Daring To Dream
By Indy and Chris Silva

Authors' dedication--The Untold Ranger Tales was an idea Chris Silva and I had to advance the idea of a Dale+Gadget relationship. This story was one of my favorites to write, and no matter what else I do in writing I'll always look back on this story as a milestone. It was controversial when it came out for the D+G take, but now it's been recognized as one of the classic Rangerphile fanfics and I'm honored for those accolades. I hope you enjoy it!


Chapter 1 - Dreaming From Afar

        The atmosphere of the public library is not for everyone. Indeed, most people enjoy being out and about, trying to do things that end up written in books rather than spending any amount of time reading them. Still, there is a select group of people that prefer that calm, quiet environment where bastions of knowledge lay. And Chip Maplewood was one of that group.
       When Chip wasnít working a case, he preferred to go to the rodent section of the humansí city library and just spend hours reading. Occasionally, Gadget or Dale would come with him but they would never stay half as long as he would. Chip studied all the great criminal cases he could find, and delighted in similar tales of fiction. It was true that he read many other topicsóhistory, literature, and cultureóbut crime was his passion.
       Many a patron knew Chip, because he spent most of his time in the same section near the rear of the library. There he was content, in his own little corner of the world where every mystery was solvable. Once heíd started on his researches, the chipmunk became lost in thought. Such was the case nowóChip didnít notice the sound of the rain outside, the smell of perfume as a female patron walked by, or the two eyes that were trained on him.
       That last item was understandable, since the eyes were far above him. There was no immediate ceiling in the rodent section, affording easier passage from floor to floor. For the unknown watcher, it provided an easy means of clandestine observation. What might have surprised Chip was that these eyes had seen him before. In fact, many times before. They watched him now with a look of total attention. An hour passed, and the eyes were still there. Two hours. Three. No change. Then Chip decided heíd best get home, and put away The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
       The eyes departed, as if they had never been there. Chip gathered his things together and headed for the exit. The doors were the pride of the rodent library--a stained glass window panel that had been cut in half and attached to hinges to serve as double doors. Chip could see the puddles of water outside as evidence of the former stormís presence. He was admiring how the light of the moon shone through the colored pane when he nearly bumped into a female bat that heíd never seen before. **I must be tireder than I thought,** Chip mused.
       "Here, let me open the door for you," Chip said. "Sorry I almost ran into youóI guess I spent too much time in here tonight." The bat didnít say anything at first. She just stared at him, and Chip felt a little uncomfortable. But then she walked out in front of him.
       "Thank you," she said.
       "Not at all. Always glad to be of service," Chip replied. "Say, have I seen you before?"
       The bat became flustered. "Uh, noÖ.no, I donít think so. Well, nice to have met you!" She started to fly off, then she dropped a piece of paper and watched it float down toward Chip. She hoped heíd read it while she was still within earshot.
       Chip grabbed the paper and happened to glance at it. "Elephant ear wax, lobster lips, lightning bug bulbs...hey! Miss, you dropped your list!" Foxgloveís blood froze. Sheíd dropped the wrong paper! She didnít want to turn back, but she knew what Winifred would do if she didnít have that list. The pretty bat reversed her course and came back to him in a state of near-panic.
       "Oh, thank you! If Winfred knew Iíd nearly lost this sheíd be livid! And after all the time it took me to look those things upÖ" Foxy said, mile-a-minute. She snatched the paper and flew into the night sky.
       "Hey whatís your name?" Chip called after her.
       "Foxglove!" the bat said, as she flew out of sight.
       "Foxglove. Strange name. Certainly fits the strange way she acted," Chip thought out loud as he turned to walk toward home.
       Foxglove hadnít flown far. Sheíd gone to the place that she called home--a roost in the libraryís attic. Sheíd chosen the spot so she could be close to Chip, and to the books that offered her only escape from Winifred and her sordid comrades. She watched Chip start to walk off, and then pulled out the piece of paper sheíd meant to give him. Foxglove looked at the words, and wished more than anything she hadnít made that mistake because the poem summed up her feelings so well.
       Foxglove carefully folded the paper away in an envelope, hoping sheíd have the confidence to give it to him soon. Sheíd actually met him! It had taken her weeks to come up with an innocent-looking way to meet the handsome chipmunk. Now he seen her and spoken to her. And he opened the door for her! Foxglove was thrilled at thatóit had been years since anyone had done anything nice just for her. Her heart was alive, and for the first time that she could remember she felt the pull of love telling her to seek him out again. She knew she would.

       The dawn broke over the oak tree housing Ranger Headquarters to find the treeís inhabitants already busy. Monty had breakfast going with Zipperís help, and Chip was checking out the morning crime reports. Dale stretched and came in.
       "Hey, whereís Gadget?" Dale asked. Chip thumbed his hand toward a nearby wooden door. "I heard her working in her workshop when I passed by. She mustíve pulled another all-nighter." In the kitchen, Monty picked up a plate stacked high with flapjacks. "Comeín get it Ďfore I do!"
       The Rangers all rushed in to eat, with Dale in the lead. "Oboy, oboy, oboy!" Chip stopped short at the kitchen door. "Something smells different this morning, Monty!" Monty pulled on the sides of his chefís apron in pride. "Too right! I decided ta add some walnuts to me famous Cheese Flaps ŗ la Monterey." Monty flung the flapjacks to their plates with a well-practiced hand. At that moment Gadget burst in with excitement written all over her face.
       "I did it! Itís finally finished!" Gadget said, with a flourish. Monty was so surprised by Gadgetís sudden entrance that he flung her flapjack right at her. Gadget deftly grabbed it "Golly, I guess that puts Ďfast foodí in a whole new light!" Gadget sat down between Chip and Dale. "So, watcha buildiní today, Gadget?" Dale asked. "Iím sure itís something brilliant, as always," Chip said admiringly. Monty put out his own share of flapjacks. "Well, whatever it was, it sure must be somethiní! You donít do all-nighters all that often, Gadget luv."
       Gadget looked happy, but the lines under her eyes showed how tired she was. "Well, I normally wouldnít now with our load of cases and all, but the fine-tuning took a lot longer than I expected and once I started I couldnít stop or the whole thing might have quit on me!" Monty and the guys looked at each other knowingly. Gadget had a talent for saying a lot but telling very little. "I understand, Gadget. But what did ya build?" Monty asked. Chip and Dale just sat there looking at Gadget with dreamy looks in their eyes. Gadget was still in her inventing euphoria and took no notice. "Itís a digital algorithmic data processor!"
       Chip and Dale both sighed. "Thatís wonderful, Gadget." Then they gave each other a harsh glance when they saw the other looking at her. Gadget was hurrying through her breakfast. "Golly, you really think so? I canít wait to try it out!" Dale saw how enthused she was and was immediately got caught up in it. "Can I help?!" Gadget was shaken back to planet reality with Daleís question, and she looked uneasy at the prospect. "Well, sure! Uh, you donít mind crashing, do you?" Suddenly Dale was the one looking nervous. "Crashing?"
       Chipís angry look turned to an amused smile and he began laughing and pointing at Dale. Monty took off his flight cap and scratched his head. "Crikey, what are ya buildiní in there, a race car?" Dale started to edge away from the table when Gadget grabbed Daleís arm. "Donít worry, Dale! It should work fine with no problems!"
       Dale was sweating profusely, but looking into Gadgetís eyes he canít bring himself to say no to her. "...uh...well...uh...I guess so." Gadget jumped up from her seat. "Great! Címon! Thisíll be fun!" Gadget pulled Dale by the arm into her workshop, his feet skidding on the floor. Chip laughed the whole time until they disappeared. "Poor Dale! But he had it coming by not saying no!"

       As Gadget closed the door, Dale began to look around like a captured animal searching for an escape. "Uh, so whereís the tort..uh, I mean the invention?"
       "Here!" Gadget went over to her workbench and took up a device the size of a book, handing it to Dale. She turned it on, opened it, and a screen came to life. Dale was not only relieved, he was genuinely giddy. "Wowie-zowie! A computer!"
       Gadget looked at him curiously. "Wasnít that what I said? Iíve put several programs on there, including classic games. Would you try to crash it, so I can see if itís bug-proof?" Dale was transfixed by the computer--the games in particular. "Sure, Gadget! Nothingís foolproof until it gets past me." Gadget smiled and entered a string of commands into the keyboard. A graphics-intensive version of Defender came up. "Okay, do your worst...er, best!"
       Dale took the control Gadget connected to the computer and sat down on the wooden seat of the workbench. With lightning reflexes, Dale started the game. He knew the old classics like the back of his paw. Soon his high score was climbing into the seven-digit range. Gadget watched his dexterity with a degree of awe. "Golly, your eye-hand coordinationís better than mine! Where did you develop that kind of skill?"
       Dale didnít take his eyes off the screen for an instant as he talked. "When I was a kid I started taking fencing lessons and Iíve kept practicing since then. Video games help keep me sharp." Gadget cocked her head in curiosity at that information. Fencing? Dale? Sure sheíd seen him fence against Sewernose before, but she didnít realize heíd been practicing all this time. Where did he practice? Then she noticed the look of determination on his face. Time after time he would barely avoid destruction and then gobble up points.
       Gadget turned her attention back to the matter at hand as Dale finished the game. "Uh, okay. Letís try running several programs in series." Gadget activated the computerís word processor, graphics program and several others. The game now was Pac-Man "Wanna play doubles?" Gadget asked. Dale moved over to offer Gadget a seat at the workbench. "Gadget, I would love for you to join me."

       Chip couldnít resist any longer. He had to know what kind of agony Gadget was putting her "test subject" through. He leaned against the door with a mischievous grin. What he heard confirmed every thought heíd had.
       "Okay, Dale. But youíre in for a pounding!" Gadget said inside. Chip stifled a giggle. Then he heard Dale say, "Ha! Thatís what you think. Do your worst!" The game started and Dale was first. He was easily maneuvering through the first table, when he caught his chomper in a corner.
       "Look out, Dale!" Gadget shouted. Dale tried to maneuver, but it was too late. "Oh no! Iím stuck! I canít get out...Iím a goner." Chipís smile was gone. Dale, a goner? Gadget was sympathetic. "Aw, thatís too bad. Well, maybe Iíll have better luck when I get Chip to try it." Chip couldnít believe what he was hearing. He was about to break the door in when he heard Dale speak again. "Well, next time I wonít be killed again so easily!" Chipís brow knotted in confusion. What was going on in there?
       Now Dale was the spectator. "Watch out, Gadget! There are ghosts all around you and theyíll try to kill you!" Gadget maneuvered the chomper around a corner. "Donít worry! Iím ahead of them! Oh, no!" Dale pointed to a power pill. "Eat the large glowing disk and you can destroy them. Eat the fruit! Eat the fruit! Aaaaghh!"
       This time Chip did panic. He jumped to his feet and hurled the door open. "Donít worry, guys! Iíll save...you...from..." Chip stopped short as Dale and Gadget turned around from playing their game. Dale quickly looked back to the screen to see Gadgetís Pac-Man get destroyed by the ghosts.
       Gadget smiled as innocently as ever. "Oh, hi Chip! Dale was testing out my new laptop! Itís officially crash-proof!" Dale had a bemused look on his face. "Chip, you made her lose the game!" Chip was totally lost. "Laptop? Then Dale wasnít in danger, and you werenít being attacked by ghosts?"
       "Donít you know anything about videogames, Chip? Itís Pac-Man, the granddaddy of classic video games!" Dale said, incredulous. Gadget laughed. "Oh donít be silly, Chip! Thereís no such thing as ghosts--well, with the exception of Sir Colby and Iím sure thereís a good explanation for that somewhere..."
       Daleís thoughts turned elsewhere. "Say...what were you doing snooping outside the door?" Chip felt very awkward. "Uh, well, uh, I guess Iíll get ready to go to the police station!" Chip backed out as quickly as possible. Gadget watched him go, wondering at his quick exit. "Golly, whatís wrong with Chip? He doesnít usually act that way..."
       Dale grabbed the game control. "Oh, forget about him, heís just too snoopy for his own good!" Dale said as he turned back to the game. Gadget shrugged and did the same. Chip went outside and gathered himself. A game! Heíd gotten concerned over a silly little game! But was that all of it? Heíd thought Dale or Gadget or both of them were in trouble. No, there was something else...something.
       "Well, at least no one got hurt," Chip said to himself. Chip returned inside after a few minutes to find the others ready to travel. Gadget was singing Daleís praises. "Chip, you should have seen what he did! Dale performed this unique geometric pattern in one maze, and was heading straight toward the ghosts! Then they all peeled away from his chomper at the last second as if theyíd been trained to do it. Golly, it was exciting to watch!"
       Dale gave Chip a smug smile "See? There are some things that only I can do that you, Chip, could never accomplish." Chip bit his tongue at first as Gadget laughed. But his next words were terse, even for him. "Well, weíre not getting anything done here by playing! Letís get to work!" The laughing stopped as Chip led the way and got in the RangerWing. Gadget opted out due to her work the night before, and decided to take a short nap. The others were walking behind when Monty got within whispering distance of Dale and Zipper. "Crikey, I wonder what burr got under Chipperís saddle?" Dale harumphed, "He just canít stand it when thereís something I can do that he canít."
       Chip knew. Heíd realized it when Gadget had come in, laughing with Dale. He was jealous! Chip couldnít believe his own feelings at first--why should he feel jealous over Dale playing a game with Gadget? So what? But the feeling wouldnít go away, and it haunted him all the way to the police station and back. There had been no major crimes, or even anything the Rangers normally dealt with. He wished there had been--it would have given him something else to think about. As they touched down at Ranger headquarters, Gadget came outside and Chip tried to put the uneasy thoughts out of his head.
       "Say, everyone, why donít we all get out in the sunshine today? The city fountainís a great place!" Chip said. Dale thought about it for a moment. "Well, normally Iíd say yes, but I think that computer could use some more stress testing. Thereís Missile Command to try yet!" Gadget snapped her fingers. "Hmm..and I forgot. I still need to test the miniature CD-ROM in it. But the fountain idea sounds great! Weíll meet you there in a couple of hours!"
       Chip grimaced, and didnít bother to hide it "Well, all right." Chip went to his room and changed, snatched up his Sureluck Jones book and headed out, slamming the door. Gadget couldnít figure Chipís attitude out. "Jeepers, Chipís sure in a bad mood today. Maybe itís a good thing there wasnít anything at the police station. He probably needs rest."
       "That ainít all he needs..." Monty said, under his breath.

       Along with his book, Chip had changed into his swimming trunks. Normally, he would look forward to a chance to play around in the wet stuff but he was preoccupied. Could it be that his feeling of jealousy had some foundation? Chip tried to put it out of his mind with the next Sureluck Jones story, "The Case of the Missing Medical Doctor." Chip settled in by the fountainís spigot and managed to lose himself in the pages.
       Well concealed in a nearby bush was a bat. She hung quietly, watching Chip read. Foxglove used her eyes and ears to capture the full shape and form of the handsome chipmunk. She blushed as she realized how cute he was in his swimsuit. The only action Chip made in the next two hours was his mouth, silently reading the role of Sureluck Jones. Then at last the others arrived in their swim attire.
       Monty came up and put his hand on Chipís shoulder. "Chip, ya shoulda stayed around mate! Those two battled each other on that there Missile Címand up to four million points!" Gadget was moving her fingers, trying to get feeling back into them. "Golly, my hands are tired! Well, a good dip in the fountain should help them."
       Foxglove realized to her horror that as soon as Chip saw the mouse girl, his heart rate increased dramatically. "Last one inís a rotten munk!" Chip said. Chip dove in and began his usual cavorting. Foxglove continued to silently spy on the group. It seemed to her that both chipmunks were overly fond of the blonde mouse.
       Though Gadget didnít swim all that often, she was quite accomplished. While Dale and Chip were distracted, she dove under and suddenly popped up next to Dale and plunged his head under the water. That started a general water fight among the Rangers. Foxglove felt a little relief as she continued to watch. The mouse girl seemed to be paying more attention to the chipmunk with the red nose and not to her dream munk. The fun continued on and off until sunset, and then the Rangers went in. Foxglove followed them back to the tree, making sure to keep out of sight. She suspected what Chip would do, and she was right. After a quick supper, Chip was out the door and heading for the library. Foxglove was so excited--she could talk with him again!

       Chip felt a little better after the group activities at the pool. He realized it was silly to be jealous of Dale--after all, hadnít Gadget come out there to be with him? With that thought in mind, Chip was actually looking forward to his time in the library stacks tonight. As he approached the main door, he saw a shadow made by something overhead.
       Foxglove landed a short distance before him. "Hiya, cute stuff!" Chip was surprised to see Foxglove again so soon. "Oh, hi there! You, uh, didnít get in any trouble with that Winifred person you mentioned, did you?" Foxglove shook her head slowly, never taking her eyes from him. "No, no problem at all, darling."
       Chip found he was the least bit uncomfortable with the way she said "darling". That and how she was beaming at him. "Iím glad to hear that. I suppose you must get most of your activity in during the night, huh?" She smiled sweetly at him. "Well, on special occasions Iíll be up during the day. But only if itís something really special."
       Chip decided to try to change the topic. "With my schedule, it seems like just the opposite. My idea of a special occasion is anything besides casework, like this afternoon was." Foxy nodded energetically. "I know, you looked so cu..." Chip started, "Huh? What was that?" Foxglove suddenly grew very nervous. "Uh, nothing, darling."
       Chipís instincts told him she was hiding something. "Are you sure? You sounded like you were saying..." Foxy knew she had to get away. "No, uh...goodnight, darling!" Foxglove launched herself into the air and was quickly out of sight. Chip started to turn into the library, and then caught himself looking back. "She sure can act strange. But Iím sure she said...oh, well."
       Chip headed inside and soon was secure in his own little corner of the world. Foxy flew in through a second-story window into a seldom-used room and quickly took up her clandestine observation of her chipmunk target. He had spoken to her again! He even was concerned about her well-being by asking about the list and he was even curious about her! Her day had gone even better than sheíd hoped. If only she hadnít blurted out that she had been watching him at the fountain, the talk might have gone longer!
       Foxglove watched as Chip finally left for Ranger Headquarters. She wanted to fly down and try talking to him again, but her mistake held her back. Now she knew where he lived--if only she could muster up the courage.
       "Tomorrow....tomorrow maybe."
       Foxy flew off, thinking only of Chip and how she could muster up the courage to do what she dreamed of doing. Then it came to her--she needed something in common with him! But the only thing she knew about him was the books he read. She brightened at the idea, and headed back for the library. The doors were locked, but she didnít use them normally anyhow. The second-story window was left open and she sailed through. The nightlight was on, and that was all she needed with her normal bat senses to navigate. She found the book that Chip had been reading and pulled it. Proceeding back to the window, Foxy opened the cover.
       "The Casebook of Sureluck Jones. Well, here goes..."
       Foxglove didnít read mysteries as much as the classic romances she enjoyed. It took Foxy a little effort to get around the Victorian terminology, but as she read she began to find herself actually enjoying the story. The wily detective was on the trail of yet another criminal mastermind. She read out loud--there was no one around for her to disturb, anyway. Once sheíd finished the first story, she couldnít wait for the next. Maybe she and Chip really did have something in common!
       "Oh, I hope so. Letís see. ĎThe year of 1878 was the darkest time Jones and I were to experience in his neverending battle to solve the mysteries of crime...í."
       The intrigued bat continued, but was concerned when she read about Jonesí feelings toward women. Was Chip like that? Would he not like or trust her? She shook it off and kept reading. When dawn cracked a friendly smile, Foxglove had fallen asleep right there at the window. She awoke with a start, and realized that sheíd finished! She rushed downstairs and just managed to get the book back in place before the employees came in.
       "Oh, I hope my cutieís not just like that Jones. Now, if I can only remember it all..."
       She took off in the direction of Ranger Headquarters, trying to convince herself that she couldÖshe would visit him. As she drew near, Foxy flew around the tree hoping to see Chip. He wasnít outside, but as she completed her circuit she noticed the red-nosed chipmunk came out and jumped in a hammock. **Well, maybe I can ask him,** she thought. Foxy fluttered down, not exactly sure how to proceed. "Uh, excuse me...."
       "AAAHHH!" Dale shouted, caught by surprise. Dale fell out of the hammock and leaped to his feet. He looked at his attacker and saw that she was a rather attractive girl bat who appeared as startled as he was. Dale looked sheepish, and a little embarrassed at his reaction. "Uh, can I help you with something?"
       Foxy was startled. In fact, this hyperactive chipmunkís reaction had made her more nervous than before. "Oh, well you see..uh, I..I wanted to see someone." Dale curiosity was growing. "Uh, sure. Who do you wanna see?" She couldnít for the life of her remember his name. "Oh, he looks just like you but he wears a hat and jacket?"
       Dale just stared at her in stunned silence for a few moments. Chip had an admirer! "Oh, thatís Chip. Is he helping you on a case or is this something...not work related?" Dale asked with a small smile forming. Foxy blushed "Uh, noooo. IÖI...met him at the library and wondered if...well..."
       Dale had to bite his lip to keep from giggling. "Iíll take you right too him, miss...say, whatís your name?" She had to think again for several seconds. "My name?...itís Foxglove. But if heís busy or anything, donít let me get in the way...." Dale was bubbling with vigor. "NO! Heís not busy! Come with me, Miss Foxglove."
       She was debating between staying or fleeing when Dale grabbed her by the wing. There was no turning back now. Daleís insides were practically quivering with glee at the impending meeting of Chip and the bat. Chip had just come outside, and had settled in a lawn chair. He was reading a bit before getting started with the day. Dale was coming around the corner as he sang out, "Hey Chiiiip! Your girlfriend is here!"
       Chip didnít even bother to look up. "No, Dale. You canít have the chair, and I wonít fall for your jokes this morning." Foxy was shaking inside. He sounded so authoritative! Was he different around others than heíd been with her? Dale came close to her and whispered, "Go on and say hello."
       Foxglove heard the words, but her feet wouldnít move. She whispered back, "Are you sure I should? He seems busy..." Dale was so full of anticipation, he could barely contain it. "Chip reads too much--talk to him!"
       With a herculean effort, Foxglove got her feet to obey. She approached slowly, trying to control the shaking. It was as if she was approaching her final judgement. Chip still hadnít looked up, so she decided sheíd have to speak. "Uh, hello..." Chip started at the words. Dale was a good ventriloquist, but he wasnít that good! Sure enough, the bat heíd met at the library was standing next to him.
       **The strange girl again. Whatís she shaking for?** Chip wondered. "Oh, hi! I didnít notice you come up. What brings you here?" Foxy blinked twice, feeling like she was in the presence of some legendary figure. "Uh...I just happened to be flying by and thought maybe...uh, whatís that your reading, Chip?" She said the name "Chip" with noticeable relish.
       Chip was caught off-guard by the question. "My Sureluck Jones book. I tend to read a chapter before starting the day." Foxy knew it couldnít have been better for her. "Oh really? I was reading one of his stories last night." Chip raised an eyebrow at that. He hadnít met many females that had read the adventures. "Interesting. Which one?"
       Staring at her cutieís expectant face, the title of the story she had read vanished from her mind. "Uh...I canít remember," she said, crestfallen. Chip paused a moment. "Well, the stories are sort of similar in structure. Do you remember what the year was at the start of the story?"
       Foxy concentrated. "I think it was 1878, cutie." Dale sat and watched the exchange between Foxglove and Chip with growing interest. Chip ignored her appellation, and was already thinking through the stories mentally. "Letís see, thatís from the Casebook. That would be...ĎThe Case of the Filched Featherí!" Foxy smiled with satisfaction. "Oh, yes! Thatís it. You have such an amazing memory, darling."
       She pulled up a nearby chair and sat very close to him. Chipís mind was totally on the story, since it happened to be one of his favorites. " ĎThe wily detective drew a broad-lettered ĎCí on the parchment and said, ĎI know who has done the dastardly deed!í Wasnít that ending a great twist?" Chip asked. Foxglove found that she was starting to love the sound of his voice "Oh yes, Chip."
       Chip had to admit he was impressed by this bat. There were few girls that shared any of his likes. Then he looked up at her and noticed how amorously she was looking at him. "WellÖI need to get inside and get things started for the day. Youíre welcome to hang around of course..." Foxy immediately wrapped her wings around Chip and pulled him to his feet. "Iíd like that, darling."
       Chip blushed, and suddenly wished he hadnít made that invitation. He gently but quickly removed her wings and became all-business. "Follow me, then. Dale letís go! Weíve got crimes to solve!" Dale, looked like he was going to explode with laughter, but somehow he managed to keep it inside. "Okay...(snort)...Chip...youíre the...(snort) boss."
       Foxy took Chipís arm in her wing. "Youíre a heroic crime fighter? Youíre just like Sureluck Jones!" Chip had started to get annoyed with all this attention, but that compliment hit him in his weak spot "Well, Iíve tried to model my style after his. After all, thereís no greater detective than he was."
       Chip was still uncomfortable leading her in, but that was nothing compared to the look Monty gave him when he saw them. "Too-ra-loo! Looks like weíve got real class for a client today, eh Chippah?" Monty asked. Then Gadget emerged from her workshop. "Golly, Chip, whoís your friend?"
       Dale was almost dancing as he came in. "She and Chip met at the library." When Foxy saw Gadget she tensed up a bit, remembering Chipís reaction to her the previous day. She could tell that much of Chipís attention was already on her. Chip was feeling like he wanted to be anywhere else than where he was. "Foxglove, meet Gadget, Monty, Zipper, and you already met Dale. Everyone, this is Foxglove. Uh, sheís just another bibliophile I met who came over to discuss Sureluck Jones. Iím showing her what we do here in crime detection and prevention. Gadget, why donít we show her your workshop?"
       Foxy gave Chip an annoyed glance. She finally had Chipís attention and she didnít want to share it with another woman. But since it was obvious that they were friends, she didnít want to make a bad impression. "Uh okay, Chip darling." Gadget stifled a giggle at this girl calling Chip Ďdarlingí. It was obvious to her that she liked him, and Gadget even noticed Chipís slight nervousness. She led them into her workshop.
       "Well, hereís where I create all the inventions we use on cases. Iím sure youíd like Chip to explain the importance of technology in casework," Gadget said. She turned her back, pretending to work on her laptop and doing her best not to laugh. Foxy was boiling over with enthusiasm. "Oh yes, Chip. Tell me all about your cases, you have such a wonderful speaking voice."
       Monty, Dale and Zipper were right around the corner, not missing a word of this command performance. Chip cleared his throat, trying to clear the uncertainty from his voice and almost succeeding. "As a Sureluck Jones reader, Iím sure youíre aware of the science of detection in casework. Jones had to use crude methods compared to our means now..." Chip went into a spiel on the use of tracking techniques, wiretapping, information technology and the forensic sciences in aiding the crimefighter.
       Foxglove was entranced by Chipís voice, but she was scarcely aware of what he was saying. The look of adoration on her face was very evident. The look was so evident that even Gadget noticed it when she peeked around at them. She continued to test her laptop and grinned at the novel situation. "Tell me more, Chip," Foxglove urged. Chip saw that look in her face again, and the nervousness returned full force. "Well, Iíd like to but itís...itís really past our time to get to the police station!"
       Chip walked briskly into the main room, Foxy at his side. The boys just managed to round the corner and appear innocent. Chip checked the clock on the wall. "I was afraid of that. Weíve got to go--Ranger work is too dangerous for a civilian like you, Foxglove. But it was nice of you to drop by."
       Foxyís boldness was now wearing off, to be replaced by timidity. "Uh, okay. Can I visit you again, cutie?" Chip wanted to say no, but everyone was looking at him. "Well, sure. But our hours arenít set, so I may not be around just anytime." Foxy gave him a quick hug. "Thatís okay, darling. Iíll just have to stop by a lot to make sure I can find you here."
       Chip bonked himself on the inside. "Uh well, weíll see. Goodbye!" Chip escorted Foxglove to the door and then made like he was preparing the RangerWing for flight. Foxglove flew off, but quickly took up a concealed position in a nearby tree to watch her sweetie in action. Chip was annoyed now, and muttered, "How did I get myself into this..."
       Chip checked the RangerWing over, hoping the others would come out. When they didnít, he went to the door and said for effect, "Okay, letís get going everyone! Rescue Rangers, away!" The others come out, giggling and whispering amongst themselves.
       "Right away, Chip darling!" Dale said, with gusto. Chip gritted his teeth. "Oh, Dale...the next time someone shows up looking for me, give me some warning!"
       "Okay, cutie!" Dale replied. Chipís eyes narrowed. "And donít call me cutie!" Chip got into the RangerWing in a huff, while Dale laughed so hard that he fell to the ground. Monty picked him up. "Dale lad, youíve had yer fun, now let up on olí Chip," Monty said. Gadget knew that Chip wasnít taking this well at all. "Montyís right, Dale. This Foxglove obviously likes him, and heís embarrassed about it. Think about how you would be in his place."
       Dale managed to get the giggles out of his system. "Well...Iíd probably feel nervous too if Foxglove liked me as much as she likes Chip. Iíll try, but believe me, itís not going to be easy!" Gadget walked toward the RangerWing and thought out loud, "I wonder why she picked Chip? Well, she seems nice. I just hope Chip can behave himself."
       Dale stopped at those words, as he let Gadget and Monty get ahead of him. His tone of voice changed as he watched Gadget walk on. "Girls are always attracted to Chip."

       Gadget got into the RangerWing along with the others and they took off, leaving Foxglove alone with her thoughts. Foxglove watched the RangerWing vanish from view. **He talked to me and showed me around his home! He likes me! Heís brave, smart. Heís clever and heroic too. Iíve found the munk of my dreams!**
       The Rangersí day went normally after Foxgloveís visit, though Dale giggled out of control several times. Gadget noticed Chipís discomfort when he did so, but she didnít know if she should say anything or not. The dayís patrol ended without any action, and after a good supper Chip was ready for sleep.
       Gadget noticed he was turning in early. "Arenít you going to the library?" Chip only paused a moment. "No, not tonight Gadget." Gadget could see the reason written on his face, and thought about how upset his decision would make Foxglove. "But Chip..." Chip wasnít in the mood for talking, even with Gadget. He made a small wave of his paw and headed for the room he shared with Dale. Of course, Dale was in the main room watching television, so Chip didnít have to worry about him for hours. "I wish he was the one I had to worry about..." Chip mused as he got into his nightshirt and took up his place in the bunk.
       How had he gotten into this mess? Where did this Foxglove come from? Why was she so...Chip wanted to put the label annoying to her, but that wasnít the whole of it. She had been nice, but overbearing. That was it. Overbearing. Chip didnít like how close sheíd gotten, even though the subject matter of their last talk had been interesting. But what should he do? Foxglove was obviously determined to come back the next day. He didnít want to just say "buzz off" but heíd already come close to doing just that. Somehow he got the idea this bat wouldnít take that well.
       "But Iíve got to do something. Sheís like a magnet--always trying to stick to me. What would Sureluck Jones do..."


