"Welcome to Nowhere"
Baudette, Minnesota was not exactly a town that any teen would choose to live in, if they had a choice. It was a small town, in a huge county, with one of the smallest populations in the entire state. The local teens of the town liked to say that Baudette was located so far north that it was almost in Canada, which was, for the most part, true. Cold winters rocked the town every year, but that was the best part of living there according to Austin Chapman. The way he saw it was that cold winters kept you at home and out of school, and there was nothing he liked more than being at home with his two brothers, just hanging out, without a care in the world.
If you could consider the winters an upside, then you would know that there must be a downside, and if you consider cold winters the downside, then you know there must be an even worse downside, as what's bad can only get worse. The downside, of course, was privacy. Teenagers have this thing about always wanting privacy, but it's unheard of in small towns. Alex Chapman would have told you that it had something to do with being so close to Canada too, but that, for the most part, wasn't true at all. He was just resentful about every fact that pertained to Baudette, Minnesota and could always be counted on to say something negative about the tiny town where there was nothing to do but ice fish or gossip.
Being that it wasn't quite cold enough for ice fishing in late August, there was only one thing left to do. Gossip, naturally. In fact, there was actually something to gossip about that August that didn't involve fabrications on a front porch while the gossipers ate warm chocolate chip cookies while drinking tall, old fashioned glasses of cold milk.
A new family was moving into the lovely, two-story house, right across the field from the Chapman home. It was rare that someone would choose to move to Lake of the Woods County, but hey, no one was complaining. Both parental figures in the new family were medical workers, and getting more doctors into the county seemed like profitable growth to the residents that had lived in Baudette their entire lives. Add in that the doctors had three children, and the deal was even sweeter, as the schools would also become more populated. Good changes.
The change was good to everyone but the younger Chapman brothers, anyway.
"I don't think you understand the concept of what's going on. Dude, in the house right next door, there are girls. Two of them. No doubt doing girly crap that would force you to cringe, have nightmares that make you wet the bed, and, worst of all, make Uncle Rex's big dog look like a pitiful kitten that's been run over by a car. Twice."
The round blue eyes of Jesse Chapman widened. If there was anything more terrifying than Uncle Rex's dog, it was definitely girls, and at the age of nine, a big dog like Mimi was incredibly scary. If his sixteen year old brother, Austin, could give a warning like that about them and seem so frightened, there was certainly a reason to be scared.
Of course, he didn't realize just how much Austin liked to exaggerate. Wind became the sound of torpedoes if you were hearing stories from him. As Austin ran a hand through his auburn hair, he glanced over to where his mother was talking on the phone, undoubtedly to one of the members of the PTA, of which Mrs. Chapman was a devout supporter of. Not only was she was talking animatedly and making plans, but Helen Chapman was also in the process of straightening up the living room. When you were trying to raise three sons, it wasn't unexpected to have to clean up every other hour of the day, and after nearly eighteen years of raising one of her boys, Helen had the coordination to talk, clean, and tune out to anything else that might be going on around her. Instead of listening and stopping the corruption that Austin was planting into poor little Jesse's head, Mrs. Chapman was picking up pillows from the hardwood floor, tossing them onto the couch or loveseat, and using a dust mop at the same time.
Talent and coordination that only a woman could possess.
Assured that he wasn't being overheard, Austin continued in a husky voice, "They might look sweet and innocent with their frilly dresses and brainless heads, but girls are not to be messed with. If you get around—ouch!"
"That was a hit," came the voice of Alex Chapman as he followed Julius, one of the two household cats, down the stairs and into the living room. "Mom, I'm going to Jason's. Be back later."
Scowling, Austin stared at the football on the floor that had conked the back of his head. His older brother, Alex, a soon-to-be senior in high school, was always deserting him. There was only one year in their age difference, but it was enough to make them polar opposites in everything from looks, to popularity, to society, to personality. The only thing that was the same about them was their blood type, though some found even that hard to believe.
Intelligent, confident, athletic, and rumored to be the sexiest male at Lake of Woods School, Alex was constantly going out with some of his many friends. It was questionable about what they did in a town where teens either hung out at Rosalie's Restaurant and Lounge or at the local Pizza Hut, but whatever they did, they must have done it well, because Alex and his friends were always going somewhere. Usually with girls—a lot of girls, in Austin's opinion. Alex, rarely single and looking, always dated the prettiest girls. With his large, sparkling blue eyes, gorgeous grin, dark brown hair, and the earned physique of a jock, there was no wonder why he didn't have as many girls as he wanted.
