The note says this:
Sunday. 3 p.m. Not business.
It's stapled to the top of the red folder Lex and I pass back and forth with important correspondence. Whatever is in this folder gets filed away when it's dealt with, and new papers take their place. This folder is never empty.
Except this time it is. The folder, in two and a half years of running the Talon, has never been emptied by anyone but me until now. Yes, I'm sure Lex is capable of removing a piece of paper and filing it in the correct place in a file cabinet. He's capable, but he doesn't do it. No one else at the Talon does it either. I do it.
Only somehow, the folder is empty save for the note, stapled on top. It's in Lex's handwriting, so I know it's from him, but how do I know it's to me? The folder is technically mine, it's ours at the very most, so I figure the note has to be for me.
But why? And huh? Sunday. This coming Sunday? Two weeks from Sunday? Superbowl Sunday? 3 p.m. What happens then? The world ends? Get out of town? The sky is falling? Not business. I get that part. But what does it mean for me?
I've tried to call Lex like 18 times on his cell. He's not answering. I've left three messages, because 18 might be overkill. He's got three messages and 15 hang-ups and my phone is strangely silent. Sunday is two days away. If, by Sunday he means this Sunday. God, maybe the note's not for me. Maybe he wrote it to remind himself of something not business-related. Maybe he's got a hot date on Sunday at 3 p.m. Maybe he's meeting the President. Or the Queen of England. Maybe he's supposed to remember not to talk about business when he meets Jennifer and Brad for drinks at the trendiest club in Metropolis.
At three o'clock. On a Sunday. Yeah, I get the feeling the note is for me.
Luckily, I'm scheduled to work from open to three on Sunday. If I wasn't, I would have been afraid to leave the house all day. Instead, I stay busy because people like to go out for coffee on Sunday. Especially when the sky looks like it's going to open up any second and unleash a blizzard unlike any we've seen.
The windows are slightly frosted because of the warmth inside combating the cold outside. But I see the long, dark limo pull up to the curb. It's hard to miss, fogged glass or not. The clock tells me its 3 p.m. on the dot, and I should be counting out my drawer. Instead, I'm fixated on the car outside.
Only a driver gets out. He walks into the Talon like limo chauffeurs walk into the Talon every single day. He seems oblivious to everyone staring at him, but I suppose he is paid well to do a job and that enables everything else to become static. He walks right up to me, smiles genially and I want to ask him if he would like anything to drink? Because surely that's what he's here for, a quick cup of coffee before he hits the road and nothing more than that. But the panicked butterflies raging in my stomach make me realize that deep down I know this is not what he's here for at all.
"Miss Lang," he says, as though I'm wearing a name tag that says just that. I'm not, but he knows who I am just the same. It's vaguely disconcerting. I picture a file cabinet in Lex's office in Metropolis. Files named Kent, Clark. Lang, Lana. Sullivan, Chloe. And so on. It's...freaky.
I can't do anything but blink at him, so I do, and curl my fingers a little tighter around the cash register drawer. He smiles again. "When you are finished with that, Mr. Luthor requests your company."
Mr. Luthor requests my company? Could anything sound more shady? Sandy smirks at me as she walks by, and I catch it just before the driver turns and walks out of the Talon as calmly as he walked in, then stands on the sidewalk beside the limo. Waiting. For me.
I have no idea what to do. I seriously cannot count money right now. I'm afraid to go, and I'm afraid not to. What would happen if I just stood here, not moving? How long would the limo wait? Somehow, I feel obligated to go because Lex asked. He even said it wasn't business, but still, he asked, and I can't imagine refusing him one small favor. Obligation weighs on me, why? Because Lex is rich? Charismatic? My business partner?
I realize, standing there holding the cash drawer I'm unable to count, that obligation weighs on me because he's my friend.
"Is Lex out there waiting?"
Sandy's voice startles me so much that I nearly drop the drawer. I pull in a breath and push it out. "I don't know," I say back, and she seems to think it's funny. It's not funny that I have no idea what's going on. It's not funny at all. In fact, I plan on telling Lex that cryptic notes are not fun and exciting, but bad for my sanity.
She takes the drawer from me, almost having to pry it from my fingers. "I'll count this for you," she says. "You should go, he is the boss."