Chapter 2 - A Dream is a Menace, A Dream is a Wish

       Gadget sat at her drawing board in her workshop. Sheíd been trying to concentrate on making plans for her newest invention, but something was bothering her. True, Chipís terse words and look had disturbed her but that wasnít the whole of it. She sat back and applied her considerable mental powers to the problem. She knew Foxglove was the problem for Chip, but she was having trouble narrowing down exactly what about Foxglove was bothering her. She seemed nice enough, but Gadget had noticed some hesitation when Foxglove had looked at her. **Maybe sheís not used to other people.** Then again, her reaction to Chip seemed to belay that thought. Was it the fact that Foxglove had been so interested in him? She shook off the uncertainty and took up her pencil again. Whatever the problem was, it would work itself out in time. No need to lose a free nightís inventing fussing over nothing.

       With everyone busy, Dale had free reign over the main room. Heíd set out his snacks on the couch to the left and right of him so he wouldnít have to reach. Engrossed as he was in his movies, Dale would still burst out laughing from time to time at the memory of Chipís earlier encounter with the bat. Yes, Chip was his best friend, but he couldnít help enjoying the sight of Chip as the butt of the joke for a change. **Even without trying, Chip can attract pretty girls.** Then he returned to his movie.

       Foxglove had hurried to get to the library in time. Sheíd eaten late, because sheíd been too excited to earlier. Everything was going so well! She flew hurriedly through her window and perched where she could see Chip. Then her face changed to one of concern. He wasnít there! She flew down and for the first time actually went up to one of the librarians.
       "Uh, excuse me..." Foxy said. The librarian was a middle-aged female chipmunk with a nameplate reading ĎCynthiaí. "Yes, may I help you?" she asked. Foxglove didnít know exactly how to put her question, but she had to ask. "Was the cute chipmunk that normally sits over there in earlier tonight?"
       Cynthia didnít give anyone a lot of notice, but sheíd noticed Chip before and spoken to him on several occasions. "Iím afraid not. He comes in at irregular intervals, though." Foxgloveís ears drooped a little. "Oh, well thank you."
       Foxglove beat a hasty retreat and once she was out of sight went up to her perch. Maybe heíd had a long day. Maybe he was tired to coming to the library. Maybe...then a thought struck her. Was he rejecting her? The turmoil inside her that came from that thought was hard for Foxy to handle. Everything had been going so smooth! Should she go back? She had no choice--it was like something elemental was drawing her to him. His voice, his mannerisms, his intelligence--everything about him was so enchanting
       "Iím sure everythingís okay--I hope."

       A thought came to Gadget as she worked. **Foxglove was acting so strangely, just like Chip and Dale sometimes do when theyíre around me...could Foxglove be in love with Chip?** She tried to push the thought away, but it came back again. What if Chip ended up loving her too? Gadget had been so used to the boysí attentionóannoying as it could beóthat it never occurred to her that either of them would change. Not that she really minded it--they had a right to do as they wished. Gadget finished up for the night and went to her quarters.

       Dale pushed away the thoughts of Chipís ability to attract pretty girls and returned to his television watching. The screen showed a stunningly beautiful woman falling in love with an attractive, strong and confident leading man. Dale flipped the channel only to find the Dirk Suave movie, "The Spy Who Mugged Me", and Dale forgot about his troubles for a short time. But as he watched, he was reminded that Dirk was yet another attractive guy that had women falling all over themselves to be with him.
       It seemed that girls only went for the strong, handsome types. Eventually, he made his way to the Cartoon Channel and was finally able to find escapeóthat is until Charlie Brown came on. Dale liked Charlie Brown. He was so like himself in so many ways. Charlie Brown had seen the little red-haired girl and was trying to muster up the courage to say anything. As usual, he didnít and chickened out. Dale felt like chunking the remote at the screen but turned the television off instead.
       Then Dale tiptoed back toward Chipís room. As he went, he paused at Gadgetís door. He knew it was hopeless--sheíd just been nice to him out of sympathy. Gadget was the worldís finest when it came to that "Iím jusí an old blockhead like Charlie Brown. Might as well write Ďgood griefí on my shirt. She never really liked me." Dale turned away slowly, his head down, and opened the door quietly. Then another door cracked open. Monty had been at his door and about to open it to go on a late night cheese raid. Heíd heard the sadness in Daleís voice and knew the lad had to be suffering
       "Gotta talk to that lad tímorrow..."
       Dale quietly changed for bed, but he couldnít help noticing that Chip was tossing and turning in his sleep. **Probably trying to get away from that bat, I bet.** It looked like neither of them would be very rested come daybreak. **It must be such a burden being so irresistible to women.**

       Inside Chipís mind, he certainly wasnít getting much rest. Chip regularly dreamedóin fact, he looked forward to them because they often helped him with casework. He was in London, at the eccentric flat of Sureluck Jones. He was Jones of course and Dale was the enigmatic Dr. Blotson. Chip had just finished a case, locating the missing jewels of the beautiful Lady Gadget Adler.
       "Oh, thank you so much, noble sir!" Lady Gadget said. Chip saluted her hand. "I am only too glad to help. Your grace and ineffable charm are an inspiration, even to me." Lady Gadget kissed him on the cheek and left.
       Chip turned to his comrade with a look of superiority. "Blotson, old boy, I expect a new client any moment now." Dale put on his bowler hat and rubbed his hands. "Well, Jones, what sort of case is it today? International intrigue? Professor Morbid Arty? Murder and mayhem?" Chip looked out the window with a practiced eye. "I would say our client is a wealthy aristocrat by her apparel. She appears to be in some sort of quandary over a book she is carrying. Iím sure she will reveal all to us forthwith. Show her up, Mrs. Bludgeon!"
       The old squirrel obliged and escorted a young female in, draped in a white linen dress and veil over her face. The woman in white rushed up to Jones and hugged him tightly. "Oh, Mr. Jones, at last we meet! Iíve loved you from afar for so long, now let us be together forever!" Chip looked down at the lady in white, quite annoyed "Ma-dam! Do you not know who I am? I am Sureluck Jones--the thought of a romantic affiliation is foreign to my thought patterns."
       The woman lifted her veil, a look of utter love and adoration on the cute batís face. Then she kissed him. Chip was horrified. "The Lady of Foxley! Youíre the most notorious blackmailer in all England!" Chip began backing away. Foxy had a look of complete sinister satisfaction. "Yes, Mr. Jones. I am the one woman you never could catch, until now...youíve captured my heart!"
       Chip fell over various pieces of furniture as Blotson rolled on the floor laughing. "Now...see here! I canít marry you! Iím a professional chipmunk!" Foxy opened the book, from which she brought several pieces of paper and fielding a pair of spectacles began to read them. They were poems written by Chip to a woman named Lady Gadget and they were of an embarrassingly frank and emotional nature.
       "Frankly, Mr. Jones, I am appalled. This is the kind of material the public would love to know about and would make you the laughingstock of criminals and crimefighters everywhere," Lady Foxley said with mock disapproval. Chip felt trapped. "Uh...where did you get those?" Lady Foxley carefully put the items away. "Oh, I have my sources. But I shall have you, my lovely, or you shall be out of the consulting detective business!"
       Suddenly, a large Australian-accented priest marched in and when Chip looked down he was dressed in a white tuxedo. "Dearly beloved, we Ďere are gathered Ďere today..."

       Chip woke up in a cold sweat, with Dale pushing on him. "For crying out loud, Chip! Some of us are trying to get some sleep!" Chip had never been more relieved in his life. "Oh...oh. Sorry, Dale. It was a badÖÖbad dream." Dale chuckled, "Thinking about your new girlfriend?" Chip scowled and turned over without saying anything else. Dale smirked as he got back into bed.
        Foxy hung silently from a high branch in the Ranger tree. She was having trouble concentrating and staying focused on the matters at hand. She was also having trouble adjusting to all the changes in her sleeping patterns. She decided a little nap wouldnít hurt. Foxy couldnít think of anything but Chip and what the next day might bring. Her eyes fluttered slightly and then closed, wishing they were closing to kiss a certain chipmunk. That was why she was so startled when the next voice she heard wasnít Chipís, but Winifredís
       "Foxglove, you good-for-nothing goof-off! What do you think youíve been doing?" Winifred demanded. Foxy jumped to attention. She wasnít at the Rangersí tree anymore, but at the laundromat where Winifred worked. "I..I was just resting my eyes, Winifred!" The wanna-be witch put her hands on her hips. "Donít give me that! Do you think Iím blind? I know what youíve been up to!"
       Foxy was petrified. Did Winifred know about her feelings for Chip? "Uh, I havenít been up to anything, Winifred!" Winifred snapped her fingers in command. "Bud! Lou! Tell her where sheís been!" The spider and snake goons come into the picture, smirking at the trouble Foxy was in. "We saw you spending your time at the fountain!" Bud said. "Yeah! Goofiní off when all the rest of us are workiní our legs off!" Lou added.
       Winifredís face became as hard as stone. "I think you donít have enough to do, little miss troublemaker! Now, thereís the cauldron to be cleaned, the items on the list to be picked up and donít forget to clean the floor too! And if you donít have it all done by morning, Iíll make a bat-wing stew out of you!"
       "And donít forget to clean my hat!" Lou said.
       "And press my tux!" Bud added.
       Winifred took on a look of mock sympathy. "Aw, I guess that means youíll have to miss the Grand Park Ball tonight! And you were so looking forward to it, werenít you?" Foxy was in a state of near despair. "But you promised youíd let me go if I gave you the list!" Winifred nodded meaningfully. "So I did...so I did. And if you get all the work done, you can go!"
       Lou smiled nastily. "Yeah, if!" Bud and Lou exchanged mean glances. Foxy tried to smile, but somehow didnít feel like it. "Iíll do my best." Foxy began rushing about the laundromat madly, trying to get her chores done before the ball. Of course, it was no use. The boys sabotaged her at every turn, and when the coach came, Bud, Lou and Winifred went alone. Foxy was left by the cauldron, crying
       As the wicked trio passed over the hill, Foxy heard a loud crash and grumbling. She looked up and saw a fat mouse stuck in the window. "Crikey! I should have used the door. Howís about a hand, lass?" Foxy looked curiously at the rotund mouse dressed in green leotards and carrying a sparkling wand. She went over and helped him.
       "Uh, hello. Did you lose a bet?" Foxy asked. With a great deal of effort she managed to get the mouse unstuck from the window. The window frame was beyond repair though. Monty made sure no one else was in the room, then answered nervously, "Uh, no. Why do ya ask?" Foxy shrugged. "Just curious." Then she started to cry again and Monty put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
       "Buck up, Foxarella luv! Todayís yer lucky day. Iím yer fairy godfather and Iím gonna make you an offer ya canít refuse!" Monty said. "A little godfather humor there."
        Foxy sniffled a bit. "The only thing I want is to go to the Grand Park Ball and dance with the handsome Prince Chip...but I canít go. I donít have a nice dress or a way to get there or anything!"At that point, Zipper flew in and reminded Monty of the wand in his hand. "Oh yeah...the magic thing." Monty waved his wand over Foxy and took a small book out of his pocket and read from it "Witchery Ditchery Doo!" An address book appeared in Foxgloveís wings. Monty gasped and snatched it away. "That ainít right...letís try this again. Ah, I know! Ditchery Ditchery Doo!" A beautiful ball gown appeared on Foxglove. "Bingo! Havenít lost me touch yet!"
        Foxy spun about, admiring the fine gown. "Oh, itís so gorgeous! But how will I get to the ball?" Monty held up one of her wings. "Yer a bat.Ya can fly, remember?" Foxy pooched her bottom lip out. "Hey, you mean I donít get a pretty carriage with mice turned into horses? What kind of fairy godfather are you?"
       Monty held up his hands. "Calm yerself, lass! Let me check thí manual...hmmm. Looks like I kin make a carriage outta a pumpkin for ya, but weíre a bit short on mice. Howís about a fly pulliní a carriage and a chipmunk as a coachman?" Foxy pouted a bit, but nodded. "I guess everyoneís having to make ends meet these days. All right. Do I still have to be back by midnight and all that?"
       Monty glanced around, then whispered, "Tell ya what, lass. Since I couldnít get the horses together for ya, Iíll give ya an extra hour with Prince Chip ta make up for it." Foxy squealed with glee and hugged him. "Oh thank you fairy godfather! Thank you!"
       With another wave of his wand, Zipper grew to horse size and Dale appeared wearing an elaborate coachmanís outfit. A pumpkin conveniently resting on the floor turned into a luxurious coach. Zipper and Dale took up their positions and Monty opened the door of the coach for Foxglove. "Yer prince awaits you. Uh, sorry about the window frame. I promise Iíll have it good as new by the time you get back."
        Foxy hugged Monty and ran to the carriage. "Iíll be back on time!" Dale helped Foxy into the carriage and Zipper took off for the ball. The treehouse was lit with pretty white outdoor lights, and searchlights pierced the evening sky advertising the shindig. Prince Chip was sitting on his throne, bored to pieces. No girl in the realm has interested him--well, that blonde-headed one was gorgeous but she was just interested in turning his throne into a la-z-boy.
       "I guess itís hopeless. Might as well go down to the royal police station and amuse myself..." Chip said. Meanwhile, Chipís latest suitor was being removed bodily by the guards. "Oh Prince Chipper, dance with me!" Princess Tammy cried. Foxy walked into the hall. All conversation ended and all eyes turned toward her. She approached the throne and curtsied before the prince
       Prince Chip stood up at once. "Itís you! The one Iíve been waiting for! Will you dance with me?"
       Prince Chip offered his hand, and Foxy took it. "I would be honored, your highness." She batted her eyelashes at him and blushed. Prince Chip smiled appreciatively as they began to dance.
       "Do you come here often?" Prince Chip asked.
       Winifred and the evil stepbrothers were watching every move. "Who could that refined lady be dancing there with Prince Chip?" Winifred wondered. "I dunno, but the catering here is lousy!" Lou said. Bud nodded in agreement. "Yeah, no bean dip or anything!"
       Foxy was staring into Prince Chipís eyes, and was so mesmerized that he had to repeat his question to her. "No, Prince Chip, this is my first time here. It is truly wonderful in your armsÖuh I mean in your kingdom." Prince Chip escorted his beautiful partner outside where they gazed at the moon.
       "Iím so glad you came. Will you let me take you home?" Prince Chip offered. Just then Foxy saw the big tree-palace clock over Chipís shoulder. Thirty seconds to one--the magic was almost over! Foxy turned back to her prince. "NO! Gotta go, Prince Cutie!" She grabbed his head, gave him a big kiss and ran for carriage.
        Prince Chip started after her. "Wait, come back! Come back! Come back...back...back..." The clock struck one, and Foxy was awakened by the sound. "Oh, well. Thereís more dreams where that came from."



Chapter 3 - A Dream Renewed, A Dream Revived

       Chip slept fitfully that night, tossing and turning. He was still grumpy when he got up, and tried to shake off the effect of the strange and disturbing dreams he was having. Dale on the other hand sprang from his bunk at the first call of breakfast, unusually alert for this time of day. He beat everyone else in and had almost finished his food when Chip came dragging in.
       Monty whistled at the sight of the bags under his eyes. "Say Chippah, did a cyclone hit you in your sleep?" Chip yawned as he found a seat. "You donít know the half of it." Dale nudged Monty. "He was dreaming about Foxglove." Chip pivoted in Daleís direction, and snapped at him.
       "I was not!"
       "Was too!"
       "Was not!"
       "Was too!"
       "Was not!"
       "Was too!"
       Gadget was last into the kitchen, which wasnít unusual for her. She was almost oblivious to the boysí arguments--they were simply a part of the day she had to tolerate. "Iím so glad everything went well with the laptop yesterday. Now Iím ready for test out my new gliding feature on the RangerWing! Do I hear a volunteer for pilot?"
       Before Chip could even open his mouth, Dale leaped to his feet, remembering how well yesterday had gone. "OH, me, me, me, me, me, please!" Gadget smiled at him. "Perfect! Here, youíll need this." Gadget handed him a crash helmet. Dale put it on hesitantly, but not wholly unexpectedly. "Come on, Gadget. Letís fly!"
       Gadget was pleased as punch as she walked out to the RangerWing. "Okay! All I need you to do is stand by on the controls. The Glide feature is something I added in case any of us is flying the plane and gets hurt." Gadget pulled out a remote. "I can control every feature of the RangerWing from the ground!"
       Dale was almost into the plane when he heard that last part. "Uh, are you sure this is safe?"
       Gadget looked up from admiring her remote. "Well, the odds are 78.8 percent in our favor that nothing should go wrong..." Dale was surprisedóthe odds of success usually werenít that high. He sat himself at the wheel and prepared the Wing for takeoff. Gadget checked the on-board controls
       "Okay, Dale! You remember how to do a vertical takeoff donít you?" Gadget asked. Gadget started to point out the hover switch, but Dale stopped her before she could. "Sure thing, Gadget. I know these controls like the back of my paw!" Gadget hoped he was telling the truth. Daleís bragging had got him into trouble with the RangerWing before.
       Gadget checked to be sure he was strapped in. "Okay, then. Take off and fly straight ahead. Iíll signal you when to turn via the radio link between the remote and the plane. Got it?" Dale lowered his flight goggles and saluted. Gadget stepped back and Dale activated the props. The RangerWing did a normal takeoff and flew straight ahead for half a minute, climbing to several hundred feet.
       Gadget activated the radio. "Okay, Dale. Turn her back toward the tree...." Dale did so, but somewhere deep inside him he felt a sense of impending disaster. Gadget checked her controls one more time. "Good. Now on the count of three, I want you to release the controls. One...."
       **Release the controls?!**
       "Uh, Gadget..." Dale started.
       Dale began sweating bullets. "I donít think I should..."
       Dale did let go, even though he didnít want to. The RangerWing started diving toward the ground like a rock. As the ground was coming up to meet him, Daleís life flashed before his eyes. Even in this grave situation, he still had to laugh when he remembered the time heíd put Crazy Glue in Chipís hat
       "AAAAAAAAAAHHHH! IímgonnadieIímgonnadieIímgonnadieIímgonnadie!"
       Gadget fiddled with the remote control. "Hang on, Dale! Iíll figure it out in a jif!" Gadget worked the remote as the Wing came to within a hundred feet of the ground. The wind was whipping Daleís face, and he couldnít wait for Gadget any longer. He grabbed the stick and pulled back with all his might. The RangerWing pulled out of the nosedive with a good twenty feet to spare. Dale managed to get the plane back over to the landing pad, but he had to pry his hands off the wheel. He was sprawled over the controls, breathing hard. Gadget came over, still occupied by the problem of the remote.
       "Sorry about that. Oh, silly me! I forgot to hook up the battery! Weíll get it right this time!" Gadget ran to her workshop to get a double-a. Dale leaped out of the pilotís seat and did a mad dash down the tree and disappeared across the park in record time. Gadget ran back out, only to find her pilot was missing.
       "Golly, I wonder what happened to him? Dale? Dale!" Gadget called. Gadget went back inside and checked the rooms. No sign of him, and the other Rangers hadnít seen him come back in. She walked back out. "Gosh, itís not like Dale to just walk away. Maybe he suffered some kind of injury when he landed! Iíd better look for him...."

       Foxglove had flown to the library in the middle of the night, more comfortable with her usual sleeping surroundings. She had slept fitfully--after all, she was going against her nature to get up during the daytime. But she couldnít resist seeing Chip again. As the early morning sun illuminated her face (sheíd positioned herself on her perch so it would do that) she stretched and flew off toward Ranger Headquarters. She was just in time to notice Gadget leaving the treehouse.
       "Good. No competition..."
       Foxglove flew down and began scouting the branches for any sign of her beloved. Chip felt better after a good breakfast. He walked outside and stretched. Foxglove saw him and decided in a bold move to surprise him. She crept up behind him, waiting for just the right moment with a mischievous grin on her face. Chip smiled as he sipped his coffee. There was no sign of Foxglove this morning. Then Foxglove put her wings over his eyes.
       "Guess who, cutie?"
       Chip did a spit-take and turned around quickly. "Foxglove!"
       Foxy giggled. "First guess! Hiya cute stuff!"
       Chip struggled for a moment to compose himself. "Why are you here this morning? I thought you said you only come out during the day only for very special reasons." Foxglove laughed sweetly. "Well, you werenít at the library last night and I was worried about you! I had to be sure you were okay..." Chip looked at her with annoyance. "Foxglove, Iím touched by your concern. But you donít need to keep checking up on me."
       "Oh, Iím only too glad to, darling. Say, why donít you show me your neat plane today? Youíre so clever explaining things," she said, batting her eyes at him. Chip looked over at the RangerWing. "Well, the Wing is really neat, but Gadgetís the one that built it. Sheís really something."
       Foxgloveís eartips wilted a little bit at this. She had to change the topic. "Oh, uh, well why donít we read some? Iíd looove to hear you read me a Sureluck Jones story." Chip was caught totally off-guard by that question. "REALLY? Uh, I mean...youíd like that? The rest of the group normally canít stand me reading mysteries."
       Foxglove brightened up as if Chip was the sun and she was the moon. "Sure! I bet you make it sound more interesting than anyone else." If there was one thing Chip liked, it was someone padding his ego. "Well, when Iím on a case I try to imagine that Iím Sureluck Jones." Foxy drew closer to him.
       "And who would you imagine me as...?"
       "LaÖwell, I donít know you well enough...yet to say so," Chip managed. Foxglove was undaunted, and they headed inside. Monty fixed her a bite to eat and Chip began reading aloud from Sureluck Jones, Foxglove hanging on every word

       Dale was so low a flat tire would have looked good next to him. He was certain now what Gadget thought of him. "She didnít even ask if I was okay. I guess Iím little better than a guinea pig for her. She cares more about her batteries than she does about me." Dale had gone off to collect his thoughts and feelings and to get the circulation back into his numb hands. **And to think, kids pay a buck for that kind of thing--but then again I normally would too!**
       Just then, he heard a rustling in the bushes, and caught a glimpse of some purple. **Oh, no. She wants to use me again!** Dale snuck around and behind Gadget as quietly as he could, making for Ranger Headquarters. Gadget heard a faint sound behind her and saw Dale seemingly sneaking around.
       "Golly Dale, what are you doing out here?" she asked. Dale tried not to panic. "Uh, I decided to go for a walk while you were looking for batteries. In fact, I think Iíll make it a good jog..." Dale took off. Gadget started after him, which only made him go faster. "But Dale, we still have some tests...toÖdoÖ"
       Dale increased his pace, actually running now. Then he realized he couldnít go back to the treehouse right awayósheíd expect an explanation the moment she saw him. "I hope Chip doesnít mind me taking the day off...." Dale headed for town and the comic book stores.

       Chip had become so wrapped up in his story that he had forgotten he was reading aloud to Foxglove. She just sat there, and marveled that so handsome a chipmunk would spend all this time just with her. She had been right, thoughóhe made it interesting. Heíd stand up and simulate the different charactersí actions at times and his voice inflections were wonderful. She could have listened to him all day.
       Chip happened to glance at Foxglove and found the look on her face to be quite unnerving. Foxy sighed, "Youíre such a talent, Chip. You should have been an actor." Chip wondered why it was suddenly so hot in the treehouse. "Well, my talents are better used against the criminal elementÖ"
       Gadget ran in at that moment, visibly upset. Chip straightened up. He saw the concern in her face, and couldnít ignore it. "Gadget, are you okay? You never get upset!?" Gadget grabbed his arm. "I found Dale in the woods outside and he just ran off from me like he was terrified or something! Iím really worried! Iím afraid somethingís wrong with him!"
       Chip smiled inwardly, knowing exactly what had happened. Dale had run away because he was scared. He looked to Gadget with a comforting smile and took her hand gently. "Yes Gadget, the two of us should look for him."
       That was the last thing Foxglove wanted to hear, but she could see Chip was very concerned. She wondered if most of it really was about Dale. Chip broke up her thoughts. "Foxglove, weíll have to call it short today. Sorry," Chip said. Foxy rose quickly from the sofa. "Do you want me to go with you too, cutie?" Chip turned back at her, with a stern look on his face. "No you canít!" Gadget was shocked at his harshness, and Foxy ran out then flew off in a wave of despair.
       The words from Chip stung Foxglove, and she didnít understand. What had she done to displease him? The tears started to come, and she didnít even look back. It was plain to see--he liked the mouse better. Sheíd been fooling herself. The pain in her heart made it hard to even get back to her home. But she did, and she cried all the rest of the day.

       Dale got halfway to the comic book store, and then decided to turn around. Heíd read all the new ones for the week anyway. So it was that when Dale returned, he stopped fifty feet short in the undergrowth and saw Foxglove leave the treehouse. Then Chip came out followed by an angry Gadget. Chip called after Foxglove but she kept going. Then Chip returned his attention to Gadget and after a few moments she stormed off
       "Looks like Gadgetís got a problem too. Chipís just too handsome a munk to keep to oneís self I guess," Dale said. **What on earth did you do, Chip?** Dale thought about the caustic scene as he made his way back to headquarters. He had seen enough movies to figure it outóa love triangle. Chip was in love with Foxglove and Gadget and he was being forced to choose.

       At times, Gadget was amazed at Chipís bluntness. Sheíd hoped he would have learned better by now after his experiences with Tammy. **I guess itís hard for a munk to change his stripes.** When Chip had turned back toward Gadget, sheíd told him how rude heíd been. Chip tried to blame the situation for his outburst but she knew all too well that it wasnít just that. So she told Chip that she could look for Dale just fine on her own. Chip had pouted and watched her leave. Now she was on her way into town in the Rangermobile, and drove just a few feet from the very munk she was looking for
       Dale waited till Gadget was out of sight before he entered HQ. All kidding and joking aside, he was becoming worried about what he had just witnessed. His friends were having a problem. He decided that he needed to talk to Chip about this.
       Chip had watched Gadget leave and then shook his head. **Some days, you canít seem to win.** He hadnít meant to upset Foxglove, but when Gadget came in the way she did he just couldnít help himself. Then Gadget had gotten mad at him. He didnít like it, and that was enough to put him in a sour mood.

       Chip was in his room when Dale strode in. Chip immediately chided, "Hey, do you know Gadgetís looking for you? What did you mean by running off?" Dale deflected the question. "Me? What for? Thatís not the point. Whatís happened between you, Gadget and Foxglove? I saw her fly off and Gadget was pretty steamed at you!"
       Chip threw down his hat. "I donít want to talk about it! Look, Iím in a bad mood now and I donít want you making it worse. So why donít you just leave me alone for a while?" Dale stood still. "No, you guys are my friends. As much fun as I was having watching you squirm, this is really important. Please, Chip. Let me help." Chip got up and paced the floor. Then he jerked around at Dale, a storm of frustration.
       "I donít know what to do! Before that bat came along my life was calm, well-ordered. Sheís nice in some ways and I like reading with her butóitísóall so confused! And sheís upset and now Gadgetís mad with me! I donít know what to do!" Chip said.
        "Well, what would Sureluck Jones do?" Dale asked. Chip gave a short, sarcastic laugh. "Heíd probably climb the walls too. ĎWomen are an insoluble puzzle,í he said. Iím beginning to realize how right he was."
        Dale decided the time for kidding was over. "Well, do you like her?" Chip threw up his hands. "Yes..no..I donít know! Sometimes I think I do, and sometimes I wish sheíd just up and leave forever!" Dale was confused. "Wait, are we talking about Gadget or Foxglove?" Chipís patience had worn out. "Dale, I donít want to talk about it! I donít want to think about it! Just go and watch one of your movies or something!"

       After an hour of searching, Gadget had given up and returned to headquarters. She saw Dale on the couch and was about to question him, but she felt uncomfortable for some reason and slipped into her workshop instead.
       "I can see this isnít going to be easy," Gadget said out loud. Gadget had been in her workshop for about half an hour when she put aside the blueprints sheíd been working on. Why had Dale run off? At first, she thought it might have been his ever-present need for comic books. But the more she considered it, combined with the look in his eyes she wasnít so sure. Still, Gadget knew that wasnít the whole case. The paradox of her life with the Rangers had made that clear enough. She knew the boys had some level of feelings for her. Her own feelings were another matter. Love was still a new area for her. She couldnít study it like the information she so readily absorbed. No, it had to be experienced to be understood.
       Gadget grew steadily more uncomfortable pondering this imponderable subject. There were three possible solutionsóignore the feelings, talk to someone else about them, or talk with Dale. She decided to take the middle option. There were only two people she could confide in about such an intimate subject, and Monty was the only one available right now. Gadget put her blueprints aside and took up a blank sheet of paper. She started to write on it, to express her feelings. But she couldnít seem to get started.
       "Thatís just it. I donít know where to start or whatís what or anything. Well, I do know things. I mean I have studied and my accumulated knowledge is considerableÖoh, Iíve got to talk to someone!" Gadget quietly crept out into the hall, trying to draw as little attention to herself as possible and hoping that she could find Monty alone. "I hope he can help sort things out."

       Chip began stomping up and down his room in a fine temper. Dale left, feeling that he had if anything made matters worse. He headed to the kitchen and found Monty there, making dinner. "Hi, Monty," Dale said as he plopped into a chair. Gadget had heard Dale leave his room and head for the kitchen. She followed, and decided to wait for him to leave before she talked with Monty. Dale had hardly noticed Montyís presence, and Monty was surprised to see Dale so deep in thought.
       "You look troubled, mate. Whatís on yer mind?" Monty asked. "Iím worried about Gadget," Dale replied. Gadget was almost in the door, but stopped short of the kitchen and just stood quietly in the hall and listened. Monty had expected Dale to say anything but that. "Why so worried, Dale?"
       Dale looked down at the table and traced a squiggle with his finger. "Well, it seemed to me that Chip and Gadget were getting along so well and now with Foxglove here it complicates things. Foxglove is in love with Chip, Chip is in love with Gadget and Gadgetís in love with Chip. One or more or all of Ďem are gonna get hurt in this! Gadget and Chip it seemed were starting to warm up a bit to each other and she seemed a bit down since Foxglove appeared. So, Iím worried that maybe now she feels that sheís lost him to Foxglove."
       Monty looked at Dale seriously and rubbed his chin. This line of reasoning wasnít what he expected from him at all. But one thing stuck out to MontyóDale didnít know. Not that there was any reason he should, but if heíd figured all that out... "Dale, I donít want anyone to get hurt in any oí this either. Relationships can be very difficult. Iíve seen bad relationships ruin friendships, marriages, familiesócrikey, I even seen it end lives. But when it works itís a wonder to behold. Yer right, Dale. Gadget is a little down right now," Monty said, and paused. He looked torn by something and hesitated to continue. Still, he felt he had to ask.
       "Dale, can I ask you a very serious question?" Monty asked. Dale looked up at him, curious. "Sure, Monty." Monty looked about, not feeling too good about what he was doing. "Dale, how do you feel about Gadget?"
       Dale paused, and thought a moment. "Well, sheís a super friend."
       Dale reflected some more. "Sheís really smart."
       A smile went across Daleís face. "Sheís really beautiful."
       Dale looked up from the table. What did he want? "Well, I could go on for days talking about whatís great about Gadget. Why do you ask?" Monty felt like pounding him the way Chip did, but knew that heíd get no answers that way. "Dale, how do you think Gadget feels about you?"
       The chipmunk looked back down at the table and a shadow fell on his face. "Well...she doesnít like me very much," Dale said sadly. Monty and Gadget were startled by his words. Monty put down the cheese slicer he was using and sat next to Dale. "Whatta ya mean, Dale? Why donít you think she likes you?"

