Category Archives: Short Story

The Story Department
Part One

by Steven Axelrod

An executive story editor tries to convince his studio to make a special screenplay. 2,489 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Mike’s job existed because no one in Hollywood wanted to read a screenplay. It made sense: they were A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBtedious. Even the best ones were a chore to plow through and the worst were excruciating. Mike had wondered about this often since he had started running the story department. Part of it was that scripts weren’t designed for reading. A screenplay was a blueprint for building a movie; popcorn was inappropriate. They weren’t supposed to be fun. But they dismantled narrative in a mercilessly clever way, leaving the pieces – chunks of single-spaced description, columns of dialog, indented transitions – scattered on the page like the ruins of a children’s toy.

The most common solution was to skip the blocks of description and just read the dialogue. But more and more scripts were all action and the only spoken lines in six or seven pages were “Look out!” or “What the – ?” So you really had to at least skim the car chases and the knife fights.

For months every bad script Mike had seen involved someone named Bubba. He had never met anyone named Bubba, which was probably a good thing. But they were everywhere in the world of bad scripts. Whatever Bubba’s occupation, he always wound up declaiming it to the drippy girlfriend who objected to his heroics. “I’m a fireman, damn it,” He would say. Or, “I’m a cop, damn it.” And the girlfriend would invariably say “If you go out that door, I won’t be here when you get back.”

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High Noon

by Doug Richardson

A screenwriter is trapped between the conflicting demands of a film’s producer and director. 5,184 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


The wallpaper was tired. And Ross Flanagan couldn’t decide if the hotel’s floral fresco pattern scheme was old 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3or just old-fashioned. The joint was clean enough. Hardly first class and suspiciously shy of the three stars it had somehow earned on Priceline.com. He didn’t have to ask how the unit production manager had settled on housing the Los Angeles-based crew at the downtown Abbey Inn — aka “The Shabby Abbey” — as the costume team had quickly coined it. This was simply the best flophouse the dusty Utah town could offer. That, and the former teleconferencing office next door provided a convenient space for the production office. Temporary. Serviceable. Not the least bit inspiring.

The graying writer had been brought onto the Western’s shoot for two reasons: his valuable past experience with the notoriously difficult and aging movie star, and he was also very available and in need of a quick cash infusion. Four kids and two divorces kept him in constant dire straits.

The air conditioner was blowing full on. Ross hoped it would create some airflow with the door wide open. The pair of second-story windows bolted permanently closed provided a view of scrubby hills scarred with stirring gashes of bright red clay. The late spring heat wave had done away with whatever snow was leftover, leaving the ground grassless and brown.

It looks like the inside of my head, Ross admitted to himself. Dull, wasted, and somewhat bloodied.

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The Audition

by Caroline Ryder

A desperate director discovers an unlikely collaborator clued up on Kubrick. 4,050 words. Illustration by John Mann.


It is 113 degrees in Downtown Los Angeles. El Salvadoran parking lot attendants stuff their pockets with 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3cans of ice cold Coke Zero, enjoying the cool moisture on brown skin. I’m not there, of course; I’m a few miles northwest, chillaxing in the shade by my infinity pool. You can see the smog hovering above the city from my 1938 estate, a panoramic airborne sludge of green, orange and dirty white, a cap of toxic waste floating all the way from Downtown to Century City. I sniff — even up here in these Hollywood hills, the air has a faint whiff of bongwater, especially on hot days. I like it, it makes me feel relaxed. So I close my eyes, rest my hand on my crotch and imagine how my obituary will read.

“Remembering Desmond Furie, born on June 16, 19–, a super fucking cool independent film director, screenwriter, producer, set decorator, cinematographer, actor, who established himself with one teen exploitation movie in 1997, a genre-defining masterpiece of experimental storytelling called A Minor, and then he made another cool film that was equally amazing (we’ll insert the name later – Ed.). Every year since then he observed himself grow further and further removed from the youthful subject matter that had made his name until today, the first day of his sixth decade, when he languishes in loose-skinned decrepitude, exacerbated by years of drug experimentation. His favorite song was “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” by The Damned. His final words were…’It’s a trap!’ Did we mention he was cool?

The kids love my shit, always have, because it’s real. It speaks to them. My work is nasty like bongwater smog, I show them giving head, getting head, doing whippets, shooting up, doing the shit they actually dig.

Do you know what it feels like to peak on your first project? Do you, though?

Google Maps says it’s gonna take me 20 minutes to get to the intersection of Washington and Crenshaw, which is where Caviar lives.

Caviar is a rapper. Caviar’s my only hope.

