FOREVER 1 - Beginnings
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2014 - 2015. All rights reserved.
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2014 - 2015. All rights reserved.
from Dune (1984) by Frank Herbert, David Lynch
I got through security pretty quickly with my priority boarding for First Class. The trams which take you out to the gates were crammed with travelers coming and going. I was standing next to a buff cute blond guy with greenish blue eyes and a skin tight t-shirt stretched over his pecs. I tried not to drool on his shoes. At one point I felt a hand on my ass. I'm pretty sure it was his from the look he was giving me, but it could have just been someone else who lost their balance in the rocking train. Sadly I moved to get out at Concourse B and he stayed behind. Too bad. I was feeling flirty again.
I arrived at gate B50 a little before 6. The flight to Chicago departed at 7:10, so I had a little time, and I walked around the concourse, exploring. A late breakfast and an early lunch left me feeling a little hungry now. I only had the seven dollars in my wallet, but I was also walking around with an additional thousand in an envelope in my duffle, so I found a bathroom, went into a stall, and quietly transferred a hundred dollars in twenties to my wallet. I could feel the unusual extra thickness of the leather tri-fold in my back pocket. The remaining cash I left in the duffle bag, which was never leaving my sight now. Armed with fresh funds, I went in search of fresh food.
Near the center of the concourse I found the Cantina Grill and had three steak tacos and some chips and salsa, washed down with a Diet Coke. It was surprisingly delicious for airport food. Afterwards, I walked across to Ben & Jerry's and had some chocolate ice cream. Boring, but yummy just the same.
When I got back to my gate after my dinner run, it was packed with fellow passengers. Every chair was taken, and many had given up and were sitting, and in some cases, laying, on the floor wherever they could find a few feet of empty space. I don't know how big this plane was, but it was going to be packed. Another reason to be grateful for First Class.
As I looked around for a place to sit, my eyes locked on a middle aged couple. She was crying silently, her red rimmed eyes betraying her sadness. Her partner has also been crying, I thought, but at the moment was clearly aggravated about something, angry at some unknown circumstance or person. He was trying to explain something to his wife, but I could tell she wasn't listening.
I forced myself to look away, but it made my heart sad. Maybe because I had had such a great day and was feeling relaxed and, dare I say it, kind of happy, I just didn't want anyone flying with me to be upset. But there was nothing I could do to calm their emotions.
A couple of minutes later, I saw the gate agent at the counter reach for the microphone to make an announcement.
"Ladies and gentlemen, for those of you waiting in the B50 gate area to board United flight 782, there has been a schedule change. Due to severe weather currently in Chicago, our flight has been delayed for approximately 30 minutes. We will update you again just as soon as we know more, and thank you for your patience. Please remain in the gate area in case there are additional changes."
I heard the sad woman let out a wail of frustration and watched as she pushed her way through the crowd towards the main walkway, showing no regard for who or what she may be stepping on. This woman was seriously hurting. I saw her head for the women's restroom across the concourse, her husband hot on her heels, juggling both of their carryon bags and apologizing to everyone he tried to get past.
Since I had never found a seat, I walked over to where he was standing, waiting for his wife with a perplexed, defeated look on his face. I felt compelled to try and help somehow, but I had no clue as to what I could do.
"Rough night?" I asked gently.
"What...oh...yeah, you could say that. Our daughter is having emergency surgery tonight in Chicago and this is the only flight left to get us there. I'm worried sick about her. My son Greg called and said all he knew was she was in a car accident and was taken to the emergency room. He's supposed to pick us up at the airport." He was near tears again.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?" It sounds good to ask, but really, what could I do? I was at the mercy of United same as he.
"Not unless you can get the stuck up bitch at the gate to change our seats. We got the last two seats available on this flight, but we are sitting way far apart. My wife needs me – she is seriously losing it and I don't know how to help her. The delay has just about sent her over the edge I think. I need to get us to Chicago, and I really need to be with her on the plane."
"I take it you have explained the situation to the gate agent but no dice?"
"Three times. But she keeps saying they are overbooked and some people won't get seats at all and I should be happy I have a seat tonight. Then she says there's nothing she can do. Look at her, just standing there doing nothing now." She did indeed appear to be doing nothing from where we were standing.
