Chapter 17 VISITOR
UNNATURALLY STILL AND WHITE, WITH LARGE BLACK EYES intent on my face, my visitor waited perfectly motionless in the center of the halt, beautiful beyond imagining.
My knees trembled for a second, and I nearly fell. Then I hurled myself at her.
"Alice, oh, Alice!" I cried, as I slammed into her.
I'd forgotten how hard she was; it was like running headlong into a wall of cement.
"Bella?" There was a strange mingling of relief and confusion in her voice.
I locked my arms around her, gasping to inhale as much of the scent of her skin as possible. It wasn't like anything else��not floral or spice, citrus or musk. No perfume in the world could compare. My memory hadn't done it justice.
I didn't notice when the gasping turned into something else��I only realized I was sobbing when Alice dragged me to the living room couch and pulled me into her lap. It was like curling up into a cool stone, but a stone that was contoured comfortingly to the shape of my body. She rubbed my back in a gentle rhythm, waiting for me to get control of myself.
"I'm�� sorry," I blubbered. "I'm just�� so happy�� to see you!"
"It's okay, Bella. Everything's okay."
"Yes," I bawled. And, for once, it seemed that way.
Alice sighed. "I'd forgotten how exuberant you are," she said, and her tone was disapproving.
I looked up at her through my streaming eyes. Alice's neck was tight, straining away from me, her lips pressed together firmly. Her eyes were black as pitch.
"Oh," I puffed, as I realized the problem. She was thirsty. And I smelled appetizing. It had been a while since I'd had to think about that kind of thing. "Sorry."
"It's my own fault. It's been too long since I hunted. I shouldn't let myself get so thirsty. But I was in a hurry today." The look she directed at me then was a glare. "Speaking of which, would you like to explain to me how you're alive?"
That brought me up short and stopped the sobs. I realized what must have happened immediately, and why Alice was here.
I swallowed loudly. "You saw me fall."
"No," she disagreed, her eyes narrowing. "I saw you jump."
I pursed my lips as I tried to think of an explanation that wouldn't sound nuts.
Alice shook her head. "I told him this would happen, but he didn't believe me. 'Bella promised,'" her voice imitated his so perfectly that I iroze in shock while the pain ripped through my torso. "'Don't be looking for her future, either,'" she continued to quote him. '"We've done enough damage."
"But just because I'm not looking, doesn't mean I don't see" she went on. "I wasn't keeping tabs on you, I swear, Bella. It's just that I'm alreacy attuned to you�� when I saw you jumping, I didn't think, I just got on a plane. I knew I would be too late, but I couldn't do nothing. And then I get here, thinking maybe I could help Charlie somehow, and you drive up." She shook her head, this time in confusion. Her voice was strained. "I saw you go into the water and I waited and waited for you to come up, but you didn't. What happened? And how could you do that to Charlie? Did you stop to think what this would do to him? And my brother? Do you have any idea what Edward��"
I cut her off then, as soon as she said his name. I'd let her go on, even after I realized the misunderstanding she was under, just to hear the perfect bell tone of her voice. But it was time to interrupt.
"Alice, I wasn't committing suicide."
She eyed me dubiously. "Are you saying you didn't jump off a cliff?"
"No, but��" I grimaced. "It was for recreational purposes only."
Her expression hardened.
"I'd seen some of Jacob's friends cliff diving," I insisted. "It looked like�� fun, and I was bored��"
"I didn't think about how the storm would affect the currents. Actually, I didn't think about the water much at all."
Alice didn't buy it. I could see that she still thought I had been trying to kill myself. I decided to redirect.
"So if you saw me go in, why didn't you see Jacob?"
She cocked her head to the side, distracted.
I continued. "It's true that I probably would have drowned if Jacob hadn't jumped in after me. Well, okay, there's no probably about it. But he did, and he pulled me out, and I guess he towed me back to shore, though I was kind of out for that part. It couldn't have been more than a minute that I was under before he grabbed me. How come you didn't see that?"
She frowned in perplexity. "Someone pulled you out?"
"Yes. Jacob saved me."
I watched curiously as an enigmatic range of emotions flitted across her face. Something was bothering her��her imperfect vision? But I wasn't sure. Then she deliberately leaned in and sniffed my shoulder.
"Don't be ridiculous," she muttered, sniffing at me some more.
