Chapter no 9 – Auburn


have four younger siblings ranging in age from six to twelve years old. My parents had me when they were still in high school and waited several years before having more kids. Neither of my parents went to college and my

father works for a manufacturing company, where he’s been since he was eighteen. Because of this, we grew up on a budget. A very strict budget. A budget that didn’t allow for air conditioners to be turned on at night. “ at’s what windows are for,” my father used to say if anyone complained.

I may have adopted his penny-pinching habit, but it hasn’t really been an issue since moving in with Emory. She was on the verge of being evicted after her old roommate stuck her with half of the lease, so things like air- conditioning aren’t considered necessities. ey’re considered luxuries.

is was ne when I lived back in Portland, but having lived in the bipolar weather of Texas for an entire month, I’ve had to adjust my sleeping habits. Instead of using a comforter, I sleep with layers of sheets. at way, if it gets too hot in the middle of the night, I can just push one or two of the sheets off the bed.

With all that considered, why am I so cold right now? And why am I wrapped up in what feels like a down comforter? Every time I try to open my eyes and wake up to nd answers to my own questions, I go right back to sleep, because I’ve never been this comfortable. I feel like I’m a little cherub angel sleeping peacefully on a cloud.

Wait. I shouldn’t feel like an angel. Am I dead?

I sit straight up in the bed and open my eyes, I’m too confused and scared to move, so I keep my head completely still and slowly move my eyes

around the room. I see the kitchen, the bathroom door, the stairwell leading down to the studio.

I’m in Owen’s apartment. Why?

I’m in Owen’s big, comfortable bed. Why?

I immediately turn and look down at the bed, but Owen isn’t in it, thank God. e next thing I do is check my clothes. I’m still fully dressed, thank God.

ink, think, think.

Why are you here, Auburn? Why does your head feel like someone used it as a trampoline all night?

It comes back to me, slowly. First, I remember being stood up. Bitch. I remember Harrison. I remember running to the bathroom after he betrayed me by calling Owen. I hate Harrison. I also remember being at the salon and . . . Oh, God. Really, Auburn?

I was in his lap. In his lap, cutting his damn hair.

I bring my hand to my forehead. at’s it. I’m never drinking again. Alcohol makes people do stupid things, and I can’t aord to be caught doing stupid things. e smart thing to do right now would be to get the hell out of here, which sucks because I really wish I could take this bed with me.

I quietly slip out of it and head toward the restroom. I close the door behind me and immediately begin looking through drawers in order to hopefully nd an unused toothbrush, but I come up empty-handed. Instead, I use my nger, some toothpaste, and an ungodly amount of amazing wintergreen mouthwash. Owen has great taste in bathroom products, that’s for sure.

Where is he, anyway?

Once I’m nished in the restroom, I search for my shoes and nd my Toms at the foot of his bed. I could have sworn I was in heels at some point last night. Yep, de nitely never drinking again.

I make my way to the stairs, hoping Owen isn’t in the studio. He doesn’t appear to be here, so maybe he left to avoid having to face me once I woke up. He obviously has his reasons for not showing up, so I doubt he’s

changed his mind about how he feels. Which means this is probably the perfect opportunity to get the hell out of here and never come back.

“You can’t keep avoiding me, Owen. We need to talk about this before Monday.”

I pause at the foot of the stairs and press my back against the wall. Shit. Owen is still here, and he’s got company. Why, why, why? I just want to leave.

“I know what my options are, Dad.”

Dad? Great. e last thing I want right now is to do the walk of shame in front of his freaking father. is isn’t good. I hear footsteps approaching, so I immediately begin to scale the stairs again, but the footsteps fade just as fast.

I pause, but then the footsteps grow louder. I take two more steps, but the footsteps fade again.

Whoever is walking, they’re just pacing back and forth. After several back-and-forths, they come to a stop.

“I need to prepare to shut down the studio,” Owen says. “It might be a few months before I can open it again, so I really just want to focus on that today.”

Shut down the studio? I catch myself creeping back to the bottom of the stairs to hear more of the conversation. I’m being so uncharacteristically nosy, it makes me feel a bit like Emory right now.

 is studio is the last thing you should be worried about right now,” his father says angrily.

More pacing.

 is studio is the only thing I’m worried about right now,” Owen says loudly. He sounds even angrier than his father. e pacing stops.

