Disclaimer: I do not own Futurama or anything pertaining to it, except the story which I have created. Nor do I own any other copyrighted material contained within. But if I did, that would be really cool.
December slowly ticked by. The snow fell heavier and heavier with each successive storm. School was never cancelled, since the students were a stone’s throw away from classes, so they had no excuse for being absent. However, they were on X-mas break, and here they were shoveling snow out of the sidewalks and courtyards.
“Why are they making us do this?” Teresa complained as she massaged her back on the afternoon of the twentieth.
Leela grumpily shoved her snow shovel into the white nightmare and shoved it aside. “Because they don’t have to pay us.” She said.
Teresa rejoined the others in shoveling the concrete courtyard. Tim and Sean were working over by the fountain, which had frozen over, and she and Leela were pushing the last of the snow out into the road where it would be ploughed away.
Leela stood up and wiped some sweat from her brow. Even in this cold, she had worked hard enough to actually want to remove her coat. She watched as Tim pushed some snow into the flower beds near the brick wall.
The excitement over Skinner’s arrest had died down, and things were continuing as normal. Or, perhaps not so normal. Before the incident, Leela had never spent time with friends before. Ever. Now she did nearly everything with Sean, Teresa and Tim. They attended class, did homework, and goofed off at meals together. Instead of walking alone, Leela went to Kung Fu class every Tuesday and Thursday with Tim. During class, Tim still gave Leela pointers on nearly everything, but she didn’t find it so annoying anymore. In fact, she’d begun to notice that she was improving faster with his help. She was happier than ever knowing that there were now people who cared about her. No, things hadn’t gone back to normal; they were much better.
Leela turned to Teresa, who put the finishing touches on their work.
“Were we supposed to have an assembly today?” she aksed.
Teresa removed her hat and shook her hair about. “I think so,” she said. “But I can’t remember when. Aks Tim.”
Leela ran over and aksed him.
“It’s at four-o-clock, I think.” He replied. “We’ve got about half an hour. You guys wanna get a drink inside?” He nodded at the door to The Metal Keg as Teresa approached.
“Good call,” Sean said in relief. “There’s nothing like relaxing after a day of honest work.”
“Except you’ve never done a day of honest work.”
Everyone but Leela laughed. She backed away slowly.
“I think I’d rather not.” She said. “I just wouldn’t feel right in there.”
“Why not?” aksed Teresa.
Leela stared at her boots. “Everyone stares at me.”
“Is that it?” Tim said. He put an arm over her shoulders. “Look here.” He said in a mock-lecturing tone. “The Keg is a fun place to be. Part of having fun is not caring about what others think. You just say: ‘Screw you guys, I’m gonna drink ‘til I barf twice!’”
Leela smiled, but ducked under his arm.
“Thanks, but it’s not really my scene. You’re better off going without me.”
She turned to leave. Teresa looked at the boys helplessly before following Leela. She caught her outside the dorms.
“Look, Leela,” she said. “I know it sucks to have people stare, but you can’t let that stop you. Tim and Sean and I really want you to come. So what if people gawk like morons? At least you’ll have us.”
Leela thought about it.
“Maybe some other time. I’m just not up to it today.” She turned to go inside. “See you guys at the assembly.”
The entire school sat in the auditorium, waiting for Dr. Brunswick to give the mandatory X-mas speech. He was to give them warnings about Santa Clause, and suggest several security measures that every student should take.
Lela sat down next to Teresa. “Hey guys.” She said. “Have fun?”
“Are you kidding?” Tim said from the other side of Sean. “You should have seen the bartender. He drank so much ‘Red Bull’ that he thought he really did have wings!”
Sean laughed with him. “It was so choice. He was jumping off of everything in sight, shouting: “Red Bull gives you—“splat!
Leela joined in the laughing, but she felt sorry that she hadn’t gone. The lights dimmed and Dr. Breslin walked up on stage and stood at the podium. A spotlight shone down on him, brightening up his kind face and handsome smile. Everyone in school had learned to like him.
“Thank you all for coming, ladies and gentlemen.” He began. “First of all, I’d like to thank you all for agreeing to shovel snow, and for the wonderful job you’ve done.”
Immediately, the audience started to moan. It hadn’t been easy work.
“As you know, X-mas is a short five days away.”
Leela lost her focus. She’d heard this a million times before at the Orphanarium, and every year at this school. As Dr. Brunswick talked, she looked over at Tim. He was leaning forward in his seat, his eyes fixed on the man on stage, and his eyebrows furrowed in concentration.
What is he thinking about? Leela wondered. Is he afraid of what Santa would do if he came here? I wouldn’t blame him.
Leela couldn’t prevent herself from wondering if he was thinking about her. Unfortunately for her, she turned to look at the stage just as Tim glanced at her.
When the assembly was finally over, Tim pulled Leela over to the wall of the building to talk.
“What is it?” Leela aksed.
“How do you feel about this whole Santa Clause thing?”
Leela thought about it. She really hated having to board up her windows and hide in her closet for a whole night while she heard explosions in the city beyond. One year an exploding teddy bear landed on top of the cafeteria. The explosion had actually popped one of Leela’s eardrums.
Leela frowned angrily. “I hate it.” She said. “I wish it would all just end.”
“That’s exactly how I feel!” Tim said. “I want to get rid of Santa Clause for good.”
“What?!” Leela was shocked. Tim wanted to do it himself?!
“But I don’t know what I can do.” Tim continued. “I was hoping you would have some ideas.”
Leela pulled him into the concrete courtyard.
“Are you out of your mind? If you fail, Santa will kill you for sure!
“Then I can’t fail. I don’t care how much of a risk I take. I want Santa gone!”
Leela stared blankly at him. “You’re insane, aren’t you?”
“Like a fox!”
Leela couldn’t suppress a laugh. “All right. I’ll help, but I want to make sure that I won’t do anything that will put me in Santa’s line of fire.”
Tim grinned and held out a hand. “Done.”
Leela shook his hand. She felt a swooping sensation in her stomach.
The very next day Leela approached Tim outside his English classroom.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” she told him as they walked down the hall together. “A robot’s greatest weaknesses are magnets and illogical statements.”
“We can’t use the latter, though. That’ll take too long,” Tim said thoughtfully.
“Right. So I was thinking that instead we get him stuck between two magnets and tear him apart.”
“Isn’t that the capital punishment for robots?”
Leela tugged on her pony tail nervously. “Yeah. That’s where I got the idea.”
Tim looked intrigued. “That could work. But how would we get him into the trap?”
Leela looked down. She hadn’t thought that far ahead. Tim punched her playfully on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll figure that part out later. Right now I wanna get some lunch.”
“Why do guys have such huge appetites?” Leela aksed with a smile.
“Testosterone, I think.”
As they exited through the sliding doors, Sean came up behind them and wrapped his arms around both their necks.
Leela ducked out. “Don’t scare me like that!” she said.
“Sorry. I’ve been in a sneaky mood since history.” Sean said.
“We were learning about booby traps in World War II.”
“Booby traps,” Tim said thoughtfully. “Aren’t those mouse traps that girls hide down their shirts?”
Sean cracked up, but Leela just sighed. Boys could be such a pain sometimes.
“So tell us,” Tim continued. “How did they get people into traps back then?”
Leela noticed that Tim looked a bit more interested than necessary.
“Easy. They just put the trap where they knew the enemy would be.”
“Your teacher must really know his stuff.” Tim said impressed.
“No kidding. He got so in-depth, I wanted to set a trap myself!”
“Hence, the headlocks.”
The three of them ran off to get lunch. All through the meal, Leela avoided joining in on the conversation. She was too busy thinking about what Sean had said. Tim had obviously just wheedled the information out of him without being noticed, and Leela didn’t want his efforts to go to waste. But how could she predict Santa’s actions? Most of the time he was in his sleigh. There had to be a way to guess where he would be at a specific time. Leela wracked her brains over the matter, but nothing came to mind.
“So the only place he’s in is his sleigh?” Tim aksed. He looked disappointed. They sat together at the stone fountain while Sean and Teresa and several other kids were having a furious snowball fight.
“That’s the only place I can think of,” Leela said. “He has enough guns to bring down an entire city from one seat. Why would he need to move?”
“Then we’ll have to get him to leave the sleigh.”
Tim gave the minute a moment’s thought. “What would get Santa’s attention more than anything else on X-mas Eve night?” he aksed.
“A person wandering around.” Leela said.
“In other words, a sign of life.”
“So, we get him out of his sleigh by wandering around after dark?”
“No way,” Tim said as a snowball whizzed past his ear. “We just have to get his attention in a way that suggests ‘life.’”
“Like what, a fireworks display?” Leela aksed sarcastically.
Tim’s eyes widened. “Actually, that just might work!”
Leela was taken aback. She stood up to protest, but was hit in the side of the head with a large snowball, and sat right back down.
