tuftears has proved the truth of that for me. He trimmed it from 10k to 7.5k and took out nothing of substance. He snipped one rambly bit from early in the story and moved it to a much shorter bit later in the story; tht's the most noticeable change. I swear, if I hadn't written the original I would not have even notice the differences. I'm blown away by what an amazing job he did with it. I need to, like, take notes on writing briefly from him.
Anyway, I'm going to consider further cutting -- there are still some "non-essential" scenes that I could trim out without changing the plot, but I'm not sure it would improve the story. But for now, I'm stunned and grateful to Tufty. And I tend to be pretty possessive about my writing, so having someone chop a piece up like that -- and do it so well that I can hardly tell-- simply amazes me. Thanks, Tufty! :)