It's Parker Dinkleman's last Summer in Scaunchboro before going to College in Toronto and the young cook's feelings were... divided.Even if it's a small hellish town everyone wanted to get away from,he...loved the place.The redhead was excited to go on this new 'adventure',meet new people,new places,about time too,it's gonna be so much fun!
Monday evening,almost Mr. Meaty's closing time.It's the chubby teen's last week at the lousy job he actually learned to love,when he first got it,4 years ago,he didn't know how to cook a single burger and almost burned the place.As time went on,his interest in cooking grew immensely,turns out it was a lot of fun to put various ingredients together and get (most of the time) delicious results out of it.
He's been the cook in this affiliate for the longest,but the cashier had changed a bunch of times.First one was Josh Redgrove,handsome,relatively tall,lanky blond who had a bad rep as a womanizer,closeted geek and Parker's childhood best friend.
The very reason Parker applied for the job in the first place.The older teen wanted a job,the younger geek would follow him anywhere he went at the time,so there he was.The one-eyed blond stayed for 2 years then left due to disagreements,clash of interests and overall personal issues with his colleague and longtime friend,Parker Dinkleman.Josh worked over at Eduardo's Burrito Express for a year before leaving for College.
The position was open,between the people that tried it were Ashley Steinberg,Brittany Sinclair,Brandon Dubois the III,even Brent Butcher,but not many people were able to handle the....'work enviroment' as in: nobody wants Edward Carney as a boss,no matter how much money you're payed,it's never worth it.
Last one that left was Ben,platinum blond haired cool dude who likes punk rock.The moment Carney tried to mop the floor with the guy's hair though,he was long gone.The temporary cashier whenever someone fled the earth after working for them was....Mr. Wink,actually.
Parker wasn't really sure what to think of the guy,he seemed really cool the first time they met those years ago,but ever since Carney put that chip on the guy's neck,he never acted even remotely similar to that again.He was cheerful,optimistic,loved books and animals,music and nature,was strict but very patient,he looked like he would have been a great boss and the nerdy teen couldn't help but feel it was partially his fault the brunet man's nothing like it anymore.
The eerily quiet yet very agitated,twitchy,paranoid,stressed,anxiety-filled and extremely strict...person he's been working with these past years,it's just someone else entirely.
Even though he still looks as cute as always,but you didn't hear that from Parker.
Before leaving for the day,all Parker has to do is carry a few heavy boxes to the refrigerator and he would be done when he realized,it's been at least an hour since he last seen Wink,the older man's always the last to leave,the chubby cook briefly wonders what might have happened and just shrugs,figuring Carney probably demanded him do something last minute.
Parker opened the door of the restaurant's refrigerator and was carefully carrying two heavy boxes with frozen food when suddenly,something he deemed very unexpected made him drop both boxes on the floor and muffle a scream with both hands.It's just something he wished he would never need to face in real life,it's a thing that only should belong in movies and fiction in general,it's not supposed to happen with people he knows personally and worse,that he might be half responsible for the actions leading to it.
Parker was horrified,from all the freaky creatures and situations he had to face at Mr. Meaty so far,this was definitely the worst,the most scarring,even worse than having aliens planting eggs on your chest and killing you afterwards.
The redheaded cook was anxious and fidgety by the hospital's umconfortable chair.
He's been here short of two hours and his boss had yet to wake up.
When he saw Wink,unconscious,hanging by a rope along the freezing meat,he panicked and called an ambulance instantly.Before even checking out if the Jewish boss was alive or not.
Thankfully,the paramedics were still able to bring him back to the living which was a relief,but Parker will only relax for sure when his brunet boss wakes up.
All these years,the redhead never heard anything about the guy's family,his phone had nothing relating to it either,so he told a few white lies,said he was family and is trying his hardest to keep Carney away.It's working so far but it'd be nice if the man woke up soon.He still looks so pale and even more fragile than the usual and his hair looks so soft....
Concentrate! The dude almost killed himself because you and Josh literally ruined his life! Priorities!
Parker glanced for what seemed like the thousandth time at the breathing but still lifeless looking,lanky figure laying on the hospital bed beside him.The young geek put his greasy,thick fingers over pale,slender ones,squeezing them,closing his beautiful chestnut brown eyes,breathing deeply and letting a few remorseful tears fall.
