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Sad Lisa – Chapter Seven

Banner for Sad Lisa, an Operation Quickline story
June 27 - July 1, 1984

The next morning, it hit. I was getting dressed. Angelique had the radio on, and it started playing “Sad Lisa.” Out of nowhere, it seemed, a heavy black mood seeped through me like a dark, suffocating mist. I felt depressed and annoyed for no apparent reason. I covered it up, barely speaking to Angelique. She didn’t notice. She was half-asleep, too.

Pull quote from romantic spy novel serial Sad Lisa:  the first person to mention a man gets fined

It was nine-thirty when I called George’s room to leave a message that I was going to breakfast and then the hospital. George, for once, was awake and met me at the diner next door to the motel. I worked hard at not letting my mood show and smiled as George chattered. I ate pancakes, bacon, and eggs, while George congratulated me on being able to eat so much and not gain weight. Then, when the waitress brought the check, he not only grabbed it out of my hand, he started getting syrupy again.

“George, will you please?” I snapped. “I feel like I’m getting diabetes.”

“What?” George was completely baffled.

“I’ll talk to you later.” I got up and grabbed my purse.

“Lisa, wait. I gotta pay the check!”

“I’m going by myself. Good-bye.” I stomped off and drove to the hospital.

Sid was shaved and not nearly as pale. He had the back of the bed almost upright and sat looking moodily at a magazine. He looked up as I closed the door.

“There you are,” he said, his voice grim.

“What’s the matter?” I tried smiling, still determined to hide my mood.

“The message Upline sent.” He inched himself a little higher on the bed. “Apparently, our thugs seemed to think I was a floater.”

A floater is a supervisor over a specific color line in the business. Henry is Sid’s and my floater. They typically work as a two-person team. Henry had until his partner had been killed shortly before I was recruited.

“What made them think that?”

“The yellow card. Upline didn’t say, but it sounds like it’s a code of some sort.”

“Oh, great. It sounds like we’ve got another leak in the system.”

Sid shrugged. “To some degree. The funny thing is, they don’t seem that worried about it. We were told to stand down and keep away from Henry as much as possible, but not to completely avoid him, either.”

“And I’m guessing we have no Need to Know.”

Sid sighed. “Lisa, that’s how this business works. You know that.”

I did, too, and understood why, but that didn’t mean I liked it.

“Oh, I know. Except when it gets us into trouble. Like last summer. Remember that? And last winter, too. I almost got arrested because everyone was playing so close to the chest.” I began pacing. “This is ridiculous! I feel like we’re being set up as sitting ducks again.”

“Lisa,” Sid said softly.

“Well, I’m sorry. I don’t like being used for target practice.”

“Lisa.” Sid grabbed my hand as I went past and held it softly. “What’s wrong, honey?”

“What? Besides being set up for target practice?”

“Besides that.”

“Nothing,” I said a little too quickly.

Sid gently pulled me to his side, then gently lifted my chin to face his brilliant blue eyes.

“Is this a blue funk?” he asked softly.

I pressed my eyes shut, then nodded. I’ve had them since I was fifteen, and only two or three times a year. For some reason, it’s the last thing I think of when it does hit. Sid had sat through two that he knew of. I’d had one that neither of us recognized until much later, but that one hadn’t been terribly typical. He was the one who named it blue funk.

Somehow, he shifted himself over on the bed to make room for me and patted the empty space next to him.

“Come here,” he said. I balked. “Come on.”

“Sid, you’re not feeling well.”

“I’m fine. Believe me, Lisa, if I could make love yesterday, I can certainly give you room to cry on my shoulder today.”

“But…” I looked at him, feeling utterly helpless. “I feel so stupid.”

Nonetheless, I sat down on the bed and allowed him to put his arms around me. The sniffles started and I tried to force back the tears.

“Go ahead and cry.” Sid gently squeezed me.

I did, for no reason at all, but that was the nature of the mood. Sid just held me and let me sob. There wasn’t much else he could do. We both knew it was physically caused and that I just had to ride it out. The next day would be just as bad, although the depression would be replaced by really awful cramps.

I cried for fifteen minutes solid and Sid held me for at least another fifteen.

“Think you can face the world again?” he asked when I finally shifted away.

“Yeah. I think so.” I wiped my nose with a tissue.

