In Brightest Day, In Darkest Night
by Gary D. Snyder
Jimmy slept most of the following day, physically exhausted from his battle with Professor Calamitous and emotionally spent from his parting wth Cindy. After flying off he had remained secluded in some distant trees and had not descended until he had watched her go into her house. Once on the ground he had quickly removed the costume of Dyno Lad and his power harness and stored them safely in his lab before finally turning in. When he finally woke late the next afternoon he moved stiffly downstairs and settled in to watch some television, too sore to do anything else. He had just managed to find a relatively painless position when the phone rang. As neither of his parents were home he slowly unfolded, shambled over to the telephone, and picked up the receiver. "Hello?" he said.
"Jimmy?" he heard Libby's voice say.
"Last time I checked. What's up?"
"Listen, could you come to the Candy Bar right away?" Libby's voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "It's Cindy. I think you should talk to her."
"What about?" Jimmy asked.
"You'll see when you get here. And hurry."
Jimmy sighed and hung up. In his condition he'd never be able to walk the distance, and his hovercraft was still in pieces. With a grunt of resignation he shuffled to his room, found his hovershoes under the bed, and headed outside.
At the Candy Bar most of the kids from school were hanging out. Sheen, Carl, and Libby were sharing a booth, with Sheen reading aloud from a comic book. Since Dyno Lad's appearance comic books were no longer considered juvenile, and half the kids present were engaged in perusing a brightly-colored magazine. As Sheen read, Carl cringed in growing fright.
"'I knew then'," he recited, "'that I had fallen into a strange and terrible world, where reason and logic had no place and madness ruled. And I also knew that if I remained much longer, I too would go completely…and irrevocably…insane.'" Sheen spoke the last word with relish.
"Stop it, Sheen!" Carl screamed, covering his head with his arms and shrinking down into the bench. "You're going to give me nightmares!"
"Yeah, Sheen, knock it off," Libby scolded. "What kind of monster comic are you reading to Carl anyway?"
Sheen displayed the cover of the comic book. "Teen Romance," he replied, "as told from the point of view of the guy, for once."
"And it's horrible!" wailed Carl from somewhere under the table.
As Libby punched Sheen on the arm she glanced over at the soda counter. On a stool by herself Cindy sat with her head down and a half-finished Purple Flurp before her. As the music from the jukebox came to an end she reached into her pocket and tossed a quarter on the counter. "Play it again, Sam," she said dully.
Sam tried to reason with her. "Listen, Cindy, you've been here a long time. Maybe you should –"
"If they can take it, I can. Play it!"
With a hopeless shake of his head Sam walked over to the jukebox, inserted the coin, and punched a button. As he returned to his duties at the fountain the strains of "Hero" began to play.
You're the idol of the masses, their legend of the day,
But idols often fall and legends always fade away.
You've always stood for many truths no one could ever doubt.
But could you be the hero that I've always dreamt about?
Each never-ending battle leaves you battered but unbowed,
Your public cheers each victory with voices strong and proud.
You've earned their admiration and you've always had their love.
But would you be the hero that I'm always thinking of?
Don't fight my battles, I can win them.
Don't try to keep me safe from harm.
Send thoughts of love and keep me in them.
Your love will see me through each storm.
Truth and justice always were more than mere words to you.
You've never failed to do the things that you were born to do.
To everyone you meet it seems you're everything and more
But will you be the hero that I've long been praying for?
As the song faded away again and Cindy was fishing for another quarter she heard a familiar voice. "Cindy?"
Cindy looked up, her face expressionless. "Neutron."
Jimmy sat on the stool next to her. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing you'd understand. Someone I cared a lot about left and couldn't tell me when he'd be back." She reached into her pocket and set Jimmy's holocorder in front of him. "He told me to give you this and to tell you thanks and good-bye."
Jimmy picked up the holocorder and pocketed it. "You mean Dyno Lad."
Cindy nodded wordlessly.
"Look, Cindy," Jimmy said soothingly, "If Dyno Lad left it must have been important. I didn't know him that well but I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt you."
"I'm not hurt. I understand that he felt he had to go."
Jimmy was baffled. "Then why are you so down?"
Cindy looked at him with an expression that Jimmy couldn't quite interpret. "Because I'm disappointed." Seeing his puzzled look, she added , "At you."
Cindy looked down at the counter. "Yes, you. Last night when Calamitous was trashing Retroville and everyone was wondering where Dyno Lad was, part of me believed that you'd be the one to show up and put a stop to him. I even called your house to see if you knew about what was happening, but all your parents knew was that you had gone out somewhere with Ernest. Then Dyno Lad finally showed up, and nearly got killed fighting Calamitous. He tried to make it seem like it was no big deal, but I could tell he almost didn't succeed. And all I could think was that maybe if you'd been there to help him that it would have gone a lot differently. And now I wonder if maybe you'd been there to help whether he wouldn't have left."
Jimmy had listened open-mouthed during Cindy's speech. "Listen, Cindy, if I could have been there, I would have. I wish you could believe that."
"So do I." She took a swallow of her drink. "You know, Neutron, despite the things I say about you sometimes I always believed that you'd come through for us when things looked bad." She stopped and wiped her eyes with the edge of her hand in a futile attempt to hide the fact that she was on the verge of tears. "And when people trust you that much, it hurts when you let them down." She was crying softly now. "Do you understand what it means when people trust you that much?"
Jimmy stared at Cindy, his thoughts swirling, not sure how to respond. "I guess it means," he replied mechanically, "doing what's best for everyone, even when your heart begs you not to."
Cindy turned away, not caring about an answer she hadn't really expected to receive. "Just go away," she said miserably.
Numbly Jimmy stood up and headed for the door, passing Ernest who had just come in and not hearing Ernest's friendly greeting. Puzzled, Ernest headed over to the counter where Cindy was sitting. Cindy reached for her Purple Flurp and had it halfway to her mouth when Jimmy's words sank in and she froze. Doing what's best…? she thought. She spun on her stool and caught sight of Jimmy in the doorway as he was exiting. For an instant she saw him against the bright afternoon sunlight and her eyes widened slightly at the sight of his silhouette. Then he turned and was gone.
"Hey, Cindy," a voice behind her said.
Cindy half-turned and turned back towards the door again. "Hi, Ernest."
"You look like you just saw a ghost."
"No. No…I thought that I saw someone I knew. Excuse me a minute." She slipped off her stool and ran to the door, and Ernest, filled with curiosity, followed her. Outside the door Cindy looked down the street in the direction Jimmy had gone but saw no one. Then, on a hunch, she looked up into the air, shading her eyes against the late afternoon glare. Ernest followed her gaze and saw a small shape disappearing in the direction of Jimmy's house. As he looked back into Cindy's face he understood that there was really no need for a hero like Dyno Lad in her life. Cindy had found one long ago.
I will find you, she promised herself. Someday.
So that's my story. Dyno Lad wasn't around long, but he was around long enough to me to understand what being a hero can mean. The power to make a difference. The responsibility to do so. The adoration of thousands, and no one ever knowing who you are.
That's the blessing. That's the curse.
So, who am I?
I'm Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius.