Monday, June 24, 2013 | By: Drotuno

Pieces of You Chapter 3 & Pics

Chapter 3 – Running to Stand Still
Cedar Key, FL – October
I came up out of my sleep with a gasping sob, only to get pissed and punch the pillow.
“Goddammit!” I hiccuped, swiping at my tears that never seemed to end, no matter how far away I was, no matter how many times I told myself to let it go.
Flopping onto my back, I breathed in slowly and let it out to calm my heart, my soul. They ached. Every day, they ached to the point of almost physical pain. Glancing over at the clock, I groaned. It was going to be a long fucking day. It was still dark outside, but there would be no going back to sleep. There never was when I dreamed of Edward.
They ranged from sweet and tender, to sexy and dark. Sometimes, he’d taunt me with all the lies he’d gotten away with, and sometimes, he’d fall at my feet and beg me to believe him, forgive him, come back to him. Everything in my heart wanted the latter, but my head knew better.
With a giant sigh, I shoved the covers back and got up. I took my time in the shower, trying to wash away the feelings that still lingered around me, even after almost three months.

It was October in Florida, which meant that it was still warm in the day, but cool at night. The summer had been brutal, and apparently, I’d moved down there in the thick of it. August and September had been hot as hell, with thick humidity to match. The sea breeze coming off the Gulf of Mexico had been the only thing to save me from melting away completely.
I straightened up my place – or my mother’s and Phil’s place, really – grateful that they had simply offered the condo up to me without asking for rent. It was furnished and comfortable – which was a good thing, considering I’d left all of mine in Chicago – with two bedrooms and two baths, sitting right on the water. But the best part was the view.
Grabbing my cup of coffee and my laptop, I stepped out onto my balcony that overlooked the ocean. The stars were still out, but they were slowly fading away to allow for the sun that was coming up. The waves hitting the shore could be heard, but not seen just yet. But it was the smell that I’d come to love – salt, sand, water, and wood. All of it combined was amazing, though the scent of nearby restaurants was slowly infusing itself around me, too.
The thought made me smile. Kona Joe’s. My neighbors were interesting, to say the least. They lived in the next condo down the beach with their son, Alec. He was the perfect blend of his parents. He had Alice’s over-active imagination, friendly personality, and sweet smile, but he had Jasper’s deep, dark blue eyes, dark blond, curly hair, and love for all things beach related – fishing, swimming, boating. He was nine and made me laugh most days when really, I wanted to cry myself to sleep.
Alice, Jasper, and Jasper’s brother, Peter, owned the little bar/diner below their condo, Kona Joe’s, which had been started by Joe Whitlock, their father. And then there was...
“Bob,” I greeted, smiling in spite of how shitty my night’s sleep had been. “Morning, handsome.”
Bob’s feathers ruffled, but he waddled up the deck stairs without shame. It seemed the entire community had adopted Bob, a rescued pelican. He’d been found almost dead in the water due to the fishing line he’d gotten caught up in. He earned the name from the red and white bobber that had been caught up around his wing that no longer worked. So he walked...everywhere. No one had the heart to put him down, and he’d proven that he could fend for himself, but he seemed to prefer the company of the humans on the beach than his own kind.
Bob stretched, shook all over, and then planted himself on the railing beside me to preen. He was harmless, and he didn’t even beg, unless he was down on the water with the local fishermen. He just...kept me company. And Alec liked to pretend that we all had a pterodactyl as a pet.
A cool breeze blew off the water, and I shivered, getting up to grab a hooded sweatshirt. Tugging open my drawer, my heart constricted. Right on top was Edward’s Dartmouth sweatshirt. I’d forgotten it had been in my things until I’d unpacked. If I allowed myself, I could recall in perfect clarity the day he’d shown up to my house wearing it. I’d kept it for reasons I’d never be able to explain, but I tugged it on, anyway, before going back to my laptop.
My time online was limited. It was my own restrictions. I knew there were ninety-seven unopened emails sitting in a specific folder named Edward that I neither had the heart to read nor delete. I knew that if I stayed online just long enough, I’d either stalk the Chicago Tribune for news, email Angela back at the paper, or book a flight to O’Hare. I wanted to do all of those things, but it wouldn’t be good. None of it would end well.
