Disclaimer: Characters and situations are all from my imagination. In fact, a couple of them (okay, all of them) might be familiar from other stories I've written.
Feedback: Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 Geonn Cannon
The morning was still young, and the sun was casting a subtle golden glow across the island. It was the kind of morning that made kids lucky enough to be outside think of summer and freedom. Jill Colby's fifth-grade class left the school immediately after the first bell and attendance had been taken. They walked down Spring Street, Jill walking slightly to one side so she could keep an eye on all of them to make sure no one tried to jump ship.
Her plan worked; by the time they got to the public library, all the nervous energy had been expelled, but they weren't tired enough to simply fall asleep. Jill escorted them into the Young Adult section of the library, her head tilted slightly to avoid the large stuffed orca hanging from the ceiling. Amelia Judah, the head librarian, was ready and waiting. The focus of the field trip was to learn about the local library, the technology they used to file books, how to look up a book with the Dewey Decimal System, and a tour of the building. At the end of the tour, the kids would each receive a library card of their very own.
Jill made sure all the kids had seats and then handed the class over to Amelia. She pointed to one boy in the front row and said, loud enough that he could hear, "If he gets rambunctious, just throw a book at him."
The kid rolled his eyes, and Amelia said, "She may be joking, but I'll do it!" The kid immediately straightened his posture. Jill smirked, thanked Amelia and moved to the back of the room. She leaned against the doorway that separated the YA section from the main library and folded her arms over her chest. About ten minutes into Amelia's opening speech, Jill caught motion at the front desk and turned her head. She smiled and slipped away from the class.
Cheryl Paxton was checking in books and didn't see Jill approach. Jill lightly slapped her palm against the counter a few times. Cheryl looked up, and then turned to the right to see Jill. She smiled and signed, "<i>Miss Colby. Hello!</i>"
"Miss Colby?" Jill said. She reached over the counter and took a cherry from the open bag next to the computer. She held the cherry in her hands when she spoke again, so her lips would be easier to read. "I think we know each other a little better than <i>that</i>."
Cheryl smirked. "<i>Hello, Jill.</i>" Cheryl's name-sign for Jill was to make a 'J' with both hands held in front of her cheeks, then twist them in toward her chin. "<i>How is that?</i>"
"<i>Best</i>," Jill said.
"Better," Cheryl corrected. She demonstrated the signs. "Better. Best."
Jill made a face and said, "Sorry." She popped the cherry into her mouth and said, "<i>Are you free for dinner tomorrow night? Patricia's making a meat loaf. We'd love to have you.</i>"
"<i>Tomorrow... I would have to check, but I think I can pull myself away. It sounds lovely.</i>"
"Great," Jill said. She took another cherry. "<i>We eat at seven, so if you could be there around 6:30, that would be... great.</i> Great?"
Cheryl nodded and gave her the thumbs up. "I'll be there." Jill smiled and popped the cherry into her mouth before returning to her class.
Cheryl watched her go and then went back to checking in books. She was halfway through the stack when she noticed a book that she knew for a fact was on the reserve list. She checked it in, and a notice came up. She clicked on the box and saw who had requested the book and immediately saw a problem. The requester, Kira McManus, was only able to come into the library on Mondays, and it was only Wednesday. It was a popular book, and the list of reserves was unusually long. The other people on the reserve list would have to wait until Kira could come in and pick it up.
Of course, she knew where Kira lived. It was basically right across the street. Amelia was busy, but the library was basically dead. It was why the elementary school tour had been scheduled for this time. Cheryl went ahead and checked the book out to Kira, made sure she didn't have any other books requested, and slipped out from behind the counter. She caught Amelia's eye and signed, "<i>I have to run out for just a minute. I'll be right back.</i>"
Amelia nodded and Cheryl took the book off the counter. She wrote a quick note - "Back in Ten Minutes" - and left it on the counter in front of the computer where anyone trying to check out would see it. She tucked the book under her arm on her way out of the library and jogged down the steps to the sidewalk. She walked across the street to the corner and walked to the watch shop.
She chuckled a bit at the sign on the door that promised all time pieces would be correct at least twice a day, and scanned the shop for the owner. She reached the counter right as Kira came out of the back room. "Hi, welcome to... Oh, hi, Cheryl. Can I help you?"
