Monday, December 27, 2010

Chapter 28

To Encourage or Hinder With a Helping Hand

On the morning of Friday, September eighteenth, Edward awoke in a sour mood. His back and hips were on fire from having spent three consecutive nights in his wheelchair beside Bella's bed, cramped and uncomfortable and waking each morning with kinks and sores too numerous to count. The previous night, he'd finally surrendered to her pleas for him to go home when visiting hours ended and sleep in his own bed, but it had done little for his persistent aches.

But oddly enough, it wasn't the constant soreness or the never ending distress of failed attempts at independency that were affecting him so greatly that morning. It was something altogether different, and it had been building within him now for days.

It had started on Tuesday when his mother had come to take him to physical therapy on her lunch break and kept insisting on helping him to get into the car.

It continued early Tuesday evening when Alec picked him up and brought him home so he could shower, change, and make something for dinner that he could bring back for Bella—and Alec insisted on helping him in the kitchen even though the man couldn't manage to make a slice of toast without practically burning the house down.

On Wednesday, Emmett had brought him to physical therapy, stayed for the session, brought him home to shower and change, and then when Edward had wanted to take the dogs for a walk, had insisted on doing it for him.

On Thursday, his mother had stopped by the house just after he'd finished putting together a container of homemade chicken noodle soup for Bella and insisted upon cleaning the mess he'd made. Before she left, she'd insisted upon doing his laundry for him, leaving him little room to argue with her as she swept past him with his basket of dirty clothes.

So when he awoke on Friday morning, already in a sour mood, only to find his mother starting to do the dishes he'd left in the sink the night before, his aggravation peaked.

"I can do it," he grumbled, wheeling himself into the kitchen. Leaving the dishes in the sink hadn't been because he'd been unable to do them. It had just been an accustomed habit of the bachelor lifestyle he'd lived for years. Most of his mornings in the years prior to the incident had begun with the ritual chore of loading the dishwasher.

"It's okay, honey," Esme smiled lovingly at him. "What would you like for breakfast?"

"I can make it myself...would you stop?"

"Don't be silly, sweetheart. I have an hour before I need to be at the school. I can have it cooked and cleaned up before I leave," she snickered, oblivious to the tension in his voice.

He rubbed his forehead with his fingertips and forced a deep breath out of his nose as he dropped his hand and shook his head. It wasn't worth fighting over, and as he wheeled himself to the corner of the kitchen to tend to the dog bowls, he repeated that to himself in a silent mantra as he responded to her.

"Fine...just coffee and a bagel." Just as he was bending forward to grab the empty dog bowls, Esme gasped and dropped a plate in the sink, making a loud clatter that startled Edward and made him drop the metal bowl on the floor.

"What? What is it?"

"Don' might hurt yourself," Esme rushed over, wiping her wet hands on the dishtowel she'd had tossed over her shoulder. "I'll feed the dogs for you, just let me finish doing the dishes first."

Edward's shoulders sagged as she bent down to pick up the bowl he'd dropped, and he had to fight off the urge to just either scream or cry; he didn't know which he wanted to do more in that moment.

"Would you please just stop?"

His quiet and agonized tone halted Esme in her tracks, bowls in hand and crouched down toward the floor. She looked up just in time to see him shaking his head slowly as he stared at the ceiling; thoughts of how much he wished Bella were well and there with him ravaging his mind unbeknownst to her. There was a subtleness to the way she cared for him that he missed sorely. Ever since she'd been in the hospital, any attempts to do something for himself had been thwarted by the person in charge of caring for him at the time, and their blatant disregard for his need to be as independent as he could was wreaking havoc on his mental state.

With Bella it was different. She encouraged him to do things on his own. She allowed him the space to at least try, and she didn't make a big deal out of it when he struggled or failed miserably. But most of all, even if he'd failed the first time, she still encouraged him to try again. He missed that.

He missed her.

"You're not helping me," he spoke quietly, rubbing his forehead with his fingers. "Doing everything for me and keeping me from doing anything for myself doesn't help me, Mom." He dropped his hand and sighed miserably.

"Please, you and everyone else, please just...stop. If I need help, I'll ask, but until then...stop treating me like I can't do a damn thing on my own."