I don't know why, but I suddenly wanted to try to do something for this couple. I couldn't imagine the fear and anxiety of having your son or daughter needing surgery and you are so far away. I couldn't get them to Chicago any faster, or fix the weather, but I needed to find a way to help somehow.
I stuck out my hand. "My name is Jack, by the way."
"Adam...Adam Colson. And this is my wife, Mary Beth," he said, just as she walked out of the bathroom. She saw him and stepped over, looking a little better now. She had washed her face, brushed her long auburn hair, and was slightly calmer. The agitation and worry was still pinging all over her face, though. She paid me no real attention. I didn't mind. She had more important things to think about.
"Adam, I'm sorry for falling apart. I just don't know what to do. Jennifer needs me and I can't get to her. She'll never forgive me." Her tears started flowing again. Most likely she would never forgive herself. It was heart breaking.
"There, there, honey. We'll get there in time. Until then we have to trust the doctors know how to help her. She'll understand, I promise." He was saying the right words, but they were little comfort. She buried her face in his chest and sobbed quietly. He looked up at me with pleading eyes, as if to say, "Do something man, I'm drowning here."
"Excuse me one minute, Adam. I'll be right back." He nodded, not really caring if I returned or not, and went back to speaking softly to Mary Beth and rubbing her back while she cried.
I walked over to the now idle gate agent, trying to think of something. As I approached she looked up at me with pursed lips where a smile should have been, and said in a cold tone, "Can I help you with something?" Clearly I was just another person to aggravate her tonight. I understand serving the public can be a royal pain, especially when nerves are shot and delays are mounting; patience can wear thin. But hers was non-existent.
"Yes, actually, I hope you can. I would like to know if there are two seats open in First Class on this flight."
"I doubt it, but I'll check." How helpful of her. Hope she didn't break a nail on the keyboard.
"No sir. Just as I thought. We only have one seat open in first – 4B." I looked at my boarding pass – my seat was 4A. Which meant the seat next to me was empty. Now I had a plan. Would the agent play along?
"Ma'am," I said, being as sweet as I could be. "My seat is 4A. Could I give my seat to another passenger, and then buy the empty seat next to it for another passenger?"
"Well, it would be highly irregular. I don't think it will work. We have already printed the inflight passenger manifests and I don't think I can change any seats at this time. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to make a call." She turned her back to me, and reached for a phone. I couldn't believe the audacity, but willed myself to remain calm. There had to be somebody who could help.
I scanned the surrounding area. There was another desk across the concourse with a sign above it reading "Customer Service". There was a handsome looking guy standing there with his head down, working on his computer. He had one passenger in front of him, waiting. He looked up, spoke to the passenger, and judging by the relief on her face, he must have solved a serious problem for her. She walked away smiling. Maybe this was my angel helper.
I nearly ran over and stood before him. Up close, he was in his late 30s, with short, medium-brown hair, and an average build. Nothing to excite me, but I wasn't there to flirt – I needed real help.
"Can I help you, young man?" he asked. His name tag identified him as Kevin. He seemed eager to assist.
"I certainly hope so, Kevin. The woman over at Gate 50 wouldn't help at all."
He looked across and grimaced, seemingly not surprised. "What do you need? Worried about missing a connection in Chicago?"
"No, no. Nothing like that. I want to give my seat to another passenger and buy the empty seat next to it for his wife. Can I do that somehow?"
"Let me see your boarding pass, and I'll look into it." I handed it over, hoping against hope. He started typing on his computer.
"Well, Mr. Schaeffer, I see you are in Seat 4A. Seat 4B is definitely open. Now you want to give up your seat and then pay the fare for 4B?"
"Yes, can I?" He hadn't said no yet.
"And how will you be getting to Chicago tonight, Mr. Schaeffer?" I hadn't thought of needing my own seat still. I was too busy trying to help out Adam and Mary Beth.
"Well, the other two people I'm doing this for are already on this flight. Could I just swap seats with them and then pay to upgrade the other to First?"
"I might be able to do so. Do you know their names?" I told him. He typed some more into his computer, looked at the screen, then typed some more. Finally he looked up.
"Here's what I can do. I can't do a simple swap of seats – security pays close attention this close to departure, and the manifests are posted to the system. What I can do, however, is cancel your seat, then apply the cost of your ticket to a full fare coach seat for you, with the remainder going to help pay for the upgrades to First for the other two passengers. Is this what you want to do?"
