Please see part 1 for all disclaimers.
Constance saw Tanner running hard up the beach and then heard the door of her bungalow slam shut. A few moments later her car careened down the drive and out of view. Constance’s heart ached for her daughter, and she despaired that she could not comfort her.
She walked out onto the verandah and found Tom Hardigan there, elbows on the rail, a faraway look on his face.
"Am I disturbing you?" Constance asked quietly.
He turned to greet her, smiling, then shook his head ruefully. "No, of course not. I was just thinking—or trying to."
Constance nodded and stood beside him, strangely comfortable. At last she spoke. "I have a feeling Adrienne will be going back with you and Alicia."
Tom inclined his head in agreement. "I used to think that was the best thing for her. Before I came here, at least. Now, I’m not so sure."
"How so?" Constance asked.
Tom's eyes meeting hers. "The Whitleys are very charming—both mother and daughter."
Constance met his gaze evenly and smiled in return. "Thank you, Captain Hardigan, but charm hardly seems enough."
His face grew serious. "I’ve known Adrienne a long time—well before she and Alicia met. I have never seen her quite like this. This year has been incredibly difficult for her, as I’m sure you know; and, yet, she looks better right now—stronger, healthier, more alive—than I could imagine. And, forgive me, Mrs. Whitley, but I do not believe it is just the salt air that has brought about this transformation. Leaving may be much harder than she imagines."
Constance sighed. "You’re right, of course. I respect Adrienne for her concern about my daughter’s future, but I’m afraid her perspective is slightly off balance. Tanner will most definitely not be better off without her."
Tom frowned. "I’m not sure Adrienne is going to do well, either. I’d hate to see her lose her desire for life again. At least Tanner is young—she’ll get over it, I imagine."
Constance shook her head. "No, Captain, you’re wrong. Tanner will survive, but she will not get over it. That is not the way the Whitleys love." She said the last words with finality.
Tom Hardigan studied the elegant woman beside him, marveling at her serenity and deep understanding. "Does she take after you?"
"Only in appearance," Constance laughed. "She is her father, through and through."
"He must have been quite a man," Tom said, meaning it.
"Oh, he was that," Constance said softly. She looked at him thoughtfully, sensing an unspoken question. "My husband has been dead ten years, Captain Hardigan. In that time, I have never thought of another man. There have been a few who were—interested. A part of my heart, my life, my dreams will always belong to him. Most men would find that intolerable, and I am not good at deceit."
He nodded, his eyes never leaving her face. "But, if a man, knowing this to be true, were to desire your affection, in a serious way, you might consider it?"
Constance laughed. "I might consider it, Captain."
He smiled. "Well—I am very glad to hear that."
"Will you do me a favor, Tom?" she asked softly.
"If Adrienne is not happy — if, in fact, she is wrong in this decision, will you at least try to talk to her—for Tanner’s sake, and mine?"
"If it comes to that, I may be able to do more than just talk to her," he responded.
It was dark by the time Tanner reached the mainland. She drove north on the coast road to a bar she visited occasionally. It was not crowded, and she was relieved. She wasn't looking for company, she just wanted to forget. She took a seat at the bar and ordered a scotch, which she swallowed down quickly, then signaled for another with a practiced motion of her hand. The bartender refilled her glass and moved away. A few couples sat at tables in the shadows, talking in low voices and slowly sipping drinks. Someone played fifties slow songs on the jukebox, and a woman in a cutoff sweatshirt and jeans danced with a much younger woman, the two of them alone in the middle of the room.
Tanner stared at her reflection in the long mirror behind the row of bottles opposite her. She recognized the face as her own, but it seemed like a mask to her. How could she appear to be whole when her entire being felt shattered? Tanner tried to imagine the dawn without Adrienne, the sea without Adrienne in the Pride, the night without Adrienne in her arms. She couldn’t make sense of it, despite how hard she tried. She remembered Adrienne’s words, but she couldn’t understand them either. Not love her? How could that be? How could Adrienne have touched her as she had, and not love her? Tanner trusted her instincts, and she could not believe she had been so wrong.
She sighed and drained the glass again, then lifted it in the general direction of the bartender. "It doesn’t matter what I think if she doesn’t want me. And she doesn’t," she muttered under her breath.
"Talking to yourself now, baby?" someone next to her said.
