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Early August, 76AD

Ovinia frowned, studying the inscriptions as she roamed the halls of the Mausoleum. Her father had chosen the venue for this meeting and had agonised over the location; he wanted somewhere formal enough that she didn't seem a silly young girl, but not stuffy. He wanted it to be in public so - despite her retinue of two slaves - no rumours of impropriety would follow her, but he didn't want somewhere crowded. Eventually he'd settled on the Mausoleum, and Ovinia had begrudgingly agreed and trekked (in her litter) halfway across the city to the venue.

She was fashionably early and the crowds of tourists and such from the morning had departed, leaving a handful of clustered families and acquaintances wandering the halls. She numbered among them, with her bodyslave and a male household slave following behind her a few paces back. 

She wasn't sure what she was expecting from this meeting. The dinner definitely hadn't been a disaster but nor had it gone as well as some previous meetings with potential partners. She couldn't read Gaius much at all, and despite Tullus' firm words that he was a good, kind, pleasant man, Ovinia hadn't been able to get much of a read on him beyond the pleasantries they'd exchanged. She blamed his brother for that, and the awkwardness that had pervaded the evening. Hence - this time, they were alone. Or as alone as was proper.

She shrugged her palla closer around her shoulders as she moved through the draughty halls. Despite it being the height of summer and roasting outside in here she was feeling the chill and regretted wearing such a thin chiton, ornate and expensive though it was. She cast a glance around the halls, eyes narrowed and trying to spot him before moving on to the next inscription. 

 

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The Mausoleum wasn't a place that Gaius would have picked for a romantic meeting for two. On the other hand, it wasn't supposed to be a romantic meeting per se, and on the third hand Gaius wouldn't be able to come up with anywhere as good for a private meeting that couldn't have even a hint of impropriety about it.

He supposed it was a wonder that Ovinia Camilla had agreed to a second meeting (or that her brother hadn't put her father off wanting one) - the dinner had only narrowly avoided being a disaster, after all.

"Remind me not to have any more private dinners with Lucius around unless there's more than two other guests," he said, allowing Cassander to fuss with his pallium until it was arranged to their mutual satisfaction. The deep terracotta colour of his tunic and the dark green of the pallium that Cassander had finally finished arranging both demonstrated his wealth in the evenness of the dye and the saturation of the colour. The sand colour of Cassander's tunic was a perfect counterpoint.

The walk from the Piscina Publica to the Campus Martius to their arranged meeting-point took the pair of them through some of the busiest parts of the city, and Gaius would not have been surprised to have found his brother at any of the stalls they passed, turning his hand to being a leather-worker or date seller or something equally as plebeian and embarrassing.

It was not to be, thank all the gods - either Lucius had developed some sense, or he was at a stall in another part of the city.

And now to wander around the Mausoleum, taking in inscriptions to past and divine Emperors until he ran into Ovinia. Hopefully not literally...

"Domine," Cassander said from behind his right shoulder - at least he could trust someone in his house to be where they were supposed to be, doing what they were expected to do. He turned, enough to see his body slave indicate a lady with two slaves following her, and nodded in acknowledgement before directing his steps to intercept her.

"Lady Ovinia, what a pleasant surprise to meet you here," he said, once he was close enough to talk.

 

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Ovinia feigned surprise and blinked, glancing up to see Gaius. She flourished him with a wide smile and inclined her head, chuckling. "Yes, such a surprise." Stop being sarcastic, you idiot. 

Folding her hands in front of her waist, she surveyed him just for the briefest of moments. He was dressed to impress and judging by the well turned out slave behind his shoulder, he wasn't going to brook anything improper. Which was a relief. Her heart rate had only really just settled after her moment of madness at Neptunalia a week or so prior. No, what she needed was a nice, normal, uncomplicated, proper conversation with a proper Roman man. She just...had to figure out what to say. Usually these sorts of meetings followed a pre-determined script, but she'd half-gotten that out of the way at their awkward dinner. She'd never really had to do this before and she hesitated for a moment, before turning her attention back to the inscription. 

