As I walked into Arkham, there must have been a visible new pep in my step, cause for the first time it seemed everyone was watching me. It was almost like the Pope had arrived as all those I passed seem to stop whatever they were doing to stare in awe, I felt important, divine, almost godly.
People were nodding to me in acknowledgement, that day’s before, would step over me if I tripped in the walkways like road kill. Secretaries that never took my messages, were handing me weeks old mail, just to get a hint of a smile and a pat on the head, I even called one a ‘good puppy’ as I cross her path, and she looked so pleased to be noticed, blessed even.
About a week had passed by since my fateful run in with the mysterious Mr McCreed, and I would never let myself live it down, nor would I forget what my ‘Fairy Godfather’ (what I fondly like to think of the Balthazar gentleman who I’d met in the men’s room) had said to me, I was done being a walkover, it was my time to push through.. it was Cydnee’s time to win.
I stroll casually into the conference room, sipping my mocha pumpkin skim chai latte, feeling very Caucasian Blonde Female, and threw my lush newly purchased navy wool trench over the back of my chair, choosing a seat at the far end of the table instead of the head of the class. The only people present this early were Zachari Granison and, of course, Famous Aemous, who was busy going over some paperwork, seemingly perturbed, which was odd for him.
“Cydnee, my word, that’s such a wonderfully made Bespoke suit, is it an Ermenegildo? I never would have pegged you for one of such profusive taste..” Zachari mused with a curiously arched brow, giving me the once over as I sat across from him, I watched as he nervously picked at unseen imperfections in his attire, looking down on his own expensive (but meager by comparison) threads wondering if he was up to par.
Aemous finally looked up, expecting me to be in the seat to his left, but seemingly surprised I’d chosen the far side of the room where the ‘cool kids’ usually sat, not the overachievers. He didn’t say anything though, but he did offer one of his charmingly warm smiles of which I didn’t return, it wasn’t due to flustering as it normally would have been, it was as if regular Cydnee was locked away within the cold steel hard shell of this new person, this newly minted Cyd.
It wasn’t too much longer before everyone else made their way in the door, Pastel and Karishma sauntered in gossiping in a whisper like old porch ladies, moments later followed by Grayson and, surprisingly, Shaw, who wasn’t a usual member of our weekly work meetings. I continued to sip my steaming caffeinated concoction, with the most phlegmatic look upon my face, honestly disinterested in being here, as I had more important things to do. There were plenty of business agreements I needed to finalize, but this was our mandatory weekly report to management of our progress.
I could feel the room of eyes on me but unlike before, where I would have cowered under the glint of spotlight, I merely ignored the shine. I knew I looked different, even the aura in the space around me was now changed, I was the brightest and sharpest cut diamond in a room of jewels, coming off like a brand new Bentley on an auto lot full of used Honda Civics. If the collection of eclectic confusion on people’s faces didn’t tell me so, it was confirmed when the Grande Dame of Corporate Fashion.. draped in a creamy pearl hued Von Furstenburg wrap dress sashayed her way into the room, and everyone ignored her regal presence. She looked around as she pull a peach silk scarf from around her elegant shoulders, slightly bemused that no one had noticed her entrance, but after following the gaze of eyes, her sparkling dark long lashed orbs quizzically landed on me, with a swift but approving appraisal.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say the lot of you had never seen a Bad Bitch before, but we know that isn’t the case as this isn’t the first time I’ve stood before you. Now all eyes on me, let’s start this function so I can make my leave in time to make my Nail appointment. Cedric, give me the updates on..” Yurika paused mid sentence, her mouth curling into distaste, as she noticed the empty chair of his usual seat for the first time. “Where in Jesus name is Cedric?! For the sake of sanity, I’m going to first assume the rapture has happened and we’ve all been left behind, but I know better.. ain’t no way in Hell a thirsty THoT like him got past security at the golden gates and I’m still sitting here. Damnit, I want answers, and I WANT THEM NOW!”
As if summoned by a sorceress, Cedric bursts hastily through the door, looking a disheveled sweaty wreck like he’d ran the entire way here, and he appear so unlike himself, I’m sure many didn’t even recognize him.
“So sorry, please forgive me, I truly apologize.. I don’t know what happened, I .. umm.. let’s get started right away Ms Ymoja.”
