Friday, April 17, 2015

First Chapter Free ~ Uncharted Inheritance by Keely Brooke Keith

Chapter One
Bethany Colburn panted as she ran down the forest path away from the shore. Her heels sank into the loose sand between the fallen gray leaf twigs, and her legs burned from the weight of her boots. Ahead, a wisp of smoke rose from the chimney of her family’s home. She was almost there. The cramp in her side demanded she stop running, but shock compelled her forward.
As she rounded the medical cottage and rushed toward the Colburn house, Connor stepped out the back door. She nearly ran into him and sucked in a breath. “You won’t believe what I saw at the shore! Come quickly!”
Connor held up a hand, exuding the calm of a man used to her demonstrative announcements. “Slow down. Take a deep breath. Okay?”
Bethany hummed an exhalation and hoped that proved the composure he requested. “Okay,” she replied, using his vernacular.
Connor nodded. “What did you see?”
“Some big metal thing from the outside world. I think it’s a machine. It’s not like anything we have in the Land.”
“A big metal thing? Does it look like the space debris we found last year?”
“No.” She caught her breath, but her pulse was still pounding in her ears. “It’s old and rusted.”
“Out here?” Connor pointed east.
“No. Farther south—below the bluffs.”
“On the shore?”
“Yes, well, in the shallow caves below the bluffs. I went down there at low tide
because I need potash to make the black glaze for all the orders I have at the pottery yard, and I went farther back into the clefs of the rock than I normally go and that’s where I saw it. It’s buried in the rock.” She bent to rub her aching calf muscle. “It’s in the sediment beneath the bluffs.”
“An old, rusted machine?”
“Yes, and it has a window and I think I saw bones inside it. Most of it is buried in the rock, but it’s huge whatever it is.”
“Keep your voice down.” Connor patted the air as if that would allay her. “Show me where it is, but be cool about it.”
He nodded then glanced at the road when a wagon passed by. After waving at the driver, Connor put his hand on Bethany’s back and shepherded her toward the path to the beach. “Stay calm so you don’t raise suspicion. If it’s been there awhile, we aren’t in any danger. Right?”
“I guess not.”
“Right, so be cool.” He looked behind them as they stepped onto the path toward the shore. “How far is it?”
“About a mile.”
“A mile? What did you say you were doing down there?”
“I went at low tide to the caves where Mrs. Vestal and I get the minerals we use in pottery recipes, but the waves must have eroded more of the bluff since last time I was there. I couldn’t find potash in our normal spot, so I went back into the caves a bit and that’s when I saw it—”
“The machine with a window and bones inside it?”
“Right.” Bethany stayed on the hard packed sand as she and Connor walked along the shore below the bluffs. The roar of the waves echoed off the rock, making it sound as though the ocean were on both sides of her. With the tide still out, the shallow caves and murky pools below the rocky cliff face made her feel small. If they were trapped there when the tide came back in, they would be caught in the current and swept out to sea— just like Luke and Walter had been. The three-year-old memory made the skin along her spine crawl as she looked out at the waves. “It won’t be long until the tide turns.”
Connor glanced at her. “We’ll be fine. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Bethany mustered a grin, grateful for his reassurance. As she walked close to the rocks, an eerie feeling made her belly sink. She wanted to turn back and run home. Instead, she folded her arms over her chest and kept walking.
Connor’s brow furrowed. “Are you all right?”
Bethany couldn’t answer. She bent to pick up the pail and trowel she had dropped in her panicked flight when she first saw the machine. Then she pointed at the dark clef behind a section of coppery brown rock. “It’s in there.”
She stayed back while Connor walked between the walls of jagged rock. He wiped away sand, exposing more of the window and rusted metal. “Whoa!” He smiled as he glanced back at her. “Yep, you found a skeleton.” He reached out for her trowel. Gripping the tool with both hands, he scraped along the metal of the machine. “This plane is called a Hellcat—”
“A what?”
“No, wait,” he retracted his assessment as he chipped away more flaky sediment. “It’s a Wildcat. See the wing would have been up here—higher than the Hellcat—but the wing is missing.”
“The wing?” Bethany stepped closer. “That machine is an airplane?” “Yeah, it’s an old fighter plane from the Second World War.”
“How many have there been?”
“World Wars?”
