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    I was certain that my stomach was devouring itself inside out when dinner was finally served. I wolfed down my meal in a most unlady-like manner, in full view of everybody as I sat at the head of the guests at the main table along with the rest of the bridal party. From this vantage point I could see clearly that Henn and Sirius were similarly devouring their food as well, even though I was sure they had had their three hearty meals of the day already and hadn’t succumbed to the turnips that were currently residing at our flat, origins unknown.

    Alice – bless her – had prepared a full, four course meal and all of it was delicious and completely up to par. My stomach practically died at the pleasure of being filled, unfortunate occurrences with turnips forgotten.

    When my brain was functioning well enough, I made my way to my friends, who occupied an entire round table and were illuminated by the floating lanterns that surrounded and lit the reception area.

    “How’s your throne, milady?” asked Sirius with a grin, waggling his eyebrows. “Watching your subjects can become quite tedious, I’m sure.”

    “Not really,” I replied theatrically. “I realize that I have quite the countenance for it, actually.”

    We laughed like two idiots for a while, which is why I didn’t immediately realize that there was a distinct tension at the table. It was then that I noticed that there was definitely an unspoken divide along the middle – on one side sat Sirius, Grace, Henn, and Aaron; on the other, Remus and his girlfriend, Caroline. I could definitely understand why there was a general unpleasantness that hung in the air – the last time Grace had seen Remus and his girlfriend hadn’t ended in pleasantries, but rather a well-aimed jinx which had covered Caroline’s face in tentacles. I glanced at Caroline, who had that air about her of one who is adamantly pretending that nothing is the matter, remembered the sanitary handkerchiefs she constantly had on her person and found it difficult to sympathize with her.

    James was not currently present, and I forced myself to not inquire after his whereabouts.

    The orchestra had moved their instruments to a closer location after the ceremony, and were just getting ready to play. Henn and Aaron were up in a heartbeat, leading the way to the dance floor in that charming way that only young, newly engaged couples could achieve. Remus was shortly after dragged away by Caroline, and it seemed that my friends let out a breath all at once, relieved at their absence. I watched as Aaron twirled Henn in a move that had everyone in proximity sighing romantically.

    “You look like you swallowed a bug,” Sirius brought to my attention. “And I don’t blame you. I had to watch them battering their eyelashes at each other all night.”

    “I think it’s rather adorable,” defended Grace.

    I raised my eyebrows. The pair of us redheads usually shared a general cynicism and skepticism reserved for all things romantic, but Grace wasn’t cooperating tonight.

    “Well, you would, wouldn’t you?” noted Sirius. “Being a broad and all.” I snorted, catching his attention. “Well, except for this lovely specimen here. Cynical and bitter, just the way I like them.”

    Somehow I did not enjoy this paraphrase of my character. “Not bitter,” I said in a tone that completely contradicted my statement.

    Sirius was interrupted in the middle of laughing at my face as Alice approached. “Are you guys having fun?” she asked. “Why aren’t you dancing?”

    “Why aren’t you dancing?” said Grace.

    “We’re only scheduled to go in an hour,” said Alice promptly, with an air of one who was currently appointed supreme ruler of the universe. “The traditional bride and groom waltz, and all.”

    As Grace and her chattered away with Sirius looking distinctly bored beside them, I scanned the room for James. I found him by the dance floor, talking to a girl I recognized as a distant relation from Frank’s side of the family. Shortly after they were dancing on the floor, James somewhat awkwardly, for he never really knew how to dance. The one time we had danced together had been at our Graduation Ball, and even then we didn’t spend too much time on the dance floor. The girl threw her head back and laughed charmingly, and I found my stomach tightening at the sound of it. I wasn’t sure what bothered me more – that he was paying more attention to a girl he had just met or that he was dancing – something I knew he had always hated.

    I dragged my eyes away from them and concentrated on Alice as she pulled me towards the main table without so much of a “if you please.” Apparently photos were taking place, and I was needed.

    I struggled with my resentment for a while, and then realized that I was going nowhere by simply watching James ignore me. I made a point of cornering him first opportunity, but this proved to be difficult as Alice called my name every half hour for one thing or another – apparently, my duty as maid of honor was not yet finished. I helped her detach her veil and fix her dress as she readied herself for the waltz, searched for Rachel as she disappeared three times that night with a conspicuous vial which I strongly suspected to be a love potion, and had to snatch drinks away from Frank’s Uncle Hugh, who was infamous for his drunken foolery.

