AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE 7b: Slippery, Bright and Stupid (S/J, prefilm)
- Continued direction from 7a....
Scott remained in Berkeley for the summer in a subleased studio
apartment while EJ went home to direct his church's summer youth
camp. No longer living in the dorm, and with most of the other
students he knew scattered, Scott lacked ready social distraction and
might have holed up in his attic room when he wasn't in class,
noodling on his bass, ordering delivery pizza, and drinking lots of
coke as he struggled with Complex Variables. But the suggestions
he'd made to his fellows back in Westchester hadn't excluded himself,
so he made time for the gym and resumed the study of Shotokan Karate
that he'd begun in high school on a lark. He'd also signed up for
Phoebe was the only one of his personal circle who had remained in
town, but she'd chosen to stay in the dorms, so he saw less of her
than he might have expected. He could have stayed in the dorms as
well, but it would have meant accepting another roommate for the
duration, and to his mind, it was baiting Fortune to grant him a
second EJ. He had neither the energy nor the inclination to begin
anew with anyone less. That he and EJ would room together again in
the fall hadn't been something either had discussed. They'd simply
assumed it, and spent the end of spring looking for an apartment that
was within cycling distance; EJ might have had a car but Scott
didn't, and a parking permit amounted to a hunting license, in any
case. Unfortunately, cost and rooms complicated things. Housing
wasn't cheap; this was California, and worse, a college town.
Apartment complexes banked on the demand, and rent for even a single
bedroom anywhere within a half-hour walk was exorbitant. Yet being
young men, and attractive young men who might hope for a date now and
then, they had a desire for privacy, especially after living in
cramped conditions for a year, and wanted two bedrooms. But two
bedrooms went for over a grand, and EJ simply couldn't afford it.
"No fucking way!" he'd announced after the seventh or eighth inquiry.
So Scott had offered to pay two-thirds. He had the means, and as the
year had progressed, he'd grown less shy about occasionally using it,
but EJ had refused. Pride. Scott understood pride. And thus the
matter had remained unsettled when the semester had ended and EJ had
returned to LA, leaving Scott to solve the dilemma.
In late June, when he had nearly despaired of finding anything and
time was running out to secure even a one-bedroom for the fall, he
spotted an ad in the local paper for a two-bedroom garage apartment
on the south side. It was a bit far to walk, but decent for riding.
And it was cheap, so he went to investigate, figuring at only $850 a
month, there had to be a catch.
The owner was a widow in her early seventies who had moved west with
her husband even before the boom of the fifties and sixties. Mrs.
Eloise Gale. She still set her hair in old-fashioned curlers and
bobby pins every night, and wore lipstick to the grocery, to which
she drove in an antiquated Dodge Dart that had less than 70,000 miles
"She must never drive the thing anywhere *but* to the grocery," Scott
told EJ later. "For the past thirty-five years!"
The apartment itself had turned out to be old but clean, with high
ceilings, wooden floors, and double-hung windows set to maximize air
circulation. They'd have to live without a garbage disposal or
central AC, but the dorms hadn't had AC either, and the place did
have a washer and dryer for their use. Mrs. Gale had explained the
low rent thus, "I want some nice young men to live on the property.
It's not safe these days, you know, for a woman alone. The rent is
low, but it includes all the yard work, fixing things in the house,
and keeping up my car. I'm mostly blind, you see, and can't get
around so well."
Mrs. Gale had been a WAVE in World War II -- Women Accepted for
Volunteer Emergency Service -- and when she had learned that Scott
was the son of an US Air Force pilot, and that his projected roommate
was the son of a minister, that more or less had sealed the deal . .
. which had been concluded with nothing more than a polite pat on his
shoulder. Scott hadn't been too sure what to make of the
informality, but he'd phoned EJ to let him know that they had a place
for the fall, and could he come up the next weekend to meet their
Unfortunately, the small detail that EJ was the son of a *black*
minister had never been specified. It simply hadn't occurred to
Scott that he should -- he'd become accustomed to Berkeley being
Berkeley -- and it equally hadn't occurred to Mrs. Gale that a nice
white boy might voluntarily choose to room with a black boy, however
nice. So when EJ had arrived with Scott on the quaint, white
spindle-rail porch of their landlady's house and Scott introduced him
with, "Mrs. Gail, this is Elijah Haight," everyone was surprised.
