12 Epiphanies

vii. We have a need for magic.

Early one morning, when taking the recycling to the shoot, Kate found a stack of brightly colored storage boxes beside waist-height figurines of a nutcracker and snowman beneath the bulletin board in the foyer on her floor. A note on the board read:

Need some cheer? We were going to toss these out, but thought someone might have use for them! If you need some Christmas spirit, help yourself!

–Your neighbor

A big arrow drawn in wide red felt-tipped pen pointed at the storage boxes and statues.

Kate looked around, saw no one, and lugged three of the boxes, the nutcracker, and the snowman back into her apartment.

She found shiny glass ornaments that looked like they dated back to the 1940s, the kind her grandparents had on their tree when she was a little girl. She hadn’t decided if she’d set up a tree, but these would sparkle in a bowl.

A paper chain smelled like elementary school–that closed-in stuffiness of old paper, paste, and rubber cement. She felt flooded with contentedness. How funny that the memory of a smell could bring her back like that, to a feeling of home, of childhood? Of carols and excitement?

Untangling the string of lights, Kate felt her mind settle. Her mind was like this–little spots that lit up when fired, and connections that sometimes grew twisted and tangled. What strange things we are, people, with such complicated pathways within us! And how magical, really, when these pathways become clear, the synapses fire, and we light up from within!

We were made to do things! To create beauty! To appreciate! Even if Kate were the only one who would see the decorations in her home, the simple act of taking out each decoration from the box, appreciating it, loving it, and finding a place for it, that, in and of itself, was enough. That was joy. There was something magical in it.

She had a tiny corner of loneliness, still. But she also had much more. Candles sparkled from her table. The giant nutcracker watched, as if he would keep her from feeling too alone.

And she had time. She had weeks off from work. She had time to do the things that she couldn’t during the busy year. She could remember, for example. She could wonder at the flicker of light from the candles. She could feel gratitude towards her unknown neighbor for the kind gesture of sharing the boxes of decorations. She could speculate about whose hands, tiny or large, had glued together the strips of paper that made the chain hanging above her head.

It was still early in the day after she’d finished decorating. She sat at her keyboard, something she hadn’t done in many a month. She played Bach first, for every practice should begin with a prelude, and before she finished, her mind was completely untangled and lit up. Her fingers found their ways to carols, and the apartment filled with magic.

There is something that we need, to be fully human, and it has something to do with magic; and music, sparkles, and bright decorations sometimes fill that need.

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Puppy Love 12

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Dustin, little lightning pup, had a certain quality, and I found myself smiling to think that he might pass that spark down through the family line.

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It wasn’t just his smile, though he had the sparklingest laughing eyes I ever did see.

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And it wasn’t just his sweetness, which caused all the grown dogs to dote on him.

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They seemed to know he was special, too, and they took turns playing with and watching over him.

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“What do you think of the pup, cat?” Lucas and Otter conferred.

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Otter had spent quite a bit of time watching the little one’s antics.

“I think he’s pretty smart, too,” said Lucas.

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Already, Dustin and Lucas had become best friends. I’d been noticing how Lucas was developing an intuitive understanding of dogs, exceeding what I’d learned in my years with Bobie and his pack.

He was a very smart young man, that Lucas was. And he was quick to adapt his ways to fit the needs of the individual cat or dog he was relating to. Plus, he had a quiet, gentle way about him, and a soft voice that critters responded to.

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One afternoon, I found Dustin out by the back pool, looking like he wanted to jump in.

Stay back, barked Bartholomew, pouncing towards the pup.

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Why, granddog? whimpered the pup. I likes water!

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Can’t swim, can you, pup?

I could, if I could try! answered Dustin.

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Maybe when you’re a big dog, said Bartholomew. For now, we keep you out of the wet. You got a big responsibility, little dog.

What’s that? asked the pup.

The whole family line. You gotta grow up and have pup or two of your own, replied his grandsire.