"I'm sorry,I'm so sorry.I should've done something sooner."
"Let me go! Don't you think you've done enough harm already?"
"I already said I'm sorry!"
Wink was whisper-yelling,tear stained weary face,squirming wildly in Parker's arms with all little strength he had,trying to escape by the hospital's window,in the middle of the night.
The brunet man had woken up not long ago,feeling weak and tired.Dark brown eyes with circles under them realizing quickly that he,unfortunately,was still among the living.
He glanced to his right and noticed a heavyset looking figure with messy red hair sleeping in the worn out couch.
A small smile quickly ghosted through the once joyful man's lips.
He was going to miss Parker.
In the past years,the optimistic geek was one of the few sparks of light in his ever miserable life.Wink was thankful,even though he was aware the chubby teen was half responsible for his current and very likely,future situation if he stays any longer.
Wink slowly got up,off his bed and kneeled in front of the sofa where his younger companion snored softly.The assistant manager petted Parker's hair lightly,grinning gratefully down at him,obviously not intent in waking him up.
The boy has grown so much over these years and his big heart and bright smile just seemed to grow along with him.Wink's just sure he won't be able to handle his job any longer if Parker's not there.
Which led them both......here.
Wink had gotten up slowly,graceful silent steps to the window,he looked up at the starry night,he had no plans to stay,yet he was caught.
"What difference does it make,Parker? You'll go your way,I'll go mine.There's nothing you can do to stop this,there's nothing you can do to help me! Just let me go! It's the best you can do...."
By now,Wink was sobbing,fresh tears rolling down his bony face,holding Parker's work uniform tight,begging him mercy.
Parker's hand instinctively reached his boss' face,brushing away a few tears with his greasy thumb,he couldn't stand to see someone cry in any situation and the geeky teen was aware he was in a very delicate one so he had to choose his words carefully.
"You're wrong.I can help you.I will help you.I promise I will.Your resolution doesn't need to be permanent.I care about you.I want you to stay.
I need you to stay,please."
Faces so close,hopeful chestnut brown eyes stared deeply into darker,somber ones,looking for answers,looking for a genuine desire to stay and fight,no matter how small.
"Why? You can't help me,you're just saying that.You have no idea of what you're promising,Mr. Dinkleman."
Both were startled by the sudden violent shock running through their bodies.Parker,due to the quick scare,let go of his boss who fell to the floor screaming and spasming.Finally getting the attention from the nurses and doctors outside who ran into the room.
"First thing's first,getting rid of that chip thingy."
"Dude,you coming to the RPG Game tonight,right?"
It was a sunny Wednesday afternoom,Parker Dinkleman and Brandon Dubois were walking around Campus.The dark skinned geek was heading for their shared dorm,his now taller companion had other plans.
".....Probably not.Sorry,Brand.Wink finally found a place in town he liked enough to move in and I'm thinking about checking out the place and help him out.Next week I'll be there for sure."
Parker grinned brightly,confidently.Patting Brandon's shoulder and striding ahead,Brandon just sighed.
The smart,younger student couldn't help but feel Parker was leaning.....a little bit on the hypocrite side.Ever since the almost-tragic incident with the redheaded geek's former boss,the newly College student has ditched him and their friends for the older man in several occasions.
"You're acting just like Josh.All I think is that you should admit already that you guys are having an affair or someting." the cyclops-like glasses wearing teen huffed.
"Ugh,I told you a million times,dude,I worry about him.I don't like to leave him alone,he needs a friend.This is completely different from Josh.Josh was.....he was just- just a horny teenager."
"And you are....."
"Trying to be a good friend? Trying to untie this huge 'Knot of Guilt' on my throat?"
Parker spilled out,he'd had this same conversation enough times but it's the first where it leads this way.
"Whoa,you think it's your fault?" Brandon's voice was laced with legit concern.Parker averted his eyes from the dark skinned geek's esxcruciating gaze.
"Well,I was there.I helped with all the events that led to it.Josh is not here to get some good punches in the face from me,I gotta do something myself."
The beautiful mixture of red and brown in Parker's eyes showed nothing but honesty to Brandon's dark coffe wary ones.
He was willing to trust his longtime friend on this.
"Tell me you understand and please,PLEASE don't compare me to HIM anymore."
Parker's voice was lower,almost pleading but not quite.Brandon nodded and hugged him.