“Let’s.” She replied sternly, looking at him like he was a fly in her soup.
“We have, umm.. We have the First and third quarter review from headquarters, shit!.. umm, sorry, I know I have the report in here somewhere..” He was searching through his briefcase, which was in worse array than he was, and it only brought more attention to the fact he wasn’t wearing a tie, with coffee spills on his untucked button down.
“Someone please! Save this train wreck of a meeting before I..” Yurika started to say, causing the ever scene stealing Dr. Jhedav to clear her throat and make move to stand, but I was faster, she cut her swarthy eyes at me as I began to speak.
“Well, I can tell you now I’ve acquired the approval for getting the Project Sirius permits fast tracked, calling in a request from the senator that Mr Ellison donated a large sum of campaign funds to last fall, you remember, the one I had advised would work in our favor despite the sex scandal with that barely legal intern.”
“Yes Cindy, I remember..” she replied absentmindedly, as she looked over the briefing I had passed her way.
“It’s Cydnee, or Cyd, if that’s easier for you to recall, I do know you’re a busy woman Ms Ymoja. Now, as I was saying..” There was an deafening silence that fill the room, at my uncharacteristic correction of her, heck.. that was uncharacteristic for any of us, but I still continued, taking notice of the growing smirk rise to the corner of her lips. “The building credentials were approved and construction can begin as soon as the offers from manufacturing come across my desk, which should be no later than tomorrow afternoon..”
“Tomorrow afternoon? Most of you leave by noon on Fridays.”
“No worries, I’ll be here.”
She was broadly smiling at this point, which was a rarity indeed, I distinctly remember her saying she avoided smiling do to the wrinkles, noting she’d forgo happiness for the preservation of beauty when asked. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room as many, Cedric and Karishma include, were simply slackjawed at this bold new incarnation of me standing before them, the only two exceptions, was the sly yet encouraging grin I received from Aemous Chan, and a forced look of apathy on the face of sir Shaw McCreed.. but even he couldn’t hide the lines of mild surprise that crease his forehead.
This wasn’t the meek blubbering prey he was ready to feast upon the week prior, this person that stand before him was someone entirely different. Confident, collected, uncompromising, I left these people who thought they knew me clueless and off guard. Yet, if only that was the only surprise for the day, it would have been enough to throw everyone off their game, but even Yurika look uncertain when the Holodeck module rose from the center of the table accompanied by that familiar melodic ring of tones.
“Saundra, my dear.. such a surprise?” She greeted, as the warm inviting smile of a full faced chocolate beauty filled our vision in four dimensions. “I hope you approve of the dress I had Romeo Botticelli tailor and deliver first hand, though I do hope that isn’t what this is about as I’m still in meeting..”
“Oh no dahling, the gown is simply amazing, less a mere dress more a masterful work of intrinsic art! Though that isn’t why I’ve called, it seems Mr Ellison wishes to sit in on this week’s conference personally, I’ll patch him through immediately.. lovely to see you, especially looking drop dead stunning as always, toodahloo!” They waved each other off, as the woman faded away to be replaced by the infamous CEO of Arkham Industries, Jynx Ellison.
“Yurika, apologies if i intrude.” He said, smiling with gleaming yet almost inhumanely white teeth, sharply dressed in a pristine ivory on white suit, his normally bone straight tresses, now spiraling and waved in naturally ethnic curls that were a rarity to be seen.
“Don’t mention it, we would love to have you.. umm.” Despite her sure response, she seem just as unnerved as the rest of those present, aside from myself, I was simply unmoved by his disruptive presence. “We were just discussing the advancement of the Sirius Project and how an investment from last year has paid off thricefold, thanks to our head of R&D.”
“Oh? Is that so.. good news. Hmm, R&D, isn’t that Cindy or Cinderella.. whatever her name is?”
“It’s Cydnee Tyson, sir, he’s once again proven himself quite prudent and resourceful.” She answered, smizing her sharp gaze in my direction, dare I say, looking like a proud mother as she defended me. “The department is beating it’s deadline by several months and at current, it’s about a third below budget, the young man appears to be quite a success this quarter, more so when compared to his peers.”
“I see.” He replied, losing the smile, his expression quickly melting into something hard as rock or stone. “Well.. I expect the project being able to perform preliminary launch cycles by next year’s end, we’re prioritizing manufacturing of the Ark’s, as investors are quickly rolling in with grand expectations.”