His father sighs so heavily I could swear it echoes across the studio.

ere’s a long pause before he speaks again. “You have options, Owen. I’m only trying to help you.”

I shouldn’t be listening to this. I’m not the type of person to invade someone’s privacy and I feel guilty for doing it. But for the life of me, I can’t make myself walk back up the stairs.

“You’re trying to help me?” Owen says, laughing in disbelief. He’s obviously not pleased with what his father is saying. Or failing to say. “I want you to leave, Dad.”

My heart skips an entire beat. I can feel it in my throat. My stomach is telling me to nd an alternate escape route.



I squeeze my eyes shut. I don’t know who to feel sorry for right now, Owen or his father. I can’t tell what they’re arguing about and of course it’s none of my business, but if I’m about to have to face Owen, I want to be prepared for whatever mood he’s going to be in.

Footsteps. I hear footsteps again, but some are coming and some are going and . . .

I slowly open one eye and then the other. I try to smile at him, because he looks so defeated standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at me. He’s wearing a blue baseball cap that he lifts up and ips around after running his hand over the top of his head. He squeezes the back of his neck and exhales. I’ve never seen him with a hat on before, but it looks good on him. It’s hard to picture an artist wearing a baseball cap, for some reason. But he’s an artist, and he de nitely makes it work.

He doesn’t look nearly as angry as he sounded a minute ago, but he de nitely looks stressed. He doesn’t seem like the same wide-eyed guy I met at the door three weeks ago.

“Sorry,” I say, attempting to prepare an excuse for why I’m standing here eavesdropping. “I was about to leave and then I heard you—”

He scales the rst few steps, coming closer to me, and I stop speaking. “Why are you leaving?”

His eyes are searching mine and he looks disappointed. I’m confused by his reaction, because I assumed he’d want me to leave. And honestly, I don’t know why he seems confused that I would choose to leave after he failed to contact me for three weeks. He can’t expect me to want to spend the day here with him.

I shrug, not really knowing what to say in response. “I just . . . I woke up and . . . I want to leave.”

Owen reaches his hand around to my lower back and urges me up the stairs. “You aren’t going anywhere,” he says.

He tries to walk me up the stairs with him, but I push his hand off of me. He can more than likely see by the shock on my face that I’m not about to take orders from him. I open my mouth to speak, but he beats me to it.

“Not until you x my hair,” he adds. Oh.

He pulls his cap off and runs his hand through his choppy hair. “I hope you’re better at cutting hair when you’re sober.”

I cover my mouth with my hand to sti e my laughter. ere are two huge chunks cut out of his hair, one of them front and center. “I’m so sorry.”

I would say we’re even now. Destroying hair as beautiful as his should de nitely make up for the asshole move he made three weeks ago. Now if I could just get my hands on Lydia’s hair, I’d feel a whole lot better.

He slides his cap back on his head and begins walking up the stairs. “Mind if we go now?”

Today is my day o, so I’m free to correct the damage I’ve done to his hair, but it kind of stinks that I have to go to the salon when I otherwise wouldn’t have to. Emory marked the weekend off on the schedule for me since it was my birthday yesterday. She probably did this because most twenty-one-year-olds do fun things on their birthday and want the weekend to celebrate. I’ve been living with her for a month now, so if she hasn’t noticed already, she’ll soon discover that I have no life and don’t need special “recovery days” reserved on the calendar.

I realize I’ve been paused on the steps and Owen is upstairs, so I make my way back up to his apartment. When I reach the top of the stairs, my feet stop moving again. He’s in the process of changing his shirt. His back is to me, and he’s pulling his paint-splattered T-shirt off over his head. I watch as the muscles in his shoulders move around and contract, and I wonder if he’s ever painted a self-portrait.

I would buy it.

He catches me staring at him when he turns to reach for his other shirt. I do that thing where I quickly glance away and make it completely obvious that I was staring, since I’m now looking at nothing but a blank wall and I know he’s still looking at me and oh, my word, I just want to leave.

“Is that okay?” he asks, pulling my attention back to him.

“Is what okay?” I say quickly, relieved by the sound of our voices, which is now eliminating the awkwardness I was about to drown in.

“Can we go right now? To x my hair?”

