Their group emerged into the bright lights of the gift shop and Abby saw who was the long-suffering adult chaperon of the boys behind her. Tyler, of course. He had a grip on both boys' shoulders and a tightness in his jaw, a smoldering fire in his eyes that spoke to her of long-building frustration. Most encouraging were the signs of respectful fear the boys gave him as they stepped through the door -- and the way they skipped free, running across the gift shop to join their buddies when Tyler released them.
"Oh -- hi." Tyler colored a little when he wiped his forehead, sighed, and then saw Abby and her two girls facing him. "I suppose you caught most of the floor show?"
"I have this feeling it would have been ten times worse if you hadn't been there."
"God save us from that!" He tried to smile, but he just looked downright tired.
"Come on, mister, let me buy you a coffee." Abby slid her hands free of the two little girls. "Did your moms give you some money for souvenirs?" she asked. Both girls nodded, but she suspected a dollar or two wouldn't go very far. "Find something really fun, okay? Totally useless, but fun." She dug into her pocket and pulled out her wallet and gave them another dollar each. The girls' eyes widened and they both hugged her, nearly knocking her off her feet, then dashed away to the clearly displayed candy counter.
"You're probably the most popular lady in town right now," Tyler said.
"Only because I slipped Candy and Chad a five each before we got to the church. It would not look good if they didn't come home with some junk."
"A very wise woman. Though you have to tell me how you got away with only five each. Pam got me and her mother for five each, and Danny cleaned out all the change in my pocket and the cup holder in my car."
"Uncle Soft-touch." She shook her head, enjoying the warm humming that spread through her at the humor lighting his face.
"Guilty." He offered her his arm with a grand bow. She took it with an attempt at a curtsey, and they were both chuckling wearily as he led her to the snack bar a good twenty feet away from the gift shop.
By some miracle, they had french vanilla cappuccino in the snack bar -- whipped by machine, not the cheap mix in a packet, poured into hot water. Tyler tried to pull out his wallet to pay for both of them, but Abby got her money out first and tossed it to the chubby Middle Eastern boy working the counter. He scowled at her, but she only laughed.
"You can spring for ice cream on the way back," she offered.
"Well... all right." Laughter sparkled in his eyes and he took both cups before she could reach for hers. "Lead the way, Madame."
The alarm went off just as they were settling down in the mostly vacant eating area. Abby jerked and knocked her cup over, barely succeeding in catching it before it spilled more than a quarter cup on the simulated wood-grain table. Tyler choked, having taken a sip just a moment before the alarm sent a deafening rasping honk through the entire building.
He turned, some horrid premonition crossing his face. Abby turned too, her attention caught by a red and blue flashing light at the corner of her vision.
"Thank goodness," Tyler said.
"What?" she asked, still turning to see where the source of the light was.
"Danny's not in trouble.""No." She gasped as she realized the light was over the entrance into the caverns -- and the neon green and orange tee-shirt of Ethan Pluch had just vanished through the door.