4:30 PM on every other Friday afternoon, Vanessa Doofenshmirtz had to kiss reality goodbye for a few days.
She was used to it. She accepted it. That didn't mean she ever really looked forward to it.
"Oh, Vanessa, stop that pouting," her mother chided her, glancing at her sidelong for a second before directing her attention back to the road, her hands firmly grasping the steering wheel. "You're playing it up and you know it."
Vanessa sighed. Yes, her weekends with her father weren't completely unbearable, but… "Sorry, Mom, but I just can't get too worked up when I wonder what evil scheme I'm gonna have to put with this time."
"Don't start that again," Charlene sighed, more wearily than chiding, clearly growing fatigued of this line of conversation. "Your father is not evil."
They pulled up to the oddly shaped skyscraper, and Vanessa wryly motioned towards the official corporate lettering over the front door. "'Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated', Mom?" she asked sardonically.
Charlene just shrugged at that. "He's always had an odd sense of humor."
Vanessa sighed. "Okay, look, fine, I give up." She opened the passenger door and stepped out of the car. "If you're blind to the most obvious thing—"
"Better than being overly disagreeable to every little thing," Charlene said dryly, raising an eyebrow at her daughter.
"I'm a teenager," Vanessa protested. "Don't I have the right to be moody?"
"Not twenty-four seven." Charlene finally gave Vanessa a knowing smirk. "Of course, though, it seems after every time I pick you up from your dad's, you're a lot more enlivened than you were when I dropped you off."
Vanessa snorted awkwardly, not having a snarky reply ready for that.
"Have a good weekend, honey," said Charlene fondly. "I'll see you on Sunday."
"Yeah, see you." Vanessa smiled slightly as well and closed the car door. Her mother drove off.
Turning back to face DEI, however, her smile vanished in annoyance. Groaning slightly, she pushed open the front door and made her way to the elevator, posters proclaiming "PRAISE EVIL!" and "HAVE YOU BEEN DIABOLICAL TODAY?" looming over her all the while. She was glad to enclose herself in the elevator cab. At least he didn't hang up evil posters in there, too.
As the cab swiftly began to transport her to the twenty-eighth floor, Vanessa could feel, much to her annoyance, that her moodiness was returning and thus proving her mother right. But then again… why shouldn't she be annoyed every time she was deposited at this ridiculous second abode of hers? So what's it gonna be this weekend, Dad? What ridiculous evil scheme are you concocting that's gonna right whatever miniscule wrong has been heaped upon you? How many minutes will it take you to fail? And how many YEARS will it take you to realize that you'll ALWAYS fail?
She sighed slightly, her shoulders slacking, and she guiltily ran a hand through her hair.
Way to be a jerk, Vanessa.
Her mother was right, she hated to admit. She did play things up a lot… especially her general annoyance level at, well, everything. She was a moody teenager, after all. And moody teenagers do not get excited at the prospect of spending the weekend with their fathers, even those with relatively normal fathers—let alone those with evil scientist fathers. It wasn't that she disliked him, or even disliked spending time with him. It was just… well, maybe this weekend he wouldn't be so completely wrapped up in his idiotic evil schemes for once.
Yeah. She could dream.
The elevator finally reached the uppermost floor, and as Vanessa stepped out of the cab, she could tell that her hopes for a more normal weekend were already dashed. The whirring and buzzing of high-tech machinery greeted her ears, and it was probably only providence in her timing that accounted for the lack of evil laughter to accompany the sounds she did hear.
Retreat now, while she still had the chance?
No, no point in that. Whatever it was he was doing, she was going to have to deal with it eventually anyway, so why bother prolonging the inevitable?
"Dad?" she called out, loudly enough in an attempt to be heard over the noises of evil ingenuity. "Dad, I'm here! What are you—"
But just as she was about to step into the main room, the "evil-lair" as it were, her father shot to the doorway in alarm, obstructing her view. "Vanessa! I wasn't expecting you here so soon—"
"What are you doing?"
"Can't—can't tell you that!" Doofenshmirtz was grinning nervously as he quickly pushed Vanessa away from the doorway, Vanessa not returning a grin of any kind. "I don't want to ruin the surprise!"
"Surprise? Dad, what are you—"
"It's a surprise! I can't tell you!" Doofenshmirtz had pushed Vanessa all the way down the hallway and to her bedroom. "Now you wait in your room and don't peek! I'll come get you when it's done!" All the nervousness was gone from his voice, and he let out a squee of excitement. "You are going to love this!"
Vanessa placed a hand on the doorknob, staring at her father incredulously. "Uh, yeah, I'd better," she finally said in a low voice before turning the knob and entering her room.
"Remember! No peeking!" cried Doofenshmirtz excitedly before rushing back to his lair.
Vanessa groaned, all hopes for a reasonable weekend with her father completely shot down. Any time he was that excited about something was never a good sign. And she had long ago learned to not get her hopes up when he said he had a surprise for her. More often than not, she would wind up simply wishing he hadn't.
