Hey, readers! This oneshot references the episodes 'Tobey Goes Good' and 'Department Store Tobey.'

Foreword:

Oy, sorry again, everyone. I was hoping I'd have this ready in 2 weeks, but I had to put pretty much everything on hold in order to finish a special birthday gift in time. DX BUT! I'm back now, and I've made a mid-year resolution to stick with this story until I finish it, so help me! And I want to start finishing the oneshots faster, too, 'cause I've got other stories in me and I don't want to be at this one until I'm in my 40's. *_*

The theme of this oneshot was suggested by Lucinda Cottontale. The story takes place probably a couple of months after 'Grandiloquent.' Enjoy! :)


Handsel [han-suh l] – a gift given for good luck at the beginning of the year or to mark an acquisition or the start of an enterprise.

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"Okay, kids! Who wants sparklers?" Mr. Botsford asked, cheerfully waving a lit one in each hand.

Tobey wondered if there were any children present who were young enough to appreciate such things and who had actually managed to stay up this late.

"Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me!" Scoops shouted, bouncing up and down and waving his hand like a… well, like a child. He dropped his camera and it flew behind him by its strap as he rushed toward Mr. Botsford.

Tobey was about to roll his eyes when Becky and Violet rushed after Scoops, equally enthused, and Tobey felt a tiny little prick of chagrin. He was getting used to those, but they still seized his attention, as all reminders should.

This one was a reminder that he shouldn't look down on things he considered 'childish' or 'silly.' Becky was a very clear example of how a perfectly intelligent person could like something he considered silly, and since things Becky liked were automatically exempt from his scorn, he couldn't really scorn other people for liking the same things. That meant Scoops and Violet were allowed to like sparklers, Tobey acknowledged with a sigh.

He still thought Becky maintained a much more dignified air than Scoops with her sparkler. She and Violet waved them like magic wands as they fluttered to and fro, ostensibly pretending to be fairies. Scoops, on the other hand, seemed to be following TJ and Johnson's lead—laughing and gadding about like toddlers, sometimes twirling their sparklers in wild circles and other times fighting with them like swords.

"Awww," Johnson moaned. "My sparkler went out!"

"That means I win!" TJ announced, thrusting his sparkler victoriously in the air.

Scoops jumped in front of Johnson and brandished his own sparkler at TJ, exuberantly shouting, "Worry not, good sir! I shall avenge you!"

"You shall try," TJ sneered, and he belted out a ridiculous-sounding evil laugh.

Both their sparklers simultaneously fizzled out. They looked at each other in dumbfounded silence for a moment, then all three boys bolted back to Mr. Botsford in unison.

In spite of himself, Tobey smiled. He even felt a small urge to follow them and join in.

"It was so nice of the Botsfords to organize this neighborhood New-Year's celebration, wasn't it?" said his mother, having an adult conversation with a group nearby.

"Oh, yes, indeed," a man replied. Tobey was pretty sure he was Mr. Ming, but tonight was his first time seeing him… or… his first time noticing him, at least. He brightly added, "And this public park was the perfect place to set it up so that everyone who wanted to come could be welcome."

"Such a lovely night, too," said his wife beside him, staring up at the moonlit night sky full of sparkling stars.

"Hey! Leave the exposition to me, if you please," an indignant voice grumbled out of the ethers. "It's the one thing I get to do around here."

"That's what you get for being late," Tobey said, unsympathetically folding his arms.

"Hmph," huffed the Narrator.

Despite his usual aversion to anything 'social,' Tobey had to admit this little New Year's get-together had turned out to be a refreshingly amusing little diversion. The food was good, the conversation was less smalltalk-ridden than he'd feared, and best of all, Becky was there. Plus, thanks to a some impatient people scattered throughout town, he hadn't even needed to wait until midnight to see a few fireworks.

Things were winding down now that it was so late. The tables were scattered with used dishes and Bob had started gathering them all up, shamelessly helping himself to any food that had been left.

"Attention, everyone!" Mrs. Botsford called loudly from nearby. Tobey turned to see her standing on one of the tables with her hands high over her head and a smile broad across her face. Tobey hoped she was paying attention to her footing. One misplaced step and her left foot would be wearing the leftover potato salad.

She pointed to her watch and loudly announced, "It's almost midnight! Ready for the countdown?"

Everyone smiled and dropped what they were doing—minus anything flammable, thankfully—and counted along with Mrs. Botsford from "60!"

Tobey had always thought the practice of counting down to the new year was a little silly, but this time, he joined in anyway. He felt caught up in the moment somehow… suddenly moved at the idea of being in a public park surrounded by acquaintances and strangers alike to share in an admittedly pointless experience—but one which had brought them all together.

"50!" everyone chanted.

Mr. Botsford set down his box of sparklers and joined his wife on the table.

"45!"

Johnson and TJ stepped forward, pumping their fists as they counted, still holding their sparklers in their free hands.

"40!"

Violet lightly grasped her mother's arm as they counted together.

"35!"

The Mings stood hand-in-hand while counting, and their son snapped pictures from every angle in a frenzy—also while counting.

