Form: electronic literature

Next Step: Tomorrow

Next Step: Tomorrow

The waiting is hardest when it’s for that flash of inspiration that will lift you out of the morass and give you an idea for action.

Action to change your life, create something moving and brilliant with your art, and set some relationship right. Sometimes you feel it’ll never come. But something always comes, if you listen for long enough you always hear something.

The trick isn’t getting inspiration but not forgetting it, because life stuff floods your attention and zaps your energy. I’ve often forgotten an idea for something really great I could do, something that would make a difference because soon after, you know, life happened.

Then two days or two years down the line, when I’ve parked my car somewhere I can see the horizon and don’t want to drive home because home is chaos, then – right then – an old idea or inspiration rears its head, and I go home with a little more hope for tomorrow.

Waiting for the Update

Waiting for the Update

I couldn’t escape into random news surfing this morning, because my iPhone had decided to run a half-hour long update so with “exciting new features to iPhone, including the ability to unlock iPhone with Apple Watch while wearing a face mask, more diverse Siri voices, new privacy controls, skin tone options to better represent couples in emoji, and much more”. So I had no buffer between myself and the five zillion demands that assault me every morning from the moment I open my eyes until I close them, from kids to looking for a job to kissing my husband goodbye and pretending we still have some semblance of a romantic marriage. But once I was able to gulp down my first cup of coffee, my brain began spinning scenarios anyway for how I could get everything out of life before it was too late: make more money, make more love, make more art.

The Seven Words Left On Paper

The Seven Words Left On Paper

“Isn’t that the bag dad uses for his guns?” 

“No, it’s an ordinary bag,” Carrie said, “like yours.”

Emma had her own new pink bag with the large Japanese letters slung over her shoulder, so it was obvious that she was going over to Mika, probably to try again to make a positive impression on the new smart girl in class.  

Emma nodded at the bed again. “It looks like dad’s bag.”

Carrie adjusted her ear ring, even though she had already done it. But at least she had somewhere to put her hands. “I’m going shopping. Is there anything special you want for dinner, sweetie?”

“Dinner?” Emma still tripped in the doorway to her parents’ bedroom, staring at the big black bag her mother had on the bed.

“Yes, is there anything you want?”

“Er, for dinner?” Emma repeated as if her mother had asked her about the site of an alien landing.

“Yes, I was thinking about fries and chicken … ” 

“We had that yesterday.”

“Oh, right.” Carrie left the earring alone and pretend she was all clear. “Well, your brother likes it so no harm in having it again.”

Emma smiled briefly. “I think I will eat over at Mika’s … if you don’t mind?”

“The rest of us will certainly miss your excellent company, but we will try to manage.” Carrie was about to say something more, but it was already too late.

“Okay. Bye now!” And away she was. Carrie could hear the stair groaning in protest as Emma flew down to the front door, like a soldier to battle.

Carrie hooked up in the straps of the black bag and felt its weight. It didn’t feel like going off to battle, although perhaps it should. The bag was there, but it did not feel it belonged to her. 

Her summer dress with the knee-length skirt—that belonged to her, even if she’d rather have a newer one. Her sandals that were a little too tight, and which she had to replace soon. A whiff of nail polish, deodorant, lipstick, all familiar. All belonged to her. She had just dressed for shopping, after all.  But she did not feel like it.

She felt like an intruder in her own life. And it wasn’t the first time. She wondered if it would make a difference what was in the bag or that she was going to give it to Jenna, before going anywhere near Costco. In fact, she felt no appetite at all … 

After a moment of hesitation, Carrie heaved the bag up once more, felt the strap bite into her naked shoulder but ignored it. She listened instead. There were the expected sounds. Michael was playing his games. This time it was strategy-something. And he was well into his own autistic world, as usual. He probably wouldn’t notice if she knocked on his door, anyway.

She went out, to do what she had to do.


Emma watched her mom walk over to the car, heels click-clacking on the sun-cracked cement that made for a driveway to their small house. 

She was in her usual hide-out behind Mr. Taylor’s fence, which he luckily never got around to replacing. The old planks had long since come apart as rain and sun had done their job, each season, and it was easy to find an opening wide enough to look through, but not wide enough to be seen. Or at least she reckoned so.

