CHAPTER ONE: RED ALERT
Time Travel Academy, Acendia Empire
23rd century, March 2, 2242
An unimaginable explosion sweeps across the Acendia Empire; the largest empire of the post-apocalyptic 23rd century Earth, engulfing and destroying everything in its path.
Loud sirens pierce the air and red lights flash throughout the corridors of the Time Travel Academy as a young man in military uniform sprints to the command center. He dodges past other uniformed personnel, intent on arriving at his post in time to hear what’s going on. He’d never seen a red alert in his entire time at the school, and fear and urgency race through his veins as he turns the final corner into the center.
What he sees is chaos.
Officers and enlisted alike dash about the room to their work stations, Sunlight shines through the glass windows lining the circular front of the tower, casting light upon the main floor of technicians. At the front, on a balcony situated twelve feet above the main floor, stands Empress Zelda, supreme ruler of the 23rd century Acendia Empire. She watches as chaos consumes the room, her short, chin-length black hair a perfect match for the sharp black suit she wears. Her face is impassive and her eyes piercing as she looks upon her subordinates with a mixture of disdain and amusement.
Behind her stand her fraternal twin bodyguards, Lisa and Marcus Rulon, two assassins who stand so still they could be mistaken as statues. Their countenance is so intimidating that anyone who approaches the Empress automatically fine themselves leaning away as if fearing for their lives.
Admiral Molina, the academy’s special operations officer, walks over to the Empress, a miniature tablet in her hand. Her dark brown hair is tied tightly into an immaculate bun, and not a single strand moves as she gives the Empress a quick bow.
Empress Zelda looks at her apprehensively. “Status report, Admiral Molina.”
Molina stands at attention, her brown eyes revealing a hint of fear. “The defense computer system detected a powerful attack on the Acendia Empire from an unknown source, which triggered the red alert. All stations have reported in as battle ready.”
They are joined by Admiral Sutton, the academy’s science officer, and nine other high-ranking officials. Tall, thin, and slightly balding, Admiral Sutton leans in and says in a quiet yet firm voice, “Your Majesty, please, let us sit.”
He gestures to a large black conference table on the balcony, where the other officials are already taking their seats. Zelda wheels around, spinning on her heels, and takes her seat at the head of the table.
“Is it our neighbors the Valenians?” she asks, her voice dangerously low.
“Your Majesty, it’s a bit too early to tell, th—”
“I don’t want excuses!” Zelda yells. “I want to know where and how and who, and I want to know now.”
The officers spring from their seats as if they’ve just been bitten and walk hastily to their departments on the main floor, leaning down to their brightest officers and whispering in their ears, applying just the right amount of pressure on their shoulders to convey the need for expedience.
Twenty minutes later, Admiral Molina returns to where Empress Zelda has resumed her watch over the command center.
“Your Majesty, all departments are reporting conditions normal. There has been no attack.”
Zelda scowls, looking bewildered. “A false alarm? But the red alert has safeguards. It can’t be triggered under false events.”
Admiral Sutton approaches once more and bows before speaking. “No, Your Majesty, not a false alarm. We were, in fact, the subject of a devastating attack.”
Molina eyes him cautiously. “Let’s not mince words, Sutton.”
Admiral Sutton looks at the Empress with concerned eyes. “The Acendia Empire was annihilated. According to the defense computers, we were attacked by something so powerful; it yielded an initial destructive force equivalent to an 80,000-megaton nuclear bomb”.
Empress Zelda stares at the two admirals with a look of disbelief on her face. “That’s impossible! We’re still standing here, aren’t we? And no nation has the ability to build a bomb that powerful, including the Acendia Empire.”
Sutton held up his mini tablet. “Not impossible, more like theoretically possible. According to the computer defense systems, the explosion was so powerful that it bent the space time continuum, the resulting gravitational waves traveled thru space and time.” Sutton did more calculations while Zelda fumed.
“Well?” she demanded.
“Your Highness, this attack didn’t take place now. It takes place exactly three months from now.”
The room quieted, and Admiral Sutton looked at Zelda with a stricken expression.
“In the future.”
CHAPTER TWO: DAMAGE CONTROL
Time Travel Academy, Acendia Empire
March 3, 2242
Empress Zelda charges down the hallway, the heels of her boots ringing loudly. Her steely eyes cause all who pass her to unconsciously veer closer to the walls to avoid becoming the target of her obvious wrath.
