*This one covers his childhood, starting in kindergarten and ending at age 17 with the first ep. of the show.*
Title: THE MAKING OF AN ARTIST - COMPLETE STORY
"POOR IS THE PUPIL WHO DOES NOT SURPASS HIS MASTER." - Leonardo da Vinci
You know you're meant for bigger and better things when your kindergarten teacher calls your parents in for a talk.
"I'm afraid we have a problem, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. Justin doesn't seem to be interested in anything other than finger painting."
Later that night, you fold the top back on the box of 64 Crayola crayons your mom gives you, fascinated by the variety of color. Searching for your tablet of blank white paper, you can't wait to recreate the children in vibrant snowsuits you see on their way to school each morning. Thinking they look like big huggable jelly beans, you giggle.
"Why can't he go outside and play with the other kids, Jen? Stop encouraging him to sit in the house with his crayons all day!" Your dad's problem seems to be directly related to your latest drawing affixed to the fridge.
Your mom's having none of it, though, proud of the fact that your coloring books go mostly ignored as you much prefer to make your own pictures. "Look at this purple he used."
Your mom is your hero.
"Dad! Dad! Guess what?" You scamper out to the driveway when your father gets home from work, clutching the spelling test you'd aced earlier that afternoon in your hand. Jumping up and down, you can't wait to show it to him.
"What have you got there?" He ruffles your hair as he takes it from you, smiling when he sees the large red A+ marked on the top. "Wonderful, Justin! Mrs. Baker even gave you a gold star. Has Mom seen this?" He grabs his briefcase from the car and heads into the house with his little blond shadow in tow.
"Yeah. She doesn't feel good, though. I don't like that baby in her tummy. It makes her throw up and go to bed and be sad."
"You mean she doesn't feel well." He loosens his tie as you walk into the kitchen together. "Why don't we surprise her and fix dinner tonight? You want to help me? I bet that'll make her happy." Tacking your perfect spelling test next to the grocery list on the bulletin board, he beams down at your six-year-old self. "I'm proud of you, son. I think we should put every A you bring home right here on this board. What do you think?"
You think there won't be enough room for the grocery list before long, First Grade the easiest thing you've ever dealt with in your life. "Sure, Dad! I'll be right back!"
He doesn't know your book bag is full of homework papers and tests that are decorated with Mrs. Baker's felt-tipped red A's and gold star stickers. "Just be quiet up there. Your mom needs her rest."
You really don't like that baby in her tummy.
"Careful, honey. Put this arm over here." Your mom arranges you on your dad's easy chair and wedges the cushions under your elbows. Then she lays your baby sister in your lap and picks up the camera. Her terribly fat stomach is mostly gone, a small lump left in its place.
You're happy because she's happy, not quite understanding what's so nice about the crying mess in your hands. "She's screaming again. Why can't she be quiet?"
"Here. Let's see if she wants her pacifier." Turning off the shrieks for a few minutes, your mother snaps a roll of film before she takes the tiny bundle back and feeds her. "Are you going to draw a picture of Baby Molly?"
"What for?" You really like the new drawing paper and colored pencils she gave you this afternoon, but sometimes your mom has the craziest ideas.
"And lastly, our Young Artist of the Month is a third grader in Mrs. Martin's class, Justin Taylor. In addition to this certificate of achievement, Justin will receive a coupon for a free Happy Meal, redeemable at any participating McDonald's restaurant in the greater Pittsburgh area." The principal of your elementary school calls you up to claim your prizes, handing them to you during the mid-morning awards assembly and politely clapping along with your fellow students and the parents who could make it.
You're more impressed with winning a Happy Meal than the art accolade. Breaking into an ear-to-ear grin, you wave at your dad as he stands in the multipurpose room filming you with the newest state-of-the-art video camera Taylor Electronics is selling. "Do you think they'll give me an ice cream cone, too?" you ask your mom when the award winners are permitted to mingle with their families before it's time to go back to class.
"I don't know, honey. We'll have to see. I wonder what Daddy's talking to your P.E. teacher about."
You turn around and see him in a heavy discussion with Mr. Knowles while he packs the camera into its case. At eight years old, you're not oblivious to the fact that your dad would have liked it more if you'd just become your school's Young Sportsman of the Month instead.
"You can get all the pictures you want later, Jen. We have to leave now!"
