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Starving Artists by peppersweet
Chapter 21 : Emotional Wronski Feint
 
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Chapter Twenty-One - Emotional Wronksi Feint





Sunny with a chance of showers would have been great. In retrospect, I would have killed for sunny with a chance of showers. Sunny with a chance of showers suggests an average week, kind of mild, few little hiccups along the way – but generally progressing smoothly into nicer weather, possibly into a nice long heatwave, something I could wear sandals in. You know, sun in the sky, pretty flowers out on the streets, bees in the air and ice cream in hand? Like that. But, you know, metaphorical. I like metaphors, and I liked the idea of my mood being a nicely metaphorical sunny with a chance of showers, progressing into an equally nicely metaphorical heatwave.


I hadn’t expected a bloody thunderstorm.


The two of us sat facing each other in numb shock, footsteps echoing down the corridor beyond to the front door, which opened - then slammed. The same footsteps crunched across gravel and then were gone. In a perfect example of a pathetic fallacy, the sky cracked open and started to pour with rain.


Ironically, the radio was playing Cemetery Gates again.


‘Oh, bugger,’ was all I managed to say.


But maybe I should start at the beginning.


*



It was my turn to do the washing up. I’ve never been good at anything involving magic and crockery, and, really, it was safer to wash everything by hand. But, honestly, I’ve never been much good at washing things by hand either. My technique was just to fill a bowl with scalding hot water, dump washing up liquid in it, then dump bits of crockery in it one-by-one, swill them about a bit, then dump them on the draining rack.


I was halfway through swilling out the carafe when Rose came in from the back garden. I didn’t look up; it was Thursday, the penultimate day of the holiday, and I was feeling more than a little downtrodden. There’d been the pinball and a few other scant moments where me and Scorpius had managed to sneak off to find an arcade or a tacky souvenir shop or ice cream – but apart from that, the final few days of the holiday had been mostly meh. A big, resounding, echoing meh. I was resigned to my inevitable fate by this point, a fate that mostly involved Lettuce and/or Barry.


‘I’m going to use the phone,’ Rose announced breezily. ‘Just to let you know.’


‘Cool,’ I told the carafe, which I dunked back into the scummy water. I then picked up a ketchup-encrusted plate and a scouring pad, reading to recommence washing-up – but then, something compelled me to turn and watch Rose leaving the room. She had a rather purposeful stride, something that said she was gearing herself up for something. So, you know, like any other sane person, I crept after her and, as the kitchen door began to swing shut, jammed my foot between the doorframe and the door itself.


The door slammed right onto my foot. It was bloody painful; I had to grit my teeth. But whatever Rose had to say on the phone suddenly seemed very, very important to me. Standing there, with yellow magnolia gloves on my hand and soap dripping from the half-washed plate to the floor, I listened hard.


Rose was tapping her foot as she dialled from the phone out in the corridor. Mercifully, the corridor was L-shaped – she wouldn’t be able to see me propping open the door from her spot near the stairs. It was one of those old rotary dial telephones, and it took her ages to dial the number she wanted – she kept sighing impatiently, tapping her feet, tapping the earpiece against the desk, until finally, she seemed to get a connection.


I kept listening, staring down at the foot I had wedged in the door. I found it kind of amusing – a few nights ago, she’d accused me of putting my foot in the door. Metaphorically, of course. But now I had a physical foot in a physical door too. The coincidence amused me for a bit until Rose said ‘Hello!’ in a bright, cheerful voice.


Cheerful Rose? I pressed my ear to the crack in the door.


‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’m looking for Albus Potter.’


Pause.


‘Albus Potter? Yes, I believe he’s on the ground floor. Leg injury. Yes, that’s the one.’


Another pause.


‘Tell him it’s Rose, calling from Devon.’


There passed a long silence. I frowned, wondering what on earth Rose wanted to speak to Al about when she was on holiday and he was in hospital.


‘Hello, Albus,’ she said, finally. The cheerfulness had all but evaporated from her voice. ‘How’s your leg doing? Oh, good. Glad to hear that. The holiday? It’s lovely, really lovely. Pardon? Yes, the house is nice, please pass on my thanks to your friend.’


Another silence; Albus seemed to be talking at length. Somehow, the idea that Rose was chatting to him while I stood eavesdropping with soap all over my hands irritated me intensely. After all, he was more of a friend to me than to her.


