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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Empty Spaces Between Us - 38. Chapter 38

It was four days before Christmas when Tyler finally got a chance to sit down privately with Sean. The days since Robert Brighton arrived had been filled with Sean doing anything and everything to stay occupied. When that failed, the close proximity to Rob made Tyler hesitate to talk about what was bothering him. Rob also had the tendency to take up most of the attention of just about anyone else in the room. It wasn’t something he seemed to do on purpose, rather it was just part of his personality. The longer he was around Rob, the more Tyler got the impression that he wasn’t the intimidating man he seemed at first. He could be personable and asked Tyler about his mother and showed some interest when he mentioned his friends. Occasionally, Tyler would catch Rob watching him with a kind of thoughtful, appraising look while the three of them were lounging in the house together. For his part, Tyler remained polite and diplomatic with him, wanting to always keep his best foot forward.

Sean seemed to keep his guard up around his father, something that both Tyler and his dad noticed. To Tyler, it almost made Sean appear like an entirely different person. To Sean’s dad, it appeared that he was both unsurprised and disappointed underneath his tight smile and patient tone. When the morning came and Rob informed them that he would be picking up his wife from the airport later that day, Tyler quietly asked him if it would be possible if he and Sean to get some private time together. Rob seemed to think it over before changing his plans and taking Tracy to their house in Malibu for the night before joining them the next day for brunch.

Rob left shortly after noon and the house seemed quieter, much to Tyler’s relief. He turned to go find Sean who was up in the tv room above his bedroom. It was a room Tyler discovered that Sean only used when his dad was in the house. Before Rob’s arrival, he and Sean would spend most of their nights in the living room watching movies or just cuddling on the couch talking. But once Rob was in residence in the house, Sean most often retreated to his private room where he wouldn’t be disturbed. There were a few times that Tyler got the impression that his lover looked and felt as if he was a prisoner in his own home and that made it even more difficult for Tyler to bring himself to talk about the potential uncomfortable subjects he knew they needed to discuss.

When he slowly climbed up the spiral staircase, Tyler felt a little uncertain about what was going to happen. Even without Sean’s father in the house, Sean had a thick air around him that made him feel more closed off than Tyler had ever known him to be. The temptation to just ignore it all and let things be as they were almost made him turn around or just not say anything at all. But not talking about it, not discussing what all of this meant about their future together, had the potential to just make things worse. He had to trust that their feelings for each other were genuine and that everything would work out for the best. “Hey.” He worked up a smile as he stepped over to Sean and laid down on the comfortable loveseat that was the only furniture in the room.

Sean looked over at him before turning his attention back to the screen. “Hey. Dad gone yet?”

“A couple minutes ago.” He noticed Sean’s body relaxed at the news and decided now was going to be the best moment to tackle this. “So, what’s going on exactly?”

Sean continued to stare at the movie on the screen. “What do you mean?”

He pressed his lips together in annoyance but kept his tone casual. “I mean you and your dad seem to have some kind of rift between you.”

Sean sighed. “We don’t agree on some things.”

“Like me?”

Sean turned his head to regard him. “No. In fact, he seems quite impressed with you. He hasn’t scowled or said anything bad about you.”

That gave Tyler a small sense of relief. “Well… we talked the day he arrived. Before you got here. He told me about some of your past boyfriends.”

Sean frowned. “Let’s not talk about that.”

Tyler looked at him sadly. He didn’t want to make Sean relive any pain but knew this was something they had to get out of the way. “I think we should. Why didn’t you mention them before?”

A hesitant tone started to creep into Sean’s voice. “Because they just proved my dad right. Each time. He warned me about them every time and I wouldn’t listen.” He sighed despondently. “He doesn’t want me to go back. He says its time I start working.”

“You have been working,” Tyler pointed out as he forced a smile.

The light in Sean’s eyes seemed to be snuffed out as he responded in a dull, quiet tone. “He means working here. In L.A.”

Tyler remembered that look from the other day. That look of a dream ending and being forced to wake up to the real world. “Do you think he’s right?”

Sean looked down at the floor. “Yes,” he said in a whisper.

Tyler stared at him for a moment. Feeling as if some crack had just come between them that was slowly widening. “I see. What is it you studied for in college? I mean, I would think you had some goal in mind before you started.”

Sean couldn’t bring himself to look up at Tyler, out of fear that he would see how close the end was for them. “When I was a kid, Dad would take me to the studios, and I’d get to look around at all the stuff and meet the stars and all that. As I got older, I got more interested in the technical side of stuff. All the things that happen behind the scenes, you know. So, I studied stage managing and everything that went into a production. Technically, my master’s degree is in business management, but I was focused mainly on managing projects like… movies and TV shows.”

That crack seemed to be widening by the second and Tyler could almost feel his heart dropping down into it. As much as the idea that they wouldn’t last hurt him, he kept his feelings out of his voice to spare Sean any more distress. “I don’t want to ask this question, but I think I have to just to make sure that I know what’s going on. Are you coming back with me in a week?”

“Yes,” he replied. Sean finally raised his head to meet Tyler’s gaze. His grey eyes had a longing in them. As if trying to stop or at least slow down the inevitable. “But Dad is putting my name out there now. Trying to get a studio interested in taking me on. And in this business, you only get a few chances to get in the door. When the time comes and someone wants me, I have to come back here.”

Tyler took the news stoically, as if he expected the answer. “Alright then. I guess we should just make the best out of what we got then.”

Sean’s eyes fell, as if those weren’t the words he had hoped to hear. “I guess so.”

Masking his disappointment, Tyler settled back on the loveseat. He wasn’t sure what he could say or do to change things. To make things better or to make things go back to how they were before their plane landed.

“So, what is it you want to do,” Sean asked suddenly.

Tyler grasped at an answer. “I want to be with you.”

“I meant,” he replied with a quiet exasperation, “what do you want to do with your life? What do you want to be? I know you don’t want to be working construction your entire life.”

It was a question he had been asking himself for years. Sean was right in that he didn’t want to work in construction his entire life. Not unless he was running the business and he knew that wasn’t going to happen. He also knew that he wasn’t getting any younger and the chances to go to college were getting fewer and fewer each year. “I don’t know yet,” he answered honestly. “But I know I don’t want this to end.”

