"I'm dealing with the things that I've been
if it wasn't so appropriate then
I really don't care what I sing
and I really doubt you know what I mean"
- The Dandy Warhols, Cool Scene
Inevitable. Inexorable. Inescapable.
The fact that it never occurred to her before, that such a circumstance would disrupt her otherwise blissful existence, confounded her.
The rapacious gleam in Mr. Kidswatter’s eyes and the way he was practically oozing with greedy excitement at the prospect of Cynthia Vortex and James Neutron finally enrolling into high school was still in the forefront of Cindy’s thoughts. After all, they were the two highest achieving students at Socolow Middle School. Soon they would be the two highest achieving students at Retroville High, and, therefore, the best chance for the school to win the prestigious Acu Science Talent Search (ASTS) – and not to mention a lot of money - for the first time in decades.
It was already August. At the end of the month Cindy’s freshman year would be starting. As an enrolling student, Cindy and her mother didn’t think much of it when Retroville High’s principle, Mr. Kidswatter, asked them to come down to his office for a special meeting.
She didn’t think much of it until she found herself sandwiched between her mother and Jimmy Neutron on the prickly couch in Mr. Kidswatter’s office. Jimmy was also sitting next to his father, who was pleasantly oblivious to the entire ordeal. Cindy tried to focus on Mr. Kidswatter, despite his intimidating presence, but kept getting distracted by the fact that she was sitting so close to Neutron because he seemed to have trouble sitting still.
Mr. Kidswatter was a large man. He had thin, silvering hair that contrasted significantly with his dark skin and a deep, booming voice that rattled her bones. And he was positively convinced that these two fourteen-year-old freshmen were the best thing to happen to him since the school got a new basketball court. As freshman, this was the first year they would be eligible for the most prominent high school competition in the country. And since the competition was a group project, it was in his, or *cough* the school’s, best interest if they paired up.
Cindy was vaguely aware of Neutron protesting, arguing that he could make a better project on his own, without distractions. Mr. Kidswatter wouldn’t hear of it.
“Miss Vortex’s abilities in public speech, persuasiveness and creativity are far superior and tremendous assets to this project, I’m convinced of it! That girl convinced the Lindbergh Elementary cafeteria that ice-cream was the best form of calcium intake in the 6th grade. Persuading a science committee that Retroville High should win first prize should be a piece of cake,” Mr. Kidswatter explained, while rubbing his massive hands together in glee.
Hugh Neutron didn’t even flinch when he agreed to everything, explaining to “Jimbo” that teamwork was the key to academic success, in so many words that probably had little to do with what he was trying to argue. Carolyn Vortex, Cindy’s mother, needed more convincing, determined as she was to believe that Cindy could cure cancer while scaling Mt. Everest if she had the proper motivation. Scared that her mother might actually win her outrageous contention, and force Cindy into trying out for the ASTS single-handedly, she convinced her mother that the use of Neutron’s state-of-the-art laboratory would be a tremendous plus to her project-making skills. This was enough to convince her mother, but at the mention of Cindy “invading” his lab, Jimmy got a dark, brooding look. Cindy chose to ignore it.
She probably wouldn’t have if she suspected that the self proclaimed “teen genius” would disappear without so much as mentioning the ASTS to her. It had been over a week since that uncomfortable meeting and Cindy was starting to grow beyond annoyed. If he wasn’t going to talk to her then she’d find him and tie him up until she forced him to acknowledge her part in this project. And when she found that fudge-haired brainiac, she was going to put a permanent dent in his giant head.
Cindy searched the streets of Retroville, determined to find him if it was the last thing she ever did that day, and it might’ve turned out that way, considering it was over 100°F and humid enough to make her usually lustrous blonde hair limp and damp. She pulled the sticky strands away from her neck, trying to cool the damp skin using the breeze from passing cars as she walked the busy downtown street. But despite the weather, it was better than being at home.
Cindy would have let the whole project go on for another week, or month, if it wasn’t for her parent’s overbearing questions about it. The competition technically wasn’t until November; she had plenty of time to pester Jimmy into forming a project plan. But her mother wouldn’t hear any of it. She had to plan this thing around her karate competitions, piano recitals, choir concerts, dance performances, part-time job, volunteer work, student government (because her mother said so), track and field (because her father said so), and clubs like the literary magazine, yearbook and school newspaper (because they both said so.) Every Ivy League prospect needs a firmly packed resume, they said. Best to start early.