She'd stared through the screen, her age-puckered mouth with its
crooked, too-pink lipstick dropped in shock. "But I've never rented
to a colored before," she'd said.
And Scott hadn't been sure what he'd been was more embarrassed about:
that he'd brought his friend there to be insulted, that it hadn't
occurred to him to verify that it wouldn't be an issue in the first
place, or that he'd called her 'a sweet old lady' to EJ on the phone.
Beside him, he'd felt EJ stiffen. "You're the son of a minister?"
she'd asked. The screen door had remained closed.
"Yes. My father's head minister at Bethany Baptist in LA."
"Oh, a Baptist! I'm a Baptist, too. Northern Baptist, though."
"Same here," EJ had said. "American Baptist," using the more recent,
less colloquial title for the branch.
And the screen door had opened. EJ had glanced at Scott, who'd
shrugged, and they'd gone in. Odd, the small details that could open
a door, or leave it shut, and Scott had wondered what Mrs. Gale would
think if she'd known the 'nice white boy' was a mutant. Then again,
it might matter to her more that he was an agnostic, lapsed Catholic.
The only other event of any significance occurred in early August as
the summer semester drew to a close. Scott, having just booked his
first hours of solo flight, asked Phoebe if she'd like to go out for
a bite after, to celebrate. If he talked more often to EJ by email,
or to Frank by phone, neither was present and that evening, he wanted
company with skin on. So they met in Asian Square and had Japanese
at Yokohama Station -- Phoebe ordered -- while Scott regaled her with
an account of his first solo, a story well-honed now by its fifth
retelling (EJ, Warren, the professor, and Ororo had all heard it
already). After dinner, they got a little drunk on cheap beer that
they were too young to buy, but Phoebe had a friend who was willing
to pick up two six packs if they footed the bill, and they got to
take one back to Scott's studio apartment. They began the night
sitting on his sofa, talking about anything from the California water
crisis to reincarnation.
They ended the night in Scott's bed.
It wasn't an easy morning. He hadn't slept with a girl in over two
years, and was rusty on morning-after etiquette. In fact, he'd never
slept with a girl at all, as in "go to sleep in the same bed after
sex." Not being the morning type, he woke after she did, to the
sounds of her rummaging about in his bathroom, looking for God knew
what. Blinking in the brightness of a California noon, he lay flat
on his back for a few minutes, staring at blurred, geometric shadows
on the white ceiling and listening to the sound of construction work
somewhere in the distance, pondering how best to proceed.
He wasn't in love with her and she wasn't in love with him, but she'd
felt more than friendship and inebriated lust. Mutant or not, he
occupied a special place in Phoebe's world. She didn't occupy the
same one in his, and hurting her had never been his intention. So he
hauled himself out of bed to make his way into the bathroom, where he
found her bent over the sink, finger in her mouth, scrubbing her
teeth with a makeshift digit toothbrush. "You can use mine," he
said. "I don't think you'll give me any germs that I haven't already
Eyeing him sidewise and grinning, she spit foamy toothpaste into the
sink, then said, �Thanks. But that'll do." Her unwashed hair was
lanky, but she was prettier than he might have expected, the morning
after. He still wasn't in love with her, and almost wished that he
could be. How to explain without either lying or seeming like a
heartless bastard? He'd suddenly become the kind of boy that mothers
warned their daughters about.
Christ. Was there an automatic reset button for the last twenty-four
Splashing water on her face, she wiped it off with his striped towel,
then came over to slip an arm around his neck and leaned in to kiss
-- and he pulled his head back. It was automatic, not planned. She
stared while his mind chased its own tail, trying to figure out what
to say. Nothing came. He opened his mouth and nothing came out
while he watched pain and humiliation crumple her face. Letting him
go, she pushed past him out into the little bedroom area, snatching
up her discarded jeans and yanking them on while she collected her
socks and bra. She'd put her tank top back on the night before, to
sleep in. Now, turning her back on him, she pulled the top up over
her head and snapped on the bra.