"But he looks so adorable in his Yankees uniform. Just one more."
Your dad huffs and totes his toddler out the door to strap her into her car seat, a bit peeved that his family outing to the neighborhood park and ball field is getting off to such a hectic start. Signing you up for Little League after talking to your P.E. teacher, he thought taking you to practice was half the fun, making friends with the other fathers in the bleachers and cheering you on while you learned the fundamentals of America's favorite pastime. And now you're almost late for the first game.
"So are you ready to play, son?" He looks at you in the rearview mirror on the short drive to the park and makes sure you're paying attention. "Just remember, you have to throw with your right hand. The one you eat and draw and write with. The other one has your mitt on it. Don't throw with that one."
"Okay." You nod at him even though the promised pizza at Chuck E. Cheese after the game is pretty much all you can think of.
"Oh, Craig, lighten up. Little League is supposed to be fun for the boys." Your mom smiles at you, reaching over the seat to hand your wailing sister a small toy out of her diaper bag.
Your coach is no fool, using you and Timmy Reynolds as bench warmers for eight innings of the game. He only sends both of you in at the bottom of the ninth because of some fairness to all players guideline he's held to abide by. "Justin! Justin! What are you doing?" he shouts when the ball just happens to roll up to your feet in the outfield.
You really don't know what all the fuss is about, picking it up with your left hand and hurling it back in with the same one. But first you have to wriggle out of your glove since you can throw so much better without it.
"What?!" your highly irritated dad screams to the pitcher's father while three pint-sized Kansas City Royals slide across home plate. "You've never seen an ambidextrous kid before?!"
Restlessly stirring, you gradually awaken with your skin on fire and thousands of sharp knives slicing up the back of your throat, tossing and turning until every last blanket on your bed slides to the floor. The rasp in your voice is your mom's first clue that something's wrong when she peeks through the door to check if you're up and getting ready for school.
"Oh, honey!" She rushes in and presses her palm to your forehead. "You're burning up!"
"It hurts when I swallow," you squeak, your matted hair dripping with sweat. You don't even mention the pain in your head because it hurts too much when you talk.
Your mom verifies your raging temperature with her trusty ear thermometer and bundles you up for a trip to your pediatrician, notifying Dr. Holman that you'll be there within the hour.
Diagnosing a nasty case of tonsillitis, his injection of penicillin into your preadolescent butt cheek stings like nobody's business. But you're too big now to cry when you get a shot. You're back in the examining room two hours later with a violent reaction to the antibiotic, scratching yourself raw as the eruption of angry red hives on your neck and arms won't stop.
"Okay, no more penicillin for Justin. Buy an over-the-counter package of Jr. Tylenol chewable tablets. They'll relieve the sore throat and headache and temporarily reduce the fever." Old Dr. Holman smiles at your mom and gives you a pat on the back.
You wonder why he seems intent on killing you, the grape punch flavored tabs causing more agony that afternoon than you'd suffered in the morning, especially when the teaspoonful of codeine-laced cough syrup he recommended starts to kick in. Spending the rest of the day on the toilet with bouts of simultaneous diarrhea and uncontrollable vomiting, you're ready to give up, your ten-year-old body unable to withstand much more.
"So what'd Dr. Holman say?" your extremely concerned dad needs to know when he gets home from work, having waited much too long while the physician's answering service patched the doctor through to your frantic mom on the phone.
Thoroughly at her wits' end, she considers calling her bank and putting a stop payment on the checks she'd written that day to cover the co-pays for both visits. "He said Justin must be really allergic to a lot of drugs."
"Shit!" The scoop of vanilla ice cream you just dropped in your glass of Coke sinks to the bottom real fast, forcing rivers of gooey liquid over the rim and onto your mom's spotless countertop. "Shit! Shit! Shit!" You should clean it up, but you're in a hurry, grabbing your homemade Coke float and popping a blank tape into the VCR just as your movie comes on.
"Mommy! Look what Justin did!" Your five-year-old bacterial infection of a sister is at it again. She eyeballs your soda fountain gone awry with mischief on her mind when they walk into the kitchen after her playdate. "He made a very big mess in here!" she tattles, sticking her tongue out at you in true devil-child fashion.
Fortunately, your arsenal is much more sophisticated. You flip her the bird behind your mom's back and set the table for dinner when you're told.
