Author: Arrowned PM
PRMF: Chip hasn't had the easiest of lives, thanks to a turbulent past. But it's his newfound classmates, one music loving girl in particular, who help him to remember that any adversity can be overcome with the support of friends who care about you.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama - Chip & Vida - Words: 21,122 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 1 - Published: 11-22-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3256206
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: Chip's parents, uncle, aunt, and the Rocca parents are mine. Everything else is owned by Disney/BVE/VRP.
Author's Note: This is not a Chip/Vida romance story. I like the pairing, but I'm not a massive fan. I do, however, enjoy the dynamics of the friendship between the two that we saw, so I decided to concentrate on that. Of course, it didn't take me long to realize after I started that this story could easily set the pairing up, even without specifically being a Chida fic. This story actually came about when the idea jumped into my head after reading Challenge 3 from Livejournal's mysticforce100 community. I wanted to try and do a drabble that would contain all four of the challenge parts, but the story I came up with to do it couldn't possibly be truncated into only 100 words. In fact, as I started fleshing it out, it sort of grew and grew until this monster popped out. The fic is actually slightly AU, since it's based on the original Jetix profile for Chip stating that his parents were dead and that he's living with his uncle, something the show invalidated thanks to a stray comment in the episode Fire Heart. Also, Chip and Vida met in middle school in my story, whereas in the show they've known each other at least five years before that. The present-day portions of the fic take place over the course of October 2005, which, at my guess and based on footage in Code Busters, is about a month before Nick moves to town and the Rangers initially get their powers.
I decided to do this as a flashback fic; I had seen it used elsewhere with a nice effect (BloomingViolets "Yours Forever" for one, though that was the first time I had read one where the flashbacks were in reverse). I also used some minor 'pre-story' plot points from other places, such as NeoVenus22's "Blue Moon in your Eyes", M14Mouse's "Yellow Bulls Eyes", and JTrevizo's "Always a Ranger". Sarafu gave me advice on the format; the flashbacks were far too huge individually to be italicizing scene cuts like no tomorrow. I do have to apologize in advance though. Most of the story is written in third person limited, but there are a few times I switched to omniscient on purpose. That's a pretty irresponsible thing for a writer to do, but because of the flashback organization, I really had no good way of fixing it. I did, however, try to make it as clear as I could who's thinking what and where.
The fic's dedicated to everyone who's dropped into the #prfic chatroom so far; you know who you are. Special thanks go to Angel Negra, cmar, and kikos ai for beta-reading this for me. Hope everyone enjoys it. Leave a review on your way out.
Chip quietly stepped down the stairs. It was past his bedtime, and he'd probably be in trouble if his uncle or aunt caught him. Then again, he was just going to get a quick drink of water; it wasn't like he was trying to sneak out of the house to go clubbing with Vida. Of course, Vida had connived him into doing that once, so they might jump to conclusions before he could explain. Hence, the sneaking. It hadn't occurred to him that if they were awake and he made obvious noise as he walked through the house that they'd be less suspicious of his activities.
Traveling across the far left-side of the hallway, since he knew one of the floorboards on the right-side squeaked, he went in the direction of the kitchen, but slowed to a stop when he noticed the light to the den was on. He shook his head in annoyance and started to turn around to head back to his room when he caught the conversation going on in mid-turn.
Eavesdropping was horrid in his relatives' eyes, and he knew he'd get walloped if they caught him here. But he found that he couldn't leave, once he realized what they were talking about.
"I can't believe they'd just up and shut down like that..." his aunt said.
"They'd been in legal troubles for years, as it turns out. I guess filing for bankruptcy now makes sense; get out while the getting's good," replied his uncle.
"Yes, but that doesn't help us much, now does it Kirby?" she retorted, though Chip could hear the loving concern under her comment.
Chip heard his uncle sigh. "No, I guess not."
They were quiet for a minute. Chip was thinking furiously. There was only one place he could think of that could have shut down recently that would affect his family as much as it sounded like it was: the textile factory his uncle worked at. And if that was the case, then it would mean his uncle had just lost his job. Pretty crummy news, clearly, and Chip gently bit the inside of his lip in concern. However, the family ran their farm; maybe that would help out.
"What about the proceeds from the organics we sell?" Clearly his aunt was thinking along the same line as he was.
"No, that wouldn't work Ree. The farm would've barely made enough money for us to make it through last year, had I not had this job then. Profit's falling off. We can probably fix that over the course of the next year, but we need to make it through this year to do so."
His wife sighed. "How much money do we have stored away right now?"
"Enough to last us a month or two. It shouldn't take that long for me to find a new job, I think."
"Hey, you know I've always been lucky." Chip could imagine the grin on his uncle's face, though even that thought didn't cheer him up at all. As he turned to sneak back upstairs, he could hear his aunt chuckle in response. He was too far away for her responding comment to be audible, at that point.
Back in his room, he climbed into bed and lay there in silence. What would they do if his uncle couldn't find a job? He had no idea, and the ramifications scared him. He cursed his body for having suddenly developed a vital need for thirst-quenching right that second. He never really paid attention to that old 'ignorance is bliss' line, but he certainly had proof of it right now.
He turned off the lamp on the desk beside him and rolled over, trying to get to sleep.
"So what's this game supposed to be about anyways?" asked the woman sitting in the front passenger seat. She looked down at the CD case in her hands, blinking at the image of three characters, one dressed like a captain on the high seas, a second looking like a feisty, adventurous girl, and a third seemingly pretty timid, wearing a demure dress.
"Pirates!" came the response from the eleven year old sitting in the back seat. The woman laughed in response.
"Okay honey, you're gonna have to be a little more detailed than that." Andrea knew she was probably making a mistake asking her son for more information, but even when she was in a bad mood, his rambling was endearing, never annoying. Her son was so very rambunctious, and she loved him dearly. He had the zest for adventure that she had grown up with, herself coming from a rural background where the next hill was always waiting for you to climb, to find the secrets hidden behind. His friendliness, his ability to make everyone except the meanest of bullies enjoy having him around, had certainly come from his father.
His dislike of his true first name also came from his father. Kaleb didn't go by a nickname, but he had never been keen on his own parents' tactic of naming their kids with the same first letter, so he was not going to saddle his son with another K name. Once he was old enough to realize that he could like and dislike various things about his life, though, the child had decided he didn't much like Charlie as a name either. 'Chip' was soon born after a stray comment by his grandfather, who noticed that the kid was identical in temperament to both his parents.
Chip tried to explain the game his parents had just purchased as an extremely early birthday present in more detail. "Okay, supposedly it's about a world where there's no ground; the entire planet is all sky. The continents are these huge floating islands, and all the people travel back and forth by airship. And the main characters in the game are part of a group of pirates who steal from the rich and give to the poor, just like Robin Hood. And there are bad pirates too, and one country that's in a war with another, trying to take over the planet eventually. So you play as the good pirates, and you have to deal with all of that in an attempt to save the world."
Andrea smiled, liking the sound of it, promising herself to check it out while he was gone come Monday morning. Kaleb didn't pay much attention to Chip's games, only checking to make sure that he wasn't playing anything rated too high. But twenty years ago, on rainy days when she couldn't explore the countryside, a pre-teen Andrea often played her older brother's Atari. As a result, she didn't feel any shame nowadays over hijacking her son's games while he was at school.
"No playing the game until you've got your chores done though," Kaleb said after a brief chuckle. Andrea's smirked in response; her husband probably knew full well what she intended without even having to look at her.
"Oh, sure. I've wanna go ahead and finish my homework anyways so I don't have to worry about it tomorrow or Sunday. Hey Dad, what's happening on the other side of the road?"
Kaleb and Andrea looked in that direction. The family watched in sudden horror as a car swerved sideways and slammed into the cab of an eighteen-wheeler. The massive truck was unable to control itself and fell onto its side, the entire trailer sliding across the median, towards their side of the highway.
"Hang on!" Kaleb screamed, and wrenched the steering wheel in an attempt to avoid the oncoming vehicle.
He felt a blanket covering his body, but he was in too much pain to move, so he just laid there, his mind a confusing jumble that wanted to drop back into unconsciousness.
"...survivor. He was in the back half of the car when the trailer sheared it in half." The voice came from behind Chip, but was muted, as if it was inside somewhere and he was outside. Or maybe it was the other way around; he couldn't tell.
"Poor kid. But he's lucky to be alive. Any ID on him?" added another voice in the same direction.
"Yes; his wallet had a WA identification card on him, thankfully. We..." Chip could hear soft footsteps as the voices trailed off. Too much pain... Chip was too hurt and too tired to figure out what had happened, what they were talking about. He drifted back to sleep.
Chip was already sitting at the group's usual table when Madison plopped her lunch down. He wasn't eating; he had his Magic the Gathering cards out and seemed to be organizing them. He looked pretty dejected.
"Chip? What's wrong?" she asked.
He shook his head in response. "Nothing, really."
Vida and Xander chose that moment to walk up and lay their lunch trays on the table as they sat down. They had been close enough that they caught Madison's question, and they both could see the expression on Chip's face.
"Nothing my foot. What's up?" Vida commented.
Chip glanced up at her, then rolled his eyes, knowing that pretending like nothing was the matter had now officially strayed into 'lost cause' territory. "My uncle lost his job."
The others looked properly alarmed at that, which internally pleased Chip. He wasn't sure why he should be happy with the knowledge that his friends cared about his family's situation; that fact should've been common sense after all the years he had known them. But it made him feel slightly better nonetheless.
"How in the hoots did that happen?" asked Xander.
Chip shrugged. "Grayson's shut down. Bankruptcy or something like that."
Madison leaned back into her chair. "Gosh, that's horrible. There's, like, two thousand people working there. And all of them would be laid off too?"
"Man, that's rough," Vida said. "Does he know what he's gonna do?"
"Not really," replied Chip. "He was just discussing it with Aunt Ree last night. I mean, it's obvious he's going to have to go job-hunting, but it's all still pretty sudden."
The four were quiet for a minute, thinking the situation over. Vida stirred her mashed potatoes around in swirls as she thought.
"I wish there was something we could do to help," Xander said, breaking the silence, as he lifted a glass of tea to his lips.
Vida glanced over at him with a raised eyebrow and a teasing look. "You could prostitute yourself and give the profit to the Thorns."
The sip of liquid that Xander had just taken suddenly went spraying out of his mouth. Chip and Madison broke out in laughter. Success! Vida thought to herself, upon seeing Chip smiling again, though she knew it was likely to be temporary.
Xander glared at Vida before turning back to Chip. "Anyways, I know it all sounds rough, but things'll work out mate. I'm sure they will."
Chip's lips twitched in response. "Yeah, I suppose so. So what are you guys doing after school today? I've gotta finish that American History project."
"Ugh," replied Vida with a frown. "I haven't even started that thing."