"30!"

Tobey's mother came up behind him and put her hands on his shoulders, startling him so that he stopped counting for a moment.

"25!"

Becky came up beside him and slipped her hand into his, and they gave each other a warm smile as they both continued counting.

The seconds seemed to go faster from that point. Tobey looked around at all the people who were here to usher in the new year together—probably most of the neighborhood—and instead of feeling grumpy and antisocial like he might have in the past, Tobey actually felt glad to be here with them. Maybe Becky's 'people personality' was finally rubbing off on him a little.

Tobey gave Becky's hand a squeeze as they neared the end of the countdown, and he felt a rush of irrational anticipation as the final seconds ticked away.

"5! 4! 3! 2! 1! HAPPY NEW YEAR!"

Tobey forgot you were supposed to say that at the end, but everyone else was so loud that he was pretty sure no one noticed his voice was missing. The following chorus of whooping and hollering was enough to make him feel a little jolt of his usual grumpy antisocial feelings.

Then the sky lit up with fireworks, and the myriad explosions of light and color fixed his mood in a half a tick. Tobey had always loved fireworks. They appealed to the part of him that liked to destroy things and the part of him that liked to build things. The sheer idea of meticulously crafting something for the sole purpose of blowing it up in the most spectacular way possible… well, it was strangely appealing to him, to say the least. The sight of it now made him want to design his own fireworks machine. A firework-bot, perhaps? He'd need a better name for it, though…

The excitement over the crowd quickly settled into a happy murmur of handshakes, goodbyes, and well-wishes. It was obvious that most people didn't want to stay out any later than midnight. Within five minutes, most of the cleanup was finished (Bob had made short work of the leftovers), and the only people left in the park were the Botsfords, the Mings, and the McCallisters, of course.

While they were folding up the chairs and tables that they'd brought, Becky struck up a conversation.

"So, Violet, what's your new year's resolution?"

"You say that like you're sure she has one," Tobey chuckled.

He'd expected Becky to give a playful retort and start bantering with him. Instead, she said quite matter-of-factly, "I am. Violet has a new year's resolution every year."

Violet nodded. It's kind of a tradition of mine. I want to be constantly bettering myself."

"Oh," Tobey muttered, not sure what else to say. Personally, he'd always thought the idea of new year's resolutions was kind of… well… silly. If there was something you needed to take care of, shouldn't you just take care of it right away rather than arbitrarily waiting for the new year? And if you were trying to 'constantly better yourself,' shouldn't that process be… well… constant? Rather than annual?

He didn't say any of these thoughts, though. He knew how condescending they would sound. Besides, he'd grown to like Violet. Why say something that might hurt her feelings for no good reason?

Wow… Becky really was rubbing off on him.

Violet closed her eyes and said in her dreamy, off-in-her-own-little-world voice,"This year, I'm going to paint the moon."

"Oh," Tobey muttered, not sure what else to say. His natural impulse was to comment that doing her 500th painting hardly sounded like a resolution, but somehow he doubted that would go over very well.

Becky giggled suspiciously, like she knew something Tobey didn't. That irked him a little.

Violet cupped her hand over her mouth and whispered, still loud enough for everyone present to hear, "It's symbolic. I learned that word the other day. It means something that represents something else."

Tobey wanted to say, 'Well, look who thinks she's WordGirl.' Instead he just said, "Oh."

Man, you couldn't say anything fun when you were trying to be nice.

"What does painting the moon represent, Violet?" asked Scoops.

"I'll tell you when the time is right," Violet answered enigmatically.

When will that be? Next year? Tobey thought, and immediately bit his tongue.

Scoops looked insatiably curious, but he didn't argue. In spite of himself, Tobey even found himself itching to pester her for an explanation. He had to give the girl one thing. She knew how to be mysterious.

"Do you have a new year's resolution, Scoops?" Violet asked.

"Me?" Scoops asked back, pointing at himself. "Oh, well… it's a little personal, but a good reporter is always forthcoming with the truth." He resolutely put up a finger and went on. "One of the critical aspects of investigative journalism is that you have to be hard and ruthless in pursuing the facts, and I've always been pretty good about that. But, I realized recently that I might sometimes do my job too well and come across like I don't care, and I really don't want people to think I'm one of those cold, heartless reporters who will do anything for a story. So, I want to work on how I present myself. I'm going to try to be a little more sensitive to people's feelings so that they'll feel like they can trust me."

Tobey blinked. Did Scoops just say something intelligent and perceptive? He'd been trying for a while to cultivate respect for Scoops in spite of how dumb he tended to sound, but that little speech definitely made it easier. He never thought he'd see the day that he would actually relate to something Scoops was dealing with.

"Wow, Scoops," Becky said, looking deeply impressed. "That's so admirable of you!"

Tobey scowled a little, wondering if it was too late to withdraw that newfound respect.

"Why, thank you," Scoops beamed, proudly grasping either side of the camera strap hanging around his neck.

Violet gave him an approving nod, and he blushed. Tobey got the sense this was something they'd talked about before—another reminder that Becky's friends had their own lives outside what he got to see.