“You could just… stay,” Sean offered.

Tyler chuckled. “What? Be a houseboy? You might like that, and I might get used to living here after a few years, but I think your dad wouldn’t approve. Besides, he knows I want more.”

“Alright,” he replied with a sigh. “And I’m not surprised you wouldn’t just want to be with me—”

“That’s not what I said,” Tyler stressed. “I want to be with you, but I want to also be able to stand on my own two feet.” He reached over and grasped Sean’s hand, squeezing it to emphasize his words. “I told your dad and now I’m telling you; you mean the world to me. I’m sorry, I don’t say it as often as I should. Before you I wasn’t comfortable telling people I loved them because they usually left me, or worse. I do love you. And I want to be with you for as long as you’ll have me.”

Sean looked into his eyes again. For a moment, Tyler thought he saw hope in his eyes. “It’s good to hear.” A faint smile appeared on his face. “And, I love you too. I love you enough that I want this to be our life and not just mine.”

“You really think I could fit in here?” Tyler eyed him dubiously. “I don’t know this life.”

“You could get to know it,” Sean replied. “You’ve only just barely scratched the surface here. There’s still a lot to see. Don’t misunderstand me. I love where you live. It’s a great place. But this is my home. And I want it to be yours too.”

“Kellington is my home, though.”

“Is it?” Sean reached over and ran his fingers under his jaw. “I don’t remember you talking about how great it is. In fact, other than your friends, you’ve been a little critical about it. How small and hard it is. If you were here, you wouldn’t have to worry about being gay. You could just be you and everyone would accept it. Or at the very least, those who did have a problem with you being gay wouldn’t be just around the corner from you all the time.”

That part was appealing, Tyler had to admit. While Andy and the others didn’t seem to either mind or care what other people in town thought of them, given that they already had their lives well in hand, Tyler could be looking at a life without Sean and more likely he’d find more guys like Alex than not, or just transitory, one-night-stands that could never become anything else. But there were still so many questions that needed answers. “I’ll think about it. How’s that?”

“That’s all I ask.” A faint smile returned to Sean’s face which settled Tyler’s doubts for the time being.

Opting to change the subject, Tyler started to think ahead to the next few days. “So, do you want to tell me what to expect about your step-mom?”

Sean sighed and rolled his eyes. “Well, first off, she doesn’t like that term. She’s thirty-nine but she’ll swear she’s only thirty-five. She was a struggling actress who didn’t get very far in Hollywood except to date my dad and get married. Fair warning, she feels she was cheated out of a dozen rolls. Truth is, she’s just bad at acting. She can’t even pretend to like people. But, she’s content with the money and knows not to piss Dad off too much. I don’t know why they’re married other than he just didn’t want to be single.”

He frowned at Sean’s words and felt a slight mote of sympathy for his dad. “I can’t imagine marrying someone I didn’t have feelings for.”

Sean cringed a little. “It’s kind of a Hollywood thing too. People don’t wanna look desperate or lonely. They want their lives to look like they’re filled with accomplishments. So, if they’re single, they usually find someone to date or marry just so they have that look of a happy couple when they need it.”

“So, just for appearances then.” Tyler felt equally appalled and pity for Rob. “Anything else I should know?”

Sean shrugged. “That all of that isn’t the exception, or the rule. That some people are just like that and you have to accept it.”

Tyler felt a little uneasy with his next question, but he knew he had to ask. “How many boyfriends did you have while you were here?”

Sean sat back and thought about it for a moment. “Honestly, only two. I mean, I messed around with a lot of guys when I was a teenager. Then some more in college. But, only two guys that I was interested in before I started looking outside of Hollywood.”

Tyler nodded slightly. “You know I’ve only slept with two other guys before you.”

Sean chuckled. “You don’t act like it when we’re in bed. Sometimes I think you know more tricks than I do.”

Tyler blushed slightly even as he smiled. “Well, I had a good teacher.”

“Look,” he shifted to turn towards Tyler, “all that bullshit doesn’t matter where you’re concerned. I believe that we could make a good life here. It might take a while and it may not be easy at first. But I want to at least try.”

Tyler could see the conviction in his eyes and knew he meant every word. It was both intimidating and exciting that it could be a possibility for him. But there were so many unknown variables. Too many for him to truly commit right now. “Let me think about it. I mean, really think about how I could pull this off. I’d need to talk to Ma to and see what she thought about it.”


Tyler felt something deep inside him. Something changing. It made him feel a little afraid, but it also fueled his hope that his life was going in a good direction. But still, he needed to be sure.




Jacob held the plank steady as he carefully pushed it through the table saw. The sound of the blade cutting into the wood roared as bits of dust flew around him. His arms grasped it firmly to make sure the cut was precise. He’d been working most of the day, trying to keep up with the demands that have been growing over the last few months. As he turned off the saw, he pulled the piece of cut wood to his face to inspect it for any cracks or rough edges.

He hadn’t taken it seriously when his mother-in-law told him she was getting him a professional web designer for his business’s website. When the man showed up at the house back in September, he thought then that nothing much would come of it. What the designer failed to mention was that along with the website would come advertisements online to go with the new look. He still felt slightly embarrassed whenever his memory would replay those three days of the man taking pictures of him and his work inside his shop. He was aiming for professional, not making himself into a thirst trap.

The professional look of the site after he was done was apparent as was Jacob’s body since the man went out of his way to make sure to get Jacob in as many good angles as possible on his shots. He normally didn’t work in short sleeve shirts, but he didn’t ask any questions when the designer told him to change clothes. Afterwards, once Kyle had seen the finished design, his husband blushed and barely suppressed a giggle as he pointed out Jacob’s prominent “assets” in nearly every picture.

Whether he wanted to admit it or not, the results were undeniable. There wouldn’t be any time off after a while and he was afraid of getting too much work at this point. Despite wanting to spend as much time as possible with Aaron, he knew he had to put in at least eight to ten hours every day to keep up with the demand. Eventually, he would need to look into hiring a transport company to ship the finished products to the clients. For now, he would have to continue doing his best to keep work and family balanced as best as he can.

