"We need another car," Xander grumbled as he drove. "How's a guy supposed to find a job without dependable transportation?"
"So get one," Buffy said easily, seeming more interested in her new gardening book than his topic of conversation.
"Just like that?" Xander shook his head. "These things take planning, research, and someone who isn't afraid of car salesmen."
"I'll go with you," Dawn offered.
"And you can help due to your seasoned expertise in the automotive sciences…?" Xander's comment dripped sarcasm.
"No… 'cause of my seasoned expertise in the shopping sciences," Dawn corrected snappily.
"She is well practiced in the skill of expenditure," Buffy agreed and shut her book. "But no playtime for prisoner Dawn. She's under house arrest."
"False imprisonment!" Dawn objected.
Xander wasn't about to let his subject be ignored. "So why do I always get the privilege of doing all the driving? I've got one eye; ever wonder if it just happened to be looking the other way?" Though he was joking, Xander did find it more difficult to drive since losing his eye.
"You made us swear to treat you as intact Xander, not disabled Xander. Well, intact Xander does the driving." Buffy smiled meekly, uncertain if her explanation would bother him or not. "Besides, this thing is so big, I feel like I'm driving a humpback whale."
"It's not so bad. Better mileage and much less fish smell," Xander teased. "That covers one of you slackers. What say the rest of you freeloaders?"
"No permit yet; besides, grounded… remember?" Dawn burned a glare into the back of Buffy's head. "And Fuehrer Buffy won't let me do anything."
"The lesson will be learned, little sister, that you do not sneak… else I will make you princess of the short bus!"
"I always liked the short bus. I saw it as the runt of the litter, having to prove itself to its bully cousins." Willow joined the conversation only to receive a raised brow from Dawn. "I know... wasn't cool then either."
"Coolness or no, another thrilling chapter of escape from Scooby Manor and little Miss Houdini will be riding the Twinkie-mobile to school for a week."
"Why wait? Let's dive right in!" Xander rumbled. "Now, if I could only get rid of the rest of you."
"I wasn't sneaking out!" Dawn protested loudly.
"You were out and I didn't know about it... hence, sneaking out!" Buffy elaborated.
"Why am I the only nit being picked on here when there is a lot of nitpicking to be done?" Dawn objected. "For instance, someone who shall remain nameless keeps leaving her stinky herbs all over the laundry room."
Willow shot Dawn an affronted look. "They are not stinky!"
"I've smelled better things coming from Xander's bloated hamper beast than your weird potions," Dawn continued.
"Well if a guy could steal a moment's peace alone with the washer and dryer, maybe I could conquer my mountainous pile of unmentionables."
"It's not only us women folk who hog the laundry room. I swear that man only owns three whole outfits yet manages to go through more detergent than is humanly possible," Buffy said.
"Hey... no accusing of parties not present to defend themselves!" Willow ordered. Everyone went silent for a moment, internally grumbling to themselves. "But could someone please tell me what's with his affinity for the torturous toilet paper? Would it kill him to squeeze the Charmin from time to time?"
"Hear, hear!" Xander agreed.
"And what about refilling said toilet paper rolls? Sharing a bathroom with a guy is so much more difficult than I'd thought," Buffy added. "Man that roll thing gets on my nerves…"
Giles entered the house quietly and headed for the kitchen. What should have been a clinched job interview had quickly disintegrated into the Assyro-Babylonian debate of the century and Giles had allowed it to happen. He had no idea why the mention of Tiamat set him off but his willful opinion had cost him the admittedly less than appealing position and he remained in the ranks of the unemployed. All he wanted to do was pour a stiff and slightly overfilled shot of scotch and settle down with a good book to take his mind off the day's irksome events. Some peace and quiet wouldn't hurt as well.
But it was not to be.
Xander erupted into the kitchen with a raucous kick to the door, startling Giles into spilling a few drops of his drink. Giles took a seat at the kitchen table and tried to relax while Xander started rummaging around through the cupboards for his customary early evening snack. Willow came in shortly after, putting the kettle on for tea and taking her turn in the snack safari.
