"What is taking so long?" grumbled Eve Baird, checking her watch for the third time in five minutes. From a workbench a few feet away in the lab, Jenkins sighed and laid down the screwdriver he'd been using.
"No idea," he replied in a bored tone. He peered into his toolbox and dug around through the tools inside until he found what he wanted. "Do we have any idea why we have been banished to the lab for the last two hours?"
"No idea," echoed Eve impatiently. Before she could say anything more, a ping sound chimed from inside a pocket of her khaki jumpsuit. She quickly pulled her phone out and looked at the screen.
"HA!" she barked. "It's Stone! He says we can come to the workroom now."
"Oh, can we?" the Caretaker said acidly, scowling as he bent over his latest version of a communication badge using the communication stones. "Please tell Mr. Stone that, one: I am not a dog that is at his beck and call; and two: I'm busy." Eve snorted as she dutifully typed out his response and sent it. Another ping sounded a few seconds later.
"He says for you to get your bony old ass into the workroom right now, or he'll feed Franklin enough sugar to keep him wired for the next three weeks," reported Baird, a smirk in her face. Jenkins's head popped up and his shoulders slumped in disbelief as he stared at her.
"He wouldn't dare!" the immortal rumbled, narrowing his eyes. Eve shrugged and slipped her phone back into her pocket.
"Stone doesn't make idle threats," she said breezily. She turned to head for the door. "You remember what happened the last time Franklin got into the pantry and ate that entire box of sugar cubes!" If Franklin is hopped up on sugar for the next three weeks, I think you can pretty much kiss any sexy time with Cassandra good-bye until that little dragon crashes!"
Eve laughed as the old man's eyes widened in horror. He remembered very well, indeed. The little tea dragon was so hyper that he refused to sleep for days—which, in turn, cut deeply into what Cassandra called her and Jenkins's "sexy time". He dropped the tool he was using onto the workbench and quickly stood up, stripping off his lab coat.
"After you, Colonel!" he snapped tersely, grabbing his suit coat as he rushed right past her and through the door.
Eve had to jog in order to catch up with the long-legged Caretaker in the corridor. Within five minutes, they arrived at the workroom.
As they entered the cavernous space, Jenkins and Eve were stopped in their tracks, startled by the loud shout. All around the workroom hung red, white and blue bunting and balloons. Glittery silver stars hung from the ceiling all over the room, and a large sign hung on one wall read, "Thank You for Your Service, Eve and Jenkins!" The long central table was covered in a red and white checked tablecloth, and was spread with a veritable picnic feast of BBQ pulled pork, corn on the cob, salads, coleslaw, rolls and other mouthwatering summertime dishes. Perched on the end of the table was a large multi-layer cake, festively topped with a lit sparkler. While Cassandra held a fidgeting Franklin in her arms, the men clapped and cheered, everyone breaking into a ragged rendition of "For They are Jolly Good Fellows". All the while, Guardian and Caretaker stared at the unexpected sight, mouths open.
When the song was finished, Flynn and Cassandra ran forward to take their respective spouses by the hand and pull them over to the table.
"Were you surprised, honey?" asked Flynn eagerly. Eve blinked and nodded her head emphatically.
"What's going on?" she asked. "What's all this for?"
"It's November 11! It's Veteran's Day!" exclaimed Jacob as he screwed the cap off of a beer and handed to her. "We got to talkin' the other day, and we realized we've never really acknowledged or thanked you for your service in the military, let alone as our Guardian!"
"Oh, my god! Guys!" exclaimed Eve, clearly touched. "This is so—" She waved her hands helplessly. "—Unnecessary!" She looked around at the little group that had long ago become her family.
"I don't do this job for any thanks; I've never taken any job expecting thanks! Not the army, not NATO, not here." Her eyes grew misty as she spoke. "I served because my dad served, and his dad served, and his dad before him. I wanted to serve partly to honor them, and also because I thought it was the best way I could give back to society." She looked around the room again and smiled.
