When I awoke I was lying on my back, and my eyes opened into sudden, complete wakefulness, as sometimes happens. The bedside light was on, and I was immediately aware that the bed was empty. For a moment, I experienced what felt like a catastrophe of loss and loneliness; then the glint of the bathroom light told me what was happening.
“Hello,” said Ewan, climbing back in beside me. “Sorry to wake you up.”
He looked down at me and I smiled.
He lay on his back, and I rolled over to face him and curled my leg up across his body; his arm came to rest on my back.
“I love that noise,” he said.
“That little squeak you make when you’re happy. I’ve been thinking about it all the time.”
“You—you think about me when I’m not there?” I said.
“Course I do, idiot.”
I was honestly puzzled.
“You don’t know?” he said. “You really don’t know?”
He looked at me in delight.
“Jack, I’ve never met anyone like you. It feels like a total waste of time to be away from you, being with you is just so important. And it’s just so typical of you that you don’t realise this.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m bisexual. I’ve loved men and women. And I’ve always loved teenage boys, young teenagers even, and I’ve been lucky—I’ve managed to get close to three. But I’ve never been attracted to anyone the way you attract me. I love your face, and those lovely eyes, and the curve of your back and the shape of your legs and the angle of your neck. And it isn’t just the way you look, either. I love your courage, and the way you protect your brother no matter what, your sense of what is right, the cool, accurate way you talk. Of course I think about you all the time. I love you, Jack, that’s why.”
“Wow.” I looked up at him, overwhelmed. “I never imagined...”
“No, of course you didn’t. And that’s another reason why. Everyone loves you, Jack, in their own ways, everyone who has anything to do with you. Why do think Lakshmi and Marietta came to your party? And... But I’d better shut up or you’ll get a big head. Except you won’t, of course.”
I hugged him tightly.
“What do you think of the Golden Circle, then?” he said. “How does it feel to be a controlled child?”
“It’s funny. It does just the same thing as the implant, but it doesn’t worry me in the same way at all. I think partly that’s because it’s not actually inside me. And the way I got it. With the implant, it was Mr Dodgson holding my neck in a lock and Martins stabbing it into me, and you scowling and threatening me.”
“But you gave me the Circle as a present, hugging me, and everyone looking on, and Lakshmi had just disabled the implant, which was so good. And the Circle is even beautiful. So...”
“You feel differently about it.” He sighed. “I’ve got to do this sometime, so I suppose now’s as good as any. Let me tell you about it.”
“I know it does other things apart from the clothes thing,” I said.
“Yes. The Golden Circle is our prime instrument of control. It gives us control over you and all the other kids of the country. At the moment it contains seventeen separate controls. Eight of them are called general controls, and they start when a child gets the Circle, at five. They are run directly by the State. The other nine are called mentor controls, because they’re used by the mentor, when you get one.”
“By you,” I whispered.
He squeezed me.
“Okay, the eight general controls. Well, you know about the clothes control, which was added yesterday by Doug Peters and two other people from Lakshmi’s group...”
“I know him.”
“Yes, that’s how he got the job. The sensory warning you got is only for kids of nine or over. If you’re younger than that there’s just a pinging noise, to warn the carer. We extended the warning time to one minute. After that it calls the cops.”
“I like the pinging noise for little kids. That’s a massive improvement.”
“You’ll like the next one: that’s the assault control. It can spot when someone hits the child, and it can recognise patterns that probably mean that the child is being assaulted, if it happens a lot and in particular ways, or suddenly and very violently. Then it’ll call the cops.”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s good.”
“The pregnancy control stops girls getting pregnant. Not by stopping sex, it’s a kind of contraceptive.”
“That sounds okay. I guess.”
“The blood control keeps an eye on the composition of the child’s blood. It can spot malnutrition and various health problems, also poisoning by a variety of things, including alcohol and a whole lot of other drugs, and the school will be told. I said before, we don’t mind use of certain drugs, even for teenagers if it’s moderate and controlled, but if it goes outside that...”
“Mm. Okay, specially some of that.”
“Trace control works with a satellite, and checks where the child is. That’s meant for use principally in emergencies, when the carer has lost the child, or it’s run away. And it’ll be used to find truants and so on.”
“Ooh, I’m not so sure about that.”