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Pool Boy

by Ann Hamilton

A narcissistic actress meets the one man she can’t have. 2,546 words. Illustration by John David Carlucci.


When Jacqui decides to rent a house, the most important item on her wish list is the position of the pool. 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3The wrong exposure, too much shade – deal breaker. No tanning beds or crfeams, Jacqui enjoys the sun. She has zero interest in people who obsess about skin cancer. God created sun, didn’t he? But did he create dihydroxyacetone, the creepy stinky chemical in self-tanners that does who knows what to your immune system? She visits her dermatologist once a year to get checked out and she’s doing just fine, thanks. SPF? Not for Jacqui.

Jacqui never wanted to be an actress. She moved to L.A. with a high school girlfriend who had the acting bug. Jacqui figured she’d get a job, then marry a nice man. Enough of a reason to leave Fresno. The girlfriend took acting classes and one night, after a showcase, Jacqui was approached in the lobby by an agent who said he admired her performance.

“I wasn’t in the show,” Jacqui told him.

“You should’ve been,” the agent told her, not missing a beat.

Jacqui married the agent, did some guest spots on TV shows. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Quantum Leap. She learned her lines, got along with everybody, became known for her pretty face and nice body. But L.A. was filled with actresses like Jacqui. Fortunately, there also were plenty of men who admired them. Divorce, alimony. Another marriage, another divorce. Alimony again. Star Trek: Voyager, NCIS, a couple Lifetime movies. She was aware of getting older, of losing roles to younger women. But Jacqui didn’t care. She had money – not a huge amount, but enough. She still worked. Other actresses talked about their plastic surgeons and line fillers and boob lifts, but Jacqui was oblivious. Because, no matter what, Jacqui always had the best tan.

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A Killer Review

by Howard Rosenberg

A prominent TV producer’s death is both mourned and celebrated simultaneously. 3,192 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


Melody Grant observed life through a writer’s eyes, composing on a laptop in her head. That way she could8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3 imagine her husband’s recent death — ninety-five per cent factual, with dabs of embellishment for color and drama — as a passage in one of her novels:

On the eve of his greatest glory, Arnold Chafis was not merely upset, he was thunderbolt-shaken and enraged, Vesuvius about to blow. He had tried to remain calm while continuing to read, grinding his teeth as his volcanic anger built, until pain erupted in the middle of his chest. Then his arms, then his jaw. Suddenly, eyes clouding and brain swimming, he felt faint — then fear. Arnold, a prominent TV producer, was 63 when he died in Hancock Park. His wife, the mystery novelist Melody Grant, found him in the evening, slumped over his banquet table-sized desk in front of an open laptop. He’d been reading reviews for Remorse, his highly anticipated weekly TV drama about a young doctor accused of malpractice. It was to premiere the next night on ABC.

Notices for the series had been blurb-ready and glowing:

Congenitally glum Val Steinway of The New York Times cheered: “Hats off to a brilliant and vibrant new feather in TV’s cap!” Roger Kale of the Wall Street Journal, famously unkind to anything attached to a broadcast network, toasted “this HBO-worthy Chafisian work of genius.” Politico’s resident skeptic Carrie Rice-Wentworth rated the new series “many times smarter than ABC’s Shondaland and — no exaggeration — nearly equal to The Sopranos and Breaking Bad.” And in Variety, difficult-to-please Vince Nichols forecast “a ton of Emmys for this stunningly boffo TV.”

Only one major critic panned. It was this scathing review — by usually-measured, never-shrill, bordering-on-dull Dean Formento of the Los Angeles Times — that Arnold had been reading when his heart stopped.

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My Summer Romance With Ewan McGregor

by Diane Lisa Johnson

A heartbroken woman uses the actor’s movies to get through a painful breakup. 3,015 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


I wasn’t expecting any of this, but they say when the student is ready the teacher will appear.8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3

If you had told me back in January that Ewan McGregor would pull me up out of the pit of despair, I would not have believed you. I didn’t know that one day he would come to me all sexy and whisper in my ear, “Choose life.”

I should start by saying that last year was a difficult year for me.

The break-up took me so by surprise that it was like a movie with a twist ending. You have to go back and watch it again. My boyfriend turned out to be Keyser Soze and now I had to re-read every text and replay every date looking for the clues I missed. I pieced the timeline back together, now with the new plotline: his face and hers together in a picture she had posted back when he and I were together. I knew everything in that instant. His confession came much later.

There is this thing your brain does in grief, replaying the story, as if reliving it could change it. I searched for the moment when things went wrong, desperate to fix it, or at least understand it. Was it a word I said? Or maybe it was my childhood? Or maybe his?

