It all happened so fast that once he realized what was occurring, it seemed to go by in slow motion. Jimmy didn't quite know what possessed him to kiss Cindy. Rather, he might have known what possessed him to kiss her, but he didn't know what motivated him to commit the act at that particular moment. Whatever the reason, after Libby had alerted the entire town of his and Cindy's budding relationship, and after he and the blonde had one of their moments in the alley, when they were virtually alone, Jimmy saw his opportunity and took it. He took it right after the idea popped into his mind, before he had the chance to rationalize it, or second-guess it. After he had kissed her, he went on his way, overcome with giddiness, until Cindy caught up with him and grabbed him by the hand. They continued walking this way, a safe distance from the others, with a million-in-one happy thoughts coursing inside their heads.
Jimmy's heart was beating so rapidly after those first seconds of hand-holding, he thought he might go into cardiac arrest. He was finally doing the thing he had relegated to the darkest, most deeply buried corners of his daydreams. He was acting out his borderline subconscious feelings for Cindy. The feel of her palm against his, the light scent of her jasmine shampoo, the way her flaxen hair drifted in the air, and the way the moonlight poured on her skin, they were all things that Jimmy had never let himself fully enjoy before. Many of these feelings were beyond the scope of his pre-adolescent mindset and physiology, but he was at the threshold. The first rumblings of the hormonal influx to come were making themselves known.
It was after these first seconds, those moments of unfiltered, unfathomable bliss, that reality struck. Jimmy and Cindy had been walking at a steady clip behind their friends, but as they slowed down their pace, the pieces finally settled. They had gone from worst enemies, to a strange love-hate kind of relationship, to now. The trouble was, now that they stopped to really think about it, they weren't quite sure what 'now' was. What were they at this moment, holding hands, too excited to speak, and too embarrassed to look at one another? What had been going on this whole past week, as they not only avoided arguing with one another, but actually worked together in their goal to stop Libby? What had been going on these past several months, as they had more and more of their little moments together, bordering on the romantic but never quite crossing that line?
What was happening to Jimmy Neutron and Cindy Vortex?
Jimmy didn't want to speak. He had been enjoying the closeness, the feeling of Cindy these past moments. A terrified expression had broken out on his face. As discreetly as possible, he glanced at Cindy out of the corner of his eye. It appeared that Cindy was undergoing the same thought process as Jimmy, judging from the tense lines written on her countenance, which had replaced the previously joyful ones. This validated Jimmy's burgeoning discomfort.
The boy genius tried swallowing, but found that his throat was desert dry. He tried to calm himself by focusing on the feel of Cindy's hand. Neither had uttered a syllable since the kiss, and with each passing second, the silence was growing increasingly unbearable. Someone had to say something. Anything.
Jimmy swore he felt Cindy's pulse racing through her palm. The beats came too quickly to count. Her anxiety was infectious, and he felt his own amplifying in response. Bam-bam-bam, went their heartbeats. They were in perfect sync with one another, body and mind. Pulses racing. Palms sweating. Thoughts galloping. Heads spinning. This neurotic dance went on, and on and on, until, finally, when Jimmy decided he had had enough and was going to say something even if it killed him, he turned to Cindy and–
"Hey you guys, what's taking so long?"
He was too late. Up a few meters ahead, Libby had stopped walking. Sheen was by her side and getting to his feet, having finally recovered from being dropped by Cork Shimatzu. It didn't take long for both to digest the scene in front of them. Even in his woozy state, Sheen's eyes immediately went to Jimmy and Cindy's interlocked hands, which they held near their waistlines. Libby and Sheen simply stared at the pair, lost in the initial stages of shock.
Jimmy and Cindy let go of each other.
The genius and the blonde glanced at each other, then back at Libby, then back at each other, and then finally back at Libby. They shuffled their feet, scratched the back of their necks, and looked around in every direction that didn't face Libby or each other.
"Uh," Jimmy said.
"We, uh," Cindy began.
Libby crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at her friends. If she allowed it, they would keep up this charade all night. "I said…'what's going on'?"
"What do you mean 'what's going on'?" Sheen shouted. He gestured with both hands at Jimmy and Cindy, and then shot Libby a pointed look. "Can't you see?" He gave Jimmy and Cindy a sidelong glance, and then, in a not-so-quiet whisper, cupped his hand over his mouth and leaned into Libby's ear to say: "It's finally happened." He shot his friends another quick glance, and proceeded to shout in Libby's ear: "It's the first sign of the apocalypse!"
Libby jumped away from Sheen, eyeballs spinning, fingering her auditory canal. She glared daggers at the loud boy before removing her finger and examining Jimmy and Cindy. The puzzled, suspicious gleam had re-inhabited her eyes.
"How do we tell our classmates?" Sheen wailed. He dropped to his knees and grabbed a hold of Libby's pant leg, where he buried his face into the fabric. "I'm too young to die!"
Libby raised her eyebrows. She shot her two friends an appraising look. "Well?"
"We," Cindy began, but she didn't finish her sentence. She grimaced and lowered her head, unable to find her voice.