Oh crap! His idea sounded super expensive. But then I remembered my brand new Amex Centurion card. I pulled it out and handed it over quickly, before either one of us changed our minds. His eyes opened wide when he saw the card.
"Very well, Mr. Schaeffer. Let me work some magic in the computers and see if I can't make this happen for you." Sometimes you just have to find the right person.
While he typed away, I saw the gate agent across the concourse staring daggers at me. Right about now she was probably figuring I was attempting an end run around her dodge. She was overtly smirking at me, certain I would fail. Really? All she had to do tonight was take pleasure in not helping someone? Disgusting.
"Okay, Mr. Schaeffer. I think this last update will just about do it. I applied the cost of your current ticket to the cost of the upgrades, and unfortunately for you, the downgrade, and the balance charged on your card was $1,274.00." The look on my face must have conveyed my shock. I had never spent so much money unless I was paying college tuition. It was more than the down payment on my car.
"That is what you wanted me to do, correct, Mr. Schaeffer?"
I recovered quickly. I hoped Todd wouldn't be mad at me. "Yes, yes. It's fine, Kevin. Thank you so much for your help. I do have one more request, if I can?"
"Sure, what is it?"
"Well, I just met this couple a few minutes ago. Their daughter was in a car accident and they are trying to get to her in Chicago. They're pretty upset. I don't really want them to know I did this. Is there a way you can let them know and leave me out of it? Maybe you could tell them United decided to assist them in a one-time special way because of their circumstance or something."
"I see. Well, let me say this was extraordinarily generous on your part to help them. I'll tell you what. Leave it to me. I'll print all three new boarding passes here. In fact, let me do it right now." He started clicking away again and soon three new boarding passes printed below him. He handed me mine – 24D – and then held onto the Colsons'.
"Can you point them out to me? I'd rather not draw attention by calling them to the desk."
I showed him where they were sitting, Mary Beth leaning on Adam's left shoulder, her eyes closed. He described them back to me so he knew he had the right couple, then scooted around the counter and sauntered over to them. He must have asked to see their old boarding passes; I saw Adam hand them over. I could imagine Kevin looking at the boarding passes, saying there must have been some mistake, and then he reached into his pocket and gave them the new First Class passes.
Even from where I was standing, I could see the wonder and surprise on both their faces. Then more tears of relief as they realized they could now sit together on the flight. I had a few tears of my own, which I quickly wiped away with my shirt sleeve as Kevin returned. His eyes looked a little moist as well.
"That was the best part of my day. Hell, my month. Thank you, Mr. Schaeffer. I try to help people all the time, but I seldom get to see the impact of something like what you did here tonight. You're a good man, indeed. They are fortunate to have met you this evening, as am I."
Now I was a little embarrassed. "Kevin, I'm just fortunate to have the resources to help out a little bit. I couldn't have done it without you. You're the one who made it happen when no one else would help."
"Thank you, but I think you sell yourself short there. I don't know of one in a thousand who have the resources and could help, who would actually do it. I stand by what I said. You are definitely one of the good guys, Mr. Schaeffer."
I blushed. "Thank you again for your help, Kevin."
"My pleasure, Mr. Schaeffer. Have a pleasant flight. It looks like the delay will be lifted soon. You should be underway shortly."
Sure enough, passengers were lining up to board at the gate. I saw Adam and Mary Beth standing in the line for First Class, his arm around her, holding her close. This was a guy who loved his wife. It felt good to know I had helped lessen his sense of impotence in the face of an impossible situation. He could now give his wife the support and love she needed, and hopefully their daughter would be okay.
When they handed their boarding passes to the agent, she got a surprised look on her face, but thankfully she didn't say anything to them. They passed into the jet way arm in arm.
After nearly everyone else had boarded, my group – Group 5 – was called. When I handed my boarding pass to the agent she looked at and gave it back to me with a disgusted look on her face. I didn't care. I won, she lost, and there was a couple on this plane who could hold each other's hands and pray for their daughter who needed them. Where I sat meant nothing.
Every seat was filled, and as I had feared, 24D was a middle seat more than halfway back. The overhead bins were full, so I crammed my duffle under the seat in front of me. It only had dirty clothes in it. And my stash of cash. Under my feet was a good place for it.
