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The boy who could

by Alby 

Posted: 10 September 2017
Word Count: 3970
Summary: A 13 year old boy is given an ancient book, it changes his life -- but is it for the better?
Related Works: The royal tissue • 

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The Boy who could
 
Chapter 1: The incident in the park
 
Mum. I’ve done it.
Tommy Logan rushed excitedly down the stairs and burst into the kitchen.
 
“I’ve done it, I’ve done it I’ve done it.” He was so excited his voice warbled.
The kitchen remained silent.
He looked around … no one there … he grimaced, blew out a long-drawn-out puff of air, gave a disgusted shake of his head and said to himself quietly “I’ve done it.”
 
After a few moments, his 13-year-old get-up-and-go spirit recovered itself and he said a little more forcefully, “I’ve done it”
 
“Is that your homework you’ve done?” The gruff voice of Tommy’s stepfather Steve Hardacre spoke from just behind him.
 
Tommy spun around and his excitement returned. “No Steve, I meant I’ve lit a candle.”
 
A look of someone reaching the edge of his patience crept over his stepfather’s face. “I’ve told you a hundred times, I don’t like you messing around with that religious stuff.” The face hardened into a scowl. “Stop horsing around and do that homework or you’ll be sorry.”
 
Tommy’s mother walked into the kitchen behind his stepfather “What’s he done now?” A look of concern on her face.
 
“He’s messing with those religious books of his again.” His stepfather said, still glaring at Tommy.
“B – But Steve – it’s not a religious book, it – it’s just… That was as far as Tommy got, “Enough.” his stepfather thundered, “If I hear one more word I’ll get your books and burn them – the only reason I haven't burnt them already, is because I don’t hold with burning religious books.”
 
Tommy’s head fell forward till his chin was on his chest. “Ok Steve, I understand,” he muttered.
 
His stepfather turned, scowled at Tommy’s mother and stomped from the kitchen, slamming the door behind him.
 
Tommy continued to stare at the floor. His mother moved towards him and put an arm around his shoulder “You shouldn’t get him worked up like that, you know he only wants what he thinks is best for you. What exactly did you do anyway?” She had to bend slightly so she could see Tommy’s face.
 
Tommy swivelled his eyes sideways to look at his mother. He was almost on the point of telling her about the candle when he heard his stepfather slam the front door on his way out. A vision of his stepdad’s angry face popped into Tommy’s head and he thought ‘If I tell Mum it may get her into trouble too.’
 
Tommy’s mother gave his shoulder a gentle shake, prompting a response to her question.
 
Tommy sighed and lifted his head “Oh -- Steve, wanted to know if I had done my homework and got angry when I told him I’d been reading the tramp’s book.
 
He managed to look his mother straight in the eye as he told her this little white lie.
 
His Mum gave him a little sympathetic smile and tousled his hair, “if you had done your homework first there wouldn’t have been anything for him to get angry about would there. If you remember that in future you won’t get into trouble.”
 
Tommy’s eyes widened and he said, “Oh, Mum it’s just …”  Again, Tommy almost told her the truth; only catching himself at the last second.
 
“Just what?” His Mum asked with a small frown appearing on her face.
 
“Th -- The homework -- it’s so boring -- and that book the tramp gave me is much more interesting.” ‘Part of the truth is more believable.’ Tommy thought.
 
“That be so, but you know there is a time and place for everything.” His Mum said “and doing your homework comes before reading any other books, however interesting they may be. – Anyway, how many books did the tramp give you, your Dad thinks there were a lot?”
 
“Only ONE.” Tommy stressed the ‘one’ “And it's falling to pieces.”
 
His Mum cocked her head to one side and gave him a stern look, “Mm, then you’ll just have to be careful with it, won’t you – on all counts.” With that, she turned and opened the living room door, walked from the kitchen and closed the door behind her.
 
Tommy looked at the closed door and in his softest voice, he said, “Mum I did it, I lit the candle.”
 
He was an average sort of a lad; dark blond hair, a nose that was a little bit turned up and he had freckles. His Mum took great pleasure in those few freckles but Tommy hated them. He had heard that freckles disappear as one gets older, and he couldn’t wait for that to happen, every day he checked them out to see if there was a sign of them getting smaller or less noticeable.
 