“Are you crazy?” she aksed frantically.
“Yeah. I told you that already.”
“How are you going to put on a fireworks display? Where would you do it?”
Tim leaned back and looked at the door of The Metal Keg. Leela watched him earnestly. She wanted him to think of something good, but if he went too far he could be expelled, or worse. Tim looked up. Leela followed his gaze up toward the smokestack. It had been there since the early 20th Century, when the school had been a shoe factory.
Tim smiled. “Santa has been known for going down chimneys, right?”
Leela looked at him, a frown hardening her every feature. Tim jumped up and walked through the door to The Metal Keg. Leela ran out of the courtyard and around the building to the side door. She came out into a hallway with several doors leading off in many directions. Tim entered through one of the doors on the right, the noise of The Metal Keg echoing through from behind him.
“You can not be serious!” Leela scolded him. “You think I’m gonna let you shoot fireworks out of the smokestack?!”
“You think I’m gonna let you stop me?” Tim replied calmly as he opened another sliding door across the hall.
Leela grunted in exasperation as she followed him. The room had a high ceiling and large glass windows. There was a narrow ledge that ran around the edge of the room, and the floor opened up into the basement below. A low railing ran around the edge of the pit. Tim was descending a narrow metal staircase into the pit.
“How do you plan on getting away with this?” Leela persisted as she stomped down the stairs.
Tim walked between three large metal structures. They looked to Leela like boilers or cisterns or something. They weren’t working, and they were only kept around for historical purposes. Around the walls were several gauges that hadn’t worked in a millennium.
Tim examined the gauges carefully. “First I plan on figuring out how to do this.” He said. He looked over to the right and walked into a dark area of the basement. This part went under the ledge, and had a ceiling of concrete and wooden rafters.
Leela gazed up at the ancient structure in awe. “This building is so old!” she exclaimed.
“It sure is.” Tim said uninterestedly. He was looking at a large black metal door with a dial for a doorknob. He twisted the dial counterclockwise and pulled the door open. It groaned loudly against Leela’s ears. Tim only peeked inside before closing it again.
“Just as I thought.” He said. “It’s the furnace. It opens right up into the chimney. And there’s enough room to build those magnets you suggested.”
Leela regretted ever agreeing to help him. “Tim, it’s time to forget about this. It’s fun to plan these things, but you could get in serious trouble for this.”
“Leela, people die every year on X-mas Eve! If this will get rid of Santa, I’m gonna do it!”
“WHY?! Why is it so important to you?”
Tim was frozen to the spot, but Leela refused to stop.
“Why can’t you just let it go and cower in fear like the rest of us?”
Tim started walking toward the staircase. He was about to ascend when he turned around. “This is just a really hard time for me, Leela.” He said softly. “I just can’t stand to see people letting Santa kill them.”
Leela watched him intently, hanging on to every word. Tim actually looked sad!
“When I see something bad happening, I have to do something about it.” Tim continued, looking Leela in the eye. “It’s my obligation to solve the problem. I can’t just sit idly by and let things be bad.”
Leela knew he was right. Bad things had to be fixed. If she could help Tim get rid of Santa, and save thousands of lives in a single night, she would do it.
Leela approached him and held out her hand. “Let’s do it.” She said.
Tim took her hand. “Done.”
The twenty-second dawned bright and early. Leela reached down at 5:30 and hit the button on her alarm clock before it woke up Teresa. She jumped out of bed and dressed in a hurry. In less than five minutes, she was meeting Tim at the security booth at the edge of campus.
“Good morning,” Leela said as she rubbed a sleepy from her eye.
“Not really,” Tim said. Leela could see circles under his eyes. “It’s nearly six and we’re awake. Not what I’d call a good morning.”
“Oh. Okay then.”
“Good to see you, though.”
Leela looked away to hide her blush.
“We’d better get going.” Tim said.
The two of them left through the security booth and walked on in silence for a few blocks.
“So, what are we doing here, again?” Leela aksed.
“We’re going to see a guy about the magnets and fireworks. It’s only a rumor, but this guy’s supposed to have craploads of doomsday devices and other illegal items.”
Leela pulled her coat closer around her. “We’re searching for a guy to see if a rumor is true?”
“Actually, it’s not a rumor. It’s just spread around that it’s a rumor so that people will ignore it. This guy is legit. I read about him in Skinner’s files.”
Leela looked amazed that he was still using that information. “If Skinner knew him, doesn’t that make him dangerous?”
“He’s probably dangerous, but not for those reasons. He’s a crooked old man with every disease under the sun.”
“Who is he?”
“Professor Hubert Farnsworth. He lives on the southern West Side.”
Tim announced his destination to a tube, and Leela did the same. She had a feeling that this was going to be a very interesting outing.
Tim walked down the sidewalk beside a large brick building as a green ship took off out of the roof, with Leela close behind him.
“Are you sure about this?” she aksed him for the umpteenth time as she eyed a nearby dumpster. It was making a cacophony of disgusting noises, and a few things flew out of it.
“Yes Leela.” Tim said yet again, rounding the corner and reaching the door. He stepped inside and sat in the waiting room. There was a light ding to announce their arrival. Leela followed him in and sat down beside him. She felt odd just being there, the two of them, next to each other, alone. Waiting to talk to a stranger nonetheless! Leela looked up at Tim’s face. He was staring straight ahead, looking calm and confident, but something told Leela that he was as apprehensive about this as she was.
A short, bald man with brown spots on his head and glasses so thick they couldn’t possibly improve his eyesight entered through the sliding doors from the next room. Leela guessed he was Professor Farnsworth.
“Uh, wha? How can I help you youngsters?” he aksed in a kind, shivering voice.
Tim stood up and shook his hand. “My name’s Tim, and this is Leela. We’re looking to buy some equipment.”
The Professor furrowed his brow in slight confusion, deepening his already cavernous wrinkles. “Some Femmzoil, you say? I don’t sell any of that. What, are you trying to do a robot sex change experiment for health class?”
Tim looked a bid hazed, but also intrigued. “No, we needequipment.”
“Oh yes, of course! My secondary business.”
He went back through the doors, and Tim and Leela followed. The Professor led them down a hallway and up a small flight of stairs. They came out into a conference room with a kitchen to one side, a coffee machine to another, and an enormous screen on a third. The conference room opened up to the larger part of the building, the hangar, which was currently empty. The Professor sat down at the largest chair at the conference table, and Tim sat down next to him. Leela sat on Tim’s other side. Something about the Professor creeped her out.
“Now, I want to make sure that this is safe,” the Professor said. “Very few know that I fence valuable ‘inventing supplies’ and ‘equipment’ through my delivery company or on eBay. How old did you say you were? 23? 45?”
“16, sir,” Tim said, preparing for the worst.
“16?! I can’t allow this. You’re far too young to be dealing in this kind of business. You must leave at once!”
The Professor stood up too fast and audibly snapped a bone or two in the process. Leela gasped at the noise, but apart from a slight wince, the Professor didn’t seem to notice.
“Ow, the Jedis are going to feel that one.” He said.
Tim’s mouth was hanging open. He pulled the Professor’s arm over his shoulder and helped him back into the chair.
“What are you doing?!” the Professor said. “Stop it at once, whoever you are, or I’ll have my crew set you straight!”
“Your crew is on a mission, Uncle Hubert, don’t you remember?” Tim said innocently.
“Yeah,” Tim continued. “I’m your favorite nephew, Tim. You were just going to give me a ton of stuff for a school project, remember?”
The Professor scratched his spotted head for a moment and picked a fingerful of wax out of his hairy ear. Leela was shocked, not just by the Professor’s health, but by what Tim had done. Was this really going to work? Could Tim fool the Professor? She knew it was wrong to exploit the man’s insanity, and she felt guilty, but at the same time there was an underlying rush of excitement! They were treading on unmapped territory now, knowing nothing but what they had in front of them, and they were succeeding! If this worked, Santa was going down!
The Professor looked over at Leela. “Then who’s she?”
“My girlfriend,” Tim said quickly. Leela covered her mouth with her hand to hold down a protest.
“Oh, of course, Tim. How could I forget about you? Now, what exactly did you need for this, uh, whatever it was you said?”
Tim sat back down in his seat and leaned closer so the Professor would hear him. “We need enough tools and supplies to build and power four large supermagnets, and lots and lots of fireworks. Oh, and some electronic stuff, too.”
The Professor stood up again, audibly snapping his bones back into place. “Well, let’s get started then.”
He led the two downstairs into the hangar, and opened a small metal hatch in the floor. “To the limestone cavern!” The Professor shouted as he descended the stairs below.
Leela grabbed Tim’s sleeve before he followed the loony man. He looked at her curiously.
“Girlfriend?” Leela said. It was all she could manage.
