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For The Strength of Youth

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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
Submitted by spazmom on 23 February 2007 - 2:35pm. |

The next thing I knew, I felt something touching my cheek.

“Angel. Angel wake up.”

I didn’t want to wake up. This was the best sleep I’d had in a long time. “No.” I muttered, and rolled over only to find myself pressed against a warm, solid body. My eyes shot open in surprise to see Sean, kneeling next to the bed, a humorous expression on his face. “Oh!” I gasped and sat up straight. “Sean! What are you doing here?”

He smiled lazily, making my heart race even faster. “Mom said she had sent you up to unpack and hadn’t seen you since.” He pointed over to the door. “I brought up your other suitcase.”

“Um, thanks.” I tried to relax and take stock. I couldn’t believe he was so close to me! “That's great. I hadn’t realized how heavy they were.” I sighed, wondering how much of a mess I was. I put a hand up to see how my hair was, and Sean reached over to stop it.

“Don’t,” he said, his voice husky. “It looks fine. You look wonderful. If you always wake up looking like this, your husband is going to be one lucky man.”

I could only gape at him in shock. “Husband?” I looked wonderful? What in the world was he talking about? “I don’t have a husband,” I said inanely, still feeling as if I was missing something.

He smiled, his eyes shining. “I know. But that situation isn’t going to last very long.” He leaned over and touched my flushed cheeks. “I’ll see you downstairs.”

I watched him leave in amazement. What was that all about? I shook my head, trying to clear the last bit of sleep out. Goodness! I hadn’t taken a nap in a long time. I glanced at my watch and groaned. I had been asleep for more than an hour! No wonder Mari had wondered what had happened to me. I stood up and noticed the other suitcase on the floor.

Sean. He sure wasn’t what I would have expected. How come I couldn’t remember meeting him before?

I sighed and looked at myself in the mirror hung over the dresser. As I did, I had to smile wryly. I used to be barely able to see my face when we had first come to visit. Now I could see myself easily and in doing so, I had to shake my head. He thought this was wonderful? My hair was flying away and my face was all flushed from sleep--I looked a mess.

“Oh boy, I think that man needs glasses!” I quickly tamed my hair with a brush, and rubbed my cheeks to try and wake up. I finally felt presentable and went downstairs to hear Sean talking with his mother.

“See what you’ve missed all these years?” Mari was saying in a teasing tone.

I heard a deep sigh. “You’re not kidding, Mom. Her photo doesn’t do her justice. Did she tell you that she had a flat tire on the way here?” I bit my lip as I realized I was eavesdropping.

Good grief! I thought, and walked into the kitchen before I heard anymore.

Mari looked up at me from the pan she was pouring some milk into, her eyes showing concern. “Angie, did you have a flat tire?”

“Oh yes! I forgot to tell you, I was so excited to be here.” I glanced over at Sean who had changed from his work clothes and looked even more handsome in worn blue jeans and white T-shirt.

He smiled at me. “Yeah, she had the guys all drooling and begging to change it for her.”

Now she looked faintly alarmed and I remembered what Sean had said about his parent’s feelings on his working there.

“Yeah. I couldn’t believe it, those poor guys.” I rolled my eyes as I sat down on a barstool. “You’d think they hadn’t seen a girl before.”

Sean chuckled and Mari managed a smile.

“I mean," I continued, picking up an apple on the counter and rolling it between my hands. "all I did was ask who wanted to help me change my tire and the whole group about did back flips to help me.” I shook my head as the situation seemed much funnier now when I looked back on it. Poor Dave had been so relieved!

“That reminds me, how is Dave?” I blurted out before I realized what I was saying.

Sean’s face went blank, and I could have kicked myself.

“Dave?" Mari repeated, her gaze on Sean. "Isn’t that the same young man who got beat up last month?”

“Beat up? Dave got beat up?” I looked at Sean, hoping my dismay was obvious and that I could save the situation. “That poor kid! Having the tire iron fall on his foot must have seemed like the last straw.”

Sean burst out laughing. “You should have seen the look on his face while he tried to keep from swearing,” he said, winking at me.

I hated lying, but I didn’t want to get into deep water before I understood what was going on. I hoped Sean would explain it all later.