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Bartholomew stood between his grandpup and the deep wet pool, staring him down until he trotted off into the house.

I will be a big pup one day, said Dustin. Such a good dog! All the same, I was happy Bartholomew and the other big dogs were there to keep him safe. That little pup carried a big responsibility, as Caleb and Miss Molly’s sole offspring.

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Lighthouse: Magic

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Santi sat before the platter of veggie burgers I’d grilled up at Rachel’s.

“Why doesn’t she eat?” I asked Rachel.

Yo paya, yo jisu. ‘No sing, no eat.’ She thinks she needs to play for her supper.”

“But you’ve explained that’s no longer the case?” I asked.

“Only a million times!” laughed Rachel. “When she’s hungry enough, when no one’s looking, she’ll sneak a bite.”

I thought I’d try to convince her she could eat without performing.

“You’re not a servant anymore, Santi,” I explained. She looked at me as if she comprehended.

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“You’re free! Doxni! You’re safe! Sanghi!”

Yo doxni, yo sanghi,” she said, very quietly. “Squeegee. Payazi?”

“All right! Sing!” I replied. “Then we’ll feast on veggie burgers!”

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She sang very softly, with her mouth barely open, and I couldn’t tell if she sang in words or simply sounds and syllables, and slowly I felt a channel of energy, or maybe it was light–in particle and wave–flowing down from the sky, entering my body through the crown, and coursing through me.

“What is this?” I asked her. I had never felt music enter me so fully.

Ontsi molsuravensiku,” she said. Made of love. No wonder her music was considered subversive.

After Santi finished eating, I was ready to head back to the cabin. I figured, if we walked quickly and didn’t get lost, we’d get back before dark.

But Rachel wouldn’t hear of it.

“You have to stay here tonight,” she said. “And for as long as it takes. You cannot leave with the child until you’ve bonded. It’s not safe otherwise. She needs that to be able to travel with you.”

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I resisted. Frankly, I was afraid to bond with this strange, magical child. I had already started to fall in love with her, and I feared that if we truly bonded, I wouldn’t be able to separate with her when Ritu found her a permanent home.

But Rachel convinced me that this child needed connection, if she was going to go with me. She’d be lost otherwise, and I had the impression that Rachel did not mean this metaphorically.

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I didn’t know what to say to her that first night. My Vingihoplo was so poor that I wasn’t able to express much, and she hadn’t yet learned any of our language. So, instead, I simply talked, without worrying whether she understood or not. I told her all about Sept, about the crash, about brave Situ who rescued the 144 pagotogo, about Sebastion, Octy, Mop, and the new baby. I told her about meeting Sept and falling in love and pledging ourselves to each other. I told her about how, now, his cause was my cause, and how I would do anything for him, his family, and Xirra.

She brightened when she heard Xirra’s name. “MoXirra!” she said, meaning that she loved her like a mother.

“MoSanti,” I said, for by then, I loved this child.

Rachel wanted us to stay another day, but I felt it imperative that we get home before the weekend. The Anti-Alien Coalition had posted on social media that they were planning protests that weekend, and I wanted us to be safe at home before they started.

The next morning, we left for the cabin. Rachel had packed us a lunch and snacks, and that turned out to be a good thing, for walking with a small child went much more slowly than walking alone.

We arrived after sunset.

Santi was so tired she fell asleep on the sofa while I fixed soup and sandwiches for supper.

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She ate without singing this time, looking at me with a conspiratorial smile. I took this as a sign that she was beginning to trust me, that she identified me as something other than her mistress or owner.

“You can take off your disguise when you’re inside,” I told her.

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She didn’t understand.

“The second skin?” I said. “Refijotu pi?”

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I mimed pealing off my skin.

“Show your real self, if you want,” I said. “Yada baska.”

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She looked at me a long time. Something about her eyes melted me. She looked like she had seen so much, horrors and joys and terrors and beauty and wonder. She looked like she had lost and gained and lost again.

