Kimberly K. Robeson

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Book Jacket

Haunted by a mythological story about Zeus, magic scissors, and soul mates, Thair Mylopoulos-Rosten spends much of her adult life looking for her Other Half. At thirty-one, having recently separated from her long-time boyfriend, this Greek-American college professor decides to spend a summer in Greece. On a tranquil island, in solitude, she begins writing stories about her grandmother’s experiences in 1940s Egypt, her mother’s youth in 1960s Greece, and finally, her own life in contemporary America. She writes about the past to make sense of her future.

While on the island of Kythnos, Thair becomes fascinated with a person. This mystery woman puts her in situations that challenge her traditional values and her concept of the ideal relationship. Thair has several relationships in the novel, each one helping her understand her quest for completion.

RED GREEK TOMATOES spans Thair’s life from thirty-one to thirty-six. This novel explores human sexuality, the complexity of mother-daughter relationships, and the choices women of different generations make when choosing—or settling—for “Mr. (or Ms.) Good Enough.” Will Thair ever find that that missing part of her that Zeus chopped off with his magic sword at the beginning of time? Or is the concept of The One just one big fairy tale that has left generations of people, including Thair, searching for someone who doesn’t exist? 



Rancho Fierno, CA
July 1976

“Mama, tell me the story again. Please, Mama, oh please,” my eyes beg her to continue.

        “Okay . . .” she says while taking my hand in hers, rubbing my palm lightly with her fingertips, hoping to lull me to sleep.

“So, once upon a time, in Ancient Greece, at the top of Mount Olympus, all the gods would meet and discuss matters of the

State. Zeus would sit on his throne, with Hera beside him, and make decisions about the Greek people.”

        “Mama, was Yiayia alive during that time?”

“No, sweetie, that was a very, very long time ago, even before your grandmother was born.”

        “Mama, tell me again about Zeus and the ball people.”

        “Well, back then people were round, kind of like big soccer balls. They had four arms, four legs, and one head with two

faces. Each face had two eyes, a nose and mouth.”

        “They couldn’t see each other, right, Mama?”

        “No, but the one always knew that the other was close, that the other was right behind the other’s face. They shared one

mind, one heart, and were eternally joined.”

        “And, Mama, they would roll around the earth, right?”

        "Yes, Thair. They would roll around the earth, moving quickly, powerfully, as they used their arms and legs to travel at

great speeds. They were strong. And they were happy, really happy, because their other half was always right there, connected

to them.”

        As she speaks, Mama notices that I am no longer smiling.

        "What’s wrong, agape mou?” she says as she takes a strand of my dark hair and moves it off my cheek.

        “I guess . . . well . . . I was just thinking that it would be nice if people were still like that.”

        “Really? You don’t think it would be uncomfortable to roll around instead of having two separate legs and two separate


        “I was just thinking, if your other half was always stuck to you, then Daddy wouldn’t be at work so much.”

        My mother lowers her eyes and in a quiet voice continues: “So do you want to hear the rest of the story or shall we save it

for tomorrow?”

        “Okay, Mama, we can save it. I already know that mean Zeus will take out his magic sword and slice all the ball people in


        “Thair, the way you say that makes it seem like such a sad story.”

        “It is a sad story! I wish people had their best friends stuck to them from the beginning, and you didn’t have to look for


        Mama giggles, pats me on the head, “You know, sweetheart, you’re right. Zeus was a mean fellow. It would be easier if

we didn’t have to look for our other half, and we were born with that special person stuck to us right away. But let’s remember

the great part of the story: that our other half does exist and one day, baby, when you grow up and are a young lady, you will

meet a nice boy that will make you oh-so happy, and all your worries will be over.”

Chapter 1

Island of Kythnos, Greece
Late May, 2000

From fifteen years old till twenty-one, there was no place I would have rather spent my summers than on the island of Kythnos

with my grandmother. And, now, after ten long years, I have finally made it back.

I am staying in a traditional, white-washed summer house, a pretty little place perched high on a cliff. Not too big, two

bedrooms, one bathroom with a stand-up shower, and a breakfast nook with the most magnificent view of a cove below. This

enchanted place reminds me a lot of Yiayia’s summer house, but it is so much cleaner, well-kept. Every detail chosen to

capture the Greek isle’s magic—from the turquoise paintings to the blue cups and white plates—makes me nostalgic. The place

speaks of care and love.

