Jim laid his chin down on his desk, only half listening to his teacher. The subject they were discussing was one he'd heard at least half a million times, the history of interplanetary trade. Behind him, Mick and Gage were flicking wadded up pieces of paper at each other, and near the front row Rontamel was keeping himself occupied with trying a girl's hair to the back of her seat.
"…and so after the creation of solar-cell fabrics and artificial gravity, scientists began to observe ways of interplanetary travel." their teacher droned on, either totally unaware of the boys antics or simply not caring. "The renowned astrophysicist, Alejandro Gallant, discovered a new way to harness energy which eventually led…" 'Which eventually led to the technology used on most space vessels today. He also reinvented the laser cannon and pistol.' Jim had taken two assessment tests in the Interstellar Academy that were almost totally based on Gallant. He'd written reports, read biographies, worked on class projects with his friends, the works. Almost everything he learned in school here in Tulsa was something he'd covered several times already. Surprisingly, however, in science they were only learning the different parts of a cell. In the academy he'd been studying cell modification, genetic fusion, and the science behind DNA cloning.
Bored completely out of his mind, Jim glanced around the class room. A pretty blond girl in a cheerleaders uniform was sitting next to her boyfriend passing notes. Their school colors were black and yellow, but her red shoelaces stood out. For some reason it jarred his memory, Jim winced as it involuntarily surfaced. He turned his face away from the girl and instead focused his gaze out the window.
His mother wasn't the only one who was sick. Jim actually developed the tell-tale rash before his mother did. Why he had had more energy than she did at that point, he hadn't a clue. He'd survived.
At her funeral, almost everyone wore black. His aunt Trisha wore red. She approached him after the service and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Your mom never did know when to quit." she had said as she eyed the roses being laid on a table in front of a picture of Sara. Jim said nothing. "The woman was always so tired. What could have possibly stressed her so much I couldn't guess, poor dear. By the way, Jim, are you still on probation?" He faintly remembered that at the time, he'd recalled all the times his mother would threaten her younger sister with a frying pan. It seemed like a fair idea.
His grandmother had walked up to him at that point. She looked at Sara's picture and laid a small, unopened rose amid the others. She then turned to her grandson.
"I'm sorry for your loss, James. I will miss my daughter very much, and I'm sure you will miss your mother." He'd nodded.
"Yes, ma'am." His grandmother had looked around at the people gathered there. Then, in an under tone, she'd asked,
"Where's Dallas? Wasn't he supposed to…?"
"No, Mom." Trisha had answered curtly. "He couldn't make it." Her mother looked confused.
"But she's his wife. He should be-"
"No, Mom, Jim's dad couldn't make it," Trisha had cut her off in a loud voice, "Because he's serving time in jail again." Jim had looked away as the conversation died around them, and every eye in the room was suddenly on him. Trisha covered her petite red lips with her hand, as if in embarrassment. "Oh, did I say that too loud? I'm so sorry, Jim. I didn't mean to bring up your mother's ex-husband." Jim tensed. She tried to draw him into a hug. "Poor little Ji-"
"Please leave." he said in a monotone voice. "Just go. I didn't want you here. No one did." The words were out of his mouth before he had time to think about them. Trisha looked crestfallen.
"Jim…I know the emotional toll of suddenly being an orphan is hard, but you're acting very inappropriate." In any normal situation, he would have just walked away. No one liked Trisha. But he couldn't see any reason to control himself. He'd turned on her then, and had grabbed a casserole off one of the tables and thrown it at her. Her red satin dress was covered in a white, goopy blend of pureed clams, and who-knew-what-else. She'd looked down at her ruined dress in horror before screaming vile insults at him. He'd just smiled. And that had only been the beginning.
"Jim!" The brunette jumped slightly as he suddenly realized his teacher was standing right in front of him. He picked his head up off his desk.
"Huh?" Snickers throughout the classroom.
"Thank you for joining us. Now, if you would be so kind as to share the answer to our question?" Jim blinked away the memory.