I put away my computer and grabbed my camera equipment. It was the start of the Cedar Key Seafood Festival. It would last through the weekend. I was covering it all for the The Beacon, a little once-a-week paper that almost didn’t hire me because I was too qualified, coming from Chicago. But today, I’d be grabbing pictures for not only them, but myself, too.
Mrs. Cope ran a small art gallery down on the main strip. She bought my photos regularly to sell to the tourists. They were of local scenery, wildlife, and buildings. We’d even talked about a few going into mass print as postcards. Bob was one of them.
I checked my digital camera, making sure I had a backup battery and storage card to use for the paper. But my personal camera was different. I loaded up the film I preferred, tossed in several extra rolls, and made sure everything was ready for my day. Mom and Phil had told me to treat the house as my own, so I’d set the extra bathroom up as a darkroom. Developing my own pictures had become my passion, my therapy.
Pouring myself one more cup of coffee, I sat with Bob until the sun was up. I thought about all that had brought me to that point. The news that Jane was expecting had sent me into a whirlwind of not only heartbreak, but anger and the need to get away from everything that reminded me of Edward. Mr. Newton had been disappointed, but had given The Beacon a glowing recommendation for me. Angela had been shocked, especially since it had been her that had shown me the article. I was pretty sure she figured out that there was more between Edward and me when I lost my lunch in my garbage can. And my landlady, Charlotte, had cried when I told her. I’d broken my lease, but I’d left my furniture for her to do with as she pleased as payback.
They all had emailed me. Edward was looking for me. I deleted the messages and never answered back.
I sighed, gazing over at my feathered friend. “Don’t fall in love, Bob, okay? It’s only trouble.”
He lifted his wings in a dramatic stretch, which made me laugh a little because it looked like he simply shrugged.
“Good boy,” I said with a chuckle, standing up. “Come on, buddy. Let’s get this day over with.”
At the end of the weekend, I found myself sitting in Kona Joe’s, sipping a beer as Alec chattered to his uncle about everything he’d done, seen, eaten, and found. To a nine-year-old, the world was full of adventure. I was almost too tired to keep up, feeling gritty and slightly sun-baked after two days of being outside taking pictures. My camera bag sat on the bar next to me, and it was filled with everything from cooking contests and the tiny parade, to games for the kids and dueling banjos.
“And...and...and Uncle Pete! Check this out!” Alec chirped, rummaging around in his pockets until he found what he was looking for. He set down what looked to be a million shells, but he pushed something specific forward. “Paul says...Paul says it’s a shark’s tooth!”
“It is, pal,” Peter answered him calmly, giving me a wink when I snickered a little.
Peter was handsome and kind, always wearing a sweet smile, especially for his nephew. He was the older of the two brothers and widowed. His wife, Heidi, had passed away a few years back. She’d been pregnant, and there had been problems during childbirth. Neither had made it.
“I knew it!” Alec gushed.
“I wish I had that much energy,” I murmured to Peter when he swapped my empty mug for a full one.
He chuckled, ruffling Alec’s hair, and turned back to me. “We could power the entire state with it, if only we could figure out how to harness it.” He snatched Alec up off the bar, tickled him relentlessly, and then set him down onto the floor. “Go find your dad, Alec. I think he’s out on the deck. I’m tired and wanna close this place up.”
Alec ran off, only to return with his parents in tow. Jasper looked the worse for wear. He’d cooked throughout most of the festival and seemed so very happy now that it was over. Alice, however, had as much energy as her son.
“I’ll have to hit the pharmacy, Jazz. I think we’re out of burn cream, and Alec used the green aloe stuff as monster goo,” she told him with a roll of her eyes, practically gripping Alec’s shoulders to keep him for bouncing clean out of his own skin.
Jasper rolled his eyes my way, smirking a little, but his cheeks, nose, and forehead had taken a little more sunshine than he was used to.
“I have some,” I told her, jerking a thumb toward the door. “It’s back at my place, but you’re welcome to it.”
“You don’t mind?” Alice asked. “I’ll replace it, I swear. I just hate the thought of driving to the mainland.”
Chuckling, I shook my head and waved her off. People that actually lived on Cedar Key, which rounded out to be about a thousand people, rarely wanted to leave it for anything. If they couldn’t get it locally, then they figured they could live without it most of the time.
“No, not at all.” I stood up, chugged a bit of my beer, and slid Peter a twenty.