    I was able to chat with Henn for a few short minutes – another mission that had been proven difficult since Aaron and she appeared to be attached at the hip, or rather hands – as they finally left the dance floor, their faces flushed. Aaron went to get drinks and Henn and I sat at the table, fanning ourselves. We were both worn out – she from dancing, and me from running about the reception at Alice’s every beck and call. It occurred to me then that we had not spoken properly the four days she had been here. This shouldn’t have been surprising since I was mainly avoiding her so that the subject of her engagement wouldn’t come up between us, but yet here we were at Alice’s wedding, silent.

    I thought about all the things I wanted to tell her. She didn’t know what was happening between James and I, for one, or anything at all about the patrols I had been on. I glanced at Henn a few times, tentative as I struggled to find something to say, but she seemed content fanning herself and watching as Alice and Frank took the dance floor to dance their first waltz as husband and wife.

    “How’s your job?” I ventured finally, realizing how stupid it sounded.

    “Good,” replied Henn neutrally. She shrugged. “I just got a promotion. It’s been keeping me busy. Aaron complains whenever he comes to visit.”

    And there it was. I was surprised how quickly it took for him to be mentioned. “Huh,” I said noncommittally.

    “But he gets it,” Henn continued, oblivious to my lack of participation in the conversation. “His job takes up a lot of his time as well, especially now. He’s pretty sure that he’ll be off the reserve team soon – the captain really likes him and a beater is about to retire. That’s when I think we’ll do it.”

    “Do it?” I repeated blankly.

    “Get married.”

    My shock was short-lived as it was ultimately replaced with irritability as I spotted Uncle Hugh making his way drunkenly to the woods in the outskirts of the park, two drinks in hand.

    “You, know, Lily –”

    “Damn it!” I snapped, jumping to my feet. Alice was already giving me a pseudo-manic look as Frank flawlessly turned her about, much to the crowd’s pleasure as they applauded enthusiastically. “Where is he getting all these drinks? I told the bartender to not give him anything else –”

    “Lily, I wanted to talk to you –”

    I glanced at Henn unimportantly. It was clear from her expression that she was about to say something serious, and wanted me to hear it, but I found myself grateful for the distraction.

    “I’ll be back,” I reassured her, but we both knew that would take a while.

    Henn frowned. “This is important,” she said gravely.

    “Damn, it, Henn, I really don’t have the time to hear about your ridiculous engagement right now,” I said without thinking, and before I could absorb the magnitude of what I had said or my best friend’s shocked expression, I was pushing through the crowd determinedly to reach Uncle Hugh.

    I thought that my job would be finished after snatching Hugh’s drinks away from him for the umpteenth time, but I was exceptionally wrong. I realized belatedly that Frank’s uncle wasn’t heading to the woods to simply drink in secret.

    After fifteen dreadful minutes that I spent leaning against a beech tree whilst I struggled to block out his moans, I was certain that Alice’s four-course meal had been completely emptied out of her in-law’s stomach. When he finally staggered towards me he was still distinctly green, and I knew that I would probably have to make another trip to the woods with him in the near future.

    “Where’s m’drinks?” he slurred, and I fought down the intense urge to curse him.

    “You will not be having anymore drinks tonight,” I said firmly as I held out my arm for him to lean on. He had a slight limp and it took a while to get him to sit in his chair. I stared down his family members who shared his table and admonished them, but knew that I would be the one hunting down their senile uncle later.

    I was then immediately accosted by two of Alice’s younger cousins, who were convinced that they had dragon pox. I was in the middle of assuring them that they did not share any of the symptoms of the two previous bridesmaids, when I saw James, quite alone, standing some way away from the reception, near the quaint little pond.

    I found myself approaching him before I could rationalize and think about what I was going to say – ‘you’re an arse’ and ‘why don’t you talk instead of nod this time?’ had been on the top of my list earlier when I had been pondering opening lines – but all of that disappeared as soon as I saw him. It was the opportune moment I had been waiting for, and I wasn’t about to pass that up. I marched over to him as confidently as I could, praying that no one would shout my name as I made my way to him – and thankfully, no one did.

