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  • Alexis Winter

**SNEAK PEEK** Those Three Words




CHAPTER 1 - MARGOT

“I’m fired?

The words feel so foreign rolling off my tongue. I’ve never been fired. I’m only twenty-six, but it still feels like a kick to the stomach.

“Not technically fired. It’s not because of your performance, if that makes it any better. It’s simply a matter of budget cuts.” Mr. Diaz says the words with a sympathetic look on his face as if that will soften the blow of the situation.

It does not.

“I just don’t understand. The music education program has grown so much in the last three years with me managing it. The ki—” My words hitch in my throat that is thick with emotion. “The kids. What about the kids? They love my class.”

“Like I said, Miss Silver, regrettably, we just don’t have the funding anymore to keep the program going. I’m sure you understand how all this bureaucratic red tape messes things up. Unfortunately, it’s out of my hands.”

I stare at the ground, my vision blurring through my tears.

“We can offer you two weeks’ pay.” He holds out an envelope to me, but I don’t take it. “I’m sorry, Miss Silver. Truly, I am.” Mr. Diaz places the envelope on the small table next to me before standing up and exiting the room.

Two weeks? That’s it? I bounce my legs nervously, trying to divert my anxiousness into movement instead of having a full emotional breakdown in the teacher’s lounge.

I’ve loved every second of being a music teacher. It was my dream job, what I went to school for. Both my parents were musicians. My mom taught me to read music and my dad taught me to feel it.

I pick up the envelope. Between this paycheck and my small savings, I’d say I have about enough money to live in my current Chicago studio for another month and a half before I’m evicted.

I let out a breath and gather my bag, then head back to my classroom. It’s the end of the semester so it won’t look strange that I’m carrying a box of items to my car. Most teachers clean out their classrooms for the summer.

“Bye, Miss Silver. See you next year!” Two of my students, Bryant and Adam, wave to me as I step into my classroom.

“Have a good summer, boys,” I say as they both dart past me down the hallway and out the door.

I shut the door behind me and lean against it briefly. Already the pain of realizing I won’t see Bryant and Adam next school year is threatening to break through. I push the thoughts aside, still probably a little numb from being fired.

I’ll miss the smell of my classroom. That probably sounds weird but every classroom still has that same smell of pencil shavings and Lysol wipes from our childhood. Even though I’m pretty sure none of these kids have ever seen or used a number two pencil in their life.

I smile to myself, thinking about my favorite elementary teacher, Miss Nyguard. She was always so kind and sweet. Her wardrobe of pastel cardigans and floral skirts looked as though she’d borrowed them from someone twice her age. I wish I could tell her the impact she had on me. It was because of her that I wanted to be an educator.

Memories of her calm me as I pack up my final item, a small succulent that my students bought me at the beginning of the year. I gather the box in my arms and walk to the door, not stopping to look around for a final time.

“Hey, Margot, I was looking for you.”

I turn to see Hank Byers, the PE teacher, jogging toward me as he waves.

“Some of us are going to that karaoke bar over off Wabash tonight. Nothing crazy, just celebrating the end of another school year. You should come by.”

I smile. Hank has been friendly to everyone here from day one. He’s a big guy, tall and burly with a big mop of blond curls and cherubic cheeks with perfect dimples. He’s the local man candy that all the single teachers have taken a shot at, but as far as I know, none have been successful.

“I dunno,” I say, chewing on my bottom lip. I wasn’t planning on telling anyone that my position was eliminated, and if I go out to a bar, odds are I’ll wallow, have a few too many, and probably cry desperately to anyone who will listen to me.

“Come on. Just come out for one drink. I’ll buy.” He smiles and holds out his hands.

“Okay, one drink.”

“Nice!” He claps his hands together. “I gotta get back in there.” He points both thumbs over one shoulder. “Need to do some inventory on the sports equipment and see what I need to buy for next year.”

“Sounds good and thanks for the invite.”

“See you tonight,” he says, turning to jog back toward the gymnasium. “And don’t even think about bailing!” he shouts through cupped hands before disappearing inside.

I toss the box of items into my back seat and look around the mostly empty parking lot one last time before driving home.

***

“So what do you plan to do with your summer?”

Ah, the dreaded teacher question we all ask each other.

“I’ll probably do private music lessons like I do every summer.”