"Am I a very poor Roman woman given that this is the first time I've been here?" She shot him a sly smile, "I'm sure things like visiting the Augustus' mausoleum is some sort of requirement for citizens..." 

 

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"I hope it isn't," Gaius managed, startled, and managed a smile of his own. "I mean, I've been to the Campus Martius plenty of times, but this is the first time I've been here, I think."

If he was supposed to come right out with some impressive fact about this tomb or that inscription, he'd just blown it. He could practically hear Cassander rolling his eyes - and if Lucius heard about this, he'd never live it down.

"I suppose that means we ought to do our duty and explore to fulfil our obligation, then?" he said. "We can't have anyone thinking that you aren't the very best example of Roman womanhood, can we?"

 

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Ovinia was relieved she hadn't completely put her foot in it and laughed, nodding. "Precisely. At least we're not meeting at Livia's portico, now there's a Roman woman nobody can live up to..." 

The mausoleum was arranged in a circle that meandered its way to the golden urns at its centre. She started at a leisurely pace, her slaves now falling into step with his own, behind them. "Thank you for agreeing to meet," She offered as they walked, glancing up at him, "Sorry - we can keep the pretence of this being a spontaneous meeting if you'd rather..." she chuckled.

 

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"Why pretend when we both know it was arranged?" Gaius said, consciously having to shorten his stride to keep from outpacing her. "I must apologise for my brother, the other day," he added, very aware that she probably thought the worst of him despite this second meeting, just because of Lucius' outlandish behaviour.

"He means well, but..." He shrugged. "I don't think he quite knows when to stop - he seems to have got stuck at the age of fifteen or so, permanently."

If she had refused to see either of them again after that dinner, Gaius honestly wouldn't have blamed her for it.

 

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Ovinia couldn't hide the surprise on her face as Gaius mentioned his brother. She blinked and tried very hard to school her expression into one of neutrality. "Oh..." She swallowed, "You don't need to apologise." She said after a pregnant pause, shaking her head. 

"I met him before our dinner, and saw him briefly at Neptunalia," and that was all that would be said about the latter, "He is very...irreverant," She chuckled, trying to put the man next to her at ease, "But he speaks very highly of you. And given I myself was a teenager not so long ago," And still was, technically, "If you think he's as mature as a fifteen year old and is still praising you?" She grinned, "Then you must be quite someone indeed." She hoped the flattery would distract from the way her cheeks coloured slightly. 

"It must have been hard," She offered - trying to turn the conversation back onto himself, "To have to leave him and your sister for Britannia?"

 

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"It's never easy to leave people you love, especially when you know you're going to be away for a year or more," Gaius confessed. This conversation seemed already so much easier than that dinner had been. 

"Irreverent is a... very good description, actually. I daresay he means well, but there's no gravitas to him." Gaius sighed. That was, perhaps, the biggest issue.

It was nice to hear that Lucius thought well of him, though he would never have guessed it.

"And do any of your brothers act so... Irreverently? I would guess not, but do you have a younger brother, or are they all older than you?" He didn't know how to discover whether they had anything in common - rolling their eyes over Lucius would only work for so long, after all.

 

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Gravitas was important to Gaius. Noted. She liked to consider herself a serious person and not beleaguered with the same childish and girlish pastimes as some of her contemporaries...but if her performance at Neptunalia was anything to go by, she hadn't quite shaken off her youth. That was to be expected though, she supposed, given she was the youngest in her family and the only daughter.