My seat mates were an interesting pair. The man on my right, by the window, was an older gentleman, with a full head of white hair and a trimmed, white beard. He had the air of a college professor about him. He already had a thick book out on his lap, reading with his finger moving under the words across the page. The lady on the aisle to my left was of like age. She too had white hair, carefully styled to match her expensive looking travelling clothes. Even crammed into a coach seat in the back, she was the kind of lady who would put her best foot forward and always try to look her best. I realized I admired her for it and vowed inwardly to try and imitate her efforts.
Safety talk completed, they dimmed the lights and we were soon airborne. The pilot came on and said he hoped to make up some of the 30 minute delay in the air. I smiled, hoping Mary Beth Colson in 4B took some comfort in his announcement. I reclined my seat and closed my eyes. I'd be home in a few short hours. I fell asleep.
I woke up sometime later when the flight attendants were handing out tiny bags of peanuts and drinks in small plastic cups. I ate my 12 peanuts – yes, I counted – and drank my 4 sips of water – I counted those too – and thought about the past two days. My life would never be the same. What direction it took was what I needed to decide. I had options – a lot of options, now.
And I had new friends; they felt almost like family to me. I really had no idea how it happened. I was a stranger who they were all supposed to help as part of their jobs, nothing more. But somehow they got into my heart, and I in theirs. I missed Billy and Sharon, and even Clyde, already. Sitting there on the plane, I realized for the first time the pain of being separated from the ones you care about. When I had moved to Chicago, I felt none of these feelings. I was glad to be escaping my former life; there were no regrets in the departure.
It was their care and affection for me which helped me drop my guard and admit to Billy and Sharon I was gay. Instead of thinking I was a freak, they embraced me all the more. I had come to realize I could be gay and still be a good person. Money can buy a lot of things, but that revelation was priceless to me.
Helping the Colsons made me feel really good inside, too. Almost without thinking, I had used my new found riches to do something to help someone else – I'd swung the hammer and hit the nail on the head. Compared to what their daughter was facing, it was a small thing, but I was pretty sure it meant a lot to Adam and Mary Beth in the moment, and even if all it did was relieve some of the intense emotional pressure for a few hours, then it was worth it.
My reverie was broken when I happened to see a vision of hotness near the front of my cabin. Seth, the golden haired flight attendant from my earlier flight, was standing up there, talking seriously with another attendant. They each had clipboards and seemed to be comparing them to one another. Just looking at him from far away brought back the memories of our flirting from the other night. I sighed, realizing I had given up more than a First Class dinner and more legroom. I could have had Seth to look at all night. But it was okay. I had done the right thing – and when you do the right thing, it may cost you something. It doesn't mean it's not right.
I watched as Seth was now running his finger up and down the other attendant's clipboard, searching for something. His finger finally stopped on a specific spot on the board, and then he looked up, right at me. And he smiled big and wide. He knew I could see him, so he motioned with his finger for me to come up where he was standing. How could I resist? Anything to un-pretzel myself for a few minutes, and besides, it was Seth. And he wanted me.
He watched me as I walked up the aisle, his eyes moving up and down my body. Mine were doing the same to his. In the dim lights he looked even sexier than I remembered. I hoped my hardening dick wasn't showing in my pants. When I got to him he reached out to grab my arm and pulled me into the galley area and out of the aisle.
"Jack! I can't believe it. You're a sight for sore eyes." He was visibly vibrating with excitement.
"Seth, it's great to see you. I didn't know you were on this flight."
"I'm stuck in First again. Speaking of which, when I boarded I saw your name on the First Class manifest, but then you didn't board. I was so disappointed. I was looking forward to a fun flight with you again." He was grinning ear to ear and his eyes were sparkling with a special light again. What the hell was that?
"Yeah, well, I ended up back in coach. Sorry, long story."
"Wait a minute...4A and 4B...husband and wife. They've been crying off and on all flight. Did you have something to do with that? When I was serving them dinner they said something about how wonderful it was for the airline to get them two seats together, and to upgrade them to First. Let me guess? United didn't do it – you did. You swapped seats. You were supposed to be in 4A."
