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    northie
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Never Too Late To Believe - 2. Reactions

Ripples from Eric's moment of fame spread wider.

On the following day, Andy and his fiancé sat in Fountains Abbey's tearoom, demolishing a hearty Yorkshire lunch of soup, doorstep sandwiches, and local beer.

Andy wiped away a smear of mustard which had oozed from his ham sandwich. “I'm just as hungry today being a passenger in the car as I was yesterday having cycled the entire distance.”

Adam smirked. “Why aren't I surprised?”

“Excuse me?” Indignation only caused the smirk opposite to widen.

“I'm only saying you like your food.”

Andy peered down at a midriff, hidden under his shorts, that he knew to be as toned as the other man's. “You make me sound like a glutton.”

“Glutton?” Adam's eyes widened. “Now there's an excellent word.”

They both laughed, attracting glances from older diners close by.

His fiancé stretched out both bare, tanned legs under the table, coming into contact with his own. Andy captured one of the intruders and held it prisoner for a moment, calves pressing together, before letting go.

He glared at the other man. “Behave. We can't have other people seeing us playing footsie.”

“I think 'legsie' might be a better description?”

Adam's grin made him giggle. The infection spread, again making heads turn. Decorum was only restored when their attention turned once more to food.

Adam took a gulp of ale. “I'm glad we agreed coming here by car was best; parts of me are still tight from yesterday's trip to Scarborough. A gentle stroll around the lakes should loosen them up.”

“Yeah. Even I found Scarborough a long haul. We're neither of us hard-core cyclists – unlike that pair of wannabes we saw yesterday in all their branded gear. A day's rest is fine by me.”

“You going to use the camera today, or phone?”

“Good question.” Andy paused to consider. “Both, I imagine. The camera zoom is so much better. I want to get some great shots of the Abbey ruins.”

Adam sniggered. “How many photos have we shared with Eric so far?”

“God…” He did a quick mental calculation. “Couple of hundred, at least. And that wasn't all of them.”

“Five days gone; same number to go.”

“D'you think I'd better ask him if it's too much?”

“No – he'll say something if that's the case. I'm sure he enjoys being a voyeur on our holiday much more than his current fake fame.”

They exchanged looks.

Andy sighed. “He sounded OK yesterday evening.”

“It has blown up into something larger than you or Claire anticipated.”

“Yeah… Eric mentioned a number of things but agreed with my line that it'd pass soon enough.”

Adam used a crust to mop up the last of the soup. “Let's hope the positive responses continue.”

One grimace mirrored another.

Andy shrugged. “Is it too much to expect? … Yeah, to answer my own question. How many people did we have to block after our engagement announcement online?”

The other man rolled his eyes. “Hundreds of the bastards. They bloody sprang up out of nowhere, didn't they? Like fungi. So many comments, retweets, direct messages – all pretty much predicting eternal hell and damnation for us and anyone associated with us.”

“Or a slow, painful, disease-ridden death.”

“Tossers!”

“Too right. There were plenty of lovely messages as well.” Andy smiled fondly at the memory. “Homophobes may continue their sad, twisted lives without us.”

“Yeah – we win.” Adam pushed his plate away and stood up. “Right. Let's get this exercise of ours in before you find an excuse to come back here for a Yorkshire cream tea.”

Andy's outraged yelp of response caused some tutting from tables in the vicinity. An exchange of looks conveyed their opinion of the complaints. In silence, they gathered up their stuff and headed out into the sunshine.


Sitting at his ancient desk, Eric closed the lid on the computer with some force. His fascination with the two charity videos had to cease. Even when looking at other things on the web, the videos, or more accurately their list of comments, lurked at the back of his mind. The lure of checking for more replies kept drawing him to the charity's site. A look at the wall clock told him he'd clicked there four times during the past hour. It wasn't that surprising though: the comment tally on both videos was well into double figures.

Getting up slowly, he shuffled into the kitchen, legs stiff from sitting on the hard, upright seat. “A mug of tea.”