Tim shrugged. “I had to think quickly, and he’d never believe that he had a cycloptic granddaughter, or something.”
Tim descended the stairs. As Leela crouched down to follow him, she had a feeling that Professor Farnsworth would have believed it.
The two teens followed the Professor down several sets of stone steps. The air grew hotter and hotter as they descended, and Tim and Leela had to take off their coats.
Leela tapped Tim on the shoulder. She leaned in to whisper.
“Tim. How are we going to get everything back to school?” she aksed.
Tim stopped in his tracks. He looked panicked at this suggestion. Had he not thought this far ahead?!
“Working on it,” was all he said, and then continued to follow the old man.
They came out into an enormous cave. A pulsating reddish-yellow light came from a pool of lava in the middle of the chiseled floor. Everywhere there were broken and fixed machines, tools and toolboxes, and hundreds of wooden crates. Leela looked interestedly at the crates. Unless she was very much mistaken, she had been struck with an idea.
“What’s that?” Tim aksed the Professor, looking at a metal door on the other side of the cave.
“Oh, that room’s a mystery to me,” the Professor said. “Every time I open it, a strange robot with an incomplete painting tells me to bite something metal and shiny, and then I forget all about him five seconds later.”
“Who do you think he is?” Leela aksed.
“Who do I think wha?”
Leela rolled her eye. “Never mind.”
Tim clapped his hands together. “All right.” He said brightly. “Let’s get right to business.”
Together, Tim and the Professor and Leela set about getting everything they needed. After about an hour, when they had everything in one pile, Leela insisted that they put it all in a wooden crate. When Tim aksed why, she just told him to get to work. This was where she put her idea into action. This time, it was Tim’s turn to be impressed by her quick thinking and careful plans. Just the thought of seeing those eyes of his look shocked made Leela’s palms sweat. Those deep, dark eyes…
Leela snapped out of her fantasy and started writing on a piece of paper, which she attached to the side of the crate with some tape she found lying around, careful that Tim didn’t see her. She wanted to surprise him.
When all was said and done, the Professor led them onto a metal platform they hadn’t noticed before, while they followed behind with their crate of equipment on a hover dolly. The platform raised itself up through a hole in the ceiling and through a trap door onto the sidewalk above. They were back outside the Planet Express building, the door just a few paces away. They stepped off the platform and the concrete sidewalk slabs replaced themselves. It was impossible to tell that the trap door was ever there.
Leela stepped toward the Professor with a stern look in her eye.
“Well it’s about time you got out here,” she barked at him. “Do you have any idea how busy I am? I’m middle aged. My husband and I gotta get the kids from school!”
Tim looked as confused as the Professor. The Professor looked around and adjusted his glasses a bit. “Uh, wha?”
“Oh, paying attention now, are we?” Leela put her coat back on and crossed her arms. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I’ve already put the address on the side of the crate. Just deliver this thing there by tonight, or you won’t get paid.”
The Professor stood up straighter. He actually looked intimidated by Leela.
“Yes ma’am!” he said.
Leela grabbed Tim by the sleeve and pulled him around the corner as the Professor struggled to get the dolly inside. When they had passed the noisy dumpster, Tim put on his coat and rounded on Leela.
“All right, what was all that?”
Leela smiled mischievously. “You really wanna know?”
“Do I want to know why you just left our stuff with a nutty old man for no apparent reason? Yes!”
“Don’t worry. You don’t have to get angry. I wrote the address of the abandoned house outside the school campus on the crate. The Professor will deliver it straight to us!”
Tim’s expression was everything Leela had hoped it would be and then some! He stood still in his tracks, jaw hung open, eyes bulging. He was making several attempts to speak, but all he managed was a series of grunts and moans. Leela burst into peals of laughter at how stupid he looked. She laughed so hard she had to hang on to his arm for support. She felt great!
“So what was that whole husband thing?” Tim aksed.
Leela stopped laughing. She pushed her bangs out of her eye and looked away.
“Oh, you know, I thought he’d go for it.” She said with a shrug.
“Yeah.” Tim didn’t sound convinced.
They set off walking toward the tubes. Just before they reached it, Tim stopped.
“You wanna just walk for awhile?” he aksed. “I don’t really feel like going back to school just yet.”
Leela paused. “Okay.”
The two of them walked further north towards Central Park in silence. They reached the high iron fence that surrounded the snow-covered fields and trees when Tim finally spoke.
“So, what are you getting Teresa for X-mas?” he aksed.
“Well, after the whole thing with Santa is over, there’s still the gift exchanging afterwards.” He said. “What are you getting her?”
Leela looked at the ground as they walked alongside the fence. “I dunno. I haven’t really thought of anything. I mean, I haven’t known her that long, and I’ve never been X-mas shopping before.”
“No one to shop for.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Tim sounded a bit sad.
“Why do you aks?” Leela said, looking up at him.
“Well, I’ve already gotten something for Sean, but like you said, I haven’t known Teresa very long, so I don’t know what to get.”
Leela thought for a minute. Tim pulled her away from a Chinese guy that aksed if they’d like a caricature picture.
“Now that I think about it, Teresa does have an enormous wardrobe. Our closet practically erupts every time we open the door. Maybe some clothes would be nice?”
Tim stifled a laugh. “You want to add to the erupting closet?”
Leela laughed with him. “Well, it’s a start. Maybe a necklace would be nice, or something like that.”
“Let’s get it now.” Tim said suddenly.
“Yeah. We’ve got time. Why not get it done before it’s too late? X-mas is in three days.”
Leela surprised by Tim’s sudden interest and enthusiasm, but it was so out of character for him, she almost laughed. “Okay,” she said as he took her by the hand and hurried her off down a street.
They entered an Alien Overlord and Taylor store at the mall. The place was crowded with people trying to get their hands on either gifts for their loved ones or weapons for Santa. The sight of so many people staring at Leela made her feel extremely uncomfortable. But then Tim squeezed her hand harder and pulled her onward, and she forgot all about it.
They entered the women’s section, Tim with some hesitation, and Leela used every ounce of Teresa’s advice she could remember to pick out some clothes and throw them into Tim’s arms. Eventually Tim had a heaping pile of clothing in his arms, and Leela had to stop, though she had to laugh. He looked so silly compared to his usual stoic and serious self.
Leela took the pile from Tim outside the changing rooms.
“Okay. I’ll try these on, and you give me feedback.”
“But aren’t these for Teresa?”
“She’s got about the same measurements as me. Just picture her in my place.”
“Okay, how do I do that?”
“Just add three inches to my chest!”
They both laughed as Leela retreated into the changing rooms. Tim’s laugh died away as he watched her walking. Somehow, she looked more graceful when she was laughing. She looked taller.
“Your girlfriend is quite the beauty,” said a scratchy female voice from behind him. Tim turned around and saw a short wrinkly old lady with gray hair and a pink dress standing there. She smelled like cats and her eyes were crossed.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“I said, your girlfriend is really cute, ya watchacallit? Kid!” she said loudly. A few people glanced at her.
Tim lowered his voice. “Uh, look. I don’t really know who you are, but Leela isn’t my girlfriend. I’m just helping her out.”
The woman put a hand on her hip and gripped her purse strap with the other.
“Oh,” she said with a smile. “Then I guess you looked at her that way just for kicks?”
She walked away, popping her ass back and forth like it was the sexiest thing in the world. Tim ran a hand through his hair and heaved a deep breath. He was running into all kinds of crazy people today. But, he thought, did I really look at Leela in a funny way?
Leela stood in her changing stall, slipping out of her white tank top and changing into a lime green quarter-sleeve. She looked in the mirror, and immediately looked away from her face. She didn’t like the way her eye looked. The outfit wasn’t too bad, though.
She was about to leave the stall and go back to Tim when she heard a girl talking in the next stall.
“It’s like something out of a fairy tale, Shannon!” she said.
“I can’t believe how lucky you are, Jill. I’m so jealous.” Said a second girl from the next stall over. “I’ve never had a boyfriend in my life.”
“I don’t even know how it happened.” Said Jill. “First I was just looking at Jake, but suddenly I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I got to the point where I was stalking him!”
“Did he call the cops on you?” Shannon aksed.
“Almost, actually. I had to confess to him to get him to stop. And then it just…happened!”
“Aw, that’s so cute! You’re like, the perfect couple, too.”
Leela forced their voices out of her head. She didn’t want to hear anymore. She was starting to suddenly feel extremely anxious. Her hands were trembling, and her stomach was feeling really tight. The thing was that she knew exactly what they were talking about. She’d been displaying the same symptoms as Jill, recently. But all her thinking and fantasizing had been about…
Leela jumped out at Tim from around the corner, surprising him with the outfit. They spent what felt like hours together, checking things out, laughing together, talking, and eventually, buying a few things, Tim’s treat. Leela promised to pay him back.