‘Do I need a reason to phone you?’ Rose said, sounding annoyed. ‘Actually, there was something I wanted to ask. I don’t want to sound impertinent, but how possible do you think it is that we could stay another week in Devon? In your friend’s house?’


I had to clap a soapy hand over my mouth to stop myself exclaiming aloud.


‘Well, we’re really enjoying ourselves. And there’s a lot we haven’t had a chance to do yet in the town, and we were thinking of taking a day trip to Exeter…’


What lies. What stinking, fat lies. We’d pretty much exhausted everything Mordenton-on-Sea had to offer by day one.


‘Okay, so, maybe if you give me the phone number of your friend, I’ll call him after I hang up. It’s such a wonderful place. It’s a shame you can’t be here. Maybe if we stay another week, you could join us.’


Rose sounded astonishingly insincere. All I could think was that I wished Al was with us more than anything. He’d certainly have cheered me up in my miserable, mopey, heartbroken state. Shaking myself out of this thought, I turned my attentions back to Rose’s side of the phone call.


‘Pardon? No, sorry, Lucy isn’t here right now.’


Screw trying to be inconspicuous; I kicked the door open with my foot and blundered out into the hall, still clutching the plate and the scouring pad, leaving a trail of soap suds on the floor behind me.


‘I am here,’ I protested. ‘I can talk to him.’


‘Oh – er, she’s here now, Albus,’ Rose flustered. ‘I’ll put you on.’


I abandoned the magnolias, plate and scouring pad on the table and took up the receiver, pressing it to my ear.


‘Hi Al,’ I did my best to sound chirpy. ‘How’s the leg?’


‘Hey Lucy! It’s coming along nicely,’ Al said, his voice crackling with static – and at once I felt relief wash over me at hearing a friendly voice. Rose stood to my side, tapping her feet, pretending to shuffle through the post. ‘And how’s your holiday?’


I paused, trying to think of something to say.


‘It’s fab,’ I said, half-heartedly. ‘Really…fab.’


Al lowered his voice. ‘The old hag’s listening in, isn’t she?’


‘Yeah,’ I smiled, pretending I was continuing the holiday conversation for Rose’s benefit. ‘Wow, it’s been great here.’


‘Lucy, you really don’t sound like you’re enjoying it.’


‘Yeah!’ I gave an enthusiastic nod, smiling even more. ‘Yeah, the weather…the weather’s been…fab!’


‘Well, this is a bizarre conversation,’ Al sighed. ‘Okay, so, I’m obviously not going to get any straight answers out of you. Maybe we need a code?’


‘Yup,’ I nodded again, even though Al couldn’t see me. ‘Yeah, that’s right.’


‘Okay…pretend we’re talking about Quidditch? So, what’s Rose up to?’


‘Oh, yes, absolutely, the Cannons have a great chance of winning the cup,’ I garbled, hoping Al would pick up on the team name. ‘Not Pride of Portree, though, they’re really struggling.’


Al went silent, obviously thinking. I crossed my fingers, hoping he’d remember that Pride of Portree were my team, and I was using them as shorthand for me.


‘What about the Montrose Magpies?’ Al asked eventually.


‘The Magpies? Oh, I really have no idea. Confusing team. Zig-zagging all over the league, I mean, one minute they’re way up on points, way above the Cannons, next minute they just…lose it, or something, and fall way behind. Dead confusing team. Can’t make sense of them.’


Of course, I’d remembered that Scorpius was the sole Montrose Magpies supporter I knew.


‘But, I mean – what’s he doing? Is he with Rose or what?’


‘The Magpies and the Cannons are drawing,’ I said, hoping Al could make sense of what I was trying to tell him. ‘And Pride of Portree are lagging way, way behind.’


‘And…I sense you’re not getting on with Rose. At all.’


‘Funny story, that,’ I babbled. ‘You know the coach Portree hired last season – Roseanne Puckle, or whatever her name was? I suppose it’s her fault the team’s started to fall apart. I mean, she really doesn’t get on with their seeker, Quigley, or whatever her name is. She’s really picking on her, it looks like Quigley will be off the team soon enough if they don’t stop bickering. But Quigley’s their star player, you know? As soon as she leaves, the team will drop straight out of the league.’


