Disclaimers: Whilst the leading ladies come across as very familiar, they are in fact products of my over active imagination, as is the whole story. No infringement is intended.
Sex/Violence: There is love between two women (or there will be eventually) in this, so if that's not your cup of tea, I wouldn't bother with this. The sex won't be graphic, but the violence might be when it pops up.
While this isn't my first fanfic, it is the first one to be posted. It's also the longest one I've ever written, and that's just the first part. So, there is lots more to come, and please don't get too impatient. Take a long view when reading it, cause that's how it's written.
Feedback: Please, don't hold back. Good, bad or indifferent, I would like to hear your views. After all, it's all about the readers. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Strength Inside
By Claire Lanham
Taylor Rhodes stood in front of the door to her new house, toying with the keys. All of a sudden she felt nervous, and more than a little nauseas. She allowed herself a moment of insecurity before shaking her head. Fine time to get cold feet, she thought to herself, after you've moved halfway across the world and spent most of your life savings on a house. She squared her shoulders, and unlocked the door, pushing it open slowly and taking a step inside.
The door led into a small foyer, with stairs on her left, and a door to her right. Stepping into the living room and switching the light on, she smiled. It was really all hers. She looked out of the large bay window at the van she had hired. It contained everything she owned, and it wouldn't be nearly enough to fill the house, but at least it was all hers. And now all I have to do is bring it in. Still smiling, she set to work.
The tall, dark haired woman spent the next few hours unloading her van, dumping boxes and bits of furniture in what she hoped would be the appropriate rooms. Seeing as she had only bothered to label about half the boxes when she had originally packed, she had to guess with a few of them. Night had fallen before she stopped. The place looked like something had exploded in it. A table was along one wall, and the TV was set in the corner on the floor. Her only easy chair was opposite. Boxes had been opened, and some of the contents were on the floor, or in a pile that was in the process of being ‘sorted'. Her phone had been plugged in for the sole purpose of ordering pizza. There was a knock at the door.
"That better be the pizza now." She muttered to herself, slowly making her way through the chaos. Sure enough, when she opened the door, a young man thrust a pizza box at her. She took it gratefully, holding it with one hand and fishing her wallet out from her jeans with the other.
"$12.99." He drawled with a slow southern accent. He blinked, as if just registering her own accent. She had dug out fifteen dollars and handed it over. She could see the question forming, and cut him off.
"Keep the change." She shut the door in his face before he could say anything else. Still clutching the pizza, she picked her way through the chaos in the living room to the kitchen at the back. The kitchen was in a bit of a better state, with everything already put away in the right places. Since she had never had a kitchen before, and hence none of the usual kitchen implements a person acquired through life, it hadn't taken long. She placed the pizza on the side, next to an ashtray that already held a few butts. Deciding to let the pizza cool down first, she fished a can of beer from the grocery bag on the floor, and opened it, pleased at the hiss it made. She looked around at her, and raised the can to the empty room.
"To a new life." With that, she started her meal of beer and pizza. The feeling of loneliness that welled up inside of her was pushed away with ease. She sat down in front of the TV rubbing her left knee. The pain had steadily built up over the day, and now she was limping badly. She took a large drink of beer and forgot about it.
It was the early hours of the morning before she threw in the towel. Since there was nothing else to do, and sleeping wouldn't bring her the peace she craved, she sat in front of the TV and tried to get used to the foreign programmes, finishing off the beer. The sun was just peeking over the horizon when she oblivion she sought finally claimed her.
Chris Martin pulled her bike up to the back of her father's garage where she had worked for the past fifteen years, and switched off the engine. She pulled her helmet off, running a hand through the short blonde locks to straighten them out slightly, and hung it casually from a handle bar, where it would stay for the rest of the day. She didn't worry about anyone stealing it, since the yard was shut to the public, and since her bike was hidden from the road behind the rusted carcass of a pick-up truck, and in plain view of the garage floor where she worked as a mechanic.
She took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh scent pf pine trees from the forest that the garage sat on the edge of, and smiled. Since the rest of the day would be spent around engines and all the aromas that went with them, she savoured the cleanliness of the air. She patted her pride and joy, a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, all chrome and midnight blue, and got off. Standing next to the bike she stretched, working the kinks out of her shoulders, and strode over to open up the garage.
