Don't Knock It Until You've Tried It
by Rosey Collins
It was a fairly normal Saturday evening, or one of two varieties; sometimes the Rangers would be on a case, leaving Foxglove to look after the two young ones, but today the city's villains seemed to be at rest. Foxglove, grateful for the time, had just begun a long soak in the bath. Chip and Gadget had married after a year and a half, chiefly thanks to Gadget, and Chip afterwards things had seemed to Chip not much different; they were out together. Dale, who had been lumbered with the washing up, estimated that they would be starting on dessert about now. Monty and Zipper had also gone out; they had taken to going for walks on pleasant evenings. As for the Oakmonts junior, Dale had managed to keep them quiet for twenty-two minutes by showing them a video of a cartoon show he had found thrown in the back of a cupboard.
Dani was hooked, and said nothing for the first four minutes, but it was clear from the expression on her little brother's face that he was not at all impressed by the cartoon heroes' somewhat ineffective methods of protecting themselves from blood-sucking aliens.
Lil Nicky - adorable!
"Because they're in a mining ship," Dani explained patiently. "The ultra-violet ray is on the battle ships."
"Oh." He remained silent for some time, and then, "Isn't there anything on the mining ships that can do something to the aliens?"
"No. They're for mining, not for fighting aliens."
"Well then, why the heck did they take it to Xargon?" Xargon being the planet of the blood sucking aliens.
"Because they didn't think they'd have to stop at Xargon. They're going to get supplies from a space station and they ran out of fuel."
"Why do they have to run around all over the planet? Why don't they just fill the fuel tank and leave?"
Dani rolled her eyes, but managed to maintain her forbearance. "They need to collect Xargon Crystals to fuel the engines."
"Why didn't they just take extra fuel with them in the first place?"
Dani pouted. She was stumped. She was trying to think a possible reason as to why Captain Comet would leave without extra fuel when there was a knock at the door. She glanced at Nick, who had either not heard or was ignoring it, and then grudgingly left her seat to answer the door.
"Hi, Dani." It was Liddy." Any grown-ups in?"
"There's one in the kitchen," Dani replied, ushering the visitor inside.
Upon hearing Liddy's approach, Nick stood up on the couch and pulled himself on to his toes by the aged fabric of the cushions. The lad was small, even for a two-year-old. From the front he looked entirely chipmunk, although one might wonder at his unusually light colour, and his back was a bare as plain as a brick wall. As soon as Nick had grown fur, Monty pointed out that he and Dani had inherited the exact opposite attributes from each parent.
"Hi, Liddy," the youngster said, as she passed the couch. "I like your shoes."
Dani knew perfectly well that Liddy knew her way to the kitchen, so the former rejoined her sibling on the couch. Here she regarded him silently for several seconds.
"What?" Nick demanded at last.
"She'll never be interested in you, you know," Dani told him. "Not even when you're old."
"You know who. Listen, Nicky, she's the same age as Mom. That makes her old enough to be your mother."
Nick wrinkled his nose at her, and then turned his attention back to the television.
Meanwhile Dale, who had really thrown himself into the role of househusband and washed every single plate, cup and spoon squeaky clean, was hoping to reward himself for his hard by playing a rowdy game with his children. Instead when he turned from the sink he found himself staring at Liddy bearing two shopping bags.
"Where's Foxglove?" she asked.
"Oh." A pause. "What's she doing in there?"
"Oh." Another pause. "How long has she been in there?"
Dale looked at the clock. "About ten minutes."
"Dang! She'll be at least another half-hour. What about Gadget?"
"Well, she's not in there too."
Liddy was standing menacingly in front of him, and Dale felt pinned to the sink.
"Ok, so where is she?"
Liddy shuffled impatiently where she was standing, paced the length of the kitchen a couple of times and finally turned to Dale.
"Well, I can't possibly wait for either of them. You'll have to do," she said, and Dale watched her nervously as she produced two evening dresses from her shopping bags. Both were familiar to him. "Which one?"
"Um... is this for a date?" Dale asked.
"Well, there's a surprise. Anyone I know?"
"Possibly, but we don't have time for this. Which one?"
