by Hamen Cheese
Chapter 13: Distorted Reality
Never trust a restaurant that has the word "neo" anywhere in its name. NFJ, short for Neo Fusion Japanese apparently implied eating bland food on uncomfortable mats with pillows while listening to raucous similar-sounding Japanese pop music.
Not to mention it was criminally priced.
The attendant at the door was wearing a skimpy kimono. I mean who would have thought that was even possible? It looked like she got into a fight with a weed whacker and had lost severely. She led us through the dimly lit restaurant to our section of the floor which was padded only with a thin mat made of bamboo sticks. A square black table that would have passed as a footstool was placed in the middle of the mat where food was served. Sure there were a few pillows scattered around but there was absolutely nothing to lean on. I spent most of the time keeping my posture straight to ensure no permanent damage was done to my spine.
The walls weren't even remotely hinting Japanese. They had a futuristic but almost antiseptic black feel to them, which was illuminated only by tiny little disco lights twinkling overhead. There were carvings that I guess were supposed to be of scenes in Japan but somehow came out like the Transformers Gone Wild.
I finally knew what the Death Star would look like if Vader decided to boogey to the music.
Oh, and don't get me started on the songs.
"Derek," Charlie said reproachfully while chuckling at the same time. "You're supposed to eat sushi and sashimi with soy sauce. How do you expect it to have any taste if you eat it like that?"
"Do you realize how much salt is in those things," I said nudging my hand towards the tiny bottle filled with black liquid and the word Kikkoman printed on it. "That stuff will turn you into human preserves."
"How do you eat?" Rebecca laughed. She was seated next to me close enough for our knees to touch which was the only saving grace of the restaurant – we had to crowd closely around the minute table. She was surprisingly friendly and open when speaking to me which was refreshing. It made me feel all giddy… shit… I did not just use that word to describe myself…
"Let me get this straight," she continued. "You don't eat anything with soy sauce. You don't put syrup on pancakes or gravy on chicken. No butter on bread or whipped cream on coffee. I mean what's left? Grass?"
"He eats a lot of lettuce," Charlie said uncertainly as he trapped another sushi roll in his chopsticks.
"Yeah," Travis nodded. "In other words, grass." Everyone laughed while he poked another sushi with a chopstick. Charlie tried teaching him to use chopsticks but had given up after he dropped his third sushi on the mat. Travis took to eating only anything he could stab with a stick.
"I swear you guys have to watch what you're eating. One day you're going to regret it when your joints start to ache and your bellies start to bulge. We'll see who will be laughing then."
"But until that day, Derek, here's to being young and carefree," Travis raised his red iced tea. The others followed suit tapping their drinks (also red iced tea for Rebecca and a coke for Charlie) while I merely shook my head and raised my iced water tapping and laughing along with them.
Oh, I didn't miss how he used my first name. He wasn't hostile towards me at all throughout dinner. And I wasn't hostile to him either. In fact, I was downright friendly especially after a tiny little discovery that Charlie and Rebecca had inadvertently forgotten to mention before.
Travis and Rebecca were cousins. I guess it made more sense when Travis laughed when I told him to stay away from Rebecca. I thought that maybe he wasn't a fag after all…
"You know, Derek," Travis said as he put down his drink. "You're not bad when you're like this."
"What? You mean being milked down to my last dollar?" I smiled to show it wasn't really bothering me.
Everyone laughed before Travis continued. "No. Well, yes and no. I mean when you're being just like everyone else. Not trying to get ahead or anything, or being better than others."
"What do you mean?" I asked the slightest of frowns forming on my lips.
"Travis," Charlie said almost like he was warning him.
"No, I think he needs to hear this, especially from a neutral party like myself." He put down the skewered dumpling he was about to eat and gave me his full attention. "You kinda have a strong personality, Derek. And, it's the kind that tends to overshadow others. You know, push other people to the side or to the background."
"That my friend is how you get ahead in life," I had to pause surprising myself how easily I had called him friend and actually meant it considering I wanted to rip him to shreds just a few hours before.
"That is a narcissistic and, frankly, a very bad view of life," Travis commented as he dropped his second dumpling on the table. This time, he just shrugged it off, picked it up with his fingers and swallowed it.