She chuckled at his comment, shaking her head. "Not quite like your own, but several of them have had their youthful follies...much as they try and claim they've always been serious, decent men." She flashed a smile at Gaius, amused. "They're all older. Tullus, you know, is my half-brother on my mothers side...then I have Gaius who's thirty, Lucius who is approaching thirty and Tertius, who's twenty..." She frowned, trying to remember his birth year, "Twenty-four, I want to say?" She smiled again, "And then me at nineteen. I think I was a bit of a surprise." She chuckled. And a wanted one, she knew that much. Sons were expensive and not all of them could go into the senate...daughters, despite their cost, were useful for marriages - as her father had said. 

 

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"I would say, you have my commiserations, but I'm the eldest and can't empathise at all," Gaius told her. "Or is it sympathise? Well, I can feel sorry for you without completely understanding what it's like to have older siblings, whichever way round it is. He smiled. "And you see - I am not totally serious myself all the time. I hope you weren't expecting some hoary decrepit old Senator when you accepted my invitation the other day."

Though he probably seemed ancient and decrepit when compared to Lucius. Not that he didn't love his brother, he just wished they were a little more similar with more in common than they seemed to have.

She was nineteen, though... That made him nearly twice her age. Now, there was something almost guaranteed to make him feel ancient and decrepit!

"In my family, it's just me at thirty-five, my married sister who's thirty and Lucius who's twenty-three according to the calendar, even if he acts eight years younger."

 

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Ovinia laughed, her hair falling over her shoulder as she did. She flashed him a grin as it settled into chuckles, shaking her head. "I don't know what I was expecting," She admitted, "But I can confidently say you are not it." She did know what she was expecting before the dinner - a goaty, angry little man who badgered his brother into submission. The relief that Gaius appeared to be the farthest thing possible from that could not be underestimated. "And that's a compliment." She added for good measure. 

She arched a brow and studied him as he ran through his family. Thirty-five appeared to be the average age of most of her suitors - poor Teutus being the exception - and so that didn't phase her. That there was twelve years between him and his brother though was interesting. She was going to ask if Lucius was as much an accident as herself, but decided fairly promptly that that was most definitely not the sort of question you asked in polite company. 

"With the gap in your ages I imagine it sometimes feels less like he's your brother and more like he's your responsibility?" She ventured with an arched brow, "At least that's how Tullus has described me in moments of irritation." She chuckled. "But I suppose we're not here to talk about your brother," She ventured forth with confidence, "Is there anything in particular you wish to learn about me?" She'd had these sorts of meetings what felt like a million times, and in her experience it was better to get the basics out of the way at the start. 

 

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"Oh, that is a very good way of putting it! Yes, I do feel that he's my responsibility rather than my brother, though he doesn't exactly help that. I sometimes think he feels I'm an antagonist rather than a brother, or something." He turned to look at her - perfectly turned out, expensively dressed... "I don't know how your brother comes to the same conclusion about you, though, unless it's simply the differences between men and women that he can't fathom." Gods knew there were enough of those to keep anyone puzzled.

"What do you like to do? Stay in, go out, go shopping, go sightseeing?"

How in the world were men and women supposed to negotiate this tangle of their very different spheres enough to build a solid marriage? Gaius supposed that was why the majority of marriages in their social stratum were arranged by the parents.

 

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"Such is the lot of parents and elder siblings...or so I'm told." She chuckled. Gaius certainly didn't seem like an antagonist to her. Caring, and honest. That's what she'd got from their two short conversations thus far. But also proper. She liked it - it suited her own sense of propriety and need for things to be just so, but she could see why Lucius railed against it with his odd quirks and irritating charisma. "And yes," She let out a melodic little laugh, "Let's say it's that, and nothing more." In truth she always got on with her brothers and her parents. She was a good girl after all. But intrigue was a trick she'd picked up from her friends who had husbands; always leave them guessing about you...

"A little of both," She answered honestly as they walked on, "But I like music." She offered a smile, "More than shopping or sightseeing. There's performers at Livia's Portico I like to go and watch, or in the markets. There's something quite evocative about listening to a singer or a musician as the world moves around you..." She glanced up at him to gauge his reaction and offered an easy smile. "Simple pleasures. Beyond that - I...suppose I like what every woman my age likes...I'd like to travel, if my future allows that I do. I like to see friends and the games..." She shrugged with a wry smile, "I suppose I'm  not that interesting. And you?" She tilted her head to the side, coming to pause in front of an inscription, "What does a man like you enjoy, Gaius?" 

