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Ava-Kane

As usual, constructive criticism and in-depth comments are welcomed.

Dan, Andrew, Pete (who never make full-fledged appearances) (c) me

Rest of characters (c) Pixar


Chapter 11: Faces on the Cards

STAY GLAD OLD PAL

From Andrew.

It was final Friday of the M.U. semester, and having conquered his Computer exams, Don sat all nice and snug in his apartment, enjoying early Holiday cards from former co-workers.

JOY TO THE WORLD, JOY TO YOU, OLD PAL

From Pete.

Such busy fellas. Don had tried reaching them again. However, Pete and Andrew didn't pick up, perhaps too occupied with business, so Don left them some Merry Holiday messages, while only Dan, again, had time to converse with ole' Don.

"Daaan, I'm doin' great! How are ya'? Say hullo to yer wife and tykes for me."

"Got lil' Janny sittin' on mai knee right now." Don could hear a toddler babbling through the speaker. "So how's ev'erythang else? Passed all yer computer classes? Whatcha been doin'?"

"Settlin' down for da' Break and sellin' some Exam books. Sold two Exam Books yesterday. Actually quite an accomplishment." Not compared to the recent triumph of being accepted by a frat.

"I recall you mentioning yer took Scarin' the last time we called. What became of that?"

Don bit his lips. He had hoped Dan had forgotten the mention of Scare school. "Ah, as I told ya' before, ne'ver worked out. Didn't pass da' Exam,"

"Oh yeah, sorry, ole' brain just forgets sometimes." A pause. "I'm doing fine. Job's fine. Itsa hassle at times but I least git some quality time with mai family." Silence again. Appeared that Dan was pacing himself to reveal something. But the chasm of silence suggested that it was Don's turn at saying something.

And Don felt he should mention the frat thing. He hadn't really told his old friends, not even Ma, about it. Dan will be the first to know.

"I…" Don precluded his reveal with a chuckle, as if easing Dan into the absurdity of the idea. "…joined a fraternity. I'm part of Greek Life now."

"My, I didn't realize there were frats for geezers." A pause. "Ain't that neat?"

"Actually, I've tried to found one for geezers guys our age..."

"Oh, so ya did."

"Um, no, that frat is for all ages. I'm just the eldest of 'em."

And he had to explain that most of the fellows were somewhere in their twenties. "...Joined for housing benefit. Really, the frat membership came along with it."

"Well, Don. Living some old dream ya missed in collage?"

"I guess I am."

Quiet. The faint hum of the phone line.

"Doin' anythang special for da' Holidays?"

"Well, I do..." Dan's signature salesman method involved holding clients in suspense. "...I got extra time to also give somethang else a try, an ole' dream."

"Now what could that be, Dan?"

A breath of anticipation. "Movies, Don."

"Them movie pictures?"

"More precisely, scriptwritin' for now. Even got myself a computer and printer to do so. Them typewriters don't cut it." Don had to envy Dan's audacity in purchasing those durn machines. "Now I know Scarin' weren't workin' for ya', but when you said yer was tryin' that out a week ago, tha' gave me some inspiration to shoot for an ole' dream. Thought it woulda be too late, but then I realized, really, that if I waited too long, now it would really be too late... Mighta sound like a mid-life crisis to mai wife, but I got some time as I watch the kids, so I thought, why not? Not much of a chance of gettin' it greenlit in Hollywood or even as an independent movie, but it's wortha shot."

Though Don felt elated at the news of Dan's new hobby, he couldn't help but doubt Dan's future in filmmaking, and Don sensed that Dan was not oblivious to his longshot, doubtful prospects in film-writing. "Dan, so what's brilliant idea yer got for Hollywood?."

"So far, it's titled 'Tracy and da' Ghostlight.' I know, it's one of them B-movies premise, but itsa start, a workin'-progress."

"I wish ya' the greatest luck, Dan. Well, I bet ya' one day, Dan, that you will become some big shot, write yer own autobiography, and when yer folks and friends ask ya' 'how,' yer tell em' it all started in..."

Dan finished the words, "Business School. Mai love for movie-makin' started way back, no, before M.U. Business school." Then struck a pause, and the two former Oozmanian Industry employees and M.U. Business School alumni, shared a rush of empathetic inspiration.

"Ne'ver knew ya' loved movies this much to wanna make em'."

"Mai Janny is gettin' fussy now, keep in touch."

"Merry Holidays to you and yer family. Again, wishing ya' the greatest luck."

"You too. Take care ole' Donny."

Don began tidying up his desk with his thoughts running. Dan had every right to be optimistic, but Dan would have to proceed with a cautious sense of reality. Maybe that was the perks of getting old. Less fear of failing, but at the same time, the wariness that success was a longshot.

The phone rang again. Maybe it was Pete or Andrew. He whipped up the phone.

"Hey Don."

"Oh hullo, Scott! How's ev'erythang?"

"Don, we're holding our first Oozma meeting today!

"Oh gosh! Now I have to be there for that. What are we discussing for the next semester?"

"We're building a fort and defending ourselves from the impending war!"

"Sorry?"

"Ok, it's not really an official Oozma meet, just a fun get-together. As the founder of Oozma Kappa, I'm saving real frat discussions for next semester. You got to come over for the fun!"

Not that Don looked down on youthful activities, but cushion fort-building was far from his interest. "Oh Scott, might be nice to join ya'. But I am quite busy with Holiday stuff to do. Packin' up..."

"Oh, then you can pack up a bit and come over here- OH! Darn it Art! The battle hasn't ev- sorry, Don, you could stop by. I mean, I had a lotta time to get to know Terry & Terri and Art and they would like to get to know you."

True, he had scarce time to know these boys. And he could get some packing done with. "I tell ya' what, Ima gonna drop off some stuff, but I can't guarantee I'll be there in time to catch yer fort-game."

"Oh, I think the twins are at the door. Catch ya there, Don!"

Naturally, he'll move the smaller items first.

It was like selecting the items when moving into a dorm. After scooping his desk supplies into a luggage, Don removed all his framed photos - of the late William Carlton, his parents, his Oozmanian Industry friends, and his Marketing diploma off and lined them along with the blanket in his trunk. Then lastly, he took his filing crate- double-checked that contained its old Oozmanian records, phone numbers, and that eulogy of his late father, especially that eulogy.


The moment Don set foot in Squibbles' household, he was greeted by the slap of a couch cushion. He nearly dropped his luggage and crate. Stunned, he pulled the pillow off his face to notice the war zone before him: pillows, couch and chair cushions, feathers scattered over the living room. The couch and chairs, toppled over. Scott's two small upper eyes peeped over the couch.

"What a calamity!"

"Oh, sorry Don, thought you were Art."

My, what ruckus happened here? "How's everything. What yer been up to?"

"Visited my grandparents for a while last night, had a great time there and they are proud of me for starting a frat, and I can't wait for mom to take me skiing."

"What yer up to now?"

"Oh, we're having a Civil War right now."

Suddenly, Terri's head, a small pillow jabbed through his straight horn, emerged next to Scott. "Mr. Carlton!" Terri greeted, "It's so great to see you! We were just resolving the latest battle and we're going to make a truce and celebrate peace by going to the arcade."

Then popped up Terry's head, streaked with pillow feathers, and bearing an undeterred grin. "You know, I thought this would be lame and childish, and but it's actually quite thrilling."

Art, with a army hat secured around his arch-head, sprung up from behind a fallen armchair. "Good sir, you missed my tragic death. Promise me you'll cry for me the next time I perish on the battlefield. And make sure they decorate me posthumously."

Then Ms. Squibbles came flouncing in. "Now booooooooys! You don't have to clean it now, but I would like to see the room cleaned by tonight before supper. You can clean it when you come back from the arcade!"

Terri chimed, "sure thing Ms. Squibb-" Then within a rapid seconds, Ms. Squibbles flung a pillow onto Terri's eye before dashing off to the basement much to Terry's amusement.

"Good one, Ms. Squibbles!"

The young Oozmas stepped out of their war barriers and swept off the debris of feathers and pillows to ready themselves for the arcade. Don chortled at the antics then started upstairs with his luggage.

Then Scott uttered, "Wait? Don, aren't you joining us? We off to the arcade?"

"That's all righty boys, besides, I'll be busy unpackin'. Aside from that, I don't know if I can afford fun at da' arcade. Back in mai days, them games were a nickel apiece. But now they skyrocketed into a quarter or two apiece."

"Aw c'mon Don, today's our first outing. Tomorrow, Terry and Terri will be packing up their dorm and be off home. And Art has to go to some retreat tomorrow and you only just met him 24 hours ago. This is probably the only day of the Holiday where we could really be together and get to know each other until official move-in." Scott's eyes glimmered pleadingly, too innocent to comprehend an old fella's reservation about youth activities.

"I love ta' but I got lots of unpackin' to do." There would be plenty of time next semester to familiarize with his fraternity.

Scott started off. "Aw, suit yourself, Don." And the Oozmas left.

