Friday, 27 May 2016

Read To Me (Part Two of Two)



Megan had been right. His hands had healed faster than her eyes. Their parents had never questioned why the two of them had become firm friends, and when they’d discovered that they lived so close, the two families didn’t hesitate to let the kids stay close as times got tougher after the accident.

Mom had to take a job too, because of the hospital bills, so they’re glad to have me stay with a friend they know. Especially since I can’t be trusted to walk around my own damn house without smashing things any more” Megan whispered to him one day after school. “But they think we’re weird. We sit here all the time, but we don’t say much.”

What is there to say? What we do is way more interesting.” Morgan asked rhetorically. “Okay, I don’t use oils that often. What do you think?”

Megan shrugged. “I can tell the difference, but… I don’t know, it’s not like seeing lines. Oils are different. Maybe I’m only seeing the brushstrokes?”

Maybe.” Morgan shrugged. “And that one was an ‘e’ by the way.”

Megan froze. “What?”

The praile.”

Braille.” She corrected.

Whatever. The bump was an ‘e’. You were going over it in your head, and trying to pick out the letter.”

How did you know that?” She wavered.

I told you. I can’t understand letters, but Braille is just dots on the page. That’s almost a drawing, and that’s something I can do. I can hear you trying to pick the letter in your head, the way you did when you read normal letters.”

You can hear me reading again?” Megan seemed overjoyed. “I thought… I thought my side of it was gone forever.” She tapped the thick page. “It’s strange, going letter by letter.”

Why? Isn’t that how it was when you read a normal book?” Morgan guessed, going through his art supplies. “You get letters, and they make words. When you read, didn’t you go letter by letter?”

Megan shook her head. “You get used to it so that you don’t just see letters. You go through the sentences, and when you get to the end of the page, it’s like you’ve forgotten you’re reading words. It’s more like someone’s describing something to you, and you see it.”

Morgan shrugged. “Well… then how is it different than looking at a picture?”

A picture stays the same. A book, you can make it look like whatever you want.”

I can do that too.” Morgan huffed. “Here, watch.”

Not funny.” She groused, but a moment later, she could see him drawing again, her gaze aware of nothing but his work. “What are you drawing?”

These pencils were a gift from grandma. She called them ‘watercolors’.”

The lines in her mind filled out suddenly, exploding into much fuller shapes that seemed to fill her world with color for a moment. Then more lines, and she realized what he was doing. A glorious emerald evergreen took shape, surrounded by a bright blue sky, and fields of endless gold and red.

He was drawing her an Emerald City.

It took him half an hour to draw it, and then the watercolors were spread out by brushes of water, making the flowers pop and the clouds grow and the jeweled towers shine… Megan had a huge smile on her face, reaching one hand out as though she could walk into the picture he was making for her…

And then, the artwork done, it started to fade, and she was left in darkness again. Megan found she was breathing hard. “Thank you, Morgan. That was beautiful.”

Morgan nodded. “Keep working on your thing. I wanna know how how the book ends.”

You haven’t seen the movie?”

Well, yeah. But I like it better when you read to me. The book is always better.”

She beamed. “I agree!”

It took her months to realize what he’d said without either of them noticing.

~~*^*~~

I have to say I don’t get it.” Maura admitted.

Me neither.” Sarah sighed. “But to be fair, they’ve always been like this.”

They were watching their kids through the kitchen window. Morgan was painting at an easel. Megan was in her usual outdoor lounge chair, right next to him, with her book across her knees. Neither of them spoke a word to each other.

I know they talk to each other at some point, but... “ Maura shook her head. “I talked to Morgan about what they do when they come over here. I suggested that maybe painting her a picture isn’t the kindest thing he could do right now. He told me that he knew what he was doing.”

I had the same conversation with Megan. She insists she doesn’t mind. In fact, she asked me to keep every painting somewhere safe for her. Ever since the accident… He just paints the sky. Every day, just the sky, as seen from the backyard. Every day another one.” She sipped her coffee. “I know, it’s odd. But frankly, I don’t care. Everything changed, except for them. When Morgan’s here… it’s practically the only time she comes out of her room any more.” Sarah looked miserable. “The world got so big and scary for her. She never goes out any more.”

Maybe you should try and get some of her friends to come around? See if they can talk her into it?”

