MAKING A CHOICE
Set during their school days.
On the way to the cricket field, Bunny is accosted by three fifth formers who want to have some 'fun' with him. He is presented with an impossible choice, but has to make a decision. Can Raffles save him?
A first time story.
Written: August 2012. Word count: 5,575.
"Oh, look, it's the rabbit without his keeper. So Raffles has left you all alone, has he? That's silly; very silly." I pressed myself against the wall of the boat house as three fifth formers closed in on me. "So, boys, how about a bit of fun?" Inkson looked at Shepard and Vaughn, the two boys who were with him. "Well?" he asked, "How about the initiation of the rabbit?"
Shepard nodded. Vaughn, however, only shrugged. "I wouldn't," he said firmly. "Raffles will find out and you do not want a vengeful Raffles after you."
"How will he find out? He's on the cricket pitch and his side are fielding. He's not going to miss his rabbit for hours."
Vaughn shrugged again. "He'll find out. Don't ask me how, but he always seems to know what's happening to Manders. If you hurt Manders, you'll regret it for the rest of Raffles's time here."
"I didn't say anything about hurting him, did I? No, I thought we'd simply give him a choice. What do you say, Manders, are you up for a bit of fun?"
No, I certainly wasn't; I knew the kind of 'fun' Inkson liked. I pressed myself harder against the wall. "Please," I said. "Just let me go. I won't tell."
"But, Manders, there's nothing to tell," Inkson said, running his finger along my cheekbone, I couldn't prevent a whimper from escaping, which made all three boys laugh. "At least not yet," Inkson added. I did not like his tone. I looked from one side to the other, frantically trying to see if there was anyway I could escape, or if I could see someone who could help me.
What they'd said was true; Raffles was on the cricket field involved in a house match. He was probably at this moment sending down one of his perplexing overs. I'd gone back to the house to get my straw hat, which I'd forgotten to take with me. I wouldn't have bothered, but Raffles had ordered me to fetch it, saying he didn't want me collapsing with heat-stroke. Of course I always obeyed Raffles; I just wished this time I hadn't done so.
I'd been on my way back to the field, taking the shortcut by the side of the boat house when Inkson, Shepard and Vaughn had appeared. From the smell of tobacco coming from them, I guessed they'd slipped away to smoke, something that would get them into trouble if they were caught.
I considered threatening to tell on them if they didn't let me go, but instantly dismissed the idea. I wasn't a sneak, I never had been and I wasn't about to become one. I didn't even tell Raffles of some of the rags that were played on me or the crude suggestions some of the older boys made. Suggestions I could handle, they didn't hurt and it was a rare boy who would risk going further than a suggestion, knowing to whom I belonged. But these three boys, Inkson and Shepard in particular were rare boys.
Inkson touched my face again, before grabbing my hair, tangling his fingers in it and pulling my head back. As his mouth descended towards mine I quickly turned my head away, the handful of hair that came out in his hand made tears spring to my eyes, but I ignored them. "You little -" Inkson said, and backhanded me across the mouth. I cried out.
"Stop it, Inkson," Vaughn said. "Look he's scared, that's enough. Come on; leave him before Raffles misses him."
"Raffles is going to be too busy being the perfect captain to miss this insignificant little thing," Inkson growled. "I don't know what he sees in him. What do you think he does for Raffles? He must be good for something. How about it, Manders, how about doing some of the things you do for Raffles for me?"
I stared at him. "I can polish your shoes," I said quickly. They held onto one another as they laughed.
"Pretty but thick," Shepard declared.
"That's not quite what I had in mind, Manders. No, we'll go back to the choice. It's an easy one. You can either go into the lake or you can go down on your knees in front of me like you do for Raffles. That mouth of yours looks as if it might be good for something, even if your brain isn't."
I stared in horror as I worked out what Inkson meant. I opened my mouth to deny that I did that for Raffles and then closed it again. I remembered Raffles telling me once that whenever possible not to deny something because all too often it made people more certain you were doing what you were denying doing.
"Well, Manders, what's it to be: the lake or on your knees?" Inkson moved nearer to me and I started to slide sideways along the boat house wall.
"Please," I murmured.
"Please what, Manders? Please let you do to me what you do for Raffles. You'd like that would you?"
I shook my head. "No, please. Don't. I . . ."
