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The things that keep us here : a novel / Carla Buckley.
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- ISBN: 9780440246046 (pbk.)
- ISBN: 0440246040 (pbk.)
- Physical Description: 417 p. ; 21 cm.
- Edition: 2011 Bantam Books trade pbk. ed.
- Publisher: New York : Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks, 2011, c2010.
|General Note:||Originally published: New York : Delacorte Press, c2010.|
|Summary, etc.:||Everything seems quiet on Ann Brooks's suburban cul-de-sac. Despite her impending divorce, she's created a happy home and her daughters are adjusting to the change. She feels lucky to be in a supportive community and confident that she can handle any other hardship that life may throw her way. But then, right before Thanksgiving, a crisis strikes that turns everybody's world upside down. Suddenly her estranged husband is forced back onto her doorstep, bringing with him his beautiful graduate assistant. Trapped inside the house she once called home, confronted by challenges she never could have imagined, Ann must make life-or-death decisions in an environment where the simple act of opening a door to a neighbor could jeopardize all she holds dear.|
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|Subject:||Dysfunctional families Fiction
Separated women Fiction
Life change events Fiction
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The Things That Keep Us Here : A Novel
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The Things That Keep Us Here : A Novel
Chapter Eleven Â Â P eter wedged his jacket into the hall closet besideÂ the girls' coats, their cheerful colors standing out againstÂ the tan of his jacket and the sober maroon of Ann's coat, the sameÂ one she'd had for years. Boots stood on the floor below--Maddie'sÂ mauve leopard print, Ann's stubby brown ones, and a sleek blackÂ pair with designs stitched into the leather with white thread. Kate's,Â probably. She'd always loved cowboy boots. He remembered herÂ first pair, a bright cherry color, that she loved so much she insistedÂ on wearing them everywhere, to the store, on playdates, even toÂ bed. After she'd fallen asleep, either he or Ann would tiptoe in andÂ gently ease the boots off her feet. But then, sure enough, the nextÂ morning she'd appear in the kitchen doorway, yawning, still in herÂ nightgown and wearing those boots. How old had she been, two?Â Maybe three. She'd cried so when she finally outgrew them and AnnÂ couldn't find a pair in a larger size.Â In the kitchen, Ann was tearing open a box of pasta and dumpingÂ its contents into a pot of bubbling water. She looked up as heÂ approached, and she swept back a strand of hair from her face withÂ the back of her hand. "It's just sauce from a jar tonight."Â Peter thought of her homemade marinara, rich with choppedÂ onion and garlic and bell peppers. He wondered if this hasty mealÂ was a result of her working full- time or if this was just the way sheÂ and the girls ate now. Somehow, he'd thought all three would beÂ frozen in time, doing the same things the same way they alwaysÂ had, just without him. "Smells good."Â "Get out the Parmesan, Maddie," Ann said. "Kate, please set theÂ table." She glanced over her shoulder at Peter. "I think there's a bottleÂ of wine in the basement if you want to hunt it up."Â "Sure."Â He found it easily enough, lying in the wine rack above theÂ mini- refrigerator, just where he'd left it. Rubbing away the dustÂ from the smooth glass shoulders of the bottle, he came back into theÂ kitchen. Maddie was pouring cheese into a small bowl while KateÂ spread place mats across the kitchen table. Shazia stood by the sink,Â a water glass in her hand.Â He winked at her and she smiled.Â Ann stirred the pasta. "Do you have a lot of family in Cairo,Â Shazia?"Â "All my family's there," Shazia replied. "My brother, my sister,Â my parents. My father comes from a large family. He's one of tenÂ children."Â "Ten!" Maddie said. "That's practically a soccer team."Â Shazia smiled. "I have a lot of cousins."Â "I can imagine," Ann said. "What does your father do?"Â "He's a medical doctor."Â "And you're getting your PhD. He must be very proud of you."Â "Shazia went to Oxford." Peter opened a drawer and beganÂ hunting for a corkscrew among the rattle of spoons and spatulas.Â "And she got her DVM in Cairo."