Sarah scoffed. “Her friends? They all begged off. All of them. Except for the one that saved her life.” She looked out the window. “He blames himself, doesn’t he?”

I think so. But I don’t think that’s why he’s here.” Maura sighed. “You know something else? He asked me to find out where you bought her those Braille books… He’s saving up his allowance and buying some for himself.”

Sarah’s lost without her books. That’s been the hardest part of this whole thing.”

~~*^*~~

Months passed. Megan grew proficient reading braille, and their dynamic returned to what it was, but Megan never left the house. Morgan insisted sometimes, and she went for walks with him, but never anywhere with other people. He brought over music, but they had very different tastes. He offered to take her shopping for music of her own, but she turned him down.

They both graduated. Morgan went looking for work, Megan continued with her classes for as long as the teachers were willing to teach her, but eventually they told her was ready and kicked her out.

That one was an ‘e’, by the way.” The phrase just kept going around and around in her head. She didn’t know why, but it haunted her. “Braille is just dots on a page. Practically a drawing.”

And then it hit her.

~~*^*~~

Morgan came by in the afternoon, as he always did. She came down to the backyard and felt her way into her usual chair, He had already set up the easel. “I’ve noticed you don’t use pencils any more.”


He shrugged, though she didn’t see it. “Skin’s a bit stretched over my fingers. What can I say? Easier to handle the brush.”


She didn’t say anything more. At least, not with her voice.


“Tuck Everlasting.” Morgan heard her as she ran her fingers over the title.



"Ever read it?” She asked.

“You’re kidding, right?”


Megan opened the book and started running her fingers back and forth. He caught a jumble of letters and half-words, until she found her place, and they continued their routine. “The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from barmy spring, and those that-”


“Balmy.” He corrected suddenly. “Barmy means ‘crazy’. ‘Balmy’ means warm. You meant ‘balmy’.”


“No, It said Barmy.” She said, unconcerned.


“No, it-” Morgan caught himself.


She shut the large book hard. “How would you know that, Morgan? Your memory isn’t that good.” She said silkily.


Morgan was silent. His paintbrush had stopped.


“You can read braille.” She said softly.

Awkward silence.

She shrank into herself, crushed. “You can read braille. Because whatever juju keeps us linked like this, it only stretches as far as written words. Braille is a loophole that means your brain can figure out shapes and dots.”

Megan-”

What was this?” Megan demanded. “When were you going to tell me?”

I didn’t want to tell you.” Morgan admitted.

You didn’t want to tell me, because then I’d know that all this time you were just humoring me! Tossing a bone to the blind girl!” Megan snapped. “Dammit, Morgan! All my friends vanished when I stopped going to school. None of them could face me. You were supposed to be the one person I had left! You were supposed to be my best friend! And now the only thing that I can do for you is just… Is just you feeling sorry for me!”

Oh please!” Morgan snapped. “This isn’t me feeling sorry for you! This is you feeling sorry for yourself! In the two years since finishing school, you haven’t done anything but read those books and look at whatever images I draw! People who lose their eyes still work, still go out, still have friends, still date! You don’t leave your room. I draw them all for you because I want you to have them!” His voice got low and cold. “And by the way, for the first time in my life I’m able to read. First time in my life. Everyone’s happy about that fact except my best friend!”

Get Out!” Megan yelled.

Imagine me drawing a picture of the door slamming behind me!” Morgan snarled and stormed out.

~~*^*~~

That boy saved your life.” Sarah reminded her daughter, voice hard.

He lied to me.”

So he can read? Isn’t that a good thing?”

Megan wanted to yell at her mother for that. Sarah didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, or about what she and Morgan had.

Megan, most people can read. All your friends can. Morgan’s the only one that measured up when you needed your friends.” She grabbed her daughter by the shoulders. “Do you really need to have that little advantage over him so much that without it, you can’t face him again?”

~~*^*~~

Megan stopped being angry as soon as she calmed down. She wanted to call him back… But she couldn’t do it. Because he was right. She’d been hiding in her room since the accident. And Morgan had been humoring her, giving her beautiful gardens and amazing scenes to look at, plucked from the pages of the books she’d read to him without ever speaking aloud. It was always their dynamic. Her books gave her doorways into other worlds, more interesting than their own, and she had taken him on a tour of these worlds, while he drew them into life for her, showing her the world around him in vivid details that she never would have noticed. A dynamic that had grown so much stronger after the accident.

