For complete disclaimers see part 1.
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My butt was beginning to burn, the ground beneath me heating up with the heat of the day, as if hell itself were bursting forth.
The roar of an airplane, flying overhead, ready to land, pulled me out of my stupor. Looking up, I followed its progress, watching the beautiful, fluid landing far off on the runway for commercial jets.
Pushing myself up off the ground, I sighed, running my fingers through my hair, and saw to the safe storage of my baby.
Once inside the hangar again, I walked toward my office, my legs feeling as though they were made of lead, each step heavier than the last, my heart feeling as though it might fall right out of my chest.
Eyes stinging, little prickles behind them as the tears threatened again. I swallowed them back. No more. I didn’t want to cry anymore.
Putting my hand out to the corner of my desk, holding myself up, head hanging as the sobs overtook me. Blindly I found one of the chairs that sat before my desk, plopping down heavily. All I could do was bury my face, allowing the tears to seep through my fingers and run down my hands and arms.
The shrill ring of the phone scared the hell out of me, making me snort in surprise.
“Hello?” I answered, forgetting for a moment that I was at work.
“Yes,” standing, I quickly wiped at my eyes, taking a deep breath.
“This is Officer Shane Down, head of security here at the airport. I wondered if you’d like to make a complaint for today’s incident?”
“Oh, uh, no. Thank you, officer. It won’t be necessary. Thanks.”
“Are you sure?”
“Alright,” I could hear the disapproval in the officer’s voice, but I didn’t care. “Good day, Miss Davies.”
“Good day to you, officer.” Setting the receiver into its cradle, I decided it was time to go home and face the music.
The truck was sitting in the driveway, which made me feel both a sigh of relief, as well as a stab of fear.
I sat in Julia’s car, letting the engine idle for a moment, staring up at the house, trying to decide what to do. Freud would have been able to study me for weeks as I chewed my fingernail to the quick, eyes never leaving the house.
A car horn honking got my attention. The house across the street, nothing to do with me. However, I was about to use all of Julia gas parked outside of my own damn house. Turning the ignition off, I pocketed the keys, and with a very deep breath, headed inside.
“Garrison? Is that you?” Julia burst out of the kitchen as I opened the front door. She looked worried beyond imagination, and ran to me, pulling me into a hug of a worried friend. When she pulled away, hand still on my arm, she took in my puffy eyes and tight skin. “Honey, what’s going on?”
“Why?” I pulled her keys out and handed them to her. Absently she took them, eyes never leaving mine.
“Why? Well, for starters, Keller is gone. She slammed in here, scaring the hell out of all of us, packed up her stuff and called that woman with the crazy earrings.”
“Ruby? She called Ruby? Where did Ruby take her?” Grabbing my own keys off the front table, she stopped me.
“Garrison, Ruby took her to the airport. She went back to San Diego.”
I looked at my friend, my heart falling once more.
“Where’s Parker?” I choked out.
“Upstairs, with Zoë. She is really upset, Garrison. What is this all about?” A wrinkle formed between her brown eyes, so confused. Oh, Julia, if only you knew.
“I can’t talk about it right now.” Taking the stairs two at a time, I stopped just short of Parker’s closed door. I could hear quiet crying, and Zoë’s soft, comforting voice.
“It’s okay, Parker. She’ll come back. I promise.”
I knocked lightly.
“Go away!” Parker yelled, cutting me to the bone. But we had to talk, I had to comfort her. Opening the door, I saw the two girls, Parker laying on the bed, curled up on her side and Zoë sitting next to her, looking up at me helplessly.
At the sound of my voice, the kid turned over, eyes just as puffy as mine, and hard, angry.
“Go away!” she yelled, sitting up. “Go away! What did you do? She came back and you made Keller go away again!”
“Parker, we had a fight, I-“
“I hate you! Go away!” In a fit of anger, she grabbed blue bear, long since put down with a small collection of un-played with toys, and threw it at me. It fell short of reaching me, but the implication hurt far more than a direct hit ever could have.
I was stunned and hurt beyond measure. Stumbling back out into the hall, unable to see through tear-filled vision, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“God, what’s happening?” Julia whispered, steadying me.
“Here,” reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a wadded up twenty dollar bill, thrusting it into her hands. “Do something with them today. I need to go somewhere.”
