Author's Note: Yes, another story. It's summer time for me. I think, or, rather, hope, that I can handle this.
I hope you guys like it. I'm not too sure on it right now. And this is rated PG/PG-13 for alcohol and possible swears, since heaven knows Cindy likes to curse as she gets older...
Two adults stole away. Nothing marked their disappearance except for the empty beds and broken promises. Two children, one step closer to being orphaned, suffered because of it. Two years spent searching for them and two years spent hiding and concealing the effect of the abandonment. Obsession and misery chased each other endlessly. Technology, in all its splendor, had failed him. She retreated into a shell in the meanwhile. One night had changed everything.
Sweat trickled down his neck and matted his hair. The lab coat stuck to him like a second skin and within the rubber, his hands in their gloves adhered to the synthetic product. Plastic goggles rested below his neck. He squeezed a dropper until a small quantity of the liquid dropped and sizzled on the concoction simmering on the hot plate. Outside, from what he had heard, the sun broiled, but it shouldn't alter the lab's conditions. However there were more important things to contemplate.
"Goddard, document the results," Jimmy commanded and the mechanical dog obediently did as he was bidden. The boy genius stepped back and wiped his brow on his sleeve.
"Okay, now-" he started when the lab phone rang. Jimmy glared it and willed it to stop. A few seconds later, an image of his mother appeared on the monitor. She had aged at least a decade in the two years that had passed. Bags lined her eyes; there were crows feet where there hadn't been before; she shuffled slowly and without her previous perkiness.
"Jimmy, sweetie, please come have lunch. Whatever you're doing can wait," his mother pleaded and Jimmy scoffed. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the compound fizzle and then, perhaps because he had taken his eyes off for a couple seconds, it emitted purple smoke before halting its reaction. Jimmy mentally cursed.
"But, Mom-" he protested. "I'm only taking a break before I-"
His mother sighed, long and heavy. Her brilliant jade eyes stared at the camera, but they seemed to serrate him instead. Splitting the screen with her visage was the constantly open file containing any and all information accrued. Unlike other missing persons, this particular case was more elusive and damn near impossible to crack.
"Sweetie," she said and he heard the weariness in her voice. She didn't have to say it. He heard the implications. Leave it alone.
If you can't leave it be, might as well make it bleed.
"I'll be right there," Jimmy said, both to his open files and to his mother. She nodded, but her eyes lingered on the camera. He swallowed hard and glanced at Goddard, who barked.
A quick sniff added an amendment to that promise.
"Once I clean up."
Cindy Vortex stared at the drunken rampage his father and his new gambling buddies had caused in the living room. She squared her shoulders and wondered if her father had passed out yet. She also wondered how many more vices her father could pick up and how anyone could think she should keep track of them.
She grabbed a broom and a dust bin and glared at the mess. She wasn't their servant. Just because she was a female didn't mean she was someone's bitch. Gritting her teeth, Cindy grabbed an empty beer bottle and flung it at the wall. It shattered, glass landing everywhere on the floor. Still, it made a satisfying smack and Cindy smiled grimly.
The phone rang and Cindy launched herself at it. It was by the sofa and, diving at it, she wound up with her stomach on the couch's arm and her feet in the air. It was not the most dignified pose, but, the only person to see it was probably unconscious. If her mother was home, then it would have been a different story, but her mother hadn't even said "hello" on a post card.
"Hello?" Cindy called, voice choked thanks to the odd angle. She straightened herself out and grimaced at the broken glass under her sneaker.
"Girl, where are you? I thought we were on for the Candy Bar," Libby scolded and Cindy groaned.
"Yeah, yeah. Gimme a few minutes," Cindy said and eyed the living room. Whatever awaited her in the kitchen would be worse.
"Do you want me to come over and wait?"
"No!" Cindy said. "No, that's okay. Stay where you are, Libbs."
"You never want me to come over anymore," Libby replied, suspicious. "It's always hanging out at my house. And whatever happened to your thing for Jimmy-"
"I'll see you in five! Later!" Cindy said and slammed the receiver down. She stared at the broken beer bottles, spilt alcohol, random playing cards, and, in a few places, vomit. It choked her nostrils and cloyed. If it wasn't for the fact that Jimmy wasn't dating anyone who was obviously gay, that she had no evil older sister to ruin her life and marry an asshole to produce two little brats, and that she actually had friends, she'd say she belonged in another story.
