The Wanderers

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chapter 7

I had no idea what kind of car my mom had gotten me. There was nothing else in the package. I walked through the parking lot pressing the key-less entry until I found it. The lights flashed on a brand new Ford hybrid SUV. “There it is,” I said.

“Nice car,” Jack commented getting in the passenger side. It was fully loaded, complete with the On-Star system - nothing but the best. “How did you manage a car like this?”

“My mom is a little over protective. She had it delivered today.” He said nothing. “So where’s the theatre?”

“Make a right over there.”

I followed Jack’s directions to the theatre. We decided to see a comedy. After the movie, on the way back, Jack didn’t say much. I figured maybe he was shy, so it looked like I’d have to be the one to strike up the conversation. “Did you like the movie?”

“It was good.”

“What else is there to do for fun around here?”

“There’s a student center. People hang out there sometimes.”

“Wanna stop by and check it out?”

“Sure,” he replied. Okay this might be harder than I thought. He didn’t seem to be much of a conversationalist.

There were only a few people in the student center chatting, or reading a book. “Want some coffee?” Jack asked.

“Sounds great.” He ordered two cups of coffee and we sat down at one of the empty tables. Jack sat quietly staring at his coffee cup. “So, where are you originally from?” I asked.

“I’m from here. I only live a couple miles away, but I prefer to live on campus. It’s just more convenient this way.”

“Have any brothers or sisters?”

“Nope, only child. You?”

“Two older brothers and I can’t tell you how glad I am to be away from them.”

“Where are you from?”

“California.”

“That’s a long way from home.”

“That’s kind of the point.”

“Things not so good at home?”

“No, the opposite actually. My family is great, I just needed a change.”

Once I opened up the conversation, Jack relaxes enough to join in. He told me about his parents. His mom was a single parent and he had no idea what happened to his dad. We compared the classes we were taking and found out we had a few together even though he was a sophomore. Jack ended up doing most of the talking while I sat and listened. He seemed like a really nice guy. Shy, but goodhearted. I could tell already we would end being good friends and was happy I was taking the chance to get to know him.

After we finished our coffee we headed back to the dorm. “Thanks, Jack, I had a nice time.”

“Me too,” he said with that crooked smile.

“Okay, I’ll see you later,” I said, not sure where to go from here. I wanted to keep things on a friendship level so I smiled at him and walked back to my room.

Josie was sitting on her bed playing with her phone. “Didn’t expect to see you home so early.”

“Me neither,” she sighed.

“What happened?” I asked curious.

“Nothing,” she groaned, falling on the bed.

“Then what’s the problem?”

“That was the problem, if you catch my drift.”

“Oh,” I said, trying not to laugh but failed.

“It’s not funny!”

“Oh c’mon Josie, you and I both know he is one of the many guys who you will meet here. I’m pretty sure not all of them will be suffering from erectile dysfunction.” I couldn’t help it anymore, I started cracking up.

“Ella! Stop laughing,” Josie whined, hitting me with her pillow.

“Hey,” I said, grabbing my own pillow, starting an all-out war. Josie and I were laughing hysterically and knocking each other over with the pillows oblivious to anything else.

“Whoa, talk about a dream come true,” Tristan said from the door way.

My smile instantly faded. “Don’t you knock?”

“The door was open. Please, continue. Don’t let me interrupt.”

Josie and I both threw our pillows at him. Then I got up and straightened myself out. “What do you want, Tristan?”

“Only you my precious Ella,” Tristan cooed.

I rolled my eyes at him. “That’s never going to happen so you can leave.”

“Never say never,” he said with that cocky smile.

“Please, keep dreaming,” I said, hoping to get rid of him.

“Oh, don’t worry, I will.” He looked me up and down taking a mental picture. I shuddered at the thought of him placing me in his spank bank.

“Is there something you actually wanted or did you just come here just to annoy me?”

He straightened and let himself in.. “I’m actually here on business.”

“I’m not interested,” I said snidely, crossing my arms.

“Not that kind of business,” he winked. I sighed letting him know my patience was wearing thin. “I’m here on behalf of the sisters to extend an official invitation into their sorority.” He pulled two envelopes from his back pocket and handed one to me and Josie. I was surprised. After last night I would have thought I blew it, but I guess not.

Josie ripped the envelope from Tristan’s hand, tearing it open. “Is that it?” I asked.

“For now, la mia bella stella.” He bowed and left the room. I shut and locked the door behind him.

Josie started jumping up and down with excitement. “I got in! I got in!”

That was fast.

I opened my envelope next.

Dear Ella,

We would be most grateful to have you as part of our sisterhood. We understand if this is not something you believe you’re ready for. However, we would still like to extend the invite to join us. We are very exclusive and we don’t take just anyone. Do not take this lightly. It is a great honor to be invited in by us. We’ve decided to accept you, even though you haven’t yet given us an answer whether or not you would like to join. We never leave an open invitation to anyone,but you are an exception. We believe you will be a great asset to Theta Kappa, so we are holding a spot for you when you’re ready to join us.

Sincerely, Cadence

“Did you get in?” she asked, her hands clasped tightly together under her chin, eyes wide.

“Yes.” Josie screamed with excitement. “But I still don’t know if I’m going to accept.”

“Oh Ella, you have to.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“What’s there to think about?” She dropped her hands by her side, preparing to give me an entire hour’s worth of reasons why I should join.

I sighed knowing Josie would never let this go. “Give me some time to see how my classes are.”

She clapped her hands and smiled wide. I gave her a warning look not to push it. “Okay.” She relaxed back on her bed and changed the subject. “So how was the date with Jack?”

“It wasn’t a date,” I corrected.

“He’s cute, in a dorkish kind of way. I think he likes you.”

“Jack’s a nice guy, but I’m not interested in him that way.”

“What about Tristan?”

“What about him?” My lip instantly curled in disgust as I walked over to my dresser to grab my pajamas.

“He’s extremely hot and so your type. You should go for it.”

I looked at her over my shoulder. “I think not, and he is so not my type. He’s arrogant, stubborn, and a chauvinistic pig.”

“Exactly why you should date him.”

I sit on the edge of my bed to take my boots off. “What? Kyle was nothing like that so why would I date someone like that?”

Josie put her foot down and looked right at me. “And that’s exactly why you should date him, because he’s nothing like Kyle. I’m just saying.” I ignored her as she went back to her game on her phone. She clearly was losing her mind to think that I dating Tristan would be a good idea. “I know you like him,” she continued.

“I do not,” I scoffed.

“Please, Ella. I saw the way you were looking at him at the party. Every time I turned around you were partially fucking him with your eyes.”

“I was not! And he was staring at me,” I countered. “Probably trying to envision me naked,” I mumbled. She just smiled at me like she knew some secret I didn’t. “I do not like him,” I repeated. No way would I ever be with someone like Tristan. I did have some standards.

Josie sunk down lower on the bed dropping her arms to the side. “I’m too excited to sleep. Let’s go do something.”

“What do you want to do, everything is closed,” I said, checking my watch. She sprung and raised her brows. “No parties,” I declared making her shoulders slump. “I got the car today. We can drive around and check out what’s in the area?” She instantly perked up and jumped off the bed. Slipping my boots back on, I grabbed my phone and keys and head out with Josie leading the way.

My first class was bright and early Monday morning. I was thankful for the peaceful night sleep, worried that being in a new place the nightmares might take over, but I did not dream once, which helped me start off the day on a good note.

Josie’s first class wasn’t until later and she grumbled about being woken up early. I ignored her and continued to get ready for my first class, Business Ethics. I was taking a few business courses per my father’s request and some art and writing classes for myself. I always had a passion for the arts, but was pushed to pursue more realistic ideals. Kyle was the one who originally convinced me to take up these courses so that’s what I did. Not only for myself, but for him too. I wanted to make him proud.

Jack was in my first class and saved me a seat next to him. I had a hard time paying attention. My professor was very...boring. He read straight from a paper, never looking up, and it seemed he didn’t want to be here anymore than we did. “Don’t worry. I heard he’s actually a good teacher. We’ll learn a lot from him,” Jack whispered.

“Like what, how to put people to sleep?” I said and he laughed.

Not soon enough, the professor dismissed the class. “Where are you off to next?” I asked Jack as we headed out.

“Art History then Art 101.”

“Lucky you, you get to spend the next two hours with me,” I smiled and Jack blushed.