"But it's true," I retorted. "Think about it, every famous person, every successful businessman or politician gets where he wants only by putting his need ahead of others and using his strengths to his advantages. You're not going to get anywhere in life by being meek and subdued. You will fade into the background of life."
"That's not true," Rebecca said but even she sounded half-hearted. Then brightening up said, "think about Mother Teresa. My mom adores her. I bet she never placed herself ahead of others."
"One in seven billion," I said raising a finger to emphasize my point.
"I bet there are plenty of others," she began.
"But," I interceded quickly. "How many of them do you actually know? How many can you name now at this very moment? How many of them aren't doing it for personal gain, as a political move, or a tax deduction method? Think about it. These people have strong personalities. They're the ones who will get things done the way they want it, when they want it. Damn everyone else that gets in their way. They aren't in their position by letting others get ahead but rather by pushing themselves to the top. Look at this place," I paused stretching my arm around to the poor excuse of a restaurant. "Do you think the owner has our needs in mind when he designed this gorgeous environment with its highly comfortable seats and scrumptiously delicious food at such a hefty price?"
The others laughed at my obvious sarcasm.
"Well, granted this is another exception. But then using the same example, think about it. Given that the owner of this place obviously had profit as his primary goal, do you think this restaurant will survive for a long time?" He looked around the room as though daring anyone to challenge.
Surprisingly it was Charlie who spoke up, "yes, I actually think it might last. For people of our age, we might not see the value in it. We tend to be idealistic, valuing things older people may not. Sure the mats are a bit uncouth, the food bordering on bland, and the costs likely to burn holes in our pockets." I cleared my throat. He smiled before continuing. "Okay, Derek's pockets. But, others may not see it the way we do. Some will recognize a unique dining experience, a fusion of the old and the new. We experience the traditional yet mixed in a modern environment such that diners are not alienated. There are solid elements of Japanese culture here which can be seen if you look closely enough yet it is infused into the comforts of the familiar."
"Uhh…" Rebecca looked on with a dazed expression. Travis couldn't stop rolling on the floor, heaving.
"What?" Charlie asked all innocent. "I wasn't trying to sound obtuse."
"Dear Lord," I shook my head and Charlie could no longer stop his own laughter.
"Is there anything else I can get you?" asked a sparsely dressed waitress as she loomed overhead.
"No," I said, "but I think you accidentally mixed some Saki into the ice tea."
She just smiled, nodded, and thanked us before leaving our table (or rather our place on the floor).
"So Charlie," Travis said his eyes twinkling with mischief. "I need to check on some protective gear, wanna check out some stuff for you?"
I snorted. "Sorry, Travis. Charlie's not into that kind of thing. In case you haven't noticed, he's a bit of a pacifist. He likes to argue with words."
"It's a dangerous world out there," Travis shrugged. "It never hurts to have some means to defend yourself."
Charlie gave me a hard look like he was facing a challenge head on. I raised an eyebrow at him. "Sure," he said almost defiantly.
I looked from one to the other. Travis had this lopsided, devious grin on his face while Charlie looked like he was trying to suppress a smile.
And then it happened again. Twice on the same night, a strange feeling overwhelmed me. Though nowhere as intense as what I had felt earlier in the Food Court, it was still unsettling. It was like I was worried and excited at the same time. I was… oddly happy yet I couldn't deny that underneath it all was sadness. I squirmed in my pillow seat like it was a lot less comfortable, not that it was to begin with.
"Be careful," I said softly without even thinking about it.
"We're not going to practice fighting in the mall," Travis joked.
Charlie though must have heard something else in my voice. "Derek?"
"Maybe it would be good for you to look at some gear for yourself. You could use a little, self-defense techniques," I said with a little more energy, ignoring the odd moment that passed. "God knows you always lose our scuffles."
"Is that right?" Travis intoned. "Well, I'm going to have to teach you a few moves then, Charlie. Just so you can stand up to bullies like Derek."
Charlie and I both rolled our eyes at the same time which caused Rebecca and Travis to break out laughing.
"Well," Charlie said carefully like he had planned things all along. "If you two will be okay here by yourselves, I suppose the two of us could go check out some stuff."
I shrugged not really minding either way. I realized that Charlie was putting some emphasis on Rebecca and I being alone but somehow I wasn't as concerned with it, you know? I was having a surprisingly good time just talking and laughing about the most mundane things. I didn't even think about my hand crawling up Rebecca's blouse.