Inkson shrugged, "Into the lake then."
But I couldn't swim, not even a stroke and the lake was large and I assumed deep. I'd drown. Raffles, I willed the thought. Surely he would miss me? Surely he wouldn't be concentrating so much on bowling and fielding that he wouldn't realise I hadn't returned?
They were all closing in on me now; even Vaughn was moving towards me albeit more slowly than the other two and he kept glancing over his shoulders. I continued to slide sideways until I ran out of wall and stumbled, falling down onto my hands and knees.
"Good choice, Manders," Inkson said, I cried aloud as his hands went to just below his waist and began to unbutton his trousers. Although my hands and knees hurt I scrambled to my feet.
"No!" I cried. "No, I won't. I won't do that." The tears were streaming down my face, but I no longer cared, I trembled with fear as they moved nearer again and I took another step backwards and another and another. I knew I was very near to the edge of the lake now and I knew that had to be my choice. I'd die before I'd do what Inkson wanted me to do.
Inkson shrugged, rebuttoned his trousers and pushed his hands into his pockets. "That's a shame. You don't know what you're missing, rabbit." I thought I might, but didn't say anything. "Well, go on then," he said, taking another step towards me, "into the lake with you." The game was over. I could tell that. I had no more time; no more chances.
I glanced over my shoulder and swallowed hard as I saw the still expanse just waiting to swallow me whole. Maybe they'd only expect me to go in far enough to get my trousers and the bottom half of my blazer wet. Maybe that would be enough. Sending one final plea out to Raffles, I took my first step into the lake, then another, then another, then a fourth.
The water was halfway up my thighs, but still Inkson kept urging me on. It was over my waist when I took another step back and stumbled as my foot found only water. I felt the water close over my head as I heard a cry. "Bunny!" I fought the water, but I had no idea what I was doing, as I thrashed about I did manage to get my head just above water and saw Raffles, Charleston at his heels, running towards me.
"Raffles," I cried, realising too late how foolish it was as my mouth filled with water and again the water closed over my head.
I vaguely heard him call something to Charleston and then I heard splashing, I was so tired, everything was so heavy. My eyes closed just as I was swept up into a pair of strong arms. "I've got you, Bunny," he said. "It's all right, I'm here. You're safe. You're safe now."
The next moment I felt myself lowered onto the ground and turned onto my side as my mouth opened and I vomited what seemed like half the lake onto the ground. I coughed several times, as hands I knew so well supported me and a voice I loved kept on repeating I'd be all right. And I knew I would be, because he was there. As long as Raffles was there I would be all right.
Finally when the water stopped coming out of me, I felt him pick me up again and carry me further away from the lake. "Charlie?" I heard him ask.
"I'm sorry, I couldnít stop them, A. J., but I do know who they were."
"Inkson, Shepard and Vaughn. Here, put this around him." I opened my eyes to see Charleston pull of his suit coat and hand it to Raffles. For a moment I wondered why he wasn't in his whites, then I remembered he'd twisted his wrist during the last practise session, like Raffles Charleston is good with both bat and ball and it had been his bowling hand he'd hurt.
"Thanks, Charlie," Raffles said as he gently yet clinically pulled my blazer off and put Charleston's coat around my shoulders. "Are you going to be sick again, Bunny?" he asked, he was still crouching on the ground next to me and I could see his whites were as wet as I was. I shook my head. "Good. Come on then; let's get you back to the house." And with ease, he scooped me up into his arms and effortlessly stood up, adjusting me slightly to get more secure grip. "Can you put your arm around my neck?" I tried, but it was still too heavy to lift. "Okay," he said. "Don't worry. I won't drop you." He smiled down at me.
"House?" I heard Charleston say. "A. J., you can't be serious. You have to take him to the San."
"No!" I cried, trying to sit up, but falling back into Raffles's strong arms.
Almost simultaneously Raffles said. "No. Charlie, you know if he goes to the San things will be even worse for him. I can't be everywhere, you told me that. He's not hurt, he's just been scared. You're not hurt are you, Bunny?"
I shook my head where it rested on his breast. "No," I murmured, even though my lip hurt from where Inkson had backhanded me and I could taste blood. I hoped Raffles would assume I'd cut it when I'd fallen under the water. "Tired."
"Oh, A. J. Oh, very well. Come on, I'll go first and make sure no one is about."