“Remember, Jack, we’re talking about kids here, not adults.”
“Kids? Some of them are seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. They won’t be happy with that. Really.”
“Yeah, but in some ways it’ll give them more freedom, since their parents will always be able to find them without putting restrictions on them. Anyhow, how about the next one: entry control. There’ll be things placed at the entries to religious buildings and other places where children mustn’t go, and if you try to pass them, the Circle will stop you.”
“Stop us? How?”
“For little kids, it’s a pinging noise again, and then the cops swoop if they keep on. For the older kids—well, first a sensory warning. If they keep on, it gets worse and worse until they can’t go any further. And the cops swoop.”
“It’s not nice, is it?” I said. “If it weren’t for all the crazies, I’d really oppose that. Um. I’ll have to think.”
“I don’t think you’ll like diet control either,” he said. “It keeps track of what you eat, and it looks at your blood, like I said. Then when you’re chewing something it works out whether you’ve had enough to eat. If you have, it won’t let you swallow it.”
“What? No sweeties or you can’t swallow? That’s—that’s awful!”
“No it isn’t. It isn’t ‘no sweeties’. You can eat some sweeties if you like. It’s just doing what a responsible parent would do and make sure your diet is sensible. We’re talking about children, Jack. They need to be controlled and supervised, because they’re children. There are too many fat kids around, even obese kids—or there were before The Problems. No more! It’s the same for the last one, exercise control. If a kid doesn’t take enough exercise, then the school and parents are told to do something about it.”
“I hate that too,” I said. “My God! Go jogging or everyone’s on your case...”
“It’s the same thing,” he said. “Kids are not free agents. They’re under the protection of adults, and the job of adults is to look after them and to take responsibility for their well-being and development. Kids in our country are going to wear the clothes we decide. You’re going to be protected from assault by adults; you’re not going to get lost or abscond or be abducted or skive off school, you’re going to be healthy, well-fed and fit and your minds are not going to be poisoned with religious and political crap. You’re going to be controlled children. That’s just how it’s going to be, and you’ll have to put up with it!” he finished fiercely.
He fell on me, tickling, and I shrieked. Without a break, he was onto my dick and he’d swallowed it, and by now I was so keyed up that I came almost at once, screaming. He hugged me to him as I gradually relaxed.
“How about you?” I said.
“One thing you’ll learn is that sometimes it’s better to wait.”
“How about the other controls, the mentor controls?”
“Aha. We’ll talk about those later,” he said. “They are truly, truly wild.”
“You know, there’s a weird thing about the Circle,” I said.
“I really disapprove of some of those things. I’ll work out why later. But the weird thing is, it isn’t for me that I don’t like them. It’s for the other kids. For me, I don’t know—it’s exciting. And it’s because they’re so extreme that they’re exciting... I don’t know what’s happening to me.”
“We’re going on an adventure,” he said. “I’m going to be a minister, and help to run the country. You’ll be helping too, even when you criticise, because talking about things is what we need to do, and you’ll make an incredible career for yourself. And between us, we’ll be exploring—exploring sex, and control, and pushing into wild, wild places, places where you’re going to be frightened and hurt and excited beyond bearing, where you’re going to lose yourself and wonder who you are. Quite soon, now, you’re going to find yourself in situations which are almost intolerable, and you’ll wonder how you can get through them. But right in the middle of it all there’ll be the moments like this, moments when we just hold each other and are still, because we love each other. Promise me that whatever happens, you’ll never forget it, you’ll never forget that we love each other.”
“I promise,” I whispered.
I lay half on him, in silence, smiling, until the alarm came half an hour later.
“So? And what were you doing last night, young man?
They were all there when we came in for breakfast: Lakshmi, Susan, Marietta; and Bill, who looked at me with a leer as I sat down opposite him.
Once again, I was damned if he was going to get the better of me.
“I was exploring my awakening sexuality, Bill, of course.”
“Really? Then what was he up to?”
“Enjoying my fragile teenage beauty, of course. What did you expect?”
Bill stared at me in mock astonishment, while the others laughed at him.
“Child, what are you doing in this miserable town?”
“Well, so far I’ve been concentrating on staying alive. Now I’m going to seduce high Government officials and sell their secrets to the press.”
“And you allow this, Ewan?” said Bill.