My brain sputtered. My mind was caught in an infinite loop. All I wanted was my boyfriend back. The heart wants what it wants. There was no explaining to mine to let go, and there was no explaining to his to hang on. Thinking about it became exhausting. I had to find something else to occupy my restless mind. I knew that much.

Enter Ewan.

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The FRN

by Larry Amoros

A newly hired channel executive thinks up the best for the worst. 1,195 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


To:       FRN Staff
CC:       Skip Delicious, Executive Consultant
From:  Jack Ahze, President, Fake Reality Network

8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3I am proud to welcome Mr. John “Skip” Delicious, Executive Consultant, to our FRN family. Mr. Delicious will be responsible for reimagining Fake Reality Network’s programming and turning it into a premiere niche network in at least 17 of the 48 continental United States and maybe Guam.

Mr. Delicious has had a long and storied career as an Executive Consultant in a variety of industries, from medical technology (The Ouchless Catheter) to fast food (Ox ‘n’ Brew). And his rate of success as an Executive Consultant is unparalleled in the annals of consulting. In fact, he was born to be a consultant. When he was seven years old, he used to walk down the street and stop random passersby and say things like, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” and “Might I suggest you diversify?”

I first became aware of Mr. Delicious in 1994, when he was working as a Executive Consultant in the field of Public Relations, and he advised Al Cowlings to “drive slower and put O.J. on the phone – you’ll get more face time.” I knew, even way back then, he and I would work together some day. And today is that day.

In the coming weeks you’ll all get to know and work with Mr. Delicious, and together we’ll make FRN destination viewing!

To:         Jack Ahse & FRN Staff
From:    Skip Delicious, Executive Consultant

First of all, CALL ME SKIP!!! I am happy to be a part of the FRN team and make us the best fake reality network we can be. Let’s hit the ground running!

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Not My Kids

by Harry Dunn

The agony and the ecstasy of one man’s experience working in the TV writing biz. 1,449 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


There are many dreaded words a father can hear from their child. “Dad, I wrecked the car.” “Dad, I’m in a Tijuana jail.” 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3“Dad, the pee stick has a plus sign.”

But none of those words could ever compare to the sheer horror of hearing a child of mine say, “Dad, I want to work in showbiz.”

Perhaps I should elaborate…

I am a husband and father of three kids. My career has been spent bouncing back and forth between life as a writer and life producing promos for a TV network. It’s been an occasionally pleasant but also frequently demoralizing. The highs are way too high and the lows are way too low. It’s career crack. Addicting, unhealthy and way too much suffering has to incur before receiving those rare tastes of joy. All those years of stories that started out with, "There’s a producer who seems to like my script…” “A big agent is going to read my script this weekend, I hope…” “The producer said if I give him a free option, he’ll try to sell it…" and then inevitably end with, "I haven’t heard back from him/her yet."

This is a profession I’ve regretted pursuing for a lot of years. And a profession I have adamantly tried to steer my children away from pursuing. You want your children to be both successful and happy, not just getting by and miserable. So I tell them my war stories to make it easy for them to reach their own conclusions.

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Hollywood Roadkill

by Richard Natale

A humongous Hollywood merger has unforeseen consequences for all involved. 2,559 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Margaret Sewell sighed as she sat across from her friend, Lou Delray, at the Fox studio commissary’s outdoor 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3patio. She had little appetite and barely touched her salad. “My boss said, ‘I wish I could take you with me.’ And he didn’t even bother to try and sound sincere. Then he gave me a holiday gift card to Neiman-Marcus. As if that was supposed to make me feel better. ‘Hey, clown,’ I wanted to say, ‘how about a gift card to Ralphs, so’s I can buy some food after I start collecting unemployment in 2018.’”

Lou was only half-listening. He hadn’t filed for unemployment since losing his first job right after college. For the past twenty years he’d been a teamster driver on a succession of studio TV and film projects. The studio facilities would remain and his boss, Henry, claimed Lou had “nothing to worry about.” But when your boss tells you not to worry, that’s precisely the time to start making other plans.

With the departure of the television and movie production units, sooner or later, probably sooner, something was bound to give. And that usually meant the older and more expensive workers.

“They’re saying that, after the merger, ten thousand jobs are going to be lost in all. Screw Murdoch and screw Iger twice,” Margaret said as she threw her salad into the trash. A number of heads turned and nodded, some eyes rolled, and a couple of mouths uttered sarcastic laughs.

