Book: The Devil's Ride (gay outlaw biker MC romance)

Previous: Chapter 15
Next: Chapter 17

Chapter 16


The summer passed like a breeze, but everything that happened since the big overhaul in his life penetrated Luci to the core. Dad took him and Asty out to an amusement park for the whole day, Bell never stopped being interested, and even Dolly’s eyes of death became less intense when they were meeting in passing. It felt incredible, and as close as he had been with his mom, as much as he’d loved her, the attention his new family was giving him was something he needed with his whole being.

He was still careful, tried to dip his toes in slowly, but it was hard to keep himself from placing trust in Tooth. Not that they spent all their time together, they both had things to do. Luci’s apprenticeship was in full steam. On top of that he did a few shifts at the club’s bar and did lots of chores. Tooth on the other hand had his things to do, sometimes even disappearing for a day or two. Luci read that as a sign of trust. After all, he could try and run away at a time like that.

Busy as a bee, Luci would always find time for Tooth’s weekly grooming sessions, which Tooth grew to enjoy. He had a bit of a rugged style with the T-shirts, leather jackets, and studded wrist cuffs, but combined with the sculpted shape of his thick, dark beard, he looked good enough to eat. Luci hated when Tooth disappeared, and the box under the bed had clearly shifted.

The second STD test came out clear as well, which set Luci’s mind at peace about that and made him more hopeful for the future. It was as if those three months had been enough to set his life straight-ish. Maybe he really had a chance to live like any other person? He’d have a proper job, one he’d be actually appreciated for, he could have sex with guys he really liked only, and he had people who cared for him too much to let go. Even the other Nails became friendly, and Milk of all people brought him some ice cream from time to time, though he was rarely there, busy with his kid. Luci saw Milk with Kat and the baby a few times, and he couldn’t help but feel guilty about what he’d done with Milk that second night at the compound. There was no way to take back time though.

But when it came to looking for guys, Luci was too busy to pay it proper attention. He had been used to guys coming on to him for the wrong reasons, so the concept of actually dating someone freaked him out. The biker crowd wasn’t all that rife with eligible gay bachelors either, so masturbation was the easiest way out of the problem. If only his mind didn’t stray to sex with Tooth, things would be a lot easier. With the fantasies only getting increasingly steamy, Luci was sleeping on his mattress more often than not. The last thing he needed was putting Tooth in awkward situations on a daily basis. It was bad enough he’d provoke spankings just to get the thrill of closeness. He tried not to do it more often than twice a month, so it wouldn’t look suspicious. Afterward, he’d always sleep like a baby, tucked into Tooth’s T-shirt.

It was only the dread of going back to school looming on the horizon that made him anxious. School had been a failure for so many different reasons, but since he didn’t want to talk about them, after being pushed and prodded, he had to agree to take classes for adults. Despite the lessons being scheduled three times a week in the evenings, the introduction was held on Saturday.

Luci complained about it until the late hours of the night, and he even crawled into Tooth’s bed to make sure he was listening. When he woke up, Tooth was still asleep, with hair all over his face. Luci ran his fingers along the firm arm with a cross tattooed on the side. He could hardly believe that they lived together, went to the gym, and yet he still hadn’t seen Tooth’s dick. The guy had to feel awkward about it after all. And maybe Tooth was right, maybe Luci was a perv? He couldn’t help himself though. He quietly lifted the covers, trying not to wake Tooth up. Maybe he could see an outline, touch it through the fabric?

“Perv,” muttered Tooth and pushed Luci off, groggily turning to his stomach.

“I wasn’t! I was just… giving it some air.” Luci rolled over to his back next to Tooth. Did he really want too much? Just a peek at a cock. He teased his fingers under the waistband of Tooth’s boxers on his hip, knowing damn well he was asking for a slap on the wrist.

Tooth sighed, stretching his back like a cat. “I won’t let you toss me off.”

“Why’d you think I want that?” Luci bit his lip not to burst out laughing as he slid closer. “Maybe it’s your ass I’m after?” He slowly pulled the boxers down by an inch.

Tooth pulled himself up and shoved Luci back to the edge of the mattress. “Stop that. Shouldn’t you be getting ready for school?”

Luci sighed, his playful mood deflating like a punctured balloon. “I suppose…”

Tooth peeked at him from where his face was buried in the pillow. “You need to straighten your hair after all.”

