Author: quietthinker PM
"In the darkest night, the faintest light shines like the sun." When Cindy's parents reveal they are getting divorced, Jimmy and Cindy finally realize how much they need each other, even if it's hard to admit it.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Tragedy - Cindy V. & Jimmy N. - Words: 8,883 - Reviews: 20 - Favs: 41 - Follows: 7 - Published: 06-19-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8236097
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Cynthia Vortex did not break. She could not remember the last time she had cried or even come close to doing so. But as she sat on her bed with her parents standing before her, their most painful words racing around inside her head, she knew that she was now fighting the inevitable.
"Honey, we're sorry, but we're getting a divorce."
The words repeated themselves once more. She wished the spiraling would stop, that they would merely sink down an unseen drain, never to be heard again. Yet around and around those words went, destroying everything they touched. The pain only intensified as more and more words replayed in her mind.
"We both still love you."
"You need to understand it's not your fault."
"I'll still come see you and your mother every weekend."
"You'll see it's for the best. I promise."
If Cindy had had any capacity for laughter, she would have laughed in their lying faces. Did they think her an imbecile? Or perhaps so controlled by her emotions that her misery would cloud her mind? They didn't love her or they wouldn't do this to her. It was her fault, because she had been the source of so many of their arguments. Her father would disappear and never return, because if he wanted to see her he wouldn't leave at all. And this was not for the best. This was like feeling that everything she had ever known was being torn away. This was hell.
Cindy narrowed her eyes and leaped off of her bed. She had seemed so weak, so broken, that the move surprised her parents. She sprinted past them as they both recoiled in shock. Cindy's heart had already broken from their news, but the fragments splintered into pieces as she watched them step back in tandem. The way their bodies recoiled, the shocked look on their faces, the surely false pain in their eyes; they were reflections of one another. They were so much alike, so why did they want to be apart?
Cindy felt the tears slide down her cheeks as she dashed out of her house. There was only one place she could go, one person she could talk to that might ease her pain. Her family may have just been shattered, but she still had her sister.
"I'm coming!" Libby angrily shouted while hopping off of her bed. She rolled her eyes in annoyance as the feverish pounding on her house's front door showed no signs of slowing. "Parents. Never there when you want them to be," she grumbled while heading downstairs.
Libby had thought it a miracle when her parents had finally agreed to leave her home alone without a babysitter. It had been an hour since they'd left on their weekly date, and Libby had immediately realized that she had overestimated her desire to be by herself. The house was too quiet; her music did little to replace the usual happy banter between her mother and father. Preparing her own food had been a struggle unto itself, and now there was apparently some maniac slamming his head into her door.
"Coming!" she screeched. The knocking abruptly stopped, and Libby halted in place at its unforeseen cessation. She slowly approached the door, finally beginning to get worried about who she would find on the other side. She struggled to see through the peephole while standing on her tiptoes and immediately yanked the door open.
"Cindy," Libby painfully whispered. The blonde-haired girl before her was nearly unrecognizable. Cindy's ponytail had collapsed, her eyes were swollen, her nose was running, and the pain on her face was horrifying. Before Cindy could utter a word, Libby wrapped her friend in a tight embrace and slowly pulled her inside.
"It…happened," Cindy managed to whisper as her body shuddered. She felt herself collapsing as Libby led her towards a sofa. Cindy slammed onto the leather seat and squeezed her hands into fists. Stop this. She dug her nails deeper into her palms and cursed the effect her parents were having on her. They're not worth this!
"Cindy," Libby whispered while placing both her hands onto Cindy's fists. The blonde girl slowly loosened her grip, and Libby gave each hand a gentle squeeze. "Your parents?" she meekly asked.
Cindy managed a nod and shuddered once more. "I hate them," she barely managed to utter. "Both of them."
Libby nodded back and wrapped an arm around Cindy's shoulder. The first thought to come to mind was to say it's okay. Libby immediately shoved that aside. It was a useless, painful phrase that only would only show that she didn't know or understand Cindy. Libby squeezed her sister tight and thought of something better.
"I'll be here," she quietly offered after a few seconds. She saw Cindy's eyes brighten ever so slightly in response. "Always, whenever you need me," Libby promised.
Cindy looked into her kind brown eyes and managed a tiny smile. She opened her mouth to speak, but a knocking on Libby's front door stopped her. Cindy immediately narrowed her eyes and felt her blood boil. A confused look ran across Libby's face as she got to her feet. Cindy immediately grabbed her arm and yanked her back down.
"Libby!" Mrs. Vortex's voice shouted from outside. "Dear, please let us in. We need to talk to Cindy!"
Libby turned to Cindy and saw nothing but hatred and anger on her face. How could her parents be so stupid? How could they not understand that more than anything, Cindy needed to not see them right now? Libby knew what would happen next. If Cindy couldn't be with Libby, she'd need to be alone. Giving her that opportunity was the least she could do.
"I'll stall them," Libby quickly whispered.
Cindy's eyes belayed gratitude before steeling over. "Thank you." With that said she ran towards Libby's kitchen and dashed out the back door. Libby sadly watched after her for a few seconds before marching towards the front door. I've always wanted to give Mrs. Vortex a piece of my mind.
"To summer vacation!" Carl happily offered while raising his can of soda.