And he just stood there. His mind was blank and white, and he was
making a terrible botch of this. He could hear her breath hitch in a
way that told him she was swallowing sobs, and he'd never felt so
wretched. "Just your average jerk with a penis." The words floated
back to him, words Jean had said about boys at Vandy. Drunk boys at
And that was *him*, he thought. He'd been the drunk boy, and he ran
a hand over his face. He hadn't taken off his sleeping goggles yet
and had to look ridiculous, but it felt fitting that he look
ridiculous. "Phoeb. Stop it. Please."
She was putting on her socks and shoes now, and she didn't stop at
all. Light slid in through the blind slats and made lines across her
form. She said nothing.
"Phoebe. It's not what you think."
Finished, she jerked to her feet and screamed at him, "What the hell
am I supposed to think then?"
He couldn't answer because it wasn't pretty. "I care about you," he
said finally, helplessly.
She continued to glare for perhaps five breaths, then snagged her
purse where it had been abandoned on his little eat-in table and
stalked to the door. "Blow it out your ass, Summers, along with the
rest of your shit." And she slammed the door behind her.
He slid down the edge of the doorjamb until he was sitting on cold
"Not yet, not yet," Jean whispered, pulling Ted's hand up from the
zipper on her slacks. The other hand was busy with her left breast
and his mouth busy at the right through the fabric of her bra, and
oh, if she could rub her thighs together just right, there would be
enough pressure for her to reach her climax, but she wasn't ready yet
for his hand to help with that.
"Okay," he whispered now around cloth and nipple, and had the good
manners not to demand 'when?' Jean couldn't have given him an answer
if he had.
It wasn't their first time at this. Usually once a day, in his
apartment, or her room at the mansion, or even the lab closet when
Hank and Banner were gone, they were at each other with hands and
mouths and everything was heated, plunging headlong and half-blind
towards a consummation that Jean became increasingly aware she wasn't
sure she wanted.
She didn't love him. She liked him -- liked him a lot, in fact, and
he had a clever tongue, gentle fingers and a good heart. But love
him? Jean wasn't sure she knew what love was, and sometimes she
asked herself if she had to love him to have sex with him -- it had
never been her requirement before -- but if not, then why did she
Guilt, maybe. She wasn't in love with him. But she wondered
sometimes if he were in love with her? That, she didn't know, and
was afraid to ask because if one asked, shouldn't one want the
answer? And she didn't.
So they didn't talk. They made out in bedrooms and backrooms and lab
closets and they didn't talk about it except in sentences of less
than six words.
Scott Summers had always thought of himself as a good and responsible
person. He didn't steal, he didn't say bad things about people
behind their backs (usually), and he held the door open for others if
he got there first. He'd done things that embarrassed him, or of
which he wasn't proud, and he'd done things that had turned out badly
despite good intentions. Yet even when he'd blown out the wall at
his high school and given bruises and broken bones in the process, it
had been an accident. After, he'd gone to great lengths to ensure
that no more accidents happened. He wasn't cruel and he wasn't
Yet now he'd done something that was both, and he had no idea how to
fit that act into his previous views of himself. Could a good person
do a bad thing and still be a good person? Some actions rotted the
soul, like moral gangrene. He was sick with it, and spent most of
that Sunday either sitting on his couch and brooding or taking out
his frustrations practicing the Big Four *kata* of Shotokan. He'd
been sunk in self-pity before, but this ran much deeper. This was
*shame*, dark and awful and sharp.
He turned over in his head a few times who he might call to talk it
out -- see if there was some way to fix it. Summers was inclined to
regard life in the active rather than the passive tense. Yet talking
about it would mean admitting his guilt, and how could he face EJ
with this? Phoebe was EJ's friend, too. And Jean? How could he
phone Jean and tell her what he'd done after she'd called him a
gentleman? He hadn't been a gentleman last night. He couldn't tell
the professor either, couldn't face disappointing the man. There was
Warren, and Frank, but he wasn't sure either would be terribly
helpful, and Ro would show no pity. He tried calling Phoebe herself
once, but she hung up on him as soon as she heard his voice.