"Sure. What is it?" A few of the students chuckled at this, but he ignored them. Mr. Kraits crossed his arms over his chest, apparently not as amused.
"During the first interplanetary war, this man became known for his quick reflexes and mechanical genius when he repaired the main thruster of a solar galleon with nothing more than a cravat pin and a paperweight. Who was this man?" Jim shrugged.
"I…I wasn't really paying attention, sir-" Kraits slammed his textbook down on his aluminum desk with a loud clang.
"I don't know why your parents even bother sending you here," he said, looking down his nose at the greaser boys. "When all you do is sit there and sleep or pass notes or Lord knows what else. Your parents are all hoods, I shouldn't be surprised. And then the school board comes done on my neck when you fail your tests and drop out of high school." Jim glared at him.
"Robert J. Langford, trained at the Military Academy in Port Royal on Ethiria, who later became head advisor to the Terran emperor." He retorted. "And it wasn't a cravat pin. It was a cuff link." Kraits narrowed his eyes as Gage slapped Jim a high-five. Jim just glared right back at him.
It had only been a few short months, but Jim had begun to accept the fact that, as Dallas' only child, he had a built-in reputation. His teachers looked down on him and always seemed to expect trouble from him. He'd noticed that other adults regarded him suspiciously whenever they saw him. It didn't matter what he did, how he acted, how he talked, he was the son of a hoodlum, and therefore he must be one himself. He looked the part, with his hair long again and always wearing dark colored clothes, a single earring in his left ear. He'd become used to being treated like a delinquent. Save for the last year, it was exactly the way he'd been treated in Benbow. Back home he actually hadn't done much, just minor theft and trespassing charges. But still, he'd violated his parole often enough that he'd been threatened with Juvenile Hall. So after a few weeks of trying his hardest to show everyone that he wasn't anything like his dad, he'd given up, and had settled for being judged and just ignoring it.
He walked into the detention classroom, and headed for the opposite side of the classroom, avoiding the upperclassmen and Socs. He'd already figured out that they didn't mix well, even in school.
Especially in school.
He picked a seat next to a window, and let his chin rest on it. The teacher, most likely one that had drawn the short straw in a conference meeting earlier that day, barely glanced up from his book.
"No talking. Do you have a cell phone?" Jim shook his head, and the teacher went back to his book. Jim's eyes wandered aimlessly around the classroom. The Soc's seemed to be angry they were there. Most kids were. It was Friday afternoon. Parties were going, and they were missing them. Jim didn't care. He was going to go to the movies later that night with Rontamel and Gauge. Until then, though, he'd been looking at a long, boring afternoon, at home, alone. Now at least someone cared enough to make sure he was where he was supposed to be. He spotted a mocking bird outside the window, and frowned. The black feathers reminded him of someone.
Someone he was supposed to meet. He winced.
Samantha K. Wyatt, 'Sam' for short, was a girl that was pretty enough to be a Soc, and a reputation ugly enough to be a hood. He'd met her by accident, the first month he'd been in Tulsa. He'd been walking around town aimlessly and had realized, with a sinking feeling in his stomach, that he was on the wrong side of town. That was why he'd switched from public roads to back alleys. And that was why he'd ended up lost. He'd been passing by what he thought was a storage place when she'd pretty much fallen out of the sky and had landed on top of him. Having had the wind knocked out of him, he'd been frozen on his back, and had suddenly found himself staring into evergreen eyes. Her long, dark hair was tied back in a ponytail, but wisps of it had worked their way loose, and hung in tendrils down the side of her face. For a moment, he'd though he'd been looking at an angel from heaven.
Then the sirens went off.
Whatever she'd done, for whatever reason she'd been inside the gates, was apparently bad enough to make her jump to her feet and sprint. And Jim, having a record as long as his arm already, wasn't looking to be her scapegoat, never mind how charming she looked. So he'd started after her.