After biting out his last words, he wheeled himself away, leaving his mother behind, stunned and heartbroken. A massive headache was beginning to pulsate and throb at the base of his skull and behind his temples as he snatched up his cell phone and disappeared into the backyard with the dogs.

"Go play," he muttered, throwing a deflated football for the pair and then flipping his phone open after they tore off after it.

Edward looked down at the phone, noting the time at just ten minutes after seven in the morning. Edward hoped he wasn't waking her as his fingers pressed the keys to dial the direct room number he'd come to memorize from staring at it on the dry erase board while Bella napped off and on throughout the hours he'd spent in her room. But as she answered, groggy, hoarse, and congested, he felt horrible that he had.

"I'm sorry I woke you," he said apologetically.

"What's wrong?" she croaked, knowing instantly something was off by the tone of his voice.

"Nothing...everything," he amended, sighing and shaking his head as he looked across the yard. "Everyone around here is driving me up a wall. They act like I'm a complete invalid and I can't stand it."

Bella frowned as she laid back down with the phone pressed to her ear. She still hadn't fully awoken, her mind and comprehensive abilities jumbled and sluggish as she remained on the brink of slumber.

"What?" she asked, unsure why anyone would treat him as an invalid when he was anything but.

"'s nothing," he sighed, wishing he hadn't woken her for such a ridiculous reason, but knowing that in that moment, the only thing standing between him and a mental breakdown had been the sound of her voice—groggy and hoarse as it was. "Go back to sleep. I'm sorry for waking you."

"No, I'm's fine," she argued, speaking louder and causing herself to start coughing, which made him feel even worse.

He waited until she released the breathless groan that always seemed to pinpoint the end of one of her episodes, and then spoke again, "Bella, really. Go back to sleep. You need the rest. I shouldn't have called so early."

"Edward, I'm up," she grumbled, sitting upright in the bed. "If it was important enough for you to call at the crack of dawn, then it's important enough for me to listen to the reason you did."

So he told her. Edward talked, and she listened, never interrupting him as he spoke of the events during the week which had been causing him unnecessary distress. As Bella listened, her heart hurt for him; not because of his family's attempts to help him, but because of how it made him feel. In just the short time that she'd known him, she'd come to be acutely aware of the fact that his most strenuous mental and emotional struggles had less to do with his actual physical condition and more to do with the loss of freedoms he felt because of it.

"Hm..." she hummed when he was finished. "You know what you need to do?"

"No...what?" he asked, a slight smile curling the edges of his lips at the whimsical tone in her voice, despite it being marred slightly by her congestion.

"You make me breakfast."

"What?" he sputtered, a chuckle ripping through his throat.

"You need to make me breakfast. I'm hungry," she sniggered, sounding nasally and vaguely seal-like as her voice cut in and out.

"And what would the wonderful Miss Bella like for breakfast this morning?" he laughed, his tone slightly teasing.

"Pancakes...and sausage, the patty kind...not the links, ew," she replied, smiling until the very end when her nose scrunched and she grimaced.

"My mother's still here," he sighed, looking back toward the kitchen window. "Would you like me to ask her to make it for you?"

"No," she drawled. "I want you to make it."

"Pancakes and sausage, huh?" he mused, scratching the back of his head as she responded with an "mmhm" that was muted due to her stuffed up sinuses. In the last four days she'd barely eaten much of anything, either unable to stomach what had been placed before her, or repulsed by her inability to taste what made it past her lips.

"You're not even hungry...are you?"

Bella whimpered faintly as she laid back down, knowing she'd been caught red-handed. "No...but I'd eat it if you made it." It wasn't entirely false. Everything he'd brought and put the effort into making for her she'd at least tried to eat.

"How about some cream of wheat instead?" he asked, half smiling at her attempt to make him feel useful. "At least that doesn't taste like anything with or without your taste buds intact."

"Fine," she pouted. "But as soon as I can taste again you're making me those pancakes...with nuts...and bananas...and chocolate syrup and whipped cream..."

"Bella..." he interrupted.


"It's a wonder your taste buds work at all with some of the concoctions of crap you eat," he laughed.

"Hey," she whined, trying not to laugh. "I don't eat weird stuff."

"Sure," he teased. "Because using buffalo sauce as salad dressing last week wasn't strange at all."

"Don't knock it 'til you try it, and besides, there was leftover fried chicken in it was a buffalo chicken salad, so thppt," she chuckled, blowing him a raspberry.