“It’s on the house, Bella,” he argued, pushing it back. “Just make sure you put that picture of Jasper wearing old lady Cheney’s apron front and center.”
Grinning, I shot Jasper a wink as he glared at his brother. “I only take them. I don’t pick them.” I picked up my camera bag, leaving the twenty on the bar.
I liked them all. They were easy to be around. They knew my mother and Phil, so they’d accepted me into the fold instantly, but they never pushed for information about me. And that was a good thing, because to talk about Edward, about why I’d suddenly moved from busy Chicago to the slow, tiny beach town of Cedar Key was not something I was ready to do. It was if they knew I was running, hiding, licking my wounds.
“Can I come? I wanna come! I betcha Bob’s at Bella’s!” Alec rattled off.
“Yeah, yeah...come on,” I said with a chuckle.
There was about a city block of space between Kona Joe’s and the Whitlock’s above it to my place. Alec ran circles around us as Alice and I walked up the sidewalk.
“Did you get good pictures this weekend?” Alice asked, glancing over at me.
“I did, both for myself and the paper,” I told her with a smile. “I’ll go through them all in the next day or so, see which ones Mrs. Cope wants. The paper...they’ll just take my storage card and sort through for what they need.”
I liked Alice. We were both about the same height and size. We were the same age, too, which had been a shock to me, considering she and Jasper had a nine-year-old little boy, but she’d told me that she’d gotten pregnant right out of high school. She and Jasper had married right after they’d found out. For some, it would’ve meant struggle and hardship, but to watch the small family together, there was so much happiness, so much love between them, that sometimes, it hurt to watch. Or maybe I was jealous – I wasn’t sure.
We pounded up the steps to my beach deck, only to find Bob just chilling on the rail.
“Hey, Bob,” we all sang to him before I let everyone inside my place.
He merely clapped his large beak together and shuffled his feathers a bit.
“You want something to drink, guys?” I called as I set my bag down on the kitchen counter.
“No, we can’t stay. I want to get to that burn of Jasper’s before he starts looking like the stone crab claws he was cookin’ today,” Alice said with a giggle.
“Okay.” I laughed, walking back to my bathroom. It took a minute to find what I was looking for; I hadn’t quite unpacked everything yet. Since I’d left in a panic, there was no method to my boxes full of madness. “Found it!” I said, stepping back into the living room and holding up the bottle of green aloe goo.
Alice thanked me, but pointed to the Dartmouth hoodie draped over the arm of my chair. “I thought you said you went to Northwestern?”
My heart constricted, but I nodded. Swallowing nervously, I eyed the sweatshirt. “I did. That... That’s someone else’s.”
Alice’s eyes raked over me, a knowing look on her face. “Oh. Gotcha.”
“Hey!” Alec called with his head practically buried in one of my boxes. He came up out of it, holding a stack of my photos. “Who’s the guy in the penguin suit?” He grinned, but my eyes fell to the picture he was holding up.
Damn it all, I hadn’t looked at a picture of Edward since I’d tossed those haphazardly into the box. And poor Alec didn’t know he’d picked out the picture I’d taken the night of that fateful art show – the one when Edward had secretly mouthed the words, “I love you,” across the room.
All of my carefully maintained wall crumbled, the tiny fractures of my heart split open into huge fissures, and any barely healed wounds opened up with a force I wasn’t expecting. Tears fell unchecked down my face, and I was finding it hard to breathe, even harder when the picture was dropped back into the box.
“Alec, take this to your dad. Tell him I’ll be home in a few, but that he needs to shower first before putting this on,” Alice instructed her son. “Go straight to him, okay?”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Is Bella mad at me? I didn’t mean... She’s let me before...”
“No, kiddo, she’s not mad. She just doesn’t feel so good. Now, take that to Daddy, okay?”
I heard the door open and close, but I didn’t move from where I was frozen. Warm arms guided me to the sofa, staying wrapped around me tightly as Alice sat us down.
“Hey, Bella. It’s okay,” she soothed, brushing my hair from my face. “Whatever it is, it’ll be okay.”
I shook my head fervently. “I’m not sure about that, Alice,” I sighed, swiping at my tears. “Right now, nothing feels okay.”
“May I?” she asked softly, pointing to the box, and I nodded. What was done was done. I was a teary, blubbering mess at that point.