Art history was a lot better than the last class and seemed to go bye in the blink of an eye. Hoping the next one would be as good, we got there early and set everything up. In this class we actually get to paint. I picked an easel in the back and Jack followed, taking the one on my right.

The professor looked to be about in her early fifties. Her red hair was slowly showing signs of aging with a few grays peeking out here and there, and she had some wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. She wore a long paisley skirt and a long sleeve shirt, complete with smock already covered in paint stains. She stood up to shut the door when it was time for the class to start. “Okay, today we’re...” she was interrupted by someone opening the door.

I looked up to see who the late comer was.

Of course, just my luck!

Tristan looked at her apologetically and the professor just shook her head and gestured for him to find a seat.

“Just take a seat,” she said, smiling.

I hid behind my easel hoping he wouldn’t see me. I even thought about throwing my stuff on the empty chair next to mine so he would think that seat was taken. Please don’t see me; please don’t sit next to me. Please don’t sit next to me. I repeated over and over again, but of course my pleas were too late.

“Lucky me,” Tristan said, taking the open chair next to mine. “Don’t you look ravishing?”

I ignored him and tried to pay attention to the teacher. “I don’t know what to do with you?” he said, shaking his head pretending to look distraught. “First you show up at my door begging to have your way with me, now you’re taking the same class as me. I must say, this is very unhealthy behavior,” Tristan whispered quietly behind his easel.

“What?” I exclaimed a little louder than I intended to.

“I would appreciate not being disrupted during a lecture,” the professor raised her voice and scolded in my general direction making me sink behind my easel, embarrassed. Tristan put his finger to his mouth shushing me. I just glared at him as he pretended to be an astute student.

“Class, today I’m going to let you paint whatever you want. I want to see what you have to offer. You have the remainder of class to create whatever your heart desires.”

“You know what my heart desires?” Tristan asked me.

“It would require you to have one to hear it’s desires,” I said, picking up my paint brush.

“Ouch, you’re cold Ella. You know, if you ever need someone to warm up that ice in your veins, I’m your guy.”

As much as I wanted to glare at him, I couldn’t help but smile and tried to hide it. He was relentless. I never met someone who was so arrogant and yet kind of intriguing at the same time. I didn’t know what it was about Tristan, but for some reason I started to find myself drawn to him. Maybe I was attracted to his looks, or maybe it was his eyes. When I looked into them I could tell there was something hidden deep down, or...

“Ella, I have a hard time concentrating when you keep staring at me,” Tristan said.

“I wasn’t staring,” I said, quickly looking away.

“I think you need to stop this little act.”

“What act?”

“Pretending you don’t like me.”

“I’m not pretending. I don’t like you.”

He turned to me and took my hand. “You don’t have to fight it. You know you want to.”

“Want to what?” I asked, trying to make my voice sound more assertive, but it was hard with the way he was holding my hand.

“Kiss me,” he replied.

“Hardly,” I spat, ripping my hand from his and going back to my painting. Out of the corner of my eye I spied him sitting sideways, with his arms crossed, studying me. I tried really hard to ignore him, but failed. “What!”

“You just can’t help yourself, can you?” he said, that cocky smile twitching at the corner of his lips.

I spend the rest of class trying to ignore him the best I could despite the fact I could feel him watching me. I shifted uncomfortably and forced my eyes to stay on my painting, praying for the time to pass quickly. Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore, everyone started to clean up. I peeked out of the corner of my eye and saw Tristan staring at me. I let my emotions get the best of me.

“You know what you are?” I said, turning to him, not able to control myself.

“Wonderful,” he said, spreading his arms wide.

“Annoying!” I cleaned up my stuff quickly and left the room before he had the chance to comment.

“Ella, wait!” Jack called after me.

“UGH! That Tristan really gets under my skin,” I said, clutching my books close to my chest.

“Just ignore him and he’ll eventually go away. Once he sees he can’t get to you he’ll get bored and move on.”

“That’s actually a really good idea, thanks Jack,” I smiled, giving him a kiss on the cheek. “I gotta hurry to my next class. See you around.”

Jack was right. I just have to ignore Tristan and he’ll go away. The problem was he wasn’t always that easy to ignore.

