Chapter 12: Hail Mary, Full of Grace
Chapter 10: The Fourth Frank

Chapter 11: One Toke Over the Line

Had it been Matt, the Volvo parked in front of the garage door would have been toast. Laura killed the engine, left the lights on, and got out of the car. Sam was right on her heels. She could hear Marty struggling to get Jeffry out of his booster seat.

Something was off and it wasn't the Volvo. The Volvo belonged to Reed, who would never have driven from one driveway to the next. It was easily an hour past even Sam's bedtime, and she was standing in the driveway staring at Reed's bumper. "Sam, please help Marty. Jeffry's forgotten what reasonable looks like."

Wait. No. Hold on. It was Wednesday night. Coop had been fired and rehired. Christie was out of the box. A project kickoff meeting was scheduled for Monday. Another Delta Dolt was expected first thing in the morning, but Coop had that under control. Maybe. For some reason she still had Marty, but nothing had exploded...all should be right with the world.

"Oh. My. God! Samantha Blue Franklin, did you do this? Because if you did this, I am... I am... Not amused, that's what I am!" Laura stood in her driveway and stared at what was most assuredly NOT her house. "Sam? Did Mommy pull into the wrong driveway? This looks like our driveway and that's Reed’s car; that's the hedgerow, and you can't possibly miss your father's front lawn...Sam?"

"It's kinda dark, Mom, maybe we should just go inside?"

"Inside?! Do you see a door? I don't see a door. I see a bunch of weird windows and a shit ton of ivy. No door."

"It's around here, Mom. Come on guys, anybody interested in a family size box of Annie's?" Marty had Jeffry in a headlock and was dragging him toward the steps that led up to a very large deck. With weird windows. Sam turned back and grabbed her mom by the wrist. "Come on. We live here. We don't know what happened, but we definitely live here. Our handprints are on the sidewalk back there, OK? Hold on, gotta turn your lights off." Her mother was a mostly vertical ragdoll but vertical wasn’t going to last much longer.

Sam picked up a limp wrist and led her mother toward the deck. Marty was visibly distressed. He hadn't witnessed a full out Jeffry meltdown. No time like now! Sam walked up and smacked Jeffry on the back of the head. "Stop it! Stop it NOW or no Annie's for you. Straight to bed. Marty and I will eat ALL of it. Every last bite, buster." 

"Sam. What happened to my azaleas?" 

"Mom. Dad backed onto those last spring and you’re just noticing now?”

“He backed ONTO them, not INTO them?”

“Yup. That is exactly what he did. I think he was trying not to run over Mr. Hunter. Maybe.”

“Sam! Who does that?!”

“What? Back up onto full grown azaleas or plow through the neighbor? Can we just go in the house now? I don't see the point in waiting for a leprechaun to jump out of the bushes with an explanation."

The doorknob was in the middle of the door. Who the hell installs a doorknob dead center? It’s almost impossible not to smack yourself in the face. There was a garden gnome crouched under the nearest window. Sam gave it a swift kick to the chin. It raised its head and snarled but stood down.

"Sam. Did that garden gnome just growl at you?" The garden gnome stood up and brushed off its shiny red pants.

"Have any of ya seen my cap? I'm on duty and I can't be out here without my cap." 

"I don't think you were wearing it when I kicked you. Maybe back in that corner?"

The garden gnome shuffled off to the far corner of the deck. They could hear it banging about, and then what sounded like vigorous huffing followed by a coughing fit. "Ah! Puffballs! Can't get enough of 'em. My hat, right, got it. Thanks, kid. Listen, you people go right in; but not that one", pointing at Marty, "you three live here, but he’s got the stench of a long-term guest.”

Jeffry slipped out of Marty's headlock and marched himself to the garden gnome. He squatted down to gnome height and asked, "what the fuck are you and why are you here and what happened to our house and what the hell have you done with my daddy?"

"Damn, kid. That's direct."

"I'm waiting. Don't make me wait. Making Jeffry A. Franklin wait never ends well."

"No? What happens if we make Mr. Jeffry A. Franklin wait?"

"Mr. Jeffry A. Franklin sends in his sister, THAT'S WHAT!"

