“Well,” said Jimmy, turning to Cindy, “...goodnight I guess.”
She avoided his gaze. “Ya. Goodnight.”
The girls opened their door and entered. The room was small and square, with ugly gray walls and no decorations. There was a metal-framed bunk bed set up against the left wall, and Libby cast herself onto it with a groan.
“Ugh…I’ve never been so drained. I think I’m gonna pass out.”
Cindy pulled herself up onto the top bunk. “I know what you mean. I feel like someone just unloaded a brick house on my back.”
They sat in silence for a time. Biting her lip, Cindy tapped her fingertips together, then spoke out in a small voice.
“Libby? Do you think something bad will happen to me too, like it did to Aurora?”
Her friend made no reply.
Libby gave a little snore, and Cindy let out a sigh and leaned her back against the wall. She pulled her knees up to her chest and shivered.
“You’re so lucky. You can just go to sleep and forget about it.”
Meanwhile, the boys had entered their room. It was a mirror image of the girl’s quarters, with the bunk bed set up against the right wall.
“Well, guys,” yawned Jimmy. “What do you say we turn in? All things considered, I'm ready for some unconsciousness.”
“Couldn't have said it better myself, Goddard. Sleep mode, boy.”
Goddard crawled into the corner and turned a couple of circles before powering down.
“Are you kidding?” Sheen bounced up and down in place. “I’m WIRED. Hey! Oh man, you know what I just realized? I get to go to bed without brushing my teeth! Now, when I wake up in the morning, they’ll be all covered in that white fuzzy stuff. How awesome is that?”
“I know that feeling,” said Carl. “It’s like wooly slippers on your teeth.”
Sheen grinned. “I know, isn’t it cool? As soon as I get out of the house, I’m never brushing my teeth again!”
“But Sheen,” interjected Jimmy, “if you don’t brush your teeth, the plaque will eat away at your tooth enamel and gum tissue, ultimately resulting in cavities and gingivitis!”
“I know!” Sheen gazed up at the ceiling dreamily. “It’s always been my secret dream to have black teeth pitted with holes. Then I’ll look just like that hillbilly girl who used to date my uncle Miguel, or the two-year-old Swiss cheese stuck behind the toaster! There’ll be so many holes that when I smile the light will shine through just like a beautiful kaleidoscope! Ha ha!”
“Now that I think about it,” said Jimmy, “if you chiseled holes in the shape of constellations, you could put a bulb in your mouth and the stars would be projected out of your smile and onto the wall! Imagine, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, the Triangulum Draconis, right inside your mouth! You’d be like a portable planetarium and…wait, what am I talking about? Why am I even taking part in this conversation? This is the very definition of absurd!”
Sheen cupped his hand to his mouth and whispered to Carl. “Just smile and nod.”
“OK,” grumbled Jimmy, “can we try to focus here guys? You and Carl can take the top bunk, and I’ll take the bottom…OK?”
“I don’t know, Jimmy,” said Carl. “I’m—I’m kind of afraid of the top bunk. What if the ceiling falls on me?”
Jimmy rolled his eyes. “Honestly, why do I associate with you two? Fine. You and Sheen can take the bottom bunk, and I’ll take the top one.”
“What?” cried Sheen. “You want Carl and me to share a bunk? No way I’m sleeping next to him! He snores like a freight train and his breath smells like old lady! And what if he starts nibbling on my ear again like the time he did at Ike’s party?”
Carl gasped. “I thought I told you never to speak of that again! Besides, you always start muttering things about girls, and it gives me bad dreams. Or you start thinking you’re Ultralord and you make karate moves in your sleep. One time you kicked me right in the…”
“Ya, ya,” broke in Jimmy, “so you’re both obnoxious. All the more reason for you to bunk together.”
Carl and Sheen protested simultaneously. “But…”
“I don’t want to hear another word about it! Now go to sleep!”
Sheen saluted Jimmy with a dirty look, and with a great show of pushing and shoving, the two took off their shoes and climbed into bed. Jimmy scaled the metal ladder and pulled himself onto the top bunk. He fluffed his pillow and rolled his eyes as Sheen and Carl continued their conversation below.
“Move over!” said Sheen, jostling the metal frame as he presumably shoved Carl to the side. “You’re such a whale! I feel like I’m being crushed!”
“Ow! Stop it Sheen! Woohoohooo…your hands are cold! Stop pushing me!”
“I wouldn’t have to push you if you lost a few. Seriously, dude, lay off the chalupas.”
“Don’t mock my family’s portly stature!” returned Carl in a whiny voice. “We’re just big-boned, that’s all!”
Sheen gave a snort. “If those are bones, then when people dig up your skeleton in a hundred years they’re gonna swear they’re looking at a hippo.”
“I’m just saying…”
They continued to squabble for a while longer, then finally gave in to slumber. Carl’s snoring reverberated through the room, and Sheen began to mutter very strange things under his breath. Jimmy tossed and turned fitfully, then finally sat up in bed.
“Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t sleep.”
He rested his back against the wall and pulled his knees up to his chest, then shivered slightly. A mere room away, Cindy was in the exact same position on her bunk. They sat back to back, separated by only a few inches of wall. Their heads were almost touching, though neither one of them knew it. As they sat there, isolated despite their closeness, their minds began to wander.
“I can’t believe it,” thought Cindy. “It just doesn't seem possible.”
“I don’t even know what to think anymore,” said Jimmy to himself. “I never thought I’d become the villain. How could things have ended up this way?”
“I can't even begin to imagine what my future self has been through. Will I have it as bad as she did?”
Jimmy bent forward, putting his head in his hands. “Poor Aurora. Poor everyone. What have I done?”
“I don’t know what to do. What does Aurora want? Does she want us to…to KILL evil Jimmy? I don’t think I could do it. Could she?”
Jimmy uncovered his eyes and stared off into space. “Aurora…I saw the way she looked at me. I’m not HIM, but she hates me almost as much as if I were. She really hates me, Cindy. Do you hate me too?”
“Oh, Jimmy. Will we ever stop fighting? This whole thing started because of our fighting, both in this universe and in our own. I never meant for it to get this out of control.”
“It’s so strange, Cindy. Even in an entirely different universe, we’re still at war with each other. I don’t believe much in things like fate, but the events seem frighteningly parallel. Could it be we’re destined to spend our lives hating each other?”
“Neutron, how could I be so stupid? I mean, look at Aurora and future you. It seems like we’re fated to forever be enemies. Who was I kidding? We can never be anything else, neither in our universe nor in any other.” She paused. “But still…
“But still, I can’t help feeling…”
“…Like there's been a mistake. Like it wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”
“…that somehow, this was supposed to work out. And I wonder…”
“Is it too late to change this?”
“Is it too late to stop them?”
“Is it too late for us now?”
Jimmy and Cindy closed their eyes and leaned their heads back against the wall. As they drifted off to sleep, their breaths rose and fell in unison. Back to back they dreamed, and without knowing it, they were more connected then they had ever been before.
-> Chapter 10
Thanks to Colombian artist Ely for the bottom illustration!