Libby and Sheen shifted their attention to Jimmy. As Jimmy felt their eyes bore into him, his brain went into overdrive. Despite all the solutions he concocted, a separate, higher component of his consciousness told him there were only two responses. Either he could declare his feelings for Cindy, and settle things once-and-for-all, or he could make up some excuse so that hopefully, at some point, he and Cindy could unveil their feelings, both to each other and their peers. As his mind flew through the options, that separate, higher component became larger and larger, until it eventually overtook his entire skull.
He had to make a decision.
"We," he said, grimacing like Cindy had before him. It was now or never. He forced his conflicted expression into a joyful one and laughed. "We're just friends!"
Although he made himself appear like he was staring and Libby and Sheen when he said this, he was actually studying Cindy out of his periphery. They didn't have anytime to talk after the kiss, and he had to see her reaction. He needed to know whether he had said the right thing, or the wrong thing.
In the years that followed, Jimmy would go over this moment on countless occasions inside his head. No matter how many times he analyzed it however, he couldn't be sure about what had transpired. Maybe it was a trick of the moonlight, but Jimmy thought that, just as his gaze flicked at Cindy, her face twitched. Jimmy knew that a facial twitch could be interpreted in multiple ways, but at that moment, he got the distinct impression that Cindy's face twitched due to shock, and not the good kind. This was the kind of shock one experienced when something unexpected happened, the kind of something that displeased them, even if they didn't want to show it. It was this kind of twitch that Jimmy thought he saw, as he caught his first glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye.
Whether the twitch was real or unreal, it didn't seem to matter. Not after the way the coming scene unfolded.
"Yeah!" Cindy said in her normal confident and slightly haughty manner. She shared a grin with Jimmy and placed her hands on her hips. She had decided to back him up after all. "What were you guys thinking; that we're going to start going out of something?" The blonde chuckled, and she and Jimmy exchanged another amused glance.
"Uh," Libby said, not sounding the least bit convinced, "then what was with that whole hand-holding a second ago?"
"Hand-holding?" Cindy asked, as if this were a very silly idea.
"I have eyes you know," Libby said.
"We weren't holding hands," Jimmy said. He rummaged around in his pockets, hoping he could find something to use as his alibi. He fought to suppress a grin as his fingers enclosed around a small tube of liquid. He fished out the tube and held it up so Libby could see. "I was just applying some of my Neutron cream."
Libby's eyebrows lifted even further. "Neutron cream?"
"Yeah!" Cindy vigorously answered. "All that time as anchors with our hands on that wooden desk. It can really dry out your skin!" Cindy flexed her hand, as if to demonstrate how moist her palms had become. "Thanks Jimmy, that really did the trick."
Libby frowned. "Why would Jimmy need to invent a skin moisturizer? It would probably be cheaper and easier to pick some up at the Retro-Drug."
"Mine's longer-lasting," Jimmy said. "I invented it because, you know, working in the lab, operating equipment, going through latex gloves…I've gotten to the point where I always have it on me."
"And why'd you share yours with Cindy?" Libby inquired. Her steady, discerning gaze never left her two friends. "I thought you hated each other."
"We don't!" Jimmy blurted. He shrank back when he realized how strongly his words had come out. Hoping to reverse the damage, he meekly added: "At least, not anymore."
"Jimmy's right," Cindy said. All eyes went to her. It was not because of what she said, but rather how she said it. Unlike the defensive rebuttals her and Jimmy had uttered thus far, Cindy now sounded calm and sincere. It would be hard not to believe what she said in her current tone of voice. "Look, I know there's been plenty of rumors going around about me and Jimmy." Cindy's eyes hardened. "Mostly thanks to you."
Libby let out an uneasy laugh. Cindy had her there.
"But," Cindy continued, "none of it's true." She turned to her right to stare at Jimmy. She held his gaze for a moment. In that time, as Jimmy bore into those green pools of light, he found her expression indecipherable. "Jimmy and I were arch-rivals for a long time, but over this past year…things changed."
Jimmy detected deep emotion bubbling beneath those words.
"I'm not saying that there haven't been any, well, questionable moments between us. I'm just saying that going from worst enemies the way we did, it was a really big change. Sometimes it was a little confusing, understanding what that change meant, but I think all it means is that Jimmy and I…"
The blonde trailed off, causing a near-panic in Jimmy. His heart was once again drumming against his chest. He had no idea what Cindy was going to say next. Was she going to go back on what she had said before, and say something that would forever change the dynamics within their group? Was she going to confess feelings for him, feelings that she had hinted at but never truly confirmed? If she did, he'd have virtually no choice but to respond. Or, was she going to–
"Jimmy and I have just become friends."
Once the words had been said, they hung in the air, hovering over the group of four. Cindy hadn't said the other thing they had all been pondering, but her statement was no less profound. Jimmy Neutron and Cindy Vortex had become friends? It was preposterous. It was insane. It was such a mind-numbing notion that the only thing a person could say in response was that–
"It's the second sign of the apocalypse!" Sheen cried. He had gotten to his feet during Jimmy, Cindy, and Libby's conversation, and was now mashing his face against Libby's shirtsleeve, grinding his head left and right and slamming his fist on her back. "Why must the good die young?" he howled, striking Libby in between words.
