Chapter 1: Snow Day
Snow days were not common in Brooklyn. It had to be a pretty bad winter storm before anything shut down there. However Wheeler did remember a few times when the snow would be severe enough that school would be canceled. Most kids loved snow days, and the chance to stay home all day. Wheeler did not love snow days, though. They meant being trapped in his tiny apartment with his short-tempered father. As much as Wheeler disliked classes and homework, going to school was at least a temporary escape from his unpleasant home life.
The last snow day Wheeler had before joining the Planeteers occurred when he was fourteen. The storm had come the week before Christmas break was scheduled to start, and it had been so severe that it had literally paralyzed the city.
Wheeler woke up that morning to world that seemed to be nothing but white. As he stared out of his bedroom window into the snow covered city his mother came by his room to tell him that school had been cancelled.
Deciding to make the most of it, he had gotten back into bed and fell quickly back to sleep. He had been warm and comfortable beneath his blankets when he was interrupted by a sudden loud, angry noise.
“Just because school is closed doesn’t mean you can keep your lazy ass in bed all day!” his father yelled gruffly, banging on the door to Wheeler’s room.
“Whatever, fine, I’m getting up!” Wheeler yelled back, though he continued laying motionlessly in his bed.
It took several minutes for him to venture out from beneath his blankets into the cold, wintery air. His parents could barely afford heat, and he doubted that the heat even worked in this crummy apartment to begin with. Getting out of bed in the morning was always a struggle in the winter.
He quickly got dressed in a pair of well worn jeans and a sweater that was on the verge of being too small for him. He was growing quicker than his parents could afford to buy him new clothes.
He walked briskly through the living room, past his father who was sitting in his usual spot in the recliner in front of the television, a beer in hand though it was not even noon yet.
“Where are you going?” his father called after him.
“Out,” Wheeler responded brusquely, continuing on into the kitchen.
“Up to no good, I’ll bet!” his father yelled, though he did not bother getting up from his chair to stop him.
Wheeler fought the urge to yell something in response, and for once won the battle against his fiery temper. He opened the fridge and found it to be poorly stocked as usual. He pulled out a mostly empty carton of orange juice and chugged what little was left.
“There’s never any food in here,” he muttered as he slammed the fridge door shut.
“Well money’s a little tight right now,” he heard his mother say in her usual timid manner.
“Mom,” Wheeler said, spinning around to face her. “I didn’t know you were in here.”
“Well I was just about to start some lunch, for you and your father,” she answered.
Before Wheeler had a chance to respond he was interrupted by his father yelling for someone to bring him another beer. “That’s it. I’m outta here,” Wheeler said, grabbing his coat running out the door before his mother had a chance to protest.
He had no desire to hang around until his father got drunk, and judging by the rate the man was putting away beers that would not be too long. Though he really had nowhere else to go, he figured wandering the streets of Brooklyn was preferable to dealing with his father when he was intoxicated.
Wheeler strode down the sidewalk quickly, trying to brace himself against the frigid wind. He kept his head down, moving quickly, as if he had somewhere to be. He soon found himself lost in thought, thinking about his parents, feeling bad for leaving his mother to deal with his father alone. As he was mulling over whether he should return home or not, he rounded the corner and nearly collided with someone else.
As he tried to maneuver out of the way he lost his footing on the icy sidewalk and landed hard on the ground. He sat on the ground for a moment, stunned. Finally he looked up and saw a pretty blonde girl looking down at him, her eyebrow raised curiously. “Wheeler?”
“Uh… do I know you?” he asked, though he knew who she was, just not personally.
“Yeah we go to school together. I mean, we don’t hang out, but I know who you are. You’re always getting called to the principal’s office.”
“Heh… yeah…” Wheeler said sheepishly. He definitely had a reputation for being a trouble maker.
“I’m Trish,” she said pleasantly. “I figured you might as well know who I am too.”
“Yeah…” Wheeler said slowly, staring up at her admiringly.
Wheeler had developed a little crush on Trish over the years, though he had never admitted it to anyone. She had lived in the apartment building next to his for a few years now. He would see her at school, in the hallways or in the cafeteria, but he had never spoken to her. He figured she was too pretty to be interested in someone like him. Not only that, but she was a great artist, and he could not imagine someone with her kind of talent would want to hang out with a D level student.
“So are you gonna keep laying there in the snow all day, or what?” Trish asked finally.
Wheeler could not decide if she sounded annoyed or amused until he looked up at her and saw the sparkle in her deep brown eyes and the faint hint of a grin on her lips. He stood up quickly, brushing the snow off of his clothes. “It’s kinda cool not going to school, huh?” he asked, trying to think of something to say to strike up a conversation with her.
“Yeah, whatever I guess,” she said morosely, shoving her hands into her pockets and looking down at the ground.
