Chapter 4: Purple Sequins
Chapter 2: Mr. and Mrs. Franklin

Chapter 3: Matt & Laura’s Excellent Adventure

Laura did not want to go to Reed, but he was the most likely person to take her seriously. She also knew he'd jump at the chance to help. That was another thing; the first time Laura and Matt had a real conversation, the situation with Reed came up. Matt brought it up. He was being too damn reasonable, and while she didn't consider herself above lying to cover up an indiscretion, it seemed pointless. She blamed it on the butterfly eyes.

He did, in fact, have something going on with his eyes but she wasn't processing anything other than the possibility of an epic malpractice bomb. What she couldn't understand was his lack of self-awareness. The guy wasn't remotely butterfly-like; he was BARNEY without the big purple suit. 

She sent Sam on a reconnaissance mission. Sam ‘just happened’ to have a copy of Mom's resume which Sam ‘just happened’ to know Mom was working on but didn't have the focus. Mom's focus was mostly on Dad, but she really needed to sort this thing out. Could you help, Mr. Hunter?

Laura couldn't figure out why Sam was being so agreeable these days. It was like she jumped from thirteen to twenty-one overnight. She'd made the eight to thirteen leap months ago, which startled Laura into clearing the kitchen of anything suspect. If it wasn't organic, hormone and GMO free, it had no business in her home. She was pleased to discover vegan frozen meals, and the fish sticks were a bonus.

That was the extent of her maternal effort; however, in place of the anticipated thirteen-year-old resentment, her daughter was going out of her way to be helpful and understanding. She took the resume to Reed with the discretion of a priest.

Sam wasn't sure she'd ever seen Mr. Hunter in a suit and tie and said so. She also didn't understand why, if he worked from home, he insisted on the funeral suit. Mr. Hunter laughed and pointed to his bare feet. "I could probably get away with just the top half and a pair of boxers but periodically I have to stand up and go to the whiteboard. Another thing I don't think people consider is the suit on and suit off business. The 'uniform', or funeral suit, as you put it, is like a trigger. Even if I wasn't in front of a camera most of the workday, I'd still want that separation of work and home. That's why you never see me leave the house in a suit. Except for library board meetings, in which case, I look just like this. I'm not sure anyone would take me seriously if I showed up business casual."

"Great. So, can we clean up Mom's resume? The sooner we have another income, the better. Also, I think she used to be a human being; you know before she gave up everything."

"Sam, what makes you think she gave up everything?"

"Really, Mr. Hunter?"

"Yeah, OK, let's sit down at the table and have a look."

Reed studied the resume as if he was reading first year Tort law written in tea leaves. He read parts of it out loud and read them again. He asked Sam if this was the only copy and Sam didn't think so. He got three felt tip pens; red, blue, and green. Red was for critical issues, blue indicated a bit of tweaking, and green meant good to go. Mostly. This time Reed read the entire thing out loud, pausing after each sentence or phrase. The first time he used the red pen, he capped it and put it back with the others. When he picked it up five seconds later, he kept it. 

The phone in his office rang constantly. Reed didn’t seem to hear it. When he finally got up, Sam expected him to close the door, take the call, and never come back. Instead, he turned off the ringer and sent calls directly to voicemail. He went upstairs and exchanged the funeral suit for a pair of shorts and a rumpled polo.

Three hours later both pages of Laura’s resume were a sea of red ink. Sam's stomach hurt. "It's hopeless, isn't it?"

"Nope. Not hopeless at all. It's better this way. We make two lists; hard skills and soft skills, and then we rebuild from the ground up. Do you happen to know what she wants to do? Does she want to get back on the leadership track or does she want to get her hands back into the tech?"

"Both, I think. I don't know for sure, but I think she only liked the leadership part because she was a working supervisor. She worked with her team and I'm pretty sure that was the best part."

"Why do you think this?"

"Mom's a very hands-on person, at least when she's actually doing something. I can't say she's a control freak, but she doesn't like not being able to do things. I also think she's very creative."

"Really. Why do you think that?"

Sam momentarily regressed to thirteen and looked at him as if his IQ had dipped twenty or thirty points. "Mr. Hunter. I'm pretty sure you know my mother. I'm also pretty sure that most people, after a brief conversation, would recognize the signs of severe depression."

"Sam, I'm sure your mother's not depressed."

"God. Mr. Hunter, people sure can be dense sometimes."

"So, I'm dense. Throw me a lifeline, ok?"