"What are you doing?"
She ignored my question. "Who was with you out there just now? It sounded like you were arguing."
"Jacob Black. He's�� sort of my best friend, I guess. At least, he was��" I thought of Jacob's angry, betrayed face, and wondered what he was to me now.
Alice nodded, seeming preoccupied.
"I don't know," she said. "I'm not sure what it means."
"Well, I'm not dead, at least."
She rolled her eyes. "He was a fool to think you could survive alone. I've never seen anyone so prone to life-threatening idiocy."
"I survived," I pointed out.
She was thinking of something else. "So, if the currents were too much for you, how did this Jacob manage?"
"Jacob is�� strong."
She heard the reluctance in my voice, and her eyebrows rose.
I gnawed on my lip for a second. Was this a secret, or not? And if it was, then who was my greatest allegiance to? Jacob, or Alice?
It was too hard to keep secrets, I decided. Jacob knew everything, why not Alice, too?
"See, well, he's�� sort of a werewolf," I admitted in a rush. "The Quileutes turn into wolves when there are vampires around. They know Carlisle from a long time ago. Were you with Carlisle back then?"
Alice gawked at me for a moment, and then recovered herself, blinking rapidly. "Well, I guess that
explains the smell," she muttered. "But does it explain what I didn't see?" She frowned, her porcelain forehead creasing.
"The smell?" I repeated.
"You smell awful," she said absently, still frowning. "A werewolf? Are you sure about that?"
"Very sure," I promised, wincing as I remembered Paul and Jacob fighting in the road. "I guess you weren't with Carlisle the last time there were werewolves here in Forks?"
"No. I hadn't found him yet." Alice was still lost in thought. Suddenly, her eyes widened, and she turned to stare at me with a shocked expression. "Your best friend is a werewolf?"
I nodded sheepishly.
"How long has this been going on?"
"Not long," I said, my voice sounding defensive. "He's only been a werewolf for just a few weeks."
She glowered at me. "A young werewolf? Even worse! Edward was right��you're a magnet for danger. Weren't you supposed to be staying out of trouble?"
"There's nothing wrong with werewolves," I grumbled, stung by her critical tone.
"Until they lose their tempers." She shook her head sharply from side to side. "Leave it to you, Bella. Anyone else would be better off when the vampires left town. But you have to start hanging out with the first monsters you can find."
I didn't want to argue with Alice��I was still trembling with joy that she was really, truly here, that I could touch her marble skin and hear her wind-chime voice��but she had it all wrong.
"No, Alice, the vampires didn't really leave��not all of them, anyway. That's the whole trouble. If it weren't for the werewolves, Victoria would have gotten me by now. Well, if it weren't for Jake and his friends, Laurent would have gotten me before she could, I guess, so��"
"Victoria?" she hissed. "Laurent?"
I nodded, a teensy bit alarmed by the expression in her black eyes. I pointed at my chest. "Danger magnet, remember?"
She shook her head again. "Tell me everything��start at the beginning."
I glossed over the beginning, skipping the motorcycles and the voices, but telling her everything else right up to today's misadventure. Alice didn't like my thin explanation about boredom and the cliffs, so I hurried on to the strange flame I'd seen on the water and what I thought it meant. Her eyes narrowed almost to slits at that part. It was strange to see her look so�� so dangerous��like a vampire. I swallowed hard and went on with the rest about Harry.
She listened to my story without interrupting. Occasionally, she would shake her head, and the crease in her forehead deepened until it looked like it was carved permanently into the marble of her skin. She didn't speak and, finally, I fell quiet, struck again by the borrowed grief at Harry's passing. I thought of Charlie; he would be home soon. What condition would he be in?
"Our leaving didn't do you any good at all, did it?" Alice murmured.
I laughed once��it was a slightly hysterical sound. "That was never the point, though, was it? It's not like you left for my benefit."
Alice scowled at the floor for a moment. "Well�� I guess I acted impulsively today. I probably shouldn't have intruded."
I could feel the blood draining from my face. My stomach dropped. "Don't go, Alice," I whispered. My fingers locked around the collar of her white shirt and I began to hyperventilate. "Please don't leave me."
Her eyes opened wider. "All right," she said, enunciating each word with slow precision. "I'm not going anywhere tonight. Take a deep breath."
