It was always kind of weird to be away from home. It wasn't like I got homesick or anything, but it was probably how parents felt when they had to leave the kids with cousins so they could go somewhere. It didn't feel wrong, just strange.

And not like 'Bee was my kid or anything. If anything, I was his and he should have been an empty-nester, but that wasn't quite right either. There wasn't much I did that I couldn't bring him along for, since going on college visits or family vacations usually required me to have my own ride. But on the rare occasion when Mom insisted that this year's camping trip was going to be carried out with the help of her station wagon or when I had to fly to Cincinnati for a family reunion, I would come home to find 'Bee almost moping. I couldn't tell if he reminded me of the bratty little brother who wanted to tag along or the faithful dog waiting at the door.

I was smart enough not to tell him that, of course. Moping or not, he was closer to a brother than a bodyguard and I tried to make sure he was treated that way. Mom and Dad understood implicitly that I expected to do the same.

That was why, when I got back from two days on a senior retreat in Arizona to find that my car and my Mom weren't on speaking terms, I was completely baffled. I had expected to find Bee in the parking lot when the buses pulled in, but after a half hour of making small talk with Mr. Sandoval, I gave up and rode home with Miles and his Mom to find out what had happened.

Bee was parked in the middle of the driveway in one of those spots where no one else could pass, park or even walk around him. It was a surprisingly defiant pose for a supposedly inanimate object and practically radiated an air of "SCREW YOU!" This wasn't helped by the fact that Bee started playing angry girl rock the moment Miles' Volvo turned the corner.

"I'm a bitch

I'm a lover

I'm a child
I'm a mother
I'm a sinner

I'm a saint

I do not feel ashamed..."

I didn't know who he was applying the lyrics to, but this didn't bode well.

"I'll be right back to hear your side of the story," I sighed.

When Bee was pissed, Mom was usually apoplectic. This time, Mom was whistling a happy tune and rearranging the living room. It just didn't add up.

"Okay," I said warily. "What happened?"

"Oh, nothing, Sammy," she trilled happily. "How was your vaca?"

"It wasn't a vaca and it was fine," I said tersely. "What happened?"

"Car trouble."

I couldn't think of a single kind of car trouble that would make her this happy. In fact, there was nothing good that would turn her into some kind of Disney character.

"Mom," I said as patiently as I could, "I'm not playing twenty questions with you."

"Sit down," she said. "I just put blonde brownies in the oven. Your favorites."

Either absence had made the heart grow fonder or she was about to butter me up so I wouldn't side with my car. Everything, from her cheerful mood to the fact that she was baking, added up to something just short of an apocalypse.

"I'll be right back,"

First thing I did was call for backup. There was no way I was calling out the big guns just for my Mom being unnaturally cheerful, but if anyone could pull off the bad-cop-good-cop routine, it was me and Mikaela; she also had the face of an angel and a complete lack of fear.

I had to be subtle, though. I couldn't tell her why, but I texted "Mom 911" and she texted back that she was on her way out. And then I headed out to assess the damage.

There were no major dents, no missing parts and as far as I could tell, Bee hadn't burst into flames any time in the last two days.

"Okay," I said after climbing into the passenger seat. "Want to go for a drive and talk about it?"

Instead of giving me a canned laugh track, Bee let loose with a round of maniacal laughter. I couldn't tell if he had gone nuts or if he was saying something else about his attacker.

"Okay, so no."

His stereo wasn't broken, obviously. And working on his own, he'd gotten pretty good at patching himself up, so it wasn't anything like a broken fan belt or a leaky oil pan.

"New bumper sticker?" I guessed. It was a long shot, but I was grasping at straws here.

"Are you kidding me?" a girl responded.

Mikaela must have been en route when I texted her, since she showed up before I could get my poor, sulking friend to spill his guts. That wasn't saying much, since I couldn't really figure out if he was mad, mortified or just annoyed.

"He's gone kinda loopy," I confided in her in a low voice.

"More than usual?"

"He's not talking to me and my mom's got brownies in the oven," I hissed.

"Is that a euphemism?"

"She hates baking. And I haven't seen her this happy since she mixed up her painkillers and mood elevators."

"Dear God," Mikaela deadpanned. "I'll call the National Guard."

Without letting me get anything more than a splutter of indignation out, she strode over to my car and crouched next to him.

"Want to talk about it?"

"'Come and see,'" he replied.

Since she had more experience with this sort of thing, I expected her to give him an even more thorough checkup than I had. Instead, she squinted at his hubcaps for a few moment, then pivoted and looked the other way.

"Aaaah..." she sighed. "Yeah, I see your problem."

'Bee responded with another rousing chorus of Meredith Brooks. She stroked his chassis gently, like a mother trying to calm an upset child.

"I'll be right back," she promised.

She stomped towards the house and I took one more look at the car before running after her. I caught the door just before she would have slammed it.

"JUDY!"

The time for sweet-talking was apparently past.

"Oh, hi, Mikaela," Mom burbled cheerfully as she entered the living room. "Brownie?"

"You stranded him?"

"It was the only way to make sure he wouldn't get into trouble with Sammie away."

"Stranded?" I echoed.

"You held him prisoner," my girl snapped.

Mom shoved the plate of brownies under my nose and I took one, shoving it into my mouth so I couldn't get involved. Mikaela took one, but clenched it in her fist so that crumbs started falling.

"Oh, don't be so dramatic," Mom sighed. "I just grounded him."

"He's a centuries-old alien robot," she stated. "You don't ground him. Especially not when we don't know the next time we'll need him."

"I'm still missing something," I interjected once my mouth was empty again.

"She let the air out of his tires," Mikaela snapped.

And without me around to call a tow truck, make a run to Big O tires or otherwise help change, the only thing he could have done was stomp off in all his alien glory to an auto body shop. Either way, that would have meant blowing his cover for six miles.

"You let the air out of his tires?" I echoed.

"Lighten up," Mom shot back. "He did a Linda Blair impersonation!"

"You gave him an X-files bumper sticker!"

At that accusation, she came to a screeching halt, her expression utterly bewildered. "Is this what that was all about?" she asked.

"It didn't help," I said as tactfully as possible. We were treading on thin ice here and I didn't want to do anything to really alienate them, no pun intentional. "Look, I think this needs to stop right now."

"I agree," Mikaela said with a pointed look in my direction. "Bumblebee's one of the best bots I've ever known, but you don't want to provoke him."

"Really provoke him," I corrected. "He can take a joke like anyone else, but go too far and you don't want to know what he could do."

Actually, I didn't really think Bee would go much further. The guy cried about roadkill, for God's sake. But there was no harm in bluffing and Mom didn't need to know about the cannons he'd whipped out on Sector Seven back in the day.

"Look," I soothed, reaching for another brownie so she'd know we were good. "I'll talk to him. You don't have to worry about making him mad, but right now, his feelings are hurt and I don't want that."

"I don't either," Mom admitted. "It was just payback."

"I know."

I caught Mikaela's eye and she nodded slightly to let me know she was following my lead this time around.

"Thanks for the brownies," she called as we headed for the front door.

I kept the purposeful stride up until I reached Bee. Mom was sure to be watching and this had to be done in a way she would understand. I opened the door with a caution that I had never bothered with before and climbed in.

"All right," I said once we were all in. "Here's step one of the plan..."