She flopped on her bed and pulled her MP3 player from her pocket, placing the headphone buds in her ears with the dual purpose of listening to some music and completely blocking out the sounds of whatever-the-heck was going to "surprise" her. Hopefully it wasn't too over-the-top… or embarrassing…
Oh, who was she fooling?
Whatever it was he was working on, it was going to be something lame. Or ridiculous. Or stupidly evil. Probably all three at once. An odd combination of qualities to have, but count on her dad to be able to pull it off. So now the conundrum—fake being happy at whatever it was she was going to get to avoid hurting his feelings? Show her true aggravation, hold nothing back, discouraging this behavior from him while at the same time crushing his spirit? Just bust in right now and stop him before he finishes?
She was so deep in thought, and her music was turned up so loudly, that she almost didn't hear her cell phone ringing.
Quickly pausing her music, she fumbled through her pockets until finally finding and whipping out her cell, taking a quick glance at caller ID before answering the call. It was her boyfriend. "Hey, Johnny."
"Hey Vanessa. What's up?"
"Ugh." Vanessa mentally gave herself a pat on the back; that was one of her better grunts of annoyance. "I'm at my dad's, trying to prepare myself for a weekend of utter insanity."
"Sounds fun," said Johnny sincerely.
Vanessa sighed. "You're cute when you're delusional."
"Well, if you don't wanna spend time with your dad, a bunch of us were gonna head over to the Super Duper Mega Superstore and play Rock Hero until they kick us out, and then maybe go to the Laser Tag Emporium after grabbing a bite to eat somewhere. Wanna come?"
Vanessa's eyes brightened. "Heck yeah I do!"
A mechanical CLANK and an evil laugh from the main room suddenly brought her back to her wacky reality.
Her shoulders sagged, and she rolled over on her back. "Maybe you'd better pencil me in for later. I'd probably better hang around here and figure out what Dad's doing before I make my escape."
"So once you find out what he's doing, then you'll shoot outta there?"
"Like a bat outta hell."
"Sweet. We'll meet up with you later then, okay? Gimme a call when you bust outta there."
"Alright. See ya later."
They both disconnected the line simultaneously. Vanessa heaved another sigh, still lying on her back and staring up at the ceiling, lost in thought, making no movement for her MP3 player.
Thank God for that invite. At least now I have something to look forward to.
…Yeah, a convenient escape route, you JERK. Isn't this exactly what you did LAST time you were at Dad's? Just ditch him practically the moment you arrive?
Vanessa closed her eyes, tensing up. He embarrassed me, and he'll embarrass me again, and why the hell would I stay here anyway?
He embarrassed you, right. By just doing what you asked him to.
Vanessa turned her head but kept her eyes closed, huffing in irritation. Her argumentative subconscious did have a point, after all. He was going out to the store to buy a few things, he asked her if she needed anything, she asked him to pick up some tampons… and that he did.
But he didn't need to ANNOUNCE it to everyone, dammit!
Maybe, but maybe YOU didn't need to blow up at him and walk out on him.
Vanessa groaned in remorse, her eyes still closed. Truth was, she had felt guilty about her overreaction the moment it happened, and this entire two weeks she had considered calling him, or even just texting him an apology… but the more time went by, the more she let it slide, the more she felt that any apology would have felt jilted and insincere. What to say? What to do? Who cared?
…She cared, obviously. She was still feeling guilty over this.
And your way of apologizing is to run out on him again. Yeah, that'll really make things better.
Vanessa turned her head back to facing the ceiling, her eyes flying open in determination. There's nothing wrong with making plans with my friends. And this time I'll tell him where I'm going. And I won't leave in a snit, and I'll come back at a reasonable hour. It'll be completely different this time.
She slowly rolled her head over to face her closed door, still hearing the sounds of evil creation, and her determination gave way to wariness.
What the hell IS he doing in there, anyway?
She groaned again, sliding her ear buds back in and turning her music back on.
I'll let him finish. I don't mind waiting for my disappointment. Maybe it'll be less of a letdown that way.
Although maybe, maybe he actually IS making me something that I actually WANT—
—and that line of thinking would only ultimately disappoint her even further. Her dad was about as good at picking up hints as a bowling ball. No, actually, the bowling ball probably had the advantage over him in this case.
Whatever it is he's making in there, it's obviously something big.
And probably stupid and evil.
Sighing, Vanessa sat up in defeat, pulling her ear buds away from her ears yet again. The suspense was killing her. On second thought, she did mind waiting for her disappointment. Why prolong the inevitable?
She slid off her bed, pushed open her bedroom door, and slowly made her way down the hallway. The mechanical whirring had died down, she noted, and—
"Aha! It's finished! Mi finis ĝin!"
Vanessa stropped in her tracks, trying to figure out not only what "it" was, but also what language he had just spoken, but she only had a second to do so before her father burst out of the main room and to the hallway.
