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Kate couldn’t exactly remember how she got home. Her body and mind were completely numb, and she’d navigated back to her house on autopilot. All she could remember was Lauren pushing her away and tearfully pleading with her to go away as Lauren curled up on the bed sobbing, her back to Kate.
The sensation that went through Kate when Lauren told her to go away was reminiscent of being shot – like a sharp, hot, breath-taking pain in her chest. How had such a perfect evening gone so terribly wrong?
After being pushed away by Lauren, Kate climbed out of the bed and stood there trembling, slipping her clothes back on quietly as tears ran down her face, crushed by Lauren’s rejection and clueless as to how to reach out to her. All she wanted to do was escape, to distance herself from the unrelenting image of Lauren’s back turned toward her. ‘I don’t want you here’, it said. I don’t want you.
Kate realized she was essentially in shock. The transition from joy to despair was too abrupt for her fragile psyche, the foundation she’d laid for months with Lauren seemingly shattered in an instant.
Upon arriving at her house, Kate noticed that it was almost 2:00 am, and realized she must be exhausted as well. She shed her clothes, too overcome with misery to shower, and crawled into bed, knowing her sleep - if it came - would be filled with nightmares.
As the days passed without hearing from Lauren, Kate grew increasingly anxious. She felt she needed to give Lauren space and give her an opportunity to sort out her feelings, but the waiting was torment.
By Friday, Kate couldn’t wait any longer. Picking up the phone, she swallowed her nervousness and dialed Lauren’s work number. Lauren picked up after only a few rings.
“ Lauren Hudson...” Lauren said, in a cool, professional tone, which made Kate all the more nervous.
Kate was suddenly at a loss for words, her mouth working but no sounds coming out.
Lauren paused and waited on the other end of the line for a few moments. “This is Lauren Hudson – is anyone there?”
“Lauren? Lauren – it’s me, Kate.” Kate finally got her voice to work, but the words sounded husky and forced.
A momentary silence greeted her pronouncement before Lauren responded.
“Hello, Kate.” Lauren’s voice had lost its business-like tone and sounded subdued.
“Lauren I -“ Kate stammered, “– I’ve been waiting to hear from you. I’ve been worried about you. I wanted to call you earlier, but - I wanted to give you some space as well – some…time to think. I -”
“I know Kate, “ Lauren interrupted, “and I appreciate that. And you’re right - we do need to talk.”
“I’ve missed you, Lauren,” Kate said, breathlessly.
“Kate, I –“, Lauren started, sighing.
“No – wait.” Kate interjected fearfully, “I’m sorry, Lauren. I don’t want to put in pressure on you. I’ve just missed talking to you. I’ve missed the girls, too.”
“I know. They miss you as well. Lindsay has been asking about you. Kris has been asking about you, too. She had a game Wednesday night and you missed it. She pitched a no-hitter. She was disappointed you weren’t there to see it.” Lauren sighed and Kate could hear her draw a ragged breath. “No matter what happens with us Kate, I would never want you to pull away from them.”
“I would never do that, honey”, Kate responded, hesitantly.
“Listen, Kate. We really shouldn’t be having this conversation over the phone. If you’re going to be home tomorrow, how about if I bring you some lunch and we can talk in private?” Lauren asked.
“That sounds good, Lauren. I’ll be here.” Kate replied, smiling.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then, Kate. Goodbye.” Kate heard Lauren’s phone disconnect.
“See you then…I love you, Lauren,” Kate said into the silence.
Lauren showed up on Kate’s doorstep the next day, lunch in hand. Lauren looked tired to Kate, but she suspected she looked much the same. She hadn’t gotten a decent night of sleep all week.
Lauren smiled at Kate somewhat nervously, holding out the sacks of food. “I hope chicken salad is okay. It was the special at Steinbach’s Deli today. I love chicken salad and if I remember correctly you do too...”
Kate grinned and took the sacks. “Hey – I’ll eat just about anything. It sounds great. Come upstairs – you’ve never had a chance to eat in my kitchen before.”
Once upstairs, Kate and Lauren sat down across from each other and began eating quietly, an awkward silence having settled over them.
Kate finished up the last bite of her sandwich. She smiled at Lauren. “Thanks for feeding me. You didn’t have to do that you know. You’re always welcome here, with or without food.” Kate teased, trying to break the uncomfortable silence.