The next art class, Tristan was actually there on time. He sat in the same seat he did before and when he saw me he offered me the seat next to him. I ignored him and sat with Jack in the front. I did the same thing all week. Where ever Tristan sat, I sat on the opposite side and not once did he speak to me. I think he was finally getting the hint. By Friday I was glad it was almost the weekend. I would be free to relax and take it easy.

“So what do you want to do this weekend?” Josie asked, dumping her books on the floor.

“I think I just want to relax this weekend. The first week was a little intense so I think I need to chill and let it all sink in.”

“This wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain boy down the hall you’re trying to avoid, would it?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said, sitting down at my desk and opening up my books.

“You can stop pretending. I know you’re not really reading,” Josie said, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes at me.

I sighed and turned around to face her. “Look Josie, I’m just trying to concentrate on my schoolwork for now. End of story.”

“Fine,” she grumbled, leaving me be.

I spent all weekend in my room going over my schoolwork and catching up on sleep. Josie spent most of her time at the sorority house. I didn’t mind. It was nice to have some peace and quiet. By week three I had a routine down and things were flowing nicely. I yet to have any nightmares or visions of the man with glowing eyes and I was counting my blessings. I still missed Kyle, but each passing day it hurt less, making it easier for me to enjoy life. I was finally moving forward in the right direction. Things were actually normal for once.

“Well good morning,” Tristan cooed as I passed him on the way to the bathroom - so much for my streak of normalcy. I nodded at him, not wanting to engage in any type of conversation with him this early in the morning. He smiled and continued on his way. This was how it has been between us. He would say hi to me if we passed each other but that was about it and that was enough. If I was being honest though, I kind of missed his endless attempts of trying to woo me.

Over the next few days I attended all my classes as normal and spent the afternoons hanging with Jack or Josie at the student center. It was a nice change of pace from what I had to deal with at home. I was really starting to like college. I even joined a study group with some of my classmates. Josie called me nerd, but I didn’t care. It felt liberating to be able to make my own decisions for once.

“So what are your plans for the weekend?” Tristan asked me as I sat down in the only chair available, which I was sure wasn’t a coincidence.

“I will be studying for my ethics test coming up on Monday,” I replied, keeping it simple.

“I took a few ethics courses if you would like a study partner?” he offered.

“No, thank you.”

“Are you afraid I might outsmart you?”

I laughed so loud I had to cover my mouth. “No, not at all, but I do think you and I have two different ideas of what it means to study.”

“That’s interesting because I thought studying meant a person reviewing a certain subject of text for a continued amount of time until that said information was committed to memory, but if you have a different idea I’d love to hear it,” he said, resting his chin on his hand and giving me his full attention.

“You’re incorrigible, you know that.”

“Are you asking me what that means or telling me that’s what I am? Because if you have to ask maybe next time you should use words you know the definition of.”

“Oh my god,” I said, putting my head in my hands. “Do you ever stop?”

“Stop what?” he asked, looking genuinely confused. Not knowing what else to say I went back to my painting. Tristan didn’t say another word for the rest of class and for that I was thankful.

When class was over, I cleaned up my station, and collected my things. “So what time do you want me to come over?” Tristan asked as he stuffed his clean brushes back in the designated tin.

“What?” I asked, not sure I heard him right.

“To study.”

“Uh, yeah, I think it’s better if I study alone. Besides, wouldn’t want you to miss out on any killer parties.”

“I’ve been to enough parties to know that they’re only killer if I’m in attendance,” he smirked.

“Well then I wouldn’t want you to disappoint your fans.”

“You ready, Ella?” Jack asked, saving me from Tristan.

“Yeah,” I replied and bent down to grab my books.

“We still on for six tonight?” Jack asked, making me want to stuff a sock in his mouth.

“Six is perfect. I’ll bring the drinks,” Tristan said, running out.

“No, Tristan...” I was too late.

“What was that all about?” Jack asked.

“Sorry, but it looks like we have another study partner,” I sighed.

Josie wanted the room to herself to entertain some guest so we moved our study session to the student center. I opened up my books and got to work right away. Jack offered to get some coffee while we worked. Pulling out the chair next to me he had a seat. “Did you grab sugar?” I asked him and then realized it wasn’t Jack who was sitting next to me.

