After Darren finally falls asleep (define ‘too early’ when you’ve been nearly zonking out all day) and I can be sure he’s not going to injure himself without me around, I head over to Griff’s house for dinner. A chorus of ‘Fox’ greets me when I step through the door.

Griff hands me a beer just in time to clink it against his and shout, “to Teke!”

People have been here for a while and are already a little bit happy to scream call and response.

“So?” Griff says, “enjoying your new promotion?”

I laugh at him.

He shrugs. “Alright, fine then, putting up with your new job, at least?”

“Sure,” I say, surprised at how relieved I feel to only have people from work around. “Gatling is just as much a little shit as ever, but the other kids seem okay.”

“Eh, watch out for Caffeine,” Jonesy tells me, “kid’ll steal your cigarettes right out of your pocket before you even notice they’re gone.”

I choke on my beer. “What, to smoke?” at the same time Hannah reminds him that I don’t, in fact, smoke and therefore don’t carry cigarettes around.

Jonesy waves a hand. “No, because he thinks I should quit. Well, maybe, who knows?”

Chris snorts. “I thought you had quit.”

Hannah winks at Jonesy and says, “he did, for almost a whole week.”

“I will have you know it was eight days this time,” Jonesy brags, then laughs.

“So, is Hunch a better boss than me?” Griff asks.

Danny pats him on the shoulder. “Aw, no one’s a better boss than you, Griff.”

“Of course.” I raise my eyebrow. “He doesn’t have a moral opposition to snacking.”

“Go ahead, snack yourself silly,” Griff says, waving at a bowl of pretzels. “There’s no presentation for you to drown out with your incessant crunching.”

“Well, he was never opposed to quiet snacks,” Chris offers, with a shrug.

Magnet grins. “Like bananas.”

“That’s a good point,” Danny says, “you’d think Fox would’ve remembered that one.”

“Nah,” Point retorts, “too busy being all bent out of shape over Griff banning his pizza-flavored chips. I wonder where he got so many of those?”

Hannah smacks him. “You’re one to talk, whining over your lack of fish tacos.”

Griff crunches on a pretzel. “I told you guys you could as long as they were soft shell.”

“Yeah, well, Hunch doesn’t care if we pay attention to him,” I tell Griff. “He figures if we don’t, he can look forward to kicking our asses.”

“Ah, there’s the difference between him and me,” Griff says, “I find there’s far too much paperwork involved in regulation ass-kicking.”

Magnet laughs. “Or you just only think you could take some of us.”

“What, with your ability to MacGyver a clusterfuck out of any situation?” Griff says, “no, you can just go ahead and listen quietly to your briefings, thank you, no ass-kickings necessary.”

“I’ll kick his ass for you, Griff,” Chris offers, “he still owes me fifty bucks, so I’m good for it.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Jonesy butts in, “Magnet won that back fair and square.”

“How is that fair when he’s that much better at darts than we are?” Chris demands.

“Aw, don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” Magnet says, fanning himself.

Point nudges me. “Chris was trying to get him to play poker for it.”

“Well, I would’ve had a chance at poker,” Chris says.

I shake my head at him. “Yeah, because you cheat.”

“It’s not cheating if you do it in your head,” Chris protests, echoed a half beat behind by Hannah and Griff in eerie unison.

Jonesy pokes Chris in the chest. “You cheat at cards more than I cheat on my diet, and I’m the one who can’t bother eating healthy because the lung cancer’s going to get me first, anyway.”

“You cheat at cards,” Hannah joins in, “more than my exes try to cheat on me to make me jealous in case we aren’t really broken up.”

“You cheat at cards,” Magnet says, “more than I cheat at mini-golf.”

“Why would you bother cheating at mini-golf?” Point asks.

“Because he only likes a third of the courses,” Griff answers, “and you’re lucky he’s never dragged you along, because he really does work fast to skip the rest of them.”

“You cheat at cards,” Danny chimes in, “more than I cheat at cardio on squats day.”

“You cheat at cards,” I add, “more than I cheat at shell games.”

“You cheat at cards,” Point says, pausing for a minute to think of a good one, “more than I cheated on every ‘match the passage’ test growing up.”

“You cheat at cards,” Griff concludes, “more than I cheat at baked pasta.”

“How do you cheat at baked pasta?” Jonesy asks.

“I use the kind meant for baking, instead of pre-cooking it,” Griff explains.

Magnet snorts. “That’s not all that much of cheating.”

Griff shrugs. “Well, he doesn’t cheat that much when I play him.”

Point leans in to ask me, “there’s a kind you don’t have to cook first?”

I give him a skeptical nod.

Just about at the same time, Chris leans in to ask me, “there’s a kind you have to cook first?”

I narrow my eyes at him for long enough to believe he’s just genuinely confused, then roll my eyes and nod at him, too.

Danny flops down against the arm of the sofa and asks, “is it true Hunch buys you cookies if you’re a good boy?”

“Hunch has three kids,” I tell him, “he’ll bring you cookies whether or not he even likes you.”

Danny snickers. “Do you have to eat all your vegetables?”

I sigh at him. “You should be eating all your vegetables, anyway, Danny, you’re a big boy now.”

Danny flips me off and vindictively gnaws on a carrot stick. Magnet passes me the bowl of M&Ms, and we pointedly snack on them until Danny gives up in a huff.

Chris comes back with more alcohol for everyone, this time in the form of cider. Point, meanwhile, is congratulating himself on bringing cider donuts. They’re too tiny to even have centers, really, but it was a good effort. And they go well with the cider.

When the doorbell rings, Hannah screams, “pizza’s here!” and three separate people trip over my feet on the way to the door.

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