"I wanna be a cartoonist or computer animator when I get out of art school." Taking another slab of meat loaf from the platter, you grin. Your brand new ambition just might be the best idea you've ever had.
"Art school?" Your dad looks up from his dish. "I always thought you'd go to Dartmouth, Justin. Where I went. You can certainly get in if you do as well in high school as you're doing in middle school."
"Yeah, but I'm gonna be an artist. I recorded Yellow Submarine today so I can watch it whenever I want to. It'd be really fun to make animated movies."
"There's plenty of time to talk colleges, Craig. Justin's only in seventh grade." Your mom gets up to refill her glass. "Don't play with your food, Molly," she says just before the family discussion hangs a left turn into the future of technology.
"You know, that VCR in there will be obsolete pretty soon," your dad tells her. "I was looking through Sony's catalog of new products at the store, and I saw that they're making DVD players now."
Your head pops up. "DVD players?"
"New devices to play movies recorded on thin little discs just like music CDs. A whole new format is going to take over in a few years." He laughs when he thinks about the rapidly approaching digital video disc age and Taylor Electronics. "Everyone will need to buy a DVD player to watch them."
"Wait. What?" You drop your fork into your mashed potatoes, suddenly realizing how this new format is going to affect you personally. "You mean every movie ever made will have to be put on a disc? It could take forever before they get around to Yellow Submarine!"
You don't know it yet, but your newly recorded video cassette tape is about to become your most prized possession, sticking with you from this very night in 1995 to wherever your life may lead.
"Please tell me you didn't actually buy that." You don't appreciate the interruption while you're busy being brilliant, your mom's intrusion into your room forcing you to look up from the four-page essay you're tweaking to perfection well before its due date. "Seriously? A blazer?"
"You need it for Saturday night, honey. Edgewood has a dress code, you know." She removes the navy blue garment from its protective plastic bag and holds it out for your inspection. "It'll look good with your charcoal slacks. I'm going to shop for a tie tomorrow that'll go with your light blue button-down."
"A tie?! Mom!"
"Justin, you're thirteen. It won't kill you to dress up." Hanging the new jacket in your closet, she locates your better things and separates them from the jeans and tee shirts. "You've been growing like a weed. We're going to have to get you some nice clothes."
You didn't object when your father announced you're old enough to start dining with them at the country club once in awhile, but the past five minutes have left you wondering whether you'd really like to or not. You only hope the food is all it's cracked up to be. Otherwise, what's the point? "I gotta finish this essay, okay?" gets your mom out of your hair and your mind back on your footnotes.
Three days later, the point pokes its head out of obscurity. And it has nothing to do with food. Rather, the young man who serves it.
"And for you, sir?" he asks most attentively, his pencil poised to jot down your order after taking your parents'.
You'd noticed his skillful hands earlier when he uncorked the bottle and poured their wine, not fully understanding your desire to touch them. And now the musky scent of his cologne as he leans down toward you wreaks havoc on your previously logical existence. No longer a gangly tween, you've acquired a more mature look, the onset of puberty responsible for the growth of body parts that operate with a mind of their own. You thank the gods in heaven for the cloth napkin in your lap and make eye contact with the cute twenty-something waiter, telling him you'll have the prime rib.
Salad fork on the outside, bread plate on your left, you've been schooled in the social graces like any good WASP boy. You gulp from the water glass on your right to cool the fire under your skin, relieved that your mom and dad are ignoring you while they fret over what headaches Molly might be causing the new babysitter.
Covering your mouth when you burp, you say 'Excuse me' to no one in particular.
July 15, 1997
Dear Mr. Taylor:
On behalf of the St. James Academy Preparatory High School administration, it is my pleasure to inform you that you have been accepted into the class of 2001 based on the results of your entrance exam.
As you know, our wide-ranging college preparatory curriculum includes many Honors and Advanced Placement courses. We also offer several athletic programs and special interest clubs, important components in the development of a well-rounded student. While statistics have proven that our graduates go on to succeed in overwhelming numbers at the finest universities in the country and abroad, it is our sincere hope that your educational experience here at St. James Academy is both fun and fulfilling.
I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome you into the St. James family and look forward to meeting you and your parents at the mandatory freshman orientation session, which will be held on August 20, 1997 at 7:00 p.m. in the school's gymnasium.
