"Collins is wrong," Ralph says, turning over on the couch.
"I thought you were asleep."
"No." Ralph adjusts his blankets, sitting up enough to see Walter's eyes. "Just resting my eyes."
"Of course." Opening his book, Walter turns to his bookmarked page. "But I do not wish to speak about Collins."
"It's not really about him. It's about Scorpion." Ralph yawns. "You said I was part of the team." Walter scrunches his eyebrows. "Well, as long as I don't run into a locked-down building again."
Still staring down at his novel, Walter sighs. "What's not true?"
"The team doesn't make you weak. We need the team. Really." His eyes look so pleading that even Walter can detect the fear in Ralph's voice.
"The team isn't going anywhere." Walter pats Ralph's shoulder.
"You're not letting Collins send you down the rabbit hole?"
"I hear things." Ralph shrugs.
"No, I am not letting him get to me."
Walter closes his book and looks into Ralph's eyes. "Promise."
"Do you think Sloan will like it?" Ralph asks his mother as he inspects the art kit in his hand.
"You said she likes art." Paige looks at the price tag and the list of supplies, nodding again. "I think it's a winner."
"I just want it to be nice." Ralph sighs. "This emotion thing is weird."
Paige laughs. "Well, you're doing great at it. It'll get easier."
"If you say so." Ralph sets the kit in the cart. "I guess we can go now."
"I just have to make one more quick stop." Paige starts to push the cart in the opposite direction, calling for Ralph to follow her. Stopping at the doll aisle, Paige grabs a set of dollhouse furniture.
"Mom?" Paige motions for him to continue. "Are you trying to tell me something?" He asks, a look of nerves and disgust on his face. "Because I don't think I'm ready to hear it."
"No!" Paige turns back toward the cash registers. "Walter asked me to pick up some supplies for Ferret Bueller. Happy took her dollhouse furniture back."
Ralph nods. "See! Emotions make us weird."
"Still need 'em."
Ralph holds up the sloppily wrapped candy-cane package, a shy grin on his face. "Here."
Dropping her tools, Happy says, "What's this?"
"A Christmas present." He inches the box closer to her face. Wiping her hands with a rag, Happy tries to control her breathing. "I know you don't like surprises, but everyone needs a Christmas present."
"Open it." He bounces up and down. "Please."
"Okay." Happy takes the box and sets it gingerly on her workbench.
"I wrapped it myself." Ralph smiles, proud of his work. Pulling the wrapping taped in a bunched ball at the top of the present, Happy chuckles.
"Dollhouse furniture?" Happy lets out a breath, the constricting feeling in her chest- the need to leave and push people away- more present than ever.
"I know you're making most of the stuff for your house, but I liked these ones a lot. It has a drafting table, see?" He points to the box's picture. Happy nods. "Maybe you can use it."
Without words, Happy ropes Ralph into a hug. "Thanks, kiddo." Maybe Christmas wasn't such a bad time of year after all.
"I don't think I'm a baker," Ralph says, staring at the mess of a gingerbread house in front of him.
After finishing the last row of piping on his own creation, Sylvester looks over. "Don't worry. It takes practice."
"So you've done this before?" Ralph grabs a cookie from his house, mumbling that it's ruined anyway.
"Yeah," Sly sighs. "I used to make them with my mom." He picks up the bag of icing, adding a smiley face to the cookie for Ralph. "Christmas was always her favorite holiday."
Patting Sylvester's back, Ralph munches on his snack. "Maybe you can show me?"
Wiping the tear that got away, Sylvester smiles. "I think that's a great idea. Let's get more gingerbread." He squirts some sanitizer on his hand while on his way to the kitchen, happy to create new memories and leave behind the sadness of the old ones. "I'm going to show you how to pipe and how to scallop. Oh and how to construct the house at the best possible angle." Yeah. It is going to be a better day.
"It's tradition, Walter." Ralph places the plastic donkey tail in his hand. "Mom and I play Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey at all of my birthday parties."
