We really wouldn’t keep you waiting in suspense that long, now would we?
Day 10: A GIFT FOR 4XAMOM FROM EYS1214
BETAED BY MSSTITCHER
Every muscle in my body went rigid at the sound of the voice coming from the door.
“Mommy!” Basti shrieked, bounding off the couch, as he jogged toward the woman I couldn’t get myself to look at.
This couldn’t be real. She couldn’t be here. Pam would have told me if…
‘I’ll make you pay for this later.’
This was my retribution?
My head spun wildly as I turned around just in time to see Basti leaping into her arms.
“Am I in trouble?” Basti asked timidly, laying it on thick with his teeny tiny voice.
“No, punkin, you’re not,” she hummed, brushing Basti’s hair off from his face.
“Then why did you call me Eric? You only do that when you’re mad.”
My eyes widened as my legs buckled, icy fingers circling around my heart. I had to hold on to the railing of the bed to keep myself upright.
‘I have two names…’
Basti’s other name was… Eric?
‘I like your chin dimple… my dad has one too.’
‘…my dad gets red when he’s crabby.’
“There you are Red!” Pam’s voice pealed as she came dashing through the door. “You gave Auntie Ginger a scare. You should go and say sorry.”
I darted my eyes to Pam, who blanched as I glowered at her. They set me up. Both of them.
‘Every time we visit Auntie Pam, this is where we sleep. I like it here. I can see the sea and the sun.’
I felt invisible fists pummel my chest. How long had this been going on?
My hands clenched at my sides. They had sent this boy to meet me so they could mess with my fucking head. This was all a big joke to them. The hands pounding at me belonged to my oldest friend and the woman who had destroyed me – still destroying me – piece by fucking piece.
I inched forward, my eyes glued on Sookie. Pam darted in front and extended her arms to Sookie as she reached for Basti, running interference.
“C’mon, Red let’s get you back to bed.”
“But I want Mommy to tuck me in,” Basti whined, burying his face in the crook of Sookie’s neck, arms looped possessively around his mother.
“Go with Auntie Pam, baby. I’ll be right behind you, m’kay?” She kissed Basti’s forehead and handed the child to Pam. Basti pouted his lips but grudgingly obliged.
“Ten minutes, m’kay?” Basti held up both hands, fingers splayed to show ten little digits.
“Ten,” Sookie nodded, rubbing the tip of her nose with his.
I stared at them. At her.
I waited for the thud of the closing door before I stalked her.
She couldn’t hold my gaze, tugging the hem of her thin sweater. “I didn’t know you were here. Pam didn’t tell me you were —”
“That’s all you can say?” I gritted out, cutting her off. My voice was so low I was afraid she wouldn’t hear me.
She opened her mouth and shut it again, inhaling long and hard. “What do you want me to say?”
“Why don’t you start by telling me who that boy’s father is?” I wasn’t stupid. I could feel it, knew it deep in my bones the second I saw Basti run to her arms.
But I needed to hear it from her.
“I wanted to tell you,” she whispered, her voice sounded like sandpaper. It was as good as admitting her crime.
“Why didn’t you?” I roared.
“I couldn’t find you!”
“That’s your excuse? You chose another man. You let him raise my child. And somehow this is my fault?”
She squeezed her eyes shut, tears streaking down her face.
“Look. At. Me.”
She forced her eyes open and lasered in on me – glazed blue eyes gripped my heart and crushed it. I couldn’t breathe.
“I couldn’t find you,” she repeated weakly.
“I came back for you,” I painfully admitted as I latched on both her arms. “I came back for you and you chose Sam. I could have given you everything. I could have given him everything.”
She sagged into my grasp, chest rising and falling as she sobbed. “I’ve made a mistake and I’ve been paying for it for the last five years. I’ve looked for you, Eric. God knows I’ve looked for you. I even went to see Sophie-Ann when I found out I was pregnant, but she wouldn’t tell me where you were. She said you weren’t at L&E anymore.”
My blood ran cold. Sophie-Ann. That fucking bitch.
“I wanted to tell you, Eric,” Sookie hushed. “I wanted to go to Sweden to look for you but…” she trailed, unable to say anything else.
“But you’re married to Sam,” I finished for her.
She shook her head. “Gran was dying.”