Buoyed by the reaction, Margaret added, “I might as well tattoo ‘Roadkill’ on my forehead. Am I right?”

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Staffing Season

by Adam Scott Weissman

A showrunner’s fired assistant looks for a new job as a writer. Good luck with that. 3,027 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.

Caleb was glad when the show was canceled. He felt guilty about his schadenfreude for about five minutes. 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3Now he wouldn’t have to make up a lie about why he wasn’t returning or, worse, tell the truth: that he “hadn’t been invited back,” which was code for being fired.

He had done his best to make amends for his wrap party meltdown – going off on his boss for sleeping with a young female staff writer and not promoting Caleb, dissing the TV community’s push for diversity which meant young white wannabes like himself had a tougher time getting hired. After a few weeks, he’d asked the showrunner Bryan to lunch so they could bury the hatchet. Bryan downgraded the lunch to coffee.

Caleb had worked for Bryan for four years, and that hopefully counted for something now. The showrunner came through. He gave Caleb a signed letter of recommendation and a business card with the number of an agent at CAA. “I sent your writing samples to Terri at the agency. She used to be my agent Bob’s assistant. She just got promoted and she’s hungry for clients. I told her to make you a priority read. And she will. Lord knows I’ve made that company enough money.”

It was a whole lot more than most showrunners in town would have done for an ex-assistant, and Caleb felt pretty grateful.

Caleb didn’t even wait until he got home to call Terri. He texted her from his car. Surprisingly, he got an immediate reply: Will call in 45.

That was at 11 a.m. For the rest of the day, Caleb’s heart skipped a beat every time his cell vibrated.

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The Galleys

by Keith Garsee

The director and script supervisor of TV’s successful sci-fi show are curious about its creator. 3,106 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


The soundstage set is quiet except for the clicks and whirs of the Mitchell 35mm BNC camera, its lens lingering on 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3the face of a very young actress lying in a hospital bed. After a beat, the girl says, "Now people won’t be scared of me!" It’s shlock but she nails it. Now for the reveal: one eye in the center of her head and fresh bloody bandages covering both halves of her face. She’s a horrifyingly adorable cyclops, and her beaming actress mother speaks. "Dr. Vincent, you’ve done such a wonderful job, better than your father did on me years ago!" The mother, too, has one eye. So do the father and the doctor. “But why does that two-eye mutation still keep happening to everyone!?"

"Cut!" yells a voice offstage. Then another voice yells, "That’s a wrap on Episode Eight. Thanks, everyone!!"

A set bell rings. The lights go up. The director, Tom Sanders, slaps the TV series’ creator on the back and says, "Another one in the can, Hollinger! Love the title, too — See Like Me," using his hands to mimic a marquee. "I don’t know where you get the ideas for these episodes, but you’ve sure got a way with words!"

Clayton Hollinger is 39 years old, single, affable, tall, strong, and black. The year is 1957 and The Galleys is the most popular show in the country, tuned into every Saturday night by viewers numbering in the tens of millions. "Thanks, Tom. I suppose it all comes from up here," Clayton says, putting a finger to his temple. “And believe me, it’s good to get it all out."

Tom replies, laughing, "I wouldn’t want some of the creatures you come up with in my attic, either."

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A Teaser For The TV Industry

by Jay Abramowitz

A one-time TV comedy writer must clean up classrooms as well as his career. 1,249 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Decades ago, I made an impressive living as a writer and producer of network sitcoms, shows such as Full House 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3and Growing Pains, that were aimed at a kid audience. They were frothy, bouncy entertainments that portrayed family life in the late twentieth century United States through decidedly rose-colored glasses. But even then I had a darker vision of America, one that acknowledges life’s limitless complexities, that embraces the tragic elements of existence as well as the comic. So the original half-hour series I pitched were directed at adults – a Vietnam War comedy, a lesbian laugher, etc.

And because I was pigeonholed as a “children’s sitcom writer,” I was unable to sell any of those ideas. Upon leaving more than one executive’s office, I was certain I could hear, through the slammed door, unrestrained derisive laughter.

In my eighteen years as an elementary school janitor I’ve had abundant opportunity to contemplate my comedy life. So much time squandered on bitterness at an industry I deeply felt had wronged me! But recently, other setbacks – a second divorce, the refusal of my beloved daughter Isabel to answer my phone calls, a minor concussion from a fall in the second-floor girls’ bathroom – have motivated me to take responsibility for my life, to look inward, to ruminate on what choices I might have made to avoid my current professional circumstances.