Vanessa blinked. "Dare I ask—"
"Vanessa!" Doofenshmirtz grasped her by the upper arms excitedly. "Mi finis vian donacon! —I, I mean, I have finished your gift! I have been working on it all week long, although I should have finished this long before now—I hope you can forgive me, sweetie, this is too far overdue—"
"Dad? What on earth are you talking about?"
"I've finally made something for you, something that I promised you years and years ago!"
Vanessa stared in befuddlement. "Uh…" Well, it sure wasn't a car, then.
"Come on!" Doofenshmirtz eagerly led a still perplexed Vanessa down the hallway, still grinning like a little kid on Christmas morning. "I'm finally fulfilling my promise to you! And it's my best work, too, if I do say so myself!"
In no time at all, they were at the other end of the hallway, and Doofenshmirtz, still squealing with delight, zipped into the room and gleefully motioned to the fruit of his labor. "Behold! The Little-Brother-Inator!"
Vanessa nearly shrieked in horror.
It was a baby, a robot baby, a robot that you could vaguely tell was a robot but still looked so realistic that it was downright creepy. It made no movements, simply staring at Vanessa coldly, like a frozen corpse, its unblinking, plastic eyes boring into her soul.
"Well?" Doofenshmirtz asked, beaming with pride and joy. "What do you think?"
Vanessa couldn't get her mouth to work.
"And the best part is, he's fully programmable!" Doofenshmirtz quickly added, grabbing the robot baby and flipping open a control panel on the back of his neck. "If you want him to spit up and poop his pants like a real baby brother you can have that, but if you'd rather him just be clean and cuddly you can do that too! And he has forty-nine lifelike expressions and an eight-outfit wardrobe—don't worry, I'll be adding to it soon! And in case you're worried about the robotic takeover apocalypse that people like to prophesize about, don't be! There's a complicated sequence built in to shut him down! Complicated because I didn't want anyone doing it on accident, but I do have it memorized—and no no, don't say it, you're worried that I'll forget it, but never fear, even if I do, I wrote it down!" He held up a pamphlet. "And to further ensure the safety of your little brother, I wrote the instructions in Esperanto! Only I will be able to read them! Ĉi tiu bebo vivos!"
Vanessa continued to stare dumbly.
"Here, hold him!" Doofenshmirtz proudly thrust the robot baby into Vanessa's arms. "He's your baby brother! Are you developing a bond with him yet?"
The robot baby suddenly jerked an arm forward. Vanessa recoiled, gingerly holding it out at arms' length.
"That means he likes you! Of course he does, you're his big sister! Well?" Doofenshmirtz still looked like a kindergartener who'd just won a trip to a candy factory. "What do you think?"
Vanessa continued to stare incredulously at the robot, which was blinking unnaturally back at her.
"Dad… what the hell is this?" she finally managed to ask.
Doofenshmirtz looked surprised that she had even had to ask. "He's your baby brother… inator, of course! I promised you a little brother twelve years ago! You wanted one so bad… it never quite happened back then… but now, finally, I have fulfilled my promise!" He continued to look at her eagerly and expectedly, but now with a twinge of nervousness as well. "He's up to par, right? If you wanted a different-looking baby brother I can adjust this one…"
Vanessa almost felt touched at this ridiculous gesture of her dad trying to give her something she'd never had…
"You made me a creepy robot?" she spat out in disbelief.
"He's not creepy!" Doofenshmirtz protested. "Well, okay, maybe he's a little creepy by nature of being one of my evil inventions, but he's also adorable by nature of being your—"
"Dad, it's creepy, it's creepy and what makes you think I want a—"
"He's not an it! He's a he! And be careful with him, you'll—"
Vanessa abruptly and disdainfully deposited the robot on the ground, making a satisfying thud but unfortunately not seeming to do any damage to it.
"You DROPPED him!" Doofenshmirtz shrieked in horror. "You dropped your poor, defenseless baby brother on his head! And it almost looked intended, too—"
"It was intended!" Vanessa snapped.
"Alright, that's it!" Doofenshmirtz's patience with his daughter had finally snapped. "You are grounded! You're grounded unless you apologize to your brother right this instant!"
"Are you kidding me? You're grounding me because I dropped a stupid robot?"
"He's NOT a robot, he's your BROTHER! Now APOLOGIZE!"
"This thing is not my brother! Or if it is, does that mean that every other stupid machine you've ever built is my sibling, too?"
"Alright, now you're just being purposely unreasonable and difficult—"
"Better than obliviously unreasonable and difficult like you are twenty-four seven! I'm not hanging around, you can't ground me for something like this, I'm going out with fr—" Turning around to storm out the door, Vanessa nearly tripped over the dumbfounded platypus that neither she nor her father had noticed come in. "Perry, thank goodness, you deal with him—"
"Perry the Platypus!" Doofenshmirtz brought a hand to his face in complete aggravation. "As usual, your timing is impeccable, and by impeccable I mean terrible! Go away! I'm not doing anything evil today, as difficult as that is to fathom—"
"Nothing evil, but it's still stupid like always," Vanessa snapped.
