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November 2007

Title: November 2007
Series: The Best Moves
Disclaimer: Wholly original work.
Characters/Pairings: Full Cast
Rating: T
Summary: The TBM cast ~four years later. Some things have changed, some have stayed the same.
Notes: A NaNo that never was.

"I can't believe it's November again," Matthew said as he flopped back on the ragged sofa he'd just finished covering with a slightly thicker blanket than had previously been covering its holes and worn spots.

"Next we'll all just wake up and it's January," Tyler said from the floor. Matthew couldn't quite see what his friend was playing with, but it was probably a Transformer. Since the new movie had been released over the summer, slowly the house had become a battleground for plastic robots. Pesky childhoods, he told himself each time he knocked one over and then started playing with it instead of just putting it back and walking away.

"Some of us have exams before then," Timothy chimed in from the other side of the room. "And term papers."

"Yet you're home," his sister Charlie immediately cut in as she carried a tray of drinks into the living room. "I had a job at college, but you..."

"I had a job," Timothy replied. "Remember? I took a couple of years..."

"Whose idea was it to send Tracey and Lainey for the pizza, anyway?" Julian interrupted as he looked at his watch. "Lainey's van probably died and..."

"Lainey's van has systematically died at least once a week for the last four years," Tyler said as he jammed a couple pieces of plastic together with a satisfying snap. "She can always get it running again. I think the engine is held entirely together with duct tape at this point."

"That scares me," Timothy commented as he settled down on the floor next to Tyler. "Can I have a robot?"

"You suck at transforming them," Tyler said as he rooted around in what had to be a pile beside him - Matthew didn't look; he didn't want to know. Apparently they were gathered to watch the movie. Again. He was hoping something else would appear to grab Tyler's interest but so far it wasn't happening.

Sure, he'd gotten a couple of the toys as well, but his were nicely still in their bubbles and tacked to the wall, which seemed like a properly adult thing to do.

"Only because you never let me play with them," Timothy retorted as he was handed a black robot.

"Because you live two-hundred miles away," Tyler replied. "Once you stop doing that and move into the basement or whatever you have planned, then we'll talk."

"Move into the basement?" Matthew asked, frowning. Already their nice, two-person home had become a regular boarding house for retail drones. "Fine, but you need to get a job at the mall."


"It's required," Julian said with a smile as he went back to flipping through a magazine.

"You don't even live here," Timothy muttered. He didn't seem to be having any luck with his plastic robot.

"I live on the next block. With two more retail drones." Julian flipped the page. "Obviously this is some sort of retail flop housing development."

"Wouldn't that be insteresting?" Charlie asked as she handed Matthew a can of Mountain Dew. "I mean, actually polling the neighborhood or other neighborhoods to see if certain professions do tend to unconsciously clump together. Though it's probably just socioeconomic in the end and this is a fairly inexpensive housing area."

"Says the one of us with a real job," Tyler commented. He set a white truck down on the floor and picked up a different robot to begin transforming.

"Hand me one of those," Matthew said as he stretched an arm out. "I don't care who."

"You don't have a choice." Tyler handed a blue robot up to him.

"I'm sorry that I made it through college and found a decent job that I like that pays well," Charlie said as she sat down herself.

"Don't be," Julian said. "Someone had to make it, after all. Next, one of us will get married, have a few kids..."

"Nah," Charlie said. "Not me. I can't imagine trying to bring home someone all of you will like."

Matthew laughed as he managed to fold the robot's legs into position. "Yeah, I think we all know how that goes."

"I liked the hockey player," Timothy said.

"I liked the mechanic," Tyler added.

"The one in the metal band," Charlie commented. "And we all liked Billy."

"I know," Matthew said. "But Billy isn't an option any more. And neither are Serge, Bobby, or Ed."

"I have, however, heard rumor of Myra Z settling down," Timothy said. "Imagine how many people had to approve of any potential mate of hers."

"I don't think Myra Z 'settles down'," Matthew said. "Based on her e-mails, she still has twice as much energy as any of us and she's in a wheelchair most of the time now."

"Remember the time she and Rae visited us?" Tyler asked as he plunked a black and purple jet down next to the white truck. "I have never had such a hard time keeping up with a woman who can't walk."