"Hey G-man, how'd the job interview go?" Xander asked, joining Giles at the table with a noisily rustling bag of cookies. Giles responded with a scowl and Xander crunched into his cookie. "Survey says, rough."
"I'd rather do battle with a Krepinshire Stench Devil than brave another tribunal of those pretentious half-wits," Giles growled, taking a gulp of his drink.
"Don't hold back," Xander kidded. "Tell us how you really feel."
Giles sent him a cutting look.
"You'll find something, Giles," Willow said with a syrupy enthusiasm. "You just need to find your niche. Maybe museums aren't your cup-a-tea?" She paused when she noticed Giles' glare and flushed with embarrassment at the recollection of the Watcher's previous occupations. "Oh… right…"
"Buck up, G-man. Say… what's your position on the preparation of disk shaped beef products?" Xander snickered.
"This isn't helping," Giles sighed, flashing Xander another cautionary glare.
"Let's bright side this; it would have been a long commute, anyway." Willow walked over to Giles and gave him a playful nudge. "We need you closer to home, within crisis distance… in case we have another tribute to Sunnydale moment with the ghosts, vampires and garden gnomes… you know, the customary spine-tingling evil that seems to pop up wherever we are. Wait… that wasn't so much bright siding than trading down, sorry." She shrugged helplessly and returned to her tea preparations.
"Hey, Giles." Buffy came in with both arms supporting another grouping of potted plants. Apparently, she'd found her passion in the form of lush foliage and 6 to 7 pH soil. "How'd it go? Magnetic smile, charming accent… you wowed them, right, with your museum-esque know-how and power tie?" She spotted too late that Willow was desperately motioning to her to stop her from continuing. She stumbled to a halt. "Oh… my bad." The apologetic Slayer placed the plants near the sink and began searching through the kitchen drawers. "They were blinded by your expertise. Better luck next time."
Giles chose to remain silent, slowly rotating his glass on the table in an attempt to ignore the unwanted attention by focusing his elsewhere.
Dawn came in and nonchalantly tossed her school bag upon the kitchen counter. Giles flinched at the sound of it colliding with some storage jars and tried to will his well meaning but irritating friends into granting him some much needed alone time. Unfortunately, Dawn immediately took a seat next to him, scraping her chair across the wooden floor to inch closer. "So Giles… when do you start? What's the pay? Executive suite? Name plaque?"
He promptly removed his glasses in aggravation and began to rub a lens with his handkerchief.
"Can we all please forget about my lack employment for the time being?" he said a bit too severely. The gang paused at his harsh tone then continued with their various activities as if nothing had happened. He let out a regretful sigh and decided to make his escape into the family room. Unfortunately for his increasingly unraveling patience, the gang tagged along, bringing with them their noisy munchies and irritating phrases of optimism.
"You'll definitely get something and soon," Dawn offered with a confident smile.
Giles took a seat in his chair, after checking for the presence of the curious toy bear Jo had given to him.
"If Buffy can get a job in this town, they'll make you mayor or something in no time." Dawn took her usual spot on the floor and Xander sprawled across the couch.
"Unquestioned ruler of all he surveys." Xander nodded. "Which for now amounts to half a dozen books and some spiffy tweed outfits."
"I say again… not helping!" Giles urged with a fierce look. As usual, he was ignored.
"What do you mean 'if Buffy can get a job'?" Buffy objected. She gave Xander's shoes a quick slap of disapproval at his claiming of the entire couch. He sat up crankily, and allowed her the smallest possible portion of the cushion beside him.
Dawn tried to change the subject. "So… Scooby meeting tonight, right? We gonna talk about the mysterious murders of those families?"
"We'll have to make it a quick one. Giles and I have to do the Thanksgiving shopping."