“I’ll have them done by the fall’s harvest moon.” I replied boldly, sending another current of shock through the room, no one spoke directly to Jynx Ellison aside from Yurika, even she seem to send me a look, wondering if I’d gone crazy.
“Excellent.. hmm, and nice suit, it’s tailor made even, I see you stepped your pussy up.. good girl.” He commented, a smile returning to his lips, though this one was serpentine in effect. “And what of our Annual Retreat? I’ve heard the dubious honor is yours this go round, I hope for your sake it proves impressive, because the clock is ticking on that deadline, I’ve moved it up by three weeks so you have just over a month to finalize preparations.”
“I wasn’t made aware of this schedule change, when did we decide this?!” Yurika cut in, slightly panicked, sitting up straight in her chair.
“We decided this now, you should be receiving the memo right.. about..”
A round of various cell phone alerts sang in chorus around the room, even my own buzzed alarmingly, a few people were checking their messages but I already knew what was up, as Jynx and I stare each other down like two Bucks in a battle.
“No worries, I’ve already inquired into a space on the Isle Royale, a new luxury resort catering to those of expensive taste visiting Black Rock and Windigo..”
“Wait.. Windigo, like, in Canada?” Karishma asked, being the only one, I guess, with the nerve to interrupt our stand off.
“Two points to the Doctor.. it might sound familiar because there is also a very discreet, though curiously listed inactive, property holding of Arkham’s right on the island.”
“I thought the Isle Royale was a nature preserve?” Shawn inquired, and he was absolutely correct, upon finding the highly secretive facility, I wonder how much cash our employer was forking out to the Canadian government to pull that off.
“It surely is, but I guess this info is above your pay grade Mr McClean.. as I was saying, the facility housed there is listed in the database as inactive but my sources tell me, work can still be done there for those of you who find themselves behind schedule.” I responded, more rudely than I intended, but I looked Karishma, Zachari, Shaw, and Aemous each in the eye so they all knew exactly who I was referring to.
“Oh dear, it seems your charms don’t work on everyone, eh Shaw? A pity, I thought you two made quite the darling love birds.. a shame the affair was shot down so suddenly, my apologies for any part I had in it, Boo me.”
“Oop, girl.. the tea is bitter!” Pastel whispered loudly to Cedric, who was still looking at me as if I were a stranger, everyone could pick up on the false sympathy in Mr Ellison’s thinly veiled sarcasm, and for added effect he snickered, imitating like he was loading a shotgun.
“No worries, I didn’t need the distraction.. do we have your approval on the location? I found the ‘exotic isle’ trend of the Annual Retreat a little blasé and overdone, I’m sure, even with the sudden move up in the schedule, we’ll arrive just in time for the first snowfall. I’ve already scouted the lodgings, and I think you’ll find them quite beautiful and up to par with your stringent standards, sir.”
“Yes, it’s sounds acceptable, I’ve grown tired of white sands and blue beach waves..” He answered smugly, maneuvering the angle of his seat so we could see he was already on location at a beachfront property, very probable, something he also owned.
“Excellent, I’ll make sure Ms Ymoja has the paperwork on her desk first thing tomorrow morning for approval.”
“Great work Mr Tyson, I think I like this new ‘you’.. hmm, Yurika?”
“Now that our dear darling Cydnee has a clear slate for a few weeks, I’d like to see what he can do with getting past the roadblocks on the ReGenesis experiments..”
“SIR?!?” Dr Jhedav exclaimed angrily, unable to contain herself till she saw the look on all our faces, Zachari grabbed her wrist tightly as if to pull her back down but he was too late, I could see Pastel shake his head as he mumbled ‘you in danger girl’ under his breath. “I mean, Mr Ellison, sir.. the ReGenesis project is mine, I’m in charge, that project is my baby.”
“Well honey, the baby is up for adoption.” He replied without missing a beat, causing her to fall back into her seat, shocked that her brainchild was being snatched from her by c-section. “This shouldn’t come as a surprise, why do you think I added Chan and McCreed to the team.. the only shock for me is that those two haven’t been able to produce any good news for me after having a week’s work of time to get the ball rolling, I’m very disappointed. We BOTH know what disappointments do to my normally pleasant demeanor.”