Director of Admissions
The parochial high school in your upscale neighborhood became the focus of your dad's attention after you'd consistently ranked in the ninety-ninth percentile on every standardized test you took in middle school. He started to put more serious consideration into it when you became valedictorian of your eighth grade class and gave a speech during commencement exercises at the end of the year.
Scanning the acceptance letter you received from St. James in the mail that afternoon, he's happy with the decision you finally made together. "This school should be just what you need academically, Justin. I'm hoping it'll be more of a challenge than you've had in the past."
"Uh-huh." You don't really care one way or another. You've earned top-notch grades since you were little, and you don't expect much to change now. If scoring the maximum allowable points on this private academy's entrance exam is anything to go by, you'll be continuing your habit of idly drawing in your sketchbook during lectures to pass the time.
Your mom takes you to the campus bookstore a week later, trailing along while you check the list of classes you've been issued and pick out the required texts for each one. She watches the Algebra One workbook ring up at eighty-two dollars when it's time to pay. "My goodness. This is going to be an expensive four years."
"Uh, Mom?" You're distracted by a ruckus on the other side of the store, where three or four obnoxious guys your age are gathered around racks of official St. James clothing. "I'll be over there. We're gonna get my uniforms today, too, aren't we?"
"Damn, Chris!" A husky kid with a noticeable case of acne is mouthing off when you near them. "I can't believe we have to wear this shit." He grabs a cellophane-packaged white dress shirt from the display and hurls it toward his friend, snorting when it lands on the floor at his feet. "You won't make first-string quarterback with those skills!"
"Shut up, you ass!"
"All right, boys." An employee quickly intervenes. "Behave yourselves or get out of here." Glaring, she stoops to pick up the makeshift football.
"Yes, ma'am. Sorry." Snickering as soon as she turns her back, the wannabe jock looks for a fitting room with a few pairs of pants in his hand while his cohorts dig through their own sizes and make an effort to dial down the testosterone.
You're not the roughhousing type, but it doesn't take long for you to arrive on common ground with them. Selecting your own armload of things, you can't believe you have to wear this preppy shit five days a week.
That night you're on a mission up in your room, the mountain of unwanted items in the corner growing at an alarming rate. Ransacking your closet, drawers, and shelves, and not forgetting about the crud under your bed, you clean out anything that looks even remotely childish. Long forgotten toys and games. Juvenile books and clothes. It's all stacked and ready to be tossed when your mom walks by your open door.
"Whoa! What are you doing in here?"
"Getting rid of my old junk. I don't need it anymore." You haphazardly lob a stuffed animal over your shoulder.
It sails past her face on its way to the heap. "Gus, too?! He's your favorite teddy bear!"
"When I was six. I'm in high school now, Mom."
You promise to box everything up and cart it out to the garage when she vetoes just trashing it, agreeing that donating your former belongings to the Goodwill is a better, greener option. Closing the door and flopping on your bed after the last trip, you look over your more grown-up surroundings. Much better. Now your mind can wander to the boy du jour.
Like variations on a central theme, he's the one who caught your eye this time. The same stirring you'd felt in your underwear while you both tried on uniforms in adjacent dressing rooms bubbles beneath your clothes. A familiar sensation. And it feels good.
Your right hand slips inside the waistband of your jeans, creeping lower until it reaches the place where it can most often be found.
You'd flourished during freshman year at St. James Academy, utilizing your natural mental abilities plus hard work and earning your trademark excellent grades. Blending in with the student body as if you were no different, you only needed to scratch a few layers below the surface to grasp just how fundamentally unlike Breeder Central's general population you were, a tiny detail that also applied to the rest of the world the more you thought about it. Nevertheless, and especially when you pondered the closet case who sat next to you in Honors English, you'd come to like the guy who greeted you in your bathroom mirror every morning.
Armed with a burgeoning sense of self-awareness, you expect more of the same from your sophomore year, prepared for another nine months of endless chapters to read, projects to complete, and tests to ace. But that's before you wander into Homeroom on the first morning and make your way to an empty desk. Scoping out an unfamiliar face two rows over as soon as you sit down, you can't help grinning at the new girl when she looks around and catches your eyes on her.
Finally! There's nothing this white-bread suburban high school needs more than a healthy dose of diversity! You might even be beaming when she grins back.
