To say that Jenkins was having a bad day would have been the grossest of understatements.
It began the moment he got out of bed that morning. On his way to the bathroom, still half-asleep, he accidentally stubbed his big toe hard against the leg of the bed at its foot. Air hissed sharply between his gritted teeth and he clutched his foot, attempting to remain as quiet as possible so as not to awaken Cassandra. As he hopped around, his heel landed squarely on one of Franklin's innumerable toys—a small triceratops made of hard, very pointy plastic.
The day had only gone downhill from there.
Jacob Stone and Ezekiel Jones had gotten into a childish "prank war" that was as foolish as the two Librarians themselves, to the Caretaker's way of thinking. Jake escalated the competition by secretly switching out the Australian's energy drink and replacing it with a doctored can of giant squid ink. Ezekiel took one long swig and immediately spat out the foul semi-viscous liquid. Not only was the front of the thief's face and clothes covered with ink, but there was also now a heavy spray of the black awful-smelling stuff everywhere—all over the flooring, the furniture and the several irreplaceable papers, artifacts and books that had the misfortune to be in the line of fire.
Ezekiel, of course, had his revenge later that same day. He lured Jacob to the Hall of Doors, specifically to the door to the Skunk Room. He somehow managed to catch the historian unawares and shoved Jacob into the room. Jones then locked the hapless man inside, where he was immediately assaulted by scores of startled and angry members of the Family Mephitidae. Jacob turned and pounded on the door, bellowing to be let out, but it was far too late. After spending several minutes curled up on the ground, blinded, choking and gagging on the massive cloud of skunk musk that enveloped him, Ezekiel finally opened the door to let his nemesis out. Jake was justly infuriated by what Ezekiel had done—but in his rage for revenge he'd neglected to ensure that the door to the Skunk Room was properly closed when he stormed out in search of his colleague, allowing at least a dozen distraught and "trigger-happy" skunks to escape into the Library proper.
Cassandra, Flynn and Eve all tried to help Jenkins round up the odiferous fugitives, but the smell of their powerful musk was too much for Cassandra to bear. The poor Librarian ended up vomiting more than once, adding her day's partially-digested lunch to the chaos. The sight and smell of Cassandra's vomitus, coupled with the stench of skunk, in turn triggered both Eve and Flynn, and they, too, ended up violently upchucking all over the Library's immaculately polished floors.
Long inured to the overwhelming, repulsive smells produced by a wide variety of creatures, the exasperated Caretaker finally shouted for all of them to leave, now. All three scuttled off, hands clasped tightly over mouths in an attempt to keep their gorges from rising again, but it was in vain. Guardian and Librarians left a colorful trail of tossed cookies all the way down the hallway as they ran.
Jenkins spent the next several hours sanitizing and deodorizing after cleaning up squid ink, vomit and skunk musk. It was a filthy, tedious job, and even though it took him the rest of the day, Jenkins absolutely forbad anyone to help him, snapping sharply at the timid heads that poked themselves into the corridor or the Library to ask if he needed help; the last thing he needed was another pool of puke to clean up. Even Cassandra left him alone eventually, choosing to go to the lab and keep herself busy, well out of the way of her short-tempered husband.
Finally, at the end of this very long day, everything was clean and fresh-smelling again. Well, everything except Jenkins; he was a frightful mess. His handmade leather shoes and his beautiful tailored suit were befouled beyond redemption. His mussed hair, hands, arms and face were stained and sticky with squid ink, and he smelled as if he'd been stewing for days at the bottom of a septic tank.
The weary immortal clomped into his suite of rooms, and for once he was glad that Cassandra was nowhere to be seen. He just didn't have the wherewithal to deal with her eternal perkiness at the moment. He didn't even have the energy to make himself a cup of tea.
