Sneak Peek at the “Sequel” to Tangled Web

posted in: Various Musings | 0

Originally posted on July 25, 2012

A few of you responded to my question on Facebook where I asked if you’d want a peek at my new book. It’s almost done and needs a rewrite before I ship it off to the publisher, but these chapters are pretty polished. I’ve edited most of the language (those of you here are already used to how I write, but just in case someone stumbles upon this, I wanted to “clean it up” a little).

Here you’ll read chapters two, three, and four from my upcoming book Everything But. Just to set the stage: chapter one introduces you to Erin Lancaster, the main female character. I don’t think I need to give you a summary of the first chapter; you’ll be able to figure out what’s happening from where you pick up here. You’ll notice I’m doing something a little different with this book—I’m writing from the point of view of both Erin and Riley. In case you’re fuzzy about Riley, he was the singer for Spawn in Tangled Web. He was Johnny’s friend and Katie’s boyfriend in the first part of the book.

Anyway, here you go. Please let me know what you think—you can post a comment, send me an email, contact me through Facebook, or whatever you’d like, but I’d love to know your thoughts!

Chapter Two

G*****n. Riley Schultz couldn’t remember the last time he’d stepped into the Winchester High School gymnasium, but he figured it had to have been sometime near the end of his senior year…so, twelve years ago, give or take, if he’d calculated it correctly. And he’d never planned to ever walk into his school again, but his life had taken some weird turns over the last few years, things he hadn’t counted on.

He’d made sure to dress the part. They were expecting the big bad rock star, so that’s what they’d get. He had on his black Ray-Bans, tight leather pants, and a red sleeveless t-shirt designed to expose the tattoos on his arms. He couldn’t spike his reddish-brown hair the way he knew his fans would expect it to look because he’d been growing it out. It was just past his chin now and lots of girls had told him it was sexy, so he was keeping it longer for now until he got sick of it. But he put on his trademark, the dog tags he’d worn ever since his first photo shoot. He’d even shaved off the two or three days’ accumulation of facial hair, redefining the soul patch on his lower lip that seemed to drive the women wild.

But while he dressed the part, he didn’t feel it. Not at all.

And he really didn’t want to go through with the plan, either, but he’d promised. Besides, his new band’s CD had several months before release. They’d just finished recording and now it was being mixed. Riley wanted no part of that bulls**t. Their manager was putting together a touring schedule and, sometime this week, their new single would be on the radio. So, for now, he was in a lull and had time.

But why had he agreed to do this? Why? Because his mother had asked him, and he’d wanted to make her happy. She hadn’t demanded it, had instead mentioned that the school was “doing” its annual cheerleader auction. Riley hadn’t remembered them doing that that back when he’d gone to school, but then again he’d been too busy drinking, smoking weed, and sniffing out p***y to have participated in lame events like that. But she’d said the auction probably wasn’t going to do as well as it had in the past because the coach had injured herself the week before. Apparently, she’d been the perfect emcee, and the school was convinced that her talents were what had led to the auction being a great fundraiser. The school had a substitute coach, but the poor girl had no clue what she was doing and had never participated in the auction before. Riley’s mother was on the school board and suggested maybe her famous son, charismatic on stage, could lead the proceedings. And then she asked Riley if he’d do it…after she’d made the principal excited about the prospect.

Riley’s career as a heavy metal vocalist had left his parents beyond disappointed, so when he’d first agreed to it, he thought it was nice that his mother could find something to appreciate about his career, even if she never would like his music.

But now he saw that it had just been a knee-jerk reaction to what he’d perceived as acceptance. After all, it wasn’t like he was going to be performing at the auction.

Well, he would be, but it would be as an actor.

So he walked into the gym, looking for a man in a beige suit as his mother had advised. That person would be the theater guy, the one who’d set up the stage and lights. Riley spotted him and, as he closed the gap, he forced his brain to pull up the guy’s name…Gill, Gall? He couldn’t remember. Or maybe it started with a D. The guy saw him coming and smiled, starting to extend a hand in greeting when Riley heard to the left, “Oh, my God! It’s true! It’s Riley Schultz. Oh, my God, I love Spawn!” Three girls swarmed around him.