"I don't know kid. I'm pretty sure I can handle your sister."

"She just kicked you in the chops. Are you sure about that?"

"Yep. I'm sure about that. Unicorn or no Unicorn, I can hold my own."

"Maybe I should introduce you to my mother, then."

"Your mother? Kid, have you seen your mother? She's Raggedy Ann on a rope."

Sam got between the garden gnome and her brother. "Let me introduce you to our mother, Mr. Gnome."

The Gargoyle stood, wings fully extended, and snatched Mr. Gnome up with a talon. She suspended the offense above her mouth and waited.

"Yeah, OK, a Gargoyle. Nobody said a damn thing about a Gargoyle. Just a Unicorn, her pissant baby brother, and some scud from the office. I need to clock out and be on my way if you don't mind putting me down..."

Laura hadn't eaten since breakfast.

She asked if anybody had a toothpick but all they heard was 'garble, gargle, girk?'

Sam rattled the doorknob. It felt jammed, not locked, but she was tired and hungry and did not want Jeffry up all night. She knocked twice, politely, waited. Counted to three and banged on the door with both fists. She counted to three again and let loose.

"Daddy! DADDY! Mr. Hunter? I can't get the door open, and Mom ate the garden gnome!"

The door opened inward, revealing Bilbo Baggins's kitchen. Reed poked his face around the door and shushed her, waving his arm in the direction of an overstuffed sofa where the kitchen island should have been. A big fuzzy something was curled up in a ball with its nose tucked under its tail. It appeared to be wearing a pair over overalls and nothing else. "Your father's sleeping and we don't want to wake him. Bring the boys but leave the gargoyle on the grass."

"That gargoyle is our mother! She doesn't stay in the yard!"

"Shhh. Please." Reed stepped onto the porch and pulled the door shut. "Laura? Is that really you?"

"Garble glick GLICK!"

"Right. Definitely you. Any chance you can dial that back a bit?"

"GLICK!" 

Reed shrugged and looked at the kids. "Any chance the three of you can dial it back a bit? I'm not asking for much, just dead silence." Sam said she could speak for the boys, but there was no telling what her mother was likely to do.

"Then I'll fill you in out here. Why don't we go around the side; the badgers made the Three Bears Chairs this afternoon. Laura, that's not going to apply to you at the moment. I'll need you to stay on the lawn until we're through. The sound of your nails on the porch is going to set off the whole house." 

The boys stuffed themselves into Daddy Bear’s Chair, leaving Momma Bear’s Chair for Reed, and Baby Bear's for Sam, which was approximately badger sized.  She sat at the edge of the deck and stroked her mother's head through the railing. Reed pulled his chair closer to Laura's head. But not too close. 

"Laura, listen, I need you to listen carefully and let me get all the way through before you react. Can you do that for me?"

"Garble."

"Gonna assume that's an affirmative Garble, and not a Glick. Glick's not a sound we want to hear just now. Agreed?"

The Laura Gargoyle gave Reed the briefest of nods which Reed chose to interpret as, 'have at it, buddy'. He wasn't far off.

"Kids, come a little closer. Especially you, Jeffry, you've been more you than usual lately. Marty, you outweigh that kid by at least eighty pounds; just sit on him and pinch his nose shut. Sam, just don't, OK? Whatever you're thinking, wait on it. Please.”

Reed sat up straight, took a deep breath and placed his hands on his knees. “I don't want to place blame here, but before I start, I do think you should know Matt's been slipping for a couple of weeks now. At first it was just quirky stuff, but Matt's always been quirky, so I let it go. I gotta tell ya, toward the end of last week, some weird shit was going on in, uh, where your basement used to be. Now, I know he leaves for work early and I know he comes home late because sometimes he bangs on my door until I come out with a six-pack. The guy is seriously lonely."

"Glick!"

"No. No, Laura, no Glicking, you promised."

"grmph"

"OK. So, it got weird on Monday. I know you come home late and probably don’t turn on many lights, but Matt’s been doing some major renovations. Samantha dropped Jeffry off Sunday night. I put him to bed just past 8 PM and dropped him at early care on Monday morning. He couldn’t get the door open when he got off the bus, so he came directly to me. I put him in his own bed on Monday night. On Tuesday all four of you left the house in broad daylight. I think you were focused on packing up and getting two kids and your mother in the car. Sound about right, Sam? How am I doing so far?"