"To three months of infinite joy!" Jimmy shouted.
"To a night of video games!" Sheen shrieked while gulping down his icy beverage. The three boys laughed and settled into their seats in Jimmy's lab. They immiedatley picked up their controllers and focused their gaze on Jimmy's lab's main monitor.
"Loading screen!" Sheen happily shouted. Several seconds passed, and Sheen's eyes narrowed in fury. "Still loading screen," he angrily mumbled while staring daggers at the screen.
"This is boring," Carl offered.
Jimmy nodded and set his controller down. He stared at his two best friends and gave an amused smile. "I guess it's fine to be bored for once. We kind of had a nonstop year."
Sheen rubbed his chin and appeared deeply pensive. "Indubitably."
"How many adventures did we have, anyway?" Carl asked.
"Eighty-four," Sheen immediately offered. "Eighty-five if you count the first Yolkian attack."
"Why wouldn't we?" Carl asked.
Sheen shrugged. "It feels separate, somehow."
Jimmy cocked an eyebrow but managed an amused smile. "Well, let's just stay bored for one night."
The lab's doorbell suddenly rang out, and Jimmy happily rose from his seat. If there was one thing souring his mood, it was that he'd forgotten to invite Libby and Cindy over. They may have started off the year as enemies, but there was no doubt that the two girls now completed his group. Now it appeared that they had become privy to his silent concerns and come to join the boys. He unlocked his lab's entrance and waited for his two friends to enter.
When Libby entered the lab without Cindy by her side, Jimmy immediately knew something was wrong. The brown-haired girl desperately looked around until she settled her gaze on Jimmy.
"Jimmy," she quietly whispered.
"Libbalicious!" Sheen happily shrieked while running towards his love and wrapping her in a bear hug.
Jimmy watched carefully as Libby weakly returned Sheen's embrace. Libby never took her eyes off of Jimmy's, and he knew that there could only be one explanation. "Cindy?" he quietly asked.
Libby gave the tiniest of nods as Sheen and Carl stared curiously at Jimmy.
"What?" Carl monotonously asked, clearly confused.
Libby bit her lower lip and forced herself to smile at her boyfriend. "Sheen, I can't believe you're not at home."
Sheen's eyes widened in a clear expression of curiosity. "Why?"
Libby took a step back in mock surprise. "You don't know?"
"Know what?" Sheen nearly shouted as his right eye twitched.
"There's an Ultralord marathon on in a half hour," Libby effortlessly lied.
Sheen's eye twitched more and more rapidly until it became a mere blur to his frightened friends. "What?" he shrieked while struggling to catch his breath. "The gods in heaven surely rain their glorious light upon my soul!"
Libby blinked several times and took a cautious step back. "Yeah, they…they sure do."
"Come on, Carl!" Sheen cried out while pushing his friend towards the lab's entrance. "Jimmy, you in?"
Libby stared hard at Jimmy, and he gave his head a slow shake. "I…I think I need to finish an invention, so…"
"Your loss!" Sheen screamed while pushing the protesting Carl out of the lab. As soon as the door closed behind him, Libby bore her eyes into Jimmy's once more.
"Cindy needs you," she immediately said.
Jimmy frowned at the words. His first assumption was that this was some sort of trick. True, that was more Cindy's forte as opposed to Libby's, but he knew that the dark-haired girl before him was capable of a mean joke. Her eyes were too pained for this option, however, so he hesitantly asked, "Why?"
Libby slowly walked forward and took a deep breath. "Her parents finally split up. She…she took it hard."
Jimmy blinked and cocked his head in confusion. He had lived his entire life in a happy home, filled with loving parents who he could never imagine being apart. He suddenly tried to imagine how he would feel if they were to separate. A series of terrifying questions bombarded him. Who would he live with? Would he have to leave town? Would he see them as much as before? Why would they do this? Could he be to blame?
Jimmy shook his head to rid himself of the painful questions. He couldn't begin to imagine how Cindy was feeling. "How…how can I help?" he asked.
Libby nervously swallowed and put a hand on Jimmy's shoulder. He stared at her painted nails for a few seconds before looking back into her eyes. "I want to be with her," she painfully uttered, and Jimmy nodded in understanding. "But her parents are at my house. I said I'd check if she was over here. I have to go back and keep them away from Cindy. She can't deal with them right now."
Jimmy still was unsure of how he could help. "I…I could use the hypno-ray to distract them," he slowly offered. His mind began to work a little faster, and he offered another other possible solution. "Or I could make a fake DNA tracker. Maybe send them away from here. It might be best to…"
"Neutron!" Libby angrily seethed. Jimmy pulled back at both her tone and the strength in her eyes. "Don't you get it? She doesn't need your inventions. She needs you."
"Cindy…Cindy hates me." Even as he uttered the words, he knew they weren't true. As of late, he had begun to question if they had ever been true. Regardless of their past, Jimmy had at least a basic understanding of where he and Cindy currently stood. They seemed to be perpetually straddling the line between friends and something more. Every step they took towards that unseen other side always ended up with them being flung back. They would then struggle to return to where they had originally stood, and the cycle would repeat once more. This had been going on for months, and Jimmy had spent far too much time analyzing this, wondering if they were destined to go round and round in this way for all of eternity. He'd hoped that this night in his lab would be a reprieve from such thoughts, but apparently fate had not deemed him worthy of a vacation quite yet.