The vibration of his phone through his pocket prompted him to stop. He removed his goggles as he pulled the phone out to see who was calling. He smiled from the unexpected surprise before answering. “Hey, Tyler. What’s up?”

Tyler’s familiar voice came through. “Not much. Just wanted to check in and see how everything is back there.”

“Cold. A little windy.” Jacob grinned. “I’m in the workshop right now. Thinking I’m gonna need to get heat installed. That or relocate to a new building. Aaron’s doing good. I’ll take another picture and send it out later.”

Tyler giggled. “I guess that’s something every parent does nowadays.”

The word “parent” still made his heart swell. “You have a baby and see how you act. How’s California treating ya?”

There was a slight pause before Tyler replied in a more hesitant tone. “It’s nice. Sean and I have seen a lot and done a lot. I met some of his friends. And his dad.”

Jacob lost his smile as he focused his attention on Tyler. “That’s all good things, right?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

Jacob moved to sit on his stool. “Well, I’m sure you’re having more fun than you think.”

“No, no,” Tyler said, trying to sound more positive. “I’m having a great time. Sean and I have had a good time together. And his dad is pretty cool, once you get to know him.”

That gave Jacob a little bit of relief. “Well, I’m glad to hear it.”

“I just…” he sighed and then asked, “have you ever felt like you just didn’t fit in?”

Jacob couldn’t stop himself from laughing at Tyler’s words. “Yeah. Yeah, I know how that feels.”

“That’s kind of how I’m feeling. Everyone here is… so different. How did you deal with it?”

Jacob grinned to himself. “Well, it took me awhile. Kyle helped though. And, by helping, I mean he made me feel more secure than I felt at the time. I was just a kid, though. Well, teenager. It was him loving me that made it easier for me to feel accepted by Troy and the others.”

“So, I shouldn’t worry,” Tyler replied with a dubious tone.

“What I’m saying is that you don’t have a reason to worry,” Jacob countered. “If they are Sean’s friends and Sean loves you then they will like you just as much as they like him. And if they don’t, then fuck ‘em. You don’t need their approval to be happy.”

“I feel stupid when I’m around them. They all have these jobs that make them rich and—”

“Wait a minute,” Jacob sat up straighter on his stool. “I thought Sean was just a regular guy.”

Tyler sighed. “He’s… well, he’s not, really.”

A frown of concern started to grow on his lips. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yeah.” Tyler let out an exasperated breath. “I’m just nervous is all. This isn’t anything like home.”

Jacob nodded but he felt a cautious feeling start to grow in the back of his mind. “I have no idea what it is you’re going through right now, Tyler. All I can say is that you know who you are, and you don’t have anything to prove to anyone. Just be yourself. If they can’t appreciate that, then they don’t deserve you.”

“Thanks.” He sounded more relieved and relaxed after hearing that. “I need to go. We need to go pick something up and then there’s a party on Christmas Eve.”

Jacob chuckled slightly. “Same here. I need to hit the stores one last time tomorrow to make sure we have everything we need.”

“I’ll let you get back to work. I’ll stop by when I get back.”

“Door’s always open for you. Have fun.” They ended the call and Jacob sat there, thinking about what Tyler had said. Getting off the stool, he grabbed his coat and headed back to the house.

There was no snow on the ground yet, but Jacob knew it was only a matter of time. The forecast predicted snow sometime towards the end of the week. He hoped it wouldn’t show up sooner. He headed into the house, looking for Kyle who he found sitting quietly in their room with a bottle in hand, smiling down at Aaron as the baby suckled on the bottle. When Kyle noticed him, he looked up and smiled brightly. “I thought you were working.”

“Decided to take a break,” he replied as he crossed the room and kissed Kyle on his head. “How’s our newest little boy doing?”

“Well, he’s eating,” Kyle replied. “He’s still just a newborn. Well, he’s gained some weight, obviously, but nothing much to report.”

Jacob reached down and delicately ran two fingers through the dark wispy hair on Aaron’s head. “So, he’s perfect, is what you’re saying.” They shared a chuckle as Jacob knelt to watch Aaron eat. “Hey, what was Sean’s last name again?”

“Sean?” Kyle blinked in surprise. “Tyler’s boyfriend? God…” Kyle sat there thinking about it. He could barely remember.

“When they were here for dinner that first time, he said his name and you said it sounded familiar.”

Kyle thought back to when he met Sean and it came to him. “Oh, Brighton. Yeah. A friend of my mom’s had the same last name.”

Jacob kept his voice neutral, having confirmed his suspicions. “Rich guy?”

“He’s a friend of my mom’s,” Kyle repeated sarcastically. “Of course, he is. I met him once I think when I was like thirteen or fourteen. Why do you ask?”

Jacob looked up at him. “Think about it. Did your mom’s friend have a kid?”

Kyle gave his husband a weird look. “I don’t remember. What’s all this about?”

Jacob smirked as he stared into Kyle’s eyes. “Think about it.”

There was a pause before he leaned his head back and returned Jacob’s gaze with an incredulous stare. “No way.”

Jacob’s smirk widened into a toothy grin. “I think so. You could call her, just to make sure.”

“Okay. I just might.” He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking maybe you should call your mother and check in with her,” he responded with a shrug. “It is Christmas, after all.” He rose to his feet. “Okay. Time to get back to work. Make sure you make a list of everything I need to get tomorrow before the stores close, okay?”

Kyle chuckled. “Get out of here.”

Jacob gave him one last kiss before running his hand over Aaron’s head. “I’ll be back in a couple hours.” He headed back out to his workshop and made a mental note to remind Kyle to call his mom.




The living areas of the house was abuzz with people all in stylish dresses and designer shirts, ties, slacks and some jackets. Standing off to one side, while trying to appear to not be hiding, Tyler was remembering just how much things had changed in the last two hours. He can still recall how he stood there looking at himself in the mirror, amazed at who was looking back at him. “This feels really nice.”

Sean grinned and came up behind him. “Told you so.”

