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Portfolio 3

Class Retrospective

I genuinely enjoyed coming to this class every Wednesday. It was one of very few classes I have taken in college that I believe I walked out of as a better person. In most college classes, aside from your major (hopefully), you forget almost everything you learned in a year’s time. However, I believe that what I have learned in this class, which has ultimately turned me into a better writer, will benefit me for years to come. I also believe that writing is something that cannot be forgotten and is essential throughout life, in the course of which it is evolving.  This class allowed me to become a better writer by stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying new things as well as tweaking old habits to make me an overall better writer. Before taking this class, I always doubted my writing and made sure it fit superficial standards that, in reality, actually hindered it. I thought that opinions backed with factual evidence was the best type of writing but now believe that descriptive, thought provoking writing is just as good.

I believe that the most interesting assignment was portfolio 2, followed by portfolio 3, and then portfolio 1. However, each one was useful in terms of learning in its own way. Portfolio 1 required us to blog about anything we wanted in a descriptive but interesting way. It was supposed to be written in non-fiction but creatively enough that at times it felt like it may actually be fiction. Portfolio 2 required us to write poems that were as thought provoking as possible with minimal use of “fluff” words. Portfolio 3 required us to write a short, short story as well as a short story, paying careful attention to the scenery, background, and plot with vivid descriptions. By completing these portfolios, one would become a pretty well rounded writer who does not follow the everyday norms.

I really think that blogging was a great way to center the work of the class around. It is a very unorthodox way of conducting a class and posting homework assignments but it turned out to be quite interesting. For the first few weeks of the class, I pretty much posted by the deadline of Sunday, but as the semester went on I deviated away from that and started to post on Monday. I can’t really explain why this happened, though procrastination was definitely a part of it. I honestly kick myself in the ass when I procrastinate. It is my New Year’s resolution to rid myself of this disease once and for all, in order to make myself a more time conscious and productive individual. One thing I did notice about the bloggers, including myself was that there was rarely any real critiquing being done. Most of the comments seemed to go along the lines of “Love your story xoxo.” or “Sounds good, would like to hear more.” I know they were sweet and heartwarming, making me feel fuzzy inside, but I doubt they were that sincere and were rather just a quick way to bang out a comment. Most of the comments reminded me of liking someone’s status on Facebook. No real input and rather just a part of the “fan club”, that likes every status a person puts up, no matter what it says. But hey, it’s honestly hard critiquing someone you don’t really know and I applaud you, Jenny for finding a good balance in your comments. You didn’t bring a tough guy like me to tears nor did you say my writing was perfect. You found flaws and bought them to notice in a reasonable manner.

During our last few sessions, you mentioned that we should strive to have our work published. I think it would be pretty cool to have something published, especially my poems because I believe they can be just as intriguing as stories. I worked hard on my poems and would be committed to continue working on them in order to make them close to perfect and more likely to be published. I think that the biggest things that I’m going to take away from this class are that neutral descriptions are more compelling than backed up facts. In addition, the ability to write in a manner that forces the reader to read in between the lines and make their own assumptions is a very powerful tool that I will definitely use in my future writing. All in all, this class was a great learning experience that allowed me to evolve into a better writer of tomorrow.

 

 

Short Short Story

I used to wander the streets day and night, pushing my cart of bottles gently like a stroller. After all, they were my lifeline. By collecting them and cashing them in for a nickel each, they allowed me to eat and essentially, live another day. My brother had borrowed my savings of $50,000, while I was still employed and ventured off to the West Coast to “make it big”. Soon after, however, I was laid off and forced to fend for myself. I had no family to assist me and no friends willing to help out, even when I was in such dire need. But never did I lose faith in my brother because there was no room for failure. It was a make or break situation and my brother knew what needed to be done. Either he succeeded or we lived in mediocrity forever.

There were two consistencies with being homeless. One was having an empty life, so barren and cold that everyday felt bitter like February. I had no sense of direction or anyone to turn to. I was by myself, alone, in one of the most unforgiving cities in the world. The other was having an empty stomach, pretty much all hours of the day. I survived on canned food and “garbage”, eating once a day if I was lucky. It growled and groaned throughout the day even as I tried to subdue it. In addition to suffering from malnutrition, I was very unclean and took on every cliché of a homeless man. I smelled horrible, had overgrown facial hair as well as nasty teeth, walked crooked, and had a raspy but fading voice.