After a full day’s work, the mere thought of Jimmy locked away somewhere contentedly tinkering with his useless gadgets put Cindy in a sour mood. But after searching his house, the park and the candy bar, without any luck, she was starting to get despondent. She even considered skipping dinner just to avoid another stress-filled conversation about how “unproductive” her day was. But there was one more place for her to check.
“Where’s Neutron?” Cindy demanded when she finally reached the arcade. She threw the door open so hard that it slammed into the wall with a crash. The poor attendant cowered behind his syntax magazine and pointed towards the back of the arcade.
Cindy glanced in that direction at the two teenage boys playing the Space Wars racing game. Neither of them were Neutron, but they were probably the only ones that had a reasonably helpful answer to his whereabouts. And both of them were fairly easy to manipulate.
“Okay, losers, I need to know where Neutron is-“ Cindy demanded, stomping up to the game and leaning her head in front of the screen.
“Quick, Carl, shoot that red-eyed space monster!” Sheen shouted.
“Where-? Hey, Sheen, I can’t shoot a monster on this game, there’s no lasers! I mean-“ Carl said, then paled when he realized Cindy would probably bruise him from the way she was glaring.
“Very funny, dorkatrons! Now fess up about Neutron before I see you two using those plastic dashboards for masks!”
“Hey now, Cindy, we haven’t seen Jimmy all week! Apparently he has some new project-“
“What project?!” Cindy demanded. She didn’t know if she should be glad Jimmy was thinking about the ASTS or mad that he completely disregarded including her like she suspected he would.
“Some high-school thing that had to do with los culos or something. You know how teenage boys get,” Sheen said while trying to pilot his star fighter around Cindy’s head.
Cindy rolled her eyes. “Don’t be estupido, Jimmy said A-S-T-S, not-“
“Why would Jim need to do a project on coolers before school even started?” Carl asked.
“Not coolers, Carl, culos. It’s Spanish,” Sheen explained.
“Spanish for what?”
“Alright already!” Cindy shouted, causing Carl to crash his plane into what appeared to be Cindy’s ear. “Did Neutron say where he was spending his time making this new project? He wasn’t in his lab because I already checked his house.”
“He probably goes where he always goes when he starts a new project,” Sheen said.
“And that is-?“
“The dump,” Carl said.
“The dump?” Cindy deadpanned.
“Yeah, the dump. At least that’s where we tend to find him when he gets himself all worked-up over a new project,” Sheen explained.
Boys were supposed to get cuter when I got older but instead they just got grosser, Cindy thought when the bus dropped her off at the Retroville dumping site. She wandered down the fence, wondering how she’d get in, considering it was Sunday and the place was closed, without tipping off the dozing guard, when she found the conspicuous hole in the fence hidden behind a cactus. A very cartoonish looking cactus that was displaying peculiar proton phasing.
It never ceased to amaze her how Neutron continued to get away with his shenanigans.
There was a lot of scrap metal in the section of the yard Cindy found herself in. It also didn’t smell as much as she thought, which made the task of finding Jimmy less unpleasant. But after walking around for a couple minutes, Cindy’s ears picked up noise coming from the far western side of the yard, around where the car compacter was located. A few steps in that direction and Cindy was confronted by the mechanical growling of barking of everyone’s favorite sidekick.
“Relax, Goddard, it’s me,” Cindy said when the mechanical canine jumped in her path.
Goddard’s response was perked ears and cocking his head to the left as he panted. Then he barked again and fell into step with the blonde teenager as she continued her trek towards the music source.
“Where’s that good-for-nothing king of craniums you call a master?” Cindy muttered absently to Goddard as they walked. Absently, she reached to pat his metallic head but stopped when she felt the heat coming of the metal. Then she noticed Goddard was still panting.
“Poor guy. You need a better coolant system, don’t you? How long as Nerdtron kept you out in this heat?”