"Vanessa! If you apologize right now we can forget this whole thing ever—wait, where are you going?"
"I told you, I'm going out with some friends, I'll be back at a reasonable hour, yadda yadda—"
"You're not going anywhere, young lady! You're grounded!"
"Bye." Vanessa calmly stepped over Perry and our the door.
"What part of 'grounded' don't you understand? Get back here! S—stop her, Perry the Platypus!"
Vanessa whipped back into the room for a quick second to point an accusing finger at her father and throw a demanding glare at a still utterly befuddled Perry. "Thwart him, Perry the Platypus!"
"No! Don't thwart me! You have no reason to thwart me! I'M NOT DOING ANYTHING EVIL! NOR AM I BEING UNREASONABLE AND DISOBEYING MY FATHER, UNLIKE SOMEONE ELSE I COULD NAME! Thwart HER! VANESSA! COME BACK HERE RIGHT NOW!"
But Vanessa had already made it to the elevator, pulling out her phone and quickly dialing Johnny. "Johnny?" she said as soon as he picked up. "Are you at the Super Duper Mega Superstore yet?"
"Yeah, we just got here."
"Awesome. I'll see you in a bit."
The elevator doors shut, and in a finishing touch of defiance, Vanessa turned her phone off.
They played Rock Hero for two straight hours before management finally threw them out—for the third time in a month. They gorged themselves on barbeque chicken wings at the food court while laughing over ridiculous, embarrassing shared memories. They virtually killed each other thirty-six virtual times at the virtual laser tag arena.
Vanessa couldn't enjoy herself.
She felt sick, sick to her stomach, sick to her brain, sick to her heart, at every lighthearted laugh of her friends, at every buzz of their cell phones with an incoming text message or email that only serrated the reminder that were her phone still on, it would be undoubtedly be ringing constantly, every single call being placed by her irate (and possibly panicked) father.
"Vanessa? Are you okay?" her best friend, Lacey, asked her after the group's thirty-sixth round of laser tag (which Lance won, as usual).
Vanessa quickly forced a smile. "Yeah, of course."
Lacey bit her lip. "You've looked really distracted all night. Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure," Vanessa snapped, her eyes narrowing. "What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?"
"Nobody expects it!" Lance interjected gleefully.
But Johnny, like Lacey, wasn't joking around. "You haven't really looked like you've been having fun at all tonight, Vanessa."
"God dammit," Vanessa growled, "how can I have fun when you're harping on me like this?"
"Ness, we haven't been harping on you at all," Lacey pointed out with worry. "This is the first time tonight we've said anything."
"Five minutes til closing!" a voice reverberated through the laser tag room.
"Good timing… I suppose…" Lacey fidgeted uncertainly. "So, uh, it's five till one, what should we do—"
"It's late," Johnny interrupted. "I'm kinda beat. I'm heading home. Do you need a ride, Vanessa? I can drop you off at your place."
"Yeah." Vanessa warily rubbed at her eyes. "I'm at my dad's, remember."
"That's cool. You'll just have to tell me where it is."
"Don't worry, it's pretty conspicuous." What the hell was she doing? It would be so much easier to spend the night at Lacey's… and be kept up all night by her mindless chatter and her own guilt. Or at Johnny's. Yeah, putting a teenage boy and teenage girl under the same roof overnight, that was always a safe option. Maybe she could retract and insist instead that she was at her mom's like usual tonight—but of course, her mom would ask questions as to why she was there instead of at her dad's like she was supposed to be, heck she might even be asking questions now because for all she knew her dad had called her mom and ratted her out, and… and she was going to have to face the music eventually. Maybe she could sneak in without her dad knowing and avoid an angry late-night lecture. Yeah. Maybe he was already asleep. It was nearly one AM, after all. Like he would stay up this late.
Yeah. She could dream. She knew already that he likely was not only still up searching and waiting for her, but probably had search lights out.
"Just tell me where to go." And Johnny, ever the gentleman (that was one of the many things Vanessa liked about him), took her by the hand and led her out to his car.
Yeah. Figures Johnny would have a car. Neither of Vanessa's parents thought she was responsible enough to have a car. And running out without telling where she was going and shutting her phone completely off to ignore angry inquiries and demands to return wasn't going to earn her any points on the responsibility checklist.
She stared blankly out the window and said nothing throughout the ride other than where to turn, and Johnny said nothing in return, letting her have her silence.
He grew more and more confused, however, as Vanessa's instructions led him straight in the center of town, in the commercial district. "Stop right here," she finally said. "This is it."
Johnny craned his neck and looked up incredulously at Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated, the most conspicuous building in all of Danville. "Whoa… I never realized you were this Doofenshmirtz."
Vanessa rolled her eyes as she opened the door. "You know, it's not a very common name."