“Dave helped you change your tire? How did you know who he was?” Mari pointed the question to me having abandoned her cooking for a moment, hands on her hips, her puzzlement clear.

I sighed inwardly. Oh the tangled web we weave when we first try to deceive, or something like that, I sternly told myself. When would I ever learn to keep my mouth shut?

“I was lucky.” I told her, hoping my tone was light. “Sean happened by at the moment and just grabbed two of them. I didn’t want all of them to come!” I was honestly horrified by that picture.

Mari chuckled. “No, I wouldn’t think so. That brings to mind visions of an army of men picking up a little car to take the wheel off.”

I laughed and glanced at Sean who nodded his head slightly, enabling me to relax. Apparently I had chosen the right direction.

“So,” I said, letting the tension ease with a soft sigh. “Can I help you do anything?”

Mari shook her head. “No, dinner’s almost ready. We’re having what used to be your favorite - Hawaiian Sundays.”

“Oh wow!” I exclaimed, surprised. “I haven’t had that in ages. That will be great.” I stood up, urgently feeling the need to get out of the room. “Well, I think I’ll go for a walk. I still need to wake up a bit. I can’t believe I fell asleep.”

“You probably need it.” Mari stated with a nod, thoroughly involved with her cooking again. “Just run along. I’ll call you when it’s ready.”

I grinned at Sean, recognizing that she was speaking to me like she had when I was a kid, before quickly leaving the kitchen. My insides were quaking. Man, what he did to me. Just being in the same room with him turned me to jelly! I decided a brisk walk was in order to see if I could get him out of my system.

Trying not to slam the screen door, I started off down the driveway to the road, walking briskly. I could feel my muscles stretch with the effort. I hadn’t gotten a whole lot of exercise lately, and my body was informing me. Sighing, I slowed down.

I didn’t feel like punishing myself, and I realized I was trying to run away from what Sean. I hadn’t felt anything for a man in a long time - I was a little scared. I had definitely never felt anything like I'd felt while he was around.

“Must be what they mean by chemistry,” I muttered, kicking at the rocks in the road. I looked up at the lush ferns and growth at the side of the road in frustration. “That’s all it is.” And that could really make things messy if he didn't feel any attraction for me. The way I was feeling, even now the butterflies were winding up through my stomach - I wouldn’t be able to stay very long.

I groaned and looked up at the sky. Why in the world did I have to feel this way now for a man I hardly knew? Let alone, so far from home. Everyone knew long distance relationships rarely worked out.

Hearing a car behind me, I got off the road so they wouldn't worry about hitting me. It slowed to right along side me and I turned to see the object of my thoughts in his 4runner.

“Hey, Angel,” he said, his voice stopping all coherent thought. “I’m going into town to get some stuff for mom. Want to come?”

I couldn’t believe this. How was I going to straighten my thoughts out when I couldn’t think? “Sure Sean,” I heard myself saying, stopping so he could pull over. I got in and was reaching to pull my door closed, when his voice stopped me.

“Oh no, you don’t! It would be very hard to explain to mom why you came back with your arm in a cast.”

I gaped at him in confusion as he got out and shut my door. I Looked down at my arm and then at the door, then looked back at him as he got in to started the car. “What do you mean?” I finally said, still confused. “Why would I have my arm in a cast?”

He flashed me a handsome grin. “Because you opened and closed your door one too many times. I’ve broken arms far quicker than this, but I was giving you time to pick up on what was going on. I decided I would rather warn you than break the arm. Broken arms rather complicate vacations a little bit.”

I laughed a little nervously, was he serious?, “You're crazy!” I told him, shaking my head. “I can open my own door!”

“Oh sure,” he nodded in agreement. “But didn’t you know it’s a known scientific fact that opening and closing doors weakens the arm muscles on a woman and strengthens them on a man?”

I laughed, this time in true relief. He was a nut! I felt a warm pleasant feeling come over me at his sense of humor and the fact that he insisted upon being a gentleman.

“Well, I’ll have to keep that in mind.” I said, still smiling. Suddenly I felt wonderful. I was enjoying myself in this man’s company!

“Now let me see,” My own sense of humor was returning from the haze my mind had disappeared to originally when I'd heard his voice. “Does that mean the opposite is true with cabinet doors? Say, in the kitchen?”