She was hiding in her books, and he’d made it easier to hide.

Feeling sick, she went downstairs. “Mom?”

I’m here.”

Things have gotta change. I gotta start making plans.”

I’m glad to hear it.” Sarah nodded. “So, I take it you sorted things out with Morgan?”

No. We haven’t spoken.” Megan sighed. “I will. When I’m ready.”

~~*^*~~

It was a full two days before she realized there was something missing. There was nothing new being drawn before her gaze. She saw the scribbles when he absently checked to see if his pens worked.

Morgan wasn’t drawing any more.

~~*^*~~

It was another two years before they ‘spoke’ again.

Megan had learned several new skills. He knew from experience that several of the tools that a person who couldn’t read were audio based. If she was writing with a speech recognition computer, he wouldn’t hear her. He never heard her when she was just speaking aloud, or hearing words spoken back to her. He could hear her typing, or reading manuals, or filling out forms...

Morgan still picked up when she was reading, but she never read for fun any more. He wasn’t sure if it was spite, or if she simply didn’t enjoy it any more. The thought that she might not enjoy her books because of him made his teeth hurt.

Sarah and Maura were still close friends. They spoke often. Sarah was grateful that Morgan had given his daughter the push she needed, but both mothers were worried that a close friendship had been severed. Morgan learned through his mother that Megan had found herself a job, and had mastered a computer designed for working with the blind.

Morgan had heard this and looked into something similar. There were smartphones that came with special cases, which translated the screen text into braille. His new skill had opened up his world.

But finally, she wrote him a letter. He was working in an arboretum. Still functionally illiterate, finding work had been hard for him, but he liked working outdoors, around plants. And then, for the first time in years, he heard her voice, clear as a bell. And for once, she was talking to him.

Dear Morgan.” She said, and he smiled a bit despite himself. Wherever she was, she was writing him a letter. “I don’t know if this still works after going so long without you, but I want you to know: You were right, and I was wrong. I was hiding. In my room, in my head, in your pictures. I’m sorry I bit your head off. I’m so sorry that I froze you out. I want you to know that I took the hint. I have a job now, and I have friends. Real ones, like you. A few from my training classes actually got me involved in an art course of my own. Just something to fill the time… I hope you like what I came up with. I actually haven’t seen it myself yet.” He could hear the smile in her thinking. A smile he hadn’t heard for a while.

~~*^*~~

When he came home from work, he found the box waiting. She’d Fed-Ex’ed him something.

It took him a while to figure out what the abstract shape was, until it suddenly struck him: It was a recreation of the Emerald City, from the Wizard of Oz movie. The proportions were all different, the details were inconsistent… But he imagined it painted green, and that was exactly what it was.

After a long moment, he smiled broadly. It was creative output. Megan had no ability to so much as doodle stick figures in her margins, but she’d made something and sent it to him, in honor of something they shared.

It took him a while to dig the box of watercolors out of storage.


~~*^*~~

Megan jumped when the lines suddenly appeared in front of her. Morgan was sketching again. He was using the watercolors. It took her a while to realize what he was drawing her. He was recreating the sculpture she had sent him. It was the first time she’d ‘seen’ it.


~~*^*~~

Morgan finished the picture, and after a moment... the phone rang.


He answered it, and her voice came before he could so much as say 'hello'. “I missed you.” She confessed.

Comfortable silence.

Listen. I’ve been talking to some people…” Morgan said finally. “There might be a way to get you back your eyes.”

~~*^*~~

Her mother was thrilled with what the doctors were telling her. “They say the transplant went well, and that the stem cells are working better than expected.”

I’m not getting my hopes up.” Megan said with forced calm. “Anyway, it’s a beautiful day outside; go enjoy it. You’ve been sitting here next to me for three days. Morgan is here, and you don’t want to get caught by the rain; it’s probably going to hit sometime in the next hour.”

How do you know what the weather is like?” Her mother asked lightly.

Megan smiled secretly to herself. Morgan was over by the window, sketching the view for her.