Sanghi,” I said. “MoSanti.”

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Wa!” she shouted. “Baska! Sanghi!

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Then she stepped out of her disguise-skin.

She was moon blue, like Sept, with ears like his.

Falazi Mallory,” she said.

“I know you, too,” I said.

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“We have a big trip tomorrow,” I told her. “You’ll wear your disguise, refijotu pi, when we travel, OK? But then once we get home, you don’t need it anymore.”

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Gotukoda mokiya?” she asked.

I remembered that gotukoda meant “home,” but I’d forgotten what mokiya meant.

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She showed me. She closed her eyes, and I closed mine, and then she sang, and waves of happy love tickled me until I laughed, and when she sang, it felt just like home.

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Wa,” I said. “Gotukoda mokiya. Our home is happy.”

We were sleepy. I tucked her into bed, singing her a song my grandmother used to sing me, “Mares-eat-oats, and does-eat-oats, and little-lambs-eat-ivy, a kid’ll-eat-ivy, too, wouldn’t you?”

She sang back, first simply, “Marezeedotes, and dozeedotes, and liddlelamzeedivy, a kiddleetdivytoo, woodnyoo!”

Then, in a sleepy, happy voice, she began improvising on the tune and the lyrics, and by the time she fell asleep, still softly singing, “dunyoo,” she had invented something worthy of Bach.

I woke in the middle of the night. Her bed was empty.

My heart raced into my throat, and I ran outside. There at the edge of the forest, having remembered to slide back into her second skin, she stood before three colored lights.

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I can’t tell you what they were. They weren’t insects. It wasn’t phosphorescence. It wasn’t some optical trick.

Maybe they were fairies.

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All I know is that the magic in this world was drawn to this magical girl.

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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Liam 3

A reply to: A letter from Liam

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Dear Liam,

I received your letter with joy.

I trust that the situation with Mathilda’s daughter Alina has resolved itself. If the curse has not yet been lifted, then I’ll send my good thoughts and wishes with yours for safety and healing.

Strangely enough, curses are something with which I do have experience.

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A few years ago, when searching for healing from a persistent sinus infection, I found myself with a psychic healer. I’d visited her for flower essences, since my niece Meadow had suggested the essence of calendula as a powerful cure for ailments of the sinus passages.

The healer took one look at me and said, “You’ve been cursed.”

I must have started, for she said next, “I don’t mean to disturb you with this news! It’s a simple statement of fact.”

She went on to describe that a curse is another word for carrying the emotional energy of another.

“The intense emotions, especially anger or sadness, of another person can be passed onto you and become lodged in your body. We call this ‘a curse.’ It doesn’t always happen consciously or even intentionally.”

She proceeded to ask me if I could recall anytime when my jaw or face had been touched by anyone who was upset. “Even a dentist,” she said.

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A memory from late childhood rushed back. I sat in the dentist chair, my jaw force open by a metal clamp, getting my molar filled. While the dentist drilled, he complained to his assistant about his divorce. His voice was thick with grief and rage.

“That’s it!” said the healer when I described the memory to her.

She performed a healing, which consisted of nothing more than a blessing, a prayer, and the waving of her palm over my jaw.

I felt something lift. From that moment, my sinusitis has been gone.

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With a powerful witch like Mathilda for her mother, I trust that Alina’s healing will be swift and complete.

My niece and I have made a silent pact not to talk about our pen pals with each other; but I suspect that you are right, and that this pen pal endeavor is certainly “all in the family.”

My nephew has recently signed up for the project. His eyes got a suspicious twinkle when he mentioned it, so I’m guessing he found an enchanting reason to join.

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Since writing you last, my everyday life feels imbued with magic.

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At certain times of the day, the line between worlds seems to thin, and I suspect all sorts of energy to fly in from lee-lines in every direction.