I tried to obey, though I couldn't quite locate my lungs.
She watched my face while I concentrated on my breathing. She waited till I was calmer to comment.
"You look like hell, Bella."
"I drowned today," I reminded her.
"It goes deeper than that. You're a mess."
I flinched. "Look, I'm doing my best."
"What do you mean?"
"It hasn't been easy. I'm working on it."
She frowned. "I told him," she said to herself.
"Alice," I sighed. "What did you think you were going to find? I mean, besides me dead? Did you expect to find me skipping around and whistling show tunes? You know me better than that."
"I do. But I hoped."
"Then I guess I don't have the corner on the idiocy market."
The phone rang.
"That has to be Charlie," I said, staggering to my feet. I grabbed Alice's stone hand and dragged her with me to the kitchen. I wasn't about to let her out of my sight.
"Charlie?" I answered the phone.
"No, it's me," Jacob said.
Alice scrutinized my expression.
"Just making sure you were still alive," Jacob said sourly.
"I'm fine. I told you that it wasn't��"
"Yeah. I got it. 'Bye."
Jacob hung up on me.
I sighed and let my head hang back, staring at the ceiling. "That's going to be a problem."
Alice squeezed my hand. "They aren't excited I'm here."
"Not especially. But it's none of their business anyway."
Alice put her arm around me. "So what do we do now?" she mused. She seemed to talk to herself for a moment. "Things to do. Loose ends to tie."
"What things to do?"
Her face was suddenly careful. "I don't know for sure�� I need to see Carlisle."
Would she leave so soon? My stomach dropped.
"Could you stay?" I begged. "Please? For just a little while. I've missed you so much." My voice broke.
"If you think that's a good idea." Her eyes were unhappy.
"I do. You can stay here��Charlie would love that."
"I have a house, Bella."
I nodded, disappointed but resigned. She hesitated, studying me.
"Well, I need to go get a suitcase of clothes, at the very least."
I threw my arms around her. "Alice, you're the best!"
"And I think I'll need to hunt. Immediately," she added in a strained voice.
"Oops." I took a step back.
"Can you stay out of trouble for one hour?" she asked skeptically. Then, before I could answer, she held up one finger and closed her eyes. Her face went smooth and blank for a few seconds.
And then her eyes opened and she answered her own question. "Yes, you'll be fine. For tonight, anyway." She grimaced. Even making faces, she looked like an angel.
"You'll come back?" I asked in a small voice.
"I promise��one hour."
I glanced at the clock over the kitchen table. She laughed and leaned in quickly to kiss me on the cheek. Then she was gone.
I took a deep breath. Alice would be back. I suddenly felt so much better.
I had plenty to do to keep myself busy while I waited. A shower was definitely first on the agenda. I sniffed my shoulders as I undressed, but I couldn't smell anything but the brine and seaweed scent of the ocean. I wondered what Alice had meant about me smelling bad.
When I was cleaned up, I went back to the kitchen. I couldn't see any signs that Charlie 'lad eaten recently, and he would probably be hungry when he got back. I hummed tunelessly to myself as I moved
around the kitchen.
While Thursday's casserole rotated in the microwave, I made up the couch with sheets and an old pillow. Alice wouldn't need it, but Charlie would need to see it. I was careful not to watch the clock. There was no reason to start myself panicking; Alice had promised.
I hurried through my dinner, not tasting it��just feeling the ache as it slid down my raw throat. Mostly I was thirsty; I must have drunk a half gallon of water by the time I was finished. All the salt in my system had dehydrated me.
I went to go try to watch TV while I waited.
Alice was already there, sitting on her improvised bed. Her eyes were a liquid butterscotch. She smiled and patted the pillow. "Thanks."
"You're early," I said, elated.
I sat down next to her and leaned my head on her shoulder. She put her cold arms around me and sighed.
"Bella. What are we going to do with you?"
"I don't know," I admitted. "I really have been trying my hardest."
"I believe you."
It was silent.
"Does��does he��" I took a deep breath. It was harder to say his name out loud, even though I was able to think it now. "Does Edward know you're here?" I couldn't help asking. It was my pain, after all. I'd deal with it when she was gone, I promised myself, and felt sick at the thought.
There was only one way that could be true. "He's not with Carlisle and Esme?"
"He checks in every few months."