Mr. Taylor himself was at the nursing home, looking after his wife, as usual. Or at least she reckoned so.

There were a lot of routines in Emma’s world that she depended on to get by and crazy as it sounded one of the routines was that she knew her mother’s dark moods well enough to be able to predict fairly well, when Carrie would be angry or just distant. Emma also knew when to look out for worse things. Her father had had a long conversation about that one night when Carrie had been at her friend, Jenna’s, with some other of her friends.

That conversation had frightened Emma, and she had felt crushingly alone, and her father as usual had kind of left it there and didn’t seem like he wanted to talk about it again, although she desperately needed to.

Her mother started the car and it pulled out onto the street and then quickly disappeared between the boxes that went for houses in their suburb. She didn’t make the usual turn at the end, so Emma knew she wasn’t going into town. She was heading out of it. The only person in eastern Yuma that Emma knew her mom knew was Jenna Banks. Otherwise there was nothing for her there.

The sun was in the sky, as it was so often here in Arizona, but it felt cold.

Emma pulled her phone from her Japanese bag and called Mika.

“Look, I can’t come over now.”

“What?” Mika sounded both disappointed and a bit like it was what she had expected. “Not again!”

Emma bit her lip. “I’m really sorry. It’s mom. She’s gone over to a friend, I think, but something is wrong.”

“Last time you thought your mom would kill herself, she went to a barbecue party.” Emma could hear Mika chewing gum, and … someone else in the background. Were there other girls from her class? Mika had said that tonight was ‘their night’.

“It’s not her this time. I think she might kill … I don’t know.” Emma stalled. She couldn’t say it. And it was crazy, wasn’t it? The only clue she had was dad’s black bag. But it had looked … heavy.

“You think she’ll go on a shooting spree?” Mika’s voice became serious, all of a sudden. “Is that what you are saying?”

“I don’t know what I am saying … ” Emma felt something in her stomach, like acid. It was eating away at her insides. “I don’t know, I’m just worried. She has had a lot of arguments with Jenna recently.”

“Maybe you should call your dad. Isn’t he a police man?” Mika chewed the gum again. “I want to help. Tell me if I can do anything.”

“I’ll call my dad. It’s probably all right. She hasn’t been doing pills or booze or anything … ” Emma hung up, but the acid was still there and it was spreading.

It was that feeling that she had had more and more often. It was both acrid and ice cold at the same time, and it nailed her to the spot.

She couldn’t move. She felt her heart beat faster and she had trouble breathing. Doctor Maryam had called it anxiety attacks and had given her some pills, too, but the only pills Emma could think of was the ones she knew her mother sometimes had in her drawer. The ones against depression. Had she taken them recently? Were they enough? 

Despite what she had told Mika, she really didn’t know if her mother had been skipping her pills or if she had been drinking again or anything else. It was easier to keep an eye on mom due to COVID 19, of all things, because they had been home so much, but on the other hand, it wasn’t as if Emma could survey the attic or the bedroom 24/7. Emma suspected mom already knew that she was sometimes watching her.

She finally tore herself loose of the cold and started walking down the street, her pink bag bopping at her hip. She was only 15 but it felt like she had already spent whatever life had been allotted to her. She wanted to go over to Mika’s and have fun and watch those series they had talked about, because Mika and her brother had both Netflix and HBO.

But instead she got on her bike and began half-heartedly cycling in east, towards the Foothills where she knew Jenna lived. She wrestled with the question.

Should I call dad?

There could be a million reasons her mother had borrowed that bag. It was one of the biggest they had. Maybe her mother would go to Costco on her way back? Maybe her mother thought it was none of Emma’s business that she was going to Jenna’s first? Maybe she wasn’t going to Jenna’s but somewhere else?

Emma knew it was stupid to continue biking. She had to do something. Stop and call. Decide this was normal and ignore it. Go back to talk to Michael. But as long as she was biking at least she felt she had direction, as crazy as it was.

If only she felt that her own life in general was heading in some kind of direction. A direction that gave you hope. Not one that made you feel like you were driving towards a deep dark tunnel that nobody knew the length of.

Perhaps one that never ended.

Then the thought struck her. 

If mom really wanted to do something crazy, she would have left a note, right? That’s what they always do.