I don't have the energy to tell her that he's not my boss, not really, although I do seem to be doing everything that he says. It takes every ounce of strength I have to set my limbs into motion and propel myself to the back office to get my coat and purse. I look at the note while I'm there. It's in the same place I left it, stapled to the top of the red folder. The folder isn't empty anymore. It never should be empty because there's always something coming through the Talon that Lex or I need to see. But I haven't removed the note. Just in case it wasn't for me.
Apparently, it is. My hand hesitates over the folder. I should bring it. If I'm going to see Lex I should bring the folder. There's stuff in there for him to sign. But the all-caps scrawl on the piece of paper stapled on top stops me.
I leave the office without the folder.
I'm not surprised to find that Lex is not in the limo when I climb in. I should be, but somehow I'm not sure what to expect anymore. This is a better way to live, I think. Surprise is totally overrated. When the driver tells me we're going to Metropolis, I almost tell him to pull over and let me out. Metropolis is three hours away and I have school tomorrow.
Lex asked me to do this. Even though I'm not quite sure what I'm doing, I sit back to wait out the ride.
It's snowing by the time we reach city limits. The thought crosses my mind; what if I have to call Nell because I'm stranded in Metropolis in a blizzard? What will I tell her? And will $6 cover a cab to her house because that's all I've got.
Not that I don't trust Lex, it's just...this is weird.
I've spent three hours imagining every scenario this could possibly comprise of. But when we pull to a stop in front of a cemetery, I realize all of my presumptions were for nothing. I never expected this. Snow is falling steadily, getting heavier by the minute, and the driver gets out, hunching his back to the wind. When he pulls open the door for me, I step out onto a fresh blanket of white. It looks like no one has been here in a while.
Panic is starting to creep into my toes. It will crawl slowly up the rest of my body, I just know it. I look up at the sky. If the sun was out, it would just be starting to set in brilliant blues and oranges. As it is, the gray expanse over the city is only falling further into darkness. It's getting colder by the minute, and I left the house this morning with no hat or gloves. Cryptic note or no, I did not think sundown would find me in a cemetery in Metropolis under an inch of snow and rapidly counting.
The driver extends a hand and his black glove stands out sharply against the muted grays and whites of the horizon.
"Mr. Luthor is over there," he says simply. The hand drops, and I have to squint to make out the shadowy figure of Lex.
The snow is coming down hard, whipping at my face and he just stands there, back to us, hands shoved into the pockets of his long coat. He has no hat either, and I can't begin to imagine how cold snow must feel collecting on a bald head. I look at the driver because honestly, I have no idea what to do. The driver only shrugs and walks back around the limo and gets in. I seriously think about doing the same thing but I have the distinct feeling that I'm expected to announce myself to Lex.
So I trudge through the rapidly building flurry, thinking my shoes are ruined but I won't need them when my feet fall off from frostbite.
He doesn't turn when I approach, but I'm sure he hears me. The headstone he stands in front of reads Lillian Luthor, Loving Wife and Mother, 1951-1993. A chill runs through me that has nothing to do with the cold. Despite the strange note, the long drive and the lashing snow, I feel incongruously honored that Lex would bring me here. I want to touch him, to say something profound and helpful. I want to tell him I feel a connection to him -- two people who lost their mothers way before it was really time...two people who are changed forever because of it.
But I can't say anything. I reach out my hand and touch his back, soft, warm wool sliding beneath my fingertips. It takes another moment before he finally turns, and I stuff my hand back into my coat pocket.
"Hi," I say. I smile a little, like this is normal, standing in a cemetery in Metropolis in the middle of a blizzard.
A smile quirks the corners of his mouth. "I'm sorry about the weather."
I have to laugh at this. I know that if there were any way humanly possible, Lex Luthor would control the weather in an instant.
He tucks his chin down and glances back toward the headstone. "I thought you'd understand."
The truth is, I do and I don't. I understand the what, it's just the why. Me, in particular. I look at Lex, wondering if he comes here to talk to his mom, or if he just stands. Looks. Thinks. He turns back to the grave and keeps looking at it, so I move up beside him. I hear him exhale; see the muted puff of air surface from his lips.
I can't count the times I've wished someone were with me when I visit my parents. Not all the time, but sometimes the need for company is so profound that it literally hurts to find myself alone. Slowly, I take my hand out of my pocket and slide it along Lex's arm. I follow it from the crook of his elbow and slide my hand into his where it disappears into his pocket.
