The Homecoming

    “Father!” Mouse came to a breathless halt in front of the old man, and then fell into stride with him,
trying to contain his glee.
    
    “Yes, I heard, Mouse.” Father hobbled along the corridor. “Where is he?”
    
    “Not far behind. Mouse ran ahead.” The little man suddenly looked around himself and the corridor.
“Where’s Catherine?”
    
    “She’s gone.” Father answered pointedly. They rounded a corner and, true enough, a large group of
dwellers, headed by Vincent, approached them.
    
    “Gone where?” Mouse tried to capture Father’s attention. “Father? Catherine’s okay, right?”
    
    “Not now, Mouse.” Father answered a bit gruffly as Vincent approached steadily.
    
    “Father.” Vincent breathed the title easily. He stooped to embrace the man lightly, the hug signifying to
all, a homecoming.
    
    Father stepped back to take in his son’s obvious health. “Well, you look fine... as always.”
    
    “It’s good to be home.” Vincent answered quietly.
    
    “Good to have you.” The pleasantries dispensed with, he carried on. “I’m sorry to confront you with this
so soon, but there’s a matter of great importance to discuss.”
    
    “Please, Father...” Vincent stopped him, knowing that this discussion was about to involve the one
woman he’d tried hardest, and failed, to forget. “A moment. I just need at moment.”
    
    “I’m sorry, son.” His heartbreakingly sincere apology didn’t go unnoticed by any of them. “But this won’
t wait.” He led his son ahead of the crowd of tired travelers.
    
    “Father?” Mouse called. “Father! What about...?”
    
    “Later, Mouse.” Father brushed him off quickly.

    

    So dark and cold the little chamber was, but a flood of light rushed in as Vincent flung the curtain open
with no thought of discretion. Mary stepped slowly away from the lightly rocking cradle, keeping her eyes
on Vincent’s slack-jawed face. The large imposing figure bent over the cradle and examined the single
child within.
    
    His thick honey-colored hair lined his sweet features. His nose twitched in his sleep, and his defined
jaw opened and released something between a sigh and a purr. The child emitted such a golden glow of
his own that there was no need of candlelight.
    
    Father was rambling on about something. Something about a week’s worth of crying and the babe’s
physical health. Vincent knew that there were sounds all around him, and candles releasing waxy, musty
smells, and there were faces to behold that he hadn’t seen in many months. But he couldn’t fit them in his
mind at the moment. This golden boy was filling him up; his five senses working at full scale to take in
every molecule of this child’s being.
    
    The sounds around him hushed as he reached down and lifted the child out of the cradle. The boy
never squirmed or fretted in those big trembling arms; in fact, he remained peacefully asleep. The little
one merely breathed in the scent of this new person who held him so securely, and then buried his face
in Vincent’s folds of clothes.
    
    Eyes glistening with tears, Vincent lifted his head to Father and Mary’s waiting faces.
    
    “Where is Catherine?”




Casual Pleasantries

    The months passed quickly. Anna was back in school which put a slight strain on the visitation
schedule. The practiced argument was almost automatic now. Catherine and Anna would pass the
threshold into their apartment, the door would click shut behind them, and round 1 would begin.
    
    “Can I see Jacob tonight?”
    
    “No, Anna.”
    
    Vincent tried to bring Jacob as often and as early as possible, but both children had early bedtimes
and Anna’s homework was steadily growing more difficult.
    
    Jacob was being difficult about the situation as well. The constant arguments seemed endless to both
parents who truly wished that there was something they could do to make the whole arrangement easier.
Even Father was growing steadily weary of his grandson’s perpetual temper. And suddenly Anna had
become unwilling and unresponsive to any time spent with Joe or Jenny.
    
    The tunnel community remained in the dark about the sudden discovery of Anna and Catherine, for the
time being. Suspicions rose when Jacob would elude to a new friend that he wanted to visit that night,
but they were quickly passed over. Everyone just assumed this was a child of one of the Helpers.
    
    Weekends were always something to look forward to. Catherine was sometimes preoccupied and
busy, but Jacob was always welcome to stay Friday through Sunday. In their own quiet ways, Catherine
and Vincent looked forward to those precious nights as well. And though the routine was always the
same, they took the time to stand out on the fire escape to arrange the weekend’s events and discuss
the things Anna had planned for Jacob during the three days. A slow, but steady friendship had begun to
weave it’s way around the estranged lovers, as if they had simply started back from square one of their
relationship.
    