From inside the house, Esme gazed out the kitchen window, wiping a stray tear from her face and smiling sadly at the sight of Edward laughing. She'd known instantly who he'd been talking to at the slightest hint of a smile upon his lips, and she was grateful to the young woman on the other end of his phone call for being able to so easily do what it seemed no one else in Edward's life was capable of—easing the burden he constantly carried upon his shoulders.

It hadn't been her intention to upset her son; she'd merely wished to do anything in her power to make his life easier. Esme hadn't known that in doing so, he'd felt she was making it harder on him. Taking a step away from the sting caused by his rejection of her willingness and desire to assist him, she could understand his feelings on the matter. She didn't like it, didn't like feeling unneeded when it was obvious he needed someone—but she understood it. And she was comforted in the knowledge that the person he was choosing to turn to, wittingly or not, could do more for him than she, herself, or anyone else in their family could.

In the weeks that Esme had watched Edward and Bella's friendship blossom, she'd become aware of just how similar the pair were. Kindred souls her mind had whispered to her time and time again; each as rare as a rose budding in the winter, secretly full of life but just needing a bit of warmth cast upon them to bloom and show their beauty to the world.

Yes, Bella could do more for him because she understood him in ways that no one else could, and the thought that Edward had someone as wonderful as she to turn to warmed Esme's fragile heart.

"You okay, Esme?"

The deep voice, filled with concern and weariness from a long twenty four hour shift, hadn't startled her a bit. She turned with the same soft smile that had been upon her face as she gazed out of the kitchen window and nodded as Alec approached.

"I'm fine. Rough morning, but how many haven't been lately?"

"Who's he talking to?" Alec asked after taking a quick glimpse out of the window.

"Bella." She hadn't been conscious of it, but her smile had spread at the mention of the beautiful young woman's name.

Alec sighed to himself as he leaned against the counter, turning his to-go coffee cup in his hand as he watched Esme gaze out the window.

"He looks so happy right now," she breathed to herself as she saw him laugh.

Alec warred with himself for a handful of moments before speaking up. Part of him wanted to walk out the back door and smack Edward right upside the head and tell him to open his eyes at what had been sitting in front of his face for at least a month now, and the other part wished for Edward to remain oblivious to it for a while longer. One look at Esme, however, told him exactly how she felt upon the matter. She wanted them together—not that he didn't. He just didn't want Bella to have to pay the price of Edward jumping into something he wasn't ready for just yet.

"Let it alone, Esme." She turned to look at him with a questioning gaze. "They'll figure it out on their own when the time is right."

"I know," she sighed, nodding. "It's just, they're so perfect for one another. It's such a shame they hadn't met before all of this."

"That's life for ya," Alec shrugged as he moved to toss his empty cup into the trash. "So what made this morning a rough one? Anything serious, or is it just a walk on eggshells kind of day?"

Alec was exhausted, weary straight down into his bones after the grueling twenty-four he'd just come off of, and he wasn't sure he had it in him that day to deal with his best friend's volatile mood swings. Granted, Edward's mood had greatly improved since he and Bella had smoothed things out between them, but after a mere three hours of broken sleep in the last twenty-seven or so hours, Alec's tolerance for unwarranted surliness was virtually nonexistent.

"No,'s nothing like that," Esme shook her head as Alec tended to the dog bowls. "I just figuratively stepped on his toes."

At Alec's questioning look, Esme elaborated. "He's too independent for his own good, and all of us doing everything for him lately is just..."

"Pissing him off," Alec nodded in understanding while finishing her spoken thought. "So pretty much, he just wants us to stand back let him do his thing."

"Something like that. He said he'd ask for help if he needed it." Esme glanced down at her wristwatch and noted that she'd need to be leaving shortly to make it to work on time. "Here, let me get that. You need a shower and a few hours of sleep. I heard the scanner going off all night, you've got to be dead on your feet."

"I's been a while since we've had that crazy of a shift," Alec chuckled exhaustedly as he passed off the soapy sponge he'd been using to wash the dogs' bowls. "There's no use falling asleep when, chances are, Edward will wake me in about an hour to bring him to the hospital, but a shower definitely sounds good right about now."