There was no such coach as Roseanne Puckle, no such seeker as Quigley – once again, I’d constructed metaphorical Quidditch players to represent Rose and myself. Wow, I was kind of getting the hang of this metaphor thing.


‘Oh, crud,’ Al said. ‘But…but surely she doesn’t know?


‘Puckle? Oh, Puckle found out about that scandal. You know, when that Magpies player – wossisname, Cadwallader - got caught trying to bribe Quigley to lose a match or something. Puckle was miffed, they wrote about it in the Prophet. Word is that she cornered Quigley in the changing rooms after last match, accused her of conspiring with Cadwallader. Big bloody mess the league’s in, glad I didn’t put a bet on any of the teams this year.’


Al actually sounded quite amused, evidently enjoying the Quidditch allegory. ‘And Cadwallader? How’s his playing?’


‘Cadwallader? Ooh,’ I sighed heavily. ‘I mean, the Magpies are all over the place, but him especially. Can’t get his act together. He’s such an anomaly.’


‘I wish I was there so I could hit some sense into him. What do you mean?’


‘Well…’ I twisted the cord of the telephone around one soapy finger. ‘The transfer window’s open, right? It seems that Cadwallader can’t decide whether he wants to transfer to the Cannons or Portree.’


‘And…?’


‘I think Cadwallader should transfer to Portree,’ I said firmly. ‘He’s just what the team needs.’


‘I think he should go to Portree too.’


‘Mhmm. Yes,’ I nodded fervently, aware that Rose was still listening to my end of the conversation. ‘Absolutely.’


‘Is she still hanging around?’


‘Yes.’


‘Oh boy,’ Al sighed. ‘Well, there isn’t much else I can say. I’m sorry that Devon’s been the pits for you.’


‘Not at all, not at all,’ I said. ‘The League’s actually been alright. There was a great match between Portree and the Magpies yesterday, Portree beat the Magpies about five times at pinball.’


Rose turned her head in my direction inquisitively. ‘Quidditch stuff,’ I mouthed.


‘Really?’ Al laughed. ‘Hope it gets better for you. Good luck and all that.’


‘Yeah. Good luck with your leg. I’ll keep you updated on the transfer window situation. I know we’re all waiting for Cadwallader to hurry up and make his bloody decision.’


‘I’ll keep an eye on it,’ Al said. ‘Good to speak to you, Lucy. Bye then.’


‘Bye, Al. Get well soon,’ I hung up. Rose was still looking at me with narrowed eyes.


‘I’m going to finish the washing up,’ I said, lifting the plate and the scouring pad. ‘Then I was going to go for a walk, maybe take some photos.’


‘Alright,’ she said. ‘I was going to make another few calls, then I thought I’d get some holiday reading done. For my course, you know?’


‘Cool,’ I retreated to the kitchen, banging the door shut behind me.


My mind was still full of Quidditch allegories, but I could feel Rose’s stare following me all the way into the kitchen. For a moment I panicked, wondering if Rose was actually a mega Quidditch fan and knew I’d made the whole thing up (hell-o, since when have the Cannons ever had a chance in the league?). But, obviously, Rose was never a fan of Quidditch. I was pretty sure that the only reason she’d gone to matches at school was because of her duty as a prefect. I, however, wouldn’t have missed a match for the world, and I would have been on the team more often if it wasn’t for my frequent dates with Detention.


It didn’t take long to finish the washing up. Then it was just a matter of locating my trainers, purse and camera, and finally descending the stairs, squinting at the rain-soaked sky beyond the window. Rose was nowhere to be seen – evidently, it had been a short few phone calls – but I found Scorpius in the kitchen, drumming his fingers on the table, scrutinising the sky outside.


‘Hey, going out?’ he said, noticing the camera over my shoulder.


‘Thought it’d be nice to go out for a walk,’ I said. ‘Take a few pictures, something to remember Mordenton-on-Sea by.’


‘Cool. Can…er…’


‘What?’


‘Um…can I come?’


‘Yeah, sure,’ I said. ‘But no running down sand dunes again.’


So we left the house and ambled down to the beach.


It’s funny how quickly things changed after that phone call to Al.