“Including the current war—three. I taught about that in history last year, remember?” He kicked sand away from the bottom of the airplane and pointed to a faded insignia on the metal. “Looks like it was Royal Navy. What was a Martlet doing way out here?” He curved his hand and peered through the window. “The pilot is still wearing his helmet. Wow, look at those old gauges and the radio. He’s got a portable transmitter in there. Man, I would love to know his story. What a relic!” Connor’s voice was muffled against the glass. He pulled away. “Do you want to take a look?”
“You are enjoying this, aren’t you?”
When he only wiggled his eyebrows, Bethany touched the window and looked inside the darkened capsule. In front of the skeletal remains of the pilot was a panel indented with several circular instruments. A black rod protruded between the pilot’s knees. Crusted straps covered his decayed clothing remnants. Her stomach lurched when she saw the curve of his neck bones. She backed away. “How long do you think he’s been
Connor put his hands on his hips and glanced around the rock. “These airplanes were retired in nineteen forty-five, so at least eighty years. He must have crashed into the ocean and floated here. The wings are gone, at least the one on this side. Somehow, the fuselage remained intact and was washed into the cave. The sediment helped seal him in.” Connor looked back at the sea then motioned to her pail. “Did you get your soil?”
“The minerals you needed for the pottery?”
He handed her back the trowel. “Go dig some up before the tide comes back. We’ll have to get out of here soon.”
Bethany stepped around the shallow pools of water that were fed by the runoff from the bluffs above. The minerals from the decayed vegetation would provide the potash she needed. Connor stayed by the old airplane and looked in its window while she stepped into an open cave and bent to the ground. She glanced over her shoulder continually, unable to focus on the soil. After only gathering one scoop, she picked up her pail and hurried back. “What are you going to do with the airplane... and with the pilot?”
Connor was still staring in the airplane’s window. “I would like to remove the window and get inside the cockpit, but the tide will come in soon. He is sealed in there really well, so I don’t want to open it until I’m prepared to get everything out and take it to higher ground. I’ll have to come back with Levi—maybe tomorrow. We’ll bury the pilot’s remains, of course, but we may leave the aircraft here. It hasn’t hurt anything by being here all these years, but I don’t want people down here.” Connor brushed the dirt off his hands and ushered her away from the rocks. “Listen, Beth, you have to keep this to yourself.”
The find was unsettling, but it didn’t seem like something to keep secret like a hurtful indiscretion or a sinful longing. She glanced back at the yellowed glass of the window and shuddered, knowing a dead man was inside. “Why can’t I tell anyone?”
Connor took the pail and carried it for her. “We don’t want kids playing on it and getting hurt or curious villagers getting trapped here when the tide comes in. Plus, there may be weapons onboard or equipment that could put the Land at risk.”
“Can I tell Father?”
“I’ll tell him.”
“What about Lydia?”
“Let me decide who to tell. Okay?”
As they reached the grass that mingled in the loose white sand, Bethany looked back at the bluffs and the wreckage, which was now obscured by the crenulated rocks. No one ever went there but her. No one would know about the old airplane, except whomever Connor chose to tell. She could trust him. “Okay,” she whispered as she turned her face toward home.
* * *
Bethany flinched when sparks popped out of the settling bonfire. She chuckled at herself, then she moved her legs away from the log she was sitting on and buried her feet in the powdery sand. The breaking waves hummed on the shore behind her, lulling her back into her reverie. She reached down and traced the outline of her feet in the sand.
Everett Foster was whistling a melody Bethany did not recognize as he came out of the forest near the historic cairn. He carried an armload of broken branches to their dwindling fire. His dark hair swooped across his forehead. He immediately flipped it out of his eyes and smiled at her. “We can’t let the fire die this early on our last night of summer.”
Connor skipped a clamshell across the shallows as he walked toward the bonfire and sat beside Lydia on the far end of the group’s log bench. The makeshift seat moved beneath Bethany. Connor leaned his elbows onto his knees and grinned. “How come I’m the only one who has school tomorrow?”
“Because you are the teacher,” Lydia answered as she rested her head on Connor’s shoulder. She yawned. “I should go home and check on the baby.”
“You just want to go to bed.” Connor rubbed Lydia’s back. “Don’t worry about the baby; Andrew is fine with his grandpa.”
