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For most high schoolers, a best friend is someone who lends you the physics notes when you miss class. Someone who says you look like a marshmallow in your parka but silences anyone who does the same. Someone who sponsors midnight Stop & Shop runs to satisfy your popcorn cravings. My best friend was different. She chose crossword puzzles over vector diagrams and compression slippers over winter fashion. Her dentures made popcorn a pipe dream, so we filled our Friday afternoons with cranberry juice and maple walnut sundaes. Kay Quinn was, in many ways, a stereotypical old lady. But the hundreds of hours I spent with her taught me just how much lay beneath the surface.

I met Kay my first evening at Traditions of Wayland, a cushy assisted living facility in my hometown. Fresh out of middle school, I was heading up a student-senior outreach program in search of a surrogate grandmother. I navigated the sea of walkers with a tight smile and no inkling of what to expect. Would the residents be grouchy? Would they mistake me for their granddaughter? What if I called the same bingo number twice and they thought I was stupid?

I shouldn’t have worried. That night was a flurry of warm introductions, miscounted dimes, and compliments...

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