So Don stepped up into his bedroom and patted pit his mattress. He unpacked the photos and picture frames and lined them on the walls and shelves. Finally, he hung his Marketing Bachelor above his new desk and wiped off the dust of the brass frame, only for his suckers to smudge the glass. Durn it. Ah well.

And finally, he hauled his crate to the Squibbles's basement. Before Don opened the basement door, he checked the door for blasting Heavy Metal. Quiet. Thank goodness. As he stepped down, he noticed the backside of a figure on the basement floor, on her knees, staring into a photo album.

He had no glimpse of Ms. Squibbles's face, yet he thought that he had never seen her in a poise so solemn, in deep thought.

Don cleared his throat.

She sprung up. "Gave me a fright, Mister!"

"Whoops, sorry. Didn't mean to startle ya', Missus, only came lookin' for a spot for mai files."

"Just find yourself an empty spot on a shelf." She put away her album and clamored upstairs humming a tune.

Chuckling at her endearing mannerisms, Don shoved his crate onto a shelf, but then something wedged between his files caught his eye. He pulled out the wedge to discover that it was an aged pack of Scare. Scare Trading cards.

So he did still have those cards after all these years. He was about ten years old when he had showed this treasures off to his Pa'. Lookie at what I found at da' dime store. He had flipped through the faces, from the Waternoose to the renowned Abigail Hardscrabble, and declare, these are the monsters I want to be when I'm older.

Pa' can I be a Scarer?

Sure, sonny! Don't need mai permission to ask that. Honest work will git ya' to yer dream. Promise me that yer Ma and I will have the first tradin' card of ya.

Promise!

Don remembered the days when he would lie on his belly on the floor, shuffle the cards around, and imitate whatever famous face he came across. As he would creep around the floor and belt out his roars, Pa' and Ma' would praise his Scaring potential. He would practice on the field mice that scurried the fields or even the two-headed pigeons that his Ma tossed bird seeds at the park. He remembered creeping up a tree, practicing on crows.

Pa' had said that he always believed in Don.

Then a slight pain flew across Don's back. With a sigh, Don stuck the card pack back in the crate. Now, what was Ms. Squibbles's causal diagnosis the other day when she fixed his back here in the basement?

Oh yes, a case of stress knotting up his back.


A/N

Allusions/References/Influences

- The working title "Tracey and the Ghostlight" is in reference to two previous works Dan Scanlon worked on: a documentary called Tracey and the Cars short film, Mater and the Ghostlight

- Again, guess who Don's old co-workers are named after. You'll win an imaginary cookie.

Quote 0 0
Ava-Kane

As usual, constructive criticism and in-depth comments are welcomed.

Dan, Andrew, Pete (who never make full-fledged appearances) (c) me

Rest of characters (c) Pixar


Chapter 11: Faces on the Cards

STAY GLAD OLD PAL

From Andrew.

It was final Friday of the M.U. semester, and having conquered his Computer exams, Don sat all nice and snug in his apartment, enjoying early Holiday cards from former co-workers.

JOY TO THE WORLD, JOY TO YOU, OLD PAL

From Pete.

Such busy fellas. Don had tried reaching them again. However, Pete and Andrew didn't pick up, perhaps too occupied with business, so Don left them some Merry Holiday messages, while only Dan, again, had time to converse with ole' Don.

"Daaan, I'm doin' great! How are ya'? Say hullo to yer wife and tykes for me."

"Got lil' Janny sittin' on mai knee right now." Don could hear a toddler babbling through the speaker. "So how's ev'erythang else? Passed all yer computer classes? Whatcha been doin'?"

"Settlin' down for da' Break and sellin' some Exam books. Sold two Exam Books yesterday. Actually quite an accomplishment." Not compared to the recent triumph of being accepted by a frat.

"I recall you mentioning yer took Scarin' the last time we called. What became of that?"

Don bit his lips. He had hoped Dan had forgotten the mention of Scare school. "Ah, as I told ya' before, ne'ver worked out. Didn't pass da' Exam,"

"Oh yeah, sorry, ole' brain just forgets sometimes." A pause. "I'm doing fine. Job's fine. Itsa hassle at times but I least git some quality time with mai family." Silence again. Appeared that Dan was pacing himself to reveal something. But the chasm of silence suggested that it was Don's turn at saying something.

And Don felt he should mention the frat thing. He hadn't really told his old friends, not even Ma, about it. Dan will be the first to know.

"I…" Don precluded his reveal with a chuckle, as if easing Dan into the absurdity of the idea. "…joined a fraternity. I'm part of Greek Life now."

"My, I didn't realize there were frats for geezers." A pause. "Ain't that neat?"

"Actually, I've tried to found one for geezers guys our age..."

"Oh, so ya did."

"Um, no, that frat is for all ages. I'm just the eldest of 'em."

And he had to explain that most of the fellows were somewhere in their twenties. "...Joined for housing benefit. Really, the frat membership came along with it."

"Well, Don. Living some old dream ya missed in collage?"

"I guess I am."

Quiet. The faint hum of the phone line.

"Doin' anythang special for da' Holidays?"

"Well, I do..." Dan's signature salesman method involved holding clients in suspense. "...I got extra time to also give somethang else a try, an ole' dream."

"Now what could that be, Dan?"

A breath of anticipation. "Movies, Don."

"Them movie pictures?"

"More precisely, scriptwritin' for now. Even got myself a computer and printer to do so. Them typewriters don't cut it." Don had to envy Dan's audacity in purchasing those durn machines. "Now I know Scarin' weren't workin' for ya', but when you said yer was tryin' that out a week ago, tha' gave me some inspiration to shoot for an ole' dream. Thought it woulda be too late, but then I realized, really, that if I waited too long, now it would really be too late... Mighta sound like a mid-life crisis to mai wife, but I got some time as I watch the kids, so I thought, why not? Not much of a chance of gettin' it greenlit in Hollywood or even as an independent movie, but it's wortha shot."

Though Don felt elated at the news of Dan's new hobby, he couldn't help but doubt Dan's future in filmmaking, and Don sensed that Dan was not oblivious to his longshot, doubtful prospects in film-writing. "Dan, so what's brilliant idea yer got for Hollywood?."

"So far, it's titled 'Tracy and da' Ghostlight.' I know, it's one of them B-movies premise, but itsa start, a workin'-progress."

"I wish ya' the greatest luck, Dan. Well, I bet ya' one day, Dan, that you will become some big shot, write yer own autobiography, and when yer folks and friends ask ya' 'how,' yer tell em' it all started in..."

Dan finished the words, "Business School. Mai love for movie-makin' started way back, no, before M.U. Business school." Then struck a pause, and the two former Oozmanian Industry employees and M.U. Business School alumni, shared a rush of empathetic inspiration.

"Ne'ver knew ya' loved movies this much to wanna make em'."

"Mai Janny is gettin' fussy now, keep in touch."

"Merry Holidays to you and yer family. Again, wishing ya' the greatest luck."

"You too. Take care ole' Donny."

Don began tidying up his desk with his thoughts running. Dan had every right to be optimistic, but Dan would have to proceed with a cautious sense of reality. Maybe that was the perks of getting old. Less fear of failing, but at the same time, the wariness that success was a longshot.

The phone rang again. Maybe it was Pete or Andrew. He whipped up the phone.

"Hey Don."

"Oh hullo, Scott! How's ev'erythang?"

"Don, we're holding our first Oozma meeting today!

"Oh gosh! Now I have to be there for that. What are we discussing for the next semester?"

"We're building a fort and defending ourselves from the impending war!"

"Sorry?"

"Ok, it's not really an official Oozma meet, just a fun get-together. As the founder of Oozma Kappa, I'm saving real frat discussions for next semester. You got to come over for the fun!"

Not that Don looked down on youthful activities, but cushion fort-building was far from his interest. "Oh Scott, might be nice to join ya'. But I am quite busy with Holiday stuff to do. Packin' up..."

"Oh, then you can pack up a bit and come over here- OH! Darn it Art! The battle hasn't ev- sorry, Don, you could stop by. I mean, I had a lotta time to get to know Terry & Terri and Art and they would like to get to know you."

True, he had scarce time to know these boys. And he could get some packing done with. "I tell ya' what, Ima gonna drop off some stuff, but I can't guarantee I'll be there in time to catch yer fort-game."

"Oh, I think the twins are at the door. Catch ya there, Don!"

Naturally, he'll move the smaller items first.

It was like selecting the items when moving into a dorm. After scooping his desk supplies into a luggage, Don removed all his framed photos - of the late William Carlton, his parents, his Oozmanian Industry friends, and his Marketing diploma off and lined them along with the blanket in his trunk. Then lastly, he took his filing crate- double-checked that contained its old Oozmanian records, phone numbers, and that eulogy of his late father, especially that eulogy.


The moment Don set foot in Squibbles' household, he was greeted by the slap of a couch cushion. He nearly dropped his luggage and crate. Stunned, he pulled the pillow off his face to notice the war zone before him: pillows, couch and chair cushions, feathers scattered over the living room. The couch and chairs, toppled over. Scott's two small upper eyes peeped over the couch.

"What a calamity!"

"Oh, sorry Don, thought you were Art."

