Thanks for the responses:
Genseeker25: Thanks for the support! I hope for this story to be even more intense than the last.
Little Phooey: Hey Noblesse! Long time no see! Glad to see you're still around on FFN. I'm back off to college next weekend, so it might get a little tough, but I promise I'll try! I see this story going great places.
Alright, so the plot thickens…! Hope you readers out there enjoy this one. Review if you feel like it or feel free to ask questions.
… … …
Chapter 2: Cindy Aurora Vortex
Cindy heard a car turn onto the street and casually pulled back at the curtain. When she saw it was Jimmy, she quickly let the curtain slide back into place, releasing a sigh.
"Cindy, dear," her mother called from the kitchen, "leave James alone and come eat dinner."
Cindy stuck out her tongue, even though her mom couldn't see it, and wandered idly across the living room to the kitchen. She found her mother spooning food onto plates and her father setting some glasses down on the table.
Her mother glanced in her direction. "Really, Cynthia, it's been a month." She brought the plates to the table and sat. "When are you going to talk to the boy?"
The blonde did nothing to hide her sour expression. "I wasn't looking for Jimmy." She caught her father rolling his eyes. "What does it matter to YOU two anyway?"
Cindy's father joined Mrs. Vortex at the table and motioned for her to join them. Naturally, being her suborn self, she stood in the doorway and glowered.
"Cindy, honey," her father said, "you've been in an awful mood all month."
Cindy hmphed. "He hasn't even called…"
"He's giving you space, darling."
"You began the silent treatment," her father added to her mother's sentiment. "You should be the one to end it." He took a bite of his pasta. "This brings back memories," he told Cindy's mom.
Cindy pouted. "But he—"
Mrs. Vortex waved away her words. "He didn't realize that you were upset, Cynthia. Now that you've had a month to stew, I think it's about time you spoke with him." She took a petite bite of her pasta. "My Cynthia! Playing hard-to-get?"
Mr. Vortex laughed, startling Cindy. "I remember a certain someone playing hard-to-get quite often in her teenage years…"
Mrs. Vortex tossed her head, and Cindy couldn't help the smile that leaked through her scowl.
The night passed by slowly. Hushed breezes blew through the open window while Cindy chatted with Libby on the phone. Cindy knew she was trying, but her best friend had so far done little to settle her hurt feelings.
"C'mon, Cin, you know Jimmy doesn't try to hurt you…"
Cindy wanted to scream. That was probably the thousandth time someone had said that to her in the past month. "But he didn't pay any attention to what I was actually trying to say."
"I know, girl," Libby said. "At the very least, you should tell him how you feel and how he hurt you. At least he deserves to know why you're pretending he doesn't exist."
Cindy groaned. "Am I really in the wrong here?"
Libby chuckled. "He is the doofus boy, but you can't hold that against him. You were the one who waited a whole two years to talk about it."
"Because I knew he'd go off looking and prodding and I just wanted the whole nightmare to end."
"Well it obviously hasn't."
"But nothing's gone wrong, everything's been normal." She paused, twirling a strand of hair with her finger. "It's like the whole thing never happened."
"Except it did happen. And you haven't stopped thinking about it. For two years."
Cindy stared blankly at the pink wall of her room. "…Yeah? And?"
Libby 'mm-mmmed' and 'tisked' her disapproval. "And they say you're the genius."
Cindy scowled. "Get to the point!"
"Telling him about your drama-llama then may have relieved you sooner, am I right? Anyway, you've only postponed the inevitable, and not telling him didn't make nothin' go away."
Cindy blinked. "So, basically… you're saying… that I'm an idiot."
Cindy let out a strangled noise. "Ugh, I can't believe this. I guess… I should talk to him?"
"Don't get me wrong, Cin, you should still let 'im have it for being a dork."
"Right, right…" Cindy, whether she wanted to believe Libby's logic or not, somehow knew that it rang with truth. She had mulled over the album for a long, long time. "Great, just GREAT."
Now that she thought about it from this new perspective, well… Libby was right. It was about friggin time that she had told him about the album! And Jimmy, eyes so full with concern, had jumped in excitement. That kind of information, any sort of lead that might solve the mystery of the reality that never existed, was exactly what Jimmy had been searching for.
"Jimmy wasn't trying to push you away, Cin," she heard Libby say in the background, the phone call a distant thing now.
But Cindy had needed comfort that month ago. She had wanted to feel safe, rid of her nightmares. Instead of looking first to her needs like she wanted, Jimmy began rattling off the multiple things the album could mean for his research, the dozens of different methods he could use to explore the information, and the hundreds of theories he had come up with when he was too busy being a Dorktron to sleep at night. Cindy, needing his attention more than his ding-dong-sciencey-babble lectures, had been hurt. And Cindy Vortex, Cynthia Auoroa Vortex, does not get hurt. Which, in line with Vortex protocol, made her angry.