“Yes sir, I.. I mean WE, will work on getting the quick results you demand.” She promised sullenly, sounding almost broken, barely able to spit the ‘we’ out of her mouth, Aemous and Shawn didn’t seem pleased either but wisely chose to remain silent.
“Yes, Mr Ellison, i’ll make sure the team provides the results you are looking for.” I spoke up, not even hiding the smugness in my tone. “I’m sure Aemous will be able to fill me in over lunch after the meeting.”
“I’m sure he will..” Jynx replied lewdly with a knowing grin, like his mind, as brilliant as it was, lay low in the gutter, I couldn’t even hide the blush that sneakingly crept up to redden the dark complexion of my cheeks. “Yurika, my love, dinner at my place this evening..
“Of course, which one?”
“Oh damn.. well, the jet will be ready at six to escort you, I’m in the Carolinas at present, you know how much I enjoy the Isle of Palms, as for the rest of you, good day and carry on!”
Everyone sat around like stunned and scolded children as he defragmented from view, while I took my seat fully intent on finishing my latte, it had finally cooled off enough to enjoyingly drink freely. Yurika looked around the room sternly at those who had dissatisfied the Bossman, even though it seemed he never ever blamed her, she took any failures as a reflection of herself.
“And you lot, seem to think I’m a wicked bitch when it comes to business, now you see for yourselves, I’m Glenda the good witch in comparison to the bastard our employer can be when the mood strikes. There are no more damn excuses I will accept, have something to show at the Annual regarding the ReGen project or do expect him to have your goddamned heads on a platter! I’d have them for brunch but you’re all lucky I have twenty minutes time to make it to my pedicure appointment. I’m putting out the notice now so there’s no confusion, Mr McCreed will lead the next several weekly conferences up until the trip to the Isle Royale, so answer to him with any question’s or concerns, and only contact me for emergencies, do I make myself absolutely CLEAR?!”
“Yes, Ms Ymoja.” We all spoke aloud, sounding like a scorned class of jilted students, instead of corporate executive co-workers.
“Good.” She replied dismissively, as she gathered her things, throwing her peach scarf over her delicate pale ensemble. “Oh, and Cydnee..”
“You showed ass today and the cakes were hot, keep up the good work.”
I gave her a small smile and a nod, that was quickly returned, as she clickity clacked her way out of the room in her signature Jimmy Choo’s. Such gracious praise did not come without it’s scorn, most noticeable in the face of Cedric, who seem livid as he approached me.
“What the fucking hell, Cydnee? I don’t know about this new trip you’re on, you didn’t even wake me up this morning! You know damn well my alarm didn’t go off, cause I would have been getting dressed the same time as you were..” He was livid, maybe for good reason, he had gotten so used to me coddling him over the years, truth was, I had been like his personal assistant in many regards but not anymore, this was a new day and a new way. “And what is this? When did you start dressing like this? I mean Zenga suits, Ferrogamo shoes.. wait, is that my favorite Oxford button down I was looking for this morning?!”
“Why yes, it is the shirt you favor I let you borrow almost a year back that you never returned, and might I say, it cost a fortune, three days labor, and a small favor at the dry cleaners. The little old filipina lady was nice enough not to even charge me a dime extra to disinfect and steam blast out the cum stains left by Grayson from two weekends ago, what a decent way to treat loaned property best friend.” I snidely replied, not caring about the audience of our peers, causing a couple of sharp audible breath intakes, and it made a pissed off Karishma go stomping out of the room with her fiance, Zachari, trailing behind her looking confused.
“Oh my god, Cydnee?! Gwural.. what has gotten into you?” Pastel asked, while trying to calm a fuming red faced Cedric, but before I could say anything, Grayson moved toward me aggressively.
“I don’t know what your problem is dude, but you had no right to say that shit..”
“Like you had no right to approach me for sex in the men’s room the other day on our lunch break, but who’s keeping tabs playa player?” I clapped back, causing Cedric to look back and forth between us in astonishment, he went running from the conference room with Pastel tagging along, looking back like he wanted to stay for the rest of the gossip.
“Look here, you snitching little faggot..” Grayson replied, grabbing for me, and for the first time I thought I might have taken things too far, but Shaw quickly intercepted, taking the other man’s own arm to maneuver him into a weird chokehold up against the wall.