        When I decided to come back to this quiet island to spend my entire summer, my mama was full of concerns, wondering why I didn’t want to go somewhere else like Santorini, Mykonos, or Rhodos. If you are going all the way to Greece, at least go see something new. She also couldn’t understand why I wanted to go by myself. Thair, women don’t travel alone for such an extended amount of time—it’s not normal.

        I had listened quietly, not wanting to argue with her because ironically, this trip was the sanest option at a time when my life felt like it was unraveling. Ever since my grandmother had died ten years before, I had dreamed of returning to the island of my childhood. I found a lovely summer cottage to rent for a reasonable price, and since there was no one to hold me back, I knew it was time.

        The owner cleaned up the place for me, cleared away the cobwebs that grow over the nine months when these houses go to sleep. So the last day of final exams, I graded my students’ essays, submitted all the necessary paperwork, bought myself a brand new laptop, had a drink with Rick and Frank to toast my birthday and show off my new cutting edge purchase, and the following day, boarded my flight.

As I sit here in this blue and white kitchen, images of my youth are overpowering. Yiayia in her regular spot, I’m across from her, asking her question after question. During those long summers, as a young girl obsessed with falling (and staying) in love, I repeatedly asked my yiayia about my grandfather and if she loved him. She just laughed: “Ti nomizis?” What did I think? I had no idea. It didn’t seem like it. She never talked about him, never seemed to be sad that he was dead. My theory was she did not love him. If Yiayia didn’t love Papou (the handsome man from a bedside picture), and my mother had admitted to me just years earlier that she had never really loved my father, did I ever have a chance at loving a man? That is, loving a man completely? As a sophomore in college, I gifted my virginity to a nerdy boy from my American Lit class whose intellectual musings had turned me on, but after a few months, conversations regarding Hemingway’s brilliance left me dry. So it ended. After him, several short relationships followed, and then I met James—but even he could not make me happy. Sure there were times when I thought I was in love, but there was always something missing.

        I get up from the table, pour myself a glass of water, and look out the window. I can’t shake James from my mind. His intense features, the black hair and aqua eyes that shot through his dark-rimmed glasses made my girlfriends swoon. I was smitten too—at least for the first few months. People said we (almost) looked like siblings, my dark hair and greenish eyes complemented his; he was a few inches taller than me, standing 5’ 10”, but we both looked longer with short torsos and giraffe legs. Similar features, sharp jaws, petit noses, wide smiles—similar except for our skin, his was so white, vampire-like; and mine, honey tan, with a glow year-round.

        James, my ultra-intellectual, painter boyfriend was such a gentle soul; his kind arms and smart words forced me to silence my inquietude, to continue to try to be open, but I knew—early on—my heart and mind weren’t in agreement. I don’t regret our five years together, but I also don’t remember ever feeling so low. My thirtieth birthday was the breaking point.

        I came home tired from a long day of teaching at the local college, looked at my pinstriped couch, sunk into the familiar grooves, and stared aimlessly at the coffee table. I sat in the empty silence, not even noticing the three vases of chrysanthemums on the dining room table. When I saw them, ten in each vase, I got up, my body feeling heavy as I picked up the card beside them. My head was thumping lightly, my inner silence completely disturbed.

        I don’t want to think about that day, so I pick up a magazine and riffle through it, but the images, the words, come back and leave me shaky.

        Thair, he wrote in his familiar round writing, I went to the florist last week, and when I saw the chrysanthemums, I

instantly thought of Steinbeck. You’ve been asking for a painting for years. Flowers aren’t my thing, but I want to make you

happy . . .

        I still have that card imprinted in my mind. Then he wrote: Now go look in the bedroom. Happy Birthday, james. He had

signed without a capital “J.” How could he become a capital in my life when he didn’t even regard himself as a Capital? When

we first met, I thought it was cute. After five years, it made me sad.