When she reaches the command center balcony, she snaps her fingers at a waiting attendant, demanding coffee without so much as a word. She sits at the conference table, where her admirals and lead scientists already wait, and the cup is placed in front of her in a jet-black cup. She leans back slightly and closes her eyes, her hair immaculately styled, chin raised, as she brings the cup to her lips delicately. Once she has sipped, she sighs and opens her eyes.
“Begin,” she says.
Each department proceeds to brief the Empress on the situation, laying out the details of the attack as far as they could determine. As much information they had, however, none of them were able to confirm the fate of the planet or the Acendia Empire. She tunes out, her mind giving way to dark thoughts about her enemy.
“...no way to confirm this,” Admiral Sutton was saying.
“And the Valenians?” Zelda snaps. “Do we have sufficient evidence for my declaration of war on the Valenians?”
Sutton looks uncomfortable. “Your Highness, as far as we can determine, this attack was not the work of the Valenians.”
“Who else would do such a thing?” she asks incredulously, not expecting an answer.
“With all due respect, Your Highness, but the Valenians simply do not have the level of technology necessa—”
Empress Zelda sends her cup flying to the floor, and all seated at the table flinch at the sound of it shattering. A robot immediately gets to work cleaning up the mess while Zelda grips the table, her knuckles white from the pressure. No one dares speak.
Zelda’s gaze shifts to the side and lands upon the Rulon twins. They stand at attention, staring at the far wall, seemingly unaffected by her sudden attention. She breathes heavily as she ponders the situation, until finally she stands up straight, staring down the conference table at her gathered subordinates.
“Lisa and Marcus Rulon will embark on a two-person time travel mission into the future to help us determine what has happened.”
The officers let out a collective gasp.
Admiral Molina recovers first. “Empress Zelda, the Shield of Time device cannot freeze and restore a timeline in the future, only the past. The Rulons will not be protected if they travel to the future”
“Silence!” screams the Empress. “I’m well aware of what this mission means. I would appreciate no more interruptions.”
Admiral Molina nods weakly.
Empress Zelda wails in frustration and walks to the edge, looking down at the command center floor. Her hand comes up next to her ear, and she twitches her fingers, signaling for Molina to join her. She does so reluctantly.
“Admiral Molina,” she says pausing a few seconds “We are already doomed!” “Having knowledge of future events, changes the future!” her voice remaining aggressive. “How soon can you have them equipped and ready?”
Molina swallows hard, visibly stressed. “I-I... we could have them ready to leave in fifteen minutes.”
“Do it,” she orders. “Send them to the Far Reaches; They are not to be seen, they are only to observe, report and return once they have discovered the cause of our future destruction”
Molina bows again. “Yes, Your Highness.
Ten minutes later, Admiral Molina walks past ten semi-transparent time travel portal doors lined against the Academy’s northwest wall and into a small room with a large chamber. Lisa and Marcus Rulon stand in the middle of the chamber as the special operations team finalizes their gear, strapping down gear and emergency rations. Molina paces back and forth in front of them, going over the codes for future time travel, which, though required learning at the academy, has not been utilized since the banning of time travel. Zelda may have been in constant violation with her academy, agents and redeveloping the banned technology of portal, stationary and wormhole time travel, but even she had not yet gone so far as to send agents into the future.
A team member tightened the last strap on Lisa Rulon and gave Admiral Molina a curt nod before leaving the room. Molina looked at them sternly.
“You know your mission?”
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison, their voices flat.
“You know the codes?”
“Observe and commence extraction. Copy?”
Molina steps out of the chamber. The door hisses shut, and she watches as the Rulons activate their black handheld transport device vanishing into the future.
Thirty seconds later, the Rulon twins rematerialize in the chamber, gasping for breath, covered in gray soot. Marcus Rulon collapses to the floor of the chamber, his body curling up into the fetal position. Molina and her team rush in and check their vitals. She looks up at the camera monitoring the chamber.
“Empress Zelda, they are alive.
In a nearby observation room, Zelda presses a comms button. “Clean them up and take them to Room 7. Top-secret clearance only. You have five minutes.”
“Admiral Sutton; I need you to meet me in room 7 within four minutes.” She lets go of the button with a snap and pivots out of the room, heading to Room 7.
Four minutes and thirty-seven seconds later, Molina enters Room 7 with Marcus and Lisa Rulon being rolled in behind her in wheelchairs. Their faces are still caked with dirt, and the twins’ eyes now carry a faraway look not present before they left.
“Empress, if I may—”
“I’ve changed my mind, Molina. This meeting will be strictly between me, the Rulon twins and Admiral Sutton. You are dismissed.”