"I don't have time to argue the obvious," Libby angrily told Jimmy while yanking her hand off of his shoulder. Jimmy was shocked to find he missed her touch, and his gaze considerably softened. This in turn lessened Libby's anger, but not the intensity of her words.
"Find where Cindy went," Libby instructed. She motioned at the computer behind him. "I'm sure it won't be hard for you." Her mouth immediately clamped shut, and Jimmy wondered if she had more to say. After a moment of pondering her words, she meakly croaked out, "Help her, Jimmy. Please. She needs one of us right now, and it can't be me."
Jimmy slowly nodded and felt something change inside him. In an instant, he felt a new connection to his most distant of close friends. Without thinking about it, he took a slow step towards Libby. She mirrored his actions, and they briefly hugged one another.
"Thank you," Libby whispered before pulling away. Jimmy felt his heart sink as he saw a tear escape Libby's eye. "Thank you, Jimmy."
Jimmy nodded. "It's no problem. Go keep her parents busy. I'll find her."
Libby nodded back and quickly exited Jimmy's lab. Realizing that he had no time to waste, Jimmy quickly sat down at his computer. It only took a minute to find Cindy's location. She was stationary; resting inside the forest behind Retroville Park. Jimmy immediately ran to his storage closet and pulled out a flashlight. With his tool in hand, he dashed towards his lab's entrance, stopping only to sling his backpack onto his shoulders. As soon as he'd cleared the door, he slammed his fist against the satchel's lone button. His jetpack extended out and Jimmy Neutron blasted into the sky.
Cindy had no idea why she'd chosen to come to Retroville Park. Truth be told, she had no real recollection of any of her thoughts from the past ten minutes. Her mind seemed to be simultaneously racing and shutting down. The only thing she was certain of was the pain spreading from her chest to every cell in her body. It was a pervasive, sickening feeling, one that brought as much physical discomfort as a sense of hopelessness. As the time had worn on, she had become more and more aware that her life would never be the same.
Cindy breached the edge of the forest and walked a hundred meters in before settling down against a tree. She buried her head in her hands and squeezed her eyes shut. The tears had stopped falling halfwy through her stroll, but her eyes still burnt. She could feel the tears, hiding in the depths of her sockets, just waiting for the opportunity to break free. She couldn't say she was surprised. She had allowed all the pain she'd experienced over the past few years to build inside her, never allowing it to be released. She'd known the act was unsustainable, but she had never been able to change the apathetic course of action. Not until tonight.
Cindy let out a sorrowful laugh that turned into a cry. She no longer had the strength to be angry at herself for crying. After all, hadn't she been through enough in her short life to warrant one night of breaking down? She clenched her hands against her legs as she pondered all of her miseries. Longing for her father to be there when he wasn't. Cursing her mother for her cold, detached demeanor. Wishing for love when there was none to be found. Fighting with Jimmy.
Cindy snapped her head up. Fighting with Jimmy. Why in the world would she think such a thought? This was no time to ponder the idiotic genius she loathed so. Well, not loathed, she hesitantly admitted. That was perhaps too harsh. After all, it wasn't as though things between them hadn't changed over the course of the past year.
"What the hell is wrong with me?" she suddenly cried out in frustration. Why was she thinking of Jimmy on this of all nights? Didn't she deserve one night's respite from the conflicting emotions inside her, from the always cloudy subject of the boy she loved to hate? Or hated to love? Or some confusing amalgam of the two?
Cindy shook her head hard and narrowed her eyes just as a shrill breeze washed over her skin, stripping the few remnants of warmth away. She stared up at the star-sprinkled sky and looked at the full moon. No warmth emanated from it, and she began to shiver as she realized that she had no jacket. She began to think that perhaps coming to the woods had been a bad idea after all.
It's not like there's anywhere else to go, she glumly thought while getting to her feet. She would not, she could not return home. That also meant she couldn't return to Libby's. Her parents, the relentlessly stubborn fools that they were, were surely scouring the town for her. Her only chance to get away was to stay hidden in the forest. And while she felt miserable, she wans't ready to die. That meant that she was going to have to keep warm.
Cindy had long ago read how to start a fire, but she soon discovered putting this principle into practice was another thing entirely. As the temperature continued to drop, she became more and more frustrated at her failed attempts to set her small pile of twigs alight. It was getting harder and harder to see as clouds began to sweep over the moon, and she felt tears beginning to escape her eyes once more.
You'll start the fire because you have to, she chided herself while spinning her stick faster. You have to because there's nowhere else to go. Cindy nodded at her thoughts for a moment before freezing in place. There was perhaps one place she could go, one place where she might be safe from her parents.
"Jimmy," she weakly whispered. Jimmy's lab might prove to be a safe haven. She immediately threw the thought aside and scowled while once more spinning the stick in between her scratched palms. Even if she wanted to talk to Jimmy, which of course she almost certainly did not, it wasn't as if he would care. It pained her to admit this, but she knew she was correct. After all, Libby would surely have told him by now what had happened. She always seemed to trust Jimmy in times of crisis. And he was more than capable of finding her, even in the woods. But he wasn't here beside her, so that must mean…
Cindy looked up just as the quiet rush of Jimmy's jetpack washed over her ears. The clouds finally rolled away and allowed enough moonlight down to reveal Jimmy Neutron spiraling through the air, powerful flashlight clutched in hand. The bright light settled on her, and she watched in puzzled amazement as Jimmy lowered himself and then hovered in the air. The jetpack twitched slightly before shutting off, sending Jimmy plummeting five feet down to the ground.