"Hey!" Jim glanced over his shoulder to see two men running after them, presumably the owners of the storage unit. The girl looked back, too, and when she spotted Jim, she's glared at him. She turned onto the open streets. Having little choice what to do, Jim had followed her, and had caught up to her. They ran for maybe a block, before they turned down another alley. Appearances can be deceiving. He'd been hoping she knew where she was going, but she must not have, because they were suddenly facing a fence made of sheet metal. Her eyes widened, and she whipped around as the voices of their pursuers grew louder. Jim looked up at the fence, and was reminded of his training at the Interstellar Academy. They would split into two teams, Reds and Blues, and one would hunt the other. He'd been in this situation before. He and his best friend Luke had been cornered almost exactly like this, except the wall was brick and not metal. Jim bent his knee.
"Jump." He hissed. She turned to him, scanning his face.
"I'll never make it." He shook his head.
"Not alone. Jump." She hesitated, but did as he said. Just as she pushed off his leg, he positioned his palms under the soles of her shoes and shoved her higher. With a gasp, she grabbed the top of the fence, and a second later, she was gone from sight. Jim swallowed as the two men rounded the corner, and came closer.
"Hey you!" One of them snarled. "Think it's funny, smashing someone else's car up?" Jim stood his ground, and put a cocky smile on his face.
"Yeah. So what if I do?" He felt his smile melt away as the second man pulled on a set of brass knuckles.
"Everyone has their hobbies. Mine's smashing greasers' faces in." They stepped closer, and Jim felt his knees tremble slightly. The first man, a shorter, bald one with squinty eyes, grabbed Jim's arm and twisted it behind his back. His friend, a burly blonde with bulging, tattoo-covered arms, pulled back his fist, then swung. Jim saw stars and felt his head snap backward. He'd have fallen flat on his back if the first one hadn't yanked him back upright. As Knuckles took aim for his second punch, the sound of shrieking metal filled the alley. Part of the wall swung out, too fast for the first man to react. He was slammed between the gate and the wall. The girl darted out of the alley, stomping on the back of Jim's thighs. As he fell to his knees, she pulled something out of a bag hanging at her hip. There was a hissing sound, then the blond man's scream as he pawed at his eyes. She grabbed the collar of Jim's shirt and hauled him backward, through the gate, then dropped him on the ground. Just before she swung the gate back in place, he saw a bright purple stripe over the blonde's face. She motioned to him to hurry, and they darted out of the alley, and onto the open streets. He kept following her, and she led him away from the Soc's territory. He knew they were safe again when they were past the railroad, and making their way along some of the sleazier houses and dilapidated, crumbling abandon buildings. It was only after she unlocked a gate, let them inside, and locked it behind them that they stopped to catch their breath. Jim brushed aside his bangs, and felt something warm. He glanced at his hand to see blood. A spot under his eye was throbbing as well. Bad aim, he thought.
When they stopped panting, the girl looked closer at him. She reached out, and tilted his chin upward, then winced.
"Oh my gosh." she said, mostly to herself. "You idiot." That? That was to him. "What on earth did you think you were doing?" Was she serious? She was scolding him? After he'd saved her neck? Jim pulled back from her, even though her touch felt…good. Goosebumps rose on his skin. He shot her a look.
"Excuse me?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. She scowled at him.
"You little weasel, just because I'm a girl doesn't mean I need some guy I don't even know watching my back!" Jim shook his head.
"It's called being nice. It's got nothing to do with you being a girl. If you'd been a guy, I'd have done it too. You needed help. I gave it." The fury in her eyes disappeared, and to his complete surprise, she smiled. She punched his shoulder, and stood up.
"Come on, Superboy. Let's get you fixed up." As soon as she'd turned her back, he'd rubbed the stinging pain out of his shoulder. That girl's got an arm on her, he thought, and winced.
She'd led him through a junkyard to a small shack in the back of it. It was a labyrinth of smashed up cars, pieces of carports and gates and doors and who knew what else. "Wait here." She disappeared inside the shack for a moment, and returned with a clear bottle, of alcohol and a small white tin. He sat down on the hood of a mangled car and let her clean the cut on his face. She was gentle. He kept staring at her eyes. They were such a vivid green, it was hard to believe they were real. She caught him looking several times. She finally smiled.