Humming under her breath, she went through the building, switching on lights and making sure everything was all in order. She changed into her stained coveralls, tying the arms around her waist since it was warm enough to get away with just her black muscle tee. Besides, she thought to herself with a grin, I have fantastic arms. And she did. Years of working out and running had left her with a lean but muscled frame that most people were jealous of, male or female.
By the time everyone else started to drift in to work, she had made the brews, logged onto the computer to check how busy they would be, and was sitting at the picnic bench outside smoking her first cigarette of the day, reading yesterdays paper.
"Mornin' little bit." She didn't even look up as Benny ‘Blue' Rogers, her boss and close friend, sat next to her, holding his own cup of coffee. She held out her packet to him. He took one, and lit up. It was after her had slid the packet back to her that looked up, closing the paper and shifting so that she was facing him.
"Blue, how is it that you never remember to buy smokes in the morning?" He grinned.
"Why bother when you've always got some?" She swatted him on the arm playfully. Every morning they did the same thing. It was a comfortable and familiar routine. After a few drags, he spoke, more serious. "So what's on today?"
"Not much. Couple of services in the morning, two appointments on the book for this afternoon. I figured you could take Junior through the routine stuff, and I could work on trying to fix Mr Henderson's hunk o' junk." Blue nodded. Even though he was the senior member on the floor, it was Chris that kept everything running.
"Sounds good to me."
"Of course it does. You get the easy stuff." She said nonchalantly. He mock glared at her.
"Like trying to teach Junior is easy." Chris snorted, looking at the twenty-year-old car sitting on the ramp inside.
"Want to trade?" He followed her gaze, and shook his head.
"Hell no." She started to laugh, and after a second, he joined her. Still laughing, they made their way into the garage to start working.
Chris was under the body of the ‘hunk o' junk' when she heard her father calling out for her. She finished securing the new exhaust, making sure that everything was tight, before sliding out. Standing up, she saw her father, the owner and manager, standing in the door between the garage and the offices. Wiping her hands on a rag that was already stained with grease and oil, she closed the distance between them.
"Hello sir. Something you needed?" He had always insisted on her calling him sir and treating him like he was her boss instead of her father when at work. He had never had any trouble treating her like any other mechanic instead of his only daughter.
"Just wanted to confirm that you would be coming to dinner tonight." She kept her face blank, even though she was surprised and irritated that he had interrupted her for this.
"Seven o'clock like every Tuesday sir." He nodded slowly.
"You mother would like you to dress smartly tonight Christine. We are expecting company." Oh god, I hope she's not trying to set me up with someone again. Her mother would try to introduce her eligible, young men at least once every couple of months, despite the lack of success in the past. When will she learn that's not what I want? Even as she was thinking this, she nodded, a fake smile plastered on her face.
"Of course sir. Should I bring anything tonight?" He shook his head.
"No. Just," He paused, then appeared to change his mind. "I'll see you tonight." With that, he turned and entered the offices, letting the door shut on his daughter's confused face. She was still looking at the door when Blue nudged her none to gently, breaking her out of her thoughts.
"What's up?" She sighed, turning around.
"I think my mother is trying to set me up again." He smiled at her displeasure. He knew how much Chris disliked the blind dates, having listened to her let off steam about them the next day enough times.
"Rather you than me kiddo." She just grunted. "Come on, it's knocking off time." She glanced at her watch, and noted that it was half an hour till they finished.
"It's early." He grinned slyly.
"Yeah. But you have a hot date to get ready for." He easily dodged the slap coming his way. "Going home half an hour early will not kill you. Besides, Junior can finish off the exhaust." Sensing that she wasn't going to win this argument, she changed direction from the truck she had been working on, and headed for the locker room instead. It would be nice to knock off a little early for once. She mentally catalogued all the things she needed from the store, and whether she could carry them back on the bike, while she changed into her leathers. Walking out of the garage, she waved goodbye to Blue and Junior, who waved back, before continuing their conversation. She slid onto the bike, and smoothly turned it round in the lot before pulling her helmet on and starting the engine. The smooth purr of the bike, as always, made her smile, and she pulled out of the lot with more enthusiasm than normal, no doubt startling the remaining mechanics.