“Yeah, you still have time to sleep. It’s not you who has to be presentable to potential boyfriends.” Luci dragged himself out of bed and gave his reflection in the mirror a critical once-over.

Tooth grunted and rolled off the bed. “Wanna shower first then?”

A part of Luci wanted to offer showering together as a valid option, but after months of futile attempts, he knew what the answer would be. “Yeah, I’ll go first.” He grabbed a towel and closed himself in the bathroom.

It took them three hours of slow preparations, which included watching some stupid reality TV show about people trying to become members of a chimp family in some kind of enclosure, a very languid breakfast, and Luci taking more time with his hair than he should. The comment he’d made about potential boyfriends earlier wasn’t all talk. While he did have an unhealthy attachment to Tooth, he knew his affections could never be reciprocated, no matter how sexually comfortable Tooth felt around him. Lucifer needed a handsome distraction.

He deliberately chose not to attend classes at his old high school and opted for one closer to the compound instead. He needed the high school diploma to become a barber, so he’d do all it took, even though he wasn’t all that keen on burying his nose in books.

The school he was to attend was a large, ugly building that seemed to have been covered by blocks of dirty concrete. But apparently the teachers were decent so he chose not to complain too much. The new students were already gathering in the parking lot when Tooth stopped at the school bus stop and looked back at Luci with a small smile. “You have everything?”

Yeah,” Luci muttered without much enthusiasm and got off the bike. Even looking at the school made his stomach clench. A place of complete disillusion with adults. He’d hoped to never go back, yet here he was, having to face his demons.

Tooth sighed and poked Luci in the ribs. “Hey, it’s not gonna be like normal high school. Adults have more stuff to worry about than school life.”

“I’ll count how many times I hear ‘fag’ and report after school.” Luci was not about to pretend he was happy about this. Not to mention that it was getting cold already. Summer had gone by way too fast. He’d need a new scarf and a jacket maybe. For now, the hoodie would do.

Tooth frowned. “Why would anyone think you’re gay?”

“Sometimes I feel it’s written on my forehead.” He kicked a few stones on the pavement, unwilling to part with Tooth.

“It’s not. You’re just a cute little metalhead.” Tooth grinned and started the motor of his bike.

Tooth thought he was cute? Luci couldn’t help a dumb smile. “See you later.” He gave a quick wave and turned around. Maybe he did need to get a room of his own? If he really did meet someone, started dating, where would he invite the guy? He was pretty sure Tooth would ignore a scarf left on the door handle.

He joined the stream of people slowly filling the building. They were supposed to gather in designated classes, so he walked up to a group of people trying to have a peek at the building plan. But there were so many new students, and he couldn’t see above their heads like Tooth would. He looked around and spotted a young woman with a name badge talking to a couple of people. Maybe asking someone from the staff really was the way forward?

He pushed through, holding on to his bag. The training with Tooth, the self-defense moves he’d learned made him a more confident person overall. He used to think he was really outspoken, but now he was facing the realization that it was more of a facade than anything else. He stood in line to a man sitting behind a computer and checking people in.

He was feeling shy, and with most of the students much older than him, he really felt out of his depth. To distract himself and not to look like some pathetic loner, he pulled out his cell phone.

‘I’m hating it already. Being in school sucks balls. You’re so lucky not to have to do it anymore’, he texted Astaroth.

She replied right away, ‘Is it an all-boys school? Maybe you’d like it then? ;D’

I wish. Everyone’s super-old. I haven’t seen one guy who’d be my type yet’. He moved along in the line as he texted.

‘You’re not up for a ‘daddy’ then? ;p’

‘So not funny.’

Lucifer?” asked a male voice, and Luci realized that the person he’d been standing behind was gone. He was in front of the table.

He looked up from his phone and froze.

Time stopped.

Hell froze over.

Pigs flew.

Mr. George Harlow sat in front of him in all of his repulsive self.

Every memory he’d buried years ago resurfaced like corpses crawling out of graves in the backyard of his mind. And they were out to get him.

I… No,” it came out shaky, but all he cared about was leaving, so he stuffed his phone in his pocket and turned around as if he were on auto-pilot. This could not be happening.

