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Seasonal staples

It just wouldn’t be December without ‘The Nutcracker,’ ‘The Messiah’ and more

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Elf: the Musical, gay news, Washington Blade, Kennedy Center, theater
Elf: the Musical, gay news, Washington Blade, Kennedy Center, theater

A scene from ‘Elf: the Musical.’ (Photo courtesy the Kennedy Center)

Even if you’re fighting holiday “creep” and don’t want to think about Christmas until after Thanksgiving, it’s not too early to get tickets for your favorite holiday shows. Here are a few to consider.

The Nutcracker, Joffrey Ballet, gay news, theater,

A scene from Joffrey Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker.’ (Photo courtesy the Kennedy Center)

The Kennedy Center (2700 F St., N.W.) brings numerous holiday-themed performances throughout November and December. First, The Joffrey Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” Nov. 27-Dec. 1 in the Opera House. The holiday favorite includes a live orchestra, Victorian America scenery and costumes to accompany the dance. Tickets start from $29.

The Kennedy Center hosts Pro Musica Hebraica’s presentation “The Voice of the Clarinet in Jewish Classical Music: Alexander Fiterstein and Friends,” a Hanukkah concert that highlights the clarinet in Jewish art music, in the Terrace Theater on Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start from $38.

Also at the Kennedy Center, “NSO Pops: Happy Holidays! with Brian Stokes Mitchell” brings Tony Award-winner Mitchell alongside the NSO Pops to perform a holiday medley Dec. 12-14. Tickets start from $20.

“Elf The Musical,” the stage musical born from the popular Hollywood film, runs Dec. 17- Jan. 5. in the Opera House at the Kennedy Center. The story follows an orphaned man raised by Santa Claus and elves on his journey to reconnect with his biological father in New York City. Tickets start from $60. Visit kennedy-center.org for details.

The 31st annual Christmas Revels present “Echoes of Thrace: Music, Dance and Drama of Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey,” a blend of seasonal carols and Slavonic harmonies with traditional folk characters, at the George Washington Lisner Auditorium (730 21st St., N.W.) Dec. 7-15. Tickets range from $27-$50.

Grammy-nominated artist Matisyahu brings his “Festival of Light” Hanukkah celebration to the 9:30 Club (815 V St., N.W.) Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Experience the classic Christmas tale “A Christmas Carol” in various ways around the area.

MetroStage (1201 North Royal St., Alexandria, Va.) presents “A Broadway Christmas Carol” Nov.21-Dec. 22. The show mixes the song parodies of Broadway show tunes with the classic Dickens’s story. Tickets are $50.

Ford's Theatre, theater, A Christmas Carol, gay news, Washington Blade

Ford’s Theatre’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ one of several adaptations of the Dickens’ classic that will be on regional stages in December. (Photo courtesy Ford’s)

A one-man show of  “A Christmas Carol” plays Nov. 29-Dec. 29 at Olney Theatre Center (2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, Md.). The holiday favorite stars Paul Morella performing the tale in Charles Dickens’ own words. Tickets range from $18-$36.

Ford’s Theatre presents “A Christmas Carol” through Jan 1. The production stars Washington stage actor Edward Gero as Ebenezer Scrooge. Tickets range from $40.80-$99.60.

Metropolitan Community Church of Washington (474 Ridge Street, N.W.), D.C.’s largest mostly LGBT church, has its annual Christmas concert “A Homecoming Holiday” Dec. 6-7 at 7:30 p.m. featuring the church’s own groups Eclectic Praise, Joyful Strings, Moving Spirit as well as the church’s two choirs. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at mccdc.com.

D.C.’s Different Drummers has its “Holiday Prism Concert” featuring D.C. Swing! And the Capitol Pride Symphonic Band on Dec. 15. Tickets are $20 for aduots, $10 for seniors and free for children 12 and under. No further information is available now, but visit dcdd.org closer to the date for details.