Well, almost didn't anyway.
"Okay, then," Travis said excitedly as he stood. I found it odd being that excited over protective gear which I presumed was for taekwondo. "Let's go, Charlie."
Charlie nodded and said he'd see us later. I watched the two of them until they disappeared down the escalator. My eyes were set even longer where their heads had vanished. It wasn't until I heard a very distinct feminine cough that my thoughts came back to what was left behind.
Rebecca was looking at me with a bemused expression. She casually flicked her hair and took a sip of her drink to cover what undoubtedly was a smile.
"What?" I asked.
"Nothing," she said shaking her head. "Nothing at all." She then smiled prettily at me.
"What?" I asked a little more defensively, straightening my back.
She pursed her lips, watching different parts of my face as though my pores would, at any moment, open up and puke out my thoughts. I would have found her roaming eyes flattering except the light behind them made me unsettled. It was like I was being weighed and judged. "You're a strange one, you know that?"
"Huh?" I said which matched exactly how I felt. I would have expected you're hot or even you're cute. You're strange was most certainly unexpected.
"I can read most people quite easily," she said as she leaned forward like she was going to kiss me. "I have this knack for being able to tell the personality of people simply by the way they move, the way they dress, the way they talk, and especially the way they look at other people. It's easier to read some more than others. Charlie, for instance, is an open book to me. There is nothing that boy could hide from me from the very first time I laid my eyes on him. My cousin Travis is a little more difficult to read. He can swerve through emotions so quickly that it can be difficult to tell if he's really happy or really angry or just pretending either way. We pretty much grew up together and he still sometimes catches me off guard."
As much as I found her words odd, I felt intrigued by the rather unusual topic. "And what about me?"
"Like I said, you're strange," she shrugged.
I raised an eyebrow at her. "That's it? Charlie and Travis get two to three sentences each and I get two words?"
"Technically, they're three words," she said.
"You're is only one word even if it is concatenated from two," I said though somehow I wasn't sure if I was right.
"Whatever," she shrugged like she didn't believe me or didn't care. She took another sip of her drink before looking out of the restaurant as though expecting Charlie and Travis to walk right back through the doors again.
"So…" I said slowly. "Are you going to elaborate how I'm strange?"
She looked at me again with those critical eyes but instead of roaming around my face, she set them only upon my eyes. They bore with such intense emotion that I had a feeling that she had been holding back her thoughts from me for so long that it was festering within her mind. "Honestly," she said like she was almost annoyed. "Honestly, I thought I read you quite easily the first time I met you. Your posture is smooth yet rigid. You're eyes overflow with pride and you look at others like they're below you. You look at women the way you look at toys. Something you play with till you get bored with them."
"Hey," I protested. Who the hell did she think she was to say such things?
"I'm not done," she said with a hard edge in her voice. Her eyes developed that angry glare that made me want to cringe. Gone was the nice, laughing girl seated beside me just moment earlier when there were four of us. I lapsed into silence as she continued her tirade. "You're vain and conceited. You're arrogant and foolish in dealing with people. You have enough ego to fill ten people and then some. Frankly, you're one of the most annoying people I've ever met."
When she was done, she sat there looking out the restaurant to where our companions had disappeared. The music still blared around us but it was like my ears had filtered them out. It was like only her words mattered and only they could be heard through the place, like we were the only two people in the world. I wanted to get angry. I wanted to defend myself. But the way she said those words with such passion and conviction made me think that maybe, just maybe, she was right.
We sat there in silence looking at anyone and anything but each other. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. "So if you think all that of me, why did you agree to go out with me?"
"I didn't," she said once again looking at me. "My mother did."
"Oh," I said as I felt all the air deflate within me. I found the wasabi suddenly quite interesting and demanding of my attention as I shifted it around in my plate.
"And there it is again," she said with a sigh. I looked up to see her looking at me not with a glare but an almost puzzled expression.
"There is what?" I asked confused.
She pursed her lips once more and I was worried she was going to start calling me strange again. But then her next words made me wish she had called me strange instead. "You're very sad."
"What do you mean?" Somehow, I felt that I was just insulted.