People seemed to get in his way, mindless like driftwood, as he followed the only way outside he knew. There was bound to be enough air in the parking lot to stop his head from spinning. He stumbled into someone but just kept on going, uncaring what that person thought of him. He needed out so Mr. Harlow wouldn’t be able to follow him.

He wanted to vomit at the sound of that soft voice saying his name.

Go on, Lucifer, you have to take all of it off.

Lucifer, stand still.

He didn’t want to ever see this man again. What was he doing here of all places? What was he doing working with adults?

Luci’s heartbeat was so quick and sharp he even felt his pulse in his gums. He froze when a hot hand fell to his shoulder, gently tickling the back of his neck. “Lucifer.”

He turned around as fast as humanly possible, just to have the hand off. “What is it?” he snapped at the man in front of him. Mr. Harlow looked as innocent as a forty-something school teacher would. Thinning blond hair, glasses, a round nose and inquisitive eyes. All too inquisitive for Lucifer’s liking.

He sighed and crooked his head with a smile Luci knew all too well, the smile of a hungry pig. “You haven’t changed much. You still look fifteen.”

That was the last thing he wanted to hear. He already regretted trying to look nice on his first day at school. “Well, I’m not…” he muttered and put his hands in his pockets. They were sweating already.

Mr. Harlow gave him that sickening smile again. “Maybe that’s for the better. The classes here are difficult. Having our earlier friendship in mind, I could help you out.”

Friendship? The guy had fucking blackmailed him about telling everyone, including his mother, that he was gay. “I think I’ll just… see how it goes.” He looked at his feet. Where had his big mouth gone? Where had his balls gone? They’d crawled back into his body never to return.

Mr. Harlow gently pulled Luci closer to the wall so they wouldn’t be in anyone’s way, and Lucifer followed as though he was in a trance. He was a lifeless puppet. “How about we talk in private?”

No. It was the last thing he wanted. He could bet Harlow still had photos from when Luci was younger and jerked off to them on a regular basis. And Lucifer didn’t look fifteen. He was almost twenty and looked at least eighteen. He would never be that boy again. He refused to.

“I’m kinda in a hurry…” He took a few steps back, dying to be out of this building.

Harlow snickered, but the upper part of his face remained completely motionless. “Maybe I’ll come back to your place later.”

Lucifer pursed his lips and clenched his hands into fists in his pockets. “Yeah, you wanna visit me in the Coffin Nails clubhouse?”

This seemed to hit home, but Harlow stepped closer, his brows gathering into an ugly frown. “Do they want to see your pictures?”

Luci managed to hold back a scream, leaving it ear-piercing on the inside. The idea of this horror consuming his life again made him completely empty. He didn’t know what to say. If people saw those photos, his life would be over.

It happened quickly, but it felt like the world slowed down. Luci turned on his heel and… ran. His boots hit the floor as slowly as if he were running in a sea of tar, but the farther he made it, the easier it got. The school door, then the stairs, the pavement, and he was off. Whichever way was good enough as long as he was stretching the distance between him and the man he feared and despised.

He ran out so fast he stumbled on the front stairs and fell to his ass with the edge of the last stair digging into his back. It hurt so bad he stayed like that for several seconds, but he knew he needed to run. The school vanished once he took a turn into another street, but that wouldn’t stop him. Closed stores, withering flower beds under someone’s window, cars in the street. He registered them all through a cloud of indifference, focused only on getting away.

He didn’t know how long it took, but he turned into an alleyway of never ending houses. With so many of them abandoned, he chose one at random and after making sure it wasn’t the home of some junkie, he sat down on the floor to catch his breath. He hit his temple against the wall time and time again. Jesus, fuck. Why couldn’t he have a normal life? Always fucking messed up.

It was only ten, maybe fifteen minutes before his cell phone started screaming at full volume. He groaned when he saw it was Tooth calling him.

“Hey, what is it?” he tried to sound neutral.

When Tooth spoke, his voice was a low, unforgiving rumble. “Where are you?”

Luci swallowed, looking around the deteriorating living room. Tooth couldn’t have followed him. “At school. Duh.”

Don’t lie to me. You are not at school,” said Tooth, his tone harsh and without an ounce of mercy. “Haven’t we agreed on something? No lies?”

Luci stilled completely. How the fuck did Tooth know that? “Are you spying on me?” he hissed, squeezing the cell phone tight.