I blushed in embarrassment. "Yeah, well, they are a nice couple who needed to catch a break. They've had some really bad news and it was the only thing I could think of to do for them." I told him the rest of the little I knew of the Colsons.
"You know, Jack. I said it the other night, and I'll say it again. You're a special guy. You do the kindest things. When they told me about their seat change, I wondered if you had changed as well. Our count was correct. So I came back to check. And I found you. And I've got some exciting news I just have to tell you, since you played a big part in it."
I could not imagine what I had done for Seth, except run him ragged fetching glasses of water so I could lust after his ass. Seth gently grabbed my arm and pushed me closer to the airplane wall and away from the aisle for more privacy.
"So Jack, remember the other night when I told you I really appreciated how good you made me feel, flirting and watching me all night? No, don't be embarrassed. I loved it. I mean it. So much so it inspired me to do something I had needed to do for a long time. You see, I had been separated for three months from my boyfriend after being together with him for over two years. I was having an extremely difficult time letting go, even though I was the one who ended it. I loved Tim – so much. But...he didn't love me the same way. I couldn't even get him to move in with me. So Wednesday night, I was feeling better about myself than I had in a really long time. I decided I could do it. There were other guys out there who could love me, maybe even this hunk I met on my flight, Jack." Now I was severely blushing – I hoped he couldn't see it in the dim lights. Did he just call me a hunk?
"So I got home, poured some wine, put on some music, and just chilled, feeling on top of the world. I could make choices again. Then there's this knock on the door. It's late, who could it be? Well, it's Tim. I let him in and ask him what he wants – he says I want you, Seth. I want us to be an "us" again. And, Jack, it was the hardest thing I ever did, because a huge part of me wanted to take him back on the spot, but I didn't. I listened to him give his reasons why we were perfect for each other – all of which are true by the way – and then dropped the bomb on him. There's only one problem, Tim, you don't love me – not the way I love you. I want the whole deal, not just sex and fun times. I'm tired of waiting for you to commit to this relationship and be all in. Good and bad, fun and shit times. All of it. And I'm not living alone anymore. So I'm sorry, but the answer is no. I need to move on and find someone who can love me that way and I can love them the same way in return.
"He goes quiet with this shocked look on his face, and I show him to the door. I tell you, Jack, when I closed the door I thought I was closing it on Tim forever. I cried and cried, but it was good, you know, like a cleansing. I know it sounds sappy, but that's how it felt.
"The next day was my day off, so I'm just hanging out, eating a pizza and watching basketball. The doorbell rings, and it's Tim again, only this time he's got flowers, wine, and a request. Would I just hear him out? I thought, fine, why not, so I let him in. He proceeds to tell me how sorry he is for being selfish and afraid to move forward. He had been hurt pretty badly in a previous relationship when a guy abandoned him with no warning or explanation, never to see him again. He had never told me this story. I think he was embarrassed about it. Anyway, he tells me he absolutely loves me, can't imagine not having me in his life, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. And Jack, he gets down on one knee right there in my living room and opens up a ring. He asked me to marry him! I'm engaged, Jack. I'm getting married!" He held up his left hand, and sure enough, there was a beautiful platinum band around his ring finger.
He was so happy, giddy even, and I was happy for him. Disappointed for myself, but I was just being selfish. Seth deserved more than flirting and lustful desire from afar. He deserved Tim, from the sound of it.
"Seth, that's fantastic. I'm so happy for you. Are you sure this is what you want?"
"Oh, yes, Jack. I'm sure. Tim and I are perfect for each other. Always have been. I just didn't know why he was holding back. We talked a long time yesterday – and well into the night – and I promised him I would never abandon him like the other guy had done. He really was so scared it was all going to happen again. But now we are together forever, and I have you to thank for it, Jack."
"Me? What did I do?"
"You gave me the courage to stand up for myself; to believe I deserved to be loved completely. Tim told me later it was my standing up for love which convinced him he had to make things right between us. Do you know he had had the ring for two months, trying to decide if he could do it or not? He's so sweet. Oh God, Jack. I so love that man. And I know now he really, really loves me."
Just then, the curtain separating First Class and Coach was thrown open and another flight attendant popped through.
"Seth! There you are. It's time to start final prep." She was looking at us, standing unnecessarily close together. Clearly she did not like what she was looking at. "Maybe you can give some of the other passengers a moment of your time instead of flirting with this one and being generally inappropriate."