"I gotta admit,man.I have no idea of what you're going through."
"Hey,that's okay.Having your support is enough."
Brandon was paralyzed still,looking at Parker's somewhat fancy car driving away in the distance.Gavin approached him,nudging his longtime friend's shoulder.
"He's not coming again,is he?"
Gavin had an adorable frown adorning his features.
"He blames himself for what Josh did.Blond bastard,without him everything's falling apart."
The place was a huge mess,a complete disaster and he definitely didn't want Parker here.
At least not yet.
He doesn't know how those text messages saying 'Of course you can come over!' followed by a detailed address to his current location got through.
All he knows is that the chubby geek just replied saying he's on his way so the former assistant-manager is now running everywhere and nowhere at once,trying to make things resemble something presentable.He's not sure why he's caring so much,why he's worried about something so trivial.
It's just Parker.
Besides he didn't have that much on the mansion that truly belonged to him aside from clothes maybe,but he was also feeling like burning those either.
Most of the stuff in the boxes were all new and Parker was there beside him helping choosing them through most of the deal.
Wink and Parker's relationship was......far from the ordinary,as the older of the two would put it.
Wink wasn't dumb,he knew Parker was only helping because he felt guilty and he himself also knew the only reason he's doing all the things he's been doing for the young geek are out of owing some sort of mental debt he just made up.
He owed the redheaded student his life.
The former cook ruined the brunet man's life than he saved it.
It was all out of subconscious obligation,their relationship remained almost as professional as it'd always been.
Or so he thought.
"Winkie! -oof- Loved what you've done with the place by the way. "
Parker had ran into the living room and was now drowning in a dozen boxes so his unique voice was muffled but he still sounded as cheery as ever,a small warm grin found it's way in Wink's lips.
The young geek gave the Jewish brunet that dangerous feeling.
It gave him hope.
Now that Wink's new house actually looked like a real home,Parker could finally explore it.
The backyard was huge,it was 80% garden,an abundance of various well-kept types of small trees, bushes and flowers.A modest sized greenhouse on the far right corner that only had even more of the aforementioned,the biggest difference was that it had a mini tower inside where if you climbed it you could see a beautiful view of the humble neighborhood outside through the window.
Parker wanted to watch the sunset from there while drinking lemonade every single day from now on.
It also had a regular sized pool in the far left corner,which was pretty cool too.
The house itself was three stories high,the third one was supposed to be an attic but it was turned into a Meditation/Yoga room.Second floor had three rooms,one was turned into an 'Arts and Crafts' room,second was a modest but impressive library and the third was an empty guest room,Parker figures Wink's still thinking about what to do with it,there was also an empty room like that beside the older brunet's own tackily decorated bedroom on the first floor.
Come to think of it the former manager bought an ever so slightly humble place but still too big for only one person to leave in.And.....Parker's been staying here more often than at his dorm or at his mother's.
Was Wink planning on inviting Parker to live here? Did he had that in mind while choosing the place? Naaaah.
"I was thinking maybe- I- .....This room's empty so I was thinking maybe you'd want it?"
The new owner of the place stammered nervously behind Parker,who jumped and turned around,startled since the man seemed to materialize there,eyes sparkling wide.
"I- I mean,for your Science and Chemistry experiments and projects.Could be a nice personal lab.I'll charge if you explode anything though."
Wink tried a smile so forced,Parker winced.He did think that for a second the man was inviting him in,but this is still huge.
"Uh.....I don't know,dude,aren't I bothering you and taking your time enough already?"
"NO! NEVER! You could never,Mr. Dinkleman- I-"
Wink replied too loud and too quickly,slender hands flailing everywhere.The young geek put both his own firm hands on his former boss' thin,frail,trembling shoulders.
"You're jumpy today,man.Calm down,will ya? It's not like you're inviting me to sleep with you or anything.It's okay, it's a good offer,I'm honestly considering it."
Parker had an easy smile on his round,kind face,lightly petting the older man's shoulders,who visibly relaxed by the gesture.
"Really.You're 3 months here and it already feels like a second home so why not?"
First Semester of College was over,by now the former cook had actually found a way to divide his time with his friends much better,still zero people were surprised when Parker said he wasn't interested in staying in the dorms anymore because he wanted to move in with Wink.
