Super Secret Club: The Valentine's Venture
In the garden of number forty eight, Rainbow Lane, Neopia Central, stands a tree house. But this is not just any treehouse. This treehouse is the headquarters of the Super Secret Club. It’s Super (of course) and Secret (naturally) and the Club risk their lives on difficult, dangerous missions, like retrieving the ball that fell into Mrs-Jenkins-Next-Door’s garden, and taming the wild Warf that somehow managed to crawl through the hedge. There’s no mission too big, no task too terrifying. They will work tirelessly to ensure that justice prevails in the garden. Until nap time, that is.
Now that Christmas is over, the tinsel is down. Ornaments have been packed away for another year. Snow has transformed into rain. Everything is back to normal.
Well, it was, until about a week ago. The shop owners of Neopia Central seem to have conspired together. Now, the streets are exploding with hearts, bunches of flowers, and reams of red and pink fabric and lace. The Chocolate Factory has been shipping out their most luxurious delicacies in box upon box. Pairs of residents walk hand in hand, seemingly overcome by a seasonal affliction.
“Lovesickness.” Mama scowls, dropping a glossy magazine on the coffee table in disgust.
Al looks up from his painstaking drawing. Chippy, who was all but forced to be his model, appears to have wandered off in search of better employment. He shuffles over on his knees to read the magazine cover.
“Val-en-time’s.” he states uncertainly. “Ooh, is that soon. Mama?”
“It’s in two day’s time,” She sighs. “I do wish it would hurry up…”
“Me too!” Al replies excitedly. “There’s pretty decorations, an’ yummy chocolates, an’ we all get cards from our friends!”
“Yeah.” Mama responds, unenthused.
“Oh, oh! I gotta start makin’ all my cards! Oh, and the Super Secret Club can come an’ make theirs, too! Mama, where’s the glitter glue?”
“…What?” She asks suddenly, as though she hasn’t heard him speak.
“The glitter glue, Mama. Come on!” Al tugs at her hand, pulling her up from the sofa.
“Of course. Glitter glue. My favourite.”*
As it transpires, glitter glue also happens to be Al’s favourite. Whether it’s everyone else’s isn’t his problem.
“Whatcha think?” he asks his friends, holding up his latest masterpiece. They dutifully look up from cutting out their thousandth heart shape.
This card looks remarkably similar to all the others; Red glitter glue is splodged in a wobbly heart on the front, accompanied by his very best writing. ‘Happy Valentime’s Day.’ takes up most of the space, in bright pink letters.
“Wow, Al.” Taros enthuses, whilst Vyla stifles her giggles with a well-placed hand. “It looks great!”
“Uh-huh.” He grins toothily. “How many more have we gotta do?”
Vyla consults the list of recipients. “Just a few more to go. I never realised how many friends we have.”
“It all seems like a waste of time to me.” Mama grumbles, taking an irritable bite from a heart-shaped cookie. “Your friends already know you like them-why do you need to send all these cards out?”
“It’s nice to know you’re included.” Taros responds sagely. “Have you never received a Valentine’s card?”
“Never.” She shakes her head vigorously. “And I don’t plan on getting one. Where I’m from, nobody sends out all these elaborate gifts.”
Al freezes, halfway through writing a message inside his latest card. The Super Secret Club recognise an idea quickly forming in his head.
“Super Secret Club.” He addresses his friends. “To the bedroom! I gotta plan!”*
Due to the cold weather, the Super Secret Club have adopted Al’s bedroom as a temporary base of operations. Vyla absentmindedly pushes the rocking Uni in the corner back and forth. Taros repeatedly tosses a ball against the wall. Al himself is bouncing on his bed-according to him, bouncing is good for the brain.
“So, what is this master plan, Al?” Vyla asks.
“We gotta….” Al pants in between bounces. “Think..what Mama…likes…”
“Oh, I see.” A glimmer of understanding passes over Taros’ face. “So we’ll be making her a Valentine’s Day surprise?”
“Yup!” He nods dizzily. “But Mama doesn’t like normal Valentime’s…so we gotta make it a Super Secret Not-Valentime instead. “
“We could write a list of ideas down.” Vyla suggests, pen already poised. “You know her best, Al; What are her favourite things?”