The Birchmere and AM Productions team up to present “The Brian Setzer Orchestra ‘Christmas Rocks’ 10th Anniversary Tour” at The Warner Theatre (513 13th St., N.W.) on Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000.

On Dec. 14 at 8 p.m., The Birchmere also presents “What Christmas Means Tour 2013: A Holiday Experience” with JEM & Friends with special guests Patti LaBelle and Ron Isley at DAR Constitution Hall (1776 D St., N.W.). Tickets can be purchased on ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000.

Rams Head On Stage (33 West St., Annapolis, Md.) presents many diverse holiday shows. First, enjoy the Scottish/Irish traditional instrumental and vocal styles during “Christmas with the Celts” featuring Laura McGhee and Michael Stribling on Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. The Celts’ Christmas show has been featured on PBS. Guests must be 21 and over. Tickets are $35.

Next, “Motown and More: A Holiday Celebration” on Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. showcases classic Motown tunes from singers such as The Temptations and The Supremes along with holiday favorites. Guests must be 21 and over. Tickets are $25.

Also, the 15th annual “An Annapolis Christmas” performance is Dec.16-17 at 7 p.m. Enjoy a mix of original and holiday songs performed by an array of local artists. Guests must be 21 and over. Tickets are $32.50.

“Christmas Gift!” runs at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (3800 Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, College Park, Md.) Dec.13-14. The musical tells the story of the holiday gift exchange tradition in the African-American community. Tickets range from $10-$35. Purchase tickets at claricesmithcenter.umd.edu.

The Washington Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” plays at The Warner Theatre (513 13th St., N.W.) Dec. 5-14. Tickets range from $42-$107. Purchase tickets at warnertheatredc.com.

Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) presents a couple Christmas-themed performances. Pianist/composer Matt Conner and his friends perform favorite Christmas tunes in “A Matt Conner Christmas” Dec. 11-15. Tickets are $48.60 and can be purchased at signature-theatre.org.

Signature’s annual holiday celebration returns with “Holiday Follies 2013,”a Christmas concert featuring special guest performers, Dec. 17-23. Performers include Madeline Botteri and Austin Colby. Tickets are $48.60 and can be purchased at signature-theatre.org.

Coyaba Dance Theater holds its annual Kwanzaa celebration at George Washington University’s Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre (800 21st St., N.W.) Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. Enjoy live music, dancing and singing in a performance for all ages. Tickets range from $15-$25 and can be purchased online at coyabadancetheater.org.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington presents “Sparkle, Jingle, Joy” at the Lisner Auditorium (730 21st St., N.E.) Dec. 20-21. The performance features Grammy Award winner Matt Alber. Celebrate the holidays with classic holiday carols like “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and new songs like “The Christmas Can-Can.” Tickets are $54 and can be purchased at tickets.gmcw.org.

Wolf Trap (1645 Trap Rd., Vienna, Va.) presents its free annual holiday sing-a-long on Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. Choir and vocal groups from across the D.C. area will lead a sing along of Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs. There is also a performance by the United States Marine Band. Voluntary donations for Toys for Tots will be accepted at the entrance. Wolf Trap gift certificates or an annual membership also make great gift ideas! Visit wolftrap.org for the current schedule.

Town (20009 8th St., N.W.) presents “HEATWAVE: Back to the Beach Holiday Celebration” Dec. 5 from 7 p.m.-midnight. There will be musical performances from Ba’Naka and the cast from Town. Music and dancing provided by DJ Chord Bezerra. There will also be a best male and female holiday swimwear contest, drink specials, games and prizes and an underwear fashion show presented by Universal gear. Tickets are $10.

Lesbian gospel singer Jennifer Knapp returns to the region this year with her “Hymns of Christmas Tour” with Margaret Becker on Dec. 11 at Jammin’ Java (227 Maple Ave. E Vienna, Va.) at 8 p.m. Tickets are just $18. Visit jamminjava.com for tickets.

Gay film director John Waters returns to the Birchmere (3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, Va.) again this year for his “John Waters Christmas” on Dec. 18. Tickets are $49.50 for the 7:30 p.m. show. Visit birchmere.com for tickets.