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At any rate, my disbelief seems to be evaporating, and I am finding that mystery in every moment.

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Have you ever wondered about capacity for friendship?

I had a time in my life, when my teaching connected me with a hundred students and dozens of colleagues each semester, when I felt that I had limited capacity for others. I was often beyond the full-meter.

Lately, though, it feels that there is room in my amygdala for everyone I happen to meet.

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Did I mention to you that I’ve become a tutor through the gifted program at a local elementary school?

The school has recruited retired professionals to work one-on-one with children in the program. My young friend seems to be bringing me more than I could ever hope to return!

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For one thing, she asks questions that get me to think–in much the same way your letters do, as a matter of fact.

Recently, she asked me about time, and I had to pull out that old fabric analogy to offer up a possible example of string theory in action.

She is forcing me to stretch the boundaries of my knowledge, and for an old codger like me, that is a very good thing.

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We spent last Saturday afternoon in the Reading Room at the city park. She had questions about crystals and metal ore, so I suspect that a field trip will be in order next weekend.

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I feel blessed to live alone. Mind you, the years I shared my life with Bess are perennially treasured–but it’s the solitude I have now that opens up the time for treasuring.

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When I was a young man, I felt guilt at indulging in solitary pleasure. Now, the moments when I can let my attention completely focus at the task-at-hand, uninterrupted by the words, thoughts, or feelings of others, come as gifts of luxury.

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Have you noticed that a meal gains flavor when prepared with attention?

Now that, I feel, is magic.

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Wishing you health, and health to those you love, too.

With gratitude,

Jasper

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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Liam 1

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Dear Liam,

I suppose an old man like me shouldn’t be surprised by mysteries. But you know how life goes. Sometimes, we fall into the pattern of the mundane.

“An old Irishman in a young man’s body.” Now there’s an intriguing introduction.

In fact, the hints sprinkled throughout your letter point to mysteries that, for now, I will simply let lie. While investigative by nature, I’m not one to pry, and I’m sure that all I’m intended to know will be revealed through time.

You and I seem to share a love for wood.

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I’ve been working in cedar lately. It’s not the best for carving, being soft and splintery, but I’m drawn by the scent which reminds me of youthful days roaming the coasts of the island off Windenberg.

“There truly is magic in the world,” you write.

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What do I know of magic?

Only the magic of the everyday, that inexplicable spark that can arise between two beings. Or maybe, staring into vast space, the magic, simply, incredibly, of Being.

But magic of the sort in which wizards and warlocks deal?

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I know nothing more than what I’ve read: Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The old folk stories. The works of Carlos Castaneda. A few dabblings with the Tarot and the I Ching.

I’m a scholar, not a magician.

But I will have eager eyes and an avid heart for any mysteries you care to reveal.

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So we’re both acquainted with loss, are we?

That’s the price of life.

Condolences on the passing of your Maggie.

My wife and I never had children–by choice, inclination, and temperament.

Bess, my wife, passed years ago. I forget to count. It feels like an instant, but I know, by the lanterns hanging on my tree, that it wasn’t. Each year, since her passing, I hang a new lantern. I’ve stopped counting.

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Bess loved Jane Austen, like your Mathilda. It’s something to be married to a woman who reads Austen, don’t you find? Always gazing at us with that wry grin, as if each stoic action we display revealed depths of which we never comprehended we might contain!

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As for me, I specialized in American lit of the 19th Century. Of course, I centered much of my study on the New England Brahmins–Thoreau and Fuller, in particular, though I also came to appreciate Alcott: Lousia May, not her father.

Towards the end of my career, I became engrossed in pioneer literature, the diaries and journals, in particular. I suppose I got there by way of Thoreau. His writing led me to John Muir, and from Muir it was only a stone’s throw away to the pioneer journals.

I’m currently trekking my way through Shakespeare. I hate to admit it, but I have not yet read all the works attributed to his name. I’m currently on the histories, and taking my sweet time.