“Ummmmm….” Al finally ceases his incessant jumping. “She likes to read. An’ sometimes, we read stories together.”
“Great start.” Vyla scribbles it down. “Anything else?”
“Oh, and she likes watching films on Neovision.” Taros puts in.
Vyla dutifully adds it to the list.
“Games!” Al shouts. “She’s got a whole lotta trophies.”
“And avatars.” Taros reminds him.
“Ooh, and she likes cake, too! Any cake, except orange and lemon!”
“Balloons?” Taros suggests.
“No!” shout Al and Vyla together. The last time they had balloons in the house, Mama had refused to leave her study. It hadn’t exactly made Al’s birthday party.
“Okay, okay. No balloons, then.” Taros concedes. “So, we have some things….now what do we do, Al?”
“I wanna make a special thing…not a card, ‘cause she doesn’t like ‘em….”
It doesn’t take long for Vyla to come up with something. “Hey, Al. What about…” she leans over to whisper something into his antennae. Al beams, nodding with great enthusiasm.
“What was that?” Taros cranes his neck to listen in.
“You’ll see.” She smirks. “Come on, let’s get to work.”*
The Super Secret Club are out on the Neopian streets within five minutes, dressed in heavy winter coats and gloves. They’ve told Mama that they’ll be delivering their piles of Valentine’s cards a day early. That part, at least, is true.
What they haven’t told her, is that they’ll be partaking in a spot of shopping.
“What do we need, Al?” Taros asks, as his friend consults a list he’s written in his own fair hand.
“Eggs.” He reads slowly. “Butter. Flour…and lotsa sugar!”
“We can get all that at the General Store.” Vyla reminds him, “I’m not so sure about this icing…”
“Icin’?” Al asks. “The type that you can make things with?”
“That’s the one. Do you have any ideas who might have some?”
“Yup!” He replies. “There’s icin’ at my fav’rite place in the whole world!”*
With cards delivered, and ingredients purchased, they make their way to Al’s very best place. The Breadmaster is only too happy to let his favourite customers use his kitchen; It’s the least he can do after they safely returned his prized cookie recipe last year.
Whilst Vyla weighs out the flour, Taros gets to work creaming together the butter and sugar. Al watches them with interest, one hand shaping a piece of brightly coloured icing, the other sampling a chocolate chip cookie in the shape of a heart.
“How are the decorations coming along, Al?” Taros asks, his arm beginning to ache. He wonders whether he should have used a whisk instead of the wooden spoon he’s clutching.
“Good!” Al exclaims, showing his friends the tiny edible model he’s carefully crafted. “What’s next on the re-sippy?”
“Eggs.” Vyla replies, taking one from the carton. Al watches, wide-eyed, as she effortlessly breaks it into the bowl. “It says we need four.”
“Can I do it? Can I?” he pleads, jumping up and down.
Taros mercifully relinquishes his grip on the spoon, lifting his friend up so that he can tap his egg against the china rim. Rambunctious as he is, Al treats it with surprising gentleness. “Mama says eggs are easy to break.” He explains. “We gotta be careful.”
The golden yolk lands with a soft ‘plop’ amongst the mixture.
Taros plucks two more eggs from the carton, and proceeds to juggle with them. Vyla covers her eyes, just for good measure. The Skeith taps them delicately against the bowl, and the remaining yolks are added, without any hint of shell.
“It’s okay to look now.” Taros nudges the Techo. “You’re going to want to see when we add the flour.”
The weighed out flour is sitting in a smaller bowl, which Al pushes towards his friends. Vyla tips it into their mixing bowl, and it falls like snow.
“Is that it?” Al queries. “Do we hafta bake it now?”
“Just one more thing.” Taros corrects, wringing out his hand. “Would you like to mix it all together, Al? You’ll need all your strength.”
“I can do it-I’m super strong, ‘cause I drink lotsa milk with my cookies.” Al grins, showing off his arm muscles. He takes hold of the spoon, and begins to stir as quickly as he can.
It’s only a few minutes before he passes the spoon back to Taros, red in the face. “I’m super strong, but you’re strongest of all.”