"You could have called me."

"Oh yeah? On what phone? Do you have a phone, if so, maybe you could give me the number? I'll call for sure next time. Or do you work for AO now? Maybe I could have dialed by name?"

There was a low rumbling coming from the Gargoyle's throat. Reed looked at Sam, "should I be alarmed?"

"Don't think so. I think she's got a bit of indigestion", turning to her mother, "Somebody doesn't bother chewing her food before swallowing. She ate the gnome, Mr. Richardson, please continue."

"I'll cut to the chase; while the four of you were galivanting about with God knows what sort of AO delinquents, Matt was experiencing new symptoms. He tried to reach Christie on several occasions, but her voicemail was full. He called Dr. Evans once, but a Mr. Anderson answered the phone. So, I guess he didn't really get through to Dr. Evans, did he? Your father, husband, um, host came apart at the seams today. I tried to call you, Ms. Gargoyle, but your phone also goes right to voicemail. I expect you'll find sixteen or seventeen frantic messages from Matt and then mine, which topped off your mailbox.”

If a gargoyle has the capacity to look repentant, Laura was giving it her best. Reed waited for any editorial comments. There were none; he continued.

“I didn't understand the extent of the problem until lunch this afternoon. I took my sandwich to the back deck and before I got to the table, I saw the house. There was a big hairy dude with a tail on an extension ladder tearing chunks of your roof off. I leaned over the deck to say hello, and guess who's face I was looking at? None other than Mr. Matthew Franklin, himself; IT Project Lead about to fall thirty feet on top of the three badgers and a Guard Gnome doing a very bad job holding the ladder steady.”

A gargoyle is one thing. A freaked out, hyperventilating gargoyle is problematic. Sam reached through the railing and caught the tip of one wing. Add crying to the list of unexpected gargoyle behavior. She plunked down on her backside hard enough to shake the windows. Four humans held their breath and one gargoyle did her best to stop snorking back snot. When the house didn’t rumble, Reed dropped his voice to a whisper. 

“I have a bad feeling the three badgers and the Guard Gnome are what’s left of Matt's team. And by the way, it's GUARD Gnome, not garden gnome. Never mind, you've already eaten him. His name was Bradley, and he was a pretty good guy. If you could, as a personal favor to me, avoid harming, terrorizing, or tormenting the badgers, they, and I would be grateful. And Sam?"

"Yes."

"Sam, what the hell's gotten into Jeffry?"

"Probably inhaled a couple dust mote escapees. It'll wear off eventually; they hadn't been activated. I don't think."

"OK, good to know. Now. Laura, do you think you've pulled it together enough to put the gargoyle away? Just for now?”

Laura pulled everything back but the talons. Marty gave her a look and she produced hands. Reed, once again cautioning silence, had them remove their shoes at the door. He pushed the door open and led them into the heart of Matt's Hobbit Home. They tiptoed behind Reed across a startling blue braided rug. He pointed out the massive stone fireplace that had assembled itself in the middle of the house and led them through the original French doors leading to what used to be a formal living room, the man cave guest room, powder room, and the stairs.

He closed the doors behind them and pointed at the powder room. Four heads crowded the door. Marty looked back at Reed and asked if Matt hadn't gotten to this part of the house yet. “Because, Mr….”

“It’s Mr. Beaver Hunter, and you were saying?”

“Beaver Hunter?”

Sam reached up and smacked the back of Marty’s head. “His name is Mr. Reed Beaver Hunter. It’s a hyphenated last name without the hyphen. Maybe you should stick with ‘Mr. Hunter’ and let it go.”

“Right, Mr. Hunter, why is the bathroom still pink and gold? Doesn’t seem to match the motif he’s working on.”

Reed shrugged and pointed toward the man cave guest room. “If the French Provençal powder room is bothering you, the man cave should make you feel a little better.”

Shortly after Sam was born, when Laura knew for sure she wasn't going back to work, she started a massive redecorating effort that Matt referred to as 'Laura's half-assed attempt to have impact on something other than a baby'. The ‘half-assed’ assessment was based on two things.