And really, there was a part of me that wanted to look, wanted to see his handsome face from when I’d believed he’d loved me. Alice simply dragged the box over, pulling out a fairly large stack of photographs. There wasn’t any particular order to them, but the ones on top were of the art show. She sorted through them, never saying a word, until she came to one where Edward had stolen my camera, turned it on the two of us, and snapped a picture. We’d been laughing hysterically.
“You loved him,” she finally stated, setting the stack down onto the coffee table and turning to face me.
“I did. I still do. I shouldn’t...but I do.”
Her nose wrinkled, and she shot a glance to Edward’s picture. “Do you want to talk about it?” she asked softly before looking back to me. “It’s obvious that you came here to get away from something...or someone. I mean, you flew into Cedar Key like the Devil himself was on your tail. I didn’t want to push. You seemed to be nursing some pretty hefty wounds...”
The sincerity in her tone was probably what did it. That, and the fact that I’d never told anyone about Edward, not even Angela back at the Trib. But I flipped through the pictures, finding the one I was looking for, and set it on top of all the others.
“That’s the day I met him,” I stated, sniffling once and rubbing my face. I could barely glance at him and Sarah as she hugged him. “He was...taken.”
I started at the beginning and spilled everything, sometimes using pictures to tell the story. I didn’t hold back, and Alice hardly interrupted, just simply listening, or giving me time to catch my breath or get my crying under control. She even got up at one point to get me something to drink and a few tissues from the box.
When I got to the night of the art show, I could barely take a breath, barely get it out. But when I set down the article announcing Jane’s pregnancy, I collapsed. There was nothing more to say.
“So...I qu-quit. Everything. I r-ran,” I hiccuped, letting her pull me to her and wrap her arms around me. “I c-couldn’t take it. He...he...he was everywhere. E-Everywhere...especially my house just reminded me of him, of everything he’d ever s-said to m-me.” I sat up suddenly, rubbing my face, but I turned to face her. “I know we were both responsible. I know we were adults. But... I don’t know,” I finally sputtered out, sagging in exhaustion. “I felt so used, so embarrassed that I’d believed everything he’d said.”
“Maybe you needed the lies,” she piped up softly, shrugging when I met her warm gaze. “I’m gonna play devil’s advocate for just a sec, okay? Sue me...but it comes from being a mom of a little boy that tends to get into scuffles. I try to see both sides...” When I nodded, she asked, “Are you sure his wife didn’t this to start shit? I said so yourself that you were convinced she knew. Maybe they were using each other, or maybe she did it to fuck with him. Perhaps when he moved out, it triggered her into a panic.”
“I don’t know,” I stated, shaking my head. “I really just don’t know. Alice, they made the announcement in the paper where I fucking worked! It was like a slap in the face! I felt humiliated. Of all the things he’d said and done...that was what made me feel like a whore the most.”
“Has he tried to contact you?”
A harsh, humorless laugh barked out of me. “Oh, I’m sure. I mean, I haven’t talked to him, but I changed my number so he couldn’t call me. But...people I worked with tried to tell me, and there’s...I have...emails from him. I just haven’t read them.”
Alice simply nodded. “Maybe you should.”
I shook my head. “I can’t. I can’t because right now, it’ll still sound like lies. And I’m...weak when it comes to him, Alice. So fucking weak. He made me forget who I was, what I was doing with my life, where I was going. Somewhere along the way, I All that I felt for him was wrapped up in secrecy and lies and sex, and it was so big, it consumed me.”
“But you still love him?”
Again, a humorless laugh huffed through my nose. “So much. It’s fucking ridiculous.”
She grinned, wrapping her arms around me again. “Then I’ll say this one more time. It’ll be okay. You’ve put space between you and all that mess, so now...give yourself time.”
I sighed, leaning into her. I hadn’t realized just how starved I was for affection and human contact. I’d kept her and the rest of them at arm’s length since I’d arrived in Cedar Key.
“No matter what you decide, I’m here, okay?” she asked, tucking my hair back. “Even if you go back to Chicago someday.”
“Seriously?” I sniffled, looking at her like she was crazy.
“Hey...I may be married, but I’m not blind,” she said teasingly, holding up a picture of Edward shirtless on my bed, his hair everywhere and his stubble looking delicious. “This is just...pretty.”
