Welcome Visitor: Login to the siteJoin the site

My Boyfriend's Best Friend

Novel By: C M Pickering
Young adult



Rylie Willow thought life was over when her best friend and boyfriend moved away to England. But with the help of his best mate, Aidan, she was able to overcome her grief and learn to live without him by her side. Three years later, Aidan and Rylie are celebrating their one year anniversary when a figure from both their past's returns and upsets everything they've worked to achieve. What will happen to Aidan and Rylie's relationship now that Connor is back in the picture? Can Connor let Rylie go? And more importantly, does Rylie really want him to? View table of contents...


Chapters:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Submitted:Apr 7, 2014    Reads: 59    Comments: 3    Likes: 0   


Rylie

"Bye, Mum!" I called, slamming the door to Mum's Mitsubishi Pajero shut. I never really understood why she had a big 4x4 when she despised all things outdoorsy and our family consisted of just me and her most of the time.

"Rylie!" she shouted back. Groaning, I halted mid-step and spun around to face her instead of Aidan's house. Please don't go into the 'make sure you're being safe' talk again, I inwardly pleaded. Mum knew I was responsible with these sorts of things yet for some reason she decided today was as good as any day to lecture me one more time about it. Sometimes I regret telling her about my time with Aidan but I have to admit, I liked being close to her. It made up for the absence of my dad - not that I was bitter about it; it just sucked sometimes.

"Yes?" I asked, trying to keep the frustration out of my voice. I was so ready to make up with Aidan and every moment I spent with my mum was a moment with Aidan wasted.

"I'll pick you up at ten thirty." It was the only reason Mum had let me go to Aidan's on a school night. We had agreed that she would pick me up and drop me off so I wouldn't spend all night there; something I've done in the past.

I quickly checked my phone. It was just before seven so that gave me and Aidan three and a half hours together.

"Okay, bye," I said, jogging up the stairs to Aidan's house. I heard the car drive off and I smiled. Finally. The porch light had flicked on the moment we arrived and the few steps to Aidan's door were well lit. I stroked the brass lion door knocker before opening the door and making my way inside. I'd been to Aidan's house so many times over the past three years that it was basically my house too. Aidan's mum, Lisa, had given me a key and I even had a drawer in Aidan's room with some of my stuff.

"Hello?" I called out as I entered the hallway. Despite knowing every nook and cranny in the house, I was still in awe at the beauty of the place. The inside had marble floors and smooth columns that added a Roman feeling to the place as well as displayed the wealth of the Kingston-Martini's. It was sparsely decorated by an interior designer yet it somehow felt like a home and not part of some design collection. There were personal touches such as baby photos of Aidan and Dave and Lisa's wedding photos but they only added to the splendour of the place. I stopped by a small table and picked up a photo of Aidan when he was about two. I smiled as I looked at him in his red Thomas the Tank Engine T-shirt and nappy. Even then, he was adorable with his huge smile that lit up the room and that twinkle in his brown eyes.

I put the photo down and moved from the open hallway towards the kitchen which was the hub of the house. Finding it empty, I checked the schedule on the stainless steel fridge that displayed Dave and Lisa's work times. I quickly skimmed over today's timetable. Dave was working late at his restaurant and Lisa had a meeting at eight. That meant that Aidan and I had the house to ourselves.

Grinning, I walked out and wandered up the staircase to his room, trailing my hand along the wooden banister.

"Aidan," I called softly as I entered the short hallway. The décor up here was different to the rooms downstairs and had a touch of modern masculinity. The light wasn't on so I doubted Aidan was up here but it was his usual hang out place. I flicked it on and proceeded to poke my head into each of the three rooms and found them all to be as dark and empty as the next. I paused by his bedroom and dropped my purse on his bed. I had a quick look in his walk in robe and bathroom to see if he was in there but he wasn't. Slightly perturbed, I was about to head back downstairs to search the lower rooms when something outside the window caught my eye. I wandered over to the window and saw Aidan lying on a pool recliner in the pool.

A smile played on my lips and I shuffled through my drawer of things for a bikini. The only one there was a skimpy black one that revealed far too much of my body than I was comfortable sharing with the world. Aidan had jokingly bought it for me and must have put it in here after I refused to wear it. Oh well, Aidan had seen me butt naked so the tiny pieces of material would be okay for tonight.