Out saxophonist Dave Koz brings his “Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour 2013” to the Modell Performing Arts Center (The Lyric) in Baltimore (140 W. Mt. Royal Ave., Baltimore) on Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. Oleta Adams, Jonathan Butler and Keiko Matsui will also appear. Prices vary and a VIP package is available. Visit davekoz.com or Ticketmaster.com for details.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performs “BSO: Holiday Cirque” at the Music Center at Strathmore (5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, Md.) on Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. Listen to holiday favorites while watching a circus performance by Cirque Musica featuring strongmen, acrobats and contortionists. Tickets range from $31-86 and can be purchased at strathmore.org.

Also at the Music Center at Strathmore, the National Philharmonic performs “Handel’s Messiah” Dec. 14-15. Messiah is one of the most frequently performed works in Western choral literature. A free pre-concert lecture will be held before each performance. Kids ages 7-17 are free. Tickets start at $28 and can be purchased at strathmore.org.

Washington Concert Opera doesn’t have any holiday productions planned but is gearing up for its performance of “Il Corsaro” in March at the Lisner Auditorium. The classical music lover on your list would love tickets! Visit concertopera.org for details.

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Theater

In ‘Trans Am,’ a trans person telling a trans story

Lisa Stephen Friday shines in Keegan one-woman show

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Lisa Stephen Friday (Photo by Mike Kozemchak)

TRANS AM
Jan. 29-Feb. 26
Keegan Theatre
1742 Church St. N.W.
$55-$65
Keegantheatre.com

In the fall of 2020, Lisa Stephen Friday’s one-woman show “Trans Am” premiered virtually at Keegan Theatre. “Honestly, streaming a dozen shows isn’t something I want to do again. I was thrilled to do it but performing a live musical with no audience was daunting. Like performing to a black hole. Exhausting.”

But now the trans woman performer is back at Keegan with a live world premiere of the same piece. “Trans Am” is 90 minutes of uninterrupted autobiographical stories and the music of Friday’s cult-favorite NYC glam rock band Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday. 

Her transition hasn’t been easy and that’s reflected in the work, but so is a happy default setting – Friday likes to laugh and make people laugh. The meat of the story is the intensity of time spent in the band, but also her youth in Georgia, other aspects of New York, and her move to D.C. “For me as a trans woman that story involves a very laborious journey to self-actualization. We live in a world that doesn’t allow space for trans people. So, it’s a lot,” she says.

Work as a project manager for Barbizon, a leading provider of entertainment lighting systems, brought Friday to the DMV, specifically Dupont (Trump’s election prompted a move from Alexandria to the gayborhood). She’s currently dating a chef: “He’s great at what he does and he’s thrilled to see the show,” she says. 

BLADE: Was it tough writing a deeply personal show like Trans Am? 

LISA STEPHEN FRIDAY: I wrote my story over five weekends. It was incredibly cathartic. There are fun memories with downtown queens, but also the time I went to the pharmacy and the pharmacist totally read me about getting hormones. That was jarring. It was definitely time for me to acknowledge the enormity of what it means to be trans in this country.

BLADE: Would you describe your professional experience as unique? 

FRIDAY: Before transitioning, I went through the world as your typical 25-year-old cishetero male. Oblivious. I was a theater actor in New York, chasing roles like Chris in “Miss Saigon” or Marius in “Les Miz.” These were my life goals. I look back and think how trite.

Coming out and transitioning meant I was no longer cast. The last time I went on an audition for musical theater was in 2003 for “Taboo” to play Boy George’s friend Marilyn. The part went to a soap star. Instead, I found the downtown queer rock and roll scene. That’s where I needed to be. 

It took me a while to find clarity about who I was. A lot of what I talk about in the show is about finding that East Village crowd who said “honey, you’re a woman.” Surrounding yourself with community is the way to reach that. 