Bob wandered over with a big bowl of miscellaneous leftovers in hand and happily chirped something before he started eating.

Becky chuckled and interpreted for him. "Bob says his resolution is to try as many new foods as possible."

"Ooh," Violet drawled in an intrigued voice. "Sounds exotic!"

"Hey!" Scoops laughed, pointing a friendly finger at Violet. "I taught you that word!"

Violet gave him another affirming smile, then turned to Becky. "Do you have one this year, Becky?"

Becky shook her head and put a thoughtful hand to her chin, wrinkling her forehead in contemplation. "Not yet. I can't decide on one."

"How about you, Tobey?" asked Scoops. "Got any new resolutions?"

Tobey didn't answer right away. He didn't have any new resolutions, no, but all this talk of resolutions had reminded him of an old one. The reason he hadn't taken care of it right away as he was predisposed to doing was due to Becky's encouragement. She had wanted him to wait until the time was right and not to stress himself out with worry.

He wasn't worried, but maybe the right time was now. He had to start sometime, after all. Why not at the start of the new year?

And just like that, his mind was made up.

"About that," he answered Scoops. "I'd like to have another creative meeting with you and Violet."

Scoops, Violet, and Becky all looked at him curiously. Even Bob stopped eating long enough to give him a thoughtful glance.

"What do you want to meet about?" asked Violet.

Tobey gave his best enigmatic mysterious smile and tapped his fingers together as he said, "I'll tell you when the time is right."

They all blinked at him, and Scoops muttered, "So… Saturday, then?"

Tobey pouted and grumbled in resignation, "Yes, Saturday will do."

« « « « « … » » » » »

Scoops and Violet both looked stunned as they stared dumbfounded at Tobey. Scoops was the first who managed to get some words out of his gaping mouth.

"You plan on paying back ten billion dollars?!"

"Yes," Tobey said simply with a nod.

"Ten… billion?!" Scoops repeated. "As in, ten zeroes after the one?"

"Yes, I suppose that would be the layman's definition of ten billion," Tobey replied, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.

"Is that even possible?" Scoops exclaimed, grabbing his head as though it hurt his brain to even contemplate such a large number.

Tobey sighed and allowed himself one subtle roll of his eyes. "Of course it's possible. There are dozens of people who are worth far more than ten billion dollars." Tobey sat up straighter and confidently folded his arms as he nonchalantly stated, "I simply have to figure out how to become one of them."

Scoops blinked at him. "'Simply?'"

Tobey's 'creative meeting' consisted of the same group that had put their heads together a year ago to figure out how he and Becky could date without arousing suspicion about her being WordGirl—Becky, Bob, Violet, Scoops, and Tobey himself of course. This time, however, they were meeting in Tobey's room rather than Becky's.

"I have to say, Tobey," Violet spoke up, "I think it's a noble thing you want to do, but it doesn't seem like it'll be simple."

Tobey was about to argue that he was a genius and wouldn't have to cope with the same challenges that a normal person would, but Becky put up a hand to stop him and inserted much more diplomatically, "Right, Violet. Which is why we want help coming up with ideas."

'We,' she'd said. She was actually starting to think of them as a team. Tobey couldn't help inwardly swooning a little at the thought.

A tinny-sounding 'arf!' sounded, and a little robotic puppy rolled over in Becky's lap. It warmed Tobey's heart that Becky had brought Cuddlepie with her. The little robotic dog was a gift he'd given her a long time ago, and she still loved it to pieces… literally. She had once come to him in tears because a piece of Cuddlepie had popped off while she was playing with him. It was the only time in Tobey's life when seeing her cry had been amusing rather than heartbreaking.

Becky smiled and patted the puppy's exposed belly. He gave a happy growl and thumped his foot in the air.

"Well," Scoops muttered, calling Tobey's attention back to himself, "it can't hurt to give it a go."

He flipped open his notepad and pulled a pen loose from the spiral binding, clicking it open.

Bob chirped what sounded like an agreement and clapped. He then pulled out a pen of his own and a large pad of graph paper, licking his finger and flipping over the first few pages. He looked as much like a professional business consultant as a chimpanzee wearing a diaper possibly could.

"So," Tobey said with a smile, touching his fingers together at the tips. "Basically what I need is a business idea that I can pursue with the resources currently available to me that will allow me to start earning money—preferably a significant enough amount that it can springboard me into bigger avenues in a relatively short time."

"Ah, I see," Scoops said with a nod. "So you're trying to become an entrepreneur."

Tobey blinked, mildly surprised that Scoops knew that word.

Becky abandoned rubbing Cuddlepie to raise a finger in the air and proactively offer, "An entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business, often the one who starts the business and usually at greater risk to themselves than someone just working for the business."

Tobey nodded, hoping that Violet was the one Becky assumed didn't know the word.

"Indeed," he said. "But I don't want it to be just another faceless corporate venture that's all about numbers and profit and is ultimately no real benefit to anyone. I want to do something groundbreaking. Something that will change the world!"