 Laura appeared to have taken her decorating tips directly from one of Martha Stewart's early interior design books, a style that disgusted both of them, and Laura never managed to finish a single room before beginning the next. Except the powder room and the guest room. They were done and should have been boarded up, in Matt's unhelpful opinion. During his most recent renovations, he couldn’t bring himself to address the powder room, and decided it wasn’t real.

Having already had a go at the Laura Ashely fiasco when he turned the room into a man cave, Matt took advantage of his wife's absence, went full out, and gutted the room with wild abandon.

Matt dragged the cabbage rose sofa and window treatments to the back of the house. It took all three badgers and the Guard Gnome to shove the sofa through the door, across the deck and over the railing. The green carpet with the pink rose border had been promoted to ‘extra absorbent’ drop cloth, currently in use on the back deck. In its place was unfinished plank flooring.

The walls, once a pale cream backdrop for a series of vintage botanical prints, anchored three walls of floor to ceiling built in shelves which appeared to hold close to two thousand books. Matt was never a reader. However, a worn leather club chair occupied a corner by the window. A standing lamp stood off to one side: on the other, a mid-century side table with built-in pipe stand. A loosely rolled package of Borkum Riff tobacco sat in a large glass ashtray alongside a single corncob pipe, and a jar of vaseline. Reed whispered, "I don't think he's quite got the pipe business worked out, and I have no explanation for the glass ashtray."

There was no sign of any other furniture. Laura opened the closet door, bit her tongue, and closed it gently. She shook her head at Jeffry. He hadn't moved toward the door yet, but he was winding up. 

“Reed, can you provide a very brief explanation for the closet? There isn’t even a television in this room, certainly no DVD player, and his jam-packed closet library has an extraordinary selection.”

Reed was mortified and considered pleading the fifth until the first ‘Glick’. He walked to the wall facing the club chair, inserted his fingers into something at the edge, pulled half the wall forward, and slid it to the right. In addition to a seventy-inch flat screen mounted into a second recess, he’d stocked himself a full bar.

“Jesus Christ, Reed! That thing’s life size!”

“Exactly. He’s still working on the remote control for the wall.” Reed cleared his throat and suggested they move on to the formal living room which, he cautioned, was still in a state of upheaval.

The sofa and two accent chairs had been pushed into a corner, but everything else was gone, including the light fixtures. The oversized picture window was gone. In its place, a line of large port hole windows centered at exactly thirty-six inches. The curved back of the massive fireplace ate up a good chunk of the room. Reed indicated that they were looking at the backside of an industrial pizza oven. He crossed the room and peeked through the large round door that led back to the expanded Hobbit kitchen, gently closed it behind him, and asked them to find seats.

Reed reached up to a shelf on another set of built-ins and retrieved an oil lamp and box of kitchen matches. He lit the lamp, put it back on the shelf, removed Jeffry from one of the accent chairs, and sat down. Reed exhaled and dropped his head into his hands. "Just give me a sec, OK? It's been a very long couple of days."

*

Sam woke up on the floor of some weird hunting lodge. She was under a scratchy wool blanket that smelled like moth balls and lying on a nest of coats. She recognized the sofa and chairs; they were supposed to be in their mother's living room. She and Jeffry weren’t permitted a single step over the threshold, so she'd never seen them up close. They didn’t belong in a hunting lodge, but she set that aside as an unfortunate design choice. 

She sat up and took inventory. Her mother was asleep on the sofa. Mr. Hunter was in one of the chairs, head back, mouth open; chuffing sounds going up and down the scale. Jeffry was curled in a tight ball with Marty's arms wrapped snuggly around his little body. Marty was wide awake and starting to squirm.

Sam whispered, "What's wrong, Marty? Have your legs gone to sleep?" Marty shook his head. Sam tried again, "Did Jeffry bite you? Do you need me to find a first aid kit?" Marty shook his head again. He was going to wake Jeffry up if he didn't stop doing the potty dance. "Marty, do you need the potty?" Marty shook his head up and down. Sam got up and slipped under the ball of Jeffry as Marty slid out. 