She tilted her head as though trying to see me in a different angle. She spoke with a voice barely above a whisper. "Sometimes, I feel like you're hiding a part of you. When I see you interacting with others, I can see every little bit of you that I despise and hate. I see an arrogant jerk that I want nothing to do with. Yet… yet, when you're away from others, like when you're with Charlie only, it's like you become a completely different person. Sure the arrogance is still there but it almost seems toned down, like a part of you recedes and you become a completely different person. I can't help but feel that somehow your behavior is attached to very negative, probably sad, emotions."
I shook my head. "Sorry, I don't think I understand."
"I didn't expect you too," she said which made me bristle. "Oh don't look so offended. I didn't mean it that way. I just meant that people tend to not notice changes in their personality until someone else has pointed it out for them."
"I guess," I shrugged still feeling like I was insulted somehow. "When did you become such an expert in psychology?"
She shrugged. "I have an aunt who teaches me a few things every now and then." She suddenly perked up like she remembered something. "So, what do you have against gay people?"
"WHAT?" I said so loudly that every head in the restaurant turned to us.
"Travis told me what happened during his match," Rebecca said like she didn't hear me shout or notice that people all around us were giving us curious glances. "He said you followed him to the lavatory," she continued with a smirk.
"I did no such thing," I whispered.
"You're saying you didn't follow him to the lavatory?" she raised an eyebrow.
"I did but not for the reason you're certainly implying," I replied heatedly. "I'm not a…" I almost said the word that was at the tip of my tongue but managed to hold it back at the last second. I knew instinctively that if I uttered that word to Rebecca, she would somehow grow fangs and claws right before ripping me to shreds. "I'm not a gay person." The words felt foul in my mouth.
"I didn't say you were," she said almost knowingly. "I asked what you had against gay people." She put her hands across her lap like she was explaining patiently to a small child.
"What do you mean what do I have against gay people?" I said defensively. "Who doesn't have something against gay people?"
"I don't know… maybe a lot of people?" she said calmly. "Times are changing Derek. Discrimination is frowned upon nowadays. Look at all the rules we have at school against hate crimes. Even threatening or insulting someone based on race, background, or gender preference can warrant you a suspension."
I scowled. That was the one thing I couldn't understand about our school. They protected fags as if they were our equals. Sure, I understood that whole protection against racism thing but these were fags we were talking about. They were a completely different breed. Considering how brilliant our teachers and administrators were, I would have thought they'd see the error in their own anti-discrimination rules. "F… gay people don't have a place in our society."
"Don't have a place in our society?" Rebecca asked. She was annoyingly calm considering how aggravated I was by the topic being discussed.
"Gay people aren't important," I said as if I was reading from a long memorized manuscript. "I mean how many people do you know became famous? Hardly any! And those that do, they're not important. They're outcasts." I squirmed in my seat, the pillow suddenly becoming uncomfortable on my sore bottom.
"Do you really believe that?" She asked again in that steady, unnerving voice.
"Absolutely," I replied easily.
"Then why do you flinch when you say those things?" she said.
"What?" I asked surprised.
"You flinch," she continued. "You flinched like three times while you were talking. It was hardly noticeable but I saw enough of them to know you were flinching."
Flinching. "I didn't…" I looked at her blankly. "I…" Flinching, she said. Flinching…
"Derek," I heard Rebecca say worriedly. Her hand had somehow made it into mine. I was holding onto hers so tightly that I knew I must have been hurting her even a little. "Derek, are you okay? Can you hear me?"
"Of course, I can," I said letting go of her hand not even knowing or remembering how our hands ended up together.
She frowned at me. "Dad?"
"What?" I asked looking around to see if her father was around us. There was no one near us or even looking at us anymore. I looked back at her to see her still looking worriedly at me. "What is it?"
"You said dad," she frowned even further.
"I did?" I replied confused by what she was talking about."
"Yeah," she said as she pulled her hand back into her other hand and massaged it. I felt guilty for having squeezed it too hard even if I didn't remember doing it. "You said of course, I can, dad."
"No, I didn't," I said before chuckling. "I think I'd remember if I said something like that."
She looked at me dubiously like she didn't believe what I was saying. That was just great. Not only would she think I was strange and sad but she'd probably conclude I was crazy too.
"Maybe we should go look for the others," she said tentatively. "See what they're up to."
"Sure," I shrugged feeling oddly calm. "Whatever you want."