Molina sputters, trying to control her frustration. “B-but, Your Highness, it’s imperative that I—”
“Have your ears ceased to function, Admiral?” booms Zelda.
Molina shakes her head, bowing and leaving the room. The last thing she sees is Empress Zelda standing in front of the Rulon twins, her arms crossed and her chin raised high.
One hour later an emergency meeting is called, and the admirals and science officers convene once more at the conference table in the command center. Once everyone is seated, Empress Zelda nods at Admiral Sutton, who enters a series of commands. A buzzing sound can be heard as a soundproof shield is activated around the upper balcony, ensuring that the technicians below will be unable to hear the top-secret discussion. With the touch of another button, the outer side of the shield transforms into a mirror image, preventing anyone outside from seeing those inside.
“I’ve been briefed by the Rulon twins on their findings and I have a plan to change this horrible, unthinkable future for the Acendia Empire,” Empress Zelda proclaims. “This will require far more brain power than that in this room, and for that reason we will need a brain trust.”
Admiral Sutton looks at Zelda with some confusion. “Glorious Empress Zelda, may I ask what is this “brain trust?”
Zelda twitched a finger across her screen, and an archive video began to play on a holoscreen projecting into the middle of the table. A female computer voice began to narrate.
“The brain trust was established in the early 1930s of the United States of America, wherein a group of highly intelligent scholars from Harvard and Columbia University advised President Theodore Roosevelt on his New Deal programs to help America rapidly recover from the Great Depression.”
No one speaks. Finally, Zelda says, “I plan to activate the Genius List.”
All the color drains from Admiral Sutton’s face.
Empress Zelda turns her head curiously to Admiral Sutton. “Do you have something to say, Admiral?”
Sutton looks up at her with some alarm, clearly put on the spot. “T-the Genius List. Your Highness, that… that’s very dangerous. Are… are you sure that is wise, activating the Genius List is what caused the 22nd century Time Travel Wars; King Lendal would never do such a thing?”
Her eyes flash angrily. “Are you questioning my authority, Admiral Sutton?”
“N-no, my glorious Empress Zelda. I would never do that. I’m merely pointing out that i-it could be very dangerous to you.”
Zelda looks at Sutton as if she wants to run a sword through him. “I thank you for your concern, Admiral Sutton, but I am quite capable of dealing with danger; King Lendal is weak and that’s why I ousted him and took over the Acendia Empire. Any other… objections?”
Sutton shakes his head and looks down.
“Good. We will activate the Genius List immediately!”
CHAPTER THREE: WAKE-UP CALL
Present time 21st century;
Cindy Sanders home, Dallas, Texas
Thursday, March 4, 7:00 a.m.
Half asleep I vaguely hear a knock on my bedroom door “Cindy! Wake up. It’s time for school.”
It’s my mother’s wakeup call; I groan and slap my pillow over my face, nowhere near ready to face the day. I’d had a Sunday dinner and movie date with my boyfriend, Craig. Then I’d worked on my midterm school project until past midnight.
My Smartphone buzzes and I pick it up, looking at it with bleary eyes. It’s a text from Craig.
I smile and plop the phone down on the bed. He knows me too well. With that little burst of happiness in me, I finally find the energy to heave myself out of bed and get ready. I stop to look around at my desk, my eyes falling on a desk cluttered with balled-up papers with unfinished mathematical equations and formulas. The frustration I’d felt last night hit me again. I’d spent hours trying to answer the age-old question: Is time travel possible?
It frustrates me to no end that Earth is preparing to send its first astronauts to Mars, the Higgs particle has been confirmed along with the discovery of dark matter and the quantum foam. Yet time travel still eludes us.
I’d sent away for publications by numerous scientists who’d formulated their own unproven and somewhat audacious theories of time travel, yet not one of them had discovered an actual formula or equation for a working time machine—one that could not only move forward in time, but also backwards.
That’s what I’d been trying to figure out last night for my midterm class assignment.
If you’re wondering how I could possibly tackle a problem that published and peer-reviewed scientists around the world had not been able to solve, I should probably mention right now that I’m a genius. Note: I’m not a snooty genius. I’m not trying to throw that in anyone’s face, but the fact of the matter is that I have an IQ above 180, which is crazy high.
As can be expected of someone with such high scores, I’d been accepted to literally every Ivy League school in the country, as well as Oxford.