    There was no use hiding the affection that both parents had for their twins. The words were never
spoken, but both Vincent and Catherine treated the children as if this was how it had always been; as if
the past seven years were just a terrible dream.
    
    “Jacob!” Catherine cried with a flourish of her arms and scooped the little boy up into her embrace.
“Oh! We missed you!”
    
    “I missed you too!” He hugged the women tightly, wrapping his legs around her waist and sitting back
in her arms.
    
    “Did you have a good week?” She set her forehead against his and crossed her eyes to look at him,
making a ridiculous face in doing so.
    
    Jacob giggled at her and then nodded happily. “Where’s Anna?” He suddenly bounced excitedly,
swinging his legs.
    
    “In the livingroom. Her Aunt Jenny brought her a new game, she’s setting it up for the two of you to
play.” She set him on the floor gently and smoothed his mane of hair as he turned to Vincent.
    
    “Bye Father!” And the little boy took off running.
    
    “Have a good weekend, Jacob. Be good!” He called after the boy, knowing his son only half heard
him. His sheepish smile made it’s way back to Catherine.
    
    She smiled at him, suddenly uncomfortable without the buffer of a child between them. “How have you
been?” She asked politely.
    
    “Well.” He stated flatly, feeling horribly idiotic in doing so. “The water pipe on the lower East Side burst
two days ago... that was finally fixed today. So...”
    
    “Good. Good.” She nervously tried to fill the void of silence.
    
    This was ridiculous! At one point in their past, silence between them had been golden moments.
Conversation had not consisted of the twin’s visiting schedule or the status of the pipes in the tunnels, but
of poetry and music.
    
    “You’ve been well?” Vincent asked quickly to end their awkward silence.
    
    “Yeah.” She rubbed her arms out of nervous habit. “Slammed at work, but everything’s been good.”
    
    Had they really been reduced to this? Years ago she’d have fallen into his arms after a day like today.
She would have cried about the young woman who was murdered in her apartment this morning; or
pondered with him the thoughts of the man committed to a mental hospital this afternoon. Now her job
was stoically ‘going well’. So detached and polite.
    
    Heavy running footsteps closed in on them suddenly. They turned just in time to see a flash of color
enter the room. There were no words spoken by the little imp, she merely attached herself to Vincent’s
waist with as tight a grip as she could manage. “I haven’t seen you all week!” Anna implored, her face still
buried in Vincent’s many folds of clothes.
    
    Vincent chuckled softly, holding the little girl against him until her grip loosened. He knelt down to her
height and took both her hands. “How has school been? Your mother says you’ve been having trouble.”
    
    Anna shook her head quickly and she seemed as if she’d tried to explain this to everyone she’d met.
“I’m just bored. I know it all already. And I don’t like the other kids.”
    
    “Why not?” He watched her curiously.
    
    Anna shrugged simply, unable to verbalize her feelings into tangible thoughts. Instead, she just
changed the subject. “Will you teach me a new word?”
    
    Vincent suppressed a smile. “Only if you can show me your alphabet first.”
    
    Anna’s fingers suddenly seemed to fly before them. Her fingers twisted and curled around each other
to form simple shapes in her tiny hands. “Aaaand, Z.” She finished with a zig-zag sweep of her finger.
    
    “That was good!” He beamed at her. “But don’t curl your finger so far to make an X.” He
demonstrated, bending his forefinger and she mirrored it.
   
     “Teach me a new one!” She bounced in a way identical to Jacob.
    
    “Okay...” Vincent snapped his fingers, and then hit his side, “that’s ‘dog’.”
    
    Anna repeated his movements exactly and added, to reaffirm the word to herself, “dog.”
    
    “And...” with his two fore and middle fingers, he slid them across his cheeks quickly, “cat.”
    
    Anna giggled at the irony of Vincent trying to simulate the features of a cat on himself. Catherine shot
her a warning look, and she immediately mirrored the movements. “Cat.”
    
    “Anna! What does this do?” Jacob’s voice echoed down the hall and mechanical beeping noises
immediately followed.
    
    “Careful with that!” Anna laughed, running after the voice. “That’s my GigaPet!”
    