"Vee, it's due in, like, two weeks."
"Plenty of time," she replied as she started eating the macaroni on her tray.
Madison rolled her eyes. "I bet you fifty dollars she's gonna ask me to help."
"Not a chance, now that you said it. Just so I don't have to hear the 'I told you so'."
Madison grinned. "I got blindsided by Calculus homework this morning, so I suppose I'll be working on that most of the night. What about you, Xander?"
"Skate park," he replied as he winked at two girls passing by, who giggled as they went. The other three teens all rolled their eyes, not sure what they expected to be more obvious: his answer, or his reaction to passing females.
Chip stared out the window. The rolling hillsides of southern California passed behind what seemed like an endless amount of trees. The sunset had turned the land into a deep shade of red, with purple majestically scattered about. It was sort of pretty; not the type of sunset he was used to.
"So are you excited to see Briarwood, kiddo?"
Chip glanced forward for a second before turning back to the window. "I guess."
The two adults in the front seats gave each other sad smiles. It was obvious that the boy wouldn't be very talkative for a good while.
"Well you'll be happy to know that you'll only be lonely for a week or so," his aunt said. "Most of the family's coming to visit on the 11th; they'll be happy to see you."
Chip managed a smile at that; it had been some time since he last saw his four cousins. Things tended to explode when the five of them were together, so the extended family tried to keep them apart on general principle. "Yeah, that'll be cool."
The car fell silent again. Chip continued to look out the window, staring at nothing, while his aunt and uncle became lost in their own thoughts. Their situation was going to be difficult. It wouldn't be a strain on them to take care of Kaleb and Andrea's child for a decade or so, and they had been a little lonely anyways since their own kids had grown up and moved out long ago. It also made a lot of sense, since they were the closest living relatives. But Chip had turned into a clamshell in the last few weeks. Considering everything that had happened, that was understandable, but they didn't know how much time it would take to open him up again. It pained them to see their normally hyperactive nephew so depressed.
Of course, it hadn't been much easier on the two of them either. Kirby hadn't always been incredibly close to his brother, having been sixteen years older than him, but they were still relatively close, and his death had come as such a shock that Rhiannon was forced to pry the telephone from his rigid fingers that day. Nobody should ever have to deal with their younger relatives dying before they did; life shouldn't be that unfair.
But life was that unfair, and Kirby had lost his brother and sister-in-law, and Chip no longer had his loving parents, and the entire world had gone to what felt like hell in a handbasket ever since. It would be a miracle if they could even get back to a regular simulation of life within the next few months.
Chip continued to stare out the window, propping his head against his left fist while running the fingers of his right hand in and out of the grooves of the door handle. He had cried himself out over the last two weeks and no longer had any tears left to expel, it seemed; he more or less just felt totally lethargic now. The memories of his parents were starting to fade with them no longer around to create new ones with him, and that pained him tremendously. But at the same time, it almost felt easier to deal with if he just pushed it all away and tried to live as normal. It hurt so much to think about them that not thinking about them at all was becoming an alluring alternative.
Kirby tried another route. "I was thinking that since you don't start at Channelwood Junior High for a few weeks that we could spend the weekend at the mall. There's not a whole lot to read at home, so we should get you some new comic books."
Chip perked up at that. "Yeah, I guess that'd be cool. There's a Spider-man issue I was sort of looking forward to."
"Isn't there some type of movie about that coming out?" Rhiannon asked.
"Yeah! It's coming out next year and it looks awesome; I saw a trailer for it online where Spider-man captured some bank robbers by stringing a giant web between the World Trade Center towers and snagging their entire helicopter, it was soooo cool! And they got Tobey Maguire to play as Peter Parker; I don't think I've seen any movies with him in it, but he looks just like Peter, so I think he'll do a good job. Of course, he'd have to be pretty fit to play a role like that, so I'd guess they'll have to beef him up, but it oughta work out. I can't wait to see it..."
Kirby and Rhiannon smiled at each other as Chip continued to gush. Perhaps things would work out after all, eventually.
"Do I really need to do this Uncle Kirby?"
Kirby smiled at his nephew as they walked out into the field next to the barn. "Yes, unfortunately for you, youngster. I know you're not used to anything like this, but if you're living here, we might as well put you to work. And I'll be paying you for the help, so it won't be all that bad."
"Mmph." Chip wasn't at all excited at the idea of having to work on a farm, but it was true; the least he could do if he had to put his uncle and aunt out by living with them was helping out around the house and with their family business. "What do you farm here anyways? I don't think I ever asked before."
"It's a dairy production mostly, though we have tomatoes and strawberries out here too. Rhiannon does most of the fruit picking, so you'll mainly be helping milk the cows. And I'll need to teach you how to put it through our homogenizing setup too."
For some reason, the idea of milking cows actually sounded kind of fun. "Alright. So what's first?"
Kirby started by bringing him to the filter equipment the milk was processed through first, showing him exactly how to operate it. As he expected, the kid caught on fairly quickly. Rhiannon, having finished cleaning up the kitchen after their breakfast, had joined the two as they began walking for the nearest cow, buckets in hand.
"Figured I'd drop in and watch before I pull the day's batch of strawberries," she said, ruffling Chip's hair as she walked beside them.
They reached the cow. The docile creature was silently chewing cud. Chip boldly started petting her; the cow took no notice of what he was doing.
"Hunh. I thought she'd moo at me or something," he said, sounding almost depressed by the lack of response.
Kirby and Rhiannon laughed. "They're pretty single-minded while they're eating. Once they get used to you it may change," Rhiannon explained.
"Alright kiddo, scoot down here and watch how I do it." Kirby got to his knees, placed the bucket under the cow's udder, and began squeezing it, alternating as he went, sending milk squirting into the bucket.
Chip watched obediently from the cow's other side. "Doesn't look too hard."
"Alright then," his uncle replied. "If you've picked it up that fast, you give it a try." With a grin, he backed away and let Chip come around.
Chip took a position behind the cow instead of on its side. Kirby and Rhiannon looked at each other in bemusement, though they were both grinning. It was possible to milk a cow from that direction, though tougher, and more dangerous in case the cow decided it needed to relieve itself. They could only assume Chip was trying to make it harder on himself to prove that he was more than capable of the job, something he tended to do often when he was attempting something new.
Chip began milking the cow. He was doing quite a good job of it too, when he accidentally reached a hand up too high while his attention drifted and squeezed the bulk of the udder. The cow mooed in distress and took off. Kirby and Rhiannon yelled, but Chip was too busy to hear them; the second the cow started rampaging across the field, he had taken a death grip to its udder, which only made it moo harder and bolt faster. Now she was dragging Chip as she went, thankfully running over a flat landscape with no rocks in his current trajectory.
Chip had started screaming at the start, but as the ride continued, the scream had turned from terror to excitement. His yelling ended quickly when the cow turned in another direction and he lost his grip, rolling across the grass and coming to a sudden stop as he plowed into a pile of hay. When Kirby and Rhiannon finally caught up, they found him half in the pile with his legs sticking almost straight up, hay gently floating in the air as he tried to wriggle out.
He managed to roll out of the pile and sit up, then stared at his relatives. "Uh, whoops?"
Kirby snorted, turned away, and went off after the cow, shaking his head as he walked. Rhiannon had to sit down to keep herself from crumpling entirely to the ground in laughter.
Later that day, Chip overheard his uncle telling his aunt that they'd keep him to the homogenizing machine for at least the next month or two.
Madison took a sip of her glass of water as she went back in the direction of her room. She had that Calculus homework to take care of, and her father had already stolen the living room to practice his guitar. He would probably practice elsewhere if she asked nicely, but she could do her homework just as easily in her room as anywhere else, so there was no reason to make him move. Passing the study, she glanced in, blinked, and stopped. Leaning against the doorframe, she spoke up. "What are you doing?"
Vida had the computer on in front of her, with what looked like several webpages open. She also had two newspapers stretched out on the desk, and was writing something down in a pad. She didn't look up. "Job-hunting."
"For Chip's uncle?"
"For Chip. I don't know exactly what his uncle is good at job-wise, but I know Chip well enough to guess."
Madison frowned. "I don't think it even occurred to Chip to look for a job himself. He might not be keen on heading in that direction."
"He's gotta grow up sometime; might as well do it now."
"Vida!" Madison felt a small bit of guilt at the fact that she couldn't argue Vida's comment, but that didn't mean she had to come out and say it!
"I didn't mean it like that. But still, he'll have to realize that a job would be better for him in the long-run anyways. And if he hasn't started looking yet, someone needs to."
"Hmm." Madison walked up to the desk and glanced down at the portions of newspaper she had open, at what she had written in the notepad. "Have you asked Dad?"
"Yeah; asked him a few days ago. He brought an application home, but said he's already filled up employee-wise, so the best he could do is have Chip fill it out and he'd leave it on the top of the pile. He said he's already familiar enough with Chip that he'd be happy to have him... if a cashier position opened up. Problem is, that could be a long time from now, like next holiday season."
"Well, that's better than nothing I suppose. Any luck on the rest of this?" Most of the want-ads Madison saw in front of her were computer-related.
"Not much," Vida replied with a scowl. "All of the jobs I'm seeing in this town that need people are full-time; they're not gonna hire a seventeen year old that's still in high school. Even the grocery stores have stopped hiring for the year!"
Madison shook her head at her sister's increasing volume. "Sis, calm down. They'll figure something out, I'm sure."
Vida sighed and leaned back, rubbing at a slight crick in her neck. "I just don't wanna leave him hanging. He's already been through enough at it is, you know that. There's no need to throw this on top of him too, especially if we can help. We can keep our eyes open at the least."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. You could probably use a break though."
"I'm alright. It's not like I had anything else to do tonight."
"What about that report for Mrs. Helms? Didn't you tell me about a week ago that it was due soon?"
"Crap; I forgot! That's due tomorrow!" Vida launched herself from the chair like a rocket, sending the newspapers flying. One light-colored blur later, Madison found herself alone in the room. She grinned after her procrastinating sister and looked back down at the papers on the desk, picking up the ones that had drifted to the floor. Two or three potential listings in the paper had been circled, and there were another five written down on the notepad.
Madison picked up the cordless phone and dialed the first number on the pad.
"Who in the world is this retard?"
Chip closed his eyes and stifled a groan as he stood near one of the gymnasium's walls. It figured somebody would be after him already. It was the first day at this school too; couldn't they have waited and let him get used to the place first?
Two boys had walked up on either side of him, both dressed in baggy shorts, one wearing a t-shirt and the other a wife-beater. The boy wearing the wife-beater had a horrid looking haircut, with a gelled wave at the top and a mullet trail at the back. The look of a preteen kid just starting puberty and wearing an undershirt like that was quite ridiculous. Chip clenched his teeth to keep himself from laughing at the sight, since he knew that would get him in even more trouble.