I staggered back, my grip on her loosened.
“The day I asked you to come back was the day she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.”
I remembered it so vividly because I kept replaying the conversation we had over and over in my head. It was the beginning of our demise. I could recall the desperation in her voice when she asked me to come home. The throaty plea before I hung up the phone. I was so wrapped up in my own problems – in my own pain – that I failed to see hers.
“You were right, Eric, I sold out. I married Sam for money. He needed a green card and Gran needed treatment. So I married him and he paid for Gran’s chemo. My only consolation was that Gran lived long enough to see my son, our son.”
My chest constricted. Somehow hearing those words made it all too real. It magnified everything. All the hurt, all the anger, all the frustration, but most of all… all the love I had for her. It was all too much to take that it unhinged me. I felt myself trembling.
“Why didn’t you just ask me for the money?”
She stared at me with unblinking eyes. “I couldn’t.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “Gran was dying and you still cared more about your damned pride?”
“It wasn’t my pride!” she screamed. “I was protecting you!”
“Me?” I forced a bitter laugh as I banged my palms together. “Well the fuck done, Sookie. I didn’t get hurt at all.”
“Alcide told me about the accident.”
I blinked. Alcide? “What’re you talking about?”
“After you left for Sweden Alcide started dropping by the bar every other week. He said you asked him to keep tabs on me. I didn’t believe that for a second but I also didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to get jealous for no reason. So I just ignored him while Tara charged him double for his drinks. When you broke up with me, I was devastated. My entire world was caving in. I didn’t show up for work in weeks. So he went to my house. I refused to talk to him until he told me that you were in trouble– that the company was in hot water because of your negligence. He said if things went south with the Swedish government, L&E would go bankrupt. I thought he was lying so I went to see Sophie-Ann the next day and she showed me the damage report.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Alcide, Sophie-Ann’s motherfucking lapdog, had been spying on Sookie. I knew Sophie-Ann wanted me on a tight leash but I never thought she’d go to such an extent to keep me in line.
“I knew you were in trouble, Eric. That’s why I didn’t ask you for money.”
I clamped my teeth together. “You thought I was worthless, so you asked Sam for help instead.”
Her eyes turned to slits. “I did!” she cried. “Is that what you wanna hear? I did. I took Sam’s money and let you think I was a whore. I took his money and let you fuck me in his bar. I took his money and let you walk away from me. I was that desperate. I was that cheap.”
The echoed insult made me wince. The venomous words I said out of spite five years ago came back to haunt me.
She wept, collapsing in my arms as she palmed her face. How could I keep hurting her this much and still claimed to love her? I’d never felt so disgusted with myself. My knees gave out and I leaned into her. At this point, there was no telling who was holding whom.
The tiny voice startled me. I whipped my head around as Sookie snapped hers up to see the face of the boy rubbing his bleary eyes at the door.
“Basti!” Pam came rushing in, hands tugging up the waistband of her skinny pants. “Sorry, I was in the bathroom when he slipped out.”
Pam scooped the child up but the boy flailed his arms and lolled his head back, wailing to go down.
“No, Auntie Pam,” Basti pealed. “Put me down, I want my mommy!”
Sookie twisted out of my grasp, mopping her cheeks with the back of her hand. “S’okay, Pam.”
Pam darted her eyes to me then to Sookie before she handed her the crying boy.
“What’s wrong Mommy?” Basti asked, dabbing Sookie’s eyes with his tiny fluttering fingers. “Why’re you crying? Are you two fighting? I heard you screaming. Did he make you cry?” The boy stabbed me with a look.
My heart sank. It was one thing to be hated. But to be hated by the son I never knew existed was a different kind of hell.
She sighed and curved her lips, plastering a fake smile. “No, honey. I’m okay. We’re okay. Mommy’s just so excited to see my… your…” She shook her head, struggling for words. “How about we open some presents now? How’s that sound?”
Basti’s eyes lingered on me for a few more seconds, but the allure of Christmas gifts seemed far too tempting for his young mind to resist.
“M’kay,” Basti hushed.
Sookie bobbed her head and kissed Basti’s temple before they marched out of the door. She didn’t look back. I was thankful for that because I didn’t want her to see the tears rimming my eyes as I watched my past and my future disappear.