"Thanks, Charlie. I owe you - again," Raffles added quietly.
We got back to his study, thankfully meeting no one on the way. He put me down onto the sofa, pulled Charleston's jacket from around my shoulders, put it on the arm chair and then began to undress me, dropping my soaking clothing onto the floor.
"A. J.," I heard Charleston say, "You can't have a naked third former in your study."
"You're here as well," Raffles said, continuing to take my clothing off.
"I donít know if that makes it better or worse," Charleston said. However, even as he spoke, it was he who picked up my discarded clothing and started to wring the items out into a bowl Raffles kept in his study. As Raffles tugged me to my feet, held me steadily and pulled down my drawers I heard Charleston mutter about 'getting a blanket' and he vanished into Raffles's bedroom returning within seconds with two blankets he must have taken from Raffles's bed. He handed one to Raffles who wrapped it around me, before helping me onto the sofa and then he put the other one over me.
Charleston returned to wringing out my discarded clothing. He glanced up and his gaze came to rest on Raffles who was kneeling on the floor next to sofa, brushing my wet hair back from my forehead. "You should get changed too, A. J.," he said.
Raffles looked up and then looked down at himself as if realising for the first time he was as soaked through as I had been. With one more touch to my head, Raffles glided to his feet and began to unbutton his shirt, pulling it off and letting it fall to the floor. As his hands moved to unbutton his whites, Charleston said sharply, "A. J.!"
However, either Raffles didn't hear him or he ignored him as he continued to undress, dropping his whites and drawers onto the floor next to his shirt. Again I heard Charleston sigh, but again he bent to pick up the discarded clothing.
I noticed that he also kept his gaze averted from Raffles whereas I found myself staring through half closed eyelids in a way I had never stared at a boy before, in a way I had never dreamt, never even believed, I would stare at a boy. I found it slightly strange that Charleston would turn away; after all they played cricket together and had been at the same school since their prep school days, surely Charleston was used to seeing Raffles undressed? Surely it didn't bother him - especially as I knew he intended to become a doctor.
Suddenly I was aware that Charleston had turned around, but he wasn't looking at Raffles, he wasn't avoiding looking at him as he had done as Raffles had stripped, but he still wasn't looking at him. Instead he was looking at me looking at Raffles and even though his face betrayed nothing, I knew he was aware my eyes weren't closed.
Although it had seemed like minutes had passed since Raffles had removed his drawers, it could only have been a second or two and the next thing I knew Raffles had left his study and gone into his bedroom from where he reappeared shortly afterwards dressed in a shirt and his suit trousers which he was still buttoning up.
Now I spoke for the first time since we'd left the lake. "What about the cricket match?" I asked.
Raffles turned to me. "Oh, that's over," he said, doing the final button up and touching my head.
"Why?" I was surprised.
"Well," Raffles said, going over to Charleston and touching his arm, "Thanks, Charlie," he said, Charleston gave him a warm smile. "It was after Carter Minor fainted and Johnson started to vomit, Matron came onto the field and told Anderson the sun was far too strong for the boys to be playing cricket and you know Matron, Anderson really had no alternative but to call the match off."
"Oh," I said. And then it came to me. "Raffles, how did you know where I was?"
Raffles and Charleston looked at one another and I saw Raffles swallow hard and to my surprise I thought he trembled slightly for a second or two, certainly Charleston put his hand on his arm. But then he shook himself and turned back to me. "Urquhart," he said quietly, coming back to where I lay on the sofa and once more kneeling down on the floor next to me.
"Yes, apparently he thought you'd been too long going back to fetch your straw hat and went looking for you."
Raffles nodded, the look on his face was grim and I looked up to see Charleston was now sitting on the arm of the arm chair, he too looked grim. "Yes, by himself."
"But he could have been hurt."
The looks on Raffles and Charleston's faces became even grimmer. "Yes, Bunny," Raffles said softly, "but thankfully your friend is a very sensible boy. He saw what was happening to you and ran back to the cricket field to tell me."
"He would have run straight onto the pitch too," Charleston said, "but I managed to grab him and he told me. I called to A. J., we told Urquhart to stay where he was and . . ."
"You both came to rescue me?" I said softly. "Thank you."
