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Family Histories

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When the principal calls, all she says is that Molly was in a fight with a classmate in the middle of the cafeteria during lunch. Andy expects the worst; when the kids were 7, Toby taught them both how to throw a punch if they needed to defend themselves, and Molly had picked it up faster than Huck had. (She prays that Toby never got the chance to show them how to hold a roll of dimes in their tiny fists.)

"How you doing, sweetheart?" Andy pushes open the office door, and steps in quickly. She hasn't spoken to the principal yet, but since Molly's here in this office instead of with the nurse, it can't be too bad.

Molly shrugs and picks at her sleeve. "I'm okay."

Andy sits down next to Molly on the couch, and looks her over. There are faint tear-tracks on her cheeks, and Andy knows her daughter well enough to know that Molly waited until she was alone to cry. She holds out her arm and Molly launches at her, not crying, just needing to be held for a moment. "Want to tell me what happened?"

"Billy's a jerkface," Molly says, her voice muffled by Andy's sweater. Her breath hitches, just once.

"Okay," Andy concedes slowly, rubbing Molly's back in wide, slow circles. She passed Billy and his mother in the hall, and he'd stuck his tongue out at her, so Molly's probably not wrong. "But Mol, that's no reason to hit him."

Molly sighs and sits back on the couch. "I know."

"So why'd you do it?"

Molly fidgets with her sleeve for a moment, and Andy has to ask her again. "He said that you and Daddy..."

"Me and Daddy what, Mol?" Andy prompts her gently. She's got a pretty good idea of what the kid said, and she's not sure she wants to hear it, but this is still better than getting the story secondhand from the principal. The more people a story passes through, the more twisted it becomes.

Molly stares down at her hands. There's a little red mark across her right index finger where Billy scratched her. When Andy asks her again, Molly sighs again and absently rubs at her forehead before she answers.

"He said that you and Daddy weren't married when Huck and I were born, and that means that we're all bad people. Really bad people," Molly emphasizes. She looks up at her mother, and waits. When she doesn't get an answer immediately, she continues. "He said...he said that's why Daddy died. Billy said that only bad people get cancer, and only the really awful ones die cause of it."

Andy mutters a curse before she can stop herself, and Molly gapes at her. "Mommy, you swore."

"I did, honey, I'm sorry." Andy says, and turns on the couch so that she's facing Molly. "You know how your daddy and I were married, until a few years before you were born, right?"

Molly nods. She found a picture from their wedding in the attic a few months ago, and used the last of the birthday money Aunt C.J. gave her to buy a pretty frame for it. It sits on the little table next to her bed, and every night before she goes to sleep, she can look at her mom, barefoot and with her hair down, smooshing a piece of cake into her daddy's face.

"Just because we weren't married anymore, didn't mean that we didn't love each other, Mol. Daddy loved me, and I loved him right back. And nothing that Billy can say will ever, ever change that," Andy says. Molly looks up at her with a serious expression, and Andy nearly breaks. Molly may have inherited Toby's dark eyes, but Andy will be damned if she'll allow her children to his sadness as well. "Honey, no one deserves to get cancer, and the kind of person you are has absolutely nothing to do with it. But, Molly, there's one thing you have to promise me."

"What, Mom?"

"No more hitting people, okay? If something like this happens again," Which it will, Andy thinks sadly, "just go tell your teacher about it, okay? No more fighting."

Molly nods solemnly. "Okay."

"And I want you to apologize to Billy before we leave. You really hurt him."

"I will, Mom. But he has to promise not to say any more mean stuff about us," Molly says.

Andy rises from the couch. "I can't make him promise that, but if he says anything else, I'll talk to his mom. How's that sound?"

Molly thinks for a minute, and finally nods. "That's okay, I guess. I'm still in big trouble, though, aren't I?"

"Yeah, kiddo, you are. Nothing but school, homework, and music lessons for a week."