       Dale began sorting his thoughts and the regularly cheery veneer he showed to the world began to fade. Monty noticed a somber, thoughtful face replace the one he was so used to. The tone of his voice dropped from high to near low, as if he were testifying before a jury. "She often complains about my movie watching, my reading comic books, my daydreaming and my staying awake till late at night. She yelled at me once for going into her workshop just to get a screwdriveróI didnít touch anything, just went in and got it. You and Chip have gone in there for things bunches of times and she never said anything to either of you, but she gets upset with me. She doesnít like my way of thinking, Monty. Remember when we were in South America looking for the cacao trees and I showed you guys where the trees had been taken?"
       "Sure," Monty replied. Dale sighed, "Remember when she said, ĎGolly, could Dale be right after all?í As if the idea of me being right about something was utterly unimaginable to her. You and Chip thought I had lost my mind, which didnít really bother me Ďcause it wasnít the first time either of you thought Iíd gone insane before you believed me about something. But to hear her say those words...it really hurt, Monty. In a way I guess itís been a good thing. I used to make an even bigger fool of myself in the old days, but Gadget put everything in perspective when we were in France dealing with Fat Catís cousin the Maltese de Sade. Thatís when she called me a ĎGoof-upí. Chip calls me names like that all the time, and I guess I just stopped hearing him. But to hear Gadget call me thatÖwell, she was right and thatís when I stopped fooling myself and quit flirting with her," Dale sighed.
       Monty cringed at Daleís wordsówords which Dale had not spoken with anger or bitterness, just sadness. The truth of Daleís words pained him, and the melancholy in Daleís voice stung Gadget deeply as she listened. Monty decided to do what he could to help. "Dale, have you ever thought about why you get treated like that sometimes?"
       Dale folded his hands in front of him on the table and looked at them. "I know why. Iím a clumsy dummy that canít be relied on. Youíve all said it or at least implied it at one time or another." Monty touched Daleís arm. "Dale, yer words hurt but I wish I could say they werenít justified. Dale, you get treated like a dummy because you act like a dummy. But weíve all seen the real Dale lurkiní inside oí you."
       "Real Dale?" Dale asked.
       Monty smiled a bit. "Sure, the one that you let show only when you haveta. Remember when you stopped that human spy while using the ĎThink Tank?í That was yer doiní. Yer stoppiní Rat Capone when he was stealiní those toy boats, too. I donít know what it is in ya that yer afraid of. You can be very brave when ya wanna be. Yeíre resourceful when ya need it and yeíre not clumsy, despite what you say. How can ya be clumsy one minute and a master fencer the next like ya were with Sewernose?"

       Dale sighed, and the look on his face gave Monty a start. There was more intelligence there than heíd ever imagined could be on that face. At the moment, the look was a combination of frustration and grim resolve. "Monty, Iíve never been good at anything in my life. When I was a kid I always tried my best at everything I did, and everything I did I failed at. I wasnít smart, I wasnít athletic, I wasnít good lookingóeveryone called me ĎRudolphí because of my nose. I didnít excel at anything. All that my best efforts ever got me was name-calling and the laughter of people watching me fail. I got tired of that after awhile, so I made a conscious decision at that point. If people were going to laugh, did I want them laughing at me or with me? Thatís when I became a clown. It was something I was good at."
       Dale stopped a moment, the flood of regret and pain requiring additional concentration to hold it all in. Gadget could feel it all the way over at her hiding place, and she found that in her innermost being she wanted to help break the dam that was holding in all that self-punishment. Dale regained his composure. "Life taught me that if I keep my expectations low then Iíd avoid disappointments. Sure, people donít respect me or take me seriously, but they never did anyway! Look, my best friend in the world calls me Ďdummyí all the time. Everyone wonders why I like comics, movies and television so much and why I daydream so much. Well, itís because I can go to those things and escapeóI can live vicariously through the exploits of those heroes and in my dreams I can be something other than a clumsy nobody," Dale looked to the floor sadly. "Monty, is there a point to all this except to depress me?"
       Gadget wiped tears from her eyes as Dale bared his soul to Monty. She never realized how sensitive Dale was to the things that people said to him and to the way he was treated. She was stunned to hear Dale say the words, "Live vicariously through the exploits..." She was surprised Dale could even pronounce those words, let alone use them properly in a sentence.

       Monty moved his hand from Daleís arm and patted his shoulder. "Dale, Iím sorry fer the nasty things Iíve said ta ya over the years. Yeíre right, we donít treat ya good and I promise from now on Iíll start treatiní you with the respect you deserve." Dale perked up. "Gosh Monty, you really mean that?" Monty slapped him gently on the back. "Sure do, mate." Monty glanced around again, not at all comfortable with what he had to say next. "Dale, Iím gonna share somethiní with you and I hope Gadget never finds out Ďcause sheíd kill me if she knew I was talkiní about things like this with you." Gadget listened intently and a little fearfully to Montyís words. "I guess Iíve been the only one she could tell, but I canna go on listeniní to ya like this without telliní ya the truth. Dale, Gadget likes you."
       Dale couldnít have been more surprised. "She does?" Dale stood up, and felt a wave of confusion come over him. Gadget liked him? Dale eyed Monty skeptically. "Yeah, she likes you," Monty said. Dale didnít believe it but said, "Well, thatís nice to hear." Monty didnít get the reaction heíd expected, so he tried again. "Dale...she likes you a lot."
       Dale looked up at Montyís face, his own forming a question. "What do you mean?" Monty grimaced on the inside. Did he have to spell it all out? "I mean she likes you a whole lot," Monty said nervously. Gadget wished she could move. She wished she could walk in nonchalantly and break up this inquisition, but her feet betrayed her and all she could do was listen. Dale turned over the implications of Montyís words in his mind for a few moments.
       "Are you saying she really likes me?" Dale asked. Monty sighed. **How dense can you be?** "Yes, Dale." Dale burst out laughing. "Ya know, for a moment there I almost believed you, Monty." Monty leaned close to Dale, a serious look on his face. "Dale, do I look like Iím jokiní?" Dale shrank back from Monty, a chill running up his spine. "No, you donít. Then what are you saying? She canít like me...not like that! Iím just a goof-up, she said it herself! Sheís everything...and Iím...nothing. Besides she loves Chip, not me. Everyone knows that."
       Monty crossed his arms. "Dale, Iím not gonna sit here and listen to you indulge yer self-pity. Gadget likes you, likes you more than she likes Chip." Dale looked at Monty suspiciously. "If this is some kind of cruel joke that you and Chip have cooked up, itís not funny. Why would Gadget ever like me?" Dale asked. "Dale itís no joke. Chip doesnít know anything about what Iím telliní you. You ask why Gadgetíd like you? Well, itís because she and you are so much alike," Monty said. Dale was too floored to say anything, and Monty continued. "Yeíre both very imaginative, yeíre both good natured and easy going, yeíre both friendly and gentle people, ya both got big hearts, ya both like to have a good time. The two oí you have more in common than ya have differences."

       Dale found himself looking about, hoping that Gadget wouldnít burst through the door just then. "But...but, sheís so smart and Iím so not smart. Monty, you sure youíre talking about me?" Monty shook his head. "Dale, do ya think that brains is all that Gadget cares about?" Monty asked. Dale raised his hands in uncertainty. "Well, I donít know. Why didnít she ever say anything to me?"
       Monty rolled his eyes. "Well mate, she certainly gave you enough hints about how she feels for ya." Dale felt like he was on a quiz show and losing badly. "What hints?" Dale asked. Monty thumbed toward Gadgetís workshop. "Remember ĎDouble-O-Dale?í That was all her idea," Monty said.
       Dale smiled at the memory, one of the few really good times heíd had. "Yeah, that was sure nice of her to do." Monty sighed again. He was going to have to spell it out. "Dale, thatís just part of it. Remember that smooch she gave ya?" Monty followed. Gadget glowed red. Dale smiled and chuckled. "Who could ever forget a kiss like that?"
       "Ever seen her kiss Chip like that?" Monty asked pointedly. Dale thought a moment. "Well...no, I havenít." Monty stood up, putting his hands on his hips. "Aní when she took care of ya in the jungle with those Kiwis? She nearly bent over backwards beiní nice to ya!" Dale shrugged, "But sheíd have done that for any of us." Monty looked around again. "Dale, havenít ya ever really wondered why she hasnít accepted all oí Chipís advances? Itís because heís not the one she really wants." For Dale it was like a curtain had been drawn back. He whispered in realization, "Zowie, maybe she does like me! But why didnít she just come out and tell me?"
       "Well Dale, Gadget is a bit of a timid soul, like you. Sheís never felt quite this way about a fella before. So she didnít know what to say or do, plus sheís a bit afraid of you," Monty said. Dale was amazed at the thought of Gadget being afraid. "Afraid of ME? Why?" Monty hesitated to tell him, but heíd gone this far. "Well, yer childishness. Ya donít take anythiní serious, aní sheís a bit put off by that. Sure itís okay to have fun now and again, but yer always actiní like a little boy who never grew up. Sheís afraid that if she did tell you how she feels you wouldnít take her feelinís seriously and youíd break her heart."
       "Gosh, Iíd never do anything to hurt Gadget!" Dale said. Monty gave him a fatherly smile. "I know that, and Iím sure she knows it also. But giviní yer heart to someoneís a very big step and sheís not sure if she should take it." Dale suddenly felt very vulnerable. "What do I do, Monty?" Dale asked, not certain if he wanted to know the answer.
       "Well, lad, first you gotta decide how you feel about Gadget. Yeíre good friends, but are you williní to be more than just good friends? What you gotta do, Dale, is decide which is more important to yaíóbeiní a little boy in a grown up body or beiní a man. Are you ready to grow up?" Monty asked.
       Dale sat at the table and rested his head on his arms. "Act my age?" Monty sat by him again. "Thatís right, mate. Youíve been a child long enough. Are you ready to become an adult and face the world like a grown-up?" Dale looked away. "Monty, I donít know if I can. In my eyes, being a grown up just means anger, sadness, stress and worry. Iíve never had a reason to want to grow up," Dale said.
       Monty put a kind hand on his head. "Dale, I know it seems at times like thatís all there is ta growiní up, but there is more than that. Thereís love, thereís fulfillment, and many other things. Maybe itís time you took a chance." Dale looked up at him. "What if I do grow up and Gadget doesnít like me?"
       "Well, mate, thatís a risk you gotta be williní to take. Do you want to play it safe and be alone the rest oí yer life? What if you and Gadget are meant for each other? Imagine how happy youíll both be! Dale, the most wonderful girl in the world likes you, isnít it worth the risk?" Monty asked, hoping. Dale looked down again, staring blankly. "I donít know how to be a grown-up. I wouldnít know what to do. Does this mean I have to act like Chip does?"
       Monty shook his head. "No, I think Chip takes the maturity and responsibility thing a little too far. Dale, Gadget likes to have fun! Iím not sayiní that you should stop beiní fun, that would be a right big tragedyóitís yer gift. But use the other parts oí yer brain! Think more. And yer a slave to yer impulses. Think before you speak and act. Basically, do the opposite of yer first impulse."
       Dale was in a mess of emotion. "I donít know, the ĎTí word is always kinda scary." Monty knew at least that he was willing. Now if only he was able. "You like readiní yer comic books, so try readiní books without pictures," Monty suggested. Dale smirked inside. **If he only knew.** "But I like to look at the pictures."
       "Dale, use yer imagination. I have just the book in mind ta start you off..." Monty led Dale out of the kitchen and Gadget had to quickly hide to avoid detection. She hurriedly crept along and stood close enough to hear the voices coming from Montyís room. "Yíknow, Dale, this werenít just a story. Iíve really been to Treasure Island..." Gadget rushed back to her workshop. Now she had hope, at last. She could forgive Monty, she knew she could. Sheíd talked many times with him like that, and when he wasnít around she would seek out Bianca R‚boga at the Rescue Aid Society. They had become friends when she and Bianca had been honored as female role models of the year for the Young Mice of America. Now she wished Bianca was here so she could share these feelings with another woman. Instead, Gadget took up her mechanical pencil and found that despite the dismay sheíd felt at Dale knowing her feelings, it helped to sort out her own. She began to write.

       Can I trust you with my love?
       Some days I canít stand us being apart,
       And I come to within a millimeter
       Of diving in with my whole heart

       But then I pull back
       As if Iím in a tail spin
       Because I donít know
       If youíll guide me in

       But today I saw a ray of hope
       A bridge to happiness to cross
       And even though I didnít build it
       Iím on the verge of walking across

       I can see you on the other side
       With your bright face over there
       I want to run to you
       And show you how much I care

       Please be careful with my heart
       Donít let me fall in rivers of despair
       Please catch me, Dale
       Please be there.

       Monty opened his door again, and Dale had a book under his arm. "Dale, this book was the first book I ever read. Me mum gave it to me when I was a young lad and readiní it was a wondrous adventure! It helped make me the mouse I am today. I think itíll help you, too," Monty said and handed Treasure Island over to Dale.
       Dale looked at the book, then back at Monty. "Well, Iíll give it a try, Monty." Dale suddenly hugged his elder friend. "Thanks for everything pal," Dale said fondly. Monty patted Dale on the back. "Yeíre welcome, mate. I just want all me friends to be happy."

       Gadget had come out of her workshop again and saw Montyís door close. She followed Dale from a safe distance and watched him go outside. Gadget knelt by the window that was just open enough for her to hear by. Dale took the book and walked outside in the moonlight. "If Iíd told him the whole story, he wouldnít have believed it." Dale looked at the book in his hand. "Iíve had many a voyage with you, Jim Hawkins and Long John. Why do I hold back from telling anyone?" Dale began to pace. "Some days I feel like Iíd like to be grown, and share everything. But theyíd just laugh at meÖbut Monty said he wouldnít treat me bad anymore. MaybeÖ" Then Daleís thoughts shifted. "Gadgetólikes me? But in that sewerÖmaybe I shouldnít have quit trying. But would the others accept who I really am? Would she?"
       Dale went to the railing he favored and looked at the moon. "This isnít a job for Supermunk or Dirk Suave, Superspy. This is a job for Dale Oakmont. So, how do I show and tell Gadget how much I like her without making a complete fool of myself?"



Chapter 4- The Dreams That Stories Are Made Of

       Gadget quietly crept back to her room and from under her pillow she drew out the photo of Dale that she kept there. She looked at it and smiled tenderly. As Gadget settled down under her blankets, she found herself still concentrating on how to deal with Dale when a voice came from beside her.
       "Boys are blockheads!"
       Gadget started in surprise at the voice, and then found she was surrounded! Dot Warner, Babs Bunny, Smurfette, Lucy van Pelt, Fifi La Fume, Velma and Daphne had all come over for a slumber party. Gadget had dreamed about these characters like this often when she was a child, enjoying having the cartoon characters she watched for friends. Now such dreams were a rare thing.
       Dot ignored Gadgetís inquiring look. "Most boys are annoying, except for Mel Gibson. Heís dreamy!" Dot said, sighing. "Hi, Gadget! Long time, no see!" Babs broke in with a perfect Katherine Hepburn impression. "Men are all the same..thatís why I like them so much." Fifi wrung her hands. "Oh, je sigh at the thought of meeting PePe...."
       Daphne crossed her arms. "Well, Iím stuck with Freddy and Shaggy!" Gadget could see the frustration on Daphneís face and knew it well. "Hi, Daphne. I guess itís been a long time since I talked to you or any of you for that matter. Iím sort of in a similar situation. Chip and Dale and Foxglove and I sort of fit in with you, Velma, Freddy and Shaggy. Who do you like more, Shaggy or Fred?"
       "Well..." Daphne hedged. Velma broke in, "Youíve always liked Freddy! Admit it!" Daphne nodded. "Okay, heís the best dresser among us. But I do like Shaggy. If only he had a backbone..."
       "So youíre in just the same spot as me," Gadget said. "Most girls are," Daphne agreed. "The guys that tend to be the best are the ones that think theyíd never have a chance, so they never ask. We have to put up with the guys who think theyíre big stuff!" Smurfette chimed in at Daphne saying that, "Tell me about it. Heftyís about the only one who ever asks me out and then I spend two hours having to watch him lift weights!"

       At that, a new voice chimed in. "But Daphne, darling, in that case you must go to them! That is how Bernard and I grew close. I had to draw him out of his shell." Gadget looked past the others sitting on her bed to see Bianca R‚boga entering the room and she was very glad to see her. If Gadget had thought about it, she might have considered it strange that Bianca was the only person she knew in real life among the group. Still, she wasnít complaining. Now Gadget turned to her as she would a mother.
       "But Bianca, what if I do draw him out and he changes? What if he turns into..." Gadget didnít want to say it, but Lucy didnít have a problem. "That annoying blockhead, Chip?"

       Dale had tried to leave his misgivings outside and had gotten into his own bed. The imaginative chipmunk was used to dreamingóin fact he was counting on it because he wanted to get some advice from his mentor, the Red Badger. But when he looked around, Dale found himself not in the Red Badgerís lair, but in the backyard of a suburban home where a red doghouse stood nearby. The back door of the house opened and a funny-looking round headed kid in a yellow and black shirt came out
       "Iím sorry, Dale," Charlie Brown said. "Red Badger couldnít make it tonight. Heís playing cards with Sureluck Jones, Elvis and Bigfoot. So Iím filling in for him." Dale couldnít believe it. "Charlie Brown! Say, you look a lot smaller in person..." Charlie Brown invited Dale over to the back stoop.
       "Well, Iím only seven years oldófor the last fifty years. Weíre like a mirror image, you and me. Iím a grown-up in a childís body and youíre a child in a grown-upís body," Charlie Brown said. Dale sighed and nodded. "Yeah, I guess youíre right. But if youíre grown-up, then maybe you can help me! Iíve got to know what to do about Gadget!" Charlie Brown looked at him like he was crazy. "Youíre asking me for advice on girls?!?! Iíve been in love with the little red-haired girl since before you were born and I still havenít told her how I feel!"
       Just then a big muscle-bound galoot with a large head of blond hair, sunglasses, a black shirt and blue jeans zoomed on the scene. "Youíve gotta show that little momma you really care, or youíre gonna be in Heartbreak Hotel, furry boy!" Johnny Bravo said.

       Bianca gave a hard look to Lucy over her remark about Chip and then gently patted Gadgetís hand. "Now Gadget, donít let the others influence you when it comes to Chip. Heís strong-minded, but he is still a good person inside." Gadget nodded, "I know. I guess what Lucy was saying was just reflecting how I feel pulled back and forth so much. I know Chipís a good person. But why does he always assume I want to be with him all the time? He doesnít want me to do anything but be his girl. I need the freedom to be myself, to have a say in things." Bianca hugged her. "I know itís been hard on you, Gadget darling. Youíre caught between the need to be intimate with someone and yet have your freedom to explore your creativity as well."
       Gadget took Biancaís hands. "Yeah, thatís about it. And while Chipís as nice as they come, heís the controlling and proud type. I donít think I could take that. Then thereís Dale," Gadget said, smiling some. "Heís like..a breath of fresh air. Heís not the kind to care about how Iíd spend the day or insist on doing what he wanted. But Iím scared, Bianca! What if I tell him and all the things I like about him vanish? Iím afraid heís so fragile inside, he just couldnít handle it." Biancaís reply was soothing, in that calm quiet that Gadget appreciated. "Now I think you know that just wonít happen. Youíre just a little afraid is all! Daleís a good boy, and your helping him wonít make him egotistical." Dot jumped up on the bed. "Just shout ĎHello Nurse!í and give him a great big kiss!"
       Gadget shook her head, alarmed. "I couldnít do that! Heíd have a panic attack!" Dot sat back down. "Funny, thatís just what Mel Gibson did when I kissed him." Babs leaned over in the advice mode. "Sounds like he needs a dose of courage pills, sister." Fifi looked downtrodden. "When I try to kiss zee boy, he just screams and runs! Le sigh." Dot held her nose. "Ewww! I canít imagine why."

       Dale was frustrated, and Johnny Bravo wasnít helping much. "I know I should go to her, Johnny, but what should I do? I donít know nothiní about her fancy machines or anything!" Johnny Bravo zipped over to Dale and stood him up "You donít get it, do you furry boy? Youíve gotta sweeeeet talk Ďem. Watch the master in actionÖ." A cute lady conveniently came into view, walking down the sidewalk. Johnny was in front of her in a blur. "Hey there, pretty momma! Did you know your eyes were beckoning me from all the way across the yard?"
       "Good grief!" Charlie Brown said, rolling his eyes. The lady whapped Johnny with her purse and walked on. Dale shook his head. "Greatónow I know how to get Gadget to beat me up." Johnny dusted himself off. "That was just a warmup! I..Iíll get it right this timeÖ"
       Suddenly the music from "Jailhouse Rock" came from somewhere and a pink caddy pulled up to the curb. "Hey, son. What are you doing taking off on me?" Johnny zinged over to the fence. "The King! Oh, momma! Whereíd I put that camera?" Johnny zipped around the yard in a panic. Dale couldnít help but be ticked off at Johnnyís antics. "Uh, Johnny? Youíre supposed to be here helping me with my problemÖ?" Johnny didnít stop for a second. "Sorry little man, this is my moment of glory! A chance to photograph the man himself..." Charlie Brown shook his head in dismay at the shallow fan behavior.
       "Hey Elvis, I thought you were at the card game with the others," Dale said. Elvis came over and shook Daleís hand. "Bigfoot got on a hot streak and bankrupted me early. Donít let Johnny worry you, Dale. My fans all get like that. But youíve got to get real with that girl of yours. Donít be cruel, son." Dale was surprised he used that phrase with him. "Cruel? Iíve never been cruel to her...I think." Elvis sat down next to him, Charlie Brown scooting to give him room. "That little ladyís been waitiní for you to take her in your arms for years and youíre given her the cold shoulder. Thatís cruel and unusual if Iíve ever heard it."
       A finger tapped Dale on the shoulder opposite to his conversation, and Dale to discover he was face to face with an aged Jedi master. "Yes, yes. To Elvis you listen, Dale. Your feelings you must follow!" Yoda said. Johnny rushed up, Kodak in hand. "I got a camera and...wow! What is that two-legged toadstool?" A dark shadow covered Johnny from behind and the deep breathing caught his attention. Johnny looked, and gasped at the black-clad figure behind him. "Johnny, I am your father."
       Johnny gazed up at Darth Vader. "Hey cool! You attract any babes in those big black tighty-wads?" Darth put an arm around him "Son, the chicks dig this outfit." Johnny gave him the thumbs-up. "Get me one too! Weíre two men on a mission!" Yoda held up his hands in warning. "Johnny, follow not the dark path! No turning back there is!" Johnny zipped over to Yoda. "Hey, toady-breath. You got any babes on your side of the Force?"
       "Well...uh..." Yoda hemmed. Johnny cut him off. "Yeah, I thought so. Letís go, Daddy-O! Weíll raid the Emperorís pad and steal his Ď57 Chevy! Hunh!" Elvis turned his attention back to Dale as the two left. "Dale, youíve gotta do something just for her. Make her feel special."

       At that moment, both Dale and Gadget woke up in their respective rooms. "Dreams sure are strange sometimesÖ" they both said. As fate would have it, they both decided to go to the kitchen. Gadget had been in there for less than a minute when Dale came in.
       "Oh, hi Dale! I was just making myself a snack," Gadget said. Dale took out two pieces of bread. "Sounds good to me. I had trouble sleeping." Gadget nodded. "Yeah, me tooÖ." As Dale ate, his thoughts returned to the last piece of advice heíd been given. **Make her feel special...make her feel specialÖ**
       There was silence for a minute where neither of them could think of anything to say. Then Dale stared at his sandwich again and without looking up he asked, "Gadget, howís about you and I go on a picnic tomorrow? Would you like to go, just the two of us?"
       Gadget was surprised, and she found pleasantly so. "Dale, Iíd be happy to go on a picnic with you!" Dale was as surprised as she had been. "You would? Oh, I mean good. Good." Another minute of oppressive silence ruled between them, and then Dale hurriedly finished his sandwich. "Well, gínite!" Dale said. Gadget waved to him, "Good night, Dale."

       Gadget waited just long enough for Dale to close his door and went back to bed. A picnic with Dale? Alone? Gadget knew that only one of her dreamís attendees was really going to be any help, so she turned back to Miss Bianca when the dream took hold again.
       "Bianca, maíam, what should I do? I donít know what to do!" Gadget said. Bianca comforted her as a mother would. "Gadget, you must go with your heart! You know in here he likes you, but he is too afraid to let it out, just like you are! You must both be willing to take the chance!"
       Gadget looked away. "But heís soÖ"
       "Fun-loving? Oh, all young men are like that! But you like to have fun too, you know. Just let a little of that fun out at the right timeÖ." Bianca said. Then Bianca whispered in Gadgetís ear and all the other girls crowded in to listen. "Iíve gotta admit, thatís pretty good!" Babs said. Lucy scowled. "Iíd just sock him one and make him like me!" Gadget took their comments in stride, but now she felt a little better at least. She laid back down in her dream, and when morning came she was determined to do what Bianca had said.



Chapter 5 Ė Dreams Clash, Dreams Converge

       Chip was up early the next morning. The dreams had come again, and he wasnít feeling any better. It was their off-day, so when he asked Monty to pack him a breakfast, the big Aussie wasnít too surprised. He knew by the scowl that Chip wanted to get out and was ready to do anything to help him. Chip found a nice place in the park and sat in solitude, suddenly wishing Gadget was there with him. Still, the satisfaction of that wish didnít dispel the cloud that hung over him. Chip stayed outside until around noon, then decided to head back. **Maybe I should talk to Gadget and settle some things.**
       Dale was nervous. He hadnít dared to believe that Gadget would accept his invitation to go on a picnic just with him! Without any of them realizing it, Dale and Gadget passed very close to Chip on his way in.They found a nice shady spot by the fountain in the park. It was a beautiful day and several rodent families were also having picnics nearby. Dale set out the cloth and the food.
       "Thanks, Dale. This was very sweet of you," Gadget said and smiled at him warmly. Dale blushed. "Uh, yer...your welcome, Gadget." Dale said nervously. They chatted about nothing in particular as they ate. Dale grew increasingly self-conscious as the picnic continued. He was sweating and tugging at his collar. Gadget couldnít help but notice Daleís condition. She smiled at him, which only made him more nervous.
       "Uh, could you pass the salt?" Dale asked, trying to hide the fact his hand was shaking. Gadget picked up the salt, handed it to him and turned away for a moment. Dale turned the salt shaker over and the cap came off and its contents covered Daleís sandwich. Dale looked up quickly at Gadget. She was biting her lip.
       Dale suddenly burst out laughing. He laughed so hard he started rolling around on the ground. "Good one, Gadget!" He managed to say between bursts of laughter. Gadget saw that her prank was well received, then she relaxed and began laughing as well.

       When Chip reached the treehouse, heíd looked all around for Gadget and come up empty. Heíd also noticed Dale was missing. Monty and Zipper had left for the afternoon to survey the cheese ships, so he was left to his own abilities to find them. Chip circled the exterior veranda of the treehouse and just as he was about to give up and try a book, he spotted them. Chip couldnít believe it! Dale was with Gadget, in almost the exact spot heíd been this morning!
       Chip stormed into Gadgetís workshop and pulled her telescope out. From the tree, Chip peered at the happy couple, jealousy burning inside him. It was almost as if Dale had read his thoughts and was thumbing his big red nose at him! Suddenly, something blocked his view. "Yaaah!" Chip exclaimed and stumbled back. "Whatís the big idea...oh, itís you, Foxglove," Chip muttered and put his hat back on.
       "Hiya, cute stuff," Foxglove exclaimed happily, hanging upside-down from a nearby branch. "What are you doing here?" he asked with annoyance. "Well, you could say I was just hanging around," she said and smiled. "I can see that. Why are you hanging around?" Chip asked. She swooped down and wrapped her wings around Chip. "I was hoping a certain chipmunk might see it in his heart to invite a girl to lunch."
       Chip untangled himself from her wings. "Iím busy right now, Foxglove," Chip said and returned to his spying. "Can I have a peek?" she asked innocently. "Uh no, I have to get this back to Gadgetís workshop. She wouldnít like me using it without her permission," Chip said hastily. He picked up the large, heavy telescope and carried it inside. Foxglove followed him to Gadgetís workshop, where he replaced everything the way it was earlier and hoped Gadget wouldnít notice the telescope had been moved in her absence. Chip moved some heavy objects back into place to cover it. He noticed that Foxglove sat nearby, resting her face on her wings, staring at him with dreamy eyes.
       "Youíre so strong, Chip. Do you lift weights?" she asked admiringly. Chip nearly dropped the item he was carrying, but quickly lifted it over his head in a show of strength and put it down in its place. He took a dramatic pose and flexed his arms. "Well, I donít lift weights, but being a world class crime fighter keeps me fit," he said proudly. She walked over to him and felt the muscles of his right arm.
       "Oooo," she cooed.
       Chip suddenly felt strangely nervous. His thoughts were all outside. Foxglove was rattling on about how great he was, but all he could think of at the moment was Gadget. He felt bad about how much time heíd spent with Foxglove. Thatís it--heíd ask Gadget out to the movies for tomorrow night. That would perk her up! So when he heard Dale and Gadget coming, he decided to ask her right then and there. He was walking into the main room as they entered

       "Youíll love the ĎCasa Ralphí! It has the best all-you-can-eat lunch special in town!" Dale said. Gadget was on his arm, enjoying the moment. "Really? Golly Dale, I had no idea you were such a munk about town!" They both laughed at the thought, and Dale was amazed at how good he felt. "Wow, Gadget! I never realized how much fun you are to be with."
       Chipís words died in his mouth. Gadget was joking with Dale! What was she thinking?! Chip thought about it and a scowl came over his face. She was trying to get back at him by playing up to Dale! That was it! Well, two could play at that game. Chip turned to Foxglove, with the sweetest look. His voice was almost melodic.
       "Oh Foxy, Iíd really like it if youíd go out with me tomorrow..." Foxglove squealed in delight and wrapped her wings around him and kissed his cheek. "Oh, Chip! Could we go to the art museum? The pictures in there are so pretty." Chip hugged her back. "Sure, Foxy! Iíll be glad to go the art museum with you." Chip stole a peek at Gadget. She wasnít even looking at him! She was still talking with Dale! **Well okay, Miss Snooty. If thatís the way you want to play it.**

       "Címon Foxy, itís too crowded in here. Itís a great day for a stroll in the park!" Chip said. Foxglove took Chipís arm as they walked and she rested her head against his shoulder. Soon they were out walking slow near the tree. "This was a wonderful idea, Chip. Thank you," Foxy said. Chipís mind was still bent on Gadget, and he was trying to think up any way he could to get back at her. Then Foxglove looked up and noticed the steely gaze in the chipmunkís eyes.
        "Whatís on your mind, cutie? Youíre probably thinking about stopping some nefarious criminal mastermind." Chip was too self-indulged to think straight. "No, Iím thinking about Gad..." Chip stopped, but his eyes betrayed him further as Foxglove saw him glance up to the treehouse. The expression on Foxgloveís face ran the gamut of emotions in under a second from joy to despair to anger.
       Foxglove threw his arm off of her. "So thatís it! All this time with me youíve been thinking about HER! You didnít really want to come out here with me, did you?" Chip was trapped. He knew he was trapped. Heíd done her wrong, and now he was paying for it. "Look, Foxy, Iím..Iím sorry. I didnít mean..."
        Now Foxy was crying. "And that invitation for tomorrow? Another lie?" Chip felt like the heel he was. Heíd been selfish, and Foxglove was the victim. Chip put a hand on her shoulder. "Okay, I admit it. I was just trying to get back at Gadget. But I was wrong, and youíre too nice a person to treat that badly. So why donít we make that invitation for real? Okay?"
        Foxy shook her head, looking at the ground. "You...you donít really like me. You just figured that since Gadget likes Dale more than you, you would just have to settle for the silly bat thatís been hanging around. Sheís better than nothing!"
       Chip started at her words. Then he wasnít just imagining things! But first things first. "Foxglove, I do like you. And I like that you took so much time to do things with me. IÖI treated you badly. You deserved better. Can you forgive me?" Foxglove didnít know what to think now. He had treated her badly, but had admitted it and apologized. She sighed and wiped her eyes.
       Foxy looked up sadly. "Okay, Chip. I forgive you. But please, donít do anything like that again. If you donít like me and want me to go away, just say so. I donít want to be a nuisance." Chip looked at that face, and felt lower than a weasel. What could he have been thinking? Chip lifted her head up.
       "I promise, Foxglove. And Iím...glad youíre my friend," Chip said. Foxglove studied his face as he said that, looking for some telltale sign of deception. But to her joy and relief, she found none. She smiled and hugged him tightly. "Thank you, for letting me be your friend, Chip."

