Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire



Regan, who knew she wasn’t perfect, frowned at her mother and said, despairingly, “But all the other girls are getting boobs and … and buying bras and deodorant, and Laurel just got her period, and none of that is happening to me. What am I doing wrong?”

Maureen frowned. “Do you want those things to happen?” she asked. “I thought you didn’t want them yet.”

“It doesn’t matter if I want them or not when everyone else has them!” said Regan, voice peaking in a wail. “I’m the weird one again, and I don’t want to be the weird one! Weird girls don’t have friends!”

“If your friends would stop wanting you around because you’re not exactly like them, they’re not very good friends,” retorted Maureen automatically, but somewhere in the back of her mind, she remembered the look on Heather’s face when her mother had dragged her to the house to complain about precisely that problem. And what had she said? That she couldn’t force anyone to be friends with anyone else? She had already known this day was coming, had known since before Regan was born. Oh, what a fool she’d been not to find a way to take Heather’s side …

“Well, they would, and they’re my friends, which means they’re good for me.” Regan glared sullenly at her mother. “You know what’s wrong with me, and you won’t tell me. Why won’t you tell me? Is it something really, really bad?”

“No. It’s not bad at all. It’s perfectly normal.” Maureen rubbed her face with one hand. “Your father will be home in a few hours, and we’ll sit down after dinner to talk this over as a family. All right? Is that good enough for you?”

Nothing could have been good enough for Regan in that moment. Nothing that wasn’t an easy explanation of the changes—or lack of changes—in her body, or a solution for the growing distance she felt between herself and the other girls. But she was a good girl, and had been raised to show respect for her parents, so she nodded slowly, swallowing her protestations, and said, “After dinner is okay.”

“Of course, sweetheart. You’re our perfect girl.” Maureen summoned a smile from deep below the panic swirling in her mind. “Now finish folding your clothes before your father gets home. You know I don’t like it when we leave the laundry lying around long enough to wrinkle.”

Regan scoffed, rolling her eyes as she reached for another shirt, and Maureen began to hope that maybe this wasn’t going to be as bad as she had always feared.





3





PERFECTION IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER


DINNER THAT NIGHT WAS baked chicken with green peas and cauliflower—one of Regan’s favorites, a fact that didn’t escape her as she settled at the table and filled her glass with sweet, cold milk. As an only child, she was accustomed to having her tastes catered to more often than not, but it was still worth noting, since her father’s love of potatoes usually overruled her desire for cauliflower with every meal. Like her horses, that was a small weirdness she had been able to convince Laurel to accept, mostly by keeping it away from school as much as possible. Not a lot of opportunities for cauliflower in the school cafeteria.

Her father, a little subdued and worn out after his day at the clinic where he worked, sat across from her. He was a big man, with square shoulders and square hands, and always carried the faintest scent of fur and sweat on his skin. He wasn’t the only large-animal veterinarian in the area, but he was known as the best, and his ability to coax even the furthest-gone foal into eating had saved a lot of horses since he’d opened his practice. Regan’s riding lessons came at a discount because the owners recognized that having the local vet’s only daughter utterly in love with their horses was the opposite of a bad thing.

Maureen had called him after her conversation with Regan, and he was braced for the coming discussion. He was the one who’d suggested cauliflower rather than potatoes. He somehow didn’t think it was going to be enough.

Once they were settled, conversation died for a while, sacrificed in favor of silverware scraping against ceramic, and the soft, subdued sound of chewing. Regan ate more quickly than her parents, and sat with her hands folded in her lap rather than asking to be excused. Leaving the table might be taken as a sign that she didn’t really want to know what her parents had been keeping from her. That would be low and mean of them, and she generally put more trust in their ability to play fair, but in the moment, she felt like she was being taunted with some great mystery that would put everything else into context. She was waiting for the world, which had been slipping slowly out of alignment over the course of the past year, to begin making sense again.