        I remember being stripped of energy, dragging my feet into our bedroom when I saw it—hanging above our bed, the most amazing oil painting. After we had read Steinbeck’s story together, I asked him to paint me something with chrysanthemums. He had responded, “I’m sorry, but I need to be inspired.” His was a passion so consuming, a passion like no other I had ever experienced in a relationship. Everything had to be spontaneous. He hated schedules, woke up late, painted all day, slept at unreasonable hours—but he did always manage to pay half the bills. James was a good partner, a struggling artist but always dependable. Somewhat attentive, he did make me feel loved, but everything changed when he had a show. During those months he was lost in the extra bedroom, his pseudo-studio, absorbed, distant, and inaccessible to all—especially me.

        Standing there looking at his painting that day—one chrysanthemum in a long vase—I felt so empty, then terribly

ungrateful. I had pushed him—again.

        “Come on, James! Let’s go out with Emily and John.”

        “You go, enjoy yourself. I prefer to stay in, ” he had said. So I did. Friends filled the void.

        “Do you feel like driving inland and visiting my mom this weekend?”

        “I can’t, Thair. I need to work. Go. Have fun.” My mother sensed my disappointment when I drove to Rancho Fierno and

spent another Saturday with her.

        James and I were so different, apart from the Arts, we had little in common. Opposites had attracted, but activities

separated us. I loved to walk, hike, be out in nature, go for a drink, a nice dinner; he liked dark spaces, to come out at night, and

eating out was considered a waste of time and money. 

        We had decided we would not marry or have children, so my life remained stagnant, every day looked the same. I had no

biological yearning, no great CEO position I was after, life became a merry-go-round. I should have been happy. But I wasn’t.

        On my 30th birthday, under a beautiful painting, I pretended to be asleep when little “j” james got home. Considerate as

ever, he hovered above me for a few minutes, then gave me a kiss on the cheek and quietly closed our bedroom door. I lay

there for hours, “Happy Birthday, Thair,” I said to myself until sleep finally comforted me.

        The day we broke up was one of the most painful in my life. After that night, nothing was the same. I avoided any real

contact with James until the following Sunday when we were both lying on the couch, our heads at opposite sides on the arm
rests, legs and feet intertwined. He was studying a book of Henry Fuseli’s paintings, and I was growing frustrated with Jane
even though I had read and taught this novel more than ten times. In my head I was screaming; “Just tell Edward you love
him!” After a few minutes, I could feel James’ eyes bore into my book. I lowered Miss Eyre and hesitantly smiled: “What’s


        As I relive this day, I can hear James’ voice, see his tired eyes.

        “Are you familiar with the Scylla and Charybdis myth?

        “Yeah, I think so, aren’t they the female monsters who drowned and devoured sailors—but Odysseus got away?”

        “Yes, exactly, look at this painting,” he said while passing me the book.

It was a dark, ominous painting. I looked at it, and then set the book on the ground since James’ arms were crossed.

        “There’s an expression ‘between Scylla and Charybdis’ meaning ‘between a rock and a hard place,’ ” he said.

        “Interesting, I’ve never heard it.” I tried to remain calm, but the tumultuous scene in the painting was slowly rising up off

the page and was working its way into our living room.

        Then James became deathly serious. “I want to ask you something.”


        “Do you ever feel like we are stuck?”

        “What do you mean stuck?”

        Looking down at his book that was lying open on the floor, he stammered: “Are you . . . are you in love with me?”

        I kicked his foot with mine. “Of course I love you.”

        "That’s not what I am asking. Are you in love with me?”

        My body quivered. Trying to sound optimistic, I continued: “James, after almost five years, who is really in love? We love

each other very much.” He stared at me expressionless, so I kept talking, “Anyway, the idea of being ‘in’ this thing that neither

you nor I can define is silly. Don’t you think, baby?”

        He looked straight at me, a rueful expression on his face. His eyes dropped and an inaudible whisper escaped his lips, “I

think . . . it’s time . . . for me to go.”

        Beyond my control, tears exploded from my eyes, streamed down my face. I cried for over nine hours. We never got up

off the couch. He just closed his eyes and listened to me whimper. Our feet were still interlaced. Finally at 2 a.m. on that

Monday, I got up, dazed and hungry. I had to give an exam that morning at 9 a.m., and I could barely open my puffy eyes, so I

showered, came back, and said: “When do you want to leave? You know you can stay as long as you like.”

        “Yes, I know, and thank you,” he replied solemnly.

        Five weeks later, five suitcases and a pile of paintings sat by the door. I looked at them and felt hollow. Today, imagining

James’ sweet face, I once again feel vacant. We separated almost a year ago, and I am still not any closer to understanding my

life and my choices.