Well… I guess I should check in at home…” Her mother said slowly. “I hate to leave you here…” She glanced to Morgan. “But I guess she’s safe with you, huh?”

Guard her with my life.” Morgan promised.

I'm sure, if you ever put that pad down you could be quite intimidating a bodyguard.” Megan could hear her mother smile. “You know, I’m glad you two have reconciled, but I never knew what to make of your friendship, since you two never seem to speak to each other.”

We make do.” Megan promised.

I suppose you must.” The older woman sighed, and turned to the young man. “Morgan, I know you didn’t want us to make a big deal out of it, but it IS a big deal.”

Morgan froze, shaking his head wildly. No!

Morgan, she deserves to know.” Sarah turned to her daughter. “Megan, the operation? Morgan paid for it.”

Silence.

What?” Megan croaked. “How did he pay for the operation?” She shook her head. “Wait, why am I asking you? MORGAN, WHY THE HELL DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?!”

Well, I’ll let you two talk.” Megan’s mother said brightly, before she turned and bolted.

How did you pay for this?” Megan demanded.

What did you think I was doing for those two years?” Morgan offered.

But why?” Megan demanded. “I was… I was so awful to you!”

We were friends.” Morgan was staring at his shoes, barely loud enough for her to hear him speak. “And then we weren’t any more. I thought… I thought that maybe if we could go back to the way we were, back when this started, then maybe…”

Megan held a hand out. He came over and held it. “I will pay you back.” She promised.

I know.”

She pulled him closer so that she could rest her fingertips on his cheeks. She felt the muscles shift. She could feel his expression shifting. “Morgan…” She bit her lip. “Have you ever had a best friend before?”

She felt as he shook his head. “First day of school, I couldn’t spell my own name. Third grade, I was still the only one that couldn’t. When the teachers and the kids think you’re too stupid to live, you don’t want to talk to people. Not even about the things you do know. Not even about the things you’re good at.”

And the thing you were best at, you didn’t have to talk about it with me, because I already knew.” She finished. “Did anyone else at school even know you could draw?”

He didn’t answer for a while. “You’re the one person I could talk to about what made me special in any way. I was too scared to tell my own parents. I’m willing to forgive a lot to keep you.” He let out a breath. “And… It was me across the street that day, so-”

Oh my god, Morgan; is that what this is about?” She was stunned. “You blamed yourself for the accident?” She clapped a hand against her eyes. “Of course you did. And then I sent you away. I’m so sorry I made you think that way! I shouldn’t… I’m so sorry!”

You didn’t make me think that way. But that was what I was thinking.”

I should have realized that.” Megan said morosely. “I should have known, but I was in such a bad place after the accident.” She said suddenly. “I felt worthless. But you couldn’t figure out words and letters… I feel so sorry for people who say they don’t like to read. I don’t understand those people. How could you not enjoy this?” She reached a hand out for him, and he took it swiftly. She felt along his arm until she rested her open palm against his heart. “I felt worthless, but I could still offer you my reading skills. It was like being able to see for someone else, the way you do when you draw for me. I don’t know what this weird psychic hotline we’ve got is all about, but I know that once I learned how to read Braille, you were the one thing in my life that hadn’t been lost.”

And then you found out I could do it too, just like you did.” He finished for her.

And that was it. I had nothing to offer anyone.” Morgan nodded.

Long silence.

Megan, just so you know…” Morgan scrubbed his face with his hands. “I never tried braille, until I brought you those books. The starter books? The ones that teach with the raised letters? I still couldn’t tell the letters apart. I never would have known what each letter was if I hadn’t had you there reading them, over and over while you learned. I never would have been able to figure it out without you there. I saw the dots, and I had you whispering the letter or the word in my head… I only learned it because you did. You taught me to read. Something that an army of teachers and doctors couldn’t do. You gave me that. You’re right, all those people who never picked up a book again? I feel sorry for them, but if it wasn’t for you, I’d be one of them. I never said thank you.”

You never had to.” Megan was crying a bit. “Once I got over myself, I finally realized that.”

Thing is, you weren’t entirely wrong.” He confessed. “I couldn’t read. The teachers humiliated me about it, so you can imagine how my classmates went at me. And nobody else cared. And then I got you, and you were so in love with your books, and you were so caught up in your characters; and I could only see into that world when you did. Part of me was so jealous that I had to depend on you to get through a book. And then you couldn’t read any more, even if only for a little while… I know that you stopped completely once our feud happened.”