It was pretty absurd, but the thought gave Emma what she needed. Hope and another direction. She went back to the house to search for a sign, some indication. Then she would call her father.

I might be ten thousand times too late … but I have to do this right.

The doctor said she should always think twice. Think about what really could have happened. The possibilities. Not just the worst-case scenario. If only the latter wasn’t so hard.

For a moment, she considered calling mom. It would be the obvious thing to do. Except that her mom would probably lie, as she had done so often before. No, not lie. Lie was a bad word. More like her mom was always hiding, not telling her how she really felt.

Emma went to the bedroom. There was nothing.

Then she went to the locker in the basement where her father kept his guns. It was locked. But her mother knew where the key was. She knocked on the locker. It sounded as if there was something inside. She tried moving it a little bit. It felt heavy, as usual. There was definitely something inside. Yet, her father had many guns … 

She couldn’t stand it any longer. She went upstairs to get a better signal for her cell phone and began punching her dad’s number. She wondered if she should take the extra pills, Dr. Maryam had prescribed for ‘difficult situations’, but she wanted to call first.

Then she saw the note in the hallway.

It had to have fallen out of mom’s purse. No, it looked crumpled, like she had thrown it away. She sometimes did that with the strangest of things in the strangest of places. Once her mom had left an entire Happy Meal on the pavement, because she had decided she wasn’t hungry, and then went home to cook late. It had been one of the bad days, so nobody had said anything about how hungry they were and things had dissolved into workable normalcy the next day.

Emma picked up the note. It said:


Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers

Below you can find some of the frequently asked questions and their answers – about the Shade of the Morning Sun project and its creator, Christopher Marcus.

Table of Contents


What is Shade of the Morning Sun?

Shade of the Morning Sun is a chronicle of a family over three generations from about 1968 and forward. It is told as an ongoing series of connected short stories with the same main characters:

Carrie Sawyer (b. 1979) – recovering addict, restless traveler, and searching artist

Jonathan Reese (b. 1975) – Iraq war veteran and state trooper, married to Carrie

Lin Christakis (1979-2000) – Carrie’s high school friend who wanted to be a famous author but found a tragic end

Emma Sawyer Reese (b. 2006) – Carrie and Jon’s smart, but anxiety-ridden daughter

Michael Sawyer Reese (b. 2008) – Emma’s younger brother, who is having to handle his autism as well as his sometimes dysfunctional family

Deborah Sawyer (b. 1952) – Carrie’s American mother and disillusioned flower child

Calum McDonnell (b. 1949) – Carrie’s Scottish father, ex-Highland ranger, Falklands veteran, and recovered alcoholic

And many others …

Why should I read Shade of the Morning Sun?

If you like to read contemporary upmarket fiction with strong characters, linked short stories, and reading online Shade of the Morning Sun may be something for you.

Where do I start reading?

Go to the Index for all stories and start from wherever you like.

There are, however, some specific ways to read Shade of the Morning Sun, if you like, and I will get to all of those below!


Is Shade of the Morning Sun an online novel or short story collection?

It is neither. Shade of the Morning Sun is a (constantly growing) collection of linked short stories, also known as a short story cycle or a novel in stories. This form is also sometimes called a composite novel or interrelated short stories.

Classic examples that you might be familiar with include James Joyce’s Dubliners, Sherman Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, and Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time.

My own personal favorite is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. which was published in 1990. It deals with Vietnam veterans and their experiences both before, during, and after the war. 

More recent examples are the Olive Kitteridge books or Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

And of course, there are many, many more … 

What is a linked short story?

In a nutshell, each short story in such a collection has a – more or less subtle – connection to other stories in the collection.

For example, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is about of group of Vietnam war veterans, but the stories about their experiences are stand-alone and not chapters in a novel.

So the stories in a linked collection aren’t completely independent, although they can certainly be read as such. However, they are not chapters in a novel, either!

Each short story in a linked collection still tells a full, complete story in itself.

Without this definite beginning, middle, and end of each short story, they become one and become chapters in a ‘real’ novel.

Many linked short story collections are marketed as a ‘novel in stories’ – or even as a novel. So it is no wonder that the form can be a bit confusing to recognize!