Cindy stepped forward and couldn't keep the shock off of her face as the boy slowly picked himself up and dusted himself off. "Neutron?" she slowly asked. "What are you doing here?"
Jimmy stared at Cindy with clear concern for several seconds before allowing a nervous smile to take hold. "Oh, I was just…you know…out for a late night fly." He saw her usual angry scowl begin to form, and he let out a small sigh in defeat. "Libby told me what happened," he admitted.
Cindy bit her lower lip. Apparently she knew her best friend as well as she had thought. "Well you can tell her I'm fine. I'm just staying here for a little while," she grumbled.
Jimmy stared at her curiously for a moment. "Cindy, are you okay?"
Cindy surprised herself by laughing. "When am I not okay, Neutron? Just go tell Libby I'm fine. Sorry I ruined your evening," she brusquely stated while sitting back beside her unlit fire. She scrunched up her legs and hugged them tight while staring down at the pile of sticks.
Jimmy slowly bit his lip and pondered what to do. His conversations with Cindy usually started off in this hostile manner, but he'd expected tonight to be different. He stared hard at Cindy and truly studied his friend. He could tell she was squeezing her legs with all her strength. Her eyes looked swollen, which he knew meant she had been crying. As he kept his gaze fixed upon her, he realized that there was no way he was leaving her alone. Not tonight.
Jimmy slowly walked over and took a seat beside Cindy. She said nothing, and they sat in silence for a short time. Jimmy soon realized that Cindy was shivering, and he noticed for the first time how unseasonably cold the night was. He looked at the nearly arranged pile of twigs and asked, "You did that?"
Cindy slowly looked up, saw that Jimmy was looking at her firepit, and then glanced back down at the ground. "Yeah," she mumbled.
Jimmy activated his watch's laser, and the bundle of twigs burst into flames. He felt the urge to make a cocky remark about how his inventions always saved the day, but ultimately refrained from speaking. After a few seconds, Cindy half-heartedly whispered, "Thanks."
More time passed, and Jimmy finally asked, "Cindy?" She kept her gaze on the ground, and he quietly added, "Do you want to talk about it?"
Cindy squeezed her legs tighter and glared at Jimmy. "Why?" she angrily asked. "So you can say that it will be okay? Or that it's always darkest before the dawn?" Her scowl intensified before asking, "Or maybe you can say that everything happens for a reason?" Cindy shook her head and glared at Jimmy. "Why would I want to talk about it, Neutron?"
Jimmy narrowed his own eyes back and dug his nails into his palm. It went against every unspoken rule he and Cindy had to not fight back. This was how they worked. She insulted him, he insulted her, and eventually the barbs would cease. But Jimmy knew he couldn't follow this plan tonight. He knew that Cindy needed him; that she needed him to be there for her. And, more strangely, he knew that he had to give this to her; that he wanted to. So he took a deep breath, unclenched his fists, and gently said, "I was just asking, Cindy."
His words had a clear affect on her. Her gaze softened, and he knew that her rapid blinking was to keep tears at bay. He glanced away, for which she was immensely grateful. Cindy quickly ran a hand over her face and wiped away the tears. "You don't even really care, Neutron. So just go." she quietly whispered.
Jimmy's face tightened as he pondered her words. They might have been true a year ago, when his and Cindy's relationship was mostly fueled by fire and hate. Yet sitting beside her now, he didn't believe she meant her words for a single second. "I care," he offered and scooched a little closer. She didn't resist, and he knew he was doing the right thing. "If I didn't, I wouldn't be here."
The children stared at the fire in silence. Jimmy was unsure of what to say, and Cindy contemplated whether or not to speak to the genius beside her. Competing thoughts raced through her mind, and she struggled to keep track of which side was winning. This was Jimmy Neutron, after all. Her greatest rival, her source of misery, the boy she had always fought against. Yet here he was, in the middle of the night, sitting silently beside her. She couldn't argue that he didn't care. He was right. If he was apathetic towards her pain, he wouldn't have come. And without Libby by her side, she knew she had to speak to someone.
"I should have known," she quietly whispered. She saw Jimmy's gaze snap from the burning fire to her pained expression. She took in a shaky breath and clenched her fists tight. "They were never happy. But…but I thought," Cindy took in one more trembling breath and felt the tears began to burn her eyes. "I thought it would be okay," she whimpered. The tears trickled down her cheeks, and she covered her eyes with both shaking hands. "I thought it would be okay!" she shouted.
Jimmy's heart sank as he watched his friend sob. He had never, not once, seen Cindy cry. He had wished for it from time to time, but as he saw how scared and pained she looked, he regretted ever wishing the slightest misery upon her. He knew she was feeling alone, and he was determined to stop that. So he did what they had done only a handful of times before. Slowly, deliberately, gently, he grabbed her left hand with his right.