Lauren smiled back at Kate somewhat sadly. “I know that, Kate.”
“So – have you had a chance to think?” Kate asked nervously.
Lauren hesitated. “Kate, I hope you know how much you mean to me.”
Kate didn’t like how this conversation was starting out. “You mean a lot to me too, Lauren.”
“I’ve come to value your presence in my life greatly,” Lauren began. “I really need your friendship, Kate. I need you in my life. I care about you a great deal, and so do my kids.”
Kate wasn’t sure she understood what Lauren was telling her. “I want that too, Lauren. I want to be with you, more than anything.”
“Kate - I need for you to understand. Saturday night…” Lauren looked down, her eyes filling with tears.
“Lauren…baby, I know it was too soon – and I’m sorry about that. I’ll back off and give you time to get used to this. I’ll wait as long as you need me to –“ Kate started.
“No, Kate,” Lauren interrupted. “That’s not what I want. I don’t want you to wait. That’s not fair to you.”
“Then what are you saying, Lauren?” Kate asked nervously. “What do you want?”
“Kate – when you were making love to me that night…I didn’t mean for it to happen and I don’t know how it happened - but somehow you became Shawn in my head. I don’t know - the way you touched me and made love to me was so much like Shawn - I just…” Lauren’s voice choked up and she looked away from Kate.
“After you left, I realized I haven’t really been fair to you, Kate. I’ve been leading you on in a way – ”
Kate frowned, not understanding what Lauren was telling her. “Leading me on? How?”
“Kate –“ Lauren looked down at the table, drew a deep breath, and glanced back up at Kate – her eyes filled with tears, “I - I’ll never be able to love anyone but Shawn. She’ll always be first in my heart - always - and I just can’t do that to you. I can’t. You’re a wonderful woman, and you deserve so much more than that. You deserve to be with someone who will love you like you deserve to be loved.”
Lauren looked down at her hands, blinking back tears. “But I can’t make myself give you up altogether. I can’t seem to walk away from you. Is that awful of me?”
Lauren laughed humorlessly. “If the girls didn’t love you so much, maybe I’d have the strength to push you away. But – the girls seem to need you in their lives. They’ve bonded with you in a way they never have with anyone else before, and I want you in my life too. I want us to still be friends, if that’s possible.”
Kate sat listening quietly - heartbroken and fighting back tears.
Lauren glanced up at Kate – her eyes filled with regret. “Is that going to be okay with you, Kate? Can we be just friends?”
Kate squeezed her eyes shut, losing the battle to told back her tears.
Lauren began sobbing, “For God’s sake, Kate. Tell me to get out and go to Hell. I don’t want to hurt you...”
Lauren got up suddenly and started to leave the room, but Kate jumped up and grabbed her shoulders, turning Lauren to face her.
“It’s enough for me Lauren,” Kate said, trying to give Lauren a reassuring smile.
Lauren looked up and blinked at Kate uncertainly, “Kate - are you sure?”
“It’s enough for me!” Kate responded, her voice rising slightly.
“It’s enough. I – I want for us to be friends, Lauren. Please…” With that, Kate looked into Lauren’s eyes and pulled her into her arms, burying her face in her neck as they held each other, both desperately needing the connection.
Several months had passed since that day, and despite Lauren’s words, Kate couldn’t help but hope that Lauren would eventually grow to love her as more than a friend. She’d even dated a few women in an attempt to make Lauren jealous, to no avail. Lauren had seemed happy for her and genuinely disheartened when the relationships didn’t work out.
Kate had begun to lose all hope of being more than Lauren’s friend, resolving to appreciate what they had. Sometimes, however, when they went out to dinner together, or spent lazy Saturday afternoons together on Laurens’ deck, Kate couldn’t stop herself from pretending they were more than just friends.
The one bright spot was Kate’s relationship with Kris and Lindsey. Kate spent many weekend afternoons playing with the girls while Lauren sunned on the deck.
One Saturday, Kate showed up to catch for Kris, who had her first game of the season coming up. Kate knocked on the door and was surprised when Kris answered the door instead of Lauren.
“Hey! Where’s your Mom?” Kate asked, stepping past Kris into the house.