While waiting for the kettle to boil, Eric savoured some of the more memorable comments.

Several talked about his courage – though he wasn't sure what they referred to. Others made nasty, rude remarks about his appearance. Eric frowned. He wasn't much to look at, but he'd made an effort for the filming. A bath, washing his hair, and wearing his cleanest clothes was all he could do. Didn't they realise what they wrote hurt? A thought struck him as he poured water into the teapot. Nobody mentioned anything about him being gay; or rather, there wasn't anything bad about it. He wondered whether Claire or someone monitored what people posted. From what he'd seen elsewhere, that was likely.

Deciding it was too early for his lunchtime sandwich, Eric sat down with his mug. He'd just got settled when the doorbell rang. A small amount of tea slopped onto an already stained cardigan. Muttering under his breath, one hand tried to brush off the cluster of droplets. Leaving the job unfinished, he went to answer the door. The bell rang again.

“I'm coming as fast as I can!”

He wondered if it was the new neighbour. The woman's name had already slipped his mind.

On opening up, the postman stood there with one hand filled with letters; impatient, he shifted weight from one foot to the other. “Hello, Mr Whitehouse. Thought I'd give you all these together, rather than slotting each one through your letterbox,”

Dazed, Eric took possession of the small stack of envelopes.

“There's a couple of bills on top, otherwise it looks as though you're popular all of a sudden.” The man's cheerful smile invited a response.

Eric sighed. “Nothing I asked for.” He peered at a couple of envelopes lower down in the heap. The addresses were a scribbled mess of redirections with his own the most prominent.

“Well, enjoy it while it lasts. Have a good rest of the day.” With a wave, the postman turned and strode back down the path to the road.

The old man retreated back inside, leaving the door open while he dropped the bundle of letters onto the small table next to his chair. “Don't know what the world's coming to.”


Once settled down, he ignored the bills and took one of the other letters. He examined the envelope carefully; there was his first name, followed by the address for A Helping Hand. Someone else had scribbled his own details into a blank space. A move to open that one was abandoned when he spotted another letter sent to the correct address. Eagerly, he grabbed hold of it. Straightaway, the contents made him smile. The short, sympathetic note came from Hazel, his former home help provided the council.

Hazel knew he was gay – he'd written to her in the New Year, setting out his news. Words and sentences were read through again, savoured this time. Her 'quite an achievement for you' made him glow inside; an instruction to 'always have faith in yourself' was something he'd do well to remember. From what he recalled of their chats, she'd held down a job all her adult life against the odds. Her family sounded like a pack of rogues; coming from the council estate on the other side of town couldn't have helped.

Letting the paper go, he reached out for another. His hand grasped thick, textured paper – 'posh' was what came to mind. He soon discovered one arthritic finger was no match for the envelope. Snorting in frustration, he got out of the chair and went to the kitchen for a knife. Several attempts later, a slit appeared through which he extracted the letter. The single sheet of headed notepaper made him suspicious. Most of the address and contact details had been obliterated with thick, black ink. He sat down again and unfolded it. What could someone like that have to do with him? Wary eyes surveyed the page, seeking the gist of the message. That soon became clear.

“'Faggot'?” His stomach lurched. “'Abomination'? 'Deviant'!” He threw the offensive sheet to one side. “Bastard! He knows nothing about me.”

Should he really be that surprised though? Warmth leached from his body, leaving a chilliness which bore no relation to the room's temperature. The remaining unopened envelopes took on a different guise. Eric glowered at them before defiantly snatching another couple. One letter made him glad – wandering, spidery words told a tale of loneliness and neglect to make a lump in his throat. A tear or two welled up. That writer could've been him less than a year ago. Carefully he put the letter aside – he'd show it and any others to Andy when he next visited. Abuse contained in another note stung more dully somehow.

When he came to the end, hope one of the notes might have come from Rob withered. If his former careworker could write something, why not Rob? Eric frowned. He was being unreasonable. Plenty of people didn't bother with the local rag, And anyway, a missed opportunity for friendship thirty years ago was unlikely to weigh heavily in the other man's mind. His stomach rumbled. Looking up at the clock made him realise why. He needed a sandwich, then a walk; there'd be plenty of time for any reading after that.