"I guess I assumed you were the same Doofenshmirtz as the mayor."
"I'm that, too. He's my uncle."
"Oh." Johnny still couldn't take his eyes off the skyscraper. "So… is your dad really evil, then?"
Vanessa sighed. "So he says."
"Cool," said Johnny, impressed.
"No, not really."
"So what did he do today that got you all pissed and moody?"
"I am not pissed and moody!" Vanessa retaliated harshly.
Johnny snorted. "Right. You're the queen of cheerfulness and goodwill."
Vanessa sighed tiredly. "Look, he was being an idiot like always, okay? He made me some robot, and—"
"You ditched your dad because he built you a robot? Dude. I wish my dad could make me a robot. He can't even make a grilled cheese sandwich. Your dad's really cool, Vanessa. I don't get why you keep ditching him."
Neither do I. "Look, knock it off, alright? You don't understand."
"Obviously not." He smiled wanly at her as she stepped out of the car. "So, see you later… or is your dad gonna ground your ass?"
"He already grounded my ass, but that didn't stop me," Vanessa huffed.
"Hey, don't push your luck. If he can build robots he can probably build some sort of force field around this place that'll keep you stuck here."
Vanessa gulped. Strangely, she hadn't even thought of that, even though he was absolutely right. "Uh, yeah, good point… anyway, see ya. Thanks for the ride." She closed the car door as carefully and quietly as possible.
Johnny smiled at her one more time before driving off. Vanessa stalled until his car turned a corner and she could no longer see it before swallowing nervously again and turning back to DEI.
Well. No searchlights, at least. That was a good sign.
Still, though, she took no chances. Pressing herself against the wall as quickly as she could, she carefully and quietly pushed the door open and slunk inside, tiptoeing to the elevator as silently as her boots would allow it.
The elevator! Like all elevators, it dinged upon arrival at each floor. Loudly.
Even if Vanessa was lucky enough that her dad wasn't still up waiting for her, those dings would surely announce her arrival anyway. And if he was still awake—which he most likely was—he'd no doubt be waiting by the elevator, ready to berate her the instant the doors opened…
Vanessa turned her head to the left, where the stairway was.
She groaned inwardly at the thought. I am NOT walking up twenty-eight flights of stairs.
She looked again at the elevator.
And then at the stairs.
In the end, she compromised, riding the elevator up to the twenty-second floor and reverting to the stairs for the remaining six levels. Her mental and physical exhaustion made even that nearly too much to handle, but she didn't to risk the sound of the elevator getting any closer.
Grace's dad lives on the ninth floor of a condo building. But noooooo, just nine floors would be waaaaay too easy for MY dad…
After what seemed like a lifetime, Vanessa finally made it to the final floor. Taking a minute to both catch her breath and press her ear against the door connecting the stairwell to the main hall, she breathed as deeply and quietly as she could, listening for any sounds of movement.
Vanessa drew in a final deep breath, and ever so carefully, turned the handle of the door and pushed it open a crack.
She pushed it open a little more.
Still with all the caution she could muster, she slowly creaked the door fully open and nervously looked about without moving any part of her body into the hallway. The lights were on, but this was a corporate building, after all; they were always on. And other than that…
She slowly raised one foot of the ground, cautiously stepped out of the doorway, and—
WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP!
"AAAAHHH!" Vanessa yelped in shock, nearly stumbling back into the stairwell, her hands pressed against her ears.
Of course, the alarm brought her dad to the hallway in about a nanosecond, and of course he was still up, and even still in his lab coat like usual, she was crazy to think she could have snuck past him—"A-HA! So the—" Doofenshmirtz stopped himself, seeming to realize that he couldn't be heard over the still blaring alarm, and quickly and irately smacked a button on the wall that was labeled "Ungodly-and-Obscenely-Loud-Alarm-Inator Switch!" The alarm was instantly silenced, but the room was far from it, for Doofenshmirtz was picking right back up where he left off. "So the prodigal daughter finally returns!"
"God," groaned Vanessa, still clutching at her ears, "do you want me to go deaf?"
"Where were you? It's way past your curfew and besides, you're GROUNDED—"
"I told you," Vanessa muttered wearily, "I was out with friends. That's it. I made plans with them way before you made that robot anyway—"
"Show a little compassion for your little brother!" Doofenshmirtz was suddenly pushing Vanessa to the main lair. "See what has happened to him thanks to your utter lack of concern!"
Vanessa looked at the robot, slumped on the floor, the same creepy, lifeless eyes as before staring back at her. It looked to be completely unbroken.
"He looks about the same to me," she sighed impatiently.
