Disclaimer – I don't own Jimmy Neutron nor any other referenced media material.
Jimmy Neutron was standing at the edge of his driveway, hands at his sides, taking in the nighttime view of his house. The moon was full and the sky was clear, allowing both lunar-light and starlight to illuminate the roof and windows. Jimmy stared at the house until he had his fill, and then shifted his gaze over to his clubhouse. This area was more dimly lit, but Jimmy could still peer through the window. When he had finished here, he eyed the tree, then the other trees, then the other houses to his left and to his right. As he completed this, he sighed. There were no other places to look.
He tried not to think about it. Even when he realized this was impossible, he tried not to do it. But try though he might, against his mightiest efforts, when Jimmy turned around to stare at the other side of the street, his gaze went right to the Vortex house. Like a moth to the flame. And once there, he found that he couldn't move it.
Jimmy felt his shoulders slump. It was a familiar sentiment. Lately, every time he was presented with the opportunity to glance at the Vortex house, he tried to ignore it. Yet every time he received that opportunity, he couldn't resist it. Failure was not something Jimmy was used to, but every time he saw the Vortex house, he failed.
It seemed that for him, everything related to the Vortex girl was a failure.
Jimmy took in the other parts of the house first, but eventually, inevitably, his gaze settled on her bedroom window. It was dark inside so Cindy must not have been home, since it was still too early for her to have gone to bed. No matter how long he stared at it, Jimmy found that it wasn't enough. The house was an enigma to him, just like its teenaged tenant. How long had it been since he had gone inside the Vortex residence? Four years? Five?
Without a doubt, Jimmy stared at the Vortex house, and at Cindy's window in particular, the longest. Unlike the other sites in his neighborhood, he had a difficult time determining when enough was enough. In spite of this, he made a strictly rational decision on the matter and forced himself to turn away.
"Well, the lab isn't going to close down itself," he told Goddard, who had been standing behind him the whole time. The mechanical canine cocked his head to the side and whimpered. Goddard had been very frisky earlier in the day, but now, perhaps sensing Jimmy's somber mood, he had become rather quiet. Jimmy smiled at his longtime companion, knowing that Goddard was yet another part of his life here that he would have to leave behind. He petted the canine for some time, trying not to think of anything.
"Come on boy. We have to do it sooner or later."
Goddard wagged his tail and began padding alongside Jimmy.
Jimmy headed down the front lawn, in the direction of his clubhouse. He had gone only a few feet when he heard a sound that stopped him dead in his tracks. He thought the sound was footsteps. From his estimate, they were coming from somewhere close behind him.
Jimmy turned around to identify the source of the distraction.
And found himself staring at none other than Cindy Vortex.
"Well, someone looks a bit misty-eyed tonight," Cindy said as she strode off Jimmy's driveway, onto the grass. Though Jimmy could clearly see her silhouette, he still couldn't get a good look at her face.
"Cindy, I…didn't know you were home." His response ended up sounding a lot dumber out loud than it had in his head. If only he could have discreetly whacked himself on the skull.
"Did you?" Cindy said rhetorically. She had almost made it over to Jimmy, but was still not entirely visible. "Or…"
With one step forward, Cindy came directly under a beam of moonlight.
"Were you hoping to catch a glimpse of me while I was changing?"
When Cindy became fully visible, Jimmy found a smirk on her lips, a gleam in her emerald eyes, and a certain aspect to her posture that was just so…Cindy.
The site of the blonde invoked such a strong desire in Jimmy, it nearly lifted him off his feet. Struggling to get a hold of himself, Jimmy took in a deep breath, and then relaxed all his muscles. He realized just then what Cindy had said to him.
"Wait, wait, wait…what did you say?"
Innocently, Cindy's eyes rolled to the side. "'Cause it's happened before," she put a hand to her mouth as she chuckled, "and I figured, it was only a matter of time before he does it again."
"You think I was spying on you?"
"You men are so predictable," Cindy said while studying her nails.
Jimmy could feel his hands balling into fists. Of all the conversations he could have expected to have with Cindy tonight, this was certainly not one of them. He still had several things left to do, and didn't want to waste time arguing with her, but it was like his mouth had a mind of its own. In spite of everything, arguing with her just came so naturally.