Giles shook his head in fatigued protest. "Buffy, could we possibly postpone the shopping spree until tomorrow? I'm in no mood…"
"Giles, tomorrow is Thanksgiving." Buffy's voice immediately took on the characteristics of Dawn's familiar whining tone. "If we don't go now, we'll miss out on the freshest of the fresh and end up with substandard ingredients, which amount to a substandard meal, and it's only the best for my crew."
'As demonstrated by the roast you mutilated last week…' Giles patience was fading fast and he knew it.
"Who says we need to do the whole big fancy, shmancy meal thing? We could do Chinese take-out," Dawn suggested. "Sesame beef with broccoli, pork fried rice and egg rolls all around."
"We're having a traditional Thanksgiving meal," Buffy insisted.
Willow took a seat by the fireplace, choosing the cozy chair that Xander had crafted. "Fall harvest meal, remember?"
"Don't start, Will!" Buffy warned heatedly.
"Dead Turkey day it is!" Xander proclaimed.
"Sushi! Nothing says thankfulness like raw fish… who's with me?" Dawn raised an encouraging hand.
"Over my dead body," Buffy snarled.
"No fair… you're so hard to kill," Dawn mumbled. "Why don't I ever get to pick the meals?"
"Oh yeah… when all hell's breaking loose. For once, I wanna choose a dinner based on something other than what I want as a possible last meal."
"Are the raised voices quite necessary?" Giles pinched at the bridge of his nose, feeling his headache worsening with every elevated quibble.
"Yes… to be heard over Dawn's whining," Buffy grumbled. "You're just grumpy from the interview. You'll get your happy on when we visit the bakery. It always brings that certain gleam back into your eyes."
"I doubt even fresh baked goods could mend my mood, Buffy," Giles said gloomily.
"Geez… one little failed job interview…"
"I didn't fail," Giles said defensively, punctuating the correction with a stern finger. "We had a difference of opinion. I was right and they were wrong."
"Heard that tune before," Buffy mumbled under her breath and jolted to her feet. "Fine! I'll get the darn groceries myself."
Dawn skipped up anxiously. "I wanna come."
"No and no! You're grounded… no shopping, no fun, no frolic until I say."
"You are so not fair!" Dawn whined. "I didn't sneak out! Besides, you used to sneak out all the time. I even covered for you."
A low moan came from Willow , Xander and Giles, at the all-too-familiar symptoms of the upcoming argument, that seemed to regularly arise of late, between the Summers sisters.
"You blackmailed me! I had to buy you off with leftover chocolate bars from the band fund raiser."
Giles eyes went wide with the mention of the candy. "Buffy, tell me you didn't…"
"They had to go somewhere, Giles… and it's not like she could get any more childish."
There was a faint knock at the door but the gang ignored it, choosing instead to focus their energies on the dispute.
"Just sayin' you use to sneak around when you were my age… younger even."
Willow could understand Dawn's argument. They'd all mastered the art of parental manipulation over the years. It was only natural for Dawn to show promise in the discipline. "Dawnie's got a point…"
"It's so very important for you to not complete that sentence!" Buffy pointed a warning finger toward Willow who responded with a pout.
"If you don't mind, I think I'll go listen to something a little less irritating, like nails on a bloody chalkboard." Giles stood up and moved toward the stairs.
"Oh wonderful, another commercial free hour of golden oldies from station KOMA!" Dawn snorted. "Playing all the hits from the Triassic period."
"Gotta second that emotion… I could do without the swinging seventies soundtrack myself, G-man," Xander agreed.
Another knock, more distinct but the group still ignored it.
"Far be it from me to try and enrich this household with something actually reminiscent of genuine music and not the perverse snippets of bastardized classics being butchered so people can… can get jiggy with it," Giles said pointedly.
" 'Jiggy with it'…?" Buffy snickered. "Giles… I know you're all talented with the languages but you are not at one with the hip-happenin' lingo."
A determined knock sounded at the door and Giles jumped at the chance to escape the escalating squabble in the family room. He marched to the door and hastily opened it to the face of a smiling elderly gentleman tipping his dark grey fedora in a jovial greeting.