"That's just Myra Z," Matthew said. "I'm glad she's doing well with everything other than her body. And she's waiting on surgery for that. Space age stuff, I guess, to replace the parts that don't work in her ankles. Or one of them. The bad one."

"If she can walk on her own, she'll be able to play the dance game," Timothy noted while fiddling around with his robots, having little success at it. Tyler reached over to get it away but Timothy pulled it back to his chest.

They all paused when they heard the noise outside.

"Lainey can't sneak anywhere," Charlie noted as she walked over to the window. "I think the exhaust is falling off again."

"Muffler," Julian corrected her. "Those are what usually goes. If it's the whole exhaust, she's gonna end up with some problems. More problems, I mean, than being nickel and dimed to death by that van."

"Not like she could ever sell it,"Charlie said with a frown. "Not since we painted it pink as a prank."

"It hides the rust," Tyler said with a smirk. "And she never has to worry about anyone stealing it or losing it in a parking lot or..."

"Having any shred of dignity," Julian finished. "We know."

"Besides, it's light red," Matthew said. "And how were we to know that when she told us she had gotten a new job, she just meant down the corridor and not far far away from the pits of retail? We thought we'd never see her again."

"And yet she lives in half of the basement," Charlie deadpanned before musing to herself. "I should see if there are any houses on the block for rent. If I took a roommate, I could afford it."

"There's one across from me and Mingan," Julian said after a few seconds. "Smallish, though."

The front door opened and Lainey and Tracey stomped in, arms piles high with pizza and breadsticks and salad.

"Do you even know how much this all cost?" Lainey asked. "Because I swear, one more party and I'm gonna be broke."

"What? The toy store assistant manager who lives in our basement and drives a rusty pink van is somehow lacking for funds?" Tyler asked as he got up to help her.

"Oh, shut up," Lainey said. "I've got like one more year of student loans and then I can either afford stuff or try to go back to school. One of the two. Maybe both, if I do it smartly. I just... didn't do it smartly the first time around and got stuck with a whole lot of nothing. And I'm thankful for your basement - I can't believe my old complex thought that a remodeled laundry room was worth jacking rent up over fifty dollars a month. No thanks."

"You sweep, do dishes, and make small talk with Sandy," Matthew said with a smile. "You're a winner to us."

"We need to figure out what to get Sandy for Christmas," Tyler said as he carried the pizzas he'd took from Lainey into the kitchen. "Between the four of us, we should be able to come up with something."

"Christmas," Timothy said. "Hmmm..."

"Ten dollar limit for anyone in this house right now," Charlie said. "Seriously. Ten dollars. I mean, that or we draw names or something."

"We are not drawing names," Tracey said. "No, no, and I don't think so. That's the most ridiculously second grade idea I've heard in the last five minutes."

"Ten dollar limit, then," Lainey said as she kicked off her boots. "C'mon, let's get pizza."

"Even at ten dollars, there's Julian, Tracey, Tyler, Charlie, Matthew and you," Timothy said, counting everyone off on his fingers before looking at Lainey. "So sixty dollars..."

"That's not bad," Matthew said as he de-roboted and headed towards the kitchen. "I'll spend that easy on just Emily. I'll probably spend that just mailing things to Toronto, unless I get everyone Amazon e-mail gift certificates or something. Ten dollars each."

"I do want to send Ethan something," Timothy admitted. "He sent me a little care box last month."

"Do I want to know?" Tyler asked as he began to pass out paper plates.

"No," Timothy replied with a smirk. "You really don't."

Matthew found himself volunteering to clean up the kitchen, half to get out of watching the last half of the movie. Not that he thought it was bad, he was just sick of anything having to do with romance. He just didn't want to deal with it. And though amongst their little group, Julian was the only one in any sort of steady relationship (and that, Matthew knew, was tenuous at best and generally still a little odd for both Julian and Mingan even after knowing one another for the better part of four years), it just felt like he was worlds apart.

He didn't know what to do with himself at all.