        I am so grateful for my beautiful mother, good friends, a job I mostly enjoy, a home of my own; I am healthy,

independent, living in one of the best countries of the world. But I’m still not happy, and I want to know why. I do not want to
pop a pill to get rid of this hole in my heart. I want to understand. I need to understand. Aristotle once said the mind and heart
are one. I do not feel that way—mine never agree. I know logically, even viscerally, I should be satisfied, but my heart always

mucks things up for me. My mind tells my heart to just be grateful and stop demanding so much from life. I know I should feel
lucky—instead I feel lost. I remember a Greek friend telling me when I was younger: “You Americans all say you are lost! Go
look in a mirror. There you are!” I laugh remembering this, but I also know the emptiness inside is real. So for
three months of
pure isolation on this sleepy island, I will retrace my roots and maybe find that thing I am searching for.

Chapter 2

Even though I am feeling heavy, it’s another beautiful day. The morning sun penetrates through the shutters and beats down on my body. I stretch my arms out and take a deep breath as the salty air tickles my nose. Sliding my legs off the side of the bed, I wake slowly and make my way to the kitchen. I get the Bravo and a coffee cup from the cupboard and fill the briki with water. I struggle to light the stove with the flint. When it is finally lit, I place the single-serving pot on the fire and watch the water boil.

        I picture my plump, pint-sized grandmother sitting at the table, mechanically cleaning green beans. Whenever she saw me making my morning coffee, she always grumbled. She complained about her tired hands and sore feet, that she did all the work around the summer house and that I never helped her. I always asked what she wanted me to do, but her response was always the same: nothing. She just loved to whine. She whined all the time, drove me a bit batty, but I knew that her routine complaining was just so that I would never forget to appreciate her. She complained incessantly that her daughter had forsaken her country for the land of air-conditioning, but at least, she would say, she had me. When I would turn around, I always saw her smiling.

        Sitting all alone in my rented kitchen, I remember how our morning visits were the times when I felt closest to her. I

would sit on the straw-thatched chair and tell her all my stories. Every night of the week, I could find my childhood group of
friends on the street in town where people—young and old—gathered. I would tell her how I spent the evenings talking to boys
and dancing. She would sit, cut, nod, and I would continue.

        I told her who was dating who, who kissed who, who disappeared with whom during the night, and she pretended she didn’t want to hear anymore, telling me I sounded like a poutana, but every morning while she prepared the day’s lunch, she always asked me about my night out. I was only a teenager, but life was so different in Greece, so much freer than the U.S. with so many laws and regulations.

        Our morning ritual consisted of me drinking Greek coffee and telling her all the local gossip, about the boy I had met the night before in one of the two local bars. She always asked me whose grandson he was; as if a last name would explain the boy’s complete family genealogy—it almost did, on this island of only 1,500 residents. But sometimes I told her that we met a foreigner. Her eyes always flickered when I said I spent the night flirting with a xeno. “A German? An Italian? A South African?” she asked, then added: “A nice British boy?”

        So many memories, so long ago, and yet her raspy voice still penetrates the air.

As I take my coffee outside onto the balcony, I picture Sandro, my final summer love. His family had rented a villa on the island for a few months. Sandro was Italian, tall with bright eyes and olive skin. Very, very handsome, but sex was beige ceilings—me lying there, staring up, waiting for him to finish. He was memorable with his gallant manner and sexy accent, but it was simply young love.

        I would tell my yiayia my stories, but she never asked if I really cared for these boys. I think they were just characters in a story to her. One day when I was telling her about my plans with Sandro, I saw, for the first time, that she made the connection that these things were really happening to me. I told her how Sandro kept saying that he wanted to marry me; that I was a mature woman and he a man who knew what he wanted. Thinking about it now, what did we know? I was only twenty-one and he, just a twenty-four-year-old boy. I told my yiayia that he wanted me to come back after I graduated, live with her for a while; he would open a café on the island, I could teach English, and we could be together forever. The look in her eyes at that moment is still with me today; peering deep into mine, so deep, I felt her dive and drown in them, then resurface as she said very slowly: “Thair, you no marry. You no love this Sandro. And you so young. You not know what love is.”

