The Carlson Imperative
Book 1: Svetlana Curuvija
© 2010 J.W.Brown
Chapter 2: Metamorphosis
I was aware of her straight away. She was lying in front of me, inside the sheets, her back and rump fitted into the curve of my body. Her head lay over my right arm and she had wrapped my left arm over her. I was aware of the loose grip of her left hand on mine.
I felt the slow pattern of her breathing against my chest, and realised she was still asleep. She was also naked. As naked as I was.
Experience prompted me to get up immediately, but I couldn’t. My face was close to the nape of her lovely neck and I instinctively kissed it. She didn’t move, but I was moved enough to realise that I should get out of the bed now, or it would be too late. She had my heart.
I carefully extricated both arms and got up. I was about to re-cover her exposed back with the sheet but paused, and stared in horror at the massive bruises stretching up from her lower back to below her shoulder blades. I covered her and shivered involuntarily.
I bathed and shaved as quietly as possible, and dressing quickly headed for the lounge-diner. I started the coffee pot, and a frying pan with bacon and mushrooms, loaded the table with Muesli, fruit and spreads, and fired up the big toaster.
I ate breakfast in silence and was munching through my last slice of toast, when two arms were put around my neck as she stood behind me and kissed my head. She greeted me.
“Добро јутро леп човек”
She walked around the table to sit facing me, a beaming smile on her face. She had wrapped herself in the fleecy bathroom robe, but still looked ravishing, her short blonde curls falling over a slightly freckled brow to meet the heavenly blue eyes.
I smiled at her. “Thank you. Good Morning Svetlana. How do you feel today?”
She cocked her head on one side and looked at me quizzically as she worked at my words. I repeated the greeting in Serbian.
“Добро јутро Светлана. Како се осећате данас?”
She laughed. “I am fine. You help and make feel good.”
I poured her coffee and juice, and asked what she would like to eat first. She devoured bacon, mushrooms and toast, followed by the muesli and fruit, with the relish and ravenous hunger she’d demonstrated yesterday in the pub.
I smiled and she laughed, pointing with her spoon. “Good! Is all good!”
The contrast this morning with the shivering beaten wreck I had met yesterday was startling, and I silently applauded her bravery and spirit. But there was still the matter of her physical health, which worried me intensely. I resisted the urge to question her further about her sister, Katya was far better equipped to talk to Svetlana about that than I was.
We both finished on coffee, and she went off to wash and dress. I washed up the breakfast mess, then rang Zee.
“Hi Joe, is everything OK?” She sounded concerned.
“Yes Zee, just I’ve been thinking about your outing this morning.”
“Oh? What’s the problem?”
“I think I should get Thak to shadow you both.”
She was silent.
“Sorry Zee, I didn’t want to frighten you, but I believe it’s best for your safety and hers.”
“Is there something you know?”
“Just that Svetlana came to England on a mission to rescue her younger sister, and has brushed with ‘bad men’ as she calls them.”
I forestalled her next question. “Look, it’s just a precaution in case she’s spotted. I know we weren’t followed yesterday, so there’s no reason to suspect they know where she is.”
She said quietly “Then I think you are right. Will you speak to Thak?”
“Can you ask him to come down with you? I want to explain to Svetlana who he is, in case she spots him following you around and panics. I’ll talk with him then.”
“OK Joe.” She sounded relieved. “How is she this morning?”
“An indomitable spirit” I laughed.
“Good!” she laughed, “see you in half an hour.” and she hung up.
I took a small leather shoulder bag out of my closet drawer, matched it with a tiny purse, in which I put £50.00 in ten-pound notes, some pound coins, a £10.00 phone card and a card detailing our address and telephone numbers. After adding a small white cotton handkerchief, the little bag was very nearly full.
Svetlana entered the room, and once more my heart skipped a beat at her beauty. This time she was wearing a beautiful embroidered white blouse, and a full flowing white skirt. The green embroidery was complemented by a green silk-covered belt and matching shoes. I recognised the clothes as Zeena’s own this time, but Svetlana once again made them look as if they had been made for her. I noticed she had the gold chain around her neck, but had wisely decided that the pendant should stay here while they shopped.
She stood smiling, watching my eyes looking at her in admiration.
“Да. Ви изгледа очаравајуће!”
She crossed the room to me, stopped and twirled. The full skirt ballooned revealing her lovely thighs above her knees.
