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Sentimental Value

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Saturday dawned clear and bright, hot but not humid enough to be sticky: perfect yard sale weather. Jim had been half hoping for rain, but he knew when he was beat. Shauna had already helped him move everything out to the garage, earlier in the week, and she came over a couple of hours early so they could set up together.

“I’m glad you’re doing this, Dad,” she told him. “It’s past time. And maybe someone else will get good use out of this stuff.”

So they put up the folding tables and rolled out the rack of clothes, and set milk crates full of records in a neat line marching along the near edge of the driveway. Jim didn’t want to be bothered with price tags, so they made a five-dollar table and a two-dollar table, and everything not on a table could go for a buck for all Jim cared.

He’d put signs around the neighborhood on Tuesday, and Shauna had put an ad up on Craigslist, so people started trickling in right around ten o’ clock. There were a handful of women not much younger than Jim, and some teenagers he recognized as belonging to a family ‘round the corner. He sold a few things: some framed prints, a couple of t-shirts, an old leather suitcase that Meredith used to keep art supplies in.

A little after eleven, a young couple showed up. Jim noticed them because they didn’t come close enough to look at anything for nearly half an hour, just stood there on the sidewalk. After a while of that the woman said something in the man’s ear and gave him a push, gentle-looking but enough to make him stumble forward. She stayed where she was, watching from the sidewalk, and her boyfriend took a few more hesitant steps forward until he was looking down at the crates full of records.

“Uh, you’re selling these? All of ‘em?” he asked. He was tall and broad-shouldered, wearing a worn t-shirt and new-looking jeans, and the way he looked at Jim was making Jim uneasy for reasons he couldn’t puzzle out.

“Yep,” Jim said. “Dollar apiece. Less if you get a bunch.”

“Oh, I’m not-- I didn’t know you were, I mean. I don’t have cash, anyway,” he said, but his eyes kept wandering back to look at the records.

From the sidewalk, his girlfriend said, “I have local currency, if you need it.” She didn’t have an accent, exactly, but her language was a little too precise for a native speaker. Jim glanced at her. Pretty, slim, dark-skinned; her long black hair was streaked with red at the ends and she had a no-nonsense set to her face that Jim approved of. She raised an eyebrow when she caught Jim looking at her.

“Wait, what?” said the boyfriend. “When did you-- did Rocket get you to take him to the ATM? I told him not to, like, eight times.”

She shrugged. “He’s restless. I can’t blame him. At least we can go out more easily than he can.” She was playing with the bracelet on her wrist as she said it: a close-fitting silvery cuff that looked at bit like one of those new cell phone watches, the ones that made Jim think of the Jonny Quest cartoons the girls had watched as kids. Except it had a lot more blinking lights and buttons. “Anyway, I have money. If you would like to buy things here.”

“I-- yeah. Okay,” said the boyfriend, and he crouched down in front of the first box of records, balancing on the balls of his feet, but he didn’t move to start flipping through them. Just hovered there, staring at the cover of the album in front.

“You can go through ‘em, if you want,” said Jim.

“Yeah,” said the boyfriend, but he didn’t, just reached out and gently touched the one in front. “My, uh, my mom used to listen to a lot of these.”

And, well, Jim knew all about that; it had, after all, taken him the better part of thirty years to part with the last of Meredith and Peter’s things. For that, he felt unaccountably fond of this stranger, this young man looking at the cover of Dark Side of the Moon as though the memories it called up made him want to laugh and cry all at once.

“Hey, Dad?” Shauna called, from the other side of the yard. “You got change for a twenty?”

Jim did.

He spent the next half-hour or so busy, helping a lady wrap up the glassware she’d bought and saying hello to a couple of neighbors who’d stopped by. By then, the young woman had started poking through the boxes of toys under the two-dollar table; the young man had amassed a pile of albums, and looked stricken.

“I probably can’t buy everything, can I?” Jim heard him ask her.

“I don’t know why you’d want to,” she replied. “I’m not even sure what most of these things are.” She held up an action figure from the box. “What purpose does this serve, exactly?”

“Oh man, that’s my-- are there more Ninja Turtles in there? I need those,” and he shouldered her aside to look. She stood over him, arms crossed, wearing an expression that said she was running out of patience.

“You need to make up your mind,” she informed her boyfriend. “Either do what you’re here to do, or don’t. Dithering doesn’t suit you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he groused, “do or do not, there is no try, I know. Oh, hey, that reminds me, we gotta watch those while we’re here!”

“I already told you,” she said, with a long-suffering air. “Rocket got you copies of all those things you asked for. Digital ones, like sensible people have.”

He pulled a face in response, and why did it look familiar, that expression? Jim could swear he’d never met the kid. Well, and ‘kid’ wasn’t all that fair, either; the guy had to be thirty at least, but from Jim’s side of seventy most people looked awfully young.