"Well... Foxglove seems to think that that one makes your butt look big," Dale said of the blue sequinned dress Liddy held in her right wing.
"Really? The little black dress it is, then," Liddy concluded, and she bundled the two garments back into the bags.
"If you wear that one, won't you have to wear the shoes that make your ankles look fat?" Dale found himself saying this even without realising. He glanced at the rubber gloves he had been wearing to prevent his nails from getting dirty, and an uneasy feeling passed through him.
"Well remembered," Liddy smiled. "We'll make a curio out of you yet." This was her euphemism for a sensitive man which she came up with after looking up "rarity" in a thesaurus. "That's ok, though. I bought some really classy platforms that go with it last Wednesday. Thanks for your help, Dale."
She saw herself out, Nick complimenting her on her hair as she left. In the threshold she met Chip and Gadget. They acknowledged her presence with a nod, and then the former made a beeline for the kitchen whilst the latter stopped to have a word with Dani and Nick.
"Hi, guys," she said, and she looked to the television for a suitable topic of conversation. "I remember this. Dale used to sit and watch it and pick holes in it."
"That's exactly what Nicky's doing," Dani replied bitterly, stealing a sideways glance at her younger brother.
"And now they're leaving," Nick said scornfully. "They killed all of the aliens so they're going home. Why don't they carry on going to the space station for the supplies?"
"They probably forgot in all of the excitement," Gadget reasoned. "That's what Chip said to shut your dad up, anyway."
Whilst Gadget continued to converse with his children, Dale was once again pinned to the kitchen sink, this time by Chip. The latter had just announced a fear that had arisen during dinner with Gadget, but Dale seemed to be having some trouble comprehending it.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I just... I don't understand. How can you not want kids?"
"I didn't say I never wanted kids," Chip reminded him. "I just don't want them right now."
"Well, you have been married over a year."
"So? My parents were married three years before I was born, and even then I was an accident."
"Chip," Dale began patiently, "you married her. Married couples make babies. What did you expect?"
"I didn't expect we'd be thinking about kids before we hit thirty. There's something disturbing about people having babies in their twenties."
"No there isn't. Foxglove and I had babies in our twenties."
"Yes, and now look at you."
"What do you mean?" Dale asked defensively.
"You're standing in front of the sink clutching a pair of rubber gloves and she's sitting in a bath, having taken to calling it a 'soak', thinking how wonderful it is to get away from running around after her children for an hour - and that, Dale, is exactly what my parents used to do."
"So did mine," Dale admitted.
"I rest my case," Chip said complacently. "Dale, when was the last time you and Foxglove went out..."
"...by yourselves, for fun?"
"It was about three weeks ago, I think," Dale replied.
"Exactly. Three weeks. You used to do it every night. And then suddenly Foxglove is wolfing down all of these bizarre cocktails Liddy says will help her get pregnant, and bang! you've suddenly got two toddlers cluttering up your life." He paused for breath. "That's why I don't want to have kids yet."
Dale frowned. "You really make parenthood sound like a chore."
"Well, isn't it?"
"Sometimes, but if I could start again I wouldn't trade those two for more time," and he cocked his head towards the living room. "Trust me, Chip, you do want to have kids."
"Not yet I don't."
Foxglove then entered the kitchen with Nick following at her heels. The look on her face would seem to go against what Dale had just been saying. Gadget then appeared in the doorway where she looked enviously at Nick.
"It's not fair," the lad was saying.
"I keep telling you, life isn't fair," Foxglove replied despairingly.
"Dani gets to do all kinds of things I can't do, and I'm not even allowed to stay up and watch her do them."
Foxglove looked pleadingly at Dale, who responded by taking his son playfully by the waste and hoisting him into the air. Nick giggled appreciatively, and Gadget smiled longingly at the touching scene. Chip noticed this and felt his stomach turn.
"Come on, Nicky," Dale said. "This evening Dani will be taking out the trash and watching the news, so you're not going to miss much. And," he added, "if you get in the bath without a fuss I'll persuade her to let you have what's left of the ice-cream."
After some consideration, Nick decided that this was reasonable and allowed himself to be carried to the bathroom.