Just as they stepped out of the store, Tim excused himself and ran back into the store. He returned a few minutes later.
“What was that about?” Leela aksed.
“I, uh, left my wallet at the cash register. Had to get it out of the lost and found.”
They left the mall together, and finally took the tubes back to school.
Leela hurried back to her dorm. Teresa was waiting for her with her arms crossed and an enormous smile on her face.
“All right, where did you go?” she aksed smugly. She pointed at the shopping bags in Leela’s hand. “And what are those?”
Leela glanced down at the bags and wished she had hidden them somewhere else. She’d been hoping Teresa would be at lunch with everyone else. She groped around in her mind for an excuse.
“What do you mean?” she said pathetically.
“Don’t play dumb, Turanga Leela. You left this room at six o’clock this morning, and met Tim Dawson at the security booth. You’ve been gone for nearly six hours! What were you doing?” Teresa’s smile couldn’t have been broader, or her voice more suggestive.
Leela faked a laugh terribly. “You’re not thinking…? Oh God, you are.”
“You went out, didn’t you?!”
“No, we just—“
“What?” Teresa wanted a good excuse. Leela could see it.
“We went X-mas shopping.”
Teresa’s smile faded a bit. “Oh. That’s it? So then that’s…?”
Leela gripped the shopping bags tighter. “No, these are some things he got for me. The X-mas gifts are with him.”
Leela hoped that that would be enough for Teresa, but she jumped at what she’d said. “Tim bought you clothes?! Oh my God, you so went out!”
“No, we didn’t!”
Teresa put her hands on her hips and stared at Leela like she was being deliberately retarded. “Okay, let’s think.” She said. “You meet in secret, you go to several public places together and alone, engage in activities of a social nature, and he buys you stuff. It was a date!”
Leela put the bags down and glared straight at Teresa.
“I didn’t go on a date with Tim! The thought never crossed my mind! Why would I go on a date with him in the first place?!”
“I don’t know,” Teresa said with an even wider smile. “Why would you?”
Leela couldn’t answer. She couldn’t imagine it. If she were to go out with Tim, wouldn’t that mean--?
“You did have fun, right?” Teresa aksed.
“Well,” Leela said, thinking. “Yeah, of course.”
“You enjoyed his company?”
Leela was hesitant. “Yes.”
“That’s why you’d go out with him, and that’s why you did today.”
“Even if I had fun, that doesn’t mean it was a date. I could have fun with you, of Sean, or any combination of you three.”
“But out of the three of us, don’t you think you’dprefer Tim?”
Leela turned away. She didn’t know where she was heading with this, and she didn’t want to know. She couldn’t bear to continue. She didn’t know what she was talking about anymore. How did she feel? Why? Did she want to know any of these things? She was too afraid to understand any of the things she was thinking or feeling anymore.
Leela rubbed her temples. Her mind was reeling out of control, and her heart was beating really fast.
“Don’t worry, Leela.” Teresa said as she sat down at the desk. “These things have a way of working themselves out.”
Leela put the shopping bags in her dresser drawer and left for lunch.
Leela left the school that evening to find Tim sitting on the stoop of the abandoned building. It was about a block away from the iron fence, and had wooden planks nailed over its dark windows. Bricks were loose and falling in several places. The place hadn’t been touched in years.
Leela sat down on the stoop next to Tim. “Hey.” He said.
“Hello,” Leela replied.
For a while the two of them sat there, chins tucked into their jacket collars, their breath rising in wisps of white mist. Leela felt extremely nervous. Her heart was pounding, her palms were sweating inside her gloves, and she felt like her insides were squirming.
“They’re certainly taking their time about it.” Tim complained.
Leela giggled. Not laughed, giggled. It sounded strange, even to her. It was a girly sound.
“I don’t mind,” she said. “I like it out here at this time.”
“You like the evening?” Tim aksed. He sounded like he was just grabbing for words.
“Actually, it’s twilight.” Leela corrected. It’s the one hour when there’s still a bit of sunlight out.”
She pointed out at the sky. Between the tall buildings, where the sky was visible, the two could see that the sky was giving way from orange to deep purple and then blue, with a few stars.
“Not bad.” Tim said.
Leela looked over at Tim. He looked rather handsome, now that she thought about it. And that little bump on his nose looked extremely cute. She edged closer to him. Her heart beat faster than ever. She smiled.
“Excuse us?” said a voice.
Tim looked down at the sidewalk. There were three people standing there, two male, one female. The captain, a tall man with broad shoulders and slick blonde hair, had spoken. He was holding a clipboard.
“Are you Mr. and Mrs. Dawson?” he aksed.
“We’re their kids.” Leela explained. “They sent us to pick this up.”
She pointed to the wooden crate on its hover dolly, which was being pushed by the other two crewmembers. Leela couldn’t see them behind the crate.
“Whatever.” The captain said. He sounded bored. “Just sign here.”
Tim took the clipboard and scribbled on the line at the bottom. The captain took it from him and turned to the others. “Just leave it there. We’ve got the backup dolly on the ship, and the Professor won’t miss it.”
“Not looking forward to the next mission?” Tim aksed innocently.
“Not even a little,” said the captain. “We’ve got to do some crap with Space Bees tomorrow.”
Leela looked up at them from the crate. “Be careful out there.” She said.
The Planet Express crew left without so much as a goodbye.
“Such nice people.” Tim said.
“You were being sarcastic, right?” Leela aksed as she started pushing the hover dolly down the sidewalk.
Tim joined her. “Sure. But their job seemed interesting. Imagine the places they visit. Bet you’d like to work there.”
“With that crazy old crone for a boss? I think not. Besides, it’s not really up to me what my job will be.”
“Oh, right,” Tim said, hanging his head. “The L.S.A.T.s.”
“Labor Standard Aptitude Tests. Once our brains are scanned and our intelligence measured, they’ll send us off to whatever college is best for us, and then set us up with our jobs.”
“Only one year away, now.” Tim said.
“You don’t want to do it?”
“I don’t like the idea of throwing my life and my future into the hands of strangers.” Tim said.
“Well, you know what they say: You gotta do what you gotta do.”
“You may come to think otherwise eventually.”
Leela just stared ahead in thought. She had to lean to the side to see around the crate. It really was huge. They had reached the security booth. Fortunately, there was no guard with all the technology, but there was still a problem.
“How do we get this thing inside?” Leela aksed.
Tim stepped inside the security booth and flipped a switch. The gate that let in hovercars opened.
Leela smacked her forehead. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Tim grinned. “Well, you just haven’t had the right kind of experience, yet.”
The two laughed as they pushed the dolly toward the building with the smokestack.
“Now what?” Leela aksed.
Tim walked over to the side of the building and opened a black fuse box, and flipped yet another switch. A pair of doors opened up in the walls to reveal an express elevator. It was at least twelve feet by twelve feet.
Leela wordlessly pushed the dolly into the elevator. Tim followed and pushed the button to the left of the door. The elevator lowered itself down one floor, and Leela pushed the dolly out into the basement, under the ceiling near the furnace.
“How did you find that?” she aksed surprised.
“I did some snooping around after we got back today.”
Leela turned to head up the stairs.
“By the way…” Tim began behind her.
Leela turned around hopefully.
“Why did you write that we were Mr. and Mrs. Dawson?” he aksed.
Leela blushed. “Well, you had called me your girlfriend. I just thought, you know, one good turn deserves another.”
Leela turned back and went up the stairs, leaving Tim in the darkness below. She needed rest.
When Leela entered the mess hall to eat with the others as usual, she was surprised to see that it was only Sean and Teresa waiting for her. They were talking in whispers, their heads bent close together with concerned looks on their faces. When Leela sat down they looked up at her disappointedly.
“What is it?” Leela aksed. “Do you not want me sitting here?”
Sean leaned toward her. “Have you seen Tim?” he aksed sternly.
“What do you mean?”
“What he means,” Teresa said. “Is that Tim hasn’t been seen since last night. There was no answer at his door. And Sean hasn’t been able to reach him on his cell phone.”
Leela felt worried. “Do you have any idea where he might be?”
“Well, we thought he might have been with you.” Teresa said, staring hard at her cereal.
“But I came home last night.”
“That’s right. That’s got us even more worried.”
“So Tim just disappeared last night without a trace?”
“Pretty much,” Sean said.
Leela stared straight ahead in thought. He hadn’t returned home. That didn’t worry Leela so much. Tim had mentioned something to her about staying in the furnace to build the magnets at some point, but now he wasn’t answering his phone. Did that mean he was in trouble? How bad could it have been? Had he been in an accident when he was working?
Leela immediately stood up. “I’m gonna go look for him.”
Leela stormed outside and practically flew across the snow-covered grass and slushy streets, and opened the door and rushed down the stairs to the furnace. The first thing she noticed was that the crate was not on the floor where she had last seen it. She put her whole weight into turning the dial and opening the door. It had looked so easy when Tim had done it.