"It's pretty simple. The creative people, the innovators, and the risk takers go to pieces when significant parts of their lives disappear. Even if those parts are replaced by something maybe just as significant, it’s not like you can plug a triangle into a square hole. The square hole is an open wound, at least in her case. She's a hot mess, Mr. Hunter, and you know it. If she doesn't go back to work, I'm afraid we're going to lose her."

"Sam. That's a horrible thing to think. No kid should ever have to evaluate a parent that way."

"Horrible or not, Mr. Hunter, denying the truth because I'm eight is ridiculous. Especially when I can do something about it. To be frank, I would really like my mother back. I'm not sure who my mother is, when she's being herself, but it's got to be better than who she is now."

"How old did you say you were?"

"Not funny, Mr. Hunter."

Sam went home with the marked-up resume and the list of hard and soft skills Reed derived from the functional bullets. She didn't show her mother the red resume. It was probably better to start with what looked like the good stuff, the dual lists of hard and soft skills. Sam also had a list of her mother's employment history, just the company, title, and dates of employment. It was upside down, oldest job first.

Laura was supposed to tie the soft and hard skills from the dual list back to each specific job. She could match the hard skills without thinking about it. She probably could have done the same with the soft skills but was less confident. She wasn't comfortable with things that couldn’t be quantified.

They completed the exercise just before 10 PM. Laura looked wiped, but not a catatonic sort of wiped. From the memory vault, Sam retrieved the summer Mom dug up the back lawn and put in a couple of gardens. Dad said it was way over the top and she'd never be able to maintain it, but he was smiling. Mom was smiling too. She looked wiped. Her hands were caked with dirt, her nails were broken and filthy, and there was mud on her face and in her hair. She was grinning. That was when Jeffry could still be confined to the playpen.

Mr. Hunter spent another four hours with Sam and sent her back to Laura with another homework assignment. This one sounded easy, but it made her mom cry. Mr. Hunter needed her mom to come up with two solid contacts from each job. Mr. Hunter said a solid contact was gold.

Her peers were probably working elsewhere now, but she ought to be able to find them on LinkedIn. While she was at it, Mr. Hunter asked Sam to have Laura look up every name she could remember and make a connection on LinkedIn. After that she should start trolling the connections of her connections and reaching out to those people, even if she had no idea who they were. "You only have to ask", he said. "Almost everybody just clicks yes at a connection request, and if they don't, then at least you know who to avoid."

In the morning when Sam left for school, her mother had a very clear assignment. Sam and Jeffry left her sitting at the kitchen island with her computer, the phone, and a yellow legal pad. Her eyes were swollen and bloodshot; Sam didn't think she'd slept at all. On the other hand, she did eat more than one piece of dry toast for breakfast.

They were halfway out the door and could hear the bus, but Jeffry turned back and sprinted to his mother. He wrapped his arms around her waist and whispered, "I love you Mommy. I love you so much and you're the best mommy in the whole world. Be brave, OK? We'll be back soon."

Tech, she decided. I want to make robots. Or something. But definitely tech. Once clear, she knew exactly who to look for. When Sam came home, they went to see Reed together. Her list was complete. 

*

Matt was packed and sitting on the edge of the bed. Christie was pacing. “I don’t think you’re ready to go, Matt. I definitely don’t think you’re ready to go back to work.” They were waiting for Dr. Evans. He decided to be optimistic and pack up. “Why do you need to go, Matt? If you know you shouldn’t go back to work, why do you need to go?”

“Because my family needs me. My wife needs me.”

“But do you need them?”

“Are you suggesting I never go home?”

Christie laughed and said that wasn’t what she meant at all. Matt wasn’t sure what she meant, but it made him uncomfortable and that didn’t happen much these days. He understood he wasn’t a damn butterfly. He understood he should keep thoughts like that to himself. He clearly understood he needed to put the mirror down and get comfortable with his eyes.

He’d been told the euphoria would wear off, but he’d been here close to two months and still felt way too hopped up. How would anyone in here, including him, know what would happen when he left the building?

What Matt hadn’t done was tell the truth. Not even to Reed.

Somebody had done something to his wife. She visited every day; she shared his meals more often than not. She spent the night in the guest room at least twice. He could accept the visiting and even the nights in the guest room because, for Laura, it had always been about the optics.

He was having trouble with the naked body in his hospital bed.