Â "Impressive." Ann brought out a loaf of bread and began to sliceÂ it. "So, you're making the switch from veterinary medicine to research?"Â Peter knew what Ann was thinking. He'd made the same careerÂ jump. He remembered telling Ann he was entering research. He'dÂ leaned across the table and clasped her hands in his. Later, she'dÂ confided she thought he was about to propose. When that time didÂ come, it was over a table, too, and there was candlelight and wine.Â He looked down at the bottle in his hands and got busy.Â "I read one of Peter's articles online," Shazia said. "It was veryÂ persuasive. He said the best way to make a real difference in animalÂ health was through research."Â "I like your phone," Kate said. "It's such a cool color."Â "Look how tiny the keypad is," Shazia said, pulling it from herÂ pocket.Â "Wow."Â "How are you finding Columbus?" Ann asked. "It must be quiteÂ a change from Oxford and Cairo."Â Shazia laughed. "In many ways, yes. But it's actually been anÂ easier adjustment than I expected. People have been very welcoming.Â There are lots of international students here."Â Peter held up the wine bottle and Shazia shook her head. SheÂ set down her water glass. "If you don't mind, I think I'll go lie down.Â I have a terrible headache."Â "Of course." Ann wiped her hands on a dishtowel. "Let me showÂ you your room and get you some towels. Peter, would you dish theÂ girls up?"Â She said it so casually. Dish the girls up . One of the shorthandÂ expressions they used to use all the time. Surprising how nostalgicÂ he felt hearing it again. Staying here was going to be more difficultÂ than he'd realized. He watched Ann climb the stairs, her voice floatingÂ lightly down as she talked to Shazia, showing her around, welcomingÂ her into what would be her home, too, for a little while.Â After dinner, peter stood in the doorway of maddie's room. Dishes clattered from the kitchen below as Ann cleaned up.Â Shazia was in the guest room down the hall. He heard the soft murmurÂ of her voice and guessed she was on the phone.Â He put his hands on his hips. "You're sure you brushed yourÂ teeth, Maddie?"Â She giggled from where she lay in bed. "Yes, Daddy."Â "Because I'm not coming in if you haven't."Â "I have. I swear."Â "With toothpaste?"Â "With toothpaste."Â "All right then." He reached down to turn on the nightlight, thenÂ straightened and switched off the overhead light. The room wasÂ bathed in a soft glow. He made his way to her bed and sat down besideÂ her.Â Maddie lay back against her pillow and looked up at him seriously.Â His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and now he could see herÂ features, the rounded curves of her cheeks, the sleepy slants of herÂ eyes so like Ann's. He'd noticed that she'd lost another tooth, a bottomÂ one along the side. What was the Tooth Fairy bringing theseÂ days? The going rate used to be five bucks. Once they couldn't rummageÂ up enough bills between them to slide under seven- year- oldÂ Kate's pillow. In triumph, he had produced a Lowe's gift card. SoÂ much laughter. They should have saved some of it for the years toÂ come.Â Maddie said, "My teacher told us that birds are making peopleÂ sick."Â " Uh- huh."Â She frowned. "You're around birds all the time."Â "Well, that's true. But I wear a special suit. Did you know that?"Â "Like Superman?"Â "No. It has a mask and goggles to keep infection from gettingÂ through and gloves to protect my hands. Sometimes I put on whiteÂ overalls so I don't spread the infection around."Â "And you wear that all the time?"Â "Oh, yes. Whenever I go in the field. I keep all that stuff in myÂ truck."Â "Do we need suits? Kate, Mommy, and me?"Â "No. I don't think so." He brushed the hair back from her forehead.Â "Now I lay me down to sleep."Â "I pray the Lord my soul to keep. May God's love be with meÂ through the night and wake me with the morning light." SheÂ yawned and smiled up at him.Â He kissed her cheek, so soft and warm. He'd missed this. "GoodÂ night, Maddie girl."Â He was at her doorway when she spoke up again.Â "Daddy?"Â "Hmm?"Â "Are you and Mom still having a divorce?"Â Poor Maddie. This turn of events must be so confusing for her.Â "Yes, sweetheart," he said gently. "We are."Â Kate was a mound of blankets in the deep gloom of her bedroom,Â leaning up against her headboard, waiting for him. "Hey," sheÂ said as he sat heavily on her bed.