I laughed and shook my head in admiration. She stopped. Standing facing me she reached out with both hands either side of my face and kissed me gently but firmly on the lips. I felt her sweet tongue run lightly under my top lip. She withdrew her mouth a little – as if gauging my reaction, and I couldn’t help myself. I kissed her, my arms moving around her and pulling her close. We stood there lost in each other, until the clock on the wall caught my eye. I broke away, but she held on, her face close, her eyes intent on mine.
“You help so much. Plis, I help you forget pain.”
I swallowed. Was it so obvious? I was helpless to protest, nor did I want to insult her by doing so.
I said quietly in Serbian. “You are helping me by just being here.”
There was a tap on the door, and she backed away smiling.
“Come in.” I said, and Zee entered followed by Thak.
I introduced Thak and Svetlana. I could see Svetlana was intrigued by this economy-sized brown-skinned man with his perfect manners and easy smile.
“Let’s all sit.” I said, and then to Svetlana in Serbian and English “I will explain what Thak does.”
I explained that Thak made sure that no harm came to anyone of our guests upstairs, and that because I was concerned Svetlana may be spotted by the ‘bad men’ she had mentioned, I had asked him to watch over both her and Zee on their shopping trip. I stressed that he would stay ‘in the background’, and that she may not even see him, but that he would be there in case of trouble. She nodded and smiled at Thak, delighting him with her “Thank you Thak”.
I got up and passed the small shoulder bag to Svetlana. “For you.” She grinned and took the bag. While she opened it to look, I turned to Zee. “I’m dropping you off in Oxford Street. When we stop, you and Svetlana leave the car, and Thak will follow a few seconds later.”
She nodded, and I continued. “Use the Trust’s card, and get Svetlana a full week’s change of clothing, shoes etc., and anything else she may need. Ring me with your location when you’re done and I’ll send Tomas to pick you up. What you can’t or don’t want to carry, have the stores deliver it – and Zee?”
“Thank you for this, and for the loan of your lovely clothes. Please be careful.”
She smiled generously at me. “We will.”
“OK, let’s go.”
We left the basement by the door and passage that led directly to our Mews garage, and I pointed to our venerable M3. We all piled in. I operated the garage door release, and turned the car into Radnor Mews, then out onto the main road.
I dropped the girls outside Marks & Spensers, and Thak waited until they had entered before he followed. I returned home, grabbed a coffee, then walked upstairs.
On the ground floor I knocked on Zee and Tomas’s apartment door. Tomas let me in, his customary good-natured smile on his face.
“Hi Joe. Checking up on us?” he laughed.
“That’s right” I smiled. “Any problems?”
Tomas looked after our vehicles. We discussed replacing our aged Espace and I agreed he seek a suitable replacement.
I laughed “Spit it out!”
He shook his head “She should talk to you herself.”
“She’s fretting that we are turning girls away, whilst that room lies idle.”
“You’re right, she should tell me instead of nagging you.”
“I’m sorry, I know it’s not my place..”
I touched his arm. “Look, there’s nothing to be sorry about. It’s my bloody fault for dragging my feet. I’ll talk to Zee.”
“Thanks Joe, I know it’s bugging her, but she doesn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
“Consider it sorted.”
He looked relieved. As I made my way to the 2nd floor I reflected on how my personal grief had impacted on the team, and I cursed myself.
I stopped outside the locked door, got out the key, felt the surge of pain inside me, and pocketed the key again, walking down the short hall to the Matron’s den. The door was ajar and I tapped and walked in.
“Hi Margery. How’s things?”
“Hello Joe. “She got up from her chair and kissed me on the cheek.
I nodded. She poured me a cup, passed it over and watched me as I sipped it.
“How is Svetlana this morning?”
I smiled. “A quantum leap better than when I found her yesterday.”
She nodded “Good, good. I look forward to meeting her.” she paused watching my face “I gather she is quite stunning?”
“Very beautiful, but suffering from some seriously nasty bruising.”
She shook her head and swore “Bastards!”
I nodded, but laughed lightly at her oath. She grinned wryly, then reached out her hand and touched mine, saying quietly. “We can clear it out for you, if you want.”
Momentarily I was caught off balance. She nodded with her head in the direction of the locked room.
“Ah. How the Hell..?”