 

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"Music is a great pleasure, isn't it?" he said. To listen good singer or musician was a very enjoyable experience, after all, and one he did not get to indulge as often as he might have liked.

"You would like to travel?" he said, looking down at her. "Is there anywhere in particular you would like to see, or does the place not matter so much as the journey there?" He couldn't help shrugging at her question. "Politics is work, of course. I like reading, or listening to someone else read, if they can do it well. I would quite like to see some more of the Empire - places like Ephesus and Antioch would be interesting, I think, and Alexandria, although senators aren't allowed to go to Egypt ever since Mark Antony went and set himself up with Cleopatra."

 Mark Antony probably wasn't the best subject to mention even in passing, not in this place dedicated to Augustus and his descendants, and Gaius gave the inscription an apologetic look.

 

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Ovinia looked delighted for a moment, that he should seem to share her interest in music. Most men merely grunted or said something akin to 'how nice'. Even if Gaius was being polite and didn't actually care a fig, at least he was engaging her in a topic of conversation of her choosing. She nodded; "It is. I sing myself some," She swallowed a lump in her throat, "Privately, of course." Unless your brother goads me into doing so in public. 

Nodding as they walked on, "Not the journey - the destination. I've only ever been to Greece, during the Civil War and I was just a girl - I don't remember it much." She sighed, "I suppose I'd like to see anywhere different. Hispania, perhaps. I have relatives there, or so I'm told." She glanced across hopefully at him. "And fear not, I have no interest in Egypt." She added with a wry, flirtatious smile. 

 

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"I can hardly imagine a well-born lady such as yourself wanting to sing in public," he said. That sort of thing was best left to slaves, or free buskers - there were people who sang for money in places like the Forum, after all. Pleasant enough to listen to for a few minutes of time and a coin or two, but not at all the sort of pastime for someone such as Ovinia.

Which meant that Gaius could be absolutely certain his brother had tried his hand at it once or twice, when he was sure he wouldn't get beaten up by a busker's ex-gladiator boyfriend or the like.

"Greece would be interesting, of course - the birthplace of civilisation, or so they say. Egypt is equally old but far more... outlandish and foreign." It was possible to see Egyptians in Rome, of course, and some of them looked very exotic indeed with their kohl and dark hair, and that was just the males.

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Ovinia was grateful for the gentle rouge she'd applied that morning, for it masked the genuine blush of embarrassment at the thought of singing in public. If Lucius Vipsanius Roscius was stood before her now, she'd wring his bloody neck. 

"Mhmm." She commented lightly with a slight nod. She had only a limited interest in old or outlandish or foreign things. It was fun to look at for a time; like a good gladiatorial fight, but not something she exactly wanted to live with. An awkward silence settled between them and she bit down on her lower lip, trying to draw another conversation strand together. She usually went through a solid routine with potential spouses, but Gaius was already more engaging and they had rattled through most of her conversation starters. She swallowed, thinking for something. What did she want to know about a potential life partner? 

"I suppose I shouldn't ask this," She chuckled as they moved around, "And you'll have to forgive my forthrightness, but I suppose it would be good to know what you see as important in a wife?" They knew exactly why they were here, and beating around the bush was a fools game. "Minding the home and children, and nothing more?" That had certainly been the answer she'd received from one man, long since kicked to the kerb.

 

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"What do I think is important in a wife?"  That was a good question, one that Gaius had thought about though not enough to be able to answer it immediately. "Well, the home and children are important, of course, but I don't think that's enough of a foundation for a marriage, not if it's going to last without the husband or wife wanting a divorce or something. It's nice to be able to have a conversation that isn't just domestic, I think. Some sort shared interest helps, though I know it's not really encouraged for women to study history or philosophy or whatever, which is silly. Because if they can't, what's left apart from minding the home and children?"