"What are you staring at?" He gave her a small smile.
"Your eyes. You've got to be wearing contacts." She shook her head.
"Nope. They're real. Bet you're are, too." He shook his head.
"Nope. They're glass." An amused look crossed her face.
"Yep. I'm blind. Both eyes." She nodded.
"Uh-huh. Poor soul." He shrugged. She rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. "Where did you learn to do that?"
"Do what?" She dabbed at his face with a cotton ball, and he winced.
"That…jump. Or whatever you call that. Back there."
"I don't know what it's called, but I picked it up in school."
"Get in fights a lot do ya?"
"No." Not recently, anyway. "I used to go to the Interstellar Academy." She stared at him, slack-jawed.
"You a Soc?"
"And you went to the IA?" she asked dubiously. Jim nodded.
"I did. A friend of mine knew some of the head officials there. She got me an interview, and I got in."
"Then what are you doing in Tulsa?" she quipped as she put away her kit. "Undercover for something? Or do our schools have more to offer?" He shook his head stiffly.
"I…my mom died. I had to move in with a relative." It was her turn to go stiff.
"It's okay." An awkward silence settled between them, and he nervously felt the back of his neck. "I'm Jim by the way. Jim Hawkins." She smiled at him again, bowing in front of him elegantly.
"Samantha Kendra Wyatt at your service." Something fell out of her bag, and rolled in front of him. He picked it up. It was a can of spray paint. He remembered the stripe on his assailant's face and grinned.
"You sprayed him with this?" she nodded.
"First his darling little corvette. Then him." He chuckled under his breath. "We make a pretty good team. Where you from?"
"Benbow, Montressor. You?"
"I was born in Los Angeles, but I live here with my Uncle." Jim glanced up at the sky, and realized that the sun was already setting. He didn't want to leave yet. He liked this girl. She seemed nice. But he didn't want to walk home in the dark, either. So he stood up.
"I'd better get going. I don't live too close. Um…thanks, Samantha."
"Call me Sam. And it's me that should be thanking you. You really saved my neck back there. I owe you one, Hawkins." He saluted her smartly, and she kind of laughed. "Will I see you around?"
"Well, not breaking and entering." he joked. "But yeah. See ya." He's only gone a few steps when she'd called his name. He turned.
"Meet me back here tomorrow? Bout noon?"
And he had. They'd spent the day just mulling around town. He'd asked her if they could meet up the next day, and they did. And so it had gone on for about a week. Sam was a middler. Neither greaser nor Soc. But he didn't want the gang to know about her. He didn't want anyone to know about her. And she didn't know that he was actually Dallas' son. Everyone knew Dallas. He was sharp as a nail and twice as tough. Everyone else knew him through Dally, but not Sam. And he was afraid of what she'd think if she found out.
He was supposed to meet her that afternoon, but instead, he was stuck in detention. He hoped she'd forgive him. As he watched the clouds form different shapes in the sky, he thought of the surprise he'd been working on for her. Well, it was mostly for himself, but she'd probably enjoy it, too.
Jim slowed to a walk, half a block away from the theater. As soon as detention had ended, he'd gone over to Sam's place to explain why he'd missed their date, and to apologize. As always, Sam was fine. She wasn't mad at him, like he'd been afraid she would be. She did, however, insist that their next date had better be special. Jim had promised that he'd make it up to her. He'd only planned on staying long enough to talk to her. But the next thing he knew, she was running her finger's up and down his neck, toying with his hair. And those startling eyes of hers had distracted him. He reasoned that a few minutes couldn't hurt. But the next thing he knew, an hour had gone by. And he was late. Again. So he'd run the entire way over to the movie theater.
The crowds at the Nightly Double were at a minimum, and as they'd planned earlier that week, Ronto and Jace were waiting for him at the front entrance, Jace's little sister Bonny included. There was a spot in the back of the lot where somebody could slip under the fence, and sneak in for free. That was what they usually did. But tonight the boys paid and went in.