Tanner turned, appraising the lithe blonde beside her. "Yeah. Hello, Sally."
"Hello, Tanner. Haven’t seen you around much lately. Someone must be keeping you busy, huh?"
Tanner didn’t answer, intent on her drink.
"You alone tonight?" Sally asked, leaning heavily against Tanner as she pushed her leg against Tanner’s thigh and her breast into Tanner's arm.
"Yes," Tanner answered hollowly.
Sally curled her hand around Tanner’s forearm, stroking lightly with one fingertip. "That’s nice. So am I. Listen, I’ve got some of your favorite friend in the car. Clean and pure. Why don’t we have some and then find a place to get reacquainted. I've missed you."
Tanner stared at her, wondering why she felt numb where Sally touched her. In fact, she felt strangely cold all over. "No, thanks. I don’t want any."
Sally looked at her in amazement. "You’ve got to be kidding. Listen, you don’t have to sleep with me. I can see you’re bummed out. But have some stuff—you’ll feel better."
Tanner left a twenty-dollar bill on the bar and got up to leave. "No, it won’t make me feel better. Nothing is going to make me feel better."
She didn’t rush on the way home—she drove slowly and carefully. She had nowhere to go in a hurry. When she finally reached Whitley Manor, she noticed the entire house was dark. She went through the front door and climbed slowly to the second floor. Her legs felt like stone.
Tanner moved by instinct to the familiar room, entering quietly. She stood for a moment, wondering why she had come, staring at the sleeping woman. "Mother?" she said softly, almost afraid to intrude on the stillness.
The figure stirred slightly, and Tanner averted her gaze from the naked profile exposed to her. "I'm sorry," she whispered, turning to go.
"Tanner?" Constance called softly. "What is it?"
"Can I talk to you?"
Constance reached for her robe and covered herself quickly. "Of course, my sweet—come in."
As Tanner approached, Constance arose from her solitary bed and reached out in the darkness for Tanner’s hand. "It’s too warm in here. Come outside."
Constance led her daughter out onto the moonlit deck. "What is it, love?"
Tanner leaned against a column, steadying herself. She worked to keep her voice even. "I’m so frightened."
Constance slipped an arm around her daughter’s firm waist, pulling her close. "Tell me about it," she said.
"It’s Adrienne," Tanner continued, struggling with tears. "She’s going to leave." Her voice broke suddenly, and she choked back a sob. "I don’t know what to do."
"I'm so sorry, Tanner," she whispered softly, wishing there were some way she could shield her from the pain. Instead, she said the very thing that she knew would hurt her daughter even more, but believing it needed to be said. "Perhaps she needs to go. Perhaps it’s best."
"No!" Tanner protested wildly. "It isn’t! I’m sure of it!"
"Tanner," Constance began slowly, choosing her words carefully, "Adrienne might need to return to the familiar, to a world she trusts. Not everyone is brave enough to go on in the face of uncertainty. You may have to let her go, if you love her."
Tanner shook her head violently, tears streaking her face. "No! I won't believe that. I can't! Adrienne is alive and she loves me. I know she does—even though she never says it. I’m not wrong."
Constance sighed, seeing so much of her husband's stubbornness in her daughter. "Tanner, love doesn’t solve all problems. No matter how pure, sometimes passion doesn’t answer all of a person’s needs."
"Adrienne needs me and I love her," Tanner insisted. "I have enough faith for both of us. If only she would trust me—I know it would be all right."
"I think Adrienne is concerned for you, sweetheart. She doesn’t want to disappoint you."
Tanner pulled away angrily. "Disappoint me? Why? Because she can’t offer me what I don’t want anyway? I’m not asking for promises—none of us can really keep them. I want her now, today. I can’t offer her any more than that, and I don’t ask for any more in return." She turned away, her chest heaving with barely contained sobs. "Oh, why can’t she see that? I do understand—I don’t care about tomorrow—I care about today!"
"Tanner," Constance began, stroking her shoulder, trying to calm her, "when I first met your father, I was engaged to another man. That man was kind and gentle and considerate. I thought marriage to him would be warm and comfortable. Then I met Charles. He was wild and impetuous and filled with a passion for life, and for me. That nearly frightened me away. I was afraid of not being able to love him enough. You are very much like him, Tanner. And I think Adrienne is afraid of what may become of you if she is unable to return your love."
