Second part of aÂ serialized story that is an unabashed love letter to the Mecha- Anime genre, 80â€™s Spielberg, Lovecraft, and everything awesome. Read Part 1 here.
After lunch, science class followed, Charlieâ€™s favorite teacher, Mr. Anderson, a spry red headed man, seemed to be the kind of teacher who knew how to make things fun and he had a way of not talking down to his students.
â€œOkay, who here knows how many moons there are surrounding Jupiter and the name of one of the big ones?â€ Mr. Anderson asked, pacing in front of his desk. He always preferred to be moving as opposed to sitting down.
Charlie raised his hand nervously. â€œUh, there are seventeen moons and Ganymede, Io, Callisto, and Europa are the big ones.â€
â€œVery good, Charlie, and who discovered them?â€
â€œGood, and when was the last time we sent a satellite up there to see Jupiter?â€
â€œNine years ago, Voyager 2 was launched. Then on July 9, 1979, it reached Jupiter.â€ Charlie answered.
â€œGood, Charlie, thatâ€™s very impressive. Voyager 2 has been up there for nearly a decade. And itâ€™s still going, just chugging along, taking snapshots of the universe.â€ Mr. Anderson proceeded to dim the lights, start up the overhead projector, and put the image of Io. Unlike the Earthâ€™s whitish- gray moon, Ioâ€™s color was that of orange,Â marked with black spots all over its surface.
â€œNow the reason the color of this particular moon here is because of all the sulfur, from hundreds of volcanoes erupting. The little black dots here are the eruptions. So Iâ€™m guessing it must be real hard on the real estate property value.â€
A couple of kids coughed and most fidgeted in their seatsÂ asÂ Mr. Anderson continued.
â€œTough crowd today. Anywho, on top of all that mayhem, its right in the magnetosphere of Jupiter and that is somewhere you donâ€™t want to be in. That causes tidal heating, which causes said volcanic eruptions, hurricanes that make the ones here look like a light breeze, and lightning storms that bombard the planet, making it pretty much inhospitable. So, for homework, I want you all to study the effects of Jupiterâ€™s magnetosphere on its moons and ring system. Charlie, could you see me after class?â€
When the bell rang, the kids filed out of the classroom. Only Charlie was left and he went to Mr. Andersonâ€™s desk. He was curious as to why Mr. Anderson wanted to talk in private.
â€œHey Charlie, that was a really smart answer. Not many kids would remember all of that. So, I got something here in my desk that I think you might appreciate. Here, just lemme find it.â€ Mr. Anderson rifled through the drawers, pulling out a model of the space shuttle Discovery. He handed it to Charlie, beamed atÂ the gift. He chuckled to himself, glad that his student liked it.
â€œBut Mr. Anderson, I donâ€™t feel like Iâ€™m smart at all,â€ Charlie said, looking down at his shoes, â€œI just got lucky with the answer, thatâ€™s all.â€
â€œCharlie, donâ€™t put yourself down. Youâ€™re a bright kid. I wouldnâ€™t say it if I donâ€™t mean it and I do.”
Charlie looked at his gift, feeling its edges. His thumb ran over the blue NASA insignia. He didnâ€™t know what to say, just that he felt a little bit choked up.
As if reading his mind, Mr. Anderson said, â€œYou donâ€™t gotta say thing, just be proud. Okay? Now go on, I donâ€™t want you to be late on my account.â€
Charlie looked up at him, opened his mouth to something then decided not to. He carefully put the shuttle in his back pack and left the room in a hurry.
Phys. Ed was the last class of the day, and it was grueling, embarrassing, and frustrating as usual. The stupid padlocks didnâ€™t help either, as he went about trying to open his locker. Class was over and he was still trying to remember the combination. When he finally got it right, it was forty minutes past 2:30, school being past done. He quickly changed; grumbling the whole time, grabbed his pack, and left the locker room. The Phys. Ed teacher, Mr. Wolfgang, seemed really impatient at having to wait for this upstart kid to get out so he could lock up. Charlie just walked past him briskly, feeling even more embarrassed.