    As I brought myself up to stand by him, he didn’t look at me, but we were very much aware of each other’s presence. I could feel the friction between us like lightning, so that I was attuned to every movement and breath of his. We stood there in silence for a while, as I struggled to say something, anything.

    Surprisingly, it was James who uttered the first words, “I remember that you said you didn’t want lilies.”

    I spun around to face him, but he wasn’t looking at me. He was watching the lilies floating lazily in the pond. It was a rather beautiful view, at the moment – earlier there had been quite an unnecessary amount of drunken guests frolicking in it half-naked – but presently, the area was vacant now for everyone but us.

    “When did I say that?” I asked, uncomprehending.

    James exhaled. The tips of his bangs flew lightly upward as the breath left his mouth. I took in all of his profile – the messy hair that fell into his eyes, the bridge of his nose, those lips that were pursed in a frown as he stared down at the pond. “For our wedding,” he clarified after what seemed like a lifetime, “you told me you didn’t want lilies. Too typical, you said. Something about having them every single birthday of yours, and how you were sick of them now.”

    I blinked, stunned. I remembered vividly now. It tore at my heart a bit hearing it out loud.

    I swallowed. “Oh. Right.” I gazed down at the lily pond, unable to face him.

    We stood in silence for a while. I was sure that James wouldn’t say anything else, and that I had to utter something or let the moment pass forever. But then he surprised me again.

    “It’s crazy, isn’t it?” he said, and when I finally forced myself to look up I saw him gazing at the reception, where Frank and Alice were still dancing, surrounded by guests now. “That in the midst of all of this – we can still be here, celebrating something.”

    I knew exactly what he meant. It was hard and dreadful to believe that there was a war going on when at the moment, everyone seemed so happy and at ease.

    I felt his eyes on me, and faced him.

    It was the perfect moment to kiss him. Surely, he knew that, and had thought of it when he had faced me. The air was heavy with the prospect of it. I stepped closer, enough to show him my intent, and held his hands between my own. I saw him swallow noticeably, his lips softening slightly so that they weren’t that harsh, firm line.

    And then he dropped my hands, and turned away.

    I wanted to kick him. That was my initial instinct really – to just push him off the hill we were on so that he could fall into the pond and kiss the damn frogs for all I cared. He was ruining, the moment, damn it! I struggled to remain calm, and not affect the mood by means of strangling him or yelling. I would not let my temper get the best of me, not in this situation. Too much was at stake.

    “James,” I said, not as sensitively as I could’ve achieved, but understanding enough. I didn’t exactly know what to say next. ‘What’s going on with you’ and ‘are you okay’ were good options, but they sounded witless and inadequate in my head. Throwing sensitivity out the window, I demanded, “What the hell is going on between us?”

    For a moment it looked like James’ lip had curved ever so slightly, but it could’ve been a trick of the light – the next moment he was as stoic as before. He clearly wasn’t going to answer – it was more of a rhetorical question anyway – so I continued, “I know that there’s something going on here. I’m not imagining it. You can treat me like shit as much as you want, but you weren’t exactly hiding your feelings just now.”

    It was when James remained silent that anger was replaced by something closer to home, and more depressing. It was like deflating – one moment I was standing upright, ready to fight this man who I loved so damn much but hurt me in the process of it, and the next I was succumbing to a surrendering acceptance.

    Because he either wanted me, or he didn’t. And there was nothing I could do or say to be able to discern what his stance was.

    I didn’t know what else to say, but the honest truth. “We haven’t spoken or looked at one another for weeks,” I said, willing him to prove me wrong and look at me now. My throat felt constricted and swollen as I swallowed. “I don’t know what else to do for you to give yourself to me.”

    It was heart wrenchingly honest to say, and immediately I felt vulnerable for revealing the despondency and hopelessness I had been feeling for so long. Blinking rapidly, I left it at that and turned away from him, not daring to look back as I heard yet again, my name being called.

    It was after my third trip to the woods, Hugh in tow, that I, my thoughts filled with James, ran into Remus Lupin, plastered to a tree, his eyes bulging out of his sockets as he saw me.

    “Lily!” he gasped in surprise. He clutched his chest, which was rising up and down erratically. “Jesus, don’t scare me like that again.”