Cindy gasped as she felt his warm hand clasp hers. Her first instinct was to pull away, but that disappeared before she could even process it. She merely blinked her eyes and watched as Jimmy slowly lowered their hands onto the ground. They both stared at their cupped palms, and Cindy struggled to swallow.
More time passed in silence. Neither Jimmy nor Cindy could be sure of how long, because they could only focus on the sensation of their skin resting against each other. At long last, Cindy looked up and met Jimmy's eyes. She felt the cracked wall between them continue to crumble, and began to realize how grateful she was for his presence. And that gratefulness brought tremendous guilt.
"Why?" she quietly croaked out while gazing back into the fire.
Jimmy hesitated before staring into the flames. "Why what?"
"Why do you care?" Cindy whispered. Her voice could barely be heard over the crackling flames. Jimmy contemplated how best to answer, but Cindy didn't give him enough time to formulate a response.
"This isn't us," she sadly uttered. She stared at Jimmy with newfound pain in her weary eyes. "I pull tricks on you, I argue with you, I think you're…a jerk," she found it hard to utter those last two words and struggled to get them out. "And you think you're better than me and that I'm a bully." She sighed and slowly pulled her hand out of Jimmy's grasp.
"We weren't meant to be friends," she flatly said while hugging her knees once more.
Jimmy narrowed his eyes. Logically, he could understand why Cindy was so hesitant to accept his help. He knew that their relationship was far too complicated under normal circumstances for even he to understand. He had of course known that finding out that her parents were getting divorced would only make her tougher to talk to. But each of her rebuffs felt like a nail being driven deeper into his heart. After all, he had done everything right. He had come after her when she'd needed him. He had made the first move in grabbing her hand. And he had admitted he cared for her. Couldn't she see how difficult this was? Couldn't she appreciate the risks he was taking?
"It was your idea," he grumbled. Cindy stared at him, and he gazed away. "You made up that contract."
Cindy rolled her eyes and scoffed. "As usual, you're forgetting one crucial detail. You suggested we try to be friends. It was your idea."
Jimmy scowled as he realized she had a point. "So what are you saying, Vortex? That you don't want to be friends? That I'm here for nothing?"
It took all of her strength, but Cindy managed to keep from whimpering as she felt tears building once more. The pain in her stomach doubled at his words. I should have known this would happen. It always does. "If that's what you're saying," she shot back as angrily as she could.
Jimmy threw his hands in the air in frustration. "You're saying it!"
"Well now you are too!"
Jimmy's face contorted into a look of confusion. "What are you even talking about?" he nearly shouted.
"What are you talking about?" Cindy weakly growled. Her face was also slowly morphing into one of bewilderment. Both children stared curiously at each other, neither entirely sure of why they were angry.
Jimmy considered walking away. He hadn't asked for this. It was the last day of school; the first night of freedom that summer always brought. He had planned on relaxing with his friends. Which include Cindy. His voice silently reminded him of this, and he shook the thought out of his head. He had merely wanted to relax and have fun. So did Cindy. This thought was harder to get rid of. He gritted his teeth and took another close look at the girl in front of him.
Upon first inspection, it would have been easy to think of this Cindy as the same fiery girl he had always known. Her eyes were ablaze, her arms were crossed, her lips turned upside down into a familiar scowl. But there were subtle differences from the norm, a multitude of signs that showed she needed help. The way the fire's orange light reflected off of her eyes showed that tears were on the verge of escaping. There was the way her ponytail was still razzled, as though she had been pulling at her hair out of a painful sorrow. And beyond all that, there was simply the undeniable feeling deep inside Jimmy's soul that she needed someone. And that someone, at least for the moment, was him.
Jimmy took a deep breath and muttered, "You're wrong."
"Wrong about what?" Cindy lashed out. Her voice cracked halfway through, and Jimmy knew she wasn't far from breaking down once more.
The realization caused him to speak more gently. "It's not that we weren't meant to be friends." He scooted a few inches towards her and slowly extended his hand. He waited until she stared down so that he was sure she knew of his intentions. He slowly grasped her left hand once more, and she didn't resist.
"We were never meant to be enemies."
"Neutron," she let out a pained sigh of frustration before continuing, "Jimmy, what are you talking about?"
Jimmy stared hard into her eyes, and the confidence in his voice and gaze surprised her. "You're smart, Cindy. So think about it. Are we the same people we were when I moved here?" Jimmy wished to help, but in spite of his resolution to aid his friend, he wasn't willing to shoulder the entire burden. So he asked, "Am I still just a show-offy jerk?"
Cindy's gaze weakened and she glanced down. "No," she whispered before quickly adding, "Not quite as show-offy. Or jerky."
That was all Jimmy needed to hear. "And you're not just a mean bully with anger issues."
They sat in silence for another minute, taking in the tiny step both had taken. Jimmy pondered what to say next and finally nodded in affirmation. "You…" he took a deep breath and forced his voice to remain steady. "You helped me, Cindy."
Cindy looked at him once more. "How?"
Jimmy gave her hand a gentle squeeze and felt his resolve grow. "I…I used to think I knew everything," he slowly began. "And that I could do everything myself." He ran his tongue over his lips and couldn't hold her gaze as he finished speaking. "You taught me I didn't. And I couldn't. That…I need people. People…that include you."