"But she already has," Tanner said quietly. "In more ways than I could ask." She was silent for a while, thinking of how her mother must have felt when her father died. She forced herself to consider Adrienne's death. Could she bear it? "How did Father finally convince you to trust him?" Tanner asked.
Constance laughed softly, her face alight in the glow of the moon. "He was never a patient man, Tanner. What he wanted, he went after, and he usually got. He was also the most sensitive man I ever knew. When I was with him I felt so alive! He made me want to explore the world, conquer all my fears. In the end, he didn’t have to do anything. He waited, he loved me, he allowed me to make up my own mind. I chose him because any other sort of life seemed too dull to contemplate."
"Were you still afraid?"
"Yes, but I was more afraid not to love him."
"What if Adrienne refuses to see that we are right for each other?"
Constance sighed, "I don’t know. Tanner, do you love this woman, truly love her, knowing that she may not live to share your life with you?"
"With all my heart."
"Then, my dear, I’m afraid you must wait."
When Tanner climbed the path to the main house the next morning, she saw immediately that the rental car was gone from the driveway. Suddenly she began to run. She burst through the French doors to the dining room where her mother was sitting with her coffee.
"Where are they?" Tanner demanded breathlessly.
Constance confirmed what Tanner already knew. "They left early this morning."
Tanner gasped and lunged for the door.
"Tanner, wait!" her mother called after her.
Tanner didn’t reply. She was already running down the path to the beach.
Adrienne’s house appeared like so many others closed for the season. The shutters were locked, the deck furniture stored away. Tanner dashed up the rear stairs to the deck and rattled the bedroom door.
"Adrienne? Adrienne!" she shouted. "It’s Tanner. Open the door!" When she got no reply, she raced around to the front. Despite the fact that Adrienne’s car was gone Tanner was sure she must still be there. She took the front stairs two at a time, ready to break the door in if she had to. It was then that she saw the envelope taped to the door, the initials THW scrawled on the front in a bold hand. Tanner stared at it for a long time, not wanting to touch it. If she didn’t open it, didn’t read it, perhaps it wouldn’t be true. Maybe Adrienne had just gone for a walk on the beach, or out for a sail. She always went sailing when she needed to think.
Finally, Tanner took the envelope and sat down on the front stairs. She sat there holding it as the sun climbed high in the sky. At length she took a deep breath and slid the single sheet of paper from the envelope.
"My darling, Tanner," it began, "forgive me for being a coward and saying good-bye like this, but I knew if I called you, you would ask me to stay. Anything I said to you in explanation would only hurt you more. Accept that I don’t have the courage to remain here with you, as much as a part of me longs to. I want you to know that had we met under different circumstances, if I could be more certain of where life might lead, nothing could have forced me to leave you. I hope you’ll try to forgive a soul less brave than yours. You have brought me joy, and I wish you all the happiness you deserve. —Adrienne."
Tanner stared at the note for a long time, turning it slowly in her fingers. "You're wrong, Adrienne," she whispered through her tears. "I'm not brave. It was only loving you that made me strong."
Tom Hardigan drove down the now familiar coast road that led to Whitley Point with a light heart. He had been courting Constance Whitley from the West Coast at a slow gentlemanly pace for the better part of a year. He visited Whitley Point once or twice a month on long weekends. He and Constance spent time exploring the nearby coastal towns, visiting maritime museums, and discovering small out of the way antique shops. It was pleasant time they both enjoyed. Their evenings spent at Whitley Manor were filled with quiet dinners, moonlight walks, and conversation. Their nights were decorous—Tom slept in the guestroom in a different wing from Constance’s bedroom. He did not mind. He enjoyed Constance’s company more than any person he could remember, and he wouldn’t conceive of offending her in any way.
She had been honest with him, and he knew if she were to love him, it would grow out of their friendship. He found her lovely and he desired her, but most of all he wanted her to remain in his life—in whatever way she chose.
He turned onto the back bay road once he reached the island and drove north. He considered turning off at the marina but decided against it. He knew that Tanner avoided his company. She seemed to stay away from the house purposefully while he was there. She probably would not welcome an impromptu visit from him.