I stripped out of my clothes and pulled on the stretchy fabric, pulling it slightly to try and get as much coverage as I possibly could. I left my clothes on Aidan's bed before making my way outside.

The sensor light was already on as I stepped onto the wooden porch and made my way over to the pool. As I got closer, I expected Aidan to look up and greet me but he did no such thing. It was then that I realised he was asleep. He looked so peaceful and cute asleep and for a moment I thought against waking him but then shook my head. I was here to talk to him. A plan formed in my mind and a sly smile slid onto my face. I jogged over to the pool edge as quietly as I could before taking a run up and jumping onto the plastic pool toy with Aidan on it. I landed on Aidan's legs and had to hold on tight to avoid being thrown off by my momentum. My efforts were for nothing when a moment later Aidan woke and threw me into the water, clearly shocked by his rude awakening.

"Holy mother - " I heard before the water enclosed over my head. The water was cool compared to the warm air and I spent a moment beneath the surface before resurfacing. Laughing, I looked over at my boyfriend who had since fallen into the water as well. He was staring at me wide eyed and that's when I realised that something was wrong. That wasn't Aidan. Immediately my laughter stopped.

"Who the hell are you?" I demanded wide eyed. He looked almost exactly like Aidan except Aidan didn't have a tattoo and had a more solid build. His face was also softer whilst this guy was all sharp lines. A sense of unease replaced my initial happy mood and I eyed the guy cautiously. Why did he look so much like Aidan?

The guy stayed silent. His eyes were roaming over the part of my body that was exposed, spending way to long at my chest. I quickly sunk lower into the water and crossed my arms over my exposed chest, realising my lack of clothing. I felt a blush form on my cheeks and I tried to repress it. Damn, this was embarrassing. I had practically jumped a random guy wearing nothing but a teeny tiny bikini.

I watched as a smirk so similar to Aidan's formed on his face. "I'll be whoever you want me to be, babe," he answered coolly. His voice was slightly deeper than Aidan's and had a certain rumble to it. I wrinkled my nose at the endearment.

"Not interested. Now, who are you really?" I was impressed with how calm I sounded. Inside, my emotions were a rollercoaster and I could barely control them. This guy was really giving me the creeps.

"Can't you tell?" his voice was overconfident and I frowned. I hated cocky guys. Well, okay, not all cocky guys. Aidan was the exception.

I looked him over; noting how he lacked the muscles Aidan had worked hard for. "I'd say Aidan's twin but that's not possible. He's an only child."

"Clearly Aidan hasn't told you the truth then."

My jaw dropped as what he was saying sank in.

"No that - "

"Rylie, get out of the pool now!" I heard a voice shout.

I spun around and saw Aidan sprinting towards the edge of the pool with Connor hot on his heels. I was momentarily surprised to see Connor and Aidan together but then I noticed Aidan's hands were clenched and his muscles were tensed. Now wasn't the time to question their relationship. Something in Aidan's brown eyes told me that there was more going on than I was aware of and I decided to listen to Aidan. I made my way over to him and hopped out of the pool. I could feel eyes on me and I turned to see all three guys staring at me.

Connor's eyes were wide, the random dude's perverted and Aidan's were lustful. It took me a moment to realise why.

"Shit," I muttered, looking for a towel or something to cover up my lack of clothing. Aidan snapped out of his stupor and quickly tore off his shirt before pulling it over my head. It fell to halfway down my thighs and stunk of Aidan's sweat but it was much better than my bikini.

When my clothing issue was sorted, Aidan turned to the guy still in the pool. His eyes were still planted on me and I saw an evil grin lurking at the corners of his mouth. I tried not to shiver.

"Who's your friend, Aidan? I don't believe we've met."

Aidan tensed even further.

"You stay the hell away from my girlfriend, Aston," he spat. So the mystery guy had a name. Aston.

Aston smirked, something that I was quickly learning he did a lot of. "Girlfriend, huh?" He turned his eyes back to me and I saw them glimmering with interest and malice. "Well, you can jump on my pool toy any time you like," he said cockily with a wink.

Instinctively, I shuddered and stepped closer to Aidan, who Connor was now holding back. Aidan's eyes were dark orbs that screamed fury and I could see Connor having a hard time restraining Aidan.