My, what ruckus happened here? "How's everything. What yer been up to?"

"Visited my grandparents for a while last night, had a great time there and they are proud of me for starting a frat, and I can't wait for mom to take me skiing."

"What yer up to now?"

"Oh, we're having a Civil War right now."

Suddenly, Terri's head, a small pillow jabbed through his straight horn, emerged next to Scott. "Mr. Carlton!" Terri greeted, "It's so great to see you! We were just resolving the latest battle and we're going to make a truce and celebrate peace by going to the arcade."

Then popped up Terry's head, streaked with pillow feathers, and bearing an undeterred grin. "You know, I thought this would be lame and childish, and but it's actually quite thrilling."

Art, with a army hat secured around his arch-head, sprung up from behind a fallen armchair. "Good sir, you missed my tragic death. Promise me you'll cry for me the next time I perish on the battlefield. And make sure they decorate me posthumously."

Then Ms. Squibbles came flouncing in. "Now booooooooys! You don't have to clean it now, but I would like to see the room cleaned by tonight before supper. You can clean it when you come back from the arcade!"

Terri chimed, "sure thing Ms. Squibb-" Then within a rapid seconds, Ms. Squibbles flung a pillow onto Terri's eye before dashing off to the basement much to Terry's amusement.

"Good one, Ms. Squibbles!"

The young Oozmas stepped out of their war barriers and swept off the debris of feathers and pillows to ready themselves for the arcade. Don chortled at the antics then started upstairs with his luggage.

Then Scott uttered, "Wait? Don, aren't you joining us? We off to the arcade?"

"That's all righty boys, besides, I'll be busy unpackin'. Aside from that, I don't know if I can afford fun at da' arcade. Back in mai days, them games were a nickel apiece. But now they skyrocketed into a quarter or two apiece."

"Aw c'mon Don, today's our first outing. Tomorrow, Terry and Terri will be packing up their dorm and be off home. And Art has to go to some retreat tomorrow and you only just met him 24 hours ago. This is probably the only day of the Holiday where we could really be together and get to know each other until official move-in." Scott's eyes glimmered pleadingly, too innocent to comprehend an old fella's reservation about youth activities.

"I love ta' but I got lots of unpackin' to do." There would be plenty of time next semester to familiarize with his fraternity.

Scott started off. "Aw, suit yourself, Don." And the Oozmas left.

So Don stepped up into his bedroom and patted pit his mattress. He unpacked the photos and picture frames and lined them on the walls and shelves. Finally, he hung his Marketing Bachelor above his new desk and wiped off the dust of the brass frame, only for his suckers to smudge the glass. Durn it. Ah well.

And finally, he hauled his crate to the Squibbles's basement. Before Don opened the basement door, he checked the door for blasting Heavy Metal. Quiet. Thank goodness. As he stepped down, he noticed the backside of a figure on the basement floor, on her knees, staring into a photo album.

He had no glimpse of Ms. Squibbles's face, yet he thought that he had never seen her in a poise so solemn, in deep thought.

Don cleared his throat.

She sprung up. "Gave me a fright, Mister!"

"Whoops, sorry. Didn't mean to startle ya', Missus, only came lookin' for a spot for mai files."

"Just find yourself an empty spot on a shelf." She put away her album and clamored upstairs humming a tune.

Chuckling at her endearing mannerisms, Don shoved his crate onto a shelf, but then something wedged between his files caught his eye. He pulled out the wedge to discover that it was an aged pack of Scare. Scare Trading cards.

So he did still have those cards after all these years. He was about ten years old when he had showed this treasures off to his Pa'. Lookie at what I found at da' dime store. He had flipped through the faces, from the Waternoose to the renowned Abigail Hardscrabble, and declare, these are the monsters I want to be when I'm older.

Pa' can I be a Scarer?

Sure, sonny! Don't need mai permission to ask that. Honest work will git ya' to yer dream. Promise me that yer Ma and I will have the first tradin' card of ya.

Promise!

Don remembered the days when he would lie on his belly on the floor, shuffle the cards around, and imitate whatever famous face he came across. As he would creep around the floor and belt out his roars, Pa' and Ma' would praise his Scaring potential. He would practice on the field mice that scurried the fields or even the two-headed pigeons that his Ma tossed bird seeds at the park. He remembered creeping up a tree, practicing on crows.

Pa' had said that he always believed in Don.

Then a slight pain flew across Don's back. With a sigh, Don stuck the card pack back in the crate. Now, what was Ms. Squibbles's causal diagnosis the other day when she fixed his back here in the basement?

Oh yes, a case of stress knotting up his back.


A/N

Allusions/References/Influences

- The working title "Tracey and the Ghostlight" is in reference to two previous works Dan Scanlon worked on: a documentary called Tracey and the Cars short film, Mater and the Ghostlight

- Again, guess who Don's old co-workers are named after.

Quote 0 0
Ava-Kane

A/N

As usual, constructive criticism and in-depth comments are welcomed.

This admittedly is the chapter where I take a bit of liberty with Headcanon about a particular character. You'll know when you see it.

Don, the rest of the OK gang, Sheri are property of (c) Pixar
-----------------------------


Chapter 12: A Lull In the Conversation

To prevent another outbreak of back pain, Don lugged himself up to the living room, a messy war zone since the last Oozma battle.

In spite of the weight of the back pain, he hauled the turned-over couch back to its position to save Ms. Squibbles some troubles. Then, he turned over the toppled blue-stripped armchair (Art's old war shelter). The exertion amplified his back pain, so he collapsed himself chest-first right onto the armchair right and had to roll over into the correct sitting posture and rest his back.

To bring his mind off the pain, he studied Ms. Squibbles's furniture. Worn, yet well-cleaned, probably purchased from yard sales or thrift shops. Ms. Squibbles had extravagant, yet somehow frugal taste. The trace of faded marks on the fabric indicated that a lady's deft hands and management preserved the furniture's freshness.

Soon next semester, rowdy Oozmas would fill the empty seats around him, so Don resolved to enjoy this peace while it lasted. Yet, part of him regretted not joining the Oozmas to the arcade. And it wasn't his former childish side that regretted it. Don had lost interest in arcades, but as Scott suggested, he had missed time with his new Oozma brothers. Still, Don figured maybe it was better that he didn't join the boys, for it was not much use standing around watching the boys play games or possibly worry them with a back crack. Don would be like a father supervising grown college boys. Not a bad thing, but not much he could contribute to boys already capable of taking care of themselves.

But at least he could enjoy the quiet, though still very disarrayed, living room.

The silence evoked his countryside childhood days, when he would scurry up a tree then settle himself on a branch to just laze around. Refreshing. Nothing but the rustlin' breeze. Like creeping up on a field mouse. And then he would hear Pa' Carlton's gruff voice from below, requesting him to finish his chores. Young Don would beg for a few moments more. And Pa' Carlton would hesitate before relenting, sure, Donny, but don't forget yer chores.

With pacing of Ms. Squibbles's grandfather clock, Don fancied the ticking matched the heartbeats of his three Cephalopodian hearts. One tick. Two. Three. Four...

Ms. Squibbles emerged from the kitchen door and slipped Don a mug of cocoa. Four seconds of serenity until Ms. Squibbles's intrusion.

"Oh, I see whatcha doin', forcin' me hospitality before I could politely refuse it. Well, don't mind if I do!" He sipped the cocoa. Chocolaty and warm.

Ms. Squibbles settled down on the sofa near Don's chair with her own mug. "Thought you might like a hot drink for the winter. And it's my apology, I almost forgot, you're the fella' I almost whacked with a sign weeks ago." Don reassured her that no harm was done.

She nodded, sipped her drink, and nothing more came from her. A lull had a way of creating awkwardness out of thin air. It must be one of her quieter, non-Heavy Metal days because she said nothing more, quite possibly attributed to the absence of her son. But she kept eyeing Don's stare and must have anticipated a word from him. It should have been simple enough to ask something causal. Sustaining a lull was so unlike the energetic Ms. Squibbles or even the former full-time salesmonster.

Fixing his eyes on Ms. Squibbles's, Don counted clock ticks between the silence... seventeen, eighteen, nineteen... Each tick nudged his salesman's intuition to break the silence, for prolonged silence often made the customer insecure. Yet, even as the salesmonsters performed the subtle gestures of a conversation initiation, straight eye contact as Don advised Scott once during recruitment, the atmosphere of the Squibbles's living room bound him to silence. Wordlessly, he placed his mug down, rested his chin on his fist and locked his eyes on hers. She lifted her brows at this, assuming that Don's deliberate gesture precluded a response from him. Then she opened her mouth only for a breath to come out. Whatever she had to say got lost in the moment. Maybe that was the perks of relaxing. Or maybe it was the cocoa sugar. Savoring every little detail and fearing that noise would disturb this intimate atmosphere.

Then Ms. Squibbles broke into a snicker. Don counted thirty-two seconds that passed between the silence. Ms. Squibbles flushed, perhaps processing what just happened. To finally bury the awkwardness, Don struck up the conversation.

"May I tell ya' what a lovely home you have here. How do ya' manage?"