Every day I would see the same faces, even in such a busy and robust city. Towering buildings and businessmen were common, standing tall and ignoring everything around them. I would extend my Styrofoam cup out to anyone who passed by with a look of helplessness on my face. But rarely did anyone drop change in it. Most people continued on their merry way acting as if I was invisible. Over time, I came to the conclusion that if you’re pretty, handsome, rich, or at least look rich, people tend to be more receptive toward you and will surely acknowledge your existence.

Aside from collecting bottles and wandering the same streets daily, I made a habit of going to the bank to check if my brother had wired me any money. Every day I would see the same balance, zero, and would walk out knowing that it was going to eventually change. After the same routine each day for over a year, it happened. I checked my bank account and noticed a balance of ten million dollars. I was ecstatic and ran out of the bank, jumping for joy, knowing that my life was never going to be the same again.

Soon after, I reconnected with my brother and he explained to me that it wasn’t a business venture that made him twenty million but rather pure luck by winning the lottery. He apologized for losing my savings in an investment that seemed too good to be true and for not being there for me when I needed him most. I was fine with it because in the end, the outcome turned out in my favor. This was a perfect example of good luck overwriting bad luck.

I began spending my money on luxury cars, custom suits, jewelry, and women. In less than a month I was roaming the streets of Manhattan, especially my old stomping grounds in the nicest attire within a 5 mile radius. People began to realize that I was that bum they saw on the corner everyday and now I had somehow made it to the top. When they tried to start conversations with me, I blew them off like they had blown me off countless times. I was selfish to those who once disregarded me. However, whenever I passed by someone who truly needed help, I gave them the helping hand they needed to persevere through tough times. I was once there and wholeheartedly sympathize with them. I was living life in the fast lane and loving it until I saw the ugly truth.

Eventually, “friends” came out of the woodworks asking for favors, advice, and guidance. Many of them wanted to “catch up” and patch holes in our relationship. I wasn’t buying it; I knew what they were up to and wouldn’t let it happen under my watch. I realized that practically everyone wanted a piece of my newfound wealth and would do anything in their power to get it. Whether it be deceive me, marry me, or just outright steal it. I wasn’t the only one feeling like this. My brother had informed me that he was getting the same type of treatment from his pals, whether they were close to him or not. We realized that Biggie and others were right, “Mo money, mo problems” and that “Money corrupts the soul”.

We agreed that we had to erase the past and move on. My brother and I decided to sell everything we had and cut off relations to everyone we knew and start new lives. He was going to move to California and I was going to move to Florida. We would still keep in touch and promised to visit each other at least once every two months. Two weeks ago I flew out of NYC and landed near the sunny and sandy beaches of Miami. This time around I will not flaunt my wealth and will have relationships take their natural route. However, that won’t stop me from dressing as sharp as I can and living in a nice home with a beautiful car. Only this time, I will get to choose who gets to see the actual life I live and who doesn’t. Afterall, to the average person, I’m a man who retired early and has a lot of time to kill, having fun partying and living each day like it’s my last.

Short Story(REVISED)

I have walked side by side with death. In the kingdom of Fortada death was common; death was a way of life. Every once in a while, an important person would die and people would mourn, but after a week or two, everything would go back to normal. For my twin brother, James and I, death was the only way. We had never seen our parents but were told they died from a fast sweeping disease. It seemed plausible, especially since we had seen people dying from awful sicknesses on a weekly basis, as well as having everyone in the village vouch our parent’s death. We were raised by our grandmother who did what she could. She was an old but strong woman, in her late 60’s, which made her one of the oldest women in the village. She had powerful hands that could alleviate discomfort and aches but were still quick enough to dice carrots effortlessly.

We absolutely adored our grandmother and appreciated everything she did for us. We were obedient to her every command, although they were not many. She was a woman who liked to do things herself. She loved to watch over us, especially when we played chess. James was much better than I was and I would consistently lose even with the help of my wise grandmother. We would joke around from time to time and call James, “Alexander” because of how serious he was about strategy in chess. However, if there was one thing that I was good at, it was running. My grandmother would tell me that I was as quick as lightning. James would always have trouble keeping up with me in a sprint. We’d stay even until ten seconds in, where James would start losing his breath and stamina, whereas I could keep running without feeling any discomfort. Running came in handy when I had to bring food and other goods home to grandmother before sundown. I would run to town, get what we needed and run back in such a short amount of time that they didn’t even know I left.