They went downstairs while I stayed behind in the room. I needed to gather my thoughts, to process everything I’d learned.
I sank back on the couch and opened the window. The cool breeze from the beach fanned my face, drying the tears that traitorously spilled down my cheeks. Seven Christmases ago, I thought I had everything planned out. The blueprint of my life was perfectly laid out — every crucial dimension measured and designed to create a homogenous platform.
“I really thought I got you the perfect gift this time,” Pam muttered as she walked toward me.
Pam had never been known to give perfect presents so what she lacked in creativity she made up for with extravagance. She plopped beside me on the couch, the sides of our knees bumping against each other. I kept my eyes on the ocean and she mirrored my stance.
“How long have you known?” I asked without looking at her.
“Three years.” She pulled both knees to her chest and leaned against the wall. “She popped up in my shop and asked me point blank if I knew where you were. I told her to fuck off.”
Pam was privy to my brief reunion with Sookie five years ago and she never hid her disgust toward her.
“I’m guessing she didn’t.”
Pam snickered. “Oh she did. I didn’t. I had Ginger follow her after she left the shop. She was staying with her cousin in Pasadena. I gave her a call and we met up for coffee. We’d talked about you. I told her what she did was shitty and she burst out crying in the middle of Starbucks!”
Pam snickered, recalling a happy memory that I couldn’t relate to.
“Coffee turned to dinner and then drinks. She was hammered by the time I drove her back to Hadley’s house and that was when I met little Red. That boy’s a freaking tornado; squealing and running when he saw his mommy. I swear I’d never seen anyone sober up that quickly when that boy jumped in to her arms. He’s better than a shot of espresso. I used to call him teacup human.”
Pam took a breath and smiled.
“One look at Red and I knew he was yours. And you’re a stupid fuck if you ever doubt that.”
I shot daggers at Pam. She merely shrugged them off.
“Two days later, they went back to Shreveport. She moved there permanently as soon as the annulment was finalized. Then —”
“What do you mean annulment?”
“I’ll tell you if you just let me finish my damned story.”
I gave Pam my best don’t-fuck-with-me glare; she remained unfazed.
“Okay, here’s everything you need to know. Sam was hooking up with Tara when his prick of a brother blackmailed him. The obvious solution was for Tara to marry him, right? But Tara was apparently still legally married to some dickhead named Mickey from her slutty days. Sookie, with her perfect timing, went to ask Sam for a loan for Gran’s treatment. Instead of loaning her the money, Sam and Tara offered Sookie a deal instead.”
I clenched my jaw. “Fuck.”
“I know. Some friends, right?”
“One year. She had to be married to Sam for a year. That would buy them enough time to hunt down Tara’s loser husband and divorce him so she could marry Sam and his Canadian ass. In return, Sam would pay for Gran’s round of chemo in Shreveport.”
“Shreveport has the best cancer facility in Louisiana. Jason and Gran moved to Bossier while Sookie, who dropped out of college, stayed in Bon Temps. The quickie marriage put Sam under heavy scrutiny from the INS so no one outside of Sookie, Jason, Tara and Sam knew about Gran’s health issue and the deal they made. If INS found out that Sam was bankrolling Gran’s treatment, his application might have been questioned and possibly denied.”
“Sookie and Sam were never together together?”
Pam shook her head. “I wished I had known that sooner. I could’ve saved you both a lot of heartaches. I knew their marriage was a sham, I didn’t realize how nuanced it was until I saw her again and gave me the deets.” She picked up the book on the couch and ran her fingers along the cover. “She’s a writer now. She just signed a three-book contract; this is her first. It’s her love letter to you. Your girl’s legit, Eric. She picked up where she left of and took night classes at Bossier Community College after Red was born. Her English professor saw her potential and offered her an internship in a publishing house. Two years later Sookie got her name on the cover. She even took your name – well… sort of.”
Pam took my hand, turned up my palm and slipped Sookie’s book in it.
“She loved you, she still does. She never gave up on you, Eric. If she had, she never would’ve found you.”
I whipped my head at Pam, “She was the one that found me?”
“She made cold calls to every architecture firms in Sweden. She hit pay dirt with Thalia three months ago.”