He did his best to give her most of the bed, she lost her shit without enough space, but she edged closer. He rolled onto his belly, pinning both arms into submission. Laura had never been this sort of cruel and yet here she was, all boobs and belly up against his back. Why the hell was she naked?

He lost consciousness when she reached around and touched him but had a feeling he’d managed to perform anyway. Possibly more than once.

Matt noticed his wife looked good these days. She looked healthy. She’d put on a couple of pounds, just enough to soften the sharp angles, but it was a start. Her skin and hair looked better than before Jeffry. It was as if that last baby sucked the juice out of her.

Now she was looking damn fine, and he needed to get home; something was definitely wrong with his wife. He gathered the last of his things, and picked up his phone.

“What are you doing?”

“Ordering an Uber. I’ve been waiting for Dr. Evans since 8 AM. It is now close to noon and my lunch will arrive shortly. I do not want to have my lunch in a hospital room. I want to have my lunch at home.”

“I hear you. Let me page Dr. Evans one more time, OK?”

“OK. But I’m still ordering the Uber.”

Christie’s shiny face went thunderstorm dark. She slammed the door on the way out. He put his phone down and counted toward one hundred and twenty. If she got the doc here in under two minutes, they could have a conversation. If not, he’d walk out the front door and wait for an Uber on the Welcome bench. Maybe he could check out that weird floating sign.

Dr. Evans did not make the two-minute deadline, but he did see the elevator doors close. Matt decided Evans had jumped the railings coming down those stairs because there he was, standing in the lobby when the doors opened. He followed Matt to the Welcome bench and sat down.

“I understand you’re homesick.”

“I guess that’s a good way to put it. I’m also bored, and I feel great, and I also think we’re avoiding.”

“What are we avoiding?”

“The truth.”

“Which truth?”

“Listen, Dr. Evans, none of you can give me a single reason for staying in the hospital any longer. My eyes are fully functional, I’m no longer delusional, I eat, my bodily functions are in order, my bloodwork is perfect, my cholesterol is down… blah blah blah. I think the truth is you’re afraid of what might happen when I walk out of this bubble. I think you’re afraid because you’ve never done this before, and your entire operation is at risk. Isn’t it?”

“Matt, I can’t truly answer that, but you’re right about the not knowing part. You are a unique entity; there is no one like you in the world. No one. We don’t know what to expect. We don’t know what you’ll do…”

“Dr. Evans, you let me loose with a prototype, a party worm, and a blue bunny commune for thirty days while you collected data remotely and made adjustments without my awareness or consent. Now my eyes are the prototype and the only way we’ll know if I’m a stable, rational human being, or a sweaty stick of dynamite is to walk me out the door.”

“Sweaty dynamite sticks. That’s fair. OK. Out you go but I want you back in a week for observation. Let’s say one twenty-four-hour period a week for the first month and then we’ll re-evaluate the evaluation schedule. Wanna come upstairs and schedule your next visit with Christie?”

“I do not. Christie can give me a call in a couple of days when I’ve had a chance to adjust.”

“OK. Will you promise to call Christie if something changes?”

“Like if my eyeballs grow teeth or the party worm comes back?”

“Yeah. Like that, only maybe not so dramatic.”

“Maybe.”

*

The door was locked. His Uber was gone, and the door was locked. He didn't have his keys. He didn't have cash, just the Uber account and his phone, and the battery on that bad boy was at seven percent. He didn't have a signal outside the house and couldn't seem to connect to WIFI.

The door was locked and where the hell was his wife? His car was locked up in the garage, her car was gone. It was not in the garage, not on the property, not anywhere reasonable in the middle of the afternoon. He spent a couple petulant minutes peering through the windows but those were LOCKED, and the house was dark. Who the hell locks windows around here? We're lucky if we remember to lock the front door at night.

Matt left his stuff on the front steps and made his way around the hedgerow. He was a little afraid to be knocking on Reed's door when he couldn't find his wife, but her car wasn't in Reed's garage either. He checked.

Reed's office was in the back of the house and the doorbell was disabled. Reed hated the doorbell. It scared the shit out of him; he felt like one of those tiny ballistic dog-like things that bark like demons while they're shitting and pissing their way to the source of irritation. So, he didn't hear the knocking until it started to sound like a home invasion.

Matt was, in fact, contemplating breaking a window so he could stick his head through and scream. Reed didn’t know where Matt would have come from, but he was fervently hoping he was the source of all that noise. If it wasn't Matt, the plan was turn, run, and jump off the back deck. A twelve-foot drop wouldn't kill him, but the lunatic at the front door sounded like he might. 