Seth saw the angry look rise on my face, so before I could say anything, he held up a hand to calm me and turned to face her. "Sure thing, Angie. I'll be right there. Just helping this passenger with a connection issue." He waved his clipboard at her, like a missed flight is what we had been discussing. More like a missed opportunity on a love life. Angie turned in a huff and disappeared through the curtain.
"Well, Jack. Gotta go back to the grind. I'm so glad I got to see you again tonight. I really can't thank you enough for what you did for me."
I was happy for Seth. He was getting what he always wanted. What I wanted. I was sad for me, though, and it must have shown on my face.
"Jack, don't look so down, man. I think you are an amazing guy, and if Tim and I hadn't worked things out, you and I might be having a very different kind of conversation tonight. You are a special guy, Jack. And I know there's an amazing guy out there looking for you. You'll find him. And he will be the luckiest son of a bitch ever." He smiled, and then did something completely airline inappropriate. He hugged me tightly. It felt so good. I didn't want to let go, but I also didn't want to get him in trouble.
I stepped back and looked into his eyes. "I really am happy for you, Seth. I hope you and Tim have a wonderful life together. It's been fun hanging out with you on the plane. And thanks for sharing your good news. I mean it. It gives me hope."
"Sure thing, buddy. Take care." And then he was gone. I returned to my seat and squeezed back in. I was so ready for this flight to be over.
We landed a short while later and arrived at our gate only 5 minutes late. I could see a pretty fierce rain coming down through the plane windows. I was going to get wet finding my car for sure. I sighed, and sat back waiting for all the passengers seated in front of me to deplane. Finally it was our turn. I helped the lady on my left take down her carry-on bag, for which she thanked me sweetly, then put my duffle over my shoulder and headed up the aisle. I looked for him, but no Seth again. Oh well.
My four sips of water had not put any pressure on my bladder, but I figured I'd better make a pit stop anyway, before getting out there in the weather soup. I came out of the bathroom and saw Adam and Mary Beth Colson just a few yards in front of me. Call me ghoulish, but I was curious about the outcome of their daughter's surgery. But I couldn't exactly go up and ask them. They may not even know yet.
I decided to follow them to baggage claim. I could stand there, even though I had no baggage, without drawing attention to myself. So I did. I stayed behind them the whole way. Adam was trying unsuccessfully to get someone on his cell phone and he was clearly frustrated about it. We rode the escalator down to the baggage level and I followed them to carousel 4. I stood off to the side, maybe 15 feet away from the Colsons.
We were only standing there maybe three minutes, waiting for the bags to arrive, when there was a shout behind us."Mom! Dad!" Everyone turned, but it was Mary Beth who took off running toward the shouter.
"Oh, Greg. How is she? Is she alright? Tell me, is she alright?" She was holding onto the sides of his face, daring him to look anywhere else and not give her the answer she desperately needed.
"Yeah, Mom. Jen is gonna be fine. She had a ruptured spleen, which they removed, and took care of a couple of stitches, but that's it. She'll be good as new in no time."
The family just stood there and hugged one another, tears of relief flowing freely. My own face felt wet. I decided then and there real love made me cry. It was a good feeling. To see a family who cared so much about one another, who lived for one another. I wanted that. I needed that.
There was nothing more I could do there, so I followed the signs which led me up to the parking lot trams and jumped on one at the last second as the doors were closing. When we arrived out at the parking lot, it seemed especially dark and dreary, despite all the lights illuminating the cars, with torrents of rain falling. I got my jacket out of my duffle, and saw the envelope of cash. My new toolbox.
I zipped up my jacket and trotted out into the rain. I have a pretty good memory for placement of things, kind of like a built in GPS system, so I found my car with no effort. I got in and immediately had a puddle of nearly ice cold water on the floor mat below my feet. I got the heater going and by the time I got home I had unzipped the jacket and could just about feel my toes again.
My apartment was my apartment. Nothing had changed. But as I stepped through the door, I had a vague sense it was somehow empty. Something was now missing, something I had not been aware of before. But I was too tired and wet to care. I didn't even unpack. I threw the duffle on the floor in my bedroom, ripped off my clothes, and slid under the sheets. I slept like the dead.
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