But the unforeseen luxury of being that smart is this: I don’t really need to go to any of these schools. I absorb knowledge at a pretty quick pace on my own, and so I have the privilege of being able to follow things other than my brain. Like my heart. Which is why I plan to apply for the U.S. Naval Academy, where Craig is headed.
I know. I know. Following a boy to college is classic dopey schoolgirl. But Craig couldn’t get into most of the schools I did, and like I said, I have my pick of any career path I want. Which means I can opt to have a little fun and learn a bit about the military at the same time. It’s not an unworthy cause.
I’d aced both my ACT and SAT college entrance exams, but the Naval Academy has other requirements I’m not so genius at—namely physical prowess.
I can’t run fast, nor swim well and I’m about as coordinated as a blindfolded monkey. To try to improve these skills, I signed up for my high school’s JROTC program. I aced the academic requirements of the program, but the physical component has been a complete disaster. Our drill instructor, who we call Master Chief Bean, thinks I’m wasting my time. “That I’m not officer material. That I don’t have the proper motivation or leadership potential and I’m not a team player.”
Master Chief Bean thinks I should just accept one of my many scholarships to Harvard or Cornell or Oxford and go have a productive academic career instead of plaguing some “poor sap” at the Naval Academy for four years. A part of me finds it amusing to pursue this just to annoy him. What can I say? When you’re smarter than all your teachers, you gotta find a way to spice things up.
My dresser is crowded with numerous awards in science, history, botany, even singing and dancing. I glance over at my navy-blue JROTC uniform and almost groan with the reminder of their cheesy goal: instilling character, honor, and leadership.
I flop back onto the bed when I hear Mom coming and pretend to be sleeping again. She knocks and comes in a second later with Little Bear, our pet Pomeranian. The hair on his mouth and feet is white, but the big fuzz of hair on his face and body are all black. He really does look like a tiny bear—if bears had little white beards and socks.
“Cindy, wake up, or you’ll be late for class again! You know Master Chief Bean is going to get on your case and drop you if you don’t show up on time.”
I groan into my pillow.
“Come on. I made breakfast, but I can’t stick around. I’ve gotta get to work, so you need to get moving so I know you’ll make it.”
“Okay, Mom,” I say in a bored voice.
I’m an only child, and sometimes I wish I had a younger brother or sister so that it’d be easier to hide from her, but nope, I get her undivided attention all the time. Add in my brains and I get no slack from her whatsoever.
I love Mom, though. She works crazy hard for the both of us, working as a bank teller and then part-time as a waitress. I fully intend to eventually use my head so that she never has to work again. I just have to get there.
She gives me a kiss on the forehead and is out the door. For the next ten minutes, Little Bear takes up her mantle, whining from the floor at me. Finally, I pull the pillow away and pop one eye open to look at my clock. 8:15.
“Oh crap, not again.” My swimming test is at 8:45.
I wish I could say I bolted out of bed, got ready in record time, and practically flew to school and made it on time. But Master Chief Bean’s criticism of me isn’t misplaced, and I had to drag myself out of bed. Then I took a shower and slowly got ready. I was dreading the swimming test, which really killed my enthusiasm. I put on my uniform, ate breakfast, and made the short three-block walk to school.
Three blocks to certain doom.
CHAPTER FOUR: MASTER CHIEF
Jarrett High School, Dallas, Texas
Thursday, March 4, 9:15 a.m.
The 4.4 feet of water feels cold as it splashes against my face. I look up, and I can see Craig sitting with a bunch of his JROTC classmates watching me. Some of them are pointing at me; some of them are laughing.
Master Chief Bean stands at the end of the pool, a silver whistle hanging from his neck on a string, hands on his hips, eyes boring into me. To pass the test, I have to swim 82 feet across the pool without stopping.
He blows his whistle, and I start swimming. Halfway across the pool a bit of water gets into my mouth and I panic, standing up and choosing to walk the rest of the way. I can see Master Chief Bean shaking his head already.
“Sanders!” he yells. “You will never pass this class if you can’t pass this swimming test!”
I keep walking and ignore him.
“I heard you,” I shout back.
As soon as I’m out of the pool he’s in my face, and a part of me regrets being a smartass.
“If that’s the kind of attitude you’re going to take, you’ve got more than failing this midterm test to worry about.”
I shrug and make like I don’t care, but I can feel my face flushing regardless. I don’t know what he expected, making me swim by myself in front of everyone, with people just laughing at me. This is not the first time, I thought about quitting JROTC. Instead, I head for the locker room to change into my martial arts uniform for the hand-to-hand combat test. This isn’t going to go well, either.