"They stick sometimes. If you pound on it with your fist right about here . . ." You stop in the crowded hall at lunchtime to help her with the temperamental locker she's been assigned, popping it open like magic with the patented method you use on your own Fort Knox. "Mine does the same thing."
"Hey, it worked! Thanks!" Breaking into an infectious smile, she throws her books in and slams it shut. "Hope I remember how you did that. Now, if I can just find a veggie wrap. I'm so starving. I'm Daphne, by the way. Didn't I see you this morning in Homeroom?"
"Yeah, that was me. I'm Justin." You've never made a friend faster, her outgoing personality meshing seamlessly with your more reserved, observant one. "The cafeteria's down here. I'll show you if you want. So how do you like St. James so far?"
"It's okay, I guess. I sort of miss my old school, but my dad got transferred and we moved here last week. My parents bought a house over on Edgewood Circle."
"You live on Edgewood? I live right around the corner from you on Ashby." You hand her a tray when you get to the lunchroom and take one for yourself, standing in the food line together and then finding a table. Your conversation only lags once during the allotted thirty-minute period, but Daphne finishes off her pint of milk and quickly fills the void.
"So what's with Erica Jacobson? She's in History with me. I hope she's not your girlfriend or anything 'cause oh, my God! She seems totally stuck up."
"Fuck, no!" Your eyes roll at the thought. "She's not my girlfriend at all. She does it with any guy who looks at her. And, yeah, she is pretty stuck up about it."
Daphne giggles her head off, leaning closer to soak up every morsel of dirt you dish on her new classmates. "Tell me! Tell me! I need to know!"
"Now September, you'll like her. She's really nice. I'll introduce you to her tomorrow."
"Justin?" Your mom waits for a minute and then calls up the staircase again. "Justin, Daphne's here!" She gets no response because your music's cranked full blast, but she tells your best friend and cohort in crime to go on up anyway.
A permanent fixture in your life for the past year, Daphne breezes into your room and tosses her backpack on the bed. She chatters away while you show her your new CD's, both of you set to hang out as if it were a typical Thursday afternoon. A little gossip, a little raiding the fridge, a little studying for your driver's tests—
And then your eyes land on her unzipped bag and its contents spilling out everywhere. "Oh, my God, Daph! What's that?"
You point to the item in question, not believing what you're seeing. "A pack of cigarettes? Where'd you get it?"
"Shhh!" She quietly closes your door. "My uncle left it at my house. No one knows I snagged it."
"Have you tried one?" An inkling of what's going to happen plays out in your head when she admits she's smoked two already. "No shit?! What's it like?"
"Well, I had to drop the first one and mash it into the dirt 'cause I coughed so bad I thought I was gonna throw up. But the second one was better."
You sit on your bed and wedge a Marlboro between your fingers. It makes you feel all grown up. "Let's tell my mom we're gonna be at your house. I gotta try it."
Thank God the neighborhood park's empty. You climb up to the top of the slide and settle in next to each other, ten feet above the ground for your secret deed.
Daphne pulls the cigarettes and lighter out of her pocket. "It hurts like hell the first time. You're gonna cough."
"No, I won't." Self-confidence has always been your middle name. Instilled in you from early childhood by attentive, supportive parents, it's the reason you succeed at pretty much anything you try. You place a cigarette between your lips and light the end of it, coolly sucking in.
To say you're not prepared for the war your sixteen-year-old lungs wage against the fire you've breathed into them would be the mother of all understatements. Cross-eyed with suffocation, you gasp for air, ignoring Daph's 'told ya so' while a violent choking jag wracks your body.
Your throat isn't the only thing burning, though.
The rude awakening that not everything is easy just because you set your mind to it stings your healthy ego, yet you're not about to give up. You observe the way she inhales and practice until you can blow out a long stream of smoke without coughing your head off. It gets smoother every time. "Okay, I got it. Let's have another one."
Daphne giggles and reaches for the cigarettes. "I can't believe how persistent you are, Justin." She nudges your shoulder with hers. "It's inspiring."
Fierce determination. Dogged perseverance. You have no idea how valuable these character traits are going to be a year from now in the hot pursuit of all you've ever wanted.