“I encourage it. Sexual openness is part of the Rationalist style of work, you know. These things are important. Have some breakfast, Jack.”
“Hm. Not sure. I have the feeling that my enjoyment of eggs, bacon, toast and marmalade might be spoiled by the thought of the rest of my family a couple of miles away, eating porridge with no milk or sugar. Again.”
I was serious now, and they realised it.
“I have a feeling that they’d be delighted if you ate what you could get,” said Ewan. “They’re not mean-minded people.”
“True,” I said, smiling again. “And after all, I can’t eat that much, can I?” I flicked the Golden Circle with my fingers. “Perhaps I should test it. That control won’t get much of a try-out from the other kids at Chedley High.”
“Not this year, maybe,” said Ewan.
“Not next year either, if all our resources go into producing millions of Golden Circles, instead of farming, production and transport.”
“Take him back to bed, Ewan, and do it properly this time,” said Bill, helping himself to more marmalade.
“Better think of an answer, Bill,” I said, “cos I won’t be the only person saying that. And that’s your fourth slice of toast. Perhaps you could do with one of these...”
“Actually,” said Lakshmi, “the extra cost of another control on the Golden Circle is effectively zero. I expect you like the idea of the assault control and probably the blood control too. I suspect that those are a fairly cheap way of ensuring basic child welfare, and you might accept them. The extra controls come free.” She smiled at me. “That’s an answer of a sort. The Circles aren’t expensive, in fact. Just because they’re high-tech, that doesn’t mean they’re hard to produce.”
“Wouldn’t it be cheaper to create a police force? And useful for other things too?”
“Different thing,” she said. “A police force is like a doctor, really. They deal with acute conditions. In fact, the real improvements in general health are not made by doctors but by sewage systems, clean water and vaccination. That’s what the Golden Circle is. It’s the indispensable foundation to everything we’ll be doing.”
“Dear God!” said Bill. “Rationalist theory and practice at breakfast!”
“Jack asked a serious question,” said Lakshmi. “I’m sure he’ll be on TV in no time talking about the Circle. He needs an answer.”
“Don’t worry, Ewan will be there holding his hand.”
“Not for a bit,” said Ewan. “I’ll be away for a couple of weeks, maybe longer.”
“Ooh, dear,” said Bill, “does poor Jack know about this?”
“Yes,” I said. “He’s a minister in the bloody Government, Bill. I can’t keep him locked up here, unfortunately.”
I buttered a piece of toast ferociously.
“Hm. He doesn’t seem too happy, Ewan! Young love thwarted...”
“Shut up, Bill,” said Lakshmi.
Something about the way she said this completely quelled him. There was steel there.
“Can I speak to you, Professor?” I said. “In private?”
“Of course. And please call me Lakshmi, Jack, for pity’s sake, everyone else does.”
We moved to a table at the other end of the room.
“Bill can be impossible sometimes, but he’s a good man,” she said.
“Oh, I don’t mind him,” I said. “That’s not it. I wanted to ask and I know it’s none of my business, but—would you be thinking ever of being a mentor?”
“What are you thinking of?” she said with a smile.
“It’s... Well, what did you think of my brother Neal? Only...”
“Jack, you’re such a sweet lad. I thought the picture you gave him was so moving. You’re very close, aren’t you?”
“Yes. And because he’s younger...”
“...you always feel responsible, now your parents are gone.” She put her hand on mine. “I’ve been thinking about being a mentor, of course I have. I have no partner at present, and I’m not immune to, what was it you said? Fragile teenage beauty, that’s it.” I blushed. “Neal is an enchanting boy. And that’s all I’ll say at the moment, Jack, except that I’m honoured by your thought.”
“I’ve arranged a TV interview after school tomorrow afternoon at your house, for you to talk about the Golden Circle and what it’s like to be a controlled child.”
He was walking with me to Chedley High. Lakshmi and Dr Borley would be visiting the school later.
“How much has been announced about it? How much will people know?”
“Max will be talking about it this evening. Please don’t disclose any facts he doesn’t mention—apart from that, say what you like.”
“Has my uncle approved of me doing this?”
“Yup. But check with him this evening. I’ll be back myself in about a fortnight,” said Ewan.
I drew a breath; I was determined not to whine any more about being left.
“Yes. I’ll look forward to it.”