He seemed even younger when he stared down at his stack of albums and traced the lines of the cover illustration on top of the pile. That had been one of Meredith’s, Jim remembered. The kid looked up at his girlfriend and said “Sensible’s one thing, sure, but you ever hear of sentimental value?”

“I can’t say I’ve ever been known for sentimentality, no,” she said, wry. “Nor had much chance to try it. If you want those things, buy them, but that’s not what you’re here for.”

“What are you here for, then?” Jim asked. The kid’s eyes cut sideways, and guilt, of all things, flashed across his face plain as day. He knew that expression. Where the hell did he know it from? “Didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but, well. From the way your girlfriend’s talking, it sounds important.”

“Oh, Gamora’s not--” the kid said, and Gamora, apparently, if that was her name, said “I am certainly not his--”

Then Shauna came up behind him and said “Dad, I think there’s a storm blowing up,” and Jim looked up at the sky to find it boiling with clouds all of a sudden.

“Ah, jeez,” Jim said. “C’mon, there’s tarps in the garage.”

“Let me give you a hand,” said the kid. He was staring at Shauna like he’d seen a ghost.

“Are you sure that’s wise?” asked Gamora.

“What exactly are you here for, if it isn’t the yard sale?” Jim asked. There was that guilty look again. “Have we met, son?”

A huge bolt of lightning split the sky, the boom instantaneous and so loud Jim felt it in his chest. Shauna flinched, and the kid winced, and Gamora’s hand went to her hip and her eyes went flinty.

“We should go,” she told her friend.

“What, c’mon, it’s just a little thunder,” he said. “We always got thunderstorms late in the summer when I was a kid, they were actually kind of awesome--”

That was when a big blond guy in a red cape dropped out of the sky.

“Ah, jeez,” the kid said, just the same way Jim had said it a moment ago, like huge armored men with hammers were about the same amount of troublesome as rain at a yard sale.

“Oh my god,” said Shauna. “It’s that Thor guy! From the news!”

“The hell’s he doing here?” Jim asked. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about this alien stuff that had been happening, in New York and then in London. It didn’t seem quite real. Mostly Jim thought that aliens were a bit much to have to adjust to for a man at his time of life.

“I told you,” said Gamora. “We should have gone.”

“Yeah, okay, point to you,” said the kid.

Thor stood up from the crouch he’d landed in, and swung his hammer once, as if testing the weight. When he saw Gamora, his eyes narrowed, and he advanced on where she was standing with her friend and Jim and Shauna.

“You,” he said to her. “I know you, disguise or no. Your master may want this world, but he will have to send more than you to take it while I am here.”

Shauna squeaked, wide-eyed, hands clapped over her mouth. Jim saw what she was staring at: Gamora had a knife in her hand, and was standing wire-taut, but her friend stepped between her and Thor, hands up, placating. “Hey, whoa, no one wants a fight here, big guy,” he said. “We’re just hanging out, nice Saturday morning, I was maybe gonna buy this copy of Ziggy Stardust. Take it easy.”

“Do not mock me,” Thor growled, and Gamora scowled and pushed her friend aside.

“You’ve been on this planet too long, if you think I still serve Thanos,” she told him. “And you’re as big a fool as I ever heard you were, Asgardian, if you think I served him willingly for even an instant.”

Thor bristled at the insult. “I am not so great a fool as to trust anything you say,” he said. “Be warned. Midgard is under my protection, and I will not hesitate to defend it.”

“Oh, man,” Shauna said under her breath. Jim could see one of the neighbor kids filming the whole thing on his phone. He sidled in front of Shauna, just in case it came to a fight, so he could hustle her away if he needed to.

“Dude, there’s nothing to defend it from, seriously,” said the kid. “We’re just visiting, and Gamora cut ties with Thanos kind of dramatically. Didn’t you hear about that whole thing on Xandar?”

Thor frowned, uncertain. “What? I don’t--”

“See, this is why I had the Nova Corps make us these,” the kid told Gamora, rummaging in his back pocket. He produced a metal-and-plastic rectangle the size of a business card, and tapped it twice. It spat out a holographic projection bigger than a beach ball, alien characters flickering under pictures of the kid along with other, stranger creatures. One of them looked like Gamora, only green.

“Oh, wow,” Shauna breathed. “What does it say?” Jim wondered, too, but he didn’t know if getting involved in some weird alien spat was a good idea.

Thor only glanced at Shauna, though, and began to read out loud. “The bearer of this card,” he said, “is hereby pardoned for all past crimes and offenses against the laws of the Xandarian Empire, in thanks for valiant defense of the Homeworld, at great personal risk, against the forces of Ronan the Accuser.”