"C'mon, Aidan," muttered Connor. "He's not worth it." After a moment Aidan calmed down. He glared angrily at Aston who was leaning against the pool wall furthest from us. Smart move.

"Listen here, arsehole. If you so much as touch Rylie - "

"So that's her name huh?" interrupted Aston. God, did he have a death wish? "Hi, Rylie, I'm Aston. This douchebag's my twin brother. Let me know when you decide to upgrade to the better twin."

My jaw dropped again and I stared between Aidan and Aston. I'd suspected before that they were twins but part of me had hoped that it was just some bizarre genetic coincidence that they looked the same. I looked at Aidan and saw the truth in his eyes.

I was hurt. Aidan had a twin brother and he had never told me. Not once in the six years of knowing each other. Not once in the year of our relationship. I thought I knew everything about him but clearly not.

"Rylie," Aidan began, taking a step towards me but I shook my head.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I could hear the betrayal in my voice and I knew Aidan could too.

He paused and ran his hands through his hair. It was only then that I realised how stressed he looked. Immediately I felt bad. "I didn't know how to. And I didn't really want to think about him," he said pointing in the general direction of Aston.

I kept my eyes locked on Aidan's. "Why? He's your brother. He's family."

Aidan sighed. "It's complicated."

"Wait, so you're telling me your own girlfriend didn't know you have a brother?" cut in Aston. "Oh my god, this is freaking hilarious."

Aidan and I both simultaneously glared at him. "Shut up," I hissed. Aston had pulled himself out of the pool and was walking over in our direction. He grabbed a towel I hadn't seen before off a table and swung it over his shoulder.

"Meow. Your girlfriend has claws, Aidan," he laughed.

"The girlfriend has a name, arsehole," I snapped. "And unless you want to see those claws scratch your balls out, I advise you shut the hell up." I wasn't usually like this, but this guy was rubbing me up the wrong way. I was beginning to understand why Aidan wanted nothing to do with him.

Aston chuckled and strolled over to us. "I see why Aidan likes you, Rylie."

Aidan and Connor both took a step in front of me, effectively hiding me behind their backs. "I strongly advise you to stop right there, Aston," growled Connor. I had forgotten that he was here. He had been quiet virtually the entire time and with the drama unfolding in front of me, it was easy to forget his presence.

"Oh! Scary!" mocked Aston, throwing his hands in the air. "The fearless Connor back to save the day once again and protect poor little Aidan."

I saw Connor tense and Aidan stiffen.

"Think very carefully about what the next words out of your mouth will be, Aston," threatened Connor, cracking his knuckles.

"Why? Are you gonna run and tell mummy? Or better yet, the police?" taunted Aston with a much too arrogant expression on his face. Okay, I must be missing something. There was clearly bad blood between the three boys and I could only imagine what it might be but something told me it was more serious than Aston stealing one of Aidan's Pokémon cards or eating all his chocolate Easter eggs.

"What do you want?" asked Aidan, his voice catching slightly. Whoa, was Aidan scared of his twin brother? What exactly had happened between them?

"What do I want?" mulled Aston. His eyes caught mine over Connor's shoulder and he grinned evilly. "Her."

"That's it!" roared Aidan. He lunged forward and tackled Aston onto the hard concrete. After a moment of shock, Connor snapped out of his daze and jumped into the fight. Together with Aidan, they ganged up on Aston and started throwing punches at him.

Watching with wide eyes, I could hardly believe what was going on in front of me. I had to do something. "Stop!" I screamed as loudly as I could.

Immediately all three boys broke away from each other and stared in my direction. I lifted a shaky hand and pointed at Connor and Aidan. "You two, upstairs now! And you!" I turned to Aston. "You stay exactly where you are until we leave. Got it?"

After a moment Connor and Aidan jumped into action and scrambled away from Aston. I grabbed their arms and pulled them up to Aidan's room where I grabbed my clothes and purse.

"C'mon, we're going," I ordered the two boys who had remained silent up until this point.

The looked at each other before both shrugging their shoulders. "Okay," mumbled Aidan, not meeting my eyes.

Rolling my eyes, I quickly pulled on my shorts but left Aidan's shirt on. I walked over to Aidan's wardrobe and grabbed him a red T-shirt which I threw at him. He caught it and put it on.