He pumped his arms excitedly. Violet gave a calm nod while Scoops took notes. "Did you have anything in mind?" she asked.

Tobey deflated a little. "I'm… fuzzy on the details just yet, but I'm sure it should be easy to think of something…" He perked up and exclaimed, "Like, I could build a robot that can control the weather! Or a Dyson sphere to harness perpetual energy directly from the sun!"

"Not that those don't sound really cool," Scoops muttered, sounding annoyingly unimpressed, "but I thought you wanted something you could start up right now that you already had the resources for."

Tobey blinked. He had a point.

Violet nodded. "Those sound to me like something you should keep in mind and work your way up to. There are probably lots of legal things you'd have to figure out besides just having the machine that can do the job."

Bob nodded in agreement, penciling something onto his paper. Tobey blinked again. He still hadn't gotten used to those out-of-nowhere moments when spacey, flighty Violet said or did something that proved she was much smarter than she seemed on the surface.

"Those are good points," Becky said, putting a hand to her chin while Cuddlepie nibbled at her elbow. "Maybe you're thinking too big for just starting out."

Tobey couldn't help scoffing. "Well, do you expect me to try and think small?"

"Not small," Becky clarified, "just more… you know… manageable."

"Like what?"

Just then the door flew open with an impolite slam and two preteens noisily clomped in. Cuddlepie jolted at the noise and ran over to the intruders, barking and running circles around them.

"Becky," TJ whined loudly, "I'm bo-ored."

"Yeah, me too, I'm bo-ored," Johnson parroted behind him.

Tobey had completely forgotten that Becky and Violet brought their little brothers today. He wanted to get huffy with them for interrupting such an important meeting with their petty juvenile concerns, but he was curious how Becky would respond, and so he held his tongue and looked to her.

Becky blinked at them and simply muttered, "Okay, well… so what about that?"

Tobey smiled. Maybe he was rubbing off on her a little also.

Cuddlepie lost interest in the boys and instead turned his attention to Tobey for some reason, jumping into his lap and shoving his snout up in Tobey's face, trying to lick him. Tobey pushed him away and he ran back to Becky.

"Hey, we didn't ask to come to your dumb meeting," TJ grumbled.

He crossed his arms and Johnson imitated him, saying, "Yeah, we didn't ask to come to your dumb meeting!"

TJ added, "It's not our fault all our parents happened to be busy at the same time on the same day."

"Yeah! W-What he said," Johnson stuttered.

"Our parents are all helping Mrs. Botsford with her reelection campaign," Scoops pointed out.

"Again, not our fault," TJ insisted with a dismissive gesture. "If you're gonna drag us to your weird teenage business conference, you should at least make sure we're not dying of boredom in the meantime."

"Yeah!" said Johnson, mirroring TJ's hands-on-hips stance.

Tobey felt a little annoyed, but he couldn't help sympathizing at least a little. He knew what it was like to be stuck somewhere you didn't want to be while the person you were stuck with took their sweet time doing something that had nothing to do with you. How many times had his mother abducted him for a seemingly endless trip to the store as she tried on enough merchandise to clothe a small army? He shuddered inwardly at the thought and decided to take pity on the boys.

"Very well," Tobey sighed, making a waving motion toward the corner of the room. "You two can play with my game station."

"Whoa, you have a game station?" TJ asked, sounding incredulous. "I thought you were a stuffy intellectual who thought anything fun was a waste of time."

Tobey frowned, wondering if it was too late to withdraw his sympathy. "Going once…"

"I call first controller," TJ announced, dashing over to the corner where the TV was set up.

"I call… second controller," Johnson fumbled, and he followed TJ.

"When did you get a game station, Tobey?" asked Violet.

"Yeah," inserted Scoops. "I do seem to recall you saying they were a big waste of time.

Tobey hesitated a moment, hoping he wasn't blushing. "I—used to think that," he admitted. "But Becky opened my eyes to how enjoyable they can be, and… now I enjoy them. Occasionally."

"To answer your question, Violet," Becky offered with a giggle, "he built it."

Tobey leaped at the shift in the discussion and said with a proud smile. "It was a challenge from Becky. Which, obviously, I won."

Becky smiled with a playful roll of her eyes. "Let's stay on topic, shall we? Since you want to start something up soon, I think we should evaluate the things you've already invented and see if there's something marketable—"

"Hey, how do you put games in this thing?" TJ interrupted, voice raised.

Tobey rolled his eyes and said, "Just open the front panel and set the game on the tray."

"Just set it on the tray?" TJ repeated, sounding incredulous. "You don't have to plug a cartridge into a slot or snap a disc into a… spinny thing?"

"It has advanced no-contact X-ray scanning technology," Tobey explained, "It reads the information coded into the game by scanning the game medium, so it's universally compatible."

"No way," TJ marveled. "That is so cool!"

After that, TJ was happy, and Tobey trusted that would be the last of the interruptions.

"Now then," he muttered, turning his attention back to Becky, "What were you saying, Dearest?"