Cheryl said, "Actually, I am here to help you." She held up the book. "You reserved this, and I thought I would bring it to you."
"Oh! You didn't have to do that. Thank you so much."
Cheryl waved her off and said, "I'm happy to do it. But I have to get back."
"Okay. I'll see you Monday, most likely."
"I'll look forward to it. Bye, Kira." She smiled and left the store.
Kira waved good-bye and looked down at the book she had reserved. <i>Sparks of Love,</i> by Francesca Harland. The book had caused a big uproar about a year earlier, when it had led to one of the town's few celebrities coming out of the closet. Kira remembered a very tense time right after the outing, but things had calmed down considerably since then. She wanted to read the book and see what all the fuss was about, but the waiting list was so long...
She pulled her stool over and opened the book to the front page. "<i>It wasn't so much that she was trapped. Trapped implied cages, prisons, inescapable shackles that weighed down upon you. No, hers was more of an enclosure, and one of her own invention. As she sleepwalked through one relationship after another, never staying long enough to let feelings grow - not that she thought they would, but she kept killing them stillborn.</i>"
Kira read three whole chapters before she even glanced at the clock. It was far too early for lunch, but she wanted something to at least snack on. As quiet as the shop was, she figured she could definitely take a break. She closed the book on an old work order and tucked it under her arm.
She left the shop, turned the sign around to show she would be back in half an hour, and walked next door to Coffee Table Books. Across the street, she saw a teacher leading a group of ten-year-olds out of the library. They spotted each other and Kira waved shyly. The teacher returned the wave and then went back to herding her kids as Kira went into the shop. The morning crowd was thinning out, and the shop was relatively calm. She walked up to the counter and waited for someone to notice she was waiting.
Amy Wellis, the shop's owner, was the first to come up. "Hi, Kira. What can I get for you?" She glanced at the book under Kira's arm and her eyes widened slightly. She smiled, looked up at Kira's face and said, "That's, ah... you like it?"
Kira nodded and self-consciously pulled the book out. She turned it so the cover was against her chest. "I only just started it."
"Let me know what you think. I read it a long time ago." She smiled and said, "Coffee? Donuts?"
"A coffee and a big chocolate chip cookie."
"Coming right up." She poured a cup of coffee and nodded toward the booths as she handed the mug over. "I'll bring the cookie out to you."
Kira agreed and, as she walked away, Amy shook her head at the memory of the book. <i>Sparks of Love</i>. It had been so long since she even thought about it, not counting that horrible debacle last year with Nadine. She placed Kira's order with Stephanie and then walked down the counter and into the kitchen. They needed another batch of butterscotch cookies. She got the cookies started and went back out into the main room of the shop.
Amy took the big cookie - big enough to cover a plate - and carried it over to Kira's booth. She had the book open in front of her, hunched forward as she read. Amy put the plate down and said, "Here you go, Kira. Anything else?"
"No. Thank you, Amy."
Amy smiled and looked at the book again. She felt the sudden urge to reveal the biggest secret about the book, the secret only she knew. She opened her mouth to speak, then clamped her mouth shut. She smiled and said, "Let me know if I can get you anything else, okay?"
Kira nodded and Amy went back behind the counter. She focused on the cookies and the coffee for a little while, and got the shop ready for the lunch rush. They didn't often get a huge crowd like the Spartan Café across the street, but a lot of times people came in to get after-dinner treats when they finished their meal.
By the time she returned to her office and sat down, it was nearly 12:30. She tried to focus on her paperwork, but her mind kept going back to <i>Sparks of Love</i> and the sparks it had caused in December Harbor a year ago. She chewed her bottom lip and picked up the phone. She dialed a number she knew by heart and sat through the busy signal until it started ringing.
Finally, there was an answer. "Hi, KELF AM 1220. You're on with the Pixie."
"Hi, Nadine. It's Amy."
"Amy! Hi! How are you?"
"I'm doing fine. Listen, I was thinking about that nonsense that happened last year..."
"Hey, don't call it nonsense," Nadine said. "It was a rough patch, but I think things have gotten a lot better since then."