In the bright, early afternoon sun, Emily Standish surveyed the builder's site that was her kitchen. At least the island prep area was in and the double sink under the window. She weighed up the numerous gaps – all the appliances were due for delivery over the following few days. Once they were in, it would make one room habitable. How much longer for the others? She sighed – commuting from their present house or occasionally staying overnight in a nearby budget hotel were both getting wearisome.

Finding a space on the new worktop, she hefted up a canvas bag and started to unpack. It contained essentials such as tea, coffee, basic condiments, and inexpensive mugs and plates. The newly-completed eye-level cupboards would be ready for filling, once they'd been cleaned. She took a step back. Now was the time to discover whether a plan on paper made sense in the real world.

“Mum?” A fresh-faced young man poked his head round the door.

Emily gave him a smile. “Just in time, Tommy. You can give me a hand here.”

Her son ignored the suggestion. “You know the old man opposite?”

“Mr Whitehouse.”

“Yeah, him. A bunch of young guys just ran into his garden.”

“Kids?”

“No, teens. Younger than me.”

“Really?” Emily frowned. “How many?”

He shrugged. “Dunno. Three?”

“We can't have that.” She reached for her phone. “Come with me, darling. I may need some support.”

The house was quiet just then; they heard shouts, cries, and laughter drifting across the road.

“OK.” Tommy looked round the kitchen as if in search of something. “We need anything?”

Laughter disguised concern. “Don't think so – we're hardly in a knife crime hotspot. Come on. Mr Whitehouse will be grateful for our reinforcements.”

As they drew the front door to behind them, the addition of deeper voices into hubbub suggested they might have been beaten to it. A couple of minutes later, two contractors crossed back over the road towards the house. Emily squinted against the sun and spotted figures running off into the distance, heading towards the town centre.

She greeted the two men. “You just seen those lads off?”

The burlier of the two contractors, red with the sun, nodded. “Yeah. Right troublemakers, if you ask me.”

“'specially that Jackson lad. Tyler's his name.” The other man shook his head. “Didn't you say his dad's serving time, over in Wolverhampton or some place?”

“Yeah. GBH or summat. They're all pains in the arse.”

Emily blinked. “Was Mr Whitehouse OK?” Relief she didn't have to deal with the youths lightened her mood.

“The old guy who lives there?” The thick-set man scratched his head. “Nobody around, as far as we could see.”

She recalled the older man going on a walk the previous day. Maybe it was a regular thing? “Wonder why they chose his garden?”

The smaller of the two men, gingerish blond beard glowing in the light, answered. “There was a splash on the front page of the local paper 'bout him. Saying he was queer or some such.”

“Oh, yeah.” His red-faced companion chipped in. “I read that. Daft bugger – spreading his private business around. Anyway, we'd better get back to work. Got another job booked in next week.”

Emily let them go without delving any further. She and Tommy strolled back into the kitchen.

Her son looked puzzled. “Why should some random guy declaring he's gay be front page news?”

“I suspect there's more to it than that.” She gave her phone a prod. It wouldn't be ideal for reading stuff – their broadband had yet to be activated. A quick search revealed the necessary site. “Here we are. Have a read of this, Tommy. Your eyes are better than mine.” She handed the phone over.

The young man raised an eyebrow. “Can't be bothered to locate your glasses, you mean.”

An accompanying grin made Emily scowl. “Cheeky sod.”

She heard chuckles coming from the curly-haired form bent over the handset.

“Yep – he is gay.” Her son looked up. “But that's only one part of an article about a charity who supplies him with a volunteer social worker. Typical! Why do people, like, remember one thing to the exclusion of everything else?”

Emily reclaimed the phone. “Hmm… I haven't noticed anyone stopping by in the last few days. Maybe I'd better check in with the charity.”