"Isn't that just one of the cutest things you've ever seen?" Gadget said, attempting subtlety.
"No," Chip answered. "It's absolutely ridiculous. He has to be bribed just to have a bath."
"Oh, come on, Chip, you must have been like that once," Gadget said.
"Yes, and it was an absolute nightmare for my parents." He turned to Foxglove. "I mean, kids expect your attention morning, noon and night, don't they. And once you've got two of them, that must be terrible! Those two are always fighting, aren't they, and something's always 'not fair'. Isn't that just impossible to cope with?"
"Well... it does get tedious," Foxglove said cautiously, wondering at the nature of this sudden outburst.
"Well, of course it does," Gadget said, "but it's not like they fight all the time. I mean, sometimes they play that stupid game with the plungers. When they're doing that, don't you look at them and just melt? Isn't having kids just the most wonderful thing anyone can do? I mean, you go through hours of labour, and then you get this ugly little prune-like thing, and you just love it more than anything in the world, just like that. That must be pretty fantastic."
"Oh, it is," Foxglove said, without hesitation.
"But don't you miss all of the time you've had to give up?" Chip asked. "You and Dale haven't been out together for three weeks. That must be kind of frustrating."
Foxglove sighed. "This is true. It's funny; we live with four other people, and we know about eight million, and they're always too busy to baby-sit."
"Chip and I will baby-sit for you," Gadget blurted out. "All you have to do is ask."
"Really? When?" Foxglove asked eagerly.
"Any time. It's not like we've got anything urgent we have to do in the evenings. Hey, I'll tell you what. Monty and Zipper are going to the movies tomorrow night. Go out then and we'll watch Nick and Dani."
"Ok, great. Thanks."
Foxglove smiled gratefully at Gadget and was about to say more, but the scene was interrupted by a large crash coming from the living room. Foxglove winced, murmured "That must have been Dani," and rushed to her daughter's aid.
"I don't remember agreeing to any of that," Chip said testily to Gadget, once Foxglove was out of earshot.
"Oh, come on, Chip, what's the big deal?" Gadget moved over to her husband and put a hand on his waste in a vain attempt to cheer him. "It's just one night. We can give them back when we're done with them."
"Gadget! They're going to expect me to put a plunger on my head and crawl around the living room!"
"No they're not."
"Why not? They make Dale do it."
"Ok, fine. I'll play the plunger game with them and you can bathe them. Does that sound reasonable?"
"No," Chip replied sulkily. "Every time Dale goes in there with Nick he comes out soaking wet and covered in shampoo and toothpaste."
As if to prove a point, the former appeared in the doorway soaking wet and covered in shampoo and toothpaste.
"Well, he doesn't seem to mind," Gadget returned, as she watched Dale opening a low cupboard and searching among the contents. "What are you after, Dale?"
"Um... terps," came echoing from the cupboard. "We had a little accident with that dye we keep in the back of the cabinet."
Dale retrieved his prize and made his way back to the bathroom, kicking the cupboard door shut as he went. Chip looked testily at Gadget.
"I am not bathing that child," he said, through clenched teeth.
"It's that or the plunger game, Chip," Gadget smiled mischievously. "You have twenty four hours to decide, or I'll decide for you."
"You know, I really can't thank you enough for this," Dale said to Chip the following evening, while he was waiting for Foxglove to complete her toilette. "It's awful nice of you."
"Thank Gadget, it was her idea," Chip muttered sulkily.
"I know." Dale tried to conceal a smile. "It's a scheme to make you realise just how wonderful children are so you'll want to have them."
"They are not wonderful," Chip returned. "Not even Nick and Dani are 'wonderful'. Gadget says I either have to bathe them or play the plunger game with them."
"The plunger game? Oh, you mean 'Unicorn Massacre'."
" 'Unicorn Massacre'?"
"Aha. Dani invented that one. She seems to know what massacre means because the idea is to kill each other. You fence with the plungers..."
"While they're on your head?"
"Yes, and you kill your opponent by depriving him/her of its plunger. You know, you should probably let Nicky win or he might lock you out of the kitchen."