“It’s for safety reasons,” said Tooth right away. “I know where you are, and I’m gonna be there soon. I want you to go out and wait in a visible spot.”

Luci hung up. This was bullshit. He hit the wall and then hit it again until his knuckles hurt. Why was he trapped in this life? Nothing could ever end well. No matter how hard he had tried to keep trouble out of his mom’s way, she still shot herself. No matter how much he avoided the abusive fucker, Harlow, the bastard, would still end up back in his life. And now he knew where Luci lived because he’d been stupid enough to tell him. No matter how much he tried not to, he fell for a straight guy who was a controlling fuck, assigned to him by his dad.

Fuck.

“Fuck!” Luci screamed and kicked the rotting wall so hard he made an indent.

Without much more thought, he rushed for the backdoor and went out of the house. The next step was climbing over the fence and passing to an adjacent backyard. If Tooth was somewhere in the street, he would not see him leave. Luci faced yet another rundown building, so he wasn’t worried about being noticed by anyone. As quietly as he could, in case Tooth was really close by, he climbed down the ladder into an empty swimming pool covered with yellowing leaves and a few broken bottles.

He squatted in the corner by the wall and buried his hands in his hair. His thoughts were at a low he hadn’t experienced for several months, and all he wanted was to crawl into some narrow cave where no one would find him and cry. There were some cars passing by, but the unmistakable roar of a motorcycle engine made his muscles turn into tense strings.

Luci crawled into the corner with his heart in his throat and waited to hear the bike drive away. If he could only melt into the wall of the pool, he would. The wind kept roaring above, shoving more and more withering leaves in, and Luci felt just as much of a piece of trash as those dead plants. He hoped their smell would just cover him like a shield. He buried his head between his knees, waiting.

And then the phone rang again. Loud and clear.

Fuck,” he hissed in panic and fell to his knees to grab his bag. Every second the phone kept ringing felt like forever. Of course now he needed to find the damn thing it was buried somewhere in his bag and took ages to find. He finally grabbed the phone and turned it off in a rush.

Nothing. No sound apart from the wind, which seemed to mute everything else, so maybe Tooth hadn’t heard the ring either?

Just as he was getting up, Tooth landed right in front of him. The heavy boots stomped on the bottom of the pool and crushed the dry leaves. Luci yelped and scrambled to his feet with his eyes wide. With the background of the white sky, Tooth looked like a Viking warrior from hell, stern and unforgiving.

“What are you doing?”

I… I…” How was he to ever explain this. “Who told you to follow me?” he lashed out instead and pushed Tooth’s chest.

Tooth blinked and stared at his breastbone, as if he couldn’t understand what just happened. “What the hell are you doing? Did something happen?”

“No, nothing happened, I just didn’t wanna go to school. Fuck off.” Despite the chilly weather, even being in his hoodie felt too hot.

“Luci! Aren’t you doing this to be able to become a licensed barber? What do you mean ‘you didn’t want to go to school’?”

Luci backed away to the wall, cornered like an animal. None of it mattered, he’d completely lost track of that horizon when he saw Harlow. “I don’t care. I just wanna move on.”

Tooth folded his arms across his chest. “What happened? I’ve never seen you like this.”

Luci clenched his lips and mirrored Tooth’s gesture. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to find out what Harlow did to him.

“Luci, remember you promised not to lie to me?” growled Tooth. “Why are you doing this?”

“Not everything is your business!” Luci began a slow walk along the wall to see if Tooth would block his way, and he did. Of course he did.

Tooth leaned over him with a squint. “Did someone tell you something mean?”

“I just didn’t feel like it,” Luci growled at him, gradually losing his temper.

Tooth squeezed his hands into fists. “Why are you provoking me?”

“I’m not!” He backed off to his corner with a hiss. “I’ve just had it with the fluffy lifestyle! I’m bored. I want out.”

“Fluffy lifestyle? What the fuck does that even mean?” asked Tooth, clearly on the verge of losing his temper.

“I wanna make my own decisions.” Luci leaned against the wall, sick of this conversation already. He hadn’t felt this lost in ages.

Tooth snarled and reached out to grasp Luci’s arm. “Oh, yeah? I’ll show you what your decisions can lead to.”

Luci moaned, but didn’t have the energy to fight him anymore. Tooth pushed him to the ladder, and Luci climbed up without a word. Why hadn’t he turned off that fucking cell phone?