“Okay?” said the kid. He glanced at Gamora. “Told you these were a good idea.”

She rolled her eyes. “I lent mine to Drax. He lost his.”

“What, again? That’s like the third time, they’re gonna stop giving us replacements!”

Thor swiped at the hologram, pulling up more text. His eyebrows went up. “An Infinity Stone?” he asked. He sounded skeptical, but maybe a little impressed, too. “How did you--”

“It’s a really, really, really long story. Look, we’re not here to pick a fight, I swear. Just visiting. I’m Terran-- well, half-- and Gamora’s along for the ride.” There were more spectators now than just the people out for the yard sale, Jim realized. Half the neighbors were out of their houses, or at their windows, and there were a lot of phones up, recording. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Shauna trying to do the same without being noticed.

Thor didn’t seem bothered by any of it. He just nodded, and turned back to Gamora. “My apologies, then,” he said. “And my congratulations, for breaking free of Thanos.”

She nodded back, a little jerky, and said, “I-- your brother.”

Thor looked like the kid had, earlier, talking about his mother. “You knew him?”

“We met briefly,” Gamora said. “I know my sister liked him, as much as Nebula ever likes anyone.”

“He’s dead,” said Thor, “and I-- well. Do you have a ship nearby? We should speak in private, I think.”

“That sounds like a really good idea,” said the kid. “Gamora, how about you and, uh, Thor? Thor, okay, you guys go back to the ship, and I’m gonna pay for this stuff, and--

“And then you should do what you came to do,” said Gamora, and she gave Jim, of all people, a significant look. She plucked the card from the kid’s hand, the hologram sputtering out. “Out of all of us, you’re the only one with a chance like this.” She tapped it a couple of times, and when it popped back on the text was all in English.

“Don’t waste it,” she said, and handed the card back before she turned to walk off with Thor.

“I-- Gamora, c’mon! That’s cheating,” he said, trying to tap it off again, but Jim was already reading: half of it made no sense, all Infinity Stones and Ravagers and names with too many vowels. Then it flickered back to the first page, with the photographs now labeled in text that Jim could read.

GAMORA, it said, and the other aliens had names now too: ROCKET, DRAX, GROOT. And then, under the photo of the sandy-haired man standing in front of him, muttering under his breath at the card, there it was: PETER JASON QUILL.

Jim stared at the kid-- at Peter-- and finally placed his expression. He’d seen Meredith make that face a thousand times, every time she did something she knew she oughtn’t; he’d seen it on Peter as a kid a hundred more. Now he knew to look, he could see Meredith in Peter’s face, could see a little of his own father and Shauna’s kids and even himself as a younger man.

Shauna said “Peter?” Jim didn’t look at her, because she sounded about an inch from bursting into tears, and that was something she’d gotten from him; it was Meredith, and her mother, who’d been the tough ones. “Is it really you?”

“Hi, Aunt Shauna,” said Peter, as the hologram finally shut off for good. His voice sounded wobbly, too. “Grandpa. I, uh. I had a much better plan for telling you guys, but, you know.” He gestured in the direction the aliens had gone. “Thor.”

“Guy sure knows how to make an entrance,” said Jim. If his voice was a little rough, well. He was an old man. That was okay.

“Yeah, Asgardians are all a bunch of drama queens,” Peter said easily, like this was normal for him; apparently, it was. “You’d think a bunch of dudes who live nearly forever would be more easygoing, but nope. Um. I really missed you guys.”

This last he said too fast, looking down at his feet, and in response Shauna said “Oh, Peter,” wetly, and lurched forward to fling her arms around him.

“Hey, hey, don’t cry,” Peter was saying to Shauna, patting her back, “It’s okay, I’m fine, I’m basically Han Solo--”

Shauna hiccuped a laugh, and detached herself long enough to wipe her face. Peter swiped at his eyes, too, blinking fast, and when he saw how Jim was looking at him he said, “I’m sorry I ran off. And got abducted by aliens. And, you know. All of that.”

“You came back,” said Jim, “so-- that’s all right. Get over here.” The last time he’d put his arms around Peter, he’d been lifting him bodily away from Meredith’s bedside. This was better.

“I have to call the kids,” Shauna was saying, when Jim started listening again. “They’ll want to meet you, Peter, they’ve never had a cousin before--”

“Wait, I have cousins?” Peter asked, delighted, and Shauna nodded and beamed at him.

“My oldest starts college soon, she’ll be so excited--”

Jim couldn’t get over it: how tall Peter was, the ways his face and voice had changed in adulthood, and he kept spotting glimpses of the boy he’d known, of Meredith. He’d spent a lot of time imagining what Peter might have grown up to be, over the years, and never thought he’d get to find out if he’d been guessing right.