When the door was completely open, she looked into the blackness of the furnace. It was empty. Or rather, Tim wasn’t there. There were, however, four extremely large magnets inside, three on the walls, one on the door. Attached to the inside of the bottom of the smokestack were what looked like dozens of fireworks, all with long green fuses trailing down like computer wires and combining into one. In the middle of the floor were a strangely shaped electrical device, a pyrotechnic fastener for the fuses, and a remote control. But no Tim.
Leela smacked her hand painfully against the cold metal doorframe. Tim had finished the magnets and the fireworks, but still hadn’t returned? What was he doing?! What happened?!
Leela dashed up the stairs and rushed outside. She ran around the building, slipping on a bit of ice, and went into the concrete courtyard. She stood in front of the door to the Metal Keg, her hand inches from the doorknob. She was afraid to go inside, but she knew she had to find Tim. She closed her shaking fist around the knob and turned.
The room inside fell silent as Leela stepped inside, just as she’d predicted. Leela scanned the room, looking for any sign of Tim. There was a pool table on one side of the room, and a stage with a stool at the other. On the far wall was a bar, on which there was a sign that said: Sober Bartender Wanted. Music was playing, but Leela didn’t notice. The only thing she knew was that Tim wasn’t here.
Panic was rising in Leela’s throat, now. She was so worried for Tim’s safety she almost cried. Tim was gone, with no way of finding him. How could things get any worse?!
“Would Turanga Leela please report to Dr. Brunswick’s office?” the intercom called.
Leela groaned. On top of everything, she’d been called to the principal’s office. Again!
Leela sat in one of the chairs in front of Dr. Brunswick’s desk. The office seemed cheerier now, with Skinner gone, but Leela didn’t really notice. She looked over at the other chair and remembered the time when they had been brought here together, and he had sat in that same empty chair. Leela wished they were both in trouble just so she’d know he was safe.
“Miss Turanga,” Brunswick said calmly. “I just finished speaking with your friends Sean Mordo and Teresa Zinthrop. They say that Mr. Dawson is missing.”
“That’s what they told me.” Leela said, choking on the last word.
“I also heard from one of the janitors that he saw you two together last night. It was implied that you were the last one to see him before he disappeared.”
Leela hung her head.
“Can you tell me if there’s anything Tim might have said to tell you where he would be?”
Leela almost wished Dr. Brunswick would treat her like a criminal. Just hearing the kindness and sympathy in his voice brought her even closer to tears.
“No, sir. He didn’t say anything.”
Dr. Brunswick nodded. “I see. Well, thank you, Miss—“
The door flew open and Tim stormed in.
“Mr. Brunswick, before this goes any further, I need to—“
Leela jumped up and embraced him, knocking her chair over as she stood up. Tim was silenced immediately. Leela pushed her face into his shoulder to hide the tear leaking out of her eye. Tim wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her back. After a moment she stepped back and slapped him.
“Do you have any idea how worried I was?! What did you think you were doing disappearing like that?! I feared the worst!”
Tim looked shocked at the tearstains on Leela’s face. Had she been that scared?!
Dr. Brunswick stood up. He did not look pleased at all. “Mr. Dawson, just what were you doing all this time?”
Tim massaged the red hand-shaped mark on his cheek. “I’m sorry. I guess I forgot to mention it, but I had an appointment with Master Phnog to teach an extra class today.”
“Then why did Mr. Mordo say you didn’t return last night?”
“What that really means is that I didn’t answer the door, since I’d slept in.”
“All right, then. Well, I think you still owe your friends an apology, but thank you for coming straight to me before this got any further out of hand.”
Tim held the door open for Leela. “Oh, I’ve already spoken to them. They sent me here.”
Dr. Brunswick smiled.
Leela, who had wiped away her tears and her worries by now, rounded on Tim in anger. “You were teaching Kung Fu?! You scared twenty years off my life for Kung Fu?! I thought you were dead!!”
“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” Tim said. “I’ve just…had a lot on my mind lately.”
“Yeah, well, sorry’s not gonna cut it!” Leela said, crossing her arms.
“But then…what will?”
Leela glared directly into his eyes. “A lot.”
It wasn’t very intimidating, Leela thought as they walked together silently, but she had to leave him hanging. Fear of not being forgiven was a better punishment than any slap to the face she could dish out.
Leela stepped out of the shower feeling a hell of a lot better than she had going in. The shower, to her, always seemed like the best place to cry. A few minutes later, she exited the bathroom in her pajamas, her hair half-dried and wrapped in a towel.
“You certainly took your time,” Teresa said with a smile.
“I just got lost in thought,” Leela replied nonchalantly. She decided not to tell her that she’d let all her fear and frustration from the day out with tears.
“Thinking about Tim?”
Leela felt annoyed by Teresa’s knowing expression, but decided to just go with it.
“Sort of,” she said. “I couldn’t believe all the hell he put me through today. I ran all over the place looking for him. I almost cried with worry. What if he’d—“
Leela’s words were choked back as she felt tears coming on again. She buried her face in her hands. A tear slid down her forearm. Teresa jumped up from her bed and put an arm around Leela’s shoulders. Leela sobbed as she was led over to the bed and sat down.
“Don’t worry about it, Leela,” Teresa said calmly. “He wouldn’t try to hurt you. I agree, he was a total pig to not tell us where he was, but it’s not in him.”
Leela emerged from her arms, her eye swollen and red.
“I was so scared, Teresa. I thought I was gonna completely lose it!”
“Well, you kinda just did.”
Leela sighed. “Well, at least it’s over, now. Finally things can go back to normal.
Teresa frowned. She couldn’t let this be over, yet. Not when Leela was so close to a breakthrough. She reached under her bed and pulled out a cardboard box. Hoisting herself up onto the bed in a lotus position, she set the box down between them and opened it. It was filled to the brim with chocolate. Leela looked at it oddly.
Teresa smiled at her friend. “The perfect remedy to anything.” She said.
Leela reached into the box and grabbed one of the candies and bit into it. To her surprise, she suddenly felt slightly happier. Her expression brightened, and Teresa smiled.
After a few bites of chocolate each, Teresa decided to bring up Tim again.
“Don’t you think it’s odd that you went so crazy today?” she aksed.
Leela looked at her suspiciously, but also looked confused. “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I just did.”
Teresa rolled her eyes. “Come on, Leela. A month ago you would have rejoiced at the thought of Tim disappearing. Now when he finally does, you’re so worried you break out in tears.”
Leela bit her lip. “But he’s my friend, now. Why wouldn’t I be worried?” Leela stood up and paced back and forth. “I admit, things have changed a lot, but I would be just as worried about you missing as I was about Tim.”
Teresa sighed and stood up. She held Leela by the shoulder and looked her directly in the eye. “Leela, don’t you think it’s possible that you like Tim?”
“What? No. No! Of course not.” Leela wasn’t convincing at all. She threw Teresa’s hand off and looked away. “I mean, why would I like him? We’ve got nothing in common—“
“Except kung-fu and senses of humor.”
“We hardly know anything about each other—“
“Except what you’ve told each other in the past month.”
“And we don’t even spend that much time together.”
“Except for your recent date.”
“That was not a date!”
By now, Leela was walking all over the place, getting more and more agitated. She was losing it. She quickly sat down at her desk and rubbed her temples.
“I can’t like him.” She said quietly.
Teresa felt concerned now. “Why?”
Leela looked up at her. She looked fearful. “I don’t know what to do about it. If I like him, I don’t know where it’ll lead. I’ve never even had parents to love me. How can I know what to do?”
Teresa knelt down in front of Leela. “You don’t really have to worry. Nobody knows what to do. All you can do is move forward with him. How do you feel when you’re with him?”
Leela looked at her knees. “Well, I guess…sort of…happy.”
Teresa stood up, taking Leela by the hand and pulling her up, too. “And what do you think that means?” she said softly.
A tear fell down Leela’s cheek. “I love him!”
Leela hugged her friend and cried into her shoulder for a long time.
Leela woke up late on X-mas eve. She’d been up really late writing in her diary how afraid she was of how she felt about Tim. And she hadn’t stopped there. She’d had dreams all night about her trip to see the Professor with Tim, and her Kung-Fu classes with him, and just about everything else they’d done together. But in her dreams, they’d always ended differently, with the two of them doing things she’d never pictured herself doing: holding hands, hugging, kissing, and even a few other things she’d never heard of before.
When she woke up at noon, she lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling, a mere two feet away from the end of her nose. She could remember every dream she’d had, but to her they felt like nightmares. She felt so conflicted inside. Being with Tim made her feel happy, but just thinking about that made her feel sad and afraid. And how did he feel? What was going to happen between them?