Â He leaned forward and kissed the top of her head. "Hey. YouÂ ever clean this place?"Â "Only when Mom threatens to take away my phone."Â She'd been dabbing on perfume again, its sweetness minglingÂ with the fruity aroma of her shampoo and the mint of her toothpaste.Â He remembered the days when they had to plead with KateÂ to take a bath. When she was six, they had to stand over her to getÂ her to brush her teeth.Â "How long are you staying?" she asked.Â "Maybe a few days. We'll see."Â She bit her lower lip. "This is really serious, isn't it?"Â "Yes."Â "People are dying, right?"Â "Yes."Â "Do you know anyone who's died?"Â He thought about that, then shook his head. "No one I know of,Â honey. Certainly no one here."Â "Are we going to die?"Â He picked up her stuffed owl, limp with age, its beak hangingÂ on by a few stitches. Where had this come from? He hadn't seen itÂ in years. She leaned forward, and he settled it behind her head.Â How his daughter could sleep without a pillow was beyond him, butÂ she never complained of a sore neck. "I know things seem to haveÂ happened awfully fast. But scientists and governments have beenÂ working on this problem for a long time. We knew this was coming.Â We just didn't know when. There are all sorts of plans and proceduresÂ in place to protect us."Â "Like closing school?"Â "Exactly. Which is a very smart thing to do. If we can keep people from catching it from one another, we can give scientists time toÂ work on a vaccine."Â She made a face. "That means a shot."Â If only it were that simple.Â "Just think," he said, rising. "No school tomorrow. You can IM toÂ your heart's content."Â "No one IMs anymore, Dad."Â "No?"Â "They text."Â "Ah." These were the things he missed so painfully: the lostÂ tooth, the backpack exchanged for a floppy bag, no more chocolateÂ syrup stirred into milk. These next few days would be an unexpectedÂ gift, a chance to reconnect with his daughters. "Well, thenÂ you can text to your heart's content."Â "Right. Tell Mom that." She yawned and turned over. "GoodÂ night, Dad."Â That was another thing: Dad instead of Daddy. Maybe that wasÂ the thing he missed the most.Â Ann was up when peter came into the kitchen early theÂ next morning. She stood by the coffeemaker, her hand on the potÂ handle, waiting for the water to stop dripping. She wore her oldÂ blue terry robe with the sagging pockets, and her hair was mussed.Â She wasn't one for predawn conversation, so he was surprised whenÂ she spoke. "Coffee?"Â "Please." He'd missed her coffee. Every pot he brewed was eitherÂ bitter sludge or tasteless brown water.Â "Sleep okay?"Â "Fine."Â "Really." She handed him a mug, the one Kate had painted at aÂ long- ago birthday party, the orange happy face faded now from soÂ many washings. "Beth says that sofa's a medieval torture device."Â Ann's sister had known what she was talking about. There wasÂ a certain pernicious spring that dug into his ribs whenever heÂ turned over. "It's like the Four Seasons compared to the one in myÂ apartment. Speaking of which, I'm going to head in and grab someÂ clothes."Â She nodded toward the television set playing quietly in the familyÂ room. "They're reporting a few cases in Mexico now."Â Already? He lifted his mug so she couldn't see his expression.Â Mexico was close. There were all sorts of migrations between MexicoÂ and the United States, human and otherwise. So the latest modelingÂ studies had been correct: restricting air travel had had littleÂ effect on containing the spread of the virus.Â She poured coffee into a second mug and pushed the pot backÂ onto the burner. "Nothing in Egypt, though. Did Shazia reach herÂ parents?"Â "Not that I know of." He drank some coffee. No cream, ofÂ course, but he could make do with some milk.Â "They must be so worried. Well, maybe they'll talk today." SheÂ sipped her coffee. "Hamburgers sound okay for dinner?"Â "Sure." He'd forgotten this, the way- too- early decision- makingÂ about what to have for dinner. He didn't care what they ate. HeÂ never had, but Ann had always needed to regiment her day into segments.Â Errand time, laundry time, mealtime. It was how she'dÂ coped as a stay- at- home mother. He wondered if things were differentÂ now that she'd gone back to work.Â He reached into the refrigerator for the milk. "How are you forÂ cash?"