       Chip felt relieved. "Thanks for understanding. So weíre on for tomorrow at the art museum?" Foxy gave him a quick kiss. "Of course, cutie!" Chip escorted her back to Ranger Headquarters. Foxy looked up at him. "Thank you, Chip. It was a lovely evening." Chip was getting nervous, but it was a different grade of nervous than before. "Uh, I enjoyed it too..." It was obvious to Chip that Foxglove had quickly become nervous as well. After what he did to her earlier, he worried that it might be because of what he did. He almost hated to ask, but he felt obligated to do so.
       "What is it, Foxglove?" Chip asked. Foxglove smiled nervously and blushed. "Chip...may I have a goodnight kiss?" Chip felt trapped again, but just as the nervousness was different so was this feeling of entrapment. He looked into her expectant eyes and realized heíd never been in this situation before. Heíd dreamed of it with Gadget, but now another was willing. What should he do? What....
       Then something hitherto unknown within him took over. He put his arms around her and kissed her. "Good night, Foxglove." Foxy melted in his arms. "Goodnight, Chip." At that moment, Monty opened the door and found a very unexpected scene. Chip blushed a beet red, and Foxy did too.
       "Oh uh, hello there!" Monty said awkwardly. The spell was broken and the nervous Foxglove flew off. "Goodnight, cutie. See you tomorrow!" Chip watched her go, and waved. Then he went inside without saying a word to Monty. What could he have said?

       "Is everyone ready for the evening patrol?" Chip asked. Gadget and Dale had been in the main room and stood up. "Ready and willing, Chip," Gadget said. Zipper buzzed and saluted. Monty rubbed his leg. "Well, youíd best go on without old Monterey Jack tonight. Me trick knee is actiní up and I should just stay here till itís right again." Chip looked him over. "Well, okay Monty. Ready, Dale?" Dale resisted the urge to bait Chip over the earlier incidents. Chip seemed to be back to normal and he didnít want to disrupt that.
       "Letís fly the friendly skies!" Dale said with zest. The Rangers went outside and Gadget got the RangerWing into the air. Gadget had noticed that Chip didnít have much to say, but thankfully heíd calmed down. She concentrated on the mission at hand and the RangerWing began a patrol of the city. Chip was sitting next to Gadget, but he found his mind strangely wasnít on her at the moment. Then he realized somethingóFoxy had kissed him, and asked her to kiss her. Gadget had never done that. Of course, Foxglove was more open about her feelings than Gadget wasóboy was she ever! Still, he found that what heíd told her was true. He was glad to have her as a friend. And he found that now his thoughts were kinder toward the bat that had been so annoying at first
       The nightly patrol was quiet, so quiet in fact that Gadget was surprised to see Chip asleep in the seat next to her. She was glad he was getting a little peace and quiet after the surly way heíd been the past few days. When the others looked at her inquiringly, she made a signal for them to stay quiet. Maybe forty winks would bring Chip around.

       Monty had stayed behind on purposeóold adventurers like himself had that sixth sense that they allowed themselves to be led by. Tonight, that sense had told him to stay put and heíd stayed outside, waiting. Once the RangerWing was out of sight, Monty walked out. Sure enough, he could see Foxglove hanging on one of the nearby branches. She was lost in thought, trying to come up with her next move and getting nowhere.
       "Greetinís Foxglove, luv. Iíve been expecting you. Come on in," Monty said. Foxglove gasped at the unexpected interruption. "You were expecting me to be here? You must be mind reader," Foxy said. Monty smiled knowingly. "Well not quite a mind reader, lass. But it didnít take much ta see that you needed ta talk and youíd like hang around. You certainly like a challenge."
       Foxy was beside herself with emotion, as she flew down to him. "I do need to talk to someone, and I guess I could tell you. Just promise not to tell Chip!" Monty nodded, and Foxy relaxed just a bit. "I sense Chip likes me, but...I canít go to anyone else with this! Does he love Gadget?" Monty took of his flight cap, thinking of the right way to answer her. "Well yes, sorta...I really canít say just how deep his feelinís for Gadget are. I think...I think heís in love with his dream Gadget."
       Foxy looked a little disappointed. "Then...thereís no hope? Guess itís like my other friends sayóIím just scatterbrained." Monty put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Nothiní of the kind, Foxglove. Gadget likes Chip as a friend, but there is nothiní more between them than that. Itís just that Chipper doesnít know that, yet. If you got feelinís for Chip, well, Iíll tell yaí itís going to be a real test oí yer metal. Heís a tough one to get close too."
       Foxy nodded. "Iíve noticed. But when he kissed me, my heart just sang! I think he enjoyed it too but heís so hard to read. I...I think Iím in love with him." Foxy brought out the poem and showed it to Monty. Monty read it over, then put it back in its envelope. "I think you should let Chip see it, luv. Heís pretty dense when it comes to readiní feelings, but poems are another matter." Foxy was panicked. She reached for the letter, not sure she wanted to expose herself to rejection like that. Monty patted her on the shoulder. "Donít worry lass. I know what love at first sight can feel like, since Iíve been there a few times meself. If that poem doesnít fetch him Ďround, nothiní will. Iíll make sure to leave it where only heíll see it."
       Foxglove consciously moved her wings away from the envelope in Montyís hand. "O..okay, but make really sure no one else finds it. What else should I do?" Monty smiled warmly. "The best thing I can tell ya is yer gonna need the patience oí Job and then some to get to Chipís heart. Heís not going to give up his dreams of Gadget fer you without a fight."
       Foxy stood up as her sensitive ears caught the sound sheíd been listening for--the RangerWing. She hugged Monty kindly and took flight. "Thank you, Monty. For giving me some hope." Monty waved goodbye to her and silently wished her luck.

       As she flew off, Foxglove felt both better and worse. At least now she knew it was possible! But sheíd seen the determination in Chip that Monty spoke of. Still, if there was a glimmer of hope sheíd do whatever she could to help it along. She also couldnít help but feel the least bit sorry for Chip--if he loved an ideal and not the real thing, then he was lining himself up for disappointment. Maybe she could help him avoid that.
       But now Foxy knew she couldnít have anything more to do with Winifred. Sheíd take the list to her, and that would be the end of it. She almost started off, then realized that she couldnít let Winifred complete that spell, so she tore off the last two ingredients then flew to the laundromat where Winifred worked and dropped off the list where sheíd be sure to see it. **Thatís one moon rock and chieftainís hair that will remain untouched.** She flew away, never looking back.
       Foxy returned to her roost in the dark depths of the library attic. Her heart was pounding. There was hope, but it was small that she could find happiness in the arms of the handsome chipmunk that had stolen her heart, yet he didnít even know about it. Foxy decided to read some more Sureluck Jones, and then it occurred to her to find out if Chip read anything else. She went downstairs, and Cynthia waved her over when she saw the bat coming.
       "Looking for your chipmunk again?" Cynthia asked. "Well no, not tonight. Actually, Iím trying to find something in common with him so I can talk to him without feeling silly. Is there any way you could show me his reading list for the past few months?" Foxy asked.
       Cynthia studied her for a moment, and then she grinned. "Come on. I donít think a peek will topple the pillars of this place." Cynthia showed Foxglove the records section, and after a little cross-referencing the librarian pulled up a sheet of paper. "Just donít take it out of this room. Itís against regulations, you know," she said.
       Foxglove thanked Cynthia profusely and settled at a corner table in the records section. The books were about what she figured for the most part. Murder on the Orient Express, The Encyclopedia of Sureluck Jones, Forensic Methods in Criminology. Then one book in particular caught her eye, and she noticed it had been checked out many times over the years. It was her favorite! She looked again to make sure the title was right, and she beamed in delight at the knowledge. Foxglove came over and gave the paper back to Cynthia.
       "Find what you were looking for?" Cynthia asked. "Oh, yes! Thank you so much. But donít let him know," Foxy said. "Donít worry, your secretís safe with me. Good luck," Cynthia said. She was too excited to sleep, so when closing time came she decided to go get another Sureluck Jones book and read. The story was "The Fall at the Falls", the harrowing story of how Sureluck was chased all over London and finally all over Europe by his nefarious nemesis Professor Morbid Arty. As she read page after page, Foxyís eyes began to droop bit by bit. Then the sound of water flowing shook her back to attention. She was near a waterfall. A rotund mouse in a bowler hat and suit that didnít quite fit came running up to her.

       "Have ya seen Jones, miss? Iím right worried fer that chipmunk pally oí mine! Said he was goiní ta meet some bloke at the top of Runningback Falls!" Foxy suddenly realized that her cutie was Jones! He was in trouble. She knew sheíd get to him faster than his chubby friend could. She took off, hoping she could get to him in time
        Meanwhile, the intrepid Jones was faced off with a singularly vindictive opponent. Professor Morbid Artyís yellow eyes stared at the detective wickedly. The big furry gray tabby had been thwarted at every turn. Now all he had left was revenge. "Youíve ruined everything! I was on the verge of establishing a criminal empire that would have lasted beyond my lifetime, and you had to stick your cute little nose into it!"
       Chip stood bravely against his nemesis. "Iíd do it again! Your evil machinations were the scourge of all Europe! Now I know that every Londoner can rest easy knowing youíll be out of the way!" Chip took off his deerstalker hat and undid the buttons of his sleeves to roll them up. Morbid Arty waited on him, as Victorian rules of deadly combat required. "Okay, letís get this over with. Once and for all!" Chip said.
       Morbid Arty lunged at Jones and soon both were dangerously near the edge of the falls. "It will end here, Jones. Only one of us will walk to the bottom of this mountain!" Chipís knowledge of Chinese fighting skills held the bulky professor at bay, but he knew that he couldnít hold out long. Not without help. Then he saw something out of his peripheral vision.
       Foxy saw the predicament that Chip was in. But even in this deathly situation he still couldnít bring himself to ask her for help. Did she want to help someone that didnít really want her help? Did she want to be with someone too proud to admit he wasnít perfect and couldnít do everything himself?
       "Youíll never win, Morbid Arty! You see?! Good guys have friends, so we always win!" Chip said. Morbid Arty sneered, "Good guys are fools because they make the mistake of relying on others!" Morbid Arty used his greater body mass to overpower Jones and soon was holding Jones over the edge of the cliff. "At last, Jones. Now you have no escape--checkmate!" Chip knew this was it. But at least heíd not go alone. He jerked his body out into space, pulling Morbid Arty off-balance and they separated as they began their long, perilous fall
       "FOXY!" Chip cried out. Foxgloveís eyes grew wide with horror as she saw them both go over the edge of the cliff. "Chip!" **But he called me a friend again. But he needs me! He needs my help!** Foxy began flying down after Chip.
       Chip saw Foxy coming, and some of the desperation left his face. "Foxglove, hurry!" Foxy flew as fast as she could, but the ground was fast approaching. "Donít be afraid, Chip. Iíll not fail you!" Chip reached up his hand to her, but his eyes couldnít avoid looking down.
       "Iím not gonna make it! Break off, Foxy! Leave me and save yourself!" Chip said. Foxy power dived. "Never! We live or die...together!" As Foxy grabbed hold of him, Chip tried to push her feet off of him. Foxy clung tightly. "I donít care if you just think of me as a friend!"
       Chip kept trying to free himself and looked up at her. "No! I love you! I couldnít bear it if you died on my account!" Foxyís heart felt like it would burst. "And I couldnít if I couldnít save you!" Foxy sank her claws into Chip, held on for dear life and flapped her wings with all her might to stop his decent
        The roar of the waterfall was all either of them could hear, and each one closed their eyes waiting for the end. But for some strange reason it didnít come! The wind shear ceased and Chip found that he was still intact, with Foxglove soaring above him
       "You...you did it! But how?" Chip asked. Foxy chuckled, "Never underestimate the power of a bat in love, cutie!" Chip laughed at the remark and they landed on a grassy knoll. Then the surrounding scene suddenly shifted to a wide-open field with an antebellum house visible in the distance. Chip was wearing the suit of a Southern gentleman and Foxy was dressed like a belle. He took her in his arms.
       "Youíre one gallant little lady, Miss Foxy OíHara...."
       "Oh, Chip Butler! Kiss me and Iíll be yours forever!"
       Chip pulled her close. "Miss Foxy, youíre the morning dew on my cotton!" He kissed her, and the stirring music captured the moment as the sky burned red with passion. Then she awakened. "Oh, poo! Why did I have to wake up then? But it was so wonderful, and from my favorite story! Chip, as God as my witness, Iíll never be alone again..I hope."

       The Rangers returned from their patrol without incident. Chip had awakened when they landed, and heíd stayed behind at the Rangerwing after the others had gone inside. He was preoccupied about something and didnít want the others to get any nosier into his affairs. As he was looking over the Wing, he noticed a note had been left on the wing of the Wing that hadnít been there moments ago. He cautiously made his way to the note and saw his name written on it. Chip opened it and then quickly folded the note back up, put it in the envelope and hurried back insideónearly crashing into Monty who was just coming out to check on him
       "Whatís the rush, Chip?" Monty asked. "Tell you later Monty..." Chip said. Monty tried to get a word in. "But..." Chip brushed him off. "Iíll tell you later, Monty!" The big Aussie was a little bothered by Chipís reaction, but then noticed that he was holding the envelope. **Glad I talked that lass into letting me hold onto it for her.**
       Chip checked to be sure that no one was near his room, then shut the door. He pulled out the paper againóheíd recognized Foxgloveís writing on it, and when he saw the first part of what sheíd written he knew he didnít want anyone else seeing it but himself. Now he stretched out on his bed, took the paper from the envelope again, and read it as he turned over on his back.

       From my first glimpse of you
       I was struck by loveís pull
       And I wanted to hold you
       Till my love made you full

       Your handsome face
       Your intelligent eyes
       Your manly walk and
       Your cute nose surprised

       Me out of the blue
       And shook me with happiness and fear!
       Oh, my anticipation at
       Seeing your hat coming near!

       I just want to hold you
       And never let you goÖ
       Youíre the one Iíd like to call
       "My own darling beau"

       The words took Chip at a total surprise. He knew Foxy was attracted to him, but the words were much more refined than heíd expected. And he had to admit he was flattered by them. Chip rose from the bed and settled in at the small desk next to it, thankful that Dale was still in the living room. He took a pencil out of his jacket and a fresh sheet of paper. Chip read through the amazing poem once more, and all the memories of their time together came to him.
       Chip thought about how he should answer this dedication, but more than that he wanted to sort out his own feelings. Poetry had always been a good way for him to get his emotions out in the open, so he set into his work. Soon, Chip held up the page and read it over silently to himself.

       My world was a different place
       Just a few short days ago
       I had only one dream in my life
       And but one goal to go

       Then you came into my world
       Like a bomb you changed
       The landscape and now
       My plans are on hold

       The love of my life
       Is giving me fits
       And my stupid friend
       Is making it where itís

       Hard to resist laying down
       The law to both of them
       And now this bat comes along
       And thinks that Iím a gem

       I want her gone
       And yet I donít
       I canít explain it
       And I guess I wonít

       Until I know where I stand
       With her and him and her
       I feel like a tidal waveís
       About to hit me on the shore.



Chapter 6 - Dreams Revisited

       During the flight home in the RangerWing, Gadget had cast several glances at Dale to see if he was looking at her. She caught him at it twice, and it made her all the more nervous. The last thing she wanted to do now was talk. Gadget had gone to the living room, and Dale had come up to her right off. "Hey Gadget! Is that laptop still working? We could play another round of doublesÖ"
       Part of her wanted to, but the larger part won out. "Not tonight, Dale. Itís been a busy day, and Iím going to turn in early." Dale was disappointed, but covered it up. "Okay. Into what?" Gadget half smiled at the joke and waved good night to everyone. Monty had noticed how nervous she was. Maybe he should talk to her too. Gadget returned to the solitude of her dreamsóor rather what she thought would be solitude. Instead the gab sisters were going at her full tilt.

       "Look, Gadget, youíve got to fess up sooner or later. Otherwise, youíll never know!" Daphne said. Babs was painting her toenails. "Iím still waiting for Buster to say something before I tell him!" Smurfette had a big smile on her face. "And Daleís such a nice boy...I bet he would go out with me if I asked him!" Fifi was still in the dumps. "Alors, zee chipmunk and zee skunks do not mix. Le sigh aussi." Babs put away her nail coloring. "But Fifi, Dale is a chipmunk and Gadgetís a mouse. So maybe he would like you!" Fifi perked up. "Is there some hope then? Can Fifi be happy yet with zee boy?" Dot held her nose. "If you can keep from killing them first! Pee-yew!"
       Bianca called for them all to calm down. "Now Dot, that is not kind. Gadget, they all are right though. You must find out and before it is too late. I have called someone here that I think can help you. Someone you know well." As Gadget looked on, a lady fox in a medieval dress came into the room
       "Golly, Maid Marian!" Gadget said. "I havenít seen you in years!" Marian took a place on the bed. "I know, Gadget. You gave up on this part of yourself a long time ago. But occasionally you let me visit. Now you have a chance to be happy, like I was! If Dale thinks there is no hope, the flame of love could burn out."
       Gadget blinked twice. "Love?! Did you say love?" Marian took her hand softly. "Yes dear, love. Do you think you are in love with him?" Gadget averted her eyes. "Golly, am I really in love with Dale? Well, gee, I donít know. Iíve never really thought about him like thatÖwell maybe a little."
       Marian smiled softly in that nice way she had about her. "Havenít you noticed how he looks at you? And how he blushed the time you fell into his arms?" Gadget blushed herself thinking about that incident
       Marian laughed softly. "Now dearie, you know as well as I do that your fall was no accident. You wanted him to catch you!" Gadget blushed an even deeper shade of red and looked uncomfortable. "Okay, I confess! I carefully formulated the trajectory and the angle of decent that was needed to fall into his arms and I make it look like an accident."
       Marian smiled the more. "And when Dale was downtrodden, you decided to dress up for him. Do you not remember the red dress?" The blush grew even greater. "Maybe I got a little carried away..." Marian took her hand to steady Gadget. "Nonsense, you enjoyed it! Be honest with yourself. And when you kissed him, it was wonderful was it not? You have never kissed Chip, you know..."
       By now Gadget was blushing shades that didnít even have names. "Okay."
       "Okay, what?" Dot asked.
       "Okay, I doÖ"
       "You do WHAT?" Babs prodded.
       "IÖI love Dale. There, I admit it!" Gadget said.
       Marian hugged her. "Good, you needed to do that. But are you also willing to believe that he loves you?" Gadgetís blush vanished and she frowned slightly. "Well...Dale has a really short attention span. Heís paying a lot of attention to me now, but for how long before something else catches his eye and he forgets all about me?" Dot jumped up. "Then just whack him in the head with a giant mallet and thatíll remind him of you!"
       Bianca interrupted Dotís melee. "Gadget dear, heís never forgotten about you! Did he abandon you after you called him a Ďgoof upí in Paris? When the Kiwis captured you, did he turn around and leave?" It seemed to Gadget that her calling Dale "goof up" was going to haunt her forever.
       "No, I really believe that Dale would have laid down his life to rescue me," Gadget said. Marian nodded with emphasis. "Of course he would have! You must believe in your heart and in his, Gadget. Youíll know when the time is right." Dot leaned over and whispered. "And thatís when you shout ĎHello, Nurse!í and kiss him!í"

       Dale had retired to sleep and now Bianca had migrated into Daleís dream. Dale wasnít surprised to be back in Charlie Brownís yard. There were still issues to be settled and the Red Badger could wait. Bianca sat next to Dale and Charlie Brown. As her conversation progressed, Dale began looking at her wide-eyed. "Kiss her? What if she didnít like it? What if I didnít like it?" Bianca comforted him. "Dale, darling, if you love her and she loves you, which of you could not enjoy it?"
       Dale looked away. "ChipÖ"
       Bianca made him look at her. "Dale, what are you really afraid of when it comes to Chip?" Daleís eyes shifted back and forth. " IÖI just donít wanna hurt him, thatís all!" Bianca smiled. "Chipís a big boy now, Dale. He can look after himself. You canít let his flirting stand in your way."
       "But doesnít Gadget love Chip?" Dale asked. Bianca hugged him. "Now, Daleóyou know as well as I that you are looking for an excuse. But this time you must be brave." Dale didnít like the sound of that. "Brave? In the face of Chip? I dunno if I can do thatÖ.."
       Suddenly, a fox dressed in lincoln green swung into Charlie Brownís backyard next to Dale, Bianca and Charlie Brown. "Fear not, friend Dale. All is not lost! Your fair maid is not beyond your grasp!" Dale stood aghast. It was his childhood hero! Dale had always loved the Robin Hood story, and had wanted to play Robin every chance he got. But Chip or one of the others had always beaten him out of it. Still, his heroic dream was within him, and now it was standing before him.
       "Robin! What do I do about Gadget?" Dale asked. The noble fox helped him up from the stoop and put a hand behind his back. "You must be willing to risk all for her, for faint heart never won fair lady! Take her in your arms and tell her that you love her!"
       Dale quivered at the thought of that. "Ta..take her in my arms? Isnít that getting a little close?" Robin laughed kindly. "Is that not what love is all about?" Dale felt like he did when he was facing Fat Cat. "B..b..but, what about Chip?" Robin pointed, and a portal opened in front of them. "Well, nowís as good a time to find out as any..."

       Gadget was becoming extremely nervous. Sheíd not felt this way in a long time. And why was it happening in a dream like this? She looked back to Marian. "I donít think I could feel safe with Dale, knowing that Chip would just run him over the first time he tried anything. Itís not that I donít love Dale. I do, but heís going to back down. I know it," Gadget said. Marian looked at her disapprovingly. "And what makes you think that? What reason does he have to stand up to Chip?"
       "Well," Gadget said, "I guess not much. Golly, youíre right Marian! But what if I stand up for him and he still doesnít respond?" Marian hugged her again. "You have to be willing to put it all on the line for him, like I did with Robin!"
       Gadget didnít feel too comfortable with the idea. "ButÖI donít know if I could do thatÖ." Suddenly a door of light appeared in front of them. Marian offered her hand to help Gadget up. "Well, nowís as good a time to find out as anyÖ"

       Dale was in the classic scene at the archery tournament, not to mention the classic costume. Prince Chip had captured him with the aid of Sheriff Monty of Nottingham and Sir Zipper. The Sheriff had Robin Daleís hands manacled. Maid Gadget and Lady Tammy were dressed in royal finery, looking at the scene
       Gadget was surprised to see that it was Dale in the manacles--not to mention Chip on the throne. "Oh, gollyóthis is so neat and so scary too. Well, not that the storyís scary. I like the story, but itís scary how these dream events seem to keep popping up all the sudden!" Gadget said. Prince Chipís look was one of pure glee. "For crimes against the crown, I sentence you to sudden, instant, and even--immediate death!"
       The crowd gasped. Lady Tammy began to cry and said, "Donít do it, Prince Chipper!" Dale looked at Gadgetís sorrowful face and then at Prince Chip. He jerked himself free from the Sheriffís grasp. "That crown doesnít belong to you, you big dummy! And despite your cute nose, Prince Chip, Maid Gadgetís not yours either for that matter!" Prince Chip jumped up and down in a tantrum "Iím the king! King, king, king! You never stood a chance, you oddlaw!"
       Robin or Marion stood off to the side, concealed by a colorful tent. "Theyíre not following the script at all," Robin said. Marian watched Gadget closely. "I have a feeling they rarely do, darling." Marian was having to hold back Lady Cluck. "Oh, just let me get my hands on Ďem!" the bold chicken said.
       Prince Chip stood up on the seat of his throne and looked down on Robin Dale. "You green-garnished goon! Youíll never be worthy of Maid Gadget! Besides, youíre not going to be around to say anything about it! Off with the dummyís head!"
       Gadget watched with horror as the blackguard approached with his oversized axe. She knew she couldnít let this happen. Gadget got down on her knees in front of Prince Chipís throne. "Oh, golly! Prince Chip, spare his life! I beg you, please have mercy!"
       Chip crossed his arms in defiance. "Why on earth should I spare that nitwit oddlaw?" Chip had a derisive look on his face, but Daleís never changed even in the face of certain death. Gadget looked up at Chip, pleading for Dale with her eyes. Then she looked out at Dale. "Because I love him, your highness. Golly, I do love him!"
       Chipís crown fell down on his head. "WHAT!" Dale stood aghast, as did everyone. Gadget had stood up to Chip for him! "She really does love me...." Chip jumped up and stood on his throne again, looking out at the shackled captive. "Okay you so-called hero, hereís your one chance for freedom. Letís see you tell Gadget how you feel, and if itís anything but ĎI donít love youí youíll be staked to an anthill!"
       Dale saw the domineering look in Chipís face, but he also saw the look of desperation in Gadgetís eyes. She called to him, "Dale, donít do anything foolish! You donít have to say anything!" Dale knew he didnít have to answer, but he also knew that if he didnít then Gadgetís confession was for nothing. He didnít know where the courage to speak came from, but when he spoke it was with all his heart. "Thatís okay, Gadget. If I said what he wanted Iíd be lying, and Iíll not soil the good name of Robin Hood! Besides, Iíd gladly suffer any fate because--Gadget, I love you more than life itself."
       Chip just stood there aghast. The crowd cheered, and Gadgetís look was magnanimous. Chip threw his crown on the ground and addressed the blackguard. "Arrgh! I canít wait for the anthill! Off with his head right now! Iím the king!" At that moment, Prince Chip got a tap on his shoulder and came face-to-face with a human wearing a white suit studded with rhinestones. Elvis grabbed the royal scepter from Chip and said, "Iíll just take that, thankyouverymuch"

       The Rhino guards were closing in on Dale when suddenly Yoda, Charlie Brown and Johnny Bravo burst onto the scene with the Transformers and G.I. Joe team close behind. A very short battle ensued, wherein P.J. and the Sheriffís men were quickly driven off by the King, the Jedi master, giant robots and Americaís greatest military unit.
       Gadget ran out to Dale and quickly picked the lock on his manacles. "Oh, thanks heavens youíre all right!" Gadget said. She hugged him and was surprised when Dale held the hug even longer than sheíd intended. Dale was in the middle of the greatest dream of his life, and he didnít want it to end. "I owe my life to you, Maid Gadget," Robin Dale said, looking warmly into her eyes. She hugged him again. "I couldnít have lived without you, Robin Dale."
       "Yo Joe!" Sargeant Slaughter shouted as the bad guys made a hasty retreat. Dale looked around and noticed that Johnny Bravo was dressed in his regular attire and now Vader had changed to look like Johnnyís twin. Johnny zoomed up to Maid Marian, "Hey there, foxy lady." Maid Marian picked up a mace and hit Johnny over the head with it. "Yeah, she digs me..." Johnny said, slumping to the ground.
       Dale let go of Gadget and helped Johnny back to his feet. Dale scratched his head. "I thought you went over to the dark side of the force with VaderÖ" Johnny shook the cobwebs around in his head. "Oh, man! The chicks donít dig that heavy breathing business and that helmet put a major cramp on my hair. Iím back on the good side!" Vader adjusted his shades and his hair. "And Iíve joined him. How does that dance go?"
       Johnny moved his arms up and down. "Like this! Do the monkey with me!" Then Johnny leaned in close. "Say, you got another name? Vader wonít pull Ďem in, you know." Vader kept dancing. "My real nameís Anakin Skywalker." Johnny snapped his fingers. "If anyone asks, youíre A.K. ĎSkyí from now on. Letís ride!"
       Sky and Johnny went off to look for chicks. Then a chicken-shaped shadow covered Johnny Bravo. "Oh Johnny! Come here and give me a kiss, ya tall and handsome lad!" Lady Cluck said. Johnny and Sky both turned to see a short, fat hen running toward them. Johnny started burning rubber. "Get away from me, chicky lady! Oh man, where is Colonel Sanders when you need him?"
       Dale woke up at that point and looked around. "Man! That was a cool dream!" Gadget sat up in bed, stirred by the emotion of the dream. "Golly, that dream was so real! But why was Elvis bonking Prince Chip on the head with his scepter?"



Chapter 7 Ė Dreams Revolt

       When the morning arrived, Dale started to wake Chip but the smile on Chipís face convinced him to let his friend rest. "Maybe heís finally quit having nightmares," Dale said to himself. The day went quickly, as the Rangers finally saw some action. A gang of local packrats was looting a jewelry store, looking for very expensive shiny trinkets to add to their collection. It took the Rangers the full day to track them, and when they returned Chip apologized to Foxy for missing their afternoon at the museum. She understood, but to make up for it he spent a couple of hours reading Sureluck Jones with her and telling her about the case. Chip had just finished the third story when Foxy decided to leave, saying she wanted to be alert for the museum tomorrow. Chip hugged her good night, and she kissed him on the cheek. Then Chip decided to check on Dale at the couch. Dale had decided to spend his evening watching his favorite movies and now was up to Jungle Book. Chip came in just in time to catch the classic scene between Baloo and Mowgli.
       "If you act like that bee acts...uh, uh...youíre workiní too hard," Baloo said, Mowgli on his tummy. Dale pointed to the screen. "I based my life on his teachings." Chip settled in and watched as Baloo continued. "And donít spend your time lookiní around for something you want that canít be found..."