I swallow down my beer, my stomach uneasy at the thought that I should have reached out to parents weeks ago. Between end-of-year stuff and counting on the fact I’d still have a job next school year, I’d let it slip. I usually have about six or seven private students each summer, but that’s nowhere near enough to cover even half my rent.

“What about you? Still coaching little league?”

“Yup. I’ll be coaching again. Also do some umping for adult teams and playing in the over-thirty league. My uncle Roy needs some help with his painting business too so that’ll be some nice extra cash.” He spins his beer bottle on the bar in front of him.

Hank really is an attractive guy and he’s clearly a man with drive, but I’ve never felt any sort of attraction to him. I’m not sure why. Maybe because we are coworkers I’ve never let myself even consider it.

“It’s funny how everyone thinks being a teacher is this walk in the park because we get summers off. Nobody realizes we all pretty much have summer jobs to keep the lights on, especially in Chicago.”

I nod in agreement, both of us chuckling.

“I, uh, I got fired today.” The words are out of my mouth before I can stop myself from saying them.

“What?” Hank’s head whips toward me, his expression shocked. “Why?”

“Budget cuts,” I say, picking at the label on my beer bottle.

“Fuck, man, I’m so sorry.” He shakes his head. I can feel pity radiating off him and I instantly regret saying anything.

“It’s fine. I’ll find something else.” I’m trying to convince myself.

“No, it’s not fine. You are an amazing teacher and those kids love you. It’s more than a job, Margot; this is your life.”

I purse my lips and nod my head, his words conveying exactly why it hurts so bad. I hang my head as the tears start to fall. No point in trying to fight them.

“I know that, Hank,” I whisper as he stands up, reaching for my arm to pull me in for a hug.

“Let it out,” he says, his large hands wrapping halfway around my back as my shoulders start to bob up and down.

I don’t have the luxury of caring if I look pathetic right now. Maybe everyone will just think I’ve had too much to drink and can’t keep it together. Anything is better than the humiliation of being fired, even if it’s not my fault.

We stand there for several more moments before I excuse myself to freshen up in the restroom. By the time I’ve returned to my seat, Hank has ordered us another round.

“Thank you.” I gesture toward the drink with my head as I reach into my purse for my wallet. “But I need to go home. It’s been an emotional day.”

His countenance falls a little as he nods. “I understand. This is on me,” he says as I pull my wallet out.

“Thanks, Hank.” I reach out and grab his hand, giving it a quick squeeze.

“Don’t be a stranger, okay? You have my number. If you need someone to vent to or a job reference or anything, call me?” He raises his eyebrows with the question.

“Of course.” I offer a polite nod before heading back home.

I’m almost to my apartment building when my phone vibrates in my pocket. I reach down and pull it out, looking at the screen to see who would be calling me at this time of night.

It’s a name and number I haven’t seen in the better part of four years. In fact, the last time I saw Warren Dorsey’s name on my phone was right after my mother passed away.

I don’t answer it. Instead, I hit the ignore button and shove the phone back in my pocket. The last thing I need right now is whatever the hell my biological deadbeat dad has brewing.

***

I spend the entire weekend combing through job postings. I apply to every job that is even remotely related to music first, then start in on the local cafés and stores.

I’ve checked my account balance a record forty-two times over a few days, staring at it like it’s going to magically morph into enough money to save me from being evicted.

I also check my email at least a hundred times over the next week, hoping, praying for any kind of reply from my applications. A few are immediately returned with, position has been filled or we regret to inform you… I don’t even bother reading past that point.

Exasperated, I open my last bottle of wine. It’s not even one I bought. It’s a dusty old table blend that was given out by our school administration during the holidays a few years back.

“Desperate times, desperate measures,” I mutter as I pour myself a generous glass and open my laptop.

I scroll through Craigslist on the off chance anyone might need private music lessons. Over half the emails I sent out to parents about lessons over the summer were returned with explanations about traveling or not in the budget. Another blow to my nonexistent savings.

A listing catches my eye and I click the link to open it.


Needed: Live-in nanny. Full-time 5-6 days per week. All expenses covered. Dental, vision, and medical insurance. Competitive salary. Immediate hire.


“Whoa, what?” I pull the laptop screen closer to me as I read the salary. “That can’t be right.” I squint, reading it again.

How the hell can someone pay more than twice what I make as a teacher for a nanny and offer living expenses covered and health insurance?

My excitement builds as I read over the qualifications. Okay, now I see why they pay so well. They want someone with a preferred degree in childcare or related field, CPR certified, 5+ years’ experience with children, no pets, can teach music.

“Holy shit!” I yelp as I hop up off the couch. I can’t hold back the smile as my heart thuds wildly in my chest. I am literally a perfect candidate for this job, and they want someone who can start ASAP.

I open my email and copy the address. I attach my resume and spend the next thirty minutes crafting a perfectly worded cover letter and link to my LinkedIn profile. I hold my breath, hit send, and flop back against the couch.

Finally, a glimmer of hope.

***

“And you have a degree in education?” Miss Perry, a willowy woman with a perfectly tight bun and beige skirt suit, reads over my resume. Her short-clipped nails are the softest shade of pink and her skin is smooth and shiny, like she’s been freshly Botoxed.

“Yes, a double degree actually in music education as well as early childhood education.”

I squeeze my fingers together in my lap, trying to calm my nerves.

“I see and your last job ended because?” She peers precariously over the glasses that are perched on her nose.

“Budget cuts unfortunately. I was there for three years but the funding for the music program wasn’t renewed so… here I am.” I plaster a nervous smile on my face as she returns her gaze back to the paper in her hands.

“Oh, and I brought a letter of recommendation from the school I just taught at.” I reach into my bag and produce the document, handing it to her.

I resist the urge to recite my resume for her. I want to explain why I’m perfect for this position, but something about how uptight she is makes me lose my nerve. Not to mention the sheer monstrosity of a house that I drove up to, complete with a massive wrought iron gate. I had no idea places even existed like this in the Chicago suburbs.

“Great.” She gives a tight-lipped smile and places the resume on the desk in front of her, along with the letter. “We’ll call you.” She stands and juts her hand out to me.

“Okay.” I shake her hand. “Thanks again so much for taking the time to interview me. I’ll be anxiously waiting to hear from you.”

She walks me to the front door in silence, only the clicking of her heels on the marble floor echoing around us.

“Oh, and just so you know, my schedule is completely open. I have no obligations so if I got the job, I’d be fully committed.” She stares at me blankly, her hand resting on the front door handle. “What I mean is no husband or kids or pets or anything. Not even a boyfriend,” I say around a chuckle.

“Bye now,” she says and I take the hint, stepping through the front door, and it closes behind me.

***

One full week and nothing.

No callback.

No email.

I pull my phone out of my pocket and double-check the ringer is on. I also make sure I don’t have any missed calls or texts. I’ve left two voicemails and a follow-up email. I know I sound desperate, but I am desperate. I’m on my last month’s rent and I have a total of $122 to my name.

A fleeting thought pops through my head. Maybe now is the time to reach out to Warren Dorsey. He’s a billionaire several times over. I push the thought from my head as quickly as it enters.

“Still nothing?” Shelly, my coworker at the local café I managed to snag a barista job at, asks.

“Nope.” I sigh, putting my phone back into my apron.

“Dammit, that sucks,” she says as she hops off the counter and removes her apron.

I’m grateful for the cash tips we split each day at this place but it’s still minimum wage and I won’t get my first paycheck for another week.

I walk over to the neon open sign in the window and turn it off before locking the door. Because we’re a café, we open early so I’ve been able to work a twelve-hour shift every day this week—four a.m. to four p.m.

“Have a great night, Shelly.” I wave as we both walk our separate ways.

My phone rings and I jump, then dig my hand into my pocket and pull it out. I don’t recognize the number but as someone who has just applied to dozens of jobs, I know it could be a possible employer.

“Hello, this is Margot.”

“Miss Silver?” A deep, syrupy voice says my name on the other end.

“Yes, this is Margot Silver.” I try to sound chipper and upbeat, as if that will help them determine if they want to hire me.

“This is Graham Hayes,” the man’s voice says. “The nanny position.”

“Oh!” I say, surprised. Who is this calling me? It’s certainly not Miss Uptight Perry. “Yes, how can I help you, Mr. Hayes?”

He clears his throat before speaking again, his voice doing weird things to my insides.

“I realize this is very unorthodox, but I’m kind of in a bind here. My housekeeper, Fiona Perry, who you interviewed with, is on vacation and didn’t hire anyone yet. I found your resume in a pile and thought maybe you could help me?”

“Yeah, absolutely. What can I do for you?”

“I need a nanny to start right away.”

“Okay, like how soon?”

“Tonight. Right now, actually. I’ll pay cash.”

I don’t think twice. I accept the job, jump in my car, and rush to the Hayes’ residence. I’m once again reminded just how imposing his residence is when I ring the buzzer at the front gate that is adorned with a massive H, for Hayes I assume.

“A little pretentious for my taste,” I say as the gate opens and I zip up the driveway.

The moment I pull up to the house, I realize that if he’s needing me to stay the night, I didn’t bring anything other than the clothes I’m wearing and my wallet. I walk to the front porch and raise my hand to ring the bell when the door swings open and a tall, raven-haired man greets me. I jump back, startled.

Holy shit. Is this him?

I feel my mouth fall open and I instinctively bring my fingers to my lips to make sure I haven’t actually just drooled on myself.

If James Bond and Henry Cavill had a baby, it would be Grant Hayes. His long, lean body is wrapped perfectly in what I can only assume is a custom-made tuxedo. He adjusts the cuff link on one of his wrists, his tanned fingers long enough they could probably encircle my waist if he put his hands together.

Suddenly my mouth feels dry and I’m very aware of my scuffed-up Converse and torn jeans, remembering that I just worked a twelve-hour shift and I look every bit the part. I tuck a piece of hair behind my ear that has fallen loose from my braid and try to stand up a little taller, like that’s going to cover anything up.

“Miss Silver? Graham Hayes,” he says curtly as he extends his hand toward me.

“I thought for sure you were gonna say Bruce Wayne.” I laugh but his expression stays stoic. I reach my hand out to shake his and it’s completely engulfed.

“Like Batman—never mind. Pleasure to meet you, sir.”

“Please, come inside.”

He gestures with his right hand, his left still holding the door. I step inside. The woodsy scent of his very expensive cologne envelops me and I have to remind myself to breathe.

But just as I’m almost clear of the doorway, my toe catches the lip and I catapult myself forward. I throw my hands out dramatically to catch myself, somehow making it worse and ending up doing a half somersault while falling into a crumpled pile of embarrassment at his feet.

In all those books and movies I’ve seen and read, this is the meet cute. This is the part where the handsome stranger gallantly thrusts his arms out and catches the heroine before she falls, their eyes drawn to each other’s as her breasts smash against his body and he suddenly realizes she’s everything he’s been looking for.

But not in my case. Instead, Mr. Hayes makes zero effort to catch me and instead, he shoves his hands in his pockets and looks at me with exasperation, like I’m a bug that he’s considering squishing.





CHAPTER 2-GRAHAM

I catch myself staring a little too long at the small, impish woman standing on my front porch.

Is this the nanny?

She looks like she’s barely bigger than a child herself.

Her strawberry-blond hair is swept up haphazardly in some sort of braid that has fallen, a few stray tendrils clinging to her slender neck. She thrusts her small hand into mine, a smile stretching across her face to her eyes. I feel the warmth of her fingers against the inside of my palm and instantly release it when my mind questions if the rest of her body is this soft and inviting.

I hold back a smile at her Bruce Wayne comment. It was certainly not the first time someone called me that.

I’m completely distracted by the smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks that come into view once she steps over the threshold and into the entryway. Then suddenly she tumbles forward, landing in a heap at my feet.

“Are you alright, Miss Silver?”

I keep my hands in my pockets, too scared to reach out and touch her again.

“Yup.” She stands, adjusting her shirt. “Only my pride is hurt.”

I close the door behind her. “Please.” I gesture for her to step into the parlor to the right of the entrance. I pick up her resume from the table where I placed it and we both take a seat opposite one another.

She looks nervous, her fingers knotting together in her lap as she sits up board straight.

“You can relax,” I say, but she just offers a tight-lipped smile.

“I apologize for the out-of-the-blue call and fire drill request to have you work this evening, but my housekeeper, Miss Perry, is unfortunately on vacation and she failed to procure a new nanny before she left.”

“I had assumed that the position had been filled when I didn’t hear back from her.”

I give her a questioning look and she continues. “Well, after I interviewed a week or so ago, I followed up with two phone calls and left her a voicemail, but I didn’t hear anything back.” She shrugs.

“Hmm.” That is strange considering Miss Silver’s impeccable background in education and her relevant work experience with young children. I’m not sure what Miss Perry’s angle is recently; it’s been like pulling teeth to get her to hire a new nanny ever since my last one had to return home to attend to some family business. I don’t express any of this out loud; instead, I read over her resume again.

“Is there a reason you’re not returning to teach music education at Jefferson Elementary? Or are you only looking for a summer position since you’re a teacher?”

“I, uh, the position was downsized unfortunately. I was told that our funding wasn’t renewed so they had to cut the program. Which is such a shame because I don’t think people truly realize how important introducing music and teaching children to read music and play instruments really is. Such a transferable life skill if you ask me.”

I didn’t. I think it myself, but I can appreciate someone who is passionate about their career.

“Have you ever been a nanny or live-in caretaker before?” I lean back in my chair and watch as she shakes her head vigorously. She’s young. Based on her graduation date, I’d guess she’s barely over twenty-five.

“I haven’t but I have spent my entire professional career wrangling children of all ages for several hours a day.” She lets out another nervous laugh that wrinkles her nose and it’s fucking adorable.

Nope. Get that thought out of your head.

“I love kids. I’m such a believer in enriching not only their lives with skills but also their day-to-day experiences, ya know? They’re like little sponges; they just soak everything up so it’s a waste to just stick them in front of a screen all day.”

Her nervousness seems to have subsided. She’s speaking animatedly, gesturing with her hands and laughing and smiling.

“Eleanor is five. It’s just me and her. Her mother is not in the picture any longer. I need someone extremely reliable and the live-in portion is non-negotiable. I travel a lot for work. I’m gone early and often not home till late so I need someone that can really take the reins. I’m not looking for someone who needs babysitting themselves. Miss Perry is always around during the work hours to assist with anything, but to be clear, childcare and anything that goes along with it is not her job.”

She nods her head vigorously as she pulls out her phone and taps around before holding it in front of her face and typing vigorously.

“Am I boring you, Miss Silver?” I can’t hide the annoyance in my voice. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but these damn phones are always in people’s faces to the point it’s exhausting.

“Oh, no. Sorry. I’m just taking notes on everything.”

I nod and continue.

“As I was saying, all childcare-related responsibilities fall to you, including food preparation, meal times, laundry, classes, and schooling, etc. This position is six days a week. Sundays are yours and sometimes even Saturdays. There is an extensive outlined book detailing any and all preferences, allergies, likes and dislikes, contact information for doctors and teachers. Do you have any questions?”

She looks through her phone notes for a moment before her eyes dart upward to find mine.

“So, did you just want me for the night, or do I have the job?”

The words did you want me for the night shoot straight to my dick.

“The job is yours if you want it, Miss Silver.” I toss her resume on the table next to me.

“Oh my God. Absolutely! Thank you so much, Mr. Hayes. I promise I won’t let you down.”

“Great. I’ll sort out everything with Miss Perry when she’s back. I assume she shared the compensation details. She’ll have you fill out the proper tax documents and insurance information. As for tonight”—I glance at my watch and see that I need to leave in the next twenty minutes—“I have a work event that I cannot miss so I’ll need you to watch Eleanor. I don’t need you to spend the night. You can start work on Monday. That way you can move into your room this weekend. I’ll have Miss Perry show you that on Saturday or Sunday. She’ll call you.”

I stand and she does as well, her big green eyes staring at me as she nods her head at what I’m saying.

“I’ll introduce you to Eleanor.”

I walk up the main staircase and down the hallway to Eleanor’s room, Miss Silver on my heels. I raise my hand to knock when she shoots her hand out to grab my wrist. I stop and slowly turn my head to face her.

“Sorry, but, um, really quick question. Is she okay with a new nanny? I mean, is she onboard with this or is it going to be one of those situations where she’s angry at me?” The nervousness is back as she grips my wrist.

I slowly maneuver myself out of her grip just as the bedroom door opens and Eleanor stands there, hip cocked.

“What’s going on?” she says with her best suspicious look on her face. I squat down till I’m eye level with her.

“Eleanor, this is Miss Silver, your new nanny. She is a music teacher that loves kids and she’s very excited to meet you and get to know you.”

I turn to look back at Miss Silver. Her hands are knotted together as she smiles and then robotically waves at Eleanor.

“Hi, so lovely to meet you, Miss Eleanor. I’m Margot and I have to say your princess dress is by far the prettiest and most pink dress I’ve ever seen!”

I watch as Eleanor’s eyes light up at the compliment and the way Miss Silver naturally charms her way into my little girl’s heart instantly.

“It is?” Eleanor’s big blue eyes almost bug out of her face as she twirls around. “I think so too!” she squeals.

Eleanor reaches for Miss Silver’s hand, grabbing it and pulling her through the doorway and past me.

“Wanna see my matching shoes? They have a high heel!” She drags her toward her closet.

“Oh my goodness, those are prettier than anything I could have ever imagined. You look like you should be in a Disney movie with little birdies singing all around you and chipmunks and bunnies sitting at your feet.”

“An, an, and cats? I love cats.” Eleanor is instantly entranced.

I give Miss Silver a slight nod. “Eleanor, Daddy has to go to a work event. Please be on your best behavior.”

“Bye, Daddy.” She waves dismissively, her attention fully on showing Miss Silver her animal collection.

I close the door behind me and start back downstairs. It warms my heart that Eleanor is such a receptive little girl and that someone like Miss Silver can bring her the warmth and connection she needs.

Ever since her mom died when she was only six months old, I’ve struggled. I want to be engaged with her, to give her the kind of love and life she deserves and needs, but every time I look in her big, blue eyes, all I see is her mother, Meredith, and all the pain of that loss comes rushing back.

Some days it feels like just yesterday I was happy and fun-loving. I was ecstatic to be a father. I loved every second of Meredith’s pregnancy cravings and mood swings. I know that sounds crazy, but nothing made me happier than running to three stores at eleven at night to find the very specific brand of cracker she was craving.

We met when the telecommunications company I had founded, landed a contract with the hospital she was a director at. I was instantly drawn to her, moth to the flame and all that, but she wasn’t interested. She was focused on her career, had just gotten out of a toxic marriage, and was ready to dominate her thirties and travel the world. But I’m nothing if not persistent and after begging her for a first date that lasted a full twenty-six hours of just talking and sharing a bottle of wine, we both realized we were meant to be.

We were inseparable after that.

Nine months later we were married.

We enjoyed our time as newlyweds but after five years, we decided that our family of two was ready to be a family of three. Meredith got pregnant pretty easily, had no major complications, and was an instant natural at being a mother. She radiated pure joy and contentment.

Some of my favorite memories were those two and three a.m. feedings. She’d get Eleanor and come back to our bed and lean against me. We’d both sit there and just stare at our baby girl, gushing over how beautiful she was, who she looked like, how we both never thought love like this existed.

It was bliss… until two months later when Meredith’s postpartum symptoms become strange and unbearable. After several tests, a CT scan revealed a large tumor on one of her ovaries. The biopsy came back as cancerous and unfortunately, it had already spread to her uterus and her other ovary. They did an emergency hysterectomy but it was too late. Within three months she had wasted away to nothing and the doctors had said there was nothing they could do.

One month later, she took her final breath as I held her hand and sobbed.

I grab my phone and wallet and head outside to meet my driver Phil and head to my work event.

“Good evening, Mr. Hayes.”

“Evening, Phil,” I say, ducking into the car as Phil closes the door behind me.

I glance up at the house, seeing the light in Eleanor’s room still on, that image of Miss Silver at my feet dancing in my head, accompanied by her words, Did you only want me for the night? I shake the thoughts away just as quickly as they appear and attempt to make small talk with Phil to distract me.

“How are the kids, Phil? Gerald still pursuing biology at Northwestern?”

I stare out the window on the drive as Phil tells me about Gerald’s first year in college. I do my best to push any filthy ideas about seeing Miss Silver on her knees in front of me out of my head.

I’m forty-two; the last thing I need to do is get involved with a twenty-something-year-old, especially since she’s my nanny.

Even if it’s torturous to have her living in my house.

Even if she stirs a desire in me that’s been dormant for so long.

I refuse to be that cliché.


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