"My Dad said I had to bring her with." Jace explained with a roll of his eyes. Jim shrugged, but Ronto picked Bonny up. Rontamel loved Bonny. He loved all kids, actually, but Bonny was his favorite.
"Hey, Bon-Bon. You want some popcorn?" He asked, grinning again. He was a lot like his dad. Ronto was closer to Jim than anyone else in the gang, partially because he was the most open in the group, and partially because Jim liked to spend time around Sodapop. As he and Bonny went to get the popcorn, Jim and Jace started poking around under the bleachers. The movie wouldn't start for the next few minutes.
The theater was an ancient drive in, one that had been up since their parents were just kids. It had been neglected for several years, but the owner had finally fixed it up. It was a great place to hang out. You could slip under the bleachers and be invisible in the shadows, you could huddle up in groups on the benches and watch the movies, and the popcorn and soda, once paid for, were unlimited.
"Where'd you go, anyway?" Jace asked as he swung from the hand railing of one of the higher rows, giving Jim a questioning look. "Your Dad was askin' about you." Jim was surprised. Dallas never cared where he was. At least, he didn't seem to.
"He was?" Jace nodded.
"Asked where you went, and I told him the DX. But he said he'd just been there, and you weren't there. Where'd you go?" He felt his cheeks getting hot. Originally, he'd planned on going straight to Sam's after school, then meeting his friends. But since he'd been late, he'd had to tell a white lie.
"Uh...the railway station. I was just...looking around over there." Jace rolled his eyes.
"Alright, fine. Don't tell me. But promise me one thing?"
"Don't get killed, alright?" Jace said, and it was more of a statement. Jim was about to respond when a hand came down on his shoulder, causing him to nearly jump out of his skin.
"Hey, punk!" A voice snarled. He jumped backward, and cracked his head against the bleachers with a loud metallic CLANG.
"Ow! Dang it, Two-Bit!" He snapped. Two-Bit started laughing loudly.
"Kid, you're too easy!" Jim rolled his eyes, sticking his hands into the pockets of his jeans, sulking.
"What're you doing here, Two-Bit?" Jace asked, grinning. Jim took a small step backward so that he was surrounded in shadow, to hide his flushed face.
"Just doin' your folks a favor and checking up on ya. Making sure you weren't starting things with any Socs." He tousled Jace's black hair. "Or a girl. You never know with you three."
"Oh, hey, Two-Bit!" Ronto said, and Bonny smiled toothily behind her small paper bag of popcorn. The movie started, so they found their seats. Though soon after, Two-Bit disappeared. It was an old movie, in black and white, about a detective who was on the run from the law. He tried to at least pretend to be interested in it, but eventually Jim slouched so that his head was resting against the back of his seat. He let his eyes close for a moment. A moment later, he opened them. The stars above sparkled like diamonds on black velvet. Memories from his time aboard various solar galleons, unbidden, filled his mind. So many places, so many worlds, and I get stuck here, he thought crossly. Why couldn't Dallas just...He couldn't finish that thought. He wouldn't. If Dallas didn't want him around, that was just fine. Jim didn't need him. He could get along just fine without him...
The next thing he knew, Ronto was shaking his shoulder, telling him to wake up. Jim yawned.
"What time is it?"
"About three in the morning." Ronto replied as he shrugged on his jacket. "That movie was longer than I thought. Look, we gotta get home. Our parents'll be freaking out all night."
"What happened to Two-Bit?"
"Dunno. He was here one second, and gone the next." He stood up, and picked up the sleeping Bonny from her chair. Jim followed them as the gang headed home. Each household was pretty much the same story; they'd been at the movies and had ended up staying later than they thought they would, they were very sorry and wouldn't let it happen again. Ronto's mother was furious. Soda just looked relieved.
"You can come over for breakfast tomorrow, if you want to." Jace offered as they trudged towards the Cade's house. Jim nodded thoughtfully. He almost never ate breakfast anymore. Catching a meal at his house was rare. Dallas ate out. Jim ate at school. They hadn't discussed the subject yet, and Jim doubted they would.