No, not just angry, but pissed.
And so here they were, one month later, with not one word spoken between them. Oh, there had been some notes from Jimmy in classes. And unanswered phone calls. And doorbell-ringings. And some messages relayed through Skylar (who, after printing out Jimmy's fifth plea, had remarked wryly that she was worth more than 300,000-times the cost of the world's most expensive fax machine and suggested that Cindy purchase one.)
There had been his after-class waits, his on the bus approaches, hours spent sulking on the sidewalk in front of her house—not to mention the daily ploy of communicating through Libby, Sheen, or Carl. All of Jimmy's attempts at goading Cindy to speak with him were dutifully ignored.
But more than anger her, his obliviousness towards her feelings made her question the strange relationship they had developed. Were they even in a relationship? Were they… boyfriend and girlfriend? The easy answer was yes, but the actual answer?
After they had reset the future to its original, or at least intended path, and cured Jimmy of his self-caused disease, the two teens were closer than ever before. They could be seen hanging out regularly, sometimes by the boardwalk with ice cream in hand, other times at the Candy Bar in a two-seater booth. The scary part was the smiles they usually had on their faces—Jimmy Neutron and Cindy Vortex smiling together? And it hadn't happened gradually, either, at least not to everyone else; it all started on Cindy's 15th birthday, as though they had spontaneously forgotten their rivalry, the pranks, the name-calling… actually, the name-calling was still around. But Dorktex and Nerdtron were somehow… names of endearment?
Retroville inhabitants had slowly gotten used to the idea, but the two still received weird looks when they were in public together. Most shrugged it off and said, "Well, it's about time!"
Except, Cindy didn't even know what "it" was. They spent time together, but on a relaxed outing or during one of Jimmy's scientific endeavors. She traveled abroad with Jimmy a few months back when the NGS had asked him to make a speech promoting clean energy, and Jimmy had taken her out for dinner. But few things romantic had ever happened between them. Jimmy got her flowers from Venus for her birthdays, homemade "enhanced" chocolates for Valentine's Days, and scarves sewn from the finest fibers in the galaxy for the holidays.
Beyond that? He occasionally expressed how much he enjoyed her company, since Carl and Sheen didn't understand much beyond Ultra Lord, geeking, llamas, and the basics of football. (No matter how many years Carl had played for the Retroville High football team, the idea still struck Cindy as physically impossible.)
He was fond of her. That was all Cindy really got. But it wasn't like she was giving him something he wasn't returning; it seemed completely mutual, this general lack of motivation. Nothing intense, nothing wild or crazy. In fact their affection seemed about as "wild" and "crazy" as it had been just after fifth grade, when for a time they had explored a relationship. It had fallen right back to quibbles and insults, however, when they left ripples of giggles behind them in the middle school hallways. Embarrassed, and too young to understand that the thoughts of their peers didn't matter so long as they were happy, they had reversed the direction their feelings were heading and it had simply been a matter of coming up with new insults, new pranks, and new torments to renew the rivalry.
But even that had slowly settled, and it had become something engrained, just a habit more than actual rivalry.
And then Jimmy found out about Cindy's future, how, driven by despair and depression, Cindy would run away from her family and friends, and die young. Jimmy, deciding he would do anything to save Cindy from her sad future, accidentally sacrificed his health. Jimmy had been dying, and all for Cindy. It changed everything.
At least, maybe it would have, if that adventure-filled, hectic month of Cindy's life hadn't been, for all intents and purposes, erased. That was the problem, really. Her memories of the time were clear, yet… dreamlike. As though while she knew those events had actually happened, there was still a part of her that believed it was all a passing a dream—rather, a nightmare. And still, most of those memories would have been lost if Jimmy hadn't reminded her shortly after his return from death… or, nonexistence.
…Which probably had something to do with him. Cindy shuddered whenever she thought about him, that—that god.
But that was beside the point. Whether she wanted it to or not, that horrible month did feel like a dream, and… well maybe shehad been the only one to start pushing away. Or backwards, maybe. Or…
Or maybe she had stopped caring somewhere along the way?
But what if—
She blinked, pulling the phone away from her smarting ear. "Ouch! Libbs! What the heck?"
"Well excuse ME, girl, you went and died on me!"
Cindy laughed nervously. "Sorry, Libby, I guess I was just thinking."
"Did you even hear a thing I said?"
Cindy paused. "Um… 'Jimmy wasn't trying to… push me away?'"
"That was like, ten minutes ago." Even over the phone, Cindy could imagine Libby's glare.
Cindy sighed. "Sorry, Libby. I think, I mean, I guess I'll talk to him?"
"Mmhmm. That's exactly what you're gonna do." There was a noise in the background on Libby's side of the call. "Listen, Cin, Sheen's here. We're gonna watch a movie." LIbby giggled suddenly.