"Buddy! You're home!" 

"Buddy! Where the fuck is my wife?! Do you have her? Send her down, or out, or whatever if you have her!"

"I do not, Matt. I do not have your wife."

"Where is she?! I can't get in my front door!"

"By any chance, did you tell Laura you were coming home today? And come in here please, the neighborhood quorum is assembling."

Matt shuffled through the front door. The contusion on his forehead dripped dark spots on the entry rug. He didn't think he needed to explain himself and Reed handed him a box of tissues without comment. As an afterthought, Reed checked for embedded hair and tissue on the door before he shut and bolted it. 

"Matt. You look like shit. What the hell happened to you?"

"I just wanted to come home."

"Do you think calling Laura might have been a little easier? You know, a ride, keys, a friendly face..."

"Surprise?"

"I'll say. Come on in here and get yourself cleaned up. You know, I'm a little surprised you're so wound up. I thought the primary benefit of your new eyes was the soothing effect on circumstantial perception. I guess old fears are hard to soften sometimes."

"So, Reed? Do you know where my wife is?"

"No, Matt, I don't, but I'm pretty sure she's just out running errands. I mean, where else would she be?"

"But the door is locked. All the windows are locked. We don’t lock that front door unless we're all going to be gone ALL day."

"Maybe she left early this morning? Could she be chaperoning a school field trip?"

"MY wife? My wife can't stand her own kids. I can't imagine why she'd subject herself to a busload of other people's kids. My wife is different though, isn't she? Can you tell me what happened to my wife?"

"Not exactly following, Matt..."

"Yeah, never mind. It would be bad if you knew enough about my wife to share anything of relevance anyway."

"Listen, Matt, I have a key to your front door. Would you like me to let you in?"

"Why? Why do you have a key to my front door?"

"Really? Who do you think's been taking care of your kids when your wife is at the Hospital of Horrors taking care of you?"

"Oh. Well. I thought maybe they slept over here."

"That would be silly, wouldn't it? They're little kids and they need to be in their own beds. Once or twice might be exciting but twice a week would be a serious disruption."

"Twice a week?"

"Yeah. Matt, Laura spends two nights a week, minimum, in your room. I'm there at least one night a week, sometimes more. We didn't want you left alone, especially for the duration you've been in."

"Oh. OK. Thanks. I mean, yeah, can you let me in?"

Reed helped Matt through the front door and sorted out some of his bags. They checked the refrigerator in case there might be actual food and were startled to find it stocked. Reed made Matt a sandwich and ran back out the door. "I've got a call five minutes ago..." Matt sat down to wait and ate his sandwich while his phone charged. At no point did it occur to him that he might call Laura's cell from the landline.

*

At 12:45 Laura entered the lobby of the American Ophthalmologists building. She squinted at her reflection in a ten year old compact, checked the contents of her backpack, and stepped into the elevator. She bypassed the fourth floor and got off at the seventh. The receptionist took four copies of her resume and vanished.

Laura took a seat. She aligned her feet, side by side, gave her knees a good squeeze, straightened her back, and dreamed of valium. She expected the receptionist to return. She did not expect Dr. Evans to burst through the door. He was disheveled and clearly confused.

"Mrs. Franklin, I'm so, so sorry. We should have called you right away."

"What?"

"Your husband, Matt, he checked himself out just past noon today."

"Well, where the hell is he?"

"We don't know. He got in an Uber and drove away."

"Where did he say he was going?" she hissed.

"Home, I guess."

"You guess?!"

"Well, maybe if you called the house?"

"I CAN'T call the house, Dr. Evans. I'm here for an interview and I'm not willing to blow that off."

"But Matt... wait. Why are you on the seventh floor?"

"Because the recruiter told me to come to the seventh floor and hand four copies of my resume to the receptionist, which I have done and now I am patiently waiting."

"Mrs. Franklin."

"What?"

"Are you here for the research position?"

"Yes, Dr. Evans, I am."

"Well, alrighty then. Step this way, please."

The two people selected to screen the candidate went at the resume like a pair of diabetic vultures. Laura sat across the conference room table with her hands folded. She waited for them to finish before she opened her mouth. She knew about cranky vultures. Engaging in cranky vulture conversation never ends well. So, she didn't. 

When they thought they were through, they looked at each other, and then across the table.