North Designs had been operating under a different name to give it a low profile for the first three years. I didn’t want it to make a blip in Sophie-Ann’s radar until I was certain it had enough backbone to take a beating should Sophie-Ann decided to retaliate. That was probably why it took Sookie this long to find me.
“Why didn’t she talk to me sooner? Why didn’t Thalia tell me? Why wasn’t —”
“Because she wasn’t sure if you were ready to forgive her yet. ‘Sides how do you think that conversation would go? ‘Hey bozo, remember that time you fucked me in the bar? You banged me so hard a baby popped out of my—”
“I get it,” I cut her off, wincing slightly. “So this, all of this was her plan?”
“Oh no. This is all me. I thought you two are so fucked up you needed to be taught a lesson. They have spent the past two Christmases with me, the only thing I had to do was get your ass here. They were having a picnic at the beach when you came. And Red was my unwitting accomplice. I told him he left Thor in this room, knowing he wouldn’t be able to sleep without his precious Asgardian.”
“You could’ve told me.”
“I have a flair for the dramatic.”
“This isn’t drama, Pam. This is a fucking disaster. I could’ve handled it differently.”
“I seriously doubt that. Remember when I told you she married Sam, you were so fucking furious I thought you’d crawl out of the phone and beat the living shit out of me.”
I lowered my gaze, shameful of my actions. “I was mad.”
“I know. To be honest, I thought you were gonna kill Sam.”
“I wanted to.”
“You almost did. Sookie said you hit Sam so hard he ended up in the emergency room.”
I scoffed. It didn’t seem enough.
“I don’t know what to do. I’ve hated her for so long I don’t know how to stop.”
“Maybe you should start by asking yourself if you love her more than you hate her for what she did.”
That made me pause.
“Just answer this then: if Basti wasn’t yours, would you still want her in your life?”
I glared at Pam. “Basti’s my son.”
“That’s why I said if, Eric, it’s fucking hypothetical. Take Red out of the picture, would you still want her?”
Would I? Would I still feel the same about her? Would I still crave her touch? Would I still ask her to spend all her tomorrows loving me more? The answer was so obvious I didn’t even need to verbalize it.
“I need a drink,” Pam said, swinging her legs off the couch. “You look like you could use one too. And I know a girl who makes a mean old fashioned.” She smiled at me.
In all the years I’d known Pam I had never seen her grin this much.
“The way I see it, Eric, you’ve got two choices. You can stay here and keep your pride or you can go downstairs and claim what’s yours – what has always been yours.”
With that final spiel, Pam marched out of the door.
I fixed my gaze on the book I was holding and flipped it open, turning one page after the other. Then my fingers stilled as I landed on the dedication page.
If I ever cross your mind again, I hope you’ll only remember the good — the times when we were us.
Remember the old fashioned and the mistletoe.
…the limewick and the small notes in the pocket.
…the Christmas mornings and the promise of tomorrows.
Those were real. We were real.
I read it over and over and over until the page became blurry. For the first time in what seemed like forever, I’d finally gotten my closure.
I padded quietly down the stairs and saw Pam sitting on a plush carpet beside an oversized Christmas tree with Basti sleeping soundly on her lap, hugging a leather baseball mitt against his chest.
Pam caught a glimpse of me and pressed a finger on her lips, telling me to hush, before she pointed her thumb toward the next room. My gaze lingered on the boy, lips parted lightly as he snored softly. My boy. My witty little crab, who had stolen my heart even before I knew who he was. My son who had been waiting for me for-e-ver.
Daddy’s home, Basti.
I let myself linger for a couple more minutes before I spun my feet and left.
I found her in the kitchen, a bottle of Glenfiddich in her hand and Angostura bitters in the other.
“Old-fashioned?” I asked, sneaking up behind her, making her jump.
She swivelled to face me. Her eyes still swollen from crying, cheeks and nose pinched red. I wondered if I looked the same. Fuck up one, meet fuck up two.
“Would you like one?” she asked. Her voice was so scratchy that her question came out almost like a croak.
I replied with a slow nod.
She poured the cocktail into a glass and handed it to me. I grabbed it before she could slip her fingers off the tumbler, folding my hand over hers.
For a few heartbeats, she just stared at our clasped hands. Hers was cold, mine was warm.
Then slowly she looked up to meet my eyes, biting her lower lip as her chin shuddered.
