by a campbell
Martha hoped that spending Saturday afternoon in the sun and mild weather would break the blue mood that had settled in the previous day, lodging deeply in her heart, chest and spirit. Worry about Clark would be the death of her, someday.
The past few months had been hard on all three Kents, and the strain was telling. But, Clark had had the worst of it. His illness, the trip to New York, Dr. Swann's revelations--and Martha still didn't know everything he had learned there, and she suspected Jonathan didn't, either. It was important, though, something to do with Clark's origins, and his real parents, and she was troubled. A planet called Krypton, for heaven's sake. Another alphabet, another language, another world, and perhaps far more powers than had yet revealed themselves. It all sounded fantastic, but apparently it was true. She figured any adoptive parent must feel uneasy when a child became curious about roots and began to investigate. But, with Clark, customary concerns seemed magnified many times over. He was different. It was all unknown territory, and not one of the three of them had a compass, chart, or map.
Something had been said about Clark's real father. Had there been anything about his mother? She both longed and dreaded to know. But so far, Clark hadn't said, and she hadn't asked.
Martha had managed to stay calm, in the few weeks since Clark's return. Until the previous afternoon, in fact. So why did it take something as ridiculous as Clark's silly run-in with Lana and Chloe to push her over the edge? Something so insignificant. But sometimes, that's just the way it was. There had been so much for Clark to deal with lately, and this was the last straw. She was livid at the thought of him having to deal with the girls' petty silliness, after everything else he'd been through.
She couldn't just sit and brood, though. March was almost over. Spring planting season had arrived, and yesterday she had set out set out the first lettuce and carrots she'd nurtured in the greenhouse over the winter and hardened off in the cold frame during the recent weeks. The Kent-grown vegetables were always sell-outs at the farmer's market, and popular at home, too. Clark could easily wolf down a bundle of carrots after school at one sitting, and, she couldn't complain about that. Regardless of what his powers might be, carrots were a better snack for him than the chips and pretzels he loved so much.
Spring was when the Kents worked the hardest on the farm. And, that afternoon, Martha was going to tackle the job she liked least: pruning the hybrid clematis plants on the shady side of the farmhouse so they could have blossoms by June. It was tedious work, and without fail, she always managed to scratch herself on the sharp, newly-trimmed stems. And, this early in the season, the reward of flowers seemed a long way off.
The week before had been solid mud in the fields and the yard around the house, but now, it was finally dry enough to switch rubber boots for sneakers and walk across the yard without sinking in sludge. The fields looked windswept, still brown, but a few green buds and stems were peeking through the soil and appearing on bushes. Jonathan had worked well into the evening in the wheatfield the day before, so today, Martha insisted he take some time off, sending him to visit a friend in the next county whom he hadn't seen in months.
He left before noon, taking his recently-purchased cell phone so she could call him in case of any trouble. He'd been like a child given a new toy with that phone, she remembered with a chuckle. He'd barely seemed to know which end to speak into. "It's so tiny, Martha!" he'd complained, his hand on the screen door, "I don't think I can use this. The mouthpiece is way up here!" He held the small device gingerly to his ear, as though he expected it to bite him, or break.
"Trust me, Dad," Clark shifted his overnight bag to his other shoulder and held out his hand for the phone. "The person you're talking to will hear you."
"You sure about that, son?" Jonathan glared skeptically at the instrument as he handed it over.
"I'll show you," patient Clark replied, holding the phone so his father could observe as he demonstrated. "Press this button to dial. Then, when you're finished talking, punch it again."
"You picked a dorky ring-tone, Dad," Clark commented, raising his eyebrows and giving his dad a dubious grin. "How about I download you a better one? Smashing Pumpkins, maybe?"
"Careful, Clark," Jonathan admonished, with a playful shove that made Clark chuckle, "or you can walk home tomorrow morning." Martha clucked, shook her head, and turned away to hide a chuckle as she mopped one of the breakfast plates with a soapy sponge.
"Hmm. So that'll take me about 10 seconds!" Clark bragged. He handed the phone back to his father with an indulgent grin, and Jonathan, looking sheepish, turned back to his wife.
"Anyway, Martha, you know to call me if you need to. Use the good sense God gave you to decide." He pulled her close and bent down to kiss the top of her head, then ran a gentle hand down the front of her new tan corduroy bib overalls. "What's this?" he murmured softly into her ear. "You're finally starting to show?"