I snorted, rolling my eyes at her dramatic swooning.
She chuckled, tossing the picture down. “I can’t judge you, Bella. No one can because they haven’t been in your shoes. There was enough judging going on when I found out I was pregnant with Alec. I was called...many things. Things I wasn’t. I’ve only ever been with Jasper, so...a whore I am not. And neither are you. You fell in love with the wrong man or at the wrong time. I’m not sure which. Again, it’s not for me to decide. But...” She tilted my face her way. “I’m here if you want to talk about it. Or...if you need someone to hold your hand if you ever decide to read those emails.”
I’ve never been more grateful to someone in my entire life as I was right then with Alice. I’d come to think of my relationship with Edward as something dirty, but she simply chalked it up to misfortune.
I swallowed thickly, nodding once and smiling her way. “Thanks, Alice.”
About a week later – a few days before Halloween – I found myself back in Sea Breeze Art. Mrs. Cope was flipping through all the shots I’d taken over the festival weekend. She was slowly separating them into piles of ones she’d frame and sell for a higher price and ones she’d just slip into sleeves to add to the others I’d taken in the cheaper pile for people to frame themselves.
Finally, she set the whole stack down. “Isabella...why are you here?” she asked, narrowing her sweet hazel eyes at me, but holding up a shot of an almost gone sunset, where the stars were starting to peek out. “This... These shots, they should be hanging in a gallery, not in my little tourist trap.”
I winced at the word gallery, but I simply shook my head. “It’s just my hobby, Mrs. Cope. The newspaper pays my bills.”
She scoffed, rolling her eyes at me. “You’re selling yourself short, sweetie.”
“Yeah, you’re not the only one that’s said so,” I murmured back, swallowing the lump in my throat.
“Okay, fair enough,” she sang, slapping three shots down onto the counter. “I think...we should talk postcards, my talented new friend.”
She grinned when I giggled because she’d picked the three shots I would’ve picked. Ones I loved and hated the most. The first one was of the marshes – clouds still pink with the sun that couldn’t even be seen, but it was the bright star in the middle of the sky that had caught my eye. I took the picture wondering if Edward could see the same damn star I could and then hated myself for taking it. Unfortunately, it was a stunning shot. The second was taken from the middle of the road out of town, off the key. It was perfect symmetry and metaphorically my way back out of town, and the thought had frightened me, but I’d taken it anyway. And finally, there was Bob. He was sitting on a dock post, to the left of the picture, but to the right was a dilapidated old pier, and at the time, Bob had pretty much followed me all damn day, so it seemed like the picture represented more than just...well, Bob. It was like he was watching over me. And I’d felt – still felt – like that rundown pier.
“Do what you want with them,” I told her. “Just credit me. I’m sure you and Mr. Uley at the print shop will have much to talk about,” I teased her, smiling when the older woman blushed. “Tell him I said hello,” I sang, walking out the door.
“That’s not funny, Isabella!” was the last thing I heard before the door closed behind me.
I was still smiling when I ran into Alice, Alec, and Peter. “Hey, guys!”
“Hey...what was that about?” Alice asked, pointing to the door.
“Mrs. Cope wants to use a few of my shots as postcards, but I think she’s just using the excuse to go see Sam,” I explained, jerking a thumb behind me.
Alice and Peter laughed and nodded, but Peter said, “She’s been crushing on him for ages. I’m pretty sure they’re doing—”
“Peter!” Alice and I scolded, pointing to the fact that his nephew was clinging to every word coming out of his mouth.
Peter ruffled Alec’s hair, but merely laughed a little more. The blush that colored Peter’s cheeks was hilarious.
“Miss Bella, Miss Bella!” Alec tugged my T-shirt. “Guess what?” he gushed, holding out the bag in his hand. When I knelt in front him, he thrust the bag at me. “I’m gonna be a pirate for Halloween!”
Smiling at just how proud he was of that, I asked, “Oh, yeah?” He nodded, but I poked around in the bag, seeing he had everything in there – eyepatch, sword, and bandana, even the black boots. “Will you let me take your picture?”
“Sure,” he said with a shrug. “But ya gotta come to the beach party that night after Uncle Pete takes me Trick or Treating. Dad’s cookin’ on the grill.”