"Years of homekeeping. Years of homekeeping, Don. Ever since I got the house, I vowed every month to add a nice thing or two to it." She sipped her drink. "So, tell me about yourself Don."

"Bred and grew up in Burnsville, Monasota on the countryside. Then, moved to Montropolis for da' city life and went to high school there. Ima formerly of Oozmanian Industry, downsized to part-time Exam books seller, and now a full-time M.U. student. And you?"

"You know me, M.U. nurse and a mom to my Scott. Grew up at Monstropolis. You worked at Oozmanian, eh? Sometimes I use their stuff. Bought their woolen selection once."

"Then I hope yer were treated as a valued customer."

"Tell me Don, how did you get into sales?"

"Don't know where to start. I say it started when I was in da' M.U. Scarin' School 30 years ago. A little major switch occurred there."

"Scaring School? 30 years ago? Didn't Scott mention you were a Scare student?"

"Of course, came back after Oozmanian Industry got downsized. Figured I could try an ole' dream. Them academic advisers and Harescrabble's standards wouldn't stop me. But now I'm a Computer major cause that's where the real opportunities lie."

"Very rare to see a fellas like you attend M.U."

"I know, funny, bein' in the same class with them young-ings."

"Shouldn't be too odd cause' we were once them at some point." She laughed. "So I understand that you studied under Dean Hardscrabble?"

"Yup. Well, she's the Dean and oversaw our performance. Prof. Knight did da' teaching."

"Oh yeah, almost forgot. That Hardscrabble had been Dean for quite some time." She laughed. "How did you get into Scaring?"

"I wanted their confidence, the honor, the fun to it. Crazy dream, but it was possible. After all, in high school, I was the master of da' silent scare."

"What happened?"

"I got older." Don left out the part when he had reached that adolescence stage when his suction pads grew stickier and noisier, suckering away Don's confidence in stealth. "At da' time, I didn't think it was right, but now I know Pa' was right to push it outta of my life... at da' time."


Pa', I know mai grade-marks are lookin' bad. But I'll git better. I promise.

I been a-thinkin'. Some other options at M.U. would hafta do for ya'.

Pa', I swear, if I just git an A next exam, I'll can make up for everything.

Sonny, I hope this would be the last time you said this.


"I hunkered down to somethang safe and realistic. Pa' showed me that maybe Scarin' was too great for me. Couldna match up."

Ms. Squibbles sighed, "Parents."

"Now I do hear ya', m'am. I was tempted to rebel, but he dit it for mai own good. So I took up a more 'manageable' major. And it was adios to Scaring and hello to Business School. But I tell ya', Missus, it's funny how da' older ya' git, the more ya' start agreeing with yer parents."

"Mmm, ehhh." Ms. Squibbles's hand swept over her cheek as if to brush off some stress. Seemed she had trouble agreeing with Don's last statement.

"But I think I agree with mai pa' now. I wasn't going in the right direction so pa' led me to a more realistic one. I coulda tried re-enrolling every year at da' Scarin' School but didn't. And maybe mai recent failure is a sign that it was ne'ver for me. I'm clearly built for only Sales." Don knew himself to be too much in love with the ideals of success to realize the required effort for that success. In love with the rewards and dream more than the work. Don had told himself that he would have to learn to love the work, but later realized that the work required so much pain and stress, and before it could all crumble down upon him and his self-esteem, Don walked another path until his dream dimmed into a faint glow of the past. And now this misdirection of his life brought him as far as into the world of computers.

"So now I'm just studyin' da' craft of Computers. Not honestly my liking', but it would do. Now I know I'm makin' this sound all depressing, and I may have spent a lot of my life away only to git a life-long regret and a fifty-second birthday, but it was never a bad life. Just took da' realistic path. Just a regret. I'll outgrow it soon enough." As he always told himself.

She surveyed him with an empathetic look. "Would you say that you are on the right path now? Or on the wrong path?"

Don wished for a clear answer. "Now I honestly don't know." 'Right' and 'wrong' neither described it. "I'll outgrow mai regrets. What matters is that I had a nice life. I know I woulda gone back, but the Scaring responsibility was too much. Now I know that Scaring School IS for learning that responsibility, but I guess Scaring is too great for a humble fella' like me." But questions swarmed his head. What if he had disregarded Pa' Carlton and continued his Scare education? Would he had barely passed enough to survive and possibly improved his way into the Scaring Career? Would he have gained the strength to endure all the obstacles and requirements?

Ms. Squibbles rambled her response, "Oh I understand how grueling the classes are. It doesn't help that there is so much material to cover. It involves precision, the analysis of the psychology of the human, and exploiting whatever conscious or subconscious mentality the child has, whether it has a fear of snakes, imaginary creatures, or miscellaneous fears, dodging the objects of the child's bedroom due to its toxicity risks, knowing what objects or furniture that can be ok to touch, or even deciding what objects to risk touching, and then applying noise in order to build atmosphere, knowing the sort of noise you're creating and being aware of the volume of each little noise and how one little noise can tip off your progress with the atmosphere building, which would involve a great deal of testing the feel of the floor carpet or, in some cases, the wall. Oh, and there's mentally and visually measuring the shadows, darkness, and lighting with seconds in order to know where to hide and creep and how to play with those shadows for a scarier effect. And there's keeping the Scare fresh so the child wouldn't build an immunity to his/her assigned monster, or even sensing when the child has grown immune to your signature Scare so you could adjust to another technique, knowing when you don't need a roar to produce a scream, and the diligence, and then the stealth, building the haunting atmosphere in the child's bedroom, and listening and instinct skills for the possible lurking presence of the human parents, and even studying the parent's mannerisms and habits within seconds when the chance comes so to know the patterns for the next scare, also, memorizing the door of your child, an exit plan in case danger happens, and being aware of all the physical exertion on the body when it comes to crouching and crawling. Oh, and then all coming down to the execution and presence. And all of this to be accomplished on-field within the estimated range of 2 and a half to 4 minutes for each door. Being that Scarin' is a dangerous field, I have an understanding to why we must learn all that."

Don gripped his mug so not to drop it. "Now yer woulda made one swell Scarer."

With a laugh with an edge of uneasiness, Ms. Squibbles remarked, "I remembered when I almost became one."

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Ava-Kane

Chapter 13: Reaping Regrets

At that revelation, Don swallowed his cocoa. He detected an interesting story.

"The Hardscrabble? Why slap mai knee twice and get out of town, you faced the Hardscrabble," he exclaimed.

Blinking at his flattery, she continued, "Why, yeah, old Hardscrabble was my professor, before she got promoted to Dean."

He should not have asked this, but curiosity compelled him. "What became of your dream?"

"My dream? Not quite, my parents' dreams, actually."

"Pardon me for assuming." He wondered immediately why he ran to the assumption. Perhaps he thought that every monster wanted to be a Scarer. What was there to not want about Scaring?

"It's all right... after all, I suppose it was my dream." She sunk back. "Had to tell myself I wanted it, even though my parents wanted it first. I mean, yes, great income and not to mention, I would've loved to be a face on a trading card. I collected them myself. Who wouldn't? The classes can be a hoot. I barely aced those few semesters. It was when Hardscrabble started out as instructor before becoming the Dean."

"Now, Missus, that's a mighty fine accomplishment, impressing Harescrabble enough to survive a few semesters."

"Oh I know, I could make fine Scarer... but my parents did most of the wanting for me. I convinced myself to want it, but I didn't want it enough. I knew its benefits, but I also knew that I wanted other things more. On my senior year, I had made it so far, but far enough to realize it wasn't my true dream. I guess you can say, I was better off an undeclared major rather than a Scaring major. I was still looking for that true dream. Then, I just started skipping classes until Hardscrabble personally asked me to leave." She mentioned it like a causal matter, but Don could sense the unease behind her smile.

Another lull in the conversation. The clocked ticked. One tick. Two. Three... Don waited patiently, then figured she awaited a reply from him. Having been taught not to probe into deep personal matters to not risk customer's emotional state, Don could start off a more comfortable topic for the conversation. But by her solemn smile, he detected that Ms. Squibbles wanted to continue speaking about the subject matter. So Don determined that he could proceed cautiously to a relevant question.

"Now how dit ya' take that expulsion, missus?"

With a blend of fondness and remorse, she answered, "What else? By partying of course, or staying in my dorm, as I've been doing during my Scaring days. Guess I couldn't find that one true dream because I liked too many things in life. And life was a non-stop party for me after that expulsion. I mean, when you got a Ma' and Pa' that narrowed your limits, you gotta have some fun." Almost like a drunk venting party girl, she waved her mug. "Then a little accident happened during my party days with boys. And next thing I knew, I had a baby's future to worry about."

Don withheld a response.

With Scott mentioning no father and not a Mr. Squibbles around, Don had already inferred that Scott was either a product of asexual reproduction or just an absent biological father (the former Don thought more likely due to Scott's resemblance to his mother), but Don bore no concern with which was the case. So it really did not phase Don that Ms. Squibbles had Scott out of a legit-illegitimate birth. But the fact that it was barely a surprise did not lessen the awkwardness.