"Did he come from the elementary school?" asked the normal looking one. He looked pretty muscular for a twelve year old. Chip tried not to be intimidated, but it wasn't working.
"Nah," replied the mullet wave kid. "I would've recognized a dork like him. So where you from kid?"
"Moved from out of town," Chip said, rubbing his wrist in lack of anything else to do. Other kids standing nearby in the gym were starting to pay attention to the conversation. It looked like things were going to degenerate pretty fast, at this rate.
"Heh; fresh meat," replied the stronger one, putting a friendly arm around Chip's shoulders. A wave of some smoky, sweetish scent wafted across his nose. Chip wasn't fooled by the attitude, and the smell of what he thought might have been marijuana made him ever so slightly queasy. In hindsight, it wasn't surprising that his annoyance got the better of him for a split-second.
"Mind leaving me alone today? You can beat the crap out of me tomorrow or something."
The arm around his shoulders tightened painfully across his neck, as the two kids maliciously grinned at each other. "Now that wasn't nice. You trying to get on our bad sides on the first day?"
"No, he's trying to get you two to leave him alone. Or maybe you're too high to have figured that out this early in the morning."
Both boys frowned at the voice that had spoken. A short-haired girl had her hands on her hips and was giving them a look as if they had ruined her morning and she was already beyond pissed, but was admirably trying to move on with her day.
The stronger one loosened his arm around Chip as his attention shifted. "Go back and play with the cheerleaders, skank; this doesn't involve you."
The group of kids watching the confrontation, who had been whispering and snickering up to this point, all went deadly quiet. In a split-second, the look on the girl's face turned homicidal. She directed that look straight at the boy in the wife-beater instead of the one who had given her the insult, and he immediately stiffened. He poked his elbow in the stronger boy's side. "Hey Keith, let's get a hold of the cage before anyone else gets to it."
The stronger boy looked over at him in bemusement, but he mildly shoved Chip out of the way and started walking in the direction of the basketballs. "Whatever. Don't walk around with nobody nearby kid; you never know what'll happen."
The other boy followed him, glancing back at the girl once and turning away again. The rest of the students standing near, seeing that nothing exciting was going to happen, went back to what they were doing as they waited for their P.E. teacher to arrive.
Chip had regained his balance and looked at the girl, who was still staring after the two boys. "Um..."
He didn't even finish what he was saying. She looked at him, and though the anger had disappeared out of her expression, the annoyance was still there.
"...yeah. I'm just gonna go sit down for a bit," he said as an excuse to get away from her too. He was going to thank her, but she didn't look as if she cared. He scampered to the bleachers.
"I heard you got into some kind of argument at school," Madison began. "We just started at Channelwood today; that was mighty quick."
Vida looked up from drying her hair, grinning. "You heard about that already? I can't believe the news spread that fast."
Madison frowned at her sister, who seemed to show no remorse for what students had been claiming had been a pretty bad confrontation. "You shouldn't really be getting into brawls on the first day of school, sis."
"Brawl? Where in the world did you hear that?" Vida asked as she tossed the towel into their laundry bin and crawled under the covers.
"From everyone in school!" Madison replied, tensing up. "They said you got into some huge fight with Keith and Adam, and the only reason none of you got in trouble is because you just barely managed to stop beating the crap out of each other before the teacher walked in."
Vida laughed in response. "Oh god, I can't believe everyone's pulling that much crap out of their behinds. No, it didn't even come close to a brawl. They were picking on some scruffy new guy so I got them to stop. Quick insult-slinging; nothing major."
Madison relaxed. "Well that sounds a lot better. Every time I turn around, people are trying to pick fights with you."
Vida groaned. "Everyone acts like I'm evil incarnate. I'd be the nicest girl in the world if they didn't all piss me off most of the time."
"So who was the boy?" Madison asked.
"I didn't get his name. Red-headed kid; moved in from out of town or something."
"Oh, I think I know him. Chip's his name. We've both got Mr. McCarthy for math and science in the morning. He looked pretty shy, but he didn't seem bad."
"He's the shy one?" Vida gave her sister a glance that clearly said 'look who's talking'. She received a high-velocity pillow to the face in response.
"Be quiet. Anyways, I think I'll talk to him tomorrow."
Vida grunted, tossed the pillow back, and cut out the lamp on her side of the room. "Whatever. I'm going to sleep. G'night."
Madison smiled and shook her head as she bookmarked her novel, turned out her light, and pulled up her own covers. "Night."
"So you're new here?"
Chip blinked in surprise. Everybody in his immediate vicinity walking through this hallway was talking to everyone else like they all had friends already, and he was the only person he knew who was starting anew here from a different location entirely. Of course, if he remembered correctly, a good chunk of the other 7th graders had just joined the 6-8 Junior High school from the nearby K-6 elementary, so there could've been some other newcomers. Still, there may very well have been a good chance that the person behind him was talking to him. He turned to look at her and, sure enough, the pretty black-haired girl was smiling at him.
"Uh, yeah, I think," he replied, mentally tripping over himself that anyone would search him out to chat with him.
"You think?" was her response, and her smile turned into an infectious grin.
He turned away in embarrassment and walked towards his class, hesitantly grinning himself. "Sorry. Yeah, I just moved down from Washington State. Do I know you?"
She was walking alongside him now. "Probably not, but my sister stuck up for you yesterday so I figured I'd say hi. I'm Madison."
"Ohhh, okay; I thought you looked kind of familiar. I'm Chip. And could you tell her thanks for me for that? I didn't get the chance."
"Why don't you tell her yourself? We've all got the same lunch period I think; you can sit with us today."
"Really?" Chip was pleased. He had to sit by himself on one of the benches outside yesterday. It was lonely, but at least nobody bothered him.
"Sure. She won't mind."
"Are you sure?" he replied in a somewhat droll tone, raising an eyebrow at Madison.
Madison grinned again, having a good idea what he was thinking. "Okay, Vida might mind at first, but I'll talk her into it. Don't worry about it. We usually sit up top in one of the corner tables. I bring my lunches, so you oughta see me when you walk in."
"Thanks a bunch; I really appreciate it," he said as they walked into the classroom.
"Uh, hello," he said, with a grin.
Vida grumbled under her breath in response as she looked down at her food and reached for her fork, which just earned her a kick and a stern glare from her sister. She sighed, and tried to be more sociable. "Hey. Maddy tell you to sit with us today?"
"Yeah, she said it would be alright," he replied, with a sort of scared look on his face that hinted that he sincerely hoped it was alright.
Vida chuckled and shook her head. "It's fine, I guess."
"Thanks for helping me out yesterday. I hate that I've already gotten into trouble that fast."
Vida shrugged. "Being in P.E. makes you an easier target probably. If we had started with Health the first week, you would've been alright."
"Bad coincidence you got stuck with those two in your class anyways, Chip," Madison said. "I hope they don't make things too hard for you."
Vida grinned. "They're not bad if you know how to handle them."
"So," Chip said, "do you guys live around here?"
"We wouldn't be going to school here if we didn't," Madison replied nicely before the inevitable joke from her sister came out.
"Gah. I meant how long have you guys lived here. Like, have you been in Briarwood your whole lives, or what?"
"Yeah," came the reply from Vida. "Our parents moved out here from Surfside before we were born. That's about a three hour drive south from here. I think they lived in other states before that though; we've got relatives all over the country."
"So what kinds of things do you like?" Madison asked, trying to get a feel for him as a person.
"Video games, trading cards, comic books, normal books, stuff like that," he replied as he ate, speaking more quietly than before, as if he was nervous of how they'd react. Vida reacted much like he expected she would, sniffing in half disgust and half ignorance. Madison smiled though.
"Science fiction books? Fantasy? Mystery?"
"Sci-fi sometimes, but fantasy mostly. I love reading stories about old England and Wales and places like that. I totally want to be a knight when I grow up. Or a wizard."
Vida couldn't help but grin at that. "There's not much chance of that ever happening, you know."
Chip scoffed at her. "Doesn't mean I can't try. And I have to pay you back for saving me yesterday anyways."
"What are you gonna do, take a blast for me from some vampire or something?" she asked, starting to chuckle at the idea.
"Why not?" he replied with an adorable ear-to-ear grin. "I know there's no point in trying to save you normally like a knight would save a princess; you'd probably blow the dragon up before I even got there."
Vida and Madison both laughed in response. Vida found herself warming up to the boy; he was a little too knee-deep in geeky stuff for her tastes, but he was certainly friendly. And highly amusing.
"Anyways, once I become a knight or a wizard, I can pay back those two for being mean to me yesterday too, so it all works out."
"I thought knights were supposed to be upstanding examples of justice," Madison said. "I don't think one of them would go up to the bullies that were making fun of them years ago to beat them up." She picked up the pint of milk she had purchased, the only thing she generally bothered to buy from the school's lunch line.
"I could challenge them to an honor duel. That's not against the rules, and I could beat them up as badly as I wanted without it being cruel." Chip could hear a few people snickering behind him at his conversation, but ignored them.
"I think finding an excuse to beat them up would probably be cruel regardless," Madison told him, though the smile on her face made it clear she wasn't thinking badly of him because of his idea.
"Oh well. Someone needs to knock them out anyways. Especially that one guy with his stupid haircut. If I were a midget, I don't know whether I would surf up the front or hang from the back to keep myself from falling to my death."
Madison, who had started to drink her milk as he began speaking, had a massive cough attack thanks to the ending crack. Vida, leaning over to help her sister, tried to hold her laughter in, but when the two tables next to theirs burst out in laughter at Chip's comment, she stopped trying.
Somebody leaned in from one of the tables at Chip. "Dude, they're so gonna beat the crap out of you when they hear what you just said." Chip stiffened as he realized his likely fatal error.
Vida scowled at the guy. "If either of them even looks at him funny, I'll crack their skulls so hard they'll wish I had only taken a sledgehammer to their groins."
Most of the people at the other two tables, who had come from the elementary school and already knew Vida, glanced at Chip and quickly went back to their own conversations, as if they were afraid to talk to him lest she go after them. All of the boys cringed, regardless of whether they knew her or not. Some of the kids that didn't know her looked like they were about to speak up, but nearby people elbowed them to keep them quiet.
Chip turned back to his own table and looked at Vida, highly amused. "Man, I can almost feel the energy barrier that just surrounded me."
She raised an eyebrow in return. "Got a problem with that?"
"Heck no. New kid that has all of two friends in the entire school and bullies already after him? I need all the protection I can get." He started eating the meal he had packed and brought with him.
Vida and Madison had both noticed simultaneously, out of the corner of their eyes, that the fork he was raising to his mouth had something on it that didn't look anything like food. They looked closer at the main course of his meal and blinked in surprise; neither could tell what it was. It looked chocolate-like, but there were lumps of whitish and brownish material in it, as well as what looked noodles, and a few scattered balls of ground beef.