The glove he's wearing is leather. Soft, slightly chilled leather that closes around my fingers and squeezes. We stand like that until the sky darkens completely. I haven't felt the cold for a long time, but it comes back with a vengeance as the wind picks up and begins to howl. I wonder how long we can stand here without doing serious damage to our faces, noses, ears, and quite frankly, Lex's head.
I feel a shiver rip through me and my teeth start chattering so violently I can't stop them. I want to, badly, because for all I know Lex needs to stand here for another 20 minutes and I'm not about to abandon him. But his fingers slip from mine and as he turns, I take my hand from his pocket and put it back into my own.
His eyes are haunted, a direct contrast to the somewhat placid expression on his face. He doesn't even look cold. His hands anchor on either side of my shoulders and he rubs up and down several times, warming me.
"Let's get you inside."
Stepping into the limo feels as good as if I have slipped into a hot bath. It's warm and dry and seeps deep into my bones the minute I sit down. Lex leans across me and fiddles with a control panel.
"Seat warmers," he says, smiling as I shift further into the rapidly warming seat beneath me.
I look at him. "Is...are..." How to ask this. "Your head. Is it alright?"
Duh. Not like that. But I can't help it. My hair is really wet from the snow that collected and melted on it. His head has to be freezing.
"It's cold," he says, so seriously that I have to laugh.
"You don't wear a hat?"
His eyebrows rise slightly. "I look ridiculous in a hat."
I think about this. Really think. Because I want to say he'd look more ridiculous with a bad case of frostbite on his head, but I have no idea what a bad case of frostbite looks like. Not to mention whether or not a person can get it on their head.
Not that these should be the things I'm pondering right now. Because he's looking at me, a little surprised expression on his face, like he's just noticed I'm here and he's startled at the revelation.
Maybe my expression gave away my inner musings. Maybe Lex can read minds. He quirks his lips, a very familiar gesture that makes me more comfortable than I'd ever imagine an expression could make me, and his eyes flicker across my entire form.
"I didn't know if you'd come."
That's a complete lie, I think. He had to have known perfectly well I'd come, or the limo wouldn't have shown up at the Talon to pick me up. Perhaps he's got me confused with someone who would actually have the wherewithal to refuse such a cryptic note. Perhaps he sends limos to all kinds of people who don't get in them and let strange drivers take them away without knowing where they're going. Perhaps he gets refused all the time; I just don't see it.
I, of course, know Lex in Smallville. Lex in Metropolis is probably someone completely different. Someone who has to fight for his place on the food chain. Someone who is amidst other powerful business people all the time. I know nothing about this world. I entertain the notion that maybe, just maybe he really knows nothing about mine either.
"It wasn't exactly an offer I could refuse."
He seems to digest this. Maybe even struggle to understand. I feel obligated to explain it to him. It dawns on me that Lex might have put himself out there; really exposed himself by asking me to meet him at his mother's grave. It dawns on me that Lex doesn't put himself out there very often, if at all. It dawns on me that Lex may have been expecting rejection, because that's all he gets when he makes himself vulnerable.
I suddenly want to hug him.
"I came because you asked me to," I elaborate softly, smiling at the barely perceptible lift of his eyebrows. "Because you're my friend."
It's such a simple explanation. One that would be easily and casually accepted by any other friend or acquaintance I have in Smallville. But it's a revelation for Lex; one that isn't lost on me. I imagine Lex doesn't have anything done for him in the name of friendship. There's always a reason, always an ulterior motive. In turn, he has probably never done much in the name of friendship either.
I'm not as nave as people think. I know enough about Lex to know that even since arriving in Smallville he's probably had motivation behind everything he's done and said. Lex is a big picture kind of guy. Something he does today is designed to help him at some point down the line.
There's nothing wrong with being like that. Except that it might make a person pretty darn lonely.
"Thanks," is all he says in return. He touches me briefly on the arm, and all I can think to do is look away from him and out the window as the limo navigates slowly down the snow-packed streets of Metropolis.
The driver tells us he won't be able to make the trip back to Smallville tonight. I should have expected this. I got into the limo during a snow storm. It's a school night and I still let the driver bring me all the way out here; how could I not have expected to get stranded?