"He's been deactivated! Because his ungrateful older sister wasn't around to protect him! As soon as you stormed out I ran after you, but once the elevator doors shut I knew you were long gone and there was no way of me catching up with you since it takes the cab so long to move between floors, by the time it would have gotten back up here you could have made it to Singapore for all I know—so instead I just started ranting and raving to Perry the Platypus, like I always do about everything since he's about the only person who doesn't walk out on me and he's not even a PERSON at all! So I related the whole story to him, I turn around to look for him, and what do you suppose he's done? He's switched off the Little-Brother-Inator! Can you believe that guy knows Esperanto? Malbenon vin, Perry la Ornitorinko!"
Vanessa continued to stare at the robot, not wanting to look at her father at the moment. "So why are you blaming me for this, then?"
"Because he's your brother! You should have been watching him!"
"He's your creation! Why weren't you watching him?"
"I made him for you!" Doofenshmirtz shrieked, wildly motioning to the small, unmoving robot, Vanessa now unable to avoid looking at him. "He's your responsibility!"
"I didn't ask you for this stupid responsibility! What possibly possessed you to think that I wanted some soulless little doll that's even more creepy than that doll I had to lug around for a week in my parenting prep class last year?"
"It's because—" Doofenshmirtz suddenly stared at Vanessa in utter shock. "You took a parenting prep class?" And now his shock was mixed back in with his anger. "Is there something you need to tell me?"
Vanessa groaned and rolled her eyes. "Only that I took it because it was an easy A! Lots of people take it who'll probably never procreate in their lives! And by the looks of things, I might be one of them! You obliterate my social life by grounding me over stupid friggin' robots, and even when I can get out of the house you embarrass me at every turn—"
"Don't take that tone with me!"
"You're ruining my life! And I h—"
She stopped herself there, the ugly words cut short, her throat frozen and her limbs shaking from shock that she had actually nearly said it.
Had he continued to yell at her after that, her tongue might have loosened back up as quickly as it froze. But he didn't. He glared at her, seething, actually towering over her in one of the only times Vanessa had ever seen him not slouching, and for the first time in her life she was scared of her father. "Go on," he dared her in a low voice. "Say it!"
"Y-y-you—" She couldn't say it, not blurted out and certainly not with intent. "You want me to say it, don't you? Y-you spend all your life trying to be this ultra villain that everyone hates, and no one even cares enough to know you exist! And when the only person who has any reason to hate you is your own teenage—"
"You know NOTHING of hating your parents!" Doofenshmirtz cried out in anger. "NOTHING!"
Now Vanessa's tongue was completely frozen.
She had heard, of course, some of her father's dramatic and over-the-top tales of his childhood, whenever she had the misfortune to be around when he was relating one to Perry the Platypus in order to somehow explain the day's newest inator. But she had always brushed them off, assuming that he was making the stories up (or at the very least exaggerating them) in order to play up the drama like the ham that he was. No one could have an upbringing that was that horrific.
But suddenly, in that moment, she knew that everything he had ever said about his childhood was completely and one hundred percent true.
Vanessa tried to regain her composure, but her arms were now trembling so much that she was afraid they might completely shake and fall off her body. And Doofenshmirtz was still shaking too, with anger, but as he continued to glare at Vanessa his glare melted into guilt and shame, and he took a couple of deep, slow breaths to calm himself. Vanessa's trembling subsided a bit as well, still frightened but no longer of him. He won't hurt me. Of course he won't hurt me. Because he's right.
I know nothing of hating my parents.
She turned her head to the side, her gaze falling back on the robot that had caused the entire argument.
"Y-you still haven't answered my question," she said, roughly and abruptly. "Why did you think I wanted that?"
Doofenshmirtz also turned his attention to the Little-Brother-Inator.
"Because you asked me," he said in a faltering voice. "Twelve years ago, when you were just a little girl, you asked me to make you a little brother and I promised you you'd have one but I never… I mean, your mother and I, we tried, but…"
For the second time in a period of less than two minutes, Vanessa again felt herself become nearly knocked over with a blow of realization.
She knew exactly what he was talking about.
She had so rarely heard her mother speak of it, and never heard her father speak of it, that she had always just assumed it wasn't something that either of them thought of that much. It was a fact, it happened, but now they had moved on with their lives and had put the matter behind them…
…or had they?
Vanessa felt, in that moment, like the most blind, ignorant human being on the planet. Just because people stop talking about something doesn't mean they're over it. Sometimes it means the exact opposite.
And judging by the look in her dad's eyes right then…
Was this something he had never been able to shake off these past… what, ten years? For all this time, had he been carrying around yet another deep grief and sorrow? And if he was, was her mother too?
She wanted to ask him this, and a billion more questions besides. But she didn't know how.
"The one… the one that you and Mom… lost—did you know its gender?" she finally said.
Doofenshmirtz nodded, still looking at the robot baby and away from Vanessa. "He was a boy."
"How far along was he, anyway?"
"Four months. A little over four months. He got halfway there, at least." Doofenshimrtz smiled remorsefully.
Vanessa exhaled with remorse as well, finally taking steps towards the Little-Brother-Inator and carefully picking it up off the floor. "You didn't even really make him for me, did you? You made him for you."