"Chip, what in the heck are you eating?" Vida asked, with a confused expression on her face that had bits of disgust in it, but was bordering on horror as well.
"Chocolate Spaghetti Party. With meatballs, marshmallows, and Cocoa Puffs."
Vida closed her eyes and tilted her head sideways, propping her mouth and chin against her left hand. She looked like she was about to try falling asleep while sitting up, but in reality she was just attempting to hide her laughter. Madison forced a smile onto her face, and pushed her food away. Picking up her milk again, she started to practically guzzle it, as if she could already imagine the taste of that monstrosity in her throat and needed to wash it away. Chip, not even noticing their reactions, was tearing into the food like it was pure ambrosia.
Chip walked into the library, heading for the table in the corner he usually took. He started, however, when he saw Vida sitting in his seat.
"Hey," she said, grinning at his surprise.
"What in the world are you doing in here?" he asked as he lowered his bookbag to the floor and took the opposite seat.
"You make it sound like I'm not capable of coming into a library and enjoying myself."
"Do you really want me to give a reply to that?" he responded as he pulled a book out of his bag and flipped open to the marked page. He had to stop for a second and grunt as a balled up piece of paper impacted with his forehead.
"Anyways, I was waiting for you. We need to talk."
Chip looked up at her. That was a rather ominous line. In an effort to relieve the tension that he suddenly felt at the statement, he grinned at her. "That sounds like the prelude to a break-up."
She snorted. "In a second, it'll be me flying across the table to pop you in the face, and not a paper ball."
His grin turned into a smirk. "So what did you want to talk about?"
"Your uncle and his job situation."
The tension came flooding back, though not specifically because of what she said. He sighed and bookmarked his page again. "What about it?"
"Have you thought of looking for a job yourself?"
Chip looked down at the table as he contemplated the idea. "Not really. I've been working on the farm normally."
"Yeah, but you usually only do your work there two or three days a week, right? You'd have enough time besides that for a proper job, I think."
Chip sighed and propped his chin against his fist. "Yeah, I suppose."
"Chip, I'm not trying to be overly meddling or anything; I'm sorry if it looks that way. But it just sort of occurred to me that you getting a separate job might be a good way of helping your family."
Chip closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. "No, no, you're right. I just hadn't considered it. I'll start looking around."
He opened his eyes as something bumped into his left elbow as it was propped against the table. Looking down, he saw a notepad with several locations written, including addresses, phone numbers, even names of managers in a few cases.
Chip laughed. "Good lord, Vida! You don't leave anything to chance, do you?"
She shrugged. "Eh, I've sort of been considering job-hunting too recently. Figured if we team up we'd be more successful."
"So we're gonna be fighting for positions if we apply at the same places?" he asked, chuckling as he looked over the list.
"Of course not. That's the list I came up with for you; I'm looking at entirely different spots."
The starting bell rang. Chip shook his head as he stood up and grabbed his bag. "I swear Vee, you think of everything."
She followed him out of the library. "And don't you forget it."
Vida strolled into the classroom, not paying attention to anything in particular, and took the seat in the front row nearest the window. Resigning herself to getting some work done so she wasn't totally bored, she pulled out her math book. Before she could open it, she heard snoring behind her.
First timer? she thought. People that had been in detention before knew that you didn't sleep, or Mrs. Corbett would tear you a new one. Feeling pity after recalling the first time she experienced that, she turned backwards to scout the room as she opened her textbook, intending on waking up whomever the kid was before the teacher came in and took care of them.
She saw two other people in the room, both of them snoring almost simultaneously so that she didn't realize it was two people, and was completely surprised to see who one of them was. Chip had his head down on the desk in one of the farther back seats and was snoozing away.
Vida quickly gathered her book and backpack, and took the seat next to him, kicking him in the leg as she sat down. "Chip, wake up!"
"Urgh," he muttered as his head rose. He rubbed his eyelids.
"Chip, you can't sleep in here. Mrs. Corbett will kill you."
He frowned as he shook his head a few times, trying to clear the cobwebs. "She wouldn't do that, would she?"
"She probably would. And why are you so sleepy anyways? You're always full of energy," Vida commented, opening her textbook again.
Chip shook his head in response and tried to lie down again. Vida grabbed him by the back of the shirt and whipped his head back to vertical.
"You're not going to sleep. Is that clear?"
Chip grunted in response and sat up in his chair. "You're so cruel."
"Probably, but you owe me anyway."
"You gonna wake that guy up too?" Chip asked, pointing to the other teen asleep a few rows up.
"No," Vida responded, recognizing that kid. "He deserves to get reamed."
Chip snorted. "What are you doing in here anyways?"
"Mr. Johnson caught me listening to my CD player in class." Vida frowned in frustration; her teacher had her CD player now, and probably wouldn't give it back until he got a phone call from her parents. They weren't going to be happy at finding out she was in here again.
She toed his leg again, albeit more gently than the kick from earlier. "And what about you? You still haven't explained why you're in here."
"Fell asleep in science."
Vida grinned. If she remembered correctly, he had Mrs. Mosley for that class, in a period later in the day than she had her, and that teacher would toss people in detention for the smallest things. Just a few weeks ago, one of her classmates had gotten sent to detention for 'disturbing the class'. A spider had run across her desk, and she screamed in the middle of a lecture on electricity. Gossip around the school said that the teacher had actually gotten talked to by the principal for that one, after the girl's parents complained, but Mrs. Mosley was too stern to ever limit her strictness.
"It's not like you to fall asleep in class," she commented.
"I haven't been getting much sleep lately. It's nothing major."
Vida leaned back in her seat. "Spill it. I'm not gonna bite your head off or anything."
Chip glanced at her iron expression and sighed. "There was a car accident on the highway a few days ago."
"Yeah, I heard about it. A mack truck ran off the road and caused a pile-up or something. Nobody died though."
"No. But I was in an accident like that a year ago."
Vida leaned forward; she hadn't heard anything about this. "Really? What happened?"
Chip looked down at the desk. "We were coming home from the mall when a tractor trailer got hit by a drunk driver. I made it, but both my parents died."
Vida's jaw was hanging in surprise. She wasn't big on the rumor mill, but something like this should've been well-known around the school with as much gossiping as some of the students did. Despite that, she had never heard a word.
She looked out the window, not really knowing what to say, but feeling obligated to respond with something anyways. "I'm... I'm sorry Chip; I shouldn't have asked."
Chip shook his head. "You would've figured out eventually. Anyways, I just had a few nightmares about it the past couple days because of that accident. They'll go away pretty quick; don't worry about it."
"So who are you living with now?"
"My uncle and aunt. You know that farm off Lancaster Road?" She nodded. "We're out there. It's pretty nice, for a farm at least."
Vida grimaced. "Farms can't possibly nice."
"Oh c'mon, milking cows isn't bad. Even when one drags you like an anchor across a field when you squeeze it wrong."
She just stared at him. If he was trying to make farms more appealing, he was heading in the wrong direction. "Hey, how are you doing in Mrs. Mosley's class anyways? I need some help with that homework on magnetism."
"Madison can't help you?"
"She and Dad went to go visit some relatives in Reefside. They won't get back until tomorrow evening."
Chip shrugged. "I guess I can help you out. Your mom mind if I just drop by your house tonight? I know I haven't been there before, so she might."
Before she could answer that her mother wouldn't care, and in fact wanted to meet this boy her daughters had recently been spending so much time with after school, Mrs. Corbett strolled in the room. The teacher saw the sleeping male in the middle of the classroom, stomped over, and dropped a massive encyclopedia on his desk before beginning to scream. "Wake up, you lazy miscreant, before I use this book to crack open your skull!"
Chip looked at Vida in horror, and she grinned at him in response. He was wide awake now.
Chip had gone through most of the locations on the list Vida had provided him with, but none of them seemed to be interested in hiring him; most of them weren't hiring at all. So he talked to his uncle and aunt about it. They were quite happy with his decision to get a real job and, thankfully, didn't ask why the idea had suddenly appeared in his mind. They had also assured him that they could work things out about balancing time between any job he took up and farm chores. Upon receiving various suggestions from them about where to submit applications, he decided to start trying all the local small shops, in case something would pan out there as well.
This particular store he was walking into now was a tiny one that seemed to sell pottery of some sort. Not knowing a thing about that, he wasn't sure why he was even trying this place, but he had entered before he could convince himself to leave.
Maybe they'd have been impressed if I came in here wearing a cape, he thought to himself. Then, he remembered Vida's reaction the one time he tried that. He was lucky she had only given him the 'what the heck face', and not the 'angry face'. At any rate, the manager there had actually been amused, and might very well have hired him, but she didn't need any new employees at that moment.
"Can I help you?" asked a smiling lady who had just peeked around a corner, past a shelf. She was aged, possibly in her sixties, and had the kind of genial, comforting look some older people had, like his aunt, and all the good sorceresses in fairy tales.
"I was wondering if you had any applications, actually."
A quick expression of amazement crossed her face at that. He wasn't sure whether it was due to someone walking in and asking for an application in such a small place, or if it was just the idea of a teen asking for a job in a pottery shop. She stood up, walked to the front counter, and began rifling through a drawer.
"I do, but I'm pretty positive Alana's not hiring right now. Fill it out anyways though; we'll keep it on file." She handed the set of papers to him.
"Thanks," Chip said, dredging up a smile as he walked out. He stopped at the nearby street corner.
"Strike twenty-three? Twenty-four? Somewhere around there." He looked up at the wispy, scattered clouds floating across the sky and sighed, but he was determined not to get depressed about it. There had to be someone hiring people in this city, and like an archaeologist searching for lost treasures of an ancient civilization, or maybe like a wizard looking for a subjugated town of dryads to free, he would find it.
Chip looked up as a magazine slid his way across the library table. He glanced at it; the open advertisement showed a concert scheduled that weekend. Several rock artists he had vague knowledge of from hanging with the girls were listed, not to mention the giant picture of the two lead bands.
He looked up from the magazine to stare into Vida's neutral face as she sat across the table from him. "What is this?"
"Concert," she replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "What are you doing Friday?"
"Uh... I kinda had plans," he replied, starting to feel nervous. She knew perfectly well he wasn't keen on large events like this.
"Well, I'm in the middle of playing Wind Waker. I'm trying to finish it."
Vida frowned at him. "Wait, the Zelda game? Weren't you telling me about that game a week or two ago when you got it for your birthday?"
"Well yeah, it's-"
"Weren't you telling me how you had already beaten that game a week or two ago?" she interrupted, her frown erupting into a full out scowl. Chip gulped; it looked like Vida had no intention of letting him out of this trap. But he was darn well going to try.