Tyler was happy being a big kid with no goals beyond eventually getting some silly expensive robot from eBay. Timothy had taken a couple of years and then surprised everyone by going off to college. Charlie had finished out her four year degree and was working as a librarian while trying to save to get her Master's. Tracey had stumbled and fallen and stumbled and fallen and eventually found his way back around. Kind of. Lainey had become increasingly embarrassed and upset by her job and quit it, only to end up at a quirky new toy store in the mall - one that catered to weird collectors and such.

When Lainey had done that, Matthew had half-expected Tyler and Lainey to finally hook up and he'd been less than surprised when Lainey had arrived in the middle of the night asking if she could move in. But romance hadn't flourished. The basement had never looked better, however.

With Tracey taking up the third bedroom and Lainey in the basement, the house was almost too full sometimes. The thought of privacy just didn't exist, especially not for simply things like e-mail or sleep. It didn't help that all but Lainey were sharing a laptop that Sandy had given them when she'd just gotten a new one. Lainey, at least, got a little peace down in her basement. Sure, she had to deal with the washer, dryer, hot water heater and furnace, but she also got to ignore a steady stream of questions about dating sites and e-mails.

What was wrong with not wanting to date, anyway? Tyler was single, Tracey was single, Lainey (as far as anyone knew) was single as were Charlie and Timothy (assumingly, at least - he rarely commented on what he did at college that wasn't schoolwork).

Maybe everyone was just used to him being in a relationship...

Matthew put the leftover pizza in the fridge and began to gather up the empty boxes from around the kitchen. He could hear the climactic battle from the living room, along with plenty of stupid commentary. Shaking his head, Matthew kept cleaning. He didn't know how they were all still together after more than three years (well, three was the minimum for Julian - everyone else was closer to four)... He also didn't know why Charlie hung around - she had moved on in the world. But she hadn't moved from their sofa.

Maybe he needed a change - new friends or something. Maybe there'd be someone amongst the incoming seasonal hires who would bring a bit of freshness to the group. Because they needed something that wasn't plastic robots and wasn't the reappearance of Lainey and was nearby because as much as he missed the group in Toronto, they were too far away and... he just wasn't sure he could see Billy without anything happening. And the last thing any of them needed or wanted was drama.

That wasn't to say that he didn't keep in touch with Billy - he did. He e-mailed Billy about once a week and Billy tended to e-mail back at least twice, usually with an addendum or more questions (and answers). Billy still meant close to everything to him, but... They just couldn't be a couple. Not when they only saw one another four times a year and didn't even live in the same country.

There had just been a day when... Well, Matthew had been laying on the floor beside one of Anna's puzzles, looking up at the decorations which were an amalgamation of Halloween, Christmas and other random holidays, and he'd just realized that they'd been together almost two years and neither one had even mentioned trying to relocate or ways to spend more time together.

By far, talking to Billy about it had been the hardest conversation of his entire life. He'd gladly have taken a thousand more comings-out, and his heart had all but broken when Billy had nodded in agreement.

After that - well after that - close to seven months after that had been Serge, who played for the local semi-professional hockey team. They had both ended up at the same fundraiser - walking a high-school track for some good cause or another. Conversation led to an awkward date which had led to more, but Matthew never could put his heart in it. At the end of the season, Serge was leaving for another team and Matthew had let him. It had been fun, but it hadn't necessarily been real.

Bobby had rescued him when he'd gotten a flat tire in a thunderstorm. Normally he wouldn't have just gotten into some stranger's truck, but it happened to be a tow-truck at just the right time. Bobby, however, was married - well, seperated but not yet divorced - and had kids, which made for some absolutely awkward moments and babysitting instead of dates. He couldn't blame Bobby for wanting to be a father. But Matthew knew that it was better to end it early than try to deal with more than he knew he could handle.

Bobby had, however, been absolutely amazing in bed and taught him plenty of new things. When things were actually calm enough for them to have sex, it was mindblowing. Just thinking back on it made Matthew a little uncomfortable - he'd be staying in the kitchen for a bit.

Ed... Ed, well, Ed was Ed. It just hadn't worked. They hadn't actually gotten much past the first few strange dates because while they Matthew had been attracted to Ed and Ed had certainly been attracted to Matthew, they had absolutely nothing in common than their mutual attraction so doing actual things together even in a covert, seemingly-platonic way became unbearably awkward. Besides, guys just didn't do things in pairs. It was impossible to not look like they were out on dates and Ed was always petrified of letting down his female fans. So that had ended quickly too.