Stranded is probably an overstatement. Lex isn't going to drop me off on the curb and wish me good luck. He turns toward me after telling the driver to get us to the penthouse.
"I'm sorry about this," he says.
"I have school tomorrow."
I feel stupid even before it's out of my mouth. Yeah, Lex, I know you're sorry, but could you just get hold of that weather-controlling machine and make it so that I can get back to Smallville in time for school?
He nods, unconcerned. "As soon as the storm lets up, we'll head back." He sounds confident that things will work out they way they're supposed to. He always sounds confident that things will work out the way they're supposed to. Being Lex Luthor, I suppose you get used to things working out the way you want them to.
We ride the rest of the way in silence. I start to speak several different times, but I don't trust myself. I've been friends with Lex for a long time, and I've never felt this awkward in his presence. Somehow, I think we should be closer after what happened in the cemetery. But I don't feel closer to him at all. I feel a nervous fluttering in the pit of my stomach.
His penthouse is as luxurious as I expect it to be. Not that I had any previous notion of what Lex's penthouse in Metropolis looked like, but I'm not surprised when he pushes the door open and lets me in. Lights automatically go on as I slowly walk through the expansive apartment. Lex walks to the huge floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook a terrace garden and puts his fingertips against a spot marked with a tiny square. They darken of their own accord. Lights still shimmer from buildings across the way, but I'm fairly sure that he's made it so no one can see inside. I think it's the coolest thing I've ever seen, but thankfully I bite my lip to keep from saying it.
He continues strolling through at a clipped pace and I follow at his heels, unsure of what else to do. He pauses at a huge oak desk set off to the side of the main living room and taps a few electronic panels. I hear the distinct sound of a coffee percolator kicking on in, assumingly, the kitchen. Several computer monitors rise up from the desk surface. I wonder: can he control the entire house from his leather executive chair?
I'm afraid to ask, because I'm pretty sure the answer is yes.
After flipping through a large stack of mail, he turns to me. I wonder if he'd forgotten I was there. I wonder how long I would have stood there before clearing my throat or shifting uncomfortably or tapping him on the shoulder and asking where I can freshen up.
He does the mind-reading thing again and points to a darkened hallway that I'm sure will light up as I pass through it. "Bathroom's the third door on your left if you want a hot shower. There should be some spare clothes in the armoire and I'll have your wet ones taken down to be dried."
I nod, because what else is there to do, and turn in the direction he's pointing. I realize we haven't exchanged words other than those since the limo. It's like we're fighting, but I wasn't aware that we were. I don't think he's mad, but I get the impression he's overly trying to be 'business as usual' and it's coming out all wrong.
Still, I follow his instructions (the hallway does light up as I pass through it) and leave my clothes in a wet pile by the door. The shower is not only hot but opulent; three jets spray down on me at different angles and adjusting water pressures, and I think I could stay in here all damn night if Lex would let me.
In the closet on the left, I find a pair of silk women's pajamas and a sweat suit made of some type of velour material that I would never want to so much as dot with sweat. There's no way I'm strolling out into the main part of the penthouse in silk pajamas, so I pull the sweat suit out. The closet on the right is filled with men's clothes, and I manage to find a large cotton t-shirt in a drawer. It's softer than I ever imagined cotton could be, and the label says 100% Egyptian cotton. I'm not sure where the cotton is from that's in my own clothes, but I'm pretty sure it's not Egypt, or anywhere close.
I comb my hair in the mirror and wonder about the clothes I'm wearing. I wonder if they're always around, and how weird is it that Lex keeps women's sleep-and-lounge wear just hanging around for anyone who might need to use it?
His reputation preceded him into Smallville, of course, but after two and a half years of getting to know him, I like to think that maybe some of it was exaggerated. I've seen Lex date several women during his small town tenure, but never juggle them, never a parade of different women in and out of the mansion at all hours and on all days.
I remind myself that Smallville-Lex and Metropolis-Lex are two different people, and Metropolis-Lex obviously keeps women's sleep-and-lounge wear in his penthouse.
I've psyched myself into feeling stupid as I walk out of the bathroom and back into the main living room in search of Lex. I don't find him, but do follow the smell of freshly brewed coffee into an enormous kitchen. There are two mugs on the counter next to the machine, one half-filled and one clean and empty. I pour myself a cup and carry it to the very edge of the kitchen. Before stepping onto the carpet I wonder, am I allowed to drink this in the living room?
I decide not to risk it, and retrace my steps back to the counter, pulling one of a half-dozen barstools out from underneath. I perch on it and sip the drink slowly. It is probably the best cup of coffee I've ever had. And being part-owner of a coffee house, it's pretty darn good coffee.
There's a small television on the counter and I reach over to flip it on. The blizzard news is on every channel, and I'm slowly coming to the realization that I am not getting back to Smallville tonight, or probably tomorrow for that matter. I debate on whether or not to call Chloe, but I have no idea how I would explain that I'm in Metropolis with Lex for the night.
I think on it through my second cup of coffee. By the time Lex enters the kitchen, freshly showered and in sweats and a white t-shirt, I've decided that lying is my only viable option. He watches the television for a moment, and I surreptitiously watch him, amazed at how different he looks -- how normal -- in a t-shirt. I don't think I've ever seen him in a t-shirt. It's a t-shirt that could have cost $6.99 at K-Mart. It probably didn't, but it could have.
He turns to me after the news goes to commercial. "Seems bad," he says.
I nod. I'm about to ask him if I can use the phone, but he shifts and begins speaking before I have the chance.
"I'm sorry about this. I had no idea about the weather."
It's about time Lex knows something. And I'm guessing the only way he's going to know it is if I tell him. Not that I can control whether or not he believes me, but the least I can do is throw it out there and see what happens.
"You don't have to keep apologizing, Lex," I say, putting my cup down and making a real effort to look him straight in the eye. "You asked me to meet you out here and I did. That's what friends do."
He doesn't seem surprised by this revelation; I expected at least a small smile or his eyebrows to lift or something. He just nods. I feel my own curiosity take over and I'm done reassuring him. He needs to reassure me now. I can't help but ask what's been bothering me since I found the note on top of the red folder.
"Why? I mean, why me?"
Now he lifts his eyebrows. He smiles a little. He puts his cup down and folds his long, elegant fingers in on each other before resting them on the counter. He lets the silence hang between us for a while. The television is muted, but I turn my eyes on it anyway and watch the still footage of jackknifed trucks abandoned on state highways.
I figure the silence between us isn't because Lex doesn't know the answer to the question. Nor is it motivated by an unwillingness or inability to answer it. It's simply a game, one Lex probably plays without knowing he's playing it; a way to gain and keep the upper hand in any situation, all the time. Remain the alpha male; keep the ball in his court.
Whatever. I am perfectly capable of sitting and staring at a silent television for very long periods of time. The silence, I convince myself, doesn't even make me nervous. The stool he's sitting on scrapes across the tiled floor as he shifts it backward and rights himself. Cup in hand, he retreats somewhere behind me, outside my line of vision.
"I was going to take you to dinner," he says, as if this is a perfectly logical thing to say after such a long, drawn-out pause. He says it in a way that makes me wonder if it's practical to almost fall off my own stool, if I'm overreacting when my heart skids to a halt in my chest and it's suddenly impossible to breathe.
I haven't looked away from the television, but I'm definitely not seeing it anymore. I wonder if he's waiting for me to turn around, to acknowledge him. I don't even know where he's standing, except that he's still in the kitchen and I kind of wish he wasn't so I can exhale.
I hear nothing for at least 30 seconds and it feels like an eternity. Finally, I turn on the stool and look. He smiles at me, like this is normal. This is so not normal. I'm in velour sweatpants. Not mine. He's in a t-shirt. We're in Metropolis and it's going on 8 p.m. on a school night.
Not normal at all.
A phone I hadn't even noticed before rings from its perch on the far end of the bar. Lex's smile drops and he answers it curtly. I'm glad his attention is now focused elsewhere.
I don't even pay attention to what he's saying on the phone; instead my feet propel me off the stool and past him until I'm back in the main living room. I walk up to the darkened windows and stand in front of them. I can vaguely see the swirling white outside but mostly I just see my own reflection. I touch the glass in the small, barely perceptible square. I half expect nothing to happen, but I can't help it. There's a faint whirring sound that I hadn't heard before when Lex did it, and the glass lightens considerably. Now I can see the snow packed on the ground of the terrace. I touch the window again and they immediately tint.