The advantage of leaving work early also meant she missed rush hour, so it was just ten minutes later that she pulled into the parking lot of the towns only supermarket. Here she carried her helmet in with her, unwilling to leave it hanging on the handlebars for some opportunistic kid to take.
She carried the helmet on one arm, and a basket on the other, awkwardly adding items that she needed as she browsed the isles. When the basket was full and she had most of the things she needed, she went to the tills. She was the only customer, so it was a matter of minutes before she was stowing the groceries in the storage compartment under the pillion seat and heading home.
Home was a small flat on the edge of town. The views were crap, and it was well away from the town centre, but the rent was cheap, and was more than adequate for a single woman with little or no interest in material belongings. She dumped the bag of groceries on the kitchen counter, and headed through to her bedroom, stripping as she went. The jacket went in the direction of the couch, to be hung up later. The shirt went in the direction of the washing machine. The boots were kicked off in the same direction as the jacket. Everything else was thrown out of the bedroom and down the hall. Chris walked out a moment later, wrapped in a towel. Before she got in the shower, she double-checked that her door was locked, and switched on the stereo. The soft sounds of Dido started to play.
Twenty minutes later she stepped out of the shower, a cloud of steam billowing around her. She had managed to clean the grease and oil stains from her hands, although her nails were another story. They would never be presentable according to her mother's standards. Short and ragged, they were the nails of a woman who worked with her hands, something she knew her mother hated. Drying her hair, she stood in front of her closet, and tried to decide what to wear.
"How much do I really care anyway?" She asked herself. "It's not like I want to impress any man my mother chooses for me." With that thought in mind, she ignored the skirt and shirt that her mother would love, and chose a pair of black pinstripe trousers and a white shirt, with a waistcoat to match the trousers. Smart, sophisticated, the outfit plainly said ‘independent woman'. She smiled as she dressed, occasionally singing along with Dido when she knew the words. Once she had finished, she stood in front and the full-length mirror, admiring the image she presented. She sighed deeply, knowing that if she wore it, her parents would hate it, and the meal would be uncomfortable and strained.
It was with a heavy heart that she found herself standing on the doorstep to her childhood home, wearing the skirt and carrying a bottle of wine; a jacket draped over one arm. She waited for the taxi to pull away before ringing the bell. Her mother opened the door, and ushered her inside.
"Hello darling, we've been waiting for you." Her jacket was removed from her arm and hung up by the door before she could say hello.
"Waiting for me? I'm not late am I? Father said seven…" Chris trailed off uncertainly; already feeling like the evening was off on the wrong foot. Her mother shook her head impatiently, shooing her in the direction of the lounge. They stopped just before the door; her mothers hand on one shoulder, eyeing her critically.
"No dear, you're right on time. No, our guest arrived a little early, so your father has been entertaining him in here." Apparently she passed inspection, because her mother smiled, and pushed the door wide open.
"She's finally arrived." Chris stepped inside, first seeing her father sitting in his usual chair by the fireplace, a glass of wine in his hands, leaning towards a young man who quickly got to his feet and smiled broadly at her. He was tall, six foot at least, with short blonde hair that could do with a comb, and bright blue eyes over a perfect, straight nose. His lips looked like they had been painted on, they were so red. His suit was expensive looking, but didn't fit him well. He thrust a hand out towards her, which she automatically stepped forward and took.
"Hi, I'm Kevin, it's a pleasure to meet you Miss Martin." She shook his hand, which was softer than hers, and wondered what he did for a living.
"A pleasure to meet you too, I'm sure." She replied smoothly, glancing at her mother for an explanation. She caught the glance, and explained.
"Kevin here is visiting his cousin's the Marshall's. I was just speaking to Martha this morning in the salon and she happened to mention that he is staying for the summer. Since he doesn't know anyone here his own age, I immediately thought that you could show him around town." Chris kept the smile on her face through years of practice. Her mother had been springing this sort of thing on her since she was sixteen. Guess she's forgotten that I work for a living again. She thought to herself acidly. She spared a look for Kevin, who was still beaming at her. She opened her mouth to say how she couldn't possibly spend the time to be tour guide, but her mother cut her off.
"Would you like a drink Christine?"
"Oh, a glass of wine would be nice." Her mother smiled and nodded, turning to her other guest.
"Would you like a top up Kevin?" Kevin looked at his own glass, and nodded.