"Tonight? Sorry, Mom. I've got plans. You're gonna have to find someone else to brat sit for you." There's no way you're going to get roped into staying home with your ten-year-old sister tonight. No way in hell. Not after the many weeks you've spent immersed in introspection, wrestling with your deepest, darkest, most titillating desires. No, most certainly not now, after you've finally worked up enough courage to act on them. It's taken guts, but you've come to a firm, calculated decision: tonight's the night, and you're not backing down. Shit! You've even got the bus route from your neighborhood in the suburbs to downtown all mapped out.
Hearing the pastry box on the kitchen counter calling your name, you lift the lid and peek in. "Can't you get Annie to come over?"
"Justin, how many times have your father and I asked you to stop calling Molly a brat? And you never told me about any plans. Where are you going?"
You're a senior in high school for fuck's sake. You can't have plans she doesn't know about? Stuffing half a doughnut in your mouth buys you some time. "Daphne. Uh, Daphne's house. We need to study for a test. There's a big Chemistry test tomorrow." You brush the crumbs off your uniform tie. "And I'm spending the night with her."
Your mom sighs, somewhat disappointed, reaching for the phone on the wall. "I guess I can call Annie. Heaven forbid you get a B on a test." Sarcasm. It doesn't look good on her. But she laughs soon enough. "I'm kidding. Your dad and I have always been proud of you and your straight A's. You're a good son."
Ouch. That jolts your brain. Would they still be proud if they had the slightest inkling of what goes on in there? You pour yourself a tall glass of milk and gulp it down while she books the babysitter. Enduring a motherly peck on your forehead before she hurries off to pick up the brat from Brownies, you're just glad she's gone when Daphne knocks on the back door.
"Hey, Daph. Come on in. Want a doughnut?"
Daphne eyes the pink box and nearly swoons. "God, yesss! I'm PMS-ing so bad!"
"It's uncanny how you always find a way to tell me that." You close the door behind her while she skips over to check out the sweets.
"Want to hang out tonight? Dirty Dancing's gonna be on at nine. We haven't seen it in awhile."
"Tonight?" Jesus! One fucking night away is all you want. "I can't tonight. My mom. She um, needs me to babysit my sister." Out-and-out lying. To both of them. You prefer to think of it as craftiness since there's really no other way to pull this off.
Daph scoops up an eclair and savors the first bite. Then she frowns at you. "Dirty Dancing is kind of an old movie. It's just that Patrick Swayze's hot. For an old guy. Sorry you're gonna be stuck home with the brat."
"It sucks." Thankfully, she'll cover for you if your mom calls her house. Just as you've covered for her plenty of times. It's a best friend thing, which is why you'll definitely come clean to her tomorrow morning at school when this is all over.
Yeah, Daphne's cool. She'll get it. She won't freak the fuck out when she learns of your secret venture down to Liberty Avenue, your city's mecca for all manner of things audacious and queer. Unlike your mom, who'd absolutely, positively, without a doubt kill you if she knew you were gay.
"Hey, Daph? Want some milk with that?"
Barely able to concentrate on the mountain of homework that's due the next day, you finally cross the last 't' and dot the last 'i' on your English paper and throw everything into your backpack. Eight forty-five. Your stomach says feed me, but it's time to get ready to leave.
A shower later, you lean close to your bathroom mirror with a towel around your waist, inspecting the seventeen-year-old complexion you thought would never clear up. Smooth as silk, once you flip on your electric razor and take care of the thinly scattered whiskers that make an appearance every few days. Teetering on the brink of manhood isn't easy, but that's where your master plan comes in. Even if you have to take the bus to get there.
"Kind of late to be out, isn't it? Especially on a school night. Why don't you come home with me? No? Go on home to your mommy. Go on."
Christ, what an asshole. Why the hell did you think a circus sideshow like Liberty Avenue was the only place to get laid again? You feel like an underage fish out of water, and you don't even know the bus schedule back to the suburbs. Some master plan.
You inhale a long drag off your cigarette and walk away from the creep, clueless, aimless, and a litany of other lesses as the sewer vapors float up from the street and swirl around you. Stopping against a lamppost, you close your eyes and try to disappear.
And that's when he spots you. That's when your life begins. Years from now, you'll be lying in his arms in front of a crackling fire and he'll admit you'd stolen his heart on that very first night.
The night you became a man.
~ ~ ~ THE END ~ ~ ~