Coolest thing I've ever seen. Lex's reflection appears behind me; he's smiling and I'm sure I've amused him. Glad I'm good for something.
"There are tons of other cool toys to play with around here," he says. He brought his coffee mug with him. I've forgotten mine and I don't know what to do with my hands. I smile grimly and turn around.
He shakes his head and shrugs a little as if to say it doesn't bother him either way.
"I keep this place pretty state-of-the-art."
Somehow, Lex says it and it sounds informative. But I know if anyone else said it, it would sound pretentious at best. I have no idea how he changes the rules so they don't apply to him.
"They make an incredible Chicken Marsala downstairs," he says, abruptly changing the subject again and it spins my head. "I'm having them bring us up some."
Who is downstairs? I want to ask. This isn't a hotel, it's an apartment building. And what other cool toys do you have? And dinner? Out to dinner? Me and Lex?
I only nod and keep my mouth shut. I'm afraid of what might come out if I open it.
I find out that yes, it's an apartment building but that they have a kitchen staff on hand for tenants. Not to mention a laundry service and a general concierge in case you're missing something in your million dollar luxury apartment.
I wonder what it's like to live like this. I accidentally wonder out loud and Lex laughs. "You're welcome here anytime if you want to find out," he says.
How does he keep saying things that make my heart drop to my toes and acting like it's nothing?
He is right about the Chicken Marsala. Best I've ever had. He opens a bottle of wine and I take a glass without complaint -- if we're going to be stranded all night I may as well take advantage of the situation.
It's actually not until he's refilling my glass for the fourth time that I realize we have migrated very close on the couch and I can actually smell the scent of dryer sheets on his t-shirt. A t-shirt that I'm willing to bet is also 100% cotton all the way from Egypt. I look at him, because I'm not sure what else to do, and he reaches out and touches me on the face.
It's a gentle touch, with the tips of his fingers just grazing against my cheek; like he's noticing me for the first time. Except his eyes are dark blue and intense and I get the feeling it's not him noticing for the first time, it's me.
His lips part a little, like he means to say something but doesn't. I've never felt such an overwhelming desire for anything in my life as I do in that moment. It doesn't matter what's going on, who I am or who he is; I have to kiss him. So I do.
Lex, who doesn't seem surprised at anything typically doesn't seem surprised at this. His mouth moves easily against mine, his fingers never leaving my cheek even as his other hand skims my waist to settle me closer to him. He doesn't push things to progress at all. It's me who grips the back of his neck, forcing him closer; me who presses against him as fully as I can just to feel him as much as possible.
It's him who breaks the kiss first and pushes us gently back to our respective positions on the couch. I feel a little rejected. But when he breathes out my name and it's guttural, I realize how difficult it was for him to stop.
"This isn't what I intended," he says.
I blink. I didn't expect that. He seems flustered. Lex Luthor, flustered. I didn't expect that either.
"I wanted to take you to my mother's grave. I wanted to take you to a little place on West River Street that makes an amazing calzone. That was my intention, Lana."
I hear him, every word. It's making sense of what he's saying that's troubling me. I have three glasses of wine in me and add that to a make-out session with Lex Luthor and I'm sufficiently blurry. I open my mouth to respond. What he expects me to say is a complete mystery. "I'm tired," is what surfaces.
'Thrown' is the only word I can think of that describes the look that passes over his face. It's gone so quickly that it's easy to convince myself I imagined it, but I know deep down that I didn't. He stands and holds his hands out to help me up.
I take them. His palms are warm against mine. I hold his hands for a long time and we just look at each other. I don't feel uncomfortable, I feel right.
Finally, he licks his lips. "My room is the first door on the right. I'll stay in one of the other rooms."
I lean up and slant my lips over his for the exact same reason I did it last time: because I want to. This kiss is much shorter but no less of anything. My heart still hammers and my toes still curl. I pull away when he lets my hands go and smile at him before turning down the hall. I feel his eyes on me until the door to his room is shut behind me.
There, in Lex Luthor's personal space, I feel surrounded by him. Climbing into his bed, high and luxurious, I wonder if I'll have more answers in the morning. I wonder if things will become clear or remain as muddled as they are now. I wonder if I'll wake up with the thought that fills my hazy conscience right now. I wonder, tomorrow, if I'll still love Lex Luthor.
19 April 2003
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