Fingers flew over the keys and Jimmy leaned over his keyboard intently. Goddard barked and hopped into his master's lap. The boy genius afforded his precious pet one stroke behind the ears before returning to focus entirely on the work before him. Years ago, he had discovered that someone had turned off the tracking device in his father. After that he had discovered that whenever his trackers fixated on something similar, they strangely lost the trail and he was unable to start his work. He always had to restart.
Yet the answer had to be somewhere. He poured over the data like he had every night for the last two years. Like before, nothing jumped out at him. Nothing screamed "lead". He hadn't expected one. Right now, at this point, he hoped for the ghost of a lead, anything to work from.
Even if Jimmy's father had perished, his scanners would have detected him. The same went for Mrs. Vortex. Something or someone had tampered with his equipment. Whoever it was also might have been involved in deleting a few nights' worth of lab recording two years ago. There had been no evidence of tampering then, either, just a strong suspicion. His mind was curiously blank there too.
The phone rang and Jimmy absently waited for the machine to pick it up. Libby could wait, just like Carl and Sheen did. Cindy wouldn't want to see him anyway. She had made that abundantly clear.
His hand gripped the ball mouse and slid it forward. A button on his keyboard performed the same tasks as right clicking or left clicking. He admitted it wasn't efficient compared to the computer in his room, but he hadn't designed his lab's computer with Windows in mind.
Goddard whipped his tail and whined at Libby's voice, filling the lab.
"Boy, you're getting to be as unreliable as Cindy!" Libby snapped. "Do you ever come out of that lab or are you hibernating?"
Jimmy preferred not to acknowledge that with an answer.
"I know you're missing your father and trying to locate him, but, c'mon. I'm sick of playing Stupid Cupid for you and Cindy. It's like you two lose all interest in each other when your parents disappeared," Libby continued.
Jimmy cocked an eyebrow but otherwise kept his thoughts to himself. Perhaps that was true in a way. With Jimmy's obsessive personality and Cindy's secretive nature, perhaps it was also bound to happen.
"Next time, I'm hauling you out of there myself. Carl and Sheen can't do it, and Cindy won't, so I'm the only one left. Just because I'm not one of your 'best friends' doesn't mean that I'm not your friend too."
There was a click and then, the hum of the dial tone. Jimmy shrugged, glad he hadn't devoted part of the monitor to Libby's irate face. He had enough problems without Libby adding to them.
Judy sighed and dusted the TV top for the umpteenth time. She had lost count at around a hundred. Whatever lingering latent OCD properties she had possessed beforehand had evolved. Now, to keep herself preoccupied, she cleaned until her fingers ached. She tried reading, but her mind kept drifting. While she contemplated borrowing one of Jimmy's higher science books, she was willing to bet that the same 'phenomenon' would occur.
She used to be a genius too, once upon a time. As a great actress once said, having a baby had caused all of her "lines to dribble out of her breast". She used to read all the time and be up to date with all the scientific crazes. She used to be someone other than a housewife…
The thought depressed her.
The phone rang, jarring her, and Judy dropped her broom to fetch the cordless. It lay on a table beside a well worn and once loved wooden duck. Her throat clenched and, with effort, she swallowed hard and willed it back to normal.
"Hello?" she said after she had clicked the talk button. She sounded normal, at least.
"Who's this?" A familiar and unmistakable voice filled her ears and she sunk into the couch in relief.
"Hugh!" she exclaimed.
"Who are you?"
Deflating, she sunk into the couch. She removed the phone from her ear and stared at it. The caller ID said "restricted number" and she stared. Her husband's tinny voice drifted past her ears.
"How could you not know your wife?" Judy exclaimed and then pressed the phone to her ear in the hopes that this was a cruel prank. There was silence and then a dial tone. She let it fill the air before hanging up and cradling the receiver in her hands.
She wanted to tell Jimmy what had happened. Simultaneously, she wanted to linger here and let it soak in. She wanted to know what the heck was going on. Someone had obviously altered his memories, but to what purpose? Or was it amnesia? She didn't know. Jimmy would postulate similarly, also unhelpful.
Carefully, she placed the phone down on the table and attacked it with a damp towel. There was a smidgen of dust on the table cover.