Maureen’s words were calm and measured—too measured. Regan scowled at her.
“You’re my mother,” she said. “You’re supposed to be making me feel better and helping me understand what’s wrong with me, not—not reciting some Wikipedia article you memorized as soon as I got old enough to start asking questions! You’re supposed to be on my side!”
“We are, pumpkin, we are,” said Hugo, and sat next to her. “But you’re right: we’ve had years to prepare for you to start asking questions, and that means we’ve played out this conversation in our heads a hundred times. It hasn’t always gone well.” He laughed wryly and shook his head. “But it’s always gone. So this is hard for us too, just in a different way.”
Maureen sat on Regan’s other side. “Sweetheart, what matters most is that you understand there isn’t anything wrong with you. You’re exactly the way you’re supposed to be. Some things may not come as … easily … to you as they do to other girls, and some things may need a doctor’s help to happen, but you’re perfect. There’s no right way to be a girl. You’re going to have a wonderful, perfectly normal life, and all this silliness about wanting to start puberty before fifth grade will seem like a childish obsession that was better off outgrown.”
“Why are girls starting puberty so early, anyway?” grumbled Hugo. “I don’t remember any of the girls needing bras before they were thirteen, and now it’s like some sort of a race.”
“It was always a race, dear, it was just a race you weren’t running,” said Maureen. “Ten is young, but it’s not that unusual. There was a girl in my class who was wearing D-cups by the end of third grade.”
Hugo shuddered. Regan, who didn’t fully understand what that meant, just frowned.
“There’s really nothing wrong with me?” she asked.
“Really,” said Maureen.
“Really-really,” said Hugo.
“I was born this way, and there’s nothing you can do to change it?”
“We wouldn’t change it if we could,” said Maureen. “You’re perfect. You’ve always been perfect, and you always will be.”
Regan, whose ideas of perfection were closely linked to conformity, didn’t say anything. She sat silently as her parents hugged her, first separately, and then together. She twisted her hands in her lap, tangling her fingers like the roots of a tree, and blinked back the tears threatening to spill over and run down her cheeks. She didn’t want to cry in front of her parents. Only babies cried in front of their parents, and she wasn’t a baby.
“Was there anything else you wanted to ask, sweetheart?” asked her father, letting go and leaning away from her, so he could see her face. He could see the brightness in her eyes, but he didn’t call her on it. This was all a bit overwhelming for him, and it wasn’t his body under discussion. It was understandable that she’d be a little upset.
“No, Daddy,” she said, with a shake of her head. Then: “May I be excused? I have school tomorrow.”
“All right, pumpkin,” said Maureen. “Brush your teeth before you go to bed.”
“Yes, Mom,” said Regan, and slid off the couch, heading for the stairs. She didn’t look back.
Her parents exchanged an anxious glance. “Did we do the right thing?” asked Maureen.
“We agreed to tell her as soon as she was old enough to notice that something was different,” said Hugo. “She noticed, she asked, we told her. I think it went about as well as it could have gone, all things considered.”
Maureen sighed and leaned against her husband, closing her eyes. She wanted him to be right. She wanted everything to be all right. But she kept seeing the shock and betrayal on Regan’s face. They had kept secrets from their daughter. Whether it had been for her own good or not, they had done it, and now they were going to face the consequences.
Upstairs in her room, Regan turned on her computer, bringing up Wikipedia. “Intersex,” she typed, and began to read.
She was still reading an hour later, when her father knocked on the door and told her it was time to turn off the light. Her eyes were dry as she kissed his cheek and climbed into bed. Her mind was whirling, and she thought she’d never be able to fall asleep, but when Hugo flicked off the light, it was as if he’d flicked her off as well. She fell immediately into a deep and surprisingly untroubled slumber, which lasted all the way until morning.
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