Just the opposite, Austin had reddish hair, brown eyes, a little extra meat on his lanky bones, and spent all of his nights at home, rarely even thinking about girls in actual interest. Maybe if he was more outgoing and not so shy, he'd play a larger role in the Baudette social scene, but honestly, he couldn't tell you the last time that he'd gone out with any of his friends—possibly because he didn't have many friends. There were Tucker and Phillip, but mainly, it was more like Austin and Jesse, sitting in the basement, being total nerds.
"These…these girls, Austin. Th-they won't try to hurt us, will they?" Jesse Chapman was even shyer than Austin, and he was also probably the only person on the planet that liked Austin more than Alex. He wasn't old enough to realize that while Alex got his entertainment from friends, Austin got his entertainment from scaring Jesse. "I-I mean, we don't have many g-girls around here. They'll want l-less boys, won't they? So they'll—they'll eat us."
Slowly, a grin spread across Austin's face as his thoughts left Alex and settled back on making Jesse fear the new neighbors. His younger brother was right about there not being many girls around. For the most part, the few neighbors around the Chapman house were elderly, and the only family with any children within a mile of their house had twin boys—toddlers. "Probably," he agreed. "I read this book once where these girls got a great big box, put a little boy in it, and mailed him to like, Beijing or something."
Jesse's blue eyes widened further. "Where's that?"
"You don't know where Beijing is?" Austin mused, trying his hardest to sound appalled. It worked too, for when he plopped onto the long, deep green couch, he nearly fell back off it in 'surprise.' "It's really far away, Jesse," Austin informed him, pushing the pillows off the couch and into the floor. He didn't see the fierce look that his mother sent at him for that. "Full of child labor camps, and when you get sent there, you have to work every day, all day long. You can't ever watch TV or go to the bathroom inside."
If it had been possible for Jesse's eyes to widen any further, his eyeballs would have fallen out of their sockets. Thankfully, it wasn't possible for his eyes to widen any further. "Wow. That doesn't sound like fun at all. Why do girls send boys there?"
Suddenly, Austin was becoming bored with making his younger brother fearful of…pretty much whatever he wanted him to be fearful of. Seriously, you could only do the thing you did every day so many times before it became a little dull. "How should I know?" Austin asked with a lazy shrug. "I've never been sent there. Never been around a girl that wanted to send me there. But you, squirt, are going to be lucky if those new girls don't send you there."
Okay, so maybe Austin could go just a little further before it became too dull. After all, it was all the excitement he ever had, day in and day out. And sadly, he might have liked it like that—just having no life, no worries, and no problems but math class to deal with.
- - - - - - - - - -
"Alex, baby, I'm sorry. I-I didn't mean to. I really, really, really didn't." Pamela Fitzgerald clutched Alex's leg tightly, nearly impaling him with her long, acrylic nails. If she'd been any closer to him, she would have been in Alex's lap, and that would have made driving his black Honda Civic more than a little awkward. "It just…slipped out."
"Everything just slips out," Alex practically snapped in reply. He kept his dark blue eyes trained on the road in front of him, ready to dodge any would-be pedestrians, even though no one was stupid enough to walk the roads so late on a Friday night. It was too well known that Friday nights were teen nights, and since school was due to be back in session in a few days, the summer nights of partying were slowly coming to a close. What that meant was that teenagers were officially crazier. And what it also meant was that Alex Chapman was furious that he'd had to skip out on one of the last parties of the summer, simply because he was so pissed off at his girlfriend. To make matters worse, it had been his friend Jason's party, and Jason's parties were always the best.
Pamela's pink glossed lips stuck out in a pout that Alex was way too used to seeing. She hadn't meant to blab to her friends, honestly. "You know I don't handle my alcohol very well," she commented quietly, forcing her enormous blue eyes to her narrow lap. "Traci and Melody just happened to be there with the wine coolers, okay? Things just came out."
Although Alex visibly tensed at the mention of Melody Anderson, one of Pamela's best friends, she didn't seem to notice. In fact, there were a lot of things that Pamela never noticed, and those things included the obvious: Alex was absolutely, positively, stark-raving madly in love with Melody Anderson. Pamela also never noticed that she was simply the rebound chick when Melody broke up with Alex about four months ago and that he never had any feelings for her at all.