    Vincent looked curiously at Catherine. She laughed and then rolled her eyes at the absurdity of the
newest technological fad. “Just don’t ask.”
    
    An awkward silence fell again. Both adults squirmed nervously. Catherine opened her mouth , but
quickly clamped it shut before letting her thought out. Suddenly, simultaneously they let their thoughts out
in a jumble of words.
    
    “Would you like some tea?”
    
    “I should go.”
    
    The silence fell again and the two smiled sheepishly at each other. Quietly Vincent began, cautious
not to step on Catherine’s words again.
    
    “Thank you for the offer. I should go, though.”
    
    “Alright.” She nodded, embarrassed. “Don’t worry about Jacob. He’ll be just fine.”
    
    “I know he will.” Vincent stared at her a little longer than usual, making sure the meaning reached her.
“Catherine,” he started toward her, his voice dropping low in confidence, “I’m glad that Jacob can have
this time with you. I’ve always hoped for the opportunity for him to get to know you.”
    
    She sweetly bowed her head, grinning again. Slowly she raised her glistening green eyes. “Thank
you, Vincent. So have I.”
    
    He turned to leave, but immediately turned back to her, slowly. Gathering courage with each passing
second, his timid eyes met hers. “Catherine...” he began, and his courage faltered at the odd wanting
reflected in her eyes. That inner battle was raging again, as it seemed to always do when he was around
her. He felt terrible to be inflicting such turmoil, but he had to admit to himself... it was flattering and
inspirational to know that he could still cause such a stir of emotions in her. He had closed off their Bond
long ago. It became second nature so that now, seven years later, both Vincent and Catherine highly
doubted it’s existence. And though he could no longer feel her emotions filling him up. Intermingling with
his own, he could see in her such conflict that he longed to simply hold her and take it all away,
    
    But she wouldn’t allow it. Distance had been very carefully observed between them and, no matter the
conflict within her, she would not release that control.
    
    How absurd it was to Vincent! Here they were, years later, and instead of him fearing for the worst,
keeping a safe distance, holding tight on erratic emotions, it was Catherine. Instead of her attempting to
establish a familiar closeness, feeling every wild emotion without restraint, throwing caution to the wind in
the name of love... it was Vincent. How freeing it was for him to feel all of this without restraint! How
horrible to have inflicted Catherine with all of his doubts and fears.
    
    Closeness. Closeness was the key to cracking the shell she had formed around herself. Vincent
couldn’t deny that the desired closeness to Catherine was part of the reason that he blurted out his
question.
    
    “I’d like to take Anna.” He was still, waiting for a reaction. “Just for the weekend.” He rushed on. “She
and Jacob could spend some time together in our world.” He went quiet. “I’d like her to see my world.”
    
    Catherine swallowed hard. Her eyes had widened a little, giving only the slightest sign of panic. She
dropped her head, suddenly fascinated by the carpeting of her daughter’s bedroom.
    
    Quiet, so the children playing in the livingroom wouldn’t hear, Vincent continued. “I want to get to know
Anna the way you’ve gotten to know Jacob. I want to know my daughter.”
    
    Nodding slowly, silently, Catherine raised her eyes to his, pure fear emanating from her. “Let me think
about it.” She whispered.
    
    “Thank you.” He gave her a half-smile, trying to be encouraging. He touched her shoulder, feather light,
just for a moment, a second of reassurance. Immediately that harsh and unyielding brick wall was thrown
up between them. Catherine’s barely noticeable cringe backed him up another step away from her. He
backed away slowly, watching the regret in her eyes form. “I’ll go now.” He nodded, not so much a
statement of fact, as a reassurance that one would give to a frightened animal.      
    
    Quickly, suddenly, he was gone. Out the window and down the fire escape. Somehow the thought
seemed less whimsical to Catherine now. She remembered the light-headed elation she used to get just
at the thought of him climbing over her balcony to see her.
    
    
“With love’s light wings did I o’er perch these walls/ For stony limits cannot hold love out.”
    
    They had been the ultimate Romeo and Juliet couple. Caught between two worlds; him banished from
hers; and one night of passion before both of their worlds crumbled.
    