The suit fit him perfectly. Even the jacket seemed to put his chest on display. While he was never much of a slacker when it came to staying in shape, his job seemed to have thickened his chest a little more than he realized. The deep green dress shirt and the green and red striped tie were a nice touch. The black slacks were soft but not thin. “What is this stuff?”

Sean chuckled softly as he watched Tyler run his hands over the sides of his pants. “Best that I don’t tell you. Let’s just say it’s soft for a reason. Also, you’re not gonna freeze if you head out to the courtyard to mingle with any of the guests.”

“How many people are going to be here?” He wasn’t sure how comfortable he would be in a large crowd. He already met Tracy and she was everything Sean told him. Self-absorbed, vain and not as intelligent as she thought she was. Only a few minutes after meeting, she seemed to have already considered him below her notice. He expected some of her friends and maybe Sean’s. But more than a dozen could get him feeling overwhelmed.

“I have no clue, really. But I’ll stick by your side for awhile just until you’re comfortable.” Sean made it sound so easy to meet people he barely knew. “Just be yourself. Don’t worry and if things get uncomfortable, just come find me. You can do this. It’ll be easy.”

Tyler swallowed the nervousness he felt and focused on the imagine in the mirror looking back at him. It was still him, but different somehow. The last few years had changed him. He had never noticed until now that he didn’t look like the same person he was when he left high school. Experience had worn away at the person he used to be. Pain, grief, so many disappointments he couldn’t begin to count were evident in his eyes along with hope, love, and a will that wouldn’t let him give up. And he wasn’t going to give up on loving Sean. “Okay,” he said with a nod. He silently promised himself he would stop being afraid and fully embrace his desire to commit to Sean. There were still details to be worked out before taking that step. But he knew he would figure something out.

Sean took a step back and slid his hand into Tyler’s. “Ready?”

Tyler smiled slightly at his touch and it numbed his concerns. “Yeah.”

The food was catered, holiday music played softly in the background, and the decorations were beautiful as guests arrived, ate the food and commiserated. Evan and Tim being the only two friends of Sean’s that he knew became the only real people he felt he could come close to having a conversation with and even then, it mostly involved him standing there and silently listening to them. Sean stayed at his side for the beginning until Tyler seemed to get more comfortable with Evan.

“That’s the suit he got for you the other day,” Evan had asked Tyler with obvious approval.

Tyler smirked as he stared into his glass. “Yeah. It’s a definite switch from what I’m used to.”

“You seem to wear it well.” His words were accompanied with a genuine smile. “You know, I’m just now realizing I don’t know you as well as I’d like or probably should. What was the name of the city you live in again?”

“Kellington,” Tyler replied. “It’s not very big so you’d miss it unless you purposefully looked for it.”

“Huh. I guess Sean got real lucky then meeting you.” He looked around them to make sure they weren’t overheard before he leaned in a little closer. “I’m not gonna lie; he’s really into you. I’ve seen him with other guys before, but he never went this far for them.” He gestured to the clothes Tyler was wearing.

“Out of the two of us, I’d say I’m more likely to be the lucky one.” Tyler’s response was polite enough while still staying mentally cautious. Evan seemed trustworthy, but Tyler didn’t want to be too open with him just yet. “He’s given me a lot to think about the past few days.”

Evan’s brows raised in curiosity. “Oh? Like what?”

“Like what I want to do with myself as far as long-term.”

Evan nodded. “I get the impression you got shit on in the past.”

Tyler’s laugh was subdued as he smiled ruefully into his glass. “You could say that.”

“All the more reason why you should find something that you’re passionate about,” Evan replied with a shrug. “Me, I like making deals and it gives me a thrill when I negotiate a really good agreement. Especially when it’s a challenge. What’s gotten your interest over the years?”

“Wow,” he replied with a thoughtful look. “I hadn’t thought of what you do like that.”

Evan laughed politely and patted his shoulder. “It’s all about how you look at life, I guess. But, seriously, what about you? What have you done or thought about doing that would really drive you above and beyond?”

Tyler pondered the question as he took a drink. “I guess helping people.” He grimaced and rolled his eyes knowingly. “Yeah, it sounds like a cheap response, but even working on a house, when you’re replacing a damaged roof or any other kind of repair work I’ve done in the last two years, I get a sense of satisfaction that I did something good for them.”

Evan seemed to take him seriously as he listened and thought about what he had said. “I guess you could go into social work, but I had a girlfriend who did that once and she always felt underutilized and depressed about just how little she was able to do for people.”

“Yeah, not what I’m really wanting.”

“You’ll figure it out in time.”

“Figure what out,” Sean asked as he came up behind Tyler.

Evan smiled at the two of them. “Figure out how he’s going to impress the shit out of you.”

“He’s already done that.” He leaned down and gave Tyler a peck on the cheek. “Sorry. Dad wanted me to meet some people and we got caught up.”

“I’m fine,” Tyler replied. “Evan’s been talking my ear off.”

The three of them shared a pleasant laugh. “I think I’ll leave you two alone.” Evan gave them a smile before turning and drifting back into the growing crowd in the house.

Tyler watched him, seeing for the first time just how many people had come. Near the front door, he could only barely make out Mr. Brighton with his wife as they stood, welcoming guests as they came into the door. Everyone was dressed so well, he realized if he hadn’t gone along with Sean’s wishes to buy the suit he was wearing now, he would have stuck out like a sore thumb. “Having fun,” Sean asked him.

He managed to fake a smile and nodded slightly. “It’s… different.”

“It’s not that bad. Though, most of these people are dad’s friends and not mine. But I’m supposed to mingle and talk to everyone.”

Tyler looked away from the crowd, focusing on Sean instead. “Is that your way of asking me to come with you?”

“Well,” Sean dragged out with a hopeful endearing smile, “wouldn’t hurt to get to know other people here. Maybe make a friend or two?”