Nothing new. Riley had grown used to it. He’d learned to disguise himself when he needed to—baseball caps to hide the hair, long-sleeved shirts to cover the tattoos, no jewelry, and sunglasses would allow him to walk around unnoticed most times. But, of course, they’d been banking on his name tonight, so he hadn’t covered himself at all.

Riley knew how to charm the girls. He spent a couple of minutes chatting them up and signing autographs while more and more people started to gather around. The theater guy finally intervened. “All right, gang, break it up. You can talk to Mr. Schultz later.”

Riley almost laughed. Mister…if this guy only knew how anti-authority Riley was, he’d know Riley never wanted to have that sort of title. He much preferred Metal God.

Now, though, he wasn’t sure he even wanted that. He shook hands with the theater teacher, avoiding calling him by name, thereby announcing he’d forgotten. One of the kids on his tech crew called him Mr. Gill, so Riley wouldn’t have to worry anymore. Better yet, Mr. Gill insisted that Riley call him Ron. Basically, Riley would be reading off note cards to introduce each of the girls, but even beforehand, the co-captains of the football team were giving a PowerPoint presentation full of pictures of the cheerleading squad together, along with separate pictures of each young woman. Then Riley would take over, playing emcee-slash-auctioneer.

Gill was bending his ear, trying to impress Riley with his stage, lights, and sound setup, but Riley just kind of wished he was curled up on his mom’s couch, riding a high, watching DVDs. Hell, if he’d been smart, he would’ve smoked a bowl before attending this shindig. Too late now. Gill finally showed Riley where he could hang out next to the stage until it was his time to shine. Riley sat in a chair next to the platform and looked out over the audience. And then it hit him. It was in this same f***in’ place he’d begun the path he was on now. He and four of his buddies had participated in a Battle of the Bands during his senior year in high school. Looking out over the audience now, he wondered why he hadn’t been freaked out. But then he remembered. Part of his calmness was thanks to his overwhelming confidence; part of it was because of several swigs from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, his drink of choice back in the day.

He wasn’t freaked out now, just bored as s**t.

But then he spotted her. A f**king gorgeous blonde sitting on the bleachers next to the cheerleaders. Was she the substitute cheerleading coach and, if so, could he spend his week at home getting to know her a little better?

Well, that was a stupid idea, but maybe they could hang a little.

Once he’d spotted her, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was wearing an ivory dress, but from where she was sitting, he couldn’t tell if it was long or short…demure or sexy. And her hair was pulled up and back with just a few wisps of hair flowing out here and there. She wore long, dangly silver earrings. What struck Riley, though, was how nervous and stressed she looked. Yeah…that had to be the coach. His mother had mentioned the stand-in coach was reluctant.

Maybe a little dose of Riley would make her feel better about the whole thing.

Riley almost laughed out loud at how the old Riley cockiness just never left him. He’d become quite a good actor, almost believing the character he portrayed. Yeah, there’d been no doubt he’d really been that way early on in his career, but life had changed him. He was no longer the cocky, arrogant, self-assured man he’d been ten years ago. In fact, if people knew how the real Riley was…well, they might not be fans anymore.

Thus, the act had to be maintained. He could only be real when he was by himself.

Fortunately, most girls dug the act. They liked the alpha male, confident vibe he threw off, even when they knew it meant he probably wouldn’t end up with them. It was one of those qualities that had helped him lead his old band Spawn to superstardom. A confident frontman was worth his weight in gold.

God, he was glad he’d kept the sunglasses on. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Her dress had thin shoulder straps, so he could appreciate her lightly tanned shoulders and how the dress tried to show just a little cleavage, but from here he couldn’t appreciate it as well as he knew he could close up. And her makeup wasn’t overdone. It was obvious she cared about her appearance, but she looked natural.

Riley took a deep breath. Had to stop thinking that way. Of course, he couldn’t expect a high school teacher to act like a groupie. No way could he get that fine piece of ass in his bed tonight. Wasn’t happening. Had to stop getting himself worked up like that.

The PowerPoint was finally over and the jocks introduced Riley. He slipped on his rock star mask while he slid the Ray-Bans off, hanging them in the front of his t-shirt. Time for the show to begin.

Chapter Three

Erin was uncomfortable. No, it wasn’t the dress. The dress, while a little too revealing, wasn’t pulling or bunching. It wasn’t too tight…a little snug and form-fitting, but it was just for one night, she reminded herself. So she could deal with the discomfort of putting herself on display. It was for a good cause.