Our family was known as a lineage of blacksmiths who were once the leading producer of iron weapons and other tools for the kingdom, but now with no real men in the family, this duty was assigned elsewhere. Rather than continuing to weld, our grandmother decided to take care of the royal family as a nurse. Although most nurses in the kingdom were looked down upon, the royal family developed a liking towards our grandmother. Perhaps it was because she was an obedient worker, or maybe because she was just good at her job. We had no idea why they liked her; we had never even met the King…

Fortada is a fairly large kingdom, completely surrounded in circular fashion by large grey stone blocks, piled fifty feet high. A large castle stood at the front of the kingdom, allowing outsider’s entrance through a bridge located in its center. The wooden bridge lowered and climbed up depending on the situation. It was operated by a few gates keepers who pulled steel chains to either allow entry to people such as messengers and knights or deny entry to assassins and enemy soldiers. When fully lowered, the bridge would lay across a river that would have been impossible to pass otherwise. The river that ran across the entire face of the kingdom was dark, murky and about 30 feet deep, inhabited by alligators and other treacherous creatures. When the bridge was fully lowered one could see the bustling kingdom through the large oval shaped entrance. Although the front of the castle facing the outside world was windowless, there were small holes that soldiers could attack enemies from. Architecturally, there were three evenly sized domes spread across the roof of the castle with golden angels sitting on the top of each. The walls facing the kingdom were decorated with colored glass, along with other portrayals of Christianity. There was a large wooden cross facing the kingdom along with Christian paintings. Fortada was beautiful externally but not as much internally.

Childhood was not all that great for us. Growing up without a father made life quite difficult for my brother and I. We were socially awkward, quiet, and as unmanly as it gets. We felt like outsiders in our own kingdom. We weren’t the most intelligent but we were rather religious. God or better yet the fear of God played a large part in our lives. But then again, it played big part in every villager’s life at the time. My brother and I would sit on the dirt and watch in envy as other boys learned how to be men from their fathers. Learning how to hunt, and fight like knights. We were not fighters; we were petty, weak sixteen year olds. Our family was the one making the weapons, not using them. I remember the day when this all changed.

My brother and I were coming home from town with food for our grandmother’s soup. She had not been feeling too well but still managed to fulfill the basic duties of a guardian. It was pitch black outside but the dirt tracks were dimly lit by surrounding fire torches. There absolutely no one out, from what we could see. We were in no man’s land. When we were about halfway home, we crossed paths with an older boy named William who was a soon to be knight. He was older than we were and was about the size of both of us put together. He was an alpha man and we were betas. So we did what any beta would do, avoid eye contact and keep our heads down when walking past a man of such stature. As we nervously walked by, I felt a jolt of energy from behind.

I flew onto the floor, dropping all the food from my hands. My knees had been scuffed as well as my hands and face. My brother James was in utter shock. He had never been in a situation like this and was frozen in fear. Fear was all we knew.

“Hey weakling, what have you got on you?” he said.

“Uhh, nothing just food for our grandmother” I said as I tried to get up.

“You guys are pathetic” he said.

He walked over to me and kicked me in the ribs sending me to the floor gasping for breath. In that instant my brother had had enough. James lunged at him and punched him in the back. William seemed unfazed by the attack and immediately turned around and delivered a mammoth punch to his mouth. He flew to the ground, revealing that he was just as bloody and battered as I was. Was this how we were going to die? As feeble men who had accomplished nothing in their lifetimes? It was time to be a man, not a boy.

“FUCK YOU! YOU PIECE OF SHIT.” I said.

James, with a bloody foaming mouth said “Leave us alone.”

He stepped towards me and said “How about I end your useless life” as he took out a knife from his pocket. “It’s not like anyone would even care if such a useless person died anyway.”