“Excellent mixing, Al.” Taros praises. “I’m sure you’ve made it much easier for me.” He continues to whip up the mixture, until all traces of flour have vanished, and the batter is a soft golden colour. “How’s the oven doing, Vyla?”
“Preheated.” She replies. “Now, where are those cake tins?”
“I got ‘em!” Al shouts, dragging two tins from the cupboard with a great deal of clanging and crashing. He stands on tiptoes to place them on the counter.
“Now.” Taros explains, tipping the mixing bowl “We have to pour half in one tin, and half in the other, so that we can use the halves to make a nice sandwich.”
“A sandwich?” Al echoes curiously. “What’s gonna be the inside part?”
“We could use this jam?” Vyla suggests, holding up a jar she’s found.
“Oh, goody!” Al nods appreciatively. “I love jam…Oh, and so does Mama.” He amends.
“Well, it has to be cooked and cool first, Al.” Taros reminds him. “Let’s put it in the oven, shall we?”
“Bye-bye, Mama’s surprise.” Al waves to the two tins, as his friends carefully slide them onto one of the shelves. “How long have they gotta cook for?”
Taros consults the recipe book. “It says that we ought to leave them in for twenty five minutes. In the meantime, perhaps we should clean up a little?”*
“Is it ready yet?” Al asks for the dozenth time, eagerly watching the oven.
“Just a minute more.” Taros replies, rolling out a sheet of icing.
“…..What about now?” he asks, a few moments later.
“Fifty three seconds.” Vyla sighs, crafting some fiddly shapes.
Taros brushes the counter down, shooing powdery flour into the bin.
“What about now?”*
“Yes, Al, it’s done!” Vyla shouts, failing to mask her irritation.
“Oh, goody!” Al doesn’t seem to notice her tone, eagerly hopping from foot to foot as Taros approaches the oven, wearing a pair of padded gloves.
“Stand back for a moment, buddy.” He warns. “It’s still really hot.”
His friend’s eyes are fixed upon the tins as he places them back on the counter.
“Whadda we do now?” he asks, peering at the two golden discs.
“We have to tip them over so it all comes out.” Vyla explains, approaching one tin hesitantly. Taros has already got to work on the other.
“Oh…like a san’castle?” he replies thoughfully. “We made ‘em when we went to the beach, remember?”
“Yeah, just like that.” Taros grins, easing a soft sponge cake from his tin, just as Vyla’s slips out onto a wire rack.
“Wow…” Al whispers in awe. “They look super tasty.”
“They sure do…” Taros agrees, passing him a cut of spare cake to taste. “We just need to stick them together with jam, and then we can put on all these nice decorations.”*
“I wish you’d tell me what’s going on.” Mama complains. She’s been blindfolded with a scarf, whilst Al leads her down the hallway.
“Come on, Mama!” Al giggles. “We gotta get there quickly, or it’s all gonna be gone.”
“You know I don’t like surprises, Al.” she replies, with a tiny smile. “I take it you’ve been doing more than just delivering your cards?”
“Yup.” He nods, forgetting that she can’t see him. “I’m not sayin’ no more. You gotta be patient, jus’ like I am when you get me surprises.”
“Oh, I see….are we nearly there?”
“Almost there.” He promises, rounding a corner. “Okay, we’re here. Take off the scarf.”
She does as she’s told, finding herself in the dining room. In the centre of the table is an enormous cake. It’s covered in buttercream icing, and topped with tiny decorations in all sorts of shapes; one of Al’s signature wobbly hearts; a Neovision, surrounded by tiny video tapes; game trophies, one with a tiny controller sitting inside. Stacks of meticulously crafted books.
“Oh my gosh. What’s all this?” she steps forward to admire the Super Secret Club’s handiwork.
“It’s a cake, Mama.” Al whispers. “It’s not a Valentime’s one, ‘cause you don’t like ‘em, so we made you a Val-un-time's one instead.”
“It looks amazing.” She beams.
“It tastes amazin’ too.” Al adds. “Can we eat it now, Mama, can we?”
“I don’t see why not.” She picks up a convenient cake slice. “I’d much rather a Val-un-time’s cake if it means I could spend time with you lot….You haven’t bought any balloons, have you?”