Ms. Squibbles seemed to have sensed Don's odd observation for she implicitly acknowledged it in a forcibly lighthearted manner. "I know, right? You would think Scott would be one of those asexual repro babies. He's a mini-me. But that wasn't the case. Well I think it's best he has nothing of his father's looks. After all, his father is dead... beat." She flushed brighter.

To mitigate the moment, Don threw out a compliment. "Now I'm ain't a parent myself Missus, but I can tell ya' yer done a mighty fine job bringing up yer son, 'specially in them rough circumstances."

Suddenly, glints shined below her eyes. "Don, I cannot thank you enough for what you've done for him, building this little club where he could make friends." She was diverting from the topic with something less relevant. Don had seen it in customers before, who went off-topic when a subject turned uncomfortable.

Then she added, "Yer practically Scott's only friend."

He found himself nodding.

She continued, "My parents raised Scott when he was young, not for me, but for him. They refused to pay for my education after what happened at the Scaring School. Had to pull out savings, loans, and did odd jobs for my education. I thought of maybe desperately petitioning back into the Scaring Program, but by then, the standards for returning have gotten stricter. So I took up Nursing studies at Northern Scales Community College because figured it would bring some income. Eventually, I finally moved out and worked to be a proper mother to him."

She rested her head and added, her voice quivering, "You know, Scott recently visited my parents. It's a surprise to me that they weren't angry at all at his fall-out with the Program. They actually been supportive of Scott. I still have to thank them for raising Scott while I was away at school and work." She gulped down her drink. "I'm sorry, I ramble."

"Don't," Don reassured. "Ramble on."

And the single mother, failed M.U. student, community college graduate employed at M.U., stared at the ceiling. "Regrets, they lead you places you don't meant to be or even want to be. A big misdirection in life. When you can't outgrow regrets, you have to build them into something more wonderful than you ever imagined, even more so than your old dreams. And my regrets grew into something, someone, to be proud of."

If weren't for the proximity and arrangement of their seating, the caution of not spilling cocoa, or their merely casual landlady-tenant relationship with the boundaries of formalities, Don, twice a Scare School failure, would have flung his arms around her, but it would not have done justice for his gratitude for her words or the comfort he wanted to give her.

So Don could only, half-playfully, clank his mug against Ms. Squibbles's. "To misdirection." He winked. "Yer ne'ver know what happiness yer find there." And he swilled down the rest of his drink and awaited a response from her.

She was always wearing that smile, even as it appeared the glimmer of tears were trying to escape her eyes but her eyelids were absorbing the liquid to conceal the depth of woes.

Placing her cup on the table, she edged forward, set an elbow on the couch armrest, and rested her chin on her fist. She shifted so deliberately that it somehow occurred to Don that she was challenging him to another lull in the conversation. Withholding every question to why, Don reciprocate her smiling stare, discovering that their previous awkward long silence had transcended into a some little game. Not even the hourly chime of the clock broke off their eye locking. The clock ticks paced on... Twenty-three, Twenty-four...

Then, there was chattering at the front door, prompting Ms. Squibbles to utter, "Oh!"

Forty-three seconds of silence. Gotta be a swell record, thought Don.

Before answering the door, Ms. Squibbles wiped her eyes dry

She found the Oozmas, Scott, the twins, and Art on her porch, their expressions cheery though a tad disappointed.

"Mom, it turned out the arcade closed very early. But we had a nice time anyway. Oh hey Don."

"Hey Mr. Carlton," said the twins.

"Don! My man!" exclaimed Art.

Though glad to see the boys, Don remarked that it was a-bout time for him to go.

Not minding his sticky suckers, Ms. Squibbles tugged at his arm. "You have to stay for dinner, the Oozmas are joining us."

"Thank you, but I shouldna impose. It's more than a pleasure talkin' with ya'." More than what words could articulate.

"It's more than a pleasure having you Don. Stay a while longer."

"Ms. Squibbles, you're as sweet as a fresh batch of Mochi candy. So sweet, that I better git goin' before ya' hold mei hostage to ya' hospitality again."

Though Don wasn't deaf to the Oozma's additional pleading for him to stay, it was Ms. Squibbles's pleading that nudged him the most. The moment Don pulled away, his suckers peeling off her hand, he wanted to take back the refusal to Ms. Squibbles and Oozmas. Yet, he couldn't. It felt like the day he dragged himself to the academic office and requested the major switch from Scaring to Marketing. With reluctance but not without reason.


As Don watched Oozmanian Industry pass by on his bus ride to Emeryville, Don quietly missed the Oozmas and Ms. Squibbles, probably chatting over dinner and maybe remarking, too bad Don-slash-Mr. Carlton missed out.

It was at the end of that long conversation that Don decided he was in no mood to carry a nice dinner conversation with the boys or even Ms. Squibbles. This missus, who he hadn't even known for two weeks and sneakily forced a mug of cocoa in his hand (no doubt attributed to her Scaring training in stealth), somehow released out all the words he reserved for three decades. Various matters - from academic difficulties to well-intended but questionable parental guidance to their self-esteem - had toyed with their limitations, and they continued to reap the regrets.

As he prepared for bed that night, Don glanced at the walls of clear dust linings in ovals, circles, and squares of the imprints of the recently removed picture frames. He missed those black-and-white photos of Pa and Ma Carlton, and his youth, photos of Oozmanian employees, and misc. And there was a large rectangular dust lining above his desk, reminding him that his diploma hung on the wall of someone else's home.


A/N

I initially wrote in Ms. Squibbles's expertise in the Scaring studies as a throwaway joke. That long lecture in the last chapter? The joke was supposed to end there. But writer's inspiration stuck. Then out came an entire backstory for Sheri Squibbles.

I am aware that I had partaken in a risk to Headcanon in two respects: 1) the idea that Ms. Squibbles had a history of Scaring studies (though I did ran into one RP Tumblr that did shared that idea) 2) Scott's parentage.

After reading an MU Headcanon tumblr entry that explained that Scott was of asexual birth, I forced myself to acknowledge the case of Scott's parentage. Being that Scott does resemble his mother, it was likely Scanlon wrote him in mind that he was of asexual birth, which seems to be a thing in the monster world. Though I wanted to skip the topic, however, I realized that I had to address the headcanon for the sake of certain readers, so I settled for making Scott a product of a biological father. Even though it isn't close to the interpretation of an asexual birth, it did amplify Ms. Squibbles's difficulties for dramatic purposes in writing. I also had to say as less possible there is about the missing father as whoever he is, he is not, or no longer, relevant to Scott's or Sheri's life.

As usual, constructive criticism is welcomed.

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Ava-Kane

A/N

Only two more chapters left.


Constructive criticism, please!

---------------------------------
Chapter 14: Initiation

Don resolved that he didn't have to revise the address on his card. 1200 Dark Avenue, Emeryville would always be his main place of residence. After all, his residence at the Squibbles's home was as temporary as living in a dorm. Though it was partially a slothfully pragmatic reason to save him the work and cost of printing new business cards.

Since Oozma Kappa kicked off as a M.U. fraternity, the Office of Greek Life sent him a catalog of frat merchandise - mugs, T-shirts, jackets- to peruse. Having sent away Holiday cards to former co-workers, Don figured Holiday cards wouldn't do for the Oozmas.

Don wished he could order some letter jackets, but they were insanely expensive and Don did not specialize on the monsters body size (the arch-like Art was a especially confusing case) and didn't want to risk ordering the wrong sizes. Those jackets were a too much of a vanity item anyway.

So Don settled for ordering the paddles, requested them to be engraved with green OK initials and had them shipped to the Squibbles's household. Whatever frats did with paddles, Don wasn't sure, but if Scott could make battlefield weapons and forts out of his mother's cushions, they would find a way.


Over the next half-a-month of a holiday, Don made a few fine milestones: sold four Exam Books and did part-time shifts for some Holiday bonuses at various department stores.

The final item Don packed among his old office shirts and textbooks was a small white package shipped from Kapan, containing a particular order that he used a part of his Holiday bonuses to purchase.

Don had neither seen nor contacted the boys for three weeks, which made him all the more glad when the final weekend of the Holiday, move-in day for the Oozmas, came around the corner. As Don dragged his trunk out of his apartment, he bade his apartment farewell, despite knowing he would return soon.

When the bus passed Oozmanian Industry, Don had a rush of emotions. He had never felt so proud to serve that Industry. The building, though unremarkable and dull from architecture standpoint, seemed built to remain sturdy, even if it was a tad ancient. It endured.

When he reached the entrance of M.U., he saw students and parents, wrapped in arms or tentacles, in farewell embraces. He thought of Ma. Back in Montropolis. And he wondered when he would tell her about his recent membership in a fraternity. She will know. How soon? He'll decide.

Whistling, Don strolled down the neighborhood to the Oozma Kappa house, thinking of the new semester ahead of him. Of Greek Life activities to sample and computers to conquer.