“Well,” he drawled, his eyes on the road. “Except of course the refrigerator. That one is equal strength to everybody.”

“I should have known!” I chuckled, putting a hand to my head. “But then, I guess washers and dryers would be the same?”

“Oh no!” was the quick reply. “They’re definitely weakening for the man! I tell you, haven’t you seen some of the weaklings in the Laundromat?”

I laughed again. “You nut!” I said with a smile at him. “Your mom is full of blarney! She says I’m the only one that makes her laugh. That can’t be true with you there.”

He fell suddenly quiet, and I felt that I’d said something wrong. I bit my lip and looked out the window. What had I said?

I heard a deep sigh and a warm strong hand enclosed mine. “I’m sorry, Angel.” he said, and I felt the now familiar melting at the way he shortened my name. “It’s not your fault.” He looked over at me, and I couldn’t say a word. His touch was setting my stomach to flying with butterflies again.

“You see,” he continued, giving my hand a slight squeeze, before letting go. “I haven’t been home much. Actually, when you think about the fact you don’t remember me, you shouldn’t be surprised.”

I thought on that for a moment and then looked at his somber profile. “How old are you?” It was a blunt question, but I figured it was the shortest route to the answer I wanted.

He grinned wryly over at me knowing, I’m sure, what I was asking. “I’m 30. Believe it?”

I chuckled and shook my head. Pretty much what I had thought. “I'm not shocked, I knew you were older than me. Let’s see,” I counted back the years to when I remembered coming to visit his family. “We started coming out here when I was 10 or 11, I think. You were probably in college then.”

He nodded as he pulled into the parking lot of a small grocery store. “You got it. I was 19, in my freshman year at OSU. Your family came out the end of August, I think. I remember meeting your parents and I think running into you as I was going out the door.” He stopped and got out of the car to let me out.

“I can’t believe it,” I said with a laugh. “You remember it?”

“Don’t be too impressed,” he warned me, holding the store door open. “It’s only a vague glance at a little kid who was in my was as I was leaving.” He sighed and led the way to the frozen foods department. “I had gotten real full of myself and couldn’t stand being at home. I was going to be living on campus and going to the U. I was hot stuff. I let my parents know it too.”

“You weren’t the first kid to do that,” I assured him as we glanced at the ice cream.

“No,” he agreed. “But it seemed to last a long time. I haven’t had much to do with my family since then. I guess it’s only been a year or so that I’ve really spent time at home. Out of 10 or so years, that doesn’t amount to much.”

I felt a little stunned, and perhaps chilled by his admission. What had happened to cause his own personal exile? Sean reached into the freezer and grabbed a half gallon of vanilla ice cream. We were silent as we went towards the cashier.

“I guess I’ve shocked you, haven’t I?” Sean said finally as we headed for the car. He sounded remote, as if he had expected me to shy away from him at his disclosure.

Sighing, I shook my head. I wasn’t that shallow. “I think I’m more surprised.” I finally admitted after we were both in the car. “Your family always seemed so happy. The thing is,” and I wondered if this would hurt him, “I had no idea you even existed.”

He stopped at the entrance to the street and looked at me closely. “Really? That’s why you were so confused this afternoon.”

I nodded. “It appeared you knew all about me, and I had no idea who you were.”

Sean chuckled. “Well that’s a twist. Shall I tell you how I know about you?”

I met his glance warily. “I’m not sure I want to be reminded of all my exploits during my teens.”

He grinned. “You forget, I was rarely home during that time, and It wasn’t until two Christmas’s ago that I saw your picture for the first time.”

“Oh!” I gasped softly, remembering which picture that he would have seen. “That would have to be,”

“The one taken with your parents before the accident,” he finished for me, his face showing sympathy.

I looked away, remembering that picture and how carefree I’d been. It had been during my first year of college. What a year that had turned out to be.

Silence reigned in the car for a moment and then I heard him sigh. “I wish I could have been there to help,” he said, his voice deep with remorse.

I smiled weakly, glancing over at him. “It wouldn’t have made much of a difference," I tried to reassure him. "I still didn’t know you.”

“Oh Angel,” he shook his head, his voice husky. “You have been through so much!”