He was walking past the local high school, when he stopped to look at the JROTC doing their thing in the parking lot. The sun was already settling into its afternoon phase and the JROTC kids were doing their armed drill practice, spinning rifles and the sound of hands slapping them cracking through the air. Charlie stopped to look at them for a bit. Glad I donâ€™t have to do that, seems really boring. Except for those real cool spins I guess-
â€œExcuse me, are you with them?â€ Samantha Gray asked, cradling some pre-calculus textbooks. A slight breeze blew her light brunetteÂ hair, brownÂ eyes standing out from those slightly flushed cheeks. Her sky-blue blazer, blouse, and skirt accentuated her slender figure.
Quick, say something witty, stupid. Sheâ€™s gonna think youâ€™re some sort of spaz and leave.
â€œPfffft, no, I got better things to do with my time, like going to my friendâ€™s house. Heâ€™s got a Nintendo.â€ Charlie blurted.
â€œOh okay.â€ She stared at the older kids with an amused expression on her face.
You blew it, stupid. Please God, just strike me down on this very spot so I donâ€™t have to endure this humiliation any further.
â€œI think itâ€™s kinda cool you know someone who has one of those. Do you mind if I come along? Iâ€™m Samantha, by the way, but you can call me Sam.â€ said Sam, shuffling her feet.
Holy shit. I canâ€™t believe that fucking worked. You magnificent bastard. Thank you God!
â€œSure,â€ Charlie said a little too excitedly. â€œI got a Huffy bike but we can walk. Oh, and the name is Charlie.â€
â€œNice to meet you.â€ Sam said.Â They walked for five minutes in silence or so before Sam said something.
â€œSo, do you live nearby?â€
â€œUh yeah, school is only seven or six miles but with my Huffy, I get there as quick as I can.â€
â€œWhat grade are you in?â€
â€œSo, did you transfer from another school or have you been going there for a while now?â€
â€œBeen there from the start.â€ She really seems to have taken an interest in him. This is the first time she ever noticed me. Why?
Why the hell not? Donâ€™t ruin a good thing.
â€œSo youâ€™re really into math huh?â€ Charlie said, wishing he could have said something better.
â€œYeah, Iâ€™ve been doing a lot of extracurricular activity for the extra credit. Iâ€™m part of the mathletes team.â€ Sam answered, flicking her hair a bit.
â€œSounds really interesting.â€ Charlie replied.
â€œItâ€™s boring. Canâ€™t wait to get done with it.â€
â€œAnd yet, that stuff flies over my head a lot. Itâ€™s like a completely different language. I feel retarded whenever I do it.â€ Charlie blurted out quickly. He felt like he was trying too hard.
And for some reason, she chuckled a bit. It was a nice, deep, and throaty kind. Like the ones from those dames in those black and white noir movies they show on TV. This relaxed Charlie a bit; it made everything less awkward than it usually is.
When they got to Danâ€™s place, a one story bungalow with white stucco walls, Charlie knocked on the door. Dan lived with his Nana, after his parents died in the Florida Commuter Airlines Flight 65 crash over the Atlantic Ocean, and he had been friends with Charlie since the beginning of middle school. He kept to himself, quiet and shy around others. It took Dan a long time to loosen up with Charlie around but when he did, Dan proved to be quite a talkative fellow, if a little reserved. The two would always go to the local Video Town to rent whatever R rated horror movie they had (the clerk was a super cool guy who didn’t care about their age.) or any number of cheesy Japanese monster flicks and watch them on Danâ€™s VCR, in his room.
Dan opened the door and his eyes widened at the sight of Sam.
â€œDo you mind if she comes in?â€ asked Charlie, in a tone that suggested â€œDo you have my back?â€
Dan nodded, receiving the message, saying, â€œYeah sure, no problem. Nana is playing bridge with a neighbor and wonâ€™t be back for about four hours.â€ His Nana trusted him to take care of himself for a bit and he helped clean the bungalow. He led them to his room, which was a bit spartan and neat compared to Charlieâ€™s mess of a room. Except for the clutter of books on his desk, titles concerning unexplained disappearances, notes scribbled on scraps of paper about stuff like the Mary Celeste, Benjamin Bathurst, Fredrick Valentich, the Bermuda Triangle, Ambrose Bierce, and Roanoke Colony. No wonder heâ€™s been holding back on giving the cheat sheet to Blaine; Dan isÂ too busy with this paranormal nonsense, Charlie thought.
â€œAll right, just lemme pop in Super Mario Bros. here and weâ€™ll get started. The nameâ€™s Dan.â€ Dan clicked his TV on and made the adjustments for the game to be played.