       Chip watched that film with Dale and Beauty and the Beast before tiring down. He left Dale to continue his marathon, and gratefully laid down on his bed. As Chip settled into slumber, someone slapped him on the back, and he found he was in a jungle.
       "Whatís the problem, little britches?"
       Chip looked up and found a grayish looking bear looking down at him. Chip was Mowgliís size and Baloo still towered over him. "The nameís Chip!"
       Baloo was moving to a beat that only he heard. "Oh, I see. Youíre one of those uptight kinda guys. You sound like Baggy. You gotta learn how to relax." Chip doubled his fists. "I AM RELAXED!" Baloo went over to a spiked plant. "Here, have a pear," he said, tossing the prickly pear to Chip.
       "OW! It has spikes!" Chip said. "You donít use the paw, use the claw!" Baloo replied. Chip wanted to be free from this character. "Why canít I have normal dreams like everyone else? Look! I donít want food, I donít want to dance! I just want my life to go back to normal!"
       Baloo picked Chip up and set him on a rock for a face-to-face talk. "Hey, take it easy! Well, Chiperroo, youíre gonna haveta make a choice. It ainít natural being in love with a girl that doesnít love you while youíre ignoring a girl that is in love with you."
       Chip was taken aback. "Sheís in..? Gadgetís notÖ? Hey, how could you know about Foxglove? This is the middle of the jungle!" Baloo tapped Chipís hat. "And in the middle of your head. Thereís a little Baloo inside you, Chip, and I see these things even if you donít wanna see Ďem. Now what youíve gotta do is decide which stream youíve gonna take. You canít go both ways, or youíll end up on dry land."
       "Stream? Land? What are you talking about?" Chip asked. Baloo sighed. "Oboy. This kid is gonna be a piece of work."
       Chip turned over in his sleep, already uncomfortable with where the conversation was going. Baloo took him in his paws. "I swear, youíre taking clueless lessons from Baggy. Gadget or Foxglove! You canít have them both. To go after one means perhaps losing the other, forever." Baloo set Chip back down on the rock. Chip was in no mood for this. "But what if Iím supposed to be with Gadget? I mean, Foxgloveís nice and I do like her but Gadgetís the prettiest girl Iíve ever seen. That anyoneís seen!"

        Baloo crossed his arms. "And what if she wasnít so pretty? Would you still like her as much?" Chip squirmed at the question. "Wellllllll...I donít know! Thatís not a fair question!" Baloo took a seat on the ground. "Youíve been in love with her pretty face since the day you met her. But thatís all youíre in love with. You idealized her and made her everything you want her to be. But thatís too much for her to do, little britches."
       "Idealized her? What are you talking about?" Chip asked.
       Baloo snapped his fingers and an image of Gadget appeared. "You admit sheís the prettiest female youíve ever seen?"
       "Sure!" Chip said.
       "But this ideal of yours is more than just pretty. Go ahead, take a good look at her," Baloo said.
       Chip did, and found himself getting self-conscious. Gadget was wearing a white lace dress, had her hair done up beautifully, and she was wearing makeup. Baloo pointed at her. "Is that Gadget?"
       "Well, it could be!" Chip said.
       "But it isnít. This is the Gadget you see--a girl that would be and do whatever you wanted to make your feelings justified. But thatís not Gadget, Chip. Thatís a doll, pure and simple. Something to pander to that pride of yours," Baloo said flatly.
       Chip was getting angry fast. "And you think Iím shallow, is that it? Come on, spill it! You think thatís all I care about!" Baloo brought him right up to his face. "Prove me wrong, little britches. And since this is a dream Iím gonna make you put your money where your mouth is."
       Suddenly Foxglove and Gadget appeared. Chip looked at the both of them. His ideal Gadget was there and Foxglove was beside her. Gadget rushed up to him, ready to please. "Chip, Iím your ideal! If you marry me, youíll be husband to the most beautiful and generous person of all! Youíll be the king of the mountain!" Foxglove pushed her aside. "Chip, donít listen to her! Thatís your imagination talking. Sheís not the real Gadget--thatís the one you invented!"
       Gadget turned up her pert nose at Foxy. "Hey, how can I help it if Iím the prettiest? I donít even diet. Besides, everyone knows that Chipís the best. I deserve him." Foxglove put her wings on her hips. "Who said you were the prettiest? Among bats, Iím gorgeous. You donít deserve him, and he doesnít deserve to keep fooling himself. Besides, youíre nothing more than a mirage!" Foxglove put her wing right through the image. "See Chip? Your image of her isnít anything but an image! Pick me! Pick me!"

       Baloo leaned an elbow on the rock Chip was once again sitting on. "Sheís got a point, little britches. Remember all the times youíve yelled at Gadget? Like the time her magnet started pulling utensils in from everywhere?" Chip saw the image in front of him, and him saying, "Your stupid invention could have killed someone!" Baloo shook his head, "And you didnít even try to stop her when she wanted to leave." Chip threw up his hands. "Hey, I was about to say something when Myron came in! Besides, Dale didnít try to stop her either!" Baloo shook his head again. "Chip, youíre the leader. You took on the responsibility of the team. Itís your job to keep the team healthy, and you didnít do it."
       Baloo snapped his fingers, and the scene changed. "That started a chain of events that made Gadget leave you for a while. And when Midge the swallow showed up, you didnít want to listen to Gadgetís idea, did you?" Again, he could see himself demanding to have a big case instead of helping the little bird and causing Gadget to cry. Chip was getting defensive. "ButÖthatís not how I really feel about her! Not how I see her!"
       Baloo snapped his fingers again, and the image vanished. "Maybe so, little britches. But a better question to think about, fellaówhat does she see in you? Have you ever once thanked her for all sheís done? Thought of her first? Made her feel special?"
       Chip started to open his mouthóand then shut it again. Gadget didnít like her birthday to be celebrated like the others, so heíd gotten in the pattern of not bringing it up. Heíd tried to ask her out before, but she always had something else to do. Maybe there was more to it than heíd thought about.

       Baloo helped Chip off the rock and took him off to another part of the jungle. "Little britches, you might as well see the rest...." Baloo snapped his fingers and Gadget and Dale were standing on a rock alone near a waterfall.
       "Gadget, youíre the punchline of my jokes..." Dale said.
       "And youíre the motor oil in my camshaft!" Gadget replied.
       They embraced, and Chip couldnít contain his ire. "No! No, that canít happen! Itís a lie!" Baloo sat down next to him. "Well, prove it. Tell Gadget that you love her. I dare ya." Chip started to go over, but found his legs wouldnít move. "Youíre doing this to me! Itís all your fault!"
        Baloo shrugged. "Hey, donít blame me, itís your dream. Youíre the one stopping yourself from going over there." Dale stuck out his tongue at him, and Gadget laughed at him. Chip pointed at Dale.
       "Itís all your fault! Your fault!" Chip shouted.

       Baloo turned him around. "Hey easy, little britches! Youíre gettiní all riled up, but youíre losiní sight of the big picture here!" Baloo said. "What big picture? That Iím the prize chump of the world?" Chip asked.
       Baloo leaned back on the ground. "You said it, not me. But look, Iím tryiní to clue you in here! Gadgetís not your true love, yer girlís the one with wings...wings, like an angel." Chip knew where this was leading. "Foxglove? Iím not in love with her! I just met her a couple of days ago!"
       Baloo turned toward him, leaning on his elbow. "Now you know good and well that it didnít take you two seconds to fall for Gadget when you first saw her! Loveís quick as a wink, Chip. Youíve gotta be quick too, or itíll get away from you!"
       Chip stood up and folded his arms defiantly. "Gadgetís going for Dale, because I havenít said anything to her yet. All I have to do is tell her I love her and sheíll be mine, I know it! To think that Dale actually believes heís in Gadgetís league..."

       "And what makes you think any woman is worth having?"
       Chip turned around to see a human walking up behind him "Henry Higgins?!? What are you doing here?" Higgins sat down beside Chip. "Oh, come now lad. You know perfectly well why Iím here. Youíre thinking of throwing yourself at that glowing apparition of a girl and making a complete ninny of yourself in the process."
       Chip didnít like this line of conversation either. "You think that Iím not in love with Gadget either and that I should go with Foxglove instead? Are you cuh-razy!?" Higgins sighed with impatience. "Chip, what kind of a word is that! ĎCuh-razyí." Chip just stared at him. "Who cares about pronunciation at a time like this?"
       Higgins threw up his hands. "My good munk, proper pronunciation is what keeps the hierarchy high and the lower class in the dregs! But back to my point. What do you need any girl for? Gadgetís crazed for Dale--sheíll have her hooks into him within a fortnight, mark my words. Itís the bat you have to worry about. Sheís coming for you with every weapon in the brutish little game of love. But are you truly up to the challenge, or will you fall prey to those wiles without even answering the most paramount question of all?"
       Chip was still stunned from the appearance of a second fictional character in his dream. "What...what question?" Higgins pounded the earth. "Oh, why do I ever bother? The question I already asked! What do you need any girl for? What do you need Foxglove for? You obviously donít really need Gadget or youíd have kicked your companion out of the picture long before now. Sheís only a pretty picture on the ruddy wall that you fancy to look at when you need to feel youíre in control! So, I put it to you again--what do you need Foxglove for?"
       Chip knew. He didnít want to say it, but he knew. "I...I hate being alone...Okay! I admit it! Iím not Sureluck Jones! I donít want to spend my latter years all alone, tending bees. I want there to be more to my life than just an endless mountain of cases to solve. I want to be happy, just like everyone else! Higgins, Iíve seen My Fair Lady. You hated being alone too, you just didnít know it until the end of the movie."
       "Of course I didnít!" Higgins said. "We men are a high breed, but it can be deucedly difficult to admit what you just did. Thatís why I wanted Eliza with me. And thatís why, in your innermost soul, you want Foxglove. Do you understand?"
       Chip jumped to his feet. "But I want GADGET!!!" Higgins shook his head at the chipmunk. "Chip, youíre a commonplace lackaday little ignorant fellow, after all. Donít you get it, lad? Youíre wanting something that doesnít exist! You donít know the real Gadget from a hole in the wall. Can you honestly stand there and tell me her thoughts about you? Her true desires in life? The reason that sheís the right one for you?"
       Chip was trapped, and he knew it. "Well, weíre both good looking, weíre both serious, weíre both...smart...weíre both...uh..." Higgins stopped him right there. "Youíre not answering the question. I could find a hundred similarities between the two of you! Tell me why sheís right for you."
       Chip started to get nervous. His mind had gone blank. "Iím a better match for her than that idiot, Dale! And if she does actually love him sheís a bigger fool than he is!" Chip stopped at that. He couldnít believe heíd said it. Gadget a bigger fool than Dale?
       Higgins raised an index finger in triumph. "AH! A glimmer of light in the obsidian darkness! So youíre willing to admit that maybe she does love him, foolish as it may sound. But do you understand why she would?" Chip sneered in disdain. "Heís a moron! He can hardly walk straight and has virtually no attention span...I couldnít imagine what sheíd see in him...unless she wanted to make me jealous or she was just pitying him like she did with that stupid ĎDouble-O-Daleí disaster when that dummy almost got us all killed."

       Baloo broke in. "Hey, Higgy, donít give away the farm to the boy yet! Look Chip, youíre calliní your best friend on earth a moron! And why are you playiní him down? Are you that insecure about yourself?" Chip was indignant at the suggestion. "Me? Insecure? I have nothing to fear from Dale. Yeah, sure, heís my best friend, but heís just a sheep. Heíd be totally lost without me to look after him."
       Baloo gave him a condensing look. "Oh, really? Seems to me that ĎDouble-O-Daleí was pretty self-sufficient. Daleís bailed you and the others out on dozens of cases. Why donít you ever give him credit?" Chip now became defensive. "Okay, heís lucked out from time to time...but thatís it. Heís just gotten lucky, thatís all."
       Higgins tsked him. "Luck? Are you so blind as to credit dame fortune for anotherís success, when you never do for yourself? For shame, lad. For shame." Chip made a flippant gesture with his hand. "Okay, heís saved the day a few times, usually after having gotten us into the trouble in the first place..."
       Baloo got up in his face again. "And how many times has he been there for you, even when you treated him like he doesnít deserve to breathe the same air as you?" Chip sighed. "Heís always been there for me, like a best friend should."
       Higgins got up and began to pace back and forth. "So, heís always been there for you through thick and thin, heís pulled your fat out of the fire on numerous occasions and heís caught Gadgetís eye. What possible reason could you have for wanting him not to be happy?"
       Chip opened his mouth but no words came out. All he could do was sigh again. "This would all be so much easier if Foxglove had fallen in love with Dale rather than me." Baloo got up, and helped Chip up as well. "Little britches, youíve got a lot to learn yet. And some of itís gonna come through the school of hard knocks. Just remember that life only throws you so many shots at happiness. Donít get caught up in chasing something that you canít ever get. Youíll end up losing both those girls and hurting everyone else in the process. Look son, Foxy may not be your ideal beauty but sheís a whole lot closer to your ideal girl than Gadget is!"
       "Precisely," Higgins added. "The batís gone out of her way to do the things you like and like the things you do and be as nice as an elected official during campaign season! So if you really donít want to be alone, give the girl a chance. And for mercyís sake, enunciate your ĎLí Ďs and ĎVí Ďs more clearly," Higgins added. Then Baloo and Higgins stepped aside. "Hey, where are you two going?" Chip asked. "Remember what I said about hard knocks?" Baloo asked. "Well, now youíre going to have one!"

       Chip was overshadowed by something from behind. He turned and found he was looking at a powerful yet good-looking hunter. "Gaston?" Chip asked. Gaston picked Chip up and put him on his shoulder. "Of course! After all, you and I share a common bond!" Chip really didnít like this. "What bond would that be?"
       Gaston looked surprised at him. "Why, the awareness that we both deserve the best! After all, Gadget is the most beautiful girl around. That makes her the best! And donít you deserve the best?" Chip just stared at the greedy face. Higgins and Baloo stood before him again.
       "Chip, this is the real you," Baloo said.
       Chip shook his head. "NO! Itís not true!"
       "Perhaps not at the present," Higgins said. "But if you continue on thinking only of yourself, this is what youíre destined to become. Give it up, Chip."
       Chip shook his head in disbelief. "But youíre just fictional characters brought up by my subconscious! Youíre not real. I love Gadget, not Foxglove! You guys are just figments of my imagination telling me that Iím really in love with Fox...wait a second, if you guys are my subconscious and youíre telling me Iím in love with Foxglove rather than Gadget, that means...that means.Ö" Then Chip looked back at Gastonís face, and he nodded.

       With the shock of that realization, Chip was jolted into consciousness, screaming. He was so disturbed by what had happened, he didnít know what to do. Was it all just a dream? He tried to tell himself that several times, but the images didnít go away. When he spoke, his voice wasnít very confident. "Iíve got...Iíve got to find Dale, and settle this thing once and for all," Chip said. "In the morning."



Chapter 8 Ė Where Dreams May Thrive

       As the dawn approached, Foxglove was up early. Chip had promised to take her to the museum today, and she decided to go there early and catch a tour with some humans. She listened intently as the curator explained the meaning of each piece and waxed poetic in front of one painting in particular that was on loan to their American History collection. Foxglove studied the painting and found it was truly unique--one that she was sure Chip would like. Then she remembered the time, and flew off to Ranger Headquarters.
       When she landed, Chip was outside and pacing. Foxy could see he was troubled and that troubled her in return. "What is it, darling?" Foxy asked. Chip hardly paid her a look. "Iíve got to think, Foxglove. Iíve got to decide on something important." Foxglove misunderstood and smiled a bit, "Would that involve a certain bat we know?" Chip wasnít in the mood for games. "No. Just a little problem. You wait out here, and when we get back from patrol you and Iíll go to the museum." Foxglove watched as Chip headed inside. She was hoping heíd be in a better mood, but at least he was living up to his promise.

       Chip found Dale watching the morning cartoons, as usual. "Dale, I want to tell you something." Dale took his attention from Zobo the Clown and turned to face Chip. "What, Chip?" Chip stood up and turned the television off, and paused a moment before speaking. "Youíre spending too much time with Gadget. Sheís a good sport and so am I, but itís time you backed off."
       Dale looked him curiously. "What do you mean? Weíre having fun doing stuff together, she certainly doesnít mind." Chip did his best to keep his temper in check. "Dale, I donít want this to sound harsh, but sheís just doing it to be nice. I was going to take Gadget to the movies, but your interfering got in the way. I donít mind if you have some fun now and then, but youíve got to respect that Iím the one she really likes."
       Dale shook his head. "So, thatís it. Youíre jealous that sheís been spending time with me rather than you." Chip grimaced and poked Dale in the chest with his finger. "Just remember what I said, and step aside. Youíre in the way." With that, Chip turned around and stomped his way outside. Foxy tried to talk to him as he came out, but she decided against that when she saw how worked-up he was. She slipped inside to give Chip a few minutes alone. Chip went down the tree and soon was pacing around the tree, trying to sort out his feelings.

       Gadget was still disturbed by her dream, even in the seclusion of her workshop. It had seemed so real! But it was too ridiculous. Dale as Robin Hood and she as Maid Marian? Still, the emotions had felt so real. Gadget had avoided Dale that morning, but then she realized sheíd left the CD drive for her new laptop in the main room--and Dale would be watching television in there. Gadget shrugged off the hesitation, and headed for the door of her workshop.
       Foxglove watched as Dale sat down at the couch in the main room. She liked Dale--he was a bit high-strung, but seemed to be a nice person. She watched with further interest as Gadget came in the main room and picked up a piece of equipment sheíd left on the coffee table. Dale watched her the whole time, and Gadget smiled a bit but left pretty quickly. Foxy saw an opportunity to make sure that Gadget would have someone besides Chip in the competition and she decided to clue Dale in.

       "Hello, Foxglove," Dale said, making a place for her. "Whatís Chip doing? Did he forget about your date?" Foxy shook her head. "No, he said he had some problem to deal with first." Foxy wasnít sure how to talk to Dale, so she decided on the straight approach. "Dale, you sure must like Gadget a lot, your heart rate skyrockets every time she enters the room." Dale blushed and looked apologetic. "Uh, well..." Then Foxy leaned in close to Dale and whispered, "And her heart rate skyrocketed when she came near you."
       Daleís eyes grew large. "Huh? What are you saying? You mean she...sheís....no, that canít be. She doesnít feel that way about me. She made it clear in Paris..." Foxy shrugged her shoulders. "Well, she certainly feels something strong for you whenever she sees you...and has the same reaction as you...so you must have the same feelings for her that she has for you."

       Gadget re-emerged from her workshop. She decided she hadnít been nice by leaving so fast, and should at least say something to him. "Hi, Dale!" she said, with her usual upbeat voice. Dale was instantly in a sweat. Gadgetís voice was sweet and welcoming, but it was the last thing he wanted to hear right now. "Uh, er, hi there. Gee, I think Iíd better...getmeasnack!" Dale ran out the door.
       "Dale, the kitchenís the other way! Dale?" Gadget said. She looked to Foxglove, who was still standing there. "Foxglove, was Dale acting strange when you came in?" Foxy shook her head. "No, Gadget. But he seemed to tense up when you came in the room the first time, and more just now. He was on the verge of panic." Gadget ran outside, concerned about Daleís strange reaction. Foxy watched her go with satisfactionóthat would keep her occupied. Gadget looked down the trunk to see where Dale was going, but he hadnít gone that way. The only person down there was Chip, pacing around. He didnít look like he was in the kind of mood where Dale would have wanted to chance meeting him. She glanced around quickly to the left and right--no Dale. With only one direction left, she looked up. There, near the top of the tree, she could see something red moving slowly in the breeze. A thread.
       "Well, thereís only two of us that wear red on a regular occasion, and Iím betting by the size of that thread itís not ZipperísÖ" Gadget returned to her workshop and got her plunger shoes. After securing them, she walked up the side of the trunk and began following the telltale thread, taking it up as she went. Two feet later, she stopped where her trail did. Even with the plain marker, she almost missed it, so well-hidden was the entrance. Gadget hesitated a momentóif this was some kind of secret place known only to Dale, would she be betraying him by going in? Ultimately, curiosity won out.
       "Here goes nothingÖ."

       Chip stopped and looked up toward the treehouse. He was sure heíd heard Gadgetís voice, and if he could catch her alone maybe he could get her to settle this business for him. The veranda of the treehouse kept Chip from seeing where Gadget had gone, so when he got there Chip found that sheíd disappeared.

       Gadget tested the entranceóit was right at the top of the tree trunk, a circular swinging faux-wood panel that had been made to appear like a knot in the wood. In fact, had the string not been leading inside she would never have noticed it. Gadget tilted the circle and it gave way. She noticed Dale had a restraining arm built in just under it, with was off to one side
       **Maybe he wants me to come here. But he was so upset, he may have just leapt in without thinking.**
       Gadget gently let herself by the circle and suddenly found herself sliding fast. The path angled down and around in a wide three-quarter spiral, and at the end she found herself on the floor of a larger room than she would have suspected. In fact, there were three roomsótwo of which were visible to her. Dale wasnít in this initial room, so Gadget stood up and looked. As she did, she gasped. The room was amazing!
       **He must have developed all of this himself over the years! But where did he get the talent?**

       And wonder she might, for the items here were representative of a far different Dale than sheíd knownóthan any of them knew! The main room was circular, and the walls had been scored by some method to create shelves that were essentially deep semi-circular gouges in the wall of varying size. Here there were books ranging from Daleís usual fare of comics to erudite classics such as The Three Musketeers, Robinson Crusoe, and Tom Sawyer. She noticed that the comic books were well-preserved and some were even framed to preserve them. She also noticed the copy of Treasure Island Monty had given him, plus a near-twin on the shelf. And the pictures! The top three rows that circled the room were nothing but pictures of the Rangers.
       As Gadget studied them, she found herself correcting that first impression. It was essentially a timeline of Daleís life. The first few pictures were obviously childís drawings, kept for sentimental value. There were pictures of his family and home and even one in crayon that she was pretty sure was Chip. After those there seemed to be a gap of a few years, then after that pictures that showed Dale and Chip moving into their new treehouse and having fun with a very angry duck. Gadget had to cover her face at those to keep from laughing.
       Then the pictures of the Rangers started. Daleís skill showed improvement in picture after picture. It was obvious he was self-taught, but it was also obvious that he had talent. The pictures were good. Not quite in the class of Da Vinci or Renoir, but good. Some were pencil drawings, as these first few wereóa sketch of each Ranger and then a group picture. Gadget took her eyes from those and began to study the rest, which essentially formed a record in canvas and paper of the Rangersí missions.
       The scenes were captivating for the most part, and brought back memories of so many times the Rangers had been in sticky situations. It also formed a Rogueís Gallery of their worst enemiesóNimnul, Fat Cat, Rat Capone, Bubbles, Captain Fin, Su Lin, and many others. But through all these, Gadget was forming a pattern. Almost every third picture was one involving her and Daleóthe fall and catch sheíd been reminded of so recently, the time sheíd cared for him in the adventure with the Kiwis, the time sheíd lost her control with him when they were caught underwater in that boot.

       Two in particular caught her attention that were done with far greater skill and detail than the othersóthe first was of where sheíd called Dale a "goof-up" in that Paris sewer. It was painted in varying tones of blue, and clearly showed his melancholy feelings about it. Gadget wished with all her heart she hadnít said it. Sheíd only meant to tease him a little but poor Dale didnít realize it. The other made her cheeks hotóit was a painting of her in that dress when sheíd kissed him. She had to admit it was well-done, even if it was embarrassing. But it made her think, **Does Dale just like..er love me for my looks after all?**

       She left those pictures, as sheíd noticed a few others off on their own. These were scenes she wasnít familiar with, but they were as well-painted as the last one of her sheíd seen. Then Gadgetís attention was pulled away to a closet next to the shelf holding those paintings and she opened it. Through a skylight, the sun shone done in dramatic fashion on six outfits in the rounded-out closet. Gadget was beginning to figure out that Dale had created a motif for the place, which impressed her as much as anything sheíd seen. Three of the costumes were familiar to heróthose of Rubber Bando, the Red Badger, and the white dinner jacket heíd worn as Double-O-Dale. The other three were newóone was a blue top and bottom with a yellow belt and red boots and cape. There was a large "S" inscribed on the chest.
       **Supermunk. I guess Dale never got tired of playing heroes. This must be where he comes to live out his fantasies.**
       That thought made Gadget feel that she was intruding, but she also was curious. The next costume was unfamiliar at first, but then she placed itóRamDale! **So he turned what was an evil character into a hero. I guess that was a way of compensating for his actions in Paris** The third and fourth costumes were Daleís Red Badger outfit and a grayish outfit with a white "K" in the middle that she could only figure was meant to be Kablammo Man. The last costume was encased in a white covering meant to keep it clean, and Gadget realized that whatever was inside must be precious to him. She looked about once more and gently lifted the cover, and then she stepped back in utter surprise. It was a costume of lincoln green, highly ornamented, with a hat and shoes to match. **It looks just likeÖbut thatís imposs...highly improbable!**

       Gadget closed the closet quickly and continued to look through the room, for everywhere there was detail. The furniture in the room was simple, but sturdy. And the room was neat! Not a crumb on the flooróthat in itself was so non-sequitur, Gadget was taken aback by it. Then her attention returned to the paintings by the closet with the costumes. She was surprised to see that the chipmunk in the pictures was Chip--or was it? She looked again, and noticed that though some of the pictures were from real life. The dapper chipmunk was dressed up as Rubber Bando and Double-O-Dale. Others were pictures of him in the costumes of various superheroes.
       Then it struck her--it was Dale! Heíd changed his face to look like Chipís. This was his ideal form of himself, and for the first time Gadget realized that he must have suffered a lot because of his appearance. Then she wondered if heíd changed her too. Three of the paintings had pictures of her in them, and she was again surprised to see that they depicted her as she normally was. No damsel in distress, no dolled-up beauty queen--except for one. This showed Dale as Supermunk and Gadget as a super heroine. She had to think for a minute to realize heíd used the old Mighty Mouse character to create a Mighty Gadget! Gadget had an urge to take that one with her, but resisted. The second was Dale as Rubber Bando and Gadget with her plunger gun set to take on a group of fierce costumed super-villain mice. The third was Dale as RamDale and Gadget in her orange incarnation from the time sheíd fought Bubbles. They were painted in a side view, swinging down on ropes into an enemy encampment. **Heís got quite an imagination. I just hope he doesnít get too mad about me seeing these.**

       Gadgetís attention was broken by sounds coming from deeper within the tree. She wondered why she hadnít heard them earlier, but she realized that the way Dale had put his lair together was for the express purpose of shutting off sound so he wouldnít be discovered. Gadget followed the gentle slope of the short hallway and entered the next room. Now she could clearly hear Daleís voice coming from the next room, but she stopped to look again first. This room was sleeping quarters, and as spotless as the first room had been. Again, the room was illuminated by sunlight, this time using a lens at the end to intensify the light. Obviously, Dale came here when he needed to get away from the others for a while.
       Gadget hesitated a moment, and then walked down a few carved stairs and peeked into the third room. It was closest to the treeís center and was oblong in shape. This was Daleís training room, and Gadget couldnít have been more surprised at its makeup. The lighting in here was the same as in the previous room. There was a punching bag, weights to lift, and a rack of several swords of varying varietyósome of them ornate. One of these was missing, because it was in the hand of its owner and the source of the noise. Dale was in a traditional white sword fighterís outfit, complete with the screening mask. An identical outfit hung near the door. **I bet it was his fatherís,** Gadget thought as she watched him working over a practice dummy.

       Then a thought occurred to her. She watched to see if Dale would turn around, and she managed to grab the uniform off the wall. She got into it and slid the mask over her face, careful to push her hair inside the neck of the outfit and make sure her tail didnít give her away. Then she walked toward him, grabbing an epee from the wall as she did.
       Dale was totally concentrating on the dummy, letting out steam. "So, you think youíre better do you? Well, take that Chip!" Daleís sword raked the wooden practice sword from the dummyís hand. "Oh, so you give up, do you? Well, now I suppose you know whoís theÖ" Dale jumped as he saw a shadow approach. "What? Who are you?"
       The newcomer tipped the epee in Daleís direction and took up a fighting stance. Dale studied the figure closelyóhe knew this was someone familiar. Could it be Chip?
       "Okay, whoever you are, youíre trespassing! Give up and leave, and Iíll let you go," Dale challenged. The figure remained stationary. Dale swished his sword. "So you want a fight, huh? Well, then I wonít disappoint you!"
       The figure raised a gloved hand and motioned for him to come. Dale did, enjoying the chance to meet a challenge like this, especially to someone who dared invade his lair. "When Iím done with you, youíll wish youíd never come here..en garde!"
       Dale came in quick, looking to see if his opponent was bluffing. No diceóthe epee blocked his attack nicely. Dale stepped back, and the figure made an attack of its own, searching for a weakness. Dale was too good to allow anything like that. He parried his opponentís thrust and used his weight to push the aggressor away, who went further than he thought was normal. **This guyís either smaller or lighter than he looks. Iíll have to watch out for quick moves.**
       "Okay, silent stranger, get ready for the real battle!" Dale was calm, yet his emotions were up. He pressed the fight, sensing his opponent was beginning to weaken. Then the unknown fencer did something Dale couldnít have expectedówith a leap, the figure somersaulted through the air and ended up behind him! Even with his practiced reactions, Dale was barely able to counter this kind of move. **Who is that under there? Bruce Lee?** Dale was determined to know
       "Youíre good, whoever you are! But no one beats Sir Dale díOakmont on his home soil!" Dale pulled out his best move, faking right and then really coming in right and hacking up on the opponentís sword just above the hilt. To Daleís satisfaction it workedóthe fencerís epee went flying. But Dale had been forced to lunge to complete his maneuver and when he did he fell right into his opponent and they both tumbled to the floor in a heap. Dale managed to keep his sword clear but drew it to his opponentís face now.
       "Okay, my worthy opponent. As Freddy would say to the gang, Ďtime for the unmasking.í" Dale drew the mask off and couldnít have been more shocked. Dale dropped his sword and just stared at Gadgetís face.