“She took Lindsey and went to the Mall.” Kris shuddered and Kate laughed at her. Kris shared her extreme aversion to shopping malls.
“So – are you looking forward to your game tomorrow? Kate asked, glancing over at Kris, who was wearing her glove and had obviously already been warming up outside. Kate glanced outside the kitchen window and noticed that one of Kris’ friends was sitting outside on the deck.
“Yeah – but I’m not looking forward to getting a new coach,” Kris said, sighing. My coach from last year, Susan, is pregnant, so she’s not coaching us this year. I don’t think they’ve found anyone to take her place permanently yet. I’m afraid it will be some jerk. Two year’s ago, Hannah’s dad coached us, and he was a complete assh…” Kris stopped and grinned sheepishly.
Kate looked over at Kris and raised her eyebrows. “A complete..what was that?”
“Um - I mean, he was an awful coach. Hey – why don’t you coach us, Kate?” Kris said, enthusiastically.
Kate grimaced. “Gosh, Kris, I’m just too busy.”
“Hey you’re self-employed – you set your own hours. Plus, you’re always off on weekends. And…” Kris began, looking at Kate hopefully. “And – you’re not dating that Lisa woman anymore – right? You’re not dating anyone at all. So your weekends are free…”
Kate laughed. “No. No I’m not – but that’s hopefully not a permanent condition…”
Kris sighed and looked down, embarrassed. “Kate –“ she began hesitantly. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
Kate frowned at Kris uncertainly. “Hmmm – I guess it depends just how personal it is.”
“Well – I mean, I know you’re gay…” She began, looking up at Kate, thoughtfully. “And I know my Mom is gay, so – why don’t…”
Kate interrupted Kris, sensing where the line of questioning was going. “Kris – some things are very complicated. You’re Mom and I are friends. Good friends – and that is the way we both want it. I care a great deal about her. Plus…” Here Kate paused, wondering how forthcoming she needed to be with the inquisitive teenager.
“Kris – I’m sure you know Lauren loved your Mother very much, and I think she still feels a great deal of loyalty to her. I think…” Kate began.
Kris shook her head, interrupting Kate. “No. That doesn’t make any sense. I loved my Mother too, and I’ll never forget her, but she’s gone, and I don’t want my Mom to spend the rest of her life alone because of what happened.”
Kris sighed, and looked over at Kate, “I’ll be going off to school in a few years. Then Lindsay will be going to school – what’s Mom going to do then? Live in this big house all by herself?”
Kate reached over and squeezed Kris’ shoulder reassuringly. “Kris – honey – I don’t disagree with you, but love and relationships are complicated. Your Mom is going to have to figure out things for herself.”
Kris laughed, and rolled her eyes, “You know, it’s funny. When I was a kid, I remember wishing for things that were impossible. Which is silly, I mean – wishing for things is fine I guess, but they’ve got to be wishes that can really come true. I remember…”
Kris paused and glanced away from Kate. “When I was a little kid, I wished that Mama was still alive, I wished that she would somehow come back to us. But I’m old to enough to know now that’s not possible.” Kris said softly, looking back at Kate, “Now…now, I just wish my Mom would find someone to make her happy again.”
Kate reached over to Kris and pulled her into a hug. “Oh Kris. Kris – honey, believe me, I wish for that too…”
The next few months proceeded uneventfully. Kate continued to spend most weekends at Lauren’s and had given up on dating other women altogether.
For July 4th, Lauren had invited Kate to go with her, Holly and Paula, to Vittorio’s – Lauren’s favorite restaurant.
A very nervous Kate had dressed for the occasion in loose black woolen pants, a tailored white shirt, and a blue-patterned vest with a black suit jacket. Arriving at the dimly lit, romantic restaurant, Kate felt a wave of intense melancholy surge through her. With all her heart she wished she were having a genuine romantic dinner with the woman she loved with all her heart.
Lauren, Holly, and Paula had already arrived and were sitting in a round booth in the back of the restaurant. Lauren had come to the restaurant with Holly and Paula, but would be riding back with Kate, since Kate would be passing by Lauren’s house on her way home.
Kate slid in next to Lauren, who smiled and took her hand and squeezed it. Kate noticed that the three of them had already finished off a bottle of wine.
“You certainly look gorgeous tonight,” a slightly buzzed Lauren said, looking at Kate admiringly.