“Good.”

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“A lot better. The headache is mostly gone, although it does feel like it could come back at any second. The other aches and pains seem to have disappeared into the night. I won’t be up and around for several days yet, but I don’t feel so bad.”

I smiled. “I’m glad.”

“Even better, if I’m still feeling better this afternoon, the doctor says I’m going home tomorrow.”

“Oh, good.”

“I’ll still be bedridden through the end of the week, but I’m on my way to hale and hearty once again.” He paused. “If you don’t mind, though, I should probably send you back to L.A.”

“Why?”

“I’d like to update Henry. Yeah, I get it about the need to know thing, but you’re right about too much being a mess.”

“I think Henry’s already figured it out. Or figured something out.” I paused, feeling guilty for no real reason. “I called him Monday. I had to.”

“Of course, you did.”

“He found your car at that tract in Mission Viejo and took me along to check it out.” I smiled. “I liked your signal for me.”

Sid chuckled. “I thought you would.”

“Anyway, the salesman at the tract said that an FBI agent had asked to use the house you were in for an operation, and he described the agent as the contact. Only when the salesman described the scar, Henry seemed to recognize it.”

“Huh.”

“And when I told Henry that we figured he was being kept in the dark on the case, he not only agreed but said that he now knew why.”

“As in our contact is somebody Henry knows.”

“Yeah. And if he’s that close to whoever it is, then it’s no wonder he doesn’t want us that close, either. In fact, he said as much on Monday. He knew we’d figure something out, but he doesn’t want us to act on anything without orders from Upline.”

Sid nodded. “And Upline just ordered us to lay low.” He shrugged. “Can’t be helped. But I still think we should at least touch base with Henry. I don’t think any of us want to be sitting ducks.”

“I agree,” I said, blinking my eyes. “Listen, I’ll also get Conchetta to fix something extra nice for you.”

“Thanks. Go ahead and take some aspirin tomorrow and don’t feel like you can’t stay in bed.”

I shook my head. “Staying in bed doesn’t help. I just brood about it.” I got up.

“Whatever.” He took my hands and gently pulled me down and kissed my forehead. “You take care now.”

“I will.” I smiled softly at him. “And no molesting nurses unless they’re off-duty.”

“I’ll do my best.” Sid’s grin was full of mischief.

“That’s what I’m afraid of.” I started for the door, then turned back. “Thanks, Sid.”

“You’re welcome, sweetheart. See you tomorrow.”

 When I got back to the motel, Angelique was already headed for the hospital. George, however, knocked on the door to the room almost as soon as I got in. When I opened the door, he pulled me into his arms and almost smothered me with one of his fabulous kisses.

“George!” I groaned when I could and tried to pull away.

“I’m so sorry about this morning,” he said, holding me even more tightly. “I didn’t know, Lisa. I didn’t want to hurt you. I really am sorry, my dearest love.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Sid just called me. He told me about how you were feeling. I’m sorry, Lisa. I didn’t know.”

“Of course, you didn’t,” I snarled, pulling out of his arms. “That was the idea.”

“You’re mad again.” His face sagged and my heart softened a little.

“Not at you.”

“Don’t be mad at Sid. He was only trying to help.”

“I’m sure he was.”

That didn’t mean he wasn’t also gloating. I racked my brain trying to remember if I’d told Sid where we were staying. [You hadn’t, but Angelique had – SEH]

“Look, George, I’ve got to get back to L.A., and I’ve got a ton of errands to run. How about if I call you tonight?”

I was a little surprised when George agreed. He left me alone, and I packed quickly. I called the hospital to make sure Angelique knew that I was leaving, which she did. Then I went to the front desk to arrange to have Angelique sign for the final bill and to have it put on my credit card, only to find out that George had put the bill on his card. I reminded myself that George was just trying to be nice, but it still rankled.

I made it back to the house in Beverly Hills in record time. Conchetta was glad to hear that Sid was coming home and promised to make something extra special for him even before I could suggest it. My next move was to lock myself in Sid’s office and use the special phone line that we only use for our side business to call Henry. I told him about what had happened to Sid, plus the contents of the message from Upline.

“Henry, we’re not asking who this guy is,” I pointed out. “We just don’t want you to be any more of a sitting duck than we are.”