But what made Leela feel even worse was everything she’d been doing with Tim recently. They’d spent so much time together, making plans, and actually having fun, and it was all working up to this day. Tonight, Tim would try to destroy Santa Clause.
Leela sat alone at lunch. She didn’t see her friends anywhere, and she didn’t want to, but being alone again brought back awful memories. Memories of hate and neglect and rejection. So much had changed in just a short while. Sitting here by herself, her entire horrible life pressing down on her, she realized that being with her friends had made her happier than anything in the entire universe. They had changed her. She was no longer the sarcastic, resentful and secretly spiteful girl she had been at the beginning of the year. Teresa, Sean, and especially Tim had shown her how to be a regular person; how to say things she’d been too introverted to even think about. She had learned how to let them under her skin, and she’d probably gotten under theirs, too. But now Tim was putting his life on the line. Tonight could very well be the last night of his life. Not only did Leela love him, but she knew he was her best friend. Though it had been fun to plan everything and spend time together, she didn’t think it was worth losing him. She didn’t want Tim to die. He’d changed her too much to just disappear.
That night, Leela approached the entrance to the Metal Keg. She was breathing heavily, and her heart rate had increased exponentially. Her thin coat could barely keep out the cold of the falling snow, but she barely noticed. She turned the knob and stepped inside.
The Metal Keg was practically empty. The clock up on the wall that had the symbol of the New New York Yankees read 9:55, so only a few daring people had chosen to lag behind instead of hurrying into their dorms with everyone else. The bar was empty, and no music was playing. As Leela walked through the room, weaving between the tables, she saw that those who had stayed were extremely pale. None of them even turned to look at her. They just stared at their drinks. They feared for their very lives. So why were they here?
Leela pushed open the door at the back of the room. She came in to a smaller room, with a table and chairs in the middle, and a single light bulb lighting the whole area. It was the bar’s back room.
Leela continued through the room to the other door, which opened up into the hallway. She went into the boiler room and down the metal staircase. The door to the furnace was open, and Leela could see a few snowflakes falling down from the smokestack. Tim sat on the floor, his eyes wide open, with a thermos of coffee sitting next to him. He looked thinner than usual, and had dark circles under his eyes. His hair was messy and matted. He looked up when Leela approached, and immediately his weariness seemed to melt away. He smiled, and his eyes crinkled slightly. He no longer seemed tired and afraid when she was around.
Leela sat next to him. “Think you could spare a sip?” she aksed, pointing to the thermos.
Tim poured some coffee into the thermos cap and handed it to her. Leela sipped at it. Its tangy fragrance relaxed her, even though she didn’t really care for the taste. At least it calmed her down a bit.
“Didn’t think I’d see you here, Leela,” Tim said. He sounded calmer than he should have.
“Well, I at least had to wish you good luck,” she said, also calmly.
“I haven’t forgotten our agreement.” He said. “I’d keep you out of harm’s way.”
“Then you’d better leave soon. All the buildings go into lockdown at ten. And it’s almost…” He checked his watch. “TEN! You’ve got to go! Now!”
Tim stood up, and grabbed Leela by the elbow. He pushed her up the stairs, which she took two at a time. She was halfway out the door when she ran back and looked down the stairs at Tim.
“Can you promise me something?”
“Anything, as long as you get the hell out!”
“Promise me you’ll come back.”
Tim’s features relaxed as he calmed down. He smiled slightly. “Sure.” He said. “Now go.”
Leela’s wrist thing beeped. It was ten! Leela ran for the door, and just as her hand clamped on the handle, alarms went off throughout the school, and locks were heard snapping shut. Leela ran down the hall and pushed against the door. It wouldn’t budge. She pushed against the emergency release to slide the door open, but it had been shut off. She was trapped!
Tim came up behind her and slammed his foot into the door. It was no good. The doors were reinforced with titanium, so not even a robot could break it down. Not even a robot with a sleigh and a full military arsenal of weapons.
Together, they went back downstairs and sat down, their backs against the antique wooden walls. Neither of them felt very happy. Leela wasn’t supposed to be there. Yet because of their stupidity, she’d been trapped in a situation Tim had promised to keep her out of. Tim blamed himself for this.
“You know,” Leela said. “I don’t really mind that I’m here.”
“Why is that?”
“I’d feel like I hadn’t finished a job if I just stopped. And besides, did you really want to do this alone?”
Tim looked over at her and smiled. “I was prepared to, but now that you’re here, I admit I feel a lot better.”
Leela silently agreed. But she felt frustrated and stood up. “Why are you doing all this?!” she demanded. “Why do you want to get rid of Santa so badly?! I don’t blame you for hating him, but you can’t risk you life for this! Think about your friends! I don’t want you to die, and that’s just what will happen if you screw this up!”
Tim stood up and put his hands on her shoulders. “Look, Leela. I have a very good reason for doing this. I just have to do it. I—“
“I don’t care!” Leela screamed, tears coming to her eye. “You’re my best friend! I can’t lose you! I’ve never even had parents to care about me. I felt ugly because of my eye! Now I finally find friends in you and the others, and I forgot about being ugly, and you’re just gonna take that away to kill Santa?! I won’t let you!!”
Leela buried her eye in Tim’s shoulder and cried. She couldn’t help but notice how he smelled; like gunpowder and spice. She liked it.
Tim hugged her for a moment, and then pushed her back to look at her face. He was smiling, but his eyes were blurry.
“It’s not just about saving others,” Tim said. “It’s about me.”
“I’m an orphan, too.”
“It happened when I was seven, I think. But I don’t remember what it was. All I know is that when it happened, my mind blocked out everything before it. I can’t remember anything about it; not even what they looked like. But I do know that it happened on December 23rd.”
Leela was aghast at what she was hearing, but she pressed him onward. “How do you know?” she said in barely a whisper.
“Because the last thing I remember is crouching in a closet on X-mas eve, waiting for Santa to come and get me.”
Leela had stopped crying altogether, though she was certain she would break down at any moment. “And, that’s why you were gone yesterday?”
“Yes. I was just walking around, looking for an answer to my prayers. I was just walking, waiting for something to jump out at me, and then it would be okay.”
Leela hugged him.
“And you’re not ugly.”
The two of them sat together, backs against the wall again, waiting to put their plan into action. Santa could start to terrorize New New York at any minute. At some point after eleven, Leela and Tim heard crashes and screams off in the distance.
“This is it!” Tim shouted.
Leela watched him as he went over to the furnace. Gone were his pain and fear. All that was there was determination and focus. He was jumping boldly into action, not thinking about where this would lead. All he could do was act.
Tim pulled a remote control out of the furnace and closed the door with a loud clang. He extended the antenna on the remote and glanced at Leela for a moment, his finger hovering over one of the buttons. He pressed it.
Leela heard the pyrotechnic fastener inside the furnace snap. The fuses were lit, their hissing pressing against Leela’s ears like steam. The fireworks ignited one at a time, their flares traveling up the chimney and exploding just outside the top of the smokestack. Leela looked out the window and saw a beautiful array of colors lighting up the campus, their hues mingling with each other on the tree branches and brick walls. She heard something flying overhead, and it dawned on her that this might be the last beautiful sight she ever saw. Santa was here!
Clangs were heard through the furnace door as Santa’s sleigh met with the smokestack, as Santa’s boots skidded down the sides of the chimney, and as he landed in the middle of the furnace.
His cruel, menacing voice echoed inside the black chamber. “HO, HO, HO!!”
Tim hit another switch on the remote control. The magnets inside fired up and Santa began to shriek in agony as they began to tear him limb from limb. His cries bounced off the walls, between the boilers and through planks of wood on the walls, until it engulfed the two teenagers in a painful onslaught of sound.
Leela looked up at Tim and saw an expression on his face she would never get out of her memory. He wasn’t afraid like she was. His features were twisted into a wicked smile. His teeth were bared, his eyes wide and vengeful. He cackled maniacally, his smile pulled back up to his ears. His hair was even wilder than ever, and shadows were cast over his face from the continuing fireworks outside. He was ruthless, amoral, and sociopathic. He was rejoicing at the destruction of the machine that gave him his first and worst memory. He looked terrifying.
Leela jumped at him, trying to make him snap out of his rage. He fell back against one of the boilers, and accidentally hit one of the buttons on the remote. The magnets shut down.
The door slowly opened, its hinges creaking as the black paint chipped off. Santa’s boot slammed onto the floor, its force nearly throwing Leela off her balance. He stepped out of the furnace, his belly shaking like a bowl full of nitroglycerine. His eyes were twisted in an angry angle, lit up with delight at their fear.
He advanced on them, and they backed away.
“Attempted murder! With that on the list, you are judged to be very, very naughty!”
He pulled a machine gun out of the sack in his right fist and prepared to fire.