"Sure Mrs Martin." Chris settled herself on the couch opposite the fireplace and turned to face Kevin.
"So, what do you do Kevin?"
"Oh, I'm studying to be a lawyer at Texas State."
"That sounds interesting. What kind of law do you want to practice?" Her mother bustled in with drinks for everyone. She answered for Kevin while handing them out.
"It turns out that Kevin here wants to start his own practice. Such ambition is admirable in today's day and age, isn't it?" Chris just smiled. My ambition isn't that important to you.
"So what do you do Christine?" Oh, formalities dropped already.
"I work at the garage with my father."
"Oh, are you a receptionist there?" Chris shook her head, ignoring the look she was getting from her mother, which implored her to go along with the lie.
"A mechanic actually." She replied, getting a little bit of joy from the look on his face. Kevin recovered quickly though.
"What an. . .interesting career choice." He said slowly. This time the smile she gave him was more genuine.
"Thank you. I happen to love it." There was a moment's silence after that.
"Well, I'm sure you two will have a wonderful time going about town. Christine here knows all about the history of the town. I'm sure she can show you the most delightful sights." Kevin cast a pathetically grateful look her way.
"Well, I look forward to spending time with such a beautiful young woman." Chris ignored the gaze he was giving her. Sensing an awkward moment, Chris's mother sprang to the occasion.
"Dinner should be ready now, if you would like to come through."
Once they were seated, with Chris sitting opposite Kevin, her father led the table in grace, before they all started to eat. Chris had to admit, her mother could cook a good meal. It was the only reason she was still coming to the weekly meals. Unfortunately, it also led to her putting up with strangers.
"So, do you have plans for tomorrow?" She asked Kevin. He shook his head, and blonde hair fell over his eyes, which were fixed on her.
"Not really. I'm sort of a free agent at the moment. Would you like to do something?"
"Well, I have to work tomorrow. Isn't that right Dad?"
"Can't have the other mechanics thinking you get special treatment just because we're related. I expect you bright and early like always." The one thing Chris could rely on was her dear old Dad speaking before thinking. He made an unwitting ally in the constant battle of wills between her and her mother. The slight frown on her mothers face meant she had won this round.
"Well, perhaps we could meet after work. It's been a while since visiting my family here, and I don't know where to go of an evening." Chris chewed her next forkful slowly, giving her an opportunity to think of an appropriate response.
"I'm not sure. Like you said, it's been a while since you've visited your cousins. I couldn't possibly intrude on valuable time catching up with them." He nodded slowly, and the table stayed quiet for a few minutes while they continued eating.
"Mr Martin, how long have you been in the vehicle repair business?" Chris watched as her father smiled, and launch into his life story. He managed to keep the conversation on himself until the meal was finished. Chris pushed her plate away, feeling quite full.
"Mother, that was excellent as always." Chris smiled genuinely at her mother, whose affectionate gaze was just as genuine.
"Thank you dear." She looked down the table, and seeing that everyone was finished rose and started to clear up. "Would anyone like some coffee in the sitting room?" Chris stood quickly, taking the plates from her.
"Please mother, let me get these. Why don't you show Kevin your paintings?" Appealing to her vanity was always a sure winner.
"I'd be delighted to." The rest of the conversation was cut off as she entered the kitchen, the door swinging shut behind her. Another trip and everything was cleared. She took as much time as she could loading the dishwasher, before deciding it was time for a cigarette. Making sure that no one was around, she quietly opened the door to the back yard, shutting it softly behind her. She went to the side of the house, where she had hidden her cigarettes earlier, and quickly lit up.
I hate this. She thought, alone in the dark. She was surprised at herself, but deep down, she knew that she couldn't keep lying to herself like this. Her head was pounding. For a second, she was tempted to just walk away, find a cab and go home. Unfortunately her keys were in her jacket pocket, as was her wallet. Soon, the cigarette was gone, and she had no excuse not to go back inside. Might as well get this over with.
It was almost midnight before she got home. Her headache had not improved over the evening, and she had failed miserably in her attempts to put Kevin off. So miserably, that she had his number now tucked in her wallet. He was looking forward to her phone call about Friday night. A date to see the premiere of some movie that she hadn't even heard of had been arranged while she was smoking.