For the test, we have to face three different opponents on a ten-foot-long balancing beam situated two feet off the ground. We’re each given a six-foot baton, and the goal is to not let your opponent knock you off the balance beam onto the mats. To pass, I either have to stay on the beam for a minute or knock my opponent off. I have to win at least two of my three matches to pass. Each opponent is randomly selected.
It’s immediately apparent that this random selection process has an important flaw when I draw Big Bad Max for my first opponent. Blessed with the nickname by the JROTC class, I don’t think I need to elaborate on why. No one has beaten him in a balancing beam match.
Sure enough, Big Bad Max knocks me off the balancing beam within seconds, and I fall flat on my face on the mat, my pride dealt an expected but still serious blow. I mean, it’s not like you can make falling on your butt and landing on your face look respectable.
Although better matched, my next opponent beat me, and as I’m lying on the mat looking at the ceiling after losing my second match, Master Chief Bean stands over me, leaning over to frown in my face.
“Sanders! You’re oh for two!”
I roll my eyes. Like I wasn’t keeping track myself.
The final test is something Master Chief Bean has dubbed the “Freedom Run.” It’s a 1.5-mile run that we must complete within 12.5 minutes. It’s the standard time for women at the US Naval Academy, so if I can’t pass this, then I don’t know if I’ll make it even if my brains do get me in.
We start the run, and while I start off decently, about a quarter of a mile I just stop and walk. There’s a collective gasp on my behalf from the other students in the bleachers. I finish at a dreadful 20 minutes 45 seconds.
Master Chief Bean is waiting for me as I cross the finish line, frowning so hard I think his face might fold in on itself.
I look up at him. “Yeah?”
“You call that lazy excuse for a run a real attempt at passing this midterm? You’ve failed your third test!”
I stand there as he struts over to me. I can see Craig in the corner of my eye, waiting for me in the bleachers. I don’t dare look at him yet, but I’m sure he must look terribly sad for me. He hates seeing me struggle on his behalf.
Master Chief Bean finally reaches me. “Your problem, Sanders, is you have no motivation. No drive!” he yells. Then he does something surprising. He looks around and leans in closer to me, lowering his voice. “I’ve seen your test scores, Sanders, I know you got it in you to do well. Someone with your smarts can’t have such a lackluster attitude. Something wrong at home?”
“No, sir,” I mumble.
He puts his hands on his hips and sighs. “You’ll never get my recommendation if you don’t show drastic improvement. Why you decided to enroll at this point in your education, I have no idea. You’re graduating a full year early, but you gotta get this grade up, young lady. You hear me? Your midterm grade for the physical component of your midterm is a big fat F.”
“Yes, sir.” I move to walk away.
“Don’t you walk away from me! I’m not finished,” he says, speaking loudly again. “You may have the intelligence of Einstein, but your brains did you no favors telling you to sign yourself up for this. But like it or not, you did, and if you want to be successful at all in life, you’ve got to finish what you start. You have a bad attitude, you’re late every day, and you’re—”
“Not a team player,” I finish. “I know.”
“Find something that motivates you. I know why you’re trying to do this. For that pretty boy up in the stands, but if he can’t motivate you to get your behind in gear and fix this, then maybe he don’t mean as much to you as you think.”
“That’s not fai—”
“Oh, don’t cry to me about fair, Sanders. Just find something that will properly motivate you, or you’ll find yourself taking one of them Ivy League scholarships.”
He says this last part sarcastically, and I can tell he thinks I’m being stupid putting myself in this position when I have so many opportunities elsewhere.
He jabs a finger in my direction. “Don’t be late for my class again, Sanders. Dismissed.”
I walk over to Craig, fighting the tears puddling my eyes. He’s wearing his varsity football jacket and a sympathetic look that makes me feel worse. I’m letting him down and I know it.
He stands up and comes to meet me on the field, and when I finally reach him, he crushes me in his six-foot frame. Craig is the leading cadet in the JROTC program and has already been accepted into the summer freshman program at the Naval Academy. He’s in, so it’s up to me to make sure we can stay close together.
“Hey, babe,” he says, “don’t cry. It just takes practice.” He wipes tears away with his hands.
“It’s hopeless. I already failed the midterm. I’m just not the physical type. I’m just going to have to pick the school closest to you and we’ll have to see each other on weekends.”
“Babe, you can’t give up. I thought you were crazy to sign up this year, but you know what? It took guts, and it’s a goal you should strive for. Don’t let Master Chief get you down.”