Matthew sighed and looked at the sink. It was full of dishes and the movie was still running. There wasn't much to do other than start washing and hope that the plastic robots battling for supremacy of the window sill didn't dive in while he was working.

Picking one up, Matthew eyed it - how much had Tyler spent on the damned things?

But it was also the time of year when they had more money than they knew what to do with - that was why they were having the pizza and movie night. A month ago it would have been unthinkable to not make ramen. Still, Tyler needed to... No, he needed to not lecture Tyler on silly little things. Tyler had always been just fine with his finances and nothing was going to change that little detail.

Matthew wondered if there were boat robots and if they actually floated. Putting it back, he began to run the water for dishes. He laughed when he saw familiar snowman plates at the bottom of the pile. Between their own dinnerware and Lainey's, the cupboards were actually respectably full and his mother had gotten them another box of glasses not too long ago.

He had to start thinking about what to get her for Christmas. And his father. He should probably visit them - he hadn't seen either in a couple of weeks though his mother tended to send silly e-mail forwards on a daily basis.

Emily would be easy to buy for as long as he could figure out what she did and didn't have. Myra Z would probably have the best idea. At seventeen, Emily was still involved with Remote Transmissions and was doing more than ever for a pathetic rate of pay. But it was something and Emily had the time of her life doing it. She'd even gotten a couple of freelance jobs for other magazines and websites based on her art for Remote Transmissions - which was a big deal at seventeen.

Matthew knew his sister would make it. And it felt good.

So beyond his family, he had the Toronto gang to take care of - Myra Z and Rae and Billy and Anna and Jameson and Ethan, at the very least. Perhaps he could just send cards to everyone else. That was six people just for gifts, plus six amongst friends (and something small for Mingan, who was generally too busy to bother with small social things).

Mingan - Matthew just didn't understand Mingan and Julian. They had the same 'nothing in common' vibe that he'd had with Ed, but somehow Mingan and Julian made it work brilliantly. Mingan owned a store in the mall - weird imports and such - and that took most of his time. And he seemed happy that Julian had people to be around. Matthew admittedly didn't know much of Julian's past except that it had been somewhat unpleasant for the most part. His family had not been understanding of his life and it had apparently gone downhill from there.

And Sandy, of course. Sandy would get something exceptionally nice for each of them because as far as people who had more money than they knew what to do with, Sandy was high on the list. Her latest young adult novel had risen steadily up the bestseller lists and more and more people were clammoring to find her alter ego. She was spending far more time with interviews and press than repairs and cookie-making, which mostly infuriated her because she seemed to like being a fixture at their kitchen table at unexpected times.

"Everyone in the world," Matthew muttered to himself. He kept washing. He could hear the movie coming to an end and knew that people would be leaving soon. But only a couple - Timothy and Charlie would go together, and Julian would walk home or maybe stay, depending on how he felt. Despite being in a relationship with Mingan, Julian apparently kept his own space in Mingan's attic and tried to stay out of sight. He was more of a stray than anything, Matthew thought. A pleasant, polite one who knew how to fix things and build things and generally be good company.

"You did dishes?"

Matthew turned around to see Charlie in the doorway.

"And cleaned up," Matthew replied. "Amazingly, I know the ending of the movie."

"Oh, but Tyler kept a spot for you next to him..." Charlie trailed off, smiling.

"The last thing I wanted was to leave this mess for Lainey or tomorrow," Matthew replied. "I don't think I missed anything."

"I'm going back to school tomorrow morning," Timothy said as he popped his head in. "Gotta start on final papers and such."

Matthew nodded. He remembered, vaguely. "Good luck."

"Thanks," Timothy replied. "Don't worry, I'll be home for break soon. We can do our shopping together."

"Sounds like a plan," Matthew said as he raised a soapy hand to wave. "Drive safe."

"We will," Charlie said. "You boys get some sleep."

"Yes ma'am," Tyler said as he popped into the kitchen with an armload of glasses perilously jammed together. "Us boys and Lainey, who has to work in the morning even if the rest of us don't."