"I am not playing 'Unicorn Massacre' with your offspring."
"Well, if it's a choice between that and bathing them, I would advise you to reconsider."
Dale was grinning visibly now. Upon hearing the bathroom door click open, he began to make his way out of his bedroom, as this told him that Foxglove was ready to go. His wait was prolonged as Foxy explained several times to Gadget the needs of her children, so he occupied the time pleading with Nick and Dani to behave themselves.
"What time will you be back?" Dani asked, now with a very large egg on her forehead resulting from her collision with the floorboards the previous evening.
"Yeah, what time will you be back?" Chip repeated anxiously.
"Pretty late," Dale replied, addressing only Dani. "Listen, honey, can you make sure Nick doesn't get into Gadget's workshop? I don't think they could cope if he got loose with her G-clamp again."
Dani promised she would try and keep Nick under control, and at last Dale and Foxglove were able to depart.
"Do you think they'll be all right?" Foxglove asked anxiously as they buckled themselves into the Ranger Wing.
"Chip and I babysat a little girl for a friend of my dad's when we were fifteen," Dale began, by way of reply. "Chip fed her washing powder instead of baby food and we were up half the night trying to get her to vomit it out."
"Well, that fills me with confidence," Foxglove said sarcastically. "What happened to her?"
"Well, we couldn't get anything out of her so we took her to the hospital to have her stomach pumped. We tried bribing her with ice-cream to keep quiet but for some reason she didn't particularly feel like eating."
"And did she tell her parents?"
"No. Fifteen minutes after we got back from the hospital we were told they'd been involved in an accident and we had to take her all the way back there. They were totally fine, but the poor kid was so upset she completely forgot about it."
"Wow. Lucky for you."
"And this was Chip's fault?"
"Entirely. But don't worry, I hid all of the washing powder before we left."
"Where the heck did all of the washing powder go?" Gadget fumed. She and Chip had been alone with the kids for five minutes and already Nick's T-shirt was covered with varnish.
"Dale might have hidden it," Chip called from Nick's bedroom, regrouping for another attempt at coaxing young Nicholas out from behind his closet. "He was worried I'd feed it to... never mind." he turned back to the wardrobe. "Come on, Nick. You have to come out some time."
"No I don't!"
From the corner of his eye Chip saw Dani watching from the open doorway, very much amused.
"Has this ever happened before?" he asked her.
"One time he hid under the sink," Dani answered. "We just left him there until he got hungry."
"I'm afraid to leave him alone," Chip said, half to himself. "Last time he did that he found a huge tub of varnish I didn't even know we had and decided to see whether he could fit inside it."
Dani giggled and said, "I did that with a bag of sugar one time."
"I remember, but sugar isn't so difficult to get out. I really want to get him into a bath before that stuff dries."
"It dries awful quick," Dani grinned, obviously enjoying herself. "I'd give it another minute."
They heard a knock at the door. Chip rolled his eyes and entreated Dani to answer it, informing her that they wanted neither double-glazing nor a subscription to any charities.
"Hi, Dani." Liddy again.
"Mom isn't here."
"I know, but I need to talk to somebody. It's urgent."
"We don't have time for you," Dani insisted. "Nick's covered himself in varnish and refuses to come out from behind his closet."
"Because he's an idiot. So you see, we can't possibly fit you in," Dani concluded.
"Please, Dani. Perhaps I can help." She felt sure she could not.
Dani took a moment to consider. "Yes," she said, "perhaps you can."
She led Liddy into the hall and announced to Chip her arrival. Chip was not fond of Liddy, especially in moments such as these, and was about to ask Dani to remove her from the vicinity, when Nick suddenly shot like a rabbit out from behind the wardrobe and skidded to a halt in the hall at Liddy's feet.
"Hi, Liddy," he said pleasantly. "I like your shoes."
"Um... thanks. What happened to you?"
Nick was stripped entirely of clothes but covered from head to toe in half-set brown liquid.
"He immersed himself in a pot of varnish," Chip replied, and he took hold of Nick by the scruff of the neck in order to prevent him from bolting a second time. "So, Liddy, what can I do for you?"
