I AM! and the ship appears, snapping into existence in the heart of the worm hole. It hangs there, a dream on the verge of loss until- SO THERE! and out it leaps, into the real.
“Very smooth, Britney.”
“Yeah, but you’re too old to feel jump anyway, Captain.” The little jump pilot yanked her interface free from her curls. “When’s orbit?”
“Two? Real space is so slow! I hate going slow.” Britney wadded up the interface, not noticing the Captain’s wince as she stuffed the sensitive piece of bio-ware back in its compartment.
“I know, we all do.” He held out a mug of hot chocolate, the standard post-jump reward, and she took it before scuffing sulkily off the bridge. “Why else would we let twelve-year-olds drag us through hyperspace?”
“Miguel?” The boy who’d opened the door blinked at Britney with surprise.
“Not Miguel. Raphael, right?” The boy nodded, and Britney felt herself blushing. Stupid. He’s big now. He’s a daddy. “My name’s Britney. I’m here to see your dad.”
Understanding dawned, and the boy bounced with excitement. “The jump pilot! But…” He trailed off, staring eye-to-eye with her. “But he said you were in jump school with him when he was little.”
“She was, Raphael. We talked about this, remember?” The man who stepped up behind Raphael was tall, so tall, but his brown eyes were still the same in his grown-up face. “Remember Neverland?”
“Miguel,” she whispered, and she could feel her throat tighten with tears.
“I’m glad you finally came to see me.” They sat alone on the patio behind his house, surrounded by flowers.
“I was so mad.” Britney twisted a daisy between her fingers, staring at the ground. “You were my best friend, and you went away. And you wanted to take me away too. Away from Neverland.”
“You still don’t understand, do you? After all these years.” His hand reached out to touch hers, so much larger now. “Britney, I loved jumping. I loved you. But I had to leave if I wanted a family.”
She looked up at him, a strange realization dawning. “A family…” A woman had taken Raphael, a woman she’d barely greeted. His wife. That could have been her, here, tall and curved and with Miguel. Without Neverland. “I didn’t know.”
“I didn’t explain myself well. I was twelve.”
“I’m still twelve,” she whispered.
“And you always will be, won’t you?” His hand tightened over hers. “You’ll keep jumping, and stay twelve forever.”
Britney nodded. “I love it. How it feels. Outside the real… Is it wrong, to want to stay in Neverland? Do you miss it?”
“Every day, Britney. Every day. But I had to make my choice.” He leaned forward, touched his lips to her forehead, and she remembered kissing him in the back corridors of their school forty years before. “You made yours too. Don’t regret it. Remember me, in Neverland.”
“I will,” she said softly. “Always.”