Henry chuckled. “We’re not, Lisa. This can be a pretty ruthless business, but nobody is going to burn a good asset. It just doesn’t make sense to.”

“But…”

“Lisa, don’t worry about it, okay? Yeah, I get that it’s a little nerve-wracking that this guy is still loose and that we don’t know what all he knows. But what I’m hearing is that it’s not nearly as much as he’d like to think. Sometimes, we just have to trust that other folks are going to do their job, and ninety percent of the time, they do. Sid got us some good intel. We’ll see where it leads. In the meantime, you and Sid stay focused on getting him healthy again. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said.

There really wasn’t much else I could do. I tried to be thankful that Sid had come out of the ordeal okay and that he’d provided some good information. Henry was right. I just had to trust that whoever else would be on top of things. I still felt some niggling worry, but chalked it up to my mood and let it go. I spent the rest of the afternoon working on my sewing projects.

It was barely seven when my private line rang. It was George.

“How is my beautiful woman feeling?”

I bit my tongue. “George, I’ve just got to ride it out, so can you just let me alone, please?”

“Why didn’t you call?”

“It’s only seven.”

“I was afraid something was really bothering you.”

“Yes, there is, but it’s nothing you or anyone else can do anything about. Why don’t I call you tomorrow night? I’m not going to be feeling like talking to anyone before then anyway.”

“Why are you avoiding me?”

I rolled my eyes. “Will you please? I’m not avoiding you. I just don’t feel like dealing with people right now. Do you understand that?”

He sighed. “No, I don’t.”

“Well, you’ll have to try. It’s part of how I operate.”

“But my dearest–”

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow, George.”

“I do love you, Lisa, more than anything. You do know that, don’t you?”

“Yes, George, I know. I love you, too. Goodnight.”

The next day was the worst. Sure enough, the cramps arrived. No matter what Sid said, aspirin didn’t help, so I didn’t bother. Worse yet, George showed up, bearing two vases filled with roses. One had been left on the doorstep the day before and I hadn’t seen it because I had come in through the garage. I had George put the vases in my office. I also asked him not to send so many flowers. George asked how I was feeling. I asked George to leave. George said I should be in bed and asked if he could bring me something. I decided that we definitely had a communication problem.

Sid and Angelique showed up around noon, and the only thing worse than George hovering over me was watching Angelique stare at me sadly. The good news was that she insisted on playing nurse to Sid. I was happy to let her as I was feeling too rotten, myself. Besides, she had to get herself settled in. She was moving in again. I was skeptical about how long it would last, but at least, she was doing all the running and fetching, not that there was that much of it.

My pager vibrated a couple times, but I couldn’t do anything about it with George hanging around. Finally, around four, I convinced George that I needed a nap and that he should go to Bible study without me that night.

“I don’t mind missing,” George said.

“I need to know what’s going on,” I said. “We’ve got camp coming up.”

“Oh, that’s right.”

“And I’ll probably be asleep after you’re done, so please don’t call or come over.”

George looked at me, and I guess he saw something in my eyes that meant he shouldn’t push it.

I was about to try to check in on the pager when Angelique wandered into my office. She was good and depressed.

“Why do I let myself in for this?” she asked me. “I’ll never be anything more than a friend to him.”

“Then move out, Ange. He doesn’t need that much taking care of.”

“I can’t. I love him.”

I shook my head. “He’ll never be able to return it. He just doesn’t know any better. Sid has no concept of what love really is.”

“Oh, he does. He may not know it, but he does.”

“Ange, I know him very well.”

Her laugh was sardonic and sad all at the same time. “Lisa, you’re not facing the truth any more than I am. That man is so hung up on you, it’s not even funny. He was calling George when I got to the hospital yesterday, to tell him about your bad mood.”

“He was just gloating because he had one on George.”

“He was, but not much. He was very worried about you.”

“Well, we’re good friends. George realized that.”

Angelique shook her head and wandered off.

I finally got to check in on the pager and all it turned out to be was a notice that we were down until further notice. That made the next two days aggravating, at best. As far as Sid was concerned, he was still bedridden and bored silly. Angelique had returned to work on Thursday, which meant that I needed to keep Sid occupied. The good news was that there were a few phone interviews that Sid could do from bed. There were two articles that needed edits, and he was able to do that, as well. But he was bored enough by Friday morning that he hand-wrote an article, which meant that I would have to type it into the computer. The only reason that task got put on hold was that Sid had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon and I had to drive him.