“Mum! You said yourself the guy was fine yesterday.”

“Yes, but it never does any harm to check these things.” She paused. “Or maybe I'll call round later to warn him about those lads, if he doesn't know already.” Her attention turned to the stuff on the worktop. “Right, young man. If I ask you to help with these cupboards, will you suddenly claim a prior engagement?”

The grin returned. “Guess if I have to, like, help one old person a day, it might as well be you.”

“Hah! I shouldn't have to remind you who pays your tuition fees.”

Their combined giggles resonated around the half-empty kitchen.

Emily picked up a cloth and waved it in the direction of the sink. “There you go. Get that damp and start wiping down the shelves. I'll follow on behind with the stuff. Won't take us long.”

“OK.”


Sweating gently after their exploration of the whole monastic site at Fountains Abbey, the two men returned to the tearoom in search of refreshments.

“This looks delicious.” Andy surveyed a Yorkshire high tea in all its glory, set out on their table. Miniature sandwiches, a dressed salad, dainty savoury pastries, and buttered tea bread all made his mouth water.

Adam inspected one of the pastries – a miniature pork pie. “Not quite what you would've expected to see set out on a Sunday back whenever. It looks great nevertheless.”

“Yeah, too fancy for that. Two complaints though.”

“Hmm…?” Adam poured himself a cup of tea.

“Eric's not here to join us.”

“I agree. He'd love the tea bread. Has he ever been away on holiday?”

“Nope. Sad, really. Maybe we should make it a longer term goal?”

“We?” A raised eyebrow met Andy's innocent expression. “Yes, OK – we. I can tell when I've been involuntarily co-opted.

A snigger was closely followed by his discreet air kiss.

“And your second complaint?” Adam regarded him with affectionate amusement.

“No cake.” A roll of the eyes opposite was a predictable response.

“I'll buy you an ice cream on the way out if it'll make you happy. OK?”

“God, if we make sufficient inroads to clear even some of these plates, neither of us will want anything else for a while.” Andy selected a couple of sandwiches: cheese with tomato relish, and egg mayo. “Mentioning cake reminds me your mother wants an answer very soon.”

“To…?”

“What cake we want at our wedding.”

Adam mimed a faceplant. “I really don't care if it's several rounds of cheese, or a hundred individual cupcakes. Please… you two decide.”

“Sure?”

“Yeah.”

“OK.” Andy pretended to note something on his phone. “So we'll have chilli and chocolate sponge layers filled with salmon and dill flavoured crème patisserie, and lime royal icing. Sounds good to me.”

The gagging noises which erupted opposite were hardly a surprise. He giggled; Adam joined in. It took a minute or two for them both to settle down.

Andy wiped his eyes. “We'd better behave from now on, otherwise we'll be banned.”

Glares came from the occupants of other tables.

Adam drank tea. “You're a complete bastard!” He filled his plate again. “Seriously, I'm easy.”

“OK. Let's go for something quirky though. Can't have our guests finding everything predictable. I'll have a trawl around Insta later.”

Adam's lips thinned. “Has Ma said anything 'bout you know what?”

A slight shake of the head was sufficient answer. Andy sighed. “We've another meet-up planned soon. We can only offer her the space she needs, love. It has to be her move. We don't know anything definite.”

The possible domestic troubles suffered by Adam's mother left a temporary pall over the proceedings. Their thoughts turned to the next day's expedition. Andy's espousal of Castle Howard occupied them through the rest of the meal.


Friday evening always came as a relief to Brian Metcalfe. He stretched out on the sofa, resting hot, tired feet on a cushion. Yes, Saturdays were usually hectic but that was why he employed youngsters. They ran around the cafe, serving the tables, while he concentrated on food preparation and any cooking that might be required. He picked up the local paper in the expectation of flicking idly through its pages. Instead he stared at the front page in disbelief. What was a photo of Eric Whitehouse doing there? He rushed through the article before returning to the top and starting again.

His wife emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a tea towel. “Food'll be another fifteen minutes, love.”