“Can you stay?” Jim blurted out, interrupting Shauna. “Are you here for good, or--”

Peter made another familiar face, one that Jim remembered from when Meredith didn’t want to tell you something she knew you didn’t want to hear.

“I-- it’s complicated,” Peter said. “I mean, jeez. Where would I park my spaceship? And my friends don’t exactly blend in.”

“So?” said Jim. “Let ‘em take it with them. You don’t need it here, do you?”

“Grandpa, c’mon,” said Peter. “I can’t-- I don’t have a life I can drop back into, here. Spaceship piloting and blaster repair aren’t really useful Terran skills. Actually, I’m pretty sure most of the jobs on Earth at least want you to have finished the fourth grade.”

“None of that matters, Pete,” said Jim. “We’d make it work, you know we could. If you wanted to stay.”

Peter looked stricken. “Grandpa--”

“Don’t you Grandpa me, Peter. You don’t get to disappear for thirty years and think a one-day visit’s going be enough.”

Now the shock has passed, he found that he had room to be angry. He was surprised at how much it stung, realizing Peter wasn’t staying. That he was choosing whatever life he’d been living while he was gone, over his family.

It was Shauna who snapped him out of it. “You’re not being fair, Dad,” she told Jim. “Peter’s a grown man, and he’s not wrong that it wouldn’t be easy. Which isn’t to say we don’t want you here,” she added, turning back to Peter. “We missed you, every day. You and your mother both.”

“Me too,” said Peter. “God, me too. But it’s not just that, y’know. Even if I could jump right back into living here, I couldn’t hand the keys to my friends and wave ‘em goodbye. They’re-- they’re family too, okay?”

And that-- that actually did make it better, a little. Because that meant Peter wasn’t leaving them for the sake of being Han Solo. And it meant that someone had been looking after him, out there in space.

“Oh, honey,” said Shauna, and hugged Peter again. “I’m glad, in that case. But I want to meet them. And you can stay a little while, right? At least long enough to meet the kids?”

“Yeah, of course,” said Peter. “Of course I will.”

“And after that?” asked Jim. “Will you come back?”

“As often as I can,” Peter said. “I promise, Grandpa.” His expression was another one Jim recognized, another one of Meredith’s. This one said: I’m sorry that you don’t like what I’ve decided to do, but I know it’s right, so I’m doing it anyway.

“Well,” said Jim. “That’s all right, then.”

Peter looked at the stack of records he’d set down on the folding table. “Y’know, it’s probably going to take a few trips just to get all the stuff of mine and Mom’s that you guys saved,” he said. “I mean. If you don’t mind hanging on to it for me for a little while longer.”

Jim smiled. “Pete,” he said, “if it means you’ll come back for it, I’ll hang on to this stuff forever.”

Shauna made an exasperated noise. “Dad,” she said, “you just want an excuse to haul all this junk back into the house!”

“And I got one, didn’t I?” said Jim. He clapped his hands together. “Show’s over, folks,” he said to the few straggling neighbors who hadn’t left yet. “And the yard sale’s over too. Peter, you want to help me pack everything up again?”

“Sure, Grandpa,” Peter said, and laughed when Shauna glared at him.

“Sorry!” he told her. “I come by it honestly. You know Mom never wanted to get rid of anything, either.”

“Oh, I know,” she told him. “I shudder to think what a mess that spaceship of your must be.”

“Hey!” said Peter, and while he defended his spaceship’s honor, Jim started filling up a box with Meredith’s collection of well-thumbed science fiction paperbacks.

He hadn’t known, all this time, that he’d been right to keep this stuff. He hadn’t known it still held any sort of value for anyone but him.

“Here,” said Peter, and took the full box from Jim’s hands before he could lift it off the table. “I got it.”

He hitched it under one arm like it weighed nothing. “Thanks,” he told Jim.

“What for?” Jim asked.

“For hanging onto all of this. For-- hanging onto me, I guess.”

“Like I said,” Jim told his grandson. “I’d have been happy to hang onto it forever. But I’ll be happier for you to take it with you, I think.”

Peter smiled at that. “Actually,” he said, “that reminds me. Drax says if I don’t bring him all of the Jackson 5 albums I can find, he’ll remove my spine.”

“What?” Shauna said.

“Figure of speech!” Peter said. “Uh. Well, more an exaggeration for effect. Drax doesn’t really do metaphor. Don’t worry about it, anyway-- I’ve got it completely under control.”

That, Jim recalled, was what Meredith used to say when the precise opposite was true. But she’d always scraped up a solution in the end. He wasn’t worried about Peter doing the same.

“I’ll do you one better,” he told Peter. “I’ve got ‘em all on CD, too.”