    “Go on, Uncle Hugh,” I told the drunken elderly man. “I’ll catch up to you later.”

    “I might be back earlier than you think,” he warned me, then staggered off to the party.

    “‘Uncle’ Hugh?” Remus inquired, his eyebrows raised.

    “Yeah, we got pretty intimate after the second vomiting session,” I clarified dismissively, observing my friend’s ragged and haggard appearance. “Hiding, are we?”

    “Yes,” Remus admitted unabashedly.

    “From Caroline, I’m assuming?”

    Remus made a noncommittal noise from the back of his throat that I took as an affirmation.

    “Honestly, Remus, you’re a were –”

    “Shut up!” he hissed, his eyes darting about the empty woods.

    “Still, nothing’s supposed to be fiercer than you.”

    “She won’t leave me one second alone,” said Remus, slumping down against the tree in defeat. “Especially since Grace is here. And she’s not just like that about her. She’s like that about every single female present. She even told off the little flower girl for offering me a drink!”

    Hm,” I said, wondering if my friend had any idea of how close he had come to being sexually assaulted, “Really?”

    “She’s so controlling and obsessive. You know I haven’t had a decent conversation with Sirius in ages?”

    “Have you had a decent conversation with anyone?” I asked before I could stop myself. But after my confrontation with James, all sensitivity had gone out the window. Remus looked appropriately ashamed. “Honestly, Remus, I don’t remember the last time I talked to you. What’s been going?”

    Remus sullenly began to tear up the leaves that he had found on the ground. Although my friend was exceptionally kind and the greatest gentleman I knew, there was something definitely wolfish about the way he was tearing up those leaves – his entire body was tense, his teeth bared in what I could only describe as predatory. I knew that he was close to exploding.

    “It’s just a rough time right now,” he said finally in civilized tones that completely contradicted with his body language.

    “What do you mean?” I asked gently.

    “Well, for one, no one will hire me,” he replied, smiling humorlessly. “I’ve been job hunting for months and no one wants me.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because of what I am,” he stated simply. “Everyone at the Ministry knows – they heard about my story in the papers when it happened years ago. And those who don’t will find out eventually, and then I’ll be fired, which is worse.”

    “It can’t be just that,” I assured him. “There’s a war going on, now, the Ministry isn’t worried about hiring people – ”

    “When so many of them are dying?” offered Remus. The humorless smile remained. “Trust me, Lily, they need more people. Wormtail got his job almost immediately after being interviewed.”

    “Where’s he tonight?”

    “Working,” replied Remus shortly. He sighed. “Everyone just seems to be moving forward and I’m just here – in the same spot.”

    I was beginning to understand him. No wonder he had been avoiding his friends.

    “Still, isolating yourself isn’t going to help any. I know for a fact that Sirius would really like to see you. He’s really tired of just hanging out with us girls.” Remus chuckled, which was an improvement. “Life isn’t as simple as it was at Hogwarts, Remus. But it doesn’t mean that we won’t succeed.”

    Remus nodded, squeezing my hand briefly before freezing on the spot.

    “Remus, where are you?”

    “Blast, it’s her,” he breathed, jumping to his feet. He shot me a desperate glance as he began to make a run for it. “Will you – ?”

    “Head her off the wrong way? Sure.”

    “Thanks, you’re amazing,” he complimented hurriedly as he disappeared into the woods.

    Caroline appeared as if out of nowhere moments later, the light from the party coming in from behind her and outlining her silhouette. It was a rather threatening effect, for I couldn’t see her face at all as I looked up at her.

    “Oh, hello,” she said brightly, even as shadows obscured ominously her face. “Remus around?”

    “Haven’t seen him,” I said without the slightest bit of remorse. No wonder Remus was running – the woman was scary when she wanted to be. “Have you checked by the pond?”

    Although I was every bit nonchalant and graceful, Caroline still looked suspicious. To my horror she began to walk into the woods, and fearing for my friend’s sanity I was soon hit by a burst of inspiration as I saw a familiar figure hobbling forward.

    “Might not want to stay too long,” I advised her. “Uncle Hugh is coming this way.” Caroline turned around, and as if on cue, the old man started leaving his mark early, leading a slimy trail to the woods. “Oh, dear,” I said, shaking my head. “He wasn’t able to reach the woods in time. I can tell this time around is going to be especially messy.” Remembering that Caroline was an extreme hypochondriac I added, “Oh and I imagine full of germs.”