Becky smiled and offered, "I was saying maybe you should think about commercializing something you've already made. Like maybe… Um…"

Becky rubbed Cuddlepie's head as she considered, causing his mechanical ears to flop back and forth. He made a satisfied little gurgling noise as she did so. Scoops eyed him for a moment, then pointed the clicking-end of his pen at him and said, "What about the robo-pup?"

Becky looked down at her pet and said with some surprise, "Cuddlepie?"

"Yeah, he's amazing," Scoops offered, though he didn't sound all that amazed. "I mean, sure, you can get a toy dog at the store that'll bark and walk around and stuff, but Cuddlepie acts like an actual puppy. That's pretty groundbreaking if you ask me."

"Oh," Becky said, sounding a little torn herself. She stroked Cuddlepie's back and her smile looked a little wistful as she said, "Yeah, that's… that's a good point."

"Absolutely not!" Tobey insisted. "Cuddlepie was a gift. He's a special, unique robot between Becky and I who means a great deal to both of us and I intend to keep him that way! I won't stand to see him being mass-produced on some assembly line in a factory somewhere so that there can be thousands of him running around all over the place."

He folded his arms indignantly and looked once more to Becky, seeking approval of his stance. She looked a little surprised for a beat, but then smiled softly and hugged Cuddlepie to her chest. She didn't say anything, but she didn't need to. It was one of those rare moments when her actions spoke louder than her words.

"Okay, it was just a suggestion," Scoops said with an exasperated sigh. "No need to get all—"

"Whoa!" interrupted TJ's voice. "This game station really can play anything!"

So much for no more interruptions.

"Indeed," Tobey drawled. "So kindly pick something and get immersed in it so that we can finish our business undeterred."

"I wonder if it could play Super-Duper Bash Siblings? I've missed that game sooooo much!"

Tobey grumbled unintelligibly and put a hand over his face.

Bob piped up suddenly, clapping his hands and looking excited.

Becky translated, "Bob suggests the cleaning robot you made back when you were a villain."

Tobey cocked his head to one side. "You mean the Shipeshape-a-tron?"

Bob nodded, then held up his graph pad for everyone to see. He chirped and squeaked unintelligibly as he pointed at different parts of a quite impressive chart. When he stopped 'talking,' he turned expectantly to Becky, who looked a little overwhelmed as she began to translate.

"Uh… I don't think I can quite communicate everything Bob just said, but he was explaining that the industry for cleaning products is really huge and the market is always ready for a new gadget that saves time."

Tobey almost let his mouth drop open.

"Wow, Bob," Scoops complimented. "I had no idea you had such a good head for economics."

No joke, Tobey internally agreed. And to think the only reason he'd invited Bob to this meeting was because he didn't want him to feel left out.

Before Tobey could revel in the merit of Bob's suggestion, though, he remembered something that put a downer on the whole prospect.

"Um… one problem, though," he said. "The Shipeshape-a-tron isn't exactly… safe… just yet."

"What's unsafe about it?" Violet asked.

Becky smiled and knowingly said, "Still better at making messes than cleaning them, huh?"

"Um, not exactly," Tobey explained, scratching the side of his face. "I did do some work on it, but… well… let's just say the last time I powered it on to troubleshoot the bugs, it tried to wash my mother."

Everyone stared at him in silence.

"I… think it mistook her for a car," Tobey added.

More silence.

Finally Violet asked, "Was she… mad?"

Tobey shuddered. "I wasn't allowed to do any robotics work in the house for a month."

"O-kay," Scoops said, scritching something on his notepad, "I guess that's another idea for the 'later' pile."

Bob wilted with a sigh and flipped over the page on his pad.

"Oh, wow, this controller is the bomb!" TJ exclaimed.

"Yeah!" Johnson agreed. "I always thought this game was super-hard."

"Me too! I guess the buttons were just stupid."

Tobey frowned in their direction and patronizingly muttered, "Um, excuse me, children, but the grown-ups are trying to have an important conversation over here."

"Seriously! How are the controls so smooth?" TJ added, ignoring Tobey completely.

Tobey blasted, "The buttons are made of a superconductive alloy that makes them highly touch-sensitive, now pipe down!"

He sighed with a pointed roll of his eyes and pulled his miniature supercomputer out of his pocket.

"Whatcha doin'?" Scoops asked.

Tobey explained as he worked, "I'm setting up a reminder for myself to program remote access to the game station from my computer." He held the device up for Scoops to see. "I want to create a profile that periodically interrupts the game with an on-screen reminder to be quiet."

He glared pointedly over at the boys, but they were both completely absorbed in their game and paid him no mind.

Scoops suddenly grinned excitedly and said, "I've got it! Your computer!"

"What about my computer?" Tobey asked.

"Well, it's a computer!" Scoops unhelpfully clarified. "A computer that you can fit in your pocket," he added, even more unhelpfully. "Can you imagine what the market would be like for a gadget like that?" And, the third time was the charm.

"Huh," Tobey muttered, touching his chin and staring down at the little tool in his hand, considering the prospect.

"Hey, yeah!" Becky heartily agreed. "I bet lots of people would love to have a computer they could carry around with them everywhere!"