“It smells good already; your lasagne always does, Sandra.” He brandished the paper. “You read this yet?”

She shook her head. “You know I'm not that bothered.”

“You will be this time.” Brian sat up. “Take a look at this.”

Sandra drew closer, peering at the photo. “That's Mr Whitehouse, isn't it? What's he done to be given such treatment? Nothing bad, I hope.”

“You might well ask. Turns out he's promoting the charity that young man of his works for.”

“Good for him, giving something back.” She took the paper and went looking for her other glasses. “Yes – it's a good likeness.” Standing in the doorway to the kitchen, she read the text. “I think he's very brave.”

Brian frowned.

“You realise he's made his sexual orientation clear in what he says.”

“Oh… err…” His cheeks heated up. “Yeah.”

His wife shook her head. “It's at the end of the third paragraph, if you missed it the first time.” She leant sideways to peer in through the oven door. “Here's the paper back. Look, the lasagne needs another few minutes. Why don't you give Mr Whitehouse a ring?”

Brian blinked; one thumb stroked his chin.

“The poor man's probably been bothered by all kinds of people. Do him good to hear from a friend.”

That settled it. “You're right, love.” He looked for the phone. “Must've left it downstairs. I'll only be a few minutes.”

“There's no rush.” Sandra sat down and opened a game on her tablet.


Brian waited for the phone to be answered at the other end.

Yes?

The suspicious, weary tone made him think how right Sandra was.

“Eric, it's Brian.”

Hello, Brian. Eric's voice brightened.

“You're suddenly newsworthy, I see. Sandra and I are mightily impressed. How have the past few days been?”

Hell. Not quite though – a couple of the letters I got today made me realise how lucky I've been.

“To have… Andy, is it?”

Yes. That young man has changed my life and I'll be forever grateful.

Brian wiped away a hint of wetness. “Well, now you've done your bit.”

It's only a small thing. If it means a few other people get to know about A Helping Hand, I'll be pleased.

“Sandra and I are definitely the wiser. Not seen the videos yet.” He chuckled. “We'll make you into a media star yet.”

The answering Not bloody likely made them both laugh.

Speaking to Eric made a good end to Brian's day as well.

Copyright © 2021 northie; All Rights Reserved.
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Parker Owens has accompanied me throughout the writing of this story. He has my heartfelt thanks.

Your comments, speculations, and personal reminiscences all add to the conversation. Please consider adding your voice. 

Story Discussion Topic

This started out in late 2016 as my first attempt at a multi-part story. I remember pestering @Parker Owens for his agreement for me to start posting after I'd produced ... four chapters or thereabouts.   His wise counsel prevailed, and I've spent a long time both completing this part, and refining the writing so it comes up to my current standards.   The reception of the first two chapters has been such that I've ventured to start this story topic.   Feel free to discuss or

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Chapter Comments

Eric now gets supporting mail, as well as hate mail. I can’t understand why the impetus to injure another person is so strong: surely one man’s feel-good story does no harm to the rest of the population? And yet, it seems that some think that way. Brian and Sandra and Andy and Adam are sheet anchors in the howling gale of temporary fame. 

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52 minutes ago, Parker Owens said:

I can’t understand why the impetus to injure another person is so strong:

Me neither. But it is there, loud and strong. Visit any social media site of your choice for a demonstration. 😠

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1 hour ago, Parker Owens said:

I can’t understand why the impetus to injure another person is so strong ...

I think Parker that many of them are miserable in themselves and can't abide anyone of "other" ilk be it race, creed or sexuality praised or set as an example of something good when they are largely ignored.

Excellent chapter northy. Eric still has friends. I am curious as to what relationship he develops with his new neighbors. I believe them to become another bright spot in Eric's life.

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19 minutes ago, dughlas said:

I am curious as to what relationship he develops with his new neighbors.

Keep on reading...  🤨😄 Maybe they're just there for decoration. 

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I'm just surprised anyone bothers to send a physical letter at this day and age. Good thing they don't know his email address, and I hope it's not something obvious. But at leastthere were some positive reactions too.