“Are you sure I don’t look like a waiter?” Kate responded, laughing nervously.
Lauren laughed. “No, you don’t look like a waiter. You look sexy as Hell – doesn’t she, you guys.”
Holly grimaced at her, smiling. “Ask me that when Paula’s out of the room, Lauren. She’s the insanely jealous type.”
Paula bumped shoulders with Holly. “Yeah, right. I know I’m about the only woman alive who would put up with you – no matter how cute you are. Oh, - and by the way, I think Kate looks very sexy.”
Kate blushed at the attention. “You know I don’t know how to dress. Jeans without holes in them is usually as ‘dressed up’ as I can manage.”
Lauren laughed and gave Kate a quick hug. “You ought to let me take you shopping sometime. I think I know what looks good on you.”
“Shopping.” Kate pretended to shudder. “Can’t I just give you my credit card and drop you off at the mall?”
Lauren laughed and reached over to squeeze Kate’s knee, her hand trailing across her thigh. Lauren had gotten much more physically affectionate over the last few months, and the frequent lingering touches often sent Kate home in a state of extreme sexual frustration. Kate had a sinking feeling tonight was going to be another one of those nights.
After everyone had finished eating, Lauren and Paula got up to go to the restroom, leaving Holly and Kate sitting alone at the table together.
Holly glanced over at Kate, who was watching the gentle sway of Lauren’s hips as she walked away from the table.
“So – how is everything going with Lauren?” Holly asked. Holly and Kate got together for lunch frequently, and Holly was very familiar with Kate’s unrequited love for Lauren.
“More of the same. I’m just going to let it go, Holly,” Kate said, sighing. “Lauren apparently just doesn’t want or need anything from me but friendship.”
“I don’t believe that for a minute, Kate.” Holly interjected, frowning. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Lauren loves you. She just doesn’t realize how much – or at least she won’t let her herself realize how much.”
“I know she loves me, Holly, but not in a romantic way,” Kate replied, looking down uncomfortably.
“Bullshit, Kate.” Holly said, reaching over to grasp Kate’s hand and looking at her earnestly. “I was friends with Lauren and Shawn for years, and the fact is Lauren looks at you and acts the same way with you as she did Shawn.”
“Holly, please.” Kate replied, skeptically.
“Kate - the only thing that is holding Lauren back from having a relationship with you is guilt. I think she feels like she’s being unfaithful to Shawn - and what pisses me off about it is that I know Shawn wouldn’t want her to do this.” Holly said, passionately. “She wouldn’t want her to spend the rest of her life alone. Shawn would want her to find someone who would love her and take good care of her. I don’t understand why she doesn’t see that.”
Holly ran her hands through her short hair in frustration. “Shawn would have really liked you, Kate. As a matter of fact, I suspect that if she could have picked anyone to replace her in Lauren’s life, it would have been someone just like you.”
Kate smiled over at Holly. “I appreciate that, Holly.”
Just then Lauren and Paula returned from the restroom and the women all rose to leave the restaurant. Kate sighed with relief. Her conversation with Holly had stirred up too many painful emotions.
Kate and Lauren separated from their friends and started walking the short distance to Kate’s truck. Kate had to park a few blocks away because the extended bed truck was too large to fit in the cramped spaces of the restaurant parking lot.
As they were walking to the truck, Kate noticed a boy, who looked to be about 12 years old, in the bed of her truck trying to break into her toolbox.
“Shit!” Kate exclaimed, walking quickly around to the back of her truck.
“Kate…” Lauren began nervously.
“Get the Hell out of there!” Kate felt her ire rising - she’d had her truck broken into just a few weeks ago and several hundred dollars worth of tools stolen. As the kid jumped out of the truck, Kate heard a noise behind her.
“Kate.” Lauren screamed. Kate spun around. Standing behind her was an older boy, actually a young man, who looked to be about 18 years old. With an incredible sense of déjà vu, she noticed he was holding a gun. Unlike before however, this young man did not seem nervous, or even frightened. With some trepidation, Kate noticed his eyes were red and somewhat unfocused.
“Gimme your keys, bitch.” The young man slurred, stretching his arm out straight to point the gun at Kate’s chest and stepping closer to her.
Kate could sense Lauren behind her, walking closer. “Stay back, Lauren!” Kate said harshly, glancing over her shoulder at Lauren.