She took great pleasure in removing her clothes, making sure to rip the hose, tossing them all in a bundle in her wash basket, not caring how much they creased, or that the skirt was dry clean only. Dressing in baggy sweats, she poured herself a large glass of red wine, downing most of it in one go. She refilled the glass, then carried it and the bottle through into the front room.
She collapsed onto the old couch, and switched the TV on. She mindlessly flipped through the channels, finally settling on an old black and white gangster movie, with the sound low so as not to disturb her neighbours. She considered calling someone, until she realised it was too late to talk to Blue, and she didn't want to talk to anyone else. Instead she lit up a cigarette. She stayed there, drinking wine, staring blankly at the screen and chain smoking, until exhaustion forced her to stumble through to her bed and flop on it. She was asleep within seconds, fully dressed and outside the covers.
The next day Blue came into work, to find her sitting at the picnic table, nursing a cup of coffee and a hangover. She barely grunted when he sat next to her. The top of her head felt like it was going to come off, and she couldn't get rid of the taste of dead cat from her mouth. She'd brushed her teeth four times, and it still remained. Her coffee, normally white no sugar, was black with far too many sugars to be healthy. She held up a hand to stop him before he started.
"Don't. Just, don't." She gave him the list of things they had to do today, which he read in silence. When it became apparent that she wasn't going to speak, Blue got up and made sure that they were ready for the day, careful to keep an eye on her. When Junior arrived, the young apprentice was tasked with making sure her coffee was kept topped up. Eager to pleased, the lanky young lad immediately made her a fresh cup, following the ‘morning after' rule they had. Black, strong and sweet.
Just as her father arrived, with uncanny timing, Chris was suddenly working on an engine. He stuck his head in the workshop, and nodded to himself when he saw her hard at work. Blue noted that while the hood was open, she was actually working on a car that was ready to be picked up that morning. After he had gone to his office, Blue wandered across and leant over the engine block with her.
"He's gone to his office."
"Thanks." They continued to stare at the block, not doing anything.
"Was it really that bad?" She grimaced.
"Worse. I've been committed to Friday night at the movies with some lawyer student called Kevin." She shut her eyes, partly against the harsh fluorescent lights, and partly to keep the tears that threatened hidden. "I hate it. Why can't I just be left to lead my own life?"
"Little bit, your mother is just doing what she thinks is right." Chris snorted in disbelief. Blue carried on, regardless. "Have you ever tried to tell her how you felt?" Chris wracked her memory, a difficult task at that particular moment.
"Once. I was sixteen." She glanced at Blue, who looked a little nonplussed.
"What happened?" She frowned, not remembering.
"As you can see, I was terribly successful in telling her I didn't need anyone, especially not my mother, setting me up on blind dates." The familiar pain settled across her heart, but she pushed it away. She slowly straightened up, letting Blue clear his head before closing the hood. "Come on. Can't stand here yakking all day when there's work to be done." She left him standing by the car and wandered over to where the bane of her life, the ‘hunk o' junk' was waiting for her.
"You are going to be running by the end of the day, even if I have to change everything on you." She told the rusty, much-abused old car. With a pounding head, and a heavy heart, she opened the hood, and started to work.
It was close to seven by the time Chris got home, having fixed Mr Henderson's truck by stripping it down and replacing almost everything on it. It was running now, but she wasn't sure he would appreciate the bill for all the work. After changing out of her leathers into shorts and an old t-shirt advertising Ford Mustangs as a superior sports car, an opinion she shared, she cleaned up the evidence of her excess from the night before. The overflowing ashtray was emptied, and the empty bottle of wine was chucked in the bin. The glass was placed by the sink to be washed up later.
Collapsing on the threadbare couch, she considered cooking something for about a second, before reaching for the phone and ordering a Chinese. With her dinner plans sorted, she switched the TV on, flicking idly through the channels until she found a sports channel showing some European rally championship qualifiers. She was just starting to doze when there was a knock at the door.
"Hang on a second." She called out, looking around for her wallet. She spied it on top of the TV, and snagged before padding over to pay for her dinner. When she opened the door, instead of the delivery boy, stood a young woman with long auburn hair and soft brown eyes.
"You owe me twelve bucks for the food." Laura told her, before breezing past and heading to the kitchen to put the bags down and hunt out some plates. Shaking her head, Chris just shut the door and followed her old friend. Laura was just pulling the plates and cutlery out when Chris appeared at the doorway.