Retirement has shown me that I can take time with all my endeavors. So I hope you’ll pardon my long-winded and round-about correspondences with you!

It’s sweet balm to write to another who’s lived and lost and survived to love on.

Life. Man. What a trip.

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With warm regards, and anticipation, already, for your next letter,

Jasper McCumber

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New World Symphony: The Wishing Well Man

Once the crack between worlds has been opened, all kinds can come in. This Jaclyn knew well.

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And when the fabric separating nomdish from rune begins to fray, light spills through from every world: all it takes then is one stray wish to call forth magic from the other side.

The ones from the old world were expected. After Davion came Zuri, a dwarf-wood nymph, who brought news of others to follow. Kindred from home had always been part of the plan.

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But there was now another–an unexpected one–pulled by wishing rune.

“Where’s your new boyfriend?” Jaclyn asked Cathy at J.P. and Floyd’s wedding.

“Oh! I forgot to invite him,” Cathy confessed.

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It’s one thing to wish someone into being, but it’s quite another to proceed to ignore the responsibility that the presence of this wished-for being entails.

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Something has to be done:
we can’t have netherworld rune
move untethered through this green world
passing themselves as nomdish
to every unsuspecting one.

That was a sure way to mischief
that could never be undone!

Jaclyn’s dreams were interrupted by flashes of light. Vast green landscapes blazed white, and when she woke, the back of her eyes hurt.

She blinked into green, blue, brown–and the white desert faded. It wasn’t too late, but she would need vigilance and action.

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Brennan Stuckey had no recollection of the bright world from where he came. But anyone who has ever been where there are no shadows can tell you that there lies a realm of Lucifer: not King of Darkness, but Despot of Light.

It takes shadow to bring relief, to provide a spot to rest, a moment to reflect.

With only light, the eyes crack and the sudden blindness spreads inside. That was the trick.

Brennan didn’t realize any of this, of course. As far as he knew, there was nothing in existence more insidious than the tediousness of Saturday morning cartoons.

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They lured you in with bright colors and catchy tunes. They made you laugh. And then, they left you craving sugar-coated cereal.

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The cereal, as brightly colored as the cartoon show, smelled sweet as strawberries, cherries, and marshmallows…

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only to taste like soggy cardboard.

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Brennan, in his backstory memory, knew everything about this world in which he found himself, and he believed in the veracity of all he knew.

But when it came to the knowledge one gains from experience, he was as naive as if he’d manifested in smoke two weeks ago from a wishing well. Which, of course, he had.

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Imagine the joy of eating an ice cream cone for the very first time. Chocolate–that flavor tickles the insides of the mouth and makes the tongue soft with rich sweetness. Add something purple on top–like berry topping to pizzazz the tongue–and the experience, especially for an ice cream virgin, was enough to rain down bliss.

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This newness filled Brennan’s days with excitement. There was so much to do!

One afternoon, he spied a bored young woman walking down the street.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “It’s sunny! The birds are singing! Why so glum?”

“Eh,” said the woman, “I’ve seen it all before.”

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He invited her in for an ice cream cone.

“I bet you haven’t had chocolate with passion fruit topping before,” he said.

“Prob’ly tastes like mango, only sweeter, right?” she asked.

They chatted, and when she learned his name, she said, “Oh! You’re Brennan! I’m Cathy’s friend Paisley. I heard you two were dating. How is she?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Brennan. “Last time I saw her, she was doing pretty good.”

“And when was that?”

Brennan did a quick calculation. “Oh, about two weeks ago.”

“Two weeks? And you’re her boyfriend? Why, I just saw her yesterday. You should really call if you two are dating.”

“Yeah,” Brennan agreed. “That’s probably a good idea.”

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Cathy Tea invited him over as soon as he called.

“Did ya miss me?” he asked.

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“Not really,” she admitted. “But you know what? Now that you’re here, I’m really glad to see you!”

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