       "GADGET! Wha...what are you doing here? How did you find me?" Dale asked. Gadget smiled back at him. "Donít worry, Dale. No one else knows--I wouldnít know except you left a trail! Golly, this place is great!"
       Dale quickly leaped to his feet and helped her to hers. "Uh, thanks...what trail?" Gadget held up the red string. "I think your shirt sort of sprung a leak..." Dale unzipped his fighting outfit partway to discover a ravel. "I guess it did...Iím sorry, Gadget. I got a little carried away there. I was just letting off some steam."
       Gadget put away her epee. "I understand, Dale. Believe me, I do. But why the secrecy? Why keep all this from us? This is all so, so..."
       "So out of character?" Dale said.
       Gadget spread her arms out, looking around. "Tremendous!" Then Gadget removed the fighting outfit sheíd been wearing and put it back in its place respectfully. Dale watched her every movement, caught been panic and joy. Gadget came back over to him. "Dale, how did you ever do all this? It must have taken years!"
       Daleís face took on a look of modesty. "Well, actually I found this tree first. I used to do all my dreaminí here when I was little. I found the hole when I was eight, and it was like a portal to another world! I worked at making it everything I wanted in life. It wasnít easy, though. Chip would constantly trail me and try to find where Iíd go. But this is my Bastion of Contemplation, just like the Red Badgerís! Youíre the first person to see it besides me."
       Gadget couldnít have been more impressed. "I...I didnít know you had this side to you. Would you show me around? I wonít tell the others about it, Dale. I promise." Daleís calm and modesty was beginning to fade in the presence of the first outsider in his secret lair. He put away his sword, gloves and mask, but he was so nervous he didnít even want to try dealing with that zipper again. He walked over to her, and his voice betrayed his uncertainty. "Iíd really appreciate it, Gadget. Chip would never let me live it down if he saw the stuff I have here."
       Gadget touched his arm. "Oh, Dale. Donít be afraid of that! Youíve got nothing to be ashamed of." Dale desperately hoped she hadnít seen his painting of her in the red dress, but there was nothing to be done about it now. "Sure, Iíll show you my secret lair." Gadget saw his nervousness, and she completely understood it. It was as if someone had opened the book of Daleís innermost thoughts and dreams. Sheíd have to be careful.

       "Thanks, Dale," Gadget said. Dale was so nervous, that he didnít even realize heíd taken Gadgetís hand to guide her. As they entered the main room, Gadget pointed to the pictures of the Rangers. "Golly, Dale, I didnít know you were such a good artist. Do you do any painting?"
       **She would have to ask that first.** Dale put on as nonchalant a face as he could muster. "Uh, yeah! Címere and Iíll show you some of my best stuff!" Dale pulled Gadget to the superhero paintings. "See? I imagined that we were on all sorts of adventures!"
       Gadget looked the paintings over again with an appreciative eye. "They are excellent, Dale. You have a real talent." She smiled coyly at him. "Did you ever paint a picture of me?" Daleís hand that was holding Gadgetís began to shake. "Uh...let me show you something really neat!"
       Dale pulled her over to his closet of superhero costumes. "See? Ramdale, Supermunk! Isnít this stuff great?" Gadget handled the material gently. "Yes. I remember how dashing you looked as the Red Badger." Dale blushed and cringed a bit. He was running out of rope.
       "Uh, yeah. Oh, and let me show you this..." Dale led her to his book collection. "These tales let me get away from the real world. When we were stranded on that deserted island, I was so pepped up at first because it was just like Robinson Crusoe! Of course, he didnít have to deal with the Pi-Rats..."
       Then Gadget pointed back to the shelf next to the closet. "Oh! Is that a picture of me?" She pulled Dale to the picture of Supermunk and Mighty Gadget. Dale blushed more, and Gadget found she was enjoying this little game. Dale instinctively tilted his head down, feeling vulnerable. "Welll, yeah. I thought it would be neat if I was a superhero to have another one with me. And then it just sorta fell into place!"

       Gadget had noticed the pattern of his creativity and decided it was a fair question to ask. "Iím surprised that there are so many pictures of me." Dale felt uncomfortable at that comment, and quickly realized that all these pictures of her might not seem natural. "The only times Iíve felt likeÖgood about myself and did things I didnít think I could do is when you believed in me. I painted a lot of these in the first year the group was together. I havenít painted any since Paris, until last night..."
       Dale led her to a canvas in the corner sheíd missed, because it had been covered with a cloth. It was a depiction of the time Gadget had fallen from the string of pearls during the flying carpet caper of Professor Nimnulís. She was in his arms, hugging him. Dale didnít dare look at her but managed, "I was sorta glad that wind came along that day, even if it was an accident."
       Gadget looked, and remembered the fall in every detail. "Dale, it wasnít an accident. I didnít have to fall." Dale looked at her, with utter surprise. "Huh? Wasnít an accident...meaningÖyou wanted to fall?" Gadget averted her eyes downward and held her hands together in front of her. "I just didnít have the courage to do anything in the open. Iíve taken advantage of every situation I could just to hug you. I didnít know if youíd really feel that way, but I couldnít help myself so Iíd use the opportunities when they came."
       Dale felt like he was going to faint. "Are you saying that youíve liked me all this time?" Gadget didnít look up. She just nodded.
       "When?" Dale said. Gadget looked up, not understanding his question. "When what?" Dale smiled slightly. "When did you first start liking me?" Gadget thought about it. "Well...itís hard to say. When the Rangers formed, I liked having new friends to do things with, and having a purpose in life again. I guess it was just the little things you did, really. No one really much thanks me for what I do or thinks of me first. I do remember when we were at Ali Bimbulís and I got distracted by the circuits in those flying carpets you came back and tried to save me. That meant a lot to me, more than youíll know. Youíre a naturally caring person, Dale, and I like that."

       Dale couldnít believe that a simple thing like that would make such a difference, but he said, "Thanks, itís one of the many reasons I like you as well." Then Gadget decided to change the topic. "Dale, why did you change yourself in these pictures?" Dale was hoping she wouldnít notice that. "Huh? What do you mean?"
       "You didnít change me in any of the paintings, except for the Mighty Gadget costume here. Why did you change your face to look different?" The zest left Daleís voice. "Well, it was just a little touch up, no big deal." Gadget stepped in front of the painting and faced him. "Yes, it is a big deal. Why donít you like yourself?"
       Daleís shoulders slumped and he turned away from her. "If you looked like me youíd wanna look like someone else." Gadget could feel the pain in him, and she knew how great it was. "Dale, youíre not ugly. Youíre cute, and rather handsome. Hasnít anyone ever told you that?"
       There was a loooooong silence. "....no...." Gadget walked around to face him again and put her hands under his chin, and forced him to look at her. "Dale, you are cute. When you wore that white dinner jacket you looked...stunning." Gadget shifted her eyes and blushed at having told him. Dale blinked twice. Gadget wouldnít lie, would she? "Gadget...I donít know what to say..."

       Gadget had to work to collect herself. Then she remembered the pictures. "Letís finish the tour, shall we?" Dale was all for that. "Uh, yeah! Good idea! Over here I have..." But then he noticed Gadget looking toward the paintings on the wall.
       **Please donít let her look over there**
       Gadget pointed to the paintings on the wall. "Whatís that over there?"
       **Abandon hope, all ye..**
       She suppressed a grin as she dragged the reluctant Dale to the two paintings nearby. Dale knew his number was up. He pointed to the walls of pictures. "Ever since I was a little kid, I had the urge to draw and paint. I wasnít very good at first, but it was like you with inventing--I just had to do it. I did a lot more than these, though. These are the best ones. The ones I liked best."
       Dale knew sheíd seen it. She had to have seen it. Why wasnít she screaming at him? To Daleís great surprise, she walked up to the "goof-up" painting first. She touched it and then turned to face him. "Dale, I am so sorry I called you a goof-up. It was bad enough that I called you that, but I made it worse by never saying I was sorry for doing it. Can you forgive me?"
       Dale began to cry. "Iím sorry! I didnít mean it! I.....you...youíre sorry?" Gadget took his hand again. "I meant it as teasing, but instead it deeply wounded you. I am sorry." Dale was astonished--Gadget was apologizing to him? He hung his head a bit, ashamed.
       "Well, if youíre going to apologize I guess I should too," Dale said. He let her hand go and walked a few steps away. "IÖIím ashamed to say it, but thereís been so many times that Iíve done anything to get some attention from you."
       Gadget felt self-conscious, but she knew he needed to tell her something. "Go ahead." Dale couldnít bring himself to look at her. "It seems so childish, but Iíd make up excuses to get you to do things with me. I didnít dare ask you out, and I couldnít bring you here and show you who I really was. So Iíd create little situations. But when we were in the jungle with the Kiwis and I broke my toe, I took advantage of you. I felt really bad about that after, but I never came out and said it. You were acting really nice and I lost my head. Iím sorry."
       Gadget came to him and took his hand again. "Oh, Dale. You donít need to apologize about that. I understand. But are you saying youíre afraid of me?" Dale still couldnít look at her. "Well, you tend to yell at me when I do something that upsets you. When you saw this place, I...I thought youíd be mad at me and yell and run out. Especially when you saw..." All he could do was cover his eyes and point behind her.

       Gadget gently pulled his hand away from his eyes. "Dale, I saw that when I came in. Itís a very...flattering likeness. Iím surprised you could paint my portrait from that meeting. It couldnít have lasted more than two minutes." Dale was seven shades of crimson, but he found himself calmer and could actually bring himself to look into her eyes. "I couldnít help remembering. Iíd never been kissed by a girl before, and when I found out it was you....as soon as I got back I...ran up here and painted it."
       Dale took her hand again. "I didnít need to run, though. I know your face so well I could paint it even if Iíd never seen you again." It was Gadgetís turn to blush. "Golly, thanks Dale. Itís so strange being here. Itís like being in another world, with a Dale thatís so different than the one Iíve known all these years."
       Dale sighed and guided Gadget to a seat at the main roomís table where they sat opposite each other. Dale felt a little more secure with the buffer between them. "Many times Iíve thought of asking you to come here, but I didnít have the courage. It..it means a lot to me that you didnít yell at me." Dale gestured with his hand, "This is who I am, and Iíve managed to keep it bottled up in here--just like in here." Dale touched his chest

       Gadget turned an even deeper shade of red. "I have a confession to make about that kiss...it was my first kiss as well." Dale gasped involuntarily. "But...but that canít be! Youíre so beautiful! Youíve never kissed anyone but me?!" Gadget let out a sad sigh. "Being beautiful doesnít guarantee that people will love you. They just see something they like and want to have it. I know both you and Chip were captivated when you first saw me. You both put me on a pedestal and I didnít want that. Dale, you know Iím a very social and outgoing person. Havenít you ever wondered why I hid myself from the world in that old airplane where you guys found me?"
       Dale had wondered about it before. Why would such a princess lock herself away? "Well, you seemed to hint it was to avoid door-to-door salesmen...." Gadget smiled, and shook her head. "Dale, I hid myself away because nobody liked me for me. All anyone ever saw was a pretty face. To others I wasnít a thinker or inventor. I was just Ďbabeí. When I was little, I had a lot of friends, boys and girls. But as we got older, the boys started fighting over me and the girls got jealous of me. Eventually I found myself alone and it was all because of how I looked. It hurt and others got hurt because of me. I hid myself so I could just be by myself. So you see, we were both victims of our appearances."

       Dale thought he had been astonished before. He could see the pain in her face and knew it all too well--heíd looked at it in the mirror a thousand times. Why was she being so open with him? His nature overcame him and he reached across the table and took her hand again. "Gadget, I never realized it was like that for you. I mean with me itís expected because I played down to the least denominator. But you--youíre the smartest, kindest, nicest person Iíve ever known! Iíd thought youíd rejected me in that Paris sewer, but now...." Dale had to stop to collect himself. "Now, I see that you needed exactly what I needed all along--acceptance....and...."
       Gadget took his other hand. "Dale, I never did kiss anyone but you. Iím ashamed I had to dress up like that to muster up the courage to do it. But I didnít feel brave enough to just walk up and kiss you."
       Dale was going from one level of amazement to the next. "You...you wanted to kiss me?" Gadgetís eyes started to brim with tears as she spoke. "Oh, Dale! If you could only see yourself the way I do. Youíre cute, affectionate, and you can always see the best in people." Dale was beginning to feel like heíd never known himself. "And you wanted your first kiss to be with...me..."
       Gadget touched his face lightly. "I wanted my first kiss to be with someone special, someone who could respect me and accept the real me. The Gadget thatís more than skin deep." Gadget was overcome with the emotion of the moment, as was Dale. In a flurry of tears, they stood up from the table and each one found the other. They hugged, both of them crying over the years of hurt and pain theyíd had to endure. It took a good five minutes before either of them could regain themselves, but when they did they separated and looked at each other. Dale found to his surprise that he had no problem looking into her eyes now, and they sparkled. How they sparkled. No words were needed. They drew close again and their eyes started to close...

       From outside, Chipís voice could be heard softly "Dale? Gadget? Where are you guys?!" The magic of the moment was broken, and they separated. Dale found something new building inside of him, as if a new spring of life had broken open. He looked back at Gadget and for the first time in a long time he knew--he knew it all. Gadget looked at his face, and it was as if she could read the thoughts behind it for the first time. He was going out there.
       "Dale, you donít have to prove anything to me!" Gadget said plaintively. Dale looked into Gadgetís eyes with determination. "I know, Gadget. But I have to prove something to myself." Gadget caught his arm as he started to go. "But what about Chip?" Dale put his hand on hers. "Okay, I have something to prove to myself and to Chip."
       Dale offered his arm to Gadget and turned to the exit, pulling off his sword-fighting outfit, and using his best John Wayne impression, he looked into Gadgetís eyes as they left the lair. "A munkís gotta do what a munkís gotta do."



Chapter 9 Ė Dreams Showdown

       Chip was in a fine temper and when he couldnít find Dale or Gadget, he suspected that theyíd sneaked off somewhere. The very thing heíd been afraid of was happening--Dale was trying to steal Gadget out from under him! Why would Dale do such a thing? The images from his dream tried to come back, but Chip pushed them aside. No stupid imaginary voices were going to stop him. Heíd just have to put Dale in his place and show Gadget that it was time to quit this nonsense and get serious.
       Those thoughts were running through his mind when he came into the kitchen. He was glad Monty was still out checking cheese traps. The big mouse would undoubtedly try to stop him. Chip had come back inside when heíd seen the sky beginning to darken and heard the far-off booming of thunder. He figured that the imminent storm would force them back inside, so Chip sat down at the kitchen table and just waited for the little Benedict Arnold to come in. As if on cue, he did.

       "What do you think youíre doing?" Chip said, his voice full of accusation. Dale went to the refrigerator to get a snack. "I think Iím about to get something to eat, what does it look like?" Chip stood up. "Dale, itís about time we had a talk about Gadget." Dale knew it was coming and he spun around, slamming the door. "Okay, then letís talk. Chip, I think youíve acted really lousy to both Gadget and me!"
       Chipís blood was boiling. "What? What do you mean?"
       "I mean that youíve used every opportunity to throw yourself at her and Iím the one who really likes her. And she likes me!" Dale said. Chip pushed the chair away from him hard, and it knocked into the kitchen wall. "Why donít you just admit youíre just saying you like Gadget just to spite me?!"
       Dale walked a step nearer to Chip. "Hey, Iím not the spiteful one around here! I noticed you out looking for us. What did you think you were doing?!" Chip looked around defensively. "I was concerned something had happened! What if we had a big case come up while you two were out fooling around?"
       Dale crossed his arms and grimaced. "Chip, youíre a terrible liar." Chip couldnít believe Dale was talking this way. "What are you saying?" Dale was determined, now more than ever. "You just canít handle that Gadget might just like me rather than you!"
        Chip gave a scoffing laugh. "Like you? Stop kidding yourself, Dale. You arenít even close to her league!" Dale flung his arms about. "Oh, and you are--thatís what youíre saying! Ever since Iíve known you, youíve thought that every girl you gazed upon was yours! But I can tell you youíre running up the wrong tree with Gadget. She doesnít like you the way you want her to. I canít explain it, but Iím the one she likes--sheís just been unwilling to tell anyone because she knew youíd get mad."
        Chip had an incredulous look on his face. "Youíre just deluding yourself, Dale! If Gadget were here, youíd be too afraid to say anything to her because you know sheíd reject you. Admit it, you donít really like her and you know she doesnít feel that way about you either!"
       "Bring her in here, then. Iím not backing down this time, Chip. This time, itís for real," Dale said.

        Chip knew Dale was just bucking up for disappointment, but it was time he learned. Chip pushed the kitchen door open. "Hey, Gadget! Could you come in here and settle an argument for us?" Chip turned back to Dale. "Youíre only going to make a fool of yourself, as usual. Just admit it, Dale, and you wonít have to embarrass yourself in front of her."
       Dale just crossed his arms and stared at Chip. Gadget came in, and when she did she wished she hadnít. "Yes, Chip?"
       Chip marched up to Dale. "Go on, Dale. Tell her how you feel, I dare you." Dale looked at Gadget, and saw she was as embarrassed by this as he was. "She already knows to some extent. But unlike you, I wouldnít embarrass Gadget by expressing my feelings in this kind of shoddy fashion."
       "Hah! I knew it, you chickened out. You donít really like Gadget," Chip said. Then Chip came over to her. "Gadget, I know I should have said something sooner, but I do like you and Iíd like you to be my girl."

       Gadget looked first to Dale, then back to Chip. "Chip, IÖ" Chip took on a commanding posture. "Come on, Gadget. Just tell Dale that you love me and not him and we can end this right now!" Gadget felt trapped and didnít know what to do. Chip stood there with his hands on his hips, staring at her. Then Dale couldnít stand it anymore and stepped up. "Chip, stop it! Youíre bullying her, just like you do me! Canít you see that?"
       Chip moved back a step, but he was determined to get an answer. "Okay, Gadget. Which of us do you love, me or Dale?" Dale looked to Gadget and his vision never wavered. He saw that Chip was doing to Gadget exactly what heíd let Chip do all along. He wasnít going to let Chip get away with this. Not this time.

       "Chip, itís taken this to make me realize it, but Iíve wasted most of my life," Dale said. Chip noticed the change in his voice and turned around. "Wasted! What do you mean?" Daleís face was rock solid. "I took the easy road and did what everyone expected me to. Well, no longer! Iím more than a bungling sidekick! Iím a chipmunk with feelings and dreams. Itís time I got to live a few of them."
       Chip flung his arms up in. "What in the world are you talking about?" Dale didnít give an inch. "Chip, youíve always been the outgoing one, and things have always come easy for you. I know you donít expect much of me, because I havenít expected it of myself. But Gadgetís made me see that Iím more than what Iíve become."
       Chip gritted his teeth. "What are you saying?"
       "Iím saying that youíre in the way," Dale said.
       Chip snorted at him. "Well, too bad!" Even as Gadget moved toward Dale, Chip quickly positioned himself between her and Dale. "Letís see you do something about it!"

       Dale started walking toward him. "Chip, you just donít grab the hint do you? Well, maybe youíll grab this!" Dale belted Chip right in the jaw, knocking him to the floor. Chip was stunned into silence for a few moments. He and Dale had fought many times before, but this was a real punch! Not the roughhousing they normally did.
       Chip felt his jaw and stood up. "Youíre gonna pay for that! You think you can come in and just steal my girl like that? Well, youíve got another thing coming!" Dale was staggered by Chipís return punch but he rolled with it and gave another in return.
       "I canít steal what you never had!" Dale shouted. Chip pulled up the sleeves on his jacket and charged Dale, knocking him to the floor again. "You two-timing traitor! Címon, get up! Itís time you learned your place!"

       Gadget couldnít let this go on. She rushed over to Chip. "Chip, stop this! Donít hurt him!" Then Gadget heard the door to headquarters open and shouted, "Monty!" Chip grabbed Gadgetís arm. "So you know whoís the best now, donít you? You can end this right now." Gadget tried to pull away. Monty had just come in the door with Foxglove when he heard Gadgetís call. Monty knew that something was up, so immediately he went to the kitchen and poked his head in the door. What he saw was encouraging and scary at the same time--should he do something? Montyís instincts told him to wait and he did, indicating to Foxy to stay back.

       Dale rubbed his shoulder on the floor, and stared at Chip intently. "Sheís not a thing! Gadgetís a person, and youíd better treat her like one!" Chip let her go. "Youíre just jealous! Gadgetís mine, sheís always been mine, and youíre trying to live in a fantasy world!" Dale quickly leaped to his feat and punched Chip again. "Tell me, Chip. Just what is my place?"
       Foxglove followed Monty and when she saw what was happening, tried to break past him. "No! They might kill each other!" Monty held her back. "Donít worry lass. I wonít let Ďem get that far."
       Chipís eyes were full of pulsating anger. He tackled Dale and then jumped on his back, trying for a headlock. "Youíre always trying to mess up my life with your bungling ideas! Just stay out of things that donít concern you, and accept that youíll never be the one for Gadget!" Dale started gasping for breath. He looked around and saw Gadget, a look of horror on her face as she watched them fight. But it looked like another emotion was hiding there--disappointment. Was he about to fail again when she was counting on him?
       Chip tried to force Dale down. "Címon! Admit you were wrong, and Iíll let you go and we can end this thing!" Chip eased up enough for Dale to speak. Dale looked into Gadgetís eyes and felt a surge of adrenaline run through him. "We will end this right now!"
       Dale wrenched himself free of Chipís grasp and quickly turned and kicked Chip in the stomach. Chip jumped at Dale, and they began a true rough and tumble fight. Foxglove pushed her way to get a view of what was going on. Furniture flew everywhere, and the looks on Gadgetís and Foxyís faces were pure terror.
       Foxglove tried again to get past Monty. "Chip!" But Monty had seen enough now. The boys were getting violent. "Crikey! They are trying to kill each other!" Monty ran in, just as Dale had Chip in a submission hold. Both chipmunks were bashed and bruised. Chip had a black eye and Daleís shirt was even more ripped up. Monty pulled them apart.

       "What in the worldíre you two doing?!?" Monty said. Dale struggled to get loose. "Weíre settling things. Let me go!" Monty looked at the two of them, and knew it was no use. Heíd seen this kind of thing before. "Okay, go ahead."
       "What?" Gadget and Foxy said at the same time.
       Monty backed away, giving them room. "This is somethiní they have to settle themselves or theyíll never quit." With that Chip turned his attention back to Dale. "You not gonna win this one! Youíre not!" Chip grabbed Dale around the neck. Dale strained against his grip, and to Chipís surprise he broke it. "Iíve..already...won! And now Iím mad!"

       Dale grabbed Chip and flipped him to the floor, but Chip regained himself quickly and tried to knee Dale. Dale was ready and blocked it and then Daleís full ferocity was unleashed. The Rangers had known about the inner strength he had. The Maltese de Sade had tapped it when he made Dale into RamDale. Dale himself had tapped that ferocity after when he had to face up to de Sade. Now he was tapping that power again, and he actually lifted the kitchen table and pinned Chip to the wall with it
       Chip was amazed and scared all in the same emotion. "What in the world did you do that for?" Chip struggled, but Dale had him cold. "Because I do like her, you nitwit! Not only do I like her.....I love her!" Chip stopped, the sweat pouring down his face. The look in Gadgetís eyes was magnanimous. Chip tried desperately to get free.

       "LOVE HER?!? You donít love her, you canít!" Chip said in denial. Dale pushed the table closer, squeezing Chip some. "Iíve always loved her, Chip! I just havenít had the guts to say it until now!" Chip looked over to Gadget in near desperation. "Gadget, this isnít true is it?"
       Gadget couldnít stay silent any longer and walked over to Chip. "Chip...Chip, Iím sorry. I didnít want to hurt you, but the truth is I donít love you the way you want me to. I canít change the way you need me to change. I am who I am, and I have to be me. Daleís been there for me, even when I wasnít for him and that means a lot to me. I canít explain why it is, and maybe there is no good reason. But Daleís the one that makes me feel good about myself, and I need that. I donít feel complete without him."
       Chipís lungs couldnít stand the pressure anymore and he collapsed. Dale let him loose and Gadget rushed to the floor to check on him. "Chip? Chip, are you okay?" Foxy knelt down beside her, and took Chipís head in her lap. Chip came around slowly. Gadget breathed a sigh of relief, taking his hand. "Oh, thank goodness you werenít hurt!"

       Dale watched with a feeling of loss like he couldnít remember. Gadget had chosen Chip over him after all. **She just couldnít help herself. I guess happy endings do only happen in dreams.** Dale wanted to leave, to leave and never return. But he couldnít seem to move from the spot so he looked on. Chip turned to look at Gadget and smiled weakly. "Gadget, I always knew you cared." Dale stood looking with his arms crossed and looked at Chip with envy. Gadget patted Chipís face and got up.
       "Dale, I need to talk to you outside right away," Gadget said. Dale felt a sudden rush of anxiety. This was it--the big letdown. Gadgetís look of concern for Chip was very sincere. Sheíd just said those things to make him feel better. "Uh, sure, Gadget..." Dale said, all heart gone from his voice. Dale went out the door first, and then Gadget looked back to see that Chip was still where sheíd left him. She shut the door, then turned to Dale.
       "Dale, I wanted to see you out here because I didnít want to upset Chip right now. And I donít know how heíd react to this..." She walked to Dale and hugged him tightly. Dale had been ready to leave, to get out of the way. Now the shock of it all was wearing off, and he hugged her back and the tears started to flow again.
       "No masks, no costumes...just Dale and Gadget..." he whispered. He looked into her beautiful eyes and leaned forward and kissed her. Gadget folded her arms around him and kissed him back. "Dale, I didnít know if Iíd ever be able to say it, but now I can with my whole heart. I love you, Dale Oakmont." Dale was so happy that he thought heíd burst. "And I love you, Gadget Hackwrench."

       Chip had watched them go, and knew what it was all about. **Sheís going to let him down easy. Thatís Gadgetís way all right.** Chip also knew that when Gadget chose him, heíd have to let Foxy go. It would be quite a blow to her, but sheíd get over it. Chip was thinking of the words he would use to tell her, when he got up and went over to the window. Then his heart froze and his mind tried to reject the image they were telling him was there. The lighting flash accentuated the shock of the moment.
       "No, it canít be...."
       Foxy had seen the scene as well, and knew what it was doing to Chip. Heíd sunk to his knees, and Foxy had to pull him up. "Chip, darling, I know this must be a shock. But donít worry, youíve got me and Iím not going anywhere." Chip didnít hear her words. Instead he pointed to the window. "They planned this whole thing! They must have!"

       Gadget and Dale separated at Chipís shouts. Gadget was growing increasingly concerned as she led Dale back inside and into the main room. The thunder outside was increasingly loud, paralleling Chipís mood. His face was caught been wrath and despair, and it suddenly hit him that Gadget was now lost to him forever.
       "Dale?! You...you love Dale? But I thought you loved me!" Chip said. Gadgetís look was one of sorrowful sympathy. "Chip, I told you before that didnít love you. I canít explain how it happened, but it did!" Chip shook his head as he tried to force the words out. "What is it? Did I do something wrong? Youíre not just feeling sorry for him?"
       Gadgetís expression turned angry at that remark. "NO! Chip, I know you see Dale as inferior to you. I guess thatís the role heís played for years. But thereís more to him than that! He just hasnít been free to express it around you or any of us." Chip was at a loss. "Express what?" Dale took Gadgetís hands in his. "That Iím as good as you or anyone. I can love anyone I want to! You never could stand to lose, Chip. But now youíre going to have to face it!"
       Chip began to shake, and tried to convince himself that the scene he was seeing isnít...couldnít be real! But in his heart he knew it was. Chip couldnít take his eyes from Dale and Gadget. He seemed mesmerized and something deep inside of him gave way. He began to shake with a mixture of emotion that was terrible to see.

       Chip rose to his feet. "No.....NO!" Monty didnít like that look on Chipís face. "Now, Chipper...." Chip snapped at Monty, "You knew! You all knew it all this time and kept it from me! No wonder you all wanted me to be nice to Tammy that time! You saw a chance to pawn me off on her and get me out of the way!" Foxglove turned Chipís head to face her, a look of deep concern on her features. "Chip, whatís the matter? Whatís wrong?" Tears began running down Foxgloveís cheeks as the rain began beating on the tree outside.
       Chip tore away from her, and he began to feel around with his hands for a way that was clear. He still hasnít taken his eyes from the scene in front of him. Finally, Dale and Gadget separated. When Gadget saw the look in Chipís eyes, she began to be afraid for him. "Chip, I know that this must be a shock, but it justóhappened!"
       Foxy clutched onto him. "Chip, you donít know what youíre saying!" Chip turned back to Dale and Gadget, now both staring at him with real concern now. His mind was a miasma of anger and desperation, and the desperation was beginning to win. He pushed Foxy aside. "All right, be happy with her then! I donít care!"
       "Chip..." Gadget started. Chip sneered at her. "I donít need you! I donít need any of you! I donít need anyone!" Dale moved up to protect Gadget. "Chip, settle down. Youíve got to deal with thisÖ" Chip couldnít deal with it. He couldnít deal with anything. It was as if the whole universe suddenly collapsed on him. His eyes bulged in panic. He began to back away.
       Gadget could feel his fear and panic filling the room. "Chip? Chip!"

       But Chip couldnít answer. The adrenaline was pouring through his veins as the fear in his heart took over and he was little better than a wild animal. Monty tried to grab hold of him, but Chip threw Monty aside and ran through the living room, almost falling twice. Then he ran full steam into the door and the cracking sound echoed through headquarters as he ripped the top hinge of the door and bolted from the tree into the deluge outside. The Rangers tried to chase him, but the crazed chipmunk was not to be stopped.
       "CHIP!" Foxglove shouted. Foxy took off after him, flapping her way into the rain. Monty pushed the broken door all the way open. "Chip, stop! Come back!" Gadget held her hands to her face. "What have we done!" Daleís face was hard, but not without a hint of sympathy. "We made him face his true self--and now heís suffering."

       From the edge of the park, a primal scream arose above the storm and froze all the Rangers in their tracks. They just stood there, shocked. Dale searched for any sign of movement, but the rain and the darkness brought on by the black clouds above kept him from seeing anything. "I didnít know it would affect him so much." Gadget turned around and faced him. "Dale, I think he assumed I loved only him all this time. The pain and the shock must have been too much!"
       Monty pointed to the RangerWing. "Well, weíre not finding Ďim by standing Ďere!" The Rangers began to search the park, not knowing where to look. The wind was too violent for the RangerWing, so they set out on foot. Even Zipper, braving the wind and weather, went off in search of Chip. Three hoursí effort brought nothing but pain and loss. Once they heard a strange howling coming from far off, like the plaintive cry of someone who had lost all hope. Gadget looked out into the rain-soaked park, her face glum. "Iím sorry, Chip. I had no choice."
       As they went back into headquarters, Gadget began to cry and fell into Daleís arms. "I didnít mean to hurt him..." Dale comforted her. "I know, I know. I didnít want to either. But there was no other way. He wouldnít listen to reason." As Dale dried himself and Zipper, he thought back on all of what had just happened and his blood started to boil again. "Well, it served him right! Heís been that way to me all my life. About time he got the short end for a change."
       Gadget ran over to Dale. "Dale, Iím surprised at you!" Dale pulled back at Gadgetís frown. "What?" She let the frown leave her face and assumed a pleading look. "Dale, donít you even know why I love you? Itís because you care! Youíre able to look beyond a personís normal strengths or weaknesses and find the good in them."
       "Well, yeah but.." Dale retorted. Gadget put a hand over his mouth. "Dale, if you want Chip to change youíve got to find the good in him." Dale took her hand and kissed it. "I know, Gadget. I know. I guess weíre both having to deal with hard feelings." Gadget led him over to the door of the treehouse and they looked out into the pouring sky. "When he comes back--if he comes back, weíve got to try to help him rebuild himself."
       Dale held her close. "It wonít be easy. Chipís prided himself on his self-reliance. He must be going through torture right now." Gadget nodded. "Just remember how terrible it was for you, and help him any way you can. For our sake, if not for his."