Goddard barked, and opened his backboard to reveal a mechanical hand with a portable fan. Cindy laughed and nodded when Goddard offered to share. The cool breeze on her neck raised her mood a bit and she actually found herself smiling until she saw the hovercraft parked a few feet off, rock ‘n’ roll blaring from the speakers. Just the thought of Jimmy driving here instead of taking the cramped, overcrowded, unairconditioned public transport to work on the ASTS project without her...
Goddard whined when the sweat of Cindy’s neck started coming off as steam.
“I’ll kill him,” Cindy growled.
Finding the big-headed teen was fairly easy once she found the hovercraft. All she had to do was look up at the pile of cars stacked on pallets to see the ominous blue glow of Jimmy’s cutting torch near the top as he worked under the hood of an old car.
There were a million things Cindy felt like yelling. But after a couple attempts, Cindy found that she had trouble getting the words out. Jimmy Neutron always seemed like the only one that could twist her silver tongue into knots just by being in the room or general area.
Cindy sighed. Maybe if she started by just getting his attention she could work herself into getting him to admit that he was trying to do this project without her help. “Van Halen?” she shouted.
That seemed to work. Jimmy lifted his head and pulled his face shield up to look down at her. Then he just stared.
When he didn’t say anything, Cindy shifted uncomfortably and crossed her arms. “You’re listening to Van Halen.”
That got a response. Jimmy blinked and shook himself out of his silent reverie and gave her his usual cocky smile, though he seemed a little unsure. “Hard rock, with harmonious vocals, repetitive melodic phrasing, and demanding instrumentals seemed fitting to the scrap metal process. The excessive vamping is also rather therapeutic when I can’t get the metal to cut the way I want,” Jimmy explained. “I think I’ve got the Scorpions on that mix too. Guns N’ Roses. AC/DC. That sort of thing.”
“And what is the ‘scrap metal process’, exactly?” Cindy asked.
“I need parts,” Jimmy answered. “I always come here for parts. They’re free... more or less. And the dump is the perfect environment for certain chemical reactions to occur naturally.” He pulled his face shield back down. “Saves time to come here.”
“So what do you need parts for, Neutron?” Cindy asked.
She couldn’t see his face but she could certainly see him fidget.
“Just a new project idea,” Jimmy shouted, without lifting his head from the car.
“Anything in particular?” Cindy asked percussively.
“Not really!” Jimmy called. “I just want to see if I can use the electromagnetic field to produce enough kinetic energy in light photons to work a new rocket I’m designing.”
“Sounds a bit ambitious!” Cindy shouted. “Really ambitious actually! Like may you brainstormed this idea for a particular purpose!”
Jimmy had already turned his torch back on and either didn’t hear her or pretended not to hear her.
Cindy fumed. If he was going to act like a child...
Turning towards the hovercraft, Cindy spotted blueprints perched on the dashboard. Given how meticulous Neutron was, Cindy figured he probably labeled everything; including what project the blueprints were for maybe?
Cindy kicked the empty soup can near her foot to distract Goddard, who chased it happily. Then she dashed for the blueprints while boy and his dog were occupied. Cindy leaned over the driver’s side of the craft to grab the top page of the blueprints. Naturally, Cindy thought bitterly, labeled “Pioneering Technology Project for the Acu Science Talent Search”. It was a decent looking project. But search as she might, there was no trace of her name on said project. Of course there wasn’t. How can she be a part of something she never gave any input on?
Disappointment settled over Cindy, along with resentment and a whole lot of fury. So Jimmy Neutron really didn’t think she was capable of helping with their project. He had no intention on including her. Hell, he’d probably finish the project and tell Kidswatter that she wasn’t a part of by no fault of his own. After all, why would he want a stupid, obnoxious, volatile blonde helping him with his precious science project?
Cindy turned to see Goddard, with the soup can on the ground in front of feet, wagging his tail expectantly.
“Much as I would love to play fetch with you, boy,” Cindy said, “I’m got a bone to pick with Spewtron that’s going to have to take priority.”
Cindy then took the soup can, and with deft precision, threw it straight at the back of Jimmy’s neck.
She was stomping off, crumbling the handful of blueprints she managed to grab into tight balls, when she heard the satisfying yelp of the can making its mark.