Martha smiled and nodded, suddenly bashful. "Yes. And about time, too!"
"I guess it's for real, then?" He was teasing, she knew, but, still, Jonathan looked almost a little scared.
"Guess so," said Martha, struggling with a blush. Jonathan kissed the tip of her nose before releasing her.
"We've got to go. Remember what I said. Don't overdo it this afternoon. Stop when you get tired. Hey, Clark," he called to his son, who was already halfway down the front steps, "Wait up!" Jonathan caught up with Clark, throwing an arm around the boy's shoulder as they walked to the truck.
The memory of her husband's serious admonitions made Martha smile. She couldn't seem to convince him she was fine.
Clark was on his way to Smallville High for an overnight lock-in sponsored by the Drama Club. Martha knew she was luckier than most of the parents whose kids were participating. She didn't worry about Clark being overtired and useless tomorrow when it came time to set out the beets, onions and radishes, for which she knew she had to have help. That was why, even though she and Jonathan were strict with Clark about some things, with others, they could be permissive. It all evened out in the end. Some of Clark's classmates hadn't even been allowed to attend the event, because their parents wanted them to be able to work the next day.
She wondered if his real mother would have approved.
Martha was glad to see Clark more cheerful, too, this afternoon. Now, she was the one that was depressed. She'd have laughed at herself, but couldn't seem to shake off the sensation. She wanted to protect Clark, wanted him to have everything, wanted everyone to love him, all the time. She knew this was unrealistic, but she wanted it all the same.
Surely his real mother would have felt the same, she told herself, surprised by a small twist of jealousy.
Clark had been different since his trip to New York. Brooding, more secretive than usual--as though he were carrying a great burden. Martha was sure there was more than he was telling her. And, Clark had never kept things from her. Till now.
Was she too optimistic about the list of tasks she hoped to accomplish that afternoon? Now that the nausea and fatigue that had plagued her for weeks had passed, she felt not only able to face life again, but energized. And, there was that strange, giddy, delightful sensation: the first tappings from inside, like popcorn popping. She had thought those first motions would be unsettling, not enchanting. Now that she'd finally broken down and bought maternity clothes, this was finally beginning to seem real. Martha ran a palm down the front of the overalls, smiling, more confidently than Jonathan had, at the modest swell her touch encountered. She pulled on a sweater and grabbed a new pair of work gloves. Have to be sure not to overdo it, she told herself. She might not have as much strength as she thought she had.
Though she was happy about the long-awaited pregnancy, it was making her oversensitive. She figured the lion's share of her current overreactions to emotional matters could be chalked up to hormones running amok. And having an alien son...
You should be ashamed for thinking that, she chided herself. And grabbed the hedge clippers and headed out to the yard.
She'd always had a soft spot for the bank of clematis that flanked the dwelling, porch and sides. They were the flowers whose aroma and appearance she always associated with her first summer on the farm, as a newlywed But, she didn't like pruning. She hated to kill anything, throw anything out. This was probably why she wasn't a better gardener, she thought with a rueful smile. But, she'd make the best of it today. It had to be done.
Martha stood, regarding the clematis vines as though they were--well, not enemies--but challenging, demanding friends.
Friends, she thought. Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a bane. For both young, and old.
Lana, Chloe, Pete, Lex. Of Clark's handful of close friends, some were better for him than others, Martha thought. Some days, they all seemed to be royal pains.
She tossed down her gardening mat, then eased herself down to the ground, then crossed her legs Indian-style, pulling on her gloves to start digging in the dirt around the clematis roots.
Clark had come home pale and irritable the afternoon before, and she hadn't even had to ask him what had happened. Chloe and Lana always seemed to make Clark a specific kind of "upset". Sometimes, Martha just knew; it was as though the girls lay in wait for him there when, whatever their own spats and differences, the mood took them to pick on her son. Seemed to be a hobby for those two, Martha thought, annoyed. And, their ill will always seemed to depress Clark more than anything else, even more than the rare quarrel with Lex.
She'd tried to ignore his bad mood at first, but after Clark had slammed enough cupboard doors to rattle her teeth, and snapped at Ladybird for getting in the way, Martha had turned from the kitchen sink with an exasperated sigh.