The doctor told Sid that he could walk around a little, as he felt like it, and Saturday, Sid spent wandering the house. He kept joking that there was only one way to keep him in bed and Angelique was too tired.

Actually, Sid was the least of my problems. George had returned early Thursday and hovered, talking about nothing but the wedding and asking me how I was feeling. He kept coming over on Friday, brought me dinner that night, then hung around all day Saturday, too, asking about the wedding and what he could do to make me feel better.

“George just can’t get it through his thick skull that this blue funk thing only lasts two days,” I told Kathy Deiner and Esther Nguyen Sunday after mass.

The three of us were commiserating over a late brunch. I had told George I needed to get back to the house to take care of Sid. Jesse, fortunately, picked up the hint from Kathy and got George to spend the afternoon scouting locations to shoot headshots for actors.

“It’s not like he’s stupid,” Kathy said.

“Not stupid,” said Esther. “He’s just stubborn.”

“The worst of it is,” I continued. “I feel guilty because I want him to leave me alone a little. I mean, he treats me like a queen, sends me flowers all the time, says all sorts of sweet, romantic things. He acts in a way that most women dream about. And I feel like a total jerk because I want him to lay off a little. I never dreamed I could get sick of long-stemmed red roses. But now that I’ve got an office full of them, I’d like to see another kind of flower. I tell you, the last three days have been the pits. Thursday, the last thing I wanted to deal with was another human being, and there was George. I know you’re going to hate me for saying this, Kathy, but he kept bugging me about the wedding. We should do this, Lisa. We should do that, Lisa. I have got a major case of the cramps, a sick boss coming home with a jealous girlfriend, a pile of overdue work, and nothing he’s suggesting feels right to me. Then Mama called and asked me if I’d checked out the reception site she’d put the deposit on and got annoyed because I haven’t yet.”

“Go ahead and complain, Lisa,” said Kathy. “It sounds pretty grim.”

“And it gets worse,” I said. “Friday, George came over with a pile of bridal magazines. Kept asking what I thought of all the bridal gowns and flowers and the like. I finally told him that if he wanted to talk wedding that badly, he could call my mother. You know what that clown did?”

“He called your mother,” Esther said.

“You got it,” I said. “While I was at the doctor’s office with Sid. They talked for two hours. Mama was ecstatic. Then he brings dinner over Friday night, which really made Conchetta mad because she’d already made dinner. And then last night, we’re eating back at the house with Sid and Angelique, and George had the nerve to ask Sid to give an opinion on some of the dresses in the wedding magazines.”

“I can’t believe that George would rub it in like that,” Kathy said.

“He wasn’t rubbing it in. He is simply blissfully unaware that Sid is a little put off track about this whole affair. Of course, Angelique is sitting there cheering George on. I’m dying of embarrassment. Sid, naturally, won’t give a hint that he’s bugged. So, I guess it’s not entirely fair to expect George to know what’s going on. But you’d think he’d see that something’s not right.”

“That I believe,” Kathy said. “Jesse says George has a tendency to see and hear only what he wants to.”

“I’ll vouch for that,” I grumbled. “Now, I’ve got Mama, George, Sid, and Angelique all planning my wedding.”

“I wish they were planning mine,” Kathy said.

“I wish they were, too.” I looked at her. “At this point, I’m beginning to wonder if I want to get married.”

Kathy put her hand on mine. “Oh, Lisa, don’t let me drag you down.”

Esther snorted. “The wedding is the worst part. I used to work at that bridal shop. I saw more fights at that store. I know why the divorce rate is so high. Nobody can survive the wedding.”

“I’d sure like to try,” Kathy said with a deep sigh. “I mean, I understand why Jesse doesn’t want me supporting him. That’s an important thing for him. And even if it weren’t, I can’t tell him to marry me and let me support you or I’ll go find someone else. There is no one else and I’d never follow through. I’m just too far gone in love with that man. I can’t believe I’m acting like such a fool.”