“Please, Julia?” I begged, looking into her eyes. “Please, just do this. Get some ice cream, go to the movies, I don’t care. Just take care of Parker.”
Without another word, I hurried down the stairs, falling down the last three landing on my ankle. With a curse, I got myself up and headed out, toward my truck.
I drove, no destination in mind, just drove. I needed to be alone with my own thoughts and stupidity.
How was it, in one single action, my entire world had crumbled around my feet? Keller hated me so much, was so repulsed by what I’d done, that she left her sister behind. She wouldn’t even stay for Parker. And now the kid hated me, too.
The tears began to fall anew, making it difficult to see. Seeing a McDonald’s just up ahead, I pulled into the parking lot, far in the back, and slammed my hands against the steering wheel, yelling and screaming in the confines of the cab of my truck, the cab sucking in all my cries, making them sound empty.
Finally opening my eyes, I saw a group of people standing in the parking lot between two cars, laughing and talking to each other. They were all dressed up, women in dresses, men in suits or nice jackets and shirts. Nice church-going folk. I smirked to myself. Suckers. God doesn’t hear your prayers. Why try?
What now? How was I supposed to fix this? What had happened? I took myself back in time, replaying all the events of the day, starting with Keller and I in the kitchen before her run.
She’d been fine, her normal, sarcastic non-morning person self. She left, Julia came over, and we’d made breakfast and danced. Then we’d kissed.
Why had I done that? The girls were in the house, Keller was due back anytime from her run, I assumed. I wasn’t sure how long she would be gone, but when Julia had kissed me, I couldn’t resist, hadn’t wanted to. I wanted her kiss, wanted her touch.
Had I wanted to get caught?
Ridiculous. Keller was untouchable to me, and I knew that. I was not manipulative like that. Or was I?
“No.” I shook my head, not willing to believe I had done it on purpose. Besides, that would mean I had been using Julia, and I knew that wasn’t the truth.
Okay, so moving on to Keller bursting in on us. She had looked as though she’d seen a ghost, her face pale before it had darkened with … anger? Was that anger of disapproval? Disgust? I tried to think back to that morning a few years ago with Celeste, when we’d been caught saying goodbye on the porch.
I knew then that Keller had been disgusted and shocked, and it had been obvious. Had it been the same earlier today?
No. She had been angry, alright, but somehow I couldn’t think that it had been out of disapproval.
“Oh my god,” my hand came up to cover my mouth. “It can’t be.” Was it possible that Keller had been jealous? Jealous of Julia and I kissing?
Then Keller and I had kissed. Standing there on the tarmac, beside my plane, we’d kissed. I had kissed her.
Closing my eyes, I recounted the kiss, the moments before it. The moments when Keller had grabbed my face, had brought me to her. She had kissed me.
“I’m so confused.”
Why had she done that? What had been her purpose? And that hadn’t been some innocent kiss between friends. No, that had been a kiss with fire and purpose behind it. A claim.
“Fuck.” Resting my head against the cool glass of the driver’s side window, I shielded my eyes with my hand, trying to stomach everything. Why had she left? She was running, but from what? I think I definitely had the idea that she didn’t like Julia and I in a relationship, but couldn’t understand why.
I went into Mickey D’s and got me a coffee and apple pie. Taking it all back to my truck, I started her up and headed out again.
The town was starting to wake up, a lazy, hot Sunday, traffic running slow. I went along with the flow, taking everything in, even though I wasn’t fully there. My mind was split, partially on driving and the world around me, and partially on that kiss.
Oh, that kiss.
If I were able to separate myself, if just for a moment, from the ramifications of it all, and concentrated just on the feelings, sensations, emotions ….
The softness of Keller’s lips, the way her skin felt against my face, her fingers, the palms of her hands, so soft, but steely in their hold. God, she had a hold on me.
The taste of her mouth, that full bottom lip against mine, the passion that she exuded. Where did she learn to kiss that way? For a moment, a very brief, immature moment, I felt jealousy, wondering if she’d been dating in San Diego. Somehow I knew that wasn’t the case, and the alternative made me feel queasy. Did Al like to kiss?
Totally shaking that thought out of my head, I turned back to thinking about the softness of Keller’s lips. What was it with her?
I sighed, munching on my breakfast, knowing that the possibility of finding out the answers to these questions was probably nil.
And what about Parker? This thought brought another sigh out. God, what must that poor kid think? Abandoned again? I had run Keller out? Fuck.
I drove to Woodman Park, sitting at the edge of the very fountain where Julia and I had played, and kissed for the first time, just over a week ago.
Untucking the ends of the red box the apple pie came in, I flattened the thing out, then folded it as many times as I could, using my entire body weight into the palm of my hand to make it even flatter.
There was movement out of the corner of my eye, and looking up, I saw a squirrel, sitting up on his haunches, looking at me.
“Hey, little fella,” I had nothing to feed him, but he looked quite well fed without any help from me, so I had to content myself with just grinning at him. His beady eyes looked at me, tiny hands fidgeting with something he found in the grass, holding it to his mouth where he began to nibble it.
A dog barked off in the distance, someone walking two of them. The squirrel looked in that direction, creepy little jerky movements, then he scuttled away, climbing into a tree and disappeared. Little furry Tarzan.
People came and went, cars drove by, the sun began to die, the world lived on. I sighed, picking myself up from the grass where I’d planted myself a couple hours ago. Wiping my hands over my butt to rid it of any loose grass or bugs, I headed toward the truck, keys jangling from my fingers.
I heard a beep, and looked up to the sun visor, where my cell phone was clipped. The red light on the side was blinking, telling me I had a message.
Or seven. I almost held my breath as I listened to my voice mail, unable to help being hopeful.
“Hey, Garrison. Um, it’s Julia. Are you okay? What’s going on?” sigh “Well, I’m here whenever you want to talk. Parker’s okay. So, uh, guess I’ll talk to you later.”
“Okay, kid. I just took a very upset Keller to the airport. What the fuck’s going on? She was talkative as ever, so obviously I don’t have a damn clue what’s going on. Call me.”
“Hi, Garrison. I don’t know if you remember me. We met a few months ago at Belch’s. Want to get together, sexy? If so, call me. I gave you my number. Bye.”
Who the fuck was that? Erase
“Okay, this ignoring me shit isn’t going to fly, Monk. Call me!”
Ruby was the most impatient woman I knew. Erase
I looked at the number for the second hang up message, and like the first, it said unavailable. A pay phone perhaps? Stop it, Garrison! Don’t give yourself false hope. Grrr.
“Okay, I’m home now, so you should have your skinny little ass here, too, telling me what the hell is going on. Garrison, what happened between you two? I mean, I was in my pilates class when Keller called me, not that I mind, I mean shit, pilates are damn hard, ya know? Anyway, call me and I’ll make you dinner.”
Chuckling, I erased Ruby’s message and started up the truck, backing out of my parking space as I dialed her number.
“This better be good. That hunk, Stone Phillips is on the TV.”
“Stone Phillips?” I wrinkled my nose. “I thought you had better taste than that, Ruby.”
“Garrison? Where the fuck you been? I’ve been trying to get hold of you all damn day.”
“I know. Sorry. I needed some time to myself.” I explained, merging into traffic.
“Why? What’s going on? I called your place and that scrap of a friend of yours said you’d given her some green, then ran out. What gives? She’s worried sick. I’m worried sick. I think Keller is just, well, sick.”
“I’m coming over. I need to talk to you.”
“Bet your cute little ass you do! I’ll make you dinner.”
“Really, Ruby, I’m not-“ I looked at the phone, seeing that she had indeed hung on me. Shaking my head, I snapped the phone closed and tossed it to the seat beside me.
Ruby’s car, a huge old, but well kept, Chrysler, sat in the driveway, and I parked next to it, putting my truck in gear and unbuckling my seatbelt.
“Hey, kid! Come in, come in,” the older woman said, holding the screen door open, smells of spaghetti wafting out through the night. It smelled wonderful, her award-winning garlic bread sitting in a pain on top of the stove, cooling.
Ruby’s house was a contradiction of her personality. It was very neat, everything having a place, though it was obvious the house was lived in. It was filled with antiques, beautifully, and lovingly cared for, looking pristine yet with an air of history surrounding them.
I followed the billowing kimono Ruby wore, the silky material fluttering in the breeze her steps created.
“Sit,” she ordered, back to me as she began to dish up food. Setting a heaping plate in front of me, I opened my mouth to protest, but she held a hand up. “You’re too skinny, so shut up and eat.”
Obediently, I peppered parmesan cheese over my meal.
“Jesus! It looks like it snowed on top of Mount Prego,” Ruby grinned as she sat across from me. I glared at her beneath my bangs.
“Bite me.” She laughed, preparing her own food.
“So what happened?” she asked, twirling the spaghetti around her fork.
“Right to the point, as usual,” I muttered, taking a bite of my garlic toast. “Yes, I know, quickest wee to get there,” I said before she even had a chance.
“The kid has a learning curve.” She put the wad of pasta into a red-lined mouth, eyes closing in pleasure at the burst of tastes in her mouth.
“Where to begin.” I put my hand around the Coke she had waiting for me, a finger slicing through the condensation on the side of the can. “The short of it, Keller kissed me.” I glanced up when I felt eyes on me. Ruby’s dark eyes were boring into me, though there was really no expression in them- no surprise, no anger, no curiosity. Nothing.
“And that’s why she took off like a shot?” She asked, turning back to her dinner.
“Sort of.” I sighed, then went into it, telling her about Keller and the girls surprising me, and even going back to the morning Julia had answered the phone while lying in my bed, which made Ruby’s eyebrow shoot up just a notch.
“So, she calls you, hears some other chick answer your phone, which is essentially her phone, and she jumps on a plane to save the day,”
I snorted, sipping from my drink. “I don’t think it’s as dramatic as all that, Ruby.”
“No? Why not?” She leaned her cheek against her hand, looking at me, daring me to contradict her.
“Well, for one, I really don’t think Keller would have a reason to do something like that.”
“You said she sounded bothered, yes?”
“Yes. She was also bothered when Celeste and I were together.”
“True, but that was a long time ago, before our young Keller became more worldly.”
“What?” I was skeptical at best.
“Absolutely. Did you know that Keller’s roomy back in San Diego is a lezbo like you? Bet you didn’t. Young Keller was jealous, my friend. Not disgusted, as you thought. She was coming home to claim her territory!” Ruby reached across the table and knocked on my head with her fist. I pushed her hand away. “Wake up and smell the oregano, kiddo.” To emphasize her point, she stuck a meatball in her mouth.
I could only stare at her, trying to take everything in.
“Catherine is gay?”
Ruby snickered, nodding.
“She didn’t tell me that.” I looked down into my plate, rolling one of my own meatballs around with the fork.
“Don’t play with your food. So what else happened? What led to that kiss that sent Keller off in such a tizzy?”
“She saw Julia and I kissing in the kitchen this morning, when she came back from her run.” I looked up at Ruby, guilt in my eyes. Her brows shot up.
“Most interesting. So she got really jealous, huh? Took off. Then what? Where did she go? How did you find her?”
“I got a call from the airport. She took off with my damn plane!”
“Smart girl. What better way to get your attention,” she said, popping a piece of garlic bread into her mouth.
“Ruby! Did you hear me? She took my plane, and could have gotten herself killed. Don’t you think that’s just a bit drastic to get my attention?”
Ruby was so damn relaxed, it was driving me crazy! “Why not?”
“Because that’s your baby, and she knows it. How else was she to get you racing over to her? To get you to find her?” Ruby reached across the table and stabbed one of my meatballs with her fork, sticking it on her own plate where she began to cut it into four pieces.
“Some have said.” She ate one piece, closing her eyes. “Damn, I’m a good cook.”
“Ruby, she was not trying to send out a smoke signal for me.” I started as Ruby’s eyes popped open, and her fist hit the table with a resounding thud.
“How did she kiss you, Garrison? Was it a , ‘gosh, I’m glad you found me, Garrison, here’s a peck for you,’?”
“Was it a friendly, I’ve missed you sort of kiss?”
“Than what the hell was it?” she leaned forward, eyes boring into mine. She was getting frustrated.
I looked down at my plate, feeling my skin begin to heat up at the memory. “It was a wonderful kiss,” I said, my voice quite. “It was passionate, her telling me who was in control, kind of kiss.” I met her eyes.
“I rest my case.” She sat back, dropping her fork into her empty plate. “Honey, don’t you get it? She was trying to tell you something. You need to listen with this thing,” she poked herself in the chest, over her heart. “not this,” she reached across the table and poked me in the head again.
“Damn it, knock it off. I think you just want an excuse to poke me.” I rubbed my head where it still hurt from the first damn time.
“Nah, that’s Keller’s job,” her eyes sparkled.
She threw her head back, a bark of laughter filling the room. Even I had to grin at her antics. The woman really needed to get laid.
“Okay, okay.” She sobered, wiping at her eyes as she calmed herself down. “So what happened next? Did you guys confess undying love to each other? What happened to make her run so fast and so far?”
“I stopped the kiss, pushed her away. I told her I couldn’t do it.”
“You what!?” I covered my head, expecting another poke.
“Well what the hell was I supposed to do, Ruby? She has made it clear over the years that she doesn’t approve or agree with my lifestyle. I mean, shit, she accused me of being a molester!”
“Good point.” She sipped from her iced tea.
“Besides,” I wadded up my napkin and tossed it in frustration. “I don’t want her to think that I’m no better than that son of a bitch, Al Mitchum.”
“Honey,” Ruby grabbed my hand, running her calloused thumb across the back of my hand, looking at me with understanding and kindness. “Think about it this way. Just how many people do you really think she’s kissed? Like, kissed because she wanted to, and wasn’t forced upon her?”
“No, I don’t think you do. My guess would be,” she held up a finger. “One. You.”
“So you think I’ve made a huge mistake?”
“I think everything happens in its own, right time, Monk.” She stood, beginning to gather plates. I tried to help, but got a swat to my butt for my trouble. “Take a load off. You’ve had one hell of a day.”
Sitting back in my chair, I grabbed my Coke, sipping from it as my mind was a million miles away. Finally I made it back to Ruby’s kitchen. “Ruby,” I asked quietly, studying the large, white lettering on the can. “Did she say anything? Anything at all?”
“Nope,” Ruby began to run a sink full of hot, soapy water, and systematically putting piles of dishes in it. “Only that she had to get back to base. I had the feeling that asking questions would be pretty moot. I mean, shit, I was married to the strong, silent type. Don’t get you anywhere.”
“How was she?”
“I’m not going to lie to ya, Monk. She was pretty shaken. Upset, whatever you want to call it. It was pretty damn obvious that something had rocked her world. What the hell kind of kisser are you, anyway?” She looked at me over her shoulder as she pulled on yellow, rubber dish gloves. I blushed, looking down. She chuckled.
“So what do I do now?” It was mainly a question to myself, but it was too good for Ruby to pass up.
“You got a plane, don’t you?”
I looked up at her, meeting mischievous brown eyes.
‘Yeah, so …. Jesus, girl! Do I gotta spell everything out for you? You get in your airplane and fly to San Diego! Grab some roses and sweep her off her damn feet.” She grinned, hands on hips, as if she’d just had the most brilliant idea in the history of all brilliant ideas.
“Uh, yeah, no.”
“Why not?” Her face fell, brows knitting together.
“Ruby, this isn’t one of your romance novels,” I indicated the Amanda Quick novel that rested at the end of the counter next to the Mr. Coffee. “This is real life, and I have responsibilities. For starters, who’d take care of Parker?”
“See if your friend, Julia would take her. You said the kid and Julia’s daughter get on well, right?”
“Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Uh, excuse me, Julia, I know we’re dating and everything, but can you watch Parker while I go confess my undying love to another woman? Try again. Besides, I also have a business to run. It’s no good.”
She sighed, turning back to her dishes. “Have you tried calling her?”
“No. I was out all day licking my wounds.” Playing with the salt shaker, I accidentally dumped it. “Shit.”
“You going to?”
“I don’t know if I should. Hell, I don’t think she’d take my calls. And on top of all this, Parker hates me.”
“What? No way, not a chance.” There was a very wet towel suddenly on top of my head. “Clean up your mess.”
I growled, then did just that.
“That kid couldn’t hate you, and there’s nothing you can say to make me think otherwise.”
“How about the fact that she told me she did?” I shook the rag off in the trash, the millions of salt granules sounding like rain against a tin roof, on the plastic liner.
“What kid do you know that hasn’t said that?”
“I never did.”
“Yeah, well you were a momma’s girl.”