"But, I'm sure I speak for Jenkins, too, when I say 'thank you' for this—it means a lot! Really! But…why a picnic in the middle of November?"
"Remember that Fourth of July picnic we had planned this summer and that you were so excited about?" asked Flynn.
"The one we never got to have because that mission in Argentina came up!" Eve said sourly. "And then we never got to reschedule…" She turned to beam at her husband and threw her arms around him.
"Aw, Flynn! That's so sweet!"
"And we thought you deserved a 'thank you', too!" chirped Cassandra, practically dancing next to a bewildered Jenkins. Franklin finally wriggled out of her grasp with a loud yip and shimmied up Jenkins's arm to perch on the old man's shoulder.
"I'm not the Guardian," protested the immortal, a look of complete befuddlement mixed with exasperation on his face as he reached up to scratch behind one of the tea dragon's ears. "Nor have I served in the armed forces!"
"Maybe not recently," said Ezekiel pointedly. "But Stone and I are pretty sure that you've served this country at some point in its past!" Jenkins dropped his gaze and cleared his throat, suddenly uneasy.
"Ah. Yes, well," he rumbled as he nervously ran one hand over the front of his shirt. "I may have had some small involvement in the Revolution…"
"HA!" yelped Jake excitedly, and punched Ezekiel in the arm. "I knew it! I just knew it!" He stopped celebrating suddenly and turned to peer through narrow eyes at the Caretaker.
"Wait—which side were you on? The Americans or the Redcoats?" the historian growled warily. Jenkins pulled himself upright and threw his shoulders back, raised his head.
"Mr. Stone, remind me sometime to show you my discharge papers," he sniffed, fixing the younger man with an offended glower. "The ones signed by General Washington himself!"
"Really?!" squeaked Cassandra, her red head whipping around to look up at her husband, her eyes glowing with pride. Jenkins's chest puffed up slightly and he smiled as he basked in her adoration. Jake did a fervent fist pump and mouthed the word "Yes!" before punching Ezekiel in the arm again, then held out his hand expectantly. The Australian rolled his eyes and grimaced as he dug a twenty dollar bill out of his jeans and slapped it resignedly into Jacob's.
"The New York 2nd Regiment!" Jenkins continued proudly, then leaned over to murmur more quietly to his wife. "Though, mind you, I only held the rank of private in that one!" Cassandra giggled and cuddled against his arm. Jenkins straightened again, then frowned.
"The army still owes me pension money for my service, too, now that I think about it!" he said dourly.
"Good luck with that, Skip!" laughed Eve. "Just let me know when you submit your claim, because I so want to be there when you go the Department of Defense with those discharge papers to demand your money!" Jenkins snorted back at her, but there was a twinkle of humor in his eyes. Eve winked at him and then turned her attention to the table.
"So!" she exclaimed, looking around at the food-laden table. "Who wants some BBQ? And is there going to be any music at this party or what?"
Flynn dashed over to the old phonograph and began to crank it up, while the others began dishing up the food, Cassandra pulling Jenkins by the hand. There was good-natured teasing and laughter as everyone grabbed a plate and helped themselves to their favorites. Franklin, clinging tightly to Jenkins, bobbed his head up and down with excitement, trilling happily as Jenkins slipped him a piece of chocolate chip cookie to munch on.
Eve stood back from the table and just watched everyone for a moment as she took a swig of her beer. Life as an army brat hadn't been easy, and service in the army and NATO as an adult hadn't exactly been walks through the park, either. And sometimes—truth be told—being the Guardian sucked, big time. But despite all of the stress, all of the craziness, all of the sad, painful memories that she carried with her of her years of service in the military and to the Library, Eve realized that if she had it all to do over again, she wouldn't change a single thing.
Because if she had, she would've missed out on having these sweet, aggravating, wonderful, pain in the ass dorks in her life right now.