At least that’s what she kept telling herself. She could have kicked herself for not knowing up front what she’d been getting herself into. She’d had no idea the coach was auctioned too until earlier today. But now here she was, getting ready to be “sold” along with the cheerleaders under her supervision, wearing an old dress she’d worn to her parents’ thirty-year anniversary celebration last summer.

Dear God.

And if she felt like a bug under a microscope now, she knew it would only be worse once she had to actually stand onstage.

It felt like they’d been waiting forever, but she knew it had only been about ten minutes. Another five or so and they’d begin the proceedings. She heard and saw a commotion near one of the double doors leading into the gym. She was drawn to it and that’s when she saw him. She knew it was him even though she could only see the top of his head.

It had to be Riley Schultz, former lead singer of the now-defunct band Spawn. She knew all about their history. In fact, she’d liked Spawn. They’d had a few hit singles, but being a metal fan, she’d bought all their albums. She knew they were a few years older than she—Winchester was proud of the local boys who became famous, and she knew she’d been in middle school about the time they were seniors in high school, so she’d never really known them. But she’d listened to their music and followed their careers. Between Hit Parader and Wikipedia, Erin knew that Riley had never been married, hadn’t had any children (that he knew about anyway), and was now in a new band called something like Undue Influence that would be releasing a new single any day now, would begin touring midsummer, and would be releasing their first album late summer or early fall.

In fact, in high school, Erin had fantasized more than a little about Riley Schultz. Hey, it could happen, right?

But she’d outgrown her schoolgirl crush and had moved on. When she’d found out he would be hosting the auction tonight, she almost feigned illness. She had no idea how she would react around someone famous…especially someone she’d crushed on so long ago.

But she got over it. She was an adult, for God’s sake, and had to go on with the show. They’d have the auction; she could get a little excited seeing a famous rock star up close; and then she could go on some stupid-ass date and get on with her life.

Oh, part of her was more than a little excited. Part of her felt like a fangirl. But Erin was no idiot. She knew rock stars never wound up with groupies (well, maybe for a quick lay), and if she threw herself at him, she’d never have a chance.

Who was she kidding? She didn’t have a chance anyway. For all she knew, he had a serious girlfriend just waiting for him to finish this gig.

Well, it didn’t matter. She was going to enjoy the view just the same. Riley emerged from amongst the throng of fans, guided by the theater teacher Ron Gill, and sat next to the stage, just as the co-captains of the football team made their way up to the microphone. Before the lights dimmed, she got a good look at Riley. Again, thanks to Wikipedia, she knew he was around thirty, and in spite of the last few years of hard living (she knew about two stints in rehab for heroin addiction), he looked incredible. He was cut and he had a strong, chiseled jaw. His hair was a little mussed up, just adding to the rock star I-don’t-give-a-s**t look, and it was longer than he’d ever worn it before. It was kinda sexy. She wasn’t sure, but she thought he was wearing his dog tag necklace and he had a couple of big rings on his fingers. But one of the things she liked the most about Riley, his sleeves of tattoos, was mostly on display, thanks to the short sleeves. God…he was f***ing gorgeous.

And Erin decided she’d better look away before she started drooling.

She looked down at her hands, trying to compose herself, because she felt herself growing nervous. She’d gotten herself totally worked up, and deep down she knew someone like Riley Schultz wouldn’t give her the time of day anyway. So she had to stop torturing herself. She focused on an inane conversation between two of the cheerleaders, Brenda and Rainy…something about how to apply smoky eye shadow. Once she felt like she had control of herself again, she focused on the PowerPoint and forced herself to keep her eyes away from Riley Schultz. It was the only way she could survive.

When the co-captains finished their sweet presentation that had put the cheerleaders up on some impossible pedestal, they introduced the former frontman of Spawn as the evening’s emcee. And that’s when he stood up and walked the few steps up to the platform to the loud roar of applause that greeted him. Erin knew the praise was due to two things—one was there were some true fans in the crowd, probably mostly teenagers; most of the parents who’d decided to attend had no clue who Riley was; but, second, she knew it was because—whether those people knew his music or not—they knew he was a local boy who’d gone on to become famous and had returned home.