“You’re lucky I was wearing a face shield, Vortex!” Jimmy shouted angrily.
Cindy kept walking.
“Hey! What the hell are you doing with my blueprints?”
Cindy started tearing up the pages she hadn’t thrown away, littering the ground with the resulting large pieces of confetti.
“Cindy, knock-it-off! It took me a week to draw the final draft!” Jimmy had used his rocket shoes to quickly fly down to her position. He was snatching snippets of the blueprints from the air but Cindy was down to her last couple of pages so she was making smaller and smaller tears. Jimmy finally landed in front of her and snatched the last half a page from her hands.
The fumed at each-other, Jimmy while he futilely tried to keep the crumbled and torn paper together while wearing huge work gloves and Cindy with her blazing green eyes and arms folded across her chest.
“A week, huh? You mean while I’ve been scouring the city looking for you to talk about this damn project, you went ahead and started without me? Were you going to finish without me too?” Cindy’s voice grew in volume until she spat the last word right into Neutron’s face. “Well, forget it, Neutron. No Cindy-” she snatched the page back from his fingers and tore it in half, “-no project.”
They were standing only a few inches apart at that point. As the two pieces of paper fluttered to the ground, Cindy did her best using her presence to intimidate Jimmy the way she usually could. She didn’t have the advantage of height anymore since Jimmy caught up with her, and in another year might even surpass her, but old habits die hard and Cindy always seemed to be the one starting the arguments no matter who was in the wrong. And she probably always would be.
“Like your help would do me any good at this stage in the project,” Jimmy growled.
“You’re missing the point!” Cindy shouted, throwing her hands in the air. She wanted to choke him! “This isn’t supposed to be your project! This is supposed to be our project! You and me!” She stuck a finger into his chest. Jimmy looked down at it, bemused, while she made her last point. “Who’s going to keep you from going overboard? Who’s going to keep you from inventing some crazy death machine and eliminating the judges, permanently ruining our new school’s reputation?”
By the time Cindy got to ‘reputation’, she had Jimmy by the shoulders and was attempting to shake him. However, Jimmy had grown more solid along with his height and shaking sense into him wasn’t as affective as it was when they were in grade school.
Jimmy seemed rather affected anyway. He stuttered for a minute, trying to articulate his reply with his usual seven dollar words. Cindy glared at him for half a minute, waiting for the stupid argument he was about to make, when she noticed how red his face looked.
Some of her fury cooled off into concern. If Goddard was having trouble in the heat, then so was Jimmy. How long had they been out there?
“Are you okay, Jimmy? You’re all red,” Cindy asked. “Are you drinking enough water?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Dehydrated. Yeah,” Jimmy took two steps back away from Cindy and removed the face shield from the top of his head. He ran a hand in his hair only to get grease in it from his work glove. Jimmy stared at in annoyance.
“Are you sure? You’re acting all weird.”
“I’m fine, Cindy, I just need water like you said. And arguing with you probably just augmented that fact.” Jimmy quickly started walking back to the hovercraft. Cindy watched as he weaved the first few steps before slowing down enough to walk straight.
Almost like he’s running away from the big, bad Cindy Vortex, Cindy thought. The thought amused her as she trailed behind him back to the hovercraft. She almost giggled at the thought of being able to intimidate Jimmy using her mere tenacity, no matter how tall he got.
Cindy leaned against the inner tube body of the craft while Jimmy dropped the ruined blueprints, took off his gloves, and pulled a bottle of water from a cooler. He poured half of it over his head before drinking the rest. Then he reached for another bottle, hesitated, and offered her one.
“Sure,” Cindy said. She took the offered water and started to sip it while she watched Jimmy drank his. She watched the way his neck moved as he gulped, the way the water dripped from his dark hair or fell from his bangs into his blue eyes. He wiped it off with the neck of his shirt. Then he sighed and kicked one of the crumbled bits of paper on the ground next to their feet.
Cindy might have felt a little bad at that point for ruining all his hard work... but not enough to apologize.
“So... what’s plan B?” she asked.
Jimmy looked over and glared at her. “What’s the matter with plan A?”