Amy remembered how many times she and her girlfriend, Kate, had held hands in public or sat on the same side of a restaurant's booth. It had only been a year, but already she could hardly imagine the alternative of secrecy that she had lived since coming back to the island. She smiled. "Yeah. A whole hell of a lot better," Amy agreed. "Anyway, I wanted to thank you for your part in making the island a better place to live, so I thought I would bring by some cookies. How do you feel about chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies?"
"I would consider leaving Miranda for two dozen."
Amy laughed. "Well, I'll bring some by later this afternoon before the end of your show. How many people are there? How many should I bring?"
"Well, there's me and Billy. Miranda's out of the office doing some business thing. And considering what I just told you, twenty-three should be the maximum limit. Just so I can contain myself."
"I'm sure Miranda would appreciate that, yeah. Okay. I'll keep it around ten or a baker's dozen."
"Sounds perfect. Hey, as long as you got through, you want to make a request?"
Amy smiled. "If you play <i>Candy Man</i>, I'll blast it in the shop."
"You got it. Thanks for calling, Ames."
"Bye, Dean." She hung up, smiled and went to the radio controls. The station was already tuned to KELF, but she cranked up the volume a little bit. By the time she returned to the shop, the commercials had ended and Nadine said, "We've got a song here requested by Miss Amy Wellis of Coffee Table Books. Hope you've got it cranked, Amy. Here's Sammy Davis, Jr."
The music started and Stephanie smirked at Amy as they passed each other. Amy moved to the cash register and smiled at the next customer in line. He pointed to the speaker and said, "I'll take a sunrise sprinkled with dew, but hold the miracles. I'm trying to cut down."
Amy laughed and took his real order. When they had a lull in the crowd, she went into the back and made the shortbread cookies. When she dipped them, she let the chocolate cool and then applied frosting on each one: The Pixie Rules. She smiled and transferred them to a plate. She covered the plate with Saran Wrap.
She told Stephanie that she would be right back and slipped out of the shop. She walked down a side street to KELF rather than Spring Street; tourists flocked to the main thoroughfare of town, but most of them didn't even notice this narrow, tree-lined avenue. When she reached KELF, she signed in at the front desk and greeted the receptionist. "Just making a delivery to the Pixie."
"I'm sure she'll love them," Susan said.
Amy smirked, lifted up the Saran Wrap and took out one of the cookies. Susan's face spread into a wide smile and she took the cookie. "Oh, you know me too well, Miss Wellis."
Amy winked and headed upstairs. The bullpen was empty, save for a lone janitor at the back. Amy waved to him and said, "Don't let Nadine hog all of these, all right?"
"I'll do my best," Billy said.
Amy glanced into the broadcasting booth and saw that a blonde woman was sitting across from Nadine. She waited until the "On Air" light went off and Nadine had waved her in. She walked inside as Nadine was taking off the headphones. "Ahh, chocolate-y goodness," Nadine said. "Thank you, Amy. You're a life-saver."
"Just a simple baker, ma'am," Amy said. She nodded hello to the blonde woman and then said, "Oh. You're Hannah Talbot, right? I've seen you around Everything for Time. I'm Amy Wellis, I work at Coffee Table Books, next door."
"Oh, right!" Hannah said. They shook hands and Hannah said, "How are you?"
"Can't complain. Dean, I should get back to work. Call me sometime. The four of us will do dinner."
Nadine nodded. "That sounds great. Miranda just got this cookbook she's itching to try out."
"Great! Okay. I'll see you later." To Hannah, she said, "It was really nice meeting you at last."
Amy slipped out of the booth and Nadine put the headphones back on. "She's a really great friend. We sort-of, kind-of knew each other when we were kids. We were reintroduced to each other a year ago, or thereabouts, and realized we were both that odd little girl we hung out with while our parents worked."
Hannah laughed and said, "Small world."
"Small island," Nadine said with a raised eyebrow. She checked the countdown and said, "All right. I'll bring it back from the commercial, throw it to you, and then we'll have the Real Estate Minute. Sound good?"
"Sounds perfect," Hannah said.
Nadine timed it perfectly. She switched on the mic at the end of the last commercial and said, "Hey, folks, Nadine Butler once again, this time empowered with fresh-baked cookies from Coffee Table Books. I'm going to be munching on those while you hear all about the wonderful real-estate opportunities available on this wonderful island from our guest, Hannah Talbot. You tourists listen up, now. A vacation in paradise could turn into a permanent move. Hannah?"