Jumping into action again, Tim pushed a button on his remote. A third magnet activated, pulling Santa back into the furnace. Tim ran up to the door and clanged it shut. He pushed a third button on the remote. Leela heard beeping inside the furnace, and could barely believe what Tim had done. Tim tan toward her and pulled her behind the boiler at the end of the room. There was a final beep inside, and the furnace exploded. The door flew off its hinges and was thrown out the windows on the floor above. Santa was pushed up out the smokestack, screaming all the way.
Tim and Leela went up the stairs and jumped out the window. They stood in the street together, staring up at the sky. The fireworks had stopped, and only the light of the quarter moon showed them that they had failed. Santa was in his sleigh, flying down to meet them. Leela screamed, and lifted her arms to avoid looking at what was coming next. She saw Tim drop his remote, and pull something out of his pocket. It was a second remote! Tim gripped the metal cylinder, waiting for the right moment. When Santa was just fifty feet away, he pushed the red button at the end.
Bolts of lightning coursed out of the sleigh and into Santa, electrifying him and sending his circuits haywire. Sparks flew everywhere, and Santa shouted in pain even more. He fell limp in his sleigh, smoke issuing from several places on his casing. The robotic reindeer, sensing that Santa was not safe here, pulled the sleigh away from the school.
For a moment, Tim and Leela just stood there, amazed that they were alive. Then they started jumping high in the air, whooping and celebrating their victory.
They hugged as their excitement died down. They looked at each other for a minute.
“Do you think we did it?” Leela aksed.
“No,” Tim said, looking down. “I think he’s just rebooting somewhere. But at least now he knows better than to come near us.”
They smiled for a minute.
“Listen, Leela,” Tim said, sounding nervous. “Before Santa came, I wanted to tell you something. But I never got the chance.”
Leela braced herself fearfully for what was coming.
“A while ago, I didn’t really think I’d be here, but…”
Leela could see how much pressure he was putting himself under.
“We’ve been through a lot in the past month. I never thought we could be friends. But now, I think…I think I might…really like you.”
Leela pulled a breath in and held it. “Really?”
“Yeah. I think I do. I was so confused at first, but I realize, even through all the arguments and the hell we’ve given each other, I’ve always liked you. I just—“
“Tim!” Leela said. “Please, stop. I don’t want to hurt you, but—“
“What do you mean? You don’t like the way I feel about you?”
“No, I’m okay with it, it’s just that…”
Tim hung his head. “You don’t feel the same?”
Leela hung her head, too. She knew the answer, but could she tell him?
“I don’t know,” she said. “I think I do, but—“
Leela took a big breath. “I never knew my parents. My whole life, people hated me. I don’t know how to handle love. I don’t know how to act upon it. I don’t know where it’ll lead if I do. Would things get better or worse?”
Tim looked at her face. It was shining with tears. He smiled and took a step closer to her. He wiped a tear away and she looked back at him. “It’s easy to act on it,” he said. He leaned in.
Leela backed away. “No! I can’t!” She turned her back on him and started to run.
“Wait!” Tim called. Leela stopped.
“So that’s it?! What now?”
Leela didn’t answer him. As she took another step away from him, Tim heard her whisper, “Who could love a one-eyed monster like me?”
Leela ran away, wishing things could just go back to when they were normal. If only she could remember when that was.
Tim sighed heavily, and he felt someone approaching him from behind. He turned around and saw Ivan. He looked even shorter in his thick winter coat. The moonlight reflected off his silvery blonde hair.
“How much of that did you see?” Tim aksed gloomily.
“I was hiding behind that hovercar the whole time,” Ivan said blankly, pointing.
“Thanks for putting that electrifier in the sleigh for me,” Tim said, staring off after Leela, whose figure was just disappearing around the corner.
“It’s not easy,” Ivan stated as he stepped up beside Tim and watched with him. “That smokestack’s pretty tall. I was almost certain I’d fall.”
“So are we agreed that this never happened?” Tim aksed.
“The Santa thing or the Leela thing?”
Tim looked down at Ivan. “Both.”
“That’s okay,” Ivan said. “It wouldn’t matter if I told anyone, anyway. The more common a fact is the less valuable it is. And it’s most valuable to me if I’m the only one who knows. That was quite an amazing display I watched. It would sadden me to have it all go to waste.”
Tim was disgusted by Ivan’s smile. He was relishing the tragedy of the situation they’d created. All Ivan had seen was Santa’s cruelty, the complete destruction of public property, and a tightening and awkward drama that ended in disaster for both Tim and Leela. Did Ivan really enjoy seeing that?
Ivan walked away, his hands in his pockets, humming an X-mas carol. That was all the answer Tim needed. Tim hated Ivan. Not only was he creepy, but he was as sociopathic as Tim had felt just minutes before. God, he hoped Leela hadn’t seen that. A clock somewhere struck twelve, and he went back into the boiler room, and buried his face in his hands.
“YOU DID WHAT?!” Teresa practically shouted.
Leela, who had snuck in through their window, had just told her everything that happened.
“Look, it’s not as bad as it sounds—“
“Not as bad?! You turned Tim down! Even after he confessed his love to you, you turned him down! You told me yourself you like him! Why?”
Leela was a bit surprised that Teresa didn’t care in the slightest that she and Tim had just torn apart half the school with fireworks and bombs, but she looked down at the floor in shame.
“I can’t let myself love him,” she said. “I’m just too afraid.”
“He was afraid, too. He told you how he felt. That takes a lot of courage, especially for a guy.”
“But how do I know it will be okay! People still make fun of me for my eye. They call me ugly, and they’re right. If I had two eyes I’d look so much better. How do you think Tim would feel, having to be in a relationship with someone who took constant abuse? He’d be comforting me, I’d be telling him not to worry, he’d think I was pushing him away and resent me, I’d resent his resentment, and in no time at all, we’d be over and we wouldn’t be friends anymore!”
“But that’s what relationships are about!” Teresa said.
“Giving each other hell?”
“No, helping each other through whatever hell you find! You’ve never been happier than when you’ve been with Tim. If you’re with him, he’ll help you and you’ll help him. That’s the whole point!”
Leela looked up at Teresa and realized that she may have made a horrible mistake.
With X-mas out of the way, things soon settled back to normal. The destruction to the furnace was blamed on Santa, which was partially true. With New Year’s Day approaching, people’s excitement was building up. Leela went about her days mostly alone. She met and spoke with Teresa and Sean a few times, but never did she see or speak with Tim. He kept avoiding her, which was just what she wanted. She couldn’t bring herself to face him, not after what she’d done to him. She wouldn’t blame him if he never forgave her.
The days passed slowly, until it was finally New Year’s Eve.
Leela went on her usual way to Kung-Fu class, but this time without Tim. He had left early, according to Sean. Class went as it usually did. About halfway through class, Master Phnog had them all stand around the edges of the room as he announced that today he would be selecting students to go on to the Junior Championships. Leela rejoiced at this. She’d wanted to do this ever since she first heard about it as a blue belt. Now, if she could just impress Phnog enough, she’d turn her martial arts into a legacy.
One by one the students were called up for sparring matches in a mock tournament. They were narrowed down, beating the crap out of each other, full contact. Eventually, Leela found herself preparing to get into the semi-finals of their tournament. If she made it, she’d have to be selected.
Leela posed between two boys, Bill and Keith, and Tim gave the signal to fight. She flew into a series of kicks, blocking any punch that came her way. She finished it off with a spinning jumping kick to Bill’s face and sent him flying at Phnog’s feet. She had won.
“Excellent,” Phnog said in his thick asian-like accent. “Bill and Keith, you will go on to Junior Championships. Bill. Congratulate Keith when he regains consciousness.”
Leela was thunderstruck. She was the one who had won the match. Why was Phnog rewarding the losers?
“But Master Phnog, I can beat up these two dorks with one eye closed!” she said.
“Perhaps,” Phnog replied, “but there is more than that. You lack the Will of the Warrior.”
“What are you talking about? Watch this!”
Leela yelled and drove a kick directly into Bill’s stomach. He writhed in pain.
Phnog continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “No girl has the Will of the Warrior. You have the Will of a Housewife, or at best, a Schoolmom.”
Leela was enraged by Phnog’s chauvinism. “All right. I’ll take you on right now!”
“Very well, but you see, I have the Will of the Warrior, therefore the battle is already over. The winner, me! HA HA! Rematch?! You lose again! Had enough?! I thought so!!”
The entire room erupted in laughter, all eyes on Leela. She lowered her arms and hung her head in shame. No matter how much she protested, Phnog was the master and she had to obey. There was no fighting him.
“Okay, then. I’ll fight you!” said Tim.
The laughter died away in an instant as Tim stepped up to oppose his master, with whom he’d gotten along so well in the past. Phnog glared at Tim in fury.
“You dare challenge me, Mr. Dawson?!”
Tim glared right back. “I do dare. You’ve discriminated against Leela for too long, Phnog. It ends now!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play dumb, you insect! The only reason you accepted her at all was by my persuasion!”
