52 comments

Fiction Sad Drama

This story contains sensitive content

Content warning: Mentions of miscarriage


"You should read The Light Between Oceans," someone will tell you, six months after you miscarry. They won't know what you know now, the myriad ways your own minefield of a body can betray you. You'll stand by the stove preparing dinner, the landline cradled between your shoulder and ear, and feel the steam from the boiling water scald your face. You'll watch the bubbles rise from the bottom to kiss the surface while your friend goes into detail about the novel.


"The couple in that book had two miscarriages and a stillbirth," she'll say, as though it's some kind of competition, as though the book isn't fictional, as though grief can be quantified. "Can you imagine that?"


Begrudgingly, half of you will pay attention to your friend; the other half will be listening—though you'll never admit it to yourself, to anyone—for the frenzied footfalls on the other side of the phone, the lively lilts of lullabies, the sibilant sounds of someone practicing their ABCs. The last time you spoke with your friend, just as you were preheating the oven to cook garlic bread, you heard that coveted word in the background, high-pitched and desperate: Mama. It hit you like a hurricane, made you recoil. The landline landed in a pot of pasta sauce. You picked it up, red and dripping, apologized to your friend, told her you had to get dinner started for your husband. That night, the two of you ate takeout.


"You should talk to someone," a different friend is going to say, three months after it happens. You'll both be sitting at the local coffeehouse, inhaling the aroma of dark roast and watching the rain sluice down on pedestrians. By then, you'll already be an expert at reading between the lines, well-versed in finding the subtext in people's well-intentioned advice. You'll know what your friend means: You should talk to someone else.


"It's been three months," he'll say, as though grief can be quantified. He'll take a gulp of his double-shot espresso and you'll take a sip of your fruit juice. A force of habit—sometimes you'll forget you're back to drinking for one, that it's fine to have caffeine, if you want. You won't ever want to.


The last time you drank caffeine was at your baby shower. When your friend offers the name of his therapist, that's what you'll be thinking about—the cupcakes and the balloons and the decorations, all hot pink. You'll spend countless nights thinking about that day, remembering how everyone raised their wine glasses, so sure of something so uncertain, when your husband proposed a toast. "To baby Ava," he said, and everyone drank. You smiled, because the name was your idea, and took a sip of Coca-Cola, the closest drink to you at the time. The bubbles burned your throat and tingled your gums and filled your stomach. You swore you felt the baby kick.


You'll wonder, later, about things. If that sugar-sweet sip of soda, your one transgression in the months of water and juice and milk, was what did it. You'll wonder how something could take up so much space inside you, in your body and your mind and your heart, and then, one month later, leave you hollow. Empty.


Before you leave the coffeehouse, before you throw half your juice in the trashcan, your friend will scribble the therapist's information down on his receipt and pass it to you. Thanking him, you'll offer a broken smile as you glance at the name on the paper: Ava Brooks.


"You shouldn't blame yourself for it," your doctor will say during your follow up appointment, a month after it happens. Her words will sound hopeful, but you won't feel uplifted. She'll scoot her rolling stool closer to you and touch your arm and look you in the eye.


"Listen, you did nothing wrong. These things can just happen. For women your age, it's about a fifteen percent chance," she'll assure you, as though grief can be quantified.


Still, she'll run some tests, do an ultrasound, have your blood drawn. You won't mind the phlebotomist's needle as it lances your vein. You won't feel a thing. You'll be too busy remembering the blood and the cramping on the day your life changed. The way you thought you were being punished for something, and the price you paid for the pain to stop.


"You should take the rest of the week off," your boss will say when you call him the morning after it happens, a Thursday. Then he'll regrettably apprise you of the fact that the company doesn't do bereavement for this type of circumstance, so he can't pay you if you do. As though grief can be quantified.


"Take it easy and try to enjoy yourself." You'll cringe when he says that, like you're going on a vacation.


It's only two days off work, but you'll take it. You'll make plans to go shopping, catch a matinee, take a walk in the park to clear your head. You can imagine it: Strolling through the shopaholic streets of downtown, seeing everything and buying nothing. Watching a Nicholas Sparks movie alone in the theater, ensconced in darkness and heartbreak. Sitting on the edge of the park's fountain, feeling the water spurt up and mist over your body.