"Thanks, Nadine. There are a lot of great properties available on..."
Nadine took off her headphones, picked up the plate and slipped out of the booth as quietly as possible. She carried the plate over to Billy and said, "Hey. Take a break. The place isn't that filthy."
He smiled and took a cookie. "Thanks, Miss Butler."
"Nadine," she reminded him for the thousandth time. She left the plate on her desk, so Billy could help himself, and returned to the broadcasting booth in time to hear a bit of Hannah's spiel. "...bedroom, two bath, with a wrap-around deck and a gorgeous front yard. Hardwood floors, a spacious kitchen, yours for only $1700 a month."
Nadine put her headphones back on and ignored the rest of the spiel. When Hannah finished, she said, "And that's all I can do, Nadine."
"Well, if they can resist those prices and my voice, who needs them, right?" She smiled and said, "I'm just kidding, tourists. I love you guys. In fact, it's time for me to award the Tourist of the Day. Give me a call and let me know why you deserve the honor, I'll hook you up with a free dinner at Gail's Seafood Restaurant. Right now we have <i>Renegade</i> by Bad Company."
Hannah stood up and removed her headphones, gesturing at the door. Nadine held up a finger for her to wait and sent the feed to the music. When her microphone was turned off, she said, "When will the next Real Estate Minute be?"
"Depends on whether or not I get any takers on this batch. How about we tentatively set it up for next Wednesday?"
Nadine gave her a thumbs-up. "Sounds good to me."
Hannah leaned against the door. "When are you and Miranda going to upgrade from that condo of yours?"
"It's gotta be pretty cramped. You guys probably need a two-bedroom, two-bath, hardwood floor..."
"...house with a view of the bay. I've got a couple of great houses that should be within your price range. If not, the owners will negotiate."
Nadine raised an eyebrow.
Hannah grinned. "Good-bye, Nadine." She left the booth, waved good-bye to Billy and trotted down the stairs. She checked her phone for messages and saw there were thirteen calls from the same number. She groaned, checked her watch and played the first one. "Miss Talbot, this is Leonard Sykes at the paper. I'm just calling about your ad for the bungalow on Blue Jay Street. If you could give us a call before deadline, it would be greatly appreciated."
Hannah checked her watch. It was barely half past one in the afternoon. She sighed and decided he wouldn't give up until she made sure the ad was correct. Which was really just an excuse to talk to her and, hoping against hope, ask her for another date. She didn't know how many times she had lied and told him she was in a relationship, and now that she actually <i>was</i> in one, he seemed to refuse to believe it. She sighed and decided a face-to-face meeting was in order to finally, once and for all, shut him up.
She drove to the newspaper office and waited patiently at the receptionist's desk. The newspaper seemed abandoned, but she knew that was just the result of the paper working toward a deadline. The door opened behind her and she turned to see one of the reporters returning. Her black hair was tied back in a ponytail and she was tugging her blazer off as she came through the door. "Hi. Can I help you?"
"I'm here about an ad. Real estate. There's apparently a problem with it."
"Oh, right. I've seen your picture in the ad. Hannah... Talbot, right? Kate Price."
They shook hands and Kate motioned for Hannah to follow her. "I'll take care of you." They made their way through the maze of desks.
"Where is everyone?" Hannah asked.
"Following stories, interviews. The receptionist <i>should</i> be here. I don't know where she went." Kate turned to look at Hannah. "Have we met before? I mean, I know, the picture on the ad, but..."
"Possibly. I've been spending a lot of time at Coffee Table Books lately."
Kate snapped her fingers. "That's it. My girlfriend owns that place, and we live together in the apartment behind it."
"Oh! You're Amy's girlfriend. I didn't put that together. I'm dating Kira McManus, your next-door neighbor."
"Oh, she's such a doll." Kate turned on the light in the copy room and went through the stack until she found the real estate ad Sykes had called Hannah about. She looked it over and said, "How does it look to you?"
Hannah scanned the information. The phone number, address, and hours of operation were all right. Her picture was fine, the name of the business was correct. She shrugged and said, "I don't see anything wrong with it."
"You are blonde. And it was Sykes who called you?"
Hannah sighed. "Yes."
Kate nodded. "I'll talk to him. Sorry about wasting your time like this."