"No problem." He shifted Bonny's weight in his arms. Like Jim, she'd fallen asleep at the movies, and he had been carrying her the whole way. "Man, she's heavy." Jace's parents, like Ronto's, understood. Johnny thanked Jim for walking his kids home, and asked if he would like Jace to walk him the rest of the way. Jim watched as Chloe gently took her sleeping daughter from Jace's arms, a loving smile on her face. He turned his eyes away from them and gave Johnny a small smile.
"No thanks, Mr. Cade. Goodnight." He turned around and was back on the street before Johnny could insist upon his offer.
When Jim got back to Dallas' house, the light in Dally's room was on. The rest of the house was dark. Jim's mind was on other things as he walked through the gate, and up to the door. He tried to open the front door, but found it locked. He frowned, puzzled. That's weird, he thought. Dallas never locks it. He heard someone walking to get the door, and Dallas opened it. Jim was surprised to see the anger in his icy-blue eyes.
"Where the heck have you been?" Dally asked coldly. Jim felt his heart lurch. He honestly hadn't thought he'd be in trouble. But it was perfectly clear that Dallas was mad. Jim side-stepped him and went inside, shrugging off his jacket.
"I was with Jace and Ronto. We went to the movies. Was…longer than we thought." He said haltingly, his voice barely above a whisper.
"What, you don't know how to use a pay phone?" He snapped. "Didn't you realize how late it was?" He wasn't yelling, but his voice was a little too loud. Jim searched his mind for an excuse, and lamely said,
"I fell asleep-"
"I fell asleep during the movie." He mumbled. "I didn't mean to, I just...it just happened."
"And it never once uncured to you that I might have been ready to call the cops, and draw attention to all this again, because my idiot kid-" The words shocked him, burning him like embers.
"Oh, sure, like you care." Jim spat. A thick silence hung in the air for a moment. Jim looked anywhere but at Dally. I really am an idiot. He thought. He looked up through his bangs at Dallas, and winced when he saw the look in his father's eyes. Oh, shoot...
"Don't you dare get smart with me!" Dallas snapped. Jim barely moved, but his pulse was sky-high, He'd seen Dally mad before. And he knew what could happen. But that didn't stop him from looking away and muttering, as was his habit,
"Whatever." Dally slapped him, hard, and Jim tripped backwards and fell. Dallas grabbed his arm, jerking him upright.
"What'd you say to me? Huh?" He asked, and slapped him again with his other hand. Jim could barely see straight, and his eyes were watering. It hurt. Bad. "What'd you say?" Dally demanded. Jim stayed quiet. Dallas shook him. "Answer me!"
"I-I'm sorry." Jim managed to whisper.
"You don't like the way I run things? This place not good enough for ya?" He nodded towards the front door. "There's the door! Get out!" He let go, and shoved the boy against the wall. Jim shook his head to clear his vision.
"Dallas, I-" Dallas threw him against the door.
"I said get out!" Jim bolted, and hopped the fence surrounding the house. It had been the last thing he'd been expecting. Dallas never cared. And he still didn't. He wasn't mad because Jim had been home late. He'd been mad because he might have had to call the police to look for him, and any unwanted attention from the police would have their social worker asking questions, which would probably land Dallas right back in the same cell Jim had found him in.
It was too much to think about. Jim was sick an tired of Dallas. He'd never been there, not ever, not once. Even now, with his mother dead, with the two of them living in the same house, they still couldn't get along. Jim was done trying to please him. He'd given that up when he was eight. Now he couldn't even tolerate Dallas. He ran as hard as he could, focusing on the rhythm of his shoes hitting the pavement instead of the pain he felt welling up inside. And it seemed to work. Until he came to an unexpected stop.
He crashed into something soft and warm. And audible string of curses filled the night air, but they didn't come from his mouth. Flat on his back with the wind knocked out of him, Jim could only stare into the dark of the night as a familiar sound made his blood run cold.