"Oh." He must still be out enjoying his distractions. I focused my curiosity on a safer topic. "You said you flew here�� Where did you come from?"
"I was in Denali. Visiting Tanya's family."
"Is Jasper here? Did he come with your'"
She shook her head. "He didn't approve of my interfering. We promised��" she trailed off, and then her tone changed. "And you think Charlie won't mind my being here?" she asked, sounding worried.
"Charlie thinks you're wonderful, Alice."
"Well, we're about to find out."
Sure enough, a few seconds later I heard the cruiser pull into the driveway. I jumped up and hurried to open the door.
Charlie trudged slowly up the walk, his eyes on the ground and his shoulders slumped. I walked forward
to meet him; he didn't even see me until I hugged him around the waist. He embraced me back fiercely.
"I'm so sorry about Harry, Dad."
"I'm really going to miss him," Charlie mumbled.
"How's Sue doing?"
"She seems dazed, like she hasn't grasped it yet. Sam's staying with her��" The volume of his voice faded in and out. "Those poor kids. Leah's just a year older than you, and Seth is only fourteen��" He shook his head.
He kept his arms tight around me as he started toward the door again.
"Um, Dad?" I figured I'd better warn him. "You'll never guess who's here."
He looked at me blankly. His head swiveled around, and he spied the Mercedes across the street, the porch light reflecting off the glossy black paint. Before he could react, Alice was in the doorway.
"Hi, Charlie," she said in a subdued voice. "I'm sorry I came at such a bad time."
"Alice Cullen?" he peered at the slight figure in front of him as if he doubted what his eyes were telling him. "Alice, is that you?"
"It's me," she confirmed. "I was in the neighborhood."
"No, I'm alone."
Both Alice and I knew he wasn't really asking about Carlisle. His arm tightened over my shoulder.
"She can stay here, can't she?" I pleaded. "I already asked her."
"Of course," Charlie said mechanically. "We'd love to have you, Alice."
"Thank you, Charlie. I know it's horrid timing."
"No, it's fine, really. I'm going to be really busy doing what I can for Harry's family; it will be nice for Bella to have some company."
"There's dinner for you on the table, Dad," I told him.
"Thanks, Bell." He gave me one more squeeze before he shuffled toward the kitchen.
Alice went back to the couch, and I followed her. This time, she was the one to pull me against her shoulder.
"You look tired."
"Yeah," I agreed, and shrugged. "Near-death experiences do that to me�� So, what does Carlisle think of you being here?"
"He doesn't know. He and Esme were on a hunting trip. I'll hear from him in a few days, when he gets back."
"You won't tell him, though�� when he checks in again?" I asked. She knew I didn't mean Carlisle now.
"No. He'd bite my head off," Alice said grimly.
I laughed once, and then sighed.
I didn't want to sleep. I wanted to stay up all night talking to Alice. And it didn't make sense for me to be tired, what with crashing on Jacob's couch all day. But drowning really had taken a lot out of me, and my eyes wouldn't stay open. I rested my head on her stone shoulder, and drifted into a more peaceful oblivion than I had any hope of.
I woke early, from a deep and dreamless sleep, feeling well-rested, but stiff. I was on the couch tucked under the blankets I'd laid out for Alice, and I could hear her and Charlie talking in the kitchen. It sounded like Charlie was fixing her breakfast.
"How bad was it, Charlie?" Alice asked softly, and at first I thought they were talking about the Clearwaters.
Charlie sighed. "Real bad."
"Tell me about it. I want to know exactly what happened when we left."
There was a pause while a cupboard door was closed and a dial on the stove was clicked off. I waited, cringing.
"I've never felt so helpless," Charlie began slowly. "I didn't know what to do. That first week��I thought I was going to have to hospitalize her. She wouldn't eat or drink, she wouldn't move. Dr. Gerandy was throwing around words like 'catatonic,' but I didn't let him up to see her. I was afraid it would scare her."
"She snapped out of it though?"
"I had Renee come to take her to Florida. I just didn't want to be the one�� if she had to go to a hospital or something. I hoped being with her mother would help. But when we started packing her clothes, she woke up with a vengeance. I've never seen Bella throw a fit like that. She was never one for the tantrums, but, boy, did she fly into a fury. She threw her clothes everywhere and screamed that we couldn't make her leave��and then she finally started crying. I thought that would be the turning point. I didn't argue when she insisted on staying here�� and she did seem to get better at first��"
Charlie trailed off. It was hard listening to this, knowing how much pain I'd caused him.