"The object of the game is to put a piece of plastic on a piece of paper. The entire thing is illogical," Walter says, only grimacing slightly at Paige's glare.
"I know, but I like tradition." Ralph runs to his mother for the blindfold. "I want you to be part of the tradition too."
"I guess…" Walter pauses. "It wouldn't be that bad."
"Perfect!" Ralph climbs up the step stool as Walter bends over, before securing the blindfold. "I'm going to spin you now."
"I'm beginning to think this wasn't the best idea."
"No, I think it's a pretty good one," Paige chuckles.
"I like your ideas."
"Well, Ralphy-boy, here comes the fun part." Closing the stomach of the reconstructed baby doll, Toby smirks. "Now I can teach you how to operate."
"Cool," he gasps. "What am I learning?"
"Let's start with an appendectomy." Toby secures a doctor's coat and face mask on Ralph's head. "What are the signs?"
"Abdominal pain and tenderness, fever, and vomiting."
"Right. And little Bobby has all of those."
"Bobby?" Ralph asks. Toby nods. "I don't like that name."
"He's a fake patient." Ralph tilts his head. "Fine. Tommy is all checked out. Better?"
"Definitely. So first, I take the scalpel and make a clean incision in the right quadrant of his abdomen." Rummaging through Toby's medical kit, Ralph pulls out the necessary tool. As he begins the pseudo-surgery, Ralph comments, "Nice touch with the fake blood."
"I know. I got it from Happy."
"I bet you did."
"Wait, pay attention, don't cut the-"
"What is going on?" Paige screams, watching the fake blood squirt into both geniuses' faces.
"I told you she wouldn't be happy." Ralph turns to Toby, lifting his hands up in surrender.
"Do I need to ask again?" Paige says, hands on her hips.
"First surgery gone wrong?" Toby smiles.
Ralph adds, "Very, very wrong."
Paige sits next to Ralph, silently breathing to the tune of the heart monitor behind her. She doesn't know how a relaxing day at the garage turned into a trip to the hospital. The panic and fear has yet to subside, but at least she knows he's safe; he is going to be okay.
"I have to change his meds," the night nurse says as she walks into the room.
"I'll only be a moment." Paige nods and watches the gentle, experienced touch of the older woman as she fiddles with the machine and Ralph's IV. Paige runs her hand through Ralph's head of hair, silently praying to whoever might be out there for a quick recovery. "His levels were off the chart." The nurse turns, then hooks another bag of saline to the machine. "He's lucky you got him here so quickly." She turns to Paige. "Then again, I'm surprised his pediatrician didn't catch this earlier."
Paige sighs. "I knew something was wrong. I just didn't know it was worth an emergency room visit until a friend of ours came to work and checked Ralph out."
"No matter what happened, you still got him here on time." Patting Paige's shoulder, the nurse continues, "The insulin therapy is working and his vital signs are stronger. In the morning we'll send in a nutritionist and his attending doctors."
Paige nods, taking in another breath. "Does the hospital recommend any pediatricians?"
"Yes, I'll send a list up in the morning." The nurse smiles. "Get some rest. Both of you need it."
"Thanks," Paige says, looking at the nurse's name tag, "Theresa. I appreciate it."
After Theresa leaves, Paige leans down to press a kiss to Ralph's forehead. Stirring, Ralph mumbles, "Mom?"
"Am I going to be okay?"
"Yes, sweetheart. Thank goodness, you're going to be okay."
"Here's saline." Ralph hands Cabe the tiny bottle from his mom's purse. "You look like you need it."
"It's just an itch," Cabe says. Removing his hands from his red, and clearly irritated, eyes he grabs his sunglasses. "Let's get going."
"I don't think getting into a car with you is a logical decision." He pushes the saline more insistently. "Try it."
"I'm a marine. We don't need-"
Ralph huffs. "I know you got contacts." Cabe tilts his head. "Don't marines know when something has to be done?"
"Ah, give it to me." He takes the bottle and squirts a few drops of liquid heaven into both of his eyes. "I'm getting old."
"Yeah," Ralph says, amused by Cabe's really? expression. "But I won't tell anyone."