We paid for our bill (well, technically I paid for it) without saying much else. Rebecca kept glancing at me almost nervously as if she was afraid I'd whip out a carving knife and start hacking her with it. Admittedly, I was feeling oddly eager to leave, which was odd for a date. I normally didn't want to leave until I had satisfied my need but at that moment I didn't even entertain the idea of getting frisky with Rebecca.
I just wanted to go home.
"Where do you think they are?" I asked once we were out of the restaurant and walking towards the escalator Charlie and Travis had taken.
"Well," Rebecca said carefully, "I know where Travis gets some of his gear. We could try that place out before checking anywhere else. If he's not there, we could just call him on his phone."
"Why don't you just call him now?" I asked not caring either way as we reached the lower floor.
"I'm pretty sure he's there," she said with certainty.
True enough, when we reached this dimly lit place two floors down, Travis and Charlie were there. The place was called Toby's and its specialty was clear as soon as you entered the place.
It wasn't just a place for taekwondo gear as I had initially thought. Covering the place from wall to wall were different assortments of close combat gear varying from the more disciplined arts like Kendo (wooden and steel blades) to the archaic nunchucks and even the brusquer street fighting knuckledusters. There were enough weapons adorning the walls to support a small army that I wondered how this place could have been legal.
A rather large and muscular woman nodded at us from behind the counter. I nodded back before looking around for our friends. Travis and Charlie were by the section of hand to hand combat. Charlie was sporting the red taekwondo head gear which was all I could see because the shelves were covering the rest of their bodies. Either his head was too small or the head piece was too big because half his eyes were hidden beneath the helmet. Both of them were laughing hysterically.
Rebecca and I paused a good distance away. She was smirking at them clearly amused. When Charlie finally noticed us, he stopped laughing but was still smiling widely. I could see in his eyes how happy he was and that made me smile. I was worried he would have a terrible night with Travis.
"Hey Derek, hey Becca," he said happily as we approached.
Travis' laughter subsided and he cleared tears from his eyes. "Hey guys, we were just checking out some gear for Charlie in case he wants to join taekwondo." He then flourished his hands as though to present his grand master piece. "What do you think?"
Apparently Charlie was decked out in taekwondo gear. But clearly something had gone wrong in the measuring department. He was wearing a do-bok that looked like it was made for a small sumo wrestler. His hands vanished beneath the sleeves as did his knees which were covered by the end of the fabric which stretched almost to the floor. Considering everything else he was wearing, the head gear looked almost small.
"Uhu…" Charlie said talking up a fighting stance one fist in front of the other. The way the cloth swayed though, it looked like he was dancing. "Think you can take me on now, Derek?"
"Certainly," I said. "As soon as I can find where you are in there."
Charlie pouted while everyone else laughed.
"You really want to get into taekwondo, Charlie?" Rebecca asked, her eyes flashing mischievously. "I don't think you're big enough for that yet."
Charlie pouted again which cause more laughter.
"We can get you the right sizes, Charlie," Travis said after laughing a good while.
"Nah," Charlie said as he took the red head gear off, his hair squashed beneath it. "I don't think I have the build to be much good for this kind of combat. I'd be better off with a sword or something."
"Right," I said. "Try hiding that while you walk around school."
"You know what I mean," Charlie rolled his eyes but smiled anyway.
"Well," Travis said as he tapped his chin contemplatively. "There are small weapons you can carry so that you can defend yourself. Small blades or Swiss knives."
"I'm not going to carry anything sharp," Charlie's eyes widened in alarm as though the very idea of holding a knife terrified him.
"Charlie," Travis laughed. "If you don't want to learn hand to hand combat, then you'll need a weapon. How else are you going to defend yourself if you needed to?"
"You're making it sound like Charlie will get attacked," I said jokingly.
Travis merely shrugged and waited for Charlie to say something.
"There must be something else," Charlie said. "Like pepper spray or something."
Travis rolled his eyes. "I guess that could work. I think they have some of that over there." He began replacing each of the gear the Charlie was wearing.
"Aww…" Rebecca said as if she was sad. "And I was just getting in the mood to play dress up with Charlie."
Charlie's eyes bugged out with complete and utter terror.
"I'm going to take a look around, okay?" I told them as their laughter echoed around the room. Rebecca gave me a somewhat curious or perhaps worried glance before nodding. I wasn't sure if she was going to tell the others about the little incident upstairs but I had a feeling she'd tell them one way or another whether I liked it or not.