“Just give him the keys, Kate.” Lauren said with a trembling voice.
“You heard her, bitch! Gimme the fucking keys!” The young man said angrily.
As the boy stepped even closer, Kate felt an almost superhuman rage go through her – rage at the life that had been stolen from her so carelessly, rage at her desperate and painful struggle to regain it, and rage at the casual stupidity of this criminal assault.
Kate stared into the boy’s eyes, feeling somewhere between invincible and foolishly daring.
“Fuck you,” she said, in a quiet but intense voice, stepping forward.
Then, like in a bad dream, Kate watched the eerily familiar scene play out. As Kate stepped forward, the boy’s gun went off, the impact blowing her back so that she bounced off of her truck before falling to her knees and rolling over onto her back, the sound of Lauren’s scream, the sight of the stars overhead, Lauren on her knees beside her, speaking words she couldn’t quite hear, although she suspected the were much the same as before.
“Please don’t leave me, Kate.” Kate looked up into Lauren’s desperate eyes. Again, Kate noted the inability to draw breath, and then it all just faded away.
When Kate opened her yes again, all she could see was stark, blinding whiteness. As her eyes adjusted, the figure of Nancy Pollard became visible and stepped forward.
“Shit! What in the Hell are you doing here,” Kate moaned, squinting against the bright light.
“My goodness, Kate. No cursing!” Mrs. Pollard exclaimed, feigning offense.
Kate sighed and rolled her eyes. “Sorry, Nancy. What am I doing here? If I’m dead, I’m going to be seriously pissed off. I don’t want to go through this again…”
“Oh, you’re not dead, my dear. The bullet was a dud, although the force of the discharge caused an arrhythmia that stopped your heart - but Lauren did CPR. You’re in the hospital now, but you haven’t yet regained consciousness.” Nancy explained matter-of-factly. “Why not? Do you want to be dead?”
“Of course not,” Kate responded quickly.
“Then why did you behave so carelessly?” Mrs. Pollard asked, sincerely.
Kate looked down guiltily. “I don’t know. I was just so angry and frustrated - so tired of life being such a spiteful bitch. All I care about is getting my life back, and it’s not working, Lauren won’t let me in – and what’s so frustrating is she won’t let me in because she’s still in love with – with me, with Shawn Hudson.”
“Kate –“ Nancy smiled somewhat sadly. “Maybe it’s well past time you that both of you let go of Shawn.”
“What in the Hell are you talking about?” Kate asked incredulously.
“Kate – um - Shawn, this is probably going to be hard for you to understand, but – Kate Haliday didn’t die. She tried to commit suicide, but it didn’t quite work…” Nancy began.
“Wait a minute. What do you mean…?” Kate stuttered.
“What it means is - she’s still here, she never died. You’re both sharing the same body, but your thoughts are so merged that you don’t know where one stops and where the other begins.” Nancy responded, smiling gently.
“Wait a minute. What the Hell do you mean putting me in someone’s body when she wasn’t dead?” Kate said, angrily.
“I picked Kate because I saw a wonderful, kind woman with incredible potential that she could never realize because she was so scarred by her past. I knew you were strong enough to heal her and help her realize that potential, Shawn. She needed you.” Nancy answered.
“But – why?” Kate asked, confused.
“Because – looking into Kate’s heart – I knew she was the kind of woman you would have picked if you could have picked someone to replace you in Lauren’s life, Shawn.”
Suddenly Kate realized what Nancy was saying.
“Are you ready to let go, Shawn?” Shawn glanced up at Nancy, finally realizing what she was saying.
“Do I have to…?” She began.
“Lauren will never be able to accept Kate’s love and move forward with her life as long as you’re there, Shawn. She senses your presence, and it’s like an insurmountable barrier between them.” Nancy replied gently.
“But I love her so much…I don’t want to leave her again” Shawn interrupted passionately.
“Kate loves her too.” Nancy replied. “Just as much as you do, and she loves your daughters, too. She’ll take good care of them for you, you know that – until you can all be together again.”
Suddenly, Shawn felt a sense of peace wash over her, and she knew what she had to do.
At that moment, she suddenly was aware of another presence in the room. It was Kate, stretched out on the hospital bed, looking pale and tired, as Shawn stood next to Nancy Pollard.
