Disclaimer: I don't own JN in any way, shape or form. If I did, all episodes may look vaguely like "Stranded." :) (Dang, was that episode awesome!)
It was a very bad day to be a plank of wood.
Cindy Vortex was currently hard at work in the South Retroville School of Martial Art's biggest advanced learners' classroom. She would thrust her fist straight out in front of her, kick her leg out to the side, and lastly, follow it up with a hand chop straight into an unfortunate board of wood. Her skill was impressive. Were her sensei there to witness it, he likely would have complimented her on her fine form.
After he had scolded her for the curse words that flowed softly out of her as she beat on the planks.
Luckily, her class had ended almost an hour ago, and yet, here she was, kicking and punching and chopping every board and air molecule that got in her way. She seemed to move almost thoughtlessly, her moves only serving to accentuate the frustrated nature of her verbalizations.
Maybe she was pushed to her limit. Maybe she was trying to ward off the depression that lingered in the back of her mind. Hell, maybe she was PMSing. In any case, Cindy felt like doing nothing more at the moment than cursing all the damning factors in her life and smashing as many boards as it took for her to feel better. She inhaled sharply before putting her hand through her thirty-second board.
To begin with, there was Libby. High school was often rough on some friendships, and theirs was no exception—they only shared half the amount of classes that they had in freshman year, so class proved to be a lonely place during 2nd, 3rd, and 6th period. Then there was the matter of her and Sheen; their relationship was nothing novel, for they had been dating since 8th grade. However, with college looming on the horizon, quite a good deal of Libby's time went toward efforts involving getting her and Sheen into the same University. Friday nights completely belonged to them, and the devil himself couldn't stop their designated date-day. Cindy couldn't be mad at Libby—after all, she WAS entitled to have a life outside of herself—but she couldn't help but feel slightly jilted at the lack of attention her friend had been giving her lately, especially when considering "old times."
Cindy clobbered another board, with a closed fist, hoping that the slight sting from the contact would chase away some of her forlorn feelings.
Then there was her mother. The sheer thought of the overbearing, middle-aged woman made Cindy burn with anger, and her kicks and punches came more quickly and sharply. There was nothing her mother wouldn't do or say to push her far beyond her limits. Second place at the Karate state finals wasn't good enough—work harder. Ten hours of volunteer work wasn't impressive enough—work longer. Spending every waking hour writing college-acceptance essays and studying Latin wasn't effective enough—give more. Three clubs, two sports teams, one internship, one part-time job and one position in student government wasn't accomplished enough—do more. Not being able to catch the town genius in academics wasn't acceptable—make yourself acceptable. Every ribbon that was red but not blue, every assignment that was Vice-President but not President, every grade that was stellar A+ but not Neutron A+ wasn't good enough. Cindy pounded the boards lying in front of her, trying to burn off the rage inside her. No matter how hard she tried, how much she did, how far she pushed her mind, body and sanity, her mother wasn't satisfied, and gave her the commentaries to prove it.
"Why—can't—you—just—let—me—LIVE!" she screeched at the wood planks, halving a stack of three. From the other side of the wall, she could hear the happy encouragement from the parent's of the children in the young beginners' class, and the voices just served to make her angrier. Why couldn't her mother be like that? Why couldn't she just love her and accept her? Why couldn't she just stop comparing her to her brainy classmate and leave her be?
Neutron. The image of her big-brained neighbor of eight years calmed her somewhat, but she showed no signs of stopping her wood board assault. As she chopped away at the planks, she let her mind dwell to thoughts of the cocky eighteen-year-old whose room was only removed from hers by a street of asphalt. He was an academic dream-come-true, the pride and joy of every school and every teacher who had ever had the good fortune to host him. Teachers pined to associate themselves with him, students wanted to steal his grades from him, and adults were still in awe as to how they had been a thousand times lapped by the accomplishments of him. Colleges fought one another for his registration—he had been offered prizes ranging from his own lab and army of graduate workers to tuition for LIFE. Scientific and academic communities practically threw whispers of grants at him, enticing him to take on certain projects. It was even rumored that NASA had offered to build him his own mansion on the Floridian coast if he would only come and work there.
When asked about these things, he would shrug and grunt, in his annoyingly arrogant manner, as if opportunities like that just rained out of the sky every second Tuesday. It was so infuriating that Cindy almost wanted to kill him.
The almost that kept him alive, however, was the horrible, looming reality of her feelings for him; not the bitter, sarcastic ones she had projected for so many years, but her truest, most secret FEELINGS. She would have found it very easy to loathe James Isaac Neutron for all his success, loathe him more than anything, were it not for the teeny, tiny problem of her FEELINGS.
Truth was, she loved the man.
He was nerdy and not nearly as attractive as most. He had the ability to make her feel two inches tall when they engaged in intellectual pursuit, and he was infuriately cocky sometimes. But in the end, Cindy had eyes for no other man, and had been helplessly falling further and further under his spell for the better part of 8 years. The thought of her futile love almost drained the power right out of her body, but as she started a series of kicks up again, she found it returning.