Violet reached over and lightly touched the side of Tobey's computer without trying to take it from him.

"This is a computer?" she asked. "I always thought it was an oddly-shaped cellular phone."

Tobey refrained from sighing. Violet was still Violet, after all. However much secret wisdom she harbored beneath her absent-minded exterior, she remained an airhead.

"Ooh! That gives me another idea!" Scoops exclaimed, bobbing up and down. "Could you program it with the ability to make phone calls?"

"Tobey smiled and shrugged. "Easily."

Scoops grinned once more. "You could do that and then market it as a phone!"

Tobey blinked and frowned. "Why would you do that?"

"Well, because some people are intimidated by computers, but everyone is familiar with phones. It would make it more palatable to the masses if they thought of it as a phone."

Bob nodded agreement, drawing up a new chart as they spoke.

Tobey held up his computer. "But… it's not a phone. It's a computer."

"Well, if it has the ability to make calls, then technically it could count as a phone. It would just be a phone that can do lots of other cool stuff, too! You could call it a 'superphone' or—something like that."

Tobey grimaced, making a conscious effort to look and sound as offended as possible. "Why would you make a device that is primarily a pocket-sized computer and call it a phone? That would be like making a time machine that you can strap to your wrist and calling it a watch."

"Okay, fine, forget the phone idea," Scoops said, waving off his own idea. "But I still think this thing has the potential to be a total goldmine. Just think about it!"

Tobey did think about it. For a moment. Then he sighed and said, "I don't disagree. I wouldn't have made it if I didn't think it would make my life easier—which it has—and I have no doubt it would be so for a great many intelligent people… Alas, most people are not very intelligent. I fear the world isn't ready for everyone to have a computer they can carry around in their pockets. It would create a toxic society of overly-dependent human drones perpetually glued to their computer screens."

Everyone looked at Tobey with mostly blank expressions, giving him the impression they didn't entirely agree, but they didn't argue, and Scoops once more graciously shrugged off his own idea.

"All right, Tobey. Do you have any ideas?"

Tobey opened his mouth, but once again, it was TJ's voice that filled the room.

"Omigosh, there's a dedicated cheat code engine!"

"Dedicated cheat code engine!" Johnson whooped.

"Do you two MIND?!" Tobey shouted indignantly over his shoulder at the little brothers. He was this close to confiscating his game station and leaving them to their boredom.

"What if you tried just selling your normal robots?" Violet suggested.

Tobey whipped his head around to face her, still wearing the angry face he'd turned on TJ and Johnson. She flinched a little, but made a valiant effort to explain. "B-Back when you entered one in that inventor's contest, you had a whole list of useful things they could do."

By this point Becky was shaking her head and making 'X' gestures, trying to silently signal Violet to stop, but it was too late. Tobey bit his lip as an even deeper affront soured his mood. He pointedly retained the scowl on his face, and paused a suspenseful moment before he responded.

"If you recall, Violet," he said through gritted teeth, "that particular invention failed to win said contest, and I highly doubt a machine that couldn't even beat an egg slicer would have any market potential whatsoever."

And with that, he folded his arms and glared sullenly at the floor.

If he was honest with himself—a quality he'd been trying to cultivate for a while—Tobey had to admit that he didn't seriously believe what he'd just said. He was just sulking. He didn't care how irrational it might seem to anyone else. That talent show was one of the worst humiliations of his young life, and he was loath to be reminded of it.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Becky signaling Violet to drop it, and he inwardly thanked her for it. He didn't like the idea of selling the designs for his standard-issue robots, anyway. Surely no one else but him could truly appreciate them. The 'contest which must not be spoken of' had made that quite clear.

He felt a smallish hand pat him roughly on the shoulder, and he suddenly heard the one voice that could have rattled his mood even more.

"Hey, Tobey," pestered TJ, "Where did you get that awesome game station? It might be the coolest thing I've ever touched!"

The compliment at least was a pleasant surprise, and it disarmed Tobey enough to earn TJ a civil response.

"I didn't 'get' it. I made it."

Well… mostly civil.

TJ's mouth fell open. "No way… You made it?"

"Indeed." Tobey couldn't resist adding, "If you'd been paying attention to what we've been saying rather than taking every opportunity to interrupt, you'd already know that."

TJ slumped, looking disappointed. "Aw man… You can't buy them? I woulda paid a year of allowance for one of those things."

With that, TJ morosely wandered back to the corner where Johnson was waiting for him. He affectionately stroked the game station and dramatically murmured, "Goodbye, sweet, sweet game station. Our time together was short, but I will never forget you."

Tobey watched them for a moment, thinking about TJ's words. How did the old saying go? 'Sometimes the hardest things to find are right under your nose?'

"Tobey?" Becky asked. "What's up?"

He didn't answer her at first. By the time Scoops and Violet asked him what was wrong, a light bulb had turned on in his head. He turned to his brainstorming team with a gleam in his eye and a grin on his face.