"It's gonna be an apocalypse for you if you keep that up!" Libby snapped.
Sheen promptly stepped away from Libby and stood up fully erect, all evidence of tears gone.
Libby returned her attention to Cindy. She eyed her best friend, something in her still not believing all of the blonde's story, but at the same time wanting to trust her. She explored her friend's eyes, not able to find a trace of dishonesty in them. Libby sighed, her mind coming to a decision.
"Alright, I believe you." Her gaze went to the side and she chuckled. "Guess it does make sense. You both do get pretty dorky when it comes to science and stuff."
"We do not!" Jimmy and Cindy protested.
Libby just stared at them. "Know any other kids who followed last year's world conference in paleontology?"
Jimmy and Cindy's defiance faded, slowly replaced by embarrassment.
"I thought so." Libby turned to the lanky boy standing next to her. "C'mon Sheen. Let's go."
Sheen happily trotted alongside Libby. He hoped that the rest of the night would be smooth sailing from here on out. "So what're we gonna do next?"
Libby's tone was happier than a bird at dawn. "Well I don't know about our two friends," she said, gesturing behind them at Jimmy and Cindy, "but you and I," Libby seized Sheen by the ear and dragged him down to her level, "need to have a little talk about when it's appropriate for you to spaz out!"
"Al-right!" Sheen cheered, hoping to win Libby over with optimism. "Will this make us happy?"
"No, it won't."
Sheen yelped as Libby painfully squeezed his ear and began hollering angry words, despite their close proximity. The pair continued their heated exchange as they walked, all but oblivious to the outside world.
Now that Libby and Sheen were distracted, Jimmy and Cindy were left where they had only started a few minutes before. Alone. Neither made eye contact, nor did one of them try and walk off, abandoning the other. It was a standstill, an awkward aftermath to what had formerly been a ground-breaking and blissful moment. They had shared brief instances of physical affection, but neither had confirmed their feelings to the other. Nevertheless, now that they had settled things between their friends, they couldn't go back on their word.
"Well, let's get a move on Neutron!" Cindy suddenly chirped. She was grinning at Jimmy, like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. "We all know we're going to end up goofing off in your lab anyway. Might as well get there first."
Jimmy stared at Cindy. He didn't know whether to feel happy or sad. So this was going to be it then? He thought he had finally come to terms with his feelings for Cindy, but before he could fully understand them, and before he could know how Cindy really felt about him, they had agreed to sweep it under the rug. They would become friends, and it would certainly be different from now on, but they had gone back across the line as soon as they had passed it. And who knew how long it would be before they approached that line again.
Jimmy couldn't help but feel a smudge of disappointment. Why didn't I make a move?
"Earth to freak-brain!" Cindy said, jolting Jimmy out of his thoughts. The genius regarded her once more, finding that although she had called him by one of her formerly insulting nicknames, she was looking at him now with something akin to endearment. "Didn't you hear what I said? Let's go!"
Jimmy hesitated one last time. His next action could decide what his future with Cindy would be for a long time to come. He waited, waited, and waited, until he ran out of time.
"Right behind you!" Jimmy replied. He had almost reached out for Cindy's hand when he remembered that they were only friends. Cindy smiled at him and he smiled back. Although he still harbored that smattering of regret, he thought that maybe, walking next to Cindy and enjoying her presence, though only to a certain degree, wasn't such a bad outcome after all. He laughed out loud. Cindy soon joined his laughter with her own.
"Race you there?" Jimmy asked.
Cindy chortled. "You're goin' down Puke-tron!"
The two took off. Formerly enemies, briefly romantic interests, and now friends. They laughed as they raced each other, neither wanting to lose, but both far too amused to focus on proper form. All the while, and in the four years that followed, Jimmy could never quite vanquish that niggling voice, the one that told that maybe, just maybe, he and Cindy had made the wrong decision.
"By the way," Cindy said, huffing and puffing, "what was in that tube you showed Libby?"
Jimmy laughed as he struggled to keep up with the blonde. "Lubricant for Goddard. Comes in handy when the two of us are on the go."
Cindy giggled. "Good one Neutron."
"Thanks," Jimmy said. He suddenly frowned as a thought came to mind. "Wait, did we forget someone?"
Disclaimer – I don't own Jimmy Neutron nor any other referenced media material.
I'd like to take a moment to thank all the people who reviewed my last story, and with whom I've communicated in general here on the JN site. You guys have given me such useful feedback, and I think you're all, as Corky Shimatzu would say, superstars! You all have really given me motivation to write, and have made my stay in the JN fandom a happy one.
Despite the more serious prologue, this story is definitely going to be a romantic comedy; expect some silliness ahead! Not that there won't be serious moments of course. I imagine this prologue will be as serious as the tone of this story will get however. I included it because I felt it nicely sets up the story I want to tell.
We'll see how it goes, but I'll try and update on at least a weekly basis.