She grinned “I saw you just now.” she pointed at the CCTV monitor on the corner of her desk.
“Oh. Of course.”
“You provided them!”
I laughed out loud, and then more quietly I told her I was going to talk to Zee about the room.
“Let me know if I can help” she said simply.
I nodded. “Any problems outstanding?”
“Well, you already will know we are full, and I could use a part-time nurse. Can we afford one?”
I nodded. The story of the refuge was one of continual pressure on growth, made worse as the trafficking in humans now paid criminals better than that in drugs.
“Go ahead Margery, we have sufficient funds, so get the best you can.”
She nodded. “Thanks, that’s a relief.”
“How is Anna doing? Are you still happy with her?”
She nodded “I’m delighted, she’s everything we could wish for and the girls love her.”
“Shall we invite her onto permanent staff?”
“OK, I’ll attend to it.”
She smiled. “Good, that’s it I think. Thank you Joe.”
I stood up. “See you after lunch, when I’m showing Svetlana around.”
I went up to the third floor and entered the day room. I had re-engineered this room of the large corner house out of two smaller ones, and the sunlight flooded in through the large open French windows, which led to a paved high-level patio open to the azure-blue London sky.
There was a quiet, calm buzz of conversation in several different languages. Most of the girls were in their low teens, most still looked too slim, and most of them I had already met. Several girls looked up and smiled. Some of those I hadn’t seen before looked at me a little warily, and I didn’t approach them. Jane, the senior nurse was sat plaiting a small girl’s hair and nodded to me smiling. It was the same on the patio, scattered chairs and tables with books, MP3 players and drawing materials, and yet more girls. I nodded to Anna, the youngest of our nurses and she came over and greeted me.
“Hello Mr. Carlson. How are you?”
I smiled “I’m fine Anna, and please call me Joe.”
She blushed. I added “How is it going for you?”
She recovered quickly and smiled “It’s fine – I really enjoy looking after the girls.”
“Margery not to bossy for you?” I watched her slight discomfort at the leading question, then I relented, laughing “You don’t have to answer that, I was just teasing you.”
She looked relieved.
“Seriously. Is there anything you aren’t happy about? That’s why I’m here – to take on the problems that you can’t solve alone.”
She said simply and quietly “I love working here.”
I smiled “Good. Anna, we love working with you.” I paused. “By the way, Margery is taking on a new nurse part-time. If you wish, We’d like to make your contract into a permanent one?”
She beamed “Yes Please Mr..” she hesitated “Joe”
I laughed “OK, then, and there will be a small wage rise.”
She thanked me, and turned her attention to one of the newcomers who was hovering beside us.
I sat down in a vacant armchair, and Baldwin, our most amiable neutered tabby, meandered over to me and jumped onto my lap. He did his dance then settled down, purring loudly as I stroked and tickled his neck. We kept two cats, both friendly and forgiving, and also a little spaniel whom the girls all called Sniff – not very original, but most befitting her.
I had closed my eyes and relaxed, then sensing someone in front of me, opened them to see the smallest of the newcomers standing silently in front of me looking at the cat. Close up, I could see she was very young – barely 12 I guessed.
I smiled at her, and spoke quietly. “Have you met Baldwin? He is very lazy, and lies in the sun all day.”
She nodded, and reached out her hand, stroking his head.
After a while she looked up at me and said “Who are you? Where is Thak?”
There was a slight lilt in her voice. I guessed Wales.
I smiled “I’m Joe. Thak is busy this morning, but he will be back for lunch.”
She looked at me and then nodded slowly.
“I like Thak.”
I nodded. “Yes, I do to. He is a very nice man.”
She relented. “My name is Lizzie.”
“Well it’s lovely to meet you Lizzie. I work downstairs, so we haven’t had the chance to meet until now.”
“Downstairs with Zee?”
“Yes, close to Zee.”
“I like Zee, she is very kind.”
I saw Jane walking towards me. She slowed, and mouthed an “Are you OK?” I nodded. She smiled, but sat close by just in case.
“I’m glad that you like her. I like her too.”
“Are you staying all morning?”
“No, I can’t, but I would like to come back up for lunch, with Zee and Thak and you.”
She paused from stroking the cat and looked up at me, her big sad brown eyes solemnly assessing me.
“Yes. That would be OK.”