Well so much for that idea, Wheeler thought unhappily. “So you like school then? I guess you would, I’m sure you make good grades unlike me.” He tried to smile a little at the self-deprecating remark, hoping it would ease the tension a little.
“My grades aren’t that great…” she muttered in response.
“Well you are a great artist,” Wheeler said, trying to say something to cheer her up. “I see your pictures at school. I could never do anything like that!”
Trish grinned a little. “Well I like art, but there are other people a lot better than me.”
“Oh come on,” Wheeler said. “You’re like… um… Picasso or something!” He really wasn’t sure who Picasso was, but it was the only artist’s name that he could think of so he figured it would have to do.
Trish giggled a little. “That’s not quite my style. But thanks though, I’m glad you like my pictures.”
Wheeler smiled brightly at her. “I do. So why are you out wandering around in the snow?”
“I just needed to get out for a while, you know. My Mom is… well, I love my Mom, but sometimes she has her moments.” Trish looked a little uncomfortable as she answered.
“Yeah, I know how that goes,” Wheeler replied, looking down at the ground and kicking at the snow a little. His sneaker was quite worn and he could feel the cold easily seeping through. “Is it just you and your Mom, then?”
“Yeah, my Dad skipped town years ago,” Trish replied unhappily, frowning a little at the thought. “It’s just me and Mom. She tries her best, but she... has some problems…” The way she left the sentence hanging gave Wheeler the impression she did not want to go into details.
“That sucks, dude,” Wheeler replied empathetically, not pushing her for more information. “My dad drinks. A lot. And he gets angry when he does.”
Trish nodded. “Sounds like we both have something in common then.” She tried to smile reassuringly but Wheeler could sense something sad in her gaze.
Wheeler was trying to think of something insightful to say in return when something cold and wet unexpectedly hit the back of his head. “What the heck?” he exclaimed, spinning around to see his friend Frankie grinning at him, brandishing another snowball, ready to attack.
“Hey man, no fair!” Wheeler exclaimed, bending over to grab a handful of snow to defend himself. Frankie laughed and lobbed the other snowball as Wheeler was bent over, hitting him in the head yet again.
Wheeler felt his face flush with anger and he was about to yell something obscene to his friend when he was interrupted by Trish’s giggling. Now his face flushed with embarrassment as he quickly bit back his vulgar remark, figuring that would not be the way to impress her.
He straightened up and flashed a huge grin at Trish. “Can you believe the nerve of some people?” he exclaimed with mock outrage as he tried to brush the remains of the snowballs out of his hair.
“Oh whatever, you deserve it!” Frankie retorted, quickly sprinting over to join Wheeler and Trish. “So you two hanging out now, or what?” he asked curiously, shifting his eyes between the two of them.
“No, uh, we just sorta… ran into each other…” Wheeler joked, causing Trish to groan a little at his humor.
“Okay, well, some of the boys are gonna go hang out at my cousin’s place. You two wanna come?” Frankie asked.
“Of course. Anything beats sitting around my apartment all day with my dad,” Wheeler answered enthusiastically. He smiled at Trish. “Whaddya say? Wanna come hang out?”
She smiled back. “Sounds great,” she replied.
As she slipped her hand in his and they followed Frankie down the icy sidewalk, Wheeler realized that perhaps snow days weren’t so bad after all.
Chapter 2: Colorful Lights
Characters: Looten Plunder, Robin Plunder
Word Count: 949
Looten Plunder drove through the streets of Beverly Hills, looking like one of the locals in his bright green Ferrari. He had taken some time off work to visit his nephew Robin for Christmas. Though the two of them both kept very busy and hectic schedules, they had managed to find some time to spend together this year.
There were very few people he would go out of his way to visit, but Robin was one of them. He barely had any family as it was, since he didn’t count any of his so-called “cousins” who had only developed an interest in getting to know him once he had become rich. Besides that, he actually enjoyed spending time with his nephew. Robin was fun and mischievous, with a flair for the dramatic that he had actually managed to put to good use.
He had to admire Robin for making it in Hollywood. Other than an unfortunate incident involving some stupid bats that the Planeteers had felt the need to harass him over, Robin’s fortune had been acquired through rather honest and legitimate means. Looten Plunder knew that he could hardly make such a claim for his own wealth.
He pulled into the driveway of his nephew’s mansion to find Robin atop a ladder, stringing Christmas lights across his roof. Plunder raised his eyebrow curiously as he watched his nephew decorating his house. “What are you doing?” Plunder asked.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” Robin called back.
Plunder scoffed a little and folded his arms across his chest. “Since when did you become so festive?”
“It’s a recent development,” Robin answered.
“I see,” Plunder said, wondering what was really going on. Famous movie producers did not usually engage in this sort of activity. At the very least he could have hired someone to do it for him.
