(1939-08-13) The Trouble with Love
Details for The Trouble with Love
Summary: Rena visits a brothel to see an old friend, but runs into a newer friend instead, and gets some advice on love and sex.
Date: 13 August, 1939
Location: House Lorelei

House Lorelei, London

The first floor of this two story building is simply a well appointed sitting room. Victorian style couches and love-seats are scattered over attractive rugs and a fire place sitting between the two curving arms of the grand staircase houses a roaring fire that provide both heat and illumination. The illumination is supplemented by lamps, most pairs of which have large yet tastefully painted nudes hung between them. Over the sitting room hangs an old-fashioned crystal chandelier that uses actual candles, supplementing the lamps in a way that lights the whole room in a soft orange glow. Young ladies and even some young men varied enough in body type and attitude to suit most tastes come in and out from behind a heavy red velvet curtain, frequently carrying trays of finger food or drinks to offer their guests. These same welcoming young people will frequently be seen walking up the deeply red runner covering both arms of the staircase with a guest or two in tow and disappearing into one of the doors partially visible through the gilded railing lining the second floor atrium. Standing still enough to seem like statues some very large men in impeccable black suits occupy most of the corners of the sitting room as well as opening the front doors for those lucky enough to get in or for those ready to leave. Heavy red velvet curtains cover all outside windows and are kept intentionally closed to better disguise the real time in the outside world.

House Lorelei is a place for people to forget their troubles, and troubles are plentiful in London these days. So, unsurprisingly, the lounge of the upscale brothel is full of men in tailored suits, smoking cigars with barely-clad young women in their laps or serving them drinks. Every now and then, one will be invited upstairs for an evening of unspoken activities.

Many eyes turn when one of the more exotic beauties of the house descends from on high. The pale, ivory-haired woman known as Corina Silver smiles warmly as she takes slow steps on the stairs, her eyes scanning the patrons. Several men below straighten their jackets, smooth their hair, and try to appear as presentable — and wealthy — as possible. For Corina is the kind of courtesan that chooses her own clients, and her choice for the evening is still unmade.

Rena is a strange duck, inside or outside of wizarding society. One of the many hazards of walking the tightrope between the two worlds. Her heart often draws her back from the magical realm and into the Muggle; sometimes from homesickness, other times for the sake of her sanity. She always has a good reason, and today is no exception. She drifted toward House Lorelei, hoping to visit a girlfriend of hers from her youth, Genevieve Tate - or Ginny as Rena calls her. And her arrival at the "house" is a timid one; one that requires her to swallow hard, lift her chin and walk with confidence. Otherwise, she would shrink like a little mouse. As always, she is dressed beautifully in a tailored suit ensemble with hat, gloves and shoes made to match, but the little redhead seems terribly out of place among the patrons.

Walking quietly to the front desk to ask for her friend, she is informed that the woman is occupied currently. Trying to mask her disappointment, Rena smiles faintly and offers a quiet "Thank you," before turning to leave. Noticing the reaction of the men around her, it's no surprise that her eyes are drawn to Corina as she descends the stairs. Forgetting herself momentarily, Rena stares in disbelief… she recognizes that woman.

Corina's scan of her adoring would-be suitors eventually brings her eyes to the newcomer, her her eyes light up with recognition as well. She smiles brightly, quickening her step a bit. In her white-and-cream satin gown, she seems to glide over the floor, extending her hands toward Rena in greeting, and boldly leaning in to kiss at each of the ginger woman's cheeks. "Well, look who it is. My dancing partner." A few of the men sigh in disappointment, thinking Corina has made her choice, as she has been rumoured to take the occasional woman upstairs. Though surely nothing lewd goes on when she does. Then again…it is well known that Corina lived in Paris for some time. "Would you like to sit and have a drink? I can offer a more private setting if you'd rather not be among the men."

It is all that Rena can do not to let her lips part in an expression of surprise at the warm greetin Corina offers to her. Not that she isn't gratified, mind… It's just an unexpected reaction, and it causes her cheeks to tinge red with a self-conscious blush.

Finally regaining a little footing, the redhead smiles brightly and says: "I didn't know you were 'ere, I'm sorry — I feel rather foolish."

