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This was originally posted here. The story itself is rated G, but this commentary contains a little bit of swearing akin to what they use on Deadwood, so considered yourself warned.

When the principal called, all she'd said was 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.) Growing up in Brooklyn in the 50s, especially in such a working class family, I have little trouble believing that Toby and David got in their share of scraps. I also have little trouble believing that Julie sat them down when they were 10 or 11, and taught them that the next best thing to a pair of brass knuckles is to use a roll of quarters. (Since Huck and Molly are a little younger and have smaller hands, they get dimes.)

"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." I loved that moment in 'Welcome to Where Ever You Are' when the little actress does that thing with her sleeve so much (no, seriously, I'm petty sure I blew an ovary. It was so adorable I couldn't stand it), I had to adapt it for a slightly older Molly.

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. I love the term jerkface. It’s simple, gets the point across, and sometimes you just have to revert back to your childhood insults, rather than calling someone a cocksucking motherfucker, y’know? (Although, that term has it’s time and place, don’t get me wrong.)

"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."

Confession: the character of Billy is based on a real kid, who was in my grade at school with when I was young. Aside from throwing a wad of gum in my hair and accosting me in the park after school-where he proceeded to punch me square in the mouth, which really fucking hurt-he didn’t really pick on me too much, but he was a big bully to the littler kids. I needed an opponent for Molly, and this was the first thing I thought of. Molly is much more assertive than I was as a kid, and I wrote her that way on purpose. Revenge of fifteen-year-old punches through fictional little girls; writing fic is much cheaper than therapy, and it has cute icons to go along with it.

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. That motion was very deliberate. It’s Toby’s move, we know that, but I wanted Molly to have picked it up. She’s very much a product of both her parents, and I try to let that show in all the little moments more than the big stuff.

"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." Yes, in this ‘verse, Toby is dead. When I first posted this story, I didn’t include a warning for character death; I figured that since I really only mention it in one little line and I don’t make a big, drawn-out deal of it, that it wouldn’t make a big impression. I was wrong, because it made people cry. Moral of the story: it’s better to have too many warnings than not enough.

It took me a long time to work out exactly what Billy would have told Molly that got him hit. I knew it had to be mean, to the point where Molly wouldn’t just be able to tell the teacher on Billy; when she punches him, she’s defending her family, and getting physical is the way she does it. She’s seen Billy push around the smaller kids on the playground, so that’s how Molly gets his attention-by throwing the harder punch.

The other thing that I think is important to know here...Billy doesn’t actually understand what he says to Molly; he hears his parents talking about it, and he doesn’t like how Molly jumps in to defend the younger kids, when Billy tries to beat them up (and she always does; my Molly is a tiny little force to be reckoned with), so he puts two and two together, hoping for the meanest possible outcome.

Andy mutters a curse before she can stop herself, and Molly gapes at her. "Mommy, you swore." I love that Andy is so angry in this moment that she can’t censor her language in front of her child. It was always kind of shocking to hear my parents swearing when I was growing up.(In fact, it still sometimes is; I’d never heard my mother use the word ‘cocksucker’ until about two years ago, and I was like, "Dude!" but then, I didn’t openly swear in front of my mother until fairly recently, and I still try not to. But that’s another story.)

"I did, honey, I'm sorry." Andy says, and turns on the bench 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. 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. A little nod to Commencement here. That’s one of the biggest things Andy has to wrestle with, in regards to Toby: she loves him, she reallytruly does, but he’s so sad, and she doesn’t want her kids growing up with that. "And, honey, no one deserves to get cancer, but the kind of person you are has nothing to do with it. Honest. 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." I believe that Molly will get into several scraps with Billy all through school, until she’s about 15. One day, he’ll make the mistake of shoving Huck around, and that’ll just be IT. You don’t mess with either of the Wyatt-Ziegler kids without the other up and ready to beat the crap out of you, because they won’t think twice about it, and you’ll never do it again.

And again, that shows how they are both Andy and Toby’s children; they won’t get into physical fights often, because they were raised by Andy to exhaust all other options before resorting to violence, but they’re also Toby’s kids, and because Toby was raised to know how to throw a good punch, Toby will want to impart this knowledge to his kids.

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 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."

I like that Andy’s not outwardly mad at Molly. She understands that Molly did what she had to do, on some level she respects that, but she still has to be the mom, and do the grounding. But when they get home, Andy will be calling to schedule a meeting between herself, the principal and the teachers, and Billy’s parents. Because she is really, really pissed off at what Billy said, and she knows that not many 9-year-olds would say that without hearing it elsewhere.

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August 2011


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