“Come on, Jimmy. A rocket ship? What were you planning on doing, flying the judges to the moon?”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“How many adults do you think would climb into a rocket built by a fourteen-year-old? Infamous as you are, you’re more known for your mishaps than your breakthroughs around here,” Cindy pointed out. She gulped more of her water while she glared back at him.
“Well, what would you suggest, Miss Know-it-all?” Jimmy asked, picking up the paper and throwing it in the back with the rest of them.
Cindy pondered, tapping her empty bottle against her chin. “Why don’t you use a simple high-powered motor instead of trying to fuel a rocket ship? It’s simple, you can still try your ‘revolutionary’ idea and you have less of a chance of killing anyone.”
Jimmy stared at her. So long that Cindy really wanted to fidget but she just shifted her hips against the hovercraft and made a face at him when she got really uncomfortable.
“Good idea, Vortex,” he finally said, smiling at the face she made.
“Of course it is. That’s your problem, Neutron, you take my ideas for granted. I could be a huge asset to your project-making skills and increase our chances of success exponentially if you’d just talk to me. I want to be a part of this,” Cindy said, seriously since she finally felt she had his attention.
“You’re right, I know you’re right, okay?” Jimmy said, frustrated. “I see that now. It’s just... it’s hard to stay on task when you’re... I mean, I’ll keep you clued in, okay?” He finally said, exasperated, but, she noted in triumph, placated to her position. “In fact, you can help me finish getting parts. Since I won’t be building a rocket now anyway, I just need some small materials.”
“Sure,” Cindy said, though she wasn’t at all sure about what she was getting into.
“Help me find old cell phones, iPods, computer batteries; that sort of thing,” Jimmy said. “As much as you can. I’m running out at the lab anyway.”
“What do you need that stuff for?”
“Cadmium, lead, gold, mercury. There’s a lot of awesome materials in old electronics that can be recycled. Lucky for me people just through them away instead of recycling.”
“Oh,” Cindy said. She looked around, at all the cars and nothing but pallets of cars. “Should we look here? Or is there a different part of the dump you find this stuff?”
“Most domestic trash is located of in the northeast corner of the dump,” Jimmy said. He whistled for Goddard. “I’ll drive us over there. There’s a couple of metal detectors in the hypercube, that are specifically calibrated to ignore my dog, or us to use so we should find a good amount in no time.”
“Sure,” Cindy said and then she followed Jimmy into the hovercraft. While they sat down, their hands touched over the dashboard. Both recoiled quickly.
It didn’t happen every time she touched Jimmy Neutron, especially when they were arguing, but sometimes... there were moments. She always felt a jolt in her chest when they happened. And from the way Jimmy’s hand was turning white while he gripped the steering wheel, she wondered, like she always did, if she was the only one.
“Goddard’s here, let’s go!” Jimmy shouted, a little loudly, and they were suddenly airborne. Cindy was thrown back into her seat by the force of the take off motion.
“Watch the driving, Neutron!” Cindy grumbled.
“Put your seatbelt on, Vortex.”
“Put your seatbelt on, Vortex!” Cindy mocked as she made a face and clicked the seatbelt into place.
“It’s not my fault you’re not prepared!”
“How can I be prepared if no one tells me when he’s ready to take off before he does so?”
“I don’t see how I could’ve been more clear-”
“Of course you could have been clearer!“
“Do you want to go get a soda after we’re done?”
The question fazed Cindy, who had been ready to formulate some clever retort to his next quip. “Wait, what?”
Jimmy turned red again. Both of his hands were white as he gave the wheel a serious death grip. “I don’t see how I could be clearer.”
“Um...” Cindy swallowed. It was her turn to blush. Jimmy wasn’t... he wasn’t asking her out, right? Like on a date? No, Jimmy wouldn’t do that. This was just a ‘friends’ thing. Maybe his way of apologizing for fighting with her all day.
She could ask him to be clearer in that regard, but she really didn’t want to hear the answer.
“Well, um, s-sure, Jimmy. I mean, if you want to,” Cindy answered.
Jimmy looked over at her as they landed on the other side of the junkyard. Then he smiled, in the cocky manner he usually did. “You’re so clueless, Vortex,” he said as he hopped out.
“Whatever,” Cindy muttered. And she followed him out.