Today however, his recent achievement fully occupied his mind. He mentally replayed his moment of triumph, as he would have  wanted it to happen: ‘He rushed in and told his Mum he had lit the candle. She looked wide-eyed at him, gave him a big hug and told him what a clever boy he was.’ but then he shrugged, ‘Wishes are just empty dishes.’ He smiled to himself and said out-loud one last time, “I did it, I lit the candle.”
 
Up in his room once again, Tommy walked over to the dressing table, where a tall new candle stood burning with a flickering flame. Beside it, an old book, its pages yellow with age, lay open.
 
Tommy leaned over and reread for what seemed like the hundredth time, three short lines. These lines told him how to do the words and movements which it had taken him so long to master. He closed his eyes for a moment, and then he carefully snuffed out the candle. Stepping back a pace, he stared at the candle with narrowed eyes, and then he moved his hands in a mystic way and uttered the words. 
 
The candle instantly reignited and the small flame flickered once more. A rueful smile played on Tommy’s lips, and he whispered to the mother that wasn’t there: “There you go Mum -- I told you I lit the candle.” Suddenly the importance of the situation hit him and a tear formed in the corner of his eye. The most meaningful event of his life had occurred, and maybe he wasn’t going to be able to share it with anyone.
 
How had this Gigantic event come about? Tommy blinked and stared into the flickering flame of the candle, his vision dimmed and he re-lived that momentous trip to the park with his stepfather.
 
***
 
Tommy had been on his best behaviour; his stepfather had also been in a good mood (for a change). They had taken a football with them and were having a good old kick-about, when a sudden commotion on a nearby path, grabbed Tommy’s attention.
 
A group of four youths, about Tommy’s age, were pushing and pulling at an old tramp and making a lot of noise. The tramp was dirty looking and bent over with age.
 
The ball had just rolled to Tommy’s feet, but instead of kicking it back to his stepfather, he put his foot on the ball and stood staring at the gang of lads and the tramp.
 
“Come on Tommy.” His stepfather shouted, “never mind them, they are a pack of ruffians, that don’t know how to behave in public.”
 
“But they’re hurting an old man,” Tommy shouted back, “and he can’t defend himself.”
 
“It's just an old tramp; they’re all as tough as old boots.” His stepfather shouted again, this time there was a growl in his voice
 
Tommy hesitated for a few seconds, then he shouted to his stepfather, “Just hang on a minute, I’ll be right back.” He kicked the ball towards his stepfather, and then he ran over to the small group on the path.
 
By this time, the tramp looked as though he was about to fall over.
 
Tommy caught the youths by surprise. He ran up and pulled the tallest of the youths away from the tramp, by grabbing his coat and twirling him around so hard the youth fell over. The other three youths stopped their attack on the tramp and looked a little warily at their assailant.
 
Tommy had pulled his face into a most fearsome scowl, but other than that, he didn’t have a clue what to do next.
 
The youth that had fallen was getting to his feet, the other three were losing their wariness when the tramp suddenly laughed out loud. He stood up straighter, cuffed one of the youths around the ear and told them all “Now be off with you – and don’t come back.
 
To Tommy’s surprise, the youths did just what the tramp told them to do. They did have sullen expressions on their faces, and they muttered things under their breath that sounded vaguely like death threats, but they did – be off.
 
Tommy stood for a long moment with his mouth open, then he composed himself. He smiled and nodded at the tramp -- who had once more resumed his stooped posture – then Tommy ran back to where he’d come from.
 
His stepfather was standing on the same spot as before but now his face had turned a deep red and his teeth were bared in anger. “I told you to leave them to whatever they were doing,” he roared, “When I tell you not to do something you don’t do it. Do you understand me?” His fists clenched by his sides and he shook with rage as he ranted at Tommy.
 
Tommy couldn’t understand why his stepfather was so angry with him, just because he had chosen to help a defenceless old man. However, it was obvious that he had caused this anger, so he felt he had to try to put things right.
 
Putting on his humble face and hanging his head a little Tommy said, “I’m sorry Steve, I thought they were hurting the old man, so I just went to help him.”
 
“Didn’t you hear him laugh? His stepfather grated, “Then he gave one of those louts a clip around the ear. -- I told you – those tramps are as tough as old boots. He probably owed those louts some money and they wanted it back. You could have got yourself into some real trouble. Louts like that make bad enemies, and all because you wouldn’t listen to me.”
 