"Hello there. Name's Athy." He presented his hand and after an awkward moment, Giles took it speculatively, giving a succinct shake. The man's kindly, wrinkled face seemed to light up at the gesture and he handed Giles a decorative business card. "It's been some time since the old Scobie Manor had residents. Figured you were somewhat new to the neighborhood and could use a little hometown welcome. I would like to extend an offer for a free in home estimate for a security system. Won't take but a moment of your time…"
"No, thank you." Giles began to shut the door but the salesman quickly shuffled forward, blocking the door with a sliver of his well kept leather loafer. Still flustered from before, Giles was thrown by the salesman's tenacity.
"Are you sure? Don't let this sleepy little town fool you; we have our share of burglaries and tomfoolery. You can never be too sure when it comes to the safety of you and yours."
"I think the household and I will manage." Giles dismissed the notion and began to close the door again.
"Giles… who is it?" Buffy walked over and peeked around the door.
"This must be the Missus. Pleasure to make your acquaintance. Names Athy." He offered his hand to her. Buffy looked at Giles, mouthing the word 'Missus' and went to correct the salesman's assumption, but missed her chance as he continued on. "I was just reminding your husband how, in this day and age, it's wise to keep the household security updated."
"Husband…" Giles was taken aback by the title. "I'm afraid you're mistaken…"
"Security? Is there a lot of need for that kind of thing around here?" Buffy interrupted, hesitantly shaking the strange man's hand. Giles handed off the business card to her with an exasperated roll of his eyes. He decided to let Buffy take her turn at getting rid of the pushy salesman while he attended to his abandoned drink.
"Why, just take a gander our local newspaper and you'll get an eyeful of unfortunate folks unwittingly falling victim to crime, due to the absence of a reliable in-home security system… especially lately."
"If he's trying to sell you makeup, just say 'no' and get the bug spray ready," Xander yelled from the family room.
"Would you care for a free estimate? Would only take about five minutes of your time."
"Why not? Come on in."
Giles stopped in his tracks, amazed that Buffy had fallen for the salesman's pitch. Buffy remained at the door with Athy taking a quick glance of the interior from his restricted vantage point. Curious, the others decided to check out the mystery man who'd managed to get past the Slayer.
"Is this the rest of the brood?" The older man's smile widened with the appearance of the gang and he offered his hand in turn to Willow, Xander and Dawn who all met his salutation with hesitant courtesy. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"Whatever… so, anyway, would you say the crime rate has gone up since… say a couple of months ago?" Buffy tried to return the man's attention back to her. Giles decided to listen in, curious as to why Buffy seemed suddenly interested in the product. Athy continued to survey the house and nodded.
"I'd have to agree with that. Whispering Pines used to be such a lovely town, where all the residents knew each other and you could simply ignore the lock on your door." He turned back to Buffy and offered a disappointed smile. "Times change."
"Any clue what might have caused it? Any new faces in town?"
"Cause?" Athy seemed ill at ease by Buffy's line of questioning. "What usually causes these things? Incorporation, economic divide, tourists; much like any other suburb, I guess our little town is having growing pains. As for new faces… can't say I've noticed any. Well, except for you lovely folks, that is."
"So there were no weird goings-on before?" Buffy pried.
"Usually things are quite peaceful but you can't argue with the facts." He displayed the latest copy of the Whispering Pines Gazette. "Proof's in the print."
"You sell a lot of these?" she asked.
"Newspapers…?" he asked blankly then seemed jolted back to the sale. "Oh… security… right. To be honest, not really. This is more of a side job; a chance for me to get out and meet our fellow Oregonians… like you lovely folks."
"That's good 'cause I'm really not interested. But thanks for your time." She opened the door and motioned towards it.
He hesitantly backed out. "Are you sure I couldn't interest you in…"
"No thank you."
"But we are having a sale on…"
"Sorry to waste your time. Have a nice day!" Buffy offered a wave and shut the door.
"That's alright. I got what I came for." Athy's lips curled back with a satisfied grin and he happily strutted off with a little more spring in his step than he'd had before.