He pulls the clean shirt on and I’m disappointed that I now have to stare at a boring gray T-shirt instead of the masterpiece beneath it.

What are these ridiculous, shallow thoughts that are plaguing my brain? I don’t care about muscles or six-packs or skin that looks so awless, it makes me want to chase his father down and give him a high ve for creating such an impeccable son.

I clear my throat. “Yeah, we can go now. I don’t have plans.”

Way to appear more pathetic, Auburn. Admit you have nothing to do on a Saturday after ogling his half-naked body. Real attractive.

He picks the baseball cap up and puts it back on before stepping into his shoes. “Ready?”

I nod and turn to head back down the stairs. I’m beginning to hate these stairs.

When he opens the front door, the sun is so bright, I start to question my own mortality and entertain the thought that maybe I became a vampire overnight. I cover my eyes with my arms and stop walking. “Damn it, that’s bright.”

If this is a hangover, I have no idea how anyone could become an alcoholic.

Owen closes the door and takes a few steps toward me. “Here,” he says. He places his cap on my head and pulls it down close to my eyes. “ at should help.”

He smiles, and I get a glimpse of that crooked left incisor and it makes me smile, despite the fact that my head hates me for moving any facial muscles. I lift my hand and adjust the hat, pulling it down a little more. “ ank you.”

Owen opens the door, and I look at my feet to avoid the assault from the sun. I step outside and wait for him to lock it, and then we begin walking. Luckily, we’re walking in the opposite direction of the sun, so I’m able to look up and pay attention to where we’re going.

“How are you feeling?” Owen asks.

It takes me about six steps to answer him. “Confused,” I say. “Why in the world do people drink if it makes them feel like this the next day?”

I continue counting steps, and it takes him about eight before he answers me. “It’s an escape,” he says.

I glance at him but quickly look straight ahead again, because turning my head doesn’t feel so hot, either. “I get that, but is escaping for a few hours really worth the hangover the next day?”

He’s quiet for eight steps. Nine. Ten. Eleven.

“I guess that would depend on the reality you’re trying to escape.”

at’s deep, Owen.

I would think my reality is pretty bad, but de nitely not bad enough to endure this every morning. But maybe that would explain what turns people into alcoholics. You drink to escape the emotional pain you’re in, and then the next day you do it all over again to get rid of the physical pain. So you drink more and you drink more often and pretty soon you’re drunk all the time and it becomes just as bad, if not worse, than the reality you were attempting to escape from in the rst place. Only now, you need an escape from the escape, so you nd something even stronger than the alcohol. And maybe that’s what turns alcoholics into addicts.

A vicious cycle.

“You want to talk about it?” he asks.

I don’t make the mistake of looking at him again, but I’m curious where he’s going with his question. “Talk about what?”

“What you were trying to escape last night,” he says, glancing at me.

I shake my head. “No, Owen. I don’t.” I look at him this time, even though it hurts my head to do so. “You want to talk about why you’re shutting down the studio?”

My question catches him by surprise. I can see it in his eyes before he looks away. “No, Auburn. I don’t.”

We both stop walking when we reach my salon. I put my hand on the door and take his cap off my head. I place it back on top of his head, even though I have to lift up onto the tips of my toes to do it. “Great talk. Let’s shut up now and x your hair.”

He holds the door open for me to walk in rst. “Sounds a lot like what I had in mind.”

We enter the salon, and I motion for him to follow me. I know now that his hair will be a lot more cooperative if it’s wet, so I take him straight back to the room with the sinks. I can feel Emory watching me as we make our way past her and it makes me curious as to why she didn’t freak out that I didn’t show up last night, or at the least, call with a code word.

Before she has the chance to yell at me, I oer up an apology as I pass her station. “Sorry I didn’t call last night,” I say quietly.

She glances at Owen trailing behind me. “No worries. Someone made sure I knew you were alive.”

I immediately turn and look at Owen, and it’s obvious with his shrug that he’s the one responsible for Emory being noti ed. I’m not sure if I like this, because it’s just another considerate thing of him to do, which makes it even harder to stay mad at him.