He charged towards me with the knife and for the first time, I looked another man in the eye. Time had slowed down. I looked him dead in the eye. With all attention on him, and unwavering eye contact, the thoughts ran through my head. “DIE, DIE, DIE” I whispered to myself in anger and pain. I held my gaze thinking it would be my first and last. William stopped dead in his tracks. Freezing, looking at me as if I were the grim reaper and had come to take his life. I kept my gaze firm. I could sense the fear building up. He remained still with a horrified look. Why hadn’t he run away by now? Was he really afraid of me? I began to feel linked to his mind as if I could control what he did and what he thought. I whispered what I’d hoped would happen to him. “Die…” I said with a sly grin on my face in a cold hearted tone. I felt a pulse in my brain and was stunned for a fraction of a second when William collapsed onto the floor. I immediately looked at my downed brother with eyes of regret. He looked at me with a bloody grin and eyes of hatred. After a few minutes, it was apparent. William was dead. We picked up the food and ran home, promising to never reveal what had happened. It was a secret, our secret.

The next day, we awoke to a knocking door. We knew exactly why our door was being knocked on. Our grandmother slowly limped to the door, coughing along the way. When she finally opened the door, a knight dressed in polished armor with a sword tucked to his side stood in front of her grief stricken. Before she could even open her mouth to speak, the knight said “A knight has been killed.” Grandma’s eyes widened as she stood in utter shock. There were only a few dozen knights. She knew we were not in war, so how else could a young and valiant knight been killed?

“How was he killed?” Grandma asked.

Little did she know, the killer and witness were standing right behind her.

“There were no signs of injury, so we are not sure.” the knight said.

“So he just dropped dead?” Grandma said.

“God may have special plans for him. He was the most promising knight in the land” he said while turning his back.

“His burial will be held tomorrow.” he said walking away.

Grandma looked at us for a brief moment and then hobbled off into the kitchen. We seemed to be in the clear…

At the burial, the finest knights and soldiers as well as the king were in attendance. I was surprised that we were given permission to attend the funeral. It was probably because of grandma. Everyone was in a somber and heartbroken state. They had no idea how or why such a bright knight had suddenly dropped dead. My brother and I felt as if we didn’t belong in such a congregation. We had a pact that we would never reveal what had happened. No one else cared about us, except grandma. So we wouldn’t care about them. Instead, we would use this time to see what we were capable of.

“William was a great knight.” The king said.

My brother wanted to see if he had similar abilities to mine. He looked directly in the eyes of a knight standing, listening to the speech. A few seconds later, the same man said, “No he was not a knight.” In that instant, every person snapped their head in his direction and looked at him confused and with disgust. Not only had he talked bad about a great prospect, but he had done something that was unheard of in the village, talking over the king.

“What did you say?” said the king.

“Umm…nothing sir, I didn’t say anything.” said the knight.

“You are right that he was not a knight at the time, but he sure as hell would have surpassed you in time.” said the king.

“You’re right your highness. I am sorry.” said the knight.

Thankfully the king did not take this too seriously. Usually a peasant would be burned at the stake for such an act, but this knight was in higher standing. After all, his comrade was just killed.

It was now clear. My brother and I were gifted with powers that allowed us to manipulate people and even kill them if we pleased. It was as if we were living Gods. Now we just needed to learn how to use them quickly and efficiently, like a second nature.

About two weeks later, our grandmother was terribly ill. It was as if her health got worse and worse after we had killed William. She was on the bed, wheezing but still able to speak a few words. It was clear that she would not make it through the night. Hours before she had continuously said “I love you both, with all my heart.” We loved her too. She was the only one who cared about our lives. She was the last living person we cared about. As time went by, her breathing became deeper and quicker. It became harder and harder to do the most basic task, breathe. Minutes before her death, she spoke.

“They lied.” she said.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“You’re parents weren’t killed by a disease.” she said in many breaths.

“What??” James said.

“The king, he killed them!” she said with everything she could muster.

Her body then collapsed like her soul had been ripped out. This was it. Grandma had passed. The only person who cared about us on this earth…gone. We had been lied to, but it was not her fault. It was the people who had kept it from us and wanted it to stay that way.

James looked at me with ghastly eyes. I returned the glare. Death was coming.

We stormed out the door, seeking retribution. A village stands to protect and inform those who inhabit it. Fortada failed us. For this, we would destroy it. We broke into the first house. A family of four, mother, father, daughter, and son. The mother and father woke up immediately, confronting us.

“James, John?” the mother said.

“WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING IN HERE?” the father said.