BLADE: What’s your history with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” 

FRIDAY: In the late ‘90s I asked to audition to replace Hedwig. In New York, they knew me as Steve Friday, a good rock and roll singer. I remember thinking I can’t do this shit. No one knows that I sit around my house wearing women’s clothes. 

I cancelled those auditions because I was living in fear. For a while, I really regretted that. Then 20 some years later, I had an opportunity to do it at Keegan. But the pandemic stopped that. 

The truth is I no longer feel that I need or want to play Hedwig. There is trauma in that story attached to medical transition. I’m a trans woman who has gone through all confirmation surgeries. I feel really uncomfortable standing on stage singing about an angry inch. 

I know Hedwig’s creators wrote that show from a loving place but it was written in 1998 and it’s very dated. That said, it opened the door to a queer space in theater that didn’t exist before. 

Now with “Trans Am,” Keegan can do something different. A trans person telling a trans story, which is a step forward from “Hedwig.”

BLADE: With productions shutting down due to the Omicron surge, do you feel any trepidation about getting through the run?  

FRIDAY: That fear is always there. For me it would be really disappointing. My life has been in the theater – performing or production. I’m hyper aware of everything the Keegan and all theaters are risking financially. So, I’m excited and grateful, but kind of walking on eggshells.

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Arts & Entertainment

June Jambalaya, lightly seasoned newcomer thickens mix of RuPaul’s Drag Race

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“Some are born into drag greatness, some achieve drag greatness, and some have drag greatness thrust upon ‘em.”

That iconic line, from the 1602 Shakespeare play “RuPaul’s Twelfth Night,” is as true today as when it was first spoken on the stage of London’s Globe Theatre. Back then, the female roles were played by men. Times may have changed, but the song remains the same: Those with male plumbing who plumb the depths of what it takes to play a woman find themselves doing so through dynasty, scrappy determination, destiny, or a road they have to hoe on their own.Season 14 “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant June Jambalaya found herself in the iconic workroom and runway in a very roundabout way, indeed.

“I have been in the performing arts my entire life, going to performing arts school, and I moved out to LA to get my degree in fine arts” said the 29-year-old Jacksonville, Florida native, who spoke with us just prior to the Season 14 premiere episode, in which she’s introduced alongside half of the cast. Jambalaya, whose drag name came about when a dance instructor asked for her birth month and the last thing she ate, stayed in LA after graduation but found things “didn’t go as planned, you know, just auditioning but still working my job. I worked as a visual manager for a luxury department store, so it [drag] gravitated to me because actually, I was choreographing for a co-worker. It gave me an opportunity to use my degree and use my talents—because I felt kind of frustrated with auditioning and the world of performing. I didn’t fit the stereotypical body that a male backup dancer or performer should have and so it drew me to drag because this was an art form where you got to make your own rules and really pick your narrative, which made me even more intrigued to do it for myself.”

While doing choreography for local LA drag queens, noted Jambalaya, “They encouraged me to try it [drag], and I entered a nightly competition at Revolver and won and then I did a 10-week competition at Revolver and won. So all the stars just kind of aligned. It just felt like I was doing something right with all of the talents and gifts I felt like I had.”

BLADE: What sort of style were you drawing from in those early performances?  

JUNE JAMBALAYA

JUNE JAMBALAYA: When I first started drag, my references were from the Latrice Royales and the Roxy Andrews. I looked at the queens before me that really put on high-energy, like high old school drag numbers and performances. But the more I got to experience who June was, her brand and you know my own artistry I started to really pull from my love for the modern woman and thinking about like, my mom and my sister and my aunts and how I was always inspired by women, especially minority women, because they were the strongest, most fearless, most stylish women that I got to encounter so I really drew a lot of those references into my drag. And then I also, you know, I call myself The Real Housewife of Drag because of my love for the franchise and how real women just sit there fully dressed and living their fantasy on television. That’s sort of what this is for me.

BLADE: You’re serious about the way you use fashion. Does that clash with camp elements of drag? 