I breathed out slowly. Jane was smiling and shaking her head. She got up and joined us.
“Would you like to cuddle Baldwin Lizzie? Joe has to go now.”
Lizzie sat down in the chair next to me and I lifted the sleepy cat onto her lap.
I nodded at her and said “’Bye Lizzie. See you later.”
There was no reply, so I nodded to Jane, and turned to go.
“’Bye Joe.” came over my shoulder, and I turned and smiled at her and a grinning Jane, before leaving and making my way back into the day room and crossed to the kitchen/diner. Connie, our cook was busy preparing for lunch.
“Hi Joe – tell me what you think.” She passed a small dish.
“They look like chunky deep-fried corn-flakes!”
“Taste – then tell me.” she fired back.
I bit into the warm morsel. It was crunchy on the outside, succulent inside – very spicy, very delicious.
“Mmm. Very good. What is it?”
I shook my head. “Connie you never fail to amaze me. I remember being disgusted at the piece my old man once gave me when I was a kid. He used to eat it cold, in a large lump, covered in salt and vinegar.”
She laughed. “It’s Portuguese – from Porto – their version of a tapas dish.”
I helped myself to another piece. “It’s lovely – and the girls will love it too – as long as you don’t tell them what it is.”
She grinned. “Maybe after – maybe not.”
“Any problems?” I asked.
“Can’t think of any.”
I smiled “Good. Let me know if there are any.”
“I will.” She smiled and turned back to the stove. I had been ‘dismissed’.
I left and headed back downstairs, spending some time on my PC updating Anna’s status. I tidied around the lounge, picking up the empty velvet-covered box and took it into Svetlana’s room. I put the Lalique in the box and left this on her bedside table. I looked around. The room was immaculate, everything carefully tidied away. The one thing left behind was the delicate scent of her body – a mixture of the gentle perfume she had used, together with the sweet essence that was only her. I stood for a moment in the centre of the room, just breathing her in, and a million questions rang around inside my head.
It was 12:20 when Zee rang.
“Hi Zee – everything OK?”
“She laughed. Yes, we’ve had a lovely morning, and no bad men in sight.”
She told me her location, and after hanging up, I called Tomas to take the car and pick them up.
I was relieved, but there was something else – I wanted Svetlana beside me. To distract myself, I switched on my old valve amplifier, and put a Beach Boys LP on my turntable. The bitter-sweet Brian Wilson masterpieces rang through my lounge and I felt a little better. I was tidying up my kitchen area to ‘Do You Wanna Dance’, when two arms were wrapped around me from behind and her voice was in my ear. “Yes plis I do.”
I turned around, and she kissed me full on the lips, before stepping back slightly, and moving rhythmically in front of me, her arms moving up around my neck. We danced until the track faded, and then I broke away and greeted Zee and Thak who were standing in the middle of the lounge surrounded by parcels, looking quizzically at us both.
I thanked Thak, and said we would be up for lunch shortly. He left after smiling politely, nodding and clicking his heels together – something he did, thankfully, only for me.
Between the girls and myself, we carried the parcels and bags into Svetlana’s room. She immediately started to unwrap everything, so I led Zee back out into the lounge. She was quiet, and I wasn’t surprised. We looked at each other, but she spoke first.
“She adores you.”
I gulped, but bit the bullet.
“It’s mutual Zee. I’m mad I know..”
She smiled. “Maybe, but maybe..” she paused, and I waited.
“Maybe it’s just.. well, right. Right for her and for you.”
“I’ve known her less than 24 hours. I feel guilty that she is vulnerable.”
She shook her head laughing lightly.
“I don’t believe it’s her that’s the most vulnerable.”
“What?” I was staggered.
“She has spent most of the morning talking about you, and asking endless questions. She knows what she wants.” she paused “Do you?”
I didn’t answer and she reached up and touched my face.
“You need your life back Joe. Let her in – I promise you will never regret it.”
She saw the tears well in my eyes, and moving closer, hugged me gently.
I slowly recovered some composure “I’m sorry Zee, for blubbing like a baby. What would have become of me without you?”
She looked up and kissed me, then touched me gently on the mouth with her finger “And what would have become of me, if a certain big, strong, handsome man hadn’t crashed into the hell-on-earth where I was imprisoned and physically carried me away in his arms to his own home, to safety and to unconditional love?”