"Clark, sit down," she'd directed. "We're talking about this."
At first, he'd just growled at her, but after a moment he yanked out a chair from under the table, flung himself down, and sighed dramatically.
"I just don't understand it, Mom," he moaned. "When they get together and gang up on me, sometimes, I could smack them both. They get so bossy and self-righteous, and it's two of them against one of me! Some of the things they say are really mean! I may have special abilities, but my feelings are just like anyone else's."
"Of course," Martha agreed, feeling a tight clench in her chest and the beginnings of a headache.
"We all decide, Okay, we'll just be friends. Then, they piss on me for not wanting to be more!"
"Clark, don't talk that way," Martha reproached him. She fought the urge to push the cookie jar toward him for comfort, and poured him a glass of milk, instead.
"I think they both like you, Clark. I mean, really like you." Clark had buried his head in his arms on the table, and moaned softly when Martha reached out to run a hand through his hair. He sat up with a mild snort, still looking hurt.
"Mom," he sighed, reaching for the glass of milk. "I shudder to think what life would be like if they hated me, then!"
"I know, Clark," she'd counseled. "But, teenage girls aren't always the most rational or sensible members of the human race." She bent to give him a quick kiss on the cheek and, biting her lip, turned back to the sink so he couldn't see her frown.
Clark drained the last of his milk, rinsed the glass, and reached around her to put it in the sink. "I wonder what the girls were like on Krypton?" he muttered as he went out to start his afternoon chores.
Martha felt the color drain slowly from her face. Maybe his other mother would have just told him to get hold of himself, to be strong. Would she have run after him and pulled him into a quick hug? Martha wanted to, but held herself back. Too much fussing right now would not be good.
Clark had spent the rest of the afternoon in the barn, Martha remembered, a troubled frown creasing her brow. If Lex hadn't come over when he had, Clark would probably have slept out there. As it was, Lex coaxed him down for a game of basketball, then taken him for a drive in his newest sports car--Martha wasn't sure what kind it was, but it was sleek, dark red, and horribly expensive like all Lex's cars, she just knew it. But Clark had been behind the wheel as the car's tires spun, crunching gravel as the sleek maching sped out of the yard and off down the road. Generous of Lex to share his new toy, Martha thought. When the boys returned, Clark was smiling and joking with Lex; he seemed to feel better. Martha heaved a sigh of relief, and invited Lex to stay for dinner.
Lex's visit seemed to have gotten Clark's mind off the girls, but Martha couldn't let it go, kept pressing on it like an aching tooth..
That Lana, thought Martha, with a bitterness that surprised her, given how sweet Lana could be. And, Lana was sweet. Martha couldn't fault her on that score. Sometimes too sweet, she thought wryly, but she didn't dislike Lana. No one could . And, of course Lana was under no obligation to return Clark's affections. But, she certainly wasn't making things easy. Clark had liked her for so long. If she'd just tell Clark, straight, once and for all, whether or not she was interested, and then stick to it. Instead of all the waffling and self-pity. Lana seemed to need a lot of building up, to need to focus always to be on her. Martha tried to remind herself that this was typical behavior for most teenage girls--she'd even been guilty of it, herself. but....
And, firing him from his job after just a day or two? Martha gnawed her bottom lip as she considered. After the many favors, the rescues. She realized there'd been missed dates, and broken promises, but Clark couldn't help those. Still, again, Lana couldn't know that, couldn't know why Clark had failed her, those times.
Sometimes, she just wished Lana had moved to Metropolis with Nell. Things would be easier for Clark, now. And for me, thought Martha grumpily.
Chloe was almost as bad. Pushy and impulsive, often as irritating as a buzzing mosquito. Still, if Martha had to pick between Lana and Chloe for Clark, she'd definitely pick Chloe. Her heart went out to Chloe, much more so than to Lana. She just seemed to care more about Clark, and less about herself, and she and Clark made a cute pair. But, somehow, she just didn't think either girl was the right one for him. But, maybe she just didn't want to share her boy with another girl.
Shouldn't she mind just as much sharing him with a man?
She put that thought aside, for now.
She wished she could do something to make it better. She'd almost called Pete to come over and cheer him up. But Pete...
She was still annoyed with Pete, too. He was a whole different set of problems.