Her dad scoffed at that. "Of course not, I made him for you! If I had made him for me I would have named him the Son-Inator or something like that. No, I made him entirely for you, to make up for the little brother you lost ten years ago."
"But Dad," Vanessa said, "it wasn't just that I lost a little brother. You and Mom lost a son."
Doofenshmirtz bristled defensively. "You—you don't have to remind me… but hey, no big deal, it's not that I ever actually… actually knew…" And then he suddenly sniffled, his mouth trembling, his eyes welling up with tears.
Vanessa's grip on the Little-Brother-Inator tightened as her eyes grew wide.
Doofenshmirtz sniffled loudly again, quickly wiping at his eyes. "S-sorry, Vanessa, I didn't mean to—don't tell anyone about this, it's unbecoming for an evil scientist to cry, I have a reputation to uphold, you know…"
Vanessa's eyes flicked back down to the robot still clutched in her hands. "I'm…" Her stubborn teenage attitude fought the words before she said them, but she still managed to spit them out. "I'm sorry about the way I acted, Dad. I didn't realize how important this was to you."
"You mean the Little-Brother-Inator? He's only important to me because he's important to you."
"But Dad, he's not important to me."
Doofenshmirtz stared at Vanessa in surprise.
"I mean," Vanessa quickly added, "I appreciate what you're trying to do for me and all, and I know maybe a long time ago I wanted a brother… but I don't anymore. You don't have to feel guilty or like you failed me or anything because I'm an only child. I'm glad I am."
"Really?" asked Doofenshmirtz.
Vanessa nodded. "Really. And even if I did still want a little brother, I'd want a living one. Not some robot."
"Inator," Doofenshmirtz corrected.
"Inator." Vanessa walked across the room and placed the Little-Brother-Inator on the very worktable upon which he was created.
Doofenshmirtz followed her, and for a few moments they both observed the lifeless robot in silence.
"You know," Doofenshmirtz finally said, "I put a lot of work into this."
Vanessa nodded. "Yeah… but you also put a lot of work into everything else you make, and Perry just destroys them. At least this is still in one piece."
Doofenshmirtz looked back at Vanessa. "So you really, really don't want this, huh?"
"No, I don't."
"It really, really creeps you out?"
"Really really really creeps me out."
Doofenshmirtz suddenly flipped open the compartment on the back of the robot's neck, grabbed a fistful of wires, and yanked them out. Vanessa jumped back a good two feet in shock.
Staring at the sparking wires in his hand, Doofenshmirtz grinned a bit, his dark mood seeming to finally start to lift. "You know, that felt really good. I need to do that more often."
"…That's how you deactivate it? Just by pulling out its wires?"
"No, of course not. It's already deactivated, Perry the Platypus did that. That just totally broke it for good."
"But… if it was that easy, why did you make some overly-complicated way of shutting it down?"
"That? Oh." Doofenshmirtz shrugged lightly. "I just wanted to write a pamphlet in Esperanto."
Vanessa barked out a laugh before she could help herself.
"Being well-versed in other languages is very important," Doofenshmirtz continued importantly, or at least as importantly as he could with a baby robot with sparks still shooting from its neck slumped in front of him, "but… sometimes, being destructive is just too much fun!"
"So was that your evil act for the day, then?" Vanessa asked him. "Ripping out the baby's throat from the back?"
"I suppose so, I didn't really do anything else evil today—wait a minute, it's not today, it's tomorrow! I mean, it's today, of course, but the 'today' I was referring to is in fact now 'yesterday' because it's after midnight—which reminds me!" He threw Vanessa a stern, no-nonsense look, but one not nearly as furious as when she had first tried to sneak in. "You're still grounded, young lady, for the next, oh, eighty years or so, and this time I'll build a Force-Field-Inator around the building to keep you here!"
Vanessa exhaled lightly, neither angry nor resistant. Yep, that was pretty predictable. "Alright."
Doofenshmirtz stared at her in surprise. "That's it? No complaining? No arguments? No both-of-us-yelling-until-our-faces-turn-blue?"
Vanessa gave him a sardonic smile. "You know, I tried that earlier today, and that didn't seem to work out that well. So, alright. I'm grounded. I know why I am. I deserve it." She paused. "Eighty years is a pretty long time, though…"
"Well, considering all the times you've left me for no good reason, and all the lip you give me, and the number you do on my blood pressure because I never know just where you—just where did you go, anyway?" he asked her, raising a suspicious eyebrow.
"I told you," said Vanessa, trying to keep her sigh as slight and annoyance-free as possible, "I just went out with a group of friends. We just goofed around at the mall. That's it. My clothes all stayed on and no drugs entered my body in any way, shape, or form. Happy?"
"Well." Doofenshmirtz rested his elbows on the table and leaned his chin into one palm, looking straight ahead thoughtfully. "In that case we can cut it down to seventy years."