"Listen Cindy," he said, pronouncing her name in a snide voice. "Although your bedroom window is arranged in a very tempting location, I have not tried to examine your…anatomy, while you were changing."
"Oh really?" Cindy said, crossing her arms.
Jimmy felt his resolve crumble. He wasn't going to spend all night on this. "Okay fine, I may have that one time in sixth grade. But give me a break, it was my first week of puberty."
"Peeper-peeper, creeper-creeper," Cindy sang in the most annoying tone imaginable.
"It wasn't my fault. Would it have killed you to pull the shade down?"
"It was early in the morning if I recall. How was I supposed to know there were pervy little adolescent boys roaming the streets at seven am?"
"Is that really why you came here just now? To remind me of that?"
"Hmph, no," Cindy in a more gentle tone. She peered at the ground, and a silence overcame the two. Jimmy didn't know what to do or say except to let Cindy make the first move. He watched as her gaze shifted to his feet. It lingered there for a moment, and then went up to meet his own. For a split-second, Jimmy thought he saw kindness resonating in those twin emeralds. Kindness, and something else. Sadness? In any event, it was almost gone before he had noticed it, and was replaced by a familiar, though less sarcastic, gleam.
"Word on the street is," Cindy began while crossing her arms, "that this is your last night in Retroville." She paused. "Or on Earth. Or in the solar system." Her arms uncrossed. "Or in the galaxy."
Jimmy had a feeling that it was his turn to speak. He tried gleaning something, anything, from Cindy's eyes, but her expression was unreadable. He would have to fumble around in the dark.
"The word on the street is correct," Jimmy said. "I leave in twelve hours." He wished he could think of something better to say. "Did you, want to say goodbye?"
Yet again, an emotion seemed to flit across Cindy's features. This one Jimmy couldn't quite make out, but oddly, he had a feeling that it was a negative one. Anger? Frustration? The way a person's lip curled only revealed so much.
"Oh I don't know," Cindy said nonchalantly. She resumed studying her nails. "Maybe."
Jimmy gritted his teeth. They weren't getting anywhere. "Alright Vortex, enough beating around the bush. Why are you here?"
"The way I see it, that's not an important question," Cindy said, regarding Jimmy once again. She stuck a thumb at herself. "I'm a normal teenager. I could be out here for any number of reasons." She began ticking them off on her fingers. "Going to parties, hanging out with friends, causing mayhem. The real question, the more interesting one, is 'what are you doing out here'?" She used one of her fingers now to point at Jimmy. "Jimmy Neutron, teenage genius and soon to be Intergalactic Missionary, spending his last night in the galaxy gazing forlornly at his neighborhood." She smiled. "Despite the fact that he has a photographic memory."
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders. "So I'm feeling nostalgic. That's normal."
"Or maybe, what I'm really interested in is why you were starin' at my window. Hoping to catch a flash of old Vortex's goodies? Or was it something, " Cindy donned a sly look, "different?"
Jimmy sighed. "Vortex, it's my last night in Retroville. I'm trying to be nice here; do you have to make it so difficult?"
"Oh don't be so dramatic Jimmy, I was only kidding." Cindy's mysterious grin was replaced by a genuine one. "What's wrong with a few laughs between a couple of old neighborhood chums?"
At this comment, Jimmy nearly had the urge to laugh. Old neighborhood chums, huh? Oh Cindy, if only our relationship were so simple.
In any event, Jimmy supposed that he now might as well play along. "Nothing at all," he said, flashing Cindy a sincere grin of his own.
To Jimmy, moments like these, when they were being straightforward and seemed to enjoy each other's company, were simply dazzling.
"But really Neutron, what are you doing out here?" Cindy said with a laugh. "It's your last night. I figured you'd be maybe, I don't know, hanging out with your friends and family."
Cindy may not have known it, but her comment stung Jimmy a little. He tried not to show it, but he heard all too clearly the way she said 'your friends and family.' Like she didn't consider herself part of that group.