I walked from shelf to shelf just admiring what the store had to offer. I was surprised to say the least to not ever have noticed the store before. I guess I never really considered it important so somehow my eyes just wandered over it every time I went to the mall.
Eventually, I found myself in front of an assortment of small blades. They were placed inside a glass case under lock and key. Most of them had blades no bigger than a finger but there was one at the very center with a blade almost as long as my hand. It was a folding pocket knife with two handles that could rotate either way to serve as the grip or the sheath of the blade. It was deadly beautiful. Its name according to the label was a balisong.
"See something you like?" came a familiar voice that put me on edge. I looked over my shoulder to see none other than Luke Crawford, my jerk-off basketball teammate, walking towards me.
"Not anymore," I said as my eyes bored into his.
"Funny," he said as he stood next to me as if to admire the blades. "I never figured you for the type to be into sticks."
"I'm not," I said defensively.
His eyes lingered past me and I knew instinctively that he was looking at Charlie, Rebecca, and Travis. "Three guys and one girl." He looked back at the displayed knives. "Not much of a double date."
"We're friends," I said as I tried to control my fists from balling up and yet failing miserably at it.
Luke's head lolled lazily to the side as he looked at me. "Of course you are."
I was about to knock his head clean off with my fist when another voice interrupted us.
"Aren't you a little young to be looking at those, boys?" It was a fit, muscular man in a police uniform. I didn't doubt that the badge on his chest or the gun in its holster on his side were real. "Seems to me like there are other more savory places to visit around here." His eyes landed on me and I could see a spark of recognition there. "Hey, aren't you Hampton's kid? The basketball star?"
"Yes, I am sir," I said smiling widely.
"Well fancy that," he chuckled. "I've seen some of your games. Your old man and I go back a long way. We were classmates in high school." He reached out with a hand and I shook it. "Officer Bradford Caulwell. But your dad might know me better as Brad."
"I'll make sure to mention you when I next see him," I said casually. If I see him, I meant.
He nodded approvingly before he looked at Luke. He frowned slightly. "Aren't you the bench?"
"Second string," Luke muttered between clenched teeth. I wanted to laugh out loud.
Officer Caulwell looked back at me. "Well, what are you doing in a place like this?"
"A place like this?" came a deep baritone (and clearly annoyed) female voice. I watched as the rather large, muscular woman behind the counter came striding towards us with a scowl on her face. "I'm not selling anything illegal here, officer." The way she said officer made it sound like she was spitting out the title. "There are no guns here. And even if there were, I'd have permits for each of them."
"I'm not accusing you of anything Missy," the officer said stiffly.
Luke who was scowling at the officer slowly edged out of room as the two adults were passing words. Despite the idea being Luke's first, I figured it would be a good idea to edge away from the man with the gun and the woman who likely owned if not managed a store full of deadly weapons. The two didn't even notice me leave as they traded heated words which I imagined they have done several times before.
I made my way towards Charlie and the others. "Ready to go?" I asked them.
Charlie shrugged. "Sure, just let me pay for this." He had a tiny, tiny, tiny pepper spray in his hands. He looked almost disgusted to be holding it. Travis on the other hand looked like he was turning red from holding down his laughter.
By the time the four of us got back to the counter, Officer Caulwell was gone. The woman he called Missy was scowling visibly behind the counter but she brightened up when Charlie came over to pay for the mace.
"Well," she said as she looked at me. "If you decide to get any of the knives you saw back there, don't hesitate to come back here. Don't let that ignorant flatfoot scare you and your friend away."
"Okay," I shrugged without committing anything. The others were looking curiously at me but held their tongues until we got out of the store.
"Flatfoot?" Rebecca asked.
"Knives?" Travis followed.
"Your friend?" Charlie finished.
"It was nothing," I replied and deflected further questions. I hurried my friends out of the mall not only because of my desire to get home but also because of what I had seen as soon as I stepped out of the store.
Luke was standing across the gap in the middle of the mall. He was leaning against the glass railing with his arms perched casually in front of him. A self-satisfied smirk was playing across his lips and a fire burning in his eyes. It normally wouldn't have bothered me. He was like that a lot during practice except that this time he wasn't looking at me.
He was looking at Charlie.
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