I shrugged, feeling suddenly bleak, all the feelings I'd experienced with his mother earlier back in full force. Why did he care anyway? I’d never really met him before today. The doubts filled me as the emotions waved through me and suddenly I wasn’t sure why I was here. I should never have come to this place which lived and breathed with memories of my parents.

Suddenly I was shaken from my thoughts by the car coming to a squealing stop. I looked out a little wide eyed, realizing we weren’t at the house. I felt the beginnings of panic inside, and watched Sean get out of the car before coming around to open my door. I looked at him blankly, taking in his grim expression.

“Come on,” he said, pulling me out. He kept hold of my hand, leading me to a little grassy area and pulling me down to sit by him. I looked at the quiet beauty around me with dull eyes, wondering if there would ever really be any healing in my heart.

Silently, Sean put his arm around my shoulder, pulling me against him and holding me tight. I felt so numb, it didn't register or surprise me.

“I know you don’t really know me,” he whispered in my ear, his warm breath and soft voice sending chills down my spine. “But I know all my parents knew of you, and I want to know more. I know you’ve had great sadness, but look at the beauty around you.”

He was silent for a few moments, letting the peace and quiet sink in. After a few minutes, he turned me toward him, cupping my face in his large hands. “I feel I have known you forever. Will you accept that I understand how you feel and that I want to ease your pain?”

I looked at him mutely, vaguely able to grasp what he was saying. He wanted to help me?

He shook his head in frustration and pulled me into his arms, holding me so close I could hear his heart beating. I let myself stay in his arms for several minutes, soaking in his warmth and caring - feeling safe for the first time in a long while. It was incredible.

I almost felt like a little girl in my father’s arms. Only, it wasn’t quite the same. The man holding me now was alive and warm and strong. He seemed to be interested in making me happy. It was amazing. I didn’t remember ever feeling like before.

And for the first time, I felt a strange twist in my stomach and a slight feeling of shock. I wanted a man to hold me. I wanted this man to hold me. I knew what he was offering wasn't meant that way - he was showing me that no matter how forbidding life seemed in the future, he wanted to be there for me.

Whimpering softly at the crazy emotions and thoughts going through my head, I put my arms around his waist and held on tight. I was scared and in heaven all at the same time, and I didn’t want it to end.

I was drawn to this man - his warmth and caring was beginning to crack the lonely shell I’d kept around my heart. Gradually, I realized I felt more at peace with things, as well as comforted.

He had wanted me to know him - to understand him. For some reason it was important, and I wanted him to know I accepted him how he was. Before I could say anything, Sean pulled back and caressed my face in his hands.

“Are you okay now, Angel?” His face was solemn and his voice gentle.

I nodded. “Much better. Thank you, Sean. I’m sorry I,”

He put a finger to my lips. “I don’t want to hear it, okay? Let’s just go back. Moms probably starting to worry.”

I nodded and let him lead me back to the car. Boy, what a strange day. Sean probably thought I was the most psycho girl he knew.

He closed my door and went around to get in. As I watched him, a sudden shyness gripped me, and I wondered how to pull myself together. I had things I needed to say to him, but they were all jumbled in my head.

“Angel,” he said softly, reaching over to cover one of my hands with his. “Don’t worry about things. Just enjoy the peace and quiet and sit back. Let’s not complicate things.”

I bit my lip at his astuteness and tried to relax. He was right. I was being too sensitive and the things I had to say could be said later.

It didn’t take long to get back to the house and Mari looked up from where she was sitting in the family room, looking through a magazine.

“There you are!" she said with a relieved smile. "Bill just got home so we’re ready to eat.” She got up and spotted the ice cream. “Oh you did get it! Thanks, Sean.” She gave him a teasing grin. “Where did you go? Seaside?”

We followed her into the kitchen, Sean chuckling along with her.

I was surprised that she hadn’t been worried, and grasped the joke was something about how long we were gone. So much for privacy in a family - everyone always seemed to know everything.

The table was set and she started putting the dinner items out as Bill came in.

“Angie! It's good to see you again, gal!” He scooped me into his arms for a big hug. I hugged him back, glad to see him.

A large muscular man with a tanned, lined face and rich brownish red hair, graying just a little at the sides, he looked just as I’ve always pictured a lumberjack to look. He had actually been a lumberjack long ago, according to the stories he’d told me when I was younger. Apparently that was before he’d met Mari and decided it was too dangerous. That was when he began the woodworking, he was a wizard with wood.