For a brief moment we clung to each other, then separated. No further words were needed.
“Lunch?” I said smiling.
“Absolutely” she replied.
I walked back to Svetlana’s room and tapped on the partially open door.
“Plis to come.”
Hers was the happy face of a much-loved child at Christmas. She turned around picking up various garments saying “Look, look” only to put them down and repeat the display with another. I laughed encouragingly. “They are lovely, and so are you. Would you like some lunch?”
She nodded vigorously “Plis. I’m hungry.”
“Good” I said. She took my hand and we re-entered the lounge. I grabbed 2 bottles of chilled Chardonnay from my ‘fridge, and we all piled into the lift.
Lunch had just started. The massive oak dining table groaned with a buffet that looked absolutely delicious. Some girls were sat at the table with Margery, Anna and Thak, some preferring to sit with a friend at one of the smaller tables, and Jane sat with Lizzie at a table to the side of the room. Connie wafted across the room with plates and dishes. I handed her the wine and we all three sat down together at the main table. I introduced Svetlana to all the girls at the table, Anna helping me when I stumbled with some of their names.
Connie’s Tripe was a big hit, the dishes emptying rapidly, and when I caught her eye she winked, shook her head sideways in a ‘No’ and laughed.
It was one of the most pleasant and enjoyable meals I’d eaten in 3 years.
We’d finished, and I took Svetlana on a tour of the house. I explained the use of the heavy doors, with their combination locks, both on rooms and each end of corridors, and that how I’d re-engineered the whole house so as to be as safe as possible for our guests, without transgressing on their freedom to come and go as they pleased. I took a circuitous route over from the 1st floor of the main house, to the small mews flat over our garages where Thak lived, and introduced Svetlana to Thak’s diminutive wife Pash. I explained that Pash took care of the main administration of the Refuge’s business and financing, and that her and I jointly worked on fund-raising and publicity.
We then left via the stairs down to the garage, and back to my basement down another set of stairs and secure corridor.
“Coffee?” I said and she nodded her head.
She put her head to one side. “Can go upstairs when I like?”
While the coffee percolated, I retrieved a small lady’s watch from the wall-safe and gave it to her.
“Of course. If you wear this, you will find that you can simply push the doors open, rather than typing in the combinations.” I held out my own watch, saying I had the same device fitted to it.
I repeated it in mangled Serbian, but she understood.
“Also, if you get lost, or lose the watch, just press the red button next to the nearest door, and someone will answer, and come and get you if necessary.”
Again I repeated slowly in Serbian, and she nodded her head and smiled sweetly.
I walked over to the wall cabinet and retrieved my spare Nokia, handing it to her.
“This has all of our telephone numbers in the contact list.”
I paused and she nodded. “Again, if you are out and need help, telephone, and someone will come to you.”
I repeated this in Serbian and then added apologetically
“There are only two things I ask Svetlana.”
“Please do not tell anyone outside of this building where you are staying. They may not be the friend you think they are, and may hurt you or the other girls.”
She had caught my apologetic tone, and put a finger up to my lips. “I understand. I tell no-one. And other?”
“Until we have your sister Katrina safely by your side, I feel you are in danger.”
“I would like you to feel free to go out and about. In fact it is good that you should. So I would ask you, if you do wish to go out on your own, that you don’t go out without either Thak or Tomas following you. Is that OK?”
She nodded and smiled “Yes, is fine. Will you go out with me?”
I laughed “Of course.”
We sat down and sipped the coffee.
“Thak is small man for bodyguard?” she said thoughtfully.
I nodded, and answered her in Serbian.
“Don’t let Thak’s size fool you. I have seen him take down bigger men than me.”
Her eyes widened in surprise.
I continued. “I trust him with your life. He would kill anyone who tried to hurt you, or any of the other girls, if he had to. That goes for Tomas also.”
She nodded and looked at me, then said evenly. “I see your eyes in train. You would kill?”
She missed nothing. I would have to be completely honest.
“I think you know that to keep you and the others I love from harm, I would do anything, including kill.”
She was silent.
I asked her in Serbian. “Have I shocked you?”
She smiled “No not shocked. You fight for your loved ones – that is what any good man should do.”
She paused. “Will we find my sister?”
“If she is in London, I will find her. But we need to know everything about what has happened to her and to you, and that is why your talk to Katya this afternoon is so important. Are you still OK to talk to her?”