He would like to know what Ovinia did enjoy, apart from music - or was music her only outlet apart from weaving and whatever other feminine pursuits there were.

"You said you like music... do you prefer the cithara or the double pipes, or something else?"

 

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Ovinia listened, and felt herself wince. Shared interests. Right. She glanced sideways and up at his face, trying to draw together a tangent of a mutual interest. He said he found music a pleasure, so there was that. But beyond that...her mind was drawing a blank. He was older than her, had different worries and priorities and relationships with his siblings. She'd been coddled from birth, and left out of much of the concern and dynamics around politics than his own sister had, most probably. She felt inadequacy rise in her chest. "I was taught some philosophy." She added weakly. Although not much, and she'd never paid much attention to the tutor who had done her father a favour by offering to extend his lesson to her. 

"To listen to?" She arched a brow, "The cithara. Or the lute. There's a player from Greece as well, on the lyre who was doing the rounds at the great houses of Rome a few months ago, who was impressive. I just...find it soothing." She shrugged, being honest, "I close my eyes when I listen and can see things..." She chuckled, rolling her eyes, "I know that makes me sound mad. But you know how some people enjoy reading? And they talk about the vivid images they get when they read of the story or the plot and the characters? I understand that when I listen to music. I see the ocean or fields and harvests and people and," She shrugged again, feeling more than a little embarrassed - she hadn't meant to get so personal and a flush coloured her cheeks, "And I suppose that sounds very odd." 

Clearing her throat and trying to divert attention away from herself, she glanced up at him again. "I'm afraid if we are to meet again though Gaius Vipsanius, you shall need to educate me on your work and politics so we can converse. My brothers have been rather lacking in that regard." She gave him a conspiratorial smile, and tried to push down the inadequacy. 

 

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How in the world were men supposed to talk with women they didn't know? How were they supposed to form any sort of connection when their worlds and interests were so vastly different? If Ovinia wasn't interested solely in children and running a house, Gaius was drawing a total blank on what she might be interested in, other than music - and while he liked listening to musicians, he was hardly likely to pick up an instrument himself.

"That doesn't sound odd at all," he assured her. "Isn't music supposed to invoke a mood or make you think of certain things, after all?" He gave her a reassuring smile as she continued speaking.

"I will be thirty-six next year, and will run for aedile - they're the magistrate responsible for looking after the temples and public buildings and organising the games. Technically, I don't have to be an aedile to run for any of the other political offices, but it doesn't hurt." And maybe he might even rise to the consulship in time, as his former legate's friend had done.

It was perfectly possible, anyway - if only his brother's strange habits and interests didn't end up harming his chances.

 

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She let out a breath, relieved that she hadn't sounded too moronic to him. Most men weren't interested in hearing about her hobbies so when he had pressed further, she panicked and come out with gibberish. At least he was polite enough not to dwell on it, and instead took her diversion by taking about his aspirations. 

"An aedile in charge of public buildings and yet you've never visited the Mausoleum before?" she gave him an amused smile, "I shall promise not to smear your campaign by broadcasting such a shameful fact." She chuckled, "And after that?" She pressed on as they walked through the circles that made up the space until the other crowds drifted away. "My father has been a praetor for most of my life, he seems content to settle there." She considered Gaius and decided flattery was a good option; "You do not strike me as the...settling sort though." 

 

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"Well, technically, the Mausoleum is the Mausoleum Augustorum," Gaius pointed out. "There are a great many temples in Rome, and there's a large number of those that I haven't visited, either. But they give aediles a region or two of the city, so that you don't have every aedile overseeing every temple, only those in the regions they oversee. Otherwise you'd have everyone falling over themselves to guild the roof of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus and the Temple of Aesculapius on Tiber Island would end up with its roof falling in because it's not considered so important."