Instead, you'll actually spend those two days, and the rest of that weekend, sequestered inside your house. The only shopping you'll do is picking out different television networks. There will be no Nicholas Sparks movies to choose from, no running water strong enough to cleanse you.


But you will try. All of it.


You'll try the book your friend recommended, but put it back on the shelf before the stillbirth part, unable to differentiate yourself from the childless heroine.


You'll try meeting with Ava Brooks, the therapist, sprawl out on her lumpy chaise lounge, and even manage to last a few sessions before proclaiming yourself to be miraculously cured and cancelling all future appointments.


You'll try not blaming yourself, but it wasn't your husband's fault and you stopped believing in God long ago, so somebody will have to take the fall.


You'll try enjoying yourself, but realize that it's harder than it looks now. You will go shopping, but you'll find yourself drawn to the maternity clothes. You will go to the theater, but leave halfway through the movie when you sense a happy ending coming. You'll visit the park too late in the year and find the fountain dry.


But you will try it all because, on the day your lives were upended, your husband helped you into bed, and when you woke up, the bathroom floor was spotless and lemon-scented.


Because he bought you your favorite gourmet chocolates and takeout and a Nicholas Sparks movie, and anything else you asked of him.


Because the only thing he said that day was: "You should tell me how I can help you."


Because, unlike everyone else, he wasn't giving you advice when he told you that. He was waiting for you to help him so he could help you.


Maybe you were waiting too.

April 23, 2022 03:19

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52 comments

Michał Przywara
19:04 Apr 24, 2022

Great story! Sad, certainly, and the subject of miscarriage is a devastating one. Still, the story ends on a hopeful note. It's not about healing, but it's about building up to where healing might be possible. And that's the thing I really like about this story, the theme. The whole time I was reading it, each time a friend or professional offered their advice, I saw "both sides". The protagonist's resignation, that polite-but-distant "yes, thank you, I didn't ask for advice but I guess you mean well," and the fact that the other party *did...

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Zack Powell
20:33 Apr 24, 2022

Thank you, thank you, Michał, for such a thoughtful, detailed comment. You're a great reader -- knew exactly what was going on with the theme and the story being more about the possibilities for healing. Also, I know you've told me you're a software developer (I still can't believe you're not an editor), but if you ever feel like doing something else, I bet you'd make a killer anthropologist with this kind of analysis. Seriously, you're very knowledgeable about people and why they do what they do. Glad to see your thoughts on this subject m...

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Shea West
01:15 Apr 25, 2022

Michal, I'd like to hire you as a Doula for my agency. Because yes to all of that!!

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J.C. Lovero
12:51 Apr 23, 2022

Zack, Pen pal friend extraordinaire, you've done it again. You've tugged at my heartstrings. I really like how you started six months after the shattering moment and worked backward. It was a nice way to create tension as we moved closer and closer to what happened. Very nice technique there. As always, your prose is exquisite. It has a literary quality that makes me jealous every time I read it. Someday, I will learn to write as beautifully as you 😍 🥰 😘 Not really much else for me to say here except I loved it (I've yet to read a story ...

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Zack Powell
15:15 Apr 23, 2022

J.C.! Thanks for the compliment on the six-months-backwards structure. It was the only format I could think of to keep myself on track for the narrative, so I'm glad it did its job. And I'll trade you the ability to write literary prose if you trade me your ability to write fantasy 😬. Urban, medieval, literally any kind - I'm desperate to learn the secret of how to do it! I wrote this yesterday, a few hours before the deadline (i.e. after I read your story for the week), and I'm thinking now the Nicholas Sparks reference and happy ending l...

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J.C. Lovero
15:29 Apr 23, 2022

Shoot. I forgot to congratulate you on reaching a Reedsy milestone... page 2. 🥳 🎉🥂 Here's to page 3

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Zack Powell
15:40 Apr 23, 2022

To page 2, and many more! 🎉🥂

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Riel Rosehill
05:27 Apr 23, 2022

I'm sure this is news to absolutely no one but god, I'm so in love with the way you write! At the very start I copied the sentence "They won't know what you know now, the myriad ways your own minefield of a body can betray you." Because it hits home and it is beautiful... But then I realized I can't just copy paste every sentence to fangirl over. The whole piece is beautiful - just masterful, stunning, lyrical prose. And 2nd person made a come back! Before Reedsy I never realized its potential... It was definitely the right choice for this ...