Sometimes she thought dealing with Pete was worse than dealing with the girls. But maybe that was because she'd been a teenage girl, herself. Pete seemed like an odd duck, much of the time. She had trouble understanding his behavior.
Pete and Clark had been friends since they were kids. Martha tried to like him as much as Clark did. But when Pete was really put to the test, he often fell short. Clark didn't seem to care, seemed able to forgive Pete any thoughtlessness or insensitivity, and she knew it was wrong of her to mind it if Clark didn't. But, she was his mother. She couldn't help it.
Of course, she minded. Wasn't it enough that her son had to deal with being from another world?
Sometimes, she felt like shaking Pete. Especially after this latest escapade with the red meteor rock. Even though he'd apologized, even though she knew he hadn't been himself. Pete was so often overenthusiastic. Impulsive. Impetuous and immature. And, Pete was spoiled, though people often failed to label him because he was buffered by siblings.. His manners could use some improving, too. Sometimes, Pete just never failed to push every one of her buttons, just by being himself. Not the person to be in charge of her son's secret.
Member of the family, Martha hmphed. Not quite.
Telling Pete his secret may have been Clark's biggest mistake ever. How she wished he had talked it over with her, first.
Clark's real mother would probably have thrown all three of them out of her house, and counseled her son to find new friends.
She looked and at her watch, brushed a stray lock of hair out of her eyes with her wrist, and squinted up at the sun, recalled to the present by the rattling call of a flock of sandhills. She sat back, stretching, to watch them wheel across the sky, headed north, to Michigan or Canada, for sure, maybe as far away as Siberia. She never failed to feel a thrill at the sound. It meant springtime to her.
Ladybird's excited bark drew her gaze back to earth as the dog ran up, tennis ball in her mouth, and nudged her wet snout into Martha's palm, trying to force the transfer. Martha laughed, putting her arms around the dog, burying her face in the fragrant fur. Clark had given Ladybird a bath with the hose that morning,using almost a whole bottle of dog shampoo and soaking his last clean pair of khakis, for which Martha had given him a good-natured scolding. Time for a short break, she decided. She needed a minute to disengage from the digging and size up her next project, the actual pruning. She sat back so Ladybird could flop into her lap.
Shading her eyes, she studied the vines, recalling images of the blossoms in summers over the years: Jonathan tucking stray blooms in her hair and down the front of her blouse on their first anniversary. She and Jon had spent nearly every evening rocking on the porch swing that summer, nestled in each other's arms, enjoying the aroma. Just a delicate fragrance, nothing overpowering. That was part of their beauty. She'd read up on how to care for them that year, and had been rewarded with more profuse blooms throughout the following summers. Clark, clutching mashed flower bits in his pudgy, strong little hands as he ran into her arms, his smudged face wreathed with smiles. "So pretty, Baby," she'd say, "Thank you!" as he pushed the mangled flowers into her hands. She'd raspberry his plump neck then, just to make him squeal. She smiled wistfully at the memory as she ran her palm through Ladybird's clean fur and the dog rolled over onto her back.
Clark had been adorable as a toddler. Martha sighed. Kids really did become different people as they grew older. Much as she loved her teenage son, sometimes she missed little Clark.
Had Clark's real parents loved each other as she and Jonathan did? Had they looked forward to his arrival with the same hopes and fears she was feeling now?
She couldn't know for sure. But she suspected they had.
Giving the dog a final pat, she got to her feet.
She began to prune, starting at the top of each branch and working down, dead stems accumulating in a pile at her feet. She kept thinking of Clark as she clipped away at errant bits of wood.
That was often the trouble with working alone. Too much time to think.
Sometimes, she thought that having no brothers or sisters herself made her over sensitive to any loneliness Clark experienced. Too sensitive, though everyone else always said she was strong.... Whenever Clark was left out of games or sports because he couldn't play, and came home early, looking dejected...well, she stayed sad long after Clark recovered. The day Greg's mother had chastised Clark and sent him home for not taking off his shoes in her too-neat house, Martha could have committed murder with no qualms.
She smiled ruefully, for it surprised her that it still upset her, after all this time. Jonathan thought she was crazy to get wrapped around the axle this way, that these misadventures, frictions were all part of growing up. She'd often had talks with herself about this, over the years, but it didn't temper her response.