â€œThis is a nice place you got here. Iâ€™m Samantha. Just call me Sam.â€ Sam said, still clutching her books.
â€œYou can set your stuff on my bed and if you need to use the bathroom, just go down the hall and to the left.â€ Dan replied, resetting his NES, then taking out the cartridge and blowing into it.
â€œThanks, I actually need to go use the bathroom now. It was a really long walk.â€ Sam plopped her books and backpack on the bed and left the room. Charlie, checking to see if Sam really went to the bathroom, turned to Dan and asked, â€œWhatâ€™s all that stuff on your desk?â€
Dan didnâ€™t turn around, fiddling with his NES, but he answered Charlieâ€™s question. â€œJust a hobby of mine. Nothing too serious.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not true. Câ€™mon, tell me whatâ€™s up.â€
â€œYouâ€™d laugh, just like the others do.â€ Dan put the cartridge back into his game system and turned it back on. The familiar Super Mario Bros. title showed up on screen.
â€œI wonâ€™t laugh, I swear.â€
â€œYeah, I promise.â€
â€œThe flight my parents were on? I think it was an alien abduction. I mean, why havenâ€™t they found the plane yet? They said it crashed but they never found it? This isnâ€™t the first time that itâ€™s happened, thereâ€™s been other events.â€ Dan started breathe heavily now.
Charlie didnâ€™t say anything at first. He knew how touchy the subject was for Dan. â€œHey, I believe you.â€
â€œNo bullshit?â€ Dan asked, his eyes welling up.
â€œNo bullshit. I really do believe you.â€
The room was quiet, save for the Super Mario jingle emanating from the TV, for about one minute. Then Dan broke the silence. â€œIâ€™m sorry for being such a buzzkill.â€
â€œYou werenâ€™t; itâ€™s completely fine.â€
â€œNo, I shouldnâ€™t be killing the mood. Samantha Gray is here, using my bathroom! You scored big time,â€ Dan said, sniffing a bit and wiping the corners of his eyes.
â€œYeah, she seems to be taking her time in there.â€
â€œProbably taking a dump.â€
Charlie was about to tell Dan that was gross and he shouldnâ€™t talk like that around her when the smoke detector sounded off. â€œWhat the hell? Are you cooking something again? Remember the last time you tried!â€
Dan had the unfortunateÂ tendency to burn meals every time he tried cooking.
â€œNo way, this ainâ€™t my fault.â€
Then they both realized that the alarm was coming from the bathroom. Charlie ran out of the room and got to the bathroom before Dan did; he opened the door and caught Sam trying to put out her cigarette as she waved away the smoke.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, I shouldnâ€™t have bothered coming here.â€ Sam said, putting her Lucky Strikes away in one of the pockets of her blazer. She rushed past the boys, went into the room, grabbing her stuff as Charlie followed.
â€œWhatâ€™s the big deal? Iâ€™m not telling anybody and neither will Dan.â€
Dan nodded in agreement. â€œYeah, I kinda think youâ€™re way cooler now that we know you smoke.â€
â€œPlease donâ€™t go; Dan already got the game started. Heck, you can be first player.â€ Charlie begged, worried now that she really will leave and feeling so pathetic that he resorted to begging her. She stopped and then sat down on the bed, trying to say something.
â€œI just donâ€™t want my dad to find out,â€ Sam muttered.
â€œAnd he wonâ€™t. Like I said, me and Dan can keep a secret.â€ Charlie smiled, to reassure her. Sam laughed a bit nervously, before making up her mind.
â€œAll right, Iâ€™ll stay for a bit then.â€
Sam proved herself to be quite good at the game, getting so far as World 4-4 without missing a beat. Dan and Charlie never even gotÂ the chance to play at all, but they didnâ€™t care as they got the chance to see an expert play the game.
â€œI gotta get going or my dad will get mad at me for being late.â€ Sam said, letting herself die in the game.
â€œWow, me and Charlie are pretty terrible at this and you just blasted through it like it’s nothing,â€ Dan said.
â€œYeah, that was impressive. How did you get so good?â€ Charlie asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know; itâ€™s in the reflexes.â€ Sam answered, picking up her stuff. Dan nudged Charlie to get his attention.
â€œNow is your chance.â€ Dan whispered.
â€œFor what?â€ Charlie said.
â€œWalk her back home, dumbass. Sheesh, do I have to hold your handÂ for you?â€ Dan said, smirking as he winked.