Before Don even reached halfway across the sidewalk to Ms. Squibbles's house, she opened her front door and extended her hand to him. She had that same glow of hospitality and gratitude in her eyes when he last saw her. It may had been weeks since their introspective conversation over a cup of cocoa, yet Don sensed that she wanted continue the chat from where they left off, when they were playing an odd but intimate silent game, before the Oozmas interrupted them.

Don reminded himself of the white package in his trunk.

"It's lovely to see you, Missus."

"Had a nice holiday, Don?"

"Yup." He stepped in. Her living room was looking fresher as ever. "And you?"

"Yes. Scotty and I went skiiing."

"Lovely, missus. Now where's Scott? Have the other Oozmas arrived yet?" He was glad to hear that familiar clock ticking.

"Actually, Scott and that Art fella' are waiting for you in the basement."

"That's odd, I would think we would have the meetin' in da' living room." Don set his trunk next to the stairs.

"Just go down to them." Three of her eyes winked at him, which made Don wonder if the Oozmas had some sort of surprise, bracing himself in case it was another cushion war.

When Don entered the basement, the was darkness with a tint of lighting radiating from the center of the basement floor. Perplexed, Don felt for the light switch in the dark, flicked it-...

caught a glimpse of Scott and Art, both shrouded in cloaks.

"TURN OFF THAT LIGHT BEFORE WE LOSE CONNECTION WITH THE COSMIC ENERGY!" Art boomed. "AND CLOSE THAT DOOR!"

"What?!" Apologizing profusely for his unknown transgression, Don flicked off the switch and found himself lunging to the basement door, slamming it, and immediately wondering why he didn't bolt outside before shutting the door.

"Dooon Caaaaaaarlton. Would you please step down? Cooome to us." Scott commanded in a tone far from his his usual doltish timid voice.

Though unable to process what was going on, he wanted to appease his Oozmas in spite of inexperienced knowledge of the world of the current youth. Don trudged down cautiously into the faintly lit room then saw the flashlight standing on the middle of the floor, shinning the light under the hooded faces of Scott and Art, both draped in black. The sight of the flashlight should have cheapened the atmosphere, but the angled lighting that partially shimmered in Art's and Scott's secluded faces spread something eerie (and confusing) in the Squibbles's basement.

"Do you pledge your soul to the Oozma Kappa brotherhood?" Don could see that Scott clutched a paddle and a paper in one hand, and sometimes adjusting himself in the light to read the paper, and in the other hand, Scott held a book. Then, without warning, Scott lightly bopped Don's shoulder with the paddle. So that's what frat did with paddles. Whacking their brothers as a rite of passage.

"Dooon Caarllton, take the Scared Oath. Put your hand and swear to-."

"Sccott? Ima sorre, but Ima not sure what the Oath i-..."

"Just swear to it."

Playing along, Don laid his hand on the sacred book (even though he noticed it was a random textbook copy of "History of Mons" as a ceremonial prop).

"Scott, explain to me the purpose of this?"

Scott lowered his voice down to a whisper, and through his teeth, hissed "Doooooon, go with it." Scott glanced at his paper again and raised his voice. "Do you swear to keep secrets, all that you learned here, will you defend your brothers? No matter what the peril? In the face of unending pain and despair? From evils? From the face of death and despair? From the those that threaten to break us apart, tear us apart, ruin our friendship, ruin our family." Scott struggled to escalate his inflection. "Will you endure pain with us? Now murmur your sacred oath!" Although Scott's voice fluctuated in volume, loud dwindling to soft then flew louder again, Don was at least satisfied at the improvement of Scott's speaking technique.

Don cringed, his sucker getting squeezing onto the surface of the holy book. "Um, sure?"

"Yoooouuuu'rree IN!" Art bellowed, his grin baring his gaped teeth.

Don rose his hand from the book, not caring that the book hung on his sucker before its weight caused it to fall to the floor. "Oh! Glad that's over wi-" Don turned to Scott only to discover that he had vanished.

"Scott? Ack!" Scott had crept up behind Don, whipped out a dark cloak, and forced it into Don's arms. "Mom made this hood just for you, so now we can welcome Terry and Terri."

How Scott, or maybe Art, explained to Ms. Squibbles the need for dark hooded cloaks, Don was curious to know.

Don squeezed the cloak, the gauzy cloth rubbing the scaly skins of his hand, very pleasant material to feel but doubtful for wearing. Don nearly recoiled at it. He? Emulate that gosh-darn antic in this dark hood? They might as well were asking him to jump through a ring of fire. "Scott, this is... nice ... creative and all... but explain how in tarnation did this idea get into your head?"

Scott pointed to Art, who threw off his hood to see eye-to-eye with Don. "Totally my idea Don, dude. Thought we could totally be like a cult! It did scared ya' didn't it?"

Before anyone could ask Art to elaborate on the origin of his cult-like idea, muffled voices came from the ceiling and the three Oozmas listened intently to the chirpy voice of Ms. Squibbles directing the twins down the basement.

Art secured his hood back on. "Quick, places everyone!" Art and Scott rushed to Don's side, and before Don could register what happened, he felt the burst of cloth squeezing through his head and the gauziness of the cloth ruffling his face, nearly knocking off his glasses, though at least Art's grubby hands had some decency to hold Don's glasses in place as he yanked the cloth over his head, and Scott's little hands straighten out the cloak like the way a mother swept off the dirt off a child's clothing.

Scott shot out a quick whisper, "Pss, Don, why don't you say something first? We all take turns saying something."

The door creaked open and Terry called out, "Hello? Goodness it's dar-..."

"DON'T TOUCH THAT LIGHT OR WE LOSE THE COSMIC ENERGY! AND CLOSE THAT DOOR." No doubt Art had been rehearsing this.

Scott and Art scurried to their positions. Don, now attired in the black cloak for the occasion, stood frozen in the spot.

"Say something, Don."

At first, Don stood dumbly as the twins descended down the steps, not sure if he should warn the twins to bolt out the door or welcome them Oozma-style. Don wished he could update himself to adjust to the times of the youth, such as when Oozmanian Industry pushed away older employees like him to welcome the more youthful employees.

Then he'd just have to act new and take part in this new thing as these young folks did. For his Oozma brothers. To be an Oozma brother.

Thinking of his methods when he wandered the campus for new recruits, Don steadily mumbled, "Pledge yerself to Oozm, ah-hem." The tone of typical campus advertising didn't fit this occasion.

Then something was wedged into his hand, for Scott had sneaked his cheat sheet in Don's hand. So Don, hoping the twins didn't see his face flushing, pulled the paper up to skim over, then he crumbled it up, ready to memorize his lines like a salesmonsters who was ordered by executives to change and improvise his pitch at the last minute.

Clearing his throat, Don prepared to limit his homeland accent for ceremonial purposes, "Do you pledge your soul to the brotherhood?" He commanded in a deeper voice. The twins recoiled an inch away but didn't dash off, shocked to see Mr. Carlton clad in black and withdrawing his accent.

As much as Don couldn't comprehend the gosh-darn antic, with the Oozmas together, Art trembling with anticipation and Scott looking on at his new brothers, it was something.

It was worth Terri's speechless perplexity and Terry's what-the-heck-we-got-into expression and the cheers of the Scott and Art as they knighted the shocked Perrys with the paddles.

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Ava-Kane

Chapter 15: First Election

Don wanted to pat the twins' back after what they had been through. After the final knighting with the O.K. paddles, the initiation left the twins wracked with shock, each of their eye wide and unflinching, their lips glued in a straight horrified frown, and their tentacles stuck to the floor. Terri shivered, his neck wobbling, while Terry was stiff like a teeter-ball pole.

"MOM, WE'RE DONE!" Scott hollered.

On cue, Ms. Squibbles bust through the basement door, not bothering to flick on the lights. Scott and Art pulled the shocked twins to the center of the basement in front of the flashlight. Realizing that she had a camera in her hands, Don instinctively joined his brothers at the center, also reaching for the twins so to pat their back to assuage their stupor. But then Ms. Squibbles counted to three, driving Don to seize the immobilized twins' shoulders like they were best buds and grin for the photo. The camera flashed. Then she scurried forward in various directions to get close-ups of each face. Photos slid out of the camera slot. The Oozmas First Initiation Ceremony. Scott, Art, Don, in black, and the twins, their faces frozen in horror and pupils reddening and shrinking with each camera flash.

Ms. Squibbles scooped up the pictures and flounced upstairs. Art and Scott had to escort the twins to the living room by dragging them by their hands. Don followed, holding the folds of his cloak so not to trip over it.

Settling the twins on the couch, the Oozmas took their spots: Don on that blue-striped armchair, Scott on a rocking chair, and Art on a flowery circular stool. They took to quietly watching the twins, waiting for a functional movement, to signal that they were fully alive. Scott even had that same goofy smile etched on his face like the moment he first recruited the the twins into Oozma Kappa.

Terry moved first. He lifted his lips and inhaled.

"Um, I read plenty of Gothic novels and..."

Don exchanged glances with Scott and Art, not knowing if Terry meant that he was ok. Perhaps the initiation had purged the twins of their sense of normalcy.