His lighthearted mood was momentarily deflated. They had never discussed it, but he thought that Tanner somehow held him responsible for Adrienne leaving. It wasn't true, but there was no way her could convince her of that. Not that he would try. She was much too bitter for him to even broach the subject. He felt for her, but the thought of seeing Constance made it impossible for him to be gloomy for long. As he turned into the drive, his spirits soared. He carried his travel bag up the broad stairs and rang the bell.
May answered and smiled a greeting. "Mrs. Whitley is in the garden, sir. You know the way?"
Tom smiled. "Of course." He walked through the house and down the rear steps to the garden. Constance was absorbed in pruning a late blooming bush and did not hear him approach.
"Hi," he said, bending to kiss her cheek. She turned quickly toward him, her face alight with pleasure. She returned his kiss with her own, placed quickly but firmly on his lips. "Hello. Did you have a good drive?"
"Wonderful, as usual. How have you been?"
Constance shrugged, her voice surprisingly melancholy. "Nothing changes here, Tom, you know that. I attend the local social functions - the benefits, the charities - and I entertain at the appropriate times. Sometimes it seems rather silly for me to continue to play the society matron when those times have passed. If Charles were still here, as head of the Whitley family—the true Whitleys, as it were—it might be different."
Tom nodded. It always surprised him that he didn’t mind more when Constance spoke of her late husband. Sometimes he felt as though he and Charles had been friends in another lifetime. "Are you getting just a little bored?" he asked lightly.
"Perhaps," she answered honestly. "You know, Tom, Tanner loves this island, this place, much more than I ever did. Like with Charles, it seems to be in the Whitley blood. I have often thought of simply moving back to the mainland—Washington, perhaps—and leaving this place to Tanner." She pulled off her gardening gloves, and slapped them absently against her thigh. "I have some distant relatives there, and Tanner is much more the heir to this island than I. I've always believed she has what it takes to guide the corporation the way Charles would have wanted it."
Tom followed her up to the house, listening intently as she spoke. "Why haven’t you tried it then—at least on a trial basis—say six months out of the year or something like that?" He went directly to the bar and busied himself mixing drinks as he talked.
Constance looked at him with a rare grin on her usually composed face. "I don’t suppose you have any ulterior motives for prompting me, do you, Captain Hardigan?"
Tom flushed as he hastily stirred the martinis. "Well, I am in Washington for meetings and the like quite often." He became suddenly serious and continued, "And there has been some discussion of my being permanently posted to Washington sometime next year."
It was Constance’s turn to blush. Tom hoped it was from pleasure at the news that he would be closer—perhaps much closer. He brought her the martinis, sitting beside her on the couch. "But, you haven’t answered my question. Why haven’t you tried it?"
"I considered it this winter. Winters can be desolate here on the coast. But, truthfully, Tom, I didn’t want to leave Tanner. Not then."
"How is she?" he asked. He didn't usually inquire so directly, because he knew that Constance guarded Tanner's privacy ferociously. Only once had Constance ever broken that confidence – she had been so worried about Tanner during those first few weeks after Adrienne left that she had finally called him to ask if he thought Adrienne's decision was final. He had reluctantly informed her that it appeared that way. They had talked for a long time, and by the time they finished she seemed calmer and he had promised to stop by the next time he was in Washington. He had been visiting regularly ever since. And Constance never spoke of that night again.
Constance answered quietly, clearly distraught. "If you didn't know her, you'd think she was fine. She is functioning surprisingly well. In fact, she seems to be settling down. She’s not dragging strange girls home with her any longer—in fact, sometimes, I wish she would! She seems so lonely. And the drinking—and the drugs she thought I never knew about—has stopped. She bought the marina a few months ago, you know, and a good deal of the land adjoining it from the developers who had been managing it. She wants to run it herself, and perhaps create an international yacht club there."
Tom looked impressed. "I’d say it sounds like she’s turned her life around."
"Oh, Tom, that’s just it. It does seem wonderful, until you really look at her. Tom, she never smiles anymore. She sleeps very little—I’m not sure when she eats. She sees no one except Josh Thomas and a few sailors at the marina. The spark is gone, Tom—the most wonderful thing about her is missing. It’s as if her wild, passionate love of life left the day Adrienne did."
Constance was close to tears, and Tom was alarmed. He had never seen Constance lose control in any situation. He moved closer and slipped his arm around her waist. "I don’t know if it will do any good, but I’ll talk to Adrienne."