He even had a room there that he decorated exactly like his old bedroom,full of posters,action figures and Star Raiders merch,it was perfect and everybody around him groaned.
This guy has been too nice to Parker,something's going on,was what was on everyone's mind.
"Are you sure about this?" Brittany,studying Psychology at the time,had asked him out of concern.She too,had lost contact with Josh which only led her closer to Parker,she genuinely liked and cared about the kid,she was determined not to lose him too.
"Trust me,Britt.I am.If he goes bonkers and tries to slice me into a million pieces,you,Doug and Brand will be the first to know."
That did not bring any relief to her or his other friends whatsoever.
He was in the center of Mr. Meaty's kitchen,huge Butcher Knife covered in blood in hands,he glanced around carefully,the limp form of whom once used to be Josh Redgrove was now torn to pieces and bleeding from all places on the ground.
"Admiring your work,Winklemeyer? It looks very amateur if I'm honest with ya,but it'll do.Now get to the next one!"
The assistant-manager breathed in sharply when he felt his back sting painfully due to the strong whippings he was given.Carney.
Parker was pinned against the wall,trembling worse than a leaf and waiting for his well deserved fate.Terrified chestnut brown eyes locked with hollow darker ones,pleading,but aside from the silent tears and the erratic breathing,Wink's face showed nothing else.
The man had given up living years ago.
"Don't do this.I know you don't want to." Parker looked so sweet and inocent.His eyes still full of hope that the older man might change his mind.
"Oh,Dinkleman.But I want to."
"Wink! Mr. Wink! Winkie! Wake up! Please,wake up!" Parker whisper-yelled,not wanting to disturb even more the man who was shaking tremendously,sweating coldly and profusely,silent tears mixing with them.
"No! No! No!" the former manager bolted upright in his sleeping bag,breathing heavily.
They were supposed to be having fun camping outside tonight.
"It's okay.You're safe,you're awake.It's Parker,I'm here,it's okay."
Parker's horrified expression mirrored his former boss',he was patting Wink's bony cheeks and straight long-ish hair lightly,trying his best soothing voice.
He was startled in the middle of the night when he heard Wink screaming,kicking and crying beside him inside the tent they had set up.
The older brunet had been resistant about the idea of them camping or Parker staying the night all weekend,still he reluctantly went along,now Parker knew why.
"It was just a nightmare." Parker whispered,hands still on Wink's soft messy light brown hair.
Wink's eyes were wide,he held Parker close in a frantic manner as if to make sure the joyful geek is really still here.
If he's honest to himself,he hasn't slept a full night ever since the Incident,almost a full year ago.
"Just a nightmare,yeah." Wink nodded,mimicking Parker's words,smiling weakly,trying to pretend this rarely happens.
"You okay? What can I do to help?"
Parker let go of him slowly,round face full of earnest,genuine worry and care and all Wink wanted to do was cry some more.Instead he tried his ever crumbling façade again.
"No,it's okay.Parker,we should just try and go back to sleep." the older brunet's fake smile was nervously fading away and the former cook's uneven thick eyebrows raised.
Parker was tiredly rubbing his eyes,but he wasn't believing a single word from his former boss so he wasn't about to just let it go.
He's just not the type.
"What do you prefer? That boring chamomile tea you always make or sing a lullaby? I say lullaby."
"How do you know-"
"Come on,Winkie.It'll do you some good!"
Parker's mood seemed to flip 180,he got up,got a hold of a few blankets and pillows and carried Wink outside over his shoulder,all happening in what seemed like a split second.
"Okay,what we really need to go back to sleep after a nasty nightmare is sing along the stars."
"C'mere,you'll learn quickly,or....you'll just sleep quickly."
"I'm not so sure about that,Mr. Dinkleman."
Parker pulled Wink to his chest,strong but delicate hands back on the man's hair and back.The redheaded geek started humming a tune Wink didn't recognize.
The whole situation feels like it should have been really awkward,but they just seemed to fall into place and fit perfectly.The brunet manager subconsciously closed his eyes.
Se va el sol y todo se embellece
Con su luz nos van a iluminar
Ven conmigo y en mis brazos descanzas
Si en mis brazos hoy estas
Wink didn't know the song,but Parker's unique voice was doing wonders to him,he hadn't felt this content and truly relaxed in a long time.