It’s more funny, actually, to think of how much I was probably overreacting at the time. It’s funny to think that, if I hadn’t been such a thick, mopey fool, I might have noticed quite a few more things. If I’d been beady-eyed enough, if I’d gone through Rose and Scorpius with a fine-toothed comb…er, not literally. That’s the stuff of horror. I mean more…studied them carefully. Yeah, that’s it. If I’d calmed my stupid hysterics and mopey rage for long enough, I might have noticed things.


Things like – I can’t list every example. Lots of them are small, petty things. My small, small victories. I was stacking them up like a greedy goblin. Hey, if I’d had a knut for everyone one of those small, small victories, I’d have been rich. Well, slightly richer anyway. Probably about ten Galleons or so up? Well, I was unemployed, an extra ten Galleons was an exciting prospect.


Certain small, small victories stick out. Small, small things – like Rose reaching out to take Scorpius’ hand and him turning away. Okay, it was a bit more dramatic than that. It was more like Rose lunging and Scorpius falling into a hedgerow because he was too busy trying to ignore her nonchalantly to look where he was going. Pure comedy, yes, but also a small, small victory moment. It was always hard to resist punching the air whenever stuff like this happened.


But, yes, if I had a knut for every one of those small, small victories, I’m be marginally richer. I could probably have bought a few pints, a new pointy hat and a few rolls of film with that.


Rose didn’t manage to secure us an extra week in Devon in the end. I don’t know why she was after another week. I have no idea what she was planning. Honestly, I would have thought that another week cooped up in a house with me would have driven her insane – we really weren’t getting on. Perhaps, in a fit of malice, she wanted an extra week just to spite me. That seemed kind of OTT, though. No matter how much I disliked her then, I must admit that she was pretty subtle. Maybe she just really liked Mordenton-on-Sea. I don’t know. I don’t know whether I ever will know.


One thing I do know is that it was Scorpius who talked her out of staying in Devon another week.


He brought it up after our walk, when we were kicking off our shoes in the kitchen. Rose, again, was nowhere to be seen – I imagine she’d have been scandalised if she’d seen my mud-encrusted trainers zooming across the floor.


‘Flick the kettle on,’ I told Scorpius. ‘And the radio, while you’re at it.’


He complied. Strangely, he seemed to be less clumsy – I could recall a vast number of times he’d tried to make tea back in the common room and ended up pouring the kettle onto his shoes/adding salt instead of sugar/getting teaspoons stuck in his hair. This time he made tea, he simply switched the kettle on, chucked a couple of teabags into two mugs, added the boiling water, stirred, removed teabags, added sugar, and then brought them over to the table. Not once did he trip, spill anything, or blow up the universe. Which is quite the mean feat for him.


‘Hey, did Rose tell you about her, um…plan?’ he said, running a hand through his hair.


‘Plan?’


‘To stay another week,’ he grimaced. ‘Here.’


I sipped at my tea, thinking how best to answer. ‘She didn’t tell me as such,’ I said. ‘I kind of eavesdropped on her phone conversation.’


‘Yeah, well, she didn’t tell me as such either, I was eavesdropping too.’


I nearly choked.


‘Meant to ask you about that…yeah, I have no idea who that Cadwallader bloke is, but let’s hope he gets his act together.’


‘Um,’ I set my mug down. ‘Funny, that.’


‘Either your knowledge of the Quidditch League is woeful, or there’s something afoot.’


‘About that – well, I wanted to talk to Al myself, but Rose was kind of hawking around and it was a bit…hawkward.’


‘Er – why didn’t you want Rose to hear?’


‘You know we don’t get on-’


‘Yes, but…it’s not like you’ve been too choosy with your words around her in the past.’


‘It would have just been too awkward,’ I said, my voice rising dangerously in pitch. I didn’t quite want to let slip that I’d been talking about him as well, especially now that I knew he’d been listening in too. ‘How much did you understand?’


‘Oh, quite a bit,’ he said, vaguely.


I had to snatch up my mug and hide behind it. A blush had spread across my face, my heart hammering like…like an enthusiastic person with a hammer, hammering enthusiastically.


I was too flustered even to come up with an appropriate simile.


But I decided to be enigmatic and, I daresay, a little flirty, so I pressed on.