Vanessa also leaned against the table, crossing her arms on it and leaning down to again examine the Little-Brother-Inator. The exposed wires had finally stopped sparking, but they still hung out of the baby's neck like bright, ominous snakes, connected to a labyrinth of wiring inside only just visible. From what she could see, it was profoundly intricate and complex, and this visible chunk of inner workings covered an area of only about two square inches total. To think the rest of the robot was wired like this as well…
"How do you even make stuff like this?" Vanessa suddenly asked.
Doofenshmirtz directed his attention back to the robot. "What, you mean the Little-Brother-Inator?"
"The inators in general. I mean, they're all so huge and complex and you can make them in like an hour…"
"Well, really, Vanessa, it depends on the inator, of course! This particular inator did take quite awhile, like I told you, but when you have a basic knowledge of smelting titanium alloy and welding it with spare extranium rods, it's really then just a matter of wiring the positrons to the negatrons to create the illusion of neurons and brainwaves and thus create its artificial intelligence—and then molding the plastic to create the baby shape. That's actually what took me the longest! It was tough going! It kept coming out looking like a potato!"
"Do you think…" Vanessa's fingers hovered over the exposed wires, wary of touching them lest they still had a charge. "Do you think you could teach me to make one?"
"What, a potato?" Doofenshmirtz asked, dumbfounded.
"No, Dad," said Vanessa, not able to keep her giggle down. "An inator. Just… something mechanical like you always make. I mean, if you can make them, maybe I've got a gene for it too… and besides, if I'm gonna be stuck here all day anyway…" She turned to give her dad another smile, and was surprised to see that he was tearing up again, but this time it was from pride and happiness.
"Oh, Vanessa!" he exclaimed in pure exultation. "Of course I'll teach you! I have been waiting for this day—well, night now—for years! I always knew you had it in you!"
Vanessa laughed lightly. "Don't get your hopes up too much. I'm not even sure if I'll be able to create anything, but I want to try. And besides, I signed up for auto mechanics class in the fall, and—"
"Oh, I can teach you way more than those simpletons at your school! All they can teach you is how to rotate tires and flush out an automobile's system! But I can teach you how to induce ripples in the general populace's brainwaves and bend them to make them do your every evil bidding! —Unless of course if your teacher is an evil genius himself. If he is, I take it back."
"Well," grinned Vanessa, "even if he is, you can at least give me a head start."
"You'll be the best in the class! Because probably no one else will be building inators! And we'll start tomorrow… later today when the sun comes up… with the—" Doofenshmirtz paused, his arms still frozen in their outstretched, dramatic flair, but his face confused. "Well, uh, I guess I don't know what it's called yet. We can't name it if we don't even know what it is! What kind of an inator do you want to build? For you, the sky's the limit!"
"Hmm, I don't know," admitted Vanessa. "I'll have to think about it."
Doofenshmirtz shrugged acceptingly, and reassumed his pleased, dramatic, evil pose. "Then later today, we will start work on our greatest invention ever, the What-Vanessa-Wants-Inator! We can of course rename it when you've decided what it is you actually want. And I mean it, it can be anything!"
Vanessa smirked suddenly. "How about a Car-Inator?"
"Anything but that."
Just what she had been expecting to hear. "Sky's the limit, huh?" But she was still smiling. "I guess I'll have to come up with—" She suddenly yawned deeply. "—something else," she finished in a fatigued exhale.
"Oh, imagine that, you're tired! Maybe you wouldn't be so tired if you had actually come home at a decent hour! In fact, maybe you shouldn't have left in the first—" Doofenshmirtz suddenly broke into a yawn as well. "Forget it, I'm too tired to scold you any further, and besides, you halfway intentionally and halfway unintentionally guilt-tripped me into not being so mad at you anyway, so… tomorrow. Later today, that is. I'll continued to scold you later today. After we've both gotten some sleep."
Vanessa snorted, half in slight confusion and half in sarcasm. "I'll look forward to it. Goodnight, Dad."
She turned to leave the room, but before she knew it she had turned back to him and had him wrapped up in a tight hug. A hug? He was forever embarrassing her and was under the delusion that she wanted a creepy robot from him and he had just gotten done yelling his lungs out at her and… and, well, he was apparently doing some guilt-tripping too.
Doofenshmirtz's apparent surprise as her action lasted for only half a second before he was warmly and affectionately hugging her back. "I love you very much, sweetheart, but you're still grounded," he said.
Vanessa pulled away from him with a playful smile. "What, didn't that at least cut off another ten years from my sentence?"
Doofenshmirtz shook his head firmly. "Not a chance, baby girl."
"Well then, it looks like you've forced me to say this, in the interest of spiting you." Vanessa returned her dad's mock firm glare and crossed her arms. "I don't actually hate you. I never have." And at that moment she could no longer hold down her smile.
Doofenshmirtz grinned again as well, pulling Vanessa towards him in another hug.
"Sweetie, you have a lot to learn about being spiteful!"