Cindy rolled her eyes. "Yeah, o-kay. You two have fun."
She hung up the phone in minor disgust. Sheen had brightened up a little, but Cindy would never see what Libby saw in the lanky boy. But then she scoffed at the thought. This was coming from the girl who liked Spewtron, after all. Judgment could be made all around.
Cindy showered. She spent the time thinking about the hundreds of ways she could start a conversation with Jimmy. No way seemed to fit. She wanted to apologize to him, but she didn't want to just let him off the hook. It would have to be a delicate procedure, she decided.
The shower was short, but it did wonders to clear her head. It was her father's solution for everything: teenage angst? Take a shower. Test tomorrow? Take a shower. Reality threatened to be completely thrown into whack and oh, Jimmy's dying? Take a shower! She smiled as she threw on a robe and wrapped a towel around her hair on the way to her room. Skylar had slipped onto Cindy's bed sometime during her shower. The blue puppy barely flicked an ear at Cindy's arrival and was content to snooze. Cindy wondered what Skylar was actually doing while she rested, considering she was a mastermind, more up-to-date and power-packed than even Goddard. Sparing the puppy an appreciative glance, Cindy got to work brushing out her hair.
It took about a minute, but she became aware of many very tiny clacks. It was sporadic, sometimes one clack and then another, sometimes a long pause between them. "What the…" Cindy cautiously approached the window where it was the loudest.
Skylar had raised her head, minor interest in her eyes. She barked and added a little bit of a snuff. Even after owning the robotic dog for two years, Cindy found her ability to understand the puppy less than perfect. Half the time, Skylar would resort to deploying a screen so that Cindy could read what she was saying. But she usually got the general idea: her puppy had said, It's Jimmy.
Cindy threw open her window so that the slam echoed into the neighborhood. Sure enough, taking aim with hopeful, now frightened eyes, was Jimmy. He had an arsenal of pebbles at his feet.
Jimmy stared up at her. "Uh… hi."
Cindy raised a brow, amused. She tried to paint a disappointed look on her face, but secretly, she was for from it. "Whadya want, Neutron?"
The fumbling genius scratched his head, comically, Cindy thought. "Can I, uh… come up?"
"Why should I let you, huh?" She rested her elbow on the sill, propping her head in a hand.
This apparently made Jimmy even more nervous than he already was. "Uh… because… because… um…" He shook his head and mumbled something about Einstein.
Cindy stood straight, suddenly. "What am I supposed to tell my parents if you scratched the paint with your stupid pebbles?" she yelled.
"And where do you get off thinking you can just bother a girl in the MIDDLE of the night?"
Jimmy seemed pale. "But—"
"Honestly, Neutron, I should call the COPS on you! You just waltz into my yard, throwing rocks at my window—"
"—and expect me to say, 'Yes, of course Jimmy, darling, come right up to my room!'" She threw her arms up, leaning almost completely out the window now. She wouldn't have been surprised if the whole neighborhood heard her shouting. "What do you take me for, an idiot?"
Jimmy pointed toward her. "You're—"
"Cindy, you're going to—!"
"A NINCOMPOOP?" Cindy had leaned forward in emphasis with every phrase, and it was a moment too late that she realized she'd leaned out of the window a bit too far. She began to slip and, unable to stop herself, fell noiselessly from her window.
She didn't even have time to scream. All she saw was the ground rushing toward her. She squeezed her eyes shut, expecting pain, but none came.
When she finally got her wits about her, she realized something was suspending her in mid air. She cracked open an eye, expecting to see Skylar's robotic neck twined around her. Sure enough, she did see Skylar's head, but it was Jimmy who had reached her first. He held her around her waist, five feet off the ground. Skylar withdrew her neck.
Cindy rolled her eyes. "Oh, great. What are you, a super hero now?"
Jimmy blinked at her, somewhat out of sorts and a little breathless. "My hover shoes… you know, from that Macbeth performance way back when. I've taken the anti-gravity thrusters and altered the ejection level so that—"
Cindy blew a strand of wet hair out of her face. "Blah, blah, blah, just put me down!"
Jimmy flew upward slowly, rotating so that Cindy could slide back into her room through the window. She slipped through nonchalantly as though she had to do that sort of thing every day, then marched over to her makeup mirror and returned to brushing through her now very messy hair.
Jimmy hovered just outside her window, staring dumbly at the windowsill. After a minute, he glanced at Skylar, who watched him amusedly, before turning his gaze on Cindy. "Uh…"
"Well?" Cindy said. "Aren't you coming in?"
He glided upward, hovering down through the window feet first. As he landed, he said, "I was wondering, if maybe you wanted to talk?"
She turned around, ready to snap at him, but took pause when she noticed he was carrying something. "Is that… you didn't…"
He stepped forward. "It has answers, I know it does!"