To my surprise Charleston flushed slightly. Raffles just put his hand on my head. For a minute or two neither of us said anything, then Raffles looked at Charleston and said, "We need to get Bunny some dry clothes. Do you want to go and get some from the dorm for him? Or do you want to stay here with him?"
Charleston stared. "So my choices are being caught going through a third year's locker in order to get him dry clothes, including underclothes, or staying here with a naked third year?" He sounded bemused and as if it was a choice he didn't want to make; indeed rather like the choice I'd had to make earlier, I got the feeling he regarded it as a non-choice and he almost couldn't decide which was the lesser of the two evils. And I could quite understand his concern; neither option was a good one and both could get him into trouble.
But Raffles seemed unconcerned. "Yes," he said. "It's your choice, Charlie."
Charleston sighed, looked at me, looked back at Raffles who had now turned his attention back to me and gave a strange half-smile. "Oh, very well, I'll -"
But what his choice would have been I didn't find out as at that moment there was a knock at Raffles's door. As one Raffles and Charleston stood up and moved together in front of the door so that they were hiding me from whoever was outside. Raffles gave a little nod and it was Charleston who moved far enough to open the door. "Oh," I heard him say, relief clear in his tone. "Urquhart, do come in."
Ollie crept into Raffles's study and Charleston closed the door behind him. He was carrying some clothing which he handed to Raffles. "I thought Harry would need some dry clothing," he said. "I brought everything except for shoes and a blazer."
Raffles smiled as he took the clothes. "Thank you, Urquhart," he said, "that's saved Charlie from making a choice he didn't want to make." He turned his attention to Charleston and smiled fondly at him.
"Are you all right, Harry?" Ollie asked.
I sat up and smiled at him. "Yes, thank you, Ollie. And thank you for coming to look for me and for fetching Raffles. "
He blushed and looked down at the floor. "You'd have done the same for me," he said and then he added softly, "not that anyone would care enough about me to rescue me."
I saw Raffles and Charleston look at one another and then I watched as Raffles handed my dry clothing to Charleston before sitting down on the arm of the sofa. "Look at me, Urquhart," he said quietly.
After a moment or two Ollie looked up. "Now, listen to me. If you are ever in any trouble or danger or anyone hurts you, I promise you that you can always come to me. As for no one caring enough to rescue you, I would hope that had the situations been reversed Bunny would have come to me to help you. You would have done, wouldn't you, Bunny?"
I nodded. "Yes, Raffles," I said, meaning it. I had never consciously thought about it, but I knew that had anything ever happened to Ollie, had he needed help, help I couldn't give him that I would go to Raffles, because Raffles was the person I'd always go to for any help.
Ollie was staring eyes wide, mouth open at Raffles; he seemed completely stunned by Raffles's words and his face began to flush again. He opened his mouth and then closed it again as nothing came out.
"And," Charleston added quietly, coming to stand next to Raffles, "if Raffles isn't around, you can always come to me."
Now Ollie looked from Raffles to Charleston and back again before he looked at me. He opened his mouth again and this time managed a stammering reply. "Thank you," he managed. I was sure he wanted to say more, but it was clear he didn't know what to say in the face of such kindness from two sixth formers, neither of whom he fagged for.
Raffles ruffled Ollie's hair. "That's a good boy," he said. "And now," he again took the clothing from Charleston, "You'd better get dressed, Bunny." He pulled back the blanket that he'd covered me with and offered me his hand. Keeping the blanket he'd wrapped me in firmly held around me, I stood up. "Go into my bedroom and get dressed," he said.
Walking carefully to avoid tripping over the blanket I made my way across his study to the door separating it from his bedroom and went in. He followed me and put my dry clothing down on his bed. "Can you manage?" he asked.
I flushed and looked up at him; how did he think I managed every day? But I could see it was just his concern for me and what had happened that had made him ask, not that he really thought me incapable of dressing myself. So I simply nodded and said, "Yes, thank you, Raffles."
I wasn't surprised when he ruffled my now fairly dry hair, it was a warm day and his study had been warm and said, "That's a good boy." He closed the door on the way back into his study.
Despite my reassurance I found it took me much longer than it usually did to dress, in fact I had to sit down on his bed after putting on each item of clothing as I still felt drained and tired from my moments in the lake and my rescue.