Tommy looked at his stepfather with a sorrowful face and said, “I’m sorry -- can we just go back to playing football, please…?”
 
“I’ve had enough of you for one day, I’m going home.” His stepfather turned on his heel and strode away, leaving Tommy feeling as though the world was against him for trying to do what he thought was right.
 
He stood there for a long-time going over what had just happened, he was starting to think that his stepfather was right in what he said when a hand fell on his shoulder.
 
For a split-second, he thought it was his stepfather coming back to make things up with him, but when he turned to face him, it was the old tramp that stood there.
 
Tommy hadn’t studied him before, but now he noticed the old face had a caring look, and a spark of intelligence shone in his twinkling eyes. “I seem to have caused you some trouble, young sir,” he said. His voice had a mellow tone, and his accent was a little posh to Tommy’s ear. “Your father didn’t want you to put yourself in danger to save an old tramp.”
 
Tommy studied the tramp for a long moment, trying to make his mind up about how to respond to this unexpected face to face. Then he said, “I thought you were in trouble, so I tried to help -- but you weren’t in trouble, were you?”
 
The old tramp’s eyes crinkled in a smile, “Those boys have hate in their hearts. The hate shows itself when they come across something or someone that they think is different.
Sometimes, the only way to deal with hatred is to show them that what they hate, is not what they thought it was.
 
Tommy screwed up his face and thought about this complicated statement. “Do you mean that you are not really an old tramp?” He turned his head slightly and looked at the tramp through the corner of his eyes.
 
This made the tramp laugh and he said, “Oh no. I’m exactly what I look like, but your father was right, some old tramps are as tough as old boots.”
 
“Well, what made those lads start to push you about like they were doing?” Tommy asked.
 
The tramp's expression became serious for a moment, “One of them bumped into me, I think it was accidental.. Anyway, I said ‘sorry’ to him, even though it wasn’t my fault. The others thought I said it because I was afraid of them, and being bullies, they tried to take advantage of someone weaker. I just played along with it for a while, until you ran up -- to save me that is.”
 
Tommy’s eyes narrowed, “so you were never in danger? Is that, right?” His young face became serious, “and I got in trouble with my stepfather because you were playing a stupid game, to teach a lesson to some bullies.”
 
Tommy angrily picked up his football and started to walk away. He felt as though he had been tricked, and as a result had earned the anger of his stepfather.
 
The tramp put his hand on Tommy’s shoulder for the second time, this time, however, Tommy tried to shake it off, but to his surprise, the grip was firm and strong.
 
“I’m sorry young sir, but I didn’t intend for you or anyone else to become involved in what was merely a nasty little incident. The boy bumped into me and I was polite about it; if you want to be angry with someone, be angry with yourself, for getting involved when your father told you not to.”
 
The tramp removed his hand from Tommy’s shoulder, “Having said all that I still want to thank you for coming to help me, in spite of your father -- did you say stepfather...? Anyway, you came even though he told you not to, and for that, I owe you my thanks.”
 
Tommy once again studied the tramp’s face. It had now become serious and had an almost gentle expression. Finally, he said “First. I’m not a sir -- I’m Tommy, and second -- I am already angry with myself -- because now I know the truth, I feel like a fool for having tried to help you at all.”
 
The tramp gave a couple of grave nods of his head at those words. “Can I ask you a question? He tilted his head slightly and it gave him a schoolmasterly expression.
 
Tommy just nodded.
 
“If a similar incident happened again, would you still rush to help the underdog?”
The tramp's eyes narrowed – waiting for an answer.
 
“Do you mean -- if those boys try to get you again?” Tommy looked a little puzzled.
 
“No, I mean if someone else is being bullied, will you go to help them?” The tramp leaned in a little closer.
 
This time it was Tommy’s turn to smile, he looked away a little self-consciously, “I know you’ll think I’m silly, but I don’t decide to play the hero. There’s just something inside me that makes me get involved, I can’t help it.”
 
“I think that’s why my stepfather gets so mad, he tries to look after me but I keep on disappointing him.”
 
Tommy didn’t know what to expect after saying all that, but the warm smile that lit up the tramp's face, made him feel good just to see it. The old eyes twinkled and even the stubbly whiskers blended in. Goodness shone out of him.
 
