Elena knitted her hands and looked across the hallway, drifting on currents of memory. “It wasn’t so big back then, but this part is the same. I sat on this bench, right here, every day after school for Mom or Dad to pick me up.”

Simona nodded. “The old school’s long since torn down, but they had a bench too. I think one of the sour old ladies in the office–and there’s always been a sour old lady in the school office, it’s like a grease trap for them–likes to put the kids they don’t much care for on display there. For sins of their parents, real or imagined.”

“They thought your parents had done something wrong?” Elena said.

“They had me, didn’t they?” Simona laughed. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure plenty of Higbee’s most distinguished men had precocious little half’n’halfs like me running around. But Doctor Osborne had the bad taste to acknowledge it.”

Elena grew quieter at that. “The kids have had to sit here too,” she said. “I’ve heard they’re called Kilgore’s Bastards. Hell of a thing, you know?”

“Oh, I know. Once I could write, I kept a list. I think I was up to about thirty-five when I stopped–not because I was offended, but because it was getting boring. Bigots aren’t all that creative with their insults, as I’m sure you well know. I’ll give a cookie to whoever thought up ‘Osborn’s Oopsie’ for me, though.”

Elena laughed. “You know, we used to tell stories about you when I went here.”

“Oh goodness, I’m sure you did,” said Simona. “Let me guess. I was sitting on a pile of Confederate gold up in my luxurious mansion, and I had killed my 147-year-old husband to do so.”

“You got it,” Elena laughed. “Wow. Total accuracy. Put in a few prepubescent voice breaks and it might as well have been Jimmy Hagarman saying it.” She shrugged. “Seriously, though. Kids spreading rumors aren’t any more creative. Word was that you were a witch, that your cats obeyed your every command as an unholy army of the night, and that there was…well, Confederate gold under the house. But not from your susquicentenarian murdered husband, it was from Doctor Osborne himself.”

“And did I murder him?”

“Odds were even that he was murdered or turned into a toad.”

Simona roared with laughter. “I am fabulous, but not that fabulous. It’s good to know I had such street cred with the kids then.”

“Do you think…” Elena hesitated. “I’m doing my best. I’m sure Doctor Osborne did too. Is it enough, do you think? Or are people like us just destined to ride this bench forever no matter what the folks who love us try to do?”

“Listen,” Simona said. “I am eighty-seven years old, and in my time I’ve seen everything Higbee can cough up. Riding this bench? Some little shits whose sainted asses never touched it still found themselves awfully messed up.”

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