Though he hadn't meant to, when Alec hit the couch in the den after his shower, he'd nodded off almost instantly. By the time Edward had come back inside the house, long after he'd apologized to his mother when she stepped outside to tell him she was leaving for work, he found Alec snoring away with his feet on the coffee table and his head resting against his loosely curled fist.

"Alec," Edward called as he shook Alec's leg. Not getting a response, Edward shook it harder and Alec's eyes cracked open. "Bro...go crash in the bed upstairs."

"Can't," Alec yawned while rubbing his bloodshot eyes with the palms of his hands. "You have PT in a few hours."

"Don't worry about it. I'll call Jasper for a ride or something." Edward hoped he'd be able to get his brother up, but even if he couldn't, there was no way he could depend on Alec in the shape he was in. He knew far too well how it felt to be completely drained of energy after a sleepless shift.

"You sure?"

"Yeah, go." Edward's immediate answer to his slurred question had Alec sluggishly pushing himself up off the couch and shuffling toward the stairs. Once his heavy footsteps began traversing the upper level hallway, Edward pulled his phone back out of his pocket and called Jasper. On the third ring, unsurprisingly, the call was forwarded to his voicemail.

"Hey, it's Edward. If it's not too much to ask, I need a ride to therapy today. Hit me back when ya get this. Later."

Two hours passed without word from Jasper while Edward sat at the kitchen table, his monthly bills spread out before him; a calculator and his open checkbook left untouched amidst the mess of responsibility his eyes were feasting despairingly upon. If he weren't incapacitated by injury, his leg would be bouncing a mile a minute—a nervous tic he'd developed at a young age that helped dispel a fraction of his anxious energy. Instead, having no way to rid himself of the unpleasant feeling, he found himself returning to a different habit of his youth, one he'd been able to shake at his mother's persistent chiding—biting his fingernails.

His vision blurred and refocused a dozen times over as he stared at the sea of unpaid bills, gnawing his nails down to the tender flesh beneath while the same thought running through his head repeatedly.

Five months.

He'd only be able to pay his bills for another five months. The beginning of that sixth month would mark the start of the descent down the downward spiral his entire life was about to embark on. In three months, tops, from the start of that sixth month, he'd lose it all. Everything he'd ever worked himself half to death for would be seized, repossessed, and foreclosed upon.

All his life, Edward had always had a plan for anything and everything life could challenge him with, but he didn't have one now. After spending twenty nine years of making plans, and contingency plans to fall back on in the event he needed to do so, he was at a loss as to how to avoid the bottomless pit his life was about to sink into.

"I'm screwed," he groaned to no one other than himself as his fingers moved from his mouth to run through his hair.

He'd been just about to call Jasper again, after realizing he had only a little over an hour until he needed to leave for his therapy session, but the phone rang just as he enclosed his fingers around it.

"Hello?" he answered.

"Hey, bro," Emmett's voice filtered through the line over the sound of a station truck's diesel engine. "Listen, Jasper called. He can't make it there on time, some job interview or something, so Rosie's gonna pick you up after her doctor's appointment. She should be there by eleven thirty at the latest, okay?"

"Yeah sure."

"Everything alright, bro?" Emmett asked, covering his opposite ear to hear better as he strode quickly away from the loud truck getting ready to be backed into the station bay. He'd thought he'd heard something off in his brother's voice, but with all the commotion around him, he couldn't be sure.

"Yeah..." Edward trailed off, running a hand through his hair as he stared at the wall across from him. Shaking it off, he cleared his throat and shook his head. "It's fine, Em. Everything's fine."

"Okay." Emmett paused, torn between believing him and pushing for the truth of what was bothering him.

"Emmett, really," Edward sighed, not wanting his brother to worry himself over problems that weren't his own. He had enough on his plate as it was. "I'm good, bro. Everything's good."

An hour later, Edward still remained at the kitchen table, trying to find every last corner he could cut to stretch his savings as far as he could manage. When Rosalie and Ian arrived, promptly at quarter after eleven, just fifteen minutes before he needed to leave for therapy, she found him slumped in his chair and holding his face in his hands. He looked downright miserable.

"Hey, you okay?" she asked with quiet concern as she placed Ian and his infant carrier on the table.