“You came running over as though you could wipe the floor with those four hooligans – but then once you had pulled one away, you didn’t know what to do, did you?”  
 
Tommy just looked into those twinkling eyes and shook his head.
 
“I feel that you need someone or something to keep an eye on you -- to protect you from yourself.” The tramp looked down at Tommy and his eyes grew larger.
 
Tommy’s mood, had swung from angry to friendly during this short exchange. Instead of a curt reply, he just shrugged and said: “I’ll be ok, just so long as people around me don’t get into trouble.” He followed this with a short sharp laugh.
 
The tramp briefly put his hand on Tommy’s shoulder again and asked: “Do you mind if we go over to that bench and sit for a minute,” he nodded towards a bench-seat on the nearby path, “all this standing about is making my legs tired.” He turned and started walking,  slowly, over to the bench he had pointed to.
 
Tommy watched him go for a few steps, and noted the tramp was staggering a little – then he hastened to catch him up. “Are you sure you’re going to be alright, you don’t look very steady on your feet?” he looked up at the tramp, concerned.
 
Without answering the tramp trundled on until he reached the bench, then he flopped down on to it with a little groan of relief. “Do you know -- I was heading for this very bench when those hooligans decided to have their fun.” When Tommy had sat down beside him he went on, “I’ve been walking for hours on end without sitting down; now I don’t think I’m ever going to move again as long as I live. Ahhh…”
 
He inhaled a huge breath of air then he tilted his head back and let out a long sigh. When his lungs were empty he smiled down at Tommy but was startled to see the concern on Tommy’s face,
 
“Oh, my dear young sir, I’m so sorry,” his face became serious, “I shouldn’t have said that; I didn’t truly mean I am going to sit here forever. It's just something one says when one gets comfortable. He continued to look down at Tommy until the concerned look disappeared.
 
A smile started to appear on Tommy’s young lips, then the smile became a grin. “I was worried that I’d have to bring food out to you for the rest of your life.” he joked, looking at the tramp through the tops of his eyes.
 
My-my, with an offer like that I may have to change my mind -- and really sit here for the rest of my life. He started to laugh and Tommy started to laugh and suddenly the sun broke through the clouds and shone on the park bench.
 
For a moment, it seemed that life was ok and the wrongs of the world could be cured, then a shadow fell over the laughing pair.
 
Tommy’s stepfather stood looking down at them with a puzzled look on his face. “What is it that you find so funny?” he asked, speaking to them both.
 
Tommy looked up and the laugh had stuck in his throat and he had trouble speaking. The tramp beat him to it and replied: “I was just explaining that I have been walking for hours, and sitting here is heavenly.”
 
“Oh yeah, I can see how that would make you fall about laughing.” Tommy’s stepfather said sarcastically. Anyway, it doesn't matter -- I’ve come to fetch Tommy in for his tea. It’s all ready and his Mum’s waiting, so we’d better be off.”  
 
Tommy jumped up immediately and went to his stepfather’s side; his stepfather took the football from him and started to turn.
 
Struggling to get to his feet, the old tramp said, “Wait, please.” Once he was standing he said to Tommy’s stepfather, “I would like to apologise for causing you and the young sir any trouble… I like to steer clear of any such incidents as a rule.”
 
“Never mind that now, it’s past and gone,” Tommy’s stepfather replied, “Now I’ve just got to get him home for his tea” he turned and grabbed Tommy’s arm none too gently and started walking away.
 
“Er – Excuse me.” the tramp raised his voice a little, “Can I have another quick word?”
 
Tommy’s stepfather stopped and of course, Tommy stopped too. “What is it?” He said, his voice was harsh.
 
The old tramp was fumbling in his coat pocket.
 
“Well come on – make it quick, we’ve got to be off.” Tommy’s stepfather was getting impatient.
 
“Ah here it is.” the tramp pulled something out of a pocket hidden on the inside of his coat. And took a few steps up to where Tommy and his stepfather now stood.
 
“Do you mind if I give your son a small token of my thanks -- for when he came to my aid a short while ago?”He cocked his head slightly and looked at the stepfather.
 
“Give him what you like as long as it doesn’t take long,” Tommy’s stepfather said.
 