"How long have you had it, huh?" The angry blonde turned her back on Jimmy and ran her brush through her hair with a vengeance. "Bet you didn't last a day after I told you. Bet you didn't even sleep on it!"
"I'll have you know I waited a whole month, Vortex!" Jimmy cried, forgetting his reason for coming over.
"In Nerdtron time? A month is like five minutes!"
"I went today! A month is a month in sane people time!"
"Oh so I'M the insane one?" Cindy turned around to face him now, the anger evidenced by the red in her cheeks and the blaze in her eyes. "Can't you just give it a rest? Can't you just let it go?" She stood and marched right up to him, prodding him in the chest with a finger. "It's been two years! I told you about the stupid album because it had been weighing on me, because I wanted you to help me! But you forgot alllll about me, all because of the mystery. 'Oooh, another clue,' that's all YOU were thinking about. This isn't Scooby Doo, you're not wearing an ascot and bellbottoms and I'm not running around with dorky glasses saying 'Jinkies!', for crying out loud! We are NOT 'those meddling kids.' Okay? Why can't we just have normal lives?"
Jimmy looked away from her accusing glare. "I can't just let it go," he muttered.
"Why? Why can't we just leave it behind us?"
"Because…" he said, his voice barely audible. "I have nightmares too."
Cindy wanted to cling desperately to her anger, but it slipped away faster than she could mentally grapple at it. She wanted to just pretend that the horrible events of two years ago never happened, or she wanted them to just… go away. She thought that would fix everything. But… well, it did happen, and it certainly wasn't going away. Jimmy knew that better than anyone. He remembered it even more clearly than Cindy. And he wanted it to go away too, but in order for that to happen, well… he needed to learn more. To figure things out. To solve the unhappy mystery of reality, its limits, its rules and boundaries, and, scariest of all, the consequences of him… no, both of them tampering with it two years ago.
The two teens stood face to face, Jimmy's eyes looking elsewhere, Cindy's heart shoved forcefully into her throat. They stayed like that, Cindy very aware of his soft breathing, the guilty, pensive look on his face, and for whatever reason the broadness of his shoulders. Skylar had slipped out of the room sometime during the fighting, and Cindy remembered how much she missed being with him, just the two of them.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, breaking the silence. "I never meant to hurt you. I was sorta hurt by how you waited to tell me. But I also understood why. Just, not at first. My curiosity was piqued and, well, there was nothing more I wanted to do than look for the album. But I wanted to do it with you. I thought we could do this, you know, together…"
Cindy dropped her gaze to the floor, partly ashamed, partly placated. He had known all along why she was upset. And she foolishly had ignored that her side of things might have upset him in the end.
She let her shoulders droop. "Well… what did you find?"
He glanced at her, confused. "The album?"
"No, what's inside, dummy. Are there photos?"
He blinked. "I, uh, haven't looked. I think so."
Cindy was dumfounded. "You mean you've had the album in your possession for more than a couple seconds and you… haven't… looked? Why not"
Jimmy threw up his arms. "I'm so tired of never being able to please you! Everything I do lately is wrong! I thought I should wait for you, but I guess not." He groaned. "You're so confusing, Vortex!"
She shook her head. "No, no! I'm not angry! I'm…" She paused, smiling at him. "I'm impressed."
Jimmy raised his brows in surprise. "Oh."
"Well, open it."
Jimmy walked over to Cindy's desk and set the album down. Cindy followed him, peeking over his shoulder. He pulled back the cover, revealing the title page: "Memories of a Future."
Cindy raised one eyebrow. "Corbet was kind of a dramatic man," she commented.
Jimmy nodded, moving past the cover page. There were photos, probably hundreds of them. At first it was hard to tell what they were. But after turning the third page, both Jimmy and Cindy gasped. They knew exactly what these pictures contained. Cindy felt faint. Jimmy gripped the edge of the desk tightly.
Cindy pointed to a photo. "It's him. It's him. How did Corbet get these?"
Jimmy, eyes wide, flipped another page. "Leaping leptons… this is unbelievable." He turned to Cindy. "We should go to the lab and analyze these… also, Skylar might be able to explain a few things."
"Skylar? What would she know?"
"Not your Skylar, but the one I found in the factory."
Cindy drew a breath. "You found another Skylar?"
Jimmy nodded, looking her in the eye. "Not just any other Skylar… the one from the reality we erased."
"What?" Cindy didn't understand. "I thought…"
"We reset reality, effectively returning to the point just before our reality deviated. But the fact that this Other Skylar, 'Skylar O', let's call her, has appeared in this reality, means…"
"It means," Cindy almost whispered, "that realities are… overlapping." And what that meant?
Trouble. Lots and lots of trouble.
Continued in the next chapter: Skylar O