Well… That’s not just because of the accident. I shifted to audiobooks for some stories, long before I lost my vision, just so that you wouldn’t hear them. What can I say? Some things a girl wants to read to herself.” She joshed slightly. “It’s hard reading teen girl romances when you’re telepathically narrating for a teenage boy. Let alone any of the really trashy escapist stuff.”

Thank you for avoiding that.” He drawled. “Lady Chatterly’s Lover was bad enough.”

Morgan giggled. “I was so mad at the universe, and you were the only one that stuck around long enough that I could take it out on you. And what do you do? You fix me.”

Someone had to.”

Yeah, you really did. You were right. I was hiding behind… all of it. I’m better now, figuring out stuff beyond our link. If you hadn't given me a swift kick in the butt, I’d still be in my room. Thank you for that.”

Gentle silence.

When do they take the bandages off?”

Another couple of days.” She took a shuddering breath. “To be honest, I’m really scared.”

They say it worked.”

That’s what scares me. I’ve been through this before.” She held his arm tightly. “What if I get my eyes back, and I can’t recognize anything? What if I remember it all wrong? My room? My mom? You? When it happened, everything changed, except for you. I didn’t know you from a very intense dream, and you didn’t know me from a voice in your head, and then I was suddenly all alone in the dark, and what we had never changed. And then I found out that things had changed for you after all, and I couldn’t take it. I had nothing left in the world that I recognized. What if that happens again?”

You think that I was your friend just because I wanted a book club?” He sighed. “Even if I can read, and you can sculpt… what made us special never changed. How many people in the world can hear each other think?”

Maybe they all can, and they just don’t talk about it either.” She smiled a little.


Silence.


Now there's a thought that's going to haunt me for a while.” He said finally.

After a moment, that thought made them both burst into long, happy laughter.

~~*^*~~

It was a rainy, miserable day, with overcast skies full of dark, ominous clouds.

It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. She recognized the streets instantly. Her mother was just as she remembered. But there were differences too.

I’m trying to decide if things are different now, of if I just remember them wrong.” She murmured. “The street wasn’t so… orange.”

They planted a row of maple trees. Part of a council refurbishment.” Her mother reported. “Lot more tree cover in our street now, and at this time of year, the leaves are all changing colors.”

Beautiful.” Megan said approvingly.

~~*^*~~

I thought he’d be here when we got you home.” Sarah said, displeased. “He put so much effort into it, you’d think he’d want to welcome you back himself. Especially since he wasn’t there at the hospital.”

Megan smiled to herself. By the time she was halfway home, he’d been drawing her street and her house. By the time she’d gotten sorted, and made her way to the front door, the car and her family had been added to the picture. “He’s here. He’s waiting for you to leave so that we can have privacy.” Megan said simply. “Don’t be offended mom, it’s our way. Or at least, it was two years ago.”

Sarah gave her a knowing look.

Megan flushed. “Not for that.”

You know…” Sarah said slowly. “If it was that… If you wanted the place to yourself for a while, I’d understand.”

Megan choked on her tongue. “Seriously? I can’t believe you just said that!”

My blind daughter can see again, kid.” Sarah said seriously. “This isn’t some stranger trying to pick you up. I know Morgan. You two have a long history, and after what he did for you… This isn’t like sending back a drink some guy sends you in a bar. I’m just saying, I know Morgan. I like Morgan. And if you guys can’t say… whatever it is you need to say with me around, I can understand that too.”

It’s not like that.” She promised, but gave her mother a hug anyway. “It’s good to be home.”

~~*^*~~

Her mother left, promising to be back in an hour. Megan bet that she was on her way to see Maura. She looked around the house for a while, reminding herself what it looked like for a while, and suddenly realized she didn’t have pens or pencils anymore. And why would she? She hadn’t seen anything she’d written or read in six years. Her days of jotting down a note were long gone.

But after a moment, she found a tube of lipstick, and wrote on the mirror, like something out of a movie.

~~*^*~~

Are you coming in or not? He heard her voice read in his mind.

Morgan smirked and put his sketchpad away.