The good news? She could look at him all she wanted now, and no one would ever know better. No one would ever know how ravenous her gaze really was, including the young ladies who surrounded her.

So what did Riley actually say? Well, she missed that. She heard his voice, all right…smooth baritone, a little raspy, very sexy, but the actual words? Missed ‘em all. It didn’t matter, though. She knew most of the words already, considering she and the cheerleaders had written them all earlier that week. She did catch Riley doing some ad lib, though…he was telling some jokes and warming up the crowd. Oh, yeah…no denying Riley was the kind of person meant for the stage. He had charisma and had won the entire group over in a matter of minutes.

He began reading the card for Michaela as the young lady in a wispy red dress walked down the bleachers to take her place onstage. God, what a stupid place for the auction. Erin had questioned why they were using the gym and not the auditorium, the perfect place for something like this. Ron Gill had explained during the last faculty meeting that the stage was already set for the “epic play” the following weekend. His students had worked hard on the set, had finally completed all but the final touches, and he didn’t want to ask them to take it down. “Besides,” he’d said, “I’m training my set kids on how to work with a traveling theater group. They need practice on setting up the temporary stage, the one we’ll be using for the auction. Best yet, cheerleaders work in the gym. What better place to have the auction?”

Well, it was bulls**t, but she wasn’t their permanent coach and wasn’t willing to fight for it. The girls didn’t seem to mind.

Michaela was smiling, her teeth gleaming, her long black hair shining under the stage lights while she was under the scrutiny of the crowd. Still reading off the card, Riley said, “Michaela’s favorite things are soft, cute puppies, macaroni and cheese, and slumber parties with her best friends. Turn offs include bad breath, smoking, and bushy eyebrows.” Riley set the card on the podium in front of him and pulled the microphone off the stand. Erin felt her pulse pick up a little, just because she’d seen him do that move a dozen times in videos and at the two Spawn concerts she’d attended back in the day. Apparently, her subconscious wanted Riley to perform.

Instead, he walked close to Michaela and then said into the mike, “Anything else you’d like to add, Miss Michaela?”

The girl giggled and—even though Erin couldn’t quite tell, thanks to the stage lights—she was pretty sure Michaela blushed, her cheeks reflecting the red of her dress. Apparently, Riley close up was potent. Could Erin survive her own trip up there?

Michaela barely leaned over to the microphone, as though Riley might gobble her up if she got too close. But she didn’t look like she’d mind either. She said, “No…I think you got it.” Michaela was one of the shyest cheerleaders, if there was such a thing. The girl was fine performing cheers, dancing in front of large crowds, performing gymnastic feats under the gaze of hundreds of people, but Erin already knew you didn’t ask the girl to talk in front of people, even if it was a small class of twenty-five. So Riley had gotten out of her probably the only words the young lady would say up there on the platform.

No problem, though, because Riley was quite comfortable in the limelight. He said, “Let the bidding begin, folks. Now, remember. You’re bidding for a date with this young woman. The date will be held in this very same place tomorrow evening.” He stepped over to the podium, grabbing another note card, glancing down at it for a moment. “You’ll be served a three-course Italian meal followed by an hour of dancing, and you’ll have the company of the beautiful young lady you bid on. Not only will a good time be had by all, but”—in a smooth motion, he placed the note card back on the podium, but he didn’t miss a beat—“you’re giving to a good cause. This fundraiser will allow this fine group of cheerleaders the chance to attend their annual summer camp, where they learn new things, grow in their camaraderie, and prepare for another year of keeping the student body pumped about sports…and we all know how important that is.” Riley looked again at Michaela. “Miss Michaela, you’re a senior, are you not?”

The girl blushed again and giggled, nodding her head.

“Well, are you still going to attend camp?”

She looked up at the ceiling and giggled again. Riley placed the microphone in front of her mouth. Michaela finally said, “Well, no, but this will help the girl who replaces me.”

“What a generous gesture,” Riley said, and Erin wasn’t sure if anyone else picked up on it, but she was pretty certain his words had been sarcastic as hell. Before she could contemplate it any further, he said, “The bidding will begin at twenty-five dollars, but, come on, folks. This lovely young lady’s company is definitely worth a little more than that.”

Too bad, Erin thought, he didn’t really mean it. She just hoped the rest of the pumped-up crowd couldn’t pick up on it.

Chapter Four

Truly, this f***ing auction had to be one of the stupidest things Riley had ever let himself get roped into doing. But he decided to have fun with it. He’d already gotten away with a couple of snarky comments, so he’d see just how much he could say before he either got disturbed looks from the girls he was auctioning or got a loud hiss or boo from the crowd. That would be his indication that he’d gone too far. Hell, he decided he’d even stop if one of the girls looked confused by something he’d say.

But so far…nothing. Everyone was having a genuinely good time. Everyone, that was, except for him. He felt like the soul was being sucked out of him. And time had been dragging.

Finally, though, he was auctioning off girl number twelve. The event had gone on forever. Some girls—apparently prime cuts of meat—actually “sold” for two hundred dollars. He had to admit they were the cuter ones, not that girls that young caught his eye anymore. Well, they did, but it made him feel like a dirty old man. Today, he could admit that they were cute without lusting after them. He’d been twenty-one the last time he’d been with a minor, and the threat of a lawsuit had scared the s**t out of him. Fortunately, he’d had a good lawyer and enough money that he could settle out of court before the law got involved and pressed the issue.

He was okay with that. Young girls often expected way too much—love, for example, something Riley wasn’t able to give for reasons far too many to divulge to the young lasses. At least most women over twenty-five understood that if they chose to sleep with a rock star, said rock star knew they were groupie whores and wouldn’t even look at them the morning after if they’d even made it to that point.

“All right. We have a bid of seventy-five dollars for Miss Beth. Can I get one-hundred?”

The lights would have made it hard to see the hands in the audience, but the theater guy had been smart enough to leave all the lights on, so Riley didn’t have to struggle to see the guys sticking their hands in the air. On the downside, though, it made it hard for him to keep his eyes off the blonde in the bleachers. He couldn’t even pretend to casually glance over, because the people placing the bids were part of the audience seated in the fold-up chairs in front of the stage. The only time he could look over was when a new girl came up to be auctioned.

“Aw. Isn’t that just too cute? Miss Beth, is that your parents bidding one-hundred dollars for you?” Riley felt like he might puke.

The redhead giggled. “Yeah. They love and support me.”

“Isn’t that sweet, folks? Beth’s parents love and support her. So which one of you wants to love and support her more?”

Oh, f**k. It had finally happened. That joke hit like a lead balloon. What was worse was Riley had thought this one to be closer to innocent than most of his other wisecracks. But no one was laughing. No one was even smiling, and little Miss Beth’s bottom lip was beginning to curl up in a pout. “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but I merely meant that in the most generous sense. Would anyone like to donate a higher amount to support the cause?”

A rich kid’s hand finally flew up in the air and the good time recommenced. Riley might have damaged his chances with the cheer coach…but he had one more card up his sleeve.

* * *

Erin felt herself growing jittery, knowing she was going to be the next item of scrutiny. She kept telling herself it was all for a good cause. And all of the girls had made at least one-hundred dollars, so she hoped she could make that much as well. She’d lost count, but she knew they’d already made over fifteen-hundred. Any amount she pulled in would be gravy.

But there was another reason she felt anxious as hell. She was going to be standing next to one of her old rock crushes. She was afraid she’d come off as a giggly teenager, not unlike the dozen girls he’d already dealt with.

No. Must. Remain. Poised.

She was inhaling slow, deep breaths in an attempt to keep her cool. All the people in the audience who already knew her would think any residual nerves were simply due to the fact that she wasn’t comfortable with being thrown on a stage. No one ever had to know the truth.

And the rock star? Well…she’d likely never see him again, so why did she give such a s**t?

After Beth was escorted off the stage, Erin took one last gulp of air. She didn’t want to stand until she was called up, but she smoothed out the fabric of her dress that was resting on her thighs. When she looked back up to the stage, she saw Riley walking toward the edge. He crooked his finger at the co-captains and then walked off the stage. Erin wasn’t quite sure what to think of that. Either he’d had enough, having bombed his last attempt at a joke, or he didn’t know he had one more person to auction off and was bailing before being accosted by fans again.

Erin tried not to feel hurt. It wasn’t personal. So much for standing next to one of her rock star crushes, though. So when John Corbin, a senior who’d never been in any of her classes, called her name (“Last but not least, Miss Lancaster!”), she stood up and walked toward the stage. Her smile wasn’t real, because part of her felt like she was in shock, but at least the nerves had dissipated.