« « « « « ж » » » » »

There was a knock at the door, and TJ automatically called out, "Come in," without looking up from his homework. The door opened, and he waited to hear who would speak up. He expected it to be Mom wanting his opinion on a campaign poster or Becky wanting to complain about the soda stain on the cover of one of her books (he'd been hoping she wouldn't notice).

To TJ's surprise, the voice that spoke up was a guy's, and it definitely wasn't Dad's. "Salutations, TJ."

TJ spun in his chair, then gave Tobey the obligatory flat stare due to his 'sister's boyfriend' status and dryly muttered, "Oh… hey."

To his own surprise, TJ actually hadn't recognized Tobey's voice right away. A while back, for reasons TJ couldn't even guess at, Tobey had decided to start speaking without his fake accent around TJ—some of the time. He still used it a lot of the time, so TJ still wasn't quite used to how he sounded without it.

Tobey flashed a self-satisfied smile and hefted a large cardboard box in his arms. "I'm here to drop off an early birthday present."

TJ felt a little jolt of interest, but kept his tone neutral as he pointed out, "My birthday was like a month ago."

"Well!" Tobey laughed. "A very early birthday present!" He sighed and stared off into space as he mused, "Honestly, I don't know how I manage being so punctual all the time."

He shot TJ a victorious grin, and TJ smirked and gave his head a playful shake. He'd let Tobey have this one—so long as the gift was decent. He didn't have much hope of that, but… it was a pretty big box.

Tobey approached TJ and set the package on the bed beside him. TJ looked it over, trying to hide the burning curiosity he felt. With a sigh, he grabbed a pair of scissors from his desk and started cutting away at the layers upon layers of packing tape sealing the brown box. As he struggled with a stubborn snarl of tape in one corner he pointedly grumbled, "What a lovely wrapping job you did."

"Why, thank you," Tobey replied.

TJ rolled his eyes, pulling open the cardboard flaps of the box as they finally came free. This had better be one good—

He froze. No way…

"No way!" he exclaimed. "Your game station?!"

"Your game station," Tobey corrected.

TJ looked at Tobey like he was Santa Claus. Amazed, he couldn't help murmuring, "So… You're really giving me your one-of-a-kind universal game station?"

Tobey grinned, looking proud of himself as he explained, "Well, it's not technically one-of-a-kind anymore. This, my dear boy, is a prototype."

He closed his eyes and pinched the sides of his collar. TJ had no idea why he sometimes did that, but at this moment, he could not possibly care less.

"What do you mean it's a prototype?"

Tobey smiled and said with his finger in the air, "A prototype is a preliminary model of an invention from which other forms are to be developed or copied."

TJ's eyes went wide. "So you're saying you're going to make more of these?!"

"That's the plan," Tobey made a slight bow and said with formal, almost royal flair, "And if you're willing, I hope you'll do me the honor of being one of my beta testers."

TJ blinked, and his lips slowly stretched into a smile so wide it almost hurt. He got to be a beta tester for the coolest new game system he'd ever seen?! Tobey had just instantly jumped up at least ten spaces on his list of favorite people.

"You mean it?" he exclaimed, holding up his fists by his chin like a giddy little girl.

"That's a yes, then?" Tobey said.

"YES!" TJ practically shouted. He grabbed Tobey's hand and shook it vigorously for a few seconds as he excitedly babbled, "Omigosh! Thank you so much! I'm so happy right now, you have no idea! Ican'twaittoplayandI'mgonnagodothatrightnow,bye!"

"Hold on!" Tobey called after TJ as he grabbed the box and bolted for the door. "There's a letter—"

"I'll read it later, thanks, see ya!" TJ called over his shoulder without stopping.

TJ dashed downstairs to the TV and had it all hooked up within minutes. He eagerly opened it up to put in the disc of his favorite game from when he was little. He hadn't been able to play Super-Duper Bash Siblings since their old system broke six years ago. His six-year-old self had been devastated to learn that the systems were no longer made.

In the back of his mind TJ was aware of steps on the stairs, and he heard Tobey's voice moving through the living room behind him.

"Well, I'll leave you to it, then," he said. "Carry on, have fun, leave me a nice review and all that. Toodle-oo!"

"See ya," TJ replied automatically.

He heard the door shut, but only barely registered that Tobey had left. He was way too excited as he gaped at the startup screen with a controller tightly gripped in his hands and a wide smile plastered across his face. He felt so happy. So grateful! He could hug Tobey. He couldn't wait to—

The system beeped, and a message came up on the screen.

To proceed, please acknowledge that you have read the letter accompanying your new game station and have agreed to all the terms and conditions stated therein.

TJ blinked, dumbstruck. At the bottom of the screen was a button with the text, 'I have read the letter, and I agree to all conditions.' There didn't appear to be anything else he could do until he selected that button.

TJ's smile flatlined. Suddenly he felt a little less grateful than he had two minutes ago.

Technically there was nothing stopping him from just pushing the button without reading the letter. That was what he did with every other terms and conditions agreement that had been shoved in his face. But… this was Tobey. Did he really want to sign a contract to Tobey that he hadn't read yet?

No. He most certainly did not.

