Kennedy hated stools.

It was nothing to do with the design of them; a flat piece on a three- or four-legged base is entirely unthreatening, unless you had read Day of the Triffids as some kind of nefarious plan by corporations.

It was her schooling that made Kennedy hate the seat. Her fourth-grade teacher, a grizzled, greying old man tottering around the hallways, had, like a Catholic Bishop, been remarkably backwards-thinking. Every student who did poorly on a test was given a dunce cap and forced to sit on the stool.

This did little to improve grades, but plenty to incite ire among parents and fear among students.

Anyone put on the dunce stool would be forced to sit at the front of the class. Rather than turned into the corner, though, the “dunce” would have to look out and bear the shame of their fellow students, with old Mr. Hockett sitting at his desk at the back, staring at them.

The students, however, did not stare in contempt, but rather looked away, worried at their own ending up on the dunce stool. More often than not it was girls put there, generally the girls wearing a dress, though the students never put that together. Occasionally, if it was particularly hot and it was shorts weather, there would be a string of boys put on the stool, but over the course of the year, the girls in dresses – especially the smarter girls – were the ones put up for class shaming and teacherly scrutiny.

Kennedy hated stools, and refused to ever sit near them. She avoided cafés, left party nights at clubs, and declined dinner invitations with friends who had a breakfast bar.

So when she was invited over to Willard’s for a third date – a meal he would cook for her himself – and she walked in to see he only had a raised table and stools, she froze. He beckoned her in, but she stood at the door, looking from Willard, to the stools, and back to Willard. Her hand trembled, but she couldn’t decide which way to go.


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