“You are most kind.” the tramp smiled at the stepfather then he turned to Tommy and offered him the object he was holding. “Please take this small token as thanks for your help and your concern for my well-being. If you read it well, you will find that it can provide just the protection that I spoke of earlier.”
 
Tommy hesitantly held out his free hand and the tramp gave him a fairly thick book, about the same size as a large novel, “W – What's it about,” Tommy stuttered. He tried to open it to see the type of book it was, but his stepfather was still holding his arm and he dragged Tommy away from the tramp rather roughly.
 
After a dozen steps or so, Tommy forced himself around and looked back at the old tramp. This forced his stepfather to have to pull him even harder. The tramp shouted after them “Don’t forget, read the lessons well and they will look after you.”
 
Once they were out of the park Tommy’s stepfather calmed down a little. They walked on in silence until they were about halfway home. Then he said to Tommy “What are those books about anyway?”
 
“I don’t know,” Tommy replied, “but it looks old.” He hadn’t had time to have a proper look at it.
 
“Hmm – I’ll bet they are religious books of some kind. The way the tramp went on about reading the lessons well and they will protect you – ha ha” He gave a short, sharp, mirthless laugh, “what a load of rubbish. Although I must say he didn’t look like one of those other religious do-gooders that come knocking on our door?”
 
Tommy looked at the book with a puzzled look on his face, then he said: “Look, Steve – there’s only one book.”
 
His stepfather took no notice, he was concentrating on looking up and down the road, they had to cross; he just went, “Humph.” Soon after there was a break in the traffic, so he grabbed Tommy’s arm and they crossed the road
 
***
That was the end of Tommy’s daydream.
He came slowly back to reality, he was still looking at the small flickering candle, which had come to be the centre of his Gigantic event.
 
Tommy hadn’t seen the old tramp since that day, but somehow he knew -- as brief as their meeting had been -- a bond now existed between them.
 
That's lesson number one completed, now what? He picked up the tattered old book and began reading…






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Comments by other Members



andinadia at 12:22 on 12 September 2017  Report this post
Hi Alan

I like the scene with the 'tramp', less so the framing scene. I don't at the moment see a need for the flashback format. I was much more gripped by the scene in the park than by the device of using the candle etc to pique my interest so that wi want to know how events led to this opening scene.

The nature of the relationship between the boy and his dad, the characteristics of boyhood, social justice, religion... are all intriguing.

Some of the writing/detail/dialogue could be usefully cut back a bit, in my view.

Some of the potential of the story is being lost, I feel, in what seem like exchanges that are a bit too commonplace, eg "The homework -- it’s so boring -- and that book the tramp gave me is much more interesting.” Setting up drama as a solution to boredom feels a little pat, and as a reader at this point I'd really like to know what's so special about this book. As, presumably, would the mum!

I think this para could maybe do with rethinking:

The tramp's expression became serious for a moment, “One of them bumped into me, I think it was accidental.. Anyway, I said ‘sorry’ to him, even though it wasn’t my fault. The others thought I said it because I was afraid of them, and being bullies, they tried to take advantage of someone weaker. I just played along with it for a while, until you ran up -- to save me that is.”

I can't see how any of the boys would have bumped into the man accidentally. It sounds more like genuinely threatening behaviour, which makes the man's reaction unusual. Would he really 'play along', when he's faced with being attacked by a bunch of young men? Also, the word 'tramp' bothers me a bit, unless it's being used pejoratively by the stepfather. I don't imagine many homeless people would refer to themselves as tramps. (You may think I'm being too realist about this, but while you've indicated that there's a supernatural element to the story, it still seems to sit within a genre where characters such as 'tramps' should be rooted in the reality we all know rather than a slightly old-fashioned literary tradition.smiley)

Anyway, I'd like to read more!



andinadia at 12:26 on 12 September 2017  Report this post
The 'owner edit' feature isn't working but I wanted to add...

- I like the title a lot! (The Boy who could)

- I would also add that since your main character is 13, maybe be careful to keep the plot at a sufficiently sophisticated level, with human relationships as important as magical elements!

Alby at 16:53 on 12 September 2017  Report this post
Hi Andi
Thnanks for the comments. 
I think you might have missed, that Tommy's reference to boredom, was his quicky inserted misdirect.

The flashback is a way to inform the reader how Tommy got to the point he was at -- ie lighting the candle, and how  he came to be able to do it.