"Sam, while I really appreciate the assist, I do not need the potty! I need to use the bathroom. I was properly toilet trained before kindergarten, just like everybody else. Properly trained adults no not, under any circumstances, need the potty."

Sam shrugged and whispered, "sorry". 

When Marty turned right, instead of left, Sam looked down at her currently harmless brother and made an executive decision; she chose the lesser of two noises and remained motionless. If Marty opened the round door before recognizing the extraordinary error of his ways, Sam was counting on the instinct of paternal affection to save at least one of them. If not, maybe he'd eat Marty first and be partially sated.

After the fact, Matt took this personally; as far as he knew, he'd never eaten anyone. On the other hand, his wife consumed domesticated Guard Gnomes like a mini bag of snack pack Oreos.  

Marty put both hands on a doorknob the size of a softball and twisted hard, putting his entire one hundred and thirty-two pounds into the pull. The door scraped the bare floor, hinges whined, and Marty, having recognized the extraordinary error of his ways leaned into the door leaving a two-inch gap between dubious safety and sudden death. Dude just stood there contemplating the yet undiscovered, but still lost opportunities in his life.

Sam held her breath, prepared to pinch Jeffry's nose if he so much as twitched.

Something must have given her mother's lizard brain a good solid poke. She hadn't gone full-on, but those talons appeared to have hairpin triggers. Laura rolled onto her left side, smacked herself in the face, and sat up yelling bloody murder. Reed opened one eye and closed it again. Sam wasn't sure that was the best strategy, but she was the one shielding herself with a manic six-year-old.

Laura’s screaming shifted to mostly incoherent blasts of noise until everyone in the room, including the three badgers hiding on a shelf, understood her perfectly. "GLICK!!!" The second or third Glick! heard in context cannot be mistaken for anything other than, 'You have just stepped on my last nerve. Now stand still while I eat you.'

A large, hairy hand pushed the door open, and a very slick Marty moonwalked backwards. Sandwiched between door and wall, he took small sips of air and considered the possibility of throwing himself through a port hole. He chose to stay put, reserving the port hole as a secondary option.

Reed opened both eyes and sat up. There was no point playing possum; Laura had Matt's full attention. Reed waved cheerfully over at Sam, who refused to acknowledge him. Sam was articulating a series of irate barks, showing off an unexpected set of canines.  

Was it possible that this gargoyle business was genetic? Modified or otherwise, a gene is a gene and is either dominant or recessive. She had blue eyes which are about as recessive as you can get, but the rest of her family had brown eyes. Sam blinked. Not entirely impossible, but not within the realm of reasonable either. Whatever.

She stopped barking and stretched her arms out. Jeffry hit the floor and rolled like a bowling ball. He was startled into temporary silence. Sam flexed her hands and focused on her fingers. Maybe she needed to be threatened or angry. She looked at Mr. Hunter and snarled. Nope. Just fingers. Kind of disappointing for a unicorn. 

Jeffry climbed back in her lap and pointed at Mommy and Daddy. Once he was certain she was paying attention, he plugged his mouth with a thumb and tucked his head under her arm. Samantha Blue Franklin about rolled out of the chair.

She looked at Mr. Hunter to make sure it was real. Mr. Hunter was two centimeters from a psychotic break, but he held both thumbs up and grinned. 

In the middle of the deconstructed formal living room, Terribly Hairy, with his tail sticking out a hole in his overalls, had his terribly hairy arms wrapped securely around the gargoyle's middle. The gargoyle bent down and embraced Terribly Hairy with her scaly arms. She made kissing noises at the top of his head; she didn’t have retractable teeth. Terribly Hairy held on tighter. There were odd noises coming from the vicinity of her belly which was either the sound of Terribly Hairy weeping, or hunger. 

The gargoyle abruptly retracted, talons and all, which left her dangling from Terribly Hairy's arms. Terribly Hairy remained exactly as he appeared when he rushed the room. Very quietly, Laura whispered into a slightly floppy ear, "Sweetheart you should probably put me down now. The kids are getting suspicious, and we haven't gotten around to having 'the talk' yet." He gave her one last sloppy kiss and set her down gently.