A quiet but ever-present yearning kept Bethany staring at her sister and brother-in- law. Firelight warmed their contours as Lydia twined her finger in the edge of Connor’s shirt and he kissed the top of her head. And in one heartbeat, beneath the stars and the oval moon, Bethany decided all of life’s happiness hinged on being loved by a man like Connor. 
While Everett fed the fire, Levi and Mandy sat on the other end of the log. They nestled close to one another. Levi sighed with contentment as Mandy tucked herself against his chest. Then he looked past Bethany and said to Connor, “Tell us one of your stories.”
“You just want him to frighten me,” Mandy protested weakly. She twirled a strand of auburn hair and winked at Bethany.
“Maybe I do.” Levi smiled down at Mandy. As they started to kiss, Bethany forced herself to politely look away from her brother and his wife.
Everett prodded the fire with the last stick from his bundle. The flames licked at the fresh kindling and danced into crisp peaks of orange light. He held onto his poker stick as he backed away from the crackling fire. Then he motioned to the slice of empty space on the log beside Bethany. “Scoot down a bit, Beth.”
She moved closer to Lydia to make room for Everett. The log bench dropped a degree as he sat beside her. She liked being close to him. She felt safe and loved beside him, but not in the way Connor loved Lydia or the way Levi loved Mandy. She glanced at Everett. “What was that tune you were whistling?”
“Just a new song I’ve been working on.” He put his arm behind her. While they waited for Connor to tell one of his scary stories from the outside world, Bethany leaned into Everett’s side and wondered if Connor had told Lydia or Levi about the old airplane yet.
“Have you heard the one about the couple who went out on a date one night?” Connor shifted toward the group. No one replied. Of course they hadn’t. “While the guy was driving his date around town in his car, they were listening to music on the car radio. Between songs, a news bulletin came on the radio about a vicious murderer who had escaped from prison. The reporter said the murderer was a psychopath that slashed his victims to pieces and he could be easily identified because instead of a right hand he had a rusty hook—the very hook he used to kill his victims.” Connor held up his forearm and curled his fingers for effect. “When the girl heard the report, she scooted close to the guy because she was scared, but he got the wrong idea and decided to drive out to the country. As soon as they got out of town, he pulled the car over in the woods. He turned off the car engine and moved close to her when suddenly there was a loud scratching sound on the back of the car. Screech! Then again—screech! Over and over.” Connor gestured a hook-hand scratching at the air while he spoke. Bethany’s mouth dropped open as she listened. She promptly closed it and looked at the fire, trying to think of something else. She imagined a carriage without horses and music coming from something called a radio. As she began to ponder an unmarried man and woman alone at night in the woods, the fright of the possible murder dissipated. She wondered what it would be like to be alone with a man, what it was like to ride in a car, and what happened to the murderer’s hand that made him need a hook.
Connor continued, “So the guy tried to start the car’s engine to leave, but it wouldn’t start. The girl started screaming as the scratching sound got louder and closer to her door. Finally, the car started and he drove away. But then something started rattling outside the car door, so he put the pedal to the floor and drove a hundred miles an hour back to town. When they made it to her house, they got out of the car and there—hanging from the car’s door handle—was a rusty hook!”
Mandy squealed and buried her face into Levi’s chest. Levi grinned and nodded once at Connor. Lydia sat up straight and pressed a palm against her middle. “Connor, that was a terrible story!”
He beamed. “It scared you, didn’t it?”

“Yes.” She gave him a sour look and he snickered.

Mandy leaned forward and pointed at Bethany. “Connor, look what you’ve done: Bethany is scared silent.”

“No, I’m not.” Bethany imagined the couple’s date, a man with a missing hand who was now missing his hook, and the inscrutable details of life outside the Land. She looked at Connor. “So what happened next? Did the man get his hook back?”
Connor laughed, but he gave no reply. Mandy covered her mouth with four thin fingers while she giggled at Bethany’s question. Levi groaned. “That isn’t the point, Beth.”
Bethany sensed their arcane knowledge made the story more entertaining for them than for her. She glanced at their faces and grinned—not out of delight but out of embarrassment. “So what is the point?”
Her bewilderment amused her siblings and their spouses. While their laughter rang above the sound of the waves, she looked at Everett. He did not laugh with them but simply tilted his head toward her. “Don’t worry about it, Beth,” he whispered as he gave her side a soft nudge. She nudged him back and returned her gaze to the fire.