"Did you drive here?" he asked me.

I shook my head. "Mum dropped me off. You're going to have to drive us, Aidan."

Connor and I followed close behind Aidan as he walked downstairs and into the garage. There were five cars to choose from and Aidan grabbed the keys to a sleek, dark blue BMW. Connor climbed in the backseat and I took the passenger seat. Once we were settled in, Aidan turned the ignition and the car purred to life. The roller doors started moving upwards and we waited in silence until they were completely up. Shifting the car into first gear, Aidan took off out the garage and away from his house.

*****

The drive to my house was filled with a silence so tangible that it was smothering. I caught Aidan staring at me more times than I could count and several times he opened his mouth to say something but then closed it again. When we finally pulled up outside of my house, we sat and waited for the engine to completely rumble out before saying anything.

"I'm gonna go home," stated Connor abruptly, opening the door to the car.

"Connor wait," asked Aidan. Connor paused with one leg out the car. "I just wanna say thanks for… what happened back there."

Connor nodded stiffly. "That's okay. What are-" Connor stopped short of completing his sentence but we all knew his next words were supposed to be 'friends for'. "Yeah," said Connor awkwardly. "Anyway, if you need my help with him again, you know where I am."

Aidan nodded. "Thanks." Connor gave a forced smile and headed over to his place.

I drummed my fingers on my leg and looked over at Aidan. "So…" I began. He closed his eyes and leant against the steering wheel. "You have a brother."

"Yeah," mumbled Aidan.

"A twin brother," I added in case he had forgotten.

"I noticed," replied Aidan with a small smile on his lips.

"Hey," I said softly, reaching across and putting my hand on his arm. He looked up and met my blue eyes with his brown ones. "I'm not mad."

Aidan exhaled deeply and pulled away from the steering wheel. "Thank you," he said, reaching over the gear stick to hug me. I hugged him back, enjoying the warm feeling of being snuggled in his neck and the scent that was distinctly Aidan. God, he smelt amazing.

After a long moment, I pulled back and entwined our hands together. "Don't get me wrong, I'm a bit hurt that you didn't tell me but I'll be fine."

Aidan smiled softly at me. "I'm sorry. I should have told you but…" he sighed and ran his free hand through his hair. "It's a long story. One I don't like telling. Only my family and Connor know." Well that explains why Connor was there. My heart dropped. I didn't want to make Aidan tell me but I was dying to know what was going on. I, unfortunately, was one of those people who always liked to know what was going on, even if it didn't concern me. I didn't say anything and Aidan chuckled softly. He knew me too well. He reached over and pushed my hair behind my ear, letting his hand linger on my face. He pulled it back and I missed the warmth it provided.

"It all started when I was a kid and my parents were still together. Aston and I never really got along; we were just too different. I was always into sports and running around while he was more into engines and getting in trouble. Our personalities were similar though and they just clashed too much. We'd get into massive arguments over the stupidest things and neither of us would back down. Parent's say they don't have favourites, but in my family that wasn't true. Dad hated sports with a passion and so he and Aston bonded quite closely. It didn't really bother me because I had Mum, and she supported me in whatever I did. When I was eleven, Dad had to take me to one of my soccer games. He got talking to one of the other Mum's there and in a matter of weeks, he was having an affair with her. Mum found out and they got divorced. Aston chose to stay with Dad for the holidays before coming to Summerton to meet up with Mum and me. I blamed Dad for the divorce so I was more than happy to accompany Mum to our new town.

"When I got here, I met Connor at the park. We got along great and I enjoyed being around him. About two weeks before the holidays were over, Dad had a business trip to go to and so he was going to drop off Aston at our place before heading to Brisbane. I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn't get to see Dad because he was just dropping Aston off at the airport and so to cheer me up, Mum offered to let Connor stay over. He'd been over a couple of times before but we'd never had a sleepover. Anyway, Aston didn't arrive until about ten o'clock that night and he didn't know about Connor. Connor and I were already sleeping in my room and- You know how Connor used to sleep in the most random places?"

I couldn't help but grin as the memory of Connor and his strange sleeping habits resurfaced. One time I had even found him asleep in our bathtub. When I confronted him about it he just shrugged and said he liked being in small places.