       Monty didnít like this standing around. "Címon, weíve gotta try to find Ďim! Letís get out there and search the city!" Dale looked to him, somber. "Monty, Chip wonít be found unless he wants to be found. Heís suffering the way I did so many times, only this is his first real failure. Well, itís only what he deserved. That...." Gadget gave him a look and Dale softened. "Iím sorry, Gadget."
       Gadget clung to Dale tightly as they looked back at the pouring rain again. "Golly, I hope Foxglove can find him. Heís in no condition to be alone. Heís hurt, and in a lot of different ways." Monty came up by them. "You know Ďim better than us, Dale. Whereís he gonna go?"
       Dale shrugged, which hurt his bruised shoulder. "If he were in his right mind, itíd be easy. But Iíve never seen Chip panic before. Thereís no telling where heíll go." Monty was about to say that this situation reminded him of a story, but he knew this wasnít the time for that.
       "I feel so helpless...." Gadget said. Dale hugged her. "Itís not your fault, Gadget. Itís not anyoneís fault, really--not even Chipís. Heíll come to realize it soon enough." Gadget was glad to have some comfort. "If heís panicking, heíd probably just go off somewhere and hide." Dale nodded in agreement. "Right now, thatís the best thing for him. He needs to get alone and think things out. I just hope he realizes that weíre still his friends."
        Gadget was very troubled over it all. "I had no idea heíd take it this personally! I knew he liked me, but I didnít imagine he liked me that much. Why didnít he ever say anything to me?" Dale knew his answer would shock them as much as his own actions over the past hour. "At heart, heís afraid."

        Monty did a double take at that. "I didnít think there was much anything that olí Chip was afraid of." Dale listened to the falling rain, and it helped to calm him down. "Iíve thought about it often, and now I wished Iíd done something to help him overcome the problem. I remember him telling me about all the times he was bullied as a young child. This certain mouse would take his things away from him and treat him awful. Then one day Chip decided to fight back. The bully proved to be a scaredy-cat. But then Chip became the bully."
       "Oh, thatís terrible! But why did you let Chip...all of us treat you this way for so long?" Gadget asked. Dale felt the bruise on his cheek. "Itís ironic. He always accused me of being the one who never grew up, but I think that in a way it was Chip who didnít. From that time on, he used bullying to get his way. When the other kids saw that Iíd cave in to him they started doing it to me too. Soon, it became habitual, I think. I also think thatís why all of you found it so easy to treat me that way. I donít blame you, Gadget, or any of you for that matter. I should have put a stop to it long ago."
       Monty slapped him one on the back. "After that wallopiní you put on Ďim, I think thatíll put a stop to it, mate." Dale had to agree there. "Youíre right, Monty. And now Chipís going to have to face the worst opponent of his life--himself. I just hope heís up to it." Dale pulled Gadget close and they both looked soberly out into the dark and foreboding storm.


Chapter 10 Ė Broken Dreamer, Rebuilding The Dream

       Foxy was shaking from the soaking sheíd received, but she only thought of the chipmunk in front of her. "Chip, darling?" Foxy asked timidly. Chip didnít even look up. He didnít even hear her. "Iíve lost...Iíve lost...everything....." Foxglove quickly moved over to him and blanketed his trembling body with her wings. "Iím here, Chip. Youíve not lost me."
       Chip suddenly realized that someone was talking to him. His mind was so muddled that he only knew it was a female. "Gadget? Is that you?" Foxyís voice took on a pained note. "No, Chip. Itís me, Foxglove."
       Chip was only half-aware of the words, but he caught the name. "Go away! Leave me alone! For pityís sake, Foxglove, leave me alone!" Foxglove tightened her hold on him. "NO! I wonít leave you alone. You donít know what alone feels like. I do, and Iím not going to let you suffer like this!" Chip lashed out at her. "You donít care! No one cares! My life is a sham! Iíve lived a lie! A lie!"
       Chip wrenched himself free, then ran from the tree and Foxglove. Foxglove glided up behind him and wrapped her wings around him as tightly as she possibly could. "Chip, I care. Your friends care. Stop doing this to yourself."
       Chip threw her off, ignoring the wall of rain beating down on him. "Well, maybe I donít care! Did you think of that?!" Foxy was so affected, that she let go. Chip took off running again. From deep inside of her, Foxgloveís emotions erupted and she let out an earpiercing shout. "I do care, because...I LOVE YOU, CHIP!" Chip didnít turn around, but tears began to flow, disguised by the raindrops. Under his breath, his raspy voice said, "I donít know that Iíll ever love anyone or anything again..."

       As Chip turned the corner, he looked wildly around to see if she was following him. To his relief, she wasnít. He stopped on the deserted sidewalk and slowly thoughts began to return to his mind. "What can she see in him?! Dale couldnít stand up to meÖuntil today." Chip began pacing back and forth, venting. "Sheíll regret it! As soon as she sees his mind doesnít go beyond comic books sheíll come running back to me! But I wonít listen this timeóif she doesnít want my company, fine! Let her live with that dummy!"
       Chip smiled darkly at the idea of Gadget crying, realizing what a mistake sheíd make. But as much as he thought heíd enjoy it, the feeling soon left him and there was nothing else. "But the way she looked at him, and the way she hugged him. And the way he looked." Chip looked into the black sky and shook his fists and shouted with all his might above the thunder, "Why him?! Why him and not me?!"
       Then the lone chipmunk sat down in the spotlight of a street lamp, sitting on an old buildingís marble steps. He realized heíd come to the museum. "This is where I promised to take Foxy todayÖ"
       Chip remembered the words sheíd yelled at him, and found they were the only good thing out of a bad day. He found himself looking for that cute face to come around the corner, and moved to the shelter of the buildingís overhang.
       "But sheís not as pretty as Gadgetóstill she is cute. Whatís the difference? Yeah, I knowÖ" Chipís mind replayed Foxgloveís attentions to him, her kissing him and all the little things she did. He found to his surprise that he could remember almost all of them.
       "Iíve gotten used to her. Her voice, the way she giggles, her amateur tries at flirting, her obvious attempts to flatter me. Gadget never paid me attention like thatóshe has her own life and doesnít want to change. But Foxy was willing to share mine with me. And I ran away. She doesnít deserve me, though. She deserves someone betterólike Dale."
       The spark was gone from Chipís eye. He didnít even feel like getting up, but the rain forced him inside the museum, and soon he found a place to rest. He didnít move, staying there the rest of the day and through the night. Foxgloveís words echoed in his mind--not that he could sleep at first. The tormented Chipmunk could only see the image that was seared into his mind. He stared blankly, shaking with coldness and fear. "Itís all gone....everything. What do I do?"

       Foxy had followed him, and watched the suffering chipmunk from high above. She watched for several hours, then knowing he wasnít going anywhere until morning she began to look around the museum. She hoped heíd come around to normal someday and theyíd go through the museum together. She looked at some of the paintings with an indifferent attitude, but then one caught her eye. It was the one that the curator had liked so much--a painting of a human kneeling and looking up. "I know how you feel," Foxy said. "Thatís how I feel right now about Chip." She looked at the picture a while longer, then flew back up to her perch to wait for morning.
       Slowly, fitfully, the adrenaline died down and Chipís eyes sank. His dreams were no better than the vision that was cut into his memory. Over and over, Chip relived the dayís events--the shouting, the fighting, and the punch to his jaw. Gadgetís embrace of Dale. That first moment of panic that enveloped him. It all became a jumble after a while, like his life. He had so long persuaded himself that his life was destined for a certain path that he had invested his entire well-being on it. And now, everything was gone. Gone. He was an empty shell, a cleaned slate. And for the first time in his life, he was truly and completely alone.
        But to his mind came Foxgloveís words, "I love you, Chip!" and the face of the bat that had clung to him. He wanted those words to go away--or did he? At last, everything faded in the cover of slumber. When Chip awoke, he was disoriented and thought perhaps heíd dreamed it all.

       Suddenly, two mice stuck their faces in his. "Well, prince charmingís awake!" one of them said. "About time!" his friend replied. "He kept me up half the night, babbling about Ďgadgetsí and fighting." Chip was shocked into consciousness. "Hey, who are you guys? Get away from me!"
       Chip got up and barged past them. "Humph! Youíd think he was the king of the castle!" one mouse said. Chip didnít look back as he left the museum. "I used to be....I used to be...." Chip walked out and looked for a place to go. He didnít bother to avoid the puddles left from the rain. His feet took him to the corner library and another of his favorite places. The chipmunk staggered into the Ranger-sized section of the library and into his study area. It had the desired effect at first, calming him some. Chip looked at the stacks of books, and his eyes fell on one in particular
       "What would you do, Sureluck?"
       Chip pulled down the book, seemingly hoping for answer. He turned to "The Adventure of the Better Brother", where Sureluck was bested by his own kin. "Well, Blotson--unlucky in life, unlucky in love, eh?" Chip sneered and threw down the book. Chip took up book after book, but all he could see in them was accusations. He ended up with a pile of books at his feet, which didnít thrill the librarian
       "Sir, would you please clean this up? We canít treat books badly now, can we?" Cynthia asked.
       Chip looked at her solemnly. "No. Only people." Chip put the books up and retreated deep into the library, hoping for solitude. In a dark corner of the archives, he started pulling books down and stacking them around himself in a protective circle. Soon after, two eyes peered out and the look of fear and anger had been replaced by one of sad resolve. Chip had the visage of a mountain lion looking out from its cave. The librarians had tried to rouse him, but heíd just screamed at them and repaired his fortress of books surrounding him. And there he sat, saying nothing.

       Foxy could have kicked herself, if sheíd been able to. Her body betrayed her and let her sleep until Chip was gone! She flew fast for the library. Foxglove had never used the front doors during the daytime but now she bolted through them. She knew he was here. He had to be! Where else would he go? The other Rangers had gone off to re-check Chipís other haunts and now Foxglove approached the librarian sheíd talked to before.
       "Is he here?" Foxy asked hopefully. Cynthia was a stressed-out mess. "Please! If you can get him out of here, do it! Heís barricaded himself and wonít let anyone near him!" Foxyís heart froze at those words. What could she do? She couldnít let him...she couldnít! Foxy could see the "fort" that Chip had made of the books. She stepped cautiously toward it
       "Chip, darling, whatís wrong?" Foxy asked. Chip had seen her coming, and his mind said "threat". He pulled back as tightly as he could. "No. Go away." Foxy stepped closer so she could just see over the edge of Chipís fort. "I wonít go away, Chip. I wonít let you continue like this. What happened to you? Why are you acting like a crazy person?"
       Chipís hat was laying beside him, uncared for. He was laying there, like a person waiting for the executioners to come and resolved to let life go. "Iím not Chip anymore. Iím not anyone. Everything I was is gone. Iím just a book now--part of the past. Leave me in peace. Leave me to fade away."
       Foxy was very worried for him. "Donít talk like that! Youíre not going to fade away...youíre timeless, like Sureluck Jones!" Chip jumped up, the look on his face unspeakable. "Jones! He was right! Women are just trouble! I should have listened to him before one sucked the life out of me!"
       Tears came to Foxy eyes. "Iím sorry, Chip...I didnít mean to hurt you..." Chip slumped back down, his energy spent. "You...you canít hurt me any more...I donít have anything left to hurt." Chip covered his face and began to cry. Foxy still had tears in her eyes. Part of her wanted to just fly away and never think of Chip again. But Montyís words came back to her, especially his warnings about how difficult it would be to get through to Chip. She had to decide right now if he was worth the pain he had caused her or leave him like this. It didnít take her long. She flew over to him and sat next to him in his fort and wrapped her wings around him tightly.
       "If you have no life left, cutie, I can share mine with you," she said. Chip struggled against her. "NO! I donít want to live again! I canít face them again!" He pushed her away and went back to crying. Foxy grew angry at Chip and she put her wings on her hips. "Why donít you want to live again? Is it because your blonde goddess likes Dale rather than you? And like a little child, youíre having a tantrum because you canít have your way?"
       Chip looked up suddenly. "What? What did you say?" Foxy held out her wings to him as she spoke. "Youíre just upset because probably for the first time in your life, you canít have things your way! So instead of being happy for your friends and their happiness, you had to spoil it by being jealous and resentful!"

       Chip stared at her. "They ruined my life!" Foxy was incredulous. "How? By them falling in love with each other? That is the most arrogant, selfish and most self pitying thing Iíve ever heard!" Chip opened his mouth to say something back but he couldnít. His face changed to one of ultimate sadness. "Iím ashamed! I lived a lie and forced others to live it with me! Iím ashamed! Iím ashamed!"
       He looked at Foxy, as if she might put him out of his misery. Foxy gently touched his cheeks with her wing tips. "Thatís a start, cutie. Youíve made mistakes...we all have. Theyíre your friends, so am I. We can all forgive you." Chip started shaking his head slightly. "They canít forgive me. Not for that. Theyíd all be better off if I just left the country and never returned. Iím no good to them...no good to anyone"
       Foxy knew his self-punishment wasnít doing him any good. "Darling, donít say that. Youíre the leader of the Rescue Rangers! Youíre a brilliant detective and hero. Youíre just having a taste of the unexpected. Theyíre...weíre your friends. Let us help you. Let us be there for you when you need us."
       Chip looked at her suddenly. "How can I go back? I insulted Dale, I belittled Gadget, I knocked Monty around. Leaders donít act like that! Leaders are tough and never run..or cry." Foxy picked up a book.
       "Chip, only fictional leaders are like that. Real leaders have feelings, and needs and weaknesses. And people that care enough about them to help them when they do act like that."

       Foxy managed, with difficulty, to get Chip to his feet. She took his arm in her wing. "Come with me, cutie. I want to show you something." Chipís mind was in turmoil, but Foxyís concern and prodding were slowly getting through to him. He reluctantly left his fort behind and, much to the relief of the library staff, he exited the building. Foxy led Chip to the art museum next door. She had hoped that by now he would have recovered a little bit, but it appeared his mind was still in a guilt-induced fog. She led him to a large picture
       "You think that great leaders can do it all alone? That they donít need any outside help? Who is that and what is he doing?" Foxy asked. Chip looked up, and he knew the picture well. It was George Washington, during that awful winter at Valley Forge. He had gone off into the woods to be alone and pray, but one man had seen him and was standing off to one side, watching the soon-to-be father of his country kneeling in the snow.
       "Heís...asking for help. The situation was more than he could handle alone," Chip said. Foxy hugged Chip tightly, then she whispered in his ear, "Who does that remind you of?" Chip trembled and looked at her with an awful pleading. "Help me...please."
       Foxy hugged him hard. "Chip, you are loved by your friends...and by me. We want nothing more than to help you. You lost your dream, but there can be new ones." She looked away. "You donít have to dream of being loved by someone...anymore."

       Chip saw the love in her face, and the need. He tilted her face up. "I almost threw you away for something that didnít exist. Iím so sorry....." Chip pulled her to him and hugged her tightly. Foxy began crying. "Oh, Chip, I love you so much."
       "IÖI thinkÖI love youÖtoo," Chip said. Foxglove kissed him. "Now, we must find your friends."
       Chip nodded. "And tell them Iím sorry...and tell Dale and Gadget that Iím happy for them." Foxy kissed him again, and Chip felt the love fill him, and it was more wonderful than anything heíd ever known. He kissed her, and the feeling was like floating in pure joy. "You..youíre right. Iíve got a lot of apologizing to do."

       When they arrived, the treehouse was empty--Chip and Foxy checked everywhere, but to no avail. Then Foxglove checked outside and called for him: "Where could they have gone, cutie? The RangerWing is still here!" Foxy said. Foxy flew over to the plane and landed on it. Chip looked the vehicle over. There was a note tied to the steering column.
       "Whatís this?" Chip asked. He opened it and his eyes bulged. "Oh, noÖ" He handed the note over to Foxy.


       My simpering simpletons Bud and Lou are leaving this note for you, you little traitor. Iíve got your friends and unless you bring me the part of the list you tore off within two hours they will pay the price!


       Chip dropped the note and looked at Foxglove. "Whatís this all about?! Why does she want this list and why does she think you have it?" Foxglove face clouded over in emotion and she lowered her head. "Chip, Iíve got to apologize too..." Chip looked at her strangely. "What is it? You didnít do anything wrong! It was me that...." Foxy stopped him. "No, darling, you donít understand! I wasnít honest with you about...who I am."
       Chip hugged Foxy tightly and gave her a kiss on the nose. "Foxy, I donít care about your past, itís forgiven and forgotten. But what is this all about?" She had to tell him, but the words were so wonderful. "Chip, do you remember that crazy list of mine you read?"
       Chip suddenly became concerned by Foxyís change in attitude. "Sure. Lightning bug bulbs, chieftainís hair, a piece of the moon. Whatís the problem?" Foxy ducked her head a little. "Well, those were all items Winifred needed for her concoction to become a witch! Sheís a cleaning lady at a laundromat in town and sheís been my boss for the last few months. I quit her though, Chip. I gave her the list Iíd gotten and flew away as fast as I could!"
       "So whatís the problem? Why did she take the Rangers?" Chip asked. "Chip, I didnít give her all the ingredients!" Foxy said, "I only worked with her because I had no one else--until I saw you. Then I knew what I was doing was wrong so I tore off the last two items so she couldnít succeed. I left it at my home in the libraryís attic. She must have tried the spell and found it didnít work! Thereís no telling what sheíll do!" Chip didnít like where his train of thought was carrying him. It was a case that called for teamwork, but his team was in the clutches of some crazed cleaning lady!
       "Howíd you get mixed up in all this?" Chip asked. Foxy held out a wing to him. "Chip, I told you...Winifred is a witch, or rather she wants to be a witch...and Iím her assistant...sort of. She sent me to the library to do some research for a part of her spell that could only be found in an animal library." Chip looked at her, disbelieving. "A witch? But thereís no such thing! She sounds crazy!"
        Foxy gave an uneasy laugh. "She is crazy. Chip, your friends are in real danger, and sheís not fooling around!" A wave of concern passed over Chipís face. "Then weíve got to..." Chip stopped and looked glum. "I treated them so badly, and when they really needed me I wasnít there. I let them down...again."

       Foxy hugged Chip. "Chip, if youíd been here she would have gotten you too, then thereíd be no hope. But weíre still free, so they still have a chance!" Chip walked out on the limb. "Foxy...I donít know that I can win this one." Foxy came up next to him. "Sure you can, cutie. Just do what Jones would do-- analyze the situation, consider options, weigh risks and go with the plan with the greatest chance of success."
       Chip turned away. "When Iíve gone into a situation I havenít had to second-guess myself, because Iíve always assumed that what I knew was right. But now Iíve seen that I was wrong, even about two of the people Iíve lived with for the last several years! How can I trust my intuition when it was that wrong?"
        Foxy smiled some at him. "Because youíre not perfect! You made a mistake. Now there is still time to correct it, but we have to hurry! Please Chip, theyíre counting on you, you know that." Chip looked off into the distance and then back at Foxglove. Then Chip remembered the words of the master detective. "ĎI am most invigorated by a case where everything goes against me.í Well, this one would certainly fit the bill. Foxy, youíve got to promise me to talk to them once this is over if they wonít listen to me. I wonít blame them if they donít, but they deserve to know that....I was...mistaken."
       Foxy hugged him again, but tighter. "Chip, Iím sure they will be glad to see you and they wonít hold a grudge." Chip looked at the plane. "I only wish I was sure." Foxy clung to him. "Chip, Iím sorry for getting you into all this." Chip hugged her, comforting her. "No, no. You donít have anything to be sorry about. Youíre aces in my book. Now letís go stop this Winifred character!" Foxy wiped her eyes and hugged him back. " Chip, Iíd follow you to the ends of the earth and back."

       Within the dank walls of the laundromat, the cleaning lady known as Winifred was indeed waiting. And waiting was not her fortť. She had posted her snake minion Bud at the only convenient window to intercept anyone coming in. Meanwhile, her spider Lou was guarding the Rangers. Dale and Gadget were tied up together at the waist and suspended from the floor by spider silk. Monty was tied up tighter in Louís webbing and stuck in a chair while Zipper was cowering at the end of a webline, hoping that Lou didnít get hungry
       Winifred stormed about. "Where are they? That lazy bat should have been here by now! Bud, if you let them get past you, Iíll turn you into a garden hose!"
        Lou smacked his lips and walked over to Zipper. He spun the helplessly suspended fly. "As soon as your friends get here, youíre gonna be the appetizer. Oboy, oboy! Itís gonna be a buffet tonight, eh, Bud?" Bud didnít take his eyes from the window. "Yeah, as long as you donít goof it up! Donít worry Winifred--we wonít let you down!" Winifred scowled. "See that you donít! Now keep quiet while I study my spell book. Iíve got to be ready for when the final ingredients get here!"
       "I donít know what sheís worrying about," Lou said. "Itís just that airhead bat and a chipmunk." Bud was in no mood for Louís prattling, not that he ever was. "You couldnít handle even her, lamebrain!" Winifred threw a shoe at both of them. "Shaddap! Keep quiet!"
        "Sure thing, Freddie," Lou said.
       Winifred grabbed her magic toilet bowl cleaner and shot a few blasts at Lou. "QUIET! AND DONíT CALL ME FREDDIE!"

       Meanwhile, Gadget had been putting her attention to getting Dale and herself free. The only problem was, all they could move was their hands and there were no tools immediately available. "Dale, we need a way to weaken these strands! Do you have anything in your pockets?"
       Dale tried to get his fingers in them. "Sure, lots of stuff--my balloons, my genuine Swiss Mouse Army knife, my candy stash. But I canít reach any of it." Gadget began to shift her hands into position. "Maybe I can..." Gadget worked a hand into Daleís pocket, which had the immediate effect of tickling him. "GADGET! This is hardly the time for that sort of thing!"
       Gadget resisted the urge to pinch him. "Iím...trying to reach...your pocketknife...." Gadgetís fingers touched something sticky. "Dale, you left chewed bubblegum in your pocket?" Dale chuckled, "Hey, you never know when youíll need pre-chewed gum in an emergency." Daleís foresight proved good in this case. Thanks to the stickiness of the gum, Gadget was able to grab the pocketknife just by touching it--as well as Daleís yo-yo and his Roger Bearis trading card. She managed to shake off the unwanted items and brought the knife out.
       "Now, while I hold the base, see if you can pull out the blade...." Gadget said. Dale got his fingers on the knife. "Letís see, fish scaler, nope. Magnifying glass, nope. Pliers, nope. Philips screwdriver, nope..."

       Monty had seen that Gadget and Dale were up to something and was glad to see that Lou hadnít. But he needed something to keep the spider distracted. Then he noticed two of Louís eight hands were fiddling with a deck of cards.
       "Say Lou, didja ever play seven-toed Pete?" Monty asked. Lou was either too curious or gullible to suspect anything. "No, I ainít. Whatís that?" Monty eyed the cards. "Itís a bonzer card game I learned in me days in the Klondike. Iíd be glad ter teach it to ya while we wait..."
        "Well...okay, but donít try anything funny," Lou said.
       Monty tried to stretch and failed. "Not much I can do on that wise, mate. Yeíve got me tied up tighterín a bankerís fist. Shuffle the cards and deal Ďem out--seven ter you and seven to me. Now, spades is wild....."

       With Foxglove leading the way, they flew first to the library to get the slip of paper Foxy had written the last two ingredients on. Then they sped to the laundromat in question on the seedy side of town. They landed far enough away to avoid detection. Chip crept up quietly. "Sheís going to be expecting us, so weíll have to think this through. We need a way to get in there that they wonít think of!" Chip had seen Bud looking out the window for them. Heíd stayed low and managed not to be spotted, while Foxy had stayed back where heíd ask her. He returned to the RangerWing behind the adjoining building. "Theyíre waiting for us, all right. They know that windowís the only regular way in or out. Weíve got to find another entrance...."
       Chip looked at the RangerWing. "Iíd make too much noise in that. Foxy, do you think youíre strong enough to fly me to the roof?" Foxy looked him over, which she enjoyed doing anyway. "Iíll try my best, cutie." Chip took her hand and the duo made their way carefully to the far side of the building. Chip grabbed his jacket lapels.
       "Okay Foxy, go for it!" Chip said. Foxy grabbed his jacket collar with her feet, flapped her wings with all her might, and to her surprise she was able to lift Chip off the ground. With great effort she managed to get him near the roof. Then she gave out, and Chip had to grab onto the corner of the roof and pull himself up. As Foxy let go, she collapsed on the rooftop and breathed heavily. Chip came to her immediately.
       "Are you okay, Foxy?" Foxy nodded. "Iím fine, Chip. Iíve neverÖhad to carry thatÖmuch weight before. Just give me a momentÖto catch my breathÖand Iíll be fine. Chip had to admire Foxyís tenacity. She was loyal, dedicated, and trustworthy. Just likeÖjust like Blotson.
       "Okay, letís search for a quiet access that will allow us to drop in on them where they least expect it!" Chip said. Foxy took the time to get an imprint of the roofís surface. There were three possible entries--one was an air vent, and the other two were pipes that led into the buildingís plumbing systems. She noticed Chip was about to test the door to the air vent, and flew over quickly.
       "Chip, if we fell in there wouldnít the echo alert them?" Foxy asked. Chip almost slapped himself for not thinking of that. He must have been more concerned about his friends than he realized. "Youíre right, Foxy. Any guesses on which pipe we should try?"
       "Well darling, if I was choosing, Iíd pick the one to the far side of the building. I noticed one time before that the washing machines arenít there anymore, so that pipe should be safe. Plus weíd come out far enough from them where they wonít hear us," Foxy said.
       Chip kissed her on the cheek. "Foxy, youíve got the makings of a great detective in your own right! Now letís get down there and free our friends." Foxy was focused on the important matter at hand, but deep inside her a part of her was jumping for joy. He kissed her again! And without her having to ask!

       Monty had Lou so engrossed in the card game that the dimwitted spider hadnít noticed Gadget and Daleís handiwork. Now, Monty decided to instigate phase two of his plan. "Yíknow, this game reminds me of the time I played a winner-take-all match with Terrible Thomas Toulon, the nastiest card-playiní mink this side of the Yukon!"
        "Really, what happened?" Lou asked.
       Monty would have pulled on his jacket lapels if he could have. "Well, Iíll tell ya lad....oh, Iíll play the four Ďo spades there. Olí Terrible Thomas was the worst oí the old claim jumpers! And when he couldnít jump a claim, heíd wait till ya came ta town and nab the loot from ya that way. Well, thatís just what heíd set out ta do--Iíd been at me claim at Peril Peak for about two months and found a right good vein Ďer the shiny stuff! So I came inta town, thinkiní I was gonna have one great cheese blast. Little did I know Olí Terrible Thomasíd tracked me all the way. Well, the law Ďround those parts was a husky name Ďo Rounder. He saw it cominí and knew Thomasí reputation. So he strolls up big as day and says, ĎMonty, good to see ya back. You know, Iíve heard youíre a right mean player when it comes to seven-toed Pete...í Well, I said that there werenít anyone who could match me, and that riled Olí Terrible Thomas so he challenged me right then and there..."
        Louís mind was desperately trying to process the story that his captive was telling him, but his feeble intellect wasnít up to the task. He began losing consciousness, and Monty prattled on. " ....aní after the third hour of play, we was both even. That was when I began pulliní out the fancy moves! We had a crowd Ďo the toughest lot of gamblers you could imagine in one place--they were all watching Olí Monterey Jack play Terrible Thomas in the Saddleback Saloon. We stayed there till dawn, we did! Finally, the game went all my way, and I not only kept all me gold, I won three other claims off him too! Traded it all in on a ticket for a cheese ship bound fer Spain though. ĎCourse, thatís another story entirely..." Lou was having trouble keeping his eyes open and his head began to nod off.

       "Did you find the cutting blade yet?" Gadget asked. "Tweezers, nope. Corkscrew, nope. Ah! Here it is!" Dale said. Gadget almost had to laugh. Dale was eccentric, but he had a way about him. "Okay, Supermunk. Stand by and when I give the signal weíll cut the strand and grab the webline."
       Dale was doing cartwheels on the inside at her calling him that. "Okie-dokieÖMighty Gadget." Even though they were faced with a bad situation, Gadget couldnít help enjoying the back and forth some. She knew in a way it was fulfilling Daleís dream and she was glad to see that he was ready for the task.

       The pipe ended where a washing machine would have been. Chip slipped and nearly fell, but Foxglove grabbed him before he could hit the discolored cement of the floor. "Whew. Thanks, Foxy. Thatís one ride I wasnít looking forward to," Chip said. Foxy stayed very close to him. "Youíre very welcome, cute stuff. Whatís the plan now?"
       Chip looked around. They were in a small auxiliary room next to the one where the action was. Chip edged up to the door, which had been left partly open. **Criminals are always careless about something,** Chip thought, glad that his thought patterns were returning to normal somewhat. He peeked in and nearly gasped at the sight. Then he made his way back to Foxy
       "Theyíre all tied up in there, and Winifredís attention was on a big cauldron. They wonít be looking for us to come from this way, so maybe we could rush them. If we can quickly free the others, the confusion might be enough to allow us to escape," Chip said. Foxy held him back. "But Chip, we canít give her that last ingredient! What can we do?"
       Chip thought for a minute. "Well, maybe we could ruin her spell somehow...what were the ingredients again?" Foxy recited the list sheíd given Chip, and then he pulled out a very short pencil he kept with him and for writing notes on. He thought for a moment, then took out the strip of paper Foxy had given him earlier and erased the writing then carefully wrote something down over it. "What will that do to her?"
       Foxy racked her brain to remember everything magical she had read in the last few months. "If I remember right, she would take on the properties of the last item that was cast into the pot." Chip looked back at the ingredient heíd written down and grinned. "Perfect. Okay, letís go!"