“No, but I could give you some,” Tristan said, leaning in like he was about to kiss me.

I pushed him back. “What are you doing here?”

“You said six o’clock, right?” Pushing up his sleeves he checked his watch.

“How’d you even know where I was?”

“I went to your room first and then Josie told me you guys were here.”

Of course she did. I made a mental note to yell at her later. “I’ m telling you now I really need to study so if you insist on staying, no funny business,” I warned.

“Wouldn’t dare,” he said, face serious. “So what are we studying?”

I sighed, not able to find a way around this. “The accepted set of moral values and corporate standards of conduct in a business organization.”

“Ah, Business Ethics, not as complex as Vexillology, but I think I can manage.” I looked at him dumbfounded. “Vexillology? The study of flags,” he explained.

“You just made that up,” I said, not believing him.

“You don’t believe me? Look it up,” he challenged.

“Let me guess, this is something you learned from your word of the day calendar? Something to impress the ladies to make you seem smart?”

“Is it working?” he leaned in closer, brow raised.

“No.”

Tristan sat back as I focused on the notes in front of me. Jack returned with the coffees, placed a cup in front of me and had a seat across from us. “Jack, this is Tristan. I hope you don’t mind but he’ll be joining us.”

“Hey man,” Jack said, extending a hand to be polite. Tristan’s shoulders were rigid and his faces was pulled tight. Slowly he reached out and shook Jack’s hand. “Three heads are better than one, right?” Jack joked. “Oh you know what, I forgot cream,” Jack scooted his chair back. “Can I get you anything?” Jack offered Tristan. He shook his head no.

“I always thought three’s a crowd,” Tristan said after Jack left, shimming his chair closer to mine.

“I would agree but some people can’t take the hint.” I narrowed my eyes slightly.

“Is Jack a little slow? You want me tell him to take a hike?” I opened my mouth but there were no words. “No?”

“Just, please don’t talk anymore,” I said exasperated.

Once Jack returned we got to work right away discussing the material that would be covered on Monday’s exam. Thankfully Tristan kept quiet. Every now and then he would throw in his opinion, but I think it was mostly to keep himself from falling asleep. After two hours of none stop studying we decided to take a break. Jack excused himself to go to the restroom. “You don’t have to stay. I know this is boring you,” I told Tristan, dropping my pencil in my book.

“What makes you say that?” He stretched his arms above his head, exposing a small sliver of smooth skin. I started to organize my papers to keep myself busy.

“Well considering you were snoring about an hour ago and I had to kick you to wake you up.”

“Yeah thanks for that. I think you left a mark,” he said, rubbing his shin. I laughed and leaned back in my chair. “Is that a smile I see? Could it be true? Have I managed to melt the ice queen?”

I narrowed my eyes at him and sat up. “Seeing you in pain does give me quite a bit of pleasure,” I retorted.

“Didn’t know you were into that,” he leaned in closer. “If you want I have some handcuffs back in my room and maybe a paddle or two?” He suggested, giving me a boastful smile.

“God!” I laughed, pushing him back. “You don’t give up, do you?”

“You have a nice smile. You should show it more often,” he said, dropping his usual bravado.

“Thanks,” I said, tucking a piece of hair behind my ear and blushing.

“Okay, where did we leave off?” Jack asked, returning to the table.

“Profit-maximizing behavior with non-economic concerns,” Tristan informed us. My jaw dropped in surprise. He winked at me and leaned back causally in his chair with his arms behind his head. I shook my head and continued to read.

Through the rest of the discussion Tristan stayed awake and even offered some input. Apparently he had an intellectual side to him after all. Every now and then Tristan’s knee would brush mine, making my stomach feel all twisted up inside. I would pull away, but he always managed to find a way to be closer to me. Every time he would impress me with his knowledge he would throw me a smile forcing me have to look away to keep him from seeing me blush. Tristan showed me a new side of him that night, one that I could appreciate.

After another hour we decided to call it quits. I could tell Tristan was getting restless and only held out this long because of me. I was tired, myself, and looking forward to getting some much needed rest. “Well I think I studied about as much as I can for one night,” I said, closing my book.

“Great,” Tristan said, jumping out of his chair. “It’s still early so we can hit a few parties on the way back.”

“Uh no, I’m going to bed,” I said, collecting my things.