* * *
The dawn’s light gave the grassless pottery yard a pink tint, making Bethany hopeful the morning would warm quickly. She carefully closed the tricky latch on the pottery yard’s gate to avoid pinching her fingers. Mrs. Vestal lumbered out of the thatch-roofed shelter. “The clay is too cold this morning.”
“Good morning,” Bethany greeted her mentor as she stepped into the shelter and reached for a balled-up apron from the disorganized bench behind her pottery wheel. “It seems too soon for autumn weather.”
“Only a week left until the equinox.” Mrs. Vestal gave a grunt and bent to pick a stray shard from the dirt. She dropped the shard into a bucket of broken pottery pieces. Then she straightened her spine and rubbed her low back. “A boy from your class came by and asked about you after you left yesterday.”
“Who was it?”
“One of the McIntosh boys—Phoebe’s cousin, I think. My eyes aren’t what they used to be, and boys change into men so quickly at your age.”
Bethany shook out the crusty apron. “It doesn’t seem that quick to me.”
“He yelled over the gate and asked me if I knew who you wanted to court when you turned eighteen.” Mrs. Vestal scratched her scalp, making the thick bun on top of her head wobble. “Asked me—as if I would know your plans.”
“If I did want to court anyone, you would know.”
“And if I knew anything of the sort, I certainly wouldn’t have told him—let alone yelled it out to the street.” Mrs. Vestal took a few arthritic steps into the shelter. “He didn’t seem nice enough for you. You’re a Colburn and there are not many men who live up to Colburn standards.”
Bethany thought of her father and Levi and Connor—even though Connor was not a Colburn—and agreed with Mrs. Vestal. She tied on her apron. “I can’t think of one boy from my class that I would even consider marrying.”
“Well, he seemed keen on asking to court you.”
“That makes two of them.”

“Who is the other?” Mrs. Vestal raised an eyebrow. “Everett Foster?”

Bethany was confounded by the mention of Everett wanting to court her. A villager walked past the pottery yard, so she lowered her voice. “No, someone Phoebe mentioned to me yesterday. Besides, I don’t think Everett feels that way about me.”
“If you don’t want to court, tell your father and he will send the boys away.” Mrs. Vestal trudged to the meticulous shelves near her pottery wheel at the back of the shelter. “You’re not like your siblings. Well—that’s not entirely true—Lydia didn’t want to marry either until Connor came along. And it’s a wonder your brother got Mandy to marry him. I think that girl let every man from here to Southpoint court her. When you meet the right man, you will finally feel intrigue like all the other girls your age.”
“Most of the girls my age are either already married or about to be.” Bethany sighed. “And I have no problem with intrigue—I like falling in love—but I don’t like everyone watching me to see what I will decide. And it seems like there are so many rules.” She brushed the dried clay flecks from her apron. “I’ve heard Connor tell Lydia about the differences in our culture and the outside world, and it seems like we have restrictions other people don’t have to worry about. And Father always expects so many things from me that the other girls in the village don’t have to do.”
Mrs. Vestal waved a hand. “You’re nervous that’s all; it’s your age. The traditions are wise, and so are your father’s edicts. Imagine if he allowed his daughters to court earlier than eighteen. You couldn’t have dealt with all this while finishing school and an apprenticeship. Don’t worry about what the other girls in the village are doing—or the outside world, for that matter. You don’t have the wherewithal to focus on too many things at once and that’s fine—I was the same way and it never hurt me. I never married
and I live a perfectly pleasant life.”
“Yes, well, since I finally finished school like Father said to, I can focus on the one thing I actually want to do.” Bethany picked up a stack of work orders.
“See there, his plans were good for you. If you hadn’t finished your schooling, you wouldn’t have known how to use the materials found in that space debris last year.” Mrs. Vestal pointed across the pottery yard at a small brick building. “I can fire that kiln hundreds of degrees hotter with that salvaged insulation and now we make ceramic that is nearly unbreakable. That’s what half of those work orders are for—your ceramic, especially the relief glaze designs.”
Bethany glanced at the orders. “They all want black pigment. I need more potash.”
As she flipped through the grayish slips of paper, she thought of the old airplane below the bluffs. She did not want to go back there. She almost asked where else she could find the minerals she needed, but then glanced at Mrs. Vestal and noticed her pained expression.