Â "The ATMs were cleaned out by the time we got to the bank."Â "They should be up and running now. I'll get water, too."Â "It was horrible last night."Â "Sounds like it." At least she'd come away with only a bruisedÂ shin. It could have been worse.Â "That shooting at Kroger?" She shook her head. "They said onÂ the news that it was over a parking space."Â He couldn't believe it, either. "Well, things should have calmedÂ down." He was here now. If anyone would be going to the store, itÂ would be him. "Ann?"Â She looked over.Â "You know we can't let the girls play with their friends."Â "For the whole three months, do you think?"Â "We'll have to take it a day at a time."Â "It's going to be so hard on them. Especially Kate."Â "It's better than the alternative."Â She looked at him over the rim of her cup and nodded.Â traffic was fairly light until he neared the airport.Â Then the highway jittered with cars, brake lights flashing irritably,Â no doubt filled with students trying desperately to get home. AnÂ airplane thundered across the sky, its lights twinkling red and whiteÂ in the darkness. Peter broke free of the backup and headed for theÂ side streets. Here, the neighborhoods were still half- asleep, just aÂ few cars working their way down the road. People yawned at busÂ stops and slumped against walls, waiting for rides.Â Up ahead, Tower West rose against the lavender sky, dark exceptÂ for the bright band of light that glowed through the glass of theÂ first- floor lobby windows. Cars packed the lot and overflowed ontoÂ the grassy spaces between the buildings. A uniformed man was justÂ coming out of the building. The guard from last night. Peter recognizedÂ the weary set of his shoulders. He slowed and rolled down hisÂ window.Â "We're full up," the man said in response to Peter's question.Â "We had to turn away a lot of kids. They just kept coming." He shookÂ his head, his gaze distant. "You plan for the worst. And then whenÂ the worst happens, you find out just how useless your planningÂ was."Â Ten blocks away, a brick apartment building held down the corner,Â squat and square. The lobby doors stood open. The buildingÂ manager was a stickler for keeping them locked. Peter stepped insideÂ and listened. A television muttered in the apartment to his left.Â Bikes leaned against the wall. Normal. He shrugged and closed theÂ door behind him. Taking the stairs to the second floor, he unlockedÂ the far door on the right. Here, too, everything appeared the same.Â The narrow bed in the corner, its covers pulled taut. The batteredÂ table that served as both nightstand and kitchen table, holding aÂ gooseneck lamp, coffeepot, and alarm clock. The folding chair inÂ the opposite corner beside the small bookcase. The framed photographsÂ of the girls, Maddie's duck painting taped to the wall. He'dÂ left the drapes half- open. Pale sun streamed across the worn carpet.Â He filled his suitcase and slung some things into a duffel bag. HeÂ unplugged the television and DVD player, and drew the curtainsÂ shut. He stood and stared around at the small space, his home forÂ more than a year.Â Out in the hallway, a man and a woman trooped up the stairsÂ toward him. He recognized them as his next- door neighbors, bothÂ college students. Peter had learned to work late on weekend nightsÂ to avoid the inevitable parties and to close his ears to their earlymorningÂ lovemaking. They pressed themselves against the wall toÂ let Peter and his bags squeeze past.Â "Take care," the woman said.Â First time she'd ever spoken to him. It sounded so final. PeterÂ nodded. "You too."Â She continued up the stairs, the man's arm around her shoulders.Â The streets had perked up during his brief absence. The coffeeÂ shop on the corner was doing a brisk business. People thronged theÂ patio and overflowed onto the sidewalk, chatting as they waited forÂ their morning brew. People swooped past on bikes. Others walkedÂ hand in hand down the sidewalks. Downtown was beginning toÂ have a carnival air about it, everyone hanging out, enjoying the unexpectedÂ day off from school and work.Â Peter shook his head and loaded his bags into the back of theÂ pickup.Â He drove by playgrounds that an hour before had been empty.Â Kids ran everywhere, calling out to one another. Their parentsÂ stood in idle clusters, rocking strollers and no doubt negotiatingÂ how to manage this day and all the suddenly school- free days toÂ follow. Movie theaters would be swamped. So would the mall, fastfoodÂ restaurants, the library, and rec center, anyplace that welcomedÂ kids. A mistake.