“Is that an invitation?” Tristan grinned, taking a step closer.

“No,” I said, pushing him back and turning to face Jack. “You ready?” He nodded and I threw my bag over my shoulder as we exited the student center.

“Wait, I’ll walk you back,” Tristan yelled, catching up to us. No one said anything on the way back. It made for quite the awkward silence with Jack on the one side and Tristan on the other.

Jack’s room was first on our floor so I said goodbye to him and told him I’d talk to him tomorrow. Once he closed his door I walked away ignoring Tristan. It only took him two steps to catch up. “So now that we got rid of the third wheel, how about we have some fun?”

“Tristan, I’m going to bed.” He grin widened. “Alone,” I clarified.

He placed both hands on either side of me blocking me in. Then he leaned in close and looked deep into my eyes. My breath hitched and he smiled. “One of these days you’re going to say yes and by then I’ll have moved on. Don’t fight it,” he said, gently caressing my hair.

“The only thing I’m fighting right now is the urge to punch you,” I said, pushing him away so I could breathe.

He laughed as he straightened himself out. “I’m wearing you down. I know it. It won’t be long before you give in.”

“Goodnight Tristan,” I said, turning to go into my room.

“It certainly was,” he said, taking off down the hall.

I closed the door behind me, falling against it, and taking a breath. I hoped this didn’t mean what I thought it did.

Crap.

I think I’m in trouble.

I cleared all thoughts of Tristan from my head and dropped my books on my desk. “Ella?” Josie’s head popped up from her bed.

“Oh Josie I’m sorry, didn’t know you were sleeping.” I looked over at the clock on my stand and noticed it was only ten o’clock. “Wait, why are you in bed so early? What was it this time, premature ejaculation?” I laughed.

“Who’s that?” A male voice said. I turned my head slowly. A man’s head pop out from underneath the covers.

“Oh my god!” I yelped, covering my eyes.

“If you wanted to have a threesome you could have asked. I wouldn’t have minded but would like to have been prepared,” the strange man said.

“Oh, ugh, gross,” I said, turning to leave and bumping into everything on my way out.

“Ella, just uncover your eyes,” Josie said, annoyed at the disturbance.

“No,” I said, feeling my way for the door. “A little warning would be nice next time.” I found the doorknob and jumped out of the room fast, slamming the door behind me. I leaned against the door and closed my eyes trying to erase the imagery. I had no problem talking with Josie about her sexcapades, but talking about it and seeing it were two different things. I shuddered one more time and pushed myself off the door. What the hell was I supposed to do now?

“Changed your mind about the party?” Tristan asked, stepping out of his room.

“No. I just can’t go in my room at the moment.” His brows crinkled in confusion. “Josie’s entertaining a guest.” I air quoted even though I was sure Tristan would have figured it out regardless.

“Perfect, now you can be my escort to the party.”

“Tristan, I’m really not in the mood for a party.”

“What else are you going to do? Sit outside your door and wait till they’re finished.” I peered over my shoulder at the closed door and heard Josie giggle. “What could it hurt?”

I sighed not seeing another option. “Fine, only because I have nowhere else to go, but let’s clarify things right now.” He straightened his shoulders and listened carefully, giving me one of his serious looks. “This is not a date and I am not your escort. I’m just a friend that you happen to be accompanying to a party. Got it?” He nodded and smiled, like he just won a million dollar prize. “What?” I said felling my cheeks heat.

“You called me your friend,” he said thoughtful.

“Tristan, you know what I mean,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“See, I’m wearing you down.” I laughed as he threw his arm around my shoulder and walked me down the hall. “Now when you say friend, do you mean friend with benefits or...”

“Tristan!” I pushed him away. “I’m going to go back and sleep outside my room if you keep this up. I’m not in the mood for a party to begin with and you’re not helping.”

“Sorry,” he said, trying not to laugh. “I’ll be good. I promise.” He made a X over his heart and put his arms up.

I eyed him wearily. He stuffed his hands in his pockets proving that he’d keep them to himself. “So where’s this party at anyways?” I asked.

“At the fraternity.” I stopped. “Don’t worry. It’s a private party so it will be very low-key, nothing crazy.”

I hesitantly followed Tristan out the door and to the fraternity house.

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