    I knew that I had hit a mark – Caroline was already backing away. “I think I’ll check our table again,” she said, and was off before you could say ‘sanitary napkins.’

    “L-Liiiily –” Hugh half-moaned, half-belched.

    “Coming, Uncle Hugh,” I said in the friendliest voice I had used on him so far.

    It was approaching dawn when guests finally made their way home and to their beds. Alice and Frank had long departed to go on their honeymoon, leaving the party to succumb to whatever rambunctious revelry imaginable.

    After a while I gave up trying to restore order. This task was much easier with the bride breathing down my neck, but the guests still found that I was the person to go to when problems arouse, which was the case more and more frequently as the night progressed. Exhausted and most likely dehydrated, I found an excuse to send everyone home when the servers approached me and complained that they had only been contracted to work till one o’ clock, and that they expected to be paid overtime. Together, we rounded up the remaining guests (my friends had long been gone, sleepy-eyed and somewhat drunk) and cleaned up.

    When I finally arrived at our flat, I made my way to my room through the darkness, wanting nothing but to sleep. I thanked every entity available that I only had to work the following night (or rather, that night, being that the sun was already peeking past the horizon) and noisily opened my door, only to find that the lights were on.

    The most plausible reason was that I had left the lights earlier, but this theory was quickly extinguished as I saw Henn sitting at my vanity, facing the doorway with her arms crossed, clearly waiting for me.

    I stared at her, wondering if I was so exhausted that I was hallucinating. Realizing that this wasn’t the case, I said without preamble, “Henn, it’s six o’ clock in the morning.”

    “I know,” she said, getting up and handing me a cup of coffee, which was surprisingly warm. “I’ve been waiting for you. We need to talk.”

    “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” I asked, adding mutely, ‘like I should be?’

    “I told you,” she said simply, as if it was quite normal to be having this conversation at this hour, when most living things were sleeping, “I wanted to talk to you.”

    “Can it wait?” I asked, as I struggled to remain conscious while standing.

    Henn shook her head. She nodded at the cup I was still holding. “You should drink that.”

    As I grudgingly took a sip, she started with absolutely no preamble, “Okay, so you’re obviously not okay about my engagement.”

    I stared at her from above the rim of my cup. I couldn’t believe it. Was she seriously bringing this up now?

    “Finally noticed, have you?” I said as lightly as I could, given the circumstances (a.) I was pissed that I wasn’t sleeping and b.) it was six o’ clock in the morning).

    “Well, you haven’t been exactly hiding your evident displeasure at the situation,” retorted Henn, crossing her arms. With her overbearing height and formidable frown, she looked quite imposing.

    We stared each other down, each unyielding and unlikely to begin talking. I don’t know how long we did this for until I finally said, “It’s too soon.”

    A fissure finally cracked her tough façade and her lips curved ever so slightly, humorously. “Well, what’s ‘too soon’ anyway?” she threw back lightly, her earnest displeasure quickly evaporating.

    Under normal circumstances, I would’ve simply followed Henn’s lead and matched her carefree attitude. But this was no simple matter – my friend’s future was at stake here. I couldn’t simply stand aside and watch her make such a life-altering mistake. So instead of laughing along with her and letting the issue drop, I said, “Three months, Henn. Three months is ‘too soon.’”

    Henn noticed the rift in our conversation immediately. Her already tentative smile faded, leaving her mouth only with the stubborn line of resolution. “Well, how would you have it, then?” she said in a tone that if I hadn’t known better I would’ve guessed to be a bit callous.

    I was taken aback by this response. “Well, I don’t know,” I said honestly, “I just know that it wouldn’t be like this.”

    “What then?” And this time when she spoke I knew that she was being every bit aggressive. “Date a guy for a few months, get engaged, then break it off with him a month later?”

    The moment after she said this I knew that she had regretted it. It was a brief reaction, but very telling to me, her best friend. I struggled to not lash back out at her. Hearing my relationship with James being summed up like that – well, it was more than insulting. It hadn’t been that simple, and Henn knew that. It was more than heartbreaking to hear her paraphrase my love life in such a demeaning way.