But then, she didn't think Jonathan quite appreciated how special Clark was. Maybe it was just the extraordinary bond most mothers were said to have with their sons. And, though it didn't happen often, sometimes, she suspected Jonathan was just a little bit jealous.
She tried not to think about jealousy. Her jealousy of Clark's real mother, whoever she was, a primal, basic jealousy. He's mine, not yours. I raised him. Jealous of everything she didn't know, hadn't experienced.
She knew she'd be sorry if she let her thoughts stray further down this path.
She'd expected to outgrow all this as Clark got older. True, some things were easier now that her son was more mature. But all the new abilities, some splendid, some dangerous, unfolding one after the other, seemed mainly to be bringing up a whole new host of things to worry about.
And, when it came right down to it, she didn't imagine she'd feel much differently about the next child, either. Special abilities or not, although she knew no other child would have to face difficulties of the magnitude of those that seemed destined for Clark.
She felt even more protective of Clark than usual lately. Strange, since he was growing so fast, was nearly grown, in fact. There'd been times, when he was a child, wearing her out left and right, when she'd thought: well, this won't be forever. Eventually, he'll be leaving for college, getting a job, going off on his own. She and Jonathan would have the house to themselves, again. She'd actually looked forward to it, back then.
But no longer. She didn't want him to leave.
Did every mother feel this way, as the inevitable parting approached?
She stopped to assess her progress. The vines were shaping up nicely. They'd have blooms by early in June, she was sure, and then for the rest of the summer and into fall. Enough, surely, for nice christening flowers for the baby. And for an anniversary centerpiece, with the companion roses, shortly after: their twentieth, this year.
She'd been even more concerned recently, ever since she'd learned for sure, and Clark had learned, that his days as an only child were numbered. Never mind that she'd yearned for a child of her own blood all her adult life, she felt guilty, as though she'd let Clark down. Even though he said he was okay with it, she thought she could detect a new wistfulness in his manner. She was aware of how he'd felt alien and displaced beforehand. How must he feel now, after meeting with Dr. Swann in New York? Even if he didn't feel as though he were about to be replaced, she was sure the pregnancy must be throwing him for a loop. It had been just the three of them for so long.
Would he feel as though he were being forced out of the family? She couldn't bear it if he did. Would he wish he'd been able to stay with his birth parents, after all?
She tried not to think of the recent nights when she'd awakened in the grip of terror, unable to move or cry out. Yesterday morning, she'd been held paralyzed by one of the recent frightening dreams, the only one she could clearly remember. Clark threatening an injured Jonathan, Clark, eyes glowing crimson, not heeding her as she struggled to communicate with him, to stop him. Clark, training his heat vision deliberately on the house, the barn, on other things in Smallville, and laughing as they went up in flames. Not listening to her, her voice freezing in her throat, paralyzed, in deadly fear of her son. Clearly under the influence of the red meteor rocks, or something worse, not the Clark she'd raised from a child.
Wresting herself from sleep with a gasp on her dry lips, she turned, as her eyes focused, to see a handful of crocuses, yellow and violet, on her pillow with a note scrawled in Clark's sloppy penmanship: "Have a great day, Mom. I love you." She stumbled to the window and looked out just in time to see the school bus lumbering off down the road, and Clark, having missed it, poised for just an instant in front of the house before disappearing in a blip of superspeed.
She'd cried, then. She cried so easily, these days.
Most of the time, she stayed quite level-headed. She knew no one could have everything he wanted, that loss, and coping with it, were an important part of anyone's development. She couldn't expect Clark to be spared that. Built character, she told herself. So what if he'd had to do without a lot? Activities most kids took for granted, material things. A child who had never been denied anything was the worse for it.
Look at Lex.
She gave a soft cry as a splinter from the bush raked the side of her wrist, just above the edge of the glove. Bright blood welled from the thin scratch, and she put her wrist to her mouth to suck it off.
Lex had never lacked anything. Anything but love, she thought, being honest with herself. She could see how desperately Lex wanted love, poor young man. And, apparently he'd found it. But where?
Silly question, she thought.
Sharing him with a man.
The earlier thought wandered back, unbidden. She was at a loss about Clark and Lex.