"Yeah, but the game changes the second time you play it! You can understand the language of the ancient Hylians this time! Plus, you get to play as Link in his pajamas, which is kinda cool, and Aryll has a skull dress, and-"
Vida slapped her palm against her forehead. "Alright, forget that. You can finish that game again later. Tell your uncle that we're taking you to the Palladium in LA for a concert Friday night. We'll pick you up at your house at 4:00. My dad's taking us all, so your uncle shouldn't have a problem."
Chip grimaced. "Wait, who all is coming?"
"You, me, my sis, and Xander. You know him, right?"
Chip nodded. He knew Xander. Well, it was more like he'd heard of him; guys that popular didn't really tend to take notice of people like Chip. If he remembered correctly, Xander moved from out of country and started at their high school at the beginning of the current year, ending up friends with Madison after a shared class project. He seemed nice enough at any rate. Still, having to go to a rock concert with bands he knew almost nothing about, with hundreds of people that were sure to be screaming their heads off, plus hanging out with a new person he barely knew, and who surely wouldn't be a big fan of his unique personality... the night was probably going to be an extremely long one.
"Vida, seriously. Do I really need to go to this? It's not gonna be any fun at all. I'd probably have more fun building a fort out of my furniture."
Vida rolled her eyes and leaned back. "You shouldn't be allowed to touch anyone's furniture for the next five years. Anyways, you're going. You need to get out more. And Maddy and I are there, so you're going to enjoy yourself anyways, even if we have to force you to do it. Besides, I already bought your ticket, and if you say no, someone's gonna pay for making me go out of my way, and it's not gonna be Ticketmaster, I assure you."
Chip groaned. "Alright, alright, I'll go."
Vida smirked in success and pocketed the magazine before standing up. "Good. I'll go tell sis. Don't forget; 4:00, Friday."
Chip spoke up before she got all the way to the library door. "Wait a minute, what would you have done if I did have plans?"
"Probably would've convinced my Mom to come."
"And you can't do this anyway because...?"
"Can it, Chip. You're going," she said before disappearing. Chip sighed and shook his head as he went back to his book. Then he glanced up again and blinked. She bought his ticket for him? Cheaper concerts at the Palladium usually ran at about seventy or eighty dollars, and that was for the non-VIP section.
He wasn't sure whether to be pleased or annoyed.
Chip looked around the auditorium as one of the bands walked out on stage, under the furious cheering of the audience. Three thousand people attacked his eardrums, making him cringe and slink lower into his seat. He glanced over at Vida, who was already on her feet and screaming as loud as she could. "I'm not having fun."
She jabbed an elbow into his side as the Hoobastank started 'Crawling in the Dark'. "Give it thirty minutes at least!"
Madison leaned over from Vida's left side. "You might even like the music. I know you haven't really heard any of it."
"I've heard a little," Chip replied, recognizing the song the band was playing. It wasn't that bad of a song; he was tapping his foot within seconds without realizing it. "I didn't think this was your usual choice of music though, Vida."
"It's not," Vida replied in between screams. "It's Maddy's. They're alright."
"Then why are you about to break five blood vessels with your screeching?" asked a coyly smiling Xander, who had also leaned into the conversation from beyond Madison.
"What's the point of going to a concert and not screaming?" she replied before turning back towards the stage, continuing her aural assault.
"It could be worse, mate," Xander added to Chip, already nodding his head to the beat. "They could've dragged us to a Spice Girls concert."
A look of disgust crossed Chip's face as he realized this night definitely could have been far worse. Maybe he'd enjoy it after all.
Vida stared up at the building she was currently standing in front of. Her father and sister had gotten into an arguing match on who was the better guitarist, Jimi Hendrix or B.B. King, and she had gotten tired of it, mainly because she had thrown in Steve Vai as a humorous remark and got death glares from both of them in response. The situation greatly amused her, because on any given day, she ought to be the one having that sort of argument with their father, not Madison. Even so, the argument was getting too heated for comfort.
So she had decided to take a walk. It was a nice enough day, and she had just washed her jeep yesterday and didn't feel like ruining the pristine, waxy look just yet. She was strolling down the street while listening to Deftones on her portable CD player when she noticed the logo at the top of the store beside her. It was called the Rock-porium, which was a good sign right there. Assured that the place might be interesting and should provide her some entertainment for at least a few minutes, she stepped inside.
She was delighted by what she saw. It was a run-of-the-mill record shop, but she could see CD's in the modern and folk rock areas near the front of the store that covered a nice range of bands. She saw stuff by indie groups that hadn't gotten too popular yet, like Muse, Marvelous 3, and even Toby Lightman, though her stuff was a bit too calm for Vida's tastes. She quickly passed over the Harry Hatchet CD and glanced in the tray just beyond this one. In there, she saw some older CD's from people such as Tom Petty, Collective Soul, Pearl Jam, Live, and... was that Color Me Badd? And sitting right beside it was a CD from MC Frontalot. And beside that was the soundtrack to Final Fantasy XI. Chip would be thrilled.
Vida snorted. It was obvious someone had forgotten to reorganize that section of the store, though she was rather pleased the place had a more eclectic view than she expected. She might be able to find some good stuff here that her usual sources didn't have access to. Moving on, she glanced in the R&B section and saw slightly older CD's from Sisqó and 112. She also saw R. Kelly's entire collection, and had to laugh when she noticed that someone had posted a picture of a preteen girl above the spot. She hoped it wasn't an employee that had done that; no telling how a random customer might react to that.
She kept walking and was about to look into the hip-hop and rap section when she noticed the raised platform in the back of the store. Later on she would swear that a choir of angels had sung directly into her ears right that very second, and that the sparkling sunlight had shone beautifully over the area like a blessing from heaven. Xander, upon hearing that story, would just as quickly fire back that it was a reflection from the broken window high in the corner coupled with Jackson 5's 'Can You Feel It' playing over the in-store radio. Vida would then dart into the oldies section to find that very CD and smash Xander over the head with it.
In the corner sat a slightly used set of turntables. Vida almost squealed in delight. She rushed up to the platform, rooted through the collection of vinyl sitting nearby for just this purpose, and pulled out a record she was familiar with that was an odd fusion of Duke Ellington-style jazz and mid-90's Euro trance. Five minutes later, she was so heavily absorbed into mixing the tracks that she couldn't even remember what time of day it was.
It came as no surprise, then, that a tap on her shoulder resulted in a scream and a punch to the unfortunate man's stomach. He made a solitary noise of pain as he wobbled back and forth.
"Oh geez! I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed as she pulled the headphones off and tossed them aside. She looked at the man in surprise. He was the only other person in the store, and at first glance she had assumed he was another customer, albeit one who had walked into the store straight out of the 60's, what with the hippie ensemble. But judging by the now open office door she saw half the store away, he was more likely the shop's manager. He did look like the type of person to run a homey place like this, considering the selection of music available. But he did not look like the kind of guy that would know a thing about MC Frontalot, of all people. Though to be honest with herself, she wasn't the type of person to have heard about the artist either, only knowing of his existence thanks to an offhand comment from Chip.
"It's alright," he said, wheezing as he straightened up. "At least now I know not to sneak up on customers when they're playing with the tables."
She grinned. "Sorry. I just lost track of what I was doing; I don't get to mess with turntables often."
"You're pretty good at that actually," he said with a flick of his head in the direction of the tables.
She shrugged in response. "Inborn talent I guess."
He let out a single bark of laughter at that. "Well, help yourself in the future; it might draw in more customers with better stuff playing than the muzak here."
"Are you the only person working here?" she asked as she walked back to the hip-hop/rap section she had passed earlier, passing by the new Juvenile track and some Outkast, 50 Cent, and Busta Rhymes CD's to see what else they had. She smiled as she saw a Run DMC compilation.
"Yes; I actually just opened the store about a week ago. No other employees yet."
Vida's head shot up at that comment. "You hiring? Cause I've been looking, and a music store would be perfect."
The man grinned and held out a hand. "Of course I am. Name's Toby Slambrook."
She smiled as she shook it. "Vida Rocca."
"Come on; I've got applications in the office. Have you ever worked retail before?" He started picking his way past trays of singles, heading back for the office door.
Vida was about to answer his question when she stopped. She hadn't noticed it when she walked in because it was lining the wall behind the register, but there was a shelf there packed full of comic books. She slowly smiled as she stepped into the office.
"No, actually, but I'm a quick learner. Hey, how many people were you looking to hire for this place anyways?"
"I could use five or six at least, but I'll take anything I can get right now. Do you have someone in mind?" He started rooting around through a massive pile of papers on his desk, though how he expected to find anything in that mess, she didn't know.
"One definite and two possibles. If you give me three extra applications for them, I'll hand them out tomorrow."
He yanked four sets of forms out of the pile and handed them to her with a flourish.
"Thanks," she said with a grin and left the office. "I'll be back with mine later today, and maybe another one. It'll be a day on the other two."
He yelled out right before she left the store entirely. "Hey, before you go, I just wanted to get your opinion on something real quick. Who do you think the greatest guitarist of all time is?"
"Uhh..." Vida had one foot out the door already, but had stopped in hesitation. Didn't he realize it took more than five seconds for someone to give a proper answer to a life-changing question like that? Falling back on the morning's argument, she made a random comment to see how it would turn out. "Steve Vai."
The horrified look on his face was classic, and she grinned again, though she had to fight to keep that grin from turning into an explosion of laughter. He probably wouldn't take that too well. "I'm just joking. Either Jimi Hendrix or B.B. King; not sure which. I'd have to sleep on it."
"Eh, that's good enough," he replied with a backwards wave, and ducked back into the office door. Vida just stared at the closed door for a second longer before shaking her head in amusement and walking out of the store.
"Thank you again for letting me stay here with you guys this Christmas; I really appreciate it."
"No problem at all Chip, it's been fun," the girls' father replied.
"Yes, honey, we were glad to do it. How did that conversation go with your aunt earlier?" their mother asked.
"Great! My uncle's doing well. She said it's gonna take a while, since bypass surgery always does, but they expect a full recovery. She should be back home when she expected though, on the 4th."
"That's wonderful. So who's going first?"
Vida spoke up. "Madison first. Then Chip, then Mom, then me, then Dad." Everybody else shot her confused looks combined with chuckles at her sudden transformation into group leader, as well as her choice of positions, but nobody complained.
"Alright Vee, we'll follow your orders I suppose," her father replied.
"Dad." Vida wasn't pleased with his impromptu nickname, as evidenced by the admonishing tone. He just grinned as Madison tore into her first package.
Madison had only received one present this year, but she wasn't complaining. Apparently everybody in the room had gone in together on it. Inside the box was a 2003 Hitachi DVD camcorder. This was much better than the eight year old Sony model she had been using.
"Oh wow, this is... thank you so much everyone!" She tossed out a gamut of hugs to everyone, including Chip, who blushed under the onslaught.