‘So,’ it was an effort to keep my voice calm and steady. ‘What sort of chance do you think Portree actually have? I mean,’ I added, hastily, in an effort to claw back the conversation just in case he didn’t get it. ‘I didn’t read the sports section of the Prophet this morning, I have no idea…’


I trailed off into silence. He seemed to be thinking; he wouldn’t meet my eye.


‘Portree?’ he mused. ‘They’re…oh, they’re an alright team.’


‘I mean, I know you’re a Magpies supporter,’ I babbled. ‘They’re pretty cool too. But then I know the Cannons have a pretty hardcore fanbase, half my family is obsessed with them…’


‘The Cannons are terrible,’ he wrinkled his nose. ‘When was the last time they won anything?’


‘Exactly,’ I thumped my fist on the table for emphasis – perhaps he didn’t realise the significance of the team names. Perhaps, from his side, it was just a casual, run-of-the-mill conversation about Quidditch.


‘So why did you pick the Cannons for Rose?’


Or maybe not.


‘Maybe I’m wrong, it took me a while to pick up on,’ he said. ‘At first I was dead confused, but then I remembered what you’d told me ages ago, about everyone in your family supporting the Cannons, except you were a Portree fan. Then you kind of mentioned pinball to Al and it clicked.’


Oh.


‘I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,’ he looked uncomfortable. ‘I was just out on the landing and…kind of just listened. But, anyway, back to my original point,’ he looked flustered, as if he wanted to forget everything he’d just said. ‘So I persuaded Rose not to stay another week, because I thought it’d be crummy if you two had to stay shut up here together and…’ he faltered.


‘You heard,’ I murmured, sounding about ten times more morose than I’d intended.


The realisation that he’d heard my conversation with Al gave me this horrible feeling – like someone had cracked an egg on my head, and cold yolk was dripping down my neck, through the collar of my shirt, along my spine. It was that weird egg yolk of realisation. And somehow, there wasn’t anything remotely funny about it.


Because I think he’d pretty much understood the whole Quidditch allegory and knew what a desperate, lovesick fool I was. Which, you know, was a bit of a fly in the ointment. More like an Acromantula in the ointment.


‘Um…yes,’ he said. ‘And…I’m sorry for being difficult. Sorry. Er – oh, just, sorry I mess things up.’


A horrendously awkward silence fell.


And Cadwallader of the Montrose Magpies is leading Quigley of Pride of Portree into a nosedive! Have they seen the snitch? My inner Quidditch commentator (married to my mental secretary, naturally) screamed. They think it’s all over – it is now! Quigley smashes into the ground and Cadwallader pulls away – ladies and gentlemen, that’s the best emotional Wronski Feint I’ve seen in all my years!


Because, really, the conversation had been the emotional equivalent of a particularly brutal Wronski Feint. One minute, it was all nice and cheerful and normal, the next minute – zoom, blam. I felt a lump building in my throat.


I muttered something along the lines of ‘we can’t go into this again’, but he interrupted me.


‘Sorry – I just, couldn’t help but listen in, and then I thought of that sort-of argument we had the other night and then I sort of thought it was all sorted, especially after the pinball and all, but now I think it isn’t sorted and oh god I shouldn’t have brought this up again-’


‘No, no worries,’ I babbled. ‘Hey, it’s totally fine, all hunky dory and stuff.’


‘But it’s not fine,’ he was doing that kicked-puppy-in-the-rain thing again. ‘It’s…it’s all…I don’t even get what’s going on anymore, but I know it’s my fault.’


It was the most horrifically awkward moment we’d shared since that first conversation in the dark room. The two mugs of tea sat to the side, slowly turning cold. Tinny indie-rock dribbled from the radio, ignored by both of us. I couldn’t meet his eye.


‘Yeah, um,’ I whispered. ‘You were Cadwallader and I was Quigley. And if I had my way you’d transfer to Portree.’


(Just about as romantic as ooh, you’re the anomaly in my mental filing system).


‘I got that-’


‘And I’m sorry,’ I raised my voice. ‘That I didn’t tell you how I felt, but I didn’t want to mess things up any more either.’


‘But-’


‘Should I just tell you now?’ I cut across. Hey, the situation was already pretty awkward, couldn’t have hurt to dig myself any deeper. ‘Should I just, you know, spill the beans? Yeah, sure, I feel like a lemon. I feel like this rubbish little unwanted third wheel half the time, and sometimes you’re nice and sometimes you just suck up to Rose and I don’t get it either!