Tyler gave him a half-smirk before nodding. Sean led him into the growing crowd and spent the next half hour meeting people, hearing names that he knew he would likely forget and stood quietly next to Sean as they conversed over subjects he didn’t understand and couldn’t comment on without sounding inept. Occasionally someone would ask him about himself and he would answer whatever questions they had. Sean was unafraid of talking about his relationship with Tyler and their hopes for the future. On a few occasions, Sean let slip that he was hoping they would become permanent residents soon. That comment got a few brows raised. Tyler managed to maintain a smile while feeling trapped, not wanting to correct Sean or just say that it was still an ongoing discussion. It was still undecided as to what he would do if he lived there. He’d already decided against the idea of not working after meeting Tracy for a few minutes. There was no chance in his mind he would be happy living like she did, even if she seemed content just being paid to be in a fake marriage.

The one detail that stood out to Tyler most of all from their mingling was how much more confident and energized Sean seemed to be as he was meeting and talking to people. It wasn’t that Sean became a different person, but that that person was somehow enhanced as he talked to some of the older people in the room about studio productions and later to a group of young women, he commented on the current films he had heard were looking for actresses or crew positions that hadn’t been filled. He went after it all with an enthusiasm that Tyler knew was genuine. There was no denial that he was doing exactly what his passion was.

What frustrated and upset him most was how dismissive people were of him when he told them where he was from and what he did. Once he revealed that his line of work did not intersect with theirs, it was as if the conversation stopped and people would go back to talking about other topics. Most of them revolved around news and gossip from the studios and what projects were in development, what had been cancelled and why, who was on the verge of losing their careers and who might be up and coming. Who was funding what and what was going to be the next big box office hit? Names were dropped at a pace that made Tyler wonder just how close he was to actually seeing a few stars in the crowd and he did end up spotting what he thought were some actors and actresses who had been in older movies made before he was born. He didn’t want to act like a hick and start up conversations with them, so he kept to Sean’s side and smiled and nodded while trying to figure out a way to get out of the room.

After some time with Sean, Tyler took the opportunity to step away and refill his glass. When he started to step towards the kitchen, he checked himself, reminded that there had been a bar set up near the center door that opened onto the rear courtyard. One of the servers Mr. Brighton had hired for the party stood and politely refilled his drink while Tyler took a moment to breathe and calm his nerves. Tyler thanked him and glanced over the room again before choosing to take a step back and just watch the knots of people slowly move as one person would leave one group to join another and new conversations started. Old friends ran into each other and smiled cheerfully as they embraced. Tyler could see Sean with some of his friends off to the side as they spoke. Sean’s happy face as he animatedly spoke brought a small smile to his own lips.

“He’s not nearly as cute as the last one.”

The words drifted through the air as his eyes slowly shifted over to their source. Michelle, Tim’s girlfriend was standing a few feet away with two other women and a man all of whom he didn’t know. As she spoke, the three of them listened intently as she went on. “He talked about nothing important at all when we met for dinner the other night. I’m surprised he could even talk at all. He does a dead end job which no one would care about. I mean, really, who gives a shit how you use a hammer? I know Sean talked him up, but they obviously have nothing in common. It’s only a matter of time before they break up.”

The words cut deep as he stepped farther away from the crowd. He didn’t want to hear anything else she had to say. A part of him wanted to march up to her and tell her what a stuck up bitch he thought she was, but he knew that would only play into her hands and he wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of proving her point. So, he was just a grunt. A nobody. And she may have had a point. With no real future planned, he couldn’t promise Sean anything. He could go on to be a success and Tyler would just be there, following along behind him. Or just feeding off him like a parasite and giving nothing back in return. He felt so stupid, pretending like this could work when deep down he knew how it would turn out. They’d go back to Pennsylvania after the new year and over the following weeks, their relationship would start to cool as Sean fielded more and more job opportunities here that he seemed interested in. The only reason Sean would go back would be for him. As much as he wanted to believe otherwise, Sean’s life was here in this place. Not in a small town with no future and nothing but working until some accident or age settled in and he couldn’t work anymore.

Tyler bowed his head to hide the tears coming to his eyes. There was no way he could ask Sean to stay with him. If Tyler really loved him, then he should end it now and go home alone. It was the right thing to do, probably for the both of them. It would be painful and there would likely be tears. But it would be a quick break and Tyler could at least say he did the right thing no matter how much it hurt. Would he ever find someone to love like Sean? His thought went back to Jacob and Kyle’s wedding. In those moments before Sean had seemed to magically appear, he had been ready to accept a life on his own with no prospect for love. If he could do it then, he could do it again.

He looked around the room for Sean, noticing he wasn’t with his friends anymore. In the midst of his search there was a noticeable quieting on the far side of the room near the front door. The next thing he heard was an alarmingly familiar voice that seemed to fly like an arrow over the room and plunge with into his chest, leaving him with an almost primal urge to seek cover.

“Oh, darling, the house looks gorgeous! You’ve certainly out done yourself this year.”

He groaned inwardly at the words. Heads turned towards the door and other conversations lulled as Helen Stratford entered the main room. She was dressed as Tyler would have expected in a forest green strapless dress with a lighter colored shawl which hung over her shoulders and down to her hips on both sides. At the top of her dress on the left side rested a pendant made of red and green crystal shaped in the form of holly. Her honey colored hair looked perfect as it seemed to flow down to her shoulders. She was just in the act of removing her coat and handing it to the man standing next to her. He was all smiles as he took the coat and passed it along with his own to Coop who nodded and took them away to join the rest.

The man with Helen had silver grey hair and stood next to her tall and proud with a warm smile on his lips as he intwined his arm with hers. His clothes were just as fancy is not as colorful. They slowly stepped into the crowd which seemed to part for them. Greetings and warm wishes soon followed as the two of them took a moment to speak to nearly everyone they passed. That they seemed to know more than a few of the names of the guests did not escape Tyler’s notice as he renewed his efforts to find Sean in the crowd. The noise level in the room soon increased beyond what it had been earlier as if the Stratford’s inclusion had increased the buzz in the room.

Tyler frowned slightly to himself before he affected a neutral look and stepped up to Michelle and the small group she was in. “Have you seen Sean? I think I lost sight of him.”

Michelle ripped her attention away from what was going on around the Stratford’s long enough to give one of her friends a meaningful “I told you so” look and responded dismissively, “he was somewhere near the other side last I saw him.”