"I just got back from the Candy Bar with Carl, Sheen and Libby," Jimmy said. "That's…why I was on the driveway. I was walking up to the house from my car. I'll say goodbye to the others tomorrow morning before I leave."
"What about your mom and dad?" Cindy said.
"I've been kind of saying goodbye to them all week. I told them that I had some things to do tonight and wanted to be alone for a while."
"And then I came, huh?" Cindy said with a smile.
Jimmy held his hands out in protest. "No, no, that's not what I meant."
"I know Neutron, relax, sheesh. You're wound up tighter than a guitar string."
For what felt like the millionth time that night, Jimmy let out a sigh. "I know," he said. He lowered his head. "I'm just a little stressed out. You're right; it's my last night in the galaxy. It's just that, I've been so busy lately, and now that things have finally slowed down a bit, I'm realizing how much I'm really gonna miss this place." Jimmy kept his eyes nailed to the ground. "And the people in it."
"I wish there was something I could do to help."
Jimmy couldn't help but stare at the blonde. There was no mistaking her sincerity just now. Cindy Vortex was truly something else. Sometimes, she was so infuriating that he wanted to kill her, yet other times, she was capable of such empathy. No one else besides his parents, it seemed, had even wondered how he was dealing with his imminent departure. He was reminded of the time in the prison cell on Yolkus, how Cindy had been the only one to encourage him.
He couldn't deny it anymore, at least not in his own head. She would be particularly difficult to leave behind.
"You've already helped Cindy," he said. "Talking to me just now. Making sure I'm okay." He swallowed. "It makes a difference."
"Yeah, well," Cindy said, digging a toe against the ground. "Anyway, you said you had some things to do, and I'm sure things are pretty nutty for you right now, so I guess I'll just…get going."
Without so much as a spare glance, Cindy turned around.
The words were out before Jimmy could process them. They were directly from his heart, unyielding to his conscious inhibition. A second after he had said them, Cindy turned around, looking incredibly serious at first, then, after she had studied Jimmy's face for a moment, breaking into a smile.
"What do you know, he misses me already."
Jimmy ignored the bait. "D-Do you have to leave? So soon?"
For some reason unbeknownst to Jimmy, Cindy giggled. "No. I don't have to leave, if that's what you're asking." She giggled again. "I just thought you wanted some alone time and still had stuff to do."
"I, well yeah, but–"
"It's no big deal Neutron." Cindy was still smiling. "If there's anyone you should be spending your final hours with, it's Sheen and Carl. Or your parents."
"What do you mean by that?" Jimmy protested.
"Well, no offense, but we're not exactly what you'd call close friends."
"Why are you saying that?" Jimmy said. Once again, Cindy Vortex found a way to make his blood boil. This time, however, it was for a different reason. "You're making it sound like we're not friends at all."
"I wouldn't say we're not friends," Cindy said, frustrating Jimmy with how amused she seemed by their conversation. "But let's be honest Neutron. We're not as close as we were back in the fifth grade. Or in middle school."
"How can you say that Cindy?" Jimmy said, sounding completely incredulous. "After all we've been through together? Rescuing our parents, defeating the League of Villains, getting…stranded on that island?" Jimmy couldn't look Cindy in the eyes as he mentioned that last item. "How can you go through things like that and not be close?"
"It happens. I haven't forgotten the things we went through. I admit, we've gone on some crazy adventures together. It's just that…" For the first time that night, Cindy sounded a bit sad. "Sometimes, people grow apart."
"Well maybe I didn't want to grow apart!" Jimmy snapped.
"Well we did!" Cindy exclaimed. In yet another first for her night, Cindy had begun to sound angry. As soon as her twin emeralds flared however, they cooled. She took a moment to collect herself. When she had, she let out a deep breath. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to get you upset. If you want me to stick around, believe me, I will. It's just…if this is the last time we're going to see each other for a while, I just, I wanted to be honest. That's all. On our last night together, I just wanted us to be honest with each other."
"I see," Jimmy said.
A long silence passed between Jimmy and Cindy. Neither knew quite what to say to the other.
An awful knot twisted itself inside Jimmy's stomach. A realization hit him very fast and very hard. If he didn't say something now, he might never get a chance to say something again. But suddenly, there was simply too much he had to say. What on earth was he going to do?