"I just want to be rich," Toby begins, his hands gesturing to the garage around
him. "I could have a yacht. Or a mansion. I can get an original 1966 Lincoln Continental." Toby leans farther onto his desk. "Yeah…"
Popping up from behind him, Ralph laughs as Toby startles. "That's never going to happen."
Sitting back up in his chair, Toby kicks his feet up onto his desk. "Why is that?"
"Well, to begin with, you like to spend your money." Ralph jumps onto the desk, facing Toby. "I know you don't gamble anymore, but you sure buy a lot of stuff."
"I could save my money," Toby says. "If I wanted to."
"You still wouldn't end up with all that much." Ralph leans over to whisper in Toby's ear. "Because you and Happy are going to be together. And then maybe you'll have a family. Then, there's never enough money." Pulling back with a satisfied grin, Ralph turns his head to look at Happy. "Trust me."
"Such candor, Ralphy-boy."
"Someone needs to knock some sense into you two. You two liking each other may be gross, but I like it better when everyone on the team is happy." Ralph hops off, ready to go work on his telescope. "Just keep the romance to a minimum around me, please."
Ralph slides out from under his mom's car, Happy following moments after. "Did we do it?"
"Why don't you see for yourself?" Happy says. She turns the key in the ignition and smiles as the boy lights up. "See, you changed the oil."
"Wow. That was fun." Ralph goes to grab the keys until he realizes he's covered in motor oil and grease. "Um…"
"Here." Happy hands him a new rag. "Next time I'll teach you how to check and clean the battery terminals."
"Will we get to take the engine apart again?" Ralph whispers, looking over his shoulder for Paige.
"Next week," Happy says. "But that's just between me and you, okay?" Ralph pretends to zip his lips.
"Ready to see my telescope now?"
"Sure. As soon as we clean up."
Ten minutes later, the two are on the roof, fiddling with Ralph's new telescope. "It's dark enough now." Ralph twists another eyepiece onto the telescope. "What should I look for?"
"Perseus can be seen tonight."
Pulling back, Ralph exclaims, "You know constellations?" At Happy's nod, he continues. "Then why haven't we done this before?"
"I don't know. I thought you liked using your telescope with Walter and your mom."
"Of course I do." Ralph points his lense to the right. "But I also like hanging out with you."
"Me too," Happy says. "Did you find it?"
"Look." He offers the telescope to Happy and sees the tiny curl of her lips. "Andromeda is right above it."
"Mhmm." Happy steps back to give Ralph a turn.
"Stay and find some more constellations with me?"
Happy nods. "Sure."
"This isn't funny!" Paige huffs, storming out of the community center's doors. "We're banned."
"No! I thought we were just taking a stroll," Toby says, chuckling slightly.
"Not. Funny." She jabs her finger at Cabe's chest. "And you. You're supposed to help me keep them out of trouble."
"I was working on my own masterpiece." He nods over to the geniuses. "Happy started it."
"Who thought it was a good idea to sign all of us up for an art class?" Happy counters.
"Oh, I think it was Miss Dineen," Toby smirks.
"It was better without the backup."
"I'm just expressing-"
"This is going to be a while," Ralph says, detaching his hand from Happy's and grabbing Walter's.
Comfortable with the gesture, Walter continues. "Besides, this community center is for the arts. Math and science are much more profitable."
"I was going for fun." Paige looks Walter in the eyes. "Not a paint war that gets me kicked out of a place I happen to enjoy."
Walter stumbles over his thoughts, his face reflecting a myriad of possible sentiments. "I...apologize for the lack of respect-"
Ralph pulls his hand away yet again. "And apparently so is this." He walks over to Cabe. "They're a piece of work." He crosses his arms over his chest.
"Yeah. But they're family."
"Mhmm." Ralph laughs at the bickering couples, one calm and contained, the other complete with hand gestures and emphatic sighs. "My family is weird." Cabe nods, ruffling Ralph's hair.
"Gotta love 'em anyway."
"Yeah." Ralph smiles. "I definitely do."