By the way: Shade of the Morning Sun also contains a number of vignettes. But the main body of work consists of actual short stories. Although mixing short stories and vignettes isn’t to my knowledge seen very often, there are some examples, such as Ernest Hemingway’s in our time.

What are some of the links between these kinds of short stories?

The most common is probably setting, as is the case in one of the classics – Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.

Characters are another common link (as is largely the case in Shade of the Morning Sun)

You also have links like:

  • objects (like the desk in Nicole Grauss’ Great House)

  • themes (e.g. parenthood, as in Rachel Cusk’s The Lucky Ones)

  • a certain year or period in time (Florian Illies’ 1913: The Year Before the Storm comes to mind, although it’s more of a collection of linked vignettes … )

There are probably other types of links I haven’t thought of.

And often there is more than one type of link in a collection of linked short stories, like in the aforementioned Winesburg: Ohio and others.

So there is no big plot or story arc?

Not as such.

You have some events and associated themes that come up again and again, like  Carrie’s recovery from addiction and how she deals with it. Or Jonathan’s PTSD from the Iraq war. But that’s about it.

As the collection grows, obviously there will be sequences that may eventually grown into storylines that resemble novels, such as Carrie’s sojourn to South America 2000-1, but it is by no means a given.


Why do you publish these stories on a website?

Because I really can’t think of any better medium than a dynamic website to share my vision of what Shade of the Morning Sun should be like.

Shade of the Morning Sun is meant to be a big web of interrelated stories that link to each other.

The vision is also that the collection is constantly growing – with past, present, and stories set in the future all being added continually. There is no definite end to the collection.

In principle, if someone cared, they could continue it after I am no longer alive!

Why do you publish the stories in non-chronological order?

Because it makes it possible for me to write whatever I like when I like it – in the same collection of linked stories!

I really like being able to choose any given point in my characters’ lives to write about, depending on my mood and inspiration, without the need to progress chronologically.


What are some of the ways I can read Shade of the Morning Sun?

There is no single ‘correct’ reading of the entire novel in stories, nor is there a requirement to ‘mix’ the stories.

Do feel free to read some or all stories in a more traditional, linear way starting with the first story here – or pick and choose and mix as you go along.

The main reading sequences are:

  • You can read stories with a single, recurring character only, at any point in his or her timeline. If you use this filter you will get both 1st and 3rd person POV-stories.

  • You can filter to read from a certain POV only (e.g. Jon’s 1st person POV – but not stories with his 3rd person POV).

  • You can filter by musical inspiration.

  • You can filter by mood.

  • You can also jump between stories when a story features a hyperlink to a story that is related.

I also have stories that overlap in time and can be read both separately or as part of the same whole. For example, “The One I Tried To Destroy” is overlapped by “That Imaginary Desert”. Both take place on the same day with the same protagonist, but you can also read them separately. I plan to do plenty more of those.

There aren’t stories about all characters yet or stories enough to use all filter options equally, but the 70+ stories, chapters, and vignettes should give you a good impression of where the project is heading, as well as an engaging reading experience!


Is Shade of the Morning Sun web fiction?

It is also webfiction, and it is also more than that. 

A more precise definition would be electronic literature

E-lit can include many subforms, such as:

  • Animated poetry 
  • Computer art installations
  • Chatbots
  • Novels that take the form of emails, SMS messages, or blogs
  • Poems and stories that are generated by computers
  • Video novels
  • Hypertext fiction

Shade of the Morning Sun is closest to the last e-lit subform on the list: hypertext fiction. 

In hypertext fiction you navigate through a story using hyperlinks, choosing many different ways of reading as you go along, while still (hopefully) getting a coherent reading experience. 

Is Shade of the Morning Sun like an ebook?

No, e-lit is not an ebook. The two types of media do share similarities, though.

An ebook, like webfiction, is really more like the digitization of print literature.

E-literature, however, is ‘born digital’. 

This means that e-literature could not exist in other forms than digital.

You may be able to convert parts of e-lit to print media (or an ebook), but you cannot 1:1 transfer the story and maintain the same reading experience.

For example, none of the ways of filtering and mixing stories on this site are available in a print book. 

Nor are all of them available in ebooks at the time of writing (2021), although some ebooks do mimic certain superficial features of a website, e.g. hyperlinks in the body text to various footnotes.