El silencio va creciendo
Melodias trajo el dia la brisa soplara
Parker was slowly rocking back and forth,the thin figure he had carefully placed in his arms,his eyes sparkling,fascinated by the stars above.
Se va el sol y todo se embellece
Con su luz nos van a iluminar
Ven conmigo y en mis brazos descanzas
Si en mis brazos hoy estas
La la la la la.....
The optimistic geek looked down to see if his new friend was still with him.
Wink stirred lazily when he noticed the younger's melodic voice had stopped.
"Where is it from?" Wink asked,without moving at all from his very comfortable place.
"The song? Oh,it's the Latin Spanish version of the lullaby Barbie's mom used to sing to her when she was a kid in 'Barbie as the Island Princess."
Wink couldn't help but chuckle at that.That's definitely the Parker he'd grown so fond of.
"Why the Spanish version?"
"It's my favorite! You should see it,they got an outstanding,fantastic singer to sing as Barbie,I get chills every single time,dude."
Wink believed him.
"Believe me,you don't want me to sing the lullaby mom used to sing to me..."
"Aww,look at Arnoldo and Francis' expressions when the other isn't looking! The lingering,loving glances and touches.People don't even need to know Spanish to see how in love they are..."
"But you do know quite a bit of Spanish,Mr. Dinkleman.Better than myself,actually."
"But you're seeing what I'm seeing,right? We're on the same page here? The knowing smiles,the lingering touches and glances.Arnoldo begging him to stay when he thought Francis was leaving..."
If they were in a cartoon,Parker would definitely have giant hearts in his bright brown eyes.He was sprawled on the big,comfy blue couch in the humble looking living room of his and Wink's place, eating a homemade meatball sub,getting everything around him dirty and possibly driving his...new roomate insane.
Parker was buried in projects from College and when he wasn't at Campus,he was at the Lab room Wink made for him,but he still always managed to find time to watch cartoons,TV shows and gruesome,cheesy horror films.Right now it was late at night and they were bingewatchimg Junior Express in Spanish on Netflix.
Wink has never seen it and couldn't understand half the dialogue,but the show looked colorful,silly and harmless enough.
Also it was some precious time spent closer to Parker,the former manager was valuing those.
He did agree with the smart geek beside him about the characters mentioned from the show (a young curly-haired cheerful,loyal assistant named Francis pining over an older strict but sensitive Chef with a very fake Italian accent called Arnoldo).But Wink also felt a bit queerbaited rather than think an actual romantic relationship could happen there.
Still he felt somewhat grateful the young student beside him was too busy paying attention to the lingering,loving glances of the characters onscreen,that way the boy wouldn't notice his own.
"Don't you believe they're only queerbaiting the audience,sir?" Wink asked cautiously while a song and dance sequence happened on the large TV that Parker was too tired and sleepy to do by now.
"It means...It's Disney Junior,they won't ever get together or even admit there were romantic feelings there in the first place."
"Wow,you're a ray of sunshine today,huh,Winkie?" Parker rubbed his eyes warily,irritably so,he didn't want to sleep just yet.Spending time with Wink is always enjoyable,even if the well-mannered man is kind of a square.Wink sheepshly grinned amusedly to himself.
"The way I see it,they're being realistic about it.I mean,neither would ever gather the courage to tell the other and even if they did,they wouldn't be able to tell anyone because they'd be criticized to their graves."
Wink has been living closer to Parker for at least a year and a half now and he has never seen the boy dating or even showing any faint signs of a crush on anyone,even less talked to him about it.So the older brunet saw this as an opportunity to prod into his younger roomate's life just...a little.
Even if he himself was guilty of the same thing.
"Are you speaking from experience,Dinkleman?"
Parker yawned,messing around with his unruly red hair,the final song was playing and it had something to do with toys or whatever but neither were caring by now.
"Brittany says she's coming to town.Josh left College in Vancouver overnight without any notice and now he's unreachable.She lost contact with him too.It's been..almost 5 years since he stopped even looking in my direction but I still fucking care.How come I just gotta be stupid like this??!!"
"Well,from what I could gather,you were the closest of friends so it's natu-"
"Yeah,then he didn't even want to be seen with me,what would he say if I told him I-" Parker was sobbing softly now and Wink instinctively held him close,running slim fingers through messy,greasy,flame-red locks.