So she kept the frozen smile on her face and walked off the bleachers toward the stage. Part of her struggled with feeling embarrassed. Ah…not good enough to be announced by the famous guy. Personal or not, she comforted herself with the idea that the guy was a dick. That’s what a lot of media had said about Riley Schultz anyway…that he was arrogant, conceited, and a bit of a control freak. She let her mind wander through its archives. She remembered that was at the heart of the Spawn breakup. Sure, part of it was the drugs. But she remembered there being some major conflict between Riley and his best friend from high school, J. C. Gibson, the lead guitarist. They both battled for ultimate artistic control of the band. J. C. wanted to go one way, Riley the other, and they wound up disbanding. They disagreed about the direction the band should go in. If Erin recalled correctly, Riley wanted to continue to cross over, drawing larger crowds, while still maintaining what he’d called “musical integrity.” J. C. had called Riley a sellout and said he refused to pander to anyone. Erin thought they were both being stubborn, because the bottom line was they both loved the music. Surely, they could’ve found some common ground. Maybe there was more to the story than she knew—hell, maybe it was just the drugs. Today, J. C. had already recovered and was in a new band that was already working on a second CD but Riley was only now getting back on his feet.

Maybe that’s what he deserved for being such a dick.

All right, her mental rant was over now and she finally made it up to the podium beside the two football players. The other player, Ryan, had been in her Sophomore Honors English class, and he held out his arm as if displaying merchandise. “Ms. Lancaster,” he said, grinning.

She smiled, thinking she was glad she had these young men auctioning her off. She wouldn’t have liked having a sarcastic a**hole pimping her out anyway. John, the more vocal of the duo, spoke into the microphone. “Okay, I’m afraid we’re not the showmen Riley Schultz was, but we’ll take one for the team.” At the mention of team, Erin heard and then saw a large chunk of football players in the audience practically roaring their support. “All right, can I get a bid of twenty-five dollars for Winchester High’s English maven Erin Lancaster?”

Erin started laughing, afraid she was becoming hysterical, giggling just like the cheerleaders had moments earlier. She knew it was because everything was heightened, what with being on display and all, but it seemed like forever before anyone made a bid. S**t. That would be the ultimate humiliation. Not even a twenty-five dollar bid. But finally Ron Gill’s hand went in the air. And she wasn’t sure what to think about that. Ron was nice enough but they’d butted heads quite a few times during faculty meetings. They had different ideas. They were supposed to agree on a Shakespeare play every year. Ron was supposed to have his students study it in Drama II and she had to dissect it with her seniors in Honors English, but it was almost as if Ron just wanted to pick a fight. If she said Julius Caesar, he’d insist upon Macbeth. If one of the history teachers jumped in and asked about Henry V, he’d dig in his heels and demand Othello. If she wanted to focus on a comedy that year, he’d demand drama. He was infuriating.

And then it hit her. He was like a boy in middle school, picking fights because…he liked her. Oh, God. Why hadn’t she ever seen it before? And…really, he was a nice enough guy. But he really wasn’t her type.

And, again, just whom did she think she was kidding? The last guy she’d fallen for, a bad boy at that, had crushed her so badly she’d sworn off men forever. So…let him bid. She’d enjoy dinner with him and then go home. She just hoped she could earn at least a little more than twenty-five bucks.

“Can we get fifty?” This question was followed again by a few moments’ silence until she heard another voice booming in the back.


Erin was certain she hadn’t heard correctly. Her eyes scanned the crowd, unable to find the face that owned the voice.

John said into the microphone, “Was that five-hundred?”

She saw someone step forward. “Five-hundred.”

F**k. It was Riley Schultz. What the hell? She felt all her composure melt away. What was that she’d been thinking about an arrogant dick earlier? She looked down at him as he got closer to the stage and tried to smile, but instead she knew her mouth was just hanging open, in shock.

“Whoa, dude,” John said into the microphone. He looked back out at the crowd. “Um…can I get five-fifty?”

And the rest was a blur. Riley Schultz won the bid, spending more money than anyone else had, and she had no idea what to say or do. But at least she’d finally managed to smile.

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