Bethany motioned with the work orders. “I can handle all of these. Why don’t you go home and lie down.”
“I believe I will.” Mrs. Vestal nodded. “If you’re sure.”
“Of course.” Bethany laid the stack of paper on her shelf and dropped a chunk of feldspar atop it to keep the pages from blowing away. Then she lifted the bucket of broken shards and dumped them into a grinder to make grog while she waited for the sun to heat the clay.
* * *
By noon, Bethany’s shadow was short and close to her feet as she walked away from the shelter that housed the pottery wheels. She squatted near a board propped across two wooden blocks on the ground and inspected the earthenware clay that was warming in the sun. Her hands instinctively knew when the clay was ready to use. She selected a tepid lump and knelt on the earth while she wedged the clay repeatedly on the board, working out the bubbles. It was still cooler than she preferred, but it would have to do.
Bethany rose and continued to work the clay with both hands as she carried it back to her pottery wheel. She sat at the wheel and positioned one foot on the ground and one foot over the concrete flywheel ready to kick it into motion. Wetting a sponge to dampen her pottery wheel, she gently kicked the flywheel rhythmically and dropped the lump of clay onto the center of the wheel head’s turning surface. As she sank her thumbs into the spinning clump’s warm, pliable middle, Bethany’s creative verve tempted her to experiment. She quelled her enthusiasm and began to make the first of a six-bowl order.
The clay’s shape changed with each slight movement of her hands. She slowly lifted and spread it as it spun around on the wheel and expanded into a smooth, thick cylinder. She reached her clay-covered fingers to a pot of milky water. Gathering a few droplets at a time, she sprinkled the clay to keep it moist as she molded it. Pleased with the bowl’s final shape, she slipped her potter’s knife along the base of the slowly spinning bowl and carved a groove around the bottom. Finally, she inserted a clean needle tool into the groove and cut the bowl away from the wheel head.
Believing she was alone, Bethany jumped when she saw Everett standing at the edge of the pottery shelter. She managed to hang onto the wet bowl despite the startle. Bethany laughed at herself then turned to the workbench behind her wheel and placed the bowl on its cluttered surface. As she turned back to her wheel, she glanced at Everett. He leaned his shoulder casually against the shelter’s corner post as he watched her work. She looked down at her clay-splattered arms and felt a wave of self-consciousness. “Have you been standing there long?”
“No, not long.” Everett grinned as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. He snapped his head to the side, tossing his hair off his forehead. “You seemed so focused on that clay. I didn’t want to disrupt your concentration. What are you working on?”
“Trade orders. Bowls mostly.” Bethany brushed the drying clay from her fingertips and walked into the sunshine to select another warm lump of clay. She knelt and worked the clay on the board for a moment, and then carried it back into the shelter.
Everett motioned to the other pottery wheel. “Is Mrs. Vestal here today?”
“She went home.” Bethany sat at her wheel and, with a soft kick, set the flywheel into motion. Then she smirked. “Why? Have you come to place an order?”
“No.” Everett chuckled and stepped forward. He drew his hands from his pockets and reached them up to the crossbeam of the shelter mere inches over his head. “Only you could make me smile on a day like today, Beth.”
“Oh? What has made today so bad?” She watched his face while she pressed the clay in her hands. When his smile quickly faded, she felt his sadness, though it was rarely concealed of late. “Is you father’s illness getting worse?”
Everett dropped his arms to his sides and blew out a breath. “He’s only conscious a few minutes at a time. He hasn’t eaten in three days. Mother believes his time has come.” His voice broke and he looked away.
Bethany sensed his grief and her heart felt heavy as she shaped the clay. She pulled back from the spinning lump. If she were not covered in the watery dirt, she would have embraced Everett, held him, told him to weep if he wanted to, even though she knew he wouldn’t. She followed his line of vision to the road in front of the pottery yard and saw people walking by. He would not express his grief with other people around. She whispered, “I’m so sorry for you, Everett... and for Mandy and your mother. Is there anything Lydia can do for your father to make him better?”
“No. She’s made him comfortable. That’s all she can do.” “The gray leaf medicine doesn’t help?”
“Why not?”