    “You know that I wouldn’t want that for you,” I said eventually, after I struggled to overcome my anger. “But there’s so much that you don’t know about each other, Henn – “

    “And how would you know that?”

    I blinked, uncomprehending. “What do you mean?”

    “Let’s be honest, Lily,” said Henn in the nastiest tone I had ever heard from her, “it’s not like you’ve been exactly interested in my relationship, have you?”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded, finally allowing reason to go to hell and temper overriding it.

    Henn scoffed, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t ever heard her scoff before. Not like this, with genuine anger, and especially not at me. She uncrossed her arms, then thinking better of it, crossed them again, as if she weren’t sure exactly what position she should be in for all of this. Finally, she asked icily, “when was the last time you wrote me, Lily?”

    “I don’t know,” I replied, baffled. “Last month?”

    She held up an accusing finger. “You wrote me once the whole time I’ve been in Sweden. I’ve been living there for three months now, and you wrote me once.

    “I’ve been extremely busy!” I exclaimed defensively, but even as I said it I realized how fake it sounded. It wasn’t a plausible excuse, and we both knew it, yet I continued anyway, “and stressed. You don’t know what’s been happening here, Henn –”

    “I do,” interrupted Henn. “Because Grace has been telling me. Grace, who is just as stressed as you, has written me nearly every week since I’ve been gone. God, Lily, I get more letters from Gaby, who’s continents away, than I do from you.”

    I opened my mouth to defend myself, but found that there was nothing that I could say. What could I say? I had no excuse. Sure, I had been extremely busy and stressed, but as Henn had pointed out, so had my other friends.

    Clearly wanting to direct the attention of our conversation elsewhere, I decided to get back to my initial argument. “Okay, maybe, I should’ve written more, but Henn, you can’t possibly know Aaron well enough to marry him. There’s so much that you guys haven’t – you know…done –”

    “Again, how would you know that?”

    The two of us stared at one another, equally baffled at this revelation. It was awkward and unexplored territory for both of us – for some reason, despite the fact that we had been best friends throughout our entire Hogwarts years, we had never talked about sex. In fact, now that I thought about it, Henn and I had never really talked about boys. She would go off to Hogsmeade with a few guys every other month and I’d have James badgering me constantly, but we never spoke of what occurred between us and said boys. That was more of Gaby’s territory, being that she hadn’t been single since she turned fourteen.

    “Oh,” I realized, flushing deeply.

    “Yes,” said Henn with slightly more elegance, but with a bit of pinkness in her cheeks. She struggled valiantly not to look too embarrassed as she added, “Aaron and I are very intimate, Lily, something you would’ve known if you had bothered to ask.”

    “But – uh, when?” I asked, half-hoping she wouldn’t answer.

    “For ages,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “It doesn’t matter.”

    There was an awkward silence during which both our eyes wouldn’t meet, leaving me to contemplate why I had been so naively self-righteous to think that I had been the first to lose my virginity, when in actuality, I had been the last.

    Henn, being the more mature one of the pair, was naturally, the first to break the silence. “I could really use your support in this,” she said, but it came out just as abrasive as everything else she had uttered during this conflicting conversation.

    Not one to usually surrender my pride, I finally snapped. “I’m not going to support you in something that I find so ridiculous!”

    “Ridiculous?” repeated Henn with evident disbelief and anger. “Ridiculous why? Because we love each other and want our family and friends to know it?”

    “There are other ways of doing that without getting married!” I fired back.

    “So, what? What would you have me do?” retorted Henn, shouting now. “Break it off? For goodness’ sake, Lily, not everyone’s relationship is as twisted and sick –”

    It was clear that she had meant to continue with, ‘as yours and James’,’ but it didn’t matter if she really uttered it or not. The intonation was there and that was enough. We stared at one another wordlessly – I knew from her expression that she wanted to apologize but was too furious at the moment to try and I was too shocked and hurt to attempt to accept.

    I was so angry that I could’ve hurtled myself at her right there, but I didn’t – common sense really was a bitch sometimes. Instead I satisfied myself by pushing past her on my way out – it was completely unnecessary, for she wasn’t even in close proximity to the door. But it inappropriately gave me pleasure to do it and Henn didn’t reciprocate nor did I believe she even looked back at me on my way out – not that I would’ve known, for I didn’t either.

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