He was remarkable, that much was certain. How did an average girl like her tell him about how she felt? Did she even have the right to speak such words to the demi-god that was Neutron? How would he take them?
Thoughts of rejection, of Jimmy's voice hissing in her ear that she wasn't good enough or smart enough or pretty enough, thoughts of eternity alone without him drove her into a near frenzy, and she found herself hacking at the wood pieces with a frightening amount of speed and power. Pieces flew everywhere as she mentally screamed curse words at her wooden foe.
"Why can't I be good enough!" she screamed at the 51st board before chopping it into two equal pieces. "Why—(a fist through a board)—can't—(another)—things—(another)—just—(two more, lying on top of one another)—go—(another two)—my—(yet another two)—way—(she sliced through three)—for—(and another three)—ONCE!" Her last word spoken, she drove her fist through a series of four boards, shattering them into large splinters.
She hadn't even noticed that she was fighting back tears until a voice rang out from the doorway.
"Bad day, Vortex?"
She tried to focus on the person across the room through the sheen of tears covering her eyes. She raised a hand to wipe them quickly, only to discover with horror that the object of her affections was leaning up against the doorjamb.
"Neutron?" she called, "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I tutor a kid in the 6pm kendo class. I was dropping off the term paper I edited for him when I heard your screeching voice."
Cindy blanched. She certainly hoped that the whole dojo had not heard her outcry. She didn't have time to ponder who might have heard what, however, as Jimmy spoke again.
"Did you do all that?" he said, pointing to the broken pieces of wood on the floor.
"What do you want?" Cindy asked tiredly, looking down at the pile of wood at her feet.
"I want to know if you're okay. You seem a little infuriated about something…and you WERE crying."
"I was not," she insisted as she grabbed a water bottle and plopped to the mat beneath her. She lied back for a moment, her eyes closed as she tried to regain her breath. When she opened them, he was standing there, hovering over her.
"Seriously, Cindy. What's bugging you?"
Cindy groaned. "Who said anything was bugging me, Nerd-bomb?" She hoped her aloof manner would deter him from further questioning and send him on his way, but Jimmy had other plans, it seemed, and took a seat beside her on the mat.
"No one said anything. It was strictly by observation that I came to that hypothesis."
Cindy squinted up at him from her prostrate position on the floor. "Well, I don't imagine you hear this much, Nerdtron, but you're wrong."
Jimmy shook his head. "No, I'm not. You just don't care to divulge."
Cindy glared at him. "And what if I don't?"
He shrugged. "Well, I suppose you could be that way. You could always get back to beating boards and accomplishing nothing. Or…I could help you figure out a way to help yourself."
Cindy peered at him again. "And why the hell would you want to help me? We're rivals, remember?"
"FRIENDLY rivals," he pointed out, "Just because we compete with one another doesn't mean I want to see you in mental turmoil like this."
The kind words struck Cindy's heart, and she found herself speaking to him before she had a chance to convince herself to do otherwise.
"I feel hopelessly distanced from my friend, I'm a pawn in my mother's sick game of "Prove to my sister that I have a better, more successful life," and I have a boy problem the likes of which you would not believe."
Jimmy whistled. "Wow. That does suck."
Cindy rolled her eyes. "Tell me about it."
"You know, if you're worried about Libby, just talk to her. I don't even think she realizes she's neglecting your friendship. Sheen did the same thing to Carl and me in 9th grade, and after confronting him, we're better friends than ever."
Cindy sighed. "I guess."
"As for your mother…well…you are going to college in year, right? If you're far enough away, she won't be able to get under your skin so badly."
"Pfft. She'll probably call everyday just to be sure my grades are worthy enough to brag to the rest of the family about. That, and she'll want to constantly compare them."
Jimmy blinked at her. "She compares your performance to mine?"
"Daily. Since 4th grade."
"She does realize I'm kinda…a genius…right?"
"She reminds me twice a day," she scoffed, "Its been my job for 8 years to be more like you."
Jimmy laughed. "Why the hell would you want to be like me?"
Cindy stared at him. "Well, geez, I don't know. Genius IQ, academic fame, scholarships and grants practically coming out you're a—"
Jimmy put his hands up in order to silence her. "I get it. Wow. I can't believe you're that jealous of my life."
Cindy sighed. "There are days I'd give anything to be you, Nerdtron. It'd solve a lot of my problems."
Jimmy smiled at her. "Wow. Talk about irony."
"What do you mean?"
"This may sound weird, but there are some days I'd give anything to be like you."
Cindy gave a sharp bark of laughter. "Now that's just stupid."
"No, seriously," he insisted. "Think about it. You're popular, attractive, athletic, and," he said, picking up two pieces of a broken board, "You can do some pretty other amazing things. I'm smart…so big deal."