“Have you seen the trailer for my new movie?” Robin asked eagerly from atop his ladder, as he continued stringing lights across his roof.
“Can’t say that I have,” Plunder answered. In fact, he had purposefully avoided watching it. Attack of the Werewolf Cult did not exactly sound like his kind of movie. In fact, most of Robin’s productions were not exactly the things he would willingly choose to watch, though he had allowed himself to be dragged to quite a few premieres over the last few years.
“Well, I’ll have to show it to you later. I think it’s gonna be my biggest hit yet,” Robin responded.
“That sounds… great,” Plunder said, though his tone was definitely lacking excitement.
Robin seemed oblivious to the lack of enthusiasm, however. “Could you toss me another strand of lights?” he called out.
Plunder picked up a strand of the multi colored bulbs and tossed them up toward Robin. “Why are you doing this, anyway? Don’t you think it’s a bit much?”
“This coming from the man dressed in a bright green, tiger fur trimmed suit,” Robin replied with a smirk. “And real fur at that.”
“Well imitation fur would be tacky,” Plunder said, in a tone that fell somewhere between serious and sarcastic.
“Indeed,” Robin said with a slight nod, as he finished attaching the last strand of lights to his roof. “Well, let’s fire this thing up,” he said as he climbed down the ladder. A moment later his house was illuminated in thousands of festive lights. It looked gaudy and ridiculous, especially for an upscale area of Beverly Hills.
“So, what do you think?” Robin asked with a grin.
“It’s… bright…” Plunder answered uncertainly, not really wanting to offend his nephew by telling him how terrible it looked.
Robin chucked. “You can be honest. It looks godawful, doesn’t it?” Robin almost sounded proud about that.
“Well now that you mention it, yes. Yes it does. So what’s the point?”
“I just did it to piss of my neighbor,” Robin said, motioning toward the mansion across the street. “He directs some sort of independent, artsy films. He’s always whining about how my movies are just mindless drivel. That I’m pandering to the masses in order to make money.”
“Well you are, aren’t you?” Plunder said.
“Obviously,” Robin said. “But that’s not the point. It’s annoying. I’m not producing movies for a hobby. It’s my job. Who cares whether or not people will be discussing my movies in film school once I’m dead? I’m rich now, that’s what matters.”
Plunder grinned and nodded. There was a reason why he enjoyed spending time with his nephew. He looked across the street and noticed a man standing in the doorway of the house, scowling at the ludicrous display of colored lights. That must have been the director Robin had been referring to.
Robin noticed his neighbor staring in disapproval and smiled wickedly. He waved and yelled “Merry Christmas!” quite loudly. The man frowned and slammed his front door shut.
Robin laughed, a sort of wicked and satisfied laugh that made him sound like a villain. Sometimes he really did live up to his name.
“You know he can only afford to live in that house cause he married some cougar.” Robin shook his head as he said it.
“Well, whatever it takes to make money, I guess,” Plunder replied. He was certainly not one to judge the lengths people would go to in order to acquire wealth.
“You can’t be serious,” Robin said tonelessly, his expression blank. “Even you have to have a limit when it comes to making money.”
They were silent for a moment before they both burst into a fit of laughter.
“Oh, Robin,” Plunder said, after taking a moment to compose himself. “You always did have a great sense of humor.”
Chapter 3: Christmas Tradition
Word Count: 1323
Dr. Blight still remembered the first time Looten Plunder had asked her if she would like to come to his family’s Christmas dinner. It was a simple affair, just his parents, his nephew Robin and himself. She had assumed then that his offer was merely out of politeness, as they had only been working together just over a year at that point. She had politely declined, or at least as politely as she was capable of.
However when he had made the same offer again the next year she had really let him have it. She very bluntly informed him that as a scientist she had no reason to celebrate the birth of a supposed “holy man” two thousand years ago to an unwed teenage mother who claimed to be a virgin. She told him that she would do exactly what she had been doing every Christmas since she had become an adult, which was to hole up in her lab and work on her research in an effort to further expand the frontiers of science.
She still remembered quite clearly the look of disappointment on his face at her refusal, yet the next year he had tried once again to invite her to spend Christmas with him. He had been enthusiastic and eager, seemingly undaunted by her previous reactions. Of course she had rejected him then, and every year since then. Turning down Plunder was ironically starting to become a Christmas tradition for her.
However, this year it was already well into December and he had yet to invite her to spend Christmas with him. Perhaps she had finally scared him off, which made her feel rather disappointed, though she was loathe to admit it. Even if she had no desire to celebrate a holiday that she did not believe in, the fact that he wanted to include her in his traditions made her feel good.