He smiled at me, and there was a strange expression round his eyes: something guarded, almost frightened.
“Now. Probably tomorrow the mentor selectors will start work at your school. They’ll hand out forms to everyone, and you’ll have to say on them what you want your mentor to be like. Or, you can nominate a particular person, you can enter their name.”
“So I nominate you,” I said.
He took a deep breath. It was almost a gasp, it was so loud.
“No. Don’t do that,” he said.
“What? But if...”
“We can’t let it seem that you’re getting special favours. You’ll have to go through the process like everyone else.”
“But—but you said that we’re allowed to ask for a particular person!”
“Yes. But I don’t want you to do that. Describe the type of mentor you want. Be as explicit as you can be. They have to try to fulfil that. But don’t give my name.”
“But if other people can nominate, why can’t I?”
“Because people might think the process had been fixed.”
“But—but I could end up with someone else!”
“Yes, Jack. That’s right, you could. In fact, if the process is completely random, with about a thousand mentors in the Chedley area, the chances are that you will. We—we just have to face up to it.”
I stopped dead in the street, and stared at him, my heart suddenly frozen.
“You want to get rid of me,” I whispered.
“It’s not a question of what I want. We can’t always take the easy option, Jack. That’s just the situation we find ourselves in. I have a variety of responsibilities.”
“Being with me was so important, you said. I should have known. Too good to be true.”
“Please, Jack. Don’t make a scene. We’re in public.”
“How could I have anyone else as a mentor? After everything we’ve done?”
“You would treat him, or her, with respect, and obey them, and gradually you would come to like them,” he said. “Please, Jack, just try to accept this. It’s the way it has to be. Don’t spoil the time we had by being childish about this.”
I said nothing. I walked in silence the rest of the way, ignoring him. I wouldn’t make a scene; I wouldn’t humiliate myself in public like that. But I was cold inside, as cold as ice. I had been betrayed again. When we arrived at the school gates, he turned me to him.
“I expect you to obey me, and to do it with good grace.”
His face was hard and completely blank. Suddenly I was filled with fury, ice-cold fury.
“I have no intention of nominating you.”
My voice was utterly devoid of emotion.
“Don’t contact me again.”
“Jack, I asked you not to make a scene.”
“Do not contact me again, ever. Goodbye,” I said, and walked off.
After that the day at school was completely horrible. I wanted to scream. I wanted to abandon myself to insane weeping. I wanted to get away and hide myself alone in a corner. But I had to go through things the same as usual. Fortunately the collar of my lifesuit covered the Golden Circle.
Half way through the morning, we were all called to a special assembly, and Lakshmi Anderson and Marietta Borley addressed us about the mentor scheme. I realised that this was, in fact, the start of the selection process which Ewan had promised. We were also introduced to the selectors for Chedley. The OC for the area was in the chair, and there were two other men and two women. The only one I knew was Mr Andrews.
The forms that we would have to fill in were given out. It was explained that although we could study them at home, they would have to be filled in here, at the school, that Thursday. No one apart from the selectors would see them; no one at all, and after the selection they would all be burnt. The selection would be made over the next two weeks, and would then be announced at a ceremony, when the pupils would be handed to their mentors at once.
Mentors were being chosen as well, we were told, and carefully vetted, and they would also be expressing their preferences for the pupils they would want. Like us, they could nominate specific individuals. And if two people nominated each other, they would be very likely to be placed together.
It was a bitter thing to hear this. I sat stiffly in the corner of the hall, weeping inside.
Outside, in the mob of people, Lakshmi and Dr Borley called to me.
“Did you know about that?” said Dr Borley.
“Yes. But I wasn’t expecting it today.”
“I suppose you’ll just nominate Ewan.”
“No,” I said, as neutrally as I could manage. “He told me not to.”
“Jack?” said Lakshmi. “Why? Is something wrong?”
Suddenly I couldn’t bear the humiliation of explaining it all to these people whom I admired and had come to like.
“I’m sorry, I have a class,” I said. “Excuse me.”
It seemed that my excursion into the upper reaches of the new régime was over.
When I arrived at home that afternoon, my uncle was already there. Neal had stayed at school for chess club; he was a brilliant player and hadn’t had much chance of a good game for months.