I chuckled, tossing the rag to the counter, then leaned against it, watching Ruby at work.
“Ask your friend how many times she’s heard it from her daughter. Parker is confused.”
“She said I made Keller leave.”
“And I’m sure she feels that way.” Ruby arranged all the washed glasses neatly on the towel she was using as a drying rack, then went back to tackle our plates.
“So what do I do?”
“Hell if I know. I don’t have any kids.” She winked at me, then butted me with her hip. “Talk to her. I know you can’t exactly explain the situation, but do the best you can. You’re a great mom, Garrison. Your mom would be so proud of you. That little girl adores you. Trust me, you’ll run into bigger tragedies than this before it’s all said and done.”
The door was opened, the dome light on, but still I sat behind the wheel, hands gripping it, palms sweaty. Since when am I afraid of a ten year old?
Tonight, I guess.
All the lights were on downstairs, and Julia’s car was parked at the curb, where I’d left it that morning. I’d called to let her know I was okay, and I was on my way home.
Blowing out a breath, I climbed out of the truck, slamming the door closed behind me, and headed up the walk toward the front door.
The house was basically quiet, as it was late on Sunday night, almost eleven. The girls were probably long asleep. I felt horrible for ditching Julia the entire day. I just hoped she would understand. Understand what? I couldn’t very well tell her what had happened.
Feeling like a child, I looked both ways from around the door as I opened it, making sure I wasn’t going to be met by a firing squad. Nothing but the soft murmur of the television.
Tossing my keys and cell phone to the table by the door, I stepped further in, looking into the living room. The room looked empty, but then I saw Julia asleep on the couch.
My mind whirred as I walked over to her, trying to think of what I’d say to the inevitable questions. Nothing came to mind. I was so exhausted- mentally, physically, emotionally. My heart hurt, and it was starting to make my head hurt.
Sitting on the edge of the coffee table, I ran a hand up and down Julia’s arm, which had snuck out of the thin blanket that covered her. Sleepy brown eyes opened, and at recognition, she sat up, wrapping her arms around my neck. She was so warm, and smelled so good.
I rested my head on her shoulder, allowing myself to be swallowed up in her affection. She sighed, and I responded in kind.
“You okay?” she asked gently, and I nodded. “You look so tired.” She gently pulled away, looking into my eyes, a hand resting against my cheek.
“Come on.” Standing, she grabbed my hand, shut the TV off with the remote, then lead me toward the stairs, clicking lights off as we went. Up the stairs, and toward my room. I tugged on her hand.
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
Julia nodded in understanding, and went ahead, Tut running to get to the bedroom before this ‘intruder’.
Wiping my hand across my burning eyes, I headed toward Parker’s room. The door was closed, but there was only silence behind it, so I knew she and Zoë were fast asleep. Opening it just enough to get my body through, I waited a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, then made my way over to the bed.
The girls were fast asleep, Zoë hanging half off her side of the bed, and Parker on her back, head lulled to the side, facing the side of the bed. That’s where I went, sitting gently next to her.
Her blonde curls were spread across the pillow, a single curly lock snaking across her forehead.
With a smile, I brought my hand up, brushing it aside. The girl was always complaining about how out of control her hair was. I thought it was beautiful, and original, just like her.
Blue eyes opened, turned gray in the moonlight. She looked up at me, and I down at her, that soft smile still on my lips, hand coming to rest just off to the side of her head, resting on a carpet of soft hair.
Her eyes were so revealing, unlike those of her sister. At first they flashed with the confusion of being awakened in the middle of the night, and for just a split second there was fear. When she realized who it was, that fear turned to anger, and now they were calm.
She didn’t smile back at me as she usually would, but it was almost as if there was relief there. Maybe she was relieved I had come back, and not disappeared, too? I knew my Parker, and knew under all her anger today, she’d been afraid that that very thing may happen. Not a chance.
I leaned down, touching my lips to her forehead, lingering there for a moment, trying to convey just how much I loved her, and would never leave her, in that soft kiss.
As I slowly sat back up, I saw her eyes opening up again. Brushing my hand gently to her cheek and resting it there, I stood, bringing the sheet that covered her to just under her burgeoning breasts, and tucked it up further, under her arms. With a soft sigh, she closed her eyes again, and I left the room, closing the door behind me.
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