    Why are things so much more simple in literature? There is always a definite end. The story concludes
eventually and the characters are put to rest. Why wasn’t life so simple? For a long time it seemed as if
the love story of Vincent and Catherine, like Romeo and Juliet, had ended, very simply, with their deaths.
But it hadn’t. They had held on, they had lived for their children, but the death of their dream had clouded
their hearts. They were forced to bear the burden of so unexpected a death, oh so silently.
    
    And now... when suddenly there was a pulse of life, like a lightening bolt in that metaphoric storm
cloud, it hurt Catherine to hope. It shocked her that she was the one pulling away now. Vincent had so
often tried to pull away from her, but now... it was she who resisted all of those tantalizing temptations.
She had closed up and resigned to her solitude; comforted only by her single child. She had been hurt in
the past; broken hearts were par for the course in her life. But none had hurt her as she had been hurt by
her relationship with Vincent.
    
    “Mama!” A little voice broke her out of her trance.
    
    A small furred hand suddenly closed around hers. For a moment, as she stared into Jacob’s beaming
little face, she believed that it had been him who had called her. Her eyes were beginning to glass over in
wonderment until the voice sounded again.
    
    “Mama!” Anna called from the livingroom.
    
    Jacob’s cat-like mouth had not formed that little word she had longed to hear from him. He only
laughed and tugged her hand.
    
    “Mama! Come look! Look at me!” Anna called hurriedly.
    
    Catherine allowed Jacob to pull her into the livingroom. Halfway there he released her hand and took
off at a run ahead of her. She followed the sounds of his giggling, prolonging the experience for as long
as she could. Finally, she stepped into the scene.
    
    Jacob stood behind Anna, giggling uncontrollably. Anna was in a tangle on the Twister mat. She was
belly up with both arms crossed, both legs crossed and her head straining around her limbs to find her
mother.
    
    “Look Mama!” She grinned. “I won!”
    
    Catherine simply burst into laughter at the sight of her daughter so ridiculously happy to be stuck like a
pretzel on the floor.
    
    Jacob laughed even harder now and, unable to resist temptation anymore, he stuck his finger out and
poked Anna’s belly. Out of annoyance, she attempted to brush his hand away, but in doing so she lost
her balance and fell flat on her back. Jacob fell to the floor next to her in raucous laughter.
    
    Tears now coming to her eyes from the hilarity, Catherine joined the children on the floor, trying, to no
success, to keep from laughing. “Baby... Ann, are you alright, honey?”
    
    Anna’s focus never shifted. She was trained on Jacob and wouldn’t yield. Her lips pursed, she sat up
and folded her arms angrily. “That wasn’t funny!” She insisted, even though both sets of uncontrollable
laughter contradicted her. “It’s not funny! I could have fractured my spine and been deformed for the rest
of my life!”
    
    That just made Catherine laugh even harder. Now hardly able to breathe, she rubbed Anna’s back to
calm her and assure that no such thing had happened.
    
    Jacob wrapped his arms around Anna’s neck tightly, holding her to him, still laughing. No matter how
she fought him, she couldn’t get away. “I’m sorry, but it was so easy!”
    
    “You wouldn’t be laughing right now if I had died!” She persisted, still trying to fight Jacob off.
    
    “No one’s ever died playing Twister, Ann. You’re alright.” Catherine was beginning to calm down and
she pushed herself off of the floor.
            
    Anna finally ducked out of Jacob’s embrace and climbed to her feet. With her hands on her hips she
mumbled at the Twister mat. “It’s a dumb game anyway.”
    
    “Don’t say that.” Jacob hopped to his feet gracefully. “It was fun!” He implored, staring into her eyes.
    
    Catherine stood, frozen, curiously watching her children. They stared at each other in silence. Every
few seconds or so she would see the flicker of a smile pass across one of their faces. Even more
noticeable, one would nod or gesture to something, as if they were having a conversation without
speaking. This was becoming a normal event, but still Catherine had to watch, fascinated every time it
happened. A full three minutes were spent in entrancing silence before Jacob reached forward and
hugged Anna.
    
    “I’m sorry.” He released her and she smiled at him.
    
    “What now?” She bounced on her toes.
    
    “Let’s watch a movie!” Jacob’s face lit up and he immediately slid back to the floor in front of the
entertainment center.
    
    “No.” Anna sighed. “That’s boring!”
    
    Catherine was about to say something until Jacob came back at her with his father’s sarcastic smile.
“Would you rather go another round of Twister?”
    