Corporal Roberts came back with me. I found it hard to speak to him, and he respected that; he was a gentle and friendly man. But these days he only escorted us as we moved around. It wasn’t felt necessary to guard us at home.
“Hello, Uncle. You’re back early.”
“Look. I have one of these now, and it works!”
He held up a phone.
“Doctors get priority,” he said smugly. “Anyhow, I had a call from Ewan, saying you might need me.”
I looked at him for one moment, and then burst into tears. Surprisingly, he took me in his arms.
“What’s the matter, son?”
So I told him what had happened: the beautiful things Ewan had said to me, and then how he’d cut me off on the way to school. My uncle looked at me seriously.
“He could well be right. If people knew that you’d nominated each other, they’d just suspect that the whole thing was fixed. It’s very sensitive, it seems to me. Lots of people are not going to get mentors they want, and in the background is the feeling that this is just a paedophile plot. They have to be careful.”
“That’s just it. They said at the meeting today. What people say to the selectors is absolutely secret and all the forms are destroyed at the end. If I nominated Ewan, no one would ever know.”
“So you think he’s just—dumping you.”
“I don’t see what else I could think. Oh, Uncle! He was so nice to me yesterday! He came here specially for our birthday and everything, and now—it’s as if suddenly I don’t matter...”
He held me as I wept; and gradually I calmed down.
“It’s a very grown-up game, sex and love and relationships,” he said. “Part of the trouble is that people have different rules. You’re young, and this is your first love, and of course it seems to you that it’s scarcely started, it’s just opening out before you and there’s a world there to explore. But he—well, maybe he’s already got what he wanted from it, and he’s ready to move on. That’s pretty rough on you but there’s not much you can do about it. Except gradually get over it.”
“But he said—he said so many nice things to me. No one’s ever said such nice things...”
“Yes. Well, some people say things like that, if they think it’ll get them what they want. That’s just how they are. And if no one’s ever said such things to you before, that’s maybe my fault. And—you know—it wasn’t really safe to say things to kids which were too affectionate. But I’ll say this right now, Jack. You’re a brave, loving, beautiful and wise young man. And in the end you will find someone who’s worthy of you.”
“He made me promise—promise that whatever happened I would never forget that we love each other. That was almost the last thing he said when we were alone. It seemed so nice, and now...”
“Oh Jack, lad... Well. Do you still want to do the interview tomorrow?”
“You said I would, didn’t you? So yes.”
“So careful, aren’t you? But I think that’s it for interviews for a while. In fact, I have a number here...”
He was dialing with his thumb, exactly the way my father had always done it.
He had the phone on loudspeaker.
“Hello, Bill. This is Alan Marchmont. Have you got anything lined up for Jack after tomorrow’s interview?”
“Yes. An interview with the print press on Thursday, and a chat show and a teen magazine on Saturday. The army will bring him down for that—he’ll be back at yours by 10 pm. Ewan’s not here, it’ll be Susan and me looking after him.”
“He’s not doing them, Bill. Cancel. We agreed to the interview tomorrow—that’s it. Oh, and I’m changing the conditions for that interview: I will be present throughout.”
“Ooh dear. Boy wonder having a hissy fit, is he?”
“No. Boy wonder’s uncle is fed up with his nephew being fucked around. This is the fourth time, and that’s four times too often. He’s only fourteen and I won’t let him be abused like this. I should have put a stop to it before, but this is it, Bill. Find yourselves another victim.”
“Alan? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Ask your boss. Oh, and no more posters either. Don’t bother asking.”
“Alan, if you’d just...”
I looked at my uncle in amazement.
“The Sleeping Doctor awakes,” he said. “Beware his wrath!”
“That’s better. Now. Here’s what I want you to do—not all at once, but bit by bit over the next few days. I’d like you to write down very carefully everything you can remember Ewan saying and doing. No, this isn’t for me, I don’t want to see it. It’s for you. Everything he said and did, divided into three columns: nice things, breaking-off things, and other things. And see what patterns you can see. Take your time, and consult with me whenever you wish. Okay?”
“In the meantime, the Sleeping Doctor has another leg to bite. You just listen. This’ll be news for you.”
He dialed again; and to my astonishment, it was Dr Borley who answered.
“Hello, this is Alan Marchmont. Marietta, I’ve had some thoughts about what you said. And in the light of what’s been going on today, I really don’t see myself becoming further involved with the Government. I’m going to turn down your offer. I’m sorry.”