“Did you tell him that George is going to give him the condo when we get our new place?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” Kathy said. “I did get him to compromise. As soon as he can put a roof over my head, i.e. pay rent, we’ll get married. So the sooner George moves out, the better. Lisa, I don’t care about your wedding plans, but I’ll be more than happy to see you two house hunting.”

“Hah!” Esther snorted. “You two think you got trouble. At least, you asked for it. If you really wanted to, you could tell George and Jesse to get lost. I can’t tell my father to get lost. He’s driving me nuts. Ever since he got that residency at UCLA Medical Center, he has to live with me. It’s great. I’m looking for a new roommate, got a nice two-bedroom place, so he moves in. Because I’m a woman, I get to clean up and cook. I got better things to do and he’s a slob. Some doctor.”

“Doesn’t he have a private practice?” I asked.

“He just got his license for here. He had a private practice back home.” Back home was Vietnam for Esther. Her family had fled about eleven years before, toward the end of the war. “We come here and he can’t practice. He has to get license first. Only he can’t speak English good enough for the test.”

“I always thought his English was really good,” said Kathy.

“Not medical English. He had a terrible time with that. Anyway, he finally learned it and got on at UCLA and moved in with me. And you know what he did yesterday? He told my two brothers to move in with us. Did he ask me first? No. That’s all I need. You know how small my place is, two bedrooms or not.”

“At least it will cut down on your rent,” I said.

“Not a chance.” Esther shuddered and shook her head. “My two brothers are stupid. Dimh is an actor and Phuong is an artist. They’re not making any money. Dimh was doing okay when they were still shooting MASH. He’d get parts as a refugee or Chinese soldier. But any fool could tell he was Vietnamese. Anyway, they’re going to start a Vietnamese theatre. They want me to help them translate Death of a Salesman into Vietnamese. They’re stupid!”

“Isn’t there any traditional Vietnamese theatre?” I asked.

“Maybe. I don’t know,” Esther said. “I just got a bad feeling they’re going to hit me up for money. Well, they aren’t going to get any from me, I can tell you. I don’t care how much my father yells. Just ‘cause they’re men. Well, phooey on them.”

That wasn’t exactly what Esther said. Her command of the English language is exceptional and includes pretty much the full canon of cuss words.

“Watch your language, Esther,” said Kathy.

“Stuff it, Kathy,” Esther replied without rancor. “Who are you, anyway? Sarah Arnold, I mean, Williams?”

“Let’s not start fighting,” I said. “I’ve got enough turmoil with George and Sid.”

“So do I,” grumbled Kathy.

“Boy, do I,” Esther said. “I wish I could find an excuse to get away from them for a while.”

“That does sound nice,” Kathy said.

“It sure does.” I thought it over. “You know, Wednesday is the Fourth of July. How much time do you guys have off?”

“I just found out I got two weeks vacation at my job,” Esther said, brightening. “Of course, I got to save one week for Catalina. I got the Fourth off, but that’s it.”

“I’m in the same boat,” said Kathy. “Although, I could probably get Thursday and Friday off, too.”

“I bet I could, too,” Esther said. “What about you, Lisa?”

“Well…” I pressed my lips together. The writing work was still behind, but Quickline was down and there was no reason to believe that it still wouldn’t be the following week. “I can swing it. Sid can just lump it. Let’s go somewhere just the three of us and the first person to mention a man gets fined.”

“Oh, that sounds good,” said Kathy. “But where?”

“I’d like to go camping,” Esther said. She’s basically cheap. [Uh, pot and kettle here, kiddo? – SEH]

“That does sound like fun,” I said. “I know. I’ve been wanting to go four-wheeling down in Baja since I got my truck.”

“Camping?” Kathy was skeptical. “In Mexico?”

“I done it before,” said Esther, grinning. “It’s a lot of fun.”

“The only problem is that somebody is going to have to sit in the jump seat. It’s not all that comfortable.”

“I’ll sit it in,” said Esther.

“I don’t know about this,” said Kathy. “My idea of roughing it is no room service.”

“Have you ever been camping?” Esther asked.

“Well, no.”

“Then you gotta try it at least once,” Esther said. “It’s settled. We’re going to Baja. Just us girls and no men.”