She tried to put the thought out of her mind and focus on her latest experiment. As she was aimlessly flipping through a chemistry journal, she was interrupted by the phone ringing. A quick glance at the caller ID showed that it was Plunder. “Oh, this is gonna be good,” she said to herself before answering the phone. “Hello,” she said sweetly into the receiver, twirling her finger around the phone cord as she spoke.
“Hello,” Plunder said cordially in return. “How are you?”
“I’m just fine. What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t suppose you have any plans for Christmas,” he said, trying to sound conversational.
She could sense the slight apprehension in his voice as he asked her that. She grinned wickedly, knowing that she had him. “What do you think?” she asked harshly, eager for a chance to let him have it yet again this year.
“I think you don’t,” he replied, “Which is exactly why I called you. I was hoping that you like to accompany me on a business trip next week, seeing as how you do not have prior plans.”
Blight was stunned. He had certainly managed to catch her off guard with that. “A business trip?” she sputtered, wondering exactly what it was that he was up to.
“Yes, I have some meetings in Dubai with a potential business partner. It would be nice to have someone to travel with me. Besides, it’s sunny and warm there, much more pleasant that the wintery mess here.”
“Dubai?” Blight asked incredulously, wondering what kind of business he had there, especially now.
“Yes, Dubai. In the United Arab Emirates,” Plunder replied.
“I know where Dubai is,” Blight said irritably. “But why are you going there now? Don’t you have some stupid Christmas thing you have to go to with your family?” She made no attempt to hide the bitterness in her voice as she asked him that, and she was certain he had to have noticed it.
Plunder chuckled softly. “It’s a Muslim country, Babs. They don’t shut down for Christmas the way we do here. So did you want to come along or not?”
“Ugh. Fine. Whatever,” Blight muttered, trying to sound as unenthusiastic as possible, though the prospects of warm weather did seem really appealing at the moment. Besides, it was not as if he were inviting her to some stupid Christmas party, so she might as well go along. He always treated her quite nicely when she joined him for these business trips.
“Excellent. I’ll send a limo for you tomorrow morning,” Plunder replied smoothly, and Blight could just imagine the smug smile on his face.
She rolled her eyes and slammed the receiver down on the phone, knowing that he had to be up to something.
* * *
Plunder, unsurprisingly, had booked the Royal Suite at the Hyatt Regency, one of the most expensive hotel rooms in Dubai. The bed was luxurious, and Blight found that she had no desire to get out of it in the morning, though she was not really a morning person to begin with. She stayed in bed for at least an hour after Plunder had woken up, but eventually the sounds of him moving around the room had awakened her.
She stumbled into the kitchen in her robe, her hair still a mess, to find Plunder making coffee.
“Do you have to wake up so early?” she muttered, pouring herself a cup of coffee.
“I have some very important meetings to attend later. I needed time to prepare,” he answered simply. He was already fully dressed and quite awake.
“Hmph,” was all Blight managed to say in response, as she poured a generous amount of cream into her mug.
“Not a coffee drinker, huh?” Plunder said with an amused grin, taking a sip of his coffee, which was black.
She didn’t bother responding to the remark. He should know the answer to that by now. “So you have important meetings later? You really had to come on this trip then? Isn’t your mother going to be livid that you’re missing the holidays?” Blight asked, as she added even more sugar and cream to her coffee.
“Oh yeah…” Plunder muttered, raising his eyebrow a little as he watched her prepare her coffee. “I’m sure I’ll be hearing about it until next Christmas. But if this deal goes through, then money will more than make up for it.”
Blight took a cautious sip of her coffee, and decided that it was finally sweet enough to be tolerable.
She followed Plunder in the sitting area of the expensive hotel suite, taking a seat in a very comfortable leather chair as she drank her coffee.
“I’m so glad you decided to join me on this trip, Babs,” he said after a moment, smiling happily. “I got you something. Just a little present to say thank you.” He walked over to her and handed her a black velvet box tied with a shiny gold ribbon.
She took the present eagerly and ripped off the ribbon. Inside the box was a stunning diamond necklace with matching earrings that she was certain had cost a small fortune. “Thank you. This is very…” her voice trailed off as something dawned on her. Today was December 25. This was Christmas morning. “Looten!” she exclaimed, her expression quickly twisting into an angry scowl.
“Yes?” he asked, his voice even. He would have seemed innocent if she hadn’t noticed the mischievous glint in his eyes.
She glared at him. “This is a Christmas gift, isn’t it?”
“Oh is today Christmas? I hadn’t noticed…”
“Liar.” She sighed miserably and sank back into her chair. She couldn’t believe she had let him trick her.
“Come on, this isn’t so bad, is it? This could become a new tradition for us.”
“You sneaky bastard,” she muttered as she stared down at the brightly sparkling jewelry he had given her. Even if it was for Christmas, she wasn’t giving it back.
Plunder grinned triumphantly. “Merry Christmas, Babs.”