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J.C. Lovero
12:45 Apr 23, 2022

I'm sure this is news to absolutely no one but god (news flash gurl, willing to bet that he/she knows too. just saying...) 😋 😛 😝 😜 🤪

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Riel Rosehill
12:54 Apr 23, 2022

Good I've got nothing to hide x"D

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Zack Powell
06:35 Apr 23, 2022

I'll be honest: You were the one I had in mind when I wrote the minefield line, which was directly inspired by your "TMI" story from last month. 😂 I'm shameless, I know, using your writing for inspiration on this type of subject matter like that. I was 100% sure 2nd person POV was retired, but hey, contest deadlines force you to do some crazy stuff, am I right? Plus, second person is a nice excuse to cross future tense off my writers' bucket list (that FOR SURE is getting retired with this story, LOL). And I've got a bet going (with myself...

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Riel Rosehill
06:47 Apr 23, 2022

Aww I'm happy I can be useful inspiration :D Also, nice one with the future tense! I don't think I've ever done that, but it's definitely something for the future (LOL) You'll have to tell me which prompt you mean, I'm curious! I've not even decided yet..!

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Zack Powell
07:09 Apr 23, 2022

I do NOT recommend future tense, LOL. It was an absolute nightmare trying to get everything to line up, hence my late posting of this story (and also, you know me and deadlines don't get along). And I'm thinking the "friendship involving two species" prompt seems right up your alley, what with your story about the lizard men (I know they were both lizard people; I'm just saying you're really good at writing non-human characters), and ESPECIALLY the Selaphiel stories (I'M creatively classifying angels as a species different than humans, so i...

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Riel Rosehill
07:17 Apr 23, 2022

Oooh that reminds me I already have the draft for my next Selaphiel story..! And you're right I was eying up that prompt, haha. But maybe it's too soon for another one 🤔 PS: I know how late you started writing your story this week so I'm genuinely impressed you got it done by the deadline, and on top of that, it's so good!

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Zack Powell
07:49 Apr 23, 2022

👀 Another Selaphiel story, you say? On the bright side (no pun intended), you at least have a contingency plan this week, if all else fails. Just slap some angels on it and call it a day, LOL. (Maaaaybe too soon, but it's always in your back pocket.) And thank you! This piece was my backup, backup plan, because the other two stories were going to be too long to finish by the deadline, so it's nice to hear it's actually decent.

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Patrick Samuel
16:11 Jun 24, 2022

Zack, I think I mentioned how restraint gets to me more than melodrama, and how going against the grain will get me more than anything else. That ending is all this: while love and hope finally show their faces tentatively, like animals after a storm, the delivery is dry and unsentimental (unlike my simile) and all the more moving for it. It's striking how well you have captured the everyday inferno of mourning, from the well-meaning platitudes that can make you rethink a friendship to the smallest triggers waiting in ambush day and night. ...

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Zack Powell
05:13 Jun 25, 2022

Thank you as always for this, Patrick. I don't always succeed at keeping melodrama out of my stories, but I try. You're right. I've (thankfully) never experienced this type of situation firsthand - the same goes for most of my stories, now that I think about it - but I really enjoy writing about these types of situations and seeing how people navigate them. Resilience fascinates me. I feel like I've become more empathetic myself from writing these stories.

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Sharon Hancock
01:39 May 02, 2022

This is so beautifully written with so much empathy and emotion that it sounds like a personal experience. Nicolas Sparks is a great go to for processing sadness and melancholy. I love the ending especially…how you brought them back around to help each other through it. I always learn when I read your stories. You seem to work at challenging yourself to write a variety of ways and you truly excel at all of them. 😻

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Aeris Walker
18:29 Apr 29, 2022

The entire mood of this story felt, (fittingly) like a cold, rainy day. My heart went out to the main character and I cringed at all the ways people tried to help. It’s quite obvious you have empathy in abundance and understand how grieving people feel. Well done.

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11:30 Apr 29, 2022

Zack, this was beautiful, and you have such an amazing ability to summon emotions. Your prose is so smooth it's like it melts off the page into my brain. Well done. :)

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03:30 Apr 28, 2022

It’s not only the fact that you can successfully write a story in both second person POV and in future tense, it’s the fact that you can do all that and still pull my heartstrings. You really made my feel the emotion of the character, the heartbreak in the situation. Miscarriage is such a devastating topic that you handled with such grace and understanding. This is such a beautiful story from a fantastic writer!