Sometime towards evening, his phone rang. He let the answering
machine pick up. "Summers, it's Lee. I've got the day off next
Saturday and wondered if you'd like to go out on the water. Buzz me
back, and do it before Tuesday. If you're not free, I'll find
somebody else." That wasn't a threat, just Lee's customary
He sat up on the couch. Once before, Lee had given him good advice
with regard to Phoebe; maybe she could help him again. Jumping for
the phone, he tried to catch her before she hung up but snagged the
receiver only in time to hear the phone click. And that was probably
just as well. This wasn't a conversation to tackle across a barrier
of plastic and fiber optics. Putting on his sandals, he fetched his
Getting to Lee's took a good ride, and he sweated heavily in the
August swelter though it was almost dusk. On some level, he found
that purifying, the salt-scent of his own body and the salt-scent of
the bay. The sun was already below the horizon and the sky was a
hot-wax blend of oranges and blues and a vivid violet (colors he knew
rather than colors he saw), streaked here and there by the dark
shadows of cirrus clouds. There was no breeze and the heat lay thick
on the black concrete of Forrester's Boat Rental parking lot,
radiating up through the soles of his sandals. The place was closed
for the night, only the lights in the living quarters behind
indicating that anyone was there. Scott hoped that Lee hadn't gone
out for the evening as he leaned his bike against one of the wooden
columns on the porch. Sea air had aged the wood, cracking it in
places. He rang the bell, then waited. It was a long wait before a
man in late middle age opened the door. A white under-tank revealed
thick, tanned arms corded with muscle from long years of physical
labor and marked by almost stereotypical tattoos. He grunted when he
saw Scott. "Can't you read the No Solicitation sign, kid?" He
pointed to a white sign in the window beside the door.
"I'm not selling anything. I'm Scott Summers, a friend of your
daughter's -- "
"Yeah, I recognize the name. Come on in." Turning, he yelled back
into the depths of the house. "Lee! It's one of your band guys."
Exiting the kitchen, a diet coke in one hand and a plastic tub of
cottage cheese in the other -- spoon in her mouth -- Lee raised both
her eyebrows at him, amused. Taking out the spoon, she said, "A
phone call back would've been just fine, y'know."
Ignoring her attempt at humor, and uncomfortable standing just inside
the doorway with her father watching, he shuffled his feet and said,
"You want to go for a walk on the dock? Just to talk, I mean."
Still amused, she said, "Actually, I'd rather sit on the dock so I
can eat my dinner. Come on." And she led him around to the dockside
of the building. The hot-wax sky was dimming to royal purple and
security lights glittered on bay water. Waves made slapping and
sucking sounds at the wooden struts and the hulls of boats.
Somewhere nearby a fish leapt. The scent of brine and the bite of
gasoline from engines was strong. She took him some distance from
the house where they seated themselves on sun-warmed wood. The
rising and falling whine of passing cars marked the access road,
invisible behind a sandy ridge. "So what's up?" she asked.
"I screwed up," he replied. "I screwed up pretty damn bad." Angry
at himself again, he plucked a stray pebble from the dock and flung
it hard at the water. "Just another jerk with a penis."
She shook salt from a little pewter shaker into the tub of cottage
cheese and ate in silence, let the weight of that draw him out.
After a while, he began to talk, haltingly and in a disjointed
fashion, telling her what had transpired the night before, and that
morning. When he was done, she said, "And you want me to fix it?"
"I don't want *you* to fix it. But yeah, it needs fixed. Or
something. You gave me pretty good advice once before."
Finished now with her cottage cheese, she set the tub between her
knees and tapped the spoon against the white plastic side. "You need
to talk to her."
"I tried that!"
"No, you didn't. You called her and let her hang up on you. Why
don't you go over to the dorm and sit outside her door? She'll have
to come out eventually, if just to go to the bathroom." She studied
his face in the near dark. "Are you sorry?"
"I mean are you truly sorry?"
"*Yes.* I wasn't trying to hurt her."
"You asked her out."
"No, I didn't. I just asked if she wanted to go eat dinner with me.
I didn't ask her *out*."
"Did *she* know the difference?"
"We've done it before -- just go eat together, I mean. Without the
beer. But I don't . . . I never wanted to be the kind of guy who
uses people. A girl, I mean. Well, not anyone, but . . . . Jesus
Fucking Christ!" He pressed his face against his drawn up knees. "I
can't even make any goddamn sense talking!"
He felt the back of her hand slide against the side of his face. It
was soft and cool like forgiveness. "Scott, you need to talk to her,
not to me. You're not a bad guy, y'know. You just made a mistake.
It happens. You care enough to want to fix it -- that says a lot
He raised his face. "I don't want to be a jerk with a penis."