"Yeah, well, Connor was sleeping underneath my bed. I, uh, what happened next is mainly what Connor saw." Aidan paused and he swallowed. His hand gripped mine tightly and a sense of dread filled me. What had happened at the sleepover?

"I was asleep and all of a sudden I couldn't breathe. I woke up and tried to sit up but I was being held down. There were hands wrapped around my throat and squeezing. I couldn't get them off me."

Aidan's voice choked and I held my hand to my mouth. Someone had tried to kill Aidan.

"Connor felt me thrashing around and climbed out to see Aston sitting on top of me with his hands wrapped around my throat. Connor pulled Aston off me and managed to lock him in the bathroom. He then helped me down to the kitchen where he called an ambulance. Mum came down a moment later because she had heard all the noise and that's when she saw the marks around my throat. At first she thought it was Connor who had done it but we told her it was Aston. He came down a moment later with this crazy look in his eyes and there was blood on his hands. He had punched through the bathroom door to get to me. We learnt a few months later that Aston had ODD, oppositional defiant disorder. Aston lunged at me again but Connor held him back. Mum didn't know what to do but when she learnt that an ambulance was coming, she quickly realised that they would want an explanation. She made us tell them that we had been play-fighting when things had gotten out of hand."

"What?" I demanded, shocked. "You didn't tell them what happened? Aidan, he tried to kill you!"

Aidan shook his head. "He's my brother, Rylie. Mum couldn't let her own son go to jail. We had to do it."

I understood where he was coming from, but it was still hard to believe. "Go on," I told him.

"Mum called Dad while the paramedics were fixing us up. Dad cancelled his business trip and turned his plane around. He was in Summerton about an hour later. By that time, I had been taken to hospital. They suspected that I had a crushed windpipe and wanted to keep me in for observation. Anyway, Mum and Dad came to see me. Aston was in the waiting room with Connor. Mum told me that Aston was going to live with Dad in Sydney from now on and that we'd be kept apart for my safety. That was the last time I ever saw Aston."

"Why did he do it?" I asked, not quite able to understand what could drive someone to actually kill their own brother.

"He blamed our parent's divorce on me. If I didn't play soccer, then my Dad never would have met that woman and cheated on Mum. He wanted me to pay," said Aidan softly, not meeting my eyes.

"Jesus," I swore. "That's messed up."

"Yeah. You see why I didn't tell you?"

"Yeah," I said, leaning over to rest my head on Aidan's shoulder. "But thank you for telling me."

"I'm glad I could share it with you. No more secrets between us," said Aidan, kissing the top of my head.

I reached up and kissed Aidan's cheek. "No more secrets." We sat in silence for a moment.

"Do you want to stay over?" I asked, not wanting Aidan to be at his house with that monster. I also didn't want to leave him know that I knew how close he had come to losing his life. The thought of losing Aidan made my eyes water and a stab of pain emerge in my stomach.

"If your Mum says it is okay, I will," answered Aidan, gently rubbing his hand on my arm.

"It'll be fine." Well, I hoped it would be. If not, Aidan can just sneak in through my window. "C'mon, let's go ask." We hopped out of the car and made our way hand in hand up to my front door. I opened the door and pulled Aidan though.

"Mum?" I called out as we made our way through the hallway.

"In here!" I heard her call out from the direction of her crafts room. I led Aidan there and entered the room. It was supposed to be a bedroom but since I didn't have any siblings, Mum had turned it into her personal hangout. She was a nurse but she loved painting and sewing and the room was her haven. Shelves filled with paintings, teddy bears and all sorts of things lined the walls and I saw Mum standing next to her easel, a palette and brush in her hands.

"What are you doing home so early, Rylie?" Mum asked, frowning. She saw Aidan next to me and raised an eyebrow.

"Mum," I asked, putting on my puppy dog eyes and my butter-wouldn't-melt voice. "Can Aidan please stay the night? Something's come up at his place." Her frown deepened and I saw her brows furrow.

"I don't know, Rylie, it's a school night."

"Please, Mum," I begged. "I promise we'll go to bed early."

She sighed. "Fine, but the door stays open."

I beamed at her and gave her a hug. "Thanks, Mum. You're the best."

She rolled her eyes. "Go on, get out of here."

Smiling at her, I once again grabbed Aidan's hand and led him upstairs to my room. I shut the door as I entered my room.

