Matt yawned and rubbed the base of his neck wearily. He had made the mistake of falling asleep in his chair that night. He frowned and tried thinking about what he was up to before he fell asleep. Matt shook his mouse and the screen slowly came to life. He was researching. That was it.
A knock on the door brought him back to reality. He closed all the windows before shutting down his laptop. Matt straightened his collar and cuffs, flattened his hair, and cleared his throat before opening the door.
Jess stared up at him, a bright smile on her face. "Morning, sleepy head," she teased.
"Is it that noticeable?" Matt asked with a slight frown.
"Sorta," Jess replied. "Pulled another all-nighter?" Jess tilted her head to the side.
"Almost," Matt blinked a few times before checking his watch. It was that dreadful time of day again.
"Therapy. Today's the last day." Jess grinned and clapped her hands. No wonder why she was so chipper. For the first time in a few days, Matt smiled.
"Has it been two months already? Fantastic. I can actually spend Wednesdays working on something more important." He started off towards the conference room. Jess skipped beside him, her 4-inch purple heels clicking with every step.
They met up with Connor and Abby, bickering about something as usual, then Becker and Lester, chatting about some meeting they were forced to attend. Matt noticed they were in a better Wednesday mood than usual, probably because of the fact after this they wouldn't have to see hide nor hair of Lauren or her antics.
Connor began whistling a cheery tune as he knocked out a rhythm on the door. Lauren opened it almost immediately and hugged him tightly enough that his whistling turned into wheezing.
"OH EM GEE! Today's the last day! I can't believe it!" Lauren's eyes bulged in her disbelieving state.
"I can," Connor muttered once he was released.
"Hey, Lauren. How's that bird of yours?" Abby asked in curiosity. She remembered last seeing Lauren rush off to sit on it last week.
"Oh, he hatched last Wednesday. Want to see some photos?" Lauren produced a chain of photos out of her back pocket and held the up for everyone to see. In every photograph there was a little fluffy falcon. Most photos showed it attacking a pair of scissors viciously. She pocketed the photos again and gestured to the team.
"Today, we will be doing something recreational and fun! Like the last day of school ya know. We're going to play my favourite game in the world." Lauren bounced over to her desk and opened a drawer. She withdrew a long rectangular box that had colorful candy designs. "Candy Land!"
"A children's board game?" Becker asked in mild disbelief. "Why don't you just sign us off for the day and we'll never have to see each other again?"
Lauren glared at him with her hands on her hips. "Now, Becker, judging by your negative attitude I have a feeling you have never played Candy Land before. It's an amazing board game that tests your skills of color and rainbows. Besides, the game is about candy! What's better than that?"
"A gun, and a target strikingly similar to you," Becker muttered under his breath. Matt smirked and coughed to cover a small laugh.
Lauren held her head and shook it disappointedly. "Gather around in a circle everyone. I've brought my collector's edition and original from home so we have enough pieces." She lay out one of her game boards on the floor and beckoned for everyone to sit. Since there were doubles of the gingerbread character pieces, she added duct tape with an initial scribbled on one of each of the doubles. Lauren distributed the game pieces, giving one to herself, and dropped the last one back in the box.
Lester glanced at his little red gingerbread and wondered why he was playing a game his daughters played. At work.
Connor took his blue gingerbread and used it to headbutt Abby's green one. Abby rolled her eyes at his childishness.
Jess fiddled with her yellow piece and remembered her younger days when she played this game.
Becker didn't touch his blue piece with a little 'B' written on duct tape.
Matt raised his eyebrows in amusement and flicked his red 'M' piece as Becker scowled at his blue 'B' piece.
Lauren just smiled at everyone as she shuffled the little square color cards.
"This is how you play; when it's your turn you will draw one of these cards. You move to the closest square of that color on the board. Easy, peasy. If you get one of the building cards, that's where you land. To win, you have to get to the Candy Castle where King Kandy is, but remember; everybody's a winner!"
"Sure, yeah," Connor said and grinned at Abby. "Imma beat ya to pulp! Bring it on!"
Lauren ignored his competitive remark. "Let's go in a circle. I'll go first." She announced and picked up her yellow L piece to place it with everyone's on the board. Lauren drew a card and clapped her hands excitedly. "Oh look! I get to go to the Candy Cane Forest! Yay!" She squealed happily and placed her character on a space next to - well a forest made out of candy canes.
Lester grumbled under his breath and took a card. "Orange," he muttered and moved his red gingerbread to the closest orange space. Lauren's eyes widened. "You just landed on the Rainbow Trail!" She moved his piece up along the rainbow ladder so his piece was now on the second row.
"Fantastic," Lester said with little, close to no enthusiasm. He drew his legs towards his chest and leaned against the conference room table in boredom.
Connor took his card and frowned as he moved his piece up one square.
"It's okay, Connor. It's just a game," Lauren said then began bouncing on the spot as Abby landed on the same spot as Lester. "Oooh! We have a tie for the lead!"