“You sure we’ll be safe,” Kathy asked, still not convinced. “I mean, aren’t three women alone asking for trouble?:

“One woman alone, probably,” I said. “Two women, maybe. Three women, I think we’ll be fine. Besides, we know how to take care of ourselves.”

“We’ll bring a gun,” said Esther. “Anybody here know how to shoot one?”

“Didn’t you used to shoot skeet, Lisa?” Kathy asked.

I frowned. “Yeah, but I don’t like the idea of pointing guns at people.”

“I was just joking,” Esther said. “Look, I’ll arrange the campsite and route. Lisa, you take care of your truck and get the equipment together. Kathy, you get the food and supplies. But don’t buy anything without checking with Lisa or me. We leave Tuesday night.”

“I’d rather leave Wednesday morning,” I said. “The traffic won’t be as bad and I don’t want to set up camp in the dark. Esther, see if you can get a beach site. It might be hard because of the holiday.”

“Sure thing.”

I went home feeling very pleased with myself. Better yet, Sid and Angelique were off getting Nick from the airport. George hadn’t found out I was home. I had the whole house to myself. I reveled in it for a full fifteen minutes. The Sid, Angelique, and Nick came home.

I did find some time before dinner to tell Sid about my plans for the holiday.

“Have fun,” he said with little enthusiasm. “Just remember to get it okayed Upline first.”

“Oh. Right.” I bit my lip. We normally had to get clearance a week before we went outside the country. “Should I call Henry?”

“No reason not to.” Sid seemed pretty distracted.

“You okay?” I asked.

He frowned. “Just bugged.”

“Rachel?”

“That’s some of it.” He sighed. “I had to call her while I was in the hospital, and I raised my concerns about Nick being left alone all day and night. So Nick tells me this afternoon that he can only stay through Friday because he’s going to be spending the rest of the summer at camp.”

I swallowed. “How’s he feeling about that?”

Sid shrugged. “He thinks it could be fun, but he’s not thrilled. He says he can take care of himself, but I get the feeling that he doesn’t like staying home alone nearly as much as he says.”

“I would imagine not,” I said.

“It’s the other thing he said that really bothers me. He thinks his mom is trying to turn him against us. She kept saying how camp will be so much more fun than being with us, and that if we really wanted him, we’d let him stay with us all the time.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“I wish.” Sid shook his head. “I just don’t get what her game is.”

“I think I know. She’s punishing you because you won’t let her manipulate you. Poor Nick.”

Sid looked at me. “You think she’s that petty?”

“No,” I said. “But I do think she’s that neurotic.”

“Whatever. The one bit of good news is that whatever her game is, it seems to be backfiring. Nick is not at all happy with her.”

I looked him over. “Anything else bothering you?”

“Getting knocked off the case. I’m getting the feeling Upline is worried that the contact saw me.”

“But he’s not going to know your real identity.”

“For which I am grateful.” He shrugged. “There’s nothing we can do about it, anyway.”

“I suppose not.” I paused. “I’d better call Henry.”

I went into Sid’s office to make the call. Henry wasn’t thrilled. It turned out our entire line was down, which made it really hard to deny my request. We set up which radio channels I would use to check in and what codes I would need.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

“Not great, but can’t do anything about it,” he said. “I just kind of wish I was going with you.”

“I wouldn’t mind, but this one is ladies only.”

He chuckled and we hung up.

I was about to go out to the garage to check my little pickup and figure out what all I would need for the trip when I almost ran into Angelique, who was sniffling. I could hear music coming from the library, so I guessed that’s where Sid and Nick were.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Just depressed over the same thing, as usual,” she said. “I swear, I’ve had it with men!”

A thought hit me.

“I’ve got to make a couple phone calls first to okay it with my other girlfriends,” I said. “But how would you like to forswear the male sex for a few days over the holiday and come four-wheeling in Baja?”

“Four-wheeling, huh?”

“It’ll be rough. The first person to mention a man gets fined. And it will be crowded in my truck.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Angelique grinned. “I should be able to borrow my brother’s jeep. He keeps telling me to. That sounds terrific.”

“Let me talk to Esther and Kathy. I don’t think they’ll turn you down.”

Kathy and Esther were very happy to have Angelique and even happier when Angelique confirmed that she had her brother’s jeep, too. The plans were coming together perfectly. I made my lists of what I needed, then skipped all the way to my room.

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