Pondering my situation yesterday morning while plunging a clogged toilet in that same bathroom, I recalled a quotation from William James: “Invent some manner of realizing your own ideals which will also satisfy the alien demands – that and that only is the path of peace.”

A light went off in my head.

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Samurai Salomé

by Matthew Licht

He was a star in Japan. She was renowned in Germany. Could they film together? 1,531 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


The flight from Tokyo to Dusseldorf was seriously late. The airport lay in near silent darkness. The Japanese film A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBactor-director-dancer swooped down the ramp, burst from the gate, approached the lone 24-hour car rental counter and demanded a Mercedes. “Black as a june bug on a moonless summer night. With a motor built for elephants,” he told the sleepy blonde rental clerk from a memorized script. The only word she’d understood, aside from “Mercedes,” was “black.” He slammed the desk with the palm of his hand. He wasn’t quite as menacing as his on-screen persona. He just didn’t like to waste time.

He smoked abstractedly while the car rental agent tapped at her computer. His sunglasses gleamed like the sedan he would soon drive down a deserted stretch of Autobahn. Lost in thought, the movie helmer punched all the wrong buttons on the Blaupunkt radio and heard Kraftwerk interspersed crazily with John Coltrane and the Charlie Haden Quartet as the solemn automobile rolled past martial rows of tall pines over impeccable asphalt.

He had no idea what the German town of Wuppertal looked like, didn’t know such a thing as a Schwebebahn existed, and didn’t care. He’d flown over half the world to meet a lady.

In Japan, he was a living treasure. In Germany, Pina Bausch was more of a hidden pleasure. Her admirers were fewer but no less rabid. He was among the most fervent. Enraptured by her dance moves, he wanted to capture them in his film.

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The Publicist

by Nat Segaloff

I didn’t make my boss look like a crook even though that’s what he tried to do to me. 2,692 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Bobby van Arnold wasn’t corrupt. He just knew how to game the system. “It isn’t cheating,” he insisted. “It’s working the A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBloopholes so guys like us can make a living.” He underscored his point by poking me in the chest when I handed him my first weekly expense report after he’d hired me in 1970.

He grunted, “What’s this?” and went through all my neatly arranged figures and doubled them, turning $5 into $10 and $10 into $20. “How the hell can I turn in my expenses when send them this? You want to make me look like a crook?”

“But that’s all I spent,” I said weakly.

“So what? You think the producer is gonna be happy with a cheapskate publicist? You want him to think we don’t care enough about his film to spend the hell out of it? Fill out a new one and don’t make the same mistake.”

I quickly learned that movies weren’t a job, they were a racket. Bobby made this clear to me right after I doubled my expense report since the company was paying me poorly. That’s how it worked.

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Kinky

by Alan Swyer

A young executive learns too much information from this studio mogul. 2,243 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


“I need you!” Walter Shepherd bellowed into the phone, causing Barry Nash to cringe.

First as an agent, then as a A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBproducer, and finally as a studio head, Walter Shepherd was a Hollywood legend whose behavior was considered off-the-wall, and whose thinking was deemed out-of-the-box, long before those terms became fashionable. It was Shepherd who showed the movie biz that hits should be separated into two totally distinct categories – those that boys, girls, or sometimes both, saw three, ten, or even twenty times; and those that attracted people who didn’t, as a rule, go to the movies. It was Shepherd who predicted first the rise, then the rapid fall, of the new 3-D technology.

For Nash, who was far from earning V.P. stripes of his own, the chance to work with such an icon as Shepherd seemed like a dream. After hitting a wall as an aspiring screenwriter, then toiling in obscurity as a freelance script reader, the opportunity to learn from a honcho was not just what his friends termed a new lease on life. It also gave Nash the wherewithal to marry his college girlfriend, with whom he quickly produced an adorable daughterplus a chance to see the way Hollywood really worked.

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Day And Date

by Steven Mallas

A studio’s marketing maven is on a quest to destroy the distribution windows. 2,880 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


“It’ll never fly.”

“You’re not listening to me,” Kathleen Berg pleaded with him. A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EB“We’ve got to be the first media conglomerate to do this. We’ll not only make history, but we’ll set a trend.”

That sounded incongruous; it didn’t matter if they set a trend or not, only that it was successful.

“Day and date will never ever work. Give it up. I’m getting tired of having this conversation with you, day in and day out! Out!”

Mentally crestfallen, Kathleen rose from the chair and left the executive’s office. The idiots would never learn. She’d have to convince them. Somehow.

As she walked away, the executive – another in a long line she’d spoken to about the subject — admired the shape of the lower half of her body in the snug power skirt.

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