Jimmy closed his eyes and felt the words come easier. "We fight a lot, I know. But when we don't, when we work together," he shook his head and gave an amused laugh while staring back into her eyes, "it's incredible. Isn't it?"
Cindy thought of the times when they had worked as a true team. When she had brought him back from the brink inside Yolkus' prison. When they'd worked in perfect tandem on Intergalactic Showdown. How they had made a home on a deserted island. A small smile appeared on her face as she whispered, "Yeah. I…I guess it is."
Jimmy thought of the same things and smiled back. Cindy's eyes seemed to brighten, and that only caused Jimmy's joy to grow. "And it's not like we even fight much anymore, Cindy. I mean, I…I…" Jimmy took in a shaky breath and admitted, "I like hanging out with you."
For the first time since entering the woods, Cindy forgot about her parents, if only for a short time. Hearing Jimmy admit that he enjoyed spending time with her was enough to bury her sorrow for a few precious moments. Her tiny grin grew, and Jimmy's did the same. "Jimmy, I do too." Both were surprised at how quickly her words came.
A few seconds passed, and Jimmy asked, "Cindy?" She looked to him, and he managed a nervous smile. "I…I'm glad you're my friend."
Cindy kept a blank face as she struggled to process his words, but ultimately smiled back. "Me too, Jimmy."
Both children squeezed their hands at the same time and felt themselves blushing as they moved closer together. They stared into the fire, which began to slowly die down. Neither spoke as Jimmy reached beside him and gathered a handful of sticks. He threw them into the flames, and he and Cindy watched as embers burst into the sky. They seemed to dance in the air; a hundred fireflies flittering in the moonlight. Each one fell to the ground, capable of setting the ground alight and forever changing all around it. All but one died out, and Jimmy and Cindy watched the lone survivor slowly spread amongst the twigs and leaves.
"It's my fault, you know," Cindy painfully uttered as Jimmy snuffed out the flame with the sole of his shoe. Jimmy immediately faced her and saw pain flash across her eyes. "It's because of me they're splitting up."
"Don't," Cindy begged with a shake of her head. "I know what you want to say, Jimmy. Please, don't," she pleaded. She stared deep into his eyes, and Jimmy kept his mouth closed. "You don't know, Jimmy," she barely managed to utter. "It's me that they fought about."
Jimmy didn't wish to interrupt, and only asked, "Why?" once he was sure he was being given the chance to speak.
Cindy blinked away the tears and rested her head in her palm. "My dad always said that my mom was too hard on me. That she needed to let me be a kid, that she needed to stop pushing me, that I was already the best I could be. And she said I wasn't good enough, I wasn't strong enough, I…I was a disappointment."
Jimmy rarely felt angry. When his inventions failed, he usually felt a momentary sense of disappointment and frustration. When Carl and Sheen talked about llamas or Ultralord for too long, he would get disgusted and annoyed. Even when Cindy had tormented him, he'd tended to view her actions as an invitation to a challenge, a chance to engage each other in a battle of wits. Some anger had of course seeped through, but it was nothing compared to what he felt for Cindy's mother at that moment. He clenched both hands into fists and struggled to keep from bruising Cindy's hand.
"She said those things?" he asked in furious disbelief.
Cindy was too hurt to truly understand the anger behind Jimmy's tone. "Yeah."
"She's wrong," Jimmy immediately shot back. Cindy slowly met his steady gaze. "Cindy, she is wrong. You have to know that."
She stared at him, clearly unable to understand his words. He narrowed his eyes in response. "You're the bravest, strongest, smartest person I've ever met. If she can't see that, she's the failure. But you?" Jimmy didn't hesitate in the slightest to answer his own question. "You're the most amazing person I know."
Cindy cheeks turned red in an instant and was immediately glad that so little light was available. She scooched closer to Jimmy and only stopped once their sides were touching. Her head seemed to rest on Jimmy's shoulder without her telling it to, and she weakly exhaled in pleasure as he didn't pull away.
"I'm sorry." In spite of Jimmy's kind words, Cindy knew the only reason she was able to get those two most difficult of words out was because she wasn't looking into his eyes. She didn't give Jimmy the chance to ask for an explanation, she provided it willingly. "For everything I did to you. You…you didn't deserve it."
Jimmy gave a small smile before opening his mouth to speak. That was just enough hesitation to allow Cindy to keep talking. "I mean, yeah, you kind of did," she slowly admitted. Jimmy's grin immediately fell. "You really were an egotistical jerk. But…I was too harsh on you. I think."
Jimmy narrowed his eyes slightly. "Great apology, Vortex."
His tone was angry, but Cindy couldn't help but give a tiny chuckle. "I'm new at it," she said through her laughter.
Jimmy's frustration was erased by her joy, and he managed to roll his eyes and playfully bump his shoulder against her head. "Yeah, believe me, I know."
Cindy lifted her head up and looked into Jimmy's eyes. With their faces so close together, lit only by flickering flames and rays of moonlight, she suddenly realized how easy it would be to kiss him. To just move forward a few inches and feel whether his lips were really as soft as she possibly might have imagined them to be. But she only smiled and rested her head back on his shoulder.
"Do you remember the island?" Jimmy asked.
"You mean that place where we were attacked by giant spiders and man-eating plants and had a monkey butler?" she playfully shot back. "I don't think that's something that sticks in one's memory, Jimmy."