From the moment they climbed up to the ground to the moment they mounted the bike, Tooth never once let go of Lucifer’s arm, even though at that point, Luci knew he couldn’t get away. They both kept their mouths shut, and the gloomy atmosphere was weighing Lucifer farther down the black, cold well of despair. He had nowhere to run.

They rode for quite some time, but eventually, Tooth took a turn into a smaller street, and they drove along a green fence built around something that looked like a well-kept park. It was only at the parking lot that Luci realized they were by a cemetery.

He got off the bike without much energy, lips locked. The parking lot was empty, with only one car by the fence. Tooth pointed at the gate and adjusted his leather jacket.

“Go first.”

Lucifer rolled his eyes. “Where?” He passed the iron gate. The cemetery was very well kept, with alleys of white stone, grass that was still very green, and with the graves located between tall trees, it felt like walking through a park.

“Straight ahead for now.”

Luci pushed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. The stupid walk was about the last thing he needed now. Leaves crinkled under his boots, and he made a point of stomping loudly.

After walking for a few minutes through the peaceful landscape, Tooth led him between the trees, and at some point it became clear they were heading for a simple tombstone underneath a large oak. It was made of gray stone, and only as they stepped closer did Luci notice a delicate design carved at the top. It was a winged head surrounded by a garland of flowers. And it actually looked classy.

Luci turned around to face Tooth. “So?” He raised his eyebrows. Who the fuck was ‘Trayvon Jones’ and why would Tooth bring Luci to his grave?

Tooth frowned and nodded toward the tombstone. “Nineteen years of life. Just like you now. He was in a desperate situation and made some very bad decisions.” He stepped closer and pushed away the hair the wind blew into his face. “Do you want to end up like that?”

Anger stirred in Lucifer’s stomach, and he pulled the hood over his head. Tooth knew shit. “I’m not stupid, so I won’t make stupid decisions.”

Tooth snorted. “Yeah, he thought that as well. But in the end he was just as miserable as you. He risked everything when he went into someone’s car night after night. And this is where you’re heading if you don’t clean up your act.”

Luci’s face heated up at the realization that Tooth had brought him here for some morality tale. The last thing he needed was Tooth mentioning prostitution. “Only dead male hooker you know? What do I care? Not the first one, not the last one.” He shrugged, staring at the tombstone.

His head turned so fast he didn’t know what hit him until the stinging in his cheek made him realize Tooth had slapped him. With the flat of his hand, but hit him nonetheless.

Luci held his stinging cheek and looked up reproachfully. “What was that for?” he moaned and took a step to the side.

Tooth took a deep breath, holding on to his right hand as he looked to Luci’s chest. “What the fuck is wrong with you? He was a person. He had dreams, hopes, and all that. And someone just took it all away...” He swallowed hard and walked up to the tombstone in a jerky movement.

Luci rubbed his face. He didn’t want to be mean. It was just that this day was all too much. He groaned and looked at the grave again. Asking who this ‘Trayvon’ was seemed like a natural next step, but then Luci looked at the date of his death and something clicked. The realization was so profound, his mind got all twisted and scrambled.

“Is this… Tracy?” he uttered.

Tooth squeezed his hand over the top of the tombstone and slowly, very slowly sank into a squat next to it. It was hard to read anything from his face, but he gave a tiny nod.

Luci took a deep breath and approached him, now knowing he damn well deserved the slap. “I’m sorry.” He kneeled in the grass, too confused to come up with anything better to say.

Tooth sighed and sat cross-legged next to the tombstone, tugging at his beard so hard it looked like he would pull out half of the hairs.

Was Tooth gay? Bisexual? Was Tracy transsexual? Was it appropriate to ask? No matter what it was, it made Mr. Harlow fade into a demon made of smoke. Luci inched closer and gently wrapped his arms around Tooth’s neck from the back. Whatever the story was about Tracy’s gender, Tooth must really trust Luci to bring him here, and Luci had blown it with his stupid comments. He put his cheek on Tooth’s shoulder.

Tooth slowly, as if reluctantly, leaned his head back, massaging the engraving of an angel on top of the headstone. “This bit was from an old picture he liked. He even had it put on a T-shirt,” he muttered.