"I hope she’s ready to listen," Constance replied, resting her head on his shoulder, "because I'm afraid Tanner is never going to recover."
Tom decided there were some things he needed to discuss with Tanner as well. Early the next morning he drove down to the marina, knowing that Tanner would be there. He parked his car and walked down the pier toward the office. He noticed the construction under way and could see the foundations of a clubhouse and well-designed private quarters under development. He thought approvingly that the plans looked good—the harbor needed modernization, and it was obvious that a great deal of thought had been put into the planning. The same concern for preserving the environment that permeated the entire island was evident in the work progressing around him. The buildings, sleek and contemporary as they might be, fit inconspicuously with the terrain, neither disrupting nor detracting from the natural beauty of the cove. Tanner had clearly inherited her father’s love for this island. Constance was right. She was, in fact, born to it.
As he approached, he saw Tanner striding up from the construction site, and he noted instantly how thin she was. She wore khaki work pants and a light blue denim shirt, the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. She had a sheaf of architectural plans rolled under one arm. Her color was good, she had obviously been outside a great deal, but her face was drawn and tight. She did not smile when she saw him.
Nevertheless, Tom continued toward her and held out his hand. "Tanner, how are you?" he said.
Tanner stared at him for a moment, then took his hand in a firm grasp. "Busy."
"I can see that. It looks very impressive." Tom searched her face for some hint of her true feelings, and finding no clue in her hooded eyes and expressionless face, he decided to say what he had come to say.
"Tanner, I’d like to talk with you. Do you have a moment?"
Tanner regarded him steadily, wondering just why she resented him so much. She knew in her heart that it was not his fault that Adrienne had left her. Still, the sight of him reminded her of all she had lost, and she couldn’t forgive him for being a part of Adrienne’s world. He, at least, could see her, talk with her. She shrugged. "Sure."
She turned away, heading instinctively to the water, her only source of comfort. When she couldn’t stand the confines of the marina office or her own barren bungalow, she sailed. Only there, alone on the water, could she find any semblance of peace. She leaned against the rail at the edge of the cove, and Tom joined her.
"I want to talk to you about your mother," he began quietly.
Tanner stared straight ahead, but her jaw clenched. "What about her?"
Tom took a deep breath and looked directly at Tanner. "I’m going to ask her to marry me."
Tanner turned to him, open amazement in her face. "You can’t be serious!"
Tom smiled slightly. "Oh, but I am—very serious. I love her, Tanner. I want to live with her, share our lives together. Weekends now and then are not enough."
Tanner winced, as if his words were arrows directed at her very soul. She would be so grateful for just a weekend with Adrienne. But, that was over. Adrienne was gone.
"And Mother?" she asked directly. "Does she feel the same way?" She was surprised to see the look of uncertainty flash across Tom’s handsome features.
"I don’t know. She cares for me, I believe," he began slowly, almost to himself. "I think she is lonely here on Whitley Point." He held his hand up, stopping Tanner’s protest. "Oh, she loves you, and she loves the island, too. There’s no doubt of that. But I think the main reason she's stayed all these years is not because you needed her so very much, but because she needed you. You are a reminder for her in so many ways of your father. And she loved him so very much that she didn’t want to lose all that remained of him."
He squared his shoulders, unconsciously adopting an aggressive military stance. "But she deserves more than memories; she deserves a chance to live again. Maybe without all the passion she knew with Charles, but at least with someone who cares for her, someone who cherishes her. And I do."
Tanner stared at him, her jaw slightly agape, surprised at his insight and sensitivity. She realized she didn't know the first thing about Tom Hardigan. All he had been to her was a painful reminder of Adrienne. She thought about her mother, quietly bearing her grief with dignity, somehow always there when Tanner had needed her. She swallowed hard and nodded. "She has been lonely, I know. And I've never been much company for her. I’ve always been too wrapped up in my own private unhappiness. Lately, it’s been worse." She looked at Tom and tried to find the words that came so hard to her.
"Do you really think she would be happy away from Whitley Point?"
Tom smiled at that. "Not for long, I don’t imagine. Constance is more of a Whitley than she realizes. I hope to be stationed in Washington, D.C. next year. And if Constance agrees to marry me, we would never be far from Whitley Point, or from you."