       Chip and Foxy crept up to the door, and picked their moment. "Pistachio!"
       "Now!" Gadget said.
       As Chip and Foxy ran in, Dale cut the strands. Gadget and Dale grabbed the webline and swung over to the nearby card table. Gadget cut Monty loose and Dale turned the table up on Lou, knocking him aside.
       "Whatís this! Babbling broomsticks! Bud, get them!" Winfred shouted.
       As Bud moved in, Gadget closed the knife and threw it to Dale, who freed Zipper. Lou tried to catch Dale in another webline, but Dale ducked under and rammed Lou with his fists.
       "Buuuudddeeeeeee!" Lou cried, running for cover. Dale caught Gadgetís attention, and pointed to the webline at his feet. She understood, and grabbed up the strand sheíd cut Monty free from. Bud charged Dale. "Iím going ta have chipmunk sushi tonight!"
       Chip had grabbed a box of soapflakes and filled a small cup with them. Foxy caught hold of the cup, and when sheíd taken it to the height of the room, bombed the place with them. "Time to clean up your act!" Foxy shouted.
       The distraction proved sufficient. Bud looked up to see the soapflakes coming down and when he did Gadget and Dale used their weblines like lariats and snared Budís snout. The snake was helpless, and jerked around. Dale allowed himself to be pulled off the ground and rode on Budís back. "Ride Ďem, snake boy!"
        But the fight was not to be that easy. For even as Monty gathered himself and they all prepared to leave, Lou caught their attention. Heíd been knocked away, but not far enough that heíd forgotten where Zipper was. He had snuck up on him in the melee and was now holding the frightened little fly in his hands.
       "All right, mammals. Nobody move or the fly gets digested!" Lou threatened. All the Rangers stopped. Theyíd been outmaneuvered

       "Zipper!" Chip said. Lou grinned nastily. "One move, hatboy, and yer pal Zipper becomes lunch." Winifred had a look of greedy satisfaction on her face. "Well, for once youíve done something right! Okay, Foxglove! Hand over the missing ingredients now!" Winifred freed Bud and he hungrily watched the others.
       Foxy came forward. "Okay, Winifred, you win. Please, just donít hurt them." She dropped the paper at Winifredís feet and the witch-wannabe snatched it up and cackled nastily. "Now you all can watch as I achieve my greatest ambition...that is, before I let my pets have several late night snacks!"
       Dale and Gadget glanced at each other and gave a smile and a wink. Dale whispered, "This looks like a job for..."
       "Supermunk and Mighty Gadget!" Gadget said, grinning.
       Foxy quickly grabbed Chipís head and gave him a kiss that made his fur stand on end. "Win or lose, Chip. I love you!" Chip returned the kiss. "Foxy, I love you too. And I want you to know...you make a great Dr. Blotson!"
       Winifred sneered down at them. "Get ready to say farewell, small fry!" Winifred read the list. "Lightning bug bulbs, check. Lobster lips, check. Ah, and one live snake....Bud, youíre going swimming!"
       "Better him than me, Freddie!" Lou said.
       Winifred picked up Bud, then whapped Lou. "DONíT CALL ME FREDDIE!"
       "Okay, Freddie."
       Winifred grabbed a roll of newspaper, then put it down. "Oh, enough with you! The mixtureís ready!" She pitched Bud into the cauldron. After a few moments, the pot began to glow. "At last! Magic, do your stuff!" Winifred stood right over the pot, and a beam of power hit her. Strange arcs of energy began to leap wildly about the room. Then Winifred changed into a snake, with only her orange hair and her voice to indicate who sheíd been. She fell into the cauldron with Bud.

       "Whatís happened? What went wrong?" Winifred asked. Foxy kissed Chip in sheer joy. "It worked!" Chip hugged her close. "I couldnít have done it without you, Foxy."
       Winifred slithered out, then turned to Foxglove. "You! I shouldíve known youíd double-cross me! Get Ďem, boys!" But ever since Bud had left the cauldron, heíd had all his attention on her. "Iíve got a better idea, Winifred...why donít you and I get to know each other better?" Bud flicked his tail and had hearts in his eyes. Winfred started backing up in panic. "Now, now...donít do anything too hastyÖ" Bud rushed at her. "Come to me, my serpentine beauty!"
       Winifred cried out in horror and flew out of the room with Bud hot on her heels and Lou running behind the both of them. The Rangers had their traditional laugh of good humor. "Golly, I didnít know a snake could move so fast!" Gadget said. Monty dusted his hands. "Just takes the right kind of persuasion is all. Why I remember the time when I was being chased..."

       Chip came up and tapped Monty on the shoulder. "Uh, everyone? Iíve got something to say...." Foxy was so excited she leaped into Chipís arms, nearly knocking him over. "We won! We won!" She kissed Chip. Chip was about to break away, but enjoyed it too much.
       Monty had a crooked smile on his face. "Too-ra-loo....maybe theyíve set the date already..."
       Dale was enjoying the scene. "Donít give her any ideas...or him." Gadget smiled. She was so happy to see Chip happy. Then she tapped Dale on the shoulder. "Well, they gave me an idea, Supermunk..."
       Gadget kissed him then Dale picked her up, but he lost his balance and landed on his backside with her in his arms. Gadget giggled, "Oh, Robin! Youíre so brave and impetuous!" Dale doffed an invisible hat. "Maid Gadget, the villain is vanquished so let me carry you off, back to Sherwood forest." Dale looked at their situation again. "Or maybe you should carry me."
       Zipper flew up to Montyís shoulder and asked him a question. "Yep, love can make blokes do mighty strange things all right. But itís grand, still." Monty and Zipper waited patiently and appreciatively for the kissing to end. "Chip, Foxy? I think Iím gonna need a crowbar to get them two apart!" Monty kidded.
       Chip and Foxglove finally separated. "I was about to apologize to the gang for what Iíd done to them, Foxy..." Chip looked at Dale and Gadget and Monty and Zipper. "Guys, I just wanted to say I was....wrong. I didnít know it, but thatís no excuse. But Iím glad in a way that it happened, Ďcause now Iíve got someone who really loves me...and whatís more I love her!"
       Dale gave him a thumbís up. "Itís okay, Chip. Best buds and all that. So, you okay with me and Gadget?" Gadget took Daleís hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Iím sorry, Chip. I should have made my feelings clear a long time ago. I didnít realize that my silence was being misinterpreted."
       Chip walked over and took off his fedora. "Dale, it shouldnít have taken a fight like that to make me see what was going on. I guess I just wanted Gadget to be something she wasnít and both she and you were too kind to say anything." Chip hugged them both. Gadget smiled at him. "I guess youíre not such a blockhead after all, Chip."
       Chip did a double take. "Huh?" Gadget covered up. "Uh, never mind. I mean itís great that you can admit that, Chip." Dale held back a laugh, but he realized he now had something else to ask Gadget about. Foxy contentedly wrapped her wings around Chip. "I got my sweetie and Gadget got hers. What now, cutie?"

       Chip got nervous. "I think itís time to go home, Rangers...guys, as you can see Foxy and I have sort of become..attached to each other. Well, what Iím trying to ask is....." Monty patted him on the back, full of zest. "Well, sheís a lass with a strong heart, what to get past all yer defenses Chip. I say we give Ďer a go as a Ranger."
       Gadget warmed up to the idea immediately. "Sure! And itíll be nice having another girl around."
       Dale took one of her wings and shook it. Welcome aboard, Foxglove. Now Chip will have you to drive him Ďbattyí instead of me!" Foxy giggled and hugged Chip, which set them all to laughing. Zipper buzzed and gave a thumbs up.

       Chip was relieved, to say the least. "Iím glad you guys werenít too sore at me. Iíd hate to lose you guys over anything--youíre all my family, and I know this sounds corny but.....I love all you guys." Dale leaped into Chipís arms. "We love you too, cutie!" The action was so unexpected, that Chip broke out laughing so hard he started crying over it. He fell and he and Dale went down in a heap.
       Monty stood over the scene with satisfaction. "Well, Zip, it just goes to show you how strong the power oí love is. Why, this reminds me of the time I was in Canada duriní..." Everyone jumped up and covered Montyís mouth. "I think weíd better head out while the headingís good!" Gadget said. They led the big Aussie out, everyone giggling a bit except Monty, who was still trying to get his story out through the hands blockading him.




Chapter 11 Ė Living the Dream and Beyond

       Two days later was a Saturday, and since that evening was the Rangersí normal night off, the two newly-formed couples decided to attend a costume party together. Monty and Zipper conveniently found a cheese ship to go visit, leaving the lovers to each otherís company. Chip had naturally wanted to go as Sureluck, but when Foxy had whispered a suggestion to him, he was all for the alternative. Dale was going as Robin Hood--heíd never dared to wear the costume in public before, even though he dearly loved it. But a little prodding from Gadget was all it took. Well, that and she said if heíd do it sheíd go as Maid Marian. So it was that we found our noble Robin in his lincoln green outside the treehouse.
       Dale looked at his Robin Hood costume. Many times he had acted out the scenes from the movie. He had even fenced while wearing it from time to time, but now here he was. He had won the hand of the fair maiden...and he was terrified.
       "Wow, this is it. I love Gadget and she loves me. Gosh, I never really thought it would happen. I mean Iím happy all right, but itís all so...so.." Gadget heard Daleís worry and joined him out on the patio. "Relax Dale, weíll take this one step at a time," Gadget said.
       Dale turned around in surprise, and stared in admiration. Gadget had on a lovely dress that sheíd made herself--it looked so like the one from his dream! Dressed as Maid Marian, looking as regal and as beautiful. Daleís mouth fell open, and he struggled to find his voice. "Gadget...wow, you look really amazing."
       "Golly, thanks. I know I donít wear dresses often, but Iíve had this one for quite some time...I just didnít have the right reason to wear it...." She walked up and kissed Dale lightly on the nose. "Youíre sure dashing in that outfit, Dale."
       They stared into each otherís eyes and it was as if they were living their dream. Gadget whipsered in his ear, "I wonít forget the words you said to me...." Dale was in dreamland himself, and didnít even think when he said, "I love you more than life itself."
       "Oh, Dale!" Gadget kissed him. "But one thing puzzles me...what were Elvis, Johnny Bravo, Yoda, the Transformers and G.I. Joe doing there?"

       Dale chuckled. "Oh, they were....how did you know about that?!" Gadget looked at him in pleased surprise. "Then...it was more than just a dream! You really did say it!" She hugged him again.
       Dale looked at her with amazed wonder. "But thatís impossible! We couldnít have both had the same dream!" Gadget fixed his hat on straight for him. "Dale, nothingís impossible. And I think it really was more than a dream...it was destiny."
       Dale smiled in remembrance of it all. "Yeah, it was great. Too bad we had to wake up when we did. Robin gets to fight his way out of there! And while Robinís fighting the guards, he asks Marian to...to..." Gadget took his hands. "Donít be scared, Robin. Iím just happy being with you right now, and I think you are too. Letís enjoy life a day at a time, and tomorrow will take care of itself."
       Dale stared into her beautiful eyes the way Robin did in the movie and to his utter amazement she began to sing the song from that very scene:

It seems like only yesterday
You were just a child at play
Now youíre all grown up, and silently
Oh, how fast those moments fleeÖ

Once we watched a lazy world go by
Now the days seem to flyÖ
Life is brief
But when itís gone
Love goes on and onÖ

       When she finished, Gadget put her arm around him. "Oh Robin, what a beautiful night. I wish it would never end...." Dale couldnít have been more appreciative. "Well, weíll do our best, wonít we?"
       Chip and Foxy came out in their costumes. Foxglove had talked him into dressing up as Rhett Butler, and she made a cute Scarlett. Chip waved to Dale and Gadget. "Hey, save some of that energy for the party! Letís go, or weíll be late!"
       Foxy broke out a delightful Southern accent. "Oh, Rhett! Iíll be the belle of the ball with you the-ah!" Chip had to giggle at that. He was getting better used to being comfortable showing his emotions in public. Chip tried the accent too. "Okay, Miss Scarlett. But could I take this moustache off first? It tickles!"
       Foxy grabbed Chip and gave him a big kiss, and Rhettís mustache ended up on Scarlett! "Oh deah! I forgot to shave!" Foxy exclaimed. Chip laughed, and so did Dale and Gadget. Chip peeled the mustache off and replaced it on his face. Foxy pulled out a fan. "Oh, fiddle dee dee!"
       Dale marched over good-naturedly and put his arms around them both. "Come on, you buncha loveable nuts. Weíre gonna be late for all the food and dancing!"

       The party was a smashing success, and the four Rangers had a splendid time. When they got home, Chip took Foxy out for a walk--both still in their costumes. They had started out discussing Dale and Gadgetís dream, which the couple had shared with them. Chip had laughed almost the entire time. Now Foxglove was sharing her Cinderella dream with him.
       "..and then when the clock rang, I had to fly..uh run for it," Foxy said. Chip smirked. "Why? Did your horses all turn into mice?" Foxy shook her head. "Well, no...into a fly actually. And Monty was my fairy godfather."
       "Monty? Monty!?" Chip laughed and rolled on the ground, picturing Monty in the role. Then he looked up at her. "And who was Prince Charming, as if I couldnít guess?"
       Foxy grabbed him by the collar and pulled him to his feet. "A certain handsome and suave chipmunk who thought I was the most beautiful woman in his entire kingdom." Chip readjusted his moustache. "Well, at least the guy had taste." Chip took Foxy in his arms. "Thank you."
"For what, darling?" Foxy asked.
       "For being you, and for helping me to see who I am. I never really thanked you for that," Chip said. Chip kissed her lovingly. "You can thank me for that anytime, cutie! And thank you, Chip. For loving me and forgiving me." Chip gave her his arm, and escorted her into headquarters. As she went, Foxy had but one thought. **Sometimes, dreams really do come true.**

       At the dawn, Gadget was up and feeling good. She started for the gym room, then realized it could be more fun to exercise in Daleís gym. Sheíd enjoyed the swordplay between them before, and it would be just the thing to sharpen the mind and get the day off to a good pace. Gadget entered the main room, hoping that Dale would be up.
       "Morniní, Gadget luv," Monty said from the kitchen. "Youíre up a mite earlier than usual, aint ya?" Gadget looked into the kitchen, but no Dale. "Well, I must admit I was looking forward to getting up today," she said. Monty smiled as he cut a bunch of onions up for his cheese omelettes. "Too right! Nice to have things peaceable again Ďround here. If youíre lookiní for a certain chipmunk, I havenít seen the bloke since he ran in here and gulped down his breakfast. He said he was going somewhere, but I didnít catch the destination."
       Gadget ate quickly, and headed for her workshop to get her plunger shoes. She slipped outside, making sure no one saw her leave. Then she put on the plunger shoes and walked up to the lairís entrance. She was about to jump in, when she noticed it. The knothole entrance was different, and Gadget blushed with appreciation at the difference. The initials "D+G" had been painstakingly cut into the faux wood entrance and then blackened to appear as natural. Around those letters, with the same care taken in its making, a heart surrounded them.

       Dale was at the desk in his secret lair. It was obvious he hadnít gotten much rest, because he was surrounded by wads of paper. Dale began to write again. "Youíre the fun in my day....no, not strong enough....Youíre the fun in every day....oh, not good enough......" Then Dale tore the sheet away and began to write again:

Thereís no words I can write
That say love like I feel it
Itís like trying to stop the sun from rising.
Youíre so fun to be with
And talk to and all
Itís so fun itís actually surprising!

I wish I had the words to say
Just how big my feelings are.
But itís like the time you felt useless
And come back in that suit of orange
And knocked Bubbles around like a...

       "Door hinge?"
       Dale started at the interruption, forgetting for a moment that Gadget knew about his secret lair.
       Dale plopped back in his chair. "Whew! I thought my secret was out!" Gadget smiled warmly at him. "You know itís safe with me. I like how you marked the door for me, the "D+G" with a heart around it is very touching. But why are you having such problems with your feelings? Canít you tell me?" Gadget took his hands and had him stand up. "Now look at me and say whatís in your heart."
       Dale couldnít think at all at first, but he just kept looking at that wonderful face and it was as if any other thoughts and concerns lifted from him. His expression changed from fretful to content "Whenever Iím near you, Iím the person who I always wanted to be. Iím still me, but thereís..more! You, you give me something when you talk to me, or put your hand on me. Itís like some kind of power that I canít explain. Iím not like this around other peopleóI donít understand it myself, but itís like Iím not complete if youíre not here."
       Gadget smiled tenderly and took out a sheet of paper. "I know. I feel it too. I wrote this last night." Daleís look was one of pure wonder, as Gadget began to read:

I can trust you, my love
Now that weíve shared
Ourselves and I know
Your heart is strong

I wonít pull back
Now that I know
Youíre there and
Iím where I belong

We left uncertainty
On the riverside and
Met each other on
The bridge of happiness

Now weíre here
Together and I feel
Like Iím melting in
Pure joy and bliss

My heart is safe with you
As is yours with me
The rivers of despair are dry
And love is flowing free.

       Dale was so moved, that he actually made the bold act of taking her in his arms and kissing her. "Thatís beautiful Gadget, just like you." Gadget hugged him back. "Golly, thanks Dale! Youíre just like Pi to me...you never run out of surprises!" Dale invited her to take a seat. "And youíre like pie to me too."
       "Jeepers, I didnít know you were familiar with Pi!" Gadget said. Dale wiggled his eyebrows. "Sure, I know all kindís of pie--apple, blueberry, cherry..." Gadget laughed and pushed him. "You big kidder! I oughtta go get one just to plop on your face!" Dale put on very serious look. "Beware, no one pies me with impunity, my dear."
       Gadget laughed louder at that. "Oh, stop it...pies me with impunity!" Dale enjoyed that Gadget could be so free with him now. "Chip has been on the receiving end of more than one pie in his lifetime. He knows my pies, and trembles."
       Gadget finally recovered herself. "You know, I havenít felt this good in a long time. Iíd forgotten about laughing--oh, I laugh some, but my dad could always set me off anytime. Well, not set off like mad, but set off in a good way. Well, what I mean isÖI think Iíve...gotten something back that I forgot Iíd lost."
       Dale put an arm around her shoulder. "Well, Iíve always believed that laughter is the best thing for you. You know, I canít remember the last time Iíve heard you laugh like that! You have such a beautiful laugh." Gadget hugged him again. "And you have the magic to bring it out! Thanks, Dale."

       After a lively breakfast, Gadget settled into her workshop. With all the crises past, her hungry and inventive mind was ready to express itself again and she lit into it with vigor. She had a new engine she was developing on her table, with one hand tightening a bolt and the other holding the far end of the shaft that she was working on. Gadget was so engrossed in her project that she never noticed when the door creaked open slightly and a pair of eyes peeked in with anticipation.
       "The tickle master spies his target," Dale said to himself.
Daleís face spread into a mischievous grin, and he twiddled his fingers and wiggled his eyebrows a couple of times. Taking great care not to allow the door to creak, he closed it, tipped in and slowly moved towards Gadget with his hands down, fingers together. Closer and closer he came to his potential tickling victim. And he would have gotten there too, had Gadget not had a mirror set up across the room. Gadgetís eyes caught an image in the reflective glass, but she didnít betray anything until he was in a hairbreadth of his goal.
       "DALE!" Gadget shouted, jumping around in the same instant. Dale froze, completely caught between humor and fear. Then Gadgetís face changed to a playful grin, and she started to raise her hands a bit, and twiddled her fingers. "So, you like to tickle, do you big boy? Letís see where your ticklish spot isÖ."

       "Oh, no!" Dale shouted and began to run around the room. "Iím gonna get ya!" Gadget shouted, starting to laugh with the fun of the chase. Dale ducked under the table, jumped over machinery, and cackled and shouted alternatively. But the speed of the chase was too much, and Dale tripped over his own feet and fell. Gadget was kneeling by him, tickling his tummy, and Dale laughed so hard he cried. He held his hands up in surrender. "P..please! I canít stand it! I canít stand it!" He kicked and writhed and laughed and Gadget couldnít help laughing along with him.
       Chip threw open the door. "Dale! Are you oÖkay?" Chip stood short at seeing the comical scene on the floor, and was not sure whether he should apologize or just leave. Gadget saw his hesitation and got up, taking a couple of steps toward him. "Itís all right, Chip. Weíre just having a little fun." Chip grinned back, and found he was glad he could. "Okay. Foxy and I are going hang gliding. Have fun!"
       Gadget waved goodbye. "Okay, Ch..hi...ha haaaaaa!" Gadget said, as Dale had used the diversion to get off the floor and tickle her sides from behind. "Now youíll see why Iím the master tickler!" Dale said. Now Gadget was the laughing victim and turned around, gently pushing his hands away. Dale stopped and he instinctively cringed, not sure if heíd really done the right thing. Then she took him in her arms and kissed him.

       "Donít worry, Dale. Iím glad you decided to spend some time with me today," she said warmly. Dale was relieved, then noticed her engine. "Hey, can I help?" Gadget stopped for a moment. She knew heíd ask, but this was her passion. Gadget gave Dale the wrench, and showed him the shaft sheíd been tightening. "Okay, Iíll hold his side steady while you tighten the other."
       Dale took the wrench, and realized that sheíd given him responsibility. He wasnít used to the idea, and found that the hand that held the wrench was shaking some. He didnít want to mess up her work, knowing how much it meant to her. Gadget saw how nervous heíd become and said gently, "Donít worry, Dale. I trust you. Just fit the wrench onto the nut and turn it toward you." Her voice helped him, and soon he was tightening the shaft. She hadnít shown how nervous she was, but then Dale shouted, "Hey, this is fun!" She flinched and dropped the screwdriver sheíd been using. Dale picked it up off the floor. "Hey, anyone can make a mistake," he said, handing it back. She relaxed at the irony of Dale telling her that, and they proceeded to finish work on the shaft.

       A half hourís additional work produced a product fit for testing. Gadget strapped the engine down to the table. "This booster rocket engine should come in handy if we need extra power!" Gadget said. "When I give you the signal, push the red button on the side. I want to test the straps again to make sure it wonít leave the table."
       Dale saluted and activated the motor per instructions. It sputtered a couple of seconds and then came on full blast. The mighty explosive force pushed Dale and Gadget to opposite sides of the room and then the engine zoomed forward, table and all! In a moment, Gadget and Dale were staring through a hole in the tree made by the engine, which had plummeted to the ground and left a fine crater. With their faces framed by the hole, Gadget looked to Dale, searching for some consolation. Dale shrugged his shoulders, "Well, it sure never left that table!"
       Gadget just looked for a moment more, then a laugh forced its way up. Then another. Soon, they were hanging on each other, caught up in the wry humor of the moment. "Dale," Gadget said, "youíre worth having around if for nothing else but this!" Dale helped her up, and looked her in the face. "And youíre worth having around, period!"

       With that, Gadget went to a cabinet on the wall and pulled out a pair of red-colored flight goggles identical in shape to her own and handed them over to Dale. Dale took them as if heíd been handed the Nobel prize. "For me? Really?" Dale asked with wonder. "Yep," Gadget said. "Now put them on and turn the left eyepiece a notch to the left. Dale did so, and shouted in pleased surprise, pulling them back off his eyes. "Itís a TV! Do you mean you watch television on these things?"
       "Yeah," Gadget said. "And cartoons too. When I was forced to be on my own, I turned to cartoons to help. I was able to feel included in someoneís life through them. I sort of felt self-conscious about it, because I didnít know what the others would think. Theyíre solar-powered, and I put the audio center in the strap so you can hear it without needing earplugs!" Dale couldnít believe how little he knew about Gadgetóshe liked cartoons? "But I thought you were just all work and no fun!"
       Gadget shook her head, with a big grin. "I enjoy fun as much as the next person. I guess I just didnít know how to share funóuntil now, that is." Dale pulled the goggles down again. "Hey, Animaniacs is on!" Gadget pulled down her goggles too and soon they were both enjoying the antics of Yakko, Wakko and Dot. When a commercial came on, Dale pushed his goggles up. "Hey, Gadget. Donít you think itís strange how much your voice sounds like Dotís?" Gadget thought it over a moment, "Well, now that you mention itÖ" She put her arms around his neck, and her voice changed to a perfect imitation of Dotís. "Hello, red-nosed Hawaiian-shirt-wearing nurse!"

       Chip and Foxy had seen most of these antics during their ride in the air. Chip was glad that no one was hurt, and he couldnít help laughing a little at Gadget and Daleís faces looking down at the failed project. **I guess they were meant for each other** Chip thought. Then Foxglove caught his attention.
"Watch where youíre going, darling!" Foxy shouted. "Yeow!" Chip yelled, as he twisted in mid-air to miss an oncoming pigeon. Foxy flew up next to him. "Are you okay?" Chip was breathing hard with the adrenaline rush. "Yeah, but Iíd better not make a habit out of that!" Foxy chuckled and fluttered right ahead of him, giving him a gentle kiss. "So can we go the library tonight? I just love it when you read to me."
       "Weíll see," Chip said teasingly. Foxy knew now that teasing meant yes, so she wrapped her wings around him in gratitude. The hang glider began sinking slightly. "Uh, Foxy? Didnít you tell me that this thing wonít carry two passengers?"
       Foxyís face switched from happiness to concern as she heard one of the struts begin to crack. "Quick, aim for the fountain!" Chip did so and Foxy followed him closely. The wind wouldnít let him get close enough to it to bail out the first time though, and he had to fly around and come back in. As he did, the strut in question gave way and Chip began to fall. But Foxy was close at hand and caught him, holding him suspended.
       "Hey, I didnít know you could hold a chipmunk suspended in the air like this!" Chip said.
       "Uh, oh!" Foxy said.
       "I canít!"
       Foxy and Chip gripped each other and fell three feet straight into the deep waters of the fountain. They came up a moment later, and when Foxy saw Chipís drenched fedora on his face she couldnít help laughing at him. Chip splashed water at her, and soon they were frolicking in water games. After they tired out, the two sat on the waterís edge, cooling their feet.
       "Foxy," Chip said, "I know the others want you and me both to stay. But do you want to stay with the Rangers?" Foxglove was startled that he would leave the decision up to her. But she could see that in his eyes he trusted her, and it meant more to her than all the kisses in the world. "Yes, Chip. Iíd like to stay. I couldnít think of any place Iíd rather be!"
       Chip hugged her in appreciation. "Thank you. I hoped you would."
       "When youíre happy, Iím happy," Foxy said. "Especially when weíre doing something good." Chip took her wing and they walked over to the remnants of the hang glider to salvage it. "Iíll start training you in how to be a detective. Training of the mind is one of the best rewards we can give ourselves."
       "Thereís only one thing Iíve got my mind trained on, cutie," Foxy said, slipping her wings around him. Chip chuckled. "Well, Iíll say this. Youíre a lot cuter than Dr. Blotson."
       "Handsome and perceptive too! What a guy!" Foxy said, kissing him.

       Chip smiled at her gesture of kindness, and then led Foxy back to the fountain, sitting her down. "Foxy, I know everythingís been happening very fast so I just wanted to say before we headed back that I really appreciate how you stuck with me. I like how everythingís turned out, but I donít want you to think that youíre obligated to me for anything since you helped me. I respect you and I appreciate all that youíve done."
       Foxy took his paw. "Chip, you know how I feel. I get goosebumps just looking at you! But itís more than just the looks. I like myself when Iím with you, which is a lot more than I could say for Winifred and the others. I know youíre not perfect, and Iím glad you know it now too. Chip, I also know this has all been sudden and youíre not used to it. But I also know that I love you, and if we are to share a life together I couldnít think of anyone Iíd rather be with."
       Chip paused, and collected his thoughts. "Foxy, youíre a wonderful person, and Iím glad that weíre getting this time together. I know youíd like to for us to be together officially...but I canít promise you that. Iíve got years of self-imagery to sort through and put away. I thought I was something Iím really not, and when I woke up this morning I found myself looking in the mirror and wondering Ďwho is thatí?"
       Foxy suddenly looked concerned. "Are you saying youíre not sure you love me?" Chip looked down at his reflection in the water. "I know I have feelings for you, Foxy. I just donít know how you or anything fits in anymore, I guess." Foxy nodded her understanding. "Donít worry, Iíll help you find the answers. Weíll all help."
       Chip nodded back. "Yes, I know. Iím grateful that Iíve got you and all the Rangers with me. Iíd go nuts if I was alone. I suspect both of us need time to adjust to everything thatís happened." Foxy laughed sarcastically, "Well, I do admit itís different. But I like the change in scene so far..." Foxy wrapped her wings around Chip. "Weíve got all the time in the world, cutie. Take your time. No one should be alone, itís more terrible than you can imagine," she said sadly.
       "Donít I know it," Chip said. "It would really be terrible if I had to face all this alone. Itís not going to be easy at first, Foxy. I wonít kid you about that. I still have a lot of adjusting to do. I canít promise you that everythingís going to be rosy. As the old song says, ĎItís not for me to say.í But whatever the future holds, Iím glad youíre here now."
Foxy hugged him gently. "Always know this, Chip. Iíll be there to catch you when you fall." Chip did a double take. "Strange you should put it that way. I just had a dream about you and me where you caught me at Runningback Falls...".

       Foxy gasped and put her wings up to her mouth. "You were falling and I caught you and carried you to safety..." Chip pointed at himself half-consciously. "And then after...I was in a Southern gentlemenís outfit?"
       "And I was Foxy OíHara and you took me in your arms and we..." Chip snapped back to reality. "But you couldnít...at the falls...how did...it wasnít real!" Foxy giggled. "Letís make it real!" Foxy gave Chip a kiss he wouldnít soon forget! After Chip recovered, he doffed his Rhett Butler hat. "Miss Foxy, you really are the dew on my cotton! But how can that be? Dreams arenít real! How could we have had the same dream? How?" Foxy chuckled, and jumped into his arms. "Donít ask questions, Rhett dear. Just carry me into Tara."

       As they headed for home, Chip realized he was in a way thankful for everything that had happened. Actually in several ways. He was glad for Dale, whose feelings heíd regretfully ignored. He was glad for Gadget, who seemed happier than sheíd ever been. He was also happy for Foxy, who had found a better life for herself than what sheíd had. And yes, he was happy for himselfóhe had a girl that loved him and loved to be with him and do the things he liked. He wasnít sure how things would work out with her, but those thoughts could wait for now. He had friends that cared about him despite everything that had happened. He had a home.
       Foxy could almost see the thoughts stirring in him as they reached the tree. "Whatís on your mind, darling?" Chip took his right hand off the contraption they were dragging and put it around her. "I always thought he was stupid to leave Scarlett," Chip said. Foxy flew up as he climbed and then she regained his arms. She put her wings around his neck as he carried her inside, and knew that from this time and forever more she would never be alone again.

The Rescue Rangers, Bianca, Baloo, Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Lady Cluck and Gaston are copyright Disney. Johnny Bravo, Daphne, Shaggy, Freddy and Velma are copyright Hanna-Barbera. Smurfette is copyright Peyo. G.I. Joe, Sergeant Slaughter and the Transformers are copyright Hasbro. Henry Higgins, Fifi La Fume, Yakko, Wakko and Dot are copyright Warner Brothers. Charlie Brown and Lucy Van Pelt are copyright UFS Inc. Yoda and Darth Vader are copyright Lucasfilm. The Mighty Gadget idea comes from Matthew, and from the inspiring drawing by Charles Williams. The photos of Chip+Foxy and Dale+Gadget are posted with permission, courtesy of Jaleel at The Foxglove Feature , and David Stone at CDRR Screen Captures . Elvis is one of a kind. John Wayne is a legend for his own time and any other.