Cindy studied his face carefully as it melted into a frown. "Why are you telling me all this?"
"Maybe to make you feel better. But mostly so that you can see that maybe talking your problems out with me isn't so stupid after all. I have my fair share of friend, parental and love problems too."
Cindy sat up and looked him in the eyes. They were a brilliant blue, and behind them, she could almost see his vast pools of intelligence. Yet they cried out something more; perhaps he too had days like hers.
"You…" she began, hesitant to continue this speech with him, "Have you ever had a crush on someone…you know, out of your league?"
He laughed, and it echoed off the room. "Hasn't everyone?"
"No. I mean WAY out of your league. I mean, so much so that you'd never EVER give them the slightest indication you felt that way because you just KNOW they'd reject you?"
He frowned again. "Well, yes. As a matter of fact I have. But what lame-brained loser do you have placed WAY too far up on a pedestal?"
Cindy almost giggled at the irony of his question. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that almost every single guy in Retroville High would give his right arm just to date you. Hell, some taken guys would."
"And you got this information from…?"
"Hey, what do you think we guys discuss in the locker room during gym class? Jockstraps?"
"No one wants to hear about your jockstrap, Neutron."
He sighed, aggravated, "Focus, Vortex."
"Okay, so some dumbass horn-balls from school want to date me. It's not the same."
"My point is that maybe you put this guy in too high of regards. Maybe he's not all that great. He is, after all, just human like you or me…you make it sound like he's a God or something. Deep down I'll bet he's just like those 'dumbass horn-balls' you were talking about."
"Maybe," she muttered.
"Probably," he insisted, "And you'd do well to stop thinking you're 'not good enough' or whatever you were shouting at the boards before you smashed them. Trust me, you're WAY hotter when you're all self-confident and such."
She blinked at him. "What did you just say?"
He blushed. "Nothing."
She let the comment slide, but turned back to him when he spoke again.
"In the end, you should probably just tell him how you feel. It'd be a huge burden off your back, plus, at least you'd know how he really feels, instead of thinking he doesn't think you're good enough."
"What did your 'out-of-your-league girl' say when you told her how you felt?"
He blushed crimson. "I…um…I never actually told her."
Cindy looked at him incredulously. "And you're coaching ME?"
"Hey, the theory behind it is sound."
Cindy roared with laughter. "Theory? Neutron, you are such a science-freak moron."
Jimmy laughed lightly. "Science can solve anything."
Cindy stood and began picking up the pieces of wood. "I still can't believe you gave me advice you didn't even follow yourself."
When he spoke, she noted that he too had stood, and was helping her clean up. "Well, my 'out-of-leaguer' is VERY amazing."
"It's not Quinlan, is it? Because if it is, you are hereby the lamest guy in Retroville."
He smiled widely at her. "Oh, Betty's pretty amazing herself…but no, it's not her."
"Better than Betty?" Cindy quipped, faking shock, "Well now, I have heard everything."
"Watch it, Vortex."
"I've got some pretty sturdy boards I could hit you with."
Jimmy silently declined the offer by depositing the broken pieces in the trash.
"I didn't think so," Cindy laughed triumphantly.
Jimmy smiled at her. "Feeling better then?"
She stopped for a moment and thought about this.
"Yes," she replied, "I actually do."
"Good." He finished placing the last piece of wood in the trash, and then turned to Cindy. "I'll probably get going; I have some experiments to finish up."
"See ya, Nerdtron. And…thanks."
He smiled at her and made for the door.
He turned back around to face her. "Yeah?"
"Just for the record, I think you should tell that girl. She'd be stupid to reject you."
"Really. For the most part, anyway."
He smiled. "Well, I hope she feels the same way when I ask her," he said pointedly. "As for you, you should consider doing the same."
"Tuesday," he said, "Tell him on Tuesday, and report back. Then I'll prove to you that I'm right."
"Tuesday?" she asked.
"Yes. At least then you'll know. And who knows? With that done, maybe you can move forward with the other problems, and you won't have to break up a rainforest's worth of boards."
"Tuesday," he repeated, then left the room.
Cindy stood there on her own for a moment and basked in the last bits of warmth that remained in the room after Neutron's departure. His little talk had helped after all—she suddenly felt more optimistic about Libby, and more empowered against her mother; most importantly, she finally had a wide open challenge to confess her longtime crush given by the subject of her affections himself.
She grinned to herself. At the very least, it would be good for a laugh when he found out that HE was her love interest. The expression on his face was bound to be priceless.
And even if he rejected her advances, she would get the pleasure of gloating about how his hypothesis was wrong.
Yup. Things were already looking up.
She grabbed her things and shut off the light to the room, heading for the dojo's exit.
Despite her fears, suddenly, she couldn't wait for Tuesday…
A/N: Hmm. I wrote this in one (long) night and it may show. In any case, I was so enthused by the quick response to my first JN fic, I felt compelled to try my luck at another. Well, if you made it this far, review, review, review! ;)