    Anna sighed dramatically and dropped to the floor next to him. “Okay, what do you want to watch?”
    
    “Anything! I haven’t seen any of these!” Jacob leaned in and scanned the minuscule selection of VHS
tapes.
    
    “That’s not true! You saw this one last week.” Anna pulled out her favorite movie, the one she’d
persuaded him to watch last Saturday.
    
    “Yeah... that was kinda dumb.” Jacob went back to his perusal of the tapes.
    
    Catherine had to suppress a smile. The children had developed a tendency to use each others’
words; words they had never used before in their lives. It was becoming more and more amusing as time
went on. Willing herself to move away from them, Catherine retreated to the kitchen. “Do you guys want
some popcorn?”
    
    “Yeah!” The two called in unison, giggled, and then ducked their heads back into the stack of videos.
    
    A silent visitor watched from an adjacent rooftop. He craned his neck and squinted to see into the tiny
livingroom where a little boy and girl held up videotape after videotape that were repeatedly denied by
their mother. Finally, the brother held up a VHS box and his mother consented. The two children
clamored up onto the couch, on either side of their mother, and dipped their hands into the popcorn bowl
as the movie began. Soon the dark livingroom was filled with warm, flashing colors, and the children
sank into their mother’s arms. Such a beautiful and peaceful scene. The comfort of such a scene, a
sense of home, could make any lost and lonely soul long for it. Quickly and silently, as he had always
been, Vincent climbed over the building and escaped into the cold streets of Manhattan.

*************************************************************
    It was Wednesday, Friday closing rapidly in on Catherine. She had calmed down and warmed up to
the idea of Vincent and Jacob’s weekend visits, but to send Anna... that was something completely
different. So many steps were going to be taken if Anna went Below... whether either parent liked it or
not. They faced the very real possibility of someone revealing their secrets. Catherine had to wonder;
would Anna go down there and never want to come back; would someone, still bitter toward Catherine,
try to take it out on her daughter; what would Father say about her to sweet Anna, who wouldn’t
understand? What would be said?
    
    The children thought that it would be a weekend like any other, and, secure in the knowledge of that,
Catherine felt free to worry and stress. Anna wouldn’t know the difference. Until...
    
    The apartment door opened and Catherine guided Anna inside before her. She watched her daughter
run to the couch to strip off her backpack as she closed and locked the door.
    
    “Mom?”
            
    The nightly ritual began.
    
    “Mm?” Catherine sifted through the mail, ready to deny the request that Jacob come up to visit.
    
    “Can... I go stay with Jacob this weekend?”
    
    Catherine froze. She’d been putting it off all week, and here it was, staring her in the face with bright,
hopeful green eyes. Catherine breathed, trying to calm her increasing heart rate. She searched her
brain, trying desperately to think of a good reason to deny her.
    
    “Just for the weekend.” Anna assured quickly, knowing her mother’s frantic looks.
    
    “Um...” she began lamely. She wanted so desperately to say that they could talk about it later, but
fought the urge, knowing that this couldn’t wait anymore. With a deep sigh, her eyes still fixed on the
envelopes in her hands, she began the conversation she’d been dreading for seven years. “How much
homework do you have, Ann?”
    
    “Just sentences for English!” Anna’s face lit up, having expecting an immediate ‘no’.
    
    “Alright,” another heavy sigh, “you do those, let me get changed, and we’ll talk about it. Okay?”
    
    Beaming, her eyes the size of half-dollars, Anna snatched up her backpack, hopped up onto the
couch, and immediately began work she would normally have complained about. “Okay!” She confirmed
as a second thought.
    
    Dinner ended up being the debate ground that Catherine and Anna stood on that night. It was over
steak and maccaroni and cheese (an absurd concoction when Catherine was single and childless) that
mother and daughter determined exactly how far this odd arrangement with Vincent and Jacob would go.
    
    “I’ll tell you this, straight off,” Catherine began, “I don’t want you to go down there.”
    
    “Because they were mean to you?”Anna guessed, biting into her mac&cheese, unable to ignore her
rumbling tummy anymore.
    
    With a bit of hesitation, she consented. “Yes... that’s certainly part of it. But, there are many other
reasons.”
    