"At ten," Lainey's voice chimed in. "It's... only nine-thirty now. We're old if the party is over already."

"We're old," Charlie said with a laugh. "I have to work in the afternoon, but I'd still like to make sure this one gets some sleep."

She ruffled Timothy's hair and smiled.

Matthew smiled. He couldn't imagine anyone else joining their crazy little group. Maybe that's why his relationships didn't work out. Or maybe he'd just had a row of duds. Some people were just unlucky.

And sometimes he felt like he topped the list.

Matthew trudged from his car towards work, somewhat ignoring Tyler to his left and Tracey to his right. It was Monday morning and they were all in a bit of a fog. Lainey had gotten home from her shift and started cleaning - a task they could not begrudge but she had the terrible habit of listening to loud music while doing it - not loud enough to disturb the neighbors, of course, but loud enough to just be heard over the vacuum.

That was one of the good things about Lainey - she'd come with her own vacuum. Actually, she'd come with an array of cleaning supplies, all of which worked and she knew how to use them. By the end of the day, she'd even come upstairs to vacuum their rooms (all of which needed it) despite protests of being mostly asleep.

For Matthew, the idea of the carpet not crunching when he walked was actually a bit better than sleep. He could deal with it. And it was better than saving for a new vacuum and then not using it what-so-ever.

Lainey had just been in a mood - a good one, which was becoming more and more common for her. It was nice, really. Maybe it was just because she was hanging around them more instead of forcing herself to hang out with the lackeys of middle management. But she was back to the Lainey that he remembered from when she worked with them. She was almost, actually, a little easier going. Her new job was agreeing with her.

Matthew made a mental note to actually pop into the toy store and look around. If nothing else, maybe he could find a nice toy robot for Tyler, though Tyler was near-impossible to shop for because if he liked it, he bought it without question. That was the problem with Christmas as an adult - everything was easily obtained whenever it was desired, so by the time Christmas rolled around, there was really no point. Matthew couldn't think of a single thing he really wanted that he didn't have, other than maybe a couple new CDs to listen to (which technically weren't a huge want but they'd be nice) or a new hoodie sweatshirt.

A big bottle of laundry detergent would be just a nice, though it probably wouldn't wrap as well. But it would be really useful. Maybe they needed detergent. Lainey had taken over the basement, though, so he'd have to ask her.

They got to the doors and Tracey stepped forward to open them. Matthew almost didn't notice a fourth figure with their group. It wasn't Tessa and wasn't any of the softlines gals, but too small to be Scott.

"Excuse me..."

A new voice.

Matthew and Tyler both turned to look at the new hire.

"First day?" Tyler asked with a smile.

"Yeah," the woman admitted. She looked to be not far out of high school and perhaps a little curious about what she was getting into if not a little afraid. "I'm, um, supposed to, um, be looking for a woman named Di-"

"Dynamo," Tracey chimed in. "She's around somewhere. Should be up here, since she won't leave the door unlocked if she isn't within lunging distance.

"Morning!" Dynamo yelled right on cue, popping up from behind a nearby row of shopping carts. "Couldn't help but overhear. And sorry, I think I'm going to spend half the day bent over. I got these new shoes and they just won't stay tied..."

"Double-knots?" Tyler suggested.

"Triple," Dynamo replied with a frown. "I think it's because I've lost a few pounds and my pants are dragging on them just right... Shows me to try to slim down a bit for bikini season."

"Which year?" Tyler asked with a sly smile. "And before you start throwing things at me, we have a new girl to scare off."

"Um, hi," the woman said with a timid wave.

"Come with me," Dynamo replied as she gestured for the woman to follow her. "Tracey, you watch the door."

"Yes, ma'am," Tracey said.

"And what's your name?" they heard Dynamo ask the woman.

"Cindy," she replied. "It's, um, nice to meet you."

"Weird," Tyler said once they were out of earshot.

"Was I any better?" Matthew asked as he jumped up to sit on a row of shopping carts that thankfully didn't slide apart and deposit him on the floor.

"No," Tyler said. "You might have been worse."

"So we need to see if she's one of us?" Tracey asked. "How does that work?"

"We'll know," Tyler replied. "By break, we'll know. She might be a softline lady or a health and beauty socialite. Maybe she's a market and dry goods soccer mom..."