“Heh.” I smirked.

We looked at them, with the eyes of death and they immediately collapsed, meeting death. The children ran out of their rooms and met eye to eye with their parents killers. The fact was, they were innocent victims who were related to the cause. It was not their fault, but someone had to pay. They were spared and would understand in time why this was done to them. They would pursue us, like we pursued their parents. We looked away from them and ran off into the night.

We went from house to house ruthlessly killing anyone involved. Killing after killing, we became immune to weak emotions. We did not feel sorrow, regret, or pain. We only felt hatred and power. After a few murders, killing became as easy as breathing. After wiping out nearly everyone, we slowly walked to the King’s castle.

As we approached the castle we noticed that there were guards standing in front of the doors to the two entrances. They looked like they were drifting off to sleep when we confronted them. They quickly snapped out of their slumber and assumed an upright stance.

“What are you boys doing here?” Guard 1 said.

“Yeah shouldn’t you guys be sleeping?” Guard 2 said.

“Goodnight, forever.” James said.

They collapsed to the ground. We took the key for the door from one of the guard’s pockets. We opened the door and walked in. We walked into every room, killing its occupants before they could even open their mouths. After randomly walking through the castle, killing everyone in sight, we came face to face with double wooden doors adorned with bells and gold in a vine like pattern. We rushed through the doors awaking the King and the Queen. As soon as the Queen got up, she dropped right back down, dead. The King was in utter shock. He had never been in such a situation before.

“What are doing here? Where are my guards?” he mumbled hurriedly.

“Dead” I said.

“But…why…who are you…two?”

“You killed our parents…why?” James said.

“Your parents…were different!” the king said.

“They tried to organize a peasant revolt. They were always very sympathetic towards those runts. The kingdom was nearly overrun. They had to be killed. Please don’t kill me.” he continued.

James glared at him. The king took a dagger close to his bed and started stabbing his torso repeatedly.

“AHH, PLEASE STOP!!! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?!” he screamed.

He lifted the dagger upwards. He stabbed his left temple and dropped to the floor.

“Our parents were good people.” James said.

“They stood up, like we have.” I said.

We exited the castle and begun a trek to a nearly enemy kingdom.

As we ventured towards the kingdom, we encountered bandits and merchants, many of which we killed, especially if they had taken us lightly. We stole food and water but didn’t bother stealing anything materialistic because it meant nothing to us. We were supreme and godlike in nature. Anything we wanted was ours for the taking.

After the nearly two day journey we approached the enemy kingdom. It was a bright August afternoon. As we got closer, we began killings off any armed soldiers that were camping on the rooftops. We got closer to the gates keeper when James glared directly at him. The gates keeper immediately began opening the doors to the kingdom. The entrance was the size of Fortada’s but had metal bars that rose in front of a large wooden door. When the bars to the door finally lifted, we killed off the gates keeper and started our stroll into the kingdom.

As soon as we entered, villagers started screaming and running. Rather than kill them, we just continued to stroll along, with menacing glares, daring anyone to challenge us. We were the new authority whether they liked it or not. Anyone armed or confronting was killed instantly. After surveying most of the kingdom, we began to hear horses and other rowdy men charging at us from behind. The horses were well ahead of their knights. We turned towards the horses, and began plucking the knights off them, snapping their necks. As soon as the soldiers behind them registered their impending death, they froze. The king revealed himself, from behind the knights.

“Who are you men?” he said.

“Everything you are not.” I said.

“We are death.” James continued.

“Interesting…You men will be great additions to this kingdom. Take what you want and do as you will!” the king said.

Suddenly, the villagers started to smile and grab us as if we were saviors. We had just killed dozens of their fellow villagers but they viewed us a godsend? It felt great to be loved by a whole kingdom. It felt too good to be true.

That night we had a feast of epic proportions in the King’s castle. We sat alongside the king, nobles, and other high class individuals. They didn’t dare to say anything out of line to us. Everything they mentioned was in regarding to how they could better pamper us. After eating, the King called for a group of women to come out.

“These are yours, as well as any other woman you want.” he said.

This was the life. Although we were supreme beings, it felt better handed to us, rather than us just taking what we wanted.

