Stories, poems and other musings from the mind of a writer who suffers from World Builder's Disease
Jenrae stood above him, arms folded.“I’m disgusted.”
“What’s new. I disgust myself.” He was joking, and thought she had been too.
He extended his arm for a hand up, but Jenrae scoffed and spun around. She started across the concrete park, spring-hopping over what was once the containing wall of a fountain pool, rather than walking around. Instead of sloshing through water–there hadn’t been any since well before The Drought–Jenrae slogged through grime and dirt and decomposing trash consisting of who-knew-what that had drifted into the basin and gotten caught inside by the half-meter high walls.
“Jen, wait up.” She didn’t. She just tromped through the dry guck and leapt over the far side. This wasn’t like her. He hopped to his feet. The fall he’d taken had stung, but nothing was broken. Or bruised, he hoped. He clicked the node on his wrist band, and the board auto-righted and heeled, floating adjacent to his left leg. Sliding into the board’s foot strap, he kicked off with his right and glided around the side of the pool, picking up momentum as he rounded the corner.
“So I took a header, what’s the bone?”
She pressed on, showing nothing but her back. He gave the board a surge, spun around into a fakie as he passed her, then cut her off with a powerslide brake.
Flawless. That had to have earned him some points.
She stopped, the long cuffs on her midnight blue hoodie firmly planted between fists and hips. The ‘Kill or Die’ logo of her favorite band pressed tight against the curve of her chest. Was that on purpose? He swallowed and kept his attention from wandering, staring into her silvery violet eyes. They seemed to shimmer in the harsh afternoon light. He couldn’t read her expression, a mix between exasperation and impatience, with a sketchy look of… he couldn’t tell.
“What?” he asked.
She snorted through her screbreather, blinked tiredly, then abruptly made a left face and resumed her brisk walk. He pushed off and followed, now floating over hard-packed dirt that used to once be a lush green lawn. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen green. Or rain. Heck, he hadn’t been older than seven or eight, and he was graduating high school next May.
He followed her, lagging behind on purpose. He noticed that the back of her hoodie was tilted forward. She stared at the ground as she picked up her pace. And there was something about the way she’d stared him down. She was angry, but she also looked sad. She looked like one of those snarling junkyard rots that acted all fierce but at the same time were super lonely, but too scared to let you get close, so they’d snarl and bark and show you who’s boss because they don’t know any better.
He caught up again, but didn’t try to stop her this time. He had no clue where she was headed, it wasn’t towards her place. Or his. And Hill Valley High was back the way they’d come. When he arrived next to her, she started walking faster.
“C’mon, Jen. What’s going on? Tell me.”
“Leave me alone,” she snapped, and tugged the hoodie down lower over her face.
“What did I do? C’mon. Tell me.”
With a palm whose fingertips barely poked out of the sleeve, she wiped at her eyes.
Whoa. She was crying.
She stopped abruptly. And of course he was going too fast to react. He glided forward a couple of meters before turning, caught off guard. It was wobbly, but he thankfully didn’t bail this time. She’d turned her back again by the time he’d gotten back to her.
“Dude,” he said, trying to sound cool, “What’s going on? Seriously. Talk to me Jen.”
She did a sharp 180 and with one hand pulled back her hood and with the other yanked off her mask. Damn, she was major upsets.
He stepped off the board and toggled the shutoff on his wrist. He pulled his screeb off too. He didn’t quite know why, but it seemed like the right thing to do. Warm dry air hit his lungs like he’d swallowed grave dust, and it was all he could to not to cough. Jenrae didn’t seem to suffer. Maybe she was faking it to look strong.
The violet of her eyes looked more like dark grapes now. They were wet and the silvers were streaked with little red lightning bolts. She trembled, and she tried to say something, but was having trouble. It wasn’t from lack of OhTwo.
He went to her, but she backed away.
“What did I do? How can I make it up to you, Jen? I’ll do anything.”
She turned away again, like she couldn’t stand to look at him.
Finally, she found words. She was all slumped-shouldered and he could tell she was crying harder now. What was it he’d done to make her cry?
Between the sobs, she said, “Dad… he got promoted. He… he’s gonna be… tech level twelve… transferred to Tempudyne.”
“That’s good news, right?” So it wasn’t him. He’d have laughed at his stupidity.
“Tempudyne’s a great company,” he went on, “leading edge. They invented Spark Core power, like in the battery for my board. Hey, will he be assigned to that new plant on the moon?”
“You don’t get it,” she wailed. “Yeah, he’s going to the moon. For ten years. Found out yesterday. That means I’m to live with my aunt. In Windsor. Ontario. Ugh. I’m leaving, Dox. Tomorrow.”
He didn’t know what to say. Damn, he was an nerk. Clueless. He wanted to comfort her but the words wouldn’t come out. It was hard to breathe, even after tugging his unit back on. The OhTwo didn’t do anything for the claws tearing at his heart. Instead, he went to her. He put a hand on her shoulder, and when she didn’t object he helped her back into her screeb. When they’d gotten it into place, she put her arms around him and pulled him tightly to her. He’d never so much as shook her hand, let alone this. The hug helped him, that pressure in his chest eased off. Or changed. It was a good type of weight. He hoped the hug took away some of her pain too.
When they finally broke away, he took her hand and pulled back the sleeve, past her wrist cuff. Her fingers were long and thin and pretty, even if the black paint on her nails were chipped to the point of barely being there. He gently took her dark purple cuff, pressed a tab on the side, then did the same on his grungy, formerly-white cuff.
They both beeped in sync.
“You’ve got me now. Message whenever. Okay?”
She nodded, sleeving away the last of her tears. She smiled feebly and ran her fingertips along his cheek. That friendly, monstrous grip on his heart tightened.
“I will,” she said. “Maybe we can cam after school sometime. I’d like that.”
“Yeah, that’d be great.”