Becker nudged Jess to get her attention. "Switch with me," he whispered to her when Lauren's back was to them. Jess shook her head and grinned at his crestfallen expression. Lauren spun towards Becker and leaned towards him, holding the cards out. He hesitated before reluctantly taking one and moving his piece to the yellow square.
Matt watched as Lauren enthused about the game and encouraged Jess to draw. Eventually after her spastic cheers it was his turn. Matt drew a card from the shuffled pile and moved his piece...next to Lauren's. Out of all the odds he managed to draw the same card. Lauren clapped her hands and squealed.
"Oooo! We can travel through the Candy Cane Forest together, Matty! We can also meet Mr. Mint and lick some peppermints-" Lauren rambled on about her minty fantasy for a good ten minutes. During that interval of time, each team member was racking their brains for some sort of clever way to get out of their last 'fun' day of therapy.
"My god, can she talk." Lester checked the time on his Blackberry and found it was hardly half an hour since they arrived. "I'm looking forward's to the end of this day."
"Aren't we all?" Becker asked rhetorically as he watched Lester take another card.
And for the first time in ARC history...they stayed for the entire day. Playing one game of Candy Land. There were many arguments, or in Lester's words 'heated discussions', many he had participated in. By noon Connor and Lester were participating in their own little race to find the king of Candy Land. The rest of the team placed bets. The arguments and Lauren's ranting/rambling between turns took up most of the time, ranging from 5 minutes to 40 minutes.
Connor made it clear that he had played Candy Land several times as a child and knew the Gum Drop Mountains like the back of his hand. Lester pointed out that he had young daughters that played the game nearly every day so he was forced to either play or watch. Lauren said everyone was a winner and that they shouldn't argue over trivial things like titles. More like they shouldn't argue at all because arguing is a conversation filled with negativity. Becker told the both of them Candy Land was a game of chance. Matt broke up the physical fights that happened once or twice. Jess and Abby just played the game to make Lauren happy.
In the end, they did find out who won and were greatly surprised. No, it was not Lauren.
Matt placed his little 'M' piece on the last square and looked up at Lauren. "Do I win?"
There was an eerie silence as Connor and Lester gaped at him before glaring back at each other. Abby began laughing and went to comfort her sorry sport boyfriend. Jess grinned up at Becker who returned the smile. Lauren stared at the board, her piece lagging behind all the others. She was so used to winning whenever she played with RBS (Rainbow Sprinkles Supreme her 'imaginary' unicorn, not RSS because of dwarfism). After she got over her initial shock she jumped to her feet and pumped Matt's hand, somehow managing to switch from utterly depressed to proud and therapist-like.
"Congratulations, Matt! You've found King Kandy and now Candy Land can be safe from evil things like scissors, and unicorn eating wolves." Her eyes widened in horror at each mention. She shuddered. "Scissors..."
The rest of the team glanced at the clock and noticed that work had ended about an hour ago. Connor raised his hand to get her attention like a schoolboy.
"Well-" he started.
"-time's up and I want to go home." Lester cut him off bluntly. Lauren shot him a look.
"James, it's not nice interrupting someone." She scolded, wagging her finger up and down. "It's very, very rude. So rude, I cannot describe the rudeness I'm feeling right now. Except it's giving me a bad case of hives. I'm allergic to rudeness you know! It can also hurt their feelings and make them feel useless and then they'll be sad and have low self-esteem and then they'll kill themselves and then they'll be dead and then we'll all be sad. Now Connor, speak."
Connor shrugged his shoulders and jerked a thumb over to Lester who was frozen in shock and confusion at being told off. "I was pretty much going to say what he said."
"Not yet. Since today's the last day I have something to present to each of you." Lauren ran over to her magically clean and empty desk and rooted through her purse. She pulled out a page of stickers. As she ran back she slapped a sticker on everyone, either their forehead or chest. They were the motivational kinds, the ones that said 'Good Job!' or 'Congratulations!', with in fine print at the bottom: 'Dr. Lauren Seris, Therapist'.
"Uh, thanks," Jess said carefully and looked down at the sticker.
"Now we can go," Lauren announced cheerily and she grabbed her purse. "Let's walk out together!" With that she skipped ahead of them and out the door. Having no way out other than the window, the team followed.
They made their way into the hub, the night crew already starting to settle in. Abby pushed the button for the lift and they all waited, Lauren humming off-tone to some peppy song. They eventually were forced to cram themselves in the lift with Lauren, Lester and Matt unfortunately being stuck beside her.
Lester tried ignoring Lauren's ponytail in his face by distracting himself with the thought that in a few minutes he would be on the road driving away from this person of insanity.
The lift doors opened and Lester was the first to get out...and the first to notice Philip.
"Philip," he said, slightly startled. "What are you doing here?"