Shawn looked over at Kate. “I hope you realize, Kate, that if you ever hurt Lauren, I’ll find a way back if only to kick your ass.” Shawn said, threateningly.
Kate smiled and laughed at Shawn. “You know that’s not going to happen, I promise to love her and take care of her for the rest of my life, if she’ll let me.”
“Thanks, Kate. I appreciate that. Lauren deserves the best – and she deserves to be happy and whole.” Shawn replied, smiling tearfully.
Nancy placed her hand on Shawn’s shoulder. “It’s time to go, Shawn.”
“So where exactly are we going.” Shawn glanced over at Nancy Pollard, suspiciously.
“Oh, a very, very nice place. I promise.” Nancy replied with a wink.
Shawn glanced back over at Kate, a wistful smile gracing her beautiful face. “Don’t make me have to come back to haunt you. Take care of my girls – or else. I’ll be waiting for you – all of you. I suspect I’ll be seeing all of you again soon…” she glanced over at Mrs. Pollard and smiled, “well - soon for me at least…since time is so freaking strange here.”
With that, Shawn winked at Kate, and she and Nancy stepped back and faded into a mist, leaving only a stark whiteness.
As Kate blinked her eyes against the glare, the whiteness focused and she realized she was on her back in a very uncomfortable bed staring at the ceiling overhead.
She looked over to see a pale, exhausted-looking Lauren in a chair next to her bed, apparently sleeping.
“Lauren?” Kate said huskily.
Lauren’s eyes opened at the sound of Kate’s voice and she leaned forward urgently, grasping Kate’s hand.
“Kate?” Lauren smiled at Kate tremulously. “Honey - you had us worried there for a while. The doctors couldn’t tell us why you wouldn’t wake up.”
“How long have I been unconscious?” Kate asked softly.
Lauren glanced at her watch, “Just a little over 12 hours. How are you feeling?”
“Just a little headache – and my chest is as sore as Hell.” Kate responded weakly.
Lauren reached over to touch the bandaged area gently. “It’s pretty badly bruised.”
Lauren looked up at Kate tearfully. “You know, I’m pretty mad at you, Kate,” Lauren said softly.
“Why?” Kate asked.
“Why did you do something so foolhardy, Kate?” Lauren asked, frowning. “Do you realize how close you came to being killed? Do you realize how close we came to losing you?
“Lauren, I’m sorry...” Kate said, regretfully.
“Sorry, isn’t good enough Kate. You’re not a single woman with no one depending on you anymore, you know,” Lauren responded passionately. “I need you, Kate. Kris and Lindsey need you. You have an obligation to us, an obligation to not behave so carelessly.”
Lauren moved to sit on the bed next to Kate, picking up her hand. “I lost everything once. I’m not going to let it happen again.”
“What are you saying, Lauren…” Kate asked, her heart racing.
“Kate…” Lauren began, pausing to brush tears from her eyes. “When Shawn died, part of me died with her. I never thought I would be able to love or share myself with someone again. I didn’t even want to…there was a part of me that couldn’t let Shawn go – a part of me that couldn’t accept that she was really gone.”
Kate squeezed Lauren’s hands in hers as she paused, swallowing hard to contain her emotions.
“That was why I pushed you away, Kate.” Lauren said, looking into Kate’s eyes.
“Baby, I know. I understand.” Kate replied.
“I’m not pushing you away anymore,” Lauren said, reaching over to caress Kate’s face. “I love you, Kate. I don’t think I realized how much until I almost lost you. I never thought I’d feel this way about anyone again. I never thought I would let myself care this much about anyone again. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I want to see where this takes us. I want to try and build a life with you, Kate.”
“Oh, Lauren, I want that to – I’ve loved you for so long…” Kate interjected, her eyes filling with tears.
Lauren leaned forward, placing a gentle kiss on Kate’s mouth. “You know, I think I loved you from the first moment I laid eyes on you. Somehow, when I first looked into your eyes, I knew I wasn’t alone anymore.”
Kate smiled softly. “You haven’t been you know. My heart has been right there with you all along. It’s always been yours – and it always will be…”
“For the rest of our lives?” Lauren asked, smiling.
Kate pulled Lauren forward, “…oh, I’d say even longer than that, Ms Hudson.”
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