"Alright, next!" exclaimed Vida. Chip picked up the first of his two presents, a box about a foot long and wide, and two tall, with a sticker on the top proudly proclaiming that the gift was from both Vida and Madison. Holding it up to his ear and shaking it, which earned laughter from everyone watching, he picked out what sounded like something pretty solid, but not incredibly big. Not able to hold his curiosity in any longer, he tore the top open. From inside, he pulled out a graphic novel: Ultimate Spider-man #1. He beamed in delight; this would nicely replace the first thirteen normal issues of his from the same series. They were a little old now and were coming apart at the seams from age and mishandling.
"This is great, thanks!" he said, grinning at the girls.
"That's not all, look inside," Madison added.
"Yeah, we even bugged your aunt to make sure you didn't have this one already," Vida pitched in.
Chip glanced down into the box and saw a video game sitting at the bottom. Smiling, he picked it up and pulled it into the light where he could see it better. Skies of Arcadia Legends. He had heard about the game, though he hadn't paid a whole lot of attention to it. Supposedly it was an updated port of a game that originally came out on another system several years back. Which struck him as odd; he still had the system the game was first on, discontinued as it was. And the game was a Role Playing Game, his favorite video game genre. Why had he never gotten the chance to play it in the past?
His breath hitched as the title clicked in his mind. He never got to play it because it was sitting in the front seat with his mother two years ago.
Flashes flew across his eyesight; memories ripped through his skull. Pieces of joy, silliness, excitement...
Light, roaring, PAIN, fire, sirens...
Chip was unable to control the immense shudder that ripped through his body, and he gasped as his suddenly unresponsive hands dropped the game, the graphic novel, and the box all to the floor. The Rocca family watched in alarm as he started to lean forward in his chair, clutching at his stomach, hyperventilating.
In a flurry of movement, the entire family was out of their seats. The girls' father moved him to the main sofa and laid him horizontal while their mother grabbed various pillows from the sofa and nearby chairs to place under his head and neck. The two girls stood nearby, not knowing what to do, but not willing to move away either.
"Vida, go call 911!" their mother commanded. Before she could move, however, Chip spoke up.
"No, no, I'm okay, I'm..." Chip's breathing was still erratic, but he was obviously trying to get himself under control. Within a few seconds, he had managed, but before anyone could say anything else, he shakily rose to his feet.
"I just... I'll be right back," he said before stumbling his way to the bathroom. Not having his motor functions at full speed yet, he ended up slamming the door instead of just normally closing it. He had no trouble locking it behind him though.
"Chip?" Vida said, rushing over from the phone she never managed to pick up to the bathroom door and starting to bang her fist against it. "Chip, let me in!"
Madison couldn't hear his response; she watched as her sister mumbled something in annoyance and dashed upstairs. Madison turned around to see her parents in the kitchen, whispering, throwing nervous glances in the direction of the bathroom, her father's hand reaching for the telephone.
Hearing a thumping behind her, Madison turned back again and saw Vida drop to the bottom of the stairs, straightening a paper clip in her hands. Dropping to her knees in front of the bathroom door, it took only seconds for her to pop the lock; they had always had trouble with that door not staying unlocked when someone left the bathroom, and her father hadn't had a chance to replace the doorknob yet. Vida strolled right into the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
Madison sighed in frustration, not knowing what to do. What could have happened that would've turned him into such a wreck so fast? No, scratch that; she had a good idea. After hearing from Vida about his situation, she couldn't think of anything else that could possibly throw him for a loop so quickly. She hoped he was okay. She hated that this had to happen to him on Christmas of all days.
She couldn't tell whether it had been five minutes or five hours later when the bathroom door finally opened and Chip stepped out. He seemed to be okay again physically, though he stood there taking deep breaths repeatedly, and was still shaking mildly. He also had what looked like dried tear streaks on his cheeks. Vida had an uncommon expression of concern on her face and was rubbing his back with her hand. Her other hand grasped one of his, and she guided him back to the living room, pushing him down to his previous spot on the sofa before sitting next to him.
"Chip, honey, are you okay?" The girls' mother seemed to be in a state of single-minded panic; their father wasn't much better off.
"Yeah, I'm..." Chip took a moment to gather his bearings, closing his eyes, rubbing his forehead, and letting out an extended sigh. "I'm fine. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to scare you. It's... I'm okay."
"Are you sure? We can call somebody; we can run you down to BEC too, if need be. We don't mind." Madison's eyes widened at her father's words, at the thought of her friend needing to be taken to the emergency room, but Chip shook his head.
"No, I'm okay. Really. Just had a brainfart for a minute." Shaky smiles passed through the room at that one. "I didn't mean to interrupt this; we can go back to opening presents again."
Madison watched her Mom and Dad share a worried glance, but Chip looked adamant and seemed to want to put the experience behind him rather than ruin their Christmas morning. So her parents simply agreed, and Chip proceeded to open his second gift as the smiling, yet concerned family watched.
Frederick handed the cookie cutter over to his wife as he took another sip of his eggnog. Thirty seconds later, he had ceased drinking, though the edge of the glass was still at his lips, and stared at the baking sheet his wife was working on. "What in the world are you doing?"
"Figured I'd try individual designs for everyone this year instead of just one."
He glanced closer over the next five minutes as she worked, and began to understand. Figuring out which shape went with what person wasn't hard now that he knew what she was doing. The CD-shaped cookies were obviously for Vida. Madison had little camera cookies, though his wife apparently felt it easier to design them based on normal cameras instead of video. Maddy wouldn't mind, he was sure. For him, Seanna had cut a few rectangles, and then sliced an Rx logo into them. Cute. For herself, she had made what essentially amounted to cookie renditions of Monopoly money, rectangles slightly longer than his with huge dollar signs in the middle. And for their guest, not knowing anything about card games or the books and comics he was into specifically, she went with a universal image: a cap with the letter 'M' stenciled into its center. Frederick chuckled and took another sip of eggnog.
"I guess different works better this year anyways. This has definitely been one of the most unique Christmases I've experienced."
"I could deal with a little less uniqueness concerning my sofa, thank you," Seanna responded with a smile. Her daughter had warned her when he got the idea several days ago that Chip had a tendency to get pretty crazy with building 'forts' out of chairs, boxes, and the like, but it was all in good fun, so she didn't see any problem. It took a full hour for the parents and all three kids to get the living room back to normal after Chip had finished; she still had no idea how he had managed to attach the bed from the guest room to that monstrosity. Chip was forced to avoid Mrs. Rocca by a wide berth for several hours following that; it was obvious where Vida got her spunk from.
"Oh c'mon, that was more fun than we've had in weeks. The boy's obviously going to be an architect when he grows up."
Seanna let out a snort. A demure-sounding snort, but a snort nonetheless. "Now I understand why you like him so much... because he's got the same off-the-wall sense of humor as you!"
"Sense of adventure, sure," he replied with a noise of exasperation.
His wife shook her head in return as she loaded the cookie tray into the oven. "You know, for the life of me, I sometimes just can't figure out why I married you."
Despite how used to her random non sequiturs he had gotten over the years, the dropped jaw was so utterly classic that she exploded into laughter and yanked him over for a quick kiss. "Kidding honey, I'm kidding!"
He held her at arm's length and gave a look that was supposed to be neutrally painful, but the lip that he was trying to keep from quirking spoiled the effect. "And you say my sense of humor is off the wall? This is one evil family, I swear."
"Madison's not evil," Seanna said, smiling as she glanced over at the kids playing in the living room.
"She can be; she just keeps it hidden. There's more rage in her anger than the rest of us put together," Frederick replied with a grin as he put an arm around his wife's waist, remembering an incident a few years back where an accident with a kitten, their treadmill, one of Madison's school projects, and a bucket of water almost got Vida choked to death.
"Mmm," Seanna responded noncommittally. "What time do you have to go in again tomorrow?"
"Eight; I'm opening. It's markdown day. Busy stuff."
Seanna rolled her eyes and snatched his eggnog for a sip. "Right, sitting in your office and making your employees do all the work of putting red stickers on one aisle's worth of stock. So incredibly draining."
Her husband smirked. "Hey, don't be jealous. You've only got four more months before tax season's over; you're almost home free too."
"Believe me, I'm counting down the days," she said as she handed the drink back.
"Speaking of draining, how is he...?"
Seanna focused in on Chip as he furiously pressed buttons on the game controller. After they had finished opening presents in somewhat less joyful a mood, Chip had sat staring at nothing for a few seconds, and then had asked whether it was alright if he tried out his new game. He looked somewhat hesitant as he said it, as if he was mildly afraid of his own suggestion. But Vida immediately agreed, and Madison had followed the two to the living room to help him set it up. By the time they were done and into the game, he was as sucked into it as he got with any of the other games he had played while he stayed with them, while the two girls sat beside him and tossed suggestions his way. Whatever the problem was before, he seemed to have worked through it, since it looked like he was enjoying himself tremendously now. "Honestly, I don't know. He seems fine. But Vida still won't tell me what it was all about, so I can only guess. Bad associations maybe?"
"Maybe we should convince his family to get him to talk to someone."
"I don't know, love. The girls are close to Chip, but we're not really close enough to his uncle and aunt to be throwing around heavy duty words like 'psychiatrist'. And they seem to be helping him through whatever it is."
"I guess so..." Frederick trailed off as the previously unnoticed argument between the three kids in front of the TV reached epic proportions. Three seconds later, Chip screamed in frustration as the last standing character on the screen collapsed to his knees and then fell to the ground unconscious. Madison looked sheepish, while Vida was lying on the floor on her back, laughing her lungs out.
Chip stared at the screen in a mix of anger and astonishment. Then he glanced at Madison.
"Don't look at me! I figured you'd bring the redhead back to life this round!" Chip couldn't argue her claim, so he turned his glare in Vida's direction.
"Oh my god, that was so totally bumpin'..." Chip noticed that the girl actually had the gall to wipe tears of laughter from her eyes after she had effectively gotten him killed. Not nice. He turned his attention back to the game and smashed the button to load from the last save point.
"Right. No more advice coming from my left side, thanks."
Vida scoffed as she sat back up. "Now that's not fair. I gave perfectly good advice. You had plenty of health left! You just got cocky."
"I got cocky? Who was it that somehow convinced me to go all-out on him when I knew perfectly well he was probably going to counter-attack?"
"You didn't know that for sure, Chip," Vida said, putting her hands on her hips.
Madison shook her head with a faint smile. "Vida, that boss used a move that was called Counter. You can't really mistake that for much of anything else."
"Alright, alright, I know when I'm not needed," Vida replied, grinning as she stood up. "Anything to drink guys?"
"Pepsi. Chip?" He soundlessly shook his head, already concentrating on the beginning of the boss battle again. As Vida walked towards the kitchen, she distinctly heard Chip whisper "She was trying to get me killed on purpose, I'm positive," followed by a snicker from Madison.