Treatment like this continued for months. We ate like kings, slept with any woman we wanted, although most of them were throwing themselves on us, and had villagers worship us. Life couldn’t get any better. The only thing that we had to do for the village was protect it. Every now and then enemy soldiers would come and we would neutralize the threat rather quickly.

However, over time it became rather redundant to James. One day James came up to me and said

“John, I want to explore the world.”

“But isn’t this life great?” I said.

“Yeah but life is about more than being powerful.” he said.

“Well, I plan on staying here for as long as this treatment lasts.” I said.

“I’ll see what else life has to offer. If I’m not back in 6 months, something is wrong.” he said.

“Ah, you’ll be fine brother. I’ll stand post here and laugh when you come running back for such treatment!” I said.

He left shortly after. The days flew by and the months passed on. I didn’t let it faze me because I knew he’d be alright. He was practically immortal and could fight entire armies, singlehandedly. A week ago a villager told me that James has been away for 8 months. James had told me to send people to look for him after 6 months. Who knows…maybe he found a kingdom that gives better treatment? Maybe he found discovered something interesting? All I know is that he must have been alive and well. So I sent out a few dozen villagers to go looking for him, to show him that I actually followed his advice.

Yesterday, while having lunch, a villager returned, telling me that he had located James in Fortada…dead. My heart immediately started racing. My vision blurred as my eyes begun to water. No, this could not happen. He is immortal, we are immortal. I began to take deep breaths.

“This cannot be true. It wasn’t James you discovered.” I said.

“He was on the floor next to a bed with a body on it.” he said.

“There was no blood. He was just laying there, dead. I found this piece of paper in his hand.” he continued.

I grabbed the paper from him and opened it up. It read, “Gods are not meant for earth.” What did this mean? Was James not happy with whom he was? I know we didn’t ask for such abilities, but who would turn them down. We had the power to do anything we pleased.

It has only been one day, but now I’m beginning to understand James. This was not a blessing but a curse. No one deserves so much power, especially if they are committing nothing but sin. We had done nothing beneficial for the world and only caused pain and death. Being able to control life or death is something no man should have power over. With our power, we should have bought families and kingdoms together and lived in harmony. We should have strived to make the world better for the younger generation, so they didn’t have to live the life we lived. A life worth living is one where a person is loved by everyone he is surrounded with and spreads nothing but love to everyone who needs it. Also, a great life is one that is balanced with not only healthy relationships, but striving to be the best in whatever it is you have a passion for. Unfortunately, we had no friends, it was all an illusion. We were a tool, used for well being of others. We were at the top of the world and had nothing to accomplish, no reason to live. We only had each other, just like the old days. But now, I’m alone, as I close my eyes…and think about death.

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~ by billyfrawley on December 22, 2011.

One Response to “Portfolio 3”

  1. Thank you so much for your reflections on the class, Billy (did I tell you already that that’s my cat’s name?), and I’m so gratified that you feel enriched and empowered by it. That’s what it’s all about! You’re absolutely right about the excessive niceness of most peer responses to the blog-posts, and I wish I could’ve thought of a way to nip that early on. It’s great that everyone was so supportive of one another, but we no doubt missed some opportunities for learning and improvement. In the future, *you* should model for your peers the kind of serious but tactful criticism you think is fitting for this kind of class!

    You’ve been a terrific student this semester (I guess I didn’t notice that your posts were going up late, so no harm, no foul) and I am content to give you an A for the course. You deserve it.

    Regarding these pieces, your short, short story (title?) is an interesting meditation on wealth and poverty, superficial glitz and more meaningful engagement with life. I particularly liked the sympathetic imagination allowing you into the psyche of a homeless man, but then it’s also interesting that the millionaire requires our sympathy, as well. These themes, as well as the relationship between brothers, are also in evidence in your longer short story.

    Your revisions on that story are mostly very effective, I think. You’ve made the two brothers much more sympathetic by showing us more of their humanity, their relationships with their grandmother most specifically, and (I think?) editing out some of their power-hungry violence. I very much like the themes you raise at the end, and the challenge of a good writer is to instruct but without sounding didactic, without necessarily coming right out and stating the moral of the story. Somehow, the story must convey its moral–a subtle distinction, no? It’s an interesting story nonetheless, improved with each revision. Very effective process-oriented work!

    Please post your qc email address if you’d like to be in on our publishing conversations through January, ok?

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