So Tracy couldn’t have been transsexual. Tooth wouldn’t have persistently said ‘he’ otherwise. “I’m sorry I dismissed him.” He dared give Tooth a kiss on the temple.

Tooth took a deep breath and hung his head, staring at the grass. “Look, I’m sorry I lied. But it doesn’t matter whether Tracy was a girl or a guy. The story is the same,” he whispered.

Come to think of it, Luci never did actually see Tooth with any girls. “Are you gay then?” He hugged Tooth harder. If this was true, would he actually have a shot with Tooth? For example, if Tooth was simply into more buff guys, he could muscle up. He could do so many things if they would only make Tooth want him.

Tooth cleared his throat. “Yeah. I’m just not very vocal about it. It’s no one’s business.”

You could have told me.” Luci closed his eyes leaning the side of his head against Tooth’s. At this moment he knew he wouldn’t be going anywhere. He would stay and face Harlow, face Dolly, just so he could stick around Tooth.

Tooth chuckled. “I figured it would be easier for you to be comfortable around me if you didn’t know. I didn’t want you to worry that I would force you into something you wouldn’t want.” Slowly, he turned his head to look at Luci. After three months of Luci’s treatments, his hair was soft and shinier than ever.

Tooth had to be clueless about how hard Luci was crushing on him. “I was worried I was creeping you out with my gay ways.” Luci smiled and nuzzled Tooth’s hair.

Tooth smiled back. “It’s fine. It’s like having a silly younger brother.”

Luci went still. ‘Younger brother’? He bit his bottom lip hard, not to howl in despair. He wasn’t even in the friend zone? He was in the ‘like family’ zone?

Tooth sighed and pulled out his wallet. “But Treyvon did go by Tracy, some basketball player he liked was called that, and he believed it was cool to have a unisex name.” From a small pocket in his wallet, Tooth pulled out a folded piece of paper, but when he unwrapped it, it became clear it was a photo of two young men standing in front of a small lake surrounded by trees. One was bulky for his age, with long hair and a wide smile Luci immediately recognized. In the picture, Tooth was hugging a slim young guy with light brown skin and dreadlocks that reached all the way to where his nipples would be. Tracy’s large, expressive eyes were smiling at the camera.

Luci backed away and plopped to the ground next to Tooth. “You two look so happy. I’ve never had a proper boyfriend.”

Tooth sighed, smoothing out the creases on the paper. “It was complicated. At first I was just over the moon about living with guys who wanted to have sex with me, even though I did like him the most. It wasn’t very romantic.”

Luci couldn’t help but laugh. “I can imagine it. All alone in the big wide world and all these guys all over you.”

Tooth smirked. “Kinda. And it was so awkward to try and change the relationship we had from the start. He said he loved me but didn’t mind me sleeping with other guys, and he wanted to keep working.”

“I can see why you wouldn’t want him to.” Luci sighed and ran his fingers over the angel on the tombstone.

Tooth went silent, and for several seconds he watched Luci’s fingers. “Yeah, but if I didn’t nag him about it, he’d have probably told me where he was going that night. I could have had an eye on him.”

“You were the one to tell me that there are things you can’t control.”

Tooth smiled. “I know. I just... really want him to be alive.”

Luci hesitated about stroking Tooth’s arm. It all seemed weird now. Did Tooth even see him as a guy at all? So many times Tooth told him how he hated the tattoo on Luci’s lower back. What if he was off-putting to Tooth altogether? “I know what you mean.”

“So, yeah, we weren’t proper boyfriends, not really.” Tooth pulled on his beard and shrugged, looking somewhere between the trees. He seemed oddly young, despite the beard and the hard muscle Luci could easily sense underneath Tooth’s clothes. “Never had a proper boyfriend either.”

“I’m sorry about today. I freaked out, but I’ll go back.” Evening classes for adults were just a year. Only a year of dealing with Harlow. He could do that.

Tooth sighed. “Won’t you tell me what went wrong today?”

“It’s stupid. There were all these adults signing up, and I felt like some loser.” Luci hated lying to Tooth, but he didn’t want to throw one more problem at him. He was enough of a burden already.

Tooth chuckled and pulled on Luci’s hair. “It’ll be fine.”

Luci put his head on Tooth’s shoulder. He just wanted Harlow to be gone.

 

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Next: Chapter 17