“Don’t you dare put a fucking finger on him, i advise you walk out of here while you still can and while you still have your damn job.” He growled dangerously, putting more pressure into the hold, causing more pain to make his point.
Grayson looked scared shitless, like he was ready to piss himself, it was weird to see someone so physically imposing manhandled like a wimp. Shaw wasn’t nearly as built as he was, but he had him teary eyed and yoked up like rag doll, it left me wondering if I even knew anything about him despite all he’d told me about himself over our dinner at Zion, admittedly I was almost scared of this version of him.
“Enough Shaw.. SHAW?! Let him go man, you’re choking him, he’s turning purple! Just let him go!” Aemous yelled, trying his best to pry them apart, but he was locked on Grayson like a junkyard pitbull to a steak bone.
“Shaw, Stop it! Please.. release him.” I said as lowly as I could, in an attempt to pacify him, before he seriously hurt the guy.
He was breathing sharp hard breaths and his eyes were glazed over in a crazed look, all warning me not to get closer to the altercation, but I put a soft hand to his shoulder hoping it was enough to work. Those dark eyes met my own, shocked, like he was waking up from a dream, no.. probably something more like a nightmare of sorts. He slowly let him go, causing a nearly faint Grayson to slide down to a whimpering heap upon the floor, Shaw look down on him and back up to me almost apologetically.
“Cydnee..” He whispered softly, moving toward me cautiously, but Famous put a hand up to push him back slightly.
“No, back the hell up bro..” Aemous ordered forcefully, moving to stand in front of me protectively. “Cyd, I don’t know what the deal is with this dude, but I think you need to come with me for your own safety, we should go.”
“Um..” I was admittedly shaken up, almost feeling like the old me, but I quickly stiffened my spine catching myself. “You’re right Famous, let’s go catch an early lunch, this shit is lame and we have too much work to do.”
“But Cydnee.. c’mon please, we need to talk, just wait a second.”
“No Shaw, I spent my entire life waiting.. we both know I’m done playing that game, catch ya later Bro.” I replied sternly, staring him dead in the eyes as I said it and stepping over Grayson, still crumpled on the floor, as I followed Aemous towards the door.
We walked into the quaint small restaurant, the smell of fresh noodles, chopped onions, and steamed vegetables were a welcome reprieve from the awful fumes of garbage, rancid water, and fish that permeated the air outside. I tried to hide the effect of the wretched smell from my face (inwardly praying the aroma didn’t stick to my clothes) as to not offend Aemous while we trekked down Canal st, but he had caught my reaction and had a laugh at my expense.
“Trust me, it wouldn’t really be Chinatown if it didn’t smell bad and the people didn’t spit..” As if on cue, a toothless old man spit a large wad of saliva across our path into the street, before dumping a bucket of dirty water into the gutter.
“Is this where you live?” I asked, trying to remove any sliver of a judgemental tone out of my voice, Famous Aemous was always finely dressed but New York City had a way of making even the largest salaries seem just a few pennies short of living in leisure.
“God no, I have an apartment in the same building Shawn lives in, though my pocket change isn’t broad enough for a penthouse suite..” He reply with a short laugh, which cause me to blush slightly, hoping he didn’t know too much about what transpired the last time I had visited that building. “My mother owns a small vegetarian restaurant that serves authentic Chinese cuisine, she refuses to leave no matter how much money I offer her to start up elsewhere, I thought you might enjoy a fine meal regardless, oh.. and please disregard the sign, she’s adamant it’s good for business.”
I nearly cried with laughter when we walked up to the brightly lit banner, with a big neon pink arrow pointing down towards the door, saying ‘Ghina’s Phett Pu Pu Spot’. He blushed profusely, handing me a handkerchief to wipe my tears as we enter, it didn’t help that when we walked inside, a small tiny woman dressed as a orange yellow stripped kitty cat in a costume-slash-apron that had a ‘meow!’ slogan near her nether regions, complete with a tail that dragged across the pristine bamboo floors. For the location to be just off Canal, the place was finely decorated, lavish, but with a nice authentic feel.
“Oh my baby! Welcome welcome, It been so long!”
“Mom, I was just here two days ago..” He replied, as he bent down low to hug her, it was a wonder how such a small woman pushed a six foot plus man out her four foot nine petite frame.