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Zack Powell
17:13 Apr 28, 2022

Thank you for the kindness, Ella! It's always nice to hear that the emotions of the story can affect the reader. Thank you, thank you.

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23:28 Apr 27, 2022

Beautifully sad. Like I literally shed a tear. I've never experienced a miscarriage, thank God, but everything you described applies to all loss. Well-meaning friends and family all try to help, but really don't know how or what to say. Having someone just sit with your, hold your hand in the silence is sometimes the best thing to do in those moments. But whether you receive that or not, the only thing to heal the pain is time. Thank you for this raw story.

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Zack Powell
01:38 Apr 28, 2022

Thank you very much for this comment (and a belated I'm sorry for making you cry). You got it exactly right - being well-meaning/helpful can be a lot more complicated and nuanced than it looks, sometimes nigh-impossible. Time is the biggest healer of them all. Thank you for reading this one.

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S. Thomson
14:11 Apr 27, 2022

Wow, this was an incredibly moving story. You have a great talent for sensory language when it comes to small detail and although I have no experience with this heavy topic, this story really affected me. "sibilant sounds of someone" is of course brilliant. "You'll visit the park too late in the year and find the fountain dry" was heartbreaking. You have a great talent for observation, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story.

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Zack Powell
01:32 Apr 28, 2022

Thank you very much for the kind comment, S, and especially for noting the fountain line. That's the one I was hoping would hit the most.

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L.M. Lydon
17:14 Apr 26, 2022

This was such a poignant story. The way you run through the many different affronts (bordering on microaggressions) the narrator experiences is an incredibly effective way to drive home how an emotional wound can be reopened again and again, even by well-intentioned people. The turn at the ending is also deeply moving.

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Zack Powell
00:51 Apr 27, 2022

Thank you very much, L.M. You got it just right - I couldn't have said it any better myself.

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L. Maddison
14:43 Apr 24, 2022

I was really moved by the grief in this story, and the sense of isolation in the face of ‘helpful’ interventions. The hint of connection and comfort provided by the husband is beautiful.

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Zack Powell
19:23 Apr 24, 2022

Thank you very much, L. I'm glad the isolation translated to the page.

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Kelsey H
11:18 Apr 24, 2022

I know from reading your other stories you are an amazing writer and really get human emotions and relationships, but I was still impressed (and a bit surprised tbh), that you could get so believably into the head of a woman who has miscarried. This subject is close to home for me, and you really picked up on so many things - the guilt and trying to find a reason for what has happened, the well meaning people saying clunky things and recommending terrible books and movies, the hurt of seeing other parents with their children, doing normal th...

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Zack Powell
20:53 Apr 24, 2022

I think this is the longest comment I've ever received on here, so thank you for putting so much time and thought and care and effort into writing this, Kelsey! Just made my whole day. And I'm happy to know I did the subject matter justice - I'd hate to be insensitive on a topic like this (with which I have limited experience). I'm right there with you on 2nd person POV. There's something about writing it that just makes me lose all sense of tense usage (hence the future tense in this story to try to keep myself from messing up). It's defi...

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Shea West
04:12 Apr 24, 2022

Favorite sentence in the entire piece: for the frenzied footfalls on the other side of the phone, the lively lilts of lullabies, the sibilant sounds of someone practicing their ABCs. So I'm a doula, have been now of almost a decade. Bereavement support is something I do, and something that I hope is never needed. When it happens, and it does, it's just a different kind of devastation. I think of the countless people in my life that are marked down on dates throughout the year to wish their children a happy birthday or to wish them a happy M...

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Zack Powell
06:01 Apr 24, 2022

Shea, what a lovely comment! Thank you for mentioning the "frenzied footfalls" sentence. I felt like I was really overdoing the alliteration, so it's amazing to hear that just the opposite. Also, yeah! You gave me a comment a couple stories back about grief being neither static nor linear, which directly brought up the quantification line. So, thank you once again. 2nd POV is super underrated. There's something about inhabiting the life and actions of the main character that you just can't get in the other POVs.