JUNE: Yes I’m funny, but I don’t consider myself a comedy queen. I think it’s performance with looks, um, because I revealed myself in a Christopher John Rogers couture gown and then I added a train and airbrushed my name on there to make it, you know, it was fashion but then I made it camp and, you know, urban by airbrushing it—having my nails, have my name hang off… So I’m wearing these designer pieces that you typically don’t see from someone; I’m a size 14, 16 and you haven’t really seen a big girl pull out these type of designers this way and I think that’s interesting. So my camp comes in my love for the visual… You’ll see me inside a waterfall performing a song for a video. That’s where I think my camp comes through, in my visual artistic side. But with my fashion, I really do try to show that plus-sized women and full-figure people love and respect fashion and there is room for us there, too.

BLADE: What is an LA club experience with you like, as opposed to what we’re going to see on television?

JUNE: I have always picked things that felt good to me, but I’m learning that I still have to pick numbers that people are going to enjoy. But when you come to a June Jambalaya performance, you want high energy. You know I’m gonna have backup dancers. So like me and my girls, we rehearse these numbers for weeks on end before the show. One of my biggest inspirations is Beyoncé. I’ve been to more concerts than I’d like to admit.

BLADE: Oh, there’s no shame in that.

JUNE: (laughs) Seeing those shows, all the way down to the costumes and the choreography, all that time and effort that went into it—so I try my best, with the resources I have, to give people that live tour show experience.

BLADE: Your life will be different from the moment the show starts airing. What is the waiting experience like, and have you been given any helpful advice from other queens?

JUNE: So recently, I posted a Christmas video that took three months to film—and it’s different now, because of the [Season 14] announcement, and people know the show is coming. So I get to hear from people from Brazil and Belize message me and tell me how much they enjoyed my video, and people who don’t even celebrate Christmas, that these visuals and these packages of my art are reaching all over the world—it’s blowing my mind to think about this time last year. I had maybe 2,000 followers and I just had dream and I was making videos and taking photos like crazy, and now it’s [the buzz leading up to the show] unfolding before my eyes.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have conversations with Gigi Goode, Kandy Muse, and LaLa Ri. They have all been so extremely supportive. I think Gigi Goode gave me some of the best advice. She came to my “Showgirls” performance and she was like, “Do everything, every opportunity that comes to you. You’re going to be tired but this is going to be the ride of your life—and everything you’ve dreamt of, you can literally do right now. So whatever is in your head, let it out.”
 

BLADE: What advice would you give to those who are just starting out with their drag, and is having a formal background like yours helpful?

JUNE: I think it [education] definitely helped me, but I haven’t been doing drag that long. I started April 2019… But I think when you find something you’re passionate about you will do the work to further educate yourself on it, and I really do believe I did that. So my advice to anyone embarking on something or doing something they’re passionate about is, pull from people who are doing it really, really well. I think one of the best things that I did, I watched Roxy Andrews. I studied with Aquaria [as I was preparing my audition tape]. I saw what the best of the best were doing, to prepare myself to meet that level of excellence. When you’re in this high-pressure drag situation, and mind you, this was just a hobby for me. I had a full-time job. So I went from a part-time baby queen to now doing it full-time, 18-hour days. So it showed me there’s still so much to be done, to be in drag all day, to go from doing an acting challenge to getting ready for a runway. It’s so physically demanding, to be a full-time drag queen.

BLADE: So are you in better shape now than you were before?

JUNE: Well, we filmed it a while ago. I was in really good shape. Then I took a break and ate some food, enjoyed the holidays. Now it’s kicking back in. You know, press [to do] and outfits need to fit (laughs).

BLADE: What do you hope to achieve, as a result of being on the show?

JUNE: I’ve never been to Fashion Week. I would love to experience that or walk and be a part of it, or be part of a beauty brand or something of that nature. But when it comes down to artistry, we have a whole Vegas residency with “RuPaul’s Drag Race” now. I would love the opportunity for that—or the Werq the World Tour, to actually; Imagine if I got to take all of my visuals and put it on the stage… that’s an artist’s dream.