“Dat too long, you know I want you home all the time, at least till you get married.. who dis? You gay now? Is he your new boyfriend? He cute.. look like good husband material. I no know you the chocolate.. I not surprise, they have the big boom boom, I hear it better than the Pu Pu.” She laughed riotously, as she pulled me down to her breast for a strong gripped hug, spanking me on the rump with a big smile on her face.
Both of us were turning red, and he said something to her in Cantonese, that I’m sure sounded like it was a scolding a parent would give to child not the other way around, which only seem to make her laugh harder. I had to say, she was very pretty.. with pale skin and sharply defined eyes that had long lashes, her brows were meticulously drawn on, arched to the heavens. Her lips were painted a bold red and her cheeks had a natural blush. I’d always found Aemous’s dark honey hued eyes odd, but it was clear the color code came from her genetic influence.
“Mom, we have about an hour left to eat, you think you can scrounge something good up for me and my colleague.”
“Boy, you came to the Pu Pu Spot, what kinda business you think we run here? You cum fast you leave fast, bam bam pow!” She said, clapping her hands for effect, making me stifle another laugh at the innuendo, it was hard to tell if she was being serious or if she knew what she saying as she led us to a table.
The seating was floor level, plush burgundy cushions surrounding black marble with a Jade border, Aemous removed his shoes before crouching down into his seat. He asked his mother for a menu and she scoffed at him, saying he always ate the same thing every time he dined there.
“Hey, can someone point me to the restroom? I’ve been kinda holding it in since we left Arkham.”
“Sure, it’s right over there, down the hall, first left, door with the Black green eyed cat on it is the men’s. Did you have any idea what you wanted to order or did you need to see a menu?”
“Aemous, you crazy!” His mother replied, she turned to me with a huge smile, and pat her chest. “Mama Ghina got you baby, I know just tha ting, you go peepee and make sure you wash your han’.”
I grinned and said thank you, knowing I could trust her choice, no matter what she brought me, I’d probably eat it. The woman’s energy was infectious, and I found myself smiling all the way to the bathroom, once inside, I did my business but found that I had to pause at the mirror, as I washed my hands. I barely recognize the person staring back at me, and if i didn’t know better I might have asked who was he? He definitely wasn’t the Cydnee Tyson I’d been all my life, he wasn’t someone I was even sure I liked.
My locs were twisted and intricately styled into a high chignon, I had gotten a facial which had taken years off my face, taking me from twenty five-ish to barely twenty. My teeth were a stark shade of white against the richness of my thoroughly moisturised dark brown skin, my facial hair which was razor edged to precision gave my face the detail of a high fashion model. The smokey grey Ermenegildo Zenga Bespoke suit I wore was part a revamped new wardrobe, that maxed out damn near twelve credit cards and a fourth of my savings, making my closet worth more than six or seven of my regular paychecks put together.
The shirt, the shoes, the accessories.. none of it was me, but I had to stop thinking like that, this was the new Cydnee Tyson.
It didn’t matter that I felt like I was having one of my panic attacks and my head was pounding with aching pain from the exertion of it all. The fraudulent bold faced confidence in the meeting, the slick lipped backtalk to my so called friends and rival coworkers, the fight between Grayson and Shawn.. it felt good to best show but my energy was damn near depleted.
This was too much, now I was supposed to make it through a lunch date with Famous fucking Aemous Chan? I’ve been tongue tied and crushing over him for ages, but I was somehow now supposed to keep playing this part, I felt like Rosanne Barr selling my soul to the devil just to beat Meryl Streep for Best Actress at the Academy Awards, I’d pay the price but the shit still was never ever gonna happen for me despite the cost, I’d never even be nominated.
“Hey, mother said to tell you the food would be coming out soon..” Aemous said, peeking his head into the restroom to check on me, of course he averted his eyes, the man was always a gentleman. “Um, I know today was a bit much for all of us, but are you okay Cyd?”
“Yea, I’m cool.. I’ll be out in a moment after I dry my hands.”
After he left, I took another view of myself in the mirror, wondering if all was worth it, to labour more abundantly.. maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, but I would work harder nonetheless. The time for timidity and meekness was over, if today proved nothing else, it confirmed that, Cydnee Tyson was gonna play the game by his own rules, and even break a few along the way.