"No trouble," Hannah assured her. Kate walked her back to the front of the bullpen and they saw that the receptionist had returned from wherever she disappeared. Kate feigned shock at seeing the woman at her station and apologized again for Sykes' behavior.
"Don't worry about it. But you know, we basically live right next door to each other. We should socialize sometime. Dinner?"
"Amy usually takes care of that stuff. But it sounds great. Call her up, I'm sure she'll be into it."
"Great. Nice to finally meet you, Kate."
"You, too, Hannah."
She watched Hannah leave and then went over to Sykes desk. She pushed the papers off his blotter and picked up a red Sharpie pen. She wrote "Leave Women Alone" across the July page, then flipped to August and repeated the message. On September 18, she wrote, "Hair plug appt." She closed the blotter, moved the mess back on top of it and walked calmly to her desk.
Kate took the notes she had taken at the interview out of her satchel and booted up her computer. She quickly typed up her article, took a few minutes to proofread it - changing Gal's Seafood to Gail's - and sent the proof to her editor. She stretched her arms over her head, closed her eyes and worked her neck back and forth. She stood, stretched her legs and looked at the clock. She worked through lunch, as usual, and now it was closing in on four in the afternoon. No wonder her stomach was growling.
She went to the front of the building and pulled her cell phone from her pocket as she shrugged into her jacket. She told the receptionist that her article was in, and she would be out for the rest of the day, as she dialed Amy's number.
"Coffee Table Books."
"Hey. Can you talk?"
"Briefly, yeah. Hey. What's up?"
"I was wondering if you wanted to grab some lunch."
"Oh. Um, the ferry just arrived about ten minutes ago. We're going to get crushed."
Kate looked at her watch. 3:55. Oh, damn. That's right. Damn. Um, how about I just grab a snack right now, and we'll have dinner when you get off?"
"How about we have dinner, <i>then</i> I get off?"
Kate smiled. "You better be in your office..."
"Nope. In the middle of the shop, talking as loud as I can."
"Bitch," Kate smiled. "Okay. I'm going to get something light and we'll talk about dinner. Talk to you soon."
"Okay. Love you."
"Love you, too."
Kate hung up and slipped the phone back into her pocket. She walked down the block to the grocery store and haunted the aisles looking for something quick that she could microwave back at the apartment. She finally settled on microwavable macaroni and cheese, grabbed a couple of Bumble Bars from the box next to the cash register, and munched the candy as she walked home.
She was halfway there when a car slowed to a crawl next to her and the window rolled down. She bent down, smiled through the window and said, "Hey, Miranda."
"Hi, Kate. Where are you heading?"
Kate gestured toward Coffee Table Books. "Home again, home again."
"Do you need a ride?" Miranda asked. She gestured toward the bag of groceries.
"No, I'm fine. Thanks, though." She smiled and said, "Where are you heading? Shouldn't you be at work right now?"
Miranda shrugged. "Playing hooky. I've got a meeting with the mayor." Kate raised an eyebrow, but Miranda shook her head. "Nothing major, just boring radio station business."
"I thought the mayor's brother owned the station."
"He did. But after the debacle last year, he gave up most of his shares. His brother took it over. It just so happens that he's the mayor, so..."
"The meetings with your boss suddenly look big and important."
"Exactly," Miranda said. "He was supposed to meet me at 12:30, but he's been putting me off all day."
Kate laughed. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
"Right," Miranda said. She sighed, pushed her hand through her hair and said, "One of his aides called me and said he had an opening at five. Wish me luck."
Kate checked her watch. It was 4:30. "Good luck. And thanks for the offer!"
Miranda smiled and Kate took her arm off the window. Miranda offered one last wave before she pulled away from the sidewalk. She couldn't believe she could have such a friendly relationship with her live-in girlfriend's ex, but Kate was just too personable to be uncomfortable around. She, Nadine, Kate and Amy were a "couple couple," as Amy dubbed them. They went to movies, had dinners. Earlier in the summer they had all gone whale-watching on the other side of the island together. Nadine claimed Miranda's lack of jealousy was a sign that she was growing, but Miranda countered that she was just very comfortable with the state of their relationship.