"You don't have to worry about me," Tanner stated quietly. "I have everything I need right here."
Tom seriously doubted that. It wasn't hard to see the emptiness in her eyes, or to the hear the bitterness in her voice. He wanted to offer some comfort, but knew that there wasn't any.
Tanner laughed suddenly, a spark of her old self reappearing for an instant. "I feel like the father of the bride, standing here having this conversation with you! We must, after all, let Mother decide."
Tom grinned back. "You’re right. Now that I have permission, I can ask her!"
Tanner regarded him in astonishment. "You are crazy!"
"You bet," he said quickly.
Suddenly Tanner's face grew still. "Tom, how is Adrienne?"
Tom hesitated a moment, and then decided to be totally honest. "If you ask me, and no one does, I’d say lousy. She and Alicia are living in their old house together, but I don't know what's happening between them. They’re friends, that’s only natural. Adrienne doesn't talk to me about it, or anyone else that I know of. She's working well – better than ever really, but that seems to be the only thing that keeps her going. In fact, I’d say she’s long overdue for a promotion." Tanner was very pale, and her hands on the rough-hewn fence rail were shaking. He'd probably said more than he should have, but her anguish was so sharp, and so clear, it hurt him to look at her. "She looks well physically, but there’s something missing. She's going through the motions, Tanner, but I’d say she left her heart and soul on Whitley Point."
Tanner closed her eyes, struggling to bury the pain. When she opened them, Tom was heartened to see something hard and determined force its way through the wounded confusion.
"Tom," she asked urgently, "what should I do? If I thought she’d come back, I’d fly out there tonight. I've wanted to, so many times. I wanted to call – even did a few times, then hung up at the last second. Because she said she didn't want me. She said she didn’t—" she faltered for a second, and then continued. "She said she didn’t love me."
Tom tried to imagine how hurt Tanner must feel, and didn’t really want to know. "Tanner," he said, "I think Adrienne truly believed that leaving you was the right thing to do – for you. She met you when she was just barely beginning to recover, and I think she was afraid she would die, and you would be alone."
Tanner drew a sharp breath, the thought still piercing her with agony. "Does she think that would be worse than living without her now, knowing that she is halfway across the country, and won’t even see me?"
"I don’t know, Tanner," he replied, thinking that he had let Adrienne down. She had sacrificed a chance for happiness, and he had let her. I’ll ask her. It’s about time somebody did.
After Tom left, Tanner finished up the work plans for the next day, leaving notes for Josh and instructions for the contractors. She considered sleeping on the Pride that night, as she usually did when Tom was visiting, but then decided there was something more important than her own lingering discomfort with him. Something she should have done weeks ago. She went directly into the main house where Tom and her mother were having a cocktail.
"Mother," she said after a brief hello to Tom, "I’d like to talk to you."
Both Tom and Constance looked surprised, but Constance rose immediately. "Of course, dear. Shall we walk in the garden?"
Once they were out of Tom’s hearing, Tanner turned to her mother. "Mother, are you happy here?"
Constance was startled. "Happy? Why, of course I’m happy. This is my home."
Tanner shook her head. "That’s not what I meant. I meant, are you happy here?" She stopped for a moment and then drew a deep breath. "Is this the life you want? Enough of a life?"
Constance studied Tanner for a moment, not seeing the reflection of her husband any longer, but the strong, forthright woman her daughter had become. "I love the island; I always will. But, I must admit, I do get lonely. Sometimes I think my life ended when your father died."
Tanner shook her head vehemently. "No! That is not true. It must not be true. You are alive, and Father is gone. You owe it to yourself to make a life for yourself. You deserve that."
Constance tilted her head and smiled almost shyly at Tanner. "And do you think I should make that life with Tom Hardigan?"
Tanner shrugged. "That is only for you to say. But he does seem to care for you." With another sigh, she admitted, "And I like him."
Suddenly serious, Constance asked, "And what of the island? There is still a lot that needs looking after here."
Tanner straightened her shoulders and reached for her mother’s hand. "I shall look after things here, Mother. It’s the one thing I’m good at."
"And you, Tanner? Who shall look after you, my dear?" Constance said softly.
"I don’t know, Mother. For now, it must be only me."
Constance held her daughter’s hand tightly in her own, hoping fervently that Tanner was wrong.
Continue to part 9
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