With the calculated itch of an English student who wanted to reluctantly offer an in-class discussion, Terry gradually raised his upper hand. "Yeah, so, um, Gothic novels. Next time," Terry started, "Use a candle or two instead of that flashlight." He swallowed. "Candles bring a spookier atmosphere like in Gothic novels. They're more ancient and more sophisticated symbolism than a flashlight. You would know if you read Gothic novels." Terry's hand remained suspended in the air.

Now it was Terri's turn to ease himself from the shock. Terri lifted his upper hand, ready to add to his brother's input, and now both the twins' upper hands were suspended so stiffly that Don was sure they would make a steady coat-rack.

"Umm, scented candles. Yes, use scented candles." Terri exhaled. "Whoever becomes our next brother, we need to make him feel comfortable and not too scared." Terri gulped some air. "It would calm... their nerves... greatly."

There's a good point right there (even if the subject of Gothic novels was far from relevant). Nice-smelling candles probably would decrease a new Oozma's desire to flee an initiation.

"Brilliant!" Art shouted. "That way, the candle aroma can enhanced our connection to the Universe, thus it will truly recognize us as brothers."

Relaxing themselves into tentative chuckles, the twins simultaneously lowered their stiff hands. Except Terry asked, "Um, guys, can you drop those cloaks off? There're kinda freaking me out, sorry."

Oh right. Their cloaks were still on them. Odd as it was being dark hooded forms on Mrs. Squibbles feminine furniture, Don had to admit to himself that he was getting accustomed to his cloak as he peeled it off.

Scott threw off his ceremonial cloak, revealing a knitted green sweater with the yellow O.K. proudly knitted in, courtesy of his mother. They all admired it enviously, and Don made a mental note to buy himself a few green shirts.

"Now on with the first meeting! Um, anything you guys want to say?"

Terri's head bounced up and down. "Hey Scott, I was wondering, can we can turn this room into our own Party Central? Do you think Ms. Squibbles would allow us to install a disco ball?"

Ms. Squibbles emerged from the kitchen door with a tray of shortbread. "Of course!"

Terri punched his fists in the air. "Yes!"

"But on one condition."

"Don't worry, Missus Squibbles, we won't party too hard and we'll clean up."

"Well yes, but I was going to ask you boys to invite me to your first party."

"Mom!" Scott shouted, flushing. Don and Art could not help snickering.

"Invite me, or else, you might miss out on 'door jamming'."

"What is this 'door jamming' you speak of?" Terri inquired. "Is it a legendary dance move?"

"Invite me to your first party and maybe if we have the resources, I'll show ya' how its done." Three of her eyes winked as she set down the plate of cookies on the sitting room table before the boys. "I'll be the life of the party like in my sorority days." And she disappeared into the kitchen.

Taking a cookie from the plate, Scott cleared his throat like a professor trying to subdue a noisy class. "So we..." Scott glanced a tentatively around. "...are all gathered here today, and apparently there's something we need to do. That Greek Life Office wants to know our office positions. We need a President. Let's start nominating someone."

Art bounced up and down, "Can't we nominate the intangible force of the Universe? I nominate the Universe!"

However, Art's nomination was immediately shot down by the funny looks on the Oozmas' face. "I doubt it," replied Scott, to which Art pouted.

Terri perked up. "I nominate Terry! And I can list a hundred reasons why he'll make the best president. This one time, when I got a scratch on a tentacle, he put a band-aid over it..." Terry flushed, rolling his eye at Terri's brothery bias. "...He watched over me, he has never left me, oh, and this one time, when I got lost in the mall, he helped me find mom, and he helps me get As in dancing even though he despises it most of the time..."

All while Terri was droning on, Don could only think, Scott Squibbles. Don would nominate that kid. The kid possessed the suitable qualities: the amiability, a considerate heart, respect for his mother. Yet, he held himself back from voicing that nomination, wary of the fact that he spent little time with the twins and Art. Thus, it was better to hold back his potentially bias nomination. He had to allow the rest of the other nominations unfold.

"... Terry is always there for me, and... and... well, that's the gist of it."

Terry sighed, relieved that Terri ran out of his good qualities to boast about.

Scott muttered, "So we got Terry as our possible President. Say, what says you Terry?"

With a faint grin, Terry proclaimed, "How about Mr. Carlton? He's the oldest, and he has proven to be the wisest." Scott and Art nodded along.

Don laughed. Such nice boys. "Oh no no, boys, that's flattering. But I nominate young Mr. Squibbles, da' founder of Oozma Kappa."

The founder of Oozma Kappa (in name as M.U. records would state), Scott Squibbles laughed. "Really? Yeah I did the paperwork. But I didn't really found O.K. Rather, I found you, Don. You started it. You suggested it. You brought me to that Office of Greek Life."

Terry jumped in, "Scott told us everything." Terry rubbed his chin, trying to recall something. "I believe it was at...- oh yes, it was our get-together at the arcade weeks ago, when it closed, Scott told us about how Oozma Kappa came about. How you came up with this. How you set up the housing here. How you helped Scott find us." Then followed a contemplative pause.

What came out of Terry's mouth next, didn't sound relevant, at first.

Terry remarked, "Is it true?" His eye gleamed. "That you tried to start Oozma Kappa for old guys like you?"

If Don was his Marketing professor, he would have identified the wording of Terry's inquiry as containing (unintentionally) offensive connotation, one that would turn away the demographic of college-age students. Being that Terry was an English major, he could have said "mature students" in place of "old guys." Don immediately and silently chided himself for nitpicking Terry's speaking technique, but he couldn't help but to hang onto that small detail of "old guys" and the manner in how Terry uttered the question.

Until Terry asked that question, Don had not recalled his attempts to start a frat by the name of Oozma Kappa. That particular memory had shrunk into obscure trivia in the back of Don's head since Don had been focusing on grooming Scott Squibble's Oozma Kappa. Don Carlton's Oozma Kappa was long buried.

But to Terry, that notion that Oozma Kappa originated out of Mr. Carlton's proposal of a frat for geezers, "old folks," was something legendary. To that college-kid, that origin story served as dignified fact and thus worth resurrecting in memory.

Stunned in his thoughts, the salesmonsters stared back at Terry's smiling face, realizing that the guy needed an answer, a confirmation that the aforementioned piece of historical trivia of Oozma Kappa was true. The old salesmonster nodded.

"Anyway, I nominate Mr. Carlton," Terry straightened out, committed to his choice.

Terri pondered it before calling, "I second that."

Don cut in, "Now, now, now, nuthin' official yet. Scott's yer founder and he gathered most of ya'll. I just helped him. He's been making time to spend with ya." There were more practical reasons. "And he's closer to all yer age, so he would know you better than I do. So, again, I nominate Sco-, Mr. Squibbles. Anyone? We'll vote it now."

Don raised his hand, declaring, "Scott."

Not even Scott raised his hand. He just took an deep breath and announced, "All in favor of Don being our President?"

As Don lowered his hand, the twins rose their hands in unison, Scott shot up his hand and it trembled like an eager student ready to answer a barrage of Professor's questions, and finally, Art raised both of his hands as if he believed it would count for two or to maximize his utmost sincerity of the vote. Unanimous (with the exception of Don's vote).

They gazed at him like children gawking at Scarers trading cards, their hands frozen in the air.

Don nodded.

They threw down their hands and applauded. With every clasp of the palms increasing in volume, Don felt like he had just delivered a million-dollar sales pitch.

Then Don detected another set of hands clapping. He turned to the kitchen door to see the Missus. She had been standing by the kitchen door, witnessing the election. Million-dollars sales pitch? Nah, make that a billion-dollars pitch.

When the applauding finally died down, Don remarked, "I don't have to accept a new Oath do I? Or git a Ceremony?" Don laughed at his quibble.

And as his first act as the newly-inducted President of Oozma Kappa, Don decided to get to know the Oozmas he barely spent time with.

"First things first, I'll get to know ya'. Art?" Don knew the least about this Art fella', considering he was recruited somewhat as a last resort, so it would be most productive to start with him. "Tell me about yerself. Yer life at and outside school." At this, Art shut his eyes, wrapped his limbs in meditation, and spun on his flowery stool. Don figured the fella' was just processing what to say.

Ceasing to twirl around, Art opened his eyes. "Oh, well, I know you Don and you other guys are my bros now, but I'm not sure I'm ready to share everything with you."

Don reassured, "Oh, you could have a crime record and we would still like ya' just the same."

"Oh, wow, that's so nice of you. In that case..." Art bowed his head down. "My real name is Brad Stanton. I beg you not to judge me, but I owe my new brothers the truth." He inhaled, exhaled, commanding the living room into quietness, before solemnly confessing, "In the past, I killed a monster…"

Stares fell upon Art's downtrodden face.

"…with my extra toe. Thus, along with my old identity, I had that toe surgically removed to forget my past. But I can never bring that guy back. I can never take back what I've done." The room froze, eyes on Art, who slumped down, his limbs brushing the carpet.