That got a grin out of her. "You said that already. More or less.
Did she call you that?"
"No. But Jean -- you know, my friend Jean, back in New York -- "
"Scott, everyone who knows you knows who Jean is."
He blushed. "Anyway, she was talking about guys at Vandy that way.
They did the same thing to her and I just . . . I'd like to hurt
them, because they hurt her. I don't want to *be* like that. Maybe
I should, you know, go out with Phoebe for a while, so she doesn't
think I just used her."
"Shit, no! Look -- you can't make it not hurt that you don't feel
about her like she feels about you, not anymore than Jean can make it
not hurt for you." He winced internally; that wasn't a comparison
he'd previously considered. "But dating her for a while and then
breaking up is really condescending."
She pushed herself to her feet, empty plastic tub in one hand and
offering him leverage up with the other. "You're still a jerk with a
penis, Summers, but you're basically a decent jerk. Try starting
with an honest apology and go from there."
He took her advice, but cornering Phoebe required two days and
careful strategy since he didn't want to embarrass them both by
conducting this particular conversation in a dorm hallway. He
finally caught her outside the library computer lab and followed her
from the building. Either her anger had filtered away or she was
tired of avoiding him, but she left the sidewalk and headed out
across the grass into the shade of an old Valley Oak, where she
waited for him to catch her up. "Would you quit stalking me!" she
snapped, when he did.
"I'm not stalking you. I'm trying to apologize, dammit."
"I don't want your goddamn excuses -- "
"I'm not offering any! I said I was trying to apologize. It's not
the same thing. Now would you please shut up and listen to me?"
She did. They were both breathing heavily. When it was clear that
she was giving him a chance, he said, "I'm sorry, Phoeb. What
happened shouldn't have happened. I wasn't trying to take advantage
of you. I just got drunk. That's not an excuse. It's a reason;
that's all. What happened was a mistake."
Leaf-filtered sunlight glinted off moisture in her dark eyes and she
looked down. "Gee, thanks. I was your big mistake."
"Fuck," he muttered and rubbed the bridge of his nose, pushed up his
glasses absently. "Not like that. What happened was a mistake
because what you wanted and what I wanted . . . ." He trailed off.
He was just digging himself deeper and he had no clue how to get out
of the pit, until he thought about what Lee had said on Sunday night,
comparing his situation with Phoebe to Jean's with him. If the shoe
were on the other foot, he wondered, what he would want to hear?
"Listen," he said softly. "I like you. I don't love you, but I like
you a lot. That's not feeding you a line. I'm not in the habit of
going to bed with people I don't give a rat's ass about. I've just
been lonely. I needed somebody to touch. It wasn't only about the
sex. But I should have . . . I should have been clearer, at the
outset. I wasn't. I let things happen because it seemed like a good
idea at the time. You are *not* someone I want to hurt, Phoeb." He
said it as softly as he could. "It hurt me, too. It hurts me, to
see you hurting."
"You like me," she whispered, "but you don't like me *that* way."
The smallness of her voice made his heart ache. "No," he whispered
back. "I'm sorry."
And how, he puzzled, should he answer that? "I don't know. It's
just . . ." He shrugged helplessly. "It's not something you can
"Is it something about me -- ?"
"No." He cut her off before she could finish. "No. I told you, I
like you. I like talking to you, I like spending time with you.
You're fun. But the . . . that click . . . it just didn't happen for
"Then why . . . I mean, if the . . . if you're not attracted to me
*that* way, then why did you go to bed with me?"
"Christ, Phoeb, you're not exactly ugly! And I told you -- it seemed
like a good idea at the time. Don't you ever, just . . . you know,
need to touch someone? Get a hug from a friend?"
"Sex is pretty far from a hug, Scott!"
"Yeah. But it wasn't just about the sex." He stopped, so he could
figure out what he was trying to say. And why *had* he gone to bed
with her? Drunk and horny hadn't been all of it. "Guys . . . we can
separate sex and love pretty easily. But this wasn't that. I told
you, I'm not in the habit of sleeping with just anyone who's willing.
Some guys can, but I'm not made that way. I have to trust the
"Because of the glasses?"
"No. It's just . . . the kind of guy I am. It's true I haven't been
to bed with anybody since -- " He tapped the glasses in question.