Â This wasn't the time for celebration. These people shouldn't beÂ standing out here, laughing, gossiping. He considered stopping,Â rolling down his window, and telling them to go home. But of courseÂ he didn't. They wouldn't listen. They'd think he was a madman.Â "listen to this." shazia sat on the floor in the cornerÂ of the den, laptop balanced on her knees, her hair loose about herÂ shoulders. She was playing with her barrette, snapping and unsnappingÂ it. "RNL is working on a vaccine."Â "Who isn't?" Peter looked back to his computer screen andÂ typed a few commands. He had to download his lectures for theÂ week and then post the exam. It was all master's- level work. At thatÂ point, students could be expected to follow the honor system.Â "But it looks like they may have something. They've alreadyÂ moved on to Phase Two of clinical trials."Â Peter swiveled in his chair to look at her. "Really?"Â She nodded. "A Dr. Liederman's leading it."Â "Albert Liederman?"Â "You know him?"Â "My old doctoral advisor. I haven't talked to him in months."Â Which had been a worry. Over the course of the past year, LiedermanÂ had stopped attending conferences and returning phone calls.Â Peter had thought the old fellow was slowing down, but now itÂ seemed he had simply diverted his energies elsewhere. "I've beenÂ after him for years to write a memoir about the '78 influenza outbreak.Â We came that close to a full- blown pandemic." He held up hisÂ thumb and forefinger pinched together.Â "In 1978?"Â She had probably never even heard about it. Few people had.Â "You should hear him talk about it. That guy could send shiversÂ down your spine."Â But talk was all Liederman would do. How many times had heÂ grumbled, "I can't write a book, Brooks. That's your job."Â Peter leaned back in his chair. "He gave me his notes a whileÂ ago. Told me to take a crack at putting together a book. Maybe youÂ could help me organize the material."Â "I'd like that."Â He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye, and he lookedÂ over to see Ann standing in the doorway of the den. "Want to lightÂ the grill?"Â Shazia set down her laptop. "I'll help."Â "Stay put." Peter waved his hand. "Tonight I'm cooking."Â Shazia looked at him. "That'll be nice."Â He knew what she was thinking. What kind of dish could sheÂ expect from a guy who ate from vending machines and take-outÂ restaurants?Â Peter walked beside Ann down the hall. "I might have foundÂ Shazia a place. The school's going to open up Baldwin Hall. I persuadedÂ them to take her even if she's not on the official list."Â "It's too bad she won't be with her roommate."Â "There'll be other international students there. She'll knowÂ someone."Â Maddie sprawled on her belly in front of the television set. HeÂ had no idea what shows were her favorites these days. He'd neverÂ seen this particular one before, something involving preteen girlsÂ arguing with a man in a hotel uniform. He stopped beside theÂ couch where Kate sat, laptop propped before her. His old computer,Â outdated but powerful enough for her to play around on. "Who areÂ you talking to?"Â She answered without looking up. "Michele. Claire. John. Andrea.Â Scooter."Â He looked over at Ann. "John? Scooter?" These weren't namesÂ he'd heard before. What kind of name was Scooter? He couldn'tÂ even tell what gender it belonged to.Â "John is Michele's boyfriend." Ann handed him a platter of hamburgerÂ patties. "And Scooter's a boy in one of Kate's classes."Â Peter looked down at Kate. Pink blossomed across her cheekbonesÂ as she stared at her computer screen. He glanced back atÂ Ann. She was frowning slightly. Then she shook her head. Don't sayÂ anything, she was telegraphing, and he nodded.Â So soon. He slid open the screen door and stepped out onto theÂ patio. Too soon. Kate had just turned thirteen. He looked backÂ through the glass at his daughter cross- legged on the sofa, coltish,Â long brown hair falling forward. She tapped gracefully at the keyboard,Â her hands all smooth motion, sitting back and laughing. TheÂ sight of it made his heart twist.Â He turned the dial and was glad to see the answering flame. HeÂ hadn't thought to check the propane level. He shoveled the burgersÂ onto the grill and set down the empty platter.Â It was a crisp evening, cold enough to cloud his breath into softÂ puffs. Streetlights burned up and down the dark sidewalks. He'dÂ missed the sunset.Â A dark SUV glided past. The driver lifted his hand in greeting.Â It was that doctor who lived beside the Guarnieris, what was hisÂ name? Singh. That was it. He'd moved into the neighborhood a fewÂ months before Peter moved out. They used to nod politely at eachÂ other as they crisscrossed their lawns with mowers. The vehicleÂ slowed in front of the driveway and Peter saw a figure step in frontÂ of the headlights, followed by a smaller, shaggier shape.Â Walter Finn and his dog. The animal was genial enough, butÂ you couldn't say the same about the man. Finn was forever circulatingÂ petitions against one thing or another: too many weeds in aÂ neighbor's yard, bikes left scattered across sidewalks, snow goingÂ unshoveled, all the petty grievances that sprang up in a suburbanÂ community, which most people ignored but onto which Finn fastenedÂ greedy claws.Â Peter stabbed at the burgers and flipped them over.Â The dog tugged at his leash, wanting to come over and investigateÂ the meat he was cooking. Finn lifted his head and spottedÂ Peter standing conspicuously against the bright light shining fromÂ the kitchen behind him. Peter braced himself for another round ofÂ what's- this- neighborhood- coming- to, but Finn jerked the leash insteadÂ and tugged the dog away.Â "Heel, Barney," he ordered, and the dog shambled over to checkÂ out who'd been visiting the tree on the far corner.Â Peter had been afforded a reprieve. Finn must have figured outÂ he wasn't the go- to guy of the house any longer. Turning back to theÂ grill, he saw Smith standing at his own grill just across the yard.Â "Dude," Smith said. "Good to see you."Â "Been a while."Â "Crazy times, huh? Libby sent me out for water today, but all IÂ could find was that fizzy designer stuff."Â "I got lucky at a gas station on Franz. A delivery truck was justÂ unloading when I pulled up. We've got extra you can have."Â "I'll take you up on that. Libby's been a wreck about it."Â They talked back and forth across their patios. Would the NFLÂ adjust to a few missed games? How much farther would the DowÂ Jones skid before recovering? Was there any end in sight to theÂ price of gas? Libby came out, the baby in her arms, and handedÂ Smith a platter.Â "Hey," Peter said.Â "Hello," she said coolly.Â Well, at least she wasn't pretending he was invisible. This wasÂ progress. Peter pushed his luck. "Jacob's gotten big." Last time he'dÂ seen the baby, he'd been cradled easily in one arm. Now the kidÂ straddled Libby's hip, reaching forward with one plump hand forÂ the piece of bun Smith held out.Â Smith said, "Gonna grow up to be a linebacker, just like his oldÂ man."Â The coals glowed softly. The smell of cooked meat rose. PeterÂ pressed the spatula beneath the hamburgers and lifted them onto aÂ plate. Picking up the platter, he dialed off the heat.Â "Hey," Smith said. "I got an idea. Why don't you guys comeÂ over?"Â An old tradition, combining their cookouts onto one patio orÂ dining room.Â "Smith," Libby said.Â "Jeez, Libby. Come on. If Ann's cool with it--"Â "Actually," Peter said, "Libby's right. We should probably beÂ keeping our distance."Â Silence.Â "Christ." Smith's voice came to him out of the darkness. "Right.Â I guess I saw something about that on the news. You really thinkÂ it'll do any good?"Â "It's all we can do."Â The clatter of a grill lid lowered into place. "Well, good to seeÂ you, Peter."Â "You too."Â Peter looked around at all the houses, large, dark squares risingÂ out of the ground, windows glowing bright, islands separated byÂ lawns and closed doors. The empty patios, the tables with the chairsÂ stacked and the umbrellas furled. No one else was out enjoying theÂ spate of clear weather.Â He looked back at his own house. Through the glass he saw intoÂ the kitchen--Ann reaching down a stack of plates from the cabinet,Â Maddie collecting her drawing materials, Kate pouring a glass ofÂ milk. It all appeared normal, but it wasn't. Everything had changed.Â From the Hardcover edition. Excerpted from The Things That Keep Us Here: A Novel by Carla Buckley All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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