“Thank you,” he responded politely, pretending that he hadn’t seen the look or heard what she said earlier. He slowly made his way through the crowd, keeping his eyes open for Sean while maintaining a somewhat healthy distance from the newcomers. Excusing himself as he pressed through the crowd, he finally saw Sean who was moving towards Helen, with the smile of a man who was reluctant to do his duty. “Sean,” he called out just loud enough for his boyfriend to hopefully hear him.

Sean stopped and looked around, seeing Tyler in the crowd he got a look of relief as they met up with each other. “Where’ve you been? I went looking for you.”

“I went to get a drink and then decided to step back and catch my breath.” He omitted the part about Michelle, and he could see a question in Sean’s eyes.

Before he could say anything, Sean’s attention was diverted. “Sean, dear!” Helen’s greeting was warm with a smile as she walked up with her husband. “It’s been so long since we last ran into each other in a crowd.”

“H-Helen,” Sean stammered slightly, caught off guard. He could see the almost mischievous gleam in her eyes as if her phrasing was meant to be a private little joke between them. “Al. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you as well,” the handsome older man said in his deep voice. He extended his hand to Sean, shaking it as he added, “been hearing quite a bit about you lately.”

Sean’s eyes flicked from Mr. Stratford to his wife and back. “Well. I’ve been busy.”

“Indeed.” Al turned his attention to Tyler, giving him an appraising look and a smile. “And who is this with you?”

Helen grinned as she spoke up before Sean. “This is Tyler. Sean’s boyfriend. I think I told you about him before, dear.”

Tyler’s worries became jumbled inside him. He could almost swear she had pitched her voice up to be heard farther into the crowd. Pushing that thought aside, he remembered his manners and smiled politely to the couple. “It’s good to see you again, Helen. I still haven’t had a chance to thank you for the gift you sent me.”

She smiled gaily as she embraced him. “Think nothing of it, dear. It was my pleasure to give you something to remember the day.”

Tyler was uncertain as to what to say as he hugged her back for that brief moment. Out of the corner of his eye he could detect more than a few mouths open in surprise that she was talking and hugging this stranger in the crowd they barely knew. “Well, later we should exchange notes on Jacob’s new baby.”

She laughed as her smile widened. “I want to hear all about it. I put aside some time next month and plan to go visit.”

Her husband grinned as he suddenly understood what they were referring to. “Your new grandson? Tyler is friends with your son?”

She nodded in confirmation. “It truly is a small world we live in.” She stepped closer as said in a more private voice, “we really should catch up but for now, I need to accompany my husband to talk to the rest of his clients in the crowd.”

Tyler blinked in surprise but nodded his assent. “Of course. Maybe by that time, we’ll have more pictures to compare.”

Helen chuckled and put her hand in Al’s. “More than likely, dear.” They both waved as they walked on through the crowd.

Sean put his hand on the small of Tyler’s back, watching the older couple continue through the guests in the room. “Well, pretty sure everyone saw that,” he commented softly into Tyler’s ear. “And she seemed to go out of her way to do it too.”

“What? Why do you say that?” He was confused. He didn’t understand what he meant even as Tyler looked around the room while people nearby were looking back at him with a renewed interest. Their looks gave him a vivid flashback of his first time at the gay bar with Drake.

Sean leaned in to kiss his cheek and whisper, “all I’m saying is, I wouldn’t be surprised if you ended the night with a couple job offers.”

That was not a statement that gave Tyler any comfort. He unconsciously put his hand in Sean’s and squeezed it to make sure Sean stayed nearby. As the party continued, they stayed close to each other as more than a few guests came up to speak to Sean. The conversations started innocently until they would eventually segue into asking Tyler questions.

“Tyler, is it? Why haven’t we met before tonight?”

“I’d love to hear about how the two of you met.”

“Are you enjoying the California weather, Tyler?”

“You’re from Pennsylvania? My cousin lives in Philadelphia.”

“The next time you visit, we should all get together at my house in Bel Aire.”

It continued like that for half an hour before the two of them met up with Helen and her husband on the far side of the room. Tyler thought they looked like a king and queen standing together holding court with a gracious attitude. When he and Sean got near, Al motioned them closer. The older man placed his hand on Sean’s arm as he leaned closer to them. “Tyler, would you mind if I borrowed Sean for a moment? There are some things I would like to discuss with him privately.”

Tyler looked at Sean and then Al. “Sure. No problem.”

Helen smiled and stepped closer to him. “Excellent. That will give us some time to catch up.”

“We’ll be back before you know it.” Al smiled and gave Tyler a wink before stepping out of the room with Sean in tow.

“Wonderful, dear,” Helen said as she slid her arm around Tyler’s. “Let’s take a walk.”

Tyler swallowed nervously and fell into step with her. “I really can’t thank you enough for the picture you sent me, ma’am.”

She smiled as she led him away from the crowd out onto the courtyard. “Well, I’m glad you liked it. I have a keen eye for good matches. If I’m any authority, I would say that you and Sean are one. Though, I’m sure you hear that often enough as it is.”

Tyler frowned slightly as his head lowered. “Not everyone.”

She cocked a delicate eyebrow and inquired, “Is California not treating you well?”

“I’m just not used to all this,” he mumbled. “All these people with their money and the talk. Playing favorites and talking about each other like they do.”

She nodded in understanding as her eyes flicked over to the crowd. “Yes, they can be a rather cynical lot at times. But they’re not all bad. I’ll introduce you to some of the better ones in time.” She leaned her head towards the glass doors leading into the house where the party continued. “You see there? Those two in the corner? He used to be nothing until he managed to write one single script. He just happened to send it to the right person, and it sold rather well. Before that, no one knew his name. Now, he acts as if he’s always been prosperous and creative. Fifteen years ago, he was barely making ends meet.” Tyler looked at the man on the other side and wondered. “Robert’s wife isn’t much better. A gold digging shrew who just happened to marry a half-way decent man and is intent on sucking the life out of him for as long as she can. He’d rather be without her, despite what he tells himself, but he’s afraid of dying alone.”

He looked at her with her elegant, thoughtful expression. “How do you know all this?”