"Apparently it's urgent," Dani informed him.
"It is. Do you have any flares?"
"Come on, Chip, stop being vague. I need to borrow some flares - or bootlegs, as they are now called - because I haven't bought any for myself yet and I absolutely have to wear them to the party I'm going to tomorrow."
"That isn't urgent," Chip said.
"Of course it's urgent! Come on, you must have some left over from the eighties."
"I am positive that I don't, but Dale might," Chip told her as he made for the bathroom. "Dani, would you have a look in his closet?"
Dani obediently began rummaging through the odds and ends in Dale's closet, but found no flares, or "bootlegs", among the chaos. What she did find, however, was a large box of washing powder.
"You'll probably have to bleach that if you want to get it out," she informed Gadget, frowning at the pretty enormous patch of varnish on Nick's shirt. "When it was wet you might have had a chance, but it's bone dry now."
"You can't bleach that," Liddy insisted, having followed Dani to the kitchen. "It's too delicate."
Gadget was about to protest when a resounding splash came from the bathroom. Seconds later Nick was in the kitchen with them, the varnish which had been staining his fur either washed out, by some miracle, or concealed by shampoo. Moments later Chip appeared also, noticeably wet and looking utterly dejected.
"Please let me bathe you," he said.
"No." This had been Nick's first word, and his most frequent one since.
Chip was slowly losing patience. "Come on, Nick, what's it worth to have a bath?"
Nick furrowed his brow and looked thoughtfully at the back of Liddy's knee, simply because it was at his eye level. He was deep in thought for about half a minute before wrapping his chubby arms around Liddy's right leg and said to her, "I'll have a bath if you come with me."
"Sorry, Nick," Liddy said, trying to pull away from his surprisingly strong grasp, "but I have to go home."
Sulkily Nick withdrew and crawled underneath the nearest chair. Chip watched him go, and then he looked pleadingly at Liddy.
"I can't, I don't have time," she insisted. "Besides, I don't really see why I should."
"Because it's the only way," Chip insisted. "Come on, Liddy, you won't even have to do anything. You can just... watch."
"Are you going out with your boyfriend tonight?" Nick asked Liddy, who was leaning against the basin. Nick was resting his elbows on the edge of the baby bath, chin on his arms and facing his incentive, whilst Chip was fighting a loosing battle against the dry varnish clinging to the hair on his back.
Nick pouted. "Where's he taking you?"
"Drive-in, huh? Dani says that when people go to the drive-in, they just want to play tonsil-hockey."
"Nick!" Chip hissed.
"Well, I've never heard it called that before," Liddy smiled. She was fond of Nick. "Listen, Nicky, I am really going to have to go home in the next two minutes."
"I have to get ready for my date."
"Oh." A thoughtful pause. "Are you going to have a shower and change your clothes and stuff?"
"Can I watch?"
"Nick!" Chip burrowed his fingertips lightly into the youngster's back in an effort to shut him up.
"I'm going home," Liddy announced, pushing herself from the sink and making from the door. "Bye, Nick. I might see you tomorrow."
Again Nick pouted, and took another moment to consider. His bribe had just left, so surely that meant he no longer had to remain in the bath. Thinking this a reasonable deduction, he broke free of Chip's grasp and bolted into the adjacent hall, leaving his unfortunate carer drenched and dumbfounded.
Minutes later, after Dani's admirable succession in prising her brother's small fists from the table leg, Chip was kneeling on the couch pinning down Nick's arms whilst Gadget sat on his legs and cut the more stubborn lumps of varnish from his fur. At first Nick had made a fuss, but Gadget's refusal to cease operating the scissors had soon calmed him down.
"You actually want to have one of these?" Chip said to Gadget, watching from the corner of his eye Dani, who was now just visible to him through the kitchen door. She was one of those children who are fascinated by the movement of washing machines.
Gadget was about to point out that not all children were this impossible when the hum of the washing machine suddenly stopped, and to confirm that the appliance had completed its job, Dani emerged from the kitchen and began to look around for something else to do. Gadget took Nick by the waste, spun him around before he could react, and held on to his elbows whilst Chip took the scissors and placed one knee on the toddler's behind, his foot resting in a cramped between Nick's legs and taking all of his weight. He then took Gadget's original job as she made her way to the kitchen.