When we reach the back room, all the sinks are empty, so I walk to the farthest one. I adjust the height of it and then motion for Owen to sit. I adjust the temperature of the water and watch as he leans his head back into the groove of the sink. I keep my focus trained on anything but his face while I begin to wet his hair. He keeps his eyes on me the entire time I’m working my hands through it, creating a thick lather with the shampoo. I’ve been doing this for over a month now and the majority of the clients at this salon are women. I’ve never noticed how intimate washing someone’s hair can be.

en again, no one else stares so unabashedly while I’m trying to work. Knowing he’s watching my every move makes me incredibly nervous. My pulse speeds up and my hands grow dgety. After a while, he opens his mouth to speak.

“Are you mad at me?” he asks quietly.

My hands pause what they’re doing. It’s such a juvenile question to ask. I feel like we’re kids and we’ve been giving each other the silent treatment. But for such a simple question, it’s a really hard one to answer.

I was mad at him three weeks ago. I was mad at him last night. But right now I don’t feel angry. Actually being near him and seeing how he looks at me makes me think he must have had a very valid excuse for not showing up, and it had nothing to do with how he felt about me. I just wish he would explain himself.

I shrug as I begin to work the shampoo through his hair again. “I was,” I tell him. “But you did warn me, didn’t you? You said everything else comes before the girls. So mad might be a bit harsh. Disappointed, yes. Annoyed, yes. But I’m not really mad.”

at was way too much of an explanation. One he didn’t really deserve. “I did say that my work is my number one priority, but I never said I was

an asshole. I let a girl know beforehand if I need space to work.”

I glance at him, brie y, and then give my attention to the bottle of conditioner. I squirt some in my hands and spread it through his hair.

“So you have the courtesy to warn your girlfriends that you’re about to disappear, but you don’t have the courtesy to warn the girls who aren’t screwing you?” I’m working the conditioner through his hair, not being nearly as gentle as I should be.

I think I changed my mind . . . I’m mad now.

He shakes his head and sits straight up, turning around to face me. “ at’s not what I meant, Auburn.” Water is dripping down the side of his face. Down his neck. “I meant that I didn’t disappear on you because of my art. It wasn’t that type of situation. I don’t want you to think I didn’t want to come back, because I did.”

My jaw is tense and I’m grinding my teeth together. “You’re dripping everywhere,” I say as I pull him back to the sink. I pick up the sprayer and begin rinsing his hair. Again, his eyes are on me the whole time, but I don’t want to make eye contact with him. I don’t want to care what his excuse is, because I honestly don’t want to be involved with anyone right now. But damn it, I care. I want to know why he didn’t show up and why he hasn’t made an eort to contact me at all since then.

I nish rinsing his hair and I wash the suds down the drain. “You can sit up.”

He sits up and I grab a towel and squeeze the excess water out of his hair. I toss the towel in the hamper on the other side of the room and begin to walk around him, but he grabs my wrist and stops me. He stands up, still holding on to my wrist.

I don’t try to pull away from him. I know I should, but I’m too curious to see what his next move is to care what I should be doing. I also don’t pull away because I love how the slightest touch from him leaves me breathless.

“I lied to you,” he says quietly.

I don’t like those words, and I certainly don’t like the truthfulness on his face right now.

“I didn’t . . .” His eyes narrow in contemplation as he exhales slowly. “I didn’t come back because I didn’t see the point. I’m moving on Monday.”

He says the rest of the sentence like he can’t get it out fast enough. I don’t like this confession. At all.

“You’re moving?” My voice is full of disappointment. I feel like I was just dumped, and I don’t even have a boyfriend.

“You’re moving?” Emory asks.

I spin around, and she’s walking a client to one of the sinks, staring at Owen, waiting for an answer. I face Owen again and can see that this moment of truth is over for now. I walk away from him and head out of the room, toward my station. He follows quietly.

Neither of us speaks as I comb through his hair and try to gure out how I’m going to x the mess I made of it last night. I’ll have to cut most of it o. He’ll look so dierent and I’m not sure I’m happy about his having much shorter hair.

“It’ll be short,” I say. “I messed it up pretty bad.”

He laughs, and his laugh is exactly what I need in this moment. It alleviates the heaviness of what was happening back in the other room. “Why would you let me do this to you?”

He smiles up at me. “It was your birthday. I would have done anything you asked.”