She met his eyes and smiled. “I pay attention, dear. Remember, you’re not the only poor person at this party. If you recall, I was born and raised in that tiny little town you come from. Not everyone is as lucky as we are. Good people remember that to keep themselves humble and not let it all go to their head.”

Tyler shrugged. “I’m not lucky. I’m just a blue-collar grunt.”

She gave him a matronly smile. She stopped and turned to him, crossing her arms in front of her. “Not lucky? How is it you managed to get the job you have now?”

“Well, I…” He stopped himself as he realized just how he got it. “My mom met Sam and they got to talking. She mentioned me and he decided to take a chance on me.”

“No qualifications. No experience.” Her gaze lighted as her smile became a little warmer. “You were just a good boy who Sam was willing to take a chance.”

“How do you know all that?”

She grinned and squeezed his arm affectionately. “Dear, your boss happens to be a man who dated me all through my sophomore year of high school. But he broke up with me, leaving me with a stung ego for my best friend. Of course, I forgave him, and we’ve remained friends all these years. So, when I asked him about you, naturally he told me everything there was to know about you.”

“Why so interested in me?”

“Because of whom you are friends with and who you happen to be dating at the moment.” Her voice was honest and unapologetic. “Relax, darling. In many ways, your reputation proceeds you. My son and his husband said nothing but kind words about you. And when I found out you were here, I knew things between you and Sean were turning serious. Far more serious than I gave him credit for.”

“I’m nothing special, ma’am,” he declared with a sideways smirk.

She stopped him and turned to face him, giving him a slightly stern look. “A person who feels they aren’t special never get beyond the shadow of their failures. Never feel that you are unimportant or unworthy of other peoples’ attention, Tyler. Where you are born or where you grow up doesn’t matter as much as who you are. Half of those people inside there came with nothing just as you and I did. What most of them fail to realize is that how much they make and how successful they are isn’t nearly as important as how they live. Surely my ex-husband has impressed that upon you.”

Tyler wasn’t sure how to react to her words. He stood there, feeling both blessed and vexed all at once. “I’m not sure how I feel about the idea that there are a lot of people talking about me behind my back.”

Helen had the decency not to laugh. “Regardless of where you are darling, people will talk about you. It’s just a part of life.”

Knowing his mother as well as he did, he could only shrug at her logic. “Still… I don’t think I belong here.”

The look on his face, like a young man lost and alone, brought a sympathetic affection from her. “Look at me,” she said in a soft voice. When he looked up, she put her hand under his chin and smiled encouragingly. “You belong here more than most of those people in there. Never let them make you doubt that.” He managed a small but genuine smile. “Let’s go back inside and mingle.”

He took her hand and the two of them headed back inside. “Can I ask you something? Did you come to this party tonight because you found out I was here?”

She openly laughed as the door opened and they stepped inside. “When my son calls me out of the blue, I know to listen.”

Tyler chuckled and shook his head. “That’s what I thought.”

When they rejoined the crowd, Helen stayed with him and socialized while also keeping Tyler involved in the conversations. The two of them shared stories about Jacob and Kyle’s wedding with an obviously interested audience and when a new picture arrived on Helen’s phone, she excitedly showed Tyler the new picture of Jacob holding Aaron as he sat on the floor at home on Christmas eve, surrounded by all the gifts they received.

All of the women and many of the fathers in the crowd smiled and celebrated gaily when Helen proudly exhibited to all of them the picture of her son-in-law and her new grandchild. Tyler got so wrapped up in talking with Helen, telling stories of his friends and answering questions that he forgot his fears and concerns. As more people listened and commented as he went on, Helen slowly faded back farther as she watched him grow slowly more confident. She noted with a prideful smirk when Tyler suddenly realized Sean was beside him while he was showing some of the wedding pictures that he had taken last summer to a few of the guests who seemed truly fascinated by his stories.

After a few hours, the party began to slowly dwindle as people left to get ready for Christmas the next day. Tyler shook a few hands as people wished him a safe flight back home, while more than a few expressed an interest in his return. At last, Helen and her husband prepared to depart, and Tyler felt the least he could do was walk them to the door with Sean and his father.

“It was a lovely party, Robert,” Helen commented as she stood near the front door. “It was good of you to extend a last minute invitation to us.”

Rob grinned and shook hands with Albert before kissing her cheek sweetly. “It’s always a pleasure to see the two of you. Al, I’m sure I’ll be hearing from you soon enough.”

Mr. Stratford glanced from Sean to Rob and grinned. “Oh, I’ve no doubt. But, uh…” he leaned his head towards Tyler. “After tonight, I’m more interested in what he’s going to do.”

“Me?” Tyler blinked, feeling like there was something he had missed all night. “Doing what?”

“You did mention you wanted to go to college,” Sean reminded him. “I mentioned that to Mr. Stratford while we talked.”

Tyler frowned, still not understanding. “I’m missing something, aren’t I?”

“It’s nothing to worry about,” Al replied with a kind smile.

“UCLA is a wonderful school,” Helen said offhandedly. “You would do well there, I think.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Tyler conceded. “But I haven’t figured out what I should do.”

“That’s a simple matter to address, my dear,” she said as she slid her arms into the sleeves of her coat.

“Oh, really?” Tyler asked, unconvinced. “And how simple is that exactly?”

“We’ll have you take an aptitude test.” She looked back at him with a small smile. “Perhaps then you’ll find a direction worth exploring.” Husband and wife became a team as they helped each other get their coats straightened and bundled up for the walk out in the cold air.

“You’re just like Kyle, you know that?” Tyler grinned back at her. “Always have all the answers.”

Helen’s face brightened as she chortled. “And you sound just like him.”

Her words made him blush, but he wasn’t done asking questions. “So, how much is this little test going to cost?”

“Nothing,” Sean replied. “We can have the test sent here by courier. You take it and send it back, then you’ll meet a counselor to go over the results.”

That change in his life Tyler has sensed not long after he arrived started to return. Exciting and terrifying all at once. “Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt.”

“No, it will not,” Helen said as she stepped up to Sean. “Merry Christmas, darling. Be safe on your way back.”

He smiled as he gave her a polite kiss on the cheek while silently thanking her. “Thank you, Mrs. Stratford.”