‘I didn’t-’


‘If you see it from m-my point of view,’ I blurted out, tripping over my own words. ‘It’s like…I feel like a side salad!’


Scorpius stopped dithering for a moment to stare at me.


‘Huh?’


I felt my face going bright red. In moments of crisis, it is always best to turn the colour of a tomato. Really helps to emphasise the extended food metaphor you’re inevitably about to come up with.


‘I feel like a side salad!’ I repeated. ‘It’s…it’s like you’ve got Rose as your main dish, and then I’m just this sad little side-salad you didn’t even mean to order that you keep dipping into now and again just because you feel obliged to, because it was your fault for ordering it, really, but Rose is this big chunky steak on your plate and she’s the real excitement on the dinner table, gravy and mashed potatoes and all, and…and…I want to be the steak!’


Even now, I still can’t believe I actually came out with that.


There was a pause that seemed to last five centuries and then some. Then, Scorpius spoke in a voice so small and dejected I barely caught it-


‘Lucy, I’m a vegetarian…’


My mind raced. What would I say to Tarquin and Gwendolyn/Raven when I got home? Oh, you know, Scorpius decided to sever all ties with me and, you know, get a casual restraining order, because, well, I told him I wanted to be his chunk of cow. On that note, I think I might move to a cave in Siberia and become a hermit because, well, it’s just best for all of us.


I wanted nothing more than for the kitchen floor to split in two and gobble me up. Emotional Wronski Feint? More like emotional fourteen-way broom pileup at speed.


‘Oh…I…probably shouldn’t have…said…’


Scorpius seemed incapable of doing anything other than blinking at me.


‘I’m sorry!’ I blundered. ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry!’


‘Actually…’ he looked bemused now, rather than plain gobsmacked. ‘I appreciate the metaphor.’


The moment that followed is a difficult one to describe, although pretty much everyone on the planet knows it well. It’s that horrible few seconds of held breath, that awkward moving closer and closer at a snail’s pace, eyes darting everywhere because they don’t know where to look and hearts doing the pole vault - it’s that moment.


The moment where, in a muggle film, the audience sits there in trepidation – will they? won’t they? The moment in a book when the tension makes you curl your toes and you find yourself unwillingly skipping to the end of the passage to find out if they will or if they won’t - but if it’s real, there’s none of that, of course. You can’t exactly skip ahead or bury yourself down in your chair and wait, wait, wait. You’re just there, hovering, feeling like you’re about to implode, wondering if you should look away and end it or seize the moment and lunge, wondering will you? won’t you? will you? won’t you?


And as it happened, I never found out.


I don’t know which one of us noticed Rose standing in the doorway first. She certainly didn’t draw attention to herself. I don’t know how long she’d been there for. But as soon as we saw her there, she turned on her heel and stormed off down the corridor, out through the door, slamming it behind her, then out across the driveway – then there was silence and I knew she was gone. Then the rain started, quiet at first, then thundering, really pouring it down – the English summer was underway at last.


And, ironically, Cemetery Gates came on the radio.


If my life has been good for anything, it’s unintentional comic timing. Tons of it.


There was nothing I could say. I could only stare at Scorpius, numb with shock, thinking I’d probably just missed out on what could have been the sweetest kiss of my life.


Then I thought I should maybe go after Rose and try and patch up whatever friendship we’d had before it was too late – we were cousins, after all. But the seconds slid away from me, and the longer I sat there in stunned silence, the more I knew it was hopeless.


Then I thought of what I should have been doing. This was my victory moment. I probably should have taken a victory sip of my tea, or perhaps done a few celebratory laps of the kitchen. Maybe I should have just said something witty, something cute at the very least – some killing remark that would have ended the whole mess. Maybe I should have stood, hands on hips, and said something big, glittery, metaphorical and existentialist.


But I actually felt a little frightened. My mouth opened and words fell out of their own accord, and those words were:


‘Oh, bugger.’



a/n: dun dun duuun! etc etc. The line 'they think it's all over - it is now!' is from Kenneth Wolstenholme's commentary during the 1966 world cup final. It seemed appropriate. Sorry for all the cliffhangers...but....


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