â€œOh! Uh, Sam, do you mind if I walk you to your house?â€
Sam looked at him as if he said something weird. â€œSure.â€
Charlie got his backpack too and they both left, saying their good-byes to Dan, who gave Charlie the thumbs up when Sam wasn’t looking. As the two walked along the road in the twilight, the fireflies began to dance around them, emitting yellowish green light. The crickets had started their choruses, their chirping filling the cool air. Charlie pulled his Huffy along as Sam had pulled out her Lucky Strikes, putting one in her mouth while taking out a match. Charlie watched with curiosity, wondering how she would light a match without the matchbox. Sam held the match in her forefinger, flicked it alight with her thumbnail, and brought it to the tip of her cigarette. She put out the match, dropping to the ground before stepping on it to make sure it was completely out. She took a long drag before blowing out a couple of smoke rings. â€œI didnâ€™t even ask if it was okay to smoke around you. Do you mind?â€
â€œI donâ€™t mind. How did you do that with your hand?â€ Charlie said, amazed that the girl of his dreams knew how to do that.
â€œPractice. Plus, itâ€™s not always easy. Here, give me your hand.â€ Charlie held out as Sam placed a match in his hand.
â€œFirst, hold onto it with your forefinger and then use your thumbnail. You gotta flick it to the side. Be careful or youâ€™ll burn yourself.â€ Sam held his hand and suddenly, Charlie had some serious butterflies in his flying around in his stomach. Never mind that, try lighting the match, you dummy.
â€œHold on, shoot. I got-no wait.â€ Charlie started to feel dumb doing this until he got it right, the match burning brightly in the evening.
â€œOh shit, I got it, sweet-OUCH!â€ He held onto it for too long, burning his finger slightly. He dropped it and Sam stamped it out. Charlie felt slightly embarrassed but Sam didnâ€™t seem to mind.
â€œItâ€™s okay. That happened to me the first couple of times. Still does.â€ She grinned, the cigarette dangling from the right corner of her mouth. It made her look cute, thatâ€™s for sure, Charlie thought. They continued walking the rest of the way. Charlie, getting curious as to why she wanted to hang out with him, felt confident enough to ask her. â€œHey Sam, Iâ€™ve been meaning to ask you-â€œ
â€œYou wanna ask me out,â€ Sam interrupted, leaving Charlie stunned to say anything for a couple of seconds before snapping out of it.
â€œUh, yeah, I mean, no I donâ€™t-â€œ
â€œRelax, I was joking.â€ She chuckled, taking another drag.
â€œOh. Iâ€™m just a little confused that you decided to hang out with me and Dan today. Why?â€
â€œI was bored and you seemed lonely. I donâ€™t feel like going home to my old man anyway.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t get along with your dad?â€ Charlie inquired.
â€œHeâ€™s a fucking piece of shit. Letâ€™s talk about something else,â€ Sam said, in a tone that said “drop the subject.”
â€œSorry I asked.â€
She seemed to have softened slightly because then she said, â€œIâ€™ve seen you looking at me in school. You always looked away, pretending I didnâ€™t notice. Were you too shy?â€
Charlie was immensely grateful for the dark, as she would have noticed him blushing furiously.
â€œI might have looked a couple times, yeah.â€
They reached her house, which looked to be in terrible shape, the overgrown lawn and the paint peeling away. One of the windows had a crack running through it. The picket fence appeared to be falling apart.
â€œHeâ€™s probably still out, with his friends.â€ Sam said, taking one last drag before putting out her cig. She stood outside the fence for a while before walking to the door. â€œIt was nice hanging out with you and your friend.â€
â€œMaybe we could catch a movie some time, no?â€ Charlie blurted, realizing how stupid that sounded. Sam turned around and gave him a wry smile.
â€œYou pushing your luck now-â€œ
Charlieâ€™s heart deflated.
â€œ-but I guess it wouldnâ€™t hurt to hang out with you some more. Youâ€™re a cool guy, yâ€™know that? Good night Charlie.â€ Sam said before going inside her house, leaving Charlie with the greatest feeling in the world. She thinks Iâ€™m cool! Holy shit is this the best day ever. Even Blaine couldn’t diminishÂ this moment, which would live on forever in his mind. Riding back home, Charlie failed to notice something in the sky, a shooting star falling towards edge of town.