Dani followed Gadget to the washing machine, curious as to how Nick's once sky blue T-shirt would look after being bleached. She watched fixedly as Gadget pulled the garment from the machine. The stain was gone, but so was most of the colour and, more importantly, the T-shirt's middle.
"How on earth did you manage that?" Dani asked, amazed, and trying not to laugh at Gadget's dejected expression.
"I have no idea." She tossed into the peddle-bin. "Dani, what's it worth to keep quiet?"
"Well... you could let me stay up and watch Aliens."
"All right, on condition that you go straight to bed if Dale and Foxglove come home before it ends."
The phone rang. Dani scrambled on to the kitchen surface and picked up the receiver.
"Hello?" She felt herself smile as the voice of the caller responded on the other end. "Hi, Mom."
"Hi, honey. Is everything ok?" Foxglove asked.
"Yes, pretty much."
"Is Nicky in his pyjamas yet?"
A resounding crash came from a few yards away, and then Chip's voice demanding to be let into Nick's bedroom.
"Chip's just putting him in them now."
"Good. Have they fed you yet?"
"Fed us? Um..." Food had escaped all of their minds. Gadget rushed over to turn on the oven. "Gadget's just starting dinner now."
"Good. Oh, can you ask her to put Nicky's shirt in the wash?"
Dani's smile widened. "We're way ahead of you. It just came out."
"Well, he spilled a little something."
Another resounding crash followed by a yelp of surprise indicated that Nick had just pulled his favourite trick of suddenly unbolting his locked door so that whoever was trying to penetrate it on the other side went hurtling into his toy box.
"What was that?" Foxglove wanted to know.
"Um... Chip. He's playing with Nicky."
"Well, good. I hope you're behaving yourself."
"Yes, I am behaving myself, thank you."
"Good girl." Dani could almost hear her smile.
"So, are you guys having fun?"
"We certainly are."
"Um... are you going to be home before midnight?"
"Oh, no reason. I'll see you tomorrow. Bye, Mom."
Dani hung up, and immediately after she had done so another unnerving sound came from Nick's bedroom, followed by yet more protests from Chip. Dani knew what was coming, so she jumped from the kitchen surface and landed jerkily without bothering to lower herself at a safe speed. As her feet made contact with the floor, Nick came rocketing into the room. There was a moment of alarm on Gadget's part when it looked very much as if the lad was crash into the oven door and do some damage wither to it or to himself - or most likely both - but Dani was familiar with this game and she managed to grab her brother's waist as he passed her. In hysterics, Nick was doubled up at the waste, bent over Dani's elbow, feet waving in the air and head almost touching the floor.
"Hey!" Dani said, seesawing him into a slightly less disagreeable position and then joining his laughter. "At this rate you'll either put yourself in casualty or Chip in a mental hospital."
She carried Nick from the kitchen to his bedroom, still doubled up over her elbow, meeting Chip halfway.
"So, what are we doing now?" he asked Gadget, with the air of one who was feeling the effects of keeping himself all night with caffeine.
"Oh. What do they eat?" He sounded either distant or disinterested - Gadget could not decide which.
"Well, Dani eats whatever we eat, and Foxglove put something soggy in the fridge for Nick."
Chip wandered absently to the refrigerator, opened it up and peered inside. Among its usual contents was a bowl covered over by a plate, and labelled "Nick". Chip took it from the fridge, removed the plate and recoiled from it in disgust.
"I don't think this is tonight's dinner, I think it's last night's," he said.
Gadget had been throwing into a casserole ditch a few odds and ends she thought would go reasonably together. She knew that Dani was not a fussy eater, and neither more was Chip. She slid her creation into the oven and then wandered over to where Chip was holding Nick's evening meal at arms' length.
"Well, I told you it was soggy," she said.
"You didn't tell me it was orange and full of green bits."
"Well, I didn't know," Gadget defended herself. "Do we have to do anything to it?"
Chip squinted at the tiny writing scribbled underneath "Nick. " 'Heat for ten minutes'."