The shortbread cookie in Scott's fist crumbled, Terri clung to Terry's neck, Terry slipped back into his post-initiation catatonic state, Ms. Squibbles's five eyes widened, and Don wanted the armchair to swallow him. The ticking of the clock paced in their ears as it dawned on them that they will reside under the same roof with that suspect on the flowery cushion

Art sprung up. "HAHA, gotcha! I totally should have taken a picture of your faces! Or even better, you guys were so still, I could have sketched you all. HAHAHAHAHHAHA!" He puffed out in laughter and spun on the cushion.

Not even the reassurance that it was a joke alleviated the awkwardness. With Art's laughter bellowing over the uncomfortably speechless Oozmas, Don, as the new O.K. President, decided that he should quell the situation. So Don forced out chuckle in an attempt to lighten the moment. Then everyone else, Scott, then to Terri, than Terry, Ms. Squibbles followed suite, not because they found it humorous but because they were at a loss at how to react. Then the comedy of joke sunk in and their uneasy chuckles escalated into laughter, blending in with Art's chortling.

When Don finally composed himself, he inquired, "All right." He wiped a tear off his eye. "Tell us yer real story, Art, I take it that's still yer name. Where were yer before M.U.?"

His putty-like lips stretched into its wide grin. "Legally, they told me I do not have to answer that." His eyes rolled off into space.

Quick, another question. "So, what are yer doing at the University now?"

"Ok, I always wanted to play the guitar, rock on, and catch on fire..."

And so followed Art's questionably "true" anecdotes and insights, involving a vent about the conspiracies of the government, a treatise on guitar playing, tips on conducting the perfect hippie protest, the joy and happiness of finding peace within oneself, a story about how he always tried to master a mediation technique that would let him become as omniscient at the Universe, a lecture about their spiritual place and energy in the Universe. The Oozmas had nearly gobbled up all of Ms. Squibbles cookies by the time Art finished his lecture on the tranquility of the New Age and its benefits.

When Art started on the subject of the urban conditions of the underprivileged, Don had to stop him. "Woah, Art, don't take up the entire day. I would like to git to know da' Terries now. Mr. Perrys, Terries, tell me about yerselves. I know one's an writer." Terry smiled. "Da' other is a dancer." Terri grinned. "Got special hobbies ya' two do together?"

The twins beamed. "Close up magic."

Terri dramatically waved his hand, and out of thin air, Terri yanked out a deck of cards, much to the awe of Scott and Art.

Having lived with suckers that stuck to everything, Don could hardly contain his good-natured envy for such deftness of their hands. "Magic, eh?"

"Yup, we studied the sleight of the hands." A shuffle. "Pick a card Don."

Ace of Heart. Lonely Ace.

Concealing it from the twins' view, Don stuck the card back in the deck and much shuffling ensued. "Now tell me, why magic?"

Terry glanced contemplatively at Terri.

"Terri and I had some... issues in our childhood. I guess we weren't the sort of multiple- headed monsters who moved well."

"We got Multiple-Head Dis-conjunction Disorder to be precise," Terri clarified.

Terry glared at the interruption. "Yeah, um." The honest acknowledgment was difficult. "We grappled with controlling our whole body. It's like each side of our body doesn't agree with each other. We studied the sleight of the hand to learn to adjust ourselves in sync and with perfect coordination." Their hands swung and shuffled the cards, and with a pat of Terri's hand, the cards disappeared. But then a few cards slipped out of Terri's sleeves.

With a sigh, Terry added, "Yeah, we're still trying to perfect it."

But to be fair, Don couldn't trace when they slipped the cards into their sleeves. That was an accomplishment.

The twins reshuffled and Don picked a new card. Seven of Hearts. Stick it back into the deck. The twins shuffled with speedy artistry, hand upon each other's hand. Don nearly forgot that each head controlled their separate set of arms. With such graceful movement, Don believed that they were one.

Terry continued, "There's a payoff to magic. Whatever we make disappear must come back. And wa-lah. The audience is stunned."

Finally, after much shuffling that Don could hardly follow, Terri presented the card.

"Is this your card, Mister Carlton?"

Correct. Seven of Hearts.

Don had figured that the trick involved slipping the card inside one of their sleeves, but it did not undermine the deftness of their hand motions. "Now how did ya'...-"

Then an affectionate punch bopped his arm. Ms. Squibbles had sneaked her way next to him.

"Sorry to interrupt, but I almost forgot to hand you boys your photos of your lil' ceremony."

She handed Don one of those photo. After passing out a few copies, she settled on the couch next to the twins, which was nearest to Don, who remained on the blue armchair. Same spot they talked over a cup of cocoa weeks ago.

After thanking Ms. Squibbles (and flushing at the sight of their shocked selves captured in the photos), the twins resumed their quibbles about magic and were starting another card trick, offering a deck to Art.

From the corner of his eye, Don could see Ms. Squibbles grinning.

"...So anyway, so you see, Mr. Carlton. There's a payoff in magic. It takes a little something magicians call..." Terri's fingers waggled dramatically along with Terry's words. "Misdirection."

Don replied, "I git it. Misdirection, brings one somewhere they don't expect. That way, so we can appreciate the payoff when it comes." The twins beamed, figuring that Mr. Carlton enjoyed their magic craft.

"And we appreciate it especially cause' it's unexpected." Blissfully surrounded by his new Oozma brothers, the newly-inducted O.K. President winked at Sheri.


A/N

Anyone willing to guess the symbolism of the cards Don draws?

And beyond this story's epilogue, there will be follow-ups coming along. A few one-shots and a multi-chaptered sequel/prequel.

I will request constructive criticism. What did you find to be the most strongest scenes/aspects of this fanfiction (and why), what scenes were the weakest, and whatever I can improve on. Or, speak about your curiosities about some plot aspects or unexplored territory in this story. This is a time for me to go back and fix writing errors in previous chapters.

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Ava-Kane

This story has finally came to a close.

The illustration is a requested point commission done by Ech0-73, which can be found on her Deviantart account. It's of Don, contemplating over his diploma. I can't thank her enough.

Thank you for reading.


-"I am proud to work with a studio full of failures - failed musicians, failed doctors, failed athletes- each one of us now living a life far different and more wonderful than the one we imagined. We fail together every day, and it only makes us, and our films, stronger."

-Dan Scanlon.


Epilogue: The Salesmonster's Diploma

As Don climbed upstairs, he thought about the only empty bedroom, containing bunks for two. Don was curious to think of the one or two Oozma(s) who will join the family. Would they be random members swinging by for discount housing like the twins? And would they stay for the fun? Would they be reluctant like the twins, or as receptive as Art? At least for now, the vacant room for two can wait, for the O.K. family was complete.

He could hear the sounds shifting, of the twins and Art whispering around.

Don felt welcomed by the photos of his family that he hung earlier weeks ago.

And Don had not forgotten about the white package in his trunk. Though he had intended to give it to her earlier, he felt that he should hand it to her personally when he wasn't surrounded by the rowdy Oozmas. He hoped that she had a sweet tooth for Mochi candy, shipped from Kapan, his belated Holiday gift for the hostess of the house.

He set the package on his desk on top of his copy of Advanced Computer Studies as a reminder to present it to her tomorrow morning. He rehearsed his thanks for the Oozma Kappa housing, hoping he knew how to express that his gratitude related to their discussion over a cup of cocoa.

Speaking of gratitude, Don wanted to give away his Scarers trading cards to the boys. He was very fond of those cards, thus why he wanted pass them down to the Oozmas like an heirloom a father passed down to son.

Father, he suddenly thought. Don skimmed around the black-and-white photos of his childhood. Careful not to stick his suckers on the glass, he wiped at bit of the dust on one of his framed photos, the birthday gift from Ma.

It had the young Don, wide-eyed at something off-frame, on all fours stuck to the ground, ready to crouch away, while Don's father, the departed William Carlton, seated on the grass, his hand on his distracted son's shoulder, focused resolutely on the camera, and it appeared that his spirit stared straight into the eyes of his grown son. Always that gruff, but affectionate man who guided his life, for better or worse.

Next to his Business Bachelor of Monsters University, Don taped on a photo of Oozma Kappa: Him, Scott, Art, dressed in sable for their quirky little ceremony, and the semi-catatonic twins.

After a brief chuckle at that photo, Don found the energy to look at his Business Bachelor of Monsters University, the dusty wrinkles of the parchment, a souvenir of the three decades of smiling at clients, jovial phone calls, the fun of pitching sales, and forging friendships with co-workers like Pete, Andrew, and Dan along the way, until the economic downturns drove him back to his alma mater to sample his old dream.

[monsters_university__recollection_by_ech0_73-d8t56nt] 

Then, when he was not welcomed back to the old dream, it was the Squibbles who opened their door and welcomed him home. And now in place of Pete, Andrew, and Dan, old pals reduced to cheery but stressed voices in occasional phone calls, there was Oozma Kappa: young Scott, Terry & Terri, Art, and there was Sheri, who once reminded him that pain was part of the optimism.

"When you can't outgrow regrets, build them into something more wonderful, even more so than your old dreams."

As he lay down for his first sleep in the Squibbles household, he made up his mind to be more grateful than proud of his diploma.

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