Finally I was dressed and went back into Raffles's study to find Charleston and Ollie were still there talking to Raffles or rather Charleston and Raffles were talking, Ollie was sitting on the very edge of Raffles's sofa, no doubt Raffles had told him to sit down, his head bowed, clearly trying to hide the fact he was still there and also trying to assure Raffles and Charleston he wasn't listening to what every it was they had been discussing.
As soon as I went back into the study Raffles broke off his conversation with Charleston came over to me, took my hand and led me back to the sofa where he made me not only sit back down but also once more put my feet up. I didn't argue with him.
Charleston and Ollie stayed for a little longer before Charleston said he really must get on with some studying and added that he'd walk Ollie back to the house third form common room before he went to his own study. Raffles thanked them both again and I added my thanks and then they both left us alone.
When Charleston and Ollie left us, Raffles, somewhat to my surprise, gathered me up and pulled me onto his lap, wrapping his arms around me and holding me tightly. "Oh, Bunny," he whispered, his lips on my ear and I realised he was trembling slightly, "oh, my dear, dear Bunny," and he pulled me ever nearer to him. "You could have died," he said after a moment or two of just holding me. "I could have lost you, Bunny." Now he pushed me away from him a little and looked at me. "I could have lost you," he repeated. I didn't know what to say, he looked and sounded so serious and so worried - I'd always known he'd cared about me, but I hadnít truly realised how much.
"What happened, Bunny?" he asked after several minutes of silence during which he just went on looking at me and stroking my back and head. I leant against him and found myself clinging a little tighter to him than I normally did as I remembered what had happened. "What were you doing in the lake?" he asked before I could answer him.
"I was on my way back from the house and took a short cut. Inkson, Shepard and Vaughn had been smoking, they caught me and Inkson offered me a choice."
"A choice?" I nodded. "What kind of choice, Bunny?" I buried my head in his shoulder and told him. To my surprise he pushed me upright and held me away from him as he stared at me. "Inkson wanted you to do that to him?" His grip on me loosened, indeed he let go of me completely.
I nodded and pulled away from him, sliding off his lap and moving across the sofa; for the first time ever I was afraid of the look in his eyes. It was a look I had seen before, but never had it been directed at me. "Raffles," I whispered, I was now at the other end of the sofa.
He seemed frozen in place which is why I assumed he hadn't stopped me from getting away from him. At the sound of my voice he shook himself, frowned and the awful look on his face faded. "Oh, Bunny," he said reaching his arms out towards me. "Oh, my dear Bunny, don't be afraid of me; it's not you with whom I'm angry."
"Isn't it?" I asked, still not moving back towards him.
"No, of course it isn't. Oh, Bunny, how can you think I'd be angry with you? It's Inkson I'm furious with for making such a disgusting suggestion. Come here, Bunny, please."
I sat for a moment just looking at him, his face had softened and the look he was giving me was his usual one. Thus after a moment or two longer I slowly moved back towards him and once more let him gather me into his arms and pull me back onto his lap as he held me against him. "I couldn't do that, Raffles," I whispered, fighting the tears that wanted to fall. "I couldn't."
"I know you couldn't, Bunny," he said, his lips against my ear. "I know. I know; it's all right."
I rested my head against his breast and let a few tears slip down my cheeks and then I realised I hadn't told him everything. "Raffles," I said slowly.
"Yes, Bunny?" His voice was low, gentle and full of the affection I knew he had for me.
"The thing is . . . Well, you see . . . Raffles - Inkson thought that I . . ." I swallowed hard. "That I do it to you." My cheeks were burning and I kept my head buried against his breast. I had to tell him everything, "And the thing is, Raffles, you see I didn't . . . I didn't . . . I didn't deny it, Raffles." I said the final words in a whisper.
For a long time he was silent, then he gently pushed me away and pulled me more upright. "Why not, Bunny?" his tone was soft but serious.
I swallowed. "Well, you've always told me not to deny something because it makes the other person more certain you are doing it and -"
"And? And what, Bunny?" His tone was still soft and serious; I wished I hadn't added the 'and', that I'd simply ended my explanation at 'doing it'. But I hadn't and now he was waiting for me to answer.