Flirtatious Owen is back, and I both love it and hate it. I take a step away from him to study his hair. When I’m positive I know how to x it, I turn around and grab the scissors and comb, which are right where they’re supposed to be. I remember dropping them on the oor last night, and it occurs to me that Emory more than likely walked into a mess this morning. I didn’t sweep up what I did cut of Owen’s hair before we left the salon, but it’s gone, so I’ll have to thank her later.

I begin cutting his hair, and I do my best to focus on that and not so much on him. Somewhere between the beginning of the haircut and this moment, Emory returned to her station. She’s now seated in her own salon chair, watching us. She kicks off the cabinet with her foot and begins spinning.

“Are you moving forever or just for a little while?” Emory asks. Owen looks in my direction and raises an eyebrow.

“Oh,” I say, forgetting they haven’t been formally introduced yet. I point to Emory. “Owen, this is Emory. My strange roommate.”

He nods slightly and looks in her direction without turning too much. I think he’s nervous I’ll mess his hair up even more, so he’s being as still as he

can possibly be. “A few months, probably,” he says in response to her. “It’s not permanent. A work thing.”

Emory frowns. “ at’s too bad,” she says. “I already like you a whole lot better than the other guy.”

My eyes grow wide and my head swings in her direction. “Emory!” I can’t believe she just said that.

Owen slowly turns his attention back to me and cocks an eyebrow. “Other guy?”

I shake my head and wave her o. “She’s misinformed. ere is no other guy.” I glare at her. “ ere can’t be another guy when there’s not even a guy.” “Oh, please.” She catches the cabinet with her foot and stops spinning.

She points to Owen. “He’s a guy. A guy you apparently spent the night with last night. A guy I think is a lot nicer than the other guy, and a guy I think you’re sad is moving.”

What is wrong with this girl? I can feel Owen staring at me, but I’m too embarrassed to look at him. I glare at Emory again instead. “I was actually beginning to respect you because you never gossip.”

“It’s not gossip when I’m saying it to both your faces. It’s called conversation. We’re discussing how you guys are attracted to each other and you want to fall in love like . . . like . . . two . . .” She pauses for a moment and then shakes her head. “I suck at metaphors. You want to fall in love, but now he has to move and you’re sad. But you don’t have to be sad because thanks to me, you now know he’s only moving for a few months. Not forever. Just don’t give in to the other guy rst.”

Owen is laughing, but I’m not. I grab the blow dryer to drown out her words and I nish styling his now-short hair, which actually looks really good. His eyes stand out even more. A lot more. ey look brighter. So much so that I’m nding it really hard not to stare at them.

I turn off the blow dryer and Emory immediately begins speaking again. “So when are you moving, Owen?”

He stares at me when he answers her. “Monday.”

Emory slaps the arm of the chair. “ at’s perfect timing,” she says. “Auburn is off today and tomorrow. You guys can spend the whole weekend together.”

I don’t tell her to shut up, because I know it wouldn’t stop her. I step behind Owen and untie the smock wrapped around him and then shove it

into a drawer, all the while giving her a death stare. “I actually like that idea,” Owen says.

His voice makes me fear for the safety of the world, because I’m single- handedly depleting the oxygen supply with all the deep breaths I take every time I hear it. I look at him in the mirror and he’s leaning forward in the salon chair, staring at my re ection.

He wants to spend the weekend with me? Hell no. If that happens, then it means other things will happen and I don’t know if I’m ready for other things yet. Besides, I’ll be busy with . . . Crap. I’m not busy at all. is is the weekend Lydia goes to Pasadena. ere goes that excuse.

“Look at her trying to come up with excuses,” Emory says, amused.

ey’re both staring at me now, waiting on me to respond. I grab Owen’s hat and put it on my head and walk straight for the front door. I don’t owe Owen a weekend and I de nitely don’t owe Emory a sideshow. I swing open the door and begin walking in the direction of my apartment, which also happens to be the direction of Owen’s studio, so I’m not surprised when he appears next to me.

Our steps fall into sync, and I begin to count them. I wonder if we’ll make it all the way to his studio without speaking.

irteen, fourteen, fteen . . .

“What are you thinking?” he asks quietly.

I stop counting our steps, because I’m not walking anymore. Owen isn’t walking either, because Owen is standing directly in front of me, looking at me with those big, noticeable Owen-eyes this haircut just created.

“I’m not spending the weekend with you. I can’t believe you would even suggest that.”