"She's not a soccer mom," Matthew said. "She had a black leather jacket."

"Normal, boring people have those," Tyler reminded him.

"She'll be interesting, once she learns to speak properly," Tracey commented from over by the door. "I give her..."

"No, don't jinx it!" Matthew cried before smirking. "I want first dibs on the bet."

Tyler rolled his eyes. "No way..."

A shadowy figure appeared in the door.

"Morning, Tessa," Tracey said as he opened the door. "Good hunting tonight?"

"Bah," Tessa replied as she pulled off the dark scarf she was wearing even though it was the middle of the night. "Just... bah."

"I know that feeling," Tyler said. "But our bah is more related to a certain former spazz-case deciding to vacuum well into the evening hours. Not that we didn't need the vacuuming, but c'mon? What person vacuums on a Sunday night after work?"

"One who lives with you three, I imagine," Tessa replied with an unnerving smile. "Any idea what the day looks like?"

"Nope," Matthew admitted. "We found some, well, fresh blood and Dynamo wandered off with her. Maybe depositing her in Kathleen's care or something, if Kathleen is already here."

"She is," Tessa noted. "Saw her car."

Tyler nodded. "Well, yeah, that's probably it. We've got door guard til she comes back."

"I have door guard," Tracey corrected. "You two can punch in and go work."

"Bah," Matthew said as he hopped down from his perch.

"Just... bah?" Tessa asked as she escorted them to the time clock.

"Yeah," Tyler said as he glanced back at Tracey. "Just bah."

By break time, Matthew was half-dead. The supply truck hadn't even been that big, but Dynamo had ordered them all along at a breakneck speed with crazy fast techno music blaring.

And he'd been over in the toy aisles, filling an end of plastic robots and trying not to figure out which ones Tyler did and did not have because he wasn't going to buy one without first stealthily inquiring to Tyler about what was and was not currently living in their house and potentially on the kitchen window.

Matthew, at least, knew which ones he had. Small miracles, he assumed.

Tyler was the first to flow down at one of the tables in the break room. He rummaged in one of his pockets for a moment before handing a dollar back to Matthew.

"What, am I your maid?" Matthew asked as he took the dollar and walked over to the pop machine.

"You're my good little wifey," Tyler shot back, earning a pointed frown. But Matthew got the pop anyway and handed it to Tyler before sitting down. Tracey followed a bit behind, having grabbed a cup of ice from the downstairs machine in the cafe area.

"Please?" Tracey asked as he waved his cup in Tyler's direction.

"Pathetic," Tyler said before he poured just enough to cover the ice.

"We know," Matthew said as he put his head down.

"What's wrong with today?" Tessa asked as she glided into the room. "I can't get my head clear. I feel like..."

"We're all like that," Tracey mumbled. "I think we all need to go home and go back to bed. I know Dynamo is trying to pump us up, but it just isn't working. I nearly keeled over under a few pieces of furniture and I never do that."

"Christmas is going to kill us," Tyler noted. "And then we'll all be reanimated as zombies and put right back to work!"

"Ain't that the truth," Tessa said as she sat down. "I wonder if anyone else is coming up."

"Scott will," Matthew said. "And Kathleen and her ladies."

"New girl," Tracey said. "Wonder if she's made it this long."

"Ye of little faith," Tyler shot at him. He slammed most of his pop. Matthew rolled his eyes.

Silently, the woman in question ascended the stairs and proceeded to stare at the lot of them.

And then Scott came bounding up. He'd put on a few pounds as the years had progressed and he came skidding to a stop just before crashing into Tessa's table.

"Have a seat!" he said to Cindy as he promptly sat. "Tessa's the only one who bites and she'll make sure you like it."

"I do not bite anyone not wishing to have me bite them," Tessa clarified with a toothy grin. "It's part of the rules."

"Vampires have rules?" Tracey asked as he narrowed his eyes at her. "Since when?"

Tessa rolled her eyes. "A rule, I suppose. Don't bite anyone not wanting to be bitten. Otherwise, it's assault."

Tyler snickered.

Cindy came into the break room and sat down.

"So what do you do?" Scott asked her with a smile. "Other than work here, I mean?"