Jimmy nervously swallowed at her carefree tone. He took in a deep breath and allowed himself a wide smile as he realized that he was truly helping. If only for the moment, Cindy had surely forgotten why the two of them were alone in the forest. He was determined to keep the painful memories at bay for as long as possible.
"Well, let me refresh your memory," Jimmy shot back. "Now, I'm going to meet you halfway by confirming that I did give you a pearl." He paused and let that sink in for a moment. "But I believe the bigger thing to remember is how you asked me to stay there with you. Forever."
Cindy's head shot up and she scowled in his face. Her eyes, however, twinkled with joy. "You promised you'd never mention that again!" she growled through a small smile while shoving him hard.
Jimmy crashed onto the ground, but he couldn't help but give a cocky chuckle. "Some promises are meant to be broken, Cindy."
It only took a second for Jimmy to realize how stupid he had been. All of Cindy's joy vanished in an instant, and the pain in her eyes reappeared. She didn't say a word, but Jimmy knew what she was thinking. Like my parents' vows.
Jimmy slowly took a seat beside her as she wrapped her arms around her scrunched up legs and stared daggers at the fire. Jimmy reached for her hand, but she yanked it away. "I'm sorry," he earnestly apologized. "Cindy, really, I am."
Cindy slowly turned to face him and studied his eyes for a long moment. She couldn't ignore the sincerity resting inside them. She gave a heavy sigh and closed her eyes. "I don't get it, Jimmy," she whispered. "We fought aliens and evil geniuses. We nearly died a hundred times. So why does my stupid parents splitting up…" Cindy shook her head and clenched her jaw shut, unwilling to finish her thought to the boy beside her.
Jimmy slowly reached for her hand once more, and this time she didn't resist. "You can tell me."
Cindy gave a small nod and one more sigh. "So why does it hurt so much?"
Jimmy gently squeezed her hand and realized he couldn't come up with an answer. "I don't know," he slowly admitted. He saw Cindy's eyes deaden as she looked at the ground. "But…I'm here for you. As long as you need me."
Once more, Jimmy's words brought Cindy back. She met his gaze before her face fell. "Jimmy?"
"Would you even be here if Libbyhadn't asked you to come?" Cindy's voice was pained, although it was clear she was trying to hide this. She didn't fool Jimmy for a moment.
"I wouldn't have known anything was wrong if she hadn't told me."
"But if you did know?" Cindy quietly asked.
Jimmy slowly nodded and squeezed her hand. "Cindy, of course."
Cindy rested her head on his shoulder once more and shuddered. "Thank you."
Jimmy bit the inside of his cheek for a moment and decided he at least deserved to know if she felt the same way. "Would you be here if it was me? If my parents were getting divorced?"
He stared into the fire but felt Cindy nod against his shoulder. "Yeah. I would."
The minutes slowly passed as boy and girl sat in contented silence. Neither knew what else to say, but both were happy with the silence. Jimmy began to slowly rub the top of Cindy's hand with his thumb, and she closed her eyes and felt as though he were massaging the pain away. As the time wore on and the fire dwindled to a handful of embers, Cindy knew that their presence was unsustainable. She needed to get home before the entire town was sent searching for her. The longer she waited, the more trouble she would get in, and she would only drag Jimmy down with her.
"I have to go," she painfully uttered. More than anything, she wished to become a statue, to forever rest her head against Jimmy's shoulder and feel his touch on her hand. She remembered how she had felt when they had left the island, how she had pleaded with him to stay with her. She squeezed her eyes shut in pain as she remembered how they had so quickly gone back to their old routine once returning home, how rapidly what little relationship they had formed was torn apart. Cindy didn't want to admit it, but she was certain that this would happen again. Whatever had occurred between her and Jimmy this night would surely disappear with the rising sun.
"Don't," Jimmy whispered, and some of Cindy's fears vanished. "Just…let's just stay here."
Cindy looked up into the boy's cerulean eyes and was once more overcome with a nearly overwhelming desire to kiss him. Her gaze softened and she bit her lip, silently wondering why she was holding back. Jimmy slowly reached a hand forward and gently stroked a few stray strands of her golden hair. She shivered at his touch and didn't even bother blaming it on the cold.
"I need to," she reluctantly told him. "We've been out here too long already." She looked deeper into Jimmy's eyes and sincerely said, "I'm sorry."
Jimmy waited a long moment before nodding. He shared Cindy's concerns and suddenly undestood that things didn't have to go back to the way they were. It was a startlingly simple realization, but he now knew he had the power to change things. So he held out his hand and waited for her to accept. Once he did, he gave it a gentle squeeze. "Shall we fly?" he quietly offered in a chivalrous tone.
Cindy remembered how it had felt to be wrapped in his arm while hurtling through the air. But the journey home would only take a moment via jetpack. She wasn't willing to end her time with Jimmy so quickly. "I'll walk," she said, hoping that he would take the hint.
Jimmy offered her a small smile. "Me too."
Jimmy paused and flexed his hand, allowing hers to be released. He quickly spread his fingers and reached back down. She intertwined her fingers with his, and both children shuddered at the new sensation. They began the walk home and looked up at the night sky.
The first few minutes passed in silence, but Cindy eventually spoke. "Jimmy? I," she swallowed hard and struggled to get the words out, "I might have to move."