Follow June Jambalaya on Instagram/TikTok/Twitter: @junejambalaya. To stay up-to-date on all things #DragRace Season 14, follow along on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok at @rupaulsdragrace.

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Books

‘Fiona and Jane’ an enticing look at lifelong friendship

Two women bicker, fall distant – then meet again

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(Book cover image courtesy of Viking)

‘Fiona and Jane’
By Jean Chen Ho
c. 2022, Viking
$26/275 pages

“Fiona and Jane,” a new short story collection by Jean Chen Ho is an enticing New Year’s present. The captivating volume features secrets, family conflict, queerness, astute cultural observations, and above all, friendship.

We long to fall in love. So we lose our hearts to our lovers and go to pieces when our relationships break up.

Yet, especially, if we’re women and/or queer, we want a best friend as much, maybe more, than we do a lover.

Fiona and Jane, Asian Americans, grew up in Los Angeles. They’ve been best friends since they met in LA in second grade. Jane’s family emigrated to Los Angeles from Taiwan. Fiona, with her mother, came to LA from Taiwan when she was a young child.

In “Fiona and Jane,” Ho’s debut collection, the two friends over 30 years grow from second-graders to 30-somethings. Ho’s linked stories draw us into Fiona and Jane’s friendship as they become, at different times, incredibly close, then distant (both geographically and emotionally) from each other.

Ho, 41, has more writing chops than you can imagine. She is a doctoral candidate in creative writing and literature at the University of Southern California where she is a Dornsife Fellow in fiction. Ho has an MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her writing has been published in The Georgia Review, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, McSweeney’s, and other publications.

Ho was born in Taiwan, grew up in Southern California and lives in Los Angeles. But, “none of the things that happen to Fiona and Jane are autobiographical,” she said on the podcast “All of It with Alison Stewart,” “I didn’t mine my particular life experiences and put them in the book out of respect to my oldest and dearest friends.”

Fiona is hetero, smart  and attractive. As a teen, she earns enough money to buy a secondhand car (named Shamu, Ho writes, “after the Sea World killer whale because of the corroding white patches all over the black paint.”).

While Fiona’s mother isn’t religious, Jane’s Mom is devoutly Christian. Jane is bisexual. When she and Fiona are teens, they kiss  “to practice” – what kissing’s like. Though she doesn’t tell her Mom, Jane, when a teenager, has a romantic relationship with her female piano teacher.

When she’s young, Jane often does what Fiona does. Because Jane’s tall, she’s often thought of as “Fiona’s bodyguard.” As she grows older, Jane begins to rely more on herself.

Fiona is eager to leave LA. She goes to college, then moves to New York City with her first boyfriend. She enters law school, then drops out.

Jane stays in Los Angeles. She opts to take a gap year between high school and college. The gap year morphs into a couple of years. Jane has relationships with women as well as with Julian, a vet who has PTSD.

Though Fiona and Jane are quite different from one another, they keep circling back to each other. Despite their differences, they have one thing in common: they both have lost their fathers.

In one of the collection’s most moving stories, “The Night Market,” Jane speaks of her visit before she graduated high school to Taiwan where she has come to see her Dad. Her Dad has gone from LA to Taiwan for a temporary job. Jane learns that he’s going to stay in Taiwan because he’s fallen in love with a man there. Her Dad asks her to keep this a secret. But, in her pain at his revelation, she outs him. Jane blames herself for his suicide.

Fiona discovers as a child that she’s never known her father. Her mother raises her on her own.

Over the years, Fiona and Jane bicker, fall distant – then meet again. As teens, they help each other get fake IDs so they can drink. As adults, they help each other through moving apartments, love affairs and mourning.

 “Sixteen years since my father died, and I was still alive,” Jane thinks, “I got up, every morning. I lived, day by day. I had my best friend, Fiona Lin.”

Check out “Fiona and Jane.” Then, text your best friend.

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