He started to sit on the bed to give his aching feet and legs a rest, but realized that he would only make a right mess the bedding. He looked around and spotted a plain wooden chair in a corner of the bedroom and limped across the floor to it. He dropped gratefully onto its hard seat with a heartfelt sigh, then slumped back as far as he could, allowing his head to loll backward on his neck and hang over the chairback while he closed his eyes. As he sat there, working up the motivation to undress and get into the shower, he suddenly heard a high-pitched bark at his feet.
Jenkins opened his eyes, groaning as he raised his head, instantly irritated by the intrusion. Looking down, he saw Franklin at his feet. The little tea dragon was sitting on his haunches, eyeing the old Caretaker curiously with large round black eyes. As soon as he saw Jenkins was awake, Franklin squealed happily and began to hop up and down. Jenkins was not amused.
"Franklin! Stop that infernal screeching this instant!" the exhausted immortal yelled, bringing his hands up to rub his eyes and his temples as he tried to forestall a headache.
Franklin immediately fell silent and still, his long whiskers and ears falling limply like wet rags. His large eyes stared intently up at the irritated man and rapidly blinked several times. To Jenkins's horror, it looked as if Franklin was actually going to cry, and he instantly regretted his rebuke. He opened his mouth to say something apologetic, but before he could even form the first word, Franklin unexpectedly jumped onto Jenkins's outstretched legs and clambered up into the Caretaker's lap, his tiny sharp claws easily poking through the fine fabric of the trousers and digging painfully into the immortal's skin.
Jenkins, forgetting his brief spell of remorse, began to harshly scold the rambunctious dragon, but this time Franklin completely ignored his best friend's pique. Instead, he continued up onto Jenkins's chest. He stretched out his long neck and began to frantically lick the immortal's face, ignoring the nasty-smelling ink stains as he happily grunted and snorted his greetings, his long tail swishing back and forth in broad strokes over Jenkins's stomach. Franklin continued to inch upward until he was able to reach Jenkins's ear comfortably, then promptly tried to insert his snout into it. His long whiskers tickled Jenkins's face and neck, and the eager snuffling in his ear teased a soft involuntary chuckle from the old man as he tried to pull his head out of reach of the dragon's inquisitive nose.
Jenkins finally raised his hands and gently lifted the dragon away from his ear. At once, Franklin rolled over onto his back and wedged himself into the crook of Jenkins's arm, squirming ecstatically and squealing the whole time. He managed to twist his head into an upside-down position that allowed him to see Jenkins. As the old man looked down at his little friend, he caught what for all the world looked like pure adoration and love in the slightly bugged black eyes of the small creature. It lasted only a moment, but in the face of the animal's genuine, wholehearted affection for him, all of Jenkins's irritation and frustration with the day melted away.
The immortal reached out and began scratching Franklin's long stomach, something he knew the tea dragon loved. Franklin instantly began to wriggle wildly with delight, throwing his head back and screeching as his forelegs stretched out as far as they would go. Jenkins laughed softly at Franklin's reaction and scratched even harder, sending the tea dragon into paroxysms of joy. Eventually he stopped scratching and lifted up the dragon to cuddle him against his chest.
"Those who say that the dog is man's best friend clearly haven't met a tea dragon," he murmured, now scratching Franklin behind his long ears. Jenkins bent his head to give the top of Franklin's long head a kiss. "You're definitely my best friend!" He lowered his white head to one of the long floppy ears.
"But let's not tell Cassandra that; it'll just be our little secret, eh?" he whispered, and Franklin trilled softly with contentment.
After one final cuddle, Jenkins stood up and lightly dropped the little reptile to the floor before heading slowly toward the bathroom on stiff legs. Franklin quickly deduced where the large man was going and scampered along next to him, yapping and squealing in anticipation; playing in the shower had become one of Franklin's favorite pastimes, though it made bathing somewhat difficult at times for the humans. Jenkins smiled as he remembered the glass-shattering scream Cassandra had loosed the first time Franklin surprised her in the shower one morning.
Jenkins's smile broadened at the thought of his wife. He had some apologies to make, especially to Cassandra. But first he needed a hot shower—if Franklin would let him—and some fresh clothes…