"But not like you mean. I needed a lot of things on Saturday. I
needed to touch somebody, I needed to know that someone wasn't scared
to death of me, and I needed to know that I was still attractive.
Maybe it sounds dumb, but guys worry about that kind of thing, too."
She was actually listening to him now, and he recalled the
professor's advice when he had first told EJ about his power -- that
if he wanted forgiveness, he had to bare his own fears.
"Where things went wrong," he continued, "is that I didn't make it
clear. I just let it happen because I needed it. You needed
something else, and thought it was something else, and I didn't tell
you otherwise -- "
"You knew how I felt."
"Yeah, I did. Sort of." And that *hurt*. Saying that *hurt*. It
punched him hard in the belly because it was true, that he'd wounded
someone else because he'd let it be all about him. "I had a pretty
good idea, anyway. But I was too drunk to think about it. And that
was . . . " He looked away, then finished, very softly. "That was
wrong, and I feel awful because I do like you, and I didn't . . . I
never wanted to be that kind of person. I never wanted to hurt
someone that way."
He felt the sharp sting on his cheek before he quite registered that
she'd slapped him, and not with a little tap. She'd slapped him hard
enough to knock his glasses askew. Putting a hand up to the burn,
and straightening his glasses, he stared at her. She was genuinely
crying now, and trying to talk in spite of it. "You are a piece of
work, Scott Summers. I don't know whether to believe you or not --
that you're sorry. You knew. You *knew*. It's not okay, y'know?
An apology doesn't make it suddenly okay." She swallowed. "I guess
I should thank you for bothering to make one, but I don't feel
thankful right now. I just . . . . Go away. Quit following me. I
don't want to see you. Not for a while. Maybe in a few weeks, when
the semester starts. Maybe then I can see you and not want to gut
you. But not right now." And she left him standing there, a hand
still on his face.
Feeling shaky, he went into the library to the men's room and stared
in the mirror at the red mark on his cheek, and he understood several
things all at once: Good people could do bad things, and words
weren't always a magic fix. Illusions about the self were fragile
and shattered easily. He wasn't the person that he'd thought he was,
and trust, once broken, was slow to mend. But most of all, he
realized that feelings were like fish, slippery and bright and
stupid. They didn't respond to reason.
Phoebe was mad at him. Furious. And rightfully so. And *he* was
mad at Jean. Still. He just hadn't let himself admit it since he'd
left Westchester. But he *was* angry, deeply, deeply angry, and
bruised in all his tender places. And those bruises had finally
shown up in all their dark glory.
Jean didn't love him. Not like he wanted her to. And he couldn't
make her, not anymore than Phoebe could make him feel something he
didn't feel. But understanding that didn't make him hurt any less,
either. It didn't make him feel less small and unimportant. It
didn't make him wonder why Jean couldn't love him back. "What's
wrong with me, that she doesn't love me?" he asked the mirror, then
felt immediately stupid for the question. It sounded so pathetic.
Bending over the sink basin in the empty bathroom, he took off his
glasses, squeezed his eyes shut and let himself cry.
"I haven't heard from you in a while, not even email. I got a little
worried. You okay out there?"
There was a short silence on the other end of the phone line and Jean
waited uneasily. Then he said, "I don't really feel like talking to
you right now, Jean."
Belly-drop alarm. "Why? What's wrong?"
Another silence, then, in a tight voice, he said, "You just . . .
Jean, I'm not a gentleman. Not really. I'm just a guy, okay? I
can't always be reasonable and grown-up. I know you can't control
how you feel -- or how you *don't* feel -- about me. But I can't
stop what I feel, either, and I'm kind of angry right now. I need
some space, so I can learn how not to be so angry. It's not . . . I
don't blame you. I don't blame you. But I'm still angry. So don't
call me again. And don't send me email for a while." And he hung
Sighing, at once irritated and guilty, Jean leaned back against the
headboard of her bed and stared at the ceiling. �Feelings,' she
remembered the professor telling her once, �are neither right nor
wrong. They just are. And sometimes, we must forgive ourselves for
Or forgive others, she added.
Scott was right, she thought. He wasn't a gentleman, or a character
in a medieval romance, and she'd been unfair to cast him in that
role. He was just human, and human feelings were sometimes messy.
Feedback is always appreciated. I love to know if people are still
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