"But?" Alice prompted.
"She went back to school and work, she ate and slept and did her homework. She answered when someone asked her a direct question. But she was�� empty. Her eyes were blank. There were lots of little things��she wouldn't listen to music anymore; I found a bunch of CDs broken in the trash. She didn't read; she wouldn't be in the same room when the TV was on, not that she watched it so much before. I finally figured it out��she was avoiding everything that might remind her of�� him.
"We could hardly talk; I was so worried about saying something that would upset her��the littlest things would make her flinch��and she never volunteered anything. She would just answer if I asked her something.
"She was alone all the time. She didn't call her friends back, and after a while, they stopped calling.
"It was night of the living dead around here. I still hear her screaming in her sleep��"
I could almost see him shuddering. I shuddered, too, remembering. And then I sighed. I hadn't fooled him at all, not for one second.
"I'm so sorry, Charlie," Alice said, voice glum.
"It's not your fault." The way he said it made it perfectly clear that he was holding someone responsible. "You were always a good friend to her."
"She seems better now, though."
"Yeah. Ever since she started hanging out with Jacob Black, I've noticed a real improvement. She has some color in her cheeks when she comes home, some light in her eyes. She's happier." He paused, and his voice was different when he spoke again. "He's a year or so younger than her, and I know she used to think of him as a friend, but I think maybe it's something more now, or headed that direction, anyway." Charlie said this in a tone that was almost belligerent. It was a warning, not for Alice, but for her to pass along. "Jake's old for his years," he continued, still sounding defensive. "He's taken care of his father physically the way Bella took care of her mother emotionally. It matured him. He's a good-looking kid, too��takes after his mom's side. He's good for Bella, you know," Charlie insisted.
"Then it's good she has him," Alice agreed.
Charlie sighed out a big gust of air, folding quickly to the lack of opposition. "Okay, so I guess that's overstating things. I don't know�� even with Jacob, now and then I see something in her eyes, and I wonder if I've ever grasped how much pain she's really in It's not normal, Alice, and it�� it frightens me. Not normal at all. Not like someone�� left her, but like someone died." His voice cracked.
It was like someone had died��like I had died. Because it had been more than just losing the truest of true loves, as if that were not enough to kill anyone. It was also losing a whole future, a whole family��the whole life that I'd chosen��
Charlie went on in a hopeless tone. "I don't know if she's going to get over it��I'm not sure if it's in her nature to heal from something like this. She's always been such a constant little thing. She doesn't get past things, change her mind."
"She's one of a kind," Alice agreed in a dry voice.
"And Alice��" Charlie hesitated. "Now, you know how fond I am of you, and I can tell that she's happy to see you, but�� I'm a little worried about what your visit will do to her."
"So am I, Charlie, so am I. I wouldn't have come if I'd had any idea. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize, honey. Who knows? Maybe it will be good for her."
"I hope you're right."
There was a long break while forks scraped plates and Charlie chewed. I wondered where Alice was hiding the food.
"Alice, I have to ask you something," Charlie said awkwardly.
Alice was calm. "Go ahead."
"He's not coming back to visit, too, is he?" I could hear the suppressed anger in Charlie's voice.
Alice answered in a soft, reassuring tone. "He doesn't even know I'm here. The last time I spoke with him, he was in South America."
I stiffened as I heard this new information, and listened harder.
"That's something, at least." Charlie snorted. "Well, I hope he's enjoying himself."
For the first time, Alice's voice had a bit of steel in it. "I wouldn't make assumptions, Charlie." I knew how her eyes would flash when she used that tone.
A chair scooted from the table, scraping loudly across the floor. I pictured Charlie getting up; there was no way Alice would make that kind of noise. The faucet ran, splashing against a dish.
It didn't sound like they were going to say anything more about Edward, so I decided it was time to wake up.
I turned over, bouncing against the springs to make them squeak. Then I yawned loudly.
All was quiet in the kitchen.
I stretched and groaned.
"Alice?" I asked innocently; the soreness rasping in my throat added nicely to the charade.
"I'm in the kitchen, Bella," Alice called, no hint in her voice that she suspected my eavesdropping. But she was good at hiding things like that.