“What’s been going on today?”
“I don’t appreciate the way Jack has been treated. I respect you professionally and I respect what you’re trying to do, but there’s a cruel, manipulative and mendacious streak at the heart of your Government which makes me fear for the future, and I want no part in it.”
“Alan, what in heaven’s name are you talking about?”
“I have the responsibility for looking after Jack. He and Neal are paramount to me, Marietta, and their well-being has priority over everything. Personally, I wish you well, but I can’t take your job. I’m sorry. Goodbye.”
“She offered you a job?” I said. “And you turned it down?”
“Yes. Coordinating immunisation campaigns for the whole country. I was offered the same job before The Problems by the old Government, so it’s not new. We’d have moved to London, Jack. It would have been good in many ways—more money, closer to Ewan for you, better school opportunities...”
“You gave that up? Uncle! You shouldn’t give it up just because of me!”
“It isn’t just because of you. If the members of the Government treat the people who are close to them like shit, they can expect people not to want to have anything to do with them. And just at the moment I want them to know that this family is hurting, because one of its members is hurting, and we stick together.”
So I went to our room and tried to do what Uncle Alan had suggested. But it was hard: I found myself breaking down time after time, not sobbing, just sitting with tears running down my cheeks, overwhelmed by sadness and hopelessness. After a terrible time it seemed as if things had just started to get better for me, and now it had all been wrenched away again. I couldn’t understand why it had happened, because I couldn’t see why Ewan should be so cruel to me. It didn’t seem to make sense.
I was sitting staring into space when Neal came home.
“Hey, Jack, chess club was so good! And do you know what? Lakshmi was there! She was really good, too, she beat me, no one else can beat me. She gave me this, look!”
It was a copy of George Padmore’s book, The Rational State. I stared at it in bewilderment.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” said Neal.
“I’ve been dumped.”
“You... Ewan dumped you? I don’t believe it, Jack, he really likes you!”
So I told him what had happened, and he just sat, staring at me. Then he came and hugged me, a rare thing for him, and I saw that he was crying too.
“I—I made a kind of arrangement to see Lakshmi this weekend,” he said.
“You did? Oh, wow, that’s good, little brother!”
“Yeah, she was going to drive up here and everything. But I won’t go.”
“What?” I said. “Why not?”
“You know why. She’s part of the Government.”
“So what? What’s that got to do with it?”
“You know,” he said. “They’ve got to learn: don’t mess with the Marchmonts.”
“You can’t drop her because of this!”
“If she’s going to be any good as a mentor she won’t be put off.”
And he dragged me off to the living room to borrow my uncle’s phone.
“You sure you want to do this, Neal?” my uncle asked.
“Sure. This isn’t the end, she’ll be back. She’s a chess-player, she’ll understand.”
“Oh, hello, sweetie.”
“Look, it’s this Saturday. You were going to come here?”
“Yes, I was,” she said, “but I think Jack’s coming to the Centre, so you could come too if you like.”
“He’s not coming,” said Neal. “And I think I’d better stay with him this weekend. He’s not having a good time.”
“What do you mean? Is there a problem?”
“He’s been dumped, and he’s sad and crying. I don’t like it when someone makes my brother sad. In fact, it makes me really angry when that happens, do you get it, Lakshmi? So that’s it.”
“Oh Neal, I’m so sorry,” she said. “But look, can’t we...”
“Not now. I don’t feel in that sort of mood. I feel more in an angry mood, and a looking-after-Jack mood, okay?”
There was a pause.
“Okay, I understand,” she said, and her voice was kind. “Can I phone you later?”
“I guess. When things get better. Goodbye.”
It was a strange evening. Aunt Judy was away at her own house, so it was just the three of us. Max Margrave appeared on the TV to announce the Golden Circle, and talked about the various controls, although I noticed that he didn’t mention the entry control. I was taking notes, because I wanted to be absolutely sure that in my interview I didn’t go an inch beyond beyond Max’s announcement. I didn’t want to make it easy for them.
Neal shared my bed, which I appreciated. I felt too sad and lost to talk much, though. As he settled in beside me, he made exactly the same little happy squeak that Ewan had said he loved to hear from me. I had never noticed it before, and it nearly broke my heart.