Of course she probably hadn't realised that, and his tone wasn't a lecturing one by any means, rather a light-hearted one, sharing a joke.

"The full cursus runs queastor, aedile, praetor, consul, though technically aedile isn't actually part of it - a former quaestor can become praetor without being an aedile, and there have been praetors who became aediles later. Of course, as a man gets higher and higher, there are fewer positions open - we only have two consuls but there are twenty praetors, for instance." He looked at her, wondering if she would like to become the wife of a politician. "And those who have held the rank of praetor or consul are then eligible to be provincial governors - Calpurnius Praetextatus was the governor of Raetia until last year, or the year before."

Would she be happy to be the wife of the man governing some province somewhere? Possibly not, from what little he knew of her.

 

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"Have you ever been to Tiber Island?" She chuckled, "The roof is the least of your worries if you're given that region." She was trying to make a joke, but was sure it fell flat. She usually had no issues conversing or gently flirting or navigating the awkward world of potential matches, but Gaius was different. Maybe it was because he was a little older than a lot of the men she met, or because he had lived a full life and had ambition and the way he asked his questions...as if he wanted more from a wife than somebody to mind his home and bear his children. That was what she had been bred for; anything outside of that was unfamiliar territory for her. 

She listened intently, humming 'mhmms' at appropriate spots. She knew the Consul - or rather, knew his wife. She'd attended her book club once or twice but found the woman and the gathering dry and dull and hadn't returned in months. Maybe she should. "And you have such an aim?" He had beaten around the bush, but it was clear in the way he spoke that he wasn't going to be a man that rested on his laurels at a rank when he thought he could achieve more. "You can tell me," She chuckled, "I'm not going to go brandishing it all over the city that Gaius Vipsanius Roscius wants to be a Consul or a Governor. I can be discrete." 

 

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"I would like to reach at least praetor, I think," he said. He really wasn't sure he had the ambition or talent for consul; Calpurnius Praetextatus was a wise and intelligent man and Gaius wasn't at all sure he would be similarly suitable for the role. But when had suitability or its lack ever stopped an ambitious Roman before?

"What do you like doing? Apart from visiting the tombs of long-dead Emperors and their wives, that is." He could manage a smile for her, it was genuine curiosity that had prompted the question.

He wasn't sure how women of their class liked to spend their time; he was fairly sure that 'shopping' would be on most women's lists, but other than that, they were as foreign to him as Parthia was.

This was probably why the vast majority of marriages were arranged; gods knew he was horribly bad at figuring out what he wanted in a wife and whether Ovinia would make him a good wife really - how suited were they when it came down to personalities and interests?

 

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"You should speak to my father." Ovinia commented mildly. He'd been a Praetor as long as she could recall, really. He'd settled at the post and enjoyed it, as far as she could tell from the lectures her brothers received most cena's. "He'd be happy to talk you through the role, I'm sure. Even if," She quickly tried to find the right words, "Things here don't...progress." She chuckled a little. Her father was a rigid man, a stickler for formality and propriety but he was good to his core and undoubtedly would like the flattery of a younger man asking his experience and expertise. 

Arching a brow, she glanced sideways at him. "You've already asked me that." Gods had they really circled all the conversation topics they could between unmarried men and women? Her lips quirked in a sly smile though and she laughed, hinting that she was only teasing. "But I don't have huge amounts of time. My mother has been unwell, and I'm the only other woman in my father's house so I run it when she can't." Which was most of the time now when her pain flared. "Managing the slaves, greeting his clients, running the household goods and things." she shrugged, it was good practice for her own household if nothing else, although she supposed she had all of the pressure of being materfamilias with none of the benefits of a husband to support her; just a quarrelsome and demanding father. 

"But outside of that; sightseeing, travelling to the villa, music as I've said and socialising, I suppose." Gods was that really all there was to her?

 

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