“My father’s heart has been defective since birth. When he was born, Doctor Ashton said he wouldn’t live to adulthood. Father proved him wrong, but the gray leaf does nothing for this type of ailment—it only heals infections and wounds.”
“That doesn’t seem fair. He should be working his farm and enjoying life, not dying, especially since we have the medicine of the gray leaf tree. How can it cure infection and rapidly heal injuries but not stop a disease a person was born with?” When Everett did not answer, Bethany wiped the back of her hand across her forehead. “Is there anything I can do?”
Everett shook his head. “You’re sweet, Beth. I hope you know that. You’re truly good.”
His approval encouraged her. “Should I tell my father to cancel my party?”
“No. In fact, that’s why I came. My mother sent me to relay her regrets—she won’t be attending tomorrow evening. She’s afraid to leave his side. She wants to be with him when he passes.”
“I understand. And if you decide to stay home with them, I will understand that too.”
“No, my mother insists I go.” He grinned slightly. “She knows I have been looking forward to your eighteenth birthday for a long time.”
“As have I—though it’s feeling less joyous as it approaches.” “Because of my father’s condition?”
“Why then?”
If she could tell anyone how she truly felt, it was Everett. She stared at her hands as she continued working the spinning clay. “I have daydreamed about turning eighteen for years. I watched my sisters and brother all grow up and get to do what they wanted and I wanted that too. There were times when I thought I might burst if I had to wait another day to be finished with school and... be allowed to court. But now that I have only one day left, I’m dreading my birthday. Not because of the work—I love my work. It’s the rest of it... the courting and the expectations of our traditions.”
Everett crossed his arms over his chest, and the motion caught Bethany’s eye. She glanced up at him then dampened the clay and finished shaping the bowl. “It wouldn’t worry me except that when anyone mentions my birthday, they also mention courting. Apparently, every person in the village knows my father’s rule about his daughters. I hate feeling like people are watching my decisions. I’ve been told about two different boys who are planning to ask my father’s permission to court me and—”
“Who?” Everett spit the word forcefully, surprising Bethany.
“It doesn’t matter who. The point is: I don’t know if I want to be courted yet.”
“Tell your father to send them away.”
“Mrs. Vestal said the same thing.”
Everett lifted a palm. “Then why not do it?”
“Because I want to have... possibilities.” She glanced at him as she said it and was
puzzled by his expression. His green eyes were intent and piercing like she had said something vulgar. She did not like the feeling of disappointing him and looked away. “Never mind, I can’t explain it.”
“Explain what? You want men to court you but not with the purpose to marry.”
“No.” Bethany flinched enough to cause a slight sway in the incomplete bowl as it whirled around on the wheel. She recovered in time to reshape it and, as she did, she felt Everett’s eyes waiting expectantly for her defense. “That’s not my desire at all. I simply want the freedom to court but not with all the pressure. Most of the girls my age are already married. Phoebe is my only unmarried friend and she is soon-to-be engaged to a man who has courted her only three weeks. Sometimes I just feel like our traditions are too—”
“So you plan to accept suitors and enjoy their attention then refuse them when they propose marriage?”
“No, I—”
“Ask Mandy what emptiness that hobby brought her. My sister will happily advise against that game.”
“I have no desire to play games with any man’s affection, Everett. I only meant that... oh, never mind.” Bethany cut the completed bowl from the wheel. She turned to
search for a bare spot on the workbench but found none. Everett moved behind her and cleared a space without her asking. “Thank you,” she mumbled as she watched him rearrange the contents of the workbench to create space for her.
He brushed his hands together and stepped back. “Just enjoy the party your family gives you tomorrow and don’t think of what else may come. This party is all Mandy has talked about for days, and your sisters are probably excited too.”
Bethany smiled at Everett, realizing he was trying to cheer her up. She stood from her wheel and wiped her hands on her apron. As she thought of Samuel’s condition, she regretted mentioning her petty troubles. “You’re right. And I’m glad you will be there.”
Everett scooted the dirt on the ground with the edge of his boot. “I want you to be happy, Beth. And that’s why I think you should tell your father to send the scamps away.” He grinned, giving her instant relief.
“I know I can always trust you to watch out for me.” She stepped around him and into the sunny yard to gather another warm lump of clay. Then she chuckled. “Between your protectiveness and Levi’s, it would be a miracle if any man were daring enough to ask me to court anyway.”

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