"Well?"

"I'm sorry, 'well, what, exactly?' You have both diligently reviewed and commented on just about every bullet on those pages, so you'll need to clarify the question." (Surgically embedded smile trigger manually held in check)

A moment of silence from the cranky vultures, and then the woman shrugged, and began again.

"All right. Mrs. Franklin, in reviewing your resume, we don't see the word 'research' anywhere."

"I understand, I'm sorry, I don't know that I got your name."

"Margaret."

"Great, thanks Margaret. I think if you look at the opening summary, you’ll find the word Research capitalized like a proper noun."

"Yup. Saw that. Don't understand how it applies to your work history."

"OK, that's a concrete question I can speak to. While none of my positions contain the word research, without it, most of my accomplishments would have been thrown out for lack of accuracy at the start. In other words, Margaret, it’s implied, the same way it’s implied that I went to high school." 

"Mrs. Franklin, I'm not even sure how to respond to that. As I understand, you're a programmer, or you build robots, or something. I'm not sure I even understand, in any concrete way, what you did before you had a couple of babies and stopped doing anything."

That's a low blow, Dickhead Margaret. Sure, you did. you picked apart every single skill and function on that resume. You know exactly what I've been doing. 

Laura pulled out the BS factor and tossed it on the table. "Margaret, I'm glad you noticed. Most people don't read closely and that speaks volumes. I think I'd like very much to work with you. I'm motivated by innovation more than anything else, and that's saying a lot because I'm interested and motivated by many things. Could you tell me a little about your day-to-day functions?"

Best way to sooth a savage vulture: ask it to talk about itself; chances are it’ll never shut up, and you’ll end up with an earful.

Margaret gave Laura her very best cat smile and spilled the beans. The man to Margaret's left wasn't a co-worker from the lab; he was from Legal which made no sense. Wouldn't it make sense to have someone from Human Resources?

Laura took notes like a courtroom stenographer recording the closing arguments of a murder trial. She typed 180 wpm and was more than willing to ask Margaret to back up and tell her again. Margaret was more than willing to repeat her own words. On the other hand, nameless guy from Legal, Kevin, maybe, stopped watching her face and fixated on her hands. He asked her to stop a minute.

"I'm sorry, I'm not sure I got your name either, Kevin, is it?"

"Right, Kevin Simons, I’m from Legal."

"Yes, I picked up on the Legal part." She hit return a couple times, typed his name, and hit return a couple more times.

"Uh, listen, can you please stop typing a minute?"

"Oh, sure, that was just your name, so I don't forget. I write stuff down if it's important enough to remember."

"You've documented quite a bit since Margaret started talking, possibly every word. Mind if I look?"

"Mr. Simons, if you didn't want this interview recorded, it would have been best to have indicated that up front."

"Mrs. Franklin, we've never had a courtroom stenographer in an interview. We've never even had a candidate show up with a laptop. Generally, they come in with a leather binder, take a few jumbled notes, and leave."

"Mr. Simons, where on my resume do you see 'courtroom stenographer'? I'm a little confused. I'm taking notes. I always take notes. However, if you'd really like to see them, I'd be happy to email you a copy as soon as we're through here. You know what, have a look now so we can put whatever worry you've got behind us.”

Laura slid the laptop across the table. Kevin was staring at a blank screen. He hit the space bar, maybe it had gone to sleep while they were talking. He hit the spacebar again and was prompted for pin number. What the hell? Why wasn’t it asking for a password?

"Mrs. Franklin, I'm afraid your machine has gone to sleep and it's asking for a pin."

"Yes, I expect it is. That's step one of a triple authentication process."

"Well, what happens after the pin?"

"The thumbprint."

"And after the thumbprint?"

"A retinal scan."

"Are you shitting me?!"

"Mr. Simons, I take security very seriously. Should you happen to have my thumb and eyeball at your disposal, you'd find every document on that computer encrypted. Even the photographs of my kids."

"Why would you do that?"

"Consider my resume. Every job on that paper has required protection of either Government or Corporate data. Can you imagine the hoops I had to jump through to get TS clearance? Mr. Simons, my kindergarten teacher was interviewed! My PARENTS were subjected to background checks and multiple drug screenings. I thought my sister was going to end up in jail over a misunderstanding about her trading practices. The government does not mess around, and government employees do not leak, share, discuss, or misplace sensitive data. Mr. Simons, Cyber Security is not a joke.”