Stopping for breath, she casts a furtive glance around the room at all the men who appear to be less than pleased with her intrusion. It's a little unnerving. "I… I came to visit a friend, but she isn't… she's occupied," Rena admits in a lowered voice. "I wouldn't w-want you to go to any trouble for my sake."

Any fool can see that the environment down here in the open with so many staring eyes is overwhelming the poor girl, and she's about two steps away from breaking into a scared-rabbit run for the door.

"Nonsense, you're no trouble at all." Corina doesn't ask permission as she moves to Rena's side, claiming her arm as if Rena were a gentleman escorting her. "Come, we'll idle a while and talk until your friend is available. I've often hoped I would come upon you again, you know. That evening in Blackfriar's was the most fun I'd had in some time." She tugs Rena along toward the stairs, giving a few shameless winks to her male admirers. "Who did you say you were here to meet?"

With Corina's arm linked with hers, Rena is no longer able to flee the scene. But, then again, she feels a little more secure and a little less inclined to, now. It's best to just pretend the men aren't there behind them.

"Cor, I know men used to stare when I were on stage, but you can't see them past the footlights. Makes a big difference," she murmurs to herself as her nerves become less frayed. "Oh! I came to see Ginny — erm, Genevieve Tate, rather. Usually I just slip in and manage to nab 'er, but this time I wasn't so lucky." She explains, somewhat abashed.

Recalling the night they had a grand old time in Blackfriars when they broke up a bar fight with their singing and dancing, Rena finally seems to become at ease. Laughing, she says: "That night was a lark, sure enough. My girlfriends and I, we used to pull that sort of nonsense even if there wasn't a fight to break up. We may 'ave even started a few that way." Probably shouldn't have mentioned THAT part of her misspent youth.

Corina lets out a musical laugh, squeezing Rena's arm as she takes her upstairs toward her boudoir. "Delightful. We must do it again sometime. So, you are here for Genevieve? I had no idea she took female clients." Her eyes sparkle impishly. She has no idea if that is why Rena has come, but suggestive wording can often draw the truth out.

"What?" Rena stumbles slightly on the stairs the moment she processes Corina's remark in her mind. Regaining her balance, the poor young woman blushes almost crimson and stammers out: "M-me? I.. no-No! I mean, not that there's anything wrong with…with that. It's just that I'm not. That is, I'm married, now!" Phew, she finally got it out. Not that she hasn't dug herself into a fine little hole in the ground.

"Ginny is a friend of mine, from when we were both kids growing up around theatres," Rena further explains after drawing a calming breath. "I… to tell the truth, I wanted to come and ask her for some advice." Of course, the moment the words leave her lips, the little redhead realizes that even that remark could be misconstrued in an embarrassing way.

"Oh, darling," Corina says, patting Rena's hand, "Nearly all of my female clients are married. Usually that is precisely why they come to me." She chuckles softly, pushing open the door to her room and relinquishing Rena's hand at last, gesturing to let her enter first. "Will you walk into my parlour? Perhaps I can be of some service to you."

"Ooh…" Rena's dark eyes widen quite a bit as she enters Corina's room. Despite the fact that she's moved up in the world considerably since her unpromising start in life, grand places like this seem terribly opulent to her. She feels a bit like a little kid walking into a fairy-castle.

"Th-they are?" Rena blinks, somewhat surprised at the other woman's remark about married women. Stopping at the door, she begins to take off her shoes. Realizing how silly that must seem, she quickly corrects herself and wriggles back into the pumps. "Sorry, I've been living so long with Takeshi… He's Japanese. You take off your shoes whenever you enter the house, see? I'm just used to it and forget the rule doesn't apply elsewhere."

Attempting to stumble past that embarrassment, she timidly follows Corina's lead, anxiously saying: "To be fair, we've only been together all of a few days. Maybe I'm making a big deal out of nothing…"

Corina lifts her sculpted eyebrows curiously. "A Japanese husband? How curious. I've never been with an Oriental. Oh, but please, if you are more comfortable with your shoes off, take them off. This is a place of relaxation and pleasure." She drifts over to a large wardrobe, throwing it open, then opening a small cabinet within, revealing a number of bottles and a few slender wine glasses. "Would you like a drink? Cognac, perhaps?" As Rena decides, Corina unfastens her corset, which comes off much more easily than one might imagine, and starts to shamelessly shimmy out of the gown.

It was strange to remove her shoes at first, back when she first moved into Takeshi's house, but she quickly adapted and learned that it was much more comfortable to go about in her stocking feet. "It's… been something to get used to." Rena admits with a half-smile, slipping out of her shoes and placing them by the door, after all. "They eat a lot of interesting food. I've even 'ad to learn to eat raw fish — it's called sushi." But, all of that is beside the point, she knows.

"Afraid I'm a bit of a light-weight… may be a bad idea if I drank…" She begins to say, turning in time to see Corina disrobing. Takeshi has worn off on her far too much, and her first inclination is to look away again. However, remembering her past, she shakes her head at the absurdity, and carries on. "Thing I came to talk to Ginny about was - well, I could understand it when we were living together - not being together. Even when we were engaged. But, I thought…when we got married, that things would change a little."

Pausing uncomfortably, Rena realizes that she's entrusting extremely personal issues with someone she scarcely knows; but, it is Corina's stock and trade to deal with intensely private things. "Do you understand what I mean at all?"

Corina stands in her undergarments — French designs that leave little to the imagination — until she has hung up her gown. She pulls a much more comfortable robe of lilac silk out, swooping it over her shoulders in one smooth motion, and cinching it with a delicate lace sash. "Raw fish? Curious. Well, live in Paris for a while, and you'll learn to eat many unusual things." She stretches out on the edge of her bed, and pats the space beside her. "Come, sit. You look like you should relax. Now then, I believe I understand your meaning. He isn't giving you what you need?"

Biting her lower lip, Rena seems slightly unsure of herself. However, she does finally move to the bed and take a seat on the place indicated by Corina. "It's not …exactly that." Breathing a heavy sigh, the young woman tries to put it into words. "He adores me. Worships the ground I walk on, practically…" Stopping, she allows herself a faint, ironic chuckle: "To him, I'm the most beautiful woman that ever existed." Sitting next to Corina, Rena looks like a weatherbeaten sparrow by comparison, she's quite sure.

"We love each other very much - I can't even tell you… I never doubt that for a minute. I feel selfish for wanting more and not understanding." Her dark eyes drop to her hands that lay folded in her lap. "I've tried everything - absolutely everything to make 'im want me. I know I ain't the most attractive thing that was ever born, but I like to think I've got something going for me!"

"Tut-tut. Don't be silly, you're positively gorgeous. If he isn't leaping at the chance to tear your clothes off, clearly something is wrong on his end." Corina tilts her head, narrowing her eyes thoughtfully. "There could be a number of reasons. Some men cannot stand to. Some men are simply too wound up about sex — they usually have overbearing parents. Some men simply prefer the company of other men, and might not truly realise it."

Poor Rena's brow furrows in thought. She's already been accosted with the assumption that Takeshi isn't actually interested in women. Something she thought was settled by the fact that they were married.

"Well, the poor boy's father 'as always been very cold and cruel to 'im. And mother doesn't stand up for 'im either. But - but I don't believe… that he prefers men," she tries to say with an air of certainty. "He wants to - we both want to 'ave children. We've talked about it often in the past. But that isn't ever going 'appen if 'e doesn't DO anything. Before we were married, the excuse was that people wouldn't be kind if we 'ad a child out of wedlock, but we're married now… Oh, I just don't know." Rena's voice trails off, helplessly.

"There is another possibility," Corina muses, tapping her lips. "I assume, by what you tell me, that he is a virgin. He might be embarrassed at his own inexperience. So much so that even his masculine impulses cannot overcome it. There is a way to help him overcome that, but you might not like it."

Thankfully Corina doesn't make any such assumption about Rena… which, to be honest, she would have to refute. As for Takeshi, however, of course the answer is yes. It just feels unfair to him to admit it out loud - even in this private and intimate setting where no one else can hear.

Finally raising her eyes and meeting Corina's gaze, Rena works up the nerve to ask the all important question: "Wh-what would that be? And… why do you say I mightn't like it?" One can scarcely blame her for being slightly worried to ask. But still, she is curious to know.

Corina adjusts her position on the bed, turning to face Rena, giving her a Very Serious Look. "If he is worried that he will embarrass himself in bed with his wife, then he needs to be taught how to please you. It would mean hiring somebody like myself, for instance, to show him how to pleasure a woman. Armed with such 'training', he might be emboldened and more confident."

Rena has to swallow hard - very hard - to force herself not to show any sign of being upset. It isn't that she feels upset toward Corina, or even toward Takeshi. It's hard not to feel hurt by the idea that she isn't good enough on her own, somehow.

Corina might have expected the redhead to fly into a temper or show some other intense flare of emotion, but strangely… all Rena does is sigh and look away. Her shoulders slump considerably, and her face turns away in a vain attempt to hide tears welling in her eyes. "I suppose there's sense in what you say." She struggles to say, her voice sounding strained. "But, I don't …think it'd be wise. I don't think 'e could deal with it as any other man could. Something is a bit…different with 'is mind. It's not that 'e is just shy. Dealing with people 'e doesn't know well, just throws 'im into a tailspin. I've only just got 'im to a point where 'e can walk out of a room without obsessing and worrying about checking the door lock seven times, or check to see if the stove is off again and again…"

Now, Corina probably thinks that she's married a lunatic of some kind. Good going, Rena.

Corina's mouth forms a slow "O", and she nods in some kind of understanding. "I think I have some notion of what you mean. In France, I had a gentleman that wanted me to make a man out of his son. A suprisingly common theme, really. The boy was much as you describe…shy, extremely particular about little things, and he hated to be touched. Of course, his father thought he simply hated touching girls, and wanted me to cure him before he became completely homosexual." She rolls her eyes, shaking her head. "It was fairly obvious to me that the issue was something not at all related to sex. Not that I could tell you exactly what it was. But he wasn't gay, that much I can say with certainty. Does this sound like your man?"

Rena's attitude rapidly changes from one of discouragement to astonishment as Corina describes the young man she knew in France. A look of disbelief grows in her eyes, and the inclination to cry seems to vanish into thin air.

"That's just exactly like 'im!" She exclaims, clearly excited to know that someone else in the world exists with Takeshi's problems. "Everything you just said, that's what 'e's like! Except, I've long since gotten 'im past the dislike of being touched - by me, anyway. Can't say for anybody else…" Really, she is the only person that Takeshi seems wholly comfortable around. And it took many months to get him there.

Intently focused on Corina, Rena now asks: "What did you do? I mean - for the boy?"

"Oh…nothing. Well, I never touched him." Corina sighs and shrugs. "Making people uncomfortable is the opposite of what I do for a living. We talked, about his life, his father, his dreams. He certainly had the option to touch me, but he never took it. Actually, we still keep in touch. He's got a wonderful mind." She gives Rena a sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry that I don't have any certain solutions for you. But if you've gotten him this far, then perhaps it is just a matter of time. The question is…can you wait that long?"

Maybe the answer really is as simple as waiting and giving Takeshi more time to find himself. Being married isn't easy for anyone, and they are both very young, yet.

Clearly, Rena is disappointed by Corina's answer, but then again, she doesn't hold it against her. In truth, she respects her for having just been kind to the boy and being his friend. Smiling a little wanly, she says: "Takeshi's got a wonderful mind, too. He's got so many talents, and does wonderful things with his hands." It's funny how she speaks far more fluently and properly whenever she speaks softly of him. It's no act that she loves him very dearly.

Something in Corina's question causes the redhead's demeanor to change entirely. For an instant, a defensive look flashes in her dark eyes like a spark. Before she can stop herself, the words slip out: "Why would you ask that? I've been with 'im for months - nigh on a year - and I've waited!" Fire burns in her otherwise pale cheeks, and Rena quickly looks away. Now she wishes she'd had a drink… or three.

One of the most valuable skills a courtesan cultivates is the ability to read people — what they want, what they are enjoying, what they are not enjoying. Corina is quite adept at her craft, and Rena reads rather like an illustrated children's book. The Sterling Strumpet's brow lofts curiously at Rena. "No need to raise the battlements, darling. I am the last person in the world to judge. But…perhaps there is more to the story than you've let on? I only ask because…well, what if your Takeshi has sensed something, and it has added to his hesitation?"

Rena struggles within herself for a moment or two, then she rises to her feet and moves away from Corina. She isn't leaving, but she sure as hell is going to get herself a stiff drink — lightweight or not. Besides, it gives her an opportunity to regain some composure with her back turned to the other woman.

Pouring herself a shot of whiskey, the young woman drinks it down… and it clearly hurts, and it takes her breath away. But, she needed that sting to shock her back into stability. When she finds her voice again, she only half-turns toward Corina, asking in a small voice: "Did you ever love any of them? Do you even let yourself love anyone? I can't say as I recommend it," she says with a faint, half-hearted laugh. "Love causes to damn many problems. Especially when you love more than one man."

Corina watches, paying no mind to Rena helping herself to her liquor stores. She did offer, after all. Then, that age old question of love. She offers a patient smile, shaking her head. "Not the kind of love you're talking about. That sort of love leads to nothing but pain, in my experience. Love thyself, darling. Let others bask in your glow. But love spent on men is wasted. They have no idea what to do with it."

"Funny thing, that," Rena remarks dryly, setting down the glass: "I love very easily. Too hard, too fast, too long… But, I don't care much for myself."

Turning back to Corina, she offers a somewhat mirthless smile that never reaches her eyes: "I only ever cause people pain and trouble. I'm what they call a jinx or a Jonah. I bring bad luck everywhere I go, seemingly. Ask anybody about Rena Lee these days, and they'd say the same." Pausing, she rubs her hand against her arm in a self-conscious way before sighing: "I tried to run away after… after I discovered that I still loved the man I knew before Takeshi, and that he still loved me. Because all I'm ever going to do is cause one or both men pain. But, a friend talked me out of it. Said I'd hurt them worse by disappearing. Now, I wonder if he was right."

"I don't know if he was right. They would have recovered eventually. But that isn't my concern. The truth, as I see it, is that if you had run, you wouldn't be leaving your problem behind. You would carry them with you." Corina sighs softly, approaching Rena to place a comforting hand on her arm. "If you cannot love yourself, aren't you just trying to fill that void with these men in your life? Darling, you cannot make others happy if you cannot find happiness within."

"That's the problem, though," Rena muses quietly, "I'm never happy unless I make others happy, one way or another. That's the only time I feel any sort of happiness inside, when I know I'm doing something worthwhile and making someone's day a little brighter."

The hand on her arm doesn't disturb Rena, however, she struggles against the urge to say more in her own defense, trying to choose her words carefully: "I don't know if you're right about it. Maybe you love too far one way and I the other. Maybe there isn't a middle-ground between the two points. I do know that I make Takeshi happy just by being in his life, though. Maybe that's all that matters in the long run."

"If that were all that mattered to you, I don't think we would be having this conversation. What of this other man? You love him. Does he give you what Takeshi does not?" Corina's tone is gentle, even if her question is blunt.

The question takes Rena off guard. So many things are going through her mind right now that her head is spinning, and the room right along with it. But still, even if she is afraid, nobody has ever called her a coward. She just charges ahead into terrifying places with reckless abandon.

Turning to look at Corina without a flinch, the young woman simply says: "Yes." Not even a trace of a blush can be seen in her cheeks this time.

"Pretend for a moment that Takeshi has discovered your indiscretion," Corina says as gently as she can, "and that he is demanding that you choose, him or your lover. Which would it be?"

Rena can't even begin to voice the painful ache inside when she thinks about Arthur… the other man. The irrational side - the one goverened by instinct and emotion - cries out for her to just say his name and be done with it. But, the other half of her mind - the one governed by honor and logic - has the upper hand. And, although it takes her a long time to find the willpower to use her voice, she does finally speak: "I would choose the man I married."

Logic aside, there is nothing she can do to stop the two large tears from spilling over and rolling down her cheeks.

Corina is quick to fetch a handkerchief from her vanity, and tenderly dabs at Rena's cheeks. "I find that these problems have relatively simple solutions, so long as we are willing to look at them honestly. Now, I'm not telling you that you should give up your lover. But at least now you can examine the situation with clarity. Oh, you poor dear." Corina puts her arms around Rena for a comforting hug.

Having dealt with this turmoil for months already, Rena thought she finally found some solid ground to stand on. With the world seemingly coming apart at the seams in recent weeks, she's scarcely even given it much thought. Now that things are quieter, it's all come crashing down on her again.

Corina's kind gesture is the straw that breaks all bargains. She probably didn't count on Rena's reaction… which is to bury her face on her shoulder and cry. The sobbing is almost completely silent, but it shakes her small frame. "I can't help myself," she says muffledly between them. "I love them both. I did the right thing marrying Takeshi, but… Arthur is the piece of me I wish I didn't need. He's a part of me, still. What am I going to do?"

Corina counted on exactly this reaction. She isn't typically a terribly selfless person. But she has held onto that memory of dancing with Rena fondly, so a shoulder to cry on is an easy way to give thanks. She presses the handkerchief into Rena's hand, then rubs her back soothingly. "There, there. What are you going to do? Well, if you wish to keep them both, you simply must be very careful."

The sobbing slowly begins to subside, rather like a sudden summer storm. It has to happen, but it's over and done with in very short order.

Sniffing, Rena tries to pull herself together and wipe away the remaining tears as quickly as possible. As she fumbles to get her act together, she manages to meet Corina's eyes with concern and curiosity: "Be very careful? You mean don't do anything stupid and get caught and found out?" In her mind, she means just… being found out, and nothing more serious than that, clearly.

Corina rests her hands on Rena's shoulders, nodding solemnly. "Yes, that's what I mean, and more. Have you considered…what happens if you find yourself in the family way? Even if you sway Takeshi into giving himself to you, unless your lover is Japanese as well, that is going to be an inescapable giveaway."

Oh… That.

The colour - what little there is of it - seems to drain from Rena's features. The thought genuinely knocks her for a loop and leaves her taken aback for a second. She feels genuinely foolish for not having realized this before now.

"I… hadn't thought about that. I'm so stupid." Rena admits, looking absolutely appalled at her own thoughtlessness - and just a bit lost. "I suppose I need to go to an apothecary. I know there are potions." How reliable they are, of course, is a different question.

"There are many options. Potions, spells, even a few talismans. Though I've found that potions are the most reliable." Corina brushes her fingertips through Rena's hair. "But nothing is for certain. Even I have to be terribly careful." She gives Rena a sympathetic frown. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to frighten you. I just want you to consider these things. It's easy to overlook such things when you're lost in love. They come more easily to someone like me. Consider me your mentor in this."

Rena smiles. It's a small smile, but a genuine one at least. She is happy to have someone she can talk to that won't judge her harshly for what she's done… or rather what she is doing. The old impulsive nature begins to return, and she suddenly pulls Corina into a warm, appreciative hug: "Thanks awfully. You don't know what it means to me to be able to get this all off my chest with someone who understands… someone who can help."

She draws back, beginning to blush a little again: "I can't believe I told you all of that. I'm sorry I just sort of dumped it all on your lap. It was a terrible imposition…Don't know what I was thinking."

Corina shakes her head, smiling softly. "We shared an evening of unfiltered bliss when we danced together. I'd like to think we bonded in that moment. Besides, you are in the boudoir of Corina Silver. This is a place where a woman is always allowed to be a woman, without suffering under the yoke of men's expectations. Please, don't apologise. This is one of the few areas that I can offer expert advice in. It was nice, truth be told."

Smiling more warmly as she recalls the fun they had that night, Rena laughs softly. Looking around the room with a sort of wonderment in her gaze, she can't help admitting another thing: "I've always been around men. There were women and girls I could be with in the theatre, but the rest of my life somehow has always been alone or with men. It is nice to just… just be a girl for once. I couldn't even remember what it was like before tonight." Bringing her eyes back to Corina, she chuckles: "And I used to think this place was scary."

"With me, you get to be whomever, or whatever, you desire. I make no judgements. As for the men," Corina's eyes go to the door, "I can see that you needn't pass by them when you choose to go. But…you needn't leave if you would rather stay. We could spend some time getting to know one another better…if you like." There is a brief moment in which Corina's sultry, confident mask wavers, betraying a glimpse of hopeful vulnerability.

Rena isn't known for being the most perceptive person, but even she can tell that hint of loneliness in Corina's words. Rather than show any hesitation or sign that she sees it, she just smiles: "I'd love to stay, actually. I like making new friends!" She says this with a genuine, almost child-like warmth in her voice. Her life can be so complicated, and yet, the way she sees things can be so terribly simple.

And so, Rena remains with Corina for as long as possible, leaving the poor customers downstairs boggling over why a mousey little redheaded woman monopolized the star courtesan's evening. They can wonder all they like. Rena isn't going to tell.

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