls at the riding stable talked about their breasts like they were wild animals that refused to stop attacking them, making jumps and dressage more difficult. They would have told her not to pray for puberty, if she’d asked them, which was why she never asked. They didn’t have to thread the needle of normalcy the way she did. They hadn’t been there for the incident of Heather and the snake. They didn’t know.

Girlhood wasn’t destiny unless you wanted it to be, and she had accepted her destiny wholeheartedly. Anything to be normal. Anything for Laurel.

Regan placed the neatly folded shirt on the pile, taking a calming breath in through her nose and out through her mouth. She’d have to go to Karen Winslow’s stupid party. Staying home to go riding would solidify the idea that she was just a little baby kid and didn’t deserve to be included.

It was a waste of time, and she’d hate every minute, but there wasn’t any other choice. She’d been working so hard for so long to stay in Laurel’s good graces. She wasn’t going to lose her place now.

“Regan? Honey?”

She looked up at the sound of her mother’s voice, unconsciously swiping a hand across her cheek. “Yes, Mom?”

“I just wanted to see if you were all right. It doesn’t usually take this long for you to put away your laundry.”

“I’m fine…” Regan looked at the welter of brightly colored shirts, socks, and underwear. The same sizes she’d been wearing the year before. Even some of the same actual clothes. She wasn’t outgrowing anything. She wasn’t growing, not the way the other girls were. She was getting taller—maybe a little faster than she should have been—but that was all. “Mom?”

Something about her tone made her mother freeze in the doorway, a thread of panic wending its way down her throat and filling the hollow behind her lungs, until it felt like there was no room left for anything beyond being afraid.

“Yes, Regan?” she asked, voice soft.

“Is there something … something wrong with me?”

Maureen Lewis had been waiting for her daughter to ask that question almost since she’d been old enough to speak. That didn’t make it easier to hear; the weight of it was enough to rock her back on her heels, and the urge to flee the room followed close behind, until she had to grip the doorframe to keep herself from turning and running away. “No,” she said, voice surprisingly steady, surprisingly clear, considering the situation. “There’s nothing wrong with you, Regan. You’re perfect. You’ve always been perfect.”