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Kai Corvus
23:28 Apr 23, 2022

This was a beautiful story, Zach, and I'm glad that I read it. You absolutely hit this story out of the ballpark with how it was organized and also all of the different characters. It's easy to relate to the main character, even if you've never experienced this situation before. You have quite the way with endings, as well. I love how you worked through every single thing that didn't work with the other characters until you got to the one thing that did. It made the final scene of the story mean even more because now you have all of this r...

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Zack Powell
02:17 Apr 24, 2022

Thank you, Kai! I had doubts about a lot of the things you mentioned as I was writing it (the ending especially), so it's so relieving to hear that things worked. Thanks for reading it!

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Awexis Wafflez
20:16 Apr 23, 2022

Heartbreaking, but beautiful. Once again, amazing work, just like all of your other stories.

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Zack Powell
20:19 Apr 23, 2022

Thanks for always bolstering my confidence, Awexis! You're awesome.

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Suma Jayachandar
09:54 Apr 23, 2022

There's this quality in all your pieces, which makes the reader believe you have lived those characters' lives. And you don't just write about them, you transmit their essence to the readers! That's a tremendous gift as a writer you have,Zach. It's brave of you to have tried this theme(especially speaking in mother's voice) but you have done it so well.You have chosen to give credit to her partner for giving her space to grieve and not give out generic forms of quick fix healing. Surely he too has some healing to undergo. It is a welcome dep...

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Zack Powell
15:19 Apr 23, 2022

What a lovely comment, Suma! That's a huge goal of mine as a writer (probably everyone's goal) to write stories in a way that rings true and real, so thank you, thank you! The third paragraph was the most fun to write of the whole story, so you have no idea how happy I am to hear that you enjoyed it. Thanks again for writing this!

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Lavonne H.
04:25 Apr 23, 2022

OMG, what a Horrible Book to recommend to anyone!! Zack, I had to go back to reread your story title; I felt it could have been "As If Grief Can Be Quantified." I felt those words, repeated as they were, held the heart of your story. I love how you introduce the husband's actions--what he did and didn't do. I had wondered what went on between them as he would need support as well. He's a strong man in his sensitivity and caring and I applaud him. There are parallels with grief and death here. People think they are 'helping.' When they should...

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Zack Powell
04:58 Apr 23, 2022

Thanks, Lavonne! I must've gone through ten different titles for this story, and I'm not even that jazzed about the one I have now, so I'm happy to see a replacement suggestion. Totally agree with you about the merits of the one you chose; don't be surprised if you see the title of this piece change in a day or two. You got what I was getting at too (and articulated it better than I could've). Unsolicited advice can be just as harmful as it is helpful, especially with this kind of situation. Glad the husband's sensitivity translated to the p...

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Bradon L
04:14 Apr 23, 2022

Why must you write sad and touching stories so darn well? Your going to make me cry one of these days and that is just an ugly sight to behold. I’m holding it back, but good grief Zack have mercy on me! “The myriad of ways your own minefield of a body can betray you.” That is such a good, heart wrenching line! Spectacular line I might add. You capture emotion so well in your stories. Like really really well! You showed how grief can really swallow us whole, and how well intentioned but somewhat thoughtless advise can make things...

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Zack Powell
04:23 Apr 23, 2022

Thanks, Bradon! I've got a story brewing for this week's contest already, and I PROMISE it won't be as depressive as the last few have been. Probably...maybe...we'll see how it goes. The minefield line was one of my favorites here (maaaybe my favorite), so it's nice to hear that it worked. You got exactly what I was going for with the story too. Thanks for being a good reader! By the way: I was surprised we didn't see a story from you last week! That week seemed geared towards comedy pieces, so I thought for sure you'd throw your hat in th...

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Bradon L
04:37 Apr 23, 2022

Life has gotten in the way of my writing recently but I really like the prompts for this week so I’m hoping to make time to crank out a story. I might stray from comedy just a bit. Probably…maybe…you get the idea😂

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Zack Powell
04:51 Apr 23, 2022

LOL. Well, whatever you come up with, I'll be looking forward to reading it, comedy or otherwise!

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Bradon L
02:12 Apr 29, 2022

This is a weird question, but would you mind if I used your name in a story. It would be a brief cameo appearance. Essentially my narrator would attempt to leave me for a better writer. I figured I would ask first though

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Zack Powell
02:40 Apr 29, 2022

LOL, absolutely. You're more than welcome to use whatever of mine you need to if it means you're writing a story!

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