***

She opened the door for him before he could knock. It was the first time she had seen his face in years. “You look different.” She said softly.

Without a word, he pulled her hands up to his cheekbones. She shut her eyes, just to make sure she had the right guy, seeing him the way she had a week before. And then she opened her eyes, and saw his hands around her wrists. She let out a gasp. “Your hands!”

The skin on his hands had changed, now somewhat patchwork. She could see the differences, the lines that separated the taught burned skin from the softer, more natural look. “Skin grafts?”

After the accident.”

When you smothered the fire before it could burn me.” She almost started to cry again, but she blinked the tears away furiously, wanting her vision to be clear. “I seem to be getting in the habit of thanking you for things too late.” She cradled his hands in hers. “Do they hurt?”

Sometimes.” He confessed. “You would have done it for me.”

Yes.” She said seriously. “I would have.” Please believe that.

After an emotional silence, she took his hand and led him into the house.

Silence.

I have something for you.” She said softly. She pulled out an envelope and handed it to him.

He opened it. The slip of paper was recognizable to him, though the words on it were still gibberish. “A cheque?”

Megan nodded. “I told you I’d pay you back.”

Where’d you get the cash?”

I… sold a book.” Megan admitted. “I wrote a book, and someone bought it. It’s a story about a girl who falls into a depression after an accident, and pulls her life back together once someone wakes her the hell up.”

You wrote a book.” He repeated. “How did you manage that without me knowing it?”

You don’t hear conversations.” She smiled. “I dictated it to a word recognition app, and then I had my mom correct the errors, punctuation, things like that. It’s not the whole operation, but it’s a start.”

He knew that she wouldn’t let him refuse, so he put the gift in his pocket, and held out a hand to her. “Can I show you something?”

He lead her upstairs to her original bedroom. After the accident, she had switched with the guest room, since it was on the ground floor. Her original room… was full of pictures. Sketches, charcoal pictures, watercolors, paintings…

And she knew them all. It was every picture and painting that he had done for her. Her whole world, shown to her in the darkness by her closest friend, suddenly brought back to life in her room. She felt her jaw drop open at the riot of explosive color. “You kept them all?” She breathed.

I sent them on to you when we weren’t speaking. When we made up, and I started making up for lost time, I kept sending them to you. Your mom kept them here. She felt that telling you about a bunch of artworks you couldn’t see would be a cruel taunt.”

Mom would never understand what we have.” She agreed. “But she kept them all?”

She had a photographer through when you were in hospital. She felt it was a good human interest story. A blind girl and her illiterate artist boyfriend trying to show her the world? She was telling the magazines and the papers all about the way I came over and painted you the sky every day.”

Boyfriend?”

I told her she was way off about that, but she said it made a better human interest story.” He looked down. “Some of the newer ones… There’s a small gallery on the edge of town that’s interested in sponsoring me. So, you did pay me back, even without this.” He held the envelope back out to her.

She took it hesitantly.

He reached into his bag. “And I’ve got you something.” He pulled out a box of multicolored pens. “I noticed you have no pens around any more.”

She took the box with a smirk. “Thank you. Again.” She sniffed and suddenly brightened. “Oh, I know!” She took his hand and dragged him downstairs into her current bedroom.

Okay, don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered-” He started to stammer out as they came into view of her bed.

She swatted him. “Not that, dummy.” She went over to her shelf and took down a row of large braille editions. “I don’t need these any more, and they’re the only ones that you can read.” She blushed a little. “Mom kept bringing them to me. I couldn’t explain to her that I wasn’t reading for fun any more because I was having a tantrum.” She sighed. “Audiobooks did it for me until…”

Morgan took the books and ran his fingers over the titles. “Thank you.” He whispered. But then he paused and handed one back to her. “Treasure Island. The one my class was reading when it happened.”

She nodded.

You know, I never did get to hear you read the end of it.” He said softly. “I’ve seen one of the movies, but… the book is always better.”

I will, if you do something for me.” She held out her colored pencils. “Draw me the sky, one more time?”

He smiled a bit. “You don’t need me to show you the sky any more.”

You don’t need me to read to you any more.” She reminded him.

They smiled warmly at each other, and without a word, went to their place in the backyard, between the homes where they grew up together, seeing the world once again.


~~*^*~~

END

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