“I should’ve fought for you,” I whispered, my own voice threatening to break.
She shook her head. “I never should’ve forced you to leave.”
I smiled ruefully at her. “You couldn’t have forced me to do something I didn’t really want to do in the first place.”
“I lied when I said I didn’t want to hold you back,” she said, looking down at her hands, avoiding my eyes. “The truth was, I was afraid I wouldn’t be enough to keep you happy. I felt the weight of your future on me and it scared the living shit outta me. You had ambition, Eric. I loved that about you. And I wanted that for myself. You made me want to aim higher. When you left, I promised myself I would be a better person. I would prove that I could do bigger things and I wasn’t just a lowly barmaid stuck in a small town. Then shit happened and my insecurities resurfaced. When you asked for a break I thought you’d realized you were too good for me. So I pushed you away and dug myself a deeper hole.”
“I pushed you away. It was my fault.” I held her cheeks between my palms, making her look up to meet my gaze while brushing the endless stream of tears with the pad of my thumbs. I’d kiss them all away but somehow it didn’t feel right. Not yet. “I let myself hold onto my anger because that’s the only way I could let you go. My hate was the only thing that kept me moving forward. I was blinded by my own problems and I lost sight of the big picture. I lost you.”
“You never lost me.” She smiled through her tears. “I never stopped wanting you. When I first spoke to Thalia, I heard your voice and it was as if a part of me flared back to life. Sometimes I’d call Thalia during office hours just so I could hear your voice again. She was more than happy to indulge my pathetic obsession and put me on speaker so I could listen to you bark orders.” She chuckled.
She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “I wish I could tell you how much of me belongs to you, Eric.”
I pressed my forehead against hers and closed my eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” I mumbled, forcing the words out amid the tightening in my chest. “I kept saying you were mine, I forgot to tell you I was yours.”
Next Christmas Eve…
“You better go to sleep, champ. You have a big day tomorrow,” I murmured as I tucked my son in bed.
“But I’m not sleepy yet,” Basti mumbled, fighting off a yawn, his face crumbling into a comical grimace as he clapped his hand over his mouth.
“Sure you’re not,” I deadpanned, rolling my eyes at Sookie who was sitting on the other side of the bed, stifling a grin.
To Pam’s utter dismay, we decided to spend our first Christmas as a family in our new home in Sweden. We had taken permanent residence in Stockholm after the wedding.
Yep, I finally got my wish. It only took me six Christmases but Santa finally crossed me off the naughty list. Two months after our Christmas reunion, Sookie and I made it official. We tied the knot in a small chapel in Shreveport. Pam organized everything from sending out invites right down to our five-tier cake. Sookie never lifted a finger. Her fingers – along with everything else — were already tied up, quite literally.
Basti was my best man and Pam was Sookie’s maid of honor. It took a little while — and a ton of gifts — before Basti grasped the idea that I was his father. I had a feeling the crabby little guy was just milking us for more bribes. He really was my son. I couldn’t be prouder.
Sookie wanted to invite Tara and Sam but it was a hard no for me. If Sam had done the decent thing and let Sookie borrow money instead of roping her in to his puddle of shit, we never would have wasted five years apart. Sure he paid for Gran’s rounds of chemo — which Sookie had paid off staggeringly, by the way — but as far as I was concerned Sam Merlotte was dead to me.
I was also itching to pay Sophie-Ann and Alcide a visit but it was Sookie’s turn to use her veto. What Sophie-Ann did was dastardly but as Sookie so eloquently explained, we were already fucked up even without Sophie-Ann’s help. While Sookie and I had love and passion in spades we didn’t have the patience and the trust that should’ve gone with it. We were tested and we both failed. Given another chance, we both learned our lesson.
We had our honeymoon in Tuscany – Basti requested a place basking in sunshine and surrounded by beaches and Sookie had always wanted to go to Italy. Pam also tagged along. I took a break from work — one of the perks of being the boss was I could call in sick for a few months and no one would dare question me. After the honeymoon, Sookie went on a tour to promote her book. Me and my tiny doppelganger were more than thrilled to be her entourage. I had asked Thalia to put my apartment on sale and start looking for a house. I didn’t want Sookie and Basti to go home to a place plagued with memories of my darker days.