Re the old tramp -- these were only boys that he was up against, I'm happy to see that you are satisfied that he really was an old tramp? just think back to the ragged old traveller in the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf. 

your comment about the level of sophistication is noted

Thanks again
 

NGwriter at 08:52 on 13 September 2017  Report this post
Hi Alan

​I love the title and thought the premise of this novel was intriguing and so far seems well-thought-out. A few points I noted as reading it:
​- I think Tommy would be more likely to say stepdad, rather than stepfather, throughout the scenes. 'Father' is so formal, and few 13-year-olds would say it, even if their relationship was strained. 
​- I think the tramp scene is more intriguing than the lighting of the candle. Perhaps you could start with that? Maybe even have it as a prologue? The first bit is just a tad less gripping. 
​- Would the tramp have given Tommy his name? I mean, Tommy's mother might still have referred to him as 'that old tramp,' but the tramp himself might refer to himself as, say 'Brian'... Just makes the relationship a touch more personal. 
​- Not many 13-year-olds would start reading a book given to them by a tramp. Perhaps there is a backstory you havent given yet about Tommy having no friends or he wasn't allowed to watch the TV because he was in trouble - or some other reason. Like Andi, I didn't know that the 'It's so boring' comment was a way of misdirecting his mother - I thought the reason he was reading the book was simply because homework was boring...seemed a little unrealistic. 

​Other than those points, I really enjoyed it and would definitely read on...

​Natalia
 

joydaly at 21:37 on 13 September 2017  Report this post
Hi Alan
Intriguing read!
Like all three of your characters and the premise of the story is good.

You've caught the powerlessness in Tommy's life really well, which makes the book so much more important and relevant.

Just general comments:-
Publishers (apparently) are not too keen on flashbacks!  Could you start with the tramp scene and have it in real time?
Then you could follow with the candle-scene in real time.
When you go back for your rewrite (haha - don't you love them), it might benefit from some tightening.
Am a third the way through your final book with the two lads. It's a good read so far!

Joy
 

andinadia at 21:45 on 13 September 2017  Report this post
Hi Alan
Gandalf (in the Hobbit) was published 80 years ago and is from a fantasy genre with no contemporary setting, while your story seems to be basically set in our times. For 'tramp' I can only read 'homeless'.

Alby at 22:07 on 14 September 2017  Report this post
Hi Natalia
your comments are pasted here so that I could refer to them in my thank you reply

I love the title and thought the premise of this novel was intriguing and so far seems well-thought-out. A few points I noted as reading it:
​- I think Tommy would be more likely to say stepdad, rather than stepfather, throughout the scenes. 'Father' is so formal, and few 13-year-olds would say it, even if their relationship was strained. 
​- I think the tramp scene is more intriguing than the lighting of the candle. Perhaps you could start with that? Maybe even have it as a prologue? The first bit is just a tad less gripping. 
​- Would the tramp have given Tommy his name? I mean, Tommy's mother might still have referred to him as 'that old tramp,' but the tramp himself might refer to himself as, say 'Brian'... Just makes the relationship a touch more personal. 
​- Not many 13-year-olds would start reading a book given to them by a tramp. Perhaps there is a backstory you havent given yet about Tommy having no friends or he wasn't allowed to watch the TV because he was in trouble - or some other reason. Like Andi, I didn't know that the 'It's so boring' comment was a way of misdirecting his mother - I thought the reason he was reading the book was simply because homework was boring...seemed a little unrealisti

Thanks for taking the troubl to read the story.
A couple of points: Tommy calls his stepdad/stepfather Steve.
Why wouldn't a boy read a book given to him by someone he had just gone to rescue? be he a tramp or a king.
I think Andi just missed the fact that it was Tommy's misdirect -- and not a show of his boredom. Tommy is really reading the book because it intrigues him and has enabled him to ---- light the candle.
I have to confess that I didn't start writing the story with it all mapped out in my head -- thus enabling me to move chapters around to set them in some order of significance. I'm afraid I write it as it comes into my head, or as my imagination dictates.

Alby at 22:43 on 14 September 2017  Report this post
Hello Joy
Thanks for the comments 
I'm still chugging away with your one, I keep starting it and getting stopped, but I will get there -- the good news is there aren't many comments so far

Only two more froggy ones after this one and your home free -- hahaha


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