"Do you want to watch a movie?" I asked, sitting down on my bed with Aidan next to me.

He shrugged. "Sure. But I get to choose."

"Fine," I said. "I need to get changed anyway."

Aidan got up and walked over to my DVD collection to choose a movie. I headed over to my dresser and grabbed a set of PJ's. I thought about having a shower to wash off the chlorine but decided against it. For now at least. I slipped off my shorts and Aidan's T-shirt. I went to undo the straps on the bikini top but found I had tied them too tightly.

"Aidan," I called, looking over my shoulder. He looked up from the DVD player and I saw his eyes gloss over. "Can you give me a hand?"

I watched as Aidan walked slowly up behind me and rested his hands against the thin straps around my neck. His fingers played with them momentarily before sliding down my sides to the straps on my bottoms. With one quick movement, he pulled the straps and my bottoms fell to the ground. I gave Aidan a look.

"That just makes them harder to put on next time," I deadpanned, amused but trying not to show it.

He immediately perked up. "You mean you'll wear them again?"

I shook my head with mirth and guided his hands back up the top strap. "Maybe. But only when it's just you."

I felt Aidan smile and he pressed a kiss on my neck. "I've been meaning to ask you, did you really think that it was me in the pool?"

I felt my neck warm up and it wasn't just because Aidan was running his hands through the straps and pulling them.

"Uh, yeah. I jumped on him and then fell in before realising it wasn't you."

"So that's what he meant by the whole 'jumping on his pool toy'," muttered Aidan to himself. I felt my blush increase.

"Well you do look alike. Only you're hotter," I blurted out. I spun around to face Aidan and saw an amused grin on his face.

"Of course I am," he said, lowering his face closer to mine. My hands reached up on their own accord and wrapped themselves around his neck. Our foreheads rested together and I leant forwards to kiss him but he rushed forwards and pecked the corner of my mouth. I gave him a look and he laughed.

"Uh uh, Rylie, your Mum's downstairs."

I pouted and removed my arms from his neck. "You're right. Now hurry up and undo my straps before Mum walks in."

He rotated me around gently and after a short struggle with the stubborn straps, the material flopped to the ground. Aidan tried to turn me again so he could look at me but I remained facing the way I was.

"Uh uh," I tutted as I began pulling on my pyjamas, using his words against him. "Mum's downstairs."

Aidan cursed softly under his breath. "Dammit."

"C'mon," I said when I was fully clothed again. "Let's watch this movie."

I quickly raced to my bed and jumped onto the right side before Aidan could. It was an ongoing thing between us because we both liked that side of the bed. Aidan climbed on top of the bed but instead of accepting defeat and taking the left side, he laid down on top of me.

"Aidan," I whined, as he pressed his weight down on me. I could feel my breath leaving me but still Aidan continued, a grin playing at the corner of his mouth. "Fine!" I moaned when his weight was too much for me to handle. "You can have this side."

"Good girl," said Aidan, shifting his weight so that it wasn't on me anymore but I still couldn't move away.

"Are you gonna get off me," I asked, trailing my hands down his chest.

Aidan shook his head. "Nope. I have you exactly where I want you." He lowered his head to mine and I reached up, eagerly claiming his lips with my own. My hands slid through his soft hair and pulled his head down closer to mine. I heard Aidan groan as I sucked on his bottom lip and it was enough for him to roll over so I could put my full weight on him. He ran his tongue over my lip and I opened my mouth, giving him entry. Our tongues took up a dance they both knew well but never got bored of and I could feel him smiling against me. After a minute or two, I felt breathless and had to pull away. I rolled off Aidan's chest and snuggled up to his side, resting my head on his chest. His fingers reached up and played with my hair while I listened to the steady beat of his heart.

"I love you, Rylie," he said, kissing the top of my head. "I really do."

My smile grew even wider. "I love you too, Aidan."

I reached up and gave him a soft kiss before shuffling even closer to him and focusing my gaze on the movie now playing, not oblivious to the fact that I was still on the right side of the bed.





0

| Email this story Email this Novel | Add to reading list



Reviews

About | News | Contact | Your Account | TheNextBigWriter | Self Publishing | Advertise

© 2013 TheNextBigWriter, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Terms under which this service is provided to you. Privacy Policy.