Burton lifted his head and noticed the team. "I'm working on a few things here. Like every Wednesday night, right Ms. Seris?"
Lauren nodded and grinned. Lester looked at the both of them. "You know each other?"
"Yes, every Wednesday evening Ms. Seris comes by and we usually bump into each other. You get to know someone that way," Burton said and smiled warmly at Lauren.
"Yup, but I'm 'fraid today's the last day you'll be seeing me," Lauren said glumly.
"Oh?" Burton glanced at the team who nodded joyfully. "That's not good." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "How about we continue on with these therapy sessions? They do benefit you don't they?"
While Lauren nodded like a bobble head everyone shook their heads.
"I think we've benefited enough, Philip," Lester said.
"Nonsense. Therapy will resume." He stepped into the lift and waved as the doors closed. In everyone's minds they were screaming 'No!'.
Lauren grinned as she bounced in front of the team. "Hear that good news sent from heaven above? Y'all be havin' more bonding time with each other and me!"
The team didn't have time to respond (or even have a response) because suddenly there was the sound of thunder (even though they were in an underground lot). Lauren shrieked and turned to the closest person to her, Abby.
"What day is it?" she screamed in terror.
"Ju-July 4th." Abby managed to say while staring at the small whirlwind that appeared next to Lauren.
"Independence Day! How could I have forgotten! The druids always come after me on holidays. A-and I don't have any wood." Lauren looked at the mini whirlwind in horror.
The team backed up and Becker reached for his gun only to remember he left it in the armory. Lester told him to stop bringing it to their therapy sessions since the incident with his laptop.
From the middle of the whirlwind a hooded figure appeared, cloaked in a long robe. "Lauren..." he croaked and outstretched a hand towards her. "Lauren..."
"The druids have sent Tredolfus to get me!" Lauren explained in a quick whisper to the team as she backed towards the lift.
"Sapling Devil!" Tredolfus pointed at Lauren. "You must be sacrificed to make things right!" The druid moved towards Lauren but stopped in front of Becker who Lauren decided to hide behind.
"Oh. I don't have my gun. I surrender," Becker stated bluntly and took a small step aside revealing Lauren. The rest of the team did the same as they didn't have any sympathy for the insane woman that ruined their lives every Wednesday.
"G-get away from me, Tredolfus!" Lauren shrieked.
"My name is Robert! How many times do I have to tell you that, woman?" Tredolfus boomed but was ignored.
Lauren pressed frantically at the button for the lift and clawed at the metal doors. Lester mentally applauded Philip for going up to the top floor. What he was doing there, he would never know.
"Sorry, Sapling Devil?" Connor asked the druid which he was sure didn't exist in the real world.
Tredolfus snapped his head towards Connor who shrank under his gaze. "This creature broke a branch off a sapling of the Sacred Pine. She had the nerve to do it in the middle of one of our rituals, too."
"Ouch, sucks for you Lauren," Connor said. "Continue."
The druid turned back to Lauren. "We must not make the druids wait any longer."
"It's Robert!" With that, he clapped his hands and the two disappeared in a cloud of colorful smoke.
The whole parking lot was silent, the core ARC team staring at the spot where the whole performance took place. They didn't know whether that had just happened but they all hoped it did.
Sadly, on the other side of the rainbow. Lauren managed to escape the druids once again with her trust steed, Rainbow Sprinkles Supreme. But, they didn't know that.
It was Connor that broke the silence.
"Well I'm beat. Let's go home." He yawned and headed off to the car. Everyone made sounds of agreement and with quick goodbyes they went off their separate ways, knowing that the following day they wouldn't speak a word of this.
Jess went with Abby and Connor, thinking how she would have nightmares about this. Abby mentally thanked the druid and considered the whole event some sort of blessing. Connor relished the thought that he had just met a druid, like a druid from WoW. Becker headed to his car questioning whether security needed to be improved then deciding not to as the druid was a magical creature. That thought alone spurred many more. Lester wondered how he would explain to Philip that their therapist was kidnapped by a druid to be used in some sort of bloody ritual. All of their thoughts revolved around druids and probably would for the next few days.
Matt was the only one not questioning what had just happened. He drove to his flat while reviewing the past two months in his head.
He did manage to conclude, that after all the insanity, the crazy so called 'team building' activities, they did learn more about each other. Matt would never admit it out loud, especially in front of Lauren, but the sessions did help them in a round about sort of way. There were many examples of when they worked together as a team; during those crazy games and activities, the day they spied on Lauren... Now that he thought about it they had to use team building to ditch team building.
So in the end...well...they bonded.
I would like to thank Carlough for 1) loaning me the idea and her OC's : the lovely Lauren Seris, TJ and Bear, and Tredolfus/Robert the druid. 2) Helping me out with parts of the story and editing this chapter.
I would also like to thank all of my readers and reviewers for the inspiration that got me to 180 reviews in 12 chapters. Now, now, don't get all emotional.