She nodded. “Will you be with me?”
“She’s coming here, and I will stay if that is what you want. If you don’t wish me to be there, that is fine also.”
“Plis, I want you with me.”
“Good, then I shall be.”
I added “Will you see the lady doctor after?”
She shrugged her shoulders. She found this difficult and replied in Serbian. “I am fine, I don’t need a Doctor.”
I took her hand, and said slowly in Serbian “I saw the terrible bruising on your back this morning. I am worried you may have kidney damage.”
She looked at my serious face and smiled at me “Then I see her for you not worry lovely man” and she leaned forward and kissed me. Her hands reached up and held my head, as her tongue flicked sensuously around my lips, and I put my arms around her.
It would have been so easy to just let go. She was ready, but I felt another pang of guilt, and although I responded warmly to her kisses, felt I had to say something.
I pulled back, and reaching up, stroked her right cheek and temple gently. She moaned softly and smiled encouragement at me. I was about to speak, but she saw my difficulty and did it for me.
In her native Serbian she said quietly and slowly
“I am falling in love with you Joe. I am sure that you are falling in love with me, but something holds you back. I know that you are a kind and gentle man, who doesn’t want to take any advantage from my predicament and I respect what you feel. Then there is Christine. I know you have lost her forever, but you still grieve, and that too I respect”
She paused then went on “If either or both of these things are stopping you from making love with me, I want you to know I will wait – wait until you are ready, because I’ve never met anyone in my life before that I was so sure about as you, and I believe we were made for each other and belong together for ever.”
She stopped talking then added in English “You understand me?”
Her insight and beautifully-expressed words in her classic ancient tongue brought tears to my eyes, and I nodded.
She removed the small cotton hanky I’d given her, from her pocket and dabbed my cheeks gently.
I looked at her quizzically “How do you know about Christine? Did Zee tell you?”
She shook her head. “She is surprised like you when I mention her name in shop. But she not talk.”
She took my hand and gave a little laugh. “Easy, no secret. You tell me yourself.”
Now I was genuinely puzzled.
She stopped teasing and continued more seriously.
“You cry her name during the night. Over and over. I come through to you and stroke head, say your name and you are calm. I go back my room. Second time same, but I want you much, so I stay cuddle with you.”
I was mortified. I began my apology in English, then remembering, I slowed down and repeated it in Serbian. “Svetlana, I’m so sorry. After all you have been through. It is me that should be helping you.”
She smiled sweetly “No mind. Last night I love cuddle you. Help me too.”
She reached forward and kissed me again.
She had been patient so I answered her.
I took both her hands in mine, and in her own language I told her.
“I think I fell in love with you when we first met on the train. I wanted you this morning when I woke and found you beside me. You are right, I have felt that it would be wrong of me to take advantage of you.”
I paused, but she waited patiently, knowing there was more.
“Up until yesterday, I couldn’t believe that there would ever be anyone else for me but Christine. Since you walked into my life I now know that there can be, and that I want that person to be you.”
I kissed her gently, and she said slowly “My heart is glad you love me. You need time? I give. I love you.”
We kissed again. This time a gentle kiss, a kiss of trust, but an implicit promise and understanding that there would be more, much, much more.
I looked at my watch. “It’s 3:00. Do you want to freshen up before Katya comes?”
“Plis, and try lovely clothes.”
I laughed “OK, I need to change also.”
She went into her bedroom, and after a short while I heard her start to sing. I couldn’t understand the broad strange dialect, but the song was of passion and love, of that I was no doubt, and her voice was strong and passionate to match.
I went into my room, and catching my eye immediately was a small posy of miniature red roses in a small vase on my bedside table. A neat tag was tied with a small ribbon around the vase with a simple but so expressive “X” followed by “S”.
I ran a bath, undressed and slid fully into it and lay there soaking blissfully, listening to the rich Slavic tones in her voice.
The water was tepid when I got out, dried and shaved. Svetlana was singing still. This time a more delicate, tinkling song, and her voice had changed too, with a pure, sweet gentle tone that would have sent a baby to sleep, and which caressed me too.
I set out the dining table with my best china, a couple of notebooks and a portable recorder. I cut a few rounds of sandwiches, stacked up a bowl with Scottish Shortbread, and had just filled the kettle when the doorbell rang.
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