We bought a village house near the water. Basti loved it. He, much like his mother, was a burst of sunshine in a pretty blonde bottle. Sookie, on the other hand, couldn’t care less where we lived, she said we could be living in a shoe box and she still wouldn’t give a damn. I couldn’t believe there was ever a time I imagined my life without her.
Pam, who would be spending Christmas with us this year, had been a regular guest in our house – she even had her own room, right next to Basti’s. She loved her little Red so much she had threatened to move to Sweden for good to be within kidnapping distance of my son. Who knew Pam had a maternal bone in her body?
“Dad,” Basti hummed, his eyes fluttering close. “Are you going back to the North Pole?”
I gave Sookie a look. My sly missus merely lifted her shoulders and eyebrows.
“No, peanut. Daddy’s retired.”
“What does ‘retired’ mean? Does it mean you’re tired again?”
I chuckled. “Yes, Red, that’s it. Years of no days off can tire a man out.”
My boy sighed. “Does it mean I’m not gonna get as many gifts tomorrow?”
I swept strands of stray hair off his forehead and kissed his temple before I whispered, “Don’t worry, bud, Daddy has a pension. I’ve got you covered.”
“What does that mean?”
“Means Santa and I have an agreement, he’ll send as many gifts to you if you do as we say and go to sleep.”
“M’kay,” Basti cooed, grinning happily as Sookie hugged him tight and kissed him good night.
We slipped out quietly and headed downstairs to do some last-minute gift-wrapping.
“You had to say I work for Santa,” I griped as I laid out the wrapping paper on my drafting table.
Sookie chortled as she worked on her own desk, adhesive tape flapping on the edge of her closed laptop. It was our shared workspace. She had a corner by the window, where she had a fantastic view of the water. And I had my drafting table right across from hers, where I could easily look up to gaze at my inspiration. Hands down, my view was a million times better.
“Couldn’t you have told him I was a secret spy instead?”
She sniggered. “It has to be believable.”
I narrowed my eyes at her as I rose up from my chair and stalked over to her. She held up a roll of wrapping paper and waved it like a bat.
“I have a weapon and I’m not afraid to use it, Northman!” she warned.
“What’re you gonna do, wrap me?”
I seized her waist and dragged her down to the carpet where I pinned her arms on top of her stomach while my other hand dug onto the sides of her waist and tickled her. She squealed and writhed under me. By the time my punishment had been properly doled out, she was breathless, with beads of tears in the corners of her eyes.
She wriggled out of my grip but I held her tight before I smashed my lips to hers.
We made out on the floor like it was nobody’s business. We were technically still newlyweds after all.
I drew back to stare at my wife. “So fucking beautiful,” I couldn’t help but sigh.
She tsked, but the blush that crept up her cheeks belied her. “Swear jar, Dad.”
Our ‘swear jar’ – our fourth one since we started — was already brimming with bills beside our bedside table. My filthy mouth could not be silenced.
“Why don’t we continue wrapping in the morning? Pam’s coming over for brunch, she can keep Basti busy while we do it,” I suggested, my lips nipping at her earlobe. “I’m in the mood for some old-fashioned.”
“Sex or drink?” she husked.
“Is that even a question?”
She shivered, goose bumps running along the length of her arms. “Good,” she hummed. “I’m s’pposed to be off the booze anyway.”
I stilled, lifting my head to look at her. “Why?”
She bit her lip, her blue eyes getting misty.
I pushed myself off her and dragged her onto my lap. “Tell me.”
“I was gonna wait until tomorrow to tell you.”
My heart started beating rapidly. “Tell me now,” I almost choked, my voice unsteady.
She didn’t say anything. She merely smiled – my smile – the one that made me go weak in the knees and turned my insides into a puddle of mush. Then she took my hand and pressed it against her belly.
I knew it was impossible, but I swore I felt a heartbeat. Or maybe it was mine.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Northman,” she hushed and kissed me softly.
I thought nothing could top the previous Christmas for me. I should had known, like we said in our vows, there would always be a promise of more tomorrow.
MANY THANKS TO THE AWESOME EYS1214 FOR HER WONDERFUL CONTRIBUTION, DO LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS AND LIKES AS ALWAYS THEY DO END UP WITH HER!
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