He seemed to notice the rest of the room for the first time. He waved at Mr. Hunter, "Hey, Reed, how's it hanging, buddy?" Reed indicated it was hanging just fine. Terribly Hairy took two steps toward his children and stopped in his tracks. The big goofy smile vanished, and his head whipped toward the door. Marty let loose a piercing shriek and threw himself at the nearest port hole. He hit the floor in a heap. "I don't know why they're bullet proof. I didn't specify bullet proof but that's what I got."

Reed stood up and asked Matt and Laura to have a seat on the sofa. He pulled his chair up a little closer. "Matt and Laura, you are both dear, dear friends. If you were not dear, dear friends I would have already become a permanent resident of the fine State of Oklahoma. Before you ask, it's because no one ever thinks to look for anyone in Oklahoma. Or Wyoming, for that matter.”

Sam dumped Jeffry back on the floor and retracted her canines. “You’d leave us too? Is that what you’re saying, Mr. Hunter?”

“Samantha, crossing the state line with somebody else’s children is prosecuted at the Federal level and I believe they’re fond of public executions.”

Sam shook her head, stepped over Jeffry, and curled up in the chair. Mr. Hunter picked up the conversation as if she’d asked for a snack and been told to wait.

“Matt and Laura. We need to talk. Or more specifically, you two need to talk. I can't cover for you anymore; it hit the too far mark just before noon yesterday and it doesn't look like there's any turning back. I don't know how this happened, but my biggest concern is you, Matt. You seem to be in a permanent state of Unusually Tall and Terribly Hairy Hobbit. There isn't enough wax in the world to clean you up, buddy, and I don't even want to think about that tail. What the hell were you? Hobbits don't have tails! No. Don't. Sorry, I'll continue."

Reed turned to Laura, opened his mouth, and changed his mind. He walked over to the Marty heap and gave it a gentle nudge. Nothing. "Marty, that gentle nudge is all you're getting. You can haul yourself up and come to the meeting or I can ask Mr. Franklin for a little help."  Marty turned his head and bared his teeth. Reed gave him a thumbs up and then held out his hand.

Marty allowed himself to be led to the conversation pit but backed up like a panicked goat when Reed indicated that he should sit between Mr. Terribly Hairy and Mrs. Franklin. "Fine. Sam, do you suppose you could stop sulking and surrender the chair for a bit? That nice nest you slept in will keep you off the cold floor. Jeffry looks perfectly happy". 

Sam moved to the nest and snuggled up to Jeffry. Marty scraped enough of dignity off the floor to take the chair.

"OK, gonna back up a minute. The reason I've asked Marty to get the hell off the floor and participate is because I know, almost for a fact, that Marty took my pre-IPO order for AO shares about three months ago. Would that be an accurate statement, Marty?"

"I work in the lab on the seventh floor. I work for Margaret Abegg. In the lab. I work for Margaret in the lab because I'm her lab rat. Just ask. She'll protect me."

"Damn, boy, you sure do wind yourself up. We'll skip the cringe worthy stuff and cut to the chase. I've put Marty in the hot seat to back me up because most people would find it highly unlikely that any Beaver-Hunter would leverage a portfolio to the point of dangling it over a cliff. I'm gonna have to say, close to 82% of my net worth is currently sitting in AO pre-IPO shares. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, I'm pretty sure Marty can clarify."

"Um, yeah. Mr. and Mrs. Scary People, while American Ophthalmologists is technically a private company, it is wholly owned by Delta Holdings. Delta Holdings is also a private company of the sort I won't deal with. However, enough pre-IPO shares have been sold, not issued, sold that Mr. Beaver Hunter has a very strong case for assuming ownership. This wouldn't have happened if anyone at Delta was paying attention, but they weren’t, and I needed to make some commission. Not very many people are interested in paying for something that may or may not exist, but Mr. Hunter was. He came back every single day for a solid month. He asked for me and if he didn't get me, he'd sit on hold or hang up and call back. Eventually I just gave him my number. Now he calls my cell at 2 am because he's had a brainstorm.