He let me go and held me back to look down at me. “You’ve grown a little since I last saw you.” He commented with a smile. “How have you been?”

I shrugged. “Okay. Just living in Utah.”

He grinned. “Why do you want to stay in that grasshopper infested place?”

I shrugged, trying to remember the reply my father had always given him. This had been their standard greeting since I could remember. “Why you want to stay here growing moss between your toes is beyond me.” I countered, grinning up at him.

He roared with laughter and Mari chuckled as Sean looked confused. I sighed with happiness, glad that some things never changed.

I looked up at Sean as he held my chair out for me. “I can’t believe I remembered that after all this time! “That was what your dad and my dad said every time they met. It was like their ritual greeting.”

“Oh,” he said, understanding dawning. I noticed that he didn’t say much after his dad came in the room. Chewing on my lip thoughtfully, I decided it was because when Bill talked, he tended to bellow. It was rather intimidating and everyone seemed to be quieter around him. I hoped that was it.

After we were all seated, Bill started asking me all sorts of questions about my job and where I lived and what I wanted to do. We were almost halfway through dinner by the time he got to that question, and I about choked on my mouthful of food at the bluntness of it.

“So, are you going to waste the rest of your life typing up figures for someone else or are you going to find yourself a real career?” Bill Palmer was a firm believer in free enterprise. He obviously thought I should start some kind of company on my own.

“What did you have in mind?” I asked dryly after managing to swallow.

“Well, something better than what you’re doing,” he said, stabbing the food on his plate. He munched for a minute and then poked the fork in the air toward me. “What ever happened with your painting?”

I made a face and pushed at the food on my plate. I had hoped he wouldn’t bring that up. Especially with the interest Sean was giving the conversation. “Nothing.” I finally muttered.

“What do you mean, nothing?" he demanded in surprise. "You did some mighty nice paintings when you were here.” He gestured toward the living room. “Why, we’ve had lots of people ask about that painting you did for us in there.”

“Probably wanted to know who made the frame,” I said lowly, uncomfortable with the subject. I really had hoped to avoid this whole situation, but I should have known better. The Palmers weren’t going to let it go, painting had been a large part of my visits before.

“That big picture in the living room?” Sean’s voice broke into the silence, his tone one of surprise. “The one of the beach at Seaside?”

I nodded miserably and Bill waved his fork at his son. “Didn’t you know that was done by her? Well, yes sir! She did that in ‘87. Went down and spent the whole day drawin’ and the next day paintin’. Fastest darn painter I ever saw.” He glanced over at me and I knew a blush was rising. I never felt comfortable with someone praising me.

“What style did you say it was?” he asked, his brows bunched together in concentration. “Naturalist? Where you paint it right there before the light changes, not from a photo? From what I understand, there’s not too many left that do that anymore.”

I shrugged, and felt Sean’s eyes on me. “Well,” he said softly. “That explains a few things.”

“Everyone ready for some desert?” Mari jumped up like she was on a spring and started gathering up dishes.

Both men said yes and I sighed, eyeing my plate. I hadn’t done justice to the Hawaiian Sunday; a wonderful concoction of rice, chicken gravy and toppings you wouldn’t believe, but I didn’t think I could finish it either.

“It sure was fun to have this again, Mari,” I said, standing up to help her.

“What are you doing?” she asked in surprise as followed her into the kitchen. “You get right back there and sit down. This is your first night back, and I didn't plan on you spending it in the kitchen!”

I smiled sheepishly and went back to the table where Bill was telling Sean about the time I had decided to draw a still life of a vase of flowers Mari had sitting on the coffee table with pastels.

“Oh, Bill!” I groaned, mortified at the story and the grin on Sean’s face. “I thought you’d forgotten about that, that was years ago.”

He grinned. “I’ll never forget it!” He handed Mari his plate and sat back in his chair, grinning over at his son who seemed to be soaking in every word of the story. “Here’s this little girl, heart broken because we wouldn’t let her keep her picture.”

“Why not?” Sean wanted to know.

“I had drawn it on the back of some house plans,” I told him with a sigh.

Sean burst out laughing. “Oh no!”