Are there other reasons Shade of the Morning Sun is e-literature?

Aside from the filtering options for reading that I already mentioned, I can think of two other major qualities that single out Shade as e-lit:

1) The pace of change to my own stories: Shade of the Morning Sun is constantly changing, growing, and being revised, for example, to match stories taking place in the future closer with actual events when they happen.

2) The cooperation with readers in creating the stories: It will be possible for readers to submit their own vignettes and stories, at some point. In the beginning, these will be submissions I have to vet, but in the future, I would like to create a membership site where vetted members can publish their own vignettes and short stories in real-time, with my characters or their own (as long as they make sure the stories link to other stories in the collection).

This frequency of addition, change, and revision could never be done in print or ebooks, even if you take into account different editions of the same book!


Is Shade of the Morning Sun interactive fiction?

Yes, with some qualifiers.

Interactive fiction, as I understand it, is another name for hypertext fiction. However, Shade of the Morning Sun is interactive fiction on the lower end of the complexity scale.

Some of the most complex interactive fiction (or hypertext fiction) allows you to complete many different narratives and require some effort to read because there are more choices and more complexity. (Take a look at one of the web’s first interactive novels, Sunshine 69, for an example.)

But whether you have an old ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ paper book or an e-lit story like Sunshine 69, you ultimately get a lot of options for shaping the narrative, maybe ending up with a completely different story than the next reader.

In contrast, the options to interact with a Shade of the Morning Sun story allow you to experience the same narrative but in many different ways, such as choosing to read all related stories inspired by the same musician, or focusing on a more immersive reading experience with a single character by reading her 1st person POV stories only.

For all intents and purposes, the reading experience, as well as the story itself, will be somewhat different depending on what you choose to focus on. But there will be a story.

In other words, you may choose to read the story non-linearly, but it is still there. You don’t need to create it first.

Why haven’t you created more options for interactivity?

The mission behind Shade of the Morning Sun is to create a modern hypertext fiction work that will appeal to a broad audience both in terms of the stories themselves and their accessibility.

It is my hope that the level of interactivity I have chosen of Shade of the Morning Sun supports that.

I won’t rule out future modifications and additions, though. For example, I have toyed with the idea of incorporating chatbots that would allow you to talk to the main characters and complete your own ‘we meet at a cafe’-like story with them, but chatbots are time-consuming to create so it is not something that you can expect to see in the near future.

Also, I honestly think that if I made Shade of the Morning Sun any more difficult to read, it would scare away people just looking for a good, albeit different, read – and who don’t want to invest too much in trying to figure out how to read.

But I’m still learning how to do this, so expect adjustments of the ‘how’ down the line!


What does it mean that stories are ‘updated’?

That from time to time I edit stories and clarify language or add new paragraphs or make similar changes. The date denotes the most recent version.

Why do you update the stories?

Because it is too tempting 🙂

It is simply something that seems obvious to take advantage of, given my inclination to polish my stories over time – as most authors and other artists often do. 


Why did you choose to write electronic literature and linked short stories?

I started writing a traditional novel 20 years ago with some of the characters but was not able to finish it, being occupied with education, work, and a period of serious illness. It soured on me around 2009 but I wanted to do something with the story ideas and characters, so I started writing short stories. I was impatient and just put them out on the internet and it sort of took on a life of its own since.

There was definitely also a drive in me to actually do something different with my creativity than go the traditional route, or even self-publish on the then newly established market for that (Amazon). I remember thinking about publishing my stories on MySpace (ah, those were the days … ) and collaborating with artists who had written music that inspired me and then combine the presentation of both story and music, but nothing came off it at the time.

I did invest time in converting some of my stories for ebooks, but I didn’t have the resources to market them properly. I also felt conflicted between publishing some of the best stories in ebooks, charging money for them, and at the same time wanting them to be on the site for free, as part of a greater whole. So although I did ebooks a few times over the years, I have always returned to investing most of my time on the website.

Why is your project called ‘Shade of the Morning Sun’?

I’ve taken the project title from part of the lyrics of New Order’s 1987-song “True Faith”:

I used to think that the day would never come
I’ve seen the light in the shade of the morning sun

The song is about drug use, but I also see it as a song about wanting to escape from life and searching for ‘the light’ – i.e. happiness, even if that happiness is not always what it seems. The duality of this interpretation, and the title, I think are very fitting for the overall mood of the Shade of the Morning Sun stories.