He sighed deeply and cast a quick glance at her, trying to hide the repulsion in his eyes. Most guys got lusty when they looked at Pamela's toned body, soft brown locks, and big blue eyes, but not Alex. Not anymore. "What?"
Pamela appeared a little bit doubtful as she rested her hand against his inner thigh. "Maybe you shouldn't be driving. Were you drinking, baby? I can drive for you."
Generally, Alex kept his temper, but when it came to Pamela, his frustration mounted. "No, you're not driving!" he snapped, shoving her hand away from him. "Sit on your own side of the car, and stop talking. I know keeping your mouth shut is a real task for you, Pamela, but do me a favor and shut up!"
"Alex!" Pamela whined, bursting into instant tears. Almost immediately after the first tear was shed, she dug around in her tiny lavender purse, pulling out several tissues. "Y-you don't h-have to be so—so mean, Alex! I-I love you, baby. Pl-please don't—don't be so mean t-to me. I-I'm sorry!"
Alex inhaled deeply, slowly letting out his breath. As much as Pamela got on his nerves, he didn't like to see any girl cry. "Sorry," he mumbled, shifting in the driver's seat uncomfortably. "Don't cry, okay?"
"Awwww, Mr. Grumpy is all gone now!" Pamela giggled, pocketing the Kleenex and giving him a smile. She admired him happily for several moments before turning her gaze away seriously. "Look, Alex, I know I screwed up earlier. What I said to the girls wasn't right. But I'm sorry, and I mean that. Please don't be mad at me anymore."
It was prideful that Alex was angry, and it was even more so when he didn't answer right away. When his girlfriend had announced to her best friends—one of which was his ex-girlfriend—that he and Pamela had never had sex before, the girls each had a comment for him, both of them nastier than Alex would have expected. He could see guys giving him a hard time for not sleeping with a very eager Pamela, but girls? No. It wasn't cool, and Alex had flipped out. Even after what he felt was a sincere apology, he didn't want to forgive Pamela. He didn't want to look at her either.
For once, Pamela picked up on the obvious, as she swallowed thickly. "I-I don't want to lose you, Alex," she barely whispered in a shaky voice. "You mean so much to me. Y-you deserve better than me, you know. I know it. But please, Alex…please give me time to show you how much I love you."
Whoa. Alex nearly forgot that he was driving as he snapped his head to look at her. She thought he'd break up with her? His pride was injured, sure, and he was pissed that she couldn't keep the intimate details of their relationship to herself, but he hadn't planned on breaking up with her. "Pam…you're an awesome girl. You're sweet and caring, and you're nice to everyone. I can't think of a reason that you don't deserve the best out there. I'm just glad that you settled for me."
Lies. Alex knew he was saying them. He'd ditch Pamela for Melody any day, as long as Melody would stop flirting with the other guys in town. It was fine when he started dating Melody's best friend, but Alex couldn't handle it when he had to watch Melody flirt with some of his. He was a hypocrite, but he was in love, so wasn't he entitled to some jealousy? Melody sure wasn't feeling any, that was for sure.
"I-I really do love you, Alex," Pamela repeated, nodding her head for emphasis so that her brown hair bounced against her bare shoulders. "And I really am sorry for tonight."
"Don't worry about it." Alex offered her a gentle smile and lightly brushed his lips over hers, despite that it wasn't such a good move while driving. At least he'd had the decency to slow the car down drastically, so that if he hit something, the impact would have been a lot less. "It's fine. Just…try not to talk about us so much. Okay? I don't like my business out in the open like that."
Pamela nodded her head eagerly, as though completely understanding and respecting him. "Okay, baby. I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever say what we do or don't do ever again."
Whether or not Alex believed her didn't exactly matter. She was just a girl that happened to take up much of his time. Pamela just meant someone to hang out with and go to parties with, though she wasn't supposed to be embarrassing him in front of his friends. She was supposed to be his ticket back into Melody's heart, but that wasn't working so far. Why Alex believed that anything involving Pamela would work out was a mystery.