What I'm trying to tell you is if Mr. Reed Beaver Hunter, with all the Beaver-Hunter money, and more importantly the Beaver-Hunter name behind him, wants to own AO, then he can force the spinoff as a private entity and assume control. I'm not obligated to discuss this any further, Mr. Hunter. I've probably gone far enough to put my license in jeopardy."

"Well, I appreciate that Marty, but here's to hoping you don't have to give a damn about that license ever again. And if anybody's going to end up in an orange jumpsuit, he doesn't work in our building."

Laura leaned in toward Reed and asked if he could just get to the point. She was tired, the kids were tired, Marty needed a shower, and she and Matt could use some alone time. Reed actually laughed. It took her the rest of the day to forgive him, but he had a point.

"Laura. That man sitting next to you needs help RIGHT NOW. You need help, but you're not on fire. Sam could use someone to talk to and I’m a little concerned about Jeffry. Sam thinks he may have inhaled or swallowed a few stray motes, but she didn't think they'd been triggered yet. I don't know about you, but if the words, 'I don't think' applied to my kid in this situation I'd have torn the doors off that building by now."

Reed turned to Matt and for the first time in their friendship, he looked angry. "Matt, before your glasses, you were a real piece of work. I felt bad telling you I wanted your head over my fireplace, but the truth is, I'd still feel that way if you hadn't changed so much. It's like most of the shit got hosed off and there was more room for Matt. I hope that makes sense. But here's the thing, those glasses aren't a magic pill, and your eyes are just plain fucked up right now.”

Laura pulled her husband closer and gurgled in Reed’s direction. He chose not to engage.

“I don't know, and I don't care how you did it, Matt, but you turned your team into fucking animals! And a Guard Gnome! Did you, by any chance, ask Bradley how he felt about being a Guard Gnome?" Matt hung his head; waves of shame billowed up to the ceiling. 

Laura stood up, stretched, yawned, and dropped back onto the sofa. "Got a question for you, Reed. Ever heard the term 'Leaving the Shire'?"

“I guess so. Frodo and Sam leave the Shire, is that what you're getting at?"

"No. Not at all."

"Alright, so I'm lost, fill me in."

Laura smiled brightly at the room but spoke to mostly to Reed and Marty. "Leaving the Shire means you've gone one step too far. It doesn't mean the world's going to end, it means you've stepped off your own reality platform. Urban Dictionary sums it up perfectly, Marty, I believe that was your entry. Would you like to share it with the room?"

Marty didn't know if he should feel proud or mortified, but he spit it out anyway. "When a person is one hit away from smoking more weed in one sitting than they've ever had before. And you're accurate, Mrs. Franklin, Matt did smoke that last hit a couple days ago by the look of him."

Laura tried to wipe the smirk off her face and continued. "The only part of that statement that's a little wiggly is the one hit before or one hit after business. I think, Marty, what you meant was one hit after. The one hit before happened right before Sam and Frodo crossed that line. Nothing had changed. No line crossing. Get it? If you want a really good example, listen to ‘One Toke Over the Line’, Brewer & Shipley, 1971"

"I’m familiar."

"Now that we have that established, I agree, we do need to get moving. I just want to make sure we're all on the same page. This isn't an eye checkup, it's an intervention." She leaned over and nuzzled Terribly Hairy. "What do you think, Sweetie? Shall we gather up the badgers and head for salvation? Oh. And I am sorry about Bradley. I really had no idea."

Six people weren't going to fit in a single vehicle without putting four people in the backseat and three badgers in the trunk. Splitting up made Reed uncomfortable so he took Matt, Marty, and the badgers and sent Laura off with the kids. Worse case, Laura got squirrely and found herself a nice safe wormhole and Marty let him in the building with Matt and the badgers. He was right, Laura wasn’t willing to lose sight of Matt. Both vehicles pulled into the parking lot at 7:25 am.

They might still need a badge to get past reception, but the glass walls in front of the lobby were gone.

Marty raised his hand, “If anybody’s got any, I’d like my one toke now, please.”

Sam said she was sorry, but her stash was confiscated Friday, last period. Laura put her fingers in her ears and repeated the ‘Mother of High School Delinquents, Mantra, “I can’t hear you; I can’t hear you; I can’t hear you…”

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