Jimmy stopped in his tracks. "What?"
Cindy sighed and bit her quivering lip. "I don't know if I will. But my Mom only lived here because it's where my dad's job was. If I stay with her…" she couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence.
Jimmy remembered how it had been only months ago that he'd wished Cindy would leave Retroville and never return. For a moment, he was amazed at how a few months could change everything he thought and felt for a person. Yet he quickly shook that bewilderment aside and pondered what his life would be like without the fiery blonde beside him. The thoughts bombarded him, and each one was like a knife to the heart. No more arguments. No more contests. No more challenge. No more stolen looks. No more holding hands. No more of her smile. No more of her laugh. No more…no more Cindy.
"No," Jimmy pleaded. Both he and Cindy were shocked by the desperation in his voice. "Stay with your Dad."
Cindy wished she could smile at his concern, but the act was impossible. "It's…it's not that easy," she sadly uttered. "My mom…it's like she thinks I'm hers. So…she wouldn't just let me go." She let out a trembling sigh and looked into Jimmy's eyes. "Just know that…if I leave…" Cindy felt the tears forming and clenched her free hand into a fist, "Libby's not the only person I'd miss."
Jimmy reflected her pained gaze for a few horrible seconds before shaking his head. "No. You're not moving."
Cindy managed a pained smile. "Why? You asking me to move in with you?"
Jimmy was able to smile back. "In spite of what you usually say, I am a genius, Cindy. And there's very few problems a hypno-beam can't fix. Something tells me your Mom might just come to love Retroville."
"That's…an interesting proposal," Cindy said with a dark smile.
Hands still intertwined, Jimmy and Cindy continued on their way. Jimmy's smile began to fade, and he knew that he needed to make sure that Cindy never forgot this night, that neither of them would let their relationship slide back to what it was. "Cindy?"
Jimmy steeled his nerves and squeezed her hand tight. "No matter what happens…just never doubt how much you mean to me."
That did it. Perhaps by itself Jimmy's words wouldn't have pushed her over the edge, but combined with everything else he had done it was enough. Cindy took one last moment to decide if this was truly what she wanted. She asked herself if she hated the boy holding her hand, and she couldn't even begin to lie to herself. She looked down at their entwined hands and realized she never wanted to let go. Asshe stared into his kind eyes, she knew that the boy had always been meant to be hers.
Jimmy stopped once more at the use of his last name. He looked at Cindy in concern, but the fire in her eyes was not the usual flames of rage. This was something entirely different. It was frightening, it chilled him to his core, but it was inviting. She slowly placed her free hand on his shoulder and moved her head an inch closer to his.
Cindy closed her eyes and squeezed his shoulder. "I…I don't want to be the one to do this," she slowly admitted. "I…I'm worried about my parents and…and I can't start this. I…" Cindy began to sniffle and squeezed her eyes shut tighter. "I'll regret it if I do it. So if…if you want this…you'll have to be the one…"
She couldn't speak with his lips crashing onto hers. Even if it was physically possible, she could feel each nerve in her brain shutting down, electrical conduits sizzling and overloading from the unbelievable pleasure coursing through her veins. She realized that yes, his lips were as soft as she'd imagined. Yes, he did know where to put his hands. And no, she didn't want it to ever stop.
When both finally pulled away at the same time, they looked into each other's eyes and smiled. Both had spoken enough for the night, so they finished the short walk in silence. Their fingers intertwined themselves, and Cindy couldn't wipe the grin off of her face.
They both stopped down the street from Cindy's house. All the lights were on, which meant her parents were waiting for her. In spite of this, she couldn't manage a sigh or frown. She looked back at Jimmy and flashed him a warm smile. "Jimmy…thank you. I…" Cindy took one last deep breath and realized it was foolish to hold anything back. "I needed you."
Jimmy smiled back and gently ran his hand through her hair once more. "Cindy, I think we both know we need each other."
"I'll handle it from here," she told him. "No need for my parents to kill you."
"Almost positive," she playfully said.
Jimmy looked into her inviting eyes and cautiously asked, "Cindy, if you can, can we go to The Candy Bar tomorrow? My treat," he quickly clarified.
Cindy bit her lip nervously. "You mean with Libby and Carl and Sheen?"
Jimmy hesitated before nodding. "Yeah," he sadly began. "If you want." He closed his eyes and gave a tiny nod to himself before adding, "But…that's not what I meant."
Cindy's lips curled upwards. "Yes. I'll be there." She squeezed Jimmy's hand one last time and sadly said, "Goodnight, Jimmy."
Jimmy gave a sorrowful smile back. "Goodnight, Cindy. And…take care, okay?"
Cindy nodded and watched as Jimmy slowly crossed the street and headed home. He turned around before approaching his front door, and the two locked eyes for a wonderful moment. They both smiled at the same time, and then he disappeared inside.
Cindy sighed and slowly approached her house. How had this happened? How had this most miserable of nights become one she would always happily remember? Her parents' divorce was back in the front of her mind, but it no longer caused her agonizing pain. It was almost as though it wasn't even happening to her. She couldn't quite understand this until she approached her front door. Then, all at once, it hit her.
The man and woman inside might have been her parents, but it was Jimmy and Libby who were her family.