"Cookies done yet Mom?" Vida asked, passing by her parents and grabbing two glasses from the cupboard.
"Ten more minutes hon," her mother replied. "Do you really need to mess with him like that? He's probably kind of put out..."
"Mom, he's alright; he's humoring us. He's been playing video games long before I even noticed they existed; he could probably storm through that thing without us just fine," she responded.
Her mom raised an eyebrow at that. "Is he really fine?"
Vida sighed. She knew she should probably tell her parents to at least keep them from worrying so much, though it was questionable whether it would make them worry more or not; they were starting to care about Chip almost as if he were an adopted son of their own, as much as he hung out with the two of them. However, she knew how Chip got when people found out about his issues from someone other than him. It wasn't a surprise that he might have self-confidence issues at times the way he was, and so he didn't like people knowing more about him than he wanted them to. Vida and Madison had already gotten an earful when Xander found out, but Xander was far from the type of person that would make fun of someone for something like that, so Chip's fears were eased quite dramatically. However, he would still probably throw something at her if she gave specifics to her parents without his permission. Madison would get the full story later that night, but not her Mom or Dad, not yet.
"Yeah. Just has some things to work through. He'll be okay," she replied, sidestepping the conversation entirely by reaching for the eggnog instead of the Pepsi.
"Vida!" Seanna snatched the jar away from her daughter's mischievous hands and handed it to Frederick, who took the opportunity to guzzle a half pint straight from the bottle, tossing a wink in his daughter's direction as he did so. Vida grinned and poured the glasses of soda, then walked back in the direction of the others as her Mom started squawking in her Dad's general direction.
"Vida, it's a music store. Are you sure about this?" Chip complained as she pushed him over the threshold of the Rock-porium's front door.
"Chip, you need to stop asking me that."
He snorted as she directed him past a few browsing customers towards the open office door. "Gee, conceited much?"
She smacked him in the back of the head as she leaned into the office. "Toby?"
Toby looked up from the pile of papers. She still couldn't tell what he was doing, or what he was trying to find. "Oh, hi Vida. Is this one of the people you said might be interested in a job?"
"Sure is. This is Chip Thorn. Chip, this is Toby."
Chip smiled at the man and reached a hand across the desk to shake, looking him in the eye. He remembered someone saying that looking people in the eye was a good thing to do to make them think you weren't sheepish or anything. "Nice to meet you."
Toby smiled and shook his hand. "You too. Vida, any idea on when the other two will drop their applications off?"
"Later today for Madison; tomorrow for Xander. Which reminds me of something I forgot to ask. Maddy's my sister; will that be a problem?"
Toby quickly shook his head as he stood up and ushered them out of the office. "Not at all."
He glanced over the application Chip handed him, and then looked at it more closely. "You work on a farm?" he asked, with what sounded like confusion in his voice. Or distaste.
Chip chuckled, having gotten used to people reacting that way whenever the word 'farm' came up around him. "Yeah. It's not as bad as it sounds. But anyways, I've been working with my uncle and aunt on the farm for four years now, so at least I'm used to working, even if I have no experience in retail."
Toby just chuckled. "Well, it all looks pretty good. I can't hire you before I ask this though: who do you think's the greatest guitarist of all time?"
Chip was glancing around the store right that second, and was only half paying attention to the conversation. "Vida said to say Jimi Hendrix."
He heard a muttered "Oh god" and what sounded like a slap to a forehead, prompting him to look up. Vida had her hand to her face in embarrassment, while Toby just looked at Chip with a blank expression.
"Er, I mean... dang it!"
Toby started laughing under his breath. "You don't know a thing about music, do you?"
Chip looked as somber as if a dragon had just eaten the princess before he could save her. "No, not really. Just bits and pieces here and there. But hey, I know comics back and forth, so I can handle that section better than anyone in this city, I bet!"
"Alright, alright," Toby replied with a smirk. "Against my better judgment, you're hired. When can you start working?"
"Today, if you wanted me to," Chip responded. He couldn't even describe the feeling of relief that had washed through him at those two almost magical words.
"Eh, I've gotta train both of you first, and I probably don't have time to handle that today. How about you both show up this Saturday morning?"
"That works," Chip replied. He glanced at Vida.
"Fine for me too," she said. She grinned at him, and he grinned back. Success indeed, she thought to herself.
"You're standing wrong. Your feet need to be shoulder-width apart." Vida heard a general grunt from Chip's direction and looked up from the how-to book she had in her lap. "What? You're the one interested; you might as well get it right."
Chip held the bowstring and arrow's shaft near his chin, wondering how Vida could even pay attention to what he was doing or what she was reading with her headphones still pumping out hip-hop at full blast, whether they were sitting around her neck instead of on her ears or not. Making sure his stance matched the description she had read to him, he took careful aim at the target and let go of the string. The arrow sailed forward beautifully... for all of five feet. He wasn't able to pay much attention to that, however, as the bowstring ricocheted back and smacked him in the underarm. He hissed and dropped the bow.
Madison, filming the action from the back porch, looked up in alarm. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Chip replied.
Vida raised an eyebrow at Chip as he rubbed his bruise. "Told you we should've rented the extra stuff."
"Hey, that Olympic archer from school didn't need a bracer," Chip replied as he picked the bow back up, grabbing another arrow from the pile on the ground.
"He did say the bracer would've been safer to use though," Xander added from beside Madison, leaning against the corner of the house and the rail.
Vida sniffed. "Which you just proved quite nicely."
"I'm doing this the heroic way, or I'm not doing it at all," Chip countered with a haughty whip of his head, sounding for all the world like he had just arrived from King Arthur's court. Yes, the archer said it would be safer... and, in fact, the man running the counter at the place Vida took him to in order to rent all this equipment said the same thing. But where was the fun in playing it safe? Heroes braved danger; they didn't run from it. He planted his feet again and raised the bow, fitting the slit on the end of the arrow to the string. What did the book call it? Nocking? Something like that.
"And the heroic way includes knocking yourself out, apparently. I don't think any of those guys in the Harry Potter books did that."
"You're thinking Lord of the Rings," he replied, closing his left eye and aiming as close as he could for the target they had painted on a piece of cardboard and hung from a tree branch. "Legolas could knock out ten men with one arrow; I wanna be even better."
"And how many years will that take you?" Vida asked with a wry face.
"You guys won't be complaining about my stellar performance when I save your lives from a random thief late some night. Or an orc. So what does that book say about what I did wrong?"
"Put more power into it. You need to leave your right hand at the same spot, so push the bow out further."
Chip decided he needed as much power as possible for a flashily successful shot, so he pushed the bow as far forward as he could, stretching his left arm to an almost painful length.
"Bet you he misses and smacks Vida in the noggin," Xander whispered in Madison's ear, prompting a snicker from her.
With his aim still in place, Chip gritted his teeth and let go. The recoil from releasing the string pushed his arm off target, and it sailed to the left, entirely missing the cardboard. However, he had put far too much strength into the shot, and the arrow continued into the next yard over, bouncing off a sleek, black Corvette, sending itself flipping at a right angle. The blade of the arrow sliced through a bed sheet flapping from a clothes line, and caught a part of the tear as it continued, dragging the spread with it as it fishtailed through the air before finally landing with an audible thunk in a nearby tree. The sheet curled wispily as it stuck to the tree, while the car that was hit earlier happily blared its anti-theft siren, sporting a shiny new dent in the passenger side door.
Chip and Vida stared at the massacre with blank faces for what seemed like a small eternity. It was Xander and Madison laughing hard enough to make them crumple to the porch's steps that released the other two from their temporary paralysis. Chip let out a yelp and grabbed the bow and the pile of arrows from the ground. Vida, who was seconds from succumbing to a bout of sidesplitting laughter herself, ripped the cardboard target from the tree, and the two teens dashed towards the Roccas' house like bats out of hell.
"Just hang out for a minute; I need to finish filling this form out," yelled Toby behind the office door.
Chip and Vida shrugged at each other and separated, Chip walking over to the comics section while Vida strolled up to the turntables. Before either could reach their destination though, they were surprised to see Madison and Xander walk into the store.
"Finally dropping off your applications?" Chip asked, grinning bemusedly. They were supposed to have dropped those off days ago.
"No actually," replied Xander. "We're here for training, just like you two."
Vida made a noise of exasperation. "You coulda told me you'd been hired, sis."
Madison tilted her head and smiled guilelessly. "Just wanted to surprise you."
"So Vee, you lookin' forward to working here?" Xander asked, knowing perfectly well that music was her lifeblood and that it was a question with an answer so obvious, it probably didn't need to be asked.
The blank, yet ridiculing look on Vida's face confirmed it, and the other two teens chuckled as Xander spoke back up. "Sorry, sorry. I know. So where's Toby at?"
Toby stepped out of the office. "All done. Alright, everyone come in here and I'll start by showing you how to clock in; we need to do that first anyways."
The group all piled into the office to watch the maneuver. It was simple enough, although they were all sort of surprised to see the perfectly modern, mechanical keypad device that they punched their Social Security numbers into. Chip was honestly expecting something like one of those old-timey card punchers in this kind of place. After that, Toby asked them all what days they could work the following week and promised he'd make a schedule as they trained. The next hour was spent with Toby showing them all how to run the register, and count down the till at the end of their shift. Perhaps that, Chip thought, was why he expected the old-timey punch in clock. The register was that type of machine, ancient enough to be something that his uncle might've rung people up on when he was Chip's age.
The hour following that was essentially a tour of the entire store. Toby would show them what music or other items was stored in each individual section, along with sidebar comments on which of the groups were better listening than others. In respect for the fact that this man was their new boss, they verbally agreed with all his remarks, or at least just nodded and smiled when they disagreed, which was 85 of the time in Vida's case. He also gave them a quick explanation on the idea of store maintenance, mainly composed of straightening shelves and putting merchandise back where it was supposed to be, a double task that would make up the bulk of their work if they weren't running the register. Upon learning that there would often be times, usually on the weekends, when all four of the teens might be asked to work, they all called sections of the store as their own personal sector for straightening. Xander, to the surprise of no-one, called the back corner of the store, which contained the pinball machine, the ice cream fridge, and a sitting area. Vida, naturally, claimed the turntables as her sector, as well as the group of CD's and records just nearby. Chip said he would take care of the area near the front of the store, so Madison just grinned and called the final section as her own, the middle area, along with the spinrack.