"Well, um..." Cindy stared off at the wall. "I just got divorced, actually. And I had to move back home. Um... it's been a little rough and I..."

"Aw, hey, you don't have to deal us the bad stuff," Scott said quickly. "That's for tomorrow. I was thinking more about hobbies or something."

Cindy smiled. "I knit," she said. "And... I don't really have hobbies yet."

"How old are you?" Tessa asked. "You don't have to answer, but..."

"Twenty," Cindy replied. "Got married at sixteen and dropped out of school 'cause I was pregnant. But I lost the baby, kept the husband and just finally got my GED."

"Didn't I say you could skip the heavy stuff?" Scott said firmly.

"I, um, am all heavy stuff," Cindy said. "And... I don't even know all your names."

"Matthew," Matthew said. "And this is Tyler, Tracey, Scott and Tessa."

"Hey," Tracey said with a wave. "Nice to meet you, by the way."

"Nice to meet all of you," Cindy said. "Everyone here has been so nice."

"It's what we do," Tyler said with a shrug. "We're the under-appreciated good guys of the store."

"If we get out early, you should come have breakfast with us," Tracey said as he glanced around. "Just McDonalds or something."

"I'll pay," Matthew volunteered. Cindy was almost gaunt. Whatever she'd been through, it wasn't pleasant and she was quite likely strapped for cash other than that jacket she wore. Probably wasn't hers.

"I can't," Cindy said. "I mean, I just..."

"Go, hang out with people your age," Tessa said. "Don't worry, they're about the safest guys on the planet."

Cindy nodded. And suddenly Matthew realized that he was experiencing the most pleasant of feelings - the feeling of a beautiful beginning.

Cindy and Tyler were staring at one another. Matthew had noticed this and had subtly kicked Tyler under the table. At least he hoped he'd kicked Tyler and not Cindy or Tracey but since neither one of them had said anything, he assumed he'd kicked the right person. Tyler was still staring.

Outside of work, Cindy didn't look any different - maybe a little smaller huddled into her jacket as she picked at the breakfast muffin thing she'd ordered.

"So... you all, um, live together?" Cindy asked. She'd already asked. It had already been explained.

"Us and Lainey," Matthew said. "Sometimes a guy from the next block over if things are weird where he's staying. It's hard to explain that, really."


"A friend," Tyler said. "We all used to work together."

"And she had the good sense to leave," Tracey said. "I mean, not that there's much wrong with working there. Just sometimes it gets kinda heavy at times. She's working at that new toy store in the mall."

"I haven't been in the mall in years," Cindy admitted. "I got married and we moved. I was pretty much alone. Everything has changed... But my parents are here and they're willing to let me stay for awhile."

Tyler smiled. "I'm glad you've got a support system."

"And a job now," Cindy said with a smile. "I'm happy for that. I've never really worked much, but this stuff is fairly simple. I can do it."

Tracey nodded. "Yeah, it's a good job for those of us who have no real direction. If you're lucky, your direction will show up and you'll go off to do something worthwhile."

"Sounds, um, like you want rid of me already." She poked at her food again.

"No," Matthew said. "We just want good things to happen, that's all. No sense it looking at all the bad stuff when you can be looking for the good and all."

"We should go to the mall," Tyler interjected. "Should be open in a few. I don't know if Lainey is working or not, but apparently her store has some new..."

"Plastic robots," Matthew deadpanned. "We know. You were talking about it all last evening when she told you. Apparently people have been asking so they ordered them and it was supposed to be a surprise even though you were surprised but Lainey was going to bring one home but like the rest of us, she has no idea what you do and do not have because every time we turn around, you have five more of the damned things."

He took a breath. Tyler was slack-jawed. Tracey started laughing.

"Man, you just nailed it," he said after a few seconds.

Cindy started laughing. "You collect toys?"

"It's a manly pursuit," Tyler explained with a winning smile.

"Okay," Cindy said. "I wouldn't mind going for a bit. But then I'm kinda tired."

"Whoops - first day," Tracey said. "We're sorry."

"It's okay," Cindy assured them. "Really."

A half hour later, the four of them were standing wide-eyed in the toy store.

Matthew couldn't help but think that something amazing was afoot.


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