Miranda parked behind City Hall, said a prayer to the gods of politicians and their time tables, and headed inside. She went up the stairs to the mayor's office, and knocked on the smoked glass door before letting herself in. Patricia Hood was standing off to one side of the door and looked up when Miranda entered. "Miss Powell. Good, you're early. His last meeting ended sooner than expected, so he's free now."
"Thank God," Miranda sighed. "Thank you for calling me, Miss Hood."
Patricia nodded and said, "He and his secretary sometimes seem to share a brain."
"Well, at least there's one good brain on staff."
"Yeah, if only we could remember where we filed it."
Miranda laughed and pointed at the door to the inner office. Patricia nodded and Miranda knocked. "Mr. Dugan? Hi. Is this a good time for our meeting...?"
Patricia smiled and turned back to the filing cabinet. She had just finished up on a few zoning proposals and, if she played her cards right, she would get an early day for once. It was a quarter to five, and she was planning to stick her head into the Powell meeting and make a hasty exit. Jill would certainly be surprised. Maybe they could go out to dinner, make a date of it.
She closed the filing cabinet, locked it, and cleaned off her desktop. Nothing pressing that she had forgotten about, no last-minute memos. She checked the clock and, at five minutes to five, lightly knocked on Dugan's door. She slipped her head in and said, "I'm going to head out early today, Mr. Dugan."
He was distracted by a file Miranda had brought, but he looked up and took a moment to digest what she had said. "Oh. All right. Have a good evening, Miss Hood."
She smiled and thanked him, nodded to Miranda, and left the office. She shut down her computer, grabbed her briefcase and hurried to the stairs before Dugan could think of something else to have her do. She didn't allow herself to relax until she was out of the parking lot, and then she finally let herself believe she had the whole night to herself. She smiled, let her hair down and drove barely a block to the farmer's market.
The booth she was thinking about was just closing up, but she must have had a good pleading face. The man smiled and asked her what he could help her with. She bought one of his products, thanked him, and hurried back into her car.
At home, she parked in front of the garage and went inside. The television was playing quietly in the living room and she stuck her head inside to see her son. "Hey. Homework?"
"Done. You're home early."
"Yup, for a change. Is Jill napping?"
"What's your second choice for dinner?" she asked, since the first choice was always pizza. He thought for a second and then she bailed him out. "How about Duck Soup Diner?" It was fancy enough to serve as a date for her and Jill, but kid-friendly enough for an eleven-year-old.
He nodded and shrugged at the same time. "That'd be okay."
"Okay. I'm going to go surprise Jill."
Michael was already focused back on his television show, so Patricia went back to the hall. She slipped off her shoes and padded barefoot to the bedroom.
Jill was curled up on her side of the bed, shoes off, socks on. Patricia quietly opened and closed the door, moved quietly to the bed and stretched out next to Jill. She took the item she had bought at the market, a single red rose, and brushed Jill's cheek with it. Jill's face twitched, then her eyelids fluttered open. She swatted at the rose, realized she wasn't alone in bed, and rolled onto her back. "Hi. God. How long was I napping?"
"About thirty minutes, probably. It's only a little past five."
"You're home early."
Patricia smiled and kissed Jill's lips. When she pulled back, she said, "And I'm taking you out to dinner."
"Oh," Jill groaned. She rubbed her face. "I'm still asleep, aren't I?"
Patricia laughed. "No." She pinched Jill, who rose about a foot off the bed. "Come on. Get up, get dressed."
"I want to just lay here for a while. Is that all right?"
Patricia settled back down and put her head on Jill's shoulder. "Yeah," Patricia said. "That's all right." She pressed against Jill's side and, a minute or two later, Jill was quietly snoring. Patricia smiled, rested her rose on Jill's chest and eased herself free of the bed. She left the bedroom and hurried out to the car. She wasn't going to do any work, but she couldn't leave her briefcase outside all night.
Patricia took the briefcase from the backseat and took a moment to look over the trunk of her car at the rest of the neighborhood. The road dipped into a valley just beyond their driveway, and she could see a sliver of the harbor, and a panorama of downtown. Framing everything were stands of evergreens, quiet sentinels that surrounded the town and kept it safe. People were on their way home all over the island. Home to lovers or friends or family... Patricia smiled and headed back inside to her sleeping lover.
Sometimes the world could all seem huge and overwhelming. But other times, on this island, the world felt tiny beyond belief.
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