“Oh yes,” Mari said, coming back in with pie and the ice cream we had gotten. “And they were you’re Uncle Jim’s too.” She smiled in recollection as she paused in setting out the plates. “We had a hard time convincing him it wasn’t going to hurt the plans any.”

Sean laughed along with Bill. I had to grin too, remembering all too well how upset I had been. It was pretty humorous now I could look back on it. I’d almost forgotten that incident.

“There now, see?” I said lightly, trying to prove my point. “He wasn’t thrilled with my artwork.”

Mari set the pie down with a thump that made us all jump and glared at me. “What are you saying? That you have no talent?" She shook the pie server at me, and I looked at her in amazement. "You listen to me, Angela Barker; you had better use that pretty head of yours to THINK. You know better.”

She sat down, her lips tight together and her face a little flushed as she cut the pie and started to dish it up.

I was flabbergasted. I’d never seen Mari react to anything like that before. I didn’t want to look at anyone, I was so embarrassed. I hadn’t really meant anything by my joke. The silence seemed to stretch and I bit my lip, mortified to feel tears in my eyes.

This visit just wasn’t going as I'd hoped. I don’t know why I'd thought I could come here and have nothing of the past brought up. It had been totally unrealistic to think so. I sighed, wondering what to say when Sean chuckled, causing us all to look at him. My glance was a bit wary; I wasn’t sure what he was chuckling about.

“So, Mom, which museum had you planned on Angel filling? The Smithsonian?”

“What?” I gasped, trying to understand what he meant.

Mari actually chuckled with him. “Well, no - nothing so grand as that. Maybe just the Portland Art Center or some national exhibit.”

Bill shook his head, obviously relieved that things had lightened up. “You women and your crazy ideas.” He growled before taking a bite of pie.

I glanced at Mari, stunned by what was happening. She smiled gently, and reached over to cover my hand. “I’m sorry, Angie dear. I just had my heart set on you becoming, well, famous! And, well, maybe you’d want someone to manage your shows and stuff." She gave a slight shrug, her cheeks pink with her own embarrassment. "I’m sorry I was so fierce, but I do mean it. You have talent, a gift. You shouldn’t turn it off and hide it. There are so many who would love to share it.”

I gulped and looked at Sean who was somber now, nodding his head slightly in agreement. So - now I was going to need to reevaluate my painting? That was an avenue I hadn’t wanted to explore for years.

I sighed again, and Mari let go of my hand to hand me a plate of pie and ice cream.

“Here, forget all the worries tonight and enjoy the pie. I made it just for you.”

I put the plate down and automatically picked up my fork, but I felt numb. So much had happened in one day, I wasn’t sure I was going to sleep at all. I put a bite of pie in my mouth and had to smile around it. At least one thing always remained a constant. Mari made the best blackberry pie in Astoria.

“Ooh,” I managed to get out after swallowing. “It’s as wonderful as ever!”

“Good!” She said, obviously pleased, and everyone gave the desert their undivided attention. Or I should say almost everyone.

I felt someone looking at me and glanced up to see Sean’s warm blue gaze on me. For some reason the look in those eyes made my knees feel weak, and I was glad to be sitting down.

“So, Angel,” he said, his voice sending the familiar butterflies to my stomach. “Do you have any plans while you are here?”

I shrugged, trying to retain coherent thought. “Not really,” I replied, trying not to stare back at him. Honestly, he had to be the handsomest man I had ever seen. “I had thought I’d like to go to Seaside and down to Tillamook, and maybe go to the falls, but I have loads of time. Why?”

“Well, how would you like to go to Seaside and Tillamook tomorrow? We could make a day of it.”

I gulped, the last bite of pie feeling like it had stuck in my throat. Spend the whole day with this man? I would have to be crazy! “Well sure,” I heard myself saying and panic set in. What was I letting myself in for? “That would be great.”

“We’ve planned a big BBQ for Monday,” Mari said, “won’t that be fun?”

“Oh yes,” I agreed, wondering as I smiled weakly at them if they had my whole vacation planned. “Did you invite all of Astoria?” I added jokingly, and the three of them laughed.

“Heavens no!” She answered, looking startled. “Goodness! Just the neighbors.”

I sighed, glancing over at Sean who was busy finishing his pie. I wasn't sure what I was going to be in for during the next two weeks, but it was certainly nothing I'd planned on.

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