Edward rubbed his face roughly and leaned back in his chair, propping his head on one of his fists. With a tight smile, he nodded. She pulled up a chair beside him and lowered herself into it as Edward reached out to gently stroke the back of Ian's little hand with his finger. A soft smile crossed his lips when Ian babbled at him and wrapped his pudgy hand around the tip of Edward's finger.

"Edward, honestly," Rose urged gently, turning her gaze back to him after taking in the stacks of bills laid atop the table and the chaotic scrawling upon the notepad before him. "What's wrong?"

Edward shook his head and sighed to himself, gently caressing Ian's hand with his thumb. "I have to sell the truck. I can't afford to keep making payments on it and the insurance when I can't even drive it."

"I wish we could help," Rosalie replied sadly. "Emmett's been wanting to replace the Jeep for a while now, but until I can finish my field hours and take the paramedic exam, we can't afford to even think about it. I'm not even sure I'll be able to find a job once I'm certified because there's nothing open right now."

"How many hours do you have left?" Edward asked, successfully diverting their conversation away from his financial troubles.

"Two hundred and twenty, or so," she grimaced. "I'd have been able to complete it before Ian was born if I hadn't been so damn sick through the first half of my pregnancy."

"You'll finish 'em," he shrugged, pulling his hand back from the baby. "And don't worry about a job. Les Cassidy at Medic two has expecting your application."

"Edward," she blurted, her eyes widened in shock. "You didn't."

He nodded with a hint of a grin, "I did...way back when you first started the program. I think Carlisle put a word in for you at Medic five, too, but honestly, I think you'd be better off working with Les's crew."

Rosalie's brow furrowed as she gently rocked Ian's carrier. "Why's that?"

"Because five runs with us," he answered pointedly, hoping she'd understand his reasoning. However, the pursing of her lips as she looked down at her lap and narrowed her eyes, told him otherwise.

"Rosalie, it's not that I didn't want to work with you or anything like that. It's just...look at how what happened to me affected Jasper. What if you were on Medic five and working with us and something like this happened again to me, or Pop...or Emmett? You wouldn't be in a state of mind to do anyone any good."

He hadn't wanted to plant that seed of possibility in her head for her to worry constantly over, as if she didn't already, but he needed her to understand his reasoning behind why she shouldn't work so closely with them. Working side by side with his brothers for the last few years had done nothing but solidify his belief that family shouldn't work together in their field. It was just too damn dangerous.

Edward had long since lost count of how many times he'd not only put himself at risk to save one of them, but had made mistakes while doing so at the same time, simply because he couldn't keep his head on straight knowing it was someone he loved that was in danger. His mistakes while driven by his emotions could have gotten him hurt, but in Rosalie's future position, it wouldn't be herself she was putting at risk. It'd be her patient. With a life hanging in the balance, her ability to keep her head clear and emotions separate from her job would be imperative, because a simple thoughtless mistake had the potential of being the difference between life and death.

"Yeah...I get that," she finally sighed.

"Besides," he chuckled. "Would you really want to run the risk of getting stuck on Jessica's shift if you joined Medic five?"

At that, Rosalie burst out laughing as she shook her head. "Not if I don't want to get fired my first day for beating a bitch after what she did to you."

"Ah...I see how it is," he laughed, quirking a brow at her. "And here I always thought your lack of physical displays of affection meant you didn't care, but here you are, willing to lay the smack-down in my honor."

"Shut up, smartass," she sniggered as she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Her voice was soft and saturated with adoration when she spoke again while rubbing his shoulder blade. "You know I love you. I'm just not a touchy feely kind of person."

At the beginning of his therapy session, Edward found himself lying face down on a padded table with electrode pads stuck to various places on his back and the backs of his legs. Seth sat beside him, manipulating the controls of the nerve stimulator and recording Edward's muscle "twitches", while simultaneously carrying on casual conversation. Edward listened, trying not to laugh as Seth recounted a hilarious tale from his teen years when he and his cousin had convinced Bella that the first day of high school every year was pajama day.

"So Jake and I show up at the bus stop, and I kid you not, there she stands wearing pink plaid pajama bottoms, some shirt with a bunny that says 'you stink' on it, and fluffy pink bunny slippers. We about died laughing..."

Edward had been mid-laugh when his left calf muscle contracted painfully and he cried out as his hand slammed down onto the padded surface of the table.

"Fuck," he groaned when it relaxed again. "That one hurt like hell."