I shook my head. "Nothing," I whispered, silently willing him to let the subject drop. However, he carried on staring at me; his look matched his tone but also contained something I couldn't fathom out. Eventually I knew I had to confess my final shame. "And I thought you might not want the other boys to know that . . . that I don't . . . I'm sorry, Raffles," I whispered, still staring at him, still trying to read his look. "Was I wrong?"
He sighed softly and took my face between his hands. "Donít apologise, Bunny, you have nothing for which you have to apologise," he said, which was nice, but it didn't really answer my question. He sighed again, "You were right not to deny it, Bunny, and I assure you they wouldn't have believed you even if you had done so."
I felt my eyes widen. "Wouldn't they?"
He gave me a half-smile, "I doubt it. You see, Bunny, the thing is most of the school do indeed think your duties for me involve more than just tidying up, polishing my shoes and oiling my bats."
"Do they?" My voice was high.
He smiled. "Yes, my dear Bunny, they do."
He shook his head a little. "Well, Bunny, it's no great secret that you rather like me, is it?" He spoke softly.
"Oh," I said, looking away from him as my cheeks began to burn again. I hadn't realised my pash on him was so obvious; I hadn't even realised he'd noticed, let alone that other boys had. "Raffles, I . . ."
"Hush, Bunny, it doesn't matter. I don't mind."
He shook his head. "No, the thing is, Bunny, I'm afraid I rather like you too."
I stared at him eyes wide, mouth open. "You do?" I said, surprise clear in my tone.
He smiled and ruffled my hair. "Yes, Bunny, I do. But you must know, surely, I would never, never, Bunny, ask or expect you to do anything like that to me. You do know that, don't you?"
I nodded. "Yes, Raffles," I said seriously.
"Good boy," he said and ruffled my hair again.
I sighed with pleasure and once more rested my head against his breast, listening to his heartbeat, counting the beats and just enjoying the closeness. Then something came to me, "Raffles?"
"Do you think they would have let me drown? You know if you hadn't arrived and rescued me in time?"
He was silent for a moment. "I sincerely hope not, Bunny. They are not nice boys, especially Inkson and Shepard, Vaughn is far too easily led, but I cannot, I do not, wish to believe they would have stood there and let you drown."
"Vaughn tried to stop Inkson; he kept warning him that you would find out and you would miss me and that you would be angry."
"Did he now?"
"Yes. And even when they closed in on me, he wasn't really trying to force me into the lake, he hung back and he kept looking over his shoulder. I think he waiting for you to appear; he was so sure you would know something was happening to me."
"But he didn't actually do anything to stop Inkson from what he was doing, other than warning him I would find out and I would be angry?"
I shrugged. "No. But he did warn Inkson," I repeated. "Raffles, what are you going to do to them?"
"I haven't decided yet, Bunny, but rest assured I shall not let them get away with what they did."
"But, Raffles, what if you get into trouble? What if you get expelled," I said the final word so softly I wasn't certain he heard me.
"I won't, Bunny. I won't hurt them, but I intend to make it quite clear to them as well as to anyone else who might be planning something similar, that I will not allow such abuse of you to go by unpunished." His tone was so serious, so cold, so frightening that I shivered slightly.
He pulled me nearer to him and wrapped his arms more tightly around me. "No one, no one, Bunny, harms you in any way and gets away with it. I won't allow it." I just snuggled more closely to him. "However, before I decide what is the best way to pay them back, I am going to teach you to swim."
I sat up and looked at him in horror. "But, Raffles, I don't think I want to -"
"I am going to teach you to swim, Bunny," he said firmly. "Don't worry; you will be perfectly safe with me. I'm a very good swimmer and you I won't let any harm befall you, you have my word on that."
I sighed quietly and resigned myself to having to face water that was far too deep and far too cold. "Yes, Raffles," I said, my tone one of passive acceptance.
"Oh, Bunny," he said softly as he looked at me with his loving look, "what am I going to do with you?" His fingertips touched my cheek, lightly stroking it and I whimpered, but unlike when Inkson had touched me in the same way, my reaction was one of pleasure not fear.
I gazed up at him, looking into his deep blue eyes and his tanned handsome face, watching him watch me and my reply came out of nowhere. I swear I hadn't planned to say it; it just happened. "You could kiss me," I said softly, utterly stunned by my bravery.
His eyes widened a little as he stared down at me; then his lips moved into a smile, his fingers stroked my cheek again and to my complete surprise and utter delight he did.
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