The final hour after that was essentially spent working for real, the teens falling into their tasks quite naturally, to Toby's pleasure. He did notice that Xander had the tendency to slack, and Vida was more often on the turntables than doing actual work. But Toby didn't mind that much; he intended for this store to be the type of place that had a friendly atmosphere, unlike megastores such as Wal-mart and the like. Xander and Vida's actions helped towards that just as much as Chip and Madison's eagerness to do the work they were assigned. And just because Xander and Vida didn't always work non-stop didn't mean they weren't good workers; in fact, it was exactly the opposite. And the fact that they all knew each other already made it clear that they could work well together, as the last two hours had proved. Overall, Toby was satisfied with the four as their morning drew to a close, and blessed whichever god it was that brought Vida into his store on a whim, dragging along three potential employees behind her.
He called out from the office at 11:30. "Guys, that's pretty much it for training day. You can come in here and clock out the same way you clocked in and take off."
They all piled into the office to punch out, Vida stepping up to the device first. "Well, that was fun. I think I'm gonna love this job."
"You'd better, as much as you stole the turntables away from everyone else," replied Xander as he stepped up to clock out.
Chip snorted as he typed in his SSN. "Do you even know how to use turntables Xander?"
"Sure I do! It's not like it's that hard."
Vida grabbed Xander by the arm and yanked him out of the office, in the direction of the tables. "Alright then, before we head off, let's see what you're capable of."
Madison, still in the office with Toby and Chip, shook her head and smiled as she clocked out. "Something tells me this isn't gonna turn out good. Oh, Toby, is that schedule done?"
"Yeah, I've got it over here," he responded, pointing to where the schedule was posted. The paper was sitting inside a clear, plastic holder, attached to the side of a wooden chest on the left side of the room. "It'll always be there. I actually need to set more stuff up before you guys can properly work, so I've only got you in two days each. Vida and Chip Monday night, you and Xander Tuesday, and then all four of you Saturday during the day."
Chip looked it over. "Looks great for me. We'll tell Vee and Xander; they'll probably forget to look before we go." Madison nodded, though she grinned at the last comment.
The conversation came to a screeching halt quite dramatically then, as a horrid-sounding squeal came from the direction of the tables. They heard a yell from the same direction on the tail end of the squeal, about how the turntables were now like the jeep and officially 'untouchable' unless specific permission was given. Chip and Madison laughed, while Toby pantomimed cleaning his ears out, his face still cringing at that god awful sound.
Madison gaped as Chip poured chocolate syrup into a bowl that was already filled to the brim with Cocoa Puffs, banana slices, and extra marshmallows. "Chip, you're gonna make yourself sick! Mom, tell him."
Seanna smirked at her daughter from the sink. "It's true, but we all know by now that we can't convince him to stop."
"Darn right! Besides, I'm young. My body can handle it."
Vida pushed a bowl of cereal her sister's way, past the open textbooks in the middle of the table. "Anyways, the real challenge is to make sure we don't get sick just watching him."
Chip piled another spoonful of the mixture into his mouth. "Juff keefing you on your toev."
Vida debated telling him to swallow before he spoke, but gave it up. "We should go ahead and get started. You gonna stick around and help us Maddy?"
"I've gotta go run out and pick something up for Dad, and then drop off my camera for repairs. I'll see how you're doing when you get back."
"You're lucky you got out of this one, Maddy. It's brutal," Chip commented.
Madison grinned. "I didn't get out of it; I just did it last year. But I remember Mrs. Gardner's tests, and I have no intention of coming close to one of those again."
Vida rolled her eyes. "Wow, look at Ms. Ahead-A-Year do her thang."
Madison scoffed in reply. "Tell you what, we'll switch classes next week. I'll take care of your Algebra II test, and you can handle my Trigonometry pop quiz."
"Ugh, no thanks."
Chip raised an eyebrow. "What's that Trig class like anyways?"
"Like Geometry but on crack."
Chip and Vida grimaced. Two years ago, Madison was spitting fire during their lunches at school from how annoying Geometry was.
"Honey, you'd better go ahead and leave if you want to get in and out of that guitar shop right after they open like you want," Seanna noted.
Madison nodded and walked out the door with a wave. "Bye guys; see you all in an hour or two."
Seanna dried her hands on a towel hanging from the oven handle. "I'll be in the laundry room; yell if you two need me."
"Alright," replied Vida as her mother left the room. She smirked as she left. "We probably should've kept her around, you know. What with being an accountant and what not."
Vida was expecting a quick reply from Chip about calling her back in case they needed to file taxes or something, but got nothing. Glancing at him, she saw him not paying attention, looking in the direction her mother had disappeared into. She waved a hand in front of his face. "Earth to Chip! You alright?"
He shook his head as if snapping out of a hypnotic spell. "Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry; got sidetracked."
"Sidetracked with what?"
"Memories," he replied, smiling, because he now knew from experience that there was no point in not fully explaining a situation to her. She'd end up dragging the truth out of you.
"They must be good memories to make you zone out that well."
"Mom and Dad."
"Ah," she responded, taking another bite of her cereal. "You don't think about them much anymore, do you?"
"Not really. How could you tell?"
"No zoning and no nightmares."
Chip smiled, reminded of that day in detention. "I miss them, but life has to go on, I guess. And I don't like remembering the bad things, so I just try to keep myself busy."
Vida sighed, knowing what he meant even if he was trying not to say it. "Chip, you can't just forget them. They were wonderful people, and I'm sure you have more good memories of them than bad. And even then, dealing with the bad ones has to be worth it."
"How would you know they're wonderful people? You never even met them," Chip asked, clearly bemused.
"I can't believe two horrible people could possibly produce you. They'd have to be just as wonderful as you are. And probably just as crazy."
Chip's gave her a look. "You want Cocoa Puffs in your face, don't you?"
"You'll get milk down your shirt if you try that, I guarantee it. Anyways, what I'm trying to say is that they're part of who you are. And if you try to make it easier on yourself by ignoring that so as to keep away the bad memories, you're basically forgetting parts of yourself. And that's not healthy for you."
Chip sat in silence, looking at his bowl of soggy marshmallows and chocolate. Vida wasn't always the best at helping other people emotionally; her sister more often handled that. But as his best friend, she cared enough for him to offer advice and support when he needed it. Too, he could read between the lines to what she was saying just as she could do for him.
It's true; it was easier to concentrate on his life now, and within the last four years, than to think back to the times he spent before that while his parents were still alive. But he loved them, and he would always love them, and knowing that could give him the strength to look back on all his memories of them with fondness, if he let it. It took a statement from a member of his new family, Vida and Madison feeling almost as much like close relatives as his uncle and aunt, to drive that point home.
He looked up her and smiled wearily. "Thanks Vee. I mean it."
She smiled in return, reached out, and squeezed his hand. It was something her mother and sister often used to convey feelings of gratitude, warmth, or love to others, and it wasn't a normal part of her repertoire. But it seemed more than appropriate here. "Sure thing. Now, get your mind on track before you make me fail this test."
Chip rolled his eyes, downed the sugary liquid left in his bowl, and placed the thing aside so he could slide his Algebra book close.
Chip walked into the Rock-porium, half-anxious and half-excited. Everything was clear enough during training last week, so he didn't expect any major problems, and Toby would be there all day, both that day and the following one, to let the four teens get used to the routine. Madison and Xander were scheduled to come in tomorrow after school, Chip already knew, but his and Vida's first day at the job was today.
Mentally reviewing what he had learned previously, Chip walked into the office and clocked in. He also glanced at the schedule while he was there; he figured it'd be a good idea to get into the habit of checking it often to make sure nothing had changed. In fact, the schedule had changed; there was now a listing for the following two weeks.
Chip pulled the paper from its glass tray and looked in detail. He was scheduled to come in Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday night next week. The week after, he was working Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday. In fact, all four of the teens looked to be working that Saturday, just like this coming one; Toby had staggered their schedules again so that they'd all be there at the same time during the middle of the work day. He had also written 'Snorkeling Trip' in giant letters under his own name that day, using what looked every single normal and highlighting marker he owned. Chip was mildly surprised that he could actually read Toby's comment, in fact. The gamut of colors, including what looked like hot pink, red, green, blue, and yellow, had smudged together into a goldish color that was bordering on an ugly brown. Chip grinned.
Putting the schedule back in its hanging tray, Chip wandered outside of the office. Toby wasn't in clear view; maybe he had taken the trash out. Since there were no customers in the store at the moment, it wasn't really an issue. Not immediately having anything to do, Chip just looked around the store, slowly taking the entire situation in. He almost felt delirious with the emotions running through him.
He finally had a job, and it was one that wasn't tied to the farm. His life seemed to be going in the right direction again, and it made him happy in a way he hadn't been for a whole month now.
Vida rushed into the shop in a whirlwind and passed him by, darting into the office. Chip blinked, almost dizzy with the blur that had passed by him, as he heard her punching the timeclock in the office. She came back out, much slower, and sighed.
"Jeez, my jeep's clock is off. I thought I was running late; that'd be horrible for my first day."
"I hope that's not gonna be a habit," Chip said as he laughed.
Vida rolled her eyes as she glanced around the store, looking for Toby. "Of course not. So, you excited?"
"Something like that," he remarked. She looked at him for a second at that, but there was nothing worrisome about his expression, about the smile on his face, as he wandered over near the store's entrance, starting to organize CD's in that area. She shrugged and went in the direction of the turntables.
"Oh, speaking of jobs," he called out from his side of the store, catching her attention. "My uncle finally got a new one."
She looked up, rather pleased. "Really? Where at?"
"The distribution center over in Channelwood; Joyner's, I think it's called."
"Doing what?" Vida tried to turn that over in her head; it was a warehousing type place that sent out mack trucks to deliver products to various stores in a hundred mile radius. She couldn't imagine his uncle would take a job driving a cab, not after the accident.
"I don't really know the details. I know it's something managerial; in the office, directing the workers that are organizing the products."
"Manager jobs have crazy hours sometimes," she replied. She knew that from experience; she'd never know what time of day her dad would go in or get off if he didn't post his own schedule on their fridge's door for the family to see. "Is that gonna get in the way of the farm?"
Chip shook his head. "Thankfully, no. There's another guy with the same position, and they'll switch out. So Uncle Kirby only has to work every other day, which is good enough for us to keep farm-work running full throttle."
"Well, that's good. And now you've got this job too, so there shouldn't be any problem from here on out."
"Yeah. And I suppose I should thank you for getting me off my behind and focused on finding a job, huh?" he said as he moved to the register and started straightening the comics as well.
"Yeah, I suppose you should," she said, with a tone to her voice that implied he'd better, if he knew what was good for him.
He looked at her with a grin. He'd gotten used to that tone in the last several years; it hardly fazed him anymore. "Thanks Vida. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
Vida smirked in response. "You probably oughta thank me for getting you the job itself too, you know."
He turned away from her, back to the comics, and scoffed. "Vee, as much as you've been a friend to me and helped me out with everything over the last four years, I have a lot more to thank you for than just that." His attention was diverted before he could go further. "Ooh! Toby's got the newest 'The Other' issue of Spider-man!"
She smiled and put on the headphones, bending down to the turntables.