Gadget took the cuisine from him and placed it into the oven by her own improvised dish.
Several times had Dani observed her dad's ways of persuading Nick into his night-shirt; telling stories about the trains ornamenting the garment, playing tug-of-war with it (not one of Foxglove's favourites), putting it over his head and reeling of names of friends and family members, supposedly believing one of them to be inside the night-shirt, and finally brute force in order to get his arms and head through. In the ten minutes it took Chip and Gadget to prepare the evening meal, Dani incorporated all of these assaults and was proud to bring Nick into the kitchen ready to go straight to bed after eating.
The meal was as nightmarish as the rest of the evening had been, thanks of course to Nick. None of the present company had expected Nick to eat just like that, but not even when Chip brought himself to make aeroplane noises and propel the food into Nick's mouth would the child co-operate. He had no more luck with trains, even though Nick much preferred these to aeroplanes, and so finally he asked Gadget to pin the lad's arms whilst he pinched his cheeks with one hand, leaving the mouth marginally open, and emptied spoonfuls of food into his mouth with the other.
In this manner all of Nick's food was disposed of. Chip was relieved to have avoided another of Nick's favourite games, whereby he used his spoon as a missile-launcher and whoever had displeased him most recently as a target, and he was even more relieved to know that Nick would very soon be in bed. But what would be the price of getting him there? Well, it was time to find out.
"Ok, Nick," he began, "guess where we're going."
"Disneyland?" Nick hazarded.
"Um... no. We're going to clean your teeth."
Not the answer he had been hoping for. Nick folded his arms and sat back in his high chair, pouting. Chip tried to lift him, but the toddler had positioned his legs in such a way that moving him would most likely result in a broken ankle. Still, this was not quite as daunting to Chip as it may appear. Copying a trick he had seen Dale or Foxglove perform many a time, he took Nick by the ankles and pulled him from the chair via the gap between the seat and the tray. This achieved, he held his prize in a struggle-free grip and carried him, howling wildly, to the bathroom.
Dani, in contrast to her brother's behaviour, offered to help Gadget with the washing up. While they worked they listened to the yells which always flowed freely from the bathroom at eight o'clock in the evening, and then Chip saying firmly, "Spit".
"He'll regret that," Dani said, smiling mischievously. "You know what Daddy does to get Nicky to clean his teeth?"
"What?" She handed Dani the last of the sud-soaked plates.
"He plays cowboys with him and pretends the toothpaste is tobacco."
Gadget smiled. "Cute. So what does it take to get him to go to sleep?"
"Just a story, but make it a scary one. He doesn't tend to go to sleep if he doesn't think he's in any danger."
"I don't know, but I was the same. I think it's a nice surprise when you wake up the next morning."
Traditionally bedtime stories would take place in Dale and Foxglove's bed; Dani sitting on Dale's lap and Nick curled up snugly in Foxglove's wing. It was compulsory that tonight should be no different, although obviously the would be a slight change of grown-ups. Nick found the crevice of Gadget's arm to be satisfactory, and Dani found Chip's right knee not much different from Dale's, and so in this attitude Gadget recounted the story of the mad hunchback who takes sleeping children from their beds, murders them and stuffs them with pillow cases to keep in his lonely old house for companionship.
"You'll give the poor kid nightmares," Chip said to Gadget when she emerged from Nick's room, having just tucked him into bed with all the maternity of a wannabe-mum.
"Well, why not? We were already going to give that one nightmares," Gadget grinned, cocking her head towards the bathroom where Dani was currently bathing. "I bribed her into not mentioning the shirt I ruined by letting her stay up to watch Aliens."
"Great. What are we supposed to do with her for the next hour and a half?"
"Don't," Chip groaned. "I was just congratulating myself for avoiding that. Gadget... are you absolutely sure you want kids?"
"Of course. Don't you?"
"Don't I?" Chip found it a strain not to laugh. "Gadget! Where have you been for the past three hours?"
"Oh, come on, it wasn't all bad."
"Yes it was."