"It's late,Mr. Dinkleman.Tomorrow we should talk about this matter with a clearer mind."
"But what do you think?" the geeky student looked up from the assistant's small chest with big,hopeful eyes.
"About what? Redgrove's undeserved mistreatment towards you?" Parker nodded once.
"I believe it's his loss for refusing the company of such wonderful person." Wink said confidently without missing a beat,dark brown eyes sparkling with honesty and a genuine grin on his thin lips.
"Pfft,this is useless.You'll only flatter me any chance you get.But you're right,we should go.Sorry about all this by the way." the redheaded geek straightened up,turned off the TV and got up,embarassed by his sudden display of emotion.
"No problem." Wink stayed paralyzed in the same spot on the far end of the large sofa,helplessly looking at his frail hands.
You do Christmas? 'Cause I'll spend the Holidays at my mom's like I've been doing every year,so I invited the whole crew there and she asked us to help decorate so I'm taking these boxes with a bunch of Christmas stuff in them and it's gonna be awesome,but not as awesome if you're not there and-"
"Breath,Dinkleman." Wink said,grinning amusedly.
"Fine,but you do Christmas or not? I mean,I remember you trying to decorate the mall along with me that one time but Carney brought everything down,so..."
"Well,I love Christmas...decorations,mostly decorations in general.Halloween,Birthdays...everything.But Christmas...my family wouldn't let me do it,Hanukkah decorations are beautiful and very special too but when you're a child,Christmas kind of always seems to dominate the world." Despite the somewhat sad tale,Wink's eyes still had a tinge of wonder to them.
"Then it's settled! You're coming with me!" Parker put the box down,sitting on the couch,placing the former manager on his lap,kissing his cheek affectionately.
"Dinkleman,you don't really need to-"
"I want you to come,I want you there,you're part of the family."
Wink's slim cheek found itself cupped by a fim yet delicate hand,he closed his eyes and Parker kissed his former boss' lips slowly but surely.The red-haired geek deepened the kiss and they were both enjoying it immensely but Wink had to put a stop to their pleasurable moment since he had worries clouding his mind.
"What if someone suspects there's something going on? What if that someone is your mother? What if you try to kiss me under the mistletoe? It would be very sweet but what would they think of me? Of us? Would they hate me? Arrest me? Stop laughing,Dinkleman,this is serious!"
'Cause the world stops
When I put my arms around you, around you
And nothing even matters
And nothing even matters
"Woah,Big Time Rush? I didn't take you as the type,the song is fitting though." Parker concluded with a playful smirk on his lips,still cackling,now due to his partner's ringtone.
It's like one for the haters-
Wink turned off the sound,extremely embarassed,not really bothering to see who was calling.
"Noooo,come ooon,let it play,I won't tease (too much) I promise!" Parker tried his best innocent eyes.
"I promise for the life of mom,whom won't throw you in jail,by the way."
"I doubt it but fine...." Wink sighed resignated and played the song again.
It's like one for the haters,
Two for all of those who try to shut us down.
They don't really know.
There ain't nothing they can do that can tear us apart.
No, I don't care about the money, don't care about the clothes.
When we're together, baby, anything goes.
We don't even need to prove what we feel in our hearts, no.
Parker got up and motioned Wink to simulate a slow valsa with him.Thin,frail arms found themselves around broad,strong shoulders and firm,strong arms found themselves around small,slim hips.
This wall we built together, there ain't no way of knocking it over.
We'll be here forever, getting closer, and closer baby.
'Cause the world stops
When I put my arms around you, around you.
And nothing even matters.
And nothing even matters.
They can all talk,
Say what they want about us, about us.
And nothing even matters.
What was supposed to be a slow,romantic dance only kept getting quicker and faster due to Parker's quick pace in which Wink failed miserably to follow,at some point he just started laughing and doing whatever move he felt like doing.
It's like the sound goes off and the people all freeze.
They disappear and it's just you and me.
Anything you want to do, anything that you please.
Forget about our problems, forget about our past.
I've seen the future and I know we're gonna last.
Every second I'm with you just goes so fast.
Parker twirled Wink in the air and embraced the brunet man when his feet hit the ground again,their distinct shade of brown irises found themselves hipnotized by each other.
"Do you believe we can be like that?"
"Oh,Winkie,I'm fairly certain we already are."