        As I sit here now, a thirty-one-year-old woman, I feel as lost as I did back then.

        I had pleaded with her, “What is agape then, Yiayia? Tell me!” If my grandmother, Aphrodite, named after the goddess of love, couldn’t help me with answers, then who could? “What is love, Yiayia?” I begged her to tell me about my grandfather. Was the love she shared with Papou real love? Instead she took my hand, leading me to the bedroom. She opened a drawer, handed me a small velvet box, and gave me a simple gold band that was inscribed with a man’s name. Henry Archibald Bradley. And then she began—finally—to tell me her story.

Aphrodite’s Story

Alexandria, Egypt
May 1942

Aphrodite, or Dita as she was called, looked at her parents directly in their eyes and with a vehement “Oxi!” said, no! She

would not marry the young Greek fisherman. She was seventeen and having the time of her life. She would not spoil it with

marriage.  She said this as she slammed the door of the thin, two-floor building that was her home. She walked a few blocks,

her body still shaking. Dita knew that the wrath of her own voice would be paralleled with her mother’s once she returned

home. Unlike most seventeen-year-old girls, she was not afraid of her father. She worried about her mother, the towering

woman whom she adored, but also feared.

        Walking down the dusty street, she made her way to the military base. It wasn’t Saturday, but she would see if they had any work for her. She loved her weekend volunteer work. The Allies had several bases in Egypt and since she couldn’t enlist (what she would have preferred doing) she would wear her old overalls, a tight red blouse, a pretty checkered scarf, and every Saturday show up to change the oil of the Jeeps at the base. It was a novelty for the young men to see this buxom Greek broad offer her “services.” The first day she showed up, Dita said she was handy with a wrench and could do almost anything on a car. She could also change electrical outlets and knew how to build a wall. Dita’s mom had a less than subtle way of introducing her daughter to activities that were anything but feminine. “Show her how to be useful!” she would bellow to her meek husband, who dragged himself off the couch, to show Dita the difference between a starter and a generator. And Dita loved learning those things. She loved pretty dresses, but loved getting dirty more.

        When Dita went to the base for the first time, the officer directed her towards the Red Crescent office, she responded that she couldn’t stand the sight of blood, but give her an oil pan, and she would show them what she could do. So that’s how she came to be the local oil-changer. She loved sliding under a Jeep, feeling the oil drip on her face, the grease under her fingernails. Of course, she also loved the attention. Men would come see the young girl in overalls who was working under their vehicles. Without trying too hard she got dates. Lots of dates. Dates with Americans. With Australians. With South Africans. And with a special, young gent from England. In fact, she had become the most popular girl on the base. Her knowledge of cultures grew quickly as did her appetite. She wanted more. More of what, she wasn’t exactly sure, but she definitely wanted more. So when her parents told her she was betrothed to the Greek, she just would not accept it.

        That afternoon when Dita went home, she found her mother sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. Dita’s mother was a large woman. Her size equaled her patience. She said nothing to Dita, put down the newspaper, then walked upstairs, and shut the door. Dita could feel her heart beat faster; she knew that her mother would end up getting her way. She decided that afternoon she would not think about her upcoming doom. She was supposed to meet The Greek any day now. Imagine, they wanted her to marry someone she had never even met! Instead of worrying about a possible betrothal, she opened her armoire and selected a yellow dress with small daisies on it. It looked a bit too summery and light, but she wore it anyway. She put on bright red lipstick that didn’t really go with the dress, but went with the times. Then she quietly went downstairs and sat in the living room. If her mother came down, she would say she was going out with a group of friends, but her mother—knowingly—never came down when the doorbell rang. As she sat there staring at the floor, a long “Diiiing” and a short, but loud “Dong” echoed through the house. She opened the door quickly, and in front of her stood a gallant English man by the name of Henry. Henry Archibald Bradley. Despite his lean contexture, squirrel-looking face, and intensely small hands, he was dashing. Though awkwardly handsome, he was certainly perfect—and a real gentleman.

        Smiling with his exaggerated front teeth, he asked her if she felt like going to the theatre or to the ice cream parlor. She didn’t really feel like talking and since Gone with the Wind was playing again, she chose the theatre. She loved Scarlett, hated Rhett. He had the gall to ask Scarlett if she ever thought “of marrying just for fun.” Dita wished she had the courage to tell her mother what Scarlett had replied: “Marriage, fun? Fun for men you mean.” Marriage. It was too much to think about, so like Scarlett, she decided she would not think about it—at least not on that day.