"No it wasn't. Didn't you notice how sweet he and Dani are together? Ok, Nick's a nightmare, but he's also cute. Besides, what are the chances that our child would turn out exactly like Nick?"
"All kids are a little bit like Nick."
"No they're not. What about Dani?"
"Yes, well, Dani's wonderful, but she's exceptional."
"So's Nick. There's got to be a happy medium."
Gadget hoped that the next hour and a half with Dani would convince Chip that reproduction has its advantages. Nick was in the early stages of sleep, no longer able to cloud his judgement, but the smell of varnish still hung in the air as a reminder of Chip's recent ordeal.
Monty and Zipper returned home about nine. Dani hid until they turned in, simply to save herself, Chip or Gadget the task of either entreating them not to tell her parents that she was up until midnight.
She was not up until midnight, as it happened. She fell asleep on Gadget's hip before eleven. Chip deliberately avoided the isn't-that-cute glance Gadget shot him before taking the sleeping youngster to bed.
Despite his late night, Dale was the second one up the following morning. Even more surprisingly Chip was the first. Dale found his friend in the kitchen, the effects of the previous evening still daunting his expression.
"Well?" asked the former.
Chip looked up. "Well what?"
"Have my exemplary offspring convinced you to make some babies."
"Absolutely not!" Even Chip was surprised at the force of his response. "Dani's ok, but like I told Gadget, she's exceptional."
"Nicky caused a few little upsets, did he?"
"You know he did. Dale, how on earth do you control that kid?"
"Oh, there's a trick to Nicky. He'll do anything as long as he doesn't think you really want him to. You just have to make stuff fun."
"I don't do fun," Chip replied darkly.
"Yeah, I know." Dale paused a moment. "Chip, who does Nicky remind you of?"
"You." He said it even before he thought it. "God, that's frightening. Nick is you all over again."
"And what about Dani? Cute little bumbler, always trying to do the right thing... the only difference between us there is that she usually manages. Can't you just see Foxglove like that twenty odd years ago?"
"I guess so. Ok, so it's genetic. What does that prove?"
"Well, your kids are just going to be phenomenal, aren't they; super intelligent science geeks who solve crimes in their free time." He shot Chip a playful smile. "I think you should try it just to see how they turn out."
Gadget emerged, looking none the worse for the previous evening. She smiled warmly at Dale.
"Hey, Dale," she said. "Did you have fun last night?"
"I'll say we did. Chip was just telling me how impossible my son is."
"He's impossible all right," Gadget agreed, "but he's a sweetie."
Foxglove and Dani were next to join the gathering in the kitchen. The latter was clinging mercilessly to her mother's back, but was only too happy to be handed over to Dale.
"Morning, Daddy," she yawned, nuzzling his chin affectionately. "Did you have a good time last night?"
"You missed me, I hope."
"Of course." He gently lowered his daughter on to the nearest chair; she was getting heavy. "Bet you didn't miss me, though, with Chip looking after you."
"Well, he tells a good horror story."
Nick arrived. Four faces lit up at the site of him; one winced.
"Hey, trouble," Dale grinned, crouching down and lifting the youngster by the armpits. "How was your evening?"
"Poor baby," Foxglove joined in, rubbing her son's head affectionately. He reciprocated by reaching out and wrapping his arms around her neck, his podgy fingers just meeting on the other side. Dale handed Foxglove Nick's lower half as well and put a hand on Dani's shoulder.
Gadget observed the look on little Nick's face whilst his mother held him - a look which remained until Foxglove asked him whether he had cleaned his teeth that morning. These words were to Nick like smoke to a smoke detector, triggering an alarm inside his mind telling his body to get as far away as possible, as soon as possible. He struggled free of Foxglove's grasp and darted for the kitchen door. Dale followed, trying vainly to top the youngster's speed.
"All right, you," Foxglove said to Dani, lifting her from the chair on which she still stood. "It'll be at least five minutes before he catches him, let alone gets him into the bathroom. You can brush your teeth in the meantime."
Gadget watched them go, Dani's elbow slung protectively over Foxglove's right shoulder, and then she looked at Chip. He deliberately avoided her gaze, but still felt compelled to say something. This was it:
"I'll think about it."
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