"Much as I love to see you, what are you doing here?" Laura just smiled, handing her a now fully laden plate before ushering her through to the living room.
"Do I need an excuse to see my best friend?"
"Of course not but-" Laura perched on her sofa, angling herself so that she faced Chris.
"As it happens, I had the most amazing day at work, and just had to share it with you." Chris leaned back into the sofa, tucking into her barbeque spare ribs as Laura proceeded to launch into her story. They had been friends since high school, and Laura had always been the more forceful and exuberant of the pair. When Chris had started working at her father's garage, Laura had gone on to college, studying to be an accountant. Laura was now quite successful, working for a large marketing company in the centre of town. As Laura talked about the intricacies of her job, most of which she didn't understand, Chris found her mood lifting for the first time that day. Her worries about work and her up-coming date faded into the background.
"..so I told Mark I would think about it, wouldn't do to seem too keen about it, anyway. Do you think I should go for it?" Chris belatedly realised that she had been asked a question, and tried to think what it was. Her lack of response was answer enough, and Laura sighed. "Have you even been listening?"
"I tried. But it's hard to follow what you're saying when it's all names and technical terms." Chris defended. Laura shook her head, causing long hair falling into her eyes. She pushed it out of the way, and fixed Chris with an intense gaze, a hint of a smile playing on her full lips.
"I was offered a promotion. More clients, more responsibility, longer hours of course, but." A finger was held up to emphasise her point. "More money as well." Chris was still for a split second, before leaping up.
"Of course you should take it, what's to think about? That's amazing Laura." Laura matched the smile on Chris's face with one of her own.
"Thanks. I've been working my butt off for ages. At least now all those late nights seem worth it. Although, taking this on means longer hours anyway, so…"
"Doesn't matter." Chris immediately stopped the negative thinking. "It means you're moving up in the company. One of these days you'll be running the damn department, and you can set your own hours." Chris sat down on the couch, thinking hard. "You know we have to celebrate this. Go out. Party. " Laura nudged her arm, regaining her attention.
"I've called the girls. How does Friday sound?"
"You've called the girls?" Chris frowned. "I thought I was the first person you told?" She said, feeling a little hurt.
"You are. I just said that I had something to celebrate, would they like to have a few drinks on Friday." Chris smiled, immediately appeased. Then she realised that she already had plans, and looked away.
"I can't make it. I have plans already." Laura put her empty plate down, picking up the bottle of beer and sipping from it.
"What plans? Cancel them. It's not every day your best friend gets promoted." Laura persuaded. Chris made a face, wondering if she could, indeed, just cancel. The look on her mothers face when she found out what Chris had done. She knew that her mother wouldn't understand that some things are more important than a date.
"I can't. I had dinner at my folks last night." She said in explanation. Laura sighed heavily, some of her enthusiasm leaving her. Chris risked a glance at her, expecting disappointment, but seeing only a gentle sadness reflected in her friends eyes instead. She reached a hand out, resting it on her leg. "I would if I could, you know that. Maybe I can ditch him early, meet up with you all at the club." She suggested, her mind already working on ways to cut her evening with Kevin short. Laura covered her hand with her own, stroking it gently.
"Don't worry about it." Laura had been there for most of Chris's life, and knew just how overbearing the older Martin woman could be. "I'll understand if you're a little late. To be honest, it'll be nice just to see you out. You've been the invisible woman lately." She teased gently, grinning to soften the words. Chris groaned.
"I know, I know. Things have been mad at work. Ever since that big chain garage opened downtown, Dad has been going mad, putting on special deals and promotions to bring in the business. Which to be fair, he has. It's meant some long days for me and my boys though, just to keep his promises." Chris flopped back on the couch, taking a long pull from her own beer, and closing her eyes.
"So when is your old man going to recognise your brilliance and give you a promotion?" Chris shrugged; trying not to think about how much that very question had been on her mind lately.
"Never, I think he's still waiting for me to grow out this phase I'm in and move to reception." She shook her head. Laura looked at the lines of tension that made up her friends face, matching the tense set to her shoulders, and bit her lip to keep the scathing comments about her parents to herself. Instead she just put her arm around her, pulling her close for the cuddle that Chris wanted, but would never ask for.
Continued in Part 2
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