“We’ll see, handsome,” I told him, standing up again.
“You should come,” Peter added, looking from his nephew back to me. “It’s usually a good time. Jasper’s ribs are famous. And I think the guys are building a bonfire...” He rambled adorably, but deep down, I could see my answer was more important to Peter than to Alec.
I gave Alice a quick glance, and she winced, nodding.
“C’mon, boys,” she urged them. “Don’t pressure Bella. If she can come, she’ll be there.”
The reality was that I was needed to document the event for the paper anyway. My editor and boss, Victoria, called my cell phone not two hours later to ask if I’d take pictures at the beach party. I agreed, telling her it was no problem, but inside, I worried about going, though I rationalized that I was going for Alec, and Alec only. To go for anyone else seemed to make me uncomfortable. It, like I was doing something wrong.
And it still felt wrong when I made my way down the beach toward the party on Halloween night, camera in hand. The music was blaring, the grill smelled absolutely delicious, and the kids looked adorable in their costumes.
I immediately started taking pictures of everything – the fire, people laughing, the kids trying to scare each other and the adults. I even stepped back to give it a wide shot, with the bonfire overshadowing everything around it, but the ocean in the background swayed an inky black. Again, I took a picture of the stars. There were so many showing, something I wasn’t used to back in Chicago. The lights of the city overpowered the night sky.
“You came,” I heard beside me, and I glanced over to see Peter leaning against the pier railing.
“Yeah, duty called,” I told him with a small smile, holding up my camera. “Or Victoria called, really.”
He chuckled, nodding, and shoved his hands nervously into the front pockets of his jeans. He kicked at a seashell, sending it back into the water with a soft splash, but met my gaze. “Alice says I should leave you alone...”
I bit my bottom lip, letting out a slow breath, but I stayed quiet. I didn’t want him to do this, but I could see it was going to happen anyway. And he was so sweet, so kind, and had been completely devastated with the death of his wife and unborn child, according to Alice. To hurt him, turn him down seemed cruel, but I couldn’t be what he wanted me to be.
“Peter...” I finally found my voice, and I heard in my own tone that it sounded like a warning.
“Yeah, I know...” He nodded, gazing out over the water. “She said you’d been pretty hurt, but...” He turned to face me. “I like you, Bella. And I just... I was hoping we could...that I could take you out sometime. I mean, it’s been a really long time since I’ve felt that way about someone that wasn’t...”
“Your wife,” I finished for him, unable to meet his eyes.
“Yes. Heidi soulmate, but...” He sighed, and when his hand shot to his hair nervously in an action so painfully familiar, I knew what my answer was.
“Peter, I can’t...” I shook my head, finally meeting his face, which was filling with hurt and rejection. “I can’t. I’m not...”
“Ready,” he finished for me. “It’’s fine. I understand.”
“No, you don’t,” I corrected him. “You really don’t, but I...”
“Hey, I’m sorry,” he said, coming to stand directly in front of me and placing a hand over his heart. “I understand that things take time, okay?” he asked, and I nodded, feeling like utter shit for this entire conversation. “And I want you to know... I’m not going anywhere, so if you change your mind? Maybe?” he asked, shrugging and looking so fucking vulnerable.
“I should go,” I whispered, starting to walk away, but Peter’s hand landed gently on my shoulder.
“No, don’t. Alec’s been talking all damn day about how you’re supposed to be here. I’ll leave you alone, I swear,” he said, crossing his heart. The action was so like his nephew that I couldn’t help but laugh, which made Peter grin. “Please? If Alice knew I scared you off, she’d kick my ass. She’s small, but very feisty. I don’t know how my brother puts up with her.”
I took a deep breath and let it out, but nodded. “Okay,” I said softly. “But...thank you...for asking, Peter. I’m just unable to give you an answer right now, all right?”
He smiled and nodded, holding up his hands in a surrendering gesture. “No, I get it. When or if you’re ready, Bella...I’m here.”
I could only nod, but my attention was drawn to the little pirate rushing up to us. I couldn’t help but snap a half a dozen pictures of Alec when he suddenly growled, “Arrrrr, matey!”
“Come on, Captain Jack Sparrow. I’m hungry,” I told him, reaching for the little boy’s hand as I walked back toward the party. Once again, the little guy put a smile on my face when all I wanted was to go home and cry.


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