Charlie had to leave then��he was helping Sue Clearwater with the funeral arrangements. It would have been a very long day without Alice. She never spoke about leaving, and I didn't ask her. I knew it was inevitable, but I put it out of my mind.
Instead, we talked about her family��all but one.
Carlisle was working nights in Ithaca and teaching part time at Cornell. Esme was restoring a seventeenth century house, a historical monument, in the forest north of the city. Emmett and Rosalie had gone to Europe for a few months on another honeymoon, but they were back now. Jasper was at Cornell, too, studying philosophy this time. And Alice had been doing some personal research, concerning the information I'd accidentally uncovered for her last spring. She'd successfully tracked down the asylum where she'd spent the last years of her human life. The life she had no memory of.
"My name was Mary Alice Brandon," she told me quietly. "I had a little sister named Cynthia. Her daughter��my niece��is still alive in Biloxi."
"Did you find out why they put you in�� that place?" What would drive parents to that extreme? Even if their daughter saw visions of the future��
She just shook her head, her topaz eyes thoughtful. "I couldn't find much about them. I went through all the old newspapers on microfiche. My family wasn't mentioned often; they weren't part of the social circle that made the papers. My parents' engagement was there, and Cynthia's." The name fell uncertainly from her tongue. "My birth was announced�� and my death. I found my grave. I also filched my admissions sheet from the old asylum archives. The date on the admission and the date on my tombstone are the same."
I didn't know what to say, and, after a short pause, Alice moved on to lighter topics.
The Cullens were reassembled now, with the one exception, spending Cornell's spring break in Denali with Tanya and her family. I listened too eagerly to even the most trivial news. She never mentioned the one I was most interested in, and for that I was grateful. It was enough to listen to the stories of the family I'd once dreamed of belonging to.
Charlie didn't get back until after dark, and he looked more worn than he had the night before. He would be headed back to the reservation first thing in the morning for Harry's funeral, so he turned in early. I stayed on the couch with Alice again.
Charlie was almost a stranger when he came down the stairs before the sun was up, wearing an old suit I'd never seen him in before. The jacket hung open; I guessed it was too tight to fasten the buttons. His tie was a bit wide for the current style. He tiptoed to the door, trying not to wake us up. I let him go, pretending to sleep, as Alice did on the recliner.
As soon as he was out the door, Alice sat up. Under the quilt, she was fully dressed.
"So, what are we doing today?" she asked.
"I don't know��do you see anything interesting happening?"
She smiled and shook her head. "But it's still early."
All the time I'd been spending in La Push meant a pile of things I'd been neglecting at home, and I decided to catch up on my chores. I wanted to do something, anything that might make life easier for Charlie��maybe it would make him feel just a little better to come home to a clean, organized house. I started with the bathroom��it showed the most signs of neglect.
While I worked, Alice leaned against the doorjamb and asked nonchalant questions about my, well, our high school friends and what they been up to since she'd left. Her face stayed casual and emotionless, but I sensed her disapproval when she realized how little I could tell her. Or maybe I just had a guilty conscience after eavesdropping on her conversation with Charlie yesterday morning.
I was literally up to my elbows in Comet, scrubbing the floor of the bathtub, when the doorbell rang.
I looked to Alice at once, and her expression was perplexed, almost worried, which was strange; Alice was never taken by surprise.
"Hold on!" I shouted in the general direction of the front door, getting up and hurrying to the sink to rinse my arms off.
"Bella," Alice said with a trace of frustration in her voice, "I have a fairly good guess who that might be, and I think I'd better step out."
"Guess?" I echoed. Since when did Alice have to guess anything?
"If this is a repeat of my egregious lapse in foresight yesterday, then it's most likely Jacob Black or one of his�� friends."
I stared at her, putting it together. "You can't see werewolves?"
She grimaced. "So it would seem." She was obviously annoyed by this fact��very annoyed.
The doorbell rang again��buzzing twice quickly and impatiently.
"You don't have go anywhere, Alice. You were here first."
She laughed her silvery little laugh��it had a dark edge. "Trust me��it wouldn't be a good idea to have me and Jacob Black in a room together."
She kissed my cheek swiftly before she vanished through Charlie's door��and out his back window, no doubt.
The doorbell rang again.
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