The entire room gasped, but none as loudly as Leela. Did she owe him that much?
“What do you want?” Phnog demanded.
“We will fight.” Tim said. “If I win, you stop holding Leela back and you let her go on to the Junior Championships like she deserves to.”
“Very well, but if you lose, you will be permanently expelled from this dojo.”
Everyone gasped even louder. One of the boys collapsed in the corner. Another student ran up to him and checked him out.
“He’s overgasped!” the boy cried, and he carried him away.
Phnog kicked Bill and Keith out of the ring and took a fighting stance. Tim stood facing him.
Phnog spoke in barely a whisper. “Attack.”
Tim lunged at Phnog, who jumped right out of the way. He spun around and tried to hit him with a hook kick, but Phnog dodged again. Tim struck again, keeping his stances low, working around with Phnog’s dodging so that he finally landed a punch right in his stomach. Phnog flew backward and curled up in pain, but Tim didn’t stop. He came at him again, looking just as he had when he was fighting Santa; cruel and vengeful. Phnog fought back, punching or kicking Tim a few times, and Tim delivering just the same. The two fought for nearly an hour. One of the students had to make calls to cancel further classes. It seemed as if neither of the combatants could be beaten.
At the end of the second hour, Tim and Phnog stood ten feet away from each other, both heaving breaths quickly. They had spent most of their fight dodging, ducking, evading, and blocking each other’s attacks. It had taken a lot of energy out of them. They had scratches and cuts all over, and their uniforms were a wreck.
“You have fought well, Tim,” Phnog said. “But as long as you lack the Will of the Warrior, you will never defeat me.”
“If I didn’t have the Will of the Warrior, what makes you think I’d have lasted this long?” Tim said. “The body can last as long as someone wills it to. But eventually it will have to give out, just as yours soon will. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is spongy and bruised.”
Phnog laughed. “With that kind of attitude, you are more pathetic than your Housewife girlfriend!”
“Just what is it you have against Leela, anyway?” Tim demanded.
To Leela’s surprise, Phnog answered. “Women are useless.” He said. “They lack power of the mind, and power of the body. Their first instinct is to run away from a threat, and cower in the face of danger! It is disgusting the way they make fools of themselves! It is the sole purpose of this dojo to make men out of boys and put all the women of the universe in their place!”
Tim smiled. “And…cut!”
He walked over to his duffel bag, and pulled out an audio recorder, and pressed stop. The room was silent. Phnog gaped at Tim, barely able to form words. His green features twisted into an expression of rage, and he lunged at Tim full force. Tim jumped out of the way, the recorder clutched in his fist, and rolled across the floor. He jumped to his feet, and Phnog hit him in the face with a flying kick. Blood flew out of Tim’s mouth and he fell to the floor, defeated.
Phnog grabbed the recorder out of Tim’s hand and stood up in triumph.
“HA HA! I knew you were too weak, Dawson. You have no Will of the Warrior, the Housewife, or anything lower! You have failed!”
Tim stood up, bracing himself against the wall. “This isn’t over, Phnog. Even after I’m gone, you won’t have seen the last of me. I’ll be back, fighting in ways that not even the Will of the Warrior will help you against.”
Phnog laughed hysterically as Tim gathered up his things and left the dojo for the last time.
Leela chased after him. She ran down the staircase, passing Ivan on the way. Why he was there she didn’t care. She caught up with Tim outside. The wet concrete of the sidewalk was freezing against her bare feet, but she barely noticed. Leela stopped Tim and turned him around. Up close, he looked like even more of a wreck.
“Tim! Why did you do that?! How could you just throw all that away?!”
“I’ve already told you why, Leela. I care too much about you to let him treat you that way.”
For a moment Leela couldn’t respond. “But that’s no excuse. Now you can never go back!”
“It doesn’t matter to me, Leela. I’ve learned things that not even he can teach me. And as long as he’s blinded by his intolerance, he will never be able to reach the rank of a true master.”
Leela was amazed at what he’s just said. As usual, he knew just what to say to get his point across.
“But what about the tape? He took it from you, now you have nothing to fight with.”
Tim smiled. “No, he took the recorder from me.” He pulled the tape out from inside the folds of his uniform. “I took it out when I rolled across the floor. Even when I jump boldly into battle, I plan all the way to the end.”
Stuffing the tape back into his uniform, Tim hoisted his bag higher up onto his shoulder and left. Leela stood there in silence. Their conversation had been awkward, at best. At least it wasn’t the agonizing silence of being in each others’ presence that usually came about whenever they were together.
Leela turned around and went back inside.
“Oh come on!” Teresa complained that night. “You’ve got to go to the Metal Keg. It’s the last party of the year. You can’t miss that one!”
“Sure I can,” Leela said. “I’ve missed all the others.”
“You’ve got to go. They’re showing the ball drop on TV and everything. They’ve even brought out a karaoke machine. And Sean’s the new bartender!”
It was true. Sean had announced to them at lunch the other day that he’d applied for the job, and had gotten it almost immediately, just as soon as he’d promised never to follow the previous bartender’s example. Sean told them he intended to surpass his predecessor.
“I don’t know.” Leela sighed. “What if Tim’s there.”
Teresa frowned. “Tim’s been doing nothing but sulking ever since X-mas. Thanks for the clothes, by the way.”
Leela was saddened at the mention of Tim’s depression, but didn’t let it show in her face. She gave up.
“Okay,” she said. “If you can nag at me for half an hour, it must mean a lot to you. I’ll go.”
“Excellent!” Teresa rejoiced. She immediately pushed Leela out the door. “Have fun,” she called, waving.
Teresa shut the door and immediately pulled out her cell phone. She dialed faster than she could text, which was pretty fast, and waited.
Sean picked up on the other end. He covered his other ear to keep out the booming music of the Metal Keg.
“Leela’s on her way.” Teresa said. “Give her a few seconds to get over there.”
Sean’s expression turned serious. “Got it.”
Sean stepped out from behind the bar and onto the stage. If this works, he thought, Tim owes me big time.
He pulled the mike out of its stand and cleared his throat. The room quieted down.
“First of all, I’d like to thank you for all coming here tonight, to the biggest party of the year!”
The room erupted into cheers.
“So, tonight, we’re gonna start the karaoke a bit early.”
More cheers. Sean picked up the sign-up sheet on its clipboard and looked at the first name. He smiled, calling out the name he was supposed to say instead.
“So first up, singing an old, old, incredibly old song by Joshua Kadison is our good friend, Tim Dawson!”
The room cheered, except for one student who looked thoroughly confused that their name had not been mentioned. Tim stepped through the crowd, a nervous smile on his face. He stepped up onto the stage and took the mike from Sean, who patted him on the shoulder to wish him luck.
Tim hit a button on the karaoke machine next to him. The spotlight blocked his vision of the crowd as the music began.
Leela opened the door. She looked around and saw that everyone was looking up at the stage, where Tim was sitting on the tall black stool, the microphone in his hand. He began to sing with a voice she had never dreamed of.
“You’re my peace of mind
In this crazy world.
You’re everything I’ve tried to find.
Your love is a pearl.
You’re my Mona Lisa.
You’re my rainbow skies.
And my only prayer is that you realize.
You’ll always be beautiful
In my eyes.
The world will turn,
And the seasons will change.
And all the lessons we will learn
Will be beautiful and strange.
We’ll have our fill of tears,
Our share of sighs.
My only prayer is that you realize
You’ll always be beautiful
In my eyes.
You will always be
Beautiful in my eyes.
And the passing years will show
That you will always grow
Ever more beautiful
In my eyes.
There are lines upon my face
From a lifetime of smiles.
We can laugh about it,
How time really flies.
We won’t say goodbye,
Cause true love never dies.
You’ll always be beautiful
In my eyes.
You will always be
Beautiful in my eyes.
And the passing years will show
That you will always grow
ever more beautiful
In my eyes.
The passing years will show
That you will always grow
Ever more beautiful
In my eyes.”
The crowd applauded Tim on his performance, and he smiled and waved at them. Leela found herself approaching the stage, tears rolling down her cheeks, a bright smile on her face. As the crowd quieted down and started to stare, she understood that Teresa and the others had been right all along. If she had to put up with any kind of bull crap, she’d rather have Tim to help her.
Tim stepped down from the stage and looked at her in amazement.
“Didn’t think I’d see you here.” He said.
Leela smiled at him. “You always do know just what to say.” She said.
She wrapped her arms around Tim’s neck and kissed him.
The crowd cheered.
Sean called Teresa. “Mission accomplished.”
Author’s Note: I know, I know! The karaoke scene was so cheesy! But I just had to do it. Buckle up for the next part, cause things between Tim and Leela are gonna get interesting; Zapp Brannigan interesting. ;)