“So, you’re not going to let me read this?”

“I’ll tell you what. If we get to fully executed offer letter, an event we’re nowhere near, I’ll hand it over. Until then it’s the property of Laura Franklin, LLC and is treated with the same respect I treat information belonging to any company, including American Ophthalmologists. Surely, as a Corporate Attorney, you can appreciate this.”

Dr. Evans popped his head in the room. "Everything OK in here?" Margaret had moved her chair a couple inches away from Kevin which suggested Kevin might need to be removed. He didn't need to scare off every candidate.

The lab team had been down two members for almost two months. They left about a week apart, shortly after the Franklin debacle went sideways. 

Dr. Evans leaned into the doorway. "I got a question for Laura. Everybody OK with that?"

Three heads nodded up and down.

"OK, Laura. Can you tell us why you would interview for a research job at the company that nearly destroyed your husband's eyes?  This is why Kevin is in the room. We're a bit curious, and certainly cautious about your motivation."

Laura tossed another handful of BS onto the table. "Yes! That's exactly it, Dr. Evans. While I was in the process of rebuilding my resume and reconnecting with my network, this business with Matt's eyes went sideways and you know what?"

Evans hadn’t come into the room, but he shifted from a lean to a slouch in the doorway. "What?"

"I want to know why. Not as a wife or concerned citizen, as a scientist. I want to know why, I want to know how, and then I want to work on the project because all of this is extraordinary."

"Does your husband know you're here?"

"No. Do you review every company you're looking at with your wife? I mean, before the initial interview?"

Dr. Evans froze a minute. He’d never had a wife and had no visibility into wife protocol. He punted. "No. I don't. She'd throw plates at my head, and I don't much care for stoneware frisbees."

"I don't either which is why he doesn't know I'm here. If I do take the position, he and I will have a conversation that will go something like this: Hey Matt! Guess what! I got a job! Yay, me!"

"That's it?"

"Yes. That's it. I have never let a man interfere with my career and I'll be damned if I'm going to start now."

Margaret interjected, "So, it was just your kids interfering with your career."

Laura’s sense of self-preservation decided to wait in the lobby. "Margaret, was that a question? I can’t imagine that was a question because discussing my children, or anything other than my skills and employment history is illegal. Also, Margaret, that's damned inappropriate. I gather, based on your comments and some of your questions, you've got a beef with women who step off the professional choo-choo to raise their children. I imagine, like many women in the workforce, you've tried, convicted, and hanged me for the sin of letting down the sisterhood.”

Margaret was starting to speak when the pen from Dr. Evans’ pocket bounced off her head. She closed her mouth.

“Margaret, I have a have a response for that. What you're doing now, the cattiness and the angry barbs create a locked door, damning me back to the dark ages. THAT, Margaret, is letting down the sisterhood. Way to go. I wanted to work with you because you're bright, driven, naturally curious, and I think you push until you get what you're looking for. And I’m pretty sure tossing me under the nearest bus would be Job One. Trust is imperative on any team. How could I possibly trust you to even get your work done?”

Laura’s smack down should have resulted in the immediate termination of the interview, but no one spoke; not a cough or a chair scrape. She could hear dust motes touching down on every surface in the room.

She heard them marching across the conference room table, storming their own version of Omaha Beach. She shook her head to clear the image, but they were still there, still marching in tight formation. It looked like a battalion to the East had received requisitioned spears and shields. They formed a phalanx, bayonets out, and marched in the direction of a massively confused army on the west side of the table. Laura blinked and looked up at Dr. Evans. Dr. Evans was watching her closely. Simons was working up the courage to disembowel her on general principle. Margaret was pale and still.

"Laura?"

"Yes, Dr. Evans?"

"Laura, what do you see?"

"How is that question pertinent to this interview? Did I misunderstand the job description? You’re looking for a designer to give the fourth floor an overhaul?"  

"Laura. This is the interview. If you can't answer the question, we’ll have to say goodbye.”

Nothing about the smack down. Why not? 

"Alright Dr. Evans. I tell you what I see, and you don't call County Services and have me locked up."

"Not today."

"It's not just what I see. When you're all completely still, I can see and hear dust motes landing all over the room, mostly on the table. I see them moving with a purpose. A battalion, and yes, Dr. Evans, I do know what a battalion is. A battalion of dust motes have managed to arm themselves and are currently marching on what looks like several mismatched companies. I'm not even sure they're wearing the same uniforms and there definitely aren’t enough to make up a full battalion. There's more if you want it."