Heaving an annoyed sigh, TJ put down his controller and dug around inside the box until he found a small envelope mixed up with all the packing peanuts. He opened it up, and he was immediately surprised at how short it was. He'd half expected pages and pages of rules that would make him second guess whether the game station was worth the commitment.

Dear TJ,

We've had our ups and downs, haven't we? It's hard for me to tell sometimes what you think of me, but I want you to know that I do value your good opinion and I do, for the most part, think quite well of you. You've shown yourself to be an intelligent boy who cares for his family and isn't afraid to stand up for himself. Those are traits I admire, even if I complain most of the times you show them.

But enough with the sappy stuff. It's because I think you intelligent and value your opinion that I would like your input as I develop this game system for a commercial release. I'm not ashamed to admit that you're far more familiar with video games than I am and thus I believe you will have invaluable insight into aspects of the gaming experience that go beyond the technical capabilities of the console. You certainly made some perceptive observations when you were playing in my room the other day, though I sadly didn't appreciate them in the moment.

Know that the prototype is a true gift and you are free to keep it even if you don't agree to work with me. If you do agree, give me a call when you've gotten settled in with your system and we can start talking about the logistics of the testing process. I never thought I would say this, but I look forward to working with you in the future.

Sincerely, TTM

TJ smiled. There hadn't even been any conditions. With an exasperated chuckle, he returned to the television and selected the 'I have read the letter' button. Super-Duper Bash Siblings loaded up without a hitch, and he felt a spark of nostalgic joy that he hadn't felt in years.

He never thought he'd say it, either, but in spite of all expectation… he was also looking forward to working with Tobey.

« ... »

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

Prov 16:9


Author's Notes:

And boy, are there a lot of 'em this time. *_*

- Paint the Moon— This is a reference to a true story from a book I read recently called Real Artists Don't Starve. It said that one of the astronauts from the space program who actually walked on the moon decided to quit NASA and become a painter. He then became the only person ever to paint the the moon after having actually been there. I'm not sure what Violet means by this reference, but I thought it would be cool if she got inspired by that astronaut story and then used 'painting the moon' as a metaphor for something new she wants to try in her life. I hope I'll have the chance to explore that in a future oneshot. :)

- Cuddlepie— For those who haven't read my chapterfic Time to Go Home, Cuddlepie is a robot dog that Tobey built and later gave to Becky as a goodbye present. She affectionately named it 'Cuddlepie.' :3

- Johnson is Violet's Brother?!— Okay, so this isn't exactly canon, but it's a theory I read on Johnson's page of the WordGirl wiki, and I thought the evidence for it was strong enough that I decided to accept it as headcanon. :) Also, I just want to say how happy I am that Johnson was finally able to make an appearance in one of my fanfics. XD He's such an adorable little guy and yet he almost never seems to show up in fanfiction for some reason. :S

- Shopping Flashbacks— The mention of Tobey remembering trips to the store with his mother is based on the episode Department Store Tobey in which he is stuck on one such trip with his mom. He expresses great frustration at how long she's taking, saying he thinks she's trying on the whole store. :P

- "A Challenge From Becky"— If anyone doesn't remember what Tobey is talking about with Becky challenging him to build a game station, I invite you to re-read the beginning of the oneshot for 'B.' :)

- "another faceless corporate venture"— I guess I should just admit that I ripped this clever string of words from an episode of Invader Zim called Tak: The Hideous New Girl. The original line was, "All they see is another faceless corporate venture. Not a plan for world conquest," and the following response was, "Wait. Is there really a difference?" XP

- Bob's Economic Prowess— There's an episode of the show that establishes this, though for the life of me I can't remember which one… :{ Perchance does anyone remember? There was a running joke where he would pull out a bunch of super-detailed charts and go off on some complicated explanation that you couldn't understand because he was speaking space-monkey. :}

- Set in the 90's— For anyone who doesn't know or remember, my headcanon is that WordGirl is set in the 90's, hence smartphones not really being a thing yet. The fourth-wall-breaky reference to smartphones was kind of in honor of my little brother, who has always thought it's dumb that smartphones are called 'smartphones' when they're clearly pocket-sized computers. It was fun and fortuitously in character to project him on Tobey with respect to that pet peeve. :P

- Lost to an Egg Slicer— Tobey's sulking about this is a reference to the episode Tobey Goes Good, in which Tobey's robot lost to an 'invention' Becky and Violet made which was basically a glorified egg slicer. Needless to say, he was very upset about it.

- Talking to TJ Without an Accent— In my little headcanon universe I've been building since Saving Tobey, Tobey has been gradually becoming more comfortable with his normal voice and letting more people into his inner circle of people who he'll talk to without his fake British accent—a circle which, in the show, only included his mom. It started with Becky requesting he use his normal voice in my oneshot The Real McCallister. Then about a year later in Badinage (earlier in this fic), Becky's dad requested his genuine voice as well, and Tobey proactively extended that to Becky's whole family in an effort to build trust with them.

- Dyson Sphere— If you're curious about this, I recommend checking out the awesome Kurzgesagt video on Youtube entitled, "How to Build a Dyson Sphere."