She moved to Tyler with her eyes shining and that coy little smile of hers that looked so much like her son’s. “Relax, dear. Everything will be perfectly fine.”

“I’ll try to remember that.” He was looking at her and discovering he wasn’t nearly as intimidated by her as on their first meeting. “Thank you for coming.”

“Do me one favor? When you see my son, give him this.” She leaned up and kissed his cheek before stepping back with a smile, then rubbed the lipstick off of his cheek with a mother’s touch. “Tell him that’s from me and I’ll see him in a few weeks.”

He couldn’t stop himself from grinning as he blushed and nodded. “I’ll be sure to do that. In front of Jacob and the others as well.”

Coop held the door open for them as the Stratfords stepped outside. Helen turned one last time and said with a playful smirk, “and when you see Sam, just give him a kick in the ass for me.”

She grinned as the two young men broke into laughter before walking into the cool nighttime air as the door closed behind her.

Copyright © 2019 Jdonley75; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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And that’s exactly the way I believe Hollywood-types act. Shallow, gossipy, and obsessed with image. Dismissive of anything outside their little ‘industry’ that's based on fiction and falsification.

Edited by droughtquake
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Kyle’s greatest gift to Tyler was sending his mother to that party. The fact that Helen already knew Tyler meant that all those sycophants suddenly realized that Tyler was someone they should pay attention to. Just like lemmings, sheep, or schools of fish, they all follow the leader.

If nothing else, should Tyler decide to move to the West Coast and try to find employment in the ‘industry,’ there are always jobs constructing sets. Noted former carpenter Harrison Ford proves that the profession is not a dead-end. Tyler would have connections that most others could only dream of.

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5 minutes ago, Danners said:

LA is the most public about it but, really, anywhere with an industry based on hustling is rife with those types.

Silicone Valley* is just over the hills from Hollywood…

* Not to be confused with Silicon (no ‘e’) Valley in the Bay Area, more than 300 miles to the north.

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Tyler is correct when he says he doesn't belong in LA. He's too good for those shallow, self centered assholes. The fact that most at the party looked down on him like he was nothing until Helen talked to him shows how horrible the people that Sean's family does business with are. I, for one, wouldn't want any part of that life. I don't really care for Sean that much anymore. Tyler is making a big mistake if he takes their advice. Besides, from the sound of it, wouldn't take long for Sean to go to a different small town and find another man.

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11 minutes ago, jaysalmn said:

Tyler is correct when he says he doesn't belong in LA. He's too good for those shallow, self centered assholes. The fact that most at the party looked down on him like he was nothing until Helen talked to him shows how horrible the people that Sean's family does business with are. I, for one, wouldn't want any part of that life. I don't really care for Sean that much anymore. Tyler is making a big mistake if he takes their advice. Besides, from the sound of it, wouldn't take long for Sean to go to a different small town and find another man.

I believe that Sean has learned and grown in the time he’s been in Kellington and spent time around the Team. I think he backslid because he’s in a very familiar situation among very familiar people. It’s very common to revert to childhood behavior when you return to your childhood home and spend time with your parents (such as they are, in Sean’s case).

We don’t know how Sean will act on the day after the party. We don’t know how he’ll react when he and Tyler return home to Kellington. We don’t know how much this brief return to the land of the shallow and image-obsessed has affected Sean.

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3 hours ago, droughtquake said:

And that’s exactly the way I believe Hollywood-types act. Shallow, gossipy, and obsessed with image. Dismissive of anything outside their little ‘industry’ based on fiction and falsification.

Try and remember this is fiction and Tyler's perceptions color the narrative.  Everyone has their own motivations.  Some good, some not so good and some are veiled in secrecy for their own reasons.

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3 hours ago, Freemantleman said:

Yet another wonderful, heart warming & insightful chapter!! Self entitled people are often insecure at heart & all too keen to stand on or clamber over the bodies of supposed friends & colleagues that they have almost literally thrown under a bus  to reach their desired & often not talent warranted goals!?! Sad but true but often those that have worked hard & earned the right to stand tall, proud & be head & shoulders above colleagues, acquaintances & friends are the ones to remember their roots & lend a little helping hand to others who may not even realise that they are more than worthy of it & that true friends are worth far more than their weight in bullion!?!

Keep up the good work!!

Ian, Hampshire, UK

In many ways, Tyler has been the only one who doesn't think he can stand on his own two feet.  He's starting to come around to the fact that he actually can.

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3 hours ago, droughtquake said:

Kyle’s greatest gift to Tyler was sending his mother to that party. The fact that Helen already knew Tyler meant that all those sycophants suddenly realized that Tyler was someone they should pay attention to. Just like lemmings, sheep, or schools of fish, they all follow the leader.

If nothing else, should Tyler decide to move to the West Coast and try to find employment in the ‘industry,’ there are always jobs constructing sets. Noted former carpenter Harrison Ford proves that the profession is not a dead-end. Tyler would have connections that most others could only dream of.

Well, first we need to see what kind of plans he has for his future education and go from there.  But I'm almost sure he'll always have skills to fall back on.

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3 hours ago, Danners said:

LA is the most public about it but, really, anywhere with an industry based on hustling is rife with those types. Or junior high.

Personally, I hope Michelle is around when Tyler graduates with honors from UCLA — y’know, so Tyler can bop her in the nose with his rolled up diploma and tell her she’s a bad dog. Bitch.

I’d have told her she sounded more intelligent with her mouth closed. Then again, I’m honor-bound to out-bitch bitches. 

L.A. and Hollywood in particular is no different from any other tight knit social group.  There is always people who are out and those who are in.  The film industry just have a bigger limelight for people to see it.  Just because you don't want to play the game doesn't mean you can ignore it completely.

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3 hours ago, Danners said:

Group homes, homeless shelters, Habitat For Humanity and other such places always need engineers, architects, and carpenters, not to mention project managers. It’d certainly provide Tyler with the opportunity to continue helping people while putting his education to good use. Not a bad way to collaborate with Sean either. 

All true.  Perhaps someday he will tilt towards one of those endeavors.  But, I think that he has bigger things in mind.

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