- - - - - - - - - -
Pondering the meaning of life seemed like a Buddhist thing to do. Actually, if Austin was completely honest with himself, he wasn't really sure if Buddhists pondered the meaning of life. He assumed that they probably didn't, but since he always imagined them to be peaceful people, they might as well ponder something while they were being so calm and serene, and if you were a Buddhist monk with nothing to do but chill out and ponder stuff, you might as well ponder the meaning of life, right?
Austin had never considered being Buddhist until that Friday night. He'd been lying in bed, watching the numbers change on the digital clock, just thinking about things. Somehow, it had registered in his mind that maybe Buddhists did that kind of thing, only without the electronic clocks to watch. Now that he was comparing the differences between his life and the potential life of a Buddhist monk, Austin had to admit there were some major similarities. In fact, living in such a small town was about the equivalent of living in a monastery as far as he had considered. There was nothing to do in either, so nothing ever happened.
Hmmm…but maybe a monastery would be more exciting. You could at least plant seeds in the ground and watch something grow, couldn't you? That could be...exciting. Possibly. It would be exciting in comparison to watching a banana rot, which Austin had been forced to do in Biology class his sophomore year.
Austin was still lying on the same spot on his twin bed when the digital clock read 2:47. His brother's curfew was one o'clock, unless stated otherwise, and Austin happened to know that it hadn't been stated as anything but one o'clock. It rarely was, but it was even rarer that Alex entered the bedroom that he shared with his brother before at least three or four in the morning. Normally, Austin would try to get Mr. Perfect Brother caught breaking curfew by littering the plush navy carpet with various items—footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, tennis balls, textbooks, DVD's, glass bottles, rusty nails, barbwire—so that Alex would trip and make enough noise to wake up one of the parental figures. That night, though, Austin didn't even care, and he barely noticed when his older brother snuck into their bedroom.
"You're home early, dude," Austin commented, catching Alex off guard, as it was so silent that he expected everyone to be asleep. "Let me guess. Did someone overdose?"
Even in the dim night, Alex could be seen smirking as he pulled his shirt off and prepared to crawl into his bed across the room from Austin. "Not tonight. Keep hoping though. Maybe next time."
"You always say that. So far, there have been no fatalities. I'm almost starting to doubt all those death-by-drugs statistics." Austin stretched his legs out, knowing they weren't as toned as Alex's and somehow not even caring just then. He heard Alex stretching also and didn't even have to look over to know that his own muscle mass was much less than his brother's. Just then, that didn't matter either. "You know that the new neighbors are moving in tomorrow?"
Alex hadn't planned on answering Austin. He'd heard that a family from Washington was finally moving into the old Watson house, the one that had been deserted for about three years—ever since Mr. and Mrs. Watson died within four months of each other. It hadn't occurred to him to really care about it, as Alex was too busy thinking about how to have fun with his friends. But now that he heard Austin's interest in the new family, Alex wondered if maybe there was something he hadn't considered before.
"I heard they were moving in some time," Alex yawned, barely intelligible. He rolled over and fluffed his pillow up. "Why?"
"Jesse's scared of them," Austin announced, telling a half-lie. The little brother was scared of them, pretty much; he just didn't have a valid reason to be. "Mom told me they have daughters, and Jesse's freaking out about cooties or something like that."
"Cooties, huh?" Alex asked in genuine interest, his voice brightened slightly. So that was what he hadn't considered—there could be new people to party with. Hang out with. Liven the town up with. If they were cool enough. "You know how old they are?"
"Nope." Austin was beginning to regret talking at all when Alex came in, or at least mentioning the new girls in town. Alex was going to have a new distraction away from making friends with his brothers, and that distraction was called charming the ladies. "I just know that there are two girls and a guy. Probably a younger family, I'd say."
Alex didn't answer that time. He was too busy pretending to be asleep, although as tired as he was, he couldn't rest. It had been a long time since Baudette had gotten a new family, and while that should have piqued his interest, he wasn't too concerned about it. He was thinking about Melody and how pretty she was when she smiled, showing off her startling white, straight teeth. He remembered how her blonde hair felt when it brushed against his cheek every time he kissed her sweet, soft lips. Her hands had been so slender and tiny, especially when they'd been clasped in his much larger hands. Alex remembered how harmonious her laugh was and how every time she smiled, a twinkle appeared in her green eyes. With that image in his mind and such hopes in his heart, sleep was evitable for Alex.