How will I know when new stories come out?

Sign up for my newsletter, and you will be the first to know!

How often do you write new stories?

It varies a lot. I have written on average 5 stories per year since 2011, but many of them are in the drawer still. The average word count is probably around 3000 words per story, although a few are between 8000 and 13000 words (!). In 2021 I plan to write more flash fiction (below 1000 words) to get more stories out.

Can I follow you on social media?

Not yet, because I simply don’t have the time to maintain social media accounts for this project as well as the ones I have for my IT business. However, they will come up at some point and then you will be the first to know if you visit this site regularly – or sign up for my newsletter.


Why are there different people posing for the same character photos?

Originally because I could only afford to use royalty-free photos from Unsplash and Pixabay and similar sites, but as time has gone by I feel that it is rather fitting. Even though the same cast populates the stories, I like to think that many of their experiences are universal.


Last updated 22 Oct 2021

One Step Closer

One Step Closer

The morning was really good for once – until the phone rang.

She didn’t take it. Not yet. She was not going to answer that damn phone. She had any number of excuses in the back of her mind, vague, dreamily, like nothing else mattered than here and now. And everything else could magically take care of itself. You could say – think – anything to shape your world and it would do as you pleased.

In the end she took it. Her lips still tasted salty and she allowed herself a second to remember that …

“Carrie – ? Are you there, honey?”

Okay, now there was no way back:

“Mum – what is it? Has something happened?”

She almost wished for it, although her gut told her it was not like that. And her heart that it should not be like that.

But it was something that would make her perfect, salty day all dry up.

Carrie seated herself upright in the bed, with the cell phone pressed hard to her ear. She soon pulled her legs up under herself, pressing her jaw equally hard towards her knees as she listened. It had only taken 10 seconds and now she was curled up like a steel spring.

Jon did not wait long before he rolled out and began looking for his socks and jeans as if nothing had happened. He knew it was now the only thing he could do.

The quiet morning before the suburban beehive woke up was still quiet. But in Carrie’s mind storms were raging.

Why could it never be different with mum, after all these years?

“Please, could you say that again?”

Carrie had to ask because from the moment she had picked up the phone, everything had become more and more unreal.

Her mother was happy to prolong that reality:

“Look, I know it’s hard to wrap your head around, and they have hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates. But this time it is you!” 

“Me … “

“Yes! Marcus will give you a 100,000 dollars as part of the Church Universal’s yearly Give Way-Event. The only condition is that you’ll use them to improve, well, anything really. Start that business. Draw … whatever.”

“Uh … I don’t know if,” Carrie tried, but it was really too late.

“Don’t you think that it is awesome, darling?” her mother beat on. “I am really glad Marcus and I kept contact all those years. And you know, last year there was a widow who lived on welfare in Boston who received the Event Money and she has a small salon today that – “

“Look,” Carrie said, “I’m really not sure that – “

“I mean,” her mother continued undaunted, as always, “with you leaving college like that and never becoming a lawyer and then – “ she hesitated ever so slightly ” – that problem down in Florida, and all the hard work afterwards … I think you deserve it, Carrie.”

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Hello And Welcome

Hello And Welcome

I love fantasies.

Except when I try to make them real.

Could be fantasies about anything, but you know what it’s mostly about. Maybe it is different for you. But … I dunno.

Well, anyway, the problem with fantasies is that they get messy and troublesome once you try to realize them, make them real.

The problem is also that fantasies don’t have any soul, if you go into them and never try to make them real. They get distilled, watered down. There is only the bare bones and framework.

That is so attractive. Of course. 

I wish I was better at making fantasies real and enjoying what I have. All at the same time.

And I am rambling, as I clean up the attic. Or my part of the attic anyway.

It’s dusty and forlorn up here, pieces of a life – more lives. I wonder what you could see if you went down the street here and looked into all the attics. I think you’d see pieces of many lives, never lived.

Or just clutter, thrown away.

Why did I go up here? I should try to fix my fantasies. I spent a whole morning with them, because I was bloody alone. And why hasn’t Jon called yet to say when he is coming home with the kids?

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