"Look, I don't want to spend all night arguing either," Cindy said. "We've already wasted too much time over the years doing that anyway. So I'm just gonna ask; do you want me to stay?"
The knot in Jimmy's stomach grew tighter.
"Do you want me to go?"
"It's your night Jimmy. What, do you want?"
"I don't know," Jimmy mumbled.
The knot grew so tight that it snapped. Jimmy found himself devoid of air. It was like he couldn't breathe. His mind was racing, overflowing with the thoughts, ideas and regrets that had been plaguing him all night. Some were about his future. Some were about his past. Many were about Cindy. He fought so hard to control them, but he just couldn't fight any longer. They began to tumble out.
"I don't know!" he shouted. He gripped his hair, the urge to pace overwhelming him. "I don't know what I want. I mean, I know what I want, but this is the first time I felt so unsure about it." The emotions continued pouring out. "Ever since the Intergalactic Missionaries first contacted me back in ninth grade, I've done nothing but work non-stop to try and get accepted, and now, now that I've finally taken a chance to breathe, I've realized how much things are going to change. Ugh, that's not what I meant. What I'm trying to say is that I knew things were going to change, but this is the first time I've taken the time to feel how much things are going to change! I don't know how I'm going to deal with leaving behind Retroville! I don't know how I'm going to deal with leaving behind Mom, and Dad, and Carl, and Sheen, and…and you. I don't know how I'm going to deal with the fact that I've spent so much time working and not enough time doing other things. Cindy, I just don't know!"
After Jimmy's outburst, Cindy just shook her head. "Oh Jimmy, listen to you," she said, barely above a whisper. She grabbed Jimmy by the arms and began massaging them. She was so gentle, it almost broke Jimmy's heart. "I know this must be hard for you. I can't imagine what it would be like to have to give up everyone and everything I know. To dedicate myself to a life of service." She was quiet for a bit as Jimmy sought to reign in his raging emotions. "I'm not asking you to answer all these tough questions Jimmy. I just wanted you to take this time now and do something you wanted to do. Okay?"
Jimmy pulled himself out of Cindy's grasp and gave his back to her. It was just so hard facing her right now. He didn't know how to communicate it.
"Do you know what I want to do?" he exclaimed after a long pause. He hadn't shouted it, but he hadn't exactly whispered it either. He was still feeling out of breath, which made it difficult to talk in a normal voice. "I want to just take off somewhere. I just want to go, and I want to take off somewhere. No plan, no destination. I just want to leave. I've done nothing but work for the last four years straight, and now, for once, I just want to escape. Just for a little bit."
Behind him, Cindy smiled. "Jimmy, I think that's a wonder–"
"And I want you to go with me!"
Jimmy spun around just in time to catch the look of shock pop onto Cindy's face. That look widened as she saw that Jimmy had unexpectedly, suddenly and completely, gotten over his angst. He was smiling at her. Smiling like they had been conducting a jovial conversation for hours. Not giving her time to react, he grabbed a hold of her hand and dragged her off in the direction of the clubhouse.
"Uh, Jimmy," Cindy said. She sounded worried. "Where exactly are we going?"
"To the lab Dorktrex," Jimmy said, chuckling.
"Jimmy, are you…feeling okay?"
"I'm fine," Jimmy laughed. He spun around again and now grabbed a hold of Cindy by the shoulders. "You're right. We have grown apart. I've spent the past couple of hours hanging out with Carl and Sheen, and I've had weeks to spend time with my parents. Now I want to spend some time with you. Like back in fifth grade."
Cindy's eyebrows knitted.
"Just good old-fashioned, healthy, spontaneous fun. And I know just the place where we can have it."
"Whatever you say Neutr – whoa!"
Cindy tried to speak up and make some more sense out of what was happening, but darn-it-all, Jimmy was pulling too hard on her hand.
AN: Well, there's the first chapter. Things are starting off slowly, but they will seriously ramp up eventually. I know some things are unclear right now, but they will be explained. Anyway, let me know what you guys think.
Oh, and btw, I didn't forget about Goddard. He'll make another appearance in this story. Toward the end.