"Sorry, man," Seth said sincerely as he turned the handheld machine off and began to remove the electrodes from Edward. "So you want the good news, or the bad news first?"

"Good...then maybe I can ignore the bad," Edward deadpanned in response.

Seth just laughed as he wiped down Edward's skin to remove any of the sticky residue left behind. "Good news is the delay in your twitches, or muscle contractions, is improving. The bad news is by the time you leave here today, you might love me, and I don't swing that way."

"What?" Edward barked out a bewildered laugh as Seth helped maneuver him into a sitting position.

"Today you're going to be taking your first steps, my man," Seth grinned.

"I'm...not following." Edward's brow furrowed as he shook his head. He couldn't even stand on his own, so how was he supposed to walk?

Edward listened patiently as Seth explained the harness he'd be suspended from over a treadmill, and with the help of him and two other aides, he'd be effectively "walking". Seth had referred to it as locomotor training, and claimed that it would benefit him in more ways than one.

"It's been shown to be highly effective in retraining the spinal cord to control muscle movements below the level of injury in cases like yours, where the spinal injury has been diagnosed as incomplete," Seth continued, truly hopeful that Edward would experience some of the miraculous results he'd seen in some of his past patients.

It had been an amazing feeling for Seth in the past, to have been able to watch a previously partially paralyzed patient of his walk away from him and the center. He felt this way for all of his patients that came to him with various injuries and inabilities; it was humbling and awe inspiring to be able to stand beside his patients as they navigated their journeys toward healing and overcame their trying obstacles.

Helping others through the recovery process, both physically and mentally, had been his life's ambition from a young age—ever since his Uncle Billy had been injured in an automobile accident when Seth was just seven years old. It had been the same accident that had killed his Aunt Sara.

He'd vowed back then to make it his life's work to help others just like his uncle, but where others had failed him, Seth was resolved to succeed. When his patients began to lose hope, he'd double his efforts to keep that spark alive in them, because without hope—they had no drive to fight for what they desperately wanted.

Edward had the drive. He was willing to fight for his recovery with everything in him. Every session they worked together, Edward gave one hundred and ten percent with no complaint, and Seth admired that about him. If any of his patients had the drive to succeed, he did, and Seth was fully prepared to do everything in his power to ensure that the day Edward left the center for the final time, he did so upon his own two feet.

"It's worked in others like me?" Edward asked curiously as he transferred himself back into his wheelchair.

Seth nodded as he squatted before him. "It has, and in some cases, it's helped patients in far worse condition. Clinically, you know I can't give you any definitive guarantees, but I truly believe this is something you can overcome. I'm not saying it'll be easy, because it's going to take a lot of hard work, but it is possible, Edward. Remember what we talked about last week?"

"Yeah," he confirmed with a slight nod as he rubbed his thighs. "My nerve passageways aren't severed...just confused, and my legs are really weak partly because of the injury and partly because I haven't really used those muscles in two months...but you called it something else."

"Atrophy," Seth provided. "Which we're attacking aggressively right now because we don't want it to get worse. Are you still having someone help you with exercises at home?"

"Yeah, but not as often as last week because I've been at the hospital with Bella nearly all week."

Edward spoke as he followed behind Seth back out into the main area of the center where all the equipment was, and right up to the treadmill they'd be using. As Seth disconnected the harness from the machine, Edward's gaze roamed the open area, looking for Rosalie. Upon spotting her, she smiled softly at him and gave a little wave as she coddled baby Ian in her arms.

"I really want you to keep on top of the exercises outside of here, okay? Our two biggest obstacles standing between you walking and that wheelchair are retraining your muscles to respond to the commands your brain sends, and building your lower body strength so you can support your own weight. The more exercise you can tolerate now to keep the atrophy from progressing, the better shape we'll be in down the road."

"Okay...more exercises, got it," Edward nodded as a man and woman came to stand beside Seth.

"I'm holding you to that," Seth chuckled, pointing at him before looking to his side. "This is Jimmy and Cheryl. They're going to be maneuvering your legs to simulate walking once we get you all hooked up. I'll be standing behind you to help keep your hips stable. So...are you ready to walk?"

Edward's gaze flicked from the harness in Seth's hands, to the treadmill, and then to Seth and his assistants, as a grin began to cross his lips.

"Damn right I am."

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