            The sun still shone brightly in the afternoon as she escaped into the dark theatre with Henry. His arm wrapped the seat behind her, making her feel secure and excited. Then he lifted it slowly, so it lay on her shoulder. She lost track of the movie and enjoyed the warmth of his embrace.  After a few minutes, he moved his arm, and put his hand timidly on her leg. She could feel the heat radiate up her thigh and then settle between her legs to a spot that was getting hotter and wetter by the moment. Then she heard Rhett’s voice: “With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.” She leaned over and peered into the English man’s eyes, then, without any hesitation, she kissed him long and hard. They kissed practically throughout the whole movie, tongues in a wrestling match, his gentle hands cautiously sliding up and down her legs. But never too far up. Dita could feel him trembling; she was pushing him to his limits. Before the final scene, he asked her: “Shall we leave and go for a drive?”

        Dita nodded that, yes, that would be a good idea. They walked arm in arm out of the theatre and to his Jeep. Once they got in, the necking started all over. He was pushing against her, and she could feel him getting bigger. She pushed back. His arms unwrapped from around her body as he delicately began unbuttoning the top part of her dress. She could feel her insides throbbing; it felt so good and so right, so why was she suddenly pushing him away? Why were girls told over and over that these feelings were wrong? That only bad girls did these things? Bad girls, dirty girls, girls who no one would marry? And it was only a few weeks ago when she was doing these things with the South African. The only difference was that Dirk hadn’t taken so kindly in the same situation. When Dita told Dirk to stop, he grew angry and took her home. But Henry was different. He was sweet. He was English. He pulled back and said: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry my sweet Dita. I don’t know what got into me. I want you to know that you are very special. And when this war is over, I plan on marrying you.” Her smile faded as she heard those dreadful words that she had been trying to escape all day. From feelings of guilt, she was instantly irritated. She coyly kissed him again, and asked him to drive her home. Despite being a tad annoyed, there was something genuinely precious about Henry, but it was getting late, and there would be no time to change if she didn’t bid adieu to Henry immediately.

        Just as she was walking in the front door with one last tender kiss on Henry’s lips, she could hear the back doorbell ringing. The construction of these homes in Egypt was genius. Guests from the front, hired help from the back. The back entrance came complete with a porch, door, doorbell, and number. Most foreigners confused the front to the back and the back for the front. For Dita it was perfect. Good-bye to English suitor from the front door, hello Dirk from the back. She had barely shut the door on poor Henry, when the second bell rang again, and again, almost sounding more anxious with every ring. Dita worried her parents would come downstairs, and her father almost did, until she heard her mother say to him, “It’s probably a late delivery. Stay here. Dita can get it.” Did her mother really expect a delivery at this time of the night, or was she in essence delivering Dita? Either way, she didn’t have time to contemplate it further. It was Saturday night. There were social clubs, free food, and lots of young, strong Allies. She was having the time of her life.

        She knew she didn’t have time to change after all, but before going to the other door, she glanced over at the mirror, wiping her mouth where another man’s kisses had been, and quickly reapplied her lipstick. She opened the back door as Dirk grabbed her and began to kiss her voraciously. He immediately slid his hand between her legs and under her dress—rude, savage—but she loved it.

        “Stop . . .” she whispered, “We must go. My parents will come down.” She knew she was in for a wild night. Dirk would not like being shut out three times. He was her bold South African “boyfriend,” tall, rugged with Popeye arms. He had been away for a few weeks—now he was back. He stared at her intensely and smacked her bottom as they moved away from the house. Dita laughed. Dirk jumped on his motorcycle, and patted the seat behind him. Dita smiled wryly as she spread her legs and got on, lacing her arms tightly around his waist and laying her head on his back. This was freedom. This was happiness. Dirk reached back and run his hand alongside her leg as far up as it would go in that position.

        “Are you ready, doll?”

        “Yes!” And inside she heard herself say: yes, yes, yes! She was courageous and she wasn’t going to allow others to dictate her reputation. She had decided. It was her body. Her choice—one of the only choices she had left.

        Tonight would be the night.







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