    “Is Vincent one of them?” Since that brief conversation where that sliver of information had been given
to Anna about her father, she had not mentioned Catherine’s relationship to Vincent or the tunnels. True
to her word, Anna had silently carried that bit of information, tucked away only for herself. But now, she
knew that the incident that had led to her mother’s departure from the tunnels was about to become very
relevant. So, trying not to look too eager, she prodded the conversation on.
    
    Catherine found herself happy to answer that question. “No. He is the least of my worries.” Catherine
suddenly reached over and gently took Anna’s hand. “He loves you. You know that, right? He loves the
time he gets with you the same way I love it when Jacob stays with us.”
    
    “I know that.” Anna granted proudly. “And I love seeing him.”
    
    “Good!” Catherine assured her. “That’s really good.”
    
    “But sometimes...” Anna grasped for words, “you don’t look so happy to see each other. You fight
sometimes. I didn’t know if that’s why I couldn’t go Below.”
    
    “No, honey. He and I...” she choose her words carefully, “we have problems that were never resolved
before. We’re working through them now. It’s a difficult process, but it has nothing to do with you and
Jacob. We both agree that, no matter what, you two should be as close as you want.”
            
    “Mom... are you afraid I’ll see my dad down there?” Anna worked her hardest not to look thrilled at the
idea.
    
    Catherine swallowed hard. How to work around this one without blatantly lying? “Yes.” She finally
granted and Anna’s face brightened, as she knew it would. “I know that it is a very real possibility that you
will meet him down there and... as much as I know you would love that...” she sighed heavily again and
thought out loud. “You are so young. I did not want you to go through this yet.”
    
    “I can do this, mom.” That sweet little voice encouraged unexpectedly. “I’ll be with Jacob and Vincent.
They’ll help me.”
    
    Catherine smiled weakly. She longed for the days when she had such blind faith. “I know they will... but
I didn’t want you to have to deal with this yet... at all.”
    
    “Mommy, I want to. I really do. I’m not afraid.”
    
    Three innocent little words. This tiny little girl was so sincere about such a large emotion. ‘I’m not
afraid’. Catherine had said those same words to Vincent once, concerning the same topic. The
unknown, the uncertainty fast approaching, their relationship reaching a pinnacle moment, Catherine had
assured him that she wasn’t afraid. And now, with those earnest green eyes, Anna was proclaiming the
same for herself.
    
    Her matching eyes, steady on her daughter, she began a long, emotional journey. “Vincent...” his
name didn’t come easily, “has asked for you to stay with him this weekend.”
    
    Anna bounced in her seat. “Really?”
    
    Catherine nodded silently. With a deep, cleansing breath, and a sudden fascination with the food on
her plate, Catherine finished. “If you have all of your homework done and your room is clean by Friday
night... you can go.”
    
    Anna let out a high-pitched squeal and bolted out of her chair. She hugged Catherine briefly and then
took off at a run to her bedroom. “I’ll start right now!”
    
    “Anna!” Her mother called in a warning tone. “Dinner first!”

*************************************************************
    
Vincent,

    If the offer is still open, Anna would like
    to spend the weekend in the tunnels.

    Sincerely,
    Catherine

    Gathering her courage, Catherine re-read her note for what seemed like the millionth time. Stepping
swiftly out of her office building and into the flow of sidewalk traffic, she folded the note carefully so that
Vincent’s name showed on the top. She rounded a corner, changing from one herd of people to another,
and encountered the precise man she was looking for.
    
    Sitting cross-legged on the dirty cement and strumming his guitar, he watched Catherine approached
him curiously. His last encounter with her, months before, had given him the impression that she didn’t
want to be bothered by anything connected to her prior life. Now she approached him steadily, though
obviously not confident. True to his routine, he only acknowledged her the way he would any other
passerby who stopped for a moment to hear his music. She stood in front of him for while, fingering the
small note in her hand. He kept playing, watching her more carefully as time passed. Finally, she
dropped the note into the guitar case. He glanced at it long enough to catch the name carefully drawn
onto the top. With only a hint of surprise he looked up at her and she smiled sweetly at him.
    
    “Thank you.” She mouthed soundlessly to him.
    
    He nodded obligingly at her, his whole body keeping time to his music. Trying to resist the temptation
of knowing, he snatched up the note and stuffed it in the nearest coat pocket.
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