"Nope. That’s quite enough. Simons, run the background check and let's get going."

"Wait! You can't run a background check without a signed offer letter, which involves me signing a piece of paper giving you permission to run that check. I agree to none of this!"

"Laura, we can run that background check. We're going to start with your original TS clearance and work forward to now. I assure you, we can and will do this. It would have been done before you came in, but we had a hurdle to get past first."

"Are you part of the Military? The Federal Government?"

"Not as far as you know. So. Given what you do know, and what you've heard, are you still interested in the job? We can continue the interview if you'd like; it sure sounds like you're not done with Margaret and I'm certain she'd appreciate the opportunity to clean up her mess."

"I guess what I'd really like is an explanation for the re-enactment of D-Day by animated nearly microscopic things."

"I bet you do. Tell me, how is any inanimate physical entity animated? What's the most obvious way, Laura?"

"Robotics and I don't mean the animation of little plastic robots. I have no idea what that was all about. But this is a 'bot thing' I don't understand at all. Are they really dust motes?"

"Yes, they are. They are dust motes that were activated while you were flaying Margaret. We needed to know if you could see them, and more importantly, if you could believe in them."

"Yeah, well, yes, and I do, clearly."

"One last question..."

"What?"

Dr. Evans winked but remained silent.

"You know, Dr. Evans, when you people are deliberately vague it's very distracting and I'm not here to read minds. I really do not possess that skill."

Another wink.

"Fine. Yes, I am very interested in those bots, and I'd do just about anyone, I mean any THING to get my hands on them. Hell, I'd grovel for a tour of the lab. OK? Is that what you're looking for?"

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm looking for. No groveling required, but we do need to get your background check going."

"What about a real job description with functions, responsibilities, and expected results?"

"This is going to take an act of faith, Laura. Can you handle that?"

"Christ on a bike, Evans, the last two months have been an act of faith."

"Fair enough. Your job description will be, 'Animation Thought Provoker’."

"You have got to be joking. I hope the job description says a little more than that absurd label."

"Laura, that label isn't remotely absurd. The Animation Thought Provoker is responsible for the direction of the entire team. Without a Thought Provoker, we have no compass, moral or otherwise. In fact, this is my job right now. The problem is that with Matt's condition, my direct engagement with clients became more important than my presence in the lab. I was only meant to consult on the client side, but that's not what happened, is it?"

"Wow. Well, OK, you'd be available to mentor then?"

"You bet. For the first six months you and I are going to be handcuffed together."

"Literally?!"

"I suppose that's a legitimate question, but I'm going to have to plead the fifth. Now, if Mr. Simons and Miss ‘I Hate SAHMs’ would excuse us, I’d like the room, please. Mrs. Franklin and I need to discuss salary requirements. Margaret, would you stop by Human Resources on your way back to the lab? Have them send somebody down?” 

*

Laura turned her phone on in the car. SIXTEEN messages from Matt. Her mailbox was full which was probably the only thing that stopped him. It wasn't even 5 PM and she knew he couldn’t have gotten home much before 1. Surely, he's capable of handling himself for a couple of hours. The kids would have gotten off the camp bus and headed directly to Reed, but Reed would have sent them home. Wouldn't he? He had to know Matt was home. Hell, Reed was the only way Matt could have gotten in the house. Oh, crap. What if he's not in the house. What if he's been sitting on the front steps for four hours? Shut it, Laura, you're spinning.

Laura had an offer letter in her hand. Human Resources, as directed by Dr. Evans, had it generated and signed before she left the building. He was afraid she was going to bolt. In truth, most of her background check was complete, including calls to unprepared references. He assumed most of them would have little memory of who she was and what she'd done; after all, she’d gone silent for almost nine years. That was an inaccurate assumption. Women didn't seem to like her, but all of them clearly communicated her skill, work effort, and those pesky measurable objectives.

*

Matt was not on the front porch. The kids were not at Reed's. Reed was not at Reed's. All four of them were sitting at the kitchen table; Matt spent most of the afternoon crying. Jeffry had his head on the table, and Sam, the weirdest kid she'd ever met, was reading an advanced trig textbook. Also, it smelled like somebody had a chicken in the oven. Sam looked up briefly, smiled, and asked, "Do you want me to make some calls about after school care?"

shit. 

"Hey Matt! Guess what! I got a job! Yay, me!"

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