“No, he’s right. I’m not properly motivated.”
“Well, why didn’t you tell me motivation is a problem?” Craig says, leaning down to kiss me gently. I smile shyly. “Look, I know you told me you wanted to try it all on your own, but this athleticism thing, you can’t just force it. You need help, and who better to help you than me?” He flashes me a wide grin, and I can’t help but laugh a little.
“Okay, maybe I could use some help training.”
“And I could really use some help with my astrophysics homework.”
“Sounds like a fair trade,” I say.
“That’s my girl,” he says.
I sigh. “I just thought I could do it. I can do pretty much anything else on my own.”
“Babe, that’s book stuff. Your body needs time to build up. What do they say? Paris wasn’t built in a day?”
“Rome. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“Yeah, Rome. Gotcha. Point is, I’ll help you. You got this.”
Despite his encouraging words and enthusiasm, I don’t share his faith in me. I only have two more months to prepare for my final. Still, I watch him as he leads me over to his JROTC group of friends and does his best to include me and encourage me. I can’t let him down. He believes in me, so I need to do my best to meet him halfway.
Mike, one of his friends, playfully punches Craig in the shoulder. “Cindy, I dunno what you see in this bozo that you’re trying so hard to follow him.”
Craig drops into a fighting stance and the two have a mock duel. I laugh at their silliness and feel a bit better.
“Don’t listen to him, babe. We’ll iron out our checks and balances now and then when we get to the academy, we’ll be this unbeatable duo of brains and brawn.”
“You’re crazy, man,” says Jim, another friend.
Craig raises his voice into a weird attempt at a woman’s voice. “Why, Craig, how is it that you know so much about astrophysics?” He lowers his voice to one noticeably similar to Master Chief Bean. “Sanders! I’ve underestimated your physical prowess. I don’t know how you did it, but I’ll admit I owe you an apology. I didn’t think you had the strength in you!”
I laugh loudly, feeling much better.
“Seriously, though,” says Mike, “you’ve got your pick of schools and jobs.”
Craig puts his arm around me and looks down at me while I smile up at him. “I can’t help it, Mike.” I pat Craig on the chest. “This guy is worth it all.”
“Love you, baby.” Craig pulls me into a hug again.
“I wish I could’ve gotten into one of your schools,” he says. “You know I don’t really like this, but at the same time, I know better than to tell you that you can’t do something.” He grins, and I hit him playfully. He’s right, though.
“Hey,” he continues, “if worse comes to worst and we have to go to separate schools, I will call you every day and visit you every chance I get. Annapolis isn’t that far from Ithaca, New York.”
I shrug. “I know, but it’s still farther than either of us would like. And I really do want to go to the academy, so don’t feel like you’re making me do anything.”
“Yeah,” he says, and then kisses my forehead.
“You gonna whip me into shape, Mr. Big shot Jock?” I ask, a slight smile curling a corner of my mouth.
“I got your back, for now just think happy thoughts.” He put his hand up against the sky as if showing me a beautiful painting. “Can’t you see it now?” he says in a goofy announcer’s voice. “Next week, spring break, the 50’s dance.” “You dressed like Olivia Newton John and me dressed like John Travolta singing “We go together.”
I laugh. He’s such a clown. And it’s why I love him so much.
“I have it on good authority that Cindy Sanders is quite the dancer.”
“Oh, you do, do you?” I ask.
“Yes, yes. What she lacks in sidestroke skills she makes up for with some serious moves on the dance floor.
He turns to me, his chin high. “My love, Point is, after the dance we’ve got half a semester to get you through my fitness regimen. You’ll be fine.”
I push him playfully in the chest. “I better be, or I’m going to Cornell.”
He gasps and clutches his chest. “New York! Say it ain’t so!”
He may be joking around, but just the thought of being almost a five and a half hour drive away from Craig makes my heart ache. I just have to trust him.
Craig walks me home after school, carrying both our bags and still managing to put his arm around me. “Feeling better?” he asks.
“Yeah, actually, I am,” I say. “Thanks to you.”
“Just call me Mr. Motivator.”
“Ugh, don’t use that word around me. I think Master Chief Bean has made me allergic to it. He says I need a pack of wild dogs chasing after me on the track if I want to pass the final.”
“Hey, my cousin works at a dog shelt—”
I glare at him.
“What?” he says with a barely concealed laugh. “Look, Cin, I love you, but maybe this dog chase thing is a good—”
We joke with each other until arriving at my house where we give each other a goodbye kiss.