She'd known since last summer what was going on. The dates, the sex in the loft, the overnights at the mansion. She was loathe to forbid them to see each other, although sometimes she feared Jonathan might kill Lex if he were forced to confront the relationship for sure. Jonathan was strict enough for both of them, and, besides, Clark was having enough trouble with everything else.
When Helen Bryce had moved in with Lex, she'd breathed a sigh of relief, thinking things might cool off between Lex and her son. She'd almost hoped they would, even if Clark would be hurt in the process. But, somehow, they hadn't.
Lex still came over, invited Clark over, gazed at Clark like a starving man at an all-youcan -eat buffet. Spent nights with Clark in the barn, even though she wasn't supposed to know about this. And she suspected they met at other times, as well
She wondered if Helen knew what was happening between the young men. And, if she did, what she thought.
Martha tried constantly to avoid making unreasonable judgements. Everything about Clark was different. She and Jonathan were somewhat used to that, by now, to not knowing what to expect. As used to it as anyone could be, that is.
But she couldn't deny the relationship troubled her. And, not only for Clark's sake, but for Lex's, too. Was it because Lex lacked a mother of his own that Martha wanted to mother him, shield him, at times?
Her worries for Clark were different in this situation, and somehow easier to bear. For, Martha sensed that, regardless of her son's good heart, Lex seemed to be the giver and Clark, the taker. Emotionally, not materially, of course, though he did a lot of material things for Clark, too.
Sometimes, regardless of all the problems he seemed to cause, she almost loved Lex.
Lex was a mystery to Martha, her reactions to him a study in contrasts. He made her feel both uneasy and strangely comforted. And, she was sure he was both the biggest threat to Clark and his biggest salvation.
He wouldn't hurt Clark the same way his other friends did. Maybe he'd hurt him more. But she didn't worry about Clark the same way when he was with Lex. Everything was on a grander scale, and therefore less troublesome.
Lex wanted to know Clark's secrets, but he also loved him more than anyone else. She didn't even question the certainty of this. And, she could forgive a lot for that.
A relationship with Lex wasn't what Martha would have hoped for, for Clark, but everything was uncertain where Clark was concerned. Who knew what would happen next in his life, and theirs? With all the things they had to worry about, she wasn't about to expend excess energy on wondering who he would choose for a partner. At least, not that afternoon.
She didn't think Lex would ever hurt Clark, certainly not intentionally. But, she still worried. Something about the situation sent a chill through her. And she couldn't help feeling afraid.
But if they loved each other, then so be it.
She sighed, wondering if Clark's real mother appreciated everything her son was putting his adoptive mother through, and chuckled.
Martha looked at her watch, and caught her breath. It was late. She'd looked forward to her gardening this afternoon, and somehow, had spent most of it brooding and fretting. Once she got in worry mode, it was usually hard to stop
But, she'd done quite a good job on the pruning, she had to admit, impressed by the pile of stems and buds on the ground. It hadn't really been so bad.
If only she could prune away some of her ill feelings as easily.
She hated to see Clark unhappy, and, when there was someone else she could blame...she usually did.
She'd rather just blame Clark's friends for everything, she admitted, and the realization made her laugh, out loud.
Her spirits lifted, especially as she realized that the unknown woman from--Krypton-- Clark's biological mother-- probably couldn't have handled Clark's coming-of-age process any better than she was doing.
But her heart wanted Clark to have everything he wanted. Every advantage, every desire.
No real answers. But, whatever happened, she'd be there when Clark needed her. Now, and even after he left home. And, at that thought, she sighed again.
She should go inside. The air was getting chilly, and she couldn't afford to get sick. Time to start supper, anyway. She'd finish off work on the clematis tomorrow, tie them with thin rope to protect them from the spring winds.
She took a last look around at the beautiful afternoon, and then down at the pile of stems and wood. She'd get Jonathan to bag it all up when he got home. Or maybe Clark, tomorrow, if Jonathan was too tired.
No, she decided. Jonathan could do it, tomorrow if not tonight. She was going to be extra nice to Clark for the rest of the weekend. All day tomorrow, in fact. Baby him a little. Let him take a nap in the afternoon. Maybe welcome him home from the lock-in tomorrow morning with that French toast he'd been craving all week.
What her mind and heart told her were often two different things.
Martha knew she'd worry about Clark forever, as much as or more than his real mother would have.
She was in it for life.
She was his mother.
It was as simple as that.
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