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34 minutes ago, Timothy M. said:

I'm just surprised anyone bothers to send a physical letter at this day and age.

True. Perhaps it makes the insults more personal in a way? It avoids the moderation that will be in place on the website. Less likely to be traced if there's criminal content? And of course, there are still plenty of elderly people who don't really have anything to do with the internet. 

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spyke

Posted (edited)

5 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

I can’t understand why the impetus to injure another person is so strong:

I have always found that the ones who have the most to say are the ones who have the most to hide.

I'm saddened by what seems to be forming around Eric, but I'm also glad that Brian reached out to him. I think that was just the lift that Eric needed. I'm worried about those pesky kids though. Nothing but trouble if you ask me.  

Edited by spyke
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It's hard for me to understand, even harder to sympathize, people who are hateful to anyone who doesn't believe and look like them.  I suppose there are a few who hate out of ignorance or one bad personal experience, but most of the haters seem to honestly feel that they have a god-given right to decide how everyone should look, act, and believe.  The internet has had a dramatic effect on our availability to information.  People can have a community online, which can be a life-line to the disaffected, or a pulpit for haters.  I think that Eric is strong enough now to survive his 15 minutes of fame.

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2 minutes ago, spyke said:

I'm saddened by what seems to be forming around Eric,

I'm curious. Do you mean the media circus? The attention might have good points as well as maybe being annoying. Brian is a good friend. Even better when he's got his wife behind him. 😉😄

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4 minutes ago, CincyKris said:

I think that Eric is strong enough now to survive his 15 minutes of fame.

I'm glad you think that. So do I. And so does Eric really, despite the provocations.

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And in this chapter we get to touch base with Andy, Adam, Brian, and Sandra! It's like running into old friends you haven't seen in awhile. You just pick up right where you left off, like no time has passed. I love all these characters! Too bad about the hate mail, but unfortunately that is a part of life too. We can always hope the good far outweighs the bad. Thanks. 

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12 hours ago, JeffreyL said:

It's like running into old friends you haven't seen in awhile. You just pick up right where you left off, like no time has passed. I love all these characters!

You are very kind to say so. Your praise almost makes me :blushing: .

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I think Erik is certainly getting a bit better with handling some social interactions like the new neighbors he didn’t go out of his way to avoid them.  I am happy that most of the letters he received seemed to be nice and, so far out weigh the hate mail.

The phone call from Brian I think was a good thing and let Erik know even tho A&A are away he still has a friend that is still local he seems to be handling things on his own still tho so that’s for sure progress.

It’s great to see the neighbors concern over the teens that showed up even greater to see the workers also stepping in to stop any trouble.  And the neighbors certainly didn’t seem to have any negative thought about Erik being gay.  

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12 hours ago, quttzik said:

even greater to see the workers also stepping in to stop any trouble.

Something you might see in more rural areas and smaller towns. Cities - less so. 

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I'm a bit worried for Eric, I don't think, (hope I am wrong), we have seen the last of 'those teens'. They should be caught, suspended by their ballocks till they see the error of their ways.

What I like best about this story, is that we get a glimpse of the unvarnished reality that exists for so many of those around us. Too often when confronted with this sort of reality, when it becomes newsworthy, the spotlight's glare quickly fades. A&A deserve more than simple credit, they are honorable young men who have seen the need and opened their hearts, understanding the struggles that define Eric's life. Much of the same can be said for Brian and Susan, they are a fresh cup of friendship!

As the letters point out, that while somewhere along the line, many souls have lost their humanity and we are comforted by those who haven't. The new neighbors are well meaning, clueless perhaps...but is that all they are?

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2 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

What I like best about this story, is that we get a glimpse of the unvarnished reality that exists for so many of those around us.

Yes... funny, that when I started out writing Eric's story I didn't realise how unusual such a narrative stance was. 🤨😄 Escapism is fine, don't get me wrong, but I do enjoy stories that are also firmly connected to reality.

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