He shakes his head. “I didn’t suggest it. Your inappropriate roommate did. I just said I liked the idea of it.”

I huff and fold my arms tightly over my chest. I look down at the sidewalk between us and try to gure out why I’m so mad right now. Walking away from him won’t make me any less mad, because that’s actually the problem. inking about spending the weekend with him excites me, and the fact that I can’t come up with a reason as to why it’s a bad idea is pissing me o. I guess I still feel like he owes me more of an explanation. Or more of an apology. If Harrison hadn’t called him last night, I’d have probably never heard from or seen him again. at’s a little bit crushing to

my self-con dence, so I nd it hard to just accept that he suddenly wants to spend time with me.

I unfold my arms and rest my hands on my hips, then look up at him. “Why didn’t you at least let me know you were moving before standing me up?”

I know he tried to explain himself earlier, but it wasn’t good enough, because I’m still upset about it. Sure, he may have not wanted to start anything if he was moving, but if that’s really the case, he never should have told me he’d come back the next night.

His expression doesn’t waver, but he does take a step closer. “I didn’t show up the next night because I like you.”

I close my eyes and drop my head in disappointment. “ at’s such a dumb answer,” I mutter.

He takes another step closer, and he’s right here, right in front of me. When he speaks again, his voice is so low I can feel it in my stomach. “I knew I was moving and I like you. ose two things don’t make a very good combination. I should have let you know I wasn’t coming back, but I didn’t have your number.”

Nice try. “You knew where I lived.”

He gives no response to that comeback other than a sigh. He shifts on his feet, and I nally allow my eyes to make the brave journey to his face. He actually looks very apologetic, but I know better than to trust the expression on a man’s face. e only things worth trusting are actions, and so far he hasn’t proven very trustworthy.

“I messed up,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

At least he’s not giving me an excuse. I guess it takes a little bit of honesty to be able to admit when you’re wrong, even if you aren’t very forthcoming with the why. He has that going for him.

I’m not sure when he moved this close to me, but he’s so close—really

close—that to passersby it would look like either we’re in the middle of a breakup or we’re about to make out.

I step around him and begin walking again until we reach his studio. I’m not sure why I stop when we reach his door. I should keep going. I should be walking all the way to my apartment, but I’m not. He unlocks his door and glances over his shoulder to make sure I’m still here.

I shouldn’t be. I should be separating myself from what I know could be two of the best days I’ve had in a long time, but will be followed by one of the worst Mondays I’ve had in a long time.

If I spend the weekend with him, it’ll feel just like how drinking went for me last night. It’ll be fun and exciting while it’s happening and I’ll forget about everything else while I’m with him, but then Monday will come. He’ll move and I’ll have an Owen hangover that’ll be so much worse than the Owen hangover I’ll have if I would just walk away from him right now.

He opens the door to his studio and a blast of cool air surrounds me, luring me in. I look inside and then at Owen. He can see the apprehension in my eyes and he reaches down for my hand. He walks me into the studio and for some reason, I don’t resist. e door closes behind us and we’re engulfed by the darkness.

I listen for the echo of my heart, because I’m certain it’s beating loud enough to hear one. I can feel him standing close to me, but neither of us is moving. I can hear his breaths, I feel his closeness, I smell the clean scent of conditioner mixed with whatever makes him smell like rain.

“Is it the thought of spending the weekend with someone you barely know that’s making you doubt this? Or is it just the thought of spending the weekend with me in particular?”

“I’m not scared because it’s you, Owen. I’m considering it because it’s you.”

He takes a step back and my eyes have adjusted enough to the darkness that I can see his face clearly now. He’s hopeful. Excited. Smiling. How can I say no to that face?

“What if I agree to just spend the day with you for right now? And we’ll go from there?”

He laughs at my suggestion, as if he thinks it’s silly that I wouldn’t want to stay the entire weekend after spending the day with him.

 at’s cute, Auburn,” he says. “But okay.”

His grin is huge when he pulls me to him. He wraps his arms around me and lifts me off the oor, squeezing the breath out of me. He sets me back down and pushes open the door. “Come on. Let’s go to Target.”

I pause. “Target?”

He smiles and adjusts his cap on my head as he pushes me out into the sunlight again. “I don’t have anything to feed you. We’re going grocery shopping.”

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